There were once two small plants that grew on the edge of a rough, red ditch. One of them was an ivy plant and the other a tiny fig tree.
It was early in the morning when they first awoke and looked around to see how they liked the world.
"I think it is an ugly old world,' said the young fig tree. "I see only a rough, red ditch with dirty water flowing below."
"Oh, it is a beautiful world," replied the ivy vine. "I see clouds floating on high, and sunshine, and such lovely trees and flowers growing over on the other side of the ditch! Let us try to make this side beautiful, too.
"I will cover the rough, red places with pretty, green leaves, and you can decorate with your wonderful pink blossoms. Come, let us try."
"No," said the small fig tree, "I would not waste my time trying to make this ugly old place beautiful.
"Now if, like my mother, I could have grown in the soft, rich earth of the garden, I would have tried to do something, but here there is no use."
So, from day to day, the little fig tree grumbled. Nothing pleased her. If the sun shone she said it was too hot; if the rain fell she said it was too wet; and if the wind blew she said it was too cold.
But with the little ivy vine it was very different, and she was as happy as a lark from early morning until night.
"Whether the sun shines or whether the rains fall, it is God's will," said the little vine, "and I am well pleased. I shall do all I can to make my side of this ditch beautiful, and I shall begin to-day."
And so she did. Though she lived only on the edge of the red ditch, she spread out her leaves day by day, running here and there and yonder, hiding this red spot and that red spot, until by and by nothing could be seen but the beautiful green leaves of the ivy, and she did not stop until every ugly spot was hidden by her graceful garlands.
"Oh, it is beautiful, beautiful, now," cried the ivy; "only look!"
"Yes," said the fig tree, crossly, "but no one sees it. What are you going to do now? Dry up, I suppose, since you can never cross the ditch."
"Oh, but I shall cross the ditch," said the ivy vine. "I shall keep on trying until I do. There is so much on the other side I can do to help make the earth-world beautiful. Surely there is a way to cross."
So she ran out little tendrils, reaching here and there, searching everywhere for a way to cross the ditch. And at last, by climbing down to the edge of the muddy water, she reached a rock half way across, where she stopped for a moment to rest and wonder what next to do.
"You'll never get across," laughed the fig tree. "I told you so! You might as well make up your mind to dry up and stop trying."
"I shall never stop trying," called back the ivy vine. "There is a way to cross all ditches, and I shall cross this one. Wait and see."
"Bravo, my pretty one!" said the voice of the old oak tree close by. "Cling to my roots there. I am old and worn, but it is a joy to help one like you; reach out and I will pull you up."
So, with one huge stretch the ivy vine clung tightly to the twisted roots of the old oak, and was soon laughing merrily on the other side.
"Dear me, but you are a brave little vine," said the old oak. "I have been watching you across the ditch all these months, and you have changed its ugly, red banks into a real thing of beauty.
"Now there was a time, once, when flowers and grasses grew there, and ferns fringed the edge of the brook, and it was beautiful, indeed. Every fall I shook armfuls of crimson and yellow leaves upon the bank, but that was long ago, before the great forest fire which robbed me of my limbs and leaves and left me old and worn.
"What a joy it would be to me if only I might have my branches decked in leaves one more time,—especially do I long for this in the glad spring time, when trees and flowers are robing themselves for the joyous Easter Day.
"Sad, indeed, it is to me, to know that I shall be clothed no more in a fresh dress of delicate green, like your own pretty leaves, dear Ivy."
"But you shall," said the ivy vine, clapping her hands; "you have helped me cross the ditch to-day, and I mean to give you an Easter dress. Watch me."
Now vines had never climbed high before this. They had only run along the ground and down the hill, and over walls, but this little ivy vine wrapped her delicate arms around the rough bark of the old oak, and began to climb her first tree.
She pulled and stretched, and stretched and pulled, until little by little, up, up, higher and higher she went, leaving a trail of rich, green leaves behind her. It was a lovely sight.
"See!" she called to the old oak; "I am bringing you a most beautiful Easter dress—how do you like it?"
"Beautiful, beautiful!" laughed the old oak. "You make me feel young again. But what will you do when you reach my branches ?"
"Why, I shall keep on climbing," replied the ivy vine. "When I give a dress at all, it must be a whole dress, don't you know? I shall not stop until I have covered every branch, as I did the bare spots on the ditch."
And so she did. Every day she climbed a little higher, until by and by every limb on the great, old oak was completely hidden by the beautiful leaves of the ivy. The old oak laughed in delight, as she looked on her beautiful Easter dress of fresh, rich green.
Now the queen of the fairies who, I told you, was always on the watch for beautiful deeds, stood under the old oak on Easter Day and wondered at the beautiful sight. It made her glad to see the joy of the old oak in her new dress, and of course she knew who had given it.
So, turning with a smile to the ivy vine, she said, "Because you have tried to make others happy and to make the earth beautiful your leaves shall never fade. For ever and for ever they shall stay beautiful and green. Cold shall not hurt them nor summer's heat destroy them, and wherever you go you shall gladden the hearts of man with your freshness and beauty."
Very happy, indeed, did these words make the pretty ivy vine, and ever since she has been climbing over the earth-world, hunting for bare places to make them more beautiful.
Stone walls and churches and houses,—no place seems too high for her to climb, and never does she weary in making fresh Easter dresses for the trees that are old and worn and cannot make them for themselves.
But the little fig tree,—what do you suppose became of her?
At that time every fig tree was known to bear clusters of pretty pink blossoms among their leaves. But what was the use of beautiful flowers that would not blossom to make the world beautiful? None at all, the fairy queen said. So, ever since, the blossom of the fig tree has been shut up within her figs; you can break them open and see for yourself.
The little fig tree felt very sorry that she had been so foolish, and she said to herself, "Though I cannot show my blossoms to the earth-children any more, I can make my figs sweet and fresh for them to eat, and they will then love me, as they do the pretty ivy vine, who brightens every spot she touches."