"Hoo, hoo, why don't you lie still there?" said one.
"Whit-whoo-whit," said the other, "I can't. I know what is coming too well for that."
"What is coming,—what, what?" said two voices together.
"Ah! you'll see soon," replied the first. "The elves are coming, the hateful Christmas elves. You'll not get a wink of sleep to-night."
"Why not? What will they do to us?" chirped the young ones.
"You'll see," hooted the old owl. "You'll see! They'll pull your tails, and tickle your feathers, and prick you with thorns. I know them, the tricksy, troublesome things! I've been here many a long year. You were only hatched last summer. To-whoo, to-whoo!"
Just at this moment the church-clock began to strike twelve. At the first clang the owls ceased to hoot, and Roger listened to the deep notes, almost awe-struck, as they sounded one by one. He knew the voice of the clock well, but it never before sounded so loud or so solemn: five—six—seven—eight—nine—ten—eleven—twelve. It was Christmas Day.
As the last echo died away, a new sound took its place. From afar off came the babble of tiny voices drawing nearer. Anything so gay and charming was never dreamed of before,—half a laugh, half a song, the tones blended into an enchanting peal, like bells on a frolic. Above the old tower the sounds clustered and increased,—then a long, distressed cry came from the owl, and a bubbling laugh floated in on the wind. Roger could not stand it. Wild to see, he flew to the window, and tried to stretch his neck in such a way as to catch what was going on above; but it was a vain attempt, and just then the church-bells began to ring all together, a chime, a Christmas chime, only the sounds were infinitely small, as if baby hands had laid hold on the ropes. But his sharpened senses brought every note and change to Roger's ears, and they were so merry and so lovely that he felt he must get nearer or die; and almost before he knew it he was climbing the dark belfry-stairs as fast as his feet could carry him, never thinking of fear or darkness, only of the elfin bells which were pealing overhead.
Up, up, through the long slits in the tower the moon could be seen sailing in the cold, clear blue. Higher, higher,—at last he gained the belfry. There hung the four great bells, but nobody was pulling at their heavy ropes. On each iron tongue was perched a fay; on the chains which suspended them clustered others, all keeping time by the swaying of their bodies as they swung to and fro, just grazing either side, and bringing forth a clear, delicate stroke, sweet as laughter,—just loud enough for fairy ears.
Through the windows the crowd of floating fays could be seen whirling about in the moonlight like glittering gossamer. They floated in and out of the tower, they mounted the great bells and sat atop in swarms, they chased and pushed each other, playing all sorts of pranks. Below, others were attacking the owl's nest. Roger could hear their hoots and grunts and the gleeful laughter of the elves. The moon made the tower light as noon; all the time the elves sang or talked,—which, he could not tell; there were words, but all so blent with laughs and mirthful trills that it was nothing less than music.
To and fro, to and fro, keeping time to a fairy rhythm, they swayed in unison with the tiny peal they rang. Little quarrels arose. Once Roger watched an elf trying to mount the clapper, and whenever he neared the top a mischievous comrade pushed him off again. Then the elf pouted, and, flying away, he returned with a holly-leaf. Small as it was, it curled over his head like a huge umbrella. With the spiky point he slyly pricked the elf above; and he, taken by surprise, lost his hold, and came tumbling down, while the other danced for glee and clapped his hands mockingly. Pretty soon, however, all was made up again,—they kissed and were friends,—and Roger saw them perched opposite each other, and moving to and fro like children in a swing.
How long the pretty sight lasted he could not tell. So fearful was he of marring the sport that he never stirred a finger; but all at once there came a strain of music in the air, solemn, and sweeter than ever mortal heard before. In a moment the elves left their sports; they clustered like bees together in the window, and then flew from the tower in one sparkling drift, and were gone, leaving Roger alone, and the owls hooting below in the ivy.
And then he felt afraid,—which he had not been as long as the fays were there,—and down he ran in a fright over the stone steps of the stairs, and entered the church again. The red glow of the fire was grateful to him, for he was shivering with cold and excitement; but hardly had he regained his old seat, when, lo! a great marvel came to pass. The wide window over the altar swung open, and a train of angels slowly floated through. How he knew them to be angels, Roger could not have told; but that they were, he was sure,—Christmas angels, with faces of calm, glorious beauty, and robes as white as snow. Over the altar they hovered, and a wonderful song rose and filled the church—no bird's strain was ever half so sweet. The words were few, but again and again and again they came: "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will to men!"
Roger knew the oft-repeated words,—they were those of the great evergreen motto which overarched the chancel; but I think he never forgot the beautiful meaning they seemed to bear as the angels sang them over and over. It was so wondrous sweet that he could not feel afraid,—he could only gaze and gaze, and hold his breath lest he should lose a note.
And the song rang on, clear and triumphant, even as the white-robed choir parted and floated like soft summer clouds to and fro in the church, pausing ever and anon as in blessing. They touched the leaves of the Christmas green as they passed; they hung over the organ and brushed the keys with their wings; a long time they clustered above the benches of the poor, as if to leave a fragrance in the air; and then they rested before a tablet which had been put up but a few months before, and which bore the name of the rector's eldest son, and the dates of his birth and death. Roger had been told of this brave lad, and how he had lost his life in plunging from his ship to save the drowning child of an emigrant; and now the angel-song seemed sweeter than ever, as over and again they chanted, "Good-will to men,—good-will to men."
At last one of the white-winged ones left the others, and hovered awhile above the Squire's pew, near which our little boy was hidden. A prayer-book lay open on the rail, and over this the fair angel bent as in benediction. A girl had sat there once,—the Squire's only daughter. Roger remembered her well, and the mourning of the whole parish when, only a twelvemonth ago, the lovely child had been buried from their sight; and now, as he timidly glanced into the glorious face above him, it seemed to him to have the same look, only so ineffably beautiful that he closed his dazzled eyes to shut out the vision and the light that shone from the white wings,—only for a moment, then he opened them again, as a gentle rustling filled the air, and he saw the bending figure stoop, leave a kiss or a blessing on the pages of the open book, and then glide away with the others. Again the group hovered above the altar,—louder and clearer rose the triumphant strain, and, noiseless as a cloud, the snowy train floated to the window. For one moment their figures could be seen against the sky, then the song died away,—they were gone, and Roger saw them no more.
And now the light of dawn began to creep into the windows, twittering sounds showed the birds awakening outside, and a pink streak appeared in the sky. Too much rapt by his vision to feel impatience, the boy sat and waited; and by and by a jingling in the lock showed Grandfather at hand,—the door opened, and he came in.
You can guess his surprise when his little grandson flew to meet him with his wonderful story. As for the story, he pooh-poohed that,—sleeping in such a strange place might well bring about a queer dream, he said; but he took the boy home to the cottage, and Granny, full of wonderment and sympathy, speedily prepared a breakfast for her darling after his adventure. But, even with his mouth full of scalding bread and milk, Roger would go on telling of angels and fairies, and the owls' talk in their nest, till both grandparents began to think him bewitched.
Perhaps he was, for to this day he persists in the story. And though the villagers that morning exclaimed that at no time had their old church, in its Christmas dress, looked so beautiful before, and though the organ sent forth a rarer, sweeter music than fingers had ever drawn from it, still nobody believed a word of it. And though the poor mother, kneeling in her lonely pew, and missing her darling from beside her, felt a strange peace and patience enter her heart, and came away calmed and blessed, still no one listened to the story. "Roger had dreamed it all," they said; and perhaps he had,—only the owls knew.
* * * * *
MR. BLUFFS EXPERIENCES OF HOLIDAYS
OLIVER BELL BUNCE
"I hate holidays," said Bachelor Bluff to me, with some little irritation, on a Christmas a few years ago. Then he paused an instant, after which he resumed: "I don't mean to say that I hate to see people enjoying themselves. But I hate holidays, nevertheless, because to me they are always the dreariest and saddest days of the year. I shudder at the name of holiday. I dread the approach of one, and thank Heaven when it is over. I pass through, on a holiday, the most horrible sensations, the bitterest feelings, the most oppressive melancholy; in fact, I am not myself at holiday-times."
"Very strange," I ventured to interpose.
"A plague on it!" said he, almost with violence. "I'm not inhuman. I don't wish anybody harm. I'm glad people can enjoy themselves. But I hate holidays all the same. You see, this is the reason: I am a bachelor; I am without kin; I am in a place that did not know me at birth. And so, when holidays come around, there is no place anywhere for me. I have friends, of course; I don't think I've been a very sulky, shut-in, reticent fellow; and there is many a board that has a place for me—but not at Christmas-time. At Christmas, the dinner is a family gathering; and I've no family. There is such a gathering of kindred on this occasion, such a reunion of family folk, that there is no place for a friend, even if the friend be liked. Christmas, with all its kindliness and charity and good-will, is, after all, deuced selfish. Each little set gathers within its own circle; and people like me, with no particular circle, are left in the lurch. So you see, on the day of all the days in the year that my heart pines for good cheer, I'm without an invitation.
"Oh, it's because I pine for good cheer," said the bachelor, sharply, interrupting my attempt to speak, "that I hate holidays. If I were an infernally selfish fellow, I wouldn't hate holidays. I'd go off and have some fun all to myself, somewhere or somehow. But, you see, I hate to be in the dark when all the rest of the world is in light. I hate holidays, because I ought to be merry and happy on holidays, and can't.
"Don't tell me," he cried, stopping the word that was on my lips; "I tell you, I hate holidays. The shops look merry, do they, with their bright toys and their green branches? The pantomime is crowded with merry hearts, is it? The circus and the show are brimful of fun and laughter, are they? Well, they all make me miserable. I haven't any pretty-faced girls or bright-eyed boys to take to the circus or the show, and all the nice girls and fine boys of my acquaintance have their uncles or their grand-dads or their cousins to take them to those places; so, if I go, I must go alone. But I don't go. I can't bear the chill of seeing everybody happy, and knowing myself so lonely and desolate. Confound it, sir, I've too much heart to be happy under such circumstances! I'm too humane, sir! And the result is, I hate holidays. It's miserable to be out, and yet I can't stay at home, for I get thinking of Christmases past. I can't read—the shadow of my heart makes it impossible. I can't walk—for I see nothing but pictures through the bright windows, and happy groups of pleasure-seekers. The fact is, I've nothing to do but to hate holidays.—But will you not dine with me?"
Of course, I had to plead engagement with my own family circle, and I couldn't quite invite Mr. Bluff home that day, when Cousin Charles and his wife, and Sister Susan and her daughter and three of my wife's kin, had come in from the country, all to make a merry Christmas with us. I felt sorry, but it was quite impossible, so I wished Mr. Bluff a "merry Christmas," and hurried homeward through the cold and nipping air.
I did not meet Bachelor Bluff again until a week after Christmas of the next year, when I learned some strange particulars of what occurred to him after our parting on the occasion just described. I will let Bachelor Bluff tell his adventure for himself:
"I went to church," said he, "and was as sad there as everywhere else. Of course, the evergreens were pretty, and the music fine; but all around me were happy groups of people, who could scarcely keep down merry Christmas long enough to do reverence to sacred Christmas. And nobody was alone but me. Every happy paterfamilias in his pew tantalized me, and the whole atmosphere of the place seemed so much better suited to every one else than me that I came away hating holidays worse than ever. Then I went to the play, and sat down in a box all alone by myself. Everybody seemed on the best of terms with everybody else, and jokes and banter passed from one to another with the most good-natured freedom. Everybody but me was in a little group of friends. I was the only person in the whole theater that was alone. And then there was such clapping of hands, and roars of laughter, and shouts of delight at all the fun going on upon the stage, all of which was rendered doubly enjoyable by everybody having somebody with whom to share and interchange the pleasure, that my loneliness got simply unbearable, and I hated holidays infinitely worse than ever.
"By five o'clock the holiday became so intolerable that I said I'd go and get a dinner. The best dinner the town could provide. A sumptuous dinner. A sumptuous dinner for one. A dinner with many courses, with wines of the finest brands, with bright lights, with a cheerful fire, with every condition of comfort—and I'd see if I couldn't for once extract a little pleasure out of a holiday!
"The handsome dining-room at the club looked bright, but it was empty. Who dines at this club on Christmas but lonely bachelors? There was a flutter of surprise when I ordered a dinner, and the few attendants were, no doubt, glad of something to break the monotony of the hours.
"My dinner was well served. The spacious room looked lonely; but the white, snowy cloths, the rich window-hangings, the warm tints of the walls, the sparkle of the fire in the steel grate, gave the room an air of elegance and cheerfulness; and then the table at which I dined was close to the window, and through the partly-drawn curtains were visible centers of lonely, cold streets, with bright lights from many a window, it is true, but there was a storm, and snow began whirling through the street. I let my imagination paint the streets as cold and dreary as it would, just to extract a little pleasure by way of contrast from the brilliant room of which I was apparently sole master.
"I dined well, and recalled in fancy old, youthful Christmases, and pledged mentally many an old friend, and my melancholy was mellowing into a low, sad undertone, when, just as I was raising a glass of wine to my lips, I was startled by a picture at the window-pane. It was a pale, wild, haggard face, in a great cloud of black hair, pressed against the glass. As I looked, it vanished. With a strange thrill at my heart, which my lips mocked with a derisive sneer, I finished the wine and set down the glass. It was, of course, only a beggar-girl that had crept up to the window and stole a glance at the bright scene within; but still the pale face troubled me a little, and threw a fresh shadow on my heart. I filled my glass once more with wine, and was again about to drink, when the face reappeared at the window. It was so white, so thin, with eyes so large, wild, and hungry-looking, and the black, unkempt hair, into which the snow had drifted, formed so strange and weird a frame to the picture, that I was fairly startled. Replacing, untasted, the liquor on the table, I rose and went close to the pane. The face had vanished, and I could see no object within many feet of the window. The storm had increased, and the snow was driving in wild gusts through the streets, which were empty, save here and there a hurrying wayfarer. The whole scene was cold, wild, and desolate, and I could not repress a keen thrill of sympathy for the child, whoever it was, whose only Christmas was to watch, in cold and storm, the rich banquet ungratefully enjoyed by the lonely bachelor. I resumed my place at the table; but the dinner was finished, and the wine had no further relish. I was haunted by the vision at the window, and began, with an unreasonable irritation at the interruption, to repeat with fresh warmth my detestation of holidays. One couldn't even dine alone on a holiday with any sort of comfort, I declared. On holidays one was tormented by too much pleasure on one side, and too much misery on the other. And then, I said, hunting for justification of my dislike of the day, 'How many other people are, like me, made miserable by seeing the fullness of enjoyment others possessed!
"Oh, yes, I know," sarcastically replied the bachelor to a comment of mine; "of course, all magnanimous, generous, and noble-souled people delight in seeing other people made happy, and are quite content to accept this vicarious felicity. But I, you see, and this dear little girl—"
"Dear little girl!"
"Oh, I forgot," said Bachelor Bluff, blushing a little, in spite of a desperate effort not to do so, "I didn't tell you. Well, it was so absurd! I kept thinking, thinking of the pale, haggard, lonely little girl on the cold and desolate side of the window-pane, and the over-fed, discontented, lonely old bachelor on the splendid side of the window-pane; and I didn't get much happier thinking about it, I can assure you. I drank glass after glass of the wine—not that I enjoyed its flavor any more, but mechanically, as it were, and with a sort of hope thereby to drown unpleasant reminders. I tried to attribute my annoyance in the matter to holidays, and so denounced them more vehemently than ever. I rose once in a while and went to the window, but could see no one to whom the pale face could have belonged.
"At last, in no very amiable mood, I got up, put on my wrappers, and went out; and the first thing I did was to run against a small figure crouching in the doorway. A face looked up quickly at the rough encounter, and I saw the pale features of the window-pane. I was very irritated and angry, and spoke harshly; and then, all at once, I am sure I don't know how it happened, but it flashed upon me that I, of all men, had no right to utter a harsh word to one oppressed with so wretched a Christmas as this poor creature was. I couldn't say another word, but began feeling in my pocket for some money, and then I asked a question or two, and then I don't quite know how it came about—isn't it very warm here?" exclaimed Bachelor Bluff, rising and walking about, and wiping the perspiration from his brow.
"Well, you see," he resumed nervously, "it was very absurd, but I did believe the girl's story—the old story, you know, of privation and suffering, and all that—and just thought I'd go home with the brat and see if what she said was all true. And then I remembered that all the shops were closed, and not a purchase could be made. I went back and persuaded the steward to put up for me a hamper of provisions, which the half-wild little youngster helped me carry through the snow, dancing with delight all the way.—And isn't this enough?"
"Not a bit, Mr. Bluff. I must have the whole story."
"I declare," said Bachelor Bluff, "there's no whole story to tell. A widow with children in great need, that was what I found; and they had a feast that night, and a little money to buy them a load of wood and a garment or two the next day; and they were all so bright, and so merry, and so thankful, and so good, that, when I got home that night, I was mightily amazed that, instead of going to bed sour at holidays, I was in a state of great contentment in regard to holidays. In fact, I was really merry. I whistled. I sang. I do believe I cut a caper. The poor wretches I had left had been so merry over their unlooked-for Christmas banquet that their spirits infected mine.
"And then I got thinking again. Of course, holidays had been miserable to me, I said. What right had a well-to-do, lonely old bachelor hovering wistfully in the vicinity of happy circles, when all about there were so many people as lonely as he, and yet oppressed with want? 'Good gracious!' I exclaimed, 'to think of a man complaining of loneliness with thousands of wretches yearning for his help and comfort, with endless opportunities for work and company, with hundreds of pleasant and delightful things to do! Just to think of it!' It put me in a great fury at myself to think of it. I tried pretty hard to escape from myself and began inventing excuses and all that sort of thing, but I rigidly forced myself to look squarely at my own conduct. And then I reconciled my conscience by declaring that, if ever after that day I hated a holiday again, might my holidays end at once and forever!
"Did I go and see my proteges again? What a question! Why—well, no matter. If the widow is comfortable now, it is because she has found a way to earn without difficulty enough for her few wants. That's no fault of mine. I would have done more for her, but she wouldn't let me. But just let me tell you about New Year's—the New-Year's-day that followed the Christmas I've been describing. It was lucky for me there was another holiday only a week off. Bless you! I had so much to do that day that I was completely bewildered, and the hours weren't half long enough. I did make a few social calls, but then I hurried them over; and then hastened to my little girl, whose face had already caught a touch of color; and she, looking quite handsome in her new frock and her ribbons, took me to other poor folk, and—well, that's about the whole story.
"Oh, as to the next Christmas. Well, I didn't dine alone, as you may guess. It was up three stairs, that's true, and there was none of that elegance that marked the dinner of the year before; but it was merry, and happy, and bright; it was a generous, honest, hearty, Christmas dinner, that it was, although I do wish the widow hadn't talked so much about the mysterious way a turkey had been left at her door the night before. And Molly—that's the little girl—and I had a rousing appetite. We went to church early; then we had been down to the Five Points to carry the poor outcasts there something for their Christmas dinner; in fact, we had done wonders of work, and Molly was in high spirits, and so the Christmas dinner was a great success.
"Dear me, sir, no! Just as you say. Holidays are not in the least wearisome any more. Plague on it! When a man tells me now that he hates holidays, I find myself getting very wroth. I pin him by the button-hole at once, and tell him my experience. The fact is, if I were at dinner on a holiday, and anybody should ask me for a sentiment, I should say, God bless all holidays!"
* * * * *
SANTA CLAUS AT SIMPSON'S BAR
It was nearly midnight when the festivities were interrupted. "Hush!" said Dick Bullen, holding up his hand. It was the querulous voice of Johnny from his adjacent closet: "Oh, dad!"
The Old Man arose hurriedly and disappeared in the closet. Presently he reappeared. "His rheumatiz is coming on agin bad," he explained, "and he wants rubbin'." He lifted the demijohn of whiskey from the table and shook it. It was empty. Dick Bullen put down his tin cup with an embarrassed laugh. So did the others. The Old Man examined their contents, and said hopefully, "I reckon that's enough; he don't need much. You hold on, all o' you, for a spell, and I'll be back;" and vanished in the closet with an old flannel shirt and the whiskey. The door closed but imperfectly, and the following dialogue was distinctly audible:—
"Now, sonny, whar does she ache worst?"
"Sometimes over yar and sometimes under yer; but it's most powerful from yer to yer. Rub yer, dad."
A silence seemed to indicate a brisk rubbing. Then Johnny:—
"Hevin' a good time out yar, dad?"
"Tomorrer's Chrismiss,—ain't it?"
"Yes, sonny. How does she feel now?"
"Better. Rub a little furder down. Wot's Chrismiss, anyway? Wot's it all about?"
"Oh, it's a day."
This exhaustive definition was apparently satisfactory, for there was a silent interval of rubbing. Presently Johnny again:—
"Mar sez that everywhere else but yer everybody gives things to everybody Chrismiss, and then she jist waded inter you. She sez thar's a man they call Sandy Claws, not a white man, you know, but a kind o' Chinemin, comes down the chimbley night afore Chrismiss and gives things to chillern,—boys like me. Puts 'em in their butes! Thet's what she tried to play upon me. Easy, now, pop, whar are you rubbin' to,—thet's a mile from the place. She jest made that up, didn't she, jest to aggrewate me and you? Don't rub thar—Why, dad!"
In the great quiet that seemed to have fallen upon the house the sigh of the near pines and the drip of leaves without was very distinct. Johnny's voice, too, was lowered as he went on: "Don't you take on now, for I'm gettin' all right fast. Wot's the boys doin' out thar?"
The Old Man partly opened the door and peered through. His guests were sitting there sociably enough, and there were a few silver coins and a lean buckskin purse on the table. "Bettin' on suthin',—some little game or 'nother. They're all right," he replied to Johnny, and recommenced his rubbing.
"I'd like to take a hand and win some money," said Johnny reflectively, after a pause.
The Old Man glibly repeated what was evidently a familiar formula, that if Johnny would wait until he struck it rich in the tunnel, he'd have lots of money, etc., etc.
"Yes," said Johnny, "but you don't. And whether you strike it or I win it, it's about the same. It's all luck. But it's mighty cur'o's about Chrismiss,—ain't it? Why do they call it Chrismiss?"
Perhaps from some instinctive deference to the overhearing of his guests, or from some vague sense of incongruity, the Old Man's reply was so low as to be inaudible beyond the room.
"Yes," said Johnny, with some slight abatement of interest, "I've heerd o' him before. Thar, that'll do dad. I don't ache near so bad as I did. Now wrap me tight in this yer blanket. So. Now," he added in a muffled whisper, "sit down yer by me till I go asleep." To assure himself of obedience he disengaged one hand from the blanket, and, grasping his father's sleeve, again composed himself to rest.
For some moments the Old Man waited patiently. Then the unwonted stillness of the house excited his curiosity, and without moving from the bed he cautiously opened the door with his disengaged hand, and looked into the main room. To his infinite surprise it was dark and deserted. But even then a smoldering log on the hearth broke, and by the upspringing blaze he saw the figure of Dick Bullen sitting by the dying embers.
Dick started, rose, and came somewhat unsteadily toward him.
"Whar's the boys?" said the Old Man.
"Gone up the canon on a little pasear. They're coming back for me in a minit. I'm waitin' round for 'em. What are you starin' at, Old Man?" he added, with a forced laugh; "do you think I'm drunk?"
The Old Man might have been pardoned the supposition, for Dick's eyes were humid and his face flushed. He loitered and lounged back to the chimney, yawned, shook himself, buttoned up his coat and laughed. "Liquor ain't so plenty as that, Old Man. Now don't you git up," he continued, as the Old Man made a movement to release his sleeve from Johnny's hand. "Don't you mind manners. Sit jest whar you be; I'm goin' in a jiffy. Thar, that's them now."
There was a low tap at the door. Dick Bullen opened it quickly, nodded "Good-night" to his host, and disappeared. The Old Man would have followed him but for the hand that still unconsciously grasped his sleeve. He could have easily disengaged it; it was small, weak and emaciated. But perhaps because it was small, weak and emaciated he changed his mind, and, drawing his chair closer to the bed, rested his head upon it. In this defenceless attitude the potency of his earlier potations surprised him. The room flickered and faded before his eyes, reappeared, faded again, went out, and left him—asleep.
Meantime Dick Bullen, closing the door, confronted his companions. "Are you ready?" said Staples. "Ready," said Dick; "what's the time?" "Past twelve," was the reply; "can you make it?—it's nigh on fifty miles, the round trip hither and yon." "I reckon," returned Dick shortly. "Whar's the mare?" "Bill and Jack's holdin' her at the crossin'." "Let 'em hold on a minit longer," said Dick.
He turned and reentered the house softly. By the light of the guttering candle and dying fire he saw that the door of the little room was open. He stepped toward it on tiptoe and looked in. The Old Man had fallen back in his chair, snoring, his helpless feet thrust out in a line with his collapsed shoulders, and his hat pulled over his eyes. Beside him, on a narrow wooden bedstead, lay Johnny, muffled tightly in a blanket that hid all save a strip of forehead and a few curls damp with perspiration. Dick Bullen made a step forward, hesitated, and glanced over his shoulder into the deserted room. Everything was quiet. With a sudden resolution he parted his huge mustaches with both hands, and stooped over the sleeping boy. But even as he did so a mischievous blast, lying in wait, swooped down the chimney, rekindled the hearth, and lit up the room with a shameless glow, from which Dick fled in bashful terror.
His companions were already waiting for him at the crossing. Two of them were struggling in the darkness with some strange misshapen bulk, which as Dick came nearer took the semblance of a great yellow horse.
It was the mare. She was not a pretty picture. From her Roman nose to her rising haunches, from her arched spine hidden by the stiff machillas of a Mexican saddle, to her thick, straight, bony legs, there was not a line of equine grace. In her half blind but wholly vicious white eyes, in her protruding under-lip, in her monstrous color, there was nothing but ugliness and vice.
"Now, then," said Staples, "stand cl'ar of her heels, boy, and up with you. Don't miss your first holt of her mane, and mind ye get your off stirrup quick. Ready!"
There was a leap, a scrambling, a bound, a wild retreat of the crowd, a circle of flying hoofs, two springless leaps that jarred the earth, a rapid play and jingle of spurs, a plunge, and then the voice of Dick somewhere in the darkness. "All right!"
"Don't take the lower road back onless you're pushed hard for time! Don't hold her in down hill. We'll be at the ford at five. G'lang! Hoopa! Mula! GO!"
A splash, a spark struck from the ledge in the road, a clatter in the rocky cut beyond, and Dick was gone.
- - - - -
Sing, O Muse, the ride of Richard Bullen! Sing, O Muse, of chivalrous men! the sacred quest, the doughty deeds, the battery of low churls, the fearsome ride and gruesome perils of the Flower of Simpson's Bar! Alack! she is dainty, this Muse! She will have none of this bucking brute and swaggering, ragged rider, and I must fain follow him in prose, afoot!
It was one o'clock, and yet he had only gained Rattlesnake Hill. For in that time Jovita had rehearsed to him all her imperfections and practised all her vices. Thrice had she stumbled. Twice had she thrown up her Roman nose in a straight line with the reins, and, resisting bit and spur, struck out madly across country. Twice had she reared, and, rearing, fallen backward; and twice had the agile Dick, unharmed, regained his seat before she found her vicious legs again. And a mile beyond them, at the foot of a long hill, was Rattlesnake Creek. Dick knew that here was the crucial test of his ability to perform his enterprise, set his teeth grimly, put his knees well into her flanks, and changed his defensive tactics to brisk aggression. Bullied and maddened, Jovita began the descent of the hill. Here the artful Richard pretended to hold her in with ostentatious objurgation and well-feigned cries of alarm. It is unnecessary to add that Jovita instantly ran away. Nor need I state the time made in the descent; it is written in the chronicles of Simpson's Bar. Enough that in another moment, as it seemed to Dick, she was splashing on the overflowed banks of Rattlesnake Creek. As Dick expected, the momentum she had acquired carried her beyond the point of balking, and, holding her well together for a mighty leap, they dashed into the middle of the swiftly flowing current. A few moments of kicking, wading, and swimming, and Dick drew a long breath on the opposite bank.
The road from Rattlesnake Creek to Red Mountain was tolerably level. Either the plunge into Rattlesnake Creek had dampened her baleful fire, or the art which led to it had shown her the superior wickedness of her rider, for Jovita no longer wasted her surplus energy in wanton conceits. Once she bucked, but it was from force of habit; once she shied, but it was from a new, freshly-painted meeting-house at the crossing of the country road. Hollows, ditches, gravelly deposits, patches of freshly-springing grasses, flew from beneath her rattling hoofs. She began to smell unpleasantly, once or twice she coughed slightly, but there was no abatement of her strength or speed. By two o'clock he had passed Red Mountain and begun the descent to the plain. Ten minutes later the driver of the fast Pioneer coach was overtaken and passed by a "man on a Pinto hoss,"—an event sufficiently notable for remark. At half past two Dick rose in his stirrups with a great shout. Stars were glittering through the rifted clouds, and beyond him, out of the plain, rose two spires, a flagstaff, and a straggling line of black objects. Dick jingled his spurs and swung his riata, Jovita bounded forward, and in another moment they swept into Tuttleville, and drew up before the wooden piazza of "The Hotel of All Nations."
What transpired that night at Tuttleville is not strictly a part of this record. Briefly I may state, however, that after Jovita had been handed over to a sleepy ostler, whom she at once kicked into unpleasant consciousness, Dick sallied out with the barkeeper for a tour of the sleeping town. Lights still gleamed from a few saloons and gambling houses; but, avoiding these, they stopped before several closed shops, and by persistent tapping and judicious outcry roused the proprietors from their beds, and made them unbar the doors of their magazines and expose their wares. Sometimes they were met by curses, but oftener by interest and some concern in their needs. It was three o'clock before this pleasantry was given over, and with a small waterproof bag of India rubber strapped on his shoulders Dick returned to the hotel. And then he sprang to the saddle, and dashed down the lonely street and out into the lonelier plain, where presently the lights, the black line of houses, the spires, and the flagstaff sank into the earth behind him again and were lost in the distance.
The storm had cleared away, the air was brisk and cold, the outlines of adjacent landmarks were distinct, but it was half-past four before Dick reached the meeting-house and the crossing of the country road. To avoid the rising grade he had taken a longer and more circuitous road, in whose viscid mud Jovita sank fetlock deep at every bound. It was a poor preparation for a steady ascent of five miles more; but Jovita, gathering her legs under her, took it with her usual blind, unreasoning fury, and a half hour later reached the long level that led to Rattlesnake Creek. Another half hour would bring him to the Creek. He threw the reins lightly upon the neck of the mare, chirruped to her, and began to sing.
Suddenly Jovita shied with a bound that would have unseated a less practised rider. Hanging to her rein was a figure that had leaped from the bank, and at the same time from the road before her arose a shadowy horse and rider. "Throw up your hands," commanded the second apparition, with an oath.
Dick felt the mare tremble, quiver, and apparently sink under him. He knew what it meant, and was prepared.
"Stand aside, Jack Simpson. I know you, you d——d thief! Let me pass, or—"
He did not finish the sentence. Jovita rose straight in the air with a terrific bound, throwing the figure from her bit with a single shake of her vicious head, and charged with deadly malevolence down on the impediment before her. An oath, a pistol-shot, horse and highwayman rolled over in the road, and the next moment Jovita was a hundred yards away. But the good right arm of her rider, shattered by a bullet, dropped helplessly at his side.
Without slacking his speed he lifted the reins to his left hand. But a few moments later he was obliged to halt and tighten the saddle-girths that had slipped in the onset. This in his crippled condition took some time. He had no fear of pursuit, but, looking up, he saw that the eastern stars were already paling, and that the distant peaks had lost their ghostly whiteness, and now stood out blackly against a lighter sky. Day was upon him. Then completely absorbed in a single idea, he forgot the pain of his wound, and, mounting again, dashed on towards Rattlesnake Creek. But now Jovita's breath came broken by gasps, Dick reeled in his saddle, and brighter and brighter grew the sky.
Ride, Richard; run, Jovita; linger, O day!
For the last few rods there was a roaring in his ears. Was it exhaustion from a loss of blood, or what? He was dazed and giddy as he swept down the hill, and did not recognize his surroundings. Had he taken the wrong road, or was this Rattlesnake Creek?
It was. But the brawling creek he had swam a few hours before had risen, more than doubled its volume, and now rolled a swift and resistless river between him and Rattlesnake Hill. For the first time that night Richard's heart sank within him. The river, the mountain, the quickening east, swam before his eyes. He shut them to recover his self-control. In that brief interval, by some fantastic mental process, the little room at Simpson's Bar and the figures of the sleeping father and son rose upon him. He opened his eyes wildly, cast off his coat, pistol, boots, and saddle, bound his precious pack tightly to his shoulders, grasped the bare flanks of Jovita with his bared knees, and with a shout dashed into the yellow water. A cry arose from the opposite bank as the head of a man and horse struggled for a few moments against the battling current, and then were swept away amidst uprooted trees and whirling driftwood.
- - - - -
The Old man started and woke. The fire on the hearth was dead, the candle in the outer room flickering in its socket, and somebody was rapping at the door. He opened it, but fell back with a cry before the dripping, half-naked figure that reeled against the doorpost.
"Hush! Is he awake yet?"
"No; but Dick—"
"Dry up, you old fool! Get me some whiskey, quick!" The Old Man flew, and returned with—an empty bottle! Dick would have sworn, but his strength was not equal to the occasion. He staggered, caught at the handle of the door, and motioned to the Old Man.
"Thar's suthin' in my pack yer for Johnny. Take it off. I can't."
The Old Man unstrapped the pack, and laid it before the exhausted man.
"Open it, quick."
He did so with trembling fingers. It contained only a few poor toys,—cheap and barbaric enough, goodness knows, but bright with paint and tinsel. One of them was broken; another, I fear, was irretrievably ruined by water; and on the third—ah me! there was a cruel spot.
"It don't look like much, that's a fact," said Dick ruefully ... "But it's the best we could do.... Take 'em Old Man, and put 'em in his stocking, and tell him—tell him, you know—hold me, Old Man—" The Old Man caught at his sinking figure. "Tell him," said Dick, with a weak little laugh,—"tell him Sandy Claus has come."
And even so, bedraggled, ragged, unshaven and unshorn, with one arm hanging helplessly at his side, Santa Claus came to Simpson's Bar, and fell fainting on the first threshold. The Christmas dawn came slowly after, touching the remoter peaks with the rosy warmth of ineffable love. And it looked so tenderly on Simpson's Bar that the whole mountain, as if caught in a generous action, blushed to the skies.
* * * * *
OLD CAROLS AND EXERCISES
GOD REST YOU, MERRY GENTLEMEN
God rest you, merry gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay, For Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Was born upon this day. To save us all from Satan's pow'r When we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy! For Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Was born on Christmas Day.
In Bethlehem, in Jewry, This blessed Babe was born. And laid within a manger, Upon this blessed morn; The which His mother, Mary, Nothing did take in scorn.
From God our Heavenly Father, A blessed angel came; And unto certain shepherds Brought tidings of the same: How that in Bethlehem was born The Son of God by name.
"Fear not," then said the angel, "Let nothing you affright, This day is born a Saviour Of virtue, power, and might, So frequently to vanquish all The friends of Satan quite."
The shepherds at those tidings Rejoiced much in mind, And left their flocks a-feeding In tempest, storm, and wind, And went to Bethlehem straightway, This blessed Babe to find.
But when to Bethlehem they came, Whereat this infant lay, They found Him in a manger, Where oxen feed on hay, His mother Mary kneeling, Unto the Lord did pray.
Now to the Lord sing praises, All you within this place, And with true love and brotherhood Each other now embrace; This holy tide of Christmas All others doth deface. O tidings of comfort and joy! For Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Was born on Christmas Day.
* * * * *
OLD CHRISTMAS RETURNED
All you that to feasting and mirth are inclined, Come here is good news for to pleasure your mind, Old Christmas is come for to keep open house, He scorns to be guilty of starving a mouse: Then come, boys, and welcome for diet the chief, Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minced pies, and roast beef.
The holly and ivy about the walls wind And show that we ought to our neighbors be kind, Inviting each other for pastime and sport, And where we best fare, there we most do resort; We fail not of victuals, and that of the chief, Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minced pies, and roast beef.
All travellers, as they do pass on their way, At gentlemen's halls are invited to stay, Themselves to refresh, and their horses to rest, Since that he must be Old Christmas's guest; Nay, the poor shall not want, but have for relief, Plum-pudding, goose, capon, minced pies, and roast beef.
* * * * *
As Joseph was a-waukin' He heard an angel sing, "This night shall be the birthnight Of Christ our heavenly King.
"His birth-bed shall be neither In housen nor in hall, Nor in the place of paradise, But in the oxen stall.
"He neither shall be rocked In silver nor in gold, But in the wooden manger That lieth in the mould.
"He neither shall be washen With white wine nor with red, But with the fair spring water That on you shall be shed.
"He neither shall be clothed In purple nor in pall, But in the fair, white linen That usen babies all."
As Joseph was a-waukin', Thus did the angel sing, And Mary's son at midnight Was born to be our King.
Then be you glad, good people, At this time of the year; And light you up your candles, For His star it shineth clear.
* * * * *
"IN EXCELSIS GLORIA"
When Christ was born of Mary free, In Bethlehem, in that fair citie, Angels sang there with mirth and glee, In Excelsis Gloria!
Herdsmen beheld these angels bright, To them appearing with great light, Who said, "God's Son is born this night," In Excelsis Gloria!
This King is come to save mankind, As in Scripture truths we find, Therefore this song have we in mind, In Excelsis Gloria!
Then, dear Lord, for Thy great grace, Grant us the bliss to see Thy face, That we may sing to Thy solace, In Excelsis Gloria!
* * * * *
THE BOAR'S HEAD CAROL
(Sung at Queen's College, Oxford.)
The boar's head in hand bear I, Bedecked with bays and rosemary; And I pray you, my masters, be merry, Quot estis in convivio. Caput apri defero Reddens laudes domino.
The boar's head, as I understand, Is the rarest dish in all this land, Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland Let us servire cantico. Caput apri defero Reddens laudes domino.
Our steward hath provided this In honour of the King of bliss; Which on this day to be served is In Reginensi Atrio. Caput apri defero Reddens laudes domino.
* * * * *
Listen, lordings, unto me, a tale I will you tell; Which, as on this night of glee, in David's town befell. Joseph came from Nazareth with Mary, that sweet maid; Weary were they nigh to death, and for a lodging prayed.
In the inn they found no room; a scanty bed they made; Soon a babe, an angel pure, was in the manger laid. Forth He came, as light through glass, He came to save us all. In the stable, ox and ass before their Maker fall.
Shepherds lay afield that night to keep the silly sheep, Hosts of angels in their sight came down from Heaven's high steep:— Tidings! tidings unto you! to you a child is born, Purer than the drops of dew, and brighter than the morn!
Onward then the angels sped, the shepherds onward went,— God was in His manger bed; in worship low they bent. In the morning see ye mind, my masters one and all, At the altar Him to find, who lay within the stall.
Sing high, sing low, Sing to and fro, Go tell it out with speed, Cry out and shout, All round about, That Christ is born indeed! Pray whither sailed those ships all three On Christmas day in the morning?
Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem On Christmas day, on Christmas day; Oh, they sailed into Bethlehem On Christmas day in the morning.
And all the bells on earth shall ring On Christmas day, on Christmas day; And all the bells on earth shall ring On Christmas day in the morning.
And all the angels in heaven shall sing On Christmas day, on Christmas day; And all the angels in heaven shall sing On Christmas day in the morning.
And all the souls on earth shall sing On Christmas day, on Christmas day; And all the souls on earth shall sing On Christmas day in the morning.
Then let us all rejoice amain On Christmas day, on Christmas day; Then let us all rejoice amain On Christmas day in the morning.
* * * * *
A CHRISTMAS INSURRECTION
ANNE P.L. FIELD
In the hush of a shivery Christmas-tide dawn Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! Three small frozen figures hung stiff and forlorn Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! Three dim ghostly forms in the glimmering gray Locked up in dark cold storage quarters were they Awaiting the coming of glad Christmas day Sing hey! sing ho! heigho!
Suspended each one from a hickory twig Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! A turkey, a goose, and a little fat pig Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! With chestnuts the turkey was garnished and stuffed With onions and sage was the goose-carcass puffed, While piggy was spiced, and his neck was beruffed Sing hey! sing ho! heigho!
Three spirits regretful were hovering near Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! "Look!" gobbled the turkey's, "what tragedy's here!" Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! "For this did they tempt me with fattening food, For this did I bring up my beautiful brood, I always thought farmers uncommonly rude!" Sing hey! sing ho! heigho!
The goose spirit trembled, then hissingly said Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! "Most men care for nothing except to be fed!" Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! "What horror is this, filled with onions and sage To be served on a platter at my tender age! 'Tis enough any well-disposed fowl to enrage!" Sing hey! sing ho! heigho!
The phantom pig grunted, "Do please look at that!" Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! "Oh! why did I grow up so rosy and fat!" Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! "They put in my mouth a sweet, juicy corncob Just when of sensations my palate they rob, Do you wonder such sights make a spirit-pig sob!" Sing hey! sing ho! heigho!
Conferring, the spirits resolved on a plan Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! By which to wreak vengeance on merciless man Sing hey! sing ho! heigho! "We'll each disagree with the human inside, We'll cause indigestion and damage his pride, And the pains of this Christmas we'll spread far and wide!" Sing hey! sing ho! heigho!
* * * * *
THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS
ANNE P.L. FIELD
Twas the night after Christmas in Santa-Claus land And to rest from his labors St. Nicholas planned. The reindeer were turned out to pasture and all The ten thousand assistants discharged till the fall. The furry great-coat was laid safely away With the boots and the cap with its tassel so gay, And toasting his toes by a merry wood fire, What more could a weary old Santa desire? So he puffed at his pipe and remarked to his wife, "This amply makes up for my strenuous life! From climbing down chimneys my legs fairly ache, But it's well worth the while for the dear children's sake. I'd bruise every bone in my body to see The darlings' delight in a gift-laden tree!" Just then came a sound like a telephone bell— Though why they should have such a thing I can't tell— St. Nick gave a snort and exclaimed in a rage, "Bad luck to inventions of this modern age!" He grabbed the receiver—his face wore a frown As he roared in the mouth-piece, "I will not come down To exchange any toys like an up-to-date store, Ring off, I'll not listen to anything more!" Then he settled himself by the comforting blaze And waxed reminiscent of halcyon days When children were happy with simplest of toys: A doll for the girls and a drum for the boys— But again came that noisy disturber of peace The telephone bell—would the sound never cease? "Run and answer it, wife, all my patience has fled, If they keep this thing up I shall wish I were dead! I have worked night and day the best part of a year To supply all the children, and what do I hear— A boy who declares he received roller-skates When he wanted a gun—and a cross girl who states That she asked for a new Victor talking machine And I brought her a sled, so she thinks I am 'mean!'" Poor St. Nicholas looked just the picture of woe, He needed some auto-suggestion, you know, To make him think things were all coming out right, For he didn't get one wink of slumber that night! The telephone wire was kept sizzling hot By children disgusted with presents they'd got, And when the bright sun showed its face in the sky The Santa-Claus family were ready to cry! Just then something happened—a way of escape, Though it came in the funniest possible shape— An aeronaut, sorely in need of a meal, Descended for breakfast—it seemed quite ideal! For the end of it was, he invited his host Out to try the balloon, of whose speed he could boast. St. Nick, who was nothing if not a good sport, Was delighted to go, and as quick as a thought Climbed into the car for a flight in the air— "No telephone bells can disturb me up there! And, wife, if it suits me I'll count it no crime To stay up till ready for next Christmas time!" Thus saying—he sailed in the giant balloon, And I fear that he will not return very soon. Now, when you ask "Central" for Santa-Claus land She'll say, "discontinued"—and you'll understand.
* * * * *
WHEN THE STARS OF MORNING SANG
ANNE P.L. FIELD
When the stars of morning sang Long ago, Sweet the air with music rang Through the snow, There beside the mother mild Slept the blessed Christmas child,— Slumber holy, undefiled— Here below.
When the wise men traveled far Through the night, Following the guiding star Pure and bright, Lo! it stood above the place Sanctified by Heaven's grace, And upon the Christ-Child's face Shed its light.
When the world lay hushed and still Christmas morn, Suddenly were skies athrill— "Christ is born!" Angel voices, high and clear, Chanted tidings of good cheer, "See, the Infant King is here, Christ is born!"
* * * * *
A PRAYER AT BETHLEHEM
ANNE P.L. FIELD
O pulsing earth with heart athrill With infinite creative will! O watchful shepherds in whose eyes Sweet hopes and promises arise! O angel-host whose chanting choir Proclaims fulfillment of desire! O flaming star so purely white Against the black Judean night! O blessed Mary bending low With sense of motherhood aglow! O holy Babe with haloed head Soft pillowed in a manger bed! O Mystery divine and deep Help us Thy prophecies to keep!
* * * * *
THE CHRISTMAS FIRES
ANNE P.L. FIELD
The Christmas fires brightly gleam And dance among the holly boughs, The Christmas pudding's spicy steam With fragrance fills the house, While merry grows each friendly soul Over the foaming wassail bowl.
Resplendent stands the glitt'ring tree, Weighted with gifts for old and young, The children's faces shine with glee, And joyous is each tongue, While lads and lassies come and go Under the festive mistletoe.
When suddenly the frosty air Is filled with music, voices sweet, Lo! see the Christmas waits are there Snow-crowned and bare of feet, Yet high and clear their voices ring, And glad their Christmas carolling.
* * * * *
O Child of Mary's tender care! O little Child so pure and fair! Cradled within the manger hay On that divine first Christmas day! The hopes of every age and race Are centered in Thy radiant face!
O Child whose glory fills the earth! O little Child of lowly birth! The shepherds, guided from afar, Stood worshiping beneath the star, And wise-men fell on bended knee And homage offered unto Thee!
O Child of whom the angels sing! O little Child, our Infant King! What balm for every sorrow lies Within those clear, illumined eyes! O precious gift to mortals given To win us heritage in Heaven!
* * * * *
ROBERT HAVEN SCHAUFFLER
All day her watch had lasted on the plateau above the town. And now the sun slanted low over the dull, blue sheen of the western sea, playing changingly with the angular mountain which rose abruptly from its surge.
The young matron did not heed the magic which was transforming the theater of hills to the north and lingering lovingly at last on the eastern summit. Nor had she any eyes for the changing hue of the ivy-clad cubes of stone that formed the village over which her hungry gaze passed, sweeping the length and breadth of the plain below.
She seemed not much above thirty: tall, erect and lithe. Her throat, bared to the breeze, was of the purest modeling; her skin of a whiteness unusual in that warm climate. Her head, a little small for her rounded figure, was crowned with a coil of chestnut hair, and her eyes glowed with a look strange to the common light of every day. It was her soul that was scanning that southward country.
From time to time she would fondle a small object hidden beneath the white folds of her robe. Once she threw her arms out in a passionate gesture toward the plain, and tears overflowed the beautiful eyes. Again she fell on her knees, and the throes of inner prayer found relief at her lips:
"Father, my Father, grant me to see him ere the dusk!"
Once again she sank down, moaning:
"He is in Thine everlasting arms. But Thou, who knowest times and seasons, give him to me on this day of days!"
Under the curve of a shielding hand her vision strained through the clear, pure air,—strained and found at last two specks far out in the plain, and followed them breathlessly as they crept nearer. One traveler was clad in a dark garment, and stopped presently, leaving his light-robed companion to hasten on alone toward the hungry-eyed woman on the plateau.
All at once she gathered her skirt with a joyous cry and ran with lithe, elastic steps down through the village.
They met on a low, rounded hill near the plain.
"My son, my darling!" she cried, catching him passionately to her bosom. "We have searched, and waited, and agonized," she continued after a pause, smiling at him through her happy tears. "But it matters nothing now. I have thee again."
"My mother," said the boy as he caressed her cheek, looking at her dreamily, "I have been with my cousin. Even now he waits below for me. I must bid thee farewell. I must pass from thy face forever."
His lip trembled a little, but he smiled bravely. "For it is the will of God, the Father."
The mother's face went ashen. She tottered and would have fallen but for his slender arm about her.
Her thoughts were whirling in wild confusion, yet she knew that she must decide calmly, wisely, quickly.
Her lips moved, but made no sound.
"Oh, lay Thy wise and gracious hand upon me!" was what she breathed in silence.
Then her voice sounded rich and happy and fresh, as it had always sounded for him.
"His will be done. Thou comest to bid farewell to thy brothers and father?"
"It may not be," he answered. "My lot henceforth is to flee the touch of the world, the unsympathetic eye, the ribald tongue of those like my brothers—the defilement of common life."
The mother pressed him closer.
"Say all that is in thine heart," she murmured. "We will bide here."
They sank down together on the soft, bright turf, facing the brilliance of the west, she holding her child as of old in the hollow of her arm.
He began to speak.
"For long and long a voice within me said, 'Go and seek thy cousin.' So I sought and found, and we abode together in the woods and fields, and were friends with our dear brothers the beasts, and the fishes, and the birds. There, day by day, my cousin would tell me of the dream that filled his soul and of the holy men who had put the dream there."
The mother's eyes grew larger with a swift terror, but she held her peace.
"And at the last, when the beauty, the wind, the sun, the rain, and the voice of God, had purified me in some measure, my cousin brought me to visit these holy men."
The clear, boyish voice rose and began to vibrate with enthusiasm.
"Ah, mother, they are the chosen ones of God! Sweet and grave and gentle they are, and theirs is the perfect life. They dwell spotless and apart from the world. They own one common purse, and spend their lives working with their hands and pondering and dreaming on purity, goodness, and the commands of the great law."
He sprang up in his excitement from her encircling arm and stood erect and wide-eyed before her.
"Ah, mother, they are so good that they would do nothing on the Sabbath, even to saving their own lives or the lives of their animals, or their brothers. They bathe very often in sacred water. They have no wives, and mortify the flesh, and—"
"What is their aim in this?" the mother interrupted gently.
The boy was aflame with his subject.
"Ah, that is it—the great goal toward which they all run," he cried. "They are doing my Father's work, and I must help! Hear, hear what is before me: When a young novice comes to them they give him the symbols of purity: a spade, an apron, and a white robe to wear at the holy meals. In a year he receives a closer fellowship and the baths of purification. After that he enters the state of bodily purity. Then little by little he enters into purity of the spirit, meekness, holiness. He becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, and prophesies. Ah, think, mother, how sweet it would be to lie entranced there for days and weeks in an earthly paradise, with no rough world to break the spell, while the angels sing softly in one's ears! I, even I, have already tasted of that bliss."
"Say on," she breathed. "What does the holy man do then?"
"Then," the inspired, boyish tones continued—"then he performs miracles, and finally—" he clasped her hand convulsively—"he becomes Elias, the forerunner of the Messiah!"
From far out in the wilderness came a melancholy cry.
"It is John, my cousin," said the boy, radiant, half turning himself at the sound. "I must go to him."
She drew in her breath sharply, and rose to her feet.
"Bear a message to John," she said. "Not pourings of water, nor white robes; not times and seasons, nor feasts in darkness and silence, shall hasten the kingdom of heaven; neither formulas, nor phylacteries, nor madness on the Sabbath. Above all, no selfish, proud isolation shall usher in the glorious reign of the Messiah. These holy men,—these Essenes,—are but stricter, sterner, nobler Pharisees. Tell thy cousin to take all the noble and fine, to reject all the selfish and unmeaning, in their lives. Doctrine is not in heaven. Not by fasts and scourgings, not by vigils and scruples about the law; not by selfishly shutting out the world, but by taking all poor, suffering, erring, striving humanity into his heart will he become the true Elias."
There was a breathless, thrilling moment of perfect silence as the glowing eyes of the mother looked deep into the astonished, questioning eyes of the son.
Then she rested both hands on his shoulders and spoke almost in a whisper.
"As for thee, the time is now come. Does my son know what this day means?"
He looked at her wonderingly and was silent.
The mother spoke:
"For many years I have kept these things and pondered them in my heart. Now, now the hour is here when thou must know them."
She bent so close that a strand of loosened hair swept his forehead.
"In the time before thou wert born came as in a dream a wondrous visitor to me straight from the Father. And that pure, ecstatic messenger announced that the power of the Highest would overshadow me, and that my child was to be the son of the Highest, who should save His people from their sins—the Prince of Peace—the Messiah!"
From the wilderness came a long, melancholy cry, but the rapt boy heard not.
The mother continued in the soft, tender voice that began to tremble with her in her ecstasy.
"This day is thy birthday. Twelve years ago this eventide, when thou camest into the world of men, men came to worship and praise God for thee,—the lowliest and the highest,—as a token that thou wert to be not only Son of God but Son of Man as well. Poor, ignorant shepherds crowded about us in that little stable where we lay, and left the sweet savor of their prayers, and tears, and rejoicings. And great, wise kings from another part of the earth came also."
From beneath the folds of her robe she drew forth by a fine-spun chain an intricately chased casket of soft, yellow gold.
The boy took it dreamily into his hands, and as his fingers opened it, there floated forth upon the air of the hills of Nazareth the sacred odor of incense mingled with a perfume indescribably delicate and precious.
"Read!" whispered the mother.
The boy held his breath suddenly.
There, on the lower surface of the lid, graven in rude characters, as if on the inspiration of the moment, stood the single word
She flung wide her arms as if to embrace the universe.
"Love! Love! Love!" she cried in her rich mother's voice. "It is the greatest thing in the world! It is the message of the Messiah!"
The heavens over the sea were of molten gold, and a golden glow seemed to radiate from the boyish face that confronted them. In their trance-like ecstasy the wonderful eyes gazed full into the blinding west—gazed on and on until day had passed into night.
One iterant sound alone, as it drew closer, stirred the silence of that evening: it was the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
* * * * *
* * * * *
1. There is an editorial error in the original edition of this book: "The Star Song" by Robert Herrick is listed in the Table of Contents but not included in the text. For this edition "The Star Song" was removed from the Table of Contents.
2. In the "Inexhaustibility of the Subject of Christmas" by Leigh Hunt the following sentence:
"There are two p's, observe, in plenipotential; and so there are in plum-pudding. We love an exquisite fitness,—a might and wealth of adaptation).
(There are two p's, observe, in plenipotential; and so there are in plum-pudding. We love an exquisite fitness,—a might and wealth of adaptation).
3. In "Christmas Holly:"
I sing the holly, and who can breathe Aught of that that is not good? Then sing to the holly, the Christmas holly, That hangs over peasant and king;
was changed as follows to correct an error and to preserve the symmetrical verse structure [4,8,8,8,4]:
I sing the holly, and who can breathe Aught of that that is not good?
Then sing to the holly, the Christmas holly, That hangs over peasant and king;
4. In "Sery" by Richard Watson Gilder:
At a very queer sight In the dim starlight. As plain as can be
A fairy tree
was changed to:
At a very queer sight In the dim starlight.
As plain as can be A fairy tree
5. In Christmas Dreams, the word "stravaigging" was corrected to "stravaiging."
6. "Hang up the Baby's Stocking" was not attributed in the Table of Contents or in the text in the original edition. For clarity this edition attributed both as follows: [Emily Huntington Miller]. Attribution makes the text more readable. Without it one could believe the poem to have been written by Andrew Lang; especially after Haven inserts an extra poem by Southwell, "A Carol" following "The Wassailer's Song," which is unlisted in the contents.
7. Finally, the 1907 edition includes a story called "Golden Cobwebs" at the close of section IV that was not included in the 1968 edition used for this transcription.