Everything in the Right Place by Hans Christian Andersen
IT is more than a hundred years ago! At the border of the woodnear a largelakestood the old mansion: deep ditches surrounded it on every sidein whichreeds and bulrushes grew. Close by the drawbridgenear the gatethere was anold willow treewhich bent over the reeds.
From the narrow pass came the sound of bugles and the trampling of horses'feet; therefore a little girl who was watching the geese hastened to drive themaway from the bridgebefore the whole hunting party came galloping up; theycamehoweverso quicklythat the girlin order to avoid being run overplaced herself on one of the high corner-stones of the bridge. She was stillhalf a child and very delicately built; she had bright blue eyesand a gentlesweet expression. But such things the baron did not notice; while he was ridingpast the little goose-girlhe reversed his hunting cropand in rough play gaveher such a push with it that she fell backward into the ditch.
"Everything in the right place!" he cried. "Into the ditchwith you."
Then he burst out laughingfor that he called fun; the others joined in- thewhole party shouted and criedwhile the hounds barked.
While the poor girl was falling she happily caught one of the branches of thewillow treeby the help of which she held herself over the waterand as soonas the baron with his company and the dogs had disappeared through the gatethegirl endeavoured to scramble upbut the branch broke offand she would havefallen backward among the rusheshad not a strong hand from above seized her atthis moment. It was the hand of a pedlar; he had witnessed what had happenedfrom a short distanceand now hastened to assist her.
"Everything in the right place" he saidimitating the noble baronand pulling the little maid up to the dry ground. He wished to put the branchback in the place it had been broken offbut it is not possible to puteverything in the right place;" therefore he stuck the branch into the softground.
"Grow and thrive if you canand produce a good flute for them yonder atthe mansion" he said; it would have given him great pleasure to see thenoble baron and his companions well thrashed. Then he entered the castle- butnot the banqueting hall; he was too humble for that. No; he went to theservants' hall. The men-servants and maids looked over his stock of articles andbargained with him; loud crying and screaming were heard from the master's tableabove: they called it singing- indeedthey did their best. Laughter and thehowls of dogs were heard through the open windows: there they were feasting andrevelling; wine and strong old ale were foaming in the glasses and jugs; thefavourite dogs ate with their masters; now and then the squires kissed one ofthese animalsafter having wiped its mouth first with the tablecloth. Theyordered the pedlar to come upbut only to make fun of him. The wine had gotinto their headsand reason had left them. They poured beer into a stockingthat he could drink with thembut quick. That's what they called funand itmade them laugh. Then meadowspeasantsand farmyards were staked on one cardand lost.
"Everything in the right place!" the pedlar said when he had atlast safely got out of Sodom and Gomorrahas he called it. "The open highroad is my right place; up there I did not feel at ease."
The little maidwho was still watching the geesenodded kindly to him as hepassed through the gate.
Days and weeks passedand it was seen that the broken willow-branch whichthe peddlar had stuck into the ground near the ditch remained fresh and green-nayit even put forth fresh twigs; the little goose-girl saw that the branchhad taken rootand was very pleased; the treeso she saidwas now her tree.While the tree was advancingeverything else at the castle was going backwardthrough feasting and gamblingfor these are two rollers upon which nobodystands safely. Less than six years afterwards the baron passed out of hiscastle-gate a poor beggarwhile the baronial seat had been bought by a richtradesman. He was the very pedlar they had made fun of and poured beer into astocking for him to drink; but honesty and industry bring one forwardand nowthe pedlar was the possessor of the baronial estate. From that time forward nocard-playing was permitted there.
"That's a bad pastime" he said; "when the devil saw the Biblefor the first time he wanted to produce a caricature in opposition to itandinvented card-playing."
The new proprietor of the estate took a wifeand whom did he take?- Thelittle goose-girlwho had always remained good and kindand who looked asbeautiful in her new clothes as if she had been a lady of high birth. And howdid all this come about? That would be too long a tale to tell in our busy timebut it really happenedand the most important events have yet to be told.
It was pleasant and cheerful to live in the old place now: the mothersuperintended the householdand the father looked after things out-of-doorsand they were indeed very prosperous.
Where honesty leads the wayprosperity is sure to follow. The old mansionwas repaired and paintedthe ditches were cleaned and fruit-trees planted; allwas homely and pleasantand the floors were as white and shining as apasteboard. In the long winter evenings the mistress and her maids sat at thespinning-wheel in the large hall; every Sunday the counsellor- this title thepedlar had obtainedalthough only in his old days- read aloud a portion fromthe Bible. The children (for they had children) all received the best educationbut they were not all equally cleveras is the case in all families.
In the meantime the willow tree near the drawbridge had grown up into asplendid treeand stood therefreeand was never clipped. "It is ourgenealogical tree" said the old people to their children"andtherefore it must be honoured."
A hundred years had elapsed. It was in our own days; the lake had beentransformed into marsh land; the whole baronial seat hadas it weredisappeared. A pool of water near some ruined walls was
the only remainder of the deep ditches; and here stood a magnificent old treewith overhanging branches- that was the genealogical tree. Here it stoodandshowed how beautiful a willow can look if one does not interfere with it. Thetrunkit is truewas cleft in the middle from the root to the crown; thestorms had bent it a littlebut it still stood thereand out of every creviceand cleftin which wind and weather had carried mouldblades of grass andflowers sprang forth. Especially abovewhere the large boughs partedthere wasquite a hanging gardenin which wild raspberries and hart's-tongue ferns throveand even a little mistletoe had taken rootand grew gracefully in the oldwillow brancheswhich were reflected in the dark water beneath when the windblew the chickweed into the corner of the pool. A footpath which led across thefields passed close by the old tree. High upon the woody hillsidestood thenew mansion. It had a splendid viewand was large and magnificent; its windowpanes were so clear that one might have thought there were none there at all.The large flight of steps which led to the entrance looked like a bower coveredwith roses and broad-leaved plants. The lawn was as green as if each blade ofgrass was cleaned separately morning and evening. Insidein the hallvaluableoil paintings were hanging on the walls. Here stood chairs and sofas coveredwith silk and velvetwhich could be easily rolled about on castors; there weretables with polished marble topsand books bound in morocco with gilt edges.Indeedwell-to-do and distinguished people lived here; it was the dwelling ofthe baron and his family. Each article was in keeping with its surroundings."Everything in the right place" was the motto according to which theyalso acted hereand therefore all the paintings which had once been the honourand glory of the old mansion were now hung up in the passage which led to theservants' rooms. It was all old lumberespecially two portraits- onerepresenting a man in a scarlet coat with a wigand the other a lady withpowdered and curled hair holding a rose in her handeach of them beingsurrounded by a large wreath of willow branches. Both portraits had many holesin thembecause the baron's sons used the two old people as targets for theircrossbows. They represented the counsellor and his wifefrom whom the wholefamily descended. "But they did not properly belong to our family"said one of the boys; "he was a pedlar and she kept the geese. They werenot like papa and mamma." The portraits were old lumberand "everythingin its right place." That was why the great-grandparents had been hung upin the passage leading to the servants' rooms.
The son of the village pastor was tutor at the mansion. One day he went for awalk across the fields with his young pupils and their elder sisterwho hadlately been confirmed. They walked along the road which passed by the old willowtreeand while they were on the road she picked a bunch of field-flowers."Everything in the right place" and indeed the bunch looked verybeautiful. At the same time she listened to all that was saidand she very muchliked to hear the pastor's son speak about the elements and of the great men andwomen in history. She had a healthy mindnoble in thought and deedand with aheart full of love for everything that God had created. They stopped at the oldwillow treeas the youngest of the baron's sons wished very much to have aflute from itsuch as had been cut for him from other willow trees; thepastor's son broke a branch off. "Ohpray do not do it!" said theyoung lady; but it was already done. "That is our famous old tree. I loveit very much. They often laugh at me at home about itbut that does not matter.There is a story attached to this tree." And now she told him all that wealready know about the tree- the old mansionthe pedlar and the goose-girl whohad met there for the first timeand had become the ancestors of the noblefamily to which the young lady belonged.
"They did not like to be knightedthe good old people" she said;"their motto was 'everything in the right place' and it would not be rightthey thoughtto purchase a title for money. My grandfatherthe first baronwas their son. They say he was a very learned mana great favourite with theprinces and princessesand was invited to all court festivities. The others athome love him best; butI do not know whythere seemed to me to be somethingabout the old couple that attracts my heart! How homelyhow patriarchalitmust have been in the old mansionwhere the mistress sat at the spinning-wheelwith her maidswhile her husband read aloud out of the Bible!"
"They must have been excellentsensible people" said the pastor'sson. And with this the conversation turned naturally to noblemen and commoners;from the manner in which the tutor spoke about the significance of being nobleit seemed almost as if he did not belong to a commoner's family.
"It is good fortune to be of a family who have distinguished themselvesand to possess as it were a spur in oneself to advance to all that is good. Itis a splendid thing to belong to a noble familywhose name serves as a card ofadmission to the highest circles. Nobility is a distinction; it is a gold cointhat bears the stamp of its own value. It is the fallacy of the timeand manypoets express itto say that all that is noble is bad and stupidand thatonthe contrarythe lower one goes among the poorthe more brilliant virtues onefinds. I do not share this opinionfor it is wrong. In the upper classes onesees many touchingly beautiful traits; my own mother has told me of suchand Icould mention several. One day she was visiting a nobleman's house in town; mygrandmotherI believehad been the lady's nurse when she was a child. Mymother and the nobleman were alone in the roomwhen he suddenly noticed an oldwoman on crutches come limping into the courtyard; she came every Sunday tocarry a gift away with her.
"'There is the poor old woman' said the nobleman; 'it is so difficultfor her to walk.'
"My mother had hardly understood what he said before he disappeared fromthe roomand went downstairsin order to save her the troublesome walk for thegift she came to fetch. Of course this is only a little incidentbut it has itsgood sound like the poor widow's two mites in the Biblethe sound which echoesin the depth of every human heart; and this is what the poet ought to show andpoint out- more especially in our own time he ought to sing of this; it doesgoodit mitigates and reconciles! But when a mansimply because he is of noblebirth and possesses a genealogystands on his hind legs and neighs in thestreet like an Arabian horseand says when a commoner has been in a room: 'Somepeople from the street have been here' there nobility is decaying; it hasbecome a mask of the kind that Thespis createdand it is amusing when such aperson is exposed in satire."
Such was the tutor's speech; it was a little longbut while he delivered ithe had finished cutting the flute.
There was a large party at the mansion; many guests from the neighbourhoodand from the capital had arrived. There were ladies with tasteful and withtasteless dresses; the big hall was quite crowded with people. The clergymenstood humbly together in a cornerand looked as if they were preparing for afuneralbut it was a festival- only the amusement had not yet begun. A greatconcert was to take placeand that is why the baron's young son had brought hiswillow flute with him; but he could not make it soundnor could his fatherandtherefore the flute was good for nothing.
There was music and songs of the kind which delight most those
that perform them; otherwise quite charming!
"Are you an artist?" said a cavalierthe son of his father; "youplay on the fluteyou have made it yourself; it is genius that rules- the placeof honour is due to you."
"Certainly not! I only advance with the timeand that of course onecan't help."
"I hope you will delight us all with the little instrument- will you not?"Thus saying he handed to the tutor the flute which had been cut from the willowtree by the pool; and then announced in a loud voice that the tutor wished toperform a solo on the flute. They wished to tease him- that was evidentandtherefore the tutor declined to playalthough he could do so very well. Theyurged and requested himhoweverso longthat at last he took up the flute andplaced it to his lips.
That was a marvellous flute! Its sound was as thrilling as the whistle of asteam engine; in fact it was much strongerfor it sounded and was heard in theyardin the gardenin the woodand many miles round in the country; at thesame time a storm rose and roared; "Everything in the right place."And with this the baronas if carried by the windflew out of the hallstraight into the shepherd's cottageand the shepherd flew- not into the hallthither he could not come- but into the servants' hallamong the smart footmenwho were striding about in silk stockings; these haughty menials lookedhorror-struck that such a person ventured to sit at table with them. But in thehall the baron's daughter flew to the place of honour at the end of the table-she was worthy to sit there; the pastor's son had the seat next to her; the twosat there as if they were a bridal pair. An old Countbelonging to one of theoldest families of the countryremained untouched in his place of honour; theflute was justand it is one's duty to be so. The sharp-tongued cavalier whohad caused the flute to be playedand who was the child of his parentsflewheadlong into the fowl-housebut not he alone.
The flute was heard at the distance of a mileand strange events took place.A rich banker's familywho were driving in a coach and fourwere blown out ofitand could not even find room behind it with their footmen. Two rich farmerswho had in our days shot up higher than their own corn-fieldswere flung intothe ditch; it was a dangerous flute. Fortunately it burst at the first soundand that was a good thingfor then it was put back into its owner's pocket-"its right place."
The next daynobody spoke a word about what had taken place; thus originatedthe phrase"to pocket the flute." Everything was again in its usualorderexcept that the two old pictures of the peddlar and the goose-girl werehanging in the banqueting-hall. There they were on the wall as if blown up there;and as a real expert said that they were painted by a master's handtheyremained there and were restored. "Everything in the right place" andto this it will come. Eternity is longmuch longer indeed than this story. - -