| 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 TRAPPER'S TALE OF THE FIRST BIRTHDAY
HE snow was still falling steadily next
morning and David came down to breakfast with an anxious face.
"Now don't be worrying, laddy," was Barney's
reassuring greeting. "It takes a powerful
lot o' snow to keep a man housed on these
hills when he has something fetching him out."
And Johanna, coming in with her hands full
of steaming griddle-cakes, brought more encouragement.
"Sure, it's a storm, but not too fierce for a
strong man like Barney to brave for them that's
in trouble. And I've a can of good soup
jelly and a fresh-baked loaf of bread and some
eggs for ye to fetch with ye."
"Oh!" David dug his two hands down deep
in his pockets and smiled ecstatically. "I
suppose—it's too bad going for me." He appealed
 "Aye, it is that! Wait till afternoon. The
storm may break by then and ye could get out
for a bit. But there's too much weather afoot
for a little lad just now."
So David watched Barney make ready alone.
Johanna's things were bundled and strapped on
his back that his two arms might be free.
Then he made fast his snow-shoes—it was no
day for skees—and pulling his fur parka down
to cover all but his eyes he started off. He
looked like a man of the northland. David
watched him out of sight, and then he and
Johanna fell to the making of a mammoth
Christmas cake. There were nuts to be cracked
and fruits to be chopped; all good boy work,
as Johanna said, and he was glad to be busy.
At noon Barney returned with great news.
He had left the South-Americans comfortable
and happy. Alfredo was back on his open
porch with a monstrous fire roaring up the
outside chimney and wood enough stacked
within their reach for them to keep it going for a
week. The mother had wept over Johanna's
gifts. They had lived for days on canned
things and stale bread; and she had blessed
them all in what Barney had termed "Spanish
 "Sure, ye needn't be fearing about them
longer, laddy; they've the hearts back in them
again, and, what's more, they'll stay there, I'm
As Barney had prophesied, the snow stopped
at noon; and after dinner David set forth on his
last quest. Warnings from Johanna and
Barney followed him out of the lodge: not to be
going far—and to mind well his trail. All of
which he promised. It was not so very far to
the trapper's and the trail was as plain as the
There was no sign of the locked-out fairy, and
David expected none. There was but one
path left to take. Why should any one come to
show him the way? Although the trail lay
down the hill David's going was very slow.
He sank deep at every step and where the
drifts were high he had to make long detours,
which nearly doubled the distance. When he
reached the hut at last he met the trapper at
his very door-sill. The pack on his back looked
full, and David guessed he had just been down
to the village for supplies. He eyed David
with a grave concern through the opening in his
parka; and David wondered whether the rest of
the face would be grave, or kind, or forbidding.
 "Nicholas Bassaraba has few visitors, but
you are welcome."
The voice was gruff but not unkindly, and
the trapper pushed open the door of his hut
and motioned David inside. They stood stamping
the snow from their boots; and then the
trapper lifted his hood and David saw that he
was not at all like the Grimm picture of Bluebeard.
He was dark and swarthy-skinned, to
be sure, but he wore no beard—only a small
mustache and his eyebrows were not heavy
and sinister-looking and his mouth was almost
friendly. If the line of gravity should break
into a smile David felt sure it would be a very
friendly smile. The trapper proceeded to
remove the rest of his outer garments and David
did the same. When the operation was over
they stood there facing each other solemnly—a
very large, foreign-looking man and a small
"Come! This is a day to sit close to the
fire and to smoke, if one is big. If one
happens to be small, there is—let me see—I think
there is chocolate."
The trapper opened a small cupboard and
drew out a tinfoiled package which he tossed
over to David; then from his pocket he brought
 a pipe and a pouch. He held the pipe empty
between his teeth, while he rebuilt the fire that
was low on the hearth. When the fresh wood
began to snap he drew up a chair for each of
them, close, and proceeded to fill his pipe.
David gazed curiously about the room. It
was large and it seemed to serve as kitchen,
dining-room, sleeping and living quarters, all
combined. The end where they sat by the
open fireplace was for living and sleeping; the
two comfortable chairs, the table with a
reading-lamp, the small case with books, and the couch
plainly told this. At the other end was a cook-stove,
the cupboard, water-pails, dish-rack,
frying-pans and pots hanging against the wall, and
a rough pine table with a straight chair. The
walls were covered with skins and guns,
cartridge-belts, and knives of all descriptions.
Altogether David found it a very interesting
place, almost as interesting as the man who
lived there. His eyes came back to the trapper,
who again was considering him gravely.
"It's a bully good place for a man to live in,"
was David's enthusiastic comment.
"It is good enough for one who must live a
stranger, in a strange land."
For all his rough clothes and his calling, the
 man spoke more like a scholar than a backwoodsman;
David had noticed that the first
time he had spoken. He spoke with as
educated a tongue as his own father; there was
a slight foreign twist to it, that was the only
"Where is your country?"
David asked it simply, not out of idle
curiosity, but to place the man at home in his own
"My country? Ah, what used to be my
country is a little place, not so big as this one
state of yours. It is somewhere near the blue
Mediterranean, but it is nearer to Prussia.
Bah! What does it mutter? Nicholas
Bassaraba knows no country now but the woods;
no people but those." He pointed to the skins
on the walls.
"And you kill them!" The accusation was
out before David realized it was even on his
"Ah, what would you have me do? I must
live. Is that not so? And is it not better to
live on the creatures of the woods than on one's
fellow-men? I kill only what I need for
sustenance; for the rest I hurt not one."
There was a hidden fierceness back of the
 soft voice and David felt immediately apologetic:
"Excuse me! Of course it's all right. I only
thought when you spoke of them as your people,
and then pointed to their pelts hung around, it
sounded sort of barbaric. Sort of like the
Indians showing off their scalps, or the head-hunters showing their skulls."
The trapper smiled, and the smile was
"Youth is ever quick to accuse and as quick
to forgive. I know. It is hard for you to
understand how I can make them my friends
through the long summer; and then, when
winter comes and there is a price on their
fur, trap them and kill them. But Nicholas
Bassaraba kills only enough to bring him in the
bare needs of life, and then only for one half
the year. For the rest, I am a guide; I carry
the packs for the gentlemen campers; I build
their fires; I draw their water."
The smile changed to a contemptuous curl of
the lips. "Such it is to be a man locked out of
his own country."
David watched him uncomfortably for an
instant. Then he laughed—he could not help
 "You're not the only one. There are two
more of us; and I don't know but what you'd
call the flagman another, and Uncle Joab, and
maybe the South-Americans, too. You see,
I'm just sort of locked out, but the others are
truly locked out." And David launched into
an account of himself and of what he knew of
the others, all but the fairy.
"And is that all? I thought you said there
was another person," reminded the trapper.
David blushed consciously. Not that there
was the slightest reason for blushing. He
certainly felt no shame in his acquaintanceship
with the locked-out fairy. It was rather the
feeling of shyness in having to put it all into
words, and there was always the uncertainty
of how a stranger would take it. You never
could tell how people were going to take fairies,
anyhow. Besides, maybe there were no fairies
in what had been this man's country.
"The other is not exactly a person," David
began, slowly, "not exactly. Say, did you ever
see a fairy?"
A look of amazement filled the face of the
trapper. It seemed to well up from his eyes
and burst forth from his mouth.
"You mean the little people?" he asked at
 last. "The nixies and the dwarfs and the
kobolds, that live under the earth and play
pranks on us unsuspecting mortals?"
"Sort of. Have you ever seen one?"
The trapper shook his head vehemently.
"Well, I have!" And without in the least
understanding why he was doing it David told
the story of the locked-out fairy.
When he had finished, the trapper was smiling again.
"Ah, the poor manikin! And here there
are three, five, seven of us, all locked out from
our homelands; and here was I, Nicholas Bassaraba,
thinking I was the only one to feel the
homesickness. Bah! Sometimes a man is a
He thought a minute.
"And you say he wore the squirrel coat—the
very one I missed from the shed door where it
was drying? And all the time I think it was
the African from the lumber-camp who takes
He laughed aloud and stretched his arms out
with a little cry of pleasure.
"Ah, it is good, very good, for one outcast
to clothe another. To-night I must put out
 some bread and honey, as my people used to
for the little spirits; the manikin may be
"Tell me," said David, suddenly, "do your
people have any stories—stories of Christmas?"
The trapper repeated it—almost as if it were
a strange word to him. "Wait a minute—keep
very still. I will see can I think back a story
David sat without stirring, almost without
breathing, as the trapper puffed silently at his
pipe. He puffed the bowl quite empty, then
knocking the ashes clean out of his pipe he put
it back in his pocket again and looked up at
David with the old grave look.
"There is a people in our country who are
called wanderers; some say they have been
wanderers for two thousand years. You call
them gipsies or Egyptians; we call them
'Tzigan.' Now, they are vagabonds, for the
most part, dirty, thieving rascals, ready to tell
a fortune or pick a pocket, as the fancy takes
them; but—it was not always so. Some say
that they have been cursed because they feared
to give shelter to Mary and Joseph and the
Child when the King of Judea forced them to
 flee into Egypt. But the gipsies themselves say
that this is not true; and this is the story the
Tzigan mothers tell their children on the night
of Christmas, as they sit around the fire that is
always burning in the heart of a Romany camp."
It was winter—and twelve months since the
gipsies had driven their flocks of mountain-sheep
over the dark, gloomy Balkans, and had
settled in the southlands near to the Ægean.
It was twelve months since they had seen a
wonderful star appear in the sky and heard the
singing of angelic voices afar off.
They had marveled much concerning the star
until a runner had passed them from the South
bringing them news that the star had marked
the birth of a Child whom the wise men had
hailed as "King of Israel" and "Prince of
Peace." This had made Herod of Judea both
afraid and angry and he had sent soldiers
secretly to kill the Child; but in the night they
had miraculously disappeared—the Child with
Mary and Joseph—and no one knew whither
they had gone. Therefore Herod had sent
runners all over the lands that bordered the
Mediterranean with a message forbidding every
one giving food or shelter or warmth to the
 Child, under penalty of death. For Herod's
anger was far-reaching and where his anger fell
there fell his sword likewise. Having given his
warning, the runner passed on, leaving the
gipsies to marvel much over the tale they had
heard and the meaning of the star.
Now on that day that marked the end of the
twelve months since the star had shone the
gipsies said among themselves: "Dost thou
think that the star will shine again to-night?
If it were true, what the runner said, that when
it shone twelve months ago it marked the place
where the Child lay it may even mark His
hiding-place this night. Then Herod would
know where to find Him, and send his soldiers
again to slay Him. That would be a cruel thing
The air was chill with the winter frost, even
there in the southland, close to the Ægean; and
the gipsies built high their fire and hung their
kettle full of millet, fish, and bitter herbs for
their supper. The king lay on his couch of
tiger-skins and on his arms were amulets of
heavy gold, while rings of gold were on his
fingers and in his ears. His tunic was of heavy
silk covered with a leopard cloak, and on his
feet were shoes of goat-skin trimmed with fur.
 Now, as they feasted around the fire a voice
came to them through the darkness, calling.
It was a man's voice, climbing the mountains
from the south.
"Ohe! Ohe!" he shouted. And then nearer,
The gipsies were still disputing among
themselves whence the voice came when there walked
into the circle about the fire a tall, shaggy man,
grizzled with age, and a sweet-faced young
mother carrying a child.
"We are outcasts," said the man, hoarsely.
"Ye must know that whosoever succors us will
bring Herod's vengeance like a sword about his
head. For a year we have wandered homeless
and cursed over the world. Only the wild
creatures have not feared to share their food and give
us shelter in their lairs. But to-night we can go
no farther; and we beg the warmth of your fire
and food enough to stay us until the morrow."
The king looked at them long before he made
reply. He saw the weariness in their eyes and
the famine in their cheeks; he saw, as well, the
holy light that hung about the child, and he
said at last to his men:
"It is the Child of Bethlehem, the one they
call the 'Prince of Peace.' As yon man says,
 who shelters them shelters the wrath of Herod
as well. Shall we let them tarry?"
One of their number sprang to his feet, crying:
"It is a sin to turn strangers from the fire, a
greater sin if they be poor and friendless.
And what is a king's wrath to us? I say bid
them welcome. What say the rest?"
And with one accord the gipsies shouted,
"Yea, let them tarry!"
They brought fresh skins and threw them
down beside the fire for the man and woman to
rest on. They brought them food and wine,
and goat's milk for the Child; and when they
had seen that all was made comfortable for
them they gathered round the Child—these
black gipsy men—to touch His small white
hands and feel His golden hair. They brought
Him a chain of gold to play with and another
for His neck and tiny arm.
"See, these shall be Thy gifts, little one,"
said they, "the gifts for Thy first birthday."
And long after all had fallen asleep the Child
lay on His bed of skins beside the blazing fire
and watched the light dance on the beads of
gold. He laughed and clapped His hands together
to see the pretty sight they made; and
then a bird called out of the thicket close by.
 "Little Child of Bethlehem," it called, "I,
too, have a birth gift for Thee. I will sing
Thy cradle song this night." And softly, like
the tinkling of a silver bell and like clear water
running over mossy places, the nightingale sang
and sang, filling the air with melodies.
And then another voice called to him:
"Little Child of Bethlehem, I am only a
tree with boughs all bare, for the winter has
stolen my green cloak, but I also can give Thee
a birth gift. I can give Thee shelter from the
biting north wind that blows." And the tree
bent low its branches and twined a rooftree
and a wall about the Child.
Soon the Child was fast asleep, and while He
slept a small brown bird hopped out of the
thicket. Cocking his little head, he said:
"What can I be giving the Child of
Bethlehem? I could fetch Him a fat worm to eat or
catch Him the beetle that crawls on yonder
bush, but He would not like that! And I could
tell Him a story of the lands of the north, but
He is asleep and would not hear." And the
brown bird shook its head quite sorrowfully.
Then it saw that the wind was bringing the
sparks from the fire nearer and nearer to the
 "I know what I can do," said the bird,
joyously. "I can catch the hot sparks on my
breast, for if one should fall upon the Child
it would burn Him grievously."
So the small brown bird spread wide his
wings and caught the sparks on his own brown
breast. So many fell that the feathers were
burned; and burned was the flesh beneath
until the breast was no longer brown, but
Next morning, when the gipsies awoke, they
found Mary and Joseph and the Child gone.
For Herod had died, and an angel had come in
the night and carried them back to the land of
Judea. But the good God blessed those who
had cared that night for the Child.
To the nightingale He said: "Your song shall
be the sweetest in all the world, for ever and
ever; and only you shall sing the long night
To the tree He said: "Little fir-tree, never
more shall your branches be bare. Winter and
summer you and your seedlings shall stay green,
Last of all He blessed the brown bird:
"Faithful little watcher, from this night forth
you and your children shall have red breasts,
 that the world may never forget your gift to
the Child of Bethlehem."
The trapper smiled gravely at David.
"And that, my friend, was the robin."
"Yes, I know," said David, simply.
He felt very still and quiet inside, almost as
if he had dreamed himself into the Romany
camp beside the fire, and seen with his own eyes
the coming of the Child. It seemed too real,
too close to talk about just then; he even forgot
to tell the trapper that he liked it. And then
the trapper's next words brought him to his
"You are not knowing, it may be, that the
night has fallen and the snow is with it again.
Come, I think Nicholas Bassaraba will guide
you safely to your hilltop."
One glance through the window told David
the truth of the words. It was almost dark
outside and snow was very thick in the air.
Silently they put on their garments and
fastened their snow-shoes. Then with the
command to keep close at his heels, the trapper
led the way up the trail.
The first thing of which David was conscious
was that his strength was going amazingly fast.
 It seemed but a moment since he had started,
and the trapper was climbing very slowly; yet
David began to find it unbelievably hard to pull
one foot after the other. Gritting his teeth, he
stumbled on a few yards farther. Then he fell,
picked himself up, and fell again. The third
time the trapper helped him to his feet, and,
coming behind him, he put a strong hand at
David's back and pushed. They struggled on
this way for another ten minutes until David
fell again. This time it was the trapper's
strength alone which righted him, for David's
had entirely gone. He stood looking with
dazed eyes into the trapper's, ashamed and
"It is all right. It is nothing to be ashamed
of." The trapper's voice seemed to come from
very far away. "You have climbed many
lengths farther than I expected. Now you
shall see how Nicholas Bassaraba can pack a
hundred pounds when he is guiding for a friend."
He stooped and lifted David on his back,
drawing the boy's arms well over his shoulders,
and slipping his own firmly under the boy's
That was the last David knew until he felt
the ground under his feet again and blinked
 stupidly at the light Johanna was holding at
the open door of the lodge.
"Laddy, laddy, wherever have ye been?"
He heard the distress in Johanna's voice even
through his own numbness, and tried to smile
"Barney's been scouring the hill for ye this
"He has been to visit a friend, and the friend
has brought him back safely," said the trapper.
And without another word he disappeared in
the snow and the darkness.
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