Grandmother and Karen
HEN Frau Radenour and Karen came back to The Little Street Of The Holy Ghost and drew near the corner where Karen lived, Frau Radenour, who had carefully carried the money for the candlesticks, now gave it to the little girl and with a cheery good-by went on to her own home.
Karen hurried up the steps and pushing open the door went into the room where Grandmother lay in her bed. Bending over her patient old face, she kissed her, and then laying the ten francs on the counterpane said, "See, Grandmother! Frau Radenour says this will keep us in bread for quite a long time! And you know we did not need the candlesticks."
Then Grandmother stroked Karen's hand and said: "Thou art a dear child, Karen, and thou hast done well. Grandmother is better now and we will get along."
She told Karen to go to a little shop not far away and buy them some food, of which they had but a scanty supply.
After their humble little dinner Grandmother felt so much better that she was able, with Karen's help, to put on her dress and sit by the open window for a while.
In a few days she had improved so much that she took up the lace-pillow again, and began work. Day by day, beneath her deft fingers, the delicate threads grew into white flowers and frosty tissues; and Karen, sitting by her side, learned to make a flower shaped like a little hyacinth bell, and Grandmother smiled proudly and said she would be a fine lace-maker. And then Karen tried harder than ever to learn how to use the tiny bobbins.
Sometimes, through the pleasant spring days, they sat on the doorstep and worked. There was a convent not far away where the nuns taught the children of the poorer folk of Bruges. And often, as Grandmother looked at Karen working so hard over her little black pillow, she grieved much that the little girl could not go to this school at least a part of every day, for she wanted her to have a chance to learn something; but she could not spare her. For though Grandmother was better, she was not strong and could not work so steadily as she had done before. Karen had to help as much as she could about the house and in every way relieve her, which kept the little girl busy.
Early in the summer Madame Koerner, who had returned from Ghent, had Karen come every afternoon to play with and look after her little boy, and, in this she earned a little money, till Madame Koerner was called away again.
But yet, in spite of all their efforts, Grandmother and Karen had hard work to keep themselves from want. And from time to time Grandmother's tired hands would tremble so she would have to stop work for a little while. And then Karen would have to go again to the rag-market with Frau Radenour and carry with her some one of their few possessions. In this way they parted with the little brass coffee-pot which, next to the candlesticks, had been the pride of Grandmother's heart; and then, later on, went a pitcher, and even Karen's pewter mug, and one or two pieces of the precious linen which Grandmother had tried to store up for the little girl against the time when she grew up and would perhaps have a home of her own.
So, gradually, the little house grew more and more bare within, though Grandmother and Karen still bravely struggled on, and in one way and another managed to keep from the almshouse.
But though the little girl had to work so hard, she had her simple little pleasures, too. Sometimes Grandmother finished her lace for some one of the ladies who had seen her work at Madame Koerner's and who lived in that part of the city. And then it was one of Karen's chief delights to take the work home; for she loved to walk through their gardens where old-fashioned roses and poppies and blue corn-flowers bloomed, and snapdragons and larkspurs and many other gay blossoms splashed their bright color along the box-bordered paths, for Bruges has always been famous for her beautiful flowers. And often when the little girl came home it would be with her hands full of posies that had been given her, and these brightened up the bare little house and helped make them forget the many things they had been obliged to part with. Though not all the flowers stayed within, for Karen always took pains to pick out the very prettiest one, and then with this in her hand she would lean from the sill of the window nearest the little shrine at the corner of the house, and there she would tuck the flower within the little hand of the Christ-child's image. For it did not seem to her fitting that the house should be decorated within and the shrine left bare.
Another thing Karen loved to do was to go with Grandmother, sometimes on Sunday afternoons when they had a holiday, out to the pretty little lake called the Minne-Water, which lay just within the old city walls. Here, where the great elm trees cast their dappled shadows, many white swans were always to be found floating about. Karen always saved part of her bread on Sundays that she might have the delight of feeding the lovely great birds, who would swim up as she leaned over the edge of the water and eat the morsels from her rosy palm.
Indeed, it takes but little to give pleasure when one works hard all week long. And as Karen bent over her lace-pillow day after day, she would dream about the gardens and the swans on the Minne-Water till sometimes she would drop her bobbins and tangle her thread, and Grandmother would have to bid her be more careful; and then she would set to work again and her little fingers would fairly fly.
Day by day, up in the wonderful belfry, the silvery chimes rang out the hours, till the summer had passed away and the autumn came. Soon the starlings and cuckoos all flew away to warmer lands, and in the open spaces of the city the green leaves of the chestnut trees curled up and fluttered down to the ground, and the great willows, that here and there overhung the old canals, slowly dropped their golden foliage to float away on the silvery water below.
In the little yellow house Grandmother and Karen now had to burn some of their precious hoard of wood even after their bit of cooking on the hearth was done; and Karen could no longer put a flower for the Christ-child up in the little shrine of the house.
Indeed, as winter drew on, bringing with it thoughts of the Christmas time, Karen said to herself sadly that this year she would have no money to spend for the little gifts she so loved to make. She remembered how pleased she had been the Christmas before to select and buy the green jug for Grandmother and the pretty porringer for the Christ-child. Grandmother had liked the jug as well as Karen had hoped she would; and she hoped, too, that the Christ-child had been pleased with the porringer—she was sure he had found it on the doorstep, because it was gone the next morning.
She wished she might buy presents for both of them again, but she knew that even if some of the ladies Grandmother worked for should give her a silver piece as had Madame Koerner the year before, she would have to spend it for the food they must have and for which it seemed so hard to get the money.
There was one thing though that, poor as they were, Grandmother felt they must provide against the Christmas time; they must have their wax candles to take to the cathedral even if they had to do without light themselves.
So when the time wore on and the day before Christmas came, just as they had done as far back as Karen could remember, they set out for the ancient cathedral, each carrying a white taper to be blessed and lighted and add its tiny golden flame to the hundreds twinkling through the dim, perfumed air.
When the vesper service was over, and again they walked slowly back to the little house, its steep roof was powdered over with light snowflakes that were beginning to pile up in soft drifts on the points of the gable and to flutter down to the street below.
As Karen looked up at the little shrine hung with its wintry fringe of twinkling icicles, and at the image of the Christ-child within, she wondered if the real Christ-child would bring her something again at midnight. And she wondered, too, for the thousandth time, how he could bring gifts to so many children in a single night, and how it was that he did not grow very tired and cold, as she was then, and she had been no farther than the cathedral.
But Grandmother said he did not feel the cold nor grow tired like other children so long as they kept him warm with their love; but that if he found a child whose heart was cold and who did not try to obey him, then he shivered in the snow and his little feet grew so weary! Karen could not see how any child could help loving him when he was so good to them all; and she wished again that she had some little gift to show him that she thought about him, and cared for him.
She gave a little sigh as they went in, but soon she was busy helping set out their supper, and then when they had finished, and put the dishes back on the dresser, she and Grandmother sat by the hearth in the flickering light of the fire.
And as they looked into the embers, they both saw visions and dreamed dreams. Grandmother's dreams were of long ago, when Karen's mother was a little girl like Karen herself; while Karen dreamed of the time when she would be grown up and able to do wonderful things for Grandmother.