«She said that she would dance with me if I brought her a red rose,» cried the young student, «but there is not a single red rose in all my garden.»
From her nest in the oak-tree the Nightingale heard him, and she looked out through the leaves and wondered.
«Not a single red rose in all my garden!» cried the student, and his beautiful eyes filled with tears. «Happiness depends so much on such little things! I have read all that the wise men have written, I know all the secrets of philosophy, but my life is unhappy because I have no red rose.»
«Here at last is a true lover,» said the Nightingale. «Night after night I have sung about him, though I did not know him; night after night I have told his story to the stars, and now I see him.»
«The Prince gives a ball tomorrow night,» whispered the young student, «and my love will be there. If I bring her a red rose, I shall hold her in my arms, and she will put her head upon my shoulder, and her hand will be in mine. But there is no red rose in my garden, so I shall sit alone, and she will pass me by, and my heart will break.»
«Here indeed is a true lover,» said the Nightingale. «What I sing about, he suffers; what is joy to me, to him is pain. Love is a wonderful thing. It is dearer than jewels.»
«The musicians will play, and my love will dance,» said the young student. «She will dance so lightly that her feet will not touch the floor. But she will not dance with me, for I have no red rose to give her,» and he threw himself down on the grass and buried his face in his hands, and cried.
«Why is he crying?» asked a little green lizard, as he ran past him with his tail in the air.
«He is crying for a red rose,» said the Nightingale.
«For a red rose? How funny.» The little lizard laughed loudly.
But the Nightingale understood the secret of the student’s sorrow, and she sat silent in the oak-tree, and thought about love.
Suddenly she spread her brown wings and flew up into the air. She passed through the wood like a shadow, and like a shadow she flew over the garden.
In the centre of the lawn was standing a beautiful rose-tree., and when she saw it, she flew over to it and said, «Give me a red rose and I will sing you my sweetest song.» But the rose-tree shook its head.
«My roses are white,» it answered, «whiter than the snow upon the mountains. But go to my brother who grows round the old sun-dial, and perhaps he will give you what you want.»
So the Nightingale flew over to the rose-tree that was growing round the old sun-dial.
«Give me a red rose,» she cried, «and I will singyou my sweetest song.»
But the rose-tree shook its head. «My roses are yellow,» it answered. «But go to my brother who grows under the student’s window, and perhaps he will give you what you want.»
So the Nightingale flew over to the rose-tree that was growing under the student’s window.
But the rose-tree shook its head.
«My roses are red,» it answered. «But the winter has frozen my buds, and the storm has broken my branches, and I shall have no roses at all this year.»
«One red rose is all I want,» cried the Nightingale, «only one red rose! Is there no way how to get it?»
«There is a way,» answered the rose-tree, «but it is so terrible that I am afraid to tell you about it.»
«Tell me,» said the Nightingale, «I am not afraid.»
«If you want a red rose,» said the tree, «you must build it out of music by moonlight, and crimson it with your own heart’s blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must run through your heart and your blood must flow into my branches and become mine.»
«Death is a great price to pay for a red rose,» cried the Nightingale, «and life is very dear to all. It is pleasant to sit in the green wood, and to watch the sun, and the moon. Yet Love is better than life, and what is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?»
So she spread her brown wings and flew into the air. She flew over the garden like a shadow and like a shadow she passed through the wood.
The young student was still lying on the grass where she had lef t him, and the tears were not yet dry in his beautiful eyes.
«Be happy,» cried the Nightingale, «be happy. You shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and crimson it with my own heart’s blood. I only ask you in return to be a true lover, for love is wiser than philosophy and mightier than power.»
The student looked up from the grass and listened, but he could not understand what the Nightingale was saying to him, for he only knew the things that are in books.
But the oak-tree understood, and felt sad, for he was very fond of the little Nightingale who had built her nest in his branches.
«Sing me one last song,» he whispered, «I shall feel very lonely when you are gone.»
So the Nightingale sang to the oak-tree.
When she had finished her song the student got up, and pulled a note-book and a pencil out of his pocket.
«She has form,» he said to himself, as he walked away through the wood, «but has she got feeling? I am afraid not. In fact, she is like most artists. She thinks of music, and everybody knows the artists are selfish. Still, I must say that she has some beautiful notes in her voice. What a pity that they do not mean anything.»
And he went into his room, and lay down on his bed, and began to think of his love; and, after a time, he fell asleep.
And when the moon shone in the sky the Nightingale flew to the rose-tree, and pressed her breast against the thorn. All night long she sang, and the thorn went deeper and deeper into her breast and her blood flowed out.
She sang of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl. And on the top of the rose-tree appeared a beautiful rose. Pale it was at first, as the fog that hangs over the river – pale as the feet of the morning.
But the rose-tree cried to the Nightingale, «Press closer, little Nightingale, or the day will come before the rose is finished.»
So the Nightingale pressed closer and closer against the thorn, and louder and louder grew her song, for she sang of the birth of passion in the soul of a man and a maiden.
The leaves of the rose became faintly pink. But the thorn had not yet reached the Nightingale’s heart, so the rose’s heart remained white, f or only a Nightingale’s blood can crimson the heart of a rose.
And the rose-tree cried to the Nightingale to press closer against the thorn. «Press closer, little Nightingale,» cried the rose-tree, «or the day will come before the rose is finished.»
So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and the thorn touched her heart, and she felt a sharp pain. Bitter, bitter was the pain, and wilder and wilder grew her song, for she sang about the love that never dies.
And the beautiful rose became crimson like the eastern sky. But the Nightingale’s voice grew weaker and her little wings began to beat.
When day came, she gave one last burst of music. The white moon heard it, and she forgot that it was morning and remained in the sky. The red rose heard it, and it trembled all over and opened to the cold morning air.
«Look, look!» cried the rose-tree. «The rose is finished now!» But the Nightingale did not answer for she was lying dead in the long grass, with the thorn in her heart.
And at noon the student opened his window and looked out. «How wonderful!» he cried. «Here is a red rose! I have never seen any rose like this in all my life. It is so beautiful that I am sure it has a long Latin name,» and he bent down and picked it with joy in his heart.
Then he put on his hat, and ran to the Professor’s house with the rose in his hand.
The daughter of the Professor was sitting in the doorway and her little dog was lying at her feet.
«You said you would dance with me if I brought you a red rose,» cried the student. «Here is the reddest rose in all the world. You will wear it tonight next to your heart, and when we dance together it will tell you how I love you.»
But the girl answered.
«I am afraid it will not go with my dress, and besides, another man has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.»
«Well, upon my word, you are very ungrateful,» said the young student angrily and he threw the rose into the street and a cart-wheel went over it.
«Ungrateful!» said the girl. «I’ll tell you what, you are rude; and, after all, who are you? Only a poor student!» and she got up from her chair and went into the house.
«What a silly thing love is,» said the student as he walked away. «It is always telling us things that are not true. In fact, it is quite unpractical, and, as in this age to be practical is everything, I shall go back and study philosophy.»
So he returned to his room and pulled out a great dusty book, and began to read.