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A STORY OF THE CHRIST-CHILD

from The Children's Book Of Christmas Stories





Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, on the night before Christmas,
a little child was wandering all alone through the streets of a great
city. There were many people on the street, fathers and mothers,
sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, and even gray-haired
grandfathers and grandmothers, all of whom were hurrying home with
bundles of presents for each other and for their little ones. Fine
carriages rolled by, express wagons rattled past, even old carts were
pressed into service, and all things seemed in a hurry and glad with
expectation of the coming Christmas morning.

From some of the windows bright lights were already beginning to stream
until it was almost as bright as day. But the little child seemed to
have no home, and wandered about listlessly from street to street. No
one took any notice of him except perhaps Jack Frost, who bit his bare
toes and made the ends of his fingers tingle. The north wind, too,
seemed to notice the child, for it blew against him and pierced his
ragged garments through and through, causing him to shiver with cold.
Home after home he passed, looking with longing eyes through the
windows, in upon the glad, happy children, most of whom were helping to
trim the Christmas trees for the coming morrow.

"Surely," said the child to himself, "where there is so must gladness
and happiness, some of it may be for me." So with timid steps he
approached a large and handsome house. Through the windows, he could
see a tall and stately Christmas tree already lighted. Many presents
hung upon it. Its green boughs were trimmed with gold and silver
ornaments. Slowly he climbed up the broad steps and gently rapped at
the door. It was opened by a large man-servant. He had a kindly face,
although his voice was deep and gruff. He looked at the little child
for a moment, then sadly shook his head and said, "Go down off the
steps. There is no room here for such as you." He looked sorry as he
spoke; possibly he remembered his own little ones at home, and was glad
that they were not out in this cold and bitter night. Through the open
door a bright light shone, and the warm air, filled with fragrance of
the Christmas pine, rushed out from the inner room and greeted the
little wanderer with a kiss. As the child turned back into the cold and
darkness, he wondered why the footman had spoken thus, for surely,
thought he, those little children would love to have another companion
join them in their joyous Christmas festival. But the little children
inside did not even know that he had knocked at the door.

The street grew colder and darker as the child passed on. He went sadly
forward, saying to himself, "Is there no one in all this great city who
will share the Christmas with me?" Farther and farther down the street
he wandered, to where the homes were not so large and beautiful. There
seemed to be little children inside of nearly all the houses. They were
dancing and frolicking about. Christmas trees could be seen in nearly
every window, with beautiful dolls and trumpets and picture-books and
balls and tops and other dainty toys hung upon them. In one window the
child noticed a little lamb made of soft white wool. Around its neck
was tied a red ribbon. It had evidently been hung on the tree for one
of the children. The little stranger stopped before this window and
looked long and earnestly at the beautiful things inside, but most of
all was he drawn toward the white lamb. At last creeping up to the
window-pane, he gently tapped upon it. A little girl came to the window
and looked out into the dark street where the snow had now begun to
fall. She saw the child, but she only frowned and shook her head and
said, "Go away and come some other time. We are too busy to take care
of you now." Back into the dark, cold streets he turned again. The wind
was whirling past him and seemed to say, "Hurry on, hurry on, we have
no time to stop. 'Tis Christmas Eve and everybody is in a hurry
to-night."

Again and again the little child rapped softly at door or window-pane.
At each place he was refused admission. One mother feared he might have
some ugly disease which her darlings would catch; another father said
he had only enough for his own children and none to spare for beggars.
Still another told him to go home where he belonged, and not to trouble
other folks.

The hours passed; later grew the night, and colder grew the wind, and
darker seemed the street. Farther and farther the little one wandered.
There was scarcely any one left upon the street by this time, and the
few who remained did not seem to see the child, when suddenly ahead of
him there appeared a bright, single ray of light. It shone through the
darkness into the child's eyes. He looked up smilingly and said, "I
will go where the small light beckons, perhaps they will share their
Christmas with me."

Hurrying past all the other houses, he soon reached the end of the
street and went straight up to the window from which the light was
streaming. It was a poor, little, low house, but the child cared not
for that. The light seemed still to call him in. From what do you
suppose the light came? Nothing but a tallow candle which had been
placed in an old cup with a broken handle, in the window, as a glad
token of Christmas Eve. There was neither curtain nor shade to the
small, square window and as the little child looked in he saw standing
upon a neat wooden table a branch of a Christmas tree. The room was
plainly furnished but it was very clean. Near the fireplace sat a
lovely faced mother with a little two-year-old on her knee and an older
child beside her. The two children were looking into their mother's
face and listening to a story. She must have been telling them a
Christmas story, I think. A few bright coals were burning in the
fireplace, and all seemed light and warm within.

The little wanderer crept closer and closer to the window-pane. So
sweet was the mother's face, so loving seemed the little children, that
at last he took courage and tapped gently, very gently on the door. The
mother stopped talking, the little children looked up. "What was that,
mother?" asked the little girl at her side. "I think it was some one
tapping on the door," replied the mother. "Run as quickly as you can
and open it, dear, for it is a bitter cold night to keep any one
waiting in this storm." "Oh, mother, I think it was the bough of the
tree tapping against the window-pane," said the little girl. "Do please
go on with our story." Again the little wanderer tapped upon the door.
"My child, my child," exclaimed the mother, rising, "that certainly was
a rap on the door. Run quickly and open it. No one must be left out in
the cold on our beautiful Christmas Eve."

The child ran to the door and threw it wide open. The mother saw the
ragged stranger standing without, cold and shivering, with bare head
and almost bare feet. She held out both hands and drew him into the
warm, bright room. "You poor, dear child," was all she said, and
putting her arms around him, she drew him close to her breast. "He is
very cold, my children," she exclaimed. "We must warm him." "And,"
added the little girl, "we must love him and give him some of our
Christmas, too." "Yes," said the mother, "but first let us warm him--"

The mother sat down by the fire with the little child on her lap, and
her own little ones warmed his half-frozen hands in theirs. The mother
smoothed his tangled curls, and, bending low over his head, kissed the
child's face. She gathered the three little ones in her arms and the
candle and the fire light shone over them. For a moment the room was
very still. By and by the little girl said softly, to her mother, "May
we not light the Christmas tree, and let him see how beautiful it
looks?" "Yes," said the mother. With that she seated the child on a low
stool beside the fire, and went herself to fetch the few simple
ornaments which from year to year she had saved for her children's
Christmas tree. They were soon so busy that they did not notice the
room had filled with a strange and brilliant light. They turned and
looked at the spot where the little wanderer sat. His ragged clothes
had changed to garments white and beautiful; his tangled curls seemed
like a halo of golden light about his head; but most glorious of all
was his face, which shone with a light so dazzling that they could
scarcely look upon it.

In silent wonder they gazed at the child. Their little room seemed to
grow larger and larger, until it was as wide as the whole world, the
roof of their low house seemed to expand and rise, until it reached to
the sky.

With a sweet and gentle smile the wonderful child looked upon them for
a moment, and then slowly rose and floated through the air, above the
treetops, beyond the church spire, higher even than the clouds
themselves, until he appeared to them to be a shining star in the sky
above. At last he disappeared from sight. The astonished children
turned in hushed awe to their mother, and said in a whisper, "Oh,
mother, it was the Christ-Child, was it not?" And the mother answered
in a low tone, "Yes."

And it is said, dear children, that each Christmas Eve the little
Christ-Child wanders through some town or village, and those who
receive him and take him into their homes and hearts have given to them
this marvellous vision which is denied to others.





Next: JIMMY SCARECROW'S CHRISTMAS

Previous: THE VOYAGE OF THE WEE RED CAP



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