The Story of a Mother

Author: Andersen Hans Christian | Genre: Tale | Year: | Catalogue: Global database Все варианты сказки на сайте

A mother sat by her little child; she was very sad, for she feared it would die.
It was quite pale, and its little eyes were closed, and sometimes it drew a heavy
deep breath, almost like a sigh; and then the mother gazed more sadly than ever
on the poor little creature. Some one knocked at the door, and a poor old man
walked in. He was wrapped in something that looked like a great horse-cloth; and
he required it truly to keep him warm, for it was cold winter; the country everywhere
lay covered with snow and ice, and the wind blew so sharply that it cut one’s
face. The little child had dozed off to sleep for a moment, and the mother, seeing
that the old man shivered with the cold, rose and placed a small mug of beer on
the stove to warm for him. The old man sat and rocked the cradle; and the mother
seated herself on a chair near him, and looked at her sick child who still breathed
heavily, and took hold of its little hand.

“You think I shall keep him, do you not?” she said. “Our all-merciful God will
surely not take him away from me.”

The old man, who was indeed Death himself, nodded his head in a peculiar manner,
which might have signified either Yes, or No; and the mother cast down her eyes,
while the tears rolled down her cheeks. Then her head became heavy, for she
had not closed her eyes for three days and nights, and she slept, but only for
a moment. Shivering with cold, she started up and looked round the room. The
old man was gone, and her child—it was gone too!—the old man had taken it with
him. In the corner of the room the old clock began to strike; “whirr” went the
chains, the heavy weight sank to the ground, and the clock stopped; and the
poor mother rushed out of the house calling for her child. Out in the snow sat
a woman in long black garments, and she said to the mother, “Death has been
with you in your room. I saw him hastening away with your little child; he strides
faster than the wind, and never brings back what he has taken away.”

“Only tell me which way he has gone,” said the mother; “tell me the way, I
will find him.”

“I know the way,” said the woman in the black garments; “but before I tell
you, you must sing to me all the songs that you have sung to your child; I love
these songs, I have heard them before. I am Night, and I saw your tears flow
as you sang.”

“I will sing them all to you,” said the mother; “but do not detain me now.
I must overtake him, and find my child.”

  • But Night sat silent and still. Then the mother wept and sang, and wrung her
    hands. And there were many songs, and yet even more tears; till at length Night
    said, “Go to the right, into the dark forest of fir-trees; for I saw Death take
    that road with your little child.”

    Within the wood the mother came to cross roads, and she knew not which to take.
    Just by stood a thorn-bush; it had neither leaf nor flower, for it was the cold
    winter time, and icicles hung on the branches. “Have you not seen Death go by,
    with my little child?” she asked.

    “Yes,” replied the thorn-bush; “but I will not tell you which way he has taken
    until you have warmed me in your bosom. I am freezing to death here, and turning
    to ice.”

    Then she pressed the bramble to her bosom quite close, so that it might be
    thawed, and the thorns pierced her flesh, and great drops of blood flowed; but
    the bramble shot forth fresh green leaves, and they became flowers on the cold
    winter’s night, so warm is the heart of a sorrowing mother. Then the bramble-bush
    told her the path she must take. She came at length to a great lake, on which
    there was neither ship nor boat to be seen. The lake was not frozen sufficiently
    for her to pass over on the ice, nor was it open enough for her to wade through;
    and yet she must cross it, if she wished to find her child. Then she laid herself
    down to drink up the water of the lake, which was of course impossible for any
    human being to do; but the bereaved mother thought that perhaps a miracle might
    take place to help her. “You will never succeed in this,” said the lake; “let
    us make an agreement together which will be better. I love to collect pearls,
    and your eyes are the purest I have ever seen. If you will weep those eyes away
    in tears into my waters, then I will take you to the large hothouse where Death
    dwells and rears flowers and trees, every one of which is a human life.”

    “Oh, what would I not give to reach my child!” said the weeping mother; and
    as she still continued to weep, her eyes fell into the depths of the lake, and
    became two costly pearls.

    Then the lake lifted her up, and wafted her across to the opposite shore as
    if she were on a swing, where stood a wonderful building many miles in length.
    No one could tell whether it was a mountain covered with forests and full of
    caves, or whether it had been built. But the poor mother could not see, for
    she had wept her eyes into the lake. “Where shall I find Death, who went away
    with my little child?” she asked.

    “He has not arrived here yet,” said an old gray-haired woman, who was walking
    about, and watering Death’s hothouse. “How have you found your way here? and
    who helped you?”

    “God has helped me,” she replied. “He is merciful; will you not be merciful
    too? Where shall I find my little child?”

    “I did not know the child,” said the old woman; “and you are blind. Many flowers
    and trees have faded to-night, and Death will soon come to transplant them.
    You know already that every human being has a life-tree or a life-flower, just
    as may be ordained for him. They look like other plants; but they have hearts
    that beat. Children’s hearts also beat: from that you may perhaps be able to
    recognize your child. But what will you give me, if I tell you what more you
    will have to do?”

    “I have nothing to give,” said the afflicted mother; “but I would go to the
    ends of the earth for you.”

    “I can give you nothing to do for me there,” said the old woman; “but you can
    give me your long black hair. You know yourself that it is beautiful, and it
    pleases me. You can take my white hair in exchange, which will be something
    in return.”

    “Do you ask nothing more than that?” said she. “I will give it to you with

    And she gave up her beautiful hair, and received in return the white locks
    of the old woman. Then they went into Death’s vast hothouse, where flowers and
    trees grew together in wonderful profusion. Blooming hyacinths, under glass
    bells, and peonies, like strong trees. There grew water-plants, some quite fresh,
    and others looking sickly, which had water-snakes twining round them, and black
    crabs clinging to their stems. There stood noble palm-trees, oaks, and plantains,
    and beneath them bloomed thyme and parsley. Each tree and flower had a name;
    each represented a human life, and belonged to men still living, some in China,
    others in Greenland, and in all parts of the world. Some large trees had been
    planted in little pots, so that they were cramped for room, and seemed about
    to burst the pot to pieces; while many weak little flowers were growing in rich
    soil, with moss all around them, carefully tended and cared for. The sorrowing
    mother bent over the little plants, and heard the human heart beating in each,
    and recognized the beatings of her child’s heart among millions of others.

    “That is it,” she cried, stretching out her hand towards a little crocus-flower
    which hung down its sickly head.

    “Do not touch the flower,” exclaimed the old woman; “but place yourself here;
    and when Death comes—I expect him every minute—do not let him pull up that plant,
    but threaten him that if he does you will serve the other flowers in the same
    manner. This will make him afraid; for he must account to God for each of them.
    None can be uprooted, unless he receives permission to do so.”

    There rushed through the hothouse a chill of icy coldness, and the blind mother
    felt that Death had arrived.

    “How did you find your way hither?” asked he; “how could you come here faster
    than I have?”

    “I am a mother,” she answered.

    And Death stretched out his hand towards the delicate little flower; but she
    held her hands tightly round it, and held it fast at same time, with the most
    anxious care, lest she should touch one of the leaves. Then Death breathed upon
    her hands, and she felt his breath colder than the icy wind, and her hands sank
    down powerless.

    “You cannot prevail against me,” said Death.

    “But a God of mercy can,” said she.

    “I only do His will,” replied Death. “I am his gardener. I take all His flowers
    and trees, and transplant them into the gardens of Paradise in an unknown land.
    How they flourish there, and what that garden resembles, I may not tell you.”

    “Give me back my child,” said the mother, weeping and imploring; and she seized
    two beautiful flowers in her hands, and cried to Death, “I will tear up all
    your flowers, for I am in despair.”

    “Do not touch them,” said Death. “You say you are unhappy; and would you make
    another mother as unhappy as yourself?”

    “Another mother!” cried the poor woman, setting the flowers free from her hands.

    “There are your eyes,” said Death. “I fished them up out of the lake for you.
    They were shining brightly; but I knew not they were yours. Take them back—they
    are clearer now than before—and then look into the deep well which is close
    by here. I will tell you the names of the two flowers which you wished to pull
    up; and you will see the whole future of the human beings they represent, and
    what you were about to frustrate and destroy.”

    Then she looked into the well; and it was a glorious sight to behold how one
    of them became a blessing to the world, and how much happiness and joy it spread
    around. But she saw that the life of the other was full of care and poverty,
    misery and woe.

    “Both are the will of God,” said Death.

    “Which is the unhappy flower, and which is the blessed one?” she said.

    “That I may not tell you,” said Death; “but thus far you may learn, that one
    of the two flowers represents your own child. It was the fate of your child
    that you saw,—the future of your own child.”

    Then the mother screamed aloud with terror, “Which of them belongs to my child?
    Tell me that. Deliver the unhappy child. Release it from so much misery. Rather
    take it away. Take it to the kingdom of God. Forget my tears and my entreaties;
    forget all that I have said or done.”

    “I do not understand you,” said Death. “Will you have your child back? or shall
    I carry him away to a place that you do not know?”

    Then the mother wrung her hands, fell on her knees, and prayed to God, “Grant
    not my prayers, when they are contrary to Thy will, which at all times must
    be the best. Oh, hear them not;” and her head sank on her bosom.

    Then Death carried away her child to the unknown land.