| 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 |
THE LOCKED-OUT FAIRY AGAIN LEADS THE WAY AND DAVID HEARS OF A CHRISTMAS PROMISE
AVID was already beginning to feel very
rich in Christmas as he climbed to the
crest of the hill the next morning. Yes, the
locked-out fairy was right. Real Christmas lay
in the hearts and memories of people, and he
was sure he was storing up some in his own to
last for always.
It was still four days before Christmas, yet
he felt all the warm glow of excitement, all the
eagerness, all the gladness, that usually
attended the very day itself. He was beginning
to think that instead of one Christmas he was
finding a whole week of it, and for a little boy
who had had loneliness fastened to his heels
like a shadow for so long the feeling was very
wonderful. Not that he did not miss father and
mother just the same, but they no longer seemed
so far away. There were minutes when he
 could think them quite close, when they seemed
to have a share in all he was doing and thinking,
and when that happens with any one we love
loneliness vanishes like a shadow at midday.
There were but two paths left for him that
morning to choose between—the path leading to
the trapper's and the one to the "lunger's."
It was not a particularly cheery day. The sky
was a leaden gray—a hue forecasting snow
before day's end. The wind was biting and raw,
and had there not been a quest afoot David
would have been glad to stay near home and
share Barney's cheerful company. As it was,
he had about made up his mind that he should
choose the trapper. He knew as little about
him as he had known of the others, and he
pictured a big, gruff, hairy man something like
his old Grimm illustration of Bluebeard. But
for all that, he seemed more alluring on such
a day than a "lunger."
David very much hoped that the locked-out
fairy would be there to take him the way he had
chosen to go. He wanted not only the guidance
of the fairy, but he wished to see him close again
and talk with him. He was looking about for
signs when his eyes swept the snow at his feet
and there he found the trail laid for him. As
 far as eye could reach there were the tiny sharp
prints of a squirrel's foot, and they led, not
down the hillside to the trapper's hut, but,
straight as a stone drops, to the foot-hill beyond,
where the "lunger's" cottage stood.
David heaved a sigh of disappointment. He
would so much rather have gone the other way;
but of what use is a fairy counselor and guide
if one does not follow his trail? So with
something very near to a flagging courage David
pushed his way slowly after the tiny footprints.
He missed the exhilaration of the sunshine
and air and excitement of the previous days.
Somehow he felt this time was going to be a
failure and he shrank from facing it; moreover,
he thought of what he might have to tell
Johanna and Barney afterward, around the
fire. A moment before he had felt so rich in the
feeling of Christmas. And now, was he going
to find an unpleasant memory to take away from
the good ones?
There was no sign of life about the little
cottage on the foot-hill. The sleeping-porch was
deserted, the windows were heavily curtained,
the snow was piled up high and unbroken about
the door; even the roadway beyond, which led
down the other side to the village, was smooth
 and crusted, showing that no one had come
or gone from the house since the last fall of
"It looks awfully gloomy and deserted,"
thought David. "The 'lunger' must have
gone away or died!"
The last was a dreadfully dreary thought, and
it almost turned David's feet on the very
threshold, in spite of the fairy's trail. But the
memory of the day before held him back. How
nearly he had come to losing a bit of Christmas
just because an old white-haired negro had
looked at him suddenly through a window! He
would mark himself as a quitter and a " 'fraidcat" for
all time if he ever let such a thing happen
again. And what would the boys on the
block think of him?
With heroic boldness David pushed his skees
up to the baseboard of the door and hammered
hard on the brass knocker. Once, twice, three
times he knocked. Then he heard soft feet
inside and the turning of the key in the lock. In
another minute the door opened, letting in a
generous fall of snow and disclosing a tall, oldish
woman in black, with very black hair and big,
sorrowful black eyes.
"Madre de Dios!" she exclaimed in a soft
 voice full of surprised wonder. "A niño—here,
in this freeze country!"
"If you please," began David, politely, "I
But he did not finish. For the life of him he
could not have told just why he had come.
"Entre, come!" And the woman drew him
in and closed the door behind him. "A boy!
It may be that it will put again the heart in
Alfredo to see a boy. Come, chico!"
She opened another door at the end of a hall
and led him into a bare, cold, cheerless room.
Half a dozen black bentwood chairs stood with
backs against the walls; the two rockers of the
same faced each other at opposite sides of the
fireplace; and between them stretched a cot
covered with heavy blankets. A half-hearted
fire burned on the hearth, and watching it
listlessly from the cot lay a boy about twice his
age, David thought.
"See, Alfredo! See chicito mio, who come
here," the woman called. And the sick youth
turned his head slowly to look at them.
David saw a thin, colorless face with great,
black eyes. They had the same look that was
in the woman's eyes, only the woman did not
look sick, only sad. As the boy saw David he
 smiled in a pleased, surprised way, and held
out a thin, white hand in welcome. But the
hand was so thin David was almost ashamed to
put out his own broad, brown little fist to take
it. He compromised by leaving on his mitten—and
he shook it very gently.
"Ah, it is good," said the boy, simply. "I
am glad to see you."
"Thank you," David beamed. He was glad
he had come. For here there were things that
he could do, and first of all he'd tackle the fire.
"It's this way," he explained as he slipped
out of his outside things. "I'm spending the
winter up on the hill, in the hotel lodge. It's
been getting sort of lonesome there lately
since winter set in, so I thought—I—it seemed
sort of nice to come around and look up some
of the neighbors." David finished out of
Alfredo and his mother exchanged glances.
"That is good," said the boy at last. "You
are the first one, and we, too, have been what
you call 'lonesome.' "
"I'm awfully sorry." And this time David
held out the unmittened fist. "Say, do you
mind if I build up that fire a little? It looks
 "Ah!" The woman held up protesting
hands. "Alfredo is too sick but to lie still.
And I—what do I know about building fires in
open places with wood? It is only the carbon
I know, and the shut stove. And when our
servant leave us three—four day ago and no
one ever comes near to us I think then that we
die of the cold before long time."
Tears of utter despair showed in the woman's
eyes; and David found his own growing sympathetically moist.
"Oh, no! Barney wouldn't let that happen—not
to any one."
It really was dreadful to find a sick boy and a
woman alone—strangers in this country—with
the cold and the loneliness to fight.
"Now you tell me where the wood is, and
I'll have a cracker-jack fire in a minute.
Barney's showed me how. I can make 'em burn
even when the wood's damp." David did not
finish without a tinge of pride in his tone.
He made several trips to the little back room
beyond the kitchen which served as
woodshed, and in a few minutes he had a generous
stack of logs and kindlings beside the hearth
and a roaring fire blazing up the big chimney.
The glow and warmth lit up Alfredo's cheeks
 and kindled a new life in the woman's eyes.
Such a little thing it takes sometimes to put the
hearts back in people.
"Now, if you want me to, I'll just fill up the
kitchen stove and the one in the hall. It's
really too cold here for any one," he ended,
The woman accepted his offer, mutely
grateful; and when both stoves had finally responded
to his coaxings and were cheerfully crackling
and sending out the much-needed heat, David
came back to the open fire and drew up one
of the rockers.
"It is a good niño, eh, Alfredito?" said the
David wriggled uncomfortably.
"Say—I'll tell you about the flagman, and
Uncle Joab at the lumber-camp. Want me
The offer was made as a cloak to his
embarrassment; but the next moment, as he launched
into his narrative of the two previous days, he
had forgotten everything but the tales he had to
tell and the interest of his listeners.
When he had finished, David was surprised
to see the change in the faces of the two. For
the first time they seemed really alive and warm,
 inside and out. Moreover, they looked happy,
"We had almost forgot, chico mio," the
mother said, stroking one of the thin, white
hands, "that comes now the Natividad. Ah,
who would think to find it here in this freeze
"We are South-Americans," the boy explained.
"And down there it is summer now,
with the oranges ripe, and the piña growing and
the air full of the sweetness from the coffee-fields
in bloom and the jasmine and mariposa.
We did not know such cold could be—or so
much snow. Eh, madre?" And the boy
"But how did you come way up here from
your country? Was it the—" David left the
The boy nodded.
"I came first, to be in one of your fine
universities. Many South-Americans come
here for their education. But before many
months I take the cough, and it is then no use
to go back to our country. We blow out there
like a candle in the wind."
The mother went on.
"But the great American doctor say here
 there is a chance in the mountains, if he can
stand the winter. And oh, at first he grow
much better! We see the good health coming.
But now, the great cold, the heart-hunger, the
alone being, it seem to take his strength. I
"Hush, madre! This is not good cheer for a
David felt his cheeks burn with the sudden
tenderness in the boy's look.
"Come, madre," he went on, "have we not
also a tale of Christmas, of the Natividad, to
"There is that one I have told you a thousand
times—the one my mother told me when I
was a niña, home in Spain. The tale of the
Tres Reys and the Christmas promise."
The boy sighed happily.
"There is no better tale in all Spain. Tell it,
madre, to our friend here."
And so this was how the third bit of Christmas
came to David, by way of a locked-out fairy, a
rekindled fire, and a stranger from the far South.
When the Christ-child was born in Bethlehem
of Judea, long years ago, three kings rode out
of the East on their camels, bearing gifts to
 Him. They followed the star until at last they
came to the manger where He lay, a little, newborn
baby. Kneeling down, they put their
gifts beside him: gold, frankincense, and
myrrh; they kissed the hem of the little white
mantle that He wore, and blessed Him. Then
the kings rode away to the East again, but
before ever they went they whispered a promise
to the Christ-child.
And the promise? You shall hear it as the
kings gave it to the Christ-child, long years ago.
"As long as there be children on the earth,
on every Christmas Eve we three kings shall
ride on camels, even as we rode to Thee this
night; and even as we bore Thee gifts so shall
we bear gifts to every child in memory of
Thee—thou holy Babe of Bethlehem!"
In Spain they have remembered what the
Christmas kings promised, and when Christmas
Eve comes each child puts his sapatico—his
little shoe—between the gratings of the window
that they may know a child is in that house
and leave a gift.
Often the shoe is filled with grass for the
camels, and a plate of dates and figs is left
beside it, for the children know the kings have
far to go and may be hungry.
 At day's end bands of children march out of
the city gates, going to meet the kings. But it
always grows dark before they come. The
children are afraid upon the lonely road and
hurry back to their homes, where the good
madres hear them say one prayer to the Nene
Jesu, as they call the Christ-child, and then put
them to bed to dream of the Christmas kings.
Long, long ago there lived in Spain, in the
crowded part of a great city, an old woman
called Doña Josefa. The street in which she
lived was little and narrow, so narrow that if
you leaned out of the window of Doña Josefa's
house you could touch with your finger-tips the
house across the way, and when you looked
above your head the sky seemed but a string
of blue, tying the houses all together. The
sun never found its way into this little street.
The people who lived here were very poor,
as you may guess; Doña Josefa was poor,
likewise. But in one thing she was very rich—she
knew more stories than there were feast-days
in the year, and that is a great many.
Whenever there came a moment free from
work, when Doña Josefa had no water to fetch
from the public well, nor gold to stitch upon the
altar cloth for the Church of Santa Maria del
 Rosario, then she would run out of her house
into the street and call:
"Niños, niños, come quickly! Here is a
story waiting for you."
And the children would come flying like the
gray pal mas when corn is thrown for them in
the Plaza. Ah, how many children there
were in that little street! There were José and
Miguel, and the niños of Enrique, the cobbler,
Alfredito and Juana and Esperanza; and the
little twin sisters of Pancho, the peddler; and
Angela, Maria Teresa, Pedro, Edita, and many
more. Last of all there were Manuel and
Rosita. They had no father, and their mother
was a lavandera who stood all day on the
banks of the river outside the city, washing
When Doña Josefa had called the children
from all the doorways and the dark corners she
would sit down in the middle of the street and
gather them about her. This was safe because
the street was far too narrow to allow a horse
or wagon to pass through. Sometimes a donkey
would slowly pick its way along, or a stupid
goat come searching for things to eat, but that
It happened on the day before Christmas
 that Doña Josefa had finished her work and
sat, as usual, with the children about her.
"To-day you shall have a Christmas story,"
she said, and then she told them of the three
kings and the promise they had made the
"And is it so—do the kings bring presents
to the children now?" Miguel asked.
Doña Josefa nodded her head.
"Then why have they never left us one?
The three kings never pass this street on
Christmas Eve. Why is it, doña?"
"Perhaps it is because we have no shoes to
hold their gifts," said Angela.
And this is true. The poor children of Spain
go barefooted, and often never have a pair of
shoes till they grow up.
Manuel had listened silently to the others,
but now he pulled the sleeve of Doña Josefa's
gown with coaxing fingers:
"I know why it is the kings bring no gifts to
us. See, the street; it is too small; their camels
could not pass between the door-steps here.
The kings must ride where the streets are broad
and smooth and clean, where their long mantles
will not be soiled and torn and the camels will
 not stumble. It is the children in the great
streets, the children of the rich, who find presents
in their sapaticos on Christmas morning.
Is it not so, Doña Josefa?"
And Miguel cried, "Does Manuel speak
true—is it only the children of the rich?"
"Ah, chicito mio, it should not be so! When
the promise was given to the Nene Jesu there
in Bethlehem they said, 'to every child.' Yes,
every little child."
"But it is not strange they should forget us
here," Manuel insisted. "The little street is
hidden in the shadow of the great ones."
Then Rosita spoke, clasping her hands together with great eagerness:
"I know; it is because we have no shoes!
That is why they never stop. Perhaps Enrique
would lend us the shoes he is mending, just
for one night. If we had shoes the kings would
surely see that there are little children in the
street, and leave a gift for each of us. Come,
let us ask Enrique!"
"Madre de Dios, it is a blessed thought!"
cried all. And like the flock of gray palomas
they swept down the street to the farthest end,
where Enrique hammered and stitched away
all day on the shoes of the rich children.
 Manuel stayed behind with Doña Josefa.
When the last pair of little brown feet had
disappeared inside the sapateria he said, softly:
"If some one could go out and meet the
kings to tell them of this little street, and
how the niños here have never had a
Christmas gift, do you think they might ride hither
Doña Josefa shook her head doubtfully.
"If that were possible— But never have I
heard of any one who met the kings on Christmas Eve."
All day in the city people hurried to and fro.
In the great streets flags were waving from the
housetops, and wreaths of laurel, or garlands of
heliotrope and mariposa, hung above the open
doorways and in the windows. Sweetmeat-sellers
were crying their wares; and the Keeper-of-the-City
lighted flaming torches to hang
upon the gates and city walls. Everywhere was
merrymaking and gladness, for not only was
this Christmas Eve, but the King of Spain was
coming to keep his holiday within the city.
Some whispered that he was riding from the
North, and with him rode his cousins, the kings
of France and Lombardy, and with them were
a great following of nobles, knights, and
 minstrels. Others said the kings rode all alone—it was their wish.
As the sun was turning the cathedral spires
to shafts of gold, bands of children, hand in
hand, marched out of the city. They took the
road that led toward the setting sun, thinking
it was the East, and said among themselves,
"See, yonder is the way the kings will ride."
"I have brought a basket of figs," cried
"I have dates in a new panuela," cried another.
"And I," cried a third, "I have brought a
sack of sweet limes, they are so cooling."
Thus each in turn showed some small gift
that he was bringing for the kings. And while
they chatted together one child began to sing
the sweet Nativity Hymn. In a moment others
joined until the still night air rang with their
"Unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a gift is given.
Hail with holiness the morn,
Kneel before the Prince of Heaven.
Blessed be this day of birth,
God hath given His Son to earth.
Jesu, Jesu, Nene Jesu,
 Behind the little hills the sun went down,
leaving a million sparks of light upon the
"Yonder come the kings!" the children cried.
"See the splendor of their shining crowns and
how the jewels sparkle on their mantles! They
may be angry if they find us out so late; come,
let us run home before they see us."
The children turned. Back to the city gates
they ran, back to their homes, to the good
madres watching for them and their own white
beds ready for them.
But one they left behind them on the road:
a little, bare-limbed boy whose name was
Manuel. He watched until the children had
disappeared within the gates, and then he
turned again toward the setting sun.
"I have no gift for the kings," he thought,
"but there is fresh green grass beside the way
that I can gather for the camels."
He stopped, pulled his hands full, and stuffed
it in the front of the little blue vestido that he
wore. He followed the road for a long way
until heavy sleep came to his eyes.
"How still it is upon the road! God has
blown out His light and soon it will be dark. I
wish I were with the others, safe within the city;
 for the dark is full of fearsome things when one
is all alone. . . . Mamita will be coming home
soon and bringing supper for Rosita and me.
Perhaps to-night there will be an almond dulce
or pan de gloria—perhaps. . . . I wonder will
Rosita not forget the little prayer I told her to
be always saying. My feet hurt with the many
stones; the night wind blows cold; I am weary
and my feet stumble with me. . . . Oh,
Nene Jesu, listen! I also make the prayer:
'Send the three kings before Manuel is too
weary and afraid!' "
A few more steps he took upon the road, and
then, as a reed is blown down by the wind,
Manuel swayed, unknowingly for a moment,
and slowly sank upon the ground, fast asleep.
How long he slept I cannot tell you; but a
hand on his shoulder wakened him. Quickly
he opened his eyes, wondering, and saw—yes,
he saw the three kings! Tall and splendid they
looked in the starlight, their mantles shimmering
with myriad gems. One stood above
Manuel, asking what he did upon the road at that
Manuel rose to his feet, thrusting his hand
inside the shirt for the grass he had gathered.
"It is for the camels, señor; I have no other
 gift. But you—you ride horses this Christmas
"Yes, we ride horses. What is that to you?"
"Pardon, señores, nothing. The three kings
can ride horses if they wish; only—we were
told you rode on camels from the East."
"What does the child want?" The voice was
kind, but it sounded impatient, as though the
one who spoke had work waiting to be done and
was anxious to be about it.
Manuel heard and felt all this wondering.
"What if there is not time for them to come, or
gifts enough!" He laid an eager, pleading
hand on one king's mantle.
"I can hold the horses if you will come this
once. It is a little street and hard to find,
señores; I thought perhaps you would leave a
present—just one little present for the children
there. You told the Christ-child you would
give to every child. Don't you remember?
There are many of us who have never had a gift—a Christmas gift."
"Do you know who we are?"
Manuel answered, joyfully: "Oh yes,
Excellencias, you are the Three Christmas Kings,
riding from Bethlehem. Will you come with
 The kings spoke with one accord, "Verily,
One lifted Manuel on his horse; and silently
they rode into the city. The Keeper slumbered
at the gates; the streets were empty. On, past
the houses that were garlanded they went
unseen; and on through the great streets until
they came to the little street at last. The
kings dismounted. They gave their bridles
into Manuel's hand, and then, gathering up
their precious mantles of silk and rich brocade,
they passed down the little street. With eyes
that scarce believed what they saw, Manuel
watched them go from house to house, saw them
stop and feel for the shoes between the gratings,
the shoes loaned by Enrique, the cobbler, and
saw them fill each one with shining gold pieces.
In the morning Manuel told the story to the
children as they went to spend one golden
doblon for toys and candy and sugared cakes.
And a gift they brought for Doña Josefa, too;
a little figure of the Holy Mother with the
Christ-child in her arms.
And so the promise made in Bethlehem was
made again, and to a little child; and it was
kept. For many, many years, long after
Man-  uel was grown and had niños of his own, the
kings remembered the little street, and brought
their gifts there every Christmas Eve.
There was a long silence after David had
finished retelling the story to Barney and
Johanna that night. The wind was howling
outside and beating the snow in hard cakes against
"Sure, it's up to some one to keep heart in
those two till spring comes," Johanna said at
last. "Think o' coming up here from one o'
them sizzling-hot places. Holy St. Patrick!"
"Aye, and a sick boy and a woman—the frail
kind, I'm thinking, not used to lifting her hand
to anything heavy."
Barney got up and peered out.
"Well, if the snow's not over our heads the
morrow I can beat my way there and keep their
fires going for another day."
David got up and joined Barney, sliding a
grateful hand through his.
"That would be bully! You know his mother
said if they could only keep the big fire going
on the open porch and get him out there again
she was sure he'd begin to get better. It's
been the cold and the staying indoors that has
 put him back. Do you think, Barney, do you
think— You know I could take my turn at it."
"Sure and ye can, laddy. Wait till the
morrow and we'll see what we can do—the two
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