The Fertilizer Mine
Despite feeling so bad, having to leave the aspidistras behind, Alice had given them her word that she would return with some fertilizer, and so she would. “All that I have to do,” she said, “is to find the mine, and get a bag of it, that can’t be so hard, can it? Now, I wonder…” she said, “Which way shall I go, to the left, to the right or continue straight ahead?” Without having any idea as to where the mine was actually located, Alice thought it best to follow her nose. “I can’t go too far wrong, doing that,” she said as she stepped off the path, onto a swathe of neatly cut lawn.
As she walked further away from the path, the neat grasses of the lawn gave way to a wild terrain, where hill after hill beckoned her on. Alice tried, she tried so hard to cross all of those hills, going up and down and up and down, but after climbing ten (or was it perhaps twenty?) she was too tired to go on any further. “They must go on forever,” Alice groaned, in exasperation at the hopelessness of it all. “I can’t take another step,” she said, sitting down, taking off her shoes and socks to give her poor feet a rest. As she gazed across hill after hill, thinking she might never see a flat piece of land again, Alice noticed something halfway up the next hill, something that looked incredibly like the entrance to a mine.
Scrambling to her feet, shouting excitedly, she said, “That must be it! That must be the mine entrance!” With her shoes and socks tucked under her arms, Alice set off, running towards the mine entrance, determined to find the aspidistras some fertilizer.
Although she had seen the mine entrance quite clearly from where she was standing, it took Alice another long time (or was it a short time?) until she reached it. “I am so glad to see you,” she said to the ramshackle gates, when she finally reached the mine entrance. “If I had taken me one minute longer, I fear I might never have arrived here at all.” Sitting upon the ground, Alice put on her shoes and socks. Noticing a sign attached to one of the gates, she stood up and studied it in detail. With a finger across her lips (she found it easier to work things out that way) Alice inspected the square, yellow-painted metal sign; it read:
‘This is a mine, of that you well know,
But what kind of mine be it tin, be it coal?
If you dares to pass through and goes down for a see,
Can you hope to return and be free?’
“What a strange sign to hang outside a mine,” she thought as she read it again, in the hope that it made more sense the second time around. It didn’t; the rhyme was still just as confusing to her.
Tugging hard on the rusty old gates, Alice managed to prise them open. Seeing how dark it was inside, she searched for to use as a torch. Finding nothing, she entered the mine, hoping that her eyes became accustomed to the darkness within.
The way into the fertilizer mine (if that’s what it actually was) sloped gently downwards, allowing the light from the entrance to spill far into its mysterious interior. Alice searched high and low, inside the mine, she searched every nook and cranny, where even the faintest wisp of light entered, without finding even one speck of fertilizer.
Sitting upon a rock jutting out from the floor, she groaned, “It’s useless, I’ll never find anything in this silly old mine.”
“Yous’ll never find anything, if yous don’t look for it,” said a voice from a particularly dark part of the mine.
“Who said that?” Alice asked, staring into the darkness, where she thought the voice had come from.
“I might be asking yous the same q’estion,” the voice replied, “considering it’s yous who are invaading my home.”
“Invading?” said Alice, taken aback by the cruel accusation being hurled against her. “How can I be invading your home, when all that I am doing is looking for some fertilizer?”
“It depends, on how yous sees it,” the voice replied.
“On how yous sees it?” said Alice, highlighting his incorrect use of the English language.
“Let me explain,” the voice continued. “If I wur t’break into yours home…”
“I did not break into – anywhere!” Alice insisted, hurt that she could be accused of so despicable a crime.
“If yous will allow me t’continue?”
“I am sorry, please go on,” she said, trying to hold back a tear.
“Now where wus I?”
“I was breaking into your home…”
“Oh, yes,” said the voice from the darkness. “If I wur t’break into yours home, I might very well end up before a gistrate.”
“A what?” said Alice, confused by the strange words he was using.
“A gistrate – who could easily see fit t’send me t’jail.”
“Oh, you mean a magistrate.”
“Yes, that’s what I be saying, a gistrate,” the voice replied. “But yous cuum down here, willy-nilly, like yous owns the place, and are upset if I reprimand yous for doing so.”
“I can understand if this was a house,” said Alice, “but it’s only an old mine.”
“It might be an old mine t’yous, but it’s a home t’me,” said the voice that seemed to be getting closer by the second.
“If you were an elf or a troll – or even a goblin, I might believe that,” said Alice, fearing the conversation would go on forever, that she might never resume her hunt for the fertilizer, “but…”
“And what makes you think that I am not one of those creatures?” the voice asked as its body appeared from out of the darkness.
“You are an elf!” Alice gasped. “And an incredibly old one at that!”
“There is no need t’be rude,” the little, big-eared man replied, as he sat upon a small rock, opposite Alice.
Inspecting his clothes, they were of a terribly coarse material – hessian, Alice surmised – she asked, “Are you really an elf?” She attempted to touch one of his long, pointy ears.
“Less of that, m’dear,” he said, “don’t you know that elves’ ears are sensitive things?”
“Yes, of course,” he replied in a happier tone of voice, appearing to have forgotten all about the house invasion.
Just then, Alice remembered the aspidistras waiting for the fertilizer, and she began crying, thinking she might never secure them some.
“Let’s not be haaving any of that,” said the elf, who felt even smaller than his meagre two foot six inches in height. Grinning, he nudged Alice, saying, “Yous did say fertilizer, didn’t yous?”
Taking her hanky from out of her apron pocket, Alice blew her nose. “Oh, yes, Mr Elf, I did,” she said. “You see, it’s not for me, it’s for the aspidistras – they haven’t been fertilised for ages. I think it might be years and years!”
Still grinning, the little man said, “Fle, my name is Fle. And before yous start laughing, let me tell yous that it’s spelt FLE. That’s Elf, backwards, you know. Old mum thought it would be easier for her to r’member it, that way.”
“I shan’t laugh, Mr Fle,” Alice promised.
“Just Fle,” he chuckled. “Forget ‘bout the Mr bit – makes me feel older than yous already think I am.” He laughed again, so also did Alice.
“Is all of this really fertilizer?” Alice asked when Fle led her through a concealed passageway, into a hidden part of the mine, packed to the ceiling with white cotton sacks and bags.
“Every bit of it, m’dear,” he proudly proclaimed. Pulling a rope Fle opened a window high in the roof, flooding the dark cavern with daylight. Bringing Alice on a tour of his mine, he showed her how much fertilizer he had stashed within it. “How many sacks will yous be requiring?” he asked. “Yous can have as many as y’like, y’know.”
“Only need the one bag,” she told him. “That is all I can carry.”
“Only the one bag?” he asked, scratching his head, confused. “Hardly seems wurth putting it on.”
“Yes, just the one bag, please,” Alice repeated.
Still scratching his head, Fle asked, “How many of them oispidistries did yous say there wur?”
Laughing at how funny he could be, Alice said, “They’re called aspidistras. And there must be, now let me see…” Raising her hands Alice began counting on her fingers, trying to work out how many plants needed fertilising. She counted and counted and then counted some more. Just as she thought she had finished calculating the amount, Alice remembered a ten she had carried over, but had forgotten to add on, so she had to start all over again. When she had finally finished, the smile had all but disappeared from her face, as she whispered, “There are one hundred aspidistras, perhaps two hundred on a good day. That is way too many plants for one bag of fertilizer. Oh, Fle, what am I going to do?”
“Never yous mind, m’dear,” Fle answered “There will be plenty of fertilizer for all of them there oispidistries.”
Ordering Alice to return to the surface, Fle set about organising the fertilizer, and its means of carriage. Thirty minutes later he arrived at the surface, pulling a dilapidated cart behind him, containing two bags, one small and one large, filled with his prized fertilizer. Peering through the rickety gates, he said, “Hello m’dear.”
“Oh, Mr Fle,” Alice excitedly replied, “is this all for me?”
“It’s Fle, no Mr, remember?”
, Fle,” she giggled.
“And, yes,” the little man replied, as he pulled his cart to a halt, “all of this is for those oispidistries of yours.”
“You are the nicest elf that I could ever have hoped to meet,” said Alice.
Once again noticing the yellow painted sign on the gates, Alice asked, “Why did you put that sign up?”
“That be t’stop folks cuuming in an staaling the fertilizer,” the wily old elf explained.
“But there’s no shortage – you have loads of it!” a puzzled Alice replied.
Patting the side of his nose, Fle said, “Keeps everyone on their toes, it dus, thinking there might be…”