294 THE ELDER TREE MOTHER
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/
1 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.
1 Yes,' replied the mother, ' no one can imagine how that came about.'
4 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.'
1 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.
4 A story ! a story ! *
4 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