The Old Willow-tree
and other stories by
Translated by A. Teixeira de Mattos
Drawings by Helen M. Jacobs & G. E. Lee
Thornton Butterworth Limited 15 Bedford St Strand London. W. C. 2
First published October, 1921.
Copyright U.S.A., 1907, by Charles Scribner's Sons.
THE ROYAL ROAD LIBRARY
THE OLD WILLOW-TREE AND OTHER STORIES
THE ROYAL ROAD LIBRARY
THE CARL EWALD BOOKS
Translated by ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS
1. TWO-LEGS 2. THE OLD WILLOW TREE and other stories
THE NETTA SYRETT BOOKS
3. TOBY & THE ODD BEASTS 4. RACHEL & THE SEVEN WONDERS
THE W. H. KOEBEL BOOKS
5. THE BUTTERFLIES' DAY
FOR THE HONBLE. MRS. HENRY MCLAREN.
From the first, your interest in Carl Ewald has been kindly, gracious and insistent; as Michael Finsbury might have said, "you were his friend through thick and thin;" and it is very much due to you (not to mention Betty and Charles) that this volume has seen the light of day. Most of the stories are new to this country; and I dedicate my translation to you in all gratitude.
A. T. DE M.
CHELSEA, 23 September, 1921.
CHAPTER I Page
THE OLD WILLOW-TREE 13
THE MISTLETOE 47
THE LILAC-BUSH 59
THE BEECH AND THE OAK 69
THE WEEDS 81
THE ANEMONES 89
THE WOOD AND THE HEATH 101
SOMEWHERE IN THE WOOD 111
THE COUSINS 123
'You have disturbed my afternoon nap' (Coloured) Frontispiece.
'I want to pick some for myself!' (Coloured) 40
The old dog stood on his hind-legs and blinked with his blind eyes 50
'You really ought not to be so wasteful with your leaves, old friend,' said the bear, licking his paws 70
'Hide me! Save me!' (Coloured) 80
'Fie, for shame!' they cried to the beech-leaves. 'It's you that are killing us' 94
'Good-bye,' said the maiden-pink 114
There sat the mouse in the sugar-basin (Coloured) 128
There are many kinds of willows and they are so unlike that you would hardly believe them to be relations.
There are some so small and wretched that they creep along the ground. They live on the heath, or high up in the mountains, or in the cold arctic regions. In the winter, they are quite hidden under the snow; in the summer, they just poke up their noses above the tops of the heather.
There are people who shrink from notice because they are so badly off. It is simply stupid to be ashamed of being poor; and the little dwarf-willows are not a bit ashamed. But they know that the soil they grow in is so poor that they can never attain the height of proper trees. If they tried to shoot up and began to carry their heads like their stately cousins the poplars, they would soon learn the difference.
For the poplars are their cousins. They are the stateliest of all the willow-trees and they know it, as any one can see by looking at them with half an eye. You only have to notice the way in which they hold themselves erect to perceive it.
The beech and the oak and the birch and whatever the other trees are called stick out one polite branch on this side and one polite branch on that.
"May I beg you kindly to give me a little bit of sunshine?" says the branch up in the air.
"Can I help you to a little bit of shadow?" says the branch down by the ground.
But the poplars sing a very different tune. With them it is:
"Every branch straight up on high! Close up to the trunk with you! There's nothing to stare at down below! Look above you! Heads up!... March!"
And all the branches strut right up to the sky and the whole tree shoots up, straight and proud as a pikestaff.
It's tiring. But it's elegant. And it pays. For has any one ever seen a smarter tree than one of those real, regular poplars, as stiff as a tin soldier and as tall as a steeple?
And, when the poplars stand along the road, in a long row on either side, you feel very respectful as you walk between them and are not in the least surprised when it appears that the avenue leads right up to a fine country-house.
The dwarf-willows and the poplars belong to the same family. The first are the commonest on the common side, the second are the smartest on the smart side. Between them are a number of other willow-trees. There are some whose leaves are like silver underneath and some whose leaves quiver so mournfully in the warm summer wind that the poets write verses about them. There are some whose branches droop so sorrowfully towards the ground that people plant them on their graves and some whose branches are so tough and flexible that people use them to weave baskets of. There are some out of which you can carve yourself a grand flute, if you know how. And then there are a heap about which there is nothing very remarkable to tell.
The willow-tree in this story was just one of the middling sort. But he had a destiny; and that is how he came to find his way into print.
His destiny began with this, that one of the proud poplars who stood in the avenue leading to the manor-house was blown down in a terrible storm. He snapped right down at his roots; the stump was dug up; and it left a very ugly gap in the middle of the long row of trees. As soon as spring came, therefore, the keeper brought a cutting and stuck it where the old poplar used to stand, stamped down the ground firmly all around it and nodded to it:
"Hurry, now, and shoot up," he said. "I know it's in your blood; and you have only to look down the road to see good examples for you to follow in growing."
Now the man thought it was a poplar he had planted. But it was only a quite ordinary willow-twig, which he had taken by mistake, and, as time passed and the cutting grew up, this came to light.
"What a monster!" said the keeper. "We must pull this up again."
"Let him be, now that he's there," said the squire.
For that happened to be his mood that day.
"Shall we put up with him?" asked the poplars along the road.
They whispered about it for a long time; and, as no one knew how to get rid of him, they agreed to put up with him. After all, he belonged to the family, though not to the smart side of it.
"But let me see you make an effort and grow as straight as you're able," said the poplar who stood nearest to him. "You have found your way into much too fine a company, let me tell you. You would have done better beside a village-pond than in the avenue of a manor. But now the scandal is an accomplished fact and we must hush it up as best we may. The rest of us will shoot up and grow a bit straighter and thinner still; and then we'll hope that the quality will drive past without noticing you."
"I'll do my best," said the willow-tree.
In the fields close by, on a little hillock, stood an oak. On the hillock also grew a charming wild rose. They both heard what the trees of the avenue had said and the oak began to scoff at them:
"Fancy caring to stand out there in the road!" he said. "I suppose you will want to be running up and down next, like those silly men and women? It was unkind and thoughtless of your mother to sow you out there. Trees ought to grow together in a wood, if they are not as handsome and stately as I, who can stand alone."
"My mother didn't sow me at all," said the willow-tree.
"Oh, Lord preserve us!" said the oak. "So your mother didn't sow you at all, didn't she? Perhaps the others weren't sown either? Perhaps you just dropped down from the sky?"
"If you had eyes in your head, you would have seen that the keeper put me here," said the willow. "I am a cutting."
And all along the road the poplars whispered to one another:
"We are cuttings ... cuttings ... cuttings..."
It was a real avenue and a real adventure.
"You managed that very well," said the poplar who stood nearest to the willow-tree. "Only go on as you've begun and we will forgive you for not being as smart as the rest of us."
"I'll do my best," replied the willow-tree.
The oak said nothing. He did not know what cuttings were, and did not want to commit himself or make a blunder. But, later on, in the evening, he whispered to the wild rose-bush:
"What was that rubbish he was talking about cuttings?"
"It's not rubbish at all," said the rose-bush. "It was right enough, what the willow said. I myself came out of a seed, like you, and I didn't see the keeper plant him either, for I happened to be busy with my buds that day. But I have some smart cousins up in the garden at the manor-house. They came out of cuttings. Their scent is so sweet, their colours so bright and their blossoms so rich and full that one simply can't believe it. But they get no seed."
"What next!" said the oak.
"Yes, I, too, would rather be the wild rose I am," said the rose-bush.
Now years passed, as they are bound to pass.
Spring came and summer, autumn and winter. Rain came and snow came, sunshine and storm, good days and bad. The birds flew out of the country and flew back again, the flowers blossomed and withered, the trees burst into leaf and cast their leaves again, when the time came.
The willow-cutting grew and grew quickly, after the manner of the family. He was now quite a tree, with a thick trunk and a top with many branches.
But there was no denying it: he was not a poplar. And his fellow-members of the avenue were greatly displeased with him:
"Isn't it possible for you to grow taller in stature?" asked the nearest poplar. "You ought never to have been here, but, once you've joined the avenue through an accident, I should like to ask you to stretch yourself up a bit."
"I'll do my best," answered the willow-tree.
"I fear your best isn't good enough," said the poplar. "You have no grip at all to keep your branches in with. They hang quite slack on every side, just as if you were a common beech or birch or oak or whatever the ordinary trees are called."
"Do you call me ordinary, you windbag?" said the oak.
The poplar did not mind a jot what the oak said, but went on admonishing the willow-tree:
"You should take example by the squire's wife," he said. "At first she was no better than a common kitchen-maid. She used to scour the pots and make up the fire and stir the milk when it boiled. I used often to see her go down the avenue bare-armed and bare-headed, with a pail in her hand and her skirts tucked back."
"So did we ... so did we ... so did we," whispered the poplars along the avenue.
"Then the squire fell in love with her and made her his wife," said the poplar. "Now she goes in silk, with a train to her dress and ostrich-feathers on her head and gold slippers on her feet and long gloves from Paris on her hands. She looks down from on high: only yesterday she was driving along here in her smart turn-out with the four bays."
"We saw her ... we saw her ... we saw her," whispered the poplars along the avenue.
"She joined the avenue, do you see?" said the poplar. "She learnt to hold herself erect and whisper; and now she whispers and holds herself erect. I think you might profit by her example. After all, you belong to the family, even though you are not one of the real poplars; so it ought to be easier for you than her."
"I'll do my best," said the willow-tree.
But nothing came of it. His branches kept on growing out at the sides and the whole tree was not more than half as tall as the lowest poplars. For the rest, he was quite nice and comfortable-looking, but that's not what counts in the smart world.
And the poplars grew more and more annoyed every day.
They themselves stood stiff and straight and strutted and gave no more shade than their trunks were able to cast. But under the willow there was quite a big shady place.
"He's ruining the whole avenue," said the nearest poplar.
"The whole avenue ... the whole avenue ... the whole avenue," whispered the poplars.
Then, one regular sunny summer's day, the squire came walking along. He took off his hat, wiped the perspiration from his forehead and sat down in the shade of the willow:
"Thank you for your shade, you good Willow-Tree," he said. "Those confounded poplars stand there and strut and don't give as much shade as the back of my hand. I think I'll cut them all down and plant willows in their stead."
For that happened to be his mood that day.
"Did you hear the squire praise me?" said the willow-tree, when he had gone.
"Goodness gracious!" said the nearest poplar. "Did we hear him? It's a perfect scandal! He talked just like a common peasant. But, of course, that comes of marrying a kitchen-maid. It's the truest thing that ever was said, that birds of a feather fly together."
"Birds of a feather fly together ... fly together ... fly together ... together ... together," whispered the poplars all along the avenue.
The oak on the little hillock in the fields twisted his crooked branches with laughter. The wild rose, whose hips were already beginning to turn red, nodded to the willow-tree:
"Every one has his position in life," she said. "We have ours and the smart ones theirs. Now I wouldn't change with anybody."
"Still, one would like to give satisfaction in one's position," said the willow-tree and sighed!
After the warm days came rain and drizzle and wind. The roads became difficult because of the mud and slosh. Only in the avenue did it dry up soon, however hard it had rained. For the poplars gave no shade, so the sun was able to come at once as soon as the rain had ceased. And they gave no shelter either, so the wind came with a rush and dried the puddles.
The squire came driving with his wife. When the carriage reached the place where the willow stood, the wet mud splashed all over her new silk dress.
"Ugh!" she said.
"What's all this nasty mess?" asked the squire.
The keeper, who was sitting on the box beside the coachman, pointed to the willow-tree:
"It's that fellow there," he said. "He was planted by mistake and now he has stood and grown big. He shelters the ground from the wind and shades it from the sun, so there is always a big puddle under him, long after the rest of the avenue is dry."
"Did you ever hear of such a thing?" said the squire. "And the look of him, too! He spoils the whole of the beautiful, stately avenue. See and poll him to-morrow, keeper. Off with the whole of his crown, do you hear?"
For that happened to be his mood that day.
On the next day, they came and sawed the willow-tree down to a man's height. Only the thick naked trunk remained. Not a leaf was-left, except five that stood on a little twig down by the ground and really had no business to be there at all. The whole of the splendid crown lay in the ditch. The keeper chopped all the branches into pieces with his axe.
"Will they become cuttings?" asked the willow, disconsolately.
"They will become faggots," replied the keeper and went on chopping to the last stick.
"Then rather let me die at once," said the willow.
"For the present, you will stay where you are, till the winter is past," said the keeper. "When the snow lies thick and smooth all over the roads, you can do good service as a warning-post against the ditch. What will happen afterwards depends upon the squire."
"That was a fine ending to the cutting-farce," said the oak-tree.
"Poor Willow-Tree!" said the wild rose-bush.
"Thank you," said the willow-tree. "I still feel a little stunned. It is no trifle to lose the whole of one's crown. I don't quite know what's to become of me."
"It's a terrible scandal," said the nearest poplar. "A wholly unprecedented family-scandal. If only they would come and take you away altogether, so that you couldn't stand there and disgrace us like a horrible, withered stick!"
"A family-scandal ... a scandal ... a scandal," whispered the poplars along the avenue.
"I don't feel at all withered, oddly enough," said the willow-tree. "I don't know either that I have done anything to be ashamed of. I was set up here and I did my best to fill the position. The squire praised me one day and cut me down another. We must take life as it comes. I shall never be a poplar, but I am one of the family for all that. And a family has other qualities, besides pride. So let us see in a year's time what becomes of me."
"He's speaking like a man," said the wild rose-bush.
The oak-tree said nothing. The poplars whispered in their superior way, but talked no more about the family-scandal.
Now it so happened that the squire and his wife went to Italy and stayed there for a couple of years. And this, in its turn, led to the result that the polled willow was left to stand in peace among the proud poplars. When the master and mistress were away, there was no one who gave a further thought to the stately avenue.
Throughout the winter, the willow stood silent and perplexed. And it is quite natural that a tree should not care to talk when his head is chopped off. But, half-way through March, suddenly one day he fell a-moaning in the most piteous fashion:
"Oh, my head, my head!" he cried.
"Well, I never in all my born days heard the like," said the oak. "Listen to him talking about his head, when all the world can see that it's been chopped off, so that there's nothing but a wretched stump left."
"It's all very well for you to talk," said the willow-tree. "I should like to see you in my place. All my crown is gone, all the big branches and the little twigs, on which the next year's buds used to sit so nicely, each in its axil. But I still have all my roots, all those which I procured when I had a big household and many to provide for. Now the ice on the ground is melting and the sun shining and the roots are sucking and sucking. All the sap is going up through my trunk and rising to my head. And I haven't the slightest use for it.... Oh, oh!... I'm bursting, I'm dying!"
"Poor Willow-Tree!" said the rose-bush.
But round on the other side of the little hillock stood an elder-bush, whom no one talked to, as a rule, and who never put in his oar:
"Just wait and see," he said. "Two or three days will put things right. Only listen to what a poor, but honest elder-bush tells you. Things always end by settling themselves in one way or another."
"Yes, you've experienced a bit of life," said the oak.
"Goodness knows I have!" said the elder. "They have cut me and cropped me and chopped me and slashed at me in every direction. But, every time they curtailed me on one side, I shot out on the other. It will be just like that with the willow-tree. He comes of a tough family too."
"Do you hear that?" said the nearest poplar. "The elder-bush is comparing his family with ours! Let's pretend not to hear him. We'll stand erect and whisper."
"We'll stand erect and whisper ... whisper ... stand erect and whisper," whispered the poplars along the avenue.
"What are those funny little things up in the willow-tree's top?" said the oak. "Just look ... he's swelling, right up there ... it's a regular eruption.... If only we don't catch it!"
"Oh dear no, those are buds!" said the willow-tree. "I can't understand it, but I can feel it. They are real live buds. I am turning green again, I am getting a new crown."
Then came the busiest time of the year, when every one had enough to do minding his own affairs and had no time to think about the poor willow-tree.
The stately poplars and the humble elder got new leaves. The grass shot up green beside the ditch, the corn grew in the fields, the wild rose-bush put forth her dainty leaves, so that the flowers should look their best when they arrived in July. Violets and anemones blossomed and died, daisies and pansies, dandelions and wild chervil and parsley: oh, it was a swarming and a delight on every hand! The birds sang as they had never sung before, the frogs croaked in the marsh, the snake lay on the stone fence, basking his black body in the sun.
The only one who did not join in was the oak. He was distrustful by nature and nothing would persuade him to come out until he saw that all the others were green. Therefore he stood and peered from one to the other and therefore he was the first to discover what was happening to the willow-tree:
"Look! Look!" he cried.
They all looked across and saw that the willow-tree was standing with quite a lot of charming, green, long, lithe twigs, which shot straight up and waved their green and pretty leaves. All the twigs stood in a circle at the top of the polled trunk and were so straight that no poplar need have been ashamed to own them.
"What did I tell you?" said the elder-bush, who stood quite full of dark-green leaves.
"Now I have a crown again," said the willow-tree. "Even though it's not so smart as the old one, it's a crown, as nobody can deny."
"No," said the wild rose. "That's true enough. Besides, one can live very happily without a crown. I have none and never had one and enjoy just as much honour and esteem without it."
"If I may say so, one's crown is only an inconvenience," said the elder-bush. "I had one myself once, but am much more contented since they took it away; and I can shoot my branches as it suits me."
"That's not my way of thinking," said the willow-tree. "I am a tree; and a tree must have a crown. If I had never got a crown, I should certainly have died of sorrow and shame."
"There's poplar-blood in him after all," said the nearest poplar. The others whispered their assent along the avenue.
"Let us now see what happens," said the oak.
The summer passed as usual. The sun shone until every living thing prayed for rain. Then it rained until they all cried to Heaven for sunshine.
The willow-tree, however, was not the worst off. He was easily contented by nature. And then he was so greatly pleased with his new crown that he thought he could manage, whatever happened.
Up in the top, in the middle of the wreath of green branches, was a hole which had come when the keeper had chopped off the crown. The hole was not so very small even; and, when it rained, it was full of water, which remained for a good while after the sun had dried the ground again.
One day, a blackbird came flying and sat down up there:
"May I take a drop of water from you, you dear old Willow-Tree?" he asked.
"With the greatest pleasure," said the willow-tree. "By the way, I am not so very old. I have been ill-treated."
"Oh, yes," said the blackbird, "you have been polled! We know all about that."
"Would you be so kind as to wipe your feet?" said the willow-tree. "I only mean that I should not like you to muddy the water if another should come and want a drink. One can never tell, in this drought."
The blackbird scraped his feet clean on a splinter of wood that was there. The splinter broke off and, when the bird flew away, there was quite a little heap of earth left. Next day a swallow came and next a lark and gradually quite a number of birds.
For it soon got about that, at a pinch, there was generally a drop of water to be found in the old polled willow in the avenue. They all left something or other behind them; and, by the autumn, there was so much up there that, one fine day, it collapsed and quite filled up the little hole where the water was.
"You're simply keeping a public-house," said the oak.
"Why shouldn't one be kind to one's fellow-creatures?" said the willow-tree.
It was now autumn. The withered leaves blew up into the willow-tree and lay and rotted. A dragon-fly had lain down to die up there in the latter part of the summer. One of the dandelion's fluffy seeds had fallen just beside her. The winter came and the snow fell on the little spot and lay for its appointed time, exactly as on the ground.
"It is just as though I had quite a piece of the world in my head," said the willow-tree.
"It's not healthy to have too much in one's head," said the oak.
"Once I had a large and glorious crown," said the willow-tree, sadly. "Now I am satisfied and delighted with less. We must take life as it comes."
"That's so," said the wild rose-bush.
"It will be all right," said the elder-bush. "I told you so."
"Horrid vulgar fellow," said the nearest poplar.
"Horrid ... vulgar ... fellow," whispered the poplars along the avenue.
The winter passed and the spring came. Up in the middle of the willow-tree's top peeped a little green sprout.
"Hullo, who are you?" asked the willow-tree.
"I'm just a little dandelion," said the sprout. "I was in mother's head, with a heap of brothers and sisters. Each of us had a little parachute. 'Fly away now, darlings,' said mother. 'The farther away you go, the better. I can do no more for you than I have done; and I won't deny that I am a little concerned about all the children that I have brought into the world. But that can't be helped either; and I hope you will find a spot where an honest dandelion can shift for herself.'"
"Yes, that's just how a little flower-mother talks," said the wild rose-bush.
"What then?" asked the willow-tree.
"Then there came a gust of wind," said the dandelion. "We all flew up into the air together, carried by our parachutes. What became of the others I have no idea; but I remember it began to rain and then I was flung down here. Of course, I thought that, when I had dried, I could fly on again. But not a bit of it, for my parachute was smashed. So I had to stay where I was. To my great surprise, I saw that I was lying on earth. Gradually more earth came, in which I lay hidden all the winter; and now I have sprouted. That's the whole story."
"It's quite a romance," said the wild rose-bush.
"Very likely," said the dandelion. "But what's going to happen to me in the future? Honestly speaking, I would give a good deal to be down in the earth again."
"I'll do all I can for you," said the willow-tree. "I have known adversity myself; and it is a great honour and pleasure for me to have you growing in my poor head."
"Very many thanks for your kindness," said the dandelion. "There's really not so much of it in the world that one shouldn't appreciate it when one meets with it. But, when all is said and done, it's ability that tells; and I fear that's where the shoe pinches."
"I know what you're thinking of," said the willow-tree, sadly. "I can't shade you, since the keeper cut off my nice crown. My long branches up there are all very well and I wouldn't be without them for anything, but they don't give any shade worth talking about and I shall never get another crown, that's quite clear. So you're afraid that the sun will shine too strong on you?"
"Not in the least!" said the dandelion. "The more the sun shines on my yellow face, the better I'm pleased. No, look here, it's the earth I'm anxious about."
"And the most important thing too," said the oak. "But that's the willow-tree's business. If he wants to run an hotel for flowers in his head, he must provide earth: that goes without saying."
"Yes, but is there no earth, my dear Dandelion?" asked the willow-tree.
"There is," said the dandelion. "And good earth too: it's not that. I'm only afraid that there won't be enough of it. You must know, I have a terribly long root: quite a stake, I assure you. When I'm full-grown, there will be at least six inches of it down in the ground."
"Upon my word!" said the oak. "To hear that brat of a dandelion talking about roots!"
The willow-tree stood for a while and said nothing, but thought all the more. The wild rose-bush comforted the dandelion and said nice things about the willow-tree; the elder-bush said it would be all right; the oak grumbled and asked whether, after all, one could expect much from a tree without a crown.
"Now listen," said the willow-tree, who had paid no attention to the others. "I'll tell you something, my dear Dandelion, which I don't generally care to talk about. You know I have had a bad time and have lost my crown?"
"I heard you say so," said the dandelion. "I can also see that you look rather cowed among the other trees in the avenue."
"Don't talk about the poplars," said the willow-tree, distressfully. "They are my relations, but they have never forgiven me for being put here by mistake as a cutting. Look at them and look at me and you can judge for yourself that such a monster as I must be a blot upon a stately avenue of poplars."
"He has some sense of shame left in him," said the nearest poplar.
And all the other trees of the avenue whispered their assent.
"You think about it too much," said the elder-bush. "The more one broods upon a thing, the worse it becomes. I should have died long ago, you know, if I had stood and cried at the losses I have suffered."
"Yes, that's as may be," said the willow-tree. "We all take things in our own way and I in mine. I have not the least intention of throwing up the game, but I know that I am a cripple and shall never be anything else. I thought, a little time ago, that my branches up there would turn into a new crown, but that was sheer folly. They grow and strut and turn green and that is all they do. And then, besides, I feel that I am beginning to decay.
"What's that you say?" asked the wild rose-bush.
"Are you decaying?" asked the oak.
"Yes ... that's by far the worst thing of all," said the elder-bush.
"He's revealing his inmost secrets to the rabble," said the nearest poplar. "Let us stand erect and stiff and whisper and look aloft, dear brothers of the avenue!"
All the poplars whispered.
"I am decaying," said the willow-tree. "I am decaying in my top. How could it be otherwise? There's a puddle up there in summer, the snow lies there in winter and now it's full of moist earth. I can plainly perceive that the hole is growing bigger and bigger, going deeper and deeper inside me. My wood is mouldering away. The shell is good enough still; and I am satisfied as long as it holds out. Then the sap can run up from my roots to my dear, long twigs. Well ... I was thinking the birds will come and visit me, as they are used to, and they will be sure to bring earth with them, so that there will always be more of it as my hole becomes deeper by degrees. And plenty of withered leaves fall on my poor maimed top. I also positively believe that I have an earth-worm up there. How he got there, I don't know: perhaps a bird dropped him out of his beak. But he draws the leaves down into the earth and eats them and turns them into mould. So I say, like the elder-bush, it will be all right."
"So you're becoming hollow?" asked the oak.
"I am," said the willow-tree. "It can't be helped. It's not quite the sort of thing to talk about, but it's different now, because the dandelion was so anxious. It shall never be said of me that I took a respectable flower as a boarder and then let her suffer mortal want."
"Who ever heard a tree talk like that?" said the oak.
"Well, I must say I agree with you this time," said the wild rose-bush.
"I don't think he will hold out very long now," said the elder-bush.
"Thank you, you good old Willow-Tree," said the dandelion. "Now I can go on growing hopefully. I have only this year to think of. When I have sent my seeds into the world with their little parachutes, I shall have done all that is expected of me. I should be delighted if one of them would stay here and grow on you."
"Many thanks," said the willow-tree.
"He accepts the sympathy of the rose-bush and the elder ... he says thank-you to the dandelion ... and he's a relation of ours ... oh, shocking!" said the nearest poplar.
"Shocking ... shocking ... shocking!" whispered the poplars along the avenue.
Then evening came and night; and one and all slept. The wind had gone down, so that there was not even the least whisper in the poplars. But the oak on the little hillock in the fields called out to the willow-tree:
"Pst!... Pst!... Willow-Tree!... Are you asleep?"
"I can't sleep," said the willow-tree. "It's rumbling and gnawing and trickling and seething inside me. I can feel it coming lower and lower. I don't know what it is, but it makes me so melancholy."
"You're becoming hollow," said the oak.
"Perhaps that's what it is," said the willow-tree, sadly. "Well, there's nothing to be done. What can't be cured must be endured."
"Now listen to me, Willow-Tree," said the oak. "On the whole I don't like you."
"I don't know that I ever did you any harm," said the willow-tree.
"Very likely," said the oak. "Only I thought you so arrogant ever since the time when you came the cutting over us. But never mind that now. I have felt most awfully sorry for you since I heard that you were about to become hollow. Take care, that's what I say. It's a terrible misfortune."
"I really don't know what to do to prevent it," said the willow-tree.
"No more do I," said the oak. "But I tell you for all that: take care. See if you can't get all the birds who visit you to scrape all the earth out of the hole in your head before it becomes too deep."
"I mustn't harm the dandelion," said the willow-tree. "Besides, I don't think there's any danger yet. My twigs are green and thriving and my roots are sucking pretty well. As long as the root is sound, everything's sound: you know that as well as I do."
"Take care, that's all," said the oak. "You don't know what it means, but I do. I may as well tell you, I have an old hollow uncle."
"Have you?" said the willow-tree. "Yes, there's a tragedy in every family. You have your uncle and the poplars have me."
"You've no idea of the sort of life he leads," said the oak. "He's awfully old and awfully hollow. Yes, he's like you in a way, but ever so much worse. There's nothing left of him but a very thin shell and just a wretched twig or two in his top. Almost all his roots are dead, too. And he's always full of owls and bats and other vermin. It's a terrible life he leads."
"I'm very sorry to hear it," said the willow-tree.
"I merely say, look out!" said the oak.
And the years came and went and time passed, as it must and will pass.
The willow-tree became more and more decayed and the hole filled with earth and more customers arrived. One spring there was a dainty little sprout, which the tree welcomed under the impression that it was a dandelion.
"Hullo!" said the sprout. "What do you think I am?"
"I have the highest opinion of you," said the willow-tree. "But you are still so small. May I ask your name?"
"I am a strawberry-plant," said the sprout. "And one of the best. My own idea is that I am the equal of those which grow in the manor-garden. Just wait till I get my fruit: then we shall see."
"Goodness me!" said the willow-tree. "If I could only understand where you came from!"
Another sprout came, which proved to be the beginning of a black-currant-bush. A third came, which grew into a dear little mountain-ash. Every summer there were a couple of dandelions. The bees came and buzzed and sucked honey and flew away with it to their hives. The butterflies flitted from flower to flower, sipped a little honey here and there and ate it up. They knew they had to die, so there was no reason for saving it.
"It's wonderful!" said the willow-tree. "If only I knew where all this good fortune comes from!"
"Never mind about that: just take it as it comes," said the elder-bush.
"You will have a fine old age," said the wild rose-bush.
"You're getting hollower and hollower," said the oak. "Remember what I told you about my poor old uncle."
"He has gradually become quite weak-minded," said the nearest poplar.
"Quite weak-minded ... quite weak-minded ... weak-minded," whispered the poplars along the avenue.
The blackbird was the first who had visited the willow-tree and he returned several times each year. One day he came in a great state of fright and asked if he might hide up there. There was a horrid boy who had been shooting at him all the morning with his air-gun:
"I am really preserved at this time of the year," he said. "But what does that brat of a boy care about that? And, if I must lose my life, I would rather be caught in a proper snare."
"I should have thought it would be better to be shot," said the willow-tree. "Then you're done with for good and all."
"I don't agree with you," said the blackbird. "While there's life there's hope. You can always hang on in the snare and struggle and feel that there may be a chance of escaping."
"Yes, indeed," said the willow-tree, pensively. "That's just my case. I also am caught in a trap and know that I must die soon, but I cling to life nevertheless. Well, I have now attained a blessed old age, as the wild rose said. If only I knew where all the dear creatures who grew in my top came from!"
"Well, I can tell you that," said the blackbird. "You may be sure that most of them come from me."
Then he described how fond he was of red berries of every kind. He resorted in particular to the garden of the manor-house, which was full of the nicest things. Then, when he sat and digested his food in the willow-tree, he usually left something behind him, something in the way of one seed or another.
"Is that true?" said the willow-tree. "Yes, of course it's true. So I really owe all my happiness to you!"
"Probably," said the blackbird and whistled with a very consequential air. "We all of us have our mission in this world, thank goodness.... But just look: as I live, there's a beautiful ripe strawberry!"
He ate the strawberry and said, "Hum!" and "Ha!" and "Ho!" for it was so nice:
"It's just as good as those which grow in the squire's own beds," he said. "But I almost think it has got a still nicer flavour by growing up here in you, you old Willow-Tree."
"My dear Blackbird," said the strawberry-plant, "you're often at the manor-house. Won't you do me the favour to tell the squire that I am growing up here?"
"That I will certainly not do," said the blackbird. "In the first place, nothing would induce me to tell any one else where a good berry grows. In the second place, I have been getting so stout and fat lately that I must be a bit careful. Otherwise, it might occur to the squire that strawberries taste twice as nice on top of roast blackbird."
"That's very tiresome," said the strawberry-plant. "I know that the squire has said he will eat no other berries than those which grow in our family; and there are so very few of us. I also heard a bird sing that he had come home from Italy; and I am sure that, if he knew I grew up here, he would himself climb up and pick my berries."
"Lord preserve us!" said the willow-tree. "Would the squire himself really climb into my top? That honour would be greater than I could bear!"
"It certainly would," said the oak. "For you are growing hollower every day. Your long branches are not so green this year as last. You are beginning to look more and more like my unhappy uncle. You're approaching your end, Willow-Tree."
"You may be right," said the willow-tree. "We must all undergo our lot. I myself feel that my shell is getting thinner and thinner; and it has holes in it, besides, in two places down below."
"Away with him!" said the nearest poplar. "He's a disgrace and a reproach to our family."
"Away with him!... Away ... away ... away!" whispered the poplars along the avenue.
Time passed and it was incredible that the old willow-tree should still be alive.
His bark had fallen off in great pieces and the holes below had joined in the middle, so that, one day, the fox was able to slip in at one and out at the other. The mice gnawed at the rotten wood. There were only three or four twigs left up above and they were so thin and leafless that it was a pitiful sight to see.
But the garden at the top thrived as it had never done before.
The strawberry-plant put out big flowers which turned into red heavy berries. The black-currant-bush had also grown up and was bearing her fruit. The dandelions shone yellow; and there was also a little blue violet and a scarlet pimpernel, who only opened her flower when the sun shone strongest at noon, and a tall spike of rye, swaying before the wind.
"Why, you're better off now than ever!" said the wild rose-bush. "Since you absolutely had to come to grief and lose your crown, you may well say that fate has been kind to you and made amends to you."
"That's just what I do say," said the willow-tree. "If only I can bear all this good fortune! I am getting thinner and thinner in my shell and every year I lose a twig or two."
"It will end badly," said the oak. "I warned you beforehand. Remember my poor old hollow uncle!"
"I daresay that it will end as it always ends," said the elder-bush. "Whether the end comes one way or another, it is the same for all of us. But I think the willow-tree has life left in him yet."
"There's nothing left to show that he belongs to the family," said the nearest poplar. "His own branches are withering more and more; and it is only strange twigs and leaves that he fans himself with. So that's all right. We sha'n't say a word about his belonging to us: hush!"
"Hush ... hush ... hush!" whispered the poplars along the avenue.
One afternoon the earth-worm crept up there. Hitherto, he had always kept down in the earth, for fear of the many birds about. He was the longest, stoutest, fattest earth-worm in the world.
"Hullo, my dear Earth-Worm, how are you?" said the willow-tree. "I knew you were there, but I have not had the pleasure of seeing you. I am glad you are doing so well in me. How did you come up here exactly?"
"To tell the truth, it was really the blackbird's fault," said the earth-worm. "He dropped me out of his beak. That is to say, he had only got half of me. The rest of me drew back into the ground. So I was only half a worm when I arrived."
"You're welcome all the same," said the willow-tree. "It makes no difference to me if you're whole or half. I myself have lost my crown and become no more than a wretched cripple. But are you all right again now?"
"Oh dear yes!" said the earth-worm. "I don't mind in the least if they chip one end off me. It soon grows again, if only they leave me alone.... But do you know what sort of little sprout this is who is coming up here beside me, with such a funny thick hat on his head?"
"I don't know him," said the willow-tree. "I have become feeble with years and can't at once make out all that grows on me. Do you know him?"
"I should think I ought to!" said the earth-worm. "Why it was I who dragged him into the ground a couple of years ago. He was joined on to a leaf and stalk and I ate up both the leaf and the stalk, but I couldn't manage this chap. That wasn't so odd either, for he was an acorn. Now he has sprouted, he's a little oak."
"An oak!" said the willow-tree, overcome with respectful awe.
"He blew over here in the great storm of the autumn before last," said the earth-worm. "I remember it distinctly, because you were creaking so that I thought it would have been up with all of us."
"What's that you're saying?" said the oak on the little hillock in the fields. "Is one of my children growing on you?"
"Yes," said the old willow-tree. "It's really a little oak. That's a great honour for me."
"It's folly," said the oak. "He must be going to die."
"We all have to die," said the elder-bush.
One day the squire came walking down the avenue.
He had the keeper with him and his own two children, a little boy and a little girl. They had not been long at the manor-house and looked about them inquisitively, for everything was new to them.
"What on earth is that ugly old stump doing there?" asked the squire, pointing at the old willow-tree with his cane. "He's enough to spoil the whole avenue. See that you get rid of him to-morrow, keeper. It makes me quite ill to look at him."
For that happened to be his mood that day.
"Now it's coming," said the oak. "That's your death-warrant, you old Willow-Tree. Well, you won't be sorry. I think it must be better to make an end of it than to stand and get hollower day by day."
"We all cling to life," said the willow-tree sadly. "And what will become of my boarders?"
"They may be thankful that they lived so long," said the wild rose-bush.
"Let's first see what happens," said the elder-bush. "I have been through times that looked worse still and have escaped for all that."
"Thank goodness that's over!" said the poplar who stood nearest.
"Thank goodness!... Thank goodness!... Thank goodness!" whispered the poplars along the avenue.
Next morning the keeper came. He had merely an axe with him, for he thought it would only take a couple of blows to do away with the old, rotten willow-stump. Just as he was about to strike, his eyes fell upon the black-currant-bush in the top. The currants were big and ripe. He put out his hand, picked one of them and ate it:
"What a remarkable thing!" he said. "It's exactly like those in the manor-garden. Goodness knows how it got up there!"
The squire's son came running down the avenue. He wanted to see the old willow-tree felled. The keeper told him about the black-currant-bush and picked a currant and gave it to him.
"Lift me up. I must pick some for myself," said the boy.
The keeper lifted him up. He pulled with both hands at the willow-twigs up there and pulled so hard that they snapped.
Then he caught hold of the tree's thin shell, which was so brittle that a big piece came off in each of his hands. But then he clapped his hands with surprise and delight and shouted:
"Keeper! Keeper! There's quite a garden up here. There are the loveliest strawberries beside the black-currant-bush ... and here's a little mountain-ash ... and a dear little oak ... and weeds, too ... five yellow dandelions ... and a spike of barley, keeper.... Oh, how glorious, how glorious! I say, I must show it to sissy ... and to father!"
"Hurry now and eat the strawberries," said the keeper. "For the trunk has to be cut down and then it's all up with the whole concern."
"Lift me down," said the boy, kicking and sprawling. Then, when he stood on the ground, "Don't you dare cut down that tree," he said. "Do you hear? Don't you just dare!"
"Ah, but I do dare!" said the keeper, smiling. "You yourself heard the squire tell me."
"I'm going to run and fetch father," said the boy. "And don't you dare touch the tree before I come back. If you do, trust me, I'll take my revenge on you when I'm squire myself one day!"
Then he ran up the avenue. The keeper sat down in the ditch and waited, for he thought that the wisest thing to do:
"The young rascal has the squire's temper," he said.
"What did I tell you?" said the elder-bush. "You should always listen to those who know."
"It's an awful tension to be in," said the willow-tree. "If only I don't go to pieces for sheer fright. As it is, the boy took a good pull at me; and Heaven knows I can't stand much more!"
"Now you must hold out until we see what happens," said the wild rose-bush. "I have never known anything so exciting."
"Nor I," said the oak. "But it can't end well, when you're hollow to start with."
Then the boy came back with the squire. The little chap pointed and told his story. The keeper rolled a stone up, so that the squire could stand on it and look at the willow-tree's top:
"Well, I never saw anything like it!" he said. "It's quite true: there's a regular garden up there. And my own strawberries, I do believe!"
He picked one and ate it:
"Um!" he said. "Why, that's the genuine flavour! I almost think they're even better than those in the garden."
"And is the tree to be cut down, father?"
"On no account!" said the squire. "It would be a thousand pities. Why, he's the most remarkable tree on the whole estate! See and have a hoop put round him at the top, keeper. And then put a railing round him, so that the cows can't get at him and do him harm. We'll keep this fine old willow-tree as long as we possibly can. I'm exceedingly fond of him."
For that happened to be his mood that day.
An iron hoop was put round the willow-tree's trunk at the top and a railing at the bottom. Every time the squire came driving along the avenue he stopped the carriage at the willow-tree:
"Yes, the avenue is very nice indeed," he said to his guests. "But they're only quite ordinary poplars. Now here I can show you something out of the common. Yes, I know it looks like an old willow-stump, but just come over here...."
They stepped out of the carriage and on to the stone, one after the other, and admired the garden in the willow-tree's top.
"If the hoop wasn't there, I should burst," said the willow-tree. "What an honour and what luck for a wretched cripple like me! Only think: the squire really climbed up and ate strawberries off me! And all the visitors to the manor-house are brought to look at me."
"It's incredible," said the oak. "It's just as though there were a premium on getting hollow."
"It's a romance," said the wild rose-bush. "I'll tell it to every bird that settles on me, so that it may be sung all over the world."
"It's exactly as I told you," said the elder-bush.
"When all is said and done, it was I, in a measure, who prepared the romance," said the blackbird. "But, honestly speaking, I prefer things as they were in the old days. Then one could sit here in peace and quiet. Now we run the risk every moment of somebody or other coming and sticking up his head and saying, 'Well, I never!' or 'Did you ever?' or 'O-oh!' or 'A-ah!'"
"Never in my born days have I known anything like it," said the nearest poplar. "Did you hear how the squire talked of his proud and stately poplars? We, who have stood guard along the road to his manor-house, summer and winter, year after year, all equally straight and still ... quite ordinary poplars, he called us! And then that disgusting, vulgar willow-tree!... That rotten old stump!... And he's a relation of ours into the bargain!... For shame!"
"For shame!... Shame!... Shame!" whispered the poplars along the avenue.
One winter's day, a storm came, till all the trees in the wood creaked and crashed. The wind howled and tore down the avenue and all the proud poplars swayed like rushes. The snow drifted till sky and earth became one.
"Now I can hold out no longer," said the old willow-tree.
Then he snapped, right down by his root. The iron hoop which he wore round his head went clattering down the frozen road. The railing tumbled over. The garden up at the top was scattered by the wind in every direction: the black-currant-bush and the strawberry-plant, the mountain-ash and the little oak, the dandelions and the violets all blew away; and nobody knows what has become of them since.
The earth-worm lay just below and wriggled:
"I can't stand this," he said. "Let them chop me into two ... into three.... But this is worse. The ground is as hard as iron: there's not a hole to creep into. And the frost bites my thin skin. Good-bye, all of you: I'm dying!"
In the spring, the stump of the willow-tree was cleared away. But the squire ordered that no new tree should be planted in its stead. Every time he drove past, he told the people with him about the curious old willow-tree that had had quite a garden in his hollow head.
And the wild rose-bush told it to the birds, who sang the story all over the world. The oak could never learn to understand it and the elder-bush said that he had understood it all the time. The blackbird was caught in a snare and eaten.
But the poplars, stately and indignant as ever, still stand and whisper along the avenue.
Just outside the fence of the keeper's garden stood a crab-apple-tree, with crooked branches and apples sour as vinegar.
She had once stood in the middle of a thorn-thicket. But the thorns had died and rotted away; and now the apple-tree stood quite alone in a little green glade.
She was old and ugly and small. She could only just peep over the hazel-hedge into the garden, at the orange-pippin-tree and the russet-apple-tree, who stood and gleamed in the autumn sun with their great red-and-yellow fruit and looked far more important than the crab-apple-tree.
Every morning, the keeper's dog came jogging round the fence to take a mouthful of fresh air and a little exercise. He had lost all his teeth and could see only with one eye. He always stopped for a bit when he came to the crab-apple-tree and rubbed himself against her:
"It's the fleas," said the dog.
"Pray don't mind me in the least," replied the apple-tree. "We have known each other since the days when you were a puppy and the keeper used to thrash you with his whip when you wouldn't obey. I am always delighted to do an old friend a service. By the way, you have plenty of apple-trees nearer at hand ... in there, I mean, in the garden. Why don't you rub yourself against them?"
"Heaven forbid!" the dog. "All honour to the real apple-trees; they are right enough in their way; but you are so beautifully gnarled."
"I am the real apple-tree," said the tree, in an offended tone. "Those in there are only monsters, whom men have deformed for their own use. They grow where the keeper put them and let him pluck them when he pleases; I am wild and free and my own mistress."
The dog rubbed himself and shook his wise old head:
"You ought really to have entered men's service too, old friend," he said. "It's good and snug there. And what else is to become of old fogeys like you and me? Of course, we have to do what is required of us; but then we get what we want in return."
"Perhaps it's there you got your fleas?" asked the apple-tree, sarcastically. "For you certainly have all you want of them!"
But the dog had already jogged back into the garden and did not hear.
Soon after, a blackbird came flying and perched on one of the tree's thickest branches. He flapped his wings and then rubbed his beak against the branch.
"You're welcome," said the apple-tree.
She knew that the blackbird always did like that, after he had been eating, and she was a courteous tree, when no one offended her.
"Thank you," said the blackbird and went on rubbing his beak.
"You're working awfully hard to-day," said the tree.
"There's a stone on the side of my beak," said the blackbird. "It's there as if it were glued fast; and I can't get it off, however much I rub."
"What have you had to eat?"
"I had some beautiful white berries," said the blackbird. "I never tasted anything so good; and I am a judge of berries, as you know. It was somewhere ever so far away; and now I've been flying for a day and a half with this silly stone. Every moment, I've been trying to get it off.... Ah, there it goes, thank goodness! Now it's on you, you old Crab-Apple-Tree. You'll see, you will never get rid of it."
"Just let it be," said the apple-tree, gaily, "and don't bother about me. It'll take to its legs, right enough, when it begins to rain and blow."
The blackbird flew away and the crab-apple-tree stood sunk in her own old thoughts, with the stone on her branch. In the evening, it came on to rain violently and the stone slipped slowly down the wet branch, until it reached the underside.
"Now it will drop," thought the apple-tree.
But the stone did not drop. At night, a terrible storm broke loose and all the trees creaked and swayed to and fro. Inside the keeper's garden, the orange-pippins and the russets fell to the ground by the bushel. But the stone stuck where it was.
"Well, that's odd!" thought the crab-apple-tree.
And, when the dog came jogging along in the morning, the tree told him of the queer thing:
"What sort of a chap can it be?" she asked.
"I expect it's a flea," said the dog and rubbed himself. "One can never get rid of them. Does it hop all over you? And bite you?"
"Certainly not," replied the apple-tree. "Last night, it slipped down quite gently to the underside of the branch; and, for that matter, it does me no harm."
"Then it's not a flea," said the dog.
Autumn came and all the good apples in the garden were gathered and stored in the loft. There was no one who cared about the crab-apple-tree. Her apples remained on the branches till they fell to the ground, where they lay and rotted. But the tree was well-pleased with the state of things. She knew that little crab-apple-trees would sprout from them and that was why she had put them forth.
Then winter came, with frost and snow. The old dog lay all day under the stove in the parlour. The crab-apple-tree stood outside in the snow, with the queer stone under her branch.
When spring returned, the dog, one day, came jogging round the fence.
It took longer than last year and he was now almost quite blind in the other eye as well. But he found his way to the apple-tree and rubbed himself, so that she saw that he still had those fleas.
"All going as usual, Dog?"
"Yes, Apple-Tree.... Same with you?"
"Well, I'll tell you," said the tree. "I daresay you remember that stone the blackbird brought me? Well, look here, some time ago, I felt a most curious pricking and itching and aching just where it was."
"Then it must be a flea," said the dog.
"Now listen," said the tree. "It was a most unpleasant sensation. And then my branch swelled up at the place where the stone was...."
"It's a flea, it's a flea!" cried the dog. "There's no doubt about it. Just rub yourself up against me, old Apple-Tree! It's only fair that I should make you a return for your kindness."
"What does a flea look like?" asked the apple-tree.
"We-ell," said the dog and rubbed himself. "They're that sort of chaps, you know, that one really never has time to see them."
"Has a flea green leaves?"
"Not that I know of," said the dog.
"Come and look up here," said the tree. "There ... on my lowest branch ... just above your head ... is that a flea?"
The old dog stood on his hind-legs and blinked with his blind eyes:
"I can't see so far," he said. "But I have never been able to see the fleas on my own tail, so that doesn't mean anything."
Then he slunk away.
But, a little later, a thin voice came from the apple-tree's branch and said:
"I am not a flea. I am the mistletoe."
"Well, I'm no wiser," said the apple-tree.
"I'm a plant like yourself," said the voice. "I shall turn into a bush ... with roots and branches and flowers and leaves and all the rest of it."
"Then why don't you grow in the ground like us?" asked the crab-apple-tree.
"That happens not to be my nature," said the mistletoe.
"Then you have a nasty nature," said the apple-tree and shook herself furiously, so that her white blossoms trembled. "For I understand this much, that I shall have to feed you, you sluggard!"
"Yes, please, if you will be so good," said the mistletoe. "I have my roots fixed in you already; and I am growing day by day. Later on, I shall put forth little green blossoms. They're not much to look at; but then the berries will come, beautiful, juicy white berries: the blackbird is quite mad on them."
"The blackbird is a very fine bird," said the apple-tree; "but, if he wants to dine off me, he can eat my own apples."
"You mustn't think that I have berries for the blackbird's sake," said the mistletoe. "Inside the berry there is a stone; and in the stone my seed lies. And the stone is so sticky that it hangs tight on to the blackbird's beak, until he manages to rub it off on some good old apple-tree or other, who will be a foster-mother to my children, as you have been to me."
"You're a nice family, upon my word!" said the apple-tree. "Aren't you ashamed to live upon other people's labour? And can't you cast your seed on the ground, as every one else does, and leave it to look after itself?"
"No," said the mistletoe, "I can't. But it's no use my explaining that to you. There is something mysterious and refined about me that raises me above the common trees. Men and women understand it. They have surrounded me with beautiful and curious legends and ballads. Just think, over in England they simply can't keep Christmas without hanging a bunch of me from the ceiling. Then, when they dance and come under the bunch, they are allowed to kiss each other."
"Pooh!" said the crab-apple-tree. "That's nothing to talk about. Why, there isn't an engaged couple in the whole parish but has sat in my shade and kissed."
"You miss the point of it, old friend," said the mistletoe. "Engaged couples can kiss wherever they please. But those who dance under the mistletoe may kiss each other even if they are not engaged."
"You horrid, immoral foreigner!" said the apple-tree. "But one can't expect anything else from the sort of life you lead. Well, it's to be hoped that you'll freeze to bits in the winter."
"Indeed, I shall do no such thing," replied the mistletoe. "When your leaves are withered and fallen and you stand strutting with your bare branches in the snow, mine will be just as fresh and green as now. I am evergreen you must know: green in winter and green in spring."
The crab-apple-tree was so exasperated that she was quite unable to reply. But, when the dog came next day, she told him all about it.
"Then he is a flea, after all," said the old dog. "In a fashion. You must manage to rub him off you: that's the only thing that helps a bit."
"I am not a dog to run and rub myself," said the apple-tree. "But, all the same, it's hard for a respectable tree to have to put up with this sort of thing in her old age."
"Take it calmly now!" said the mistletoe. "Who knows but that you'll end by being glad to have me?"
The next summer, an old professor, with a pair of spectacles on his nose and a great botanizing-case on his back, came roaming through the wood.
He sat down under the crab-apple-tree to eat his lunch, but fell a-thinking in the middle of it, leant his head back against the trunk and looked up into the leaves.
Suddenly he jumped up, dropped his sandwich and stared hard at the mistletoe. He took off his spectacles, wiped them on the skirt of his coat, put them back on his nose and went on staring.
Then he ran in and fetched the old keeper:
"Keeper, do you see that tree?" he said. "That's the most remarkable tree in the whole wood."
"That one there?" said the keeper. "Why, it's only an old crab-apple-tree, professor. You should see a couple of apple-trees I have in my garden."
"I don't care a fig for them," said the professor. "I would give all the apple-trees in the world for this one tree. There's a mistletoe growing on her, you must know, and the mistletoe is the rarest plant in Denmark. You must put a fence round the tree at once, so that no one can hurt her. For, if she dies, then the mistletoe dies too."
And a fence was put round the old apple-tree. The professor wrote about her in the newspapers; and every one who came to the neighbourhood had to go and look at the mistletoe.
"Well?" said the mistletoe.
"My dear little foster-child," said the crab-apple-tree, "if there's anything you require, do, for goodness' sake, say so!"
When the keeper's old dog came out and wanted to rub himself, he remained standing in amazement and looked at the fence with his one, half-blind eye.
"You can go back to the garden and rub yourself against the real apple-trees!" said the crab-apple-tree, haughtily. "I stand here with a mistletoe and must be treated with the utmost care. If I die, the mistletoe dies: do you understand? I have been written about in the papers. I am the most important tree in the wood!"
"Yes ... you're all that!" said the dog and jogged home again.
There was a terrible commotion in the lilac-bush.
Not a breath of wind was blowing; and yet the branches shook from top to bottom and all the leaves quivered so that it hurt one's eyes to see.
The chaffinch perched upon the bush for his after-dinner nap, as was his wont; but the branches shook under him to such an extent that he could not close an eye and he flew away quite frightened to the laburnum. He asked his wife what on earth could be the matter with that decent bush; but she was sitting on her eggs and was too busy to answer. Then he asked his neighbour, the tit; and the tit scratched his black skull-cap and shook his head mysteriously:
"I don't understand bush-language," he said. "But there's something wrong. I noticed it myself this morning, when I was sitting over there, singing."
Then he sat down in the laburnum beside the chaffinch and both of them stared at the queer bush.
Now the only thing the matter with the lilac-bush was that the root had turned sulky:
"Here I have to sit and drudge for the whole family!" he growled. "It is I who do all the work. I must provide food for the branches and the leaves and the flowers and hold them fast besides, else the wind would soon blow the whole lot away. And who gives a thought to a faithful servant like me? Does it ever occur to those fine fellows up there that somebody else might also need a little recreation? I hear them talk of the spring and sunshine and all that sort of thing; but I myself never get a bit of it. I don't even know for certain what it means; I only know that in the spring they all eat like mad. It's quite a decent place in the winter: then there's no more to do than a fellow can manage; and it's snug and cosy in here. But a root has a regular dog's life of it as soon as the air turns warm."
"Catch good hold of the earth, you old root!" cried the branches. "The wind's rising, there's a storm brewing!"
"Send us up some more food, you black root!" whispered the leaves. "It will be long before the whole family has done growing."
Then the flowers began to sing:
"Water's a boon; Send us some soon! For, in fierce heat, Drinking is sweet. Then grant our suit, You ugly root; Send water, pray, This way!"
"Ah, isn't that just what I said?" growled the root. "It's I who bear all the brunt. But we'll soon put an end to that. I want to come up and have a good wash in the rain and let the sun shine on me, so that people can see that I am quite as good as the rest. Hullo, you dandy branches, who are not twopence-worth of use! I'm sick and tired of working for a pack of idlers like you. I'm coming up to take a holiday. Hold tight, for I'm letting go!"
"Idlers, indeed!" cried the branches. "That's all you know about it, you silly root! We certainly do at least as much as you."
"You?" asked the root. "What do you do, I should like to know?"
"We straddle all day long to lift up the green leaves in the sunshine," replied the branches. "We have to spread ourselves on every side, so that they may all get the same amount. If you could look up here, you would see that some of us are crooked with the mere effort. No, you can call the leaves idlers, if you must needs have somebody to vent your sulks upon."
The root pondered upon this for a while and at last came to the conclusion that it was very sensible. And then he began storming frightfully at the green leaves:
"How long do you think that I mean to be your servant?" he growled. "I give you notice, from the first of the month, I do! Then you can turn to and do some work for yourselves, you lazy leaves!"
The branches now began to scold in their turn and cried to the leaves:
"The root is right! You must make yourselves useful, that's what we say too. We are tired of carrying you."
And they creaked loudly to emphasize their remarks.
"Fair and softly, you black root!" whispered the leaves. "And, if you were not so consequential, you long branches, you would not shout loud, for, after all, it's annoying to have people find out what dunces you are. Do you imagine that we have not our task as well as you?"
"Let's hear, let's hear!" said the branches, drawing themselves up.
"Let's hear about it!" said the root, making himself as stiff as he could.
"Now don't you know that it's we who prepare the food?" whispered the leaves. "Do you imagine that decent folk can eat it raw, just as the root takes it out of the ground and sends it up through the branches? No, it has to come up to us first; and, when we receive it, we light a fire and cook away in the sun's rays until it's all ready and fit to eat. Do you call that being no use?"
"We-ell!" said the branches, creaking in an embarrassed sort of fashion. "There may be something in that."
They began to explain it to the root, who had not quite understood, and he also thought that it sounded very reasonable.
A little later, the leaves began to whisper again:
"Since you absolutely must have some one to abuse, why not go for the flowers? They are more smartly dressed than any of us; they live at the top of the tree, nearest to the sun. And what do they do? Perhaps you know, for, upon my word, we don't!"
"Quite right!" growled the root. "We won't submit to it any longer. Please render an account of yourselves, you lazy, dressed-up flowers! What are you good for? Why should we others drudge and toil for you?"
The flowers rocked softly to and fro and wafted their fragrance in the air. The others had to ask three times before they got an answer; but then the flowers sang:
"Where sunlight is streaming, We float, ever dreaming..."
"Yes, we believe you!" said the leaves. "And do you call that working?"
But the flowers sang again:
"Where sunlight is streaming, We float, ever dreaming Of light and happiness and love, Of all the glory of heaven above, Of buds which at last through black earth shall rise With thousands of tiny, lilac eyes."
"Bosh!" whispered the leaves and "Bosh!" cried the branches and "Bosh!" growled the root, on receiving this explanation.
They all agreed that it was a great shame that they should work for those lazy flowers. And they shook and creaked and whispered and cried and growled for sheer rage; and it became a terrible commotion.
But the flowers only laughed at them and sang:
"Grumble, root, and whisper, leaf! No flower feels the slightest grief. Long brown shoots, for all your screaming, Not a flower is baulked of dreaming!"
The summer passed and it was autumn.
The young green branches put on their winter coats. The leaves had no winter coats. They took great offence at this and were not content until they had vexed themselves into a jaundice. Then they died. One by one, they fell to the ground and at last they lay in a great heap over the old, cross-grained root.
But the flowers had long since gone to the wall. In their stead were a number of queer, ugly things that rustled whenever the wind blew. And, when the first storm of winter had passed over the lilac-bush, they also fell off and there was nothing left but the bare branches.
"Oh dear!" sighed the branches. "We wouldn't mind changing with you now, you black root. You're having a nice cosy time in the ground just now."
The root did not reply, for he had got something to meditate on. Close beside him, you must know, lay a singular little thing which he simply couldn't make out at all.
"What sort of a fellow are you?" asked the root, but received no answer.
"Can't you answer when you're spoken to by respectable people?" said the root again. "Seeing that we're neighbours, it seems reasonable that we should make each other's acquaintance."
But the queer thing persisted in saying nothing and the root meditated all through the winter and wondered what it could be.
Later, in the spring, the thing swelled out and grew ever so fat and, one day, a little sprout shot out of it.
"Good-morning!" said the root. "A merry spring-time to you! Perhaps you will now think fit to answer what I have been asking you these last six months: whom have I the honour of addressing?"
"I am the flowers' dream," replied the thing. "I am a seed and you are a blockhead."
The root pondered about this for some little time. He did not mind being called a blockhead, for, when you're a root, you have to submit to being abused. But he couldn't quite understand that remark about the flowers' dream and so he begged for a further explanation.
"I can feel that the ground is still too hard for me to break through," said the seed, "so I don't mind having a chat with you. You see, I was lying inside one of the flowers, when you others were squabbling with them in the summer, and I heard all that you said. I had a fine laugh at you, believe me; but I dared not join in the conversation: I was too green for that."
"Well, but, now that you are big, I suppose you're allowed to talk?" asked the root.
"Big enough not to care a fig for you!" replied the seed and, at the same time, shot a dear little root into the ground. "I have a root of my own now and need not submit to any of your impudence."
The old root opened his eyes very wide indeed, but said nothing.
"However, I prefer to treat you with civility," said the seed. "After all, in a manner of speaking, you're my father."
"Am I?" asked the root and looked as important as ever he could.
"Of course you are," replied the seed. "You are all of you my parents. You procured food for me in the earth and the leaves cooked it in the sun. The branches lifted me into the air and light, but the flower rocked me in the bottom of her calyx and dreamed and, in her dream, whispered in the ears of the bumblebees, so that they might tell it to the other lilacs. You all gave me of your best; I owe my whole life to you."
This gave the root something to think about. It was almost midsummer before he solved the problem. But, when he had got it thoroughly into his stupid head, he asked the branches, in an unusually civil voice, whether there was not a fine little lilac-bush standing near them.
"Certainly there is!" replied the branches. "But you just attend to your business! It's blowing hard enough to topple us all over this very moment."
"Never you fear!" said the root. "I shall hold tight enough. I only wanted to tell you that that little lilac-bush is my child."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the branches. "Do you think an old black root like you can get such a sweet little child as that? It's prettier and fresher and greener than you can imagine."
"It's my child for all that," said the root, proudly.
And then he told the branches what he had heard from the seed; and the branches repeated it to all the leaves.
"Well, there!" they all said; and then they understood that they were a big family, in which each had his own work to see to.
"Hush!" they said to one another. "Let us be careful not to disturb the flowers in their dream."
And the old root toiled away, as if he were paid for it, to provide lots of food; and the branches stretched and pushed and twisted awfully to supply proper light and air; and the leaves fluttered in the warm summer breeze and looked as if they were doing nothing at all; but, inside them, there was roasting and stewing in thousands of little kitchens.
And up at the top of the bush sat the flowers and dreamed and sang:
"Dear little seed, sing lullaby! Leaves shall fall and flowers shall die. You, in the black earth singing low, Into a bonny bush shall grow, A bush with leaves and flowers Scenting June's glad hours!"
It was in the old days.
There were no towns with houses and streets and towering church-steeples. There were no schools. For there were not many boys; and those there were learnt from their fathers to shoot with a bow and arrow, to hunt the deer in his hiding-place, to kill the bear in order to make clothes of his skin and to get fire by rubbing two pieces of wood together. When they knew all this thoroughly, their education was completed.
Nor were there any railways, or tilled fields, or ships on the sea, or books, for there was nobody who could read them.
There was hardly anything but trees.
But then of trees there were plenty. They stood everywhere from coast to coast, mirrored themselves in every river and lake and stretched their mighty branches up into the sky. They stooped over the sea-shore, dipped their branches in the black water of the marshes and looked haughtily over the land from the tall hills.
They all knew one another, for they belonged to one big family and they were proud of it:
"We are all oak-trees," they said and drew themselves up. "We own the land and we govern it."
And they were quite right, for there were only very few people at that time. Otherwise there was nothing but wild animals. The bear, the wolf and the fox went hunting, while the deer grazed by the edge of the marsh.
The wood-mouse sat outside her hole and ate acorns and the beaver built his ingenious house on the river-bank.
Then, one day, the bear came trudging along and lay down at full length under a great oak-tree.
"Are you there again, you robber?" said the oak and shook a heap of withered leaves over him.
"You really ought not to be so wasteful with your leaves, old friend," said the bear, licking his paws. "They are the only thing you have to keep off the sun with."
"If you don't like me, you can go," replied the oak, proudly. "I am lord of the land and, look where you may, you will find none but my brothers."
"True enough," growled the bear. "That's just the tiresome part of it. I've been for a little trip abroad, you see, and have been a bit spoilt. That was in a country down south. I took a nap under the beech-trees there. They are tall, slender trees, not crooked old fellows like you. And their tops are so dense that the sunbeams can't pierce through them at all. It was a real delight to sleep there of an afternoon, believe me."
"Beech-trees?" asked the oak, curiously. "What are they?"
"You might wish that you were half so handsome as a beech-tree," said the bear. "But I'm not going to gossip with you any more just now. I've had to trot over a mile in front of a confounded hunter, who caught me on one of my hind-legs with an arrow. Now I want to sleep; and perhaps you will be so kind as to provide me with rest, since you can't provide me with shade."
The bear lay down and closed his eyes, but there was no sleep for him this time. For the other trees had heard what he said and there came such a chattering and a jabbering and a rustling of leaves as had never been known in the forest:
"Heaven knows what sort of trees those are!" said one.
"Of course, it's a story which the bear wants us to swallow," said another.
"What can trees be like whose leaves are so close together that the sunbeams can't pierce them through?" asked a little oak who had been listening to what the big ones were saying.
But next to him stood an old, gnarled tree, who slapped the little oak on the head with one of his lower branches:
"Hold your tongue," he said, "and don't talk till you have something to say. And you others need not believe a word of the bear's nonsense. I am much taller than you and I can see a long way over the forest. But as far away as I can see there is nothing but oak-trees."
The little oak remained shamefaced and silent and the other big trees whispered softly to one another, for they had a great respect for the old one.
But the bear got up and rubbed his eyes:
"Now you have disturbed my afternoon nap," he growled, angrily, "and I shall have my revenge on you, never fear. When I come back, I shall bring some beech-seed with me and I'll answer for it that you will all turn yellow with envy when you see how handsome the new trees are."
Then he trotted away.
But the oaks talked to one another for days at a time of the queer trees which he had told them of:
"If they come, we'll do for them!" said the little oak-tree.
But the old oak gave him one on the head:
"If they come," he said, "you'll be civil to them, you puppy. But they won't come."
But this was where the old oak was wrong, for they did come.
In the autumn, the bear returned and lay down under the old oak:
"I am to give you the kind regards of the people down below there," he said and picked some funny things off his shaggy coat. "Just look what I've got for you."
"What's that?" asked the oak.
"That's beech," replied the bear. "Beech-seed, as I promised you."
Then he trampled the seed into the earth and prepared to leave again:
"It's a pity I can't stay to see how annoyed you will be," he said, "but those dashed human beings have become so troublesome. They killed my wife and one of my brothers the other day and I must look out for a place where I can dwell in peace. There is hardly a spot left for an honest bear to live in. Good-bye, you gnarled old oak-trees!"
When the bear had jogged off, the trees looked at one another seriously:
"Let's see what happens," said the old oak.
And, when the spring came, the grass was green and the birds began to sing where they last left off. The flowers swarmed up from the ground and everything looked fresh and vigorous.
The oaks alone still stood with leafless branches:
"It is very distinguished to come last," they said to one another. "The king of the forest does not arrive before the whole company is assembled."
But at last they did arrive. All the leaves burst forth from the fat buds and the trees looked at one another and complimented one another on their good appearance. The little oak had grown a decent bit. This made him feel important and think that he now had a right to join in the conversation:
"There's not much coming of the bear's beech-trees," he said, mockingly, but at the same time glanced up anxiously at the old oak who used to slap his head.
The old oak heard what he said and so did the others. But they said nothing. None of them had forgotten what the bear had said and, every morning, when the sun shone, they peeped down stealthily to see if the beeches had come. At bottom, they were a little uneasy, but they were too proud to talk about it.
And, one day, at last, the little sprouts shot up from the ground. The sun shone upon them and the rain fell over them, so that it was not long before they grew to a good height.
"I say, how pretty they are!" said the great oaks and twisted their crooked branches still more, so as to see them better.
"You are welcome among us," said the old oak and gave them a gracious nod. "You shall be my foster-children and have just as good a time as my own."
"Thank you," said the little beeches and not a word more.
But the little oak did not like the strange trees:
"It's awful, the way you're shooting up," he said, in a vexed tone. "You're already half as tall as I am. May I beg you to remember that I am much older than you and of a good family besides?"
The beeches laughed with their tiny little green leaves, but said nothing.
"Shall I bend my branches a little to one side, so that the sun may shine on you better?" asked the old tree, politely.
"Much obliged," replied the beeches, "but we can grow quite nicely in the shade."
And all the summer passed and another summer and still more. The beeches kept on growing steadily and at last grew right over the little oak's head.
"Keep your leaves to yourselves," cried the oak. "You're standing in my light; and that I can't endure. I must have proper sunshine. Take your leaves away, or else I shall die."
The beeches only laughed and went on growing. At last they met right over the little oak's head and then he died.
"That was ill done," roared the big oaks and shook their branches in anger.
But the old oak stood up for his foster-children:
"Serve him right!" he said. "That's his reward for bragging. I say it, though he is my own flesh and blood. But you must be careful now, you little beeches, or else I shall slap you on the head too."
The years passed and the beeches kept on growing and gradually became slim young trees that reached right up among the old oak's branches.
"You're beginning to be rather intrusive for my taste," said the old oak. "You should try to grow a bit thicker and stop this shooting into the air. Just look how your branches stick out. Bend them decently, as you see us do. How will you manage when a regular storm comes? Take it from me, the wind shakes the tree-tops finely! He has many a time come whistling through my old branches; and how do you think that you'll come off, with that flimsy finery which you stick up in the air?"
"Every one grows in his own manner and we in ours," replied the young beeches. "This is the way it's done where we come from; and we daresay we are quite as good as you."
"That's not a polite remark to make to an old tree with moss on his branches," said the oak. "I am beginning to regret that I was so kind to you. If you have a scrap of honour in your composition, just have the goodness to move your leaves a little to one side. Last year, there were hardly any buds on my lower branches, all through your standing in my light."
"We can't quite see what that has to do with us," replied the beeches. "Every one has enough to do to look after himself. If he is industrious and successful, then things go well with him. If not, he must be content to go to the wall. Such is the way of the world."
And the oak's lower branches died and he began to be terribly frightened:
"You're nice fellows, you are!" he said. "The way you reward me for my hospitality! When you were little, I let you grow at my foot and sheltered you against the storm. I let the sun shine on you whenever he wanted to and I treated you as if you were my own children. And now you choke me, by way of thanks."
"Fudge!" said the beeches. Then they blossomed and put forth fruit; and, when the fruit was ripe, the wind shook their branches and scattered it all around.
"You are active people like myself," said the wind. "That's why I like you and will gladly give you a hand."
And the fox rolled at the foot of the beech and filled his coat with the prickly fruit and ran all over the country with it. The bear did the same and moreover laughed at the old oak while he lay and rested in the shadow of the beech. The wood-mouse was delighted with the new food which she got and thought that beech-nuts tasted much better than acorns.
New little beeches shot up around and grew just as quickly as their parents and looked as green and happy as if they did not know what a bad conscience was.
And the old oak gazed out sadly over the forest. The bright-green beech-leaves peeped forth on every hand and the oaks sighed and told one another their troubles:
"They are taking our power from us," they said and shook themselves as well as they could for the beeches. "The land is no longer ours."
One branch died after the other and the storm broke them off and flung them to the ground. The old oak had now only a few leaves left in his top:
"The end is at hand," he said, gravely.
But there were many more people in the land now than there had been before and they hastened to cut down the oaks while there were still some left:
"Oak makes better timber than beech," they said.
"So at last we get a little appreciation," said the old oak. "But we shall have to pay for it with our lives."
Then he said to the beech-trees:
"What was I thinking of, when I helped you on in your youth? What an old fool I have been! We oak-trees used to be lords in the land; and now, year after year, I have had to see my brothers all around perish in the struggle against you. I myself am almost done for; and not one of my acorns has sprouted, thanks to your shade. But, before I die, I should like to know what you call your behaviour."
"That's soon said, old friend!" answered the beeches. "We call it competition; and it's no discovery of ours. It's what rules the world."
"I don't know those outlandish words of yours," said the oak. "I call it base ingratitude."
Then he died.
It was a fine and fruitful year.
Rain and sunshine came turn and turn about, in just the way that was best for the corn. As soon as the farmer thought that things were getting rather dry, he could be quite sure that it would rain next day. And, if he considered that he had had rain enough, then the clouds parted at once, just as though it were the farmer that was in command.
The farmer, therefore, was in a good humour and did not complain as he usually did. Cheerful and rejoicing he walked over the land with his two boys:
"It will be a splendid harvest this year," he said. "I shall get my barns full and make lots of money. Then Jens and Ole shall have a new pair of trousers apiece and I will take them with me to market."
"If you don't cut me soon, farmer, I shall be lying down flat," said the rye and bowed her heavy ears right down to the ground.
Now the farmer could not hear this, but was quite able to see what the rye was thinking of; and so he went home to fetch his sickle.
"It's a good thing to be in the service of men," said the rye. "I can be sure now that all my grains will be well taken care of. Most of them will go to the mill and that, certainly, is not very pleasant. But afterwards they will turn into beautiful new bread; and one must suffer something for honour's sake. What remains the farmer will keep and sow next year on his land."
Along the hedge and beside the ditch stood the weeds. Thistle and burdock, poppy and bell-flower and dandelion grew in thick clusters and all had their heads full of seed. For them, too, it had been a fruitful year, for the sun shines and the rain falls on the poor weeds just as much as on the rich corn.
"There's no one to cut us and cart us to the barn," said the dandelion and shook her head, but very carefully, lest the seed should fall too soon. "What is to become of our children?"
"It gives me a headache to think of it," said the poppy. "Here I stand, with many hundreds of seeds in my head, and I have no idea where to dispose of them."
"Let's ask the rye's advice," said the burdock.
And then they asked the rye what they ought to do.
"It doesn't do to mix in other people's affairs when one's well off," said the rye. "There is only one piece of advice that I will give you: mind you don't fling your silly seed over my field, or you'll have me to deal with!"
Now this advice was of no use to the wild flowers; and they stood all day pondering as to what they should do. When the sun went down, they closed their petals to go to sleep, but they dreamt all night of their seed and next morning they had found a remedy.
The poppy was the first to wake.
She carefully opened some little shutters in the top of her head, so that the sun could shine right in upon the seeds. Next, she called to the morning wind, who was running and playing along the hedge:
"Dear Wind," she said, pleasantly. "Will you do me a service?"
"Why not?" said the wind. "I don't mind having something to do."
"It's a mere trifle," said the poppy. "I will only ask you to give a good shake to my stalk, so that my seeds can fly away out of the shutters."
"Right you are," said the wind.
And away flew the seeds to every side. The stalk certainly snapped; but that the poppy did not bother about. For, when one has provided for one's children, there's really nothing left to do in this world.
"Good-bye," said the wind and wanted to go on.
"Wait a bit," said the poppy. "Promise me first that you won't tell the others. Else they might have the same ideas; and then there would be less room for my seeds."
"I shall be silent as the grave," said the wind and ran away.
"Pst! Pst!" said the bell-flower. "Have you a moment to do me a tiny service?"
"All right," said the wind. "What is it?"
"Oh, I only wanted to ask you to shake me a little!" said the flower. "I have opened some shutters in my head and I should like to have my seeds sent a good distance out into the world. But you must be sure not to tell the others, or they might think of doing the same thing."
"Lord preserve us!" said the wind and laughed. "I shall be dumb as a fish."
And then he gave the flower a thorough good shaking and went on.
"Dear Wind, dear Wind!" cried the dandelion. "Where are you off to so fast?"
"Is there anything the matter with you too?" asked the wind.
"Not a bit," said the dandelion. "I only wanted to have a word with you."
"Then be quick about it," said the wind, "for I am thinking seriously of going down."
"You see," said the dandelion, "it's very difficult for us this year to get all our seed settled; and yet one would like to do the best one can for one's children. How the bell-flower and the poppy and the poor burdock will manage I do not know, upon my word. But the thistle and I have put our heads together and have hit upon an expedient. You must help us."
"That makes four in all," thought the wind and could not help laughing aloud.
"What are you laughing at?" asked the dandelion. "I saw you whispering with the bell-flower and the poppy just now; but, if you give them the least hint, I won't tell you a thing."
"What do you take me for?" said the wind. "Mum's the word! What is it you want?"
"We've put a nice little umbrella up at the top of our seed. It's the sweetest little toy that you can think of. If you only just blow on me, it will fly up in the air and fall down wherever you please. Will you?"
"Certainly," said the wind.
And—whoosh!—he blew over the thistle and the dandelion and carried all their seed with him across the fields.
The burdock still stood pondering. She was thick-headed and that was why she took so long. But, in the evening, a hare jumped over the hedge:
"Hide me! Save me!" he cried. "Farmer's Trust is after me."
"Creep round behind the hedge," said the burdock; "then I'll hide you."
"You don't look to me as if you were cut out for that job," said the hare; "but beggars can't be choosers."
And then he hid behind the hedge.
"Now, in return, you might take some of my seeds to the fields with you," said the burdock; and she broke off some of her many burs and scattered them over the hare.
Soon after, Trust came running along the hedge.
"Here's the dog!" whispered the burdock; and, with a bound, the hare leapt over the hedge into the rye.
"Have you seen the hare?" asked Trust. "I can see that I'm too old for hunting. One of my eyes is quite blind and my nose can no longer find the scent."
"I have seen him," replied the burdock, "and, if you will do me a service, I will show you where he is."
Trust agreed and the burdock struck some of her burs in his back and said:
"Would you just rub yourself against the stile here, inside the field? But that's not where you're to look for the hare, for I saw him run to the wood a little while ago."
Trust carried the burs to the field and ran off into the wood.
"So now I've got my seeds settled," said the burdock and laughed to herself contentedly. "But goodness knows how the thistle is going to manage and the dandelion and the bell-flower and the poppy!"
Next spring, already, the rye was standing quite high:
"We are very well off, considering all things," said the rye-stalks. "Here we are in a great company that contains none but our own good family. And we don't hamper one another in the very least. It's really an excellent thing to be in the service of men."
But, one fine day, a number of little poppies and thistles and dandelions and burdocks and bell-flowers stuck their heads up above the ground in the midst of the luxuriant rye.