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CHAPTER VI THE SAD STORY OF THE TRANSFORMATION
I soon learned to feel so much affection and admiration for Fiam that even now I never light a match without thinking of him.

“Was that the end?” I asked him.

“No; every year at that date in May there was a festival in the wood. You see, I had become a god to these people; they adored me. But as the years passed the festival grew very sad. The men became old. The army dwindled away. The musicians lost their voices, and each year the songs were slower and feebler. Prince Funato’s hair turned white, then his back was bent, then he came up the mountain leaning on a cane, then he was carried on a litter, and then he came no more.

“The first year his followers returned without him; they wept as they burned incense under my boughs. Funato was dead. From that time the pilgrimage was more and more melancholy.

[54]

“Fifty years after the battle there were left only one musician, two servants and nine soldiers. At the end of another year, that day in May, only one man came. He looked as if he were a hundred years old. He could hardly drag himself along. He laid his wrinkled forehead against me and murmured:

“‘Honorable Willow, we shall never meet again.’

“After that I saw no one; I was forgotten. How could I tell what men were doing in the valley? But I am tiring you with all these old memories.”

“Fiam!” I exclaimed, after a few minutes of silence, “I not only love you, but respect you. You have done some beautiful things in your life.”

“But think what I have come to be—a match!”

“Tell me how it happened.”

“Well, some years passed; then one day I heard voices and the sound of axes in the woods, and I saw that companies of men were chopping down the trees. This work lasted for months. Near me there was another Haji living in a beautiful elm half-way up the mountain. One evening I heard the crash of a great tree falling, and in the midst of the noise I could hear the voice of my friend, who called out to me:

[55]

“‘Farewell, Mikara.’

“I looked over the tops of the trees. He was gone, and I never saw him again. The next morning a man passed near me, looked at me and, with a brush soaked in paint as red as blood, he made on my trunk the words that mean, ‘To be cut down.’

“I shook my bark in the way horses shake their skins to drive away flies, hoping to make those horrible words drop off, but I didn’t succeed. Some days later a group of ragged men arrived with axes; they read the words and fell upon me.”

“And what did you do?”

“I? In that moment of danger I revealed myself for the second time. You know, I told you that Hajis could make themselves known three times. I shouted, ‘Stop!’”

“And did they?”

“Yes, for an instant. They listened and I repeated, ‘Stop!’ They laughed and said it was an echo. I don’t know what sort of a thing an echo is. Once on a time when we heard a voice in the wood we all knew it was a Haji speaking. Now they say: ‘It is an echo,’ and laugh.”

[56]

“And they cut you down?”

“Yes, indeed, they cut me down. They worked a whole day. They took me first into the valley; next I felt myself carried quickly by a monster that spit fire.”

“The train.”

“Call it that, if you like. I was taken into a great house where there was another monster that cut the trees in sheets.”

“A sawmill.”

[57]

“Call it that if you like. I was cut into eight hundred parts, and each part was caught by iron jaws, swallowed and spit out, turned into thousands and thousands of little sticks, all exactly alike. A real army of sticks, whole regiments, were put at one time into a suffocating bath, from which they came out with phosphorus heads.

“At last they were shut up in little boxes, and then they were piled in pyramids in an immense room.”

“A store.”

“Call it that if you like.”

“And what became of you?”

“You know that a Haji before dying can take refuge in whatever part of the tree still remains. So I passed from box to box. As the boxes were packed in larger boxes and carried away, I went from one to another of those that remained.

“At last the pyramid became very small; only a hundred and forty-four boxes were left. They were all put together and I was carried to this city. The boxes were sold one by one. I lived in the last, in this one where you found me. All this time I had before me the picture of the frightful end that awaited me. At [58] first when I realized that my power, my peace and happiness were over, I supposed I should still live, so imagine my terror when.... It makes me crazy to think of it.”
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