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The Rose-Elf

In the midst of a garden, somewhere's in time, grew a rose-tree, always in full blossom, and in the prettiest of all the roses lived an Elf. He was such a wee little thing, that no human eye could see him. He was as well formed and as beautiful as a little child could be, and had wings that reached from his shoulders down to his feet. Oh, what sweet fragrance there was in his rooms! and how clean and beautiful were the walls! for they were the blushing leaves of the rose, behind which he had his sleeping chamber.

During the whole part of one day he enjoyed himself in the warm sunshine, flitting from flower to flower, and dancing upon the wings of the flying flutter-bys (butterflies). Then he took it into his head to measure how many steps he would have to partake to go through the roads and cross-roads that are ingrained upon a leaf of the linden-tree. What we call the veins of a leaf, he took for roads; aye, and very long roads they were for him; for before he had half finished his task, the sun went down: he had commenced this work too late. It became very cold as the dew fell, and the wind began to blow; so he then thought the best thing he could do would be to return home. He hurried himself as much as he could; but he found the roses all closed up, and he could not get in; not a single rose stood open for him. The poor little Elf was very much frightened for he had never before been out in the air of night, but had always peacefully slumbered away behind the warm rose-petals of his chambers. Oh, this would surely be his death. At the other end of the garden, he knew where there was an arbor, fully overgrown with beautiful honey-suckles. The sweet-smelling blossoms looked like large painted bells as he thought to himself, he would go to sleep in one of these until the morrow. Hence he flew thither; but "hush!" two people were in the arbor, ~~ a handsome young man and a beautiful young maiden. They sat side by side, and wished that they might never be obligated to part for they loved each other much more than the best child can love its father and mother.

"But we must sadly part," said the young man; "your brother does not like our engagement, and there-fore he sends me away on business, over mountains and sea, so very far away. Farewell, my sweet bride; for so you are to me."

And then they kissed each other, and as the maiden wept, she gave to him a rose; but before she did so, she pressed a kiss upon it so fervently that the flower opened from the emotion. There-upon the little Elf flew in, and sighing, leaned his head against the delicate, fragrant walls, eager for rest. Here, inside the rose, he could plainly hear them say, "Farewell, farewell my Love, farewell;" and he felt that the rose had been placed upon the young man's breast. Oh, how his heart did beat! The little elf could not go to sleep, it thumped so strong and so loud. The young man took out this token of their undying love as he walked through the dark wood alone, and kissed the flower so often and so violently, that the little Elf was very nearly crushed. He could feel through the petals how full of passion the lips of the young man were, and the rose had begun opening again, as if from the heat of the noon-tide sun.

Then there came along another man, who looked gloomy and mischievious. He was the wicked brother of the beautiful maiden. He stealthily drew out a sharp blade, and while the other was kissing the rose, the wicked brother stabbed the handsome young man to death; then he cut off his head, and buried it along with the body in the soft, musty earth under the linden-tree.

"Now is he gone, and soon will be forgot," thought the wicked man; "he will come back never again. He was to go on a long journey over mountains and sea alike; it is easy for a man to lose his life in such travels. My fair sister will, at length, suppose him for dead, for he cannot come back, and she will dare not question me about it for some time to come." Then he scattered the dry leaves over the fresh-turned earth with his foot, and returned to his manor through the dark night; but he went not alone, as he thought, – for the little Elf accompanied him. He sat in a dry rolled-up linden leaf, which had fallen from the tree onto the wicked man's head, as he was digging the grave. A hat was on the head now, which made it very dark indeed, and the little Elf shuddered with fright and indignation at the wicked deed he had just witnessed.

It was the dawn of a new morn before the wicked man finally reached home; he took off his hat, and went into his sister's room. There lay the beautiful, blooming maiden, dreaming of him whom she loved so, and who was even now, she supposed, travelling far away over mountain and sea thinking of her. Her wicked brother at this moment stooped over her, and laughed hideously, as only fiends can laugh. The dry leaf then fell out of his hair upon the counterpane, (bedspread); but he did not notice it, in his mirthless glee, and went on to his own chambers to get a bit of sleep during the as yet early morn-tide hours. But the little Elf, beyond sleep himself, slipped out of the withered leaf, placed himself by the ear of the sleeping young maid, and told her, as if in a dream, of the horrid murder; describing the place where her brother had slain her lover, and buried the violated body; and told her of the linden-tree, in full blossom, which stood close by.

"That thou might not think this only a dream which has been told unto thee," said he, "thou wilt find upon thine bed an withered leaf from same said linden-tree." Then she awoke, and found the leaf there. Oh, what bitter tears she did shed! She could not open up her heart to any person for relief.

The window of her room stood open all through the whole day, and the little Elf could have easily reached his roses, or any of the other flowers; but he could not find it within his heart to leave one so afflicted. Upon the window seat stood a bush bearing monthly roses. He seated himself within one of these flowers, and gazed upon the poor girl. Her brother would often come into the room, and would be quite cheerful, yet, in spite of his base conduct she dare not say a word to him of her heart's grief.

As soon as night came on, she slipped out of the house, and went into the wood, to the very spot where the linden-tree stood; and after removing the leaves from the earth, she turned it up, and there found him who had been murdered. Oh, how she wept and beseeched the gods that she also might die! Gladly would she have taken the body home with her; but that was surely impossible; so she took up her betrothed's head with the closed eyes, kissed the cool lips, and shook the mould out from the beautiful hair.

"I will keep this," said she to all the world; and as soon as she had again covered the body with the earth and leaves, she took the young man's head and a little sprig of of jasmine which bloomed in the wood, near to the spot where he was buried, and carried them home with her. As soon as she was within her own rooms, she sought out the largest of the flower-pots she could find, and into this she placed the head of the dead man, covering it with earth and mulch, and planted the twig of jasmine within it.

"Farewell, sorrowful Lady, farewell," whispered the little Elf. He no longer could endure to witness all this agony of her grief; he therefore flew away to his own rose within the garden. But the rose was faded; only a few dry leaves clung yet to the green hedge behind it.

"Alas! how soon it is that all which be good and beautiful does pass away," sighed the Elf.

After a while he found out another rose, which then became his home, for among its delicate fragrant leaves he could dwell in safety. Every morn-tide he flew to the window of the poor maid, and always found her to be weeping by the flower-pot. Her bitter tears fell upon the jasmine twig, and each day, as she became paler and weaker, the sprig appeared to grow greener and fresher. One shoot after another soon sprouted forth, and little white buds began to blossom, which the poor maid fondly kissed. But her wicked brother scolded her, and asked if she was going mad. He could not imagine why she was weeping over that flower-pot, and it so annoyed him. He did not know whose closed eyes were there, nor what red lips were fading beneath the mulched earth.

One day, she sat and leaned her head against the flower-pot, and the little Elf found her in a troubled sleep. He then seated himself by her ear, talking to her of that even-tide long ago in the arbor, of the sweet perfume of the rose, and of the loves of the Elves. Sweetly she dreamed, and whilst she dreamt, her life passed away calmly and gently, and her spirit was with him whom she loved, in the SummerLand. And the jasmine opened its largest white bells, and spread forth its sweet fragrance; for it had no other way of showing its grief for the dead.

But the wicked brother considered the beautiful blooming plant as his own property, left to him by his sister, and so he placed it within his sleeping chamber, close by his bedside, for it was very lonely in appearence, and the fragrance was sweet and delightful.

The little Elf of the Rose followed the flower-pot, and flitted from flower to flower, telling each little spirit that dwelt within them the story of the murdered young man, whose head now formed a part of the earth beneath them, and of the wicked brother, and of the poor sister just dead. "We know it," said each little spirit in the flowers, "we know it, for have we not sprung from the eyes and lips of the murdered one. We know it, we know it," and the flowers nodded with their heads in a most peculiar manner. The Rose-Elf could not understand how the spirits of the flowers could rest so quietly in the matter, and so flew to the bees, who were busily gathering honey, and told them of the deed of the wicked brother. And the bees told it to their queen, who commanded that the following morrow they should go and kill the murderer.

But during the night, the first after the young maiden's death, while the wicked brother was sleeping in his bed, which was close to where he had placed the fragrant jasmine, every single flower cup opened, and invisibly the little spirits stole out, armed with poisonous spears. They placed themselves by the ear of the sleeper, telling him dreadful dreams and then flew across his lips, and pricked his tongue with their poisoned spears. "Now have we rightfully revenged the dead," they said, and flew back into the white bells of the jasmine flowers.

When the morrow came, and as soon as the window was opened, the Rose Elf, with the queen bee, and the whole swarm of bees, rushed in to kill the wicked brother. But he was already dead. People were standing round about the bed, and saying that it was the scent of the jasmine that had killed him. Then the Rose Elf understood the revenge of the flowers, and explained it to the queen bee, and she, with the whole swarm, buzzed about the flower-pot. Although many tried, the bees could not be driven away. A man then took up the flower-pot to remove it, where-upon one of the bees stung him in the hand, so that he let the flower-pot fall, and it was broken into pieces as it hit the stone floor.

Then every one saw the whitened skull, and they knew the dead man in the bed was a murderer. And the queen bee hummed in the air, and sang of the revenge of the flowers, and of the Elf of the Rose, and said that behind even the smallest of leaves dwells One, who can discover evil deeds, and punish them also.

Source: Scandinavian Folk and Fairy Tales: 1836

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