The Birds' Christmas Carol
THE BIRDS' CHRISTMAS CAROL
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
The Three Dearest Children in the World, BERTHA, LUCY, AND HORATIO.
"O little ones, ye cannot know
The power with which ye plead,
Nor why, as on through life we go,
The little child doth lead."
|I.||A LITTLE SNOW-BIRD|
|III.||THE BIRD'S NEST|
|IV.||"BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER"|
|V.||SOME OTHER BIRDS ARE TAUGHT TO FLY|
|VI.||"WHEN THE PIE WAS OPENED, THE BIRDS BEGAN TO SING"|
|VII.||THE BIRDLING FLIES AWAY|
The Birds' Christmas Carol.
A LITTLE SNOW BIRD.
It was very early Christmas morning, and in the stillness of the dawn,with the soft snow falling on the housetops, a little child was born inthe Bird household.
They had intended to name the baby Lucy, if it were a girl; but theyhadn't expected her on Christmas morning, and a real Christmas baby wasnot to be lightly named—the whole family agreed in that.
They were consulting about it in the nursery. Mr. Bird said that hehad assisted in naming the three boys, and that he should leave thismatter entirely to Mrs. Bird; Donald wanted the child called "Maud,"after a pretty little curly-haired girl who sat next him in school;Paul chose "Luella," for Luella was the nurse who had been with himduring his whole babyhood, up to the time of his first trousers, andthe name suggested all sorts of comfortable things. Uncle Jack saidthat the first girl should always be named for her mother, no matterhow hideous the name happened to be.
Grandma said that she would prefer not to take any part in thediscussion, and everybody suddenly remembered that Mrs. Bird hadthought of naming the baby Lucy, for Grandma herself; and, while itwould be indelicate for her to favor that name, it would be againsthuman nature for her to suggest any other, under the circumstances.
Hugh, the "hitherto baby," if that is a possible term, sat in onecorner and said nothing, but felt, in some mysterious way, that hisnose was out of joint; for there was a newer baby now, a possibility hehad never taken into consideration; and the "first girl," too, a stillhigher development of treason, which made him actually green withjealousy.
But it was too profound a subject to be settled then and there, on thespot; besides, Mama had not been asked, and everybody felt it ratherabsurd, after all, to forestall a decree that was certain to beabsolutely wise, just and perfect.
The reason that the subject had been brought up at all so early in theday lay in the fact that Mrs. Bird never allowed her babies to go overnight unnamed. She was a person of so great decision of character thatshe would have blushed at such a thing; she said that to let blessedbabies go dangling and dawdling about without names, for months andmonths, was enough to ruin them for life. She also said that if onecould not make up one's mind in twenty-four hours it was a signthat—but I will not repeat the rest, as it might prejudice you againstthe most charming woman in the world.
So Donald took his new velocipede and went out to ride up and down thestone pavement and notch the shins of innocent people as they passedby, while Paul spun his musical top on the front steps.
But Hugh refused to leave the scene of action. He seated himself onthe top stair in the hall, banged his head against the railing a fewtimes, just by way of uncorking the vials of his wrath, and thensubsided into gloomy silence, waiting to declare war if more "firstgirl babies" were thrust upon a family already surfeited with thatunnecessary article.
Meanwhile dear Mrs. Bird lay in her room, weak, but safe and happy withher sweet girl baby by her side and the heaven of motherhood openingbefore her. Nurse was making gruel in the kitchen, and the room wasdim and quiet. There was a cheerful open fire in the grate, but thoughthe shutters were closed, the side windows that looked out on theChurch of our Saviour, next door, were wide open.
Suddenly a sound of music poured out into the bright air and driftedinto the chamber. It was the boy-choir singing Christmas anthems.Higher and higher rose the clear, fresh voices, full of hope and cheer,as children's voices always are. Fuller and fuller grew the burst ofmelody as one glad strain fell upon another in joyful harmony:
"Carol, brothers, carol,
Carol the good tidings,
And pray a gladsome Christmas
For all your fellow-men;
Carol, brothers, carol,
Christmas Day again."
One verse followed another always with the same glad refrain:
"And pray a gladsome Christmas
For all your fellow-men:
Carol, brothers, carol,
Christmas Day again."
Mrs. Bird thought, as the music floated in upon her gentle sleep, thatshe had slipped into heaven with her new baby, and that the angels werebidding them welcome. But the tiny bundle by her side stirred alittle, and though it was scarcely more than the ruffling of a feather,she awoke; for the mother-ear is so close to the heart that it can hearthe faintest whisper of a child.
She opened her eyes and drew the baby closer. It looked like a rosedipped in milk, she thought, this pink and white blossom of girlhood,or like a pink cherub, with its halo of pale yellow hair, finer thanfloss silk.
"Carol, brothers, carol,
Carol the good tidings,
The voices were brimming over with joy.
"Why, my baby," whispered Mrs. Bird in soft surprise, "I had forgottenwhat day it was. You are a little Christmas child, and we will nameyou 'Carol'—mother's little Christmas Carol!"
"What!" said Mr. Bird, coming in softly and closing the door behind him.
"Why, Donald, don't you think 'Carol' is a sweet name for a Christmasbaby? It came to me just a moment ago in the singing as I was lyinghere half asleep and half awake."
"I think it is a charming name, dear heart, and that it sounds justlike you, and I hope that, being a girl, this baby has some chance ofbeing as lovely as her mother," at which speech from the baby's papa,Mrs. Bird, though she was as weak and tired as she could be, blushedwith happiness.
And so Carol came by her name.
Of course, it was thought foolish by many people, though Uncle Jackdeclared laughingly that it was very strange if a whole family of Birdscould not be indulged in a single Carol; and Grandma, who adored thechild, thought the name much more appropriate than Lucy, but was gladthat people would probably think it short for Caroline.
Perhaps because she was born in holiday time, Carol was a very happybaby. Of course, she was too tiny to understand the joy ofChristmas-tide, but people say there is everything in a good beginning,and she may have breathed-in unconsciously the fragrance of evergreensand holiday dinners; while the peals of sleigh-bells and the laughterof happy children may have fallen upon her baby ears and wakened inthem a glad surprise at the merry world she had come to live in.
Her cheeks and lips were as red as holly berries; her hair was for allthe world the color of a Christmas candle-flame; her eyes were brightas stars; her laugh like a chime of Christmas bells, and her tiny handsforever outstretched in giving.
Such a generous little creature you never saw! A spoonful of bread andmilk had always to be taken by Mama or nurse before Carol could enjoyher supper; and whatever bit of cake or sweetmeat found its way intoher pretty fingers, it was straightway broken in half and shared withDonald, Paul or Hugh; and, when they made believe nibble the morselwith affected enjoyment, she would clap her hands and crow withdelight. "Why does she do it?" asked Donald, thoughtfully; "None of usboys ever did." "I hardly know," said Mama, catching her darling toher heart, "except that she is a little Christmas child, and so she hasa tiny share of the blessedest birthday the world ever saw!"
It was December, ten years later. Carol had seen nine Christmas treeslighted on her birthdays, one after another; nine times she hadassisted in the holiday festivities of the household, though in herbabyhood her share of the gayeties was somewhat limited.
For five years, certainly, she had hidden presents for Mama and Papa intheir own bureau drawers, and harbored a number of secrets sufficientlylarge to burst a baby's brain, had it not been for the relief gained bywhispering them all to Mama, at night, when she was in her crib, aproceeding which did not in the least lessen the value of a secret inher innocent mind.
For five years she had heard "'Twas the night before Christmas," andhung up a scarlet stocking many sizes too large for her, and pinned asprig of holly on her little white night gown, to show Santa Claus thatshe was a "truly" Christmas child, and dreamed of fur-coated saints andtoy-packs and reindeer, and wished everybody a "Merry Christmas" beforeit was light in the morning, and lent every one of her new toys to theneighbors' children before noon, and eaten turkey and plum pudding, andgone to bed at night in a trance of happiness at the day's pleasures.
Donald was away at college now. Paul and Hugh were great manlyfellows, taller than their mother. Papa Bird had grey hairs in hiswhiskers; and Grandma, God bless her, had been four Christmases inheaven. But Christmas in the Birds' Nest was scarcely as merry now asit used to be in the bygone years, for the little child that oncebrought such an added blessing to the day, lay, month after month, apatient, helpless invalid, in the room where she was born.
She had never been very strong in body, and it was with a pang ofterror her mother and father noticed, soon after she was five yearsold, that she began to limp, ever so slightly; to complain too often ofweariness, and to nestle close to her mother, saying she "would rathernot go out to play, please." The illness was slight at first, and hopewas always stirring in Mrs. Bird's heart. "Carol would feel strongerin the summer-time;" or, "She would be better when she had spent a yearin the country;" or, "She would outgrow it;" or, "They would try a newphysician;" but by and by it came to be all too sure that no physiciansave One could make Carol strong again, and that no "summer-time" nor"country air," unless it were the everlasting summer-time in a heavenlycountry, could bring back the little girl to health.
The cheeks and lips that were once as red as holly-berries faded tofaint pink; the star-like eyes grew softer, for they often gleamedthrough tears; and the gay child-laugh, that had been like a chime ofChristmas bells, gave place to a smile so lovely, so touching, sotender and patient, that it filled every corner of the house with agentle radiance that might have come from the face of the Christ-childhimself.
Love could do nothing; and when we have said that we have said all, forit is stronger than anything else in the whole wide world. Mr. andMrs. Bird were talking it over one evening when all the children wereasleep. A famous physician had visited them that day, and told themthat sometime, it might be in one year, it might be in more, Carolwould slip quietly off into heaven, whence she came.
"Dear heart," said Mr. Bird, pacing up and down the library floor, "itis no use to shut our eyes to it any longer; Carol will never be wellagain. It almost seems as if I could not bear it when I think of thatloveliest child doomed to lie there day after day, and, what is stillmore, to suffer pain that we are helpless to keep away from her. MerryChristmas, indeed; it gets to be the saddest day in the year to me!"and poor Mr. Bird sank into a chair by the table,