The Elves - An Iroquois Legend
by Harriet Maxwell Converse (Adapted)
The little Elves of Darkness, so says
Iroquois grandmother, were wise and mysterious.
They dwelt under the earth, where were deep
forests and broad plains. There they kept
captive all the evil things that wished to injure
human beings - the venomous reptiles, the wicked
spiders, and the fearful monsters. Sometimes one
of these evil creatures escaped and rushed upward
to the bright, pure air, and spread its poisonous
breath over the living things of the upper-world.
But such happenings were rare, for the Elves of
Darkness were faithful and strong, and did not
willingly allow the wicked beasts and reptiles to
harm human beings and the growing things.
When the night was lighted by the moon's
soft rays, and the woods of the upper-world were
sweet with the odor of the spring-flowers, then
the Elves of Darkness left the under-world, and
creeping from their holes, held a festival in
the woods. And under many a tree, where the
blades of grass had refused to grow, the Little
People danced until rings of green sprang up
beneath their feet. And to the festival came the
Elves of Light - among whom were Tree-Elves,
Flower-Elves, and Fruit-Elves. They too danced
and made merry.
But when the moonlight faded away, and day
began to break, then the Elves of Darkness
scampered back to their holes, and returned once
more to the under-world - while the Elves of Light
began their daily tasks.
For in the springtime these Little People of the
Light hid in sheltered places. They listened to
the complaints of the seeds that lay covered in
the ground, and they whispered to the earth until
the seeds burst their pods and sent their shoots
upward to the light. Then the little Elves
wandered over the fields and through the woods,
bidding all growing things to look upon the sun.
The Tree-Elves tended the trees, unfolding
their leaves, and feeding their roots with sap
from the earth. The Flower-Elves unwrapped
the baby buds, and tinted the petals of the
opening flowers, and played with the bees and the
But the busiest of all were the Fruit-Elves.
Their greatest care in the spring was the strawberry
plant. When the ground softened from the
frost, the Fruit-Elves loosened the earth around
each strawberry root, that its shoots might push
through to the light. They shaped the plant's
leaves, and turned its blossoms toward the warm
rays of the sun. They trained its runners, and
assisted the timid fruit to form. They painted
the luscious berry, and bade it ripen. And when
the first strawberries blushed on the vines, these
guardian Elves protected them from the evil
insects that had escaped from the world of darkness
And the old Iroquois grandmother tells, how
once, when the fruit first came to earth, the Evil
Spirit, Hahgwehdaetgah, stole the strawberry
plant, and carried it to his gloomy cave, where
he hid it away. And there it lay until a tiny
sunbeam pierced the damp mould, and finding
the little vine carried it back to its sunny fields.
And ever since then the strawberry plant has
lived and thrived in the fields and woods. But
the Fruit-Elves, fearing lest the Evil One should
one day steal the vine again, watch day and
night over their favorite. And when the
strawberries ripen they give the juicy, fragrant fruit
to the Iroquois children as they gather the spring
flowers in the woods.