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The Big Nightcap Letters - Being the Fifth Book of the Series
by Frances Elizabeth Barrow
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"'Ah! thy song is sad, brother,' said little Marie: 'it makes me sigh.'

"As she spoke, a little boy, poorly clad, was seen coming up the avenue; and Gottfried exclaimed—'Here comes Heinrich!' and running out of the room, he presently returned, leading by the hand Heinrich, the little faggot-maker, whose mother, a poor but pious widow, lived in a hut just out of the village.

"'Why, Heinrich, where hast thou been this cold day?' asked Marie.

"'Taking my faggots to Herr Kaufferman's,' said the poor boy. 'But oh, Gottfried, they have there the most beautiful Christmas Tree!' and then Heinrich paused and sighed.

"'And to-night the dear Christkindchen, or Holy Child, will bring them presents,' said Gottfried. 'I hope he will fill thy shoes full.'[A]

"'Alas! the Christ-child never comes to me,' said Heinrich.

"'What! hast thou never heard how he comes at midnight, bearing a lighted taper and a crown of white roses, and gives presents to all the good children?'



"'My mother has told me of this,' said Heinrich, 'and I have waited and watched, but he never comes! He never will come. It was only yesterday that I met Hans, the butcher's son, and he mocked me, and snapped his fingers in my face, and said—"Thou art so poor, that thy shoes will never have any thing in them;" and I was so angry, and wanted to strike him, but my mother said I must never fight or quarrel with any one, and I went away from him; but it is hard to be poor,' and here he began to cry.

"'Ah! yes, it is sad, dear Heinrich; but do not weep; here, wipe thine eyes with my new pocket-handkerchief. Come, now, be happy; and I will pray to the Christ-child, and beg him to come this very night to thee.'

"At this the little faggot-maker's face brightened, and soon after he went away.

"In the evening, the children had their supper, and soon after they stood by the knee of their kind mother, and sang this hymn:

"Jesus, our Shepherd! we ask for thy blessing, Through the long hours of this dreary night; Let us not know (thy kind favor possessing) Danger or sorrow, till morning is bright.

"Jesus, our Saviour! oh! grant thy protection, To thy dear arms we have trustingly come; Oh, Lamb of God! make secure our election, Guard us, and keep us, and call us thine own.

"Jesus, our Crown! Oh, thou Heavenly Glory! Humbly we kneel, and entreat thee to love, Bless and receive us, as in Bible story, Till we shall come to thy mansion above."

"When they had finished the hymn, they reverently repeated their prayers; and then, each bidding the other good night and sweet dreams, went to their white-curtained beds.

"Later at night, their mother came to see that they were warm. Gottfried was still awake; he was troubled about little Heinrich; and he told his mother how the poor boy had grieved because the Christ-child never came to him. 'I have prayed to Him, dear mother; do you think He will hear me?' said the tender-hearted boy.

"'Yes, dear child,' said the mother, 'dost thou not remember what the hymn says?

"'And when, dear Jesus, I kneel down, Morning and night to prayer, Something there is within my heart, Which tells me THOU ART THERE."

"'He works sometimes through human hands; and now look thou, my little Gottfried,' continued his mother, kissing him, 'I will make this night a wreath of white roses for thee, and fasten a purse about the stems, with some golden guilders within, and thou shalt take it to Heinrich to-morrow morning.'

"'Ah, thou dearest mother!' cried Gottfried, joyfully, and the loving kisses were pressed upon her cheek. 'The dear Jesus has heard me already;' and kneeling in the bed, he poured out his grateful thanks; and then lying down, he soon fell asleep, with a bright flush of happiness upon his face.

* * * * *

"The snow had ceased to fall, and it was late, but still in the widow's cottage the fitful fire-light (for candles there were none) showed her bending over some work. By her side on the hearth crouched the little Heinrich.

"'Go to bed, dear child,' said his mother; 'it is too late for thee.'

"'Ah, dear mother! let me wait for thee,' answered the boy; 'it is so cold and dark in our little room above.' He was silent for a moment, gazing into the fire in a wishful manner; then he said—'Mother, dost thou think the Christ-child will indeed hear Gottfried's prayer, and come to me and thee?'

"'I hope he will, my Heinrich,' said the sad mother, smiling faintly.

"'Ah, but mother, dost thou not know it?'

"The fire burned low, and the poor woman could no longer see. She put up the coarse sewing with a sigh, and resting her hand tenderly on her boy's head, sat quite still.

"Not a sound was heard. The light in the room was dim, and gloom had settled upon the hearts of both mother and child.

"Hark! what was that?

"A low tap sounded at the door, and then it slowly opened; and to the astonished gaze of the two sitting by the hearth, there appeared the figure of a little child. A snow-white robe draped his slender limbs. In one hand he bore a lighted taper, and in the other a most beautiful wreath of white roses. His dark blue eyes shone with an unearthly lustre, as it appeared to the amazed and bewildered Heinrich, and his golden curls floated upon his shoulders.

"'Oh! mother! mother!' whispered Heinrich, almost breathless, 'it is the Christ-child in very truth come to me at last. His face is like Gottfried's—only far more beautiful;' and mother and son sank on their knees.

"Slowly the little form advanced towards them, paused before Heinrich, lightly placed the rose crown upon his head, and then, the sweet lips parting in a faint, tender smile, it waved its little hand towards him, and disappeared from their sight.

"When they could speak, the mother and son bowed their heads in thankful prayer, then lifted their brimming eyes to each other.

"'Truly thou hast been wondrously rewarded, my Heinrich,' said the poor widow; 'give the beautiful crown to me, that I may see what the dear Christ-child has brought to thee.'

"She stirred the fire, and put on some light wood to make a blaze, and then Heinrich lifted the crown from his head. As he did so—oh! wonder! there fell from it a silken purse, and through the deep crimson network they could see the yellow gleam of gold.

* * * * *

"With the early blush of morning little Gottfried awoke, and the first thing he did was to run smilingly to the door to find his shoes. There they were, in good truth, crammed to the very top with presents. Marie, too, awoke at the moment, and from each little white bed there arose delighted exclamations and merry shouts of joy.

"Now their mother entered, and said—'A merry Christmas to you, my children.'

"With joyful kisses they welcomed her, and breathlessly showed her their gifts; then Gottfried exclaimed—'Oh! mother! I have had such a pleasant dream; I dreamed that the dear Christ-child went to Heinrich with the wreath, and gave it to him.'

"'Well, thou shalt take it thyself this morning, dear child, when thou hast eaten thy breakfast.'

"But what was this? Where could the wreath be? The good mother, faithful to her promise had made it the evening before, and had laid it on the table in the parlor, but it was not to be found.

"This loss put the little Gottfried in such distress, that his mother promised quickly to make another; and she was just preparing to hasten out to purchase the roses, when Heinrich ran in, his mother following; and, scarcely pausing for breath, the boy told the wonderful thing that had happened to them in the night.

"With a sudden understanding of the strange and beautiful story, Gottfried's mother took Heinrich's mother aside, and whispered to her how the rose crown had mysteriously disappeared from the house in the night.

"The two mothers gazed into each other's faces, and then looked with love and wonder at the little unconscious Gottfried. Tender tears and smiles struggled in their faces, for they knew in a moment that it was he who had risen in his sleep, had taken the rose crown to Heinrich, and had laid his head upon his pillow again without waking.

"When they gently and tenderly told the strange tale to the wondering children, Heinrich, bursting into tears, threw his arms passionately round Gottfried's neck, and sobbed out—'Oh! Gottfried! how thou must have loved me to have done this thing, even while sleeping;' and the grateful boy never forgot it. He kept his crown of roses as his dearest treasure, though they soon became withered and brown; and Gottfried and Heinrich were always friends, though one was rich and the other poor; and each mother loved and blessed the child of the other even as her own."

[NOTE.—This story was suggested by reading about Christmas in Germany, in Bayard Taylor's "Views Afoot."]

* * * * *

"A—h!" sighed the children, when the story was finished; "this is the best of all! How those two German boys must have loved each other ever after."

"Gottfried must have been almost as good as Charley," said Clara, with a glance full of love towards her brother. The little girl, with her sweet, sensitive nature, and gentle, caressing ways, seemed closer to Charley than the rest, though he loved all his brothers and sisters with his whole heart; but Clara was softer and tenderer, and murmured out her love in such a dove-like way, that, next to his mother, the sick boy liked to have her smooth his hair, and hold his hand, and kneel by his side in prayer; and the rest of the children knew this, and lovingly gave Clara "her place." Not a shade of envy, that black and wicked passion, ever entered their hearts; for, as I have many times written, this was the home of LOVE.

FOOTNOTE:

[A] In Germany, they fill the children's shoes instead of their stockings.



THE SIXTH LETTER.

THE HUNT FOR A STEAMBOAT.

To Johnny.

DEAR LITTLE JOHNNY:—I have heard such a cunning little story about two little children that live in New York, that I have written it out for you; I shall begin it, "Once upon a time"—the way you like best. Here it is:

THE HUNT FOR A STEAMBOAT.

"Once upon a time little Harry was playing in the parlor, and his kind mother was reading. Presently the door opened, and a lady entered, holding by the hand the dearest little bit of a girl you ever saw, about three years old, with such sweet blue eyes and soft curling hair, that she looked almost like a fairy.

"Harry's mother was very glad to see the lady; she kissed her and little Nannie, and made them sit on the very best sofa, and Harry kissed Nannie, and everybody seemed very much pleased.

"After saying what a very fine day it was, just as all the grown people do when they begin to talk, Nannie's mamma began to tell Harry's mamma something very wonderful, when, all at once, they saw Harry's eyes opened about as big round as a pair of saucers, and a dozen ears seemed to have sprouted out all over his head; and he was listening to the wonderful story with every one of them.

"Harry's mamma thought that would never do, and she said—'My son, Nannie's mamma and I want to talk secrets, and it is not right for such a little boy as you to hear them; so take the dear little girl out of the room, and show her every thing she wants to see. Mind, dear! show her every thing.'

"So Harry took Nannie's hand, and led her out of the room. He felt quite bashful at first, and when he got into the hall and had shut the door, he dropped her hand; and then the two children stood and looked at each other like two pussy cats on a fence; only they looked a great deal prettier, because, you know, neither of them had any fierce whiskers or long claws. Not they, indeed! I suppose Harry will have whiskers one of these days, if he lives to be a man; but Nannie will never have any, because if she Jives a thousand years she will never be a great, rough man, but a beautiful little woman, which is a great comfort to think of.

"At last Harry said—'Say, Nannie, what do you want to see?'

"'I want to tee a 'teamboat.'

"'A steamboat!' exclaimed Harry.

"'Ess, a 'teamboat—big one!' said little Nannie.

"Harry looked puzzled; but he took her hand again, and led her very carefully up the long flight of stairs, and into every room on the second floor. They looked under the beds and into the band-boxes, opened all the bureau drawers and wardrobe doors, peered down into the bath-tub, and almost tumbled in, and couldn't find a steamboat. Then they went up stairs again, and all over the rooms in the third story—no steamboat there.

"Then they went up stairs again, and all over the rooms in the top of the house, opened all the cook's bundles, the waiter's boxes, the chambermaid's trunk, and the laundress's umbrella; but not a single steamboat was to be seen.

"What was poor Harry to do?

"He must mind his mamma; and Nannie kept saying—'I want to tee a 'teamboat.'

"All of a sudden Harry spied a globe of the world in one corner of the attic, and he cried out—'Here, Nannie, let's look on this world and see if we can find one.'



"So down they nestled close together, and turned the world round and round, but, strange to tell, there was not a single steamboat sailing on it. It was really too bad.

"They came down stairs again, and then a bright thought struck Harry—'Oh, yes!' he exclaimed, 'I know where a steamboat is. Dear me! certainly! Come, Nannie, hurry.'

"Down they went to the hall, and Harry put on his cap, and opened the front door, and the children went out. Hand in hand they trotted merrily along, both delighted to think that at last they were on the track of a steamboat.

"After walking a long way, they came to a rough board fence, and Harry peeped through a knot-hole to see what was inside. He looked so long, that Nannie cried impatiently—'Let me see the 'teamboat.'

"'No, it isn't,' said Harry; 'it's some boys playing ball. Come and look.'

"Nannie went close to the fence, and stood on the very tips of her little toes, but the knot-hole was too high; so Harry lifted her with all his strength, and she had a fine time seeing the boys playing ball.

"As he let her come down rather suddenly, she caught her frock in a splinter of wood in the fence, and it was torn from top to bottom. 'Oh, my!' said Nannie, looking at her dress, 'what a gate hole; oh, my!'

"'Oh, never mind it,' cried Harry, 'that's nothing;' and he laughed so merrily, that Nannie thought to tear dresses was great fun, and laughed too.

"On they went, hand in hand, and every fence they came to where there were no houses, they peeped through and searched for the steamboat; and they scrambled and fell against so many rough boards, that Nannie's pretty little new hat that her kind grandmamma had just given her, was all bent and torn and twisted, till from a nice little round hat, it came to be a queer-looking, five-cornered one, with one end of ribbon over her nose, and another sticking out behind; and the beautiful lace cap inside was only fit for the rag-bag. Did you ever hear any thing like it?

"Well, the dear little things wandered on, Harry knowing that he was minding his mamma, like a good boy. He was very happy; because, you know, children that are obedient and good are never any thing else. Of course not.

"And little Nannie's lovely blue eyes were very busy looking all over the world for the steamboat.

"At last they came to an open space—I believe, in Seventy-second street, where the Central Park is; and a very amiable-looking policeman, who fortunately at that time was wide awake, happened to look that way.

"He was very much astonished when he saw such little creatures all alone; and Nannie, looking as if she had been in the wars; but, in spite of her torn dress, looking like just what she was—the tender little pet of a household, watched over, and loved, and cared for night and day; and Harry, too, it was plain to see, with his bright eyes and manly bearing, was of gentle birth and breeding.

"So the policeman walked up to them, and said—'I suppose this is Tom Thumb and his wife out for a walk.'

"'No, it isn't,' said Harry; 'my name is Harry.'

"'And what is yours, little lady?'

"'My name 'ittle Nannie.'

"'Where did you come from?'

"'Home,' said Harry.

"'Where is home?'

"'Why, in Thirty-second street, to be sure; don't you know?'

"'Did you run away?' said the policeman.

"'No,' said Harry, and his eyes blazed with indignation, 'I'm minding mamma; she told me to show Nannie every thing, and Nannie wanted to see a steamboat, and I'm finding one for her now!'

"At this the policeman laughed, and then he looked so kindly at the children, that I suspect he had a dozen children of his own at his house, and that made him love every other little child. Why, bless your dear little heart, I love all the little children in the whole world, because I love you so dearly.



"Then the policeman said—'Well, Harry, you are a long way from home; and I think you had better put off the steamboat-hunting business till some other day. Your mother may think you and Nannie are a little too young to travel about the world by yourselves. Come; I will go back with you.'

"It was very fortunate he did, for though Harry knew very well what street he lived in, he did not know how to get to it; and it would have been a sad thing for the dear little creatures if they had been lost. But now the good policeman took Nannie in his arms, because she was getting very tired, and Harry by the hand, and they all got into a railroad car, and before long were at the house.

"But oh! what a distracted house! For when Nannie's mother had finished the wonderful secret, and wanted to leave, the children were not to be found. They searched the house; they examined the bath-tubs and wash-tubs; they went out into the garden and down into the cellar, but they were not to be found; and then the weeping, terrified mothers went out into the street, and asked everybody they met, if they had seen the children.



"The waiter, who was just setting the table for dinner, rushed round the corner, brandishing the carving-knife like a pistol, and frightened a fashionable young gentleman out of all his five wits, for he thought it was a crazy man, trying to kill him; and when he turned round he was scared again, for there was the laundress, who had started out with a wet shirt in her hands, which she was just starching; there she was, waving it about in the wind, like a flag of distress, and crying as hard as she could.



"Then the waiter dropped the carving-knife, and flew up the street, while the fat cook, who had left a pudding half-made in the kitchen, ran after him, dropping her pudding-stick, and wheezing dreadfully; and away in the distance, they saw the chambermaid, with the broomstick in her hand, and her hair all about her ears. She looked so like a witch, from grief and fright, that as she disappeared, the people looking after her were sure she had mounted the broomstick the very next moment, and had flown over the tops of the houses.

"Dear me! what a terrible time it was! But you see they all loved Harry so much, that they were almost crazy, and that made them cut up all these didoes.

"All came back lamenting, for no children had been found; and the distressed mothers were just writing a note to send to the police-office, to order the whole city to be searched, when—a quick ring at the bell—Could it be? Out they all rushed, mothers, cook, waiter, chambermaid, laundress, the cat, and the dog. The door was opened, and, oh, joyful sight! there stood the children and the policeman, all laughing together.

"No wonder they all screamed and cried, and laughed and talked, all in a bunch. Nobody cared a pin for Nannie's torn dress and five-cornered bonnet, when the darling child was safe, and hugged tight to her mother's breast; and Harry and his mother had a grand kissing time too. Why, dear me! they almost wanted to kiss the good policeman, they were so glad; not quite, though; but they gave him what he thought was quite astonishing—something that came out of a purse, and shone like gold; and between you and me, it was gold.

"And Harry's mother was not the least angry with him, when she heard that he was such a good boy, and was only minding his mamma when he went all over the world with Nannie to find a steamboat: no, indeed! She kissed him again. But let me tell you as a great secret, that she was very careful after that to tell Harry to look for steamboats, or any thing else little girls or he might want to see, inside of the house; and although it is many months since this happened, I know that Harry and Nannie have not been steamboat-hunting since; but they are both good, lovely children, and both mind their mammas."

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Johnny, "my story is tip-top! I wish you would read it right over again, mamma."

"Yes, mamma, do!" cried all the rest. "It is so interesting. Dear little Nannie, she's a darling!"

"I wonder if her grandmother gave her a new hat," said Minnie. "I would, if I was her grandmother."

The children laughed at the idea of Minnie's being a grandmother, and Harry said—"Come, sit on my lap, grandmother, and let me see if you know your letters yet." Minnie did not like this much, but as Harry called her his "dear little pet" the next moment, she forgave him immediately.

"But Aunt Fanny has written something else in this letter," said the mother. "Shall I read it, or repeat the story?"

"Oh! read all the letter this time," cried the children, "and the story again to-morrow night."

The little mother read on.

"And now, my dear children, I have sent you six stories; and if any one will count the boots and shoes in the first Nightcap book, they will find that there are the surprising number of thirteen of you!—a baker's dozen.

"Let me see how many are left.

"Minnie and Willie, and Bennie and Lillie, and dear little Fanny, my namesake, and Katie and Pet. I think I will write to this dear little band collectively, and the stories shall make the 'Little Nightcap Letters;' and the little darlings shall have them all to themselves."

"Oh, yes! yes! yes! that will be a grand plan!" cried the children. "Did you ever hear of such a sensible Aunt Fanny? She makes it just as we like it."

"If you like this plan," Aunt Fanny goes on to say, "then the 'Big Nightcap Letters' are finished with this story sent to Johnny; and that you will all grow wiser, and better, and fatter over them, is the loving wish of your

"AUNT FANNY."

And so the Big Nightcap Letters were ended; and the children went off to bed good, thankful, and content, and rose the next day good, thankful, and content.

Pray Heaven, dear little reader, you may always do the same.

THE END.



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I.

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* * * * *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 7, Table of Contents, the first letter actually begins on page 9. The original read 8.

Page 7, Table of Contents, "ILLTEMPER" changed to "ILL TEMPER" (GEORGE. ILL TEMPER)

Page 7, Table of Contents, "106" changed to "108" for the Fourth Letter

Page 103, the text changes a character's name from "Dinah" to "Binah." This was retained as in another of this series, the character's name is indeed Binah there.

Page 127, "embarrased" changed to "embarrassed" (still more embarrassed)

Page 146, "Christ-kindcherr" changed to "Christkindchen" (the dear Christkindchen)

THE END

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