More than a hundred years ago, behind the wood and by a deep lake, stood an old baronial mansion. Round it lay a deep moat, in which grew reeds and rushes, and close by the bridge, near the entrance gate, stood an old willow that bent itself over the moat.
From a narrow lane one day sounded the clang of horns and the trampling of horses. The little girl who kept the geese hastened to drive them away from the bridge before the hunting party came galloping up to it. They came, however, with such haste that the girl was obliged to climb up and seat herself on the parapet of the bridge, lest they should ride over her. She was scarcely more than a child, with a pretty, delicate figure, a gentle expression of face, and two bright blue eyes—all of which the baron took no note of; but as he galloped past, he reversed the whip held in his hand, and in rough play gave the little goose-watcher such a push with the butt end that she fell backward into the ditch.
“Everything in its right place,” cried he. “Into the puddle with you!” and then he laughed aloud at what he called his own wit, and the rest joined with him. The whole party shouted and screamed, and the dogs barked loudly.
Fortunately for herself, the poor girl in falling caught hold of one of the overhanging branches of the willow tree, by which she was able to keep herself from falling into the muddy pool. As soon as the baron, with his company and his dogs, had disappeared through the castle gate, she tried to raise herself by her own exertions; but the bough broke off at the top, and she would have fallen backwards among the reeds if a strong hand had not at that moment seized her from above. It was the hand of a peddler, who, at a short distance, had witnessed the whole affair and hastened up to give assistance.
“Everything in its right place,” he said, imitating the noble baron, as he drew the little maiden up on dry ground. He would have restored the bough to the place from which it had been broken off, but “everything in its right place” is not always so easy to arrange, so he stuck the bough in the soft earth. “Grow and prosper as much as you can,” said he, “till you produce a good flute for some of them over there. With the permission of the noble baron and his family, I should like them to hear my challenge.”
So he betook himself to the castle, but not into the noble hall; he was too humble for that. He went to the servants’ apartments, and the men and maids examined and turned over his stock of goods, while from above, where the company were at table, came sounds of screaming and shouting which they called singing—and indeed they did their best. Loud laughter, mingled with the howling of dogs, sounded through the open windows. All were feasting and carousing. Wine and strong ale foamed in the jugs and glasses; even the dogs ate and drank with their masters. The peddler was sent for, but only to make fun for them. The wine had mounted to their heads, and the sense had flown out. They poured wine into a stocking for him to drink with them—quickly, of course—and this was considered a rare jest and occasioned fresh bursts of laughter. At cards, whole farms, with their stock of peasants and cattle, were staked on a card and lost.
“Everything in its right place,” said the peddler, when he at last escaped from what he called the Sodom and Gomorrah up there. “The open highroad is my right place; that house did not suit me at all.” As he stepped along, he saw the little maiden keeping watch over the geese, and she nodded to him in a friendly way.
Days and weeks passed, and it soon became evident that the willow branch which had been stuck in the ground by the peddler, near to the castle moat, had taken root, for it remained fresh and green and put forth new twigs.
The little girl saw that the branch must have taken root, and she was quite joyful about it. “This tree,” she said, “must be my tree now.”
The tree certainly flourished, but at the castle, what with feasting and gambling, everything went to ruin; for these two things are like rollers, upon which no man can possibly stand securely. Six years had not passed away before the noble baron wandered out of the castle gate a poor man, and the mansion was bought by a rich dealer. This dealer was no other than the man of whom he had made fun and for whom he had poured wine into a stocking to drink. But honesty and industry are like favorable winds to a ship, and they had brought the peddler to be master of the baron’s estates. From that hour no more card playing was permitted there.
The new proprietor took to himself a wife, and who should it be but the little goose-watcher, who had always remained faithful and good, and who looked as beautiful and fine in her new clothes as if she had been a highly born lady. It would be too long a story in these busy times to explain how all this came about, but it really did happen, and the most important part is to come.
It was pleasant to live in the old court now. The mistress herself managed the housekeeping within, and the master superintended the estate. Their home overflowed with blessings, for where rectitude leads the way, prosperity is sure to follow. The old house was cleaned and painted, the moat dried up, and fruit trees planted in it. The floors of the house were polished as smoothly as a draftboard, and everything looked bright and cheerful.
During the long winter evenings the lady of the house sat with her maidens at the spinning wheel in the great hall. Her husband, in his old age, had been made a magistrate. Every Sunday evening he read the Bible with his family, for children had come to him and were all instructed in the best manner, although they were not all equally clever—as is the case in all families. In the meantime, the willow branch at the castle gate had grown into a splendid tree and stood free and unrestrained.
“That is our genealogical tree,” said the old people, “and the tree must therefore be honored and esteemed, even by those who are not very wise.”
A hundred years passed away, and the place presented a much-changed aspect. The lake had been converted into moorland, and the old baronial castle had almost disappeared. A pool of water, the deep moat, and the ruins of some of the walls were all that remained. Close by grew a magnificent willow tree, with overhanging branches—the same genealogical tree of former times. Here it still stood, showing to what beauty a willow can attain when left to itself. To be sure, the trunk was split through, from the root to the top, and the storm had slightly bent it; but it stood firm through all, and from every crevice and opening into which earth had been carried by the wind, shot forth blossoms and flowers. Near the top, where the large boughs parted, the wild raspberry twined its branches and looked like a hanging garden. Even the little mistletoe had here struck root, and flourished, graceful and delicate, among the branches of the willow, which were reflected in the dark waters beneath it. Sometimes the wind from the sea scattered the willow leaves. A path led through the field, close by the tree.
On the top of a hill, near the forest, with a splendid prospect before it, stood the new baronial hall, with panes of such transparent glass in the windows that there appeared to be none. The grand flight of steps leading to the entrance looked like a bower of roses and broad-leaved plants. The lawn was as fresh and green as if each separate blade of grass were cleaned morning and evening. In the hall hung costly pictures. The chairs and sofas were of silk and velvet and looked almost as if they could move of themselves. There were tables with white marble tops, and books bound in velvet and gold. Here, indeed, resided wealthy people, people of rank—the new baron and his family.
Each article was made to harmonize with the other furnishings. The family motto still was, “Everything in its right place.” Therefore the pictures which were once the honor and glory of the old house now hung in the passage leading to the servants’ hall. They were considered mere lumber; especially two old portraits, one of a man in a wig and a rose-colored coat, the other of a lady with frizzed and powdered hair, holding a rose in her hand, each surrounded by a wreath of willow leaves. Both the pictures had many holes in them, for the little barons always set up the two old people as targets for their bows and arrows; and yet these were pictures of the magistrate and his lady, from whom the present family were descended. “But they did not properly belong to our family,” said one of the little barons; “he was a peddler, and she kept the geese. They were not like papa and mamma.” So the pictures, being old, were considered worthless; and the motto being “Each in its right place,” the great-grandfather and the great-grandmother of the family were sent into the passage leading to the servants’ hall.
The son of the clergyman of the place was tutor at the great house. One day he was out walking with his pupils—the little barons—and their eldest sister, who had just been confirmed. They took the path through the fields, which led past the old willow tree. While they walked, the young lady made a wreath of hedge blossoms and wild flowers, “each in its right place,” and the wreath was, as a whole, very pretty. At the same time she heard every word uttered by the son of the clergyman. She liked very much to hear him talk of the wonders of nature and of the great men and women of history. She had a healthy mind, with nobility of thought and feeling, and a heart full of love for all God’s creation.
The walking party halted at the old willow tree; the youngest of the barons wanted a branch from it to make a flute, as he had already made them from other willows. The tutor broke off a branch. “Oh, don’t do that,” exclaimed the young baroness; but it was already done. “I am so sorry,” she continued; “that is our famous old tree, and I love it very much. They laugh at me for it at home, but I don’t mind. There is a story told about that tree.”
Then she told him what we already know: about the old castle, and about the peddler and the girl with the geese, who had met at this spot for the first time and were the ancestors of the noble family to which the young baroness belonged. “The good old folks would not be ennobled,” said she. “Their motto was ‘Everything in its right place,’ and they thought it would not be right for them to purchase a title with money. My grandfather, the first baron, was their son. He was a very learned man, known and appreciated by princes and princesses, and was present at all the festivals at court. At home, they all love him best, but I scarcely know why. There seems to me something in the first old pair that draws my heart towards them. How sociable, how patriarchal, it must have been in the old house, where the mistress sat at the spinning wheel with her maids while her husband read aloud to them from the Bible!”
“They must have been charming, sensible people,” said the tutor, and then the conversation turned upon nobles and commoners. It was almost as if the tutor did not belong to an inferior class, he spoke so wisely upon the purpose and intention of nobility.
“It is certainly good fortune to belong to a family that has distinguished itself in the world, and to inherit the energy which spurs us on to progress in everything noble and useful. It is pleasant to bear a family name that is like a card of admission to the highest circles. True nobility is always great and honorable. It is a coin which has received the impression of its own value. It is a mistake of the present day, into which many poets have fallen, to affirm that all who are noble by birth must therefore be wicked or foolish, and that the lower we descend in society the oftener we find great and shining characters. I feel that this is quite false. In all classes can be found men and women possessing kindly and beautiful traits.
“My mother told me of one, and I could tell you of many more. She was once on a visit to a nobleman’s house in the town; my grandmother, I believe, had been brought up in the family. One day, when my mother and the nobleman happened to be alone, an old woman came limping into the court on crutches. She was accustomed to come every Sunday and always carried away a gift with her. ‘Ah, there is the poor old woman,’ said the nobleman; ‘what pain it is for her to walk!’ And before my mother understood what he said, he had left the room and run downstairs to the old woman. Though seventy years old himself, the old nobleman carried to the woman the gift she had come to receive, to spare her the pain of walking any farther. This is only a trifling circumstance, but, like the two mites given by the widow in the Bible, it wakes an echo in the heart.
“These are subjects of which poets should write and sing, for they soften and unite mankind into one brotherhood. But when a mere sprig of humanity, because it has noble ancestors of good blood, rears up and prances like an Arabian horse in the street or speaks contemptuously of common people, then it is nobility in danger of decay—a mere pretense, like the mask which Thespis invented. People are glad to see such persons turned into objects of satire.”
This was the tutor’s speech—certainly rather a long one, but he had been busily engaged in cutting the flute while he talked.
There was a large party at the Hall that evening. The grand salon was crowded with guests—some from the neighborhood, some from the capital. There was a bevy of ladies richly dressed with, and without, taste; a group of the clergy from the adjoining parishes, in a corner together, as grave as though met for a funeral. A funeral party it certainly was not, however; it was meant for a party of pleasure, but the pleasure was yet to come. Music and song filled the rooms, first one of the party volunteering, then another. The little baron brought out his flute, but neither he nor his father, who tried it after him, could make anything of it. It was pronounced a failure.
“But you are a performer, too, surely,” said a witty gentleman, addressing the tutor. “You are of course a flute player as well as a flute maker. You are a universal genius, I hear, and genius is quite the rage nowadays—nothing like genius. Come now; I am sure you will be so good as to enchant us by playing on this little instrument.” He handed it over, announcing in a loud voice that the tutor was going to favor the company with a solo on the flute.
It was easy to see that these people wanted to make fun of him, and he refused to play. But they pressed him so long and so urgently that at last, in very weariness, he took the flute and raised it to his lips.
It was a strange flute! A sound issued from it, loud, shrill, and vibrating, like that sent forth by a steam engine—nay, far louder. It thrilled through the house, through garden and woodland, miles out into the country; and with the sound came also a strong, rushing wind, its stormy breath clearly uttering the words, “Everything in its right place!”
Forthwith the baron, the master of the Hall, was caught up by the wind, carried out at the window, and was shut up in the porter’s lodge in a trice. The porter himself was borne up, not into the drawing room—no, for that he was not fit—but into the servants’ hall, where the proud lackeys in their silk stockings shook with horror to see so low a person sit at table with them.
But in the grand salon the young baroness was wafted to the seat of honor, where she was worthy to sit, and the tutor’s place was by her side. There they sat together, for all the world like bride and bridegroom. An old count, descended from one of the noblest houses in the land, retained his seat, not so much as a breath of air disturbing him, for the flute was strictly just. The witty young gentleman, who had been the occasion of all this tumult, was whirled out headforemost to join geese and ganders in the poultry yard.
Half a mile out in the country the flute wrought wonders. The family of a rich merchant, who drove with four horses, were all precipitated from the carriage window. Two farmers, who had of late grown too wealthy to know their nearest relations, were puffed into a ditch. It was a dangerous flute. Luckily, at the first sound it uttered, it burst and was then put safely away in the tutor’s pocket. “Everything in its right place!”
Next day no more was said about the adventure than as if it had never happened. The affair was hushed up, and all things were the same as before, except that the two old portraits of the peddler and the goose girl continued to hang on the walls of the salon, whither the wind had blown them. Here some connoisseur chanced to see them, and because he pronounced them to be painted by a master hand, they were cleaned and restored and ever after held in honor. Their value had not been known before.
“Everything in its right place!” So shall it be, all in good time, never fear. Not in this world, perhaps. That would be expecting rather too much.