Marvelling much at the strange things they had just seen and heard, the Britons dropped their weapons and fled in haste from the hill.
Then did Joseph and his disciples go down across the marsh into the valley and there they rested undisturbed.
Word of the miracle which had thus been wrought on Wearyall Hill was brought soon to Arviragus, the heathen king of the time, and he welcomed gladly the holy men and gave them the beautiful vale of Avalon whereon to live. There they built "a little lonely church," with roof of rushes and walls of woven twigs and "wattles from the marsh," the first Christian church which had ever been built in Britain.
There they dwelt for many years, serving God, fasting and praying, and there Joseph taught the half-barbarous Britons, who gathered to listen to him, the faith of Christ.
* * * * *
Time passed and the little, low, wattled church became a great and beautiful abbey. Many pilgrims there were who came to worship at the shrine of St. Joseph; to drink from the holy well which sprang from the foot of Chalice Hill where the Holy Cup lay buried; and to watch the budding of the mystic thorn, which, year after year, when the snows of Christmas covered the hills, put forth its holy blossoms, "a symbol of God's promise, care and love."
Now long, long afterward there came a time when there was war in the land and one day a rough soldier who recked not of its heavenly origin cut down the sacred tree. Only a flat stone now marks the place where it once stood and where Joseph's staff burst into bloom. But there were other trees which had been grown from slips of the miraculous thorn and these, "mindful of our Lord" still keep the sacred birthday and blossom each year on Christmas Day.
THE BLOOMING OF THE WHITE THORN
EDITH MATILDA THOMAS
God shield ye, comrades of the road! And while our way we hold, List while I tell how it first befell In the wondrous days of old.
* * * * *
From off the sea, the pilgrims came, With sea-toil wracked and worn; The air blew keen, and the frost was sheen, Upon that wintry morn.
Through Glastonbury street went they; And ever on, and on, Till they pass the well of the fairy spell, And the oak of Avalon.
They hear the rustling leaves and few, That linger on the bough; But still they fare through the bitter air, And climb a hill-slope now.
On Weary-All-Hill their feet they stay (Full well that Hill ye know); There may they rest, by toil oppressed, While round them drops the snow.
And one—far gone in age was he— As snow, his locks were white— The staff of thorn which he had borne, Did plant upon that height.
A thorn-stick dry, that pilgrim staff, He set it in the ground: And, swift as sight, with blossoms white The branching staff was crowned!
Each year since then (if sooth men say) Upon this Blessed Morn, Who climbs that Hill, may see at will The flower upon the thorn!
Howe'er the wind may drive the sleet, That thorn will blooming be; And some have seen a fair Child lean From out that blossomed tree!
One moment only—then, apace, Both flower and leaf are shorn; And, gaunt and chill, on Weary-All-Hill, There stands an ancient thorn!
God shield ye, comrades of the road— With grace your spirits fill, That ye may see the White-thorn tree A-bloom on Weary-All-Hill!
LEGEND OF ST. CHRISTOPHER
ADAPTED FROM THE GOLDEN LEGEND
There was a mighty man of old who dwelt in the land of Canaan. Large was he and tall of stature and stronger than any man whom the world had ever seen. Therefore was he called Offero, or, "The Bearer." Now he served the king of Canaan, but he was proud of his great strength and upon a time it came in his mind that he would seek the greatest king who then reigned and him only would he serve and obey.
So he travelled from one country to another until at length he came to one where ruled a powerful king whose fame was great in all the land.
"Thou art the conqueror of nations?" asked Offero.
"I am," replied the king.
"Then take me into your service, for I will serve none but the mightiest of earth."
"That then am I," returned the king, "for truly I fear none."
So the king received Offero into his service and made him to dwell in his court.
But once at eventide a minstrel sang before the king a merry song in which he named oft the evil one. And every time that the king heard the name of Satan he grew pale and hastily made the sign of the cross upon his forehead. Offero marvelled thereat and demanded of the king the meaning of the sign and wherefore he thus crossed himself. And because the king would not tell him Offero said, "If thou tell me not, I shall no longer dwell with thee." Then the king answered, saying, "Always when I hear Satan named, I fear that he may have power over me and therefore I make this sign that he harm me not."
"Who is Satan?" asked Offero.
"He is a wicked monarch," replied the king, "wicked but powerful."
"More powerful than thou art?"
"And fearest thou that he hurt thee?"
"That do I, and so do all."
"Then," cried Offero, "is he more mighty and greater than thou art. I will go seek him. Henceforth he shall be my master for I would fain serve the mightiest and the greatest lord of all the world."
So Offero departed from the king and sought Satan. Everywhere he met people who had given themselves over to his rule and at last one day as he was crossing a wide desert he saw a great company of knights approaching. One of them, mounted upon a great black horse, came to him and demanded whither he went, and Offero made answer, "I seek Satan, for he is mighty, and I would fain serve him."
Then returned the knight, "I am he whom thou seekest."
When Offero heard these words he was right glad and took Satan to be his lord and master.
This king was indeed powerful and a long time did Offero serve him, but it chanced one day as they were journeying together they came to a place where four roads met and in the midst of the space stood a little cross. As soon as Satan saw the cross he was afraid and turned quickly aside and fled toward the desert. Offero followed him marvelling much at the sight. And after, when they had come back to the highway they had left, he inquired of Satan why he was thus troubled and had gone so far out of his way to avoid the cross. But Satan answered him not a word.
Then Offero said to him, "If thou wilt not tell me, I shall depart from thee straightway and shall serve thee no more."
"Know then," said Satan, "there was a man called Christ who suffered on the cross and whenever I see his sign I am sore afraid and flee from it, lest he destroy me."
"If then thou art afraid of his sign," cried Offero, "he is greater and more mighty than thou, and I see well that I have labored in vain, for I have not found the greatest lord of the world. I will serve thee no longer. Go thy way alone, for I will go to seek Christ."
And when he had long sought and demanded where he should find Him, he came at length into a great desert where dwelt a hermit, a servant of the Christ. The hermit told him of the Master whom he was seeking and said to him, "This king whom thou dost wish to serve is not an earthly ruler and he requireth that thou oft fast and make many prayers."
But Offero understood not the meaning of worship and prayer and he answered, "Require of me some other thing and I shall do it, but I know naught of this which thou requirest."
Then the hermit said to him, "Knowest thou the river, a day's journey from here, where there is neither ford nor bridge and many perish and are lost? Thou art large and strong. Therefore go thou and dwell by this river and bear over all who desire to cross its waters. That is a service which will be well pleasing to the Christ whom thou desirest to serve, and sometime, if I mistake not, he whom thou seekest will come to thee."
Offero was right joyful at these words and answered, "This service may I well do."
So he hastened to the river and upon its banks he built himself a little hut of reeds. He bare a great pole in his hand to sustain him in the water and many weary wayfarers did he help to cross the turbulent stream. So he lived a long time, bearing over all manner of people without ceasing, and still he saw nothing of the Christ.
Now it happened one night that a storm was raging and the river was very high. Tired with his labors, Offero had just flung himself down on his rude bed to sleep when he heard the voice of a child which called him and said, "Offero, Offero, come out and bear me over."
Offero arose and went out from his cabin, but in the darkness he could see no one. And when he was again in the house, he heard the same voice and he ran out again and found no one. A third time he heard the call and going out once more into the storm, there upon the river bank he found a fair young child who besought him in pleading tones, "Wilt thou not carry me over the river this night, Offero?"
The strong man gently lifted the child on his shoulders, took his staff and stepped into the stream. And the water of the river arose and swelled more and more and the child was heavy as lead. And alway as he went farther, higher and higher swelled the waters and the child more and more waxed heavy, insomuch that he feared that they would both be drowned. Already his strength was nearly gone, but he thought of his Master whom he had not yet seen, and staying his footsteps with his palm staff struggled with all his might to reach the opposite shore. As at last he climbed the steep bank, suddenly the storm ceased and the waters calmed.
He set the child down upon the shore, saying, "Child, thou hast put me in great peril. Had I carried the whole world on my shoulders, the weight had not been greater. I might bear no greater burden."
"Offero," answered the child, "Marvel not, but rejoice; for thou hast borne not only all the world upon thee, but thou hast borne him that created and made all the world upon thy shoulders. I am Christ the king whom thou servest in this work. And for a token, that thou mayst know what I say to be the truth, set thy staff in the earth by thy house and thou shalt see in the morning that it shall bear flowers and fruit." With these words the child vanished from Offero's sight.
But Offero did even as he was bidden and set his staff in the earth and when he arose on the morrow, he found it like a palm-tree bearing flowers and leaves and clusters of dates. Then he knew that it was indeed Christ whom he had borne through the waters and he rejoiced that he had found his Master. From that day he served Christ faithfully and was no more called Offero, but Christopher, the Christ bearer.
ST. CHRISTOPHER OF THE GAEL
Behind the wattle-woven house Nial the Mighty gently crept From out a screen of ashtree boughs To where a captive white-robe slept.
Lightly he moved, as though ashamed; To right and left he glanced his fears. Nial the Mighty was he named Though but an untried youth in years—
But tall he was, as tall as he, White Dermid of the magic sword, Or Torcall of the Hebrid Sea Or great Cuhoolin of the Ford;
Strong as the strongest, too, he was: As Balor of the Evil Eye; As Fionn who kept the Ulster Pass From dawn till blood-flusht sunset sky.
Much had he pondered all that day The mystery of the men who died On crosses raised along the way, And perished singing side by side.
Modred the chief had sailed the Moyle, Had reached Iona's guardless-shore, Had seized the monks when at their toil And carried northward, bound, a score.
Some he had thrust into the deep, To see if magic fins would rise: Some from high rocks he forced to leap, To see wings fall from out the skies:
Some he had pinned upon tall spears, Some tossed on shields with brazen clang, To see if through their blood and tears Their god would hear the hymns they sang.
But when his oarsmen flung their oars, And laughed to see across the foam The glimmer of the highland shores And smoke-wreaths of the hidden home,
Modred was weary of his sport. All day he brooded as he strode Betwixt the reef-encircled port And the oak-grove of the Sacred Road.
At night he bade his warriors raise Seven crosses where the foamswept strand Lay still and white beyond the blaze Of the hundred camp-fires of the land.
The women milked the late-come kye, The children raced in laughing glee; Like sheep from out the fold of the sky Stars leapt and stared at earth and sea.
At times a wild and plaintive air Made delicate music far away: A hill-fox barked before its lair: The white owl hawked its shadowy prey.
But at the rising of the moon The druids came from grove and glen, And to the chanting of a rune Crucified St. Columba's men.
They died in silence side by side, But first they sang the evening hymn: By midnight all but one had died, At dawn he too was grey and grim.
One monk alone had Modred kept, A youth with hair of golden-red, Who never once had sighed or wept, Not once had bowed his proud young head.
Broken he lay, and bound with thongs. Thus had he seen his brothers toss Like crows transfixed upon great prongs, Till death crept up each silent cross.
Night grew to dawn, to scarlet morn; Day waned to firelit, star-lit night: But still with eyes of passionate scorn He dared the worst of Modred's might.
When from the wattle-woven house Nial the Mighty softly stepped, And peered beneath the ashtree boughs To where he thought the white-robe slept,
He heard the monk's words rise in prayer. He heard a hymn's ascending breath— "Christ, Son of God, to Thee I fare This night upon the wings of death."
Nial the Mighty crossed the space, He waited till the monk had ceased; Then, leaning o'er the foam-white face, He stared upon the dauntless priest.
"Speak low," he said, "and tell me this: Who is the king you hold so great?— Your eyes are dauntless flames of bliss Though Modred taunts you with his hate:—
"This god or king, is He more strong Than Modred is? And does He sleep That thus your death-in-life is long, And bonds your aching body keep?"
The monk's eyes stared in Nial's eyes: "Young giant with a child's white heart, I see a cross take shape and rise, And thou upon it nailed art!"
Nial looked back: no cross he saw Looming from out the dreadful night: Yet all his soul was filled with awe, A thundercloud with heart of light.
"Tell me thy name," he said, "and why Thou waitest thus the druid knife, And carest not to live or die? Monk, hast thou little care of life?"
"Great care of that I have," he said, And looked at Nial with eyes of fire: "My life begins when I am dead, There only is my heart's desire."
Nial the Mighty sighed. "Thy words Are as the idle froth of foam, Or clashing of triumphant swords When Modred brings the foray home.
"My name is Nial: Nial the Strong: A lad in years, but as you see More great than heroes of old song Or any lordly men that be.
"To Modred have I come from far, O'er many a hill and strath and stream. To be a mighty sword in war, And this because I dreamed a dream:
"My dream was that my strength so great Should serve the greatest king there is: Modred the Pict thus all men rate, And so I sought this far-off Liss.
"But if there be a greater yet, A king or god whom he doth fear, My service he shall no more get, My strength shall rust no longer here."
The monk's face gladdened. "Go, now, go; To Modred go: he sitteth dumb, And broods on what he fain would know: And say, 'O King, the Cross is come!'
"Then shall the king arise in wrath, And bid you go from out his sight, For if he meet you on his path He'll leave you stark and still and white.
"Thus shall he show, great king and all, He fears the glorious Cross of Christ, And dreads to hear slain voices call For vengeance on the sacrificed.
"But, Nial, come not here again: Long before dawn my soul shall be Beyond the reach of any pain That Modred dreams to prove on me.
"Go forth thyself at dawn, and say 'This is Christ's holy natal morn, My king is He from forth this day When He to save mankind was born':
"Go forth and seek a lonely place Where a great river fills the wild; There bide, and let thy strength be grace, And wait the Coming of a Child.
"A wondrous thing shall then befall: And when thou seek'st if it be true, Green leaves along thy staff shall crawl, With, flowers of every lovely hue."
The monk's face whitened, like sea-foam: Seaward he stared, and sighed "I go— Farewell—my Lord Christ calls me home!" Nial stooped and saw death's final throe.
An hour before the dawn he rose And sought out Modred, brooding, dumb; "O King," he said, "my bond I close, King Christ I seek: the Cross is come!"
Swift as a stag's leap from a height King Modred drew his dreadful sword: Then as a snow-wraith, silent, white, He stared and passed without a word.
Before the flush of dawn was red A druid came to Nial the Great: "The doom of death hath Modred said, Yet fears this Christ's mysterious hate:
"So get you hence, you giant-thewed man: Go your own way: come not again: No more are you of Modred's clan: Go now, forthwith, lest you be slain."
Nial went forth with gladsome face; No more of Modred's clan he was: "Now, now," he cried, "Christ's trail I'll trace, And nowhere turn, and nowhere pause."
He laughed to think how Modred feared The wrath of Christ, the monk's white king: "A greater than Modred hath appeared, To Him my sword and strength I bring."
All day, all night, he walked afar: He saw the moon rise white and still: The evening and the morning star: The sunrise burn upon the hill.
He heard the moaning of the seas, The vast sigh of the sunswept plain, The myriad surge of forest-trees; Saw dusk and night return again.
At falling of the dusk he stood Upon a wild and desert land: Dark fruit he gathered for his food, Drank water from his hollowed hand,
Cut from an ash a mighty bough And trimmed and shaped it to the half: "Safe in the desert am I now, With sword," he said, "and with this staff."
The stars came out: Arcturus hung His ice-blue fire far down the sky: The Great Bear through the darkness swung: The Seven Watchers rose on high.
A great moon flooded all the west. Silence came out of earth and sea And lay upon the husht world's breast, And breathed mysteriously.
Three hours Nial walked, three hours and more: Then halted when beyond the plain He stood upon that river's shore The dying monk had bid him gain.
A little house he saw: clay-wrought, Of wattle woven through and through: Then, all his weariness forgot, The joy of drowning-sleep he knew.
Three hours he slept, and then he heard A voice—and yet a voice so low It might have been a dreaming bird Safe-nested by the rushing flow.
Almost he slept once more: then, Hush! Once more he heard above the noise And tempest of the river's rush The thin faint words of a child's voice.
"Good Sir, awake from sleep and dream, Good Sir, come out and carry me Across this dark and raging stream Till safe on the other side I be."
Great Nial shivered on his bed: "No human creature calls this night, It is a wild fetch of the dead," He thought, and shrunk, and shook with fright.
Once more he heard that infant-cry: "Come out, Good Sir, or else I drown— Come out, Good Sir, or else I die And you, too, lose a golden crown."
"A golden crown"—so Nial thought— "No—no—not thus shall I be ta'en! Keep, ghost-of-the-night, your crown gold-wrought— Of sleep and peace I am full fain!"
Once more the windy dark was filled With lonely cry, with sobbing plaint: Nial's heart grew sore, its fear was stilled, King Christ, he knew, would scorn him faint.
"Up, up thou coward, thou sluggard, thou," He cried, and sprang from off his bed— "No crown thou seekest for thy brow, But help for one in pain and dread!"
Out in the wide and lonely dark No fetch he saw, no shape, no child: Almost he turned again—but hark! A song rose o'er the waters wild:
A king am I Tho' a little Child, Son of God am I, Meek and mild, Beautiful Because God hath said Let my cup be full Of wine and bread.
Come to me Shaken heart, Shaken heart! I will not flee. My heart Is thy heart O shaken heart! Stoop to my Cup, Sup, Drink of the wine: The wine and the bread, Saith God, Are mine— My Flesh and my Blood!
Throw thy sword in the flood: Come, shaken heart: Fearful thou art! Have no more fear— Lo, I am here, The little One, The Son, Thy Lord and thy King.
It is I who sing: Christ, your King.... Be not afraid: Look, I am Light, A great star Seen from afar In the darkness of night: I am Light, Be not afraid ... Wade, wade Into the deep flood! Think of the Bread, The Wine and the Bread That are my Flesh and Blood, Cross, cross the Flood, Sure is the goal ... Be not afraid O Soul, Be not afraid!
Nial's heart was filled with joy and pain: "This is my king, my king indeed: To think that drown'd in sleep I've lain When Christ the Child-God crieth in need!"
Swift from his wattled hut he strode, Stumbling among the grass and bent, And, seeking where the river flowed, Far o'er the dark flood peered and leant:
Then suddenly beside him saw A little Child all clad in white: He bowed his head in love and awe, Then lifted high his burthen light.
High on his shoulders sat the Child, While with strong limbs he fared among The rushing waters black and wild And where the fiercest currents swung.
The waters rose more high, more high, Higher and higher every yard ... Nial stumbled on with sob and sigh, Christ heard him panting sore and hard.
"O Child," Nial cried, "forbear, forbear! Hark you not how these waters whirled! The weight of all the earth I bear, The weary weight of all the world!"
"Christopher!" ... low above the noise, The rush, the darkness, Nial heard The far-off music of a Voice That said all things in saying one word—
"Christopher ... this thy name shall be! Christ-bearer is thy name, even so Because of service done to me Heavy with weight of the world's woe."
With breaking sobs, with panting breath Christopher grasped a bent-held dune, Then with flung staff and as in death Forward he fell in a heavy swoon.
All night he lay in silence there, But safe from reach of surging tide: White angels had him in their care, Christ healed and watched him side by side.
When all the silver wings of dawn Had waved above the rose-flusht east, Christopher woke ... his dream was gone. The angelic songs had ceased.
Was it a dream in very deed, He wondered, broken, trembling, dazed? His staff he lifted from the mead And as an upright sapling raised.
Lo, it was as the monk had said— If he would prove the vision true, His staff would blossom to its head With flowers of every lovely hue.
Christopher bowed: before his eyes Christ's love fulfilled the holy hour.... A south-wind blew, green leaves did rise And the staff bloomed a myriad flower!
Christopher bowed in holy prayer, While Christ's love fell like healing dew: God's father-hand was on him there: The peace of perfect peace he knew.
THE CROSS OF THE DUMB
A Christmas on Iona, Long, Long Ago
One eve, when St. Columba strode In solemn mood along the shore, He met an angel on the road Who but a poor man's semblance bore.
He wondered much, the holy saint, What stranger sought the lonely isle, But seeing him weary and wan and faint St. Colum hailed him with a smile.
"Remote our lone Iona lies Here in the grey and windswept sea, And few are they whom my old eyes Behold as pilgrims bowing the knee....
"But welcome ... welcome ... stranger-guest, And come with me and you shall find A warm and deer-skinn'd cell for rest And at our board a welcome kind....
"Yet tell me ere the dune we cross How came you to this lonely land? No curraghs in the tideway toss And none is beached upon the strand!"
The weary pilgrim raised his head And looked and smiled and said, "From far, My wandering feet have here been led By the glory of a shining star...."
St. Colum gravely bowed, and said, "Enough, my friend, I ask no more; Doubtless some silence-vow was laid Upon thee, ere thou sought'st this shore:
"Now, come: and doff this raiment sad And those rough sandals from thy feet: The holy brethren will be glad To haven thee in our retreat."
Together past the praying cells And past the wattle-woven dome Whence rang the tremulous vesper bells St. Colum brought the stranger home.
From thyme-sweet pastures grey with dews The milch-cows came with swinging tails: And whirling high the wailing mews Screamed o'er the brothers at their pails.
A single spire of smoke arose, And hung, a phantom, in the cold: Three younger monks set forth to close The ewes and lambs within the fold.
The purple twilight stole above The grey-green dunes, the furrowed leas: And Dusk, with breast as of a dove, Brooded: and everywhere was peace.
Within the low refectory sate The little clan of holy folk: Then, while the brothers mused and ate, The wayfarer arose and spoke....
"O Colum of Iona-Isle, And ye who dwell in God's quiet place, Before I crossed your narrow kyle I looked in Heaven upon Christ's face."
Thereat St. Colum's startled glance Swept o'er the man so poorly clad, And all the brethren looked askance In fear the pilgrim-guest was mad.
"And, Colum of God's Church i' the sea And all ye Brothers of the Rood, The Lord Christ gave a dream to me And bade me bring it ye as food.
"Lift to the wandering cloud your eyes And let them scan the wandering Deep.... Hark ye not there the wandering sighs Of brethren ye as outcasts keep?"
Thereat the stranger bowed, and blessed; Then, grave and silent, sought his cell: St. Colum mused upon his guest, Dumb wonder on the others fell.
At dead of night the Abbot came To where the weary wayfarer slept: "Tell me," he said, "thy holy name..." —No more, for on bowed knees he wept....
Great awe and wonder fell on him; His mind was like a lonely wild When suddenly is heard a hymn Sung by a little innocent child.
For now he knew their guest to be No man as he and his, but one Who in the Courts of Ecstasy Worships, flame-winged, the Eternal Son.
The poor bare cell was filled with light, That came from the swung moons the Seven Seraphim swing day and night Adown the infinite walls of Heaven.
But on the fern-wove mattress lay No weary guest. St. Colum kneeled, And found no trace; but, ashen-grey, Far off he heard glad anthems pealed.
At sunrise when the matins-bell Made a cold silvery music fall Through silence of each lonely cell And over every fold and stall,
St. Colum called his monks to come And follow him to where his hands Would raise the Great Cross of the Dumb Upon the Holy Island's sands....
"For I shall call from out the Deep And from the grey fields of the skies, The brethren we as outcasts keep, Our kindred of the dumb wild eyes....
"Behold, on this Christ's natal morn, God wills the widening of His laws, Another miracle to be born— For lo, our guest an Angel was!...
"His Dream the Lord Christ gave to him To bring to us as Christ-Day food, That Dream shall rise a holy hymn And hang like a flower upon the Rood!..."
Thereat, while all with wonder stared St. Colum raised the Holy Tree: Then all with Christ-Day singing fared To where the last sands lipped the sea.
St. Colum raised his arms on high ... "O ye, all creatures of the wing, Come here from out the fields o' the sky, Come, here and learn a wondrous thing!"
At that the wild clans of the air Came sweeping in a mist of wings— Ospreys and fierce solanders there, Sea-swallows wheeling mazy rings,
The foam-white mew, the green-black scart, The famishing hawk, the wailing tern, All birds from the sand-building mart To lonely bittern and heron....
St. Colum raised beseeching hands And blessed the pastures of the sea: "Come, all ye creatures, to the sands, Come and behold the Sacred Tree!"
At that the cold clans of the wave With spray and surge and splash appeared: Up from each wrack-strewn, lightless cave Dim day-struck eyes affrighted peered.
The pollacks came with rushing haste, The great sea-cod, the speckled bass; Along the foaming tideway raced The herring-tribes like shimmering glass:
The mackerel and the dog-fish ran, The whiting, haddock, in their wake: The great sea-flounders upward span, The fierce-eyed conger and the hake:
The greatest and the least of these From hidden pools and tidal ways Surged in their myriads from the seas And stared at St. Columba's face.
"Hearken," he cried, with solemn voice— "Hearken! ye people of the Deep, Ye people of the skies, Rejoice! No more your soulless terror keep!
"For lo, an Angel from the Lord Hath shown us that wherein we sin— But now we humbly do His Word And call you, Brothers, kith and kin....
"No more we claim the world as ours And everything that therein is— To-day, Christ's Day, the infinite powers Decree a common share of bliss.
"I know not if the new-waked soul That stirs in every heart I see Has yet to reach the far-off goal Whose symbol is this Cross-shaped Tree....
"But, O dumb kindred of the skies, O kinsfolk of the pathless seas, All scorn and hate I exorcise, And wish you nought but Love and Peace!"
* * * * *
Thus, on that Christmas-day of old St. Colum broke the ancient spell. A thousand years away have rolled, 'Tis now ... "a baseless miracle."
O fellow-kinsmen of the Deep, O kindred of the wind and cloud, God's children too ... how He must weep Who on that day was glad and proud!
THE CHRISTMAS SONG OF CAEDMON
About the year 650, among the servants in the ancient Abbey of Streonschall, there was a cowherd whose name was Caedmon. The habits of the people of that age were simple and rude; their houses were comfortless huts, their dress was made from the skins of their flocks, or from animals taken in the chase; they had no books, and their literature was limited to the Latin manuscripts of the Church, which few of the monks even were learned enough to read, and fewer still to translate. Amid such influences, the life of a cowherd could scarcely be lifted above that of the beasts he cared for; if his hunger and thirst were satisfied, he would ask no more than a pleasant, daisied meadow in summer, and a warm nook in the winter. But Caedmon had a sensitive nature, that craved something nobler. When the minstrels struck their harps, and sung the wild traditions and fierce conflicts of their tribes and the guests followed with boisterous jest in their uncouth ballads, Caedmon sat silent and gloomy.
One evening, as the harp, passing from one to another, drew nearer him, dreading the oft-repeated taunts of his fellows, he crept away in the shadows, and went to his only bed,—a truss of straw.
After a while he slept, and in his sleep some one of lofty stature, and with kindly-beaming eyes, stood beside him, and commanded him to sing. "I cannot," replied Caedmon, despondingly.
"Sing!" was the uncompromising answer.
"What shall I sing?"
"The origin of all things."
Immediately before his quickened sense swept a vision of Creation, and to his glad surprise he described it all in song. The next morning he remembered, and repeated it; and the monks, hearing of it, took him into the monastery, and taught him scenes and sentences from the Bible, which he rendered into verse, and so became the first of the long line of sacred poets.
It was Christmas Eve, and the great hall of the Abbey was decked with the Druids' sacred mistletoe with its pearly fruitage, the bright green of the ivy, and branches of holly, with scarlet, shining berries. Great logs were heaped on the broad stones in the middle of the hall, and jets of flame leaped up to brighten the low, smoke-stained ceiling, and restless shadows flitted along the wall, while the smoke escaped through the opening in the roof, for chimneys were then, and for many centuries after, unknown. The unglazed windows were closed at nightfall by wooden shutters, and rude comfort cheered the inmates. A robin, who had fluttered in at dusk, and found Christmas cheer on the holly boughs and warmth for his numbed little feet, trilled a song of gratitude that winter had made such speed to be gone.
Two nights before, a company of pilgrims from the convents of Palestine, had come to the monastery. They had been many months on their way, eagerly welcomed wherever they stopped, for journeying was both difficult and dangerous, and travellers from such a remote region were rarely met. Their dark complexions, hair and beards; their bright, mobile expression; their manners toned by the graces of Eastern civilization, were a strange contrast to the shaggy, elfish, ruddy-faced throng about them. This Christmas Eve they were telling the monks wonderful stories of the Holy Land; its beautiful, vine-clad hills; its tropical, luscious fruits; its towering, plumy palms and hoary cedars; the long lines of caravans that wound over the silent, pathless deserts to bring to its cities the riches of Oriental commerce; the palaces and heathen temples of those cities, and the traditional glory of the Temple, with its magnificence of gold, and precious stones, and woods and ivory. On the table were huge platters of smoking meats, and serving men brought in flagons and tankards of ale, and feasting, stories and minstrelsy held the hours till the midnight bell called to the first mass and ushered in Christmas Day. Caedmon, coming back from the frosty chapel, saw the stars shining in the brilliance of winter skies. His heart was suffused with all he had heard the pilgrims repeat; for the first time it entered his mind that the same stars that he saw twinkling, held their course at that glad time when "the morning-stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy,"—a prelude to this other song of "the great multitude of the heavenly host." He entered the hall, and when the company reassembled, he took his harp, and sang with power and pathos of the slumbering flocks on Judea's upland pastures; the faithful, watching shepherds; the loneliness and silence of the night; the sudden, startling brightness that shone about them, and enveloped their angel visitant, who kindly soothed their alarm with "Fear not;" and the outburst of angelic song, unheard by the ears dulled with sleep, but overpowering these astonished men. "O happy shepherds! who alone among men, were ever privileged to hear the songs of heaven."
His audience was thrilled. Never had the monks heard Caedmon, or any other minstrel, sing with such fire; the intervening centuries fled before his song. They, too, went to the lowly manger, and saw the Divine Infant hushed on the happy breast of his young Mother and felt Mary's awe when the shepherds told her what they that night had seen and heard. While Caedmon sang they saw the caravan winding over an unmarked way and the wise men of the Orient following ever the strange star, till, after weeks of travel, it stood over the place where the young Child lay. They saw, too, the aged, bearded Melchior, Gaspar, young and fresh, and Balthazar the Moor, descend from their kneeling camels with their kingly offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh and prostrate themselves in reverence before the Holy Babe.
"'Twas ages, ages long ago," and Caedmon and his hymns are nigh forgotten, but with each returning Christmas-tide may be heard again, as Caedmon heard of yore, the angels' song of joy: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
GOOD KING WENCESLAS
JOHN MASON NEALE
Good King Wenceslas looked out On the Feast of Stephen, When the snow lay round about, Deep, and crisp, and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night Though the frost was cruel, When a poor man came in sight, Gath'ring winter fuel.
"Hither, page, and stand by me, If thou know'st it, telling, Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, Underneath the mountain; Right against the forest fence, By Saint Agnes' fountain."
"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, Bring me pine-logs hither; Thou and I will see him dine, When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went, Forth they went together; Through the rude wind's wild lament And the bitter weather.
"Sire, the night is darker now, And the wind blows stronger; Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page; Tread thou in them boldly: Thou shalt find the winter rage Freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's steps he trod, Where the snow lay dinted; Heat was in the very sod Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, Wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing.
THE CHRISTMAS AT GRECCIO: A STORY OF ST. FRANCIS
"The beautiful Mother is bending Low where her Baby lies Helpless and frail, for her tending; But she knows the glorious eyes.
"The Mother smiles and rejoices While the Baby laughs in the hay; She listens to heavenly voices: 'The child shall be King, one day.'
"O dear little Christ in the manger, Let me make merry with Thee. O King, in my hour of danger, Wilt Thou be strong for me?"
—Adapted from the Latin of Jacopone da Todi. Thirteenth Century.
One night in December ... Brother Francis, with one companion, was walking through the beautiful valley of the Velino River, toward Rieti, a little city where he came often on his way from Assisi to Rome. To-night he had turned somewhat aside from the main road, for he wished to spend Christmas with his friend, Sir John of Greccio. Greccio is a tiny village, lying where the foothills begin, on the western side of the valley. The very feet of Brother Francis knew the road so well that he could have walked safely in the darkness, but it was not dark. The full moon floated over the valley, making the narrow river and the sharp outlines of the snow-covered mountains shine like silver. The plain and the lower hills were pasture land, and, not far from the road, on a grassy slope, the Brothers saw the red glow of an almost spent shepherds' fire. "Let us stop and visit our brothers, the shepherds," said Francis, and they turned toward the fading fire.
There was no sense of winter in the air, scarcely a touch of frost, and the only snow was that on the silver peaks against the sky. The shepherds, three men and one boy, lay sleeping soundly on the bare ground, with their sheepskin coats drawn closely around them. All about them the sheep were sleeping, too, but the solemn white sheep dogs were wide awake. If a stranger's foot had trod the grass never so softly, every dog would have barked, and every shepherd would have been on his feet in an instant. But the dogs trotted silently up to the Grey Brothers and rubbed against them, as if they said, "We are glad to see you again," for they knew the friendly feet of the Little Poor Man, and they had more than once helped him to eat the bread that was his only dinner. Followed by the dogs, Francis walked about among the shepherds, but they slept on, as only men who live out of doors can sleep, and Francis could not find it in his heart to waken them. The sheep lay huddled together in groups for more warmth. Around one small square of grass a net was stretched, and, inside it, were the mother sheep who had little lambs. There was no sound except the faint cry, now and then, of a baby lamb. The coals over which the shepherds had cooked their supper paled from dull red to grey, and there was only a thin column of smoke, white in the moonlight. Francis sat down on a stone, and the largest of the white dogs pressed up against his knee. Another went dutifully back to his post beside the fold where the mothers and babies slept. The Italian hillside seemed to Francis to change to that of Bethlehem, which he had seen, perhaps, on his Eastern journey; the clear December night seemed like that of the first Christmas Eve. "How these shepherds sleep!" he thought; "how they would awaken if they heard the 'Peace on earth' of the angels' song!" Then he remembered sadly how the armies that called themselves Christian had, year after year, battled with the Saracens over the cradle and the tomb of the Prince of Peace. The moonlight grew misty about him, the silver heights of the mountains and the silver line of the river faded, for the eyes of Brother Francis were full of tears.
As the two Brothers went on their way, Francis grew light of heart again. The sight of the shepherds sleeping on the grass had given him a new idea, and he was planning a surprise for his friends at Greccio. For at Greccio all were his friends, from Sir John, his host, down to the babies in the street. In the valley of Rieti he was almost as well known and as dearly loved as in his own valley of Assisi. The children of Greccio had never heard of Christmas trees, nor, perhaps, of Christmas presents. I am not sure that, in the thirteenth century, Italians had the beautiful custom which they now have of giving presents at Twelfth Night, in memory of the coming of the three kings with their gifts to the Christ Child; but in the thirteenth century, even as now, Christmas was the happiest festival of the year. This year all the folk of Greccio, big and little, were happier than usual because their beloved Brother Francis was to help them keep their Christmas-tide. Next day Francis confided his plan to his friend, Sir John, who promised that all should be ready on Christmas Eve.
On the day before Christmas, the people came from all the country around to see and hear Brother Francis. Men, women and children, dressed in their holiday clothes, walking, riding on donkeys, crowding into little carts drawn by great white oxen, from everywhere and in every fashion, the country folk came toward Greccio. Many came from far away, and the early winter darkness fell long before they could reach the town. The light of their torches might be seen on the open road, and the sound of their singing reached the gates of Greccio before them. That night the little town was almost as crowded as was Bethlehem on the eve of the first Christmas. The crowds were poor folk, for the most part, peasants from the fields, charcoal burners from the mountains, shepherds in their sheepskin coats and trousers, made with the wool outside, so that the wearers looked like strange, two-legged animals. The four shepherds who had slept so soundly a few nights before were of the company, but they knew nothing of their midnight visitors. The white dogs knew, but they could keep a secret. The shepherds were almost as quiet as their dogs. They always talked and sang less than other people, having grown used to long silences among their sheep.
Gathered at last into the square before the church, by the light of flaring torches, for the moon would rise late, the people saw with wonder and delight the surprise which Brother Francis and Sir John had prepared for them. They looked into a real stable. There was the manger full of hay, there were a live ox and a live ass. Even by torchlight their breath showed in the frosty air. And there, on the hay, lay a real baby, wrapped from the cold, asleep and smiling. It looked as sweet and innocent as the Christ Child Himself. The people shouted with delight. They clapped their hands and waved their torches.
Then there was silence, for Brother Francis stood before them, and the voice they loved so well, and had come so far to hear, began to read the old story of the birth of the Child Jesus, of the shepherds in the fields, and of the angels' song. When the reading was ended, Brother Francis talked to them as a father might speak to his children. He told of the love that is gentle as a little child, that is willing to be poor and humble as the Baby who was laid in a manger among the cattle. He begged his listeners to put anger and hatred and envy out of their hearts this Christmas Eve, and to think only thoughts of peace and good will. All listened eagerly while Brother Francis spoke, but the moment he finished the great crowd broke into singing. From the church tower the bells rang loud; the torches waved wildly, while voices here and there shouted for Brother Francis and for the Blessed Little Christ. Never before had such glorious hymns nor such joyous shouting been heard in the town of Greccio. Only the mothers, with babies in their arms, and the shepherds, in their woolly coats, looked on silently and thought: "We are in Bethlehem."
THE SIN OF THE PRINCE BISHOP
The Prince Bishop Evrard stood gazing at his marvellous Cathedral; and as he let his eyes wander in delight over the three deep sculptured portals and the double gallery above them, and the great rose window, and the ringers' gallery, and so up to the massive western towers, he felt as though his heart were clapping hands for joy within him. And he thought to himself, "Surely in all the world God has no more beautiful house than this which I have built with such long labor and at so princely an outlay of my treasure." And thus the Prince Bishop fell into the sin of vainglory, and, though he was a holy man, he did not perceive that he had fallen, so filled with gladness was he at the sight of his completed work.
In the double gallery of the west front there were many great statues with crowns and sceptres, but a niche over the central portal was empty and this the Prince Bishop intended to fill with a statue of himself. It was to be a very small simple statue, as became one who prized lowliness of heart, but as he looked up at the vacant place it gave him pleasure to think that hundreds of years after he was dead people would pause before his effigy and praise him and his work. And this, too, was vainglory.
As the Prince Bishop lay asleep that night a mighty six-winged Angel stood beside him and bade him rise. "Come," he said, "and I will show thee some of those who have worked with thee in building the great church, and whose service in God's eyes has been more worthy than thine." And the Angel led him past the Cathedral and down the steep street of the ancient city, and though it was midday, the people going to and fro did not seem to see them. Beyond the gates they followed the shelving road till they came to green level fields, and there in the middle of the road, between grassy banks covered white with cherry blossom, two great white oxen, yoked to a huge block of stone, stood resting before they began the toilsome ascent.
"Look!" said the Angel; and the Prince Bishop saw a little blue-winged bird which perched on the stout yoke beam fastened to the horns of the oxen, and sang such a heavenly song of rest and contentment that the big shaggy creatures ceased to blow stormily through their nostrils, and drew long tranquil breaths instead.
"Look again!" said the Angel. And from a hut of wattles and clay a little peasant girl came with a bundle of hay in her arms, and gave first one of the oxen and then the other a wisp. Then she stroked their black muzzles, and laid her rosy face against their white cheeks. Then the Prince Bishop saw the rude teamster rise from his rest on the bank and cry to his cattle, and the oxen strained against the beam and the thick ropes tightened, and the huge block of stone was once more set in motion.
And when the Prince Bishop saw that it was these fellow-workers whose service was more worthy in God's eyes than his own, he was abashed and sorrowful for his sin, and the tears of his own weeping awoke him. So he sent for the master of the sculptors and bade him fill the little niche over the middle portal, not with his own effigy but with an image of the child; and he bade him make two colossal figures of the white oxen; and to the great wonderment of the people these were set up high in the tower so that men could see them against the blue sky. "And as for me," he said, "let my body be buried, with my face downward, outside the great church, in front of the middle entrance, that men may trample on my vainglory and that I may serve them as a stepping-stone to the house of God; and the little child shall look on me when I lie in the dust."
Now the little girl in the niche was carved with wisps of hay in her hands, but the child who had fed the oxen knew nothing of this, and as she grew up she forgot her childish service, so that when she had grown to womanhood and chanced to see this statue over the portal she did not know it was her own self in stone. But what she had done was not forgotten in heaven.
And as for the oxen, one of them looked east and one looked west across the wide fruitful country about the foot of the hill-city. And one caught the first grey gleam, and the first rosy flush, and the first golden splendor of the sunrise; and the other was lit with the color of the sunset long after the lowlands had faded away in the blue mist of the twilight. Weary men and worn women looking up at them felt that a gladness and a glory and a deep peace had fallen on the life of toil. And then, when people began to understand, they said it was well that these mighty laborers, who had helped to build the house, should still find a place of service and honor in the house; and they remembered that the Master of the house had once been a Babe warmed in a manger by the breath of kine. And at the thought of this men grew more pitiful to their cattle, and to the beasts in servitude, and to all dumb animals. And that was one good fruit which sprang from the Prince Bishop's repentance.
Now over the colossal stone oxen hung the bells of the Cathedral. On Christmas Eve the ringers, according to the old custom, ascended to their gallery to ring in the birth of the Babe Divine. At the moment of midnight the master ringer gave the word, and the great bells began to swing in joyful sequence. Down below in the crowded church lay the image of the new-born Child on the cold straw, and at His haloed head stood the images of the ox and the ass. Far out across the snow-roofed city, far away over the white glistening country rang the glad music of the tower. People who went to their doors to listen cried in astonishment: "Hark! what strange music is that? It sounds as if the lowing of cattle were mingled with the chimes of the bells." In truth it was so. And in every byre the oxen and the kine answered the strange sweet cadences with their lowing, and the great stone oxen lowed back to their kin of the meadow through the deep notes of the joy-peal.
In the fulness of time the Prince Bishop Evrard died and was buried as he had willed, with his face humbly turned to the earth; and to this day the weather-wasted figure of the little girl looks down on him from her niche, and the slab over his grave serves as a stepping-stone to pious feet.
Taken by permission of E.P. Dutton and Company from "A Child's Book of Saints," by William Canton, Everyman's Library.
EARL SIGURD'S CHRISTMAS EVE
HJALMAR HJORTH BOYESEN
Earl Sigurd, he rides o'er the foam-crested brine, And he heeds not the billowy brawl, For he yearns to behold gentle Swanwhite, the maid Who abides in Sir Burislav's hall.
"Earl Sigurd, the viking, he comes, he is near! Earl Sigurd, the scourge of the sea; Among the wild rovers who dwell on the deep, There is none that is dreaded as he.
"Oh, hie ye, ye maidens, and hide where ye can, Ere the clang of his war-ax ye hear, For the wolf of the woods has more pity than he, And his heart is as grim as his spear."
Thus rang the dread tidings, from castle to hut, Through the length of Sir Burislav's land, As they spied the red pennon unfurled to the breeze, And the galleys that steered for the strand.
But with menacing brow, looming high in his prow Stood Earl Sigurd, and fair to behold Was his bright, yellow hair, as it waved in the air, 'Neath the glittering helmet of gold.
"Up, my comrades, and stand with your broadswords in hand, For the war is great Odin's delight; And the Thunderer proud, how he laughs in his cloud When the Norsemen prepare for the fight!"
And the light galleys bore the fierce crew to the shore, And naught good did their coming forebode, And a wail rose on high to the storm-riven sky As to Burislav's castle they strode.
Then the stout-hearted men of Sir Burislav's train To the gate-way came thronging full fast And the battle-blade rang with a murderous clang, Borne aloft on the wings of the blast.
And they hewed and they thrust, till each man bit the dust, Their fierce valor availing them naught. But the Thunderer proud, how he laughed in his cloud, When he saw how the Norsemen had fought!
Then came Burislav forth; to the men of the North Thus in quivering accents spake he: "O, ye warriors, name me the ransom ye claim, Or in gold, or in robes, or in fee."
"Oh, what reck I thy gold?" quoth Earl Sigurd, the bold; "Has not Thor laid it all in my hand? Give me Swanwhite, the fair, and by Balder I swear I shall never revisit thy land.
"For my vengeance speeds fast, and I come like the blast Of the night o'er the billowy brine; I forget not thy scorn and thy laugh on that morn When I wooed me the maid that was mine."
Then the chief, sore afraid, brought the lily-white maid To the edge of the blood-sprinkled field, And they bore her aloft o'er the sward of the croft On the vault of the glittering shield.
But amain in their path, in a whirlwind of wrath Came young Harold, Sir Burislav's son; With a great voice he cried, while the echoes replied: "Lo, my vengeance, it cometh anon!"
Hark ye, Norsemen, hear great tidings: Odin, Thor, and Frey are dead, And white Christ, the strong and gentle, standeth peace-crowned in their stead.
Lo, the blood-stained day of vengeance to the ancient night is hurled, And the dawn of Christ is beaming blessings o'er the new-born world.
"See the Cross in splendor gleaming far and wide o'er pine-clad heath, While the flaming blade of battle slumbers in its golden sheath. And before the lowly Savior, e'en the rider of the sea, Sigurd, tamer of the billow, he hath bent the stubborn knee."
Now at Yule-tide sat he feasting on the shore of Drontheim fiord, And his stalwart swains about him watched the bidding of their lord. Huge his strength was, but his visage, it was mild and fair to see; Ne'er old Norway, heroes' mother, bore a mightier son than he.
With her maids sat gentle Swanwhite 'neath a roof of gleaming shields, As the rarer lily blossoms 'mid the green herbs of the fields;
To and fro their merry words flew lightly through the torch-lit room, Like a shuttle deftly skipping through the mazes of the loom.
And the scalds with nimble fingers o'er the sounding harp-strings swept; Now the strain in laughter rippled, now with hidden woe it wept, For they sang of Time's beginning, ere the sun the day brought forth— Sang as sing the ocean breezes through the pine-woods of the North.
Bolder beat the breasts of Norsemen—when amid the tuneful din Open sprang the heavy hall-doors, and a stranger entered in. Tall his growth, though low he bended o'er a twisted staff of oak, And his stalwart shape was folded in a dun, unseemly cloak.
Straight the Earl his voice uplifted: "Hail to thee, my guest austere! Drain with me this cup of welcome: thou shalt share our Yule-tide cheer. Thou shalt sit next to my high-seat e'en though lowly be thy birth, For to-night our Lord, the Savior, came a stranger to his earth."
Up then rose the gentle Swanwhite, and her eyes with fear grew bright; Down the dusky hall she drifted, as a shadow drifts by night. "If my lord would hold me worthy," low she spake, "then grant me leave To abide between the stranger and my lord, this Christmas eve."
"Strange, O guest, is women's counsel, still their folly is the staff Upon which our wisdom leaneth," and he laughed a burly laugh; Lifted up her lissome body with a husband's tender pride, Kissed her brow, and placed her gently in the high-seat at his side.
But the guest stood pale and quivered, where the red flames roofward rose, And he clenched the brimming goblet in his fingers, fierce and close,
Then he spake: "All hail, Earl Sigurd, mightiest of the Norsemen, hail! Ere I name to thee my tidings, I will taste thy flesh and ale."
Quoth the merry Earl with fervor: "Courteous is thy speech and free: While thy worn soul thou refreshest, I will sing a song to thee; For beneath that dusky garment thou mayst hide a hero's heart, And my hand, though stiff, hath scarcely yet unlearned the singer's art."
Then the arms so tightly folded round his neck the Earl unclasped, And his heart was stirred within him as the silvern strings he grasped, But with eyes of meek entreaty, closely to his side she clung, While his mighty soul rose upward on the billows of the song.
For he sang, in tones impassioned, of the death of Aesir bright, Sang the song of Christ the glorious, who was born a babe to-night,
How the hosts of heaven victorious joined the anthem of his birth, Of the kings the starlight guided from the far lands of the earth.
And anon, with bodeful glamour fraught, the hurrying strain sped on, As he sang the law of vengeance and the wrath forever gone, Sang of gods with murder sated, who had laid the fair earth waste, Who had whetted swords of Norsemen, plunged them into Norsemen's breast.
But he shook a shower of music, rippling from the silver strings, And bright visions rose of angels and of fair and shining things As he sang of heaven's rejoicing at the mild and bloodless reign Of the gentle Christ who bringeth peace and good-will unto men!
But the guest sat dumb and hearkened, staring at the brimming bowl, While the lay with mighty wing-beats swept the darkness of his soul.
For the Christ who worketh wonders as of old, so e'en to-day Sent his angel downward gliding on the ladder of the lay.
As the host his song had ended with a last resounding twang, And within the harp's dumb chambers murmurous echoes faintly rang, Up then sprang the guest, and straightway downward rolled his garment dun— There stood Harold, the avenger, Burislav's undaunted son.
High he loomed above the feasters in the torchlight dim and weird, From his eyes hot tears were streaming, sparkling in his tawny beard; Shining in his sea-blue mantle stood he, 'mid that wondering throng, And each maiden thought him fairest, and each warrior vowed him strong.
Swift he bared his blade of battle, flung it quivering on the board: "Lo!" he cried, "I came to bid thee baleful greeting with my sword; Thou hast dulled the edge that never shrank from battle's fiercest test— Now I come, as comes a brother, swordless unto brother's breast.
"With three hundred men I landed in the gloaming at thy shore— Dost thou hear their axes clanking on their shields without thy door? But a yearning woke within me my sweet sister's voice to hear, To behold her face and whisper words of warning in her ear.
"But I knew not of the new-born king, who holds the earth in sway, And whose voice like fragrance blended in the soarings of thy lay. This my vengeance now, O brother: foes as friends shall hands unite; Teach me, thou, the wondrous tidings, and the law of Christ the white."
Touched as by an angel's glory, strangely shone Earl Sigurd's face, As he locked his foe, his brother, in a brotherly embrace;
And each warrior upward leaping, swung his horn with gold bedight: "Hail to Sigurd, hail to Harold, three times hail to Christ the white!"
A CHRISTMAS LEGEND
It was Christmas Eve. The night was very dark and the snow falling fast, as Hermann, the charcoal-burner, drew his cloak tighter around him, and the wind whistled fiercely through the trees of the Black Forest. He had been to carry a load to a castle near, and was now hastening home to his little hut. Although he worked very hard, he was poor, gaining barely enough for the wants of his wife and his four little children. He was thinking of them, when he heard a faint wailing. Guided by the sound, he groped about and found a little child, scantily clothed, shivering and sobbing by itself in the snow.
"Why, little one, have they left thee here all alone to face this cruel blast?"
The child answered nothing, but looked piteously up in the charcoal-burner's face.
"Well, I cannot leave thee here. Thou would'st be dead before the morning."
So saying, Hermann raised it in his arms, wrapping it in his cloak and warming its little cold hands in his bosom. When he arrived at his hut, he put down the child and tapped at the door, which was immediately thrown open, and the children rushed to meet him.
"Here, wife, is a guest to our Christmas Eve supper," said he, leading in the little one, who held timidly to his finger with its tiny hand.
"And welcome he is," said the wife. "Now let him come and warm himself by the fire."
The children all pressed round to welcome and gaze at the little new-comer. They showed him their pretty fir-tree, decorated with bright, colored lamps in honor of Christmas Eve, which the good mother had endeavored to make a fete for the children.
Then they sat down to supper, each child contributing of its portion for the guest, looking with admiration at its clear, blue eyes and golden hair, which shone so as to shed a brighter light in the little room; and as they gazed, it grew into a sort of halo round his head, and his eyes beamed with a heavenly luster. Soon two white wings appeared at his shoulders, and he seemed to grow larger and larger, and then the beautiful vision vanished, spreading out his hands as in benediction over them.
Hermann and his wife fell on their knees, exclaiming, in awe-struck voices: "The holy Christ-child!" and then embraced their wondering children in joy and thankfulness that they had entertained the Heavenly Guest.
The next morning, as Hermann passed by the place where he had found the fair child, he saw a cluster of lovely white flowers, with dark green leaves, looking as though the snow itself had blossomed. Hermann plucked some, and carried them reverently home to his wife and children, who treasured the fair blossoms and tended them carefully in remembrance of that wonderful Christmas Eve, calling them Chrysanthemums; and every year, as the time came round, they put aside a portion of their feast and gave it to some poor little child, according to the words of the Christ: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
THE LEGEND OF THE CHRISTMAS ROSE
Robber Mother, who lived in Robbers' Cave up in Goeinge forest, went down to the village one day on a begging tour. Robber Father, who was an outlawed man, did not dare to leave the forest, but had to content himself with lying in wait for the wayfarers who ventured within its borders. But at that time travellers were not very plentiful in Southern Skane. If it so happened that the man had had a few weeks of ill luck with his hunt, his wife would take to the road. She took with her five youngsters, and each youngster wore a ragged leathern suit and birch-bark shoes and bore a sack on his back as long as himself. When Robber Mother stepped inside the door of a cabin, no one dared refuse to give her whatever she demanded; for she was not above coming back the following night and setting fire to the house if she had not been well received. Robber Mother and her brood were worse than a pack of wolves, and many a man felt like running a spear through them; but it was never done, because they all knew that the man stayed up in the forest, and he would have known how to wreak vengeance if anything had happened to the children or the old woman.
Now that Robber Mother went from house to house and begged, she came one day to Oevid, which at that time was a cloister. She rang the bell of the cloister gate and asked for food. The watchman let down a small wicket in the gate and handed her six round bread cakes—one for herself and one for each of the five children.
While the mother was standing quietly at the gate, her youngsters were running about. And now one of them came and pulled at her skirt, as a signal that he had discovered something which she ought to come and see, and Robber Mother followed him promptly.
The entire cloister was surrounded by a high and strong wall, but the youngster had managed to find a little back gate which stood ajar. When Robber Mother got there, she pushed the gate open and walked inside without asking leave, as it was her custom to do.
Oevid Cloister was managed at that time by Abbot Hans, who knew all about herbs. Just within the cloister wall he had planted a little herb garden, and it was into this that the old woman had forced her way.
At first glance Robber Mother was so astonished that she paused at the gate. It was high summertide, and Abbot Hans' garden was so full of flowers that the eyes were fairly dazzled by the blues, reds, and yellows, as one looked into it. But presently an indulgent smile spread over her features, and she started to walk up a narrow path that lay between many flower-beds.
In the garden a lay brother walked about, pulling up weeds. It was he who had left the door in the wall open, that he might throw the weeds and tares on the rubbish heap outside.
When he saw Robber Mother coming in, with all five youngsters in tow, he ran toward her at once and ordered them away. But the beggar woman walked right on as before. She cast her eyes up and down, looking now at the stiff white lilies which spread near the ground, then on the ivy climbing high upon the cloister wall, and took no notice whatever of the lay brother.
He thought she had not understood him, and wanted to take her by the arm and turn her toward the gate. But when the robber woman saw his purpose, she gave him a look that sent him reeling backward. She had been walking with back bent under her beggar's pack, but now she straightened herself to her full height. "I am Robber Mother from Goeinge forest; so touch me if you dare!" And it was obvious that she was as certain she would be left in peace as if she had announced that she was the Queen of Denmark.
And yet the lay brother dared to oppose her, although now, when he knew who she was, he spoke reasonably to her. "You must know, Robber Mother, that this is a monks' cloister, and no woman in the land is allowed within these walls. If you do not go away, the monks will be angry with me because I forgot to close the gate, and perhaps they will drive me away from the cloister and the herb garden."
But such prayers were wasted on Robber Mother. She walked straight ahead among the little flower-beds and looked at the hyssop with its magenta blossoms, and at the honeysuckles, which were full of deep orange-colored flower clusters.
Then the lay brother knew of no other remedy than to run into the cloister and call for help.
He returned with two stalwart monks, and Robber Mother saw that now it meant business! With feet firmly planted she stood in the path and began shrieking in strident tones all the awful vengeance she would wreak on the cloister if she couldn't remain in the herb garden as long as she wished. But the monks did not see why they need fear her and thought only of driving her out. Then Robber Mother let out a perfect volley of shrieks, and, throwing herself upon the monks, clawed and bit at them; so did all the youngsters. The men soon learned that she could overpower them, and all they could do was to go back into the cloister for reinforcements.
As they ran through the passage-way which led to the cloister, they met Abbot Hans, who came rushing out to learn what all this noise was about.
Then they had to confess that Robber Mother from Goeinge forest had come into the cloister and that they were unable to drive her out and must call for assistance.
But Abbot Hans upbraided them for using force and forbade their calling for help. He sent both monks back to their work, and although he was an old and fragile man, he took with him only the lay brother.
When Abbot Hans came out in the garden, Robber Mother was still wandering among the flower-beds. He regarded her with astonishment. He was certain that Robber Mother had never before seen an herb garden; yet she sauntered leisurely between all the small patches, each of which had been planted with its own species of rare flower, and looked at them as if they were old acquaintances. At some she smiled, at others she shook her head.
Abbot Hans loved his herb garden as much as it was possible for him to love anything earthly and perishable. Wild and terrible as the old woman looked, he couldn't help liking that she had fought with three monks for the privilege of viewing the garden in peace. He came up to her and asked in a mild tone if the garden pleased her.
Robber Mother turned defiantly toward Abbot Hans, for she expected only to be trapped and overpowered. But when she noticed his white hair and bent form, she answered peaceably, "First, when I saw this, I thought I had never seen a prettier garden; but now I see that it can't be compared with one I know of."
Abbot Hans had certainly expected a different answer. When he heard that Robber Mother had seen a garden more beautiful than his, a faint flush spread over his withered cheek. The lay brother, who was standing close by, immediately began to censure the old woman. "This is Abbot Hans," said he, "who with much care and diligence has gathered the flowers from far and near for his herb garden. We all know that there is not a more beautiful garden to be found in all Skane, and it is not befitting that you, who live in the wild forest all the year around, should find fault with his work."
"I don't wish to make myself the judge of either him or you," said Robber Mother. "I'm only saying that if you could see the garden of which I am thinking you would uproot all the flowers planted here and cast them away like weeds."
But the Abbot's assistant was hardly less proud of the flowers than the Abbot himself, and after hearing her remarks he laughed derisively. "I can understand that you only talk like this to tease us. It must be a pretty garden that you have made for yourself amongst the pines in Goeinge forest! I'd be willing to wager my soul's salvation that you have never before been within the walls of an herb garden."
Robber Mother grew crimson with rage to think that her word was doubted, and she cried out: "It may be true that until to-day I had never been within the walls of an herb garden; but you monks, who are holy men, certainly must know that on every Christmas Eve the great Goeinge forest is transformed into a beautiful garden, to commemorate the hour of our Lord's birth. We who live in the forest have seen this happen every year. And in that garden I have seen flowers so lovely that I dared not lift my hand to pluck them."
The lay brother wanted to continue the argument, but Abbot Hans gave him a sign to be silent. For, ever since his childhood, Abbot Hans had heard it said that on every Christmas Eve the forest was dressed in holiday glory. He had often longed to see it, but he had never had the good fortune. Eagerly he begged and implored Robber Mother that he might come up to the Robbers' Cave on Christmas Eve. If she would only send one of her children to show him the way, he could ride up there alone, and he would never betray them—on the contrary, he would reward them, in so far as it lay in his power.
Robber Mother said no at first, for she was thinking of Robber Father and of the peril which might befall him should she permit Abbot Hans to ride up to their cave. At the same time the desire to prove to the monk that the garden which she knew was more beautiful than his got the better of her, and she gave in.
"But more than one follower you cannot take with you," said she, "and you are not to waylay us or trap us, as sure as you are a holy man."
This Abbot Hans promised, and then Robber Mother went her way. Abbot Hans commanded the lay brother not to reveal to a soul that which had been agreed upon. He feared that the monks, should they learn of his purpose, would not allow a man of his years to go up to the Robbers' Cave.
Nor did he himself intend to reveal his project to a human being. And then it happened that Archbishop Absalon from Lund came to Oevid and remained through the night. When Abbot Hans was showing him the herb garden, he got to thinking of Robber Mother's visit, and the lay brother, who was at work in the garden, heard Abbot Hans telling the Bishop about Robber Father, who these many years had lived as an outlaw in the forest, and asking him for a letter of ransom for the man, that he might lead an honest life among respectable folk. "As things are now," said Abbot Hans, "his children are growing up into worse malefactors than himself, and you will soon have a whole gang of robbers to deal with up there in the forest."
But the Archbishop replied that he did not care to let the robber loose among honest folk in the villages. It would be best for all that he remain in the forest.
Then Abbot Hans grew zealous and told the Bishop all about Goeinge forest, which, every year at Yuletide, clothed itself in summer bloom around the Robbers' Cave. "If these bandits are not so bad but that God's glories can be made manifest to them, surely we cannot be too wicked to experience the same blessing."
The Archbishop knew how to answer Abbot Hans. "This much I will promise you, Abbot Hans," he said, smiling, "that any day you send me a blossom from the garden in Goeinge forest, I will give you letters of ransom for all the outlaws you may choose to plead for."
The lay brother apprehended that Bishop Absalon believed as little in this story of Robber Mother's as he himself; but Abbot Hans perceived nothing of the sort, but thanked Absalon for his good promise and said that he would surely send him the flower.
Abbot Hans had his way. And the following Christmas Eve he did not sit at home with his monks in Oevid Cloister, but was on his way to Goeinge forest. One of Robber Mother's wild youngsters ran ahead of him, and close behind him was the lay brother who had talked with Robber Mother in the herb garden.
Abbot Hans had been longing to make this journey, and he was very happy now that it had come to pass. But it was a different matter with the lay brother who accompanied him. Abbot Hans was very dear to him, and he would not willingly have allowed another to attend him and watch over him; but he didn't believe that he should see any Christmas Eve garden. He thought the whole thing a snare which Robber Mother had, with great cunning, laid for Abbot Hans, that he might fall into her husband's clutches.
While Abbot Hans was riding toward the forest, he saw that everywhere they were preparing to celebrate Christmas. In every peasant settlement fires were lighted in the bathhouse to warm it for the afternoon bathing. Great hunks of meat and bread were being carried from the larders into the cabins, and from the barns came the men with big sheaves of straw to be strewn over the floors.
As he rode by the little country churches, he observed that each parson, with his sexton, was busily engaged in decorating his church; and when he came to the road which leads to Boesjo Cloister, he observed that all the poor of the parish were coming with armfuls of bread and long candles, which they had received at the cloister gate.
When Abbot Hans saw all these Christmas preparations, his haste increased. He was thinking of the festivities that awaited him, which were greater than any the others would be privileged to enjoy.
But the lay brother whined and fretted when he saw how they were preparing to celebrate Christmas in every humble cottage. He grew more and more anxious, and begged and implored Abbot Hans to turn back and not to throw himself deliberately into the robber's hands.
Abbot Hans went straight ahead, paying no heed to his lamentations. He left the plain behind him and came up into desolate and wild forest regions. Here the road was bad, almost like a stony and burr-strewn path, with neither bridge nor plank to help them over brooklet and rivulet. The farther they rode, the colder it grew, and after a while they came upon snow-covered ground.
It turned out to be a long and hazardous ride through the forest. They climbed steep and slippery side paths, crawled over swamp and marsh, and pushed through windfall and bramble. Just as daylight was waning, the robber boy guided them across a forest meadow, skirted by tall, naked leaf trees and green fir trees. Back of the meadow loomed a mountain wall, and in this wall they saw a door of thick boards. Now Abbot Hans understood that they had arrived, and dismounted. The child opened the heavy door for him, and he looked into a poor mountain grotto, with bare stone walls. Robber Mother was seated before a log fire that burned in the middle of the floor. Alongside the walls were beds of virgin pine and moss, and on one of these beds lay Robber Father asleep.
"Come in, you out there!" shouted Robber Mother without rising, "and fetch the horses in with you, so they won't be destroyed by the night cold."
Abbot Hans walked boldly into the cave, and the lay brother followed. Here were wretchedness and poverty! and nothing was done to celebrate Christmas. Robber Mother had neither brewed nor baked; she had neither washed nor scoured. The youngsters were lying on the floor around a kettle, eating; but no better food was provided for them than a watery gruel.
Robber Mother spoke in a tone as haughty and dictatorial as any well-to-do peasant woman. "Sit down by the fire and warm yourself, Abbot Hans," said she; "and if you have food with you, eat, for the food which we in the forest prepare you wouldn't care to taste. And if you are tired after the long journey, you can lie down on one of these beds to sleep. You needn't be afraid of oversleeping, for I'm sitting here by the fire keeping watch. I shall awaken you in time to see that which you have come up here to see."
Abbot Hans obeyed Robber Mother and brought forth his food sack; but he was so fatigued after the journey he was hardly able to eat, and as soon as he could stretch himself on the bed, he fell asleep.
The lay brother was also assigned a bed to rest upon, but he didn't dare sleep, as he thought he had better keep his eye on Robber Father to prevent his getting up and capturing Abbot Hans. But gradually fatigue got the better of him, too, and he dropped into a doze.
When he woke up, he saw that Abbot Hans had left his bed and was sitting by the fire talking with Robber Mother. The outlawed robber sat also by the fire. He was a tall, raw-boned man with a dull, sluggish appearance. His back was turned to Abbot Hans, as though he would have it appear that he was not listening to the conversation.
Abbot Hans was telling Robber Mother all about the Christmas preparations he had seen on the journey, reminding her of Christmas feasts and games which she must have known in her youth, when she lived at peace with mankind. "I'm sorry for your children, who can never run on the village street in holiday dress or tumble in the Christmas straw," said he.
At first Robber Mother answered in short, gruff sentences, but by degrees she became more subdued and listened more intently. Suddenly Robber Father turned toward Abbot Hans and shook his clenched fist in his face. "You miserable monk! did you come here to coax from me my wife and children? Don't you know that I am an outlaw and may not leave the forest?"
Abbot Hans looked him fearlessly in the eyes. "It is my purpose to get a letter of ransom for you from Archbishop Absalon," said he. He had hardly finished speaking when the robber and his wife burst out laughing. They knew well enough the kind of mercy a forest robber could expect from Bishop Absalon!
"Oh, if I get a letter of ransom from Absalon," said Robber Father, "then I'll promise you that never again will I steal so much as a goose."
The lay brother was annoyed with the robber folk for daring to laugh at Abbot Hans, but on his own account he was well pleased. He had seldom seen the Abbot sitting more peaceful and meek with his monks at Oevid than he now sat with this wild robber folk.
Suddenly Robber Mother rose. "You sit here and talk, Abbot Hans," she said, "so that we are forgetting to look at the forest. Now I can hear, even in this cave, how the Christmas bells are ringing."
The words were barely uttered when they all sprang up and rushed out. But in the forest it was still dark night and bleak winter. The only thing they marked was a distant clang borne on a light south wind.
"How can this bell ringing ever awaken the dead forest?" thought Abbot Hans. For now, as he stood out in the winter darkness, he thought it far more impossible that a summer garden could spring up here than it had seemed to him before.
When the bells had been ringing a few moments, a sudden illumination penetrated the forest; the next moment it was dark again, and then the light came back. It pushed its way forward between the stark trees, like a shimmering mist. This much it effected: The darkness merged into a faint daybreak. Then Abbot Hans saw that the snow had vanished from the ground, as if some one had removed a carpet, and the earth began to take on a green covering. Then the ferns shot up their fronds, rolled like a bishop's staff. The heather that grew on the stony hills and the bog-myrtle rooted in the ground moss dressed themselves quickly in new bloom. The moss-tufts thickened and raised themselves, and the spring blossoms shot upward their swelling buds, which already had a touch of color.
Abbot Hans' heart beat fast as he marked the first signs of the forest's awakening. "Old man that I am, shall I behold such a miracle?" thought he, and the tears wanted to spring to his eyes. Again it grew so hazy that he feared the darkness would once more cover the earth; but almost immediately there came a new wave of light. It brought with it the splash of rivulet and the rush of cataract. Then the leaves of the trees burst into bloom, as if a swarm of green butterflies came flying and clustered on the branches. It was not only trees and plants that awoke, but crossbeaks hopped from branch to branch, and the woodpeckers hammered on the limbs until the splinters fairly flew around them. A flock of starlings from up country lighted in a fir top to rest. They were paradise starlings. The tips of each tiny feather shone in brilliant reds, and, as the birds moved, they glittered like so many jewels.
Again, all was dark for an instant, but soon there came a new light wave. A fresh, warm south wind blew and scattered over the forest meadow all the little seeds that had been brought here from southern lands by birds and ships and winds, and which could not thrive elsewhere because of this country's cruel cold. These took root and sprang up the instant they touched the ground.
When the next warm wind came along, the blueberries and lignon ripened. Cranes and wild geese shrieked in the air, the bullfinches built nests, and the baby squirrels began playing on the branches of the trees.
Everything came so fast now that Abbot Hans could not stop to reflect on how immeasurably great was the miracle that was taking place. He had time only to use his eyes and ears. The next light wave that came rushing in brought with it the scent of newly ploughed acres, and far off in the distance the milkmaids were heard coaxing the cows—and the tinkle of the sheep's bells. Pine and spruce trees were so thickly clothed with red cones that they shone like crimson mantles. The juniper berries changed color every second, and forest flowers covered the ground till it was all red, blue, and yellow.
Abbot Hans bent down to the earth and broke off a wild strawberry blossom, and, as he straightened up, the berry ripened in his hand.
The mother fox came out of her lair with a big litter of black-legged young. She went up to Robber Mother and scratched at her skirt, and Robber Mother bent down to her and praised her young. The horned owl, who had just begun his night chase, was astonished at the light and went back to his ravine to perch for the night. The male cuckoo crowed, and his mate stole up to the nests of the little birds with her egg in her mouth.
Robber Mother's youngsters let out perfect shrieks of delight. They stuffed themselves with wild strawberries that hung on the bushes, large as pine cones. One of them played with a litter of young hares; another ran a race with some young crows, which had hopped from their nest before they were really ready; a third caught up an adder from the ground and wound it around his neck and arm.
Robber Father was standing out on a marsh eating raspberries. When he glanced up, a big black bear stood beside him. Robber Father broke off an osier twig and struck the bear on the nose. "Keep to your own ground, you!" he said; "this is my turf." Then the huge bear turned around and lumbered off in another direction.