: MAY DAY
: Good Stories For Great Holidays
AN IROQUOIS LEGEND
BY HARRIET MAXWELL CONVERSE (ADAPTED)
The little Elves of Darkness, so says the old 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
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 butterflies.
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 underground.
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.