It was winter-time; the air was cold, the wind was sharp, but within the closed doors it was warm and comfortable, and within the closed door lay the flower; it lay in the bulb under the snow-covered earth. One day rain fell. The drops penetrated through the snowy covering down into the earth, and touched the flower-bulb, and talked of the bright world above. Soon the Sunbeam pierced its way through the snow to the root, and within the root there was a stirring.
“Come in,” said the flower.
“I cannot,” said the Sunbeam. “I am not strong enough to unlock the door! When the summer comes I shall be strong!”
“When will it be summer?” asked the Flower, and she repeated this question each time a new sunbeam made its way down to her. But the summer was yet far distant. The snow still lay upon the ground, and there was a coat of ice on the water every night.
“What a long time it takes! what a long time it takes!” said the Flower. “I feel a stirring and striving within me; I must stretch myself, I must unlock the door, I must get out, and must nod a good morning to the summer, and what a happy time that will be!”
And the Flower stirred and stretched itself; and it shot up under the snow with a greenish-white blossom on a green stalk, with narrow thick leaves, which seemed to want to protect it. The snow was cold, but was pierced by the Sunbeam, therefore it was easy to get through it, and now the Sunbeam came with greater strength than before.
“Welcome, welcome!” sang and sounded every ray, and the Flower lifted itself up over the snow into the brighter world. The Sunbeams caressed it, so that it opened altogether, white as snow, and ornamented with green stripes. It bent its head in joy.
“Beautiful Flower!” said the Sunbeams, “how graceful and delicate you are! You are the first, you are the only one! You are our love! You are the bell that rings out for summer, beautiful summer, over country and town. All the snow will melt; the cold winds will be driven away; we shall rule; all will become green, and then you will have companions; but you are the first, so graceful, so delicate!”
That was a great pleasure. It seemed as if the air were singing and sounding, as if rays of light were piercing through the leaves and the stalks of the Flower. There it stood, so delicate and so easily broken, and yet so strong in its young beauty; it stood there in its white dress with the green stripes, and made a summer. But there was a long time yet to the summer-time. Clouds hid the sun, and bleak winds were blowing.
“You have come too early,” said Wind and Weather. “We have still the power, and you shall feel it, and give it up to us. You should have stayed quietly at home and not have run out to make a display of yourself. Your time has not come yet!”
It was a cutting cold! The days which now came brought not a single sunbeam. It was weather that might break such a little Flower in two with cold. But the Flower had more strength than she herself knew of. She was strong in joy and in faith in the summer, which would be sure to come, which had been announced by her deep longing and confirmed by the warm sunlight; and so she remained standing in confidence in the snow in her white garment, bending her head even while the snow-flakes fell thick and heavy, and the icy winds swept over her.
“You’ll break!” they said, “and fade, and fade! What did you want out here? Why did you let yourself be tempted? The Sunbeam only made game of you. Now you have what you deserve.”
Then some children cried; “one flower stands!—how beautiful, how beautiful! The first one, the only one!”
These words did the Flower so much good, they seemed to her like warm sunbeams. In her joy the Flower did not even feel when it was broken off. It lay in a child’s hand, and was kissed by a child’s mouth, and carried into a warm room, and looked on by gentle eyes, and put into water. How strengthening, how invigorating! The Flower thought she had suddenly come upon the summer.
The daughter of the house, a beautiful little girl, took the delicate Flower and laid it in a piece of scented paper, on which verses were written. The paper was folded up like a letter, and the Flower was folded in the letter, too. It was dark around her, dark as in those days when she lay hidden in the bulb. The Flower went on a journey, and lay in the post-bag, and was pressed and crushed, which was not pleasant; but that soon came to an end.
The journey was over; the letter was opened, and read by a dear friend. He loved it! He kissed the letter, and it was laid, in a box, in which there were many beautiful verses, but all of them without flowers; she was the first, the only one, as the Sunbeams had called her; and it was a pleasant thing to think of that.
She had time enough to think about it; she thought of it while the summer passed, and the long winter went by, and the summer came again, before she appeared once more. But now the young man was not pleased at all. He took hold of the letter very roughly, and threw the verses away, so that the Flower fell on the ground. Flat and faded she certainly was, but why should she be thrown on the ground? Still, it was better to be here than in the fire, where the verses and the paper were being burnt to ashes. What had happened? What happens so often:—the girl had made a fool of him, she had, during the summer, chosen another friend.
Next morning the sun shone on the little flattened Snowdrop, that looked as if it had been painted upon the floor. The servant girl, who was sweeping the room, picked it up, and laid it in one of the books which were upon the table, in the belief that it must have fallen out. Again the flower lay among verses. And after this years went by. The book stood on the book-shelf, and then it was taken out and somebody read out of it. It was a good book. The man who was now reading the book turned over a page.
“There’s a flower!” he said; “a snowdrop! So beautiful, so delicate. So fitting for this book. I will put it back, so it will be treasured for ever.”
The Snowdrop was put back into the book. That is the story of the Snowdrop.