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
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.
“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
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
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
“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
“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
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.