The fir tree


Le sapin

Far down in the forest, where the warm sun and the fresh air made a sweet resting-place, grew a pretty little fir-tree; and yet it was not happy, it wished so much to be tall like its companions– the pines and firs which grew around it. The sun shone, and the soft air fluttered its leaves, and the little peasant children passed by, prattling merrily, but the fir-tree heeded them not. Sometimes the children would bring a large basket of raspberries or strawberries, wreathed on a straw, and seat themselves near the fir-tree, and say, "Is it not a pretty little tree?" which made it feel more unhappy than before.

And yet all this while the tree grew a notch or joint taller every year; for by the number of joints in the stem of a fir-tree we can discover its age. Still, as it grew, it complained.

"Oh! how I wish I were as tall as the other trees, then I would spread out my branches on every side, and my top would over-look the wide world. I should have the birds building their nests on my boughs, and when the wind blew, I should bow with stately dignity like my tall companions."

The tree was so discontented, that it took no pleasure in the warm sunshine, the birds, or the rosy clouds that floated over it morning and evening.

Sometimes, in winter, when the snow lay white and glittering on the ground, a hare would come springing along, and jump right over the little tree; and then how mortified it would feel! Two winters passed, and when the third arrived, the tree had grown so tall that the hare was obliged to run round it. Yet it remained unsatisfied, and would exclaim, "Oh, if I could but keep on growing tall and old! There is nothing else worth caring for in the world!"

In the autumn, as usual, the wood-cutters came and cut down several of the tallest trees, and the young fir-tree, which was now grown to its full height, shuddered as the noble trees fell to the earth with a crash. After the branches were lopped off, the trunks looked so slender and bare, that they could scarcely be recognized. Then they were placed upon wagons, and drawn by horses out of the forest.

"Where were they going? What would become of them?"

The young fir-tree wished very much to know; so in the spring, when the swallows and the storks came, it asked, "Do you know where those trees were taken? Did you meet them?"

The swallows knew nothing, but the stork, after a little reflection, nodded his head, and said, "Yes, I think I do. I met several new ships when I flew from Egypt, and they had fine masts that smelt like fir. I think these must have been the trees; I assure you they were stately, very stately."

"Oh, how I wish I were tall enough to 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 stork, flying quickly away.

"Rejoice in thy youth," said the sunbeam; "rejoice in thy fresh growth, and the young life that is in thee."

And the wind kissed the tree, and the dew watered it with tears; but the fir-tree regarded them not.

Christmas-time drew near, and many young trees were cut down, some even smaller and younger than the fir-tree who enjoyed neither rest nor peace with longing to leave its forest home. These young trees, which were chosen for their beauty, kept their branches, and were also laid on wagons and drawn by horses out of the forest.

"Where are they going?" asked the fir-tree. "They are not taller than I am: indeed, one is much less; and why are the branches not cut off? Where are they going?"

"We know, we know," sang the sparrows; "we have looked in at the windows of the houses in the town, and we know what is done with them. They are dressed up in the most splendid manner. We have seen them standing in the middle of a warm room, and adorned with all sorts of beautiful things,– honey cakes, gilded apples, playthings, and many hundreds of wax tapers."

"And then," asked the fir-tree, trembling through all its branches, "and then what happens?"

"We did not see any more," said the sparrows; "but this was enough for us."

"I wonder whether anything so brilliant will ever happen to me," thought the fir-tree. "It would be much better than crossing the sea. I long for it almost with pain. Oh! when will Christmas be here? I am now as tall and well grown as those which were taken away last year. Oh! that I were now laid on the wagon, or standing in the warm room, with all that brightness and splendor around me! Something better and more beautiful is to come after, or the trees would not be so decked out. Yes, what follows will be grander and more splendid. What can it be? I am weary with longing. I scarcely know how I feel."

"Rejoice with us," said the air and the sunlight. "Enjoy thine own bright life in the fresh air."

But the tree would not rejoice, though it grew taller every day; and, winter and summer, its dark-green foliage might be seen in the forest, while passers by would say, "What a beautiful tree!" A short time before Christmas, the discontented fir-tree was the first to fall. As the axe cut through the stem, and divided the pith, the tree fell with a groan to the earth, conscious of pain and faintness, and forgetting all its anticipations of happiness, in sorrow at leaving its home in the forest. It knew that it should never again see its dear old companions, the trees, nor the little bushes and many-colored flowers that had grown by its side; perhaps not even the birds. Neither was the journey at all pleasant.

The tree first recovered itself while being unpacked in the courtyard of a house, with several other trees; and it heard a man say, "We only want one, and this is the prettiest."

Then came two servants in grand livery, and carried the fir-tree into a large and beautiful apartment. On the walls hung pictures, and near the great stove stood great china vases, with lions on the lids. There were rocking chairs, silken sofas, large tables, covered with pictures, books, and playthings, worth a great deal of money,– at least, the children said so. Then the fir-tree was placed in a large tub, full of sand; but green baize hung all around it, so that no one could see it was a tub, and it stood on a very handsome carpet. How the fir-tree trembled! "What was going to happen to him now?" Some young ladies came, and the servants helped them to adorn the tree. On one branch they hung little bags cut out of colored paper, and each bag was filled with sweetmeats; from other branches hung gilded apples and walnuts, as if they had grown there; and above, and all round, were hundreds of red, blue, and white tapers, which were fastened on the branches. Dolls, exactly like real babies, were placed under the green leaves,– the tree had never seen such things before,– and at the very top was fastened a glittering star, made of tinsel. Oh, it was very beautiful!

"This evening," they all exclaimed, "how bright it will be!"

"Oh, that the evening were come," thought the tree, "and the tapers lighted! then I shall know what else is going to happen. Will the trees of the forest come to see me? I wonder if the sparrows will peep in at the windows as they fly? shall I grow faster here, and keep on all these ornaments summer and winter?"

But guessing was of very little use; it made his bark ache, and this pain is as bad for a slender fir-tree, as headache is for us.

At last the tapers were lighted, and then what a glistening blaze of light the tree presented! It trembled so with joy in all its branches, that one of the candles fell among the green leaves and burnt some of them.

"Help! help!" exclaimed the young ladies, but there was no danger, for they quickly extinguished the fire.

After this, the tree tried not to tremble at all, though the fire frightened him; he was so anxious not to hurt any of the beautiful ornaments, even while their brilliancy dazzled him. 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 silently by their elders. For a moment the little ones stood silent with astonishment, and then they shouted for joy, till the room rang, and they danced merrily round the tree, while one present after another was taken from it.

"What are they doing? What will happen next?" thought the fir. At last the candles burnt down to the branches and were put out. Then the children received permission to plunder the tree. Oh, how they rushed upon it, till the branches cracked, and had it not been fastened with the glistening star to the ceiling, it must have been thrown down.

The children then danced about with their pretty toys, and no one noticed the tree, except the children's maid who came and peeped among the branches to see if an apple or a fig had been forgotten.

"A story, a story," cried the children, pulling a little fat man towards the tree. "Now we shall be in the green shade," said the man, as he seated himself under it, "and the tree will have the pleasure of hearing also, but I shall only relate 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 crying out. But the fir-tree remained quite still, and thought to himself, "Shall I have anything to do with all this?" but he had already amused them as much as they wished.

Then the old man told them the story of Humpty Dumpty, how he fell down stairs, and was raised up again, and married a princess. And the children clapped their hands and cried, "Tell another, tell another," for they wanted to hear the story of "Ivede-Avede;" but they only had "Humpty Dumpty." After this the fir-tree became quite silent and thoughtful; never had the birds in the forest told such tales as "Humpty Dumpty," who fell down stairs, and yet married a princess. "Ah! yes, so it happens in the world," thought the fir-tree; he believed it all, because it was related by such a nice man. "Ah! well," he thought, "who knows? perhaps I may fall down too, and marry a princess;" and he looked forward joyfully to the next evening, expecting to be again decked out with lights and playthings, gold and fruit.

"To-morrow I will not tremble," thought he; "I will enjoy all my splendor, and I shall hear the story of Humpty Dumpty again, and perhaps Ivede-Avede." And the tree remained quiet and thoughtful all night.

In the morning the servants and the housemaid came in.

"Now," thought the fir, "all my splendor is going to begin again." But they dragged him out of the room and up stairs to the garret, and threw him on the floor, in a dark corner, where no daylight shone, and there they left him. "What does this mean?" thought the tree, "what am I to do here? I can hear nothing in a place like this," and he had time enough to think, for days and nights passed and no one came near him, and when at last somebody did come, it was only to put away large boxes in a corner. So the tree was completely hidden from sight as if it had never existed.

"It is winter now," thought the tree, "the ground is hard and covered with snow, so that people cannot plant me. I shall be sheltered here, I dare say, 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 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, although I did not like it then. Oh! it is terrible lonely here."

"Squeak, squeak," said a little mouse, creeping cautiously towards the tree; then came another; and they both sniffed at the fir-tree and crept between the branches.

"Oh, it is very cold," said the little mouse, "or else we should be so comfortable here, shouldn't we, you old fir-tree?"

"I am not old," said the fir-tree, "there are many who are older than I am."

"Where do you come from? and what do you know?" asked the mice, who were full of curiosity. "Have you seen the most beautiful places in the world, and can you tell us all about them? and have you been in the storeroom, where cheeses lie on the shelf, and hams hang from the ceiling? One can run about on tallow candles there, and go in thin and come out fat."

"I know nothing of that place," said the fir-tree, "but I know the wood where the sun shines and the birds sing." And then the tree told the little mice all about its youth. They had never heard such an account in their lives; and after they had listened to it attentively, they said, "What a number of things you have seen? you must have been very happy."

"Happy!" exclaimed the fir-tree, and then as he reflected upon what he had been telling them, he said, "Ah, yes! after all those were happy days." But when he went on and related all about Christmas-eve, and how he had been dressed up with cakes and lights, the mice said,

"How happy you must 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 growth."

"What splendid stories you can relate," 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, and then he thought to himself, "Those were happy days, 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 the pretty little birch-tree that grew in the forest, which was to him a real beautiful princess.

"Who is Humpty Dumpty?" asked the little mice. And then the tree related the whole story; he could remember every single word, and the little mice was so delighted with it, that they were ready to jump to the top of the tree. The next night a great many more mice made their appearance, and on Sunday two rats came with them; but they said, it was not a pretty story at all, and the little mice were very sorry, for it made them also think less of it.

"Do you know only one story?" asked the rats.

"Only one," replied 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 very miserable story," said the rats. "Don't you know any story about bacon, or tallow in the storeroom."

"No," replied the tree.

"Many thanks to you then," replied the rats, and they marched off.

The little mice also kept away after this, and the tree sighed, and said, "It was very pleasant when the merry little mice sat round me and listened while I talked. Now that is all passed 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 out the garret, the boxes were packed away, and the tree was pulled out of the corner, and thrown roughly on the garret floor; then the servant dragged it out upon the staircase where the daylight shone.

"Now life is beginning again," said the tree, rejoicing in the sunshine and fresh air. Then it was carried down stairs and taken into the courtyard so quickly, that it forgot to think of itself, and could only look about, there was so much to be seen. The court was close to a garden, where everything looked blooming. Fresh and fragrant roses hung over the little palings. The linden-trees were in blossom; while the swallows flew here and there, crying, "Twit, twit, twit, my mate is coming,"– but it was not the fir-tree they meant.

"Now I shall live," cried the tree, joyfully spreading out its branches; but alas! they were all withered and yellow, and it lay in a corner amongst weeds and nettles. The star of gold paper still stuck in the top of the tree and glittered in the sunshine.

In the same courtyard two of the merry children were playing who had danced round the tree at Christmas, and had been so happy. The youngest saw the gilded star, and ran and pulled it off the tree.

"Look what is sticking to the ugly old fir-tree," said the child, treading on the branches till they crackled under his boots.

And the tree saw all the fresh bright flowers in the garden, and then looked at itself, and wished it had remained in the dark corner of the garret. It thought of its fresh youth in the forest, of the merry Christmas evening, and of the little mice who had listened to the story of "Humpty Dumpty."

"Past! past!" said the old tree; "Oh, had I but enjoyed myself while I could have done so! but now it is too late."

Then a lad came and chopped the tree into small pieces, till a large bundle lay in a heap on the ground. The pieces were placed in a fire under the copper, and they quickly blazed up brightly, while the tree sighed so deeply that each sigh was like a pistol-shot. Then the children, who were at play, came and seated themselves in front of the fire, and looked at it and cried, "Pop, pop." But at each "pop," which was a deep sigh, the tree was thinking of a summer day in the forest; and of Christmas evening, and of "Humpty Dumpty," the only story it had ever heard or knew how to relate, till at last it was consumed.

The boys still played in the garden, and the youngest wore the golden star on his breast, with which the tree had been adorned during the happiest evening of its existence. Now all was past; the tree's life was past, and the story also,– for all stories must come to an end at last.
Là-bas, dans la forêt, il y avait un joli sapin. Il était bien placé, il avait du soleil et de l'air; autour de lui poussaient de plus grands camarades, pins et sapins. Mais lui était si impatient de grandir qu'il ne remarquait ni le soleil ni l'air pur, pas même les enfants de paysans qui passaient en bavardant lorsqu'ils allaient cueillir des fraises ou des framboises.

« Oh! si j'étais grand comme les autres, soupirait le petit sapin, je pourrais étendre largement ma verdure et, de mon sommet, contempler le vaste monde. Les oiseaux bâtiraient leur nid dans mes branches et, lorsqu'il y aurait du vent, je pourrais me balancer avec grâce comme font ceux qui m'entourent. »

Le soleil ne lui causait aucun plaisir, ni les oiseaux, ni les nuages roses qui, matin et soir, naviguaient dans le ciel au-dessus de sa tête.

L'hiver, lorsque la neige étincelante entourait son pied de sa blancheur, il arrivait souvent qu'un lièvre bondissait, sautait par-dessus le petit arbre - oh! que c'était agaçant! Mais, deux hivers ayant passé, quand vint le troisième, le petit arbre était assez grand pour que le lièvre fût obligé de le contourner. Oh! pousser, pousser, devenir grand et vieux, c'était là, pensait-il, la seule joie au monde.

En automne, les bûcherons venaient et abattaient quelques-uns des plus grands arbres. Cela arrivait chaque année et le jeune sapin, qui avait atteint une bonne taille, tremblait de crainte, car ces arbres magnifiques tombaient à terre dans un fracas de craquements.

Où allaient-ils? Quel devait être leur sort?

Au printemps, lorsque arrivèrent l'hirondelle et la cigogne, le sapin leur demanda:

- Savez-vous où on les a conduits? Les avez-vous rencontrés?

Les hirondelles n'en savaient rien, mais la cigogne eut l'air de réfléchir, hocha la tête et dit:

- Oui, je crois le savoir, j'ai rencontré beaucoup de navires tout neufs en m'envolant vers l'Egypte, sur ces navires il y avait des maîtres-mâts superbes, j'ose dire que c'étaient eux, ils sentaient le sapin.

- Oh! si j'étais assez grand pour voler au-dessus de la mer! Comment est-ce au juste la mer? A quoi cela ressemble-t-il?

- Euh! c'est difficile à expliquer, répondit la cigogne.

Et elle partit.

- Réjouis-toi de ta jeunesse, dirent les rayons du soleil, réjouis-toi de ta fraîcheur, de la jeune vie qui est en toi.

Le vent baisa le jeune arbre, la rosée versa sur lui des larmes, mais il ne les comprit pas.

Quand vint l'époque de Noël, de tout jeunes arbres furent abattus, n'ayant souvent même pas la taille, ni l'âge de notre sapin, lequel, sans trêve ni repos, désirait toujours partir. Ces jeunes arbres étaient toujours les plus beaux, ils conservaient leurs branches, ceux-là, et on les couchait sur les charrettes que les chevaux tiraient hors de la forêt.

- Où vont-ils? demanda le sapin, ils ne sont pas plus grands que moi, il y en avait même un beaucoup plus petit. Pourquoi leur a-t-on laissé leur verdure?

- Nous le savons, nous le savons, gazouillèrent les moineaux. En bas, dans la ville, nous avons regardé à travers les vitres, nous savons où la voiture les conduit. Oh! ils arrivent au plus grand scintillement, au plus grand honneur que l'on puisse imaginer. A travers les vitres, nous les avons vus, plantés au milieu du salon chauffé et garnis de ravissants objets, pommes dorées, gâteaux de miel, jouets et des centaines de lumières.

- Suis-je destiné à atteindre aussi cette fonction? dit le sapin tout enthousiasmé. C'est encore bien mieux que de voler au-dessus de la mer. Je me languis ici, que n'est-ce déjà Noël! Je suis aussi grand et développé que ceux qui ont été emmenés l'année dernière. Je voudrais être déjà sur la charrette et puis dans le salon chauffé, au milieu de ce faste. Et, ensuite ... il arrive sûrement quelque chose d'encore mieux, de plus beau, sinon pourquoi nous décorer ainsi. Cela doit être quelque chose de grandiose et de merveilleux! Mais quoi?... Oh! je m'ennuie ... je languis ...

- Sois heureux d'être avec nous, dirent l'air et la lumière du soleil. Réjouis-toi de ta fraîche et libre jeunesse.

Mais le sapin n'arrivait pas à se réjouir. Il grandissait et grandissait. Hiver comme été, il était vert, d'un beau vert foncé et les gens qui le voyaient s'écriaient: Quel bel arbre!

Avant Noël il fut abattu, le tout premier. La hache trancha d'un coup, dans sa moelle; il tomba, poussant un grand soupir, il sentit une douleur profonde. Il défaillait et souffrait.

L'arbre ne revint à lui qu'au moment d'être déposé dans la cour avec les autres. Il entendit alors un homme dire:

- Celui-ci est superbe, nous le choisissons.

Alors vinrent deux domestiques en grande tenue qui apportèrent le sapin dans un beau salon. Des portraits ornaient les murs et près du grand poêle de céramique vernie il y avait des vases chinois avec des lions sur leurs couvercles. Plus loin étaient placés des fauteuils à bascule, des canapés de soie, de grandes tables couvertes de livres d'images et de jouets! pour un argent fou - du moins à ce que disaient les enfants.

Le sapin fut dressé dans un petit tonneau rempli de sable, mais on ne pouvait pas voir que c'était un tonneau parce qu'il était enveloppé d'une étoffe verte et posé sur un grand tapis à fleurs! Oh! notre arbre était bien ému! Qu'allait-il se passer?

Les domestiques et des jeunes filles commencèrent à le garnir. Ils suspendaient aux branches de petits filets découpés dans des papiers glacés de couleur, dans chaque filet on mettait quelques fondants, des pommes et des noix dorées pendaient aux branches comme si elles y avaient poussé, et plus de cent petites bougies rouges, bleues et blanches étaient fixées sur les branches. Des poupées qui semblaient vivantes - l'arbre n'en avait jamais vu - planaient dans la verdure et tout en haut, au sommet, on mit une étoile clinquante de dorure.

C'était splendide, incomparablement magnifique.

- Ce soir, disaient-ils tous, ce soir ce sera beau.

« Oh! pensa le sapin, que je voudrais être ici ce soir quand les bougies seront allumées! Que se passera-t-il alors? Les arbres de la forêt viendront-ils m'admirer? Les moineaux me regarderont-ils à travers les vitres? Vais-je e rester ici, ainsi décoré, l'hiver et l'été? »

On alluma les lumières. Quel éclat! Quelle beauté! Un frémissement parcourut ses branches de sorte qu'une des bougies y mit le feu: une sérieuse flambée.

- Mon Dieu! crièrent les demoiselles en se dépêchant d'éteindre.

Le pauvre arbre n'osait même plus trembler. Quelle torture! Il avait si peur de perdre quelqu'une de ses belles parures, il était complètement étourdi dans toute sa gloire ... Alors, la porte s'ouvrit à deux battants, des enfants en foule se précipitèrent comme s'ils allaient renverser le sapin, les grandes personnes les suivaient posément. Les enfants s'arrêtaient - un instant seulement -, puis ils se mettaient à pousser des cris de joie - quel tapage! - et à danser autour de l'arbre. Ensuite, on commença à cueillir les cadeaux l'un après l'autre.

« Qu'est-ce qu'ils font? se demandait le sapin. Qu'est-ce qui va se passer? »

Les bougies brûlèrent jusqu'aux branches, on les éteignait à mesure, puis les enfants eurent la permission de dépouiller l'arbre complètement. Ils se jetèrent sur lui, si fort, que tous les rameaux en craquaient, s'il n'avait été bien attaché au plafond par le ruban qui fixait aussi l'étoile, il aurait été renversé.

Les petits tournoyaient dans le salon avec leurs jouets dans les bras, personne ne faisait plus attention à notre sapin, si ce n'est la vieille bonne d'enfants qui jetait de-ci de-là un coup d'œil entre les branches pour voir si on n'avait pas oublié une figue ou une pomme.

- Une histoire! une histoire! criaient les enfants en entraînant vers l'arbre un gros petit homme ventru.

Il s'assit juste sous l'arbre.

- Comme ça, nous sommes dans la verdure et le sapin aura aussi intérêt à nous écouter, mais je ne raconterai qu'une histoire. Voulez-vous celle d'Ivède-Avède ou celle de Dumpe-le-Ballot qui roula en bas des escaliers, mais arriva tout de même à s'asseoir sur un trône et à épouser la princesse?

L'homme racontait l'histoire de Dumpe-le-Ballot qui tomba du haut des escaliers, gagna tout de même le trône et épousa la princesse. Les enfants battaient des mains. Ils voulaient aussi entendre l'histoire d'Ivède-Avède, mais ils n'en eurent qu'une. Le sapin se tenait coi et écoutait.

« Oui, oui, voilà comment vont les choses dans le monde », pensait-il. Il croyait que l'histoire était vraie, parce que l'homme qui la racontait était élégant.

- Oui, oui, sait-on jamais! Peut-être tomberai-je aussi du haut des escaliers et épouserai-je une princesse!

Il se réjouissait en songeant que le lendemain il serait de nouveau orné de lumières et de jouets, d'or et de fruits.

Il resta immobile et songeur toute la nuit.

Au matin, un valet et une femme de chambre entrèrent.

- Voilà la fête qui recommence! pensa l'arbre. Mais ils le traînèrent hors de la pièce, en haut des escaliers, au grenier... et là, dans un coin sombre, où le jour ne parvenait pas, ils l'abandonnèrent.

- Qu'est-ce que cela veut dire? Que vais-je faire ici?

Il s'appuya contre le mur, réfléchissant. Et il eut le temps de beaucoup réfléchir, car les jours et les nuits passaient sans qu'il ne vînt personne là-haut et quand, enfin, il vint quelqu'un, ce n'était que pour déposer quelques grandes caisses dans le coin. Elles cachaient l'arbre complètement. L'avait-on donc tout à fait oublié?

«C'est l'hiver dehors, maintenant, pensait-il. La terre est dure et couverte de neige. On ne pourrait même pas me planter; c'est sans doute pour cela que je dois rester à l'abri jusqu'au printemps. Comme c'est raisonnable, les hommes sont bons! Si seulement il ne faisait pas si sombre et si ce n'était si solitaire! Pas le moindre petit lièvre. C'était gai, là-bas, dans la forêt, quand sur le tapis de neige le lièvre passait en bondissant, oui, même quand il sautait par-dessus moi; mais, dans ce temps-là, je n'aimais pas ça. Quelle affreuse solitude, ici! »

« Pip! pip! » fit une petite souris en apparaissant au même instant, et une autre la suivait. Elles flairèrent le sapin et furetèrent dans ses branches.

- Il fait terriblement froid , dit la petite souris. Sans quoi on serait bien ici, n'est-ce pas, vieux sapin?

- Je ne suis pas vieux du tout, répondit le sapin. Il en y a beaucoup de bien plus vieux que moi.

- D'où viens-tu donc? demanda la souris, et qu'est-ce que tu as à raconter?

Elles étaient horriblement curieuses.

- Parle-nous de l'endroit le plus exquis de la terre. Y as-tu été? As-tu été dans le garde-manger?

- Je ne connais pas ça, dit l'arbre, mais je connais la forêt où brille le soleil, où l'oiseau chante.

Et il parla de son enfance. Les petites souris n'avaient jamais rien entendu de semblable. Elles écoutaient de toutes leurs oreilles.

- Tu en as vu des choses! Comme tu as été heureux!

- Moi! dit le sapin en songeant à ce que lui-même racontait. Oui, au fond, c'était bien agréable.

Mais, ensuite, il parla du soir de Noël où il avait été garni de gâteaux et de lumières.

- Oh! dirent encore les petites souris, comme tu as été heureux, vieux sapin.

- Mais je ne suis pas vieux du tout, ce n'est que cet hiver que j'ai quitté ma forêt; je suis dans mon plus bel âge, on m'a seulement replanté dans un tonneau.

- Comme tu racontes bien, dirent les petites souris.

La nuit suivante, elles amenèrent quatre autres souris pour entendre ce que l'arbre racontait et, à mesure que celui-ci parlait, tout lui revenait plus exactement.

« C'était vraiment de bons moments, pensait-il. Mais ils peuvent revenir, ils peuvent revenir! Dumpe-le-Ballot est tombé du haut des escaliers, mais il a tout de même eu la princesse; peut-être en aurai-je une aussi. »

Il se souvenait d'un petit bouleau qui poussait là-bas, dans la forêt, et qui avait été pour lui une véritable petite princesse.

- Qui est Dumpe-le-Ballot? demandèrent les petites souris.

Alors le sapin raconta toute l'histoire, il se souvenait de chaque mot; un peu plus, les petites souris grimpaient jusqu'en haut de l'arbre, de plaisir.

La nuit suivante, les souris étaient plus nombreuses encore, et le dimanche il vint même deux rats, mais ils déclarèrent que le conte n'était pas amusant du tout, ce qui fit de la peine aux petites souris; de ce fait, elles-mêmes l'apprécièrent moins.

- Eh bien , merci, dirent les rats en rentrant chez eux. Les souris finirent par s'en aller aussi, et le sapin soupirait.

- C'était un vrai plaisir d'avoir autour de moi ces petites souris agiles, à écouter ce que je racontais. C'est fini, ça aussi, mais maintenant, je saurai goûter les plaisirs quand on me ressortira. Mais quand?

Ce fut un matin, des gens arrivèrent et remuèrent tout dans le grenier. Ils déplacèrent les caisses, tirèrent l'arbre en avant. Bien sûr, ils le jetèrent un peu durement à terre, mais un valet le traîna vers l'escalier où le jour éclairait.

«Voilà la vie qui recommence », pensait l'arbre, lorsqu'il sentit l'air frais, le premier rayon de soleil ... et le voilà dans la cour.

Tout se passa si vite! La cour se prolongeait par un jardin en fleurs. Les roses pendaient fraîches et odorantes par-dessus la petite barrière, les tilleuls étaient fleuris et les hirondelles voletaient en chantant: « Quivit, quivit, mon homme est arrivé! » Mais ce n'était pas du sapin qu'elles voulaient parler.

- Je vais revivre, se disait-il, enchanté, étendant largement ses branches. Hélas! elles étaient toutes fanées et jaunies. L'étoile de papier doré était restée fixée à son sommet et brillait au soleil... Dans la cour jouaient quelques enfants joyeux qui, à Noël, avaient dansé autour de l'arbre et s'en étaient réjouis. L'un des plus petits s'élança et arracha l'étoile d'or.

- Regarde ce qui était resté sur cet affreux arbre de Noël, s'écria-t-il en piétinant les branches qui craquaient sous ses souliers.

L'arbre regardait la splendeur des fleurs et la fraîche verdure du jardin puis, enfin, se regarda lui-même. Comme il eût préféré être resté dans son coin sombre au grenier! Il pensa à sa jeunesse dans la forêt, à la joyeuse fête de Noël, aux petites souris, si heureuses d'entendre l'histoire de Dumpe-le- Ballot.

« Fini! fini! Si seulement j'avais su être heureux quand je le pouvais. »

Le valet débita l'arbre en petits morceaux, il en fit tout un grand tas qui flamba joyeusement sous la chaudière. De profonds soupirs s'en échappaient, chaque soupir éclatait. Les enfants qui jouaient au-dehors entrèrent s'asseoir devant le feu et ils criaient: Pif! Paf! à chaque craquement, le sapin, lui, songeait à un jour d'été dans la forêt ou à une nuit d'hiver quand les étoiles étincellent. Il pensait au soir de Noël, à Dumpe-le-Ballot, le seul conte qu'il eût jamais entendu et qu'il avait su répéter... et voilà qu'il était consumé ...

Les garçons jouaient dans la cour, le plus jeune portait sur la poitrine l'étoile d'or qui avait orné l'arbre au soir le plus heureux de sa vie. Ce soir était fini, l'arbre était fini, et l'histoire, aussi, finie, finie comme toutes les histoires.

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