Story type: Literature
There was none other in the quiet valley so happy as the rose-tree,–none other so happy unless perchance it was the thrush who made his home in the linden yonder. The thrush loved the rose-tree’s daughter, and he was happy in thinking that some day she would be his bride. Now the rose-tree had many daughters, and each was beautiful; but the rose whom the thrush loved was more beautiful than her sisters, and all the wooers came wooing her until at last the fair creature’s head was turned, and the rose grew capricious and disdainful. Among her many lovers were the south wind and the fairy Dewlove and the little elf-prince Beambright and the hoptoad, whom all the rest called Mr. Roughbrown. The hoptoad lived in the stone-wall several yards away; but every morning and evening he made a journey to the rose-tree, and there he would sit for hours gazing with tender longings at the beautiful rose, and murmuring impassioned avowals. The rose’s disdain did not chill the hoptoad’s ardor. “See what I have brought you, fair rose,” he would say. “A beautiful brown beetle with golden wings and green eyes! Surely there is not in all the world a more delicious morsel than a brown beetle! Or, if you but say the word, I will fetch you a tender little fly, or a young gnat,–see, I am willing to undergo all toils and dangers for your own sweet sake.”
Poor Mr. Roughbrown! His wooing was very hopeless. And all the time he courted the imperious rose, who should be peeping at him from her home in the hedge but as plump and as sleek a little Miss Dormouse as ever you saw, and her eyes were full of envy.
“If Mr. Roughbrown had any sense,” she said to herself, “he would waste no time on that vain and frivolous rose. He is far too good a catch for her.”
The south wind was forever sighing and sobbing about. He lives, you know, very many miles from here. His home is beyond a great sea; in the midst of a vast desert there is an oasis, and it is among the palm-trees and the flowers of this oasis that the south wind abides. When spring calls from the North, “O south wind, where are you? Come hither, my sunny friend!” the south wind leaps from his couch in the far-off oasis, and hastens whither the spring-time calls. As he speeds across the sea the mermaids seek to tangle him in their tresses, and the waves try to twine their white arms about him; but he shakes them off and laughingly flies upon his way. Wheresoever he goes he is beloved. With their soft, solemn music the pine-trees seek to detain him; the flowers of earth lift up their voices and cry, “Abide with us, dear spirit,”–but to all he answers: “The spring-time calls me in the North, and I must hasten whither she calls.” But when the south wind came to the rose-tree he would go no farther; he loved the rose, and he lingered about her with singing and sighing and protestations.
It was not until late in the evening that Dewlove and the elf-prince appeared. Just as the moon rolled up in the horizon and poured a broad streak of silver through the lake the three crickets went “Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp,” and then out danced Dewlove and Beambright from their hiding-places. The cunning little fairy lived under the moss at the foot of the oak-tree; he was no bigger than a cambric needle,–but he had two eyes, and in this respect he had quite the advantage of the needle. As for the elf-prince, his home was in the tiny, dark subterranean passage which the mole used to live in; he was plump as a cupid, and his hair was long and curly, although if you force me to it I must tell you that the elf-prince was really no larger than your little finger,–so you will see that so far as physical proportions were concerned Dewlove and Beambright were pretty well matched. Merry, merry fellows they were, and I should certainly fail most lamentably did I attempt to tell you how prettily they danced upon the greensward of the meadowlands throughout the summer nights. Sometimes the other fairies and elves joined them,–delicate little lady fairies with gossamer wings, and chubby little lady elves clad in filmy spider webs,–and they danced and danced and danced, while the three crickets went “Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp,” all night long. Now it was very strange–was it not?–that instead of loving one of these delicate little lady fairies, or one of these chubby little lady elves, both Dewlove and Beambright loved the rose. Yet, she was indeed very beautiful.
The thrush did not pester the rose with his protestations of love. He was not a particularly proud fellow, but he thought too much of the rose to vex her with his pleadings. But all day long he would perch in the thicket and sing his songs as only a thrush can sing to the beautiful rose he loves. He sung, we will say, of the forests he had explored, of the famous river he had once seen, of the dew which the rose loved, of the storm-king that slew the old pine and made his cones into a crown,–he sung of a thousand things which we might not understand, but which pleased the rose because she understood them. And one day the thrush swooped down from the linden upon a monstrous devil’s darning-needle that came spinning along and poised himself to stab the beautiful rose. Yes, like lightning the thrush swooped down on this murderous monster, and he bit him in two, and I am glad of it, and so are you if your heart be not wholly callous.
“How comes it,” said the rose-tree to the thrush that day,–“how comes it that you do not woo my daughter? You have shown that you love her; why not speak to her?”
“No, I will wait,” answered the thrush. “She has many wooers, and each wooes her in his own way. Let me show her by my devotion that I am worthy of her, and then perchance she will listen kindly to me when I speak to her.”
The rose-tree thought very strange of this; in all her experience of bringing out her fair daughters into society she had never before had to deal with so curious a lover as the thrush. She made up her mind to speak for him.
“My daughter,” said she to the rose, “the thrush loves you; of all your wooers he is the most constant and the most amiable. I pray that you will hear kindly to his suit.”
The rose laughed carelessly,–yes, merrily,–as if she heeded not the heartache which her indifference might cause the honest thrush.
“Mother,” said the rose, “these suitors are pestering me beyond all endurance. How can I have any patience with the south wind, who is forever importuning me with his sentimental sighs and melancholy wheezing? And as for that old hoptoad, Mr. Roughbrown,–why, it is a husband I want, not a father!”
“Prince Beambright pleases you, then?” asked the rose-tree.
“He is a merry, capering fellow,” said the daughter, “and so is his friend Dewlove; but I do not fancy either. And as for the thrush who sends you to speak for him,–why, he is quite out of the question, I assure you. The truth is, mother, that I am to fill a higher station than that of bride to any of these simple rustic folk. Am I not more beautiful than any of my companions, and have I not ambitions above all others of my kind?”
“Whom have you seen that you talk so vain-gloriously?” cried the rose-tree in alarm. “What flattery has instilled into you this fatal poison?”
“Have you not seen the poet who comes this way every morning?” asked the rose. “His face is noble, and he sings grandly to the pictures Nature spreads before his eyes. I should be his bride. Some day he will see me; he will bear me away upon his bosom; he will indite to me a poem that shall live forever!”
These words the thrush heard, and his heart sank within him. If his songs that day were not so blithe as usual it was because of the words that the rose had spoken. Yet the thrush sang on, and his song was full of his honest love.
It was the next morning that the poet came that way. He lived in the city, but each day he stole away from the noise and crowd of the city to commune with himself and with Nature in the quiet valley where bloomed the rose-tree, where the thrush sung, and where dwelt the fays and the elves of whom it has been spoken. The sun shone fiercely; withal the quiet valley was cool, and the poet bared his brow to the breeze that swept down the quiet valley from the lake over yonder.
“The south wind loves the rose! Aha, aha, foolish brother to love the rose!”
This was what the breeze said, and the poet heard it. Then his eyes fell upon the rose-tree and upon her blooming daughters.
“The hoptoad loves the rose! Foolish old Roughbrown to love the rose, aha, aha!”
There was a malicious squeakiness in this utterance,–of course it came from that envious Miss Dormouse, who was forever peeping out of her habitation in the hedge.
“What a beautiful rose!” cried the poet, and leaping over the old stone-wall he plucked the rose from the mother-tree,–yes, the poet bore away this very rose who had hoped to be the poet’s bride.
Then the rose-tree wept bitterly, and so did her other daughters; the south wind wailed, and the old hoptoad gave three croaks so dolorous that if you had heard them you would have said that his heart was truly broken. All were sad,–all but the envious dormouse, who chuckled maliciously, and said it was no more than they deserved.
The thrush saw the poet bearing the rose away, yet how could the fluttering little creature hope to prevail against the cruel invader? What could he do but twitter in anguish? So there are tragedies and heartaches in lives that are not human.
As the poet returned to the city he wore the rose upon his breast. The rose was happy, for the poet spoke to her now and then, and praised her loveliness, and she saw that her beauty had given him an inspiration.
“The rose despised my brother! Aha, aha, foolish rose,–but she shall wither!”
It was the breeze that spake; far away from the lake in the quiet valley its voice was very low, but the rose heard and trembled.
“It’s a lie,” cried the rose. “I shall not die. The poet loves me, and I shall live forever upon his bosom.”
Yet a singular faintness–a faintness never felt before–came upon the rose; she bent her head and sighed. The heat–that was all–was very oppressive, and here at the entrance to the city the tumult aroused an aggravating dust. The poet seemed suddenly to forget the rose. A carriage was approaching, and from the carriage leaned a lady, who beckoned to the poet. The lady was very fair, and the poet hastened to answer her call. And as he hastened the rose fell from his bosom into the hot highway, and the poet paid no heed. Ascending into the carriage with the lady (I am sure she must have been a princess!) the poet was whirled away, and there in the stifling dust lay the fainting rose, all stained and dying.
The sparrows flew down and pecked at her inquisitively; the cruel wagons crushed her beneath their iron wheels; careless feet buffeted her hither and thither. She was no longer a beautiful rose; no, nor even a reminiscence of one,–simply a colorless, scentless, ill-shapen mass.
But all at once she heard a familiar voice, and then she saw familiar eyes. The voice was tender and the eyes were kindly.
“O honest thrush,” cried the rose, “is it you who have come to reproach me for my folly?”
“No, no, dear rose,” said the thrush, “how should I speak ill to you? Come, rest your poor head upon my breast, and let me bear you home.”
“Let me rather die here,” sighed the rose, “for it was here that my folly brought me. How could I go back with you whom I never so much as smiled upon? And do they not hate and deride me in the valley? I would rather die here in misery than there in shame!”
“Poor, broken flower, they love you,” urged the thrush. “They grieve for you; let me bear you back where the mother-tree will shade you, and where the south wind will nurse you–for–for he loves you.”
So the thrush bore back the withering rose to her home in the quiet valley.
“So she has come back, has she?” sneered the dormouse. “Well, she has impudence, if nothing else!”
“She was pretty once,” said the old hoptoad; “but she lost her opportunity when I made up my mind to go wooing a certain glossy damsel in the hedge.”
The rose-tree reached out her motherly arms to welcome her dying daughter, and she said: “Rest here, dear one, and let me rock you to repose.”
It was evening in the quiet valley now. Where was the south wind that he came not with his wooing? He had flown to the North, for that day he had heard the spring-time’s voice a-calling, and he went in answer to its summons. Everything was still. “Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp,” piped the three crickets, and forthwith the fairy boy and the elf-prince danced from their habitations. Their little feet tinkled over the clover and the daisies.
“Hush, little folk,” cried the rose-tree. “Do not dance to-night,–the rose is dying.”
But they danced on. The rose did not hear them; she heard only the voice of the thrush, who perched in the linden yonder, and, with a breaking heart, sung to the dying flower.