17. The Plant of Life
When he had bowed to the Cat respectfully, Henry ran towards the garden of the plant of life, which was only a hundred steps from him. He trembled lest some new obstacle should stop him but he reached the garden without any difficulty. He looked for the gate and found it easily, as the garden was not large. But, alas! The garden was filled with innumerable plants utterly unknown to him and it was impossible to know how to distinguish the plant of life. Happily he remembered that the good fairy Bienfaisante had told him that when he reached the summit of the mountain he must call the Doctor who looked after the garden of the fairies. He called him then with a loud voice. In a moment he heard a noise among the plants near him and saw emerge from them a little man, no taller than a small child. He had a book under his arm, spectacles on his crooked little nose and wore a great black cloak.
“What are you seeking, little one?” said the Doctor; “and how is it possible that you have reached this summit?”
“Doctor, I come from the fairy Bienfaisante, to ask the plant of life to cure my poor sick mother, who is about to die.”
“All those who come from the fairy Bienfaisante,” said the little Doctor, raising his hat respectfully, “are most welcome. Come, my boy, I will give you the plant you seek.”
The Doctor then buried himself in the garden where Henry had some trouble in following him, as he was so small as to disappear entirely among the plants. At last they arrived near a bush growing by itself. The Doctor drew a little pruning-knife from his pocket, cut a bunch and gave it to Henry, saying, “Take this and use it as the good fairy Bienfaisante directed but do not allow it to leave your hands. If you lay it down under any circumstances it will escape from you and you will never recover it.”
Henry was about to thank him but the little man had disappeared in the midst of his medicinal herbs, and he found himself alone.
“What shall I do now in order to arrive quickly at home? If I encounter on my return the same obstacles which met me as I came up the mountain, I shall perhaps lose my plant, my dear plant, which should restore my dear mother to life.”
Happily Henry now remembered the stick which the Wolf had given him.
“Well, let us see,” said he, “if this stick has really the power to carry me home.”
Saying this, he mounted the stick and wished himself at home. In the same moment he felt himself raised in the air, through which he passed with the speed of lightning and found himself almost instantly by his mother’s bed.
Henry sprang to his mother and embraced her tenderly. But she neither saw nor heard him. He lost no time, but pressed the plant of life upon her lips. At the same moment she opened her eyes, threw her arms around Henry’s neck and exclaimed, “My child! My dear Henry! I have been very sick but now I feel almost well. I am hungry.”
Then, looking at him in amazement, she said: “How you have grown, my darling! How is this? How can you have changed so in a few days?”
Henry had indeed grown a head taller. Two years, seven months and six days had passed since he had left his home. He was now nearly ten years old. Before he had time to answer, the window opened and the good fairy Bienfaisante appeared. She embraced Henry and, approaching the bed of his mother, told her all that little Henry had done and suffered, the dangers he had faced, the courage, the patience, the goodness he had shown. Henry blushed on hearing himself thus praised by the fairy. His mother hugged him to her heart, and covered him with kisses. After the first moments of happiness and emotion had passed, the fairy said, “Now, Henry, you can make use of the present of the little Old Man and the Giant of the mountain.”
Henry drew out his little box and opened it. Immediately there emerged from it a crowd of little workmen, not larger than bees, who filled the room. They began to work with such speed that in a quarter of an hour they had built and furnished a beautiful house in the midst of a lovely garden with a thick wood on one side and a beautiful meadow on the other.
“All this is yours, my brave Henry,” said the fairy. “The Giant’s thistle will obtain for you all that is necessary. The Wolf’s staff will take you where you wish. The Cat’s claw will preserve your health and your youth and also that of your dear mother. Farewell, Henry! Be happy and never forget that virtue and filial love are always rewarded.”
Henry threw himself on his knees before the fairy who gave him her hand to kiss, smiled upon him and disappeared.
Henry’s mother had a great desire to get out of her bed and admire her new house, her garden, her woods and her meadow. But, alas! She had no dress. During her first illness she had made Henry sell all that she possessed, as they needed food.
“Alas! Alas! My child, I cannot leave my bed. I have neither dresses nor shoes.”
“You shall have all those things, dear mother,” exclaimed Henry.
Drawing his thistle from his pocket, he smelled it while he wished for dresses, linen, shoes for his mother and himself and also for linen for the house. At the same moment the cupboards were filled with linen, his mother was dressed in a good and beautiful robe and Henry completely clothed in blue cloth, with good shoes. They both uttered a cry of joy. His mother sprang from her bed to run through the house with Henry. They had everything they needed. Everywhere the furniture was good and comfortable. The kitchen was filled with pots and kettles; but there was nothing in them.
Henry again put his thistle to his nose and desired to have a good dinner served up.
A table soon appeared, with good soup, a splendid leg of lamb, a roasted chicken and good salad. They took seats at the table with the appetite of those who had not eaten for three years. The soup was soon swallowed, the leg of lamb entirely eaten, then the chicken, then the salad.
When their hunger was satisfied, the mother, helped by Henry, took off the tablecloth, washed and arranged all the dishes and then put the kitchen in perfect order. They then made up their beds with the sheets they found in the cupboard and went happily to bed, thanking God and the good fairy Bienfaisante. The mother also gave grateful thanks for her dear son Henry.
They lived most happily, they wanted nothing—the thistle provided everything. They did not grow old or sick—the claw cured every ill. They never used the staff, as they were too happy at home ever to desire to leave it.
Henry asked of his thistle only two cows, two good horses and the daily necessities. He wished for nothing extra, either in clothing or food and thus he kept his thistle as long as he lived. It is not known when they died. It is believed that the Queen of the Fairies made them immortal and took them to her palace, where they still are.