Little Ida’s Flowers

Little Ida’s Flowers –   Illustration

By Hans Christian Andersen (1835)

“My poor flowers,you are wither’d!” said little Ida. “Yesterday evening you were so pretty, and now all your leaves are drooping! What is the reason of it?” asked she of a youth sitting on a sofa, and whom she liked very much, because he told her the most beautiful fairytales, and cut out pasteboard houses for her, and such wonderful pictures too; he could cut out hearts with little ladies dancing in them; flowers he could cut out, and castles with doors that would open. He was a very charming youth.

” Why do these flowers look so faded?” asked she again, showing him a withered nosegay.

“Don’t you know what ails them? answered he; “your flowers have been allnight at a ball, and that’s the reason they all hang their heads.”

“Flowers cannot dance!” exclaimed little Ida.

“Certainly they can ! When it is dark, and we are all asleep, then they dance about right merrily. They have a ball almost every night !” said the youth.

” May children go to the flowers’ ball too?” asked little Ida.

“Yes,” answered the youth. “Little tiny daisies, and lilies of the valley.”

“Where do the prettiest flowers dance?” asked little Ida.

” Have you never been to the large castle, just outside the gates, which is the King’s country-house, and where there is a beautiful garden with so many flowers in it? You have surely seen the swans that come swimming towards you on the lake when you throw them crumbs of bread ? The flowers have regular balls there, I can tell you.”

“I was in the garden yesterday with my mother,” said Ida; “but there were no leaves on the trees, and I did not see a single flower. Where were they, then? There were so many of them there in summer!”

“They are in the palace now,” said the youth. “As soon as the King leaves his summer-palace, and goes to town with his court, all the flowers go directly out of the garden into the palace, and make merry there, and enjoy themselves famously. If you could but see it once! The two most beautiful roses seat themselves on the throne, and play at King and Queen. Then the red cockscombs range themselves in rows on both sides, and make a lowbow; these are the gentlemen of the bedchamber. Then the nicest flowers enter, and the great ball begins. The blue violets are midshipmen and cadets, and they dance with hyacinths and crocuses, which they call young ladies. The tulips and great yellow lilies, they are old ladies who look on and see that the dancing goes on properly, and that all is conducted with propriety.”

“But,” said little Ida, quite astonished, “may the flowers give a ball in the King’s palace in that way, and does nobody come in to disturb them?”

“No one in the palace knows anything about it,” answered the youth. “It’s true, sometimes the old inspector of the palace comes up stairs in the night with his great bunch of keys, to see if all is safe ; but as soon as the flowers hear the rattling of his keys, they keep quite still, and hide themselves behind the long silken windowcurtains, and peep out with their little heads. ‘I smell flowers here somewhere about,’ says the old inspector; but he cannot find out where they are.”

“That’s very droll,” said little Ida, clapping her hands. ” But could I not see the flowers?”

“Of course you can see them,”‘ answered the youth. “Only peep in at the window when you go again to the palace. I looked in to-day, and I saw a long pale white lily reclining on the sofa. That was a maid of honor.” “Can the flowers in the Botanic Garden go there too?” asked she. ” Are they able to go all that way?”

“Certainly, that you may believe,” said the youth, “for if the flowers choose, they can fly. Have you not seen the pretty red and yellow butterflies, and the white ones too, that almost look like flowers, are in reality nothing else. They have grown on stalks, high up in the air, and then they have leave given them to jump from their stems, they move their leaves as if they were wings, and so fly about; and as they always behave well, they are allowed to flutter hither and thither by day, instead of sitting quietly on their stems, till at last real wings grow out of their leaves. Why, you have seen it often enough yourself. However, it may be that the flowers in the Botanic Garden did not know that there was such merry-making in the King’s palace of a night, and so have never been there. But I’ll tell you something that will put the Professor of Botany, who lives beside the garden, into a perplexity: when you go there again, you have only to whisper it to one flower, that there is a ball to be given at night at Friedricksburg, and one will tell it to the other till they all know it, and then all the flowers are sure to fly there. Then when the Professor comes into the garden, and does not find any of his flowers, he will not be able to comprehend what is become of them.”

“Ah!” said little Ida, somewhat vexed at the strange story, “how should the flowers be able to tell each other what I say? Flowers cannot speak!”

“No, they cannot properly talk: there you are quite right,” continued the youth; “but they make themselves understood by gestures. Have you not often seen how they bend to and fro, and nod and move all their green leaves, when there is the gentlest breeze? To them this is as intelligible as words are to us.”

“Does the Professor understand their gestures, then?” said little Ida.

” To be sure he does. One morning he came into the garden and remarked that a great stinging-nettle was conversing on very intimate terms with a pretty young carnation. ‘ You are so beautiful,’ said the nettle to the carnation,’ and I love you so devotedly!’ But the Professor would not suffer any thing of the sort, and tapped the nettle on his leaves – for those are its fingers; but they stung him so that from that day forward he has never ventured to meddle with a stinging-nettle again.”

” Ha ! ha ! ha! that was good fun indeed.” laughed little Ida.

” What’s the meaning of this,” said the Professor of Mathematics, who had just come to pay a visit, “to tell the child such nonsense !” He could not bear the young man. and always scolded when he saw him cutting out pasteboard figures – as, for example, a man on the gallows with a heart in his hand, which was meant for a stealer of hearts; or an old witch riding on a broomstick, carrying her husband on the tip of her nose. The cross Professor could not bear any of these, and then he used to say as he did now, ” What’s the meaning of that – to teach the child such nonsense! That’s your stupid Imagination, I suppose!”

But little Ida thought it was very amusing, and could not leave off thinking of what the youth had told her about the flowers. No doubt her flowers did hang their heads because they really had been to the ball yesterday. She therefore carried them to the table where all sorts of toys were nicely arranged, and in the drawer were many pretty things besides. Her doll lay in a little bed, to go to sleep ; but Ida said to her, “Really, Sophie, you must get up, and be satisfied with the drawer for tonight; for the poor flowers are ill, and must sleep in your bed. Then perhaps they may be well by to-morrow.”

So she took the doll out of bed; but the good lady did not say a single word, she only made a wry face at being obliged to leave her bed for the sake of the old flowers.

Ida laid the withered flowers in her doll’s bed, covered them up with the counterpane, tucked them in very nicely, and told them to lie quite still, and in the meantime she would make some tea for them to drink, that they might be quite well by to-morrow morning. And she drew the curtains close all round the bed, so that the sun might not shine in their eyes.

The whole evening she kept on thinking of what she had heard, and just before going to bed she ran to the window where her mother’s tulips and hyacinths were standing, and she whispered quite softly to them, “I know very well that you are going to the ball to-night.” But the flowers seemed as if they heard nothing, and moved not a leaf; but little Ida knew what she knew.

When she was in bed she lay for a long time thinking how delightful it would be to see the flowers dancing at the King’s palace.

“Have my flowers really been there?” But before she could think about the answer, she had fallen asleep. She awoke again in the night; she had dreamed of the youth and the flowers, and the professor of Mathematics, who always said the youth stuffed her head with nonsense, and that she believed every thing. It was quite still in the sleeping-room ; the night-lamp burnt on the table, and her father and mother were fast asleep.

“I wonder if my flowers are still in Sophie’s bed!” said she. “I should like so much to know!”

She sat up in her bed, looked towards the door which was half open, and there lay the flowers and her playthings all as she had left them. She listened, and it seemed to her as if some one was playing on the piano in the next room, but quite softly, and yet so beautifully that she thought she had never heard the like.

“Now, then, my flowers are all dancing for certain!” said she. “Oh, how I should like to go and see them !” But she did not dare to get up, for fear of awaking her father and mother.

“If they would but come in here!” said she. But the flowers did not come, and the music continued to sound so sweetly. At last she could bear it no longer, it was so delightful – see the dance she must; so she crept noiselessly out of bed, and glided towards the door of the drawing-room. And what wonders did she behold !

The night-lamp burned no longer; and yet it was quite light in the room, because the moon shone through the window and illuminated the whole floor, so it was almost as light as day. All the hyacinths and tulips stood in two rows in the drawingroom, and before the windows was nothing but the empty flower-pots. The flowers danced figures, one round another on the floor; they made a regular chain and held each other by the long leaves.

At the piano sat a large yellow lily, that Ida thought she had seen before; for she remembered that the youth had once told her that this lily was like Miss Laura, and that every body had laughed at him for saying so. Now, it seemed to her that the tall lily really was like the young lady, and that she had quite the same manners when she played; for now she bent her long sallow face first on one side and then on the other, and nodded with her head to keep time; Ida stood looking in upon them, but not one of them observed her.

Now a large blue crocus sprang upon the table where Ida’s toys were lying, went straight to the bed, and drew aside the curtains. There lay the sick flowers; but they got up directly and saluted the other flowers, who begged them to join the dance. The old snapdragon, whose under lip was broken off, stood up and bowed to the pretty flowers. The sick flowers really did get up looked no longer ill, and danced merrily with the rest.

Suddenly a dull sound was heard, as if something had fallen from the table. Ida cast her eyes in that direction, and saw that it was the Easter-wand she had found lying on her bed one shrovetide morning, and which now wanted to be looked upon as a flower. It was indeed a charming rod; for at the top a little wax figure was hidden, with a broad-brimmed hat on like the Professor: and it was tied with red and blue ribands. So it hopped about among the flowers, and stamped away right merrily with its feet; for it was the mazourka that it was dancing, and this the flowers could not dance, for they were much too lightfooted.

All at once the wax figure in the rod became a tall and stout giant, and cried out with a loud voice, “What’s the meaning of this – to teach the child such nonsense! But this is your stupid Imagination, I suppose!” And now the doll grew just like the Professor, and looked as yellow and cross as he did : they were as like as two peas. But the paper flowers with which the rod was ornamented pinched his thin lanky legs, and then he shrunk together and was a tiny wax doll again.

Little Ida thought this scene so funny that she burst out a laughing, which, however, the company did not remark; for the rod kept on stamping, till at last the Professor of Mathematics was obliged to dance too, whether he made himself stout or thin, big or little, he was forced to keep on, till at last the flowers begged for him, and the rod then left him in peace.

A loud knocking was now heard in the drawer where the doll lay; and with this the snap-dragon run up to the corner of the table and opened the drawer a little. It was Sophie, who, putting out her head, looked around quite astonished:

“Is there a ball here?” said she “why was I not told of it?”

“Will you dance with me?” said the nutcrackers.

“A fine sort of person indeed to dance with!” said Sophie, turning her back on him. She seated herself on the drawer, and thought that some one of the flowers would certainly come and engage her to dance. But no one came. So she coughed a little: “A-hem! a-hem!” Still none came. Then the nutcrackers began dancing alone, and he performed his steps by no means badly.

When Sophie saw that not one of the flowers came to offer himself as partner, she suddenly slipped down on the floor, so that there was a terrible fuss, and all the flowers came running up and gathered around her to inquire if she had hurt or bruised herself. She was not hurt at all; but all the flowers were very complaisant, particularly those belonging to Ida, who took this opportunity to thank her for the nice bed in which they had quietly; and then they paid her so much attention and they took her by the hand, and led her to the dance, while all the other flowers stood round in a circle. Sophie was now quite happy, and begged Ida’s flowers to make use of her bed after the ball, as she, for her part, did not at all mind sleeping one night in the drawer.

But the flowers said: “We are very much obliged to you indeed ; but we shall not live so long, for to-morrow we shall be quite withered. But now tell little Ida that she must bury us down in her garden near her canary-bird; there we shall appear again next summer, and grow more beautiful than we were this year.”

“No, you shall not die!” continued Sophie vehemently, kissing the flowers.

Suddenly the door of the drawing-room opened, arid a great crowd of beautiful flowers came dancing in. Ida could not comprehend where these flowers came from, unless they were the flowers from the King’s pleasure-grounds. First of all entered two magnificent roses with golden crowns on, they were a King and a Queen ; and then followed stocks and pinks bowing on every side. They had too a band of music with them: large poppies and peonies blew upon peashells till they were red in the face, and lilies of the valley and biuebells joined their tinkling sounds, and rung as if they were musical* bells. It was charming music.

Then came a crowd of the most various flowers, all dancing, – violets, daisies, convolvuluses, hyacinths; and they all moved and turned about so prettily, and kissed one another, that it was quite a charming sight.

At last the happy flowers wished each other good night; and now little Ida slipped into the bed again, and dreamed of all the splendid things she had just beheld.

The following morning, as soon as she was up and dressed, she went to the table where her playthings were, to see if her flowers were still there. She drew the bedcurtains aside, and – yes! the flowers were there, but they were much more withered than they were yesterday. Sophie, too, was in the drawer, but she looked dreadfully sleepy.

“Can’t you remember what you had to say tome?” asked little Ida. Sophie, however, only looked very stupid, and did not answer a word.

“You are not at all good,” said Ida, “and yet all the flowers asked you to dance with them.”

Then she chose a little box of pasteboard from among her playthings; it was painted with birds, and in it she laid the withered flowers.”

“That shall be your coffin,” she said; “and when my cousins from Norway come to see me, they shall go to your funeral in the garden; so that next summer you may bloom again, and grow more beautiful than you were this year.”

The cousins from Norway were two merry boys, Jonas and Esben. Their father had just made each of them a present of a bow and arrows, which they brought with them to show to Ida. She told them all about the poor flowers that were dead, and that she was going to bury in the garden. The two boys went before with the bows on their shoulders, and little Ida followed with the dead flowers in the pretty little box. A grave was dug in the garden. Ida kissed the flowers once more, put the box into the earth, and Jonas and Esben shot over the grave with their bows, for they had no guns or cannons.

 Indeks over H.C. Andersens eventyr — Index of Hans Christian Andersen Fairy tales