106 THE FIR-TREE
singed it. ' Take care !' cried the young ladies, and they extinguished it.
Now the tree did not even dare to quiver. It was really terrible! It was so afraid of losing any of its ornaments, and it was quite bewildered by all the radiance.
And then the folding doors were opened, and a crowd of children rushed in, as though they wanted to knock down the whole tree, whilst the older people followed soberly. The children stood quite silent, but only for a moment, and then they shouted again, and danced round the tree, and snatched off one present after another.
'What are they doing?' thought the tree. ' What is going to happen ?' And the tapers burnt low on the branches, and were put out one by one, and then the children were given permission to plunder the tree. They rushed at it so that all its boughs creaked; if it had not been fastened by the gold star at the top to the ceiling, it would have been overthrown.
The children danced about with their splendid toys, and no one looked at the tree, except the old nurse, who came and peeped amongst the boughs, just to see if a fig or an apple had been forgotten.
' A story ! a story ! ' cried the children, and dragged a little stout man to the tree ; he sat dow7n beneath it, saying, ' Here we are in the greenwood, and the tree will be delighted to listen! But I am only going to tell one story. Shall it be Henny Penny or Humpty Dumpty who fell downstairs, and yet gained great honour and married a princess ?'
' Henny Penny !' cried some : ' Humpty Dumpty !' cried others; there was a perfect babel of voices! Only the fir-tree kept silent, and thought, ' Am I not to be in it? Am I to have nothing to do with it?'
But it had already been in it, and played out its part. And the man told them about Humpty Dumpty who fell downstairs and married a princess. The children clapped their hands and cried, ' Another! another!' They wanted