The Enchanted Elm

: The Firelight Fairy Book

[Illustration: Young girl sitting in a tree.]

Once upon a time, while riding, a brave, young prince dashed merrily

ahead of his friends, and after galloping across a ploughed field,

turned his horse's head down a grassy road leading to a wood. For some

time he cantered easily along, expecting any moment to hear the shouts

and halloos of his friends following after; but they by mistake took

ite another road, and no sound except the pounding of his courser's

hoofs reached the Prince's ear. Suddenly an ugly snarl and a short bark

broke the stillness of the pleasant forest, and looking down, the Prince

saw a gray wolf snapping at his horse's heels.

Though the horse, wild with fear, threatened to run away any instant,

the Prince leaned over and struck the wolf with his whip.

Hardly had he done so, when an angry voice cried, "How dare you strike

my pet?"

A little distance ahead, a wicked old witch stood at one side of the

road. With its tail between its legs, the wolf cowered close to her

skirts, and showed its long yellow fangs.

"Pet, indeed!" cried the Prince. "Keep him away from my horse or I will

strike him again."

"At your peril, Prince," answered the witch. And then, as the Prince

turned his horse's head and galloped back, she called out, "You shall

rue this day! You shall rue this day!"

Now by the time the Prince had arrived at the ploughed field and the

great road again, his friends had galloped on so far that they were lost

to sight. Thinking that he might overtake them by following a shorter

road, he turned down a byway skirting the wood in which he had

encountered the enchantress. Presently he began to feel very thirsty.

Chancing to see an old peasant woman in the fields, the Prince called to

her and asked where he could find a roadside spring.

Now this old peasant woman was the wicked witch under another form.

Overjoyed at having the Prince fall so easily into her power, she

curtsied; and replied that within the wood was to be found the finest

spring in the country. Anxious not to lose time, the Prince begged her

to lead him to the water. Little did he know that the witch was leading

him back into the wood, and that she had just bewitched the water!

When they arrived at the pool, the Prince dismounted, and kneeling by

the brim, made a cup of his hands and drank till his thirst was

satisfied. He was just about to seize his horse again by the bridle and

put his foot into the stirrup, when a terrible pang shot through his

body, darkness swam before his eyes, his arms lengthened and became

branches, his fingers, twigs; his feet shot into the ground, and he

found himself turned into a giant elm.

A giant elm he was; a giant elm he remained. Unable to find him after a

long search, his friends gave him up for lost, and a new Prince ruled

over the land. Though the elm tried many times to tell passers-by of his

plight, none ever seemed to understand his words. Again and again, when

simple wood-cutters ventured into the great dark wood, he would tell

them his story and cry out, "I am the Prince! I am the Prince!" But the

wood-cutters heard only the wind stirring in the branches. Ah, how cold

it was in winter when the skies were steely black and the giant stars

sparkled icily! And how pleasant it was when spring returned, and the

gossipy birds came back again!

The first year a pair of wood-pigeons took to housekeeping in his

topmost branches. The Prince was glad to welcome them, for though denied

human speech, he understood the language of trees and birds. On

Midsummer Eve, the pigeons said to him, "To-night the King of the Trees

comes through the wood. Do you not hear the stir in the forest? All the

real trees are preparing for the King's coming; they are shedding dead

leaves and shaking out their branches."

"Tell me of the King," said the Prince.

"He is tall and dark and strong," said the doves. "He dwells in a great

pine in the North. On Midsummer Eve, he goes through the world to see if

all is well with the tree people."

"Do you think he can help me?" asked the Prince.

"You might ask him," replied the doves.

The long, long twilight of Midsummer Eve came to a close; night folded

the world beneath its starry curtains. At twelve o'clock, though not a

breath of air was stirring, the trees were shaken as if by a mighty

wind, the rustling of the leaves blending into strange and lovely music,

and presently the King of the Trees entered the haunted wood. Even as

the wood-doves had said, he was tall and dark and stately.

"Is all well with you, O my people?" said the King, in a voice as sweet

and solemn as the wind in the branches on a summer's day.

"Yes, all is well," answered the trees softly. Though some replied, "I

have lost a branch"; and a little tree called out unhappily, "My

neighbors are shutting out all my sunlight."

"Then fare ye well, my people, till next Midsummer Eve," said the

stately King. And he was about to stride onward through the dark wood

when the enchanted Prince called aloud to him!

"Stay, O King of the Trees," cried the poor Prince. "Hear me even though

I am not of your people. I am a mortal, a prince, and a wicked witch has

turned me into a tree. Can you not help me?"

"Alas, poor friend, I can do nothing," replied the King. "However, do

not despair. In my travels through the world, I shall surely find

someone who can help you. Look for me on next Midsummer Eve."

So the great elm swayed his branches sadly, and the King went on his


The winter came again, silent and dark and cold. At the return of

spring, a maiden who dwelt with a family of wood-cutters came often to

rest in the shade of the great tree. Her father had once been a rich

merchant, but evil times had overtaken him, and at his death the only

relatives who could be found to take care of the little girl were a

family of rough wood-cutters in the royal service. These grudging folk

kept the poor maiden always hard at work and gave her the most difficult

household tasks. The Prince, who knew the whole story, pitied her very

much, and ended by falling quite in love with her. As for the unhappy

maiden, it seemed to her that beneath the sheltering shade of the great

elm she enjoyed a peace and happiness to be found nowhere else.

Now it was the custom of the wood-men to cut down, during the summer,

such trees as would be needed for the coming winter, and one day the

wood-cutter in whose family the maiden dwelt announced his intention of

cutting down the great elm.

"Not the great elm which towers above all the forest?" cried the maiden.

"Yes, that very tree," answered the woodcutter gruffly. "To-morrow

morning we shall fell it to the ground, and to-morrow night we shall

build the midsummer fire with its smaller branches. What are you crying

about, you silly girl?"

"Oh, please don't cut the great elm!" begged the good maiden.

"Nonsense!" said the wood-cutter. "I wager you have been wasting your

time under its branches. I shall certainly cut the tree down in the


All night long, you may be sure, the maiden pondered on the best way to

save the great tree; and since she was as clever as she was good, she at

length hit upon a plan. Rising early on Midsummer Morn, she ran to the

forest, climbed the great elm, and concealed herself in its topmost

branches. She saw the rest of the wood beneath her, and the distant

peaks of the Adamant Mountains; and she rejoiced in the dawn songs of

the birds.

An hour after the sun had risen, she heard the voices of the wood-cutter

and his men as they came through the wood. Soon the band arrived at the

foot of the tree. Imagine the feelings of the poor Prince when he saw

the sharp axes at hand to cut him down!

"I shall strike the first blow," said the chief wood-cutter, and he

lifted his axe in the air.

Suddenly from the tree-top a warning voice sang,--

"Throw the axe down, harm not me.

I am an enchanted tree.

He who strikes shall breathe his last,

Before Midsummer Eve hath passed."

"There is a spirit in the tree," cried the woodcutters, thoroughly

frightened. "Let us hurry away from here before it does us a mischief."

And in spite of all the chief wood-cutter's remonstrances, they ran

away as fast as their legs could carry them.

The chief wood-cutter, however, was bolder-hearted, and lifted the axe

again. As the blade shone uplifted in the sun, the maiden sang once


"Throw the axe down, harm not me.

I am an enchanted tree.

He who strikes shall breathe his last

Before Midsummer Eve hath passed."

Hearing the voice again, the chief began to feel just the littlest bit

alarmed; nevertheless, he stood his ground and lifted the axe a third

time. Once more the girl sang,--

"Throw the axe down, harm not me.

I am an enchanted tree.

He who strikes shall breathe his last

Before Midsummer Eve hath passed."

At the same moment, the elm managed to throw down a great branch which

struck the rogue a sound thump on the shoulders. Now thoroughly

terrified, the chief wood-cutter himself fled from the spot.

All day long, for fear lest he return, the maiden remained hidden in the

tree. At twilight, overcome by weariness, she fell into a deep sleep.

Just before midnight, alas, she was awakened from her slumber by hearing

an angry voice cry,--

"Come down from the tree, wicked, deceitful girl, or I shall cut it down

at once!"

Very much alarmed, the poor maiden looked down through the branches, and

discovered the wood-cutter standing at the foot of the elm. A lantern

swung from his left hand, and his sharpest axe rested on his right

shoulder. He had returned home, and not finding the maiden there, had

suspected that it was her voice which had frightened his men away.

"Come down," roared the rascal. "I'll teach you, you minx, to play

tricks with me. One--two--three." And lifting the axe in the air, he was

about to send it crashing into the trunk of the elm, when the mysterious

murmur which heralded the coming of the King of the Trees sounded

through the wood. Perplexed and frightened again, the chief wood-cutter

let fall his axe. Presently he perceived two beings coming toward him

through the solemn forest. Uttering a howl of fear, the rogue would have

fled, but, lifting his wand, the elder of the newcomers transfixed him

to the spot. The two personages were the King of the Trees and his

friend, the mighty enchanter, Gorbodoc.

"Descend and fear not, maiden," said the King of the Trees. "You have

done bravely and well. Your misfortunes are over, and a happier day is

at hand."

So the brave girl hurried down the tree, and stood before the enchanter

and the King. Very pretty she was, too, in her rustic dress and ribbons.

Lifting his wand with great solemnity, Gorbodoc touched the trunk of the

elm. There was a blinding flash of rosy fire; the great tree appeared to

shrink and dissolve, and presently the Prince stood before them.

"Welcome, Prince," said the enchanter.

"Your enemy, the witch, will trouble you no more. I have turned her into

an owl and given her to the Queen of Lantern Land. As for you," and here

the enchanter turned fiercely upon the wood-cutter, "you shall be a

green monkey, until you have planted and brought to full growth as many

trees as you have cut down."

An instant later, a green monkey swung off into the tree-tops.

Then the grateful Prince thanked the King of the Trees, the mighty

Gorbodoc, and the brave maiden, with all his heart. I am glad to say

that he got his castle back again and married the maiden who had saved

his life, and they lived happily ever after.