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Chapter 6 The Hatred of a Tulip-fancier

  • From that moment Boxtel's interest in tulips was no longer a stimulus to hi_xertions, but a deadening anxiety. Henceforth all his thoughts ran only upo_he injury which his neighbour would cause him, and thus his favourit_ccupation was changed into a constant source of misery to him.
  • Van Baerle, as may easily be imagined, had no sooner begun to apply hi_atural ingenuity to his new fancy, than he succeeded in growing the fines_ulips. Indeed; he knew better than any one else at Haarlem or Leyden — th_wo towns which boast the best soil and the most congenial climate — how t_ary the colours, to modify the shape, and to produce new species.
  • He belonged to that natural, humorous school who took for their motto in th_eventeenth century the aphorism uttered by one of their number in 1653, — "T_espise flowers is to offend God."
  • From that premise the school of tulip-fanciers, the most exclusive of al_chools, worked out the following syllogism in the same year: —
  • "To despise flowers is to offend God.
  • "The more beautiful the flower is, the more does one offend God in despisin_t.
  • "The tulip is the most beautiful of all flowers.
  • "Therefore, he who despises the tulip offends God beyond measure."
  • By reasoning of this kind, it can be seen that the four or five thousan_ulip-growers of Holland, France, and Portugal, leaving out those of Ceylo_nd China and the Indies, might, if so disposed, put the whole world under th_an, and condemn as schismatics and heretics and deserving of death th_everal hundred millions of mankind whose hopes of salvation were not centre_pon the tulip.
  • We cannot doubt that in such a cause Boxtel, though he was Van Baerle's deadl_oe, would have marched under the same banner with him.
  • Mynheer van Baerle and his tulips, therefore, were in the mouth of everybody; so much so, that Boxtel's name disappeared for ever from the list of th_otable tulip-growers in Holland, and those of Dort were now represented b_ornelius van Baerle, the modest and inoffensive savant.
  • Engaging, heart and soul, in his pursuits of sowing, planting, and gathering, Van Baerle, caressed by the whole fraternity of tulip-growers in Europe, entertained nor the least suspicion that there was at his very door _retender whose throne he had usurped.
  • He went on in his career, and consequently in his triumphs; and in the cours_f two years he covered his borders with such marvellous productions as n_ortal man, following in the tracks of the Creator, except perhaps Shakespear_nd Rubens, have equalled in point of numbers.
  • And also, if Dante had wished for a new type to be added to his characters o_he Inferno, he might have chosen Boxtel during the period of Van Baerle'_uccesses. Whilst Cornelius was weeding, manuring, watering his beds, whilst, kneeling on the turf border, he analysed every vein of the flowering tulips, and meditated on the modifications which might be effected by crosses o_olour or otherwise, Boxtel, concealed behind a small sycamore which he ha_rained at the top of the partition wall in the shape of a fan, watched, wit_is eyes starting from their sockets and with foaming mouth, every step an_very gesture of his neighbour; and whenever he thought he saw him look happy, or descried a smile on his lips, or a flash of contentment glistening in hi_yes, he poured out towards him such a volley of maledictions and furiou_hreats as to make it indeed a matter of wonder that this venomous breath o_nvy and hatred did not carry a blight on the innocent flowers which ha_xcited it.
  • When the evil spirit has once taken hold of the heart of man, it urges him on, without letting him stop. Thus Boxtel soon was no longer content with seein_an Baerle. He wanted to see his flowers, too; he had the feelings of a_rtist, the master-piece of a rival engrossed his interest.
  • He therefore bought a telescope, which enabled him to watch as accurately a_id the owner himself every progressive development of the flower, from th_oment when, in the first year, its pale seed-leaf begins to peep from th_round, to that glorious one, when, after five years, its petals at las_eveal the hidden treasures of its chalice. How often had the miserable, jealous man to observe in Van Baerle's beds tulips which dazzled him by thei_eauty, and almost choked him by their perfection!
  • And then, after the first blush of the admiration which he could not hel_eeling, he began to be tortured by the pangs of envy, by that slow feve_hich creeps over the heart and changes it into a nest of vipers, eac_evouring the other and ever born anew. How often did Boxtel, in the midst o_ortures which no pen is able fully to describe, — how often did he feel a_nclination to jump down into the garden during the night, to destroy th_lants, to tear the bulbs with his teeth, and to sacrifice to his wrath th_wner himself, if he should venture to stand up for the defence of his tulips!
  • But to kill a tulip was a horrible crime in the eyes of a genuine tulip- fancier; as to killing a man, it would not have mattered so very much.
  • Yet Van Baerle made such progress in the noble science of growing tulips, which he seemed to master with the true instinct of genius, that Boxtel a_ast was maddened to such a degree as to think of throwing stones and stick_nto the flower-stands of his neighbour. But, remembering that he would b_ure to be found out, and that he would not only be punished by law, but als_ishonoured for ever in the face of all the tulip-growers of Europe, he ha_ecourse to stratagem, and, to gratify his hatred, tried to devise a plan b_eans of which he might gain his ends without being compromised himself.
  • He considered a long time, and at last his meditations were crowned wit_uccess.
  • One evening he tied two cats together by their hind legs with a string abou_ix feet in length, and threw them from the wall into the midst of that noble, that princely, that royal bed, which contained not only the "Cornelius d_itt," but also the "Beauty of Brabant," milk-white, edged with purple an_ink, the "Marble of Rotterdam," colour of flax, blossoms feathered red an_lesh colour, the "Wonder of Haarlem," the "Colombin obscur," and the
  • "Columbin clair terni."
  • The frightened cats, having alighted on the ground, first tried to fly each i_ different direction, until the string by which they were tied together wa_ightly stretched across the bed; then, however, feeling that they were no_ble to get off, they began to pull to and fro, and to wheel about wit_ideous caterwaulings, mowing down with their string the flowers among whic_hey were struggling, until, after a furious strife of about a quarter of a_our, the string broke and the combatants vanished.
  • Boxtel, hidden behind his sycamore, could not see anything, as it was pitch- dark; but the piercing cries of the cats told the whole tale, and his hear_verflowing with gall now throbbed with triumphant joy.
  • Boxtel was so eager to ascertain the extent of the injury, that he remained a_is post until morning to feast his eyes on the sad state in which the tw_ats had left the flower-beds of his neighbour. The mists of the mornin_hilled his frame, but he did not feel the cold, the hope of revenge keepin_is blood at fever heat. The chagrin of his rival was to pay for all th_nconvenience which he incurred himself.
  • At the earliest dawn the door of the white house opened, and Van Baerle mad_is appearance, approaching the flower-beds with the smile of a man who ha_assed the night comfortably in his bed, and has had happy dreams.
  • All at once he perceived furrows and little mounds of earth on the beds whic_nly the evening before had been as smooth as a mirror, all at once h_erceived the symmetrical rows of his tulips to be completely disordered, lik_he pikes of a battalion in the midst of which a shell has fallen.
  • He ran up to them with blanched cheek.
  • Boxtel trembled with joy. Fifteen or twenty tulips, torn and crushed, wer_ying about, some of them bent, others completely broken and alread_ithering, the sap oozing from their bleeding bulbs: how gladly would Va_aerle have redeemed that precious sap with his own blood!
  • But what were his surprise and his delight! what was the disappointment of hi_ival! Not one of the four tulips which the latter had meant to destroy wa_njured at all. They raised proudly their noble heads above the corpses o_heir slain companions. This was enough to console Van Baerle, and enough t_an the rage of the horticultural murderer, who tore his hair at the sight o_he effects of the crime which he had committed in vain.
  • Van Baerle could not imagine the cause of the mishap, which, fortunately, wa_f far less consequence than it might have been. On making inquiries, h_earned that the whole night had been disturbed by terrible caterwaulings. H_esides found traces of the cats, their footmarks and hairs left behind on th_attle-field; to guard, therefore, in future against a similar outrage, h_ave orders that henceforth one of the under gardeners should sleep in th_arden in a sentry-box near the flower-beds.
  • Boxtel heard him give the order, and saw the sentry-box put up that very day; but he deemed himself lucky in not having been suspected, and, being more tha_ver incensed against the successful horticulturist, he resolved to bide hi_ime.
  • Just then the Tulip Society of Haarlem offered a prize for the discovery (w_are not say the manufacture) of a large black tulip without a spot of colour, a thing which had not yet been accomplished, and was considered impossible, a_t that time there did not exist a flower of that species approaching even t_ dark nut brown. It was, therefore, generally said that the founders of th_rize might just as well have offered two millions as a hundred thousan_uilders, since no one would be able to gain it.
  • The tulip-growing world, however, was thrown by it into a state of most activ_ommotion. Some fanciers caught at the idea without believing it practicable, but such is the power of imagination among florists, that although considerin_he undertaking as certain to fail, all their thoughts were engrossed by tha_reat black tulip, which was looked upon to be as chimerical as the black swa_f Horace or the white raven of French tradition.
  • Van Baerle was one of the tulip-growers who were struck with the idea; Boxte_hought of it in the light of a speculation. Van Baerle, as soon as the ide_ad once taken root in his clear and ingenious mind, began slowly th_ecessary planting and cross-breeding to reduce the tulips which he had grow_lready from red to brown, and from brown to dark brown.
  • By the next year he had obtained flowers of a perfect nut-brown, and Boxte_spied them in the border, whereas he had himself as yet only succeeded i_roducing the light brown.
  • It might perhaps be interesting to explain to the gentle reader the beautifu_hain of theories which go to prove that the tulip borrows its colors from th_lements; perhaps we should give him pleasure if we were to maintain an_stablish that nothing is impossible for a florist who avails himself wit_udgment and discretion and patience of the sun's heat; the clear water, th_uices of the earth, and the cool breezes. But this is not a treatise upo_ulips in general; it is the story of one particular tulip which we hav_ndertaken to write, and to that we limit ourselves, however alluring th_ubject which is so closely allied to ours.
  • Boxtel, once more worsted by the superiority of his hated rival, was no_ompletely disgusted with tulip-growing, and, being driven half mad, devote_imself entirely to observation.
  • The house of his rival was quite open to view; a garden exposed to the sun; cabinets with glass walls, shelves, cupboards, boxes, and ticketed pigeon- holes, which could easily be surveyed by the telescope. Boxtel allowed hi_ulbs to rot in the pits, his seedlings to dry up in their cases, and hi_ulips to wither in the borders and henceforward occupied himself with nothin_lse but the doings at Van Baerle's. He breathed through the stalks of Va_aerle's tulips, quenched his thirst with the water he sprinkled upon them, and feasted on the fine soft earth which his neighbour scattered upon hi_herished bulbs.
  • But the most curious part of the operations was not performed in the garden.
  • It might be one o'clock in the morning when Van Baerle went up to hi_aboratory, into the glazed cabinet whither Boxtel's telescope had such a_asy access; and here, as soon as the lamp illuminated the walls and windows, Boxtel saw the inventive genius of his rival at work.
  • He beheld him sifting his seeds, and soaking them in liquids which wer_estined to modify or to deepen their colours. He knew what Cornelius mean_hen heating certain grains, then moistening them, then combining them wit_thers by a sort of grafting, — a minute and marvellously delicat_anipulation, — and when he shut up in darkness those which were expected t_urnish the black colour, exposed to the sun or to the lamp those which wer_o produce red, and placed between the endless reflections of two water- mirrors those intended for white, the pure representation of the limpi_lement.
  • This innocent magic, the fruit at the same time of child-like musings and o_anly genius — this patient untiring labour, of which Boxtel knew himself t_e incapable — made him, gnawed as he was with envy, centre all his life, al_is thoughts, and all his hopes in his telescope.
  • For, strange to say, the love and interest of horticulture had not deadened i_saac his fierce envy and thirst of revenge. Sometimes, whilst covering Va_aerle with his telescope, he deluded himself into a belief that he wa_evelling a never-failing musket at him; and then he would seek with hi_inger for the trigger to fire the shot which was to have killed hi_eighbour. But it is time that we should connect with this epoch of th_perations of the one, and the espionage of the other, the visit whic_ornelius de Witt came to pay to his native town.