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LITTLE WOLFF'S WOODEN SHOES

from The Children's Book Of Christmas Stories





Once upon a time--so long ago that everybody has forgotten the date--in
a city in the north of Europe--with such a hard name that nobody can
ever remember it--there was a little seven-year-old boy named Wolff,
whose parents were dead, who lived with a cross and stingy old aunt,
who never thought of kissing him more than once a year and who sighed
deeply whenever she gave him a bowlful of soup.

But the poor little fellow had such a sweet nature that in spite of
everything, he loved the old woman, although he was terribly afraid of
her and could never look at her ugly old face without shivering.

As this aunt of little Wolff was known to have a house of her own and
an old woollen stocking full of gold, she had not dared to send the boy
to a charity school; but, in order to get a reduction in the price, she
had so wrangled with the master of the school, to which little Wolff
finally went, that this bad man, vexed at having a pupil so poorly
dressed and paying so little, often punished him unjustly, and even
prejudiced his companions against him, so that the three boys, all sons
of rich parents, made a drudge and laughing stock of the little fellow.

The poor little one was thus as wretched as a child could be and used
to hide himself in corners to weep whenever Christmas time came.

It was the schoolmaster's custom to take all his pupils to the midnight
mass on Christmas Eve, and to bring them home again afterward.

Now, as the winter this year was very bitter, and as heavy snow had
been falling for several days, all the boys came well bundled up in
warm clothes, with fur caps pulled over their ears, padded jackets,
gloves and knitted mittens, and strong, thick-soled boots. Only little
Wolff presented himself shivering in the poor clothes he used to wear
both weekdays and Sundays and having on his feet only thin socks in
heavy wooden shoes.

His naughty companions noticing his sad face and awkward appearance,
made many jokes at his expense; but the little fellow was so busy
blowing on his fingers, and was suffering so much with chilblains, that
he took no notice of them. So the band of youngsters, walking two and
two behind the master, started for the church.

It was pleasant in the church which was brilliant with lighted candles;
and the boys excited by the warmth took advantage of the music of the
choir and the organ to chatter among themselves in low tones. They
bragged about the fun that was awaiting them at home. The mayor's son
had seen, just before starting off, an immense goose ready stuffed and
dressed for cooking. At the alderman's home there was a little
pine-tree with branches laden down with oranges, sweets, and toys. And
the lawyer's cook had put on her cap with such care as she never
thought of taking unless she was expecting something very good!

Then they talked, too, of all that the Christ-Child was going to bring
them, of all he was going to put in their shoes which, you might be
sure, they would take good care to leave in the chimney place before
going to bed; and the eyes of these little urchins, as lively as a cage
of mice, were sparkling in advance over the joy they would have when
they awoke in the morning and saw the pink bag full of sugar-plums, the
little lead soldiers ranged in companies in their boxes, the menageries
smelling of varnished wood, and the magnificent jumping-jacks in purple
and tinsel.

Alas! Little Wolff knew by experience that his old miser of an aunt
would send him to bed supperless, but, with childlike faith and certain
of having been, all the year, as good and industrious as possible, he
hoped that the Christ-Child would not forget him, and so he, too,
planned to place his wooden shoes in good time in the fireplace.

Midnight mass over, the worshippers departed, eager for their fun, and
the band of pupils always walking two and two, and following the
teacher, left the church.

Now, in the porch and seated on a stone bench set in the niche of a
painted arch, a child was sleeping--a child in a white woollen garment,
but with his little feet bare, in spite of the cold. He was not a
beggar, for his garment was white and new, and near him on the floor
was a bundle of carpenter's tools.

In the clear light of the stars, his face, with its closed eyes, shone
with an expression of divine sweetness, and his long, curling, blond
locks seemed to form a halo about his brow. But his little child's
feet, made blue by the cold of this bitter December night, were pitiful
to see!

The boys so well clothed for the winter weather passed by quite
indifferent to the unknown child; several of them, sons of the notables
of the town, however, cast on the vagabond looks in which could be read
all the scorn of the rich for the poor, of the well-fed for the hungry.

But little Wolff, coming last out of the church, stopped, deeply
touched, before the beautiful sleeping child.

"Oh, dear!" said the little fellow to himself, "this is frightful! This
poor little one has no shoes and stockings in this bad weather--and,
what is still worse, he has not even a wooden shoe to leave near him
to-night while he sleeps, into which the little Christ-Child can put
something good to soothe his misery."

And carried away by his loving heart, Wolff drew the wooden shoe from
his right foot, laid it down before the sleeping child, and, as best he
could, sometimes hopping, sometimes limping with his sock wet by the
snow, he went home to his aunt.

"Look at the good-for-nothing!" cried the old woman, full of wrath at
the sight of the shoeless boy. "What have you done with your shoe, you
little villain?"

Little Wolff did not know how to lie, so, although trembling with
terror when he saw the rage of the old shrew, he tried to relate his
adventure.

But the miserly old creature only burst into a frightful fit of
laughter.

"Aha! So my young gentleman strips himself for the beggars. Aha! My
young gentleman breaks his pair of shoes for a bare-foot! Here is
something new, forsooth. Very well, since it is this way, I shall put
the only shoe that is left into the chimney-place, and I'll answer for
it that the Christ-Child will put in something to-night to beat you
with in the morning! And you will have only a crust of bread and water
to-morrow. And we shall see if the next time, you will be giving your
shoes to the first vagabond that happens along."

And the wicked woman having boxed the ears of the poor little fellow,
made him climb up into the loft where he had his wretched cubbyhole.

Desolate, the child went to bed in the dark and soon fell asleep, but
his pillow was wet with tears.

But behold! the next morning when the old woman, awakened early by the
cold, went downstairs--oh, wonder of wonders--she saw the big chimney
filled with shining toys, bags of magnificent bonbons, and riches of
every sort, and standing out in front of all this treasure, was the
right wooden shoe which the boy had given to the little vagabond, yes,
and beside it, the one which she had placed in the chimney to hold the
bunch of switches.

As little Wolff, attracted by the cries of his aunt, stood in an
ecstasy of childish delight before the splendid Christmas gifts, shouts
of laughter were heard outside. The woman and child ran out to see what
all this meant, and behold! all the gossips of the town were standing
around the public fountain. What could have happened? Oh, a most
ridiculous and extraordinary thing! The children of the richest men in
the town, whom their parents had planned to surprise with the most
beautiful presents had found only switches in their shoes!

Then the old woman and the child thinking of all the riches in their
chimney were filled with fear. But suddenly they saw the priest appear,
his countenance full of astonishment. Just above the bench placed near
the door of the church, in the very spot where, the night before, a
child in a white garment and with bare feet, in spite of the cold, had
rested his lovely head, the priest had found a circlet of gold imbedded
in the old stones.

Then, they all crossed themselves devoutly, perceiving that this
beautiful sleeping child with the carpenter's tools had been Jesus of
Nazareth himself, who had come back for one hour just as he had been
when he used to work in the home of his parents; and reverently they
bowed before this miracle, which the good God had done to reward the
faith and the love of a little child.





Next: CHRISTMAS IN THE ALLEY

Previous: THE LITTLE SISTER'S VACATION



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