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Nursery Rhymes . . . for children.

Once upon a time . . . . .  from our fabulous collection of Fairy Tales for children . . .  they lived happily ever after . . .

The Last Dream Of The Old Oak

IN the forest, high up on the steep shore, and not far
from the open seacoast, stood a very old oak-tree. It was just
three hundred and sixty-five years old, but that long time was
to the tree as the same number of days might be to us; we wake
by day and sleep by night, and then we have our dreams. It is
different with the tree; it is obliged to keep awake through
three seasons of the year, and does not get any sleep till
winter comes. Winter is its time for rest; its night after the
long day of spring, summer, and autumn. On many a warm summer,
the Ephemera, the flies that exist for only a day, had
fluttered about the old oak, enjoyed life and felt happy and
if, for a moment, one of the tiny creatures rested on one of
his large fresh leaves, the tree would always say, 'Poor
little creature! your whole life consists only of a single
day. How very short. It must be quite melancholy.'

'Melancholy! what do you mean?' the little creature would
always reply. 'Everything around me is so wonderfully bright
and warm, and beautiful, that it makes me joyous.'

'But only for one day, and then it is all over.'

'Over!' repeated the fly; 'what is the meaning of all
over? Are you all over too?'

'No; I shall very likely live for thousands of your days,
and my day is whole seasons long; indeed it is so long that
you could never reckon it out.'

'No? then I don't understand you. You may have thousands
of my days, but I have thousands of moments in which I can be
merry and happy. Does all the beauty of the world cease when
you die?'

'No,' replied the tree; 'it will certainly last much
longer,- infinitely longer than I can even think of. 'Well,
then,' said the little fly, 'we have the same time to live;
only we reckon differently.' And the little creature danced
and floated in the air, rejoicing in her delicate wings of
gauze and velvet, rejoicing in the balmy breezes, laden with
the fragrance of clover-fields and wild roses, elder-blossoms
and honeysuckle, from the garden hedges, wild thyme,
primroses, and mint, and the scent of all these was so strong
that the perfume almost intoxicated the little fly. The long
and beautiful day had been so full of joy and sweet delights,
that when the sun sank low it felt tired of all its happiness
and enjoyment. Its wings could sustain it no longer, and
gently and slowly it glided down upon the soft waving blades
of grass, nodded its little head as well as it could nod, and
slept peacefully and sweetly. The fly was dead.

'Poor little Ephemera!' said the oak; 'what a terribly
short life!' And so, on every summer day the dance was
repeated, the same questions asked, and the same answers
given. The same thing was continued through many generations
of Ephemera; all of them felt equally merry and equally happy.

The oak remained awake through the morning of spring, the
noon of summer, and the evening of autumn; its time of rest,
its night drew nigh- winter was coming. Already the storms
were singing, 'Good-night, good-night.' Here fell a leaf and
there fell a leaf. 'We will rock you and lull you. Go to
sleep, go to sleep. We will sing you to sleep, and shake you
to sleep, and it will do your old twigs good; they will even
crackle with pleasure. Sleep sweetly, sleep sweetly, it is
your three-hundred-and-sixty-fifth night. Correctly speaking,
you are but a youngster in the world. Sleep sweetly, the
clouds will drop snow upon you, which will be quite a
cover-lid, warm and sheltering to your feet. Sweet sleep to
you, and pleasant dreams.' And there stood the oak, stripped
of all its leaves, left to rest during the whole of a long
winter, and to dream many dreams of events that had happened
in its life, as in the dreams of men. The great tree had once
been small; indeed, in its cradle it had been an acorn.
According to human computation, it was now in the fourth
century of its existence. It was the largest and best tree in
the forest. Its summit towered above all the other trees, and
could be seen far out at sea, so that it served as a landmark
to the sailors. It had no idea how many eyes looked eagerly
for it. In its topmost branches the wood-pigeon built her
nest, and the cuckoo carried out his usual vocal performances,
and his well-known notes echoed amid the boughs; and in
autumn, when the leaves looked like beaten copper plates, the
birds of passage would come and rest upon the branches before
taking their flight across the sea. But now it was winter, the
tree stood leafless, so that every one could see how crooked
and bent were the branches that sprang forth from the trunk.
Crows and rooks came by turns and sat on them, and talked of
the hard times which were beginning, and how difficult it was
in winter to obtain food.

It was just about holy Christmas time that the tree
dreamed a dream. The tree had, doubtless, a kind of feeling
that the festive time had arrived, and in his dream fancied he
heard the bells ringing from all the churches round, and yet
it seemed to him to be a beautiful summer's day, mild and
warm. His mighty summits was crowned with spreading fresh
green foliage; the sunbeams played among the leaves and
branches, and the air was full of fragrance from herb and
blossom; painted butterflies chased each other; the summer
flies danced around him, as if the world had been created
merely for them to dance and be merry in. All that had
happened to the tree during every year of his life seemed to
pass before him, as in a festive procession. He saw the
knights of olden times and noble ladies ride by through the
wood on their gallant steeds, with plumes waving in their
hats, and falcons on their wrists. The hunting horn sounded,
and the dogs barked. He saw hostile warriors, in colored
dresses and glittering armor, with spear and halberd, pitching
their tents, and anon striking them. The watchfires again
blazed, and men sang and slept under the hospitable shelter of
the tree. He saw lovers meet in quiet happiness near him in
the moonshine, and carve the initials of their names in the
grayish-green bark on his trunk. Once, but long years had
intervened since then, guitars and Eolian harps had been hung
on his boughs by merry travellers; now they seemed to hang
there again, and he could hear their marvellous tones. The
wood-pigeons cooed as if to explain the feelings of the tree,
and the cuckoo called out to tell him how many summer days he
had yet to live. Then it seemed as if new life was thrilling
through every fibre of root and stem and leaf, rising even to
the highest branches. The tree felt itself stretching and
spreading out, while through the root beneath the earth ran
the warm vigor of life. As he grew higher and still higher,
with increased strength, his topmost boughs became broader and
fuller; and in proportion to his growth, so was his
self-satisfaction increased, and with it arose a joyous
longing to grow higher and higher, to reach even to the warm,
bright sun itself. Already had his topmost branches pierced
the clouds, which floated beneath them like troops of birds of
passage, or large white swans; every leaf seemed gifted with
sight, as if it possessed eyes to see. The stars became
visible in broad daylight, large and sparkling, like clear and
gentle eyes. They recalled to the memory the well-known look
in the eyes of a child, or in the eyes of lovers who had once
met beneath the branches of the old oak. These were wonderful
and happy moments for the old tree, full of peace and joy; and
yet, amidst all this happiness, the tree felt a yearning,
longing desire that all the other trees, bushes, herbs, and
flowers beneath him, might be able also to rise higher, as he
had done, and to see all this splendor, and experience the
same happiness. The grand, majestic oak could not be quite
happy in the midst of his enjoyment, while all the rest, both
great and small, were not with him. And this feeling of
yearning trembled through every branch, through every leaf, as
warmly and fervently as if they had been the fibres of a human
heart. The summit of the tree waved to and fro, and bent
downwards as if in his silent longing he sought for something.
Then there came to him the fragrance of thyme, followed by the
more powerful scent of honeysuckle and violets; and he fancied
he heard the note of the cuckoo. At length his longing was
satisfied. Up through the clouds came the green summits of the
forest trees, and beneath him, the oak saw them rising, and
growing higher and higher. Bush and herb shot upward, and some
even tore themselves up by the roots to rise more quickly. The
birch-tree was the quickest of all. Like a lightning flash the
slender stem shot upwards in a zigzag line, the branches
spreading around it like green gauze and banners. Every native
of the wood, even to the brown and feathery rushes, grew with
the rest, while the birds ascended with the melody of song. On
a blade of grass, that fluttered in the air like a long, green
ribbon, sat a grasshopper, cleaning his wings with his legs.
May beetles hummed, the bees murmured, the birds sang, each in
his own way; the air was filled with the sounds of song and

'But where is the little blue flower that grows by the
water?' asked the oak, 'and the purple bell-flower, and the
daisy?' You see the oak wanted to have them all with him.

'Here we are, we are here,' sounded in voice and song.

'But the beautiful thyme of last summer, where is that?
and the lilies-of-the-valley, which last year covered the
earth with their bloom? and the wild apple-tree with its
lovely blossoms, and all the glory of the wood, which has
flourished year after year? even what may have but now
sprouted forth could be with us here.'

'We are here, we are here,' sounded voices higher in the
air, as if they had flown there beforehand.

'Why this is beautiful, too beautiful to be believed,'
said the oak in a joyful tone. 'I have them all here, both
great and small; not one has been forgotten. Can such
happiness be imagined?' It seemed almost impossible.

'In heaven with the Eternal God, it can be imagined, and
it is possible,' sounded the reply through the air.

And the old tree, as it still grew upwards and onwards,
felt that his roots were loosening themselves from the earth.

'It is right so, it is best,' said the tree, 'no fetters
hold me now. I can fly up to the very highest point in light
and glory. And all I love are with me, both small and great.
All- all are here.'

Such was the dream of the old oak: and while he dreamed, a
mighty storm came rushing over land and sea, at the holy
Christmas time. The sea rolled in great billows towards the
shore. There was a cracking and crushing heard in the tree.
The root was torn from the ground just at the moment when in
his dream he fancied it was being loosened from the earth. He
fell- his three hundred and sixty-five years were passed as
the single day of the Ephemera. On the morning of
Christmas-day, when the sun rose, the storm had ceased. From
all the churches sounded the festive bells, and from every
hearth, even of the smallest hut, rose the smoke into the blue
sky, like the smoke from the festive thank-offerings on the
Druids' altars. The sea gradually became calm, and on board a
great ship that had withstood the tempest during the night,
all the flags were displayed, as a token of joy and festivity.
'The tree is down! The old oak,- our landmark on the coast!'
exclaimed the sailors. 'It must have fallen in the storm of
last night. Who can replace it? Alas! no one.' This was a
funeral oration over the old tree; short, but well-meant.
There it lay stretched on the snow-covered shore, and over it
sounded the notes of a song from the ship- a song of Christmas
joy, and of the redemption of the soul of man, and of eternal
life through Christ's atoning blood.

'Sing aloud on the happy morn,
All is fulfilled, for Christ is born;
With songs of joy let us loudly sing,
'Hallelujahs to Christ our King.''

Thus sounded the old Christmas carol, and every one on board
the ship felt his thoughts elevated, through the song and the
prayer, even as the old tree had felt lifted up in its last,
its beautiful dream on that Christmas morn.

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