T HE Flax stood in blossom; it had pretty little blue flowers delicate as a moth's wings, 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 afterward 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'm 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 Hedge-stake. "You don't know the world, but we do, for we have knots in us;" and then it creaked out mournfully:
"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 root. 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 hackled. Yes, it did not even know what the operations were called that they did with it. It was put on the spinning-wheel—whir! whir! whir!—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 to the loom, and till 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-stake is well informed, truly, with its:
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'm attended to and cherished; the maid turns me over 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 possibly be happier!"
Now the Linen was taken into the house, and put under the scissors. How they cut 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, but yet we're all one and the same; we're just a dozen. How 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 now, for they were hacked to shreds and softened and boiled; yes, they themselves did not know all that was done to them; and then they became 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; that is remarkable good fortune."
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 people heard what was upon it; it was sensible and good, and made people much 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 fancy that I should ever spread joy and knowledge among men? I can't yet understand it myself, but it really is so. I have done nothing myself but what I was obliged with my weak powers to do for my own preservation, and yet I have 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, so that all people may read me. That cannot be otherwise; it's the only probable thing. I have splendid thoughts, as many as I had pretty 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 very far greater number 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 had got half-way.
"Yes, that is certainly the wisest way," thought the Written 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 flowed from his pen right into me. I am the happiest of all."
Then 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," said the Paper. "It's 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 oneself 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, for it might not be sold to hucksters to be used for 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 so prettily, and afterward one could see many red sparks among the ashes careering here and there. One after another faded out as quick as the wind, and that they called "seeing the children come out of school," and the last spark was the old 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 knew all 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 bright flame. Ugh! that was not very agreeable, but when the whole was wrapped in bright flames, these mounted up higher than the Flax had ever been able to lift its little blue flowers, 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 flame; 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, and more delicate than the flames, invisible to human eyes, 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 were born; and when the flame was extinguished, and nothing remained of the Paper but black ashes, they danced over it once more, and where 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 ashes:
But the little invisible beings all said:
"The song is never done, that is the best of all. We know it, and therefore we're the happiest of all."
But the children could neither hear that nor understand it, nor ought they, for children must not know everything.