The Pine Tree
In line with our frequent suggestion that we should all read more to children and youth (ages three to ninety-three) here is a lesser-known story by Hans Christian Andersen which is appropriate to the season. So out with any embarrassment, scepticism or just plain old-fashioned cynicism you may have, and invite some kids to pull up a floor ...
When I was little
Out in the woods stood such a nice little Pine
Tree: he had a good place; the sun could get at him; there was fresh air
enough; and round him grew many big comrades, both pines and firs. But
the little Pine wanted so very much to be a grown-up tree.
He did not think of the warm sun and of the fresh air, he did not care for the little cottage-children who ran about and prattled when they were looking for wild strawberries and raspberries. Often they came with a whole jug full, or had their strawberries strung on a straw, and sat down near the little Tree and said, "Oh, what a nice little fellow!" This was what the Tree could not bear to hear.
The year after, he had shot up a good deal, and the next year after he was still bigger; for with pine trees one can always tell by the shoots how many years old they are.
"Oh, were I but such a big tree as the others are," sighed the little Tree. "Then I could spread my branches so far, and with the tops look out into the wide world! Birds would build nests among my branches; and when there was a breeze, I could nod as grandly as the others there."
He had no delight at all in the sunshine, or in the birds, or the red clouds which morning and evening sailed above him.
When now it was winter and the snow all around lay glittering white, a hare would often come leaping along, and jump right over the little Tree. Oh, that made him so angry! But two winters went by, and with the third the Tree was so big that the hare had to go round it. "Oh, to grow, to grow, to become big and old, and be tall," thought the Tree: "that, after all, is the most delightful thing in the world!"
In autumn the wood-cutters always came and felled some of the largest trees. This happened every year, and the young Pine Tree, that was now quite well grown, trembled at the sight; for the great stately trees fell to the earth with noise and cracking, the branches were lopped off, and the trees looked quite bare, they were so long and thin; you would hardly know them for trees, and then they were laid on carts, and horses dragged them out of the wood.
Where did they go to? What became of them?
In spring, when the Swallow and the Stork came, the Tree asked them, "Don't you know where they have been taken? Have you not met them anywhere?"
The Swallow did not know anything about it; but the Stork looked doubtful, nodded his head, and said, "Yes; I have it; I met many new ships as I was flying from Egypt; on the ships were splendid masts, and I dare say it was they that smelt so of pine. I wish you joy, for they lifted themselves on high in fine style!"
"Oh, were I but old enough to fly across the sea! How does the sea really look? and what is it like?"
"Aye, that takes a long time to tell," said the Stork, and away he went.
"Rejoice in thy youth!" said the Sunbeams, "rejoice in thy hearty growth, and in the young life that is in thee!"
And the Wind kissed the Tree, and the Dew wept tears over him, but the Pine Tree understood it not.
Christmas in the woods
When Christmas came, quite young trees were cut down; trees which were not even so large or of the same age as this Pine Tree, who had no rest or peace, but always wanted to be off. These young trees, and they were always the finest looking, always kept their branches; they were laid on carts, and the horses drew them out of the wood.
"Where are they going to?" asked the Pine Tree. "They are not taller than I; there was one, indeed, that was much shorter; — and why do they keep all their branches? Where are they carrying them to?"
"We know! we know!" chirped the Sparrows. "We have peeped in at the windows down there in the town. We know where they are carrying them to. Oh, they are going to where it is as bright and splendid as you can think! We peeped through the windows, and saw them planted in the middle of the warm room, and dressed with the most splendid things, — with gilded apples, with gingerbread, with toys and many hundred lights!"
"And then?" asked the Pine Tree, and he trembled in every bough. "And then? What happens then?"
"We did not see anything more: it beat everything!"
"I wonder if I am to sparkle like that!" cried the Tree, rejoicing. "That is still better than to go over the sea! How I do suffer for very longing! Were Christmas but come! I am now tall, and stretch out like the others that were carried off last year! Oh, if I were already on the cart! I wish I were in the warm room with all the splendor and brightness. And then? Yes; then will come something better, something still grander, or why should they dress me out so? There must come something better, something still grander, — but what? Oh, how I long, how I suffer! I do not know myself what is the matter with me!"
"Rejoice in us!" said the Air and the Sunlight; "rejoice in thy fresh youth out here in the open air!"
But the Tree did not rejoice at all; he grew and grew; and he stood there in all his greenery; rich green was he winter and summer. People that saw him said, "That's a fine tree!" and toward Christmas he was the first that was cut down. The axe struck deep into the very pith; the Tree fell to the earth with a sigh: he felt a pang — it was like a swoon; he could not think of happiness, for he was sad at being parted from his home, from the place where he had sprung up. He well knew that he should never see his dear old comrades, the little bushes and flowers around him, any more; perhaps not even the birds! The setting off was not at all pleasant.
The Tree only came to himself when he was unloaded in a courtyard with other trees, and heard a man say, "That one is splendid! we don't want the others." Then two servants came in rich livery and carried the Pine Tree into a large and splendid room. Portraits were hanging on the walls, and near the white porcelain stove stood two large Chinese vases with lions on the covers. There, too, were large easy-chairs, silken sofas, large tables full of picture-books, and full of toys worth a hundred times a hundred dollars — at least so the children said. And the Pine Tree was stuck upright in a cask filled with sand: but no one could see that it was a cask, for green cloth was hung all around it, and it stood on a gayly colored carpet. Oh, how the Tree quivered! What was to happen? The servants, as well as the young ladies, dressed it. On one branch there hung little nets cut out of colored paper; each net was filled with sugar-plums; gilded apples and walnuts hung as though they grew tightly there, and more than a hundred little red, blue, and white tapers were stuck fast into the branches. Dolls that looked for all the world like men — the Tree had never seen such things before — fluttered among the leaves, and at the very top a large star of gold tinsel was fixed. It was really splendid — splendid beyond telling.
"This evening!" said they all; "how it will shine this evening!"
"Oh," thought the Tree, "if it were only evening! If the tapers were but lighted! And then I wonder what will happen! I wonder if the other trees from the forest will come to look at me! I wonder if the sparrows will beat against the window-panes! I wonder if I shall take root here, and stand dressed so winter and summer!"
Aye, aye, much he knew about the matter! but he had a real back-ache for sheer longing, and a back-ache with trees is the same thing as a headache with us.
Christmas in the house
The candles were now lighted. What brightness! What splendor! The Tree trembled so in every bough that one of the tapers set fire to a green branch. It blazed up splendidly.
Now the Tree did not even dare to tremble. That was a fright! He was so afraid of losing something of all his finery, that he was quite confused amidst the glare and brightness; and now both folding-doors opened, and a troop of children rushed in as if they would tip the whole Tree over. The older folks came quietly behind; the little ones stood quite still, but only for a moment, then they shouted so that the whole place echoed their shouts, they danced round the Tree, and one present after another was pulled off.
"What are they about?" thought the Tree. "What is to happen now?" And the lights burned down to the very branches, and as they burned down they were put out one after the other, and then the children had leave to plunder the Tree. Oh, they rushed upon it so that it cracked in all its limbs; if its tip-top with the gold star on it had not been fastened to the ceiling, it would have tumbled over.
The children danced about with their pretty toys; no one looked at the Tree except the old nurse, who peeped in among the branches; but it was only to see if there was a fig or an apple that had been forgotten.
"A story! a story!" cried the children, and they
dragged a little fat man toward the Tree. He sat down under it, and
said, "Now we are in the shade, and the Tree can hear very well too. But
I shall tell only one story. Now which will you have: that about
Ivedy-Avedy, or about Klumpy- Dumpy who tumbled downstairs, and came to
the throne after all, and married the princess?"
"Ivedy-Avedy," cried some; "Klumpy- Dumpy," cried the others. There was such a bawling and screaming! — the Pine Tree alone was silent, and he thought to himself, "Am I not to bawl with the rest? — am I to do nothing whatever?" — for he was one of them, and he had done what he had to do.
And the man told about Klumpy-Dumpy who tumbled downstairs, and came to the throne after all, and married the princess. And the children clapped their hands, and cried out, "Go on, go on!" They wanted to hear about Ivedy-Avedy too, but the little man only told them about Klumpy-Dumpy. The Pine Tree stood quite still and thoughtful: the birds in the wood had never told anything like this. "Klumpy-Dumpy fell downstairs, and yet he married the princess! Yes, yes, that's the way of the world!" thought the Pine Tree, and he believed it all, because it was such a nice man who told the story.
"Well, well! who knows, perhaps I may fall downstairs, too, and so get a princess!" And he looked forward with joy to the next day when he should be decked out with lights and toys, fruits and tinsel.
"To-morrow I won't tremble!" thought the Pine Tree.
"I will enjoy to the full all my splendor! To-morrow I shall hear again
the story of Klumpy-Dumpy, and perhaps that of Ivedy- Avedy too." And
the whole night the Tree stood still in deep thought.
In the morning the servant and the maid came in.
In the attic
"Now all the finery will begin again," thought the Pine. But they dragged him out of the room, and up the stairs into the attic; and here in a dark corner, where no daylight could enter, they left him. "What's the meaning of this?" thought the Tree. "What am I to do here? What shall I see and hear now, I wonder?" And he leaned against the wall and stood and thought and thought. And plenty of time he had, for days and nights passed, and nobody came up; and when at last somebody did come, it was only to put some great trunks in the corner. There stood the Tree quite hidden; it seemed as if he had been entirely forgotten.
"'T is now winter out-of-doors!" thought the Tree. "The earth is hard and covered with snow; men cannot plant me now; therefore I have been put up here under cover till spring! How thoughtful that is! How good men are, after all! If it were not so dark here, and so terribly lonely! Not even a hare. Out there it was so pleasant in the woods, when the snow was on the ground, and the hare leaped by; yes — even when he jumped over me; but I did not like it then. It is terribly lonely here!"
"Squeak! squeak!" said a little Mouse at the same moment, peeping out of his hole. And then another little one came. They snuffed about the Pine Tree, and rustled among the branches.
"It is dreadfully cold," said the little Mouse. "But for that, it would be delightful here, old Pine, wouldn't it!"
"I am by no means old," said the Pine Tree. "There are many a good deal older than I am."
"Where do you come from?" asked the Mice; "and what can you do?" They were so very curious. "Tell us about the most beautiful spot on earth. Have you been there? Were you ever in the larder, where cheeses lie on the shelves, and hams hang from above; where one dances about on tallow candles; where one goes in lean and comes out fat?"
"I don't know that place," said the Tree. "But I know the wood where the sun shines, and where the little birds sing."
And then he told his story from his youth up; and the little Mice had never heard the like before; and they listened and said, "Well, to be sure! How much you have seen! How happy you must have been!"
"I!" said the Pine Tree, and he thought over what he had himself told. "Yes, really those were happy times." And then he told about Christmas Eve, when he was decked out with cakes and candles.
"Oh," said the little Mice, "how lucky you have been, old Pine Tree!"
"I am not at all old," said he. "I came from the wood this winter; I am in my prime, and am only rather short of my age."
"What delightful stories you know!" said the Mice: and the next night they came with four other little Mice, who were to hear what the Tree had to tell; and the more he told, the more plainly he remembered all himself; and he thought: "That was a merry time! But it can come! it can come! Klumpy-Dumpy fell down stairs, and yet he got a princess! Maybe I can get a princess too!" And all of a sudden he thought of a nice little Birch Tree growing out in the woods: to the Pine, that would be a really charming princess.
"Who is Klumpy-Dumpy?" asked the little Mice.
So then the Pine Tree told the whole fairy tale, for he could remember every single word of it; and the little Mice jumped for joy up to the very top of the Tree. Next night two more Mice came, and on Sunday two Rats, even; but they said the stories were not amusing, which vexed the little Mice, because they, too, now began to think them not so very amusing either.
"Do you know only that one story?" asked the Rats.
"Only that one!" answered the Tree. "I heard it on my happiest evening; but I did not then know how happy I was."
"It is a very stupid story! Don't you know one about bacon and tallow candles? Can't you tell any larder-stories?"
"No," said the Tree.
"Thank you, then," said the Rats; and they went home.
At last the little Mice stayed away also; and the
Tree sighed: "After all, it was very pleasant when the sleek little Mice
sat round me and heard what I told them. Now that too is over. But I
will take good care to enjoy myself when I am brought out again."
But when was that to be? Why, it was one morning when there came a number of people and set to work in the loft. The trunks were moved, the tree was pulled out and thrown down; they knocked him upon the floor, but a man drew him at once toward the stairs, where the daylight shone.
Out of doors again
"Now life begins again," thought the Tree. He felt the fresh air, the first sunbeam — and now he was out in the courtyard. All passed so quickly that the Tree quite forgot to look to himself, there was so much going on around him. The court adjoined a garden, and all was in flower; the roses hung over the fence, so fresh and smelling so sweetly; the lindens were in blossom, the Swallows flew by, and said, "Quirre-virre-vit! my husband is come!" But it was not the Pine Tree that they meant.
"Now, I shall really live," said he with joy, and spread out his branches; dear! dear! they were all dry and yellow. It was in a corner among weeds and nettles that he lay. The golden star of tinsel was still on top of the Tree, and shone in the bright sunshine.
In the courtyard a few of the merry children were playing who had danced at Christmas round the Tree, and were so glad at the sight of him. One of the littlest ran and tore off the golden star
"See what is still on the ugly old Christmas Tree!"
said he, and he trampled on the branches, so that they cracked under his
And the Tree saw all the beauty of the flowers, and the freshness in the garden; he saw himself, and he wished he had stayed in his dark corner in the attic: he thought of his fresh youth in the wood, of the merry Christmas Eve, and of the little Mice who had heard so gladly the story of Klumpy-Dumpy.
"Gone! gone!" said the poor Tree. "Had I but been happy when I could be. Gone! gone!"
And the gardener's boy came and chopped the Tree into small pieces; there was a whole heap lying there. The wood flamed up finely under the large brewing kettle, and it sighed so deeply! Each sigh was like a little shot. So the children ran to where it lay and sat down before the fire, and peeped in at the blaze, and shouted "Piff! paff!" But at every snap there was a deep sigh. The Tree was thinking of summer days in the wood, and of winter nights when the stars shone; it was thinking of Christmas Eve and Klumpy- Dumpy, the only fairy tale it had heard and knew how to tell — and so the Tree burned out.
The boys played about in the court, and the youngest wore the gold star on his breast which the Tree had worn on the happiest evening of his life. Now, that was gone, the Tree was gone, and gone too was the story. All, all was gone, and that's the way with all stories.