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The Little Tree That Never Grew Up

from The Green Forest Fairy Book,





Long, long ago, when the world was very young, so young that the flowers

and trees and grasses had voices and talked with each other, or sang

with the breezes that blew softly around them, there lived in the midst

of a forest a very little tree.



Now, though the Little Tree was straight as an arrow and had glossy

green leaves, she was the most unhappy little tree in all the world. She

could not sing with the winds, and neither could she speak to the other

trees around her. These other trees often spoke to the Little Tree and

asked her questions. When she did not answer, they thought the Little

Tree stupid and sulky. These other trees that could sing and speak began

to grow tall, and after a time they grew so high their topmost branches

seemed to touch the sky. Then, even though the Little Tree had spoken,

they could never have heard her. These other trees grew tall as giants.

The Little Tree grew each year, it is true; but she grew so slightly

that it could scarcely be noticed. She was greatly ashamed of her small

stature.



As the seasons went on, the branches of the tall trees grew so very

thick that they shut out the light down in the forest. Then the Little

Tree could not see the sun at all, and one by one the ferns and flowers

at her roots died from the dampness, and the Little Tree was all alone!

Nothing broke the silence of the dark, still forest save the calls of

the birds when they returned each year to build their nests, or the

sound of the branches swaying in the breeze. Then there came at last one

soft spring day when the Little Tree waked from her winter's sleep and

began to sing. She was so happy that she sang for hours; but alas! there

was no other tree to hear her or to answer her song. So the Little Tree,

though she now possessed the voice for which she had longed, was more

lonely than ever before.



At night, when all the world was sleeping, and while the Night Wind

roamed the forest, the Little Tree would weep softly to herself because

she was so sad. Then, after a time, her lament grew to be a song, a very

sad song, it is true; but oh, so very beautiful! The Night Wind, who was

fond of singing, came to listen each evening for the Little Tree's

lament, and as he blew upon his way, he carried her song to the Stars.

Now it happened one night the Little Tree was so sad and lonely that she

could not sing; instead, she wept until her tiny branches shook with

sobbing.



"Oh," mourned the Little Tree, "I am so lonely here! I wish I could die.

If only I might burn on some cottager's hearth or warm poor children's

hands; but alas, I am the most useless tree that grows!"



The Night Wind heard the Little Tree sobbing, and going close, whispered

softly to her:



"Oh, Little Tree, please do not be so sad. What does it matter that your

singing voice came after all the other trees had grown too tall to hear

you, or that you are such a very little tree? Your voice is so sweet and

lovely that the birds of this forest now model their choicest songs on

yours. Each night I carry your songs to the Stars, and they too have

sung your lovely music."



"Oh, Night Wind, do you tell me true?" begged the Little Tree. "For I am

such a little tree, how can the Stars hear me?"



"They hear you thus, my Little Tree," replied the Night Wind, and

brushed aside the branches of the tallest trees.



Then looking up, the Little Tree beheld the Stars high up in the heavens

shining down on her. They seemed to smile and beckon as she watched, and

so she sang her sweetest songs to please them. The Night Wind and the

Stars themselves sang with the Little Tree, and made such lovely music

that had any one been listening, they would have thought they heard

sweet strains from paradise. But all this happened when the world was

very young, and there were but few people dwelling on it.



"And now, my Little Tree," the Night Wind said, when he had dropped the

branches of the tall trees once again, "pray do not wish for some

woodman to cut you down. I would miss you sadly, if you were to go away

from the forest."



Farther on in the forest, the Night Wind met the Spirits of the Woods.

They were two sister spirits robed in floating garments made of mists.

They roamed the forest and cared for all the trees. They knew how long

each tree would dwell in the forest and when the woodman's ax would fell

it. The Spirits of the Woods possessed a magic bag of dreams, and from

this bag the Night Wind begged a dream for the Little Tree.



"Ah," he pleaded, "the Little Tree is so sad and lonely, the other trees

have grown so far away they cannot hear her sing, and neither can she

talk with them. She would dearly love a beautiful dream from this dream

bag of yours, Spirit."



"Ah, Night Wind," replied the Spirit doubtfully, "there is but one dream

left, and that is the Little Tree's dream of the future. If we give it

to her, you must promise that you will not answer her questions

concerning it. For it is a strange dream and will puzzle her greatly.

Will you promise?"



"I promise," said the Night Wind, and blew upon his way.

And after that night, the Little Tree was not lonely or sad. She never

became a joyous tree--her youth had been too sorrowful for that--but she

was content. Each night, when all the forest filled with creeping

shadows, she sang her songs to the Stars, and she came to love the Night

Wind dearly. Each night the Little Tree dreamed the dream the Spirits of

the Woods had given her, and strange to tell, it was always the same

dream. It was such a pleasant, lovely dream that sometimes the Little

Tree was puzzled, and wondered whether she really lived in her beautiful

dream, and only dreamed that she lived in the forest.



Each night the Little Tree dreamed she floated far away, until she

reached a palace which was set on a high hill. Within the palace was a

great hall richly hung with silken tapestries and gleaming softly with

light that shone from carved crystal bowls. Within this palace hall a

great king and his court were seated, and sweet strains of music floated

on the breeze. But the strangest thing of all was this: the Little Tree

often thought she heard her own songs in this palace hall. She was not

sure, but she was greatly puzzled. She knew that she had dwelled always

in the forest, and how could she know the music of noble lords and

ladies? Then one night in her dream the Little Tree was startled to hear

the sound of her own voice singing the songs she had so often sung to

the Stars. She pressed eagerly to the palace window to see within, but

because of her branches she could not go very near, and she could not

see. Then came the dawn, and her dream floated far away.



All through the day, the Little Tree called again and again to the tall

trees and asked them of her curious dream; but, of course, they could

not hear her. She waited eagerly to see the daylight fade, and when the

Night Wind came, she questioned him:



"Oh, Night Wind," cried the Little Tree, "will you tell me of my dream?

I am sure I heard my own voice singing; but how could it be that noble

lords and ladies within that palace hall would listen to me? For am I

not the least of little trees?"



But the Night Wind did not tell her truly. He had given his promise that

he would not, and so he answered her, saying:



"Now that I do not know, my dear, but though you are indeed the least of

little trees, you are the only Little Tree in all this world to me. Of

noble lords and ladies and their ways I know nothing, for do they not

shut me from their homes and hearths when I would enter and warm myself?

But now, Little Tree, it grows late; will you not sing for me?"



Thus with the Night Wind and the Stars for company, the Little Tree

lived on for many years. From them she learned much wisdom and came to

know about the great world which lay beyond the forest, and that all

trees would one day go there. And all this time the world was growing

older, and the forest was not so silent as it had been in the time when

the Little Tree first dwelled there. Sometimes the woodcutter's ax rang

out, and the Little Tree would hear a great tree come crashing down to

earth.



"Oh, why must I leave the freedom of the forest and be torn limb from

limb in some wretched mill!" cried one of the tall trees, as he fell

close by the Little Tree one day.



"Ah," replied the Little Tree softly, "you would not wish to dwell

forever in this forest, would you? In the world there is much that a

great tree may do to bring happiness."



"Who is it that speaks to me thus gently?" asked the Fallen Tree. "I do

not know the voice, although I thought I knew all trees growing in this

forest, for I was among the first trees to grow here."



"And so was I," replied the Little Tree. "Do you not remember the Little

Tree that could neither speak nor sing? I am she. For though I am ages

and ages old, I am scarcely taller than yonder little fir of ten

seasons."



"In those days we thought you stupid and sulky, Little Tree," replied

the Fallen Tree, "but by your speech I now can see that we were wrong.

Who has taught you all your wisdom, and have you not been lonely all

these years?"



"Indeed, I was very lonely," said the Little Tree. "Even after I could

sing, it was no better. The flowers and ferns had died, and there was

none to hear me or talk to me. One night I wept and wished to die, and

the Night Wind, who is of a kind heart, cheered me with words of praise.

Since then I have never been sad, for I have had a lovely dream each

night, and I have sung to the Stars."



But this the Fallen Tree could not believe, and so he answered sharply:



"Now, Little Tree, how can that be? Tall as I was, and high as I stood

when I was monarch of this forest, never once could I send my songs to

the Stars, although I tried to do so many times. Now surely such a

little tree as you could not accomplish what a monarch failed to do! You

have learned wisdom without doubt, and you sing very sweetly, I daresay;

but take care lest your dreaming lead you in untruthful ways."



"Oh, pray believe me!" cried the Little Tree. "Wait only until the

twilight comes, and the Night Wind himself will tell you so."



"More foolish talk!" scoffed the Fallen Tree. "The Night Wind is but a

feeble creature to a monarch of the forest, such as I. When I stood

aloft in all my glory, the Night Wind could not bend the smallest twig

of mine unless I willed it so."



"That is true, my friends," spoke a gentle voice beside them. It was the

voice of the Night Wind, for all unknown to them, darkness had fallen.

"Because you were so proud and held your branches firm against my gentle

breezes, never once did I carry your songs to the Stars; but I have done

so for the Little Tree." Then he brushed aside the branches of the tall

trees, and the Little Tree sang to her shining audience so far above in

heaven. She sang until the Fallen Tree slept, and then the Night Wind

gently dropped the branches until the forest was all dark once more.

Then he kissed the Little Tree farewell and blew upon his way.



Now, as more people came to dwell upon the earth, more trees were needed

every year to shelter them. The forest was no longer dark and silent.

The woodman's ax rang out, and here and there the sun shone down where

groves of noble trees had once stood. But even so, the ferns and flowers

and grasses did not bloom again. The woodcutters made dusty roads and

trails, and heaps of dead leaves eddied in the breeze. At last one day a

certain king gave orders that all remaining trees of this forest should

be cut down. He planned to build a noble city where the forest stood.

Now charcoal fires flared all night, and herds of oxen tramped the whole

day through, and soon a dreary waste of withering branches whose brown

leaves crackled dismally was all that remained of the noble forest.



"Ah, Little Tree," the Night Wind mourned, "there is no longer any need

for me. When the forest stood, it was my work and pleasure to brush the

fallen leaves and lull the trees to sleep. Indeed, were it not for you,

I would be desolate. Each night I tremble lest I shall not find you

awaiting me."



"Ah, Night Wind," replied the Little Tree softly, "it is because you

love me that you fear to lose me; but do not be troubled. I have seen

great trees fall to my right and to my left, and small trees likewise,

yet no one seems to want me. I am such a little tree; I am sure that you

will find me here forever. That does not grieve me, even so, for I have

come to love you dearly, and it would break my heart to be parted from

you."



Then one dull winter's day, the Little Tree felt a human hand laid on

her slender trunk, and she knew her fate had come. She was such a little

tree that it took but two blows to fell her. When the Night Wind came

again, he found the Little Tree moaning with the pain of her wounds. He

caressed her tenderly and begged her to say her pain was better.



"Oh, Night Wind, the pain is truly better since you have come,"

whispered the Little Tree bravely, and died in his arms.



When the Night Wind knew the Little Tree was gone, he flung himself down

on the earth beside her, and wept and wailed so bitterly that the

Spirits of the Woods came from the ends of the world to see what

troubled him.



"Ah," sighed the first Spirit. "How sad it is the Night Wind should be

parted from the Little Tree. Could we not make him a mortal, so that he

may meet her again in the world?"



"Agreed," replied the second Spirit. So while the Night Wind slept, the

Spirits of the Woods changed him to a mortal and called him Robello.



Thus it was that some time later a youth called Robello came to dwell on

the outskirts of the noble city which stood in place of the great

forest. Now this Robello did not till the soil, and neither did he herd

flocks on the hillsides. Instead, at evenings, he played his violin so

sweetly and so sadly that some folk could not tell his music from the

wailing of the winds. People from that region, as they passed his

cottage at nightfall, paused to listen to Robello's playing, and many a

one wiped a tear from his eye at the memories it stirred. Robello's fame

began to go abroad, and wise men learned in the arts of song declared

that if Robello but possessed a fine violin, the world could hear no

better music.



Now, at this time it happened that the king (the same who had ordered

the great forest cut down) received the gift of a rare violin. The maker

of this violin vowed that its like was not to be found the whole world

over, for when 'twas touched with the bow, it sent forth a sobbing sound

like the cry of a broken heart. The maker of this rare violin besought

the king and begged that no mere fiddler be allowed to touch it, and

that a music master should play it always. The king agreed and

accordingly commanded that all who played the violin should appear at

the palace. Robello went in company of a thousand other players.



The palace of the king was set on a high hill, and as Robello entered,

he seemed dimly to remember it, although he knew well that he had never

been within its gates before. The king and court sat waiting within a

great hall richly hung with silken tapestries and gleaming with lights

that shone softly through carved crystal bowls. The violin players were

gathered together, and to Robello fell the lot of playing first.



The king himself placed the violin in Robello's arms, and slowly, as

though in a dream, Robello drew the bow across the strings. With the

first notes wakened memories that had long been slumbering. Then as he

played, Robello felt the great hall grow dim, until at last it seemed to

fade away, and he saw naught but a vision: the deep dark forest just at

dusk, and he was once more the Night Wind caressing the Little Tree.



"Ah, my Little Tree," he whispered, as he bent lovingly above the

violin. "This is the dream that you did love so dearly. Do you remember

me?"



"Ah, Night Wind," sang the Little Tree, "although they call thee by

another name, to me thou wilt be the Night Wind forever. He who

fashioned me thus spoke truly when he said I sobbed like a broken heart,

for my heart has been broken with longing for thee. Let us sing the

songs we sang to the Stars so long ago."



Then Robello played as he had never played before, and the violin sang

as never violin had sung before. When the last notes died away, there

were tears in the eyes of the noble lords and ladies, and the king sat

silent for a time. At last he spoke, and ordered that all other players

be sent away, and declared that none save Robello should ever touch this

rare violin.



So Robello remained in the palace of the king and was made chief

musician to his majesty, and never had the Little Tree sung so sweetly

in the forest as she sang now at Robello's magic touch. Robello played

at all court festivals, and nothing had such power to soothe the king as

had Robello's music when he played his violin at nightfall.



Then came a sad day when his servants went to waken him and found

Robello dead, his beloved violin clasped closely in his arms. The king

and all his court mourned the passing of Robello for many days. Then one

evening, just at dusk, they buried him with his beloved violin still

clasped closely in his arms, and strewed his grave with boughs of trees.

And in that region, to this day, there are some folk who say that when

night falls Robello can still be heard playing his violin within the

palace hall; but others say this is not right; it is the Night Wind

calling softly to the Little Tree that never grew up.





Next: The Tale Of Punchinello

Previous: A Tale Of The Northland Kingdom



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