It was just a flower.
Just a little flower.
Just a little red flower that Epke saw there.
Epke frowned. He was tired after walking out so far beyond the village in the dark of the early morning with his papa, just to stand there and look at a little red flower.
Other people stood there, too, tall men with low voices. They huddled around the little red flower, talking in such a way – murmur, mutter, mumble – as to sound to Epke like humming almost.
Epke’s papa spoke. Quietly. “Behold, Epke, behold the Eye of the Night Tulip. The only one in all the land. A dream made real. He who owns it is a rich man indeed.”
Epke looked at his papa, but his papa just stared at the flower.
“Come, Epke, let us go.”
His papa said not a word more on their way back to the village.
Epke’s papa worked in a shop repairing the sails of the great ships of the sea. They walked there.
Then Epke walked home, sneaking past his mama and back into bed, where he fell fast asleep, with no dreams of flowers. With dreams of the sea.
The morning passed. Epke’s mama went to the market. Epke didn’t hear her leave, but later awoke to the sound of voices outside.
He looked out his window and saw his papa talking with another man – a tall man with a small hat.
He saw the man hand his papa a flowerpot … holding the very flower that Epke had seen that morning. Then he saw his papa hand the man a key.
And then Epke saw his father see him.
His papa’s eyes grew wide, and he turned away, walking away very slowly, hunched over in a way. The flowerpot must be very heavy, Epke thought.
Epke heard the key turn in the front door, and then steps, and then before him stood the tall man with the small hat.
“You … you should not be here,” the man said.
“But this is my house,” said Epke.
“Not quite,” the man said. “It is mine now. Your father, fool that he is, said he would give me his house if only I would give him the Eye of the Night Tulip. He begged. I agreed. So now this house and everything inside it – including you, it seems – belongs to me.”
“But … but … no … you … my …”
“Quiet, boy. Now fetch my food. And you will call me Lord Boorish.”
For three days and three nights it went on like that, Epke cleaning and cooking and fetching for Lord Boorish. On the fourth morning, Epke snuck away while Lord Boorish slept.
Epke walked the village streets, looking for his mama and his papa. Finally, he was told that his papa had gone away, carrying the flowerpot in his arms and shame in his heart. His mama had gone, too.
At the end of that long, long day, Epke walked along the docks where the village meets the sea. He came upon the dock market, where every morning the merchants sold fruit and shoes and the like from their small swaying boats.
Epke was so tired he climbed onto one of the boats and fell fast asleep. Again he did not dream of flowers. He dreamed of rain.
The next morning’s sun awoke Epke. That and the squawking birds and the “well, well, well” he heard from the man standing over him.
“Look what the morning has brought. Are you here to sleep or to buy?” asked the man, a tall man with bright eyes.
Epke began to cry. He told the man of his papa, the flower, his house and Lord Boorish.
“Well, well, well,” the man said again. “That a little flower could do all that. Have you eaten?”
The man’s name, Epke learned, was Captain Simmerink. He owned many boats at the dock market.
After they ate, Captain Simmerink showed his boats to Epke. One sold fish, another sold pearls, and still another sold shark’s teeth and octopus ink.
“And here,” said Captain Simmerink, “is the one from which I sell nothing.” He stepped onto a rickety little boat that seemed barely afloat. He reached in and held up a flowerpot.
With a flower in it. A little red flower.
Epke stared. “But how …”
“Oh, it’s not so rare. I’ve many more just like it,” said Captain Simmerink. “Come, we’ve work to do.”
That afternoon Epke knocked on the door of a house in the village. A woman answered. Epke held up a small flowerpot. “Would you have this flower for your house?” he asked.
The woman stared. “The Eye of the Night! Oh, I could never …”
Epke handed it to her. “It’s yours to keep.”
Epke pulled the small wagon, heavy with tulips, to the next house, where he knocked on the door and said again, “A flower for your house?” He did that all afternoon, until every house but one had tulips.
Captain Simmerink knocked on the door of that house. Lord Boorish shouted from the window, “Who is it? What is it you want?”
“My dear Lord Boorish,” said Captain Simmerink. “This house of yours, at one time it was worth a single tulip. Do you think it might now be worth 10 such tulips?”
Lord Boorish came running out. “10? 10, you say? Take the house. Too drafty anyway.”
His arms full of flowerpots, Lord Boorish started toward the village square. He wondered what they might bring in trade. A ship or six? A block of shops?
As he hurried along, he paid no mind to the red flowers in every windowsill.
At the square he called out, “Attention! Good people, I bring you a bounty of tulips the likes of which you’ve never seen! As much as it would pain me to do so, I would be willing to part with them, for the right price. Now, who has their heart set on these fine tulips?”
The crowd who had gathered around said nothing. Then someone giggled. Then everyone began laughing loudly, pointing to the red flowers in every windowsill. Tulips, all tulips, too many tulips, and in that moment Lord Boorish did not think himself so rich.
Epke’s mama and papa returned to the village three days later, after the story had reached the countryside.
They settled back into their house. Epke spent his days helping Captain Simmerink with his boats. Epke’s papa went back to work, but every night for a week he slept outside – it rained that week – with his only shelter being one of the sails he repaired for the great ships of the sea.
That was mama’s idea.
Some days later, Epke and his papa were walking through the village square past a crowd – tall men with low voices – when papa stopped. And stared. And said quietly, “And I thought it was but a dream. Look, Epke, look upon the Noonday Daffodil. A stunning wonder of yellow. He who owns it …”
“Come, papa, let us go.”
Epke took his father’s arm.
And they left the square, Epke staring straight ahead and his father looking back at the little yellow flower.