I N the midst of the garden grew a rose-bush which was quite covered with roses; and in one of them, the most beautiful of all, there dwelt an Elf. He was so tiny that no human eye could see him. Behind every leaf in the rose he had a bedroom. He was as well formed and beautiful as any child could be, and had wings that reached from his shoulders to his feet. Oh, what a fragrance there was in his rooms, and how clear and bright were the walls! They were made of the pale-pink rose-leaves.
The whole day he rejoiced in the warm sunshine, flew from flower to flower, danced on the wings of the flying butterfly, and measured how many steps he would have to take to pass along all the roads and cross-roads that are marked out on a single hidden leaf. What we call veins on the leaf were to him highroads and cross-roads. Yes, those were long roads for him! Before he had finished his journey the sun went down, for he had begun his work too late!
It became very cold, the dew fell, and the wind blew; now the best thing to be done was to return home. He made what haste he could, but the rose had shut itself up and he could not get in; not a single rose stood open. The poor little Elf was very much frightened. He had never been out at night before; he had always slumbered sweetly and comfortably behind the warm rose-leaves. Oh, it certainly would be the death of him!
At the other end of the garden there was, he knew, an arbor of fine honeysuckle. The flowers looked like great painted horns, and he wished to go down into one of them to sleep till the next day.
He flew thither. Silence! two people were in there—a handsome young man and a young girl. They sat side by side and wished that they need never part. They loved each other better than a good child loves its father and mother.
"Yet we must part!" said the young man. "Your brother does not like us, therefore he sends me away on an errand so far over mountains and seas. Farewell, my sweet bride, for that you shall be!"
And they kissed each other, and the young girl wept and gave him a rose. But before she gave it to him she impressed a kiss so firmly and closely upon it that the flower opened. Then the little Elf flew into it and leaned his head against the delicate, fragrant walls. Here he could plainly hear them say, "Farewell! farewell!" and he felt that the rose was placed on the young man's heart. Oh, how that heart beat! The little Elf could not go to sleep, it thumped so.
But not long did the rose rest undisturbed in that breast. The man took it out, and as he went lonely through the wood he kissed the flower so often and so fervently that the little Elf was almost crushed. He could feel through the leaf how the man's lips burned, and the rose itself had opened as if under the hottest noonday sun.
Then came another man, gloomy and wicked; he was the bad brother of the pretty maiden. He drew out a sharp knife, and while the other kissed the rose the bad man stabbed him to death, and then, cutting off his head, buried both head and body in the soft earth under the linden-tree.
"Now he's forgotten and gone!" thought the wicked brother; "he will never come back again. He was to have taken a long journey over mountains and seas. One can easily lose one's life, and he has lost his. He cannot come back again, and my sister dare not ask news of him from me."
Then with his feet he shuffled dry leaves over the loose earth and went home in the dark night. But he did not go alone, as he thought; the little Elf accompanied him. The Elf sat in a dry, rolled-up linden-leaf that had fallen on the wicked man's hair as he dug. The hat was now placed over the leaf, and it was very dark in the hat, and the Elf trembled with fear and with anger at the evil deed.
In the morning hour the bad man got home; he took off his hat and went into his sister's bedroom. There lay the beautiful blooming girl, dreaming of him whom she loved from her heart, and of whom she now believed that he was going across the mountains and through the forests. And the wicked brother bent over her and laughed hideously, as only a fiend can laugh. Then the dry leaf fell out of his hair upon the coverlet; but he did not remark it, and he went to sleep a little himself in the morning hour. But the Elf slipped forth from the withered leaf, placed himself in the ear of the sleeping girl, and told her, as in a dream, the dreadful history of the murder; described to her the place where her brother had slain her lover and buried his corpse; told her of the blooming linden-tree close by it, and said:
"That you may not think it is only a dream that I have told you, you will find on your bed a withered leaf."
And she found it when she awoke. Oh, what bitter tears she wept! The window stood open the whole day; the little Elf could easily get out to the roses and all the other flowers, but he could not find it in his heart to quit the afflicted maiden. In the window stood a plant, a monthly rose-bush; he seated himself in one of the flowers and looked at the poor girl. Her brother often came into the room, and, in spite of his wicked deed, he always seemed cheerful; but she dared not say a word of the grief that was in her heart.
As soon as the night came she crept out of the house, went to the wood to the place where the linden-tree stood, removed the leaves from the ground, turned up the earth, and immediately found him who had been slain. Oh, how she wept and prayed that she might die also!
Gladly would she have taken the corpse home with her, but that she could not do. Then she took the pale head with the closed eyes, kissed the cold mouth, and shook the earth out of the beautiful hair. "That I will keep," she said. And when she had laid earth upon the dead body she took the head and a little sprig of the jasmine that bloomed in the wood where he was buried home with her.
As soon as she came into her room she brought the greatest flower-pot she could find; in this she laid the dead man's head, strewed earth upon it, and then planted the jasmine twig in the pot.
"Farewell! farewell!" whispered the little Elf; he could endure it no longer to see all this pain, and therefore flew out to his rose in the garden. But the rose was faded; only a few pale leaves clung to the wild bush.
"Alas! how soon everything good and beautiful passes away!" sighed the Elf.
At last he found another rose, and this became his house; behind its delicate, fragrant leaves he could hide himself and dwell.
Every morning he flew to the window of the poor girl, and she was always standing weeping by the flower-pot. The bitter tears fell upon the jasmine spray; and every day, as the girl became paler and paler, the twig stood there fresher and greener, and one shoot after another sprouted forth, little white buds burst out, and these she kissed. But the bad brother scolded his sister and asked if she had gone mad. He could not bear it, and could not imagine why she was always weeping over the flower-pot. He did not know what closed eyes there were there, what red lips had there faded into earth. And she bowed her head upon the flower-pot, and the little Elf of the rose-bush found her slumbering there. Then he seated himself in her ear, told her of the evening in the arbor, of the fragrance of the rose, and the love of the elves. And she dreamed a marvelously sweet dream, and while she dreamed her life passed away. She had died a quiet death, and she was in heaven with him whom she loved.
And the jasmine opened its great white bells. They smelt quite peculiarly sweet; it could not weep in any other way over the dead one.
But the wicked brother looked at the beautiful blooming plant, and took it for himself as an inheritance, and put it in his sleeping-room close by his bed, for it was glorious to look upon, and its fragrance was sweet and lovely. The little Rose-elf followed and went from flower to flower—for in each dwelt a little soul—and told of the murdered young man whose head was now earth beneath the earth, and told of the evil brother and of the poor sister.
"We know it!" said each soul in the flower; "we know it; have we not sprung from the eyes and lips of the murdered man? We know it! we know it!"
And then they nodded in a strange fashion with their heads.
The Rose-elf could not at all understand how they could be so quiet, and he flew out to the bees that were gathering honey and told them the story of the wicked brother. And the bees told it to their Queen, and the Queen commanded that they should all kill the murderer next morning. But in the night—it was the first night that followed upon the sister's death—when the brother was sleeping in his bed close to the fragrant jasmine, each flower opened, and, invisible but armed with poisonous spears, the flower-souls came out and seated themselves in his ear and told him bad dreams, and then flew across his lips and pricked his tongue with the poisonous spears.
"Now we have avenged the dead man!" they said, and flew back into the jasmine's white bells.
When the morning came and the windows of the bedchamber were opened, the Rose-elf and the Queen Bee and the whole swarm of bees rushed in to kill him.
But he was dead already. People stood around his bed and said, "The scent of the jasmine has killed him!" Then the Rose-elf understood the revenge of the flowers, and told it to the Queen and to the bees, and the Queen hummed with the whole swarm around the flower-pot. The bees were not to be driven away. Then a man carried away the flower-pot, and one of the bees stung him in the hand, so that he let the pot fall and it broke in pieces.
Then they beheld the whitened skull, and knew that the dead man on the bed was a murderer.
And the Queen Bee hummed in the air and sang of the revenge of the bees, and of the Rose-elf, and said that behind the smallest leaf there dwells One who can bring the evil to light and repay it.