CHRISTMAS STORIES AND LEGENDS
COMPILED BY PHEBE A. CURTISS
Author of "White Gifts for the King"
MEIGS PUBLISHING CO. INDIANAPOLIS, IND.
MEIGS PUBLISHING CO. Indianapolis, Indiana
No greater teaching force has ever been discovered than the story and no one has ever lived who used that force so skillfully as did our Great Teacher.
It is not strange, then, that among all the stories that have ever been written or told none are so dear to us as the stories and legends which center in His birth.
Young and old alike delight in them and never tire of hearing them.
Unusual care has been taken in compiling this little volume and each story has its own sweet lesson. Each one is from the pen of one who has imbibed the real spirit of Christmas. They were chosen as being particularly well adapted to use in connection with the Christmas Service "White Gifts for the King," but they will prove attractive and helpful at any time during the year.
It is our earnest wish that this little book may find its way into many homes and schools and Sunday Schools and that its contents may help to give a deeper appreciation of the true Christmas spirit.
Page I. The Legend of the "White Gifts"—Phebe A. Curtiss 9
II. Her Birthday Dream—Nellie C. King 13
III. The Fir Tree—Hans Andersen—adapted by J. H. Stickney 25
IV. The Little Match Girl—Hans Andersen 37
V. Little Piccola—Nora A. Smith 41
VI. The Shepherd's Story—Dr. Washington 47
VII. The Story of Christmas—Nora A. Smith 63
VIII. The Legend of the Christmas Tree—Lucy Wheelock 69
IX. Little Jean—French of Francois Coppe. Translated by Nannie Lee Frayser 71
X. How the Fir Tree Became the Christmas Tree—Aunt Hede in Kindergarten Magazine 77
XI. The Magi in the West and Their Search for the Christ—Frederick E. Dewhurst 79
XII. Little Gretchen and the Wooden Shoe—Elizabeth Harrison 93
XIII. The Little Shepherd—Maud Lindsay 105
XIV. Babouscka—Carolyn S. Bailey 109
XV. The Boy with the Box—May Griggs Van Voorhis 113
XVI. The Worker in Sandal wood—Marjorie L. C. Pickthall 125
XVII. The Shepherd Who Didn't Go—Jay T. Stocking 135
XVIII. Paulina's Christmas—Adapted from Anna Robinson's "Little Paulina" 145
XIX. Unto Us a Child Is Born—Phebe A. Curtiss 153
XX. The Star—Florence M. Kingsley 159
THE LEGEND OF THE "WHITE GIFTS"
As Told by Phebe A. Curtiss
A great many years ago in a land far away from us there was a certain king who was dearly beloved by all of his people. Men admired him because he was strong and just. In all of his dealings they knew they could depend upon him. Every matter that came to his consideration was carefully weighed in his mind and his decisions were always wise. Women trusted him because he was pure and true, with lofty thoughts and high ambitions, and the children loved him because of his gentleness and tenderness toward them. He was never so burdened with affairs of state that he could not stop to speak a pleasant word of greeting to the tiniest child, and the very poorest of his subjects knew they could count upon his interest in them.
This deep-seated love and reverence for their king made the people of this country wish very much for a way in which to give expression to it so that he would understand it. Many consultations were held and one after another the plans suggested were rejected, but at last a most happy solution was found. It was rapidly circulated here and there and it met with the most hearty approval everywhere.
It was a plan for celebrating the King's birthday.
Of course, that had been done in many lands before, but there were certain features about this celebration which differed materially from anything that had ever been tried. They decided that on the King's birthday the people should all bring him gifts, but they wanted in some way to let him know that these gifts were the expression of a love on the part of the giver which was pure and true and unselfish, and in order to show that, it was decided that each gift should be a "White Gift."
The King heard about this beautiful plan, and it touched his heart in a wonderful way. He decided that he would do his part to carry out the idea and let his loving subjects know how much he appreciated their thoughtfulness.
You can just imagine the excitement there was all over the land as the King's birthday drew near. All sorts of loving sacrifices had been made and everyone was anxious to make his gift the very best he had to offer. At last the day dawned, and eagerly the people came dressed in white and carrying their white gifts. To their surprise they were ushered into a great, big room—the largest one in the palace. They stood in silence when they first entered it, for it was beautiful beyond all expression. It was a white room;—the floor was white marble; the ceiling looked like a mass of soft, white fluffy clouds; the walls were hung with beautiful white silken draperies, and all the furnishings were white. In one end of the room stood a stately white throne, and seated upon it was their beloved ruler and he was clad in shining white robes, and his attendants—all dressed in white—were grouped around him.
Then came the presentation of the gifts. What a wealth of them there was—and how different they were in value. In those days it was just as it is now—there were many people who had great wealth, and they brought gifts which were generous in proportion to their wealth.
One brought a handful of pearls, another a number of carved ivories. There were beautiful laces and silks and embroideries, all in pure white, and even splendid white chargers were brought to his majesty.
But many of the people were poor—some of them very poor—and their gifts were quite different from those I have been telling about. Some of the women brought handfuls of white rice, some of the boys brought their favorite white pigeons, and one dear little girl smilingly gave him a pure white rose.
It was wonderful to watch the King as each one came and kneeled before him as he presented his gift. He never seemed to notice whether the gift was great or small; he regarded not one gift above another so long as all were white. Never had the King been so happy as he was that day and never had such real joy filled the hearts of the people. They decided to use the same plan every year, and so it came to pass that year after year on the King's birthday the people came from here and there and everywhere and brought their white gifts—the gifts which showed that their love was pure, strong, true and without stain, and year after year the King sat in his white robes on the white throne in the great white room and it was always the same—he regarded not one gift above another so long as all were white.
HER BIRTHDAY DREAM[*]
By Nellie C. King
Marcia Brownlow came out of the church, and walked rapidly down the street. She seemed perturbed; her gray eyes flashed, and on her cheeks glowed two red spots. She was glad she was not going home, so she wouldn't have to take a car, but could walk the short distance to Aunt Sophy's, where she had been invited to dine and visit with her special chum, Cousin Jack—who was home from college for the short Thanksgiving vacation. She slowed up as she reached her destination, and waited a little before going in—she wanted to get calmed down a bit, for she didn't want her friend to see her when she felt so "riled up." Back of it was a secret reluctance to meet Jack—he was so different since the Gipsy Smith revival; of course, he was perfectly lovely, and unchanged toward her, but—somehow, she felt uncomfortable in his presence—and she didn't enjoy having her self-satisfaction disturbed.
As she entered the dining-room, she was greeted with exclamations of surprise and pleasure.
"Why, Marcia!" said Aunt Sophia; "we had given you up! I almost never knew of your being late in keeping an appointment."
"You must excuse me, Auntie; and lay this offense to the charge of our Sunday school superintendent," answered Marcia.
"I suppose Mr. Robinson is laying his plans for Christmas," remarked Uncle John. "He believes in taking time by the forelock—and a very commendable habit it is, too."
"Yes," answered Marcia laconically.
Jack glanced at her keenly. "Is there anything new in the Christmas line?" he asked.
The gray eyes grew black, and the red spots burned again, as Marcia replied: "Well, I should think so—he proposes to turn things topsy-turvy!"
"My! What does he want to do?" inquired Cousin Augusta.
"Oh, he calls it the 'White Gift Christmas'; but the long and short of the matter is, that he proposes to 'turn down' Santa Claus, and all the old time-honored customs connected with Christmas that are so dear to the hearts of the children, and have the school do the giving. He has a big banner hung up in the Sunday school room bearing the words, 'Gifts for the Christ-Child'."
"An excellent idea," exclaimed Uncle John, "but I don't see much of an innovation about that; you have always made the children's giving a part of your Christmas celebration, have you not?"
"Certainly!" rejoined Marcia. "They have always brought their little gifts for the poor, and that is all right; but this time there are no gifts to the Sunday school at all."
"Not even to the Primary School?" asked Augusta.
"Well," admitted Marcia, "Mr. Robinson gave the children their choice today, whether they would have the old Christmas or the 'White Gift Christmas,' and they all voted for the new idea."
"Why then should the children be obliged to have gifts, if they don't want them?" laughed Augusta.
"Oh, children are always taken with novelty, and Mr. Robinson told it to them in such a way that fancy was captivated; but I don't think they really understood what they were giving up."
"Marcia, it seems to me that your are emphasizing the wrong side of the subject if I understand it aright," said Jack.
"Why, do you know about it?" asked Marcia, in surprise.
"Not much," replied Jack; "but I read the White Gift story in the 'Sunday School Times,' and the report of the Painesville experiment."
"Well, Jack, tell us what you know about this mysterious 'White Gift'," commanded his father.
"I would rather Marcia should tell it, father; I know so little."
"Oh, go on, Jack," urged Marcia; "you can't possibly know less about it than I do, for I confess I was so full of the disappointment of the little ones that the other side of it didn't impress me very much."
"Well, as I remember it," said Jack, "the gist of the plan is this—that Christmas is Christ's birthday, and we should make our gifts to him, instead of to one another; and the idea of the White Gift was suggested by the story of the Persian king named Kublah Khan, who was a wise and good ruler, and greatly beloved. On his birthday his subjects kept what they called the 'White Feast.' This was celebrated in an immense great white banqueting-hall, and each one of his subjects brought to their king a white gift to express that the love and loyalty of their hearts was without stain. The rich brought white chargers, ivory and alabaster; the poor brought white pigeons, or even a measure of rice; and the great king regarded all gifts alike, so long as they were white. Have I told it right, cousin?" queried Jack.
"Yes, I think so. It is a beautiful thought, I must confess, and might be all right in a large, rich Sunday school; but in a mission school like ours I am sure it will be a failure. It will end in our losing our scholars. I don't believe in taking up new ideas without considering whether they are adapted to our needs or not. But please, dear folkses, don't let us say anything more about it," pleaded Marcia, and so the subject was dropped.
That evening as Jack Thornton bade his cousin good-bye, he placed in her hand a little package, saying: "I am so sorry, Marcia, that I can't be here for your birthday, but here is my remembrance. Now don't you dare open it before Tuesday, and, dear, you may be sure it is a 'white gift,' and may you have a 'white birthday'." And before she could say a word, he had opened the door, and was gone.
Touched by his thoughtful gift and his words, she said to herself: "A 'white birthday!' I always have perfectly beautiful birthdays." And so she did; for she was always looking out for other people's birthdays, and making much of them; and so she always got the gospel measure: "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall man give into your bosom."
But these thoughts were crowded out by the pressure of things to be done—father and mother had gone into the country to visit a sick friend, and the younger brothers and sisters surrounded her and clamored for songs and Bible stories, and as she was a good older sister she devoted herself to them until their bedtime. Then, turning out the lights, she sat down in an easy chair before the library grate, and yielded herself to the spell of the quiet hour. The strained, irritated nerves relaxed, and a strange, sweet peace stole over her. As she gazed dreamily into the fire, a star seemed to rise out of the glowing coals, and beam at her with a beautiful soft radiance, and the words of the Evangel came into her mind: "And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding joy; and when they were come into the house they saw the young child, with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him; and when they had opened their treasures they presented unto him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh." She repeated the words over and over to herself. How simple and restful they were; how direct and genuine and satisfying was this old-time giving! There it was—Gifts for the Christ-Child—"They presented unto him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh." She remembered reading somewhere that the gold represented our earthly possessions, the frankincense typified our service and the myrrh our suffering for his sake.
As she gazed into the fire, and mused, she fell asleep, and all these thoughts were woven into the fabric of a dream—and who shall say that God does not speak to his children still in dreams?
She dreamed that it was the morning of her birthday. She heard cheery voices in the hall calling out to one another: "This is Marcia's birthday. Wish you many returns of the day!" There was an excited running to and fro between the different rooms, and gleeful exclamations—but no one came near her! She sat up in bed listening, and wondering what it could mean! Why, mother always came into her room, and folded her to her heart, and said those precious things that only a mother can say; and the children always scrambled to see who should be the first to give sister a birthday kiss. Were they playing some joke on her? She would be quiet and watch, and so not be taken unawares.
Presently they went trooping happily downstairs into the dining-room, and she heard father's voice say: "Good morning, children; I wish you many happy returns of Marcia's birthday."
What did it all mean? Was she going crazy? Or were they just going to surprise her by some novel way of celebrating her birthday? She arose, and with trembling fingers dressed herself hastily, and stole softly down the stairs, and looked into the dining-room. Hush!—father was asking a blessing. He returned thanks for dear Marcia's birthday, and asked that it should be a happy day for them all. Beside each plate save her own, were various packages; and these were opened amid ejaculations of surprise and pleasure, and sundry hugs and kisses.
After the first burst of happiness had subsided, Marcia braced herself and entered the dining-room, saying with forced gayety: "Good morning, dear ones all." They looked up with blank, unanswering faces, and said: "Good morning, Marcia"—that was all. But Marcia's heart leaped at the recognition of her presence, for she had begun to fear that she was dead, and that it was her spirit that was wandering about.
She stooped and kissed her mother, who murmured abstractedly, "Yes, dear," never once looking up from the presents she was examining. With a sinking heart she turned away from her mother and went and stood behind her father's chair, and leaning over whispered in his ear: "Dear father, have you forgotten that this is my birthday?" He answered kindly but absent-mindedly: "Why, daughter, am I likely to forget it with all these tokens around me?"—and he waved his hand toward the gifts piled around his plate. This was almost more than Marcia could bear, for father was always specially tender and attentive to her on her birthday. She always sat on his knee a while; and he told her what a joy and comfort she was to him, and he always paid her some pretty compliment that made her girlish heart swell with innocent pride, for every girl knows that compliments from one's father are a little sweeter than any others.
In vain she hung around waiting for some clue to this mysterious, unnatural conduct of the family. They were all absorbed in plans for spending this birthday—Marcia's birthday, but no reference whatever was made to what she liked; no one consulted her as to what she wanted to do, or to have done. The boys were going skating in the forenoon; the little girls were to invite four of their friends to help serve the first dinner in the new doll's house, and in the afternoon father would take them all for an automobile ride into the country to a dear friend's—all but Marcia, who couldn't bear to get into an auto since a terrible accident she had been in a few weeks ago. A troop of her girl friends came in, and in a conventional way wished her "many happy returns" of the day; and then proceeded to ignore her, and gave gifts to other members of the family. "It is a wonder," thought Marcia, bitterly, "that they didn't have a birthday party for Marcia with Marcia left out."
And so it went on all through that strange, miserable day; while they were all busy celebrating her birthday, she herself was neglected and ignored as she sat in the quiet house alone in the twilight—for she had no heart to light the gas—just homesick for the personal love which had characterized all her birthdays and all her home life heretofore, there came a timid knock on the door, and as Marcia opened it, there stood little crippled Joe, one of her scholars in the Mission Sunday school. As he saw her, he gave a little exclamation of surprise and delight, and said: "O Miss Marshay! I hearn last night 'twas yer berthday today, an' I wanted to guv yer suthin' white, like Mr. Robinson he told us 'bout, don't yer know?—an' 'caus yer has allers treated me so white—'n'—'n' I didn't hev nuthin', 'n so I axed Him, ye know, what yer telled us 'bout in Sunday school—Jesus; who died on the cross, and who's allers willin' to help a poor feller—an' I axed Him to help me get suthin' real nice 'n' white fer uer birthday; 'n I kep' me eyes peeled all day 'xpectin' it, 'n just now a reel swell feller buyed a paper of me, 'n then he guv he this here bunch uv white sweet smellin' posies, 'thout my sayin' a word. Here they be, Miss Marshay fer yer. Giminy, teacher, ain't them purty? An' O, teacher—He made 'm in the fust place 'n had the man guv them to me, 'n so I reckon He 'n me's pardners in this here white gift bizness." And he held up in his thin, grimy hand a bunch of white, sweet-scented violets.
Marcia's first impulse was to catch up the little fellow and his gift in her arms, and baptize them with a flood of tears from her own overcharged heart! But she hadn't taught boys in a Mission Sunday school class for nothing—Joe would have thought she had gone crazy, or been struck silly, or was sick unto death; so she controlled herself, and kneeling beside him took the violets reverently in both her hands, saying in a choked voice: "Joe, they are just beautiful! This is the only really truly white gift I have had today, and I don't deserve it—but I thank Him and you."
The boy looked at her with shining face, drew his hand across his eyes, and then answered brightly: "Oh, that's all right, Miss Marshay; 'tenny rate 'tis with me, 'n' I reckon 'tis with Him"—and seizing his crutch, he hopped like a little sparrow through the door and onto the street, and she heard his boyish voice calling out: "Evenin' papers, last edishun—all 'bout the big graft 'sposure."
Just then the big white touring car discharged its merry load at the door, and the house was filled with the chatter and laughter of the children. In vain she tried to find a quiet corner where she could be alone with her heart—it was impossible to escape from the hilarious celebration of her birthday. She was so glad when the children said good-night and went off to bed, and she could seek the quiet of her own room.
As she bade her father good night, he said: "Well, daughter, I hope you have enjoyed your birthday and all your gifts?"
At this all the honesty of her nature, all the hatred of sham, rose up in one indignant outburst, and she exclaimed: "I have had no gifts, neither has this been my birthday celebration."
"Why, Marcia!" said her father in an aggrieved tone, "this certainly is your birthday, and we have been very happy in keeping it for love of you."
"I have failed to see any manifestation of love to me," retorted Marcia. "You may have had a happy time, but I have not been in it; you have given gifts to one another, but I have had just one"—and she held up the bunch of violets. "This is a gift of love from little lame Joe, in answer to his prayer, and in pity for my hungry heart."
There was silence in the room for a moment, and then her father answered: "It seems to me, daughter, that when you get right down to a personal application, what you believe in after all is a 'white birthday'."
The words went through her like an electric shock, and with a start she awoke, and sat upright in her chair; and, lo, it was all a dream!
Marcia looked around the room, shook herself a little, stirred the fire, and put on fresh coal. She laughed at the remembrance of her dream, and its absurdity! How glad she was that it was only a dream! But was it only a dream? Was it not a reality? Was not this the way she had kept the Lord's birthday? When she had opened her Christmas treasure, how much had been given Him and for love of Him? How large a place had she given Him in the season's activity? Had she ever made room for Him as the central figure of it all; or had he been crowded out, and His rightful place given to Santa Claus and the world's merry-making?
In the light of the Spirit she saw that the Star of Bethlehem always leads to the cross of Calvary. She had never liked to think about the cross before, but now it was all illumined with the glory of the love which gave to us God's best, his only begotten Son. She remembered how the Lord Jesus had said: "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me." She saw that it is as we see Christ on the cross for us that we are drawn to Him.
In that still hour, on her knees, at the foot of the cross, Marcia with great gladness made her first "White Gift" unto her Lord—she gave HERSELF to Him.
[*] By permission of the author and the publisher, Pittsburgh Christian Advocate.
THE FIR TREE[*]
Adapted by J. H. Stickney
Far away in the forest, where the warm sun and the fresh air made a sweet resting place, grew a pretty little fir tree. The situation was all that could be desired; and yet it was not happy, it wished so much to be like its tall companions, the pines and firs which grew around it.
The sun shone, and the soft air fluttered its leaves, and the little peasant children passed by, prattling merrily; but the fir tree did not heed them.
Sometimes the children would bring a large basket of raspberries or strawberries, wreathed in straws, and seat themselves near the fir tree, and say, "Is it not a pretty little tree?" which made it feel even more unhappy than before.
And yet all this while the tree grew a notch or joint taller every year; for by the number of joints in the stem of a fir tree we can discover its age.
Still, as it grew, it complained: "Oh! how I wish I were as tall as the other trees; then I would spread out my branches on every side, and my crown would overlook the wide world around. I should have the birds building their nests on my boughs, and when the wind blew, I should bow with stately dignity, like my tall companions."
So discontented was the tree, that it took no pleasure in the warm sunshine, the birds, or the rosy clouds that floated over it morning and evening.
Sometimes in winter, when the snow lay white and glittering on the ground, there was a little hare that would come springing along, and jump right over the little tree's head; then how mortified it would feel.
Two winters passed; and when the third arrived, the tree had grown so tall that the hare was obliged to run round it. Yet it remained unsatisfied, and would exclaim, "Oh! to grow, to grow; if I could but keep on growing tall and old! There is nothing else worth caring for in the world."
In the autumn the woodcutters came, as usual, and cut down several of the tallest trees; and the young fir, which was now grown to its full height, shuddered as the noble trees fell to the earth with a crash.
After the branches were lopped off, the trunks looked so slender and bare that they could scarcely be recognized. Then they were placed, one upon another, upon wagons, and drawn by horses out of the forest. "Where could they be going? What would become of them?" The young fir tree wished very much to know.
So in the spring, when the swallows and the storks came, it asked, "Do you know where those trees were taken? Did you meet them?"
The swallows knew nothing; but the stork, after a little reflection, nodded his head, and said, "Yes, I think I do. As I flew from Egypt, I saw several new ships, and they had fine masts that smelt like fir. These must have been the trees; and I assure you they were stately; they sailed right gloriously!"
"Oh, how I wish I were tall enough to go on the sea," said the fir tree. "Tell me what is this sea, and what does it look like?"
"It would take too much time to explain, a great deal too much," said the stork, flying quickly away.
"Rejoice in thy youth," said the sunbeam; "rejoice in thy fresh growth, and in the young life that is in thee."
And the wind kissed the tree, and the dew watered it with tears; but the fir tree regarded them not.
Christmas time drew near, and many young trees were cut down, some that were even smaller and younger than the fir tree, who enjoyed neither rest nor peace with longing to leave its forest home. These young trees, which were chosen for their beauty, kept their branches, and were also laid on wagons, and drawn by horses far away out of the forest.
"Where are they going?" asked the fir tree. "They are not taller than I am; indeed, one is not so tall. And why do they keep all their branches? Where are they going?"
"We know, we know," sang the sparrows; "we have looked in at the windows of the houses in the town, and we know what is done with them. Oh! you cannot think what honor and glory they receive. They are dressed up in the most splendid manner. We have seen them standing in the middle of a warm room, and adorned with all sorts of beautiful things;—honey cakes, gilded apples, playthings, and many hundreds of wax tapers."
"And then," asked the fir tree, trembling in all its branches, "and then what happens?"
"We did not see any more," said the sparrows; "but this was enough for us."
"I wonder whether anything so brilliant will ever happen to me," thought the fir tree. "It would be better even than crossing the sea. I long for it almost with pain. Oh, when will Christmas be here? I am now as tall and well grown as those which were taken away last year. Oh, that I were now laid on the wagon, or standing in the warm room, with all that brightness and splendor around me! Something better and more beautiful is to come after, or the trees would not be so decked out. Yes, what follows will be grander and more splendid. What can it be? I am weary with longing. I scarcely know what it is that I feel."
"Rejoice in our love," said the air and the sunlight. "Enjoy thine own bright life in the fresh air."
But the tree would not rejoice, though it grew taller every day and, winter and summer, its dark green foliage might be seen in the forests, while passersby would say, "What a beautiful tree!"
A short time before Christmas the discontented fir tree was the first to fall. As the axe cut sharply through the stem, and divided the pith, the tree fell with a groan to the earth, conscious of pain and faintness, and forgetting all its dreams of happiness, in sorrow at leaving its home in the forest. It knew that it should never again see its dear old companions, the trees, nor the little bushes and many-colored flowers that had grown by its side; perhaps not even the birds. Nor was the journey at all pleasant.
The tree first recovered itself while being unpacked in the courtyard of a house, with several other trees; and it heard a man say, "We only want one, and this is the prettiest. This is beautiful!"
Then came two servants in grand livery, and carried the fir tree into a large and beautiful apartment. Pictures hung on the walls, and near the great stove stood great china vases, with lions on the lids. There were rocking chairs, silken sofas, large tables covered with pictures, books, and playthings that had cost a hundred times a hundred dollars; at least so said the children.
Then the fir tree was placed in a large tub, full of sand; but green baize hung all around it, so that no one could know it was a tub; and it stood on a very handsome carpet. Oh, how the fir tree trembled! What was going to happen to him now? Some young ladies came in, and the servants helped them to adorn the tree.
On one branch they hung little bags cut out of colored paper, and each bag was filled with sweetmeats. From other branches hung gilded apples and walnuts, and all around were hundreds of red, blue and white tapers, which were fastened upon the branches. Dolls, exactly like real men and women, were placed under the green leaves,—and the tree had never seen such things before,—and at the top was fastened a glittering star, made of gold tinsel. Oh, it was very beautiful. "This evening," they all exclaimed, "how bright it will be!"
"Oh, that the evening were come," thought the tree, "and the tapers lighted! Then I should know what else is going to happen. Will the trees of the forest come to see me? Will the sparrows peep in at the windows, I wonder, as they fly? Shall I grow faster here, and keep on all these ornaments during summer and winter?" But guessing was of very little use. His back ached with trying; and this pain is as bad for a slender fir tree as headache is for us.
At last the tapers were lighted, and then what a glistening blaze of splendor the tree presented! It trembled so with joy in all its branches, that one of the candles fell among the green leaves and burnt some of them. "Help! help!" exclaimed the young ladies; but there was no danger, for they quickly extinguished the fire.
After this the tree tried not to tremble at all, though the fire frightened him, he was so anxious not to hurt any of the beautiful ornaments, even while their brilliancy dazzled him.
And now the folding doors were thrown open, and a troop of children rushed in as if they intended to upset the tree, and were followed more slowly by their elders. For a moment the little ones stood silent with astonishment, and then they shouted for joy till the room rang; and they danced merrily round the tree, while one present after another was taken from it.
"What are they doing? What will happen next?" thought the tree. At last the candles burned down to the branches, and were put out. Then the children received permission to plunder the tree.
Oh, how they rushed upon it! There was such a riot that the branches cracked, and had it not been fastened with the glistening star to the ceiling, it must have been thrown down.
Then the children danced about with their pretty toys, and no one noticed the tree, except the children's maid, who came and peeped among the branches to see if an apple or a fig had been forgotten.
"A story, a story," cried the children, pulling a little fat man toward the tree.
"Now we shall be in green shade," said the man, as he seated himself under it, "and the tree will have the pleasure of hearing also; but I shall only relate one story. What shall it be? Ivede-Avede, or Humpty-Dumpty, who fell down stairs, but soon got up again, and at last married a princess?"
"Ivede-Avede," cried some. "Humpty-Dumpty," cried others; and there was a famous uproar. But the fir tree remained quite still, and thought to himself, "Shall I have anything to do with all this? Ought I to make a noise too?" but he had already amused them as much as they wished.
Then the old man told them the story of Humpty-Dumpty;—how he fell downstairs and was raised up again, and married a princess. And the children clapped their hands and cried "Tell another, tell another," for they wanted to hear the story of Ivede-Avede; but this time they had only Humpty-Dumpty. After this the fir tree became quite silent and thoughtful. Never had the birds in the forest told such tales as Humpty-Dumpty who fell down stairs, and yet married a princess.
"Ah, yes! so it happens in the world," thought the fir tree. He believed it all, because it was related by such a pleasant man.
"Ah, well!" he thought, "who knows? Perhaps I may fall down too and marry a princess;" and he looked forward joyfully to the next evening, expecting to be again decked out with lights and playthings, gold and fruit. "Tomorrow I will not tremble," thought he; "I will enjoy all my splendor, and I shall hear the story of Humpty-Dumpty again, and perhaps Ivede-Avede." And the tree remained quiet and thoughtful all night.
In the morning the servants and the housemaid came in. "Now," thought the fir tree, "all my splendor is going to begin again." But they dragged him out of the room and upstairs to the garret and threw him on the floor, in a dark corner where no daylight shone, and there they left him. "What does this mean?" thought the tree. "What am I to do here? I can hear nothing in a place like this;" and he leaned against the wall and thought and thought.
And he had time enough to think, for days and nights passed, and no one came near him; and when at last somebody did come, it was only to push away some large boxes in a corner. So the tree was completely hidden from sight as if it had never existed.
"It is winter now," thought the tree; "the ground is hard and covered with snow, so that people cannot plant me. I shall be sheltered here, I dare say, until spring comes. How thoughtful and kind everybody is to me! Still, I wish this place were not so dark and so dreadfully lonely, with not even a little hare to look at. How pleasant it was out in the forest while the snow lay on the ground, when the hare would run by, yes, and jump over me too, although I did not like it then. Oh! it is terribly lonely here."
"Squeak, squeak," said a little mouse, creeping cautiously towards the tree; then came another, and they both sniffed at the fir tree, and crept in and out between the branches.
"Oh, it is very cold here," said the little mouse. "If it were not, we would be very comfortable here, wouldn't we, old fir tree?"
"I am not old," said the fir tree. "There are many who are older than I am."
"Where do you come from?" asked the mice, who were full of curiosity; "and what do you know? Have you seen the most beautiful places in the world, and can you tell us all about them? And have you been in the storeroom, where cheeses lie on the shelf and hams hang from the ceiling? One can run about on tallow candles there; one can go in thin and come out fat."
"I know nothing of that," said the fir tree; "but I know the wood where the sun shines and the birds sing." And then the tree told the little mice all about its youth. They had never heard such an account in their lives; and after they had listened to it attentively, they said, "What a number of things you have seen! You must have been very happy."
"Happy!" exclaimed the fir tree; and then, as he reflected on what he had been telling them, he said, "Ah, yes! after all, those were happy days." But when he went on and related all about Christmas eve, and how he had been dressed up with cakes and lights, the mice said, "How happy you must have been, you old fir tree."
"I am not old at all," replied the tree; "I only came from the forest this winter. I am now checked in my growth."
"What splendid stories you can tell," said the little mice. And the next night four other mice came with them to hear what the tree had to tell. The more he talked, the more he remembered, and then he thought to himself, "Yes, those were happy days; but they may come again. Humpty-Dumpty fell downstairs, and yet he married a princess. Perhaps I may marry a princess too." And the fir tree thought of the pretty little birch tree that grew in the forest; a real princess, a beautiful princess, she was to him.
"Who is Humpty-Dumpty?" asked the little mice. And then the tree related the whole story; he could remember every single word. And the little mice were so delighted with it, that they were ready to jump to the top of the tree. The next night a great many more mice made their appearance, and on Sunday two rats came with them; but they said it was not a pretty story at all, and the little mice were very sorry, for it made them also think less of it.
"Do you know only that one story?" asked the rats.
"Only that one," replied the fir tree. "I heard it on the happiest evening of my life; but I did not know I was so happy at the time."
"We think it is a very miserable story," said the rats. "Don't you know any story about bacon or tallow in the storeroom?"
"No," replied the tree.
"Many thanks to you, then," replied the rats, and they went their ways.
The little mice also kept away after this, and the tree sighed and said, "It was very pleasant when the merry little mice sat around me and listened while I talked. Now that is all past too. However, I shall consider myself happy when someone comes to take me out of this place."
But would this ever happen? Yes; one morning people came to clear up the garret; the boxes were packed away, and the tree was pulled out of the corner and thrown roughly on the floor; then the servants dragged it out upon the staircase where the daylight shone.
"Now life is beginning again," said the tree, rejoicing in the sunshine and fresh air. Then it was carried downstairs and taken into the courtyard so quickly that it forgot to think of itself, and could only look about, there was so much to be seen.
The court was close to a garden, where everything looked blooming. Fresh and fragrant roses hung over the little palings. The linden trees were in blossom; while the swallows flew here and there crying, "Twit, twit, twit, my mate is coming;" but it was not the fir tree they meant.
"Now I shall live," cried the tree joyfully, spreading out its branches; but alas! they were all withered and yellow, and it lay in a corner amongst weeds and nettles. The star of gold paper still stuck in the top of the tree, and glittered in the sunshine.
In the same courtyard two of the merry children were playing who had danced round the tree at Christmas time and had been so happy. The youngest saw the gilded star and ran and pulled it off the tree. "Look what is sticking to the ugly old fir tree," said the child, treading on the branches till they crackled under his boots.
And the tree saw all the fresh, bright flowers in the garden, and then looked at itself, and wished it had remained in the dark corner of the garret. It thought of its fresh youth in the forest, of the merry Christmas evening, and of the little mice who had listened to the story of Humpty-Dumpty.
"Past! past!" said the poor tree. "Oh, had I but enjoyed myself while I could have done so! but now it is too late."
Then a lad came and chopped the tree into small pieces, till a large bundle lay in a heap on the ground. The pieces were placed in the fire, and they blazed up brightly, while the tree sighed so deeply that each sigh was like a little pistol shot. Then the children, who were at play, came and seated themselves in front of the fire and looked at it, and cried, "Pop, pop." But at each "pop," which was a deep sigh, the tree was thinking of a summer day in the forest, or of some winter night there when the stars shone brightly, and of Christmas evening and of Humpty-Dumpty, the only story it had ever heard, or knew how to relate,—till at last it was consumed.
The boys still played in the garden, and the youngest wore the golden star on his breast with which the tree had been adorned during the happiest evening of its existence. Now all was past; the tree's life was past, and the story also past! for all stories must come to an end some time or other.
[*] From "Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales," adapted by J. H. Stickney. By permission of the publishers—Ginn and Company.
THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL[*]
It was dreadfully cold; it was snowing fast, and was almost dark, as evening came on—the last evening of the year. In the cold and the darkness, there went along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded and with naked feet. When she left home she had slippers on, it is true; but they were much too large for her feet,—slippers that her mother had used until then, and the poor little girl lost them in running across the street when two carriages were passing terribly fast. When she looked for them, one was not to be found, and a boy seized the other and ran away with it, saying he would use it for a cradle some day, when he had children of his own.
So on the little girl went with her bare feet, that were red and blue with cold. In an old apron that she wore were bundles of matches, and she carried a bundle also in her hand. No one had bought so much as a bunch all the long day, and no one had given her even a penny.
Poor little girl! Shivering with cold and hunger she crept along, a perfect picture of misery!
The snowflakes fell on her long flaxen hair, which hung in pretty curls about her throat; but she thought not of her beauty nor of the cold. Lights gleamed in every window, and there came to her the savory smell of roast goose, for it was New Year's Eve. And it was of this which she thought.
In a corner formed by two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sat cowering down. She had drawn under her little feet, but still she grew colder and colder; yet she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches, and could not bring a penny of money. Her father would certainly beat her; and, besides, it was cold enough at home, for they had only the houseroof above them; and, though the largest holes had been stopped with straw and rags, there were left many through which the cold wind whistled.
And now her little hands were nearly frozen with cold. Alas! a single match might do her good if she might only draw it from the bundle, rub it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. So at last she drew one out. Whischt! How it blazed and burned! It gave out a warm, bright flame like a little candle, as she held her hands over it. A wonderful little light it was. It really seemed to the little girl as if she sat before a great iron stove, with polished brass feet and brass shovel and tongs. So blessedly it burned that the little maiden stretched out her feet to warm them also. How comfortable she was! But lo! the flame went out, the stove vanished, and nothing remained but the little burned match in her hand.
She rubbed another match against the wall. It burned brightly, and where the light fell upon the wall it became transparent like a veil, so that she could see through it into the room. A snow-white cloth was spread upon the table, on which was a beautiful china dinner service, while a roast goose, stuffed with apples and prunes, steamed famously, and sent forth a most savory smell. And what was more delightful still, and wonderful, the goose jumped from the dish, with knife and fork still in its breast, and waddled along the floor straight to the little girl.
But the match went out then, and nothing was left to her but the thick, damp wall.
She lighted another match. And now she was under a most beautiful Christmas tree, larger and far more prettily trimmed than the one she had seen through the glass doors at the rich merchant's. Hundreds of wax tapers were burning on the green branches, and gay figures, such as she had seen in the shop windows, looked down upon her. The child stretched out her hands to them; then the match went out.
Still the lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher. She saw them as stars in heaven, and one of them fell, forming a long trail of fire.
"Now some one is dying," murmured the child softly; for her grandmother, the only person who had loved her and who was now dead, had told her that whenever a star falls a soul mounts up to God.
She struck yet another match against the wall, and again it was light; and in the brightness there appeared before her the dear old grandmother, bright and radiant, yet sweet and mild, and happy as she had never looked on earth.
"Oh, grandmother," cried the child, "take me with you. I know you will go away when the match burns out. You, too, will vanish, like the warm stove, the splendid New Year's feast, the beautiful Christmas Tree." And lest her grandmother should disappear, she rubbed the whole bundle of matches against the wall.
And the matches burned with such a brilliant light that it became brighter than noonday. Her grandmother had never looked so grand and beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and both flew together, joyously and gloriously, mounting higher and higher, far above the earth; and for them there was neither hunger, nor cold, nor care;—they were with God.
But in the corner, at the dawn of day, sat the poor girl, leaning against the wall, with red cheeks and smiling mouth,—frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and cold she sat, with the matches, one bundle of which was burned.
"She wanted to warm herself, poor little thing," people said. No one imagined what sweet visions she had had, or how gloriously she had gone with her grandmother to enter upon the joys of a new year.
[*] From "Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales." By permission of publishers—Ginn & Company.
Suggested by One of Mrs. Celia Thaxter's Poems
"Story-telling is a real strengthening spirit-bath."—Froebel.
Piccola lived in Italy, where the oranges grow, and where all the year the sun shines warm and bright. I suppose you think Piccola a very strange name for a little girl; but in her country it was not strange at all, and her mother thought it the sweetest name a little girl ever had.
Piccola had no kind father, no big brother or sister, and no sweet baby to play with and love. She and her mother lived all alone in an old stone house that looked on a dark, narrow street. They were very poor, and the mother was away from home almost every day, washing clothes and scrubbing floors, and working hard to earn money for her little girl and herself. So you see Piccola was alone a great deal of the time; and if she had not been a very happy, contented little child, I hardly know what she would have done. She had no playthings except a heap of stones in the back yard that she used for building houses and a very old, very ragged doll that her mother had found in the street one day.
But there was a small round hole in the stone wall at the back of her yard, and her greatest pleasure was to look through that into her neighbor's garden. When she stood on a stone, and put her eyes close to the hole, she could see the green grass in the garden, and smell the sweet flowers, and even hear the water splashing into the fountain. She had never seen anyone walking in the garden, for it belonged to an old gentleman who did not care about grass and flowers.
One day in the autumn her mother told her that the old gentleman had gone away, and had rented his house to a family of little American children, who had come with their sick mother to spend the winter in Italy. After this, Piccola was never lonely, for all day long the children ran and played and danced and sang in the garden. It was several weeks before they saw her at all, and I am not sure they ever would have done so but one day the kitten ran away, and in chasing her they came close to the wall and saw Piccola's black eyes looking through the hole in the stones. They were a little frightened at first, and did not speak to her; but the next day she was there again, and Rose, the oldest girl, went up to the wall and talked to her a little while. When the children found that she had no one to play with and was very lonely, they talked to her every day, and often brought her fruits and candies, and passed them through the hole in the wall.
One day they even pushed the kitten through; but the hole was hardly large enough for her, and she mewed and scratched and was very much frightened. After that the little boy said he would ask his father if the hole might not be made larger, and then Piccola could come in and play with them. The father had found out that Piccola's mother was a good woman, and that the little girl herself was sweet and kind, so that he was very glad to have some of the stones broken away and an opening made for Piccola to come in.
How excited she was, and how glad the children were when she first stepped into the garden! She wore her best dress, a long, bright-colored woolen skirt and a white waist. Round her neck was a string of beads, and on her feet were little wooden shoes. It would seem very strange to us—would it not?—to wear wooden shoes; but Piccola and her mother had never worn anything else, and never had any money to buy stockings. Piccola almost always ran about barefooted, like the kittens and the chickens and the little ducks. What a good time they had that day, and how glad Piccola's mother was that her little girl could have such a pleasant, safe place to play in, while she was away at work!
By and by December came, and the little Americans began to talk about Christmas. One day, when Piccola's curly head and bright eyes came peeping through the hole in the wall, and they ran to her and helped her in; and as they did so, they all asked her at once what she thought she would have for a Christmas present. "A Christmas present!" said Piccola. "Why, what is that?"
All the children looked surprised at this, and Rose said, rather gravely, "Dear Piccola, don't you know what Christmas is?"
Oh, yes, Piccola knew it was the happy day when the baby Christ was born, and she had been to church on that day and heard the beautiful singing, and had seen the picture of the Babe lying in the manger, with cattle and sheep sleeping round about. Oh, yes, she knew all that very well, but what was a Christmas present?
Then the children began to laugh and to answer her all together. There was such a clatter of tongues that she could hear only a few of the words now and then, such as "chimney," "Santa Claus," "stockings," "reindeer," "Christmas Eve," "candies and toys." Piccola put her hands over her ears and said, "Oh, I can't understand one word. You tell me, Rose." Then Rose told her all about jolly Santa Claus, with his red cheeks and white beard and fur coat, and about his reindeer and sleigh full of toys. "Every Christmas Eve," said Rose, "he comes down the chimney, and fills the stockings of all the good children; so, Piccola, you hang up your stocking, and who knows what a beautiful Christmas present you will find when morning comes!" Of course Piccola thought this was a delightful plan, and was very pleased to hear about it. Then all the children told her of every Christmas Eve they could remember, and of the presents they had had; so that she went home thinking of nothing but dolls and hoops and balls and ribbons and marbles and wagons and kites.
She told her mother about Santa Claus, and her mother seemed to think that perhaps he did not know there was any little girl in that house, and very likely he would not come at all. But Piccola felt very sure Santa Claus would remember her, for her little friends had promised to send a letter up the chimney to remind him.
Christmas Eve came at last. Piccola's mother hurried home from her work; they had their little supper of soup and bread, and soon it was bedtime,—time to get ready for Santa Claus. But oh! Piccola remembered then for the first time that the children had told her she must hang up her stocking, and she hadn't any, and neither had her mother.
How sad, how sad it was! Now Santa Claus would come, and perhaps be angry because he couldn't find any place to put the present.
The poor little girl stood by the fireplace, and the big tears began to run down her cheeks. Just then her mother called to her, "Hurry, Piccola; come to bed." What should she do? But she stopped crying, and tried to think; and in a moment she remembered her wooden shoes, and ran off to get one of them. She put it close to the chimney, and said to herself, "Surely Santa Claus will know what it's there for. He will know I haven't any stockings, so I gave him the shoe instead."
Then she went off happily to her bed, and was asleep almost as soon as she had nestled close to her mother's side.
The sun had only just begun to shine, next morning, when Piccola awoke. With one jump she was out on the floor and running toward the chimney. The wooden shoe was lying where she had left it, but you could never, never guess what was in it.
Piccola had not meant to wake her mother, but this surprise was more than any little girl could bear and yet be quiet; so she danced to the bed with the shoe in her hand, calling, "Mother, mother! look, look! see the present Santa Claus brought me!"
Her mother raised her head and looked into the shoe. "Why, Piccola," she said, "a little chimney swallow nestling in your shoe? What a good Santa Claus to bring you a bird!"
"Good Santa Claus, dear Santa Claus!" cried Piccola; and she kissed her mother and kissed the bird and kissed the shoe, and even threw kisses up the chimney, she was so happy.
When the birdling was taken out of the shoe, they found that he did not try to fly, only to hop about the room; and as they looked closer, they could see that one of his wings was hurt a little. But the mother bound it up carefully, so that it did not seem to pain him, and he was so gentle that he took a drink of water from a cup, and even ate crumbs and seeds out of Piccola's hands. She was a proud little girl when she took her Christmas present to show the children in the garden. They had had a great many gifts,—dolls that could say "mamma," bright picture books, trains of cars, toy pianos; but not one of their playthings was alive, like Piccola's birdling. They were as pleased as she, and Rose hunted about the house until she found a large wicker cage that belonged to a blackbird she once had. She gave the cage to Piccola, and the swallow seemed to make himself quite at home in it at once, and sat on the perch winking his bright eyes at the children. Rose had saved a bag of candies for Piccola, and when she went home at last, with the cage and her dear swallow safely inside it, I am sure there was not a happier little girl in the whole country of Italy.
[*] From "The Story Hour," by Wiggins and Smith. Published by consent of the authors and also the publishers—Houghton, Mifflin and Company.
THE SHEPHERD'S STORY[*]
"Bring hither that sheepskin, Joseph, and lay it down on this bank of dry earth, under this shelving rock. The wind blows chilly from the west, but the rock will shelter us. The sky is fair and the moon is rising, and we can sit here and watch the flocks on the hillside below. Your young blood and your father's coat of skins will keep you warm for one watch, I am sure. At midnight, my son, your father, Reuben, and his brother James will take our places; for the first watch the old man and the boy will tend the sheep."
"Yes, grandfather; you shall sit in that snug corner of the rock, where you can lean back and take your comfort. I will lie here at your feet. Now and then I will run to see whether the sheep are wandering, and that will warm me, if I grow cold."
"Have you never been out on the hills at night with your father?"
"Never, grandfather. I have often begged him to let me come; but he kept saying that I must wait until I was twelve years old. On the last full moon was my birthday and today, when he returned from Bethlehem to the flocks, he brought me with him."
"So this is the lad's first night with the sheep in the fields, and the old man's last night, I fear," said the aged shepherd, sadly. "It is not often in these days that I venture out to keep the watches of the flock; but this one night of the year I have spent upon these hills these many years, and I always shall as long as I have strength to walk so far."
"Was your father, too, a shepherd?"
"Yes, and all his fathers before him for many generations. On these hills my ancestors have kept their sheep for I know not how long."
Joseph was still for a moment. His eyes wandered away over the silent hills, lit by the rising moon. His face was troubled. At length, he said gently:
"Grandfather, I heard Rabbi Eliezer saying, the other day, in the synagogue, that a shepherd's life is not a noble life. He was reading from one of the old doctors, who said: 'Let no one make his son a camel-driver, a barber, a sailor, a shepherd, or a shopkeeper. They are dishonest callings.' I was angry when he read it; but I held my peace."
"You did well, my son, to hold your peace. I myself have often heard such words, of late, from the doctors in the synagogues; but it is not wise to answer them. Where they got their notions, I know not. From the Egyptians, I think, more than from the prophets. All Egyptians hate shepherds, and can never speak of them without sneering. Perhaps they have not yet forgotten how the shepherds conquered and ruled them for generations. Nevertheless, there is some reason why the calling of the shepherds should be despised. Many of them are rude and fierce men. Living out of doors so constantly makes their manners rough and their temper harsh. They are often quarrelsome. Such bloody fights as I used to see among them, at the wells in the south country, where they brought their flocks to water and each one wanted the first chance at the well, I hope you will never look upon."
"But all shepherds are not so," protested Joseph.
"No, indeed. Brave men they must be; fleet of foot and strong of limb and stout of heart; but brave men are not always quarrelsome. Many a shepherd whom I have known had a heart as pure and gentle as a child's. And the godliest men that I have known have been among them. If the shepherd has but learned to think, to commune with his own soul, he has time for thought and time for prayer. More than one with whom I have watched upon these hills knew all the Psalms of David by heart and many of the books of the prophets. The doctors in the synagogues teach only the law; the shepherds love best the Psalms and the prophets. They do not forget that King David was himself a shepherd's lad. It was upon these very hills that he kept his father's sheep. It was in that ravine over yonder, on that hillside, that he, a mere stripling, caught by the beard and killed the lion and the bear that attacked the sheep. It was on that slope, just a little to the south, that the messenger found him with his flocks when he was called home to be anointed by Samuel the prophet. When the doctors talk so contemptuously about the shepherds, I wonder if they do not remember that the great king wrote: 'The Lord is my Shepherd.' How can our calling be so mean as they say, when David, who was called from the sheepfolds, praises the Eternal One himself as his Shepherd? But hark! what noise is that I hear? There is some trouble among the sheep."
"Let me run and see," answers the boy, "and I will come and bring you word."
So saying, Joseph cast off his father's shaggy coat, seized the sling in his left hand and the crook in his right and ran swiftly out to the brow of the hill. He was a strong lad, large of frame and a swift runner, and the sling in his hand was a sure weapon. The old man looked after him with pride, as he bounded over the rocks, and said to himself:
"Some evil beast, I doubt not. But the lad's heart is brave and he must learn to face dangers. I will wait a moment."
Presently the sheep came huddling round the hill in terror. The quick, faint bleat of the ewes showed that they had seen a foe. The old man arose and hurried in the direction in which the lad had disappeared. Joseph was just returning, breathless, from the ravine below.
"It was a wolf, grandfather. The sheep on this side of the ledge had seen him and were flying. Just as I reached the brow of the hill, he was creeping round the end of the ledge below, ready to spring upon a ewe that was feeding near. The first thing he knew a stone from my sling hit him, and he went howling down the hill. I think I broke his leg, for he went on three legs and I gained on him as I ran after him; but he crawled into a narrow place among the rocks in the gorge down yonder, and I could not follow him."
"Well done, my lad," said the ancient Stephanus proudly. "You will make a good shepherd. These single wolves are cowards. It is always safe to face them. When they come in packs, it is quite another thing. But this fellow will keep at a safe distance for the rest of the night, you may depend. Let us go back to our shelter and call the sheep together."
It was several minutes before Stephanus and Joseph could collect the sheep that the wolf had scattered; but at length, with the aid of the dog, who was not a very brave specimen, and who had taken to his heels when he saw the wolf coming, they succeeded in driving them into a safe neighborhood, and then, with their blood quickened by the adventure, they sat down again beneath the overhanging rock.
"You said, grandfather, that you always spent this night with the flocks in the fields. Why this night?" asked the boy.
"Do you not know, my boy, that this is the night of the year on which the Lord Christ was born?"
"Oh! yes," answered the lad. "My father told me as we were walking hither today, but I had forgotten it. And you were with the sheep that night?"
"Where was it?"
"Here, on this very spot."
The boy's eyes began to grow and fill with wonder and there was a slight tremor in his voice as he hurriedly plied the aged man with his eager questions. Stephanus drew his shepherd's cloak around him, and leaned forward a little, and looked out upon the silent moonlit hills, and then up into the sky.
"How long ago was that, grandfather?"
"Just fifty years ago this night."
"And how old were you then?"
"Fourteen, and a stout boy for my age. I had been for two years in the fields with my father, and had tasted to the full the hardships and dangers of the shepherd's life."
"Who were with you on that night?"
"My father, and his brother, James, and Hosea, the son of John, a neighbor and kinsman of ours. On that year, as on this year and often, there came in the midwinter a dry and warm season between the early and the latter rain. We had driven forth our flocks from Bethlehem and were dwelling by night in the shelter of the tower on the hillside yonder, watching and sleeping two and two. My father and I were wont to keep the early watches. At midnight we would call James and Hosea, and they would watch till the morning. But that night, when the sun went down and the stars came out, we were sitting here, upon this hillside, talking of the troubles of Israel and of the promises of deliverance spoken by the prophets; and James and Hosea were asking my father questions, and he was answering them, for he was older than they, and all the people of Bethlehem reverenced him as a wise and devout man. Some even said that, if the people of Israel had not ceased to look for prophets, they would have counted him a prophet. I remember well that, when he rose in the synagogue, it seemed as if some wisdom from on high touched his lips, and he would speak with such hope and courage of the light that should yet shine in our darkness and of the help that should yet arise to Judah, that the people's faces would glow with joyful expectation."
Stephanus paused a moment and started forward, as his eye was turned toward his own shadow upon the rock, cast by the rising moon. Did the old man's figure that he saw remind him of the patriarch of whom he was talking?
Soon he went on.
"Ah! but they should have heard my father talking here by night, under the stars. It was here upon these hills where the royal shepherd used to sing, that his tongue was loosed and he spoke wonderful words. So it was that night, fifty years ago. I remember it as if it were yesterday. My father sat in this very niche, where I am sitting now; James and Hosea were on either side of him. I was lying at their feet, as you now lie at mine. Their faces kindled and the tremor of deep feeling was in their voices as they talked together; and the other two had lingered here three or four hours after the sun had set. It was not a moonlit night like this, but all the stars were out and all the winds were still.
"Suddenly I saw my father rise to his feet. Then the other men sprang up, with astonishment and wonder upon their faces. It had grown light all at once, lighter than the brightest moon; and as I turned my face in the direction in which the others were looking, I saw, standing there upon that level place, a figure majestic and beautiful beyond all the power of words to tell."
"Were you not afraid, grandfather?"
"Indeed, I was, my boy. My heart stopped beating. The others were standing, but I had no power to rise. I lay there motionless upon the earth. My eyes were fixed upon that wonderful face; upon those clear, shining eyes; upon that brow that seemed to beam with the purity of the soul within. It was not a smile with which that face was lighted. It was something too noble and exalted to call by that name. It was a look that told of power and peace, of joy and triumph."
"Did you know that it was an angel?"
"I knew not anything. I only knew that what I saw was glorious, too glorious for mortal eyes to look upon. Yet, while I gazed, and in far less time than I have now taken to tell you of what I saw, the terribleness of the look began to disappear, the sweetness and grace of the soul shone forth, and I had almost ceased to tremble before the angel opened his mouth. And when he spoke, his voice, clearer than any trumpet and sweeter than any lute, charmed away all my fears."
"'Be not afraid' he said, 'for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day, in the City of David, a Savior, which is Messiah, the King. And this is the sign unto you. Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.'
"Oh! that voice, my boy! It makes my heart beat now to remember its sweetness. It seemed to carry these words into our innermost hearts; to print them on our memory, so that we never could forget one syllable of what he said. And then, before we had time to make reply, he turned aside a little and lifted his face toward heaven, and, in a tone far louder than that in which he had spoken to us, but yet so sweet that it did not startle us at all, came forth from his lips the first strain of the great song:
"'Glory to God in the highest!'
"When he had uttered that, he paused a moment, and the echoes, one after another, from hills that were near and hills that were far away, came flying home to us; so that I knew for once what the prophet meant when he said that all the mountains and the hills should break forth into singing. But before the echoes had all faded we began to hear other voices above our heads, a great chorus, taking up the strain that the angel first had sung. At first it seemed dim and far away; but gradually it came nearer, and filled all the air, filled all the earth, filled all our souls with a most entrancing sweetness. Glory to God in the highest!—that was the grandest part. It seemed as though there could be no place so high that that strain would not mount up to it, and no place so happy that that voice would not make it thrill with new gladness. But then came the softer tones, less grand, but even sweeter: 'Peace on earth; good will to men.'
"Oh! my boy, if you had heard that music as I did, you would not wonder when I tell you that it has been hard for me to wait here, in the midst of the dreary noises of earth, for fifty years before hearing it again. But earth that night was musical as heaven. You should have heard the echoes that came back, when the angels' chorus ceased, from all these mountains and all these little hills on every side. There is music enough even in this world, if one can only call it forth; chords divine that will vibrate with wonderful harmony. It only needs an angel's hand to touch the trembling strings."
"Did you see the choir of angels overhead, grandfather?"
"Nay, I saw nothing. The brightness was too dazzling for mortal eyes. We all stood there, with downcast eyes, listening spell-bound to the wonderful melody, until the chorus ceased, and the echoes, one after another, died away, and the glory faded out of the sky and the stars came back again, and no sound was heard but the faint voice of a young lamb, calling for its mother.
"The first to break the silence was my father. 'Come,' he said, in a solemn voice. 'Let us go at once to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.'
"So the sheep were quietly gathered into the fold at the tower, and we hastened to Bethlehem. Never shall I forget that journey by night. We spake not many words, as we traveled swiftly the twenty furlongs; talk seemed altogether tame; but now and then my father broke forth in a song, and the others joined in the chorus. We were not so spent with running but that we could find voice for singing; and such words as these of the prophet were the only ones that could give voice to our swelling hearts:
"'Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; And break forth into singing, O mountains; For the Lord hath comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted.
"'How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of Him that bringeth good tidings, That publisheth peace, That bringeth good tidings of good, That publisheth salvation.'
"It was midnight when we climbed the hill to the little city of Bethlehem; the constellation Cesil, called by the Greeks Orion, was just setting in the west. We knew not whither to go. We had only the sign of the angel by which we should know the infant Messiah. He was a babe of one day. He was lying in a manger.
"'Let us go to the inn Chimham,' said my father. 'It stands on the very spot where King David was born. Peradvanture we shall find him there.'
"Over the entrance to the court of the inn a lantern was swinging from a rope stretched across from post to post. Guided by its light, we entered, and found the courtyard full of beasts of burden, showing that the inn was crowded with travelers. In the arched shelter of the hostelry as many as could find room were lying; some who could not sleep were sitting up and waiting drearily for the morning. Two aged women near the entrance, were talking in a low tone.
"'Peace be unto you!' said my father.
"'The Lord be gracious unto thee,' answered the oldest woman, in a solemn voice, as she looked upon my father's white beard; 'but,' she quickly added, 'there is scanty cheer in this place for late comers.'
"'We seek not lodging,' said my father; 'but know you whether among these guests is an infant born this day?'
"'Verily there is,' answered the aged dame; 'a man-child more beautiful than any my eyes have ever beheld. He is lying in a manger there in the cave that serves for stable.'
"We hastened to the mouth of the cave, and there beheld our King. The oxen and the asses were lying near, and a strong man, with a grave and benignant face, was leaning on his staff above the manger. A beautiful young mother lay close beside it, her cheek resting on her hands, that were clasped over the edge of the rock-hewn crib. Into this a little straw had been thrown, and over it a purple robe had been cast, whereon the infant lay. A lamp, set upon a projection of the wall of the cave, burned brightly near. The great eyes of the wonderful child were wandering about the room; his hand touched his mother's lips. I waited to hear him open his mouth and speak.
"There was a moment of silence after we entered the cave. My father broke it with his salutation:
"'Hail, thou blessed among women!' he cried. 'This child of thine is a Prince and a Savior.'
"And then we all bowed low upon our faces before him and worshipped him with praise and gladness.
"The two aged women, with whom we had spoken, had followed us to the door of the stable, and, seeing us worshipping there, had run to call others who were awake in the inn, so that when we arose quite a company were standing at the door, or just within, gazing upon the King in his beauty and listening to our thanksgiving with great wonder.
"Then my father told them all the things that we had heard and seen—the message of the angel, the song in the air, the glory of the Lord that had appeared to us—and how we had quickly come to Bethlehem, and had found things as the angel had told us. 'And it is even,' he cried, 'as the prophet himself hath spoken: "Thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose going forth hast been of old; even from everlasting."'
"All that heard were full of astonishment—all save the mother. I saw no wonder on her face; the great things that my father told caused her no astonishment; she listened with a quiet and solemn joy, like one who was saying in her heart: 'I knew it all before.'
"When my father had finished speaking, we all bowed low again before the young child; and the mother lifted him in her arms and placed his cheek against her own, smiling graciously on us, but uttering no word. And we came forth from the stable and stood again beneath the stars in the courtyard of the inn. By this time many of the travelers were awake, and an eager company had gathered around us, all of whom desired to be told of the sign that had been shown to us. To one and another we rehearsed our story, lingering long to make known the good tidings, until the morning star appeared and the dawn began to kindle over the eastern hills. Then we hastened to our own homes in the city, and told our kindred what had happened unto us. In the early morning we came back again unto our pastures and our flocks, rejoicing to stand again in the place where the glory of God had shone and the music of heaven had filled the air."
Stephanus paused, his face all aglow with the tale that he had been telling. His eyes swept again the circuit of the moonlit hills and were lifted reverently up to the sky.
"Did you ever see the Lord Christ after that?" asked Joseph.
"Once only. My father and I were at Jerusalem at the passover. It was the year before my father died, seventeen years ago; it was the same week on which our Lord was crucified. My father was then an aged man—fourscore and five years old. Our tent was pitched on the slope of the Mount of Olives, near the Bethany road. While we sat there one morning, a great noise of shouting was heard, and presently we saw one riding on an ass, followed by a great company, crying 'Hosanna!' As we drew nearer, we heard them say that it was Jesus of Nazareth; and, when we saw His face, we knew that it was He, by the wonderful eyes, though it was the face of a bearded man, and not of an infant, and was very pale and sad. As He drew near to our tent, the city came full into His view, with its gilded roofs and marble pinnacles, blazing under the morning sun. Suddenly He paused in the way, and we heard Him weeping aloud, though we could not hear His words of lamentation. The multitude halted, too, when we did; and the cheering ceased, and some of those who stood nearest Him wept also, though no one seemed to know what had caused His grief. But soon they went on again, and before they reached the foot of the hill another multitude met them, coming forth from the city, and we heard their shouts of 'Hosanna in the Highest!' as they entered the gate of Jerusalem."
"What said your father when he saw all this?" queried Joseph.
"He said but little. There was a shadow on his face, yet he spoke cheerfully. 'I cannot understand it,' he murmured. 'They are trying to make Him King of the Jews; but King He will not be, at least not in their fashion. Yet in some way I know He will be Prince and Deliverer. I cannot understand, I will wait.'"
"Were you not in Jerusalem when He was put to death?"
"No. My father was frail and ill and we had hastened home to Bethlehem. News of His death on the cross had only just reached us when another messenger came to tell us that the sepulcher in which He had been laid was empty; that He had risen from the dead.
"My father's eyes kindled when he heard this message. He cast aside his staff and stood firm on his feet. His voice, when he spoke, rang out like a trumpet. 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!' he cried. It is thus that He redeemeth His people. This Jesus is not to be the Captain of our armies, but the Savior of our souls. His kingdom is the kingdom of righteousness, and therefore it is that the prophet hath said: "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end."
"Always after that, words of the prophet concerning the Messiah kept coming back to my father; and once and again he cried out: 'Truly, this Jesus was the Son of God, the true King of Israel!' As the months wore on, his words were more and more of the crucified and risen Lord, and he dwelt in a great peace. At length, when the flocks were led forth to the midwinter pasturage, he begged to go with me. It was on this very day that we came, the same day of the year on which the Lord was born. He was feeble and tottered as he walked; but he leaned on my arm and we came slowly. In the evening he said: 'Let me go, my son, and sit once more under the great rock.' I wrapped him in my coat of skins, and sat here where I sit now and where he was sitting when the angel came. We talked here long, under the stars, that night, of Him whom we had learned to love as Master and Lord, of the works that He had done and the words that He had spoken, as His disciples had told of them. We had been silent for a few moments, when I looked up, and saw that his head had fallen backward against the rock wall. I sprang to him. His eyes were shut, but his lips were moving. I put my ear to his mouth, and heard him say only: 'Peace—on—earth—good will'—they were his last words. He had gone beyond our starlight, into the country where the light always shines—the glory that fell that night, fifty years ago, upon these hills of Bethlehem."
Stephanus was silent and Joseph's eyes were full of tears. At length the old man rose.
"Come, my son," he said. "Cesil is in the south; it is midnight; let us call your father and his brother. The old man and the boy have kept their watch, and it is now time for rest."
[*] Used by permission of the Author.
THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS[*]
Nora A. Smith
"A great spiritual efficiency lies in story-telling".—Froebel.
Christmas Day, you know, dear children, is Christ's day, Christ's birthday, and I want to tell you why we love it so much, and why we try to make every one happy when it comes each year.
A long, long time ago—more than eighteen hundred years—the baby Christ was born on Christmas Day; a baby so wonderful and so beautiful, who grew up to be a man so wise, so good, so patient and sweet that, every year, the people who know about Him love Him better and better, and are more and more glad when His birthday comes again. You see that He must have been very good and wonderful; for people have always remembered His birthday, and kept it lovingly for eighteen hundred years.
He was born, long years ago, in a land far, far away across the seas.
Before the baby Christ was born, Mary, His mother, had to make a long journey with her husband, Joseph. They made this journey to be taxed or counted; for in those days this could not be done in the town where people happened to live, but they must be numbered in the place where they were born.
In that far-off time the only way of traveling was on a horse, or a camel, or a good, patient donkey. Camels and horses cost a great deal of money, and Mary was very poor; so she rode on a quiet, safe donkey, while Joseph walked by her side, leading him and leaning on his stick. Mary was very young, and beautiful, I think, but Joseph was a great deal older than she.
People dress nowadays, in those distant countries, just as they did so many years ago, so we know that Mary must have worn a long, thick dress, falling all about her in heavy folds, and that she had a soft white veil over her head and neck, and across her face. Mary lived in Nazareth, and the journey they were making was to Bethlehem, many miles away.
They were a long time traveling, I am sure; for donkeys are slow, though they are so careful, and Mary must have been very tired before they came to the end of their journey.
They had traveled all day, and it was almost dark when they came near to Bethlehem, to the town where the baby Christ was to be born. There was the place they were to stay,—a kind of inn, or lodging-house, but not at all like those you know about.
They have them today in that far-off country, just as they built them so many years ago.
It was a low, flat-roofed, stone building, with no windows and only one large door. There were no nicely furnished bed rooms inside, and no soft white beds for the tired travelers; there were only little places built into the stones of the wall, something like the berths on steamboats nowadays, and each traveler brought his own bedding. No pretty garden was in front of the inn, for the road ran close to the very door, so that its dust lay upon the doorsill. All around the house, to a high, rocky hill at the back, a heavy stone fence was built, so that the people and the animals inside might be kept safe.
Mary and Joseph could not get very near the inn; for the whole road in front was filled with camels and donkeys and sheep and cows, while a great many men were going to and fro, taking care of the animals. Some of these people had come to Bethlehem to pay their taxes, as Mary and Joseph had done, and others were staying for the night on their way to Jerusalem, a large city a little further on.
The yard was filled, too, with camels and sheep; and men were lying on the ground beside them, resting and watching and keeping them safe. The inn was so full and the yard was so full of people that there was no room for anybody else, and the keeper had to take Joseph and Mary through the house and back to the high hill, where they found another place that was used for a stable. This had only a door and front, and deep caves were behind, stretching far into the rocks.
This was the spot where Christ was born. Think how poor a place!—but Mary was glad to be there, after all; and when the Christ-child came, He was like other babies, and had so lately come from heaven that He was happy everywhere.
There were mangers all around the cave, where the cattle and sheep were fed, and great heaps of hay and straw were lying on the floor. Then, I think, there were brown-eyed cows and oxen there, and quiet, woolly sheep, and perhaps even some dogs that had come in to take care of the sheep.
And there in the cave, by and by, the wonderful baby came, and they wrapped Him up and laid Him in a manger.
All the stars in the sky shone brightly that night, for they knew the Christ-child was born, and the angels in heaven sang together for joy. The angels knew about the lovely child, and were glad that He had come to help the people on earth to be good.
There lay the beautiful baby, with a manger for His bed, and oxen and sheep all sleeping quietly round Him. His mother watched Him and loved Him, and by and by many people came to see Him, for they had heard that a wonderful child was to be born in Bethlehem. All the people in the inn visited Him, and even the shepherds left their flocks in the fields and sought the child and His mother.
But the baby was very tiny, and could not talk any more than any other tiny child, so He lay in His mother's lap, or in the manger, and only looked at the people. So after they had seen Him and loved Him, they went away again.
After a time, when the baby had grown larger, Mary took Him back to Nazareth, and there He lived and grew up.
And He grew to be such a sweet, wise, loving boy, such a tender, helpful man, and He said so many good and beautiful things, that everyone who knew Him, loved Him. Many of the things He said are in the Bible, you know, and a great many beautiful stories of the things He used to do while He was on earth.
He loved little children like you very much, and often used to take them up in His arms and talk to them.
And this is the reason we love Christmas Day so much, and try to make everybody happy when it comes around each year. This is the reason; because Christ, who was born on Christmas Day, has helped us all to be good so many, many times, and because He was the best Christmas present the world ever had!
[*] From "The Story Hour," by Kate Douglas Wiggins and Nora A. Smith. Used by permission of the authors and also of the publishers—Houghton, Mifflin and Company.
THE LEGEND OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE[*]
By Lucy Wheelock
Two little children were sitting by the fire one cold winter's night. All at once they heard a timid knock at the door, and one ran to open it.
There, outside in the cold and the darkness, stood a child with no shoes upon his feet and clad in thin, ragged garments. He was shivering with cold, and he asked to come in and warm himself.
"Yes, come," cried both the children; "you shall have our place by the fire. Come in!"
They drew the little stranger to their warm seat and shared their supper with him, and gave him their bed, while they slept on a hard bench.
In the night they were awakened by strains of sweet music and, looking out, they saw a band of children in shining garments approaching the house. They were playing on golden harps, and the air was full of melody.
Suddenly the Stranger Child stood before them; no longer cold and ragged, but clad in silvery light.
His soft voice said: "I was cold and you took Me in. I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was tired, and you gave Me your bed. I am the Christ Child, wandering through the world to bring peace and happiness to all good children. As you have given to Me, so may this tree every year give rich fruit to you."
So saying, He broke a branch from the fir tree that grew near the door, and He planted it in the ground and disappeared. But the branch grew into a great tree, and every year it bore wonderful golden fruit for the kind children.
[*] From "For the Children's Hour," by Bailey and Lewis. Used by permission of the authors and the publishers—Milton Bradley Company.
A Christmas Story
Long ago, and far from here, in a country with a name too hard to pronounce, there lived a little boy named Jean. In many ways, he was just like the boys here, for there are many Johns over here, are there not? Then too, Jean lived with his auntie, and some of our boys do that too. His father and mother were dead, and that is true here sometimes, isn't it? But in some ways things were quite different with Jean. In the first place his auntie was very, very cross, and she often made him climb up his ladder to his little garret room to go to sleep on his pallet of straw, without any supper, save a dry crust. His stockings had holes in the heels, and toes and knees, because his auntie never had time to mend them, and his shoes would have been worn out all the time if they had not been such strong wooden shoes—for in that country the boys all wore wooden shoes. Jean did many a little service around the place, for his auntie made him work for his daily bread, and he chopped the wood and swept the paths and made the fires and ran the errands, but he never heard anyone say "Thank you."
Jean's happiest days were at school, and I wonder if he was like our boys in that? There his playmates wore much better clothes and good stockings too, and warm top coats, but they never thought of making fun of Jean, for they all loved to play with him. One morning Jean started off to school (which was next to the big church), and when he got there he found the children all so happy and gay and dressed in their best clothes, and he heard one boy say, "Won't it be jolly tomorrow with the big tree full of oranges and popcorn and candy, and the candles burning?" And another added, "Won't it be fun to see the things in our shoes in the morning, the goodies that boys love?" And another said, "My, but we have a big, fat goose at our house, stuffed with plums and just brown to a turn," and he smacked his lips as he thought of it. And Jean began to wonder about that beautiful tree and wish that one would grow at his house. And he thought about his wooden shoes and knew there would be no goodies in them for him in the morning. Then he heard one boy say, "Don't you love Christmas?" And Jean said, "Christmas! why, what is Christmas?" But just then the teacher came in and said, "Boys, come into the church now and hear the music." And so the boys marched one behind the other just as they do in school here, and they went into the great church. Jean thought it was beautiful in there! The soft light, the warm pleasant air, the flowers, and the marble altar, and then the music! Oh, such music Jean had never heard, and somehow as he sat on the high-backed bench and listened, his own heart grew very warm although he could not understand why, and he loved so to hear them singing: "Peace on earth, good will to men." And it began to sing itself over and over in his heart, this sweet, sweet song of "Peace on earth, good will to men." Then the time came to go home, and the boys all shouted, "Good-bye, Jean! and Merry Christmas!" And though Jean didn't know about "Merry Christmas," he kept singing in his little warmed heart, "Peace on earth, good will to men," and then he was glad the other boys could have the tree and the goose and the wooden shoes full of goodies even if he couldn't.
As Jean went home the snow began to fall and the big flakes lodged on his shoulders and cap and hands, but he didn't mind the cold for his heart was so warm. By and by as he ran down the street he passed a tall house with the steps going up from the street, and there sitting on the bottom step he saw a little boy with soft curling hair and a beautiful face, leaning his head against the stone house, fast asleep. Somehow as Jean looked at the sleeping face, his own heart grew still and quiet and warm, and he felt like he could look at it forever, and suddenly he caught himself singing softly under his breath, "Peace on earth, good will to men." And then he looked down at the little boy's feet and he saw that he was barefooted and his little feet were purple with the cold. As Jean looked at the feet, and then at the face of the child, and thought of the sweet song in his heart, he said, "Oh! I wish I could give him my shoes, for I have stockings to keep me warm, but auntie would be so mad! And the more he looked and thought, the more he longed to give his shoes away, until all at once he said, "I know what I'll do, I'll give him one shoe and one stocking and then he won't be so cold," and he felt as though he couldn't get his shoe and stocking off fast enough to give them to the little child. So gently and tenderly he lifted the little cold foot in his hand to put on the shoe that he did not waken the sleeping boy, even when he had put the stocking on the other foot, and then as he stood up again and took a last look at the lovely face, before he knew it he was singing aloud, "Peace on earth, good will to men." Then he hopped off home in the snow with the happiest heart he had ever had.
Now, I wish the story turned out differently and that his auntie said when he told her about it, "I'm so glad you did it, Jean." But she was so very cross, that she slapped Jean and sent him off to bed without any supper, saying, "You had no right to give away that shoe and stocking for my money paid for them!" Somehow Jean didn't mind doing without supper that night and he soon went fast asleep and dreamed a beautiful dream, for he thought he was still singing "Peace on earth, good will to men!" And he saw a vision of the little sleeping boy, that grew into a tall and gentle man with a radiant face who walked to and fro in Jean's dream, singing with him "Peace on earth, good will to men!" Then morning came and outside his window, Jean heard the voices of children singing, "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will to men!" And he heard a very strange sound too, for his auntie's voice, soft and gentle, said, "Jean, wake up, and come down and see what has happened," and Jean came down the ladder and lo! there was a wonderful tree just like the other boys were having today, and a goose, and by the fireplace his own wooden shoe, and beside it the mate that he had given to the sleeping child, and far in the distance Jean heard the children's voices singing as they ran down the street, "Peace, peace on earth, good will to men!" Then the room grew very still and peaceful and Jean's heart did too—and through the silence there came a voice so tender and loving—so gentle that the auntie's eyes were full of tears, and Jean wanted to listen forever, and the voice said, "Jean, inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye did it unto ME."
[*] Adapted from the French of Francois Coppee, by Nannie-Lee-Frayser.
HOW THE FIR TREE BECAME THE CHRISTMAS TREE[*]
By Aunt Hede, in "Kindergarten Magazine"
This is the story of how the fir tree became the Christmas tree.
At the time when the Christ Child was born all the people, the animals, and the trees, and plants were very happy. The Child was born to bring peace and happiness to the whole world. People came daily to see the little One, and they always brought gifts with them.
There were three trees standing near the crypt which saw the people, and they wished that they, too, might give presents to the Christ Child.
The Palm said: "I will choose my most beautiful leaf, and place it as a fan over the Child."
"And I," said the Olive, "will sprinkle sweet-smelling oil upon His head."
"What can I give to the Child?" asked the Fir, who stood near.
"You!" cried the others. "You have nothing to offer Him. Your needles would prick Him, and your tears are sticky."
So the poor little Fir tree was very unhappy, and it said: "Yes, you are right. I have nothing to offer the Christ Child."
Now, quite near the trees stood the Christmas Angel, who had heard all that the trees had said. The Angel was sorry for the Fir tree who was so lowly and without envy of the other trees. So, when it was dark, and the stars came out, he begged a few of the little stars to come down and rest upon the branches of the Fir tree. They did as the Christmas Angel asked, and the Fir tree shone suddenly with a beautiful light.
And, at that very moment, the Christ Child opened His eyes—for He had been asleep—and as the lovely light fell upon Him He smiled.
Every year people keep the dear Christmas Child's birthday by giving gifts to each other, and every year, in remembrance of His first birthday, the Christmas Angel places in every house a fir tree, also. Covered with starry candles it shines for the children as the stars shone for the Christ Child. The Fir tree was rewarded for its meekness, for to no other tree is it given to shine upon so many happy faces.
[*] From "For the Children's Hour," by Bailey and Lewis. Used by permission of the authors and also the publishers—Milton Bradley Company.
THE MAGI IN THE WEST AND THEIR SEARCH FOR THE CHRIST[*]
A Tale for the Christmas-Tide
By Frederick E. Dewhurst
[Sidenote: The Mountain of Vision]
Now, it happened a long time ago, in the year ——, but the exact year does not matter, because you will not find this story written in the history of any of the nations of the world. But in one of the countries of Europe bordering on the Mediterranean Sea was a lofty mountain, which, to the dwellers in the plains below, seemed to reach to the very sky. At times its summit was covered with clouds, so that it could not be seen; at other times it stood out fair and clear, as though silently asking the people to look up and not down. The lower slopes of the mountain were covered with olive trees, with groves of oranges and lemons, and with vineyards, and they were dotted here and there with the little white cottages of the peasants who made their living from these groves and vineyards, the fruit of which they sold in the city not far away.