The Nettle Gatherer,

from the Swedish

Very early in the spring, when the fresh grass was just appearing, before the trees had got their foliage, or the beds of white campanula and blue anemone were open, a poor little girl with a basket on her arm went out to search for nettles.

Near the stone wall of the churchyard was a bright green spot, where grew a large bunch of nettles. The largest stung little Karine's fingers. "Thank you for nothing!" said she; "but, whether you like it or not, you must all be put into my basket."

Little Karine blew on her smarting finger, and the wind followed suit. The sun shone out warm, and the larks began to sing. As Karine was standing there listening to the song of the birds, and warming herself in the sun, she perceived a beautiful butterfly.

"O, the first I have seen this year! What sort of summer shall I have? Let me see your colors. Black and bright red. Sorrow and joy in turn. It is very likely I may go supperless to bed, but then there is the pleasure of gathering flowers, making hay, and playing tricks." Remembrance and expectation made her laugh.

The butterfly stretched out its dazzling wings, and, after it had settled on a nettle, waved itself backwards and forwards in the sunshine. There was also something else upon the nettle, which looked like a shrivelled-up light brown leaf. The sun was just then shining down with great force upon the spot, and while she looked the brown object moved, and two little leaves rose gently up which by and by became two beautiful little wings; and behold, it was a butterfly just come out of the chrysalis! Fresh life was infused into it by the warm rays of the sun, and how happy it was!

The two butterflies must have been friends whom some unlucky chance had separated. They flew about, played at hide-and-seek, waltzed with each other, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in the bright sunshine. One flew away three times into a neighboring orchard. The other seated itself on a nettle to rest. Karine went gently towards it, put her hands quickly over it, and got possession both of the butterfly and the nettle. She then put them into the basket, which she covered with a red cotton handkerchief, and went home happy.

The nettles were bought by an old countess, who lived in a grand apartment, and had a weakness for nettle soup. Karine received a silver piece for them. With this in her hand, the butterfly in her basket, and also two large gingercakes which had been given to her by the kind countess, the happy girl went into the room where her mother and little brother awaited her. There were great rejoicings over the piece of silver, the gingercakes, and the butterfly.

But the butterfly did not appear as happy with the children as the children were with the butterfly. It would not eat any of the gingerbread, or anything else which the children offered, but was always fluttering against the window-pane, and when it rested on the ledge it put out a long proboscis, drew it in again, and appeared to be sucking something; however, it found nothing to suit its taste, so it flew about again, and beat its wings with such force against the window-pane, that Karine began to fear it would come to grief. Two days passed in this way. The butterfly would not be happy.

"It wants to get out," thought Karine; "it wants to find a home and something to eat." So she opened the window.

Ah, how joyfully the butterfly flew out into the open air! it seemed to be quite happy. Karine ran after it to see which way it took. It flew over the churchyard, which was near Karine's dwelling. There little yellow star-like flowers of every description were in bud; among them the spring campanula, otherwise called the morning-star. Into the calyxes of these little flowers it thrust its proboscis, and sucked a sweet juice therefrom; for at the bottom of the calyx of almost every flower there is a drop of sweet juice which God has provided for the nourishment of insects,—bees, drones, butterflies, and many other little creatures.

The butterfly then flew to the bunch of nettles on the hill. The large nettle which had stung Karine's finger now bore three white bell-shaped flowers, which looked like a crown on the top of the stalk, and many others were nearly out. The butterfly drew honey from the white nettle-blossoms and embraced the plant with its wings, as children do a tender mother.

"It has now returned to its home," thought Karine, and she felt very glad to have given the butterfly its liberty.

Summer came. The child enjoyed herself under the lime-trees in the churchyard, and in the meadows where she got the beautiful yellow catkins, which were as soft as the down of the goslings, and which she was so fond of playing with, also the young twigs which she liked cutting into pipes or whistles. Fir-trees and pines blossomed and bore fir-cones; the sheep and calves were growing, and drank the dew, which is called the "Blessed Virgin's hand," out of the trumpet moss, which with its small white and purple cup grew on the steep shady banks.

Karine now gathered flowers to sell. The nettles had long ago become too old and rank, but the nettle butterflies still flew merrily about among them.

One day Karine saw her old friend sit on a leaf, as if tired and worn out, and when it flew away the child found a little gray egg lying on the very spot where it had rested, whereupon she made a mark on the nettle and the leaf.

She forgot the nettles for a long time, and it seemed as if the butterfly had also forgotten them, for it was there no more. Larger and more beautiful butterflies were flying about there, higher up in the air. There was the magnificent Apollo-bird, with large white wings and scarlet eyes; also the Antiopa, with its beautiful blue and white velvet band on the edge of its dark velvet dress; and farther on the dear little blue glittering Zefprinner, and many others.

Karine gathered flowers, and then went into the hay-field to work; still, it often happened that she and her little brother went supperless to bed. But then their father played on the violin, and made them forget that they were hungry, and its tones lulled them to sleep.

One day, when Karine was passing by the nettles, she stopped, rejoiced to see them again. She saw that the nettles were a little bent down, and, upon examination, found a number of small green caterpillars, resembling those which we call cabbage-grubs, and they seemed to enjoy eating the nettle leaves as much as the old countess did her nettle soup. She saw that they covered the exact spot where she had made a mark, and that the leaf was nearly eaten up by the caterpillars, and Karine immediately thought that they must be the butterfly's children. And so they were, for they had come from its eggs.

"Ah!" thought Karine, "if my little brother and I, who sometimes can eat more than our father and mother can give us, could become butterflies, and find something to eat as easily as these do, would it not be pleasant?" She broke off the nettle on which the butterfly had laid its eggs,—but this time she carefully wound her handkerchief round her hand,—and carried it home.

On her arrival there, she found all the little grubs had crawled away, with the exception of one, which was still eating and enjoying itself. Karine put the nettle into a glass of water, and every day a fresh leaf appeared. The caterpillar quickly increased in size, and seemed to thrive wonderfully well. The child took great pleasure in it, and wondered within herself how large it would be at last, and when its wings would come.

But one morning it appeared very quiet and sleepy, and would not eat, and became every moment more weary, and seemed ill. "O," said Karine, "it is certainly going to die, and there will be no butterfly from it; what a pity!"

It was evening, and the next morning Karine found with astonishment that the caterpillar had spun round itself a sort of web, in which it lay, no longer a living green grub, but a stiff brown chrysalis. She took it out of the cocoon; it was as if enclosed in a shell. "It is dead," said the child, "and is now lying in its coffin! But I will still keep it, for it has been so long with us, and at any rate it will be something belonging to my old favorite." Karine then laid it on the earth in a little flower-pot which stood in the window, in which there was a balsam growing.

The long winter came, and much, very much snow. Karine and her little brother had to run barefooted through it all. The boy got a cough. He became paler and paler, would not eat anything, and lay tired and weary, just like the grub of the caterpillar shortly before it became a chrysalis.

The snow melted, the April sun reappeared, but the little boy played out of doors no more. His sister went out again to gather nettles and blue anemones, but no longer with a merry heart. When she came home, she would place the anemones on her little brother's sick-bed. And as time went on, one day he lay there stiff and cold, with eyes fast closed. In a word, he was dead. They placed him in a coffin, took him to the churchyard, and laid him in the ground, and the priest threw three handfuls of earth over the coffin. Karine's heart was so heavy that she did not heed the blessed words which were spoken of the resurrection unto everlasting life.

Karine only knew that her brother was dead, that she had no longer any little brother whom she could play with, and love, and be loved by in return. She wept bitterly when she thought how gentle and good he was. She went crying into the meadows, gathered all the flowers and young leaves she could find, and strewed them on her brother's grave, and sat there weeping for many hours.

One day she took the pot with the balsam in it, and also the chrysalis, and said, "I will plant the balsam on the grave, and bury the butterfly's grub with my dear little brother." Again she wept bitterly while she thought to herself: "Mother said that my brother lives, and is happy with God; but I saw him lying in the coffin, and put into the grave, and how can he then come back again? No, no; he is dead, and I shall never see either of them again."

Poor little Karine sobbed, and dried her tears with the hand that was free. In the other lay the chrysalis, and the sun shone upon it. There was a low crackling in the shell, and a violent motion within, and, behold! she saw a living insect crawl out, which threw off its shell as a man would his cloak, and sat on Karine's hand, breathing, and at liberty. In a short time wings began to appear from its back. Karine looked on with a beating heart. She saw its wings increase in size, and become colored in the brightness of the spring sun. Presently the new-born butterfly moved its proboscis, and tried to raise its young wings, and she recognized her nettle butterfly. And when, after an hour, he fluttered his wings to prepare for flight, and flew around the child's head and among the flowers, an unspeakably joyful feeling came over Karine, and she said, "The shell of the chrysalis has burst, and the caterpillar within has got wings; in like manner is my little brother freed from his mortal body, and has become an angel in the presence of God."

In the night she dreamed that her brother and herself, with butterfly's wings, and joy beaming in their eyes, were soaring far, far away, above their earthly home, towards the millions of bright shining stars; and the stars became flowers, whose nectar they drank; and over them was a wondrous bright light, and they heard sounds of music,—so grand and beautiful! Karine recognized the tones she had heard on earth, when their father played for her and her little brother in their poor cottage, when they were hungry. But this was so much more grand! Yet it was so beautiful, so exceedingly beautiful, that Karine awoke. A rosy light filled the room, the morning dawn was breaking, and the sun was looking in love upon the earth, reviving everything with his gentleness and strength.

Karine wept no more. She felt great inward joy. When she again went to visit the nettles, and saw the little caterpillars crawling on the leaves, she said in a low voice, "You only crawl now, you little things! By and by you will have wings as well as I, and you know not how glorious it will be at the last."