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Once upon a time, when countries were ruled by kings, there lived in an old, but neat little hut in a deeply wooded forest, a poor wood cutter and his little daughter Alice.
Every day this good man went out with his axe just as tile first rays of the sun fell through the tall trees to wrest from the woods a living for himself and child. Alice, too, did her part, for, while her father was away working, she stayed at home and tended the house and cared for the flowers in their tiny garden. She was never lonely, for she was fond of the flowers and often spoke to them in loving terms. It seemed to her, that as the breezes played about them, they nodded their heads in reply.
Many times while working in the house, she would run to the little window through which she could look up to a magnificent palace that stood imposing and majestic on the crest of a high hill a few miles away. Often she dreamed of being in it, but more often she wished she could see a real little princess.
"How happy I would be if only I could see a baby princess," she was wont to cry.
At the very thought of seeing one, she would smile then sigh, for she knew her dreams were idle. No little princess lived in the palace.
One day, however, as evening was coming on and he had been too busy to spend time at the window, she chanced to cast a hurried glance toward the palace. A strange sight met her gaze. Flying from every turret and window was a gorgeous silk flag.
"It must be something very wonderful. The palace is in holiday attire," exclaimed Alice excitedly. "Oh, what can it mean? I must find out."
She glanced at the sun. From where it shone in the heavens, she knew she would have time to run to the little village that lay between her home and the palace ere it was time to get dinner for her father.
Quickly, her eager feet ran over the woodland path, and, in a short time, along the main highway to the very gate of the village. As she joined the throng of people in the busy streets, more wonderful sights greeted her. From every housetop floated a flag. The sweet, melodious twang of stringed instruments in joyous song floated on the gentle breeze from many gardens, while children in the streets laughed as they played. The cobbled streets were crowded with gaily dressed people going in the direction of the palace. In their arms were mysterious packages and their little pack animals were laden with chests and jewel boxes that Alice knew must surely contain gold, jewels, rich perfumes, and silks from faraway lands, while the jingle of the bells around their necks blended musically with the laughter of their masters.
Gently tugging at the sleeve of one of the travelers, she shyly inquired:
"Pray, kind friend, tell me what all this means?"
"Means?" asked the astonished man in reply. Then, softly he questioned, "Child, know you not that a little princess was born to the king and queen in yon palace?"
Seeing no gift, he added, "You must bring her a gift. See that it is the most precious one you can find." So saying, he moved on.
For a moment, Alice stood as in a daze.
"A little princess! A little princess!" she cried out in joy. "So there really is a little princess!"
Her heart swelled with happiness, but instantly sank within her for she remembered that she had no rich gift like other people to give to her princess, nor had she any money to buy one. Sadly, with her head bent low, she turned and walked slowly homeward. Her heavy heart ached in startling contrast to the gay ones she had just left.
The road seemed long and lonely. She grew very tired before reaching her own little garden. As she stepped through the gate, she lifted her eyes toward the palace where the last bright rays of the setting sun set aglow its many colored windows with their gay flags.
She pictured in her mind the wee baby princess nestled snugly beneath her silken coverlets and from her royal cradle gazing out upon her loyal subjects who knelt before her and laid their precious gifts at her feet. A sob choked her. Wearily she sank onto a low wooden bench and laid her head down close to where the branches of the jasmine swept the back of the bench until its sweet perfume soothed her troubled senses.
She had not lain there very long before the red rose across the garden, near a tiny pool, nodded and unfolded its petals. Or did it?
She wasn't quite sure for it might have been only the breeze moving the leaves. But there, it did it again. This time Alice was not mistaken. She looked about her. To her surprise, a change had come over the garden. Night had fallen and through the tall trees a silvery moon cast a faint shimmering radiance about. There were the heliotrope, roses, marigolds, and all the flowers she knew so well, but oh, how different they looked! The heliotrope fluffed its green leaves and disclosed myriads of tiny amethysts. And from their bed the snow-white daisies lifted their dainty petals, a shower of miniature diamonds. Close to the purple-rayed violet, the yellow hyacinth cast a golden light on the pearly gown of the lily-of-the-valley, while the rich red glow that filled the heart of the red rose grew and grew until each petal reflected the fiery glow of a ruby. The grass beneath it radiated with strange green lights, each emerald shaft gently swaying as if to music.
Suddenly, as if she had come unnoticed while the flowers were turning into jewels, there appeared the most charming flower-like creature, a little fairy queen. She was seated on the daintiest of fairy thrones. Her long golden tresses blending with her delicate gown was a sight so beautiful that Alice was sure she would never forget it. On her radiant head was a wreath of flowers that glowed with the fires of opals. In her hand a silvery wand caught and reflected the moonbeams.
With the coming of their Queen, the flowers bowed their heads and filled the night with their perfume. At the same time, from every blossom stepped a tiny creature with gossamer wings and golden hair. Their gowns, as they danced around, glistened with precious gems while the music of their voices was as the tinkle of silver bells. Round and round they danced in a magic circle until the Queen raised her wand and all bowed in silent obeisance.
"Come, my children," she spoke, her musical voice clear and sweet. "Come to me that I may inform you of your beautiful trusts."
The hyacinth fairy stepped forth. The Queen touched her gently on the head and said:
"Oh, child of sweetness and charm, I charge thee always to guard thy spirit of sweet loveliness."
Next, a pansy fairy in soft sapphire and topaz shades bowed her gentle head before the queen.
"Remember, dear child, thoughtfulness is a sacred virtue. The Queen thus smilingly spoke to her.
Then the tiny spring daisy raised its trusting eyes.
"Babe of the flowers," softly crooned the Queen, "always retain thy innocence."
Following, the damask rose, in splendor, lowered its glorious head.
"Lovely flower," praised she then, "keep thy petals ever new in beauty."
Shyly the violet peeped from under her emerald green cloak and slowly lowered her head.
Gravely the fairy administered this charge:
"Modesty is thy charm. Guard it well, for once lost it is gone forever."
After the violet, the smilax and passion flower, hand in hand, knelt before their queen.
"Ah," breathed she, "constancy and faith, two cherished gifts are entrusted into thy keeping."
Next, the snow white water lily bowed in simplicity and grace and the deep red rose blushed by its side. The Queen kissed them gently as she rose and said:
"Purity of thought is the gift of God and love is its perfect attribute. May you, chaste lily, keep your soul so pure, and you, lovely rose, keep thy flaming heart aglow, that the world may see that purity and love over all else are supreme."
So exquisite were they as they bowed their heads, that the child on the bench rose to touch them. Instantly they vanished, the jewel flowers, the Queen and her court, and Alice stood alone in the fading light. She rubbed her eyes, but gone was the magic spell. There were the flowers, just as before, when she had lain down on the bench, their colors merging into the dusk of the evening.
For a moment she watched them swaying in the breeze, then, clapping her hands in joy, gaily cried, "I know what I shall do. I have found my gift for the princess." So saying, she went from flower to flower and thought, "Which one shall it be?"
Smelling a hyacinth, she murmured, "Loveliness sublime." The pansy thoughtfully returned her gaze. The innocent daisy and modest violet nodded in a manner shy. A treat of rare beauty awaited her as the damask rose unfolded her lovely pink petals and gracefully swayed in the breeze. The passion flower and the smilax entwined their long strands and seeing them thus, she said, "I remember—'Constancy and faith, two cherished gifts'."
Passing on, she came to the miniature pond and there in snowy whiteness, the untainted lily lay.
Bending over it from the water's edge, the blushing rose nodded its head.
Clasping her hands in awed reverence, she softly breathed: "`Purity and love.' In all the world, I know of no better gift. I shall take these."
She stooped to pick them. As she did so, the fragrance of all the other flowers seemed to come to her as if the blossoms were calling her. It was then that she knew that all the flowers were necessary to make a perfect gift. Carefully, she went from flower to flower taking from each one its most delicate blossom.
The following morning, in the joyous mass that crowded the palace halls, none bore a happier heart nor a humbler one than the child from the forest hut. Kneeling before the wee, royal maid's cradle she shyly offered her gift.
A ripple of laughter ran through the richly garbed crowd, but the wise and good king silenced them.
Taking the varied bouquet, he gazed on it long and thoughtfully. There were the pansies, hyacinths, daisies, and all their lovely sisters, but crowning them all, in the very heart, were the symbols of love and purity. Not a single blossom with its treasured meaning had been overlooked by him. Smiling gravely, he looked down at Alice.
"Dear little maid," he said, "you, above all others, have given your princess the most precious gift, for all the gold in my kingdom could not buy it. It is a fairy bouquet. And, as the happiest of kings, I kiss the hand that brought it."
So saying, he bent his royal head and lifting her hand to his lips, kissed it. That was not all, for to the astonishment of his subjects, he lifted Her Royal Highness, the baby princess, and carefully placed her in Alice's arms. Alice, her dream at last fulfilled, gazed happily upon a real little princess, while the flowers on the silken coverlet nodded their heads and filled the room with their fragrance.
Contemporary Mystic Christianity
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