Elva S. Smith.

Christmas in Legend and Story A Book for Boys and Girls online

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the birds moved, they glittered like so many jewels.

Again, all was dark for an instant, but soon there came a new light wave.
A fresh, warm south wind blew and scattered over the forest meadow all the
little seeds that had been brought here from southern lands by birds and
ships and winds, and which could not thrive elsewhere because of this
country's cruel cold. These took root and sprang up the instant they
touched the ground.

When the next warm wind came along, the blueberries and lignon ripened.
Cranes and wild geese shrieked in the air, the bullfinches built nests,
and the baby squirrels began playing on the branches of the trees.

Everything came so fast now that Abbot Hans could not stop to reflect on
how immeasurably great was the miracle that was taking place. He had time
only to use his eyes and ears. The next light wave that came rushing in
brought with it the scent of newly ploughed acres, and far off in the
distance the milkmaids were heard coaxing the cows - and the tinkle of the
sheep's bells. Pine and spruce trees were so thickly clothed with red
cones that they shone like crimson mantles. The juniper berries changed
color every second, and forest flowers covered the ground till it was all
red, blue, and yellow.

Abbot Hans bent down to the earth and broke off a wild strawberry blossom,
and, as he straightened up, the berry ripened in his hand.

The mother fox came out of her lair with a big litter of black-legged
young. She went up to Robber Mother and scratched at her skirt, and Robber
Mother bent down to her and praised her young. The horned owl, who had
just begun his night chase, was astonished at the light and went back to
his ravine to perch for the night. The male cuckoo crowed, and his mate
stole up to the nests of the little birds with her egg in her mouth.

Robber Mother's youngsters let out perfect shrieks of delight. They
stuffed themselves with wild strawberries that hung on the bushes, large
as pine cones. One of them played with a litter of young hares; another
ran a race with some young crows, which had hopped from their nest before
they were really ready; a third caught up an adder from the ground and
wound it around his neck and arm.

Robber Father was standing out on a marsh eating raspberries. When he
glanced up, a big black bear stood beside him. Robber Father broke off an
osier twig and struck the bear on the nose. "Keep to your own ground,
you!" he said; "this is my turf." Then the huge bear turned around and
lumbered off in another direction.

New waves of warmth and light kept coming, and now they brought with them
seeds from the star-flower. Golden pollen from rye fields fairly flew in
the air. Then came butterflies, so big that they looked like flying
lilies. The bee-hive in a hollow oak was already so full of honey that it
dripped down on the trunk of the tree. Then all the flowers whose seeds
had been brought from foreign lands began to blossom. The loveliest roses
climbed up the mountain wall in a race with the blackberry vines, and from
the forest meadow sprang flowers as large as human faces.

Abbot Hans thought of the flower he was to pluck for Bishop Absalon; but
each new flower that appeared was more beautiful than the others, and he
wanted to choose the most beautiful of all.

Wave upon wave kept coming until the air was so filled with light that it
glittered. All the life and beauty and joy of summer smiled on Abbot Hans.
He felt that earth could bring no greater happiness than that which welled
up about him, and he said to himself, "I do not know what new beauties the
next wave that comes can bring with it."

But the light kept streaming in, and now it seemed to Abbot Hans that it
carried with it something from an infinite distance. He felt a celestial
atmosphere enfolding him, and tremblingly he began to anticipate, now that
earth's joys had come, the glories of heaven were approaching.

Then Abbot Hans marked how all grew still; the birds hushed their songs,
the flowers ceased growing, and the young foxes played no more. The glory
now nearing was such that the heart wanted to stop beating; the eyes wept
without one's knowing it; the soul longed to soar away into the Eternal.
From far in the distance faint harp tones were heard, and celestial song,
like a soft murmur, reached him.

Abbot Hans clasped his hands and dropped to his knees. His face was
radiant with bliss. Never had he dreamed that even in this life it should
be granted him to taste the joys of heaven, and to hear angels sing
Christmas carols!

But beside Abbot Hans stood the lay brother who had accompanied him. In
his mind there were dark thoughts. "This cannot be a true miracle," he
thought, "since it is revealed to malefactors. This does not come from
God, but has its origin in witchcraft and is sent hither by Satan. It is
the Evil One's power that is tempting us and compelling us to see that
which has no real existence."

From afar were heard the sound of angel harps and the tones of a Miserere.
But the lay brother thought it was the evil spirits of hell coming closer.
"They would enchant and seduce us," sighed he, "and we shall be sold into

The angel throng was so near now that Abbot Hans saw their bright forms
through the forest branches. The lay brother saw them, too; but back of
all this wondrous beauty he saw only some dread evil. For him it was the
devil who performed these wonders on the anniversary of our Saviour's
birth. It was done simply for the purpose of more effectually deluding
poor human beings.

All the while the birds had been circling around the head of Abbot Hans,
and they let him take them in his hands. But all the animals were afraid
of the lay brother; no bird perched on his shoulder, no snake played at
his feet. Then there came a little forest dove. When she marked that the
angels were nearing, she plucked up courage and flew down on the lay
brother's shoulder and laid her head against his cheek.

Then it appeared to him as if sorcery were come right upon him, to tempt
and corrupt him. He struck with his hand at the forest dove and cried in
such a loud voice that it rang throughout the forest, "Go thou back to
hell, whence thou art come!"

Just then the angels were so near that Abbot Hans felt the feathery touch
of their great wings, and he bowed down to earth in reverent greeting.

But when the lay brother's words sounded, their song was hushed and the
holy guests turned in flight. At the same time the light and the mild
warmth vanished in unspeakable terror for the darkness and cold in a human
heart. Darkness sank over the earth, like a coverlet; frost came, all the
growths shrivelled up; the animals and birds hastened away; the rushing of
streams was hushed; the leaves dropped from the trees, rustling like rain.

Abbot Hans felt how his heart, which had but lately swelled with bliss,
was now contracting with insufferable agony. "I can never outlive this,"
thought he, "that the angels from heaven had been so close to me and were
driven away; that they wanted to sing Christmas carols for me and were
driven to flight."

Then he remembered the flower he had promised Bishop Absalon, and at the
last moment he fumbled among the leaves and moss to try and find a
blossom. But he sensed how the ground under his fingers froze and how the
white snow came gliding over the ground. Then his heart caused him ever
greater anguish. He could not rise, but fell prostrate on the ground and
lay there.

When the robber folk and the lay brother had groped their way back to the
cave, they missed Abbot Hans. They took brands with them and went out to
search for him. They found him dead upon the coverlet of snow.

Then the lay brother began weeping and lamenting, for he understood that
it was he who had killed Abbot Hans because he had dashed from him the cup
of happiness which he had been thirsting to drain to its last drop.

When Abbot Hans had been carried down to Övid, those who took charge of
the dead saw that he held his right hand locked tight around something
which he must have grasped at the moment of death. When they finally got
his hand open, they found that the thing which he had held in such an iron
grip was a pair of white root bulbs, which he had torn from among the moss
and leaves.

When the lay brother who had accompanied Abbot Hans saw the bulbs, he took
them and planted them in Abbot Hans' herb garden.

He guarded them the whole year to see if any flower would spring from
them. But in vain he waited through the spring, the summer, and the
autumn. Finally, when winter had set in and all the leaves, and the
flowers were dead, he ceased caring for them.

But when Christmas Eve came again, he was so strongly reminded of Abbot
Hans that he wandered out into the garden to think of him. And look! as he
came to the spot where he had planted the bare root bulbs, he saw that
from them had sprung flourishing green stalks, which bore beautiful
flowers with silver white leaves.

He called out all the monks at Övid, and when they saw that this plant
bloomed on Christmas Eve, when all the other growths were as if dead, they
understood that this flower had in truth been plucked by Abbot Hans from
the Christmas garden in Göinge forest. Then the lay brother asked the
monks if he might take a few blossoms to Bishop Absalon.

And when he appeared before Bishop Absalon, he gave him the flowers and
said: "Abbot Hans sends you these. They are the flowers he promised to
pick for you from the garden in Göinge forest."

When Bishop Absalon beheld the flowers, which had sprung from the earth in
darkest winter, and heard the words, he turned as pale as if he had met a
ghost. He sat in silence a moment; thereupon he said, "Abbot Hans has
faithfully kept his word and I shall also keep mine." And he ordered that
a letter of ransom be drawn up for the wild robber who was outlawed and
had been forced to live in the forest ever since his youth.

He handed the letter to the lay brother, who departed at once for the
Robbers' Cave. When he stepped in there on Christmas Day, the robber came
toward him with axe uplifted. "I'd like to hack you monks into bits, as
many as you are!" said he. "It must be your fault that Göinge forest did
not last night dress itself in Christmas bloom."

"The fault is mine alone," said the lay brother, "and I will gladly die
for it; but first I must deliver a message from Abbot Hans." And he drew
forth the Bishop's letter and told the man that he was free. "Hereafter
you and your children shall play in the Christmas straw and celebrate your
Christmas among people, just as Abbot Hans wished to have it," said he.

Then Robber Father stood there pale and speechless, but Robber Mother said
in his name, "Abbot Hans has indeed kept his word, and Robber Father will
keep his."

When the robber and his wife left the cave, the lay brother moved in and
lived all alone in the forest, in constant meditation and prayer that his
hard-heartedness might be forgiven him.

But Göinge forest never again celebrated the hour of our Saviour's birth;
and of all its glory, there lives to-day only the plant which Abbot Hans
had plucked. It has been named CHRISTMAS ROSE. And each year at
Christmastide she sends forth from the earth her green stalks and white
blossoms, as if she never could forget that she had once grown in the
great Christmas garden at Göinge forest.



A very long while ago, perhaps as many as two hundred years, the little
Provençal village of Sur Varne was all bustle and stir, for it was the
week before Christmas; and always, in all the world, no one has known
better how to keep the joyous holiday than have the happy-hearted people
of Provence, the southeastern corner of France.

Everybody was busy, hurrying to and fro, gathering garlands of myrtle and
laurel, bringing home their Yule logs with pretty old songs and
ceremonies, and in various ways making ready for the all-important

Not a house in Sur Varne but in some manner told the coming of the blessed
birthday, and especially were there great preparations in the cottage of
the shepherd, Père Michaud. This cottage, covered with white stucco, and
thatched with long marsh-grass, stood at the edge of the village; olive
and mulberry trees clustered about it, and a wild jasmine vine clambered
over the doorway, while on this particular morning all around the low
projecting eaves hung a row of tiny wheat-sheaves, swinging in the crisp
December air, and twinkling in the sunlight like a golden fringe. For the
Père Michaud had been up betimes, making ready the Christmas feast for the
birds, which no Provençal peasant ever forgets at this gracious season;
and the birds knew it, for already dozens of saucy robins and linnets and
fieldfares were gathering in the Père's mulberry-trees, their mouths
fairly watering with anticipation.

Within the cottage the good dame, the Misè Michaud, with wide sleeves
rolled up and kirtle tucked back, was hard at work making all manner of
savory goodies, while in the huge oven beside the blazing hearth the great
Christmas cakes were baking, the famous _pompou_ and _fougasse_, as they
were called, dear to the hearts of the children of old Provence.

Now and then, as the cottage door swung open on the dame's various cookery
errands, one might hear a faint "Baa, baa!" from the sheepfold, where
little Félix Michaud was very busy also.

Through the crevices of its weather-beaten boards came the sound of
vigorous scrubbing of wool, and sometimes an impatient "Ninette!
Ninette! - thou silly sheep! Wilt thou never stand still?" Or else, in a
Softer tone, an eager "Beppo, my little Beppo, dost thou know? Dost
thou know?" To all of which there would come no answer save the lamb's
weak little "Baa, baa!"

For Ninette, Beppo's mother, was a silly old sheep, and Beppo was a very
young little lamb, and so they could not possibly be expected to know what
a great honor had suddenly befallen them. They did not dream that, the
night before, Père Michaud had told Félix that his Beppo (for Beppo was
Félix's very own) had been chosen by the shepherds for the "offered lamb"
of the Christmas Eve procession in all its festival splendor in the great
church of the village.

Of the importance of this procession in the eyes of the peasant folk I
will tell you more by and by; it is enough to say now that to be the
offered lamb, or indeed the offered lamb's mother, for both always went
together, was the greatest honor and glory that could possibly happen to a
Provençal sheep, and so little Félix was fairly bursting with pride and
delight. And so it was, too, that he was now busying himself washing their
wool, which he determined should shine like spun silver on the great

He tugged away, scrubbing and brushing and combing the thick fleeces, and
at last, after much labor, considered their toilets done for the day;
then, giving each a handful of fresh hay to nibble, he left the fold and
trudged into the cottage.

"Well, little one," said the Misè, "hast thou finished thy work?"

"Yes, mother," answered Félix; "and I shall scrub them so each day till
the holy night! Even now Ninette is white as milk, and Beppo shines like
an angel! Ah, but I shall be proud when he rides up to the altar in his
little cart! And, mother, dost thou not really think him far handsomer
than was Jean's lamb, that stupid Nano, in the procession last year?"

"There, there," said the Misè, "never thou mind about Jean's lamb, but run
along now and finish thy crèche."

Now, in Provence, at the time when Félix lived, no one had ever heard of
such a thing as a Christmas tree; but in its stead every cottage had a
"crèche"; that is, in one corner of the great living-room, the room of the
fireplace, the peasant children and their fathers and mothers built up on
a table a mimic village of Bethlehem, with houses and people and animals,
and, above all, with the manger, where the Christ Child lay. Everyone took
the greatest pains to make the crèche as perfect as possible, and some
even went so far as to fasten tiny angels to the rafters, so that they
hovered over the toy houses like a flock of white butterflies; and
sometimes a gold star, hung on a golden thread, quivered over the little
manger, in memory of the wonderful star of the Magi.

In the Michaud cottage the crèche was already well under way. In the
corner across from the fireplace the Père had built up a mound, and this
Félix had covered with bits of rock and tufts of grass, and little green
boughs for trees, all to represent the rocky hillside of Judea; then,
half-way up, he began to place the tiny houses. These he had cut out of
wood and adorned with wonderful carving, in which, indeed, he was very
skilful. And then, such figures as he had made, such quaint little men and
women, such marvelous animals, camels and oxen and sheep and horses, were
never before seen in Sur Varne. But the figure on which he had lavished
his utmost skill was that of the little Christ Child, which was not to be
placed in the manger until Christmas night itself.

Félix kept this figure in his blouse pocket, carefully wrapped up in a bit
of wool, and he spent all his spare moments striving to give it some fresh
beauty; for I will tell you a secret: poor little Félix had a great
passion for carving, and the one thing for which he longed above all
others was to be allowed to apprentice himself in the workshop of Père
Videau, who was the master carver of the village, and whose beautiful work
on the portals of the great church was the admiration of Félix's heart. He
longed, too, for better tools than the rude little knife he had, and for
days and years in which to learn to use them.

But the Père Michaud had scant patience with these notions of the little
son's, and once, when Félix had ventured to speak to him about it, had
insisted rather sharply that he was to stick to his sheep-tending, so that
when the Père himself grew old he could take charge of the flocks and keep
the family in bread; for the Père had small faith in the art of the carver
as being able to supply the big brown loaves that the Misè baked every
week in the great stone oven. So Félix was obliged to go on minding the
flocks; but whenever he had a moment of his own, he employed it in carving
a bit of wood or chipping at a fragment of soft stone.

But while I have stopped to tell you all this he had almost finished the
crèche; the little houses were all in place, and the animals grouped about
the holy stable, or else seeming to crop the tufts of moss on the mimic
rocky hillside.

"Well, well!" said the Père Michaud, who had just entered the cottage, "'t
is a fine bit of work thou hast there, my son! Truly 't is a brave

But here the Misè called them both to the midday meal, which she had
spread smoking hot on the shining deal table.

When this was finished Félix arose, and, as the Père wished, once more
went out to the fold to see how the sheep, and especially his little
Beppo, were faring.

As he pushed open the swinging door, Ninette, who was lazily dozing with
her toes doubled up under her fleece, blinked her eyes and looked sleepily
around; but Beppo was nowhere to be seen.

"Ninette!" demanded Félix fiercely, "what hast thou done with my Beppo?"

At this Ninette peered about in a dazed sort of way, and gave an alarmed
little "Baa!" for she had not before missed Beppo, who, while she was
asleep, had managed to push open the door of the fold and scamper off, no
one knew just where.

Félix gazed around in dismay when he realized that his lamb, the chosen
one, who had brought such pride and honor to him - that this was gone!

"Beppo!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, "Beppo! Beppo-o!"

But no trace could he see of the little bundle of fleece he had scrubbed
and combed so carefully that morning.

He stood irresolute a moment; then, thinking that if Beppo really were
running off, not a second was to be lost, he set out at a brisk pace
across the sheep-meadow. He had no idea in what direction the truant lamb
would be likely to stray, but on he went, calling every little while in a
shrill voice, "Beppo!" Now and then he fancied that he saw in the distance
a glimpse of white; but once it proved the Misè Fouchard's linen hung to
dry on a currant-bush, and again it was a great white stone - but no
Beppo; and all the while Félix kept on, quite forgetting that Beppo's
weak, woolly legs could not possibly have carried him so great a distance.

By and by he had left the village meadows far behind, and was skirting the
great marsh. Sometimes he shaded his eyes with his hand and looked far
across this low wet land to see if perhaps Beppo had strayed into its
uncertain foothold; but nothing could he see but the waving rushes and the
tall bitterns wading about on long, yellow legs.

And still he pressed heedlessly on farther and farther, till, after a
while, he found himself thrusting through a thick coppice of willow
boughs. "Oh," thought Félix, "what if poor Beppo has strayed into this
woodland!" And tired as he was, he urged himself on, searching among the
trees; and it was not until he had wandered on and on, deeper and deeper
into the wood, that he realized that the dusk had fallen, and that he must
be a very, very long way from Sur Varne.

Félix then began to grow uneasy. He stood still and looked anxiously about
him; the dark forest trees closed around him on all sides, and he was
quite unable to remember from which direction he had entered the wood.

Now, Félix was really a very brave little fellow, but he fairly quaked as
he peered through the gathering darkness; for in those days the forests of
Provence were known to harbor many dangerous animals, especially wild
boars and wolves. He pricked up his ears, and now and then thought he
heard in the distance the stealthy tread of some four-footed forest
prowler, and once he was sure he caught the deep howl of a wolf.

That ended his hesitation. He looked quickly around, and grasping the low
boughs of a slender sapling, managed to swing himself up into a tall
chestnut-tree that grew close by; and there he clung, clutching the thick
branches with might and main, feeling very cold and hungry and miserable,
his heart all the while sinking clear down into his little peasant shoes.

And indeed he had cause for fear, for, not a great while after he had thus
hidden himself, a gaunt wolf really did pass close by, sniffing and
peering, till poor Félix fairly gave up all hope of escaping from the
tree; but, luckily, the wolf did not see him, and at last slowly crept on
through the underwood.

How long the little boy stayed in the perilous shelter of the
chestnut-tree he never knew, but it seemed untold ages to him. After a
while the moon rose, and shed a faint light through the close-lapping
branches; and then, by and by, Félix's ears, strained to listen for
every lightest sound, caught the echo of distant tramping, as of horses'
hoofs, and presently two horsemen came in sight, picking their way
cautiously along a narrow bridle-path.

He did not know whom they might prove to be, but wisely thinking that
anything would be better than staying in a tree all night at the mercy of
hungry wolves, he waited till the first rider came quite close, and then
he plucked up courage to call out faintly: "Oh, sir, stop, I pray thee!"

At this, the rider, who was none other than the noble Count Bernard of
Bois Varne, quickly drew rein and, turning, called to his companion:

"Ho, Brian! Heardest thou aught?"

"Nay, my lord," answered Brian, who was some paces behind, "naught save
the trampling of our own horses' hoofs."

The count looked all around, and seeing nothing, thought himself mistaken
in the sound, and began to pace on. Then Félix, in terror, gave another
shout, this time louder, and at the same moment a little twig he was
pressing with his elbow broke away and dropped, striking against the
count's stirrup; for the bridle-path wound directly under the tree where
Félix was perched.

The count instantly checked his horse again, and, peering up into the
boughs overhead, he caught sight of Félix, his yellow hair wet with dew
and shining in the moonlight, and his dark eyes wide with fear.

"Heigh-ho!" exclaimed the count, in blank amazement. "Upon my word, now!
what art thou - boy or goblin?"

At this Félix gave a little sob, for he was very tired and very cold. He
hugged the tree tightly, and, steadying himself against the boughs, at

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Online LibraryElva S. SmithChristmas in Legend and Story A Book for Boys and Girls → online text (page 8 of 11)