Flower Fables by Louisa May Alcott (read online)


IN a great forest, high up among the green boughs, lived Bird
Brown-Breast, and his bright-eyed little mate. They were now very
happy; their home was done, the four blue eggs lay in the soft nest,
and the little wife sat still and patient on them, while the husband
sang, and told her charming tales, and brought her sweet berries
and little worms.

Things went smoothly on, till one day she found in the nest a little
white egg, with a golden band about it.

“My friend,” cried she, “come and see! Where can this fine egg have
come from? My four are here, and this also; what think you of it?”

The husband shook his head gravely, and said, “Be not alarmed, my
love; it is doubtless some good Fairy who has given us this, and we
shall find some gift within; do not let us touch it, but do you sit
carefully upon it, and we shall see in time what has been sent us.”

So they said nothing about it, and soon their home had four little
chirping children; and then the white egg opened, and, behold,
a little maiden lay singing within. Then how amazed were they,
and how they welcomed her, as she lay warm beneath the mother’s wing,
and how the young birds did love her.

Great joy was in the forest, and proud were the parents of their
family, and still more of the little one who had come to them;
while all the neighbors flocked in, to see Dame Brown-Breast’s
little child. And the tiny maiden talked to them, and sang so
merrily, that they could have listened for ever. Soon she was
the joy of the whole forest, dancing from tree to tree, making
every nest her home, and none were ever so welcome as little Bud;
and so they lived right merrily in the green old forest.

The father now had much to do to supply his family with food, and
choice morsels did he bring little Bud. The wild fruits were her
food, the fresh dew in the flower-cups her drink, while the green
leaves served her for little robes; and thus she found garments in
the flowers of the field, and a happy home with Mother Brown-Breast;
and all in the wood, from the stately trees to the little mosses
in the turf, were friends to the merry child.

And each day she taught the young birds sweet songs, and as their gay
music rang through the old forest, the stern, dark pines ceased their
solemn waving, that they might hear the soft sounds stealing through
the dim wood-paths, and mortal children came to listen, saying softly,
“Hear the flowers sing, and touch them not, for the Fairies are here.”

Then came a band of sad little Elves to Bud, praying that they might
hear the sweet music; and when she took them by the hand, and spoke
gently to them, they wept and said sadly, when she asked them whence
they came,–

“We dwelt once in Fairy-Land, and O how happy were we then! But alas!
we were not worthy of so fair a home, and were sent forth into the
cold world. Look at our robes, they are like the withered leaves;
our wings are dim, our crowns are gone, and we lead sad, lonely lives
in this dark forest. Let us stay with you; your gay music sounds
like Fairy songs, and you have such a friendly way with you, and speak
so gently to us. It is good to be near one so lovely and so kind; and
you can tell us how we may again become fair and innocent. Say we may
stay with you, kind little maiden.”

And Bud said, “Yes,” and they stayed; but her kind little heart
was grieved that they wept so sadly, and all she could say could not
make them happy; till at last she said,–

“Do not weep, and I will go to Queen Dew-Drop, and beseech her
to let you come back. I will tell her that you are repentant,
and will do anything to gain her love again; that you are sad, and
long to be forgiven. This will I say, and more, and trust she will
grant my prayer.”

“She will not say no to you, dear Bud,” said the poor little Fairies;
“she will love you as we do, and if we can but come again to our lost
home, we cannot give you thanks enough. Go, Bud, and if there be
power in Fairy gifts, you shall be as happy as our hearts’ best love
can make you.”

The tidings of Bud’s departure flew through the forest, and all her
friends came to say farewell, as with the morning sun she would go;
and each brought some little gift, for the land of Fairies was
far away, and she must journey long.

“Nay, you shall not go on your feet, my child,” said Mother
Brown-Breast; “your friend Golden-Wing shall carry you. Call him
hither, that I may seat you rightly, for if you should fall off
my heart would break.”

Then up came Golden-Wing, and Bud was safely seated on the cushion
of violet-leaves; and it was really charming to see her merry little
face, peeping from under the broad brim of her cow-slip hat, as
her butterfly steed stood waving his bright wings in the sunlight.
Then came the bee with his yellow honey-bags, which he begged she
would take, and the little brown spider that lived under the great
leaves brought a veil for her hat, and besought her to wear it,
lest the sun should shine too brightly; while the ant came bringing a
tiny strawberry, lest she should miss her favorite fruit. The mother
gave her good advice, and the papa stood with his head on one side,
and his round eyes twinkling with delight, to think that his
little Bud was going to Fairy-Land.

Then they all sang gayly together, till she passed out of sight
over the hills, and they saw her no more.

And now Bud left the old forest far behind her. Golden-Wing
bore her swiftly along, and she looked down on the green mountains,
and the peasant’s cottages, that stood among overshadowing trees;
and the earth looked bright, with its broad, blue rivers winding
through soft meadows, the singing birds, and flowers, who kept their
bright eyes ever on the sky.

And she sang gayly as they floated in the clear air, while her friend
kept time with his waving wings, and ever as they went along all grew
fairer; and thus they came to Fairy-Land.

As Bud passed through the gates, she no longer wondered that the
exiled Fairies wept and sorrowed for the lovely home they had lost.
Bright clouds floated in the sunny sky, casting a rainbow light on
the Fairy palaces below, where the Elves were dancing; while the
low, sweet voices of the singing flowers sounded softly through the
fragrant air, and mingled with the music of the rippling waves, as
they flowed on beneath the blossoming vines that drooped above them.

All was bright and beautiful; but kind little Bud would not linger,
for the forms of the weeping Fairies were before her; and
though the blossoms nodded gayly on their stems to welcome her,
and the soft winds kissed her cheek, she would not stay, but on
to the Flower Palace she went, into a pleasant hall whose walls
were formed of crimson roses, amid whose leaves sat little Elves,
making sweet music on their harps. When they saw Bud, they gathered
round her, and led her through the flower-wreathed arches to a group
of the most beautiful Fairies, who were gathered about a stately lily,
in whose fragrant cup sat one whose purple robe and glittering crown
told she was their Queen.

Bud knelt before her, and, while tears streamed down her little face,
she told her errand, and pleaded earnestly that the exiled Fairies
might be forgiven, and not be left to pine far from their friends and
kindred. And as she prayed, many wept with her; and when she ceased,
and waited for her answer, many knelt beside her, praying forgiveness
for the unhappy Elves.

With tearful eyes, Queen Dew-Drop replied,–

“Little maiden, your prayer has softened my heart. They shall not be
left sorrowing and alone, nor shall you go back without a kindly word
to cheer and comfort them. We will pardon their fault, and when they
can bring hither a perfect Fairy crown, robe, and wand, they shall be
again received as children of their loving Queen. The task is hard,
for none but the best and purest can form the Fairy garments; yet with
patience they may yet restore their robes to their former brightness.
Farewell, good little maiden; come with them, for but for you they
would have dwelt for ever without the walls of Fairy-Land.”

“Good speed to you, and farewell,” cried they all, as, with loving
messages to their poor friends, they bore her to the gates.

Day after day toiled little Bud, cheering the Fairies, who,
angry and disappointed, would not listen to her gentle words,
but turned away and sat alone weeping. They grieved her kind heart
with many cruel words; but patiently she bore with them, and when
they told her they could never perform so hard a task, and must dwell
for ever in the dark forest, she answered gently, that the snow-white
lily must be planted, and watered with repentant tears, before the
robe of innocence could be won; that the sun of love must shine
in their hearts, before the light could return to their dim crowns,
and deeds of kindness must be performed, ere the power would come
again to their now useless wands.

Then they planted the lilies; but they soon drooped and died, and
no light came to their crowns. They did no gentle deeds, but cared
only for themselves; and when they found their labor was in vain,
they tried no longer, but sat weeping. Bud, with ceaseless toil and
patient care, tended the lilies, which bloomed brightly, the crowns
grew bright, and in her hands the wands had power over birds and
blossoms, for she was striving to give happiness to others,
forgetful of herself. And the idle Fairies, with thankful words, took
the garments from her, and then with Bud went forth to Fairy-Land,
and stood with beating hearts before the gates; where crowds of Fairy
friends came forth to welcome them.

But when Queen Dew-Drop touched them with her wand, as they passed in,
the light faded from their crowns, their robes became like withered
leaves, and their wands were powerless.

Amid the tears of all the Fairies, the Queen led them to the gates,
and said,–

“Farewell! It is not in my power to aid you; innocence and love are
not within your hearts, and were it not for this untiring little
maiden, who has toiled while you have wept, you never would have
entered your lost home. Go and strive again, for till all is once
more fair and pure, I cannot call you mine.”

“Farewell!” sang the weeping Fairies, as the gates closed on their
outcast friends; who, humbled and broken-hearted, gathered around Bud;
and she, with cheering words, guided them back to the forest.

Time passed on, and the Fairies had done nothing to gain their
lovely home again. They wept no longer, but watched little Bud,
as she daily tended the flowers, restoring thelr strength and beauty,
or with gentle words flew from nest to nest, teaching the little birds
to live happily together; and wherever she went blessings fell, and
loving hearts were filled with gratitude.

Then, one by one, the Elves secretly did some little work of kindness,
and found a quiet joy come back to repay them. Flowers looked
lovingly up as they passed, birds sang to cheer them when sad thoughts
made them weep. And soon little Bud found out their gentle deeds,
and her friendly words gave them new strength. So day after day
they followed her, and like a band of guardian spirits they flew
far and wide, carrying with them joy and peace.

And not only birds and flowers blessed them, but human beings also;
for with tender hands they guided little children from danger, and
kept their young hearts free from evil thoughts; they whispered
soothing words to the sick, and brought sweet odors and fair flowers
to their lonely rooms. They sent lovely visions to the old and blind,
to make their hearts young and bright with happy thoughts.

But most tenderly did they watch over the poor and sorrowing,
and many a poor mother blessed the unseen hands that laid food
before her hungry little ones, and folded warm garments round
their naked limbs. Many a poor man wondered at the fair flowers
that sprang up in his little garden-plot, cheering him with their
bright forms, and making his dreary home fair with their loveliness,
and looked at his once barren field, where now waved the golden corn,
turning its broad leaves to the warm sun, and promising a store of
golden ears to give him food; while the care-worn face grew bright,
and the troubled heart filled with gratitude towards the invisible
spirits who had brought him such joy.

Thus time passed on, and though the exiled Fairies longed often for
their home, still, knowing they did not deserve it, they toiled on,
hoping one day to see the friends they had lost; while the joy of
their own hearts made their life full of happiness.

One day came little Bud to them, saying,–

“Listen, dear friends. I have a hard task to offer you. It is a
great sacrifice for you light loving Fairies to dwell through the long
winter in the dark, cold earth, watching over the flower roots, to keep
them free from the little grubs and worms that seek to harm them.
But in the sunny Spring when they bloom again, their love and
gratitude will give you happy homes among their bright leaves.

“It is a wearisome task, and I can give you no reward for all your
tender care, but the blessings of the gentle flowers you will have
saved from death. Gladly would I aid you; but my winged friends are
preparing for their journey to warmer lands, and I must help them
teach their little ones to fly, and see them safely on their way.
Then, through the winter, must I seek the dwellings of the poor
and suffering, comfort the sick and lonely, and give hope and courage
to those who in their poverty are led astray. These things must I do;
but when the flowers bloom again I will be with you, to welcome back
our friends from over the sea.”

Then, with tears, the Fairies answered, “Ah, good little Bud, you have
taken the hardest task yourself, and who will repay you for all your
deeds of tenderness and mercy in the great world? Should evil befall
you, our hearts would break. We will labor trustingly in the earth,
and thoughts of you shall cheer us on; for without you we had been
worthless beings, and never known the joy that kindly actions bring.
Yes, dear Bud, we will gladly toil among the roots, that the fair
flowers may wear their gayest robes to welcome you.”

Then deep in the earth the Fairies dwelt, and no frost or snow
could harm the blossoms they tended. Every little seed was laid
in the soft earth, watered, and watched. Tender roots were folded
in withered leaves, that no chilling drops might reach them; and
safely dreamed the flowers, till summer winds should call them forth;
while lighter grew each Fairy heart, as every gentle deed was
tenderly performed.

At length the snow was gone, and they heard little voices calling them
to come up; but patiently they worked, till seed and root were green
and strong. Then, with eager feet, they hastened to the earth above,
where, over hill and valley, bright flowers and budding trees smiled
in the warm sunlight, blossoms bent lovingly before them, and rang
their colored bells, till the fragrant air was full of music; while
the stately trees waved their great arms above them, and scattered
soft leaves at their feet.

Then came the merry birds, making the wood alive with their gay
voices, calling to one another, as they flew among the vines,
building their little homes. Long waited the Elves, and at last
she came with Father Brown-Breast. Happy days passed; and
summer flowers were in their fullest beauty, when Bud bade the Fairies
come with her.

Mounted on bright-winged butterflies, they flew over forest and
meadow, till with joyful eyes they saw the flower-crowned walls
of Fairy-Land.

Before the gates they stood, and soon troops of loving Elves
came forth to meet them. And on through the sunny gardens they went,
into the Lily Hall, where, among the golden stamens of a graceful
flower, sat the Queen; while on the broad, green leaves around it
stood the brighteyed little maids of honor.

Then, amid the deep silence, little Bud, leading the Fairies to the
throne, said,–

“Dear Queen, I here bring back your subjects, wiser for their sorrow,
better for their hard trial; and now might any Queen be proud of them,
and bow to learn from them that giving joy and peace to others
brings it fourfold to us, bearing a double happiness in the blessings
to those we help. Through the dreary months, when they might have
dwelt among fair Southern flowers, beneath a smiling sky, they toiled
in the dark and silent earth, filling the hearts of the gentle Flower
Spirits with grateful love, seeking no reward but the knowledge of
their own good deeds, and the joy they always bring. This they have
done unmurmuringly and alone; and now, far and wide, flower blessings
fall upon them, and the summer winds bear the glad tidings unto those
who droop in sorrow, and new joy and strength it brings, as they look
longingly for the friends whose gentle care hath brought such
happiness to their fair kindred.

“Are they not worthy of your love, dear Queen? Have they not won
their lovely home? Say they are pardoned, and you have gained
the love of hearts pure as the snow-white robes now folded over them.”

As Bud ceased, she touched the wondering Fairies with her wand,
and the dark faded garments fell away; and beneath, the robes
of lily-leaves glittered pure and spotless in the sun-light.
Then, while happy tears fell, Queen Dew-Drop placed the bright crowns
on the bowed heads of the kneeling Fairies, and laid before them
the wands their own good deeds had rendered powerful.

They turned to thank little Bud for all her patient love,
but she was gone; and high above, in the clear air, they saw
the little form journeying back to the quiet forest.

She needed no reward but the joy she had given. The Fairy hearts
were pure again, and her work was done; yet all Fairy-Land had learned
a lesson from gentle little Bud.

“Now, little Sunbeam, what have you to tell us?” said the Queen,
looking down on a bright-eyed Elf, who sat half hidden in the deep
moss at her feet.

“I too, like Star-Twinkle, have nothing but a song to offer,”
replied the Fairy; and then, while the nightingale’s sweet voice
mingled with her own, she sang,–


IN a quiet, pleasant meadow,
Beneath a summer sky,
Where green old trees their branches waved,
And winds went singing by;
Where a little brook went rippling
So musically low,
And passing clouds cast shadows
On the waving grass below;
Where low, sweet notes of brooding birds
Stole out on the fragrant air,
And golden sunlight shone undimmed
On all most fresh and fair;–
There bloomed a lovely sisterhood
Of happy little flowers,
Together in this pleasant home,
Through quiet summer hours.
No rude hand came to gather them,
No chilling winds to blight;
Warm sunbeams smiled on them by day,
And soft dews fell at night.
So here, along the brook-side,
Beneath the green old trees,
The flowers dwelt among their friends,
The sunbeams and the breeze.

One morning, as the flowers awoke,
Fragrant, and fresh, and fair,
A little worm came creeping by,
And begged a shelter there.
“Ah! pity and love me,” sighed the worm,
“I am lonely, poor, and weak;
A little spot for a resting-place,
Dear flowers, is all I seek.
I am not fair, and have dwelt unloved
By butterfly, bird, and bee.
They little knew that in this dark form
Lay the beauty they yet may see.
Then let me lie in the deep green moss,
And weave my little tomb,
And sleep my long, unbroken sleep
Till Spring’s first flowers come.
Then will I come in a fairer dress,
And your gentle care repay
By the grateful love of the humble worm;
Kind flowers, O let me stay!”
But the wild rose showed her little thorns,
While her soft face glowed with pride;
The violet hid beneath the drooping ferns,
And the daisy turned aside.
Little Houstonia scornfully laughed,
As she danced on her slender stem;
While the cowslip bent to the rippling waves,
And whispered the tale to them.
A blue-eyed grass looked down on the worm,
As it silently turned away,
And cried, “Thou wilt harm our delicate leaves,
And therefore thou canst not stay.”
Then a sweet, soft voice, called out from far,
“Come hither, poor worm, to me;
The sun lies warm in this quiet spot,
And I’ll share my home with thee.”
The wondering flowers looked up to see
Who had offered the worm a home:
‘T was a clover-blossom, whose fluttering leaves
Seemed beckoning him to come;
It dwelt in a sunny little nook,
Where cool winds rustled by,
And murmuring bees and butterflies came,
On the flower’s breast to lie.
Down through the leaves the sunlight stole,
And seemed to linger there,
As if it loved to brighten the home
Of one so sweet and fair.
Its rosy face smiled kindly down,
As the friendless worm drew near;
And its low voice, softly whispering, said
“Poor thing, thou art welcome here;
Close at my side, in the soft green moss,
Thou wilt find a quiet bed,
Where thou canst softly sleep till Spring,
With my leaves above thee spread.
I pity and love thee, friendless worm,
Though thou art not graceful or fair;
For many a dark, unlovely form,
Hath a kind heart dwelling there;
No more o’er the green and pleasant earth,
Lonely and poor, shalt thou roam,
For a loving friend hast thou found in me,
And rest in my little home.”
Then, deep in its quiet mossy bed,
Sheltered from sun and shower,
The grateful worm spun its winter tomb,
In the shadow of the flower.
And Clover guarded well its rest,
Till Autumn’s leaves were sere,
Till all her sister flowers were gone,
And her winter sleep drew near.
Then her withered leaves were softly spread
O’er the sleeping worm below,
Ere the faithful little flower lay
Beneath the winter snow.

Spring came again, and the flowers rose
From their quiet winter graves,
And gayly danced on their slender stems,
And sang with the rippling waves.
Softly the warm winds kissed their cheeks;
Brightly the sunbeams fell,
As, one by one, they came again
In their summer homes to dwell.
And little Clover bloomed once more,
Rosy, and sweet, and fair,
And patiently watched by the mossy bed,
For the worm still slumbered there.
Then her sister flowers scornfully cried,
As they waved in the summer air,
“The ugly worm was friendless and poor;
Little Clover, why shouldst thou care?
Then watch no more, nor dwell alone,
Away from thy sister flowers;
Come, dance and feast, and spend with us
These pleasant summer hours.
We pity thee, foolish little flower,
To trust what the false worm said;
He will not come in a fairer dress,
For he lies in the green moss dead.”
But little Clover still watched on,
Alone in her sunny home;
She did not doubt the poor worm’s truth,
And trusted he would come.

At last the small cell opened wide,
And a glittering butterfly,
From out the moss, on golden wings,
Soared up to the sunny sky.
Then the wondering flowers cried aloud,
“Clover, thy watch was vain;
He only sought a shelter here,
And never will come again.”
And the unkind flowers danced for joy,
When they saw him thus depart;
For the love of a beautiful butterfly
Is dear to a flower’s heart.
They feared he would stay in Clover’s home,
And her tender care repay;
So they danced for joy, when at last he rose
And silently flew away.
Then little Clover bowed her head,
While her soft tears fell like dew;
For her gentle heart was grieved, to find
That her sisters’ words were true,
And the insect she had watched so long
When helpless, poor, and lone,
Thankless for all her faithful care,
On his golden wings had flown.
But as she drooped, in silent grief,
She heard little Daisy cry,
“O sisters, look! I see him now,
Afar in the sunny sky;
He is floating back from Cloud-Land now,
Borne by the fragrant air.
Spread wide your leaves, that he may choose
The flower he deems most fair.”
Then the wild rose glowed with a deeper blush,
As she proudly waved on her stem;
The Cowslip bent to the clear blue waves,
And made her mirror of them.
Little Houstonia merrily danced,
And spread her white leaves wide;
While Daisy whispered her joy and hope,
As she stood by her gay friends’ side.
Violet peeped from the tall green ferns,
And lifted her soft blue eye
To watch the glittering form, that shone
Afar in the summer sky.
They thought no more of the ugly worm,
Who once had wakened their scorn;
But looked and longed for the butterfly now,
As the soft wind bore him on.

Nearer and nearer the bright form came,
And fairer the blossoms grew;
Each welcomed him, in her sweetest tones;
Each offered her honey and dew.
But in vain did they beckon, and smile, and call,
And wider their leaves unclose;
The glittering form still floated on,
By Violet, Daisy, and Rose.
Lightly it flew to the pleasant home
Of the flower most truly fair,
On Clover’s breast he softly lit,
And folded his bright wings there.
“Dear flower,” the butterfly whispered low,
“Long hast thou waited for me;
Now I am come, and my grateful love
Shall brighten thy home for thee;
Thou hast loved and cared for me, when alone,
Hast watched o’er me long and well;
And now will I strive to show the thanks
The poor worm could not tell.
Sunbeam and breeze shall come to thee,
And the coolest dews that fall;
Whate’er a flower can wish is thine,
For thou art worthy all.
And the home thou shared with the friendless worm
The butterfly’s home shall be;
And thou shalt find, dear, faithful flower,
A loving friend in me.”
Then, through the long, bright summer hours
Through sunshine and through shower,
Together in their happy home
Dwelt butterfly and flower.

“Ah, that is very lovely,” cried the Elves, gathering round
little Sunbeam as she ceased, to place a garland in her hair and
praise her song.

“Now,” said the Queen, “call hither Moon-light and Summer-Wind,
for they have seen many pleasant things in their long wanderings,
and will gladly tell us them.”

“Most joyfully will we do our best, dear Queen,” said the Elves,
as they folded their wings beside her.

“Now, Summer-Wind,” said Moonlight, “till your turn comes, do you sit
here and fan me while I tell this tale of

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