THE LAST DREAM OF THE OLD OAK TREE 589
the sea, so that it served as a landmark to the sailors : the Tree had no idea how many eyes were in the habit of seeking it. High up in its green summit the wood-pigeon built her nest, and the cuckoo sat in its boughs and sang his song ; and in autumn, when the leaves looked like thin plates of copper, the birds of passage came and rested there, before they flew away across the sea ; but now it was winter, and the Tree stood there leafless, so that every one could see how gnarled and crooked the branches were that shot forth from its trunk. Crows and rooks came and took their seat by turns in the boughs, and spoke of the hard times which were beginning, and of the difficulty of getting a living in winter.
It was just at the holy Christmas-time, when the Tree dreamed its most glorious dream.
The Tree had a distinct feeling of the festive time, and fancied he heard the bells ringing from the churches all around ; and yet it seemed as if it were a fine summer's day, mild and warm. Fresh and green he spread out his mighty crown ; the sunbeams played among the twigs and the leaves ; the air was full of the fragrance of herbs and blossoms ; gay butterflies chased each other to and fro. The ephemeral insects danced as if all the world were created merely for them to dance and be merry in. All that the Tree had experienced for years and years, and that had happened around him, seemed to pass by him again, as in a festive pageant. He saw the knights of ancient days ride by with their noble dames on gallant steeds, with plumes waving in their bonnets and falcons on their wrists. The hunting horn sounded, and the dogs barked. He saw hostile warriors in coloured jerkins and with shining weapons, with spear and halberd, pitching their tents and striking them again. The watchfires flamed up anew, and men sang and slept under the branches of the Tree. He saw loving couples meeting near his trunk, happily, in the moonshine ; and they cut the initials of their names in the grey-green bark of his stem. Once— but long years had rolled by since then—citherns and iEolian harps had been hung up on his boughs by merry wanderers ; now they hung there again, and once again they sounded in tones of marvellous sweetness. The wood-