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Flower Fables, Page 2

Louisa May Alcott


  DOWN among the grass and fragrant clover lay little Eva by thebrook-side, watching the bright waves, as they went singing by underthe drooping flowers that grew on its banks. As she was wonderingwhere the waters went, she heard a faint, low sound, as of far-offmusic. She thought it was the wind, but not a leaf was stirring,and soon through the rippling water came a strange little boat.

  It was a lily of the valley, whose tall stem formed the mast,while the broad leaves that rose from the roots, and drooped againtill they reached the water, were filled with gay little Elves,who danced to the music of the silver lily-bells above, that ranga merry peal, and filled the air with their fragrant breath.

  On came the fairy boat, till it reached a moss-grown rock; and hereit stopped, while the Fairies rested beneath the violet-leaves,and sang with the dancing waves.

  Eva looked with wonder on their gay faces and bright garments, andin the joy of her heart sang too, and threw crimson fruit for thelittle folks to feast upon.

  They looked kindly on the child, and, after whispering long amongthemselves, two little bright-eyed Elves flew over the shining water,and, lighting on the clover-blossoms, said gently, "Little maiden,many thanks for your kindness; and our Queen bids us ask if you willgo with us to Fairy-Land, and learn what we can teach you."

  "Gladly would I go with you, dear Fairies," said Eva, "but I cannotsail in your little boat. See! I can hold you in my hand, and couldnot live among you without harming your tiny kingdom, I am so large."

  Then the Elves laughed gayly, as they folded their arms about her,saying, "You are a good child, dear Eva, to fear doing harm to thoseweaker than yourself. You cannot hurt us now. Look in the waterand see what we have done."

  Eva looked into the brook, and saw a tiny child standing betweenthe Elves. "Now I can go with you," said she, "but see, I canno longer step from the bank to yonder stone, for the brook seems nowlike a great river, and you have not given me wings like yours."

  But the Fairies took each a hand, and flew lightly over the stream.The Queen and her subjects came to meet her, and all seemed glad tosay some kindly word of welcome to the little stranger. They placeda flower-crown upon her head, laid their soft faces against her own,and soon it seemed as if the gentle Elves had always been her friends.

  "Now must we go home," said the Queen, "and you shall go with us,little one."

  Then there was a great bustle, as they flew about on shining wings,some laying cushions of violet leaves in the boat, others folding theQueen's veil and mantle more closely round her, lest the falling dewsshould chill her.

  The cool waves' gentle plashing against the boat, and the sweet chimeof the lily-bells, lulled little Eva to sleep, and when she wokeit was in Fairy-Land. A faint, rosy light, as of the setting sun,shone on the white pillars of the Queen's palace as they passed in,and the sleeping flowers leaned gracefully on their stems, dreamingbeneath their soft green curtains. All was cool and still, and theElves glided silently about, lest they should break their slumbers.They led Eva to a bed of pure white leaves, above which droopedthe fragrant petals of a crimson rose.

  "You can look at the bright colors till the light fades, and thenthe rose will sing you to sleep," said the Elves, as they folded thesoft leaves about her, gently kissed her, and stole away.

  Long she lay watching the bright shadows, and listening to the songof the rose, while through the long night dreams of lovely thingsfloated like bright clouds through her mind; while the rose bentlovingly above her, and sang in the clear moonlight.

  With the sun rose the Fairies, and, with Eva, hastened away tothe fountain, whose cool waters were soon filled with little forms,and the air ringing with happy voices, as the Elves floated in theblue waves among the fair white lilies, or sat on the green moss,smoothing their bright locks, and wearing fresh garlands of dewyflowers. At length the Queen came forth, and her subjects gatheredround her, and while the flowers bowed their heads, and the treeshushed their rustling, the Fairies sang their morning hymn tothe Father of birds and blossoms, who had made the earth so fair ahome for them.

  Then they flew away to the gardens, and soon, high up among thetree-tops, or under the broad leaves, sat the Elves in little groups,taking their breakfast of fruit and pure fresh dew; while thebright-winged birds came fearlessly among them, pecking the sameripe berries, and dipping their little beaks in the same flower-cups,and the Fairies folded their arms lovingly about them, smoothed theirsoft bosoms, and gayly sang to them.

  "Now, little Eva," said they, "you will see that Fairies are notidle, wilful Spirits, as mortals believe. Come, we will show youwhat we do."

  They led her to a lovely room, through whose walls of deep greenleaves the light stole softly in. Here lay many wounded insects,and harmless little creatures, whom cruel hands had hurt; and pale,drooping flowers grew beside urns of healing herbs, from whose freshleaves came a faint, sweet perfume.

  Eva wondered, but silently followed her guide, little Rose-Leaf,who with tender words passed among the delicate blossoms,pouring dew on their feeble roots, cheering them with her loving wordsand happy smile.

  Then she went to the insects; first to a little fly who lay in aflower-leaf cradle.

  "Do you suffer much, dear Gauzy-Wing?" asked the Fairy. "I willbind up your poor little leg, and Zephyr shall rock you to sleep."So she folded the cool leaves tenderly about the poor fly, bathed hiswings, and brought him refreshing drink, while he hummed his thanks,and forgot his pain, as Zephyr softly sung and fanned him with herwaving wings.

  They passed on, and Eva saw beside each bed a Fairy, who with gentlehands and loving words soothed the suffering insects. At lengththey stopped beside a bee, who lay among sweet honeysuckle flowers,in a cool, still place, where the summer wind blew in, and the greenleaves rustled pleasantly. Yet he seemed to find no rest, andmurmured of the pain he was doomed to bear. "Why must I lie here,while my kindred are out in the pleasant fields, enjoying the sunlightand the fresh air, and cruel hands have doomed me to this dark placeand bitter pain when I have done no wrong? Uncared for and forgotten,I must stay here among these poor things who think only of themselves.Come here, Rose-Leaf, and bind up my wounds, for I am far more usefulthan idle bird or fly."

  Then said the Fairy, while she bathed the broken wing,--

  "Love-Blossom, you should not murmur. We may find happiness inseeking to be patient even while we suffer. You are not forgotten oruncared for, but others need our care more than you, and to thosewho take cheerfully the pain and sorrow sent, do we most gladly giveour help. You need not be idle, even though lying here in darknessand sorrow; you can be taking from your heart all sad and discontentedfeelings, and if love and patience blossom there, you will be betterfor the lonely hours spent here. Look on the bed beside you; thislittle dove has suffered far greater pain than you, and all our carecan never ease it; yet through the long days he hath lain here, not anunkind word or a repining sigh hath he uttered. Ah, Love-Blossom,the gentle bird can teach a lesson you will be wiser and better for."

  Then a faint voice whispered, "Little Rose-Leaf, come quickly, orI cannot thank you as I ought for all your loving care of me."

  So they passed to the bed beside the discontented bee, and here uponthe softest down lay the dove, whose gentle eyes looked gratefullyupon the Fairy, as she knelt beside the little couch, smoothed thesoft white bosom, folded her arms about it and wept sorrowing tears,while the bird still whispered its gratitude and love.

  "Dear Fairy, the fairest flowers have cheered me with their sweetbreath, fresh dew and fragrant leaves have been ever ready for me,gentle hands to tend, kindly hearts to love; and for this I can onlythank you and say farewell."

  Then the quivering wings were still, and the patient little dovewas dead; but the bee murmured no longer, and the dew from the flowersfell like tears around the quiet bed.

  Sadly Rose-Leaf led Eva away, saying, "Lily-Bosom shall have a gravetonight beneath our fairest blossoms,
and you shall see thatgentleness and love are prized far above gold or beauty, here inFairy-Land. Come now to the Flower Palace, and see the Fairy Court."

  Beneath green arches, bright with birds and flowers, beside singingwaves, went Eva into a lofty hall. The roof of pure white liliesrested on pillars of green clustering vines, while many-coloredblossoms threw their bright shadows on the walls, as they danced belowin the deep green moss, and their low, sweet voices sounded softlythrough the sunlit palace, while the rustling leaves kept time.

  Beside the throne stood Eva, and watched the lovely forms around her,as they stood, each little band in its own color, with glisteningwings, and flower wands.

  Suddenly the music grew louder and sweeter, and the Fairies knelt,and bowed their heads, as on through the crowd of loving subjectscame the Queen, while the air was filled with gay voices singingto welcome her.

  She placed the child beside her, saying, "Little Eva, you shall seenow how the flowers on your great earth bloom so brightly. A bandof loving little gardeners go daily forth from Fairy-Land, to tendand watch them, that no harm may befall the gentle spirits that dwellbeneath their leaves. This is never known, for like all good it isunseen by mortal eyes, and unto only pure hearts like yours do wemake known our secret. The humblest flower that grows is visited byour messengers, and often blooms in fragrant beauty unknown, unlovedby all save Fairy friends, who seek to fill the spirits with all sweetand gentle virtues, that they may not be useless on the earth; for thenoblest mortals stoop to learn of flowers. Now, Eglantine, what haveyou to tell us of your rosy namesakes on the earth?"

  From a group of Elves, whose rose-wreathed wands showed the flowerthey loved, came one bearing a tiny urn, and, answering the Queen,she said,--

  "Over hill and valley they are blooming fresh and fair as summer sunand dew can make them. No drooping stem or withered leaf tells of anyevil thought within their fragrant bosoms, and thus from the fairestof their race have they gathered this sweet dew, as a token of theirgratitude to one whose tenderness and care have kept them pure andhappy; and this, the loveliest of their sisters, have I brought toplace among the Fairy flowers that never pass away."

  Eglantine laid the urn before the Queen, and placed the fragrant roseon the dewy moss beside the throne, while a murmur of approval wentthrough the hall, as each elfin wand waved to the little Fairywho had toiled so well and faithfully, and could bring so fair a giftto their good Queen.

  Then came forth an Elf bearing a withered leaf, while her many-coloredrobe and the purple tulips in her hair told her name and charge.

  "Dear Queen," she sadly said, "I would gladly bring as pleasanttidings as my sister, but, alas! my flowers are proud and wilful,and when I went to gather my little gift of colored leaves for royalgarments, they bade me bring this withered blossom, and tell youthey would serve no longer one who will not make them Queen over allthe other flowers. They would yield neither dew nor honey, butproudly closed their leaves and bid me go."

  "Your task has been too hard for you," said the Queen kindly, as sheplaced the drooping flower in the urn Eglantine had given, "you willsee how this dew from a sweet, pure heart will give new life andloveliness even to this poor faded one. So can you, dear Rainbow, byloving words and gentle teachings, bring back lost purity and peaceto those whom pride and selfishness have blighted. Go once againto the proud flowers, and tell them when they are queen of their ownhearts they will ask no fairer kingdom. Watch more tenderly than everover them, see that they lack neither dew nor air, speak lovinglyto them, and let no unkind word or deed of theirs anger you. Let themsee by your patient love and care how much fairer they might be,and when next you come, you will be laden with gifts from humble,loving flowers."

  Thus they told what they had done, and received from their Queen somegentle chiding or loving word of praise.

  "You will be weary of this," said little Rose-Leaf to Eva; "come nowand see where we are taught to read the tales written on flower-leaves,and the sweet language of the birds, and all that can make a Fairyheart wiser and better."

  Then into a cheerful place they went, where were many groups offlowers, among whose leaves sat the child Elves, and learned fromtheir flower-books all that Fairy hands had written there. Somestudied how to watch the tender buds, when to spread them to thesunlight, and when to shelter them from rain; how to guard theripening seeds, and when to lay them in the warm earth or send themon the summer wind to far off hills and valleys, where other Fairyhands would tend and cherish them, till a sisterhood of happy flowerssprang up to beautify and gladden the lonely spot where they hadfallen. Others learned to heal the wounded insects, whose frail limbsa breeze could shatter, and who, were it not for Fairy hands, woulddie ere half their happy summer life had gone. Some learned how bypleasant dreams to cheer and comfort mortal hearts, by whispered wordsof love to save from evil deeds those who had gone astray, to fillyoung hearts with gentle thoughts and pure affections, that no sinmight mar the beauty of the human flower; while others, like mortalchildren, learned the Fairy alphabet. Thus the Elves made lovingfriends by care and love, and no evil thing could harm them, forthose they helped to cherish and protect ever watched to shield andsave them.

  Eva nodded to the gay little ones, as they peeped from among theleaves at the stranger, and then she listened to the Fairy lessons.Several tiny Elves stood on a broad leaf while the teacher satamong the petals of a flower that bent beside them, and askedquestions that none but Fairies would care to know.

  "Twinkle, if there lay nine seeds within a flower-cup and the windbore five away, how many would the blossom have?" "Four," replied thelittle one.

  "Rosebud, if a Cowslip opens three leaves in one day and four thenext, how many rosy leaves will there be when the whole flowerhas bloomed?"

  "Seven," sang the gay little Elf.

  "Harebell, if a silkworm spin one yard of Fairy cloth in an hour,how many will it spin in a day?"

  "Twelve," said the Fairy child.

  "Primrose, where lies Violet Island?"

  "In the Lake of Ripples."

  "Lilla, you may bound Rose Land."

  "On the north by Ferndale, south by Sunny Wave River, east by the hillof Morning Clouds, and west by the Evening Star."

  "Now, little ones," said the teacher, "you may go to your painting,that our visitor may see how we repair the flowers that earthly handshave injured."

  Then Eva saw how, on large, white leaves, the Fairies learned toimitate the lovely colors, and with tiny brushes to brighten the blushon the anemone's cheek, to deepen the blue of the violet's eye, andadd new light to the golden cowslip.

  "You have stayed long enough," said the Elves at length, "we havemany things to show you. Come now and see what is our dearest work."

  So Eva said farewell to the child Elves, and hastened with littleRose-Leaf to the gates. Here she saw many bands of Fairies, folded indark mantles that mortals might not know them, who, with the childamong them, flew away over hill and valley. Some went to the cottagesamid the hills, some to the sea-side to watch above the humble fisherfolks; but little Rose-Leaf and many others went into the noisy city.

  Eva wondered within herself what good the tiny Elves could do in thisgreat place; but she soon learned, for the Fairy band went among thepoor and friendless, bringing pleasant dreams to the sick and old,sweet, tender thoughts of love and gentleness to the young, strengthto the weak, and patient cheerfulness to the poor and lonely.

  Then the child wondered no longer, but deeper grew her lovefor the tender-hearted Elves, who left their own happy home to cheerand comfort those who never knew what hands had clothed and fed them,what hearts had given of their own joy, and brought such happinessto theirs.

  Long they stayed, and many a lesson little Eva learned: but whenshe begged them to go back, they still led her on, saying, "Our workis not yet done; shall we leave so many sad hearts when we maycheer them, so many dark homes that we may brighten? We must stayyet longer, little Eva, and you may learn yet mo

  Then they went into a dark and lonely room, and here they founda pale, sad-eyed child, who wept bitter tears over a faded flower.

  "Ah," sighed the little one, "it was my only friend, and Icherished it with all my lone heart's love; 't was all that mademy sad life happy; and it is gone."

  Tenderly the child fastened the drooping stem, and placed itwhere the one faint ray of sunlight stole into the dreary room.

  "Do you see," said the Elves, "through this simple flower will wekeep the child pure and stainless amid the sin and sorrow around her.The love of this shall lead her on through temptation and throughgrief, and she shall be a spirit of joy and consolation to the sinfuland the sorrowing."

  And with busy love toiled the Elves amid the withered leaves,and new strength was given to the flower; while, as day by day thefriendless child watered the growing buds, deeper grew her love forthe unseen friends who had given her one thing to cherish in herlonely home; sweet, gentle thoughts filled her heart as she bentabove it, and the blossom's fragrant breath was to her a whisperedvoice of all fair and lovely things; and as the flower taught her,so she taught others.

  The loving Elves brought her sweet dreams by night, and happy thoughtsby day, and as she grew in childlike beauty, pure and patient amidpoverty and sorrow, the sinful were rebuked, sorrowing hearts grewlight, and the weak and selfish forgot their idle fears, when they sawher trustingly live on with none to aid or comfort her. The loveshe bore the tender flower kept her own heart innocent and bright,and the pure human flower was a lesson to those who looked upon it;and soon the gloomy house was bright with happy hearts, that learnedof the gentle child to bear poverty and grief as she had done, toforgive those who brought care and wrong to them, and to seek forhappiness in humble deeds of charity and love.

  "Our work is done," whispered the Elves, and with blessings on thetwo fair flowers, they flew away to other homes;--to a blind old manwho dwelt alone with none to love him, till through long years ofdarkness and of silent sorrow the heart within had grown dim and cold.No sunlight could enter at the darkened eyes, and none were nearto whisper gentle words, to cheer and comfort.

  Thus he dwelt forgotten and alone, seeking to give no joy to others,possessing none himself. Life was dark and sad till the untiringElves came to his dreary home, bringing sunlight and love. Theywhispered sweet words of comfort,--how, if the darkened eyes couldfind no light without, within there might be never-failing happiness;gentle feelings and sweet, loving thoughts could make the heart fair,if the gloomy, selfish sorrow were but cast away, and all would bebright and beautiful.

  They brought light-hearted children, who gathered round him, makingthe desolate home fair with their young faces, and his sad heart gaywith their sweet, childish voices. The love they bore he could notcast away, sunlight stole in, the dark thoughts passed away, and theearth was a pleasant home to him.

  Thus their little hands led him back to peace and happiness,flowers bloomed beside his door, and their fragrant breath broughthappy thoughts of pleasant valleys and green hills; birds sang to him,and their sweet voices woke the music in his own soul, that neverfailed to calm and comfort. Happy sounds were heard in his oncelonely home, and bright faces gathered round his knee, and listenedtenderly while he strove to tell them all the good that gentleness andlove had done for him.

  Still the Elves watched near, and brighter grew the heart as kindlythoughts and tender feelings entered in, and made it their home;and when the old man fell asleep, above his grave little feet trodlightly, and loving hands laid fragrant flowers.

  Then went the Elves into the dreary prison-houses, where sad heartspined in lonely sorrow for the joy and freedom they had lost. Tothese came the loving band with tender words, telling of the peacethey yet might win by patient striving and repentant tears, thuswaking in their bosoms all the holy feelings and sweet affectionsthat had slept so long.

  They told pleasant tales, and sang their sweetest songs to cheer andgladden, while the dim cells grew bright with the sunlight, andfragrant with the flowers the loving Elves had brought, and by theirgentle teachings those sad, despairing hearts were filled with patienthope and earnest longing to win back their lost innocence and joy.

  Thus to all who needed help or comfort went the faithful Fairies; andwhen at length they turned towards Fairy-Land, many were the grateful,happy hearts they left behind.

  Then through the summer sky, above the blossoming earth, theyjourneyed home, happier for the joy they had given, wiser for the goodthey had done.

  All Fairy-Land was dressed in flowers, and the soft wind went singingby, laden with their fragrant breath. Sweet music sounded through theair, and troops of Elves in their gayest robes hastened to the palacewhere the feast was spread.

  Soon the bright hall was filled with smiling faces and fair forms, andlittle Eva, as she stood beside the Queen, thought she had never seena sight so lovely.

  The many-colored shadows of the fairest flowers played on the purewhite walls, and fountains sparkled in the sunlight, making musicas the cool waves rose and fell, while to and fro, with waving wingsand joyous voices, went the smiling Elves, bearing fruit and honey,or fragrant garlands for each other's hair.

  Long they feasted, gayly they sang, and Eva, dancing merrilyamong them, longed to be an Elf that she might dwell foreverin so fair a home.

  At length the music ceased, and the Queen said, as she laid her handon little Eva's shining hair:--

  "Dear child, tomorrow we must bear you home, for, much as we longto keep you, it were wrong to bring such sorrow to your loving earthlyfriends; therefore we will guide you to the brook-side, and there sayfarewell till you come again to visit us. Nay, do not weep, dearRose-Leaf; you shall watch over little Eva's flowers, and when shelooks at them she will think of you. Come now and lead her to theFairy garden, and show her what we think our fairest sight. Weepno more, but strive to make her last hours with us happy as you can."

  With gentle caresses and most tender words the loving Elves gatheredabout the child, and, with Rose-Leaf by her side, they led her throughthe palace, and along green, winding paths, till Eva saw what seemeda wall of flowers rising before her, while the air was filled with themost fragrant odors, and the low, sweet music as of singing blossoms.

  "Where have you brought me, and what mean these lovely sounds?"asked Eva.

  "Look here, and you shall see," said Rose-Leaf, as she bent asidethe vines, "but listen silently or you cannot hear."

  Then Eva, looking through the drooping vines, beheld a garden filledwith the loveliest flowers; fair as were all the blossoms she had seenin Fairy-Land, none were so beautiful as these. The rose glowedwith a deeper crimson, the lily's soft leaves were more purely white,the crocus and humble cowslip shone like sunlight, and the violetwas blue as the sky that smiled above it.

  "How beautiful they are," whispered Eva, "but, dear Rose-Leaf, whydo you keep them here, and why call you this your fairest sight?"

  "Look again, and I will tell you," answered the Fairy.

  Eva looked, and saw from every flower a tiny form come forth towelcome the Elves, who all, save Rose-Leaf, had flown above the wall,and were now scattering dew upon the flowers' bright leaves andtalking gayly with the Spirits, who gathered around them, and seemedfull of joy that they had come. The child saw that each one wore thecolors of the flower that was its home. Delicate and graceful werethe little forms, bright the silken hair that fell about each lovelyface; and Eva heard the low, sweet murmur of their silvery voices andthe rustle of their wings. She gazed in silent wonder, forgetting sheknew not who they were, till the Fairy said,--

  "These are the spirits of the flowers, and this the Fairy Home wherethose whose hearts were pure and loving on the earth come to bloom infadeless beauty here, when their earthly life is past. The humblestflower that blooms has a home with us, for outward beauty is aworthless thing if all be not fair and sweet within. Do you seeyonder lovely spirit singing with my sister Moonlight? a cloverblossom was her
home, and she dwelt unknown, unloved; yet patient andcontent, bearing cheerfully the sorrows sent her. We watched and sawhow fair and sweet the humble flower grew, and then gladly bore herhere, to blossom with the lily and the rose. The flowers' livesare often short, for cruel hands destroy them; therefore is it ourgreatest joy to bring them hither, where no careless foot or wintrywind can harm them, where they bloom in quiet beauty, repaying ourcare by their love and sweetest perfumes."

  "I will never break another flower," cried Eva; "but let me goto them, dear Fairy; I would gladly know the lovely spirits, and askforgiveness for the sorrow I have caused. May I not go in?"

  "Nay, dear Eva, you are a mortal child, and cannot enter here; but Iwill tell them of the kind little maiden who has learned to love them,and they will remember you when you are gone. Come now, for you haveseen enough, and we must be away."

  On a rosy morning cloud, surrounded by the loving Elves, went Evathrough the sunny sky. The fresh wind bore them gently on, and soonthey stood again beside the brook, whose waves danced brightly as ifto welcome them.

  "Now, ere we say farewell," said the Queen, as they gathered nearerto the child, "tell me, dear Eva, what among all our Fairy giftswill make you happiest, and it shall be yours."

  "You good little Fairies," said Eva, folding them in her arms, forshe was no longer the tiny child she had been in Fairy-Land, "you deargood little Elves, what can I ask of you, who have done so muchto make me happy, and taught me so many good and gentle lessons,the memory of which will never pass away? I can only ask of you thepower to be as pure and gentle as yourselves, as tender and lovingto the weak and sorrowing, as untiring in kindly deeds to all. Grantme this gift, and you shall see that little Eva has not forgottenwhat you have taught her."

  "The power shall be yours," said the Elves, and laid their soft handson her head; "we will watch over you in dreams, and when you would havetidings of us, ask the flowers in your garden, and they will tell youall you would know. Farewell. Remember Fairy-Land and all yourloving friends."

  They clung about her tenderly, and little Rose-Leaf placed a flowercrown on her head, whispering softly, "When you would come to usagain, stand by the brook-side and wave this in the air, and we willgladly take you to our home again. Farewell, dear Eva. Think of yourlittle Rose-Leaf when among the flowers."

  Long Eva watched their shining wings, and listened to the music oftheir voices as they flew singing home, and when at length the lastlittle form had vanished among the clouds, she saw that all around herwhere the Elves had been, the fairest flowers had sprung up, and thelonely brook-side was a blooming garden.

  Thus she stood among the waving blossoms, with the Fairy garland inher hair, and happy feelings in her heart, better and wiser for hervisit to Fairy-Land.

  "Now, Star-Twinkle, what have you to teach?" asked the Queen.

  "Nothing but a little song I heard the hare-bells singing," repliedthe Fairy, and, taking her harp, sang, in a low, sweet voice:--