Florella by Mrs.
W. J. Hays
A CHRISTMAS FAIRY TALE
There was once a child named Florio, who had neither father nor
mother, uncle nor aunt, and so it happened that he was adopted by a
witch. He might have had a fairy godmother if anybody had
remembered to ask one to the christening, but as no one took enough
interest in him for that, it was neglected, and poor Florio became
the property of a hideous, hateful old hag, who was never so happy
as when she was making trouble. Of course Florio was compelled to
do her bidding. Naturally inoffensive and gentle, he was
continually obliged to do violence to his conscience by obeying the
For instance, the witch—who was known by the name of
Fussioldfuri, and lived in a miserable cavern when she was not
travelling about—had great delight in spoiling any one's innocent
amusement or upsetting his or her plans; she even started children
quarrelling and disputing; indeed, she found this one of her
particular pastimes when she was not engaged in annoying older
It was among children that she made Florio particularly
useful—so useful, in fact, that he never had a friend. If she
found him amusing himself with a happy little company, she made him
do some selfish or ugly thing which at once put a stop to all the
cheerfulness; and often, before he knew what he was about, he would
be struggling and kicking and screaming and flinging himself upon
one or the other of his comrades, while Fuss—as we must call
her for convenience—laughed till she shook, and tears of joy
ran down her ugly leathery cheeks. Then Florio, ashamed, miserable,
and unhappy, would creep off to a corner and weep as if his little
heart would break.
It was after one of these dreadful occurrences one day that
Florio, hiding in the woods, heard a strange rustling among the
bushes. He was so used to wandering about after old Fuss, and
living anyhow and anywhere, that he was more
like a little
creature of the woods himself than anything else, and it took a
good deal to frighten him. Patter, patter, patter it went. What
could it be? He peered in and out and under the bush, but he saw
nothing except a nest full of little blue eggs, which he would not
touch for the world; no, he knew too well how pleased old Fuss
would be to have him disturb this little bird family, and he
concealed it again. As he did so, the sweetest little voice
Florio jumped as if a wasp had stung him.
"Yes," continued the voice, "you couldn't have pleased me
"But who are you? where are you?" asked Florio, to whom kind
words were unknown, but on whom they had the effect of making his
heart beat with a new and strange emotion.
"I cannot tell you anything just now very well, but if you will
meet me here in the moonlight this evening, Florio, I will be glad
to see you."
"To-night?" questioned the boy, who did not like the
"Yes, child; have no fear. I am the fairy Florella. Adieu."
were generally too short for Florio, who hated the nights in the
dismal cavern, when Fuss pulled his hair and pinched his nose and
tripped him up over her staff by way of amusement; but now he
longed for the night to come, although it must be confessed he was
not without fears. Fuss was uglier than usual, but this did not
affect Florio as it might have done had he not had something
unusual and exciting to think of. Soon as the witch tumbled down on
her heap of straw for the night, and showed by her heavy breathing
and frightful snoring that she was asleep, Florio crept softly from
It was a beautiful evening, soft and balmy, but to leave the
bright roadway and enter the dark woods demanded some courage, for
ill-usage had rendered Florio timid in the darkness, though, as I
have said before, he did not fear wild animals. Indeed, when a
young fox came cautiously out of the thicket, and glanced about,
Florio approached near enough to touch his bushy tail.
It was somewhat difficult to find the precise spot of the day's
occurrence, but he noticed that whenever he went in a wrong
direction a crowd of fire-flies would start up and show him the
right way, and thus he was enabled to find the sweet-brier bush. As
he reached it he heard the same patter, patter, patter on the
leaves of the bush, and looking up he saw what caused the sound.
Troops of tiny creatures were fluttering from leaf to leaf. Each
had little silvery wings like butterflies, and each carried sprigs
and sprays of blossoms, while following them came elves of most
grotesque appearance, bearing platters of fruit and wild honey. In
a moment they had formed a circle on the grass, and danced about,
singing as they went, while the elves arranged a feast.
When all was in readiness, one—of largest size and of
apparent superiority—beckoned to Florio to come near. Afraid
to disobey, yet equally fearful of treading upon them, Florio
approached, and in a moment he was surrounded, and with gentle
pressure obliged to take their various offerings. One gave him
grape leave cups and baskets woven of perfumed grasses, another
filled them with honey and fruit, while all laughed to see what
appeared to them the enormous quantities necessary for one so
you have done well to obey me," said the same sweet voice he had
heard in the daytime. "This, added to your consideration for the
bird's-nest to-day, has pleased me, and your evident misery has
aroused my compassion. Fussioldfuri is an enemy of ours, and I
never expected to see one trained by her show a pitiful or kind
spirit. It proves to me that there must be something in you worth
cultivating. Are you willing to be guided by me? Do you want to
leave old Fuss, and become one of my servitors?"
Florio was not quite sure that he fully understood all that was
said to him, but he was delighted at the idea of leaving Fuss, and
Florella smiled upon him, and continued, "It may not be so easy
as you imagine; those who serve me have to stand a test of
faithfulness, energy, and courage. Our life seems one of careless
mirth, but it is not so. We, of course, are happy, and enjoy
ourselves; but we have many duties, and are not altogether free, as
would be supposed. I am at the head of this little band. We are
Flower Fairies, cousins to the Wind Fairies and Herb Elves. I am
familiar with every wild-flower that grows, and I
desirous of getting for our forests some seeds of the Swiss
Edelweiss. If you can procure them for me I will reward you
Poor Florio heard this speech with consternation. He had never
in all his life known one flower from another. Where, when, how
could he go? And if he went, how should he escape Fuss? These
thoughts made the poor child falter and grow pale. It would have
been so much easier to say he could not do it, and have done with
the matter; but the remembrance of his horrible slavery, and the
thought that Florella believed in his ability to aid her,
stimulated his courage, and he said,
"I know nothing of flowers, dear lady; I am a very ignorant
fellow; but if you will direct me, and tell me where to go, I am
ready to try."
"Spoken well, my lad," said the fairy. "I do not expect
impossibilities. We are the only ones who can do what seems
impossible to man. The Edelweiss is a mountain flower, growing on
the highest Alps, and many a man has lost his life striving to
pluck it for one he loved. It is much esteemed for its rarity, and
because of the often great difficulty of getting it. See, here
is a dried
blossom;" and she put in his hand a small white flower like an
immortelle, though Florio thought that it looked as if it were made
of flannel, it was so soft and woolly.
"This you must keep; see, I will put it in this case of
birch-bark, and you had better place it in your bosom. Now I must
tell you about the journey. To leave Fussioldfuri immediately might
make the task more difficult. She is about starting for the
mountains, and if you keep with her a while longer you will be able
to find the place you need much sooner than if you went alone. But
when you reach Geneva you are to leave her. Can you remember
"Oh yes, the rhyme will help me:
"'When I get to
Then I must leave her.'"
"Exactly; and then you are to seek the Edelweiss, and when you
have gathered the seeds you are to meet me here in this forest,
whether it be winter or whether it be summer. Adieu."
The fairy vanished, and with her went her band—nodding,
waving, and kissing their finger-tips.
Oh, how dreary the woods seemed without the
The wind sighed in the pines, and the moonlight cast fearful
shadows from the gnarled and knotty boughs.
Florio rose with a sigh and stretched his limbs, wondering if it
was worth while to try and do the fairy's bidding when he had to go
back to hear the dreaded voice of old Fuss. Then he made sure of
the birch-bark case, and again with the aid of the fire-flies found
the road. Fuss was sound asleep still when he laid himself down on
his bundle of straw in the farthest corner of the cavern. One thing
he did not notice, and that was the young fox whose bushy tail he
had touched going into the woods. It had followed him home, and
crept in under the straw beside him.
High up in the Swiss mountains a storm was brewing. On their
cloud-capped summits nothing could be seen but snow—dazzling,
blinding white snow, and wreaths of vapor which congealed as it
fell. All day the people of the hamlets had been preparing for
knowing full well that they should be housed for weeks after its
descent, and as Christmas was approaching, it was needful that much
should be done.
As the day grew darker, each hurried to complete his or her
work, and none essayed more eagerly to do this than young Franz,
the goatherd; but try as he would, the heedless, wanton little
flock were constantly escaping from him, and if it had not been for
Jan, the great mastiff of the famous St. Bernard breed, he would
have been still more troubled. As it was, he found one goat missing
when he went to house them, and again he had to take his alpenstock
and try what he could do.
By this time the storm was indeed upon them, and between the
wind and the snow, the icy atmosphere and the darkness, Franz had
about concluded to let the goat go, when Jan began to sniff about
and bark, and show by signs as easily read as print that he was
seeking something. Franz thought it must be on account of the goat,
but just then old Nan appeared with her customary capriciousness,
and made no resistance to the cord with which Franz bound her.
kept up his scratching and sniffing and barking, and Franz knew
only too well that there was no use in opposing him, although his
fingers and toes were half frozen.
As soon as the dog saw that Franz recognized the necessity of
following him he quieted down, and with a zealous industry nosed
the path from side to side, as if in search of something; nor did
he have to go far, for they presently descried what seemed like a
big snow-heap on one side of the now undiscoverable path.
Here Jan halted and looked intently; then he began scratching
and whining again, and Franz saw a bit of cloth. Soon an arm
appeared, and next a leg, and after vigorous work from both Franz
and Jan, the whole figure of a child, clasping something in its
arms, was uncovered. Dead or alive, Franz knew not which it was;
but very well he knew what it was the child carried, for its big
bushy red tail showed it to be a fox, and it too was as motionless
and lifeless as the child.
The goatherd had braved the dangers of the mountains all his
lifetime, and knew how to be cool and decided in the presence of
danger. He had his knife and drinking-cup beside him, and
slung over his shoulder. In a moment he had made Nan stand still
while he milked her, and then he pried open the stiff lips of the
lad, and forced the warm liquid within. As he did so, the child
revived and swallowed, for he had not been long unconscious. Then
putting him on Jan's back, and driving Nan before him, Franz made
his way home as best he could.
It was late when tired Franz, whose mother was in the door-way
looking anxiously for him, arrived. All the children were within,
and the fire was burning brightly. On the table the soup was
steaming. An exclamation of surprise arose from all as Jan and his
burden marched in.
"Who is it?" "Where did he come from?" "Where did you find him?"
"What was he doing all alone in the storm?" burst from all their
"So, so; slowly, please," answered the cool and courageous
Franz. Then he told them his adventure.
"A stranger lad, lost on the roadside," murmured the mother, as
she took the boy from Jan and carefully undressed him, the children
meanwhile attending to the nearly frozen fox.
child! poor child! he shall be welcome. A sorry Christmas it is for
"Not when he fell into your hands, good mother," said Franz,
ladling out the soup.
"No indeed—no indeed," said one and all.
But the mother's words seemed to be the truth, for though the
child revived, and was able to take nourishment, a fever set in,
from which he did not rally. Day by day he lay in the little
curtained recess where he could see them all with his great
wondering eyes, watching them carve their beautiful toys—for
this was their winter work—but saying nothing, for he knew
not their language, and only one word had he uttered which they
This word was simply "Edelweiss." "Edelweiss," he muttered, when
the fever was at its height, and "Edelweiss" he softly whispered
The children called him "Little Edelweiss," and fed his fox,
which lapped their hands and brought a sweet smile to the face of
the little sufferer.
Christmas-eve would be on the morrow, and all were busy dressing
the room with boughs of evergreen. The tree stood in the corner, waiting
for its glittering fruit. Outside the sheaf of grain had been tied
to a pole for the snow-birds. All had some trifling gifts prepared
for a joyful keeping of the day, Franz only seemed to be uneasy. He
would glance at the pale face of his little foundling, and then he
would look out to see if the weather was fine, and at last he
reached up for his thickest wrap and staff, and away he went up the
mountain-side. Nothing could be seen up that way but the red roof
of a convent, and peak after peak of ice piercing the blue sky.
It was late when he returned and put something carefully behind
the tree. All were waiting for their supper, for they were anxious
to go to bed that the dear Christmas might the sooner come.
His mother scolded a little, but the stranger boy put up his
thin hand reprovingly, as if he could not bear to have Franz
rebuked, and then they all laughed, for they all loved Franz.
But soon they were sleeping quietly, and the moon shone upon
happy faces—only the little guest tossed and murmured
came, and with it many a merry greeting. And now they could hardly
wait for the day to pass. Long before dark the table was set with
its sausages and spice-cake, and beside each plate a mysterious
packet—for the tree bore only glittering trifles. And when
the girls in their pretty scarlet bodices and whitest chemisettes
sat down, and the mother reverently asked God's blessing on their
food, all broke into a joyful carol. Then they examined their
gifts, and the little stranger was given his share of the good
But just then Franz arose and brought from behind the tree a
curious looking box. Tearing off the papers a small but hardy plant
was revealed, and putting it in the hands of the invalid, Franz
pointed to its buds and said one word, "Edelweiss."
A cry of joy burst from the boy's lips, and he clasped his
treasure as if it had been indeed a flower from paradise.
"Edelweiss! Edelweiss!" was all he could utter, but the sweet
and grateful tone thanked Franz better than a thousand other words
could have done.
"Why, Franz," they all asked, "Where did you
get it at
this season? It does not grow in winter."
"No," said Franz, "I know that it does not, but I have often
found it in summer, and I just happened to remember plucking some
by the roots last spring for Father Glückner up at the
convent—he is always gathering roots and herbs for the sick,
and he has a great curiosity to transplant wild-flowers that he may
see what they will produce under cultivation. See; this plant
already has flowers—months too soon. He has several others,
so he gave me this quite willingly."
While they were talking, the little stranger had drawn a small
case of birch-bark from his pocket, and was earnestly comparing the
faded and pressed flower it contained with the blooming one beside
him. His face glowed with happiness, and from that moment his
restoration to health began.
Again the summer-time had come, with all its warmth and beauty.
The fairies were thronging all the wildwood one lovely
evening, when a tall, handsome lad, with light, quick tread and
merry glancing eyes, entered the woods, followed by a red fox, and
boldly shouted, "Florella! Florella!" making the woods ring with
You would not have supposed that this could be the same boy
whose sobbing aroused Florella's compassion—the poor,
trembling little creature, spiritless and unhappy, who had hardly
dared to say his name was Florio. But so it was; and when he called
so loudly in his cheery voice, Florella quickly came forth from the
sweet-brier bush and stood before him.
Doffing the cap which covered his curly pate, and bending on one
knee, Florio presented without words the small plant which he had
guarded with the utmost care.
A look of gracious sweetness came into the fairy's face, and she
examined the flowers with the eye of one accustomed to look at
things closely. Having assured herself that it was the desired
plant, she turned to her assistants and invited them to examine it
also. All agreed that it was the far-famed Edelweiss, and there was
a great fluttering of wings, and soft exclamations of delight and
excited surprise, until Florella, with a gentle wave of her hand,
"Now, young knight of our fair domain," she said, addressing
Florio, "give me some account of your journeying, for not only have
you done all that I desired, but more: here are not only seeds, but
flowers and root. I pray you be seated while I listen."
Florio had learned to be mannerly, so with cap in hand he only
leaned against a beech-tree, and began:
"When you bade me depart with that dreadful old Fuss, dear lady,
my heart failed me entirely, and I thought I should not be able to
do your bidding. So long had I been used to her cruel power that
the thought of opposing her filled me with alarm; but curiously
enough the very night I hastened from you to the miserable cavern
we called home, a young fox followed me, and unknown to me slept by
my side. When I awoke the witch was preparing for her journey, for
on her back and by her side she carried bags of all shapes and
sizes, with everything in them that could do mischief. In one was
snuff, in another was pepper, and in a third was mustard, and in
all were flinty pebbles and bits of glass. Some of these were for people's
eyes and some for their feet, and she had hardly room for the
mouldly old crusts and pieces of cheese which furnished us with
"As soon as she saw the fox, which I was petting with delight,
she made a pass at it with her stick, which I am sure would have
killed it had I not caught the blow. The little fellow sprang from
my arms and bit her heel, which made her so very angry that I had
to run for my life—but, strange to say, after that he was my
"Although she bade me drown him, and although I, remembering
your commands, disobeyed her, she did not dare come near me when I
had him in my arms. Day after day he followed me, night after night
he slept beside me, and though I had fewer beatings, old Fuss
watched me closely; she seemed to know that I wanted to get away
"We toiled along on the roadsides, begging from house to
"At last one day we came to a beautiful sheet of water, blue and
sparkling in the sunshine. Everywhere I went I had gathered
flowers—sometimes they were only weeds, such as dandelions and
daisies, but here on the banks of this lovely lake I found the
sweetest blossoms. From every one I had tried to learn the names of
the plants, but it was a very difficult matter, for half the time
they misunderstood my signs, and supposed I was only making game of
them; besides, when Fuss came up with her horrible jargon, every
one was so disgusted that he would have nothing to do with me.
"but every day I repeated as a lesson the one word 'Edelweiss,'
and whenever I had the chance I would say this to a stranger.
Generally they took no notice—sometimes they would smile, and
point to the mountain-peaks before us.
"The day we reached the lake Fuss was in one of her ugliest
moods: she had not received a penny from any passer-by, and she had
not been able to make a young boatman quarrel with his companions,
although she had sprinkled pepper about until they were all
sneezing as if they were crazy. I was weary and disconsolate,
sitting paddling in the water, and the fox was not by me, having
run after a rat that had crawled from the wreck of an old unused craft.
Without a word of warning Fuss came up behind me and gave me a
"Over I went into the water, head and heels both submerged.
Strangling, puffing, battling for my life, I rose to the surface. I
had fallen just where the water was shallow, but where grasses and
water-plants so entangled my feet that I could not swim, and should
certainly have been drowned had not one of the boatmen thrown me a
rope and drawn me to the shore.
"'Hang her!' 'Drown her for an old witch!' were the exclamations
I heard from the rough by-standers, and also, 'Take her to the jail
at Geneva.' This aroused me. Now I knew the name of the fine town
towards which so many were wending their way.
"'When you get to
Then you must leave
"Oh, joy! Then I need no longer follow my dreadful guide! And
there were people about who spoke English.
"As soon as I could discover who these English people were I
made inquiries of them, and found they were servants of some persons
travelling in their own conveyance. Tattered and draggled and wet,
I dared not do more than run after the carriage at a respectful
distance, with my fox in my arms, and so fearful was I of being
overtaken by old Fuss that I darted into the woods whenever a
wayfarer approached. But my fears were needless, for so alarmed had
the witch been at the threats of the boatmen that she disappeared
suddenly. Some said they saw her flying over the woods on a
broomstick, with all her wretched rags and tags fluttering behind
her like the tail of a kite.
"After this I toiled on, often hungry, always weary, but
frequently meeting with kindness. I only wanted to find some place
of shelter from the cold until the warm weather should return
again, and I could renew my search for your flower.
"At last, one bitter day, striving to reach a convent where I
had found out they received poor people like myself, I fell, during
a blinding storm, and had neither the courage nor the wish to make
the effort to rise. Gradually a heavy sleep came on. I forgot my
woes, and dreamed of a garden of roses, among which
brilliant butterflies and golden bees.
"I was aroused from this sleep by a barking and scratching, and
the forcing open of my mouth to make me swallow some warm milk. A
goatherd had found me, and putting me on the back of his great dog,
carried me home. From that moment my troubles ended. Franz, the boy
who found me, had a warm heart. His home became mine. I was ill,
but all did what they could to make my sufferings less. I had only
the one word, 'Edelweiss,' at my command, and but the one
hope—that of procuring the flower.
"Christmas-day came. All were rejoicing, all were happy; but
none could appreciate my joy when the noble Franz put this plant in
my possession, his Christmas gift to me. I recovered immediately,
and happiness so inspired me that I learned their language, and was
enabled to tell them my story. All agreed that I must return to
you, but must wait till I was strong for the journey. While with my
friends I watched them carve their beautiful toys, some of which I
have brought you, and learned to do their exquisite work myself. I
also went often to the convent, and learned much from the
celebrated Father Glückner about herbs and flowers.
See; I have brought these packets of seeds, and a good collection
of remarkable specimens. And all the time my little fox has been my
pet, my companion, my solace. Accept, then, dear lady, these proofs
of my obedience."
So saying, Florio finished speaking. As he stopped, his cheeks
flushed with pleasant emotion, a nightingale poured forth a
warbling stream of melody. The fairy drew her band around her and
"Happy mortal, thus to have achieved success. Your faithfulness
and courage shall be well rewarded. Look! this is your home, this
we have prepared for you. Our emissary, the young fox, had warned
us of your approach, and we have all in readiness."
Saying this, she led the astonished Florio to a cottage of
twisted vines and roots, built by herself and her attendant elves.
The walls were brilliant with innumerable glow-worms and fireflies,
which sparkled like living gems; the floor was soft with scented
rushes. Garlands of roses festooned the rooms, in one of which was
a table filled with fruit. Smiling with glee, Florella watched her
young friend's admiration, which
complete astonishment when from an adjoining apartment came Franz
and Rosa, the goatherd and his sister. His joy was now complete,
but when he turned to thank Florella she was nowhere to be
Thus it came to pass that we know of the famous gardener and
seedsman Florio, whose plants are of boundless celebrity, and whose
cultivated blossoms outrival the famous exotics of the world. In
this forest he lived, and raised from season to season every flower
that grows. No frost seemed to touch them, no drought withered
them, for Florella was true to her promise of reward, and in
addition to giving Florio a home, gave him also health and wealth
The elves were always on guard against moles and injurious
worms, the fairies sprinkled the seeds and protected the young
buds, and basking in the sunshine outside the cottage door was
always to be found Florio's pet, the red fox, whom Florella for a
time had chosen to be his guardian. Franz and Rosa also induced
their family to leave the Alpine snows for the beautiful land of