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Little Bluewing Finds the Goldpowder by August Strindberg

 

The rich man had visited the poor island and fallen in love with it. He could not have said why, but he was charmed; probably the island resembled some memory of his childhood, or, perhaps, a beautiful dream.

He bought the island, built a villa, and planted all sorts of lovely trees, shrubs, and flowers. And all around was the sea; he had his own landing-stage, with a flag-staff and white boats; oak trees, as tall as a church, shaded his house, and cool breezes gently swept the green meadows. He had a wife, children, servants, cattle; he had everything, except one thing: it was but a trifle, but it was more important than anything else in the world, and yet he had forgotten it until the very last: he had no spring water. Wells were sunk and rocks were blasted, but all he got was brown, brackish water; it was filtered until it looked as clear as crystal, but it remained brackish. And that was where the shoe pinched.

Then there came to the island a man endowed with great gifts; he had been lucky in all his enterprises, and was one of the most famous men in the world. Everybody remembered how he struck the mountain with his diamond staff and produced water from the rock, like Moses. Now he was to bore or the island and see whether the mountain would yield water, as other mountains had done. They spent a hundred, a thousand, several thousand crowns, but found none but brackish water. There was no blessing on their undertaking. And it was brought home to the rich man that money will not buy everything, not even, when the worst comes to the worst, a drink of fresh water. Thereupon he grew despondent and life seemed to hold no more happiness in store for him.

The schoolmaster searched the old books, and then sent for a venerable old man, who came and brought his divining rod; but it was no use.

But the clergyman was a great deal wiser. He assembled all the school children one day, and offered a prize to the one who could bring him a plant called “goldpowder,” in Latin Chrysosplenium, which will only grow near a spring.

“It has a flower,” he said, “like the bird's-eye and leaves like the saxifrage, and it looks as if it had gold dust on its top leaves. Remember that!”

“A flower like the bird's-eye and leaves like the saxifrage,” repeated the children; and they ran into the wood and the fields to look for the goldpowder.

Not one of the children found it; a little boy, it is true, came home with some milk-weed, which have a tiny bit of gold dust on the points of its leaves; but the milk-weed is poisonous, and it was not at all what was wanted. And finally the children grew tired of looking for it and gave it up.

But there lived on the island a little girl, too small yet to go to school. Her father had served in the dragoons, and owned a little farm, but he was rather poor than rich. His only treasure was his little daughter, whom everybody in the village called “Little Bluewing,” because she always wore a ski blue dress with wide sleeves, which fluttered like wings when she moved. There is, by the bye, a little blue butterfly whom the people call bluewing; you can see it in the summer sitting on the tall blades of the grass, and its wings resemble a flax blossom; a fluttering flax blossom with antenna instead of filaments.

Little Bluewing, the dragoon's little bluewing, that is, was not like other children; she always talked very sensibly, but she often said queer things, and everybody was puzzled to know where she got them from. All living things loved her, even the animals; fowls and calves ran up to her when they saw her, and she even dared to stroke the bull. She frequently went out by herself and stayed away a long tune, but when anybody asked her where she had been, she could not tell. But she had had the most wonderful adventures; she had seen strange things; she had met venerable old men and women, who ha told her no end of wonderful stories. The dragoon let her do as she liked, for he knew that a guardian spirit was watching over her.

***

One morning Little Bluewing went out for a walk. She ran through fields and meadows, singing songs which nobody had ever heard, and which came into her heart from nowhere. The morning sun shone brightly and seemed so young, as if it had only just been born; the air was fresh and sweet, and the evaporating dew cooled her little face.

When she came to the wood, she met an old man in a green dress.

“Good morning, Little Bluewing,” said the old man, “I am the gardener at Sunnyglade; come and look at my flowers.”

“Too much honour for me,” answered Little Bluewing.

“Not at all, for you have never ill-used flowers.”

They walked together to the strand and crossed a little bridge, which led to an islet.

On the islet was a wonderful garden. Every flower, large and small, grew there, and everything was in order, just as if the garden had been a book.

The old man lived in a house which was built of growing ever-green trees-pines, fir trees, and junipers; the floor consisted of growing ever-green shrubs. Moss and lichen grew in the crevices and held them together. The roof was made entirely of creepers, Virginia creeper, Caprifolium, and ivy, and it was so thick that not a drop of rain could come through. A number of bee-hives stood before the door, but butterflies lived in them instead of bees; just think of the lovely sight when they swarmed!

“I don't like torturing bees,” explained the old man. “And, moreover, I consider them not at all pretty; they look like hairy coffee-beans and sting like adders.”

And then they went into the garden.

“Now, you may read in the book of nature and learn the secrets and sensibilities of the plants. But you must not ask questions, only listen to what I say and answer me . ... Now, look here, little one, on this grey stone something is growing which looks like grey paper. This is the first thing which grows when the rock becomes damp. It grows mouldy, you see, and the mould is called lichen. Here are two kinds: one looks like the horns of a reindeer, it is called reindeer-moss, and the reindeer feeds on it; and the other is called Iceland-moss, and looks like ... now, what does it look like?”

“It looks like lungs, anyhow it says so in the natural history book.”

“Quite right; looked at through a magnifying glass, it has exactly that appearance, and that is how people came to think of using it as a remedy for all sorts of diseases of the chest. Later, when the lichen has gathered enough vegetable soil, the mosses appear; they have quite simple flowers and grow seed. They are not unlike ice-flowers, but they are also like heather and fir trees and all sorts of other things, for all plants are related. The wall-moss here looks like a fir tree, but it has seed cases, like a poppy, only rather more simple. Once moss has begun to grow an a spot, heather is not very long in coming. And if you examine heather through a strong magnifying-glass, it is like milk-wort, Epilobium in Latin or a rhododendron, or like an elm tree, which is nothing more nor less than a huge nettle.

“Now, we have a perfect covering for the rocks, and in this mould everything will grow. Man has domesticated a number of plants, but nature herself has directed him which to take and how to use their is so extraordinary as the colour and ornaments which the flowers have acquired to tell the bees where the honey is. You have often seen an ear of rye, which shows a baker's implements like a signboard. And if you look at the flax, the most useful of all the plants, you will have to admit that it is the plant itself which has taught man to spin. Look right into the heart of the flower and you will find the filaments wound round the style like flax round a spindle. And to make her meaning even more plain, nature has planted a parasite, the bind-weed by its side, which winds itself round and round the plant up and down, to and fro, like a weaver's shuttle. And isn't it wonderful that not a man, but a butterfly, first thought of spinning the flax? People call it 'flax-spinner,' for with its own silk and the leaves of the plant it weaves little sheets and blankets for its young ones. And so cunning it is that when flax began to be cultivated, it completely adapted itself to the new conditions, so that the young ones should be hatched before the flax was harvested. And now, look at the medicinal herbs! Look at the large poppy, for instance, fiery red it is, like fever and insanity! But in the heart of the blossom is a black cross, just like the cross on the chemist's label which he puts on his poisons. In the middle of the cross is a Roman vase with little grooves. When these grooves are pricked the drug runs out, the powerful drug, which will call either death, or death's gentle brother, sleep. Yes, now you can form an idea of the generosity and wisdom of nature.

“And now, let's see about the goldpowder.”

He paused to see whether Little Bluewing was at all curious. But she was not.

“And now, let's see about the goldpowder,” he repeated.

Another pause! No, Little Bluewing could hold her tongue, although she was as not much more than a baby.

“And now, let's see about the goldpowder,” he said for the third time, “which has flowers like the bird's-eye and leaves like the saxifrage. That's its distinctive mark, and tells you where water can be found. The bird's-eye collects dew and water in its leaves, and is in itself a tiny, clear rivulet; but the saxifrage can break mountain rocks. There is no spring without a mountain, be the mountain never so distant. This is what the goldpowder tells all those who can understand its message. It grows here, on this island, and you shall know the spot, because your heart is pure. The rich man shall receive water for his parched soul from your tiny hand, and through you all the island shall be blessed. Go in peace, my child, and when you come to the wood where the nuts grow, you will find a silver-linden on your right; at its foot lies a copper coloured slow-worm, which is not dangerous. It show you the way to the goldpowder. But before you go, you must give the old man a kiss, that is to say, if you want to.”

Little Bluewing held up her lips and kissed the old man, and immediately his face changed and he looked fifty years younger.

“I have kissed a child, I have grown young again,” said the gardener. “You owe me no thanks. Farewell!”

Little Bluewing went to the wood where the nuts grew. The silver-linden was rustling in the breeze, and the humble-bees hummed and buzzed round its blossoms. The slow-worm was really there, although its copper looked a bit rusty.

“Hallo! There is Little Bluewing, who is to have the goldpowder,” said the copper snake. “Well, you shall have it on three conditions: no to talk, not to be led astray, not to be inquisitive. Now go straight ahead and you will find the goldpowder.”

Little Bluewing went straight ahead. On her way she met a woman.

“Good morning, child,” said the woman. “Have you been to see the gardener at Sunnyglade?”

“Good morning, woman,” said Little Bluewing without stopping.

“Well, you aren't a gossip,” said the woman.

Next she met a gipsy.

“Where are you going to?” asked the gipsy.

“Straight ahead,” answered Little Bluewing.

“Then you won't be led astray,” said the gipsy.

Then she met a milkman. But she could not understand why the horse was inside the cart and the milkman harnessed to the shafts.

“Now I shall shy and run away,” said the milkman, and gave such a start that the horse fell out of the cart into the ditch . ... “Now I shall water the rye,” he went on, and took the lid off one of his milk cans.

Little Bluewing thought it strange, but continued her way without giving him as much as a look.

“And you aren't curious, either,” said the milkman.

And now Little Bluewing was standing at the foot of the mountain; the sunbeams fell through the hazel bushes on the green leaves of a luxurious plant which shone like gold.

It was the goldpowder. Little Bluewing noticed how it followed the vein of the spring down the mountain side into the rich man's meadow.

She belt down and gathered three flowers, put them carefully into her pinafore and took them home to her father.

The dragoon put on sword, helmet, and uniform, and went with his little daughter to the clergyman. And all three went to the rich man.

“Little Bluewzng has found the goldpowder!” said the clergyman, as soon as he entered the drawing-room. “And now the whole village will be rich before long, because it is sure to become a summer resort.”

And it became a summer resort before long; steamers and shop people arrived; an inn and a post-office were built; a doctor settled on the island, and a chemist. Gold poured into the village all during the summer, and that is the story of the goldpowder, which can transform poverty into wealth.

 
 
 

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