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THE LAST DREAM OF THE OLD OAK TREE

 

A CHRISTMAS TALE

 

IN the foresthigh up on the steep shorehard by the open sea coaststood a very old Oak TreeIt was exactly three hundred and sixty-five years oldbut that long time was not more for the Tree than just as many days would be to us menWe wake by day and sleep through the nightand then we have our dreamsit is different with the Treewhich keeps awake through three seasons of the yearand does not get its sleep till winter comesWinter is its time for restits night after the long day which is called springsummerand autumn

On many a [warm] summer day the Ephemera[the fly that lives but for a day] had danced around his crownhad livedenjoyedand felt happyand then the tiny creature had rested for a moment in quiet bliss on one of the great fresh Oak leavesand then the Tree always said

Poor little thingYour whole life is but a single dayHow very shortIt's quite melancholy.”

MelancholyWhy do you say that?”the Ephemera would then always reply.“It's wonderfully brightwarmand beautiful all around meand that makes me rejoice.”

But only one dayand then it's all done!”

Done!”repeated the Ephemera.“What's the meanin of doneAre you donetoo?”

NoI shall perhaps live for thousands of your daysand my day is whole seasons longIt's something so longthat you can't at all manage to reckon it out.”

Nothen I don't understand youYou say you have thousands of my daysbut I have thousands of momentsin which I can be merry and happyDoes all the beauty of this world cease when you die?”

No,”replied the Tree;“it will certainly last much longerfar longer than I can possibly think.”

Wellthenwe have the same timeonly that we reckon differently.”

And the Ephemera danced and floated in the airand rejoiced in her delicate wings of gauze and velvetand rejoiced in the balmy breezes laden with the fragrance of the meadows and of wild roses and elder flowersof the garden hedgeswild thymeand mintand daisiesthe scent of these was all so strong that the Ephemera was almost intoxicatedThe day was long and beautifulfull of joy and of sweet feelingand when the sun sank low the little fly felt very agreeably tired of all its happiness and enjoymentThe delicate wings would not carry it any moreand quietly and slowly if glided down upon the soft grass-bladenodded its head as well as it could nodand went quietly to sleepand was dead

Poor little Ephemera!”said the Oak.“That was a terribly short life!”

And on every summer day the same dance was repeatedthe same question and answerand the same sleepThe same thing was repeated through whole generations of Ephemeraeand all of them felt equally merry and equally happy

The Oak stood there awake through the spring morninthe noon of summerand the evening of autumnand its time of restits nightwas coming on apaceWinter was approaching

Already the storms were singing theirgood nightgood night!”Here fell a leafand there fell a leaf

We pullSee if you can sleepWe sing you to sleepwe shake you to sleepbut it does you good in your old twigsdoes it notThey seem to crack for very joySleep sweetlySleep sweetlyIt's your three hundred and sixtyfifth nightProperly speakingyou're only a year old yetSleep sweetlyThe clouds strew down snowthere will be quite a coverletwarm and protectinaround your feetSweet sleep to youand pleasant dreams!”

And the old Oak Tree stood therestripped of all its 1eavesto sleep through the long winterand to dream many a dreamalways about something that had happened to itjust as in the dreams of men

The great Oak Tree had once been smallindeedan acorn had been its cradleAccording to human commaputationit was now in its fourth centuryIt was the greatest and best tree in the forestits crown towered far above all the other treesand could be descried from afar across the seaso that it served as a landmark to the sailorsthe Tree had no idea how many eyes were in the habit of seeking itHigh up in its green summit the woodpigeon built her nestand the cuckoo sat in its boughs and sang his songand in autumnwhen the leaves looked like thin plates of copperthe birds of passape came and rested therebefore they flew away across the seabut now it was winterand the Tree stood there leaflessso that every one could see how gnarled and crooked the branches were that shot forth from its trunkCrows and rooks came and took their seat by turns in the boughsand spoke of the hard times which were beginningand of the difficulty of getting a living in winter

It was just at the holy Christmas timewhen the Tree dreamed its most glorious dream

The Tree had a distinct feeling of the festive timeand fancied he heard the bells ringing from the churches all aroundand yet it seemed as if it were a fine summer's daymild and warmFresh and green he spread out his mighty crownthe sunbeams played among the twigs and the leavesthe air was full of the fragrance of herbs and blossomsgay butterflies chased each other to and froThe ephemeral insects danced as if all the world were created merely for them to dance and be merry inAll that the Tree had experienced for years and yearsand that had happened around himseemed to pass by him againas in a festive pageantHe saw the knights of ancient days ride by with their noble dames on gallant steedswith plumes waving in their bonnets and falcons on their wristsThe hunting horn soundedand the dogs barkedHe saw hostile warriors in coloured jerkins and with shining weaponswith spear and halberdpitching their tents and striking them againThe watchfires flamed up anewand men sang and slept under the branches of the TreeHe saw loving couples meeting near his trunkhappilyin the moonshineand they cut the initials of their names in the greygreen back of his stemOncebut long years had rolled by since thencitherns and Aeolian harps had been hung up on his boughs by merry wanderersnow they hung there againand once again they sounded in tones of marvellous sweetnessThe wood-pigeons cooedas if they were telling what the Tree felt in all thisand the cuckco called out to tell him how many summer days he had yet to live

Then it appeared to him as if new life were rippling down into the remotest fibre of his rootand mounting up into his highest branchesto the tops of the leavesThe Tree felt that he was stretching and spreading himselfand through his root he felt that there was life and warmth even in the ground itselfHe left his strength increasehe grew higherhis stem shot up unceasinglyand he grew more and morehis crown became fuller and spread outand in proportion as the Tree grewhe felt his happiness increaseand his joyous hope that he should reach even higherquite up to the warm brilliant sun

Already had he grown high up above the cloudswhich floated past beneath his crown like dark troops of passagebirdsor like great white swansAnd every leaf of the Tree had the gift of sightas if it had eyes wherewith to seethe stars became visible in broad daylightgreat and sparklingeach of them sparkled like a pair of eyesmild and clearThey recalled to his memory well-known gentle eyeseyes of childreneyes of loverswho had met beneath his boughs

It was a marvellous spectacleand one full of happiness and joyAnd yet amid all this happiness the Tree felt a longinga yearning desire that all other trees of the wood beneath himand all the bushesand herbsand flowersmight be able to rise with himthat they too might see this splendour and experience this joyThe great majestic Oak was not quite happy in his happinesswhile he had not them allgreat and littleabout himand this feeling of yearning trembled through his every twigthrough his every leafwarmly and fervently as through a human heart

The crown of the Tree waved to and froas if he sought something in his silent longingand he looked downThen he felt the fragrance of woodruffand soon afterwards the more powerful scent of honeysuckle and violetsand he fancied he heard the cuckoo answering him

Yesthrough the clouds the green summits of the forest came peering upand under himself the Oak saw the other treesas they grew and raised themselves aloftBushes and herbs shot up highand some tore themselves up bodily by the roots to rise the quickerThe birch was the quickest of allLike a white streak of lightningits slender stem shot upwards in a zigzag lineand the branches spread around it like green gauze and like bannersthe whole woodland nativeseven to the brownplumed rushesgrew up with the restand the birds came tooand sangand on the grassblade that fluttered aloft like a long silken ribbon into the airsat the grasshopper cleaning his wings with his legthe May beetles hummedand the bees murmuredand every bird sang in his appointed mannerall was song and sound of gladness up into the high heaven

But the little blue flower by the watersidewhere is that?”said the Oak;“and the purple bellflower and the daisy?”Foryou seethe old Oak Tree wanted to have them all about him

We are hereWe are here!”was shouted and sung in reply

But the beautiful woodruff of last summerand in the last year there was certainly a place here covered with lilies of the valleyAnd the wild apple tree that Lossomed so splendidlyAnd all the glory of the wood that came year by yearif that had only lived and remained till nowthen it might have been here now!”

We are hereWe are here!”replied voices still higher in the air

It seemed as if they had flown on before

Whythat is beautifulindescribably beautiful!”exclaimed the old Oak Treerejoicingly.“I have them all around megreat and smallnot one has been forgottenHow can so much happiness be imaginedHow can it be possible?”

In heaven it can be imaginedand it is possible!”the reply sounded through the air

And the old Treewho grew on and onfelt how his roots were tearing themselves free from the ground

That's best of all!”said the Tree.“Now no fetters hold meI can fly up nowto the very highestin glory and in lightAnd all my beloved ones are with megreat and smallall of themall!”

That was the dream of the old Oak Treeand whilehe dreamed thus a mighty storm came rushing over land and seaat the holy ChristmastideThe sea rolled great billows towards the shoreand there was a cracking and crashing in the treehis root was torn out of the ground in the very moment while he was drearming that his root freed itself from the earthHe fellHis three hundred and sixtyfive years were now as the single day of the Ephemera

On the morning of th Christmas festivalwhen the sun rosethe storm had subsidedFrom all the churches sounded the festive bellsand from every heartheven from the smallest hutarose the smoke in blue cloudslike the smoke from the altars of the Druids of old at the feast of thanksofferingsThe sea became gradually calm and on board a great ship in the offingthat had fought successfully with the tempestall the flags were displayedas a token of joy suitable to the festive day

The Tree is downthe odl Oak Treeour land-mark on the coast!”said the sailorsIt tell in the storm of last nightWho can replace itNo one can.”

This was the funeral orationshort but well meantthat was given to the Treewhich lay stretched on the snowy covering on the seashoreand over its prostrate form sounded the notes of a song from the shipa carol of the joys of Christmasand of the redemption of the soul of man by the blood of Christand of eternal life

Singsing aloudthis blessed morn

It is fufilled and He is born

Ohjoy without compare

HallelujahHallelujah

Thus sounded the old psalm tuneand every one on board the ship felt lifted up in his own waythrough the song and the prayerjust as the old Tree had felt lifted up in its lastits most beauteousdream in the Christmas night

 


 

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