T HE stream that crept down from the hills, three miles away, has worn a smooth bed for itself in the gravel; has watered the farmer's fields, and turned the wheel of the old grist-mill, where the miller tends the stones that grind the farmer's corn. But down below here the stream has something else to do. It has been working hard, up and away from dam to dam again; and as always in life there should be something besides business,—something beautiful and peaceful,—so the stream has swept round this corner, behind the wooded point of land which hides the mill, and spread itself out in the hollow of Brown's meadow, where farmer Brown says his grandfather used to tell him some Indian wigwams stood when he was a boy. The land has sunk since then, and there is something more beautiful than Indian wigwams there now.
Where the old squaws used to sit weaving baskets, and the pappooses rolled and played, is now thick, black mud, in which are great tangled roots, some of them bigger than my arm.
All winter they lie there under the ice, while the children skate over them. In the spring, when every thing stirs with new life, they, too, must wake up: so, slowly and steadily, they begin to put up long stems to reach the surface of the water. Chambered stems they are, each having four passages leading up to the air, and down to the root and black mud. The walls of these chambers are brown and slimy, and each stem bears at its top a slimy bud,—slimy on the outside, brownish-green as it pushes up through the water; for this outer coat is stout and waterproof, and can well afford to be unpretending, since it carries something very precious wrapped up inside.
Not days, but weeks,—even months, it is working upon this hidden treasure before we shall see it. And the July mornings have come while we wait.
Can you wake at three o'clock, children, and, while the birds are singing their very best songs, go down the road under the elms, across the little bridge, and through the hemlock grove at the right? It is a mile to walk, and you will not be there too early. The broad, smooth pond, that the brook has made for its holiday pleasure, is at our feet. At its bottom are the tangled roots; on the surface, among the flat, green leaves, float those buds that have been so long creeping towards the light.
One long, bright beam from the sun just rising smiles across the meadow, and touches the folded buds. They must, indeed, smile back in reply; so the thick sheath unfolds, and behold! the whitest, fairest lily-cup floats on the water, and its golden centre smiles back to the sun with many rays.
We watched only one, but perhaps none is willing to be latest in greeting the sun, and the pond is already half-covered with a snowy fleet of boats fit for the fairies,—boats under full sail for fairy-land, laden with beauty and fragrance.
And this is what the dark mud can send forth. This is one of Mother Nature's hidden treasures. Perhaps she hides something as white and beautiful in all that seems dark and ugly, if only we will wait and watch for it, and be willing to come at the very dawn of day to look for it.
The lilies will stay with us, now that at last they are here, all through the rest of the summer, and even into the warm, sunny days of earliest October; but it will be only a few who stay so late as that. And where have the others gone, meanwhile? You see there are no dead lilies floating, folded and decaying, among the pads.
The stem that found its way so surely to the upper world knows not less surely the way back again; and when its white blossom has opened for the last time, and then wrapped its green cloak about it again, not to be unfolded, the chambered stem coils backward, and carries it safely to the bottom, where its seed may ripen in the soft, dark mud, and prepare for another summer.