Flower Fables by Louisa May Alcott (read online)
by 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.”
TO ELLEN EMERSON, FOR WHOM THEY WERE FANCIED, THESE FLOWER FABLES ARE INSCRIBED, BY HER FRIEND, THE AUTHOR.
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 Annie’s Dream: or, The Fairy Flower
Ripple, the Water-Spirit
THE summer moon shone brightly down upon the sleeping earth, while
far away from mortal eyes danced the Fairy folk. Fire-flies hung
in bright clusters on the dewy leaves, that waved in the cool
night-wind; and the flowers stood gazing, in very wonder, at the
little 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 peal
in honor of the night.
Under the shade of a wild rose sat the Queen and her little
Maids of Honor, beside the silvery mushroom where the feast
“Now, my friends,” said she, “to while away the time till the bright
moon goes down, let us each tell a tale, or relate what we have done
or learned this day. I will begin with you, Sunny Lock,” added she,
turning to a lovely little Elf, who lay among the fragrant leaves
of a primrose.
With a gay smile, “Sunny Lock” began her story.
“As I was painting the bright petals of a blue bell, it told me
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 sun
shone warmly down upon the dewy grass, where butterflies spread
their gay wings, and bees with their deep voices sung
among the flowers; while the little birds hopped merrily about
to peep at them.
On a silvery mushroom was spread the breakfast; little cakes
of flower-dust lay on a broad green leaf, beside a crimson
strawberry, which, with sugar from the violet, and cream
from the yellow milkweed, made a fairy meal, and their drink was
the 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. But
while 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 gathering
in her soft eyes. “Our good Queen is ever striving to keep
the dear flowers from the power of the cruel Frost-King; many ways
she tried, but all have failed. She has sent messengers to his court
with 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 weep
over our blighted blossoms. Thus have we striven, and in vain;
and this night our Queen holds council for the last time. Therefore
are 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 cannot
help it, we must suffer patiently, and not let the sorrows of others
disturb our happiness. But, dear sisters, see you not how high
the sun is getting? I have my locks to curl, and my robe to prepare
for the evening; therefore I must be gone, or I shall be brown as
a withered leaf in this warm light.” So, gathering a tiny mushroom
for a parasol, she flew away; Daisy soon followed, and Violet was
Then she spread the table afresh, and to it came fearlessly the busy
ant and bee, gay butterfly and bird; even the poor blind mole and
humble worm were not forgotten; and with gentle words she gave to all,
while each learned something of their kind little teacher; and the
love that made her own heart bright shone alike on all.
The ant and bee learned generosity, the butterfly and bird
contentment, the mole and worm confidence in the love of others;
and each went to their home better for the little time they had been
Evening came, and with it troops of Elves to counsel their good Queen,
who, seated on her mossy throne, looked anxiously upon the throng
below, whose glittering wings and rustling robes gleamed like
At length she rose, and amid the deep silence spoke thus:–
“Dear children, let us not tire of a good work, hard though it be
and wearisome; think of the many little hearts that in their sorrow
look to us for help. What would the green earth be without its
lovely flowers, and what a lonely home for us! Their beauty fills
our hearts with brightness, and their love with tender thoughts.
Ought we then to leave them to die uncared for and alone? They give
to us their all; ought we not to toil unceasingly, that they may
bloom in peace within their quiet homes? We have tried to gain
the love of the stern Frost-King, but in vain; his heart is hard as
his own icy land; no love can melt, no kindness bring it back to
sunlight and to joy. How then may we keep our frail blossoms
from his cruel spirits? Who will give us counsel? Who will be
our 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 pure
white violets lay among the bright locks that fell so softly
round the gentle face, where a deep blush glowed, as, kneeling at
the throne, little Violet said:–
“Dear Queen, we have bent to the Frost-King’s power, we have borne
gifts unto his pride, but have we gone trustingly to him and
spoken fearlessly of his evil deeds? Have we shed the soft light
of unwearied love around his cold heart, and with patient tenderness
shown him how bright and beautiful love can make even the darkest lot?
“Our messengers have gone fearfully, and with cold looks and
courtly 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, trusting
in the love I know lies hidden in the coldest heart.
“I will bear only a garland of our fairest flowers; these
will I wind about him, and their bright faces, looking lovingly
in his, will bring sweet thoughts to his dark mind, and their
soft breath steal in like gentle words. Then, when he sees them
fading on his breast, will he not sigh that there is no warmth there
to keep them fresh and lovely? This will I do, dear Queen, and
never leave his dreary home, till the sunlight falls on flowers
fair as those that bloom in our own dear land.”
Silently the Queen had listened, but now, rising and placing her hand
on little Violet’s head, she said, turning to the throng below:–
“We in our pride and power have erred, while this, the weakest and
lowliest of our subjects, has from the innocence of her own pure heart
counselled 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 voices
they 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 wreath
of the fairest flowers. Tenderly they gathered them, with the
night-dew fresh upon their leaves, and as they wove chanted sweet
spells, and whispered fairy blessings on the bright messengers
whom they sent forth to die in a dreary land, that their gentle
kindred might bloom unharmed.
At length it was done; and the fair flowers lay glowing
in the soft starlight, while beside them stood the Fairies, singing
to 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 its
breast, while flowers danced gayly in the summer wind, and birds sang
their morning hymn among the cool green leaves. Then high above,
on shining wings, soared a little form. The sunlight rested softly
on 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 looked
smiling up to her, as, with the bright wreath folded in her
arms, she flew among the soft, white clouds.
On and on she went, over hill and valley, broad rivers and
rustling woods, till the warm sunlight passed away, the winds
grew cold, and the air thick with falling snow. Then far below
she saw the Frost-King’s home. Pillars of hard, gray ice supported
the high, arched roof, hung with crystal icicles. Dreary gardens
lay around, filled with withered flowers and bare, drooping trees;
while heavy clouds hung low in the dark sky, and a cold wind
murmured sadly through the wintry air.
With a beating heart Violet folded her fading wreath more closely
to her breast, and with weary wings flew onward to the dreary palace.
Here, before the closed doors, stood many forms with dark faces and
harsh, discordant voices, who sternly asked the shivering little Fairy
why she came to them.
Gently she answered, telling them her errand, beseeching them
to 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 snow
covered the hard floors. On a throne hung with clouds sat
the Frost-King; a crown of crystals bound his white locks, and
a dark mantle wrought with delicate frost-work was folded over
his cold breast.
His stern face could not stay little Violet, and on through
the long hall she went, heedless of the snow that gathered on
her feet, and the bleak wind that blew around her; while the King
with wondering eyes looked on the golden light that played upon the
dark 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 have
brought back the light and joy that will make your dark home bright
and beautiful again. Let me call back to the desolate gardens the
fair forms that are gone, and their soft voices blessing you will
bring to your breast a never failing joy. Cast by your icy crown
and 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 eyes
will rest only on fair forms, while music shall sound through these
dreary halls, and the love of grateful hearts be yours. Have pity
on the gentle flower-spirits, and do not doom them to an early death,
when they might bloom in fadeless beauty, making us wiser by their
gentle teachings, and the earth brighter by their lovely forms.
These fair flowers, with the prayers of all Fairy Land, I lay
before 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 ever
brighter 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 their
fragrant voices sounded softly in his ear, telling of their dying
sisters, and of the joy it gives to bring happiness to the weak
and sorrowing. But he drew the dark mantle closer over his breast
and answered coldly,–
“I cannot grant your prayer, little Fairy; it is my will
the flowers should die. Go back to your Queen, and tell her
that I cannot yield my power to please these foolish flowers.”
Then Violet hung the wreath above the throne, and with weary foot
went forth again, out into the cold, dark gardens, and still the
golden shadows followed her, and wherever they fell, flowers bloomed
and green leaves rustled.
Then came the Frost-Spirits, and beneath their cold wings the
flowers died, while the Spirits bore Violet to a low, dark cell,
saying as they left her, that their King was angry that she had dared
to stay when he had bid her go.
So all alone she sat, and sad thoughts of her happy home came back
to her, and she wept bitterly. But soon came visions of the gentle
flowers dying in their forest homes, and their voices ringing
in 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 heard
little voices calling for help, and high up among the heavy cobwebs
hung poor little flies struggling to free themselves, while their
cruel enemies sat in their nets, watching their pain.
With her wand the Fairy broke the bands that held them, tenderly bound
up their broken wings, and healed their wounds; while they lay in the
warm light, and feebly hummed their thanks to their kind deliverer.
Then she went to the ugly brown spiders, and in gentle words
told them, how in Fairy Land their kindred spun all the elfin cloth,
and in return the Fairies gave them food, and then how happily they
lived among the green leaves, spinning garments for their neigbbors.
“And you too,” said she, “shall spin for me, and I will give you
better 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 over
his cold heart gentle thoughts may enter in and make it their home.
And while she gayly sung, the little weavers spun their silken
threads, 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 and
often stole to look at the sunny little room where friends and enemies
worked peacefully together. Still the light grew brighter, and
floated out into the cold air, where it hung like bright clouds
above the dreary gardens, whence all the Spirits’ power could not
drive it; and green leaves budded on the naked trees, and
flowers bloomed; but the Spirits heaped snow upon them, and
they bowed their heads and died.
At length the mantle was finished, and amid the gray threads
shone golden ones, making it bright; and she sent it to the King,
entreating him to wear it, for it would bring peace and love
to dwell within his breast.
But he scornfully threw it aside, and bade his Spirits take her
to a colder cell, deep in the earth; and there with harsh words
they 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 sounds
that came stealing up to him.
Thus Violet dwelt, and each day the golden light grew stronger; and
from among the crevices of the rocky walls came troops of little
velvet-coated moles, praying that they might listen to the sweet
music, and lie in the warm light.
“We lead,” said they, “a dreary life in the cold earth; the
flower-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 be
your servants: give us but a few crumbs of your daily bread, and we
will do all in our power to serve you.”
And Violet said, Yes; so day after day they labored to make
a pathway through the frozen earth, that she might reach the roots
of the withered flowers; and soon, wherever through the dark galleries
she went, the soft light fell upon the roots of flowers, and they
with new life spread forth in the warm ground, and forced fresh sap
to the blossoms above. Brightly they bloomed and danced in the
soft light, and the Frost-Spirits tried in vain to harm them, for when
they 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 him
of 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 seemcd so cold and dreary, that he folded
Violet’s mantle round him, and sat beneath the faded wreath upon his
ice-carved throne, wondering at the strange warmth that came from it;
till at length he bade his Spirits bring the little Fairy from
her dismal prison.
Soon they came hastening back, and prayed him to come and see
how lovely the dark cell had grown. The rough floor was spread
with 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 lay
among the fragrant leaves; and beneath the vines stood Violet,
casting crumbs to the downy little moles who ran fearlessly about
and listened as she sang to them.
When the old King saw how much fairer she had made the dreary cell
than his palace rooms, gentle thoughts within whispered him to grant
her 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 how
frail they were, and useless to a King. Then the stern, cold thoughts
came back again, and he harshly bid her follow him.
With a sad farewell to her little friends she followed him, and
before the throne awaited his command. When the King saw how pale and
sad the gentle face had grown, how thin her robe, and weak her wings,
and yet how lovingly the golden shadows fell around her and brightened
as they lay upon the wand, which, guided by patient love, had made
his once desolate home so bright, he could not be cruel to the one
who had done so much for him, and in kindly tone he said,–
“Little Fairy, I offer you two things, and you may choose
between them. If I will vow never more to harm the flowers you may
love, will you go back to your own people and leave me and my Spirits
to work our will on all the other flowers that bloom? The earth
is broad, and we can find them in any land, then why should you care
what happens to their kindred if your own are safe? Will you do this?”
“Ah!” answered Violet sadly, “do you not know that beneath
the flowers’ bright leaves there beats a little heart that loves
and sorrows like our own? And can I, heedless of their beauty,
doom them to pain and grief, that I might save my own dear blossoms
from the cruel foes to which I leave them? Ah no! sooner would I
dwell for ever in your darkest cell, than lose the love of those
warm, trusting hearts.”
“Then listen,” said the King, “to the task I give you. You shall
raise up for me a palace fairer than this, and if you can work
that 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; for
she had toiled so long, her strength was nearly gone. But the
flowers whispered their gratitude, and folded their leaves as if they
blessed her; and when she saw the garden filled with loving friends,
who strove to cheer and thank her for her care, courage and strength
returned; and raising up thick clouds of mist, that hid her from the
wondering flowers, alone and trustingly she began her work.
As time went by, the Frost-King feared the task had been
too hard for the Fairy; sounds were heard behind the walls of mist,
bright shadows seen to pass within, but the little voice was never
heard. Meanwhile the golden light had faded from the garden,
the flowers bowed their heads, and all was dark and cold as when
the gentle Fairy came.
And to the stern King his home seemed more desolate and sad; for
he missed the warm light, the happy flowers, and, more than all,
the gay voice and bright face of little Violet. So he wandered
through his dreary palace, wondering how he had been content
to live before without sunlight and love.
And little Violet was mourned as dead in Fairy-Land, and many tears
were shed, for the gentle Fairy was beloved by all, from the Queen
down to the humblest flower. Sadly they watched over every bird
and blossom which she had loved, and strove to be like her in
kindly words and deeds. They wore cypress wreaths, and spoke of her
as one whom they should never see again.
Thus they dwelt in deepest sorrow, till one day there came to them an
unknown messenger, wrapped in a dark mantle, who looked with wondering
eyes on the bright palace, and flower-crowned elves, who kindly
welcomed him, and brought fresh dew and rosy fruit to refresh the
weary 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 palace
little 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 King
wished her kindred near to comfort and to bear her home. And while
the Elves wept, he told them how patiently she had toiled, how
her fadeless love had made the dark cell bright and beautiful.
These and many other things he told them; for little Violet had won
the love of many of the Frost-Spirits, and even when they killed the
flowers she had toiled so hard to bring to life and beauty, she spoke
gentle words to them, and sought to teach them how beautiful is love.
Long stayed the messenger, and deeper grew his wonder that the Fairy
could have left so fair a home, to toil in the dreary palace of his
cruel master, and suffer cold and weariness, to give life and joy to
the 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 canopy
of dark clouds, sat the Frost-King before the misty wall, behind which
were heard low, sweet sounds, as of rustling trees and warbling birds.
Soon through the air came many-colored troops of Elves. First the
Queen, known by the silver lilies on her snowy robe and the bright
crown in her hair, beside whom flew a band of Elves in crimson and
gold, 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 shining
wings and many-colored garments sparkling in the dim air; and soon
the leafless trees were gay with living flowers, and their sweet
voices filled the gardens with music. Like his subjects, the King
looked on the lovely Elves, and no longer wondered that little Violet
wept and longed for her home. Darker and more desolate seemed his
stately home, and when the Fairies asked for flowers, he felt ashamed
that he had none to give them.
At length a warm wind swept through the gardens, and the mist-clouds
passed away, while in silent wonder looked the Frost-King and
the Elves upon the scene before them.
Far as eye could reach were tall green trees whose drooping boughs
made graceful arches, through which the golden light shone softly,
making bright shadows on the deep green moss below, where the fairest
flowers 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 their
bright waters to the roof, and flocks of silver-winged birds flew
singing among the flowers, or brooded lovingly above their nests.
Doves with gentle eyes cooed among the green leaves, snow-white clouds
floated in the sunny shy, and the golden light, brighter than before,
shone softly down.
Soon through the long aisles came Violet, flowers and green leaves
rustling as she passed. On she went to the Frost-King’s throne,
bearing two crowns, one of sparkling icicles, the other of pure
white lilies, and kneeling before him, said,–
“My task is done, and, thanks to the Spirits of earth and air, I have
made 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 your
loving friends? Will you possess unfading peace and joy, and the
grateful love of all the green earth’s fragrant children? Then take
this 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 over
the happy earth, and win for yourself the fear and hatred of those
who would so gladly love and reverence you. Then take this glittering
crown, hard and cold as your own heart will be, if you will shut out
all that is bright and beautiful. Both are before you. Choose.”
The old King looked at the little Fairy, and saw how lovingly
the bright shadows gathered round her, as if to shield her
from every harm; the timid birds nestled in her bosom, and the
flowers 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 at
the two palaces. Violet’s, so fair and beautiful, with its rustling
trees, calm, sunny skies, and happy birds and flowers, all created
by 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 own
Spirits, casting off their dark mantles, knelt before him and besought
him not to send them forth to blight the things the gentle Fairies
loved 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 sweet
flowers 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 that
Love is mightier than Fear. Choose the Flower crown, and we will be
the truest subjects you have ever had.”
Then, amid a burst of wild, sweet music, the Frost-King placed
the Flower crown on his head, and knelt to little Violet; while far
and near, over the broad green earth, sounded the voices of flowers,
singing their thanks to the gentle Fairy, and the summer wind
was laden with perfumes, which they sent as tokens of their gratitude;
and wherever she went, old trees bent down to fold their slender
branches round her, flowers laid their soft faces against her own,
and whispered blessings; even the humble moss bent over the little
feet, and kissed them as they passed.
The old King, surrounded by the happy Fairies, sat in Violet’s
lovely home, and watched his icy castle melt away beneath the bright
sunlight; while his Spirits, cold and gloomy no longer, danced
with the Elves, and waited on their King with loving eagerness.
Brighter grew the golden light, gayer sang the birds, and the
harmonious 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 was
the tale “Silver Wing” told.