THE FIR TREE 257
you been there ? Have you been in the store-room, where cheeses lie on the shelves, and hams hang from the ceiling, where one dances on tallow candles, and goes in thin and comes out fat ? '
' I don't know that!' replied the Tree ; ' but I know the wood, where the sun shines, and where the birds sing.'
And then it told all about its youth.
And the little Mice had never heard anything of the kind ; and they listened and said,
' What a number of things you have seen ! How happy you must have been ! '
' I ? ' said the Fir Tree ; and it thought about what it had told. ' Yes, those were really quite happy times.' But then it told of the Christmas-eve, when it had been hung with sweetmeats and candles.
1 Oh ! ' said the little Mice, ' how happy you have been, you old Fir Tree ! '
' I'm not old at all,' said the Tree. ' I only came out of the wood this winter. I'm in my very best years.'
' What splendid stories you can tell!' said the little Mice.
And next night they came with four other little Mice, to hear what the Tree had to relate ; and the more it said, the more clearly did it remember everything, and thought, 1 Those were quite merry days ! But they may come again. Humpty-Dumpty fell downstairs, and yet he married the Princess. Perhaps I may marry a Princess too ! ' And then the Fir Tree thought of a pretty little birch tree that grew out in the forest : for the Fir Tree, that birch was a real Princess.
' Who 's Humpty-Dumpty ? ' asked the little Mice.
And then the Fir Tree told the whole story. It could remember every single word ; and the little Mice were ready to leap to the very top of the tree with pleasure. Next night a great many more Mice came, and on Sunday two Rats even appeared ; but these thought the story was not pretty, and the little Mice were sorry for that, for now they also did not like it so much as before.
' Do you only know one story ? ' asked the Rats.
1 Only that one,' replied the Tree. ' I heard that on the happiest evening of my life ; I did not think then how happy I wras.'