THE HAPPY FAMILY
Really, the largest green leaf in this country is a dock-leaf; if one holds it before one, it is like a whole apron, and if one holds it over one's head in rainy
weather, it is almost as good as an umbrella, for it is so immensely large.
The burdock never grows alone, but where there grows one there always grow several: it is a great delight, and all this delightfulness
The great white snails which persons of quality in former times made fricassees of, ate, and said, "Hem, hem! how delicious
!" for they thought it tasted so delicate--lived on dock-leaves, and therefore burdock seeds weresown.
Now, there was an old manor-house, where they no longer ate snails, they were quite extinct; but the burdocks were not extinct
, they grew and grew all over the walks and all the beds; they could not get the mastery over them--it was a whole forest of burdocks.
Here and there stood an apple and a plum-tree, orelse one never would have thought that it was a garden; all was burdocks, and there lived the two last venerable old snails.
They themselves knew not how old they were, but they could remember very well that there had been many more; that they were of a family from foreign
lands,and that for them and theirs the whole forest was planted.
They had never been outside it, but they knew that there was still something more in the world,which was called the manor-house, and that there they were boiled, and then they became black, and were then placed on a silver dish; but what happened further they knew not; or, in fact, what it was to be boiled, and to lie on a silver dish, they could not possibly imagine; but it was said to bedelightful, and particularly genteel
Neither the chafers, the toads, nor theearth-worms, whom they asked about it could give them any information--none of them had been boiled or laid on a silver dish.
The old white snails were the first persons of distinction in the world, that they knew; the forest was planted for their sake, and the manor-house was there that they might be boiled and laid on a silver dish.
Now they lived a very lonely and happy life; and as they had no children themselves, they had adopted a little common
snail, which they brought up as their own; but the little one would not grow, for he was of a common family;but the old ones, especially Dame Mother Snail, thought they could observe how he increased in size, and she begged father, if he could not see it, that he would at least feel the little snail's shell; and then he felt it, and found the good dame was right.
One day there was a heavy storm of rain.
"Hear how it beats like a drum on the dock-leaves!" said Father Snail.
"There are also rain-drops!" said Mother Snail. "[/en
[en]And now the rain pours right down the stalk! You will see that it will be wet here! I am very happy to think that we have our good house, and the little one has his also!
There is more done for us than for all other creatures, sure enough; but can you not see that we are folks of quality in the world? We are provid
ed with a house from our birth, and the burdock forest is planted for our sakes!
I should like to know how far it extend
s, and what there is outside!""There is nothing at all," said Father Snail.
"No place can be better than ours, and I have nothing to wish for!""Yes," said the dame.
"I would willingly go to the manor house, be boiled, and laid on a silver dish; all our fore fathers have been treated so; there is something extraordinary
in it, you may be sure!"
"The manor-house has most likely fallen to ruin!" said Father Snail. "Or theburdocks have grown up over it, so that they cannot come out.
There need not,however, be any haste about that; but you are always in such a tremendoushurry, and the little one is beginning to be the same. Has he not beencreeping up that stalk thesethree days? It gives me a headache
when I look upto him!""You must not scold him," said Mother Snail.
"He creeps so carefully
; he willafford us much pleasure--and we have nothing but him to live for! But haveyou not thought of it? Where shall we get a wife for him? Do you not think that there are some of our species at a great distance
in the interior of theburdock forest?"
"Black snails, I dare say, there are enough of," said the old one. "Blacksnails without a house--but they are so common, and so conceited.
But we mightgive the ants a commission
to look out for us; they run to and fro as if theyhad something to do, and they certainly know of a wife for our little snail!"
"I know one, sure enough--the most charming one!" said one of the ants. "But Iam afraid we shall hardly succeed, for she is a queen!"
"That is nothing!" said the old folks. "Has she a house?""
"She has a palace!" said the ant. "The finest ant's palace
, with seven hundredpassages!"
I thank you!" said Mother Snail. "Our son shall not go into an ant-hill; ifyou know nothing better than that, we shall give the commission to the whitegnats. They fly far and wide, in rain and sunshine; they know the whole foresthere, both within and without."
"We have a wife for him," said the gnats. "At a hundred human paces from here there sits a little "snail in her house, on a goose berry bush; she is quite lonely, and old enough to be married. It is only a hundred human paces!"
"Well, then, let her come to him!" said the old ones. "He has a whole forest of burdocks, she has only a bush!"
"And so they went and fetched little Miss Snail. It was a whole week before shearrived; but there in was just the very best of it, for one could thus see that she was of the same specie
And then the marriage was celebrated. Six earth-worms shone as well as they could.
In other respects the whole went off very quietly, for the old folkscould not bear noise and merriment; but old Dame Snail made a brilliant
Father Snail could not speak, he was too much affected; and so theygave them as a dowry and inheritance, the whole forest of burdocks, andsaid--what they had always said--that it was the best in the world; and ifthey lived honestly and decent
ly, and increased and multiplied, they and theirchildren would once in the course of time come to the manor-house, be boiled black, and laid on silver dishes.
After this speech was made, the old onescrept into their shells, and never more came out. They slept;
The young couplegoverned in the forest, and had a numerous progeny, but they were neverboiled, and never came on the silver dishes; so from this they concluded thatthe manor-house had fallen to ruins, and that all the men in the world wereextinct; and as no one contradict
ed them, so, of course it was so. And therain beat on the dock-leaves to make drum-music for their sake, and the sunshone in order to give the burdock forest a color for their sakes; and theywere very happy, and the whole family was happy; for they, indeed were so.