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The Elfin-Grove

‘I HOPE,’ said a woodman one day to his wife, ‘that the children will not run into that fir-grove by the side of the river; who they are that have come to live there I cannot tell, but I am sure it looks more dark and gloomy than ever, and some queer-looking beings are to be seen lurking about it every night, as I am told.’ The woodman could not say that they brought any ill luck as yet, whatever they were; for all the village bad thriven more than ever since they came; the fields looked gayer and greener, and even the sky was a deeper blue. Not knowing what to say of them, the farmer very wisely let his new friends alone, and in truth troubled his head very little about them. That very evening little Mary and her playfellow Martin were playing at hide and seek in the valley. ‘Where can he be hid?’ said she; ‘he must have gone into the fir-grove,’ and down she ran to look. Just then she spied a little dog that jumped round her and wagged his tail, and led her on towards the wood. Then he ran into it, and she soon jumped up the bank to look after him, but was overjoyed to see, instead of a gloomy grove of firs, a delightful garden, where flowers and shrubs of every kind grew upon turf of the softest green; gay butterflies flew about her, the birds sang sweetly, and, what was strangest, the prettiest little children sported about on all sides, some twining the flowers, and others dancing in rings upon the shady spots beneath the trees. In the midst, instead of the hovels of which Mary had heard, there was a palace that dazzled her eyes with its brightness. For a while she gazed on the fairy scene around her, till at last one of the little dancers ran up to her, and said, ‘And you are come at last to see us? we have often seen you play about, and wished to have you with us.’ Then she plucked some of the fruit that grew near; and Mary at the first taste forgot her home, and wished only to see and know more of her fairy friends.
Then they led her about with them and showed her all their sports. One while they danced by moonlight on the primrose banks; at another time they skipped from bough to bough among the trees that hung over the cooling streams; for they moved as lightly and easily through the air as on the ground: and Mary went with them every where, for they bore her in their arms wherever they wished to go. Sometimes they would throw seeds on the turf, and directly little trees sprung up; and then they would set their feet upon the branches, while the trees grew under them, till they danced upon the boughs in the air, wherever the breezes carried them; and again the trees would sink down into the earth and land them safely at their bidding. At other times they would go and visit the palace of their queen; and there the richest food was spread before them, and the softest music was heard; and there all around grew flowers which were always changing their hues, from scarlet to purple and yellow and emerald. Sometimes they went to look at the heaps of treasure which were piled up in the royal stores; for little dwarfs were always employed in searching the earth for gold. Small as this fairy land looked from without, it seemed within to have no end; a mist hung around it to shield it from the eyes of men; and some of the little elves sat perched upon the outermost trees, to keep watch lest the step of man should break in and spoil the charm. ‘And who are you?’ said Mary one day. ‘We are what are called elves in your world,’ said one whose name was Gossamer, and who had become her dearest friend: ‘we are ‘told you talk a great deal about us’; some of our tribes like to work you mischief, but we who live here seek only to be happy: we meddle little with mankind but when we do come among them, it is to do them good.’ ‘And where is your queen?’ said little Mary. ‘Hush! hush! you cannot see or know her: you must leave us before she comes back, which will be now very soon, for mortal step cannot come where she is. But you will know that she is here when you see the meadows gayer, the rivers more sparkling, and the sun brighter.’ Soon afterwards Gossamer told Mary the time was come to bid her farewell, and gave her a ring in token of their friendship, and led her to the edge of the grove. ‘Think of me,’ said she; ‘but beware how you tell what you have seen, or try to visit any of us again, for if you do, we shall quit this grove and come back no more.’ Turning back, Mary saw nothing but the gloomy fir-grove she had known before. ‘How frightened my father and mother will be!’ thought the as she looked at the sun, which had risen some time. ‘They will wonder where I have been all night, and yet I must not tell them what I have seen.’ She hastened homewards, wondering however, as she went, to see that the leaves, which were yesterday so fresh and green, were now falling dry and yellow around her. The cottage too seemed changed, and, when she went in, there sat her father looking some years older than when she saw him last; and her mother, whom she hardly knew, was by his side. Close by was a young man; ‘Father,’ said Mary, ‘who is this?’ ‘Who are you that call me father?’ said, he; ‘are you — no you cannot be - our long-lost Mary?’ But they soon saw that it was their Mary; and the young man, who was her old friend and playfellow Martin, said, ‘No wonder you had forgotten me in seven years; do not you remember how we parted seven years ago while playing in the field? We thought you were quite lost;’ but we are glad to see that some one has taken care of you and brought you home at last.’ Mary said nothing, for she could not tell all; but she wondered at the strange tale, and felt gloomy at the change from fairy land to her father’s cottage. Little by little she came to herself, thought of her story as a mere dream, and soon became Martin’s bride. Every thing seemed to thrive around them; and Mary called her first little girl Elfie, in memory of her friends. The little thing was loved by every one. It was pretty and very good-tempered; Mary thought that It was very like a little elf; and all, without knowing why, called it the fairy child. One day, while Mary was dressing her little Elfie, she found a piece of gold hanging round her neck by a silken thread, and knew it to be of the same sort as she had seen in the hands of ‘the fairy dwarfs. Elfie seemed sorry at its being seen, and said that she had found it in the garden. But Mary watched her, and soon found that she went every afternoon to sit by herself in a shady place behind the house: so one day she hid herself to see what the child did there; and to her great wonder Gossamer was sitting by her side. ‘Dear Elfie,’ she was saying, ‘your mother and I used to sit thus when she was young and lived among us. Oh! if you could come and do so too! but since our queen came to us it cannot be; yet l will come and see you and talk to you, whilst you are a child; when you grow up we must part for ever.’ Then she plucked one of the roses that grew around them and breathed gently upon it, and said, ‘Take this for my sake. It will keep its freshness a whole year.’ Then Mary loved her little Elfie more than ever; and when she found that she spent some hours of almost every day with the elf, she used to hide herself and watch them without being seen, till one day when Gossamer was bearing her little friend through the air from tree to tree, her mother was so frightened lest her child should fall that she could not help screaming out, and Gossamer set her gently on the ground and seemed angry, and flew away. But still she used sometimes ...