Christmas in Legend and Story - A Book for Boys and Girls
by Elva S. Smith
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

New waves of warmth and light kept coming, and now they brought with them seeds from the star-flower. Golden pollen from rye fields fairly flew in the air. Then came butterflies, so big that they looked like flying lilies. The bee-hive in a hollow oak was already so full of honey that it dripped down on the trunk of the tree. Then all the flowers whose seeds had been brought from foreign lands began to blossom. The loveliest roses climbed up the mountain wall in a race with the blackberry vines, and from the forest meadow sprang flowers as large as human faces.

Abbot Hans thought of the flower he was to pluck for Bishop Absalon; but each new flower that appeared was more beautiful than the others, and he wanted to choose the most beautiful of all.

Wave upon wave kept coming until the air was so filled with light that it glittered. All the life and beauty and joy of summer smiled on Abbot Hans. He felt that earth could bring no greater happiness than that which welled up about him, and he said to himself, "I do not know what new beauties the next wave that comes can bring with it."

But the light kept streaming in, and now it seemed to Abbot Hans that it carried with it something from an infinite distance. He felt a celestial atmosphere enfolding him, and tremblingly he began to anticipate, now that earth's joys had come, the glories of heaven were approaching.

Then Abbot Hans marked how all grew still; the birds hushed their songs, the flowers ceased growing, and the young foxes played no more. The glory now nearing was such that the heart wanted to stop beating; the eyes wept without one's knowing it; the soul longed to soar away into the Eternal. From far in the distance faint harp tones were heard, and celestial song, like a soft murmur, reached him.

Abbot Hans clasped his hands and dropped to his knees. His face was radiant with bliss. Never had he dreamed that even in this life it should be granted him to taste the joys of heaven, and to hear angels sing Christmas carols!

But beside Abbot Hans stood the lay brother who had accompanied him. In his mind there were dark thoughts. "This cannot be a true miracle," he thought, "since it is revealed to malefactors. This does not come from God, but has its origin in witchcraft and is sent hither by Satan. It is the Evil One's power that is tempting us and compelling us to see that which has no real existence."

From afar were heard the sound of angel harps and the tones of a Miserere. But the lay brother thought it was the evil spirits of hell coming closer. "They would enchant and seduce us," sighed he, "and we shall be sold into perdition."

The angel throng was so near now that Abbot Hans saw their bright forms through the forest branches. The lay brother saw them, too; but back of all this wondrous beauty he saw only some dread evil. For him it was the devil who performed these wonders on the anniversary of our Saviour's birth. It was done simply for the purpose of more effectually deluding poor human beings.

All the while the birds had been circling around the head of Abbot Hans, and they let him take them in his hands. But all the animals were afraid of the lay brother; no bird perched on his shoulder, no snake played at his feet. Then there came a little forest dove. When she marked that the angels were nearing, she plucked up courage and flew down on the lay brother's shoulder and laid her head against his cheek.

Then it appeared to him as if sorcery were come right upon him, to tempt and corrupt him. He struck with his hand at the forest dove and cried in such a loud voice that it rang throughout the forest, "Go thou back to hell, whence thou art come!"

Just then the angels were so near that Abbot Hans felt the feathery touch of their great wings, and he bowed down to earth in reverent greeting.

But when the lay brother's words sounded, their song was hushed and the holy guests turned in flight. At the same time the light and the mild warmth vanished in unspeakable terror for the darkness and cold in a human heart. Darkness sank over the earth, like a coverlet; frost came, all the growths shrivelled up; the animals and birds hastened away; the rushing of streams was hushed; the leaves dropped from the trees, rustling like rain.

Abbot Hans felt how his heart, which had but lately swelled with bliss, was now contracting with insufferable agony. "I can never outlive this," thought he, "that the angels from heaven had been so close to me and were driven away; that they wanted to sing Christmas carols for me and were driven to flight."

Then he remembered the flower he had promised Bishop Absalon, and at the last moment he fumbled among the leaves and moss to try and find a blossom. But he sensed how the ground under his fingers froze and how the white snow came gliding over the ground. Then his heart caused him ever greater anguish. He could not rise, but fell prostrate on the ground and lay there.

When the robber folk and the lay brother had groped their way back to the cave, they missed Abbot Hans. They took brands with them and went out to search for him. They found him dead upon the coverlet of snow.

Then the lay brother began weeping and lamenting, for he understood that it was he who had killed Abbot Hans because he had dashed from him the cup of happiness which he had been thirsting to drain to its last drop.

When Abbot Hans had been carried down to Oevid, those who took charge of the dead saw that he held his right hand locked tight around something which he must have grasped at the moment of death. When they finally got his hand open, they found that the thing which he had held in such an iron grip was a pair of white root bulbs, which he had torn from among the moss and leaves.

When the lay brother who had accompanied Abbot Hans saw the bulbs, he took them and planted them in Abbot Hans' herb garden.

He guarded them the whole year to see if any flower would spring from them. But in vain he waited through the spring, the summer, and the autumn. Finally, when winter had set in and all the leaves, and the flowers were dead, he ceased caring for them.

But when Christmas Eve came again, he was so strongly reminded of Abbot Hans that he wandered out into the garden to think of him. And look! as he came to the spot where he had planted the bare root bulbs, he saw that from them had sprung flourishing green stalks, which bore beautiful flowers with silver white leaves.

He called out all the monks at Oevid, and when they saw that this plant bloomed on Christmas Eve, when all the other growths were as if dead, they understood that this flower had in truth been plucked by Abbot Hans from the Christmas garden in Goeinge forest. Then the lay brother asked the monks if he might take a few blossoms to Bishop Absalon.

And when he appeared before Bishop Absalon, he gave him the flowers and said: "Abbot Hans sends you these. They are the flowers he promised to pick for you from the garden in Goeinge forest."

When Bishop Absalon beheld the flowers, which had sprung from the earth in darkest winter, and heard the words, he turned as pale as if he had met a ghost. He sat in silence a moment; thereupon he said, "Abbot Hans has faithfully kept his word and I shall also keep mine." And he ordered that a letter of ransom be drawn up for the wild robber who was outlawed and had been forced to live in the forest ever since his youth.

He handed the letter to the lay brother, who departed at once for the Robbers' Cave. When he stepped in there on Christmas Day, the robber came toward him with axe uplifted. "I'd like to hack you monks into bits, as many as you are!" said he. "It must be your fault that Goeinge forest did not last night dress itself in Christmas bloom."

"The fault is mine alone," said the lay brother, "and I will gladly die for it; but first I must deliver a message from Abbot Hans." And he drew forth the Bishop's letter and told the man that he was free. "Hereafter you and your children shall play in the Christmas straw and celebrate your Christmas among people, just as Abbot Hans wished to have it," said he.

Then Robber Father stood there pale and speechless, but Robber Mother said in his name, "Abbot Hans has indeed kept his word, and Robber Father will keep his."

When the robber and his wife left the cave, the lay brother moved in and lived all alone in the forest, in constant meditation and prayer that his hard-heartedness might be forgiven him.

But Goeinge forest never again celebrated the hour of our Saviour's birth; and of all its glory, there lives to-day only the plant which Abbot Hans had plucked. It has been named CHRISTMAS ROSE. And each year at Christmastide she sends forth from the earth her green stalks and white blossoms, as if she never could forget that she had once grown in the great Christmas garden at Goeinge forest.



A very long while ago, perhaps as many as two hundred years, the little Provencal village of Sur Varne was all bustle and stir, for it was the week before Christmas; and always, in all the world, no one has known better how to keep the joyous holiday than have the happy-hearted people of Provence, the southeastern corner of France.

Everybody was busy, hurrying to and fro, gathering garlands of myrtle and laurel, bringing home their Yule logs with pretty old songs and ceremonies, and in various ways making ready for the all-important festival.

Not a house in Sur Varne but in some manner told the coming of the blessed birthday, and especially were there great preparations in the cottage of the shepherd, Pere Michaud. This cottage, covered with white stucco, and thatched with long marsh-grass, stood at the edge of the village; olive and mulberry trees clustered about it, and a wild jasmine vine clambered over the doorway, while on this particular morning all around the low projecting eaves hung a row of tiny wheat-sheaves, swinging in the crisp December air, and twinkling in the sunlight like a golden fringe. For the Pere Michaud had been up betimes, making ready the Christmas feast for the birds, which no Provencal peasant ever forgets at this gracious season; and the birds knew it, for already dozens of saucy robins and linnets and fieldfares were gathering in the Pere's mulberry-trees, their mouths fairly watering with anticipation.

Within the cottage the good dame, the Mise Michaud, with wide sleeves rolled up and kirtle tucked back, was hard at work making all manner of savory goodies, while in the huge oven beside the blazing hearth the great Christmas cakes were baking, the famous pompou and fougasse, as they were called, dear to the hearts of the children of old Provence.

Now and then, as the cottage door swung open on the dame's various cookery errands, one might hear a faint "Baa, baa!" from the sheepfold, where little Felix Michaud was very busy also.

Through the crevices of its weather-beaten boards came the sound of vigorous scrubbing of wool, and sometimes an impatient "Ninette! Ninette!—thou silly sheep! Wilt thou never stand still?" Or else, in a Softer tone, an eager "Beppo, my little Beppo, dost thou know? Dost thou know?" To all of which there would come no answer save the lamb's weak little "Baa, baa!"

For Ninette, Beppo's mother, was a silly old sheep, and Beppo was a very young little lamb, and so they could not possibly be expected to know what a great honor had suddenly befallen them. They did not dream that, the night before, Pere Michaud had told Felix that his Beppo (for Beppo was Felix's very own) had been chosen by the shepherds for the "offered lamb" of the Christmas Eve procession in all its festival splendor in the great church of the village.

Of the importance of this procession in the eyes of the peasant folk I will tell you more by and by; it is enough to say now that to be the offered lamb, or indeed the offered lamb's mother, for both always went together, was the greatest honor and glory that could possibly happen to a Provencal sheep, and so little Felix was fairly bursting with pride and delight. And so it was, too, that he was now busying himself washing their wool, which he determined should shine like spun silver on the great night.

He tugged away, scrubbing and brushing and combing the thick fleeces, and at last, after much labor, considered their toilets done for the day; then, giving each a handful of fresh hay to nibble, he left the fold and trudged into the cottage.

"Well, little one," said the Mise, "hast thou finished thy work?"

"Yes, mother," answered Felix; "and I shall scrub them so each day till the holy night! Even now Ninette is white as milk, and Beppo shines like an angel! Ah, but I shall be proud when he rides up to the altar in his little cart! And, mother, dost thou not really think him far handsomer than was Jean's lamb, that stupid Nano, in the procession last year?"

"There, there," said the Mise, "never thou mind about Jean's lamb, but run along now and finish thy creche."

Now, in Provence, at the time when Felix lived, no one had ever heard of such a thing as a Christmas tree; but in its stead every cottage had a "creche"; that is, in one corner of the great living-room, the room of the fireplace, the peasant children and their fathers and mothers built up on a table a mimic village of Bethlehem, with houses and people and animals, and, above all, with the manger, where the Christ Child lay. Everyone took the greatest pains to make the creche as perfect as possible, and some even went so far as to fasten tiny angels to the rafters, so that they hovered over the toy houses like a flock of white butterflies; and sometimes a gold star, hung on a golden thread, quivered over the little manger, in memory of the wonderful star of the Magi.

In the Michaud cottage the creche was already well under way. In the corner across from the fireplace the Pere had built up a mound, and this Felix had covered with bits of rock and tufts of grass, and little green boughs for trees, all to represent the rocky hillside of Judea; then, half-way up, he began to place the tiny houses. These he had cut out of wood and adorned with wonderful carving, in which, indeed, he was very skilful. And then, such figures as he had made, such quaint little men and women, such marvelous animals, camels and oxen and sheep and horses, were never before seen in Sur Varne. But the figure on which he had lavished his utmost skill was that of the little Christ Child, which was not to be placed in the manger until Christmas night itself.

Felix kept this figure in his blouse pocket, carefully wrapped up in a bit of wool, and he spent all his spare moments striving to give it some fresh beauty; for I will tell you a secret: poor little Felix had a great passion for carving, and the one thing for which he longed above all others was to be allowed to apprentice himself in the workshop of Pere Videau, who was the master carver of the village, and whose beautiful work on the portals of the great church was the admiration of Felix's heart. He longed, too, for better tools than the rude little knife he had, and for days and years in which to learn to use them.

But the Pere Michaud had scant patience with these notions of the little son's, and once, when Felix had ventured to speak to him about it, had insisted rather sharply that he was to stick to his sheep-tending, so that when the Pere himself grew old he could take charge of the flocks and keep the family in bread; for the Pere had small faith in the art of the carver as being able to supply the big brown loaves that the Mise baked every week in the great stone oven. So Felix was obliged to go on minding the flocks; but whenever he had a moment of his own, he employed it in carving a bit of wood or chipping at a fragment of soft stone.

But while I have stopped to tell you all this he had almost finished the creche; the little houses were all in place, and the animals grouped about the holy stable, or else seeming to crop the tufts of moss on the mimic rocky hillside.

"Well, well!" said the Pere Michaud, who had just entered the cottage, "'t is a fine bit of work thou hast there, my son! Truly 't is a brave creche!"

But here the Mise called them both to the midday meal, which she had spread smoking hot on the shining deal table.

When this was finished Felix arose, and, as the Pere wished, once more went out to the fold to see how the sheep, and especially his little Beppo, were faring.

As he pushed open the swinging door, Ninette, who was lazily dozing with her toes doubled up under her fleece, blinked her eyes and looked sleepily around; but Beppo was nowhere to be seen.

"Ninette!" demanded Felix fiercely, "what hast thou done with my Beppo?"

At this Ninette peered about in a dazed sort of way, and gave an alarmed little "Baa!" for she had not before missed Beppo, who, while she was asleep, had managed to push open the door of the fold and scamper off, no one knew just where.

Felix gazed around in dismay when he realized that his lamb, the chosen one, who had brought such pride and honor to him—that this was gone!

"Beppo!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, "Beppo! Beppo-o!"

But no trace could he see of the little bundle of fleece he had scrubbed and combed so carefully that morning.

He stood irresolute a moment; then, thinking that if Beppo really were running off, not a second was to be lost, he set out at a brisk pace across the sheep-meadow. He had no idea in what direction the truant lamb would be likely to stray, but on he went, calling every little while in a shrill voice, "Beppo!" Now and then he fancied that he saw in the distance a glimpse of white; but once it proved the Mise Fouchard's linen hung to dry on a currant-bush, and again it was a great white stone—but no Beppo; and all the while Felix kept on, quite forgetting that Beppo's weak, woolly legs could not possibly have carried him so great a distance.

By and by he had left the village meadows far behind, and was skirting the great marsh. Sometimes he shaded his eyes with his hand and looked far across this low wet land to see if perhaps Beppo had strayed into its uncertain foothold; but nothing could he see but the waving rushes and the tall bitterns wading about on long, yellow legs.

And still he pressed heedlessly on farther and farther, till, after a while, he found himself thrusting through a thick coppice of willow boughs. "Oh," thought Felix, "what if poor Beppo has strayed into this woodland!" And tired as he was, he urged himself on, searching among the trees; and it was not until he had wandered on and on, deeper and deeper into the wood, that he realized that the dusk had fallen, and that he must be a very, very long way from Sur Varne.

Felix then began to grow uneasy. He stood still and looked anxiously about him; the dark forest trees closed around him on all sides, and he was quite unable to remember from which direction he had entered the wood.

Now, Felix was really a very brave little fellow, but he fairly quaked as he peered through the gathering darkness; for in those days the forests of Provence were known to harbor many dangerous animals, especially wild boars and wolves. He pricked up his ears, and now and then thought he heard in the distance the stealthy tread of some four-footed forest prowler, and once he was sure he caught the deep howl of a wolf.

That ended his hesitation. He looked quickly around, and grasping the low boughs of a slender sapling, managed to swing himself up into a tall chestnut-tree that grew close by; and there he clung, clutching the thick branches with might and main, feeling very cold and hungry and miserable, his heart all the while sinking clear down into his little peasant shoes.

And indeed he had cause for fear, for, not a great while after he had thus hidden himself, a gaunt wolf really did pass close by, sniffing and peering, till poor Felix fairly gave up all hope of escaping from the tree; but, luckily, the wolf did not see him, and at last slowly crept on through the underwood.

How long the little boy stayed in the perilous shelter of the chestnut-tree he never knew, but it seemed untold ages to him. After a while the moon rose, and shed a faint light through the close-lapping branches; and then, by and by, Felix's ears, strained to listen for every lightest sound, caught the echo of distant tramping, as of horses' hoofs, and presently two horsemen came in sight, picking their way cautiously along a narrow bridle-path.

He did not know whom they might prove to be, but wisely thinking that anything would be better than staying in a tree all night at the mercy of hungry wolves, he waited till the first rider came quite close, and then he plucked up courage to call out faintly: "Oh, sir, stop, I pray thee!"

At this, the rider, who was none other than the noble Count Bernard of Bois Varne, quickly drew rein and, turning, called to his companion:

"Ho, Brian! Heardest thou aught?"

"Nay, my lord," answered Brian, who was some paces behind, "naught save the trampling of our own horses' hoofs."

The count looked all around, and seeing nothing, thought himself mistaken in the sound, and began to pace on. Then Felix, in terror, gave another shout, this time louder, and at the same moment a little twig he was pressing with his elbow broke away and dropped, striking against the count's stirrup; for the bridle-path wound directly under the tree where Felix was perched.

The count instantly checked his horse again, and, peering up into the boughs overhead, he caught sight of Felix, his yellow hair wet with dew and shining in the moonlight, and his dark eyes wide with fear.

"Heigh-ho!" exclaimed the count, in blank amazement. "Upon my word, now! what art thou—boy or goblin?"

At this Felix gave a little sob, for he was very tired and very cold. He hugged the tree tightly, and, steadying himself against the boughs, at last managed to falter out: "Please thee, sir, I am Felix Michaud, and my lamb Beppo, who was to ride in the Christmas procession, ran off to-day, and—and—I have been hunting him, I think, ever since—since yesterday!" Here poor Felix grew a trifle bewildered; it seemed to him so very long ago since he had set out in search of Beppo. "And I live in Sur Varne."

At this the count gave a long whistle. "At Sur Varne!" he exclaimed. "If thou speakest truly, my little man, thou hast indeed a sturdy pair of legs to have carried thee thus far." And he eyed curiously Felix's dusty little feet and leathern leggings, dangling limply from the bough above him. "Dost thou know how far distant is Sur Varne from this forest?"

"Nay, sir," answered Felix; "but I trow 't is a great way."

"There thou art right," said the count; "'t is a good two leagues, if it is a pace. But how now? Thou canst not bide here to become the prey of hungry wolves, my little night-owl of the yellow hair!"

And thereupon Count Bernard dexterously raised himself in his stirrups, and, reaching upward, caught Felix in his arms and swung him down plump on the saddle-bow in front of him; then, showing him how to steady himself by holding the pommel, he turned to Brian, his squire, who while all this was going on had stood by in silent astonishment, and giving the order to move, the little cavalcade hastened on at a rapid pace in order to get clear of the forest as quickly as possible.

Meantime the Count Bernard, who was really a very kind and noble lord, and who lived in a beautiful castle on the farther verge of the forest, quite reassured Felix by talking to him kindly, and telling him of the six days' journey from which he and his squire Brian were just returning, and how they had been delayed on the way until nightfall.

"And, by my faith!" said Count Bernard, "thou shalt sleep this night in the strong castle of Bois Varne, with not even a mouse to fret thy yellow head; and, what is more, thou shalt see the fairest little maid that ever thou hast set eyes on!"

And then he told him of his little daughter, the Lady Elinor, and how she would play with Felix and show him the castle, and how on the morrow they would see about sending him home to Sur Varne.

And all the while the count was talking they were trotting briskly onward, till by and by they emerged from the forest and saw towering near at hand the castle of Bois Varne. The tall turrets shone and shimmered in the moonlight, and over the gateway of the drawbridge hung a lighted cresset— that is, a beautiful wrought-iron basket, in which blazed a ruddy torch of oil to light them on their way.

At sight of this the count and Brian spurred on their horses, and were soon clattering across the bridge and into the great paved courtyard. The count flung his bridle to a little page who hastened out to meet him, and then, springing from his saddle, lightly lifted Felix and swung him to the ground. He took the boy by the hand and led him into the great hall of the castle.

To Felix this looked marvelously beautiful. Christmas garlands of myrtle hung on the walls, and a great pile of freshly cut laurel boughs lay on a bench, ready for the morrow's arranging. But that which took his eyes most of all was the lovely carving everywhere to be seen. The benches and tables were covered with it; the wainscot of the spacious room was richly adorned; and over and about the wide fireplace great carved dragons of stone curled their long tails and spread their wings through a maze of intricate traceries. Felix was enchanted, and gazed around till his eyes fairly ached.

Presently in came running a little girl, laughing with delight. Bounding up into Count Bernard's arms, she hugged and kissed him in true Provencal fashion. Then, catching sight of Felix, "Ah, mon pere," she exclaimed, "and where foundest thou thy pretty new page?"

"Nay, sweetheart," answered the count, looking down at Felix's yellow hair; "'t is no page, but a little goldfinch we found perched in a chestnut-tree as we rode through the forest."

Then, smiling at the Lady Elinor's bewilderment, he told her the little boy's story, and she at once slipped down and greeted him kindly. Then, clapping her hands with pleasure at finding a new playmate, she declared he must come and see the Christmas creche which she was just finishing. She seized him by the hand and hastened across the hall, where her creche was built up on a carved bench. The poor little Lady Elinor had no mother, and her father, the count, had been gone for several days; and while in the castle were no end of serving men and women and retainers, yet none of these presumed to dictate to the little mistress, and so she had put her creche together in a very odd fashion.

"There!" said she, "what thinkest thou of it, Felix? Of a truth, I fancy somewhat is wanting, yet I know not how to better it!"

"Yes," said Felix, bashfully; "it may be I can help thee."

And so he set to work rearranging the little houses and figures, till he succeeded in giving quite a lifelike air to the creche, and Lady Elinor fairly danced with delight.

While placing the little manger he happened to remember the figure of the Christ Child still in his blouse pocket; this he timidly took out and showed the little girl, who was charmed, and still more so when he drew forth a small wooden sheep and a dog, which were also in the same pocket.

The Lady Elinor was so carried away with joy that she flew to the side of the count, and, grasping both his hands, dragged him across the room to show him the creche and the wonderful figures carved by Felix.

"See, mon pere!" said Elinor, "see this, and this!" And she held up the little carvings for the count's inspection.

Count Bernard, who had good-naturedly crossed the room to please his little daughter, now opened his eyes wide with surprise. He took the little figures she handed him and examined them closely, for he was a good judge of artistic work of this kind. Then he looked at Felix, and at length he said:

"Well, little forest bird, who taught thee the carver's craft?"

"No one, sir," faltered Felix; "indeed, I wish, above all things, to learn of the Pere Videau, the master carver; but my father says I must be a shepherd, as he is."

Here a tear rolled down Felix's cheek, for you must remember he was terribly tired.

"Well, well," said the count, "never mind! Thou art weary, little one; we will talk of this more on the morrow. 'T is high time now that both of you were sound asleep. Hey, there! Jean! Jacques! Come hither and take care of this little lad, and see to it that he hath a soft bed and a feather pillow!"

The next morning the children ate a merry breakfast together, and after it Count Bernard took Felix aside and asked him many questions of his life and his home. Then, by and by, knowing how anxious the boy's parents would be, he ordered his trusty squire, Brian, to saddle a horse and conduct Felix back to Sur Varne.

Meantime the little Lady Elinor begged hard that he stay longer in the castle for her playfellow, and was quite heartbroken when she saw the horse stand ready in the courtyard. Indeed, she would not be satisfied until her father, the count, who could not bear to see her unhappy, had promised to some day take her over to see Felix in Sur Varne. Then she smiled, and made a pretty farewell courtesy, and suddenly snatching from her dark hair a crimson ribbon of Lyons taffeta, she tied it about Felix's sleeve, declaring, "There! thou must keep this token, and be my little knight!" for the Lady Elinor had many lofty notions in her small curly head.

Felix could only stammer out an embarrassed good-by, for in the presence of this lively little maid he found himself quaking more than when he feared the terrible wolves of the forest. In another moment Brian lifted him to the saddle, and, springing up behind, took the bridle-rein, and off they went.

When, after several hours' riding, they drew near Sur Varne, Felix showed Brian the way to the Michaud cottage, and you can fancy how overjoyed were the Pere and Mise to see the travelers; for they had been fairly beside themselves with grief, and had searched all night for their little son.

Of course almost the first question Felix asked was about Beppo, and he felt a great load taken off his mind when he learned that the little truant, who had not really strayed very far from the village, had been found and brought home by one of the shepherds, and was even then penned up safe and sound in the sheepfold.

After a good night's sleep Felix was quite rested from his journey, and was busy the next day in helping garland the Yule log, in giving Ninette and Beppo an extra scrubbing and brushing, and in all the final happy preparations for the great holiday.

And so Christmas Eve came. It was a lovely star-lit night, and on all sides one could hear the beautiful Christmas songs of old Provence that all the peasants and the children sang as they trooped along the roads on their way to the great church of the village; for thither every one flocked as the expected hour drew on.

Then presently the stately service began, and went on with song and incense, and the sweet chanting of children's voices, till suddenly from the upper tower of the church a joyous peal of bells rang in the midnight! And all at once, through the dense throng of worshipers nearest the door a pathway opened, and in came four peasants playing on pipes and flutes and flageolets a quaint old air made up three hundred years before by good King Rene for just such a ceremony as was to follow.

After the pipers walked ten shepherds, two by two, each wearing a long brown cloak, and carrying a staff and lighted candle; that is, all save the first two, and these bore, one a basket of fruit, the melons and grapes and pears of sunny Provence, while the other held in his hands a pair of pretty white pigeons with rose-colored eyes and soft, fluttering wings.

And then, behind the shepherds came—what do you suppose?—Ninette! Ninette, her fleece shining like snow, a garland of laurel and myrtle about her neck, and twigs of holly nodding behind her ears, while bound about her woolly shoulders a little harness of scarlet leather shone against the white with dazzling effect; and fastened to the harness, and trundling along at Ninette's heels, came the gayest of little wooden carts. It was painted in the brightest colors. Its wheels were wrapped with garlands, and in it, curled up in a fat fleecy ball, lay Beppo! Tied about his neck in a huge bow was a crimson ribbon of Lyons taffeta, with a sprig of holly tucked into its loops.

Beppo lay quite still, looking about him with a bewildered, half-dazed expression, and just behind his cart came ten more shepherds with staffs and candles, while following them was a great throng of peasant folk and children (among them Felix), all carrying lighted tapers, and radiant with delight; for this was the Procession of the Offered Lamb, and to walk in its train was considered by all as the greatest honor and privilege.

And especially did the shepherd folk love the beautiful old custom which for centuries the people of Provence had cherished from year to year in memory of the time, long ago, when the real Christ Child lay in the manger of Bethlehem, and the shepherds of Judea sought him out to worship him, and to offer him their fruits and lambs as gifts.

And so on up the long aisle the procession slowly moved, the pipers playing, and Ninette marching solemnly along, only now and then pausing to thrust her nose between the Pere Michaud and his companion, who walked directly in front of her. Ninette pattered on as if she had trod the floors of churches all her life; and as for Beppo, only once did he stir, and then he gave a faint "Baa!" and tried to uncurl himself and stand up; but just then the queer little cart gave a joggle which quite upset his shaky lamb legs, and down he sank, and kept quiet throughout the rest of the time.

After the service the players again struck up King Rene's tune, and the procession, shepherds, Ninette, Beppo, peasants, and all, once more moved on, this time down the outer aisle and toward the great open portal.

It took some time for the last of its followers to reach the doorway, for the throng was very great; but at length Felix, who had marched with the children in the last group, came to the threshold and stepped out into the starry night.

He stood for a moment smiling and gazing aimlessly ahead, overwhelmed with the glory of all that had passed within the church, when presently he felt some one pluck his sleeve, and turning round, he met the dancing eyes of the little Lady Elinor.

She gave a little peal of laughter at his surprise, and exclaimed: "Oh, I coaxed mon pere, the count, to fetch me hither for this blessed night. Thou knowest he promised! I rode my white palfrey all the way by the side of his big brown horse. And I have seen the procession, and Beppo with my red ribbon round his neck." Here she gave another little gurgle of delight. "And oh, Felix, my father hath seen thine, and 't is all settled! Thou art to be a famous carver with the Pere Videau, as thou wishest" (for the Lady Elinor had unbounded faith in Felix's powers); "and, Felix," she added, "I trow 't was the little Christ Child for thy creche that did it!"

Then, with a merry little smile, she darted off to her father, the Count Bernard, who was waiting for her down the church path.

For a little while after she had gone Felix did not move, but stood as one in a dream. Presently a loud bleat close at his side startled him, and, looking down, he saw that Ninette, decked in her gay garlands, and still dragging the be-ribboned Beppo in the little cart, had broken away from the Pere Michaud and come close up to himself.

Then, with a sudden movement, he stooped over, and, seizing Beppo in both arms, hugged and squeezed him till poor Beppo squeaked with surprise, and opened his red mouth and fairly gasped for breath. But Felix only hugged him the harder, murmuring under his breath, "Bless thy little heart, Beppo! Bless thy little heart!" For in a vague way he realized that the truant lamb had somehow brought him his heart's desire, and that was quite enough Christmas happiness for one year.

And the little Lady Elinor was right, too. Years after, when Felix grew to be a man, he did, in very truth, become a "famous carver," as she had declared.

Far surpassing his first master, the Pere Videau, he traveled and worked in many cities; yet never, through all his long life, did he forget that Christmas Eve in the little village of Sur Varne.

Those who knew him best said that among his dearest treasures he always kept a beautifully carved little box, and in it a bit of faded crimson ribbon from the looms of Lyons. While, as for Beppo—well, if ever some happy day you chance to visit the lovely land of Provence, perhaps you will see a certain grand old cathedral in the ancient city of Arles; and, if you do, look sharp at the figure of a lamb chiseled in white stone over the great portal. Look well, I say, for Felix, when he carved it, would have told you that he was thinking all the while of his little pet lamb Beppo.



Once upon a time,—it was so long ago that the whole world has forgotten the date,—in a city in the north of Europe, whose name is so difficult to pronounce that nobody remembers it,—once upon a time there was a little boy of seven, named Wolff. He was an orphan in charge of an old aunt who was hard and avaricious, who only kissed him on New Year's Day, and who breathed a sigh of regret every time that she gave him a porringer of soup.

But the poor little lad was naturally so good that he loved his aunt just the same, although she frightened him very much; and he could never see her without trembling, for fear she would whip him.

As the aunt of Wolff was known through all the village to have a house and an old stocking full of gold, she did not dare send her nephew to the school for the poor, but she obtained a reduction of the price with the schoolmaster whose school little Wolff attended. The teacher, vexed at having a scholar so badly dressed and who paid so poorly, often punished him unjustly, and even set his fellow-pupils against him.

The poor little fellow was therefore as miserable as the stones in the street, and hid himself in out-of-the-way corners to cry when Christmas came.

The night before Christmas the schoolmaster was to take all of his pupils to church, and bring them back to their homes. As the winter was very severe that year, and as for several days a great quantity of snow had fallen, the children came to the master's house warmly wrapped and bundled up, with fur caps pulled down over their ears, double and triple jackets, knitted gloves and mittens, and good, thick-nailed boots with strong soles. Only little Wolff came shivering in the clothes that he wore week-days and Sundays, and with nothing on his feet but coarse Strasbourg socks and heavy sabots, or wooden shoes.

His thoughtless comrades made a thousand jests over his forlorn looks and his peasant's dress; but little Wolff was so occupied in blowing on his fingers to keep them warm, that he took no notice of the boys or what they said.

The troop of boys, with their master at their head, started for the church. As they went they talked of the fine suppers that were waiting them at home. The son of the burgomaster had seen, before he went out, a monstrous goose that the truffles marked with black spots like a leopard. At the house of one of the boys there was a little fir tree in a wooden box, from whose branches hung oranges, sweetmeats and toys.

The children spoke, too, of what the Christ-child would bring to them, and what he would put in their shoes, which they would, of course, be very careful to leave in the chimney before going to bed. And the eyes of those little boys, lively as a parcel of mice, sparkled in advance with the joy of seeing in their imagination pink paper bags filled with cakes, lead soldiers drawn up in battalions in their boxes, menageries smelling of varnished wood, and magnificent jumping-jacks covered with purple and bells.

Little Wolff knew very well by experience that his old aunt would send him supperless to bed; but, knowing that all the year he had been as good and industrious as possible, he hoped that the Christ-child would not forget him, and he, too, looked eagerly forward to putting his wooden shoes in the ashes of the fireplace.

When the service was ended, every one went away, anxious for his supper, and the band of children, walking two by two after their teacher, left the church.

In the porch, sitting on a stone seat under a Gothic niche, a child was sleeping—a child who was clad in a robe of white linen, and whose feet were bare, notwithstanding the cold. He was not a beggar, for his robe was new and fresh, and near him on the ground was seen a square, a hatchet, a pair of compasses, and the other tools of a carpenter's apprentice. Under the light of the stars, his face bore an expression of divine sweetness, and his long locks of golden hair seemed like an aureole about his head. But the child's feet, blue in the cold of that December night, were sad to see.

The children, so well clothed and shod for the winter, passed heedlessly before the unknown child. One of them, the son of one of the principal men in the village, looked at the waif with an expression in which no pity could be seen.

But little Wolff, coming the last out of the church, stopped, full of compassion, before the beautiful sleeping child. "Alas!" said the orphan to himself, "it is too bad that this poor little one has to go barefoot in such bad weather. But what is worse than all, he has not even a boot or a wooden shoe to leave before him while he sleeps to-night, so that the Christ-child could put something there to comfort him in his misery."

And, carried away by the goodness of his heart, little Wolff took off the wooden shoe from his right foot, and laid it in front of the sleeping child. Then, limping along on his poor blistered foot and dragging his sock through the snow, he went back to his aunt's house.

"Look at that worthless fellow!" cried his aunt, full of anger at his return without one of his shoes. "What have you done with your wooden shoe, little wretch?"

Little Wolff did not know how to deceive, and although he was shaking with terror, he tried to stammer out some account of his adventure.

The old woman burst into a frightful peal of laughter. "Ah, monsieur takes off his shoes for beggars! Ah, monsieur gives away his wooden shoes to a barefoot! This is something new! Ah, well, since that is so, I am going to put the wooden shoe which you have left in the chimney, and I promise you the Christ-child will leave there to-night something to whip you with in the morning. And you shall pass the day to-morrow on dry bread and water. We will see if next time you give away your shoe to the first vagabond that comes."

Then the aunt, after having given the poor boy a couple of slaps, made him climb up to his bed in the attic. Grieved to the heart, the child went to bed in the dark, and soon went to sleep, his pillow wet with tears.

On the morrow morning, when the old woman went downstairs—oh, wonderful sight!—she saw the great chimney full of beautiful playthings, and sacks of magnificent candies, and all sorts of good things; and before all these splendid things the right shoe, that her nephew had given to the little waif, stood by the side of the left shoe, that she herself had put there that very night, and where she meant to put a birch rod.

As little Wolff, running down to learn the meaning of his aunt's exclamation, stood in artless ecstasy before all these splendid gifts, suddenly there were loud cries and laughter out of doors. The old woman and the little boy went out to know what it all meant, and saw the neighbors gathered around the public fountain. What had happened? Oh, something very amusing and extraordinary! The children of all the rich people of the village, those whose parents had wished to surprise them with the most beautiful gifts, had found only rods in their shoes.

Then the orphan and the old woman, thinking of all the beautiful things that were in their chimney, were full of amazement. But presently they saw the cure coming toward them, with wonder in his face. In the church porch, where in the evening a child, clad in a white robe, and with bare feet, had rested his sleeping head, the cure had just seen a circle of gold incrusted with precious stones.

Then the people understood that the beautiful sleeping child, near whom were the carpenter's tools, was the Christ-child in person, become for an hour such as he was when he worked in his parents' house, and they bowed themselves before that miracle that the good God had seen fit to work, to reward the faith and charity of a child.



"Oh! I am so cold, so cold!" sobbed little Pierre, as he stumbled through the snow which was drifting deep upon the mountain side. "Oh, I am so cold! The snow bites my face and blinds me, so that I cannot see the road. Where are all the Christmas candle-lights? The people of the village must have forgotten. The little Jesus will lose His way to-night. I never forgot to set our window at home full of lights on Christmas Eve. But now it is Christmas Eve, and there is no home any more. And I am so cold, so cold!"

Little Pierre sobbed again and stumbled in the snow, which was drifting deeper and deeper upon the mountain side. This was the stormiest Christmas Eve which had been seen for years, and all the little boys who had good homes were hugging themselves close to the fire, glad that they were not out in the bleak night. Every window was full of flickering tapers to light the expected Holy Child upon His way through the village to the church. But little Pierre had strayed so far from the road that he could not see these rows and rows of tiny earth-stars, any more than he could see through the snow the far-off sky-stars which the angels had lighted along the streets of heaven.

Pierre was on his way to the village from the orphan boys' home at the Abbe's charity school. And that was not like a happy real home, for the little Brothers were rough and rude and far from loving one another. He had started at dusk from the school, hoping to be at the village church before curfew. For Pierre had a sweet little voice, and he was to earn a few pennies by singing in the choir on Christmas morning. But it was growing late. The church would be closed and the Cure gone home before Pierre could reach it; and then what should he do?

The snow whirled faster and faster, and Pierre's legs found it harder and harder to move themselves through the great drifts. They seemed heavy and numb, and he was growing oh, so tired! If he could but lie down to sleep until Christmas Day! But he knew that he must not do that. For those who choose this kind of soft and tempting bed turn into ice-people, and do not wake up in the morning. So he bent his head and tried to plough on through the drifts.

Whish! A soft white thing flapped through the snow and struck Pierre in the face, so that he staggered and almost lost his balance. The next moment he had caught the thing as it fell and was holding it tenderly in his numb hands. It was a beautiful dove, white as the snow from which it seemed to come. It had been whirled about by the storm until it had lost strength to fly, and it now lay quite still, with closed eyes. Pierre stroked the ruffled feathers gently and blew upon its cold body, trying to bring it back to life.

"Poor bird!" he said softly. "You are lost in the snow, like me. I will try to keep you warm, though I am myself a cold little body." He put the bird under his jacket, holding it close to his heart. Presently the dove opened its eyes and stirred feebly, giving a faint "Coo!"

"I wish I had something for you to eat, poor bird," said Pierre, forgetting his own cold and hunger. "If I could but take you into my own house and feed you as I used to feed the birds upon Christmas Eve! But now I have no home myself, and I can scarcely keep you warm."

Pierre shivered and tried to move forward. But the storm seemed to grow even fiercer, and the wind blew so keenly in his face that he could scarcely stand. "I cannot go another step," he said, and down he sank in the snow, which began to cover him with a downy blanket, pretending to be a careful mother. He hugged the bird closer and began to feel afraid. He knew that he was in great danger. "Dear Dove," he whispered, "I am sorry that I cannot save you. We shall turn into ice-images together. But I will keep you warm as long as I can." Then he closed his eyes, for he was very sleepy.

In a little while something made Pierre open his eyes. At first he could see only the whirling snow, which seemed to be everywhere. But presently he found that some one was bending over him, with face close to his; some one chubby and rosy and young,—a child like himself, but more beautiful than any child whom Pierre had ever seen. He stared hard at the face which seemed to smile at him through the snow, not minding the cold.

"You have my dove inside your coat," said the Child, pointing. "I lost her in the storm. Give her to me."

Pierre held his coat the closer. "She was cold," he answered. "She was dying in the snow. I am trying to keep her warm."

"But she is warm when she is with me, though I have no coat to wrap her in," said the Child. And, indeed, he was clad only in a little shirt, with his rosy legs quite bare. Yet he looked not cold. A brightness glowed about him, and his breath seemed to warm the air. Pierre saw that, though it was still snowing beyond them, there were no whirling flakes between him and the Child.

The little Stranger held out his hand once more. "Please give me the dove," he begged. "I must hasten on my way to the village yonder. The dove strayed from my bosom and was lost. You found her here, far from the road. Thank you, little boy. Are you often so kind to poor lost birds!"

"Why, they are the Lord's own birds!" cried little Pierre. "How should one not be kind and love them dearly? On the Lord's birthday eve, too! It is little that I could do for this one,—I who have saved and fed so many on other Christmas Eves. Alas, I wish I was back in those good old days of the wheat-sheaf and the full pan of milk and the bright warm fire!" Pierre's eyes filled with tears.

"What! Did you set a sheaf of wheat for the birds on Christmas Eve?" asked the Child, drawing closer and bending kindly eyes upon Pierre.

Now the boy saw that where the Stranger stood the snow had melted all away, so that they were inclosed in a little space like a downy nest, which seemed almost warm to his limbs.

"Yes, I set out a wheat-sheaf," said Pierre simply. "Why not? I love all the little creatures whom our Lord Himself so dearly loved, and to whom He bade us be kind. On Christmas Eve especially I always tried to make happy those which He sent in my way,—poor little wanderers as well as our own friends at home."

The Child drew yet closer and sat down in the snow beside Pierre. His beautiful eyes shone like stars, and his voice was like sweet music. "What," he said, "you are the boy who stood in the doorway with a pan of bread and milk,—part of your own supper,—and called the hungry kitten to feast? You are the same who tossed a bone to the limping dog and made him a bed in the stable? You stroked the noses of the ox and the ass and said gentle things to them, because they were the first friends of the little Jesus? You set the sheaf of wheat for the snow-birds, and they lighted upon your hands and shoulders and kissed your lips in gratitude? You are that boy, friend of God's friends. No wonder that my white dove flew to you out of the storm. She knew, she knew!"

The Child bent near and kissed Pierre on the cheeks, so that they grew rosy, and the warm blood went tingling through his little cold limbs. Sitting up, he said: "Yes, I am that boy who last year was so happy because he could do these pleasant things. But how do you know, little Stranger? How did you see?"

"Oh, I know, I saw!" cried the Child, gleefully clapping his hands as a child will. "I was there. I passed through the village last Christmas Eve, and I saw it all. But tell me now, how do you come here, dear boy? Why are you not in that happy home this stormy night, once more making the Lord's creatures happy?"

Pierre told all to the Child: how his dear father and mother had died and left him alone in the world; how the home had been sold, and now he lived in the charity school kept by the good Abbe; how he had learned of the chance to earn a few pennies by singing on Christmas Day in the neighboring village church, which lacked a voice among the choir-boys; how he was on his way thither when the storm had hidden the road, and he had grown so cold, so cold!

"Then your dove came to me, little Stranger," Pierre concluded. "She came, and I folded her in my jacket to keep her warm. But, do you know, it must be that she has kept me warm. Although I could walk no further, I am not cold at all, nor frightened, and no longer hungry. Sit close to me, little Stranger. You shall share my jacket, too, and we will all three warm one another."

The Child laughed again, a low, soft, silvery laugh, like a happy brook slipping over the pebbles. "I am not cold," he said. "I cannot stay with you. I must go yonder." And he pointed through the snow.

"Whither, oh, whither?" cried Pierre eagerly. "Let me go with you. I am lost; but if you know the way we can go together, hand in hand."

The Child shook his head. "Not so," he said. "I do not follow the path, and your feet would stumble. I shall find a way without sinking in the snow. I must go alone. But there is a better way for you. I leave my dove with you: she will keep you warm until help comes. Farewell, friend of the Lord's friends." Stooping the Child kissed Pierre once more, upon the forehead. Then, before the boy saw how he went, he had vanished from the little nest of snow, without leaving a footprint behind.

Now the dove, clasped close to Pierre's heart, seemed to warm him like a little fire within; and the Child's kiss on his forehead made him so happy, but withal so drowsy, that he smiled as he closed his eyes once more repeating, "'Until help comes.' 'There is a better way' for me."


On the side of the mountain, away from the village street, perched the little hut of Grandfather Viaud. And here, on Christmas Eve, sat the old man and his wife, looking very sad and lonely. For there was no sound of childish laughter in the little hut, no patter of small feet, no whispering of Christmas secrets. The little Viauds had long since grown up and flown away to build nests of their own in far-off countries. Poor Josef Viaud and old Bettine were quite alone this Christmas Eve, save for the Saint Bernard who was stretched out before the fire, covering half the floor with his huge bulk, like a furry rug. He was the very Prince of dogs, as his name betokened, and he was very good to Grandfather and Grandmother, who loved him dearly. But on Christmas Eve even the littlest cottage, crowded with the biggest tenants, seems lonely unless there are children in the corners.

The Viauds sat silently gazing into the fire, with scarcely a word for each other, scarcely a caress for faithful Prince. Indeed, the great dog himself seemed to know that something was lacking, and every once in a while would lift his head and whine wistfully.

In each of the two small windows burned a row of candles, flickering in the draught that blew down the great chimney and swept through the little chamber. And these, with the crackling blaze upon the hearth, sent queer shadows quivering up the smoky walls.

Grandfather Viaud looked over his shoulder as a great gust blew the ashes into the room. "Hey!" he cried. "I almost fancied the shadow of one looking in at the window. Ha, ha! What foolishness! Eh! but it is a fearsome storm. Pray the good Lord that there may be no poor creatures wandering on the mountain this night."

"The Lord's birthday, too!" said Grandmother Bettine. "The dear little Child has a cold way to come. Even He might become confused and be driven to wander by such a whirl of snow. I am glad that we set the tapers there, Josef, even though we be so far from the village street down which they say He passes. How pleasant to think that one might give light to His blessed feet if they were wandering from the way,—the dear little Child's feet, so rosy and soft and tender!" And good Grandmother Viaud dropped a tear upon her knitting; for she remembered many such little feet that had once pattered about the cottage floor. Prince lifted his head and seemed to listen, then whined as he had done before.

"You are lonely, old fellow, are you not?" quavered old Josef. "You are waiting for the children to come back and make it merry, as it used to be in the old days when you were a pup. Heigho! Those were pleasant days, but they will never come again, Prince. We are all growing old, we three together."

"Ah, peace, Josef, peace!" cried old Bettine, wiping her eyes again. "It is lonely enough and sad enough, God knows, without speaking of it. What use to sigh for that which cannot be? If the good Lord wished us to have a comforter in our old age, doubtless He would send us one. He knows how we have longed and prayed that a child's feet might echo through our house once more: how we have hoped from year to year that one of the grandchildren might return to bless us with his little presence." At this moment Prince jumped to his feet with a low bark, and stood trembling, with pointed ears.

"What dost thou hear, old dog?" asked the Grandfather carelessly. "There is naught human abroad this night, I warrant you. All wise folk are hugging the fire like us. Only those bad spirits of Christmas Eve are howling about for mischief, they say. Best keep away from the door, old Prince, lest they nip your toes or bite your nose for spite."

"Hush!" cried the Grandmother, laying her hand upon his arm. "You forget: there is the Other One abroad. It may be that He—"

She was interrupted by Prince, who ran eagerly to the door and began sniffing at the latch in great excitement. Then he gave a long, low howl. At the same moment the latch rattled, and the Viauds distinctly heard a little voice cry, "Open, open, good people!"

The old couple looked at each other; the cheeks of one flushed, and the other's paled. At the same moment they rose stiffly from their chairs by the fire. But Grandmother Bettine was first at the door. She lifted the latch, the door blew open violently, and with a loud bark Prince dashed out into the storm.

"What is it? Who is there?" cried Josef Viaud, peering over his wife's shoulder. But no one answered save the rough storm, which fiercely blew into the faces of the old couple, whirling and screaming about their heads. "H'm! It was only a fancy," muttered the old man. "Come in, Mother. Come, Prince!" and he whistled out into the storm. But the wind whistled too, drowning his voice, and Prince did not return. "He is gone!" cried Josef impatiently. "It is some evil spirit's work."

"Nay, Father!" and, as she spoke, the door banged violently in Josef's face, as if to emphasize the good wife's rebuke. "It was a little child; I heard it," insisted Bettine, as they staggered back to the fire and sank weakly into their chairs. "Perhaps it was the Holy Child Himself, who knows? But why would He not enter? Why, Josef! Oh, I fear we were not good enough!"

"I only know that we have perhaps lost our good dog. Why did you open the door, Bettine?" grumbled Josef sleepily.

"Prince is not lost. For what was he bred a snow-dog upon the mountains if a storm like this be danger to him? He is of the race that rescues, that finds and is never lost. Mayhap the Holy Child had work for him this night. Ah, the Little One! If I could but have seen Him for one moment!" And good Bettine's head nodded drowsily on her chair-back. Presently the old couple were fast asleep.

Now when they had been dreaming strange things for some time, there came a scratching at the door, and a loud bark which woke them suddenly.

"What was that?" exclaimed Grandfather, starting nervously. "Ho, Prince! Are you without there?" and he ran to the door, while Grandmother was still rubbing from her eyes the happy dream which had made them moist,—the dream of a rosy, radiant Child who was to be the care and comfort of a lonely cottage. And then, before she had fairly wakened from the dream, Prince bounded into the room and laid before the fire at her feet a soft, snow-wrapped bundle, from which hung a pale little face with golden hair.

"It is the Child of my dream!" cried Bettine. "The Holy One has come back to us."

"Nay, this is no dream-child, mother. This is a little human fellow, nearly frozen to death," exclaimed Josef Viaud, pulling the bundle toward the fire. "Come, Bettine, let us take off his snow-stiff clothes and get some little garments from the chests yonder. I will give him a draught of something warm, and rub the life into his poor little hands and feet. We have both been dreaming, it seems. But certainly this is no dream!"

"Look! The dove!" cried Grandmother, taking the bird from the child's bosom, where it still nestled, warm and warming. "Josef! I believe it is indeed the Holy Child Himself," she whispered. "He bears a dove in his bosom, like the image in the Church." But even as she spoke the dove fluttered in her fingers, then, with a gentle "Coo-roo!" whirled once about the little chamber and darted out at the door, which they had forgotten quite to close. With that the child opened his eyes.

"The dove is gone!" he cried. "Yet I am warm. Why—has the little Stranger come once more?" Then he saw the kind old faces bent over him, and felt Prince's warm kisses on his hands and cheeks, with the fire flickering pleasantly beyond.

"It is like coming home again!" he murmured, and with his head on Bettine's shoulder dropped comfortably to sleep.

On the morrow all the village went to see the image of the Christ Child lying in a manger near the high altar of the church. It was a sweet little Child in a white shirt, clasping in his hands a dove. They believed him to have come in the stormy night down the village street. And they were glad that their pious candles in the windows had guided Him safely on the road. But little Pierre, while he sang in the choir, and his adopted parents, the Viauds, kneeling happily below, had sweet thoughts of a dream which had brought them all together.

Who knows but that Prince at home happily guarding Pierre's snow-wet old shoes—who knows but that Prince was dreaming the happiest dream of all? For only Prince knew how and where and under what guidance he had found the little friend of the Lord's friends sleeping in the snow, with but a white dove in his bosom to keep him from becoming a boy of ice.



In a certain city dwelt Martin Avdyeeich, the cobbler. He lived in a cellar, a wretched little hole with a single window. The window looked up towards the street, and through it Martin could just see the passers-by. It is true that he could see little more than their boots, but Martin Avdyeeich could read a man's character by his boots, so he needed no more. Martin Avdyeeich had lived long in that one place, and had many acquaintances. Few indeed were the boots in that neighborhood which had not passed through his hands at some time or other. On some he would fasten new soles, to others he would give side-pieces, others again he would stitch all round, and even give them new uppers if need be. And often he saw his own handiwork through the window. There was always lots of work for him, for Avdyeeich's hand was cunning and his leather good; nor did he overcharge, and he always kept his word. He always engaged to do a job by a fixed time if he could; but if he could not, he said so at once, and deceived no man. So every one knew Avdyeeich, and he had no lack of work. Avdyeeich had always been a pretty good man, but as he grew old he began to think more about his soul, and draw nearer to his God. While Martin was still a journeyman his wife had died; but his wife had left him a little boy—three years old. Their other children had not lived. All the eldest had died early. Martin wished at first to send his little child into the country to his sister, but afterwards he thought better of it. "My Kapitoshka," thought he, "will feel miserable in a strange household. He shall stay here with me." And so Avdyeeich left his master, and took to living in lodgings alone with his little son. But God did not give Avdyeeich happiness in his children. No sooner had the little one begun to grow up and be a help and a joy to his father's heart, than a sickness fell upon Kapitoshka, the little one took to his bed, lay there in a raging fever for a week, and then died. Martin buried his son in despair—so desperate was he that he began to murmur against God. Such disgust of life overcame him that he more than once begged God that he might die; and he reproached God for taking not him, an old man, but his darling, his only son, instead. And after that Avdyeeich left off going to church.

And lo! one day, there came to Avdyeeich from the Troitsa Monastery, an aged peasant-pilgrim—it was already the eighth year of his pilgrimage. Avdyeeich fell a-talking with him and began to complain of his great sorrow. "As for living any longer, thou man of God," said he, "I desire it not. Would only that I might die! That is my sole prayer to God. I am now a man who has no hope."

And the old man said to him: "Thy speech, Martin, is not good. How shall we judge the doings of God? God's judgments are not our thoughts. God willed that thy son shouldst die, but that thou shouldst live. Therefore 'twas the best thing both for him and for thee. It is because thou wouldst fain have lived for thy own delight that thou dost now despair."

"But what then is a man to live for?" asked Avdyeeich.

And the old man answered: "For God, Martin! He gave thee life, and for Him therefore must thou live. When thou dost begin to live for Him, thou wilt grieve about nothing more, and all things will come easy to thee."

Martin was silent for a moment, and then he said: "And how must one live for God?"

"Christ hath shown us the way. Thou knowest thy letters. Buy the Gospels and read; there thou wilt find out how to live for God. There everything is explained."

These words made the heart of Avdyeeich burn within him, and he went the same day and bought for himself a New Testament printed in very large type, and began to read.

Avdyeeich set out with the determination to read it only on holidays; but as he read, it did his heart so much good that he took to reading it every day. And the second time he read until all the kerosene in the lamp had burnt itself out, and for all that he could not tear himself away from the book. And so it was every evening. And the more he read, the more clearly he understood what God wanted of him, and how it behooved him to live for God; and his heart grew lighter and lighter continually. Formerly, whenever he lay down to sleep he would only sigh and groan, and think of nothing but Kapitoshka, but now he would only say to himself: "Glory to Thee! Glory to Thee, O Lord! Thy will be done!"

Henceforth the whole life of Avdyeeich was changed. Formerly, whenever he had a holiday, he would go to the tavern to drink tea, nor would he say no to a drop of brandy now and again. He would tipple with his comrades, and though not actually drunk, would, for all that, leave the inn a bit merry, babbling nonsense and talking loudly and censoriously. He had done with all that now. His life became quiet and joyful. With the morning light he sat down to his work, worked out his time, then took down his lamp from the hook, placed it on the table, took down his book from the shelf, bent over it, and sat him down to read. And the more he read the more he understood, and his heart grew brighter and happier.

It happened once that Martin was up reading till very late. He was reading St. Luke's Gospel. He was reading the sixth chapter, and as he read he came to the words: "And to him that smiteth thee on the one cheek, offer also the other." This passage he read several times, and presently he came to that place where the Lord says: "And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to Me, and heareth My sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like. He is like a man which built an house, and dug deep, and laid the foundations on a rock. And when the flood arose, the storm beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth, against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great."

Avdyeeich read these words through and through, and his heart was glad. He took off his glasses, laid them on the book, rested his elbow on the table, and fell a-thinking. And he began to measure his own life by these words. And he thought to himself, "Is my house built on the rock or on the sand? How good to be as on a rock! How easy it all seems to thee sitting alone here. It seems as if thou wert doing God's will to the full, and so thou takest no heed and fallest away again. And yet thou wouldst go on striving, for so it is good for thee. O Lord, help me!" Thus thought he, and would have laid him down, but it was a grief to tear himself away from the book. And so he began reading the seventh chapter. He read all about the Centurion, he read all about the Widow's Son, he read all about the answer to the disciples of St. John; and so he came to that place where the rich Pharisee invites our Lord to be his guest. And he read all about how the woman who was a sinner anointed His feet and washed them with her tears, and how He justified her. And so he came at last to the forty-fourth verse, and there he read these words, "And He turned to the woman and said to Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest Me no water for My feet; but she has washed My feet with tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest Me no kiss, but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss My feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint."

And again Avdyeeich took off his glasses, and laid them on the book, and fell a-thinking.

"So it is quite plain that I too have something of the Pharisee about me. Am I not always thinking of myself? Am I not always thinking of drinking tea, and keeping myself as warm and cozy as possible, without thinking at all about the guest? Simon thought about himself, but did not give the slightest thought to his guest. But who was the guest? The Lord Himself. And suppose He were to come to me, should I treat Him as the Pharisee did?"

And Avdyeeich leaned both his elbows on the table and, without perceiving it, fell a-dozing.

"Martin!"—it was as though the voice of some one close to his ear.

Martin started up from his nap. "Who's there?"

He turned round, he gazed at the door, but there was no one. Again he dozed off. Suddenly he heard quite plainly, "Martin, Martin, I say! Look to-morrow into the street. I am coming."

Martin awoke, rose from his chair, and began to rub his eyes. And he did not know himself whether he had heard these words asleep or awake. He turned down the lamp and laid him down to rest.

At dawn next day, Avdyeeich arose, prayed to God, lit his stove, got ready his gruel and cabbage soup, filled his samovar, put on his apron, and sat him down by his window to work. There Avdyeeich sits and works, and thinks of nothing but the things of yesternight. His thoughts were divided. He thought at one time that he must have gone off dozing, and then again he thought he really must have heard that voice. It might have been so, thought he.

Martin sits at the window and looks as much at his window as at his work, and whenever a strange pair of boots passes by he bends forward and looks out of the window, so as to see the face as well as the feet of the passers-by. The house porter passed by in new felt boots, the water-carrier passed by, and after that there passed close to the window an old soldier, one of Nicholas's veterans, in tattered old boots, with a shovel in his hands. Avdyeeich knew him by his boots. The old fellow was called Stepanuich, and lived with the neighboring shopkeeper, who harbored him of his charity. His duty was to help the porter. Stepanuich stopped before Avdyeeich's window to sweep away the snow. Avdyeeich cast a glance at him, and then went on working as before.

"I'm not growing sager as I grow older," thought Avdyeeich, with some self-contempt. "I make up my mind that Christ is coming to me, and lo! 'tis only Stepanuich clearing away the snow. Thou simpleton, thou! thou art wool-gathering!" Then Avdyeeich made ten more stitches, and then he stretched his head once more towards the window. He looked through the window again, and there he saw that Stepanuich had placed the shovel against the wall, and was warming himself and taking breath a bit.

"The old man is very much broken," thought Avdyeeich to himself. "It is quite plain that he has scarcely strength enough to scrape away the snow. Suppose I make him drink a little tea! the samovar, too, is just on the boil." Avdyeeich put down his awl, got up, placed the samovar on the table, put some tea in it, and tapped on the window with his fingers. Stepanuich turned round and came to the window. Avdyeeich beckoned to him, and then went and opened the door.

"Come in and warm yourself a bit," cried he. "You're a bit chilled, eh?"

"Christ requite you! Yes, and all my bones ache too," said Stepanuich. Stepanuich came in, shook off the snow, and began to wipe his feet so as not to soil the floor, but he tottered sadly.

"Don't trouble about wiping your feet. I'll rub it off myself. It's all in the day's work. Come in and sit down," said Avdyeeich. "Here, take a cup of tea."

And Avdyeeich filled two cups, and gave one to his guest, and he poured his own tea out into the saucer and began to blow it.

Stepanuich drank his cup, turned it upside down, put a gnawed crust on the top of it, and said, "Thank you." But it was quite plain that he wanted to be asked to have some more.

"Have a drop more. Do!" said Avdyeeich, and poured out fresh cups for his guest and himself, and as Avdyeeich drank his cup, he could not help glancing at the window from time to time.

"Dost thou expect any one?" asked his guest.

"Do I expect any one? Well, honestly, I hardly know. I am expecting and I am not expecting, and there's a word which has burnt itself right into my heart. Whether it was a vision or no, I know not. Look now, my brother! I was reading yesterday about our little Father Christ, how He suffered, how He came on earth. Hast thou heard of Him, eh?"

"I have heard, I have heard," replied Stepanuich, "but we poor ignorant ones know not our letters."

"Anyhow, I was reading about this very thing—how He came down upon earth. I was reading how He went to the Pharisee, and how the Pharisee did not meet Him half-way. That was what I was reading about yesternight, little brother mine. I read that very thing, and bethought me how the Honorable did not receive our little Father Christ honorably. But suppose, I thought, if He came to one like me—would I receive Him? Simon at any rate did not receive Him at all. Thus I thought, and so thinking, fell asleep. I fell asleep, I say, little brother mine, and I heard my name called. I started up. A voice was whispering at my very ear. 'Look out to-morrow!' it said, 'I am coming.' And so it befell twice. Now look! wouldst thou believe it? the idea stuck to me—I scold myself for my folly, and yet I look for Him, our little Father Christ!"

Stepanuich shook his head and said nothing, but he drank his cup dry and put it aside. Then Avdyeeich took up the cup and filled it again.

"Drink some more. 'Twill do thee good. Now it seems to me that when our little Father went about on earth, He despised no one, but sought unto the simple folk most of all. He was always among the simple folk. Those disciples of His too, He chose most of them from amongst our brother-laborers, sinners like unto us. He that exalteth himself, He says, shall be abased, and he that abaseth himself shall be exalted. Ye, says He, call me Lord, and I, says He, wash your feet. He who would be the first among you, He says, let him become the servant of all. And therefore it is that He says, Blessed are the lowly, the peacemakers, the humble, and the long-suffering."

Stepanuich forgot his tea. He was an old man, soft-hearted, and tearful. He sat and listened, and the tears rolled down his cheeks.

"Come, drink a little more," said Avdyeeich. But Stepanuich crossed himself, expressed his thanks, pushed away his cup, and got up.

"I thank thee, Martin Avdyeeich. I have fared well at thy hands, and thou hast refreshed me both in body and soul."

"Thou wilt show me a kindness by coming again. I am so glad to have a guest," said Avdyeeich. Stepanuich departed, and Martin poured out the last drop of tea, drank it, washed up, and again sat down by the window to work—he had some back-stitching to do. He stitched and stitched, and now and then cast glances at the window—he was looking for Christ, and could think of nothing but Him and His works. And the divers sayings of Christ were in his head all the time.

Two soldiers passed by, one in regimental boots, the other in boots of his own making; after that, the owner of the next house passed by in nicely brushed goloshes. A baker with a basket also passed by. All these passed by in turn, and then there came alongside the window a woman in worsted stockings and rustic shoes, and as she was passing by she stopped short in front of the partition wall. Avdyeeich looked up at her from his window, and he saw that the woman was a stranger and poorly clad, and that she had a little child with her. She was leaning up against the wall with her back to the wind, and tried to wrap the child up, but she had nothing to wrap it up with. The woman wore summer clothes, and thin enough they were. And from out of his corner Avdyeeich heard the child crying and the woman trying to comfort it, but she could not. Then Avdyeeich got up, went out of the door and on to the steps, and cried, "My good woman! My good woman!"

The woman heard him and turned round. "Why dost thou stand out in the cold there with the child? Come inside! In the warm room thou wilt be better able to tend him. This way!"

The woman was amazed. What she saw was an old fellow in an apron and with glasses on his nose calling to her. She came towards him. They went down the steps together—they went into the room. The old man led the woman to the bed. "There," said he, "sit down, gossip, nearer to the stove, and warm and feed thy little one...."

He went to the table, got some bread and a dish, opened the oven door, put some cabbage soup into the dish, took out a pot of gruel, but it was not quite ready, so he put some cabbage soup only into the dish, and placed it on the table. Then he fetched bread, took down the cloth from the hook, and spread it on the table.

"Sit down and have something to eat, gossip," said he, "and I will sit down a little with the youngster. I have had children of my own, and know how to manage them." The woman crossed herself, sat down at the table, and began to eat, and Avdyeeich sat down on the bed with the child. Avdyeeich smacked his lips at him again and again, but his lack of teeth made it a clumsy joke at best. And all the time the child never left off shrieking. Then Avdyeeich hit upon the idea of shaking his finger at him, so he snapped his fingers up and down, backwards and forwards, right in front of the child's mouth. He did not put his finger into its mouth, because his finger was black and sticky with cobbler's wax. And the child stared at the finger and was silent, and presently it began to laugh. And Avdyeeich was delighted. But the woman went on eating, and told him who she was and whence she came.

"I am a soldier's wife," she said: "my eight months' husband they drove right away from me, and nothing has been heard of him since. I took a cook's place till I became a mother. They could not keep me and the child. It is now three months since I have been drifting about without any fixed resting-place. I have eaten away my all. I wanted to be a wet-nurse, but people wouldn't have me: 'Thou art too thin,' they said. I have just been to the merchant's wife where our grandmother lives, and there they promised to take me in. I thought it was all right, but she told me to come again in a week. But she lives a long way off. I am chilled to death, and he is quite tired out. But God be praised! our landlady has compassion on us, and gives us shelter for Christ's sake. But for that I don't know how we could live through it all."

Avdyeeich sighed, and said, "And have you no warm clothes?"

"Ah, kind friend! this is indeed warm-clothes time, but yesterday I pawned away my last shawl for two grivenki."

The woman went to the bed and took up the child, but Avdyeeich stood up, went to the wall cupboard, rummaged about a bit, and then brought back with him an old jacket.

"Look!" said he, "'tis a shabby thing, 'tis true, but it will do to wrap up in."

The woman looked at the old jacket, then she gazed at the old man, and, taking the jacket, fell a-weeping. Avdyeeich also turned away, crept under the bed, drew out a trunk and seemed to be very busy about it, whereupon he again sat down opposite the woman.

Then the woman said: "Christ requite thee, dear little father! It is plain that it was He who sent me by thy window. When I first came out it was warm, and now it has turned very cold. And He it was, little father, who made thee look out of the window and have compassion on wretched me."

Avdyeeich smiled slightly, and said: "Yes, He must have done it, for I looked not out of the window in vain, dear gossip!"

And Avdyeeich told his dream to the soldier's wife also, and how he had heard a voice promising that the Lord should come to him that day.

"All things are possible," said the woman. Then she rose up, put on the jacket, wrapped it round her little one, and then began to curtsey and thank Avdyeeich once more.

"Take this for Christ's sake," said Avdyeeich, giving her a two-grivenka piece, "and redeem your shawl." The woman crossed herself, Avdyeeich crossed himself, and then he led the woman to the door.

The woman went away. Avdyeeich ate up the remainder of the cabbage soup, washed up, and again sat down to work. He worked on and on, but he did not forget the window, and whenever the window was darkened he immediately looked up to see who was passing. Acquaintances passed, strangers passed, but there was no one in particular.

But now Avdyeeich sees how, right in front of his window, an old woman, a huckster, has taken her stand. She carries a basket of apples. Not many now remained; she had evidently sold them nearly all. Across her shoulder she carried a sack full of shavings. She must have picked them up near some new building, and was taking them home with her. It was plain that the sack was straining her shoulder. She wanted to shift it on to the other shoulder, so she rested the sack on the pavement, placed the apple-basket on a small post, and set about shaking down the shavings in the sack. Now while she was shaking down the sack, an urchin in a ragged cap suddenly turned up, goodness knows from whence, grabbed at one of the apples in the basket, and would have made off with it, but the wary old woman turned quickly round and gripped the youth by the sleeve. The lad fought and tried to tear himself loose, but the old woman seized him with both hands, knocked his hat off, and tugged hard at his hair. The lad howled, and the old woman reviled him. Avdyeeich did not stop to put away his awl, but pitched it on the floor, rushed into the courtyard, and in his haste stumbled on the steps and dropped his glasses. Avdyeeich ran out into the street. The old woman was tugging at the lad's hair and wanted to drag him off to the police, while the boy fought and kicked.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse