Years ago my grandmother read us (my brother, sister and me) a story. It featured a gnome who caught a sunbeam inside fairy glass. Eventually, the gnome grows remorseful as the sunbeam suffers and he lets it go. It was one of my favorite stories as a child and much to my surprise, few others knew of it. When we were adults we came across the pages in an envelope my grandma had saved before her death. We don’t know what made her save this particular story and few others, but I was determined to find the author and book, as it had been lost with the cover. It took a while, but eventually we discovered Agnes Grozier Herbertson had included the story in her collection Sing Song Stories, which is sadly out or print. I managed to track down a full copy from the Netherlands. Which leads me to sharing the text of it with you. Enjoy.
You can also hear me read The Gnome Who Managed to Catch a Sunbeam on Soundcloud. How cool!?
The Gnome Who Managed to Catch a Sunbeam
by Agnes Grozier Herbertson
THERE was once a little gnome who managed to catch a sunbeam. It was not a very large sunbeam, but he did not mind that. For he had been trying for days and days to catch a sunbeam, and now he had caught one.
He put it in a box of fairy glass,
And sealed the corners up;
And there it shone as bright as gold, or brass,
Or any buttercup.
The little gnome put the box of fairy glass on his mantelshelf; and when he looked up at it, he thought it was the most beautiful sight in the whole world. But he could not look at it very long, for the sunbeam shone so brightly that it filled all his little kitchen with sunlight.
“Now I am the happiest gnome in the world!” sighed the little gnome. And he skipped about as he made his porridge, and laughed and sang as he scrubbed his floor. And he made his little kitchen very clean indeed, since the sunbeam had to shine on it.
But when evening came, and all the streets grew dark, the little gnome’s kitchen still shone with sunlight. And when he drew his curtains he had no need to light his candle.
And the sunbeam seemed to shine more and more brightly as the night became darker. He could hardly bear to look at it.
The little gnome tried to sleep in his wee warm bed in a corner of the kitchen; but he couldn’t, not a bit.
So at last he got up, and placed a dark cloth over the box of fairy glass.
Then it was just as if you had drawn the curtains on a very sunny day; for the little kitchen was dark, but not very dark.
“Ha, that is a lot better!” said the little gnome to himself. And he went back to his wee warm bed in a corner of the kitchen.
And he was just nearly falling asleep when he heard a little voice crying out in a wailing kind of way, “Let me out, let me out!”
He knew at once that that must be the sunbeam in the box of fairy glass crying out. And he said, “Don’t make such a noise. Got to sleep at once till morning.”
But the sunbeam said in a sad little voice, “I can’t go to sleep, not with this dreadful dark cloth covering me up. I want a cloth made of cloud.”
“I haven’t got one,” said the little gnome. “So please be quiet, for I want to go to sleep.”
“But the sunbeam only said in a sad little voice, “I can’t go to sleep, not with this dark cloth covering me up.”
So at last the little gnome got out of bed again, and took the cloth away.
And then the sunbeam shone even more brightly than before. And when the little gnome went back, to bed, he could not sleep, because of all the sunlight in his little kitchen.
Although he knew that it was really night,
He somehow doubted it;
And though he shut his eyes up tight as night,
He could not sleep a bit.
Now he could not put the sunbeam in the box of fairy glass outside, lest some one should steal it before morning. So he had to lie awake the whole night through.
In the morning he was as tired as anything. And as he made breakfast porridge, he heard a little voice crying in a wiling kind of way, “Let me out, let me out!”
“Oh dear, is that you again?” said the little gnome to the sunbeam. “Please don’t make such a noise, for I am as tired as can be and my head aches like anything.”
But the sunbeam said in a sad little voice: “I can’t be quiet when I have to shine all the time on a little kitchen and never on trees and grass and flowers.”
Then the little gnome saw that he was not going to have any peace with that sunbeam on his mantelshelf. So he took a piece of fairy twine; and he carried the sunbeam in a box of fairy glass into his garden.
And then he climbed the tallest apple tree,
And to the topmost bough
He tied that sunbeam bright as bright could be,
I cannot tell you how.
Then the little gnome went out to look at it himself. And immediately he heard a wailing little voice crying, “Let me out, let me out!”
“Oh dear, is that you again?” said the little gnome to the sunbeam. “Please don’t make such a noise, or everybody who passes by will stop to listen.”
But the sunbeam said in a sad little voice, “I can’t stop making a noise, not when I am tied to this apple tree, and must all the time shine on trees and grass and flowers, and never on water.”
Then the little gnome saw that he was not going to have any quietness, not with that sunbeam tied to his apple tree.
So he made a pond in his garden. And he stuck a long bending rod into the ground by the pond.
And he took a fairy pin; and he carried the sunbeam in a box of fairy glass down to the pond.
He fixed it to the rod, I don’t know how,
As fast as fast could be;
And cried, “O sunbeam, please be happy now,
And glad to stay with me!”
And then he went indoors to tidy his kitchen, and he could see that everybody who passed by stopped for a moment to look at the sunbeam shining on the water.
Then the little gnome went out to look at it himself. And immediately he hard a wailing little voice crying, “Let me out, let me out!”
“Oh dear, are you crying still?” asked the little gnome. “Do be quiet for a moment and let me watch you shine!”
But the sunbeam said in such a sad little voice, “How can I be quiet when I have to shine on a kitche, or an apple tree, or on water, and all the other sunbeams can shine where they will?”
Then the little gnome wept two large tears. “I can see that you want to leave me,” he said.
And the sunbeam said, “I will come back sometimes and shine on your little kitchen, and your apple tree, and your pond; but I want to be free.”
Then the little gnome took the sunbeam in the box of fairy glass from the bending rod by the pond.
He opened up the box-’twas quite soon done,
Though very hard to do;
And, like a golden arrow, to the sun
The little sunbeam flew.
Then the little gnome threw the box of fairy glass into the he had made, and said, “I will never again catch a sunbeam!” And he wept several large tears.
Then he went into his little house, and threw himself on his wee warm bed and slept.
And a little sunbeam came and danced on his wall.
So he dreamt of the land of sunbeams; and that was a dream indeed!