Story type: Literature
“Whirr-r-r! whirr-r-r! whirr-r-r!” said the wind, and it tore through the streets of the city that Christmas eve, turning umbrellas inside out, driving the snow in fitful gusts before it, creaking the rusty signs and shutters, and playing every kind of rude prank it could think of.
“How cold your breath is to-night!” said Barbara, with a shiver, as she drew her tattered little shawl the closer around her benumbed body.
“Whirr-r-r! whirr-r-r! whirr-r-r!” answered the wind; “but why are you out in this storm? You should be at home by the warm fire.”
“I have no home,” said Barbara; and then she sighed bitterly, and something like a tiny pearl came in the corner of one of her sad blue eyes.
But the wind did not hear her answer, for it had hurried up the street to throw a handful of snow in the face of an old man who was struggling along with a huge basket of good things on each arm.
“Why are you not at the cathedral?” asked a snowflake, as it alighted on Barbara’s shoulder. “I heard grand music, and saw beautiful lights there as I floated down from the sky a moment ago.”
“What are they doing at the cathedral?” inquired Barbara.
“Why, haven’t you heard?” exclaimed the snowflake. “I supposed everybody knew that the prince was coming to-morrow.”
“Surely enough; this is Christmas eve,” said Barbara, “and the prince will come to-morrow.”
Barbara remembered that her mother had told her about the prince, how beautiful and good and kind and gentle he was, and how he loved the little children; but her mother was dead now, and there was none to tell Barbara of the prince and his coming,–none but the little snowflake.
“I should like to see the prince,” said Barbara, “for I have heard he was very beautiful and good.”
“That he is,” said the snowflake. “I have never seen him, but I heard the pines and the firs singing about him as I floated over the forest to-night.”
“Whirr-r-r! whirr-r-r!” cried the wind, returning boisterously to where Barbara stood. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere, little snowflake! So come with me.”
And without any further ado, the wind seized upon the snowflake and hurried it along the street and led it a merry dance through the icy air of the winter night.
Barbara trudged on through the snow and looked in at the bright things in the shop windows. The glitter of the lights and the sparkle of the vast array of beautiful Christmas toys quite dazzled her. A strange mingling of admiration, regret, and envy filled the poor little creature’s heart.
“Much as I may yearn to have them, it cannot be,” she said to herself, “yet I may feast my eyes upon them.”
“Go away from here!” said a harsh voice. “How can the rich people see all my fine things if you stand before the window? Be off with you, you miserable little beggar!”
It was the shopkeeper, and he gave Barbara a savage box on the ear that sent her reeling into the deeper snowdrifts of the gutter.
Presently she came to a large house where there seemed to be much mirth and festivity. The shutters were thrown open, and through the windows Barbara could see a beautiful Christmas-tree in the centre of a spacious room–a beautiful Christmas-tree ablaze with red and green lights, and heavy with toys and stars and glass balls and other beautiful things that children love. There was a merry throng around the tree, and the children were smiling and gleeful, and all in that house seemed content and happy. Barbara heard them singing, and their song was about the prince who was to come on the morrow.
“This must be the house where the prince will stop,” thought Barbara. “How I would like to see his face and hear his voice!–yet what would he care for me, a ‘miserable little beggar’?”
So Barbara crept on through the storm, shivering and disconsolate, yet thinking of the prince.
“Where are you going?” she asked of the wind as it overtook her.
“To the cathedral,” laughed the wind. “The great people are flocking there, and I will have a merry time amongst them, ha, ha, ha!”
And with laughter the wind whirled away and chased the snow toward the cathedral.
“It is there, then, that the prince will come,” thought Barbara. “It is a beautiful place, and the people will pay him homage there. Perhaps I shall see him if I go there.”
“Fear nothing,” whispered the vine to Barbara,–“fear nothing, for they dare not touch you.”
The antics of the wood-spirits continued but an hour; for then a cock crowed, and immediately thereat, with a wondrous scurrying, the elves and the gnomes and the other grotesque spirits sought their abiding-places in the caves and in the hollow trunks and under the loose bark of the trees. And then it was very quiet once more in the forest.
“It is very cold,” said Barbara. “My hands and feet are like ice.”
Then the pine-tree and the fir shook down the snow from their broad boughs, and the snow fell upon Barbara and covered her like a white mantle.
“You will be warm now,” said the vine, kissing Barbara’s forehead. And Barbara smiled.
Then the snowdrop sang a lullaby about the moss that loved the violet. And Barbara said, “I am going to sleep; will you wake me when the prince comes through the forest?”
And they said they would. So Barbara fell asleep.
“The bells in the city are ringing merrily,” said the fir, “and the music in the cathedral is louder and more beautiful than before. Can it be that the prince has already come into the city?”
“No,” cried the pine-tree, “look to the east and see the Christmas day a-dawning! The prince is coming, and his pathway is through the forest!”
The storm had ceased. Snow lay upon all the earth. The hills, the forest, the city, and the meadows were white with the robe the storm-king had thrown over them. Content with his wondrous work, the storm-king himself had fled to his far Northern home before the dawn of the Christmas day. Everything was bright and sparkling and beautiful. And most beautiful was the great hymn of praise the forest sang that Christmas morning,–the pine-trees and the firs and the vines and the snow-flowers that sang of the prince and of his promised coming.
“Wake up, little one,” cried the vine, “for the prince is coming!”
But Barbara slept; she did not hear the vine’s soft calling nor the lofty music of the forest.
A little snow-bird flew down from the fir-tree’s bough and perched upon the vine, and carolled in Barbara’s ear of the Christmas morning and of the coming of the prince. But Barbara slept; she did not hear the carol of the bird.
“Alas!” sighed the vine, “Barbara will not awaken, and the prince is coming.”
Then the vine and the snowdrop wept, and the pine-tree and the fir were very sad.
The prince came through the forest clad in royal raiment and wearing a golden crown. Angels came with him, and the forest sang a great hymn unto the prince, such a hymn as had never before been heard on earth. The prince came to the sleeping child and smiled upon her and called her by name.
“Barbara, my little one,” said the prince, “awaken, and come with me.”
Then Barbara opened her eyes and beheld the prince. And it seemed as if a new life had come to her, for there was warmth in her body and a flush upon her cheeks and a light in her eyes that were divine. And she was clothed no longer in rags, but in white flowing raiment; and upon the soft brown hair there was a crown like those which angels wear. And as Barbara arose and went to the prince, the little snowflake fell from her cheek upon her bosom, and forthwith became a pearl more precious than all other jewels upon earth.
And the prince took Barbara in his arms and blessed her, and turning round about, returned with the little child unto his home, while the forest and the sky and the angels sang a wondrous song.
The city waited for the prince, but he did not come. None knew of the glory of the forest that Christmas morning, nor of the new life that came to little Barbara.
Come thou, dear Prince, oh, come to us this holy Christmas time! Come to the busy marts of earth, the quiet homes, the noisy streets, the humble lanes; come to us all, and with thy love touch every human heart, that we may know that love, and in its blessed peace bear charity to all mankind!