Liljekrona heard his wife laugh and came out of his room.
“What is it?” he said. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” she answered, “but that Ruster has come again, and that I have engaged him as schoolmaster for our little boys.”
Liljekrona was quite amazed. “Do you dare?” he said, “do you dare? Has he promised to give up—”
“No,” said the wife; “Ruster has promised nothing. But there is much about which he must be careful when he has to look little children in the eyes every day. If it had not been Christmas, perhaps I would not have ventured; but when our Lord dared to place a little child who was his own son among us sinners, so can I also dare to let my little children try to save a human soul.”
Liljekrona could not speak, but every feature and wrinkle in his face twitched and twisted as always when he heard anything noble.
Then he kissed his wife’s hand as gently as a child who asks for forgiveness and cried aloud: “All the children must come and kiss their mother’s hand.”
They did so, and then they had a happy Christmas in Liljekrona’s house.
There was once, nearly eighty years ago, a little boy who went out into the market-place to spin his top. The little boy’s name was Reuben. He was not more than three years old, but he swung his little whip as bravely as anybody and made the top spin so that it was a pleasure to see it.
On that day, eighty years ago, it was beautiful spring weather. It was in the month of March, and the town was divided into two worlds; one white and warm, where the sun shone, and one cold and dark, where it was in shadow. The whole market-place was in the sun except a narrow edge along one row of houses.
Now it happened that the little boy, brave as he was, grew tired of spinning his top and looked about for some place to rest. It was not hard to find. There were no benches or seats, but every house was supplied with stone steps. Little Reuben could not imagine anything better.
He was a conscientious little fellow. He had a vague feeling that his mother did not like to have him sit on strange people’s steps. His mother was poor, but just on that account it must never look as if they wanted to take anything of anybody. So he went and sat on their own stone steps, for they also lived on the market-place.
The steps lay in the shadow, and it was very cold there. The little fellow leaned his head against the railing, drew up his legs and made himself comfortable. For a little while he watched the sunlight dance out in the market-place and the boys running and spinning tops—then he shut his eyes and went to sleep.
He must have slept an hour. When he awoke he did not feel so well as when he fell asleep; everything felt so dreadfully uncomfortable. He went in to his mother crying, and his mother saw that he was ill and put him to bed. And in a couple of days the boy was dead.