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There once was a tree. Old and tall. Its branches still bore many leaves in the Spring and provided shelter and shade for animals as well as drifters who happened by. Locals often argued about exactly what kind of tree it was. It defied classification. By most descriptions it was an ugly tree, twisting upward this way and that while still remaining somehow straight. Its leaves were sometimes unfragrant in a hot wind.
A nearby town had one hostel where many had guested over the years. Indeed, they paid much and boasted far and wide of having bedded there. Outside it was beautifully painted and the lobby was expensively decorated, although some whispered that the rooms themselves were small, plain and infested with vermin. Yet, over the years colorful ads tacked around town and in neighboring villages kept travelers coming.
The hostel was owned and operated by an elderly woman with a jagged scar across her cheek that she tried to keep hidden with make-up. True enough, the scar wasn’t visible unless one looked closely.
One scorching summer day, a traveler who had once lodged at her hostel decided to rest under the tree instead. She saw this from a distance and frowned. The traveler enjoyed his stay and told others. Soon, several slept beneath the tree. The woman watched through her spyglass full of jealousy and spite. She hatched a plan.
She entered the local tavern and voiced concern that the old tree was unstable, dangerous to passersby and should be uprooted and toppled. Many nodded, though some checked for themselves. She then repeated her “concerns” about the tree to the local newspaperman. He had run many over-priced ads about her hostel and indeed, had enjoyed the finest room in her hostel on many adulterous occasions. He ran an editorial saying the tree’s roots were weak, the tree was unstable, hazardous and should be pulled down.
The woman watched as a group of men muscled their way through those sleeping happily beneath the tree. The men stepped on those lying with contentment in the ugly old tree’s shade. They put shoulders to bark and pushed with all their might. The tree didn’t budge.
This angered the woman and the newspaperman shared her irritation. They claimed even more loudly that the tree would soon fall over and hurt the innocent. Soon, a mule team was hitched, a rope was wrapped around the tree’s trunk and the mules pulled and pulled, whipped by the woman.
The tree didn’t move.
The woman’s rage was red, hot and terrible to behold. Her sweat dissolved her make-up and her scar became visible to many, encouraging more to take shelter beneath the tree. In an ironic twist, her scar just made her appear more attractive to the newspaperman. Together they proclaimed the perils of the tree at the top of breath and point of saber pen.
Soon, two men with a double-handled saw approached the tree and threatened all those beneath it. Then they sawed and sawed and although the tree seemed to shift slightly, the saw’s blade broke and the efforts of the men were frustrated.
There are two endings for this tale and both are told with regularity to this day. The first ending tells that people realized the woman’s madness in that if the tree was truly unstable, it would have fallen under her many attacks. People learned to ignore her and the newspaperman, enjoying the shelter of the tree and its low cost to many. The woman’s hostel went unrented, few bought the newspaper, forcing both into bankruptcy and humiliation.
The second ending tells that the woman’s fury grew ever greater. Egged on by the newspaperman, a team of lumberjacks armed with axes set their arms against the tree. Well supplied with extra blades and handles they slowly chipped away at the tree until it finally toppled. The woman and newspaperman then declared their predictions had been justified, the tree fell just as they said it would. Her hostel flourished, full of profit as did the newspaper.
Which ending is preferable?
Robert George 9/7/2018
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