The Beech and the Oak
by Carl Ewald
It was in the old days.
There were no towns with houses and streets and towering
church-steeples. There were no schools. For there were not many boys;
and those there were learnt from their fathers to shoot with a bow and
arrow, to hunt the deer in his hiding-place, to kill the bear in order
to make clothes of his skin and to get fire by rubbing two pieces of
wood together. When they knew all this thoroughly, their education was
Nor were there any railways, or tilled fields, or ships on the sea, or
books, for there was nobody who could read them.
There was hardly anything but trees.
But then of trees there were plenty. They stood everywhere from coast to
coast, mirrored themselves in every river and lake and stretched their
mighty branches up into the sky. They stooped over the sea-shore, dipped
their branches in the black water of the marshes and looked haughtily
over the land from the tall hills.
They all knew one another, for they belonged to one big family and they
were proud of it:
"We are all oak-trees," they said and drew themselves up. "We own the
land and we govern it."
And they were quite right, for there were only very few people at that
time. Otherwise there was nothing but wild animals. The bear, the wolf
and the fox went hunting, while the deer grazed by the edge of the
The wood-mouse sat outside her hole and ate acorns and the beaver built
his ingenious house on the river-bank.
Then, one day, the bear came trudging along and lay down at full length
under a great oak-tree.
"Are you there again, you robber?" said the oak and shook a heap of
withered leaves over him.
'YOU REALLY OUGHT NOT TO BE SO WASTEFUL WITH YOUR LEAVES,
OLD FRIEND,' SAID THE BEAR, LICKING HIS PAWS.
"You really ought not to be so wasteful with your leaves, old friend,"
said the bear, licking his paws. "They are the only thing you have to
keep off the sun with."
"If you don't like me, you can go," replied the oak, proudly. "I am lord
of the land and, look where you may, you will find none but my
"True enough," growled the bear. "That's just the tiresome part of it.
I've been for a little trip abroad, you see, and have been a bit spoilt.
That was in a country down south. I took a nap under the beech-trees
there. They are tall, slender trees, not crooked old fellows like you.
And their tops are so dense that the sunbeams can't pierce through them
at all. It was a real delight to sleep there of an afternoon, believe
"Beech-trees?" asked the oak, curiously. "What are they?"
"You might wish that you were half so handsome as a beech-tree," said
the bear. "But I'm not going to gossip with you any more just now. I've
had to trot over a mile in front of a confounded hunter, who caught me
on one of my hind-legs with an arrow. Now I want to sleep; and perhaps
you will be so kind as to provide me with rest, since you can't provide
me with shade."
The bear lay down and closed his eyes, but there was no sleep for him
this time. For the other trees had heard what he said and there came
such a chattering and a jabbering and a rustling of leaves as had never
been known in the forest:
"Heaven knows what sort of trees those are!" said one.
"Of course, it's a story which the bear wants us to swallow," said
"What can trees be like whose leaves are so close together that the
sunbeams can't pierce them through?" asked a little oak who had been
listening to what the big ones were saying.
But next to him stood an old, gnarled tree, who slapped the little oak
on the head with one of his lower branches:
"Hold your tongue," he said, "and don't talk till you have something to
say. And you others need not believe a word of the bear's nonsense. I am
much taller than you and I can see a long way over the forest. But as
far away as I can see there is nothing but oak-trees."
The little oak remained shamefaced and silent and the other big trees
whispered softly to one another, for they had a great respect for the
But the bear got up and rubbed his eyes:
"Now you have disturbed my afternoon nap," he growled, angrily, "and I
shall have my revenge on you, never fear. When I come back, I shall
bring some beech-seed with me and I'll answer for it that you will all
turn yellow with envy when you see how handsome the new trees are."
Then he trotted away.
But the oaks talked to one another for days at a time of the queer trees
which he had told them of:
"If they come, we'll do for them!" said the little oak-tree.
But the old oak gave him one on the head:
"If they come," he said, "you'll be civil to them, you puppy. But they
But this was where the old oak was wrong, for they did come.
In the autumn, the bear returned and lay down under the old oak:
"I am to give you the kind regards of the people down below there," he
said and picked some funny things off his shaggy coat. "Just look what
I've got for you."
"What's that?" asked the oak.
"That's beech," replied the bear. "Beech-seed, as I promised you."
Then he trampled the seed into the earth and prepared to leave again:
"It's a pity I can't stay to see how annoyed you will be," he said, "but
those dashed human beings have become so troublesome. They killed my
wife and one of my brothers the other day and I must look out for a
place where I can dwell in peace. There is hardly a spot left for an
honest bear to live in. Good-bye, you gnarled old oak-trees!"
When the bear had jogged off, the trees looked at one another seriously:
"Let's see what happens," said the old oak.
And, when the spring came, the grass was green and the birds began to
sing where they last left off. The flowers swarmed up from the ground
and everything looked fresh and vigorous.
The oaks alone still stood with leafless branches:
"It is very distinguished to come last," they said to one another. "The
king of the forest does not arrive before the whole company is
But at last they did arrive. All the leaves burst forth from the fat
buds and the trees looked at one another and complimented one another on
their good appearance. The little oak had grown a decent bit. This made
him feel important and think that he now had a right to join in the
"There's not much coming of the bear's beech-trees," he said, mockingly,
but at the same time glanced up anxiously at the old oak who used to
slap his head.
The old oak heard what he said and so did the others. But they said
nothing. None of them had forgotten what the bear had said and, every
morning, when the sun shone, they peeped down stealthily to see if the
beeches had come. At bottom, they were a little uneasy, but they were
too proud to talk about it.
And, one day, at last, the little sprouts shot up from the ground. The
sun shone upon them and the rain fell over them, so that it was not long
before they grew to a good height.
"I say, how pretty they are!" said the great oaks and twisted their
crooked branches still more, so as to see them better.
"You are welcome among us," said the old oak and gave them a gracious
nod. "You shall be my foster-children and have just as good a time as my
"Thank you," said the little beeches and not a word more.
But the little oak did not like the strange trees:
"It's awful, the way you're shooting up," he said, in a vexed tone.
"You're already half as tall as I am. May I beg you to remember that I
am much older than you and of a good family besides?"
The beeches laughed with their tiny little green leaves, but said
"Shall I bend my branches a little to one side, so that the sun may
shine on you better?" asked the old tree, politely.
"Much obliged," replied the beeches, "but we can grow quite nicely in
And all the summer passed and another summer and still more. The beeches
kept on growing steadily and at last grew right over the little oak's
"Keep your leaves to yourselves," cried the oak. "You're standing in my
light; and that I can't endure. I must have proper sunshine. Take your
leaves away, or else I shall die."
The beeches only laughed and went on growing. At last they met right
over the little oak's head and then he died.
"That was ill done," roared the big oaks and shook their branches in
But the old oak stood up for his foster-children:
"Serve him right!" he said. "That's his reward for bragging. I say it,
though he is my own flesh and blood. But you must be careful now, you
little beeches, or else I shall slap you on the head too."
The years passed and the beeches kept on growing and gradually became
slim young trees that reached right up among the old oak's branches.
"You're beginning to be rather intrusive for my taste," said the old
oak. "You should try to grow a bit thicker and stop this shooting into
the air. Just look how your branches stick out. Bend them decently, as
you see us do. How will you manage when a regular storm comes? Take it
from me, the wind shakes the tree-tops finely! He has many a time come
whistling through my old branches; and how do you think that you'll come
off, with that flimsy finery which you stick up in the air?"
"Every one grows in his own manner and we in ours," replied the young
beeches. "This is the way it's done where we come from; and we daresay
we are quite as good as you."
"That's not a polite remark to make to an old tree with moss on his
branches," said the oak. "I am beginning to regret that I was so kind to
you. If you have a scrap of honour in your composition, just have the
goodness to move your leaves a little to one side. Last year, there were
hardly any buds on my lower branches, all through your standing in my
"We can't quite see what that has to do with us," replied the beeches.
"Every one has enough to do to look after himself. If he is industrious
and successful, then things go well with him. If not, he must be content
to go to the wall. Such is the way of the world."
And the oak's lower branches died and he began to be terribly
"You're nice fellows, you are!" he said. "The way you reward me for my
hospitality! When you were little, I let you grow at my foot and
sheltered you against the storm. I let the sun shine on you whenever he
wanted to and I treated you as if you were my own children. And now you
choke me, by way of thanks."
"Fudge!" said the beeches. Then they blossomed and put forth fruit; and,
when the fruit was ripe, the wind shook their branches and scattered it
"You are active people like myself," said the wind. "That's why I like
you and will gladly give you a hand."
And the fox rolled at the foot of the beech and filled his coat with the
prickly fruit and ran all over the country with it. The bear did the
same and moreover laughed at the old oak while he lay and rested in the
shadow of the beech. The wood-mouse was delighted with the new food
which she got and thought that beech-nuts tasted much better than
New little beeches shot up around and grew just as quickly as their
parents and looked as green and happy as if they did not know what a bad
And the old oak gazed out sadly over the forest. The bright-green
beech-leaves peeped forth on every hand and the oaks sighed and told one
another their troubles:
"They are taking our power from us," they said and shook themselves as
well as they could for the beeches. "The land is no longer ours."
One branch died after the other and the storm broke them off and flung
them to the ground. The old oak had now only a few leaves left in his
"The end is at hand," he said, gravely.
But there were many more people in the land now than there had been
before and they hastened to cut down the oaks while there were still
"Oak makes better timber than beech," they said.
"So at last we get a little appreciation," said the old oak. "But we
shall have to pay for it with our lives."
Then he said to the beech-trees:
"What was I thinking of, when I helped you on in your youth? What an old
fool I have been! We oak-trees used to be lords in the land; and now,
year after year, I have had to see my brothers all around perish in the
struggle against you. I myself am almost done for; and not one of my
acorns has sprouted, thanks to your shade. But, before I die, I should
like to know what you call your behaviour."
"That's soon said, old friend!" answered the beeches. "We call it
competition; and it's no discovery of ours. It's what rules the
"I don't know those outlandish words of yours," said the oak. "I call
it base ingratitude."
Then he died.