The Fir Tree – Pre-Intermediate Level
Once upon a time, deep inside the forest where the warm sun and the fresh air make a beautiful living place, there was a young fir tree. But it was not happy, for it wished very much to be tall like the other trees which grew around it.
One winter, when the fir tree was very small and the snow lay white on the ground, a rabbit came running along and jumped right over it. How small it felt! Two winters passed, and when the third snows came, the tree had grown so tall that the rabbit could not jump over it. Although the rabbit now had to run around the tree, this did not make it any happier. It cried out to the other trees, “I cannot wait to grow taller and older as fast as I can. There could be nothing better in the world!”
Every day the sun shone, and the soft wind blew through the fir tree’s leaves. Sometimes little children would come into the forest to play. They would bring food and sit down near the tree to eat, talking happily to each other. “Isn’t that a pretty little fir tree,” they would say. But this made the tree feel even more unhappy.
Although the tree grew taller and taller every year, it never stopped talking about how unhappy it was. “Oh! how I wish I were tallest trees in the forest. Then I would push my branches out on every side and my top would look out over the whole world.”
The fir tree was so unhappy that it never stopped to think of the good things around it. It did not enjoy the warm sunshine and the cooling rain. It did not see the beauty of the soft clouds that passed over it morning and evening, and the stars that shone brightly at night.
One autumn, some men came and cut down several of the tallest trees. The fir tree watched as these great trees fell to the earth. After the branches were cut off, the trunks looked so thin and bare that they did not look like trees at all. Then they were placed upon wagons and pulled out of the forest by horses.
“Where were they going?” the fir tree thought to itself. “What is to become of them?” The young fir tree wished very much to know. In the spring, when the birds came, he asked “Do you know where those tall trees were taken? Did you see them?”
Most knew nothing, but then one large bird, which traveled far across the sea each winter, said, “Yes, I think I do. I saw several new ships on the sea when I was flying back from Egypt. They had fine masts that smelled like fir. I think these must have been the trees. I can tell you they looked grand, very grand.”
“Oh, how I wish I were tall enough to become a mast and go on the sea,” said the fir tree. “What is the sea, and what does it look like?”
“It would take too much time to explain,” said the large bird, who then flew away.
“Be happy that you are young,” said the sun and the wind. “Enjoy your new growth, and the young life that is in you.” But the fir tree took no notice of them.
Christmas time drew near, and many young trees were cut down. Some of these, which were chosen for their beauty, were even smaller and younger than the fir tree. These young trees, which kept their branches, were also laid on wagons and pulled out of the forest by horses. The fir tree wanted so much to leave its forest home and go with them that it could not enjoy a moment of rest.
“Where are they going?” asked the fir tree. “They are not taller than I am. Look! I can see one that is much smaller. And why are the branches not cut off? Where are they going?”
“We know! we know!” sang some small birds. “We have looked in at the windows of the houses in the town. They are dressed up in the most beautiful way. We have seen them standing in a warm room, covered with many wonderful things — cakes, candy, toys, and hundreds of candles.”
“And then?” asked the fir tree excitedly. “What happens then?”
“We could not stay and watch,” said the birds, “so we did not see.”
“I wish that something so wonderful would happen to me,” thought the fir tree. “It would be much better than going across the sea. Oh! When will Christmas be here again? I am now as tall and well grown as those which were cut down last year. I want to be laid on a wagon, and taken to a warm room and have all those beautiful things around me. Something even better must come after Christmas, or the trees would not be dressed up so well. Yes, what follows will be better. What can it be? I want to know so much that it hurts inside.”
“Be happy here with us,” said the sun and the wind. “Enjoy your life in the forest and fresh air.” But again the fir tree would not listen to them. It did not enjoy its life, even though it was now one of the tallest trees in the forest and passers by, on seeing it, would stop and say, “Look! Isn’t that the most beautiful tree!”
The next Christmas, the fir tree’s wish came true; it was the first of the season to fall. As the axe cut through its trunk, the tree fell to the earth with a cry of pain. It forgot how much it had wanted to leave the forest the moment it hit the ground. It was sad to be leaving its home and knew that it would never again see its old friends, the other trees, and the little birds that flew among their branches.
The next thing the fir tree remembered was when the wagon stopped outside a large house. It was with several other trees and heard a man say, “We only want one, and this is the best.” Then two men picked him up and carried him into a large and beautiful room. There were some lovely pictures on the walls and expensive furniture all around. The men stood the tree in a large container in the center of the room, which they then filled with sand.
The tree was very excited. “What was going to happen to him now,” he thought. Then some young women came and began to put things on the tree. On some branches they hung little bags cut out of colored paper, and each bag was filled with small cakes. On other branches they hung candy and small toys, as if they had grown there. Hundreds of red, blue, and white candles were placed all over it, and a golden star was placed at the very top. Dolls, looking just like real babies, and larger toys were placed on the floor under its green leaves. The tree had never seen such things before.
“How beautiful it will look this evening,” cried the women.
“Oh, that the evening were here already,” thought the tree, “and the candles lighted! Then I shall know what will come after. Will the small birds look in through the windows as they fly by and tell the trees of the forest how beautiful I am? Shall I grow faster here, and keep wearing all the things they have hung on me summer and winter?” But guessing was of very little use.
At last the candles were lighted, and then what a glittering show of light the tree presented! It shook so much with excitement that one of the candles fell among its leaves and burnt some of them. “Help! help!” cried the young women. But there was no danger, and they quickly put out the fire. After this, the tree tried very hard not to move as he did not want to burn any of the things that covered him.
And then the big doors to the room were thrown open. A large group of children ran in, who at first looked as if they planned to attack the tree. They were followed more quietly by their parents. For a moment, everyone stood still and looked at the tree in wonder.
“Merry Christmas to you all,” shouted a little fat man. Then they all shouted for joy and danced happily round the tree, while one present after another was taken from under it. “What are they doing? What will happen next?” thought the fir tree.
At last the candles on the branches burnt down and were put out. Then the children were told that they could take the things hanging from the tree. Oh, how they pulled it about. Some of the branches broke, and the tree might have fallen down on the children’s heads had not the golden star also been fastened to the ceiling,.
Someone started to play the piano, and the parents began to sing Christmas songs as the children danced about with their toys. No one noticed the tree again, other than the children’s nurse who came and looked among the branches to see if the children had missed anything.
“A story, a story,” cried the children to the little fat man.
“Let us all sit down near the tree,” said the man, so that it can also enjoy the story. But I shall only tell one story. What shall it be? Ivede-Avede? Or Humpty Dumpty, who fell down stairs, but soon got up again, and at last married a princess.”
“Ivede-Avede,” cried some. “Humpty Dumpty,” cried others, and there was a fine shouting and calling out. The fir tree thought to himself, “I wonder if I shall have to do something in the story?” But there was nothing more they wanted of the tree. The man told the children the story of Humpty Dumpty, how he fell down stairs, and was lifted up again, and married a princess.
Tell another, tell another,” the children called out at the end of the story. They wanted to hear the story of Ivede-Avede, but the man said they could only have Humpty Dumpty.
After this the fir tree became very thoughtful. Never had the birds in the forest told a story such as Humpty Dumpty, who fell down stairs, and yet married a princess. “Ah! yes, but it must happen in the world,” thought the fir tree. He believed the story to be true, because it was told by such a nice man. “Perhaps I shall fall down too,” he said to himself, “and one day marry a princess.”
The tree looked forward joyfully to the next evening, thinking that it would again be covered with lights and toys and candy and cakes. “Tomorrow I will not shake,” he thought. “I will enjoy my beauty, and I shall hear the story of Humpty Dumpty again, or perhaps Ivede-Avede.”
When the women came into the room the next day, the tree thought that it was going to be dressed up again. But to his surprise, he was lifted up out of the container and thrown on the floor. The women pulled him out of the room and up some stairs to the attic. They left him there on the floor, in a dark corner where no daylight shone.
“What does this mean?” wondered the tree. “What am I to do here? I can’t see or hear anything in a place like this.” He had a lot of time to think about this. Days and nights passed and no one came near him. When at last somebody did come, it was only to put away some large boxes in a corner. It was if they had forgotten that the tree was there.
“It is winter now,” thought the tree. “The ground outside will be hard and covered with snow, so the people cannot plant me. I shall be kept here, I should think, until spring comes. How thoughtful and kind everybody is to me! Still I wish this place were not so dark, as well as lonely, with not even a little rabbit to look at. How nice it was out in the forest while the snow lay on the ground, when the rabbit would run by. Yes, and jump over me too, although I did not like it then. Oh! It is so terribly lonely here.”
One day the fir tree heard a sound nearby and saw a little mouse coming slowly towards it. Then came another. The two mice smelled all around the tree and looked between its branches.
“If it wasn’t so cold,” said the first mouse, “we could make a nice home here, old fir tree?”
“I am not old,” said the fir tree, “there are many of my kind who are older than I am.”
“Where do you come from and what do you know?” asked the mice, who who always wanted to know everything about everyone they met. “Have you been in the small room next to the kitchen, which is full of nice things to eat? One can go into that room thin and come out fat. Have you seen any interesting places in the outside world, and can you tell us all about them?”
“I know nothing of a room full of things to eat,” said the fir tree. “All I know of is the forest where the sun shines and the wind blows and the birds sing. And where you can see clouds in the sky during the day and stars at night.” Then the tree told the little mice about when it was young.
The mice had never heard such a story in their lives. “What wonderful things you have seen,” they said. “You must have been very happy in the forest.”
“Happy?” asked the fir tree. And then, as he thought about what he had been telling them, he said, “Ah, yes! Those were happy days after all.” He then went on and told them all about Christmas, and how he had been dressed up with cakes and candy and toys and lights.
“How happy you must have been then, old fir tree,” said the mice.
“I am not old at all,” answered the tree. “I only came from the forest for Christmas. My growth has stopped for the winter, but I shall grow again in the spring.”
“What lovely stories you know,” said the little mice. And the next night four other mice came with them to hear what the tree had to tell.
The more he talked, the more he remembered. “Those were happy days,” he said to himself. “But they may come again. Humpty Dumpty fell down stairs, and yet he married the princess. Perhaps I may marry a princess too.” And the fir tree thought of a pretty little tree that grew in the forest, which to him looked like a beautiful princess.
“Who is Humpty Dumpty?” asked the little mice. And then the tree told them the story. He could remember every single word, and the little mice were so happy with it, that they were ready to jump to the top of the tree. The next night a great many more mice came. But one day two rats came with them. They said that Humpty Dumpty was not a nice story at all. Then the little mice felt very sorry, for this made them also think less of the story.
“Do you know only one story?” asked the rats.
“Only one,” answered the fir tree. “I heard it on the happiest evening of my life. But I did not know I was so happy at the time.”
“We think it is a terrible story,” said the rats. “Don’t you know a story about the food in the small room next to the kitchen.”
“No,” said the tree.
“Many thanks to you then,” said the rats, and they ran off.
The little mice also stayed away after this. “It was very nice here when the mice sat round me and happily listened while I talked,” the tree thought. “Now that is all finished, and its very lonely here again. I will not be happy now until some one comes to take me out of this place. But will this ever happen?”
Yes, one morning people came to clear out the attic. The boxes were packed away, and the tree was pulled out of the corner and thrown on the floor. Then someone pulled it out upon the stairs where the daylight shone. “Now life is beginning again,” said the tree to itself, happy to again be in the sun and fresh air. Then it was carried down stairs and taken into the garden. This happened so quickly that it did not have time to think of itself. It could only look about, and there was so much to be seen. Sweet smelling roses grew over a small fence. All the trees and plants were covered with flowers, and small birds flew happily among them.
“Now I shall live again,” cried the tree, joyfully pushing out its branches. Then it saw that these were no longer green but all dried up and yellow. And it had not been put in a good place in the garden. It had been put in a corner where ugly and dead plants were thrown.
Two of the children who had so happily danced round the tree at Christmas were playing in the garden. The star of gold paper was still stuck in the top of the tree and shone in the sunshine. The youngest child saw the gold star, and ran and pulled it off the tree. “Look what is sticking to the ugly old fir tree,” said the child, walking on the branches which broke under his boots.
The tree saw all the bright, colorful flowers in the garden, and then looked at itself. It wished it had stayed in the dark corner of the attic. It thought of when it was young in the forest. And it remembered the merry Christmas evening, and the little mice who had listened to the story of Humpty Dumpty. “The past! the past!” said the old tree to itself. “Oh, I wish I had enjoyed myself while I could have done so! But now it is too late.”
A young man came and cut the tree into small pieces. These were placed one by one in a fire used to heat water to wash clothes. They quickly burned up brightly, and as it did so the tree sighed so deeply that each sigh sounded like a gun shot. Then the children, who were at play, came and sat in front of the fire. They looked at it and cried, “pop, pop,” each time the tree sighed.
With each “pop,” the tree was thinking of the past. It thought of summer days in the forest, of Christmas evening, and of Humpty Dumpty, the only story it had ever heard or knew how to tell. At last the tree was all gone. The boys still played in the garden, and the youngest wore the golden star on his chest, which the tree had worn during the happiest evening of its life. Now all was past; the tree’s life was past, and the story also, for all stories must come to an end at last.