Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Hans Christian Andersen


What Happened to the Thistle

A ROUND the fine old mansion was a beautiful garden full of all kinds of rare trees and flowers; the guests, on a visit to the owner of all this, expressed their delight and admiration of the wonderful garden; the people from the country round about, and from the nearest town, used to come on Sundays and holidays and ask permission to see it; even whole schools made excursions to that place, merely for the purpose of seeing the garden.

Outside of the garden—by the fence that separated it from the meadow—stood an immense Thistle; an uncommonly large and fine thistle, with several branches spreading out just above the root, and altogether it was so strong and full as to make it well worthy of the name of thistle-bush. No one even noticed it save the old donkey that pulled the milk-cart for the dairy-maids; he stood grazing in the meadow hard by, and stretched his old neck to reach the thistle, saying: "You are beautiful! I should like to eat you!" but the tether was too short to admit of his reaching the Thistle, so that he did not eat it.

There was company staying at "the Hall"—fine, aristocratic relations from town—graceful, lovely girls, and among them a young lady who had come from "foreign parts," all the way from Scotland. She was of old and noble family, and rich in gold and lands; a bride well worth the winning, thought more than one of the young men, and their mothers thought so, too!

The young people were amusing themselves on the lawn playing croquet; they flitted about among the flowers, and each of the young girls gathered one and put it in one of the gentlemen's buttonholes; but the young Scotch lady looked all about for a flower, but none of them seemed to please her till all at once, happening to glance over the fence, she spied the fine large Thistle-bush standing there full of its bluish-red, healthy-looking flowers. She saw it and smiled, and begged the son of the house to get one of them for her.

"That is Scotland's flower," she said; "it grows and blossoms in our Arms; that flower give me."

And he gathered the finest of the thistle flowers, and pricked his fingers as much in doing so as if it had been growing on a wild rose-bush.

She took the flower and put it in his buttonhole, and he felt greatly honored thereby. Each of the other young men would gladly have given up his graceful garden flower if he might have worn the one given by the delicate hands of the Scotch girl. The son of the house felt the honor conferred upon him to be great, but the Thistle felt it still more; it seemed to feel dew and sunshine going through it!

"It seems I am of more consequence than I thought," it said to itself. "I ought by rights to stand inside, and not outside the fence; one gets strangely placed in this world. But now I have at least one of mine over the fence; and not only there, but in a buttonhole!"

To every bud that came and opened on the thistle-bush it told this great event; and not many days had passed before she heard—not from the people passing, nor yet from the twittering of little birds, but from the air, that treasures up and gives out sounds far and wide—from the most shady walks of the beautiful garden, as well as from the most distant rooms at "the Hall," where doors and windows were left open—that the young man who received the thistle flower from the graceful hands of the lovely Scottish maiden had now got her hand and heart as well. It was a fine couple and a "good match."

"That is my  doing!" said the Thistle, thinking of the flower that it had given to the buttonhole. And every new flower that came was told of the wonderful event.

"Surely I shall be taken up and planted in the garden now!" thought the Thistle; "perhaps, even, I shall be put in a flowerpot as a 'clincher'—that is by far the most honorable position." And it thought of this so long that it ended by saying to itself, with the firm conviction of that being the truth, "I shall be planted in a flower-pot!"

It promised to every little bud that came that it also should be put in a pot, and perhaps even be promoted to a place in a buttonhole—that being the very highest one could aspire to—but, notwithstanding, none of them got into a flower-pot, and still less into a buttonhole.

They lived on light and air, and drank sunshine in the day and dew at night; received visits from bee and hornet, who came to look for the dower—the honey in the flower—and they took the honey but left the flower.

"The good-for-nothing fellows," said the Thistle-bush. "I wish I could pierce them as on a spit, but I cannot."

The flowers drooped and faded, but there always came new ones.

"You come as if you had been sent here," said the Thistle-bush to them. "I am expecting every moment to be taken over the fence."

A couple of harmless daisies and a huge, thin plant of canary-grass listened to this with deep respect and believed all they heard. The old donkey—that had to pull the milk-cart—cast longing looks toward the blooming thistle and tried to reach it; but his tether was too short! And the Thistle-bush thought and thought, so much and so long, of the Scotch thistle—to whom it believed itself related—till at last it fancied that it  had come from Scotland and that it was its parents who had grown into the Scotch Arms.

It was a great thought, but a great Thistle may well have great thoughts.

"Sometimes one is of such noble race that one may not know it," said the Nettle, growing close by—it had a kind of presentiment that it might be turned into muslin, if properly treated.

The summer passed, and the autumn passed; the leaves fell off the trees; the flowers came with stronger colors and less perfume; the gardener's lads sang on the other side of the fence:

"Up the hill, and down the hill,

That's the way of the world still."

The young pine-trees in the wood began to feel a longing for Christmas, but Christmas was a long way off yet!

"Here I am still," said the Thistle. "It seems that I am quite forgotten; and yet it was I who made the match! They were engaged, and now they are married—the wedding was a week ago. I do not make a single step forward—for I cannot."

Some weeks passed; the Thistle had its last solitary flower; large and full it was, and growing down near the root. The wind blew coldly over it, the color faded away, and all its gorgeousness disappeared, leaving only the cup of the flower, now as large as the flower of an artichoke and glistening like a silvered sunflower.

The young couple came along the garden path, and they were man and wife; they passed near the fence, and the bride, glancing over it, said: "Why, there stands the large thistle! It has no flowers now."

"Yes, there is still the ghost of one—of the last," said her husband, pointing to the silvery remains of the last flower—a flower in itself.

"How beautiful it is!" she said. "We must have such a one carved in the frame of our picture."

And once more the young man had to get over the fence to break off the silvery cup of the thistle flower. It pricked his fingers for his pains, because he had called it a ghost.  And then it was brought into the garden, and to "the Hall," and into the drawing-room. There stood a large picture—the portraits of the young couple; in the bridegroom's buttonhole was painted a thistle, and they talked of it, and of the flower-cup they brought in with them—the last, now silver-shimmering thistle flower, that was to be imitated in the carving of the frame.

And the air took all their words and scattered them about far and wide.

"What strange things happen to one," said the Thistle-bush. "My first-born went to live in a buttonhole; my last-born in a frame! I wonder what is to become of me?"

And the old donkey, standing by the roadside, cast sidelong and loving glances at the Thistle, and said: "Come to me, my sweetheart, for I cannot go to you—my tether is too short!"

But the Thistle-bush made no answer. It grew more and more thoughtful, and it thought as far ahead as Christmas, till its budding thoughts opened into flower.

"When one's children are safely housed, a mother is quite content to remain beyond the fence in the cold!"

"That is a most respectable thought," said the Sunshine; "and never fear but you also shall be well placed."

"In a flower-pot or in a frame?" asked the Thistle. "In a story," answered the Sunshine.

And here it is!