Angelo J. Lewis ~ Christmas With the Baron

I.

Once upon a time–fairy tales always begin with once upon a time–once
upon a time there lived in a fine old castle on the Rhine a certain
Baron von Schrochslofsleschshoffinger. You will not find it an easy name
to pronounce; in fact, the baron never tried it himself but once, and
then he was laid up for two days afterwards; so in future we will merely
call him “the baron,” for shortness, particularly as he was rather a
dumpy man.

After having heard his name, you will not be surprised when I tell you
that he was an exceedingly bad character. For a baron, he was considered
enormously rich; a hundred and fifty pounds a year would not be thought
much in this country; but still it will buy a good deal of sausage,
which, with wine grown on the estate, formed the chief sustenance of the
baron and his family.

Now, you will hardly believe that, notwithstanding he was the possessor
of this princely revenue, the baron was not satisfied, but oppressed
and ground down his unfortunate tenants to the very last penny he could
possibly squeeze out of them. In all his exactions he was seconded and
encouraged by his steward Klootz, an old rascal who took a malicious
pleasure in his master’s cruelty, and who chuckled and rubbed his hands
with the greatest apparent enjoyment when any of the poor landholders
could not pay their rent, or afforded him any opportunity for
oppression.

Not content with making the poor tenants pay double value for the land
they rented, the baron was in the habit of going round every now and
then to their houses and ordering anything he took a fancy to, from a
fat pig to a pretty daughter, to be sent up to the castle. The pretty
daughter was made parlor-maid, but as she had nothing a year, and to
find herself, it wasn’t what would be considered by careful mothers an
eligible situation. The fat pig became sausage, of course.

Things went on from bad to worse, till, at the time of our story,
between the alternate squeezings of the baron and his steward, the poor
tenants had very little left to squeeze out of them. The fat pigs and
pretty daughters had nearly all found their way up to the castle, and
there was little left to take.

The only help the poor fellows had was the baron’s only daughter, Lady
Bertha, who always had a kind word, and frequently something more
substantial, for them when her father was not in the way.

Now, I’m not going to describe Bertha, for the simple reason that if I
did you would imagine that she was the fairy I’m going to tell you
about, and she isn’t. However, I don’t mind giving you a few outlines.

In the first place, she was exceedingly tiny,–the nicest girls, the
real lovable little pets, always are tiny,–and she had long silken
black hair, and a dear, dimpled little face full of love and mischief.
Now, then, fill up the outline with the details of the nicest and
prettiest girl you know, and you will have a slight idea of her. On
second thoughts, I don’t believe you will, for your portrait wouldn’t be
half good enough; however, it will be near enough for you.

Well, the baron’s daughter, being all your fancy painted her and a
trifle more, was naturally much distressed at the goings-on of her
unamiable parent, and tried her best to make amends for her father’s
harshness. She generally managed that a good many pounds of the sausage
should find their way back to the owners of the original pig; and when
the baron tried to squeeze the hand of the pretty parlor-maid, which he
occasionally did after dinner, Bertha had only to say, in a tone of
mild remonstrance, “Pa!” and he dropped the hand instantly and stared
very hard the other way.

Bad as this disreputable old baron was, he had a respect for the
goodness and purity of his child. Like the lion tamed by the charm of
Una’s innocence, the rough old rascal seemed to lose in her presence
half his rudeness, and, though he used awful language to her sometimes
(I dare say even Una’s lion roared occasionally), he was more tractable
with her than with any other living being. Her presence operated as a
moral restraint upon him, which, possibly, was the reason that he never
stayed down-stairs after dinner, but always retired to a favorite
turret, which, I regret to say, he had got so in the way of doing every
afternoon that I believe he would have felt unwell without it.

The hour of the baron’s afternoon symposium was the time selected by
Bertha for her errands of charity. Once he was fairly settled down to
his second bottle, off went Bertha, with her maid beside her carrying a
basket, to bestow a meal on some of the poor tenants, among whom she was
always received with blessings.

At first these excursions had been undertaken principally from
charitable motives, and Bertha thought herself plentifully repaid in the
love and thanks of her grateful pensioners.

Of late, however, another cause had led her to take even stronger
interest in her walks, and occasionally to come in with brighter eyes
and a rosier cheek than the gratitude of the poor tenants had been wont
to produce.

The fact is, some months before the time of our story, Bertha had
noticed in her walks a young artist, who seemed to be fated to be
invariably sketching points of interest in the road she had to take.
There was one particular tree, exactly in the path which led from the
castle-gate, which he had sketched from at least four points of view,
and Bertha began to wonder what there could be so very particular about
it.

At last, just as Carl von Sempach had begun to consider where on earth
he could sketch the tree from next, and to ponder seriously upon the
feasibility of climbing up into it and taking it from _that_ point of
view, a trifling accident occurred which gave him the opportunity of
making Bertha’s acquaintance,–which, I don’t mind stating
confidentially, was the very thing he had been waiting for.

It so chanced that, on one particular afternoon, the maid, either
through awkwardness, or possibly through looking more at the handsome
painter than the ground she was walking on, stumbled and fell.

Of course, the basket fell, too, and equally of course, Carl, as a
gentleman, could not do less than offer his assistance in picking up the
damsel and the dinner.

The acquaintance thus commenced was not suffered to drop; and handsome
Carl and our good little Bertha were fairly over head and ears in love,
and had begun to have serious thoughts of a cottage in a wood, _et
cætera_, when their felicity was disturbed by their being accidentally
met, in one of their walks, by the baron.

Of course the baron, being himself so thorough an aristocrat, had higher
views for his daughter than marrying her to a “beggarly artist,” and
accordingly he stamped, and swore, and threatened Carl with summary
punishment with all sorts of weapons, from heavy boots to blunderbusses,
if ever he ventured near the premises again.

This was unpleasant; but I fear it did not _quite_ put a stop to the
young people’s interviews, though it made them less frequent and more
secret than before.

Now, I am quite aware this was not at all proper, and that no properly
regulated young lady would ever have had meetings with a young man her
papa didn’t approve of.

But then it is just possible Bertha might not have been a properly
regulated young lady. I only know she was a dear little pet, worth
twenty model young ladies, and that she loved Carl very dearly.

And then consider what a dreadful old tyrant of a papa she had! My dear
girl, it’s not the slightest use your looking so provokingly correct;
it’s my deliberate belief that if you had been in her shoes (they’d have
been at least three sizes too small for you, but that doesn’t matter)
you would have done precisely the same.

Such was the state of things on Christmas eve in the year—-Stay!
fairy tales never have a year to them, so, on second thoughts, I
wouldn’t tell the date if I knew,–but I don’t.

Such was the state of things, however, on the particular 24th of
December to which our story refers–only, if anything, rather more so.

The baron had got up in the morning in an exceedingly bad temper; and
those about him had felt its effects all through the day.

His two favorite wolf-hounds, Lutzow and Teufel, had received so many
kicks from the baron’s heavy boots that they hardly knew at which end
their tails were; and even Klootz himself scarcely dared to approach his
master.

In the middle of the day two of the principal tenants came to say that
they were unprepared with their rent, and to beg for a little delay.
The poor fellows represented that their families were starving, and
entreated for mercy; but the baron was only too glad that he had at last
found so fair an excuse for venting his ill-humor.

He loaded the unhappy defaulters with every abusive epithet he could
devise (and being called names in German is no joke, I can tell you);
and, lastly, he swore by everything he could think of that, if their
rent was not paid on the morrow, themselves and their families should be
turned out of doors to sleep on the snow, which was then many inches
deep on the ground. They still continued to beg for mercy, till the
baron became so exasperated that he determined to put them out of the
castle himself. He pursued them for that purpose as far as the outer
door, when fresh fuel was added to his anger.

Carl, who, as I have hinted, still managed, notwithstanding the paternal
prohibition, to see Bertha occasionally, and had come to wish her a
merry Christmas, chanced at this identical moment to be saying good-bye
at the door, above which, in accordance with immemorial usage, a huge
bush of mistletoe was suspended. What they were doing under it at the
moment of the baron’s appearance, I never knew exactly; but his wrath
was tremendous!

I regret to say that his language was unparliamentary in the extreme.
He swore until he was mauve in the face; and if he had not
providentially been seized with a fit of coughing, and sat down in the
coal-scuttle,–mistaking it for a three-legged stool,–it is impossible
to say to what lengths his feelings might have carried him.

Carl and Bertha picked him up, rather black behind, but otherwise not
much the worse for his accident.

In fact, the diversion of his thoughts seemed to have done him good;
for, having sworn a little more, and Carl having left the castle, he
appeared rather better.

II.

After enduring so many and various emotions, it is hardly to be wondered
at that the baron required some consolation; so, after having changed
his trousers, he took himself off to his favorite turret to allay, by
copious potations, the irritations of his mind.

Bottle after bottle was emptied, and pipe after pipe was filled and
smoked. The fine old Burgundy was gradually getting into the baron’s
head; and, altogether, he was beginning to feel more comfortable.

The shades of the winter afternoon had deepened into the evening
twilight, made dimmer still by the aromatic clouds that came, with
dignified deliberation, from the baron’s lips, and curled and floated up
to the carved ceiling of the turret, where they spread themselves into a
dim canopy, which every successive cloud brought lower and lower.

The fire, which had been piled up mountain-high earlier in the
afternoon, and had flamed and roared to its heart’s content ever since,
had now got to that state–the perfection of a fire to a lazy man–when
it requires no poking or attention of any kind, but just burns itself
hollow, and then tumbles in, and blazes jovially for a little time, and
then settles down to a genial glow, and gets hollow, and tumbles in
again.

The baron’s fire was just in this delightful _da capo_ condition, most
favorable of all to the enjoyment of the _dolce far niente_.

For a little while it would glow and kindle quietly, making strange
faces to itself, and building fantastic castles in the depths of its red
recesses, and then the castles would come down with a crash, and the
faces disappear, and a bright flame spring up and lick lovingly the
sides of the old chimney; and the carved heads of improbable men and
impossible women, hewn so deftly round the panels of the old oak
wardrobe opposite, in which the baron’s choicest vintages were
deposited, were lit up by the flickering light, and seemed to nod and
wink at the fire in return, with the familiarity of old acquaintances.

Some such fancy as this was disporting itself in the baron’s brain; and
he was gazing at the old oak carving accordingly, and emitting huge
volumes of smoke with reflective slowness, when a clatter among the
bottles on the table caused him to turn his head to ascertain the cause.

The baron was by no means a nervous man; however, the sight that met his
eyes when he turned round did take away his presence of mind a little; and
he was obliged to take four distinct puffs before he had sufficiently
regained his equilibrium to inquire, “Who the–Pickwick–are you?” (The
baron said “Dickens,” but, as that is a naughty word, we will substitute
“Pickwick,” which is equally expressive, and not so wrong.) Let me see;
where was I? Oh, yes! “Who the Pickwick are you?”

Now, before I allow the baron’s visitor to answer the question, perhaps
I had better give a slight description of his personal appearance.

If this was not a true story, I should have liked to have made him a
model of manly beauty; but a regard for veracity compels me to confess
that he was not what would be generally considered handsome; that is,
not in figure, for his face was by no means unpleasing.

His body was, in size and shape, not very unlike a huge plum-pudding,
and was clothed in a bright-green, tightly-fitting doublet, with red
holly-berries for buttons.

His limbs were long and slender in proportion to his stature, which was
not more than three feet or so.

His head was encircled by a crown of holly and mistletoe.

The round red berries sparkled amid his hair which was silver-white, and
shone out in cheerful harmony with his rosy, jovial face. And that face!
it would have done one good to look at it.

In spite of the silver hair, and an occasional wrinkle beneath the
merry, laughing eyes, it seemed brimming over with perpetual youth. The
mouth, well garnished with teeth, white and sound, which seemed as if
they could do ample justice to holiday cheer, was ever open with a
beaming, genial smile, expanding now and then into hearty laughter. Fun
and good-fellowship were in every feature.

The owner of the face was, at the moment when the baron first perceived
him, comfortably seated upon the top of the large tobacco-jar on the
table, nursing his left leg.

The baron’s somewhat abrupt inquiry did not appear to irritate him; on
the contrary, he seemed rather amused than otherwise.

“You don’t ask prettily, old gentleman,” he replied; “but I don’t mind
telling you, for all that. I’m King Christmas.”

“Eh?” said the baron.

“Ah!” said the goblin. Of course, you have guessed he was a goblin?

“And pray what’s your business here?” said the baron.

“Don’t be crusty with a fellow,” replied the goblin. “I merely looked in
to wish you the compliments of the season. Talking of crust, by the way,
what sort of a tap is it you’re drinking?” So saying, he took up a flask
of the baron’s very best and poured out about half a glass. Having held
the glass first on one side and then on the other, winked at it twice,
sniffed it, and gone through the remainder of the pantomime in which
connoisseurs indulge, he drank it with great deliberation, and smacked
his lips scientifically. “Hum! Johannisberg! and not so _very_ bad–for
you. But I tell you what it is, baron, you’ll have to bring out better
stuff than this when I put my legs on your mahogany.”

“Well, you are a cool fish,” said the baron. “However, you’re rather a
joke, so, now you’re here, we may as well enjoy ourselves. Smoke?”

“Not anything you’re likely to offer me!”

“Confound your impudence!” roared the baron, with a horribly
complicated oath. “That tobacco is as good as any in all Rhineland.”

“That’s a nasty cough you’ve got, baron. Don’t excite yourself, my dear
boy; I dare say you speak according to your lights. I don’t mean
Vesuvians, you know, but your opportunities for knowing anything about
it. Try a weed out of my case, and I expect you’ll alter your opinion.”

The baron took the proffered case and selected a cigar. Not a word was
spoken till it was half consumed, when the baron took it, for the first
time, from his lips, and said, gently, with the air of a man
communicating an important discovery in the strictest confidence, “Das
ist gut!”

“Thought you’d say so,” said the visitor. “And now, as you like the
cigar, I should like you to try a thimbleful of what _I_ call wine. I
must warn you, though, that it is rather potent, and may produce effects
you are not accustomed to.”

“Bother that, if it is as good as the weed,” said the baron; “I haven’t
taken my usual quantity by four bottles yet.”

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you, that’s all. I don’t think you’ll
find it unpleasant, though it is rather strong when you’re not
accustomed to it.” So saying, the goblin produced from some mysterious
pocket a black, big-bellied bottle, crusted, apparently, with the dust
of ages.

It did strike the baron as peculiar, that the bottle, when once
produced, appeared nearly as big round as the goblin himself; but he was
not the sort of man to stick at trifles, and he pushed forward his glass
to be filled just as composedly as if the potion had been shipped and
paid duty, in the most commonplace way.

The glass was filled and emptied, but the baron uttered not his opinion.
Not in words, at least, but he pushed forward his glass to be filled
again in a manner that sufficiently bespoke his approval.

“Aha! you smile!” said the goblin. And it was a positive fact; the baron
was smiling; a thing he had not been known to do in the memory of the
oldest inhabitant. “That’s the stuff to make your hair curl, isn’t it?”

“I believe you, my b-o-o-oy!” The baron brought out this earnest
expression of implicit confidence with true unction. “It warms one
_here_!”

Knowing the character of the man, one would have expected him to put his
hand upon his stomach. But he didn’t; he laid it upon his _heart_.

“The spell begins to operate, I see,” said the goblin. “Have another
glass?”

The baron had another glass, and another after that.

The smile on his face expanded into an expression of such geniality that
the whole character of his countenance was changed, and his own mother
wouldn’t have known him. I doubt myself–inasmuch as she died when he
was exactly a year and three months old–whether she would have
recognized him under any circumstances; but I merely wish to express
that he was changed almost beyond recognition.

“Upon my word,” said the baron, at length, “I feel so light I almost
think I could dance a hornpipe. I used to, once, I know. Shall I try?”

“Well, if you ask my advice,” replied the goblin, “I should say,
decidedly, don’t. ‘Barkis is willing,’ I dare say, but trousers are
weak, and you might split ’em.”

“Hang it all,” said the baron, “so I might. I didn’t think of that. But
still I feel as if I must do something juvenile!”

“Ah! that’s the effect of your change of nature,” said the goblin.
“Never mind, I’ll give you plenty to do presently.”

“Change of nature! What do you mean, you old conundrum?” said the baron.

“You’re another,” said the goblin. “But never mind. What I mean is just
this. What you are now feeling is the natural consequence of my magic
wine, which has changed you into a fairy. That’s what’s the matter,
sir.”

“A fairy! me!” exclaimed the baron. “Get out. I’m too fat.”

“Fat! Oh! that’s nothing. We shall put you in regular training, and
you’ll soon be slim enough to creep into a lady’s stocking. Not that
you’ll be called upon to do anything of the sort; but I’m merely giving
you an idea of your future figure.”

“No, no,” said the baron; “me thin! that’s too ridiculous. Why, that’s
worse than being a fairy. You don’t mean it, though, do you? I do feel
rather peculiar.”

“I do, indeed,” said the visitor. “You don’t dislike it, do you?”

“Well, no, I can’t say I do, entirely. It’s queer, though, I feel so
uncommon friendly. I feel as if I should like to shake hands or pat
somebody on the back.”

“Ah!” said the goblin, “I know how it is. Rum feeling, when you’re not
accustomed to it. But come; finish that glass, for we must be off. We’ve
got a precious deal to do before morning, I can tell you. Are you
ready?”

“All right,” said the baron. “I’m just in the humor to make a night of
it.”

“Come along, then,” said the goblin.

They proceeded for a short time in silence along the corridors of the
old castle. They carried no candle, but the baron noticed that
everything seemed perfectly light wherever they stood, but relapsed into
darkness as soon as they had passed by. The goblin spoke first.

“I say, baron, you’ve been an uncommon old brute in your time, now,
haven’t you?”

“H’m,” said the baron, reflectively; “I don’t know. Well, yes, I rather
think I have.”

“How jolly miserable you’ve been making those two young people, you old
sinner! You know who I mean.”

“Eh, what? You know that, too?” said the baron.

“Know it; of course I do. Why, bless your heart, I know everything, my
dear boy. But you _have_ made yourself an old tyrant in that quarter,
considerably. Ar’n’t you blushing, you hard-hearted old monster?”

“Don’t know, I’m sure,” said the baron, scratching his nose, as if that
was where he expected to feel it. “I believe I have treated them badly,
though, now I come to think of it.”

At this moment they reached the door of Bertha’s chamber The door opened
of itself at their approach.

“Come along,” said the goblin; “you won’t wake her. Now, old
flinty-heart, look there.”

The sight that met the baron’s view was one that few fathers could have
beheld without affectionate emotion. Under ordinary circumstances,
however, the baron would not have felt at all sentimental on the
subject, but to-night something made him view things in quite a
different light.

I shouldn’t like to make affidavit of the fact, but it’s my positive
impression that he sighed.

Now, my dear reader, don’t imagine I’m going to indulge your impertinent
curiosity with an elaborate description of the sacred details of a
lady’s sleeping apartment. _You’re_ not a fairy, you know, and I don’t
see that it can possibly matter to you whether fair Bertha’s dainty
little bottines were tidily placed on a chair by her bedside, or thrown
carelessly, as they had been taken off, upon the hearth-rug, where her
favorite spaniel reposed, warming his nose in his sleep before the last
smouldering embers of the decaying fire; or whether her crinoline–but
if she did wear a crinoline, what can that possibly matter to you?

All I shall tell you is, that everything looked snug and comfortable;
but, somehow, any place got that look when Bertha was in it.

And now a word about the jewel in the casket–pet Bertha herself.
Really, I’m at a loss to describe her. How do you look when you’re
asleep?–Well, it wasn’t like _that_; not a bit! Fancy a sweet girl’s
face, the cheek faintly flushed with a soft, warm tint, like the blush
in the heart of the opening rose, and made brighter by the contrast of
the snowy pillow on which it rested; dark silken hair, curling and
clustering lovingly over the tiniest of tiny ears, and the softest,
whitest neck that ever mortal maiden was blessed with; long silken
eyelashes, fringing lids only less beautiful than the dear earnest eyes
they cover. Fancy all this, and fancy, too, if you can, the expression
of perfect goodness and purity that lit up the sweet features of the
slumbering maiden with a beauty almost angelic, and you will see what
the baron saw that night. Not quite all, however, for the baron’s vision
paused not at the bedside before him, but had passed on from the face of
the sleeping maiden to another face as lovely, that of the young wife,
Bertha’s mother, who had, years before, taken her angel beauty to the
angels.

The goblin spoke to the baron’s thought. “Wonderfully like her, is she
not, baron?” The baron slowly inclined his head.

“You made her very happy, didn’t you?”

The tone in which the goblin spoke was harsh and mocking.

“A faithful husband, tender and true! She must have been a happy wife,
eh, baron?”

The baron’s head had sunk upon his bosom. Old recollections were
thronging into his awakened memory. Solemn vows to love and cherish
somewhat strangely kept. Memories of bitter words and savage oaths
showered at a quiet and uncomplaining figure, without one word in reply.
And, last, the memory of a fit of drunken passion, and a hasty blow
struck with a heavy hand. And then of three months of fading away; and
last, of her last prayer–for her baby and him.

“A good husband makes a good father, baron. No wonder you are somewhat
chary of rashly intrusting to a suitor the happiness of a sweet flower
like this. Poor child! it is hard, though, that she must think no more
of him she loves so dearly. See! she is weeping even in her dreams. But
you have good reasons, no doubt. Young Carl is wild, perhaps, or drinks,
or gambles, eh? What! none of these? Perhaps he is wayward and
uncertain; and you fear that the honeyed words of courtship might turn
to bitter sayings in matrimony. They do, sometimes, eh, baron? By all
means guard her from such a fate as that. Poor, tender flower! Or who
knows, worse than that, baron! Hard words break no bones, they say, but
angry men are quick, and a blow is soon struck, eh?”

The goblin had drawn nearer and nearer, and laid his hand upon the
baron’s arm, and the last words were literally hissed into his ears.

The baron’s frame swayed to and fro under the violence of his emotion.
At last, with a cry of agony, he dashed his hands upon his forehead. The
veins were swollen up like thick cords, and his voice was almost
inarticulate in its unnatural hoarseness.

“Tortures! release me! Let me go, let me go and do something to forget
the past, or I shall go mad and die!”

He rushed out of the room and paced wildly down the corridor, the goblin
following him. At last, as they came near the outer door of the castle,
which opened of itself as they reached it, the spirit spoke:

“This way, baron, this way. I told you there was work for us to do
before morning, you know.”

“Work!” exclaimed the baron, absently, passing his fingers through his
tangled hair; “oh! yes, work! the harder the better; anything to make me
forget.”

The two stepped out into the court-yard, and the baron shivered, though,
as it seemed, unconsciously, at the breath of the frosty midnight air.
The snow lay deep on the ground, and the baron’s heavy boots sank into
it with a crisp, crushing sound at every tread.

He was bareheaded, but seemed unconscious of the fact, and tramped on,
as if utterly indifferent to anything but his own thoughts. At last, as
a blast of the night wind, keener than ordinary, swept over him, he
seemed for the first time to feel the chill. His teeth chattered, and he
muttered, “Cold, very cold.”

“Ay, baron,” said the goblin, “it is cold even to us, who are healthy
and strong, and warmed with wine. Colder still, though, to those who are
hungry and half-naked, and have to sleep on the snow.”

“Sleep? snow?” said the baron. “Who sleeps on the snow? Why, I wouldn’t
let my dogs be out on such a night as this.”

“Your dogs, no!” said the goblin; “I spoke of meaner animals–your
wretched tenants. Did you not order, yesterday, that Wilhelm and
Friedrich, if they did not pay their rent to-morrow, should be turned
out to sleep on the snow? A snug bed for the little ones, and a nice
white coverlet, eh? Ha! ha! twenty florins or so is no great matter, is
it? I’m afraid their chance is small; nevertheless, come and see.”

The baron hung his head. A few minutes brought him to the first of the
poor dwellings, which they entered noiselessly. The fireless grate, the
carpetless floor, the broken window-panes, all gave sufficient testimony
to the want and misery of the occupants. In one corner lay sleeping a
man, a woman, and three children, and nestling to each other for the
warmth which their ragged coverlet could afford. In the man, the baron
recognized his tenant Wilhelm, one of those who had been with him to beg
for indulgence on the previous day.

The keen features, and bones almost starting through the pallid skin,
showed how heavily the hand of hunger had been laid upon all.

The cold night wind moaned and whistled through the many flaws in the
ill-glazed, ill-thatched tenement, and rustled over the sleepers, who
shivered even in their sleep.

“Ha, baron!” said the goblin, “death is breathing in their faces even
now, you see; it is hardly worth while to lay them to sleep in the snow,
is it? They would sleep a little sounder, that’s all.”

The baron shuddered, and then, hastily pulling the warm coat from his
own shoulders, he spread it over the sleepers.

“Oho!” said the goblin; “bravely done, baron! By all means keep them
warm to-night; they enjoy the snow more to-morrow, you know.”

Strange to say, the baron, instead of feeling chilled when he had
removed his coat, felt a strange glow of warmth spread from the region
of the heart over his entire frame. The goblin’s continual allusions to
his former intention, which he had by this time totally relinquished,
hurt him, and he said, rather pathetically,–

“Don’t talk of that again, good goblin. I’d rather sleep on the snow
myself.”

“Eh! what?” said the goblin; “you don’t mean to say you’re sorry? Then
what do you say to making these poor people comfortable?”

“With all my heart,” said the baron, “if we had only anything to do it
with.”

“You leave that to me,” said the goblin. “Your brother fairies are not
far off, you may be sure.”

As he spoke he clapped his hands thrice, and before the third clap had
died away the poor cottage was swarming with tiny figures, whom the
baron rightly conjectured to be the fairies themselves.

Now, you may not be aware (the baron was not, until that night) that
there are among the fairies trades and professions, just as with
ordinary mortals.

However, there they were, each with the accompaniments of his or her
particular business, and to it they went manfully. A fairy glazier put
in new panes to the shattered windows, fairy carpenters replaced the
doors upon their hinges, and fairy painters, with inconceivable
celerity, made cupboards and closets as fresh as paint could make them;
one fairy housemaid laid and lit a roaring fire, while another dusted
and rubbed chairs and tables to a miraculous degree of brightness; a
fairy butler uncorked bottles of fairy wine, and a fairy cook laid out a
repast of most tempting appearance.

The baron, hearing a tapping above him, cast his eyes upward, and beheld
a fairy slater rapidly repairing a hole in the roof; and when he bent
them down again they fell on a fairy doctor mixing a cordial for the
sleepers. Nay, there was even a fairy parson, who, not having any
present employment, contented himself with rubbing his hands and looking
pleasant, probably waiting till somebody might want to be christened or
married.

Every trade, every profession or occupation appeared, without exception,
to be represented; nay, we beg pardon, with one exception only, for the
baron used to say, when afterwards relating his experiences to bachelor
friends,–

“You may believe me or not, sir, there was every mortal business under
the sun, _but deil a bit of a lawyer_.”

The baron could not long remain inactive. He was rapidly seized with a
violent desire to do something to help, which manifested itself in
insane attempts to assist everybody at once. At last, after having taken
all the skin off his knuckles in attempting to hammer in nails in aid of
the carpenter, and then nearly tumbling over a fairy housemaid, whose
broom he was offering to carry, he gave it up as a bad job, and stood
aside with his friend the goblin.

He was just about to inquire how it was that the poor occupants of the
house were not awakened by so much din, when a fairy Sam Slick, who had
been examining the cottager’s old clock with a view to a thorough
repair, touched some spring within it, and it made the usual purr
preparatory to striking. When, lo! and behold, at the very first stroke,
cottage, goblin, fairies, and all disappeared into utter darkness, and
the baron found himself in his turret-chamber, rubbing his toe, which he
had just hit with considerable force against the fender. As he was only
in his slippers, the concussion was unpleasant, and the baron rubbed his
toe for a good while.

After he had finished with his toe he rubbed his nose, and, finally,
with a countenance of deep reflection, scratched the bump of something
or other at the top of his head.

The old clock on the stairs was striking three, and the fire had gone
out.

The baron reflected for a short time longer, and finally decided that he
had better go to bed, which he did accordingly.

III.

The morning dawned upon the very ideal, as far as weather was concerned,
of a Christmas-day. A bright winter sun shone out just vividly enough to
make everything look genial and pleasant, and yet not with sufficient
warmth to mar the pure, unbroken surface of the crisp, white snow, which
lay like a never-ending white lawn upon the ground, and glittered in
myriad silver flakes upon the leaves of the sturdy evergreens.

I am afraid the baron had not had a very good night; at any rate, I know
that he was wide-awake at an hour long before his usual time of rising.

He lay first on one side, and then on the other, and then, by way of
variety, turned on his back, with his magenta nose pointing
perpendicularly towards the ceiling; but it was all of no use. Do what
he would, he couldn’t get to sleep, and at last, not long after
daybreak, he tumbled out of bed and proceeded to dress.

Even after he was out of bed his fidgetiness continued. It did not
strike him, until after he had got one boot on, that it would be a more
natural proceeding to put his stockings on first; after which he caught
himself in the act of trying to put his trousers on over his head.

In a word, the baron’s mind was evidently preoccupied; his whole air was
that of a man who felt a strong impulse to do something or other, but
could not quite make up his mind to it.

At last, however, the good impulse conquered, and this wicked old baron,
in the stillness of the calm, bright Christmas morning, went down upon
his knees and prayed.

Stiff were his knees and slow his tongue, for neither had done such work
for many a long day past; but I have read in the Book of the joy of
angels over a repenting sinner.

There needs not much eloquence to pray the publican’s prayer, and who
shall say but there was gladness in heaven that Christmas morning?

The baron’s appearance down-stairs at such an early hour occasioned
quite a commotion. Nor were the domestics reassured when the baron
ordered a bullock to be killed and jointed instantly, and all the
available provisions in the larder, including sausage, to be packed up
in baskets, with a good store of his own peculiar wine.

One ancient retainer was heard to declare, with much pathos, that he
feared master had gone insane.

However, insane or not, they knew the baron must be obeyed, and in an
exceedingly short space of time he sallied forth, accompanied by three
servants carrying the baskets, and wondering what in the name of fortune
their master would do next.

He stopped at the cottage of Wilhelm, which he had visited with the
goblin on the previous night. The labors of the fairies did not seem to
have produced much lasting benefit, for the appearance of everything
around was as wretched as could be.

The poor family thought that the baron had come himself to turn them out
of house and home; and the children huddled up timidly to their mother
for protection, while the father attempted some words of entreaty for
mercy.

The pale, pinched features of the group, and their looks of dread and
wretchedness, were too much for the baron.

“Eh! what! what do you mean, confound you? Turn you out? Of course not:
I’ve brought you some breakfast. Here! Fritz–Carl; where are the
knaves? Now, then, unpack, and don’t be a week about it. Can’t you see
the people are hungry, ye villains? Here, lend me the corkscrew.”

This last being a tool the baron was tolerably accustomed to, he had
better success than with those of the fairy carpenters; and it was not
long before the poor tenants were seated before a roaring fire, and
doing justice, with the appetite of starvation, to a substantial
breakfast.

The baron felt a queer sensation in his throat at the sight of the poor
people’s enjoyment, and had passed the back of his hand twice across his
eyes when he thought no one was looking; but his emotion fairly rose to
boiling when the poor father, Wilhelm, with tears in his eyes, and about
a quarter of a pound of beef in his mouth, sprang up from the table and
flung himself at the baron’s knees, invoking blessings on him for his
goodness.

“Get up, you audacious scoundrel!” roared the baron. “What the deuce do
you mean by such conduct, eh? confound you!”

At this moment the door opened, and in walked Mynheer Klootz, who had
heard nothing of the baron’s change of intentions, and who, seeing
Wilhelm at the baron’s feet, and hearing the latter speaking, as he
thought, in an angry tone, at once jumped to the conclusion that Wilhelm
was entreating for longer indulgence. He rushed at the unfortunate man
and collared him. “Not if _we_ know it,” exclaimed he; “you’ll have the
wolves for bedfellows to-night, I reckon. Come along, my fine fellow.”
As he spoke he turned his back towards the baron, with the intention of
dragging his victim to the door.

The baron’s little gray eyes twinkled, and his whole frame quivered with
suppressed emotion, which, after the lapse of a moment, vented itself in
a kick, and such a kick! Not one of your _Varsovianna_ flourishes, but a
kick that employed every muscle from hip to toe, and drove the worthy
steward up against the door like a ball from a catapult.

Misfortunes never come singly, and so Mynheer Klootz found with regard
to the kick, for it was followed, without loss of time, by several dozen
others, as like it as possible, from the baron’s heavy boots.

Wounded lions proverbially come badly off, and Fritz and Carl, who had
suffered from many an act of petty tyranny on the part of the steward,
thought they could not do better than follow their master’s example,
which they did to such good purpose, that when the unfortunate Klootz
did escape from the cottage at last, I don’t believe he could have had
any _os sacrum_ left.

After having executed this little act of poetical justice, the baron and
his servants visited the other cottages, in all of which they were
received with dread and dismissed with blessings.

Having completed his tour of charity, the baron returned home to
breakfast, feeling more really contented than he had done for many a
long year. He found Bertha, who had not risen when he started, in a
considerable state of anxiety as to what he could possibly have been
doing. In answer to her inquiries, he told her, with a roughness he was
far from feeling, to “mind her own affairs.”

The gentle eyes filled with tears at the harshness of the reply;
perceiving which, the baron was beyond measure distressed, and chucked
her under the chin in what was meant to be a very conciliatory manner.

“Eh! what, my pretty, tears? No, surely. Bertha must forgive her old
father. I didn’t mean it, you know, my pet; and yet, on second thoughts,
yes, I did, too.” Bertha’s face was overcast again. “My little girl
thinks she has no business anywhere, eh! Is that it? Well, then, my pet,
suppose you make it your business to write a note to young Carl von
Sempach, and say I’m afraid I was rather rude to him yesterday, but if
he’ll overlook it, and come take a snug family dinner and a slice of
the pudding with us to-day—-”

“Why, pa, you don’t mean–yes, I do really believe you do—-”

The baron’s eyes were winking nineteen to the dozen.

“Why, you dear, dear, dear old pa!” and at the imminent risk of
upsetting the breakfast table, Bertha rushed at the baron, and flinging
two soft white arms about his neck, kissed him–oh! how she _did_ kiss
him! I shouldn’t have thought, myself, she could possibly have had any
left for Carl; but I dare say Bertha attended to his interests in that
respect somehow.

IV.

Well, Carl came to dinner, and the baron was, not very many years after,
promoted to the dignity of a grandpapa, and a very jolly old grandpapa
he made.

Is that all you wanted to know? About Klootz? Well, Klootz got over the
kicking, but he was dismissed from the baron’s service; and on
examination of his accounts it was discovered that he had been in the
habit of robbing the baron of nearly a third of his yearly income, which
he had to refund; and with the money he was thus compelled to disgorge,
the baron built new cottages for his tenants, and new-stocked their
farms. Nor was he poorer in the end, for his tenants worked with the
energy of gratitude, and he was soon many times richer than when the
goblin visited him on that Christmas eve.

And was the goblin ever explained? Certainly not. How dare you have the
impertinence to suppose such a thing?

An empty bottle, covered with cobwebs, was found the next morning in the
turret-chamber, which the baron at first imagined must be the bottle
from which the goblin produced his magic wine; but as it was found, on
examination, to be labelled “Old Jamaica Rum,” of course that could not
have had anything to do with it. However it was, the baron never
thoroughly enjoyed any other wine after it, and as he did not
thenceforth get intoxicated, on an average, more than two nights a week,
or swear more than eight oaths a day, I think King Christmas may be
considered to have thoroughly reformed him.

And he always maintained, to the day of his death, that he was changed
into a fairy, and became exceedingly angry if contradicted.

Who doesn’t believe in fairies after this? I only hope King Christmas
may make a few more good fairies this year, to brighten the homes of
the poor with the light of Christmas charity.

Truly, we need not look far for alms-men. Cold and hunger, disease and
death, are around us at all times; but at no time do they press more
heavily on the poor than at this jovial Christmas season.

Shall we shut out, in our mirth and jollity, the cry of the hungry poor?
or shall we not rather remember, in the midst of our happy family
circles, round our well-filled tables and before our blazing fires, that
our brothers are starving out in the cold, and that the Christmas song
of the angels was “Good-will to men”?

We hope you enjoyed this dollop of classic Holiday literature from DM du Jour.
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