The largest green leaf in this country is certainly the burdock-leaf. If you hold it in front of you, it is large enough for an apron; and if you hold it over your head, it is almost as good as an umbrella, it is so wonderfully large. A burdock never grows alone; where it grows, there are many more, and it is a splendid sight; and all this splendor is good for snails. The great white snails, which grand people in olden times used to have made into fricassees; and when they had eaten them, they would say, "O, what a delicious dish!" for these people really thought them good; and these snails lived on burdock-leaves, and for them the burdock was planted.
There was once an old estate where no one now lived to require snails; indeed, the owners had all died out, but the burdock still flourished; it grew over all the beds and walks of the garden– its growth had no check– till it became at last quite a forest of burdocks. Here and there stood an apple or a plum-tree; but for this, nobody would have thought the place had ever been a garden. It was burdock from one end to the other; and here lived the last two surviving snails.
They knew not themselves how old they were; but they could remember the time when there were a great many more of them, and that they were descended from a family which came from foreign lands, and that the whole forest had been planted for them and theirs. They had never been away from the garden; but they knew that another place once existed in the world, called the Duke's Palace Castle, in which some of their relations had been boiled till they became black, and were then laid on a silver dish; but what was done afterwards they did not know. Besides, they could not imagine exactly how it felt to be boiled and placed on a silver dish; but no doubt it was something very fine and highly genteel. Neither the cockchafer, nor the toad, nor the earth-worm, whom they questioned about it, would give them the least information; for none of their relations had ever been cooked or served on a silver dish.
The old white snails were the most aristocratic race in the world,– they knew that. The forest had been planted for them, and the nobleman's castle had been built entirely that they might be cooked and laid on silver dishes.
They lived quite retired and very happily; and as they had no children of their own, they had adopted a little common snail, which they brought up as their own child. The little one would not grow, for he was only a common snail; but the old people, particularly the mother-snail, declared that she could easily see how he grew; and when the father said he could not perceive it, she begged him to feel the little snail's shell, and he did so, and found that the mother was right.
One day it rained very fast.
"Listen, what a drumming there is on the burdock-leaves; turn, turn, turn; turn, turn, turn," said the father-snail.
"There come the drops," said the mother; "they are trickling down the stalks. We shall have it very wet here presently. I am very glad we have such good houses, and that the little one has one of his own. There has been really more done for us than for any other creature; it is quite plain that we are the most noble people in the world. We have houses from our birth, and the burdock forest has been planted for us. I should very much like to know how far it extends, and what lies beyond it."
"There can be nothing better than we have here," said the father-snail; "I wish for nothing more."
"Yes, but I do," said the mother; "I should like to be taken to the palace, and boiled, and laid upon a silver dish, as was done to all our ancestors; and you may be sure it must be something very uncommon."
"The nobleman's castle, perhaps, has fallen to decay," said the snail-father, "or the burdock wood may have grown out. You need not be in a hurry; you are always so impatient, and the youngster is getting just the same. He has been three days creeping to the top of that stalk. I feel quite giddy when I look at him."
"You must not scold him," said the mother-snail; "he creeps so very carefully. He will be the joy of our home; and we old folks have nothing else to live for. But have you ever thought where we are to get a wife for him? Do you think that farther out in the wood there may be others of our race?"
"There may be black snails, no doubt," said the old snail; "black snails without houses; but they are so vulgar and conceited too. But we can give the ants a commission; they run here and there, as if they all had so much business to get through. They, most likely, will know of a wife for our youngster."
"I certainly know a most beautiful bride," said one of the ants; "but I fear it would not do, for she is a queen."
"That does not matter," said the old snail; "has she a house?"
"She has a palace," replied the ant,– "a most beautiful ant-palace with seven hundred passages."
"Thank-you," said the mother-snail; "but our boy shall not go to live in an ant-hill. If you know of nothing better, we will give the commission to the white gnats; they fly about in rain and sunshine; they know the burdock wood from one end to the other."
"We have a wife for him," said the gnats; "a hundred man-steps from here there is a little snail with a house, sitting on a gooseberry-bush; she is quite alone, and old enough to be married. It is only a hundred man-steps from here."
"Then let her come to him," said the old people. "He has the whole burdock forest; she has only a bush."
So they brought the little lady-snail. She took eight days to perform the journey; but that was just as it ought to be; for it showed her to be one of the right breeding.
And then they had a wedding. Six glow-worms gave as much light as they could; but in other respects it was all very quiet; for the old snails could not bear festivities or a crowd. But a beautiful speech was made by the mother-snail. The father could not speak; he was too much overcome. Then they gave the whole burdock forest to the young snails as an inheritance, and repeated what they had so often said, that it was the finest place in the world, and that if they led upright and honorable lives, and their family increased, they and their children might some day be taken to the nobleman's palace, to be boiled black, and laid on a silver dish.
And when they had finished speaking, the old couple crept into their houses, and came out no more; for they slept. The young snail pair now ruled in the forest, and had a numerous progeny. But as the young ones were never boiled or laid in silver dishes, they concluded that the castle had fallen into decay, and that all the people in the world were dead; and as nobody contradicted them, they thought they must be right. And the rain fell upon the burdock-leaves, to play the drum for them, and the sun shone to paint colors on the burdock forest for them, and they were very happy; the whole family were entirely and perfectly happy.
Det største grønne Blad her til Lands, det er da rigtignok et Skræppeblad; holder man det foran paa sin lille Mave, saa er det ligesom et heelt Forklæde, og lægger man det paa sit Hoved, saa er det i Regnveir næsten ligesaa godt, som en Paraply, for det er saa forfærdeligt stort. Aldrig voxer een Skræppe alene, nei hvor der groer een, der groe flere, det er en stor Deilighed, og al den Deilighed er Sneglemad. De store hvide Snegle, som fornemme Folk i gamle Dage lod lave til Fricasee, spiste og sagde "hum! hvor det smager!" for de troede nu det smagte saa deiligt, de levede af Skræppeblade og derfor bleve Skræpperne saaede.
Nu var der en gammel Herregaard, hvor man ikke længer spiste Snegle, de vare ganske uddøde, men Skræpperne vare ikke uddøde, de voxte og voxte over alle Gange og alle Bede, man kunde ikke mere faae Bugt med dem, det var en heel Skræppeskov, hist og her stod et Æble- og et Blomme-Træ, ellers kunde man nu aldrig have tænkt at det var en Have. Alt var Skræpper, og derinde boede de to sidste, inderlig gamle Snegle.
De vidste ikke selv hvor gamle de vare, men de kunde godt huske at de havde været mange flere, at de var af en Familie fra fremmede Lande og at for dem og deres var hele Skoven plantet. De havde aldrig været udenfor, men de vidste at der var endnu noget til i Verden, som heed Herregaarden, og deroppe blev man kogt, og saa blev man sort og saa blev man lagt paa Sølvfad, men hvad videre der skete vidste man ikke. Hvorledes det iøvrigt var at blive kogt og at ligge paa Sølvfad, kunde de ikke tænke sig, men deiligt skulde det være og særdeles fornemt. Hverken Oldenborren, Skruptudsen eller Regnormen, som de spurgte ad, kunde give Beskeed, ingen af dem havde været kogt eller ligget paa Sølvfad.
De gamle hvide Snegle vare de fornemste i Verden, vidste de, Skoven var til for deres Skyld, og Herregaarden var til for at de kunde blive kogte og lagte paa Sølvfad.
De levede nu meget eensomt og lykkeligt, og da de selv ikke havde Børn, saa havde de taget en lille almindelig Snegl til sig, som de opdrog som deres egen, men den Lille vilde ikke voxe, for han var almindelig; men de gamle, især Mutter, Sneglemutter, syntes hun kunde dog bemærke, hvor han tog til, og hun bad Fatter, dersom han ikke kunde see det, han da vilde føle paa det lille Sneglehuus, og saa følte han og fandt at Mutter havde Ret.
Een Dag var det stærk Regn
"Hør hvor det tromme-romme-rommer paa Skræpperne," sagde Sneglefader.
"Der kommer ogsaa Draaber!" sagde Sneglemoer. "Det løber jo lige ned af Stilken! Du skal see her bliver vaadt! Jeg er glad ved vi have vort gode Huus og den Lille ogsaa har sit! Der er rigtignok gjort mere for os end for alle andre Skabninger; man kan da see, at vi er Herskabet i Verden! Vi have Huus fra Fødselen og Skræppeskoven er saaet for vor Skyld -! jeg gad vidst hvor langt den strækker sig og hvad der er udenfor!"
"Der er ikke noget udenfor!" sagde Sneglefader. "Bedre end hos os kan der ingen Steder være, og jeg har ikke noget at ønske!"
"Jo," sagde Moer, "jeg gad nok komme paa Herregaarden, blive kogt og lagt paa Sølvfad, det ere alle vore Forfædre blevne, og Du kan troe, der er noget aparte ved det!"
"Herregaarden er muligviis faldet sammen!" sagde Sneglefaer, "eller Skræppeskoven er voxet hen over den, saa at Menneskene ikke kunne komme ud. Det har da heller ingen Hast, men du iler altid saa forfærdelig og det begynder den Lille ogsaa med; har han nu ikke i tre Dage krøbet op ad den Stilk, jeg faaer ondt i Hovedet naar jeg seer op paa ham!"
"Du maa ikke skjænde," sagde Sneglemoer, "han kryber saa sindig, vi faae nok Fornøielse af ham og andet have vi Gamle jo ikke at leve for! Men har Du tænkt paa det: hvor faae vi en Kone til ham. Troer Du ikke der langveis inde i Skræppeskoven skulde være nogen af vor Art?"
"Sorte Snegle troer jeg nu nok der er," sagde den Gamle, "sorte Snegle uden Huus, men det er saa simpelt og de have Indbildninger, men vi kunne give det i Commission til Myrerne, de løbe frem og tilbage, som om de havde noget at bestille, de veed vist en Kone til vor lille Snegl!"
"Jeg veed rigtignok den allerdeiligste!" sagde Een af Myrerne, "men jeg er bange det gaaer ikke, for hun er Dronning!"
"Det gjør ikke noget!" sagde de Gamle. "Har hun Huus?"
"Hun har Slot!" sagde Myren, "det deiligste Myreslot med syv hundrede Gange."
"Tak!" sagde Sneglemoer, "vor Søn skal ikke i en Myretue! veed I ikke bedre, saa give vi det i Commission til de hvide Myg, de flyve vidt omkring i Regn og i Solskin, de kjende Skræppeskoven forinden og foruden."
"Vi have en Kone for ham!" sagde Myggene, "hundrede Menneskeskridt herfra sidder paa en Stikkelsbærbusk en lille Snegl med Huus, den er ganske eensom og gammel nok til at gifte sig. Det er bare hundrede Menneskeskridt!"
"Ja lad hende komme til ham!" sagde de Gamle, "han har en Skræppeskov, hun har kun en Busk!"
Og saa hentede de den lille Snegle-Frøken. Det varede otte Dage før hun kom, men det var just det Rare ved det, saa kunde man see hun var af Arten.
Og saa holdt de Bryllup. Sex Sanct-Hans Orme lyste saa godt de kunde; ellers gik det Hele stille af, for de gamle Snegle-Folk kunde ikke taale Sviir og Lystighed; men en deilig Tale blev der holdt af Sneglemoer, Fatter kunde ikke, han var saa bevæget, og saa gav de dem i Arv den hele Skræppeskov og sagde, hvad de altid havde sagt, at det var det Bedste i Verden, og naar de levede redelig og skikkelig og formerede sig, vilde de engang og deres Børn komme paa Herregaarden, blive kogte sorte og lagte paa Sølvfad.
Og efter at den Tale var holdt, krøb de Gamle ind i deres Huus, og kom aldrig mere ud; de sov. Det unge Snegle-Par regjerede i Skoven og fik en stor Afkom, men de blev aldrig kogte, og de kom aldrig paa Sølvfad, saa sluttede de deraf, at Herregaarden var faldet sammen, og at alle Mennesker i Verden vare uddøde, og da Ingen sagde dem imod, saa var det jo sandt; og Regnen slog paa Skræppebladene for at gjøre Tromme-Musik for deres Skyld, og Solen skinnede for at give Skræppeskoven Couleur for deres Skyld, og de vare meget lykkelige, og hele Familien var lykkelig, thi den var det.