The Happy Family
Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen
The biggest leaf in the country is certainly the burdock leaf. Put one in front of your waist and it's just like an apron, and if you lay it upon your head it is almost as good as an umbrella, for it is remarkably large. Burdocks have another use. Snails feed on them.
Now there was an old estate where the burdocks grew and there was no stopping them. Here and there stood an apple or a plum tree; but for this nobody would have thought a garden had been there. Everywhere were burdocks, and among them lived two ancient white snails.
They did not know themselves how old they were, but they could very well remember that there had been a great many more of them; that they had descended from a large family. They led a very retired and happy life and, as they had no children, they had adopted a little common snail which they brought up as their own child. But the little thing would not grow, for he was only a common snail, although the mother declared that he was getting too large for his shell. And when the father noticed how small their child was, she told him to feel the little snail's shell, and he felt it, and said that she was right.
One day it rained very hard.
"Listen, how it's drumming on the burdock leaves, rum-dum-dum! rum-dum-dum!" said the Father Snail.
"That's what I call drops," said the Mother. "It's coming straight down the stalks. You'll see how wet the garden will be directly. I'm glad that we have our good houses and the little one has his own. There has been more done for us than for any other creature; one can see very plainly that we are the grand folks of the world! We have houses from our birth and the burdock forest has grown for us. I should like to know how far it extends and what lies beyond it."
"There's nothing," said the Father Snail, "that can be better than here at home. I have nothing at all to wish for. You must watch the little one. Has he not been creeping up the stalk these three days? My head quite aches when I look at him."
"Well, don't scold him," said the Mother Snail. "He crawls deliberately. We shall have much joy in him, and we old people have nothing else to live for. But have you ever thought where we shall get a wife for him? Don't you think that farther in the wood there may be some more of our kind?"
"There may be black snails there, I think," said the Father Snail,—"black snails without houses! But they are too vulgar. And they're conceited at that. We can give the commission to the Ants, though; they run to and fro, as if they had business. They're sure to know of a wife for our young gentleman."
"I certainly know the most beautiful of brides," said one of the Ants, "but I fear she would not do, for she is the Queen."
"That does not matter," said the two old Snails. "Has she a house?"
"She has a castle!" replied the Ant, "the most beautiful ants' castle, with seven hundred passages."
"Thank you," said the Mother Snail, "our boy shall not go into an ant-hill. If you know of nothing better, we will give the commission to the white gnats. They fly far about in rain and sunshine, and they know the burdock wood, inside and outside."
"We have a wife for him," said the Gnats. "A hundred man-steps from here a little snail with a house is sitting on a gooseberry bush. She is quite alone, and old enough to marry. It's only a hundred man-steps from here."
"Yes, let her come to him," said the old people. "He has a whole burdock forest, and she has only a bush."
So they brought the little maiden Snail. Eight days passed before she arrived, but that was the rare circumstance by which one could see that she was of the right kind.
And then they had the wedding. Six Glow-Worms lighted as well as they could. With this exception it went very quietly, for the old Snails could not bear feasting and noise.
The Father Snail could not make a speech, he was so much moved; but he gave the young people the whole burdock forest for an inheritance. He said, what he and the Mother Snail had always said, that it was the best place in the world. And when the wedding was over, the old people crept into their houses and never came out again, for they slept.
The young Snail pair now ruled in the forest, and had a large family. The rain fell down upon the burdock leaves to play the drum for them. The sun shone to color the burdock forest for them; and they were happy, very happy. The whole family was uncommonly happy!