FOUR or five miles from the capital stood an old manor, with thick walls, tower, and pointed gables.
Here lived, but only in the summer-time, a noble family: this manor was the best and most beautiful of all the estates they possessed: outside, it looked as if it were newly built, and inside was very comfortable and cosy. The family coat of arms was carved in stone over the door, lovely roses twined themselves over the coat of arms and over the balcony, and a beautiful lawn stretched out before the house: there were red thorns and white thorns, and rare flowers even outside of the hot-house. The family had a very good gardener; it was a treat to see the flower garden, the fruit and kitchen gardens. Up to this time there was still a part of the original old garden, with some box hedges, cut in the shapes of crowns and pyramids. Behind these stood two old trees: they were nearly always leafless, and one could easily believe that a wind storm or a water-spout had strewn them over with great clumps of manure, but every clump was a bird’s nest.
Here from time immemorial a swarm of screaming crows and rooks had built their nests. It was a whole bird town and the birds were the proprietors, the eldest branch of the. family, the real masters of the estate. None of the people down there concerned them, but they tolerated these low walking creatures, although they sometimes shot with guns, so that it gave the birds shivers along the spine, and every bird flew up in a fright and shrieked “Rak! Rak!” The gardener talked often to his master about cutting down the old trees, they did not look well, and if they were taken away, one would most probably be free from the screaming birds-they would search for another place then. But the master would neither be free from the trees nor the swarms of birds-it was something which the estate could not lose, it was something from the old times, and one ought not to wipe that out entirely.
“The trees are now the birds’ inheritance, let them keep it, my good Larsen!”
The gardener was called Larsen, but that is of no further importance.
“Have you, little Larsen, not enough room for working the whole of the flower garden, the greenhouses, the fruit and kitchen gardens?”
These he had, and nursed them, loved them, and cared for them with earnestness and capability, and the family knew that, but they did not hide from him that when visiting they often ate fruit and saw flowers which excelled what they had in their own garden, and that distressed the gardener, for he wished to do his best and he did his best. He was good of heart, and good in his work.
One day the master called him and said in all mildness and dignity that the day before, when with distinguished friends, they had got a variety of apples and pears, so juicy and so well flavoured that all the guests had exclaimed in admiration. The fruit was certainly not native, but it ought to be brought in and made at home here if the climate allowed it. One knew that it had been bought in town at the principal fruiterer’s: the gardener should ride in and get to know where these apples and pears came from and order cuttings.
The gardener knew the fruiterer very well, for it was to him that he sold, on the proprietor’s account, the surplus of the fruit which was grown in the gardens of the estate.
And the gardener went to town and asked the fruiterer where he got these highly prized apples and pears.
“They are from your own garden!” said the fruiterer, and showed him both apples and pears, which he knew again.
How delighted the gardener was! He hurried home and told the family that both the apples and pears were from their own garden.
The family could not believe that. “That is impossible, Larsen! Can you get a written assurance from the fruiterer?”
And that he could, and so he brought a written assurance.
“That is extraordinary!” said the master.
Every day now great dishes of these lovely apples and pears from their own garden were brought to the table, baskets and barrels of these fruits were sent to friends in the town and country and even to other countries. It was a great joy! It must be said, however, that these had been two remarkable summers for fruit trees; over all the country these had succeeded well.
Time passed; the family one day dined with the court. The day after, the gardener was sent for by his master. They had at dinner got melons from His Majesty’s greenhouse which were so juicy and so full of flavour.
“You must go to His Majesty’s gardener, good Larsen, and get for us some of the seeds of these precious melons.”
“But His Majesty’s gardener has got the seeds from us!” said the gardener, quite delighted.
“Then the man has known how to bring them to a higher development,” answered the master; “every melon was excellent!”
“Yes, then I maybe proud!” said the gardener. “I may tell your lordship that the court gardener this year has not been successful with his melons, and when he saw how lovely ours were, and tasted them, he ordered three of them to be sent up to the castle.”
“Larsen! don’t imagine that they were the melons from our garden!”
“I believe it!” said the gardener, and he went to the court gardener and got from him a written assurance that the melons at the king’s table had come from the gardens of the manor.
It was really a great surprise for the family, and they did not keep the story a secret; they showed the assurance, and they sent melon seeds far and wide, just as they had sent cuttings before.
About these they got news that they caught on and set quite excellent fruit, and it was called after the family’s estate, so that the name could now be read in English, German, and French. They had never thought of that before.
“If only the gardener won’t get too great an opinion of himself!” said the family.
But he took it in another manner: he would only strive now to bring forward his name as one of the best gardeners in the country, and tried every year to bring out something excellent in the gardening line, and did it; but often he heard that the very first fruits he had brought, the apples and pears, were really the best, all later kinds stood far below. The melons had really been very good, but that was quite another thing; the strawberries could also be called excellent, but still no better than those on other estates; and when the radishes one year were a failure, they only talked about the unfortunate radishes and not about any other good thing which he had produced.
It was almost as if the family felt a relief in saying, “It didn’t succeed this year, little Larsen!” They were very glad to be able to say, “It didn’t succeed this year!”
Twice a week the gardener brought fresh flowers for the rooms, always so beautifully arranged; the colours came as it were into a stronger light with the contrasts.
“You have taste, Larsen,” said the family; “it is a gift which is given to you from our Father, not of yourself!”
One day he came with a big crystal bowl in which lay a water-lily leaf; on it was laid, with its long, thick stalk down in the water, a brilliant blue flower, as big as a sunflower.
“The lotus flower of India,” exclaimed the family. They had never seen such a flower; and it was placed in the sunshine by day and in the evening in a reflex light. Every one who saw it found it both remarkable and rare, yes, even the highest young lady of the land, and she was the princess; she was both wise and good.
The family did itself the honour of presenting it to the princess, and it went with her up to the castle.
Now the master went down into the garden to pluck for himself a flower of the same kind, if such a one could be found, but there was not such a thing. So he called the gardener and asked him where he got the blue lotus from.
“We have sought in vain,” said he; “we have been in the greenhouse and all round about!”
“No, it is certainly not there!” said the gardener; “it is only a common flower from the kitchen-garden! but, indeed, isn’t it lovely! it looks like a blue cactus, and yet it is only the flower of the artichoke.”
“You should have told us that at once!” said the master. “We imagined that it was a strange, rare flower. You have made fools of us before the princess! She saw the flower and thought it beautiful, but did not know it, and she is well up in botany, but that science has nothing to do with vegetables. How could it have entered your head, good Larsen, to send such a flower up to the house? It will make us look ridiculous!”
And the lovely blue flower which was brought from the kitchen-garden was put out of the drawing-room, where it was not at home. The master made an apology to the princess and told her that the flower was only a vegetable which the gardener had taken the idea to present, but for which he had been given a good scolding.
“That was a sin and a shame!” said the princess. “He has opened our eyes to a beautiful flower we had not noticed, he has shown us beauty where we did not expect to find it! The court gardener shall bring one up to my room every day, so long as the artichoke is in flower!”
And so it was done.
The family then told the gardener that he could again bring them a fresh artichoke flower.
“It is really beautiful!” they said, and praised the gardener.
“Larsen likes that,” said the family. “He is a spoilt child.”
In the autumn there was a terrible storm. It got so violent during the night that many of the big trees in the outskirts of the wood were torn up by the roots, and to the great sorrow of the family, but to the joy of the gardener, the two big trees with all the birds’ nests were blown down. During the storm one heard the screaming of the rooks and the crows; they beat the windows with their wings, the people in the house said.
“Now you are glad, Larsen,” said the master, “the storm has blown down the trees and the birds have gone to the woods. There are no more signs of old times; every sign and every allusion has gone; it has troubled us!”
The gardener said nothing, but he thought of what he had long intended to do-to use the lovely sunshiny place which formerly he had no control over. It should become the pride of the garden and the delight of the family. The great trees had crushed and broken the old box-hedges with all their cut shapes. He raised here a thicket of plants, home-plants from field and forest.
What no other gardener had thought of planting in the flower-garden, he set here in the kind of soil each should have, and in shade or sunshine as every kind required. He tended it in love, and it grew in magnificence.
Snow-berry bushes from the heath in Jutland, in form and colour like Italian cypress; the smooth, prickly holly, always green, in winter’s cold and summer’s sun, stood there lovely to look at. In front grew ferns, many different kinds, some looked as if they were the children of palm trees, and some as if they were the parents of the fine, lovely plant we call Venus’s hair. Here stood the slighted burdock, which in its freshness is so beautiful that it can be put in a bouquet. The burdock stood on dry ground, but lower down in the damper soil grew the colt’s-foot, also a despised plant, and yet with its fine height and huge leaves so picturesquely beautiful. Fathom high, with flower above flower, like a huge, many-armed candelabrum, the cow’s lung-wort lifted itself. Here stood the wood-ruff, the marsh-marigold, and the lily of the valley, the wild calla, and the fine three-leaved wood-sorrel. It was a delight to see.
In front, supported on wire fences, little French pear trees grew in rows; they got sun and good care, and very soon they bore big, juicy fruit, as in the country they came from.
In place of the two leafless trees, there was a big flagstaff on which waved the Danish flag, and close beside it a pole, on which in summer and autumn hops with their sweet-smelling clusters twined themselves, but where in the winter, according to old custom, a sheaf of oats was raised that the birds of the air could have their meal at the joyous Christmas time.
“The good Larsen is growing sentimental in his old age,” said the family; “but he is faithful and devoted to us.”
At New Year time, one of the illustrated papers of the capital had a picture of the old manor; one saw the flagstaff and the sheaf of oats for the birds, and it was spoken of as a beautiful thought that an old custom should be brought into recognition and honour; so distinctive for the old manor.
“All that Larsen does,” said the family, “they beat the drum for. He is a lucky man! we must almost be proud that we have him!”
But they were not proud of it! They felt that they were the owners, they could give Larsen his dismissal; but they did not do that, they were good people, and there are so many good people of their class, that it is a good thing for every Larsen.
Yes, that is the story of ‘The Gardener and the Family.’ Now you can think it over!