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Title: The Last Christmas Tree - An Idyl of Immortality
Author: Allen, James Lane, 1849-1925
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Last Christmas Tree - An Idyl of Immortality" ***


    [Illustration: James Lane Allen]







In a somewhat different and in a much briefer form _The Last Christmas
Tree_ appeared several years ago in _The Saturday Evening Post_.


Life on this earth, my children, means warmth. Do not forget that:
whatever else it may be, life as we know it is warmth. Every living
earthly thing is on fire and every fire is perpetually going out. When
the warmth, when the fire, which is within us and which is perpetually
going out, goes out for good, that is the end of us. It is the end of
us as far as the life which we derive from the planet is ourselves. If
our planetary life is our only life, when the planetary fire within us
dies out, all of us dies out. If planetary fire be not our only vital
flame, vital energy, then planetary dust and ashes are not the
complete end of us, not the last word of our terrible lovable human
story. And if this be true, what next may come, what kind of story
will then begin with ourselves as its characters, what sort of
existence for us will emerge from planetary extinction--that has
always been the one greatest question, solicitude, hope, help, song,
prayer of our race. It has never been more a problem than now when we
know more about many other things than we have ever known yet can find
out nothing about this thing and were never so impatient of our

But meantime life on this earth implies warmth and carries warmth:
that at least we positively have found out though without knowing what
warmth is. Every living terrestrial creature is a candle, is a lamp.
The rose is a perfumed lamp and when its bowl is without oil, that
inimitable lamp so silently built to give off for a little while a few
serene rays of vestal beauty as silently falls to pieces. The pine
tree is a wild candle poised on a mountain table. The eagle is a
winged candle burning to cinders on a peak of air. The albatross is a
floating conflagration with all the ineffectual sea drenching its back
and breast. The polar bear is a four-branch candle in a candlestick of
snow. We human beings are laughing and tear-dripping candles,
descending swiftly to our sockets. The sun and the stars are candles,
whirling golden candles in the night of the universe, a long, long
night. One by one they too burn down at those brief intervals which we
with our puny measurements call ages. The whole myriad-lighted starry
infinite, as far as we know, is a mere ballroom arranged for
somebody’s pleasure, somebody’s dancing. The candles may last as long
as the master of the revels requires them; and then perhaps at some
strange daybreak of which we can conceive naught, they will go out to
the final one--all go out at the coming-on of day. A strange day
indeed without any suns, without any stars, these having been consumed
during the ancient night. What our human race has always most wished
to know, most liked to believe, is that Nature, the whole universe of
Nature, is itself but a troubled night of being; and that when Nature
has come to some kind of end, the night of existence will have come to
an end also. Beyond will have to be some kind of day, endless day. Our
human race has always believed or has tried to believe that on the
Natureward confines of that day it will be discovered, assembled
there, waiting there, having journeyed thither somehow: no matter how,
so it arrive. For however dull and petty man may be, however
despicable, brutish, abandoned, there has been no lack of sublimity in
his vision, in his faith, of what he is to be: that after the last
star has gone out in the night of Nature, the orb of his soul will
have but begun to flash the immortality of its dawn.

Once and for an immeasurable time the whole earth was warm, and life
on it being warmth, the life on it was everywhere. That was Nature’s
particular hour of the night just then--it called for a warm earth
completely covered with life. Then one day something took place that
had never taken place before. For the first time, for the very first
time in the experience of the earth, out of one of its clouds there
began to fall, not what had always fallen in the past, drops of rain,
but tiny white crystals. At first they were few; then more and more;
then myriads, myriads, myriads, until the air grew grey with the thick
host of them. Finally the scene became as if the sky were the floor of
the desert, an upper inverted desert floor covered with fine white
sand, with sand-dunes; and the winds, sweeping and roaring across this
desert floor, lifted the dunes, scattered them and swept them along:
avalanches of white sand, cloudy landslides of white sand--blown
toward the earth underneath. No creature there below had ever seen the
like; and as those avalanches slided down on their heads and backs,
tumult, fear, flight followed. Perhaps caught in the raging, roaring
tempest, perhaps having lost its way, some bird of brilliant-red
plumage flew round and round like a wandering ball of fire, uttering
its cry of bewilderment, of helplessness, of its fate--the prophetic
note of the fate of everything.

When the first of these strange cold white crystals struck the warm
earth, at once they vanished. So that for a while the vast catastrophe
looked like some unfeeling prank of the clouds, some too grave a
trick, heartless deception. But faster than the first could melt,
others came, more, more, until the later ones arrived before the
earlier ones had disappeared. And then they began to stay where they
fell. They began to stay and to pile up one on another; they began to
make a white spot, a frozen spot. We know nothing as to how and when
and where; yet we are bound to understand that some time there was the
first snowcloud, somewhere the first snowstorm, the first snowbank.

No human eye beheld it: there was to be no human eye for untold ages
yet. But there was one who saw, one who was present, one who had
brought it to pass--Time; and now that the first white spot was
prepared and ready like some new flat marble slab, bordered round with
the earth’s green and awaiting humanwise its due inscription, Time
glanced at it, approved it, stepped forward and stooping down wrote
three words in the sand--in the white sand of the sky:

                 HIC JACET TERRA.

Since the unknown day of the first unknown snowbank, the earth has
made no revolution, has not once turned over from side to side without
keeping undeviatingly in the straight road toward the fulfilment of
that epitaph, Time’s epitaph. Never since then, though fighting with
all its fires, has it been able to drive off that pallid visitant from
outer space, never has it been able to prevent the persistent return
of that appalling stranger. For the little white spot would not out,
would not out for good. If it disappeared in one place, it reappeared
in another place. And it invariably brought along more of its kind:
each visitant seemed to bring a mate, a family, a tribe. In the
blossoming zones of the earth’s surface where we spend our dream-life
of pain and joy, if a solitary bee find its way to a new field in
spring, the summer will be likely to bring the swarm. If a migratory
bird by some deviation of route alight on a strange continent or
island, the species may some day cover that continent or island. And
those first downward flights from the clouds began to be followed by
other flights, by vaster flocks and flights. And the earth began to
have a new trouble.

She, our very human Mother, had from the first had enough troubles of
her own, as without exception we her very human children have had
enough of ours. Sometimes her stories had begun well but each of them
as it ended ended badly. As we now look back upon any one of these
finished stories of hers, we may derive some satisfaction from seeing
that it possessed the art, the logic, of being inevitable. But that
will be our only joy. Her great novels, her great epics, have
uniformly been stupendous, immeasurable cataclysms, earth-tragedies.
But among them all not one has possessed the awful beauty, the chaste
splendor, the universality, of this new trouble of hers with the tiny

We are well accustomed as we look out upon Nature at close range to
see great creatures harrassed by little creatures. The lot of each big
one seems to be in the keeping of some little one, which never quits
it, nags it, stings it, wears it out, drives it desperate, makes life
somewhat a burden to it and death somewhat a relief. But no one of us
has ever seen so huge and powerful a thing as a whole round world
pitilessly stalked from age to age, run down, overcome inch by inch,
routed out of a fair destiny by such a mite of a tormentor as a
crystal. Nowhere have we witnessed so disproportionate a conflict as
that between a sphere and a snowflake.

Why, some wintry day when you in overcoat and gloves are tramping
comfortably across your fields on which snow is falling, stop and draw
off one of your gloves, and holding out your hand, catch one of these
little terrors, one of these dread arrows from the unseen quiver of
all whiteness. Intercept it in its passage towards the earth and let
it strike you, strike your palm, instead of striking the Mother who
has been struck so often. One instant after it has reached your palm
it has dropped its disguise and has turned into its old familiar self,
a raindrop, a drop of dew. That is, under the influence of the warmth
of your planetary fire, it has returned to its youth. For snow is the
old age of water. Cloud, mist, rain, dew--these all are young: their
old age is ice. When a dewdrop arranges itself for perpetuity,
disposes itself in orderly fashion never to change again, stretches
itself out in its _rigor mortis_, it has become a crystal. It has
given up the ghost and has become a ghost--it has become snow, the
ghost of the brook, the ghost of the rain.

Now this--just this--was the Earth’s new trouble; and this ever since
has been her increasing trouble and her losing fight: that over vaster
and vaster regions of her surface she has lost the power to work the
miracle of the resurrection--to bid the dead arise, take back its
life, and having burst from its white sepulchre ascend again to the
heavens. This is the trouble of our great Mother--that she has been
fighting against old age as we her children fight against it. Old age
has been descending upon her from the clouds; and wherever she has not
been able to give back to old age its youth, there old age has stayed;
and wherever on the earth old age has stayed, there the earth itself
has become old.

And now for us who live on the earth to-day, looking out upon the
battle between the planet and the snowflake, how fares the fighting?

If you should start from your home in our north-temperate latitude and
travel northward steadily on and on, after a while you would find that
the air gradually grows colder, myriads of living things begin to be
left behind; fewer and fewer remain; those that do remain, whether
animals or birds or flowers, begin to lose gorgeous color, begin to
become white. The countless sounds of living things begin to die out.
Everything is changed, colors are gone, songs have ceased. On and on
you journey and always you are traveling towards silence, toward the
white. And at last you come to the kingdom of the crystal, to the
reign of the snowflake, to the old age of the earth; you come to one
of the battlefields where the snowflake has conquered the planet.
Perhaps on this northward journey the last living thing you saw in
Nature was the evergreen--thriving there in unconquerable youth on the
margin of unconquerable death.

If you should start from your home and travel southward, you would at
first cross land after land where it grew warmer; but if you kept on,
you would at last begin to recognize all that you had seen on your
northward journey: life failing, colors fading, the living harmonies
of the earth replaced by the discords of Nature’s lifeless forces:
pinnacles of ice, deserts of snow. Again on those boundaries of
desolation you would see the sign of the world’s youth--its evergreen:
only that sign.

If, starting from your home for the third time, you could rise
straight into the air, higher, higher, as though you were climbing the
side of an aerial mountain, you would at last find that you had
ascended the aerial mountain to a height where, were it a real
mountain, it would be capped with snow, capped with perpetual snow.
For all round the earth wherever its actual mountains are high enough,
their summits pierce the level of eternal cold: above us everywhere
lies the unseen land of eternal cold. And there again near those
summits your eye, searching for some mitigation of the solitude, would
come upon the evergreen.

Some time in the future, we do not know when, but some time the cold
at the north will have moved so far southward; the cold at the south
will have moved so far northward; the cold in the upper air will have
moved so far downward, that the three will meet and when they meet
there will be for the earth one whiteness, one silence--rest: all
troubled or untroubled things will be at rest.

A great time had passed, how great no one knew; there was none to
measure it.

It was twilight and it was snowing. On a steep mountain’s side near
its bald summit thousands of feet above the line that any other living
thing had ever crossed, stood two glorious fir trees, strongest and
last of their race. They had climbed out of the valley below to this
height and had so rooted themselves in rock and soil that the wildest
gales had never been able to dislodge them. Now the two occupied that
beetling cliff as the final sentinels of Nature. They were like two
soldiers stationed at the farthest outpost against the enemy and
remaining faithful after all they stood for had perished.

The two firs looked out toward the land in one direction. At the foot
of the mountain in old human times a village had thriven, had worked
and played; church spires had risen, bridal candles had twinkled at
twilight, children had played at snowball. In the opposite direction
the trees looked out upon the ocean, once the rolling blue ocean
singing its great song but level now or ice-roughened and white and
still--its voice hushed with all other voices, the roar of its
battleships silenced long ago.

The two comrade trees had the strange wisdom of their race, ages old
and gathered into them through untold generations. They had their
memories, their sympathies; they reached one another with language
past our understanding. One fir grew lower on the mountainside than
the other; it was like a man so stationed on a declivity that his
head barely reaches to the shoulder of another man higher up.

A slow bitter wind wandered through their boughs, smote their delicate
boughs as though these were strings of harps. The two firs became like
harpers of old with whitened locks and long hoary beards, harpers who
never tire of the past, of great days gone by.

The fir below, as the snowflakes became thicker on its locks and
sifted in more closely about its neck, shook itself loose from them
and spoke:

“Comrade, the end for us draws near; the snow creeps up. To-night it
will place its cap on my head. I shall close my eyes and follow all
things into their sleep.”

“Yes,” responded the fir above, “follow all things into their sleep.
If all things were thus to sleep at last, why were they ever awakened?
It is a mystery.”

The slow wind caught the words and bore them outward across the land
and outward across the sea:


Twilight deepened. The clouds trailed through the trees; the flakes
were formed amid the branches; it was no longer the fall of the snow:
the ice-drops rested where they were formed.

At intervals, surrounded by clouds and darkness, the low communings of
the two trees went on:

“Where now is he, the strange human one, he of the long thoughts and
the brief shadow?”

“He thought he was immortal; to him everything else on the earth
perished but he was immortal. Where is he now?”

“Once when he was very proud he said that he had a Creator who made
him to lie down in green pastures.”

“He lies in white pastures. All the millions of his race lie in white
pastures, not green pastures.”

“Our fathers, the evergreens, came forth on the earth countless ages
before he appeared; and we are still here untold ages since he
disappeared--leaving not a trace of himself behind.”

“The most fragile of the mosses was born before he was born and it
outlasted him.”

“The frailest fern was not so perishable.”

“Yet he believed that he should have eternal youth.”

“That his race would return to some Power who had sent it forth.”

“That he was ever being borne onward to some far off divine event
where there was justice.”

“Where there was justice for all.”

“He so loved justice yet so withheld justice.”

“It was the first thing he demanded and the last thing he meted out.”

Darkness now overhung the mountain top, deep night above. At intervals
the firs, being fast covered with snow, went on with their broken talk
which wandered back and forth along the track of ages. They had but a
few minutes for their thoughts of the ages and they lingered here and
there as they willed.

“This is part of the mystery: if he were but the earth’s dust and
ashes, like everything else, how could it be so? How could the earth
which is without sin breed in his race so many sinners? How could the
earth, since it speaks only the truth, have been the father of all his
lies? How, without sorrow, could it have been the mother of his
sorrows? The earth never felt joy; how could it have made him joy
incarnate? What does the earth know of greatness yet it made him
great. How could that be?”

“It is part of the mystery.”

“Had they realized how alone in the universe they were, would they not
have turned to each other for happiness?”

“Would not all have helped each?”

“Would not each have helped all?”

“The longest of their rivers was the river of their own blood.”

“If they could have caught it in the basin of some empty sea, they
could have floated on it all their fleets of battleships.”

Once in the night they spoke together:

“And all his gods, his many gods in many lands with many faces--they
all sleep now in their ancient temples; it is at last the true
twilight of the gods.”

“They set shepherds over them. Then the shepherds declared themselves
appointed by the Creator of the universe to lead other men as their
sheep: now what difference is there between the sheep and the

“The shepherds lie with the sheep in the same white pasture. They were
all sheep: they had no shepherd.”

“And their sins were the sins of sheep, but the sins of silly sheep.”

“Still, what think you became of all that men did? How could all that
perish? It was so solid, so enduring; it was so splendid; it seemed
worthy to be immortal.”

“What became of Science? How could all that Science was come to

“And his Art--that inner light of himself which was Art? Do his
pictures hang nowhere? Is his music never to be heard again?”

“And the love that was in him--was it but a blind force rising into
him as the power of the clouds?”

“What became of the woman who threw herself away for love: did she
find no one at last to weep at the feet of, no one who would free her
soul from her body?”

“What became of the man who was false: did he ever find a Power that
could make him true?”

“What became of the man who threw himself away in being true: did any
Power ever make good to him his ruin?”

“The young soldier who poured out his life’s blood for his country:
was he never to have any country?”

On the long road of the ages here and there they loitered with their

“But he did fill the world with a great light of himself, with the
splendor of what he was.”

“And yet it was but half his life, half his glory. He forever dwelt in
less than half of the light of his race: the rest he himself put out
yet never knew the darkness it left him in. More than half his light
he put out in neglected childhood and in youth slain on the

“All the greatest names up and down the terrible field of his
history--there were just as many that he threw away: he dwelt in half
the light of his race.”

If there had been a clock to measure the hour it must now have been
near midnight as it was reckoned in old human times. Suddenly the fir
below spoke out hopefully:

“May they not after all be gathered elsewhere, strangely altered yet
the same? Is some other star their safe habitation? Were they right,
sheep that they were, in thinking themselves immortal? Are they now in
some other world?”

“What know we? What knew he? That was the mystery.”

The winds caught the word and carried it away:


“Our fathers remembered the day when he went into the woods and cut
down one of our people and took it into his house. On the evergreen he
set the star: they were for his youth and his immortality. Around
those emblems children pressed their faces and reaching out plucked
gifts from the branches. The myriads and myriads of the children! What
became of them?”

“Be still!” whispered the fir tree above. “At that moment, while you
spoke, I felt the soft fingers of a child searching my boughs. Was not
this what in human times they called Christmas Eve? There they are
again, the fingers of a child!”

“Hearken!” whispered the fir below. “Down in the valley elfin horns
are blowing and elfin drums beat. Do you not hear them--faint and far
away. And that sound--was it not the bells of the reindeer! It
passed: it was a wandering soul of Christmas.”

“But they are all around me! They are all around you! Myriads and
myriads are coming, are on the way toward us, the last of their
Christmas trees. The souls of all children, wide-awake, are gathering
about us ere we pass into the earth’s sleep.”

“The souls of the children visit us ere we sleep.”

Not long after this the fir standing below spoke for the last time:

“Comrade, it is the end for me. The cap of snow is on my head. I
follow all things.”

The snow closed over it.

The other fir now stood alone. The snow crept higher and higher. Late
in the long night it communed once more, solitary:

“I, then, close the train of earthly things. And I was the emblem of
immortality; let the highest be the last to perish! Power, that put
forth all things for a purpose, you have fulfilled, without explaining
it, that purpose. I follow all things into their sleep.”

The sun rose clear: all the mountain tops were white and cold and at

The long war between the crystal and the planet was over: the
snowflake had conquered.

The earth was dead.


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