"Are you ready to keep the thanksgiving day as the King would like you to?" he asked.
The little girl looked up in the messenger's face in surprise.
"No, I am not ready," she said, "but this child is. I am bringing him because he is lame, and because he is hungry. Will you take him?" she asked.
"Yes," said the messenger, "and you, too. There is room at the King's table for both."
THE GRAY HARE
A gray hare lived during the winter near a village. When night came, he would prick up one ear and listen, then he would prick up the other, jerk his whiskers, snuff, and sit up on his hind legs.
Then he would give one leap, two leaps, through the snow, and sit up again on his hind legs and look all around.
On all sides nothing was to be seen except snow. The snow lay in billows and glittered like silver. Above the hare was frosty vapor, and through this vapor glistened the big white stars.
The hare was obliged to make a long circuit across the highway to reach his favorite granary. On the highway he could hear the creaking of the sledges, the whinnying of horses, the groaning of the seats in the sledges.
Once more the hare paused near the road. The peasants were walking alongside of their sledges, with their coat collars turned up. Their faces were scarcely visible. Their beards, their eyebrows were white. Steam came from their mouths and noses.
Their horses were covered with sweat, and the sweat grew white with hoar frost. The horses strained on their collars, plunged into the hollows, and came up out of them again. Two old men were walking side by side, and one was telling the other how a horse had been stolen from him.
As soon as the teams had passed, the hare crossed the road, and leaped unconcernedly toward the threshing-floor. A little dog belonging to the teams caught sight of the hare and began to bark, and darted after him.
The hare made for the threshing-floor across the snowdrifts. But the depth of the snow impeded the hare, and even the dog, after a dozen leaps, sank deep in the snow and gave up the chase.
The hare also stopped, sat on his hind legs, and then proceeded at his leisure toward the threshing-floor.
On the way across the field he fell in with two other hares. They were nibbling and playing. The gray hare joined his mates, helped them clear away the icy snow, ate a few seeds of winter wheat, and then went on his way.
In the village it was all quiet; the fires were out; the only sound on the street was a baby crying in a cottage, and the framework of the houses creaking under the frost.
The hare hastened to the threshing-floor, and there he found some of his mates. He played with them on the well-swept floor, ate some oats from the tub on which they had already begun, mounted the snow-covered roof into the granary, and then went through the hedge toward his hole.
In the east the dawn was already beginning to redden, the stars dwindled, and the frosty vapor grew thicker over the face of the earth. In the neighboring village the women woke up and went out after water; the peasants began carrying fodder from the granaries; the children were shouting. Along the highway more and more teams passed by, and the peasants talked in louder tones.
The hare leaped across the road, went to his old hole, selected a place a little higher up, dug away the snow, curled into the depths of his new hole, stretched his ears along his back, and went to sleep with his eyes wide open.
THE SNOW IMAGE
One afternoon of a cold winter's day, two children asked leave of their mother to run out and play in the new-fallen snow. The older child was a little girl, so tender and modest that every one called her Violet. The boy was called Peony because of his fat, round face which made everybody think of sunshine and scarlet flowers.
The children lived in the city and had no wider play place than a little garden before the house, divided from the street by a white fence. The pear and plum trees, and the rose bushes in front of the parlor window were covered with white, with here and there an icicle for the fruit. It was a pleasant place to play. Their mother bundled them up in woolen jackets and wadded sacks, and a pair of striped gaiters on each little pair of legs, and worsted mittens on their hands. Out they ran, with a hop-skip-and-jump, into the heart of a huge snowdrift. When they had frosted one another all over with handfuls of snow, Violet had a new idea.
"Let us make an image out of snow," she said. "It shall be our little sister and shall run about and play with us all winter long!"
"Oh, yes!" cried Peony. "And mother shall see it."
"Yes," Violet answered. "Mother shall see the new little girl. But she must not make her come into the warm parlor, for our little snow sister will not love the warmth."
So the children began this great business of making a snow image that should run about. Violet told Peony what to do, while with her own careful fingers she shaped all the nicer parts of the snow figure. It seemed, in fact, not so much to be made by the children as to grow up under their hands as they were playing and talking about it. Their mother, who was sitting at the window, watched them. The longer she looked, the more and more surprised she grew.
"What remarkable children mine are!" she said to herself. "What other children could have made anything so like a little girl's figure out of snow at the first trial?"
"Peony, Peony!" cried Violet to her brother, "bring me some of that fresh snow from the farthest corner where we have not been trampling. I want to make our little snow sister's dress with it. You know it must be white, just as it came out of the sky."
"Here it is, Violet!" Peony said as he came floundering through the drifts. "Here is the snow for her dress. Oh, Violet, how beautiful she begins to look!"
"Yes," Violet said thoughtfully and quietly, "our snow sister does look very lovely. I did not know, Peony, that we could make such a sweet little girl as this. Now bring me those light wreaths of snow from the lower branches of the pear tree. You can climb up on a snowdrift and reach them. I must have them to make some curls for our little snow sister's head."
"Here they are, Violet," answered the little boy. "Take care you do not break them. Oh, how pretty!"
"We must have some shining little bits of ice to make the brightness of her eyes. She is not finished yet," Violet went on.
"Here they are," cried Peony. "Mother, mother! Look out and see what a nice little girl we have made!"
Their mother put down her work for an instant and looked out of the window. She was dazzled by the sun that had sunk almost to the edge of the world so she could not see the garden very distinctly. Still, through all the brightness of the sun and the snow, she saw a strange, small white figure in the garden. Peony was bringing fresh snow, and Violet was moulding it as a sculptor adds clay to his model.
"They do everything better than other children," their mother thought. "No wonder they make better snow images."
She sat down again to her work, and Violet and Peony talked about what a nice playmate their little snow sister would be for them all winter. Suddenly Violet called out joyfully:
"Look, Peony! Come quickly! A light has been shining on her cheek from that rose-colored cloud, and the color does not go away."
"And look, Violet!" Peony answered. "Oh, look at her hair! It is all like gold."
"Oh, of course," Violet said. "That color, you know, comes from the golden clouds. She is almost finished now. But her lips must be very red. Let us kiss them, Peony!"
Just then there came a breeze of the pure west wind blowing through the garden. It sounded so wintry cold that the mother was about to tap on the window pane to call the children in, when they both cried out to her with one voice:
"Mother, mother! We have finished our little snow sister and she is running about the garden with us!"
"They make me almost as much of a child as they," the mother said. "I can almost believe now that the snow image has really come to life." She went to the door and looked all over the garden. There was no gleam or dazzle now on it and she could see very well. What do you think she saw there?
Why, if you will believe me, there was a small figure of a girl dressed all in white, with rosy cheeks and golden curls, playing with Violet and Peony. She was none of the neighboring children. Not one had so sweet a face. Her dress fluttered in the breeze; she danced about in tiny white slippers. She was like a flying snowdrift.
"Who is this child?" the mother asked. "Does she live near us?"
Violet laughed that her mother could not understand so clear a matter. "This is our little snow sister," she said, "whom we have just been making."
At that instant a flock of snowbirds came flitting through the air. As was very natural, they avoided Violet and Peony. But—and this looked strange—they flew at once to the white-robed child, lighted on her shoulder, and seemed to claim her as their friend.
The little snow image was as glad to see these birds, old Winter's grandchildren, as they were to see her, and she welcomed them by holding out both of her hands. They tried to all alight on her ten small fingers and thumbs, crowding one another with a great fluttering of wings. One snowbird nestled close to her heart and another put its bill to her lips.
Just then the garden gate was thrown open and the children's father came in. A fur cap was drawn down over his ears and the thickest of gloves covered his hands. He had been working all day and was glad to get home. He smiled as he saw the children and their mother. His heart was tender, but his head was as hard and impenetrable as one of the iron pots that he sold in his hardware shop. At once, though, he perceived the little white stranger, playing in the garden, like a dancing snow wraith with the flock of snowbirds fluttering around her head.
"What little girl is that," he asked, "out in such bitter weather in a flimsy white gown and those thin slippers?"
"I don't know," the mother said. "The children say she is nothing but a snow image that they have been making this afternoon."
As she said this, the mother glanced toward the spot where the children's snow image had been made. There was no trace of it—no piled-up heap of snow—nothing save the prints of little footsteps around a vacant space!
"Nonsense!" said the father in his kind, matter-of-fact way. "This little stranger must be brought in out of the snow. We will take her into the parlor, and you shall give her a supper of warm bread and milk and make her as comfortable as you can."
But Violet and Peony seized their father by the hand.
"No," they cried. "This is our little snow girl, and she needs the cold west wind to breathe."
Their mother spoke, too. "There is something very strange about this," she said. "Could it be a miracle come to the children through their faith in their play?"
The father laughed. "You are as much a child as Violet and Peony," he said. Then he reached out his hand to draw the snow child into the house.
As he approached the snowbirds took to flight. He followed the snow child into a corner where she could not possibly escape. It was wonderful how she gleamed and sparkled and seemed to shed a glow all around her. She glistened like a star, or like an icicle in the moonlight.
"Come, you odd little thing," cried the honest man, seizing the snow child by her hand. "I have caught you at last and will make you comfortable in spite of yourself. We will put a nice new pair of stockings on your feet and you shall have a warm shawl to wrap yourself in. Your poor little nose, I am afraid, is frost bitten. But we will make it all right. Come along in."
So he led the snow child toward the house. She followed him, drooping and reluctant. All the glow and sparkle were gone from her.
"After all," said the mother, "she does look as if she were made of snow."
A puff of the west wind blew against the snow child; she sparkled again like a star.
"That is because she is half frozen, poor little thing!" said the father. "Here we are where it is warm!"
Sad and drooping looked the little white maiden as she stood on the hearth rug. The heat of the stove struck her like a pestilence. She looked wistfully toward the windows and caught a glimpse, through its red curtains, of the snow-covered roofs, the frosty stars and the delicious intensity of the cold night.
The mother had gone in search of the shawl and stockings, and Violet and Peony looked with terror at their little snow sister.
"I am going to find her parents," said the father, but he had scarcely reached the gate when he heard the children scream. He saw their mother's white face at the window.
"There is no need of going for the child's parents," she said.
There was no trace of the little white maiden, unless it were a heap of snow which, while they were gazing at it, melted quite away upon the hearth rug.
"What a quantity of snow the children brought in on their feet," their father said at last. "It has made quite a puddle here before the stove."
The stove, through the isinglass of its door, seemed to grin like a red-eyed demon at the mischief which it had done, for the story of the snow image is one of those rare cases where common sense finds itself at fault.
THE FIRE THAT WOULD NOT BURN
There was great trouble in the white castle that stood at the top of the hill. The huge fire that had burned in the castle kitchen for years had suddenly gone out, and no one seemed to be able to light it again.
It was deep winter outside. The hill was white with snow, and the fountains in the castle garden looked like tall ladies dressed in white cloaks. From all the castle turrets there hung long icicles, and inside the castle, where the walls and the floor were made all of stone, it was so cold that every one was blowing on his fingers and saying that something must be done at once about starting the fire in the kitchen.
It had been the warmest and the most useful fire in the castle, always bright and glowing and cheerful. It made the big kettle sing, and it cooked the food, and painted pictures in the fireplace for the little Prince, who always sat in front of it before he went to bed. Some said that the fire needed a special kind of fuel to keep it burning, and others said that it had gone out because it was such a hard, cold winter. Still others said that the castle folk were quarreling so over matters of state that they made the castle too cold for any fire to burn. The King blew the bellows, and the Queen wrapped up the little Prince in a fur coat, and the Cook piled on more logs, but still the fire would not burn.
"Go down the hill road," the King at last commanded the Court Messenger, "and wherever you see a bright fire burning in one of the houses, go inside and ask for some coals to bring back to the castle. It may be that we can light our fire in this way."
So the Messenger, with a great iron lantern for holding the coals, started out in the bitter cold.
"A light for the castle fire!" he called as he went. "Who will give me some coals with which to light the castle fire?"
As the Messenger went on his way, a great many people heard him and they all wanted to have a share in lighting the fire at the castle. Some thought that to do this would bring them riches.
"Here are glowing coals for you," said Gerald, whose father kept the forest; "and tell the King that we want as many gold pieces as there are lumps of coal in return, and some extra ones if he will add them."
So the Messenger put Gerald's red coals with the tongs inside his lantern, and he started back to the castle. He had gone only a few steps, though, when he saw that the coals had turned cold and gray, so he had to throw them beside the road and search farther.
A bright light shone from the fire in Gilda's house. Gilda's father was one of the King's guards and when she heard the Messenger's call, "A light for the castle fire!" she opened the door and asked him to come in.
"Fill your lantern with our coals," Gilda said, "and they will surely light the fire in the castle. Tell the King, though, that in return for the coals he must make my father Captain of the guards."
The Messenger took the coals and started back to the castle. He had gone but a little way, though, when he saw that the coals from Gilda's fire were no longer burning but had turned to gray ashes. So he emptied them out in the snow and went on down the hill. But his search was a hard one. So few of the coals that he was given would burn, and so few people wanted to give them freely.
At last he came to a tiny house on a bleak side of the hill. The wind blew down through the old chimney, and the frost had crept in through the cracks in the wall. The door opened at once when he knocked, though, and inside he found a little girl, stirring porridge over a small fire.
"A light for the castle fire?" she repeated when the Messenger had told her what he wanted. "You may have as many coals as you like, although we have few large ones. I am my father's housewife and I tend this small fire so that the kitchen may be comfortable for him when he comes home from work. I am cooking his supper, too," she said. "But do you sit down and warm yourself, and have a bowl of warm supper before you start out in the cold again. Then you may have half of our fire if the King needs it."
The Messenger did as the little girl bade him, and then he lifted one small, bright coal from the fire, and put it in his lantern.
"It will never burn all the way back to the castle," he said to himself, but with each step the coal grew brighter. It cast pink shadows on the snow as if the spring were sending wild roses up through the ground. It made the dark road in front of the Messenger as bright as if the sun were shining, and it warmed him like the summer time. When he came to the castle, the coal still burned and glowed. As soon as he touched it to the gray logs in the fireplace they burst into flames, and the castle fire was kindled again.
They wondered why the new fire made the kettle sing so much more sweetly than it had ever sung before, and warmed the hearts of the castle folk so that they forgot to quarrel. At last, when they talked it over with the Messenger, they decided that it was because love had come from the cottage with the coal, and was kindled and burning now in the castle fire.
THE CHILD WHO SAW SANTA CLAUS
There was, once upon a time, a child who wanted very much to see Santa Claus; just as every other child has always wanted to see him.
So the Child listened at the chimney for Santa Claus, and watched for him when sleighs flew by over the snowy streets, and wanted to touch his rosy cheeks and his red cloak trimmed with white fur.
"I am old enough now to see Santa Claus," the Child said. That was quite true, because he was seven years old. "Show him to me, mother," he begged.
"Oh, I cannot do that," the Child's mother said. "I can tell you about Santa Claus but I cannot show you his face."
"May I go out and look for Santa Claus, myself, then?" the Child asked. "This is the day before Christmas and if I do not see him to-day, you know I shall have to wait a whole year."
"Yes, you may go out and look for Santa Claus," the Child's mother said, and she brought him his warm coat and cap and his red mittens; "but do not go too far away from home, for Santa Claus stays very close to the homes where there are children on Christmas Eve," she added.
So the Child started out. He was very sure that he would know Santa Claus when he saw him. Ever since he was a very little boy he had seen pictures of Santa Claus. He would be a jolly, fat little old man with twinkling eyes and a nose like a cherry. He would wear a long red cloak and, perhaps, he would be in his toy shop making toys, of which he would give the child a great many. Or he would be driving his sleigh full of toys through the city, and the Child would know that he was coming by the tinkling sound of his silver bells.
At the gate the Child met his grandfather. He was a very old man with white hair and spectacles. But he could play horse as well as the Child, and all the Child's nicest toys, the stone blocks, and the train with tracks, and all the rest, his grandfather had given him. Now, his grandfather's arms were full of fat, mysterious parcels. One parcel bulged as if it were a toy fire engine, and another parcel bulged as if it were a baseball mask, and a ball, and gloves.
"Where are you going?" the Child's grandfather asked.
"I am going to see Santa Claus," the Child answered.
The grandfather smiled until his blue eyes shone. "Will you know Santa Claus when you see him?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," the Child said. "Santa Claus is an old man with white hair, and twinkling eyes, and a nose like a cherry—" but the Child suddenly stopped.
"Oho!" his grandfather laughed, and the Child listened in surprise. He had never heard such a merry laugh before. His grandfather rubbed his nose that the cold had painted as red as a cherry. Then his grandfather was gone, and the Child went on, wondering.
The streets were full of people, their arms crowded with big white parcels tied with red ribbon. Some of them carried great green wreaths and bunches of holly. There were so many grocery teams, and toy shop teams, and flower shop teams that the Child was afraid to cross the street. He went part of the way across. Then he saw the horses coming, and he did not know which way to go. He might have been hurt, but a kind hand took hold of his and helped him safely across the street. He looked up at the man, who wore a long red cloak trimmed with white.
"Who are you?" the Child asked.
"One of the Christmas helpers," the man said. "I stand here at the street corner and ring a Christmas bell, and people who pass by give me money for my poor ones. And where are you going?" he asked the Child.
"I am going to see Santa Claus," the Child answered.
"Will you know Santa Claus when you see him?" the man asked.
"Oh, yes," the Child said. "Santa Claus wears a long red cloak trimmed with white—" But then the Child stopped.
The man pulled his red cloak about him. It was very cold and he had no fire. Then he took his place at the street corner again. The Child watched him and then went on, wondering.
A little farther on, there was an old man, sitting in a shop, and making toys. Once he had been a soldier, but now he was able to do nothing but sit at his work bench carving, and gluing, and painting playthings for children. The Child went in and watched him work. There were wooly lambs that would bleat, and toy horses with harnesses on the shelves of the toy shop. There were dolls with blue eyes, and dolls with brown eyes, and dolls that could talk, and dolls that could walk, all waiting there for Christmas Eve. The toyman, himself, was fitting wheels on wooden carts and wheelbarrows, and as he worked he sang a quaint little tune with these words,
"A little green tree, From a far white hill, Made a Christmas tree, By my merry skill—"
Then the toyman, who used to be a soldier, turned to the Child who was just going out of the shop. "Where are you going?" the toyman asked the Child.
"I am going to see Santa Claus," the Child answered.
"Will you know Santa Claus when you see him?" the toyman asked.
"Oh, yes," the Child said. "Santa Claus will be making toys—" but he did not say any more, for the toyman got down from his bench and put a box of quaintly carved little wooden animals in the Child's happy hands. It was a good gift, for each animal was different, and it had taken the toyman many evenings to cut them out.
"Merry Christmas to you from Santa Claus!" said the toyman, as the Child thanked him and went on, wondering.
Now it was Christmas Eve, and so the Child started home. The lights from the Christmas candles shining from many windows made a bright path for him, and he felt very happy indeed. He knew how pleasant it would be at home. The Christmas tree would be set up, waiting for the gifts that each one was going to give the others. There would be a fire of new logs in the fireplace, and holly wreaths at the windows, and he would hang up his stocking. The Child felt as glad as if Santa Claus were walking home by his side through the snowy street, but he thought, just before he reached home,
"I wish that I could hear Santa Claus' bells!"
Then the Child stopped, and listened. He heard, coming toward him on the frosty air, the sound of many silver-toned bells. The Christmas star had shone out in the sky as soon as the sun set. Now the church bells were ringing, some near and some far, to welcome the Holy Child of Christmas Eve. Their chiming was as wonderful as the sound of the strings of silver bells on Santa Claus' sleigh.
"I shall know Santa Claus by the sound of his bells," the Child repeated to himself.
Then he came home, and his mother was very glad to have him back.
"Did you see Santa Claus?" she asked.
"Oh, yes!" the Child answered, for he was quite sure about it now. "I saw him when I met grandfather, and I saw him standing in a red cloak at the street corner and helping the poor. I saw him in the toyman's shop, and I heard his bells ringing just now. I saw Santa Claus everywhere," the Child said.
And so may every child see Santa Claus, wherever love and goodness are at the blessed Christmas time.
THE CHRISTMAS GARDEN
None of the children in the village would play with Christopher because he was the child of Beggar Mother of the Goeinge Forest.
The Forest was deep, full of brown, leafless oaks and green fir trees, with the wind singing shrill tunes in their branches. In the darkest part was a thick mountain wall, and in the wall there was an old door made of rough boards. The village children, gathering cones in the Forest, had peeped through this door when Christopher had left it open a crack.
"Christopher's home is nothing but a cave with stones for the floor!" the children whispered.
"Beggar Mother stirs a pot that hangs over a fire of logs!" they said.
"Christopher and his little brothers and sisters wear skins for clothing. They sleep, like wolves, on beds of pine and moss!" they said, too, and then they ran away when they saw Christopher coming out.
He was as roughly dressed as one of the baby bears whom he knew in the Goeinge Forest and for whom he gathered wild honey; or as shy as one of the little red foxes that had no home save a hollow tree. All his life he had been hungry, and starved, and scorned. But Christopher was known by all of the Forest as loving and gentle and unselfish.
Beggar Mother neither baked nor brewed, but when she went her way down to the village from door to door with all her little ones clinging to her skirts, the villagers would sometimes give her six brown loaves, one for each of her children.
Then Christopher would creep out of the cave and break his bread to give some crumbs to the starlings, the finches, and the baby squirrels. He knew where the wild strawberries grew, and he gathered them for his mother. He pulled grass and leaves for the wild hares. He had once lifted Mother Fox from her trap and sent her back to her babies. He brought spring water from the rocks for the flowers, and never frightened the owls or caught the butterflies.
But the Goeinge Forest was cold and asleep now, for it was Christmas time.
Christopher knew that it was now Christmas Eve for he had been to the village and looked in the doors. Lighted candles were being set in the windows. Great pieces of bread and meat were being placed on the tables, and bunches of grain thick with seeds were hung in the gardens to be a Christmas feast for the birds.
But when the villagers saw Christopher from the cave in the Forest looking in their doors, they slammed them shut, for they knew him only as the child of Beggar Mother. They had no room for him on Christmas Eve.
So Christopher walked alone and he came, through the snow, to the little church on the edge of the Goeinge Forest. Brother Anselmo tended the church. He had arranged the little creche, which was like the stable where the Holy Child lay on the first Christmas Eve. There was the manger, the gilt star suspended over it, and the toy cattle that Brother Anselmo had carved from wood with his own hands. He had trimmed the church with greens. Now, Brother Anselmo was ready to ring the bell, but he had not the strength. He was a very old man and the bell was heavy. The rope was stiff with ice, and snow blinded him in the belfry.
Christopher knew Brother Anselmo very well. In the summer he helped him tend his garden of herbs, and in the winter he brought him fagots. With his bare feet Christopher climbed up to the belfry. With his little hands he pulled with all his might at the frozen bell rope. Then the bell rang out more sweetly than ever before to tell the village and the Forest that it was Christmas Eve.
But a strange thing happened. As Christopher rang the Christmas bell once, the trees in the Forest covered themselves with green leaves, and the ground was no longer bare, but bright with flowers. A flock of starlings flew to the top of a fir tree and stopped there, singing. Their feathers glittered with gold and red like jewels, for they were Paradise starlings.
Christopher rang the bell a second time, and the baby squirrels began playing among the mosses. There was the smell of newly plowed fields. The tinkle of sheep and cow bells could be heard, and the pine and spruce trees covered themselves with red cones, like kings in crimson mantles.
When Christopher rang the bell a third time, the wild strawberries began covering the ground, red and ripe. Butterflies as large as lilies flew through the air, and a bee-hive in a hollow oak dripped with golden honey. A light like that of noon time in summer streamed down. The air was soft and warm, and white doves flew through the Forest singing.
The villagers saw the wonder and they came, running, to the Forest. The Christmas bell was ringing, but winter was gone. The Forest had blossomed more beautifully than they had ever known it to in summer.
"What has brought this wonder?" they asked. Then they saw Christopher coming home. Wherever he walked the ground glowed with more flowers, and the birds and butterflies lighted on his shoulders, and hands, and there seemed to be music coming down from the sky.
The whole Goeinge Forest was a Christmas garden for Christopher whom they had turned away from their doors. They understood that, now, because the next morning the Forest was again white with snow and asleep for the winter.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE IN THE BARN
Billy and Betty had the beautiful plan about having a Christmas tree in the barn. They were spending the winter with father and mother on Uncle William's big farm, and they loved every one of the barn creatures very much indeed.
There were the hens who gave them such fine fresh eggs, and Shep, the dog, who kept the lambs safe on the hill in the summer time. There was Bessie, Uncle William's horse, who took them for picnic rides and to church. There was Peter, the barn cat, who kept the mice away from the vegetables and grain that was stored in the barn.
"They are all so kind to us, and they ought to have a Christmas, Billy," Betty said.
"We will go right out in the woods and cut them a Christmas tree," Billy said.
They found a little spruce tree that was so small they could cut it easily, and they dragged it to the barn on their sled. Uncle William gave them a green wooden pail that they filled with sand to hold the animals' Christmas tree, and they stood it in the middle of the barn floor. It was such fun trimming it!
Betty picked bright red berries in the woods and fastened them with pins to the ends of the branches, and Billy made some little scarlet wreaths to hang on them. He strung cranberries on some fine wire and fastened it in a circle to make these wreaths. Then they cut snowflakes from white paper and fastened them to the twigs, just as if they had fallen there from the sky.
But hanging the animals' Christmas presents on their tree was the most fun of all.
Betty cut some little Christmas stockings from tarlatan, seamed them with red worsted, and filled them with yellow corn for the hens. She tied lumps of sugar with red ribbon and hung apples on, too, for Bessie. Shep had two juicy marrow bones tied with big red bows, but neither Billy nor Betty could decide what Peter, the barn cat, would like for a Christmas present. There did not seem to be anything that Peter really needed, for he had two collars, and three balls, and all the milk he could drink.
They had not decided what to give Peter on Christmas morning, and it seemed too bad, for when Billy and Betty went out to the barn each creature seemed to be enjoying the tree very much. The hens were clucking, Bessie was neighing, and Shep was walking round and round the tree, smelling of his bones. And there sat Peter, right under the tree, and looking up into its green branches.
"Poor Peter!" Betty said, "with no Christmas present."
But just then Peter jumped right up into the Christmas tree in the barn and came down with a little gray mouse in his mouth! The mouse had been nibbling the corn in the Christmas stockings, but Peter thought it was his Christmas gift. So the tree was quite perfect, and all the barn enjoyed it very much indeed.
THE RESCUE OF OLD GLORY
When mother was making plans for a "safe and sane Fourth," Uncle Henry said, "Why not take the children to the park and have a kite party? I'll help them make the kites."
The next morning Harry and Anna were busy out on the piazza with Uncle Henry. By ten o'clock three handsome white kites were drying in a row. Anna called them the "Big Bear, the Middle-Sized Bear, and the Baby Bear."
When the kites were dry, the whole family started for the park—Uncle Henry with the Big Bear and a box of luncheon, Harry with the Middle-Sized Bear, and Anna, of course, with the Baby Bear. Mother carried some sewing and grandmother carried the surprise, something that Uncle Henry had brought home in a flat box. When they reached the park, they found a French society holding a picnic. A tent was up, the band was playing, the older boys were shooting at a target, and the little boys and girls were flying red and blue balloons.
Uncle Henry said, "Ladies first, always," and he soon had the Baby Bear in the air, and the string in Anna's hands. He drove the bobbin into the ground, to make sure that the kite would not get away. Harry insisted upon putting his kite up alone. Then Uncle Henry put up the Big Bear, and when it was up some distance, he asked grandmother to open the box. Then he shook out a red-white-and-blue silk American flag, and the crowd cheered.
Uncle Henry tied the flag to a loop of string, and fastened it to the Big Bear's string. Then he let it out, hand over hand. Up, up, went Old Glory, and snapped in the breeze. The higher it went, the farther out the kite soared, until it hung over the harbor. They were all so busy watching it that they had not seen that the picnic people below were pointing up to the flag; but when the band struck up the Star-Spangled Banner, and the foreign people began to sing, Uncle Henry noticed one dark-skinned boy who sang with a strange accent and great energy, and who kept his big, solemn eyes on the flag that glowed against the sky. But when the boy, whose name was Caspar, saw the others looking at him, he ran down the hill and hid behind the children.
"Any one who can sing the Star-Spangled Banner like that is a good American," said Uncle Henry, as he drove his bobbin into the ground, and prepared to open the box of luncheon.
When the foreigners went in to dinner, Caspar did not follow. He took his sandwiches, frosted cake, and ice-cream, and sat down on the grass, where he could look at the flag.
There was not a child in the whole park who loved the Stars and Stripes as little Caspar did, not even the two American children; for in his own country Caspar had lived in a mission house, where they had told him all about America, and how the Stars and Stripes protected the people, even the poorest of little children. They told him that he must never harm the flag, or allow it to be trampled on. After he came to America, his teacher had taught him to salute the flag.
He had heard the flag song on the big ship, and he felt that it was Old Glory that had brought him safe to one of his own country-women in America, with whom he lived.
Caspar was thinking of all this as he lay on the grass, and saw the flag fluttering in the light wind. He had watched it for some time, when he saw it give a quick little shiver, then begin to sink slowly, and then faster. He looked to the end of the line, and saw that the great white kite was dipping about in a strange manner; then he looked up to the hill and saw the kite man leaping down the slope as fast as he could. The American children were running behind him.
Caspar trembled with excitement. What would happen to the flag? Would it get trampled upon, or would it go out to sea and get wet and spoiled? Oh, he must help them get Old Glory! He ran until he was directly beneath the flag; then he stretched his arms high to catch it if it fell. But a strong breeze came up, and carried the Big Bear over the water, and pulled the flag with it. Caspar ran on to the water's edge.
Caspar did not know what to do next. There were no people on the shore, and no boats were near. The flag had not been trampled on, but it might fall in the water any minute. Where were the people? Did they know that a great calamity was about to happen, to everybody in the park, to everybody in America, perhaps to the mission ladies who had been so good to him? How could the people sit about, eating and drinking, when there was such trouble in the world? He cried out to Uncle Henry and the children, who were now quite near, strange and broken words, and he tried to tell them that he could not swim.
"Good boy, swim for it! You'll get it!" shouted Uncle Henry.
Caspar understood the word "swim," but not the rest. He thought the kite man must be telling him that he could not swim, either. He looked out to the flag; it was surely going into the water; it flapped and dipped, then dipped deeper still, right into the water. Caspar did not wait another minute. Off went his jacket, and with a wild look toward the shore, he ran into the water. His feet slipped on the sandy bottom, and the kite jerked up, then down, then up—but it was always just out of reach.
They watched the boy, who was trying hard to keep the flag in sight.
"Hurry, hurry, Uncle Henry, he can't swim a stroke!" shouted Harry.
Uncle Henry was just in time; Caspar had a firm hold on Old Glory, and came up tangled in its folds.
After Uncle Henry had shaken the water out of the boy, he sat him on his shoulder, where everybody could see him. "Now, one, two, three!" he said, as he waved his free arm. "All cheer for the boy who would not let the flag be lost even if he couldn't swim! Hoo-ray!"
"Hoo-ray! hoo-ray! hoo-ray!" they said; and then they cheered all over again, and crowded round Uncle Henry and Caspar until the pair started home to put on dry clothes.
When little Caspar went home that night, he carried the flag that he had saved. Grandmother had washed and dried it, and it looked as good as new.
THE LOG CABIN BOY
How would you like to have begun life in a little log cabin set in the midst of a western wilderness? Suppose, too, that the cabin had no window and so many cracks that it let in the winter winds and even the snow!
That was how little Abe first saw life a long time ago, in February of 1809. It was rough life for a small boy. Even his mother had to know how to shoot, for the cabin was in the woods where wild beasts and Indians surrounded it. There was nothing to eat except what Abe's father raised or hunted. They had nothing to wear except the cloth his mother spun and wove, or the skins of animals.
By the time little Abe was six years old, though, he had learned more than a boy of that age to-day. He could fish and hunt. He was not afraid of Indians. He could catch hold of a sycamore tree on the edge of the brook outside the cabin, and swing himself way across the brook.
But little Abe's father was not satisfied with his boy's knowing only how to live an outdoor life. He could not read himself, but it was his great longing that little Abe should have this knowledge.
It was when Abe was seven years old and his sister, Sarah, a year younger, that their father spoke about this.
"I want the children to learn to read," he said. "There is a man in a shanty down the road who knows how. He can't write, but he could teach Abe and Sarah their letters."
So the two little folks started off, Abe in a linsey-woolsey suit, buckskin breeches, and a coonskin cap. It was a long walk, and the children had only hoe cake to carry for their dinner, but they were strong and sturdy. They were clever, too. In a few weeks, Abe knew as much as the school-master. Then he began to wish, oh, so much, that he had some books to read at home in the cabin.
There was a Bible at home, an old catechism, and a spelling book. Abe read these over and over again in the dim candle light of the cabin. One day his father surprised him. He brought him a new book. It was Pilgrim's Progress, the most wonderful story, little Abe thought, that he had ever read. It was only a borrowed book; books cost a very great deal of money in those long-ago days, more than Mr. Lincoln could pay. He was able to borrow more, though. Little Abe read AEsop's fables, and he liked them so much that he learned the stories by heart. He could tell the fable of the Hare and the Tortoise, the Crow and the Pitcher, and many others.
It made Abe so happy to have these books that he made up his mind to try to do something, in return, to surprise his father. It was spring of the year and Abe and his father were plowing, turning up the soft brown earth, ready for the new seeds. Mr. Lincoln missed his boy. He looked back, and what do you think he saw? Abe had spelled with a stick, in the soft brown earth, his own name. His father had not known that he could write, but there were the letters as plainly outlined as if they had been in a copy book: ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
He had taught himself to write by practising in the snow, and making letters on the logs of the cabin walls with pieces of charcoal.
A great deal began to happen now to Abraham, although he was only eight years old. His father decided to travel a hundred miles from Kentucky to a new farm in Indiana to see if he might not be a little more prosperous. There were no railroads. There was not even a stage route. They packed their bedding on two horses and set out on the journey overland. It took seven days, sleeping on the ground under the stars at night. And when they reached the new home, there was not even a shelter waiting for them. A road had been cut through the forests, but all the clearing was yet to be done.
Abraham had an axe of his own and he went to work with it. He was a true pioneer boy, and not one bit afraid of work. He cut poles while his father laid the foundations of the new cabin. They were only able to put up a "half-faced" camp at first, with three sides and one side open. And it was hard work. The great, unhewn logs had to be all notched and fitted together, and the cracks filled in with clay. They made a loft, and fitted in a door and a window. Abraham learned how to make a table and some stools. Then, after the bitter winter was over, the spring brought them more comfort and happiness. The corn and vegetables they planted came up, and Abraham had a little time to read again.
He had a new book, now, that a neighbor had let him take. It was the story of a boy who had, also, in his little boy days, an axe like Abraham's; but he had used it to cut down his father's cherry tree. When he had grown to be a man, though, he was our Great American. Abraham took this book, the Life of George Washington, to bed with him and read it when the snow was sifting in through the cabin roof and over his quilt. He read the book many times.
"What are you going to be when you grow up?" the neighbor asked Abraham.
"I am going to be the President of the United States," the boy replied.
Every one thought this a very good joke, for Abraham was growing up now. He had legs that were too long for his body and it was the same way with his arms. He was almost six feet tall although he was not yet fifteen years old. His head, set on top of his long neck, looked almost out of place. People laughed when they compared him with other Presidents of the United States.
Abraham kept his thought in his mind, though, and he went on working, and reading when he had time in the fire light of the long winter evenings. As he threshed, and chopped, and plowed, he could not help dreaming a little. All his life he had worked hard for others, and he really liked this kind of work more than any other. He wanted to go on helping others, only in a greater, broader way.
We all know what happened to Abraham Lincoln. His dream came true. He was our noblest President and carried on his broad shoulders the burdens of the slaves. It was a long road from the little log cabin in Kentucky to the White House at Washington, but President Lincoln, himself, tells us how he made the journey.
He was visiting, once, a hospital full of wounded soldiers. There were several thousand of them, and each one of them loved Mr. Lincoln so that he wanted to shake hands with him. He took and held the hand of each. It was enough to cripple an ordinary man, but Mr. Lincoln's kind, plain face was smiling when some one asked if he were tired.
"Oh, no," he said. "The hardships of my boyhood made me strong."
Very likely, too, it was the struggles of learning to write on bare boards and in the earth that helped Abraham Lincoln to write his name in letters of gold on our history pages.
The flag had been in the family for years, and years, and years. Great-grandfather Wolcott had carried it, and Grandfather Wolcott had hung it on a pole in front of his farm house. Father Wolcott had taken it to Boston to be mended when he was a young man, and it hung in front of Billy and Betty Wolcott's piazza now every day. Father took the flag in at night, and Billy and Betty folded it very carefully in the old creases, and mother put it out on the piazza the first thing in the morning.
The whole family was very proud indeed of the flag.
There was going to be a wonderful parade on Washington's Birthday. Every one in town was looking forward to seeing it. The Home Guard, the firemen, the policemen, the Old Veterans, the Red Cross, and the Boy Scouts would parade. There would be several brass bands, fifes and drums, and trumpets. Whoever had a flag would hang it as high as possible, and the beautiful stars and stripes of Old Glory floated from the town hall, and the school houses, and the churches.
The day before Washington's Birthday something happened at the Wolcotts' house. The telegraph office telephoned to say that father couldn't come home until the day after to-morrow. He was detained on business in Boston. All day it had rained. The flag was not out on the piazza, so it did not matter about that, but Billy and Betty were so sorry not to have father to go with them to the parade.
The morning of Washington's Birthday something else happened. Grandmother sent mother a letter asking if she would come over to Greendale and help her entertain the company; ever so many of the relatives were coming to spend the holiday with her, more than she expected.
So Betty held mother's coat for her, and Billy telephoned for a cab to take her down to the station.
"Be good children and don't disturb cook; she will be very busy to-day," mother said as she kissed Billy and Betty good-bye. It was not until she had gone that they thought of what had happened to them.
"We can't go to the parade," Betty said.
"Our flag isn't out!" Billy said.
"We must put it out ourselves then," Betty said, but that was not very easy to do.
The Wolcott flag was very large and very tender because it was so old. It had to be handled with great care, and Billy and Betty were not very big.
"We must hang it all ourselves because it is the flag of our country," Billy said. So they carried it out to the piazza, and unfolded it there very, very carefully.
"Now how are we going to get it up to the top of the piazza?" Betty asked.
There were three hooks on the edge of the piazza roof and three loops on the flag, but father could only just reach, standing on a chair, to put the loops on the hooks.
"The step ladder!" Billy said. "I'll climb up on that."
"And I'll reach the flag up to you on the broom!" Betty said.
So Billy and Betty, together, brought the step ladder and set it up on the piazza. Then Billy climbed up, and Betty reached up the flag on the broom so Billy could hook it into place. It was done at last. The wind took it, and the Stars and Stripes blew out over the lawn just as they should on Washington's Birthday.
"If we can't go to the parade, we can guard the flag here at home," Betty said. "Let's salute it, first."
So Billy and Betty saluted Old Glory, just as they had been taught to in school. Then Billy brought down his drum and stood on one side of the flag, and Betty tied her red muffler over her blue coat for a belt, and put on her white tam-o'-shanter cap, and stood on the other side of the flag, playing that she was Liberty.
"Listen; what's that!" said Billy and Betty just then.
Oh, there was a crash of bands and the shouts of people as they cheered. Down the street came the parade in khaki, and blue, and red. The line of march had been changed and it was going by Billy's and Betty's house. They all saw the flag, and the band played the Star Spangled Banner as they passed.
Suppose the flag hadn't been up! The Home Guard knew all about how old it was. The Old Veterans knew that great-grandfather had carried it, and grandfather had hung it on a pole in front of his farm house. They knew that father had taken it to Boston once to be mended.
The secret was that nobody knew who had put the Wolcotts' flag out for Washington's Birthday.
SAINT VALENTINE'S DAY
THE VALENTINE BOX
Roger had planned to send a great many valentines to the girls and boys he knew. There were beautiful valentines in the toy shop window, red satin hearts in little heart-shaped boxes, painted post card valentines, and little card-board figures holding baskets of flowers.
Roger had been saving his allowance for four weeks and he was quite sure that he had enough money to buy a valentine for the little girl next door, and one for the little girl across the street, and one for the boy on the next block, and one for the boy who lived upstairs.
So, quite early the day before Saint Valentine's Day, Roger decided to go out and buy his valentines.
Just as he was about to start, though, he heard a sound from the playroom. Peep, peep, peep. Oh, it was Roger's pet canary who was calling to him, "Wait a moment, little master! You have forgotten to feed me."
Roger knew that he must not buy valentines if his pet bird was hungry. He found that it needed fresh water to drink, and the cage needed cleaning too. When he had done all this and filled the seed box, his mother called him.
"I want two yards more of lace like this for the baby's dress, Roger. Will you please go down to the store and buy it for me?"
"Oh, yes!" Roger said, for he thought that he should be able to go on down to the toy store and buy his valentines at the same time. But just as he was going out of the door his mother spoke again. "Come right home, Roger, just as quickly as you can. I want to finish the baby's dress so that she can wear it this afternoon when I take her over to Aunt Lucy's."
Roger got the lace and hurried home with it, but he couldn't get the valentines then. He had to amuse the baby while his mother sewed on the lace.
"I can go for the valentines this afternoon," Roger thought. But right after luncheon mother dressed the baby and started out for Aunt Lucy's house.
"I may not be back until five o'clock, Roger," his mother said as she kissed him good-bye. "You won't leave dear grandmother alone a minute, will you?"
"No, mother," Roger said, but he could have cried, for he knew now that he could not buy his valentines at all.
Grandmother lost her spectacles several times, and dropped her knitting ball several more times, and wanted Roger to take her for a walk, so he was very busy all the afternoon. He was glad to be busy for he felt very badly indeed about having no valentines to send. All the children to whom he had planned to send valentines had sent valentines to him the year before. The children were his loved playmates and he knew that Saint Valentine's Day was the holiday for telling one's love.
He did not let his dear grandmother know how sorry he was, though, and after a while it was five o'clock, and his mother came home.
"Has Roger been a good boy?" she asked his grandmother.
"As good as gold," grandmother said. "He has just warmed my heart all the afternoon."
"Well, I thought he would," his mother said. "Oh, I almost forgot something, Roger. I have a surprise for you up in the attic."
She went up to the attic and came back with a box in her hand.
"I meant to give these to you this morning, Roger," she said. "I found them in an old trunk when I was cleaning the attic last week. They are just as good as new and much prettier than the ones in the shops now, I think. They are the valentines that I had when I was a little girl."
Oh, such beautiful valentines as filled the valentine box! There were enough so that Roger could take one to every child in the neighborhood on the morning of Saint Valentine's Day.
His mother had been right about these pretty, old-fashioned valentines. They were nicer than any in the toy shop. Roger spread them all out on the library table, and looked at them. Suddenly he found out something queer about the valentines; they made him feel as if he had been playing Saint Valentine all day.
Some of the valentines had cunning little paper windows that pulled out and showed tiny gold birds inside. They made Roger think of his pet canary that he had fed that morning.
Some of the valentines were bordered and trimmed with gilt, and silver, and white paper lace. It made Roger think of the lace he had bought for his mother.
A great many of the valentines were in the shape of hearts, or there were hearts hung from them, or hearts on them that could be pulled out and would stand alone. They made Roger think of what his dear grandmother had said,
"Roger has warmed my heart all the afternoon."
"Hurrah for the valentine box!" Roger said as he began putting valentines in envelopes. He felt most unusually happy.
THE PRINCE'S VALENTINE
Once upon a time there was a little Prince, and he wanted to give a valentine to a little Princess who lived in a neighboring kingdom. She was a very beautiful little Princess indeed, for her smile was as bright as her golden hair, and her love for her subjects was as deep as the blue of her eyes.
"What kind of a valentine shall I get for the Princess?" the Prince asked.
"A heart, your Highness; nothing but a heart will do!" said the Court Wise Man.
"A beautiful heart, your Highness; nothing but a beautiful heart will do!" said the Court Ladies.
"A priceless heart, your Highness; nothing but a priceless heart will do!" said the Court Chancellor.
So the Prince started out to get a heart valentine for the little Princess that would be both beautiful and beyond price, and he did not know where to find it.
Before long, though, he came to a jeweller's shop that was full of pretty, costly things to wear. There were pins, and bracelets, and necklaces made of silver and gold, and set with rubies, and sapphires, and emeralds, and diamonds.
"This is the place to find a valentine for the little Princess," thought the Prince, and he selected a diamond heart hung on a gold chain as thin as a thread for the little Princess to wear about her neck.
The Prince gave the jeweller his bag of gold and started out of the shop with the diamond heart in his hand. But he stopped at the door, looking at the heart. It was dull, and no longer shining. What was the matter with it, he wondered. Then he remembered. It was not the right valentine for the little Princess because it had been bought with his bag of gold. So the Prince gave the diamond heart back to the jeweller, and went on again.
After the Prince had gone quite a distance he came to a pastry shop. It was full of delicious things to eat, jam tarts, and little strawberry pies, thickly frosted cakes, and plum buns. In the window of the pastry shop was a huge cake baked in the shape of a heart. It was rich with sugar and spices, and the icing on the top was almost as thick as the cake itself.
"This is the place to find the valentine for the little Princess!" thought the Prince, and he pointed to the great heart cake in the window. "How much must I pay for that cake?" he asked of the pastry cook.
"Oh, you could not buy that cake!" the pastry cook replied. "I made it as a decoration for the shop for Valentine's Day. But I will give it to you, your Highness."
So the Prince thanked the pastry cook, and started out of the shop with the great cake in his arms.
"This must surely be the valentine for the little Princess, because I could not buy it," he thought.
Then the Prince almost dropped the cake. It had suddenly grown too heavy for him to carry. What was the matter with the rich, huge cake, he wondered. Then he remembered. It was not the right valentine for the little Princess because something rich to eat is not beautiful. So the Prince gave the cake back to the pastry cook, and went on again.
Now he went a long, long way, and he came to a bird seller beside the road. He had little gold birds, and bright-colored ones in green basket cages. They were all singing as if their throats would burst, but the Prince could hear one soft note above the others, because it was so clear and sweet. It was the cooing of a little dove who sat in her cage apart from the others. The Prince thought he had never seen such a beautiful little dove, as white as snow, and with rose red feet.
"Why does she sing so much more sweetly than the others?" the Prince asked, pointing to the little white dove.
The bird seller smiled.
"She sings because of her heart," he said. "The other birds sing in the sunshine, but look"—he held up the dove's cage, and the Prince saw that the little white dove had closed, blind eyes. "She sings in the dark because of her happy heart," the bird seller said.
"May I buy her," the Prince asked, "to give as a valentine to a little Princess?"
"Oh, I will give her to you," the bird seller said. "Very few people want to take care of a blind bird."
But the little Princess did. She liked the white dove better than any of her other valentines. She hung her cage in a pink rose tree in the sunniest part of the garden, and she often invited the Prince to sit with her under the tree and listen to the dove's sweet song.
WHY THE DOVE IS ON OUR VALENTINES
A long time ago when there were no white men in our country, but only Indians who lived in the forest, there was a timid little Indian boy.
All the other Indian lads loved the dark, so full of stars, and moonlight; but this boy was afraid of the dark and did not venture out of his father's wigwam after the sun had set. The other Indian lads hunted bears, and sailed the swift rapids in frail birch-bark canoes, and had no fear of anything that ran, or stalked, or flew. But the Indian boy about which this story is told was afraid of all the wild creatures of the forest. He never ventured far away from the safe circle of his home campfire. Most of all was the boy afraid of Hoots, the bear.
This was because Hoots was a part of the forest. He hid himself by day, for he was afraid of bows and swift flying arrows. But at night, the bear prowled near the Indian camp, and could be heard from one end of the forest to the other, his great feet crunching through the dried bushes and twigs.
In those days the Indians believed that a good spirit, called the manito, watched over them, and guided them, and kept them from harm. The story tells that the manito was walking one day through the trees of the forest when he saw this little Indian boy, hiding behind a pine tree and giving loud cries of terror.
"What is this that I hear?" asked the manito. "No Indian boy ever cries. Come forth that I may see who the coward is, and learn of what he is afraid."
So the boy came out from behind the pine tree and spoke to the manito,
"I have been sent with my bow and arrows to hunt for food for my mother to cook," he said, "but I can go no farther in the forest. I am afraid of Hoots, the great bear, who lives in it."
"You should be afraid of nothing, my son, not even of Hoots, the bear," warned the manito.
"But I can't help being afraid of Hoots; I think that he may eat me," said the boy, and at that he began crying again, "Boo-hoo, boo-hoo."
"There shall be no coward among the Indians," said the manito. "And I see that you will always be afraid. I shall change your form into that of a bird. Whenever any one looks at you, he will say, 'There is the bird that is the most timid of all.'"
As the manito finished speaking, the Indian boy's deerskin cloak fell to the ground; his bow and arrows dropped too, for he had no longer any hands with which to hold them. He was suddenly completely covered with a coat of soft gray feathers. His moccasins fell off, and his feet turned into the wee feet of a bird. He wanted to call his mother, but his voice had changed to the plaintive call of a dove, and the only sound he was able to make was, "Hoo, hoo!"
"You are now the dove," said the manito, "and you will be a dove as long as you live. Of all birds you will be the shyest. And every one who sees you and hears your call will know that you were once afraid of Hoots, the bear."
So, for years and years, the dove flew fearfully here and there, uttering his timid call, "Hoo, hoo." At last white men came, and were sorry for him, and built dove-cotes where he and all his family could be sheltered and live in peace. There seemed to be no work at first for the doves to do, but at last it was discovered that they could carry letters tied about their necks and hidden in their feathers. They flew quickly with them to escape danger.
That is why there are pictures of doves on our valentines. The doves grew brave enough to carry messages of love from one person to another, but they are always timid and keep the love that is in the valentine a secret from all except the person to whom it is sent.
MOLLY'S EASTER HEN
When Molly came in from the chicken house, she looked very sad.
"O dear me!" she sighed. "I'm so disappointed!"
"What is it, sunny girl?" asked mother.
"Red Top hasn't laid an egg, and to-morrow is Easter. I shut Red Top in all by herself, so I should know that it was her very own egg, and she hasn't laid any."
"But the other hens have. We shall have plenty of Easter eggs to color," said mother.
"But I was going to take one of Red Top's eggs to Auntie Brooke for Easter," said Molly, dismally.
"Wouldn't any other egg do?" asked mother.
"It wouldn't be half so nice," replied Molly. "Auntie Brooke gave me Red Top, and this is the first Easter since I had her. I told Auntie Brooke I was going to bring her one of Red Top's eggs for Easter."
"You shouldn't count on Easter eggs before they are laid," said her mother. "I am sure Auntie Brooke will understand if you take her another egg. You may color it pink, and I will let you have some gilding, so that you can mark her name on it. It will be a beautiful Easter egg."
Molly tried to smile. All day she kept going out to where Red Top was, to see whether the expected egg had been laid. That, and the work of coloring eggs for the family, kept her busy all the day. The pink eggs were beautifully colored, but she would not gild Auntie Brooke's name on one.
"I have a plan," she said. "I believe I'll have an Easter egg for Auntie Brooke, after all, mother."
On Easter morning Molly ran out into the hen-house before any one else was awake. After breakfast she slipped away; she carried a covered basket and walked very fast. First she went through the green lane that led from their house to the road, and then along the road until she came to Auntie Brooke's. The lane was all trimmed with beautiful spring flowers for Easter, and the trees beside the road were full of birds, all singing Easter songs.
She went through Auntie Brooke's squeaky gate and along the gravel path to the side door. An old lady with a sweet face sat out on the doorstep.
"Auntie Brooke," said Molly, a little out of breath, "I've brought you an Easter egg, only it isn't laid yet. You may keep Red Top until she lays it, and then you can give her back. You'll have to excuse there not being any pink on it and your name in gilt letters, but Red Top didn't lay it in time for that."
"Thank you, dear," said Auntie Brooke, trying not to laugh. "I'm sure I shall like it just as well as if it were pink with gold letters on it."
THE SONG OF THE SPRING
The King was very ill indeed and no one in all the court could find out what was his ailment or how to cure it. He had been the kindest, merriest king for miles about, always ready to help a poor subject or to stop and play with the children as he drove his chariot through the village. Now he never smiled and he seemed too weary to care what happened in the kingdom; so everything went at sixes and sevens and no one knew what to do about it.
"The King needs daintier food," said the Court Cook, so he served broiled peacock on toast, and pomegranates and cream, and wild honey, and cheese-cakes as light as feathers, and a sponge cake made with the eggs of a bantam hen. But the King would eat none of them.
"The King needs medicine," said the Court Physician, so he searched the countryside for growing things and he brewed rose-leaf tea, and he made a potion of everlasting flowers mixed with rosemary, and he distilled wild honeysuckle with dew gathered at sunrise, but the King would drink none of these.
"Perhaps music would divert the King," suggested the Court Wise Man. "It might make him forget whatever is troubling him." And as music was the only remedy for the King's most sorrowful illness that had not been tried, the Court Herald hastened through the streets, calling as loudly as he could:
"Music for the King! Music for the King! Riches and honor for whoever can play the prettiest tune and the one that will make his majesty forget his sorrow."
Immediately the palace was filled with music, some of it very beautiful and all of it played by very famous people. A sweet singer came with his lute and sang to the King of all the princesses and queens that had listened to his tunes. But at the end the King was still weak and sorrowful. A harpist from a far country came and played music that sounded like the mighty wind on high mountain tops and the rushing flow of great mountain streams. But the King only thanked the harpist and requested that he be paid for his pains and his journey and go back to his home. Later, there came a trumpeter who gave great battle calls on his trumpet, but the King covered his ears to shut out the sound and looked more sad than ever because the sound of the trumpet gave him a headache.
So it seemed as if not even music would make the King well, and no one knew what to do.
Gladheart was the little boy who tended sheep in the valley. He was the youngest of five brothers, and there was little room and less food for them in their father's house. But Gladheart had been given his name because he always smiled over a crust of bread, even when he was a baby. Now that he was a little lad of ten with a great flock of ewes and lambs to tend and drive through sun and storm, he had smiles and kind words for all, and he played his fiddle all day long until its sweet tunes filled the valley.
"I must go and play before the King," Gladheart said one day.
"They will only laugh at your small fiddle," said his brothers, but the eldest said he would tend the sheep for a day, and Gladheart set out for the palace.
"The King will have naught to do with a shepherd lad dressed in goatskin and bearing an old fiddle," the guards at the door said. But Gladheart touched the strings with the bow and such a blithe tune came forth that the guards opened the door, and Gladheart went inside to play before the King.
At first the sight of the King sitting so bent and sorrowful on the throne with a face as frowning and sad as a storm frightened Gladheart. But he took courage and stood as straight as he could in front of the throne, and began to play on the fiddle a tune that he had learned while he was in the fields with his sheep.
It was a lovable tune, like a dozen birds and a little wandering wind and the voice of a rippling brook all joined with the sounds of the little earth singers, the bees, the katydids, and the crickets. As the King listened, his bent shoulders straightened and his face became bright with smiles. He reached out his hands to Gladheart. "I heard that tune once before when I was a boy," he said. "It makes me well to hear it now. What is it about, lad?"
"It is about the spring, your majesty," said Gladheart. "It is the song that I learned from the fields when winter was over. If your majesty will come with me to my sheep pasture, you may hear it there every day."
No one could understand why the King was suddenly so well or why he went often to sit with Gladheart and the sheep, but they were all very happy over it. And they gave Gladheart the riches and the honor that they had promised whoever could heal their King.
THE EASTER STORY
It was late in the fall when Fuzzy Caterpillar gave up.
"I suppose this is the end of me," he thought in his little round head as he tried to wriggle across the road and couldn't because his back was so stiff. "Now I am an old man and I shall never see another summer. Good-bye." And Fuzzy Caterpillar rolled himself up in a gray blanket and hung himself on the end of a dried twig. "This is the last of me," he said once more as the dried little grub he now was rattled around in the cold.
All his beautiful furry coat was scattered to the winds. The path he had made in the dust grew narrower as it wound across the road. That was because Fuzzy Caterpillar had shrivelled as he crawled. Poor Fuzzy Caterpillar, who had so loved the Out-Doors!
The winter was white, and cold, and long. Then it was over, just as all winters are over at last, and Spring came. Spring came over the hills, in a pretty new green frock and with wild flowers in her hair. Sometimes she looked up at the sky, but oftener she looked down at the ground. Spring was looking for the little creatures that she loved so much; the tiny ants, the patient spiders, the cheerful beetles, and Fuzzy Caterpillar.
"Where is Fuzzy Caterpillar?" Spring wondered. She did not see him, all dried up and hanging in his gray blanket from the twig.
"Of course Fuzzy Caterpillar is here somewhere," Spring said to herself. "And wouldn't it be nice to celebrate the day he comes out with some kind of a surprise?" The more Spring thought about this, the happier she was, and the nicer she thought it would be. So she spoke to the grass about it.
"Long Green Grasses," called Spring, "I want to make Out-Doors pretty, and celebrate the day that Fuzzy Caterpillar comes out. Will you cover the ground for me?"
So the Long Green Grasses pushed their slender fingers up out of the earth and they covered the whole ground until it was bright and green again. But the Grasses looked everywhere, and they could not see Fuzzy Caterpillar.
Then Spring spoke to the trees.
"Patient Trees," called Spring, "I want to make Out-Doors pretty, and celebrate the day that Fuzzy Caterpillar comes out. Will you cover your branches with new green leaves?"
So the Patient Trees burst their hard brown buds, and they hung new green leaves upon every one of their branches. But the leaves looked everywhere, and they could not see Fuzzy Caterpillar. All they could see was a little rolled-up gray blanket hanging from a twig.
But Spring was not one bit discouraged, and she spoke to the Laughing Brook.
"Laughing Brook," called Spring, "I want to make Out-Doors pretty, and celebrate the day that Fuzzy Caterpillar comes out. Will you run between your banks again, and sing a song?"
So the Laughing Brook began dancing and tripping over its stones again, and singing as it ran between its banks. Sometimes, though, it stopped in a quiet pool, and it could not see Fuzzy Caterpillar anywhere along its edge.
But Spring, who is very wise, was not discouraged yet, and so she spoke to the flowers.
"Sleepy Roots," called Spring, "I want to make Out-Doors pretty, and celebrate the day that Fuzzy Caterpillar comes out. Will you grow and send up plants that will bud and bloom?"
So the Sleepy Roots did just as Spring had asked them. They awoke, and they sent up leaves and buds through the earth, and the buds blossomed. So there were crocuses in purple petticoats, and daffodils in bonnets with yellow ruffles. There were tulips, red, yellow, pink, and white. They filled all the gardens, making them beautiful. And the fields were golden in the sunshine because the dandelions had bloomed again. But the flowers could not see Fuzzy Caterpillar anywhere.
Then Spring stood on the top of the hill and she looked all over the wide Out-Doors. It was very, very pretty again, so she decided that the day had come when she would celebrate.
"This is Easter Day," said Spring.
"But where is Fuzzy Caterpillar?" whispered the Long Green Grasses.
"Where is Fuzzy Caterpillar?" rustled the New Green Leaves.
"Where is Fuzzy Caterpillar?" tinkled the Brook so sadly that it did not sound like singing.
"Where is Fuzzy Caterpillar?" the wind sighed as it blew through the flowers.
Just then a wonderful thing happened. As if it had floated down from the sky, a beautiful moth flew and lighted on the tip of Spring's finger. It had all the colors of Easter in its wings, the green of the grass and the leaves, the blue of the waters, and the gold of the spring flowers. It was such a beautiful creature that only to look at it made one feel happy. But every one wondered about the moth.
"It is a stranger from far away," they said.
"Oh, no," said Spring. "Fuzzy Caterpillar has come out."
And this was true, for the gray blanket that hung from the twig was torn and empty.
It was Serozha's birthday, and he received many different gifts; peg tops, and hobby horses, and pictures. But Serozha's uncle gave him a gift that he prized above all the rest; it was a trap for snaring birds.
The trap was constructed in such a way that a board was fitted on the frame and shut down upon the top. If seed was scattered on the board, and the trap was put out in the yard, the little bird would fly down, hop upon the board, the board would give way, and the trap would shut with a clap.
Serozha was delighted, and he ran into the house to show his mother the trap.
His mother said:
"It is not a good plaything. What do you want to do with birds? Why do you want to torture them?"
"I am going to put them in a cage," Serozha said. "They will sing, and I will feed them."
He got some seed, scattered it on the board, and set the trap in the garden. And he stood by and expected the birds to fly down. But the birds were afraid of him and would not come near the cage. Serozha ran in to get something to eat, and left the cage.
After dinner he went to look at it. The cage had shut, and in it a little bird was beating against the bars.
Serozha took up the bird, and carried it into the house.
"Mother, I have caught a bird!" he cried. "I think it is a nightingale; and how its heart beats!"
His mother said it was a wild canary. "Be careful! Don't hurt it; you would better let it go."
"No," he said. "I am going to give it something to eat and drink."
Serozha put the bird in a cage, and for two days gave it seed and water, and cleaned the cage. But on the third day he forgot all about it, and did not change the water.
And his mother said, "See here, you have forgotten your bird. You would better let it go."
Serozha thrust his hand in the cage and began to clean it, but the little bird was frightened and fluttered. After Serozha had cleaned the cage, he went to get some water. His mother saw that he had forgotten to shut the cage door, and she called after him.
"Serozha, shut up your cage, else your bird will fly out and hurt itself."
She had hardly spoken the words when the bird found the door, was delighted, spread its wings, and flew around the room toward the window. Serozha came running in, picked up the bird, and put it back in the cage. The bird was still alive, but it lay on its breast, with its wings spread out, and breathed heavily. Serozha looked and looked at it, and began to cry.
"Mother, what can I do now?" he asked.
"You can do nothing now," she replied.
Serozha stayed by the cage all day. He did nothing but look at the bird. And all the time the bird lay on its breast and breathed hard and fast.
When Serozha went to bed, the bird was dead. Serozha could not get to sleep for a long time; every time that he shut his eyes he seemed to see the bird still lying and sighing.
In the morning when Serozha went to his cage, he saw the bird lying on its back, with its legs crossed, and all stiff.
After that Serozha never again snared birds.
The Emperor's palace was the most beautiful in the world.
In the garden were to be seen wonderful flowers, and to the costliest of these silver bells were tied, which rang, so that nobody should pass by without noticing the garden. It extended so far that the gardener himself did not know where the end was. If one went on and on, one came to a glorious forest. The wood extended straight down to the sea, and in the trees lived a Nightingale. It sang so splendidly that even the poor fisherman, who had many other things to do, stopped still and listened, when he had gone out at night to throw his nets, to hear the Nightingale.
From all the countries of the world travellers came to admire the Emperor's palace and his garden, but when they heard the Nightingale they said, "That is the best of all!"
At last their words came to the Emperor.
"What's that?" he exclaimed. "I don't know the Nightingale at all. Is there such a bird in my empire, and even in my garden? I've never heard of that. I command that he shall appear this evening and sing before me!"
But where was the Nightingale to be found? The court had not heard of it either. There was a great inquiry after the wonderful Nightingale which all the world knew except the people at the palace. At last they met a poor little girl in the kitchen who said,
"Yes, I know the Nightingale well. It can sing gloriously. Every evening I get leave to carry my mother the scraps from the table. She lives down by the stream, and when I get back, and am tired, and rest in the wood, then I hear the Nightingale sing. It is just as if my mother kissed me."
So the little girl led the way out into the wood. Half the court went, and the child pointed at last to a little gray bird up in the boughs.
"It can't be possible," they said. "How dull it looks; but it may have lost its color at seeing such grand people around."
"Little Nightingale," called the kitchen maid, "our gracious Emperor wishes you to sing before him."
"My song sounds best in the greenwood," replied the Nightingale; still it came willingly when it knew what the Emperor wished.
The palace was festively adorned for it. The walls and the flooring, which were of porcelain, gleamed in the rays of thousands of golden lamps. The most glorious flowers, which could ring clearly, had been placed in all the passages. In the great hall there had been placed a golden perch on which the Nightingale sat. The little kitchen girl had received permission to stand by the door. All the court was in full dress, and all looked at the little gray bird to which the Emperor nodded.
Then the Nightingale sang so gloriously that the tears came into the Emperor's eyes, and the song went straight to his heart.
It was to remain at the palace now, the Emperor decided; to have its own cage, with liberty to go out twice every day and once at night. Twelve servants were appointed when the Nightingale went out, each of whom had a silken string fastened to the bird's leg which he held very tightly. There was really no pleasure in an excursion of that kind. The whole city spoke of the wonderful bird. When two people met, one said "Nightin," and the other said "gale" which was all that was necessary. Eleven peddlers' children were named after the bird, but not one of them could sing a note.
One day the Emperor received a large parcel, marked "The Nightingale."
He thought it was a present for the bird but when he opened it, he found a box. Inside the box was an artificial nightingale, brilliantly ornamented with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. As soon as this artificial bird was wound up, its tail moved up and down, and shone with silver and gold. It sang very well, too, in its own way. Three and thirty times over did it sing the same waltz, and yet was not tired. The Emperor said that the living Nightingale ought to be shown this wonder.
But where was it?
None had noticed that it had flown away out of the open window, and back to the greenwood.
"What does it matter? We have the best bird after all," every one said. And the artificial bird was made to sing again and again until every one knew its tunes by heart. They liked to look at it, shining like bracelets and breastpins. The real Nightingale was banished from the empire. The artificial bird had its place on a silk cushion close to the Emperor's bed.
All the presents it received, gold and precious stones, were ranged about it. It had a title, High Imperial After-Dinner-Singer. It was certainly famous.
So a whole year went by, and then five years. The Emperor was ill and could not, it was said, live much longer. He lay on his gorgeous bed with long velvet cushions and heavy gold tassels. High up a window stood open, and the moon shone in upon the Emperor and the artificial bird.
The Emperor could scarcely breathe. It was just as if something lay upon his heart. He opened his eyes and then he saw that it was Death who sat upon his heart, and had put on his golden crown and held the Emperor's sword. And all around, from among the folds of the splendid curtains, strange heads peered forth, some ugly, and some quite lovely and mild. They were the Emperor's bad and good deeds that stood before him, now that Death sat upon his heart.
"Music! Music!" cried the Emperor, "so that I need not hear what they say! You little precious golden bird, sing, sing!"
But the bird stood still. It was worn out inside, and there was no music left in it. And Death sat and looked at the Emperor, and it was fearfully quiet.
Then there sounded from the window, suddenly, the most lovely song. It was the little live Nightingale that sat outside on a spray. It had heard of the Emperor's sad plight and had come to sing to him of comfort and hope. And as it sang the blood ran quicker and more quickly through the Emperor's heart; and even Death listened.
The Nightingale sang on and on; and it sang of the quiet churchyard where white roses grow, and the elder-blossom smells sweet, and the grass is green. Then Death felt a great longing to see his garden and he floated out at the window in a white mist, and with him went the spectres.
"Thanks! Thanks!" said the Emperor. "How can I reward you? You must always stay with me."
"Not so," replied the Nightingale. "I cannot build my nest in a palace, but I will come and sit in the evening on the spray yonder by the window and sing you something so that you may be glad and thoughtful at once. I will sing of those who are happy and those who suffer. I will sing of good and of evil that are hidden from you. The little singing bird flies far around, to the poor fishermen, to the peasant's roof, to every one who dwells far from your court. I will come and sing to you. But one thing you must promise me."
"Everything!" said the Emperor; and he stood there in his imperial robes, which he had put on himself, and pressed his sword to his heart.
"One thing, only, I beg of you," said the Nightingale, "tell no one that you have a little bird who tells you everything. Then it will go all the better."
And the Nightingale flew away.
The servants came in to look at their dead Emperor, and, yes, there he stood; and the Emperor said, "Good morning!"
HOW THE WREN BECAME KING
A long while ago when there were not so many people on the earth as there are now, and the birds and animals had things about their own way, a Cuckoo gave a tea party.
She invited all the birds there were, from the great Eagle, through the Larks, Swallows, Finches, and Crows, down to the little brown bird that sings alone in the hedges and had no name then. She seated them all around her table, although it was a task to find places for them all; and she gave each bird whatever it liked best of all to eat.