ND if Grandmother and Karen were radiant with happiness that Christmas eve, not less so was Hans the sailor. And on Christmas morning, when all the bells of Bruges pealed out their glad carillons, instead of filling his heart with bitterness as they had done a year before when he sat by his desolate hearth in the forsaken hut, now they sounded sweet and joyous in his ears, and he thought the world a fine and pleasant place to live in after all. And above all he was glad and thankful that the porringer was safely back. But although he had restored it to Karen, he had become so interested in her that he did not mean to lose sight of her; nor did he.
He continued to be a sailor on the large ship, and voyaged to and fro over the sea, but whenever he was on shore he always looked up the little yellow house and tried to learn how life fared with Grandmother and Karen. Before long he found means to become acquainted with them, and in many ways, often unknown to themselves, he befriended them.
But as time went on, he wanted to do more. To be sure, the silver coins he had put in the porringer had brought to the two warmth and light and food and comfort, such as they had not known for many a month; and Grandmother had still been able to lay aside quite a sum of money against a rainy day; and the knowledge that they had this nest-egg to fall back on if either fell ill again brought relief and peace of mind that only those who have struggled for their bread can fully know. And it was with a lighter heart than she had had for years that Grandmother still kept on with her lace-making; and day, by day, sitting beside her, still Karen tried her best to master the beautiful art.
But whenever Sailor Hans came to see them it distressed him to find them toiling over the little black pillows, and to feel that he himself had no one to do for and yet was so much better able to work than they. For during those months that Hans had saved up the silver coins for the porringer he had made a discovery, and that was that it was very much pleasanter and happier to have some object in life and some one to work for.
But whenever he strove to help them, Grandmother's pride forbade, for, of course, she knew no reason why he should do so. So at last one day Hans quietly told her the story of his life; and, in so doing, to the surprise of both of them, they discovered that Grandmother had known and loved his own mother in their girlhood days in Bruges.
When Hans had finished, he begged Grandmother for the sake of this friendship, and most of all because of what Karen had unwittingly done for Hans himself, that she would let him care for them as if she were his own mother and Karen his own little long-lost sister Emschen; and he begged so earnestly that Grandmother, with all her pride, could no longer refuse, and when she gave her consent nothing had ever made Hans more proud and happy.
From his monthly earnings he began regularly to set aside a certain sum to go to the little yellow house. Often, too, from his voyages he brought back some foreign gift for Grandmother or pretty trinket for Karen; and once, oddly enough, it was a little string of coral beads, so much prettier than the blue ones she had so longed for that day she bought the porringer in the Christmas market that she laughed with delight, and flinging her arms around his neck, she kissed Hans and declared he was the best friend she had!
Sometimes when he was on shore in summer, he would come up to the little yellow house and Grandmother would sit in the open doorway with her lace-pillow in her lap—for he could not persuade her to give up her work entirely—while Karen and he sat on the doorstep, the little girl industriously working, too. And then Hans, soberly smoking his pipe, would tell Karen every little while that she must not hurt her eyes, as she must save them for the time when she went to school. For one of the first things that Hans had seen to was to arrange for Karen to go to the convent school where Grandmother had wished to send her. And then Karen would laugh and say: "I will just finish this one lace flower, Sailor Hans, and then I will stop."
And always from the little shrine up in the corner of the house the Christ-child nestling on his mother's breast seemed to smile down at them with a wise look in his baby eyes, while down at the edge of Mother Mary's blue robe gleamed the blue handles of the little porringer.
Sometimes, when Karen had a flower, she filled the porringer with fresh water and placed the flower within it. And one day the pigeons found it out, and, fluttering down from the steep roofs near by, came to drink from it. Karen, seeing this with delight, always after took pains every day to fill it freshly from the wonderful dragon pump, so that the pigeons might not be disappointed. And it was a pretty sight to see them one at a time poising at the edge of the shrine and bending their glossy necks to dip up the water.
When winter came and the icicles hung their rainbow fringe from the carved canopy above, and the white hoar-frost wreathed the little bowl and trailed from the blue handles like garlands of fairy flowers, then Karen filled it every day with crumbs. For Sailor Hans, for some reason she never knew, always took a great interest in the porringer, and always left a little piece of silver to supply it; and whenever Christmas time came he insisted that it must be kept heaped with barley, so that the birds might have a holiday feast.
And by and by, when Grandmother had come to take life more easily and sometimes folded the patient hands that had wrought so many exquisite things, when Karen had grown a tall girl, sweet and helpful, still filling the little house with happy laughter and with the dreams in her blue eyes growing deeper and deeper, when their staunch friend Hans was no longer sailor but grey-haired Captain Hans, honored and respected by all who knew him, still the little porringer stood in the shrine. And through summers and winters the birds ate and drank from it, and the Christ-child seemed quite content that it should stay there.
This was all many years ago; but unless he has taken it away, no doubt it is still standing in the spot chosen by Karen, close by the feet of Mother Mary and watched over by the Holy Babe she clasps so lovingly to her heart.