A large party of travelers on their way to a distant country were obliged to pass through a dense forest to reach it. Their leader went forward, and, seeing the darkness of the dense woods, was convinced of the impossibility of his people going through it, without the aid of a light to guide them. He sat beside the mossy stones at the entrance, trying to devise some means by which to light up the darkness. There seemed but one way, and that almost hopeless, as it involved a sacrifice of life, and he knew too well the nature of the trees to expect any of them to give themselves up for his travelers. How could he ask it, as he stepped into the deep wood, and looked on their grand proportions and rich foliage? His was no enviable position to entreat them to give up the existence which must be dear to themselves,—to pass from the known to the unknown life.
Vainly he tried to think of another way to accomplish his purpose. None presented itself; so with glowing words he appealed to their nobler selves, telling them all the great need of the travelers who were obliged to pass that way. First he appealed to a fine birch which bordered the forest.
“Not I, indeed!” answered the tree. “Do you think I would give my life to light a few people through this woodland? I prefer to live a few years longer.”
He next addressed a walnut. She shook a few leaves from her branches, and made a similar reply, preferring to live in her own form, and amid her sister trees, to going she knew not whither.
“Are there none here,” he continued, “who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the needs of others?”
He looked around the forest in vain: all were silent, and he was about to return to the people, when a large and stately oak spoke in clear and ringing tones, saying, “I will give my body that the travelers may have light.”
“What! that grand old body of yours, that has been so many years growing and maturing to its present stately and fair proportions!” exclaimed several of the trees.
“You are not only rash, but foolish,” remarked a small fir growing by its side.
“Beside taking away the pride of our grand old forest,” said a delicate birch, that had always admired the oak.
“Just throwing your life away,” broke in a tall and rather sickly pine.
“When will you be ready for me?” asked the oak of the leader, who had stood admiring its beautiful proportions, and sorrowing within himself that it must be so.
At the close of the next day the travelers came to the edge of the forest, and tarried while their leader lit the fire at the roots of the oak. Now the flames went upward and flashed in the darkness; for it was evening, and not a star was visible. The flames rose upward and touched not even the bark of another tree, but wound closely around the oak, as though it knew its work and that the light of that tree only was needed to pass the travelers through in safety. It touched their hearts to thus witness that the life of the noble oak must be sacrificed, and they offered, with one accord, a silent prayer that its life might be extended in a higher form. Having passed through, they tarried at the end of the forest until the flames died away, and then pursued their journey.
Years passed away. From the pile of ashes left by the departed oak sprang lovely flowers, which charmed the eyes of all the trees in the forest, and atoned, in a great measure, for the loss of their noble companion.
After a brief period workmen were seen in the forest felling the trees.
“Ah!” exclaimed the old pine who had refused to give its life for the travelers, “I don’t see as we have gained anything. If our life is to go, it might as well have gone by the fire as by the axe.”
“Just so,” answered the beach, “only if we had perished by the fire we might now be coming again into another form of life, as our oak seems to be, from that pile of dust and ashes; for see what lovely blossoms are coming forth from that unsightly heap of dust.”
“I heard the workmen say that all these trees were to be cleared away, and houses erected on the land,” remarked a trembling ash, and her leaves quivered beyond their wont with the terror of this new thought.
“And that will surely be the end of us,” moaned the pine.
“Our happy life is all over now,” said a small fir, who would have continued bemoaning their destiny had not her attention at that instant been arrested by two forms entering the forest. They went to the spot where once stood the brave oak, and gazed admiringly on the lovely tinted blossoms. They had heard of the sacrifice of the tree, and had come to gaze upon its resurrection.
“We will gather some for our festival to-night,” they said, and stooped to pluck the fragrant blossoms.
The fire had not destroyed the consciousness of the oak: its soul was still alive, enjoying its new form of existence, and it sent forth thrills of gratitude, which took the form of sweetest odor, filling the air around with fragrance. “Instead of losing my life it is being extended, even as the good leader of the people said,” were its words as the two departed, bearing the flowers, instinct with its oak life, away.
Many went to the forest while the workmen were there, to gather the seeds of the rare blossoms to plant in their gardens.
How much of human life did the soul of the oak learn as it went forth thus amid the throngs of people; and how it rejoiced that it had given its life for the good of others, knowing not that greater bliss was in store for it! It was held in the hands of the aged; it crowned fair brows; it was carried to the bedside of the suffering; it was laid upon the caskets of the dead; it was planted by the door of the cottage and reared in the conservatories of the rich,—everywhere admired and welcomed. Was not this life indeed worth all the pain and heat of the flames, and the loss of its once statelier and loftier form?
It never sighed for its forest home, but often longed to know of the fate of its brother trees. One day a child, bearing in her hand one of its blossoms, wandered to the ground where once arose the tall trees. The eyes of the oak, through the flower, looked in vain for its kindred. None were standing. They had all been felled and their wood converted into dwellings,—a useful but less beautiful form of existence than that which the oak possessed,—and they learned, after a time, that it is only by apparent destruction that life can be reconstructed. But they could only have the experiences which came within the scope of their life; and the oak was more than ever satisfied with its own, and rejoiced that it had passed through the refining element, losing thereby only its grosser form. It filled the air with the fragrance of its gratitude. Whenever it wished to journey, the winds, who were its friends, conveyed its seeds to any portion of the earth it designated. Its blossoms were not only bright to the eye, and their odor sweet to the sense of smell, but the leaves of the plant were healing. Three forces connected it with human life: so that it was in constant action, and its highest joy lay in the consciousness of its increased usefulness.
The Sacrifice by J S Adams in Allegories of Life
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