| This Way to Christmas|
|by Ruth Sawyer|
|Stranded in upstate New York with just seven days to go until Christmas, a lonesome boy comes up with an ingenious way to bring Christmas to the equally lonesome inhabitants of his small mountain community, all of whom were spending the winter far from home. Visiting each in turn, David befriends his neighbors and delights in hearing the Christmas stories they share with him, stories they heard in their homelands long ago. A final celebration brings all the neighbors of different nationalities together, forging relationships that will outlast the holiday season and sending a message of hope to a war-torn world. Ages 9-12 |
HE day before Christmas broke cold and
clear; and almost before the sun had
crested the hill three fur-clad figures were
abroad. Two were large and one was small;
each carried a post across his shoulders, while
the foremost swung an ax in his free hand.
They first took the trail for the trapper's, and
a dozen yards from the hut they planted one
post, knocking it firmly into the snow with the
flat of the ax. There it stood straight as could
be and about the height of a little lad, with its
white sign pointing up the trail they had come
and its bands of Christmas green and red—painted by Mr.
Peter at the top—warranted to attract attention.
David cast a backward glance of admiration
upon it as they turned to cross-cut the ravine
and climb the foot-hill that led to the South-Americans' cottage. Yes, it certainly did look
 fine! And how well the black letters stood out
against the white background! With a heart almost bursting with the fullness of contentment
David read the sign for the hundredth time:
THIS WAY TO CHRISTMAS
Six o'Clock To-night. Please Come.
And the hand pointed straight to the hilltop
and the lodge. Another sign was planted
by the cottage, and a third by the lumber-camp.
Then the trio climbed the hill again.
At the lodge Barney picked up a fourth post.
He was going down to the village for some
necessary supplies and he had been appointed
to leave the sign for the flagman.
"There's just one thing that's the matter,"
said David, as he and Mr. Peter started out
with knives and bags to hunt for ground-pine
and other Christmas greens. "It's the
South-Americans. I don't see how they could
possibly get here. Why, the sick boy has hardly
enough strength to walk across the room. And
you couldn't expect a lady to climb a mountain
on snow-shoes, just for Christmas."
Mr. Peter laughed.
 "You can never tell what's going to happen
Christmas Eve. Maybe the fairy will loan
them his wishing-cap. Or Santa, himself, may
swing round here on his way to the city and
bring them along. I wouldn't begin to worry
about who's not coming until it's too late for
them to get here."
All through that crisp winter morning David
and Mr. Peter plowed back and forth between
the woods and the lodge, carrying green of every
description, with intervals spent beside the
kitchen stove, warming up. And early in the
afternoon they started decorating the hall and
living-room, while Johanna and Barney
concentrated their efforts in the kitchen. Barney
had succeeded in rooting out untold treasures
from the shelves of the "variety store" in the
village; and he had brought home several cans
of silver paint and rolls of red tissue-paper,
besides some white and red candles.
With these Mr. Peter and David created
miracles. They silvered bunches of the
pine-cones and hung them on their drooping green
branches above the doorways and windows.
They trailed the ground-pine across the ceiling
from corner to corner, and about the mantel,
hanging from it innumerable tiny red bells
 fashioned from the red paper. They stood two
tall young spruces on either side of the window
niche and these they trimmed with strips of
pop-corn, silvered nuts and pine-cones and red
and white candles. And every window had a
hemlock wreath made gay with cranberries.
And Barney and Johanna? They were
likewise performing miracles. When David and
Mr. Peter had finished and given their work a
last survey and exchanged a final round of
mutual congratulations they went into the kitchen
to behold the others' handiwork.
There was the table lengthened out and
covered with a snowy-white cloth. In the center,
surrounded by a wreath of green, stood the
mammoth Christmas cake; and at the four
corners stood tall white candles in crystal
candlesticks. At one end was a cold baked ham
resplendent with its crust of sugar and cloves
and its paper frill of red and white. At the
other was a red Japanese bowl filled with the
vegetable salad that had made Johanna famous;
while dotted all about the table were delectable
dishes of all sorts—jams and jellies, nuts, raisins,
savory pickles, and a pyramid of maple-sugar
cream. But it was from the stove that the
appetizing odors came: rolls baking, coffee
steam-  ing, and chicken frying slowly in the great
"It smells too good to be true," cried Mr.
Peter, clapping his hands. "Never was there
such a Christmas supper! Come, David, boy,
we will have to scramble into some festal raiment
to do honor to Johanna's cooking, although I
am not quite sure that I have anything to dress
up in but a pair of gold sleeve-links and a red
"Ye might be making a prayer while ye're
dressing that somebody will come to help eat it
up. I've said to Barney a score o' times since
dinner that there's just as much likelihood that
not a mortal soul will show his face here this
"Why, Johanna!" David protested.
"I know, laddy. But mind, ye've not seen
one of them but once, yourself, and I'm a
stranger to them. Never matter; only if no
one comes ye'll all be eating ham and fried
chicken for the rest o' the year." And Johanna
ended with a good-humored laugh.
Before six they were gathered in the
living-room with the candles lighted and the fire
blazing uproariously on the hearth.
"It's all so fine and like mother used to have.
 I believe I shall be wishing somebody 'Merry
Christmas' before I know it," shouted Mr.
Peter. Then he held up a warning finger.
"Hush! What's that?"
They all listened. There was certainly a
noise outside; it sounded as if some one was
feeling for the knob. David was away like a
flash to the hall and had flung open the door
wide. The next moment his voice came back
to the others, ringing with gladness:
"Uncle Joab! Oh, Uncle Joab! This is just
The bent figure of the old darky stumbled in
out of the night. He carried two bundles under
his arm, each wrapped in layers of gunny-sack;
and he blinked, open-mouthed, at the
lights and the faces that gathered about him.
"It sure is a befo'-de-war Chris'mus!" he
ejaculated. Then he sniffed the air like an old
dog on a scent. " 'Pon ma soul, dat's fried
chick'n or Uncle Joab's no sinner!"
They all laughed; and one by one they shook
Uncle Joab's hand as David introduced them.
Once divested of his outside things, the old man
turned his attention to his bundles and
unwrapped them with great care. The first turned
out to be his fiddle and he patted it lovingly.
 "When I fust cotch sight o' dat yeah post
dis mo'nin' I wa'n't sure dat de sign was meant
fo' no ole nigger like Uncle Joab. Den I look
'round, but dere doan't 'pear to be nobody else.
So I brings along de ole fiddle, 'ca'se I reckon
dat dey'll be glad to see him if dey 'ain't got no
welcome fer me."
"Sure, we're hearty glad to see the both o'
ye." And Barney spoke out for them all.
The old man beamed his gratitude as he
unwrapped his second bundle. It held a paper
sack; and Uncle Joab viewed the contents with
approval before he handed it to David.
"M'lasses corn-balls; Chris'mus gif' fo' li'l'
boy," he chuckled.
David's thanks were cut short by the stamping
of feet outside and a clang of the knocker. Again
he flew to the door and found the eyes of the
trapper looking down upon him with grave pleasure.
"Nicholas Bassaraba, my friend," he said,
proudly, and this was the way he made the
trapper known to the others.
The flagman came next, the icicles hanging to
his scrubby mustache, his little blue eyes
dancing with anticipation. He was quite out of
breath and it was some minutes before he could
respond properly to his warm welcome.
 "Zo, Fritz Grossman has some friends this
Chreestmas; eet es goot!" And his eyes danced
harder than ever. He felt down in the pockets
of his greatcoat and brought out his hands full
of red apples. Their glossy skins bespoke much
careful polishing. "Chreestmas apples for the
knabelein. He remembers the tale? Ja!"
The stillness outside was suddenly broken by
the jingle of bells—sleigh-bells coming nearer
and nearer. This time it was Mr. Peter who
reached the door first; he had taken down the
hall lantern and was holding it high above his
head as he peered out.
"Whoa, there!" came a voice from the dark.
"That you, Mr. Peter? I ca'late I wouldn't
ha' broken through no road like this for no one
else. But here we be, all hunky-dory!"
"Well, I ca'late there isn't another man who
could have done it. You bring in the lad and
I'll see to the lady." And Mr. Peter went out
into the darkness, lantern in hand.
The next moment David knew his cup of
happiness had filled to the brim; for in strode
the village stage-driver with Alfredo in his arms,
while behind them came Mr. Peter supporting
"It's splendid! It's perfectly splendid!"
 David said over and over again, as he helped to
unbundle the South-Americans and make the
sick boy comfortable in the great lounging-chair
by the fire.
"It is wonderful," said the mother, softly.
"To have the aloneness and heart-hunger and
then to find the friend!" And her arm slipped
about David's shoulders in a way his own
"Supper's ready," called Johanna from the
kitchen. "And, Barney, suppose ye and Mr.
Peter fetch out the lad, just as he is in his big
They put Alfredo at one end of the table,
while Johanna sat at the other behind the great,
steaming coffee-pot. Uncle Joab insisted on
serving every one, bustling back and forth from
the stove to the kitchen, his black face radiating
"Lordy gracious!" he would burst forth every
few minutes. "Dis yeah nigger hasn't served
a supper like dis not since he was back in ole
Virginy. Jes' smell dat fried chicken! Humm!"
And they could not persuade him to take his
place among them until every one else's plate
What a supper it was! The men who had
 been shifting for themselves alone in their cabins
or huts, the South-Americans who had been
living on food put up in cans and tins, were
quite sure they had never tasted such a Christmas
feast. And every one had stories to tell,
memories of his own homeland which brought
a flush to his cheeks and a sparkling moisture
to his eyes. Only David was silent, his ears
too full of what he was hearing, his heart too
full of what he was feeling, yes, and maybe his
mouth too full of Christmas cheer for him to
It was not until the last crumb of the Christmas
cake had been eaten and the last drop of
coffee been drained by Uncle Joab and they had
gathered about the fire once more, that David
"First, let's have Uncle Joab play some of
his jigs and sing with his fiddle just as I heard
him that day at the camp. Then let's have
Johanna tell us a story. She's the only one
who hasn't told a Christmas story."
So of course David had his wish. Uncle
Joab tuned up and played all the rollicking
airs he knew, following them with the old
plantation songs so dear to the hearts of even
those who have only sojourned in the South.
 And when he was tired and insisted that "de
ole fiddle must rest" Johanna drew her chair
closer to the hearth and began the story of
In Ireland St. Bridget is sometimes called
"St. Bridhe of the Mantle," and that is because
the people of the hills would not be forgetting
the way she came to be at Bethlehem when Our
Lord was born, or the rest of the miracle:
It was to the little island of Iona that she
came when she was naught but a child, and
her coming there was strange. Her father was
Doughall Donn, a prince of Ireland; but
because of a sin, which he swore was not his, he
was banished from his Green Isle. He took
the child and left at night in a small boat; and
the winds blew and the waves carried them
toward Alba. But when they were still a long way
off the winds blew into a storm and the waves
reared themselves into a tempest and the boat
was dashed upon the rocks. It was the dawn of
that day that Cathal, the arch-druid of Iona,
looked down from his holy hill where he had
been lighting the sacrificial fire to the Sun God,
for in those days it was before the Lord had
walked the earth; and he saw below him on the
 beach the figure of a man washed up by the
storm and lying as if dead. He hurried to the
place and found not only the man, but a wee
girl child, and she beside him, playing with the
shells and digging her pink toes into the wet
sand. The man was not dead, only stupid
with the sea-water; and Cathal brought them
both to a herdsman's hut and saw that they
were fed and cared for.
That night he had a strange vision concerning
the child; he dreamed that spirits from heaven
descended to watch over her while she slept;
and when he was for knowing why they should
guard her with celestial care they made this
"Know ye, she is holy and blest above all
maidens. For some day it shall come to pass
that she shall cradle the King of Love upon
her breast and guard the Lord of Creation
while He sleeps."
And when the vision broke it was Cathal
himself that came and watched beside the
herdsman's hut where the child slept. So Doughall
Donn was made welcome in Iona for the sake of
the child; and the druids gave him a hut and
herd of his own and saw to it that neither he
nor the child should want for anything.
 It was midsummer and the day of Bridget's
birth, marking the twenty-first year; and at
ring o' day while the dew still clung to the grass
Bridget left her father's hut and climbed the
holy hill. Of all the dwellers on Iona she alone
was let watch the lighting of the sacrificial fire
and she alone was let hear the chanting of the
druid's hymn to the Sun God. This day she
was clad in white with a wreath of the rowan
berries on her hair and a girdle of them about
her waist; and she looked fair as the flowers of
As she climbed the hill the wild creatures
came running to her for a caress and the birds
hovered above her head or perched on her
shoulder. She listened to the chanting of the
hymn; she bided till the flames of the fire met
and mingled with the shafts of the sun. Then
a white bird called from the thicket and she
followed. She followed him over the crest of
the hill; and behold! when she came out to the
other slope, 'twas another country she was
Here were no longer the green fields and the
pastures filled with sheep, or the sea lying
beyond. It was a country of sand and hot sun;
and the trees and the houses about her were
 strange. She found herself standing by a well
with a strangely fashioned jug in her hand, and
her father beside her.
"Bridhe," said he, "ye are a strange lass.
Are ye not knowing that the well has not held
a drop of water for a fortnight, and did ye
think to fill your pitcher now?"
She smiled faintly.
"I was not remembering."
Her father drew her away toward the village
that lay beneath them, the village of Bethlehem.
"Bridhe," said he again, "the drouth has
been upon us these many months. The wells
are empty, even the wine is failing, and the
creatures are dying on our hands. I shall leave
the inn this night in your care while I take the
camels and the water-skins and ride for succor.
There is a well, they tell me, in a place they
call the Mount of Olives which is never dry;
and 'tis a three days' journey or more there and
"And what is it that I should be doing, with
ye away?" asked Bridget.
They had reached the door of the inn by now,
and Doughall Donn opened it for her to pass
"Ye are to stay here, birdeen, and keep the
 door barred against my return. Not a soul is
to pass over the threshold while I am gone. Ye
are not to open to the knock of man, woman, or
"But, father, what if some one should come
in mortal need—famished with the hunger or
faint with the thirst?"
He led her to the rude cupboard and pointed
to the nearly empty shelves.
"There is a cruiskeen of ale and a cup o'
water, a handful o' dry dates and some oaten
cake; that is all of food or drink left in the inn.
'Twill no more than last ye till I return, and
if ye fed another ye would starve. So mind the
promise I put on ye this night. Ye are to
shelter no one in the inn while I am gone."
Bridget watched her father drive the camels
out of the courtyard; she barred the door on
his going and for two days no foot crossed the
threshold of the inn. But on the night of the
third day, as Bridget was making ready for bed,
she heard the sound of knocking on the door.
"Who is it and what is it ye are wanting this
night?" called Bridget from within, keeping the
"God's blessing on this house!" came in a
man's voice out of the dark. "I am Joseph,
 a carpenter of Arimathea, and this is Mary
who is after needing a woman's help this night.
She is spent and can go no farther. Will ye
give us shelter?"
"That I cannot. The promise is laid on me
to give neither food nor shelter to living soul
till my father comes hither. Were it not for
that 'tis a glad welcome I'd be giving the both
And then a woman's voice came out of the
darkness, a voice that set her breasts to be
trembling and her heart to be leaping with joy.
"Are ye forgetting me, Bridhe astore?" said
Bridget opened the grating in the door and
looked out. There she saw a great-shouldered
giant of a man, covered with beard, and beside
him was a wee gray donkey, and on the donkey
rode a woman, who turned her face to Bridget
and smiled. And the wonder of that smile
drew Bridget's hand to the latch.
She opened the door wide and bade them
enter. She laid before them what ale and dates
and oaten cake was left, and watched them eat
Then she beckoned them to the courtyard.
"Yonder is the byre clean with fresh straw;
 and the creatures are gentle. Half the promise
have I broken this night; I have given ye food.
But shelter ye must take outside the inn.
She led the way to the byre and left them
there, hurrying back to bar the door of the inn
again. But as she was fastening the latch she
heard the sound of much travel abroad, and
looking out she saw it was her father's camels
returning. There was great gladness in her
welcome—aye, and there was sadness for the
breaking of the promise.
"See," said she, drawing her father in. "I
gave them food—only food. They are resting
in the byre." But when she went to gather up
the dish that had been empty, behold it was
filled with dates and oaten
cake! And the
cruiskeen was filled with ale!
" 'Tis a miracle!" said Bridget, the breath
leaving her; and even as she spoke the strange
Outside came the sound of falling rain, not
gentle as a passing shower, but the steady beat,
beat, beat of the rainy season.
"The drouth is broken," said Doughall
Donn, adding, with wonder in his voice: "What
manner of folk are those yonder? Are ye not
 minding the prophesy: 'The King of Love,
Ruler of the World and All Time, shall be born
on the first night of rain following the great
drouth; and He shall be born in a byre outside
an inn.' Come, let us see!"
He drew Bridget with him across the
courtyard, but before ever they entered the byre
they saw the holy light and heard singing that
was not of this earth. And when they came
inside there was Mary upon the hay, and beside
her lay a new-born child.
"Aigh! the blessed wee one!" whispered
Bridget, kneeling down beside them. "I am
thinking ye had better rest, Mary astore; give
me the birdeen to nurse while ye sleep." And
with hunger-arms she reached out for the
Holy Child and wrapped it in the white mantle
that she wore.
"Aye, take Him," said Mary. "I would I
might, in the years to come, give my babe to
every barren breast. But ye, Bridget, are
And through the long night Bridget cradled
the Child while Mary slept and the kine looked
on, kneeling in their stalls. And when day
broke, Bridget closed her eyes and slept, too,
for the weariness was upon her.
 It was the call of a white bird that wakened
her. She started up with a cry of fear and her
arms reached over her breast for the Child, but
the Child was gone. And when she looked
about her she saw she was standing on the
crest of the holy hill, while beyond her lay
green fields and pastures full of sheep, and her
father's hut, and the blue bay of Iona at her
"'Tis all a dream," she said, the wonder on
her. And then she looked at the mantle she
wore. It was woven with golden threads into
marvelous pictures of birds and beasts and
angels. And Bridget went slowly down the
holy hill, the mantle about her; and when she
came to her father's hut she found she had been
gone for a year and six months.
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