WEEK 52 |
EN more years passed, and every Christmas morning the children found their stockings filled with toys and candy and nuts. Poor families found baskets filled with good things to eat,—wild fowl, vegetables, flour, and meal. Sometimes even bundles of clothing for every member of the family were placed on the doorsteps. For Nicholas was now a prosperous old man and shared all he had with the less fortunate townsfolk.
But as the years went on, and his good deeds increased, he was growing more and more feeble. The villagers, who loved and venerated him, grew sad when their children prattled happily on Christmas morning over their toys, and the fearful thought in every parent's heart was,—maybe next Christmas he won't be with us.
One year, a group of men and women called on Nicholas at his cottage with a suggestion.
"We thought, Nicholas," said one man a little hesitantly, "we thought that since it's so cold filling stockings outside the door, and sometimes there are five or six to each family, why couldn't the children leave their stockings inside by the fireplace?"
"Then you could come in and get warm and take your time about it," added one woman kindly.
Nicholas raised his white head from the work he was always doing and smiled all over his rosy face. He placed one gnarled hand, grown old in service for others, on a man's shoulder.
"The idea of you coming here to tell me how to do my work," he joked. "Why, I remember filling an embroidered bag for you when you were tinier than your own children are now. And then they started putting stockings out instead of bags, and now you're going to pull the stockings in. Well, times change, I suppose, and I must keep up with the times. So indoors I will go, and I thank you all for your warm fires."
So after that year, Nicholas would creep into houses on Christmas Eve, and would settle his bulky old form comfortably before the fire and fill the stockings leisurely. The firelight would leap up merrily as if to help him at his work, and the peaceful old face with the halo of white hair and beard would beam warmly at the little toys he stuffed into the stockings, and the wrinkled hands would caress lovingly the little boats and dolls that a child's hands would fondle the next morning.
One Christmas Eve, old Nicholas found it more and more difficult to leave each fireplace for the next house. The warm blaze made him drowsy, and his old bones protested as he heaved himself up wearily to be on with his work. It was slow progress he made from house to house, but he finally reached his last stop, his back tired from the bulky sack, his head drooping with sleepiness, and his heart heavy as he realized how old he must be when the task he had done for so many years was now beginning to wear him out.
The last house was reached, and Nicholas dropped in the settle by the fire with a deep sigh of relief. It was a long time before he recovered sufficiently to start filling the stockings; even then he did it slowly, reaching painfully down to his sack, and each time straightening himself with growing difficulty. He filled four of the five stockings that were hanging over the fireplace; then, with the fifth one still empty in his hands, the old head drooped drowsily, and Nicholas was fast asleep.
The old head drooped drowsily.
He awoke with a start an hour later when a man anxiously shook him by the shoulder.
"Are you all right, Nicholas?" asked a worried voice. "I got up to see if the fire had gone out and found you still here, and look, it's almost dawn!"
Nicholas shook himself, then stood up wearily. "Yes, lad, it's Christmas morning, and I haven't finished my work," he said sorrowfully.
"I'll do the last one for you, Nicholas," answered the man kindly. "You just leave the toys and things here and go home to bed. I'll finish it. Go along now, before the children get up and see you."
Nicholas, thinking of his warm comfortable bed, handed the stocking to the man and went out into the gray dawn.
Five minutes later, a little nightgowned boy stood in the doorway of the living room. "Why, Father," he exclaimed in a disappointed tone, "I thought it was Nicholas who gave us the toys, and here you are filling my stocking!"
The child looked ready to cry, but his father, caught with the half-filled stocking in his hand, hastened to reassure him.
"Your Nicholas is getting old, my boy," he said, "and sometimes he gets so tired we parents have to help him in his work. But don't you forget, it's always Nicholas who leaves you the toys."
"That's all right then!" said the little fellow. "It isn't half so much fun when you think your mother and father prepare the gifts."
"I should say not," said the father sternly, "and you must never doubt Nicholas. Why, he might be so hurt at a little boy thinking he didn't fill the stockings, that he might never come to his house again. Think how terrible that would be!"
"Yes," whispered his son in a frightened voice. "What would Christmas be without Nicholas?"
It's coming, boys,
It's almost here.
It's coming, girls,
The grand New Year.
A year to be glad in,
Not to be sad in;
A year to live in,
To gain and give in.
A year for trying,
And not for sighing;
A year for striving
And healthy thriving.
It's coming, boys,
It's almost here.
It's coming, girls,
The grand New Year.
WEEK 52 |
OLLY was no longer little Holly; she was a lovely slender young girl and led a happy life, her childish terrors long forgotten. She hummed a gay little carol that Christmas morning, as she walked along the road towards Nicholas' cottage, her arms filled with the bright red berries that bore her own name. She still continued the practice of bringing flowers all year round to her old friend, and every Christmas Eve she would go into the Black Forest to gather holly with which to decorate his cottage on Christmas morning.
It was almost noon, and as she approached the house, she noticed how silent and empty it looked without Nicholas' head at the window, bent over his work, and with no smoke coming from the chimney.
"Poor thing," thought the girl affectionately. "He's probably all tired out from his trip last night. I won't waken him. I'll just go in and make his fire and put the holly around."
She stole silently into the cold little cottage, and soon had a warm blaze crackling on the hearth. She cast an anxious glance now and then towards the closed door that led to Nicholas' bedroom; she was so afraid of disturbing his slumber. But she heard no sound and busied herself decking the walls and windows with gay branches. Then, with one spray still in her hand, she looked around uncertainly, and not finding another bare spot in the living-room, she decided to bring it in to place beside Nicholas, so the branch of holly would be the first thing he'd see when he opened his eyes.
She opened the door quietly and stole over to the bed.
"Why, the darling was so tired he fell asleep with his clothes on," she murmured tenderly.
For the fat round figure lay there, still dressed in the bright red suit with the white fur and the shiny black leggings and close-fitting stocking cap.
"Here's your holly," whispered the girl, bending over Nicholas. Then, with a startled exclamation, she dropped the blood-red blossoms all over the still figure and sprang back, frightened.
"Nicholas, Nicholas!" she screamed. "Oh, he's dead! He's dead!"
She ran bareheaded out into the snow, stumbled blindly down the road into the village, and with tears streaming down her face, called loudly for the townsfolk.
They gathered in little groups to listen to her story. The women murmured in broken tones, between sobs, "He's dead!" and clasped their wondering little children closer, as if to comfort them for the loss of their dearest friend. The men looked down to the ground and up at the sky and every place but into each other's eyes, for no man wanted to see the tears that stood there. "Yes, he's dead," they all sighed deeply. "Who's dead, Mother? Is it Nicholas?" asked the children. "Won't he come to us any more on Christmas Eve?"
And the parents had to turn away from the wide childish eyes because they didn't want to say to them that awful sentence, "Yes, Nicholas is dead."
The bells tolled, and the village was in darkness Christmas night. Vixen and his brothers whimpered in their stalls, and the holly glowed red over a still loving heart in a red suit.
T was a sad year that followed the Christmas morning of Nicholas' death. All through the long cold winter and brief summer the villagers were reminded of the old friend who had left them every time they saw his closed cottage, with a holly wreath still in the window. They had tenderly put him to rest in the pine grove close to the friendly little evergreens and near the spot where the village children came to play. The eight reindeer were no longer in the stalls behind the cottage; they had been taken back to the big stables on the top of the hill by Katje Dinsler. Many a time in the months that passed, a mother would pick up a little carved doll from the floor and gently wipe the dirt from its face, with a suddenly tear-dimmed eye for the generous heart who had given the toy.
It gradually entered even the most babyish mind that Nicholas was dead and would come to fill their stockings no more. They cried a little, then the image of the fat, cheer ful old man faded from their forgetful childish memories, and so the year passed until it was again Christmas Eve.
"Mother, are we going to hang up our stockings?"
"No, no, child. Have you forgotten that Nicholas is dead and can't come to fill your stockings any more?"
This question was asked and answered sadly in almost every house in the village that Christmas Eve, so different from the other years, when every fire in every hearth glowed warmly on happy, expectant little children who were busy choosing their best and longest stocking to hang over the fireplace. This year, the little boys and girls went despondently to bed, and the night before Christmas was just like any ordinary night, with the parents silently banking the fires and bolting the doors that once had been left open to receive a merry, fat figure in a red suit.
And Nicholas might have been forgotten if it hadn't been for one boy, little lame Stephen, who had a still-warm memory of the kind old man and a childish faith that somehow a big heart like his could never die. So Stephen's parents were astonished when he calmly went about hanging up his stocking, just as he had done every Christmas Eve since he could remember.
"But Stephen," his mother reminded him sadly, "you know Nicholas is dead. You saw him carried from the cottage to the little pine grove; you saw his sleigh and reindeer being taken up to Mistress Katje's house. There's no Nicholas any more, child; don't you understand?"
"But I've got to hang up my stocking, Mother; I've
got to. I don't believe God would keep him away from the
children on Christmas Eve. I believe that he will come
"Hush! You mustn't say things like that," exclaimed the mother in a frightened tone. "The dead must rest, my son, and it's not for you to say what God is to do with them. But you may hang up your stocking if you want to," she ended, feeling that even though her son suffered a cruel disappointment, the only way to convince him was to have him find his stocking empty on Christmas morning; then he wouldn't spend the rest of his life thinking that his mother might have been wrong.
So that was how, while all the other houses had fireplaces that were growing darker and colder, and the doors were bolted and windows tightly locked, there was one cottage in the village where the latch-string was left out, where the fire still burned warmly on the hearth, and where a lone little stocking was hanging bravely, an emblem of faith in a doubting world.
During the night an old, old woman awoke and moved restlessly in her bed, muttering still half-asleep, "I thought I heard the jingling of silver bells and the tramping of reindeer's hoofs on the snow. No, it must have been a dream," she sighed, and went back to sleep.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear. It might have been the first Christmas morning of the world, the sun was so warm, the air was so pure and fresh, the snow so virgin-white and glistening as it lay piled up along the fences and doorways. The little village street lay peaceful in the early morning quiet.
Suddenly the tranquillity of the place was broken by a wild shout, the door of one cottage burst open, and the figure of a boy dashed out into the snow, one thin bare leg dragging a little as he limped through the gateway, and one arm waving wildly in the air,—a long, fat, bulging woolen stocking!
"He isn't dead!" shrieked Stephen, his thin face transfigured by a beautiful joy. "Look at my stocking! It's filled, just the same as last Christmas! And there's a big new sled by our fireplace. I knew it! Look, everybody! Wake up, wake up! Nicholas isn't dead!"
Men, women, and children leaped from their beds to see what all the noise was about, and the children leaped right into the largest piles of toys they had ever seen,—all around the fireplaces, on the tables and chairs, and even beside their beds. The entire village opened its doors and poured out into the street, the children dragging handsome new sleds loaded with the most beautiful toys the village had ever seen.
"Did you see this? Look at my boat!"
"He must have come down the chimney when he found the door locked. There was some soot on the floor."
"Isn't it wonderful? It's the happiest Christmas we've ever had!"
"Little Stephen found a fir-tree on his table, decorated with more gifts and fruit and candles, just the way the gypsy children had their gifts, many years ago."
"Yes, and Stephen says there is a big shining star way up on the topmost bough."
"That's because Stephen believed in him," they said, ashamed of themselves. "But now, we believe too. He isn't dead!"
So the bells pealed out on Christmas morning,—a joyful, happy sound, so different from the mournful tolling of a year ago; and the happy villagers almost sang the universal refrain, "He isn't dead!"
The children danced and ran around with their toys; the men looked at each other with solemn, awe-filled eyes; the mothers held their babies close and murmured, "He isn't dead, my pet; you'll grow up and Nicholas will still come to us."
One old woman, she who thought she had heard silvery bells in the midnight air, with her eyes half on another world, said in her cracked old voice, "He's a saint, that's what he is!"
"Yes, he's Saint Nicholas now!" They all took up the shout, and the whole town joined the glad cry, "Saint Nicholas! Saint Nicholas!"
A baby's voice tried to add his stumbling speech to the general shout. "Sant' Clos! Sant' Clos!" he lisped.
"We believe now," the children and the fathers and the mothers all said to each other with the light of faith that little lame Stephen had inspired on their faces. "We believe that Saint Nicholas will always come to us as long as there is one child alive in the village."
"In the village!" echoed little Stephen. "In the whole world!" he shouted triumphantly.
THE STRANGERS THREE
Babouscka sits before the fire
Upon a winter's night;
The driving winds heap up the snow,
Her hut is snug and tight;
The howling winds, they only make
Babouscka's fire more bright!
She hears a knocking at the door;
So late—who can it be?
She hastes to lift the wooden latch
(No thought of fear has she).
The wind-blown candle in her hand
Shines out on strangers three.
Their beards are white with age, and snow
That in the darkness flies;
Their floating locks are long and white,
But kindly are the eyes
That sparkle underneath their brows,
Like stars in frosty skies.
"Babouscka, we have come from far:
We tarry but to say,
A little Prince is born this night
Who all the world will sway.
Come, join the search; come, go with us
Who go these gifts to pay."
Babouscka shivers at the door,
"I would I might behold
The little Prince who shall be King;
But ah! the night is cold,
The wind so fierce, the snow so deep,
And I, good sirs, am old."
The strangers three, no word they speak,
But fade in snowy space.
Babouscka sits before her fire,
And looks with wistful face.
"I wish that I had questioned them
So I the way might trace.
"When morning comes with blessed light,
I'll early be awake,
My staff in hand. I'll go,—perchance,
And for the Child some little toys
I'll carry, for His sake."
The morning came, and, staff in hand,
She wandered in the snow;
She asked the way of all she met,
But none the way could show.
"It must be farther yet," she sighed;
"Then farther will I go."
And still 'tis said on Christmas Eve,
When high the drifts are piled,
With staff and basket on her arm,
Babouscka seeks the Child.
At every door her face is seen,
Her wistful face and mild.
At every door her gifts she leaves,
And bends and murmurs low,
Above each little face half hid
By pillows white as snow;
"And is He here?"—then softly sighs,
"Nay, farther must I go!"
WEEK 52 |
O NCE upon a time the Old Rabbit and his wife said to each other: "How dull it is! Why not celebrate Christmas and go to the Christmas tree?"
So they took a scroll made from the bark of the birch tree, where all the Christmas guests might write their names, and set out together, wearing their warm coats, and trudged merrily over the snow.
By and by they met the Cat, and she said, "Where are
you going, O Rabbits,
And the Old Rabbit and his wife answered, "We go where the Christmas-tree candles are bright!"
"And may I go with you, O Rabbits?" she cried.
"If you'll bring a gift and walk close by our side," answered the Rabbits.
"I'll bring my catnip ball," said the Cat. "It is my newest toy and will make a fine Christmas gift for some Kitten."
So the Cat brought the catnip ball and trudged merrily along with the Rabbits over the snow.
By and by the three met the Black Hen, and she said
to the Cat: "Where are you going, O Pussy,
"We go where the Christmas-tree candles are bright."
"And may I go with you, dear Pussy?" she cried.
"If you'll bring a gift and walk close by my side," the Cat answered.
"Oh, I'll bring an egg," said the Black Hen, "the very best one I can lay for Christmas."
So the Black Hen brought an egg and trudged along merrily over the snow with the Cat and the Rabbits.
By and by they met the Pig, and he said, "Where are
you going, O Biddy,
And the Black Hen answered, "We go where the Christmas-tree candles are bright."
"And may I go with you, O Biddy?" he cried.
To which the Black Hen answered, "If you'll bring a gift and walk close by my side."
"Oh, I cannot bring a gift," said the Pig. "I want all the presents I can get for myself."
But at this the Rabbits and the Cat and the Black Hen cried out, "Oh, for shame! Think of having no presents for the Christmas tree! Why, everybody gives something for Christmas—even a Pig!"
So the Pig was indeed ashamed, and he said, "I could give a fine brush made of my bristles."
So the Pig brought the brush, and they all traveled on very merrily together, the Rabbits and the Cat and the Black Hen and the Pig, trudging over the snow.
By and by they met the Goose, and she said, "Where are
you going, O Piggy,
And the Pig answered, "We go where the Christmas-tree candles are bright."
"And may I go with you, dear Piggy?" she cried.
"If you'll bring a gift and keep close by my side."
Then the Goose could hardly believe her ears, when she heard the Pig ask her to make a gift. "I will give a down pillow made from my best feathers, and I shall be proud to walk beside you," she said.
This made the Pig very happy, and so the Goose brought the down pillow, and they traveled along very merrily together, the Rabbits and the Cat and the Black Hen and the Pig and the Goose, trudging over the snow.
By and by they met the Cow, and she said, "Where are
you going, O Goosie,
To which the Goose answered, "We go where the Christmas-tree candles are bright."
"And may I go with you, dear Goosie?" she cried. "If you'll bring a gift and walk close by my side," answered the Goose.
"Oh, that's very easy," said the Cow. "I'll give a pailful of creamy milk every morning and night, and I will give enough so everybody shall have a drink."
So the Cow gave the milk, and they all traveled on very happily together, the Rabbits and the Cat and the Black Hen and the Pig and the Goose and the Cow, trudging over the snow.
By and by they saw a great light on the snow that outshone the moonlight, and when they came near they saw the Christmas tree laden with a thousand candles.
The Giraffe was hanging the gifts, and
the Lion came out to greet them and said, "Where are
you going, my children,
To which they all answered, "We go where the Christmas-tree candles are bright."
"And bring you the gifts we would add to the rest?
For he who, at Christmas, gives not is unblessed."
Then the Rabbits laid down their birchen scroll, and the Cat her treasured catnip ball, the Black Hen her beautiful egg, the Pig his fine brush, the Goose her soft pillow, and the Cow gave a pail of creamy milk.
Then the Lion said:
"Your gifts are good, my children all,
Your birchen scroll, your catnip ball,
Your brush so fine, your egg so white,
Your creamy milk, your pillow light.
For every gift made cheerfully,
More brightly glows the Christmas tree."
Then the Rabbits, the Cat, the Black Hen, the Pig, the Goose, and the Cow marched around the Christmas tree singing, while the lights shone and the candles blazed and flickered and sent a beautiful light far, far across the snow.
And every child in the world received a Christmas gift, and by and by the candles went out one by one, and each guest went away bearing his gift.
And the Rabbits and the Cat and the Black Hen and the Pig and the Goose and the Cow trudged away very merrily together over the snow, each one declaring that it was the very best Christmas he had ever seen.
There once was a Willow, and he was very old,
And all his leaves fell off from him, and left him in the cold;
But ere the rude winter could buffet him with snow,
There grew upon his hoary head a crop of Mistletoe.
All wrinkled and furrowed was this old Willow's skin,
His taper fingers trembled, and his arms were very thin;
Two round eyes and hollow, that stared but did not see,
And sprawling feet that never walked, had this most ancient tree.
A Dame who dwelt a-near was the only one who knew
That every year upon his head the Christmas berries grew;
And when the Dame cut them, she said—it was her whim—
"A merry Christmas to you, Sir!" and left a bit for him.
"Oh, Granny dear, tell us," the children cried, "where we
May find the shining Mistletoe that grows upon the tree?"
At length the Dame told them, but cautioned them to mind
To greet the willow civilly, and leave a bit behind.
"Who cares," said the children, "for this old Willow man?
We'll take the Mistletoe, and he may catch us if he can."
With rage the ancient Willow shakes in every limb,
For they have taken all, and have not left a bit for him.
Then bright gleamed the holly, the Christmas berries shone,
But in the wintry wind without the Willow man did moan:
"Ungrateful, and wasteful! the mystic Mistletoe
A hundred years hath grown on me, but never more shall grow."
A year soon passed by, and the children came once more,
But not a sprig of Mistletoe the aged Willow bore.
Each slender spray pointed; he mocked them in his glee,
And chuckled in his wooden heart, that ancient Willow tree.
O children, who gather the spoils of wood and wold,
From selfish greed and willful waste your little hands withhold.
Though fair things be common, this moral bear in mind,
"Pick thankfully and modestly, and leave a bit behind."
WEEK 52 |
T HERE was once a shoemaker, who, through no fault of his own, had become so poor that at last he had only leather enough for one pair of shoes. So in the evening he cut out the shoes which he intended to begin upon the next morning, and since he had a good conscience he lay down quietly, said his prayers, and fell asleep.
In the morning he was preparing to sit down to work, when he looked, and there stood the shoes all finished on his table. He was so astonished that he did not know what to say. He took the shoes in his hands to examine them inside and out; and they were so neatly made that not a stitch was out of place, showing that they were done by a master hand.
Very soon a customer came in, and because the shoes pleased him so much he paid more than the ordinary price for them. With this money the shoemaker was able to purchase leather for two pairs of shoes. He cut them out in the evening, and next day was about to go to work with fresh courage; but there was no need for him to work, for the two pairs of shoes stood beautifully finished on his table. Presently customers came in, who paid him so well he was able to buy leather for four pairs of shoes. The following morning he found the four pairs finished, and so it went on; what he cut out in the evening was finished in the morning, so that he was soon in comfortable circumstances again, and at last was becoming really prosperous.
One evening, not long before Christmas, the shoemaker said to his wife: "What do you think of staying up to-night to see who it is that lends us the helping hand?"
The wife liked this idea; so they lighted a candle and hid themselves in a corner of the room behind some clothes which were hanging there. At midnight came two little naked men, who sat down at the shoemaker's table, took up the work which was cut out, and set to work so nimbly, stitching, sewing, and hammering with their little fingers, that the shoemaker could not take his eyes off them. They did not stop till everything was finished and the shoes stood ready on the table; then they ran quickly away.
The next day the wife said to her husband: "The little men have made us rich, and we must show them how grateful we are. They must be almost frozen, running about with nothing on. I'll tell you what we'll do; I will make them little shirts, and coats, and vests, and trousers, and knit them stockings, and you shall make each of them a pair of shoes."
The shoemaker was pleased with this plan, and on Christmas eve, when everything was ready, they laid out the presents on the table instead of the usual work; but there was no leather to be seen, only the charming little clothes.
At first they were astonished, and then perfectly delighted. With the greatest speed they put on and smoothed down the pretty clothes, singing:
"Now we are boys so fine to see,
Why should we longer cobblers be?"
Then they danced and skipped, and leaped over chairs and benches. At last they danced out the door. From this time on they came no more; but the shoemaker prospered as long as he lived, and succeeded in all his undertakings.
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 52 |
A long time ago there lived in Friesland a poor cobbler and his three little boys, Franz, Friedrich, and Fritz.
He was a very poor cobbler indeed, for he had scarcely any shoes whatever to mend, and times were very hard and the winter bitter cold, with heavy snow upon the ground.
In the cobbler's house were only the poorest sort of things, not in the least like the things you are used to. There was no bed like yours, with plenty of warm covering to snuggle into on cold nights.
The three boys slept together on a thin, cold bed of straw and had for cover only a single blanket as full of holes as a slice of Swiss cheese. And their clothes were hardly any better; so, as you may imagine, they did a great deal of shivering.
As for food, the best the poor cobbler could manage that winter was lumps of boiled cornmeal, a delicacy I am sure you would never care for.
Now, as Christmas approached, the cobbler's three sons felt sad, for they feared the good Kriss Kringle might miss them, which in those days sometimes happened.
But on Christmas Eve the cobbler got tidings of a bit of work to be done twenty miles away, where a fine lady had lost a button from her little silver dancing shoes, so he said to his boys:
"My lads, I will leave you for tonight. Tomorrow is the Christ Child's birthday, and perhaps if I hasten to this lady's house and repair her shoe, I may yet have a farden or two to buy a bit of good food with. It is a long journey, and I will not return until morning, but lie you snug and close as you can under the blanket. And let no one enter in my absence, for the wolf prowls ever at the poor man's door, and the cold winds may rush in and make you even colder."
And the little lads promised.
So the cobbler gave to each a lump of cornmeal, the last the poor man had, and wrapping himself in his thin cloak—for all the world like another slice of Swiss cheese—was gone.
The three boys huddled together in bed very
quietly, nibbling their meal. They had little Fritz
in the middle, and they tried hard to pretend they
were warm and comfortable. But it was very cold, and
they could hear the
Suddenly there came a brisk knock—
The boys were startled.
"It must be the wolf that our father said waited outside," whispered Franz, but Friedrich called loudly: "Who is there?"
"Ah, me! ah, me!" cried a pitiful voice. "I am so cold!
"It is the wind," said little Franz.
"No, no," said Friedrich. "It must be someone in distress. Who are you?" he called.
"Ah, me! ah, me!" shivered the voice. "So
"It is the wolf, perhaps, trying to fool us," said Franz.
"Oh, no," said Friedrich. "Look out of the window, Franz, quick, and see."
Frank looked. In the corner of the window they could see the top of a peaked hat—such a hat as poor old men used to wear many, many years ago in Germany.
"It cannot be the wolf," cried Franz. "A wolf never wears a hat." And I am sure you will agree with him.
"It is someone who needs our aid," said Friedrich. "I am sure our father never meant us to deny shelter to the needy." And with that he rose and opened the door.
Into the room sprang one of the dwarf people, a tiny old man clad in scarlet, with twinkling eyes, apple cheeks, and a gray beard that reached nearly to his toes.
"Hola!" he said. "At last you hear me and let me in. Why did you not open before?"
"Our father forbade us to open the door for fear of the wolf. I am sorry," faltered Friedrich.
The dwarf only twinkled his eyes angrily.
"Ha!" he cried. "A warm bed and three great loafers in it! Make way, I pray, for I am cold and tired."
And, shoving aside Franz and Fritz with his elbows, he sprang into the warmest part of the bed and rolled the blanket tightly about him.
Little Fritz began to cry, but Friedrich hushed him, saying: "Patience, brother. I will wrap my coat about you. The old man is both tired and cold, and our father would wish us to share our bed."
The dwarf then perceived the cornmeal in the children's hands and snatched greedily at it, saying: "Come, selfish ones, will you lie here and fill yourselves with good food before my very eyes! Have I not said that I am hungry?"
He made as if to take Fritz's cornmeal, so that the little boy wept again, whereupon Friedrich offered his.
"He is but a baby, the little one, and knows no better," he apologized. "Pray have mine. Our father would not have us let a guest go hungry."
So the dwarf ate both Franz's and Friedrich's cornmeal, then rolled over on his side, complaining bitterly that they crowded him, that he must have more room.
Suddenly he sat erect.
"There is not room for so many," he said sharply. "One of you will have to get out. You, Friedrich, are the eldest. You shall go first. The others may take turns. Go, you, to yonder corner and stand upon your head."
Now, Friedrich thought this a strange request indeed.
It was bad enough to leave his bed, without turning
upside down. But he was a polite little fellow, and
just a bit afraid also of this sharp-tongued little
man, so he obeyed. Down on his hands he went and up
. . . up . . . up went his heels!
Instantly there came a funny sound.
"Hello!" cried the dwarf. "So that is what you have hidden from me, my fine lad! Let us see what else you have. Franz, you next."
Down on his hands went Franz and up . . . up . . . up went his heels.
Sure enough! His pockets too seemed to be filled, for,
Now, you may be sure, the brothers laughed and shouted louder than ever as they gathered up the goodies. "Small Fritz next," shouted the dwarf, who seemed angry with Franz for hiding such goodies.
They had to help Fritz because he was so small. Down on his hands he went and up they turned his little heels.
You'll hardly believe what happened then. Dear me, if you and I could have such luck! (But think how pleased the good cobbler was when he returned.) For out of little Fritz's pockets—clip-clop! clip-clop!—sharp on the floor there fell . . . money. Beautiful gold thalers—enough for firewood and blankets, and new shoes and coats and a fine roast Christmas goose.
Suddenly Friedrich remembered his manners, for he knew now that the dwarf had come in with kind intentions, that he had tested their charity and found it true. For had they not shared their beds and the things they had themselves needed?
"Oh, sir, we thank you," he began, then stopped, as well he might.
For the dwarf was gone.
Not a sign of the little gray-bearded man in his scarlet clothes could they find. Nor did they ever see him again.
But a voice cried through the window from outside,
"A happy Christmas to the cobbler and his three sons." And that was all. Except, of course, all the beautiful things to eat and piles of golden thalers which made their poor little room so bright.
While stars of Christmas shine,
Lighting the skies,
Let only loving looks
Beam from our eyes.
While bells of Christmas ring,
Joyous and clear,
Speak only happy words,
All love and cheer.
Give only loving gifts,
And in love take;
Gladden the poor and sad
For love's dear sake.
WEEK 52 |
"Good King Wenceslaus looked out
On the Feast of Saint Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even."
KING WENCESLAUS sat in his palace. He had been watching from the narrow window of the turret chamber where he was, the sunset as its glory hung for a moment in the western clouds, and then died away over the blue hills. Calm and cold was the brightness. A freezing haze came over the face of the land. The moon brightened towards the southwest and the leafless trees in the castle gardens and the quaint turret and spires of the castle itself threw clear dark shadows on the unspotted snow.
Still the king looked out upon the scene before him. The ground sloped down from the castle towards the forest. Here and there on the side of the hill a few bushes grey with moss broke the unvaried sheet of white. And as the king turned his eye in that direction a poor man came up to these bushes and pulled something from them.
"Come hither, page," called the king. One of the servants of the palace entered in answer to the king's call. "Come, my good Otto; come stand by me. Do you see yonder poor man on the hillside? Step down to him and learn who he is and where he dwells and what he is doing. Bring me word at once."
Otto went forth on his errand while the good king watched him go down the hill. Meanwhile, the frost grew more and more intense and an east wind blew from the black mountains. The snow became more crisp and the air more clear. In a few moments the messenger was back.
"Well, who is he?"
"Sire," said Otto, "it is Rudolph, the swineherd,—he that lives down by the Brunweis. Fire he has none, nor food, and he was gathering a few sticks where he might find them, lest, as he says, all his family perish with the cold. It is a most bitter night, Sire."
"This should have been better looked to," said the king. "A grievous fault it is that it has not been done. But it shall be amended now. Go to the ewery, Otto, and fetch some provisions of the best.
"Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither;
Thou and I will see him dine,
When we bear them hither."
"Is your Majesty going forth?" asked Otto in surprise.
"Yes, to the Brunweis, and you shall go with me. When you have everything ready meet me at the wood-stacks by the little chapel. Come, be speedy."
"I pray you, Sire, do not venture out yourself. Let some of the men-at-arms go forth. It is a freezing wind and the place is a good league hence."
"Nevertheless, I go," said the king. "Go with me, if you will, Otto; if not, stay. I can carry the food myself."
"God forbid, Sire, that I should let you go alone. But I pray you be persuaded."
"Not in this," said King Wenceslaus. "Meet me then where I said, and not a word to any one besides."
The noblemen of the court were in the palace hall, where a mighty fire went roaring up the chimney and the shadows played and danced on the steep sides of the dark roof. Gayly they laughed and lightly they talked. And as they threw fresh logs into the great chimney-place one said to another that so bitter a wind had never before been known in the land. But in the midst of that freezing night the king went forth.
"Page and Monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament,
And the bitter weather."
The king had put on no extra clothing to shelter himself from the nipping air; for he would feel with the poor that he might feel for them. On his shoulders he bore a heap of logs for the swineherd's fire. He stepped briskly on while Otto followed with the provisions. He had imitated his master and had gone out in his common garments. On the two trudged together, over the crisp snow, across fields, by lanes where the hedge trees were heavy with their white burden, past the pool, over the stile where the rime clustered thick by the wood, and on out upon the moor where the snow lay yet more unbroken and where the wind seemed to nip one's very heart.
Still King Wenceslaus went on and still Otto followed. The king thought it but little to go forth into the frost and snow, remembering Him who came into the cold night of this world of ours; he disdained not, a king, to go to the beggar, for had not the King of Kings visited slaves? He grudged not, a king, to carry logs on his shoulders, for had not the Kings of Kings borne heavier burdens for his sake?
But at each step Otto's courage and zeal failed. He tried to hold out with a good heart. For very shame he did not wish to do less than his master. How could he turn back, while the king held on his way? But when they came forth on the white, bleak moor, he cried out with a faint heart:
"My liege, I cannot go on. The wind freezes my very blood. Pray you, let us return."
"Seems it so much?" asked the king. "Follow me on still. Only tread in my footsteps and you will proceed more easily."
The servant knew that his master spoke not at random. He carefully looked for the footsteps of the king. He set his own feet in the print of his master's.
"In the master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed."
And so great was the fire of love that kindled in the heart of the king that, as the servant trod in his steps, he gained life and heat. Otto felt not the wind; he heeded not the frost; for the master's footprints glowed as with holy fire and zealously he followed the king on his errand of mercy.
|— Adapted from John Mason Neale|
Oho! have you seen the Frost King,
A-marching up the hill?
His hoary face is stern and pale,
His touch is icy chill.
He sends the birdlings to the South,
He bids the brooks be still;
Yet not in wrath or cruelty
He marches up the hill.
He will often rest at noontime,
To see the sunbeams play;
And flash his spears of icicles,
Or let them melt away.
He'll toss the snowflakes in the air,
Nor let them go nor stay;
Then hold his breath while swift they fall,
That coasting boys may play.
He'll touch the brooks and rivers wide,
That skating crowds may shout;
He'll make the people far and near
Remember he's about.
He'll send his nimble, frosty
Without a shade of
To do all kinds of merry pranks,
And call the children out;
He'll sit upon the whitened fields,
And reach his icy hand
O'er houses where the sudden cold
Folks cannot understand.
The very moon, that ventures forth
From clouds so soft and grand,
Will stare to see the stiffened look
That settles o'er the land.
And so the Frost King o'er the hills,
And o'er the startled plain,
Will come and go from year to year
Till Earth grows young
Till Time himself shall cease to be,
Till gone are hill and plain:
Whenever Winter comes to stay,
The hoary King shall reign.
WEEK 52 |
I N the quiet midnight, peace brooded over the fields where the shepherds were watching their flocks. The tinkling of sheepbells, the bleating of lambs, and the barking of watchdogs had gradually ceased. Around a large campfire several shepherds lay resting, for they had had a long, hard day. Each had beside him a strong shepherd's crook and a stout club ready for use in case any lurking danger threatened the beloved flocks.
Not far away from the campfire a shepherd maiden lay sleeping in the rude shelter of a rocky cave. All day long she had helped her father guard the sheep, and when darkness fell over the fields and hills, she was glad to lie down in her snug bed made of the fleecy skins of kids and lambs.
Suddenly a light filled the cave and wakened the maiden. Thinking it was daybreak, she sprang up, stepped to the rude doorway, and pushed aside the curtain of goatskin.
"What has happened?" she whispered.
The fields and hills were flooded with light. The group of shepherds were standing close together, gazing intently at the luminous eastern sky. A moment later she saw them fall on their knees in worship. There in the entrance of her rude shelter, she, too, knelt and prayed. Clearly she saw the shining angel appear and in the peaceful stillness of the night she heard these words:
"Be not afraid; for, behold, I bring good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel many, many others. Together they lifted up their voices in praise and sang,
"Glory to God in the highest,
Peace on earth
Good will toward men."
When the sweet music died away, the maiden rose to her feet and joined the shepherds.
"I saw the angel, Father, and heard the singing," she whispered.
"Christ, the Lord, is born," answered her father.
"Let us hasten to Bethlehem and see the Heavenly Child who fulfills the promise of God," said one of the shepherds.
"Shall we leave our flocks?" asked another. But the question was not answered.
"Come, let us see what gifts we have to carry to the Christ-child," said the shepherd who first saw the light in the sky.
In a few moments these simple-hearted men were ready to start across the fields and over the low hills to Bethlehem. Very humble gifts they had to offer, but their hearts were filled with joy and wonder.
Standing near the entrance to the cave the shepherd maiden could see the outline of the group of men making their way to the city of David. "They are going to see the Christ-child," she said to herself, "a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
How she would love to see the Heavenly Child! A deep longing to behold the little new-born King seized her. She would follow the shepherds to Bethlehem. One glimpse at the Christ-child would fill her heart with joy.
Away over the star-lit fields and hills she started. Not once did she falter, although the way was long and some of the hillsides were hard to climb.
Finally, she saw the shepherds pass in the gate of the city of Bethlehem.
"I came to see the Christ-child," she said to a group of people who stood whispering together. They looked at her in astonishment.
"I am following the shepherds," she added.
"They have gone to the inn," was the answer.
When she reached the inn she was directed to a cave near, which served as a stable.
There through the entrance she saw the shepherds lay their humble presents at Mary's feet and then kneel in solemn adoration.
"I have brought nothing to offer," whispered the maiden, looking wistfully into the rude shelter. "I cannot go in without a gift—a little gift for the Christ-child."
Tears of disappointment filled her eyes. Slowly she turned to leave the place. But after she had taken a few steps she stopped and burst into sobs. How could she go away without a glimpse of the Heavenly Child? Then, as she stood weeping, a marvelous thing happened. An angel appeared beside her and said:
"Lo, here at thy feet is a gift for the Christ-child."
Then she saw growing near her, slender stems covered with delicate green leaves and bearing lovely flowers.
The maiden did not stop to wonder. Here was a gift fit to offer the little Saviour. With trembling joy she gathered the Christmas roses and stepped lightly into the humble house where the little babe lay smiling in his mother's arms. In Mary's lap the maiden laid her gift of flowers, and, with radiant face, she knelt and filled her heart with the glorious vision.
|— Eastern Legend|
|retold by Eleanor L. Skinner|
What can I give Him?
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part.
Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart.