THERE once lived a laborer who earned his daily bread by cutting wood. His wife and two children, a boy and girl, helped him with his work. The boy's name was Valentine, and the girl's, Marie. They were obedient and pious and the joy and comfort of their poor parents.
One winter evening, this good family gathered about the table to eat their small loaf of bread, while the father read aloud from the Bible. Just as they sat down there came a knock on the window, and a sweet voice called: --
"O let me in! I am a little child, and I have nothing to eat, and no place to sleep in. I am so cold and hungry! Please, good people, let me in!"
Valentine and Marie sprang from the table and ran to open the door, saying: --
"Come in, poor child, we have but very little ourselves, not much more than thou hast, but what we have we will share with thee."
The stranger Child entered, and going to the fire began to warm his cold hands.
The children gave him a portion of their bread, and said: --
"Thou must be very tired; come, lie down in our bed, and we will sleep on the bench here before the fire."
Then answered the stranger Child: "May God in Heaven reward you for your kindness."
They led the little guest to their small room, laid him in their bed, and covered him closely, thinking to themselves: --
"Oh! how much we have to be thankful for! We have our nice warm room and comfortable bed, while this Child has nothing but the sky for a roof, and the earth for a couch."
When the parents went to their bed, Valentine and Marie lay down on the bench before the fire, and said one to the other: --
"The stranger Child is happy now, because he is so warm! Good-night!"
Then they fell asleep.
They had not slept many hours, when little Marie awoke, and touching her brother lightly, whispered: --
"Valentine, Valentine, wake up! wake up! Listen to the beautiful music at the window."
Valentine rubbed his eyes and listened. He heard the most wonderful singing and the sweet notes of many harps.
Thee we greet,
With sound of harp
And singing sweet.
"Sleep in peace,
Child so bright,
We have watched thee
All the night.
"Blest the home
That holdeth Thee,
Peace, and love,
Its guardians be."
The children listened to the beautiful singing, and it seemed to fill them with unspeakable happiness.
Then creeping to the window they looked out.
They saw a rosy light in the east, and, before the house in the snow, stood a number of little children holding golden harps and lutes in their hands, and dressed in sparkling, silver robes.
Full of wonder at this sight, Valentine and Marie continued to gaze out at the window, when they heard a sound behind them, and turning saw the stranger Child standing near. He was clad in a golden garment, and wore a glistening, golden crown upon his soft hair. Sweetly he spoke to the children: --
"I am the Christ Child, who wanders about the world seeking to bring joy and good things to loving children. Because you have lodged me this night I will leave with you my blessing."
As the Christ Child spoke He stepped from the door, and breaking off a bough from a fir tree that grew near, planted it in the ground, saying: --
"This bough shall grow into a tree, and every year it shall bear Christmas fruit for you."
Having said this He vanished from their sight, together with the silver-clad, singing children -- the angels.
And, as Valentine and Marie looked on in wonder, the fir bough grew, and grew, and grew, into a stately Christmas Tree laden with golden apples, silver nuts, and lovely toys.
And after that, every year at Christmas time, the Tree bore the same wonderful fruit.
And you, dear boys and girls, when you gather around your richly decorated trees, think of the two poor children who shared their bread with a stranger child, and be thankful.