By Louise de la Ramee

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The Ambitious Rose Tree

She was a Quatre Saison Rose Tree.

She lived in a beautiful old garden with some charming magnolias for neighbors: they rather overshadowed her, certainly, because they were so very great and grand; but then such shadow as that is preferable, as every one knows, to a mere vulgar enjoyment of common daylight, and then the beetles went most to the magnolia- blossoms, for being so great and grand of course they got very much preyed upon, and this was a vast gain for the rose that was near them. She herself leaned against the wall of an orange-house, in company with a Banksia, a buoyant, active, simple-minded thing, for whom Rosa Damascena, who thought herself much better born than these climbers, had a natural contempt. Banksiae will flourish and be content anywhere, they are such easily pleased creatures; and when you cut them they thrive on it, which shows a very plebeian and pachydermatous temper; and they laugh all over in the face of an April day, shaking their little golden clusters of blossom in such a merry way that the Rose Tree, who was herself very reserved and thorny, had really scruples about speaking to them.

For she was by nature extremely proud,–much prouder than her lineage warranted,–and a hard fate had fixed her to the wall of an orangery, where hardly anybody ever came, except the gardener and his men to carry the oranges in in winter and out in spring, or water and tend them while they were housed there.

She was a handsome rose, and she knew it. But the garden was so crowded–like the world–that she could not get herself noticed in it. In vain was she radiant and red close on to Christmas-time as in the fullest heats of midsummer. Nobody thought about her or praised her. She pined and was very unhappy.

The Banksiae, who are little, frank, honest-hearted creatures, and say out what they think, as such plebeian people will, used to tell her roundly she was thankless for the supreme excellence of her lot.

“You have everything the soul of a rose can wish for: a splendid old wall with no nasty chinks in it; a careful gardener, who nips all the larvae in the bud before they can do you any damage; sun, water, care; above all, nobody ever cuts a single blossom off you! What more can you wish for? This orangery is paradise!”

She did not answer.

What wounded her pride so deeply was just this fact, that they never DID cut off any of her blossoms. When day after day, year after year, she crowned herself with her rich crimson glory and no one ever came nigh to behold or to gather it, she could have died with vexation and humiliation.

Would nobody see she was worth anything?

The truth was that in this garden there was such an abundance of very rare roses that a common though beautiful one like Rosa Damascena remained unthought of; she was lovely, but then there were so many lovelier still, or, at least, much more a la mode.

In the secluded garden corner she suffered all the agonies of a pretty woman in the great world, who is only a pretty woman, and no more. It needs so VERY much more to be “somebody.” To be somebody was what Rosa Damascena sighed for, from rosy dawn to rosier sunset.

From her wall she could see across the green lawns, the great parterre which spread before the house terrace, and all the great roses that bloomed there,–Her Majesty Gloire de Dijon, who was a reigning sovereign born, the royally born Niphetos, the Princesse Adelaide, the Comtesse Ouvaroff, the Vicomtesse de Cazes all in gold, Madame de Sombreuil in snowy white, the beautiful Louise de Savoie, the exquisite Duchess of Devoniensis,–all the roses that were great ladies in their own right, and as far off her as were the stars that hung in heaven. Rosa Damascena would have given all her brilliant carnation hues to be pale and yellow like the Princesse Adelaide, or delicately colorless like Her Grace of Devoniensis.

She tried all she could to lose her own warm blushes, and prayed that bees might sting her and so change her hues; but the bees were of low taste, and kept their pearl-powder and rouge and other pigments for the use of common flowers, like the evening primrose or the butter-cup and borage, and never came near to do her any good in arts of toilet.

One day the gardener approached and stood and looked at her: then all at once she felt a sharp stab in her from his knife, and a vivid pain ran downward through her stem.

She did not know it, but gardeners and gods “this way grant prayer.”

“Has not something happened to me?” she asked of the little Banksiae; for she felt very odd all over her; and when you are unwell you cannot be very haughty.

The saucy Banksiae laughed, running over their wires that they cling to like little children.

“You have got your wish,” they said. “You are going to be a great lady; they have made you into a Rosa Indica!”

A tea rose! Was it possible?

Was she going to belong at last to that grand and graceful order, which she had envied so long and vainly from afar?

Was she, indeed, no more mere simple Rosa Damascena? She felt so happy she could hardly breathe. She thought it was her happiness that stifled her; in real matter of fact it was the tight bands in which the gardener had bound her.

“Oh, what joy!” she thought, though she still felt very uncomfortable, but not for the world would she ever have admitted it to the Banksiae.

The gardener had tied a tin tube on to her, and it was heavy and cumbersome; but no doubt, she said to herself, the thing was fashionable, so she bore the burden of it very cheerfully.

The Banksiae asked her how she felt, but she would not deign even to reply; and when a friendly blackbird, who had often picked grubs off her leaves, came and sang to her, she kept silent: a Rosa Indica was far above a blackbird.

“Next time you want a caterpillar taken away, he may eat you for ME!” said the blackbird, and flew off in a huff.

She was very ungrateful to hate the black-bird so, for he had been most useful to her in doing to death all the larvae of worms and beetles and caterpillars and other destroyers which were laid treacherously within her leaves. The good blackbird, with many another feathered friend, was forever at work in some good deed of the kind, and all the good, grateful flowers loved him and his race. But to this terribly proud and discontented Rosa Damascena he had been a bore, a common creature, a nuisance, a monster–any one of these things by turns, and sometimes all of them altogether. She used to long for the cat to get him.

“You ought to be such a happy rose!” the merle had said to her, one day. “There is no rose so strong and healthy as you are, except the briers.”

And from that day she had hated him. The idea of naming those hedgerow brier roses in the same breath with her!

You would have seen in that moment of her rage a very funny sight had you been there; nothing less funny than a rose tree trying to box a blackbird’s ears!

But, to be sure, you would only have thought the wind was blowing about the rose, so you would have seen nothing really of the drollery of it all, which was not droll at all to Rosa Damascena, for a wound in one’s vanity is as long healing as a wound from a conical bullet in one’s body. The blackbird had not gone near her after that, nor any of his relations and friends, and she had had a great many shooting and flying pains for months together, in consequence of aphides’ eggs having been laid inside her stem– eggs of which the birds would have eased her long before if they had not been driven away by her haughty rage.

However, she had been almost glad to have some ailment. She had called it aneurism, and believed it made her look refined and interesting. If it would only have made her pale! But it had not done that: she had remained of the richest rose color.

When the winter had passed and the summer had come round again, the grafting had done its work: she was really a Rosa Indica, and timidly put forth the first blossom in her new estate. It was a small, rather puny yellowish thing, not to be compared to her own natural red clusters, but she thought it far finer.

Scarcely had it been put forth by her than the gardener whipped it off with his knife, and bore it away in proof of his success in such transmogrifications.

She had never felt the knife before, when she had been only Rosa Damascena: it hurt her very much, and her heart bled.

“Il faut souffrir pour etre belle,” said the Banksiae in a good- natured effort at consolation. She was not going to answer them, and she made believe that her tears were only dew, though it was high noon and all the dewdrops had been drunk by the sun, who by noontime gets tired of climbing and grows thirsty.

Her next essay was much finer, and the knife whipped that off also. That summer she bore more and more blossoms, and always the knife cut them away, for she had been made one of the great race of Rosa Indica.

Now, a rose tree, when a blossom is chopped or broken off, suffers precisely as we human mortals do if we lose a finger; but the rose tree, being a much more perfect and delicate handiwork of nature than any human being, has a faculty we have not: it lives and has a sentient soul in every one of its roses, and whatever one of these endures the tree entire endures also by sympathy. You think this very wonderful? Not at all. It is no whit more wonderful than that a lizard’s tail chopped off runs about by itself, or that a dog can scent a foe or a thief whilst the foe or the thief is yet miles away. All these things are most wonderful, or not at all so- -just as you like.

In a little while she bore another child: this time it was a fine fair creature, quite perfect in its hues and shapes. “I never saw a prettier!” said an emperor butterfly, pausing near for a moment; at that moment the knife of the gardener severed the rosebud’s stalk.

“The lady wants one for her bouquet de corsage: she goes to the opera to-night,” the man said to another man, as he took the young tea rose.

“What is the opera?” asked the mother rose wearily of the butterfly. He did not know; but his cousin the death’s-head moth, asleep under a magnolia leaf, looked down with a grim smile on his quaint face.

“It is where everything dies in ten seconds,” he answered. “It is a circle of fire; many friends of mine have flown in, none ever returned: your daughter will shrivel up and perish miserably. One pays for glory.”

The rose tree shivered through all her stalks; but she was still proud, and tried to think that all this was said only out of envy. What should an old death’s-head moth know, whose eyes were so weak that a farthing rushlight blinded them?

So she lifted herself a little higher, and would not even see that the Banksiae were nodding to her; and as for her old friend the blackbird, how vulgar he looked, bobbing up and down hunting worms and woodlice! could anything be more outrageously vulgar than that staring yellow beak of his? She twisted herself round not to see him, and felt quite annoyed that he went on and sang just the same, unconscious of, or indifferent to, her coldness.

With each successive summer Rosa Damascena became more integrally and absolutely a Rosa Indica, and suffered in proportion to her fashion and fame.

True, people came continually to look at her, and especially in Maytime would cry aloud, “What a beautiful Niphetos!” But then she was bereaved of all her offspring, for, being of the race of Niphetos, they were precious, and one would go to die in an hour in a hot ballroom, and another to perish in a Sevres vase, where the china indeed was exquisite but the water was foul, and others went to be suffocated in the vicious gases of what the mortals call an opera box, and others were pressed to death behind hard diamonds in a woman’s bosom; in one way or another they each and all perished miserably. She herself also lost many of her once luxuriant leaves, and had a little scanty foliage, red-brown in summer, instead of the thick, dark-green clothing that she had worn when a rustic maiden. Not a day passed but the knife stabbed her; when the knife had nothing to take she was barren and chilly, for she had lost the happy power of looking beautiful all the year round, which once she had possessed.

One day came when she was taken up out of the ground and borne into a glass house, placed in a large pot, and lifted up on to a pedestal, and left in a delicious atmosphere, with patrician plants all around her with long Latin names, and strange, rare beauties of their own. She bore bud after bud in this crystal temple, and became a very crown of blossom; and her spirit grew so elated, and her vanity so supreme, that she ceased to remember she had ever been a simple Rosa Damascena, except that she was always saying to herself, “How great I am! how great I am!” which she might have noticed that those born ladies, the Devoniensis and the Louise de Savoie, never did. But she noticed nothing except her own beauty, which she could see in a mirror that was let into the opposite wall of the greenhouse. Her blossoms were many and all quite perfect, and no knife touched them; and though to be sure she was still very scantily clothed so far as foliage went, yet she was all the more fashionable for that, so what did it matter?

One day, when her beauty was at its fullest perfection, she heard all the flowers about her bending and whispering with rustling and murmuring, saying, “Who will be chosen? who will be chosen?”

Chosen for what? They did not talk much to her, because she was but a newcomer and a parvenue, but she gathered from them in a little time that there was to be a ball for a marriage festivity at the house to which the greenhouse was attached. Each flower wondered if it would be chosen to go to it. The azaleas knew they would go, because they were in their pink or rose ball-dresses all ready; but no one else was sure. The rose tree grew quite sick and faint with hope and fear. Unless she went, she felt that life was not worth the living. She had no idea what a ball might be, but she knew that it was another form of greatness, when she was all ready, too, and so beautiful!

The gardener came and sauntered down the glass house, glancing from one to another. The hearts of all beat high. The azaleas only never changed color: they were quite sure of themselves. Who could do without them in February?

“Oh, take me! take me! take me!” prayed the rose tree, in her foolish, longing, arrogant heart.

Her wish was given her. The lord of their fates smiled when he came to where she stood.

“This shall be for the place of honor,” he murmured, as he lifted her out of the large vase she lived in on to a trestle and summoned his boys to bear her away. The very azaleas themselves grew pale with envy.

As for the rose tree herself, she would not look at any one; she was carried through the old garden straight past the Banksise, but she would make them no sign; and as for the blackbird, she hoped a cat had eaten him! Had he not known her as Rosa Damascena?

She was borne bodily, roots and all, carefully wrapped up in soft matting, and taken into the great house.

It was a very great house, a very grand house, and there was to be a marvelous feast in it, and a prince and princess from over the seas were that night to honor the mistress of it by their presence. All this Rosa Indica had gathered from the chatter of the flowers, and when she came into the big palace she saw many signs of excitement and confusion: servants out of livery were running up against one another in their hurry-scurry; miles and miles, it seemed, of crimson carpeting were being unrolled all along the terrace and down the terrace steps, since by some peculiar but general impression royal personages are supposed not to like to walk upon anything else, though myself I think they must get quite sick of red carpet, seeing so very much of it spread for them wherever they go. To Rosa Indica, however, the bright scarlet carpeting looked very handsome, and seemed, indeed, a foretaste of heaven.

Soon she was carried quite inside the house, into an immense room with a beautiful dome-shaped ceiling, painted in fresco three centuries before, and fresh as though it had been painted yesterday. At the end of the room was a great chair, gilded and painted, too, three centuries before, and covered with velvet, gold-fringed, and powdered with golden grasshoppers. “That common insect here!” thought Rosa, in surprise, for she did not know that the chief of the house, long, long, long ago, when sleeping in the heat of noon in Palestine in the first crusade, had been awakened by a grasshopper lighting on his eyelids, and so had been aroused in time to put on his armor and do battle with a troop attacking Saracen cavalry, and beat them; wherefore, in gratitude, he had taken the humble field-creature as his badge for evermore.

They set the roots of Rosa Indica now into a vase–such a vase! the royal blue of Sevres, if you please, and with border and scroll work and all kinds of wonders and glories painted on it and gilded on it, and standing four feet high if it stood one inch! I could never tell you the feelings of Rosa if I wrote a thousand pages. Her heart thrilled so with ecstasy that she almost dropped all her petals, only her vanity came to her aid, and helped her to control in a measure her emotions. The gardeners broke off a good deal of mould about her roots, and they muttered one to another something about her dying of it. But Rosa thought no more of that than a pretty lady does when her physician tells her she will die of tight lacing; not she! She was going to be put into that Sevres vase.

This was enough for her, as it is enough for the lady that she is going to be put into a hundred-guinea ball gown.

In she went. It was certainly a tight fit, as the gown often is, and Rosa felt nipped, strained, bruised, suffocated. But an old proverb has settled long ago that pride feels no pain, and perhaps the more foolish the pride the less is the pain that is felt–for the moment.

They set her well into the vase, putting green moss over her roots, and then they stretched her branches out over a gilded trelliswork at the back of the vase. And very beautiful she looked; and she was at the head of the room, and a huge mirror down at the farther end opposite to her showed her own reflection. She was in paradise!

“At last,” she thought to herself, “at last they have done me justice!”

The azaleas were all crowded round underneath her, like so many kneeling courtiers, but they were not taken out of their pots; they were only shrouded in moss. They had no Sevres vases. And they had always thought so much of themselves and given themselves such airs, for there is nothing so vain as an azalea,–except, indeed, a camellia, which is the most conceited flower in the world, though, to do it justice, it is also the most industrious, for it is busy getting ready its next winter buds whilst the summer is still hot and broad on the land, which is very wise and prudent in it and much to be commended.

Well, there was Rosa Indica at the head of the room in the Sevres vase, and very proud and triumphant she felt throned there, and the azaleas, of course, were whispering enviously underneath her, “Well, after all, she was only Rosa Damascena not so VERY long ago.”

Yes, THEY KNEW! What a pity it was! They knew she had once been Rosa Damascena and never would wash it out of their minds–the tiresome, spiteful, malignant creatures!

Even aloft in the vase, in all her glory, the rose could have shed tears of mortification, and was ready to cry like Themistocles, “Can nobody give us oblivion?”

Nobody could give that, for the azaleas, who were so irritated at being below her, were not at all likely to hold their tongues. But she had great consolations and triumphs, and began to believe that, let them say what they chose, she had never been a common garden wall rose. The ladies of the house came in and praised her to the skies; the children ran up to her and clapped their hands and shouted for joy at her beauty; a wonderful big green bird came in and hopped before her, cocked his head on one side, and said to her, “Pretty Poll! oh, SUCH a pretty Poll!”

“Even the birds adore me here!” she thought, not dreaming he was only talking of himself; for when you are as vain as was this poor dear Rosa, creation is pervaded with your own perfections, and even when other people say only “Poll!” you feel sure they are saying “You!” or they ought to be if they are not.

So there she stood in her grand Sevres pot, and she was ready to cry with the poet, “The world may end tonight!” Alas! it was not the world which was to end. Let me hasten to close this true heart-rending history.

There was a great dinner as the sun began to set, and the mistress of the house came in on the arm of the great foreign prince; and what did the foreign prince do but look up at Rosa, straight up at her, and over the heads of the azaleas, and say to his hostess: “What a beautiful rose you have there! A Niphetos, is it not?”

And her mistress, who had known her long as simple Rosa Damascena, answered, “Yes, sir; it is a Niphetos.”

Oh, to have lived for that hour! The silly thing thought it worth all her suffering from the gardener’s knife, all the loss of her robust health and delightful power of flowering in all four seasons. She was a Niphetos, really and truly a Niphetos! and not one syllable hinted as to her origin! She began to believe she had been BORN a tea rose!

The dinner was long and gorgeous; the guests were dazzling in jewels and in decorations; the table was loaded with old plate and rare china; the prince made a speech and used her as a simile of love and joy and purity and peace. The rose felt giddy with triumph and with the fumes of the wines around her. Her vase was of purple and gold, and all the voices round her said, “Oh, the beautiful rose!” No one noticed the azaleas. How she wished that the blackbird could see for a minute, if the cat would gobble him up the next!

The day sped on; the chatelaine and her guests went away; the table was rearranged; the rose tree was left in its place of honor; the lights were lit; there was the sound of music near at hand; they were dancing in other chambers.

Above her hung a chandelier–a circle of innumerable little flames and drops that looked like dew or diamonds. She thought it was the sun come very close. After it had been there a little while it grew very hot, and its rays hurt her.

“Can you not go a little farther away, O Sun?” she said to it. It was flattered at being taken for the sun, but answered her: “I am fixed in my place. Do you not understand astronomy?”

She did not know what astronomy was, so was silent, and the heat hurt her. Still, she was in the place of honor: so she was happy.

People came and went; but nobody noticed her. They ate and drank, they laughed and made love, and then went away to dance again, and the music went on all night long, and all night long the heat of the chandelier poured down on her.

“I am in the place of honor,” she said to herself a thousand times in each hour.

But the heat scorched her, and the fumes of the wines made her faint. She thought of the sweet fresh air of the old garden where the Banksiae were. The garden was quite near, but the windows were closed, and there were the walls now between her and it. She was in the place of honor. But she grew sick and waxed faint as the burning rays of the artificial light shining above her seemed to pierce through and through her like lances of steel. The night seemed very long. She was tired.

She was erect there on her Sevres throne, with the light thrilling and throbbing upon her in every point. But she thought of the sweet, dark, fresh nights in the old home where the blackbird had slept, and she longed for them.

The dancers came and went, the music thrummed and screamed, the laughter was both near and far; the rose tree was amidst it all. Yet she felt alone–all alone! as travelers may feel in a desert. Hour succeeded hour; the night wore on apace; the dancers ceased to come; the music ceased, too; the light still burned down upon her, and the scorching fever of it consumed her like fire.

Then there came silence–entire silence. Servants came round and put out all the lights–hundreds and hundreds of lights–quickly, one by one. Other servants went to the windows and threw them wide open to let out the fumes of wine. Without, the night was changing into the gray that tells of earliest dawn. But it was a bitter frost; the grass was white with it; the air was ice. In the great darkness that had now fallen on all the scene this deadly cold came around the rose tree and wrapped her in it as in a shroud.

She shivered from head to foot.

The cruel glacial coldness crept into the hot banqueting chamber, and moved round it in white, misty circles, like steam, like ghosts of the gay guests that had gone. All was dark and chill– dark and chill as any grave!

What worth was the place of honor now?

Was this the place of honor?

The rose tree swooned and drooped! A servant’s rough hand shook down its worn beauty into a heap of fallen leaves. When they carried her out dead in the morning, the little Banksia-buds, safe hidden from the frost within their stems, waiting to come forth when the summer should come, murmured to one another:–

“She had her wish; she was great. This way the gods grant foolish prayers, and punish discontent!”


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