A ROUND the garden ran a hedge of hazels; beyond this hedge lay fields and meadows wherein were cows and sheep, but in the midst of the garden stood a blooming Rose-tree, and under this Rose-tree lived a Snail who had a good deal in his shell—namely, himself.
"Wait till my time comes!" he said. "I shall do something more than produce roses, bear nuts, or give milk, like the Rose-tree, the hazel-bush, and the cows!"
"I expect a great deal of you," said the Rose-tree. "But may I ask when it will appear?"
"I take my time," replied the Snail. "You are always in such a hurry. You don't rouse people's interest by suspense."
When the next year came the Snail lay almost in the same spot, in the sunshine under the Rose-tree, which again bore buds that bloomed into roses, until the snow fell and the weather became raw and cold; then the Rose-tree bowed its head and the Snail crept into the ground.
A new year began; and the roses came out, and the Snail came out also.
"You're an old Rose-tree now!" said the Snail. "You must make haste and come to an end, for you have given the world all that was in you; whether it was of any use is a question that I have had no time to consider; but so much is clear and plain, that you have done nothing at all for your own development, or you would have produced something else. How can you answer for that? In a little time you will be nothing at all but a stick. Do you understand what I say?"
"You alarm me!" replied the Rose-tree. "I never thought of that at all."
"No; you have not taken the trouble to consider anything. Have you ever given an account to yourself why you bloomed, and how it is that your blooming comes about—why it is thus, and not otherwise?"
"No;" answered the Rose-tree. "I bloomed in gladness, because I could not do anything else. The sun shone and warmed me, and the air refreshed me. I drank the pure dew and the fresh rain, and I lived, I breathed. Out of the earth there arose a power within me; from above there came down a strength; I perceived a new, ever-increasing happiness, and consequently I was obliged to bloom over and over again: that was my life; I could not do otherwise."
"You have led a pleasant life," observed the Snail. "Certainly. Everything I have was given to me," said the Rose-tree. "But more still was given to you. You are one of those deep, thoughtful characters, one of those highly gifted spirits which will cause the world to marvel."
"I've no intention of doing anything of the kind," cried the Snail. "The world is nothing to me. What have I to do with the world? I have enough of myself and in myself."
"But must we not all here on earth give to others the best we have and offer what lies in our power? Certainly I have only given roses. But you—you who have been so richly gifted—what have you given to the world? What do you intend to give?"
"What have I given—what do I intend to give? I spit at it. It's worth nothing. It's no business of mine. Continue to give your roses, if you like; you can't do any better. Let the hazel-bush bear nuts, and the cows and the ewes give milk; they have their public; but I have mine within myself—I retire within myself, and there I remain. The world is nothing to me." And so saying the Snail retired into his house and closed up the entrance after him.
"That is very sad!" said the Rose-tree. "I cannot creep into myself, even if I wished it; I must continue to produce roses. They drop their leaves and are blown away by the wind. But I saw how a rose was laid in the matron's hymn-book, and one of my roses had a place on the bosom of a fair young girl, and another was kissed by the lips of a child in the full joy of life. That did me good; it was a real blessing. That's my remembrance—my life!"
And the Rose-tree went on blooming in innocence, while the Snail lay and idled away his time in his house—the world did not concern him.
And years rolled by.
The Snail had become dust in the dust, and the Rose-tree was earth in the earth; the rose of remembrance in the hymn-book was faded, but in the garden bloomed fresh rose-trees, and under the trees lay new snails; and these still crept into their houses, and spat at the world, for it did not concern them.
Suppose we begin the story again and read it right through. It will never alter.