| 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 |
DAVID GOES SEEKING THE WAY TO CHRISTMAS AND FINDS THE FLAGMAN
LL night long the snow fell, and when
David wakened the hilltop was whiter
than ever, if such a thing could be. The tiny
prints in the snow that had marked the trail of
the locked-out fairy were gone.
For a moment David wondered if he could
have dreamed it all, and then he knew it could
not be just a dream. It must be something
more, to bring such good Christmas news—news
that lasted all through the night and wakened
him with a song in his heart and a gladness that
a new day had come. And what a day it was!
An orange sun was breaking the gray of the
dawn; he could hear the soft push and pound
of Barney's shovel clearing a pathway from the
door to the road, and he knew he could be off
early on his skees, down the hill to—where he did
not know. But the fairy had promised that if
 he should start out seeking the way to Christmas he would help him.
He dressed quickly to the swinging rhythm
of the reel Johanna was lilting in the kitchen
below; for in a little lodge bedroom on a hilltop,
with the thermometer outside many
degrees below zero, one does not dally in putting
on one's clothes. He came down to breakfast
for the first time since he had left the old home
without having to pretend anything in the way
of feelings; and he found beside his plate a
letter from father.
"Barney, the rascal, brought it back with
him yesterday and carried it about in his
pocket all evening, never thinking of it once,"
Johanna explained, shaking her fist at that
guilty person just coming in.
"Sure, the two of us were that busy
entertaining fairies last night we hadn't mind enough
for anything else." And Barney winked at
David responded absent-mindedly. His
thoughts and fingers were too busy with the
letter to pay much attention to anything else.
Father had little time for boys, as we have
already said, but when he did take time the
results were unquestionably satisfactory; the
let-  ter proved this. It was a wonderful letter, full
of all the most interesting seeings and doings—just
the things a boy loves to hear about—and
yet it was written as any grown-up would write
to another. That was one fine thing about
father. When he did have time for boys he
never looked down upon them as small people
with little wisdom and less understanding; he
always treated them as equals. But it was
what came at the very last of the letter that
brought the joyful smile to David's lips.
Johanna and Barney saw it and smiled to
"Good news, laddy?" Johanna asked.
"There's nothing about coming home, but
there's something about Christmas." David
consulted the letter again. "Father says he's
been looking around for some time for just the
right present to send for Christmas, and he's
just found it. He thinks I'll like it about the
best of anything, and it ought to get here—unless
the steamers are awfully delayed—on
"That's grand!" Barney beamed his own
delight over the news. "What do ye think it
might be, now?"
David shook his head.
 "I don't know—don't believe I could even
guess. You see, father never bought me a
Christmas present before—he always left
mother to choose. He said she knew more
about such things than he did."
"Then ye can take my word for it, if it's the
first one he's ever got ye 'twill be the best ye
ever had." Barney spoke with conviction,
while Johanna leaned over David's chair and
put a loving arm about his shoulder.
"There's some virtue in losing them ye love
for a bit, after all, if it makes one o' them think
about ye and Christmas. Sure, there's nothing
better in life to put by in your memory than
rare thoughts and fine letters. And, I'm
mortial glad, myself, there's something good coming
to ye, laddy, from over yonder, for many's the
time Barney and I have been afeared 'twas a
lonesome Christmas ye'd be finding up here."
And to the great surprise of every one,
David included, David answered cheerfully:
"I don't believe it's half bad. Maybe
there's more Christmas round than we know."
The orange sun had paled to yellow and
climbed half the length of the tallest pine from
the crest of the hill when David, bundled and
furred, adjusted his skees outside the lodge
 door. Carefully he pushed his way over the
level stretch of new snow, for one never knew
with new snow just how far one might go down
before striking the crust of the old. A few
yards beyond the nearest clump of evergreen
he stopped. From this point the mountain
sloped down on three sides; the fourth carried
over the ridge to the neighboring hill. Here
David could look down on the encircling valley;
and though the snow lay unbroken everywhere
save on the road leading straight down to the
"crossing" and the village beyond, he could
almost vision paths branching out from where he
stood and leading down to the three inhabited
dwellings on the mountain's side.
Which way should he go? Where would he
first strike his trail for Christmas? Would he
follow the road or one of the invisible paths?
He asked this silently at first, and then aloud,
as if there might be some one near by to hear;
and the answer came in the form of a little
gray furry coat, a pair of alert ears and a
long, bushy tail. Yes, David knew in a
twinkling it was the locked-out fairy, come to keep
his promise. He did not come close enough
for David to see the round, roguish face under
the squirrel cap; but he sat up and twitched
 his head in the direction of the road as if he were
"Come along, David, ye couldn't be wishing
for a braver day to go Christmas-hunting.
Have ye fetched along your holiday
fowling-piece and your ammunition? For 'tis rare
sport, I promise ye, a hundred times better than
hunting your furred or feathered brothers.
Come along!" And away he hopped down the
road toward the crossing.
David followed, as you or I would, and never
stopped till the fairy led him straight to the
flagman's hut and disappeared himself behind
the drifts beyond the track. Without a
moment's hesitation David turned the knob of the
door and walked in.
The hut was a small one-room affair, bare,
but clean. The walls were whitewashed and
held an array of flags and lanterns, maps and
time-tables. An air-tight stove glowed red at
one end of the room, and beside it, with his feet
on the hob, tilted back in his chair, sat the
flagman puffing away at an old meerschaum pipe.
He was plainly surprised to see his visitor. His
feet came back to the floor with a bang, his
pipe came out of his mouth, and he stared at
David incredulously for a full minute. Then
 the ends of his grizzled mustache bristled
upward, his mouth opened and twisted the same
way, while his eyes seemed to drop downward
to meet it, all the time growing bluer and more
friendly. David took the whole effect to be a
smile of welcome and he responded with out-stretched mittened hand.
"Good morning, sir. It's a—it's a grand day!"
The knotted fist of the flagman accepted the
mitten and shook it warmly.
"Vell—vell—it ees the knabelein from the
hilltop come to see old Fritz Grossman. A
child again—it ees goot!"
He reached for a little stool, the only other
piece of furniture in the room, and pushed it
"Come—take off the greatcoat and seet down.
It ees long since old Fritz has had a child to see
him. In summer they come sometime from the
big hotel, and from the veelage they used to
many come. But now—ach! Now, since the
war, eet ees deefferent. Now I am the enemy—the
German—and here every one hate the
David felt about for something to say and
repeated something he had once heard: "War
 "Ach, ja. But here there ees no war. Here
we should all be Americans, and not hate
peebles for the country where they were born.
Gott in Himmel, can there not be one country
kept clean of the hate!"
The blue eyes suddenly grew wet, and he
blinked them hard and fast to keep the wetness
from spilling over into disgraceful tears.
"Tsa! Old Fritz grow more old woman every
day! I not mind but for the children not
coming; and this time here and no little tongues
to beg tales of the Krist Kindlein and the
Weihnachtsman from old Fritz."
David drew closer and laid a friendly hand
on the flagman's knee.
"I'd like to hear one—I'd like bully well to
The flagman croaked gleefully deep down in
"Zo—but first—I know—the knabelein has a
stomach got. All have."
He rose stiffly and reached back of the stove
to where hung his own great bear-coat. From
the pocket he brought out a large red apple and
handed it to David.
"There, eat. And you shall hear the tale of
anodder apple, a Chreestmas apple."
 The flagman tilted back in his chair again
and replaced his feet upon the hob. David
sat with elbows on knees and ate slowly.
There was no sound but the occasional
dropping of coals in the stove and the soft, deep
guttural of the flagman's voice. And here is
the story as he told it to David—only the
broken German accent and the dropping coals
Once on a time there lived in Germany a
little clock-maker by the name of Hermann
Joseph. He lived in one little room with a
bench for his work, and a chest for his wood, and
his tools, and a cupboard for dishes, and a
trundle-bed under the bench. Besides these
there was a stool, and that was all—excepting
the clocks. There were hundreds of clocks:
little and big, carved and plain, some with
wooden faces and some with porcelain ones—shelf
clocks, cuckoo clocks, clocks with chimes
and clocks without; and they all hung on the
walls, covering them quite up. In front of his
one little window there was a little shelf, and on
this Hermann put all his best clocks to show the
passers-by. Often they would stop and look
and some one would cry:
 "See, Hermann Joseph has made a new clock.
It is finer than any of the rest!"
Then if it happened that anybody was wanting a clock he would come in and buy it.
I said Hermann was a little clock-maker.
That was because his back was bent and his
legs were crooked, which made him very short
and funny to look at. But there was no kinder
face than his in all the city, and the children
loved him. Whenever a toy was broken or a
doll had lost an arm or a leg or an eye its
careless mütterchen would carry it straight to
Hermann's little shop.
"The kindlein needs mending," she would
say. "Canst thou do it now for me?"
And whatever work Hermann was doing he
would always put it aside to mend the broken
toy or doll, and never a pfennig would he take
for the mending.
"Go spend it for sweetmeats, or, better still,
put it by till Christmas-time. 'Twill get thee
some happiness then, maybe," he would always
Now it was the custom in that long ago for
those who lived in the city to bring gifts to the
great cathedral on Christmas and lay them
before the Holy Mother and Child. People
 saved all through the year that they might
have something wonderful to bring on that
day; and there was a saying among them
that when a gift was brought that pleased
the Christ-child more than any other He
would reach down from Mary's arms and
take it. This was but a saying, of course.
The old Herr Graff, the oldest man in the
city, could not remember that it had ever
really happened; and many there were who
laughed at the very idea. But children often
talked about it, and the poets made
beautiful verses about it; and often when a rich
gift was placed beside the altar the watchers
would whisper among themselves, "Perhaps
now we shall see the miracle."
Those who had no gifts to bring went to the
cathedral just the same on Christmas Eve to see
the gifts of the others and hear the carols and
watch the burning of the waxen tapers. The
little clock-maker was one of these. Often he
was stopped and some one would ask, "How
happens it that you never bring a gift?" Once
the bishop himself questioned him: "Poorer
than thou have brought offerings to the Child.
Where is thy gift?"
Then it was that Hermann had answered:
 "Wait; some day you shall see. I, too, shall
bring a gift some day."
The truth of it was that the little clock-maker
was so busy giving away all the year that
there was never anything left at Christmas-time.
But he had a wonderful idea on which
he was working every minute that he could
spare time from his clocks. It had taken him
years and years; no one knew anything about
it but Trude, his neighbor's child, and Trude
had grown from a baby into a little house-mother,
and still the gift was not finished.
It was to be a clock, the most wonderful and
beautiful clock ever made; and every part of it
had been fashioned with loving care. The case,
the works, the weights, the hands, and the face,
all had taken years of labor. He had spent
years carving the case and hands, years
perfecting the works; and now Hermann saw that
with a little more haste and time he could
finish it for the coming Christmas. He mended
the children's toys as before, but he gave up
making his regular clocks, so there were fewer
to sell, and often his cupboard was empty and he
went supperless to bed. But that only made
him a little thinner and his face a little kinder;
and meantime the gift clock became more and
 more beautiful. It was fashioned after a rude
stable with rafters, stall, and crib. The Holy
Mother knelt beside the manger in which a tiny
Christ-child lay, while through the open door
the hours came. Three were kings and three
were shepherds and three were soldiers and three
were angels; and when the hours struck, the
figure knelt in adoration before the sleeping
Child, while the silver chimes played the
"Thou seest," said the clock-maker to Trude,
"it is not just on Sundays and holidays that
we should remember to worship the Krist
Kindlein and bring Him gifts—but every day,
The days went by like clouds scudding before
a winter wind and the clock was finished at
last. So happy was Hermann with his work
that he put the gift clock on the shelf before the
little window to show the passers-by. There
were crowds looking at it all day long, and many
would whisper, "Do you think this can be the
gift Hermann has spoken of—his offering on
Christmas Eve to the Church?"
The day before Christmas came. Hermann
cleaned up his little shop, wound all his clocks,
brushed his clothes, and then went over the
 gift clock again to be sure everything was
"It will not look meanly beside the other
gifts," he thought, happily. In fact he was so
happy that he gave away all but one pfennig
to the blind beggar who passed his door; and
then, remembering that he had eaten nothing
since breakfast, he spent that last pfennig for a
Christmas apple to eat with a crust of bread he
had. These he was putting by in the cupboard
to eat after he was dressed, when the door
opened and Trude was standing there crying
"Kindlein—kindlein, what ails thee?" And
he gathered her into his arms.
" 'Tis the father. He is hurt, and all the
money that was put by for the tree and sweets
and toys has gone to the Herr Doctor. And
now, how can I tell the children? Already they
have lighted the candle at the window and are
waiting for Kriss Kringle to come."
The clock-maker laughed merrily.
"Come, come, little one, all will be well.
Hermann will sell a clock for thee. Some house
in the city must need a clock; and in a wink we
shall have money enough for the tree and the
toys. Go home and sing."
 He buttoned on his greatcoat and, picking out
the best of the old clocks, he went out. He went
first to the rich merchants, but their houses were
full of clocks; then to the journeymen, but they
said his clock was old-fashioned. He even stood
on the corners of the streets and in the square,
crying, "A clock—a good clock for sale," but
no one paid any attention to him. At last he
gathered up his courage and went to the Herr
"Will your Excellency buy a clock?" he said,
trembling at his own boldness. "I would not
ask, but it is Christmas and I am needing to buy
happiness for some children."
The Herr Graff smiled.
"Yes, I will buy a clock, but not that one.
I will pay a thousand gulden for the clock thou
hast had in thy window these four days past."
"But, your Excellency, that is impossible!"
And poor Hermann trembled harder than ever.
"Poof! Nothing is impossible. That clock
or none. Get thee home and I will send for it in
half an hour, and pay thee the gulden."
The little clock-maker stumbled out.
"Anything but that—anything but that!" he
kept mumbling over and over to himself on
his way home. But as he passed the neighbor's
 house he saw the children at the window with
their lighted candle and he heard Trude singing.
And so it happened that the servant who
came from the Herr Graff carried the gift clock
away with him; but the clock-maker would
take but five of the thousand gulden in
payment. And as the servant disappeared up the
street the chimes commenced to ring from the
great cathedral, and the streets suddenly
became noisy with the many people going thither,
bearing their Christmas offerings.
"I have gone empty-handed before," said the
little clock-maker, sadly. "I can go empty-handed
once again." And again he buttoned
up his greatcoat.
As he turned to shut his cupboard door behind
him his eyes fell on the Christmas apple and an
odd little smile crept into the corners of his
mouth and lighted his eyes.
"It is all I have—my dinner for two days. I
will carry that to the Christ-child. It is better,
after all, than going empty-handed."
How full of peace and beauty was the great
cathedral when Hermann entered it! There
were a thousand tapers burning and everywhere
the sweet scent of the Christmas greens—and
the laden altar before the Holy Mother and
 Child. There were richer gifts than had been
brought for many years: marvelously wrought
vessels from the greatest silversmiths; cloth of
gold and cloth of silk brought from the East
by the merchants; poets had brought their
songs illuminated on rolls of heavy parchment;
painters had brought their pictures of saints
and the Holy Family; even the King himself
had brought his crown and scepter to lay before
the Child. And after all these offerings came
the little clock-maker, walking slowly down the
long, dim aisle, holding tight to his Christmas
The people saw him and a murmur rose,
hummed a moment indistinctly through the
church and then grew clear and articulate:
"Shame! See, he is too mean to bring his
clock! He hoards it as a miser hoards his gold.
See what he brings! Shame!"
The words reached Hermann and he stumbled
on blindly, his head dropped forward on his
breast, his hands groping the way. The
distance seemed interminable. Now he knew he
was past the seats; now his feet touched the
first step, and there were seven to climb to the
altar. Would his feet never reach the top?
"One, two, three," he counted to himself,
 then tripped and almost fell. "Four, five,
six." He was nearly there. There was but
The murmur of shame died away and in its
place rose one of wonder and awe. Soon the
words became intelligible:
"The miracle! It is the miracle!"
The people knelt in the big cathedral; the
bishop raised his hands in prayer. And the
little clock-maker, stumbling to the last step,
looked up through dim eyes and saw the Child
leaning toward him, far down from Mary's arms,
with hands outstretched to take his gift.
That night, back in the kitchen of the lodge
after supper, David told the story again to
Johanna and Barney. And when he had finished
he saw them looking strangely at each other.
"To think," said Johanna,
"we've been living here for two years and we
never got so much from the old man. And
who'd have thought to find such a tale bundled
up in an old bunch of heathen rags and language
"Maybe, now, he's not a heathen at all,"
And the others laughed with him.
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