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| Home | Reading Room Andersen's Fairy Tales

Andersen's Fairy Tales
by Hans Christian Andersen

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Really, the largest green leaf in this country is a dockleaf; 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 is snails'

food. 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 dockleaves, and therefore burdock seeds were


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, or

else 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 be

delightful, and particularly genteel. Neither the chafers, the toads, nor the

earth-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. "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 provided with a house

from our birth, and the burdock forest is planted for our sakes! I should like

to know how far it extends, 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 manorhouse, be boiled, and

laid on a silver dish; all our forefathers 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 the

burdocks 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 tremendous

hurry, and the little one is beginning to be the same. Has he not been

creeping up that stalk these three days? It gives me a headache when I look up

to him!"

"You must not scold him," said Mother Snail. "He creeps so carefully; he will

afford us much pleasure--and we have nothing but him to live for! But have

you 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 the

burdock forest?"

"Black snails, I dare say, there are enough of," said the old one. "Black

snails without a house--but they are so common, and so conceited. But we might

give the ants a commission to look out for us; they run to and fro as if they

had 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 I

am 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 hundred


"I thank you!" said Mother Snail. "Our son shall not go into an ant-hill; if

you know nothing better than that, we shall give the commission to the white

gnats. They fly far and wide, in rain and sunshine; they know the whole forest

here, 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 gooseberry 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 she

arrived; but therein was just the very best of it, for one could thus see that

she was of the same species.

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 folks

could not bear noise and merriment; but old Dame Snail made a brilliant

speech. Father Snail could not speak, he was too much affected; and so they

gave them as a dowry and inheritance, the whole forest of burdocks, and

said--what they had always said--that it was the best in the world; and if

they lived honestly and decently, and increased and multiplied, they and their

children 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 ones

crept into their shells, and never more came out. They slept; the young couple

governed in the forest, and had a numerous progeny, but they were never

boiled, and never came on the silver dishes; so from this they concluded that

the manor-house had fallen to ruins, and that all the men in the world were

extinct; and as no one contradicted them, so, of course it was so. And the

rain beat on the dock-leaves to make drum-music for their sake, and the sun

shone in order to give the burdock forest a color for their sakes; and they

were very happy, and the whole family was happy; for they, indeed were so.



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