There was once a quiet, happy maiden who was cruelly beset in the night by a wicked curse, a horrible visitation of darkness upon her once merry heart. Nowadays, we call it depression; then, it was something loathsome and vile.
As the days went by and the darkness spread and began to overtake her soul, she cried out in her anguish, and for many long days, no help came to her. She began to fear to eat or to sleep, to rise up, to spin, to sew, to go out or to come in.
One fine day … fine in the skies and fine in the garden, but desperately black in her heart … she uttered one last cry: “Oh please, if help there be, come to me!”
Suddenly, a tiny sparrow flew past the open window and lighted on the branch of the vine growing outside. It cocked its little head and looked into her eyes and said, “Give thanks, sweet maiden, give thanks,” and in an instant it was gone, darting through the air and away.
“Thanks!” thought the maiden, “thanks! How can I be grateful for such a dark and lonely curse upon my life?” But the little bird, she could not forget.
The next day she summoned all her strength and walked out into the lane. The cold, dark, pain of evil held her fast, but she took a few steps, one foot in front of the other, trying to discover if there might be a few late blossoms among the fading brambles, or perhaps a berry or two for her basket. She saw none at first, but there in the shady depths of a blackberry bush, two shiny eyes suddenly blinked and peered back at her, and a prickly little hedgehog unrolled itself to say, “Give thanks, sweet maiden, give thanks!”
Oh my! Cloudy and dull as were her senses, this was unmistakably unusual and to the point, but the shroud of mist and fear and sorrow was now more a blanket than a veil, and “Give thanks!” she said, “Give thanks? How can I be grateful for such a sad life, such a lonely life as is my own?”
She slept but little that night, and when the sun rose in the morning, she rose with it, for she was weary even of lying abed. She put the kettle on to boil, but forgot to pour her tea. She carved a slice of bread from the loaf the baker had delivered, but she left it were it lay upon the plate, its warm, sustaining life drying up just as hers had done.
No thought of walking or even opening the windows came into her mind, and she curled herself into a nook, the darkest corner of the house, and watched the sunlight trying to get it through the shutters.
“Sweet maiden, sweet child! Let the blossoms help you now! Give thanks, give thanks, before it is too late!” It was the very sunlight, dancing on the floorboards, very willowy and thin, but sparkling bright and very insistent.
She stood. She walked over to a bowl of flowers, now quite wilted, the gift her housemaid always left behind. The maiden lifted one stem from the vase and from it she pulled one drooping petal, and “I am thankful,” she said, “that my housemaid has not despaired of me, for I certainly am in despair for myself.”
The little petal drifted to the floor, and the maiden plucked another. “I am thankful,” she said, “that this vase still holds water tight, for I loved it once and it suffered a terrible fall.” Another petal fell, and another was plucked.
“I am thankful for Peter John, who mends things and oils the gate and rakes the leaves.”
“I am thankful that the leaves were green in spring, and it is likely that they will be green again.”
“I am thankful for the leaves this hour, all red and yellow and orange and brown, beautiful in their last moments.” There began to be quite a litter of petals upon the floor.
“I am thankful for little Puss, and that she never minds my sorrows but to ask for her cream and a scratch for her neck.”
“I am thankful for my dear great Rover, who minds my sorrows very much, but still asks for his bone and a scratch for his neck.”
One after another, falling fast, the petals dropped, from a second, a third, a fourth, and a fifth flower. The maiden looked around … “I shall have to sweep,” she said with a smile, “for this is not a task to leave for others.”
“I am thankful for my broom. It does sweep clean, and I am thankful for the boards beneath my feet and for the roof above my head and the windows that look out upon the beautiful world outside!” With that, the maiden flung the shutters wide and sunlight poured into the room.
“I think … I think the sparrow and the hedgehog were in league with the sunbeam,” she said. “I think the curse is lifted: my bones feel young again!” The kettle whistled just then and it said, “There are two flowers still in the vase, sweet maiden!” She poured her tea, and lifted another limp blossom from the water.
“I am thankful for my tea and bread for my table, and butter for my bread, and my little pot of marmalade for the last bite. I am thankful for my hands and feet and eyes and ears, and I am thankful for the day and for the night. I am thankful for rest and play and work, and Oh, my! … How long has it been since I have worked or played or rested at all?” The maiden lifted a sweet and happy voice and began to sing,
“On this day Friend Sparrow spoke
Brother Hedgehog then awoke,
and Lady Sunbeam did provoke
the languish of my soul.”
And with that, the dark and sullen, heavy, painful, sorrowing, blinding, pitiful, pitiless curse jumped out of her heart, lifted high off her shoulders, sprang higher still above her head, and as though something were pulling it with a strong, stout cord, it sailed right through the ceiling and over the roof, and as she turned and gazed out her window, she saw a small black cloud scurrying away, away, away, over the trees and far and fast away.
From that day, the maiden, who was much wiser now than ever she had been before, woke up morning by morning and sang a little song of gratitude, before the sun was fully risen over the mountains in the east.
She gave thanks for her bread and tea and for her housemaid and for Peter John and Puss and Rover and smudges on the sill and dust upon the shelves and rainy days and warm nights and starry skies and knots in her laces and blackberry bushes, thorny though they are. Through the day and when she plumped her pillow at night, she gave thanks and all her cottage and all her garden and the path outside her door and the lane in both directions, all were scented with gratitude, and all the passersby would lift their eyes and lift their noses and all would say, “I do so love to take this road into the village!”
For that perfume, dear reader, is indeed a delight to all who are privileged to enjoy it, and very effective for keeping curses where they belong … far, far away.
Flowers in a Vase
Renoir, public domain