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THERE was once a little boy who had caught cold;he had gone out and got wet feet;no one could imagine how it had happened,for it was quite dry weather.Now his mother undressed him,put him to bed,and had the tea urn brought in to make him a good cup of elder tea,for that warms well.At the same time there also came in at the door the friendly old man who lived all alone at the top of the house,and was very solitary.He had neither wife nor children,but he was very fond of all children,and knew so many stories that it was quite delightful.

“Now you are to drink your tea,”said the mother,“and then perhaps you will hear a story.”

“Ah!If one only could tell a new one!”said the old man,with a friendly nod.“But where did the little man get his feet wet?”he asked.

“Yes,”replied the mother,“no one can imagine how that came about.”

“Shall I have a story?”asked the boy.

“Yes,if you can tell me at all accurately----for I must know that first----how deep the gutter is in the little street through which you go to school.”

“Just half-way up to my knee,”answered the boy,“that is,if I put my feet in the deep hole.”

“You see,that's how we get our feet wet,”said the old gentleman.“Now I ought certainly to tell you a story;but I don't know any more.”

“You can make up one directly,”answered the little boy.“Mother says that everything you look at can be turned into a story,and that you can make a tale of everything you touch.”

“Yes,but those stories and tales are worth nothing!No,the real ones come of themselves.They knock at my forehead,and say,‘Here I am!’”

“Will there soon be a knock?”asked the little boy,and the mother laughed,and put elder tea in the pot,and poured hot water upon it.

“A story! a story!”

“Yes,if a story would come of itself;but that kind of thing is very grand;it only comes when it's in the humour.----Wait!”he cried all at once;“here we have it.Look you;there's one in the tea-pot now.”

And the little boy looked across at the tea-pot.The lid raised itself more and more,and the elder flowers came forth from it,white and fresh;they shot forth long fresh branches even out of the spout,they spread abroad in all directions,and became larger and larger;there was the most glorious elder bush----in fact,quite a great tree.It penetrated even to the bed,and thrust the curtains aside;how fragrant it was,and how it bloomed!And in the midst of the tree sat an old,pleasant-looking woman in a strange dress.It was quite green,like the leaves of the elder tree,and bordered with great white elder blossoms;one could not at once discern whether this border was of stuff or of living green and real flowers.

“What is the woman's name?”the little boy asked.

“The Romans and Greeks,”replied the old man,“used to call her a Dryad;but we don't understand that:out in the sailors'quarter we have a better name for her;there she's called Elder Tree Mother,and it is to her you must pay attention:only listen,and look at that glorious elder tree.”

“Just such a great blooming tree stands out in the sailors'quarter;it grew there in the corner of a poor little yard,and under this tree two old people sat one afternoon in the brightest sunshine.It was an old,old sailor,and his old,old wife;they had great-grandchildren,and were soon to celebrate their golden wedding;but they could not quite make out the date,and the Elder Tree Mother sat in the tree and looked pleased,just as she does here.‘I know very well when the golden wedding is to be,’said she;but they did not hear it----they were talking of old times.

“‘Yes,do you remember,’said the old seaman,‘when we were quite little,and ran about and played together!It was in the very same yard where we are sitting now,and we planted little twigs in the yard,and made a garden.’

“‘Yes,’replied the old woman,‘I remember it very well:we watered the twigs,and one of them was an elder twig;that struck root,shot out other green twigs,and has become the great tree,under which we old people sit.’

“‘Surely,’said he;‘and yonder in the corner stood a butt of water;there I swam my boat;I had cut it out myself.How it could sail!But I certainly soon had to sail in a different fashion myself.’

“‘But first we went to school and learned something,’said she,‘and then we were confirmed;we both cried,but in the afternoon we went hand in hand to the round tower,and looked out into the wide world,over Copenhagen and across the water;then we went out to Fredericksberg,where the King and Queen were sailing in their splendid boats upon the canals.’

“‘But I was obliged to sail in another fashion,and that for many years,far away on long voyages.’

“‘Yes,I often cried about you,’she said.‘I thought you were dead and gone,and lying down in the deep waters,rocked by the waves.Many a night I got up to look if the weathercock was turning.Yes,it turned indeed;but you did not come.I remember so clearly how the rain streamed down one day.The man with the cart who fetched away the dust came to the place where I was in service.I went down to him with the dust-bin,and remained standing in the doorway.What wretched weather it was!And just as I stood there the postman came up and gave me a letter.It was from you! How that letter had travelled about!I tore it open and read;I laughed and wept at once,I was so glad.There it stood written that you were in the warm countries where the coffee-beansgrow.What a delightful land that must be!You told me so much,and I read it all while the rain was streaming down,and I stood by the dustbin.Then somebody came and clasped me round the waist.”

“And you gave him a terrible box on the ear----one that sounded?”

“I did not know that it was you.You had arrived just as quickly as your letter.And you were so handsome;but that you are still.You had a long yellow silk handkerchief in your pocket,and a shiny hat on your head.You were so handsome!And,gracious! what weather it was,and how the street looked!”

“Then we were married,”said he;“do you remember?And then when our first little boy came,and then Marie,and Neils,and Peter and Hans Christian?”

“Yes;and how all of these have grown up to be respectable people,and every one likes them.”

“And their children have had little ones in their turn,”said the old sailor.“Yes,those are children's children!They're of the right sort.It was,if I don't mistake,at this very season of the year that we were married?”

“‘Yes;this is the day of your golden wedding,’said the Elder Tree Mother,putting out her head just between the two old people;and they thought it was a neighbour nodding to them,and they looked at each other,and took hold of one another's hands.

“Soon afterwards came their children and grandchildren;these knew very well that it was the golden weddingday;they had already brought their congratulations in the morning,but the old people had forgotten it,while they remembered everything right well that had happened years and years ago.

“And the elder tree smelt so strong,and the sun that was just setting shone just in the faces of the old people,so that their cheeks looked quite red;and the youngest of their grandchildren danced about them,and cried out quite gleefully that there was to be a feast this evening,for they were to have hot potatoes;and the Elder Mother nodded in the tree,and called out‘hurrah!’with all the rest.”

“But that was not a story,”said the little boy who had heard it told.

“Yes,if you could understand it,”replied the old man;“but let us ask the Elder Mother about it.”

“That was not a story,”said the Elder Mother;“but now it comes;but of truth the strangest stories are formed,otherwise my beautiful elder tree could not have sprouted forth out of the tea-pot.”

And then she took the little boy out of bed,and laid him upon her bosom,and the blossomin............

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