Where the Christmas Tree Grew
by Mary E. Wilkins
It was afternoon recess at No. 4 District
School, in Warner. There was a heavy snow-storm;
so every one was in the warm school-room,
except a few adventurous spirits who were
tumbling about in the snow-drifts out in the
yard, getting their clothes wet and preparing
themselves for chidings at home. Their shrill
cries and shouts of laughter floated into the
school-room, but the small group near the stove
did not heed them at all. There were five or six
little girls and one boy. The girls, with the exception
of Jenny Brown, were trim and sweet
in their winter dresses and neat school-aprons;
they perched on the desks and the arms of the
settee with careless grace, like birds. Some of
them had their arms linked. The one boy lounged
against the blackboard. His dark, straight-profiled
face was all aglow as he talked. His big
brown eyes gazed now soberly and impressively
at Jenny, then gave a gay dance in the direction
of the other girls.
"Yes, it does—honest!" said he.
The other girls nudged one another softly;
but Jenny Brown stood with her innocent, solemn
eyes fixed upon Earl Munroe's face, drinking
in every word.
"You ask anybody who knows," continued
Earl; "ask Judge Barker, ask—the minister—"
"Oh!" cried the little girls; but the boy shook
his head impatiently at them.
"Yes," said he; "you just go and ask Mr.
Fisher to-morrow, and you'll see what he'll tell
you. Why, look here"—Earl straightened himself
and stretched out an arm like an orator—"it's
nothing more than reasonable that Christmas-trees
grow wild with the presents all on 'em!
What sense would there be in 'em if they didn't,
I'd like to know? They grow in different places,
of course; but these around here grow mostly
on the mountain over there. They come up
every spring, and they all blossom out about
Christmas-time, and folks go hunting for them
to give to the children. Father and Ben are
over on the mountain to-day—"
"Oh, oh!" cried the little girls.
"I mean, I guess they are," amended Earl,
trying to put his feet on the boundary—line of
truth. "I hope they'll find a full one."
Jenny Brown had a little, round, simple face;
her thin brown hair was combed back and braided
tightly in one tiny braid tied with a bit of shoe-string.
She wore a nondescript gown, which
nearly trailed behind, and showed in front her
little, coarsely-shod feet, which toed-in helplessly.
The gown was of a faded green color; it was
scalloped and bound around the bottom, and had
some green ribbon-bows down the front. It
was, in fact, the discarded polonaise of a benevolent
woman, who aided the poor substantially
but not tastefully.
Jenny Brown was eight, and small for her age—a
strange, gentle, ignorant little creature, never
doubting the truth of what she was told, which
sorely tempted the other children to impose upon
her. Standing there in the school-room that
stormy recess, in the midst of that group of
wiser, richer, mostly older girls, and that one
handsome, mischievous boy, she believed every
word she heard.
This was her first term at school, and she had
never before seen much of other children. She
had lived her eight years all alone at home with
her mother, and she had never been told about
Christmas. Her mother had other things to
think about. She was a dull, spiritless, reticent
woman, who had lived through much trouble.
She worked, doing washings and cleanings, like
a poor feeble machine that still moves but has
no interest in its motion. Sometimes the Browns
had almost enough to eat, at other times they
half starved. It was half-starving time just then;
Jenny had not had enough to eat that day.
There was a pinched look on the little face up-turned
towards Earl Munroe's.
Earl's words gained authority by coming from
himself. Jenny had always regarded him with
awe and admiration. It was much that he should
speak at all to her.
Earl Munroe was quite the king of this little
district school. He was the son of the wealthiest
man in town. No other boy was so well dressed,
so gently bred, so luxuriously lodged and fed.
Earl himself realized his importance, and had at
times the loftiness of a young prince in his manner.
Occasionally, some independent urchin
would bristle with democratic spirit, and tell him
to his face that he was "stuck up," and that he
hadn't so much more to be proud of than other
folks; that his grandfather wasn't anything but
an old ragman!
Then Earl would wilt. Arrogance in a free
country is likely to have an unstable foundation.
Earl tottered at the mention of his paternal
grandfather, who had given the first impetus to
the family fortune by driving a tin-cart about
the country. Moreover, the boy was really pleasant
and generous hearted, and had no mind, in
the long run, for lonely state and disagreeable
haughtiness. He enjoyed being lordly once in a
while, that was all.
He did now, with Jenny—he eyed her with
a gay condescension, which would have greatly
amused his tin-peddler grandfather.
Soon the bell rung, and they all filed to their
seats, and the lessons were begun.
After school was done that night, Earl stood
in the door when Jenny passed out.
"Say, Jenny," he called, "when are you going
over on the mountain to find the Christmas-tree?
You'd better go pretty soon, or they'll be
"That's so!" chimed in one of the girls.
"You'd better go right off, Jenny."
She passed along, her face shyly dimpling with
her little innocent smile, and said nothing. She
would never talk much.
She had quite a long walk to her home. Presently,
as she was pushing weakly through the
new snow, Earl went flying past her in his
father's sleigh, with the black horses and the fur-capped
coachman. He never thought of asking
her to ride. If he had, he would not have hesitated
a second before doing so.
Jenny, as she waded along, could see the
mountain always before her. This road led
straight to it, then turned and wound around its
base. It had stopped snowing, and the sun was
setting clear. The great white mountain was all
rosy. It stood opposite the red western sky.
Jenny kept her eyes fixed upon the mountain.
Down in the valley shadows her little simple
face, pale and colorless, gathered another kind
There was no school the next day, which was
the one before Christmas. It was pleasant, and
not very cold. Everybody was out; the little
village stores were crowded; sleds trailing Christmas-greens
went flying; people were hastening
with parcels under their arms, their hands full.
Jenny Brown also was out. She was climbing
Franklin Mountain. The snowy pine boughs
bent so low that they brushed her head. She
stepped deeply into the untrodden snow; the
train of her green polonaise dipped into it, and
swept it along. And all the time she was peering
through those white fairy columns and arches
That night, the mountain had turned rosy, and
faded, and the stars were coming out, when a
frantic woman, panting, crying out now and then
in her distress, went running down the road to
the Munroe house. It was the only one between
her own and the mountain. The woman rained
some clattering knocks on the door—she could
not stop for the bell. Then she burst into the
house, and threw open the dining-room door,
crying out in gasps:
"Hev you seen her? Oh, hev you? My Jenny's
lost! She's lost! Oh, oh, oh! They said
they saw her comin' up this way, this mornin'.
Hev you seen her, hev you?"
Earl and his father and mother were having
tea there in the handsome oak-panelled dining-room.
Mr. Munroe rose at once, and went forward,
Mrs. Munroe looked with a pale face
around her silver tea-urn, and Earl sat as if
frozen. He heard his father's soothing questions,
and the mother's answers. She had been
out at work all day; when she returned, Jenny
was gone. Some one had seen her going up the
road to the Munroes' that morning about ten
o'clock. That was her only clew.
Earl sat there, and saw his mother draw the
poor woman into the room and try to comfort
her; he heard, with a vague understanding, his
father order the horses to be harnessed immediately;
he watched him putting on his coat and
hat out in the hall.
When he heard the horses trot up the drive,
he sprang to his feet. When Mr. Munroe opened
the door, Earl, with his coat and cap on, was at
"Why, you can't go, Earl!" said his father,
when he saw him. "Go back at once."
Earl was white and trembling. He half
sobbed: "Oh, father, I must go!" said he.
"Earl, be reasonable. You want to help, don't
you, and not hinder?" his mother called out of
Earl caught hold of his father's coat. "Father—look
here—I—I believe I know where she is!"
Then his father faced sharply around, his
mother and Jenny's stood listening in bewilderment,
and Earl told his ridiculous, childish, and
cruel little story. "I—didn't dream—she'd
really be—such a little—goose as to—go," he
choked out; "but she must have, for"—with
brave candor—"I know she believed every word
I told her."
It seemed a fantastic theory, yet a likely one.
It would give method to the search, yet more
alarm to the searchers. The mountain was a
wide region in which to find one little child.
Jenny's mother screamed out, "Oh, if she's
lost on the mountain, they'll never find her!
They never will, they never will! Oh, Jenny,
Earl gave a despairing glance at her, and bolted
up-stairs to his own room. His mother called
pityingly after him; but he only sobbed back,
"Don't, mother—please!" and kept on.
The boy, lying face downward on his bed, crying
as if his heart would break, heard presently
the church-bell clang out fast and furious. Then
he heard loud voices down in the road, and the
flurry of sleigh-bells. His father had raised the
alarm, and the search was organized.
After a while Earl arose, and crept over to the
window. It looked towards the mountain, which
towered up, cold and white and relentless, like
one of the ice-hearted giants of the old Indian
tales. Earl shuddered as he looked at it. Presently
he crawled down-stairs and into the parlor.
In the bay-window stood, like a gay mockery,
the Christmas-tree. It was a quite small one
that year, only for the family—some expected
guests had failed to come—but it was well laden.
After tea the presents were to have been distributed.
There were some for his father and
mother, and some for the servants, but the bulk
of them were for Earl.
By-and-by his mother, who had heard him
come down-stairs, peeped into the room, and saw
him busily taking his presents from the tree.
Her heart sank with sad displeasure and amazement.
She would not have believed that her boy
could be so utterly selfish as to think of Christmas-presents
But she said nothing. She stole away, and
returned to poor Mrs. Brown, whom she was keeping
with her; still she continued to think of it
all that long, terrible night, when they sat there
waiting, listening to the signal-horns over on the
Morning came at last and Mr. Munroe with it.
No success so far. He drank some coffee and
was off again. That was quite early. An hour
or two later the breakfast-bell rang. Earl did
not respond to it, so his mother went to the foot
of the stairs and called him. There was a stern
ring in her soft voice. All the time she had in
mind his heartlessness and greediness over the
presents. When Earl did not answer she went
up-stairs, and found that he was not in his room.
Then she looked in the parlor, and stood staring
in bewilderment. Earl was not there, but neither
were the Christmas-tree and his presents—they
had vanished bodily!
Just at that moment Earl Munroe was hurrying
down the road, and he was dragging his big
sled, on which were loaded his Christmas-presents
and the Christmas-tree. The top of the tree
trailed in the snow, its branches spread over the
sled on either side, and rustled. It was a heavy
load, but Earl tugged manfully in an enthusiasm
of remorse and atonement—a fantastic, extravagant
atonement, planned by that same fertile
fancy which had invented that story for poor
little Jenny, but instigated by all the good, repentant
impulses in the boy's nature.
On every one of those neat parcels, above his
own name, was written in his big crooked, childish
hand, "Jenny Brown, from—" Earl Munroe
had not saved one Christmas-present for himself.
Pulling along, his eyes brilliant, his cheeks
glowing, he met Maud Barker. She was Judge
Barker's daughter, and the girl who had joined
him in advising Jenny to hunt on the mountain
for the Christmas-tree.
Maud stepped along, placing her trim little
feet with dainty precision; she wore some new
high-buttoned overshoes. She also carried a new
beaver muff, but in one hand only. The other
dangled mittenless at her side; it was pink with
cold, but on its third finger sparkled a new gold
ring with a blue stone in it.
"Oh, Earl!" she called out, "have they found
Jenny Brown? I was going up to your house
to—Why, Earl Munroe, what have you got
"I'm carrying up my Christmas-presents and the
tree up to Jenny's—so she'll find 'em when she
comes back," said the boy, flushing red. There
was a little defiant choke in his voice.
"Why, what for?"
"I rather think they belong to her more'n
they do to me, after what's happened."
"Does your mother know?"
"No; she wouldn't care. She'd think I was
only doing what I ought."
"All of 'em?" queried Maud, feebly.
"You don't s'pose I'd keep any back?"
Maud stood staring. It was beyond her little
Earl was passing on when a thought struck
"Say, Maud," he cried, eagerly, "haven't you
something you can put in? Girls' things might
please her better, you know. Some of mine are—rather
queer, I'm afraid."
"What have you got?" demanded Maud.
"Well, some of the things are well enough.
There's a lot of candy and oranges and figs and
books; there's one by Jules Verne I guess she'll
like; but there's a great big jack-knife, and—a
brown velvet bicycle suit?"
"Why, Earl Munroe! what could she do with
a bicycle suit?"
"I thought, maybe, she could rip the seams to
'em, an' sew 'em some way, an' get a basque cut,
or something. Don't you s'pose she could?"
Earl asked, anxiously.
"I don't know; her mother could tell," said
"Well, I'll hang it on, anyhow. Maud, haven't
you anything to give her?"
Earl eyed her sharply. "Isn't that muff new?"
"And that ring?"
Maud nodded. "She'd be delighted with 'em.
Oh, Maud, put 'em in!"
Maud looked at him. Her pretty mouth quivered
a little; some tears twinkled in her blue eyes.
"I don't believe my mother would let me,"
faltered she. "You—come with me, and I'll ask
"All right," said Earl, with a tug at his sled-rope.
He waited with his load in front of Maud's
house until she came forth radiant, lugging a big
basket. She had her last winter's red cashmere
dress, a hood, some mittens, cake and biscuit, and
nice slices of cold meat.
"Mother said these would be much more suitable
for her," said Maud, with a funny little imitation
of her mother's manner.
Over across the street another girl stood at
the gate, waiting for news.
"Have they found her?" she cried. "Where
are you going with all those things?"
Somehow, Earl's generous, romantic impulse
spread like an epidemic. This little girl soon
came flying out with her contribution; then there
were more—quite a little procession filed finally
down the road to Jenny Brown's house.
The terrible possibilities of the case never occurred
to them. The idea never entered their
heads that little, innocent, trustful Jenny might
never come home to see that Christmas-tree
which they set up in her poor home.
It was with no surprise whatever that they
saw, about noon, Mr. Munroe's sleigh, containing
Jenny and her mother and Mrs. Munroe, drive
up to the door.
Afterwards they heard how a wood-cutter had
found Jenny crying, over on the east side of the
mountain, at sunset, and had taken her home
with him. He lived five miles from the village,
and was an old man, not able to walk so far that
night to tell them of her safety. His wife had
been very good to the child. About eleven
o'clock some of the searchers had met the old
man plodding along the mountain-road with the
They did not stop for this now. They shouted
to Jenny to "come in, quick!" They pulled her
with soft violence into the room where they had
been at work. Then the child stood with her
hands clasped, staring at the Christmas-tree. All
too far away had she been searching for it. The
Christmas-tree grew not on the wild mountainside,
in the lonely woods, but at home, close to
warm, loving hearts; and that was where she