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Illusion by Edith Rode

Translated by Ann and Peter Thornton

I must confess that it wasn't originally my idea but it was I who carried it out. One day at Versailles I overheard a man say, "I'm going to dig up a chestnut shoot and take it home in my suit-case. I want my boy to have a chestnut tree from Versailles and I don't think it will die if I wrap it in damp moss and tie it up in grease-proof paper."

What a delightful idea, I thought, and decided to do the same thing myself. So a tiny chestnut shoot, wrapped in moss and grease-proof paper, made the journey from France to Denmark in my suitcase.

That is to say, no one will ever know exactly where our ways parted. It may have been that the hand of some rummaging Custom's official had found the clammy lump and hastily put it down, or possibly some chambermaid or other had dropped it with a gasp of horror. I shall never know. It had certainly disappeared by the time I reached home.

None of this would have mattered at all if I hadn't already written to a very great friend of mine that I was bringing him a tiny chestnut tree from Versailles. I couldn't disappoint him. If it had been a tie or a pair of gloves, I could have explained it away—I could say they had been stolen or that I had forgotten them and given him something else instead—but a chestnut tree—even a very small one—from VERSAILLES—is virtually irreplacable.

But as I hadn't got it I would have to get one, which I finally managed to do at a little flower shop on the outskirts of the city. It wasn't quite as tiny as the original which had really been no more than a sprouting conker, but it was the smallest, most pathetic tree I could find and the one that best answered to the description in my letter—a pale, sickly, unhealthy-looking shoot with two minute leaves.

My friend was delighted with it. "I just can't imagine how you found room for such a huge tree in your suit-case," he said.

'Huge tree' was certainly a fantastic exaggeration but I let it pass as in point of fact I neither had, nor even could have found room for it in my suit-case.

The tree eventually flourished, after a slow start: "It had to become acclimatised," my friend explained. The word 'acclimatised' quickly made me change the subject.

One day he had to go away and left the tree in my care. Then what happens—the thing just won't grow. First I give it a lot of water; then no water at all. I put it in the sun; then in the shade. But all to no avail. Slowly but surely it shrivels up while all my own plants continue to flourish as usual and shoot up before my very eyes.

"Well now," I said, "I shall just have to get hold of another tree, it will be the second. 'THE CHESTNUT TREE FROM VERSAILLES' IS JOLLY WELL GOING TO BE A REALITY." But the very next day, before I have time to carry out my plan, my friend arrives. He is standing in my room as I come in, gazing at the dead tree. The tears spring to my eyes. Yes, tears of genuine sorrow and possibly also of annoyance at his unexpected arrival before I have managed to buy a replacement. But women must never disclose that their tears are due to annoyance or are caused by anything but pure and simple sorrow, and so I allow myself to be consoled by my friend and even to smile in a melancholy fashion.

"Now," he said, "I'm going to tell you something that I had decided never to tell a living soul, but I can't bear to see you so upset. THAT TREE OVER THERE ISN'T THE CHESTNUT TREE FROM VERSAILLES AT ALL."

Completely taken aback, I try to gain time by demanding in a somewhat belligerent tone: "What do you mean by that?"

"I bought it myself," he confesses. "The original tree from Versailles died three days after I got it," (he blushes) "so I bought this one so that you shouldn't be disappointed. Why do you look at me in that way? Are you angry with me?"

I'm not angry, just slightly disappointed that there should be no person in this world that one can really trust, but when I tell him this he disarms me completely. "Oh, that's not true," he says, "one can trust YOU." And he says it with such warm and genuine affection that I believe him.

 
 
 

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