CHRISTMAS IN LEGEND AND STORY
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour's birth, is celebrated, The bird of dawning singeth all night long: And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad; The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
CHRISTMAS IN LEGEND AND STORY
A BOOK FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
ELVA S. SMITH
CARNEGIE LIBRARY PITTSBURGH
ALICE I. HAZELTINE
PUBLIC LIBRARY ST. LOUIS
ILLUSTRATED FROM FAMOUS PAINTINGS
CHRISTMAS IN LEGEND AND STORY
In our experience in library work with children we have learned that it is very difficult to find Christmas stories and legends which have literary merit, are reverent in spirit, and are also suitable for children. This collection has been made in an endeavor to meet this need, and thus to be of service to parents, teachers, and librarians.
Most of the stories and poems in this book are of the legendary type. They have been chosen from a wide variety of sources and represent the work of many writers. There are other stories also, which, although not strictly traditional, have the same reverent spirit and illustrate traditional beliefs and customs. These have been included for their literary value and their interest for young people.
In the arrangement of the selections we have followed the natural order of the events in preference to grouping the stories for boys and girls of different ages.
Although no attempt has been made to adapt the legends for story-telling, most of them may be used for that purpose. Many of the selections are also well suited for reading aloud.
Above all it is hoped that this book may bring real joy to the boys and girls for whom it has been compiled.
ELVA S. SMITH,
CATALOGUER OF CHILDREN'S BOOKS,
CARNEGIE LIBRARY OF PITTSBURGH.
ALICE I. HAZELTINE,
SUPERVISOR OF CHILDREN'S WORK,
ST. LOUIS PUBLIC LIBRARY.
The compilers wish to thank Mrs. Margaret Deland for permission to use "The Christmas Silence;" Mrs. Etta Austin McDonald for her adaptation of Coppee's "Sabot of Little Wolff" from "The Child Life Fifth Reader;" Josephine Preston Peabody for "The Song of a Shepherd-Boy at Bethlehem;" Mrs. William Sharp for "The Children of Wind and the Clan of Peace," by Fiona Macleod; Nora Archibald Smith and the editors of the Outlook for "The Haughty Aspen;" and the editors of Good Housekeeping Magazine, Little, Brown & Company and Mrs. Velma Swanston Howard for her translation of "The Legend of the Christmas Rose," by Selma Lagerloef, taken from Good Housekeeping Magazine, copyright, 1907. Copyright, 1910, by Little, Brown & Company.
Thanks are also due to the following publishers for permission to reprint poems and stories on which they hold copyright: The Century Company for four selections from St. Nicholas, "The Little Gray Lamb" by A.B. Sullivan, "A Christmas Legend" by Florence Scannell, "Felix" by Evaleen Stein, "The Child Jesus in the Garden;" The Churchman Company for "The Blooming of the White Thorn" by Edith M. Thomas; Doubleday, Page & Company for "Neighbors of the Christ Night" by Nora Archibald Smith; E.P. Dutton & Company for "The Sin of the Prince Bishop" by William Canton; Ginn & Company for "Christmas Carol" from "Open Sesame;" Mr. William Heinemann for "The Flight into Egypt" by Selma Lagerloef; Houghton Mifflin Company for "The Child Born at Bethlehem" by H.E. Scudder, "The Christmas Song of Caedmon" by H.E.G. Pardee, "The Little Mud-Sparrows" by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.
"St. Christopher of the Gael" and "The Cross of the Dumb" are included through the courtesy of Messrs. Duffield & Company. From "Poems and Dramas" by Fiona Macleod, copyright, 1901, 1903, 1907, by Thomas B. Mosher; 1910 by Duffield & Company.
The selection "Christmas at Greccio" from "God's Troubadour" by Sophie Jewett is included by special arrangement with T.Y. Crowell Company. "The Little Friend" by Abbie Farwell Brown, "Christmas Hymn" by R.W. Gilder, "The Three Kings" by H.W. Longfellow, and "The Star Bearer" by E.C. Stedman are included by special arrangement with Houghton Mifflin Company; and "The Three Kings of Cologne" by Eugene Field, and "Earl Sigurd's Christmas Eve" by H.H. Boyesen, by special arrangement with Charles Scribner's Sons.
The story of St. Christopher is taken chiefly from the "Golden Legend," but a few suggestions for its adaptation were obtained from a version by Olive Logan.
"THE GRACIOUS TIME"
THE ADORATION OF THE SHEPHERDS ST. LUKE, II, 1-16
THE CHILD BORN AT BETHLEHEM HORACE ELISHA SCUDDER
AS JOSEPH WAS A-WALKING OLD ENGLISH CAROL
THE PEACEFUL NIGHT JOHN MILTON
THE CHRISTMAS SILENCE MARGARET DELAND
NEIGHBORS OF THE CHRIST NIGHT NORA ARCHIBALD SMITH
CHRISTMAS CAROL FROM THE NEAPOLITAN
A CHRISTMAS HYMN RICHARD WATSON GILDER
THE SONG OF A SHEPHERD—BOY AT BETHLEHEM JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS ROSES ADAPTED FROM AN OLD LEGEND
THE LITTLE GRAY LAMB ARCHIBALD BERESFORD SULLIVAN
THE HOLY NIGHT ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
THE STAR BEARER EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN
THE VISIT OF THE WISE MEN ST. MATTHEW, II, 1-12
THE THREE KINGS HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
THE THREE HOLY KINGS ADAPTED FROM THE GOLDEN LEGEND, AND OTHER SOURCES
THE THREE KINGS OF COLOGNE EUGENE FIELD
BABOUSCKA ADELAIDE SKEEL
THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT SELMA LAGERLOeF
THE HAUGHTY ASPEN NORA ARCHIBALD SMITH
THE LITTLE MUD-SPARROWS ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS
THE CHILDREN OF WIND AND THE CLAN OF PEACE FIONA MACLEOD
THE CHILD JESUS IN THE GARDEN AUTHOR UNKNOWN
THE MYSTIC THORN ADAPTED FROM TRADITIONAL SOURCES
THE BLOOMING OF THE WHITE THORN EDITH MATILDA THOMAS
LEGEND OF ST. CHRISTOPHER ADAPTED FROM THE GOLDEN LEGEND
ST. CHRISTOPHER OF THE GAEL FIONA MACLEOD
THE CROSS OF THE DUMB FIONA MACLEOD
THE CHRISTMAS SONG OF CAEDMON H.E.G. PARDEE
GOOD KING WENCESLAS JOHN MASON NEALE
THE CHRISTMAS AT GRECCIO: A STORY OF ST. FRANCIS SOPHIE JEWETT
THE SIN OF THE PRINCE BISHOP WILLIAM CANTON
EARL SIGURD'S CHRISTMAS EVE HJALMAR HJORTH BOYESEN
A CHRISTMAS LEGEND FLORENCE SCANNELL
THE LEGEND OF THE CHRISTMAS ROSE SELMA LAGERLOeF
FELIX EVALEEN STEIN
THE SABOT OF LITTLE WOLFF FRANCOIS COPPEE
THE LITTLE FRIEND ABBIE FARWELL BROWN
WHERE LOVE IS, THERE GOD IS ALSO COUNT LYOF N. TOLSTOI
CHRISTMAS IN LEGEND AND STORY
"THE GRACIOUS TIME"
According to tradition, on the Holy Night there fell upon Bethlehem of Judea a strange and unnatural calm; the voices of the birds were hushed, water ceased to flow and the wind was stilled. But when the child Jesus was born all nature burst into new life; trees put forth green leaves, grass sprang up and bright flowers bloomed. To animals was granted the power of human speech and the ox and the ass knelt in their stalls in adoration of the infant Saviour. Then it was that the shepherds abiding in the field with their flocks heard the angels praising God, and kings of the Orient watching in their "far country" saw ablaze in the heavens the long-expected sign. Even in distant Rome there sprang up a well or fountain which "ran largely" and the ancient prophetess, Sibyl, looking eastward from the Capitoline hill heard the angel song and saw in vision all the wonders of that night.
There are many such traditional tales of the nativity, of the "star-led wizards" and of the marvels wrought by the boy Christ. They tell of the bees singing their sweet hymn of praise to the Lord, of the palm-tree bending down its branches that the weary travellers fleeing from the wrath of Herod might be refreshed by its fruit, of the juniper which opened to conceal them and of the sweet-smelling balsam which grew wherever the drops of moisture fell from the brow of the Boy "as He ran about or toiled in His loving service for His Mother." Quaint fancies some of these, perhaps, and not all of them worth preserving; but oftentimes beautiful, and with a germ of truth.
From the centuries between then and now, come stories of holy men, of bishops and peasant-saints, and of brave men who preached the White Christ to the vikings of the north or on Iona's isle. As in popular belief, with each returning eve of the nativity the miracles of the first Christmas happen again, so in these tales the thorn-tree blossoms anew and wonderful roses bloom in the bleak forest.
Other stories tell how on each Christmas eve the little Christ-child comes again to earth and wanders through village or town, while lighted candles are placed in the windows to guide Him on His way.
These various legends and traditional tales, which sprang up among the people like flowers by the wayside and became a part of the life of the Middle Ages, are still of interest to us of to-day and have a distinct charm of their own. And when the childlike faith and beauty of thought of the finest of these have found expression in literary form they seem particularly suited for our reading at "the gracious time."
THE ADORATION OF THE SHEPHERDS
ST. LUKE, II, 1-16
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David:
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
THE CHILD BORN AT BETHLEHEM
HORACE ELISHA SCUDDER
About six miles to the south of Jerusalem is the village of Bethlehem, lying along the slope and on the top of a gray hill, from the steep eastern end of which one looks over a broad plain, toward a range of high hills beyond. At any time, as one drew near the place, coming from Jerusalem, he would pass by rounded hills, and now and then cross little ravines with brooks, sometimes full of water, sometimes only beds of stone; and, if it were spring-time, he would see the hills and valleys covered with their grass, and sprinkled abundantly with a great variety of wild flowers, daisies, poppies, the Star of Bethlehem, tulips and anemones—a broad sheet of color, of scarlet, white and green. Perhaps, very long ago, there were trees also where now there are none; and on those hills, gray with the stone that peeped out through the grass, stood the mighty cedars of Lebanon, stretching out their sweeping branches, and oaks, sturdy and rich with dark foliage, green the year round. At any rate, then, as now, we may believe that there were vineyards upon the sunny slopes, and we know that the wind blew over corn-fields covering the plains that lay between the ranges of hills.
It is of the time long since that we are thinking, when there were no massive buildings on Bethlehem hill, such as are to be seen in the town as it now appears. Instead, there were low houses, many of mud and sunburnt brick, some so poor, doubtless, that the cattle were stalled, if not in the same room with the people of the house, yet so near that they could be heard through the partition, stamping, and crunching their food. There was an inn there, also; but we must not think of it as like our modern public-houses, with a landlord and servants, where one could have what he needed by paying for it. Rather, it was a collection of buildings for the convenience and accommodation of travelers, who brought with them whatever they required of food, and the means of preparing it, finding there only shelter and the roughest conveniences. The larger inns of this sort were built in the form of a great courtyard surrounded by arcades, in which people stayed, and kept their goods, if they were merchants.
The inn at Bethlehem was not probably one of these great caravanserais,—as they are called now in the East, because caravans stop at them; and it is even possible that the stables about the inn were simply caves scooped out of the soft chalk rock, for the country there has an abundance of these caves used for this very purpose.
From the hill on which Bethlehem stands, one can see travelers approaching, and at that time, long ago, no doubt the people who lived there saw companies of travelers, on foot or mounted, coming up to the village. For it was a busy time in Judea. The Emperor at Rome, the capital of the world, had ordered a tax to be laid upon his subjects, and first it had to be known just who were liable to be taxed. Nowadays, and in our country, people have their names taken down at the door of their own houses, and pay their tax in the town where they live. But then, in Judea, it was different. If a man had always lived in one place, and his parents before him, well and good: there his name was taken down, and there he was taxed. But if he was of a family that had left another place, he went back to the old home, and there his name was registered. There were many, it may be, who at this time were visiting Bethlehem for this purpose.
At least, we know of two amongst these travelers; devout and humble people they were; Joseph, a carpenter, living in Nazareth, a village of Galilee, sixty miles or more to the northward, and Mary, his wife. Together they were coming to Bethlehem, for while Nazareth was now their home, they were sprung from a family that once lived in Bethlehem, and though they were now poor and lowly, that family was the royal family, and King David, the greatest king that ever sat on the Jewish throne, was their ancestor. Perhaps, as they climbed the hill, they thought of Ruth, who had gleaned in the corn-fields just where they were passing, and no doubt they thought of Ruth's great-grandson, King David, who was born here, and here kept his father's sheep,—such sheep as even now they could see on the hillsides, watched by the watching shepherds.
They came, like the rest, to the caravanserai, but found it already filled with travelers. They could not have room with other men and women, and yet there was shelter to be had, for the place where the horses and beasts of burden stood was not all taken up. It may be that many of those now occupying the inn had come on Joseph's errand, and, not being merchants, had come unattended by the beasts that bore the goods of merchants, who were there occupying the inn; and what were they there for? We can only guess. All is forgotten of that gathering; men remember only the two travelers from Nazareth who could find no room in the inn, and made their resting-place by a manger.
For there, away from the crowd, was born to Mary a child, whom she wrapped in swaddling-clothes and laid in the manger. She was away from home; she was not even in a friend's house, nor yet in the inn; the Lord God had made ready a crib for the babe in the feeding-place of cattle. What gathering of friends could there be to rejoice over a child born in this solitary place?
Yet there were some, friends of the child and of the child's mother, who welcomed its birth with great rejoicing. It may be that when Mary was laying Him upon His first hard earthly resting-place, there was, not far off, such a sight as never before was seen on earth. On the hilly slopes about Bethlehem were flocks of sheep that, day and night, cropped the grass, watched by shepherds, just as, so long before, young David, in the same place, had watched his father's sheep. These shepherds were devout men, who sang, we may easily believe, the songs which the shepherd David had taught them; and now, in the night-time, on the quiet slopes, as they kept guard over their flocks, out of the darkness appeared a heavenly visitor: whence he came they knew not, but round about him was a brightness which they knew could be no other than the brightness of His presence which God cast about His messengers. Great fear fell upon them—for who of mortals could stand before the heavenly beings? But the angel, quick to see their fear, spoke in words which were the words of men and fell in peaceful accents:—
"Fear not!" said he, "for see, I bring you glad tidings of a great joy that shall be to all the people. For there has been born to you, this very day, a Saviour, who is the Holy Lord, born in the city of David; and this shall be its sign to you: ye shall find a child wrapped in swaddling-clothes lying in a manger."
And now, suddenly, before they could speak to the heavenly messenger, they saw, not him alone, but the place full of the like heavenly beings. A multitude was there; they came not as if from some distant place, but as angels that ever stood round these shepherds. The eyes of the men were opened, and they saw, besides the grassy slopes and feeding sheep, and distant Bethlehem, and the stars above, a host of angels. Their ears were opened, and besides the moving sheep and rustling boughs, they heard from this great army of heavenly beings a song, rising to God and falling like a blessing upon the sleeping world:—
"Glory to God in the highest And on earth peace, Good will to men."
In the lowly manger, a little child; on the hillside pasture, a heavenly host singing His praises! Then it was once more quiet, and the darkness was about the shepherds. They looked at one another and said,—"Let us go, indeed, to Bethlehem, to see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord hath made us know."
So, in all haste, with the sound of that hymn of glory in their ears, they left the pasture and sought the town. They went to the inn, but they looked not there for the child; where the mangers were, there they sought Him, and found Him lying, and by Him Joseph and Mary. There were others by the new-born child, some who had doubtless come out from the inn at hearing of the birth. "Whence are these shepherds?" they might have said to themselves, "and what has brought them to this birthplace?"
To all by the manger, the shepherds, their minds full of the strange sight they had witnessed, recount the marvel. They tell how one appeared with such brightness about him as in old times they had heard gave witness that the Lord God would speak to His people; how their fear at his presence was quieted by his strange and joyful words; and how, when he had said, "Ye shall find a child wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger," they suddenly were aware of a host of angels round about them sounding praise, to which God also listened.
Those to whom they told these things were amazed indeed at the strangeness. What did the marvel mean, they wondered. They could know no more than the shepherds had told them, and as for these men, they went away to their flocks again, praising God, for now they too, had seen the child, and it was all true, and with their human voice they caught up the song of rejoicing which had fallen from angelic lips.
There was one who heard it all, and we may think did not say much or ask much, but laid it away in her heart. It was Mary, and she had, in the treasure-house where she put away this wonder, other thoughts and recollections in company with it. There, in her inmost heart, she kept the remembrance of a heavenly visitor who had appeared to her when she was alone, and had quieted her fear by words that told her of this coming birth, and filled her soul with the thought that He whom she should bear was to have the long-deserted throne and a kingdom without end. She remembered how, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, she was greeted with a psalm of rejoicing that sprang to the lips of that holy woman, and from her own heart had come a psalm of response.
And now the child was born—born in the place of David, yet born to be laid in a manger. A name had been given it by the angel, and she called the child Jesus; for Jesus means Saviour, and "He shall," said the angel, "save His people from their sins."
AS JOSEPH WAS A-WALKING
OLD ENGLISH CAROL
As Joseph was a-walking He heard an angel sing:— "This night there shall be born Our heavenly King.
"He neither shall be born In housen, nor in hall, Nor in the place of Paradise, But in an ox's stall.
"He neither shall be clothed In purple nor in pall; But in the fair, white linen, That usen babies all.
"He neither shall be rocked In silver nor in gold, But in a wooden cradle That rocks on the mould.
"He neither shall be christened In white wine nor in red, But with fair spring water With which we were christened."
Mary took her baby, She dressed Him so sweet, She laid Him in a manger, All there for to sleep.
As she stood over Him She heard angels sing, "O bless our dear Saviour, Our heavenly King."
THE PEACEFUL NIGHT
But peaceful was the night Wherein the Prince of Light His reign of peace upon the earth began. The winds with wonder whist, Smoothly the waters kist, Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,— Who now hath quite forgot to rave, While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.
The stars, with deep amaze, Stand fixed in steadfast gaze, Bending one way their precious influence; And will not take their flight, For all the morning light, Or Lucifer that often warned them thence; But in their glimmering orbs did glow, Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.
And, though the shady gloom Had given day her room, The sun himself withheld his wonted speed, And hid his head for shame, As his inferior flame The new-enlightened world no more should need: He saw a greater Sun appear Than his bright throne or burning axletree could bear.
THE CHRISTMAS SILENCE
Hushed are the pigeons cooing low On dusty rafters of the loft; And mild-eyed oxen, breathing soft, Sleep on the fragrant hay below.
Dim shadows in the corner hide; The glimmering lantern's rays are shed Where one young lamb just lifts his head, Then huddles 'gainst his mother's side.
Strange silence tingles in the air; Through the half-open door a bar Of light from one low-hanging star Touches a baby's radiant hair.
No sound: the mother, kneeling, lays Her cheek against the little face. Oh human love! Oh heavenly grace! 'Tis yet in silence that she prays!
Ages of silence end to-night; Then to the long-expectant earth Glad angels come to greet His birth In burst of music, love, and light!
NEIGHBORS OF THE CHRIST NIGHT
NORA ARCHIBALD SMITH
Deep in the shelter of the cave, The ass with drooping head Stood weary in the shadow, where His master's hand had led. About the manger oxen lay, Bending a wide-eyed gaze Upon the little new-born Babe, Half worship, half amaze. High in the roof the doves were set, And cooed there, soft and mild, Yet not so sweet as, in the hay, The Mother to her Child. The gentle cows breathed fragrant breath To keep Babe Jesus warm, While loud and clear, o'er hill and dale, The cocks crowed, "Christ is born!" Out in the fields, beneath the stars, The young lambs sleeping lay, And dreamed that in the manger slept Another, white as they.
These were Thy neighbors, Christmas Child; To Thee their love was given, For in Thy baby face there shone The wonder-light of Heaven.
FROM THE NEAPOLITAN
When Christ was born in Bethlehem, 'T was night, but seemed the noon of day; The stars, whose light Was pure and bright, Shone with unwavering ray; But one, one glorious star Guided the Eastern Magi from afar.
Then peace was spread throughout the land; The lion fed beside the tender lamb; And with the kid, To pasture led, The spotted leopard fed; In peace, the calf and bear, The wolf and lamb reposed together there.
As shepherds watched their flocks by night, An angel, brighter than the sun's own light, Appeared in air, And gently said, Fear not,—be not afraid, For lo! beneath your eyes, Earth has become a smiling paradise.
A CHRISTMAS HYMN
RICHARD WATSON GILDER
Tell me what is this innumerable throng Singing in the heavens a loud angelic song? These are they who come with swift and shining feet From round about the throne of God the Lord of Light to greet.
Oh, who are these that hasten beneath the starry sky, As if with joyful tidings that through the world shall fly? The faithful shepherds these, who greatly were afeared When, as they watched their flocks by night, the heavenly host appeared.
Who are these that follow across the hills of night A star that westward hurries along the fields of light?
Three wise men from the east who myrrh and treasure bring To lay them at the feet of him their Lord and Christ and King.
What babe new-born is this that in a manger cries? Near on her lowly bed his happy mother lies. Oh, see the air is shaken with white and heavenly wings— This is the Lord of all the earth, this is the King of kings.
THE SONG OF A SHEPHERD—BOY AT BETHLEHEM
JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY
Sleep, Thou little Child of Mary: Rest Thee now. Though these hands be rough from shearing And the plough,
Yet they shall not ever fail Thee, When the waiting nations hail Thee, Bringing palms unto their King. Now—I sing.
Sleep, Thou little Child of Mary, Hope divine. If Thou wilt but smile upon me, I will twine Blossoms for Thy garlanding. Thou'rt so little to be King, God's Desire! Not a brier Shall be left to grieve Thy brow; Rest Thee now.
Sleep, Thou little Child of Mary. Some fair day Wilt Thou, as Thou wert a brother, Come away Over hills and over hollow? All the lambs will up and follow, Follow but for love of Thee. Lov'st Thou me?
Sleep, Thou little Child of Mary; Rest Thee now. I that watch am come from sheep-stead And from plough. Thou wilt have disdain of me When Thou'rt lifted, royally, Very high for all to see: Smilest Thou?
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS ROSES
ADAPTED FROM AN OLD LEGEND
The sun had dropped below the western hills of Judea, and the stillness of night had covered the earth. The heavens were illumined only by numberless stars, which shone the brighter for the darkness of the sky. No sound was heard but the occasional howl of a jackal or the bleat of a lamb in the sheepfold. Inside a tent on the hillside slept the shepherd, Berachah, and his daughter, Madelon. The little girl lay restless,—sleeping, waking, dreaming, until at last she roused herself and looked about her.
"Father," she whispered, "oh, my father, awake. I fear for the sheep."
The shepherd turned himself and reached for his staff. "What nearest thou, daughter! The dogs are asleep. Hast thou been burdened by an evil dream?"
"Nay, but father," she answered, "seest thou not the light? Hearest thou not the voice?"
Berachah gathered his mantle about him, rose, looked over the hills toward Bethlehem, and listened. The olive trees on yonder slope were casting their shadows in a marvellous light, unlike daybreak or sunset, or even the light of the moon. By the camp-fire below on the hillside the shepherds on watch were rousing themselves. Berachah waited and wondered, while Madelon clung to his side. Suddenly a sound rang out in the stillness. Madelon pressed still closer.
"It is the voice of an angel, my daughter. What it means I know not. Neither understand I this light." Berachah fell on his knees and prayed.
"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
The voice of the angel died away, and the air was filled with music. Berachah raised Madelon to her feet. "Ah, daughter," said he, "It is the wonder night so long expected. To us hath it been given to see the sign. It is the Messiah who hath come, the Messiah, whose name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He it is who shall reign on the throne of David, he it is who shall redeem Israel."
Slowly up the hillside toiled the shepherds to the tent of Berachah, their chief, who rose to greet them eagerly.
"What think you of the wonder night and of the sign?" he queried. "Are we not above all others honored, thus to learn of the Messiah's coming!"
"Yea, and Berachah," replied their spokesman, Simon, "believest thou not that we should worship the infant King! Let us now go to Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass."
A murmur of protest came from the edge of the circle, and one or two turned impatiently away, whispering of duty toward flocks, and the folly of searching for a new-born baby in the city of Bethlehem. Hardheaded, practical men were these, whose hearts had not been touched by vision or by song.
The others, however, turned expectantly toward Berachah, awaiting his decision. "Truly," said Jude, "the angel of the Lord hath given us the sign in order that we might go to worship Him. How can we then do otherwise? We shall find Him, as we have heard, lying in a manger. Let us not tarry, but let us gather our choicest treasures to lay at His feet, and set out without delay across the hills toward Bethlehem."
"Oh, my father," whispered Madelon, "permit me to go with thee." Berachah did not hear her, but turned and bade the men gather together their gifts.
"I, too, father?" asked Madelon. Still Berachah said nothing. Madelon slipped back into the tent, and throwing her arms around Melampo, her shepherd dog, whispered in his ear.
Soon the shepherds returned with their gifts. Simple treasures they were,—a pair of doves, a fine wool blanket, some eggs, some honey, some late autumn fruits. Berachah had searched for the finest of his flock,—a snow-white lamb. Across the hills toward Bethlehem in the quiet, star-lit night they journeyed. As they moved silently along, the snow beneath their feet was changed to grass and flowers, and the icicles which had dropped from the trees covered their pathway like stars in the Milky Way.
Following at a distance, yet close enough to see them, came Madelon with Melampo at her heels. Over the hills they travelled on until Madelon lost sight of their own hillside. Farther and farther the shepherds went until they passed David's well, and entered the city. Berachah led the way.
"How shall we know?" whispered Simon. And the others answered, "Hush, we must await the sign."
When at last they had compassed the crescent of Bethlehem's hills, they halted by an open doorway at a signal from their leader. "The manger," they joyfully murmured, "the manger! We have found the new-born King!"
One by one the shepherds entered. One by one they fell on their knees. Away in the shadow stood the little girl, her hand on Melampo's head. In wonder she gazed while the shepherds presented their gifts, and were permitted each to hold for a moment the newborn Saviour.
Melampo, the shepherd dog, crouched on the ground, as if he too, like the ox and the ass within, would worship the Child. Madelon turned toward the darkness weeping. Then, lifting her face to heaven, she prayed that God would bless Mother and Baby. Melampo moved closer to her, dumbly offering his companionship, and, raising his head, seemed to join in her petition. Once more she looked at the worshipping circle.
"Alas," she grieved, "no gift have I for the infant Saviour. Would that I had but a flower to place in His hand."
Suddenly Melampo stirred by her side, and as she turned again from the manger she saw before her an angel, the light from whose face illumined the darkness, and whose look of tenderness rested on her tear-stained eyes.
"Why grievest thou, maiden?" asked the angel.
"That I come empty-handed to the cradle of the Saviour, that I bring no gift to greet Him," she murmured.
"The gift of thine heart, that is the best of all," answered the angel. "But that thou mayst carry something to the manger, see, I will strike with my staff upon the ground."
Wonderingly Madelon waited. From the dry earth wherever the angel's staff had touched sprang fair, white roses. Timidly she stretched out her hand toward the nearest ones. In the light of the angel's smile she gathered them, until her arms were filled with flowers. Again she turned toward the manger, and quietly slipped to the circle of kneeling shepherds.
Closer she crept to the Child, longing, yet fearing, to offer her gift.
"How shall I know," she pondered, "whether He will receive this my gift as His own?"
Berachah gazed in amazement at Madelon and the roses which she held. How came his child there, his child whom he had left safe on the hillside? And whence came such flowers! Truly this was a wonder night.
Step by step she neared the manger, knelt, and placed a rose in the Baby's hand. As the shepherds watched in silence, Mary bent over her Child, and Madelon waited for a sign. "Will He accept them?" she questioned. "How, oh, how shall I know?" As she prayed in humble silence, the Baby's eyes opened slowly, and over His face spread a smile.
THE LITTLE GRAY LAMB
ARCHIBALD BERESFORD SULLIVAN
Out on the endless purple hills, deep in the clasp of somber night, The shepherds guarded their weary ones— guarded their flocks of cloudy white, That like a snowdrift in silence lay, Save one little lamb with its fleece of gray.
Out on the hillside all alone, gazing afar with sleepless eyes, The little gray lamb prayed soft and low, its weary face to the starry skies: "O moon of the heavens so fair, so bright, Give me—oh, give me—a fleece of white!"
No answer came from the dome of blue, nor comfort lurked in the cypress-trees; But faint came a whisper borne along on the scented wings of the passing breeze: "Little gray lamb that prays this night, I cannot give thee a fleece of white."
Then the little gray lamb of the sleepless eyes prayed to the clouds for a coat of snow, Asked of the roses, besought the woods; but each gave answer sad and low: "Little gray lamb that prays this night, We cannot give thee a fleece of white."
Like a gem unlocked from a casket dark, like an ocean pearl from its bed of blue, Came, softly stealing the clouds between, a wonderful star which brighter grew Until it flamed like the sun by day Over the place where Jesus lay.
Ere hushed were the angels' notes of praise the joyful shepherds had quickly sped Past rock and shadow, adown the hill, to kneel at the Saviour's lowly bed; While, like the spirits of phantom night, Followed their flocks—their flocks of white.
And patiently, longingly, out of the night, apart from the others,—far apart,— Came limping and sorrowful, all alone, the little gray lamb of the weary heart, Murmuring, "I must bide far away: I am not worthy—my fleece is gray."
And the Christ Child looked upon humbled pride, at kings bent low on the earthen floor, But gazed beyond at the saddened heart of the little gray lamb at the open door; And he called it up to his manger low and laid his hand on its wrinkled face, While the kings drew golden robes aside to give to the weary one a place. And the fleece of the little gray lamb was blest: For, lo! it was whiter than all the rest!
* * * * *
In many cathedrals grand and dim, whose windows glimmer with pane and lens, Mid the odor of incense raised in prayer, hallowed about with last amens, The infant Saviour is pictured fair, with kneeling Magi wise and old, But his baby-hand rests—not on the gifts, the myrrh, the frankincense, the gold— But on the head, with a heavenly light, Of the little gray lamb that was changed to white.
THE HOLY NIGHT
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
We sate among the stalls at Bethlehem; The dumb kine from their fodder turning them, Softened their horned faces To almost human gazes Toward the newly Born: The simple shepherds from the star-lit brooks Brought visionary looks, As yet in their astonied hearing rung The strange sweet angel-tongue: The magi of the East, in sandals worn, Knelt reverent, sweeping round, With long pale beards, their gifts upon the ground, The incense, myrrh, and gold These baby hands were impotent to hold: So let all earthlies and celestials wait Upon thy royal state. Sleep, sleep, my kingly One!
THE STAR BEARER
EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN
There were seven angels erst that spanned Heaven's roadway out through space, Lighting with stars, by God's command, The fringe of that high place Whence plumed beings in their joy, The servitors His thoughts employ, Fly ceaselessly. No goodlier band Looked upward to His face.
There, on bright hovering wings that tire Never, they rested mute, Nor of far journeys had desire, Nor of the deathless fruit; For in and through each angel soul All waves of life and knowledge roll, Even as to nadir streamed the fire Of their torches resolute.
They lighted Michael's outpost through Where fly the armored brood, And the wintry Earth their omens knew Of Spring's beatitude; Rude folk, ere yet the promise came, Gave to their orbs a heathen name, Saying how steadfast in men's view The watchful Pleiads stood.
All in the solstice of the year, When the sun apace must turn, The seven bright angels 'gan to hear Heaven's twin gates outward yearn: Forth with its light and minstrelsy A lordly troop came speeding by, And joyed to see each cresset sphere So gloriously burn.
Staying his fearless passage then The Captain of that host Spake with strong voice: "We bear to men God's gift the uttermost, Whereof the oracle and sign Sibyl and sages may divine: A star shall blazon in their ken, Borne with us from your post.
"This night the Heir of Heaven's throne A new-born mortal lies! Since Earth's first morning hath not shone Such joy in seraph eyes." He spake. The least in honor there Answered with longing like a prayer,— "My star, albeit thenceforth unknown, Shall light for you Earth's skies."
Onward the blessed legion swept, That angel at the head; (Where seven of old their station kept There are six that shine instead.) Straight hitherward came troop and star; Like some celestial bird afar Into Earth's night the cohort leapt With beauteous wings outspread.
Dazzling the East beneath it there, The Star gave out its rays: Right through the still Judean air The shepherds see it blaze,— They see the plume-borne heavenly throng, And hear a burst of that high song Of which in Paradise aware Saints count their years but days.
For they sang such music as, I deem, In God's chief court of joys, Had stayed the flow of the crystal stream And made souls in mid-flight poise; They sang of Glory to Him most High, Of Peace on Earth abidingly, And of all delights the which, men dream, Nor sin nor grief alloys.
Breathless the kneeling shepherds heard, Charmed from their first rude fear, Nor while that music dwelt had stirred Were it a month or year: And Mary Mother drank its flow, Couched with her Babe divine,—and, lo! Ere falls the last ecstatic word Three Holy Kings draw near.
Whenas the star-led shining train Wheeled from their task complete, Skyward from over Bethlehem's plain They sped with rapture fleet; And the angel of that orient star, Thenceforth where Heaven's lordliest are, Stands with a harp, while Christ doth reign, A seraph near His feet.
THE VISIT OF THE WISE MEN
ST. MATTHEW, II, 1-12
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
THE THREE KINGS
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
Three Kings came riding from far away, Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar; Three Wise Men out of the East were they, And they travelled by night and they slept by day, For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.
The star was so beautiful, large, and clear, That all the other stars of the sky Became a white mist in the atmosphere, And by this they knew that the coming was near Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.
Three caskets they bore on their saddle-bows, Three caskets of gold with golden keys; Their robes were of crimson silk with rows Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows, Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.
And so the Three Kings rode into the West, Through the dusk of night, over hill and dell, And sometimes they nodded with beard on breast, And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest, With the people they met at some wayside well.
"Of the child that is born," said Baltasar, "Good people, I pray you, tell us the news; For we in the East have seen his star, And have ridden fast, and have ridden far, To find and worship the King of the Jews."
And the people answered, "You ask in vain; We know of no king but Herod the Great!" They thought the Wise Men were men insane, As they spurred their horses across the plain, Like riders in haste, and who cannot wait.
And when they came to Jerusalem, Herod the Great, who had heard this thing, Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them; And said, "Go down unto Bethlehem, And bring me tidings of this new king."
So they rode away; and the star stood still, The only one in the gray of morn; Yes, it stopped,—it stood still of its own free will, Right over Bethlehem on the hill, The city of David, where Christ was born.
And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard, Through the silent street, till their horses turned And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard; But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred, And only a light in the stable burned.
And cradled there in the scented hay, In the air made sweet by the breath of kine, The little child in the manger lay, The child, that would be king one day Of a kingdom not human but divine.
His mother Mary of Nazareth Sat watching beside his place of rest, Watching the even flow of his breath, For the joy of life and the terror of death Were mingled together in her breast.
They laid their offerings at his feet: The gold was their tribute to a King, The frankincense, with its odor sweet, Was for the Priest, the Paraclete, The myrrh for the body's burying.
And the mother wondered and bowed her head, And sat as still as a statue of stone; Her heart was troubled yet comforted, Remembering what the Angel had said Of an endless reign and of David's throne.
Then the Kings rode out of the city gate, With a clatter of hoofs in proud array; But they went not back to Herod the Great, For they knew his malice and feared his hate, And returned to their homes by another way.
THE THREE HOLY KINGS
ADAPTED FROM THE GOLDEN LEGEND, AND OTHER SOURCES
In a far country, in the days before Jesus was born in Judea, there were great astrologers who studied the heavens by night and by day, for they knew of the prophecy which said that a star shall be born or spring out of Jacob, and a man shall arise of the lineage of Israel. And twelve of them were chosen to take heed, who every year ascended upon a mountain which was called the Hill of Victory. Three days they abode there, and prayed our Lord that He would show to them the star that Balaam had said and prophesied.
Now it happened on a time, that they were there on the day of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, and a star came over them upon this mountain, which had the form of a right fair child, and under his head was a shining cross, and from this cross came a voice saying: "To-day is there born a King in Judea."
Now in Arabia, the land in which the soil is red with gold, there reigned a king called Melchior. And in Saba, where frankincense flows from the trees, the king Balthasar ruled. And in the land where myrrh hangs from the bushes, the kingdom of Tharsis, reigned a third king, called Caspar. These three kings also saw the star and heard the voice, and they each made ready to go on a journey. And no one of the three knew that the others intended thus to make a pilgrimage. And they gathered together their treasures to present to the king whom they should seek, and summoned those who should attend them. So each set out with a great company and great estate. And as they journeyed they found the mountains made level as the plains, while the swollen rivers became as dry land. And never did they lose sight of the star, which shined upon them as the sun, always moving before them to guide them on their way.
But when they were come within two miles of Jerusalem, the star disappeared, a heavy fog arose, and each party halted; Melchior, as it fell out, taking his stand on Mount Calvary, Balthasar on the Mount of Olives, and Caspar just between them. And when the fog cleared away, each was astonished to see two other great companies besides his own, and then the kings first discovered that all had come upon the same errand, and they embraced with great joy, and rode together into Jerusalem.
And when they came into the city, Herod and all the people were troubled, because of their so great company like unto an army. Then they demanded in what place the King of the Jews was born, for, said they, "We have seen His star in the Orient, and therefore we come to worship Him." And when Herod had heard this, he was much troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Then Herod called all the priests of the law, and the doctors, and demanded of them where Jesus Christ should be born. And when he had understood them that He should be born in Bethlehem, he called the three kings apart and demanded of them diligently the time that the star appeared to them. And he said to them that as soon as they should have found the Child and have worshipped Him, that they should return and show it to him, feigning that he would worship Him also, though he thought that he would go to slay Him.
And as soon as the kings were entered into Jerusalem, the sight of the star was taken from them. But when they were issued out of the city, the star appeared again and went before them, until it came above the place in Bethlehem where the Child was. And they had journeyed now full thirteen days.
And when they had entered into the place they worshipped the young Child, and Mary, His mother. Now the kings had brought great treasures with them, for it must be known that all that Alexander the Great left at his death, and all that the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon, and all that Solomon collected for the temple, had descended to the three kings from their ancestors; and all this they had now brought with them. But when they had bowed down before the Child, they were filled with fear and amazement because of the so great light which was in the place. And they each offered quickly the first thing that came to their hands, and forgot all their other gifts. Melchior offered thirty golden pennies, Balthasar gave frankincense, and Caspar myrrh; but all else they quite forgot, and only remembered that they bowed before the Child, and said "Thanks be to God."
And when they would have stayed to do honor to the Holy Child, an angel came to them in a dream, to warn them against Herod, who would do them harm. So they departed each to his own country, journeying for two years. And they preached unto the people, telling them of the new-born King, and everywhere upon the temples men placed the figures of a star, the Child, and a cross.
Now it happened years later that St. Thomas the Apostle journeyed to the far country to preach, and that he wondered why the star was placed upon the temples. Then the priests in those temples told him about the three kings and how they had journeyed to Bethlehem and had seen the young Child.
And the three kings were very old and feeble, but when they heard about St. Thomas, each set out from his own place to go to meet him. And when they had come together they builded them a city, and lived together there for two years, worshipping God and preaching. Then Melchior died, and was buried in a large and costly tomb. And when Balthasar died, he, too, was buried there. And at last Caspar was placed beside his companions.
Now in the days of Constantine the Great, his mother Helena determined to find the bodies of the three kings, and for this she made a journey to the far country. And when she had found them, she brought them to Constantinople to the Church of St. Sophia, where they were held in much honor. And from Constantinople they were taken to Milan, where again many pilgrims came. Now when Frederick Barbarossa laid siege to the city of Milan, he rejoiced above all else to find them there. And by him they were taken to Cologne, and there a golden shrine was built in which the bones of the three holy kings were placed that there they might remain until the Judgment day.
THE THREE KINGS OF COLOGNE
From out Cologne there came three kings To worship Jesus Christ, their King. To Him they sought fine herbs they brought, And many a beauteous golden thing; They brought their gifts to Bethlehem town, And in that manger set them down.
Then spake the first king, and he said: "O Child, most heavenly, bright, and fair! I bring this crown to Bethlehem town. For Thee, and only Thee, to wear; So give a heavenly crown to me When I shall come at last to Thee!"
The second, then. "I bring Thee here This royal robe, O Child!" he cried; "Of silk 'tis spun, and such an one There is not in the world beside; So in the day of doom requite Me with a heavenly robe of white!"
The third king gave his gift, and quoth: "Spikenard and myrrh to Thee I bring, And with these twain would I most fain Anoint the body of my King; So may their incense sometime rise To plead for me in yonder skies!"
Thus spake the three kings of Cologne, That gave their gifts and went their way; And now kneel I in prayer hard by The cradle of the Child to-day; Nor crown, nor robe, nor spice I bring As offering unto Christ, my King.
Yet have I brought a gift the Child May not despise, however small; For here I lay my heart to-day, And it is full of love to all. Take Thou the poor but loyal thing, My only tribute, Christ, my King!
If you were a Russian child you would not watch to see Santa Klaus come down the chimney; but you would stand by the windows to catch a peep at poor Babouscka as she hurries by.
Who is Babouscka? Is she Santa Klaus' wife?
No, indeed. She is only a poor little crooked wrinkled old woman, who comes at Christmas time into everybody's house, who peeps into every cradle, turns back every coverlid, drops a tear on the baby's white pillow, and goes away very sorrowful.
And not only at Christmas time, but through all the cold winter, and especially in March, when the wind blows loud, and whistles and howls and dies away like a sigh, the Russian children hear the rustling step of the Babouscka. She is always in a hurry. One hears her running fast along the crowded streets and over the quiet country fields. She seems to be out of breath and tired, yet she hurries on.
Whom is she trying to overtake?
She scarcely looks at the little children as they press their rosy faces against the window pane and whisper to each other, "Is the Babouscka looking for us?"
No, she will not stop; only on Christmas eve will she come up-stairs into the nursery and give each little one a present. You must not think she leaves handsome gifts such as Santa Klaus brings for you. She does not bring bicycles to the boys or French dolls to the girls. She does not come in a gay little sleigh drawn by reindeer, but hobbling along on foot, and she leans on a crutch. She has her old apron filled with candy and cheap toys, and the children all love her dearly. They watch to see her come, and when one hears a rustling, he cries, "Lo! the Babouscka!" then all others look, but one must turn one's head very quickly or she vanishes. I never saw her myself.
Best of all, she loves little babies, and often, when the tired mothers sleep, she bends over their cradles, puts her brown, wrinkled face close down to the pillow and looks very sharply.
What is she looking for?
Ah, that you can't guess unless you know her sad story.
Long, long ago, a great many yesterdays ago, the Babouscka, who was even then an old woman, was busy sweeping her little hut. She lived in the coldest corner of cold Russia, and she lived alone in a lonely place where four wide roads met. These roads were at this time white with snow, for it was winter time. In the summer, when the fields were full of flowers and the air full of sunshine and singing birds, Babouscka's home did not seem so very quiet; but in the winter, with only the snow-flakes and the shy snow-birds and the loud wind for company, the little old woman felt very cheerless. But she was a busy old woman, and as it was already twilight, and her home but half swept, she felt in a great hurry to finish her work before bed-time. You must know the Babouscka was poor and could not afford to do her work by candle-light. Presently, down the widest and the lonesomest of the white roads, there appeared a long train of people coming. They were walking slowly, and seemed to be asking each other questions as to which way they should take. As the procession came nearer, and finally stopped outside the little hut, Babouscka was frightened at the splendor. There were Three Kings, with crowns on their heads, and the jewels on the Kings' breastplates sparkled like sunlight. Their heavy fur cloaks were white with the falling snow-flakes, and the queer humpy camels on which they rode looked white as milk in the snow-storm. The harness on the camels was decorated with gold, and plates of silver adorned the saddles. The saddlecloths were of the richest Eastern stuffs, and all the servants had the dark eyes and hair of an Eastern people.
The slaves carried heavy loads on their backs, and each of the Three Kings carried a present. One carried a beautiful transparent jar, and in the fading light Babouscka could see in it a golden liquid which she knew from its color must be myrrh. Another had in his hand a richly woven bag, and it seemed to be heavy, as indeed it was, for it was full of gold. The third had a stone vase in his hand, and from the rich perfume which filled the snowy air, one could guess the vase to have been filled with incense.
Babouscka was terribly frightened, so she hid herself in her hut, and let the servants knock a long time at her door before she dared open it and answer their questions as to the road they should take to a far-away town. You know she had never studied a geography lesson in her life, was old and stupid and scared. She knew the way across the fields to the nearest village, but she knew nothing else of all the wide world full of cities. The servants scolded, but the Three Kings spoke kindly to her, and asked her to accompany them on their journey that she might show them the way as far as she knew it. They told her, in words so simple that she could not fail to understand, that they had seen a Star in the sky and were following it to a little town where a young Child lay. The snow was in the sky now, and the Star was lost out of sight.
"Who is the Child?" asked the old woman.
"He is a King, and we go to worship him," they answered. "These presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh are for Him. When we find Him we will take the crowns off our heads and lay them at His feet. Come with us, Babouscka!"
What do you suppose? Shouldn't you have thought the poor little woman would have been glad to leave her desolate home on the plains to accompany these Kings on their journey?
But the foolish woman shook her head. No, the night was dark and cheerless, and her little home was warm and cosy. She looked up into the sky, and the Star was nowhere to be seen. Besides, she wanted to put her hut in order—perhaps she would be ready to go to-morrow. But the Three Kings could not wait; so when to-morrow's sun rose they were far ahead on their journey. It seemed like a dream to poor Babouscka, for even the tracks of the camels' feet were covered by the deep white snow. Everything was the same as usual; and to make sure that the night's visitors had not been a fancy, she found her old broom hanging on a peg behind the door, where she had put it when the servants knocked.
Now that the sun was shining, and she remembered the glitter of the gold and the smell of the sweet gums and myrrh, she wished she had gone with the travellers.
And she thought a great deal about the little Baby the Three Kings had gone to worship. She had no children of her own—nobody loved her—ah, if she had only gone! The more she brooded on the thought, the more miserable she grew, till the very sight of her home became hateful to her.
It is a dreadful feeling to realize that one has lost a chance of happiness. There is a feeling called remorse that can gnaw like a sharp little tooth. Babouscka felt this little tooth cut into her heart every time she remembered the visit of the Three Kings.
After a while the thought of the Little Child became her first thought at waking and her last at night. One day she shut the door of her house forever, and set out on a long journey. She had no hope of overtaking the Three Kings, but she longed to find the Child, that she too might love and worship Him. She asked every one she met, and some people thought her crazy, but others gave her kind answers. Have you perhaps guessed that the young Child whom the Three Kings sought was our Lord himself?
People told Babouscka how He was born in a manger, and many other things which you children have learned long ago. These answers puzzled the old dame mightily. She had but one idea in her ignorant head. The Three Kings had gone to seek a Baby. She would, if not too late, seek Him too.
She forgot, I am sure, how many long years had gone by. She looked in vain for the Christ-child in His manger-cradle. She spent all her little savings in toys and candy so as to make friends with little children, that they might not run away when she came hobbling into their nurseries.
Now you know for whom she is sadly seeking when she pushes back the bed-curtains and bends down over each baby's pillow. Sometimes, when the old grandmother sits nodding by the fire, and the bigger children sleep in their beds, old Babouscka comes hobbling into the room, and whispers softly, "Is the young Child here?"
Ah, no; she has come too late, too late. But the little children know her and love her. Two thousand years ago she lost the chance of finding Him. Crooked, wrinkled, old, sick and sorry, she yet lives on, looking into each baby's face—always disappointed, always seeking. Will she find Him at last?
THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT
Far away, in a desert in the East, there grew, many years ago, a palm that was very, very old, and very, very tall. No one passing through the desert could help stopping to look at it, for it was much higher than other palms, and people said of it that it would surely grow to be higher than the Obelisks and Pyramids.
This great palm, standing in its loneliness, and looking over the desert, one day saw something which caused its huge crown of leaves to wave to and fro with surprise on its slender stem. On the outskirts of the desert two lonely persons were wandering. They were still so far away that even a camel would have looked no larger than an ant at that distance, but they were assuredly human beings, two who were strangers to the desert—for the palm knew the people of the desert—a man and a woman, who had neither guide, nor beasts of burden, nor tent, nor water-bag.
"Verily," said the palm to itself, "these two have come hither to die."
The palm looked quickly around.
"I am surprised," it said, "that the lions have not already gone out to seize their prey. But I do not see a single one about. Nor do I see any of the robbers of the desert. But they are sure to come.
"There awaits them a sevenfold death," thought the palm. "The lions will devour them, the serpents will sting them, thirst will consume them, the sand-storm will bury them, the robbers will kill them, the burning sun will overcome them, fear will destroy them."
The palm tried to think of something else; the fate of these two made it sad. But in the immeasurable desert around it there was not a single thing that the palm had not known and gazed at for thousands of years. Nothing could attract its attention. It was again obliged to think of the two wanderers.
"By the drought and the wind!" said the palm, invoking the two greatest enemies of life, "what is the woman carrying on her arm? I believe these mad people have a little child with them!"
The palm, which was long-sighted, as the aged generally are, saw aright. The woman carried in her arms a child, that had laid its head on her breast and was sleeping.
"The child has not even enough clothes on," said the palm. "I see that the mother has lifted up her skirt and thrown it over it. She has taken it out of its bed in great haste and hurried away with it. Now I understand: these people are fugitives.
"But they are mad, all the same," continued the palm. "If they have not an angel to protect them, they should rather have let their enemies do their worst than have taken refuge in the desert. I can imagine how it has all happened. The man is at work, the child sleeps in its cradle, the woman has gone to fetch water. When she has gone a few steps from the door she sees the enemy approaching. She rushes in, seizes the child, calls to the husband that he shall follow her, and runs away. Since then they have continued their flight the whole day; they have assuredly not rested a single moment. Yes, so it has all happened; but I say all the same, if no angel protects them—
"They are in such fear that they do not feel either fatigue or other sufferings, but I read thirst in their eyes. I think I should know the face of a thirsty man."
And when the palm began to think about thirst a fit of trembling went through its high stem, and the innumerable fronds of its long leaves curled up as if held over a fire.
"If I were a man," it said, "I would never venture into the desert. He is truly brave who ventures here without having roots reaching down to the inexhaustible water-veins. There can be danger even for palms, even for such a palm as I. Could I advise them, I would beg them to return. Their enemies could never be as cruel to them as the desert. They think perhaps that it is easy to live in the desert. But I know that even I at times have had difficulty in keeping alive. I remember once in my youth when a whirlwind threw a whole mountain of sand over me I was nearly choking. If I could die I should have died then."
The palm continued to think aloud, as lonely old people do.
"I hear a wonderful melodious murmur passing through my crown," it said; "all the fronds of my leaves must be moving. I do not know why the sight of these poor strangers moves me so. But this sorrowful woman is so beautiful! It reminds me of the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me."
And whilst its leaves continued their melodious rustle the palm remembered how once, long, long ago, a glorious human being had visited the oasis. It was the Queen of Sheba, accompanied by the wise King Solomon. The beautiful Queen was on her way back to her own country; the King had accompanied her part of the way, and now they were about to part. "In memory of this moment," said the Queen, "I now plant a date-kernel in the earth; and I ordain that from it shall grow a palm which shall live and grow until a King is born in Judaea greater than Solomon." And as she said this she placed the kernel in the ground, and her tears watered it.
"How can it be that I should just happen to think of this to-day?" said the palm. "Can it be possible that this woman is so beautiful that she reminds me of the most beautiful of all queens, of her at whose bidding I have lived and grown to this very day? I hear my leaves rustling stronger and stronger," said the palm, "and it sounds sorrowful, like a death-song. It is as if they prophesied that someone should soon pass away. It is well to know that it is not meant for me, inasmuch that I cannot die."
The palm thought that the death-song in its leaves must be for the two lonely wanderers. They themselves surely thought that their last hour was drawing near. One could read it in their faces when they walked past one of the skeletons of the camels that lay by the roadside. One saw it from the glances with which they watched a couple of vultures flying past. It could not be otherwise—they must perish.
They had now discovered the palm in the oasis, and hastened thither to find water. But when they at last reached it they sank down in despair, for the well was dried up. The woman, exhausted, laid down the child, and sat down crying by the side of the well. The man threw himself down by her side; he lay and beat the ground with his clenched hands. The palm heard them say to each other that they must die. It also understood from their conversation that King Herod had caused all children of two or three years of age to be killed from fear that the great expected King in Judaea had been born.
"It rustles stronger and stronger in my leaves," said the palm. "These poor fugitives have soon come to their last moment."
It also heard that they were afraid of the desert. The man said it would have been better to remain and fight the soldiers than to flee. He said that it would have been an easier death.
"God will surely help us," said the woman.
"We are all alone amongst serpents and beasts of prey," said the man. "We have no food and no water. How can God help us?"
He tore his clothes in despair and pressed his face against the earth. He was hopeless, like a man with a mortal wound in his heart.
The woman sat upright, with her hands folded upon her knees. But the glances she cast over the desert spoke of unutterable despair.
The palm heard the sorrowful rustling in its leaves grow still stronger. The woman had evidently heard it too, for she looked up to the crown of the tree, and in the same moment she involuntarily raised her arms.
"Dates, dates!" she cried.
There was such a longing in her voice, that the old palm wished it had not been any higher than the gorse, and that its dates had been as easy to reach as the red berries of the hawthorn. It knew that its crown was full of clusters of dates, but how could man reach to such a dazzling height?
The man had already seen that, the dates being so high, it was impossible to reach them. He did not even lift his head. He told his wife that she must not wish for the impossible.
But the child, which had crawled about alone and was playing with sticks and straws, heard the mother's exclamation. The little one could probably not understand why his mother should not have everything she wished for. As soon as he heard the word "dates," he began to look at the tree. He wondered and pondered how he should get the dates. There came almost wrinkles on his forehead under the fair locks. At last a smile passed over his face. Now he knew what he would do. He went to the palm, stroked it with his little hand, and said in his gentle, childish voice:
"Bend down, palm. Bend down, palm."
But what was this, what could this be? The palm-leaves rustled, as if a hurricane rushed through them, and shudder upon shudder passed through the tall stem. And the palm felt that the little one was the stronger. It could not resist him.
And with its high stem it bowed down before the child, as men bow down before princes. In a mighty arch it lowered itself towards earth, and at last bowed so low that its great crown of trembling leaves swept the sand of the desert.
The child did not seem to be either frightened or surprised, but with a joyous exclamation it ran and plucked one cluster after another from the crown of the old palm.
When the child had gathered enough, and the tree was still lying on the earth, he again went to it, stroked it, and said in his gentlest voice:
"Arise, palm, arise."
And the great tree raised itself silently and obediently on its stem, whilst the leaves played like harps.
"Now I know for whom they play the death-song," the old palm said to itself, when it again stood erect. "It is not for any of these strangers."
But the man and woman knelt down on their knees and praised God.
"Thou hast seen our fear and taken it from us. Thou art the Mighty One, that bends the stem of the palm like a reed. Of whom should we be afraid when Thy strength protects us?"
Next time a caravan passed through the desert, one of the travellers saw that the crown of the great palm had withered.
"How can that have happened?" said the traveller. "Have we not heard that this palm should not die before it had seen a King greater than Solomon?"
"Perhaps it has seen Him," answered another wanderer of the desert.
THE HAUGHTY ASPEN
A German Legend
NORA ARCHIBALD SMITH
As I went through the tangled wood I heard the Aspen shiver. "What dost thou ail, sweet Aspen, say, Why do thy leaflets quiver?"
"'Twas long ago," the Aspen sighed— How long is past my knowing— "When Mary Mother rode adown This wood where I was growing. Blest Joseph journey'd by her side, Upon his good staff resting, And in her arms the Heav'nly Babe, Dove of the World, was nesting. Fair was the mother, shining-fair, A lily sweetly blowing; The Babe was but a lily-bud, Like to his mother showing.
The birds began, 'Thy Master comes! Bow down, bow down before Him!' The date, the fig, the hazel tree, In rev'rence bent to adore Him. I only, out of all the host Of bird and tree and flower,— I, haughty, would not bow my head, Nor own my Master's power. 'Proud Aspen,' quoth the Mother-Maid, 'Thy Lord, dost thou defy Him? When emperors worship at His shrine, Wilt courtesy deny Him?' I heard her voice; my heart was rent, My boughs began to shiver, And age on age, in punishment, My sorrowing leaflets quiver."
Still in the dark and tangled wood, Still doth the Aspen quiver. The haughty tree doth bear a curse, Her leaflets aye must shiver.
THE LITTLE MUD-SPARROWS
ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS
I like that old, kind legend Not found in Holy Writ, And wish that John or Matthew Had made Bible out of it.
But though it is not Gospel, There is no law to hold The heart from growing better That hears the story told:—
How the little Jewish children Upon a summer day, Went down across the meadows With the Child Christ to play.
And in the gold-green valley, Where low the reed-grass lay,
They made them mock mud-sparrows Out of the meadow clay.
So, when these all were fashioned, And ranged in rows about, "Now," said the little Jesus, "We'll let the birds fly out."
Then all the happy children Did call, and coax, and cry— Each to his own mud-sparrow: "Fly, as I bid you! Fly!"
But earthen were the sparrows, And earth they did remain, Though loud the Jewish children Cried out, and cried again.
Except the one bird only The little Lord Christ made; The earth that owned Him Master, —His earth heard and obeyed.
Softly He leaned and whispered: "Fly up to Heaven! Fly!" And swift, His little sparrow Went soaring to the sky,
And silent, all the children Stood, awestruck, looking on, Till, deep into the heavens, The bird of earth had gone.
I like to think, for playmate We have the Lord Christ still, And that still above our weakness He works His mighty will,
That all our little playthings Of earthen hopes and joys Shall be, by His commandment, Changed into heavenly toys.
Our souls are like the sparrows Imprisoned in the clay, Bless Him who came to give them wings Upon a Christmas Day!
THE CHILDREN OF WIND AND THE CLAN OF PEACE
I will tell this Legend as simply but also with what beauty I can, because the words of the old Highland woman, who told it to me,...though simple were beautiful with ancient idiom.
We must go back near twenty hundred years.... It was in the last month of the last year of the seven years' silence and peace: the seventh year in the mortal life of Jesus the Christ. It was on the twenty-fifth day of that month, the day of His holy birth.
It was a still day. The little white flowers that were called Breaths of Hope and that we now call Stars of Bethlehem were so hushed in quiet that the shadows of moths lay on them like the dark motionless violet in the hearts of pansies. In the long swards of tender grass the multitude of the daisies were white as milk faintly stained with flusht dews fallen from roses. On the meadows of white poppies were long shadows blue as the blue lagoons of the sky among drifting snow-white moors of cloud. Three white aspens on the pastures were in a still sleep: their tremulous leaves made no rustle, though there was a soundless wavering fall of little dusky shadows, as in the dark water of a pool where birches lean in the yellow hour of the frostfire. Upon the pastures were ewes and lambs sleeping, and yearling kids opened and closed their onyx eyes among the garths of white clover.
It was the Sabbath, and Jesus walked alone. When He came to a little rise in the grass He turned and looked back at the house where His parents dwelled. Joseph sat on a bench, with bent shoulders, and was dreaming with fixt gaze into the west, as seamen stare across the interminable wave at the pale green horizons that are like the grassy shores of home. Mary was standing, dressed in long white raiment, white as a lily, with her right hand shading her eyes as she looked to the east, dreaming her dream.
The young Christ sighed, but with the love of all love in His heart. "So shall it be till the day of days," He said aloud; "even so shall the hearts of men dwell among shadows and glories, in the West of passing things: even so shall that which is immortal turn to the East and watch for the coming of Joy through the Gates of Life."
At the sound of His voice He heard a sudden noise as of many birds, and turned and looked beyond the low upland where He stood. A pool of pure water lay in the hollow, fed by a ceaseless wellspring, and round it and over it circled birds whose breasts were grey as pearl and whose necks shone purple and grass-green and rose. The noise was of their wings, for though the birds were beautiful they were voiceless and dumb as flowers.
At the edge of the pool stood two figures, whom He knew to be of the angelic world because of their beauty, but who had on them the illusion of mortality so that the child did not know them. But He saw that one was beautiful as Night, and one beautiful as Morning.
He drew near.
"I have lived seven years," He said, "and I wish to send peace to the far ends of the world."
"Tell your secret to the birds," said one.
"Tell your secret to the birds," said the other.
So Jesus called to the birds.
"Come," He cried; and they came.
Seven came flying from the left, from the side of the angel beautiful as Night. Seven came flying from the right, from the side of the angel beautiful as Morning.
To the first He said: "Look into my heart."
But they wheeled about Him, and with newfound voices mocked, crying, "How could we see into your heart that is hidden" ... and mocked and derided, crying, "What is Peace! ... Leave us alone! Leave us alone!"
So Christ said to them:
"I know you for the birds of Ahriman, who is not beautiful but is Evil. Henceforth ye shall be black as night, and be children of the winds."
To the seven other birds which circled about Him, voiceless, and brushing their wings against His arms, He cried:
"Look into my heart."
And they swerved and hung before Him in a maze of wings, and looked into His pure heart: and, as they looked, a soft murmurous sound came from them, drowsy-sweet, full of peace: and as they hung there like a breath in frost they became white as snow.
"Ye are the Doves of the Spirit," said Christ, "and to you I will commit that which ye have seen. Henceforth shall your plumage be white and your voices be the voices of peace."
The young Christ turned, for He heard Mary calling to the sheep and goats, and knew that dayset was come and that in the valleys the gloaming was already rising like smoke from the urns of the twilight. When He looked back He saw by the pool neither the Son of Joy nor the Son of Sorrow, but seven white doves were in the cedar beyond the pool, cooing in low ecstasy of peace and awaiting through sleep and dreams the rose-red pathways of the dawn. Down the long grey reaches of the ebbing day He saw seven birds rising and falling on the wind, black as black water in caves, black as the darkness of night in old pathless woods.
And that is how the first doves became white, and how the first crows became black and were called by a name that means the clan of darkness, the children of the wind.
THE CHILD JESUS IN THE GARDEN
Cold was the day, when in a garden bare, Walked the Child Jesus, wrapt in holy thought; His brow seemed clouded with a weight of care; Calmness and rest from worldly things he sought.
Soon was his presence missed within his home; His mother gently marked his every way; Forth then she came to seek where he did roam. Full of sweet words his trouble to allay.
Through chilling snow she toiled to reach his side, Forcing her way mid branches brown and sere, Hastening that she his sorrows might divide, Share all his woe, or calm his gloomy fear.
Sweet was her face, as o'er his head she bent, Longing to melt his look of saddest grief. With lifted eyes, his ear to her he lent; Her kindly solace brought his soul relief.
Then did he smile—a smile of love so deep, Winter himself grew warm beneath its glow; From drooping branches scented blossoms peep; Up springs the grass; the sealed fountains flow.
Summer and spring did with each other vie, Offering to Him the fragrance of their store; Chanting sweet notes, the birds around him fly, Wondering why earth had checkered so her floor.
THE MYSTIC THORN
ADAPTED FROM TRADITIONAL SOURCES
"Three hawthornes also that groweth in Werall Do burge and bere grene leaves at Christmas As fresshe as other in May."
It was Christmas day in the year 63. The autumn colors of red and gold had long since faded from the hills, and the trees which covered the island valley of Glastonbury, the Avalon or Apple-tree isle of the early Britons, were bare and leafless. The spreading, glass-like waters encircling it round about gleamed faintly in the pale afternoon light of the winter's day. The light fell also on the silver stems of the willows and on the tall flags and bending reeds and osiers which bordered the marsh island. Westward the long ranges of hills running seaward were purple in the distance and their tops were partly hidden by the misty white clouds which rested lightly upon them. To the south rose sharply and abruptly a high, pointed hill, the tor of Glastonbury.
It was nearing the sunset hour when a little band of men in pilgrim garb, approaching from the west and climbing the long, hilly ridge, came within sight of this "isle of rest." Twelve pilgrims there were in all, in dress and appearance very unlike the fair-haired Britons who at that time dwelt in the land. One, he who led the way, was an old man. His hair was white and his long, white beard fell upon his breast, but he was tall and erect and bore no other signs of age. In his hand he carried a stout hawthorn staff.
The men were climbing slowly up the hill, for they were all weary with long travelling. And here at the summit of the ridge they stopped to look out over the wooded hills, the wide-spreading waters and the grassy island with its leafless thickets of oak and alder. Sitting down to rest, they spoke one to another of their long journeying from the far-distant land of Palestine and of their hope that here their pilgrimage might have end.
Those who were with him called their leader Joseph of Arimathea. He it was who had been known among the Jews many years before as a counsellor, "a good man, and a just," and who, when the Saviour was crucified on Calvary, had given his sepulchre to receive the body of the Lord.
From this tomb upon the third day came the risen Saviour; but the people, thinking that Joseph had stolen away the body, seized and imprisoned him in a chamber where there was no window. They fastened the door and put a seal upon the lock and placed men before the door to guard it. Then the priests and the Levites contrived to what death they should put him; but when they sent for Joseph to be brought forth he could not be found, though the seal was still upon the lock and the guard before the door.
The disciples of Joseph as they gathered about their fire of an evening often told how, at night, as he prayed, the prison chamber had been filled with a light brighter than that of the sun, and Jesus himself had appeared to him and had led him forth unharmed to his own house in Arimathea.
And sometimes they told how, again imprisoned, he had been fed from the Holy Cup from which the Saviour had drunk at the "last sad supper with his own" and in which Joseph had caught the blood of his Master when he was on the cross, and how he had been blest with such heavenly visions that the years passed and seemed to him as naught.
Now after a certain time he had been released from prison; but there were people who still doubted him and so with his friends, Lazarus and Mary Magdalene and Philip and others, he had been driven away from Jerusalem. The small vessel, without oars, rudder or sail, in which they had been cast adrift on the Mediterranean, had come at last in safety to the coast of Gaul. And for many years since then had Joseph wandered through the land carrying ever with him two precious relics, the Holy Grail and "that same spear wherewith the Roman pierced the side of Christ." Now at last with a chosen band of disciples he had reached the little-known island of the Britons.
Landing from their little boat in the early morn on this unknown coast, they had knelt upon the shore while Joseph "gave blessing to the God of heaven in a lowly chanted prayer." Then, "over the brow of the seaward hill" they had passed, led by an invisible hand and singing as they went. All day through dark forests and over reedy swamps they had made their way and now at nightfall, tired and wayworn, they rested on the ridgy hill which has ever since been known by the name of Wearyall.
During the long day's march they had seen but few of the people of the land and these had held aloof.
Now, suddenly, the silence was broken by loud cries and shouts, and groups of the native Britons, wild and uncouth in appearance, their half-naked bodies stained blue with woad, were seen coming from different directions up the hill. They were armed with spears, hatchets of bronze, and other rude weapons of olden warfare and, as they came rapidly nearer, their threatening aspect and menacing cries startled the pilgrim band. Rising hastily, as though they would flee, the men looked in terror, one toward another. Joseph alone showed no trace of fear and, obedient to a sign from him, they all knelt in prayer upon the hillside.
Then, thrusting his thorny staff into the ground beside him and raising both hands toward heaven, Joseph claimed possession of this new land in the name of his Master, Christ.
"'This staff hath borne me long and well,' Then spake that saint divine, 'Over mountain and over plain, On quest of the Promise-sign; For aye let it stand in this western land, And God do no more to me If there ring not out from this realm about, Tibi gloria, Domine.'"
His voice ceased and the men rose from their knees, looking expectantly for the heavenly sign, but ready, if need be, to meet with courage the threatened attack.
But stillness had again settled over the hill. Only a few rods distant the Britons had stopped and grouped closely together were gazing in awestruck silence upon the dry and withered staff, which had so often aided Joseph in his wanderings from the Holy Land. Following their gaze, Joseph and his companions turned toward it and even as they did so, behold! A miracle! The staff took root and grew and, as they watched, they saw it put forth branches and green leaves, fair buds and milk-white blossoms which filled the air with their sweet odor.
For a moment, awed and amazed, all stood silent. Wondrously had Joseph's prayer been answered! This was indeed the heavenly token which had been foretold! Then with tears of joy all cried out as with one voice, "Our God is with us! Jesus is with us!"