Once in the long ago, there was a most beautiful garden where flowers of every kind grew. There were stately hollyhocks and fresh white daisies and roses and violets and pansies and hyacinths and poppies and every other kind of flower that you ever dreamed or thought about.
Early one morning, when the bees and butterflies went to pay their morning calls, they found all the flowers in a perfect flutter of excitement.
A strange knight had passed through the garden the evening before and left word for every flower that the king of the garden was coming soon on a visit, and to the most beautiful flower he would bring a golden heart.
"To the most beautiful one was the message," nodded the crimson rose, pressing her baby buds close to her side.
"To the most beautiful one," rang out the lily bells, sweet and clear. "We heard, we heard!"
"To the most beautiful one," whispered the violets, bending their heads in prayer.
"Yes, yes," chimed in the snowdrops, one by one; "to the most beautiful one. We heard the message clearly.
"But who can be more beautiful than we, with our dresses of spotless white?
"Surely the king will choose us, and for his coming we shall save all our sweetest nectar juice, all our pollen, all that we have we shall save for him who is our king."
Thus talked the flowers together in the garden. Of course, everyone wanted the golden heart, and everyone began to work, trusting and hoping that its blossom might be the most beautiful one.
Now in those days, snowdrops held their heads up, and not down, as now,—neither did they have green spots on their dresses then. They were snowy white, and now that the king was coming, they thought so much more about their beautiful white dresses that they seemed to forget that it was better to be beautiful on the inside than on the outside.
They even forgot—these snowdrops—to be kind to their best friends, the bees and butterflies, and refused to give them either pollen or nectar juice.
And again they forgot to say good-morning to their other friends, the lovely violets, growing so close to them and making the breath of the whole garden fragrant with their perfume.
Indeed, the violets thought so much about making perfume for others that they forgot all about themselves, and even the colour of their dresses.
But the days passed quickly in the old garden, and it soon became a bower of glory indeed, as flower vied with flower to become the most beautiful, when the king should come.
The morning-glories hung out joy-bells of white and pink and blue, climbing to the top of the garden wall that they might be first to tell the news that the king had come.
The trumpet vine climbed yet higher, even to the top of the tallest tree, that he might be first to see and welcome the king.
But the snowdrops only stood still and fretted. "See," they cried, "our dresses are losing their freshness and the nectar juice will be spoiled. Listen, do you not hear footsteps?"
Yes, someone was coming down the path, but it was only a wrinkled old woman, feeble and worn with the heat of the summer day.
As she passed slowly along, her eyes fell on the pure white snowdrops, and stretching her hands towards them, she said:
"Oh, you beautiful blossoms, can you not spare me one?"
"No, no! we have none to spare to-day," replied the snowdrops; "go away and come some other day. We are saving these for our king. Ask the violets close by. They can spare you some."
"Yes, yes," nodded the violets; "we would love to give you some. Take all you please. See, our bed is full,—enough for you and enough for our king."
And as the old woman stooped to gather the purple violets, her face seemed very fair to look upon.
"To-morrow, surely to-morrow the king will come," fretted the snowdrops; "we have waited so long!"
But when the next day came, there was only a little bird with a broken wing that passed that way. Faint from hunger, he fell in the sand near the snowdrops and begged for just one tiny seed.
"No, no!" again said the snowdrops, "we have none to spare. Come some other day; we are saving these for our king."
"Take ours," cried the voice of the violets close by; "take ours, pretty bird, we have plenty to spare."
And the wounded bird ate and hopped away, and again his face seemed beautiful to look upon.
It was night, and the breezes were just lulling the flowers to sleep when another visitor stopped by the side of the snowdrops. But they sighed and turned their heads away, for this time there was only a crippled frog with an ugly bruise on his head.
"Water, only one drop of water, pretty snowdrops!" the frog said. "Your cups are full with sweetest nectar juice. Give to me, for I am dying with thirst."
But again the snowdrops shook their heads and turned away. "No, no!" they cried; "go away, ugly frog. We need our water to keep our dresses white, for the king is coming this way".
"Here is ours," called the violets sweet. "It is fresh and pure. Drink, tired frog, and rest among our cooling leaves."
And then something wonderful indeed happened. The frog vanished from sight, and in his place stood the king of the garden himself, clothed in gold and royal purple, and in his hands he held a shower of golden hearts which fell among the violets and lodged lovingly beneath their fragrant petals.
Then turning to the snowdrops, who had hung their heads in shame, the king said:
"Spotted like thy heart oh, snowdrops, thy dresses shall become, and when on them thou dost look, think and remember:
"Beautiful flowers are those that do,
Deeds that are loving, kind, and true,
The long day through."
"Footsore and weary, I asked of you; hungry, I came to you; thirsty, I begged of you; but you turned me away."
"We did not know, we did not know," sobbed the snowdrops. "Come, we have saved all for thee."
But alas! it was too late, for the king of the garden had come and gone,— leaving the snowdrops with spotted clothes and heads bowed low in the moonlight.