The Pine Tree
I N the woods there lived a nice little Pine Tree. He stood where the sun and the fresh air could get at him. Around him grew many comrades—other pines and big firs. But the little Pine wished so much to be a grown-up tree.
Sometimes the cottage children ran about near the little Tree to hunt for wild strawberries and raspberries; and they would sit down near to his roots and say: "Oh, what a nice little fellow!" And the Tree could not bear to hear them.
In a year he shot up a good deal, and the next year he was still taller; but yet, when it was winter and the snow lay glittering about, a little Hare would come leaping along and would jump right over the little Tree. Oh, it made him so angry!
"I wish I were as big as the others," cried the little Tree. "Then I could look out into the wide world."
In the fall the wood-cutters always came and cut down some of the tallest trees in the forest. The trees fell to the earth with noise and cracking, the branches were lopped off, and the trunks were drawn off in sledges.
"I wonder where they go," thought the little Pine Tree, and he asked the Swallow and the Stork about it.
"Yes, we have met them," said the Stork. "They are made into new ships which flit across the water."
"Oh, I wish I were old enough to fly across the sea," sighed the little Pine Tree.
When Christmas came, the youngest trees were cut down, and these always kept their branches, and they, also, were carried away from the forest in sledges. The little Tree wondered very much what became of them.
"Oh, we know," chirped the Sparrows. "We peeped in the windows down in the town, and we saw them standing in warm rooms, all dressed up with gilded apples, and gingerbread, and toys, and hundreds of lights."
"Ah!" cried the little Tree, "perhaps, some day, I shall sparkle, too, like that."
So he stood, a rich green in the forest, through the winter and the summer, and just grew and grew. Everybody looked at him.
"What a fine tree!" they said; and toward Christmas they cut him down with an axe, close to the ground.
When he came to himself he was being carried into a large and splendid room. He trembled with joy as they stuck him into a cask filled with sand and wrapped the cask all about with a green cloth, that it might not show. On one branch they hung little nets cut out of colored paper; there were gilded apples and walnuts hung everywhere; and more than a hundred colored tapers were stuck into the ends of his twigs. There were wonderful dolls that looked, for all the world, like real persons, and they fluttered among the branches. On the very top was fixed a large, gold star.
"Oh," thought the little Tree, "now I am splendid. I wonder if the other trees from the forest will come and look at me. I wonder if the Sparrows will beat against the window-panes. I wonder if I shall stay dressed like this all summer."
But the candles were lighted and a troop of merry children rushed in. They shouted and danced about the Tree, and they pulled the presents from off the branches.
"What are they about?" thought the Tree.
And the lights burned down to the very branches. The children danced about with their pretty toys, and then they all sat down under the Tree and cried: "A story! A story!"
So a queer, jolly little man told them the fairy story of how Klumpy Dumpy tumbled downstairs and came to the throne, after all, and married the princess.
"This is all quite strange," thought the Pine Tree, as he stood very still and thoughtful. "The Sparrows never told me anything like this. Perhaps I shall tumble downstairs, too, and so get the princess." And he waited with joy for the morning, when he should again be decked with candles and toys.
But the next day they dragged him up the stairs and left him in a corner, where no daylight could enter.
"What shall I hear or see, now?" said the Tree, as he leaned against the wall and thought and thought. "The earth is hard and covered with snow. How thoughtful the people are! They have put me here under cover to stay until the spring, and then they will plant me."
"Squeak! Squeak!" said a little Mouse, peeping at that moment out of his hole. Another little one came out. They sniffed at the Pine Tree and rustled among his branches.
"It is dreadfully cold," said the little mouse. "Where do you come from, old Pine Tree?"
Then the Pine Tree told the Mice about the woods, where the sun shone and the little birds sang. He told his story from his youth up; and about Christmas eve, when he was decked out with cake and candles. And the little Mice had never heard the like before.
The next night they came with four other Mice to hear what the Tree had to tell. They sat about and told him of a wonderful larder they knew, where cheeses lay on the shelves and hams hung from above; where one danced about on tallow candles, and went in lean and came out fat. And the Tree, not to be outdone, told the story of Klumpy Dumpy, who married a princess. Next night two more Mice came, and on Sunday two Rats, even.
But one morning there came a number of people to the attic. The trunks were moved and the Tree was pulled out and taken down the stairs once more. So he felt the fresh air and the first sunbeam.
"Now I shall be planted!" he said with joy, as he spread wide his branches; but—dear, dear!—they were all dry and yellow! He lay in a corner among the weeds and nettles, with the golden star still hanging upon his topmost branch, shining in the sunlight.
In the courtyard were some of the merry children who had danced about the Tree on Christmas Day; and they were very glad to see him again. They began dancing around him as he stood in his corner there—among the nettles—but the gardener's boy came and chopped the Tree into a whole heap of small pieces. He set fire to them, and the children ran to where it lay, and sat down before the fire, and peeped into the blaze.
And the Tree thought once more of the summer days in the wood and the winter night when the stars shone. He thought of the Sparrows and the Hare. He remembered the toys and the Christmas candles and the story of Klumpy Dumpy—the only fairy story that he had ever heard—and so the little Tree burned out.