Then the Sun laughed and said, "You are quite right _there_!"
By Carl Ewald
"Peeweet! peeweet!" cried the Plover, as he flew over the bog in the wood. "My Lady Spring is coming! I can tell it from the feeling in my legs and wings."
When the new Grass that lay below in the earth heard that, it pushed up at once and peeped out merrily from among the old yellow Grass of last year. For the Grass is always in a great hurry.
The Anemones in among the trees also heard the Plover's cry; but they, on the contrary, would not come up yet on any account. "You must not believe the Plover," they whispered to one another. "He is a gay young spark who is not to be depended upon. He always comes too early, and begins crying out at once. No, we will wait quietly till the Starlings and Swallows come. They are sensible, steady-going people who know what's what, and don't go sailing with half a wind."
And then the Starlings came. They perched on the stumps in front of their summer villa, and looked about them. "Too early as usual,"
said Daddy Starling. "Not a green leaf and not a fly to be seen, except an old tough one from last year, which isn't worth opening one's bill for." Mother Starling said nothing, but she did not seem any more enchanted with the prospect.
"If we had only stayed in our cosy winter home down there beyond the mountains," said Daddy Starling. He was angry at his wife's not answering him, because he was so cold that he thought it might do him good to have a little fun. "But it is _your_ fault, as it was last year. You are always in such a dreadful hurry to come out to the country."
"If I am in a hurry, I know the reason for it," said Mother Starling. "And you ought to be ashamed of yourself if you didn't know it also, since they are your eggs just as much as mine."
"What do you mean?" said Daddy Starling, much insulted. "When have I neglected my family? Perhaps you even want me to sit in the cold and sing to you?"
"Yes, I do," said Mother Starling in the tone he couldn't resist.
He began to pipe at once as well as he knew how. But Mother Starling had no sooner heard the first notes than she gave him a flap with her wings and snapped at him with her beak. "Oh, please stop it!" she cried bitterly. "It sounds so sad that it makes one quite heartsick. Instead of piping like that, get the Anemones to come up. I think it must be time for them. And besides, one always feels warmer when there are others freezing besides oneself."
Now as soon as the Anemones had heard the first piling of the Starling, they cautiously stuck out their heads from the earth. But they were so tightly wrapped up in green kerchiefs that one could not get a glimpse of them. They looked like green shoots which might turn into anything. "It is too early," they whispered. "It is a shame of the Starling to entice us out. One can't rely on anything in the world nowadays."
Then the Swallow came. "Chee! chee!" he twittered, and shot through the air on his long, tapering wings. "Out with you, you stupid flowers! Don't you see that my Lady Spring has come?"
But the Anemones had grown cautious. They only drew their green kerchiefs a little apart and peeped out. "One Swallow does not make a summer," they said. "Where is your wife? You have only come here to see if it is possible to stay here, and you want to take us in.
But we are not so stupid. We know very well that if we once catch a bad cold we are done for, for this year at any rate."
"You are cowards," said the Swallow, perching himself on the forest-ranger's weathercock, and peering out over the landscape.
But the Anemones waited still and shivered. A few of them who could not control their impatience threw off their kerchiefs in the sun.
The cold at night nipped and killed them; and the story of their pitiful death was passed on from flower to flower, and caused a great consternation.
And then--one delightfully mild, still night--my Lady Spring came.
No one knows how she looks, because no one has ever seen her. But all long for her, and thank her and bless her. She goes through the wood and touches the flowers and trees, and at once they burst out.
She goes through the cattle-stalls and unties the beasts, and lets them out on to the field. She goes straight into the hearts of men and fills them with gladness. She makes it hard for the best boy to sit still on his form at school, and she is the cause of a terrible number of mistakes in the copy-books. But she does not do all this at once. Night after night she plies her task, and she comes first to him who longs for her most.
So it happened that on the very night of her coming she went straight to the Anemones, who stood in their green kerchiefs and didn't know how to hold out any longer. And one, two, three! there they stood in their newly-ironed white collars, and looked so fresh and so pretty that the Starlings sang their prettiest songs out of sheer joy in them.
"Ah, how sweet it is here!" said the Anemones. "How warm the sun is, and how the birds sing! It is a thousand times better than last year." But they said the same thing every year, so one needn't take any account of it.
There were many others who were quite beside themselves when they saw the Anemones had come out. One was a schoolboy who wanted to have his summer holidays at once; and another was the Beech Tree, who felt exceedingly put out. "Aren't you coming soon to me, my Lady Spring?" he said. "I am a much more important person than those silly Anemones, and I can't really hold in my buds much longer."
"I am coming, I am coming," answered my Lady Spring. "But you must give me a little time."
She went on her way through the wood, and at every step many and many an Anemone burst into flower. They stood in crowds round the roots of the Birch Tree, and bashfully bowed their round heads to the earth.
"Look up," said my Lady Spring, "and rejoice in God's bright sunshine. Your life is short, so you must enjoy it while you have it."
The Anemones did as she told them. They stretched and strained, and spread their white petals to all sides, to drink as much sunshine as they could. They pushed their heads against one another, and twined their stalks together, and laughed, and were immensely happy.
"Now I can wait no longer," said the Beech, and he burst into leaf.
Leaf after leaf crept forth from its green sheath and waved in the wind. The great Tree made a green arch, like a mighty roof over the earth.
"Dear me, is it already evening?" asked the Anemones, who noticed that it had grown quite dark.
"No; it is Death," said my Lady Spring. "Now _your_ time is over. It happens to you just as it happens to all that is best on earth. Everything in turn must spring to life, and bloom, and die."
"Die?" cried some little Anemones. "Must we die already?"
And some of the big ones grew quite red in the face in their terror and vexation.
"We know what it is," they said. "It is the Beech that is the death of us. He steals the sunshine for his own leaves, and does not allow us a single ray. He is a mean, wicked thing."
They stood for some days, grumbling and crying. Then my Lady Spring came for the last time through the wood. She had still the Oak Trees and some other crusty old fellows to attend to. "Lie down nicely in the earth and go to sleep," she said to the Anemones, "It is of no use to kick against the pricks. Next year I will come back and waken you once more to life."
And some of the Anemones did as she told them. But others still stretched their heads into the air, and grew so ugly and stalky that it was horrid to see them.
"Fie for shame!" they cried to the Beech Leaves. "It is you who are killing us,"
But the Beech shook his long boughs and let his brown husks drop down to the ground, "Wait till the autumn, you little simpletons,"
he said, laughing. "Then you shall see."
The Anemones could not understand what he meant. But when they had stretched themselves till they were as tall as they could be, they broke off and withered.
The summer was over, and the farmer had carried his corn home from the field. The wood was still green, but it was a darker green than before; and in many places red and yellow leaves glowed among the green ones. The sun was tired after his hot work in the summer, and went early to bed.
At night Winter was stealing about among the trees to see if his time was not soon coming. When he found a flower, he gallantly kissed it, saying,--"What! are you here still? I am charmed to meet you. Please stay where you are. I am a good old man, and would not harm a cat."
But the flower shuddered at his kiss, and the transparent dewdrop that hung from its petal froze to ice at the instant.
Again and again Winter ran through the wood. When he breathed on them, the leaves turned yellow and the earth grew hard. Even the Anemones, who lay below in the earth waiting till my Lady Spring should come back as she had promised, they too felt his breath and shuddered down in their roots.
"Ugh! how cold it is!" they said to one another. "How shall we stand the winter? We shall die for a certainty before it is over."
"Now it's _my_ time," said Winter. "Now I need no longer steal about like a thief in the night. After to-day I shall look everybody in the face, and bite their noses, and make their eyes run with water."
At night he let loose the Storm. "Let me see you make a clean sweep," he said. And the Storm obeyed his command. He went howling through the wood, and shook the branches till they creaked and cracked. Any that were rotten broke off, and those that held on had to turn and bow this way and that. "Away with that finery!" howled the Storm as he tore off the leaves. "This is not the time to dress yourself up. The snow will soon be coming on to your branches; that will be quite another story."
All the leaves fell in terror to the earth, but the Storm would not let them rest. He seized them round the waist and waltzed with them out over the field, high up into the air, and into the wood again, swept them into great heaps, and then scattered them in all directions--just as it pleased him.