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THE DRYAD OF THE OLD OAK
BY JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL (ADAPTED)
IN olden times there was a youth named Rhœcus. One day as
he wandered through the wood he saw an ancient oak tree,
trembling and about to fall.
 Full of pity for so fair a tree, Rhœcus carefully propped
up its trunk, and as he did so he heard a soft voice murmur:—
It sounded like the gentle sighing of the wind through the
leaves; and while Rhœcus paused bewildered to listen, again
he heard the murmur like a soft breeze:—
And there stood before him, in the green glooms of the
shadowy oak, a wonderful maiden.
"Rhœcus," said she, in low-toned words, serene and full,
and as clear as drops of dew, "I am the Dryad of this tree,
and with it I am doomed to live and die. Thou hadst
compassion on my oak, and in saving it thou hast saved my
life. Now, ask me what thou wilt that I can give, and it
shall be thine."
"Beauteous nymph," answered Rhœcus, with a flutter at the
heart, "surely nothing will satisfy the craving of my soul
save to be with thee forever. Give to me thy love!"
"I give it, Rhœcus," answered she with sadness in her
voice, "though it be a perilous gift. An hour before sunset
meet me here."
And straightway she vanished, and Rhœcus could see nothing
but the green glooms beneath the shadowy oak. Not a sound
came to his straining ears but the low, trickling rustle of
 and, from far away on the emerald slope, the sweet sound of
an idle shepherd's pipe.
Filled with wonder and joy Rhœcus turned his steps
homeward. The earth seemed to spring beneath him as he
walked. The clear, broad sky looked bluer than its wont, and
so full of joy was he that he could scarce believe that he
had not wings.
Impatient for the trysting-time, he sought some companions,
and to while away the tedious hours, he played at dice, and
soon forgot all else.
The dice were rattling their merriest, and Rhœcus had just
laughed in triumph at a happy throw, when through the open
window of the room there hummed a yellow bee. It buzzed
about his ears, and seemed ready to alight upon his head. At
this Rhœcus laughed, and with a rough, impatient hand he
brushed it off and cried:—
"The silly insect! does it take me for a rose?"
But still the bee came back. Three times it buzzed about his
head, and three times he rudely beat it back. Then straight
through the window flew the wounded bee, while Rhœcus
watched its fight with angry eyes.
And as he looked—O sorrow!—the red disk of the setting
sun descended behind the sharp mountain peak of Thessaly.
Then instantly the blood sank from his heart, as if its very
walls had caved in, for he remembered
 the trysting-hour—now gone by! Without a word he turned and
rushed forth madly through the city and the gate, over the
fields into the wood.
Spent of breath he reached the tree, and, listening
fearfully, he heard once more the low voice murmur:—
But as he looked he could see nothing but the deepening
glooms beneath the oak.
Then the voice sighed: "O Rhœcus, nevermore shalt thou
behold me by day or night! Why didst thou fail to come ere
sunset? Why didst thou scorn my humble messenger, and send
it back to me with bruised wings? We spirits only show
ourselves to gentle eyes! And he who scorns the smallest
thing alive is forever shut away from all that is beautiful
in woods and fields. Farewell! for thou canst see me no
Then Rhœcus beat his breast and groaned aloud.
pitiful," he cried. "Forgive me yet this once!"
"Alas," the voice replied, "I am not unmerciful! I can
forgive! But I have no skill to heal thy spirit's eyes, nor
can I change the temper of thy heart." And then again she
And after that Rhœcus heard no other sound, save the
rustling of the oak's crisp leaves, like surf upon a distant