THE CHILDREN'S BOOK OF CHRISTMAS STORIES
THE CHILDREN'S BOOK OF CHRISTMAS STORIES
ASA DON DICKINSON
ADA M. SKINNER
GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY & COMPANY, INC.
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY DOUBLEDAY & COMPANY, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The Publishers desire to acknowledge the kindness of the J. B. Lippincott Co., Houghton Mifflin Co., D. C. Heath & Co., The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Milton Bradley Co., Henry Altemus Co., Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd Co., Little, Brown & Co., Moffat, Yard & Co., American Book Co., Perry, Mason Co., Duffield & Co., Chicago Kindergarten College, and others, who have granted them permission to reproduce herein selections from works bearing their copyright.
Many librarians have felt the need and expressed the desire for a select collection of children's Christmas stories in one volume. This book claims to be just that and nothing more.
Each of the stories has already won the approval of thousands of children, and each is fraught with the true Christmas spirit.
It is hoped that the collection will prove equally acceptable to parents, teachers, and librarians.
ASA DON DICKINSON.
(Note.—The stories marked with a star (*) will be most enjoyed by younger children; those marked with a dagger (+) are better suited to older children.)
Christmas at Fezziwig's Warehouse. By Charles Dickens 3
*The Fir-Tree. By Hans Christian Andersen 6
The Christmas Masquerade. By Mary E. Wilkins Freeman 19
*The Shepherds and the Angels. Adapted from the Bible 34
+The Telltale Tile. By Olive Thorne Miller 36
*Little Girl's Christmas. By Winnifred E. Lincoln 48
+A Christmas Matinee. By M. A. L. Lane 57
*Toinette and the Elves. By Susan Coolidge 68
The Voyage of the Wee Red Cap. By Ruth Sawyer Durand 86
*A Story of the Christ-Child (a German Legend for Christmas Eve). As told by Elizabeth Harrison 96
*Jimmy Scarecrow's Christmas. by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman 103
Why the Chimes Rang. By Raymond McAlden 113
*The Birds' Christmas (founded on fact). By F. E. Mann 120
+The Little Sister's Vacation. By Winifred M. Kirkland 126
*Little Wolff's Wooden Shoes. By Francois Coppee, adapted and translated by Alma J. Foster 139
+Christmas in the Alley. By Olive Thorne Miller 146
*A Christmas Star. By Katherine Pyle 158
+The Queerest Christmas. By Grace Margaret Gallaher 165
Old Father Christmas. By J. H. Ewing 179
A Christmas Carol. By Charles Dickens 193
How Christmas Came to the Santa Maria Flats. By Elia W. Peattie 196
The Legend of Babouscka. From the Russian Folk Tale 208
*Christmas in the Barn. By F. Arnstein 211
The Philanthropist's Christmas. By James Weber Linn 216
*The First Christmas-Tree. By Lucy Wheelock 230
The First New England Christmas. By G. L. Stone and M. G. Fickett 232
The Cratchits' Christmas Dinner. By Charles Dickens 242
Christmas in Seventeen Seventy-Six. By Anne Hollingsworth Wharton 253
*Christmas Under the Snow. By Olive Thorne Miller 261
Mr. Bluff's Experience of Holidays. By Oliver Bell Bunce 273
+Master Sandy's Snapdragon. By Elbridge S. Brooks 284
A Christmas Fairy. By John Strange Winter 297
The Greatest of These. By Joseph Mills Hanson 303
*Little Gretchen and the Wooden Shoe. By Elizabeth Harrison 316
+Christmas on Big Rattle. By Theodore Goodridge Roberts 329
THE CHILDREN'S BOOK OF CHRISTMAS STORIES
CHRISTMAS AT FEZZIWIG'S WAREHOUSE
"YO HO! my boys," said Fezziwig. "No more work to-night! Christmas Eve, Dick! Christmas, Ebenezer! Let's have the shutters up!" cried old Fezziwig with a sharp clap of his hands, "before a man can say Jack Robinson. . . ."
"Hilli-ho!" cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk with wonderful agility. "Clear away, my lads, and let's have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Cheer-up, Ebenezer!"
Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn't have cleared away, or couldn't have cleared away with old Fezziwig looking on. It was done in a minute. Every movable was packed off, as if it were dismissed from public life forevermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ballroom as you would desire to see on a winter's night.
In came a fiddler with a music book, and went up to the lofty desk and made an orchestra of it and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Misses Fezziwig, beaming and lovable. In came the six followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid with her cousin the baker. In came the cook with her brother's particular friend the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master, trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping, old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them.
When this result was brought about the fiddler struck up "Sir Roger de Coverley." Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too, with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pairs of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance and had no notion of walking.
But if they had been thrice as many—oh, four times as many—old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that's not high praise, tell me higher and I'll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig's calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn't have predicted at any given time what would become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance, advance and retire; both hands to your partner, bow and courtesy, corkscrew, thread the needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig "cut"—cut so deftly that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again with a stagger.
When the clock struck eleven the domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually, as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas!
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN
OUT in the woods stood a nice little Fir-tree. The place he had was a very good one; the sun shone on him; as to fresh air, there was enough of that, and round him grew many large-sized comrades, pines as well as firs. But the little Fir wanted so very much to be a grown-up tree.
He did not think of the warm sun and of the fresh air; he did not care for the little cottage children that ran about and prattled when they were in the woods looking for wild strawberries. The children often came with a whole pitcher full of berries, or a long row of them threaded on a straw, and sat down near the young tree and said, "Oh, how pretty he is! what a nice little fir!" But this was what the Tree could not bear to hear.
At the end of a year he had shot up a good deal, and after another year he was another long bit taller; for with fir-trees one can always tell by the shoots how many years old they are.
"Oh, were I but such a high tree as the others are!" sighed he. "Then I should be able to spread out my branches, and with the tops to look into the wide world! Then would the birds build nests among my branches; and when there was a breeze, I could bend with as much stateliness as the others!"
Neither the sunbeams, nor the birds, nor the red clouds, which morning and evening sailed above them, gave the little Tree any pleasure.
In winter, when the snow lay glittering on the ground, a hare would often come leaping along, and jump right over the little Tree. Oh, that made him so angry! But two winters were past, and in the third the tree was so large that the hare was obliged to go round it. "To grow and grow, to get older and be tall," thought the Tree—"that, after all, is the most delightful thing in the world!"
In autumn the wood-cutters always came and felled some of the largest trees. This happened every year; and the young Fir-tree, that had now grown to a very comely size, trembled at the sight; for the magnificent great trees fell to the earth with noise and cracking, the branches were lopped off, and the trees looked long and bare; they were hardly to be recognized; and then they were laid in carts, and the horses dragged them out of the woods.
Where did they go to? What became of them?
In spring, when the Swallows and the Storks came, the Tree asked them, "Don't you know where they have been taken? Have you not met them anywhere?"
The Swallows did not know anything about it; but the Stork looked musing, nodded his head, and said: "Yes, I think I know; I met many ships as I was flying hither from Egypt; on the ships were magnificent masts, and I venture to assert that it was they that smelt so of fir. I may congratulate you, for they lifted themselves on high most majestically!"
"Oh, were I but old enough to fly across the sea! But how does the sea look in reality? What is it like?"
"That would take a long time to explain," said the Stork, and with these words off he went.
"Rejoice in thy growth!" said the Sunbeams, "rejoice in thy vigorous growth, and in the fresh life that moveth within thee!"
And the Wind kissed the Tree, and the Dew wept tears over him; but the Fir understood it not.
When Christmas came, quite young trees were cut down; trees which often were not even as large or of the same age as this Fir-tree, who could never rest, but always wanted to be off. These young trees, and they were always the finest looking, retained their branches; they were laid on carts, and the horses drew them out of the woods.
"Where are they going to?" asked the Fir. "They are not taller than I; there was one indeed that was considerably shorter; and why do they retain all their branches? Whither are they taken?"
"We know! we know!" chirped the Sparrows. "We have peeped in at the windows in the town below! We know whither they are taken! The greatest splendour and the greatest magnificence one can imagine await them. We peeped through the windows, and saw them planted in the middle of the warm room, and ornamented with the most splendid things—with gilded apples, with gingerbread, with toys, and many hundred lights!"
"And then?" asked the Fir-tree, trembling in every bough. "And then? What happens then?"
"We did not see anything more: it was incomparably beautiful."
"I would fain know if I am destined for so glorious a career," cried the Tree, rejoicing. "That is still better than to cross the sea! What a longing do I suffer! Were Christmas but come! I am now tall, and my branches spread like the others that were carried off last year! Oh, were I but already on the cart. Were I in the warm room with all the splendour and magnificence! Yes; then something better, something still grander, will surely follow, or wherefore should they thus ornament me? Something better, something still grander, must follow—but what? Oh, how I long, how I suffer! I do not know myself what is the matter with me!"
"Rejoice in our presence!" said the Air and the Sunlight; "rejoice in thy own fresh youth!"
But the Tree did not rejoice at all; he grew and grew, and was green both winter and summer. People that saw him said, "What a fine tree!" and toward Christmas he was one of the first that was cut down. The axe struck deep into the very pith; the tree fell to the earth with a sigh: he felt a pang—it was like a swoon; he could not think of happiness, for he was sorrowful at being separated from his home, from the place where he had sprung up. He knew well that he should never see his dear old comrades, the little bushes and flowers around him, any more; perhaps not even the birds! The departure was not at all agreeable.
The Tree only came to himself when he was unloaded in a courtyard with the other trees, and heard a man say, "That one is splendid! we don't want the others." Then two servants came in rich livery and carried the Fir-tree into a large and splendid drawing-room. Portraits were hanging on the walls, and near the white porcelain stove stood two large Chinese vases with lions on the covers. There, too, were large easy chairs, silken sofas, large tables full of picture-books, and full of toys worth hundreds and hundreds of crowns—at least the children said so. And the Fir-tree was stuck upright in a cask that was filled with sand: but no one could see that it was a cask, for green cloth was hung all around it, and it stood on a large gayly coloured carpet. Oh, how the Tree quivered! What was to happen? The servants, as well as the young ladies, decorated it. On one branch there hung little nets cut out of coloured paper, and each net was filled with sugar-plums; and among the other boughs gilded apples and walnuts were suspended, looking as though they had grown there, and little blue and white tapers were placed among the leaves. Dolls that looked for all the world like men—the Tree had never beheld such before—were seen among the foliage, and at the very top a large star of gold tinsel was fixed. It was really splendid—beyond description splendid.
"This evening!" said they all; "how it will shine this evening!"
"Oh," thought the Tree, "if the evening were but come! If the tapers were but lighted! And then I wonder what will happen! Perhaps the other trees from the forest will come to look at me! Perhaps the sparrows will beat against the window-panes! I wonder if I shall take root here, and winter and summer stand covered with ornaments!"
He knew very much about the matter! but he was so impatient that for sheer longing he got a pain in his back, and this with trees is the same thing as a headache with us.
The candles were now lighted. What brightness! What splendour! The Tree trembled so in every bough that one of the tapers set fire to the foliage. It blazed up splendidly.
"Help! Help!" cried the young ladies, and they quickly put out the fire.
Now the Tree did not even dare tremble. What a state he was in! He was so uneasy lest he should lose something of his splendour, that he was quite bewildered amidst the glare and brightness; when suddenly both folding-doors opened, and a troop of children rushed in as if they would upset the Tree. The older persons followed quietly; the little ones stood quite still. But it was only for a moment; then they shouted so that the whole place reechoed with their rejoicing; they danced round the tree, and one present after the other was pulled off.
"What are they about?" thought the Tree. "What is to happen now?" And the lights burned down to the very branches, and as they burned down they were put out, one after the other, and then the children had permission to plunder the tree. So they fell upon it with such violence that all its branches cracked; if it had not been fixed firmly in the cask, it would certainly have tumbled down.
The children danced about with their beautiful playthings: no one looked at the Tree except the old nurse, who peeped between the branches; but it was only to see if there was a fig or an apple left that had been forgotten.
"A story! a story!" cried the children, drawing a little fat man toward the tree. He seated himself under it, and said: "Now we are in the shade, and the Tree can listen, too. But I shall tell only one story. Now which will you have: that about Ivedy-Avedy, or about Klumpy-Dumpy who tumbled downstairs, and yet after all came to the throne and married the princess?"
"Ivedy-Avedy!" cried some; "Klumpy-Dumpy!" cried the others. There was such a bawling and screaming—the Fir-tree alone was silent, and he thought to himself, "Am I not to bawl with the rest?—am I to do nothing whatever?" for he was one of the company, and had done what he had to do.
And the man told about Klumpy-Dumpy that tumbled down, who notwithstanding came to the throne, and at last married the princess. And the children clapped their hands, and cried out, "Oh, go on! Do go on!" They wanted to hear about Ivedy-Avedy, too, but the little man only told them about Klumpy-Dumpy. The Fir-tree stood quite still and absorbed in thought; the birds in the woods had never related the like of this. "Klumpy-Dumpy fell downstairs, and yet he married the princess! Yes! Yes! that's the way of the world!" thought the Fir-tree, and believed it all, because the man who told the story was so good-looking. "Well, well! who knows, perhaps I may fall downstairs, too, and get a princess as wife!" And he looked forward with joy to the morrow, when he hoped to be decked out again with lights, playthings, fruits, and tinsel.
"I won't tremble to-morrow," thought the Fir-tree. "I will enjoy to the full all my splendour. To-morrow I shall hear again the story of Klumpy-Dumpy, and perhaps that of Ivedy-Avedy, too." And the whole night the Tree stood still and in deep thought.
In the morning the servant and the housemaid came in.
"Now, then, the splendour will begin again," thought the Fir. But they dragged him out of the room, and up the stairs into the loft; and here in a dark corner, where no daylight could enter, they left him. "What's the meaning of this?" thought the Tree. "What am I to do here? What shall I hear now, I wonder?" And he leaned against the wall, lost in reverie. Time enough had he, too, for his reflections; for days and nights passed on, and nobody came up; and when at last somebody did come, it was only to put some great trunks in a corner out of the way. There stood the Tree quite hidden; it seemed as if he had been entirely forgotten.
"'Tis now winter out of doors!" thought the Tree. "The earth is hard and covered with snow; men cannot plant me now, and therefore I have been put up here under shelter till the springtime comes! How thoughtful that is! How kind man is, after all! If it only were not so dark here, and so terribly lonely! Not even a hare. And out in the woods it was so pleasant, when the snow was on the ground, and the hare leaped by; yes—even when he jumped over me; but I did not like it then. It is really terribly lonely here!"
"Squeak! squeak!" said a little Mouse at the same moment, peeping out of his hole. And then another little one came. They sniffed about the Fir-tree, and rustled among the branches.
"It is dreadfully cold," said the Mouse. "But for that, it would be delightful here, old Fir, wouldn't it?"
"I am by no means old," said the Fir-tree. "There's many a one considerably older than I am."
"Where do you come from," asked the Mice; "and what can you do?" They were so extremely curious. "Tell us about the most beautiful spot on the earth. Have you never been there? Were you never in the larder, where cheeses lie on the shelves, and hams hang from above; where one dances about on tallow-candles; that place where one enters lean, and comes out again fat and portly?"
"I know no such place," said the Tree, "but I know the woods, where the sun shines, and where the little birds sing." And then he told all about his youth; and the little Mice had never heard the like before; and they listened and said:
"Well, to be sure! How much you have seen! How happy you must have been!"
"I?" said the Fir-tree, thinking over what he had himself related. "Yes, in reality those were happy times." And then he told about Christmas Eve, when he was decked out with cakes and candles.
"Oh," said the little Mice, "how fortunate you have been, old Fir-tree!"
"I am by no means old," said he. "I came from the woods this winter; I am in my prime, and am only rather short for my age."
"What delightful stories you know!" said the Mice; and the next night they came with four other little Mice, who were to hear what the tree recounted; and the more he related, the more plainly he remembered all himself; and it appeared as if those times had really been happy times. "But they may still come—they may still come. Klumpy-Dumpy fell downstairs and yet he got a princess," and he thought at the moment of a nice little Birch-tree growing out in the woods; to the Fir, that would be a real charming princess.
"Who is Klumpy-Dumpy?" asked the Mice. So then the Fir-tree told the whole fairy tale, for he could remember every single word of it; and the little Mice jumped for joy up to the very top of the Tree. Next night two more Mice came, and on Sunday two Rats, even; but they said the stories were not interesting, which vexed the little Mice; and they, too, now began to think them not so very amusing either.
"Do you know only one story?" asked the Rats.
"Only that one," answered the Tree. "I heard it on my happiest evening; but I did not then know how happy I was."
"It is a very stupid story. Don't you know one about bacon and tallow candles? Can't you tell any larder stories?"
"No," said the Tree.
"Then good-bye," said the Rats; and they went home.
At last the little Mice stayed away also; and the Tree sighed: "After all, it was very pleasant when the sleek little Mice sat around me and listened to what I told them. Now that too is over. But I will take good care to enjoy myself when I am brought out again."
But when was that to be? Why, one morning there came a quantity of people and set to work in the loft. The trunks were moved, the Tree was pulled out and thrown—rather hard, it is true—down on the floor, but a man drew him toward the stairs, where the daylight shone.
"Now a merry life will begin again," thought the Tree. He felt the fresh air, the first sunbeam—and now he was out in the courtyard. All passed so quickly, there was so much going on around him, that the Tree quite forgot to look to himself. The court adjoined a garden, and all was in flower; the roses hung so fresh and odorous over the balustrade, the lindens were in blossom, the Swallows flew by, and said, "Quirre-vit! my husband is come!" but it was not the Fir-tree that they meant.
"Now, then, I shall really enjoy life," said he, exultingly, and spread out his branches; but, alas! they were all withered and yellow. It was in a corner that he lay, among weeds and nettles. The golden star of tinsel was still on the top of the Tree, and glittered in the sunshine.
In the courtyard some of the merry children were playing who had danced at Christmas round the Fir-tree, and were so glad at the sight of him. One of the youngest ran and tore off the golden star.
"Only look what is still on the ugly old Christmas tree!" said he, trampling on the branches, so that they all cracked beneath his feet.
And the Tree beheld all the beauty of the flowers, and the freshness in the garden; he beheld himself, and wished he had remained in his dark corner in the loft; he thought of his first youth in the woods, of the merry Christmas Eve, and of the little Mice who had listened with so much pleasure to the story of Klumpy-Dumpy.
"'Tis over—'tis past!" said the poor Tree. "Had I but rejoiced when I had reason to do so! But now 'tis past, 'tis past!"
And the gardener's boy chopped the Tree into small pieces; there was a whole heap lying there. The wood flamed up splendidly under the large brewing copper, and it sighed so deeply! Each sigh was like a shot.
The boys played about in the court, and the youngest wore the gold star on his breast which the Tree had had on the happiest evening of his life. However, that was over now—the Tree gone, the story at an end. All, all was over; every tale must end at last.
[A] Reprinted by permission of the Houghton-Mifflin Company.
THE CHRISTMAS MASQUERADE[B]
MARY E. WILKINS FREEMAN
ON Christmas Eve the Mayor's stately mansion presented a beautiful appearance. There were rows of different coloured wax candles burning in every window, and beyond them one could see the chandeliers of gold and crystal blazing with light. The fiddles were squeaking merrily, and lovely little forms flew past the windows in time to the music.
There were gorgeous carpets laid from the door to the street, and carriages were constantly arriving and fresh guests tripping over them. They were all children. The Mayor was giving a Christmas Masquerade to-night to all the children in the city, the poor as well as the rich. The preparation for this ball had been making an immense sensation for the last three months. Placards had been up in the most conspicuous points in the city, and all the daily newspapers had at least a column devoted to it, headed with "THE MAYOR'S CHRISTMAS MASQUERADE," in very large letters.
The Mayor had promised to defray the expenses of all the poor children whose parents were unable to do so, and the bills for their costumes were directed to be sent in to him.
Of course there was great excitement among the regular costumers of the city, and they all resolved to vie with one another in being the most popular, and the best patronized on this gala occasion. But the placards and the notices had not been out a week before a new Costumer appeared who cast all the others into the shade directly. He set up his shop on the corner of one of the principal streets, and hung up his beautiful costumes in the windows. He was a little fellow, not much bigger than a boy of ten. His cheeks were as red as roses, and he had on a long curling wig as white as snow. He wore a suit of crimson velvet knee-breeches, and a little swallow-tailed coat with beautiful golden buttons. Deep lace ruffles fell over his slender white hands, and he wore elegant knee buckles of glittering stones. He sat on a high stool behind his counter and served his customers himself; he kept no clerk.
It did not take the children long to discover what beautiful things he had, and how superior he was to the other costumers, and they begun to flock to his shop immediately, from the Mayor's daughter to the poor ragpicker's. The children were to select their own costumes; the Mayor had stipulated that. It was to be a children's ball in every sense of the word.
So they decided to be fairies and shepherdesses, and princesses according to their own fancies; and this new Costumer had charming costumes to suit them.
It was noticeable that, for the most part, the children of the rich, who had always had everything they desired, would choose the parts of goose-girls and peasants and such like; and the poor children jumped eagerly at the chance of being princesses or fairies for a few hours in their miserable lives.
When Christmas Eve came and the children flocked into the Mayor's mansion, whether it was owing to the Costumer's art, or their own adaptation to the characters they had chosen, it was wonderful how lifelike their representations were. Those little fairies in their short skirts of silken gauze, in which golden sparkles appeared as they moved with their little funny gossamer wings, like butterflies, looked like real fairies. It did not seem possible, when they floated around to the music, half supported on the tips of their dainty toes, half by their filmy purple wings, their delicate bodies swaying in time, that they could be anything but fairies. It seemed absurd to imagine that they were Johnny Mullens, the washerwoman's son, and Polly Flinders, the charwoman's little girl, and so on.
The Mayor's daughter, who had chosen the character of a goose-girl, looked so like a true one that one could hardly dream she ever was anything else. She was, ordinarily, a slender, dainty little lady rather tall for her age. She now looked very short and stubbed and brown, just as if she had been accustomed to tend geese in all sorts of weather. It was so with all the others—the Red Riding-hoods, the princesses, the Bo-Peeps and with every one of the characters who came to the Mayor's ball; Red Riding-hood looked round, with big, frightened eyes, all ready to spy the wolf, and carried her little pat of butter and pot of honey gingerly in her basket; Bo-Peep's eyes looked red with weeping for the loss of her sheep; and the princesses swept about so grandly in their splendid brocaded trains, and held their crowned heads so high that people half-believed them to be true princesses.
But there never was anything like the fun at the Mayor's Christmas ball. The fiddlers fiddled and fiddled, and the children danced and danced on the beautiful waxed floors. The Mayor, with his family and a few grand guests, sat on a dais covered with blue velvet at one end of the dancing hall, and watched the sport. They were all delighted. The Mayor's eldest daughter sat in front and clapped her little soft white hands. She was a tall, beautiful young maiden, and wore a white dress, and a little cap woven of blue violets on her yellow hair. Her name was Violetta.
The supper was served at midnight—and such a supper! The mountains of pink and white ices, and the cakes with sugar castles and flower gardens on the tops of them, and the charming shapes of gold and ruby-coloured jellies. There were wonderful bonbons which even the Mayor's daughter did not have every day; and all sorts of fruits, fresh and candied. They had cowslip wine in green glasses, and elderberry wine in red, and they drank each other's health. The glasses held a thimbleful each; the Mayor's wife thought that was all the wine they ought to have. Under each child's plate there was a pretty present and every one had a basket of bonbons and cake to carry home.
At four o'clock the fiddlers put up their fiddles and the children went home; fairies and shepherdesses and pages and princesses all jabbering gleefully about the splendid time they had had.
But in a short time what consternation there was throughout the city. When the proud and fond parents attempted to unbutton their children's dresses, in order to prepare them for bed, not a single costume would come off. The buttons buttoned again as fast as they were unbuttoned; even if they pulled out a pin, in it would slip again in a twinkling; and when a string was untied it tied itself up again into a bowknot. The parents were dreadfully frightened. But the children were so tired out they finally let them go to bed in their fancy costumes and thought perhaps they would come off better in the morning. So Red Riding-hood went to bed in her little red cloak holding fast to her basket full of dainties for her grandmother, and Bo-Peep slept with her crook in her hand.
The children all went to bed readily enough, they were so very tired, even though they had to go in this strange array. All but the fairies—they danced and pirouetted and would not be still.
"We want to swing on the blades of grass," they kept saying, "and play hide and seek in the lily cups, and take a nap between the leaves of the roses."
The poor charwomen and coal-heavers, whose children the fairies were for the most part, stared at them in great distress. They did not know what to do with these radiant, frisky little creatures into which their Johnnys and their Pollys and Betseys were so suddenly transformed. But the fairies went to bed quietly enough when daylight came, and were soon fast asleep.
There was no further trouble till twelve o'clock, when all the children woke up. Then a great wave of alarm spread over the city. Not one of the costumes would come off then. The buttons buttoned as fast as they were unbuttoned; the pins quilted themselves in as fast as they were pulled out; and the strings flew round like lightning and twisted themselves into bowknots as fast as they were untied.
And that was not the worst of it; every one of the children seemed to have become, in reality, the character which he or she had assumed.
The Mayor's daughter declared she was going to tend her geese out in the pasture, and the shepherdesses sprang out of their little beds of down, throwing aside their silken quilts, and cried that they must go out and watch their sheep. The princesses jumped up from their straw pallets, and wanted to go to court; and all the rest of them likewise. Poor little Red Riding-hood sobbed and sobbed because she couldn't go and carry her basket to her grandmother, and as she didn't have any grandmother she couldn't go, of course, and her parents were very much troubled. It was all so mysterious and dreadful. The news spread very rapidly over the city, and soon a great crowd gathered around the new Costumer's shop for every one thought he must be responsible for all this mischief.
The shop door was locked; but they soon battered it down with stones. When they rushed in the Costumer was not there; he had disappeared with all his wares. Then they did not know what to do. But it was evident that they must do something before long for the state of affairs was growing worse and worse.
The Mayor's little daughter braced her back up against the tapestried wall, and planted her two feet in their thick shoes firmly. "I will go and tend my geese," she kept crying. "I won't eat my breakfast. I won't go out in the park. I won't go to school. I'm going to tend my geese—I will, I will, I will!"
And the princesses trailed their rich trains over the rough unpainted floors in their parents' poor little huts, and held their crowned heads very high and demanded to be taken to court. The princesses were mostly geese-girls when they were their proper selves, and their geese were suffering, and their poor parents did not know what they were going to do and they wrung their hands and wept as they gazed on their gorgeously apparelled children.
Finally the Mayor called a meeting of the Aldermen, and they all assembled in the City Hall. Nearly every one of them had a son or a daughter who was a chimney-sweep, or a little watch-girl, or a shepherdess. They appointed a chairman and they took a great many votes and contrary votes but they did not agree on anything, until every one proposed that they consult the Wise Woman. Then they all held up their hands, and voted to, unanimously.
So the whole board of Aldermen set out, walking by twos, with the Mayor at their head, to consult the Wise Woman. The Aldermen were all very fleshy, and carried gold-headed canes which they swung very high at every step. They held their heads well back, and their chins stiff, and whenever they met common people they sniffed gently. They were very imposing.
The Wise Woman lived in a little hut on the outskirts of the city. She kept a Black Cat, except for her, she was all alone. She was very old, and had brought up a great many children, and she was considered remarkably wise.
But when the Aldermen reached her hut and found her seated by the fire, holding her Black Cat, a new difficulty presented itself. She had always been quite deaf and people had been obliged to scream as loud as they could in order to make her hear; but lately she had grown much deafer, and when the Aldermen attempted to lay the case before her she could not hear a word. In fact, she was so very deaf that she could not distinguish a tone below G-sharp. The Aldermen screamed till they were quite red in the faces, but all to no purpose: none of them could get up to G-sharp of course.
So the Aldermen all went back, swinging their gold-headed canes, and they had another meeting in the City Hall. Then they decided to send the highest Soprano Singer in the church choir to the Wise Woman; she could sing up to G-sharp just as easy as not. So the high Soprano Singer set out for the Wise Woman's in the Mayor's coach, and the Aldermen marched behind, swinging their gold-headed canes.
The High Soprano Singer put her head down close to the Wise Woman's ear, and sung all about the Christmas Masquerade and the dreadful dilemma everybody was in, in G-sharp—she even went higher, sometimes, and the Wise Woman heard every word. She nodded three times, and every time she nodded she looked wiser.
"Go home, and give 'em a spoonful of castor-oil, all 'round," she piped up; then she took a pinch of snuff, and wouldn't say any more.
So the Aldermen went home, and every one took a district and marched through it, with a servant carrying an immense bowl and spoon, and every child had to take a dose of castor-oil.
But it didn't do a bit of good. The children cried and struggled when they were forced to take the castor-oil; but, two minutes afterward, the chimney-sweeps were crying for their brooms, and the princesses screaming because they couldn't go to court, and the Mayor's daughter, who had been given a double dose, cried louder and more sturdily: "I want to go and tend my geese. I will go and tend my geese."
So the Aldermen took the high Soprano Singer, and they consulted the Wise Woman again. She was taking a nap this time, and the Singer had to sing up to B-flat before she could wake her. Then she was very cross and the Black Cat put up his back and spit at the Aldermen.
"Give 'em a spanking all 'round," she snapped out, "and if that don't work put 'em to bed without their supper."
Then the Aldermen marched back to try that; and all the children in the city were spanked, and when that didn't do any good they were put to bed without any supper. But the next morning when they woke up they were worse than ever.
The Mayor and Aldermen were very indignant, and considered that they had been imposed upon and insulted. So they set out for the Wise Woman again, with the high Soprano Singer.
She sang in G-sharp how the Aldermen and the Mayor considered her an impostor, and did not think she was wise at all, and they wished her to take her Black Cat and move beyond the limits of the city. She sang it beautifully; it sounded like the very finest Italian opera music.
"Deary me," piped the Wise Woman, when she had finished, "how very grand these gentlemen are." Her Black Cat put up his back and spit.
"Five times one Black Cat are five Black Cats," said the Wise Woman. And directly there were five Black Cats spitting and miauling.
"Five times five Black Cats are twenty-five Black Cats." And then there were twenty-five of the angry little beasts.
"Five times twenty-five Black Cats are one hundred and twenty-five Black Cats," added the Wise Woman with a chuckle.
Then the Mayor and the Aldermen and the high Soprano Singer fled precipitately out the door and back to the city. One hundred and twenty-five Black Cats had seemed to fill the Wise Woman's hut full, and when they all spit and miauled together it was dreadful. The visitors could not wait for her to multiply Black Cats any longer.
As winter wore on and spring came, the condition of things grew more intolerable. Physicians had been consulted, who advised that the children should be allowed to follow their own bents, for fear of injury to their constitutions. So the rich Aldermen's daughters were actually out in the fields herding sheep, and their sons sweeping chimneys or carrying newspapers; and while the poor charwomen's and coal-heavers children spent their time like princesses and fairies. Such a topsy-turvy state of society was shocking. While the Mayor's little daughter was tending geese out in the meadow like any common goose-girl, her pretty elder sister, Violetta, felt very sad about it and used often to cast about in her mind for some way of relief.
When cherries were ripe in spring, Violetta thought she would ask the Cherry-man about it. She thought the Cherry-man quite wise. He was a very pretty young fellow, and he brought cherries to sell in graceful little straw baskets lined with moss. So she stood in the kitchen door one morning and told him all about the great trouble that had come upon the city. He listened in great astonishment; he had never heard of it before. He lived several miles out in the country.
"How did the Costumer look?" he asked respectfully; he thought Violetta the most beautiful lady on earth.
Then Violetta described the Costumer, and told him of the unavailing attempts that had been made to find him. There were a great many detectives out, constantly at work.
"I know where he is!" said the Cherry-man. "He's up in one of my cherry-trees. He's been living there ever since cherries were ripe, and he won't come down."
Then Violetta ran and told her father in great excitement, and he at once called a meeting of the Aldermen, and in a few hours half the city was on the road to the Cherry-man's.
He had a beautiful orchard of cherry-trees all laden with fruit. And, sure enough in one of the largest, way up amongst the topmost branches, sat the Costumer in his red velvet and short clothes and his diamond knee-buckles. He looked down between the green boughs. "Good-morning, friends!" he shouted.
The Aldermen shook their gold-headed canes at him, and the people danced round the tree in a rage. Then they began to climb. But they soon found that to be impossible. As fast as they touched a hand or foot to a tree, back it flew with a jerk exactly as if the tree pushed it. They tried a ladder, but the ladder fell back the moment it touched the tree, and lay sprawling upon the ground. Finally, they brought axes and thought they could chop the tree down, Costumer and all; but the wood resisted the axes as if it were iron, and only dented them, receiving no impression itself.
Meanwhile, the Costumer sat up in the tree, eating cherries and throwing the stones down. Finally he stood up on a stout branch, and, looking down, addressed the people.
"It's of no use, your trying to accomplish anything in this way," said he; "you'd better parley. I'm willing to come to terms with you, and make everything right on two conditions."
The people grew quiet then, and the Mayor stepped forward as spokesman, "Name your two conditions," said he rather testily. "You own, tacitly, that you are the cause of all this trouble."
"Well," said the Costumer, reaching out for a handful of cherries, "this Christmas Masquerade of yours was a beautiful idea; but you wouldn't do it every year, and your successors might not do it at all. I want those poor children to have a Christmas every year. My first condition is that every poor child in the city hangs its stocking for gifts in the City Hall on every Christmas Eve, and gets it filled, too. I want the resolution filed and put away in the city archives."
"We agree to the first condition!" cried the people with one voice, without waiting for the Mayor and Aldermen.
"The second condition," said the Costumer, "is that this good young Cherry-man here has the Mayor's daughter, Violetta, for his wife. He has been kind to me, letting me live in his cherry-tree and eat his cherries and I want to reward him."
"We consent," cried all the people; but the Mayor, though he was so generous, was a proud man. "I will not consent to the second condition," he cried angrily.
"Very well," replied the Costumer, picking some more cherries, "then your youngest daughter tends geese the rest of her life, that's all."
The Mayor was in great distress; but the thought of his youngest daughter being a goose-girl all her life was too much for him. He gave in at last.
"Now go home and take the costumes off your children," said the Costumer, "and leave me in peace to eat cherries."
Then the people hastened back to the city, and found, to their great delight, that the costumes would come off. The pins stayed out, the buttons stayed unbuttoned, and the strings stayed untied. The children were dressed in their own proper clothes and were their own proper selves once more. The shepherdesses and the chimney-sweeps came home, and were washed and dressed in silks and velvets, and went to embroidering and playing lawn-tennis. And the princesses and the fairies put on their own suitable dresses, and went about their useful employments. There was great rejoicing in every home. Violetta thought she had never been so happy, now that her dear little sister was no longer a goose-girl, but her own dainty little lady-self.
The resolution to provide every poor child in the city with a stocking full of gifts on Christmas was solemnly filed, and deposited in the city archives, and was never broken.
Violetta was married to the Cherry-man, and all the children came to the wedding, and strewed flowers in her path till her feet were quite hidden in them. The Costumer had mysteriously disappeared from the cherry-tree the night before, but he left at the foot some beautiful wedding presents for the bride—a silver service with a pattern of cherries engraved on it, and a set of china with cherries on it, in hand painting, and a white satin robe, embroidered with cherries down the front.
[B] From "The Pot of Gold," copyright by Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd Co.
THE SHEPHERDS AND THE ANGELS
ADAPTED FROM THE BIBLE
AND there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood by them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you; ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and 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, when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that 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 the manger. And when they saw it, they made known concerning the saying which was spoken to them about this child. And all that heard it wondered at the things which were spoken unto them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, even as it was spoken unto them.
And when eight days were fulfilled his name was called
THE TELLTALE TILE[C]
OLIVE THORNE MILLER
IT BEGINS with a bit of gossip of a neighbour who had come in to see Miss Bennett, and was telling her about a family who had lately moved into the place and were in serious trouble. "And they do say she'll have to go to the poorhouse," she ended.
"To the poorhouse! how dreadful! And the children, too?" and Miss Bennett shuddered.
"Yes; unless somebody'll adopt them, and that's not very likely. Well, I must go," the visitor went on, rising. "I wish I could do something for her, but, with my houseful of children, I've got use for every penny I can rake and scrape."
"I'm sure I have, with only myself," said Miss Bennett, as she closed the door. "I'm sure I have," she repeated to herself as she resumed her knitting; "it's as much as I can do to make ends meet, scrimping as I do, not to speak of laying up a cent for sickness and old age."
"But the poorhouse!" she said again. "I wish I could help her!" and the needles flew in and out, in and out, faster than ever, as she turned this over in her mind. "I might give up something," she said at last, "though I don't know what, unless—unless," she said slowly, thinking of her one luxury, "unless I give up my tea, and it don't seem as if I could do that."
Some time the thought worked in her mind, and finally she resolved to make the sacrifice of her only indulgence for six months, and send the money to her suffering neighbour, Mrs. Stanley, though she had never seen her, and she had only heard she was in want.
How much of a sacrifice that was you can hardly guess, you, Kristy, who have so many luxuries.
That evening Mrs. Stanley was surprised by a small gift of money "from a friend," as was said on the envelope containing it.
"Who sent it?" she asked, from the bed where she was lying.
"Miss Bennett told me not to tell," said the boy, unconscious that he had already told.
The next day Miss Bennett sat at the window knitting, as usual—for her constant contribution to the poor fund of the church was a certain number of stockings and mittens—when she saw a young girl coming up to the door of the cottage.
"Who can that be?" she said to herself. "I never saw her before. Come in!" she called, in answer to a knock. The girl entered, and walked up to Miss Bennett.
"Are you Miss Bennett?" she asked.
"Yes," said Miss Bennett with an amused smile.
"Well, I'm Hetty Stanley."
Miss Bennett started, and her colour grew a little brighter.
"I'm glad to see you, Hetty," she said "won't you sit down?"
"Yes, if you please," said Hetty, taking a chair near her.
"I came to tell you how much we love you for——"
"Oh, don't! don't say any more!" interrupted Miss Bennett; "never mind that! Tell me about your mother and your baby brother."
This was an interesting subject, and they talked earnestly about it. The time passed so quickly that, before she knew it, she had been in the house an hour. When she went away Miss Bennett asked her to come again, a thing she had never been known to do before, for she was not fond of young people in general.
"But, then, Hetty's different," she said to herself, when wondering at her own interest.
"Did you thank kind Miss Bennett?" was her mother's question as Hetty opened the door.
Hetty stopped as if struck, "Why, no! I don't think I did."
"And stayed so long, too? Whatever did you do? I've heard she isn't fond of people generally."
"We talked; and—I think she's ever so nice. She asked me to come again; may I?"
"Of course you may, if she cares to have you. I should be glad to do something to please her."
That visit of Hetty's was the first of a long series. Almost every day she found her way to the lonely cottage, where a visitor rarely came, and a strange intimacy grew up between the old and the young. Hetty learned of her friend to knit, and many an hour they spent knitting while Miss Bennett ransacked her memory for stories to tell. And then, one day, she brought down from a big chest in the garret two of the books she used to have when she was young, and let Hetty look at them.
One was "Thaddeus of Warsaw," and the other "Scottish Chiefs." Poor Hetty had not the dozens of books you have, and these were treasures indeed. She read them to herself, and she read them aloud to Miss Bennett, who, much to her own surprise, found her interest almost as eager as Hetty's.
All this time Christmas was drawing near, and strange, unusual feelings began to stir in Miss Bennett's heart, though generally she did not think much about that happy time. She wanted to make Hetty a happy day. Money she had none, so she went into the garret, where her youthful treasures had long been hidden. From the chest from which she had taken the books she now took a small box of light-coloured wood, with a transferred engraving on the cover. With a sigh—for the sight of it brought up old memories—Miss Bennett lifted the cover by its loop of ribbon, took out a package of old letters, and went downstairs with the box, taking also a few bits of bright silk from a bundle in the chest.
"I can fit it up for a workbox," she said, "and I'm sure Hetty will like it."
For many days after this Miss Bennett had her secret work, which she carefully hid when she saw Hetty coming. Slowly, in this way, she made a pretty needle-book, a tiny pincushion, and an emery bag like a big strawberry. Then from her own scanty stock she added needles, pins, thread, and her only pair of small scissors, scoured to the last extreme of brightness. One thing only she had to buy—a thimble, and that she bought for a penny, of brass so bright it was quite as handsome as gold.
Very pretty the little box looked when full; in the bottom lay a quilted lining, which had always been there, and upon this the fittings she had made. Besides this, Miss Bennett knit a pair of mittens for each of Hetty's brothers and sisters.
The happiest girl in town on Christmas morning was Hetty Stanley. To begin with, she had the delight of giving the mittens to the children, and when she ran over to tell Miss Bennett how pleased they were, she was surprised by the present of the odd little workbox and its pretty contents.
Christmas was over all too soon, and New Year's, and it was about the middle of January that the time came which, all her life, Miss Bennett had dreaded—the time when she should be helpless. She had not money enough to hire a girl, and so the only thing she could imagine when that day should come was her special horror—the poorhouse.
But that good deed of hers had already borne fruit, and was still bearing. When Hetty came over one day, and found her dear friend lying on the floor as if dead, she was dreadfully frightened, of course, but she ran after the neighbours and the doctor, and bustled about the house as if she belonged to it.
Miss Bennett was not dead—she had a slight stroke of paralysis; and though she was soon better, and would be able to talk, and probably to knit, and possibly to get about the house, she would never be able to live alone and do everything for herself, as she had done.
So the doctor told the neighbours who came in to help, and so Hetty heard, as she listened eagerly for news.
"Of course she can't live here any longer; she'll have to go to a hospital," said one woman.
"Or to the poorhouse, more likely," said another.
"She'll hate that," said the first speaker. "I've heard her shudder over the poorhouse."
"She shall never go there!" declared Hetty, with blazing eyes.
"Hoity-toity! who's to prevent?" asked the second speaker, turning a look of disdain on Hetty.
"I am," was the fearless answer. "I know all Miss Bennett's ways, and I can take care of her, and I will," went on Hetty indignantly; and turning suddenly, she was surprised to find Miss Bennett's eyes fixed on her with an eager, questioning look.
"There! she understands! she's better!" cried Hetty. "Mayn't I stay and take care of you, dear Miss Bennett?" she asked, running up to the bed.
"Yes, you may," interrupted the doctor, seeing the look in his patient's face; "but you mustn't agitate her now. And now, my good women"—turning to the others—"I think she can get along with her young friend here, whom I happen to know is a womanly young girl, and will be attentive and careful."
They took the hint and went away, and the doctor gave directions to Hetty what to do, telling her she must not leave Miss Bennett. So she was now regularly installed as nurse and housekeeper.
Days and weeks rolled by. Miss Bennett was able to be up in her chair, to talk and knit, and to walk about the house, but was not able to be left alone. Indeed, she had a horror of being left alone; she could not bear Hetty out of her sight, and Hetty's mother was very willing to spare her, for she had many mouths to fill.
To provide food for two out of what had been scrimping for one was a problem; but Miss Bennett ate very little, and she did not resume her tea so they managed to get along and not really suffer.
One day Hetty sat by the fire with her precious box on her knee, which she was putting to rights for the twentieth time. The box was empty, and her sharp young eyes noticed a little dust on the silk lining.
"I think I'll take this out and dust it," she said to Miss Bennett, "if you don't mind."
"Do as you like with it," answered Miss Bennett; "it is yours."
So she carefully lifted the silk, which stuck a little.
"Why, here's something under it," she said—"an old paper, and it has writing on."
"Bring it to me," said Miss Bennett; "perhaps it's a letter I have forgotten."
Hetty brought it.
"Why, it's father's writing!" said Miss Bennett, looking closely at the faded paper; "and what can it mean? I never saw it before. It says, 'Look, and ye shall find'—that's a Bible text. And what is this under it? 'A word to the wise is sufficient.' I don't understand—he must have put it there himself, for I never took that lining out—I thought it was fastened. What can it mean?" and she pondered over it long, and all day seemed absent-minded.
After tea, when they sat before the kitchen fire, as they always did, with only the firelight flickering and dancing on the walls while they knitted, or told stories, or talked, she told Hetty about her father: that they had lived comfortably in this house, which he built, and that everybody supposed that he had plenty of money, and would leave enough to take care of his only child, but that when he died suddenly nothing had been found, and nothing ever had been, from that day to this.
"Part of the place I let to John Thompson, Hetty, and that rent is all I have to live on. I don't know what makes me think of old times so to-night."
"I know," said Hetty; "it's that paper, and I know what it reminds me of," she suddenly shouted, in a way very unusual with her. "It's that tile over there," and she jumped up and ran to the side of the fireplace, and put her hand on the tile she meant.
On each side of the fireplace was a row of tiles. They were Bible subjects, and Miss Bennett had often told Hetty the story of each one, and also the stories she used to make up about them when she was young. The one Hetty had her hand on now bore the picture of a woman standing before a closed door, and below her the words of the yellow bit of paper: "Look, and ye shall find."
"I always felt there was something different about that," said Hetty eagerly, "and you know you told me your father talked to you about it—about what to seek in the world when he was gone away, and other things."
"Yes, so he did," said Miss Bennett thoughtfully; "come to think of it, he said a great deal about it, and in a meaning way. I don't understand it," she said slowly, turning it over in her mind.
"I do!" cried Hetty, enthusiastically. "I believe you are to seek here! I believe it's loose!" and she tried to shake it. "It is loose!" she cried excitedly. "Oh, Miss Bennett, may I take it out?"
Miss Bennett had turned deadly pale. "Yes," she gasped, hardly knowing what she expected, or dared to hope.
A sudden push from Hetty's strong fingers, and the tile slipped out at one side and fell to the floor. Behind it was an opening into the brickwork. Hetty thrust in her hand.
"There's something in there!" she said in an awed tone.
"A light!" said Miss Bennett hoarsely.
There was not a candle in the house, but Hetty seized a brand from the fire, and held it up and looked in.
"It looks like bags—tied up," she cried. "Oh, come here yourself!"
The old woman hobbled over and thrust her hand into the hole, bringing out what was once a bag, but which crumpled to pieces in her hands, and with it—oh, wonder!—a handful of gold pieces, which fell with a jingle on the hearth, and rolled every way.
"My father's money! Oh, Hetty!" was all she could say, and she seized a chair to keep from falling, while Hetty was nearly wild, and talked like a crazy person.
"Oh, goody! goody! now you can have things to eat! and we can have a candle! and you won't have to go to the poorhouse!"
"No, indeed, you dear child!" cried Miss Bennett who had found her voice. "Thanks to you—you blessing!—I shall be comfortable now the rest of my days. And you! oh! I shall never forget you! Through you has everything good come to me."
"Oh, but you have been so good to me, dear Miss Bennett!"
"I should never have guessed it, you precious child! If it had not been for your quickness I should have died and never found it."
"And if you hadn't given me the box, it might have rusted away in that chest."
"Thank God for everything, child! Take money out of my purse and go buy a candle. We need not save it for bread now. Oh, child!" she interrupted herself, "do you know, we shall have everything we want to-morrow. Go! Go! I want to see how much there is."
The candle bought, the gold was taken out and counted, and proved to be more than enough to give Miss Bennett a comfortable income without touching the principal. It was put back, and the tile replaced, as the safest place to keep it till morning, when Miss Bennett intended to put it into a bank.
But though they went to bed, there was not a wink of sleep for Miss Bennett, for planning what she would do. There were a thousand things she wanted to do first. To get clothes for Hetty, to brighten up the old house, to hire a girl to relieve Hetty, so that the dear child should go to school, to train her into a noble woman—all her old ambitions and wishes for herself sprang into life for Hetty. For not a thought of her future life was separate from Hetty.
In a very short time everything was changed in Miss Bennett's cottage. She had publicly adopted Hetty, and announced her as her heir. A girl had been installed in the kitchen, and Hetty, in pretty new clothes, had begun school. Fresh paint inside and out, with many new comforts, made the old house charming and bright. But nothing could change the pleasant and happy relations between the two friends, and a more contented and cheerful household could not be found anywhere.
Happiness is a wonderful doctor and Miss Bennett grew so much better, that she could travel, and when Hetty had finished school days, they saw a little of the world before they settled down to a quiet, useful life.
"Every comfort on earth I owe to you," said Hetty, one day, when Miss Bennett had proposed some new thing to add to her enjoyment.
"Ah, dear Hetty! how much do I owe to you! But for you, I should, no doubt, be at this moment a shivering pauper in that terrible poorhouse, while some one else would be living in this dear old house. And it all comes," she added softly, "of that one unselfish thought, of that one self-denial for others."
[C] From "Kristy's Queer Christmas," Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1904.
LITTLE GIRL'S CHRISTMAS
WINNIFRED E. LINCOLN
IT WAS Christmas Eve, and Little Girl had just hung up her stocking by the fireplace—right where it would be all ready for Santa when he slipped down the chimney. She knew he was coming, because—well, because it was Christmas Eve, and because he always had come to leave gifts for her on all the other Christmas Eves that she could remember, and because she had seen his pictures everywhere down town that afternoon when she was out with Mother.
Still, she wasn't just satisfied. 'Way down in her heart she was a little uncertain—you see, when you have never really and truly seen a person with your very own eyes, it's hard to feel as if you exactly believed in him—even though that person always has left beautiful gifts for you every time he has come.
"Oh, he'll come," said Little Girl; "I just know he will be here before morning, but somehow I wish——"
"Well, what do you wish?" said a Tiny Voice close by her—so close that Little Girl fairly jumped when she heard it.
"Why, I wish I could see Santa myself. I'd just like to go and see his house and his workshop, and ride in his sleigh, and know Mrs. Santa—'twould be such fun, and then I'd know for sure."
"Why don't you go, then?" said Tiny Voice. "It's easy enough. Just try on these Shoes, and take this Light in your hand, and you'll find your way all right."
So Little Girl looked down on the hearth, and there were two cunning little Shoes side by side, and a little Spark of a Light close to them—just as if they were all made out of one of the glowing coals of the wood-fire. Such cunning Shoes as they were—Little Girl could hardly wait to pull off her slippers and try them on. They looked as if they were too small, but they weren't—they fitted exactly right, and just as Little Girl had put them both on and had taken the Light in her hand, along came a little Breath of Wind, and away she went up the chimney, along with ever so many other little Sparks, past the Soot Fairies, and out into the Open Air, where Jack Frost and the Star Beams were all busy at work making the world look pretty for Christmas.
Away went Little Girl—Two Shoes, Bright Light, and all—higher and higher, until she looked like a wee bit of a star up in the sky. It was the funniest thing, but she seemed to know the way perfectly, and didn't have to stop to make inquiries anywhere. You see it was a straight road all the way, and when one doesn't have to think about turning to the right or the left, it makes things very much easier. Pretty soon Little Girl noticed that there was a bright light all around her—oh, a very bright light—and right away something down in her heart began to make her feel very happy indeed. She didn't know that the Christmas spirits and little Christmas fairies were all around her and even right inside her, because she couldn't see a single one of them, even though her eyes were very bright and could usually see a great deal.
But that was just it, and Little Girl felt as if she wanted to laugh and sing and be glad. It made her remember the Sick Boy who lived next door, and she said to herself that she would carry him one of her prettiest picture-books in the morning, so that he could have something to make him happy all day. By and by, when the bright light all around her had grown very, very much brighter, Little Girl saw a path right in front of her, all straight and trim, leading up a hill to a big, big house with ever and ever so many windows in it. When she had gone just a bit nearer, she saw candles in every window, red and green and yellow ones, and every one burning brightly, so Little Girl knew right away that these were Christmas candles to light her on her journey, and make the way clear for her, and something told her that this was Santa's house, and that pretty soon she would perhaps see Santa himself.
Just as she neared the steps and before she could possibly have had time to ring the bell, the door opened—opened of itself as wide as could be—and there stood—not Santa himself—don't think it—but a funny Little Man with slender little legs and a roly-poly stomach which shook every now and then when he laughed. You would have known right away, just as Little Girl knew, that he was a very happy little man, and you would have guessed right away, too, that the reason he was so roly-poly was because he laughed and chuckled and smiled all the time—for it's only sour, cross folks who are thin and skimpy. Quick as a wink, he pulled off his little peaked red cap, smiled the broadest kind of a smile, and said, "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Come in! Come in!"
So in went Little Girl, holding fast to Little Man's hand, and when she was really inside there was the jolliest, reddest fire all glowing and snapping, and there were Little Man and all his brothers and sisters, who said their names were "Merry Christmas," and "Good Cheer," and ever so many other jolly-sounding things, and there were such a lot of them that Little Girl just knew she never could count them, no matter how long she tried.
All around her were bundles and boxes and piles of toys and games, and Little Girl knew that these were all ready and waiting to be loaded into Santa's big sleigh for his reindeer to whirl them away over cloud-tops and snowdrifts to the little people down below who had left their stockings all ready for him. Pretty soon all the little Good Cheer Brothers began to hurry and bustle and carry out the bundles as fast as they could to the steps where Little Girl could hear the jingling bells and the stamping of hoofs. So Little Girl picked up some bundles and skipped along too, for she wanted to help a bit herself—it's no fun whatever at Christmas unless you can help, you know—and there in the yard stood the biggest sleigh that Little Girl had ever seen, and the reindeer were all stamping and prancing and jingling the bells on their harnesses, because they were so eager to be on their way to the Earth once more.
She could hardly wait for Santa to come, and just as she had begun to wonder where he was, the door opened again and out came a whole forest of Christmas trees, at least it looked just as if a whole forest had started out for a walk somewhere, but a second glance showed Little Girl that there were thousands of Christmas sprites, and that each one carried a tree or a big Christmas wreath on his back. Behind them all, she could hear some one laughing loudly, and talking in a big, jovial voice that sounded as if he were good friends with the whole world.
And straightway she knew that Santa himself was coming. Little Girl's heart went pit-a-pat for a minute while she wondered if Santa would notice her, but she didn't have to wonder long, for he spied her at once and said:
"Bless my soul! who's this? and where did you come from?"
Little Girl thought perhaps she might be afraid to answer him, but she wasn't one bit afraid. You see he had such a kind little twinkle in his eyes that she felt happy right away as she replied, "Oh, I'm Little Girl, and I wanted so much to see Santa that I just came, and here I am!"
"Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!" laughed Santa, "and here you are! Wanted to see Santa, did you, and so you came! Now that's very nice, and it's too bad I'm in such a hurry, for we should like nothing better than to show you about and give you a real good time. But you see it is quarter of twelve now, and I must be on my way at once, else I'll never reach that first chimney-top by midnight. I'd call Mrs. Santa and ask her to get you some supper, but she is busy finishing dolls' clothes which must be done before morning, and I guess we'd better not bother her. Is there anything that you would like, Little Girl?" and good old Santa put his big warm hand on Little Girl's curls and she felt its warmth and kindness clear down to her very heart. You see, my dears, that even though Santa was in such a great hurry, he wasn't too busy to stop and make some one happy for a minute, even if it was some one no bigger than Little Girl.
So she smiled back into Santa's face and said: "Oh, Santa, if I could only ride down to Earth with you behind those splendid reindeer! I'd love to go; won't you please take me? I'm so small that I won't take up much room on the seat, and I'll keep very still and not bother one bit!"
Then Santa laughed, such a laugh, big and loud and rollicking, and he said, "Wants a ride, does she? Well, well, shall we take her, Little Elves? Shall we take her, Little Fairies? Shall we take her, Good Reindeer?"
And all the Little Elves hopped and skipped and brought Little Girl a sprig of holly; and all the Little Fairies bowed and smiled and brought her a bit of mistletoe; and all the Good Reindeer jingled their bells loudly, which meant, "Oh, yes! let's take her! She's a good Little Girl! Let her ride!" And before Little Girl could even think, she found herself all tucked up in the big fur robes beside Santa, and away they went, right out into the air, over the clouds, through the Milky Way, and right under the very handle of the Big Dipper, on, on, toward the Earthland, whose lights Little Girl began to see twinkling away down below her. Presently she felt the runners scrape upon something, and she knew they must be on some one's roof, and that Santa would slip down some one's chimney in a minute.
How she wanted to go, too! You see if you had never been down a chimney and seen Santa fill up the stockings, you would want to go quite as much as Little Girl did, now, wouldn't you? So, just as Little Girl was wishing as hard as ever she could wish, she heard a Tiny Voice say, "Hold tight to his arm! Hold tight to his arm!" So she held Santa's arm tight and close, and he shouldered his pack, never thinking that it was heavier than usual, and with a bound and a slide, there they were, Santa, Little Girl, pack and all, right in the middle of a room where there was a fireplace and stockings all hung up for Santa to fill.
Just then Santa noticed Little Girl. He had forgotten all about her for a minute, and he was very much surprised to find that she had come, too. "Bless my soul!" he said, "where did you come from, Little Girl? and how in the world can we both get back up that chimney again? It's easy enough to slide down, but it's quite another matter to climb up again!" and Santa looked real worried. But Little Girl was beginning to feel very tired by this time, for she had had a very exciting evening, so she said, "Oh, never mind me, Santa. I've had such a good time, and I'd just as soon stay here a while as not. I believe I'll curl up on this hearth-rug a few minutes and have a little nap, for it looks as warm and cozy as our own hearth-rug at home, and—why, it is our own hearth and it's my own nursery, for there is Teddy Bear in his chair where I leave him every night, and there's Bunny Cat curled up on his cushion in the corner."
And Little Girl turned to thank Santa and say good-bye to him, but either he had gone very quickly, or else she had fallen asleep very quickly—she never could tell which—for the next thing she knew, Daddy was holding her in his arms and was saying, "What is my Little Girl doing here? She must go to bed, for it's Christmas Eve, and old Santa won't come if he thinks there are any little folks about."
But Little Girl knew better than that, and when she began to tell him all about it, and how the Christmas fairies had welcomed her, and how Santa had given her such a fine ride, Daddy laughed and laughed, and said, "You've been dreaming, Little Girl, you've been dreaming."
But Little Girl knew better than that, too, for there on the hearth was the little Black Coal, which had given her Two Shoes and Bright Light, and tight in her hand she held a holly berry which one of the Christmas Sprites had placed there. More than all that, there she was on the hearth-rug herself, just as Santa had left her, and that was the best proof of all.
The trouble was, Daddy himself had never been a Little Girl, so he couldn't tell anything about it, but we know she hadn't been dreaming, now, don't we, my dears?
"A CHRISTMAS MATINEE"[D]
MRS. M. A. L. LANE
IT WAS the day before Christmas in the year 189—. Snow was falling heavily in the streets of Boston, but the crowd of shoppers seemed undiminished. As the storm increased, groups gathered at the corners and in sheltering doorways to wait for belated cars; but the holiday cheer was in the air, and there was no grumbling. Mothers dragging tired children through the slush of the streets; pretty girls hurrying home for the holidays; here and there a harassed-looking man with perhaps a single package which he had taken a whole morning to select—all had the same spirit of tolerant good-humor.
"School Street! School Street!" called the conductor of an electric car. A group of young people at the farther end of the car started to their feet. One of them, a young man wearing a heavy fur-trimmed coat, addressed the conductor angrily.
"I said, 'Music Hall,' didn't I?" he demanded. "Now we've got to walk back in the snow because of your stupidity!"
"Oh, never mind, Frank!" one of the girls interposed. "We ought to have been looking out ourselves! Six of us, and we went by without a thought! It is all Mrs. Tirrell's fault! She shouldn't have been so entertaining!"
The young matron dimpled and blushed. "That's charming of you, Maidie," she said, gathering up her silk skirts as she prepared to step down into the pond before her. "The compliment makes up for the blame. But how it snows!"
"It doesn't matter. We all have gaiters on," returned Maidie Williams, undisturbed.
"Fares, please!" said the conductor stolidly.
Frank Armstrong thrust his gloved hand deep into his pocket with angry vehemence. "There's your money," he said, "and be quick about the change, will you? We've lost time enough!"
The man counted out the change with stiff, red fingers, closed his lips firmly as if to keep back an obvious rejoinder, rang up the six fares with careful accuracy, and gave the signal to go ahead. The car went on into the drifting storm.
Armstrong laughed shortly as he rapidly counted the bits of silver lying in his open palm. He turned instinctively, but two or three cars were already between him and the one he was looking for.
"The fellow must be an imbecile," he said, rejoining the group on the crossing. "He's given me back a dollar and twenty cents, and I handed him a dollar bill."
"Oh, can't you stop him?" cried Maidie Williams, with a backward step into the wet street.
The Harvard junior, who was carrying her umbrella, protested: "What's the use, Miss Williams? He'll make it up before he gets to Scollay Square, you may be sure. Those chaps don't lose anything. Why, the other day, I gave one a quarter and he went off as cool as you please. 'Where's my change?' said I. 'You gave me a nickel,' said he. And there wasn't anybody to swear that I didn't except myself, and I didn't count."
"But that doesn't make any difference," insisted the girl warmly. "Because one conductor was dishonest, we needn't be. I beg your pardon, Frank, but it does seem to me just stealing."
"Oh, come along!" said her cousin, with an easy laugh. "I guess the West End Corporation won't go without their dinners to-morrow. Here, Maidie, here's the ill-gotten fifty cents. I think you ought to treat us all after the concert; still, I won't urge you. I wash my hands of all responsibility. But I do wish you hadn't such an unpleasant conscience."
Maidie flushed under the sting of his cousinly rudeness, but she went on quietly with the rest. It was evident that any attempt to overtake the car was out of the question.
"Did you notice his number, Frank?" she asked, suddenly.
"No, I never thought of it," said Frank, stopping short. "However, I probably shouldn't make any complaint if I had. I shall forget all about it to-morrow. I find it's never safe to let the sun go down on my wrath. It's very likely not to be there the next day."
"I wasn't thinking of making a complaint," said Maidie; but the two young men were enjoying the small joke too much to notice what she said.
The great doorway of Music Hall was just ahead. In a moment the party were within its friendly shelter, stamping off the snow. The girls were adjusting veils and hats with adroit feminine touches; the pretty chaperon was beaming approval upon them, and the young men were taking off their wet overcoats, when Maidie turned again in sudden desperation.
"Mr. Harris," she said, rather faintly, for she did not like to make herself disagreeable, "do you suppose that car comes right back from Scollay Square?"
"What car?" asked Walter Harris, blankly. "Oh, the one we came in? Yes, I suppose it does. They're running all the time, anyway. Why, you are not sick, are you, Miss Williams?"
There was genuine concern in his tone. This girl, with her sweet, vibrant voice, her clear gray eyes, seemed very charming to him. She wasn't beautiful, perhaps, but she was the kind of girl he liked. There was a steady earnestness in the gray eyes that made him think of his mother.
"No," said Maidie, slowly. "I'm all right, thank you. But I wish I could find that man again. I know sometimes they have to make it up if their accounts are wrong, and I couldn't—we couldn't feel very comfortable——"
Frank Armstrong interrupted her. "Maidie," he said, with the studied calmness with which one speaks to an unreasonable child, "you are perfectly absurd. Here it is within five minutes of the time for the concert to begin. It is impossible to tell when that car is coming back. You are making us all very uncomfortable. Mrs. Tirrill, won't you please tell her not to spoil our afternoon?"
"I think he's right, Maidie," said Mrs. Tirrell. "It's very nice of you to feel so sorry for the poor man, but he really was very careless. It was all his own fault. And just think how far he made us walk! My feet are quite damp. We ought to go in directly or we shall all take cold, and I'm sure you wouldn't like that, my dear."
She led the way as she spoke, the two girls and young Armstrong following. Maidie hesitated. It was so easy to go in, to forget everything in the light and warmth and excitement.
"No," said she, very firmly, and as much to herself as to the young man who stood waiting for her. "I must go back and try to make it right. I'm so sorry, Mr. Harris, but if you will tell them——"
"Why, I'm going with you, of course," said the young fellow, impulsively. "If I'd only looked once at the man I'd go alone, but I shouldn't know him from Adam."
Maidie laughed. "Oh, I don't want to lose the whole concert, Mr. Harris, and Frank has all the tickets. You must go after them and try to make my peace. I'll come just as soon as I can. Don't wait for me, please. If you'll come and look for me here the first number, and not let them scold me too much——" She ended with an imploring little catch in her breath that was almost a sob.
"They sha'n't say a word, Miss Williams!" cried Walter Harris, with honest admiration in his eyes. But she was gone already, and conscious that further delay was only making matters worse, he went on into the hall.
Meanwhile, the car swung heavily along the wet rails on its way to the turning-point. It was nearly empty now. An old gentleman and his nurse were the only occupants. Jim Stevens, the conductor, had stepped inside the car.
"Too bad I forgot those young people wanted to get off at Music Hall," he was thinking to himself. "I don't see how I came to do it. That chap looked as if he wanted to complain of me, and I don't know as I blame him. I'd have said I was sorry if he hadn't been so sharp with his tongue. I hope he won't complain just now. 'Twould be a pretty bad time for me to get into trouble, with Mary and the baby both sick. I'm too sleepy to be good for much, that's a fact. Sitting up three nights running takes hold of a fellow somehow when he's at work all day. The rent's paid, that's one thing, if it hasn't left me but half a dollar to my name. Hullo!" He was struck by a sudden distinct recollection of the coins he had returned. "Why, I gave him fifty cents too much!"
He glanced up at the dial which indicated the fares and began to count the change in his pocket. He knew exactly how much money he had had at the beginning of the trip. He counted carefully. Then he plunged his hand into the heavy canvas pocket of his coat. Perhaps he had half a dollar there. No, it was empty!
He faced the fact reluctantly. Fifty cents short, ten fares! Gone into the pocket of the young gentleman with the fur collar! The conductor's hand shook as he put the money back in his pocket. It meant—what did it mean? He drew a long breath.
Christmas Eve! A dark dreary little room upstairs in a noisy tenement house. A pale, thin woman on a shabby lounge vainly trying to quiet a fretful child. The child is thin and pale, too, with a hard, racking cough. There is a small fire in the stove, a very small fire; coal is so high. The medicine stands on the shelf. "Medicine won't do much good," the doctor had said; "he needs beef and cream."
Jim's heart sank at the thought. He could almost hear the baby asking: "Isn't papa coming soon? Isn't he, mamma?"
"Poor little kid!" Jim said, softly, under his breath. "And I shan't have a thing to take home to him; nor Mary's violets, either. It'll be the first Christmas that ever happened. I suppose that chap would think it was ridiculous for me to be buying violets. He wouldn't understand what the flowers mean to Mary. Perhaps he didn't notice I gave him too much. That kind don't know how much they have. They just pull it out as if it was newspaper."
The conductor went out into the snow to help the nurse, who was assisting the old gentleman to the ground. Then the car swung on again. Jim turned up the collar of his coat about his ears and stamped his feet. There was the florist's shop where he had meant to buy the violets, and the toy-shop was just around the corner.
A thought flashed across his tired brain. "Plenty of men would do it; they do it every day. Nobody ever would be the poorer for it. This car will be crowded going home. I needn't ring in every fare; nobody could tell. But Mary! She wouldn't touch those violets if she knew. And she'd know. I'd have to tell her. I couldn't keep it from her, she's that quick."
He jumped off to adjust the trolley with a curious sense of unreality. It couldn't be that he was really going home this Christmas Eve with empty hands. Well, they must all suffer together for his carelessness. It was his own fault, but it was hard. And he was so tired!
To his amazement he found his eyes were blurred as he watched the people crowding into the car. What! Was he going to cry like a baby—he, a great burly man of thirty years?
"It's no use," he thought. "I couldn't do it. The first time I gave Mary violets was the night she said she'd marry me. I told her then I'd do my best to make her proud of me. I guess she wouldn't be very proud of a man who could cheat. She'd rather starve than have a ribbon she couldn't pay for."
He rang up a dozen fares with a steady hand. The temptation was over. Six more strokes—then nine without a falter. He even imagined the bell rang more distinctly than usual, even encouragingly.
The car stopped. Jim flung the door open with a triumphant sweep of his arm. He felt ready to face the world. But the baby—his arm dropped. It was hard.
He turned to help the young girl who was waiting at the step. Through the whirling snow he saw her eager face, with a quick recognition lighting the steady eyes, and wondered dimly, as he stood with his hand on the signal-strap, where he could have seen her before. He knew immediately.
"There was a mistake," she said, with a shy tremor in her voice. "You gave us too much change and here it is." She held out to Jim the piece of silver which had given him such an unhappy quarter of an hour.
He took it like one dazed. Would the young lady think he was crazy to care so much about so small a coin? He must say something. "Thank you, miss," he stammered as well as he could. "You see, I thought it was gone—and there's the baby—and it's Christmas Eve—and my wife's sick—and you can't understand——"
It certainly was not remarkable that she couldn't.
"But I do," she said, simply. "I was afraid of that. And I thought perhaps there was a baby, so I brought my Christmas present for her," and something else dropped into Jim's cold hand.
"What you waiting for?" shouted the motorman from the front platform. The girl had disappeared in the snow.
Jim rang the bell to go ahead, and gazed again at the two shining half dollars in his hand.
"I didn't have a chance to tell her," he explained to his wife late in the evening, as he sat in a tiny rocking-chair several sizes too small for him, "that the baby wasn't a her at all, though if I thought he'd grow up into such a lovely one as she is, I don't know but I almost wish he was."
"Poor Jim!" said Mary, with a little laugh as she put up her hand to stroke his rough cheek. "I guess you're tired."
"And I should say," he added, stretching out his long legs toward the few red sparks in the bottom of the grate, "I should say she had tears in her eyes, too, but I was that near crying myself I couldn't be sure."
The little room was sweet with the odour of English violets. Asleep in the bed lay the boy, a toy horse clasped close to his breast.
"Bless her heart!" said Mary, softly.
* * * * *
"Well, Miss Williams," said Walter Harris, as he sprang to meet a snow-covered figure coming swiftly along the sidewalk. "I can see that you found him. You've lost the first number, but they won't scold you—not this time."
The girl turned a radiant face upon him. "Thank you," she said, shaking the snowy crystals from her skirt. "I don't care now if they do. I should have lost more than that if I had stayed."
[D] This story was first published in the Youth's Companion, vol. 74.
TOINETTE AND THE ELVES[E]
THE winter's sun was nearing the horizon's edge. Each moment the tree shadows grew longer in the forest; each moment the crimson light on the upper boughs became more red and bright. It was Christmas Eve, or would be in half an hour, when the sun should be fairly set; but it did not feel like Christmas, for the afternoon was mild and sweet, and the wind in the leafless boughs sang, as it moved about, as though to imitate the vanished birds. Soft trills and whistles, odd little shakes and twitters—it was astonishing what pretty noises the wind made, for it was in good humor, as winds should be on the Blessed Night; all its storm-tones and bass-notes were for the moment laid aside, and gently as though hushing a baby to sleep, it cooed and rustled and brushed to and fro in the leafless woods.
Toinette stood, pitcher in hand, beside the well. "Wishing Well," the people called it, for they believed that if any one standing there bowed to the East, repeated a certain rhyme and wished a wish, the wish would certainly come true. Unluckily, nobody knew exactly what the rhyme should be. Toinette did not; she was wishing that she did, as she stood with her eyes fixed on the bubbling water. How nice it would be! she thought. What beautiful things should be hers, if it were only to wish and to have. She would be beautiful, rich, good—oh, so good. The children should love her dearly, and never be disagreeable. Mother should not work so hard—they should all go back to France—which mother said was si belle. Oh, dear, how nice it would be. Meantime, the sun sank lower, and mother at home was waiting for the water, but Toinette forgot that.
Suddenly she started. A low sound of crying met her ear, and something like a tiny moan. It seemed close by but she saw nothing.
Hastily she filled her pitcher and turned to go. But again the sound came, an unmistakable sob, right under her feet. Toinette stopped short.
"What is the matter?" she called out bravely. "Is anybody there? and if there is, why don't I see you?"
A third sob—and all at once, down on the ground beside her, a tiny figure became visible, so small that Toinette had to kneel and stoop her head to see it plainly. The figure was that of an odd little man. He wore a garb of green bright and glancing as the scales of a beetle. In his mite of a hand was a cap, out of which stuck a long pointed feather. Two specks of tears stood on his cheeks and he fixed on Toinette a glance so sharp and so sad that it made her feel sorry and frightened and confused all at once.
"Why how funny this is!" she said, speaking to herself out loud.
"Not at all," replied the little man, in a voice as dry and crisp as the chirr of a grasshopper. "Anything but funny. I wish you wouldn't use such words. It hurts my feelings, Toinette."
"Do you know my name, then?" cried Toinette, astonished. "That's strange. But what is the matter? Why are you crying so, little man?"
"I'm not a little man. I'm an elf," responded the dry voice; "and I think you'd cry if you had an engagement out to tea, and found yourself spiked on a great bayonet, so that you couldn't move an inch. Look!" He turned a little as he spoke and Toinette saw a long rosethorn sticking through the back of the green robe. The little man could by no means reach the thorn, and it held him fast prisoner to the place.
"Is that all? I'll take it out for you," she said.
"Be careful—oh, be careful," entreated the little man. "This is my new dress, you know—my Christmas suit, and it's got to last a year. If there is a hole in it, Peascod will tickle me and Bean Blossom tease, till I shall wish myself dead." He stamped with vexation at the thought.
"Now, you mustn't do that," said Toinette, in a motherly tone, "else you'll tear it yourself, you know." She broke off the thorn as she spoke, and gently drew it out. The elf anxiously examined the stuff. A tiny puncture only was visible and his face brightened.
"You're a good child," he said. "I'll do as much for you some day, perhaps."
"I would have come before if I had seen you," remarked Toinette, timidly. "But I didn't see you a bit."
"No, because I had my cap on," cried the elf. He placed it on his head as he spoke, and hey, presto! nobody was there, only a voice which laughed and said: "Well—don't stare so. Lay your finger on me now."
"Oh," said Toinette, with a gasp. "How wonderful. What fun it must be to do that. The children wouldn't see me. I should steal in and surprise them; they would go on talking, and never guess that I was there. I should so like it. Do elves ever lend their caps to anybody? I wish you'd lend me yours. It must be so nice to be invisible."
"Ho," cried the elf, appearing suddenly again. "Lend my cap, indeed! Why it wouldn't stay on the very tip of your ear, it's so small. As for nice, that depends. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. No, the only way for mortal people to be invisible is to gather the fern-seed and put it in their shoes."
"Gather it? Where? I never saw any seed to the ferns," said Toinette, staring about her.
"Of course not—we elves take care of that," replied the little man. "Nobody finds the fern-seed but ourselves. I'll tell you what, though. You were such a nice child to take out the thorn so cleverly, that I'll give you a little of the seed. Then you can try the fun of being invisible, to your heart's content."
"Will you really? How delightful. May I have it now?"
"Bless me. Do you think I carry my pockets stuffed with it?" said the elf. "Not at all. Go home, say not a word to any one, but leave your bedroom window open to night, and you'll see what you'll see."
He laid his finger on his nose as he spoke, gave a jump like a grasshopper, clapping on his cap as he went, and vanished. Toinette lingered a moment, in hopes that he might come back, then took her pitcher and hurried home. The woods were very dusky by this time; but full of her strange adventures, she did not remember to feel afraid.
"How long you have been," said her mother. "It's late for a little maid like you to be up. You must make better speed another time, my child."
Toinette pouted as she was apt to do when reproved. The children clamoured to know what had kept her, and she spoke pettishly and crossly; so that they too became cross, and presently went away into the outer kitchen to play by themselves. The children were apt to creep away when Toinette came. It made her angry and unhappy at times that they should do so, but she did not realize that it was in great part her own fault, and so did not set herself to mend it.
"Tell me a 'tory," said baby Jeanneton, creeping to her knee a little later. But Toinette's head was full of the elf; she had no time to spare for Jeanneton.
"Oh, not to-night," she replied. "Ask mother to tell you one."
"Mother's busy," said Jeanneton wistfully.
Toinette took no notice and the little one crept away disconsolately.
Bedtime at last. Toinette set the casement open, and lay a long time waiting and watching; then she fell asleep. She waked with a sneeze and jump and sat up in bed. Behold, on the coverlet stood her elfin friend, with a long train of other elves beside him, all clad in the beetle-wing green, and wearing little pointed caps. More were coming in at the window; outside a few were drifting about in the moon rays, which lit their sparkling robes till they glittered like so many fireflies. The odd thing was, that though the caps were on, Toinette could see the elves distinctly and this surprised her so much, that again she thought out loud and said, "How funny."
"You mean about the caps," replied her special elf, who seemed to have the power of reading thought. "Yes, you can see us to-night, caps and all. Spells lose their value on Christmas Eve, always. Peascod, where is the box? Do you still wish to try the experiment of being invisible, Toinette?"
"Oh, yes—indeed I do."
"Very well; so let it be."
As he spoke he beckoned, and two elves puffing and panting like little men with a heavy load, dragged forward a droll little box about the size of a pumpkin-seed. One of them lifted the cover.
"Pay the porter, please, ma'am," he said giving Toinette's ear a mischievous tweak with his sharp fingers.
"Hands off, you bad Peascod!" cried Toinette's elf. "This is my girl. She shan't be pinched!" He dealt Peascod a blow with his tiny hand as he spoke and looked so brave and warlike that he seemed at least an inch taller than he had before. Toinette admired him very much; and Peascod slunk away with an abashed giggle muttering that Thistle needn't be so ready with his fist.