High up yonder, in the thin clear air, flew an angel with a flower from the heavenly garden. As he was kissing the flower, a very little leaf fell down into the soft soil in the midst of the wood, and immediately took root, and sprouted, and sent forth shoots among the other plants.
“A funny kind of slip that,” said the plants.
And neither thistle nor stinging-nettle would recognize the stranger.
“That must be a kind of garden plant,” said they.
And they sneered; and the plant was despised by them as being a thing out of the garden.
“Where are you coming?” cried the lofty thistles, whose leaves are all armed with thorns.
“You give yourself a good deal of space. That’s all nonsense—we are not here to support you!” they grumbled.
And winter came, and snow covered the plant; but the plant imparted to the snowy covering a lustre as if the sun was shining upon it from below as from above. When spring came, the plant appeared as a blooming object, more beautiful than any production of the forest.
And now appeared on the scene the botanical professor, who could show what he was in black and white. He inspected the plant and tested it, but found it was not included in his botanical system; and he could not possibly find out to what class it belonged.
“That must be some subordinate species,” he said. “I don’t know it. It’s not included in any system.”
“Not included in any system!” repeated the thistles and the nettles.
The great trees that stood round about saw and heard it; but they said not a word, good or bad, which is the wisest thing to do for people who are stupid.
There came through the forest a poor innocent girl. Her heart was pure, and her understanding was enlarged by faith. Her whole inheritance was an old Bible; but out of its pages a voice said to her, “If people wish to do us evil, remember how it was said of Joseph. They imagined evil in their hearts, but God turned it to good. If we suffer wrong—if we are misunderstood and despised—then we may recall the words of Him who was purity and goodness itself, and who forgave and prayed for those who buffeted Him and nailed Him to the cross.” The girl stood still in front of the wonderful plant, whose great leaves exhaled a sweet and refreshing fragrance, and whose flowers glittered like a coloured flame in the sun; and from each flower there came a sound as though it concealed within itself a deep fount of melody that thousands of years could not exhaust. With pious gratitude the girl looked on this beautiful work of the Creator, and bent down one of the branches towards herself to breathe in its sweetness; and a light arose in her soul. It seemed to do her heart good; and gladly would she have plucked a flower, but she could not make up her mind to break one off, for it would soon fade if she did so. Therefore the girl only took a single leaf, and laid it in her Bible at home; and it lay there quite fresh, always green, and never fading.
Among the pages of the Bible it was kept; and, with the Bible, it was laid under the young girl’s head when, a few weeks afterwards, she lay in her coffin, with the solemn calm of death on her gentle face, as if the earthly remains bore the impress of the truth that she now stood before her Creator.
But the wonderful plant still bloomed without in the forest. It was almost like a tree to look upon; and all the birds of passage bowed before it.
“That’s giving itself foreign airs now,” said the thistles and the burdocks; “we never behave like that here.”
And the black snails actually spat at the flower.
Then came the swineherd. He was collecting thistles and shrubs, to burn them for the ashes. The wonderful plant was placed bodily in his bundle.
“It shall be made useful,” he said; and so said, so done.
But soon afterwards, the king of the country was troubled with a terrible depression of spirits. He was busy and industrious, but that did him no good. They read him deep and learned books, and then they read from the lightest and most superficial that they could find;but it was of no use. Then one of the wise men of the world, to whom they had applied, sent a messenger to tell the king that there was one remedy to give him relief and to cure him. He said:
“In the king’s own country there grows in a forest a plant of heavenly origin. Its appearance is thus and thus. It cannot be mistaken.”
“I fancy it was taken up in my bundle, and burnt to ashes long ago,” said the swineherd; “but I did not know any better.”
“You didn’t know any better! Ignorance of ignorances!”
And those words the swineherd might well take to himself, for they were meant for him, and for no one else.
Not another leaf was to be found; the only one lay in the coffin of the dead girl, and no one knew anything about that.
And the king himself, in his melancholy, wandered out to the spot in the wood.
“Here is where the plant stood,” he said; “it is a sacred place.”
And the place was surrounded with a golden railing, and a sentry was posted there.
The botanical professor wrote a long treatise upon the heavenly plant. For this he was gilded all over, and this gilding suited him and his family very well. And indeed that was the most agreeable part of the whole story. But the king remained as low-spirited as before; but that he had always been, at least so the sentry said.