The Night Life of Flowers

May 18, 2020

Hans Christian Anderson

Hans Christian Andersen. (1805–1875) Tales.
Vol. 17, pp. 334-341 of The Harvard Classics

Flowers often tire of their stationary life and sometimes at night frolic away to a ball in a beautiful castle. Thus a fanciful story-teller accounts for their drooping condition in the morning.

Little Ida’s Flowers

“MY poor flowers are quite dead!” said little Ida. “They were so pretty yesterday, and now all the leaves hang withered. Why do they do that?” she asked the Student, who sat on the sofa; for she liked him very much. He knew the prettiest stories, and could cut out the most amusing pictures: hearts, with little ladies in them who danced; flowers, and great castles in which one could open the doors; he was a merry student. “Why do the flowers look so faded to-day?” she asked again, and showed him a nosegay, which was quite withered.

  “Do you know what’s the matter with them?” said the Student. “The flowers have been at a ball last night, and that’s why they hang their heads.”

  “But flowers cannot dance!” cried little Ida.

  “O yes,” said the Student, “when it grows dark, and we are asleep, they jump about merrily. Almost every night they have a ball.”

  “Can children go to this ball?”

  “Yes,” said the Student, “quite little daisies, and lilies of the valley.”

  “Where do the beautiful flowers dance?” asked Ida.

  “Have you not often been outside the town gate, by the great castle, where the king lives in summer, and where the beautiful garden is with all the flowers? You have seen the swans, which swim up to you when you want to give them bread crumbs? There are capital balls there, believe me.”

  “I was out there in the garden yesterday, with my mother,” said Ida; “but all the leaves were off the trees, and there was not one flower left. Where are they? In the summer I saw so many.”

  “They are within, in the castle,” replied the Student. “You must know, as soon as the king and all the court go to town, the flowers run out of the garden into the castle and are merry. You should see that. The two most beautiful roses seat themselves on the throne, and then they are king and queen; all the red coxcombs range themselves on either side, and stand and bow; they are the chamberlains. Then all the pretty flowers come, and there is a great ball. The blue violets represent little naval cadets; they dance with hyacinths and crocuses, which they call young ladies; the tulips and great tiger-lilies are old ladies who keep watch that the dancing is well done, and that everything goes on with propriety.”

  “But,” asked little Ida, “is nobody there who hurts the flowers, for dancing in the king’s castle?”

  “There is nobody who really knows about it,” answered the Student. “Sometimes, certainly, the old steward of the castle comes at night, and he has to watch there. He has a great bunch of keys with him; but as soon as the flowers hear the keys rattle they are quite quiet, hide behind the long curtains, and only poke their heads out. Then the old steward says, ‘I smell that there are flowers here,’ but he cannot see them.”

  “That is famous!” cried little Ida, clapping her hands. “But should not I be able to see the flowers?”

  “Yes,” said the student: “only remember, when you go out again, to peep through the window; then you will see them. That is what I did to-day. There was a long yellow lily lying on the sofa and stretching herself. She was a court lady.”

  “Can the flowers out of the Botanical Garden get there? Can they go the long distance?”

  “Yes, certainly,” replied the Student; “if they like they can fly. Have you not seen the beautiful butterflies—red, yellow, and white? They almost look like flowers; and that is what they have been. They have flown off their stalks high into the air, and have beaten it with their leaves, as if these leaves were little wings, and thus they flew. And because they behaved themselves well, they got leave to fly about in the day-time too, and were not obliged to sit still upon their stalks at home; and thus at last the leaves became real wings. That you have seen yourself. It may be, however, that the flowers in the Botanical Garden have never been in the king’s castle, or that they don’t know of the merry proceedings there at night. Therefore I will tell you something: he will be very much surprised, the botanical professor, who lives close by here. You know him, do you not? When you come into his garden, you must tell one of the flowers that there is a great ball yonder in the castle. Then that flower tell it to all the rest, and then they will fly away: when the professor comes out into the garden, there will not be a single flower left, and he won’t be able to make out where they are gone.”

  “But how can one flower tell it to another? For, you know, flowers cannot speak.”

  “That they cannot, certainly,” replied the Student; “but then they make signs. Have you not noticed that when the wind blows a little, the flowers nod at one another, and move all their green leaves? They can understand that just as well as we when we speak together.”

  “Can the professor understand these signs?” asked Ida.

  “Yes, certainly. He came one morning into his garden, and saw a great stinging-nettle standing there, and making signs to a beautiful red carnation with its leaves. It was saying, ‘You are so pretty, and I love you with all my heart.’ But the professor does not like that kind of thing, and he directly slapped the stinging-nettle upon its leaves, for those are its fingers; but he stung himself, and since that time he has not dared to touch a stinging-nettle.”

  “That is funny,” cried little Ida; and she laughed.

  “How can any one put such notions into a child’s head?” said the tiresome Privy Councilor, who had come to pay a visit, and was sitting on the sofa. He did not like the Student, and always grumbled when he saw him cutting out the merry, funny pictures—sometimes a man hanging on a gibbet and holding a heart in his hand, to show that he stole hearts; sometimes an old witch riding on a broom, and carrying her husband on her nose. The Councilor could not bear this, and then he said, just as he did now. “How can any one put such notions into a child’s head? Those are stupid fancies!”

  But to little Ida, what the Student told about her flowers seemed very droll; and she thought much about it. The flowers hung their heads, for they were tired because they had danced all night; they were certainly ill. Then she went with them to her other toys, which stood on a pretty little table, and the whole drawer was full of beautiful things. In the doll’s bed lay her doll Sophy, asleep; but little Ida said to her,—

  “You must really get up, Sophy, and manage to lie in the drawer for to-night. The poor flowers are ill, and they must lie in your bed; perhaps they will then get well again.”

  And she at once took the doll out; but the doll looked cross, and did not say a single word; for she was cross because she could not keep her own bed.

  Then Ida laid the flowers in the doll’s bed, pulled the little coverlet quite up over them, and said they were to lie still and be good, and she would make them some tea, so that they might get well again, and be able to get up to-morrow. And she drew the curtains closely round the little bed, so that the sun should not shine in their eyes. The whole evening through she could not help thinking of what the Student had told her. And when she was going to bed herself she was obliged first to look behind the curtains which hung before the windows where her mother’s beautiful flowers stood—hyacinths as well as tulips; then she whispered, “I know you are going to the ball—tonight!” But the flowers made as if they did not understand a word, and did not stir a leaf; but still little Ida knew what she knew.

  When she was in bed she lay for a long time thinking how pretty it must be to see the beautiful flowers dancing out in the king’s castle. “I wonder if my flowers have really been there?” And then she fell asleep. In the night she woke up again: she had dreamed of the flowers, and of the Student with whom the Councilor found fault. It was quite quiet in the bedroom where Ida lay; the night-lamp burned on the table, and father and mother were asleep.

  “I wonder if my flowers are still lying in Sophy’s bed?” she thought to herself. “How I should like to know it!” She raised herself a little, and looked at the door, which stood ajar: within lay the flowers and all her playthings. She listened, and then it seemed to her as if she heard some one playing on the piano in the next room, but quite softly and prettily, as she had never heard it before.

  “Now all the flowers are certainly dancing in there!” thought she. “O, how glad I should be to see it!” But she dared not get up, for she would have disturbed her father and mother.

  “If they would only come in!” thought she. But the flowers did not come, and the music continued to play beautifully; then she could not bear it any longer, for it was too pretty; she crept out of her little bed, and went quietly to the door, and looked into the room.

  O, how splendid it was, what she saw!

  There was no night-lamp burning, but still it was quite light: the moon shone through the window into the middle of the floor; it was almost like day. All the hyacinths and tulips stood in two long rows in the room; there were none at all left at the window—there stood the empty flower-pots. On the floor all the flowers were dancing very gracefully round each other, making perfect turns, and holding each other by the long green leaves as they swung round. But at the piano sat a great yellow lily, which little Ida had certainly seen in summer; for she remembered how the Student had said, “How like that one is to Miss Lina.” Then he had been laughed at by all; but now it seemed really to little Ida as if the long, yellow flower looked like the young lady; and it had just her manners in playing—sometimes bending its long, yellow face to one side, sometimes to the other, and nodding in tune to the charming music! No one noticed little Ida. Then she saw a great blue crocus hop into the middle of the table, where the toys stood, and go to the doll’s bed and pull the curtains aside; there lay the sick flowers, but they got up directly, and nodded to the others, to say that they wanted to dance too. The old Chimney-sweep doll, whose underlip was broken off, stood up and bowed to the pretty flowers: these did not look at all ill now; they jumped down to the others, and were very merry.

  Then it seemed as if something fell down from the table. Ida looked that way. It was the birch rod which was jumping down! it seemed almost as if it belonged to the flowers. At any rate it was very neat; and a little wax doll, with just such a broad hat on its head as the Councilor wore, sat upon it. The birch rod hopped about among the flowers on its three legs, and stamped quite loud, for it was dancing the mazourka; and the other flowers could not manage that dance, because they were too light, and unable to stamp like that.

  The wax doll on the birch rod all at once became quite great and long, turned itself over the paper flowers, and said, “How can one put such things in a child’s head? those are stupid fancies!” and then the wax doll was exactly like the Councilor with the broad hat, and looked just as yellow and cross as he. But the paper flowers hit him on his thin legs, and then he shrank up again, and became quite a little wax doll. That was very amusing to see; and little Ida could not restrain her laughter. The birch rod went on dancing, and the Councilor was obliged to dance too; it was no use, he might make himself great and long, or remain the little yellow wax doll with the big black hat. Then the other flowers put in a good word for him, especially those who had lain in the doll’s bed, and then the birch rod gave over. At the same moment there was a loud knocking at the drawer, inside where Ida’s doll, Sophy, lay with many other toys. The Chimney-sweep ran to the edge of the table, lay flat down on his stomach, and began to pull the drawer out of a little. Then Sophy raised herself, and looked round quite astonished.

  “There must be a ball here,” said she; “why did nobody tell me?”

  “Will you dance with me?” asked the Chimney-sweep.

  “You are a nice sort of fellow to dance!” she replied, and turned her back upon him.

  Then she seated herself upon the drawer, and thought that one of the flowers would come and ask her; but not one of them came. Then she coughed, “Hem! hem! hem!” but for all that not one came. The Chimney-sweep now danced all alone, and that was not at all so bad.

  As none of the flowers seemed to notice Sophy, she let herself fall down from the drawer straight upon the floor, so that there was a great noise. The flowers now all came running up, to ask if she had not hurt herself; and they were all very polite to her, especially the flowers that had lain in her bed. But she had not hurt herself at all; and Ida’s flowers all thanked her for the nice bed, and were kind to her, took her into the middle of the room, where the moon shone in, and danced with her; and all the other flowers formed a circle round her. Now Sophy was glad, and said they might keep her bed, she did not at all mind lying in the drawer.

  But the flowers said, “We thank you heartily, but in any way we cannot live long. To-morrow we shall be quite dead. But tell little Ida she is to bury us out in the garden, where the canary lies; then we shall wake up again in summer, and be far more beautiful.”

  “No, you must not die,” said Sophy; and she kissed the flowers.

  Then the room door opened, and a great number of splendid flowers came dancing in. Ida could not imagine whence they had come; these must certainly all be flowers from the king’s castle yonder. First of all came two glorious roses, and they had little gold crowns on; they were a king and a queen. Then came the prettiest stocks and carnations; and they bowed in all directions. They had music with them. Great poppies and peonies blew upon pea-pods till they were quite red in the face. The blue hyacinths and the little white snow-drops rang just as if they had been bells. That was wonderful music! Then came many other flowers, and danced all together; the blue violets and the pink primroses, daisies and the lilies of the valley. And all the flowers kissed one another. It was beautiful to look at!

  At last the flowers wished one another good-night; then little Ida, too, crept to bed, where she dreamed of all she had seen.

  When she rose next morning, she went quickly to the little table, to see if the pretty flowers were still there. She drew aside the curtains of the little bed; there were they all, but they were quite faded, far more than yesterday. Sophy was lying in the drawer where Ida laid her; she looked very sleepy.

  “Do you remember what you were to say to me?” asked little Ida.

  But Sophy looked quite stupid, and did not say a single word.

  “You are not good at all!” said Ida. “And yet they all danced with you.”

  Then she took a little paper box, on which were painted beautiful birds, and opened it, and laid the dead flowers in it.

  “That shall be your pretty coffin,” said she, “and when my cousins come to visit me by and by they shall help me to bury you outside in the garden, so that you may grow again in summer, and become more beautiful than ever.”

  These cousins were two merry boys. Their names were Gustave and Adolphe; their father had given them two new cross-bows, and they brought these with them to show to Ida. She told them about the poor flowers which had died, and then they got leave to bury them. The two boys went first, with their cross-bows on their shoulders, and little Ida followed with the dead flowers in the pretty box. Out in the garden a little grave was dug. Ida first kissed the flowers, and then laid them in the earth in the box, and Adolphe and Gustave shot with their cross-bows over the grave, for they had neither guns nor cannons.

You Might Also Like


Like us on Facebook