|A Child's Book of Stories|
|by Penrhyn W. Coussens|
|A choice collection of favorite fairy tales, to delight children of all ages. The 86 stories selected for this collection include folk tales from England, Norway, and India, as well as the best fairy tales from Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault. The volume also contains a handful of fables from Aesop and several tales from the Arabian Nights. Ages 5-9 |
THE FIR TREE
AR away in the forest stood a pretty little fir tree. The
warm sun shone upon it, the fresh breeze blew about it,
but the fir tree was not happy. All about it were many
tall companions, pines and firs, and the little fir
tree wanted to be tall like them. So it did not heed
the warm sunlight, or the soft air which fluttered its
leaves, or even the little pleasant children who passed
by, prattling merrily. Sometimes the children would
bring a basketful of raspberries or strawberries, and
seat them-selves near the fir tree, saying of the tree,
"What a pretty little one this is!" which made it feel
more unhappy than ever.
And yet, all this time, the tree grew a whole joint or
ring taller every year, for by the number rings on the
trunk of a fir tree we can tell its age.
Still, as it grew, it complained, "Oh, if I were only
as tall as the other trees! then I should spread out my
branches on every side, and my crown would overlook the
wide world. The birds would build their nests in my
branches, and when the wind blew, I should bow with
stately dignity like the others."
So discontented was the tree that it took no pleasure
in the sunshine, or in the birds, or in the rosy clouds
that floated over it morning and evening.
Sometimes in winter, when the snow lay white and
sparkling on the grounds, a hare would come leaping
along and jump right over the little tree's head; then
how mortified it felt!
 Two winters passed, and when the third came, the
tree had grown so tall that the hare was obliged to run
"Ah, to grow and grow! To become tall and old! That is
the only thing in the world worh caring for," the fir
In the autumn the woodcutters always came and cut down
several of the tallest trees, and the young fir, which
had now grown to a very good height, shuddered as the
noble trees fell to the ground with a crash. After the
branches were lopped off, the trunks looked so slender
and bare that they could scarcely be recognized. Then
the trees were placed one upon another, on wagons, and
dragged by horses out of the forest. "Where were they
going? What was going to become of them?" The young fir
tree wondered a great deal about it.
So in the spring when the swallows and the storks came,
it asked them: "Do you know where those trees were
taken? Did you meet them?"
The swallows knew nothing about them, but the stork,
after a little reflection, nodded his head and said:
"Yes, I think I know. As I flew from Egypt I met
several new ships, and they had fine masts that smelt
like fir. Theses must have been the trees, and I assure
you they were most stately and grand; they towered
"Oh, how I wish I were tall enough to go on the sea!"
said the fir tree. "Tell me what is the sea, and what
does it look like?"
"It would take too much time to explain,—a great deal
too much," said the stork, flying quickly away.
"Rejoice in thy youth," said the sunbeam, "rejoice in
the fresh growing time, and in the young life that is
And the wind kissed the tree, and the dew wept tears
over it; but the fir tree did not understand.
Christmas time drew near, and many young trees were cut
down, some that were even smaller and younger than the
 which had no peace or rest from its
longing to leave the forest. These young trees which
were chosen for their beauty, kept their branches, but
were also laid on wagons and drawn by horses out of the
"Where are they going?" asked the fir tree. "They are
not taller than I am; indeed, one was not so tall. And
why do they keep all their branches? Where are they
"We know" we know!" sang the sparrows. "We have looked
in at the windows of the houses in town and we know
what is done with them. Oh, you cannot think what honor
and glory they receive! They are dressed up in the most
splendid manner. We have looked in and seen them
standing the the middle of a warm room, adorned with
all sorts of beautiful things,—gilded apples,
sweetmeats, playthings, and hundreds of candles."
"And then," asked the fir tree, trembling in all its
branches, "and then what happens?"
"We did not see any more," said the sparrows; "but
indeed it was simply wonderful!"
"I wonder whether anything so brilliant will ever
happen with me," thought the fir tree. "That would be
even better than sailing over the sea. Oh, when will
Christmas be here! I am now as tall and well grown as
those who were taken away last year. O that I were now
laid on the wagon or standing in the warm room with all
that brightness and splendour about me! Something
better and more beautiful is sure to follow, or the
trees would not be so decked out. Yes, something
better, something still more splendid must follow—but
what can it be? I am weary with longing. I scarcely
know myself what is the matter with me."
"Rejoice in our love," said the air and the sunlight;
"rejoice in thine own bright life in the fresh air."
But the tree would not rejoice though it grew taller
 day, and, winter and summer, its evergreen
foliage might be in the forest, and passers-by would
say, "What a beautiful tree!"
A short time before the next Christmas this
discontented free was the first to fall. As the ax cut
sharply into its trunk, deep in through the pit, the
tree fell to the ground with a groan, conscious only of
pain and faintness, and forgetting all its dreams of
happiness in the sorrow of leaving its home in the
forest. It knew it would never again see its dear old
companions the trees, nor the little bushes, nor the
flowers that had grown by its side—perhaps not even the
Nor was the journey at all pleasant. The tree first
recovered itself while it was being unloaded, with
several other trees, in the courtyard of a house; and
it heard a many say, "We want only one and this is the
prettiest. This one is beautiful,"
Then came two servants in grand livery, and carried the
fir tree into a large and beautiful room. Pictures hung
on the walls, and near the large stove stood great
china jars with lions on the lids. There were
rocking-chairs, silen sofas, large tables, with picture
books and toys that had cost a hundred times a hundred
dollars—at least so the children said.
Then the fir tree was placed in a large tub full of
sand, but no one could see it was a tub, for it was
hung with green cloth, and it stood on a very handsome
carpet. Oh, how the tree trembled! What was going to
happen to it now? Some young ladies came, and the
servants helped them to adorn the tree.
On some branches they hung little bags cut out of
colored paper, and each bag was full of sweetmeats;
from other branches there hung gilded apples and
walnuts, as if they had grown there; and above and all
around were hundreds of red, blue, and white candles,
which were fastened upon the branches. Dolls, exactly
like real mean and women, were placed under the green
leaves,—the fir tree had never seen any before,—and at
 very top was fastened a glittering star, made
of gold tinsel. Oh, it was very beautiful!
"This evening," they all exclaimed; "this evening, how
bright it will be!"
"Oh, that evening were come," thought the tree, "and
the candles were lighted! Then I should know what else
is going to happen. Will the trees come from the forest
to see me? Will the sparrows peep in the windows, I
wonder? Shall I grow faster here, and keep on all these
ornaments during summer and winter?"
But guessing was of very little use. Its back ached
with trying; and this pain is as bad for a slender tree
as headache is for us.
At last the candles were lighted, and then what a
shining blaze of splendour the tree presented! It
trembled so with joy in all its branches that one of
the candles fell on a green twig and set fire to it.
"Help! Help!" exclaimed the young ladies, and they
quickly extinguished the fire.
After this the tree did not dare even to tremble
(though the fire frightened it), it was so anxious not
to hurt any of the beautiful ornaments which so dazzled
and bewildered it by their brilliance.
And now the folding doors were thrown open, and a troop
of children rushed in as if they intended to upset the
tree. They were followed more slowly by the older
people. For a moment the little ones stood silent with
delight, and then they shouted for joy till the room
rang; and they danced merrily round the tree, and
snatched off one present after another.
"What are they doing?" thought the tree. "What will
The candles burned down to the branches and were put
out one by one. Then the children were given permission
to plunder the tree. Oh, how they rushed upon it. Its
 with the strain, and if it had
not been fastened by the gold star to the ceiling, it
must have been thrown down.
Then the children danced about their pretty toys, and
no one paid any attention to the tree except the old
nurse, who came and peeped among the branches to see if
any apple or fig had been forgotten.
"A story! a story!" cried the children, and dragged a
little stout man toward the tree.
"Now we are in the greenwood," said the man, as he sat
down beneath it, "and the tree will have the pleasure
of hearing, too. But I am going to tell only one story.
What shall it be? Henny Penny? Or Humpty Dumpty, who
fell downstairs, but soon got up again, and at last
married a princess?"
"Henny Penny!" cried some. "Humpty Dumpty!" cried
others; and there was a great uproar. But the fir tree
kept silent and thought. "What am I supposed to do now?
Have I nothing to do with all this?" But it had already
been in the entertainment, and had played out its part.
Then the old man told the story of Humpty Dumpty,—how
he fell downstairs, but soon got up again, and married
a princess. And the children clapped their hands and
cried, "Another! another!" for they wanted to hear the
story of Henny Penny, too; but this time they had only
Humpty Dumpty. The fir tree stood quiet and thoughtful.
The birds in the forest had never told anything like
that,—how Humpty Dumpty fell downstairs, and yet
married a princess.
"Ah, yes, that is the way it happens in the world, I
suppose," thought the fir tree. And it believed the
story because such a nice man told it.
"Well," it thought, "who knows? Perhaps I shall fall
downstairs, too, and marry a princess," and it looked
forward eagerly to the next evening, expecting to be
again decked out with candles and toys, tinsel and
fruit. "To-morrow I will not
 tremble," thought
the tree; "I will enjoy to the full all my splendour,
and I shall hear the story of Humpty Dumpty again, and
perhaps Henny Penny, too." And the tree stood silent
and lost in thought all night.
In the morning the servants came it. "Now," thought the
tree, "all the decking me out will begin again." But
they dragged it out of the room and upstairs to the
garret, and threw it on the floor in a dark corner
where no daylight shone, and there they left it. "What
does this mean?" thought the tree. "What am I to do
here? What is there for me to hear in a place like
this?" and it leaned against the wall and thought and
And it had time enough to think, for days and nights
passed and no one came near it; and when at last some
one did come, it was only to put some great boxes in
the corner. So the tree was completely hidden from
sight; it seemed as if it had been quite forgotten.
"It is winter now out of doors," thought the tree. "The
ground is hard and covered with snow, so that the
people cannot plant me yet. That is doubtless why I am
left here under cover till the spring comes. How
thoughtful and kind everybody is to me! Still, I wish
it were not so dark here, and so terribly lonely, with
not even a hare to look at. How pleasant it was out in
the forest, while the snow lay on the ground, when the
hare would run by—yes, and jump over me, too; but I did
not like it at all then. Oh, it is terribly lonely
"Squeak! Squeak!" said a little mouse, stealing out of
his hole and creeping cautiously toward the tree; then
came another, and they both sniffed at the fir tree and
crept in and out between the branches.
"Oh, it is very cold!" said the little mouse. "If it
were not, we shold be very comfortable here, should n't
we, old fir tree?"
 "I am not old at all," said the fir tree. "There
are many who are much older than I am."
"Where do you come from?" asked the mice, who were full
of curiosity; "and what do you know? Do tell us all
about it! Have you been in the storeroom, where cheeses
lie on the shelves, and hams hang from the ceiling? One
can run about the tallow candles there. Ah! that is a
place were one goes in thin and comes out fat."
"I know nothing about that," said the fir tree; "but I
know of the wood, where the sun shines and the birds
And then the tree told the mice all about its youth.
The mice had never heard anything like that before, and
they listened with all their ears, and said: "How much
you have seen! How happy you must have been!"
"Happy!" exclaimed the fir tree; and then, as it
thought over what it had been telling them, it added,
"Ah, yes, those were happy days."
But when it went on and told them about Christmas eve
and how it had been adorned with sweetmeats and
candles, the mice repeated once more, "How happy, how
very fortunate you have been, you old fir tree!"
"I am not old at all," replied the tree. "I only came
from the forest this winter. I am now checked in my
"What splendid stories you do tell!" said the little
mice. And the next night they came with four others, to
have them hear what the tree had to tell. The more it
talked the more it remembered, and then it thought to
itself: "Yes, those were happy days, but they may come
again. Humpty Dumpty fell downstairs and yet married a
princess. Perhaps I, too, may marry a princess." And
the tree thought of a pretty little birch tree that
grew in the forest; she was a princess, a real
princess, to the fir tree.
 "Who is Humpty Dumpty?" asked the little mice.
And then the tree told the whole story; it could
remember every single word. And the little mice were so
delighted with it that they were ready to jump with joy
up to the very top of the tree. The next night a great
many more mice made their appearance, and on Sunday two
rates came; but they did not care about the story at
all, and that troubled the mice, for it made them also
think less of it.
"Is that the only story you know?" asked the rates.
"The only one," answered the tree. "I heard it on the
happiest evening of my life; but did not know I was so
happy at the time."
"We think it is a very poor story," said the rats.
"Don't you know any stories about bacon or tallow
candles in the storeroom?"
"No," replied the tree.
"Then we are much obliged to you," said the rats, and
they went their way.
The little mice also kept away after this, and the tree
sighed and said: "Really it was very pleasant when the
lively little mice sat round me and listened while I
told them stories. Now that is all past, too. However,
I shall consider myself happy when some one comes to
take me out of this place."
But would this ever happen? Yes; one morning people
came to clear up the garret; the boxes were moved aside
and the tree was pulled out of the corner and thrown
roughly on the floor; then the servants dragged it out
to the stairs, where the daylight shone.
"Now life is beginning again," thought the tree,
rejoicing in the sunshine and fresh air.
It was carried downstairs and put out in the yard so
quickly that it forgot to look at itself, and gazed
about it, for there was so much to be seen.
 The yard opened into a garden where everything
was blooming. Fresh and sweet roses hung over a little
trellis; the linden trees were in blossom; and swallows
flew here and there, calling, "Twit, twit, twit, my
mate is coming"; but it was not the fir tree they
"Now I shall live," thought the tree joyfully,
stretching out its branches; but, alas! they were all
withered and yellow, and it was lying in a corner among
weeds and nettles.
The star of gold paper still stuck in the top of the
tree and glittered in the sunshine. In the yard two of
the merry children who had danced round the tree at
Christmas were playing. One of them saw the gilded
star, and ran up and tore it off.
"See what is sticking to the ugly old fir tree," he
cried, and stamped on the boughs till they crackled
under his boots.
And the tree saw all the fresh, bright flowers in the
garden and looked at itself, and wished it had been
left lying in the dark corner of the garret. It thought
of its fresh youth in the forest, of the merry
Christmas eve, and of the little mice that had listened
so happily to the tale of Humpty Dumpty.
"Past! past"! said the poor tree. "O had I only enjoyed
myself when I could! But not it is too late,—it is all
Then a lad came and chopped the tree into small pieces,
till a large pile lay heaped on the groung. The pieces
were placed in a fire, where thy blazed up brightly,
and the tree sighed so deeply that each sigh was like a
pistol shot, and the children who were at play came and
sat in front of the fire and looked at it, and cried,
"Puff! puff!" But at each explosion, which was a deep
sigh, the tree thought of a summer day in the woods, or
of a winter night there, when the stars were bright; or
of Christmas eve, or of Humpty Dumpty, the only story
it had ever heard or knew how to tell,—and then the
tree was burned.
 The children played in the garden, and the
youngest had on his breast the golden star which the
tree had worn on its happiest evening. Now that was
past, the tree's life was past, and this story is past,
too, as all stories must come to an end.
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