Little Ida’s Flowers
‘My poor flowers are quite dead!’ little Ida said. ‘They were so beautiful yesterday evening, and now all their leaves are wilted and drooping! Why are they doing that?’ she asked the student who was sitting in the sofa, for she was so fond of him, he knew the loveliest stories and did such amusing papercut pictures: hearts with small ladies inside that danced; flowers and large castles where you could open the doors – he was such a jolly student! ‘Why do the flowers seem so poorly today?’ she asked once more, and showed him a bouquet that was quite wilted.
‘Well, you know what’s wrong with them?’ the student said. ‘The flowers were at a ball last night, and that’s why they’re so heavy-headed!’
‘But flowers can’t dance!’ little Ida said.
‘Oh yes they can,’ the student said, when it gets dark and the rest of us are asleep, they leap gaily about; they have balls practically every night!’
‘Aren’t children allowed to come to the balls?’
‘Certainly they are,’ the student said, ‘tiny mayweeds and lilies-of-the-valley!’
‘Where do the finest flowers dance?’ little Ida asked.
‘Haven’t you often been outside the gate of the big castle where the king lives in summer, where there is that lovely garden with the many flowers? You must have seen the swans that swim over to you when you want to give them breadcrumbs. There are proper balls out there, believe you me!’
‘I was out in the garden yesterday with my mother!’ little Ida said, ‘but all the leaves had fallen from the trees and there weren’t any more flowers! Where are they? I saw so many of them during the summer!’
‘They’re inside the castle!’ the student said. ‘You see, as soon as the king and all his court moved back here into town, all the flowers immediately run in from the garden and into the castle to have fun. You really ought to see such a sight! The two most beautiful roses sit down on the thrones, and there they are king and queen. All the red cock’s combs take up position beside them, and stand there bowing – they are grooms in waiting. – And then all the finest flowers come in and there is a large ball, the blue violets turn up as midshipmen, they dance with hyacinths and crocuses, who they call mademoiselles! Tulips and the large, yellow lilies are the old ladies, they make sure that the dancing is seemly and everything is as it should be!’
‘But,’ little Ida asked, ‘isn’t there anyone who tells the flowers off for dancing at the king’s castle?’
‘No one really knows about it!’ the student said. ‘Sometimes, at night, the old castle steward who looks after things admittedly does his rounds, he has a large bunch of keys with him, but as soon as the flowers hear the keys rattling, they stay absolutely quiet, hide behind the long curtains and only let their heads peep out. ‘I can smell there are flowers in here somewhere,’ the old castle stewards says, ‘but I can’t see them.’
‘How amusing!’ little Ida said and clapped her hands. ‘But wouldn’t I be able to see the flowers either?’
‘Oh yes, you’d be able to,’ the student said, ‘just remember, when you come out there again, to look in through the window, then you’ll see them all right. I did so today, there was a long, yellow daffodil lying outstretched in the sofa – it was a lady-in-waiting!’
‘Can the flowers from the Botanical Garden come out there? Can they go all that far?’
‘Oh yes, indeed they can!’ the student said, ‘for if they wanted to, they could fly out there. Surely you’ve seen the lovely butterflies, the red, yellow and white ones, they look almost like flowers, and have also once been them, they have leapt high into the air off their stems, and have flapped their leaves as if they were small wings, and then they started flying; and if they behaved well they were allowed to fly in the daytime too, didn’t have to go back home and sit quietly on their stems and then their leaves finally turned into real wings. You’ve seen that for yourself1 It may of course be that the flowers in the Botanical Garden have never been out to the king’s castle, or know that there is such fun going on there at night. So now I’m going to tell you something! He’ll be so surprised, the professor of botany who lives nest door, you know him don’t you? When you go into his garden, you are to tell one of the flowers that there is a large ball at the castle, and then this flower will tell all the others, and they will all fly off; and if the professor comes out into the garden, there won’t be a single flower left there, and he’ll be completely unable to understand where they have all gone.’
‘But how can the flower tell the others. The flowers aren’t able to speak!’
‘No, they aren’t of course!’ the student replied, ‘but they mime it instead! Haven’t you ever noticed that when there is a breeze, the flowers nod and move all their green leaves, it is just as obvious as if they were speaking!’
‘Can the professor understand their mime?’ Ida asked.
‘Oh yes, indeed he can! He once came down into his garden and saw a large stinging nettle miming with its leaves to a lovely red carnation; it said, you are so attractive and I am so fond of you! but the professor doesn’t like goings on of that sort at all, and he immediately rapped the stinging nettle over its leaves, for they are its fingers, but then he stung himself, and from that time on, he never dares touch a stinging nettle.’
‘How amusing!’ little Ida said and laughed.
‘Is that something to encourage the child to believe!’ the boring counsellor said, who was paying a visit and sitting in the sofa; he didn’t like the student at all and was always grouchy when he saw him cutting out the ridiculous, amusing figures – now a man hanging from the gallows, holding a heart in his hand; now an old witch riding on a broomstick and holding her husband on her nose – the counsellor didn’t like any of this, and then he would say, as he did now, ‘is that something to encourage the child to believe! Stupid fantasy, the lot of it!’
But little Ida thought it was so amusing what the student told her about her flowers, and she thought a great deal about it afterwards. The flowers hung their heads because they were tired after dancing all night, they must definitely be ill. Then she went with them over to all her other toys they stood on a nice little table, and he cupboard was full of fine things. In the doll’s bed her doll, Sophie, lay asleep, but little Ida said to her: ‘You really must get up, Sophie, and make do with lying in the drawer tonight, the poor flowers are ill, and so they must lie in your bed, perhaps then they will get well again!’ and then she took up her doll, but it looked so sullen and didn’t say a single word, for it was angry because it wasn’t allowed to keep its bed.
Then little Ida lay the flowers in the doll’s bed, pulled the blanket right up over them and said that now they were to lie nice and quiet, for she was going to boil some tea water for them, so that could get well again and get up in the morning, and she drew the curtains tight round the little bed, so that the sun would not shine into their eyes.
Throughout the evening she couldn’t help thinking about what the student had told her, and since it was now her bedtime, she had first to go behind the curtains that hung down at the windows where her mother’s lovely flowers stood, both hyacinths and tulips, and then she whispered very quietly to them: I know you’re going to a ball tonight! But the flowers pretended not to understanding anything and didn’t move a leaf, but little Ida knew what she knew.
When she had gone to bed, she lay there for a long time thinking how nice it would be to see the lovely flowers dancing out at the king’s castle. ‘I wonder if my flowers have really been there too?’ But then she fell asleep. Later in the night she woke up again, she had dreamt about the flowers and the student whom the counsellor had scolded and said he was trying to get her to believe things that weren’t true. It was very quiet in the bedroom where Ida lay; the night-lamp was lit over on the table, and her father and mother were asleep.
‘I wonder if my flowers are now lying in Sophie’s bed,’ she said to herself, ‘Oh, how much I would love to know that!’ She sat up a bit and looked over to the door, which was ajar, inside lay the flowers and all her toys. She listened, and it was as if she could hear the piano being played in the living room, but very softly, and more beautifully than she had ever heard it played before.
‘Now all the flowers are dancing in there!’ she said, Oh dear Lord, how much I would love to see that!’ But she didn’t dare get out of bed, for then she would wake up her father and mother. ‘If only they would come in here,’ she said; but the flower’s didn’t come and the music went on playing so beautifully, and then she simply couldn’t resist it, for it was all too lovely, she crept out of her little bed and tiptoed over to the door and peeped into the living room. Oh, what an amusing sight met her eyes!
There was no night-lamp in there, but it was quite light even so, the moon shone through the window down onto the middle of the floor! it was almost as if it was daytime. All the hyacinths and tulips were standing in two long rows on the floor, there were none left at all in the window, where the empty pots were standing, down on the floor all the flowers were dancing so elegantly around each other, making proper chains and holding each other by their long, green leaves as they swung round. But over at the piano sat a large, yellow lily that little Ida was sure she had seen during the summer, for she clearly recalled the student having said: ‘oh, how it resembled Miss Line!’ but then they all laughed at him; but now Ida also really thought that the tall yellow flower looked like her, and it also behaved like her where it played, first cocking its long yellow face to one side, and then to the other, and nodding in time with the lovely music! No one at all noticed little Ida. Now she saw a large, blue crocus jump up onto the middle of the table where her toys were, go straight over to the doll’s bed and pull aside the curtains – there lay the sick flowers, but they immediately got up and nodded down to the other that they too would like to dance. The old smoker-man, whose lower lip had broken off, stood up and bowed to the nice flowers, they didn’t look all that ill at all, they jumped down among the others and were so very pleased.
It was as if something fell down from the table, Ida looked across, it was the decorated Shrove Monday birch rod that had jumped down, it felt it belonged to the flowers too. It was quite charming, and highest up sat a little wax doll which was wearing just the sort of broad hat that the counsellor used to have on. The birch rod hopped around on its three red wooden legs amongst the flowers, and it stamped quite hard for it was dancing a mazurka, and that was a dance the other flowers didn’t know, because they were so light and couldn’t stamp.
The wax doll on the birch rod suddenly grew large and tall, twirled round and round above the paper flowers and called out quite loudly: ‘Is that something to encourage the child to believe! Stupid fantasy, all of it!’ and then the wax doll looked exactly like the counsellor with his broad hat, looked just as jaundiced and grouchy, but the paper flowers rapped him on his spindly legs, and then he hunched up once more and turned back into a tiny wax doll. It was so amusing to see! little Ida couldn’t help laughing. The birch rod went on dancing, and the counsellor had to dance too, he could avoid it by making himself big and tall or turning into the little yellow wax doll with the large, black hat. Then the other flowers interceded for him, especially those that had been lying in the doll’s bed, and then the birch rod relented. At that moment there was a loud knock from inside the drawer where Ida’s doll Sophie lay with so many of the other toys; the smoker ran over to the edge of the table, lay down on his stomach and managed to pull the drawer open just a little. And Sophie stood up and looked around in great surprise. ‘This looks like a ball!’ she said; ‘why hasn’t anyone told me about it!’
‘Will you dance with me?’ the smoker said.
‘You, you’re a fine one to dance with!’ she said and turned her back on him. Then she sat down on the drawer and thought that one of the flowers would surely come and ask to have her as a partner, but no one came, so she coughed, hm, hm, hm! but nobody came even so. The smoker danced all on his own, and that wasn’t so bad either!
Since none of the flowers seemed to see Sophie, she let herself tumble down from the drawer right onto the floor, which caused quite a commotion; all the flowers all swarmed around her and asked her if she had hurt herself, and they were all so nice to her, especially the flowers who had lain in her bed; but she hadn’t hurt herself at all, and all of Ida’s flowers thanked her for the lovely bed and were so fond of her, took her out into the middle of the floor where the moon was shining, danced with her, and all the other flowers formed a circle around them; now Sophie was delighted! and she said they could keep her bed if they liked, she didn’t mind lying in the drawer at all.
But the flowers said: ‘That’s very kind of you, but we don’t live all that long! tomorrow we will be quite dead; but tell little Ida that she is to bury us out in the garden where the canary lies; then we will grow again next summer and be much more beautiful!’
‘No, you mustn’t die!’ Sophie said, and then she kissed the flowers; immediately the doors of the living room opened and a whole host of lovely flowers came dancing in, Ida simply could understand where they had come from, it was definitely all the flowers from out at the king’s castle. Leading them all were two lovely roses, and they were wearing small golden crowns, it was a king and a queen, then came the finest stocks and carnations and greeted everyone on either side. There was music too, large poppies and peonies blew on pea-pods until they were quite red in the face. The bluebells and the small, white snowdrops tinkled as if they were wearing small bells. It was diverting music. Then came all the other flowers, and they all danced together, the blue violets and the red-eyed daisies, the mayweeds and the lilies-of-the-valley. And the flowers all kissed each other – it was a lovely sight to see!
Finally all the flowers wished each other goodnight, and then little Ida also tiptoed over the her bed, where she dreamt about everything she had seen.
When she woke up the next morning, she quickly went across to the little table, to see if the flowers were still there, she drew the curtain of the small bed aside, and yes, there they all lay, but they had all wilted, much more than the day before. Sophie lay in the drawer where she had laid her, she looked extremely sleepy.
‘Do you remember what you were to tell me,’ little Ida said, but Sophie looked quite stupid and didn’t say a single word.
‘You’re not good at all,’ Ida said, ‘even though they all danced with you.’ Then she took a small paper box that had nice birds drawn on it, she opened it and laid the dead flowers inside. ‘This is to be your lovely coffin,’ she said, ‘and when your Norwegian cousins come here, they will take part in burying you out in the garden, so that you can grow again next summer and be even more beautiful!’
The Norwegian cousins were two strapping lads called Jonas and Adolph; their father had given them bows and arrows, and they had those with them to show Ida. She told them about the poor flowers that were dead, and then they were allowed to bury them. Both the boys went out front with their bows on their shoulders, with little Ida behind them with the dead flowers in the lovely box; out in the garden a small grave was dug; Ida first kissed the flowers and then laid them with the box in the earth, and Adolph and Jonas shot arrows over the grave, for they didn’t have any guns or cannons.