Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Tulip Girl

Tulip, NY, 1967 - Irving Penn (1919-2009)

A long time ago in old Holland, there was once a couple who longed for a child. The mother wove the most beautiful fabrics and the father grew tulips. For a while the products of their work were treated like their children.

Now it happened that one day as the father, Henrik de Bouts was tending his tulips, he heard a voice coming from the chalice of one of them.

"Papa, papa, is that you?" the little voice asked.

When Henrik peered inside the flower he saw the prettiest little girl who reached up with her little hands to him. He smiled and took her up in his arms trying desperately not to cry. He was not her father, but he so longed to be that he kissed her tenderly and took her home to Marike his wife. The couple were delighted and brought the little girl up as if she were their own. They called her Anna Maria after one of the most remarkable women of their times. Every day Marike would hug the little girl and kiss her. She too would try so hard not to cry at their good fortune, for Anna Maria was such a pretty little child. Her eyes were blue as the summer sky, her hair as dark as chocolate and her smile was like the sun coming out.

One evening, as Henrik was tidying up after himself in the garden, he sent Anna Maria indoors to help Marike. He stood and watched her go with a smile on his face and murmured proudly,

"My little girl."

He put away the watering can and the small shovel and the wheelbarrow. But as he came back through the garden he heard a little voice,

"Where is my child? O where is my little girl?"

He suddenly began to weep for he knew then that the little girl's real mother was missing her. He followed the voice until he came to a shadowed part of the garden and there he saw a very beautiful young woman.
Her eyes were blue as the summer sky, her hair as dark as chocolate and tears streamed down her face.

"I think I know where your daughter is mistress," Henrik said softly as he too wept.

He told her then of how he had found little Anna Maria and how he and Marike loved her and that she was safe and well. The young woman straightened suddenly and told him,

"For your honesty mynheer, she may stay with you until she is grown up. You must tell her that her real mother is the Faerie Chrysophine and send her to me when she is grown."

Henrik said that he would and Chrysophine gave him a silver necklace which was for the little girl. Then she vanished and Henrik went indoors feeling both sad and grateful. He did not give her the necklace that evening, but after supper hugged her, kissed her and wished her sweet dreams. She went up to her little bedchamber with a little song that had both Henrik and Marike smiling.

But now alone, he told Marike about the faerie Chrysophine and how he intended to give Anna Maria the necklace the following morning. Firstly, he told her, because it was a beautiful necklace and Anna Maria would love it and secondly, because while he and Marike loved her they had to be fair to her.

"Let us not taint her little heart with a lie," he said, "We must tell her the truth and love her as much as we can so that she knows she has us to depend on should she need to."

Marike agreed but took her husband's hand in hers and sighed.

"We have waited so long for a child and she is the most beautiful little girl and I love her so much. Now we find that she cannot even comfort us in our old age," she said sadly.

The next morning, after breakfast, Anna Maria and Henrik went out into the garden and sat with their coffee. There with the morning sunlight on them Henrik told her about Chrysophine and gave her the silver necklace. Anna Maria's eyes lit up at the sight of the necklace but she hugged her papa and told him that she would always love him and mama no matter who her real mama was. She was a very clever little girl too.

Now the years passed and soon Anna Maria was not a little girl any more. She had grown and bloomed into a charming young woman. There was nothing for it at that point but that she must go to the Palace of Chrysophine. Well you may imagine that she was very sad to leave her mama and her papa, but a promise is a promise and it is unwise to argue with a faerie. So off she went one morning just before the dawn to the Palace of Chrysophine that was hidden in twilight. When she came up to the Palace doors, they opened up before her.

There were four large mastiff dogs but when they saw her they lay down. There were twelve faerie guardsmen, but when she came to where they stood they all bowed and let her pass. So she came to the throne room of the Faerie Chrysophine and found her real mother teasing a bumblebee. Anna Maria was not happy with this, for the bumblebee is a harmless creature, so she stamped her foot and when her mother paused and turned, the bumblebee flew away.
Chrysophine was amused that her daughter should intervene on behalf of a bumblebee but she was also a little annoyed.

"You must fetch me the Peach from the Tree of Songs in the garden of Witch Hazel. If you can do that, I shall make your earthly parents rich. Then fetch me the jaguar of the Princess of the Sighing Moon and I shall give you a lover beyond compare. But when you fetch for me the Horse of the Queen Six Jasmines I shall give your earthly parents what they wish for the most. You have until next Tuesday," she said coolly.

"If you cannot do it...
I'll tear up your father's tulip bed
And both your parents I'll strike dead!"

Anna Maria noted this down and left the palace. She went to the Garden of Witch Hazel and began to sing a soft song like a summer breeze over a lily pond - like a cat lying in sunlight - like a lover's kiss. All the daffodils in the Garden began to blow their golden trumpets. All the bluebells in the garden walks began to ring delicately and all the insects began to hum and buzz. At this noise, Witch Hazel appeared and hearing it all together, fainted at the sheer beauty of it. She, being a witch could not bear the beauty of love. Now Anna Maria fetched the peach from the Tree of Songs and left quickly before the Witch might waken.

She travelled quickly to where the Princess of the Sighing Moon lived and began to sing again. A song like a great river flowing through forests - like a hundred birds rising up through leafy forests - like the soft padding of something beautiful and terrifying. The jaguar padded through the garden to Anna Maria and he sat and wept for the song reminded him of his home. The Princess called to him from her pavilion but he turned and growled and she fainted out of sheer terror. Now Anna Maria opened the gate and singing a song of softness and kindness led the jaguar out of the garden.

The jaguar told her to get on his back and his muscles flowed as he ran to the Palace of the Queen of Six Jasmines. The first two jasmines sent out their tendrils but the jaguar growled and snapped at them until they retreated. The second two jasmines opened up their white scented flowers and tried to dazzle them but Anna Maria whistled and three hundred sparrows came down upon the flowers and ate them all. The third pair of jasmines rustled and little dark green and dark red dragons flew up around them. The jaguar swatted them with one of his huge paws and Anna Maria caught one and kissed him. The dragons retreated but the one she had kissed entwined his tail gently about her throat and would not harm her.

The Queen's horse was afraid when it saw the jaguar but Anna Maria whispered the words of courage and the horse stamped his hoof and followed her out of the stable. Anna Maria whispered a word and the jaguar shrank until she could put him in her pocket. Now she rode for the Palace of Chrysophine. You may imagine that the Queen of Six Jasmines was not pleased at the theft of her horse. She sent out her army to bring back the thief.

When she saw the army coming she whispered to the dragon a word and the dragon kissed her and flew home to the Queen. Almost instantly the army followed. The Queen harrumphed but allowed the horse to go. You shall soon see why.

When Anna Maria had almost arrived at her mother's Palace, she asked the horse if she might borrow a shoe. The horse kicked one off and she took it. She removed her silver necklace and asked a blacksmith if he might make the iron horseshoe into a necklace like the silver one and the silver necklace into a horseshoe. The smith smiled and agreed for the work was a challenge and he liked those. It took him four hours to make the necklace out of steel to give it strength. It took him an hour to make the horseshoe out of silver. When the work was done, Anna Maria sang a song and all the little bits of iron slag in the smithy turned to gold. That was payment enough to be sure.

Now she rode the horse quickly towards her mother's Palace, for Tuesday was nearly over. As she passed the Welkin Crossroads, Chrysophine's four mastiffs whimpered and hid under her throne. Chrysophine felt a headache coming on and went to her bedchamber to lie down.

As Anna Maria passed the Turpin Tree, Chrysophine's twelve sentries suddenly fainted in horror. Chrysophine felt the pounding in her head grow worse. As Anna Maria rode up the long pathway towards her mother's Palace, Chrysophine and her Palace faded into the motes of dust in sunlight never to be seen again. Now Anna Maria dismounted from the horse and thanked him. She began to sing a song of love and the horse suddenly disappeared and returned home. The jaguar however returned home to the Emerald Forests from which he had come. And our Anna Maria also went home singing - back to the house she had grown up in. The tulips raised their chalices to her, the cat sat up on the windowsill and smiled. Henrik and Marike held her close and wept for joy. For their darling girl was home.

5 comments:

bad penny said...

she was indeed a clever sweet child.

Rosemary in Utah said...

I like the necklace - horseshoe switcheroo!

My bulb catalogs never use the pretty word "chalice" -- it's just plain "cup" in the descriptions.

The "Anna Maria" namesake must be Anna Maria van Schurman? (I looked this up, of course!)

Griffin said...

Rosemary you're spot on. Anna Maria van Schurman is one of those amazing undeservedly forgotten women of the 17th century. She really needs a good book written about her in English.

They ought to call it chalice, but may feel there would be a mix up in meaning between calyx and chalice. But they are such elegant chalices. I love this Irving Penn image too, such a gorgeous colour.

Rosemary in Utah said...

As I read about her I thought was "Why isn't there a movie about this person?" (No, not a role for Eva Longoria!)

Griffin said...

No definitely not Eva!! Perhaps Cate Blanchett tho'. The only problem with making a movie about Anna Maria van Schurman is that it would inevitably miss out too much. Or it would just highlight her religion and leave out the rest. In movies it has come to that... sigh!