The poor mother ran out of the house and cried aloud for her child after the death took it from the house.
Out there, in the midst of the snow, there sat a woman in long, black clothes; and she said, “Death has been in your chamber, and I saw him taking away your little child; he goes faster than the wind, and he never brings back what he takes!”
“Oh, only tell me which way he went!” said the mother. “Tell me the way, and I shall find him!”
“I know it!” said the woman in the black clothes. “But before I tell it, you must first sing for me all the songs you have sung for your child! I am fond of them. I have heard them before; I am Night; I saw your tears while you sang them!”
“I will sing them all, all!” said the mother. “But do not stop me now, I may overtake him, I may find my child!”
But Night stood still and mute. Then the mother wrung her hands, sang and wept, and there were many songs, but yet many more tears; and then Night said, “Go to the right, into the dark pine forest; there I saw Death taking away your little child!”
The roads crossed each other in the depths of the forest, and she no longer knew whether she should go! There stood a thorn-bush; there was neither leaf nor flower on it, it was also in the cold winter season, and ice-flakes hung on the branches.
“Have you not seen Death go past with my little child?” said the mother.
“Yes,” said the thorn-bush; “But I will not tell you which way he took, unless you first warm me up at your heart. I am freezing to death; I shall become a lump of ice!”
And she pressed the thorn-bush to her breast, so firmly, that it might be thoroughly warmed, and the thorns went right into her flesh, and her blood flowed in large drops, but the thorn bush shot forth fresh green leaves, and there came flowers on it in the cold winter night, the heart of the afflicted mother was so warm; and the thorn-bush told her the way she should go.
She then came to a large lake, where there was neither ship nor boat. The lake was not frozen sufficiently to bear her; neither was it open, nor low enough that she could wade through it;
“Oh, what would I not give to come to my child!” said the weeping mother; and she wept still more, and her eyes sunk down in the depths of the waters, and became two precious pearls; but the water bore her up, as if she sat in a swing, and she flew in the rocking waves to the shore on the opposite side, where there stood a mile-broad, strange house, one knew not if it were a mountain with forests and caverns, or if it were built up; but the poor mother could not see it; she had wept her eyes out.
“Where shall I find Death, who took away my little child?” said she.
“He has not come here yet!” said the old grave woman, who was appointed to look after Death’s great greenhouse! “How have you been able to find the way here? And who has helped you?”
“Our Lord has helped me,” said she. “He is merciful, and you will also be so! Where shall I find my little child?”
“I know not”, said the woman, “and you cannot see! Many flowers and trees have withered this night; Death will soon come and plant them over again! You certainly know that every person has his or her life’s tree or flower, just as everyone happens to be settled; they look like other plants, but they have pulsations of the heart. Children’s hearts can also beat; go after yours, perhaps you may know your child’s; but what will you give me if I tell you what you shall do more?”
“I will go to the world’s end for you!”,” said the afflicted mother.
“I have nothing to do there!” said the woman. “But you can give me your long black hair; you know yourself that it is fine, and that I like! You shall have my white hair instead, and that’s always something!”
“That I will gladly give you!” And she gave her, her fine black hair, and got the old woman’s snow-white hair instead.
So they went into Death’s great greenhouse, where flowers and trees grew strangely into one another. Every tree and every flower had its name; each of them was a human life. The distressed mother bent down over all the smallest plants, and heard within them how the human heart beat; and amongst millions she knew her child’s.
“There it is!” cried she, and stretched her hands out over a little blue crocus, that hung quite sickly on one side.
“Don’t touch the flower!” said the old woman. “But place yourself here, and when Death comes, I expect him every moment, do not let him pluck the flower up, but threaten him that you will do the same with the others. Then he will be afraid! He is responsible for them to our Lord, and no one dares to pluck them up before he gives leave.”
All at once an icy cold rushed through the great hall, and the blind mother could feel that it was Death that came.
“How have you been able to find your way hither?” he asked. “How could you come quicker than I?”
“I am a mother,” said she.
And Death stretched out his long hand towards the fine little flower, but she held her hands fast around his, so tight, and yet afraid that she should touch one of the leaves. Then Death blew on her hands, and she felt that it was colder than the cold wind, and her hands fell down powerless.
“You cannot do anything against me!” said Death.
“But our Lord can!” said she.
“I only do His bidding!” said Death. “I am His gardener, I take all His flowers and trees, and plant them out in the great garden of Paradise, in the unknown land; but how they grow there, and how it is there I dare not tell thee.”
“Give me back my child!” said the mother, and she wept and prayed. At once she seized hold of two beautiful flowers close by, with each hand, and cried out to Death, “I will tear all your flowers off, for I am in despair.”
“Touch them not!” said Death. “You say that you are so unhappy, and now you will make another mother equally unhappy.”
“Another mother!” said the poor woman, and directly let go her hold of both the flowers.
“There, you have your eyes,” said Death; “I fished them up from the lake, they shone so bright; I knew not they were yours. Take them again, they are now brighter than before; now look down into the deep well close by; I shall tell thee the names of the two flowers you would have torn up, and you wilt see their whole future life, their whole human existence: and see what you were about to disturb and destroy.”
And she looked down into the well; and it was a happiness to see how the one became a blessing to the world, to see how much happiness and joy were felt everywhere. And she saw the other’s life, and it was sorrow and distress, horror, and wretchedness.
“Both of them are God’s will!” said Death.
“Which of them is Misfortune’s flower and which is that of Happiness?” asked she.
“That I will not tell you,” said Death; “but this you shall know from me, that the one flower was your own child’s future life!”
Then the mother screamed with terror, “Which of them was my child? Save the innocent! Save my child from all that misery! Rather take it away! Take it into God’s kingdom! Forget my tears, forget my prayers, and all that I have done!”
“I do not understand you!” said Death. “Will you have your child again, or shall I go with it there, where you do not know!”
Then the mother wrung her hands, fell on her knees, and prayed to our Lord: “Oh, hear me not when I pray against Your will, which is the best! Hear me not! hear me not!”
And she bowed her head down in her lap, and Death took her child and went with it into the unknown land.
(Inspired by fairytales of Hans Christians Anderson)