Text of Plan #938
  WEEK 50  

  Monday  


Good Stories for Great Holidays  by Frances Jenkins Olcott

Little Piccola

In the sunny land of France there lived many years ago a sweet little maid named Piccola.

Her father had died when she was a baby, and her mother was very poor and had to work hard all day in the fields for a few sous.

Little Piccola had no dolls and toys, and she was often hungry and cold, but she was never sad nor lonely.

What if there were no children for her to play with! What if she did not have fine clothes and beautiful toys! In summer there were always the birds in the forest, and the flowers in the fields and meadows,—the birds sang so sweetly, and the flowers were so bright and pretty!

In the winter when the ground was covered with snow, Piccola helped her mother, and knit long stockings of blue wool.

The snow-birds had to be fed with crumbs, if she could find any, and then, there was Christmas Day.

But one year her mother was ill and could not earn any money. Piccola worked hard all the day long, and sold the stockings which she knit, even when her own little bare feet were blue with the cold.

As Christmas Day drew near she said to her mother, "I wonder what the good Saint Nicholas will bring me this year. I cannot hang my stocking in the fireplace, but I shall put my wooden shoe on the hearth for him. He will not forget me, I am sure."

"Do not think of it this year, my dear child," replied her mother. "We must be glad if we have bread enough to eat."

But Piccola could not believe that the good saint would forget her. On Christmas Eve she put her little wooden patten on the hearth before the fire, and went to sleep to dream of Saint Nicholas.

As the poor mother looked at the little shoe, she thought how unhappy her dear child would be to find it empty in the morning, and wished that she had something, even if it were only a tiny cake, for a Christmas gift. There was nothing in the house but a few sous, and these must be saved to buy bread.

When the morning dawned Piccola awoke and ran to her shoe.

Saint Nicholas had come in the night. He had not forgotten the little child who had thought of him with such faith.

See what he had brought her. It lay in the wooden patten, looking up at her with its two bright eyes, and chirping contentedly as she stroked its soft feathers.

A little swallow, cold and hungry, had flown into the chimney and down to the room, and had crept into the shoe for warmth.

Piccola danced for joy, and clasped the shivering swallow to her breast.

She ran to her mother's bedside. "Look, look!" she cried. "A Christmas gift, a gift from the good Saint Nicholas!" And she danced again in her little bare feet.

Then she fed and warmed the bird, and cared for it tenderly all winter long; teaching it to take crumbs from her hand and her lips, and to sit on her shoulder while she was working.

In the spring she opened the window for it to fly away, but it lived in the woods near by all summer, and came often in the early morning to sing its sweetest songs at her door.


— After Celia Thaxter
 



Oliver Herford

I Heard a Bird Sing

I heard a bird sing

In the dark of December.

A magical thing

And sweet to remember.


"We are nearer to Spring

Than we were in September,"

I heard a bird sing

In the dark of December.

 


  WEEK 50  

  Tuesday  


The Dutch Twins  by Lucy Fitch Perkins

The Day They Got Their Skates

Part 3 of 3

Father and Mother Vedder sat up late that night. Mother Vedder said it was to prepare the goose for dinner the next day.

When the Twins woke the next morning, the fire was already roaring up the chimney, and the kitchen was warm as toast. They hopped out of bed and ran for their wooden shoes. Mother Vedder reached up to the mantel shelf for them. Truly, the hay was gone—and there in each shoe was a package done up in paper!

"Oh, he did  come! He did  come!" cried Kat. "O Mother, you're sure you didn't build the fire before he had got out of the chimney?"

"I'm sure," said Vrouw Vedder. "I've made the fire on many a St. Nicholas morning, and I've never burned him yet!"

The Twins climbed up the steps to their cupboard bed and sat on the edge of it to open their packages. In Kit's was a big St. Nicholas cake, like the one in the shop window! And in Kat's were three cakes like birds, and two like fish!


[Illustration]

"Just what we wanted!" said Kit and Kat. "Do you suppose he heard us say so?"

"St. Nicholas can hear what people think,"  said Vrouw Vedder. "He is coming to see you to-night at six o'clock, and you must be ready to sing him a little song and answer any questions he asks you."

"How glad I am that we are so good!" said Kat.

"We'll see what the Saint thinks about that," said the mother. "Now get dressed; for Grandfather and Grandmother will be here for dinner, and we're going to have roast goose, and there's a great deal to do."

Kit and Kat set their beautiful cakes up where they could see them while they dressed.

"I do wish every day were St. Nicholas Day," said Kit.

"Or the day before," said Kat. "That was such a nice day!"

"All  the days are nice days, I think," said Kit.

"I don't think the dog-cart day was so very nice," said Kat. "We tore our best clothes, and they'll never, never be so nice again. That was because you  didn't mind!"

"Well," said Kit, "I minded as much as I could. How can I mind two things at one time? You know how well I can think! You know how I thought about Vrouw Van der Kloot's cakes. But I can't  think how I can mind twice at one time."

"I don't suppose you can," said Kat. "But anyway, I'm sorry about my dress."

Just then Vrouw Vedder called them to come and eat their breakfast.


[Illustration]

Father and Mother Vedder sat down at the little round table and bowed their heads. Kit and Kat stood up. Father Vedder said grace; and then they ate their salt herring and drank their coffee; and Kit and Kat had coffee too, because it was St. Nicholas morning.

It was snowing when, after breakfast, Kit went out with his father to feed the chickens and the pigs, and to see that the cow had something very good that she liked to eat. When they had done that, they called Kat; and she helped throw out some grain on the white snow, so the birds could have a feast, too.


[Illustration]

It snowed all day. Kit and Kat both helped their mother get the dinner. They got the cabbage and the onions and the potatoes ready; and when the goose was hung upon the fire to roast, they watched it and kept it spinning around on the spit, so it would brown evenly.

By and by the kitchen was all in order, and you can't think how clean and homelike it looked! The brasses all around the room had little flames dancing in them, because they were so bright and shiny. Everything was ready for the St. Nicholas feast. The goose was nearly roasted, and there was such a good smell of it in the air!

After a while there was a great stamping of feet at the door; and Vrouw Vedder ran with the broom to brush the snow off Grandfather and Grandmother, who had skated all the way from town, on the canal. When they were warmed and dried, and all their wraps put away, Grandfather and Grandmother Winkle looked around the pleasant kitchen; and Grandmother said to Grandfather,

"Our Neltje is certainly a good house-wife." Neltje was Vrouw Vedder. And Grandfather said,

"There's only one better one, my dear." He meant Grandmother Winkle.

By and by they all sat down to dinner, and I can't begin to tell you how good it was! It makes one hungry just to think of it. They had roast goose and onions and turnips and cabbage. They had bread and butter, and cheese, and sweet cakes.

"Everything except the flour in the bread, we raised ourselves," said Vrouw Vedder. "The hens gave us the eggs; and the cow, the butter. The Twins helped Father and me to take care of the chickens, and to milk the cow, and to make the butter; so it is our very own St. Nicholas feast that we are eating."

"A farmer's life is the best life there is," said Father Vedder.

They sat a long time at the table; and Grandfather told stories about when he was a boy; and Father Vedder told how Kit and Kat learned to skate; and Kit and Kat told how they saw St. Nicholas riding on a white horse, and how he sent them the very things they wanted; and they all enjoyed themselves very much.

After dinner, Grandmother Winkle sat down in the chimney corner and called Kit and Kat.

"Come here," she said, "and I'll tell you some stories about St. Nicholas."


[Illustration]

The Twins brought two little stools and sat beside her, one on each side. She took out her knitting; and as the needles clicked in her fingers, she told this story:

"Once upon a time, many years ago, three little brothers went out one day to the woods to gather fagots. They were just about as big as you are, Kit and Kat."

"Were they all three, twins?" asked Kat.

"The story doesn't tell about that," said Grandmother Winkle; "but maybe they were. At any rate, they all got lost in the woods and wandered ever so far, trying to find their way home. But instead of finding their way home, they just got more and more lost all the time. They were very tired and hungry; but, as they were brave boys, not one of them cried."

"It's lucky that none of those twins were girls," said Kit.

"I've even heard of boy twins that cried, when dog carts ran away, or something of that kind happened," said Grandmother Winkle. "But you shouldn't interrupt; it's not polite."

"Oh!" said Kit very meekly.

"Well, as I was saying, they were very lost indeed. Night was coming on; and they were just thinking that they must lie down on the ground to sleep, when one of them saw a light shining through the leaves. He pointed it out to the others; and they walked along toward it, stumbling over roots and stones as they went, for it was now quite dark.

"As they came nearer, they saw that the light came from the window of a poor little hut on the edge of a clearing.

"They went to the door and knocked. The door was opened by a dirty old woman, who lived in the hut with her husband, who was a farmer.

"The boys told the old woman that they had lost their way, and asked her if she could give them a place to sleep. She spoke to her husband, who sat crouched over a little fire in the corner; and he told her to give them a bed in the loft.

"The three boys climbed the little ladder into the loft and lay down on the hay. They were so tired that they fell asleep at once. The old man and his wife whispered about them over their bit of fire.

" 'They are fine-looking boys; and well dressed,' said the old woman.

" 'Yes,' said the old man, 'and I have no doubt they have plenty of money about them.'

" 'Do you really think so?' said the wife.

" 'I think I'll find out,' said the wicked farmer. So he climbed up to the loft and killed the three boys. Then he looked in their pockets for money; but there was no money there.

"He was very angry. And he was very much afraid—wicked people are always afraid."

"Are all afraid people wicked?" asked Kat. She wished very much that she were brave.

"M-m-m, well—not always,"  said Grandmother Winkle.

"The wicked farmer was so afraid that he wanted to put the bodies of the three boys where no one would find them. So he carried them down cellar and put them into the pickle tub with his pork."

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" screamed Kat, and she put her hands over her ears. Even Kit's eyes were very round and big. But Grandmother said,

"Now, don't you be scared until I get to the end of the story. Didn't I tell you it was all about St. Nicholas? You wait and see what happened!

"That very same day the wicked farmer went to market with some vegetables to sell. As he was sitting in the market, St. Nicholas appeared, before him. He had on his mitre and his long robes, just as you see him in Kit's cake.

"Have you any pork to sell?" St. Nicholas asked the man.

"No," said the farmer.

"What of the three young pigs in your brine tub in the cellar?" said St. Nicholas.

"The farmer saw that his wicked deed was found out—as all wicked deeds are, sooner or later. He fell on his knees and begged the good Saint to forgive him.

"St. Nicholas said, 'Show me the way to your house.'

"The farmer left his vegetables unsold in the market and went home at once, the Saint following all the way.

"When they reached the hut, St. Nicholas went to the pickled-pork tub in the cellar. He waved his staff over the tub, and out jumped the three boys, hearty and well! Then the good Saint took them through the woods and left them in sight of their own home."

"Oh, what a good St. Nicholas!" said Kit and Kat. "Tell us another."

"Well," said Grandmother Winkle, "once upon another time there was a very mean man, who had a great deal of money—that often happens. He had, also, three beautiful daughters—that sometimes happens too.

"One day he lost all his money. Now, he cared more for money than for anything else in the world—more, even, than for his three beautiful daughters. So he made up his mind to sell them!

"St. Nicholas knew of this wicked plan; so that very night he went to the man's house and dropped some money through a broken window."

"Why did he do that?" asked Kat.

"Because the man was selling his daughters to get money. If he had money enough, he wouldn't sell them.

"The first night St. Nicholas dropped enough money to pay for the eldest daughter. The next night he took a purse of gold for the second daughter, and dropped it down the chimney. It fell down right in front of the man, as he was getting a coal to light his pipe. The third night the man watched; and when St. Nicholas came, the door flew open, and the man ran out. He caught St. Nicholas by his long robe and held him.

" 'O St. Nicholas, Servant of the Lord,' he said, 'why dost thou hide thy good deeds?'

"And from that time on, every one has known it is St. Nicholas who brings gifts in the night and drops them down the chimney."

"Did the man sell his daughter?" asked Kat.

"No," said Grandmother. "He was so ashamed of himself that he wasn't wicked any more."

"Does St. Nicholas give everybody presents so they will be good?" asked Kat.

"Yes," said Grandmother; "that's why bad children get only a rod in their shoes."

"He gave the bad man nice presents to make him good," said Kit. "Why doesn't he give bad children nice things to make them  good too?"

Grandmother Winkle knitted for a minute without speaking. Then she said,

"I guess he thinks that the rod is the present that will make them good in the shortest time."

The clock had been ticking steadily along while Grandmother had been telling stories, and it was now late in the afternoon. The sky was all red in the west; there were long, long shadows across the snowy fields, and the corners of the kitchen were quite dark.

"It's almost time to expect him, now," said Vrouw Vedder; and she brought out a sheet and spread it in the middle of the kitchen floor. She stirred up the fire, and the room was filled with the pleasant glow from the flames.

Kit and Kat sat on their little stools. Their eyes were very big. At five minutes of six, Vrouw Vedder said,

"He will be here in just a few minutes, now. Get up, Kit and Kat, and sing your song!"

The Twins stood up on the edge of the sheet and began to sing:

"St. Nicholas, good, holy man,

Put on your best gown;

Ride with it to Amsterdam,

From Amsterdam to Spain."


[Illustration]

While they were singing, there was a sound at the door, of some one feeling for the latch. Then the door flew open, and a great shower of sweet cakes and candies fell onto the sheet, all around Kit and Kat! There in the doorway stood St. Nicholas himself, smiling and shaking off the snow! His horse was stamping outside. Kit and Kat could hear it.

They stopped singing and hardly breathed,—they stood so still. They looked at St. Nicholas with big, big eyes. In one hand St. Nicholas carried two large packages; in the other, a birch rod.

"Are there any good children here?" said St. Nicholas.

"Pretty good, if you please, dear St. Nicholas," said Kit in a very small voice.

"Children who always mind their mothers and fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers?" said St. Nicholas, "and who do not quarrel?"

Kat couldn't say anything at all, though the Saint looked right at her! Vrouw Vedder spoke.

"I think, dear St. Nicholas, they are very good children," she said.

"Then I will leave these for them and carry the rod along to some bad little boy and girl, if I find one," said St. Nicholas. "There seem to be very few about here. I haven't left a single rod yet." And he handed one big package to Kit, and another to Kat.

"Thank you," said Kit and Kat.

St. Nicholas smiled at them and waved his hand. Then the door shut, and he was gone!

Kit and Kat dropped on their knees to pick up the cakes and candies. They passed the cakes and candies around to each one. Vrouw Vedder lighted the candles, and then they all gathered around to see Kit and Kat open their bundles.

"You open yours first," said Vrouw Vedder to Kat.


[Illustration]

Kat was so excited that she could hardly untie the string. When she got the bundle open, there was a beautiful new Sunday dress—much prettier than the torn one had ever been! Oh, how pleased Kat was! She hugged her mother and her grandmother and her father and her grandfather.

"I just wish I could hug dear St. Nicholas, too," she said.

Then Kit opened his bundle; and there was a beautiful new velveteen suit, with his very own silver buttons on it! It had pockets in it! He put his hand in one pocket. It had a penny in it! Then he put his hand in the other pocket. There was another penny!

"I'm going to see if there's a pocket in mine," said Kat.

She hunted and hunted and hunted. By and by she found a pocket. And sure enough, there was a penny in that too!

Then some presents came from somewhere for Father and Mother Vedder and for Grandfather and Grandmother Winkle; and such a time as they all had, opening the bundles and showing their presents!

Then Mother Vedder tried on Kit's suit and Kat's dress, to see if they were the right size. They were just right exactly.

"St. Nicholas even knows how big we are," said Kat.

"Oh, I wish St. Nicholas Day would last a week," said Kit.

"That reminds me," said Vrouw Vedder, and she looked at the clock. "Half-past ten, and these children still up! Bless my heart, this will never do! Come here, Kit and Kat, and let me undo your buttons!"

"May we take our new clothes to bed with us?" Kat asked.


[Illustration]

"Yes, just this once," said Mother Vedder, "because this is St. Nicholas night."

They kissed their Grandfather and Grandmother good-night, and their Mother and Father, and said their prayers like good children; and then they climbed up into their little cupboard bed, and Vrouw Vedder drew the curtains, so they would go to sleep sooner.

"Good-night, dear little Twins," she said.

And so say we.


[Illustration]
 



Mother Goose  by Frederick Richardson

Little King Boggen


[Illustration]

 


  WEEK 50  

  Wednesday  


Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss—In the Meadow  by Lisa M. Ripperton

The Robin's Christmas Song

T HERE was once an old gray Pussy who, on a sunny Christmas morning, went down by the waterside to look about. Pretty soon along came a little Robin Redbreast. "Where are you going, little Robin?" says Pussy.

"I'm going to the king to sing him a song this bright Christmas morning," the little Robin replied.

"Come here, little Robin," said Pussy, "and I'll let you see some bonny white fur that grows like a ring round my neck."

But the little Robin said, "No, no, gray Pussy! No, no! You worried the wee Mousie yesterday, and you shall not have the chance to serve me as you did him."

So the little Robin flew away, and he kept flying till he came to a stone wall on the borders of a wood. There he saw a greedy Hawk sitting. The greedy Hawk said, "Where are you going, little Robin?"

"I'm going to the king to sing him a song this bright Christmas morning," the little Robin replied.


[Illustration]

"Come here, little Robin," the greedy Hawk said, "and I'll let you see a pretty speckled feather in my wing."

But the little Robin said, "No, no, greedy Hawk! No, no! You pecked the sparrow yesterday, and I shall take care not to get near enough for you to peck me."

So the little Robin flew away, and he kept flying till he came to a great rock beside which he saw a sly Fox lying on the ground. The sly Fox said, "Where are you going, little Robin?"

"I'm going to the king to sing him a song this bright Christmas morning," the little Robin replied.

"Come here, little Robin," the sly Fox said, "and I'll let you see a pretty spot at the tip of my tail."

But the little Robin said, "No, no, sly Fox! No, no! You bit the wee Lamb yesterday, and I shall not go where you can get me between those sharp teeth of yours."

So the little Robin flew away, and he kept flying till he came to a rivulet, and on its banks he saw a small Boy sitting. The small Boy said, "Where are you going, little Robin?"

"I'm going to the king to sing him a song this bright Christmas morning," the little Robin replied.

"Come here, little Robin," the small Boy said, "and I'll give you some crumbs I have in my pocket."

But the little Robin said, "No, no, small Boy! No, no! You caught the Goldfinch yesterday, and I shall keep beyond your reach."

So the little Robin flew away, and he went on and on till he came to the king's palace. Then he sat on a windowsill and sang the king a beautiful song. The people in the palace listened while the Robin sang, and when he finished, the king said to the queen, "What shall we give to the little Robin for singing us this beautiful song?"


[Illustration]

The queen replied, "He will not care for money, but we can give him some nice things to eat."

So they filled a plate from the royal table with all the things for which they thought the little Robin might care, and set it out on the windowsill. The little Robin ate, and after that he sang his Christmas song again and flew away to his home.

 



Anonymous

An Old Christmas Carol

God bless the master of this house,

The mistress also,

And all the little children,

That round the table go,

And all your kin and kinsmen

That dwell both far and near;

I wish you a Merry Christmas,

And a Happy New Year.

 


  WEEK 50  

  Thursday  


Little Folks' Christmas Stories and Plays  by Ada Skinner

The Christmas Spruce Tree

A MONG the tall trees in the forest grew a little spruce tree. It was no taller than a man, and that is very short for a tree.

The other trees near it grew so tall and had such large branches that the poor little tree could not grow at all.

She liked to listen when the other trees were talking, but it often made her sad.

"I am king of the forest," said the oak. "Look at my huge trunk and my branches. How they reach up toward heaven! I furnish planks for men from which they build their ships. Then I defy the storm on the ocean as I do the thunder in the forest."

"And I go with you over the foaming waves," said the tall straight pine. "I hold up the flapping sails when the ships fly over the ocean."

"And we warm the houses when winter comes and the cold north wind drives the snow before him," said the birches. "We have the same work to do," said a tall fir tree, and she bowed gracefully, drooping her branches toward the ground.

The little spruce tree heard the other trees talking about their work in the world. This made her sad, and she thought, "What work can I do? What will become of me?"

But she could not think of any way in which she could be useful. She decided to ask the other trees in the forest.

So she asked the oak, the pine, and the fir, but they were so proud and stately they did not even hear her.

Then she asked the beautiful white birch that stood near by. "You have no work to do," said the birch, "because you can never grow large enough. Perhaps you might be a Christmas tree, but that is all."

"What is a Christmas tree?" asked the little spruce.

"I do not know exactly," replied the birch. "Sometimes when the days are short and cold, and the ground is covered with snow, men come out here into the forest. They look at all the little spruce trees and choose the prettiest, saying, 'This will do for a Christmas tree.' Then they chop it down and carry it away. What they do with it I cannot tell."

The little spruce asked the rabbit that hopped over the snow, and the owls that slept in the pines, and the squirrels that came to find nuts and acorns.

But no one knew more than the birch tree. No one could tell what men did with the Christmas trees.

Then the little spruce tree wept because she had no work to do and could not be of any use in the world.

The tears hardened into clear, round drops, which we call gum.

At last a boy came into the forest with an ax in his hand. He looked the little tree all over. "Perhaps this will do for a Christmas tree," he said. So he chopped it down, laid it on a sled, and dragged it home.

The next day the boy sold the tree, and it was taken into a large room and dressed up with popcorn and gilded nuts and candles. Packages of all sizes and shapes, and tiny bags filled with candy, were tied on its branches.

The tree was trembling with the excitement, but she stood as still as she could. "What if I should drop some of this fruit," she thought.

When it began to grow dark, every one left the room and the tree was alone. It began to feel lonely and to think sad thoughts.

Soon the door opened and a lady came in. She lighted all the candles.

How light and glowing it was then!

The tree had never even dreamed of anything so beautiful!

Then the children came and danced about the tree, singing a Christmas song. The father played on his violin, and the baby sat in her mother's arms, smiling and cooing.

"Now I know what I was made for," thought the spruce tree; "I was intended to give joy to the little ones, because I, myself, am so small and humble."

— Norwegian Legend
retold by Anna von Rydingsvärd
 



Clement Clarke Moore

A Visit from St. Nicholas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Now, Dasher!  now, Dancer!  now, Prancer  and Vixen!

On, Comet!  on, Cupid!  on, Donder  and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas, too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down on a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."


 


  WEEK 50  

  Friday  


More Mother Stories  by Maud Lindsay

The Christmas Stocking

Far away in the North, where the birds go in summer, there once lived a little girl whose name was Martha.

She lived with her grandmother and a servant in a lonely little house not far from the sea, and the only playmates she ever had were a few pet animals and the birds that came, as I have said, to sing in the Northern forests and fields in the summer time.

Beyond Martha's home and nearer the sea there was a town; but Martha had never been there, for when the servant, whose name was Betsy, went there to buy the sugar and flour and meat that they needed, the child always had to stay at home with her grandmother.

Martha's grandmother was an old, old woman, who sat all day in her chair and knitted. She knitted stockings,—stockings for big feet and stockings for little feet,—and when Betsy trudged off to town she took them with her to sell there.

Martha often wondered who bought them, but Betsy could not tell. She sold them to a storekeeper who paid her a good price—that was all she knew.

The birds told Martha the only stories she ever heard. Her grandmother was always too busy and Betsy knew none, and there was no one else to talk to the little girl.

Her father had been a sailor out on the blue sea, but his ship had been lost in a storm when Martha was a baby, and she could not remember him, nor her mother, who had gone to heaven, too.

There were many things for Martha to do in the little house, and not even the servant could help her grandmother more. Martha's eyes were so bright and her feet so swift and her hands so willing! When the balls of yarn rolled out of grandmother's lap, as they sometimes would do while she was knitting, and hid themselves away in corners or under the bed, Martha spied them before they had time to rest. Whenever grandmother needed a pair of hands to hold the skein of yarn while she wound it, Martha was ready; and no matter what was wanted, from the top of the house to the cellar, Martha brought it.

But busy as she was, she sometimes got lonely; and sometimes, as she watched the birds, she wished that she had wings so that she could fly away and take a peep at the sunny Southland and then fly back in a hurry to grandmother again.

One afternoon as she sat in the sun near the woods, a stranger with a gun on his shoulder came down the woodland path, and when he saw Martha, he stopped to speak to her. He was a merry-faced young man, and before he had been there many minutes Martha had told him about her grandmother and Betsy and the birds, and how the birds sang their stories to her.

"I know stories myself," said the young man; and he sat right down on the grass and told Martha the most wonderful story she had ever heard. It was about Santa Claus; and although you have heard it many times and know how little children hang up their stockings on Christmas eve, Martha had never heard it before.

"Is it really true?" she cried.

"Yes, indeed," said the young man, "for when I was a little boy I hung up my stocking every Christmas and in the morning"—

"Martha!" called Martha's grandmother; and when Martha ran to see what was wanted, it was a knitting needle that was lost. It was not on the floor, or in the ball of yarn where it ought to have been, or in the work-basket. Martha began to think that the needle was never going to be found again, when she felt it among the cushions in grandmother's chair. By this time the afternoon had grown late, and when Martha went out again the stranger was gone, and he never came back.

Soon after this the birds, too, went away. The small birds went first. "Good-by, Martha," they called.

"Good-by," said Martha. "Will you not get tired with your long journey?"

"Oh, we shall rest on the way. It will be well with us! Good-by!" sang the little birds; and they flew away.

Then the wild geese left. They flew in a long line, and the leader went in front. "Honk! honk!" he called; that meant "March! march!"

After the birds left it grew colder and colder. The white snow fell down from the gray clouds, till the North Country was white and shining and Martha could not sit out of doors any more. She sat in the house by the fire with her grandmother and Betsy, and thought about the stories she had heard. Sometimes she thought of the warm countries, and the birds, but oftener still she thought of the good Christmas saint, who filled the stockings for the little children on Christ's Birthday. Perhaps some of the stockings were the very ones that grandmother had knit!

"Clickety click, clickety click," said the knitting needles as they moved in grandmother's hands; and as Martha watched them she told the story to grandmother, for she could keep it to herself no longer. Martha had never thought before that her grandmother would like stories; but she liked this one. Her eyes grew bright till they looked like Martha's eyes, and she stopped her knitting to listen.

Martha told the whole story, about the chimney and the stockings and the toys and the goodies, just as it had been told to her; and when she finished, grandmother said:—

"It all happened just that way when I was a little girl."

After that, when they sat by the fire, it was grandmother who told the stories. She never grew tired of telling or Martha of listening, and even Betsy liked to hear, although she said nothing.

Grandmother could remember everything that she found in her stockings on Christmas mornings when she was a child. Once Santa Claus had brought her a doll, and once a string of blue beads, and oh! so many things that I cannot tell of them all. She could knit as she talked, too, and the stockings grew the faster for it, Martha thought.

Grandmother was knitting red stockings for little feet then.

"Perhaps these will be Christmas stockings," said Martha.

"Perhaps they will," said grandmother.

But the stockings were not finished when Betsy went to town to buy the sugar and flour and tea. They were not finished until the very day before Christmas. When the last stitch was put in grandmother said to Martha:—

"You have been a good child all the year and the stockings are for you."

They were the most beautiful stockings that Martha had ever had. She thought they were almost too beautiful to wear, but nevertheless she hung them on the chair beside her bed that night so that she might put them on in the morning. Then she said her prayers and went to bed; and when she was asleep the Christmas angels brought her sweet dreams.

It was Christmas all over the world. Christmas in the warm countries where the birds were, and Christmas in the far North where little Martha dreamed her Christmas dreams. Even the cock seemed to know it, for when he crowed early in the morning, it sounded like: "Wake up! Wake up! 'Tis Christmas day!"

Martha heard him, and waked up and reached out her hand for her new red stockings.

One red stocking hung on the back of the chair, just where she had put it the night before, but the other one was not there. Martha jumped out of bed and felt about on the floor. Where could the other stocking be? All at once, through the dim morning light, she saw something strange and long and knobby hanging by the fireplace. It looked like a stocking, but surely, she thought, it could not be the one grandmother had made.

She went a little nearer and rubbed her eyes, for right out of the top of this stocking peeped a doll, a knitted doll, who seemed as much at home in a stocking as if she had lived there all her life. And yet it was the very stocking she had hung on the chair.


[Illustration]

She went a little nearer and rubbed her eyes, for right out of the top of this stocking peeped a doll.

Her fingers trembled so that she could scarcely get it down from the nail where it hung; but when she did, she found, under the doll, cows and sheep and horses made of sweetest cake, and long white twisted sticks of sugar candy, and, last of all, a string of blue beads, just such as grandmother had found in her stocking so many years before.

"Grandmother! Grandmother! Grandmother!" called Martha; and grandmother sat up in bed, almost as excited as the child.

"The Christmas saint has been here," cried Martha, waving her stocking like a flag.

"Of course, of course," said grandmother, nodding her head. "He finds the good children all the world over, just as he did when I was a child."

 



Emilie Poulsson

The First Christmas

Once a little baby lay

Cradled on the fragrant hay,

Long ago on Christmas;

Stranger bed a babe ne'er found,

Wond'ring cattle stood around,

Long ago on Christmas.


By the shining vision taught,

Shepherds for the Christ-child sought,

Long ago on Christmas.

Guided in a starlit way,

Wise men came their gifts to pay,

Long ago on Christmas.


And to-day the whole glad earth

Praises God for that Child's birth,

Long ago on Christmas;

For the Life, the Truth, the Way

Came to bless the earth that day,

Long ago on Christmas.

 


  WEEK 50  

  Saturday  


The Storyland Tree  by Maud Lindsay

The Christmas Letter

O NCE upon a time a little boy's grandma, who was an old, old lady, wrote a Christmas letter inviting his aunt and his uncle and all his cousins to eat Christmas dinner at her house; and that was the house where he lived, too.

"I hope they will come, don't you, Grandma?" he said when she told him what she had written, and she was very sure that they would if only they got the letter in time.

"It should be mailed right away," she said, though how this could be done she did not know. The little boy's mother was doing Christmas shopping that morning, his father was at work, the cook had gone to market, and he was not tall enough to put the letter in the mail-box; or at least Grandma was afraid that he wasn't.

"I'm tall when I stand tiptoe," he said, "and see how high I can reach!"

"My!" said Grandma, and when she had buttoned his coat and pulled his cap over his ears and told him to be careful, she let him start out with the letter.

"If you can't put it in the box, ask somebody to do it for you," she called, but the little boy wished with all his heart to mail the letter himself. And, anyway, when he looked out on the street, there was no one to be seen. Everything was so quiet and lonely that he was glad when Rover, the house dog, got up from the corner where he was lying and went with him.

"Oof! Oof!" barked Rover, all eager for play, but he soon found out that this was no time for romping. Then nobody could have been more solemn than he was as he followed his little master to the mail-box. He would not even bark at the neighbor's cat, though there was nothing he liked to do any better.

Dear me! How high the mail-box was! The little boy could not put the letter in it, though he stood so nearly on the tips of his toes that he almost tumbled over. He tried again and again and again till he was ready to cry. What if the letter were late and the cousins didn't come!

"Oof! Oof!" barked Rover, looking anxiously into his little master's face. He knew very well that something was wrong. "Oof Oof!"

The little boy would have been glad to ask some one to help him now if only there had been any one to ask, but there wasn't a soul. It seemed to him as if everybody must be at work or doing Christmas shopping or buying things at the market.

He might have taken the letter back to his grandma without waiting any longer if he had not thought just then of getting something to stand on so that he could reach the mail-box. Once he had put one brick on another and stood on top of them to pick a morning glory that grew, oh, ever so high on a vine. And sometimes he climbed on a stout wooden chair at home to put lettuce leaves in the canary's cage. He did not know where the bricks were, but the chair was on the kitchen porch where it always stayed. Yes, yes, and now he knew what he could do. He would get the chair and bring it here to stand on and mail the Christmas letter after all.

"Come on, Rover, come on," he shouted joyfully as he hurried away. And Rover ran as fast as he did.

The chair was on the porch, just where he expected to find it, and was the very thing he needed. Anybody could reach a mail-box if he stood on such a good high chair as this one. The little boy could not lift it, but he caught hold of it and pulled it along with all his might. Bump Bump! Now it was down the porch steps and he could stop to rest. Bump! Bump! Now it was on the sidewalk.

There were a number of people passing then, and one of them, a big teasing boy, called out:

"Oh, chair, where are you taking that little boy?" But the child was too busy trying to keep out of people's way to listen to him.

"Oof! Oof!" barked Rover, just as if he were trying to say: "Please give us a little room. Don't you see we are in a hurry?" He was excited and so was his master. Once both of them came very near to tumbling over the chair themselves.

It was fortunate that they had not far to go, and when the little boy put the letter in the mail-box at last, he was as happy as if Christmas were coming around the corner that very minute.

"Oof! Oof!" barked Rover, wagging his tail and frisking around. He knew as well as anybody that there was something to be glad about. And the big teasing boy, who had waited to find out the meaning of all the stir, threw his cap in the air and shouted, "Hip, hip, hurrah!"

He was a good-natured boy in spite of his teasing, and nothing would do but that he must carry the chair home for the little boy. He put it on his head and looked out through the rounds like a lion in a cage, which made the little boy and everybody else who saw him laugh.

And did the aunt and the uncle and the cousins eat Christmas dinner at the little boy's grandma's house? Indeed they did, and they had so much fun that nobody could tell it all in one story.

 



Kenneth Grahame

Carol

Villagers all, this frosty tide,

Let your doors swing open wide,

Though wind may follow, and snow beside,

Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;

Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,

Blowing fingers and stamping feet,

Come from far away you to greet—

You by the fire and we in the street—

Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,

Sudden a star has led us on,

Raining bliss and benison—

Bliss to-morrow and more anon,

Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow—

Saw the star o'er a stable low;

Mary she might not further go—

Welcome thatch, and litter below!

Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell

"Who were the first to cry  Nowell?

Animals all, as it befell,

In the stable where they did dwell!

Joy shall be theirs in the morning!"

 


  WEEK 50  

  Sunday  


The Nursery Book of Bible Stories  by Amy Steedman

The Coming of the King

I T was springtime and the fields of Palestine were all decked with their spring flowers. The silver gray of the olive trees shone above a sea of scarlet anemones, the tender green of the vines was as fair as the flowers themselves. Round about the little village of Nazareth spring had smiled very kindly upon the land, and buds were unfolding on every side to meet her smile. The very name of the little village meant "flowery."

There, in one of the little square houses built of white stone, a maiden was sitting sewing, and she seemed to belong to the spring and the flowers. No slender lily of the field was fairer than she, no white flower was purer than the heart of this village maiden. She was thinking happy thoughts as she sewed alone in her room that glad spring day, but she little knew that it was to be the most wonderful day of her life.

Suddenly, in the midst of her work, she felt she was not alone, and she stopped and looked up. There before her stood an angel, Gabriel, God's messenger, who was looking kindly down upon her. He called her by her name, Mary, and bade her not be afraid. But there was no fear in Mary's heart, she was not even startled. Her thoughts were so often with God that His messenger was welcome at any time.


[Illustration]

"Hail, thou that art highly favoured," the angel Gabriel was saying, "the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women."

Mary looked up, wondering. She could not understand the meaning of these gracious words, but soon the wonderful truth dawned upon her. The angel told her that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Son of God, the Saviour and King, whose name was to be called "Jesus," for He would save His people from their sins.

There was no thought of self in Mary's heart. She did not say she was only a poor maiden unfit to be the mother of the King of Heaven. She was ready for God to use her as He would; she was His handmaid ready to fulfil His will.

It was in the happy springtime that the angel brought this message to Mary, but it was in the cold dark days of winter that the angel's promise came true.

Joseph, the village carpenter, Mary's promised husband, knew all about the angel's message, for God had told him too about the coming of the King, and had bidden him be a faithful guardian to his young wife.

Together one cold winter day they journeyed up to the little hill town of Bethlehem, to put their names upon the census roll, as the Roman governor had commanded. All the people had been ordered to go to their native cities to give in their names, and both Joseph and Mary belonged to Bethlehem, the city of David, for they were descendants of the shepherd king.

It had been a long journey, and Mary was tired, although she rode upon the shaggy back of the ass which Joseph so carefully led. It was late, and the winding white road that led to the city gates was almost deserted, for they were the last travellers to come in. Already the twilight was darkening into night, and the stars began to hang out their silver lamps in the deep dark blue overhead.

At last the inn was reached, and Joseph inquired anxiously about a lodging. It was too late; every room was full, they could not possibly be taken in. Every house in the little town was crowded. The only thing to do was to shelter themselves for the night in one of the stable caves, where oxen and asses, camels and mules, were crowded together.

And it was here, in a poor stable, that very night, that Mary's Baby, the King of Heaven, was born. Such a poor welcome it seemed for a King! Only a handful of hay for His bed, only a wooden manger for His cradle, only a few swaddling bands to wrap round His little limbs, only His poor sweet mother to wait on Him, and the breath of the ox and the ass to warm Him.

But although no one in Bethlehem knew that a King had been born that night, although no bells rang out, no grand illumination marked His coming, yet His stars shone down in silent splendour, His angels sang His song of welcome, and Mary's heart was full of joy. She knew that it was God's Son she held in her arms, that the angel's promise had been fulfilled.

Outside the town, on the slopes of the hill, shepherds were watching their flocks, just as the shepherd boy David had done in the same fields long years before; and to them the herald angels sang their song, telling the news of the Baby's birth, while the golden gates of Heaven swung wide and showed the glory within.

Soon the shepherds were kneeling in the little stable, worshipping the King; and as they knelt they told the young mother of all that they had seen out on the hillside, and repeated to her the angels' message: "Peace on earth, goodwill to men."

Later on, another company of men knelt to do homage to the Baby King. They were no rough shepherds from the hills this time, but stately men in rich robes who had journeyed from a far-distant land, led by a star to the place where the young Child lay. They brought to Him precious gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and laid them at His feet; but far more precious than any gifts was the worshipping love which both they and the humble shepherds offered to God as they knelt before Mary's son, the King of Heaven.


[Illustration]

"They saw the young child with Mary His mother."

All these wonderful happenings were treasured up in His mother's heart, and filled her thoughts as she rocked her little son in her arms. Most mothers think a great deal about the name they mean to give their babies, but Mary had no need to think of that. Long ago the angel had told her that He was to be called "Jesus;" and so as soon as it was possible, she carried Him to the great Temple, just as we carry our babies to church, there to give them to God to be His children.

It was a very common sight in the Temple to see a mother bringing her baby to the priest, while the father carried the lamb or pigeons which it was the rule to offer as a thanksgiving; and there was nothing special to mark the little company from Bethlehem as they entered the Temple, Mary carrying her Baby in her arms, and Joseph holding in his hand the basket in which were two white doves.

But there, in the Temple, two of God's servants, Simeon and Anna, were waiting to see the Baby King. They did not look for any earthly pomp or grandeur, rich robes or royal state. Simeon, the old man, knew that the poor looking woman was indeed a queen, the mother of the Lord, that the Baby she held so lovingly in her arms was the King of Heaven. So he took the child in his arms and thanked God as he called Him a light sent to lighten the whole world and to be the glory of His people Israel.

Surely this was all a happy time for the gentle mother. But there were anxious days in store for her. Herod, the cruel king, had heard of the visit of those Wise Men, and was uneasy in his mind. He knew that God had promised to send a great Deliverer, a King to rule His people; but he thought it would be an earthly king, and he feared that his throne was in danger. The Wise Men had talked of a wonderful new star which had appeared, a star which marked a royal birth, and they had gone to Bethlehem to look for the new-born King. He had bidden them come back and tell him if they found the Child. But day after day passed, and there was no sign of the return of the travellers. God had warned them that Herod was planning mischief against the Baby King, and so they had gone quietly home another way.

Full of anger, King Herod realized that he had been mocked by those wise travellers, and he determined to carry through a cruel plan. He sent his soldiers to the peaceful little town and ordered them to kill every baby in Bethlehem. In that way the Baby King could not possibly escape, he thought.

But long before the soldiers appeared, God warned Joseph, the faithful guardian, that he must take the Baby and His mother and steal secretly away from the threatened danger. And Joseph did not lose a moment. He saddled the ass, and placed Mary and the Baby carefully on its back, and then started out by night down the winding road which led to safety. The fear of the cruel king might drive them far from home, but the Baby lay soft and warm in His mother's arms, where no evil could touch Him.

All His life angels were very close to Him. It was an angel who had brought God's message to His mother that glad spring day. Angels had sung His welcome on the Bethlehem hills. It was an angel who had warned Joseph to flee away before Herod's cruel soldiers could arrive. So, surely, in that night journey and all the dangers that awaited them, angels must have hovered very close around the travellers and held the Child and His gentle mother safe in the shelter of their shining wings.

 



Anonymous

Bethlehem

A little child,

A shining star,

A stable rude,

The door ajar.


Yet in that place,

So crude, forlorn,

The Hope of all

The world was born.