THE BOYS WITH THE GOLDEN STARS 303
The poor little babies had found no rest even in their graves. In the place where they had been buried there sprang up two beautiful young aspens, and the stepmother, who hated the sight of the trees, which reminded her of her crime, gave orders that they should be uprooted. But the emperor heard of it, and forbade the trees to be touched, saying, ' Let them alone ; I like to see them there! They are the finest aspens I have ever beheld! '
And the aspens grew as no aspens had ever grown before. In each day they added a year's growth, and each night they added a year's growth, and at dawn, when the stars faded out of the sky, they grew three years' growth in the twinkling of an eye, and their boughs swept across the palace windows. And when the wind moved them softly, the emperor would sit and listen to them all the day long.
The stepmother knew what it all meant, and her mind never ceased from trying to invent some way of destroying the trees. It was not an easy thing, but a woman's will can press milk out of a stone, and her cunning will overcome heroes. What craft will not do soft words may attain, and if these do not succeed there still remains the resource of tears.
One morning the empress sat on the edge of her husband's bed, and began to coax him with all sorts of pretty ways.
It was some time before the bait took, but at length — even emperors are only men!
'Well, well,' he said at last, ' have your way and cut down the trees; but out of one they shall make a bed for me, and out of the other, one for you ! '
And with this the empress was forced to be content. The aspens were cut down next morning, and before night the new bed had been placed in the emperor's room.
Now when the emperor lay down in it he seemed as