Flower FablesLouisa May Alcott
Produced by John Hamm and Miriam Bobkoff. HTML version by Al Haines.
Louisa May Alcott
"Pondering shadows, colors, clouds Grass-buds, and caterpillar shrouds Boughs on which the wild bees settle, Tints that spot the violet's petal." EMERSON'S WOOD-NOTES.
TO ELLEN EMERSON, FOR WHOM THEY WERE FANCIED, THESE FLOWER FABLES ARE INSCRIBED, BY HER FRIEND,
Boston, Dec. 9, 1854.
The Frost King: or, The Power of Love Eva's Visit to Fairy-Land The Flower's Lesson Lily-Bell and Thistledown Little Bud Clover-Blossom Little Annie's Dream: or, The Fairy Flower Ripple, the Water-Spirit Fairy Song
THE summer moon shone brightly down upon the sleeping earth, whilefar away from mortal eyes danced the Fairy folk. Fire-flies hungin bright clusters on the dewy leaves, that waved in the coolnight-wind; and the flowers stood gazing, in very wonder, at thelittle Elves, who lay among the fern-leaves, swung in the vine-boughs,sailed on the lake in lily cups, or danced on the mossy ground,to the music of the hare-bells, who rung out their merriest pealin honor of the night.
Under the shade of a wild rose sat the Queen and her littleMaids of Honor, beside the silvery mushroom where the feastwas spread.
"Now, my friends," said she, "to while away the time till the brightmoon goes down, let us each tell a tale, or relate what we have doneor learned this day. I will begin with you, Sunny Lock," added she,turning to a lovely little Elf, who lay among the fragrant leavesof a primrose.
With a gay smile, "Sunny Lock" began her story.
"As I was painting the bright petals of a blue bell, it told methis tale."
THE FROST-KING: OR,THE POWER OF LOVE.
THREE little Fairies sat in the fields eating their breakfast;each among the leaves of her favorite flower, Daisy, Primrose,and Violet, were happy as Elves need be.
The morning wind gently rocked them to and fro, and the sunshone warmly down upon the dewy grass, where butterflies spreadtheir gay wings, and bees with their deep voices sungamong the flowers; while the little birds hopped merrily aboutto peep at them.
On a silvery mushroom was spread the breakfast; little cakesof flower-dust lay on a broad green leaf, beside a crimsonstrawberry, which, with sugar from the violet, and creamfrom the yellow milkweed, made a fairy meal, and their drink wasthe dew from the flowers' bright leaves.
"Ah me," sighed Primrose, throwing herself languidly back,"how warm the sun grows! give me another piece of strawberry,and then I must hasten away to the shadow of the ferns. Butwhile I eat, tell me, dear Violet, why are you all so sad?I have scarce seen a happy face since my return from Rose Land;dear friend, what means it?"
"I will tell you," replied little Violet, the tears gatheringin her soft eyes. "Our good Queen is ever striving to keepthe dear flowers from the power of the cruel Frost-King; many waysshe tried, but all have failed. She has sent messengers to his courtwith costly gifts; but all have returned sick for want of sunlight,weary and sad; we have watched over them, heedless of sun or shower,but still his dark spirits do their work, and we are left to weepover our blighted blossoms. Thus have we striven, and in vain;and this night our Queen holds council for the last time. Thereforeare we sad, dear Primrose, for she has toiled and cared for us,and we can do nothing to help or advise her now."
"It is indeed a cruel thing," replied her friend; "but as we cannothelp it, we must suffer patiently, and not let the sorrows of othersdisturb our happiness. But, dear sisters, see you not how highthe sun is getting? I have my locks to curl, and my robe to preparefor the evening; therefore I must be gone, or I shall be brown asa withered leaf in this warm light." So, gathering a tiny mushroomfor a parasol, she flew away; Daisy soon followed, and Violet wasleft alone.
Then she spread the table afresh, and to it came fearlessly the busyant and bee, gay butterfly and bird; even the poor blind mole andhumble worm were not forgotten; and with gentle words she gave to all,while each learned something of their kind little teacher; and thelove that made her own heart bright shone alike on all.
The ant and bee learned generosity, the butterfly and birdcontentment, the mole and worm confidence in the love of others;and each went to their home better for the little time they had beenwith Violet.
Evening came, and with it troops of Elves to counsel their good Queen,who, seated on her mossy throne, looked anxiously upon the throngbelow, whose glittering wings and rustling robes gleamed likemany-colored flowers.
At length she rose, and amid the deep silence spoke thus:--
"Dear children, let us not tire of a good work, hard though it beand wearisome; think of the many little hearts that in their sorrowlook to us for help. What would the green earth be without itslovely flowers, and what a lonely home for us! Their beauty fillsour hearts with brightness, and their love with tender thoughts.Ought we then to leave them to die uncared for and alone? They giveto us their all; ought we not to toil unceasingly, that they maybloom in peace within their quiet homes? We have tried to gainthe love of the stern Frost-King, but in vain; his heart is hard ashis own icy land; no love can melt, no kindness bring it back tosunlight and to joy. How then may we keep our frail blossomsfrom his cruel spirits? Who will give us counsel? Who will beour messenger for the last time? Speak, my subjects."
Then a great murmuring arose, and many spoke, some for costlier gifts,some for war; and the fearful counselled patience and submission.
Long and eagerly they spoke, and their soft voices rose high.
Then sweet music sounded on the air, and the loud tones were hushed,as in wondering silence the Fairies waited what should come.
Through the crowd there came a little form, a wreath of purewhite violets lay among the bright locks that fell so softlyround the gentle face, where a deep blush glowed, as, kneeling atthe throne, little Violet said:--
"Dear Queen, we have bent to the Frost-King's power, we have bornegifts unto his pride, but have we gone trustingly to him andspoken fearlessly of his evil deeds? Have we shed the soft lightof unwearied love around his cold heart, and with patient tendernessshown him how bright and beautiful love can make even the darkest lot?
"Our messengers have gone fearfully, and with cold looks andcourtly words offered him rich gifts, things he cared not for,and with equal pride has he sent them back.
"Then let me, the weakest of your band, go to him, trustingin the love I know lies hidden in the coldest heart.
"I will bear only a garland of our fairest flowers; thesewill I wind about him, and their bright faces, looking lovinglyin his, will bring sweet thoughts to his dark mind, and theirsoft breath steal in like gentle words. Then, when he sees themfading on his breast, will he not sigh that there is no warmth thereto keep them fresh and lovely? This will I do, dear Queen, andnever leave his dreary home, till the sunlight falls on flowersfair as those that bloom in our own dear land."
Silently the Queen had listened, but now, rising and placing her handon little Violet's head, she said, turning to the throng below:--"We in our pride and power have erred, while this, the weakest andlowliest of our subjects, has from the innocence of her own pure heartcounselled us more wisely than the noblest of our train.All who will aid our brave little messenger, lift your wands,that we may know who will place their trust in the Power of Love."
Every fairy wand glistened in the air, as with silvery voicesthey cried, "Love and little Violet."
Then down from the throne, hand in hand, came the Queen and Violet,and till the moon sank did the Fairies toil,
to weave a wreathof the fairest flowers. Tenderly they gathered them, with thenight-dew fresh upon their leaves, and as they wove chanted sweetspells, and whispered fairy blessings on the bright messengerswhom they sent forth to die in a dreary land, that their gentlekindred might bloom unharmed.
At length it was done; and the fair flowers lay glowingin the soft starlight, while beside them stood the Fairies, singingto the music of the wind-harps:--
"We are sending you, dear flowers, Forth alone to die, Where your gentle sisters may not weep O'er the cold graves where you lie; But you go to bring them fadeless life In the bright homes where they dwell, And you softly smile that 't is so, As we sadly sing farewell.
O plead with gentle words for us, And whisper tenderly Of generous love to that cold heart, And it will answer ye; And though you fade in a dreary home, Yet loving hearts will tell Of the joy and peace that you have given: Flowers, dear flowers, farewell!"
The morning sun looked softly down upon the broad green earth,which like a mighty altar was sending up clouds of perfume from itsbreast, while flowers danced gayly in the summer wind, and birds sangtheir morning hymn among the cool green leaves. Then high above,on shining wings, soared a little form. The sunlight rested softlyon the silken hair, and the winds fanned lovingly the bright face,and brought the sweetest odors to cheer her on.
Thus went Violet through the clear air, and the earth lookedsmiling up to her, as, with the bright wreath folded in herarms, she flew among the soft, white clouds.
On and on she went, over hill and valley, broad rivers andrustling woods, till the warm sunlight passed away, the windsgrew cold, and the air thick with falling snow. Then far belowshe saw the Frost-King's home. Pillars of hard, gray ice supportedthe high, arched roof, hung with crystal icicles. Dreary gardenslay around, filled with withered flowers and bare, drooping trees;while heavy clouds hung low in the dark sky, and a cold windmurmured sadly through the wintry air.
With a beating heart Violet folded her fading wreath more closelyto her breast, and with weary wings flew onward to the dreary palace.
Here, before the closed doors, stood many forms with dark faces andharsh, discordant voices, who sternly asked the shivering little Fairywhy she came to them.
Gently she answered, telling them her errand, beseeching themto let her pass ere the cold wind blighted her frail blossoms.Then they flung wide the doors, and she passed in.
Walls of ice, carved with strange figures, were around her;glittering icicles hung from the high roof, and soft, white snowcovered the hard floors. On a throne hung with clouds satthe Frost-King; a crown of crystals bound his white locks, anda dark mantle wrought with delicate frost-work was folded overhis cold breast.
His stern face could not stay little Violet, and on throughthe long hall she went, heedless of the snow that gathered onher feet, and the bleak wind that blew around her; while the Kingwith wondering eyes looked on the golden light that played upon thedark walls as she passed.
The flowers, as if they knew their part, unfolded their bright leaves,and poured forth their sweetest perfume, as, kneeling at the throne,the brave little Fairy said,--
"O King of blight and sorrow, send me not away till I havebrought back the light and joy that will make your dark home brightand beautiful again. Let me call back to the desolate gardens thefair forms that are gone, and their soft voices blessing you willbring to your breast a never failing joy. Cast by your icy crownand sceptre, and let the sunlight of love fall softly on your heart.
"Then will the earth bloom again in all its beauty, and your dim eyeswill rest only on fair forms, while music shall sound through thesedreary halls, and the love of grateful hearts be yours. Have pityon the gentle flower-spirits, and do not doom them to an early death,when they might bloom in fadeless beauty, making us wiser by theirgentle teachings, and the earth brighter by their lovely forms.These fair flowers, with the prayers of all Fairy Land, I laybefore you; O send me not away till they are answered."
And with tears falling thick and fast upon their tender leaves,Violet laid the wreath at his feet, while the golden light grew everbrighter as it fell upon the little form so humbly kneeling there.
The King's stern face grew milder as he gazed on the gentle Fairy,and the flowers seemed to look beseechingly upon him; while theirfragrant voices sounded softly in his ear, telling of their dyingsisters, and of the joy it gives to bring happiness to the weakand sorrowing. But he drew the dark mantle closer over his breastand answered coldly,--
"I cannot grant your prayer, little Fairy; it is my willthe flowers should die. Go back to your Queen, and tell herthat I cannot yield my power to please these foolish flowers."
Then Violet hung the wreath above the throne, and with weary footwent forth again, out into the cold, dark gardens, and still thegolden shadows followed her, and wherever they fell, flowers bloomedand green leaves rustled.
Then came the Frost-Spirits, and beneath their cold wings theflowers died, while the Spirits bore Violet to a low, dark cell,saying as they left her, that their King was angry that she had daredto stay when he had bid her go.
So all alone she sat, and sad thoughts of her happy home came backto her, and she wept bitterly. But soon came visions of the gentleflowers dying in their forest homes, and their voices ringingin her ear, imploring her to save them. Then she wept no longer,but patiently awaited what might come.
Soon the golden light gleamed faintly through the cell, and she heardlittle voices calling for help, and high up among the heavy cobwebshung poor little flies struggling to free themselves, while theircruel enemies sat in their nets, watching their pain.
With her wand the Fairy broke the bands that held them, tenderly boundup their broken wings, and healed their wounds; while they lay in thewarm light, and feebly hummed their thanks to their kind deliverer.
Then she went to the ugly brown spiders, and in gentle wordstold them, how in Fairy Land their kindred spun all the elfin cloth,and in return the Fairies gave them food, and then how happily theylived among the green leaves, spinning garments for their neighbors."And you too," said she, "shall spin for me, and I will give youbetter food than helpless insects. You shall live in peace,and spin your delicate threads into a mantle for the stern King;and I will weave golden threads amid the gray, that when folded overhis cold heart gentle thoughts may enter in and make it their home."
And while she gayly sung, the little weavers spun their silkenthreads, the flies on glittering wings flew lovingly above her head,and over all the golden light shone softly down.
When the Frost-Spirits told their King, he greatly wondered andoften stole to look at the sunny little room where friends and enemiesworked peacefully together. Still the light grew brighter, andfloated out into the cold air, where it hung like bright cloudsabove the dreary gardens, whence all the Spirits' power could notdrive it; and green leaves budded on the naked trees, andflowers bloomed; but the Spirits heaped snow upon them, andthey bowed their heads and died.
At length the mantle was finished, and amid the gray threadsshone golden ones, making it bright; and she sent it to the King,entreating him to wear it, for it would bring peace and loveto dwell within his breast.
But he scornfully threw it aside, and bade his Spirits take herto a colder cell, deep in the earth; and there with harsh wordsthey left her.
Still she sang gayly on, and the falling drops kept time so musically,that the King in his cold ice-halls wondered at the low, sweet soundsthat came stealing up to him.
Thus Violet dwelt, and each day the golden light grew stronger; andfrom among the crevices of the rocky walls came troops of littlevelvet-coated moles, praying that they might listen to the sweetmusic, and lie in the warm light.
"We lead," said they, "a dreary life in the cold earth; theflower-roots are dead, and no soft dews descend for us to drink,no little seed or leaf can we find. Ah, good Fairy, let us beyour servants: give us but a few crumbs of your daily bread, and wewill
do all in our power to serve you."
And Violet said, Yes; so day after day they labored to makea pathway through the frozen earth, that she might reach the rootsof the withered flowers; and soon, wherever through the dark galleriesshe went, the soft light fell upon the roots of flowers, and theywith new life spread forth in the warm ground, and forced fresh sapto the blossoms above. Brightly they bloomed and danced in thesoft light, and the Frost-Spirits tried in vain to harm them, for whenthey came beneath the bright clouds their power to do evil left them.
From his dark castle the King looked out on the happy flowers,who nodded gayly to him, and in sweet colors strove to tell himof the good little Spirit, who toiled so faithfully below,that they might live. And when he turned from the brightness without,to his stately palace, it seemed so cold and dreary, that he foldedViolet's mantle round him, and sat beneath the faded wreath upon hisice-carved throne, wondering at the strange warmth that came from it;till at length he bade his Spirits bring the little Fairy fromher dismal prison.
Soon they came hastening back, and prayed him to come and seehow lovely the dark cell had grown. The rough floor was spreadwith deep green moss, and over wall and roof grew flowery vines,filling the air with their sweet breath; while above played the clear,soft light, casting rosy shadows on the glittering drops that layamong the fragrant leaves; and beneath the vines stood Violet,casting crumbs to the downy little moles who ran fearlessly aboutand listened as she sang to them.
When the old King saw how much fairer she had made the dreary cellthan his palace rooms, gentle thoughts within whispered him to granther prayer, and let the little Fairy go back to her friends and home;but the Frost-Spirits breathed upon the flowers and bid him see howfrail they were, and useless to a King. Then the stern, cold thoughtscame back again, and he harshly bid her follow him.
With a sad farewell to her little friends she followed him, andbefore the throne awaited his command. When the King saw how pale andsad the gentle face had grown, how thin her robe, and weak her wings,and yet how lovingly the golden shadows fell around her and brightenedas they lay upon the wand, which, guided by patient love, had madehis once desolate home so bright, he could not be cruel to the onewho had done so much for him, and in kindly tone he said,--
"Little Fairy, I offer you two things, and you may choosebetween them. If I will vow never more to harm the flowers you maylove, will you go back to your own people and leave me and my Spiritsto work our will on all the other flowers that bloom? The earthis broad, and we can find them in any land, then why should you carewhat happens to their kindred if your own are safe? Will you do this?"
"Ah!" answered Violet sadly, "do you not know that beneaththe flowers' bright leaves there beats a little heart that lovesand sorrows like our own? And can I, heedless of their beauty,doom them to pain and grief, that I might save my own dear blossomsfrom the cruel foes to which I leave them? Ah no! sooner would Idwell for ever in your darkest cell, than lose the love of thosewarm, trusting hearts."
"Then listen," said the King, "to the task I give you. You shallraise up for me a palace fairer than this, and if you can workthat miracle I will grant your prayer or lose my kingly crown.And now go forth, and begin your task; my Spirits shall not harm you,and I will wait till it is done before I blight another flower."
Then out into the gardens went Violet with a heavy heart; forshe had toiled so long, her strength was nearly gone. But theflowers whispered their gratitude, and folded their leaves as if theyblessed her; and when she saw the garden filled with loving friends,who strove to cheer and thank her for her care, courage and strengthreturned; and raising up thick clouds of mist, that hid her from thewondering flowers, alone and trustingly she began her work.
As time went by, the Frost-King feared the task had beentoo hard for the Fairy; sounds were heard behind the walls of mist,bright shadows seen to pass within, but the little voice was neverheard. Meanwhile the golden light had faded from the garden,the flowers bowed their heads, and all was dark and cold as whenthe gentle Fairy came.
And to the stern King his home seemed more desolate and sad; forhe missed the warm light, the happy flowers, and, more than all,the gay voice and bright face of little Violet. So he wanderedthrough his dreary palace, wondering how he had been contentto live before without sunlight and love.
And little Violet was mourned as dead in Fairy-Land, and many tearswere shed, for the gentle Fairy was beloved by all, from the Queendown to the humblest flower. Sadly they watched over every birdand blossom which she had loved, and strove to be like her inkindly words and deeds. They wore cypress wreaths, and spoke of heras one whom they should never see again.
Thus they dwelt in deepest sorrow, till one day there came to them anunknown messenger, wrapped in a dark mantle, who looked with wonderingeyes on the bright palace, and flower-crowned elves, who kindlywelcomed him, and brought fresh dew and rosy fruit to refresh theweary stranger. Then he told them that he came from the Frost-King,who begged the Queen and all her subjects to come and see the palacelittle Violet had built; for the veil of mist would soon be withdrawn,and as she could not make a fairer home than the ice-castle, the Kingwished her kindred near to comfort and to bear her home. And whilethe Elves wept, he told them how patiently she had toiled, howher fadeless love had made the dark cell bright and beautiful.
These and many other things he told them; for little Violet had wonthe love of many of the Frost-Spirits, and even when they killed theflowers she had toiled so hard to bring to life and beauty, she spokegentle words to them, and sought to teach them how beautiful is love.Long stayed the messenger, and deeper grew his wonder that the Fairycould have left so fair a home, to toil in the dreary palace of hiscruel master, and suffer cold and weariness, to give life and joy tothe weak and sorrowing. When the Elves had promised they would come,he bade farewell to happy Fairy-Land, and flew sadly home.
At last the time arrived, and out in his barren garden, under a canopyof dark clouds, sat the Frost-King before the misty wall, behind whichwere heard low, sweet sounds, as of rustling trees and warbling birds.
Soon through the air came many-colored troops of Elves. First theQueen, known by the silver lilies on her snowy robe and the brightcrown in her hair, beside whom flew a band of Elves in crimson andgold, making sweet music on their flower-trumpets, while all around,with smiling faces and bright eyes, fluttered her loving subjects.
On they came, like a flock of brilliant butterflies, their shiningwings and many-colored garments sparkling in the dim air; and soonthe leafless trees were gay with living flowers, and their sweetvoices filled the gardens with music. Like his subjects, the Kinglooked on the lovely Elves, and no longer wondered that little Violetwept and longed for her home. Darker and more desolate seemed hisstately home, and when the Fairies asked for flowers, he felt ashamedthat he had none to give them.
At length a warm wind swept through the gardens, and the mist-cloudspassed away, while in silent wonder looked the Frost-King andthe Elves upon the scene before them.
Far as eye could reach were tall green trees whose drooping boughsmade graceful arches, through which the golden light shone softly,making bright shadows on the deep green moss below, where the fairestflowers waved in the cool wind, and sang, in their low, sweet voices,how beautiful is Love.
Flowering vines folded their soft leaves around the trees,making green pillars of their rough trunks. Fountains threw theirbright waters to the roof, and flocks of silver-winged birds flewsinging among the flowers, or brooded lovingly above their nests.Doves with gentle eyes cooed among the green leaves, snow-white cloudsfloated in the sunny shy, and the golden light, brighter than before,shone softly down.
Soon through the long aisles came Violet, flowers and green leavesrustling as she passed. On she went to the Frost-King's throne,bearing two crowns, one of sparkling icicles, the other of purewhite lilies, and kneeling before him, said,--
"My task is done, and, thanks to the Spirits of earth and air, I havemad
e as fair a home as Elfin hands can form. You must now decide.Will you be King of Flower-Land, and own my gentle kindred for yourloving friends? Will you possess unfading peace and joy, and thegrateful love of all the green earth's fragrant children? Then takethis crown of flowers. But if you can find no pleasure here,go back to your own cold home, and dwell in solitude and darkness,where no ray of sunlight or of joy can enter.
"Send forth your Spirits to carry sorrow and desolation overthe happy earth, and win for yourself the fear and hatred of thosewho would so gladly love and reverence you. Then take this glitteringcrown, hard and cold as your own heart will be, if you will shut outall that is bright and beautiful. Both are before you. Choose."
The old King looked at the little Fairy, and saw how lovinglythe bright shadows gathered round her, as if to shield herfrom every harm; the timid birds nestled in her bosom, and theflowers grew fairer as she looked upon them; while her gentle friends,with tears in their bright eyes, folded their hands beseechingly,and smiled on her.
Kind thought came thronging to his mind, and he turned to look atthe two palaces. Violet's, so fair and beautiful, with its rustlingtrees, calm, sunny skies, and happy birds and flowers, all createdby her patient love and care. His own, so cold and dark and dreary,his empty gardens where no flowers could bloom, no green trees dwell,or gay birds sing, all desolate and dim;--and while he gazed, his ownSpirits, casting off their dark mantles, knelt before him and besoughthim not to send them forth to blight the things the gentle Fairiesloved so much. "We have served you long and faithfully," said they,"give us now our freedom, that we may learn to be beloved by the sweetflowers we have harmed so long. Grant the little Fairy's prayer;and let her go back to her own dear home. She has taught us thatLove is mightier than Fear. Choose the Flower crown, and we will bethe truest subjects you have ever had."
Then, amid a burst of wild, sweet music, the Frost-King placedthe Flower crown on his head, and knelt to little Violet; while farand near, over the broad green earth, sounded the voices of flowers,singing their thanks to the gentle Fairy, and the summer windwas laden with perfumes, which they sent as tokens of their gratitude;and wherever she went, old trees bent down to fold their slenderbranches round her, flowers laid their soft faces against her own,and whispered blessings; even the humble moss bent over the littlefeet, and kissed them as they passed.
The old King, surrounded by the happy Fairies, sat in Violet'slovely home, and watched his icy castle melt away beneath the brightsunlight; while his Spirits, cold and gloomy no longer, dancedwith the Elves, and waited on their King with loving eagerness.Brighter grew the golden light, gayer sang the birds, and theharmonious voices of grateful flowers, sounding over the earth,carried new joy to all their gentle kindred.
Brighter shone the golden shadows; On the cool wind softly came The low, sweet tones of happy flowers, Singing little Violet's name. 'Mong the green trees was it whispered, And the bright waves bore it on To the lonely forest flowers, Where the glad news had not gone.
Thus the Frost-King lost his kingdom, And his power to harm and blight. Violet conquered, and his cold heart Warmed with music, love, and light; And his fair home, once so dreary, Gay with lovely Elves and flowers, Brought a joy that never faded Through the long bright summer hours.
Thus, by Violet's magic power, All dark shadows passed away, And o'er the home of happy flowers The golden light for ever lay. Thus the Fairy mission ended, And all Flower-Land was taught The "Power of Love," by gentle deeds That little Violet wrought.
As Sunny Lock ceased, another little Elf came forward; and this wasthe tale "Silver Wing" told.