HILE Hans went thus whistling happily down the street, Grandmother and Karen were still breathless with excitement over the good fortune that had come to them.
With trembling hands Grandmother had emptied the contents of the porringer on the table, and as she looked at the little pile of shining silver coins that had filled it she knew it was enough to keep them for months—yes, with their simple wants, they might live on it for a year! And already she felt stronger and better able to work since the fear of the alms-house was thus gone—at least for a long while.
But where had the money come from? She stood dazed before it, so bewildered trying to account for it that presently Karen asked her in surprise, "Why, Grandmother, wasn't it the Christ-child who brought everything?" And then she answered slowly and softly, with awe and wonder quivering through her voice, "Yes, little one, it must have been none other than the Christ-child!"
And, of course, it was; and that he had chosen Hans to be his messenger was quite his own affair. If the little silver coins could have spoken, they might have told Grandmother and Karen how Hans had saved them one by one. Indeed, it was less than a week after he had seen Karen selling the candlesticks in the rag-market that he had been offered a place as sailor on a large vessel about to start on a voyage to far-away China; and Captain Helmgar, though sorry to part with him, had been glad of his good luck, for Hans was really a fine sailor and he could earn better wages on the larger vessel. And so it was that the first silver pieces found themselves put into a little bag, and every month more and more coming to keep them company. They might have told, too, how on ship-board Hans was called a miser, because when the vessel anchored at strange cities he spent nothing for amusements and the things which sailors usually like to do when on land; and how Hans, though he hated to be thought stingy, had yet smiled to himself the larger his hoard grew; for he knew very well that he was really no miser and that he had his own reasons for saving the silver pieces.
And then, if the candlesticks could have talked, they might have taken up the story and told how, when a certain large vessel from China had moored at Ostend the week before, a sailor named Hans had come back to Bruges and had inquired if they were still in the shop of the dealer he had seen buying them in the rag-market. And how he had spent just enough from his bag-full of silver to buy them and take them away from the shelf where they had stood so long because the dealer, a grasping man, had set so high a price that no one would buy; and so at last when Hans offered him a fair sum he was glad enough to sell them. And then they could have told how he had gone to the Christmas market in the Grande Place and bought the two white candles.
And, last of all, the little porringer might have finished the tale by saying: "I was really the one, you know, that started it all; for Hans used often to look at me, and my little girl with the rose in her hand—he called her Emschen—used to smile at him, and always reminded him of Karen and how Karen needed some one to help her, and how I really belonged to her,—for he did not know then that she had bought me for the Christ-child. At any rate, he kept saving the silver just so he could fill my bowl with them and bring me back to Karen, and so here I am!"
But though, if they could have spoken, they might have told all these things to Grandmother and Karen, the Christmas candles contented themselves with filling their little flames with golden light, and the candlesticks just shone and twinkled, and the silver coins gleamed softly, and the little girl in the porringer seemed fairly to laugh with glee as Karen looked into her face.
As for Karen, she was so delighted with it all that she danced about the room like a little mad-cap sprite. But though her heart was brimming over with happiness, there was one thing that perplexed her: while she knew perfectly well that their good fortune had come from the Christ-child, she could not understand why he had brought back the porringer. With the other things it was different, for, of course, he knew how they had hated to part with the candlesticks and how much they needed the money; but the porringer had been meant all the while for him, and so why had he brought it back?
Grandmother, who had never seen it before, listened in bewilderment as Karen, standing beside the table, now told her about buying it for the Christ-child and leaving it on the doorstep the year before; and she scarcely knew what to say when, with a troubled look, the little girl asked: "Do you think he did not like it, Grandmother?"
Grandmother was silent a moment, and then, "No, child," she answered, "else why would he have filled it with silver and stood it between the lighted candles? No, he must have had some reason we do not understand, but I feel sure he was pleased with it."
Karen thought very hard for a few minutes, and at last she said: "I think he must have brought it back because he knew we had to sell my pewter mug, and that I have only the cup with the broken handle for my bread and milk."
Karen was very well satisfied with this explanation, but somehow she felt that having meant it as a present for the Christ-child she did not want to take the porringer back; and so she hardly knew what to do with it. But in a moment she looked up with a happy smile, and "Oh, Grandmother," she exclaimed, "I thought what to do with it! I will put it up in the little shrine, so if he wants it again he can find it!"
Grandmother thought that would be a very nice thing to do with the porringer; and as the Christmas candles slowly burned away, they sat there talking over the wonderful thing that had happened to them, till it seemed like some marvellous dream, and they would have to rub their eyes and look again and again at the little porringer, and the silver coins, and the white candles tipped with golden flame, to be quite sure that it was all really true.