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From Good Words, 1st January, 1866.


IN the forest hamlet there lived a poet, and he laboured with his hands, singing as he laboured.  He loved, as all poets must, the earth and the sky, with all their flowers and stars.  In his youth he had wandered in the woods, full of love and joy.  His spirit had gone up with the lark till he felt breathless with gladness, as if with flight.  He had flung himself on a bank beside a tuft of primroses, and kissed them as passionately as other youths kiss the maidens of their choice, and he had lifted up his sweetly-moving lips to heaven, when no one witnessed, as if he would kiss the face of the sky.  The mild old man still loved the flowers and the stars, but more than these he loved the children, and gathered them about his knees, and taught them.  He taught them to sing sweet songs and merry glees, which some, who were counted wise, called foolish things.  He taught them also to sing in church; and the voice of one child was as the voice of an angel, as it rose above all others in "We praise Thee, God!"

It was a hard winter.

    In Advent, when Christmas was at hand, the little scholars met night after night to learn a new song, which no one else should hear till Christmas came; and, indeed, no one seemed to care except the singers who kept the secret.

    Christmas came at last, and the children went out to sing the new carol whose words were to open every heart.  It was a hard winter, and there was hunger in the hamlet.  The children went out to sing, and what the rich gave was to be given to the poor.  That was their secret.

    First they went to the house of a rich farmer.  He was a hard man, and had neither wife nor child.  One who should have been his wife had been trodden down in the mire of a great city; and one who was his child had never known a father, and was in God's hand upon the sea.

    The fir trees on the bank behind the house did not stir, and every bough of every tree stood still as if frozen while the children sang—

On this blessed eve we sing
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!
To men of goodwill we bring
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!

Lo!   The Prince of Peace and light
    Lay in a manger:
Wouldst thou have Him here to-night,
    House the poor stranger?

We are children of the Lord,
    Loving each other;
Be thou His, by love restored,
    Father or brother;

Let us in, and let us bring
    Glad tidings!   Glad tiding!
In the dark we pass and sing
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!

    The light glanced out of the long low window, and flickered on the forms of the children as they sang.  The one angel-voiced boy singing each line alone, and the others taking it up in chorus.  And the man who sat within in the shadow heard the song.  His barns were full; his purse was full; but his heart was empty and hard—hard with the fierce hardness of a night of frost.  And it grew harder as he listened, and he rose and cursed the children, and took up his staff to go out and beat them, but his arm trembled, and he only cursed.  And the children went away, sad and silent.

    And after they were gone, a storm, as wild as ever tore the woods, raged in the man's heart, and he knew that his life was barren and desolate, and he cursed the day he was born.  There were no glad tidings this Christmas for him.

    Then the children came to a poor cottage in the wood, and began again to chant, and no sooner had they begun than the door was opened, and they were welcomed in.  Then they made a circle about the father and mother and little ones, and went on:—

He who was the King of kings—
    He and none other—
Came not borne on angels' wings
    To His poor mother

For He came to weep and smile,
    Humble and lowly;
Came to share all pain and toil,
    Making them holy.

So we come this night to sing
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!
And to all this house we bring
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!

    And when the brief song was ended, the mother, with tears in her eyes, kissed her baby, and laid it in its father's arms, and went and took the apples that had baked on the hearth, and gave them to the little singers, who laughed as they burned their fingers, and blew with their breath to cool them.  Then, warmed and comforted, they went on, richer in faith at least.  The house they left behind was very empty of pleasant things, and the best of their poor supper was gone, but the man and woman there never felt their hearts so full of love before.

    And now they came to the ale-house, and there was such a sound of noisy laughter, and rattling, and oaths, that they thought they must pass on, but the full light flashed upon them as the door swung open, and some half-drunken men came out and drove them in to make sport.  Then a great noise was made crying "Silence," and at last there was silence, and they sang the verses they had been taught to sing when they came to that house:—

On this blessed eve we sing
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!
Unto sinful men we bring
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!

Christ hath pour'd His blood like wine
    For all the sinning
He who came this night divine,
    Our Salvation winning.

In our Father's house above
    All the lights are burning;
He is waiting full of love
    For His sons returning.

Come away; and let us bring
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!
While with us the angels sing
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!

    And there was one man whose heart burned, yet he was ashamed to rise up and go away, and he frowned on the fair boy who led the band, and who had the voice of an angel.  The boy was thinking of his mother, who would have to wait for her husband's coming, and would tremble when he came, so he forbore to speak; and the man took a deeper draught to drown the burning at his heart, and the boy went away, with the rest, sighing, though the half-drunken men gave him many pence.

    Then they went through a great gate, and up among sweeping lawns silvered with frost and with moonlight.  The long line of windows were all dark to-night.  They were out—the gay lights that used to be seen for miles when Christmas parties met at the hall.  The children crept round, for they had been summoned there, though the house lay in the shadow of death.  She who lay dying was their friend.  She used to play for them the church organ whose voice had been silent for weeks, and they were met at the door and taken up the stairs, treading softly.  And she lay in her bed propped up with pillows, and her eyes were very bright, and her hands very thin.  Then the boy with the silver voice sang sweeter than ever before, so that his voice pierced with sweetness like a sharp pain the hearts of all who listened save one, and she clasped her thin hands, and began smiling with the singing, and looking all over light, as if there were lamps under her closed eyelids.  They sang—

He who took our mortal life,
    This night with crying;
Victor in death's mortal strife,
    He holds the dying:

In His arms He holds them fast,
    When they are failing!
When the moment comes at last,
    Hush'd be our wailing.

For to us on earth they cry,
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!
O grave, where is thy victory!
    Glad tidings!   Glad tidings!

    And the children went near, one by one, and kissed the little white hand, and were led away and laden with Christmas gifts for the poor, and she—the dear young saint—lingered a little while in the frosty weather.  But it was always Christmas with her, till the "Peace on earth" melted into the Peace of Heaven.



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