Gateway to the Classics: The Golden Windows by Laura E. Richards
The Golden Windows by  Laura E. Richards

The Tree in the City

dropcap image N a narrow space between two buildings, in a crowded city, grew a tree. There was no other green thing near it. On one side its leaves touched the blank wall of a warehouse, on the other they swept the window of a poor tenement; the space under it was paved up to its very roots; but still it lived, and put forth its fresh leaves every spring.

"Why do you take so much trouble?" asked the old rat who lived under the roots. "I would not, if I were in your place."

"It is my business!" said the tree. "It is the thing I have to do. All my family do it."

"But there is no one to see you," said the rat, "except me, and I do not care."

"That is not my affair!" said the tree.

But the sick girl in the tenement said, "Mother! mother dear! the tree outside the window is putting out little new leaves, soft and green. It is spring, even here in the city. I shall grow better now, I am sure."

"Thank God!" said the mother.

Summer came. The leaves of the tree were large and long, and the branches were heavy with them; they quivered and rustled with every breath of wind.

"It does really seem a pity for you to exert yourself so!" said the old rat who lived under the roots. "If you caught beetles, now, or did anything useful, I should feel better about it. Why do you take all this trouble?"

"It is the thing I have to do!" said the tree. "All my family do it."

"But if anybody cared," said the rat, "it would be different."

"That is not my affair!" said the tree.

But the sick girl in the tenement said, "Mother, the heat is stifling. I could not bear it if it were not for the shade of this dear tree. The wind rustles the leaves, and I seem to hear coolness in the sound; it tells me that somewhere in the world there are whole forests of trees, rustling and waving, and green fields with flowers in them, and streams of cool water flowing and falling. The tree makes summer for me."

"Thank God!" said the mother.

By and by it was autumn. The air grew thin and chill; the leaves of the tree turned yellow, and one by one dropped off and fell to the ground. The paved court was covered with them, and they shone like gold.

"Now you see!" said the old rat who lived under the roots. "Now it is over, and what have you for your pains?"

"I have done the thing I had to do"; said the tree. "That is enough for me."

"Poor-spirited vegetable!" said the rat. "If you had borne acorns for people to gnaw, it would at least have been something, but you have nothing to show for your trouble save dead leaves and empty branches."

"That is not my affair!" said the tree.

But the sick girl in the tenement said, "Mother! mother dear, I am tired. Summer is over. Look! the leaves have fallen from my dear tree, and the bare branches tap against the window like summoning hands. The tree is going to sleep for the winter, and I think that I shall sleep too. Mother dear, when I am asleep, gather the leaves from the ground and strew them over me, for they have been my joy."

And she turned her face to the wall and slept.

"Thank God!" said the mother.

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