It has been one hundred years or more since lightning hit it and split it open from top to bottom, and
for all that time plows have been passing over that spot;—before that a mighty beech tree stood on a
green hillside a few hundred paces in front of the first house of the village. It was one of those trees that
you no longer see because animals and people, plants and trees always seem to be getting smaller and
paltrier. The farmers say the tree dated back to pagan times and that a saintly apostle had been
slaughtered under it by pagans. The roots of the tree are said to have drunk the blood of the apostle
and as it flowed into its trunk and branches it made the tree grow so huge and strong. Who knows if
that is true? But there was something special about that tree and everyone, both children or grown-ups,
knew what it was. If someone happened to fall asleep under it and had a dream he could be sure that
dream would come true. As far back as people could remember it was called the Dream Beech Tree and it
never had any other name. However, there was one condition: if someone would lie down under the tree
and fall asleep he was not allowed to give thought to what he would dream about. If he did, he would
only dream nonsense and humbug that no reasonable person could make sense of. That was certainly a
very weighty condition because most people are much too curious and so almost everyone who tried it
had no luck. At the time of our story there was no one in the village, man or woman, who had been
successful. But that the stories about the Dream Beech Tree were true, of that they were certain.—
One hot summer day when the air almost stood still a poor young apprentice came walking down the
road. He had been working here and there for many years and had experienced nothing but trouble.
When he arrived in the village he fumbled in his pockets one last time but they were all empty. "What are
you going to do?" he thought to himself. "You are dead tired; but no hotel will take you if you have no
money. And you are not willing to beg." Then he caught sight of the stately beech tree standing on a
green mound; and because it was just a few paces off the road, he laid down beneath it on the grass to
rest. Now the tree made a strange rustling noise and when its branches started to move gently he could
see a thin glittering ray of sun or a patch of blue sky here and there. Then he closed his eyes and fell
When he was fast asleep a small twig with three leaves fell from the tree and landed square on his
breast. Then he dreamed that he was sitting in a quiet room at a table and that the room and the house
belonged to him. And a young woman was standing at the table propping herself with both hands and
she was looking at him kindly and this woman was his wife. And on his lap sat a child eating porridge he
was feeding it and because it was so hot he kept blowing on the spoon. And the woman said: "You are
such a good nanny, Darling!" and laughed. There was a second child playing in the room, a chubby, full-
cheeked boy who had a big carrot on a string he was pulling behind him and shouting hip-hop as if he
were a spunky horse. And both children were his. That was his dream; and the dream must have pleased
him for while he was sleeping he had a broad smile on his face.
When he woke it was almost dusk and before him stood a shepherd with his sheep who was knitting.
The young man sprang to his feet full or energy, stretched and said: "Good heavens, is something like
that possible? But it is nice to know what it is like." The shepherd came over to him and asked where he
came from and where he wanted to go and if he had ever heard of that tree. After the shepherd
convinced himself that he was as innocent as a new-born babe he called to him; "You are a lucky fellow!
For apparently you had a pleasant dream from what I could see written on your face. I was watching you
the whole time you were asleep!" Then he told him about the tree's special powers: "The dream you had
will come true; that is as certain as this is a sheep and that a goat. Ask the people in the village if what I
say is true! But please do tell me what your dream was about!"
"Old Man," replied the apprentice, "you are asking like a farmer would." I am keeping my wonderful dream
to myself; you cannot blame me for that. But that something might come of it, that is hard to believe!"
He did not just speak empty words; no, he spoke with all seriousness. For as he was going towards the
village he kept repeating the words: "Babble, babble, shepherds' talk! But I would really like to know
where the tree got its magic power."
When he arrived in the village he saw a long pole protruding from the gable of the third house and from
it hung a golden crown and below it at the door stood the proprietor of the inn. At that moment he was
in an excellent mood for he had just eaten his evening meal was content, so this was his best hour. The
apprentice removed his hat politely and asked whether he would put him up for the night out of the
goodness of his heart. The innkeeper looked the dapper young fellow over from head to foot as he
stood there in his dusty cloths. Then he nodded graciously and said: "Sit right down here in the corner
near the door; there is certainly a slice of bread and a pitcher of wine left over. And in the meantime
someone will see to your bedding." After that he went in and sent his daughter out with bread and wine
and she sat down beside him and listened to him tell about his travels. Then she told him all the news
about what was going on in the village: how the wheat was coming along, how the neighbor's wife had
given birth to twins, and when the next dance would be held at the inn.
Then all at once she stood up and leaned across table and asked the apprentice: "What are those three
leaves on your bib?" The apprentice looked down and saw the twig with the three leaves that had fallen
on him while he slept and had stuck there in his bib. "They must have fallen from the big beech tree at
the edge of the village," he replied, "under which I took a nap."
--- The girl listened attentively, curious as to what he would say next. When he remained silent she
started to question him very carefully until she was certain that he had really slept under the tree. And
she kept asking questions until she was convinced that he knew nothing about the special power the
tree had; for he was a clever fellow and was just pretending that he knew nothing. When she had
finished her questioning she went and fetched a pitcher of wine and in a friendly way invited him to have
some more to drink and told him all kinds of stories about what she had dreamed and what a shame it
was that none of her dreams ever came true.
Meanwhile the shepherd came back from the field and drove his sheep through the village. When he
passed the inn and saw the girl sitting in the corner talking with the apprentice with such enthusiasm he
stopped for a moment and said: "Oh, yes, he will tell you about the wonderful dream he had, but he
wouldn't say a word to me!" And he went his way, driving his sheep before him.
That made the girl all the more curious and when he still would not tell her anything she could not hold
back from asking him directly what his dream under the beech tree was about.
The apprentice, who was a very clever fellow and was now in high spirits after his dream, put on a
sophisticated look, raised his eyebrows and said: "I had a magnificent dream you can be sure; but I dare
not tell anyone what it was." But she persisted and pressured him to tell her. He moved a bit closer to
her and said in earnest: "Listen here, I dreamed I would marry the daughter of the innkeeper and later
become the innkeeper myself!"
The girl turned white as piece of chalk and then purple and got up and went inside. After a while she
came back and asked if he had really dreamed that and if it was the truth.
"For sure, for sure," he said, "and the girl looked just like you, the girl in my dream!" She went back
inside and did not come out again. She went to her room and her thoughts ran through her heart like
water over a dam: always new and different thoughts, but then always the same thoughts, and there
was no end to it. "He knows nothing about that tree," she said. "But he had the dream. And I can do
nothing about it. What he dreamed will come about. I cannot change it." Then she went to bed and
dreamed the whole night the apprentice. When she woke the next morning she knew exactly how he
looked because she had seen his face so often in her dream— the face of a dapper fellow, to be sure.
The apprentice had slept soundly on the straw; he had forgotten all about the Dream Beach Tree, the
dream he had and everything he had told the innkeeper's daughter the evening before. He stood at the
door of the tavern and wanted to shake hands with the innkeeper before he took his leave. Then his
daughter entered the room and when she saw the apprentice all prepared for the journey, a sudden,
strange fear overcame her telling her not to let him go. "Father," she said, "the wine has not yet been
tapped and this young man has nothing to do; could he not stay for one more day and earn his keep
and a bit of money for his journey." The innkeeper had nothing against it for he had already had his
morning drink and breakfast and felt contented, and he was having his finest hour.
But tapping the wine took a long time and the girl always had this or that job so that the apprentice had
to be called to come up from the cellar. When the barrel was finally empty and the bottles filled she
thought it would be good if he did some work in the fields and when he was finished with that she found
something to do in the garden that no one had thought of before. And the weeks passed by and every
night she dreamed about him. In the evening she would sit with him in the bower in front of the house
and when he told her about his hardships on his journeys she would get a bug in her eye or a hair and
have to rub it with her apron.
And after a year had passed the apprentice was still living in the inn and all the rooms had been
scrubbed, white sand had been spread all around and on it little green pine tree twigs, and the whole
village celebrated a holiday. For there was a wedding celebration for the young apprentice and the
innkeeper's daughter, and the villagers rejoiced; and those who could not rejoice because they were
jealous, they pretended, as best they could, to be happy.
Soon afterwards the innkeeper had another one of his finest hours because he was completely satisfied
and sat in his armchair now with his tin of tobacco on his lap and was fast asleep. And when he failed to
wake up they wanted to arouse him; but he was dead—stone dead. In reality the young apprentice had
become the innkeeper just as he had said it in fun, and in every other respect everything came about
just like in his dream under the beech tree. For very soon he had two children and most likely he held
one of them on his lap and feed it and blew on the spoon, and one can be sure that the other child was
pulling a carrot around the room on a sting, although the person who told me this story did not mention
that, and I myself forgot to ask him outright. But it must have been like that because what one dreamed
under the Dream Breech Tree always came true, exactly as it was dreamed.
One day, some four years or so after the wedding, the young innkeeper—for that is what he was now—
was sitting where the wine was served. His wife came in, greeted him and said: "Think of it, yesterday
around noontime one of our harvesters went to sleep under the Dream Beech Tree and had not given it
a thought as to where he was lying. Do you know what he dreamed? He dreamed that he was filthy rich.
And who was it? Old Kaspar, the fellow who is so stupid that one has to pity him. We kept him on as a
laborer here out of kindness. What will he do with all that money?"
Her husband laughed and said: "How can you believe all that nonsense if you are such a smart woman?
Stop and ask yourself if a tree, be it so old and beautiful, can know the future."
The woman looked at her husband with big eyes, shook her head and said earnestly:
"Husband, commit no sin! One should not make fun of such things.
"I am not making fun of anything!" replied her husband.
After that his wife said nothing for a long while, as if she had not quite understood him, but then she
said: "What is this all about! I thought you had every reason to be thankful for that tree. Didn't
everything you dreamed about come true?"
After she said this her husband's face lit up and he answered: "God knows that I am thankful, God and
you. Yes, it was a wonderful dream! I feel that it was only yesterday and I remember every little detail.
And still everything is a thousand times better than I dreamed it. And you are also a thousand times
lovelier and more beautiful than the young girl who appeared in my dream."
And his wife looked at him again with wide open eyes; and he continued: "As for that tree and the
dream, my dear, I see it this way: He who likes to dance finds an opportunity easily; and, the way you
treat other people is the way you will be treated. With all the trouble I have experienced in my lifetime I
think it no miracle that I would dream such sweet things. "
"But that you dreamed that you would marry me!"
"I never had that dream! I just saw a young woman with two children and she was by far not as pretty
as you, and neither were the children."
"Phooey," answered his wife. "Do you want to deny what you said about me and the tree? On the first
day after we met—it was evening and outside in the bower—did you not tell me right off that you had a
dream and that you would marry me and be the innkeeper?"
For the first time her husband remembered the joke that he played on her and said: "I cannot help it, my
dear! I really did not dream of you; and if I said I did, then that was just a joke. You were so curious; I
just wanted to tease you!"
His wife broke down and cried bitterly and left him sitting there. After a while he went to look for her. She
was standing in the yard at the fountain and was still crying. He tried to console her, but in vain.
"You have stolen my love and betrayed my heart!" she said. "I will never be happy again!"
He asked her if she loved him, loved him like no other person in the whole world, and if they had not lived
contentedly and happily with one another like no other couple in the village had done. She had to admit
she had, but she remained sad like she was before, in spite of all these facts.
Then he thought: "Let her cry it out! Tomorrow she will be the same as she was before." But he was
deceiving himself, for on the next morning she was no longer crying but she was earnest and sad and
wanted to have nothing to do with him. Every attempt to console her ended in failure, like on the evening
before. For most of the day she sat in a corner and brooded, and when her husband came in she would
shrink back in fear.
After this had gone on for several days and no change came about he too was overcome with a
profound sadness; for he was afraid his wife's love for him was gone forever. He would walk quietly
through all the rooms thinking what he should do, but he was at a loss. One day he went for a walk
outside the village and strode across a field. It was a hot day in July. There were no clouds in the sky.
The ripe grain moved like waves on a golden lake and the birds were singing; but his heart was heavy
with grief. Then he saw the Old Dream Beech Tree in the distance: like a queen of the trees she stood tall
with her head high in the sky. It seemed to him as if she were motioning to him with her green branches
and calling to him like an old friend. He approached it and sat down under its boughs and thought about
the past. It was almost five years to the day since he, in his miserable condition, had lain down under it
and had such a beautiful dream. How wonderful it was! And the dream had lasted five years.—And now?
Was it all over! Gone? Forever?—
Then the beech tree began to rustle again like it had done five years before and swayed its mighty
branches. And with the movement of the branches it let a small bright ray of sunlight come through here
and there, and here and there a patch of blue sky appeared. His heart was set at rest and he fell asleep,
for he had not slept at all on the preceding nights because of his worries. And it was not long before he
dreamed the same dream he had five years before and the woman at the table and the children at their
games had the same sweet faces his wife and his own children had. And the woman looked at him so
lovingly — ah, so lovingly.
He awoke and when he saw that it was only a dream he was even sadder than before. He broke off a
little green twig and went home and laid it in his hymn book. When his wife wanted to go to church the
next day—it was Sunday—the twig fell out. He who was standing beside her blushed and bent over and
wanted to put it in his pocket. But his wife saw him and asked what kind of leaf it was.
"It is from the Dream Beech Tree; it understands me better than you!" replied her husband. "For when I
went for a walk yesterday and sat down under it I fell asleep. Then as if it wanted to console me I
dreamed that you were happy again and that you had forgotten everything. But that is not true! All they
say about the good old tree is foolish. It is a beautiful tree for sure, but it knows nothing about the
His wife stared at him and her face lit up like sunshine: "Oh, was that really your dream?"
"Yes," he answered emphatically, and she noticed that it was the truth; for his face twitched because he
was trying to keep from crying.
"And I was really your wife?"
When he said she was she threw her arms around him and kissed him so often that he was not able to
stop her. "God be praised," she said, "now everything is in order again! I love you so much — much
more than you can imagine! And every day I was making myself miserable asking myself if I were allowed
to go on loving you and whether God had wanted me to have a different husband. For you know you
had stolen my heart, you crafty fellow. Maybe there was a bit of trickery involved! — Yes, you stole it;
but now I know that it your trickery did not help you and that, in the end, things would have turned out
the way they did." Then she was silent for a while before continuing:
"You will never again say bad things about the Beech Tree, will you?"
"No, never; for I believe in it; maybe in a different way than you, but for that reason with no less
conviction. Be assured of that! And don't you think it would be good to paste that twig on the first page
of our hymn book so we will never lose it." —
|The Dream Beech Tree
Richard von Volkmann-Leander
Illustrations: Hans von Volkmann (Son)
|Reveries at French Firesides