THE STORY OF A MOTHER 399
like other plants, but their hearts beat. Children's hearts can beat too. Go by that. Perhaps you may recognize the beating of your child's heart. But what will you give me if I tell you what more you must do ? '
' I have nothing more to give,' said the afflicted mother. 1 But I will go for you to the ends of the earth.'
11 have nothing for you to do there,' said the old woman, ' but you can give me your long black hair. You must know yourself that it is beautiful, and it pleases me. You can take my white hair for it, and that is always something.'
1 If you ask for nothing more/ said she, 'J will give you that gladly/ And she gave her beautiful hair, and received in exchange the old woman's white hair.
And then they went into the great hothouse of death, where flowers and trees were growing marvellously together. There stood the fine hyacinths under glass bells, and there stood large, sturdy peonies; there grew water-plants, some quite fresh, others somewhat sickly ; water-snakes were twining about them, and black crabs clung tightly to the stalks. There stood gallant palm trees, oaks, and plantains, and parsley and blooming thyme. Each tree and flower had its name ; each was a human life : the people were still alive, one in China, another in Greenland, scattered about in the world. There were great trees thrust into little pots, so that they stood quite crowded, and were nearly bursting the pots ; there was also many a little weakly flower in rich earth, with moss round about it, cared for and tended. But the sorrowful mother bent down over all the smallest plants, and heard the human heart beating in each, and out of millions she recognized that of her child.
' That is it ! ' she cried, and stretched out her hands over a little blue crocus flower, which hung down quite sick and pale.
' Do not touch the flower/ said the old dame ; ' but place yourself here ; and when Death comes—I expect him every minute—then don't let him pull up the plant, but threaten him that you will do the same to the other plants ; then he'll be frightened. He has to account for them all; not one may be pulled up till he receives commission from Heaven.'