WEEK 29 |
 ALL the Colonists were strict in the observance of worship. Sunday was a severe day, and everybody had to be on his best behavior. The first building used for church purposes was the fort, to which every one marched in a body, the men fully armed to protect the congregation from the Indians. Before the fort was finished, the people worshiped under trees, or in tents, or anywhere they could find a place. Many of the earliest meeting-houses were log huts, with mud between the cracks, and with thatched roofs.
These early churches had oiled paper in the windows. When glass was brought over, it was set in by nails, for there was no putty. Neither was there any paint, so the outside of every house was left to turn gray with the weather, or to become moss-covered from the dampness of the grove in which it were usually placed.
Rewards were paid for the killing of wolves, and any one who brought a wolf's head, nailed it to the outside wall of the church, and wrote his name under it. You can imagine what a grim sight the bloody trophies made. All sorts of notices were posted on the church doors, so that everybody  might see them—announcements of town meetings, of proposed marriages, of cattle sales, of rules against trading with the Indians; in fact the church door took the place of the newspaper of to-day for spreading the news. It was the only means of advertisement.
In front of the church stood a row of hitching-posts and stepping stones, for nearly everybody rode to meeting. On the green, in front or to one side, were often placed the pillory, stock, and whipping-post.
There were many ways of calling the people to church, such as beating a drum, ringing a bell, or blowing a shell. Many of the churches had a drummer, who went up and down the streets, or else stood in the belfry and drummed. After the signal was given, a man went the rounds of the village, and looked in all the houses, to see that everybody who was able had gone to church. Woe betide the man who was late, or the boy who had skipped away to the woods!
The inside of a Colonial church was simple enough. Overhead, the rafters usually opened to the thatch or clapboard roof; the floors were of earth, or rough boards; and the pews or benches had straight backs and were hard. The pulpit was usually a high desk, reached by a staircase or  ladder, with a sounding board over it. There was no heat in these early churches, for a heating stove was unknown. The chill of the building,—dark and closed all the week, and damp from the shadowed grove,—was hard for every one to stand. To keep from suffering during the long service, the women put their feet in bags, made of fur and filled with wool. Dogs were allowed so that their masters might put their feet under them. In fact, churches appointed dog whippers to control the dogs or to drive them out if they became noisy and unbearable. Some of the women and children had foot stoves, which were little metal boxes on legs, with small holes in the top and sides, and with hot coals inside.
The services were very long, no matter how cold it was. The snow might be falling and the wind blowing, but the people had to wrap up in their furs, snuggle down in the benches, and listen to a sermon two or three hours long. Sometimes a single prayer lasted an hour, while the people knelt on the bare floor. When a church was dedicated, the sermon generally lasted three or four hours. We might well wonder what the preacher could find to say, that it took so long a time to say it!
There was a tithing-man, whose duty it was to  maintain order, and also to keep everybody awake. The men sat on one side of the church, the women sat on the other, while the boys and girls were made to sit near the pulpit. Up in the loft were places for the negroes and the Indians. The tithing-man kept close watch for sleepers. He had a long stick, with a rabbit's foot on one end and a rabbit's tail on the other. If a man nodded, or a boy made a noise, the tithing-man struck him a sharp blow on the head. If an old lady closed her eyes, the tithing-man gently tickled her nose with the rabbit's tail. He was generally kept pretty busy toward the end of a long sermon!
During the noon intermission, in the winter time, the half frozen congregation went to the nearest house or tavern to get warm, and to eat a simple Sunday meal. In summertime, they sat on the green and talked in low, solemn tones. After two hours' intermission, the congregation assembled again, and the dreary service was resumed. The singing was very doleful. There were few books, so the deacon or leader gave out the hymn, a line or two at a time. Often, the singing of these psalms or hymns lasted a half-hour, during which the people stood. Altogether, we can easily see that a Sunday service, morning and afternoon, would last seven hours.
 In all the Colonies, Sunday was strictly observed. Any unseemly conduct was punished by whipping or by fire. It was forbidden to fish, shoot, sail, row a boat, or do any kind of work on that day. Horses were used only to drive or ride to church. There was little or no cooking, but everybody ate cold food on the Lord's Day. No one was allowed to use tobacco near any meeting-house. The Sabbath began at sunset, on Saturday, and lasted until sunset, on Sunday.
After the Colonists grew better off, they built larger and better churches, sometimes of stone, or brick, and often beautiful in their stately architecture. Many of these churches are preserved at the present day, with their high pulpits, and their big, stiff back benches, or box pews, for the whole family. In all of them, however, the same severity of worship was observed, for it was thought thereby to make a God-fearing and God-serving people.
 FROM the decided way in which Jenny Wren had popped into the little round doorway of her home, Peter knew that to wait in the hope of more gossip with her would be a waste of time. He wasn't ready to go back home to the dear Old Briar-patch, yet there seemed nothing else to do, for everybody in the Old Orchard was too busy for idle gossip. Peter scratched a long ear with a long hind foot, trying to think of some place to go. Just then he heard the clear "peep, peep, peep" of the Hylas, the sweet singers of the Smiling Pool.
"That's where I'll go!" exclaimed Peter. "I haven't been to the Smiling Pool for some time. I'll just run over and pay my respects to Grandfather Frog, and to Redwing the Blackbird. Redwing was one of the first birds to arrive, and I've neglected him shamefully."
When Peter thinks of something to do he wastes no time. Off he started, lipperty-lipperty-lip, for the Smiling Pool. He kept close to the edge of the Green Forest until he reached the place where  the Laughing Brook comes out of the Green Forest on its way to the Smiling Pool in the Green Meadows. Bushes and young trees grow along the banks of the Laughing Brook at this point. The ground was soft in places, quite muddy. Peter doesn't mind getting his feet damp, so he hopped along carelessly. From right under his very nose something shot up into the air with a whistling sound. It startled Peter so that he stopped short with his eyes popping out of his head. He had just a glimpse of a brown form disappearing over the tops of some tall bushes. Then Peter chuckled. "I declare," said he, "I had forgotten all about my old friend, Longbill the Woodcock. He scared me for a second."
"Then you are even," said a voice close at hand. "You scared him. I saw you coming, but Longbill didn't."
Peter turned quickly. There was Mrs. Woodcock peeping at him from behind a tussock of grass.
"I didn't mean to scare him," apologized Peter. "I really didn't mean to. Do you think he was really very much scared?"
"Not too scared to come back, anyway," said Longbill himself, dropping down just in front of Peter. "I recognized you just as I was disappearing over the tops of the bushes, so I came right  back. I learned when I was very young that when startled it is best to fly first and find out afterwards whether or not there is real danger. I am glad it is no one but you, Peter, for I was having a splendid meal here, and I should have hated to leave it. You'll excuse me while I go on eating, I hope. We can talk between bites."
"Certainly I'll excuse you," replied Peter, staring around very hard to see what it could be Longbill was making such a good meal of. But Peter couldn't se a thing that looked good to eat. There wasn't even a bug or a worm crawling on the ground. Longbill took two or three steps in rather a stately fashion. Peter had to hide a smile, for Longbill had such an air of importance, yet at the same time was such an odd looking fellow. He was quite a little bigger than Welcome Robin, his tail was short, his legs were short, and his neck was short. But his bill was long enough to make up. His back was a mixture of gray, brown, black and buff, while his breast and under parts were a beautiful reddish-buff. It was his head that made him look queer. His eyes were very big and they were set so far back that Peter wondered if it wasn't easier for him to look behind him than in front of him.
LONGBILL THE WOODCOCK
Look for him in damp, wooded places.
Suddenly Longbill plunged his bill into the ground. He plunged it in for the whole length.  Then he pulled it out and Peter caught a glimpse of the tail end of a worm disappearing down Longbill's throat. Where that long bill had gone into the ground was a neat little round hole. For the first time Peter noticed that there were many such little round holes all about. "Did you make all those little round holes?" exclaimed Peter.
"Not at all," replied Longbill. "Mrs. Woodcock made some of them."
"And was there a worm in every one?" asked Peter, his eyes very wide with interest.
Longbill nodded. "Of course," said he. "You don't suppose we would take the trouble to bore one of them if we didn't know that we would get a worm at the end of it, do you?"
Peter remembered how he had watched Welcome Robin listen and then suddenly plunge his bill into the ground and pull out a worm. But the worms Welcome Robin got were always close to the surface, while these worms were so deep in the earth that Peter couldn't understand how it was possible for any one to know that they were there. Welcome Robin could see when he got hold of a worm, but Longbill couldn't. "Even if you know there is a worm down there in the ground, how do you know when you've reached him? And how is it possible for you to open your bill down there to take him in?" asked Peter.
 Longbill chuckled. "That's easy," said he. "I've got the handiest bill that ever was. See here!" Longbill suddenly thrust his bill straight out in front of him and to Peter's astonishment he lifted the end of the upper half without opening the rest of his bill at all. "That's the way I get them," said he. "I can feel them when I reach them, and then I just open the tip of my bill and grab them. I think there is one right under my feet now; watch me get him." Longbill bored into the ground until his head was almost against it. When he pulled his bill out, sure enough, there was a worm. "Of course," explained Longbill, "it is only in soft ground that I can do this. That is why I have to fly away south as soon as the ground freezes at all."
"It's wonderful," sighed Peter. "I don't suppose any one else can find hidden worms that way."
"My cousin, Jack Snipe, can," replied Longbill promptly. "He feeds the same way I do, only he likes marshy meadows instead of brushy swamps. Perhaps you know him."
Peter nodded. "I do," said he. "Now you speak of it, there is a strong family resemblance, although I hadn't thought of him as a relative of yours before. Now I must be running along. I'm ever so glad to have seen you, and I'm coming over to call again the first chance I get."
 So Peter said good-by and kept on down the Laughing Brook to the Smiling Pool. Right where the Laughing Brook entered the Smiling Pool there was a little pebbly beach. Running along the very edge of the water was a slim, trim little bird with fairly long legs, a long slender bill, brownish-gray back with black spots and markings, and a white waistcoat neatly spotted with black. Every few steps he would stop to pick up something, then stand for a second bobbing up and down in the funniest way, as if his body was so nicely balanced on his legs that it teetered back and forth like a seesaw. It was Teeter the Spotted Sandpiper, an old friend of Peter's. Peter greeted him joyously.
"Peet-weet! Peet-weet!" cried Teeter, turning towards Peter and bobbing and bowing as only Teeter can. Before Peter could say another word Teeter came running towards him, and it was plain to see that Teeter was very anxious about something. "Don't move, Peter Rabbit! Don't move!" he cried.
"Why not?" demanded Peter, for he could see no danger and could think of no reason why he shouldn't move. Just then Mrs. Teeter came hurrying up and squatted down in the sand right in front of Peter.
"Thank goodness!" exclaimed Teeter, still  bobbing and bowing. "If you had taken another step, Peter Rabbit, you would have stepped right on our eggs. You gave me a dreadful start."
Peter was puzzled. He showed it as he stared down at Mrs. Teeter just in front of him. "I don't see any nest or eggs or anything," said he rather testily.
Mrs. Teeter stood up and stepped aside. Then Peter saw right in a little hollow in the sand, with just a few bits of grass for a lining, four white eggs with big dark blotches on them. They looked so much like the surrounding pebbles that he never would have seen them in the world but for Mrs. Teeter. Peter hastily backed away a few steps. Mrs. Teeter slipped back on the eggs and settled herself comfortably. It suddenly struck Peter that if he hadn't seen her do it, he wouldn't have known she was there. You see she looked so much like her surroundings that he never would have noticed her at all.
"My!" he exclaimed. "I certainly would have stepped on those eggs if you hadn't warned me," said he. "I'm so thankful I didn't. I don't see how you dare lay them in the open like this."
Mrs. Teeter chuckled softly. "It's the safest place in the world, Peter," said she. "They look  so much like these pebbles around here that no one sees them. The only time they are in danger is when somebody comes along, as you did, and is likely to step on them without seeing them. But that doesn't happen often."
I saw a ship a-sailing,
A-sailing on the sea;
And, oh! it was all laden
With pretty things for thee!
There were comfits in the cabin,
And apples in the hold;
The sails were made of silk,
And the masts were made of gold.
The four-and-twenty sailors
That stood between the decks
Were four-and-twenty white mice,
With chains about their necks.
The captain was a duck,
With a packet on his back;
And when the ship began to move,
The captain said, "Quack! quack!"
WEEK 29 |
 OF all the saints that little children love is there any to compare with Santa Claus? The very sound of his name has magic in it, and calls up visions of well-filled stockings, with the presents we particularly want peeping over the top, or hanging out at the side, too big to go into the largest sock. Besides, there is something so mysterious and exciting about Santa Claus, for no one seems to have ever seen him. But we picture him to ourselves as an old man with a white beard, whose favourite way of coming into our rooms is down the chimney, bringing gifts for the good children and punishments for the bad.
Yet this Santa Claus, in whose name the presents come to us at Christmas time, is a very real saint, and we can learn a great deal about him, only we must remember that his true name is Saint Nicholas. Perhaps the little children, who used to talk of him long ago, found Saint Nicholas too difficult to say, and so called him their dear Santa Claus. But we learn, as we grow older, that Nicholas is his true name, and that he is a real person who lived long years ago, far away in the East.
The father and mother of Nicholas were noble and very rich, but what they wanted most of all  was to have a son. They were Christians, so they prayed to God for many years that he would give them their heart's desire; and when at last Nicholas was born, they were the happiest people in the world.
They thought there was no one like their boy; and indeed he was wiser and better than most children, and never gave them a moment's trouble. But alas, while he was still a child, a terrible plague swept over the country, and his father and mother died, leaving him quite alone.
All the great riches which his father had possessed were left to Nicholas, and among other things he inherited three bars of gold. These golden bars were his greatest treasure, and he thought more of them than all the other riches he possessed.
Now in the town where Nicholas lived there dwelt a nobleman with three daughters. They had once been very rich, but great misfortunes had overtaken the father, and now they were all so poor they had scarcely enough to live upon.
At last a day came when there was not even bread enough to eat, and the daughters said to their father:
"Let us go out into the streets and beg, or do anything to get a little money, that we may not starve."
But the father answered:
"Not to-night. I cannot bear to think of it. Wait at least until to-morrow. Something may happen to save my daughters from such disgrace."
Now, just as they were talking together, Nicholas happened to be passing, and as the window was open he heard all that the poor father said. It  seemed terrible to think that a noble family should be so poor and actually in want of bread, and Nicholas tried to plan how it would be possible to help them. He knew they would be much too proud to take money from him, so he had to think of some other way. Then he remembered his golden bars, and that very night he took one of them and went secretly to the nobleman's house, hoping to give the treasure without letting the father or daughters know who brought it.
To his joy Nicholas discovered that a little window had been left open, and by standing on tiptoe he could just reach it. So he lifted the golden bar and slipped it through the window, never waiting to hear what became of it, in case any one should see him. (And now do you see the reason why the visits of Santa Claus are so mysterious?)
Inside the house the poor father sat sorrowfully watching, while his children slept. He wondered if there was any hope for them anywhere, and he prayed earnestly that heaven would send help. Suddenly something fell at his feet, and to his amazement and joy, he found it was a bar of pure gold.
"My child," he cried, as he showed his eldest daughter the shining gold, "God has heard my prayer and has sent this from heaven. Now we shall have enough and to spare. Call your sisters that we may rejoice together, and I will go instantly and change this treasure."
The precious golden bar was soon sold to a money-changer, who gave so much for it that the  family were able to live in comfort and have all that they needed. And not only was there enough to live upon, but so much was over that the father gave his eldest daughter a large dowry, and very soon she was happily married.
When Nicholas saw how much happiness his golden bar had brought to the poor nobleman, he determined that the second daughter should have a dowry too. So he went as before and found the little window again open, and was able to throw in the second golden bar as he had done the first. This time the father was dreaming happily, and did not find the treasure until he awoke in the morning. Soon afterwards the second daughter had her dowry and was married too.
The father now began to think that, after all, it was not usual for golden bars to fall from heaven, and he wondered if by any chance human hands had placed them in his room. The more he thought of it the stranger it seemed, and he made up his mind to keep watch every night, in case another golden bar should be sent as a portion for his youngest daughter.
And so when Nicholas went the third time and dropped the last bar through the little window, the father came quickly out, and before Nicholas had time to hide, caught him by his cloak.
"O Nicholas, he cried, "is it thou who hast helped us in our need? Why didst thou hide thyself?" And then he fell on his knees and began to kiss the hands that had helped him so graciously.
But Nicholas bade him stand up and give thanks  to God instead; warning him to tell no one the story of the golden bars.
This was only one of the many kind acts Nicholas loved to do, and it was no wonder that he was beloved by all who knew him.
Soon afterwards Nicholas made up his mind to enter God's service as a priest. He longed above all things to leave the world and live as a hermit in the desert, but God came to him in a vision and told him he must stay in the crowded cities and do his work among the people. Still his desire to see the deserts and the hermits who lived there was so great that he went off on a journey to Egypt and the Holy Land. But remembering what God had bade him do, he did not stay there, but returned to his own country.
On the way home a terrific storm arose, and it seemed as if the ship he was in must be lost. The sailors could do nothing, and great waves dashed over the deck, filling the ship with water. But just as all had given up hope, Nicholas knelt and prayed to God to save them, and immediately a calm fell upon the angry sea. The winds sank to rest and the waves ceased to lash the sides of the ship so that they sailed smoothly on, and all danger was past.
Thus Nicholas returned home in safety, and went to live in the city of Myra. His ways were so quiet and humble that no one knew much about him, until it came to pass one day that the Archbishop of Myra died. Then all the priests met to choose another archbishop, and it was made known to them by a sign from heaven that the first man  who should enter the church next morning should be the bishop whom God had chosen.
Now Nicholas used to spend most of his nights in prayer and always went very early to church, so next morning just as the sun was rising and the bells began to ring for the early mass, he was seen coming up to the church door and was the first to enter. As he knelt down quietly to say his prayers as usual, what was his surprise to meet a company of priests who hailed him as their new archbishop, chosen by God to be their leader and guide. So Nicholas was made Archbishop of Myra to the joy of all in the city who knew and loved him.
Not long after this there was great trouble in the town of Myra, for the harvests of that country had failed and a terrible famine swept over the land. Nicholas, as a good bishop should, felt the suffering of his people as if it were his own, and did all he could to help them.
He knew that they must have corn or they would die, so he went to the harbour where two ships lay filled with grain, and asked the captains if they would sell him their cargo. They told the bishop they would willingly do so, but it was already sold to merchants of another country and they dared not sell it over again.
"Take no thought of that," said Nicholas, "only sell me some of thy corn for my starving people, and I promise thee that there shall be nought wanting when thou shalt arrive at thy journey's end."
The captains believed in the bishop's promise and  gave him as much corn as he asked. And behold! when they came to deliver their cargo to the owners, there was not a bag lacking.
It is said, too, that at the time of this famine there was a cruel innkeeper in Myra who was wicked enough to catch little children and pickle them in a great tub, pretending they were pork. It happened one day as Nicholas was passing the inn-door that he heard the voices of children crying for help. He went in very quickly and made his way to the cellar whence the cries had come. There he found the poor children, and not only rescued those who were alive, but by his prayers he brought to life those who had already been killed and cast into the tub.
Another time there were two men in Myra who had been unjustly condemned to death, and it was told the bishop how greatly they stood in need of his help. No one ever appealed to Nicholas in vain, and he went off at once to the place of execution. The executioner was just about to raise his sword, when Nicholas seized his arm and wrenched the sword away. Then he set the poor prisoners free and told the judge that, if he dared to deal so unjustly again, the wrath of heaven and of the Bishop of Myra would descend upon him.