Somewhere in the Wood

by Carl Ewald

1

Somewhere in the wood, quite close to one another, lived a little company of good friends.

There was the sheep's-scabious, who looked as if she had something on her head, but had not, and the bell-flower, who was so blue and modest. There was the maiden-pink, meeker and redder and gentler than any, and a few blades of grass, who were nice and green, but poor and quite grateful if one as much as looked at them. Then there was some moss, which grew on the old stump of a tree and kept to itself, and there was the hazel-bush, who was the finest of them all, both because he was so big and, especially, because the linnet had built his nest in him.

The friends never had a word.

They all minded their own business and did not stand in one another's way. In the evening, when the day's work was done, they listened to the linnet's song. Or else there would be a creaking in the hazel-bush's branches; and that was quite as uncanny as a regular ghost-story. Or else the blades of grass would just whisper softly and nonsensically; but that also is nice to listen to sometimes when you are tired and have nothing on your conscience.

If anything joyful happened to any one of the friends, they all rejoiced. When the maiden-pink and the bell-flower budded, the hazel-bush offered his congratulations, the linnet struck his longest trill and the blades of grass appointed a deputation and bowed respectfully to the ground and each shed a dewy tear of emotion. When the little linnets crept out of the egg, all the friends were as happy as if they themselves had had children.

From out of the wood came the whistling and singing of many birds, but this did not concern the friends. Sometimes a roe would come bounding or a fox sneaking along; and once a frightened hare hid under the hazel-bush, while the guns banged all around and the dogs gave tongue. They would talk about an event like this for days together. But then they lapsed into quietude again; and time wore on to summer.

2

Then, one morning, the maiden-pink felt strangely unwell.

Her stalks and leaves were slack and she had a regular pain in her roots. Her flowers were so queer and loose, she thought.

When she complained of not being well, the sheep's-scabious and the bell-flower said that it was just the same with them. So did the blades of grass, but that did not count, for they always agreed with any one they were talking to. The moss said nothing, but that did not signify either, for nobody asked him.

"We want rain," said the hazel-bush. "There's nothing else the matter. It doesn't affect me yet, but I suppose it will. You are so short and slender; that's why you feel it first."

The blades of grass nodded and thought that this was remarkably well said on the part of the hazel-bush. The others hung their heads. The linnet sang as best he could to cheer the sick friends.

But sick they were and sick they remained; and it grew worse every day.

"I think I'm dying," said the maiden-pink.

The blades of grass observed, most politely, that they were already half-dead. The hazel-bush was not feeling well either and the linnet thought the air so heavy that he was not at all inclined to sing.

And, while they were talking about all this, towards the evening, they heard the same complaint in the whispering that came from the great wood, in the bell of the stag and the bay of the fox and the croak of the frog and the squeak of the mouse in her hole. The ranger and the farmer went past and talked about it; they looked up at the bright sky and shook their heads:

"We shall have no rain to-morrow either," said the ranger. "My small trees are dying."

"And my corn is being blighted," said the farmer.

Next morning, the friends became seriously alarmed when they looked at one another.

They were hardly recognizable, so ill did they appear, with yellow, hanging leaves and faded flowers and dry roots. Only the moss looked as usual.

"Don't you feel anything?" asked the hazel-bush.

"Yes, I do," said the moss. "But it doesn't show in me. I might lie here and be dead for a whole month and all the time look as if I were alive and well. I can't help it."

"I shall go up and look for a cloud," said the linnet.

And he went up in the air, so high that he was quite lost to the others, and he came back and said that there was a cloud far away in the west.

"Ask him to come," said the bell-flower, in a faint voice.

And the linnet flew up again and came back presently with the sad answer that the cloud could not:

"He would like to," said the linnet. "He is tired of hanging up there with all that rain. But he has to wait till the wind comes for him."

"Good-bye," said the maiden-pink. "And thank you for the pleasant time we have had together. I can hold out no longer."

'GOOD-BYE,' SAID THE MAIDEN-PINK. 'GOOD-BYE,' SAID THE MAIDEN-PINK.

And then she died. All the friends looked at one another in dismay:

"We must get hold of the wind," said the hazel-bush, who had more life left in him than the others. "Else it will be all up with every one of us."

Next morning early, the wind came stealing along. He came quite slowly, for he too was tired of the intolerable dry heat; but he had to go his rounds for all that.

"Dear Wind," said the sheep's-scabious. "Bring us a little cloud, or we shall all be dead."

"There is no cloud," said the wind.

"That's not true, Wind," said the linnet. "There's a beautiful grey cloud far away in the west."

"Re-ally?" said the wind. "Ah ... I happen to be the east wind just now, so I can't help you."

"Turn round, dear Wind, and bring us the cloud," asked the bell-flower, civilly. "You can blow wherever you please and we shall be grateful to you as long as we live."

"You will earn the thanks of the whole community," said the hazel-bush.

"The whole community," whispered the blades of grass.

"I daresay," said the wind. "But I am not what you take me for. You believe that I am my own master, because I come shifting and shifting about and sometimes blow gently and sometimes hard and am sometimes mild and sometimes keen. But I am merely a dog that comes when his master calls."

"Who is your master then?" asked the linnet. "I will go to him, even if he lives at the end of the earth."

"Ah ... if that were enough!" said the wind. "My master is the sun. I run my race at his behest. When he shines really strong anywhere, than I go up with the warm air and fetch cold air from somewhere else and fly with it along the earth. Whether it be east or west does not concern me."

"I don't understand it," said the linnet.

"I don't understand it either," said the wind. "But I do it!"

Then he went down. And the friends stood and hung their heads and were at their wits' end:

"There is nothing for it but to die," said the sheep's-scabious.

"If I have lived through the winter," said the hazel-bush, "I suppose I can stand this. But it's very hard."

And the bell-flower and the sheep's-scabious, who had never lived through the winter, wondered if it could really be worse than this. And the linnet dreamt of the south, where he spent the winter; and the blades of grass had quite thrown up the game.

"Can't your branches reach up to the sun?" asked the sheep's-scabious of the hazel-bush.

"Can't you fly up to the sun?" asked the bell-flower of the linnet.

But that they could not do; and the days passed and the wretchedness increased. It was quite silent in the wood. Not a bird chirped, the fox stayed in his hole, the stag lay in the shade and gasped, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, and the trees stood with drooping branches, as though they were at a funeral.

Then the bell-flower rang all her bells, as if to ring in death over the wood. It sounded quite still and weak and nevertheless rose high in the air like a prayer:

"My blue bells chime for the rain to fall
In dusty and desolate places,
Where buds that should shine and be fragrant all
Are pining with pallid faces."

It is not easy to know who heard it; and none of the friends said a word. But, at that moment, they all plainly heard some one speak and then they all knew that it was the sun, whom the hazel-bush could not reach with his branches and whom the linnet could not fly to, but who had heard the bell-flower's plaints:

"I shine as I must and not as I please; and I cannot help you. I am bound to go my course round another sun, who is a thousand times larger and better than I. I cannot swerve a foot's breadth from my road; I cannot send down a single ray according to my own wishes."

"I don't understand it," said the hazel-bush.

"I don't understand it either," said the sun. "But I do it."

"And I understand that it is all up with a poor sheep's-scabious," said the sheep's-scabious and died then and there.

3

Then night came and all thought that it would be their last.

But, suddenly, the bell-flower raised her aching head and listened.

She thought she heard a sound as when a drop falls ... now came another ... it smacked down upon a leaf ... and another ... and another....

They all woke up, while the rain poured in torrents.

The poor blades of grass stood up, the unhappy moss took fresh courage. The linnet began to sing, though it was a dark night. The hazel-bush shook with delight, until he nearly shook the linnet's young out of the nest.

Everything round about in the wood revived. The night was full of happiness. The ranger and the farmer rose from their beds and met in the rain and shook each other by the hand with glad eyes.

It rained the whole night and the day after and the next night and one day more. Sometimes it rained gently and sometimes hard. The ground drank all the water with a thirsty mouth and the roots sucked it greedily out of the ground and leaves and flowers unfolded and stood erect and blithe on slender stalks.

Then came the third day, with sunshine and a blue sky and life and merriment in the wood.

"Well," said the wind and came darting along as though he had never been tired in his life, "do you see, I brought you the rain?"

"Well," said the cloud, who drifted high above, in a light, white summer suit, "did you see how I came with the rain?"

"Well," said the sun and laughed, rounder and warmer than ever, "so you got what you asked me for!"

The friends looked at one another in surprise. But, a little way off, sat the red fox, with his ugly, clever face:

"That's the sort of people they are," he said. "When you ask them for something, they're not at home. But they never forget to call for thanks!"