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The Elf Of The Woodlands

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - MODERN FAIRY TALES





RETOLD FROM RICHARD HENGIST HORNE BY WILLIAM BYRON FORBUSH


One morning when the summer sun was still sleeping an Elf came up from
below, tickling an oak-tree's foot, skipping like a flea, and
whispering mischievously to himself.

"With little legs straddling,
He dances about--
Pretends to be waddling--
Then leaps with a flout.
Now he stops--
Now he hops--
Now cautiously trips
On tiptoe
And sliptoe
He scuttles and skips;
Along the grass gliding,
Half dancing, half sliding."

There was a pretty white cottage on the edge of the wood, and, with
everybody quiet within, it also seemed asleep. Toward this cottage
skipped the Elf.

He was a little fellow, scarce five inches tall. His body was as brown
as the bark of a tree, all mixed with green streaks and tarnished gold.
You could hardly see him as he went stooping along against the green
leaves and the brown branches.

When he got to the sleeping cottage he climbed up the lattice, and
poked his sharp little nose into every crevice. He pulled open a loose
shutter, tapped once or twice on the windows, and when he found a broken
pane--in he went!

In this cottage lived a girl named Toody. She was not very big, as you
can believe when I tell you that all the shrubs in the garden were
taller than she, and all the flowers nodded over her head. In this same
house lived Toody's cousins, Kitty, and Crocus, and Twig, and Tiny--only
Tiny was a little dog, not a little boy. And here, too, lived
Grandmother Grey.

"In spectacles, tucker and flower'd-chintz gown,
Who always half smiled when trying to frown."

Grandmother Grey took care of them all. At five o'clock that morning she
woke up. "What noise do I hear below?" she cried. "It is daylight, but
nobody is up I know."

So Grandmother Grey threw off her skullcap and bandage, and nightcap
with all its ribbons, bows and strings, and called out loudly: "Come,
children, jump up quickly! There's a rat in the dairy! Come down with
me."

Then Toody, and Crocus, and Kitty, and Twig, in their nightgowns and
nightcaps, ran scrambling and laughing down stairs, with Tiny barking
and tumbling about between their legs. They crept through the parlor,
where all the shutters were closed but one. Like cautious Indians they
went silently on, Dame Grey and the children in single file, each
holding on to the one before by the tail of her nightgown.

Into the dairy they went, and stared about. Then they huddled together
in fear, for behind a milk-jug, under the spout, they saw a quaint
little figure.

"It was golden, and greenish, and earthy brown,
With a perking nose and a pointed chin;
It had very bright eyes and a funny frown,
With a russet-apple's network skin."

They all started to run in terror, but brave Tiny sprang up and began to
chase the Elf round a milkpan.

Oh, what a race was there! They ran so fast that the two small bodies
were as one. They looked like the dark band on the humming-top when you
spin it. And just as Tiny was about to catch him, the Elf leaped into a
pan, swam across three pails of milk, climbed the wall and hid on a
shelf.

"We've lost him; we've lost him!" cried all the children. But, just in
time, Grandmother Grey seized her jelly-bag, swung it across the shelf,
and into it was swept our little elfin friend.

"Now, children," said she, "Go up and dress."

The children did not know what the old dame was going to do next. She
led the way into the parlor. "Tiny," said she, "I depend on you to keep
watch for us." So Tiny stood like a soldier, with both ears cocked and
his nose down bent, and watched every motion that was going on in the
bag, which stood up now like a tent on the floor.

'Twas but a minute before the children were down again, all dressed.
The tea-kettle was singing, and the hot rolls were on the table, and
everybody was ringing the bell all at once for more eggs. But Tiny stood
guard over the jelly-bag tent.

"I think the Elf is hungry and thirsty," said Toody. So she slipped a
saucer of milk under the edge of the tent, and then, laughing, she
rolled in an egg. They all listened for ten minutes, and then they
plainly heard the crackling of the shell.

"Away with the tea things!" said Dame Grey to Martha, the maid. "And
bring me my white wicker bird-cage."

So the bird-cage was brought, and Grandmother Grey took up the jelly-bag
carefully, clapped its mouth to the open cage-door, shook it, and--pop!
in went the Elf, and the cage door was made fast! Did he moan? Did he
complain? Not he. With one spring and ten kicks he climbed to the pole
and seated himself there, with his hands on the pole.

Toody ran close to the cage, and so did Crocus and Twig; and Kitty, a
little farther off, stood staring and smiling. But the Elf was not a bit
frightened. He sat swinging his little legs, with his tongue in his left
cheek and his left eye looking down with a half-winking, impertinent
air.

"Now," cried Dame Grey, "tell us who you are, little Sir, and what you
are. Do you know that you have spoilt all my cream, and broken my best
china-cup? Speak up now! What have you to say for yourself?"

The Elf was very angry, but it would never do to show it. So he tried
to look as gentle as a good child reading a book. He rubbed some of
the yellow of the egg off his chin, and stuck it on his leg like a
buttercup. He shrugged his shoulders up in a bunch, and then, with a
sneeze as if he had caught cold in the forest, he began:

"Nine white witches sat in a circle close,
With their backs against a greenwood tree,
As around the dead-nettle's summer stem
Its woolly white blossoms you see.
Then from hedges and ditches, these old lady-witches,
Took bird-weed and rag-weed and spear-grass for me,
And they wove me a bower, 'gainst the snow-storm or shower,
In a dry old hollow beech tree.
Twangle tee!
Ri-rigdum, dingle shade-laugh, tingle dee!"

"Nonsense!" said Grandmother Grey. "You can't fool me with your nettles,
and nonsense, and hedges, and ditches. What do I care about all that?
You know as well as I do that you came here to steal cake and drink
cream. Besides, you have broken my best china-cup!"

The Elf gave a sigh, and looked up in the air; then took a glance at
Martha's broom, and as he looked down he thought he saw Toody winking at
him. So he just smiled and said: "I declare, by the tom-tit's folly, and
the mole's pin-hole eye, and the woodpecker's thorny tongue, that I have
told you the truth."

Noticing that Toody was still winking at him he kept on, and told the
following story:

"One day when I was loafing about in the wood I heard a strange noise in
the bushes. I peeped over the edge, and there was a robin bathing in the
brook. It ruffled its feathers with a spattering sound, made itself into
a fussy ball, and threw up a shower of water; but what I most noticed
was its eye--its eye!--"

"Its eye--its eye?" broke in all the children. "What about its eye?"

The Elf glanced again at Toody, and he saw that this time she gave him a
quiet nod, as much as to say, "I'll find you a chance." So the Elf gave
a downward squint at the closed cage-door, just for a hint. Then he
scratched his cheek, jumped down on the floor of the cage, and began to
act out a "robin," just as if he were on the stage.

"Its eye--its eye? Well, just as soon as it caught a glimpse of me it
bobbed--took wing--and was out of sight. Then back it came again, as if
angry. It looked like an alderman lecturing the poor, but meaning really
to--unlock the cage! I mean--to try to fool me. See! How high it
flies. Clear up to the tip-top of the tree. Look at its large bright
eye! There! There! See how it bobs--makes a quick bow, just as I am
doing--points down its tail and up its nose--and off it goes!"

And out and off went the Elf!

"Run, Tiny, run! Oh, Kitty! Twig! The little rascal is gone! Run, Toody,
run! Ah, I caught you; you are the one who loosened the cage-door. Run,
Tiny! Oh, Kitty, Twig, and Crocus, that robin redbreast story was only
meant to fool us!" Thus cried Grandmother Grey, till she was breathless.

"Off they all ran trooping,
And hallooing and whooping,
Beneath the low boughs stooping,
Right through the wood,
For Grandmama Grey,
Like an old duck, led the way,
When a string of ducks trudge to a flood.
Then came Kitty, side by side
With Toody, who oft cried;
'Oh, Kitty dear, was ever such rare fun, fun, fun!'
And Crocus close to Twig,
Both scampered in a jig,
For they knew the Elf his freedom-race had won, won, won!
As for him, the roguish Elf,
He took good care of himself;
His mites of legs they twinkled as he fled, fled, fled.
He was scarcely seen, indeed,
He so glistened with his speed,
And his hair streamed out like silver grass behind his head."

So Dame Grey and the children chased the Elf till they were hot and
tired, and till the sun went down; and by and by they gave up, and all
went home to let Martha wash their soiled hands and faces.

It was a warm and pleasant night, and before very long all the children
were fast asleep.

"Within a very little nook,
Toody always slept alone,
Its strip of window stole a look
Over the lawn and hayrick-cone.

Within the open lattice crept
Some jasmine from the cottage wall,
And to the breathing of her sleep,
Softly swayed, with rise and fall.

But something else comes creeping in,
As softly, from the starry night--
The Elf!--'tis he!--first peeping in,
Now like a moth doth he alight.

He trips up to the little bed,
And near it hangs a full-blown rose;
Then in the middle of the flower
Places a light that gleams and glows.

It is a glowworm from the lea,
And lighting up the rose's heart,
A fairy grot it seems to be,
Where dream-thoughts live and ne'er depart.

And now the Elf once more is gone
Into the woodlands wild,
Leaving his blessing thus to shine
Upon the sleeping child."





Next: Princess Finola And The Dwarf

Previous: Oh Where Do Fairies Hide Their Heads?



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