Flower Fables by Louisa May Alcott (read online)

Then Spring flew on with her sunshine and flowers, and Ripple went
swiftly over hill and vale, till she came to the land where Summer
was dwelling. Here the sun shone warmly down on the early fruit,
the winds blew freshly over fields of fragrant hay, and rustled with
a pleasant sound among the green leaves in the forests; heavy dews
fell softly down at night, and long, bright days brought strength
and beauty to the blossoming earth.

“Now I must seek for Summer,” said Ripple, as she sailed slowly
through the sunny sky.

“I am here, what would you with me, little Spirit?” said a musical
voice in her ear; and, floating by her side, she saw a graceful form,
with green robes fluttering in the air, whose pleasant face looked
kindly on her, from beneath a crown of golden sunbeams that cast
a warm, bright glow on all beneath.

Then Ripple told her tale, and asked where she should go; but
Summer answered,–

“I can tell no more than my young sister Spring where you may find
the Spirits that you seek; but I too, like her, will give a gift to
aid you. Take this sunbeam from my crown; it will cheer and brighten
the most gloomy path through which you pass. Farewell! I shall carry
tidings of you to the watcher by the sea, if in my journey round the
world I find her there.”

And Summer, giving her the sunbeam, passed away over the distant
hills, leaving all green and bright behind her.

So Ripple journeyed on again, till the earth below her shone
with yellow harvests waving in the sun, and the air was filled
with cheerful voices, as the reapers sang among the fields or in
the pleasant vineyards, where purple fruit hung gleaming through
the leaves; while the sky above was cloudless, and the changing
forest-trees shone like a many-colored garland, over hill and plain;
and here, along the ripening corn-fields, with bright wreaths of
crimson leaves and golden wheat-ears in her hair and on her purple
mantle, stately Autumn passed, with a happy smile on her calm face,
as she went scattering generous gifts from her full arms.

But when the wandering Spirit came to her, and asked for what she
sought, this season, like the others, could not tell her where to go;
so, giving her a yellow leaf, Autumn said, as she passed on,–

“Ask Winter, little Ripple, when you come to his cold home; he knows
the Fire-Spirits well, for when he comes they fly to the earth,
to warm and comfort those dwelling there; and perhaps he can tell you
where they are. So take this gift of mine, and when you meet his
chilly winds, fold it about you, and sit warm beneath its shelter,
till you come to sunlight again. I will carry comfort to the
patient woman, as my sisters have already done, and tell her you are
faithful still.”

Then on went the never-tiring Breeze, over forest, hill, and field,
till the sky grew dark, and bleak winds whistled by. Then Ripple,
folded in the soft, warm leaf, looked sadly down on the earth,
that seemed to lie so desolate and still beneath its shroud of snow,
and thought how bitter cold the leaves and flowers must be; for the
little Water-Spirit did not know that Winter spread a soft white
covering above their beds, that they might safely sleep below till
Spring should waken them again. So she went sorrowfully on, till
Winter, riding on the strong North-Wind, came rushing by, with
a sparkling ice-crown in his streaming hair, while from beneath his
crimson cloak, where glittering frost-work shone like silver threads,
he scattered snow-flakes far and wide.

“What do you seek with me, fair little Spirit, that you come
so bravely here amid my ice and snow? Do not fear me; I am warm
at heart, though rude and cold without,” said Winter, looking kindly
on her, while a bright smile shone like sunlight on his pleasant face,
as it glowed and glistened in the frosty air.

When Ripple told him why she had come, he pointed upward, where the
sunlight dimly shone through the heavy clouds, saying,–

“Far off there, beside the sun, is the Fire-Spirits’ home; and the
only path is up, through cloud and mist. It is a long, strange path,
for a lonely little Spirit to be going; the Fairies are wild, wilful
things, and in their play may harm and trouble you. Come back with
me, and do not go this dangerous journey to the sky. I’ll gladly
bear you home again, if you will come.”

But Ripple said, “I cannot turn back now, when I am nearly there.
The Spirits surely will not harm me, when I tell them why I am come;
and if I win the flame, I shall be the happiest Spirit in the sea,
for my promise will be kept, and the poor mother happy once again.
So farewell, Winter! Speak to her gently, and tell her to hope still,
for I shall surely come.”

“Adieu, little Ripple! May good angels watch above you! Journey
bravely on, and take this snow-flake that will never melt, as MY
gift,” Winter cried, as the North-Wind bore him on, leaving a cloud
of falling snow behind.

“Now, dear Breeze,” said Ripple, “fly straight upward through the air,
until we reach the place we have so long been seeking; Sunbeam shall
go before to light the way, Yellow-leaf shall shelter me from heat and
rain, while Snow-flake shall lie here beside me till it comes of use.
So farewell to the pleasant earth, until we come again. And now away,
up to the sun!”

When Ripple first began her airy journey, all was dark and dreary;
heavy clouds lay piled like hills around her, and a cold mist
filled the air but the Sunbeam, like a star, lit up the way, the leaf
lay warmly round her, and the tireless wind went swiftly on. Higher
and higher they floated up, still darker and darker grew the air,
closer the damp mist gathered, while the black clouds rolled and
tossed, like great waves, to and fro.

“Ah!” sighed the weary little Spirit, “shall I never see the light
again, or feel the warm winds on my cheek? It is a dreary way indeed,
and but for the Seasons’ gifts I should have perished long ago; but
the heavy clouds MUST pass away at last, and all be fair again.
So hasten on, good Breeze, and bring me quickly to my journey’s end.”

Soon the cold vapors vanished from her path, and sunshine shone
upon her pleasantly; so she went gayly on, till she came up among
the stars, where many new, strange sights were to be seen. With
wondering eyes she looked upon the bright worlds that once seemed dim
and distant, when she gazed upon them from the sea; but now they moved
around her, some shining with a softly radiant light, some circled
with bright, many-colored rings, while others burned with a red,
angry glare. Ripple would have gladly stayed to watch them longer,
for she fancied low, sweet voices called her, and lovely faces
seemed to look upon her as she passed; but higher up still, nearer
to the sun, she saw a far-off light, that glittered like a brilliant
crimson star, and seemed to cast a rosy glow along the sky.

“The Fire-Spirits surely must be there, and I must stay no longer
here,” said Ripple. So steadily she floated on, till straight
before her lay a broad, bright path, that led up to a golden arch,
beyond which she could see shapes flitting to and fro. As she drew
near, brighter glowed the sky, hotter and hotter grew the air, till
Ripple’s leaf-cloak shrivelled up, and could no longer shield her from
the heat; then she unfolded the white snow-flake, and, gladly wrapping
the soft, cool mantle round her, entered through the shining arch.

Through the red mist that floated all around her, she could see
high walls of changing light, where orange, blue, and violet flames
went flickering to and fro, making graceful figures as they danced
and glowed; and underneath these rainbow arches, little Spirits
glided, far and near, wearing crowns of fire, beneath which flashed
their wild, bright eyes; and as they spoke, sparks dropped quickly
from their lips, and Ripple saw with wonder, through their garments
of transparent light, that in each Fairy’s breast there burned a
steady flame, that never wavered or went out.

As thus she stood, the Spirits gathered round her, and their
hot breath would have scorched her, but she drew the snow-cloak
closer round her, saying,–

“Take me to your Queen, that I may tell her why I am here, and ask
for what I seek.”

So, through long halls of many-colored fire, they led her to
a Spirit fairer than the rest, whose crown of flames waved to and fro
like golden plumes, while, underneath her violet robe, the light
within her breast glowed bright and strong.

“This is our Queen,” the Spirits said, bending low before her,
as she turned her gleaming eyes upon the stranger they had brought.

Then Ripple told how she had wandered round the world in search
of them, how the Seasons had most kindly helped her on, by giving
Sun-beam, Breeze, Leaf, and Flake; and how, through many dangers, she
had come at last to ask of them the magic flame that could give life
to the little child again.

When she had told her tale, the spirits whispered earnestly
among themselves, while sparks fell thick and fast with every word;
at length the Fire-Queen said aloud,–

“We cannot give the flame you ask, for each of us must take a part
of it from our own breasts; and this we will not do, for the brighter
our bosom-fire burns, the lovelier we are. So do not ask us for this
thing; but any other gift we will most gladly give, for we feel kindly
towards you, and will serve you if we may.”

But Ripple asked no other boon, and, weeping sadly, begged them
not to send her back without the gift she had come so far to gain.

“O dear, warm-hearted Spirits! give me each a little light from your
own breasts, and surely they will glow the brighter for this kindly
deed; and I will thankfully repay it if I can.” As thus she spoke,
the Queen, who had spied out a chain of jewels Ripple wore upon her
neck, replied,–

“If you will give me those bright, sparkling stones, I will bestow on
you a part of my own flame; for we have no such lovely things to wear
about our necks, and I desire much to have them. Will you give it me
for what I offer, little Spirit?”

Joyfully Ripple gave her the chain; but, as soon as it touched her
hand, the jewels melted like snow, and fell in bright drops to the
ground; at this the Queen’s eyes flashed, and the Spirits gathered
angrily about poor Ripple, who looked sadly at the broken chain,
and thought in vain what she could give, to win the thing she longed
so earnestly for.

“I have many fairer gems than these, in my home below the sea;
and I will bring all I can gather far and wide, if you will grant
my prayer, and give me what I seek,” she said, turning gently to
the fiery Spirits, who were hovering fiercely round her.

“You must bring us each a jewel that will never vanish from our hands
as these have done,” they said, “and we will each give of our fire;
and when the child is brought to life, you must bring hither all the
jewels you can gather from the depths of the sea, that we may try them
here among the flames; but if they melt away like these, then we shall
keep you prisoner, till you give us back the light we lend. If you
consent to this, then take our gift, and journey home again; but
fail not to return, or we shall seek you out.”

And Ripple said she would consent, though she knew not if the jewels
could be found; still, thinking of the promise she had made, she
forgot all else, and told the Spirits what they asked most surely
should be done. So each one gave a little of the fire from their
breasts, and placed the flame in a crystal vase, through which
it shone and glittered like a star.

Then, bidding her remember all she had promised them, they led her
to the golden arch, and said farewell.

So, down along the shining path, through mist and cloud, she
travelled back; till, far below, she saw the broad blue sea she left
so long ago.

Gladly she plunged into the clear, cool waves, and floated back
to her pleasant home; where the Spirits gathered joyfully about her,
listening with tears and smiles, as she told all her many wanderings,
and showed the crystal vase that she had brought.

“Now come,” said they, “and finish the good work you have so bravely
carried on.” So to the quiet tomb they went, where, like a marble
image, cold and still, the little child was lying. Then Ripple placed
the flame upon his breast, and watched it gleam and sparkle there,
while light came slowly back into the once dim eyes, a rosy glow shone
over the pale face, and breath stole through the parted lips; still
brighter and warmer burned the magic fire, until the child awoke
from his long sleep, and looked in smiling wonder at the faces bending
over him.

Then Ripple sang for joy, and, with her sister Spirits, robed the
child in graceful garments, woven of bright sea-weed, while in
his shining hair they wreathed long garlands of their fairest flowers,
and on his little arms hung chains of brilliant shells.

“Now come with us, dear child,” said Ripple; “we will bear you safely
up into the sunlight and the pleasant air; for this is not your home,
and yonder, on the shore, there waits a loving friend for you.”

So up they went, through foam and spray, till on the beach, where
the fresh winds played among her falling hair, and the waves broke
sparkling at her feet, the lonely mother still stood, gazing wistfully
across the sea. Suddenly, upon a great blue billow that came rolling
in, she saw the Water-Spirits smiling on her; and high aloft, in their
white gleaming arms, her child stretched forth his hands to welcome
her; while the little voice she so longed to hear again cried gayly,–

“See, dear mother, I am come; and look what lovely things the
gentle Spirits gave, that I might seem more beautiful to you.”

Then gently the great wave broke, and rolled back to the sea, leaving
Ripple on the shore, and the child clasped in his mother’s arms.

“O faithful little Spirit! I would gladly give some precious gift
to show my gratitude for this kind deed; but I have nothing save
this chain of little pearls: they are the tears I shed, and the sea
has changed them thus, that I might offer them to you,” the happy
mother said, when her first joy was passed, and Ripple turned to go.

“Yes, I will gladly wear your gift, and look upon it as my fairest
ornament,” the Water-Spirit said; and with the pearls upon her breast,
she left the shore, where the child was playing gayly to and fro,
and the mother’s glad smile shone upon her, till she sank beneath
the waves.

And now another task was to be done; her promise to the
Fire-Spirits must be kept. So far and wide she searched among
the caverns of the sea, and gathered all the brightest jewels
shining there; and then upon her faithful Breeze once more went
journeying through the sky.

The Spirits gladly welcomed her, and led her to the Queen,
before whom she poured out the sparkling gems she had gathered
with such toil and care; but when the Spirits tried to form them
into crowns, they trickled from their hands like colored drops of dew,
and Ripple saw with fear and sorrow how they melted one by one away,
till none of all the many she had brought remained. Then the
Fire-Spirits looked upon her angrily, and when she begged them
to be merciful, and let her try once more, saying,–

“Do not keep me prisoner here. I cannot breathe the flames that
give you life, and but for this snow-mantle I too should melt away,
and vanish like the jewels in your hands. O dear Spirits, give me
some other task, but let me go from this warm place, where all is
strange and fearful to a Spirit of the sea.”

They would not listen; and drew nearer, saying, while bright sparks
showered from their lips, “We will not let you go, for you have
promised to be ours if the gems you brought proved worthless; so fling
away this cold white cloak, and bathe with us in the fire fountains,
and help us bring back to our bosom flames the light we gave you
for the child.”

Then Ripple sank down on the burning floor, and felt that her life
was nearly done; for she well knew the hot air of the fire-palace
would be death to her. The Spirits gathered round, and began to lift
her mantle off; but underneath they saw the pearl chain, shining with
a clear, soft light, that only glowed more brightly when they laid
their hands upon it.

“O give us this!” cried they; “it is far lovelier than all the rest,
and does not melt away like them; and see how brilliantly it glitters
in our hands. If we may but have this, all will be well, and you
are once more free.”

And Ripple, safe again beneath her snow flake, gladly gave
the chain to them; and told them how the pearls they now placed
proudly on their breasts were formed of tears, which but for them
might still be flowing. Then the Spirits smiled most kindly on her,
and would have put their arms about her, and have kissed her cheek,
but she drew back, telling them that every touch of theirs was
like a wound to her.

“Then, if we may not tell our pleasure so, we will show it in a
different way, and give you a pleasant journey home. Come out with
us,” the Spirits said, “and see the bright path we have made for you.”
So they led her to the lofty gate, and here, from sky to earth,
a lovely rainbow arched its radiant colors in the sun.

“This is indeed a pleasant road,” said Ripple. “Thank you,
friendly Spirits, for your care; and now farewell. I would gladly
stay yet longer, but we cannot dwell together, and I am longing sadly
for my own cool home. Now Sunbeam, Breeze, Leaf, and Flake, fly back
to the Seasons whence you came, and tell them that, thanks to their
kind gifts, Ripple’s work at last is done.”

Then down along the shining pathway spread before her, the happy
little Spirit glided to the sea.

“Thanks, dear Summer-Wind,” said the Queen; “we will remember the
lessons you have each taught us, and when next we meet in Fern Dale,
you shall tell us more. And now, dear Trip, call them from the lake,
for the moon is sinking fast, and we must hasten home.”

The Elves gathered about their Queen, and while the rustling leaves
were still, and the flowers’ sweet voices mingled with their own,
they sang this


The moonlight fades from flower and tree,
And the stars dim one by one;
The tale is told, the song is sung,
And the Fairy feast is done.
The night-wind rocks the sleeping flowers,
And sings to them, soft and low.
The early birds erelong will wake:
‘T is time for the Elves to go.

O’er the sleeping earth we silently pass,
Unseen by mortal eye,
And send sweet dreams, as we lightly float
Through the quiet moonlit sky;–
For the stars’ soft eyes alone may see,
And the flowers alone may know,
The feasts we hold, the tales we tell:
So ‘t is time for the Elves to go.

From bird, and blossom, and bee,
We learn the lessons they teach;
And seek, by kindly deeds, to win
A loving friend in each.
And though unseen on earth we dwell,
Sweet voices whisper low,
And gentle hearts most joyously greet
The Elves where’er they go.

When next we meet in the Fairy dell,
May the silver moon’s soft light
Shine then on faces gay as now,
And Elfin hearts as light.
Now spread each wing, for the eastern sky
With sunlight soon will glow.
The morning star shall light us home:
Farewell! for the Elves must go.

As the music ceased, with a soft, rustling sound the Elves
spread their shining wings, and flew silently over the sleeping earth;
the flowers closed their bright eyes, the little winds were still,
for the feast was over, and the Fairy lessons ended.

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