T HE flax stood in bloom. It had pretty little blue flowers, delicate as a moth's wing, and even more delicate. The sun shone on the flax, and the rain clouds moistened it, and this was just as good for it as it is for little children when they are washed, and afterwards get a kiss from their mother; they become much prettier, and so did the flax.
"The people say that I stand uncommonly well," said the flax, "and that I am fine and long, and shall make a capital piece of linen. How happy I am! I'm certainly the happiest of beings! How well I am off! And I may come to something! How the sunshine gladdens, and the rain tastes good, and refreshes me! I'm wonderfully happy; I'm the happiest of beings!"
"Yes, yes, yes," said the stalk; "you don't know the work that we do, for we have knots in us;" and then it creaked out mournfully—"Snip, snap, snurre, bassellurie! The song is done."
"No, it is not done," said the flax;
But one day the people came, and took the flax by the head, and pulled it up by the roots. That hurt! and it was laid in water, as if they were going to drown it, and then put on the fire, as if it was going to be roasted. It was quite fearful!
"One can't always have good times," said the flax; "one must make one's experiences, and so one gets to know something."
But bad times certainly came. The flax was moistened, and roasted, and broken, and hacked. Yes, it did not even know what the operations were called that they did with it. It was put on the spinning-wheel—whirr, whirr, whirr—it was not possible to collect one's thoughts.
"I have been uncommonly happy," it thought, in all its pain. "One must be content with the good one has enjoyed. Contented, contented! Oh!" And it continued to say that, when it was put into the loom, until it became a large, beautiful piece of linen. All the flax, to the last stalk, was used in making one piece.
"But this is quite remarkable! I should never have believed it! How favorable fortune is to me! The hedge-stalk was well informed, truly, with its 'Snip, snap, snurre, bassellurie!' The song is not done, by any means. Now, it's beginning in earnest. That's quite remarkable. If I've suffered something, I've been made into something. I'm the happiest of all! How strong and fine I am; how white and long. That's something different from being a mere plant. Even if one bears flowers, one is not attended to, and only gets watered when it rains. Now, I am attended to, and cherished. The maid turns me every morning, and I get a shower-bath from the watering-pot every evening. Yes, the clergyman's wife has even made a speech about me, and says I'm the best piece in the whole parish. I cannot be happier."
Now the linen was taken into the house, and put under the scissors. How they cut it and tore it, and then pricked it with needles. That was not pleasant, but twelve pieces of body linen (of a kind not often mentioned by name, but indispensable to all people), were made of it—a whole dozen.
"Just look, now; something has really been made of me. So that was my destiny. That's a real blessing! Now I shall be of some use in the world, and that's right, that's a true pleasure! We've been made into twelve things, yet we're all one and the same; we're just a dozen. How remarkably charming that is!"
Years rolled on, and now they would hold together no longer.
"It must be over, one day," said each piece, "I would gladly have held together a little longer, but one must not expect impossibilities."
They were now torn into pieces and fragments. They thought it was all over, for they were hacked into shreds and softened and boiled. Yes, they themselves did not know all that was done to them, and then they were beautiful white paper.
"Now, that is a surprise, and a glorious surprise," said the paper. "Now I'm finer than before, and I shall be written on."
And really the most beautiful stories and verses were written upon it, and only once there came a blot; that was certainly remarkably good fortune. And the pen heard what was upon it; it was sensible and good, and made people more sensible and better. There was a great blessing in the words that were on this paper.
"That is more than I ever imagined, when I was a little blue flower in the fields. How could I ever fancy that I should spread joy and knowledge among men! I can't yet understand it myself, but it is really so. I have done nothing myself except, what I was obliged to do with my weak powers for my own preservation, and yet I've been promoted from one joy and honor to another. Each time when I think 'the song is done,' it begins again in a higher and better way. Now I shall certainly be sent about to journey through the world, in order that all people may read me. That cannot be otherwise; it is the only probable thing. I've splendid thoughts, as many as I had flowers in the old times. I'm the happiest of beings."
But the paper was not sent on its travels, it was sent to the printer and everything that was written upon it was set up in type for a book, or rather for many hundreds of books, for in this way a far greater number of people could derive pleasure and profit from the book, than if the one paper on which it was written, had run about the world to be worn out before it got half way.
"Yes, that is certainly the wisest way," thought the paper. "I really did not think of that. I shall stay at home and be held in honor, just like an old grandfather, and I am really the grandfather of all these books. Now something can be effected. I could not have wandered about thus. He who wrote all this looked at me. Every word from his pen flowed right onto me. I'm the happiest of all."
Thus the paper was tied together in a bundle, and thrown into a tub that stood in the wash-house.
"It's good, resting after work," thought the paper. "It is very right that one should collect one's thoughts. Now I'm able, for the first time, to think of what is in me, and to know one's self is true progress. What will be done with me now? At any rate, I shall go forward again. I'm always going forward, I've found that out."
Now, one day all the paper was taken out and laid by on the hearth; it was to be burned, so it might not be sold to the hucksters, to be used as a covering for butter and sugar, they said. And all the children in the house stood round about, for they wanted to see the paper burn, that flamed up so merrily, and afterwards one could see so many red sparks among the ashes, here and there. One after another faded out, as quick as wind, and that they called seeing the children come out of school; and the last spark the schoolmaster. One of them thought he had already gone, but the next moment there came another spark. "There goes the schoolmaster," they said. Yes, they all knew about it. They should have known who it was who went there. We shall get to know it, but they did not. All the old paper, the whole bundle, was laid upon the fire, and it was soon alight.
"Ugh!" it said, and burst out into a bright flame. "Ugh! that was not very agreeable." But when the whole was wrapped in bright flames, they mounted up higher than the flax had ever been able to lift its head, and its little blue flames, and glittered as the white linen had never been able to glitter. All the written letters turned for a moment quite red, and all the words and thoughts turned to flame.
"Now, I'm mounting straight up to the sun," said a voice in the
flames, and it was as if a thousand voices said this in unison, and the
flames mounted up through the chimney, and out at the top; more
delicate than the flames, invisible to the human eye, little tiny beings
floated there, as many as there had been blossoms on the flax. They were
lighter even than the flame from which they came, and when the flame
was extinguished, and nothing remained of the paper but ashes, they danced
over it once more; and when they touched the black mass the little red
sparks appeared. The children came out of school, and the schoolmaster
was the last of all. That was fun, and the children sang over the dead
"Snip, snap, snurre, Bassellurie. The song is done."
But the little invisible beings all said:
"The song is never done; that is the best of it all. I know it, therefore I am the happiest of all."
But the children could neither hear nor understand it; nor ought they, for children must not know everything.