Part 5 out of 5
Sandy's Christmas snapdragon."
XXXI. A CHRISTMAS FAIRY*
* Reprinted with the permission of the Henry Altemus Company.
JOHN STRANGE WINTER
It was getting very near to Christmas time, and all the boys at Miss
Ware's school were talking about going home for the holidays.
"I shall go to the Christmas festival," said Bertie Fellows," and my
mother will have a party, and my Aunt will give another. Oh! I shall
have a splendid time at home."
"My Uncle Bob is going to give me a pair of skates," remarked Harry
"My father is going to give me a bicycle," put in George Alderson.
"Will you bring it back to school with you?" asked Harry.
"Oh! yes, if Miss Ware doesn't say no."
"Well, Tom," cried Bertie, "where are you going to spend your holidays?"
"I am going to stay here," answered Tom in a very forlorn voice.
"Here--at school--oh, dear! Why can't you go home?"
"I can't go home to India," answered Tom.
"Nobody said you could. But haven't you any relatives anywhere?"
Tom shook his head. "Only in India," he said sadly.
"Poor fellow! That's hard luck for you. I'll tell you what it is, boys,
if I couldn't go home for the holidays, especially at Christmas--I
think I would just sit down and die."
"Oh, no, you wouldn't," said Tom. "You would get ever so homesick, but
you wouldn't die. You would just get through somehow, and hope
something would happen before next year, or that some kind fairy
"There are no fairies nowadays," said Bertie.
"See here, Tom, I'll write and ask my mother to invite you to go home
with me for the holidays."
"Will you really?"
"Yes, I will. And if she says yes, we shall have such a splendid time.
We live in London, you know, and have lots of parties and fun."
"Perhaps she will say no?" suggested poor little Tom.
"My mother isn't the kind that says no," Bertie declared loudly.
In a few days' time a letter arrived from Bertie's mother. The boy
opened it eagerly. It said:
My own dear Bertie:
I am very sorry to tell you that little Alice is ill with scarlet
fever. And so you cannot come for your holidays. I would have been glad
to have you bring your little friend with you if all had been well here.
Your father and I have decided that the best thing that you can do is
to stay at Miss Ware's. We shall send your Christmas present to you as
well as we can.
It will not be like coming home, but I am sure you will try to be
happy, and make me feel that you are helping me in this sad time.
Dear little Alice is very ill, very ill indeed. Tell Tom that I am
sending you a box for both of you, with two of everything. And tell him
that it makes me so much happier to know that you will not be alone.
Your own mother.
When Bertie Fellows received this letter, which ended all his Christmas
hopes and joys, he hid his face upon his desk and sobbed aloud. The
lonely boy from India, who sat next to him, tried to comfort his friend
in every way he could think of. He patted his shoulder and whispered
many kind words to him.
At last Bertie put the letter into Tom's hands. "Read it," he sobbed.
So then Tom understood the cause of Bertie's grief. "Don't fret over
it," he said at last. "It might be worse. Why, your father and mother
might be thousands of miles away, like mine are. When Alice is better,
you will be able to go home. And it will help your mother if she thinks
you are almost as happy as if you could go now."
Soon Miss Ware came to tell Bertie how sorry she was for him.
"After all," said she, smiling down on the two boys, "it is an ill wind
that blows nobody good. Poor Tom has been expecting to spend his
holidays alone, and now he will have a friend with him--Try to look on
the bright side, Bertie, and to remember how much worse it would have
been if there had been no boy to stay with you."
"I can't help being disappointed, Miss Ware," said Bertie, his eyes
filling with tears.
"No; you would be a strange boy if you were not. But I want you to try
to think of your poor mother, and write her as cheerfully as you can."
"Yes," answered Bertie; but his heart was too full to say more.
The last day of the term came, and one by one, or two by two, the boys
went away, until only Bertie and Tom were left in the great house. It
had never seemed so large to either of them before.
"It's miserable," groaned poor Bertie, as they strolled into the
schoolroom. "Just think if we were on our way home now--how different."
"Just think if I had been left here by myself," said Tom.
"Yes," said Bertie, "but you know when one wants to go home he never
thinks of the boys that have no home to go to."
The evening passed, and the two boys went to bed. They told stories to
each other for a long time before they could go to sleep. That night
they dreamed of their homes, and felt very lonely. Yet each tried to be
brave, and so another day began.
This was the day before Christmas. Quite early in the morning came the
great box of which Bertie's mother had spoken in her letter. Then, just
as dinner had come to an end, there was a peal of the bell, and a voice
was heard asking for Tom Egerton.
Tom sprang to his feet, and flew to greet a tall, handsome lady,
crying, "Aunt Laura! Aunt Laura!"
And Laura explained that she and her husband had arrived in London only
the day before. "I was so afraid, Tom," she said, "that we should not
get here until Christmas Day was over and that you would be
disappointed. So I would not let your mother write you that we were on
our way home. You must get your things packed up at once, and go back
with me to London. Then uncle and I will give you a splendid time."
For a minute or two Tom's face shone with delight. Then he caught sight
of Bertie and turned to his aunt.
"Dear Aunt Laura," he said, "I am very sorry, but I can't go."
"Can't go? and why not?"
"Because I can't go and leave Bertie here all alone," he said stoutly.
"When I was going to be alone he wrote and asked his mother to let me
go home with him. She could not have either of us because Bertie's
sister has scarlet fever. He has to stay here, and he has never been
away from home at Christmas time before, and I can't go away and leave
him by himself, Aunt Laura."
For a minute Aunt Laura looked at the boy as if she could not believe
him. Then she caught him in her arms and kissed him.
"You dear little boy, you shall not leave him. You shall bring him
along, and we shall all enjoy ourselves together. Bertie, my boy, you
are not very old yet, but I am going to teach you a lesson as well as I
can. It is that kindness is never wasted in this world."
And so Bertie and Tom found that there was such a thing as a fairy
THE GREATEST OF THESE*
*This story was first printed in the Youth's Companion, vol. 76.
JOSEPH MILLS HANSON
The outside door swung open suddenly, letting a cloud of steam into the
small, hot kitchen. Charlie Moore, a milk pail in one hand, a lantern
in the other, closed the door behind him with a bang, set the pail on
the table and stamped the snow from his feet.
"There's the milk, and I near froze gettin' it," said he, addressing
his partner, who was chopping potatoes in a pan on the stove.
"Dose vried bodadoes vas burnt," said the other, wielding his knife
"Are, eh? Why didn't you watch 'em instead of readin' your old
Scandinavian paper?" answered Charlie, hanging his overcoat and cap
behind the door and laying his mittens under the stove to dry. Then he
drew up a chair and with much exertion pulled off his heavy felt boots
and stood them beside his mittens.
"Why didn't you shut the gate after you came in from town? The cows got
out and went up to Roney's an' I had to chase 'em; 'tain't any joke
runnin' round after cows such a night as this." Having relieved his
mind of its grievance, Charlie sat down before the oven door, and,
opening it, laid a stick of wood along its outer edge and thrust his
feet into the hot interior, propping his heels against the stick.
"Look oud for dese har biscuits!" exclaimed his partner, anxiously.
"Oh, hang the biscuits!" was Charlie's hasty answer. "I'll watch 'em.
Why didn't you?"
"Ay tank Ay fergit hem."
"Well, you don't want to forget. A feller forgot his clothes once, an'
he got froze."
"Ay gass dose taller vas ketch in a sbring snowstorm. Vas dose biscuits
"You bet they are, Nels," replied Charlie, looking into the pan.
"Dan subbar vas ready. Yom on!"
Nels picked up the frying-pan and Charlie the biscuits, and set them on
the oilcloth-covered table, where a plate of butter, a jar of plum
jelly, and a coffee-pot were already standing.
Outside the frozen kitchen window the snow-covered fields and meadows
stretched, glistening and silent, away to the dark belt of timber by
the river. Along the deep-rutted road in front a belated lumber-wagon
passed slowly, the wheels crunching through the packed snow with a
wavering, incessant shriek.
The two men hitched their chairs up to the table, and without ceremony
helped themselves liberally to the steaming food. For a few moments
they seemed oblivious to everything but the demands of hunger. The
potatoes and biscuits disappeared with surprising rapidity, washed down
by large drafts of coffee. These men, labouring steadily through the
short daylight hours in the dry, cold air of the Dakota winter, were
like engines whose fires had burned low--they were taking fuel.
Presently, the first keen edge of appetite satisfied, they ate more
slowly, and Nels, straightening up with a sigh, spoke:
"Ay seen Seigert in town ta-day. Ha vants von hundred fifty fer dose
"Come down, eh?" commented Charlie. "Well, they're worth that. We'd
better take 'em, Nels. We'll need 'em in the spring if we break the
"Yas, et's a nice team," agreed Nels. "Ha vas driven ham ta-day."
"Is he haulin' corn?"
"Na; he had his kids oop gettin' Christmas bresents."
"Chris--By gracious! to-morrow's Christmas!"
Nels nodded solemnly, as one possessing superior knowledge. Charlie
"We'll come in sort of slim on it here, I reckon, Nels. Christmas ain't
right, somehow, out here. Back in Wisconsin, where I came from, there's
where you get your Christmas!" Charlie spoke with the unswerving
prejudice of mankind for the land of his birth.
"Yas, dose been right. En da ol' kontry dey havin' gret times
Their thoughts were all bent now upon the holiday scenes of the past.
As they finished the meal and cleared away and washed the dishes they
related incidents of their boyhood's time, compared, reiterated, and
embellished. As they talked they grew jovial, and laughed often.
"The skee broke an' you went over kerplunk, hey? Haw, haw! That reminds
me of one time in Wisconsin--"
Something of the joyous spirit of the Christmastide seemed to have
entered into this little farmhouse set in the midst of the lonely,
white fields. In the hearts of these men, moving about in their
dim-lighted room, was reechoed the joyous murmur of the great world
without: the gayety of the throngs in city streets, where the brilliant
shop-windows, rich with holiday spoils, smile out upon the passing
crowd, and the clang of street-cars and roar of traffic mingle with the
cries of street-venders. The work finished, they drew their chairs to
the stove, and filled their pipes, still talking.
"Well, well," said Charlie, after the laugh occasioned by one of Nels'
droll stories had subsided. "It's nice to think of those old times. I'd
hate to have been one of these kids that can't have any fun. Christmas
or any other time,"
"Ay gass dere ain't anybody much dot don'd have someding dis tams a
"Oh, yes, there are, Nels! You bet there are!"
Charlie nodded at his partner with serious conviction.
"Now, there's the Roneys," he waved his pipe over his shoulder. "The
old man told me to-night when I was up after the cows that he's sold
all the crops except what they need for feedin'--wheat, and corn, and
everything, and some hogs besides--and ain't got hardly enough now for
feed and clothes for all that family. The rent and the lumber he had to
buy to build the new barn after the old one burnt ate up the money like
fury. He kind of laughed, and said he guessed the children wouldn't get
much Christmas this year. I didn't think about it's being so close when
he told me."
"No Christmas!" Nels' round eyes widened with astonishment. "Ay tank
dose been pooty bad!" He studied the subject for a few moments, his
stolid face suddenly grown thoughtful. Charlie stared at the stove. Far
away by the river a lonely coyote set up his quick, howling yelp.
"Dere's been seven kids oop dere," said Nels at last, glancing up as it
"Yes, seven," agreed Charlie.
"Say, do ve need Seigert's team very pad?"
"Well, now that depends," said Charlie. "Why not?"
"Nothin', only Ay vas tankin' ve might tak' some a das veat we vas
goin' to sell and--and--"
"And dumb it on Roney's granary floor to-night after dere been asleeb."
Charlie stared at his companion for a moment in silence. Then he rose,
and, approaching Nels, examined his partner's face with solemn scrutiny.
"By the great horn spoon," he announced, finally, "you've got a head on
you like a balloon, my boy! Keep on gettin' ideas like that, and you'll
land in Congress or the poor-farm before many years!"
Then, abandoning his pretense of gravity, he slapped the other on the
"Why didn't I think of that? It's the best yet. Seigert's team? Oh,
hang Seigert's team. We don't need it. We'll have a little merry
Christmas out of this yet. Only they mustn't know where it came from.
I'll write a note and stick it under the door, 'You'll find some merry
wheat--'No, that ain't it. 'You'll find some wheat in the granary to
give the kids a merry Christmas with,' signed, 'Santa Claus.'"
He wrote out the message in the air with a pointing forefinger. He had
entered into the spirit of the thing eagerly.
"It's half-past nine now," he went on, looking at the clock. "It'll be
eleven time we get the stuff loaded and hauled up there. Let's go out
and get at it. Lucky the bobs are on the wagon; they don't make such a
racket as wheels."
He took the lantern from its nail behind the door and lighted it, after
which he put on his boots, cap, and mittens, and flung his overcoat
across his shoulders. Nels, meanwhile, had put on his outer garments,
"Shut up the stove, Nels." Charlie blew out the light and opened the
door. "There, hang it!" he exclaimed, turning back. "I forgot the note.
Ought to be in ink, I suppose. Well, never mind now; we won't put on
any style about it."
He took down a pencil from the shelf, and, extracting a bit of wrapping
paper from a bundle behind the woodbox, wrote the note by the light of
"There, I guess that will do," he said, finally. "Come on!"
Outside, the night air was cold and bracing, and in the black vault of
the sky the winter constellations flashed and throbbed. The shadows of
the two men, thrown by the lantern, bobbed huge and grotesque across
the snow and among the bare branches of the cottonwoods, as they moved
toward the barn.
"Ay tank ve put on dose extra side poards and make her an even fifty
pushel," said Nels, after they had backed the wagon up to the granary
door. "Ve might as vell do it oop right, skence ve're at it."
Having carried out this suggestion, the two shovelled steadily, with
short intervals of rest, for three quarters of an hour, the dark pile
of grain in the wagon-box rising gradually until it stood flush with
Good it was to look upon, cold and soft and yielding to the touch, this
heaped-up wealth from the inexhaustible treasure-house of the mighty
West. Charlie and Nels felt something of this as they viewed the
results of their labours for a moment before hitching up the team.
"It's A number one hard," said Charlie, picking up a handful and
sifting it slowly through his fingers, "and it'll fetch seventy-four
cents. But you can't raise any worse on this old farm of ours if you
try," he added, a little proudly. "Nor anywhere else in the Jim River
Valley, for that matter."
As they approached the Roney place, looking dim and indistinct in the
darkness, their voices hushed apprehensively, and the noise of the
sled-runners slipping through the snow seemed to them to increase from
a purr to a roar.
"Here, stob a minute!" whispered Nels, in agony of discovery. "Ve're
magin' an awful noise. Ay'll go und take a beek."
He slipped away and cautiously approached the house. "Et's all right,"
he whispered, hoarsely, returning after a moment; "dere all asleeb. But
go easy; Ay tank ve pest go easy." They seemed burdened all at once
with the consciences of criminals, and went forward with almost guilty
"Thunder, dere's a bump! Vy don'd you drive garefuller, Sharlie?"
"Drive yourself, if you think you can do any better!" As they came into
the yard a dog suddenly ran out from the barn, barking furiously.
Charlie reined up with an ejaculation of despair; "Look there, the dog!
We're done for now, sure! Stop him, Nels! Throw somethin' at 'im!"
The noise seemed to their excited ears louder than the crash of
artillery. Nels threw a piece of snow crust. The dog ran back a few
steps, but his barking did not diminish.
"Here, hold the lines. I'll try to catch 'im." Charlie jumped from the
wagon and approached the dog with coaxing words: "Come, doggie, good
doggie, nice boy, come!"
His manoeuvre, however, merely served to increase the animal's frenzy.
As Charlie approached the dog retired slowly toward the house, his head
thrown back, and his rapid barking increased to a long-drawn howl.
"Good boy, come! Bother the brute! He'll wake up the whole household!
Nice doggie! Phe-e--"
The noise, however, had no apparent effect upon the occupants of the
house. All remained as dark and silent as ever.
"Sharlie, Sharlie, let him go!" cried Nels, in a voice smothered with
laughter. "Ay go in dose parn; maype ha'll chase me."
His hope was well founded. The dog, observing this treacherous
occupation by the enemy of his last harbour of refuge, gave pursuit and
disappeared within the door, which Charlie, hard behind him, closed
with a bang. There was the sound of a hurried scuffle within. The dog's
barking gave place to terrified whinings, which in turn were suddenly
quenched to a choking murmur.
"Gome in, Sharlie, kvick!"
"You got him?" queried Charlie, opening the door cautiously. "Did he
"Na, yust ma mitten. Gat a sack or someding da die him oop in."
A sack was procured from somewhere, into which the dog, now silenced
from sheer exhaustion and fright, was unceremoniously thrust, after
which the sack was tied and flung into the wagon. This formidable
obstacle overcome and the Roneys still slumbering peacefully, the rest
was easy. The granary door was pried open and the wheat shovelled
hurriedly in upon the empty floor. Charlie then crept up to the house
and slipped his note under the door.
The sack was lifted from the now empty wagon and opened before the
barn, whereupon its occupant slipped meekly out and retreated at once
to a far corner, seemingly too much incensed at his discourteous
treatment even to fling a volley of farewell barks at his departing
"Vell," remarked Nels, with a sigh of relief as they gained the road,
"Ay tank dose Roneys pelieve en Santa Claus now. Dose peen funny vay
fer Santa Claus to coom."
Charlie's laugh was good to hear. "He didn't exactly come down the
chimney, that's a fact, but it'll do at a pinch. We ought to have told
them to get a present for the dog--collar and chain. I reckon he
wouldn't hardly be thankful for it, though, eh?"
"Ay gass not. Ha liges ta haf hes nights ta hemself."
"Well, we had our fun, anyway. Sort of puts me in mind of old
From far off over the valley, with its dismantled cornfields and
snow-covered haystacks, beyond the ice-bound river, floated slow, and
sonorous, the mellow clanging of church bells. They were ushering in
the Christmas morn. Overhead the starlit heavens glistened, brooding
and mysterious, looking down with luminous, loving eyes upon these
humble sons of men doing a good deed, from the impulse of simple,
generous hearts, as upon that other Christmas morning, long ago, when
the Jewish shepherds, guarding their flocks by night, read in their
shining depths that in Bethlehem of Judea the Christ-Child was born.
The rising sun was touching the higher hilltops with a faint rush of
crimson the next morning when the back door of the Roney house opened
with a creak, and Mr. Roney, still heavy-eyed with sleep, stumbled out
upon the porch, stretched his arms above his head, yawned, blinked at
the dazzling snow, and then shambled off toward the barn. As he
approached, the dog ran eagerly out, gambolled meekly around his feet
and caressed his boots. The man patted him kindly.
"Hello, old boy! What were you yappin' around so for last night, huh?
Grain-thieves? You needn't worry about them. There ain't nothin' left
for them to steal. No, sir! If they got into that granary they'd have
to take a lantern along to find a pint of wheat. I don't suppose," he
added, reflectively, "that I could scrape up enough to feed the
chickens this mornin', but I guess I might's well see."
He passed over to the little building. What he saw when he looked
within seemed for a moment to produce no impression upon him whatever.
He stared at the hillock of grain in motionless silence. Finally Mr.
Roney gave utterance to a single word, "Geewhilikins!" and started for
the house on a run. Into the kitchen, where his wife was just starting
the fire, the excited man burst like a whirlwind.
"Come out here, Mary!" he cried. "Come out here, quick!"
The worthy woman, unaccustomed to such demonstrations, looked at him in
"For goodness sake, what's come over you, Peter Roney?" she exclaimed.
"Are you daft? Don't make such a noise! You'll wake the young ones, and
I don't want them waked till need be, with no Christmas for 'em, poor
"Never mind the young 'uns," he replied. "Come on!"
As they passed out he noticed the slip of paper under the door and
picked it up, but without comment.
He charged down upon the granary, his wife, with a shawl over her head,
She peered in, apprehensively at first, then with eyes of widening
"Why, Peter!" she said, turning to him. "Why, Peter! What does--I
"You thought!" he broke in. "Me, too. But it ain't so. It means that
we've got some of the best neighbours that ever was, a thinkin' of our
young 'uns this way! Read that!" and he thrust the paper into her hand.
"Why, Peter!" she ejaculated again, weakly. Then suddenly she turned,
and laying her head on his shoulder, began to sob softly.
"There, there," he said, patting her arm awkwardly.
"Don't you go and cry now. Let's just be thankful to the good Lord for
puttin' such fellers into the world as them fellers down the road. And
now you run in and hurry up breakfast while I do up the chores. Then
we'll hitch up and get into town 'fore the stores close. Tell the young
'uns Santy didn't get round last night with their things, but we've got
word to meet him in town. Hey? Yes, I saw just the kind of sled Pete
wants when I was up yesterday, and that china doll for Mollie. Yes,
tell 'em anything you want. Twon't be too big. Santy Claus has come to
Roney's ranch this year, sure!"
LITTLE GRETCHEN AND THE WOODEN SHOE*
* From "Christmastide," published by the Chicago Kindergarten College,
The following story is one of many which has drifted down to us from
the story-loving nurseries and hearthstones of Germany. I cannot recall
when I first had it told to me as a child, varied, of course, by
different tellers, but always leaving that sweet, tender impression of
God's loving care for the least of his children. I have since read
different versions of it in at least a half-dozen story books for
Once upon a time, a long time ago, far away across the great ocean, in
a country called Germany, there could be seen a small log hut on the
edge of a great forest, whose fir-trees extended for miles and miles to
the north. This little house, made of heavy hewn logs, had but one room
in it. A rough pine door gave entrance to this room, and a small square
window admitted the light. At the back of the house was built an
old-fashioned stone chimney, out of which in winter usually curled a
thin, blue smoke, showing that there was not very much fire within.
Small as the house was, it was large enough for the two people who
lived in it. I want to tell you a story to-day about these two people.
One was an old, gray-haired woman, so old that the little children of
the village, nearly half a mile away, often wondered whether she had
come into the world with the huge mountains, and the great fir-trees,
which stood like giants back of her small hut. Her face was wrinkled
all over with deep lines, which, if the children could only have read
aright, would have told them of many years of cheerful, happy,
self-sacrifice, of loving, anxious watching beside sick-beds, of quiet
endurance of pain, of many a day of hunger and cold, and of a thousand
deeds of unselfish love for other people; but, of course, they could
not read this strange handwriting. They only knew that she was old and
wrinkled, and that she stooped as she walked. None of them seemed to
fear her, for her smile was always cheerful, and she had a kindly word
for each of them if they chanced to meet her on her way to and from the
village. With this old, old woman lived a very little girl. So bright
and happy was she that the travellers who passed by the lonesome little
house on the edge of the forest often thought of a sunbeam as they saw
her. These two people were known in the village as Granny Goodyear and
The winter had come and the frost had snapped off many of the smaller
branches from the pine-trees in the forest. Gretchen and her Granny
were up by daybreak each morning. After their simple breakfast of
oatmeal, Gretchen would run to the little closet and fetch Granny's old
woollen shawl, which seemed almost as old as Granny herself. Gretchen
always claimed the right to put the shawl over her Granny's head, even
though she had to climb onto the wooden bench to do it. After carefully
pinning it under Granny's chin, she gave her a good-bye kiss, and
Granny started out for her morning's work in the forest. This work was
nothing more nor less than the gathering up of the twigs and branches
which the autumn winds and winter frosts had thrown upon the ground.
These were carefully gathered into a large bundle which Granny tied
together with a strong linen band. She then managed to lift the bundle
to her shoulder and trudged off to the village with it. Here she sold
the fagots for kindling wood to the people of the village. Sometimes
she would get only a few pence each day, and sometimes a dozen or more,
but on this money little Gretchen and she managed to live; they had
their home, and the forest kindly furnished the wood for the fire which
kept them warm in cold weather.
In the summer time Granny had a little garden at the back of the hut
where she raised, with little Gretchen's help, a few potatoes and
turnips and onions. These she carefully stored away for winter use. To
this meagre supply, the pennies, gained by selling the twigs from the
forest, added the oatmeal for Gretchen and a little black coffee for
Granny. Meat was a thing they never thought of having. It cost too much
money. Still, Granny and Gretchen were very happy, because they loved
each other dearly. Sometimes Gretchen would be left alone all day long
in the hut, because Granny would have some work to do in the village
after selling her bundle of sticks and twigs. It was during these long
days that little Gretchen had taught herself to sing the song which the
wind sang to the pine branches. In the summer time she learned the
chirp and twitter of the birds, until her voice might almost be
mistaken for a bird's voice; she learned to dance as the swaying
shadows did, and even to talk. to the stars which shone through the
little square window when Granny came home too late or too tired to
Sometimes, when the weather was fine, or her Granny had an extra bundle
of newly knitted stockings to take to the village, she would let little
Gretchen go along with her. It chanced that one of these trips to the
town came just the week before Christmas, and Gretchen's eyes were
delighted by the sight of the lovely Christmas-trees which stood in the
window of the village store. It seemed to her that she would never tire
of looking at the knit dolls, the woolly lambs, the little wooden shops
with their queer, painted men and women in them, and all the other fine
things. She had never owned a plaything in her whole life; therefore,
toys which you and I would not think much of, seemed to her to be very
That night, after their supper of baked potatoes was over, and little
Gretchen had cleared away the dishes and swept up the hearth, because
Granny dear was so tired, she brought her own small wooden stool and
placed it very near Granny's feet and sat down upon it, folding her
hands on her lap. Granny knew that this meant she wanted to talk about
something, so she smilingly laid away the large Bible which she had
been reading, and took up her knitting, which was as much as to say:
"Well, Gretchen, dear, Granny is ready to listen."
"Granny," said Gretchen slowly, "it's almost Christmas time, isn't it?"
"Yes, dearie," said Granny, "only five more days now," and then she
sighed, but little Gretchen was so happy that she did not notice
"What do you think, Granny, I'll get this Christmas?" said she, looking
up eagerly into Granny's face.
"Ah, child, child," said Granny, shaking her head, "you'll have no
Christmas this year. We are too poor for that."
"Oh, but, Granny," interrupted little Gretchen, "think of all the
beautiful toys we saw in the village to-day. Surely Santa Claus has
sent enough for every little child."
"Ah, dearie," said Granny, "those toys are for people who can pay money
for them, and we have no money to spend for Christmas toys."
"Well, Granny," said Gretchen, "perhaps some of the little children who
live in the great house on the hill at the other end of the village
will be willing to share some of their toys with me. They will be so
glad to give some to a little girl who has none."
"Dear child, dear child," said Granny, leaning forward and stroking the
soft, shiny hair of the little girl, "your heart is full of love. You
would be glad to bring a Christmas to every child; but their heads are
so full of what they are going to get that they forget all about
anybody else but themselves." Then she sighed and shook her head.
"Well, Granny," said Gretchen, her bright, happy tone of voice growing
a little less joyous, "perhaps the dear Santa Claus will show some of
the village children how to make presents that do not cost money, and
some of them may surprise me Christmas morning with a present. And,
Granny, dear," added she, springing up from her low stool, "can't I
gather some of the pine branches and take them to the old sick man who
lives in the house by the mill, so that he can have the sweet smell of
our pine forest in his room all Christmas day?"
"Yes, dearie," said Granny, "you may do what you can to make the
Christmas bright and happy, but you must not expect any present
"Oh, but, Granny," said little Gretchen, her face brightening, "you
forget all about the shining Christmas angels, who came down to earth
and sang their wonderful song the night the beautiful Christ-Child was
born! They are so loving and good that they will not forget any little
child. I shall ask my dear stars to-night to tell them of us. You
know," she added, with a look of relief, "the stars are so very high
that they must know the angels quite well, as they come and go with
their messages from the loving God."
Granny sighed, as she half whispered, "Poor child, poor child!" but
Gretchen threw her arm around Granny's neck and gave her a hearty kiss,
saying as she did so: "Oh, Granny, Granny, you don't talk to the stars
often enough, else you wouldn't be sad at Christmas time." Then she
danced all around the room, whirling her little skirts about her to
show Granny how the wind had made the snow dance that day. She looked
so droll and funny that Granny forgot her cares and worries and laughed
with little Gretchen over her new snow-dance. The days passed on, and
the morning before Christmas Eve came. Gretchen having tidied up the
little room--for Granny had taught her to be a careful little
housewife--was off to the forest, singing a birdlike song, almost as
happy and free as the birds themselves. She was very busy that day,
preparing a surprise for Granny. First, however, she gathered the most
beautiful of the fir branches within her reach to take the next morning
to the old sick man who lived by the mill. The day was all too short
for the happy little girl. When Granny came trudging wearily home that
night, she found the frame of the doorway covered with green pine
"It's to welcome you, Granny! It's to welcome you!" cried Gretchen;
"our old dear home wanted to give you a Christmas welcome. Don't you
see, the branches of evergreen make it look as if it were smiling all
over, and it is trying to say, 'A happy Christmas' to you, Granny!"
Granny laughed and kissed the little girl, as they opened the door and
went in together. Here was a new surprise for Granny. The four posts of
the wooden bed, which stood in one corner of the room, had been trimmed
by the busy little fingers, with smaller and more flexible branches of
the pine-trees. A small bouquet of red mountain-ash berries stood at
each side of the fireplace, and these, together with the trimmed posts
of the bed, gave the plain old room quite a festival look. Gretchen
laughed and clapped her hands and danced about until the house seemed
full of music to poor, tired Granny, whose heart had been sad as she
turned toward their home that night, thinking of the disappointment
which must come to loving little Gretchen the next morning.
After supper was over little Gretchen drew her stool up to Granny's
side, and laying her soft, little hands on Granny's knee, asked to be
told once again the story of the coming of the Christ-Child; how the
night that he was born the beautiful angels had sung their wonderful
song, and how the whole sky had become bright with a strange and
glorious light, never seen by the people of earth before. Gretchen had
heard the story many, many times before, but she never grew tired of
it, and now that Christmas Eve had come again, the happy little child
wanted to hear it once more.
When Granny had finished telling it the two sat quiet and silent for a
little while thinking it over; then Granny rose and said that it was
time for them to go to bed. She slowly took off her heavy wooden shoes,
such as are worn in that country, and placed them beside the hearth.
Gretchen looked thoughtfully at them for a minute or two, and then she
said, "Granny, don't you think that somebody in all this wide world
will think of us to-night?"
"Nay, Gretchen," said Granny, "I don't think any one will."
"Well, then, Granny," said Gretchen, "the Christmas angels will, I
know; so I am going to take one of your wooden shoes, and put it on the
windowsill outside, so that they may see it as they pass by. I am sure
the stars will tell the Christmas angels where the shoe is."
"Ah, you foolish, foolish child," said Granny, "you are only getting
ready for a disappointment To-morrow morning there will be nothing
whatever in the shoe. I can tell you that now."
But little Gretchen would not listen. She only shook her head and cried
out: "Ah, Granny, you don't talk enough to the stars." With this she
seized the shoe, and, opening the door, hurried out to place it on the
windowsill. It was very dark without, and something soft and cold
seemed to gently kiss her hair and face. Gretchen knew by this that it
was snowing, and she looked up to the sky, anxious to see if the stars
were in sight, but a strong wind was tumbling the dark, heavy
snow-clouds about and had shut away all else.
"Never mind," said Gretchen softly to herself, "the stars are up there,
even if I can't see them, and the Christmas angels do not mind
Just then a rough wind went sweeping by the little girl, whispering
something to her which she could not understand, and then it made a
sudden rush up to the snow-clouds and parted them, so that the deep,
mysterious sky appeared beyond, and shining down out of the midst of it
was Gretchen's favourite star.
"Ah, little star, little star!" said the child, laughing aloud, "I knew
you were there, though I couldn't see you. Will you whisper to the
Christmas angels as they come by that little Gretchen wants so very
much to have a Christmas gift to-morrow morning, if they have one to
spare, and that she has put one of Granny's shoes upon the windowsill
ready for it?"
A moment more and the little girl, standing on tiptoe, had reached the
windowsill and placed the shoe upon it, and was back again in the house
beside Granny and the warm fire.
The two went quietly to bed, and that night as little Gretchen knelt to
pray to the Heavenly Father, she thanked him for having sent the
Christ-Child into the world to teach all mankind how to be loving and
unselfish, and in a few moments she was quietly sleeping, dreaming of
the Christmas angels.
The next morning, very early, even before the sun was up, little
Gretchen was awakened by the sound of sweet music coming from the
village. She listened for a moment and then she knew that the
choir-boys were singing the Christmas carols in the open air of the
village street. She sprang up out of bed and began to dress herself as
quickly as possible, singing as she dressed. While Granny was slowly
putting on her clothes, little Gretchen, having finished dressing
herself, unfastened the door and hurried out to see what the Christmas
angels had left in the old wooden shoe.
The white snow covered everything--trees, stumps, roads, and
pastures--until the whole world looked like fairyland. Gretchen climbed
up on a large stone which was beneath the window and carefully lifted
down the wooden shoe. The snow tumbled off of it in a shower over the
little girl's hands, but she did not heed that; she ran hurriedly back
into the house, putting her hand into the toe of the shoe as she ran.
"Oh, Granny! Oh, Granny!" she exclaimed, "you didn't believe the
Christmas angels would think about us, but see, they have, they have!
Here is a dear little bird nestled down in the toe of your shoe! Oh,
isn't he beautiful?"
Granny came forward and looked at what the child was holding lovingly
in her hand. There she saw a tiny chick-a-dee, whose wing was evidently
broken by the rough and boisterous winds of the night before, and who
had taken shelter in the safe, dry toe of the old wooden shoe. She
gently took the little bird out of Gretchen's hands, and skilfully
bound his broken wing to his side, so that he need not hurt himself by
trying to fly with it. Then she showed Gretchen how to make a nice warm
nest for the little stranger, close beside the fire, and when their
breakfast was ready she let Gretchen feed the little bird with a few
Later in the day Gretchen carried the fresh, green boughs to the old
sick man by the mill, and on her way home stopped to see and enjoy the
Christmas toys of some other children whom she knew, never once wishing
that they were hers. When she reached home she found that the little
bird had gone to sleep. Soon, however, he opened his eyes and stretched
his head up, saying just as plain as a bird could say, "Now, my new
friends, I want you to give me something more to eat." Gretchen gladly
fed him again, and then, holding him in her lap, she softly and gently
stroked his gray feathers until the little creature seemed to lose all
fear of her. That evening Granny taught her a Christmas hymn and told
her another beautiful Christmas story. Then Gretchen made up a funny
little story to tell to the birdie. He winked his eyes and turned his
head from side to side in such a droll fashion that Gretchen laughed
until the tears came.
As Granny and she got ready for bed that night, Gretchen put her arms
softly around Granny's neck, and whispered: "What a beautiful Christmas
we have had to-day, Granny! Is there anything in the world more lovely
"Nay, child, nay," said Granny, "not to such loving hearts as yours."
XXXIV. CHRISTMAS ON BIG RATTLE*
* This story was first printed in the Youth's Companion, Dec. 14, 1905.
THEODORE GOODRIDGE ROBERTS
Archer sat by the rude hearth of his Big Rattle camp, brooding in a
sort of tired contentment over the spitting fagots of var and glowing
coals of birch.
It was Christmas Eve. He had been out on his snowshoes all that day,
and all the day before, springing his traps along the streams and
putting his deadfalls out of commission--rather queer work for a
trapper to be about.
But Archer, despite all his gloomy manner, was really a sentimentalist,
who practised what he felt.
"Christmas is a season of peace on earth," he had told himself, while
demolishing the logs of a sinister deadfall with his axe; and now the
remembrance of his quixotic deed added a brightness to the fire and to
the rough, undecorated walls of the camp.
Outside, the wind ran high in the forest, breaking and sweeping
tidelike over the reefs of treetops. The air was bitterly cold. Another
voice, almost as fitful as the sough of the wind, sounded across the
night. It was the waters of Stone Arrow Falls, above Big Rattle.
The frosts had drawn their bonds of ice and blankets of silencing snow
over all the rest of the stream, but the white and black face of the
falls still flashed from a window in the great house of crystal, and
threw out a voice of desolation.
Sacobie Bear, a full-blooded Micmac, uttered a grunt of relief when his
ears caught the bellow of Stone Arrow Falls. He stood still, and turned
his head from side to side, questioningly.
"Good!" he said. "Big Rattle off there, Archer's camp over there. I go
there. Good 'nough!"
He hitched his old smooth-bore rifle higher under his arm and continued
his journey. Sacobie had tramped many miles--all the way from
ice-imprisoned Fox Harbor. His papoose was sick. His squaw was hungry.
Sacobie's belt was drawn tight.
During all that weary journey his old rifle had not banged once,
although few eyes save those of timberwolf and lynx were sharper in the
hunt than Sacobie's. The Indian was reeling with hunger and weakness,
but he held bravely on.
A white man, no matter how courageous and sinewy, would have been prone
in the snow by that time.
But Sacobie, with his head down and his round snowshoes padding!
padding! like the feet of a frightened duck, raced with death toward
the haven of Archer's cabin.
Archer was dreaming of a Christmas-time in a great faraway city when he
was startled by a rattle of snowshoes at his threshold and a soft
beating on his door, like weak blows from mittened hands. He sprang
across the cabin and pulled open the door.
A short, stooping figure shuffled in and reeled against him. A rifle in
a woollen case clattered at his feet.
"Mer' Christmas! How-do?" said a weary voice.
"Merry Christmas, brother!" replied Archer. Then, "Bless me, but it's
Sacobie Bear! Why, what's the matter, Sacobie?"
"Heap tired! Heap hungry!" replied the Micmac, sinking to the floor.
Archer lifted the Indian and carried him over to the bunk at the
farther end of the room. He filled his iron-pot spoon with brandy, and
inserted the point of it between Sacobie's unresisting jaws. Then he
loosened the Micmac's coat and shirt and belt.
He removed his moccasins and stockings and rubbed the straight thin
feet with brandy.
After a while Sacobie Bear opened his eyes and gazed up at Archer.
"Good!" he said. "John Archer, he heap fine man, anyhow. Mighty good to
poor Injun Sacobie, too. Plenty tobac, I s'pose. Plenty rum, too."
"No more rum, my son," replied Archer, tossing what was left in the mug
against the log wall, and corking the bottle. "and no smoke until you
have had a feed. What do you say to bacon and tea! Or would tinned beef
suit you better?"
"Bacum," replied Sacobie.
He hoisted himself to his elbow, and wistfully sniffed the fumes of
brandy that came from the direction of his bare feet. "Heap waste of
good rum, me t'ink," he said.
"You ungratefu' little beggar!" laughed Archer, as he pulled a frying
pan from under the bunk.
By the time the bacon was fried and the tea steeped, Sacobie was
sufficiently revived to leave the bunk and take a seat by the fire.
He ate as all hungry Indians do; and Archer looked on in wonder and
whimsical regret, remembering the miles and miles he had tramped with
that bacon on his back.
"Sacobie, you will kill yourself!" he protested.
"Sacobie no kill himself now," replied the Micmac, as he bolted a brown
slice and a mouthful of hard bread. "Sacobie more like to kill himself
when he empty. Want to live when he chock-full. Good fun. T'ank you for
Archer filled the extended mug and poured in the molasses--"long
sweet'nin'" they call it in that region.
"What brings you so far from Fox Harbor this time of year?" inquired
"Squaw sick. Papoose sick. Bote empty. Wan' good bacum to eat."
Archer smiled at the fire. "Any luck trapping?" he asked.
His guest shook his head and hid his face behind the upturned mug.
"Not much," he replied, presently.
He drew his sleeve across his mouth, and then produced a clay pipe from
a pocket in his shirt.
"Tobac?" he inquired.
Archer passed him a dark and heavy plug of tobacco.
"Knife?" queried Sacobie.
"Try your own knife on it," answered Archer, grinning.
With a sigh Sacobie produced his sheath-knife.
"You t'ink Sacobie heap big t'ief," he said, accusingly.
"Knives are easily lost--in people's pockets," replied Archer.
The two men talked for hours. Sacobie Bear was a great gossip for one
of his race. In fact, he had a Micmac nickname which, translated, meant
"the man who deafens his friends with much talk." Archer, however, was
pleased with his ready chatter and unforced humour.
But at last they both began to nod. The white man made up a bed on the
floor for Sacobie with a couple of caribou skins and a heavy blanket.
Then he gathered together a few plugs of tobacco, some tea, flour, and
Sacobie watched him with freshly aroused interest.
"More tobac, please," he said. "Squaw, he smoke, too."
Archer added a couple of sticks of the black leaf to the pile.
"Bacum, too," said the Micmac. "Bacum better nor fish, anyhow."
Archer shook his head.
"You'll have to do with the fish," he replied; "but I'll give you a tin
of condensed milk for the papoose."
"Ah, ah! Him good stuff!" exclaimed Sacobie.
Archer considered the provisions for a second or two. Then, going over
to a dunnage bag near his bunk, he pulled its contents about until he
found a bright red silk handkerchief and a red flannel shirt. Their
colour was too gaudy for his taste. "These things are for your squaw,"
Sacobie was delighted. Archer tied the articles into a neat pack and
stood it in the corner, beside his guest's rifle.
"Now you had better turn in," he said, and blew out the light.
In ten minutes both men slept the sleep of the weary. The fire, a great
mass of red coals, faded and flushed like some fabulous jewel. The wind
washed over the cabin and fingered the eaves, and brushed furtive hands
against the door.
It was dawn when Archer awoke. He sat up in his bunk and looked about
the quiet, gray-lighted room. Sacobie Bear was nowhere to be seen.
He glanced at the corner by the door. Rifle and pack were both gone. He
looked up at the rafter where his slab of bacon was always hung. It,
too, was gone.
He jumped out of his bunk and ran to the door. Opening it, he looked
out. Not a breath of air stirred. In the east, saffron and scarlet,
broke the Christmas morning, and blue on the white surface of the world
lay the imprints of Sacobie's round snowshoes.
For a long time the trapper stood in the doorway in silence, looking
out at the stillness and beauty.
"Poor Sacobie!" he said, after a while. "Well, he's welcome to the
bacon, even if it is all I had."
He turned to light the fire and prepare breakfast. Something at the
foot of his bunk caught his eye. He went over and took it up. It was a
cured skin --a beautiful specimen of fox. He turned it over, and on the
white hide an uncultured hand had written, with a charred stick,
"Well, bless that old red-skin! "exclaimed the trapper, huskily. "Bless
his puckered eyes! Who'd have thought that I should get a Christmas