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The First Christmas-Tree Henry van Dyke

Section II.

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A hoarse sound of approval ran through the circle. A chant, in which the voices of the men and women blended, like the shrill wind in the pinetrees above the rumbling thunder of a waterfall, rose and fell in rude cadences.

    O Thor, the Thunderer
    Mighty and merciless,
    Spare us from smiting!
    Heave not thy hammer,
    Angry, aginst us;
    Plague not thy people.
    Take from our treasure
    Richest Of ransom.
    Silver we send thee,
    Jewels and javelins,
    Goodliest garments,
    All our possessions,
    Priceless, we proffer.
    Sheep will we slaughter,
    Steeds will we sacrifice;
    Bright blood shall bathe
    O tree of Thunder,
    Life-floods shall lave thee,
    Strong wood of wonder.
    Mighty, have mercy,
    Smile as no more,
    Spare us and save us,
    Spare us, Thor! Thor!

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With two great shouts the song ended, and stillness followed so intense that the crackling of the fire was heard distinctly. The old priest stood silent for a moment. His shaggy brows swept down ever his eyes like ashes quenching flame. Then he lifted his face and spoke.

"None of these things will please the god. More costly is the offering that shall cleanse your sin, more precious the crimson dew that shall send new life into this holy tree of blood. Thor claims your dearest and your noblest gift."

Hunrad moved nearer to the group of children who stood watching the fire and the swarms of spark-serpents darting upward. They had heeded none of the priest's words, and did not notice now that he approached them, so eager were they to see which fiery snake would go highest among the oak branches. Foremost among them, and most intent on the pretty game, was a boy like a sunbeam, slender and quick, with blithe brown eyes and laughing lips. The priest's hand was laid upon his shoulder. The boy turned and looked up in his face.

"Here," said the old man, with his voice vibrating as when a thick rope is strained by a ship swinging from her moorings, "here is the chosen one, the eldest son of the Chief, the darling of the people. Hearken, Bernhard, wilt thou go to Valhalla, where the heroes dwell with the gods, to bear a message to Thor?"

The boy answered, swift and clear:

"Yes, priest, I will go if my father bids me. Is it far away? Shall I run quickly? Must I take my bow and arrows for the wolves?"

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The Blue Flower
Henry van Dyke

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