"The Magic Tree"
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Author of The Lost King of Oz, "The Wizard of Pumperdink", "King, King! Double King!", etc.
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, April 29, 1917.
"Hist! Easy now. Set 'er down!"
"Aye, set 'er down!"
"By the jug, 'tis time we found a bit of earth. These blighted rocks! Give a hand here, will ye!"
"NOW for the spades! Ugh! That's deep enough. Shove 'er in - THERE!"
"By the powers!"
With exclamations more rough and menacing the other of the five men whirled about. Toward them stepped a small figure in white. They shrank back, the tallest crossing himself hastily as if he had seen a ghost.
"What's it sayin'?" shrilled another. "You Sven, what's it sayin'?"
The gaunt Norwegian approached the lad. "Wants to know why ye be diggin' in his sire's garden!" he jerked over his shoulder.
The men pulled themselves together and held a whispered conference.
"Kill 'im," hissed one.
"That's like you, Andy, ye bungler, let me handle 'im!" A thick-set Irishman separated himself from the rest - "Tell 'im we're plantin' a tree for 'im!" he jeered.
The Norwegian translated the statement with many flourishes and the anxious expression on the child's face changed to one of interest and pleasure.
"He says he thanks you kindly, and may he stay and watch?"
"Faith, 'tis no bad plan," counseled the Irishman; " 'twill keep the lad's mouth shut."
"Tell 'im no one must know but 'is son and 'is son's son - 'tis a magic, ye understand! Tell 'im THAT, ye long-legged liar!"
With many ceremonious gestures Sven explained to the little Norwegian. Though but a lad of five, Eric, only son of Bjornsen of Trondjheim, had all the Norwegian's love of mystery. He was deeply impressed. Solemnly his word was given, the men awkwardly touching their caps.
In wide-eyed wonder he watched the planting of a stripling oak, which Sven produced with remarkable speed, seeing that he had first to dig it up.
" 'Twill serve well as a marker!" grunted the Irishman, patting down the last shovelful of soil.
With a feeling of strange importance Eric waved good-by as the five figures stole out of the garden and down over the rocks that stretched to Trondjheim Fiord.
"Curse the little herring!" muttered one of the apparent fishermen stepping into the boat.
"We'll fetch it away tomorrow night - the lad's tongue will hold till then!" reassured another.
From his window Eric watched the boat until it disappeared into the mist. "MY tree!" exulted the boy leaning far over the ledge, "My magic tree!"
Next day Eric had much time to think of the mysterious happening of the night, for without raged a storm that kept the bravest indoors. The little ships hugged the shore and the gulls screamed hoarsely over the tossing waves, and when at sunset the fury of the wind subsided a ship lay broken on the rocks of Smollen - a pirate ship with the skull and crossbones still fluttering from the mast. But pirate ships were not uncommon in those far-off days, and beyond a shake of the head and a muttered curse upon such men small attention was paid to the affair.
One day followed another, but never one slipped by without Eric visiting the tree at the foot of his father's garden. True to his promise he never breathed a word of the strange happenings of that strange night. The tree was wonderful to him. Sitting beside it he thought great thoughts and dreamed great dreams.
Years went by and the tree grew tall and straight as Eric grew tall and straight. He became a man, and his ships plied to and fro with spices and silks, for he was merchant sailor as all the Bjornsens had been before him. Eric married, and a new little boy played in the garden, a fair-haired little fellow, who, like his father, never failed to visit the magic tree, nor was he ever weary of hearing the story of the five fishermen from England. Now the first Eric lies in the Trondjheim kirk, the second Eric is an old man much dependent on his handsome son. The third Eric, a serious blue-eyed young man, has much to occupy him these days - the perilous days of war. One after another the ships of Bjornsen & Bjornsen have been sunk by German submarines. Food is scarce and wages high and it seems as if the old firm that had flourished from generation to generation must go down before so many disasters.
Often Eric would take his worries to the garden, and standing under the magic tree, ponder on the strange way it had come there. It seemed like an old friend somehow; and dreaming on the quaint tale handed down by his grandfather his anxieties were many times forgotten. "We should be thankful not to be in this world war, lad!" sighed the elder Bjornsen. "Though it's hard for Bjornsen & Bjornsen to have but ONE ship out of harbor!"
"And that likely to find a port at the bottom of the ocean!" exclaimed Eric bitterly.
"Don't be down-hearted, boy; the Helsingborg'll get by, and with THAT load of dyes, why boy, we'll mend our fortunes yet!" He emphasized this remark by a thump upon the table, but Eric sighed and drew the window curtains apart. A summer storm was raging outside; rain beat on the panes; the thunder rumbled ominously, while the wind played havoc with the trees.
"Bjornsen? Sign here!" The telegraph boy thrust the paper into the maid's hands, buttoned his coat and was off. Eric hurried into the hallway, returning with a crumpled telegram. Without a word he handed it to his father. "Helsingborg sunk in the North Sea. All lost!"
The old man groaned and covered his face. For a minute there was not a sound, then CRASH! A noise like a thousand bombs exploding shook the house, a blinding flash, then quiet. The two men rushed to the window.
"The TREE! The TREE," wailed Eric. "It is down, EVERYTHING IS LOST!"
Bareheaded and heedless of the downpour he ran into the garden. The next flash proved him right. The great oak had fallen, fairly torn up by the roots. But what's that? Gripped in those roots, tenaciously as in the arms of the octopus, was an iron box - a chest of gold and precious stones! - the treasure buried by the pirates in the time of the first Eric and guarded by the magic tree until it was needed.
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 10, 1918.
Some Riddles Blown in by the March Winds
The answers to last week's riddles were catboat, fly, companion and Texas. If a fence made jokes I should call it raillery. The Forgetful Poet says today that the answers to his verses are insectivorous; in other words, to be filled in by insects. Here they are:
"You're lively as a ------?"
Quoth the knight when he e------,
And smoothing out his ------ling brows,
He sat right down beside her.
The little countess heard with scorn,
And when he did app------
She quickly rose, with tilted nose,
And jumped into her coach.
Until her coach was out of sight
On it his gaze he focused,
And then the knight went sadly back
And sat down 'neath a -------?
[Answers next time.]
Copyright © 2006 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.
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