CHRISTMAS WISHES. A CAROL, by Juliana Horatia Ewing


  Oh, happy Christmas, full of blessings, come!
      Now bid our discords cease;
      Here give the weary ease;
      Let the long-parted meet again in peace;
      Bring back the far-away;
      Grant us a holiday;
      And by the hopes of Christmas-tide we pray—
  Let love restore the fallen to his Home;
Whilst up and down the snowy streets the Christmas minstrels sing;
And through the frost from countless towers the bells of Christmas ring.

  Ah, Christ! and yet a happier day shall come!
      Then bid our discords cease;
      There give the weary ease;
      Let the long-parted meet again in peace;
      Bring back the far-away;
      Grant us a holiday;
      And by the hopes of Christmas-tide we pray—
  Let love restore the fallen to his Home;
Whilst up and down the golden streets the blessed angels sing,
And evermore the heavenly chimes in heavenly cadence ring.

The Engineer and the Dwarf, by Margaret Arndt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not my line,” said Karl shortly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That will be delightful,” said Karl.

The dwarfs were looking on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did we dream it all?” said Karl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“About 10 shillings,” he replied.

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

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

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

“Hullo!” said Karl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What terms?” said Karl and Norah eagerly.

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

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

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

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

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

On the parchment was written the following:

We,
Karl Hammerstein,
Norah O’Brian,

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

Signed………………………
………………………………

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

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

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

“Three weeks from to-day,” said Karl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Visit From St. Nicholas, by Clement Clarke Moore

kids-opening-christmas-presents-illustration
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas, too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down on a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.

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!

Nibsy’s Christmas & Others, by Jacob A. Riis

Nibsy's-Christmas-cover

Books For Libraries Press
FREEPORT, NEW YORK
First Published 1893
Reprinted 1969
__________

To Her Most Gracious Majesty
Louise
Queen of Denmark
the friend of the afflicted and the mother of the
motherless in my childhood’s home
these leaves are inscribed
with the profound respect and admiration
of
the Author

__________

CONTENTS

Nibsy’s Christmas
What the Christmas sun saw in the Tenements
Skippy of Scrabble Alley

Skippy of the Scrabble Alley, by Jacob A. Riis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nibsy’s Christmas, by Jacob A. Riis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re having Christmas!” they yelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________________

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 Defective Santa Claus, by James Whitcomb Riley

a-defecting-santa-cover

With Pictures by
C. M. RELYEA and WILL VAWTER

INDIANAPOLIS
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
PUBLISHERS

Copyright 1904
James Whitcomb Riley

December

PRESS OF
BRAUNWORTH & CO.
BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS
BROOKLYN, N. Y.

DEDICATION
To
HEWITT HANSON HOWLAND
WITH HALEST CHRISTMAS GREETINGS
AND FRATERNAL

Little Boy! Halloo!—halloo!
Can’t you hear me calling you?—
Little Boy that used to be,
Come in here and play with me.

A Defective Santa Claus

Allus when our Pa he’s away
Nen Uncle Sidney comes to stay
At our house here—so Ma an’ me
An’ Etty an’ Lee-Bob won’t be
Afeard ef anything at night
Might happen—like Ma says it might.

(Ef Trip wuz big, I bet you he
‘Uz best watch-dog you ever see!)
An’ so last winter—ist before
It’s go’ be Chris’mus-Day,—w’y, shore
Enough, Pa had to haf to go
To ‘tend a lawsuit—”An’ the snow
Ist right fer Santy Claus!” Pa said,
As he clumb in old Ayersuz’ sled,
An’ said he’s sorry he can’t be
With us that night—”‘Cause,” he-says-ee,
“Old Santy might be comin’ here—
This very night of all the year

I’ got to be away!—so all
You kids must tell him—ef he call—
He’s mighty welcome, an’ yer Pa
He left his love with you an’ Ma

An’ Uncle Sid!” An’ clucked, an’ leant
Back, laughin’—an’ away they went!
An’ Uncle wave’ his hands an’ yells
“Yer old horse ort to have on bells!”
But Pa yell back an’ laugh an’ say
“I ‘spect when Santy come this way
It’s time enough fer sleighbells nen!”
An’ holler back “Good-by!” again,
An’ reach out with the driver’s whip
An’ cut behind an’ drive back Trip.

An’ so all day it snowed an’ snowed!
An’ Lee-Bob he ist watched the road,

In his high-chair; an’ Etty she
U’d play with Uncle Sid an’ me—
Like she wuz he’ppin’ fetch in wood
An’ keepin’ old fire goin’ good,

Where Ma she wuz a-cookin’ there
An’ kitchen, too, an’ ever’where!
An’ Uncle say, “‘At’s ist the way
Yer Ma’s b’en workin’, night an’ day,
Sence she hain’t big as Etty is
Er Lee-Bob in that chair o’ his!”
Nen Ma she’d laugh ‘t what Uncle said,
An’ smack an’ smoove his old bald head
An’ say “Clear out the way till I
Can keep that pot from b’ilin’ dry!”
Nen Uncle, when she’s gone back to
The kitchen, says, “We ust to do

Some cookin’ in the ashes.—Say,
S’posin’ we try some, thataway!”
An’ nen he send us to tell Ma
Send two big ‘taters in he saw

Pa’s b’en a-keepin’ ’cause they got
The premiun at the Fair. An’ what
You think?—He rake a grea’-big hole
In the hot ashes, an’ he roll
Them old big ‘taters in the place
An’ rake the coals back—an’ his face
Ist swettin’ so’s he purt’-nigh swear
‘Cause it’s so hot! An’ when they’re there
‘Bout time ‘at we fergit ‘em, he
Ist rake ‘em out again—an’ gee!—
He bu’st ‘em with his fist wite on
A’ old stove-led, while Etty’s gone

To git the salt, an’ butter, too—
Ist like he said she haf to do,
No matter what Ma say! An’ so
He salt an’ butter ‘em, an’ blow

‘Em cool enough fer us to eat—
An’ me-o-my! they’re hard to beat!
An’ Trip ‘ud ist lay there an’ pant
Like he’d laugh out loud, but he can’t.
Nen Uncle fill his pipe—an’ we
‘Ud he’p him light it—Sis an’ me,—
But mostly little Lee-Bob, ’cause
“He’s the best Lighter ever wuz!”
Like Uncle telled him wunst when Lee-
Bob cried an’ jerked the light from me,
He wuz so mad! So Uncle pat
An’ pet him. (Lee-Bob’s ust to that—

‘Cause he’s the little-est, you know,
An’ allus has b’en humored so!)
Nen Uncle gits the flat-arn out,
An’, while he’s tellin’ us all ’bout

Old Chris’mus-times when he’s a kid,
He ist cracked hickernuts, he did,
Till they’s a crockful, mighty nigh!
An’ when they’re all done by an’ by,
He raked the red coals out again
An’ telled me, “Fetch that popcorn in,
An’ old three-leggud skillut—an’
The led an’ all now, little man,—
An’ yer old Uncle here ‘ull show
You how corn’s popped, long years ago
When me an’ Santy Claus wuz boys
On Pap’s old place in Illinoise!—

An’ your Pa, too, wuz chums, all through,
With Santy!—Wisht Pa’d be here, too!”
Nen Uncle sigh at Ma, an’ she
Pat him again, an’ say to me

An’ Etty,—”You take warning fair!—
Don’t talk too much, like Uncle there,
Ner don’t fergit, like him, my dears,
That ‘little pitchers has big ears!’”
But Uncle say to her, “Clear out!—
Yer brother knows what he’s about.—
You git your Chris’mus-cookin’ done
Er these pore childern won’t have none!”
Nen Trip wake up an’ raise, an’ nen
Turn roun’ an’ nen lay down again.
An’ one time Uncle Sidney say,—
“When dogs is sleepin’ thataway,

Like Trip, an’ whimpers, it’s a sign
He’ll ketch eight rabbits—mayby nine
Afore his fleas’ll wake him—nen
He’ll bite hisse’f to sleep again

An try to dream he’s go’ ketch ten.”
An’ when Ma’s gone again back in
The kitchen, Uncle scratch his chin
An’ say, “When Santy Claus an’ Pa
An’ me wuz little boys—an’ Ma,
When she’s ’bout big as Etty there;—
W’y,—’When we’re growed—no matter where,’
Santy he cross’ his heart an’ say,—
‘I’ll come to see you, all, some day
When you’ got childerns—all but me
An’ pore old Sid!’” Nen Uncle he
Ist kindo’ shade his eyes an’ pour’

‘Bout forty-’leven bushels more
O’ popcorn out the skillut there
In Ma’s new basket on the chair.
An’ nen he telled us—an’ talk’ low,

“So Ma can’t hear,” he say:—”You know
Yer Pa know’, when he drived away,
Tomorry’s go’ be Chris’mus-Day;—
Well, nen tonight,” he whisper, “see?—
It’s go’ be Chris’mus-Eve,” says-ee,
“An’, like yer Pa hint, when he went,
Old Santy Claus (now hush!) he’s sent
Yer Pa a postul-card, an’ write
He’s shorely go’ be here tonight….
That’s why yer Pa’s so bored to be
Away tonight, when Santy he
Is go’ be here, sleighbells an’ all,

To make you kids a Chris’mus-call!”
An’ we’re so glad to know fer shore
He’s comin’, I roll on the floor—
An’ here come Trip a-waller’n’ roun’

An’ purt’-nigh knock the clo’eshorse down!—
An’ Etty grab Lee-Bob an’ prance
All roun’ the room like it’s a dance—
Till Ma she come an’ march us nen
To dinner, where we’re still again,
But tickled so we ist can’t eat
But pie, an’ ist the hot mincemeat
With raisins in.—But Uncle et,
An’ Ma. An’ there they set an’ set
Till purt’-nigh supper-time; nen we
Tell him he’s got to fix the Tree
‘Fore Santy gits here, like he said.

We go nen to the old woodshed—
All bundled up, through the deep snow—
“An’ snowin’ yet, jee-rooshy-O!”
Uncle he said, an’ he’p us wade

Back where’s the Chris’mus-Tree he’s made
Out of a little jackoak-top
He git down at the sawmill-shop—
An’ Trip ‘ud run ahead, you know,
An’ ‘tend-like he ‘uz eatin’ snow—
When we all waddle back with it;
An’ Uncle set it up—an’ git
It wite in front the fireplace—’cause
He says “‘Tain’t so ‘at Santy Claus
Comes down all chimblies,—least, tonight
He’s comin’ in this house all right—
By the front-door, as ort to be!—

We’ll all be hid where we can see!”
Nen he look up, an’ he see Ma
An’ say, “It’s ist too bad their Pa
Can’t be here, so’s to see the fun

The childern will have, ever’ one!”
Well, we!—We hardly couldn’t wait
Till it wuz dusk, an’ dark an’ late
Enough to light the lamp!—An’ Lee-
Bob light a candle on the Tree—
“Ist one—’cause I’m ‘The Lighter’!”—Nen
He clumb on Uncle’s knee again
An’ hug us bofe;—an’ Etty git
Her little chist an’ set on it
Wite clos’t, while Uncle telled some more
‘Bout Santy Claus, an’ clo’es he wore
All maked o’ furs, an’ trimmed as white

As cotton is, er snow at night!”
An’ nen, all sudden-like, he say,—
Hush! Listen there! Hain’t that a sleigh
An’ sleighbells jinglin’?” Trip go “whooh!”

Like he hear bells an’ smell ‘em, too.
Nen we all listen…. An’-sir, shore
Enough, we hear bells—more an’ more
A-jinglin’ clos’ter—clos’ter still
Down the old crook-road roun’ the hill.
An’ Uncle he jumps up, an’ all
The chairs he jerks back by the wall
An’ th’ows a’ overcoat an’ pair
O’ winder-curtains over there
An’ says, “Hide quick, er you’re too late!—
Them bells is stoppin’ at the gate!—
Git back o’ them-’air chairs an’ hide,

‘Cause I hear Santy’s voice outside!”
An’ Bang! bang! bang! we heerd the door—
Nen it flewed open, an’ the floor
Blowed full o’ snow—that’s first we saw,

Till little Lee-Bob shriek’ at Ma
There’s Santy Claus!—I know him by
His big white mufftash!“—an’ ist cry
An’ laugh an’ squeal an’ dance an’ yell
Till, when he quiet down a spell,
Old Santy bow an’ th’ow a kiss
To him—an’ one to me an’ Sis—
An’ nen go clos’t to Ma an’ stoop
An’ kiss her—An’ nen give a whoop
That fainted her!—’Cause when he bent
An’ kiss her, he ist backed an’ went
Wite ‘ginst the Chris’mus-Tree ist where

The candle’s at Lee-Bob lit there!—
An’ set his white-fur belt afire—
An’ blaze streaked roun’ his waist an’ higher
Wite up his old white beard an’ th’oat!—

Nen Uncle grabs th’ old overcoat
An’ flops it over Santy’s head,
An’ swing the door wide back an’ said,
“Come out, old man!—an’ quick about
It!—I’ve ist got to put you out!”
An’ out he sprawled him in the snow—
“Now roll!” he says—”Hi-roll-ee-O!”—
An’ Santy, sputter’n’ “Ouch! Gee-whiz!
Ist roll an’ roll fer all they is!
An’ Trip he’s out there, too,—I know,
‘Cause I could hear him yappin’ so—
An’ I heerd Santy, wunst er twic’t,

Say, as he’s rollin’, “Drat the fice’t!”
Nen Uncle come back in, an’ shake
Ma up, an’ say, “Fer mercy-sake!—
He hain’t hurt none!” An’ nen he said,—

“You youngsters h’ist up-stairs to bed!—
Here! kiss yer Ma ‘Good-night,’ an’ me,—
We’ll he’p old Santy fix the Tree—
An’ all yer whistles, horns an’ drums
I’ll he’p you toot when morning comes!”
It’s long while ‘fore we go to sleep,—
‘Cause down-stairs, all-time somepin’ keep
A-kindo’ scufflin’ roun’ the floors—
An’ openin’ doors, an’ shettin’ doors—
An’ could hear Trip a-whinin’, too,
Like he don’t know ist what to do—

An’ tongs a-clankin’ down k’thump!—
Nen some one squonkin’ the old pump—
An’ Wooh! how cold it soun’ out there!
I could ist see the pump-spout where

It’s got ice chin-whiskers all wet
An’ drippy—An’ I see it yet!
An’ nen, seem-like, I hear some mens
A-talkin’ out there by the fence,
An’ one says, “Oh, ’bout twelve o’clock!”
“Nen,” ‘nother’n says, “Here’s to you, Doc!—
God bless us ever’ one!” An’ nen
I heerd the old pump squonk again.
An’ nen I say my prayer all through
Like Uncle Sidney learn’ me to,—
“O Father mine, e’en as Thine own,
This child looks up to Thee alone:

Asleep or waking, give him still
His Elder Brother’s wish and will.”
An’ that’s the last I know…. Till Ma
She’s callin’ us—an’ so is Pa,—

He holler “Chris’mus-gif’!” an’ say,—
“I’m got back home fer Chris’mus-Day!—
An’ Uncle Sid’s here, too—an’ he
Is nibblin’ ‘roun’ yer Chris’mus-Tree!”
Nen Uncle holler, “I suppose
Yer Pa’s so proud he’s froze his nose
He wants to turn it up at us,
‘Cause Santy kick’ up such a fuss—
Tetchin’ hisse’f off same as ef
He wuz his own fireworks hisse’f!”

An’ when we’re down-stairs,—shore enough,
Pa’s nose is froze an’ salve an’ stuff

All on it—an’ one hand’s froze, too,
An’ got a old yarn red-and-blue
Mitt on it—”An’ he’s froze some more
Acrost his chist, an’ kindo’ sore

All roun’ his dy-fram,” Uncle say.—
“But Pa he’d ort a-seen the way
Santy bear up last night when that-
Air fire break out, an’ quicker’n scat
He’s all a-blazin’, an’ them-’air
Gun-cotton whiskers that he wear
Ist flashin’!—till I burn a hole
In the snow with him, and he roll
The front-yard dry as Chris’mus jokes
Old parents plays on little folks!
But, long’s a smell o’ tow er wool,
I kep’ him rollin’ beautiful!—

Till I wuz shore I shorely see
He’s squenched! W’y, hadn’t b’en fer me,
That old man might a-burnt clear down
Clean—plum’—level with the groun’!”

Nen Ma say, “There, Sid; that’ll do!—
Breakfast is ready—Chris’mus, too.—
Your voice ‘ud soun’ best, sayin’ Grace
Say it.” An’ Uncle bow’ his face
An’ say so long a Blessing nen,
Trip bark’ two times ‘fore it’s “A-men!”

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.”