The Summer Gowk
D EEP lay the snow, for it was winter time, the air was cold, the wind sharp: but within doors all was snug and warm. And within doors lay the flower; in its bulb it lay, under earth and snow.
One day there fell rain; the drops trickled through the snow coverlet, down into the earth, and stirred against the flower-bulb, telling of the world of light above. And presently a sunbeam, pointed and slender, came piercing its way to the bulb, and tapped on it.
"Come in," said the Flower.
"That I can't," said the Sunbeam "I am not strong enough to lift the latch. I shall be strong in summer."
"When will it be summer?" asked the Flower; and it asked this again whenever a sunbeam pierced down to it. But summer was still far away: the ground was covered with snow, and every night there was ice on the water.
"How long it is! how long it is!" said the Flower. "I feel quite cribbed and cramped. I must stretch myself: I must raise myself: I must lift the latch and look out, and nod good-morrow to the summer; and that will be a merry time!"
And the Flower rose and strained from within, against the thin shell that had been softened by the rain, warmed by the earth and snow, and tapped upon by the sunbeam. It shot up from under the snow, with a pale-green bud on its tender stalk, and narrow thick leaves, that curled around it for a screen. The snow was cold, but glittering with light, and easy enough to push through; and here came the sunbeams with greater strength than before.
"Welcome! welcome!" sang every Sunbeam; and the Flower raised itself above the snow, up into the world of light. The sunbeams kissed and caressed it till it fully unfolded itself, white as snow, and decked with green stripes. It bowed its head in gladness and humility.
"Beautiful flower!" sang the Sunbeams. "How fresh thou art, and pure! Thou art the first one: thou art the only one! Thou art our darling! Thou art like a bell ringing up the summer, lovely summer, over towns and fields. All snow shall melt; the cold winds be chased away; we shall reign, and all things will grow green. Then thou wilt have fellowship, the lilacs and laburnums, and last of all the roses. But thou art the first, so tender and so pure!"
This was a deep delight to the Flower. It seemed as if the air it breathed was music, and as if its leaves and stem were full of thrilling sunbeams. There it stood, so fine and fragile, and yet so vigorous, in the beauty of youth—stood in its white kirtle with green bands—and praised the summer. But summer was not yet come; clouds began to hide the sun; sharp winds blew down upon the Flower.
"Thou art a little too soon," said Wind and Weather. "We still hold sway; this thou shalt feel to thy cost! Why not have kept indoors instead of running out here in thy finery? It is not time for that yet!"
It was biting cold. The days came and never brought a sunbeam. It was weather to freeze it to pieces, such a delicate little flower! But there was more strength in it than it knew of. It was strong in its glad faith in the summer, that must be near; for thus its own heart had foretold it, and the sunbeams had confirmed the tale. And so with patient hope it stood in its white dress, in the white snow, bowing its head when the flakes fell thick and heavy and when icy blasts came driving over it.
"Crouch, cringe!" they howled. "Wither and starve! What doest thou here in the cold? Thou hast been lured abroad; the sunbeam hath mocked thee. Now make the best of it, thou summer-gowk!"
"Summer-gowk!" echoed the keen airs of morning.
"A summer-gowk!" shouted children, who came down into the garden; "there it stands so pretty, so beautiful—the first, the only one!"
And the words did good to the Flower; they were like warm sunbeams. In its gladness it never once noticed that it was being plucked. It lay in a child's hand, was kissed by a child's mouth, brought into a warm room, gazed at by kind eyes, and set in water—so strengthening, so enlivening. The Flower thought it had passed into the middle of summer.
The daughter of the house was a pretty little lass, just confirmed, and she had a little sweetheart, also just confirmed, who was studying for his livelihood. "He shall be my summer-gowk," said she; and took the fine flower and laid it in a scented paper that was written all over with verses about the flower, beginning with summer-gowk, and ending with summer-gowk— "now, sweetheart, be my winter-fool!"—she had mocked him with the summer. Yes, that was the meaning of the verses. They were folded up as a letter, and the Flower was slipped inside, and there it lay all in the dark, as dark as when it lay in the bulb. It had to go on a journey, squeezed into the corner of a post-bag; this was not at all pleasant, but it came to an end at last.
The journey was over, the letter was opened and read by the young sweetheart. He was so delighted he kissed the Flower. It was locked up, with the verses around it, in a drawer where there were many charming letters, but without a single flower in them. Here again it was the first, the only one, as the sunbeams had called it, and that was something to think about.
It was left to think at leisure for a long time; and it went on thinking throughout the summer and throughout the winter till another summer came round; then it was drawn forth again. But this time the youth looked by no means delighted. He gripped hold of the papers and flung away the verses, so that the Flower dropped out on the floor. Flattened and withered as it was, still it might not to have been thrown down on the floor; yet, after all, it was better off there than in the fire, where the verses and letters were blazing. What could have happened? What happens so often. The flower had mocked him; that was a joke: the maiden had mocked him; that was no joke: she had chosen another sweetheart for this midsummer.
The next morning the sun shone in on the little flattened Summer-gowk, that looked as if it was painted on the floor. The servant-girl, who was sweeping, picked it up and placed it in one of the books on the table, for she fancied it must have fallen while she was routing about and putting things in order. And again the Flower lay between verses—printed verses, and those are grander than written ones; at all events, they cost more.
Years passed away, and the book stood still on its shelf. At length it was taken down, opened, and read. It was a good book: songs and poems by the Danish poet, Ambrosius Stub, who is well worth knowing. The man who was reading turned a page of the book. "So here is a flower!" said he; "a summer-gowk! Not without meaning does it lie here. Poor Ambrosius Stub; he, too, was a summer-gowk, a poet-gowk. He came before his time, and so he had to face sharp winds and sleet on his rounds among the gentlemen of Fünen. Set up for a show, like the flower in a glass; sent on for a jest, like the flower in a valentine. He was a summer-gowk, a winter-fool, all fun and foolery; and yet the first, the only Danish poet of the time; and still, in his youthful freshness, the first, the only one! Aye, lie as a mark in this book, little Summer-gowk; thou art laid here with some meaning."
And thus the Summer-gowk was put back again into the book, and felt honored and delighted with learning that it was a mark in a beautiful song-book; and that he who had first written and sung about the Flower had himself been a summer-gowk and played the fool in winter. Now the Flower understood this in its own way, just as we understand anything in our way.
This is the fairy tale of the Summer-gowk.