Holly Tree by Paul H. Hayne

 

("Hie on the holly tree!"—Old Ballad.)

THE firelight danced and wavered

In elvish, twinkling glee

On the leaves and crimson berries

Of the great green Christmas-Tree;


And the children who gathered round it

Beheld, with marvelling eyes,

Pendant from trunk and branches

How many a precious prize,


From the shimmer of gold and silver

Through a purse's cunning net,

To the coils of a rippling necklace

That quivered with beads of jet!


But chiefly they gazed in wonder

Where flickered strangely through

The topmost leaves of the holly,

The sheen of a silken shoe!


And the eldest spake to her father:

"I have seen—yes, year by year,

On the crown of our Christmas hollies,

That small shoe glittering clear;


"But you never have told who owned it,

Nor why, so loftily set,

It shines though the fadeless verdure—

You never have told us yet!"


           Twas then that the museful father

In slow sad accents said,

While the firelight hovered eerily

About his downcast head:


"My children.... you had a sister;

(It was long, long, long ago,)

She came like an Eden rosebud

'Mid the dreariest winter snow,


"And for four sweet seasons blossomed

To cheer our hearts and hearth,

When the song of the Bethlehem angels

Lured her away from earth—


"A little before she left us,

We had deftly raised to view,

On the topmost branch of the holly,

Yon glimmering, tiny shoe;


"For again 'twas the time of Christmas,

As she lay with laboring breath;

But.... our minds were blinded strangely,

And we did not dream of death.


"We knew that no toy would please her

Like a shoe, so fair and neat,

To fold, with its soft caressing,

Her delicate, sylph-like feet!


"Truly, a smile like a sunbeam

Brightened her eyes of blue,

And once.. twice.. thrice.. she tested

The charm of her fairy shoe!


"Ah! then the bright smile flickered,

Faded, and drooped away,

As faintly, in tones that faltered,

I heard our darling say:


"1 My shoe! papa, please hang it

Once more on the holly bough,

Just where I am sure to see it,

When I wake.... an hour from now!


"But alas! she never wakened!

Close-shut were the eyes of blue

Whose last faint gleam had fondled

The curves of that dainty shoe!


"Ah, children, you understand me—

Your eyes are brimmed with dew,

As they watch on the Christmas holly

The sheen of a silken shoe!"