There grew a rose-tree in the middle of a garden; it was quite full of roses; and in one of these, the prettiest of them all, dwelt an elf. He was so very, very small, that no human eye could see him; behind every leaf in the rose he had a sleeping-room; he was as well-formed and as pretty as any child could be, and had wings, which reached from his shoulders down to his feet. O, how fragrant were his chambers, and how bright and beautiful the walls were! They were, indeed, the pale pink, delicate rose leaves.
All day long he enjoyed himself in the warm sunshine, flew from flower to flower, danced upon the wings of the fluttering butterfly, or counted how many paces it was from one footpath to another, upon one single lime leaf. What he considered as footpaths, were what we call veins in the leaf; yes, it was an immense way for him! Before he had finished, the sun had set; thus, he had begun too late.
It became very cold; the dew fell, and the wind blew; the best thing he could do was to get home as fast as he could. He made as much haste as was possible, but all the roses had closed—he could not get in; there was not one single rose open; the poor little elf was quite terrified, he had never been out in the night before; he always had slept in the snug little rose leaf. Now, he certainly would get his death of cold!
At the other end of the garden he knew that there was an arbor, all covered with beautiful honeysuckle. The flowers looked like exquisitely painted horns; he determined to creep down into one of these, and sleep there till morning.
He flew thither. Listen! There are two people within the bower; the one, a handsome young man, and the other, the loveliest young lady that ever was seen; they sat side by side, and wished that they never might be parted, through all eternity. They loved each other very dearly, more dearly than the best child can love either its father or mother.
They kissed each other; and the young lady wept, and gave him a rose; but before she gave it to him she pressed it to her lips, and that with such a deep tenderness, that the rose opened, and the little elf flew into it, and nestled down into its fragrant chamber. As he lay there, he could very plainly hear that they said,—Farewell! farewell! to each other; and then he felt that the rose had its place on the young man’s breast. Oh! how his heart beat!—the little elf could not go to sleep because the young man’s heart beat so much.
The rose lay there; the young man took it forth whilst he went through a dark wood, and kissed it with such vehemence that the little elf was almost crushed to death; he could feel, through the leaves, how warm were the young man’s lips, and the rose gave forth its odor, as if to the noon-day’s sun.
Then came another man through the wood; he was dark and wrathful, and was the handsome young lady’s cruel brother. He drew forth from its sheath a long and sharp dagger, and whilst the young man kissed the rose, the wicked man stabbed him to death, and then buried him in the bloody earth, under a lime tree.
“Now he is gone and forgotten!” thought the wicked man; “he will never come back again. He is gone a long journey over mountains and seas; it would be an easy thing for him to lose his life,—and he has done so! He will never come back again, and I fancy my sister will never ask after him.”
He covered the troubled earth, in which he had laid the dead body, with withered leaves, and then set off home again, through the dark night; but he went not alone, as he fancied; the little elf went with him; it sat in a withered, curled-up lime leaf, which had fallen upon the hair of the cruel man as he dug the grave. He had now put his hat on, and, within, it was very dark; and the little elf trembled with horror and anger over the wicked deed.
In the early hour of morning he came home; he took off his hat, and went into his sister’s chamber; there lay the beautiful, blooming maiden, and dreamed about the handsome young man. She loved him very dearly, and thought that now he went over mountains and through woods. The cruel brother bent over her; what were his thoughts we know not, but they must have been evil. The withered lime leaf fell from his hair down upon the bed cover, but he did not notice it; and so he went out, that he, too, might sleep a little in the morning hour.
But the elf crept out of the withered leaf, crept to the ear of the sleeping maiden, and told her, as if in a dream, of the fearful murder; described to her the very place where he had been stabbed, and where his body lay; it told about the blossoming lime tree close beside, and said,—”And that thou mayest not fancy that this is a dream which I tell thee, thou wilt find a withered lime leaf upon thy bed!”
And she found it when she woke.
Oh! what salt tears she wept, and she did not dare to tell her sorrow to any one. The window stood open all day, and the little elf could easily go out into the garden, to the roses and all the other flowers; but for all that, he resolved not to leave the sorrowful maiden.
In the window there stood a monthly rose, and he placed himself in one of its flowers, and there could be near the poor young lady who was so unhappy. Her brother came often into her room, but she could not say one word about the great sorrow of her heart.
As soon as it was night she stole out of the house, went to the wood, and to the very place where the lime tree stood; tore away the dead leaves from the sod, dug down, and found him who was dead! Oh! how she wept and prayed our Lord, that she, too, might soon die!
Gladly would she have taken the body home with her,—but that she could not; so she cut away a beautiful lock of his hair, and laid it near her heart!
Not a word she said; and when she had laid earth and leaves again upon the dead body, she went home; and took with her a little jasmine tree, which grew, full of blossoms, in the wood where he had met with his death.
As soon as she returned to her chamber, she took a very pretty flower-pot, and, filling it with mould, laid in it the beautiful curling hair, and planted in it the jasmine tree.
“Farewell, farewell!” whispered the little elf; he could no longer bear to see her grief, so he flew out into the garden, to his rose; but its leaves had fallen; nothing remained of it but the four green calix leaves.
“Ah! how soon it is over with all that is good and beautiful!” sighed he. At last he found a rose,—which became his house; he crept among its fragrant leaves, and dwelt there.
Every morning he flew to the poor young lady’s window, and there she always stood by the flower-pot, and wept. Her salt tears fell upon the jasmine twigs, and every day, as she grew paler and paler, they became more fresh and green; one cluster of flower-buds grew after another; and then the small white buds opened into flowers, and she kissed them. Her cruel brother scolded her, and asked her whether she had lost her senses. He could not imagine why she always wept over that flower-pot, but he did not know what secret lay within its dark mould. But she knew it; she bowed her head over the jasmine bloom, and sank exhausted on her couch. The little rose-elf found her thus, and, stealing to her ear he whispered to her about the evening in the honeysuckle arbor, about the rose’s fragrance, and the love which he, the little elf, had for her. She dreamed so sweetly, and while she dreamed, the beautiful angel of death conveyed her spirit away from this world, and she was in heaven with him who was so dear to her.
The jasmine buds opened their large white flowers; their fragrance was wondrously sweet.
When the cruel brother saw the beautiful blossoming tree, he took it, as an heir-loom of his sister, and set it in his sleeping-room, just beside his bed, for it was pleasant to look at, and the fragrance was so rich and uncommon. The little rose-elf went with it, and flew from blossom to blossom. In every blossom there dwelt a little spirit, and to it he told about the murdered young man, whose beautiful curling locks lay under their roots; told about the cruel brother, and the heart-broken sister.
“We know all about it,” said the little spirit of each flower; “we know it! we know it! we know it!” and with that they nodded very knowingly.
The rose-elf could not understand them, nor why they seemed so merry, so he flew out to the bees which collected honey, and told them all the story. The bees told it to their queen, who gave orders that, the next morning, they should all go and stab the murderer to death with their sharp little daggers; for that seemed the right thing to the queen-bee.
But that very night, which was the first night after the sister’s death, as the brother slept in his bed, beside the fragrant jasmine tree, every little flower opened itself, and all invisibly came forth the spirits of the flower, each with a poisoned arrow; first of all they seated themselves by his ear, and sent such awful dreams to his brain as made him, for the first time, tremble at the deed he had done. They then shot at him with their invisible poisoned arrows.
“Now we have avenged the dead!” said they, and flew back to the white cups of the jasmine-flowers.
As soon as it was morning, the window of the chamber was opened, and in came the rose-elf, with the queen of the bees and all her swarm.
But he was already dead; there stood the people round about his bed, and they said—”That the strong-scented jasmine had been the death of him!”
Then did the rose-elf understand the revenge which the flowers had taken, and he told it to the queen-bee, and she came buzzing, with all her swarm, around the jasmine-pot.
The bees were not to be driven away; so one of the servants took up the pot to carry it out, and one of the bees stung him, and he let the pot fall, and it was broken in two.
Then they all saw the beautiful hair of the murdered young man; and so they knew that he who lay in the bed was the murderer.
The queen-bee went out humming into the sunshine, and she sung about how the flowers had avenged the young man’s death; and that behind every little flower-leaf is an eye which can see every wicked deed.
Old and young, think on this! and so, Fare ye well.