THE MIST

By Carl Ewald

The sun had just gone down.

The frog was croaking his "good-night," which lasted so long that there seemed no end to it. The bee was creeping into its hive, and little children were crying because they had to go to bed. The flower was closing up its petals and bowing its head; the bird was tucking its bill under its wing; and the stag was laying himself down to rest in the tall, soft grass in the glade of the wood.

From the village church the bells were ringing for sunset, and when that was over the old clerk went home. On his way he had a little chat or two with the people who were out for an evening stroll, or were standing before their gate and smoking a pipe till they bade him good-night and shut the door.

Then it grew quite quiet, and the darkness fell. There was a light in the parson's house, and there was one also in the doctor's. But the farmers' houses were dark, because in summer-time the farmers get up so early that they must go early to bed.

And then the stars began to twinkle, and the moon crept higher and higher up the sky. Down in the village a dog was barking. But it must have been barking in a dream, for there was nothing to bark at.

"Is there anybody there?" asked the Mist.

But nobody answered, for nobody was there. So the Mist issued forth in her bright, airy robes. She went dancing over the meadows, up and down, to and fro. Then she lay quite still for a moment, and then she took to dancing again. Out over the lake she skipped and deep into the wood, where she threw her long, damp arms round the trunks of the trees.

"Who are you, my friend?" asked the Night-Violet [Footnote: An inconspicuous flower which in Denmark is very fragrant in the evening, the "night-smelling rocket" (Hesperis triatto).], who stood there giving forth fragrance just to please herself.

The Mist did not answer, but went on dancing.

"I asked you who you were," said the Night-Violet. "And as you don't answer me, I conclude that you are a rude person."

"I will now conclude you" said the Mist. And then she spread herself round the Night-Violet, so that her petals were dashed with wet.

"Oh, oh!" cried the Night-Violet. "Keep your fingers to yourself, my friend. I have a feeling as if I had been dipped in the pond. You have no reason for getting so angry just because I asked you who you are."

The Mist let go of her again. "Who am I?" she said. "You could not understand even if I told you."

"Try," said the Night-Violet.

"I am the dewdrop on the flower, the cloud in the sky, and the mist on the meadow," said the Mist.

"I beg your pardon," said the Night-Violet. "Would you mind saying that again? The dewdrop I know. It settles every morning on my leaves, and I don't think it is at all like you."

"No; but it is I all the same," said the Mist mournfully. "But no one knows me. I must live my life under many shapes. One time I am dew, and another time I am rain; and yet another time I babble as a clear, cool streamlet through the wood. But when I dance on the meadows in the evening, men say that it is the marsh-lady brewing."

"It is a strange story," said the Night-Violet. "Do you mind telling it to me? The night is long, and I sometimes get a little bored by it."

"It is a sad story," answered the Mist. "But you may have it and welcome." But when she was about to lie down the Night-Violet shook with terror in all her petals.

"Be so kind as to keep at a little distance," she said, "at least till you have properly introduced yourself. I have never cared to be on familiar terms with people I don't know."

So the Mist lay down a little way off and began her story:—"I was born deep down in the earth—far deeper than your roots go. There I and my sisters—for we are a large family, you must understand—came into the world as waves of a hidden spring, pure and clear as crystal; and for a long time we had to stay in our hiding-place. But one day we suddenly leapt from a hillside into the full light of the sun. You can well imagine how delightful it was to come tumbling down through the wood. We hopped over stones and rippled against the bank. Pretty little fishes gambolled amongst us, and the trees bent over so that their beautiful green was reflected in our waters. If a leaf fell, we cradled it and fondled it and carried it out with us into the wide world. Ah, that was delightful! It was indeed the happiest time of my life."

"But when are you going to tell me how you came to turn into mist?" asked the Night-Violet impatiently. "I know all about the underground spring. When the air is quite still, I can hear it murmur from where I stand."

The Mist lifted herself a little and took a turn round the meadow. Then she came back, and went on with her story:—"It is the worst of this world that one is never contented with what one has. So it was with us. We kept running on and on, till at last we ran into a great lake, where water-lilies rocked on the water and dragon-flies hummed on their great stiff wings. Up on the surface the lake was clear as a mirror. But whether we wished it or not, we had to run right down by the bottom, where it was dark and gruesome. And this I could not endure. I longed for the sunbeams. I knew them so well from the time I used to run in the brook. There they used to peep down through the leaves and pass over me in fleeting gleams. I longed so much to see them again that I stole up to the surface, and lay down in the sunshine all amongst the white water-lilies and their great green leaves. But, ugh! how the sun burnt me there on the lake I It was scarcely bearable. Bitterly did I regret that I had not stopped down below."

"I can't say this part of your story is very amusing," said the
Night-Violet. "Isn't the Mist soon coming?"

"Here it is!" said the Mist, and dropped down once more on the flower, so that it nearly had the breath squeezed out of it.

"Ough! ough!" shrieked the Night-Violet. "Upon my word, you are the most ill-natured person I have ever known. Move off, and go on with your story, since it must be so."

"In the evening, when the sun had set, I suddenly became wonderfully light," said the Mist. "I don't know how it came about, but I thought I could rise up from the lake and fly; and before I knew anything about it, I was drifting over the water, far away from the dragon-flies and the water-lilies. The evening breeze bore me away. I flew high up into the air, and there I met many of my sisters, who had been just as eager for novelty as myself, and had had the same fate. We drifted across the sky, for, you see, we had become clouds."

"I am not sure I do see," said the Night-Violet. "The thing sounds incredible."

"But it is true all the same," answered the Mist "And let me tell you what happened then. The wind carried us for a long way through the air. But all at once it would not do so any more, and let us drop. Down we fell on to the earth as a splashing shower of rain. The flowers all shut up in a hurry, and the birds crept under cover—except, of course, the ducks and the geese, for, you know, the wetter it is the more they like it. Yes—and the farmer too! He wanted rain so much for his crops, he stood there hugely delighted, and did not in the least mind getting wet. But otherwise we really did make quite a sensation."

"Oh! so you are the rain as well?" said the Night-Violet. "I must say you have plenty to do."

"Yes, I'm never idle," said the Mist.

"All the same, I have not yet heard how you became mist," said the Night-Violet. "Only, please don't get into a passion again. You know you promised to tell me without my asking you, and I would sooner hear the whole story over again than shiver once more in your horrid, clammy arms."

The Mist lay silent and sobbed for a few moments. Then she went on with her story:—"After I had fallen on the earth as rain, I sank down into the black soil, and was already congratulating myself on soon getting back to my birthplace, the deep underground spring. There, at any rate, one enjoyed peace and had no cares. But, as I was sinking into the ground, the tree roots sucked me up, and I had to wander about for a whole day in the boughs and leaves. They treated me as a beast of burden, I assure you. All the food that the leaves and flowers needed I had to carry up to them from the roots. It was not till the evening that I managed to get away. When the sun had gone down the flowers and trees all heaved a deep sigh, and I and my sisters flew off in that sigh in the form of bright airy Mists. To-night we dance on the meadow. But when the sun rises in the morning we shall turn into those pretty transparent dewdrops which hang from your petals. When you shake us off we shall sink deeper and deeper till we reach the spring we came from—that is, if some root or other does not snap us up on the way. And so the journey goes on. Down the brook, out into the lake, up into the air, down again to the earth—"

"Stop!" said the Night-Violet. "If I listen to you any more, I shall become quite sea-sick."

Now the frog began to stir. He stretched his legs, and went down to the ditch to take his morning bath. The birds began to twitter in the wood, and the bellow of the stag echoed amongst the trees. It was on the point of dawn, and here came the Sun peeping up over the hill.

"Hullo, what is that?" he said. "What a strange sight! One can't see one's hand before one's face. Wind of the morning! up with you, you sluggard, and drive the foul Mists away."

The Morning Wind came over the meadow, and away went the Mists. And at the very same moment the first rays of the Sun fell right on the Night-Violet.

"Heyday!" said the flower. "We have got the Sun already, so I had better make haste and shut up. Where in the world has the Mist gone to?"

"I am still here," said the Dewdrop that hung on its stalk.

But the Night-Violet shook herself peevishly. "You may stuff children with that nonsense," she said. "As for me, I don't believe a word of your whole story. It is as weak as water."

Then the Sun laughed and said, "You are quite right there!"