The Engineer and the Dwarf, by Margaret Arndt

A tunnel had been dug through a crag which had hitherto been considered as a serious obstacle in the railway route; the light now shone through at the farther end. There was a shout of joy from the tired workmen. The air had been stifling in the tunnel; the work was hard and dangerous; several men had been killed in detaching portions of rock that had been loosened by dynamite. It was a great relief to have got through. Now the walls would have to be made smooth with cement—indeed the men had already begun this work at the other end—and the tunnel tested for greater security. Then the express train could run through directly, instead of being obliged to shunt backwards and forwards in a way that made it very uncomfortable for people who did not like sitting with their backs to the engine.

The young engineer, Karl Hammerstein, who had been supervising the men’s work, was glad enough to find himself in the fresh air. His head ached violently, the oppression of the atmosphere had well-nigh overpowered him.

The mountain was clothed on this side with tall forest trees; the drooping firs offered an inviting shade. It was seven o’clock in the evening, the men were packing up their tools to go home. They would be obliged to march back through the tunnel; for there was no way round, except through the wildest forest with a tangled undergrowth of brambles and ferns. But they had their lamps, and did not mind the tunnel; it was familiar enough to them, who had worked in it for months.

Meanwhile Karl, who was dead-beat, stretched himself out under the trees, covered himself with his cloak, and fell fast asleep, meaning only to rest a minute or two, before he also set off home.

It was late when he awoke; the full moon was shining. He felt quite dazed. Where could he be?

He had slept in many queer little rooms when he was travelling; but they always had a window and a door. Where was the window? Ugh—he shivered—it was cold. Then an unreasoning terror took hold of him: he was only half-awake as yet. What could that dreadful gap be in the wall of his room, blacker than the darkness? Surely it was a bogey hole leading down to the bottomless pit? The next minute he laughed at his fears, as we usually do when we come safely out of nightmare land and feel the earth—or bed beneath us again.

He saw that it was the mouth of the tunnel, and glancing up he saw the giant fir-tree under which he had been sleeping with outstretched arms above him in the light of the moon.

“Well—I never! what a dunderhead I am!” he said to himself—”fancy sleeping like that, why such a thing has never happened to me before! I had meant to go to have supper and stay the night at the new hotel in Elm. I have heard the landlord’s daughter is an uncommonly pretty girl!”

“Heigho!” he went on, stretching himself, “there’s nothing for it, but to walk home. I might wait a long time before a motor-car came to pick me up here!”

Then he remembered with a sudden start that there was only one possible way back to Elm, and that was through the tunnel. It was not a very pleasant idea to walk back alone through the dark, oppressive tunnel at midnight; luckily he had his lantern with him.

“How could I have been such an idiot!” he muttered to himself again. He found some bread and cheese in his pocket, which he ate with a good appetite. His headache had gone, and he felt much refreshed after his sleep. Then he put on his cloak, lighted the lantern, and set out cheerfully to walk through the tunnel.

He had not gone far into the black darkness, when he thought he heard voices whispering and talking not far away from him; then he distinctly felt something or somebody brush past him.

“Hullo, who’s there?” he called out. Complete silence. He was not easily frightened; but his heart began to beat quicker than usual. “Well, if it’s robbers or tramps, they won’t find much to rob on me,” he thought; for he had only a few shillings in his pocket for his night’s lodging.

It was probably a bat that had strayed in at the opening, he decided. Suddenly he came to a standstill. Right across the way was a mass of freshly fallen earth and rock that quite obstructed his further progress. “Well this is a pretty fix to be in. How aggravating!” he said to himself, and leant for a moment against the wall of the tunnel, to consider what would be best to do. The wall instantly gave way, he stumbled, bruised his arm against a sharp corner of the rock, and his lantern went out. At the same time he heard a sound resembling the slamming of a door. “Donnerwetter!” he exclaimed—a mild German swear which means literally “thunder-weather!”—”whatever shall I do now?” He had a box of matches in his pocket and soon succeeded in relighting the lantern.

“There is nothing for it, but to go back again to where I started from, and wait for daybreak,” he thought.

By this time he had become confused, and had lost the sense of direction; but there could be only one way back. So he tramped along a long winding passage that he took to be the excavated tunnel. “How curious, I could have been certain that the tunnel was much wider, and more direct than this. Can I be still dreaming?” he thought.

Suddenly he was startled and astonished to come on a flight of steps leading downwards. There had certainly been no stairs in the tunnel! He saw too that the walls were painted in a decorative way like some of the Catacombs in Rome; only these were far more elaborate. “I’m in for an adventure, I must be lost in the heart of the mountain,” he thought. “Perhaps I shall come upon a robber’s cave, or gipsies may be hiding in these rocks; it is a good thing that I have this pretty little fellow with me,” and he touched the revolver in his breast pocket. He then observed in front of him a faint light, other than that of his lantern and whistled softly with astonishment, as he saw that the way opened out into a cave or vault. A few steps more, and he found himself in an exquisite, though tiny hall, with an arched ceiling supported by pillars of red granite. The walls and ceiling were beautifully inlaid with mosaic work in gold and coloured stones, like the interior of St Mark’s, Venice, and seemed to be of great antiquity, though of this he could not be certain.

The light was so dim that what might have been the brilliant effect of the whole, was lost, and the young engineer thought to himself involuntarily: “This ought to be lit up by electric light—it would look quite different then!” As he was deliberating how electric light might be laid on, a door in the wall opened, and a number of little dwarf men trooped in. They did not see him at first; for he was standing behind a pillar. They settled themselves down on benches that were arranged in a semicircle, and one of them with an important air mounted a raised dais facing them. He was just beginning to speak with the words: “Gentlemen of the Committee,” when they caught sight of the stranger standing in the centre of the hall, lantern in hand. They gave a cry of alarm, and were just going to scuttle away like frightened rabbits, when Karl called out, “Hi—Ho there—Gentlemen of the Committee—good Sirs—don’t run away. I won’t harm you—Christmas Tree.”

Now Christmas Tree is the most solemn oath among the dwarfs—it is equivalent to swearing on the Bible with us. How Karl knew this, he did not know; it came to him on the inspiration of the minute. Perhaps his grandmother had told him stories in his childhood about the dwarf men, in which it occurred.

It had an instantaneous effect on the dwarfs who stood still at once. “But you are one of the bad men who are building the tunnel,” they cried out. “Aha—we can spoil your little game, my good fellow, we can smash you and your snorting old dragon who is coming here to devour us, into pieces. We can throw rocks on the line—Aha!”

“We have often watched you—though you were not aware of our presence,” said the chairman. “We had just called a committee meeting to decide what is to be done about this matter of the tunnel.”

“Now you know it is all nonsense about the dragon,” said Karl persuasively, as if he were talking to children. “You have heard of trains, haven’t you? You are not so behind the times as all that!”

“Some of us have seen the dragon and even ridden in him,” said Mr Chairman. “There is a famous story about that; but the majority still look upon the railway with suspicion and even distrust. We only ask to be let alone, and not be interfered with by meddling mortals,” he said in a gruff voice. “What do we need with you? Our civilization and our history are more ancient even than that of India or Egypt, and from us the human race is descended.”

“I tell you what,” said Karl, “I could put you up to a thing or two for all that. We live in Modern Europe, you know, and not in ancient Egypt. Now, for instance, why is this beautiful hall, a perfect work of art in its way, so badly illuminated!”

“Badly illuminated! Why, what do you mean?” cried the little men indignantly. “Do you not see our glow-worms hanging in festoons on the walls?”

“O, I say, glow-worms! in the twentieth century, that’s rather strong, you know! what you want, is electric light.”

“What’s that?” said the dwarfs curiously.

“You have only to press a little button on the wall, like this,” he pressed his thumb on the wall—”and the whole place is lit up almost as if it were day.”

“We don’t believe it—we don’t believe it,” said the little men.

“But it’s true, I assure you, Christmas Tree,” said Karl.

“Wouldn’t it make our eyes blink?” said one thin little fellow.

Karl noticed that the dwarfs’ eyes were small and their faces pale. Most of them had quite white beards and hair.

“That comes of living so long underground, it is a loss of pigment,” thought Karl. “Like a geranium that has been kept in the cellar! Now I could fix it up for you,” said the young engineer, always keenly on the look-out for a job. “We are going to have it laid on in the tunnel.”

“How much would it cost?” inquired the dwarfs.

“O, a thousand pounds or so!” said Karl carelessly. He had heard that dwarfs were very rich, and he was a good man of business, and had his eyes open to his interests.

“That’s a great deal of money, a great deal of money!” said the little men in chorus.

“O, as for that I am sure we could come to an agreement,” said Karl. “By the way,” he went on—”do you happen to have a telephone here? I should like to ‘phone to a friend of mine and tell him where I am. It would be such a joke.”

“What’s a telephone?” asked the dwarfs.

“You don’t know what a telephone is! Himmel! you are old-fashioned down here—you are only half civilised!”

“Half civilised, half civilised!” repeated the dwarfs angrily, “let us repeat our civilisation——”

“I’ll tell you what a telephone is,” said Karl, interrupting this burst of eloquence. “It is a little tube connected with a wire, you put one part of it to your ear, and then you put your mouth to the tube and say: ‘No. 1280,’ and then listen, and your friend will speak to you from miles and miles away, and you can answer him.”

“We don’t believe it, we don’t believe it!” said the unbelieving dwarfs.

“It’s true for all that, Christmas Tree,” said Karl. “I could fix that up for you too, if you have any connection with the outer air. You must have,” he continued, sniffing, “for the air is nice and fresh here, quite different to that in the tunnel. Have you a ventilating shaft?”

“O yes,” said the little men, “we can show you that!” And they led him out of the hall. In the passage outside was a great cleft or crevice in the rocks such as we call in England a chine. Above it the moon shone full and bright. A waterfall rushed down on one side; he saw ferns and dear little plants leaning over the water, growing between the cracks of the rocks. There were also glow-worms cunningly arranged in groups that looked like fairy stars. On the other side, he observed to his joy rough steps leading upwards cut in the solid rock. He sighed a sigh of relief, here at least was the way out.

He regarded the pretty sight with the eye of the professional engineer, rather than that of the artist. “That must be a stiff climb for you little men up there,” he said. “Now if you had a lift!”

“What’s that?” asked the dwarfs eagerly.

“It’s a little room that goes up and down when you pull a wire rope.”

“We don’t believe it, we don’t believe it,” said the sceptical gnomes again.

“It’s true nevertheless; now wouldn’t it be fun to have a ride in it? I could fix that up too, you know, if you gave me time and helped a bit yourselves,” said Karl.

“Really you poor things,” he went on, “You do not seem to have heard much of modern technical progress down here in this rabbit-burrow. I beg your pardon I’m sure”—as they looked displeased again—”Now I am really curious to know—have you heard of Zeppelin?”

“Zeppelin, no!—is he the King of Germany?” said the dwarf who had been in the chair.

“Ha! ha!—King of Germany—well he is nearly, in some people’s eyes,” said Karl. “He has built an airship; it is the most wonderful of all new inventions, it floats in the air like a boat does in the water.”
“Close by it passes, by soft breezes fanned,
Like a great steamboat straight from fairyland.”

he went on in an enthusiastic way. “You can go for a ride in it any day in Frankfurt, providing the weather is fine and you can afford to pay £15!”

“Just listen to him, just listen to him!” said the dwarfs. “We don’t believe a word you have said. You are imposing on our credulity, you bad man,” and thereupon they flew at him and began to beat him with their clubs, which were heavily weighted, and to pinch him with their long fingers.

It might have gone hardly with him, but quick as thought Karl flashed out the little revolver from his pocket. They seemed to know the meaning of that modern toy; for they crouched back trembling, and not daring to move.

“Now stop it, will you,” he said, “or I shall have to shoot you, and take you home with me to be stuffed or put into the National Anthropological Museum. They would give me a good price for you,” he said musingly—”they would think you were The Missing Link.”

“O please, Mr Hammerstein, don’t shoot us—(“however did the little chaps find out my name!” thought Karl) we will believe all you say, even if it seems the greatest nonsense to us. After all birds fly, bats fly and fairies fly, why should not ships and trains fly?” said the spokesman, who, I must tell you, was a relation of King Reinhold in the Taunus Mountains and was proud of belonging to a royal family.

Karl called him Mr Query, because he was so fond of asking questions, but so slow to take in a new fact, as indeed were all the dwarfs.

“You promised us Christmas Tree not to harm us,” said Mr Query, reproachfully.

“Well, I didn’t hurt anyone, did I, but how about your treatment of me? That wasn’t in the contract either,” said Karl.

Meanwhile Karl looked about him curiously. He had never been to dwarfland before, and might never have the chance of visiting it again, and he did not wish to lose the opportunity of seeing all he could.

“Are there any more of you?” he asked the dwarfs.

“I should think so,” they answered. “Hundreds and thousands of us live under this mountain.”

Karl noticed passages running in all directions, and low caves which seemed to be dwellings, many of them richly ornamented and furnished. In one of these caves he observed a looking-glass, and wondered which of the dwarf men trimmed his beard before it. He met a great many little men scurrying about, who cast anxious glances at the giant who had strayed among them. Karl had frequently to stoop; the ceilings seemed very low to him, although they were high enough compared to the dwarf men.

“Where are the female dwarfs?” he asked abruptly.

“Dwarfs have no womenfolk,” Mr Query replied. “We did away with them long, long ago!”

“That was rather rough on them, eh?” said Karl.

“Well it happened so many centuries ago that we have forgotten all about it, and so are unable to gratify your curiosity. Perhaps if you care for antiquities and were to study the pictures on the walls, you might find out.”

“Not my line,” said Karl shortly.

“As we have no women,” Mr Query continued, “we never quarrel and have no differences of opinion.”

“I expect no lady would care to live down here with you in this dark hole,” said Karl, thoughtfully. “But to whom does the looking-glass belong?”

“A fairy comes to visit us occasionally; she makes herself useful and tidies up the place a bit for us,” said the dwarf. “She’s here now—would you like to see her?”

“Of course I should,” said Karl, his heart beating fast at the thought of meeting a real fairy—perhaps she was a princess in disguise, and he might be chosen to win her.

The dwarf drew back the curtain that hung before a beautifully furnished cave, and there Karl saw a young girl who was busy dusting and arranging handsome gold vases on a carved bracket. Even by the pale light of the glow-worms and the lantern which he had not yet extinguished, he could see that she was very beautiful. She had a mass of red-brown hair, that waved in tiny curls about her forehead, and hazel eyes with dark eyelashes. As to her figure, she was small and slight, so that she did not look quite so monstrous in that little world as Karl did. She had a big holland apron on, with a gaily embroidered border. When she saw Karl, she laughed. “To think of meeting a young man in this old hole—how funny,” she exclaimed.

“Are you a fairy?” said Karl, bewildered by her beauty.

“Do I look like one?” she answered with a toss of her bronze curls.

“Not exactly,” said Karl, “but then I have never seen a fairy; you are pretty enough for one!”

She made a little curtsy in acknowledgment of the compliment. “I’ll have finished my work soon,” she said, “and then we will go home together.”

“That will be delightful,” said Karl.

The dwarfs were looking on.

“You may go,” said Mr Query. “You have worked enough for to-day.” He handed her several pieces of gold. Her eyes sparkled with glee as she pocketed the coins; she was proud of having earned some money.

“Follow me,” she said to Karl, “and I will show you the way home. You would never be able to find it alone.”

“The dwarfs have burrowed here like moles,” said Karl aside to the girl, “and I believe they are almost as blind and ignorant.”

“Do not speak disrespectfully of moles,” said a dwarf who had overheard the last part of this remark. “They belong to the most intelligent of all creatures; who can build a fortress like the mole?”

“Norah,” said the dwarfs, “Norah, when are you coming again?”

“Very soon,” she said, “I’ll bring some metal polish with me, and make your vases shine!”

“Norah,” thought Karl, “so that is her name. I wonder where she lives?”

Norah led the way back through intricate passages until they came to the open space where there was the staircase leading up to the outside world. “Good morning,” she said to the dwarfs.

Karl pulled out his watch—yes—the night was already past, it was four o’clock.

“I’ll drop in again soon, and see about your little commissions,” he said to the dwarfs. “Electric light you want, telephone and lift, it will be rather a big job.”

“And what about the airship?” asked Mr Query.

“O I can’t rig that up for you; you must go to Frankfurt and see that for yourselves. Good morning,” and he turned to follow Norah, who was already some way up the stone staircase. From a distance she really looked like a fairy. The light of dawn shone on her wonderful hair; she had taken off her apron, and had on a white dress trimmed with gold, that fluttered as she mounted the steps. At the top she waited to take breath, and Karl easily caught her up. They gazed down into the depths beneath them, but no trace of dwarfland could they see. Even the glow-worms had vanished, and the rough steps looked like natural niches in the rock. They were on the top of the mountain. Near by stood a grove of firs, the trees were so gnarled and stunted from their exposed position that they looked like a dwarf forest, and seemed appropriate growing there.

“Your name is ‘Norah’,” said Karl boldly, “but that is all I know about you!”

“I am no fairy princess, alas,” said Norah, “but only a poor landlord’s daughter. My father and I have the new hotel in Elm!”

“O you must be the pretty innkeeper’s daughter then of whom I have heard so much,” said Karl. “Now isn’t it funny, I had meant to stay the night at your hotel on the chance of seeing you, and now we meet under the earth in dwarfland—romantic I call that! Why do you work for those little beggars?” he continued.

“For the same reason that you have proposed doing so,” she answered, “to earn money. I was picking bilberries on the mountains and strayed into their land by chance one day. I found them busy at work spring cleaning, and helped them a bit, and that was my first introduction to the dwarfs. They pay me well for little work, and starting an hotel costs a great deal of money you must know. I am glad to be able to help my father.”

“You do not come from this part of Germany, you speak quite differently to us,” said the young man inquiringly.

“My home is over the seas,” said Norah. “My father is an Irishman; but we found it hard to get on there, and meant to emigrate to America. Then father changed his mind, and we came to Germany. My mother died some years ago,” she said sadly.

“Poor child,” said Karl in a deep, sympathetic voice, “there must be a good deal of responsibility on your young shoulders.”

“I should just think so,” said Norah with a sigh, “but our hotel is going to be a tremendous success!” As she spoke, she led the way through a little narrow path, that crossed a heath where heather grew, and great masses of yellow starred ragwort. “Ah! me beloved golden flower,” she cried, pointing the plant out to Karl, who had passed it by a thousand times as a common weed, but to whom it seemed from this day forth to be alive and full of meaning. “We call it fairy-horses in Ireland,” she said, with a rapt look on her face, “sure and I can see my native mountains when I pluck it”—and her eyes filled with tears.

She wanted no consoling however, her mood changed quickly enough. “Do come here,” she called out to Karl, “and see what I’ve found now!” She showed him a clump of pure white heather; “it is tremendously lucky,” she said, “and you shall have a bit too.” So saying she stuck a piece of white heather in his buttonhole—real white heather, not the faded flowers which children sometimes mistake for it. Karl treasured the spray carefully.

“And how did you come to be among the dwarfs?” said Norah. But their further conversation was checked by a little brook that ran straight across the path. Now Norah usually took off her shoes and stockings and waded over this stream; but she did not like to do so with Karl looking on. Karl would have liked to pick her up in his arms and carry her across like a true hero of romance; but he was shy of proposing it. So he fetched some large flat stones, placed them dexterously in the stream, and sprang across himself, then he held out a hand to Norah who stepped over as quickly and gracefully as a young deer.

“Now I will tell you how it was you found me in dwarfland,” said Karl as they walked on together. “I was at work on the new tunnel——”

“You’ll not be telling me that you are a working man?” said Norah.

“No I am an engineer. I was on duty looking after the men, then, somehow or other I fell against the wall of the tunnel and hurt my arm”; he showed her his torn coat as a proof of the story.

“Poor thing,” she interrupted, “did you bind it up properly?”

“O, it was a mere nothing,” said Karl. “Well—I found myself in a strange winding passage that led right down into the central hall of the dwarfs.” He did not wish to say that he had been asleep; he thought that would sound so silly. “Queer little fellows they are, those dwarfs,” he continued, “awfully ignorant too. Now will you believe it they had never heard of the Zeppelin airship?”

“We’ll really have to give them lessons,” said Norah, laughing, “but perhaps they are not so stupid as they make themselves out to be!”

Climbing over boulders and stones, laughing and talking the while like two children just out of school, they reached the bottom of the mountain and saw the village. It could hardly be called a town as yet, though Norah’s father hoped that the new railway station would speedily convert it into one.

“Do you know where our hotel is?” said Norah. “It is at the other end of the village; we will go round through the fields; the village folk stare so; they are up at five o’clock to do their field-work.

“There it is!” she called out proudly, pointing to a large white house with green shutters on which the words “Hôtel Fancy” were written in large gold letters.

“What a queer name for an hotel!” said Karl.

“Yes, don’t you think it is original and attractive?” said Norah. “There are so many hotels called Hôtel Hohenzollern’—or ‘The German Emperor’ and so I thought we would have a change.”

“It is a splendid idea,” said Karl, who was over head and ears in love with Norah by this time and thought that everything she did and said, was perfect. Still, like a prudent German, he wondered to himself if she would make a good housewife. He knew she must be good at cleaning or the dwarfs would hardly have employed her, but her dainty little hands did not look like cooking.

“What would it matter, if the dinner were burnt sometimes,” he thought, “if I could have such a pretty, fascinating little girl to marry me?”

“Will you come in and have some breakfast?” said Norah as they approached Hôtel Fancy.

“Rather,” he said, “I must own that I am famished. I only had a dry bit of bread and cheese for supper, and that is a long while ago.”

It was early still, Norah’s father was not yet up; so she set to work and lit the fire, and soon had the water boiling for coffee. She set a fine breakfast before him, ham and eggs and sausage and rolls. I am bound in strict veracity to say that love did not prevent his consuming a large amount. He changed his mind about her cooking, and thought that she could do everything well and was a model of perfection.

“Do have some, too, yourself,” he said, and Norah soon joined him with a hearty appetite.

Mr O’Brian, for that was the name of Norah’s father, was astonished to find them at breakfast when he entered the comfortably furnished parlour.

“An early guest, father,” said Norah. “He is going to put up here for the present; he is an engineer at work on the tunnel; good thing for us”; she whispered the last sentence. “I will see about getting your room ready,” she said, turning to Karl.

“Please do not trouble,” said he. “I’m due at the tunnel again at 7 a.m. and it is 6 o’clock now. I hope to return to-night about 8 o’clock; then I shall be glad of a room,” he said, with a hardly suppressed yawn. “Pray excuse me, I had rather a bad night,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes that only Norah perceived.

As soon as he was gone, Norah handed some gold pieces to her father.

“And do you think that I am doing right in taking this money from you, Norah?” he asked.

“Why of course father! I’m telling you that it’s fairy gold, and will bring us luck,” she replied.

The Irish have a great respect for luck and omens; many of them still believe in the good folk, and Mr O’Brian, who was of a very easygoing disposition, was quite satisfied with this explanation.
___________________________________________

Some weeks passed. Karl and Norah became better friends every day. All Karl’s previous notions of the universe had been knocked on the head by his visit to dwarfland. He had thought that he knew almost everything that there was to be known, but now he was always on the look-out for surprises. Moreover his love for Norah had opened his eyes. Every bush seemed ablaze with fire, and the roses and pinks in the gardens smelt as they had never smelt before.

Norah was like a fairy princess; she was not easy to win, she loved her freedom, and wished to call no man lord and master. Because she was such a wild bird and of a poetic and dreamy temperament, Karl’s practical mind appealed to her. He possessed that which she and her father lacked. She was tired of her father’s promises and castles in the air, which usually ended in bitter disappointment. How many guests had they had since Hôtel Fancy had been opened? She could almost count them on her fingers. The peasants frequented the old inn that they were accustomed to in the village, and very few strangers came their way.

“I will play waiter on Sunday and help you,” said Karl one Saturday evening when he had returned from his work.

“Indeed and you’ll not need to,” said Norah with a pretty Irish lilt in her voice, “it’s not many people that will be coming! It will be different of course when the new station is built; then we shall be flourishing,” she continued.
____________________________________________

It was a fine Sunday afternoon. Karl and Norah sat in the garden under the plane-trees which made a chequered pattern in shadow on the ground, and sipped glasses of Apfelwein or cider in German fashion.

“It was a queer thing that we two should meet in the little people’s land. It seems as if we were meant to pull together, doesn’t it?” said Karl with an effort.

Norah jumped up immediately, saying that she must see if the water was boiling for coffee.

“No, no,” said Karl catching her by the hand; “you are not going to run away like that; you’ve just got to listen to me, Norah; for I can’t keep it in any longer. You are my fairy princess—I love you with all my heart, and I want you to promise me to be my little wife—will you?”

“You don’t know me yet,” said Norah blushing like a rose. “I’ve got a most awful temper!”

“I’ll risk it,” said Karl laughing, and they plighted their troth under the trees in the garden with no one but the empty chairs and tables looking on, that were spread in anticipation of the guests who had not arrived.

So Karl and Norah were engaged to be married and were as happy as ever it is possible to be in this world! They did not celebrate the event in the usual ceremonious German fashion; for Norah’s friends and relations were in Ireland and she had only a few acquaintances in Germany as yet. Karl’s mother was a widow, and lived with her married daughter in Pomerania; so she could not come so far south for anything less than a wedding or a funeral.

Now Karl began to consider the material side of the question. “Will the love that we are rich in, light the fire in the kitchen, and the little god of love turn the spit O!” What had they to live on? He was a young man, and his income was very small; it takes many years in Germany to make a career as engineer, unless you are exceptionally lucky and have influential friends.

Hôtel Fancy was rather like its name and did not pay at all as yet. Now Karl had not forgotten the dwarfs, and Norah began to miss the gold pieces which had disappeared fast enough in the last few weeks.

“I tell you what,” she said, “we will go together to dwarfland. You can arrange about the electric light, and I will do some metal polishing; we will meet afterwards and come home again together, it will be splendid fun!”

“How can we get there?” asked Karl somewhat dubiously.

“Why, the same way as we came out—through the rocky gap; I know the way as well as anything, I have been there frequently,” said Norah.

It was early autumn; the evenings had begun to close in. Karl had managed to get off earlier than usual; still it was almost dusk as the two set out to go to dwarfland. The sun was setting and threw a wonderful golden glow over the world that was reflected in the hearts of the young lovers.

“My stones must be there still,” said Karl as they came to the little brook, “for who could have taken them away?” Yet to his surprise there were no stones there; neither were any to be found in the neighbourhood. There was nothing for it, but to carry Norah over. He did not feel so shy and embarrassed this time, as he picked up his little sweetheart laughing and struggling in his arms.

“You are as light as a feather,” he said as he set her down again.

“A feather bed, you mean,” she said, “and they are a pretty fair weight. I shall never get used to German feather beds,” she continued. “I can’t even get them to look right when I make them and shake them!”

“You need to be born and brought up to them to appreciate them,” he replied, “but never mind, what does it matter, what is a feather bed in comparison with our love?” They laughed for pure joy and good humour as they walked along; ah how quickly time passes when one is so happy! The sunlight gilded the rocks before them, till they looked as if they contained streaks of gold ore. They crossed the little moor, and clambered over the rocks till they reached the stunted fir-grove.

Looking back they saw that the sky had become a glowing red as it often does just before the light dies out; seen through the dark, twisted trees the wood appeared to be on fire. The lovers sat down and gazed for a few moments in silence till the glory faded from the sky.

“Now for it, Norah,” said Karl getting up and offering her a hand, “the way down into dwarfland must be quite near here!”

“Of course I know, I can find it at once,” she answered.

They searched carefully around for the great crack in the rocks, but could find nothing in the least resembling it.

“How absurd; how can we miss it when it is certainly not more than a yard or two away,” said Norah.

“The steps were not so easily recognisable, if I remember rightly,” said Karl, “but we are sure to find them in a minute.”

It grew darker and darker; the mountain was covered with boulders of stone, juniper bushes and stunted trees; but no trace of the great rent in the mountain-side could they discover.

“Did we dream it all?” said Karl.

“Impossible, why I have been down there many times,” said Norah beginning to feel bitterly disappointed.

“Supposing I were to fetch some of my men here and blow up the rocks with dynamite; we must be able to get in then, for the mountain is as full of dwarfs as bees in a hive,” said Karl, who was getting in a temper.

“And do you think they would reward you handsomely for your services,” said Norah sarcastically, “and O the poor little men, they always treated me with the utmost kindness and politeness, and gave me far more money than ever I bargained for!”

“They nearly pinched me black and blue, till I frightened them with my revolver,” said Karl.

“The wretches!” said Norah, “but why?”

“Because I was silly enough to tell them about the airship, and they thought I was humbugging them.”

“How absurd!” Norah exclaimed. “But what are we to do now, Karl?” she continued in a doleful voice. “I must have some money; we are still in debt for the greater part of our furniture; and the house is heavily mortgaged.”

“If I could only get a good post!” said Karl sighing deeply. “I had reckoned on those dwarf chaps!”

“We shall never be able to marry,” said Norah, now in the depths of despair; “our house will have to be given up, and our things sold by auction, and I, O I shall have to marry a horrid, rich old peasant who will treat me as a servant, and father will be obliged to work in the fields.” With this she burst into tears.

It was quite dark now save for the new moon whose pale crescent shone in the sky. Norah observed it in spite of her tears.

“The new moon!” she exclaimed. “O do let us turn all the money that we have in our pockets. How much have you got Karl?”

“About 10 shillings,” he replied.

“O you are richer than I am; I have only 8d. in my purse; nevertheless let us turn what we have, and it will be sure to bring us a fortune.”

Karl laughed. “You little fairy,” he said, and looked at her with admiration; then involuntarily his eyes strayed in the direction of the fir-grove. He thought he could see something moving there. Norah looked too. “Karl,” she said excitedly, “I do believe it is the dwarf men after all; who else could it be?”

At the same moment they caught sight of a queer form with a turned-up nose and peaked cap clearly outlined against the sky, and recognised Mr Query.

“Hullo!” said Karl.

“[text missing in original] to you,” he said in a droll manner.

“Now, Mr Dwarf,” said Karl, anxious to proceed to business, “what about our little agreement as to electric light, etc.?”

“The committee has decided against it,” said Mr Query emphatically. “What do we want with your new-fangled inventions; you would bring your workmen with you; they would discover our treasures, and turn the whole place into a mine, and of course we should be obliged to decamp.”

“Well, there is something in what you say,” said Karl to whom this idea had already occurred, “but we could avoid that catastrophe!”

“As for you,” continued the dwarf turning to Norah, “we have discovered that you are a human being also, and no fairy; therefore we shall not require your services any longer.”

“What a horrid way to give me notice, as if I could help not being a fairy!” said poor Norah weeping bitterly.

The little fellow was much distressed; he could not make out what was the matter with her.

“Don’t cry, little Fräuleinchen,” he said, “I am sure we never thought you were so fond of us as all that; it is very gratifying, but it is too late now to alter our decision; the way down into our kingdom is sealed for ever!”

“I could soon open it again,” said Karl wrathfully.

“As for that, it would not be quite such an easy matter as you think,” said Mr Query mockingly. “However we are willing to offer you terms,” he continued, “if you will leave us alone and protect our secrets.”

“What terms?” said Karl and Norah eagerly.

“You shall see,” said the dwarf, “follow me to the fir-trees.” So saying he sprang down from the stone on which he had been sitting and came up and shook hands with them.

“We are going to be married! what do you think of that?” they informed him.

“Humph! Your taste, not mine,” said Mr Query. “However Norah will be able to clean your gold and silver dishes capitally; that’s a comfort for you.”

“We haven’t got any gold and silver dishes to clean, alas!” said Norah.

“Poor things,” said Mr Query, “well we’ll see.” He proceeded to the fir-trees where the Gentlemen of the Committee were again assembled, standing in a solemn semicircle. “If you will sign this contract, we are willing to give you a reward. I speak in the name of the Gentlemen of the Committee,” said Mr Query, and the little men nodded their heads in assent. He drew out a roll of parchment from a bag he carried with him and handed it to Karl. Norah looked over his shoulder.

On the parchment was written the following:

We,
Karl Hammerstein,
Norah O’Brian,

pledge our solemn oath Christmas Tree, that we will not attempt to visit dwarfland again, or molest the dwarfs in any way, by offering them modern inventions for which they have no use, etc., etc., or by revealing their secret chambers to the glaring light of day.

Signed………………………
………………………………

“We are willing enough to sign,” said Karl, “but what are your terms, old man; we want to know that first. You offered us a bribe, you know.”

“All in good time,” said Mr Query. “Gentlemen of the Committee, display the treasure!” The dwarf men formed themselves into a ring, in the centre of which Norah and Karl could see masses of what looked like solid gold. “You may take as much of this as you like,” they said, “and we warrant you on our solemn word of honour Christmas Tree that it is pure, unalloyed gold.”

“We’ll sign anything you like, dear little men,” said Norah, joyfully, “and I invite you all to my wedding!”

“Three weeks from to-day,” said Karl.

But Norah was too excited to notice what he was saying.

“I shall always believe in the new moon,” she repeated again and again. “How shall we carry it?” she exclaimed suddenly. “I have not even got a basket with me.”

“My men shall trundle it along for you in wheelbarrows,” said Mr Query. “No please, do not say ‘thank you.’ I have a great objection to being thanked.”

Karl and Norah now signed the document with joyful hearts. Norah professed herself very sorry not to see her dwarf friends again. She had a real affection for the droll little men.

“You may come across us sometime again, who knows,” said Mr Query. “We make excursions into your world from time to time. It is improbable but not impossible that we may meet again. Good-bye!” A brilliant flash as of lightning shot from under the ground; the earth trembled and shook. Norah clung to Karl in terror; for she thought that the earth would swallow them up too. Then Mr Query and the dwarfs disappeared underground calling out as they did so: “You see we have our lift and our electric light too, Mr Engineer—ha! ha!—we are not quite so behind the times as you thought us—ha! ha!”

Norah and Karl stood still in speechless astonishment; then they looked anxiously for their gold, fearing that the dwarfs might have played them a trick after all. But no, there were two jolly strong-looking little fellows with wheelbarrows. “We’ve got the gold all right,” they said. “Don’t you be afraid. We’ve put some dirty old potatoes at the top,” they continued with a cunning expression on their faces, “just in case we meet anyone on the way you know—we should have to hop skip and jump—one, two, three and off, and it might look awkward for you.”

“I am sure it’s very kind of you,” said Norah, “and we can never thank you enough,” and off they all set down the mountain. It was a troublesome job to get the heavy wheelbarrow over the stream. Norah declared afterwards that some of the gold was lost there; but they found no trace of it again if it were so. They did not feel safe until they reached the gate of Hôtel Fancy.

“Shall we put it in the back yard or in the stable?” said the little fellows in a hoarse whisper.

“Put it in the corner of the stable,” said Norah, “as we have not got a horse no one goes in there. We will manage the rest, thank you so much.”

“Please don’t thank us,” said the little men, “dwarfs are not used to that, and it hurts their feelings.”

“Well, here is something for your labours,” said Karl, and he gave the little men a handful of silver. They turned it over and over and seemed to regard it as a great curiosity. Then they heard a movement in the house, and quick as lightning they were off before Karl and Norah could say good-bye.

Mr O’Brian was pacing up and down in a great state of agitation; it was nearly midnight and he feared they might have met with an accident. “There’s no depending on the fairies,” he said to himself, “and dwarfs are said to be treacherous,” so you see he knew something of what Norah was up to.

His joy was the greater when Norah and Karl rushed in and dragging him to the stables showed him the pile of gold. “I’ll be for taking it to the bank at once,” he said, “you never know but what it may melt away, or turn into a heap of leaves, I’ve read stories like that.”

“Our wedding shall be next week,” said Karl, joyfully.

“And aren’t you going to give me any time to get my trousseau?” said Norah with a dancing light in her eyes that made her look more enchanting than ever. “Sure and I’ll be wanting the finest trousseau that ever a princess had.”

“We’ll turn Hôtel Fancy into a palace,” said Mr O’Brian.

The wedding was celebrated three weeks from this date, as they had agreed. Norah wore an exquisitely soft cream silk gown, embroidered with real gold; it was said that the embroidery was a present from the dwarfs. Certain it is too that she wore an old pearl necklace of such marvellous workmanship that the like was never seen before.

The tale was whispered that a little deformed man had been seen to slip a parcel containing the necklace into the letter-box.

Norah’s relations came over from Ireland to be present at the wedding, and you may be sure that Karl’s mother arrived too all the way from Pomerania to share the festivities and the cake. Hôtel Fancy was crammed with guests; every available room was occupied; there was some talk already of enlarging the house.

One of the presents that the bride had from her husband, was a looking-glass, set with precious stones. People thought that it was a curious wedding-present, and wondered if Norah were exceptionally vain. But Karl declared that if it had not been for a looking-glass he might never have known his wife, a remark which sounded more mysterious than ever.

Many conjectures were made concerning it, but none of them were half so strange as the truth. Another present was a brooch set in diamonds in the shape of a crescent moon.

As they were now wealthy, Karl was able to indulge his passion for mechanical inventions, and Hôtel Fancy was full of the most delightful surprises: fountains in unexpected places in the spray of which little balls danced up and down, a rare gramophone that played the most soft and pleasant music, every variety of electric light and so on.

Norah was a little disappointed that her friends the dwarfs did not come to the wedding; but what could she expect if her mother-in-law and uncles and aunts and cousins were all asked as well! Could she expect that the dignified Mr Query would condescend to become an object of general curiosity? I have heard that the little men called and left their cards some days after the wedding, when Norah and Karl were away on their honeymoon, and that Mr O’Brian treated them as royal visitors, and that they left charmed with his hospitality, and astounded at the many entertaining and marvellous things that were to be seen in Hotel Fancy.

What’s the Use of It? A Christmas Story, by Margaret Arndt

In a village that was close to the great forest, though it had already become the suburb of a large town, lived a little girl named Hansi Herzchen. She was the seventh child of a family of seven, and she lived at No 7 —— Street. So you see she was a lucky child, for seven is always a lucky number; but nothing had happened to prove her luck as yet.

Her father was a clerk in the post office at the neighbouring town. He would have found it hard to make two ends meet with seven little mouths to fill, but that his wife had brought him substantial help. She was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer peasant and had a considerable dowry when she married. Moreover she was extremely thrifty and industrious. She never spent a halfpenny without carefully considering if a farthing would not do as well. Better £1 in the pocket than 19s. 11½d., she used to say. She drove wonderful bargains at the market. She had no eyes for the artistic and ornamental, though her house was so spick and span, that it was good to look at in its cleanliness and order. She had stored up everything she had possessed since her early youth, and was said to use pins that were at least twenty years old. She managed to put everything to use, and the boys’ knickers were sometimes made of queer materials.

One expression little Hansi often heard at home and that was the word “useful.” When she brought in a fresh bunch of darling, pink-tipped daisies and wanted to find a corner for them and a tiny drop of water to put them in, the whole family would exclaim: “Throw them away, what do you want with those half-dead weeds; they’re of no use.” If one of the neighbours gave her a ball or toy, it was the same story: “We’ve no room for such rubbish here.” Each child possessed a money-box, and every coin was immediately put in. They had never had a penny to spend in their lives.

The garden was planted solely with vegetables and potatoes and herbs of the most useful character. The scarlet beans in summer, however, would brighten it up, and field poppies and dandelions sprang up in a quite miraculous way to Hansi’s delight. For in each flower was a jolly little fairy, who talked to her and told her stories, because of her being a seventh child and living at No. 7. Perhaps, too, because Hansi’s natural disposition made her look out for wonders, and her loving heart included the field flowers among her friends.

Christmas was coming on; a pig had been killed. Hansi’s father and mother and big brother Paul stayed up all night making sausages, and the children had sausage soup for dinner during the next week.

In preparation for Christmas, Hansi’s mother baked large cakes (called Stollen) of a plain quality, with currants few and far between. Food had become very expensive during the last few years, and no one could deny that seven children were a handful.

She went in to town and returned by electric tram, with the useful things that were intended for Christmas presents for the children, namely:

A pair of boots for Paul,
A school-cape for Marie,
Handkerchiefs for Fritz with his name
embroidered on them in red cotton,
Stockings for Emma,
A warm hood for Gretchen,
An oilcloth pinafore for Karlchen,
who had a special talent for getting dirty,
And lastly a new pinafore for Hansi.

“Now we might be said to have everything ready for Christmas,” said Mrs Herzchen, on her return home, “if it were not for the Christmas tree. I suppose we shall have to pay at least one and six for it, and then there are the candles and apples, balls and sweets. It does seem absurd to waste good money on such rubbish. What can be the use of it?”

She talked away in this manner, until she made up her mind to do without the tree for once.

“Your father has no time to see about it,” she said to the children. “He is taken up with looking after other people’s rubbishing letters and parcels, and I can’t be bothered—so put the idea out of your heads, you won’t get a tree this year.”

The seven children felt very indignant; for it is almost a disgrace in Germany to have no tree; it is worse than going without a pudding on Christmas Day in England. The very poorest families manage somehow to have their tree to light on Christmas Eve. Still they were trained to implicit obedience and respect for their mother, and did not dare grumble much openly.

Mrs Herzchen did not consult her husband about it; so he expected his tree as usual. The good woman felt rather uncomfortable, as if she had either done something wrong, or omitted doing what was right; but she justified herself by saying continually to herself “What’s the use of it?”
____________________________________________

Hansi dreamt that night of a beautiful Christmas tree that reached up to the sky and was covered with shining silver, like cobwebs in the frost, and lit by real stars. She determined that somehow or other they should have their Christmas tree as usual.

When she came out of school at eleven o’clock, she trotted along in the opposite way to home, along the wide high road leading to the woods, with the twisted apple-trees on either side. She made a little bobbing curtsy, and said “good day” to everyone she met who noticed her at all; for she had been taught to be polite and friendly.

The ground was frozen and sparkled brightly; the air brought the fresh colour into her cheeks. She had on a warm hood and cape and a woollen scarf—for her mother was kind-hearted at the bottom and looked well after their material comforts. Hansi’s pretty fair curls peeped out from under the red hood, her blue eyes with their dark lashes were more starry than usual from excitement.

The fir woods looked purple-black against the white fields, and as she came near, she saw the fir-trees covered with silver hoar frost “almost like the tree in my dream,” she thought. Her heart beat faster for a moment as she entered the shade of the solemn evergreen trees, but she did not feel naughty to be running away from home. She felt rather as if she were fulfilling a mission that had been laid upon her.

Meanwhile her mother was worrying and wondering what could have happened that her little girl did not return at the usual time. Then she remembered that Hansi often went home with her friend Barbara Arndt, and then they did their lessons together before dinner. That doubtless accounted for her non-appearance.

Hansi wandered on and on, and the woods seemed deserted. She picked up fir cones and beech nuts and acorns and filled her pinafore with them, also frosted fern leaves and dry grasses exquisitely outlined with hoar frost went into her apron.

At last she stopped before a little fir-tree. This was just the beautiful little tree she wanted. It spread out its branches symmetrically on all sides, and was slender and straight at the top. “That will just do for me! If only I could get it home,” she thought. She tugged at it with her little hands, dropping some of her treasures, but of course it would not move. Just then she heard something stir, and looking round she saw a squirrel peeping at her from behind a big oak-tree near by. This was a wonder in itself if she had known; for squirrels are usually fast asleep in the cold weather, and only wake once or twice to eat some of their store of nuts.

“O, Mr Squirrel, can’t you help me,” Hansi said. Off he went, round and round the trunk, and then suddenly, with a great spring and his tail spread out for a sail, he alighted on Hansi’s tree. He stared at her in a friendly way, and then stretched out one of his dear little paws and offered her a nut, politely cracking it for her first with his sharp teeth which had grown very long whilst he was asleep. She ate it at once, but looked anxious. “O, Mr Squirrel, do cut down this tree for me, and help me to carry it home,” she said, “or else we shall have no Christmas tree, and that would be dreadful!”

Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke. Mr Squirrel looked at her with his bright eyes, twisted round suddenly, like a cat trying to catch its own tail, and offered her another nut.

“O, Mr Squirrel, do,” she said again.

He offered her a third nut, and then he whistled shrilly; it sounded more like a baby crying than a whistle. Then to her surprise, as she looked down the wood path, Hansi saw a troop of little men, such as you see on Christmas cards in Germany, with red caps and green jackets and wooden shoes turned up at the toes. “Real Heinzelmen and no mistake,” thought Hansi delightedly, “they can help me, if anyone can.” She counted them, they were seven in number, like Snowdrop’s dwarfs. They made quite a noise as they marched up in order, whistling a merry tune. When they saw Hansi, they took off their red caps, and their white hair flew about them like a mist, till Hansi could hardly see them any more. The squirrel screamed and shouted at them, and they answered him; but Hansi could not understand at first what it was all about. She thought they must be talking English; she knew a lady who lived near them, and who could only talk English, poor thing. All of a sudden the earth trembled—was it an earthquake? Hansi held tight on to the fir-tree, though its needles hurt her hands. All she saw was the seven little men disappearing into the ground down a long slide such as firemen use, when they are called suddenly from sleep, and are carried by a new mechanical apparatus direct from one floor to the other. The earth closed up again, and Hansi thought it must be all a dream; but in two seconds they were back again with silver hatchets and silver pails. With the hatchets they immediately began to hack away at the tree. They made tremendous efforts, and became quite red in the face. The last moment before it was finally felled, the squirrel bounded off, and tossed a nut to Hansi, who caught it cleverly in her pinafore.

“Dear little men,” she said, “may I have the tree? Will you bring it home for me, and I will give you all my Christmas cake? But I have nothing to hang on it, and make it pretty,” she continued. The dwarfs began to chatter again like so many girls, all trying to say the same thing at once. Then they marched along, dragging the tree with them.

“O, Mr Dwarf, that’s the wrong way home, I’m sure,” said Hansi. But she followed them all the same. They came to where a crystal stream leapt over a little group of rocks. The dwarfs held their buckets under the cascade, and caught some drops. The drops turned into silver fish, each with a little loop on the end of its tail, all ready to hang on the tree.

They then took Hansi’s pine cones and ferns and grasses, and even collected the frozen cobwebs from the bushes and let the spray from the waters fall on them, and lo and behold the most exquisite gems were ready for the decoration of the Christmas tree.

“You live at No 7, and you are seven years old,” said the eldest of the dwarfs, addressing Hansi. (“However could he have known that?” she thought.) “Perhaps you can tell me what seven times seven makes?”

Hansi considered a moment. “No, we have not got so far as that in our arithmetic,” she replied. “Twice seven is fourteen, that I know.”

“Seven times seven is forty-nine and is the square of seven,” said the dwarf. “Always remember that, for it is a most important fact in magic!”

Rummaging in his pocket, he took out a note-book and handed a leaf to her with this diagram and inscription on it

“Thank you very much,” said Hansi, feeling duly impressed, and she never forgot this difficult fact in the multiplication table again, although she didn’t quite understand the diagram, and in fact lost it on the way home.

The dwarfs set up the tree on a clear part of the path, and made a little stand for it of boughs cleverly intertwined and moss between. With many a hop, skip and jump of delight, they hung the silver fish and cones and nuts on it; the cobwebs spread themselves out all over the tree. Then they took red holly berries, and stuck them on the boughs where they turned into red candles. All red and silver was this loveliest of Christmas trees!

When it was finished, there was a momentary thrill, and they all cried “Ah!” in tones of wonder.

Then Hansi noticed that a noble herd of deer had approached; the gentle creatures were looking on with the deepest interest.

The woodbirds came flying from all directions, and sang as if it were summer.

“Dear little men, I think I really ought to be going home,” said Hansi anxiously.

“Come along then,” said Himself. “You must go back along the high road as you came; we are going to play hide-and-seek; but don’t be afraid, you shall have your tree all right, even if it disappears sometimes.”

They now marched along in the homeward direction; but as soon as they came to the road leading out of the woods they vanished without a word of leave-taking. However, Hansi had not gone far down the road, when she saw a Christmas tree that appeared to be walking by itself across the fields. Other people noticed it too, from the road, and thought how queer it looked. “But of course, there is someone behind carrying it,” they said to themselves, and thought no more of the matter. People expect the usual before the unusual, naturally enough, and yet sometimes the unusual is the most probable, as in this case.

Hansi was late for dinner, and had a fine scolding.

“At all events, I suppose you have done your lessons,” said her mother.

“No, mother, I’m afraid not.”

“Well, I never, playing again, I suppose? Now, what can be the use of playing, I should like to know?”

This was an exceptionally stupid question; for most people know that little folk cannot grow mentally without play, any more than flowers can grow without sunshine. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” is not only a proverb, but it is true as well.
____________________________________________

It was Christmas Eve. Hansi trembled with excitement. “What’s the use of getting so lively, Hansi?” said her big brother Paul despondently. “You know quite well that we are not to have any tree this year. I shall get a new pair of boots, and you a pinafore; these we should have to have anyway. That’s not what I call a merry Christmas.”

“But the bells are ringing, don’t you hear them? and don’t you think you can see just a glimmer of silver through the door?” said Hansi.

The children looked—well, really, perhaps there was a tree there after all.

Just then their father came in tired, but jolly. “Is everything ready? It is late, I have been detained so long,” he said. “Can we go in at once?”

“I haven’t got a tree this year,” whispered his wife in an anxious voice. “I thought we couldn’t afford it. What’s the use of a Christmas tree? We can spend our money in a more practical way!”

“What nonsense. No Christmas tree! but of course you are joking,” said her husband. “I will slip in, and light the candles.” And with these words he disappeared into the inner room, now so mysterious to the waiting children.

Poor Mrs Herzchen nearly began to cry. If only she had not been so silly! Never, never would she neglect to get a tree again! She ought to have considered other people’s prejudices, and Christmas—O well, Christmas only comes once a year.

“I’ve got a surprise for mother,” whispered Gretel, aged ten. “I am going to recite a Christmas poem.” “And I am going to tell the Christmas story from the Bible,” said Hansi. “I have made a letter-box for father,” said Fritz.

“Hush, hush! the bells are ringing—don’t you hear them across the snow?” the children whispered to one another. “But what is that other bell, so soft, so musical and clear!” “That is the summons for us all to enter,” said Paul.

The door flew open, and there stood the most lovely Christmas tree they had ever seen or imagined, all dazzling with silver; silver cones, silver fish, silver nuts and acorns, and red candles, and over all an exquisitely spun cobweb of frost. “That’s my surprise for you all,” said Hansi, who could hardly contain herself for joy. “I found the tree, and the dear, darling Heinzelmen brought it home for me.”

Mrs Herzchen was speechless with astonishment, and her husband not less so. “How very extravagant,” they said, “but how elegant and beautiful! Who can have given it to us?”

But now the children began to sing the sweet German carol sung in every house on Christmas Eve: “O peaceful night, O holy night,” and then, in her earnest, childish way, Hansi told the story of the birth of the Christ-child in the Manger of Bethlehem.

Gretel then stood up eagerly to recite the carol she had learnt at school.

THE CHILDREN’S KING.
“Dear children come
On Christmas night,
Put on your gowns
Of purest white.

Speak not a word
Until you see
The sweet Christ child
On Mary’s knee.

There lies the Babe
An Infant frail.
Is this the King
Whom nations hail?

A helpless King!
His mother’s arm
Must hold him safe
From threatened harm.

A tender King,
Most young and sweet,
With dimpled hands
And tiny feet!

A Baby King:
Yet cherubim
Veil their bright eyes
To look on Him.

A mighty King!
For God above
Has crowned Him Lord
And King of Love.

Come kneel and pray,
Ye children dear,
The children’s King
Is lying here!”

A glow of warmth and happiness illumined the whole family, and they felt nearer to one another than ever before. The tears actually came into their mother’s eyes, when she realised that they had so nearly missed this moment of supreme joy.

She felt a little ashamed of her presents, and for once in a way suspected herself of having been too sensible. “We are not so very poor after all,” she thought. “I might have bought a few toys that would have delighted the children’s hearts, and not have cost much money. But now it is too late!”

But to her surprise, she did not see her presents at all. For each child there was a gingerbread cake with his or her name on it, and then the most lovely surprises—a beautiful doll for Hansi with real eyelashes, fretwork tools for Paul, a doll’s kitchen for Gretel, and so on. For every one of the family there was some delightful gift.

“Thank you, thank you, dear Heinzelmen,” said Hansi, clasping her hands in ecstasy.

There was a big paper parcel addressed to Mrs Herzchen in a very queer handwriting. She opened it with much excitement, thinking it would contain a silk dress, at least. But lo and behold, all the presents that she had intended for her children, tied together with red tape and a card between, on which this verse was written:

“Useful things
For little folk
Are sensible,
But not a joke.”
Signed Himself!

How the children laughed! and even Mrs Herzchen laughed too, though she felt silly and a little disappointed. “It is all very well to play tricks on me,” she said. “Just look at the Müller children next door. They have plenty of toys and are always sucking sweets; but they never have comfortable, warm clothes on, and they look half fed.”

“Of course, mother, you are right,” said the children, “and you were really joking about the tree. We have never had one half so lovely!”

Mrs Herzchen felt rather embarrassed at this praise. She called her husband’s attention to the things on the tree. “They can’t be made of chocolate,” she said, trying to bite off the corner of a fir cone. It was quite hard. “I do believe they are all solid silver!” she said.

On closer examination, they found a little lion imprinted on each which proved them without doubt to be of real silver.

“I shall sell them at once, or they may vanish away,” she said.

“I should strongly advise you not to do so,” her husband replied, and the children said, “Oh Mother, do let us keep them always, they are so beautiful?”

“But of what use are they?” said the incorrigible mother who, you see, was not yet quite cured.

Meanwhile the story was noised abroad that Hansi had found a treasure in the forest.

The very next day, Christmas Day, as they were eating their goose, stuffed with apples, there was a ring at the bell—in walked a very pompous Prussian policeman with fierce moustaches.

“Mrs Herzchen here?” he asked abruptly.

“What do you want?” asked that lady, much indignant at being disturbed during her Christmas dinner.

“Young person answering to the name of Hansi Herzchen here?”

“Yes, sir. Please, sir, that’s me,” said Hansi, rising and curtsying, and growing very red.

The policeman produced a paper in which he entered all sorts of memoranda.

“Age and date of birth?” he demanded of Hansi.

“Seven years old, of course,” answered Hansi. “My birthday is on February 27th, if you want to know. It was on a Sunday last year.”

“That’s beside the question.” He looked severe.

“February 27th, 1897,” said Hansi, prompted by her mother.

Residencetemporary or otherwise ——.
Baptism —— date of ——.
Vaccinated ——.

All these facts Hansi’s mother supplied at once. They are so constantly demanded in Germany that she had them always ready at hand, tied up in seven different packets for each child.

Married or single?

Here Hansi giggled, and he entered solemnly the word “spinster.”

“Is that something horrid?” asked Hansi anxiously.

“No, it only means unmarried,” said Paul laughing. “What a fool he is!”

Occupation?

“Please sir, I go to school and learn my lessons, but I play a good deal too.”

“We will write ‘spinster,’” he said, frowning fiercely.

“Now listen to me, child, if you do not wish to go to prison.” The whole family shuddered with horror.

“Take all those silver things off the tree. They are ‘found treasure,’ and belong to the State. You ought to have declared them at once, and saved me all this trouble,” he said.

Hansi began to cry.

Mrs Herzchen was very angry, “Why don’t you mind your own business?” she said. “These things are our property. You will come and demand the clothes off our backs next.”

“Be thankful that I do not accuse you of stealing these valuables,” answered the fellow in a terrible voice.

“But are you sure they are not chocolate after all?” he said. “They look remarkably like it, covered with silver paper, you know.”

He examined them carefully and ejaculating, “Well, I never,” tossed them all into a leather wallet that he had brought with him.

Mrs Herzchen poured forth such a storm of abuse, that he threatened her with an action for libel; but she literally turned him out of doors. Her parting words were: “Get out! Go along and make a fool of yourself if you like.”

Some days afterwards, the man took his treasures to the office and gave them up with a self-important flourish, only to be laughed at for his pains. The cones were just common, ordinary fir cones, and the silver fish had turned into little dead trout, smelling very unpleasant.

He chucked them all away in the street, and this was an episode in his dignified career that he did not like to be reminded of.
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Although Hansi’s mother still always preferred useful things to artistic and ornamental ones, still she realised that the useful and ornamental may often be combined, and as she dearly loved her children, and saved up money merely on their account, she determined that they should have a merry Christmas every year, without any special help from the kind little Heinzelmen.

And did Hansi give the cake to her dwarf friends as she had promised to do? Why, of course, she did. The children went all together to the forest on New Year’s Eve, and found the actual spot where the tree had stood. They placed a large piece of cake on the old stump. But they did not see the Heinzelmen or even the squirrel, although they repeated seven times seven is forty-nine in the hope of attracting them.

Now a dear little Heinzelman, whom I met out for a walk, told me this story “himself”; but he vanished at this point, and so must I. I wish Hansi and all her brothers and sisters a very merry Christmas, and so, I am sure, do you.

How Johnny Cricket saw Santa Claus, by Johnny Gruelle

When the first frost came and coated the leaves with its film of sparkles, Mamma Cricket, Papa Cricket, Johnny Cricket and Grandpa Cricket decided it was time they moved into their winter home.

Papa and Mamma and Grandpa Cricket carried all the heavy Cricket furniture, while Johnny Cricket carried the lighter things, such as the family portraits, looking glasses, knives and forks and spoons, and his own little violin.

Johnny-Gruelle-johnny-cricket-santa-claus

Aunt Katy Didd wheeled Johnny’s little sister Teeny in the Cricket baby buggy and helped Mamma Cricket lay the rugs and wash the stone-work, for you see the Cricket winter home was in the chimney of a big old-fashioned house and the walls were very dusty, and everything was topsy-turvy.

But Mamma Cricket and Aunt Katy Didd soon had everything in tip-top order, and the winter home was just as clean and neat as the summer home out under the rose bush had been.

There the Cricket family lived happily and every thing was just as cozy as any little bug would care to have; on cold nights the people who owned the great big old fashioned house always made a fire in the fireplace, so the walls of the Cricket’s winter home were nice and warm, and little Teeny Cricket could play on the floor in her bare feet without fear of catching cold and getting the Cricket croup.

There was one crack in the walls of the Crickets’ winter home which opened right into the fireplace, so the light from the fire always lit up the Crickets’ living room. Papa Cricket could read the Bugville News while Johnny Cricket fiddled all the latest popular Bug Songs and Mamma Cricket rocked and sang to little Teeny Cricket.

One night, though, the people who owned the great big old fashioned house did not have a fire in the fireplace, and little Teeny Cricket was bundled up in warm covers and rocked to sleep, and all the Cricket family went to bed in the dark.

Johnny Cricket had just dozed into dreamland when he was awakened by something pounding … ever so loudly … and he slipped out of bed and into his two little red topped boots and felt his way to the crack in the living room wall.

Johnny heard loud voices and merry peals of laughter, so he crawled through the crack and looked out into the fireplace.

There in front of the fireplace he saw four pink feet and two laughing faces way above, while just a couple of Cricket-hops from Johnny’s nose was a great big man. Johnny could not see what the man was pounding, but he made an awful loud noise.

Finally the pounding ceased and the man leaned over and kissed the owners of the pink feet. Then there were a few more squeals of laughter, and the four pink feet pitter-patted across the floor and Johnny could see the owners hop into a snow-white bed.

Then Johnny saw the man walk to the lamp and turn the light down low, and leave the great big room.

Johnny Cricket jumped out of the crack into the fireplace and ran out into the great big room so that he might see what the man had pounded. The light from the lamp was too dim for him to make out the objects hanging from the mantel above the fireplace. All he could see were four long black things, so Johnny Cricket climbed up the bricks at the side of the fireplace until he came to the mantel shelf, then he ran along the shelf and looked over. The black things were stockings.

Johnny began to wish that he had stopped to put on his stockings, for he was in his bare feet. He had removed his little red topped boots when he decided to climb up the side of the fireplace and now his feet were cold.

So Johnny started to climb over the mantel shelf and down the side of the fireplace when there came a puff of wind down the chimney which made the stockings swing away out into the room, and snowflakes fluttered clear across the room.

There was a tiny tinkle from a bell and, just as Johnny hopped behind the clock, he saw a boot stick out of the fireplace.

Then Johnny Cricket’s little bug heart went pitty-pat, and sounded as if it would run a race with the ticking of the clock.

From his hiding place, Johnny Cricket heard one or two chuckles, and something rattle. Johnny crept along the edge of the clock and holding the two feelers over his back looked from his hiding place….

At first all he could see were two hands filling the stockings with rattly things, but when the hands went down below the mantel for more rattly things, Johnny Cricket saw a big round smiling face all fringed with snow-white whiskers.

Johnny drew back into the shadow of the clock, and stayed there until the rattling had ceased and all had grown quiet, then he slipped from behind the clock and climbed down the side of the fireplace as fast as he could. Johnny Cricket was too cold to stop and put on his little red boots, but scrambled through the crack in the fireplace and hopped into bed. In the morning Mamma Cricket had a hard time getting Johnny Cricket out of bed. He yawned and stretched, put on one stocking, rubbed his eyes, yawned, put on another stocking and yawned again. Johnny was still very sleepy and could hardly keep his eyes open as he reached for his little red-topped boots.

Johnny’s toe struck something hard, he yawned, rubbed his eyes and looked into the boot. Yes, there was something in Johnny Cricket’s boot! He picked up the other boot; it, too, had something in it!

It was candy! With a loud cry for such a little Cricket, Johnny rushed to the kitchen and showed Mamma, then he told her of his adventure of the night before.

Mamma Cricket called Papa and they both had a laugh when Johnny told how startled he had been at the old man with the white whiskers who filled the stockings in front of the fireplace. “Why, Johnny!” said Mamma and Papa Cricket. “Don’t you know? That was Santa Claus. We have watched him every Christmas in the last four years fill the stockings, and he saw your little red topped boots and filled them with candy, too. If you will crawl through the crack into the fireplace you will see the children of the people who own this big house playing with all the presents that Santa Claus left them!”

And, sure enough, it was so!

Skippy of the Scrabble Alley, by Jacob A. Riis

town-street-naiveSkippy was at home in Scrabble Alley. So far as he had ever known home of any kind it was there in the dark and mouldy basement of the rear house, farthest back in the gap that was all the builder of those big tenements had been able to afford of light and of air for the poor people whose hard-earned wages, brought home every Saturday, left them as poor as if they had never earned a dollar, to pile themselves up in his strong-box. The good man had long since been gathered to his fathers—gone to his better home. It was in the newspapers, and in the alley it was said that it was the biggest funeral—more than a hundred carriages, and four black horses to pull the hearse. So it must be true, of course.

Skippy wondered vaguely, sometimes, when he thought of it, what kind of a home it might be where people went in a hundred carriages. He had never sat in one. The nearest he had come to it was when Jimmy Murphy’s cab had nearly run him down once, and his “fare,” a big man with whiskers, had put his head out and angrily called him a brat, and told him to get out of the way, or he would have him arrested. And Jimmy had shaken his whip at him and told him to skip home. Everybody told him to skip. From the policeman on the block to the hard-fisted man he knew as his father, and who always had a job for him with the growler when he came home, they were having Skippy on the run. Probably that was how he got his name. No one cared enough about it, or about the boy, to find out.

Was there anybody anywhere who cared about boys, anyhow? Were there any boys in that other home where the carriages and the big hearse had gone? And if there were, did they have to live in an alley, and did they ever have any fun? These were thoughts that puzzled Skippy’s young brain once in a while. Not very long or very hard, for Skippy had not been trained to think; what training the boys picked up in the alley didn’t run much to deep thinking.

Perhaps it was just as well. There were one or two men there who were said to know a heap, and who had thought and studied it all out about the landlord and the alley. But it was very tiresome that it should happen to be just those two, for Skippy never liked them. They were always cross and ugly, never laughed and carried on as the other men did once in a while, and made his little feet very tired running with the growler early and late. He well remembered, too, that it was one of them who had said, when they brought him home, sore and limping, from under the wheels of Jimmy Murphy’s cab, that he’d been better off if it had killed him. He had always borne a grudge against him for that, for there was no occasion for it that he could see. Hadn’t he been to the gin-mill for him that very day twice?

Skippy’s horizon was bounded by the towering brick walls of Scrabble Alley. No sun ever rose or set between them. On the hot summer days, when the saloon-keeper on the farther side of the street pulled up his awning, the sun came over the house-tops and looked down for an hour or two into the alley. It shone upon broken flags, a mud-puddle by the hydrant where the children went splashing with dirty, bare feet, and upon unnumbered ash-barrels. A stray cabbage-leaf in one of these was the only green thing it found, for no ray ever strayed through the window in Skippy’s basement to trace the green mould on the wall.

Once, while he had been lying sick with a fever, Skippy had struck up a real friendly acquaintance with that mouldy wall. He had pictured to himself woods and hills and a regular wilderness, such as he had heard of, in its green growth; but even that pleasure they had robbed him of. The charity doctor had said that the mould was bad, and a man scraped it off and put whitewash on the wall. As if everything that made fun for a boy was bad.

Down the street a little way was a yard just big enough and nice to play ball in, but the agent had put up a sign that he would have no boys and no ball-playing in his yard, and that ended it; for the “cop” would have none of it in the street either. Once he had caught them at it and “given them the collar.” They had been up before the judge, and though he let them off they had been branded, Skippy and the rest, as a bad lot.

That was the starting-point in Skippy’s career. With the brand upon him he accepted the future it marked out for him, reasoning as little, or as vaguely, about the justice of it as he had about the home conditions of the alley. The world, what he had seen of it, had taught him one lesson: to take things as he found them, because that was the way they were; and that being the easiest, and, on the whole, best suited to Skippy’s general make-up, he fell naturally into the rôle assigned him. After that he worked the growler on his own hook most of the time. The “gang” he had joined found means of keeping it going that more than justified the brand the policeman had put upon it. It was seldom by honest work. What was the use? The world owed them a living, and it was their business to collect it as easily as they could. It was everybody’s business to do that, as far as they could see, from the man who owned the alley, down.

They made the alley pan out in their own way. It had advantages the builder hadn’t thought of, though he provided them. Full of secret ins and outs, runways and passages, not easily found, to the surrounding tenements, it offered chances to get away when one or more of the gang were “wanted” for robbing this store on the avenue, tapping that till, or raiding the grocer’s stock, that were A No. 1. When some tipsy man had been waylaid and “stood up,” it was an unequalled spot for dividing the plunder. It happened once or twice, as time went by, that a man was knocked on the head and robbed within the bailiwick of the now notorious Scrabble Alley gang, or that a drowned man floated ashore in the dock with his pockets turned inside out. On such occasions the police made an extra raid, and more or less of the gang were scooped in, but nothing ever came of it. Dead men tell no tales, and they were not more silent than the Scrabbles, if, indeed, these had anything to tell.

It came gradually to be an old story. Skippy and his associates were long since in the Rogues’ Gallery, numbered and indexed as truly a bad lot now. They were no longer boys, but toughs. Most of them had “done time” up the river and come back more hardened than they went, full of new tricks always, which they were eager to show the boys to prove that they had not been idle while they were away. On the police returns they figured as “speculators,” a term that sounded better than thief, and meant, as they understood it, much the same, viz., a man who made a living out of other people’s labor. It was conceded in the slums, everywhere, that the Scrabble-Alley gang was a little the boldest that had for a long time defied the police. It had the call in the other gangs in all the blocks around, for it had the biggest fighters as well as the cleverest thieves of them all.

Then one holiday morning, when in a hundred churches the pæan went up, “On earth peace, good-will toward men,” all New York rang with the story of a midnight murder committed by Skippy’s gang. The saloon-keeper whose place they were sacking to get the “stuff” for keeping Christmas in their way had come upon them, and Skippy had shot him down while the others ran. A universal shout for vengeance went up from outraged Society.

It sounded the death-knell of the gang. It was scattered to the four winds, all except Skippy, who was tried for murder and hanged. The papers spoke of his phenomenal calmness under the gallows; said it was defiance. The priest who had been with him in his last hours said he was content to go to a better home. They were all wrong. Had the pictures that chased each other across Skippy’s mind as the black cap was pulled over his face been visible to their eyes, they would have seen Scrabble Alley with its dripping hydrant, and the puddle in which the children splashed with dirty, bare feet; the dark basement room with its mouldy wall; the notice in the yard, “No ball-playing allowed here;” the policeman who stamped him as one of a bad lot, and the sullen man who thought it had been better for him, the time he was run over, if he had died. Skippy asked himself moodily if he was right after all, and if boys were ever to have any show. He died with the question unanswered.

They said that no such funeral ever went out of Scrabble Alley before. There was a real raid on the undertaker’s where Skippy lay in state two whole days, and the wake was talked of for many a day as something wonderful. At the funeral services it was said that without a doubt Skippy had gone to a better home. His account was squared.

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Skippy’s story is not invented to be told here. In its main facts it is a plain account of a well-remembered drama of the slums, on which the curtain was rung down in the Tombs yard. There are Skippies without number growing up in those slums to-day, vaguely wondering why they were born into a world that does not want them; Scrabble Alleys to be found for the asking, all over this big city where the tenements abound, alleys in which generations of boys have lived and died—principally died, and thus done for themselves the best they could, according to the crusty philosopher of Skippy’s set—with nothing more inspiring than a dead blank wall within reach of their windows all the days of their cheerless lives. Theirs is the account to be squared—by justice, not vengeance. Skippy is but an item on the wrong side of the ledger. The real reckoning of outraged society is not with him, but with Scrabble Alley.

What the Christmas Sun Saw in the Tenements, by Jacob A. Riis

christmas-town-naiveThe December sun shone clear and cold upon the city. It shone upon rich and poor alike. It shone into the homes of the wealthy on the avenues and in the uptown streets, and into courts and alleys hedged in by towering tenements down town. It shone upon throngs of busy holiday shoppers that went out and in at the big stores, carrying bundles big and small, all alike filled with Christmas cheer and kindly messages from Santa Claus.

It shone down so gayly and altogether cheerily there, that wraps and overcoats were unbuttoned for the north wind to toy with. “My, isn’t it a nice day?” said one young lady in a fur shoulder-cape to a friend, pausing to kiss and compare lists of Christmas gifts.

“Most too hot,” was the reply, and the friends passed on. There was warmth within and without. Life was very pleasant under the Christmas sun up on the avenue.

Down in Cherry Street the rays of the sun climbed over a row of tall tenements with an effort that seemed to exhaust all the life that was in them, and fell into a dirty block, half-choked with trucks, with ash-barrels and rubbish of all sorts, among which the dust was whirled in clouds upon fitful, shivering blasts that searched every nook and cranny of the big barracks. They fell upon a little girl, bare-footed and in rags, who struggled out of an alley with a broken pitcher in her grimy fist, against the wind that set down the narrow slit like the draught through a big factory chimney. Just at the mouth of the alley it took her with a sudden whirl, a cyclone of dust and drifting ashes, tossed her fairly off her feet, tore from her grip the threadbare shawl she clutched at her throat, and set her down at the saloon-door breathless and half-smothered. She had just time to dodge through the storm-doors before another whirlwind swept whistling down the street.

“My, but isn’t it cold?” she said, as she shook the dust out of her shawl and set the pitcher down on the bar. “Gimme a pint,” laying down a few pennies that had been wrapped in a corner of the shawl, “and mamma says make it good and full.”

“All’us the way with youse kids—want a barrel when yees pays fer a pint,” growled the bartender. “There, run along, and don’t ye hang around that stove no more. We ain’t a steam-heatin’ the block fer nothin’.”

The little girl clutched her shawl and the pitcher, and slipped out into the street where the wind lay in ambush and promptly bore down on her in pillars of whirling dust as soon as she appeared. But the sun that pitied her bare feet and little frozen hands played a trick on old Boreas—it showed her a way between the pillars, and only just her skirt was caught by one and whirled over her head as she dodged into her alley. It peeped after her half-way down its dark depths, where it seemed colder even than in the bleak street, but there it had to leave her.

It did not see her dive through the doorless opening into a hall where no sun-ray had ever entered. It could not have found its way in there had it tried. But up the narrow, squeaking stairs the girl with the pitcher was climbing. Up one flight of stairs, over a knot of children, half babies, pitching pennies on the landing, over wash-tubs and bedsteads that encumbered the next—house-cleaning going on in that “flat;” that is to say, the surplus of bugs was being burned out with petroleum and a feather—up still another, past a half-open door through which came the noise of brawling and curses. She dodged and quickened her step a little until she stood panting before a door on the fourth landing that opened readily as she pushed it with her bare foot.

A room almost devoid of stick or rag one might dignify with the name of furniture. Two chairs, one with a broken back, the other on three legs, beside a rickety table that stood upright only by leaning against the wall. On the unwashed floor a heap of straw covered with dirty bed-tick for a bed; a foul-smelling slop-pail in the middle of the room; a crazy stove, and back of it a door or gap opening upon darkness. There was something in there, but what it was could only be surmised from a heavy snore that rose and fell regularly. It was the bedroom of the apartment, windowless, airless, and sunless, but rented at a price a millionaire would denounce as robbery.

“That you, Liza?” said a voice that discovered a woman bending over the stove. “Run ‘n’ get the childer. Dinner’s ready.”

The winter sun glancing down the wall of the opposite tenement, with a hopeless effort to cheer the backyard, might have peeped through the one window of the room in Mrs. McGroarty’s “flat,” had that window not been coated with the dust of ages, and discovered that dinner-party in action. It might have found a hundred like it in the alley. Four unkempt children, copies each in his or her way of Liza and their mother, Mrs. McGroarty, who “did washing” for a living. A meat bone, a “cut” from the butcher’s at four cents a pound, green pickles, stale bread and beer. Beer for the four, a sup all round, the baby included. Why not? It was the one relish the searching ray would have found there. Potatoes were there, too—potatoes and meat! Say not the poor in the tenements are starving. In New York only those starve who cannot get work and have not the courage to beg. Fifty thousand always out of a job, say those who pretend to know. A round half-million asking and getting charity in eight years, say the statisticians of the Charity Organization. Any one can go round and see for himself that no one need starve in New York.

From across the yard the sunbeam, as it crept up the wall, fell slantingly through the attic window whence issued the sound of hammer-blows. A man with a hard face stood in its light, driving nails into the lid of a soap-box that was partly filled with straw. Something else was there; as he shifted the lid that didn’t fit, the glimpse of sunshine fell across it; it was a dead child, a little baby in a white slip, bedded in straw in a soap-box for a coffin. The man was hammering down the lid to take it to the Potter’s Field. At the bed knelt the mother, dry-eyed, delirious from starvation that had killed her child. Five hungry, frightened children cowered in the corner, hardly daring to whisper as they looked from the father to the mother in terror.

There was a knock on the door that was drowned once, twice, in the noise of the hammer on the little coffin. Then it was opened gently, and a young woman came in with a basket. A little silver cross shone upon her breast. She went to the poor mother, and putting her hand soothingly on her head knelt by her with gentle and loving words. The half-crazed woman listened with averted face, then suddenly burst into tears and hid her throbbing head in the other’s lap.

The man stopped hammering and stared fixedly upon the two; the children gathered around with devouring looks as the visitor took from her basket bread, meat, and tea. Just then, with a parting, wistful look into the bare attic room, the sun-ray slipped away, lingered for a moment about the coping outside and fled over the house-tops.

As it sped on its winter-day journey, did it shine into any cabin in an Irish bog more desolate than these Cherry Street “homes?” An army of thousands whose one bright and wholesome memory, only tradition of home, is that poverty-stricken cabin in the desolate bog, are herded in such barracks to-day in New York. Potatoes they have; yes, and meat at four cents—even seven. Beer for a relish—never without beer. But home? The home that was home even in a bog, with the love of it that has made Ireland immortal and a tower of strength in the midst of her suffering—what of that? There are no homes in New York’s poor tenements.

Down the crooked path of the Mulberry Street Bend the sunlight slanted into the heart of New York’s Italy. It shone upon bandannas and yellow neckerchiefs; upon swarthy faces and corduroy breeches; upon blackhaired girls—mothers at thirteen; upon hosts of bow-legged children rolling in the dirt; upon pedlers’ carts and ragpickers staggering under burdens that threatened to crush them at every step. Shone upon unnumbered Pasquales dwelling, working, idling, and gambling there. Shone upon the filthiest and foulest of New York’s tenements, upon Bandits’ Roost, upon Bottle Alley, upon the hidden by-ways that lead to the tramp’s burrows. Shone upon the scene of annual infant slaughter. Shone into the foul core of New York’s slums that is at last to go to the realm of bad memories because civilized man may not look upon it and live without blushing.

It glanced past the rag-shop in the cellar, whence welled up stenches to poison the town, into an apartment three flights up that held two women, one young, the other old and bent. The young one had a baby at her breast. She was rocking it tenderly in her arms, singing in the soft Italian tongue a lullaby, while the old granny listened eagerly, her elbows on her knees, and a stumpy clay-pipe, blackened with age, between her teeth. Her eyes were set on the wall, on which the musty paper hung in tatters, fit frame for the wretched, poverty-stricken room, but they saw neither poverty nor want; her aged limbs felt not the cold draught from without, in which they shivered; they looked far over the seas to sunny Italy, whose music was in her ears.

“O dolce Napoli,” she mumbled between her toothless jaws, “O suol beato——”

The song ended in a burst of passionate grief. The old granny and the baby woke up at once. They were not in sunny Italy; not under Southern, cloudless skies. They were in “The Bend” in Mulberry Street, and the wintry wind rattled the door as if it would say, in the language of their new home, the land of the free: “Less music! More work! Root, hog, or die!”

Around the corner the sunbeam danced with the wind into Mott Street, lifted the blouse of a Chinaman and made it play tag with his pig-tail. It used him so roughly that he was glad to skip from it down a cellar-way that gave out fumes of opium strong enough to scare even the north wind from its purpose. The soles of his felt shoes showed as he disappeared down the ladder that passed for cellar-steps. Down there, where daylight never came, a group of yellow, almond-eyed men were bending over a table playing fan-tan. Their very souls were in the game, every faculty of the mind bent on the issue and the stake. The one blouse that was indifferent to what went on was stretched on a mat in a corner. One end of a clumsy pipe was in his mouth, the other held over a little spirit-lamp on the divan on which he lay. Something spluttered in the flame with a pungent, unpleasant smell. The smoker took a long draught, inhaling the white smoke, then sank back on his couch in senseless content.

Upstairs tiptoed the noiseless felt shoes, bent on some house errand, to the “household” floors above, where young white girls from the tenements of The Bend and the East Side live in slavery worse, if not more galling, than any of the galley with ball and chain—the slavery of the pipe. Four, eight, sixteen—twenty odd such “homes” in this tenement, disgracing the very name of home and family, for marriage and troth are not in the bargain.

In one room, between the half-drawn curtains of which the sunbeam works its way in, three girls are lying on as many bunks, smoking all. They are very young, “under age,” though each and every one would glibly swear in court to the satisfaction of the police that she is sixteen, and therefore free to make her own bad choice. Of these, one was brought up among the rugged hills of Maine; the other two are from the tenement crowds, hardly missed there. But their companion? She is twirling the sticky brown pill over the lamp, preparing to fill the bowl of her pipe with it. As she does so, the sunbeam dances across the bed, kisses the red spot on her cheek that betrays the secret her tyrant long has known, though to her it is hidden yet—that the pipe has claimed its victim and soon will pass it on to the Potter’s Field.

“Nell,” says one of her chums in the other bunk, something stirred within her by the flash—”Nell, did you hear from the old farm to home since you come here?”

Nell turns half around, with the toasting-stick in her hand, an ugly look on her wasted features, a vile oath on her lips.

“To hell with the old farm,” she says, and putting the pipe to her mouth inhales it all, every bit, in one long breath, then falls back on her pillow in drunken stupor.

That is what the sun of a winter day saw and heard in Mott Street.

It had travelled far toward the west, searching many dark corners and vainly seeking entry to others; had gilt with equal impartiality the spires of five hundred churches and the tin cornices of thirty thousand tenements, with their million tenants and more; had smiled courage and cheer to patient mothers trying to make the most of life in the teeming crowds, that had too little sunshine by far; hope to toiling fathers striving early and late for bread to fill the many mouths clamoring to be fed.

The brief December day was far spent. Now its rays fell across the North River and lighted up the windows of the tenements in Hell’s Kitchen and Poverty Gap. In the Gap especially they made a brave show; the windows of the crazy old frame-house under the big tree that set back from the street looked as if they were made of beaten gold. But the glory did not cross the threshold. Within it was dark and dreary and cold. The room at the foot of the rickety, patched stairs was empty. The last tenant was beaten to death by her husband in his drunken fury. The sun’s rays shunned the spot ever after, though it was long since it could have made out the red daub from the mould on the rotten floor.

Upstairs, in the cold attic, where the wind wailed mournfully through every open crack, a little girl sat sobbing as if her heart would break. She hugged an old doll to her breast. The paint was gone from its face; the yellow hair was in a tangle; its clothes hung in rags. But she only hugged it closer. It was her doll. They had been friends so long, shared hunger and hardship together, and now——.

Her tears fell faster. One drop trembled upon the wan cheek of the doll. The last sunbeam shot athwart it and made it glisten like a priceless jewel. Its glory grew and filled the room. Gone were the black walls, the darkness and the cold. There was warmth and light and joy. Merry voices and glad faces were all about. A flock of children danced with gleeful shouts about a great Christmas-tree in the middle of the floor. Upon its branches hung drums and trumpets and toys, and countless candles gleamed like beautiful stars. Farthest up, at the very top, her doll, her very own, with arms outstretched, as if appealing to be taken down and hugged. She knew it, knew the mission-school that had seen her first and only real Christmas, knew the gentle face of her teacher, and the writing on the wall she had taught her to spell out: “In His Name.” His name, who, she had said, was all little children’s friend. Was he also her dolly’s friend, and would know it among the strange people?

The light went out; the glory faded. The bare room, only colder and more cheerless than before, was left. The child shivered. Only that morning the doctor had told her mother that she must have medicine and food and warmth, or she must go to the great hospital where papa had gone before, when their money was all spent. Sorrow and want had laid the mother upon the bed he had barely left. Every stick of furniture, every stitch of clothing on which money could be borrowed, had gone to the pawnbroker. Last of all, she had carried mamma’s wedding-ring, to pay the druggist. Now there was no more left, and they had nothing to eat. In a little while mamma would wake up, hungry.

The little girl smothered a last sob and rose quickly. She wrapped the doll in a threadbare shawl, as well as she could, tiptoed to the door and listened a moment to the feeble breathing of the sick mother within. Then she went out, shutting the door softly behind her, lest she wake her.

Up the street she went, the way she knew so well, one block and a turn round the saloon corner, the sunset glow kissing the track of her bare feet in the snow as she went, to a door that rang a noisy bell as she opened it and went in. A musty smell filled the close room. Packages, great and small, lay piled high on shelves behind the worn counter. A slovenly woman was haggling with the pawnbroker about the money for a skirt she had brought to pledge.

“Not a cent more than a quarter,” he said, contemptuously, tossing the garment aside. “It’s half worn out it is, dragging it back and forth over the counter these six months. Take it or leave it. Hallo! What have we here? Little Finnegan, eh? Your mother not dead yet? It’s in the poor-house ye will be if she lasts much longer. What the——”

He had taken the package from the trembling child’s hand—the precious doll—and unrolled the shawl. A moment he stood staring in dumb amazement at its contents. Then he caught it up and flung it with an angry oath upon the floor, where it was shivered against the coal-box.

“Get out o’ here, ye Finnegan brat,” he shouted; “I’ll tache ye to come a’guyin’ o’ me. I’ll——”

The door closed with a bang upon the frightened child, alone in the cold night. The sun saw not its home-coming. It had hidden behind the night-clouds, weary of the sight of man and his cruelty.

Evening had worn into night. The busy city slept. Down by the wharves, now deserted, a poor boy sat on the bulwark, hungry, footsore, and shivering with cold. He sat thinking of friends and home, thousands of miles away over the sea, whom he had left six months before to go among strangers. He had been alone ever since, but never more so than that night. His money gone, no work to be found, he had slept in the streets for nights. That day he had eaten nothing; he would rather die than beg, and one of the two he must do soon.

There was the dark river, rushing at his feet; the swirl of the unseen waters whispered to him of rest and peace he had not known since——it was so cold—and who was there to care, he thought bitterly. No one who would ever know. He moved a little nearer the edge, and listened more intently.

A low whine fell on his ear, and a cold, wet face was pressed against his. A little, crippled dog that had been crouching silently beside him nestled in his lap. He had picked it up in the street, as forlorn and friendless as himself, and it had stayed by him. Its touch recalled him to himself. He got up hastily, and, taking the dog in his arms, went to the police station near by and asked for shelter. It was the first time he had accepted even such charity, and as he lay down on his rough plank he hugged a little gold locket he wore around his neck, the last link with better days, and thought, with a hard, dry sob, of home.

In the middle of the night he awoke with a start. The locket was gone. One of the tramps who slept with him had stolen it. With bitter tears he went up and complained to the Sergeant at the desk, and the Sergeant ordered him to be kicked out in the street as a liar, if not a thief. How should a tramp boy have come honestly by a gold locket? The doorman put him out as he was bidden, and when the little dog showed its teeth, a policeman seized it and clubbed it to death on the step.

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Far from the slumbering city the rising moon shines over a wide expanse of glistening water. It silvers the snow upon a barren heath between two shores, and shortens with each passing minute the shadows of countless headstones that bear no names, only numbers. The breakers that beat against the bluff wake not those who sleep there. In the deep trenches they lie, shoulder to shoulder, an army of brothers, homeless in life, but here at rest and at peace. A great cross stands upon the lonely shore. The moon sheds its rays upon it in silent benediction and floods the garden of the unknown, unmourned dead with its soft light. Out on the Sound the fishermen see it flashing white against the starlit sky, and bare their heads reverently as their boats speed by, borne upon the wings of the west wind.

Nibsy’s Christmas, by Jacob A. Riis

Nibsy's-ChristmasIt was Christmas-eve over on the East Side. Darkness was closing in on a cold, hard day. The light that struggled through the frozen windows of the delicatessen store, and the saloon on the corner, fell upon men with empty dinner-pails who were hurrying homeward, their coats buttoned tightly, and heads bent against the steady blast from the river, as if they were butting their way down the street.

The wind had forced the door of the saloon ajar, and was whistling through the crack; but in there it seemed to make no one afraid. Between roars of laughter, the clink of glasses and the rattle of dice on the hard-wood counter were heard out in the street. More than one of the passers-by who came within range was taken with an extra shiver in which the vision of wife and little ones waiting at home for his coming was snuffed out, as he dropped in to brace up. The lights were long out when the silent streets re-echoed his unsteady steps toward home, where the Christmas welcome had turned to dread.

But in this twilight hour they burned brightly yet, trying hard to pierce the bitter cold outside with a ray of warmth and cheer. Where the lamps in the delicatessen store made a mottled streak of brightness across the flags, two little boys stood with their noses flattened against the window. Their warm breath made little round holes on the frosty pane, that came and went, affording passing glimpses of the wealth within, of the piles of smoked herring, of golden cheese, of sliced bacon and generous, fat-bellied hams; of the rows of odd-shaped bottles and jars on the shelves that held there was no telling what good things, only it was certain that they must be good from the looks of them.

And the heavenly smell of spices and things that reached the boys through the open door each time the tinkling bell announced the coming or going of a customer! Better than all, back there on the top shelf the stacks of square honey-cakes, with their frosty coats of sugar, tied in bundles with strips of blue paper.

The wind blew straight through the patched and threadbare jackets of the lads as they crept closer to the window, struggling hard with the frost to make their peep-holes bigger, to take in the whole of the big cake with the almonds set in; but they did not heed it.

“Jim!” piped the smaller of the two, after a longer stare than usual; “hey, Jim! them’s Sante Clause’s. See ‘em?”

“Sante Claus!” snorted the other, scornfully, applying his eye to the clear spot on the pane. “There ain’t no ole duffer like dat. Them’s honey-cakes. Me ‘n’ Tom had a bite o’ one wunst.”

“There ain’t no Sante Claus?” retorted the smaller shaver, hotly, at his peep-hole. “There is, too. I seen him myself when he cum to our alley last——”

“What’s youse kids a-scrappin’ fur?” broke in a strange voice.

Another boy, bigger, but dirtier and tougher looking than either of the two, had come up behind them unobserved. He carried an armful of unsold “extras” under one arm. The other was buried to the elbow in the pocket of his ragged trousers.

The “kids” knew him, evidently, and the smallest eagerly accepted him as umpire.

“It’s Jim w’at says there ain’t no Sante Claus, and I seen him——”

“Jim!” demanded the elder ragamuffin, sternly, looking hard at the culprit; “Jim! y’ere a chump! No Sante Claus? What’re ye givin’ us? Now, watch me!”

With utter amazement the boys saw him disappear through the door under the tinkling bell into the charmed precincts of smoked herring, jam, and honey-cakes. Petrified at their peep-holes, they watched him, in the veritable presence of Santa Claus himself with the fir-branch, fish out five battered pennies from the depths of his pocket and pass them over to the woman behind the jars, in exchange for one of the bundles of honey-cakes tied with blue. As if in a dream they saw him issue forth with the coveted prize.

“There, kid!” he said, holding out the two fattest and whitest cakes to Santa Claus’s champion; “there’s yer Christmas. Run along, now, to yer barracks; and you, Jim, here’s one for you, though yer don’t desarve it. Mind ye let the kid alone.”

“This one’ll have to do for me grub, I guess. I ain’t sold me ‘Newses,’ and the ole man’ll kick if I bring ‘em home.”

And before the shuffling feet of the ragamuffins hurrying homeward had turned the corner, the last mouthful of the newsboy’s supper was smothered in a yell of “Extree!” as he shot across the street to intercept a passing stranger.

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As the evening wore on it grew rawer and more blustering still. Flakes of dry snow that stayed where they fell, slowly tracing the curb-lines, the shutters, and the doorsteps of the tenements with gathering white, were borne up on the storm from the water. To the right and left stretched endless streets between the towering barracks, as beneath frowning cliffs pierced with a thousand glowing eyes that revealed the watch-fires within—a mighty city of cave-dwellers held in the thraldom of poverty and want.

Outside there was yet hurrying to and fro. Saloon doors were slamming and bare-legged urchins, carrying beer-jugs, hugged the walls close for shelter. From the depths of a blind alley floated out the discordant strains of a vagabond brass band “blowing in” the yule of the poor. Banished by police ordinance from the street, it reaped a scant harvest of pennies for Christmas-cheer from the windows opening on the backyard. Against more than one pane showed the bald outline of a forlorn little Christmas-tree, some stray branch of a hemlock picked up at the grocer’s and set in a pail for “the childer” to dance around, a dime’s worth of candy and tinsel on the boughs.

From the attic over the way came, in spells between, the gentle tones of a German song about the Christ-child. Christmas in the East-Side tenements begins with the sunset on the “holy eve,” except where the name is as a threat or a taunt. In a hundred such homes the whir of many sewing-machines, worked by the sweater’s slaves with weary feet and aching backs, drowned every feeble note of joy that struggled to make itself heard above the noise of the great treadmill.

To these what was Christmas but the name for persecution, for suffering, reminder of lost kindred and liberty, of the slavery of eighteen hundred years, freedom from which was purchased only with gold. Aye, gold! The gold that had power to buy freedom yet, to buy the good will, aye, and the good name, of the oppressor, with his houses and land. At the thought the tired eye glistened, the aching back straightened, and to the weary foot there came new strength to finish the long task while the city slept.

Where a narrow passage-way put in between two big tenements to a ramshackle rear barrack, Nibsy, the newsboy, halted in the shadow of the doorway and stole a long look down the dark alley.

He toyed uncertainly with his still unsold papers—worn dirty and ragged as his clothes by this time—before he ventured in, picking his way between barrels and heaps of garbage; past the Italian cobbler’s hovel, where a tallow dip, stuck in a cracked beer-glass, before a cheap print of the “Mother of God,” showed that even he knew it was Christmas and liked to show it; past the Sullivan flat, where blows and drunken curses mingled with the shriek of women, as Nibsy had heard many nights before this one.

He shuddered as he felt his way past the door, partly with a premonition of what was in store for himself, if the “old man” was at home, partly with a vague, uncomfortable feeling that somehow Christmas-eve should be different from other nights, even in the alley. Down to its farthest end, to the last rickety flight of steps that led into the filth and darkness of the tenement. Up this he crept, three flights, to a door at which he stopped and listened, hesitating, as he had stopped at the entrance to the alley; then, with a sudden, defiant gesture, he pushed it open and went in.

A bare and cheerless room; a pile of rags for a bed in the corner, another in the dark alcove, miscalled bedroom; under the window a broken cradle and an iron-bound chest, upon which sat a sad-eyed woman with hard lines in her face, peeling potatoes in a pan; in the middle of the room a rusty stove, with a pile of wood, chopped on the floor alongside. A man on his knees in front fanning the fire with an old slouch hat. With each breath of draught he stirred, the crazy old pipe belched forth torrents of smoke at every point. As Nibsy entered, the man desisted from his efforts and sat up glaring at him. A villainous ruffian’s face, scowling with anger.

“Late ag’in!” he growled; “an’ yer papers not sold. What did I tell yer, brat, if ye dared——”

“Tom! Tom!” broke in the wife, in a desperate attempt to soothe the ruffian’s temper.

“The boy can’t help it, an’ it’s Christmas-eve. For the love o’——”

“To thunder with yer rot and with yer brat!” shouted the man, mad with the fury of passion. “Let me at him!” and, reaching over, he seized a heavy knot of wood and flung it at the head of the boy.

Nibsy had remained just inside the door, edging slowly toward his mother, but with a watchful eye on the man at the stove. At the first movement of his hand toward the woodpile he sprang for the stairway with the agility of a cat, and just dodged the missile. It struck the door, as he slammed it behind him, with force enough to smash the panel.

Down the three flights in as many jumps Nibsy went, and through the alley, over barrels and barriers, never stopping once till he reached the street, and curses and shouts were left behind.

In his flight he had lost his unsold papers, and he felt ruefully in his pocket as he went down the street, pulling his rags about him as much from shame as to keep out the cold.

Four pennies were all he had left after his Christmas treat to the two little lads from the barracks; not enough for supper or for a bed; and it was getting colder all the time.

On the sidewalk in front of the notion store a belated Christmas party was in progress. The children from the tenements in the alley and across the way were having a game of blindman’s-buff, groping blindly about in the crowd to catch each other. They hailed Nibsy with shouts of laughter, calling to him to join in.

“We’re having Christmas!” they yelled.

Nibsy did not hear them. He was thinking, thinking, the while turning over his four pennies at the bottom of his pocket.

Thinking if Christmas was ever to come to him, and the children’s Santa Claus to find his alley where the baby slept within reach of her father’s cruel hand. As for him, he had never known anything but blows and curses. He could take care of himself. But his mother and the baby——. And then it came to him with shuddering cold that it was getting late, and that he must find a place to sleep.

He weighed in his mind the merits of two or three places where he was in the habit of hiding from the “cops” when the alley got to be too hot for him.

There was the hay-barge down by the dock, with the watchman who got drunk sometimes, and so gave the boys a chance. The chances were at least even of its being available on Christmas-eve, and of Santa Claus having thus done him a good turn after all.

Then there was the snug berth in the sandbox you could curl all up in. Nibsy thought with regret of its being, like the hay-barge, so far away and to windward too.

Down by the printing-offices there were the steam-gratings, and a chance corner in the cellars, stories and stories underground, where the big presses keep up such a clatter from midnight till far into the day.

As he passed them in review, Nibsy made up his mind with sudden determination, and, setting his face toward the south, made off down town.

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The rumble of the last departing news-wagon over the pavement, now buried deep in snow, had died away in the distance, when, from out of the bowels of the earth there issued a cry, a cry of mortal terror and pain that was echoed by a hundred throats.

From one of the deep cellar-ways a man ran out, his clothes and hair and beard afire; on his heels a breathless throng of men and boys; following them, close behind, a rush of smoke and fire.

The clatter of the presses ceased suddenly, to be followed quickly by the clangor of hurrying fire-bells. With hook and axes the firemen rushed in; hose was let down through the manholes, and down there in the depths the battle was fought and won.

The building was saved; but in the midst of the rejoicing over the victory there fell a sudden silence. From the cellar-way a grimy, helmeted figure arose, with something black and scorched in his arms. A tarpaulin was spread upon the snow and upon it he laid his burden, while the silent crowd made room and word went over to the hospital for the doctor to come quickly.

Very gently they lifted poor little Nibsy—for it was he, caught in his berth by a worse enemy than the “cop” or the watchman of the hay-barge—into the ambulance that bore him off to the hospital cot, too late.

Conscious only of a vague discomfort that had succeeded terror and pain, Nibsy wondered uneasily why they were all so kind. Nobody had taken the trouble to as much as notice him before. When he had thrust his papers into their very faces they had pushed him roughly aside. Nibsy, unhurt and able to fight his way, never had a show. Sick and maimed and sore, he was being made much of, though he had been caught where the boys were forbidden to go. Things were queer, anyhow, and——

The room was getting so dark that he could hardly see the doctor’s kindly face, and had to grip his hand tightly to make sure that he was there; almost as dark as the stairs in the alley he had come down in such a hurry.

There was the baby now—poor baby—and mother—and then a great blank, and it was all a mystery to poor Nibsy no longer. For, just as a wild-eyed woman pushed her way through the crowd of nurses and doctors to his bedside, crying for her boy, Nibsy gave up his soul to God.

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It was very quiet in the alley. Christmas had come and gone. Upon the last door a bow of soiled crape was nailed up with two tacks. It had done duty there a dozen times before, that year.

Upstairs, Nibsy was at home, and for once the neighbors, one and all, old and young, came to see him.

Even the father, ruffian that he was, offered no objection. Cowed and silent, he sat in the corner by the window farthest from where the plain little coffin stood, with the lid closed down.

A couple of the neighbor-women were talking in low tones by the stove, when there came a timid knock at the door. Nobody answering, it was pushed open, first a little, then far enough to admit the shrinking form of a little ragamuffin, the smaller of the two who had stood breathing peep-holes on the window-pane of the delicatessen store the night before when Nibsy came along.

He dragged with him a hemlock branch, the leavings from some Christmas-tree fitted into its block by the grocer for a customer.

“It’s from Sante Claus,” he said, laying it on the coffin. “Nibsy knows.” And he went out.

Santa Claus had come to Nibsy, after all, in his alley. And Nibsy knew.

A Nazareth Christmas , by Mrs. Charles J. Woodbury

42-21439419“Now, tell us, mother, again—as ever this night—the story of our brother’s birth.”

“Yes, dear mother, and not forgetting the star; for us no story is like this, not even the story of young King David, although in truth, that is a goodly tale.”

“Then sit, children; lend me your aid with the gifts; and now, as dark comes on, while yet your father and brother are not returned from their work, I will repeat again the oft-told story. I see not how I can forget aught, for it seems ever before me.

“You must know it was between the wet time and the dry when your father and I went up to Judea to be enrolled. Bethlehem was our city. There were a great many journeying in our company to the House of Bread. I was not strong in those days; and so your father obtained an ass for me to ride, while he walked by my side. We traveled slowly, and the early night had already set in when we passed where Rachel rests, and reached the village. In front of the inn at which your father intended stopping, he left my side a moment, while he went to arrange for our stay; but he straightway returned, saying there was no room for us. So we were compelled to go farther; and it was late,—how late I know not,—before we found rest; for at every inn where your father knocked the answer was the same: ‘No room!’ ‘No room!’ Your father bore up bravely, though he had the harder part; while, in my childishness, I was fain to kneel in the chalk-dust of the road, and seek what rest I could. But he upheld me, until, at last, one inn-keeper, seeing what a child I was in truth took pity on me and said:

“I am able to do no more for you than for my poor cattle; but I can give you shelter with them in the cavern stable and a bed if only straw.”

“And, children, I was very thankful for this. I had been told before that to me a Prince should be born; that, girl as I was, as mother, should clasp in my arms a Savior-child. I believed the words of the angel,—for was I not of the house of David?—and ever treasured them in my heart. Now, how strange should it be that not in my peaceful Nazareth, not in this, our own home, but: there, and that weary night of all nights, beside me on the straw should be laid my infant son!

“I knew immediately what to call him, for, as I have often told you, the angel had named him ‘Jesus.’ ‘Even so,’ the angel had said; ‘for he shall save his people from their sins.’ I have wondered much what that means for your brother.”

“Watch well your work, children! Burn not the cakes. Fold with care the mantles and the coats. This garment we will lay aside for patches. It repays not labor to put new to old; and, James, test well the skins before you fill them with the wine. We know not to whom your brother bears the gifts of his handiwork to-night, but he knows who needs them most, and naught must be lost or wasted.

“Where was I in the story, children?”

“The baby on the hay, sweet mother.”

“Ah, yes, I mind me now. I took him in my arms. To me no child had ever looked the same. But now, a marvel! The rock stable, which before had seemed dark indeed, lighted only by our dim lamps, suddenly shone full of light. I raised my eyes, and there, before and above me, seemingly through a rent in the roof, I beheld a most large and luminous star. Verily, I had not seen the opening in the roof when I had lain me down, but now I could do naught else but look from my baby’s face beside me, along the floods of light to the star before.

“And now, without, rose a cry: ‘We are come to behold the King. We are guided.’ And, entering the stable, clad in their coats of sheepskin, with their slings and crooks yet in their hands, came shepherds, I cannot now recall the number.”

“I had wrapped my babe in his clothes, and had lain him in his manger. And now it was so that as soon as their eyes fell upon his face, they sank to their knees and worshiped him.”

“‘Heard you not,’ spake a white-bearded shepherd to me; ‘heard you not, young Mother Mary, the angels’ song?’”

“‘Meseems I have long heard it, and can hear naught else, good father,’ I answered.”

“To us it came,’ he said, ‘in the first watch of this night, and with it music not of earth.’”

“Afterward came the learned ones from the Eastern countries,—I know not now the land. The gifts they brought him made all the place seem like a king’s palace; and with all their gifts they gave him worship also.”

“And I lay watching it all. And it shall be always so, I thought.”

“But these, though wise men, were not of our race, and could not follow the guiding star with our faith. Wherefore, so much stir had they made throughout the kingdom, inquiring publicly concerning this, your brother, that, through the jealousy of Herod, great was the trouble and misery that fell upon the innocent after their going.”

“But hearken, children; I hear even now your father and your brother coming from their work. Place quickly the gifts within the basket.”

It is a gentle figure that bends among mother and children, and a tender voice that questions:

“Shall I bear forth the gifts?”

“They are ready now, my son. Even this moment thy brother James placed the last within the basket, but canst thou not partake of the evening meal before thou goest with them? Thou art but a lad, to go forth alone after a day of toil.”

“Nay, but I must be about the Master’s work; and, look, the stars are rising. I should tarry not, for they who toil long rest early.”

“For whom is thy service to-night, my son? Last birth-night it was to the sorrowing; before that to the blind, and even yet to the deaf and the lame. And whither tend thy footsteps now?”

“To the tempted ones, mother.”

“And thou shalt stay their feet, dear boy, for rememberest not the Immanuels of last year? How the sorrowful found strange, staying joy in their hearts? How the blind said, as thou named their gifts, and placed them in their hands, that it seemed they could straightway behold them? How even the dumb gave forth pleasant sounds like music from their helpless tongues? and how even the lame well-nigh leaped from their lameness, for the light of thy young face? But when thou comest to thy crown and throne thou needest not got forth alone upon thy birth-night, but send out thy gifts with love and plenty.”

“I know not, my mother.”

“But all will be thine? What said the angel: ‘The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David; and of his kingdom there shall be no end!’ It may be soon, we know not, for lo! King David was but a boy, and at his daily toil, when he was called to reign over the house of Jacob. Forget not, thou art born the King.”

“Oh, gladden not thy heart, loved mother, with this joy. I seek not to behold the future, but I see not in this world my kingdom, for the rose blossoms I pluck from out the hedge-rows fall; and it is their thorn branch that ever within my hands twines into a crown.”

A Story That Never Ends, by Mrs. Charles J. Woodbury

Tommy was very angry. He rushed up-stairs and into his mother’s room, utterly forgetting his knock or “Am I welcome, mother?”

“Bang!” echoed the door behind him with a noise that resounded over the whole house. Why he was angry was plain enough. His eye was black, nose bleeding, coat torn, collar hanging. His mother took it off as he bent over the wash-bowl.

“Oh, Tommy,” she said, “you’ve been fighting again.”

“Well, mother,” he exclaimed, “what do you expect me to do? That Bob Sykes threw rocks at me again and called me names. He said I was—”

“Hush,” said his mother, “you only grow more angry as you speak. Is it hard for you now to remember the rule, ‘The good things about others, the naughty things about yourself”?”

“Good! There is nothing good about him. I hate him. I wish he was dead, I do. I wish I could kill him.”

Sternly his mother took him by the arm and led him before the mirror. One look at the face he saw there silenced him.

“To all intents and purposes you have killed him. ‘Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.’ You cannot but remember who said it, Tommy. It is late in the afternoon. The sun is going down. To-morrow is His birthday. Hadn’t you better forgive Bob?”

“The sun may go down and the sun may come up for all I care,” he answered, “I’ll never forgive him.”

Without further word his mother bathed his heated face and led him to her bed. “Lie down and rest,” she said, “you are over excited. Quiet will help you.”

He lay and looked at her as she sat quietly and gravely at her work under the Picture. Ever since he could remember, her chair at this hour of the day had been in that corner, and low over it had always hung, just as it hung now, that Picture so often explained to him, “The Walk to Emmaus.” How calm and quiet his mother was; and the room, how still and cool after that crowded street! Shutting his aching eyes he could see it again now; the swearing mob of boys and men shoving him on, their brutal faces and gestures, the quarrel, the blows—those he had given and taken—he felt them again, and the burning choke of the final grip and wrestle.

Oh, how his head throbbed and ached! It seemed as if the blood would burst through.

42-21527318He opened his eyes again. The room was growing darker. He almost forgot his pain for a few moments, noticing how the sunlight was straightened to a narrow lane which reached from the extreme southern end of the window to the floor in front of his mother’s chair. He watched the last rays as they slowly left the floor and stole up her dress to her lap and her breast, leaving all behind and below in shadow. Now they had reached her face. It was bent over her work. Well he knew that was some Christmas gift, may be for him,—some Christmas gift, and to-morrow was Christmas! He looked again to see if he could discover what she was making, but the light had left her now, and had risen to the Picture.

Queer picture that it was! What funny clothes those men wore! Those long gabardines, mother had called them, reaching almost to the ground; shoes that showed the toes, and hoods for hats. One of them had none. How closely they looked at him!. They didn’t even see which way they were going, and what a long way it was, stretching out there, dusty and hot.

The room was quite dark now save for the light on the narrow road there. What was yonder little village in the distance? What kind of a place was Emmaus? His mother had told him about it; only one street, a long and narrow one; and very few trees; and one or two trading shops only; and the houses low and flat-roofed, with no glass in them; and the sun shining down hot and straight between them,—and (oh, how his head ached!) he was out there looking for Bob Sykes. Maybe that was he lying on this rude bench with the low cedar-bush over it. If it were, he would settle matters with him quick. He would show him—but it wasn’t Bob, it was only a sheep-dog asleep. So Tommy turned away and walked slowly along the middle of the street. His face burned with the heat of the sun on his bruises. He was very thirsty. Climbing a little hill over which the road lay, he saw on the other side of it another boy coming toward him. He was rather a peculiar looking boy, with a face thoughtful but pleasant. He was carrying a heavy sheepskin bag over his shoulder. Tommy determined to ask him if he knew where there was some water.

“Hello,” he said, as the boy drew near.

The boy stopped and smiled at Tommy without making reply.

“Where are you going?” said Tommy.

“I am carrying this bag of tools to my father,” the boy answered.

“Do you live here?” asked Tommy. “It doesn’t seem like much of a place.”

“No,” said the boy, “it isn’t much of a place, but I live here.”

“What sort of tools have you got in your bag? Who is your father?”

“My father is a carpenter,” answered the boy.

Tommy gave a long, low whistle. “A carpenter! Why my father owns a store, and we live in one of the best houses in town. Fairfield is the name of my town.”

The boy seemed neither to notice the whistle nor the brag; but, allowing the bag to slip from his shoulders to the ground, stood, still smiling, before Tommy.

Tommy, who somehow had forgotten his pain and thirst, felt embarrassed for a moment. He never before had made that announcement without its awakening at least a little sensation, even if it were no more than a boast in return.

“This is a dull old town,” he finally said. “Many jolly boys around?”

“A good many,” answered the boy.

“Do you get any time to play? I suppose though, you don’t—you have to work most of the time,” added Tommy, encouragingly.

“I work a good deal,” said the boy. “I get time to play, however. I like it.”

“Which, the work or the play?”

“Both.”

“Well,” said Tommy after a pause, “do you ever have any trouble with the boys you play with?”

“No,” said the boy, “I don’t think I do.”

“Well, you must be a queer sort of a boy! Now, there’s Bob Sykes,—perhaps you’ve noticed that my eye is hurt, and my face scratched some. Well, we had a little difficulty just a few moments ago; he insulted me, and I won’t take an insult from any one. And I told him to shut up his mouth, and he sassed me back, and called me names, and said I was stuck up and thought I was better than the other boys, and he’d show me that I wasn’t. Of course, I wouldn’t stand that, so I’ve had a fight,—and it isn’t the first one either.”

“Yes,” said the boy, “I know that. I feel very sorry for Bob. He hasn’t any mother to go to, you know. He had to wash the blood and dirt off his face as best he could at the town pump; and then wait around the streets until his father came from work. It is pretty hard for a boy to have no place to lay his head.”

“Why, do you know Bob Sykes?” asked Tommy.

“Yes,” answered the boy, “I’ve been with him a good deal.”

“Queer now,” mused Tommy. “I don’t remember of ever seeing you around. But now tell me what you would have done if he had provoked you, and insulted you, too?”

“I would have forgiven him,” answered the boy.

“Well, I did. There was one spell I just started in and forgave him every day for a week, that was seven times.”

“I would have forgiven him seventy times seven.”

“That is just what my mother always says. Perhaps you know my mother?”

“She knows me, too,” replied the boy.

“That is odd. I didn’t think she knew any of the boys Bob knows.”

“Bob does not know me,” replied the boy; “I know him.”

Just then Tommy’s attention was attracted by a flock of little brown birds passing over their heads. One of the birds flew low and fluttered as if wounded, and fell in the dust near, where it lay beating its little wings, panting and dying. The boy tenderly picked it up.

“Somebody’s hit him with a sling-shot,” said Tommy, carelessly.

The boy smoothed the bruised wing, and straightened the crushed and broken body. The bird ceased fluttering.

“I’m most sorry,” said Tommy, “I didn’t forgive Bob. It makes me feel bad, what you told me about his having no home. Now, mother is something like you. She don’t mind one’s being poor. Why, if I took Bob home with me, mother wouldn’t seem to see his clothes and ragged shoes. She’d just talk to him and treat him like he was the best dressed boy in town. There’s Bill Logan came home to dinner with me once. Mother made me ask him. He is a real poor boy; has to work. His mother washes. He didn’t know what to do nor how to act. He kept his hands in his pockets most all the time. Aunt Lilly said it was shocking. But mother said, ‘Never mind.’ She said she was glad he had his pockets; for his hands were rough and not too clean, and she thought they mortified him. Father went and kissed her then. Don’t tell this. I don’t know what makes me run on and tell you all these things. I never spoke of them before. But I know father was a poor, young working man when he married mother.”

The boy raised his hand, and the sparrow gave a twitter of delight and flew heavenward.

“Why,” exclaimed Tommy in amazement, “you’ve cured him! He is all right. How did you do it? Do you feel sorry for the sparrows as well as Bob?”

“I pity every sparrow that is hurt,” said the boy, “and isn’t Bob of more consequence than a sparrow?”

“I wish,” said Tommy, “I hadn’t fought with Bob. It was most all my fault. I’ve a good mind to tell him so. I wish I was better acquainted with you. If I played with such a boy as you are, now, I’d be better I am certain. Suppose you come after school nights and play in our yard. Never mind your clothes. Can’t you come?”

“Yes, I will come if you want me to,” answered the boy, looking steadfastly at him a moment; “but now I must be about my father’s business.”

He stooped, lifted the bag of tools to his shoulders, and before Tommy could stay him had moved some steps away.

“Don’t go yet, tell me some more about what you’d do,” and Tommy turned to follow him.

But was it the boy? And was that a bag of tools on his back? It had grown strangely longer and heavier now, so that it dragged on the ground, and the face was the face of the Picture, and lo, it turned toward him, and the hand was raised in benediction and farewell, “I am with you always,” and he was gone.

“Oh! come back, come back,” sobbed Tommy, reaching out his arms and struggling to run after him.

“Poor boy,” said his mother, wiping the blinding tears from his eyes, “your sleep didn’t do you much good.”

“I’ve not been asleep,” said Tommy; “I’ve been talking with—with—Him,” and he spoke low with a longing reverence and pointed to the Picture.

“It was a dream, my child.”

“Mother, it was a vision. I saw Him, when He was a little boy in His own town, Nazareth. And, mother, I even told Him it wasn’t much of a place to live in. He talked to me about Bob. He said you knew Him. I saw him cure a little bird. And oh, mother, He said He would be with me always. He is a little boy like me! I know what to do now. He showed me. I must find Bob; I must have him forgive me. I want to bring him home with me into my bed for to-night.”

He stopped. “Mother,” he said solemnly, “to-morrow is His birthday.”

The Potato Child, by Mrs. Charles J. Woodbury

girlIt was certain that Elsie had a very hard and solitary life.

When Miss Amanda had selected her from among the girls at “The Home,” the motherly matron felt sorry.

“She is a tender-hearted little thing, and a kind word goes a great way with Elsie.”

Miss Amanda looked at the matron as if she were speaking Greek, and said nothing. It was quite plain that few words, either kind or unkind, would pass Miss Amanda’s lips. But “The Home” was more than full, and Miss Amanda Armstrong was a person well known as the leading dressmaker in the city, a person of some money; not obliged to work now if she didn’t wish to. “If cold, she is at least perfectly just,” they all said.

So Elsie went to work for Miss Amanda, and lived in the kitchen. She waited on the door, washed the dishes, cleaned the vegetables, and set the table (Miss Amanda lived alone, and ate in the kitchen). Every Friday she swept the house. Her bed was in a little room in the back attic.

When she came, Miss Amanda handed her a dress and petticoat, and a pair of shoes. “These are to last six months,” she said, “and see you keep yourself clean.” She gave her also one change of stockings and underclothes.

“Here is your room; you do not need a light to go to bed by, and it is not healthy to sleep under too many covers.”

It wasn’t so much what Miss Amanda did to her, for she never struck her, nor in any way ill-treated her; nor was it so much what she said, for she said almost nothing. But she said it all in commands, and the loving little Elsie was just driven into herself.

She had had a darling mother, full of love and tenderness, and Elsie would say to herself, “I must not forget the things mama told me, ‘Love can never die, and kind words can never die.’” But she had no one to love, and she never heard any kind words; so she was a bit worried. “I shall forget how kind words sound, and I shall forget how to love,” sighed the little girl.

She used to long for a doll or cat or something she could call her own and talk to. She asked Miss Amanda, who said “No.” She added, “I have no money to give for such foolishness as a doll, and a cat would eat its head off.”

Miss Amanda had been blessed with no little-girl time. When she was young, she always had been forced to work hard, and she thought it was no worse for Elsie than it had been for herself. I don’t suppose it was; but one looking in on these two could not but feel for both of them.

Elsie would try to talk to herself a little at night, but it was cheerless. Then she would lift up her knee, and draw the sheet about it for a hood, and call it a little girl. She named it Nancy Pullam, and would try to love that; but it almost broke her back when she tried to hug Nancy. “Oh, if I had something to be good to”! she said.

So she began greeting the ladies, when she opened the door, with a cheerful little “Good morning” or “Good afternoon.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Miss Amanda, “it looks forward and pert. It is their place to say ‘Good morning,’ not yours. You have no occasion to speak to your betters, and, anyway, children should be seen and not heard.”

One day, a never-forgotten day, she went down cellar to the bin of potatoes to select some for dinner. She was sorting them over and laying out all of one size, when she took up quite a long one, and lo! it had a little face on it and two eyes and a little hump between for a nose and a long crack below that made a very pretty mouth.

Elsie looked at it joyfully. “It will make me a child,” she said, “no matter if it has no arms or legs; the face is everything.”

She carefully placed it at the end of the bin, and whenever she could slip away without neglecting her work would run down cellar and talk softly to it.

But one day her potato-child was gone! Elsie’s heart gave a big jump, and then fell like lead, and seemed to lie perfectly still; but it commenced to beat again, beat and ache, beat and ache!

She tried to look for the changeling; but the tears made her so that she couldn’t see very well; and there were so many potatoes! She looked every moment she had a chance all the next day, and cried a great deal. “I can never be real happy again,” she thought.

“Don’t cry any more,” said Miss Amanda, “it does not look well when you open the door for my customers. You have enough to eat and wear; what more do you want?”

“Something to love,” said Elsie, but not very loud.

She tried not to cry again, and then she felt worse not-to shed tears, when, perhaps, her dear little potato-child was eaten up.

Two days after, as she was still searching, a little piece of white paper in the far dark corner attracted her attention. She went over and lifted it up. Behind it was a hole, and partly in and partly out of the hole lay her potato-child. I think a rat had dragged it out of the bin. She hugged it to her heart, and cried for joy.

“Oh, my darling, you have come back to me, you have come back!” And then it seemed as if the pink eyes of the potato-child looked up into Elsie’s in affectionate gratitude; and it became plain to Elsie that her child loved her. She was so thankful that she even kissed the little piece of white paper. “If it hadn’t been for you I would never have found my child. I mean to keep you always,” she said, and she wrapped it about her potato-child, and put them in her bosom. “We must never be parted again,” she murmured.

At supper, with many misgivings, she unwrapped her treasure for Miss Amanda, and asked if she could keep it as her own. “I won’t eat any potato for dinner tomorrow if you will give me this,” she said.

“Well,” answered Miss Amanda, “I don’t know as it will do any harm; why do you want it?”

“It is my potato-child. I want to love it.”

“See you lose no time, then,” said Miss Amanda.

And afterward, Elsie never called the potato it, but always “my child.”

She found a fragment of calico, large enough for a dress and skirt, with enough over, a queer, three-cornered piece, which she pinned about the unequal shoulders for a shawl. Upon the bonnet she worked for days.

All this sewing was a great joy to her. Last of all, she begged a bit of frayed muslin from the sweepings for a night-dress. Then she could undress her baby every night.

She must have heard a tiny tuber-voice, for she said, “Now I can never forget the sound of loving words, and the world is full of joy.”

Elsie had a candle-box in her room, with the cover hung on hinges. It served the double purpose of a trunk and a seat. She put her child’s clothes and the scrap of white paper in this box. In the daytime she let her child sit upon the window-sill so she could see the blue sky; but when the weather grew colder she took her down to the kitchen each morning, lest she should suffer.

Sometimes, Miss Amanda watched her closely. “She does her work well, but she is a queer thing. She makes me uneasy,” she thought.

Christmas was coming. Elsie and her mother had always loved Christmas, and had invariably given some gift to each other. After their stockings were hung side by side, Christmas Eve, her mother would take her in her lap and tell her the Christmas story. So now it was a great mercy for Elsie that she had her child to work for.

One day, when she had scrubbed the pantry floor unusually clean, Miss Amanda gave her the privilege of the rag barrel. This resulted in a new Christmas suit of silk and velvet for baby; and this she made.

When Elsie left “The Home” the matron had given her a little needle-book containing a spool of thread and thimble for a good-by present. These now came into good play. She used the lamp shears to cut with.

When all was done the babe looked beautiful, except that it had no stockings. It had not even legs. “I’ll make her a wooden leg, and let her be a cripple, then I shall love her all the better.”

But after she had made the leg, and a very good one, too, she hadn’t the heart to break the skin of her child, and push it in.

“I’ll make the stockings without legs,” she said, and so she did.

Elsie was very careful never to let her child see, or mention before her, how busy she was for Christmas.

She felt very sorry for Miss Amanda, and wished she had something to give her, but she could think of nothing except the piece of white paper she found with her potato-child. The afternoon before Christmas she took it from the candle-box, and smoothed it out upon the cover. It had some writing upon one side. Elsie thought it was very pretty writing—it had so many flourishes. Elsie could not read it, of course, but she hoped Miss Amanda would like it.

How should she give it to her? She didn’t dare hand it to her outright, and she was certain Miss Amanda wouldn’t hang any stocking; so just before dark she slipped into Miss Amanda’s sleeping-room, and laid it on the brown cushion just in front of the mirror.

When Elsie had finished her work she went to her room, pinned her child’s stocking to the foot of the bed and slyly tucked in the new suit she had made. Her own stockings lay flat upon the floor. Her breath caught a little bit as she noticed them. “But it doesn’t matter,” she said, “parents never care for themselves if they can give their children pleasure.”

She crept into bed and took her child on her arm. The night was very cold. The frost made mysterious noises on the roof in the nail-holes and on the glass. She went to bed early because the kitchen was so cold. She thought “we can talk in bed.” The lock of her door was broken, and she could not shut it tight. Through this the air came chilly.

Miss Amanda put on her flannel wrapper and her bed-slippers and sat down before the open fire in her sleeping-room. Some way she couldn’t keep her thoughts from that little back attic room. She went into the hall, silently up the stairs, and stood outside the door. Elsie was talking softly, but Miss Amanda could hear every word, thanks to the broken lock.

“I have much to tell you to-night, dear child,” she heard the waif say, “the whole story of the Christmas Child. It was years ago. His mother was very young, I guess about twice as old as I am. They hadn’t any house; they were in a barn. I think there were no houses to rent in that town. But she fixed a little cradle for Him in the feed-box, and wrapped Him in long clothes, as I do you, my darling. The angels sang a new song for Him. A new star shone in the East for Him. Some men with sheep came to visit Him, and some rich men brought Him lovely presents. My mother told me all these things, and I mustn’t forget them; it helps me to remember to tell it to you. So now, this lovely Christmas Child was born in a little bit of a town, the town of—oh, my child”—with a mournful cry—”I’ve forgotten the name of the town! I used to say it to my mother—it’s the town of, the town of—I can’t remember.”

Miss Amanda could hear her crying a little softly.

“Never mind,” she said presently. “I am very sorry; I have not told the story often enough. I wish I had some one to teach me a little, but perhaps it don’t make so much difference if I have forgotten the name of the town. He came to teach us. Sure I won’t forget that. Love can never die. That’s the present He gave to everybody. So if nobody else gives us a Christmas present, we always have the one He gave us.”

Silence for a little.

“I am very sorry for Miss Amanda, dear. She has no child to love. She has a very sad and lonely life.”

Her teeth chattered a little. “It seems like a very cold night; the covers are quite thin, but we can never really suffer while our hearts are so warm. I’m glad you feel real well, and are just as plump as ever, but your little skin is just one bit wrinkled. You are not going to take cold or be sick? Oh, I couldn’t give you up! I should miss you so much, you happy, good little child.”

Miss Amanda heard a kiss. “Good-night, dear. I’m so tired. God bless us all, and help us to remember Miss Amanda, and let her find her present to-night.”

Miss Amanda crept back to her warm room, and waited until she was sure the child was fast asleep. Then she took a down quilt off the foot of her own bed, picked up her candle, and retraced her way up-stairs.

She softly dropped the comforter upon Elsie. She heard, as a sort of echo, a soft sigh of content. Miss Amanda waited a moment, then shading the candle with one hand, she looked at the sleeping child.

The face was pale and thin. The lashes lay dark upon the white cheeks. They were quite wet; but, pressed close to them, and carefully covered by little, toil-hardened hands, was the grotesque potato in its white night-gown.

Miss Amanda was surprised by a queer click in her throat, and hurried out of the room.

She stood before her fire, candle in hand, and bitterly compressed her lips. She hopes “I’ll find my Christmas present to-night. Who will send it to me, and what will it be? Whom do I care for, and who cares for me? No one. Not one human being.”

She crossed the room, and, placing her candle upon the dressing-table, gazed at herself in the glass. “I am growing old, old and hard, and perfectly friendless.”

But why that start and cry? There before her eyes, in the big, flourishing, boyish handwriting so well remembered, she reads: “Our love can never die. We have nothing in the world except each other, dear sister, and no matter what may come, our love can never change.”

She snatched up the paper and threw herself into a chair.

“Where did it come from”? she cried. “What evil genius placed it here this night? Haven’t I, years ago, torn and destroyed every word that wretched boy ever wrote me?”

She tossed her arms over her head, and rocked back and forth, and groaned aloud. She could not help her thoughts now, or keep them from going back over the past. Her heart softened as she remembered, and the scalding tears fell.

She was only a child, not much older than the one up-stairs, when her dying mother had placed her baby-brother in her arms, saying:

“He is all I have to leave you, Amanda. I know you love him. Don’t ever be harsh or unforgiving to him.”

How had she kept her trust? She had loved him. She had worked early and worked late for him. She had given up everything; but she had been ill-repaid.

“Ill,” do I say? Verily, is this not true of Love: that it brings its own blessedness?

The fire burned low, and the room settled cold and still. She seemed to feel a pair of boyish arms about her neck and a boy’s rough kiss upon her cheek.

When she was but a young woman she had moved to the big city, and started her dressmaker’s shop, so that he could have a better chance at school. What a loving boy he was! So full of fun!

The wind whistled outside. She thought it was he, and she heard him again: “You’re my handsome sister. Not one of the fellows have as handsome a sister as I.”

How proud she had felt when she had started him off to college. “It only means a few years of a little harder work, and then I’ll see my boy able to take his stand with anybody.”

But now she wept and groaned afresh. “Oh, how could he treat me so, how could he! The wretched disgrace!”

He had been expelled. The president’s letter was severe; but the young man’s letter regretted it as only a boyish prank. He was sorry. He had never expected anything so serious would come of it. He deserved the disgrace. It only hurt him through his love for her. But only forgive him, and he would show her what he could yet do.

What had he done?

He had tied a calf to the president’s door-bell.

She remembered her answer to this letter, asking for her forgiveness. It stood before her, written in characters of flame.

Had she in this been harsh to the boy, the only legacy her dying mother had to leave her?

“Never speak to me, nor see my face again. You have disgraced yourself and me.”

It was not so long a letter but that she could easily remember it.

Afterward, the president himself had written again to her. He thought he had been too hasty. It was truly only a boy’s prank. It was, of course, ungentlemanly, but the trick was played on All-Fool’s Night, and that should have had greater weight than it did. The faculty were willing, after proper apologies were made, to excuse it, and take her brother back.

Where was her brother? He could not be found, and not one word had she heard of him since she sent that dreadful letter. He might be dead. Oh, how often she thought that! Now she wrung her hands and covered her wet cheeks with them. Her hair fell about her shoulders, as she shook in her agony of remorse.

What noise is this? the door-bell pealing through the silent house. Again and again it rings.

She did not hear this bell. She was listening to another, and how it rang! Louder and louder, how it rang, and well it might, with a calf jumping about, trying to get away from it. Even in all her misery—so near together are the ecstasies of emotion—she laughed aloud and then shuddered at the thought that she should never again hear any noise quite so loud as this of the past.

Then she felt in the silent, chill room a tattered presence, a little half-frozen hand upon her own. She turned her streaming eyes, and they were met by the big, wide eyes of Elsie.

“Miss Amanda, didn’t you hear the door-bell ringing? There is something—no, there is somebody—waiting down-stairs for you.”

Half dazed, half afraid, ashamed of her tears, Miss Amanda left the room, led by the child as by an unearthly presence into an unearthly presence.

Who was this bearded man that folded her in his strong, true arms?

“I have so much to tell you, dear child. I am such a happy little girl. Miss Amanda’s dear brother has come home. She is so happy, and she loves him so much. And, oh darling, they both love me! And it was all you! You did it all! Oh, there is no knowing how much good one sweet, loving, contented potato-child can do in a house.”

Mr. Grapewine’s Christmas Dinner, by Harrison S. Morris

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“My dear,” said Mr. Grapewine, over the dinner-table, about a fortnight before Christmas,—”how many days to Christmas?”

Mrs. Grapewine counted on her fingers; looked a little uncertain up towards the ceiling, and at last applied to the calendar on the wall behind her, exclaiming, when she had mentally calculated the time,—

“Week and six days; comes on Thursday.”

“True,” said Mr. Grapewine, and he fell to devouring the residuum of his meal, a very savory mixture, which he swallowed with an amazing relish.

“There!” said he, after the last sip of coffee, “I believe I don’t want another thing to eat till Christmas-day. Mrs. G., you have the art of concocting the most appetizing meals. I never seem to get enough of them.”

“Two a day!” suggested Mrs. Grapewine, in her sharp manner.

“No, no, no! Mrs. G., you are an experienced cateress, that I confess. But there is a delicacy in the thing which two such meals a day would utterly destroy. You misunderstand me? It is the expectancy, the snuffing up of the fumes beforehand, the very consciousness of your inability to cope with it, which makes such a meal delicious. Now two a day would leave a man no chance to get properly hungry. That’s the point. It is the preparation, the deferred hope, which render a good dinner one of the completest luxuries of life. The hungrier one is, the more prolonged the satisfaction of the palate. I don’t think I have ever been hungry to the fullest extent of my capacity in my life.”

“Trip across Sahara!” interpolated Mrs. Grapewine.

“Yes, that would do, my dear; but I think we could accomplish it at home by artificial means. I think we could. Fasting would not do, because the appetite would at last grow unable to discriminate. Drugs would enfeeble it. (I’ll thank you for another cup of coffee, my dear. Ah, delicious cup of coffee!)—Drugs would enfeeble it. There is really no direct stimulant that I know of; but I think we could intensify the appetite by a little course of diplomacy. Let us eat frugally—sandwiches, crackers and cheese, potted meats—for the next two weeks; and, if you please, cook us at each luncheon-time, as a sort of stimulating accompaniment, some odorous dish,—roast-beef, stuffed leg of lamb, roast turkey, codfish, anything with an odor,—which we shall smell, but not taste of. Don’t you see, madam?”

“No!”

“Don’t you see that our stomachs will yearn for these strong delicacies, and, going unsatisfied, will relish them the more when we at last attack them?”

“No!”

“You have something to propose then, my dear. What is it? What have you to propose?”

“Turkish bath!”

“What a woman you are. A Turkish bath! How, Mrs. Grapewine, can a Turkish bath tickle a man’s appetite? How can a Turkish——”

“Empty stomach.”

“Ah, now I begin to see: a Turkish bath on an empty stomach. Yes, yes; very good. But, perhaps, if we tried my plan and yours together, we should arrive at the ideal appetite. I think a Christmas feast composed of guests each with such an appetite would be nearly the greatest pleasure we can know. Well, well, madam, let us think of it (The bell? Yes, quite through),” and, saying this last to the tinkling of the little silver bell, Mr. Grapewine got up from the table, undid the napkin from his neck, and yawned both his arms quite over his fat, rosy head as he trode towards the door. Mrs. Grapewine’s step was like her conversation,—sharp and decisive. She took her husband’s arm in an angular manner and led him, still yawning, to the sofa in the library, where she set herself over against him, ready to hear his plans.

“Let us have a Christmas banquet, my dear,” Mr. Grapewine steadily rubbed his eyes and yawned.

“Who?” said Mrs. Grapewine.

“Why, Totty and his wife, and Colonel Killiam, and—and Dr. Tuggle and lady, and old Mrs. Gildenfenny and—and——” Mr. Grapewine snored.

“Who?” said Mrs. Grapewine, somewhat loudly.

—”And—and—Pill.”

“Who’s Pill?” said she.

“Why—oh, I mean your poor cousin Pillet. It would be a kindness to him, you know.”

“Yes,” said she.

“Will that be enough? Let me see, that is seven—nine with us two.”

“Quite enough,” said she. And so Mr. Grapewine, arousing himself, rose from the sofa, put on his hat and coat, and went out to his business.

He was full of the idea. He talked about it to his clerks at the store. He looked into restaurant windows, humming a tune in the excess of his delight. He looked into bakers’ windows and confectionery shops, and a whiff of frying bacon from a little blind court he passed almost set him dancing. Indeed, Mr. Grapewine was a man of juvenile impulse. In figure as well as character he seemed rather to have expanded into a larger sort of babyhood than to have left that stage of his life behind. His face was broad and rosy and whiskerless, his hands were round and well-dimpled, and his body chubby to a degree. Once an idea got possession of him, he was its bondsman until another conquered it and enslaved him anew. But, really loving good cheer above everything else, his latest whim tickled him into laughter whenever it entered his mind. It was the happiest idea of his life.

“Why, sir,” he said to his book-keeper, “I think if a man would practise my system he could easily eat a whole turkey—not to speak of other dishes—at a meal. Magnificent idea! William. I wonder no one ever thought of it before. Wonderful!”

“A little bilious, sir,” said William.

“Bilious! bilious! Why, my man, how can anything produce biliousness in an empty stomach? No; it may bring inertia,—the Lotos does that,—but never biliousness.”

In the evening, Mr. Grapewine visited the Turkish baths and learned all about them before he went home. He encountered another idea on his way thither, and was taken captive by it without resistance. He could not—it would never do—it would not be courteous to eat so plentifully in the presence of guests whose appetites were merely natural. Nor could he well ask them to take the stimulating course he proposed for himself. But they could take a Turkish bath, and it would be quite a neat little social device to enclose a ticket for a bath with each invitation.

“There, madam!” he said to Mrs. Grapewine, “I think that’s perfect. We shall have the heartiest, merriest dinner on Christmas-day that man ever devoured. Bring pen and paper, and I’ll write to all the guests immediately, ma’am.”

After a moment’s scratching of the pen, Mr. Grapewine leaned back in his chair and held off the wet sheet at arm’s length, reading with strong emphasis as follows,—

“Dear Captain Killiam,—Mrs. Grapewine and myself would be most happy to have you join a small company of friends at our house on Christmas-day, for dinner, at one p.m. The affair will be quite informal, and, to add to the thorough enjoyment of it, I enclose a coupon for a Turkish-bath, which please use on Christmas morning before the hour named.

“Yours, sincerely,

“George Grapewine.”

By the next morning Mr. Grapewine’s invitations had found their way to the breakfast-tables of all his expected guests.

Mr. Pillet’s breakfast-table was composed of the top of a flat trunk, and to find its way there the invitation went up three pairs of stairs. Mr. Pillet was a writer, and his income was by no means as great as his ability. He had often to point out a similar disparity in the lives of other writers, because this was his one way of accounting for his want of success. He did not write books, to be sure. He only wrote poetical advertisements. But they were printed and paid for, and this gave him a sort of prestige among his less lucky friends. He was seedy; only moderately clean, and wholly unshaven, thus avoiding, by one happy invention, both soap and the barber. Fierce he was to look at, with his rugged beard and eyebrows, and fierce in his resentment of the world’s indifference. A Christmas invitation to the Grapewine’s made his eyes glisten with delight: a good dinner, guests to tell his tale to, and women, lovely women, who would sympathize with his unrequited hopes. He read on:

“I enclose a ticket for a Turkish bath——”

“Great heavens!” he cried, “what can this mean?”

He read the words again, and then read the coupon.

“Insulted! Insulted by a man I have ever befriended. He must apologize. I’ll shake the words from his throat. I’ll—I’ll not eat another mouthful till I have his apology! Turkish bath! Why——” and Mr. Pillet walked violently—gesticulating, with the open note in his hand—up and down the creaking floor of his apartment. He did not finish his breakfast, but put on his hat—perhaps forgetting an overcoat—and hurried down-stairs.

Colonel Killiam took breakfast at the “Furlough Club.” He perused Mr. Grapewine’s note with a majestic condescension, and decided to go to the dinner, where, of course, those present would recognize his superior rank. Each sentence he read was sandwiched between two sips of chocolate, and he reached the latter clause only by slow degrees. When he got that far, the colonel started to his feet and sternly summoned the waiter.

“Ask Major Fobbs to call at my table as soon as he can.”

The waiter obeyed, and Major Fobbs followed him back to the colonel’s table.

“Major,” said the colonel, “will you please spell those words?”

“T-u-r-k-i-s-h b-a-t-h, Turkish bath,” read the major.

“Thank heaven, I am still rational!” said the colonel. “I feared reason was dethroned. Thank you, major. Good-day,” and Colonel Killiam strode out of the room, rigid with indignation.

Old Mrs. Gildenfenny received her invitation over a breakfast-table that stood against her bedside. The note was handed in by an aged servant, who thereupon leaned over her mistress’s shoulder and helped her to read it. Mrs. Gildenfenny was an energetic old lady; but she loved, most of all things in the world, her idle hour in bed of a morning with a smoking meal of hot-cakes and coffee at her elbow. She disliked, most of all things in the world, to be robbed of this comfort, and she hated the being who committed such an offence with a vehemence which was her chief characteristic. The two old women read Mrs. Gildenfenny’s note aloud en duet, with now and then a pleased comment. Mrs. Gildenfenny said she would wear her green silk, and gave directions, as she read on, about her shoes, her hair, her linen and twenty articles of her toilet that came into her mind at mention of dining out.

“Lord a-mercy!” says Mrs. Gildenfenny, when she had read a little further; “Lord a-mercy! if I’m not decent, why does he ask me? Why don’t he say, at once, ‘Please wash yourself before you come; and if you can’t afford soap and water, here’s a ticket’? Susan, get me up! Dress me right away! I must have this explained.”

“But your breakfast, ma’am,” says Susan.

“Eat? eat? with such a thing on my mind? No! I’ll go at once to his house!” and in a few moments Mrs. Gildenfenny also went out.

Mr. and Mrs. Totty were served with their invitation over a breakfast-table where meekness and humility were administered with the rolls and poured out with the weak cambric tea of the little ones. The meal was an impressive ceremony, where discourses on duty and against excess of the palate were often the only relishes present.

Mr. Totty would paint the miseries of the epicure, and Mrs. Totty those of the dyspeptic, in words of eloquence which made milk-and-sugar-and-water a liquid of priceless moral value, though they never succeeded in strengthening its nutritive effects. While the eldest Totty had answered the postman’s summons, Mr. Totty was exhorting his youngest son to avoid butter to his bread as a pitfall through which he must eventually come to a state of depravity too dreadful to be put in words. He opened the envelope very deliberately, supposing it to contain a bill, but with a smile on his benevolent face which betokened a reverent spirit under suffering. As he read the opening lines and went onward, the smile passed through the stages of surprise, gratification, appetite, eagerness, and then passed into a look of doubt. He laughed in a gently acid way, and said,—

“My dear, Mr. Grapewine invites us to a Christmas dinner, which, of course, we could not attend——”

“Why not?” exclaims Mrs. Totty, eagerly.

“Which it would do gross injury to our principles to attend,” continued Mr. Totty; “and I will call on him, with our refusal, this morning, myself.”

Mrs. Totty resignedly helped him on with his overcoat, and submitted to the mildly spoken decree which was law in the house of the Tottys.

In a short time her husband went out with the invitation in his pocket and a look of unusual benevolence in his eyes.

Dr. Tuggle and lady read the invitation together over their breakfast-table, and fell to quarrelling so dreadfully about the purport of Mr. Grapewine’s singular request, that the doctor rushed from the house, threatening to pull Mr. Grapewine’s nose, and to divorce himself forever from his hateful spouse.

On this same morning Mr. Grapewine’s bell was rung five times, at very short intervals, in the most tremendously violent manner, and five loud altercations took place in the hall between the servant and the five callers.

“Where is he?”

“Bring him down, or I’ll go up after him!”

“What does he mean by it?”

“Insult a respectable lady!”

“Let me catch him, that’s all!”

“Where has he gone?”

“I’ll send him a challenge by Fobbs!”

“Where’s his wife?”

This was what Mr. Grapewine, listening at the top of the stairs, heard in a confused tumult in his parlor. He could not understand it. He was extremely agitated; but the servant insisted on his going down, and he did so, clad in a loose morning dress and slippers. As he entered the parlor-door he was met by four furious gentlemen and an elderly lady, flourishing his invitations in their hands and crying hotly for explanations.

“What do you mean, sir? What do you mean by alluding to my—my toilet in this impertinent manner?” said Colonel Killiam.

The light began to flow in upon Mr. Grapewine’s puzzled understanding. He confessed his mistake, and would have urged them to forget it and come to the dinner as if nothing had happened, but before he could do so he found himself alone in the room, with five notes of invitation on the floor at his feet, and nothing but the remembrance of one of the best ideas he had ever had in his life.

Melchior’s Dream, by Juliana Horatia Ewing

“Well, father, I don’t believe the Browns are a bit better off than we are; and yet, when I spent the day with young Brown, we cooked all sorts of messes in the afternoon; and he wasted twice as much rum and brandy and lemons in his trash as I should want to make good punch of. He was quite surprised, too, when I told him that our mince-pies were kept shut up in the larder, and only brought out at meal-times, and then just one apiece; he said they had mince-pies always going, and he got one whenever he liked. Old Brown never blows up about that sort of thing; he likes Adolphus to enjoy himself in the holidays, particularly at Christmas.”

E9075The speaker was a boy—if I may be allowed to use the word in speaking of an individual whose jackets had for some time past been resigned to a younger member of his family, and who daily, in the privacy of his own apartment, examined his soft cheeks by the aid of his sisters’ “back-hair glass.” He was a handsome boy, too; tall, and like David—”ruddy, and of a fair countenance;” and his face, though clouded then, bore the expression of general amiability. He was the eldest son in a large young family, and was being educated at one of the best public schools. He did not, it must be confessed, think either small beer or small beans of himself; and as to the beer and beans that his family thought of him, I think it was pale ale and kidney-beans at least.

When the lords of the creation of all ages can find nothing else to do, they generally take to eating and drinking; and so it came to pass that our hero had set his mind upon brewing a jorum of punch, and sipping it with an accompaniment of mince-pies; and Paterfamilias had not been quietly settled to his writing for half an hour, when he was disturbed by an application for the necessary ingredients. These he had refused, quietly explaining that he could not afford to waste his French brandy, etc., in school-boy cookery, and ending with, “You see the reason, my dear boy?”

To which the dear boy replied as above, and concluded with the disrespectful (not to say ungrateful) hint, “Old Brown never blows up about that sort of thing; he likes Adolphus to enjoy himself in the holidays.”

Whereupon Paterfamilias made answer, in the mildly deprecating tone in which the elder sometimes do answer the younger in these topsy-turvy days:—

“That’s quite a different case. Don’t you see, my boy, that Adolphus Brown is an only son, and you have nine brothers and sisters? If you have punch and mince-meat to play with, there is no reason why Tom should not have it, and James, and Edward, and William, and Benjamin, and Jack. And then there are your sisters. Twice the amount of the Browns’ mince-meat would not serve you. The Christmas bills, too, are very heavy, and I have a great many calls on my purse; and you must be reasonable. Don’t you see?”

“Well, father——” began the boy; but his father interrupted him. He knew the unvarying beginning of a long grumble, and dreading the argument, cut it short.

“I have decided. You must amuse yourself some other way. And just remember that young Brown’s is quite another case. He is an only son.”

Whereupon Paterfamilias went off to his study and his sermon; and his son, like the Princess in Andersen’s story of the swineherd, was left outside to sing,—

“O dearest Augustine,
All’s clean gone away!”

Not that he did say that—that was the princess’s song—what he said was,—

“I wish I were an only son!”

This was rather a vain wish, for round the dining-room fire (where he soon joined them) were gathered his nine brothers and sisters, who, to say the truth, were not looking much more lively and cheerful than he. And yet (of all days in the year on which to be doleful and dissatisfied!) this was Christmas Eve.

Now I know that the idea of dulness or discomfort at Christmas is a very improper one, particularly in a story. We all know how every little boy in a story-book spends the Christmas holidays. First, there is the large hamper of good things sent by grandpapa, which is as inexhaustible as Fortunatus’s purse, and contains everything, from a Norfolk turkey to grapes from the grandpaternal vinery. There is the friend who gives a guinea to each member of the family, and sees who will spend it best. There are the godpapas and godmammas, who might almost be fairy sponsors from the number of expensive gifts that they bring upon the scene. The uncles and aunts are also liberal.

One night is devoted to a magic-lantern (which has a perfect focus), another to the pantomime, a third to a celebrated conjurer, a fourth to a Christmas tree and juvenile ball.

The happy youth makes himself sufficiently ill with plum-pudding, to testify to the reader how good it was, and how much there was of it; but recovers in time to fall a victim to the negus and trifle at supper for the same reason. He is neither fatigued with late hours, nor surfeited with sweets; or if he is, we do not hear of it.

But as this is a strictly candid history, I will at once confess the truth, on behalf of my hero and his brothers and sisters. They had spent the morning in decorating the old church, in pricking holly about the house, and in making a mistletoe bush. Then in the afternoon they had tasted the Christmas soup, and seen it given out; they had put a finishing touch to the snowman by crowning him with holly, and had dragged the yule-logs home from the carpenter’s. And now, the early tea being over, Paterfamilias had gone to finish his sermon for to-morrow; his friend was shut up in his room; and Materfamilias was in hers, with one of those painful headaches which even Christmas will not always keep away. So the ten children were left to amuse themselves, and they found it rather a difficult matter.

“Here’s a nice Christmas!” said our hero. He had turned his youngest brother out of the arm-chair, and was now lying in it with his legs over the side. “Here’s a nice Christmas! A fellow might just as well be at school. I wonder what Adolphus Brown would think of being cooped up with a lot of children like this! It’s his party to-night, and he’s to have champagne and ices. I wish I were an only son.”

“Thank you,” said a chorus of voices from the floor. They were all sprawling about on the hearth-rug, pushing and struggling like so many kittens in a sack, and every now and then with a grumbled remonstrance:—

“Don’t, Jack! you’re treading on me.”

“You needn’t take all the fire, Tom.”

“Keep your legs to yourself, Benjamin.”

“It wasn’t I,” etc., with occasionally the feebler cry of a small sister,—

“Oh! you boys are so rough.”

“And what are you girls, I wonder?” inquired the proprietor of the arm-chair, with cutting irony. “Whiney piney, whiney piney. I wish there were no such things as brothers and sisters!”

“You wish WHAT?” said a voice from the shadow by the door, as deep and impressive as that of the ghost in Hamlet.

The ten sprang up; but when the figure came into the firelight, they saw that it was no ghost, but Paterfamilias’s old college friend, who spent most of his time abroad, and who, having no home or relatives of his own, had come to spend Christmas at his friend’s vicarage. “You wish what?” he repeated.

“Well, brothers and sisters are a bore,” was the reply. “One or two would be all very well; but just look, here are ten of us; and it just spoils everything. Whatever one does, the rest must do; whatever there is, the rest must share; whereas, if a fellow was an only son, he would have the whole—and by all the rules of arithmetic, one is better than a tenth.”

“And by the same rules, ten is better than one,” said the friend.

“Sold again!” sang out Master Jack from the floor, and went head over heels against the fender.

His brother boxed his ears with great promptitude; and went on—”Well, I don’t care; confess, sir; isn’t it rather a nuisance?”

Paterfamilias’s friend looked very grave, and said quietly, “I don’t think I am able to judge. I never had brother or sister but one, and he was drowned at sea. Whatever I have had, I have had the whole of, and would have given it away willingly for some one to give it to. I remember that I got a lot of sticks at last, and cut heads and faces to all of them, and carved names on their sides, and called them my brothers and sisters. If you want to know what I thought a nice number for a fellow to have, I can only say that I remember carving twenty-five. I used to stick them in the ground and talk to them. I have been only, and lonely, and alone, all my life, and have never felt the nuisance you speak of.”

“I know what would be very nice,” insinuated one of the sisters.

“What?”

“If you wouldn’t mind telling us a very short story till supper-time.”

“Well, what sort of a story is it to be?”

“Any sort,” said Richard; “only not too true, if you please. I don’t like stories like tracts. There was an usher at a school I was at, and he used to read tracts about good boys and bad boys to the fellows on Sunday afternoon. He always took out the real names, and put in the names of the fellows instead. Those who had done well in the week, he put in as good ones, and those who hadn’t as the bad. He didn’t like me, and I was always put in as a bad boy, and I came to so many untimely ends, I got sick of it. I was hanged twice, and transported once for sheep stealing; I committed suicide one week, and broke into the bank the next; I ruined three families, became a hopeless drunkard, and broke the hearts of my twelve distinct parents. I used to beg him to let me be reformed next week; but he said he never would till I did my Cæsar better. So, if you please, we’ll have a story that can’t be true.”

“Very well,” said the friend, laughing; “but if it isn’t true, may I put you in? All the best writers, you know, draw their characters from their friends, nowadays. May I put you in?”

“Oh, certainly!” said Richard, placing himself in front of the fire, putting his feet on the hob, and stroking his curls with an air which seemed to imply that whatever he was put into would be highly favored.

The rest struggled, and pushed, and squeezed themselves into more modest but equally comfortable quarters; and after a few moments of thought, Paterfamilias’s friend commenced the story of
MELCHIOR’S DREAM.

“Melchior is my hero. He was—well, he considered himself a young man, so we will consider him so too. He was not perfect; but in these days the taste in heroes is for a good deal of imperfection, not to say wickedness. He was not an only son. On the contrary, he had a great many brothers and sisters, and found them quite as objectionable as my friend Richard does.”

“I smell a moral,” murmured the said Richard.

“Your scent must be keen,” said the story-teller, “for it is a long way off. Well, he had never felt them so objectionable as on one particular night, when the house being full of company, it was decided that the boys should sleep in ‘barracks,’ as they called it; that is, all in one large room.”

“Thank goodness we have not come to that!” said the incorrigible Richard; but he was reduced to order by threats of being turned out, and contented himself with burning the soles of his boots against the bars of the grate in silence: and the friend continued:

“But this was not the worst. Not only was he, Melchior, to sleep in the same room with his brothers, but his bed being the longest and largest, his youngest brother was to sleep at the other end of it—foot to foot. True, by this means he got another pillow, for of course that little Hop-o’-my-thumb could do without one, and so he took his; but in spite of this, he determined that, sooner than submit to such an indignity, he would sit up all night. Accordingly, when all the rest were fast asleep, Melchior, with his boots off and his waistcoat easily unbuttoned, sat over the fire in the long lumber-room, which served that night as ‘barracks’. He had refused to eat any supper down-stairs to mark his displeasure, and now repaid himself by a stolen meal according to his own taste. He had got a pork-pie, a little bread and cheese, some large onions to roast, a couple of raw apples, an orange, and papers of soda and tartaric acid to compound effervescing draughts. When these dainties were finished, he proceeded to warm some beer in a pan, with ginger, spice, and sugar, and then lay back in his chair and sipped it slowly, gazing before him, and thinking over his misfortunes.

“The night wore on, the fire got lower and lower; and still Melchior sat, with his eyes fixed on a dirty old print, that had hung above the mantel-piece for years, sipping his ‘brew,’ which was fast getting cold. The print represented an old man in a light costume, with a scythe in one hand, and an hour-glass in the other; and underneath the picture in flourishing capitals was the word TIME.

“‘You’re a nice old beggar,’ said Melchior, dreamily. ‘You look like an old haymaker, who has come to work in his shirt-sleeves, and forgotten the rest of his clothes. Time! time you went to the tailor’s, I think.’

“This was very irreverent: but Melchior was not in a respectful mood; and as for the old man, he was as calm as any philosopher.

“The night wore on, and the fire got lower and lower, and at last went out altogether.

“‘How stupid of me not to have mended it! said Melchior; but he had not mended it, and so there was nothing for it but to go to bed; and to bed he went accordingly.

“‘But I won’t go to sleep,’ he said; ‘no, no; I shall keep awake, and to-morrow they shall know that I have had a bad night.’

“So he lay in bed with his eyes wide open, and staring still at the old print, which he could see from his bed by the light of the candle, which he had left alight on the mantel-piece to keep him awake. The flame waved up and down, for the room was draughty; and, as the lights and shadows passed over the old man’s face, Melchior almost fancied that it nodded to him, so he nodded back again; and as that tired him he shut his eyes for a few seconds. When he opened them again there was no longer any doubt—the old man’s head was moving; and not only his head, but his legs, and his whole body. Finally, he put his feet out of the frame, and prepared to step right over the mantel-piece, candle, and all.

“‘Take care,’ Melchior tried to say, ‘you’ll set fire to your shirt.’ But he could not utter a sound; and the old man arrived safely on the floor, where he seemed to grow larger and larger, till he was fully the size of a man, but still with the same scythe and hour-glass, and the same airy costume. Then he came across the room, and sat down by Melchior’s bedside.

“‘Who are you?’ said Melchior, feeling rather creepy.

“‘Time,’ said his visitor, in a deep voice, which sounded as if it came from a distance.

“‘Oh, to be sure, yes! In copper plate capitals.’

“‘What’s in copper-plate capitals?’ inquired Time.

“‘Your name, under the print.’

“‘Very likely,’ said Time.

“Melchior felt more and more uneasy. ‘You must be very cold,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you would feel warmer if you went back into the picture.’

“‘Not at all.’ said Time; ‘I have come on purpose to see you.’

“‘I have not the pleasure of knowing you,’ said Melchior, trying to keep his teeth from chattering.

“‘There are not many people who have a personal acquaintance with me,’ said his visitor. ‘You have an advantage,—I am your godfather.’

“‘Indeed,’ said Melchior; ‘I never heard of it.’

“‘Yes,’ said his visitor; ‘and you will find it a great advantage.’

“‘Would you like to put on my coat?’ said Melchior, trying to be civil.

“‘No, thank you,’ was the answer. ‘You will want it yourself. We must be driving soon.’

“‘Driving!’ said Melchior.

“‘Yes,’ was the answer: ‘all the world is driving; and you must drive; and here come your brothers and sisters.’

“Melchior sat up; and there they were, sure enough, all dressed, and climbing one after the other on to the bed—his bed!

“There was that little minx of a sister with her curls. There was that clever brother, with his untidy hair and bent shoulders, who was just as bad the other way, and was forever moping and reading. There was that little Hop-o’-my-thumb, as lively as any of them, a young monkey, the worst of all; who was always in mischief, and consorting with the low boys in the village. There was the second brother, who was Melchior’s chief companion, and against whom he had no particular quarrel. And there was the little pale lame sister, whom he dearly loved; but whom, odd to say, he never tried to improve at all. There were others who were all tiresome in their respective ways; and one after the other they climbed up.

“‘What are you doing, getting on to my bed?’ inquired the indignant brother, as soon as he could speak.

“‘Don’t you know the difference between a bed and a coach, godson?’ said Time, sharply.

“Melchior was about to retort, but, on looking round, he saw that they were really in a large sort of coach with very wide windows. ‘I thought I was in bed,’ he muttered. ‘What can I have been dreaming of?’

“‘What, indeed!’ said the godfather. ‘But be quick, and sit close, for you have all to get in; you are all brothers and sisters.’

“‘Must families be together?’ inquired Melchior, dolefully.

“‘Yes, at first,’ was the answer; ‘they get separated in time. In fact, every one has to cease driving sooner or later. I drop them on the road at different stages, according to my orders,’ and he showed a bundle of papers in his hands; ‘but as I favor you, I will tell you in confidence that I have to drop all your brothers and sisters before you. There, you four oldest sit on this side, you five others there, and the little one must stand or be nursed.’

“‘Ugh!’ said Melchior, ‘the coach would be well enough if one was alone; but what a squeeze with all these brats! I say, go pretty quick, will you?’

“‘I will,’ said Time, ‘if you wish it. But beware that you cannot change your mind. If I go quicker for your sake, I shall never go slow again; if slower, I shall not again go quick; and I only favor you so far, because you are my godson. Here, take the check-string; when you want me, pull it, and speak through the tube. Now we’re off.’

“Whereupon the old man mounted the box, and took the reins. He had no whip; but when he wanted to start, he shook the hour-glass, and off they went. Then Melchior saw that the road where they were driving was very broad, and so filled with vehicles of all kinds that he could not see the hedges. The noise and crowd and dust were very great; and to Melchior all seemed delightfully exciting. There was every sort of conveyance, from the grandest coach to the humblest donkey-cart; and they seemed to have enough to do to escape being run over. Among all the gay people there were many whom he knew; and a very nice thing it seemed to be to drive among all the grandees, and to show his handsome face at the window, and bow and smile to his acquaintance. Then it appeared to be the fashion to wrap one’s self in a tiger-skin rug, and to look at life through an opera-glass, and old Time had kindly put one of each into the coach.

“But here again Melchior was much troubled by his brothers and sisters. Just at the moment when he was wishing to look most fashionable and elegant, one or other of them would pull away the rug, or drop the glass, or quarrel, or romp, or do something that spoiled the effect. In fact, one and all, they ‘just spoilt everything;’ and the more he scolded, the worse they became. The ‘minx’ shook her curls, and flirted through the window with a handsome but ill-tempered looking man on a fine horse, who praised her ‘golden locks,’ as he called them; and oddly enough, when Melchior said that the man was a lout, and that the locks in question were corkscrewy carrot shavings, she only seemed to like the man and his compliments the more. Meanwhile, the untidy brother pored over his book, or if he came to the window, it was only to ridicule the fine ladies and gentlemen, so Melchior sent him to Coventry. Then Hop-o’-my-thumb had taken to make signs and exchange jokes with some disreputable-looking youths in a dog-cart; and when his brother would have put him to ‘sit still like a gentleman’ at the bottom of the coach, he seemed positively to prefer his low companions; and the rest were little better.

“Poor Melchior! Surely there never was a clearer case of a young gentleman’s comfort destroyed solely by other people’s perverse determination to be happy in their own way instead of in his.

“At last he lost patience, and pulling the check-string, bade Godfather Time drive as fast as he could.

“Godfather Time frowned, but shook his glass all the same, and away they went at a famous pace. All at once they came to a stop.

“‘Now for it,’ said Melchior; ‘here goes one at any rate.’

“Time called out the name of the second brother over his shoulder; and the boy stood up, and bade his brothers and sisters good-bye.

“‘It is time that I began to push my way in the world,’ said he, and passed out of the coach and in among the crowd.

“‘You have taken the only quiet boy,’ said Melchior to the godfather, angrily. ‘Drive fast, now, for pity’s sake; and let us get rid of the tiresome ones.’

“And fast enough they drove, and dropped first one and then the other; but the sisters, and the reading boy, and the youngest still remained.

“‘What are you looking at?’ said Melchior to the lame sister.

“‘At a strange figure in the crowd,’ she answered.

“‘I see nothing,’ said Melchior. But on looking again after a while, he did see a figure wrapped in a cloak, gliding in and out among the people, unnoticed, if not unseen.

“‘Who is it?’ Melchior asked of the godfather.

“‘A friend of mine,’ Time answered. ‘His name is Death.’

“Melchior shuddered, more especially as the figure had now come up to the coach, and put its hand in through the window, on which, to his horror, the lame sister laid hers and smiled. At this moment the coach stopped.

“‘What are you doing?’ shrieked Melchior. ‘Drive on! drive on!’

“But even while he sprang up to seize the check-string the door had opened, the pale sister’s face had dropped upon the shoulder of the figure in the cloak, and he had carried her away; and Melchior stormed and raved in vain.

“‘To take her, and to leave the rest! Cruel! cruel!’

“In his rage and grief, he hardly knew it when the untidy brother was called, and putting his book under his arm, slipped out of the coach without looking to the right or left. Presently the coach stopped again; and when Melchior looked up the door was open, and at it was the fine man on the fine horse, who was lifting the sister on to the saddle before him. ‘What fool’s game are you playing?’ said Melchior, angrily. ‘I know that man. He is both ill-tempered and a bad character.’

“‘You never told her so before,’ muttered young Hop-o’-my-thumb.

“‘Hold your tongue,’ said Melchior. ‘I forbade her to talk to him, which was enough.’

“‘I don’t want to leave you; but he cares for me, and you don’t,’ sobbed the sister; and she was carried away.

“When she had gone, the youngest brother slid down from his corner and came up to Melchior.

“‘We are alone now, brother,’ he said; ‘let us be good friends. May I sit on the front seat with you, and have half the rug? I will be very good and polite, and will have nothing more to do with those fellows, if you will talk to me.’

“Now Melchior really rather liked the idea; but as his brother seemed to be in a submissive mood, he thought he would take the opportunity of giving him a good lecture, and would then graciously relent and forgive. So he began by asking him if he thought that he was fit company for him (Melchior), what he thought that gentlefolks would say to a boy who had been playing with such youths as young Hop-o’-my-thumb had, and whether the said youths were not scoundrels? And when the boy refused to say that they were, (for they had been kind to him,) Melchior said that his tastes were evidently as bad as ever, and even hinted at the old transportation threat. This was too much; the boy went angrily back to his window corner, and Melchior—like too many of us!—lost the opportunity of making peace for the sake of wagging his own tongue.

“‘But he will come round in a few minutes,’ he thought. A few minutes passed, however, and there was no sign. A few minutes more, and there was a noise, a shout; Melchior looked up, and saw that the boy had jumped through the open window into the road, and had been picked up by the men in the dog-cart, and was gone.

“And so at last my hero was alone. At first he enjoyed it very much. But though every one allowed him to be the finest young fellow on the road, yet nobody seemed to care for the fact as much as he did; they talked, and complimented, and stared at him, but he got tired of it. Sometimes he saw the youngest brother, looking each time more wild and reckless; and sometimes the sister, looking more and more miserable; but he saw no one else.

“At last there was a stir among the people, and all heads were turned towards the distance, as if looking for something. Melchior asked what it was, and was told that the people were looking for a man, the hero of many battles, who had won honor for himself and for his country in foreign lands, and who was coming home. Everybody stood up and gazed, Melchior with them. Then the crowd parted, and the hero came on. No one asked whether he were handsome or genteel, whether he kept good company, or wore a tiger-skin rug, or looked through an opera-glass? They knew what he had done, and it was enough.

“He was a bronzed, hairy man, with one sleeve empty, and a breast covered with stars; but in his face, brown with sun and wind, overgrown with hair, and scarred with wounds, Melchior saw his second brother! There was no doubt of it. And the brother himself, though he bowed kindly in answer to the greetings showered on him, was gazing anxiously for the old coach, where he used to ride and be so uncomfortable, in that time to which he now looked back as the happiest of his life.

“‘I thank you, gentlemen. I am indebted to you, gentlemen. I have been away long. I am going home.’

“‘Of course he is!’ shouted Melchior, waving his arms widely with pride and joy. ‘He is coming home; to this coach, where he was—oh, it seems but an hour ago; Time goes so fast. We were great friends when we were young together. My brother and I, ladies and gentlemen, the hero and I—my brother—the hero with the stars upon his breast—he is coming home!’

“Alas! what avail stars and ribbons on a breast where the life-blood is trickling slowly from a little wound? The crowd looked anxious; the hero came on, but more slowly, with his dim eyes straining for the old coach; and Melchior stood with his arms held out in silent agony. But just when he was beginning to hope, and the brothers seemed about to meet, a figure passed between—a figure in a cloak.

“‘I have seen you many times, friend, face to face,’ said the hero; ‘but now I would fain have waited for a little while.’

“‘To enjoy his well-earned honors,’ murmured the crowd.

“‘Nay,’ he said, ‘not that; but to see my home, and my brothers and sisters. But if it may not be, friend Death, I am ready, and tired, too.’ With that he held out his hand, and Death lifted up the hero of many battles like a child, and carried him away, stars, and ribbons, and all.

“‘Cruel Death!’ cried Melchior; ‘was there no one else in all this crowd, that you must take him?’

“His friends condoled with him; but they soon went on their own ways; and the hero seemed to be forgotten; and Melchior, who had lost all pleasure in the old bowings and chattings, sat idly gazing out of the window, to see if he could see any one for whom he cared. At last, in a grave dark man, who was sitting on a horse, and making a speech to the crowd, he recognized his clever untidy brother.

“‘What is that man talking about?’ he asked of some one near him.

“‘That man!’ was the answer. ‘Don’t you know? He is the man of the time. He is a philosopher. Everybody goes to hear him. He has found out that—well—that everything is a mistake.’

“‘Has he corrected it?’ said Melchior.

“‘You had better hear for yourself,’ said the man. ‘Listen.’

“Melchior listened, and a cold, clear voice rang upon his ear, saying,—

“‘The world of fools will go on as they have ever done; but to the wise few, to whom I address myself, I would say, Shake off at once and forever the fancies and feelings, the creeds and customs that shackle you, and be true. We have come to a time when wise men will not be led blindfold in the footsteps of their predecessors, but will tear away the bandage, and see for themselves. I have torn away mine, and looked. There is no Faith—it is shaken to its rotten foundation; there is no Hope—it is disappointed every day; there is no Love at all. There is nothing for any man or for each, but his fate; and he is happiest and wisest who can meet it most unmoved.’

“‘It is a lie!’ shouted Melchior. ‘I feel it to be so in my heart. A wicked, foolish lie! Oh! was it to teach such evil folly as this that you left home and us, my brother? Oh, come back! come back!’

“The philosopher turned his head coldly, and smiled. ‘I thank the gentleman who spoke,’ he said, still in the same cold voice, ‘for his bad opinion, and for his good wishes. I think the gentleman spoke of home and kindred. My experience of life has led me to find that home is most valued when it is left, and kindred most dear when they are parted. I have happily freed myself from such inconsistencies. I am glad to know that fate can tear me from no place that I care for more than the next where it shall deposit me, nor take away any friends that I value more than those it leaves. I recommend a similar self-emancipation to the gentleman who did me the honor of speaking.’

“With this the philosopher went his way, and the crowd followed him.

“‘There is a separation more bitter than death,’ said Melchior.

“At last he pulled the check-string, and called to Godfather Time in an humble, entreating voice.

“‘It is not your fault,’ he began; ‘it is not your fault, godfather; but this drive has been altogether wrong. Let us turn back and begin again. Let us all get in afresh and begin again.’

“‘But what a squeeze with all the brats!’ said Godfather Time, ironically.

“‘We should be so happy,’ murmured Melchior, humbly; ‘and it is very cold and chilly; we should keep each other warm.’

“‘You have the tiger-skin rug and the opera-glass, you know,’ said Time.

“‘Ah, do not speak of me!” cried Melchior, earnestly. ‘I am thinking of them. There is plenty of room; the little one can sit on my knee; and we shall be so happy. The truth is, godfather, that I have been wrong. I have gone the wrong way to work. A little more love, and kindness, and forbearance might have kept my sisters with us, might have led the little one to better tastes and pleasures, and have taught the other by experience the truth of the faith and hope and love which he now reviles. Oh, I have sinned! I have sinned! Let us turn back, Godfather Time, and begin again. And oh! drive very slowly, for partings come only too soon.’

“‘I am sorry,’ said the old man in the same bitter tone as before, ‘to disappoint your rather unreasonable wishes. What you say is admirably true, with this misfortune, that your good intentions are too late. Like the rest of the world, you are ready to seize the opportunity when it is past. You should have been kind then. You should have advised then. You should have yielded then. You should have loved your brothers and sisters while you had them. It is too late now.’

“With this he drove on, and spoke no more, and poor Melchior stared sadly out of the window. As he was gazing at the crowd, he suddenly saw the dog-cart, in which were his brother and his wretched companions. Oh, how old and worn he looked! and how ragged his clothes were! The men seemed to be trying to persuade him to do something that he did not like, and they began to quarrel; but in the midst of the dispute he turned his head, and caught sight of the old coach; and Melchior, seeing this, waved his hands, and beckoned with all his might. The brother seemed doubtful; but Melchior waved harder, and (was it fancy?) Time seemed to go slower. The brother made up his mind; he turned and jumped from the dog-cart as he had jumped from the old coach long ago, and, ducking in and out among the horses and carriages, ran for his life. The men came after him; but he ran like the wind—pant, pant, nearer, nearer; at last the coach was reached, and Melchior seized the prodigal by his rags and dragged him in.

“‘Oh, thank God, I have got you safe, my brother!’

“But what a brother! with wasted body and sunken eyes; with the old curly hair turned to matted locks, that clung faster to his face than the rags did to his trembling limbs; what a sight for the opera-glasses of the crowd! Yet poor Hop-o’-my-thumb was on the front seat at last, with Melchior kneeling at his feet, and fondly stroking the head that rested against him.

“‘Has powder come into fashion, brother?’ he said. ‘Your hair is streaked with white.’

“‘If it has,’ said the other, laughing, ‘your barber is better than mine, Melchior, for your head is as white as snow.’

“‘Is it possible? are we so old? has Time gone so very fast? But what are you staring at through the window? I shall be jealous of that crowd, brother.’

“‘I am not looking at the crowd,’ said the prodigal in a low voice; ‘but I see——’

“‘You see what?’ said Melchior.

“‘A figure in a cloak, gliding in and out——’

“Melchior sprang up in horror. ‘No! no!’ he cried, hoarsely. ‘No! surely no!’

“Surely yes! Too surely the well-known figure came on; and the prodigal’s sunken eyes looked more sunken still as he gazed. As for Melchior, he neither spoke nor moved, but stood in a silent agony, terrible to see. All at once a thought seemed to strike him; he seized his brother, and pushed him to the farthest corner of the seat, and then planted himself firmly at the door, just as Death came up and put his hand into the coach. Then he spoke in a low, steady voice, more piteous than cries or tears.

“‘I humbly beseech you, good Death, if you must take one of us, to take me. I have had a long drive, and many comforts and blessings, and am willing, if unworthy, to go. He has suffered much, and had no pleasure; leave him for a little to enjoy the drive in peace, just for a very little; he has suffered so much, and I have been so much to blame; let me go instead of him.’

“Poor Melchior! In vain he laid both his hands in Death’s outstretched palm; they fell to him again as if they had passed through air; he was pushed aside—Death passed into the coach—’one was taken and the other left.’

“As the cloaked figure glided in and out among the crowd, many turned to look at his sad burden, though few heeded him. Much was said; but the general voice of the crowd was this: ‘Ah! he is gone, is he? Well! a born rascal! It must be a great relief to his brother!’ A conclusion which was about as wise, and about as near the truth, as the world’s conclusions generally are. As for Melchior, he neither saw the figure nor heard the crowd, for he had fallen senseless among the cushions.

“When he came to his senses, he found himself lying still upon his face; and so bitter was his loneliness and grief, that he lay still and did not move. He was astonished, however, by the (as it seemed to him) unusual silence. The noise of the carriage had been deafening, and now there was not a sound. Was he deaf? or had the crowd gone? He opened his eyes. Was he blind? or had the night come? He sat right up, and shook himself, and looked again. The crowd was gone; so, for matter of that, was the coach; and so was Godfather Time. He had not been lying among cushions, but among pillows; he was not in any vehicle of any kind, but in bed. The room was dark, and very still; but through the ‘barracks’ window, which had no blind, he saw the winter sun pushing through the mist, like a red-hot cannon-ball hanging in the frosty trees; and in the yard outside, the cocks were crowing.

“There was no longer any doubt that he was safe in his old home; but where were his brothers and sisters? With a beating heart he crept to the other end of the bed; and there lay the prodigal, with no haggard cheeks or sunken eyes, no gray locks or miserable rags, but a rosy, yellow-haired urchin fast asleep, with his head upon his arm. ‘I took his pillow,’ muttered Melchior, self-reproachfully.

“A few minutes later, young Hop-o’-my-thumb, (whom Melchior dared not lose sight of for fear he should melt away,) seated comfortably on his brother’s back, and wrapped up in a blanket, was making a tour of the ‘barracks.’

“‘It’s an awful lark,’ said he, shivering with a mixture of cold and delight.

“If not exactly a lark, it was a very happy tour to Melchior, as, hope gradually changing into certainty, he recognized his brothers in one shapeless lump after the other in the little beds. There they all were, sleeping peacefully in a happy home, from the embryo hero to the embryo philosopher, who lay with the invariable book upon his pillow, and his hair looking (as it always did) as if he lived in a high wind.

“‘I say,’ whispered Melchior, pointing to him, ‘what did he say the other day about being a parson?’

“‘He said he should like to be one,’ returned Hop-o’-my-thumb; ‘but you said he would frighten away the congregation with his looks.’

“‘He will make a capital parson,’ said Melchior, hastily, ‘and I shall tell him so to-morrow. And when I’m the squire here, he shall be vicar, and I’ll subscribe to all his dodges without a grumble. I’m the eldest son. And I say, don’t you think we could brush his hair for him in a morning, till he learns to do it himself?’

“‘Oh, I will!’ was the lively answer; ‘I’m an awful dab at brushing. Look how I brush your best hat!’

“‘True,’ said Melchior. ‘Where are the girls to-night?’

“‘In the little room at the end of the long passage,’ said Hop o’-my-thumb, trembling with increased chilliness and enjoyment. ‘But you’re never going there! we shall wake the company, and they will all come out to see what’s the matter.’

“‘I shouldn’t care if they did,’ said Melchior, ‘it would make it feel more real.’

“As he did not understand this sentiment, Hop-o’-my-thumb said nothing, but held on very tightly; and they crept softly down the cold gray passage in the dawn. The girls’ door was open; for the girls were afraid of robbers, and left their bed-room door wide open at night, as a natural and obvious means of self-defence. The girls slept together; and the frill of the pale sister’s prim little night-cap was buried in the other one’s uncovered curls.

“‘How you do tremble!’ whispered Hop-o’-my-thumb; ‘are you cold?’ This inquiry received no answer; and after some minutes he spoke again. ‘I say, how very pretty they look! don’t they?’

“But for some reason or other, Melchior seemed to have lost his voice; but he stooped down and kissed both the girls very gently, and then the two brothers crept back along the passage to the ‘barracks.’

“‘One thing more,’ said Melchior; and they went up to the mantel-piece. ‘I will lend you my bow and arrow to-morrow, on one condition——’

“‘Anything!’ was the reply, in an enthusiastic whisper.

“‘That you take that old picture for a target, and never let me see it again.’

“It was very ungrateful! but perfection is not in man; and there was something in Melchior’s muttered excuse,—

“‘I couldn’t stand another night of it.’

“Hop-o’-my-thumb was speedily put to bed again, to get warm, this time with both the pillows; but Melchior was too restless to sleep, so he resolved to have a shower-bath and to dress. After which he knelt down by the window, and covered his face with his hands.

“‘He’s saying very long prayers,’ thought Hop-o’-my-thumb, glancing at him from his warm nest; ‘and what a jolly humor he is in this morning!’

“Still, the young head was bent and the handsome face hidden; and Melchior was finding his life every moment more real and more happy. For there was hardly a thing, from the well-filled ‘barracks’ to the brother bedfellow, that had been a hardship last night, which this morning did not seem a blessing. He rose at last, and stood in the sunshine, which was now pouring in; a smile was on his lips, and on his face were two drops, which, if they were water, had not come from the shower-bath, or from any bath at all.”

“Is that the end?” inquired the young lady on his knee, as the story-teller paused here.

“Yes, that is the end.”

“It’s a beautiful story,” she murmured, thoughtfully; “but what an extraordinary one! I don’t think I could have dreamt such a wonderful dream.”

“Do you think you could have eaten such a wonderful supper?” said the friend, twisting his moustaches.

After this point, the evening’s amusements were thoroughly successful. Richard took his smoking boots from the fireplace, and was called upon for various entertainments for which he was famous.

The door opened at last, and Paterfamilias entered with Materfamilias (whose headache was better), and followed by the candles. A fresh log was then thrown upon the fire, the yule cakes and furmety were put upon the table, and everybody drew round to supper; and Paterfamilias announced that, although he could not give the materials to play with, he had no objection now to a bowl of moderate punch for all, and that Richard might compound it. This was delightful; and as he sat by his father ladling away to the rest, Adolphus Brown could hardly have felt more jovial, even with the champagne and ices.

The rest sat with radiant faces and shining heads in goodly order; and at the bottom of the table, by Materfamilias, was the friend, as happy in his unselfish sympathy as if his twenty-five sticks had come to life, and were supping with him. As happy—nearly—as if a certain woman’s grave had never been dug under the southern sun that could not save her, and as if the children gathered round him were those of whose faces he had often dreamt, but might never see.

His health had been drunk, and everybody else’s too, when, just as supper was coming to a close, Richard (who had been sitting in thoughtful silence for some minutes) got up with sudden resolution, and said,—

“I want to propose Mr. What’s-his-name’s health on my own account. I want to thank him for his story, which had only one mistake in it. Melchior should have kept the effervescing papers to put into the beer; it’s a splendid drink! Otherwise it was first-rate; though it hit me rather hard. I want to say that though I didn’t mean all I said about being an only son, (when a fellow gets put out he doesn’t know what he means,) yet I know I was quite wrong, and the story is quite right. I want particularly to say that I’m very glad there are so many of us, for the more, you know, the merrier. I wouldn’t change father or mother, brothers or sisters, with any one in the world. It couldn’t be better, we couldn’t be happier. We are all together, and to-morrow is Christmas-Day. Thank God.”

A Picture of the Nativity By Fra Filippo Lippi, by Vernon Lee

(as explained by a pious florentine gossip of his day)

“Now, I cannot affirm that things did really take place in this manner, but it greatly pleases me to think that they did.”—Fra Domenico Cavalca: Life of the Magdalen.

nativity-adoration-fra-lippiThe silly folks do not at all understand about the birth of our Lord. They say that our Lord was born at Bethlehem, and because the inns were all full, owing to certain feasts kept by those Jews, in a stable. But I tell you this is an error, and due to little sense, for our Lord was indeed placed in a manger, because none of the hostleries would receive Joseph and the Blessed Virgin; but it took place differently.

For you must know that beyond Bethlehem, which is a big village walled and moated, of those parts, lies a hilly country, exceeding wild, and covered with dense woods of firs, pines, larches, beeches, and similar trees, which the people of Bethlehem cut down at times, going in bands, and burn to charcoal, packing it on mules, to sell in the valley; or tie together whole trunks such as serve for beams, rafters, and masts, and float them down the rivers, which are many and very rapid.

In these mountains, then, in the thickest part of the woods, a certain man, of the wood-cutting trade, bethought him to build a house wherein to store the timber and live, himself and his family, when so it pleased him, and keep his beasts; and for this purpose he employed certain pillars and pieces of masonry that stood in the forest, being remains of a temple of the heathen, the which had long ceased to exist. And he cleared the wood round about, leaving only tree stumps and bushes; and close by in a ravine, between high fir-trees, ran a river, always full to the brim even in midsummer, owing to the melting snows, and of greenish waters, cold and rapid exceedingly; and around, up hill and down dale, stretched the wood of firs, larches, pines, and other noble and useful trees, emitting a very pleasant and virtuous fragrance. The man thought to enjoy his house, and came with his family, and servants, and horses, and mules, and oxen, which he had employed to carry down the timber and charcoal.

But scarcely were they settled than an earthquake rent the place, tearing wall from wall and pillar from pillar, and a voice was heard in the air, crying, “Ecce domus domini dei.” Whereupon they fled, astonished and in terror, and returned into the town.

And no one of that man’s family ventured henceforth to return to that wood, or to that house, save one called Hilarion, a poor lad and a servant, but of upright heart and faith in the Lord, which offered to go back and take his abode there, and cut down the trees and burn the charcoal for his master.

So he went, being a poor lad and poorly clad in leathern tunic and coarse serge hood. And Hilarion took with him an ox and an ass to load with charcoal and drive down to Bethlehem to his master.

And the first night that Hilarion slept in that house, which was fallen to ruin, only a piece of roof remaining, which he thatched with pine-branches, he heard voices singing in the air, as of children, both boys and maidens. But he closed his eyes and repeated a Paternoster, and turned over and slept. And again, another night, he heard voices, and knew the house to be haunted, and trembled. But, being clear of heart, he said two Aves and went to sleep. And once more did he hear voices, and they were passing sweet; and with them came a fragrance as of crushed herbs, and many kinds of flowers, and frankincense, and orris-root; and Hilarion shook, for he feared lest it be the heathen gods, Mercury, or Macomet, or Apollinis. But he said his prayer and slept.

But at length, one night, as Hilarion heard those songs as usual, he opened his eyes. And, behold! the place was light, and a great staircase of light, like golden cobwebs, stretched up to heaven, and there were angels going about in numbers, coming and going, with locks like honeycomb, and dresses pink, and green, and sky-blue, and white, thickly embroidered with purest pearls, and wings as of butterflies and peacock’s tails, with glories of solid gold about their head. And they went to and fro, carrying garlands and strewing flowers, so that, although mid-winter, it was like a garden in June, so sweet of roses, and lilies, and gillyflowers. And the angels sang; and when they had finished their work, they said, “It is well,” and departed, holding hands and flying into the sky above the fir-trees.

And Hilarion wondered greatly, and said five Paters and six Aves. And the next day, as he was cutting a fir-tree in the wood, there met him, among the rocks, a man old, venerable, with a long gray beard and a solemn air. And he was clad in crimson, and under his arm he carried written books and a scourge. And Hilarion said,—

“Who art thou? for this forest is haunted by spirits, and I would know whether thou be of them or of men.”

And the ancient made answer: “My name is Hieronymus. I am a wise man and a king. I have spent all my days learning the secrets of things. I know how the trees grow and waters run, and where treasure lies; and I can teach thee what the stars sing, and in what manner the ruby and emerald are smelted in the bowels of the earth; and I can chain the winds and stop the sun, for I am wise above all men. But I seek one wiser than myself, and go through the woods in search of him, my master.”

And Hilarion said: “Tarry thou here, and thou shalt see, if I mistake not, him whom thou seekest.”

So the old man, whose name was Hieronymus, tarried in the forest and built himself a hut of stones.

And the day after that, as Hilarion went forth to catch fish in the river, he met on the bank a lady, beautiful beyond compare, the which for all clothing wore only her own hair, golden and exceeding long. And Hilarion asked,—

“Who art thou? for this forest is haunted by spirits, and I would know whether thou art one of such, and of evil intent, as the demon Venus, or a woman like the mother who bore me.”

And the lady answered: “My name is Magdalen. I am a princess and a courtesan, and the fairest woman that ever be. All day the princes and kings of the earth have brought gifts to my house, and hung wreaths on my roof, and strewed flowers in my yard; and the poets all day have sung to their lutes, and all have lain groaning at my gates at night; for I am beautiful beyond all creatures. But I seek one more beautiful than myself, and go searching my master by the lakes and the rivers.”

And Hilarion made answer: “Tarry thou here, and thou shalt see, if I mistake not, him whom thou seekest?”

And the lady, whose name was Magdalen, tarried by the river and built herself a cabin of reeds and leaves. And that night was the longest and coldest of the winter.

And Hilarion made for himself a bed of fern and hay in the stable of the ox and the ass, and lay close to them for warmth. And, lo! in the middle of the night the ass brayed and the ox bellowed, and Hilarion started up.

And he saw the heavens open with a great brightness as of beaten and fretted gold, and angels coming and going, and holding each other by the hand, and wreathed in roses, and singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis.”

And Hilarion wondered and said ten Paters and ten Aves.

And that day, towards noon, there came through the wood one bearing a staff, and leading a mule, on which was seated a woman, that was near unto her hour and moaning piteously. And they were poor folk and travel-stained.

And the man said to Hilarion: “My name is Joseph. I am a carpenter from the city of Nazareth, and my wife is called Mary, and she is in travail. Suffer thou us to rest, and my wife to lie on the straw of the stable.”

And Hilarion said: “You are welcome. Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini;” and Hilarion laid down more fern and hay, and gave provender to the mule. And the woman’s hour came, and she was delivered of a male child. And Hilarion took it and laid it in the manger. And he went forth into the woods and found the ancient wizard Hieronymus, and the lady Magdalen, and said,—

“Come with me to the ruined house, for truly there is He whom you be seeking.”

And they followed him to the ruined house where the fir-trees were cleared above the river; and they saw the babe lying in the manger, and Hieronymus and Magdalen kneeled down, saying, “Surely this is He that is our Master, for He is wiser and more fair than either.”

And the skies opened, and there came forth angels, such as Hilarion had seen, with glories of solid gold round their heads, and garlands of roses about their necks, and they took hands and danced, and sang, flying up, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.”