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Title: In the Yule-Log Glow, Book II - Christmas Tales from 'Round the World
Author: Morris, Harrison S. (Harrison Smith), 1856-1948 [Editor]
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Yule-Log Glow, Book II - Christmas Tales from 'Round the World" ***

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IN THE YULE-LOG GLOW

CHRISTMAS TALES FROM 'ROUND THE WORLD

"Sic as folk tell ower at a winter ingle"

_Scott_

EDITED BY

HARRISON S. MORRIS

THREE VOLUMES IN ONE.

Book II.

PHILADELPHIA

J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY 1900.

Copyright, 1891, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.

PRINTED BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY, PHILADELPHIA.



CONTENTS OF BOOK II


CHRISTMAS WITH THE BARON
_By Angelo J. Lewis._

A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
_By Harrison S. Morris._

SALVETTE AND BERNADOU
_From the French of Alphonse Daudet._
_By Harrison S. Morris._

THE WOLF TOWER

THE PEACE EGG
_By Juliana Horatia Ewing._

A STORY OF NUREMBERG
_By Agnes Repplier._

A PICTURE OF THE NATIVITY BY FRA FILIPPO LIPPI
_By Vernon Lee._

MELCHIOR'S DREAM
_By Juliana Horatia Ewing._

MR. GRAPEWINE'S CHRISTMAS DINNER
_By Harrison S. Morris._



ILLUSTRATIONS, BOOK II.


THE DAUGHTER OF THE BARON

THE HOSPITAL

MUMMERS

"A HILLY COUNTRY"



    _A Droll Chapter by a Swiss Gossip._

    "I here beheld an agreeable old
    fellow, forgetting age, and showing
    the way to be young at sixty-five."

    _Goldsmith._



CHRISTMAS WITH THE BARON.


I.

Once upon a time--fairy tales always begin with once upon a time--once
upon a time there lived in a fine old castle on the Rhine a certain
Baron von Schrochslofsleschshoffinger. You will not find it an easy name
to pronounce; in fact, the baron never tried it himself but once, and
then he was laid up for two days afterwards; so in future we will merely
call him "the baron," for shortness, particularly as he was rather a
dumpy man.

After having heard his name, you will not be surprised when I tell you
that he was an exceedingly bad character. For a baron, he was considered
enormously rich; a hundred and fifty pounds a year would not be thought
much in this country; but still it will buy a good deal of sausage,
which, with wine grown on the estate, formed the chief sustenance of the
baron and his family.

Now, you will hardly believe that, notwithstanding he was the possessor
of this princely revenue, the baron was not satisfied, but oppressed
and ground down his unfortunate tenants to the very last penny he could
possibly squeeze out of them. In all his exactions he was seconded and
encouraged by his steward Klootz, an old rascal who took a malicious
pleasure in his master's cruelty, and who chuckled and rubbed his hands
with the greatest apparent enjoyment when any of the poor landholders
could not pay their rent, or afforded him any opportunity for
oppression.

Not content with making the poor tenants pay double value for the land
they rented, the baron was in the habit of going round every now and
then to their houses and ordering anything he took a fancy to, from a
fat pig to a pretty daughter, to be sent up to the castle. The pretty
daughter was made parlor-maid, but as she had nothing a year, and to
find herself, it wasn't what would be considered by careful mothers an
eligible situation. The fat pig became sausage, of course.

Things went on from bad to worse, till, at the time of our story,
between the alternate squeezings of the baron and his steward, the poor
tenants had very little left to squeeze out of them. The fat pigs and
pretty daughters had nearly all found their way up to the castle, and
there was little left to take.

[Illustration: The Daughter of the Baron]

The only help the poor fellows had was the baron's only daughter, Lady
Bertha, who always had a kind word, and frequently something more
substantial, for them when her father was not in the way.

Now, I'm not going to describe Bertha, for the simple reason that if I
did you would imagine that she was the fairy I'm going to tell you
about, and she isn't. However, I don't mind giving you a few outlines.

In the first place, she was exceedingly tiny,--the nicest girls, the
real lovable little pets, always are tiny,--and she had long silken
black hair, and a dear, dimpled little face full of love and mischief.
Now, then, fill up the outline with the details of the nicest and
prettiest girl you know, and you will have a slight idea of her. On
second thoughts, I don't believe you will, for your portrait wouldn't be
half good enough; however, it will be near enough for you.

Well, the baron's daughter, being all your fancy painted her and a
trifle more, was naturally much distressed at the goings-on of her
unamiable parent, and tried her best to make amends for her father's
harshness. She generally managed that a good many pounds of the sausage
should find their way back to the owners of the original pig; and when
the baron tried to squeeze the hand of the pretty parlor-maid, which he
occasionally did after dinner, Bertha had only to say, in a tone of
mild remonstrance, "Pa!" and he dropped the hand instantly and stared
very hard the other way.

Bad as this disreputable old baron was, he had a respect for the
goodness and purity of his child. Like the lion tamed by the charm of
Una's innocence, the rough old rascal seemed to lose in her presence
half his rudeness, and, though he used awful language to her sometimes
(I dare say even Una's lion roared occasionally), he was more tractable
with her than with any other living being. Her presence operated as a
moral restraint upon him, which, possibly, was the reason that he never
stayed down-stairs after dinner, but always retired to a favorite
turret, which, I regret to say, he had got so in the way of doing every
afternoon that I believe he would have felt unwell without it.

The hour of the baron's afternoon symposium was the time selected by
Bertha for her errands of charity. Once he was fairly settled down to
his second bottle, off went Bertha, with her maid beside her carrying a
basket, to bestow a meal on some of the poor tenants, among whom she was
always received with blessings.

At first these excursions had been undertaken principally from
charitable motives, and Bertha thought herself plentifully repaid in the
love and thanks of her grateful pensioners.

Of late, however, another cause had led her to take even stronger
interest in her walks, and occasionally to come in with brighter eyes
and a rosier cheek than the gratitude of the poor tenants had been wont
to produce.

The fact is, some months before the time of our story, Bertha had
noticed in her walks a young artist, who seemed to be fated to be
invariably sketching points of interest in the road she had to take.
There was one particular tree, exactly in the path which led from the
castle-gate, which he had sketched from at least four points of view,
and Bertha began to wonder what there could be so very particular about
it.

At last, just as Carl von Sempach had begun to consider where on earth
he could sketch the tree from next, and to ponder seriously upon the
feasibility of climbing up into it and taking it from _that_ point of
view, a trifling accident occurred which gave him the opportunity of
making Bertha's acquaintance,--which, I don't mind stating
confidentially, was the very thing he had been waiting for.

It so chanced that, on one particular afternoon, the maid, either
through awkwardness, or possibly through looking more at the handsome
painter than the ground she was walking on, stumbled and fell.

Of course, the basket fell, too, and equally of course, Carl, as a
gentleman, could not do less than offer his assistance in picking up the
damsel and the dinner.

The acquaintance thus commenced was not suffered to drop; and handsome
Carl and our good little Bertha were fairly over head and ears in love,
and had begun to have serious thoughts of a cottage in a wood, _et
cætera_, when their felicity was disturbed by their being accidentally
met, in one of their walks, by the baron.

Of course the baron, being himself so thorough an aristocrat, had higher
views for his daughter than marrying her to a "beggarly artist," and
accordingly he stamped, and swore, and threatened Carl with summary
punishment with all sorts of weapons, from heavy boots to blunderbusses,
if ever he ventured near the premises again.

This was unpleasant; but I fear it did not _quite_ put a stop to the
young people's interviews, though it made them less frequent and more
secret than before.

Now, I am quite aware this was not at all proper, and that no properly
regulated young lady would ever have had meetings with a young man her
papa didn't approve of.

But then it is just possible Bertha might not have been a properly
regulated young lady. I only know she was a dear little pet, worth
twenty model young ladies, and that she loved Carl very dearly.

And then consider what a dreadful old tyrant of a papa she had! My dear
girl, it's not the slightest use your looking so provokingly correct;
it's my deliberate belief that if you had been in her shoes (they'd have
been at least three sizes too small for you, but that doesn't matter)
you would have done precisely the same.

Such was the state of things on Christmas eve in the year----Stay!
fairy tales never have a year to them, so, on second thoughts, I
wouldn't tell the date if I knew,--but I don't.

Such was the state of things, however, on the particular 24th of
December to which our story refers--only, if anything, rather more so.

The baron had got up in the morning in an exceedingly bad temper; and
those about him had felt its effects all through the day.

His two favorite wolf-hounds, Lutzow and Teufel, had received so many
kicks from the baron's heavy boots that they hardly knew at which end
their tails were; and even Klootz himself scarcely dared to approach his
master.

In the middle of the day two of the principal tenants came to say that
they were unprepared with their rent, and to beg for a little delay.
The poor fellows represented that their families were starving, and
entreated for mercy; but the baron was only too glad that he had at last
found so fair an excuse for venting his ill-humor.

He loaded the unhappy defaulters with every abusive epithet he could
devise (and being called names in German is no joke, I can tell you);
and, lastly, he swore by everything he could think of that, if their
rent was not paid on the morrow, themselves and their families should be
turned out of doors to sleep on the snow, which was then many inches
deep on the ground. They still continued to beg for mercy, till the
baron became so exasperated that he determined to put them out of the
castle himself. He pursued them for that purpose as far as the outer
door, when fresh fuel was added to his anger.

Carl, who, as I have hinted, still managed, notwithstanding the paternal
prohibition, to see Bertha occasionally, and had come to wish her a
merry Christmas, chanced at this identical moment to be saying good-bye
at the door, above which, in accordance with immemorial usage, a huge
bush of mistletoe was suspended. What they were doing under it at the
moment of the baron's appearance, I never knew exactly; but his wrath
was tremendous!

I regret to say that his language was unparliamentary in the extreme.
He swore until he was mauve in the face; and if he had not
providentially been seized with a fit of coughing, and sat down in the
coal-scuttle,--mistaking it for a three-legged stool,--it is impossible
to say to what lengths his feelings might have carried him.

Carl and Bertha picked him up, rather black behind, but otherwise not
much the worse for his accident.

In fact, the diversion of his thoughts seemed to have done him good;
for, having sworn a little more, and Carl having left the castle, he
appeared rather better.


II.

After enduring so many and various emotions, it is hardly to be wondered
at that the baron required some consolation; so, after having changed
his trousers, he took himself off to his favorite turret to allay, by
copious potations, the irritations of his mind.

Bottle after bottle was emptied, and pipe after pipe was filled and
smoked. The fine old Burgundy was gradually getting into the baron's
head; and, altogether, he was beginning to feel more comfortable.

The shades of the winter afternoon had deepened into the evening
twilight, made dimmer still by the aromatic clouds that came, with
dignified deliberation, from the baron's lips, and curled and floated up
to the carved ceiling of the turret, where they spread themselves into a
dim canopy, which every successive cloud brought lower and lower.

The fire, which had been piled up mountain-high earlier in the
afternoon, and had flamed and roared to its heart's content ever since,
had now got to that state--the perfection of a fire to a lazy man--when
it requires no poking or attention of any kind, but just burns itself
hollow, and then tumbles in, and blazes jovially for a little time, and
then settles down to a genial glow, and gets hollow, and tumbles in
again.

The baron's fire was just in this delightful _da capo_ condition, most
favorable of all to the enjoyment of the _dolce far niente_.

For a little while it would glow and kindle quietly, making strange
faces to itself, and building fantastic castles in the depths of its red
recesses, and then the castles would come down with a crash, and the
faces disappear, and a bright flame spring up and lick lovingly the
sides of the old chimney; and the carved heads of improbable men and
impossible women, hewn so deftly round the panels of the old oak
wardrobe opposite, in which the baron's choicest vintages were
deposited, were lit up by the flickering light, and seemed to nod and
wink at the fire in return, with the familiarity of old acquaintances.

Some such fancy as this was disporting itself in the baron's brain; and
he was gazing at the old oak carving accordingly, and emitting huge
volumes of smoke with reflective slowness, when a clatter among the
bottles on the table caused him to turn his head to ascertain the cause.

The baron was by no means a nervous man; however, the sight that met his
eyes when he turned round did take away his presence of mind a  little; and
he was obliged to take four distinct puffs before he had sufficiently
regained his equilibrium to inquire, "Who the--Pickwick--are you?" (The
baron said "Dickens," but, as that is a naughty word, we will substitute
"Pickwick," which is equally expressive, and not so wrong.) Let me see;
where was I? Oh, yes! "Who the Pickwick are you?"

Now, before I allow the baron's visitor to answer the question, perhaps
I had better give a slight description of his personal appearance.

If this was not a true story, I should have liked to have made him a
model of manly beauty; but a regard for veracity compels me to confess
that he was not what would be generally considered handsome; that is,
not in figure, for his face was by no means unpleasing.

His body was, in size and shape, not very unlike a huge plum-pudding,
and was clothed in a bright-green, tightly-fitting doublet, with red
holly-berries for buttons.

His limbs were long and slender in proportion to his stature, which was
not more than three feet or so.

His head was encircled by a crown of holly and mistletoe.

The round red berries sparkled amid his hair which was silver-white, and
shone out in cheerful harmony with his rosy, jovial face. And that face!
it would have done one good to look at it.

In spite of the silver hair, and an occasional wrinkle beneath the
merry, laughing eyes, it seemed brimming over with perpetual youth. The
mouth, well garnished with teeth, white and sound, which seemed as if
they could do ample justice to holiday cheer, was ever open with a
beaming, genial smile, expanding now and then into hearty laughter. Fun
and good-fellowship were in every feature.

The owner of the face was, at the moment when the baron first perceived
him, comfortably seated upon the top of the large tobacco-jar on the
table, nursing his left leg.

The baron's somewhat abrupt inquiry did not appear to irritate him; on
the contrary, he seemed rather amused than otherwise.

"You don't ask prettily, old gentleman," he replied; "but I don't mind
telling you, for all that. I'm King Christmas."

"Eh?" said the baron.

"Ah!" said the goblin. Of course, you have guessed he was a goblin?

"And pray what's your business here?" said the baron.

"Don't be crusty with a fellow," replied the goblin. "I merely looked in
to wish you the compliments of the season. Talking of crust, by the way,
what sort of a tap is it you're drinking?" So saying, he took up a flask
of the baron's very best and poured out about half a glass. Having held
the glass first on one side and then on the other, winked at it twice,
sniffed it, and gone through the remainder of the pantomime in which
connoisseurs indulge, he drank it with great deliberation, and smacked
his lips scientifically. "Hum! Johannisberg! and not so _very_ bad--for
you. But I tell you what it is, baron, you'll have to bring out better
stuff than this when I put my legs on your mahogany."

"Well, you are a cool fish," said the baron. "However, you're rather a
joke, so, now you're here, we may as well enjoy ourselves. Smoke?"

"Not anything you're likely to offer me!"

"Confound your impudence!" roared the baron, with a horribly
complicated oath. "That tobacco is as good as any in all Rhineland."

"That's a nasty cough you've got, baron. Don't excite yourself, my dear
boy; I dare say you speak according to your lights. I don't mean
Vesuvians, you know, but your opportunities for knowing anything about
it. Try a weed out of my case, and I expect you'll alter your opinion."

The baron took the proffered case and selected a cigar. Not a word was
spoken till it was half consumed, when the baron took it, for the first
time, from his lips, and said, gently, with the air of a man
communicating an important discovery in the strictest confidence, "Das
ist gut!"

"Thought you'd say so," said the visitor. "And now, as you like the
cigar, I should like you to try a thimbleful of what _I_ call wine. I
must warn you, though, that it is rather potent, and may produce effects
you are not accustomed to."

"Bother that, if it is as good as the weed," said the baron; "I haven't
taken my usual quantity by four bottles yet."

"Well, don't say I didn't warn you, that's all. I don't think you'll
find it unpleasant, though it is rather strong when you're not
accustomed to it." So saying, the goblin produced from some mysterious
pocket a black, big-bellied bottle, crusted, apparently, with the dust
of ages.

It did strike the baron as peculiar, that the bottle, when once
produced, appeared nearly as big round as the goblin himself; but he was
not the sort of man to stick at trifles, and he pushed forward his glass
to be filled just as composedly as if the potion had been shipped and
paid duty, in the most commonplace way.

The glass was filled and emptied, but the baron uttered not his opinion.
Not in words, at least, but he pushed forward his glass to be filled
again in a manner that sufficiently bespoke his approval.

"Aha! you smile!" said the goblin. And it was a positive fact; the baron
was smiling; a thing he had not been known to do in the memory of the
oldest inhabitant. "That's the stuff to make your hair curl, isn't it?"

"I believe you, my b-o-o-oy!" The baron brought out this earnest
expression of implicit confidence with true unction. "It warms one
_here_!"

Knowing the character of the man, one would have expected him to put his
hand upon his stomach. But he didn't; he laid it upon his _heart_.

"The spell begins to operate, I see," said the goblin. "Have another
glass?"

The baron had another glass, and another after that.

The smile on his face expanded into an expression of such geniality that
the whole character of his countenance was changed, and his own mother
wouldn't have known him. I doubt myself--inasmuch as she died when he
was exactly a year and three months old--whether she would have
recognized him under any circumstances; but I merely wish to express
that he was changed almost beyond recognition.

"Upon my word," said the baron, at length, "I feel so light I almost
think I could dance a hornpipe. I used to, once, I know. Shall I try?"

"Well, if you ask my advice," replied the goblin, "I should say,
decidedly, don't. 'Barkis is willing,' I dare say, but trousers are
weak, and you might split 'em."

"Hang it all," said the baron, "so I might. I didn't think of that. But
still I feel as if I must do something juvenile!"

"Ah! that's the effect of your change of nature," said the goblin.
"Never mind, I'll give you plenty to do presently."

"Change of nature! What do you mean, you old conundrum?" said the baron.

"You're another," said the goblin. "But never mind. What I mean is just
this. What you are now feeling is the natural consequence of my magic
wine, which has changed you into a fairy. That's what's the matter,
sir."

"A fairy! me!" exclaimed the baron. "Get out. I'm too fat."

"Fat! Oh! that's nothing. We shall put you in regular training, and
you'll soon be slim enough to creep into a lady's stocking. Not that
you'll be called upon to do anything of the sort; but I'm merely giving
you an idea of your future figure."

"No, no," said the baron; "me thin! that's too ridiculous. Why, that's
worse than being a fairy. You don't mean it, though, do you? I do feel
rather peculiar."

"I do, indeed," said the visitor. "You don't dislike it, do you?"

"Well, no, I can't say I do, entirely. It's queer, though, I feel so
uncommon friendly. I feel as if I should like to shake hands or pat
somebody on the back."

"Ah!" said the goblin, "I know how it is. Rum feeling, when you're not
accustomed to it. But come; finish that glass, for we must be off. We've
got a precious deal to do before morning, I can tell you. Are you
ready?"

"All right," said the baron. "I'm just in the humor to make a night of
it."

"Come along, then," said the goblin.

They proceeded for a short time in silence along the corridors of the
old castle. They carried no candle, but the baron noticed that
everything seemed perfectly light wherever they stood, but relapsed into
darkness as soon as they had passed by. The goblin spoke first.

"I say, baron, you've been an uncommon old brute in your time, now,
haven't you?"

"H'm," said the baron, reflectively; "I don't know. Well, yes, I rather
think I have."

"How jolly miserable you've been making those two young people, you old
sinner! You know who I mean."

"Eh, what? You know that, too?" said the baron.

"Know it; of course I do. Why, bless your heart, I know everything, my
dear boy. But you _have_ made yourself an old tyrant in that quarter,
considerably. Ar'n't you blushing, you hard-hearted old monster?"

"Don't know, I'm sure," said the baron, scratching his nose, as if that
was where he expected to feel it. "I believe I have treated them badly,
though, now I come to think of it."

At this moment they reached the door of Bertha's chamber The door opened
of itself at their approach.

"Come along," said the goblin; "you won't wake her. Now, old
flinty-heart, look there."

The sight that met the baron's view was one that few fathers could have
beheld without affectionate emotion. Under ordinary circumstances,
however, the baron would not have felt at all sentimental on the
subject, but to-night something made him view things in quite a
different light.

I shouldn't like to make affidavit of the fact, but it's my positive
impression that he sighed.

Now, my dear reader, don't imagine I'm going to indulge your impertinent
curiosity with an elaborate description of the sacred details of a
lady's sleeping apartment. _You're_ not a fairy, you know, and I don't
see that it can possibly matter to you whether fair Bertha's dainty
little bottines were tidily placed on a chair by her bedside, or thrown
carelessly, as they had been taken off, upon the hearth-rug, where her
favorite spaniel reposed, warming his nose in his sleep before the last
smouldering embers of the decaying fire; or whether her crinoline--but
if she did wear a crinoline, what can that possibly matter to you?

All I shall tell you is, that everything looked snug and comfortable;
but, somehow, any place got that look when Bertha was in it.

And now a word about the jewel in the casket--pet Bertha herself.
Really, I'm at a loss to describe her. How do you look when you're
asleep?--Well, it wasn't like _that_; not a bit! Fancy a sweet girl's
face, the cheek faintly flushed with a soft, warm tint, like the blush
in the heart of the opening rose, and made brighter by the contrast of
the snowy pillow on which it rested; dark silken hair, curling and
clustering lovingly over the tiniest of tiny ears, and the softest,
whitest neck that ever mortal maiden was blessed with; long silken
eyelashes, fringing lids only less beautiful than the dear earnest eyes
they cover. Fancy all this, and fancy, too, if you can, the expression
of perfect goodness and purity that lit up the sweet features of the
slumbering maiden with a beauty almost angelic, and you will see what
the baron saw that night. Not quite all, however, for the baron's vision
paused not at the bedside before him, but had passed on from the face of
the sleeping maiden to another face as lovely, that of the young wife,
Bertha's mother, who had, years before, taken her angel beauty to the
angels.

The goblin spoke to the baron's thought. "Wonderfully like her, is she
not, baron?" The baron slowly inclined his head.

"You made her very happy, didn't you?"

The tone in which the goblin spoke was harsh and mocking.

"A faithful husband, tender and true! She must have been a happy wife,
eh, baron?"

The baron's head had sunk upon his bosom. Old recollections were
thronging into his awakened memory. Solemn vows to love and cherish
somewhat strangely kept. Memories of bitter words and savage oaths
showered at a quiet and uncomplaining figure, without one word in reply.
And, last, the memory of a fit of drunken passion, and a hasty blow
struck with a heavy hand. And then of three months of fading away; and
last, of her last prayer--for her baby and him.

"A good husband makes a good father, baron. No wonder you are somewhat
chary of rashly intrusting to a suitor the happiness of a sweet flower
like this. Poor child! it is hard, though, that she must think no more
of him she loves so dearly. See! she is weeping even in her dreams. But
you have good reasons, no doubt. Young Carl is wild, perhaps, or drinks,
or gambles, eh? What! none of these? Perhaps he is wayward and
uncertain; and you fear that the honeyed words of courtship might turn
to bitter sayings in matrimony. They do, sometimes, eh, baron? By all
means guard her from such a fate as that. Poor, tender flower! Or who
knows, worse than that, baron! Hard words break no bones, they say, but
angry men are quick, and a blow is soon struck, eh?"

The goblin had drawn nearer and nearer, and laid his hand upon the
baron's arm, and the last words were literally hissed into his ears.

The baron's frame swayed to and fro under the violence of his emotion.
At last, with a cry of agony, he dashed his hands upon his forehead. The
veins were swollen up like thick cords, and his voice was almost
inarticulate in its unnatural hoarseness.

"Tortures! release me! Let me go, let me go and do something to forget
the past, or I shall go mad and die!"

He rushed out of the room and paced wildly down the corridor, the goblin
following him. At last, as they came near the outer door of the castle,
which opened of itself as they reached it, the spirit spoke:

"This way, baron, this way. I told you there was work for us to do
before morning, you know."

"Work!" exclaimed the baron, absently, passing his fingers through his
tangled hair; "oh! yes, work! the harder the better; anything to make me
forget."

The two stepped out into the court-yard, and the baron shivered, though,
as it seemed, unconsciously, at the breath of the frosty midnight air.
The snow lay deep on the ground, and the baron's heavy boots sank into
it with a crisp, crushing sound at every tread.

He was bareheaded, but seemed unconscious of the fact, and tramped on,
as if utterly indifferent to anything but his own thoughts. At last, as
a blast of the night wind, keener than ordinary, swept over him, he
seemed for the first time to feel the chill. His teeth chattered, and he
muttered, "Cold, very cold."

"Ay, baron," said the goblin, "it is cold even to us, who are healthy
and strong, and warmed with wine. Colder still, though, to those who are
hungry and half-naked, and have to sleep on the snow."

"Sleep? snow?" said the baron. "Who sleeps on the snow? Why, I wouldn't
let my dogs be out on such a night as this."

"Your dogs, no!" said the goblin; "I spoke of meaner animals--your
wretched tenants. Did you not order, yesterday, that Wilhelm and
Friedrich, if they did not pay their rent to-morrow, should be turned
out to sleep on the snow? A snug bed for the little ones, and a nice
white coverlet, eh? Ha! ha! twenty florins or so is no great matter, is
it? I'm afraid their chance is small; nevertheless, come and see."

The baron hung his head. A few minutes brought him to the first of the
poor dwellings, which they entered noiselessly. The fireless grate, the
carpetless floor, the broken window-panes, all gave sufficient testimony
to the want and misery of the occupants. In one corner lay sleeping a
man, a woman, and three children, and nestling to each other for the
warmth which their ragged coverlet could afford. In the man, the baron
recognized his tenant Wilhelm, one of those who had been with him to beg
for indulgence on the previous day.

The keen features, and bones almost starting through the pallid skin,
showed how heavily the hand of hunger had been laid upon all.

The cold night wind moaned and whistled through the many flaws in the
ill-glazed, ill-thatched tenement, and rustled over the sleepers, who
shivered even in their sleep.

"Ha, baron!" said the goblin, "death is breathing in their faces even
now, you see; it is hardly worth while to lay them to sleep in the snow,
is it? They would sleep a little sounder, that's all."

The baron shuddered, and then, hastily pulling the warm coat from his
own shoulders, he spread it over the sleepers.

"Oho!" said the goblin; "bravely done, baron! By all means keep them
warm to-night; they enjoy the snow more to-morrow, you know."

Strange to say, the baron, instead of feeling chilled when he had
removed his coat, felt a strange glow of warmth spread from the region
of the heart over his entire frame. The goblin's continual allusions to
his former intention, which he had by this time totally relinquished,
hurt him, and he said, rather pathetically,--

"Don't talk of that again, good goblin. I'd rather sleep on the snow
myself."

"Eh! what?" said the goblin; "you don't mean to say you're sorry? Then
what do you say to making these poor people comfortable?"

"With all my heart," said the baron, "if we had only anything to do it
with."

"You leave that to me," said the goblin. "Your brother fairies are not
far off, you may be sure."

As he spoke he clapped his hands thrice, and before the third clap had
died away the poor cottage was swarming with tiny figures, whom the
baron rightly conjectured to be the fairies themselves.

Now, you may not be aware (the baron was not, until that night) that
there are among the fairies trades and professions, just as with
ordinary mortals.

However, there they were, each with the accompaniments of his or her
particular business, and to it they went manfully. A fairy glazier put
in new panes to the shattered windows, fairy carpenters replaced the
doors upon their hinges, and fairy painters, with inconceivable
celerity, made cupboards and closets as fresh as paint could make them;
one fairy housemaid laid and lit a roaring fire, while another dusted
and rubbed chairs and tables to a miraculous degree of brightness; a
fairy butler uncorked bottles of fairy wine, and a fairy cook laid out a
repast of most tempting appearance.

The baron, hearing a tapping above him, cast his eyes upward, and beheld
a fairy slater rapidly repairing a hole in the roof; and when he bent
them down again they fell on a fairy doctor mixing a cordial for the
sleepers. Nay, there was even a fairy parson, who, not having any
present employment, contented himself with rubbing his hands and looking
pleasant, probably waiting till somebody might want to be christened or
married.

Every trade, every profession or occupation appeared, without exception,
to be represented; nay, we beg pardon, with one exception only, for the
baron used to say, when afterwards relating his experiences to bachelor
friends,--

"You may believe me or not, sir, there was every mortal business under
the sun, _but deil a bit of a lawyer_."

The baron could not long remain inactive. He was rapidly seized with a
violent desire to do something to help, which manifested itself in
insane attempts to assist everybody at once. At last, after having taken
all the skin off his knuckles in attempting to hammer in nails in aid of
the carpenter, and then nearly tumbling over a fairy housemaid, whose
broom he was offering to carry, he gave it up as a bad job, and stood
aside with his friend the goblin.

He was just about to inquire how it was that the poor occupants of the
house were not awakened by so much din, when a fairy Sam Slick, who had
been examining the cottager's old clock with a view to a thorough
repair, touched some spring within it, and it made the usual purr
preparatory to striking. When, lo! and behold, at the very first stroke,
cottage, goblin, fairies, and all disappeared into utter darkness, and
the baron found himself in his turret-chamber, rubbing his toe, which he
had just hit with considerable force against the fender. As he was only
in his slippers, the concussion was unpleasant, and the baron rubbed his
toe for a good while.

After he had finished with his toe he rubbed his nose, and, finally,
with a countenance of deep reflection, scratched the bump of something
or other at the top of his head.

The old clock on the stairs was striking three, and the fire had gone
out.

The baron reflected for a short time longer, and finally decided that he
had better go to bed, which he did accordingly.


III.

The morning dawned upon the very ideal, as far as weather was concerned,
of a Christmas-day. A bright winter sun shone out just vividly enough to
make everything look genial and pleasant, and yet not with sufficient
warmth to mar the pure, unbroken surface of the crisp, white snow, which
lay like a never-ending white lawn upon the ground, and glittered in
myriad silver flakes upon the leaves of the sturdy evergreens.

I am afraid the baron had not had a very good night; at any rate, I know
that he was wide-awake at an hour long before his usual time of rising.

He lay first on one side, and then on the other, and then, by way of
variety, turned on his back, with his magenta nose pointing
perpendicularly towards the ceiling; but it was all of no use. Do what
he would, he couldn't get to sleep, and at last, not long after
daybreak, he tumbled out of bed and proceeded to dress.

Even after he was out of bed his fidgetiness continued. It did not
strike him, until after he had got one boot on, that it would be a more
natural proceeding to put his stockings on first; after which he caught
himself in the act of trying to put his trousers on over his head.

In a word, the baron's mind was evidently preoccupied; his whole air was
that of a man who felt a strong impulse to do something or other, but
could not quite make up his mind to it.

At last, however, the good impulse conquered, and this wicked old baron,
in the stillness of the calm, bright Christmas morning, went down upon
his knees and prayed.

Stiff were his knees and slow his tongue, for neither had done such work
for many a long day past; but I have read in the Book of the joy of
angels over a repenting sinner.

There needs not much eloquence to pray the publican's prayer, and who
shall say but there was gladness in heaven that Christmas morning?

The baron's appearance down-stairs at such an early hour occasioned
quite a commotion. Nor were the domestics reassured when the baron
ordered a bullock to be killed and jointed instantly, and all the
available provisions in the larder, including sausage, to be packed up
in baskets, with a good store of his own peculiar wine.

One ancient retainer was heard to declare, with much pathos, that he
feared master had gone insane.

However, insane or not, they knew the baron must be obeyed, and in an
exceedingly short space of time he sallied forth, accompanied by three
servants carrying the baskets, and wondering what in the name of fortune
their master would do next.

He stopped at the cottage of Wilhelm, which he had visited with the
goblin on the previous night. The labors of the fairies did not seem to
have produced much lasting benefit, for the appearance of everything
around was as wretched as could be.

The poor family thought that the baron had come himself to turn them out
of house and home; and the children huddled up timidly to their mother
for protection, while the father attempted some words of entreaty for
mercy.

The pale, pinched features of the group, and their looks of dread and
wretchedness, were too much for the baron.

"Eh! what! what do you mean, confound you? Turn you out? Of course not:
I've brought you some breakfast. Here! Fritz--Carl; where are the
knaves? Now, then, unpack, and don't be a week about it. Can't you see
the people are hungry, ye villains? Here, lend me the corkscrew."

This last being a tool the baron was tolerably accustomed to, he had
better success than with those of the fairy carpenters; and it was not
long before the poor tenants were seated before a roaring fire, and
doing justice, with the appetite of starvation, to a substantial
breakfast.

The baron felt a queer sensation in his throat at the sight of the poor
people's enjoyment, and had passed the back of his hand twice across his
eyes when he thought no one was looking; but his emotion fairly rose to
boiling when the poor father, Wilhelm, with tears in his eyes, and about
a quarter of a pound of beef in his mouth, sprang up from the table and
flung himself at the baron's knees, invoking blessings on him for his
goodness.

"Get up, you audacious scoundrel!" roared the baron. "What the deuce do
you mean by such conduct, eh? confound you!"

At this moment the door opened, and in walked Mynheer Klootz, who had
heard nothing of the baron's change of intentions, and who, seeing
Wilhelm at the baron's feet, and hearing the latter speaking, as he
thought, in an angry tone, at once jumped to the conclusion that Wilhelm
was entreating for longer indulgence. He rushed at the unfortunate man
and collared him. "Not if _we_ know it," exclaimed he; "you'll have the
wolves for bedfellows to-night, I reckon. Come along, my fine fellow."
As he spoke he turned his back towards the baron, with the intention of
dragging his victim to the door.

The baron's little gray eyes twinkled, and his whole frame quivered with
suppressed emotion, which, after the lapse of a moment, vented itself in
a kick, and such a kick! Not one of your _Varsovianna_ flourishes, but a
kick that employed every muscle from hip to toe, and drove the worthy
steward up against the door like a ball from a catapult.

Misfortunes never come singly, and so Mynheer Klootz found with regard
to the kick, for it was followed, without loss of time, by several dozen
others, as like it as possible, from the baron's heavy boots.

Wounded lions proverbially come badly off, and Fritz and Carl, who had
suffered from many an act of petty tyranny on the part of the steward,
thought they could not do better than follow their master's example,
which they did to such good purpose, that when the unfortunate Klootz
did escape from the cottage at last, I don't believe he could have had
any _os sacrum_ left.

After having executed this little act of poetical justice, the baron and
his servants visited the other cottages, in all of which they were
received with dread and dismissed with blessings.

Having completed his tour of charity, the baron returned home to
breakfast, feeling more really contented than he had done for many a
long year. He found Bertha, who had not risen when he started, in a
considerable state of anxiety as to what he could possibly have been
doing. In answer to her inquiries, he told her, with a roughness he was
far from feeling, to "mind her own affairs."

The gentle eyes filled with tears at the harshness of the reply;
perceiving which, the baron was beyond measure distressed, and chucked
her under the chin in what was meant to be a very conciliatory manner.

"Eh! what, my pretty, tears? No, surely. Bertha must forgive her old
father. I didn't mean it, you know, my pet; and yet, on second thoughts,
yes, I did, too." Bertha's face was overcast again. "My little girl
thinks she has no business anywhere, eh! Is that it? Well, then, my pet,
suppose you make it your business to write a note to young Carl von
Sempach, and say I'm afraid I was rather rude to him yesterday, but if
he'll overlook it, and come take a snug family dinner and a slice of
the pudding with us to-day----"

"Why, pa, you don't mean--yes, I do really believe you do----"

The baron's eyes were winking nineteen to the dozen.

"Why, you dear, dear, dear old pa!" and at the imminent risk of
upsetting the breakfast table, Bertha rushed at the baron, and flinging
two soft white arms about his neck, kissed him--oh! how she _did_ kiss
him! I shouldn't have thought, myself, she could possibly have had any
left for Carl; but I dare say Bertha attended to his interests in that
respect somehow.


IV.

Well, Carl came to dinner, and the baron was, not very many years after,
promoted to the dignity of a grandpapa, and a very jolly old grandpapa
he made.

Is that all you wanted to know? About Klootz? Well, Klootz got over the
kicking, but he was dismissed from the baron's service; and on
examination of his accounts it was discovered that he had been in the
habit of robbing the baron of nearly a third of his yearly income, which
he had to refund; and with the money he was thus compelled to disgorge,
the baron built new cottages for his tenants, and new-stocked their
farms. Nor was he poorer in the end, for his tenants worked with the
energy of gratitude, and he was soon many times richer than when the
goblin visited him on that Christmas eve.

And was the goblin ever explained? Certainly not. How dare you have the
impertinence to suppose such a thing?

An empty bottle, covered with cobwebs, was found the next morning in the
turret-chamber, which the baron at first imagined must be the bottle
from which the goblin produced his magic wine; but as it was found, on
examination, to be labelled "Old Jamaica Rum," of course that could not
have had anything to do with it. However it was, the baron never
thoroughly enjoyed any other wine after it, and as he did not
thenceforth get intoxicated, on an average, more than two nights a week,
or swear more than eight oaths a day, I think King Christmas may be
considered to have thoroughly reformed him.

And he always maintained, to the day of his death, that he was changed
into a fairy, and became exceedingly angry if contradicted.

Who doesn't believe in fairies after this? I only hope King Christmas
may make a few more good fairies this year, to brighten the homes of
the poor with the light of Christmas charity.

Truly, we need not look far for alms-men. Cold and hunger, disease and
death, are around us at all times; but at no time do they press more
heavily on the poor than at this jovial Christmas season.

Shall we shut out, in our mirth and jollity, the cry of the hungry poor?
or shall we not rather remember, in the midst of our happy family
circles, round our well-filled tables and before our blazing fires, that
our brothers are starving out in the cold, and that the Christmas song
of the angels was "Good-will to men"?



    _The Spaniard's Episode._


    "He was a pleasant-looking fellow,
    with huge black whiskers
    and a roguish eye. He touched
    the guitar with masterly skill,
    and sang little amorous ditties
    with an expressive leer."

    _Irving._



A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE.


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.

The 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."



    _From a Cuirassier's Note-Book._

    "He was a handsome fellow, the
    son of a peasant; but he carried
    his blue dolman very well, this
    young soldier."

    _De Maupassant._



SALVETTE AND BERNADOU.


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.

[Illustration: The Hospital]

"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 Breton Peasant's Romance._


    "Eyes dark; face thin, long, and
    sallow; nose aquiline, but not
    straight, having a peculiar inclination
    towards the left cheek;
    expression, therefore, sinister."

    _Dickens._



THE WOLF TOWER.


I.

Long 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."



    _An Indian Officer's Idyll._


    "An officer and a gentleman--which
    is an enviable thing."

    _Kipling._



THE PEACE EGG.


I.

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

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

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


II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Have you spoken to your mistress?" asked the Captain.

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

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

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

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

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

"You're under arrest," he shouted through the keyhole.

"Let me out!" shrieked Sarah.

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

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

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

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

"Who goes there?" said the Captain.

"Mayn't I go to bed, please?" whined poor Robert.

"Certainly not," said the Captain. "You're on duty."

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

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


IV.

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

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

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

"No, Master Robert," said Sarah.

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

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

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

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

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

"I do," said Sarah.

"You don't," said Robin.

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

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

To keep a secret was beyond Sarah's powers.

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

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

"What lies you do tell, Sarah!"

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

"I forgot," said Robin. "I didn't mean to break my promise. But she does
tell--ahem!--you know what."

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

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

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

"Then it's not true?" said Robin, indignantly. "What did you tell me so
for?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dora began to cry.

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

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

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

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

"Couldn't we make a coffin, and pretend the body was inside?" he
suggested.

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

"Perhaps you'll get just as fond of the new one," said Nicholas, turning
to Dora.

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

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


V.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We like it well enough," St. George admitted.

[Illustration: Mummers]

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

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

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

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

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

"It's not a stick, it's a sword," said Robin "However, Darkie may be the
Black Prince."

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

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


VI.

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

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

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

Christmas Eve came.

"I'm sure it's quite Christmas enough, now," said Robin. "We'll have
'The Peace Egg' to-night."

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

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

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

"And now we'll go and act in the kitchen," said Nicholas.

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

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

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

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

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

The Valiant Slasher grinned with delight.

"But will mamma let us?" he inquired.

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

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

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


VII.

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

"It's much jollier being out at night than in the daytime," said Robin.

"Much," responded Nicholas, with intense feeling.

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

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

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

"They're drunk," said Nicholas; "and they're shouting at us."

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

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

"You're going to the front door," said Nicholas. "Mummers ought to go to
the back."

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

"Who's there," she said, "at this time of night?"

"We're Christmas mummers," said Robin, stoutly; "we didn't know the way
to the back door, but----"

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

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

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

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

"I meant no harm, sir, I'm sure," said the house-keeper; "but I thought
you'd never----"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, sir. Shall I take them to the kitchen sir----"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"She knows we're mummers," said Robin, "for she helped us. When we were
abroad, you know, she used to tell us about the mummers acting at
Christmas when she was a little girl. And so we acted to papa and mamma,
and so we thought we'd act to the maids, but they were cleaning the
passages, and so we thought we'd really go mumming; and we've got
several other houses to go to before supper-time. We'd better begin, I
think," said Robin, and without more ado he began to march round and
round, raising his sword and shouting,--

    "I am St. George, who from Old England sprung,
    My famous name throughout the world hath rung."

And the performance went off quite as creditably as before.

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

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

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

Robin looked, and said, abruptly, "It's Dora."

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

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

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

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

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

It was wet with tears.

"Why, you're crying!" exclaimed the children, with one breath.

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

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

"Oh, isn't she!" said Nicholas, swaying his curly head from side to side
as usual.

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

"Who's Sarah?" asked the grandfather.

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

"About me?" said the old man.

"She said you were our grandpapa. So then I knew she was telling 'you
know what.'"

"How did you know it wasn't true?" the old man asked.

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

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

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

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

"I will see you home," he said.

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

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


VIII.

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

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

"They've met in the porch," whispered Mr. Bull, under the shelter of his
hat.

"They can't quarrel publicly in a place of worship," said Mrs. Bull,
turning pale.

"She's gone into his seat," cried Lucy Jane, in a shrill whisper.

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

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

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

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



    _By a Bavarian Comrade._


    "Over his tumbler of Gukguk he
    sat reading journals, sometimes
    contemplatively looking into
    the clouds of his tobacco-pipe:
    an agreeable phenomenon,--more
    especially when he opened
    his lips for speech."

    _Carlyle._



A STORY OF NUREMBERG.


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.

And 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 Italian Guest's Selection._


    "He is a Tuscan born, of an old
    noble race in that part of Italy."

    _Hawthorne._



A PICTURE OF THE NATIVITY BY FRA FILIPPO LIPPI


AS EXPLAINED BY A PIOUS FLORENTINE GOSSIP OF HIS DAY.



"Now, I cannot affirm that things did really take place in this manner,
but it greatly pleases me to think that they did."--FRA DOMENICO
CAVALCA: _Life of the Magdalen_.


The silly folks do not at all understand about the birth of our Lord.
They say that our Lord was born at Bethlehem, and because the inns were
all full, owing to certain feasts kept by those Jews, in a stable. But I
tell you this is an error, and due to little sense, for our Lord was
indeed placed in a manger, because none of the hostleries would receive
Joseph and the Blessed Virgin; but it took place differently.

For you must know that beyond Bethlehem, which is a big village walled
and moated, of those parts, lies a hilly country, exceeding wild, and
covered with dense woods of firs, pines, larches, beeches, and similar
trees, which the people of Bethlehem cut down at times, going in bands,
and burn to charcoal, packing it on mules, to sell in the valley; or tie
together whole trunks such as serve for beams, rafters, and masts, and
float them down the rivers, which are many and very rapid.

In these mountains, then, in the thickest part of the woods, a certain
man, of the wood-cutting trade, bethought him to build a house wherein
to store the timber and live, himself and his family, when so it pleased
him, and keep his beasts; and for this purpose he employed certain
pillars and pieces of masonry that stood in the forest, being remains of
a temple of the heathen, the which had long ceased to exist. And he
cleared the wood round about, leaving only tree stumps and bushes; and
close by in a ravine, between high fir-trees, ran a river, always full
to the brim even in midsummer, owing to the melting snows, and of
greenish waters, cold and rapid exceedingly; and around, up hill and
down dale, stretched the wood of firs, larches, pines, and other noble
and useful trees, emitting a very pleasant and virtuous fragrance. The
man thought to enjoy his house, and came with his family, and servants,
and horses, and mules, and oxen, which he had employed to carry down the
timber and charcoal.

[Illustration: A Hilly country]

But scarcely were they settled than an earthquake rent the place,
tearing wall from wall and pillar from pillar, and a voice was heard in
the air, crying, "Ecce domus domini dei." Whereupon they fled,
astonished and in terror, and returned into the town.

And no one of that man's family ventured henceforth to return to that
wood, or to that house, save one called Hilarion, a poor lad and a
servant, but of upright heart and faith in the Lord, which offered to go
back and take his abode there, and cut down the trees and burn the
charcoal for his master.

So he went, being a poor lad and poorly clad in leathern tunic and
coarse serge hood. And Hilarion took with him an ox and an ass to load
with charcoal and drive down to Bethlehem to his master.

And the first night that Hilarion slept in that house, which was fallen
to ruin, only a piece of roof remaining, which he thatched with
pine-branches, he heard voices singing in the air, as of children, both
boys and maidens. But he closed his eyes and repeated a Paternoster, and
turned over and slept. And again, another night, he heard voices, and
knew the house to be haunted, and trembled. But, being clear of heart,
he said two Aves and went to sleep. And once more did he hear voices,
and they were passing sweet; and with them came a fragrance as of
crushed herbs, and many kinds of flowers, and frankincense, and
orris-root; and Hilarion shook, for he feared lest it be the heathen
gods, Mercury, or Macomet, or Apollinis. But he said his prayer and
slept.

But at length, one night, as Hilarion heard those songs as usual, he
opened his eyes. And, behold! the place was light, and a great staircase
of light, like golden cobwebs, stretched up to heaven, and there were
angels going about in numbers, coming and going, with locks like
honeycomb, and dresses pink, and green, and sky-blue, and white, thickly
embroidered with purest pearls, and wings as of butterflies and
peacock's tails, with glories of solid gold about their head. And they
went to and fro, carrying garlands and strewing flowers, so that,
although mid-winter, it was like a garden in June, so sweet of roses,
and lilies, and gillyflowers. And the angels sang; and when they had
finished their work, they said, "It is well," and departed, holding
hands and flying into the sky above the fir-trees.

And Hilarion wondered greatly, and said five Paters and six Aves. And
the next day, as he was cutting a fir-tree in the wood, there met him,
among the rocks, a man old, venerable, with a long gray beard and a
solemn air. And he was clad in crimson, and under his arm he carried
written books and a scourge. And Hilarion said,--

"Who art thou? for this forest is haunted by spirits, and I would know
whether thou be of them or of men."

And the ancient made answer: "My name is Hieronymus. I am a wise man and
a king. I have spent all my days learning the secrets of things. I know
how the trees grow and waters run, and where treasure lies; and I can
teach thee what the stars sing, and in what manner the ruby and emerald
are smelted in the bowels of the earth; and I can chain the winds and
stop the sun, for I am wise above all men. But I seek one wiser than
myself, and go through the woods in search of him, my master."

And Hilarion said: "Tarry thou here, and thou shalt see, if I mistake
not, him whom thou seekest."

So the old man, whose name was Hieronymus, tarried in the forest and
built himself a hut of stones.

And the day after that, as Hilarion went forth to catch fish in the
river, he met on the bank a lady, beautiful beyond compare, the which
for all clothing wore only her own hair, golden and exceeding long. And
Hilarion asked,--

"Who art thou? for this forest is haunted by spirits, and I would know
whether thou art one of such, and of evil intent, as the demon Venus, or
a woman like the mother who bore me."

And the lady answered: "My name is Magdalen. I am a princess and a
courtesan, and the fairest woman that ever be. All day the princes and
kings of the earth have brought gifts to my house, and hung wreaths on
my roof, and strewed flowers in my yard; and the poets all day have sung
to their lutes, and all have lain groaning at my gates at night; for I
am beautiful beyond all creatures. But I seek one more beautiful than
myself, and go searching my master by the lakes and the rivers."

And Hilarion made answer: "Tarry thou here, and thou shalt see, if I
mistake not, him whom thou seekest?"

And the lady, whose name was Magdalen, tarried by the river and built
herself a cabin of reeds and leaves. And that night was the longest and
coldest of the winter.

And Hilarion made for himself a bed of fern and hay in the stable of the
ox and the ass, and lay close to them for warmth. And, lo! in the middle
of the night the ass brayed and the ox bellowed, and Hilarion started
up.

And he saw the heavens open with a great brightness as of beaten and
fretted gold, and angels coming and going, and holding each other by
the hand, and wreathed in roses, and singing "Gloria in Excelsis Deo, et
in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis."

And Hilarion wondered and said ten Paters and ten Aves.

And that day, towards noon, there came through the wood one bearing a
staff, and leading a mule, on which was seated a woman, that was near
unto her hour and moaning piteously. And they were poor folk and
travel-stained.

And the man said to Hilarion: "My name is Joseph. I am a carpenter from
the city of Nazareth, and my wife is called Mary, and she is in travail.
Suffer thou us to rest, and my wife to lie on the straw of the stable."

And Hilarion said: "You are welcome. Benedictus qui venit in nomine
domini;" and Hilarion laid down more fern and hay, and gave provender to
the mule. And the woman's hour came, and she was delivered of a male
child. And Hilarion took it and laid it in the manger. And he went forth
into the woods and found the ancient wizard Hieronymus, and the lady
Magdalen, and said,--

"Come with me to the ruined house, for truly there is He whom you be
seeking."

And they followed him to the ruined house where the fir-trees were
cleared above the river; and they saw the babe lying in the manger, and
Hieronymus and Magdalen kneeled down, saying, "Surely this is He that is
our Master, for He is wiser and more fair than either."

And the skies opened, and there came forth angels, such as Hilarion had
seen, with glories of solid gold round their heads, and garlands of
roses about their necks, and they took hands and danced, and sang,
flying up, "Gloria in Excelsis Deo."



    _By The Stay-At-Home Traveller._

    "He prepares to read by wiping
    his spectacles, carefully adjusting
    them on his eyes, and drawing
    the candle close to him--is
    very particular in having his
    slippers ready for him at the
    fire."

    _Hunt._



MELCHIOR'S DREAM.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    _"O dearest Augustine,
    All's clean gone away!"_

Not that he did say that--that was the princess's song--what he said
was,--

"_I wish I were an only son!_"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Don't, Jack! you're treading on me."

"You needn't take all the fire, Tom."

"Keep your legs to yourself, Benjamin."

"It wasn't I," etc., with occasionally the feebler cry of a small
sister,--

"Oh! you boys are so rough."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?"

"If you wouldn't mind telling us a very short story till supper-time."

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

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

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

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

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

MELCHIOR'S DREAM.

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

"I smell a moral," murmured the said Richard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"'Who are you?' said Melchior, feeling rather creepy.

"'TIME,' said his visitor, in a deep voice, which sounded as if it came
from a distance.

"'Oh, to be sure, yes! In copper plate capitals.'

"'What's in copper-plate capitals?' inquired Time.

"'Your name, under the print.'

"'Very likely,' said Time.

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

"'Not at all.' said Time; 'I have come on purpose to see you.'

"'I have not the pleasure of knowing you,' said Melchior, trying to keep
his teeth from chattering.

"'There are not many people who have a personal acquaintance with me,'
said his visitor. 'You have an advantage,--I am your godfather.'

"'Indeed,' said Melchior; 'I never heard of it.'

"'Yes,' said his visitor; 'and you will find it a great advantage.'

"'Would you like to put on my coat?' said Melchior, trying to be civil.

"'No, thank you,' was the answer. 'You will want it yourself. We must be
driving soon.'

"'Driving!' said Melchior.

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

"Melchior sat up; and there they were, sure enough, all dressed, and
climbing one after the other on to the bed--_his_ bed!

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

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

"'Don't you know the difference between a bed and a coach, godson?' said
Time, sharply.

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

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

"'Must families be together?' inquired Melchior, dolefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"'Now for it,' said Melchior; 'here goes one at any rate.'

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

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

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

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

"'What are you looking at?' said Melchior to the lame sister.

"'At a strange figure in the crowd,' she answered.

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

"'Who is it?' Melchior asked of the godfather.

"'A friend of mine,' Time answered. 'His name is Death.'

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

"'What are you doing?' shrieked Melchior. 'Drive on! drive on!'

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

"'To take her, and to leave the rest! Cruel! cruel!'

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

"'You never told her so before,' muttered young Hop-o'-my-thumb.

"'Hold your tongue,' said Melchior. 'I forbade her to talk to him, which
was enough.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"'I thank you, gentlemen. I am indebted to you, gentlemen. I have been
away long. I am going home.'

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

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

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

"'To enjoy his well-earned honors,' murmured the crowd.

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

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

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

"'What is that man talking about?' he asked of some one near him.

"'That man!' was the answer. 'Don't you know? He is _the_ man of the
time. He is a philosopher. Everybody goes to hear him. He has found out
that--well--that everything is a mistake.'

"'Has he corrected it?' said Melchior.

"'You had better hear for yourself,' said the man. 'Listen.'

"Melchior listened, and a cold, clear voice rang upon his ear, saying,--

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

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

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

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

"'There is a separation more bitter than death,' said Melchior.

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

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

"'But what a squeeze with all the brats!' said Godfather Time,
ironically.

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

"'You have the tiger-skin rug and the opera-glass, you know,' said Time.

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

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

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

"'Oh, thank God, I have got you safe, my brother!'

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

"'Has powder come into fashion, brother?' he said. 'Your hair is
streaked with white.'

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

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

"'I am not looking at the crowd,' said the prodigal in a low voice; 'but
I see----'

"'You see what?' said Melchior.

"'A figure in a cloak, gliding in and out----'

"Melchior sprang up in horror. 'No! no!' he cried, hoarsely. 'No! surely
no!'

"Surely yes! Too surely the well-known figure came on; and the
prodigal's sunken eyes looked more sunken still as he gazed. As for
Melchior, he neither spoke nor moved, but stood in a silent agony,
terrible to see. All at once a thought seemed to strike him; he seized
his brother, and pushed him to the farthest corner of the seat, and then
planted himself firmly at the door, just as Death came up and put his
hand into the coach. Then he spoke in a low, steady voice, more piteous
than cries or tears.

"'I humbly beseech you, good Death, if you must take one of us, to take
me. I have had a long drive, and many comforts and blessings, and am
willing, if unworthy, to go. He has suffered much, and had no pleasure;
leave him for a little to enjoy the drive in peace, just for a very
little; he has suffered so much, and I have been so much to blame; let
me go instead of him.'

"Poor Melchior! In vain he laid both his hands in Death's outstretched
palm; they fell to him again as if they had passed through air; he was
pushed aside--Death passed into the coach--'one was taken and the other
left.'

"As the cloaked figure glided in and out among the crowd, many turned
to look at his sad burden, though few heeded him. Much was said; but the
general voice of the crowd was this: 'Ah! he is gone, is he? Well! a
born rascal! It must be a great relief to his brother!' A conclusion
which was about as wise, and about as near the truth, as the world's
conclusions generally are. As for Melchior, he neither saw the figure
nor heard the crowd, for he had fallen senseless among the cushions.

"When he came to his senses, he found himself lying still upon his face;
and so bitter was his loneliness and grief, that he lay still and did
not move. He was astonished, however, by the (as it seemed to him)
unusual silence. The noise of the carriage had been deafening, and now
there was not a sound. Was he deaf? or had the crowd gone? He opened his
eyes. Was he blind? or had the night come? He sat right up, and shook
himself, and looked again. The crowd was gone; so, for matter of that,
was the coach; and so was Godfather Time. He had not been lying among
cushions, but among pillows; he was not in any vehicle of any kind, but
in bed. The room was dark, and very still; but through the 'barracks'
window, which had no blind, he saw the winter sun pushing through the
mist, like a red-hot cannon-ball hanging in the frosty trees; and in
the yard outside, the cocks were crowing.

"There was no longer any doubt that he was safe in his old home; but
where were his brothers and sisters? With a beating heart he crept to
the other end of the bed; and there lay the prodigal, with no haggard
cheeks or sunken eyes, no gray locks or miserable rags, but a rosy,
yellow-haired urchin fast asleep, with his head upon his arm. 'I took
his pillow,' muttered Melchior, self-reproachfully.

"A few minutes later, young Hop-o'-my-thumb, (whom Melchior dared not
lose sight of for fear he should melt away,) seated comfortably on his
brother's back, and wrapped up in a blanket, was making a tour of the
'barracks.'

"'It's an awful lark,' said he, shivering with a mixture of cold and
delight.

"If not exactly a _lark_, it was a very happy tour to Melchior, as, hope
gradually changing into certainty, he recognized his brothers in one
shapeless lump after the other in the little beds. There they all were,
sleeping peacefully in a happy home, from the embryo hero to the embryo
philosopher, who lay with the invariable book upon his pillow, and his
hair looking (as it always did) as if he lived in a high wind.

"'I say,' whispered Melchior, pointing to him, 'what did he say the
other day about being a parson?'

"'He said he should like to be one,' returned Hop-o'-my-thumb; 'but you
said he would frighten away the congregation with his looks.'

"'He will make a capital parson,' said Melchior, hastily, 'and I shall
tell him so to-morrow. And when I'm the squire here, he shall be vicar,
and I'll subscribe to all his dodges without a grumble. I'm the eldest
son. And I say, don't you think we could brush his hair for him in a
morning, till he learns to do it himself?'

"'Oh, I will!' was the lively answer; 'I'm an awful dab at brushing.
Look how I brush your best hat!'

"'True,' said Melchior. 'Where are the girls to-night?'

"'In the little room at the end of the long passage,' said Hop
o'-my-thumb, trembling with increased chilliness and enjoyment. 'But
you're never going there! we shall wake the company, and they will all
come out to see what's the matter.'

"'I shouldn't care if they did,' said Melchior, 'it would make it feel
more real.'

"As he did not understand this sentiment, Hop-o'-my-thumb said nothing,
but held on very tightly; and they crept softly down the cold gray
passage in the dawn. The girls' door was open; for the girls were
afraid of robbers, and left their bed-room door wide open at night, as a
natural and obvious means of self-defence. The girls slept together; and
the frill of the pale sister's prim little night-cap was buried in the
other one's uncovered curls.

"'How you do tremble!' whispered Hop-o'-my-thumb; 'are you cold?' This
inquiry received no answer; and after some minutes he spoke again. 'I
say, how very pretty they look! don't they?'

"But for some reason or other, Melchior seemed to have lost his voice;
but he stooped down and kissed both the girls very gently, and then the
two brothers crept back along the passage to the 'barracks.'

"'One thing more,' said Melchior; and they went up to the mantel-piece.
'I will lend you my bow and arrow to-morrow, on one condition----'

"'Anything!' was the reply, in an enthusiastic whisper.

"'That you take that old picture for a target, and never let me see it
again.'

"It was very ungrateful! but perfection is not in man; and there was
something in Melchior's muttered excuse,--

"'I couldn't stand another night of it.'

"Hop-o'-my-thumb was speedily put to bed again, to get warm, this time
with both the pillows; but Melchior was too restless to sleep, so he
resolved to have a shower-bath and to dress. After which he knelt down
by the window, and covered his face with his hands.

"'He's saying very long prayers,' thought Hop-o'-my-thumb, glancing at
him from his warm nest; 'and what a jolly humor he is in this morning!'

"Still, the young head was bent and the handsome face hidden; and
Melchior was finding his life every moment more real and more happy. For
there was hardly a thing, from the well-filled 'barracks' to the brother
bedfellow, that had been a hardship last night, which this morning did
not seem a blessing. He rose at last, and stood in the sunshine, which
was now pouring in; a smile was on his lips, and on his face were two
drops, which, if they were water, had not come from the shower-bath, or
from any bath at all."


"Is that the end?" inquired the young lady on his knee, as the
story-teller paused here.

"Yes, that is the end."

"It's a beautiful story," she murmured, thoughtfully; "but what an
extraordinary one! I don't think I could have dreamt such a wonderful
dream."

"Do you think you could have eaten such a wonderful supper?" said the
friend, twisting his moustaches.

After this point, the evening's amusements were thoroughly successful.
Richard took his smoking boots from the fireplace, and was called upon
for various entertainments for which he was famous.

The door opened at last, and Paterfamilias entered with Materfamilias
(whose headache was better), and followed by the candles. A fresh log
was then thrown upon the fire, the yule cakes and furmety were put upon
the table, and everybody drew round to supper; and Paterfamilias
announced that, although he could not give the materials to play with,
he had no objection now to a bowl of moderate punch for all, and that
Richard might compound it. This was delightful; and as he sat by his
father ladling away to the rest, Adolphus Brown could hardly have felt
more jovial, even with the champagne and ices.

The rest sat with radiant faces and shining heads in goodly order; and
at the bottom of the table, by Materfamilias, was the friend, as happy
in his unselfish sympathy as if his twenty-five sticks had come to life,
and were supping with him. As happy--nearly--as if a certain woman's
grave had never been dug under the southern sun that could not save
her, and as if the children gathered round him were those of whose faces
he had often dreamt, but might never see.

His health had been drunk, and everybody else's too, when, just as
supper was coming to a close, Richard (who had been sitting in
thoughtful silence for some minutes) got up with sudden resolution, and
said,--

"I want to propose Mr. What's-his-name's health on my own account. I
want to thank him for his story, which had only one mistake in it.
Melchior should have kept the effervescing papers to put into the beer;
it's a splendid drink! Otherwise it was first-rate; though it hit me
rather hard. I want to say that though I didn't mean all I said about
being an only son, (when a fellow gets put out he doesn't know what he
means,) yet I know I was quite wrong, and the story is quite right. I
want particularly to say that I'm very glad there are so many of us, for
the more, you know, the merrier. I wouldn't change father or mother,
brothers or sisters, with any one in the world. It couldn't be better,
we couldn't be happier. We are all together, and to-morrow is
Christmas-Day. Thank God."



    _Read by the Landlord._


    "A jolly negation, who took upon
    him the ordering of the bills of
    fare."

    _Lamb._



MR. GRAPEWINE'S CHRISTMAS DINNER.


"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.



END OF BOOK II.





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