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.

__________________________________________________

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.

__________________________________________________

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.

__________________________________________________

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.

__________________________________________________

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.

__________________________________________________

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

AAJX001248

“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.”

A Story of Nuremberg, by Agnes Repplier

It was a Christmas eve in the beginning of the sixteenth century, and through the streets of Nuremberg came drifting a feathery snow that heaped itself in fantastic patterns on the projecting windows and fretted stone balconies of the quaint and crowded houses. It was not an honest and single-minded snow-storm, such as would seek to shroud the whole city in its delicate white mantle, but rather a tricksy and capricious sprite, that neglected one spot to hurl itself with wanton violence on another. Borne on the breath of a keen and shifting wind, it came tossing gleefully full in the face of a solitary artisan who, wrapped in a heavy cloak, was making the best of his way homeward. Truly it was not a pleasant night to be abroad, with the snow-drifts dancing in your eyes like a million of tiny arrow-points, and the sharp wind cutting like a knife; and the wayfarer was consoling himself for his present discomfort by picturing the warm fireside and the hot supper that awaited him at home, when his cheerful dreams were broken by a sharp cry that seemed to come from under his very feet.

Startled, and not a little alarmed, he checked his rapid walk and listened. There was no mistaking the sound: it was neither imp nor fairy, but a real child, from whose little lungs came forth that wail at once pitiful and querulous. As he heard it, Peter Burkgmäier’s kindly heart flew with one rapid bound to the cradle at home where slumbered his own infant daughter, and, hastily lowering his lantern, he searched under the dark archway whence the cry had come. There, sheltered by the wall and wrapped in a ragged cloak, was a baby boy, perhaps between two and three years old, but so tiny and emaciated as to seem hardly half that age. When the lantern flickered in his face he gave a frightened sob, and then lay quiet and exhausted in the strong arms that held him.

“Poor little wretch!” said the man. “Abandoned on Christmas eve to die in the snow!” And wrapping the child more closely in his own mantle, he hurried on until he reached his home, from whose latticed panes shone forth a cheerful stream of light. His wife, with her baby on her breast, met him at the door, and stared with a not unnatural amazement as her husband unrolled his cloak and showed her the boy, who, blinking painfully at the sudden light, tried to struggle down from his arms.

“See, Lisbeth!” he said, “I have found you a Christmas present where I least expected one—an unhappy baby left in the streets to die of cold and hunger.”

His wife laid her own infant in the cradle and gazed alternately at her husband and at the child he carried. She was at all times slow to receive impressions, and slower yet to put her thoughts into words. When she spoke, it was without apparent emotion of any kind. “What are you going to do with him, Peter?” she said.

“What am I going to do with him?” was the reply. “I am going to feed and clothe and shelter him, and make an honest man out of him, please God. It cannot be that you would refuse the poor child a home?”

Lisbeth made no answer. She was a large, fair, sleepy-eyed woman, who had been accounted a beauty in her day. A model wife, too, people said; neat in dress, quiet of tongue, her conduct staid, her whole thoughts centred in her household. She now took the boy, noting with a woman’s eye his coarse and ragged clothing, and stood him on his unsteady little feet. A faint expression of disgust rippled over her smooth, unthinking face.

“He is a humpback,” she said, slowly.

Her husband started to his feet. In all ages physical deformity has been a thing repulsive to our eyes; but at this early day it was regarded with unmixed horror and aversion, and was too often considered as the index of a crooked mind within. Peter Burkgmäier, tall and erect, with a frame of iron and sinews of steel, as became a master stone-mason, stood gazing at the poor little atom of misshapen humanity who tottered over the polished wooden floor. The spinal column was sadly bent, and from between the humped shoulders the pale face peered with an old, uncanny look. Yet the boy was not otherwise ugly. His forehead was broad and smooth, and his dark blue eyes were well and deeply set. The artisan watched him for a minute in painful silence, then turned to his wife and took her passive hand in his.

“Lisbeth,” he said, with grave kindness, “I know that I am asking a great deal of you when I beg you to take this child under our roof. He will be to you much care and trouble, and may never find his way into your heart. At any other time, believe me, I would not put this burden on your shoulders. But it is Christmas eve, and were I to refuse a shelter to this helpless baby I would feel like one of those who had no room within their inns for the Holy Child. Dear wife, will you not receive him for love of me and of God, and let him share with little Kala in your care?”

Lisbeth’s only reply was one characteristic of the woman. She was moved by her husband’s appeal, against what she considered her better judgment; and without a single word she picked up the boy from the floor and laid him in the cradle by the side of her own little daughter. Then, with a smile—and her smiles came but rarely—she proceeded to carry off Peter’s wet cloak and to bring in his supper. So with this mute assent the matter was settled, and the deformed child was received into the stone-mason’s family.

42-21439434And in a different way he became the source of much gratification to both husband and wife. The first regarded him with real kindness and an almost fatherly affection, for the boy soon began to manifest a quick intelligence and a winning gentleness that might readily have found their way into a harder heart. Lisbeth, too, had her reward; for it was sweet to her soul to hear her neighbors say, as they stopped to watch the two children playing in the doorway: “Ah! Lisbeth, it is not many a woman who would take the care you do of a wretched little humpback like that;” or, “It was a lucky chance for the poor child that threw him into such hands as yours, Mistress Burkgmäier;” or, “Did ever little Kala look so fair and straight as when she had that crooked boy by her side?”

And did not the good pastor from the Frauenkirche say to her, with tears starting in his gentle eyes: “God will surely reward you for your kindness to this helpless little one?” Nay, better yet, did not the Stadtholder’s lady lean out from her beautiful carriage, and say before three of the neighbors, who were standing by and heard every word: “You are a good woman, Mistress Burkgmäier, to take the same care of this miserable child as of your own pretty little daughter”?—which was something to be really proud of; for, whereas it was the obvious duty of a priest to admire a virtuous act, it was not often that a noble lady deigned thus to express her approbation.

Yes, Lisbeth felt, as she listened serenely to all this praise—surely so well merited—that there was some compensation in the world for such charitable deeds as hers, even when they involved a fair amount of sacrifice. And little Gabriel, before whom many of these remarks were uttered, pondered over them in secret, and gradually evolved three facts from the curious puzzle of his life—first, that he did not really belong to what seemed to be his home; second, that he was not loved in it as was Kala; third, that Kala was pretty and he was ugly. So with these three melancholy scraps of knowledge the poor child began his earthly education.

And Kala was very pretty. Tall and strong-limbed, with her mother’s beautiful hair and skin, and with her mother’s clear, meaningless blue eyes, the little girl attracted attention wherever she was seen. No better foil to her vigorous young beauty could have been found than the pale, misshapen boy whom all the world called ugly. The children played together under Lisbeth’s watchful eye, and Gabriel in all things yielded to his companion’s imperious will, so that peace reigned ever over their sports. But when Sigmund Wahnschaffe, the son of the bronze-worker in the neighboring street, joined them, then Kala would have no more of Gabriel’s company. For Sigmund was strong as a young Hercules and surpassed all the other lads in their boyish games. When he would play with her, Kala turned her back ungratefully upon the patient companion of her idler moments, who was fain to watch in silence the pleasures he might not share.

Yet from Sigmund she met no easy compliance with her wishes. His will was a law not to be disputed, and once, when she had ventured to assert herself in rebellious fashion, he promptly maintained his precedence by pushing her into the mud. Kala began to cry, and, like a flash, Gabriel, in a storm of rage, flung himself upon the older boy, only to be shaken off as a feather into the same muddy gutter. It was over in a minute, nor would Sigmund deign to further punish the little humpback who had been ridiculous enough to attack him. Serenely unmoved he strolled away, while Kala and Gabriel went sadly home together, to be both well scolded for the ruin of their clothes and sent supperless to bed; Lisbeth priding herself, above all things, on the strictly impartial character of her retributive justice.

But Gabriel had at least one pastime which could be shared with none, and which bade fair to recompense him for all the childish sports he was denied. With a small block of wood and a few simple tools his skilful fingers wrought such wonders that Kala and Sigmund, and the very children who hooted at him in the street, could not withhold their admiration,—sometimes a brooding dove with pretty, ruffled plumage; sometimes the head and curving horns of a mountain chamois, instinct with graceful life; sometimes a group of snails, each tiny spiral reproduced with loving accuracy in the hard grained wood. To Peter Burkgmäier these evidences of a talent then in such high repute gave most unbounded satisfaction. His own trade was far too severe for the boy’s frail strength, but wood-carving was fully as profitable, and might lead to wealth and fame. Had not Veit Stoss, of whose genius Nuremberg felt justly proud, already finished his wonderful group of angels saluting the Virgin, which hung from the roof of St. Lorenz? With such an example before him, what might not the boy hope to achieve through talent and persevering labor? And Gabriel felt his own heart burn as he looked with wistful eyes upon that masterpiece of rare and delicate carving.

Nuremberg was then alive with the spirit of art, and everywhere he turned there was something beautiful to quicken his pulse and feed the flame within his soul, that was half rapture and half bitterness. No idle boast was the old rhyme,—
“Nuremberg’s hand
Goes through every land.”

For the city’s renown had spread far and wide, and in its many branches of industry, as well as in the higher walks of art, it had reached the zenith of its fame. Already, indeed, the canker-worm was gnawing at the root, and unerring retribution was creeping on a blinded people; but no sign of the future was manifested in the universal prosperity of the day. Every street furnished its food for the artist’s soul: the Frauenkirche, enriched with the loving gifts of devout generations; St. Sebald’s, with its carved portal, its stained windows, its treasures of bronze, and, above all, the shrine where Peter Vischer and his sons labored for thirteen years. Gabriel loved St. Sebald’s dearly, but closer still to his heart was the majestic church of St. Lorenz, where, in sharp relief against the dull red pillars, rose that dream in stone, the Sacrament House of Adam Krafft, its slender, fretted spire springing to the very roof, clasped in the embrace of the curling vine tendrils carved around it.

Here the boy would linger for hours, never weary of studying every detail of this faultless shrine. With envious eyes he gazed upon the kneeling figures of Adam Krafft and his two fellow-laborers, who, carved in stone, now supported the treasure their hands had wrought. Surely this was the crowning summit of human ambition—to live thus forever in the house of God, and before the eyes of men, a part of the very work which had ennobled the artist’s life. Ah! if he, the despised humpback, could but descend to posterity immortalized by the labor of his hands. What to the dreaming lad was the picture of Adam Krafft dying in a hospital, poor, unfriended, and alone, in the midst of a city his genius had enriched? What was it to him that Nuremberg, which now heaped honors on the dead, had denied bread to the living? Such bitter truths come not to the young. They are the heritage of age, and Gabriel was but a boy, with all a boy’s fond hopes and aspirations. Often as he studied the graceful beauty of the Sacrament House, where, cut in the pure white stone, he saw the Last Supper and Christ blessing little children, he wondered whether among those Jewish boys and girls was one who, deformed and repulsive to the eye, yet felt the Saviour’s loving touch and was comforted.

A few more years rolled by, and each succeeding spring saw Kala taller and prettier, and Gabriel working harder still at his laborious art. Not so engrossed, however, but that he knew that Kala was fair, and that when her soft fingers touched his a swift and sudden fire leaped through his heart. Kala’s beauty lurked in his dreams by night and in his long, solitary days of toil, and became the motive power of all his best endeavors. If he should gain wealth, it would be but to lay it at her feet. If he, the desolate waif, should win fame and distinction, it would be but to gild her name with his. Surely these things must be some recompense in a woman’s eyes for a pale face and a stunted form; and Gabriel, lost in foolish dreams, worked on.

Sigmund Wahnschaffe, too, had grown into early manhood and had adopted his father’s calling. Strong arms were as useful in their way as a creative brain, and if Sigmund could never be an artist like Peter Vischer, he promised at least to make an excellent workman. People said he was the handsomest young artisan in Nuremberg, with his dark skin bronzed by the fires among which he labored, and his black eyes sparkling with a keen and merry light. Times had changed since the day he pushed little Kala into the mud, and he looked upon her now as some frail and delicate blossom, that to handle would be desecration. Yet Kala was no rare flower, but a common plant, with nothing remarkable about her except her beauty; and, once married, Sigmund would be prompt enough to recognize this fact. Gabriel, with a chivalrous and imaginative soul, might perhaps retain his ideal unbroken till his death; but in the young bronze-worker’s practical mind ideals had no place, and his bride would slip naturally into the post of housewife, from whom nothing more exalted would be demanded than thrifty habits and a cheerful temper.

And Kala knew perfectly that both these young men loved her, and that one day she would be called upon to choose between them, between Sigmund, strong, handsome, and resolute, with a laugh and a gay word for all who met him; and Gabriel, dwarfed and silent, who had caught the trick of melancholy in his unloved childhood and could not shake it off. But it was not merely the sense of physical deformity that saddened Gabriel’s soul. The air he breathed was filled with a subtle spirit of discord; for upon Nuremberg, with her many churches and monuments of mediæval art, the Reformation had laid its chilling hand. Its influence was felt on every side—in art, where the joyous simplicity of Wohlgemuth had given place to the fantastic melancholy of Albrecht Dürer, fit imprint of a troubled and storm-tossed mind; as well as in literature, where the bitter raillery and coarse jests of Hans Sachs, the cobbler-poet, now passed with swift approval from mouth to mouth.

The day had not yet come when Nuremberg, in her blind arrogance, was to close her gates upon those who had given her life and fame; but already were heard the first faint murmurs of the approaching storm. What wonder that Gabriel shrank from the darkening future, and that men like Peter Burkgmäier, pondering with set mouths and frowning brows, were slowly making up their minds that the city which had been their birthplace should never shelter their old age. But Lisbeth went stolidly about the daily routine of her life; Kala’s smiles were as bright and as frequent as ever; and Sigmund troubled himself not at all with matters beyond his ken.

Winter had set in early, and already November had brought in its train snow and biting winds, and the promise of severe cold to come. It was a busy season for the bronze-workers, and Sigmund toiled unceasingly, his cheerful thoughts giving zest to his labors and new strength to his mighty arm. For did not each evening see him by Kala’s side, and had she not, after months of vain coquetting, at last fairly yielded up her heart?

“Kala will make a good wife,” said Lisbeth, proudly. “And she goes not empty-handed to her husband’s house.”

“They are a well-matched pair,” said Peter, meditatively. “Health and beauty and dulness are no mean heritage in these troubled times.”

And though the neighbors hesitated to call the young couple dull, they one and all agreed that the marriage was a suitable one, and that they had long foreseen it. “Why, they were little lovers in childhood, even!” said Theresa, the wife of Johann Dyne, the toy-vender in the next street; and Kala, who had perhaps forgotten the time when her child-lover had knocked her into the gutter, smiled, and showed her beautiful white teeth, and suffered the remark to pass uncontradicted.

But even the most stolid of women have always some lurking tenderness for those who they know have loved them vainly, and Kala, though she had without a demur accepted Sigmund for her husband, yet broke the news to Gabriel with much gentleness, and was greatly comforted by the apparent composure with which it was received. He grew perhaps a trifle paler and quieter than before, if such a thing were possible, and shut himself up more resolutely with his work; but that was all. No one would have dreamed that life with its fair promises had suddenly grown worthless in his hands, and that the rich gifts which still were left him seemed as nothing compared with the valueless treasure he had lost. Even his art had become hateful, freighted as it was with dead hopes; and often, when all believed him to be toiling in his little den, he was wandering aimlessly through the streets of Nuremberg, seeking comfort in those haunts which had once been to him as dear friends and companions. For hours he would linger in the church of St. Lorenz, and then slowly make his way to the Thiergarten Gate, where, along the Seilersgasse to the churchyard, rise at regular intervals the seven stone pillars on which Adam Krafft has carved, in beautiful bas-reliefs, scenes from the Passion of the Lord. Years before the simple piety of a Nuremberg citizen had erected these monuments of holy art, and their founder, Martin Ketzel, had even travelled into Palestine, that he might measure the exact distances of that most sorrowful journey from the house of Pontius Pilate to the hill of Calvary. Heedless of the severe weather, Gabriel visited daily these primitive stations, striving to forget his own bitterness in the presence of a divine grief; and, laying his troubled heart at his Saviour’s feet, would return, strengthened and comforted, into the busy city.

Christmas now was drawing near, and with its approach a new resolve took possession of his soul. A fresh light had dawned upon him, and, shaking off his apathy, he started to work in earnest. All day long he toiled with a steady purpose, though none were permitted to see the fruit of his labors. Kala, indeed, unaccustomed to be thwarted in her curiosity, presented herself at his work-shop door and implored admittance; but not even to her was the secret revealed.

“It is very unkind of you!” she pouted, hardly doubting that she would gain her point. “You never kept anything from me in your life before.”

Gabriel took her hand and looked with strange, wistful eyes into her pretty face. “I am keeping nothing from you now,” he said. “It is your wedding-gift that I am fashioning; but you must be content to wait its completion before you see it. By Christmas it shall be your own.”

So Kala, comforted with the thought of future possession, bided her time, and Gabriel was left in undisputed enjoyment of his solitude. At first he worked languidly and with little zest; but from interest grew ambition, and from ambition a passionate love for the labor of his hands, which threw all other hopes and fears into the background. Kala was forgotten, and Gabriel, absorbed in the contemplation of his art and striving as he had never striven before, felt as though some power not his own were working in him, and that the supreme effort of his life had come. Yet ever in the midst of his feverish activity a strange weakness seized and held him powerless in its grasp; and like a keen and sudden pain came the bitter thought that he might die before his work was done. Instinctively he felt that his hopes of future fame rested on these few weeks that were flying pitilessly by, each one carrying with it some portion of his wasted strength; and that if death should overtake him with his labor uncompleted his name and memory must perish from the world. So, like one who flies across a Russian steppe pursued by starving wolves, Gabriel sped on his task, seeking to out-distance the grim and noiseless wolf that followed close upon his track.

It was Christmas eve, the anniversary of that snowy night when Peter Burkgmäier had carried home the deformed child, and now all was bustle and glad preparation in the stone-mason’s household. Within three days Kala was to be married, and Lisbeth, who felt that her reputation as cook and housewife was at stake, spared neither time nor trouble in her hospitable labors. Since early morning the great fires had roared in her spacious kitchen, and all the poor who came to beg a Christmas bounty tasted freely of her good cheer. With light heart and busy fingers Kala assisted her mother, and doled out the bread and cakes—not too lavishly—to the ragged children who clamored around the door; wondering much in the meanwhile what trinket Sigmund would bring her with which to deck herself on Christmas morning.

And in his little room Gabriel stood looking at his finished work, and asking himself if his heart spoke truly when it whispered: “You, too, are great.” It was sweet to realize that his task was done and that he might rest at last; it was sweeter still to see in the bit of carved wood before him the fulfilment of all his dearest dreams. So, while daylight faded into dusk and evening into night, he sat lost in a maze of tangled thoughts that crowded wearily through his listless brain. It was now too dark for him to discern the image by his side, but from time to time he laid his hand upon it with a gentle touch, as a mother might caress a sleeping child, and was happy in its dumb companionship.

How long he had been sitting thus he never knew, when suddenly out into the frosty air rang the great bells of St. Lorenz, calling the faithful to midnight Mass.

Clearly and joyfully they pealed, as if their brazen tongues were striving to utter in words their messages of good-will to men. Gabriel’s heart leaped at the sound, and a great yearning seized him to kneel once more within those beloved walls, and amid their solemn beauty to adore the new-born Babe. Jubilantly rang the bells, and their glad voices seemed to speak to him as old friends, and with one accord to urge him on. Weak and dizzy, he crept down the narrow stairs and out into the bitter night. The sharp wind struck him in the face, and worried him as it had worried years before the baby abandoned to its cruel embraces. Yet with the appealing music of the bells ringing in his ears he never thought of turning back, but struggled bravely onward until the frowning walls of St. Lorenz rose up before him. Through the open doors poured a little crowd of devotees, and Gabriel, entering, stole softly up to the Sacrament House, where so often the carved Christ had looked with gentle eyes upon his lonely childhood.

Mass had begun, and the great church was hardly a third full, for Nuremberg’s weakening faith exempted her children from such untimely services. But in the faces of the scattered worshippers there was something never seen before—a grave severity, a solemn purpose, as when men are banded together to resist in silence an advancing foe. Gabriel, dimly conscious of this, strove to restrain his wandering thoughts, and fixed his eyes upon the gleaming altar. But no prayer rose to his lips, though into his heart came that deep sense of rest and contentment which found an utterance long ago in the words of an apostle: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Like a child he had come to his Father’s feet, and, laying there his rejected human love, his ungratified human ambition, he gained in their place the peace which passeth all understanding. The two shadows which had mocked him during life vanished into nothingness at the hour of death, and with clear eyes he saw the value of an immortal soul.

Mass was over, and the congregation moved slowly through the shadowy aisles out into the starlit night. But Gabriel sat still, his head resting against the stone pillar, his dead eyes fixed upon the Sacrament House, and upon the sculptured Christ rising triumphant from the grave.

Four weeks had gone by since the body of the humpback had been carried sorrowfully past the stations of the Seilersgasse into the quiet churchyard beyond. The dusk of a winter evening shrouded the empty streets when a stranger, of grave demeanor and in the prime of life, knocked at the stone-mason’s door. Kala opened it, and her father, recognizing the visitor, rose with wondering respect to greet him. It was Veit Stoss, the wood-carver, then at the zenith of his fame. With quick, keen eyes he glanced around the homely room, taking in every detail of the scene before him—Lisbeth weaving placidly by the fire; Kala fair and blushing in the lamp-light; and Sigmund playing idly with the crooked little turnspit at his feet. Then he turned to Peter, and for a minute the two men stood looking furtively at one another, as though each were trying to read his companion’s thoughts. Finally, the wood-carver spoke.

“I grieve, Master Burkgmäier,” he said, with courteous sympathy, “that you should have lost your foster-son, to whom report says you were much attached. And I hear also that the young man promised highly in his calling.”

“Then you heard not all,” answered the stone-mason, slowly. “Gabriel did more, for he fulfilled his promise.”

A sudden light came into the artist’s eyes. “It is true, then,” he said, eagerly, “that the boy left behind him a rare piece of work, which has not yet been seen outside these walls. I heard the rumor, but thought it idle folly.”

Peter Burkgmäier crossed the room and opened a deep cupboard. “You shall see it,” he said simply, “and answer for yourself. No one in Nuremberg is more fit to judge.” Then, lifting out something wrapped in a heavy cloth, he carried it to the table, unveiled it with a reverent hand, and, stepping back, waited in silence for a verdict.

There was a long, breathless pause, broken only by the low whir of Lisbeth’s busy wheel. Veit Stoss stood motionless, while Peter’s eyes never stirred from the table before them. There, carved in the fair white wood, rested the divine Babe, as on that blessed Christmas night when his Mother “wrapped him up in swaddling-clothes and laid him in a manger.” The lovely little head nestled on its rough pillow as though on Mary’s bosom; the tiny limbs were relaxed in sleep; the whole figure breathed at once the dignity of the Godhead and the pathetic helplessness of babyhood. Instinctively one loved, and pitied, and adored. Nor was this all. Every broken bit of straw that thrust its graceful, fuzzy head from between the rough bars of the manger, every twisted knot of grass, every gnarl and break in the wood itself, had been wrought with the tender accuracy of the true artist, who finds nothing too simple for his utmost care and skill.

Veit Stoss drew a heavy breath and turned to his companion. “It is a masterpiece,” he said, gravely, “which I should be proud to call my own. I congratulate you on the possession of so great a treasure.”

“It is not mine,” returned the artisan, “but my daughter’s. Gabriel wrought it for her wedding-gift.”

The wood-carver’s keen blue eyes scanned Kala’s pretty, stolid face, and then wandered to Sigmund’s broad shoulders and mighty bulk. A faint, derisive smile curled his well-cut lips. “Your daughter’s beauty merits, indeed, the rarest of all rare tokens,” he said, slowly. “But perhaps there are other things more needful to a young housewife than even this precious bit of carving. If she will part with it I will pay her seventy thalers, and it shall lie in St. Sebald’s Church near my own Virgin, that all may see its loveliness and remember the hand that fashioned it.”

Seventy thalers! Sigmund dropped the dog and lifted his handsome head with a look of blank bewilderment. Seventy thalers for a bit of wood like that, when his own strong arms could not earn as much in months! He stared at the little image in wondering perplexity, as though striving to see by what mysterious process it had arrived at such a value; while into his heart crept a thought strictly in keeping with his practical nature. If the humpback could have produced work worth so much, what a thousand pities he should die with only one piece finished!

On Lisbeth, too, a revelation seemed to have fallen. Her wheel had stopped, and in her mind she was rapidly running over a list of household goods valued at seventy thalers. It was a mental calculation quickly and cleverly accomplished; for Lisbeth was not slow in all things, and years of thrift had taught her the full worth of money. Instinctively she glanced at her husband and marvelled at his unmoved face.

“Your offer is a liberal one, Master Stoss,” said Peter, gravely. “And I rejoice to think that the poor lad’s genius will be recognized. In him Nuremberg would have had another famous son.”

“In him Nuremberg has now a famous son,” corrected Veit Stoss, laying his hand upon the statue. “No other proof of greatness can be needed.” With gentle care he replaced the cloth and lifted the precious burden in his arms, when suddenly Kala sprang forward, her cheeks ablaze, her blue eyes dark with anger. Transfigured for one instant into a new and passionate beauty, she snatched the image from his hands.

“It is mine!” she cried, fiercely; “mine! Gabriel loved me, and carved it for me when he knew that he was dying. It was for me he did it, and you shall not take it from me.”

She gathered it to her bosom with a low, broken cry, and darted from the room. God only knows what late love, and pity, and remorse were working in her breast. Veit Stoss turned softly to her father. “It is enough,” he said. “Your daughter has the prior right, and I came not here to wrong her.”

And so the hand which had robbed Gabriel of love and life robbed him of fame. For the statue which should have given joy to generations remained unknown in the artisan’s family. At first many came to see and wonder at its beauty; but with the advent of a colder creed men wanted not such tokens of a vanished fervor, and the little Christ-Child was soon forgotten by the world. Perhaps Kala’s sturdy grandchildren destroyed it as a useless toy; perhaps it perished by fire, or flood, or evil accident. No memory of it lingers in the streets of Nuremberg; and Gabriel, lifted beyond the everlasting hills, knoweth the vanity of all human wishes.

The Peace Egg, by Juliana Horatia Ewing

I.

Every one ought to be happy at Christmas. But there are many things which ought to be, and yet are not; and people are sometimes sad even in the Christmas holidays.

The Captain and his wife were sad, though it was Christmas Eve. Sad, though they were in the prime of life, blessed with good health, devoted to each other and to their children, with competent means, a comfortable house on a little freehold property of their own, and, one might say, everything that heart could desire. Sad, though they were good people, whose peace of mind had a firmer foundation than their earthly goods alone; contented people, too, with plenty of occupation for mind and body. Sad—and in the nursery this was held to be past all reason—though the children were performing that ancient and most entertaining play or Christmas Mystery of Good St. George of England, known as “The Peace Egg,” for their benefit and behoof alone.

The play was none the worse that most of the actors were too young to learn parts, so that there was very little of the rather tedious dialogue, only plenty of dress and ribbons, and of fighting with wooden swords. But though St. George looked bonny enough to warm any father’s heart, as he marched up and down with an air learned by watching many a parade in barrack-square and drill-ground, and though the Valiant Slasher did not cry in spite of falling hard and the Doctor treading accidentally on his little finger in picking him up, still the Captain and his wife sighed nearly as often as they smiled, and the mother dropped tears as well as pennies into the cap which the King of Egypt brought round after the performance.

II.

Many, many years back the Captain’s wife had been a child herself, and had laughed to see the village mummers act “The Peace Egg,” and had been quite happy on Christmas Eve. Happy, though she had no mother. Happy, though her father was a stern man, very fond of his only child, but with an obstinate will that not even she dared thwart. She had lived to thwart it, and he had never forgiven her. It was when she married the Captain. The old man had a prejudice against soldiers, which was quite reason enough, in his opinion, for his daughter to sacrifice the happiness of her future life by giving up the soldier she loved. At last he gave her her choice between the Captain and his own favor and money. She chose the Captain, and was disowned and disinherited.

The Captain bore a high character, and was a good and clever officer, but that went for nothing against the old man’s whim. He made a very good husband, too; but even this did not move his father-in-law, who had never held any intercourse with him or his wife since the day of their marriage, and who had never seen his own grandchildren. Though not so bitterly prejudiced as the old father, the Captain’s wife’s friends had their doubts about the marriage. The place was not a military station, and they were quiet country folk who knew very little about soldiers, while what they imagined was not altogether favorable to “red-coats,” as they called them.

Soldiers are well-looking generally, it is true, and the Captain was more than well-looking—he was handsome; brave, of course it is their business, and the Captain had V. C. after his name and several bits of ribbon on his patrol jacket. But then, thought the good people, they are here to-day and gone to-morrow, you “never know where you have them;” they are probably in debt, possibly married to several women in several foreign countries, and, though they are very courteous in society, who knows how they treat their wives when they drag them off from their natural friends and protectors to distant lands, where no one can call them to account?

“Ah, poor thing!” said Mrs. John Bull, junior, as she took off her husband’s coat on his return from business, a week after the Captain’s wedding, “I wonder how she feels? There’s no doubt the old man behaved disgracefully; but it’s a great risk marrying a soldier. It stands to reason, military men aren’t domestic; and I wish—Lucy Jane, fetch your papa’s slippers, quick!—she’d had the sense to settle down comfortably among her friends with a man who would have taken care of her.”

“Officers are a wild set, I expect,” said Mr. Bull, complacently, as he stretched his limbs in his own particular arm-chair, into which no member of his family ever intruded. “But the red-coats carry the day with plenty of girls who ought to know better. You women are always caught by a bit of finery. However, there’s no use our bothering our heads about it. As she has brewed she must bake.”

The Captain’s wife’s baking was lighter and more palatable than her friends believed. The Captain, who took off his own coat when he came home, and never wore slippers but in his dressing-room, was domestic enough.

A selfish companion must, doubtless, be a great trial amid the hardships of military life, but when a soldier is kind-hearted, he is often a much more helpful and thoughtful and handy husband than any equally well-meaning civilian. Amid the ups and downs of their wanderings, the discomforts of shipboard and of stations in the colonies, bad servants, and unwonted sicknesses, the Captain’s tenderness never failed. If the life was rough, the Captain was ready. He had been, by turns, in one strait or another, sick-nurse, doctor, carpenter, nursemaid, and cook to his family, and had, moreover, an idea that nobody filled these offices quite so well as himself. Withal, his very profession kept him neat, well-dressed, and active. In the roughest of their ever-changing quarters he was a smarter man, more like the lover of his wife’s young days, than Mr. Bull amid his stationary comforts.

Then if the Captain’s wife was—as her friends said—”never settled,” she was also forever entertained by new scenes; and domestic mischances do not weigh very heavily on people whose possessions are few and their intellectual interests many.

It is true that there were ladies in the Captain’s regiment who passed by sea and land from one quarter of the globe to another, amid strange climates and customs, strange trees and flowers, beasts and birds, from the glittering snow of North America to the orchids of the Cape, from beautiful Pera to the lily-covered hills of Japan, and who in no place rose above the fret of domestic worries, and had little to tell on their return but of the universal misconduct of servants, from Irish “helps” in the colonies to compradors and China-boys at Shanghai. But it was not so with the Captain’s wife. Moreover, one becomes accustomed to one’s fate, and she moved her whole establishment from the Curragh to Corfu with less anxiety than that felt by Mrs. Bull over a port-wine stain on the best table-cloth.

And yet, as years went and children came, the Captain and his wife grew tired of travelling. New scenes were small comfort when they heard of the death of old friends. One foot of murky English sky was dearer, after all, than miles of the unclouded heavens of the South. The gray hills and overgrown lanes of her old home haunted the Captain’s wife by night and day, and homesickness, that weariest of all sicknesses, began to take the light out of her eyes before their time. It preyed upon the Captain, too. Now and then he would say, fretfully, “I should like an English resting-place, however small, before everybody is dead! But the children’s prospects have to be considered.” The continued estrangement from the old man was an abiding sorrow also, and they had hopes that, if only they could get to England, he might be persuaded to peace and charity this time.

At last they were sent home. But the hard old father still would not relent. He returned their letters unopened. This bitter disappointment made the Captain’s wife so ill that she almost died, and in one month the Captain’s hair became iron gray. He reproached himself for having ever taken the daughter from her father, “to kill her at last,” as he said. And, thinking of his own children, he even reproached himself for having robbed the old widower of his only child. After two years at home his regiment was ordered to India. He failed to effect an exchange, and they prepared to move once more,—from Chatham to Calcutta. Never before had the packing, to which she was so well accustomed, been so bitter a task to the Captain’s wife.

It was at the darkest hour of this gloomy time that the Captain came in, waving above his head a letter which changed all their plans.

Now close by the old home of the Captain’s wife there had lived a man, much older than herself, who yet had loved her with a devotion as great as that of the young Captain. She never knew it, for, when he saw that she had given her heart to his young rival, he kept silence, and he never asked for what he knew he might have had—the old man’s authority in his favor. So generous was the affection which he could never conquer, that he constantly tried to reconcile the father to his children while he lived, and, when he died, he bequeathed his house and small estate to the woman he had loved.

“It will be a legacy of peace,” he thought, on his death-bed. “The old man cannot hold out when she and her children are constantly in sight. And it may please God that I shall know of the reunion I have not been permitted to see with my eyes.”

And thus it came about that the Captain’s regiment went to India without him, and that the Captain’s wife and her father lived on opposite sides of the same road.

III.

The eldest of the Captain’s children was a boy. He was named Robert, after his grandfather, and seemed to have inherited a good deal of the old gentleman’s character, mixed with gentler traits. He was a fair, fine boy, tall and stout for his age, with the Captain’s regular features, and, he flattered himself, the Captain’s firm step and martial bearing. He was apt—like his grandfather—to hold his own will to be other people’s law, and happily for the peace of the nursery this opinion was devoutly shared by his brother Nicholas. Though the Captain had sold his commission, Robert continued to command an irregular force of volunteers in the nursery, and never was a colonel more despotic. His brothers and sisters were by turn infantry, cavalry, engineers, and artillery, according to his whim, and when his affections finally settled upon the Highlanders of “The Black Watch,” no female power could compel him to keep his stockings above his knees, or his knickerbockers below them.

The Captain alone was a match for his strong-willed son.

“If you please, sir,” said Sarah, one morning, flouncing in upon the Captain, just as he was about to start for the neighboring town, “if you please, sir, I wish you’d speak to Master Robert. He’s past my powers.”

“I’ve no doubt of it,” thought the Captain; but he only said, “Well, what’s the matter?”

“Night after night do I put him to bed,” said Sarah, “and night after night does he get up as soon as I’m out of the room, and says he’s orderly officer for the evening, and goes about in his night-shirt and his feet as bare as boards.”

The Captain fingered his heavy moustache to hide a smile, but he listened patiently to Sarah’s complaints.

“It ain’t so much him I should mind, sir,” she continued, “but he goes round the beds and wakes up the other young gentlemen and Miss Dora, one after another, and when I speak to him he gives me all the sauce he can lay his tongue to, and says he’s going round the guards. The other night I tried to put him back in his bed, but he got away and ran all over the house, me hunting him everywhere, and not a sign of him, till he jumps out on me from the garret-stairs and nearly knocks me down. ‘I’ve visited the outposts, Sarah,’ says he; ‘all’s well,’ and off he goes to bed as bold as brass.”

“Have you spoken to your mistress?” asked the Captain.

“Yes, sir,” said Sarah. “And misses spoke to him, and he promised not to go round the guards again.”

“Has he broken his promise?” asked the Captain, with a look of anger and also surprise.

“When I opened the door last night, sir,” continued Sarah, in her shrill treble, “what should I see in the dark but Master Robert a-walking up and down with the carpet-brush stuck in his arm. ‘Who goes there?’ says he. ‘You owdacious boy!’ says I. ‘Didn’t you promise your ma you’d leave off them tricks?’ ‘I’m not going round the guards,’ says he; ‘I promised not. But I’m for sentry-duty to-night.’ And say what I would to him, all he had for me was, ‘You mustn’t speak to a sentry on duty.’ So I says, ‘As sure as I live till morning, I’ll go to your pa,’ for he pays no more attention to his ma than me, nor to any one else.”

“Please to see that the chair-bed in my dressing-room is moved into your mistress’s bed-room,” said the Captain. “I will attend to Master Robert.”

With this Sarah had to content herself, and she went back to the nursery. Robert was nowhere to be seen, and made no reply to her summons. On this the unwary nursemaid flounced into the bed-room to look for him, when Robert, who was hidden beneath a table, darted forth and promptly locked her in.

“You’re under arrest,” he shouted through the keyhole.

“Let me out!” shrieked Sarah.

“I’ll send a file of the guard to fetch you to the orderly-room by-and-by,” said Robert, “for ‘preferring frivolous complaints,’” and he departed to the farmyard to look at the ducks.

That night, when Robert went up to bed, the Captain quietly locked him into his dressing-room, from which the bed had been removed.

“You’re for sentry-duty to-night,” said the captain, “The carpet-brush is in the corner. Good-evening.”

As his father anticipated, Robert was soon tired of the sentry game in these new circumstances, and long before the night had half worn away he wished himself safely undressed and in his own comfortable bed. At half-past twelve o’clock he felt as if he could bear it no longer, and knocked at the Captain’s door.

“Who goes there?” said the Captain.

“Mayn’t I go to bed, please?” whined poor Robert.

“Certainly not,” said the Captain. “You’re on duty.”

And on duty poor Robert had to remain, for the Captain had a will as well as his son. So he rolled himself up in his father’s railway rug and slept on the floor.

The next night he was glad to go quietly to bed, and remain there.

IV.

The Captain’s children sat at breakfast in a large, bright nursery. It was the room where the old bachelor had died, and now her children made it merry. This is just what he would have wished.

They all sat round the table, for it was breakfast-time. There were five of them, and five bowls of boiled bread-and-milk smoked before them. Sarah, a foolish, gossiping girl, who acted as nurse till better could be found, was waiting on them, and by the table sat Darkie, the black retriever, his long, curly back swaying slightly from the difficulty of holding himself up, and his solemn hazel eyes fixed very intently on each and all of the breakfast bowls. He was as silent and sagacious as Sarah was talkative and empty-headed. The expression of his face was that of King Charles I. as painted by Vandyke. Though large, he was unassuming. Pax, the pug, on the contrary, who came up to the first joint of Darkie’s leg, stood defiantly on his dignity and his short stumps. He always placed himself in front of the bigger dog, and made a point of hustling him in door-ways and of going first down stairs. He strutted like a beadle, and carried his tail more tightly curled than a bishop’s crook. He looked as one may imagine the frog in the fable would have looked had he been able to swell himself rather nearer to the size of the ox. This was partly due to his very prominent eyes, and partly to an obesity favored by habits of lying inside the fender, and of eating meals proportioned more to his consequence than to his hunger. They were both favorites of two years’ standing, and had very nearly been given away, when the good news came of an English home for the family, dogs and all.

Robert’s tongue was seldom idle, even at meals. “Are you a Yorkshire woman, Sarah?” he asked, pausing, with his spoon full in his hand.

“No, Master Robert,” said Sarah.

“But you understand Yorkshire, don’t you? I can’t, very often; but mamma can, and can speak it, too. Papa says mamma always talks Yorkshire to servants and poor people. She used to talk Yorkshire to Themistocles, papa said, and he said it was no good; for, though Themistocles knew a lot of languages, he didn’t know that. And mamma laughed, and said she didn’t know she did. Themistocles was our man-servant in Corfu,” Robin added, in explanation. “He stole lots of things, Themistocles did; but papa found him out.”

Robin now made a rapid attack on his bread-and-milk, after which he broke out again,—

“Sarah, who is that tall gentleman at church, in the seat near the pulpit? He wears a cloak like what the Blues wear, only all blue, and is tall enough for a Life-guardsman. He stood when we were kneeling down, and said, ‘Almighty and most merciful Father,’ louder than anybody.”

Sarah knew who the old gentleman was, and knew also that the children did not know, and that their parents did not see fit to tell them as yet. But she had a passion for telling and hearing news, and would rather gossip with a child than not gossip at all. “Never you mind, Master Robin,” she said, nodding sagaciously. “Little boys aren’t to know everything.”

“Ah, then, I know you don’t know,” replied Robert; “if you did, you’d tell. Nicholas, give some of your bread to Darkie and Pax. I’ve done mine. For what we have received, the Lord make us truly thankful. Say your grace, and put your chair away, and come along. I want to hold a court-martial.” And, seizing his own chair by the seat, Robin carried it swiftly to its corner. As he passed Sarah, he observed, tauntingly, “You pretend to know, but you don’t.”

“I do,” said Sarah.

“You don’t,” said Robin.

“Your ma’s forbid you to contradict, Master Robin,” said Sarah; “and if you do, I shall tell her. I know well enough who the old gentleman is, and perhaps I might tell you, only you’d go straight off and tell again.”

“No, no, I wouldn’t!” shouted Robin. “I can keep a secret; indeed, I can! Pinch my little finger, and try. Do, do tell me, Sarah; there’s a dear Sarah, and then I shall know you know.” And he danced round her, catching at her skirts.

To keep a secret was beyond Sarah’s powers.

“Do let my dress be, Master Robin,” she said; “you’re ripping out all the gathers, and listen while I whisper. As sure as you’re a living boy, that gentleman’s your own grandpapa.”

Robin lost his hold on Sarah’s dress; his arm fell by his side, and he stood with his brows knit, for some minutes, thinking. Then he said, emphatically,—

“What lies you do tell, Sarah!”

“Oh, Robin!” cried Nicholas, who had drawn near, his thick curls standing stark with curiosity; “mamma said ‘lies’ wasn’t a proper word, and you promised not to say it again.”

“I forgot,” said Robin. “I didn’t mean to break my promise. But she does tell—ahem!—you know what.”

“You wicked boy!” cried the enraged Sarah; “how dare you say such a thing, and everybody in the place knows he’s your ma’s own pa.”

“I’ll go and ask her,” said Robin, and he was at the door in a moment; but Sarah, alarmed by the thought of getting into a scrape herself, caught him by the arm.

“Don’t you go, love; it’ll only make your ma angry. There; it was all my nonsense.”

“Then it’s not true?” said Robin, indignantly. “What did you tell me so for?”

“It was all my jokes and nonsense,” said the unscrupulous Sarah. “But your ma wouldn’t like to know I’ve said such a thing. And Master Robert wouldn’t be so mean as to tell tales, would he, love?”

“I’m not mean,” said Robin, stoutly; “and I don’t tell tales; but you do, and you tell—you know what—besides. However, I won’t go this time; but I’ll tell you what,—if you tell tales of me to papa any more, I’ll tell him what you said about the old gentleman in the blue cloak.” With which parting threat Robin strode off to join his brothers and sister.

Sarah’s tale had put the court-martial out of his head, and he leaned against the tall fender, gazing at his little sister, who was tenderly nursing a well-worn doll. Robin sighed.

“What a long time that doll takes to wear out, Dora!” said he. “When will it be done?”

“Oh, not yet, not yet!” cried Dora, clasping the doll to her, and turning away. “She’s quite good, yet.”

“How miserly you are,” said her brother; “and selfish, too; for you know I can’t have a military funeral till you’ll let me bury that old thing.”

Dora began to cry.

“There you go, crying!” said Robin, impatiently. “Look here: I won’t take it till you get the new one on your birthday. You can’t be so mean as not to let me have it then!”

But Dora’s tears still fell. “I love this one so much,” she sobbed. “I love her better than the new one.”

“You want both; that’s it,” said Robin, angrily. “Dora, you’re the meanest girl I ever knew!”

At which unjust and painful accusation Dora threw herself and her doll upon their faces, and wept bitterly. The eyes of the soft-hearted Nicholas began to fill with tears, and he squatted down before her, looking most dismal. He had a fellow-feeling for her attachment to an old toy, and yet Robin’s will was law to him.

“Couldn’t we make a coffin, and pretend the body was inside?” he suggested.

“No, we couldn’t,” said Robin. “I wouldn’t play the ‘Dead March’ after an empty candle-box. It’s a great shame,—and I promised she should be chaplain in one of my night-gowns, too.”

“Perhaps you’ll get just as fond of the new one,” said Nicholas, turning to Dora.

But Dora only cried, “No, no! He shall have the new one to bury, and I’ll keep my poor, dear, darling Betsey.” And she clasped Betsey tighter than before.

“That’s the meanest thing you’ve said yet,” retorted Robin; “for you know mamma wouldn’t let me bury the new one.” And, with an air of great disgust, he quitted the nursery.

V.

Nicholas had sore work to console his little sister, and Betsey’s prospects were in a very unfavorable state, when a diversion was caused in her favor by a new whim which put the military funeral out of Robin’s head.

After he left the nursery he strolled out of doors, and, peeping through the gate at the end of the drive, he saw a party of boys going through what looked like a military exercise with sticks and a good deal of stamping; but instead of mere words of command, they all spoke by turns, as in a play. In spite of their strong Yorkshire accent, Robin overheard a good deal, and it sounded very fine.

Not being at all shy, he joined them, and asked so many questions that he soon got to know all about it. They were practising a Christmas mumming-play, called “The Peace Egg.” Why it was called that they could not tell him, as there was nothing whatever about eggs in it, and, so far as its being a play of peace, it was made up of a series of battles between certain valiant knights and princes, of whom St. George of England was chief and conqueror. The rehearsal being over, Robin went with the boys to the sexton’s house, (he was father to the “King of Egypt,”) where they showed him the dresses they were to wear. These were made of gay-colored materials, and covered with ribbons, except that of the “Black Prince of Paradine,” which was black, as became his title. The boys also showed him the book from which they learned their parts, and which was to be bought for one penny at the post-office shop.

“Then are you the mummers who come round at Christmas, and act in people’s kitchens, and people give them money, that mamma used to tell us about?” said Robin.

St. George of England looked at his companions as if for counsel as to how far they might commit themselves, and then replied, with Yorkshire caution, “Well, I suppose we are.”

“And do you go out in the snow from one house to another at night; and, oh, don’t you enjoy it?” cried Robin.

“We like it well enough,” St. George admitted.

children-eating

Robin bought a copy of “The Peace Egg.” He was resolved to have a nursery performance, and to act the part of St. George himself. The others were willing for what he wished, but there were difficulties.

In the first place, there are eight characters in the play, and there were only five children. They decided among themselves to leave out the “Fool,” and mamma said that another character was not to be acted by any of them, or, indeed, mentioned; “the little one who comes in at the end,” Robin explained. Mamma had her reasons, and these were always good. She had not been altogether pleased that Robin had bought the play. It was a very old thing, she said, and very queer; not adapted for a child’s play.

If mamma thought the parts not quite fit for the children to learn, they found them much too long; so, in the end, she picked out some bits for each, which they learned easily, and which, with a good deal of fighting, made quite as good a story of it as if they had done the whole. What may have been wanting otherwise was made up for by the dresses, which were charming.

Robin was St. George, Nicholas the Valiant Slasher, Dora the Doctor, and the other two Hector and the King of Egypt. “And now we’ve no Black Prince!” cried Robin, in dismay.

“Let Darkie be the Black Prince,” said Nicholas. “When you have your stick he’ll jump for it, and then you can pretend to fight with him.”

“It’s not a stick, it’s a sword,” said Robin “However, Darkie may be the Black Prince.”

“And what’s Pax to be?” asked Dora; “for you know he will come if Darkie does, and he’ll run in before everybody else, too.”

“Then he must be the Fool,” said Robin; “and it will do very well, for the Fool comes in before the rest, and Pax can have his red coat on, and the collar with the little bells.”

VI.

Robin thought that Christmas would never come. To the Captain and his wife it seemed to come too fast. They had hoped it might bring reconciliation with the old man, but it seemed they had hoped in vain.

There were times, now, when the Captain almost regretted the old bachelor’s bequest. The familiar scenes of her old home sharpened his wife’s grief. To see her father every Sunday in church, with marks of age and infirmity upon him, but with not a look of tenderness for his only child, this tried her sorely.

“She felt it less abroad,” thought the Captain. “An English home, in which she frets herself to death, is, after all, no great boon.”

Christmas Eve came.

“I’m sure it’s quite Christmas enough, now,” said Robin. “We’ll have ‘The Peace Egg’ to-night.”

So, as the Captain and his wife sat sadly over their fire, the door opened, and Pax ran in, shaking his bells, and followed by the nursery mummers. The performance was most successful. It was by no means pathetic, and yet, as has been said, the Captain’s wife shed tears.

“What is the matter, mamma?” said St. George, abruptly dropping his sword and running up to her.

“Don’t tease mamma with questions,” said the Captain; “she is not very well, and rather sad. We must all be very kind and good to poor, dear mamma;” and the Captain raised his wife’s hand to his lips as he spoke. Robin seized the other hand and kissed it tenderly. He was very fond of his mother. At this moment Pax took a little run and jumped on to mamma’s lap, where, sitting facing the company, he opened his black mouth and yawned with a ludicrous inappropriateness worthy of any clown. It made everybody laugh.

“And now we’ll go and act in the kitchen,” said Nicholas.

“Supper at nine o’clock, remember,” shouted the Captain. “And we are going to have real frumenty and Yule-cakes, such as mamma used to tell us of when we were abroad.”

“Hurray!” shouted the mummers, and they ran off, Pax leaping from his seat just in time to hustle the Black Prince in the doorway.

When the dining-room door was shut, St. George raised his hand, and said, “Hush!”

The mummers pricked their ears, but there was only a distant harsh and scraping sound, as of stones rubbed together.

“They’re cleaning the passages,” St. George went on; “and Sarah told me they meant to finish the mistletoe, and have everything cleaned up by supper-time. They don’t want us, I know. Look here; we will go real mumming, instead. That will be fun!”

The Valiant Slasher grinned with delight.

“But will mamma let us?” he inquired.

“Oh, it will be all right if we are back by supper-time,” said St. George, hastily. “Only, of course, we must take care not to catch cold. Come and help me to get some wraps.”

The old oak chest in which spare shawls, rugs, and coats were kept was soon ransacked, and the mummers’ gay dresses hidden by motley wrappers. But no sooner did Darkie and Pax behold the coats, etc., than they at once began to leap and bark, as it was their custom to do when they saw any one dressing to go out.

Robin was sorely afraid that this would betray them; but, though the Captain and his wife heard the barking, they did not guess the cause. So, the front door being very gently opened and closed, the nursery mummers stole away.

VII.

It was a very fine night. The snow was well trodden on the drive, so that it did not wet their feet, but on the trees and shrubs it hung soft and white.

“It’s much jollier being out at night than in the daytime,” said Robin.

“Much,” responded Nicholas, with intense feeling.

“We’ll go a wassailing next week,” said Robin. “I know all about it; and perhaps we shall get a good lot of money, and then we’ll buy tin swords with scabbards for next year. I don’t like these sticks. Oh, dear, I wish it wasn’t so long between one Christmas and another.”

“Where shall we go first?” asked Nicholas, as they turned into the high-road. But before Robin could reply, Dora clung to Nicholas, crying, “Oh, look at those men!”

The boys looked up the road, down which three men were coming in a very unsteady fashion, and shouting as they rolled from side to side.

“They’re drunk,” said Nicholas; “and they’re shouting at us.”

“Oh, run, run!” cried Dora; and down the road they ran, the men shouting and following them. They had not run far, when Hector caught his foot in the Captain’s great-coat which he was wearing, and came down headlong in the road. They were close by a gate, and when Nicholas had set Hector on his legs, St. George hastily opened it.

“This is the first house,” he said. “We’ll act here;” and all, even the Valiant Slasher, pressed in as quickly as possible. Once safe within the grounds, they shouldered their sticks and resumed their composure.

“You’re going to the front door,” said Nicholas. “Mummers ought to go to the back.”

“We don’t know where it is,” said Robin, and he rang the front-door bell. There was a pause. Then lights shone, steps were heard, and at last a sound of much unbarring, unbolting, and unlocking. It might have been a prison. Then the door was opened by an elderly, timid-looking woman, who held a tallow candle above her head.

“Who’s there,” she said, “at this time of night?”

“We’re Christmas mummers,” said Robin, stoutly; “we didn’t know the way to the back door, but——”

“And don’t you know better than to come here?” said the woman. “Be off with you, as fast as you can!”

“You’re only the servant,” said Robin. “Go and ask your master and mistress if they wouldn’t like to see us act. We do it very well.”

“You impudent boy, be off with you!” repeated the woman. “Master’d no more let you nor any other such rubbish set foot in this house——”

“Woman!” shouted a voice close behind her, which made her start as if she had been shot, “who authorizes you to say what your master will or will not do, before you ask him? The boy is right. You are the servant, and it is not your business to choose for me whom I shall or shall not see.”

“I meant no harm, sir, I’m sure,” said the house-keeper; “but I thought you’d never——”

“My good woman,” said her master, “if I had wanted somebody to think for me, you’re the last person I should have employed. I hire you to obey orders, not to think.”

“I’m sure, sir,” said the house-keeper, whose only form of argument was reiteration, “I never thought you would have seen them——”

“Then you were wrong,” shouted her master. “I will see them. Bring them in.”

He was a tall, gaunt old man, and Robin stared at him for some minutes, wondering where he could have seen somebody very like him. At last he remembered. It was the old gentleman of the blue cloak.

The children threw off their wraps, the house-keeper helping them, and chatting ceaselessly, from sheer nervousness.

“Well, to be sure,” said she, “their dresses are pretty, too, and they seem quite a better sort of children; they talk quite genteel. I might ha’ knowed they weren’t like common mummers, but I was so flustered hearing the bell go so late, and——”

“Are they ready?” said the old man, who had stood like a ghost in the dim light of the flaring tallow candle, grimly watching the proceedings.

“Yes, sir. Shall I take them to the kitchen sir——”

“For you and the other idle hussies to gape and grin at? No. Bring them to the library,” he snapped, and then he stalked off, leading the way.

The house-keeper accordingly led them to the library and then withdrew, nearly falling on her face as she left the room by stumbling over Darkie, who clipped in last like a black shadow.

The old man was seated in a carved oak chair by the fire.

“I never said the dogs were to come in,” he said.

“But we can’t do without them, please,” said Robin, boldly. “You see, there are eight people in ‘The Peace Egg,’ and there are only five of us; and so Darkie has to be the Black Prince, and Pax has to be the Fool, and so we have to have them.”

“Five and two make seven,” said the old man, with a grim smile; “what do you do for the eighth?”

“Oh, that’s the little one at the end,” said Robin, confidentially. “Mamma said we weren’t to mention him, but I think that’s because we’re children. You’re grown up, you know, so I’ll show you the book, and you can see for yourself,” he went on, drawing “The Peace Egg” from his pocket. “There, that’s the picture of him on the last page; black, with horns and a tail.”

The old man’s stern face relaxed into a broad smile as he examined the grotesque wood-cut; but, when he turned to the first page, the smile vanished in a deep frown, and his eyes shone like hot coals, with anger. He had seen Robin’s name.

“Who sent you here?” he asked, in a hoarse voice. “Speak, and speak the truth! Did your mother send you here?”

Robin thought the old man was angry with them for playing truant. He said slowly, “N—no. She didn’t exactly send us; but I don’t think she’ll mind our having come if we get back in time for supper. Mamma never forbid our going mumming, you know.”

“I don’t suppose she ever thought of it,” Nicholas said, candidly, wagging his curly head from side to side.

“She knows we’re mummers,” said Robin, “for she helped us. When we were abroad, you know, she used to tell us about the mummers acting at Christmas when she was a little girl. And so we acted to papa and mamma, and so we thought we’d act to the maids, but they were cleaning the passages, and so we thought we’d really go mumming; and we’ve got several other houses to go to before supper-time. We’d better begin, I think,” said Robin, and without more ado he began to march round and round, raising his sword and shouting,—
“I am St. George, who from Old England sprung,
My famous name throughout the world hath rung.”

And the performance went off quite as creditably as before.

As the children acted, the old man’s anger wore off. He watched them with an interest he could not repress. When Nicholas took some hard thwacks from St. George without flinching, the old man clapped his hands; and, after the encounter between St. George and the Black Prince, he said he would not have the dogs excluded on any consideration. It was just at the end, when they were all marching round and round, holding on by each other’s swords “over the shoulder,” and singing “A mumming we will go, etc.,” that Nicholas suddenly brought the circle to a stand-still by stopping dead short and staring up at the wall before him.

“What are you stopping for?” said St. George, turning indignantly round.

“Look there!” cried Nicholas, pointing to a little painting which hung above the old man’s head.

Robin looked, and said, abruptly, “It’s Dora.”

“Which is Dora?” asked the old man, in a strange, sharp tone.

“Here she is,” said Robin and Nicholas in one breath, as they dragged her forward.

“She’s the Doctor,” said Robin; “and you can’t see her face for her things. Dor, take off your cap and pull back that hood. There! Oh, it is like her!”

It was a portrait of her mother as a child; but of this the nursery mummers knew nothing.

The old man looked as the peaked cap and hood fell away from Dora’s face and fair curls and then he uttered a sharp cry and buried his head upon his hands. The boys stood stupefied, but Dora ran up to him and, putting her little hands on his arms, said, in childish, pitying tones, “Oh, I am so sorry! Have you got a headache? May Robin put the shovel in the fire for you? Mamma has hot shovels for her headaches.” And, though the old man did not speak or move, she went on coaxing him and stroking his head, on which the hair was white. At this moment Pax took one of his unexpected runs and jumped on the old man’s knee, in his own particular fashion, and then yawned at the company. The old man was startled, and lifted his face suddenly.

It was wet with tears.

“Why, you’re crying!” exclaimed the children, with one breath.

“It’s very odd,” said Robin, fretfully. “I can’t think what’s the matter to-night. Mamma was crying, too, when we were acting; and papa said we weren’t to tease her with questions; and he kissed her hand, and I kissed her hand, too. And papa said we must all be very kind to poor, dear mamma; and so I mean to be, she’s so good. And I think we’d better go home, or perhaps she’ll be frightened,” Robin added.

“She’s so good, is she?” asked the old man. He had put Pax off his knee and taken Dora on to it.

“Oh, isn’t she!” said Nicholas, swaying his curly head from side to side as usual.

“She’s always good,” said Robin, emphatically; “and so’s papa. But I’m always doing something I oughtn’t to,” he added, slowly. “But then you know I don’t pretend to obey Sarah. I don’t care a fig for Sarah; and I won’t obey any woman but mamma.”

“Who’s Sarah?” asked the grandfather.

“She’s our nurse,” said Robin; “and she tells—I mustn’t say what she tells,—but it’s not the truth. She told one about you the other day,” he added.

“About me?” said the old man.

“She said you were our grandpapa. So then I knew she was telling ‘you know what.’”

“How did you know it wasn’t true?” the old man asked.

“Why, of course,” said Robin, “if you were our mamma’s father, you’d know her, and be fond of her, and come and see her. And then you’d be our grandfather, too, and you’d have us to see you, and perhaps give us Christmas-boxes. I wish you were,” Robin added, with a sigh; “it would be very nice.”

“Would you like it?” asked the old man of Dora.

And Dora, who was half asleep and very comfortable, put her little arms about his neck as she was wont to put them round the Captain’s, and said, “Very much.”

He put her down at last, very tenderly, almost unwillingly, and left the children alone. By-and-by he returned, dressed in the blue cloak, and took Dora up again.

“I will see you home,” he said.

The children had not been missed. The clock had only just struck nine when there came a knock on the door of the dining-room, where the Captain and his wife sat still by the Yule-log. She said “Come in,” wearily, thinking it was the frumenty and the Christmas cakes.

But it was her father, with her child in his arms!

VIII.

Lucy Jane Bull and her sisters were quite old enough to understand a good deal of grownup conversation when they overheard it. Thus, when a friend of Mrs. Bull’s observed, during an afternoon call, that she believed that “officers wives were very dressy,” the young ladies were at once resolved to keep a sharp lookout for the Captain’s wife’s bonnet in church on Christmas day.

The Bulls had just taken their seats when the Captain’s wife came in. They really would have hid their faces, and looked at the bonnet afterwards, but for the startling sight that met the gaze of the congregation. The old grandfather walked into the church abreast of the Captain.

“They’ve met in the porch,” whispered Mr. Bull, under the shelter of his hat.

“They can’t quarrel publicly in a place of worship,” said Mrs. Bull, turning pale.

“She’s gone into his seat,” cried Lucy Jane, in a shrill whisper.

“And the children after her,” added the other sister, incautiously aloud.

There was no doubt about the matter. The old man, in his blue cloak, stood for a few moments politely disputing the question of precedence with his handsome son-in-law. Then the Captain bowed and passed in, and the old man followed him.

By the time that the service was ended everybody knew of the happy peace-making, and was glad. One old friend after another came up with blessings and good wishes. This was a proper Christmas, indeed, they said. There was a general rejoicing.

But only the grandfather and his children knew that it was hatched from “The Peace Egg.”