"Come away, beautiful flower," said the kingfisher; "do not waste your beauty in this melancholy mere; float away down the gleaming river where tall bulrushes grow and where you shall find companions."
But the water-lily said, "No, I cannot go, for up in yonder tower is a prisoner, and I cheer his lonely days. He watches me and smiles, and forgets that he is a captive. I cannot leave one so unhappy."
"As you like," said the kingfisher, "but you would not catch me spending my life under those barren walls," and away flew the kingfisher.
A swallow came and wheeled round and round the tower. "Swallow," called the water-lily, "come to me." And the swallow came twittering down.
"I am in a great hurry," he said; "what do you want?"
"Bite through my stem, swallow, and carry me up to the grating in the tower, and place me on that window-sill."
"But you will die—and you are so beautiful," said the swallow, looking regretfully at the lily.
"Ah, some deaths are better than living," said the water-lily.
So the swallow plucked the water-lily and carried her up to the prisoner's window. A thin hand passed through the bars and took the flower. The captive pressed her passionately to his lips, and his tears fell fast on the waxen petals. As the tears fell the water-lily revived.
"How beautiful you are," said the captive, and he took his tin mug of water from a shelf and tenderly placed her in it so she would not die.
Just then a jailer entered, "Ho, ho!" he said, "how did you come by that; it will just do for my button-hole." And he seized the water-lily and placed it in his coat.
The poor prisoner fell upon his knees and begged hard that the flower might be left to him. "Let me have a few days' joy," he pleaded. "The flower will soon die, and you are free, and can gather the flowers when you will."
But the rough jailer only laughed, and departed to his own pleasant room, leaving the captive in tears.
"Look here," said the jailer to his little daughter, "there is a flower I have just taken away from the prisoner in the tower. I don't know how he got it, but he cried like a baby when I took it away."
"Poor prisoner!" said the little girl, with tears in her own eyes.
"Nay, my little maid, do not weep," said the jailer, taking the child in his arms.
But the little one hid her face against her father's breast and sobbed.
"See, my Lily, I will take his flower back to him, only do not cry so," said the jailer.
"Father, may I take it to him?" said the little girl, raising her tear-stained face to her father's, and gazing at him eagerly.
"Won't it do if I take it?" asked the jailer.
"Oh, please let me take it," said the child.
The rough jailer had such tenderness for his child that it was difficult for him to refuse her anything. So it was that when the prisoner lifted his weary head as he heard his door open, he beheld a beautiful child with blue eyes and yellow hair, and in her hand stretched out to him was the water-lily.
"Oh, but it is an angel!" cried the prisoner, a smile lighting his haggard face. "An angel from heaven; I must be going to die."
"No, poor man, it's little Lily," said the child, and she slid a round arm about his neck. "I am so sorry for you!"
The prisoner burst into passionate weeping, and kissed the small hand that lay upon his shoulder.
The jailer blew his nose like a trumpet.
"You may be called anything," said the prisoner, "but you are surely an angel."
From this time Lily came to see her prisoner every day, and he grew almost gay.
In the meantime the water-lily drooped and died, but she was happy, for she had fulfilled her mission.
The prisoner took the dead flower and laid it on his heart. "Poor little dead flower," he said, "it was you who brought me my little comforter."
As he said these words he fancied he felt the dead flower move; but it might have been the beating of his own heart.