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The Flower That Grew in A Cellar - Harper's

 

It was the evening of flower-day in the Child's Hospital, and the kind ladies of the Flower Mission had brought many lovely posies to gladden the eyes and the hearts of the sick children, and the whole place was bright with their beauty and sweet with their fragrance. Queenly roses, gay gladioluses, pure white lilies, bunches of star-like daisies and their soft round white little buds, gaudy marigolds, brown, yellow, and orange, crimson cock's-combs, branches of honeysuckle vines filled with honey, rich fairy trumpets, saucy elf-faced pansies, spicy pinks, hollyhocks in satiny dresses of many colors, bright-eyed verbenas and sweet-williams, brilliant geranium blossoms, and even great honest faithful sunflowers—those flowers that love the sun so dearly that they turn to gaze upon him when he is bidding the earth "good-night"—were all there, bringing with them Love and Hope and a troop of gentle spirits.

All day had the sick and maimed little ones rejoiced in their presence; and now when they were placed in the wee pitchers and vases that stood on the shelves above each snow-white little bed, and the sunshine faded, and the stars came out, their loveliness and fragrance floated into the dreams of the sleeping children. The dreams of all but one, I should say; for one dear little girl, with great gray eyes and tangled brown curls, who had fallen and hurt her back so badly a few days before that it was feared she would never walk again, was wide-awake, trying hard to keep back the tears that filled her eyes and the sobs that rose in her throat when she thought of the dear father and mother and the darling baby brother she had left in the poor home from which she had been brought. A small lamp hung from the ceiling near by, and cast a faint light upon the flowers that were crowded into a quaint jug on the shelf above her bed. There were some roses, some lilies, some daisies, and one very pale pink geranium blossom in the midst of a group of pretty shy buds; and as the little girl stifled a great sob that seemed determined to break out, she became conscious of several very small voices whispering softly together; and listening intently for a few moments, she discovered these voices came from the flowers in the quaint jug.

"I came," said a lovely crimson rose, when the whispering had ceased, and the flowers were apparently satisfied that the children were all asleep, "from a most beautiful garden, where birds sing and fountains play all day long, and the rarest of our race are tended with the greatest love and care."

"I came," said a daisy, "from a happy meadow, where the bees and butterflies roam from morning till night, where thousands and thousands of my sisters look up and smile at the bright blue sky, and the cheery green grass nods—on every side."

"I came," said a stately water-lily, "from a great lake, where the waves flash like precious gems in the day, and like purest silver at night, where glancing fish swim merrily to and fro, where tall, graceful, drooping trees standing upon the mossy banks cast their shadows upon the water, where, when the air begins to tremble with the earliest songs of the birds, the broad, faint light of morn steals from sleeping lily to sleeping lily, and wakes them with a touch."

"I came," said the pale pink geranium blossom, "from a cellar."

"A cellar!" repeated the others, moving a little away from her.

"Yes, a cellar."

"I never met a flower from a cellar before," said the rose.

"Nor I," said the daisy.

"Nor I," said the lily. "There are no cellars in lakes."

"I thought they were all cellar," said the daisy, slyly; but the lily made no reply.

"Would you mind telling us how you came there?" asked the rose. "Being full-blown, I couldn't sleep much, if I tried."

"I am perfectly willing to tell you, if the others care to listen," said the pink flower, modestly.

"Pray go on," begged the daisy.

And "I have no objection," added the water-lily, in a gracious manner.

"One day," began the geranium blossom, growing a little pinker as its companions all turned toward it, "a servant-maid tossed from a window a withered bouquet into the street, and in the centre of this bouquet was a slip of geranium which had been placed there because its crumpled young leaves were so fresh and green. A poor little girl passing by picked up this slip, and carried it to a wretched cellar, where she lived in the greatest untidiness with her mother—a poor, weak, complaining woman—and her two small sisters and eight-year-old brother. Here she found a battered tin pail, which she filled with dirt from the street, and in this dirt she planted the slip of geranium. 'See, mommy,' she said, holding it up, as her mother raised her eyes from the coarse garment she was making, 'I mean to take awful good care of this, and some day it may grow a flower, a beautiful flower, like those I see in the windows of the big houses. Wouldn't that be lovely, mommy?' And she climbed up on the shaky old wooden table, and placed the pail on the ledge of the four-paned cellar window.

"But the window-panes were so covered with cobwebs and dirt that the little of the blessed sunlight that found its way down there could not get in at all. So Polly got the broom, and carefully swept away the dust and the spider-webs, and then she washed and polished the four panes until they shone again, and the very next afternoon a sunbeam came to visit the geranium, and a tiny new leaf peeped out to greet it. When the window was cleaned, the shelf (holding a few old tin pans) that hung below it looked so dingy that Polly could not rest until she had scrubbed it well. Nor did she stop there, but also scoured the old tin things before she put them back in their places, until they almost looked like new. And thus, from the very moment of my mother-plant's arrival there, a change for the better began in that dreary cellar. It seemed so natural, when Polly had the basin of water ready to sprinkle the geranium, to wash the faces and hands of her little sisters and brother first; and then, of course, the room must be swept and put in order, so that the bright clean faces might not seem out of place in it. And when at last a cluster of wee pink buds crowned the green stem, Polly's joy knew no bounds. Her poor mother laughed aloud, which was a rare thing for her to do, to see her little daughter dancing about and clapping her hands in glee. 'Oh, mommy,' she cried, 'we must make it as nice as we can for them here, the pretty darlings, for flowers are not used to living in a cellar; and we must never say or do any wicked things before them, or they'll be scared, and die right away. And if we are all very, very good, they'll grow, and grow, and grow, till they look like a whole garden.'

"And the mother, catching the spirit of the child, grew more cheerful and hopeful and industrious, and the under-ground home became neater and neater, until it was neatness itself. And when any of the smaller children were tempted, as the best of children often are, to quarrel and call each other naughty names, Polly would say, with warning voice and finger, 'Hush! the flowers will hear you;' and the little ones kissed and made up again.

"And this morning, when the lady of the Flower Mission was passing by with a basket of roses and lilies in her hand, Polly ran up the cellar steps and begged her to wait a moment, 'For,' said she, bashfully, 'I have a flower to send to some sick child.'

"'You have!' said the lady, in surprise, for she thought when she first saw the little girl that she came to beg a flower, not to offer one. 'Pray where did you get it, my dear?'

"And Polly told her the whole story, just as I have told it to you, and the lady went down into the dark room, and talked for almost an hour in the kindest manner with Polly's mother, and smiled brightly upon the beautiful geranium, now filled with round pink bunches of buds and blossoms. And I shouldn't wonder if some of those buds opened in a much pleasanter home than that cellar. But I'm glad I grew there; for my heart is filled with happiness when I think that through me and mine dear little Polly has become a better girl, made a happier home, and gained in the pretty flower lady a lovely friend."

"All the same, I'd rather come from a garden," said the rose.

"And I from a meadow," said the daisy.

"And I from a lake," murmured the water-lily.

"But I wouldn't," said the lame girl, forgetting her pain, with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes—"I wouldn't, if I were a flower. I think the flower that grew in a cellar the best and sweetest of you all."

All was silence when she ceased speaking, and from that day to this never has she heard lily or daisy, rose or geranium blossom, speak again.