Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
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Hear the story of Parsley in The Origin of Parsley as it was told to Bemelmans, and take a look at the first published telling as The Old Stag and the Tree.

Origin of Parsley

As told to the author at an inn, high in the Alps,
by a newly-found friend of Barbara's, Bemelmans' daughter.

excerpted from
"Of Cows’ Milk and Laval’s Dog"
in Father Dear Father
The next day, on a Sunday, the natives went past the window on their way to church, and inside the Stüberl sat Wendelin between my mother and Barbara. He was buttering bread and dunking it in his coffee.

"Poppy, there are also pigs and chickens living in the inn, and Waldi loves Little Bit. They are out playing together, and this poor man, Mr. Wendelin, has had to sleep on straw with the horses and cows all night."

I knew why Wendelin had slept on straw. He had celebrated my homecoming so thoroughly that he had been unable to make the stairs up to his room.

Wendelin wore his saddest face. In the coated voice of the disinherited he gave his poorhouse answers. Barbara had started a sociological study. The lighthouse was flashing.

"Did you know, Poppy, that Mr. Wendelin is a writer?"

I knew that Wendelin had sold flour and cigarettes on the black market and occasionally made deals, selling horses, cows, and arranging things between people as a kind of arbitrator. But I had not known about his literary talent.

"Yes, he has written for newspapers, and he has written a darling story for children, and all he needs is someone to illustrate it."

I was reaching for my hat to go out. There was a scream in the hall and the sound of porcelain and glass crashing. Waldi had chased Little Bit through the legs of a waitress, and two breakfast trays lay beside her on the floor. The dogs had run outside, and the white fluff of Little Bit disappeared into the powdery snow, so that only the ribbon in her hair hopped along, and after her came Waldi. He seemed like a dark brown snake cut into pieces, the pieces jumping in the snow.

Barbara is a single-minded person. She ignored the disaster and held on to my sleeve. "It takes just a minute, Please listen to Mr. Wendelin's story."

"It's absolutely original, unpolitical, and safe," said Wendelin. "The story of my children's book goes like this: Hereabouts, in the high crags of the Alps, live a papa deer and a mamma deer. One day a dead-shot kind of hunter comes up from the valley below and spies the papa deer, who, unfortunately, is not young any more and is losing his eyesight and cannot see the hunter. Just as the hunter has his gun in position and is about to shoot, he gets his foot caught in the root of a big, benevolent pine tree which stands at the edge of an abyss. The hunter trips, and falls down the abyss, and is killed. The gentle tree, the friend of the deer family, had foresightedly, with one of its limbs, lifted the binoculars from the hunter's shoulder as he fell. They were attached to a shoulder strap, and now they swing on the branch of this tree, and all the papa deer has to do is walk there several times a day and look into the valley through the binoculars. He can see the approaching hunters long before they reach the mountain and go into hiding, and he and his family will live happily forever after."

Wendelin stopped talking. "Wonderful, no?" he said after a pause. "Of course, it needs a little polishing, and somebody to illustrate it."

"It's just perfect for you, Poppy," said Barbara.

I went out to look for the dogs.

    At the edge of a deep, a deep green forest
    stands an old, lone pine tree looking out
    over the valley below.
    It had started life there, emerald green and hopeful,
    and for a while stretched its little arms
    unworried to the sky,
    but then it discovered that it stood
    at the edge of an abyss,
    and that the wind blew at it
    day and night,
    and that the snow tried to smother it.
    It knew that if it wanted to stay
    it had to fight,
    and so it held onto the rocks
    with a will, and thoroughly rooted.
    It got old, so old
    that several generations of trees
    that stood in the protected forest
    and grew up, easily and straight,
    fell to the ax, and became
    parts of houses, furniture, and ships
    in the world below.
    Nobody wanted the crooked pine.
    It was useless to men. It had grown so big
    that its twisted boughs
    spread like a green tarpaulin, low over the ground,
    and in this safe shelter,
    secure from hunters' eyes,
    in a home of molded leaves and mosses,
    a stag raised his young,
    and the tree and the stag were grateful
    to each other. And both got very, very old.
    The stag was a grandfather many times,
    and his antlers were the biggest in the forest.
    He wore whiskers,
    and he came daily to the tree,
    not to sleep there any more,
    for his old friend had become barren
    and no longer could offer him cover.
    He came there out of friendship,
    and to look out over the valley below
    so that he could warn his grandchildren,
    who played in the deep forest, of danger approaching.
    And when the old tree and the old stag
    were together, weather-beaten the one, and gray the other,
    it was difficult to tell which were the antlers and
    which the barren boughs.
    One day, a hunter below, looking through his
    powerful binoculars,
    saw the stag, in the first morning blush,
    but the stag did not see him, for his eyesight was failing.
    The young deer played while danger approached,
    and the old deer wandered off to feed at the edge
    of the forest,
    while the hunter carefully climbed
    and came up over the edge of the abyss.
    The stag stood just right
    three hundred yards away.
    The hunter leaned against the tree
    to steady himself,
    but suddenly, just as he was about
    to squeeze the trigger,
    the tree whispered his warning.
    From betwixt two clouds that were as puffed cheeks
    there came a burst of wind,
    and the tree twisted and knocked against the hunter,
    and one of the roots tripped him,
    and he fell and fell, followed by stones,
    until he lay, far below, to hunt no more.
    The gun was lost in a ravine,
    but swinging back and forth quietly
    on one of the crooked arms of the pine
    hung the sharp binoculars,
    which the tree
    had lifted off the hunter's shoulders
    as he fell.
    And now all the old stag has to do
    is to stand there and look down into the valley
    through the binoculars
    for other hunters,
    and if he doesn't die of old age,
    he and his family
    will live happily forever after.

The Old Stag and The Tree

A once-upon-a-time
by Ludwig Bemelmans

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Copyright © 1939 Ludwig Bemelmans.
Copyright Renewed © 1967 Madeleine Bemelmans & Barbara Bemelmans.

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