The Anemones by Carl Ewald

1

"Peewit! Peewit!" cried the lapwing, as he flew over the bog in the wood. "Dame Spring is coming! I can feel it in my legs and wings."

When the new grass, which lay below in the earth, heard this, it at once began to sprout and peeped out gaily from between the old yellow straw. For the grass is always in an immense hurry.

Now the anemones in among the trees had also heard the lapwing's cry, but refused on any account to appear above the earth:

"You mustn't believe the lapwing," they whispered to one another. "He's a flighty customer and not to be trusted. He always comes too early and starts calling at once. No, we will wait quietly till the starling and the swallow come. They are sensible, sober people, who are not to be taken in and who know what they are about."

And the starlings came.

They perched on a twig outside their summer villa and looked about them:

"Too early, as usual," said Mr. Starling. "Not a green leaf and not a fly, except an old tough one of last year, not worth opening one's beak for."

Mrs. Starling said nothing, but looked none too cheerful either.

"If we had only remained in our snug winter-quarters beyond the mountains!" said Mr. Starling. He was angry because his wife did not answer, for he was so cold that he thought a little discussion might do him good. "But it's your fault, just as last year. You're always in such a terrible hurry to come out to the country."

"If I'm in a hurry, I know the reason why," said Mrs. Starling. "And it would be a shame for you if you didn't know too, for they are your eggs just as much as mine."

"Heaven forbid!" replied Mr. Starling, indignantly. "When have I denied my family? Perhaps you expect me, over and above, to sing to you in the cold?"

"Yes, that I do!" said Mrs. Starling, in the tone which he could not resist.

He at once began to whistle as best he could. But, when Mrs. Starling had heard the first notes, she flapped her wings and pecked at him with her beak:

"Will you be quiet at once!" she screamed, angrily. "It sounds so dismal that it makes one feel quite melancholy. You'd better see to it that the anemones come up. I think it's high time. And, besides, one always feels warmer when there are others shivering too."

Now, as soon as the anemones had heard the starling's first whistle, they carefully stuck their heads out of the ground. But they were still so tightly tucked up in their green wraps that one could hardly see them. They looked like green buds that might turn into anything.

"It's too early," they whispered. "It's a shame for the starling to call us. There's no one left in the world that one can trust."

Then the swallow came:

"Tsee! Tsee!"he whistled and darted through the air on his long, pointed wings.

"Out with you, you silly flowers! Can't you see that Dame Spring has come?"

But the anemones had become careful. They just pushed their green wraps a little to one side and peeped out:

"One swallow does not make a summer," they said. "Where is your wife? You have only come to see if it's possible to live here and now you're trying to take us in. But we are not so stupid as all that. We know that, once we catch cold, we're done for."

"You're a pack of poltroons," said the swallow and sat down on the weathercock on the ranger's roof and looked out over the landscape.

But the anemones stood and waited and were very cold. One or two of them, who could not control their impatience, cast off their wraps in the sun. The cold at night killed them; and the story of their pitiful death went from flower to flower and aroused great consternation.

2

Then Dame Spring came, one delightfully mild and still night.

No one knows what she looks like, for no one has ever seen her. But all long for her and thank her and bless her. She goes through the wood and touches the flowers and the trees and they bud at once. She goes through the stables and unfastens the cattle and lets them out into the fields. She goes straight into men's hearts and gladdens them. She makes it difficult for the best-behaved boy to sit still on his bench at school and occasions a terrible lot of mistakes in the exercise-books.

But she does not do this all at once. She attends to her business night after night and comes direct to those who long for her most.

So it happened that, on the very night when she arrived, she went straight to the anemones, who stood in their green wraps and could no longer curb their impatience.

And one, two, three! There they stood in newly-ironed white frocks and looked so fresh and pretty that the starlings sang their finest songs for sheer joy at the sight of them.

"Oh, how lovely it is here!" said the anemones. "How warm the sun is! And how the birds are singing! It is a thousand times better than last year."

But they say this every year, so it doesn't count.

Now there were many others who went quite off their heads when they saw that the anemones were out. There was a schoolboy who wanted to have his summer holidays right away; and then there was the beech, who was highly offended:

"Aren't you coming to me soon, Dame Spring?" he said. "I am a much more important person than those silly anemones and really I can no longer control my buds."

"Coming, coming!" replied Dame Spring. "But you must give me a little time."

She went on through the wood. And, at every step, more anemones appeared. They stood in thick bevies around the roots of the beech and modestly bowed their round heads to the ground.

"Look up freely," said Dame Spring, "and rejoice in Heaven's bright sun. Your lives are but short, so you must enjoy them while they last."

The anemones did as she told them. They stretched themselves and spread their white petals to every side and drank as much sunshine as they could. They pushed their heads against one another and twined their stalks together and laughed and were wonderfully happy.

"Now I can wait no longer," said the beech and burst into leaf.

Leaf after leaf crept out of its green covering and spread out and fluttered in the wind. The whole green crown arched itself like a mighty roof above the earth.

"Good heavens, is it evening so soon?" asked the anemones, who thought that it had turned quite dark.

"No, this is death," said Dame Spring. "Now you're over. It's the same with you as with the best in this world. All must bud, blossom and die."

"Die?" cried some of the small anemones. "Must we die so soon?"

And some of the large anemones turned quite red in the face with anger and arrogance:

"We know all about it!" they said. "It's the beech that's killing us. He steals the sunshine for his own leaves and grudges us a single ray. He's a nasty, wicked thing."

They stood and scolded and wept for some days. Then Dame Spring came for the last time through the wood. She still had the oaks and some other querulous old fellows to visit:

"Lie down nicely to sleep now in the ground," she said to the anemones. "It's no use kicking against the pricks. Next year, I will come again and wake you to new life."

And some of the anemones did as she told them. But others continued to stick their heads in the air and grew up so ugly and lanky that they were horrid to look at:

"Fie, for shame!" they cried to the beech-leaves. "It's you that are killing us."

'FIE, FOR SHAME!' THEY CRIED TO THE BEECH-LEAVES. 'IT'S
YOU THAT ARE KILLING US.' 'FIE, FOR SHAME!' THEY CRIED TO THE BEECH-LEAVES. 'IT'S YOU THAT ARE KILLING US.'

But the beech shook his long boughs, so that the brown husks fell to the ground:

"Wait till autumn, you little blockheads," he said and laughed. "Then you'll just see."

The anemones could not understand what he meant. But, when they had stretched themselves as far as they could, they cracked in two and withered.

3

Summer was past and the farmer had carted his corn home from the field.

The wood was still green, but darker; and, in many places, yellow and red leaves appeared among the green ones. The sun was tired after his hot work during the summer and went to bed early.

At night, winter stole through the trees to see if his time would soon come. When he found a flower, he kissed her politely and said:

"Well, well, are you there still? I am glad to see you. Stay where you are. I am a harmless old man and wouldn't hurt a fly."

But the flower shuddered at his kiss and the bright dew-drops hanging from her petals froze to ice at the same moment.

Winter went oftener and oftener through the wood. He breathed upon the leaves, till they turned yellow, or upon the ground, till even the anemones, who lay below in the earth, waiting for Dame Spring to come again as she had promised, could feel his breath and shuddered right down to their roots:

"Oh dear, how cold it is!" they said to one another. "How ever shall we last through the winter? We are sure to die before it is over."

"Now my time has come," said winter. "Now I need no longer steal round like a thief in the night. From to-morrow, I shall look every one straight in the face and bite his nose and make his eyes run with tears."

At night, the storm broke loose.

"Let me see you make a clean sweep of things," said winter.

And the storm obeyed his orders. He tore howling through the wood and shook the branches till they creaked and broke. Any that were at all decayed fell down and those that held on had to twist and turn to every side.

"Away with all that finery!" howled the storm and tore off the leaves. "This is no time to dress yourselves up. Soon there will be snow on the branches: that's another story."

All the leaves fell terrified to the ground, but the storm did not let them lie in peace. He took them round the waist and waltzed with them over the field, high up in the air and into the wood again, swept them together into great heaps and scattered them once more to every side, just as the fit seized him.

Not until the morning did the storm grow weary and go down.

"Now you can have peace for this time," he said. "I am going down till we have our spring-cleaning. Then we can have another dance, if there are any of you left by then."

And the leaves went to rest and lay like a thick carpet over the whole earth.

The anemones felt that it had grown delightfully warm:

"I wonder if Dame Spring can have come yet?" they asked one another.

"I haven't my buds ready!" cried one of them.

"No more have I! No more have I!" exclaimed the others in chorus.

But one of them took courage and just peeped out above the ground.

"Good-morning!" cried the withered beech-leaves. "It's rather too early, young lady: if only you don't come to any harm!"

"Isn't that Dame Spring?" asked the anemone.

"Not just yet," replied the beech-leaves. "It's we, the green leaves you were so angry with in the summer. Now we have lost our brightness and have not much left to make a show of. We have enjoyed our youth and had our fling, you know. And now we are lying here and protecting all the little flowers in the ground against the winter."

"And meanwhile I am standing and freezing in my bare branches," said the beech, crossly.

The anemones talked about it down in the earth and thought it very nice:

"Those dear beech-leaves!" they said.

"Mind you remember it next summer, when I come into leaf," said the beech.

"We will, we will!" whispered the anemones.

For that sort of thing is promised, but the promise is never kept.