Now the King loved flowers dearly and there were many in his garden; but he was sure he had never seen this little flower. So, because he wanted to have one for his very own and especially because he wanted happiness and prosperity for his people, he determined to find it.
"Surely somewhere in the kingdom there must be a plant left if it grew so common in the days of my great-great-grandfather," said the King.
Then calling the heralds to him he said:
"Ride forth and search. Go East, and West, and North, and South, and say to my people, 'Search for the White Flower of Happiness, and when you have found it, bring it to me that I may raise more seeds so that all may have a chance to own it. 'Tis a little flower, white as the driven snow, with petals that are heart-shaped around a heart of gold.'"
Eagerly the people, both rich and poor, went to work, for they knew of the wondrous beauty of the flower and wished it for their own.
Now there were two people who were very sure they would be first to find the flower. One was a rich woman who loved beautiful things. Her home was the largest of any on the finest street in the royal city. She had many and large gardens, cared for by the best gardeners to be found. Yet in the summer-time, when they were glowing with hundreds of flowers, few there were who could enjoy them. A high hedge surrounded them all and only her friends were permitted to go through the iron entrance gate.
This wealthy woman said to herself: "I will find the flower and it will be easy to keep it secret from all others if I have it here behind the hedge. Then I shall be sure of happiness in the future."
So all of her gardeners were set to work to search for the White Flower of Happiness. Wherever they found a plant of rare beauty, they bought it hoping that it might be the plant she sought. Seeds of all kinds also were planted. And in the blossoming time there were flowers in the gardens by the thousands—but behind that great wall there was no flower that was white as the driven snow, with heart-shaped petals surrounding a heart of gold.
There was also a man in the kingdom who thought he could surely find the flower. He was a business man.
"If I could find it," he said, "I would grow more plants and sell them to the people at a great profit. Then I should quickly grow rich and there would be no need for me to work."
So he set his office force all to work to write letters to the gardeners and seed-growers of the world. They described the little flower and offered large sums for one single plant. But he, too, failed in his search. It was not to be found.
Down in the heart of the poorer section of the royal city there lived a little old lady whom every one called Aunt Betsy. She was very poor; she had only one room that she could call home, and her only companion was a scrawny cat that every one else had driven away. But it loved her and she loved it, and was glad to have it share her home.
She was very lame and had to hobble away to her work every morning, yet she was the cheeriest little body alive and every one loved her.
Aunt Betsy, like all of her neighbors, was seeking the White Flower of Happiness.
"This old street with its tumble-down houses, and uneven sidewalks, and tin cans surely needs a heap of something to cheer it," she would say. "Now, if I could find just one plant, I would make this old alley the finest place ever. Then the little children here could have some chance. I wish I might find it."
But no flowers grew where she lived or where she worked, so she couldn't hope to find the plant. The only thing she could do was to save every penny she could so that, if the King found the plant, she might possibly buy a seed.
Into an old tin cup she put the pennies, one by one, but it was very slow work, for Aunt Betsy was very poor.
One winter night as Aunt Betsy returned from work, she found a queer looking bundle on her door-step and, on unrolling it, she found Bobby, one of the neighbor's children. Now Bobby had no mother and only a poor drunken father, who often beat him. And Aunt Betsy saw, as she unrolled him, that his face was all tear-stained, so she knew what had been happening. Bobby had crept away from the blows to come to his best friend when in trouble—Aunt Betsy.
Carefully she picked the little fellow up, carried him into her bare little room, gave him a hot drink, and then tucked him all comfortably on the couch which served as her bed. Tired from his day of play and work, the little fellow was soon lost in sleep.
Not so Aunt Betsy. Sitting by the fire, all she could see were the great holes in the shoes she was drying. Bobby needed some shoes very badly, but she had no money with which to buy some.
"There is the money in the cup," said a voice within.
"But I couldn't give that, for I want so much to buy a seed to bring happiness to this alley," thought Aunt Betsy.
"But a pair of shoes would bring happiness to Bobbie now," said the voice.
She looked again at the little swollen feet under the cover on the couch. Then slowly, yet with a smile of infinite tenderness, she softly stole to the cupboard, took the money from the little tin cup, drew on her old shawl, and went out into the night.
'Twas a very happy Bobbie who went back to his home in the morning, and behind Aunt Betsy's stove were the little worn shoes. A little later a little old woman went down the narrow stairs to her work and she sang as she went.
That night Aunt Betsy, hurrying past a florist's shop, bumped into a barrel of waste that stood on the walk. Stopping abruptly, she saw a wilted-looking plant in an old broken pot on the top of the pile.
"Why, you poor little plant," said Aunt Betsy. "I'll just take you home and love you; perhaps you will grow for me in my little upper room."
So she carried it home, transplanted it into the old tin cup from which she had taken the money, and then set it where the sunshine would find it the very first thing in the morning.
In two days the plant showed signs of life. In a week it stood tall and firm. In two weeks there was a bud which Aunt Betsy watched with great care. Would it be pink or red or yellow? She didn't care if only it were a blossom.
'Twas night when she came home from her work, but as soon as she opened the door she knew that the little flower had opened, for the room was full of the fragrance that it was sending forth. She hurried to the window and she saw—oh, could she believe her eyes! She saw a little flower, white as the driven snow. Its petals were heart-shaped and surrounded a heart of wonderful gold. It was the White Flower of Happiness.
During the night, the little plant stayed with her in the attic room, but in the morning she carried it to the palace and gave it to the King. Thus, through a simple loving old woman, the White Flower of Happiness was given to a whole kingdom.
But the strange thing about the plant was this: Whenever its owner kept the flower only for self and did not share it with others, it withered and died; but, when lovingly shared, it grew and blossomed and made happy, not only its owner, but all to whom it went. It was in very truth to all—The White Flower of Happiness.
THE SPEAKING PICTURE
There had been a great discussion in the High School all the week, and as Friday drew nearer the excitement grew more and more intense. For Barton High School had many girls from the Hill section of the town where the mill owners lived, and also many girls from the River section where the mill workers lived.
There was to be an election for the president of the Senior Class and when the names of the candidates for the presidency had been posted on the bulletin board by the nominating committee, a mill girl headed the list.
Such a thing had never been heard of in the school. Always the president of the class had been the one who could entertain the class, who could stand out prominently during class week, whose father would help to pay the bills of the Commencement time.
But at the beginning of the year, the class had decided to learn to do things according to parliamentary law and to be democratic, and this was the result. Never for a moment had the girls and boys of the Hill section dreamed that a committee would dare to choose a River-section president.
To be sure, the girl whom they had chosen had led the class both in marks and in the debating club. Yes, she could make a splendid Commencement Day speaker, but she was a River-section girl, and they just wouldn't have it.
So they argued and pleaded and tried to persuade their friends to make her fail the election. Why, there would be no fun at all during Commencement week if she led the class. She had nothing at all to spend for fun.
Chief among the objectors had been Mary Waite. Her father owned the largest mill and she had thought surely the place was to be hers. She had even planned how she would entertain the class on the lawn of her home. She was ready to do almost anything to upset the plans of the nominating committee.
So the group of girls were still scolding when they reached the door of the museum about four o'clock on Thursday afternoon. Mary had an errand in the picture gallery and the rest were to wait for her in the corridor below.
As she entered the gallery, she pulled from her book the assignment which had been given to her:
"Study the pictures in Gallery Nine and bring the name and the artist of the picture that speaks most plainly to you."
What an assignment! How could any picture speak to her when she was feeling in such an unpleasant mood. She passed down one side and then along the end of the gallery. She liked the children in this and the flowers in that. But surely none would speak to her.
Down another side she went, stopping more often to look at the things that interested her.
Suddenly she saw a picture of the Christ. It was at the end of the gallery, and a wonderful light was thrown on it from a globe just above the picture. The Christ was standing in a room and in his face was such a tender, thoughtful look.
Mary sat down in the seat nearest to her. She did not want to move nearer lest she lose the rare expression of the face of the Christ. It had only been a few weeks since she had been standing before the altar of the church, making herself a gift to the Christ. So as she sat and watched the picture, she thought to herself:
"What a wonderful man he was! I should have loved to have had him look in my face as he is looking into theirs. I wish I might have really seen him."
After a time she moved nearer. Then she could see the faces of the other persons in the picture. From where she had been sitting, only the face of the Christ had seemed to stand out, though one knew the others were there. They were sitting about the table in a home.
What a rude table it was! How roughly they were dressed! Why, they were only poor people, yet the Christ was standing in their midst, giving them to eat.
She studied his face. How beautiful it was! How much she loved him! How eager she was to give him her very best! What could she do to show her love? And as she looked she heard a voice saying to her: "The poor ye have always with you, but me ye have not always."
Then somehow the faces of the men in the picture seemed like those of the men who worked in her father's mill and in the face of the woman she saw a likeness to Elizabeth Meeker. But the face of the Christ was still full of love and tenderness.
The head of the girl drooped as she sat long before the picture. What had she against Elizabeth Meeker? Nothing except the fact that she was poor. She was a girl that Jesus would have loved, for she was always dependable. Yet Mary was trying to take away the greatest pleasure that might ever come to that poor girl.
She had no pretty home, she had little time for play; she hadn't even a mother. Yet Mary knew she had been very, very unkind to her.
And now the face of the Christ seemed searching her very soul: "The poor ye have always with you, but me ye have not always. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me."
There was a sound of a bell and Mary knew she must leave the room. One last look she gave to the Christ of the picture. Then she smiled and nodded her head.
When she came to join the girls below, she said quietly:
"Girls, let's give the school a surprise to-morrow. Let's go and vote for Elizabeth Meeker, since so many of the class want her for president, and then prove to the rest that we can still have a good time during Commencement week. Father will let us use the grounds when we like and we can all have a part in the planning of the fun. I should just like to see if she really can make a class president as well as we girls from the Hill."
And though the girls couldn't understand why she had changed, yet they were glad to follow her lead.
That night Mary Waite sat before her desk in her pretty room on the Hill and looked again at the assignment which had been given to her—
"Study the pictures in Gallery Nine and bring to me the name of the picture and the artist who painted the one that speaks most plainly to you."
And in no uncertain letters she wrote:
Christ in the Home of the Lowly. By L'Hermitte
Once there came to the land of the Every-day a messenger from the King. In his hand he carried glasses to help him in the search which he was making. Under his arm he was carrying a scroll. On his face there was a look of deep concern.
How could he ever find the most beautiful thing in all the world? There were so many beautiful things that he had no idea even where to begin. Yet this was his commission: "Of all the beautiful things, choose for me the most beautiful."
So the messenger called for heralds and sent them forth to ask of the people of the Every-day their help in choosing for the King.
"Bring to me your most beautiful thing," he said. "Then I will choose from these things what I deem most beautiful."
And one brought a wonderful gem. It was clear as crystal; it sparkled in the light and seemed to beg to be chosen. The rays of the noonday sun shone through the stone and all the people cried with one voice:
"How beautiful! How wonderful! We have never seen the like!"
"Surely," thought the messenger, "I shall never find anything so rare as this. I will take it to the King."
But a voice cried: "Wait, oh, messenger, wait! That which is dead can never be the most beautiful thing. Surely I have here that which far exceeds the stone which you have seen. I beg you look at this."
Then he opened the cover of the great box that he carried.
In a bed of shimmering white there lay a beautiful rose. Its leaves were still wet with the dew of the garden. Its petals were as perfect as perfect could be. Then as the sun shone into the box, the exquisite rose caught also the rays of the sun and slowly the beautiful petals began to unfold.
There was silence in the group of people about the box. What a wonderful thing the man had brought to the messenger! It had beauty, but it had also life.
Yet even as they looked there came another. By his side walked a great dog. His hair was like silk; his eyes were tender as a child's; his face was as knowing as a person's. Quietly his owner brought him forward, saying: "This is to me far more beautiful than the rose. This has beauty and life, but it has also usefulness. It has saved the lives of many."
And he patted the head of the faithful animal.
Then a mother pressed through the crowd and said: "Surely no animal is so beautiful as a child. See! here is my little one. She has beauty and life and usefulness—and she has also the magic beauty of innocence. See her hands, and her little feet, and her golden curls. I am sure there is no more beautiful thing in all the world than my baby."
Then the messenger sighed. What could he do? He just could not find the thing that the King had asked him to find. All were so beautiful. Thinking to be by himself, he walked away. Into a path alone by himself he went.
Then he heard voices, and, brushing aside the branches, he saw a young maiden who played with a little child. Her touch was very tender as she played the childish game. And when they had finished, the messenger held his breath, for the child had thrown a tiny arm about her neck and the yellow curls of the baby were close to the brown ones of the maiden. And the maiden's face was wreathed in a wondrous smile.
"That is beauty," said the messenger. "That is rare beauty. But why is she so beautiful? I must see."
Quickly he unfastened the glasses from their case and turned them to the picture before him. Then, because they were magic glasses used only by the King, he could see why she was beautiful.
In her mind he found clean thoughts; in her life he found kind deeds; in her soul he found a high ideal; in her heart he found a mother-love for little children.
Then the messenger took from his arm the scroll which he carried and with his stylus he wrote these words:
"In all the world I find no more beautiful thing than a maiden who is reaching toward life's highest goal—a noble womanhood—with love to show her the way."
Four girls they were—four laughing girls from the High School. For three happy years they had studied together and played together. But now Ambition had whispered to them. To each the message had been the same:
"Hidden in the way that is ahead you will find a treasure. It is of all treasures most valuable. It will bring to you comfort and happiness all the days of your life. Seek and ye shall find."
And at once they began to wish to find the treasure. Not to each other even did they tell the secret that Ambition had whispered, for then another might find the treasure. Each in her own way began to seek, and for a time their paths still led in the same direction.
But one bright, beautiful day they came to a place where the ways parted. Many roads led from the one road and on every road there were many people. Now what should be done? In which way was the treasure to be found? If one chose the wrong way, one might never find it.
There was little time to stand and think, for the crowds pressed on behind, always urging them forward. Into one they must go at once.
"Surely this is the road," said the first, looking down a beautiful, long roadway. "One would certainly find something worth while in such a beautiful place as this. Here are lights and music; here are songs and merriment; here are people who seem as happy as the day. I shall enter here, and after I have danced and played with the brightly dressed girls whom I see, I shall hunt diligently for the treasure."
So she entered the way of Pleasure and, because there was time for naught else but play, her days passed and she found it not.
"That road does not appeal to me," said the second. "The red of the lights, the noise of the music, the laughter of the people seem annoying to me. I do not care to go with you longer. I like this yellow way. There must be a great sun to light the way, for it is so beautiful. Here, too, every one is searching, so I am sure they must have knowledge that the treasure is here. I will enter and find it."
Then she, too, entered the way of her choice and it was the way of Gold. All about her were traces of treasure, but there were many who pushed her aside. She grew weary with her search; she liked little the people who were her companions in the way, and she found there no treasure that brought comfort and happiness all her days.
"I like little those long, uninteresting roadways where it all is glitter and noise," said the third. "I like little the great crowds of people. I shall take this hilly road where few are working. They seem eager to reach the top. Now all treasure is hidden in the hillsides. I shall climb here and search."
So she entered the way of Fame. It was very steep; at first it seemed that she could find no place to put even one foot. She must cling to very uncertain bits along the way to help her to move up, yet little by little she climbed. It took years and years, and one by one her companions dropped by the way. Those who also neared the top had little of companionship for her. They envied her her footholds; they tried to get ahead of her in the way. Then she knew that she could never find the Great Treasure, for she was lonely, and a lonely heart is never satisfied and happy.
"Which shall I choose?" said the fourth girl, looking all about her. "I think I shall try this"—but just then a voice said: "I am tired and ill. Will you help me a bit in my way?"
'Twas an old, old man. His clothes showed signs of travel and his face was very sad. Taking his hand, she led him for a time till he came to a resting place.
Then she was about to go back and choose her road, but a child's voice said: "Won't you help me up this hill? I fall back when I try to climb." And she went still farther into the way.
And then, when the child had been given over to his mother, a boy needed help in carrying a load, and as she talked with him she forgot the other road and began to see the beautiful things ahead in the road over which she was traveling.
There were flowers to pick and give to the sad; there were cooling springs where one could find cups of water for the weary; there were resting places under the trees to which one could lead the aged. And she had forgotten that she came to seek for a treasure for herself in her happiness in helping others.
So the days passed, filled to the brim with loving, helping deeds. The music which she heard was the song of the birds; the beautiful colors to cheer came in the flowers and in the sunset; the hills in the way were easily climbed, for there was much of friendship as she toiled upward.
One day in her path she saw a bent old lady in whose one hand was a book and in whose other hand was a basket. She seemed heavily loaded and the girl hastened to help her.
"Let me carry your basket," she said cheerily. "Put the book on the top and I can take them both."
Then a smile came over the face of the woman as she said: "The basket seems to be heavy, for in it is a great treasure. But he that hath this treasure finds no difficulty in carrying it. It is yours, child—all yours. Let me read to you from the book."
Very slowly she opened the great book and read: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me."
Then the gray cloak fell aside and her raiment was shining as the sun. Her beautiful face grew more beautiful as she handed the basket to the girl, saying:
"'Tis the command of our King—to him that hath shall be given and he shall have abundance! Take your treasure—the love of the people along the way, but take also the gift of the King—comfort and happiness all the days of your life. For you entered the way of Love to seek for your treasure and where Love is, there God is also."