Hans Christian Andersen
ONCE upon a time there was a little
boy who had taken cold. He had gone out and got his feet wet; though nobody
could imagine how it had happened, for it was quite dry weather. So his
mother undressed him, put him to bed, and had the tea-pot brought in,
to make him a good cup of Elderflower tea. Just at that moment the merry
old man came in who lived up a-top of the house all alone; for he had
neither wife nor children--but he liked children very
"Now drink your tea," said the boy's mother; "then, perhaps, you may hear a fairy tale."
"If I had but something new to tell," said the old man. "But how did the child get his feet wet?"
"That is the very thing that nobody can make out," said his mother.
"Am I to hear a fairy tale?" asked the little boy.
"Yes, if you can tell me exactly--for I must know that first--how deep the gutter is in the little street opposite, that you pass through in going to school."
"Just up to the middle of my boot," said the child; "but then I must go into the deep hole."
"Ah, ah! That's where the wet feet came from," said the old man. "I ought now to tell you a story; but I don't know any more."
"You can make one in a moment," said the little boy. "My mother says that all you look at can be turned into a fairy tale: and that you can find a story in everything."
"Yes, but such tales and stories are good for nothing. The right sort come of themselves; they tap at my forehead and say, 'Here we are.'"
"Won't there be a tap soon?" asked the little boy. And his mother laughed, put some Elder-flowers in the tea-pot, and poured boiling water upon them.
"Do tell me something! Pray do!"
"Yes, if a fairy tale would come of its own accord; but they are proud and haughty, and come only when they choose. Stop!" said he, all on a sudden. "I have it! Pay attention! There is one in the tea-pot!"
And the little boy looked at the tea-pot. The cover rose more and more; and the Elder-flowers came forth so fresh and white, and shot up long branches. Out of the spout even did they spread themselves on all sides, and grew larger and larger; it was a splendid Elderbush, a whole tree; and it reached into the very bed, and pushed the curtains aside. How it bloomed! And what an odour! In the middle of the bush sat a friendly-looking old woman in a most strange dress. It was quite green, like the leaves of the elder, and was trimmed with large white Elder-flowers; so that at first one could not tell whether it was a stuff, or a natural green and real flowers.
"What's that woman's name?" asked the little boy.
"The Greeks and Romans," said the old man, "called her a Dryad; but that we do not understand. The people who live in the New Booths have a much better name for her; they call her 'old Granny'--and she it is to whom you are to pay attention. Now listen, and look at the beautiful Elderbush.
"Just such another large blooming Elder Tree stands
near the New Booths. It grew there in the corner of a little miserable
court-yard; and under it sat, of an afternoon, in the most splendid sunshine,
two old people; an old, old seaman, and his old, old wife. They had great-grand-children,
and were soon to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their marriage;
but they could not exactly recollect the date: and old Granny sat in the
tree, and looked as pleased as now. 'I know the date,' said she; but those
below did not hear her,
"'Yes, can't you remember when we were very little,' said the old seaman, 'and ran and played about? It was the very same court-yard where we now are, and we stuck slips in the ground, and made a garden.'
"'I remember it well,' said the old woman; 'I remember it quite well. We watered the slips, and one of them was an Elderbush. It took root, put forth green shoots, and grew up to be the large tree under which we old folks are now sitting.'
"'To be sure,' said he. 'And there in the corner stood a waterpail, where I used to swim my boats.'
"'True; but first we went to school to learn somewhat,' said she; 'and then we were confirmed. We both cried; but in the afternoon we went up the Round Tower, and looked down on Copenhagen, and far, far away over the water; then we went to Friedericksberg, where the King and the Queen were sailing about in their splendid barges.'
"'But I had a different sort of sailing to that,
later; and that, too, for
"'Yes, many a time have I wept for your sake,' said
she. 'I thought you were dead and gone, and lying down in the deep waters.
Many a night have I got up to see if the wind had not changed: and changed
it had, sure enough; but you never came. I remember so well one day, when
the rain was pouring down in torrents, the scavengers were before the
house where I was in service, and I
"'Yes; but you gave him a good box on his ear that made it tingle!'
"'But I did not know it was you. You arrived as soon as your letter, and you were so handsome--that you still are--and had a long yellow silk handkerchief round your neck, and a bran new hat on; oh, you were so dashing! Good heavens! What weather it was, and what a state the street was in!'
"'And then we married,' said he. 'Don't you remember? And then we had our first little boy, and then Mary, and Nicholas, and Peter, and Christian.'
"'Yes, and how they all grew up to be honest people, and were beloved by everybody.'
"'And their children also have children,' said the old sailor; 'yes, those are our grand-children, full of strength and vigor. It was, methinks about this season that we had our wedding.'
"'Yes, this very day is the fiftieth anniversary
of the marriage,' said old Granny, sticking her head between the two old
people; who thought it was their neighbor who nodded to them. They looked
at each other and held one another by the hand. Soon after came their
children, and their grand-children; for they knew well enough that it
was the day of the fiftieth anniversary, and had come
"But that is no fairy tale," said the little boy, who was listening to the story.
"The thing is, you must understand it," said the narrator; "let us ask old Nanny."
"That was no fairy tale, 'tis true," said old Nanny; "but now it's coming. The most wonderful fairy tales grow out of that which is reality; were that not the case, you know, my magnificent Elderbush could not have grown out of the tea-pot." And then she took the little boy out of bed, laid him on her bosom, and the branches of the Elder Tree, full of flowers, closed around her. They sat in an aerial dwelling, and it flew with them through the air. Oh, it was wondrous beautiful! Old Nanny had grown all of a sudden a young and pretty maiden; but her robe was still the same green stuff with white flowers, which she had worn before. On her bosom she had a real Elderflower, and in her yellow waving hair a wreath of the flowers; her eyes were so large and blue that it was a pleasure to look at them; she kissed the boy, and now they were of the same age and felt alike.
Hand in hand they went out of the bower, and they were
standing in the beautiful garden of their home. Near the green lawn papa's
walking-stick was tied, and for the little ones it seemed to be endowed
with life; for as soon as they got astride it, the round polished knob
was turned into a magnificent neighing head, a long black mane fluttered
in the breeze, and four slender yet
"Huzza! Now we are riding miles off," said the boy. "We are riding away to the castle where we were last year!"
And on they rode round the grass-plot; and the little
maiden, who, we know, was no one else but old Nanny, kept on crying out,
"Now we are in the country! Don't you see the farm-house yonder?
And there is an Elder Tree standing beside it; and the cock is scraping
away the earth for the hens, look, how he struts! And now we are close
to the church. It lies high upon the hill,
And all that the little maiden, who sat behind on the
stick, spoke of, flew by in reality. The boy saw it all, and yet they
were only going round the grass-plot. Then they played in a side avenue,
and marked out a little garden on the earth; and they took Elder-blossoms
from their hair, planted them, and they grew just like those the old people
planted when they were children, as related before. They went hand in
hand, as the old people had done when they were children; but not to the
Round Tower, or to Friedericksberg; no, the little damsel wound her arms
round the boy, and then they flew far away through all Denmark. And spring
came, and summer; and then it was autumn, and then winter; and a thousand
pictures were reflected in the eye and in the heart of the boy; and the
little girl always sang to him, "This you will never
"It is lovely here in spring!" said the young maiden. And they stood in a beech-wood that had just put on its first green, where the woodroof at their feet sent forth its fragrance, and the pale-red anemony looked so pretty among the verdure. "Oh, would it were always spring in the sweetly-smelling Danish beech-forests!"
"It is lovely here in summer!" said she. And she flew past old castles of by-gone days of chivalry, where the red walls and the embattled gables were mirrored in the canal, where the swans were swimming, and peered up into the old cool avenues. In the fields the corn was waving like the sea; in the ditches red and yellow flowers were growing; while wild-drone flowers, and blooming convolvuluses were creeping in the hedges; and towards evening the moon rose round and large, and the haycocks in the meadows smelt so sweetly. "This one never forgets!"
"It is lovely here in autumn!" said the little
maiden. And suddenly the atmosphere grew as blue again as before; the
forest grew red, and green, and yellow-colored. The dogs came leaping
along, and whole flocks of wild-fowl flew over the cairn, where blackberry-bushes
were hanging round the old stones. The sea was dark blue, covered with
ships full of white sails; and in the barn old women, maidens, and children
were sitting picking hops into a
"It is delightful here in winter!" said the little maiden. And all the trees were covered with hoar-frost; they looked like white corals; the snow crackled under foot, as if one had new boots on; and one falling star after the other was seen in the sky. The Christmas-tree was lighted in the room; presents were there, and good-humor reigned. In the country the violin sounded in the room of the peasant; the newly-baked cakes were attacked; even the poorest child said, "It is really delightful here in winter!"
Yes, it was delightful; and the little maiden showed the
boy everything; and the Elder Tree still was fragrant, and the red flag,
with the white cross, was still waving: the flag under which the old seaman
in the New Booths had sailed. And the boy grew up to be a lad, and was
to go forth in the wide world-far, far away to warm lands, where the coffee-tree
grows; but at his departure the little maiden took an Elder-blossom from
her bosom, and gave it him to keep; and it was placed between the leaves
of his Prayer-Book;
Thus passed many years, and he was now an old man, and
sat with his old wife under the blooming tree. They held each other by
the hand, as the old grand-father and grand-mother yonder in the New Booths
did, and they talked exactly like them of old times, and of the fiftieth
anniversary of their wedding. The little maiden, with the blue eyes, and
with Elder-blossoms in her hair, sat in the tree, nodded to both of them,
and said, "To-day is the fiftieth anniversary!" And then she
took two flowers out of her hair, and
"Thus it is," said the little maiden in the tree, "some call me 'Old Nanny,' others a 'Dryad,' but, in reality, my name is 'Remembrance'; 'tis I who sit in the tree that grows and grows! I can remember; I can tell things! Let me see if you have my flower still?"
And the old man opened his Prayer-Book. There lay the Elder-blossom, as fresh as if it had been placed there but a short time before; and Remembrance nodded, and the old people, decked with crowns of gold, sat in the flush of the evening sun. They closed their eyes, and--and--! Yes, that's the end of the story!
The little boy lay in his bed; he did not know if he had dreamed or not, or if he had been listening while someone told him the story. The tea-pot was standing on the table, but no Elder Tree was growing out of it! And the old man, who had been talking, was just on the point of going out at the door, and he did go.
"How splendid that was!" said the little boy. "Mother, I have been to warm countries."
"So I should think," said his mother. "When one has drunk two good cupfuls of Elder-flower tea, 'tis likely enough one goes into warm climates"; and she tucked him up nicely, least he should take cold. "You have had a good sleep while I have been sitting here, and arguing with him whether it was a story or a fairy tale."
"And where is old Nanny?" asked the little boy.
"In the tea-pot," said his mother; "and there she may remain."
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