Once upon a time, a farmer and his wife found a basket on the doorstep of their small cottage. In it lay two beautiful, smiling, identical baby girls. Nobody in the village knew where the basket came from, so the farmer and his wife took the twins and named them Flora and Dora.The twins grew to be happy, friendly, obedient children, and were the joy of their parents. Dora was more practical and intelligent, and Flora was more kindhearted and curious about everything--but they were both really wonderful girls, the kind you'd want for lifelong friends.
But one day a terrible thing happened--as Dora was gathering herbs in the forest, a dwarf grabbed her by the ankle and she fell to the ground, whereupon he cast a spell over her. Dora couldn't remember who or where she was anymore, and she couldn't smile. Her parents were heartbroken when she finally wandered home. Nobody could figure out what had happened or how to break the spell.
Flora was heartbroken too, and went alone to her favorite meadow in the forest. She knelt and cried, and prayed for hours for a way to help Dora. She heard bells, and turned to see a kindly, smiling man dressed in white robes, surrounded by lambs with bells around their necks. The shepherd said, "You are a good sister, Flora, and I will help you break the spell over Dora, for that is what is wrong with her. You must climb Thunder Mountain, alone, without food or water. Near the top of the mountain there is a cave, hidden by a twisted, old pine tree. Find the cave and go inside. Light the candle you find there, and keep it going all night long. Don't fall asleep or let the candle go out, and don't leave the cave for any reason until daybreak. Then a beautiful bird will sing for you, and you must follow it. It will lead you to a small golden box with a pearl inside. Bring the pearl to your sister Dora. The bird will guide you home. When you return, tell Dora to swallow the pearl, for the Lord God commands it. She will obey, and the spell will be broken."
Flora fell to her knees and thanked the shepherd for his advice. When she looked up he was gone, and so were his lambs. Flora ran home and told her parents everything the shepherd said. Her mother was very worried about Flora climbing Thunder Mountain by herself, and thought her father should go with her. "No," replied Flora, "I must do this alone." Her father agreed, and the couple sadly kissed their daughter goodbye.
Flora left for Thunder Mountain and started to climb. It grew dark as she climbed, and the wind began to howl, and clouds rolled up all around the mountain. As she hurried on, rain began to fall, and lightning split the sky, and the sound of thunder was louder than anything she'd ever heard before. Flora was afraid, but she remembered her sister's smiling face, and the tinkling of the lambs' bells, and felt better. At last, she reached the top of the mountain, but by then it was night. Now, where is that cave? she wondered. How will I ever find it in the dark?
Flora was cold and wet, but she waited patiently for more lightning. The wind howled and the rain drove harder than ever, and at last--right in front of her--a bolt of lightning struck a twisted, stubby old pine tree! Flora hurried to the tree, her ears ringing from the terrible thunderclap. She stretched out her hands and felt around until she found the cave entrance. She crawled inside. Her hands found a candle, and a small tinder-box. She sat down in the dark and opened the tinder-box, struck the flint and lit the tinder. Then she lit the candle with the tinder, set it down beside her, and sighed a BIG sigh of relief!
For awhile Flora listened to the storm outside. She wanted to sleep, but she remembered the shepherd's words and sat straight up. Flora's eyes began to close, but she forced them open. Then Flora heard a low growl behind her in the dark. Oh, no! There must be a wild animal in here, she thought. She looked over her shoulder, but saw nothing. She shivered, and the growl got louder. What if it's a huge wolf with big, sharp teeth? Flora picked up the candle, and stood up. The candle started to flicker and sputter. "Oh, please don't go out!" cried Flora, and cupped her hand carefully around the flame. The growl turned into a snarl, and Flora backed away toward the opening of the cave. Whatever is in there, it sounds big enough to eat me, she thought. And if I get eaten, I certainly can't watch the candle anymore! Maybe I should just step outside the cave a little ways, to be safe. Flora backed up another step, right to the opening of the cave. The snarl sounded awful, but the candle sputtered badly now, even with her hand protecting the flame. "Dear God," cried Flora, "what should I do now?"
Flora tried to remember Dora's smiling face, but all she could imagine was the face of an evil-looking beast. She tried to remember the pleasant sound of the bells, but snarling filled her ears. She watched the sputtering flame get smaller and dimmer. It seemed like the feeble little flame was fighting for its life. I can't let this poor little flame die, I mustn't let it die, Flora thought. I simply must stay here, no matter what happens. I have to be strong! Flora took a deep breath and sat down in the cave again. She tried to ignore the snarling, even though her heart was pounding like a kettledrum and her arms were covered with goosebumps.
Much to her relief, the candle flame quit flickering and sputtering and started shining brightly again. The snarl turned to a quiet purr, and then a small white kitten scurried past Flora and out of the cave. "How silly I was," said Flora out loud. "It was only a cat!" She looked outside the cave, and beheld a wonderful golden glow. The storm was gone, the sky was clear. It was morning. "At last!" she cried, greatly relieved.
The next thing she knew, Flora heard the most beautiful bird song she ever heard, coming from the old pine tree right outside the cave. Aha, now I can leave the cave! Flora stood up, and just as she did, the candle flame quietly went out. She set the stub of wax down on the ground and walked outside, as the first rays of sunshine struck the pine tree. Flora looked up to see a tiny bird the colors of the rainbow! It had a silver beak, and was sitting on a branch just beyond reach, watching her. Well, thought Flora, this is just as the shepherd said. Now to find the pearl!
All morning Flora followed the rainbow bird, as it led her down the mountain. The bird finally landed on an ancient, mossy tree stump in a deep glen--right next to a tiny, golden box, no bigger than Flora's hand. The box glittered in a shaft of sunlight, and Flora exclaimed, "How beautiful it is!" She lifted the golden box and shook it gently. Something rattled inside. Carefully, she opened the box, and gasped with surprise--an incredibly beautiful pearl lay inside the box, more lustrous than any pearl in the world. "The shepherd was right again," cried Flora happily, and she took the pearl out of the box and put it into her pocket. She hurried after the rainbow bird, who flew off again as she drew near.
Now, the way home took them through the darkest, thickest part of the forest, full of dead branches, and clinging vines, and thorny brambles. The sun barely shone through the trees, and Flora found it very difficult to keep sight of the bird. She was watching it when she tripped over a branch and fell to the ground in the middle of a thicket of thorns. "Ouch!" she cried. Flora stood up, but she couldn't see the bird anywhere now. She felt for the pearl in her pocket, but it was gone! It must have fallen out when I fell down, she thought. She got back down on her knees and looked around in the brambles.
"Is this what you're looking for?" said a wheezy little voice beside her. Flora jumped up, and saw an ugly little man next to her, only a foot tall. He held the lustrous pearl between two shriveled little fingers, and he smiled at her with a nasty little smile.
"Yes," replied Flora, "that's the pearl I'm taking to my sister. Thank you for finding it for me." She held out her hand.
"Not so fast," wheezed the ugly little dwarf--for that's what he was. "I found it, so it must be mine." He put it into his pocket.
"NO!" cried Flora. "Please, you must give it to me. I have to have it to break the spell on my sister!" She held out her hand and stepped toward him. "Please."
"A spell, eh? How about that!" The dwarf scratched his big nose. "Well, I don't think 'please' is good enough from a pretty young girl. I'll tell you what: I'll give you the pearl if you'll give me a kiss."
Flora made a face. "Don't be ridiculous," she said. "I wouldn't kiss you, not for all the pearls in the world."
"Is that so?" cried the dwarf. "Well, goodbye, then!" And he turned to leave.
"Wait!" cried Flora. "Please, you MUST give me the pearl!" Tears welled up in her eyes. "It's not for me."
The dwarf snorted, and crossed his arms. Flora sniffled, and she thought of Dora, and began to cry. "Stop that!" said the dwarf. He rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. "Just stop that right now."
"Boo-hoo-hoo," cried Flora, and fell to her knees in front of the dwarf. "If you insist, I'll kiss you, you mean old dwarf, because I love my sister very much." Flora's tears fell like rain down her cheeks.
"Oh, falderal and balderdash," muttered the dwarf, and pulled the pearl from his pocket. He handed it to Flora. "Skip the kiss," he grumbled. He sniffled and rubbed his eyes, then turned away and disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Flora stared at the pearl through her tears, and began to smile, then giggle. She stood up, and happily put the pearl back into her pocket. Just then she heard the unmistakable song of the rainbow bird, and carefully climbed through the brambles back onto the path. This time I must be very careful where I'm going, Flora thought. She listened to the bird calling. She couldn't see it yet, but she followed its melody as it led her along. Finally the forest got thinner, the light brighter, the path wider. At last she could see the bird, and it was at the very edge of the forest, and Flora could see the smoke from the chimneys of the village in the distance.
"Home at last!" Flora checked her pocket: the pearl was still there. With that, the bird gave a last trill, and flew off into the sky, toward Thunder Mountain. "Goodbye," called Flora, "and thank you for all your help!" She waved at the bird, and then ran to the village. She came to her parents' house, breathless and smiling happily. "I'm back," she cried. "Mother, Father, Dora, I'm back!"
Her parents ran to her, and they all gave each other many tearful and happy hugs and kisses. "Dora is asleep in her room," said her mother, and they all three went to Dora's room.
"Dora, wake up," said Flora. Dora opened her eyes but didn't smile at Flora. Flora held up the gleaming pearl. "You have to swallow this," she said. Dora said nothing, but made a face and shook her head. "But you must, Dora--it will make you better!" Dora turned away and hid her face in her pillow. Flora looked at her mother and father, but they just shrugged and shook their heads. Flora shook Dora's shoulder. "Dora," she said softly, "you must swallow this pearl, because the Lord God commands it."
Dora suddenly sat straight up in bed with her eyes staring ahead and her mouth wide open. Flora popped the pearl into Dora's mouth; then Dora closed her mouth, looked at Flora, and swallowed the pearl. The family watched closely, as Dora slowly relaxed and--SMILED!
"I'm Dora," she said. "And you are Flora, my sister, and here's Mother and Father, too."
"Yes," cried Flora, and everybody began to hug each other and cry with happiness, and what with all the joyful confusion, nobody noticed the sound of tinkling bells. There was a knock at the door. "Who can that be?" said Flora, and went to open the door. There stood the shepherd in white robes! Dora and the girls' parents came to the door too, and they were astonished at the stranger.
"You have done well, Flora," he spoke. "You have shown courage and faith and love, and you have made it possible for your sister to live again as she was meant to be. Now it is time that the truth can be told." The shepherd smiled and waved his arm, and suddenly the twins' plain clothing turned into lovely silks and satins. The girls and their parents stared at each other and were amazed at the change.
"You parents have reared these foundlings as your own, with all the love you could give them. You too shall be rewarded--for you see, these maidens are really the daughters of a king from a distant land, where a plague swept the kingdom. I saved these innocent babies and secretly brought them here. They have passed their tests and they are now the princesses they were meant to be. Together they will rule here in this land: Dora shall be a wise and just queen to her people, and Flora shall be her chief advisor, who will guide and instruct everyone in the ways of faith, love, and courage. You parents shall be cared for the rest of your days, and all will know your girls to be the finest in the land."
With that, the shepherd waved his arm again, and the clothing of the farmer and his wife turned to silks and satins--and the whole cottage was transformed into a beautiful castle, with vaulted ceilings and windows on every side. The whole family gasped with joy and amazement at the change, and at the true story of where the girls came from.
Flora and Dora knelt before the shepherd, and together they said, "Oh, Lord, we know that it is truly you who have done all these things for us, and we shall always be grateful for your kindness." The shepherd smiled and turned away, and was suddenly gone with his flock--and only the tinkling of bells was heard in the breeze.