The tales in Flower Stories are loosely connected in that they are told to a young girl named Mary, who receives several flowerpots as a birthday gift in memory of her late sister. The first flower to bloom is the Snow-drop, and the chapter immediately before "The Snowdrop" concludes
"I knew that the Snowdrop would open its eyes first!" said [Mary's] mother; "it blooms early, earlier than it ought."
And when Mary eagerly said, "What do you mean by that?" her mother told her the following story.
If one should remain up, and walk about in the fields and forest, in the night of the twenty-first or twenty-second of March, he would then see and experience many strange and wonderful things. For, just at that time comes the lovely Spring from heaven, and moves softly over the earth, to see whether amongst all his buds and flower children, a single one has been lost or frozen during the long winter. Men call that the opening of spring. And the soft wind, his servant, goes before Spring, and lifts the snow cover quite gently up, and then bows down and looks, with his wonderfully beautiful, warm eyes, on all the sleeping buds, and forgets none; then lays the cover lightly down again. Then, sometimes it happens, that one or another of the flower buds rises, as in a dream, stands suddenly erect -- quite upright -- and pushes the snow cover aside, itself; like a child who awakens because its mother stands by the bedside; every bud feels such a sweet glow in its sleep, and that the snow bed is too warm for it; a single glance from the eye of Spring does that. Many awake, and wish to get up at once; and then Spring has its sweet torment to keep them still, under the snow cover, till they have finished their nap, and can rise with fresh faces. It is with the flowers, as it is with children, the longer and better they sleep, with so much redder cheeks they awaken; and if one get out of bed too early, he seems pale and tired all day long. And as often as Spring comes, in the night of March twenty-first, there is one flower who will not wait; one flower who will not sleep again, when Spring breathes on the snow cover, and this flower is called the Snowdrop. I once heard myself how Spring besought him to remain behind, just a little longer, for it was so cold out of doors -- exactly as a mother, in winter, would speak to her just awakened child, and beg him to remain in bed a little longer, till the house was warm. At this time, it was a splendid night on the twenty-first of March. The snow shone on the ground, in the moonlight, the trees stood very quietly, and had carefully shaken off the white snow sugar from all the twigs and branches; they were certainly thinking of the green leaves which were coming. Many stars stood in the sky, like golden flowers. My window was quite open. Then suddenly a breath of wind came, so sweet and warm, that I thought the summer was already here, and a bright ray of light streamed down from the sky. Then I knew Spring had come, to look around and examine her flowers, and I waited and kept still, for under my window there was a flower-bed, where, every year, all sorts of pretty things bloomed. Crocuses, violets, primroses, snowdrops and amaranths, and I quite plainly heard how the Spring said, (ah, he had a voice like a harp!) "Sleep, my snowdrops, it is not time to get up yet; sleep sweetly and obey me, or you will be sorry for it!" I could not understand what the flowers answered; you cannot think how softly flowers speak; but the Spring said again, "Sleep softly, my snowdrops, it is not warm at all; and you know that I can visit you only in the day; from this time forth, Winter watches by your bedside at night, till even the thirteenth of May. If you get up, I can only take care of you as long as the sun shines." I could not hear the answer of the snowdrops, but it must have been long, for after some time, I heard the Spring say, gently: "Well, you poor thing, if you will not listen, you must suffer. I am sorry for you! Look, there is your neighbor, the crocus, who peeped out at me also, with his bright eyes, when I lifted the cover; but when I spoke to him, he turned over and laid on the other side, and now he is sleeping soundly. Perhaps you will change your mind, and do the same!"
The next morning, thick snowflakes executed all sorts of wild dances and hornpipes, so intricate and extravagant, that the most skilful dancer in this world could not imitate them. And it seemed as if the eyes of Spring had never looked upon the earth, and as if they never would again, and as if a green leaf could never grow on the trees. I paid much attention, this day and the next, to see if the snowdrop would, indeed, fall asleep again; and as nothing at all moved or stirred on the whole bed, I rejoiced in silence over the judicious and obedient snowdrop. Then the first of April came, and with it the most splendid sunshine and blue sky, without a cloud, and a soft blue atmosphere. The snow melted from the roofs and trees, and sank into the earth, as a lump of sugar melts when a drop of water falls on it. Immediately after dinner, I ran to the flower-bed. Alas! alas! a fine green spike peeped up, and shot higher and higher. The next day there were slender leaves there; and on the third, there was a fine stalk; and on the fourth, the stalk opened to give room for a bud, and the bud looked white, and remained white; there was no longer any doubt. The snowdrop had awakened! I was troubled about it, at first, but as the day remained so warm, it folder asunder so slowly, in the warm sunshine, its three fine flower petals, which each had green tips; that when, at last, I saw the flower-cup, which was cut in points and bordered with a green edge, I could have kissed it with love and joy. It hung there, as if held fast by only a slight silken thread. And waving, happily, to and fro, the sleeping flowers beneath the earth, must certainly have heard the ringing in their dreams. Unfortunately, men's ears hear nothing of the kind! The poor thing looked so pale, it seemed to me as if some of the snow, which it had so hastily shoved aside, still clung to the leaves. It had not many admirers either; now and then a great buzzing fly, which was awakened from his winter's dream by the noise, and still tottered about, quite intoxicated with sleep, would sit still on the wall, listening quietly in the sunshine. Or a rain worm would crawl out of the earth, a little while, stretch himself out his full length, and listen. A little beetle, too, with stiff legs and wings, would creep by, and say a few pretty things to the snowdrop. On the third day the flower waved a little more faintly, only a butterfly that had just crept out, went by, and gave it one kiss, that was all. So a little time passed; when there came in the night (I am sorry that I must tell you about it) the youngest son of Winter, a disagreeable dilatory fellow, who was seeking amusement for himself, for his time hung heavy on his hands. The snowdrop stood out plainly in the moonlight, and looked as pretty as a picture; and he, who like all undisciplined children, had the greatest delight in breaking and destroying every thing, placed himself, without ceremony, on the bed -- laid his cold, rough hand on the flower, and laughed, as he heard its slender stalk snap. When I went in the morning, I thought it must be dead; it lay cold and stiff on the ground. But as I took it in my hand, and looked sorrowfully at it, it seemed to me that I heard a sweet, fine voice, whispering, "I am delighted that I rose so early!" I cannot be quite certain, whether I understood it perfectly, and it might be a little impertinent in the snowdrop to say such a thing! What do you think about it?
The early rising of the disobedient snowdrop did not please Mary at all; and she thought, at heart, that it served the silly thing quite right that Jack Frost gathered her. But when her own, well taken care of, snowdrop shot up, so slender and so lovely, under her view, and smiled in the face of wither, then she was glad that she protected and guarded the pretty flower, so that it bloomed, for a long time, undisturbed. When she looked at it, in its delicate beauty, with the long cup clasped in green stripes, that looked like a fine chalice, she could not blame Jack Frost, that he sought out this flower for a plaything.
In the flower-pot, that stood near the snow-drop, were other leaves, waking to life; they stood close together, very near the ground, like a round sunshade. Small buds were hidden beneath them, whose little heads were modestly vowed. "Aha!" said the mother, "the violet inn will soon be opened, the bees know that!" And she told her little girl the story of --
["The Violet Inn" story follows this selection in the book.]
From Flower Pictures by Elise Polko, Translated from the German by S[arah]. W[est]. Lander (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1860): 25-34.