The Red Flower by Madame De Gasparin

What it was, where it grew, I should find it difficult to tell you. I had seen it once, when a little child, in a stony road, among the thorns of a hedge; and I had gathered it. Ah! that was certain! It waved at the end of a long stalk; its petals were of a flame-like red; its form was unlike anything known, resembling somewhat a censer, from which issued golden stamens.

Since those earliest days, I had often sought it, often asked for it. When I mentioned it, people laughed at me. I spoke of the flower no more, but I sought for it still.

"Impossible!" Experience writes the word in the dictionary of the man. In the child's vocabulary, it has no existence. The marvellous to him is perfectly natural. Things which he sees to be beautiful arrange themselves along his path; why should he have a doubt of this or of that? By and by, exact bounds will limit his domain. A faint line, then a barrier, then a wall: erelong the wall will rise and surround the man,—a dungeon from which he must have wings to escape.

Around the child are neither walls nor boundary lines, but a limitless expanse, everywhere glowing with beautiful colors. In the far-off depths, reality mingles with revery. It is like an ocean whose blue waves glimmer and sparkle on the horizon, where they kiss the shores of enchanted isles.

I sought the red flower. Have you never searched for it too?

This morning, in the spring atmosphere, its memory came back to my heart. It seemed to me that I should find it; and I walked on at random.

I went through solitary footpaths. The laborers had gone to their noonday repose. The meadows were all in bloom. Weeds, growing in spite of wind and tide spread a golden carpet beside the rose-colored meadow-grass. In the wet places were tangles of pale blue forget-me-nots; beyond them, tufts of the azure veronica, and over the stream hung the straw-colored lotus. Under the grain, yet green, corn-poppies were waving. With every breeze a scarlet wave arose, swelled, and vanished.

Blue butterflies danced before me, mingling and dispersing like floating flower-petals in the air. Under the umbelled plants was a pavement of beetles, of black and purple mosaic. On the tufts of the verbena gathered insects with shells blazoned like the escutcheons of the knights of the Middle Ages. The quail was calling in the thickets; three notes here, and three there. I found myself on the skirt of a pine forest, and I seated myself on the grass.

The red flower! I thought of it no longer. The butterflies had carried it away. I thought how beautiful life is on a spring morning; what happiness it is to open the lips and inhale the fresh air; what joy to open the eyes and behold the earth in her bridal robes; what delight to open the hands and gather the sweet-smelling blossoms. Then I thought of the God of the heavens, that, arching above me, spoke of his power. I thought of the Lord of the little ones,—of the insects that, flitting about me, spoke of his goodness. All these accents awoke a chord in harmony with that which burst forth from the blossoming meadows.

I arose, and came to a recess in the shadowy edge of the forest.

As I walked, something glowed in the grass; something dazzled me; something made my heart throb. It was the red flower!

I seized it. I held it tightly in my hand. It was the flower; yes, it was the same, but with a strange, new splendor. I possessed it, yet I dared not look upon it.

Suddenly I felt the blossom tremble in my fingers. They loosened their grasp. The flower dilated. It expanded its carnation petals, slightly tinged with green; it spread out a purple calyx; two stamens, two antennŠ, vibrated a moment. The blossom quivered; some breath had made it shudder; its wings unfolded. As I gazed, it fluttered a little, then rose in a golden sunbeam; its colors played in the different strata of the air, the roseate, the azure, the ether; it disappeared.

O my flower! I know whither thou goest and whence thou comest! I know the hidden sources of thine eternal bloom. I know the Word that created thee; I know the Eden where thou growest!

Winged flower! he who falters in his search for thee will never find thee. He who seeks thee on earth may grasp thee, but will surely lose thee again. Flower of Paradise, thou belongest only to him who searches for thee where thou hast been planted by the hand of the Lord.