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.

__________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re having Christmas!” they yelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Nazareth Christmas , by Mrs. Charles J. Woodbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where was I in the story, children?”

“The baby on the hay, sweet mother.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shall I bear forth the gifts?”

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

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

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

“To the tempted ones, mother.”

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

“I know not, my mother.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boy stopped and smiled at Tommy without making reply.

“Where are you going?” said Tommy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A good many,” answered the boy.

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

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

“Which, the work or the play?”

“Both.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I would have forgiven him seventy times seven.”

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

“She knows me, too,” replied the boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It was a dream, my child.”

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

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

The Potato Child, by Mrs. Charles J. Woodbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Amanda could hear her crying a little softly.

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

Silence for a little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What had he done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Week and six days; comes on Thursday.”

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

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

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

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

“Trip across Sahara!” interpolated Mrs. Grapewine.

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

“No!”

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

“No!”

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

“Turkish bath!”

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

“Empty stomach.”

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

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

“Who?” said Mrs. Grapewine.

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

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

—”And—and—Pill.”

“Who’s Pill?” said she.

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

“Yes,” said she.

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

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

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

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

“A little bilious, sir,” said William.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yours, sincerely,

“George Grapewine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is he?”

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

“What does he mean by it?”

“Insult a respectable lady!”

“Let me catch him, that’s all!”

“Where has he gone?”

“I’ll send him a challenge by Fobbs!”

“Where’s his wife?”

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

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

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

A Story of Nuremberg, by Agnes Repplier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is a humpback,” she said, slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wolf Tower, by Harrison S. Morris

I.

FM002709Long ago, in Brittany, under the government of St. Gildas the Wise, seventh abbot of Ruiz, there lived a young tenant of the abbey who was blind in the right eye and lame in the left leg. His name was Sylvestre Ker, and his mother, Josserande Ker, was the widow of Martin Ker, in his lifetime the keeper of the great door of the Convent of Ruiz.

The mother and the son lived in a tower, the ruins of which are seen at the foot of Mont Saint Michel de la Trinité, in the grove of chestnut-trees that belongs to Jean Maréchal, the mayor’s nephew. These ruins are now called the Wolf Tower, and the Breton peasants shudder as they pass through the chestnut-grove; for at midnight, around the Wolf Tower, and close to the first circle of great stones erected by the Druids at Carnac, are seen the phantoms of a young man and a young girl—Pol Bihan and Matheline du Coat-Dor.

The young girl is of graceful figure, with long, floating hair, but without a face; and the young man is tall and robust, but the sleeves of his coat hang limp and empty, for he is without arms.

Round and round the circle they pass in opposite directions, and, strange to tell, they never meet, nor do they ever speak to each other.

Once a year, on Christmas night, instead of walking they run; and all the Christians who cross the heath to go to the midnight Mass hear from afar the young girl cry,—

“Wolf Sylvestre Ker, give me back my beauty!” and the deep voice of the young man adds, “Wolf Sylvestre Ker, give me back my strength!”

II.

And this has lasted for thirteen hundred years; therefore you may well think there is a story connected with it.

When Martin Ker, the husband of Dame Josserande, died, their son Sylvestre was only seven years old. The widow was obliged to give up the guardianship of the great door to a man-at-arms, and retire to the tower, which was her inheritance; but little Sylvestre Ker had permission to follow the studies in the convent school.

The boy showed natural ability, but he studied little except in the class of chemistry, taught by an old monk named Thaël, who was said to have discovered the secret of making gold out of lead by adding to it a certain substance which no one but himself knew; for certainly, if the fact had been communicated, all the lead in the country would have been quickly turned into gold.

As for Thaël himself, he had been careful not to profit by his secret, for Gildas the Wise had once said to him,—

“Thaël, Thaël, God does not wish you to change the work of His hands. Lead is lead, and gold is gold. There is enough gold, and not too much lead. Leave God’s works alone; if not, Satan will be your master.”

Most assuredly such precepts would not be well received by modern industry; but St. Gildas knew what he said, and Thaël died of extreme old age before he had changed the least particle of lead into gold. This, however, was not from want of will, which was proved after his death, as the rumor spread about that Thaël did not altogether desert his laboratory, but at times returned to his beloved labors. Many a time, in the lonely hours of the night, the fishermen, in their barks, watched the glimmer of the light in his former cell; and Gildas the Wise, having been warned of the fact, arose one night before Lauds, and with quiet steps crossed the corridors, thinking to surprise his late brother, and perhaps ask of him some details of the other side of the dreaded door which separates life from death.

When he reached the cell he listened, and heard Thaël’s great bellows puffing and blowing, although no one had yet been appointed to succeed him. Gildas suddenly opened the door with his master-key, and saw before him little Sylvestre Ker actively employed in relighting Thaël’s furnaces.

St. Gildas was not a man to give way to sudden wrath; he took the child by the ear, drew him outside, and said to him, gently,—

“Ker, my little Ker, I know what you are attempting and what tempts you to make the effort; but God does not wish it, nor I either, my little Ker.”

“I do it,” replied the boy, “because my dear mother is so poor.”

“Your mother is what she is; she has what God gives her. Lead is lead and gold is gold. If you go against the will of God, Satan will be your master.”

Little Ker returned to the tower crestfallen, and never again slipped into the cell of the dead Thaël; but when he was eighteen years old a modest inheritance was left him, and he bought materials for dissolving metals and distilling the juice of plants. He gave out that his aim was to learn the art of healing; for that great purpose he read great books which treated of medical science and many other things besides.

He was then a youth of fine appearance, with a noble, frank face, neither one-eyed nor lame, and led a retired life with his mother, who ardently loved her only son.

No one visited them in the tower except the laughing Matheline, the heiress of the tenant of Coat-Dor and god-daughter of Josserande; and Pol Bihan, son of the successor of Martin Ker as armed keeper of the great door.

Both Pol and Matheline often conversed together, and upon what subject do you think? Always of Sylvestre Ker. Was it because they loved him? No. What Matheline loved most was her own fair self, and Pol Bihan’s best friend was named Pol Bihan.

Matheline passed long hours before her little mirror of polished steel, which faithfully reflected her laughing mouth full of pearls; and Pol was proud of his great strength, for he was the best wrestler in the Carnac country. When they spoke of Sylvestre Ker, it was to say, “What if some fine morning he should find the secret of the fairy-stone that is the mother of gold!”

And each one mentally added,—

“I must continue to be friendly with him, for if he becomes wealthy he will enrich me.”

Josserande also knew that her beloved son sought after the fairy-stone, and even had mentioned it to Gildas the Wise, who shook his venerable head and said,—

“What God wills will be. Be careful that your son wears a mask over his face when he seeks the cursed thing; for what escapes from the crucible is Satan’s breath, and the breath of Satan causes blindness.”

Josserande, meditating upon these words, went to kneel before the cross of St. Cado, which is in front of the seventh stone of Cæsar’s camp,—the one that a little child can move by touching it with his finger, but that twelve horses harnessed to twelve oxen cannot stir from its solid foundation. Thus prostrate, she prayed: “O Lord Jesus! Thou who hast mercy for mothers on account of the Holy Virgin, Thy mother, watch well over my little Sylvestre, and take from his head this thought of making gold. Nevertheless, if it is Thy will that he should be rich, Thou art the Master of all things, my sweet Saviour!”

And as she rose she murmured: “What a beautiful boy he would be with a cloak of fine cloth and a hood bordered with fur, if he only had means to buy them.”

III.

It came to pass that as all these young people, Pol Bihan, Matheline, and Sylvestre Ker, gained a year each time that twelve months rolled by, they reached the age to think of marriage; and Josserande, one morning, proceeded to the dwelling of the farmer of Coat-Dor to ask the hand of Matheline for her son, Sylvestre Ker; at which proposal Matheline opened her rosy mouth so wide, to laugh the louder, that far back she showed two pearls which had never before been seen.

When her father asked her if the offer suited her, she replied, “Yes, father and godmother, provided that Sylvestre Ker gives me a gown of cloth of silver embroidered with rubies, like that of the Lady of Lannelar, and that Pol Bihan may be our groomsman.”

Pol, who was there, also laughed, and said, “I will assuredly be groomsman to my friend Sylvestre Ker, if he consents to give me a velvet mantle striped with gold, like that of the Castellan of Gâvre, the Lord of Carnac.”

Whereupon Josserande returned to the tower, and said to her son, “Ker, my darling, I advise you to choose another friend and another bride; for those two are not worthy of your love.”

But the young man began to sigh and groan, and answered, “No friendship or love will I ever know except for Pol, my dear comrade, and Matheline, your god-daughter, my beautiful playfellow.”

And Josserande having told him of the two new pearls that Matheline had shown in the back of her mouth, nothing would do but he must hurry to Coat-Dor to try and see them, also.

On the road from the tower to the farm of Coat-Dor is the Point of Hinnic, where the grass is salt, which makes the cows and rams very fierce while they are grazing.

As Sylvestre Ker walked down the path at the end of which is the Cross of St. Cado, he saw, on the summit of the promontory, Pol and Matheline strolling along, talking and laughing; so he thought,—

“I need not go far to see Matheline’s two pearls.”

And, in fact, the girl’s merry laughter could be heard below, for it always burst forth if Pol did but open his lips. When, lo, and behold! a huge old ram, which had been browsing on the salt grass, tossed back his two horns, and, fuming at the nostrils, bleated as loud as the stags cry when chased, and rushed in the direction of Matheline’s voice; for, as every one knows, the rams become furious if laughter is heard in their meadow.

He ran quickly, but Sylvestre Ker ran still faster, and arrived the first by the girl, so that he received the shock of the ram’s butting while protecting her with his body. The injury was not very great, only his right eye was touched by the curved end of one of the horns when the ram raised his head, and thus Sylvestre Ker became one-eyed.

The ram, prevented from slaughtering Matheline, dashed after Pol Bihan, who fled; reached him just at the end of the cliff, and pushed him into the sea, that beat against the rocks fifty feet below.

Well content with his work, the ram walked off, and the legend says he laughed behind his woolly beard.

But Matheline wept bitterly, and cried,—

“Ker, my handsome Ker, save Bihan, your sweet friend, from death, and I pledge my faith I will be your wife without any condition.”

At the same time, amid the roaring of the waves, was heard the imploring voice of Pol Bihan crying,—

“Sylvestre, O Sylvestre Ker! my only friend, I cannot swim. Come quickly and save me from dying without confession, and all you may ask of me you shall have, were it the dearest treasure of my heart.”

Sylvestre Ker asked,—

“Will you be my groomsman?” And Bihan replied,—

“Yes, yes; and I will give you a hundred crowns. And all that your mother may ask of me she shall have. But hasten, hasten, dear friend, or the waves will carry me off.”

Sylvestre Ker’s blood was pouring from the wound in his eye, and his sight was dimmed; but he was generous of heart, and boldly leaped from the top of the promontory. As he fell, his left leg was jammed against a jutting rock and broke, so there he was, lame as well as one-eyed; nevertheless, he dragged Bihan to the shore and asked,—

“When shall the wedding be?”

As Matheline hesitated in her answer—for Sylvestre’s brave deeds were too recent to be forgotten—Pol Bihan came to her assistance and gayly cried,—

“You must wait, Sylvestre, my saviour, until your leg and eye are healed.”

“Still longer,” added Matheline (and now Sylvestre Ker saw the two new pearls, for in her laughter she opened her mouth from ear to ear); “still longer, as limping, one-eyed men are not to my taste—no, no!”

“But,” cried Sylvestre Ker, “it is for your sakes that I am one-eyed and lame.”

“That is true,” said Bihan.

“That is true,” also repeated Matheline, for she always spoke as he did.

“Ker, my friend Ker,” resumed Bihan, “wait until to-morrow, and we will make you happy.”

And off they went, Matheline and he, arm-in-arm, leaving Sylvestre to go hobbling along to the tower, alone with his sad thoughts.

Would you believe it? Trudging wearily home, he consoled himself by thinking he had seen two new pearls behind the smile. You may, perhaps, think you have never met such a fool. Undeceive yourself; it is the same with all the men, who only look for laughing girls with teeth like pearls. But the sorrowful one was Josserande, the widow, when she saw her son with only one eye and one sound leg.

“Where did all this happen,” she asked, with tears.

And as Sylvestre Ker gently answered, “I have seen them, mother; they are very beautiful,” Josserande divined that he spoke of her god-daughter’s two pearls, and cried,—

“By all that is holy, he has also lost his mind!”

Then seizing her staff, she went to the Abbey of Ruiz to consult St. Gildas as to what could be done in this unfortunate case. And the wise man replied,—

“You should not have spoken of the two pearls; your son would have remained at home. But, now that the evil is done, nothing will happen to him contrary to God’s holy will. At high tide the sea comes foaming over the sands, yet see how quietly it retires. What is Sylvestre Ker doing now?”

“He is lighting his furnaces,” replied Josserande.

The wise man paused to reflect, and after a little while said,—

“In the first place, you must pray devoutly to the Lord our God, and afterwards look well before you to know where to put your feet. The weak buy the strong, the unhappy the happy; did you know that, my good woman? Your son will persevere in search of the fairy-stone that changes lead into gold, to pay for Pol’s wicked friendship and for the pearls behind the dangerous smiles of that Matheline. Since God permits it, all is right. Yet see that your son is well protected against the smoke of his crucible, for it is the very breath of Satan; and make him promise to go to the midnight Mass.”

For it was near the glorious Feast of Christmas.

IV.

Josserande had no difficulty in making Sylvestre Ker promise to go to the midnight Mass, for he was a good Christian; and she bought for him an iron armor to put on when he worked around his crucibles, so as to preserve him from Satan’s breath.

And it happened that, late and early, Pol Bihan now came to the tower, bringing with him the laughing Matheline; for it was rumored that at last Sylvestre Ker would soon find the fairy-stone and become a wealthy man.

It was not only two new pearls that Matheline showed at the corners of her rosy mouth, but a brilliant row that shone, and chattered, and laughed, from her lips down to her throat; for Pol Bihan had said to her: “Laugh as much as you can; for smiles attract fools, as the turning mirror catches larks.”

We have spoken of Matheline’s lips, of her throat, and of her smile, but not of her heart; of that we can only say the place where it should have been was nearly empty; so she replied to Bihan,—

“As much as you will. I can afford to laugh to be rich; and when the fool shall have given me all the gold of the earth, all the pleasures of the world, I will be happy, happy…. I will have them all for myself, for myself alone, and I will enjoy them.”

Pol Bihan clasped his hands in admiration, so lovely and wise was she for her age; but he thought: “I am wiser still than you, my beauty; we will share between us what the fool will give—one-half for me, and the other also; the rest for you. Let the water run under the bridge.”

The day before Christmas they came together to the tower,—Matheline carrying a basket of chestnuts, Pol a large jug, full of sweet cider,—to make merry with the godmother.

They roasted the chestnuts in the ashes, heated the cider before the fire, adding to it fermented honey, wine, sprigs of rosemary, and marjoram leaves; and so delicious was the perfume of the beverage that even Dame Josserande longed for a taste.

On the way thither, Pol had advised Matheline adroitly to question Sylvestre Ker, to know when he would at last find the fairy-stone.

Sylvestre Ker neither ate chestnuts nor drank wine, so absorbed was he in the contemplation of Matheline’s bewitching smiles; and she said to him,—

“Tell me, my handsome, lame, and one-eyed bridegroom, will I soon be the wife of a wealthy man?”

Sylvestre Ker, whose eye shot forth lurid flame, replied,—

“You would have been as rich as you are beautiful to-morrow, without fail, if I had not promised my dear mother to accompany her to the midnight Mass to-night. The favorable hour falls just at the first stroke of Matins.”

“To-day?”

“Between to-day and to-morrow.”

“And can it not be put off?”

“Yes, it can be put off for seven years.”

Dame Josserande heard nothing, as Pol was relating an interesting story, so as to distract her attention; but, while talking, he listened with all his ears.

Matheline laughed no longer, and thought,—

“Seven years! Can I wait seven years?” Then she continued:

“Beautiful bridegroom, how do you know that the propitious moment falls precisely at the hour of Matins? Who told you so?”

“The stars,” replied Sylvestre Ker. “At midnight Mars and Saturn will arrive in diametrical opposition; Venus will seek Vesta; Mercury will disappear in the sun; and the planet without a name, that the deceased Thaël divined by calculation, I saw last night, steering its unknown route through space to come in conjunction with Jupiter. Ah! if I only dared disobey my dear mother.” He was interrupted by a distant vibration of the bells of Plouharnel, which rang out the first signal of the midnight Mass.

Josserande instantly left her wheel.

“It would be a sin to spin one thread more,” said she. “Come, my son Sylvestre, put on your Sunday clothes, and let us be off for the parish church, if you please.”

Sylvestre wished to rise, for never yet had he disobeyed his mother; but Matheline, seated at his side, detained him and murmured in silvery tones,—

“My handsome friend, you have plenty of time.”

Pol, on his side, said to Dame Josserande,—

“Get your staff, neighbor, and start at once, so as to take your time. Your god-daughter Matheline will accompany you; and I will follow with friend Sylvestre, for fear some accident might happen to him with his lame leg and sightless eye.” As he proposed, so it was done; for Josserande suspected nothing, knowing that her son had promised, and that he would not break his word.

As they were leaving, Pol whispered to Matheline,—

“Amuse the good woman well, for the fool must remain here.”

And the girl replied,—

“Try and see the caldron in which our fortune is cooking. You will tell me how it is done.”

Off the two women started; a large, kind mother’s heart full of tender love, and a sparrow’s little gizzard, narrow and dry, without enough room in it for one pure tear. For a moment Sylvestre Ker stood on the threshold of the open door to watch them depart. On the gleaming white snow their two shadows fell—the one bent and already tottering, the other erect, flexible, and each step seemed a bound. The young lover sighed. Behind him, in a low voice, Pol Bihan said,—

“Ker, my comrade, I know what you are thinking about, and you are right to think so; this must come to an end. She is as impatient as you are, for her love equals yours; for both of you it is too long to wait.”

Sylvestre Ker turned pale with joy.

“Do you speak truth?” he stammered. “Am I fortunate enough to be loved by her?”

“Yes, on my faith!” replied Pol Bihan; “she loves you too well for her own peace. When a girl laughs too much, it is to keep from weeping,—that’s the real truth.”

V.

Well might they call him “the fool,” poor Sylvestre Ker! Not that he had less brains than another man,—on the contrary, he was now very learned—but love crazes him who places his affections on an unworthy object.

Sylvestre Ker’s little finger was worth two dozen Pol Bihan’s and fifty Matheline’s; in spite of which Matheline and Pol Bihan were perfectly just in their contempt, for he who ascends the highest falls lowest.

When Sylvestre had re-entered the tower, Pol commenced to sigh heavily, and said,—

“What a pity! What a great, great pity!”

“What is a pity?” asked Sylvestre Ker.

“It is a pity to miss such a rare opportunity.”

Sylvestre Ker exclaimed, “What opportunity? So you were listening to my conversation with Matheline?”

“Why, yes,” replied Pol. “I always have an ear open to hear what concerns you, my true friend. Seven years! Shall I tell you what I think? You would only have twelve months to wait to go with your mother to another Christmas Mass.”

“I have promised,” said Sylvestre.

“That is nothing: if your mother loves you truly, she will forgive you.”

“If she loves me!” cried Sylvestre Ker. “Oh, yes, she loves me with her whole heart.”

Some chestnuts still remained, and Bihan shelled one while he said,—

“Certainly, certainly, mothers always love their children; but Matheline is not your mother. You are one-eyed, you are lame, and you have sold your little patrimony to buy your furnaces. Nothing remains of it. Where is the girl that can wait seven years? Nearly the half of her age!… If I were in your place, I would not throw away my luck as you are about to do, but at the hour of Matins I would work for my happiness.”

Sylvestre Ker was standing before the fireplace. He listened, his eyes bent down, with a frown upon his brow.

“You have spoken well,” at last he said; “my dear mother will forgive me. I shall remain, and will work at the hour of Matins.”

“You have decided for the best!” cried Bihan. “Rest easy; I will be with you in case of danger. Open the door of your laboratory. We will work together; I will cling to you like your shadow!”

Sylvestre Ker did not move, but looked fixedly upon the floor, and then, as if thinking aloud, murmured,—

“It will be the first time I have ever caused my dear mother sorrow!”

He opened a door, but not that of the laboratory, pushed Pol Bihan outside, and said,—

“The danger is for myself alone; the gold will be for all. Go to the Christmas Mass in my place; say to Matheline that she will be rich, and to my dear mother that she will have a happy old age, since she will live and die with her fortunate son.”
VI.

When Sylvestre Ker was alone, he listened to the noise of the waves dashing upon the beach and the sighing of the wind among the great oaks,—two mournful sounds. And he looked with conflicting feelings at the empty seats of Matheline and of his dear mother Josserande. Little by little had he seen the black hair of the widow become gray, then white, around her sunken temples. That night memory carried him back even to his cradle, over which had bent the sweet, noble face of her who had always spoken to him of God.

But whence came those golden ringlets that mingled with Josserande’s black hair, and which shone in the sunlight above his mother’s snowy locks? And that laugh, oh! that silvery laugh of youth, which prevented Sylvestre Ker from hearing, in his pious recollections, the calm, grave voice of his mother. Whence did it come?

Seven years! Pol had said. “Where is the girl who can wait seven years?” and these words floated in the air. Never had the son of Martin Ker heard such strange voices amid the roaring of the ocean, nor in the rushing winds of the forest of the Druids.

Suddenly the tower also commenced to speak, not only through the cracks of the old windows where the mournful wind sighed, but with a confusion of sounds that resembled the busy whispering of a crowd, that penetrated through the closed doors of the laboratory, under which a bright light streamed. Sylvestre Ker opened the door, fearing to see all in a blaze, but there was no fire; the light that streamed under the door came from the round, red eye of his furnace, and happened to strike the stone of the threshold. No one was in the laboratory; still, the noises, similar to the chattering of an audience awaiting a promised spectacle, did not cease. The air was full of speaking things; the spirits could be felt swarming around, as closely packed as the wheat in the barn or the sand on the seashore. And, although not seen, they spoke all kinds of phantom-words, which were heard right and left, before and behind, above and below, and which penetrated through the pores of the skin like quicksilver passing through a cloth.

They said,—

“The Magi has started, my friend.”

“My friend, the Star shines in the East.”

“My friend, my friend, the little King Jesus is born in the manger, upon the straw.”

“Sylvestre Ker will surely go with the shepherds.”

“Not at all; Sylvestre Ker will not go.”

“Good Christian he was.”

“Good Christian he is no longer.”

“He has forgotten the name of Joseph.”

“And the name of Mary.”

“No, no, no!”

“Yes, yes, yes!”

“He will go!”

“He will not go!”

“He will go, since he promised Dame Josserande.”

“He will not go, since Matheline told him to stay.”

“My friend, my friend, to-night Sylvestre Ker will find the golden secret.”

“To-night, my friend, my friend, he will win the heart of the one he loves.”

And the invisible spirits, thus disputing, sported through the air, mounting, descending, whirling around like atoms of dust in a sunbeam, from the flag-stones of the floor to the rafters of the roof.

Inside the furnace, in the crucible, some other thing responded, but it could not be well heard, as the crucible had been hermetically sealed.

“Go out from here, you wicked crowd,” cried Sylvestre Ker, sweeping around with a broom of holly branches. “What are you doing here? Go outside, cursed spirits, damned souls—go, go!”

From all the corners of the room came laughter; Matheline seemed everywhere. Suddenly there was profound silence, and the wind from the sea brought the sound of the bells of Plouharnel, ringing the second peal for the midnight Mass.

“My friend, what are they saying?”

“They say Christmas, my friend—Christmas, Christmas, Christmas!”

“Not at all! They say, Gold, gold, gold!”

“You lie, my friend!”

“My friend, you lie!”

And the other voices, those that were grumbling in the interior of the furnace, swelled and puffed.

The fire, that no person was blowing, kept up by itself, hot as the soul of a forge should be. The crucible became red, and the stones of the furnace were dyed a deep scarlet.

In vain did Sylvestre Ker sweep with his holly broom; between the branches, covered with sharp leaves, the spirits passed,—nothing could catch them; and the heat was so great the boy was bathed in perspiration.

After the bells had finished their second peal, he said,—

“I am stifling. I will open the window to let out the heat as well as this herd of evil spirits.”

But as soon as he opened the window, the whole country commenced to laugh under its white mantle of snow—barren heath, ploughed land, Druid stones, even to the enormous oaks of the forest, with their glistening summits, that shook their frosty branches, saying,—

“Sylvestre Ker will go! Sylvestre Ker will not go!”

Not a spirit from within flew out, while all the outside spirits entered, muttering, chattering, laughing,—

“Yes, yes, yes, yes! No, no, no, no!” And I believe they fought.

At the same time the sound of a cavalcade advancing was heard on the flinty road that passed before the tower; and Sylvestre Ker recognized the long procession of the monks of Ruiz, led by the grand abbot, Gildas the Wise, arrayed in cope and mitre, with his crozier in his hand, going to the Mass of Plouharnel, as the convent chapel was being rebuilt.

When the head of the cavalcade approached the tower, the grand abbot cried out,—

“My armed guards, sound your horns to awaken Dame Josserande’s son!”

And instantly there was a blast from the horns, which rang out until Gildas the Wise exclaimed,—

“Be silent, for there is my tenant wide awake at his window.”

When all was still, the grand abbot raised his crozier and said,—

“My tenant, the first hour of Christmas approaches, the glorious Feast of the Nativity. Extinguish your furnaces and hasten to Mass, for you have barely time.” And on he passed, while those in the procession, as they saluted Ker, repeated,—

“Sylvestre Ker, you have barely time; make haste!”

The voices of the air kept gibbering: “He will go! He will not go!” and the wind whistled in bitter sarcasm.

Sylvestre Ker closed his window. He sat down, his head clasped by his trembling hands. His heart was rent by two forces that dragged him, one to the right, the other to the left,—his Mother’s prayer and Matheline’s laughter.

He was no miser; he did not covet gold for the sake of gold, but that he might buy the row of pearls and smiles that hung from the lips of Matheline….

“Christmas!” cried a voice in the air.

“Christmas, Christmas, Christmas!” repeated all the other voices.

Sylvestre Ker suddenly opened his eyes, and saw that the furnace was fiery red from top to bottom, and that the crucible was surrounded with rays so dazzling he could not even look at it. Something was boiling inside that sounded like the roaring of a tempest.

“Mother! Oh, my dear mother!” cried the terrified man, “I am coming. I’ll run….”

But thousands of little voices stung his ears with the words,—

“Too late, too late, too late! It is too late!”

Alas! alas! the wind from the sea brought the third peal of the bells of Plouharnel, and they also said to him: “Too late.”
VII.

As the sound of the bells died away, the last drop of water fell from the clepsydra and marked the hour of midnight. Then the furnace opened and showed the glowing crucible, which burst with a terrible noise, and threw out a gigantic flame that reached the sky through the torn roof. Sylvestre Ker, enveloped by the fire, fell prostrate on the ground, suffocated in the burning smoke.

The silence of death followed. Suddenly an awful voice said to him: “Arise.” And he arose.

On the spot where had stood the furnace, of which not a vestige remained, was standing a man, or rather a colossus; and Sylvestre Ker needed but a glance to recognize in him the demon. His body appeared to be of iron, red-hot and transparent; for in his veins could be seen the liquid gold, flowing into, and then retreating from, his heart, black as an extinguished coal.

The creature, who was both fearful and beautiful to behold, extended his hand towards the side of the tower nearest the sea, and in the thick wall a large breach was made.

“Look!” said Satan.

Sylvestre Ker obeyed. He saw, as though distance were annihilated, the interior of the humble church of Plouharnel where the faithful We assembled. The officiating priest had just ascended the altar, brilliant with the Christmas candles, and there was great pomp and splendor; for the many monks of Gildas the Wise were assisting the poor clergy of the parish.

In a corner, under the shadow of a column knelt Dame Josserande in fervent prayer, but often did the dear woman turn towards the door to watch for the coming of her son.

Not far from her was Matheline du Coat-Dor, bravely attired and very beautiful, but lavishing the pearls of her smiles upon all who sought them, forgetting no one but God; and, close to Matheline, Pol Bihan squared his broad shoulders. Then, even as Satan had given to Sylvestre Ker’s sight the power of piercing the walls, so did he permit him to look into the depth of hearts. In his mother’s heart he saw himself as in a mirror. It was full of him. Good Josserande prayed for him; she prayed to Jesus, whose feast is Christmas, in the pious prayer which fell from her lips; and ever and ever said her heart to God: “My son, my son, my son!”

In the heart of Pol, Sylvestre Ker saw pride of strength and gross cupidity; in the spot where should have been the heart of Matheline, he saw Matheline, and nothing but Matheline, in adoration before Matheline.

“I have seen enough,” said Sylvestre Ker.

“Then,” replied Satan, “listen!” And immediately the sacred music resounded in the ears of the young tenant of the tower as plainly as though he was in the church of Plouharnel. They were singing the Sanctus: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts! The heavens and the earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”

Dame Josserande repeated the words with the others, but the refrain of her heart continued: “O Jesus, Infinite Goodness! may he be happy. Deliver him from all evil, from all sin. I have only him to love…. Holy, holy, holy, give me all the suffering and keep for him all the happiness!”

Can you believe it? Even while piously inhaling the perfume of this celestial hymn, the young tenant wished to know what Matheline was saying to God. Everything speaks to God,—the wild beasts in the forest, the birds in the air, even the plants, whose roots are in the ground.

But miserable girls who sell the pearls of their smiles are lower than the animals and vegetables. Nothing is beneath them,—Pol Bihan excepted. Instead of speaking to God, Pol Bihan and Matheline whispered together, and Sylvestre Ker heard them as distinctly as if he had been between them.

“How much will the fool give?” asked Matheline.

“The idiot will give you all,” replied Pol.

“And must I really squint with that one-eyed creature, and limp with the lame wretch?”

Sylvestre Ker felt his heart die away within him.

Meanwhile, Josserande prayed earnestly for Sylvestre Ker.

“Never mind,” continued Bihan; “it is worth while limping and squinting for a time to win all the money in the world.”

“That is true; but for how long?”

Sylvestre Ker held his breath to hear the better.

“As long as you please,” answered Pol Bihan.

There was a pause, after which the gay Matheline resumed in a lower tone,—

“But … they say after a murder one can never laugh, and I wish to laugh always….”

“Will I not be there?” replied Bihan. “Some time or other the idiot will certainly seek a quarrel with me, and I will crack his bones by only squeezing him in my arms; you can count upon my strength.”

“I have heard enough,” said Sylvestre Ker to Satan.

“And do you still love this Bihan?”

“No: I despise him.”

“And Matheline,—do you love her yet?”

“Yes, oh! yes!… but … I hate her!”

“I see,” said Satan, “that you are a coward, and wicked like all men. Since you have heard and seen enough at a distance, listen, and look at your feet….”

The wall closed with a loud crash of the stones as they came together, and Sylvestre Ker saw that he was surrounded by an enormous heap of gold-pieces, as high as his waist, which gently floated, singing the symphony of riches. All around him was gold, and through the gap in the roof the shower of gold fell, and fell, and fell.

“Am I the master of all this?” asked Sylvestre Ker.

“Yes,” replied Satan; “you have compelled me, who am gold, to come forth from my caverns; you are therefore the master of gold, provided you purchase it at the price of your soul. You cannot have both God and gold. You must choose one or the other.”

“I have chosen,” said Sylvestre Ker. “I keep my soul.”

“You have firmly decided?”

“Irrevocably.”

“Once, twice, … reflect! You have just acknowledged that you still love the laughing Matheline.”

“And that I hate her…. Yes, … it is so…. But in eternity I wish to be with my dear mother, Josserande.”

“Were there no mothers,” growled Satan, “I could play my game much better in the world!”

And he added,—

“For the third time, … adjudged!”

The heap of gold became as turbulent as the water of a cascade, and leaped and sang; the millions of little sonorous coins clashed against each other, and then all was silent and they vanished.

The room appeared as black as a place where there had been a fire; nothing could be seen but the lurid gleam of Satan’s iron body. Then said Sylvestre Ker,—

“Since all is ended, retire!”
VIII.

But the demon did not stir.

“Do you think, then,” he asked, “that you have brought me hither for nothing? There is the law. You are not altogether my slave, since you have kept your soul; but as you have freely called me, and I have come, you are my vassal. I have a half claim over you. The little children know that; I am astonished at your ignorance…. From midnight to three o’clock in the morning you belong to me, in the form of an animal, restless, roving, complaining, without help from God. This is what you owe to your strong friend and beautiful bride. Let us settle the affair before I depart. What animal do you wish to be,—roaring lion, bellowing ox, bleating sheep, crowing cock? If you become a dog, you can crouch at Matheline’s feet, and Bihan can lead you by a leash to hunt in the woods….”

“I wish,” cried Sylvestre Ker, whose anger burst forth at these words, “I wish to be a wolf, to devour them both!”

“So be it,” said Satan; “wolf you shall be three hours of the night during your mortal life…. Leap, wolf!”

And the wolf, Sylvestre Ker, leaped, and with one dash shattered the casement of the window as he cleared it with a bound. Through the aperture in the roof Satan escaped, and, spreading a pair of immense wings, rapidly disappeared in an opposite direction from the steeple of Plouharnel, whose chimes were ringing across the snow.

IX.

I do not know if you have ever seen a Breton village come forth after the midnight Mass. It is a joyous sight, but a brief one, as all are in a hurry to return home, where the midnight meal awaits them,—a frugal feast, but eaten with such cheerful hearts. The people, for a moment massed in the cemetery, exchange hospitable invitations, kind wishes, and friendly jokes; then divide into little caravans, which hurry along the roads, laughing, talking, singing. If it is a clear, cold night, the clicking of their wooden shoes may be heard for some time; but if it is damp weather, the sound is stifled, and after a few moments the faint echo of an “adieu” or Christmas greeting is all that can be heard around the church as the beadle closes it.

In the midst of all this cheerfulness Josserande alone returned with a sad heart; for through the whole Mass she had in vain watched for her beloved son. She walked fifty paces behind the cavalcade of the monks of Ruiz, and dared not approach the Grand Abbot Gildas, for fear of being questioned about her boy. On her right was Matheline du Coat-Dor, on her left Bihan,—both eager to console her; for they thought that by that time Sylvestre Ker must have learned the wonderful secret which would secure him untold wealth, and to possess the son they should cling to the mother; therefore there were promises and caresses, and “will you have this, or will you have that?”

“Dear godmother, I shall always be with you,” said Matheline, “to comfort and rejoice your old age; for your son is my heart.”

Pol Bihan continued,—

“I will never marry, but always remain with my friend, Sylvestre Ker, whom I love more than myself. And nothing must worry you; if he is weak, I am strong, and I will work for two.”

To pretend that Dame Josserande paid much attention to all these words would be false; for her son possessed her whole soul, and she thought,—

“This is the first time he has ever disobeyed and deceived me. The demon of avarice has entered into him. Why does he want so much money? Can all the riches in the world pay for one of the tears that the ingratitude of a beloved son draws from his mother’s eyes?”

Suddenly her thoughts were arrested, for the sound of a trumpet was heard in the still night.

“It is the convent horn,” said Matheline.

“And it sounds the wolf-alarm,” added Pol.

“What harm can the wolf do,” asked Josserande, “to a well-mounted troop like the cavalry of Gildas the Wise? And, besides, cannot the holy abbot with a single word put to flight a hundred wolves?”

They arrived at the heath of Carnac, where are the two thousand seven hundred and twenty-nine Druid stones, and the monks had already passed the round point where nothing grows, neither grass nor heath, and which resembles an enormous caldron,—a caldron wherein to make oaten-porridge,—or rather a race-course, to exercise horses.

On one side might be seen the town, dark and gloomy; on the other, as far as the eye could reach, rows of rugged obelisks, half-black, half-white, owing to the snow, which threw into bold relief each jagged outline. Josserande, Matheline, and Pol Bihan had just turned from the sunken road which branches towards Plouharnel; and the moon played hide-and-go-seek behind a flock of little clouds that flitted over the sky like lambs.

Then a strange thing happened. The cavalcade of monks was seen to retreat from the entrance of the avenues to the middle of the circle, while the horn sounded the signal of distress, and loud cries were heard of “Wolf! wolf! wolf!” At the same time could be distinguished the clashing of arms, the stamping of horses, and all the noise of a ferocious struggle, above which rose the majestic tones of Gildas the Wise, as he said, with calmness,—

“Wolf, wicked wolf, I forbid you to touch God’s servants!” But it seemed that the wicked wolf was in no hurry to obey, for the cavalcade plunged hither and thither as though shaken by convulsion; and the moon having come forth from the clouds, there was seen an enormous beast struggling with the staffs of the monks, the halberds of the armed guard, the pitchforks and spears of the peasants, who had hastened from all directions at the trumpet-call from Ruiz.

The animal received many wounds, but it was fated not to die. Again and again it charged upon the crowd, rushed up and down, round and round, biting, tearing with its great teeth so fearfully that a large circle was made around the grand abbot, who was finally left alone in face of the wolf. For a wolf it was. And the grand abbot having touched it with his crosier, the wolf crouched at his feet, panting, trembling, and bloody.

Gildas the Wise bent over it, looked at it attentively, then said,—

“Nothing happens contrary to God’s will. Where is Dame Josserande?”

“I am here,” replied a mournful voice full of tears, “and I dread a great misfortune.”

She also was alone; for Matheline and Pol Bihan, seized with terror, had rushed across the fields at the first alarm and abandoned their precious charge. The grand abbot called Josserande and said,—

“Woman, do not despair. Above you is the Infinite Goodness, who holds in His hands the heavens and the whole earth. Meanwhile, protect your wolf; we must return to the monastery to gain from sleep strength to serve the Lord our God!”

And he resumed his course, followed by his escort.

The wolf did not move; his tongue lay on the snow, which was reddened by his blood. Josserande knelt beside him and prayed fervently. For whom? For her beloved son. Did she already know that the wolf was Sylvestre Ker? Certainly; such a thing could scarcely be divined; but under what form cannot a mother discover her darling child?

She defended the wolf against the peasants, who had returned to strike him with their pitchforks and pikes, as they believed him dead. The two last who came were Pol Bihan and Matheline. Pol Bihan kicked him on the head, and said, “Take that, you fool!” and Matheline threw stones at him, and cried: “Idiot, take that, and that, and that!”

They had hoped for all the gold in the world, and this dead beast could give them nothing more.

After a while two ragged beggars passed by and assisted Josserande in carrying the wolf into the tower. Where is charity most often found? Among the poor, who are the figures Of Jesus Christ.
X.

Day dawned. A man slept in the bed of Sylvestre Ker, where widow Josserande had laid a wolf. The room still bore the marks of a fire, and snow fell through the hole in the roof. The young tenant’s face was disfigured with blows, and his hair, stiffened with blood, hung in heavy locks. In his feverish sleep he talked, and the name that escaped his lips was Matheline’s. At his bedside the mother watched and prayed.

When Sylvestre Ker awoke he wept, for the thought of his condemnation returned; but the remembrance of Pol and Matheline dried the tears in his burning eyes.

“It was for those two,” said he, “that I forgot God and my mother. I still feel my friend’s heel upon my forehead, and even to the bottom of my heart the shock of the stones thrown at me by my betrothed!”

“Dearest,” murmured Josserande, “dearer to me than ever, I know nothing; tell me all.”

Sylvestre Ker obeyed, and when he had finished, Josserande kissed him, took up her staff, and proceeded towards the convent of Ruiz to ask, according to her custom, aid and counsel from Gildas the Wise. On the way, men, women, and children looked curiously at her, for throughout the country it was already known that she was the mother of a wolf. Even behind the hedge which enclosed the abbey orchard Matheline and Pol were hidden to see her pass; and she heard Pol say,—

“Will you come to-night to see the wolf run around?”

“Without fail,” replied Matheline; and the sting of her laughter pierced Josserande like a poisonous thorn.

The grand abbot received her, surrounded by great books and dusty manuscripts. When she wished to explain her son’s case, he stopped her, and said,—

“Widow of Martin Ker, poor, good woman, since the beginning of the world, Satan, the demon of gold and pride, has worked many such wickednesses. Do you remember the deceased brother, Thaël, who is a saint for having resisted the desire of making gold,—he who had the power to do it?”

“Yes,” answered Josserande; “and would to heaven my Sylvestre had imitated him!”

“Very well,” replied Gildas the Wise. “Instead of sleeping, I passed the rest of the night with St. Thaël, seeking a means to save your son, Sylvestre Ker.”

“And have you found it, father?”

The grand abbot neither answered yes nor no, but he began to turn over a very thick manuscript filled with pictures; and, while turning the leaves, he said,—

“Life springs from death, according to the divine word; death seizes the living, according to the pagan law of Rome; and it is nearly the same thing in the order of miserable temporal ambition, whose inheritance is a strength, a life, shot forth from a coffin. This is a book of the defunct Thaël’s, which treats of the question of maladies caused by the breath of gold,—a deadly poison…. Woman, would you have the courage to strike your wolf a blow on his head powerful enough to break the skull?”

At these words Josserande fell her full length upon the tiles, as if she had been stabbed to the heart; but in the very depth of her agony—for she thought herself dying—she replied,—

“If you should order me to do it, I would.”

“You have this great confidence in me, poor woman?” cried Gildas, much moved.

“You are a man of God,” answered Josserande, “and I have faith in God.”

Gildas the Wise prostrated himself on the ground and struck his breast, knowing that he had felt a movement of pride. Then, standing up, he raised Josserande, and kissed the hem of her robe, saying,—

“Woman, I adore you in the most holy faith. Prepare your axe, and sharpen it!”
XI.

In the days of Gildas the Wise, intense silence always reigned at night through the dense oak forest of the Armorican country. One of the most lonely places was Cæsar’s camp, the name was given to the huge masses of stone that encumbered the barren heath; and it was the common opinion that the pagan giants, supposed to be buried under them, rose from their graves at midnight and roamed up and down the long avenues, watching for the late passers-by, to twist their necks.

This night, however,—the night after Christmas,—many persons could be seen, about eleven o’clock, on the heath before the stones of Carnac, all around the Great Basin or circle, whose irregular outline was clearly visible by moonlight. The enclosure was entirely empty. Outside no one was seen, it is true; but many could be heard gabbling in the shadow of the high rocks, under the shelter of the stumps of oaks, even in the tufts of thorny brambles; and all this assemblage watched for something, and that something was the wolf, Sylvestre Ker. They had come from Plouharnel, and also from Lannelar, from Carnac, from Kercado, even from the old town of Crach, beyond La Trinité.

Who had brought together all these people, young and old, men and women? The legend does not say; but very probably Matheline had strewn around the cruel pearls of her laughter, and Pol Bihan had not been slow to relate what he had seen after the midnight Mass.

By some means or other, the entire country around for five or six leagues knew that the son of Martin Ker, the tenant of the abbey, had become a man-wolf, and that he was doomed to expiate his crime in the spot haunted by the phantoms,—the Great Basin of the Pagans, between the tower and the Druid stones.

Many of the watchers had never seen a man-wolf, and there reigned in the crowd, scattered in invisible groups, a fever of curiosity, terror, and impatience; the minutes lengthened as they passed, and it seemed as though midnight, stopped on the way, would never come.

There were at that time no clocks in the neighborhood to mark the hour, but the matin-bell of the convent of Ruiz gave notice that the wished-for moment had arrived.

While waiting there was busy conversation: they spoke of the man-wolf, of phantoms, and also of betrothals, for the rumor was spread that the bans of Matheline du Coat-Dor, the promised bride of Sylvestre Ker, with the strong Pol Bihan, who had never found a rival in the wrestling-field, would be published on the following Sunday; and I leave you to imagine how Matheline’s laughter ran in pearly cascades when congratulated on her approaching marriage.

By the road which led up to the tower a shadow slowly descended; it was not the wolf, but a poor woman in mourning, whose head was bent upon her breast, and who held in her hand an object that shone like a mirror, and the brilliant surface of which reflected the moonbeams.

“It is Josserande Ker!” was whispered around the circle, behind the rocks, in the brambles, and under the stumps of the oaks.

“‘Tis the widow of the armed keeper of the great door!”

“‘Tis the mother of the wolf, Sylvestre Ker!”

“She also has come to see….”

“But what has she in her hand?”

Twenty voices asked the question. Matheline, who had good eyes, and such beautiful ones, replied,—

“It looks like an axe…. Happy am I to be rid of those two, the mother and son! With them I could never laugh.”

But there were two or three good souls who said in low tones,—

“Poor widow! her heart must be full of sorrow.”

“But what does she want with that axe?”

“It is to defend her wolf,” again replied Matheline, who carried a pitchfork.

Pol Bihan held an enormous hollow stick which resembled a club. Every one was armed either with threshing-flails or rakes or hoes; some even bore scythes, carried upright; for they had not only come to look on, but to make an end of the man-wolf.

Again was heard the chime of the matin-bells of the convent of Ruiz, and immediately a smothered cry ran from group to group,—

“Wolf! wolf! wolf!”

Josserande heard it, for she paused in her descent and cast an anxious look around; but, seeing no one, she raised her eyes to heaven and clasped her hands over the handle of her axe.

The wolf, in the meantime, with fuming nostrils and eyes which looked like burning coals, leaped over the stones of the enclosure and began to run around the circle.

“See, see!” said Pol Bihan; “he no longer limps.” And Matheline, dazzled by the red light from his eyes, added: “It seems he is no longer one-eyed!”

Pol brandished his club, and continued,—

“What are we waiting for? Why not attack him?”

“Go you first,” said the men.

“I caught cold the other day, and my leg is stiff, which keeps me from running,” answered Pol.

“Then I will go first!” cried Matheline, raising her pitchfork. “I will soon show how I hate the wretch!”

Dame Josserande heard her, and sighed,—

“Girl, whom I blessed in baptism, may God keep me from cursing you now!”

This Matheline, whose pearls were worth nothing, was no coward; for she carried out her words, and marched straight up to the wolf, while Bihan stayed behind and cried,—

“Go, go, my friends; don’t be afraid! Ah! but for my stiff leg, I would soon finish the wolf, for I am the strongest and bravest.”

Round and round the circle galloped the wolf as quickly as a hunted stag; his eyes darted fire, his tongue was hanging from his mouth. Josserande, seeing the danger that threatened him, wept and cried out,—

“O Bretons! is there among you all not one kind soul to defend the widow’s son in the hour when he bitterly expiates his sin?”

“Let us alone, godmother,” boldly replied Matheline.

And from afar Pol Bihan added: “Don’t listen to the old woman; go!”

But another voice was heard in answer to Dame Josserande’s appeal, and it said,—

“As last night, we are here!”

Standing in front of Matheline and barring the passage were two ragged beggars, with their wallets, leaning upon their staffs. Josserande recognized the two poor men who had so charitably aided her the night before; and one of them, who had snow-white hair and beard, said,—

“My brethren, why do you interfere in this? God rewards and punishes. This poor man-wolf is not a damned soul, but one expiating a great crime. Leave justice to God, if you do not wish some great misfortune to happen to you.”

And Josserande, who was kneeling down, said imploringly,—

“Listen, listen to the saint!”

But from behind, Pol Bihan cried out,—

“Since when have beggars been allowed to preach sermons? Ah! if it were not for my stiff leg…. Kill him, kill him!… wolf! wolf!”

“Wolf! wolf!” repeated Matheline, who tried to drive off the old beggar with her pitchfork. But the fork broke like glass in her hands as it touched the poor man’s tatters, and at the same time twenty voices cried,—

“The wolf! the wolf! Where has the wolf gone?”

Soon it was seen where the wolf had gone. A black mass dashed through the crowd, and Pol Bihan uttered a horrible cry,—

“Help! help! Matheline!”

You have often heard the noise made by a dog when crunching a bone. This was the noise they heard, but louder, as though there were many dogs crunching many bones. And a strange voice, like the growling of a wolf, said,—

“The strength of a man is a dainty morsel for a wolf to eat. Bihan, traitor, I eat your strength!”

The black mass again bounded through the terrified crowd, his bloody tongue hanging from his mouth, his eyes darting fire.

This time it was from Matheline that a scream still more horrible than that of Pol’s was heard; and again there was the noise of another terrible feast, and the voice of the wild beast, which had already spoken, growled,—

“The pearls of a smile make a dainty morsel for a wolf to eat. Matheline, serpent that stung my heart, seek for your beauty. I have eaten it!”

XII.

The white-haired beggar had endeavored to protect Matheline against the wolf, but he was very old, and his limbs would not move as quickly as his heart. He only succeeded in throwing down the wolf. It fell at Josserande’s feet and licked her knees, uttering doleful moans. But the people, who had come thither for entertainment, were not well pleased with what had happened. There was now abundance of light, as men with torches had arrived from the abbey in search of Gildas the Wise, whose cell had been found empty at the hour of Compline.

The glare from the torches shone upon two hideous wounds made by the wolf, who had devoured Matheline’s beauty and Pol’s strength,—that is to say, the face of the one and the arms of the other—flesh and bones. It was frightful to behold. The women wept while looking at the repulsive, bleeding mass which had been Matheline’s smiling face; the men sought in the double bloody gaps some traces of Pol’s arms, for the powerful muscles, the glory of the athletic games; and every heart was filled with wrath.

And the legend says that the tenant of Coat-Dor, Matheline’s poor father, knelt beside his daughter and felt around in the blood for the scattered pearls, which were now as red as holly-berries.

“Alas!” said he, “of these dead, stained things, which when living were so beautiful, which were admired and envied and loved, I was so proud and happy.”

Alas! indeed, alas! Perhaps it was not the girl’s fault that her heart was no larger than a little bird’s; and yet for this defect was not Matheline cruelly punished?

“Death to the wolf! death to the wolf! death to the wolf!”

From all sides was this cry heard, and brandishing pitchforks, cudgels, ploughshares, and mallets, came rushing the people towards the wolf, who still lay panting, with open jaws and pendent tongue, at the feet of Dame Josserande.

Around them the torch-bearers formed a circle: not to throw light upon the wolf and Dame Josserande, but to render homage to the white-haired beggar, in whom, as though the scales had suddenly fallen from their eyes, every one recognized the Grand Abbot of Ruiz, Gildas the Wise.

The grand abbot raised his hand, and the armed crowd’s eager advance was checked, as if their feet had been nailed to the ground. Calmly he surveyed them, blessed them, and said,—

“Christians, the wolf did wrong to punish, for chastisement belongs to God alone; therefore the wolf’s fault should not be punished by you. In whom resides the power of God? In the holy authority of fathers and mothers. So here is my penitent Josserande, who will rightfully judge the wolf and punish him; she is his mother.”

When Gildas the Wise ceased speaking, you could have heard a mouse run across the heath. Each one thought to himself: “So the wolf is really Sylvestre Ker.” But not a word was uttered, and all looked at Dame Josserande’s axe, which glistened in the moonlight.

Josserande’s heart sank within her, and she murmured,—

“My beloved one, my beloved one, whom I have borne in my arms and nourished with my milk,—ah! me, can the Lord God inflict this cruel martyrdom upon me?”

No one replied, not even Gildas the Wise, who silently adjured the All-Powerful, and recalled to Him the sacrifice of Abraham.

Josserande raised her axe, but she had the misfortune to look at the wolf, who fixed his eyes, full of tears, upon her, and the axe fell from her hands.

It was the wolf who picked it up, and when he gave it back to her, he said,—

“I weep for you, my mother.”

“Strike!” cried the crowd; for what remained of Pol and Matheline uttered terrible groans. “Strike! strike!”

While Josserande again seized her axe, the grand abbot had time to say,—

“Do not complain, you two unhappy ones; for your suffering here below changes your hell into heaven.”

Three times Josserande raised the axe, three times she let it fall without striking; but at last she said, in a hoarse tone that sounded like a death-rattle, “I have great faith in the good God!” and then she struck boldly, for the wolf’s head split in two halves.
XIII.

A sudden wind extinguished the torches, and some one prevented Dame Josserande from falling, as she sank fainting to the ground, by supporting her in his arms.

By the light of the halo which shone around the blessed head of Gildas the Wise, the good people saw that this somebody was the young tenant, Sylvestre Ker, no longer lame and one-eyed, but with two straight legs and two perfect eyes.

At the same time there were heard voices in the clouds chanting. And why? Because heaven and earth quivered with emotion at witnessing this supreme act of faith soaring from the depth of anguish in a mother’s heart.
XIV.

This is the legend that for many centuries has been related at Christmas-time on the shores of the Petite-Mer, which, in the Breton tongue, is called Armor bihan, the Celtic name of Brittany.

If you ask what moral these good people draw from this strange story, I will answer that it contains a basketful. Pol and Matheline, condemned to walk around the Basin of the Pagans until the end of time,—one without arms, the other without a face,—offer a severe lesson to those who are too proud of their broad shoulders and brute force, and gossiping flirts of girls with smiling faces and wicked hearts; the case of Sylvestre Ker teaches young men not to listen to the demon of money; the blow of Josserande’s axe shows the miraculous power of faith.

Still further, that you may bind together these diverse morals in one, here is a proverb which is current in the province: “Never stoop to pick up the pearls of a smile.” After this, ask me no more.

As to the authenticity of the story, I have already said that the chestnut-grove belongs to the mayor’s nephew, which is one guarantee; and I will add that the spot is called Sylvestre-ker, and that the ruins hung with moss have no other name than “The Wolf Tower.”

Salvette and Bernadou, from Alphonse Daudet

I.

It is the eve of Christmas in a large village of Bavaria. Along the snow-whitened streets, amid the confusion of the fog and noise of carriages and bells, the crowd presses joyously about cook-shops, wine-booths, and busy stores. Rustling with a light sweep of sound against the flower-twined and be-ribboned stalls, branches of green holly, or whole saplings, graced with pendants and shading the heads below like boughs of the Thuringian forest, go by in happy arms: a remembrance of nature in the torpid life of winter.

Day dies out. Far away, behind the gardens of the Résidence, lingers a glimmer of the departing sun, red in the fog; and in the town is such gaiety, such hurry of preparation for the holiday, that each jet of light which springs up in the many windows seems to hang from some vast Christmas-tree.

This is, in truth, no ordinary Christmas. It is the year of grace eighteen hundred and seventy, and the holy day is only a pretext the more to drink to the illustrious Von der Than and celebrate the triumph of the Bavarian troops.

“Noël, Noël!” The very Jews of the old town join in the mirth. Behold the aged Augustus Cahn who turns the corner by the “Blue Grapes!” Truly, his eyes have never shined before as they do to-night; nor has his little wicker satchel ever jingled so lightly. Across his sleeve, worn by the cords of sacks, is passed an honest little hamper, full to the top and covered with a cold napkin, from under which stick out the neck of a bottle and a twig of holly.

What on earth can the old miser want with all this? Can it be possible that he means to celebrate Christmas himself? Does he mean to have a family reunion and drink to the German fatherland? Impossible! Everybody knows old Cahn has no country. His fatherland is his strong box. And, moreover, he has neither family nor friends,—nothing but debtors. His sons and his associates are gone away long ago with the army. They traffic in the rear among the wagons, vending the water of life, buying watches, and, on nights of battle, emptying the pockets of the dead, or rifling the baggage tumbled in the ditches of the route.

Too old to follow his children, Father Cahn has remained in Bavaria, where he has made magnificent profits from the French prisoners of war. He is always prowling about the barracks to buy watches, shoulder-knots, medals, post-orders. You may see him glide through the hospitals, beside the ambulances. He approaches the beds of the wounded and demands, in a low, hideous growl,—

“Haf you anyting to sell?”

And, hold! At this same moment, the reason he trots so gayly with his basket under his arm, is solely that the military hospital closes at five o’clock, and that there are two Frenchmen who await him high up in that tall black building with straight, iron-barred windows, where Christmas finds nothing to welcome her approach save the pale lights which guard the pillows of the dying.

II.

These two Frenchmen are named Salvette and Bernadou. They are infantrymen from the same village of Provençe, enrolled in the same battalion, and wounded by the same shell. But Salvette had the stronger frame, and already he begins to grow convalescent, to take a few steps from his bed towards the window.

Bernadou, though, will never be cured. Through the pale curtains of the hospital bed, his figure looks more meagre, more languished day by day; and when he speaks of his home, of return thither, it is with that sad smile of the sick wherein there is more of resignation than of hope.

To-day, now, he is a little animated by the thought of the cheerful Christmas time, which, in our country of Provençe, is like a grand bonfire of joy lighted in the midst of winter; by remembrance of the departure for Mass at midnight; the church bedecked and luminous; the dark streets of the village full of people; then the long watch around the table; the three traditional flambeaux; the ceremony of the Yule-log; then the grand promenade around the house, and the sparkle of the burning wine.

“Ah, my poor Salvette, what a sad Christmas we are going to have this year! If only we had money to buy a little loaf of white bread and a flask of claret wine! What a pleasure it would be before passing away forever to sprinkle once again the Yule-log, with thee!”

And, in speaking of white bread and claret wine, the eyes of the sick youth glistened with pleasure.

But what to do? They had nothing, neither money nor watches. Salvette still held hidden in the seam of his mantle a post-order for forty francs. But that was for the day when they should be free and the first halt they should make in a cabaret of France. That was sacred; not to be touched!

But poor Bernadou is so sick. Who knows whether he will ever be able to return? And, then, it is Christmas, and they are together, perhaps, for the last time. Would it not be better to use it, after all?

Then, without a word to his comrade, Salvette loosens his tunic to take out the post-order, and when old Cahn comes, as he does every morning to make his tour of the aisles, after long debates and discussions under the breath, he thrusts into the Jew’s hands the slip of paper, worn and yellow, smelling of powder and dashed with blood.

From that moment Salvette assumed an air of mystery. He rubbed his hands and laughed all to himself when he looked at Bernadou. And, as night fell, he was on the watch, his forehead pressed eagerly against the window-pane, until he saw, through the fog of the deserted court below, old Augustus Cahn, who came panting with his exertions, and carrying a little basket on his arm.

III.

This solemn midnight, which sounds from all the bells of the town, falls sadly into the pale night of the sick. The hospital is silent, lit only by the night-lamps suspended from the ceiling. Great running shadows flit over the beds and bare walls in a perpetual balancing, which seems to image the heavy respiration of all the sufferers lying there.

At times, dreamers talk high in their feverish sleep, or groan in the clutches of nightmares; while from the street there mounts up a vague rumor of feet and voices, mingled in the cold and sonorous night like sounds made under a cathedral porch.

Salvette feels the gathering haste, the mystery of a religious feast crossing the hours of sleep, the hanging forth in the dark village of the blind light of lanterns and the illumination of the windows of the church.

“Are you asleep, Bernadou?”

Softly, on the little table next his comrade’s bed, Salvette has placed a bottle of vin de Lunel and a loaf of bread, a pretty Christmas loaf, where the twig of holly is planted straight in the centre.

Bernadou opens his eyes encircled with fever. By the indistinct glow of the night-lamps and under the white reflection of the great roofs where the moonlight lies dazzlingly on the snow, this improvised Christmas feast seems but a fantastic dream.

woman-on-bench-winter“Come, arouse thee, comrade! It shall not be said that two sons of Provençe have let this midnight pass without sprinkling a drop of claret!” And Salvette lifts him up with the tenderness of a mother. He fills the goblets, cuts the bread, and then they drink and talk of Provençe.

Little by little Bernadou grows animated and moved by the occasion,—the white wine, the remembrances! With that child-like manner which the sick find in the depths of their feebleness he asks Salvette to sing a Provençal Noël. His comrade asks which: “The Host,” or “The Three Kings,” or “St. Joseph Has Told Me”?

“No; I like the ‘Shepherds’ best. We chant that always at home.”

“Then, here’s for the ‘Shepherds.’”

And in a low voice, his head between the curtains, Salvette began to sing.

All at once, at the last couplet, when the shepherds, coming to see Jesus in His stable, have placed in the manger their offerings of fresh eggs and cheeses, and when, bowing with an affable air,

“Joseph says, ‘Go! be very sage:
Return, and make you good voyage,
Shepherds,
Take your leave!’”

—all at once poor Bernadou slipped and fell heavily on the pillow. His comrade thought he had fallen asleep, and called him, shook him. But the wounded boy rested immovable, and the little twig of holly lying across the rigid cloth, seemed already the green palm they place upon the pillows of the dead.

Salvette understood at last. Then, in tears, a little weakened by the feast and by his grief, he raised in full voice, through the silence of the room, the joyous refrain of Provençe,—

“Shepherds,
Take your leave!”

A Christmas Miracle, by Harrison S. Morris

You have never heard of Alcala? Well, it is a little village nestling between the Spanish hills, a league from great Madrid. There is a ring of stone houses, each with its white-walled patio and grated windows; each with its balcony, whence now and then a laughing face looks down upon the traveller. There is an ancient inn by the roadside, a time-worn church, and above, on the hill-top, against the still blue sky, the castle, dusky with age, but still keeping a feudal dignity, though half its yellow walls have crumbled away.

This is the Alcala into which I jogged one winter evening in search of rest and entertainment after a long day’s journey on mule-back.

christmas-innThe inn was in a doze when my footsteps broke the silence of its stone court-yard; but presently a woman came through an inner door to answer my summons, and I was speedily cast under the quiet spell of the place by finding myself behind a screen of leaves, with a straw-covered bottle at my elbow and a cold fowl within comfortable reach.

The bower where I sat was unlighted save by the waning sun, and I could see but little of its long vista, without neglecting a very imperious appetite. The lattice was covered, I thought, with vine-leaves, and I felt sure, too, that some orange boughs, reaching across the patio wall, mingled with the foliage above my head. But all I was certain of was the relish of the fowl and the delicious refreshment of the cool wine. Having finished these, I lay back in my chair, luxuriating in the sense of healthy fatigue, and going over again, in fancy, the rolling roads of my journey.

I believe I, also, fell into the prevailing slumber of the place, lulled by the soft atmosphere and gentle wine, and might have slept there till morning had a furious sneeze not awakened me with a start. I looked confusedly about in the dusk, but could see nothing save, at last, the tip of a lighted cigarette in the remote depths of the bower. I called out,—

“Who’s there?” and was answered, courteously, by a deep, gruff voice in Spanish,—

“It is I, señor, Jose Rosado.”

“Are you a guest of ‘La Fonda’?” said I, for I had learned that this was the name of the inn, and was a little doubtful whether I had fallen into the hands of friend or foe.

“Ha! ha! ha!” with a long explosion of guttural sounds, was my only answer. Then, after a brightening of the cigarette-fire, to denote that the smoker was puffing it into life, he said,—

“I, señor, am the host.”

At this I drew my chair closer, and found, in the thin reflection of the cigarette, a round, bronzed face beaming with smiles and picturing easy good health.

It was winter in Spain, but the scent of flowers was abroad, and the soft, far-off stars twinkled through the moving leaves. What wonder, then, that we fell into talk,—I, the inquiring traveller, he, the arch-gossip of Alcala,—and talked till the moon rose high into the night?

“And who lives in the castle on the hill?” I asked, after hearing the private history of half the town.

“Ah,” said mine host, as if preparing to swallow a savory morsel, “there’s a bit of gossip; there’s a story, indeed!” He puffed away for a minute in mute satisfaction, and then began.

“That is a noble family, the Aranjuez. None can remember in Alcala when there was not a noble Aranjuez living in its castle, and they have led our people bravely in all the wars of Spain. I remember as a boy——”

But, having become acquainted with mine host’s loquacity, I broke in with a question more to the point,—

“Who, Señor Jose, lives in the castle now?”

He would have answered without a suspicion of my ruse, had not a bell just then rung solemnly forth, awakening the still night, and arousing Jose Rosado from his comfortable bench, promptly to his feet.

“Come,” he said; “that is for the Christmas Mass. I will tell you as we go.”

The little inn was lively enough as we emerged from the bower and crossed the court-yard towards the road. The woman who had prepared my supper came forth arrayed in a capulet of white and scarlet, and two younger girls who accompanied her wore veils and long, black robes which fell about their forms like Oriental garments. Two or three men, attendants and hostlers of the place, were also about to start, trigged out in queer little capes and high-crowned hats. All this fine apparel, mine host informed me, was peculiar to Christmas, and I soon found the highway full of peasants in similar garb.

As we got off, Jose Rosado resumed his story, which was brief enough to beguile us just to the church-door.

“You ask me, señor, who lives in the castle now? The Donna Isabella is alone there, now, the only survivor of the noble race, except—except señor,” (he laid a peculiar emphasis on the word,) “except a wilful son, whom she has disowned and driven from her house. He is a handsome lad, and married, here in Alcala, the beauty of the town, in spite of his mother’s wounded pride. It was a love-match of stolen wooing and secret wedding,—but, ha! ha! we saw it all, knew it all, before even they did themselves. Many an evening have I met them on these roads, billing and cooing like the doves on La Fonda’s eaves. They were made by nature for each other, though, and even the rage of the proud Donna Isabella could never part them.”

“And do they still live in the town?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Jose; “over there in the white house where the olive trees are, at the bottom of the long hill.”

I looked in the direction whither he pointed, but I could see little in the dim moonlight save a white wall amid dense shadows.

“And is Donna Isabella a very old lady?” I asked, because very old ladies are often charged with peculiar severity to very young ones.

“No, no, no,” said Jose Rosado, with a quick turn of the head to each no. “She’s a widow lady of middle age; very proud and very handsome. You shall see her presently, for she has consented to take part in the Christmas play at the church.”

As I had come a long journey to see this same Christmas play, my expectation was doubly aroused as we approached the old edifice, whose open belfry and rows of cloisters stood before us at the top of the hill we were ascending.

As we entered, the bells stopped ringing, for it was precisely midnight, and the priest at the altar began to say the Christmas Masses. When he had reached the Gospel, he was interrupted by the appearance of a matron, dressed all in white, who stood at the end of the nave. She was clad like the Madonna, and was accompanied by Joseph, who wore the garb of a mountaineer, with a hatchet in his hand. An officious little officer with a halberd opened the way through the crowd before these personages, and they came solemnly up the aisle towards the chancel, which had been arrayed to represent Bethlehem, the Madonna reciting, as she moved forward, a plaintive song about her homelessness. Joseph replied cheeringly, and led her under a roof of leaves in the sanctuary, formed in the manner of a stable, in which we could see the manger against the wall. Here she took rest from her journey, while a little crib, wherein lay the Bambino—or waxen image of the Babe—all adorned with ribbons and laces, was brought from the sacristy and placed in the straw at her feet.

As the Madonna passed us, Jose Rosado nudged me, and whispered audibly enough to make the crowd about us turn and stare,—

“Hist! here’s the Donna Isabella, señor! She looks like a saint to-night!”

I watched her closely as she went by me, and marked, under the meek expression assumed by the Virgin, a more characteristic one of severe resolution. She was, however, a queenly woman, in the ripest stage of maturity, but she bore herself, in the part she had taken, with a matronly grace something too conscious for the lowly Mary.

As she seated herself on the heap of straw, a little boy in a surplice, representing an angel, with wings of crimped lawn at his shoulders, was raised in a chair, by a cord and pulley, to the very top of the sanctuary arch, where he sang a carol to the shepherds,—

“Shepherds, hasten all
With flying feet from your retreat;
On rustic pipes now play
Your sweetest, sweetest lay;

for”—so ran the song—”Mary and the King of Heaven are in yonder cave.”

At this, an orchestra, concealed behind the high altar, set up a tooting from bagpipes, and flute, and violin, which served as a prelude to the appearance of the shepherds, who were concealed in the gallery.

Up they got, with long cloaks and crooked staffs, murmuring their surprise and incredulity at what the angel had said; some pretending to grumble at being awakened from sleep, others anxious to prove the truth of the strange tidings.

Then the angel sang a more appealing ditty still, whereat they were all about ready to advance, when one of their number, of a sceptical turn, urged them to avoid such fanciful matters and give heed to their sheep, who would otherwise become the prey of the wolf.

Hereupon, an old shepherd appeared, who gave three loud knocks with his crook, and denounced those who should disobey the heavenly messenger. The practical man was thus silenced, and they expressed their willingness to go to the manger,—and at the same moment an angel appeared to guide them thither.

They descended from the gallery to the outer porch of the church and knocked loudly at the door, saying, as if to the innkeeper at Bethlehem:

“Pray, good master of the inn,
Open the door and let us in.”

But Joseph became alarmed at the approach of such a number of rustics, and inquired who they were. They held a songful colloquy with him; but he continued to refuse them admittance, until an angel again intervened, this time in the form of a tall acolyte from the sanctuary, accompanied by two little angelic choristers. He reassured Joseph, and invited the shepherds to enter and worship the Babe. They came up the aisle flourishing their be-ribboned crooks and singing in praise of the Child, but they were sorely vexed, when they saw the stable, that so humble a place had been found for His shelter. Joseph explained, in several couplets, that no other house would receive them, and the shepherds replied in several others, mingling sympathy and good advice, intended not for Joseph, but for the throng, who listened in religious awe.

After paying due homage to the child and Mary, the shepherds exchanged some more verses with Joseph, and then retired to the other end of the church, singing in chorus as they went.

All these ceremonies had so claimed my attention that I had given scarcely any heed to the Virgin. She was seated humbly in the straw beside the little crib, in which still nestled the Bambino, and, with eyes cast down in maternal thoughtfulness, she was a lovely object there beneath the roof of the leafy stable. She did not appear to notice the actors in the drama; and now, when three young girls, in gayest holiday attire, came forward with distaffs that streamed with bright ribbons, and knelt before her, she reached forth a hand as if to bless them, but kept her eyes turned meekly upon the ground.

As these three girls retired from the manger, another and larger band appeared beneath the gallery opposite the shepherds, singing in sweet voices a salutation to the three who had just left the chancel. These made answer that they had come from the stable where the Saviour was born; and so, in alternate questions and answers, they described all that they had seen. The two groups, having advanced a step or two at each stanza, now met, and went back to the manger together, singing the same air the shepherds had previously sung.

When they arrived at the stable they made their offering, setting up a tent the while, ornamented with plenteous ribbons and flowers, among which blackbirds, thrushes, turtle-doves and partridges fluttered about at the ends of cords to which they were fastened. They brought with them, also, bunches of purple grapes and strings of yellow apples, chaplets of dried prunes and heaps of walnuts and chestnuts. After arranging these rustic offerings, the shepherdesses returned, singing in chorus as they went:
“In Bethlehem, at midnight,
The Virgin mother bore her child.
This world contains no fairer sight
Than this fair Babe and Mary mild.
Well may we sing at sight like this,
Gloria in Excelsis.”

I now had another unobstructed view of Donna Isabella, and Jose Rosado’s gossip, intensified by her romantic appearance as the Virgin, had given me a deep interest in her every movement.

She reached down into the little crib to lift out the Bambino, and I could plainly see a look of astonishment rise to her face as she started back, both hands held wide apart, as if having encountered something they were unprepared to touch. Then she turned hurriedly to Joseph and whispered a word in his ear, whereupon he too bent with surprise over the little crib. After gazing at it a moment, he reached down and lifted out, not the waxen Bambino, but a sweet young baby that smiled and reached its tiny arms from Joseph towards the white Virgin.

Donna Isabella was visibly affected at this, and took the tender infant into her arms, caressing and soothing it, while it fondled her face and white head-dress.

The audience had now become aware that, instead of the waxen image in the crib, there had been found a living baby, and the impetuous and susceptible minds of the Spanish peasants had jumped at the conclusion that they had witnessed a new miracle. They crowded up to the manger, telling their beads and murmuring prayers, while they pushed and jostled each other madly for a glimpse of the holy infant.

One of the acolytes reached his arms forth to take it from Donna Isabella and bring it to the chancel rail for the crowd to see, but she held it more closely to her bosom, and refused to let it go from her. As she stood there, a tall and stately figure, folded in the white gown of the Virgin and wearing the close head-dress which concealed all save her splendid face, she seemed the creation of some old painter, and the curious crowd of peasants was hushed into admiration by her beauty and her tenderness for the child. She, too, became a part of the strange miracle. The infant Christ had been born anew among them, and lay there in his very mother’s arms, an object of mystery and worship. As the silence of wonder ensued, Donna Isabella seemed to collect her startled senses, and looked around her as if expecting the mother of the child to come and claim it. A woman of her resolution was not to be hurried into superstitious follies by some pretty trick or accident. But the little one lay so softly in her arms and reached with such tiny, appealing fingers at her throat, that she began to feel a motherly fondness for it. And, moreover, had it not been sent her, who was alone now in the great castle on the hill, as a mysterious gift of Providence? Ought she not to feel it a sacred charge, coming as it did, from the very manger, to her arms?

Thus thinking, the Donna Isabella came slowly to the chancel rail, and, holding forth the infant at arms’ length, she said:

“Good people of Alcala, my part in the Christmas play is done. The good Lord has sent me this little one to take care of; and here, before you all, I accept the charge and promise to cherish and love it. If any of you know its mother, say that the Donna Isabella has carried it to the castle of Aranjuez, and tell her to follow it there, for where her child is, there the mother should be also.” This broke the spell. The silent crowd fell into murmurs and gestures, and each one asked his neighbor where the child belonged. There was no longer any doubt. It was merely a human child; but the mystery of the manger surrounded it with a hallowed interest, and everybody was eager to discover its parents and bear them the good news of its adoption by the great lady.

Now, Jose Rosado was too old a hand, too jolly a host, to be long deceived. He whispered me his views as we stood near the leafy stable, and they were to the effect that the wayward son of the Aranjuez knew more about the child in the manger than any one else thereabouts.

And Jose was right; for, before the bustle of inquiry had quite died away, from out the sacristy door came a young girl wearing a veil and dressed in the long black gown of the Christmas ceremonies. She walked demurely through the crowd, which parted for her with inquiring looks, and, going straight up to the chancel, dropped on her knees before the Donna Isabella. She held down her head and made no motion; but all knew instinctively that she was the mother of the child.

The noble Virgin stooped and raised her head with a loving compassion. She put aside her veil and moved as if to kiss her, but one look at the mother’s face turned her kindness into rage. She cried, “What, you?” and overwhelmed at the discovery sank down on the straw of the stable, clasping the child with a firmer hold, as if to shield it from a foe.

It was a sore conflict for an unyielding will like that of the Donna Isabella; but the part she had played in the sacred ceremonies and the surrounding emblems of peace and good-will were softening influences. More potent even than these was the persuasive contact of the little hands which opened and shut in playful touches at her throat. I could see from the varying expressions of her face that she questioned herself. Should she yield? The pride of birth, the disobedience of a youthful son to a mother of her indulgent nature, the stigma of a low connection upon a noble family name—all these things pleaded urgently, No. She looked up vindictively at the gaping congregation, which seemed spellbound in wanton curiosity, wherewith was mingled not a little religious dread. And then, again, she turned her eyes down upon the innocent face beside her bosom, so guileless, to be the cause of such varying passions in the throng about it. No, she could not give it up. All the old maternal instincts were aroused in her, and the firmness of her will was redoubled by the sentiment of love for her grandchild. Was it not her son’s child, then, as well as this woman’s? Surely, she had a right to keep it, and, glancing up with this last plea for possession on her lips, she saw beside the kneeling wife a new figure, whose presence made her pause and falter.

Only for an instant, however, for a kindlier light came into her clear eyes, and reaching forth the one arm which was free she threw it around her son’s neck and kissed him fondly, while the little child which had wrought the change,—a latter-day miracle of broken affections made whole, of bitter wounds healed by the touch of innocence,—lay there between them, striving, with its playful hands, to catch at its mother’s bowing head.

As Jose Rosado and I walked homeward through the pale-blue moonlight, we did not say much. I was deeply moved by the touching scene I had beheld; and he was exceedingly reflective.

At last, as we neared La Fonda’s vine-run walls, he said:

“Señor, do you think the miracles are all over nowadays?”

“I know not, Señor Jose,” I answered; “but there are certainly strange potencies lurking in the depths of a mother’s love.”

The Three Christmas Masses, from Alphonse Daudet

I.

“Two truffled turkeys, Garrigou?”

“Yes, reverend Father, two magnificent turkeys stuffed with truffles. There’s no mistake, for I helped to stuff them myself. The flesh almost cracked as they roasted, it was so tight—so——”

“Holy Virgin! and I, who love truffles as——Hurry; give me my surplice, Garrigou. And what else besides the turkeys; what else did you see in the kitchen?”

“Oh! all sorts of good things. Since noon we’ve done nothing but pluck pheasants, pewits, wood-hens, and heath-cocks. Feathers are scattered thick. Then from the pond they’ve brought eels and golden carp and trout, and——”

“What size are the trout, Garrigou?”

“Oh, as big as that! reverend Father. Enormous!”

“Heavens, I seem to see them! Have you put the wine in the flasks?”

“Yes, reverend Father, I’ve put the wine in the flasks. But what’s a mouthful or two as you go to midnight Mass! You should see the dining-hall in the château, full of decanters that sparkle with wine of every color. And the silver dishes, above all the ornamented ones; the flowers; the candlesticks! I never saw anything to equal it. Monsieur the Marquis has invited all the nobility of the neighborhood. You will be at least forty at table, without counting either the bailiff or the notary. Ah! it will make you very happy to be there, reverend Father. Why, only to smell the delicious turkeys—the odor of truffles pursues me even yet. Muh!”

“Come, come, Garrigou, you must guard against the sin of greediness, and especially on the night of the Nativity. Quickly, now, light the candles and sound the first bell for Mass; midnight is very near, and we must not be late.”

This conversation was held on Christmas night, in the year of grace sixteen hundred and sixteen, between the reverend Dom Balaguère, formerly prior of Barnabites, now chaplain in the service of the Sires de Trinquelague, and his clerk Garrigou; or at least what he supposed was his clerk Garrigou, because you will learn that the devil had that night taken on the round face and wavering traits of the young sacristan, the better to tempt the reverend Father to commit the dreadful sin of gluttony. Now, while the supposed Garrigou (hum! hum!) rung, with all his might, the bells of the seignorial chapel, the reverend Father put on his chasuble in the little sacristy of the château; and, his mind already becoming troubled by the gastronomic descriptions he had heard, he repeated to himself:

“Roasted turkeys; golden carp; trout as large as that!”

Outside, the night wind blew, scattering the music of the bells, and one by one lights began to appear in the shadows about the flanks of Mont Ventoux, upon the summit of which rose the ancient towers of Trinquelague. These lights were carried by the farmers on their way to attend midnight Mass at the château. They climbed the paths in groups of five or six, the father leading, lantern in hand, the women enveloped in their big brown mantles, where their infants nestled for shelter. In spite of the hour and the cold all these honest people marched cheerfully on, sustained by the thought that when they came out from the Mass they would find, as they did each year, tables spread for them below in the kitchens. Now and again on the rough ascent, the coach of some seigneur, preceded by torch-bearing porters, reflected in its glasses the cold moonlight; or, maybe, a mule trotted along shaking his bells, and in the light of the lanterns covered with frost, the farmers recognized their bailiff and saluted him as he passed:

“Good-evening, good-evening, Master Arnoton.”

“Good-evening, good-evening, my children.”

The night was clear, the stars were polished with cold, the wind stung, and a fine sleet, which glistened on the clothes without wetting them, kept faithfully the tradition of Christmases white with snow. Raised there aloft, the château appeared like the goal of all things, with its enormous mass of towers and gables, the belfry of its chapel mounting into the blue-black sky, and a crowd of small lights that winked, went and came, twinkled at all the windows, and seemed, on the sombre background of the building, like sparks running through the cinders of burnt paper. Once past the drawbridge and the postern, it was necessary, in order to gain the chapel, to traverse the first courtyard, full of coaches, of valets, of sedan-chairs, and bright with the flare of torches and the fires of the kitchens. There was the click of the turnspits, the crash of stewpans, the noises of glass and silver preparing for the dinner. From below, a warm vapor, which smelt of roasting meat and the strong herbs of curious sauces, whispered to the farmers, to the chaplain, to the bailiff—to all the world:

“What a revel we are going to have after Mass!”

II.

christmas-churchDrelindin din! Drelindin din! Midnight Mass is about to begin. In the chapel of the château, a miniature cathedral with arches intercrossed and a wainscot of oak mounting as high as the walls, all the hangings have been arranged, all the candles lit.

And what a host of people! And what toilettes! First, seated in the sculptured stall which surrounds the choir, behold the Sire de Trinquelague in a suit of salmon-colored taffeta; and next to him all the invited nobles. Facing these, on a prie-dieu trimmed with velvet, is the old dowager Marquise in her robe of fire-colored brocade, and the young Dame de Trinquelague, surmounted by a huge head-dress of lace, made in the latest fashion of the French court. Further down, dressed in black, with vast pointed perukes and shaven faces, are the bailiff, Thomas Arnoton, and the notary, Master Ambroy, two grave objects among the flowing silks and figured damasks. Then come the fat majordomos, the pages, the grooms, the attendants; dame Barbe, all her keys suspended at her side on a ring of thin silver. At the bottom of the hall, on the benches, are the Servants, the yeomen with their families; and lastly, beyond, all about the doors as they open and shut discretely, are the scullions, who steal in, between two sauces, to get a little of the Mass, carrying an odor of the revelry into the church, all in its gay attire and warm with so many burning candles.

Is it a glimpse of their little white caps that distracts the celebrant of the Mass? Or, it may be the clangor made by Garrigou’s bells, that pulsating sound which shakes the altar with an infernal vibration and seems to say all the time:

“Hurry up, hurry up. We’ll soon be done; we’ll soon be at table!”

The fact is, that each time it sounds—that peal of the devil—the chaplain forgets his Mass and thinks of nothing but the coming revel. He pictures to himself the uproar of the kitchens; the furnace heated like a blacksmith’s forge; the vapor of opening trenchers, and in that vapor two magnificent turkeys, buttered, tender, bursting with truffles.

Or, perhaps he saw pass the files of little pages bearing dishes enveloped in tempting steam, and, with them, entered the grand saloon already prepared for the feast. O deliciousness! behold the immense table all set and sparkling; the peacocks in their plumes; the pheasants with their open wings of reddish-brown; the ruby-colored flagons; the pyramids of fruit peeping from green branches; and those marvellous fish of which Garrigou told (ah! well, yes, Garrigou!) held aloft on a bed of fennel, the mother-of-pearl scales as bright as when they came from the water, with a bouquet of odorous herbs in their monster-like nostrils. So distinct is the vision of these marvels, that it seems to Dom Balaguère as if all the wonderful dishes are served before him on the embroideries of the altar-cloth; and two or three times, in place of Dominus vobiscum, he is surprised to find himself repeating the Benedicite. Saving these slight mistakes, the holy man does his office very conscientiously, without skipping a line, without omitting a genuflexion; and all goes well enough as far as the end of the first Mass; because, you know, on Christmas night the same celebrant must repeat three consecutive Masses.

“One!” said the chaplain, with a sigh of relief; then, without losing a minute, he made a sign to his clerk—or the person he believed to be his clerk, and——

Drelindin din! Drelindin din!

The second Mass begins, and with it begins also the sin of Dom Balaguère.

“Hurry, hurry, let’s get done,” cries the thin voice of Garrigou’s bell, and this time the unlucky priest, abandoning himself to the demon of gluttony, rushes through the missal, devouring its pages with all the avidity of an overcharged appetite. Frantically he bows; arises; makes the signs of the cross, goes through the genuflexions, abbreviates all his gestures, the sooner to be finished. Scarcely does he extend his arms to the Gospel, or strike his breast where it is required. Between the clerk and him it is a race which shall jabber the faster. Verse and response hurry each other, tumble over each other. The words, hardly pronounced, because it takes too much time to open the mouth, become incomprehensible murmurs.

Oremus ps—ps—ps—
Meâ culpâ—pâ—pâ—.

Like hard-working vintagers pressing grapes in a vat, both wade through the Latin of the Mass, splashing it on all sides.

“Dom—scum!” says Balaguère.

“Stutuo!” responds Garrigou, and all the while the damnable chime sounds in their ears, like those little bells put on the post-horses to make them gallop more swiftly. Believe me, under such conditions a low Mass is vastly expedited!

“Two!” said the chaplain, all out of breath; then without taking time to breathe, red, perspiring, he tumbled down the stairs of the altar.

Drelindin din! Drelindin din! The third Mass begins.

Only a step or so and then the dining-hall! but, alas, the nearer the revel approaches, the more the unfortunate Balaguère is seized with the very folly of impatience and greediness. His vision accentuates it; the golden carp, the roast turkeys are there. He may touch them—he may—Oh, Holy Virgin! the dishes steam; the wines send forth sweet odors; and shaking out its reckless song, the bell cries to him:

“Hurry up, hurry up; still faster, still faster!”

But how can he go any faster? He scarcely moves his lips, he pronounces fully not a single word. He tries to cheat the good God altogether of His Mass, and that is what brings his ruin. By temptation upon temptation, he begins to jump one verse, then two. Then the epistle is too long—he does not finish it; skims the Gospel, passes by the creed without even entering, skips the pater, salutes from afar the preface, and by bounds and jumps precipitates himself into eternal damnation, always following the infamous Garrigou (vade retro, Satanas), who seconds him with marvellous skill; tucks up his chasuble, turns the leaves two by two, disarranges the music-desk, reverses the flagons, and unceasingly rings the bell more and more vigorously, more and more quickly.

You should have seen what a figure all the assistants cut. Obliged to follow, like mimics, a Mass of which they did not understand a word, some rose when others kneeled, or seated themselves when others stood, and all the actors in this singular office mixed themselves on the benches in numberless contrary attitudes.

The star of Christmas, on its journey through the heavens yonder by the little manger, paled with astonishment at the confusion.

“The Abbe’s in a dreadful hurry: I can’t follow him at all,” said the aged dowager, shaking her head-dress with bewilderment. Master Arnoton, his great steel spectacles on his nose, searched in his prayer-book where the deuce the words could be. But, after all, that gallant host, which itself was thinking only of the feast, was far from being vexed because the Mass rode post; and when Balaguère, with beaming countenance, turned toward the assembly crying with all his might, Ite missa est, with a single voice they returned, Deo gratias, so joyously, so fervently, that one might have thought them already at table responding to the first toast of the night.

III.

Five minutes later the crowd of seigneurs was seated in the grand dining-hall, the chaplain in the midst of them. The château, illuminated from top to bottom, echoed with songs, cries, laughter, uproar, and the venerable Dom Balaguère planted his fork in the wing of a wood-hen, drowning the remorse of his sin under floods of wine of the Pope and the sweet juices of the meats.

So much did he eat and drink, that the poor holy man died in the night of a terrible attack of sickness, without having even time to repent. Then near the morning he arrived in heaven with all the savor of the feast still about him and I leave you to imagine how he was received:

“Retire from my sight, evil Christian!” said the Sovereign Judge, “thy fault is dark enough to efface a whole life of virtue. Ah, thou hast robbed me of a Mass to-night. Thou shalt pay me back three hundred in its place, and thou shalt not enter into Paradise unless thou shalt have celebrated in thy proper chapel these three hundred Christmas Masses in the presence of all those who have sinned by thy fault and with thee.”

This, then, is the true legend of Dom Balaguère as they tell it in the land of olives. To-day the château of Trinquelague is no more, but the chapel still stands erect on the summit of Mont Ventoux, in a grove of green oaks. The wind beats its disjointed portal; the grass creeps across its threshold; the birds have built in the angles of the altar and in the embrasures of the high windows, whence the colored panes have long ago vanished. But it appears that every year at Christmas, a supernatural light runs about these ruins, and that, in going to Mass or feast, the peasants see the chapel illuminated by invisible candles which burn brightly even through the wind and snow.

You may laugh if you will, but a vine-dresser of the neighborhood named Garrigue, without doubt a descendant of Garrigou, has assured me that one Christmas night, finding himself a little so-so-ish, he became lost on the mountain beside Trinquelague, and behold what he saw! At eleven o’clock, nothing. All was silent, dark, lifeless. Suddenly, toward midnight, a chime sounded up above from a clock, an old, old chime which seemed six leagues away. Pretty soon, on the ascending road, Garrigue saw lights trembling in the uncertain shadows. Under the porch of the chapel somebody walked, somebody whispered:

“Good-evening, Master Arnoton.”

“Good-evening, good-evening, my children.”

When the whole company was entered, my vine-dresser, who was exceedingly brave, approached stealthily, and peeping through the broken door saw a strange spectacle. All those who had passed him were ranged about the choir, in the ruined nave, as if the ancient benches still existed. Beautiful dames in brocade with coifs of lace; seigneurs bedizzened from top to toe; peasants in flowered jackets like those of our grandfathers,—everything with an ancient air, faded, dusty, worn-out. Now and then the night-birds, habitual dwellers in the chapel, awakened by all these lights, winged about the candles, whose flames mounted straight and vague as if they burnt behind gauze. And what amused Garrigue most was a certain personage with great steel spectacles, who shook at each instant his high black peruke, on which one of the birds had alighted and entangled itself, silently beating its wings.

At the farthest end, a little old man of boyish size, on his knees in the midst of the choir, pulled desperately at the chimeless and silent bell; while a priest attired in ancient gold, went and came before the altar reciting orisons of which one heard not a single word. Surely, that was Dom Balaguère in the act of saying his third low Mass.