The Elder Tree Mother
Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen
There was once a little boy who had caught cold; he had gone out and got wet feet. No one could imagine how it had happened, for it was quite dry weather. His mother undressed him, put him to bed, and had the tea-urn brought in to make him a good cup of elder tea, for that warms well.
"Now you are to drink your tea," said the mother, "and then perhaps you will hear a story."
The little boy drank the elder tea and then looked at the teapot. The lid raised itself and the elder flowers came forth from it, white and fresh. They shot forth long branches even out of the spout; they spread about in all directions and became larger and larger. There was the most glorious elder bush, in fact quite a tree. It stretched to the bed and thrust the curtains aside; how fragrant it was and how it bloomed! And in the midst of the tree sat an old, pleasant looking woman in a strange dress. It was quite green like the leaves of the elder tree, and bordered with great white elder blossoms. One could not tell whether this border was of stuff, or of living green and real flowers.
"Who are you?" the little boy asked.
"They used to call me a Dryad," said the woman, "but I have a better name than that. I am the Elder Tree Mother."
Then she took the little boy out of bed, and laid him upon her bosom. The blossoming elder branches wound round them so they sat as it were in the thickest arbor, and this arbor flew away with them through the air. It was very beautiful. Elder Mother all at once became a pretty young girl; at her throat she had a real elder flower, and on her head a wreath of elder blossoms. Her eyes were large and blue. She and the boy were of the same age and felt the same joys.
Hand in hand they went out of the arbor, and now they stood in the beauteous flower garden of home. The father's staff was tied up near the fresh grass plot, and for the little boy there was life in the staff. The polished head turned into a noble, neighing horse's head with a flowing mane, and four slender legs shot forth. They seated themselves upon it and began to ride miles away. And the little girl who, as we know, was no one else but Elder Mother, cried out,
"Now we're in the country. Do you see the farmhouse with the great baking oven standing out of the wall? The elder tree spreads its branches over it, and the cock walks about, scratching for his hens. Look how he struts!
"Now we are at the forge where the fire burns and the hammers send bright sparks flying far around. But away, away!"
Everything, and more than the little girl mentioned as she sat on the stick behind him, flew past them. He will never forget, and throughout their whole journey the elder tree smelled so fresh, so fragrant. He noticed the roses and the fresh beech trees, but the elder tree smelled stronger than all for its flowers hung round the little girl and he often leaned against them as they flew onward.
"Here it is beautiful in spring!" said the little girl.
And they stood in the green beech wood where the thyme lay in fragrance beneath their feet and pink anemones looked pretty against the green.
"Here it is beautiful in summer!" said she.
And they passed by old castles where swans swam about and they looked down the shady avenues. In the fields the corn waved like a sea. In the ditches yellow and red flowers were growing, and in the hedges wild hops. In the evening the moon rose, round and large, and the haystacks in the meadows smelled sweet.
"Here it is beautiful in autumn!" said the little girl.
And the sky seemed twice as lofty and twice as blue as before and the forests were decked in the most gorgeous tints of red, yellow, and green. Whole flocks of wild ducks flew screaming overhead. The sea was dark blue and covered with ships with white sails; and in the barns sat old women, girls, and children picking hops into a large tub. The young people sang songs and the older ones told tales of goblins. It could hardly be finer anywhere.
"Here it is beautiful in winter!" said the little girl.
All the trees were covered with hoar frost so that they looked like white trees of coral. The snow creaked beneath one's boots as if every one had new boots on, and one shooting star after another fell from the sky. In the houses Christmas trees were lighted, and there were presents and there was happiness. In the country people's farmhouses the violin sounded, and there were merry games for apples. Even the poorest child said, "It is beautiful in winter!"
So the little girl showed the boy everything, and suddenly the boy grew up and was to go out into the wide world, far away to the hot countries where the coffee grows. When they were to part the little girl took an elder blossom from her wreath and gave it to him to keep. He put it in a book, and the more he looked at the flower the fresher it became so that he seemed, as it were, to breathe the forest air of home. Then he plainly saw the little girl looking out with her clear blue eyes from between the petals of the flower and she whispered,
"Here it is beautiful in spring, summer, autumn, and winter!" and hundreds of pictures glided through his thoughts.
Many years went by. He seemed to be an old man and sat with his wife under the blossoming elder tree. The little maiden with the blue eyes and with the wreath of elder blossoms in her hair sat up in the tree, and nodded to both of them, and said, "Today is our golden wedding day!" Then she took two flowers out of her hair and kissed them, and they gleamed, first, like silver, then like gold. When she laid them on the heads of the old people, each changed to a golden crown. There they both sat like a King and Queen, under a fragrant tree that looked quite like an elder bush; and he told his old wife the story of the Elder Tree Mother.
"Some call me Elder Tree Mother," said the little girl in the tree, "others the Dryad, but my real name is Remembrance. It is I who sit in the tree that grows on and on, and I can think back and tell stories. Let me see if you still have your flower?"
The old man opened his book; there lay the elder blossom as fresh as if it had only just been placed there; and Remembrance nodded, and the two old people with the golden crowns on their heads sat in the red evening sunlight, and they closed their eyes, and the story was finished.
The little boy lay in his bed and did not know whether he had been dreaming or had heard a tale told. The teapot stood on the table, but no elder bush was growing out of it.
"How beautiful that was!" said the little boy. "Mother, I have been in the hot countries."
"Yes, I am sure of that!" replied the mother. "When one drinks two cups of hot elder tea one very often gets into the hot countries." And she covered him up well that he might not take cold. "You have slept well," she said.
"But where is the Elder Tree Mother?" asked the little lad.
"She's in the tea-pot," said his mother, "and there she may stay."