Once upon a time . . . . . from
our fabulous collection of Fairy Tales for children . . . they lived
happily ever after . . .
The Little Elder-tree Mother
THERE was once a little boy who had caught cold; he had
gone out and got wet feet. Nobody had the least idea how it
had happened; the weather was quite dry. His mother undressed
him, put him to bed, and ordered the teapot to be brought in,
that she might make him a good cup of tea from the elder-tree
blossoms, which is so warming. At the same time, the
kind-hearted old man who lived by himself in the upper storey
of the house came in; he led a lonely life, for he had no wife
and children; but he loved the children of others very much,
and he could tell so many fairy tales and stories, that it was
a pleasure to hear him.
'Now, drink your tea,' said the mother; 'perhaps you will
hear a story.'
'Yes, if I only knew a fresh one,' said the old man, and
nodded smilingly. 'But how did the little fellow get his wet
feet?' he then asked.
'That,' replied the mother, 'nobody can understand.'
'Will you tell me a story?' asked the boy.
'Yes, if you can tell me as nearly as possible how deep is
the gutter in the little street where you go to school.'
'Just half as high as my top-boots,' replied the boy; 'but
then I must stand in the deepest holes.'
'There, now we know where you got your wet feet,' said the
old man. 'I ought to tell you a story, but the worst of it is,
I do not know any more.'
'You can make one up,' said the little boy. 'Mother says
you can tell a fairy tale about anything you look at or
'That is all very well, but such tales or stories are
worth nothing! No, the right ones come by themselves and knock
at my forehead saying: 'Here I am.''
'Will not one knock soon?' asked the boy; and the mother
smiled while she put elder-tree blossoms into the teapot and
poured boiling water over them. 'Pray, tell me a story.'
'Yes, if stories came by themselves; they are so proud,
they only come when they please.- But wait,' he said suddenly,
'there is one. Look at the teapot; there is a story in it
And the little boy looked at the teapot; the lid rose up
gradually, the elder-tree blossoms sprang forth one by one,
fresh and white; long boughs came forth; even out of the spout
they grew up in all directions, and formed a bush- nay, a
large elder tree, which stretched its branches up to the bed
and pushed the curtains aside; and there were so many blossoms
and such a sweet fragrance! In the midst of the tree sat a
kindly-looking old woman with a strange dress; it was as green
as the leaves, and trimmed with large white blossoms, so that
it was difficult to say whether it was real cloth, or the
leaves and blossoms of the elder-tree.
'What is this woman's name?' asked the little boy.
'Well, the Romans and Greeks used to call her a Dryad,'
said the old man; 'but we do not understand that. Out in the
sailors' quarter they give her a better name; there she is
called elder-tree mother. Now, you must attentively listen to
her and look at the beautiful elder-tree.
'Just such a large tree, covered with flowers, stands out
there; it grew in the corner of an humble little yard; under
this tree sat two old people one afternoon in the beautiful
sunshine. He was an old, old sailor, and she his old wife;
they had already great-grandchildren, and were soon to
celebrate their golden wedding, but they could not remember
the date, and the elder-tree mother was sitting in the tree
and looked as pleased as this one here. 'I know very well when
the golden wedding is to take place,' she said; but they did
not hear it- they were talking of bygone days.
''Well, do you remember?' said the old sailor, 'when we
were quite small and used to run about and play- it was in the
very same yard where we now are- we used to put little
branches into the ground and make a garden.'
''Yes,' said the old woman, 'I remember it very well; we
used to water the branches, and one of them, an elder-tree
branch, took root, and grew and became the large tree under
which we are now sitting as old people.'
''Certainly, you are right,' he said; 'and in yonder
corner stood a large water-tub; there I used to sail my boat,
which I had cut out myself- it sailed so well; but soon I had
to sail somewhere else.'
''But first we went to school to learn something,' she
said, 'and then we were confirmed; we both wept on that day,
but in the afternoon we went out hand in hand, and ascended
the high round tower and looked out into the wide world right
over Copenhagen and the sea; then we walked to Fredericksburg,
where the king and the queen were sailing about in their
magnificent boat on the canals.'
''But soon I had to sail about somewhere else, and for
many years I was travelling about far away from home.'
''And I often cried about you, for I was afraid lest you
were drowned and lying at the bottom of the sea. Many a time I
got up in the night and looked if the weathercock had turned;
it turned often, but you did not return. I remember one day
distinctly: the rain was pouring down in torrents; the
dust-man had come to the house where I was in service; I went
down with the dust-bin and stood for a moment in the doorway,
and looked at the dreadful weather. Then the postman gave me a
letter; it was from you. Heavens! how that letter had
travelled about. I tore it open and read it; I cried and
laughed at the same time, and was so happy! Therein was
written that you were staying in the hot countries, where the
coffee grows. These must be marvellous countries. You said a
great deal about them, and I read all while the rain was
pouring down and I was standing there with the dust-bin. Then
suddenly some one put his arm round my waist-'
''Yes, and you gave him a hearty smack on the cheek,' said
the old man.
''I did not know that it was you- you had come as quickly
as your letter; and you looked so handsome, and so you do
still. You had a large yellow silk handkerchief in your pocket
and a shining hat on. You looked so well, and the weather in
the street was horrible!'
''Then we married,' he said. 'Do you remember how we got
our first boy, and then Mary, Niels, Peter, John, and
'Oh yes; and now they have all grown up, and have become
useful members of society, whom everybody cares for.'
''And their children have had children again,' said the
old sailor. 'Yes, these are children's children, and they are
strong and healthy. If I am not mistaken, our wedding took
place at this season of the year.'
''Yes, to-day is your golden wedding-day,' said the little
elder-tree mother, stretching her head down between the two
old people, who thought that she was their neighbour who was
nodding to them; they looked at each other and clasped hands.
Soon afterwards the children and grandchildren came, for they
knew very well that it was the golden wedding-day; they had
already wished them joy and happiness in the morning, but the
old people had forgotten it, although they remembered things
so well that had passed many, many years ago. The elder-tree
smelt strongly, and the setting sun illuminated the faces of
the two old people, so that they looked quite rosy; the
youngest of the grandchildren danced round them, and cried
merrily that there would be a feast in the evening, for they
were to have hot potatoes; and the elder mother nodded in the
tree and cried 'Hooray' with the others.'
'But that was no fairy tale,' said the little boy who had
listened to it.
'You will presently understand it,' said the old man who
told the story. 'Let us ask little elder-tree mother about
'That was no fairy tale,' said the little elder-tree
mother; 'but now it comes! Real life furnishes us with
subjects for the most wonderful fairy tales; for otherwise my
beautiful elder-bush could not have grown forth out of the
And then she took the little boy out of bed and placed him
on her bosom; the elder branches, full of blossoms, closed
over them; it was as if they sat in a thick leafy bower which
flew with them through the air; it was beautiful beyond all
description. The little elder-tree mother had suddenly become
a charming young girl, but her dress was still of the same
green material, covered with white blossoms, as the elder-tree
mother had worn; she had a real elder blossom on her bosom,
and a wreath of the same flowers was wound round her curly
golden hair; her eyes were so large and so blue that it was
wonderful to look at them. She and the boy kissed each other,
and then they were of the same age and felt the same joys.
They walked hand in hand out of the bower, and now stood at
home in a beautiful flower garden. Near the green lawn the
father's walking-stick was tied to a post. There was life in
this stick for the little ones, for as soon as they seated
themselves upon it the polished knob turned into a neighing
horse's head, a long black mane was fluttering in the wind,
and four strong slender legs grew out. The animal was fiery
and spirited; they galloped round the lawn. 'Hooray! now we
shall ride far away, many miles!' said the boy; 'we shall ride
to the nobleman's estate where we were last year.' And they
rode round the lawn again, and the little girl, who, as we
know, was no other than the little elder-tree mother,
continually cried, 'Now we are in the country! Do you see the
farmhouse there, with the large baking stove, which projects
like a gigantic egg out of the wall into the road? The
elder-tree spreads its branches over it, and the cock struts
about and scratches for the hens. Look how proud he is! Now we
are near the church; it stands on a high hill, under the
spreading oak trees; one of them is half dead! Now we are at
the smithy, where the fire roars and the half-naked men beat
with their hammers so that the sparks fly far and wide. Let's
be off to the beautiful farm!' And they passed by everything
the little girl, who was sitting behind on the stick,
described, and the boy saw it, and yet they only went round
the lawn. Then they played in a side-walk, and marked out a
little garden on the ground; she took elder-blossoms out of
her hair and planted them, and they grew exactly like those
the old people planted when they were children, as we have
heard before. They walked about hand in hand, just as the old
couple had done when they were little, but they did not go to
the round tower nor to the Fredericksburg garden. No; the
little girl seized the boy round the waist, and then they flew
far into the country. It was spring and it became summer, it
was autumn and it became winter, and thousands of pictures
reflected themselves in the boy's eyes and heart, and the
little girl always sang again, 'You will never forget that!'
And during their whole flight the elder-tree smelt so sweetly;
he noticed the roses and the fresh beeches, but the elder-tree
smelt much stronger, for the flowers were fixed on the little
girl's bosom, against which the boy often rested his head
during the flight.
'It is beautiful here in spring,' said the little girl,
and they were again in the green beechwood, where the thyme
breathed forth sweet fragrance at their feet, and the pink
anemones looked lovely in the green moss. 'Oh! that it were
always spring in the fragrant beechwood!'
'Here it is splendid in summer!' she said, and they passed
by old castles of the age of chivalry. The high walls and
indented battlements were reflected in the water of the
ditches, on which swans were swimming and peering into the old
shady avenues. The corn waved in the field like a yellow sea.
Red and yellow flowers grew in the ditches, wild hops and
convolvuli in full bloom in the hedges. In the evening the
moon rose, large and round, and the hayricks in the meadows
smelt sweetly. 'One can never forget it!'
'Here it is beautiful in autumn!' said the little girl,
and the atmosphere seemed twice as high and blue, while the
wood shone with crimson, green, and gold. The hounds were
running off, flocks of wild fowl flew screaming over the
barrows, while the bramble bushes twined round the old stones.
The dark-blue sea was covered with white-sailed ships, and in
the barns sat old women, girls, and children picking hops into
a large tub; the young ones sang songs, and the old people
told fairy tales about goblins and sorcerers. It could not be
more pleasant anywhere.
'Here it's agreeable in winter!' said the little girl, and
all the trees were covered with hoar-frost, so that they
looked like white coral. The snow creaked under one's feet, as
if one had new boots on. One shooting star after another
traversed the sky. In the room the Christmas tree was lit, and
there were song and merriment. In the peasant's cottage the
violin sounded, and games were played for apple quarters; even
the poorest child said, 'It is beautiful in winter!'
And indeed it was beautiful! And the little girl showed
everything to the boy, and the elder-tree continued to breathe
forth sweet perfume, while the red flag with the white cross
was streaming in the wind; it was the flag under which the old
sailor had served. The boy became a youth; he was to go out
into the wide world, far away to the countries where the
coffee grows. But at parting the little girl took an
elder-blossom from her breast and gave it to him as a
keepsake. He placed it in his prayer-book, and when he opened
it in distant lands it was always at the place where the
flower of remembrance was lying; and the more he looked at it
the fresher it became, so that he could almost smell the
fragrance of the woods at home. He distinctly saw the little
girl, with her bright blue eyes, peeping out from behind the
petals, and heard her whispering, 'Here it is beautiful in
spring, in summer, in autumn, and in winter,' and hundreds of
pictures passed through his mind.
Thus many years rolled by. He had now become an old man,
and was sitting, with his old wife, under an elder-tree in
full bloom. They held each other by the hand exactly as the
great-grandfather and the great-grandmother had done outside,
and, like them, they talked about bygone days and of their
golden wedding. The little girl with the blue eyes and
elder-blossoms in her hair was sitting high up in the tree,
and nodded to them, saying, 'To-day is the golden wedding!'
And then she took two flowers out of her wreath and kissed
them. They glittered at first like silver, then like gold, and
when she placed them on the heads of the old people each
flower became a golden crown. There they both sat like a king
and queen under the sweet-smelling tree, which looked exactly
like an elder-tree, and he told his wife the story of the
elder-tree mother as it had been told him when he was a little
boy. They were both of opinion that the story contained many
points like their own, and these similarities they liked best.
'Yes, so it is,' said the little girl in the tree. 'Some
call me Little Elder-tree Mother; others a Dryad; but my real
name is 'Remembrance.' It is I who sit in the tree which grows
and grows. I can remember things and tell stories! But let's
see if you have still got your flower.'
And the old man opened his prayer-book; the elder-blossom
was still in it, and as fresh as if it had only just been put
in. Remembrance nodded, and the two old people, with the
golden crowns on their heads, sat in the glowing evening sun.
They closed their eyes and- and-
Well, now the story is ended! The little boy in bed did
not know whether he had dreamt it or heard it told; the teapot
stood on the table, but no elder-tree was growing out of it,
and the old man who had told the story was on the point of
leaving the room, and he did go out.
'How beautiful it was!' said the little boy. 'Mother, I
have been to warm countries!'
'I believe you,' said the mother; 'if one takes two cups
of hot elder-tea it is quite natural that one gets into warm
countries!' And she covered him up well, so that he might not
take cold. 'You have slept soundly while I was arguing with
the old man whether it was a story or a fairy tale!'
'And what has become of the little elder-tree mother?'
asked the boy.
'She is in the teapot,' said the mother; 'and there she
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