THE WOODEN SHOES OF LITTLE WOLFF
BY FRANÇOIS COPPÉE (ADAPTED)
 ONCE upon a time,—so long ago that the world has
forgotten the date,—in a city of the North of Europe,—
the name of which is so hard to pronounce that no one
remembers it,—there was a little boy, just seven years
old, whose name was Wolff. He was an orphan and lived with
his aunt, a hard-hearted, avaricious old woman, who never
kissed him but once a year, on New Year's Day; and who
sighed with regret every time she gave him a bowlful of
The poor little boy was so sweet-tempered that he loved the
old woman in spite of her bad treatment, but he could not
look without trembling at the wart, decorated with four gray
hairs, which grew on the end of her nose.
As Wolff's aunt was known to have a house of her own and a
woolen stocking full of gold, she did not dare to send her
nephew to the school for the poor. But she wrangled so that
the schoolmaster of the rich boys' school was forced to
lower his price and admit little Wolff among his pupils. The
bad schoolmaster was vexed to have a boy so meanly clad and
who paid so little, and he punished little Wolff severely
without cause, ridiculed him, and even incited against him
 comrades, who were the sons of rich citizens. They made the
orphan their drudge and mocked at him so much that the
little boy was as miserable as the stones in the street, and
hid himself away in corners to cry—when the Christmas
On the Eve of the great Day the schoolmaster was to take all
his pupils to the midnight mass, and then to conduct them
home again to their parents' houses.
Now as the winter was very severe, and a quantity of snow
had fallen within the past few days, the boys came to the
place of meeting warmly wrapped up, with fur-lined caps
drawn down over their ears, padded jackets, gloves and
knitted mittens, and good strong shoes with thick soles.
Only little Wolff presented himself shivering in his thin
everyday clothes, and wearing on his feet socks and wooden
His naughty comrades tried to annoy him in every possible
way, but the orphan was so busy warming his hands by blowing
on them, and was suffering so much from chilblains, that he
paid no heed to the taunts of the others. Then the band of
boys, marching two by two, started for the parish church.
It was comfortable inside the church, which was brilliant
with lighted tapers. And the pupils, made lively by the
gentle warmth, the sound of
 the organ, and the singing of the choir, began to chatter in
low tones. They boasted of the midnight treats awaiting them
at home. The son of the Mayor had seen, before leaving the
house, a monstrous goose larded with truffles so that it
looked like a black-spotted leopard. Another boy told of the
fir tree waiting for him, on the branches of which hung
oranges, sugar-plums, and punchinellos. Then they talked
about what the Christ Child would bring them, or what he
would leave in their shoes which they would certainly be
careful to place before the fire when they went to bed. And
the eyes of the little rogues, lively as a crowd of mice,
sparkled with delight as they thought of the many gifts they
would find on waking,—the pink bags of burnt almonds, the
bonbons, lead soldiers standing in rows, menageries, and
magnificent jumping-jacks, dressed in purple and gold.
Little Wolff, alas! knew well that his miserly old aunt
would send him to bed without any supper; but as he had been
good and industrious all the year, he trusted that the
Christ Child would not forget him, so he meant that night to
set his wooden shoes on the hearth.
The midnight mass was ended. The worshipers hurried away,
anxious to enjoy the treats awaiting them in their homes.
The band of pupils, two by two, following the schoolmaster,
passed out of the church.
 Now, under the porch, seated on a stone bench, in the shadow
of an arched niche, was a child asleep,—a little child
dressed in a white garment and with bare feet exposed to the
cold. He was not a beggar, for his dress was clean and new,
and beside him upon the ground, tied in a cloth, were the
tools of a carpenter's apprentice.
Under the light of the stars, his face, with its closed
eyes, shone with an expression of divine sweetness, and his
soft, curling blond hair seemed to form an aureole of light
about his forehead. But his tender feet, blue with the cold
on this cruel night of December, were pitiful to see!
The pupils so warmly clad and shod, passed with indifference
before the unknown child. Some, the sons of the greatest men
in the city, cast looks of scorn on the barefooted one. But
little Wolff, coming last out of the church, stopped deeply
moved before the beautiful, sleeping child.
"Alas!" said the orphan to himself, "how dreadful! This poor
little one goes without stockings in weather so cold! And,
what is worse, he has no shoe to leave beside him while he
sleeps, so that the Christ Child may place something in it
to comfort him in all his misery."
And carried away by his tender heart, little Wolff drew off
the wooden shoe from his right foot, placed it before the
sleeping child; and as best as he was able, now hopping, now
 and wetting his sock in the snow, he returned to his aunt.
DREW OFF THE WOODEN SHOE
"You good-for-nothing!" cried the old woman, full of rage as
she saw that one of his shoes was gone. "What have you done
with your shoe, little beggar?"
Little Wolff did not know how to lie, and, though shivering
with terror as he saw the gray hairs on the end of her nose
stand upright, he tried, stammering, to tell his adventure.
But the old miser burst into frightful laughter. "Ah! the
sweet young master takes off his shoe for a beggar! Ah!
master spoils a pair of shoes for a barefoot! This is
something new, indeed! Ah! well, since things are so, I will
place the shoe that is left in the fireplace, and to-night
the Christ Child will put in a rod to whip you when you
wake. And to-morrow you shall have nothing to eat but water
and dry bread, and we shall see if the next time you will
give away your shoe to the first vagabond that comes along."
And saying this the wicked woman gave him a box on each ear,
and made him climb to his wretched room in the loft. There
the heartbroken little one lay down in the darkness, and,
drenching his pillow with tears, fell asleep.
But in the morning, when the old woman, awakened by the cold
and shaken by her cough, descended to the kitchen, oh!
wonder of wonders!
 she saw the great fireplace filled with bright toys,
magnificent boxes of sugar-plums, riches of all sorts, and
in front of all this treasure, the wooden shoe which her
nephew had given to the vagabond, standing beside the other
shoe which she herself had placed there the night before,
intending to put in it a handful of switches.
And as little Wolff, who had come running at the cries of
his aunt, stood in speechless delight before all the
splendid Christmas gifts, there came great shouts of
laughter from the street.
The old woman and the little boy went out to learn what it
was all about, and saw the gossips gathered around the
public fountain. What could have happened? Oh, a most
amusing and extraordinary thing! The children of all the
rich men of the city, whose parents wished to surprise them
with the most beautiful gifts, had found nothing but
switches in their shoes!
Then the old woman and little Wolff remembered with alarm
all the riches that were in their own fireplace, but just
then they saw the pastor of the parish church arriving with
his face full of perplexity.
Above the bench near the church door, in the very spot where
the night before a child, dressed in white, with bare feet
exposed to the great cold, had rested his sleeping head, the
pastor had seen a golden circle wrought into the old stones.
 all the people knew that the beautiful, sleeping child,
beside whom had lain the carpenter's tools, was the Christ
Child himself, and that he had rewarded the faith and
charity of little Wolff.