The Forest Full of Friends
T HERE was once a little orphan girl named Elsa, who lived in a lonely place by the side of a great forest, with an old woman who was her only friend. Elsa's father and mother had died when she was a baby, and this old woman had brought her home to care for her, so they two had lived there together until Elsa was ten years old.
But now the old woman was growing so old that she thought it unlikely that she could live much longer, so she began to look about for another place to which Elsa could go. There was only one place she could think of, and that was the king's palace. It stood in the capital city, and that was not so far away but that one could walk to it; and although the old woman had not been there for many years, she knew what a beautiful palace it was, and that it was full, not only of princes and princesses, but of courtiers and fine ladies and pages and maids-of-honor.
Now on the first day of every year the king chose from among the children of the kingdom a boy and a girl, the best-looking and best-behaved that could be found, to be kept at the palace and brought up among the pages and maids-of-honor. The old woman knew that Elsa, although she was a poor child and never had any fine clothing, was growing to be very beautiful. She was also remarkably well-behaved. For these reasons, she thought, Elsa might be chosen as one of the children of the palace, and if only she were, there would be no more care about her future.
So, when the next New Year was near at hand, the old woman explained to Elsa that, as she might not live much longer, she wished to find her another home, and told her that she intended to take her to the palace, in order to see whether the king would not choose her to be a maid-of-honor. Elsa was a little frightened at the thought, for she had never been in a palace, and did not believe that she could ever learn to live there. She thought it would be much more pleasant to stay with the old woman. But the old woman explained to her that that was only because she had never been to the great city and seen what a beautiful place it was. So Elsa let the old woman prepare the best dress that she could find, and went with her to the city, starting very early on the morning of New Year's Day.
Elsa had never imagined anything so beautiful as the great city, with the palace standing in its center, surrounded by a splendid park. Could it be possible, she said to herself, that she would ever really live in such a place? When they approached the gate, they saw many other children coming, brought by their families and friends in the hope that they would be chosen by the king; but, though they were all dressed more finely than Elsa, the old woman said to herself that there was none of them more beautiful. So she still hoped for success.
But when they came up to the palace door, and asked if they might be admitted for the choosing of the children, the porter said to Elsa:
"Where are your friends?"
"I have no friends," she answered, "except this old woman."
"Impossible!" said the porter. For he saw that she was
really very beautiful, and wished to admit her. "You must
have other friends. Do you not know that it is one of
the rules that every child coming
Then Elsa and the old woman noticed that all the other children coming through the entrance were accompanied by groups of friends, dressed quite as splendidly as the boys and girls themselves. But it did them no good to learn of this custom, for neither of them had a friend in the whole city.
"I am very sorry to have troubled you," said Elsa to the porter, "but I have no other friends in the world."
And the porter, though he spoke very kindly to them, knew that the king would not allow him to break the rules. So he opened the gate for them, and they turned sadly away.
When they reached home that night they were very tired, and the little house at the edge of the forest seemed small and lonely, after the sight of the great city and its people. Still, Elsa was not sorry to be at home again, and to find that she need not leave the old woman. There was only one thing that made her sad: that was to think that she had no other friends. She had never been troubled by this before, but when she had seen the children playing together on the city streets, and had been unable to think of any friends in the whole world whom she might ask to introduce her at the palace, she knew for the first time what it was to be really lonesome. And for this reason the little yard of the old woman's house was no longer as pleasant a place as it had been before.
The old woman watched Elsa and knew why it was that she was not happy. A day or two after their journey to the city she called her into the house, and said to her:
"I think you had better go into the forest and play."
"Why, what do you mean?" said Elsa, for the forest was very big and dark, and people were so afraid of what might be hidden in it, that throughout all the kingdom it was called the Forest Full of Fears. So Elsa said: "Why are you not afraid to have me go into the forest?"
"Because," said the old woman, "you are old enough now to know that there is nothing bad in the forest, if you take nothing bad into it. And as I see that you are feeling lonely, I think you might find some friends there."
This seemed even more strange to Elsa, that friends could be found in that great, dark forest. But she believed that the old woman must know what she was talking about, so she made ready to go.
"Come here," said the old woman again, before she had started. "I have something to give you. These are very wonderful drops, that my father gave to me before he died, and I have been keeping them for you all these years, for there are not many of them left. You must use only a drop or two at a time."
"And what are they for?" asked Elsa.
"To put on your ears," said the old woman, "so that you may understand any one who speaks in a different language from your own. I think you may find some friends in the forest that you could not understand without them. So take them with you." And she gave Elsa a tiny bottle, which the little girl hid inside her dress with the greatest care. It seemed very strange to her to be really walking in the Forest Full of Fears, but she did not feel afraid. It was a bright day, so that the sunshine came through the thick branches of the trees, and made beautiful shadows on the ground. There was also a little breeze blowing through the forest, that made the leaves rustle in a whispering way, as if they were talking to Elsa. Indeed, the more she listened to them, the more it seemed to her as if they were really trying to speak to her.
"I wonder," she said to herself, "if the little bottle could help me to understand them?" Since it would do no harm to try, she took it out, and touched each of her ears with a drop of what was in it.
Immediately a very strange thing happened. The leaves seemed to rustle just as they had before, but Elsa now knew just what they were saying. It was:
"Welcome to the Forest Full of Friends!"
"Dear me!" said Elsa. "Is that what you have been saying all along? Why, I supposed this was the Forest Full of Fears."
This time the leaves said: "No, no, no, no, no!" and then repeated what they had rustled before: "Welcome to the Forest Full of Friends!"
"Well," said Elsa, "if that is really its name, I am glad I came to it, for friends are the very things I want most."
She had not gone far into the forest before she heard another sound, that of a brown bird that sat singing on the branch of a tree. It did not occur to her that his song could have any particular meaning, but as she came nearer to him he did not fly away, like the birds she had seen outside the forest, but stopped his song and chirped at her as if he had something to tell her.
"Is it possible," said Elsa, "that I can understand the bird too?" She took out her little bottle again, and put another tiny drop on each of her ears. Sure enough! Though the bird's voice sounded just as it had before, what he was saying was now perfectly plain. It was:
"Good morning! good morning! It's a beautiful morning!"
"Good morning," said Elsa politely. "It is a lovely morning, that's true. Do you live here in the forest?"
"Yes, indeed! yes, indeed! yes, indeed!" said the bird. "I'm very glad to see you."
"Thank you," said Elsa. "I'm very glad to see you, too, but you must not let me interrupt your singing." For she did not quite know what else one could talk about to a bird, yet she wanted to be as polite as possible. The bird understood, and went on with another verse of his song.
Elsa walked on into the forest, now and then picking a pretty flower, and sometimes sitting down to rest on a mossy bank. While she was sitting in this way at the foot of a tree, a squirrel came down from one of the branches over her head, and began chirruping merrily at her. He was a very gay little squirrel, with laughing eyes and a tail that shook when he laughed, like a fat man's sides. Elsa was very sure she wanted to understand the squirrel, and indeed she found that she could do so without putting any more drops on her ears. He was saying:
"Jolly old forest, isn't it? Jolly old forest, isn't it? You've no idea where my nuts are, have you? But you're perfectly welcome to any you can find."
He seemed to think this was such a good joke that Elsa laughed, too, as she answered:
"Thank you. I should like a nut or two pretty soon, for my walk has made me a little hungry."
The squirrel did not make any answer, but ran up the side of the tree again, and Elsa was wondering whether she could have offended him, when a big nut fell straight into her lap. She looked up and saw the squirrel's eyes twinkling at her. Then he threw down another nut, and another, until she called to him that she could not possibly eat any more.
Surely there was never a forest with more polite or more friendly people in it. After she had left the squirrel's tree, Elsa met a very pleasant little chipmunk, and a frog who lived in the brook, and a wood-mouse whose home was at the roots of an oak tree, besides I do not know how many more cheerful birds. She was delighted to find that she could understand all of them, by the help of the old woman's wonderful gift; and they told her that they did not need any magical drops to help them to understand her, for they had ways of understanding boys and girls that they had known for hundreds of years. By the time it was growing dark, and Elsa began to hurry back toward home, she felt as if she had made more friends that day than in all her life before. And indeed she had.
From that time the old woman never saw her looking lonely. The forest was always close at hand, and there were always new friends to make, as well as old ones to visit with. Elsa often took crumbs of bread and cake into the forest, as gifts to her friends there, and they showed her all their secret stores, and let her take whatever she wanted, knowing that she would never really rob them or wish them any harm. So before many months had gone by, Elsa had actually forgotten that there had ever been such a place as the Forest Full of Fears.
At last nearly a whole year had passed since the old woman had taken her to the city, and Elsa remembered that it would soon be time for the king to make another choice of children for the palace. She reminded the old woman of this, and laughingly said to her:
"In those days I had no friend but you. Now I have plenty of them, if the king only knew it."
"Sure enough!" said the old woman. "I think we had better go again to the palace, and tell the porter that you have a Forest Full of Friends, if he will come here to see them."
The old woman was thinking again that she had not much longer to live, and she was also very sure that Elsa had been growing more and more beautiful all the year, so she fancied that in some way they might be able to get admission to the king, and persuade him to take her as one of the children of the palace. She took out the dress which Elsa had worn the year before, and made it large enough for her to wear again. Then she told her that they would make another journey to the city on New Year's Day.
When the old woman awoke on the morning of the great day, she found Elsa already dressed for the journey, but to her astonishment she saw that the child had with her a squirrel, a bird, a frog, a butterfly, and a cricket—some of them perched on her shoulder, the others in her hands.
"Why, what in the world is all this?" asked the old woman.
"These are my five friends from the forest," said Elsa. "I do not want to go to the palace again without any friends to introduce me, and so I went into the forest very early, and asked them if they would be willing to go with us. And when they found the reason, they were all delighted to come."
The old woman did not quite know what to say to this, but she followed the wise rule of saying nothing in such cases. So they set out on the road to the city, with Elsa's five friends for company.
Everything in the city looked just as it had the year before: there was the same crowd entering the palace gates, and the same porter at the door. When he saw Elsa and the old woman, he remembered them at once, and he was certain that Elsa was twice as beautiful as she had been a year ago.
"But," he said, "why have you all these creatures with you? Are they presents for the king?"
"No," said Elsa, "they are the five friends that you said I must have to introduce me. Last year I had only one friend, but now I have plenty."
"Very good," said the porter. "But I do not see how these friends can introduce you to the king, when they can not speak his language."
"If you will only let me take them in to the king," said Elsa, "I will promise that he shall understand what they say." For she had brought her little bottle along, and knew that it would do for the king what it had done for her.
At last the porter threw open the door, for although he had no idea what Elsa meant, he was sure the king would wish to see such a beautiful girl. So he led her, and the old woman, and the squirrel, and the bird, and the frog, and the butterfly, and the cricket, to the room where the king sat on his throne.
"If your Majesty pleases," said Elsa, "I have brought five friends to introduce me, as the porter told me I must do. If you will only touch your ears with two drops from my little bottle, you will know what they are saying."
The king was so much surprised that he did not know what to answer. But Elsa was so beautiful that he thought she might perhaps be a fairy child, so he took the drops which she offered him, and touched then to his two ears. Then the bird began to chirp, and the squirrel began to chatter, and the frog began to croak, and the cricket began to sing, and the butterfly flew close to the king's ear and whispered so low that no one else could have heard him, even if the room had been very still. No one but the king knew what the five friends said—not even Elsa, for she had not taken any of the drops for herself. But she was sure that her friends would say only pleasant things about her, for they all loved her dearly. The king was so much pleased to be able to understand them, and to hear what they said, that he beckoned to Elsa to come to him, and then drew her close and set her on his knee—a thing that no king had ever been known to do before.
"So you want to come to live in the palace, and be brought up as a maid-of-honor, or perhaps a princess?" he said.
"Yes," said Elsa, "if your Majesty wants me, and if my oldest friend, who has taken care of me all my life, can come to stay here, too, as long as she lives."
"It shall be done!" said the king. And he sent word to the porter that he need not admit any other little girls to be chosen until next New Year's Day.
So they showed Elsa and the old woman to their rooms in the palace, where they were to live happily for many a long day. But first, Elsa asked leave to take her five friends to a gate in the palace wall, from which they could easily find their way back to the forest.
"Would you not like to keep some of them here with you?" asked the king. "I should really like to have them for my friends, too."
"You may easily have them for your friends," said Elsa, "but they would not be happy away from their own forest. And I do not think I can be happy, either, unless I can often go back there to visit them."
"You shall do so," said the king.
And he gave orders that the map of the kingdom should be changed, so that the Forest Full of Fears should now be known everywhere as the Forest Full of Friends.