|The Christmas Porringer|
|by Evaleen Stein|
|An earthenware porringer, bought by a little Flemish girl of Bruges as a gift for the Christ child and stolen by Robber Hans, finally brings much happiness to her and her grandmother, the lace maker. Ages 6-9 |
HE midnight music had ceased for some time, and The
Little Street Of The Holy Ghost was very quiet and
deserted, as indeed it had been all the evening. But
presently any one looking up it might have seen a man
moving swiftly along. He did not walk like honest
folk, but trod softly on the narrow flagstones close
to the tall old houses, and seemed to try to keep
 their shadows; and his eyes were all the while alertly
watching everything about him.
As he came in front of the little yellow house the moon
was slowly sinking behind a high gable across the
street, but a last ray of silvery light fell across the
doorstep, and just touched the edge of the porringer as
it stood where Karen had placed it.
The man's keen eyes caught the gleam of something
there, and though he could not tell exactly what it
was, as the moonlight was waning fast, he nevertheless
stooped quickly, and seizing the porringer in his hand,
thrust it into the great pocket of his ragged coat.
Then he hurried on and turned the corner and soon was
 the shadows of a narrow passageway between two old
"THE MAN'S KEEN EYES CAUGHT THE GLEAM OF SOMETHING THERE."
Now, this man was known among evil-doers as
"Hans the Robber," and many times the watchmen of
Bruges had tried to catch him and punish him because
he had stolen so many things from honest folk.
But always he managed to get away from them; or, if
they came to the miserable hut where he lived at the
edge of the city, he had some story to tell that
deceived them so they could prove nothing against him,
or else he contrived to hide until they got tired
searching for him.
But people suspected him and shunned him as much as
possible. On this night he had gone out
 hoping that while many were in the churches attending
the midnight mass, he might find a chance to creep
into some house and rob the owner of whatever he could.
But he had not had good success in his dishonest work.
To be sure, he had stolen a silver cup from one place;
but then he had been frightened off before he could
secure more, and so he had decided to try another and
quieter part of the city; and as he came along the
deserted Little Street Of The Holy Ghost and saw the
porringer on the doorstep, he took it, because he
always took everything he could.
When, after dropping it into his pocket, he went
around the corner and into the passage-way,
 he reached his hand stealthily through the half closed
shutters of a tall house beside him and tried to
unfasten the window so that he might steal in. But just
then he heard some one stirring within, and angrily
muttering to himself, he fled away.
Here and there, as he hurried along, the waning
moonbeams still shed a lingering light; and besides,
it was getting so near dawn time that at last he
decided that it was no use trying to get in anywhere
else that night; and so he went back to his hut. When
he reached this, he first carefully hid the silver cup
he had stolen, by putting it in a cranny under a loose
board in the floor; then throwing himself down on a
 bed of straw heaped in a corner, he soon fell into a
When Hans the Robber awoke next morning,
the hut was cold and cheerless. He rose from his
wretched bed, and found a few billets of wood with
which he kindled some fire on the untidy hearth.
In the bare cupboard he found little save crusts of
black bread; and as he ate these he sat down on a
rickety bench, which he pulled close to the fire, and
drew his ragged coat closer around him.
Everything looked very dreary and desolate to him; and,
as he heard the Christmas bells beginning to ring, a
bitter look came into his face, for it had been
 many years since Christmas had meant anything to
Robber Hans. He shrugged his shoulders, and thrust both
hands into the pockets of his coat. As he did so, he
felt something in one of them which he had forgotten
all about; and then drawing out the little porringer,
which still held the two Christmas cakes, he stared at
it in surprise.
"Now, where could I have picked up that?" he said to
himself, as he set it down on the bench beside him.
Then he remembered how he had taken some object from
the doorstep of a little yellow house that stood on a
He took up one of the little cakes and broke it, and,
as he was
 hungry, in two bites he had eaten it. As he took the
other one in his fingers, he began to look at it
curiously and to think.
Robber Hans had not eaten a little cake like that for
years and years. All at once, with a start,
old memories began to waken in his mind; for the
little cake made him think of when he was a little boy
and his mother had made just such wonderful little
ginger cakes full of orange-peel and red cherries. And
then, as he looked at the empty porringer, he stared at
it with an almost startled look, for he remembered how
he used to eat his bread and milk from a porringer
exactly like that; only instead of a little girl
painted in the bowl, in his was a little boy.
 Robber Hans could remember precisely how that little
boy looked in his blue blouse and wooden shoes, and on
his head a broad-brimmed hat of Breton straw, with a
red ribbon on it.
For Robber Hans as a child had lived in the old
seaport town of Quiberon, in Brittany, where
his father was a fisherman. His mother's home before
she married had been in Bruges, and so it was that at
holiday time she always made for the little family of
children the Christmas cakes like that which Robber
Hans now held in his hand.
As he remembered all these things he forgot all about
being cold and hungry. Presently, laying down the
little cake, he took
 up the porringer and looked closely at the little
girl holding the red rose in her hand.
Robber Hans in those far-away days had had a little
sister whom he dearly loved; and the more he looked
at the little girl in the porringer, the more he
thought of his little sister Emschen, till presently
he was sure that the face looking up at him from under the
stiff white cap was the face of Emschen. It did not
matter whether it looked like the little sister or not,
for before the eyes of Robber Hans memory was bringing back her
face so clearly that to him it seemed really there. Yes, and
he was quite sure, too, that Emschen had worn a little apron
 like that; and there was the rose in her hand, and he
remembered how she had loved roses!
It all came back to him how when they were children
together he had made a little flower bed for her, close
by their cottage door, and how both of them had carried
white scallop shells from the edge of the sea and laid
them around it, making a pretty border; and how pleased
Emschen had been when her first little rosebush had a
blossom, and how wonderfully it had flourished in the salt
sea air, as do all the roses of Brittany.
And then more and more things came back to his memory,
and the longer he looked and thought, his own face began
grad-  ually to soften, till, by and by, the oddest thing
happened—a great tear fell into the porringer and lay
there like a drop of dew on one of the painted
At this he roused himself, and, quickly brushing his
hand across his eyes, he angrily thrust the porringer
from him, and the bitter look came back into his face.
For his memory, having started, would not stop with the
pleasant days when he was a little boy in Quiberon, but
went on and on, bringing freshly back to him how
father, mother, and Emschen, all were gone; the father
drowned in the stormy Breton sea, and the mother and
Emschen sleeping in the wind-swept God's acre of
Quiberon, with no one to lay on
 their graves even so much as a green holly leaf at
Christmas time, or a wild poppy flower on Midsummer
day. He saw in memory his brothers grown up and
scattered from the old home, and himself become a
sailor roving the sea to many lands; and then later on
drifting ashore in the Flemish country, and overtaken
by misfortune after misfortune, till at last he had
fallen so low that here in Bruges, his mother's old
home, he was known only as Robber Hans!
He rose to his feet, and, in a fit of sudden anger,
because of his wasted and unhappy life, he
seized the little porringer which had reminded him of
what he had lost, and was about to dash it to
 pieces on the bricks of the hearth. But, just as he
raised his hand, something seemed to stop him. He could
not tell why, but instead of breaking the porringer he
slowly walked over to the empty cupboard and placed it
on the shelf. Then, bewildered by his own action, he
stood a moment and stared at it.
Presently, as his unhappy thoughts came crowding back
again, his bitterness and anger rose as before, and he
wanted to be rid of the porringer. But instead of
trying to break it this time, another idea occurred to
him. "There!" he muttered gruffly to himself, as
he turned away from the cupboard, "It can stay there
till to-morrow, and then
 I will take it with the silver cup and sell it at the
That was a place in the old city
where those who lived by stealing from others were
accustomed to dispose of their spoils; and so among
themselves they called it the "thieves' market." The
dealer who kept the place and who bought their stolen
articles knew how to send them around quietly and
sell them, usually in other cities, where there was
less danger of their being discovered by their rightful
Robber Hans had many times before disposed of his
dishonestly gotten things to the keeper of the thieves'
market; and so when he made up his mind to sell the
por-  ringer along with the silver cup, he knew very well where
to take them. But he knew, too, that he would have to
wait till the next day, for the dealer would probably
not be in his place until Christmas was over.
Having thus made up his mind how to rid himself of the
porringer, and meantime having nothing to do in the hut, he
thrust on his battered cap, and pulling it down over his eyes, he
strode out into the street.
After wandering aimlessly about for some time, at last he made
his way to a certain quay, or open space, on the edge of one
of the many old canals of the city. There were numbers of these
embankments which had
 been made, in the days of Bruges' prosperity, as mooring
places for the freighted barges that carried her commerce.
And though the barges had long since deserted all but a few of
the quiet waterways, still the quays bore their old Flemish
names. Thus, the one to which Hans had wandered was called the
Quai du Rosaire. Here a moss-grown stone bridge crossed the
water, and in a paved square near by and in a tumbledown old
brown house facing the square, for three days of every week a fish
market was held. And here, on holidays, the rougher folk of
Bruges would gather to amuse themselves.
Robber Hans crossed the paved square and entered the old
 house, where he was greeted boisterously as he joined the
noisy company. But somehow their rough talk and rude actions
did not please him as they had often done before. He was silent
and moody, and at last the others taunted him so with his sour looks,
that he got up from a bench where he was sitting beside a tipsy
fishmonger, and, flinging back some scornful words, he left
the place and went out.
Again he wandered aimlessly along the snowy streets; till after
a while the wintry wind blew through his ragged coat and he
shivered with cold. He was, by this time, near the great square
where the belfry rose from the Halles, and making his way to
he crept into the shelter of its entrance. Then, in a little while,
he ventured inside and dropped down on the long, wooden seat between
its tall windows. And though many who came and went through the
Halles looked at him suspiciously, no one cared to make him go
away, for it was the blessed Christmas day, and so the hearts of
all were kindlier for the while.
As he leaned back against the wall, by and by the warmth of the
room made him drowsy and he fell asleep. And, as he slept, there
flitted through his brain a great many confused dreams; and with
almost all of them the thoughts started by the little porringer
seemed somehow to
 be connected. Sometimes he dreamed he was a little boy
again, in Quiberon; and then Emschen would seem to be
running toward him with a red rose in her hand; but
always when she came near to him, though she put out
her hands to him, he could not touch her, and the red
rose faded and fell apart. And then the dreams trailed
off so dim and shadowy that when at last he awakened
Hans could not remember just what it was that he had
dreaming. He only vaguely knew that it had something
to do with the porringer and that it had made him
unhappy; and as he stumbled to his feet and set out for
his hut, he again determined to get rid of it as soon
as he could.
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