“It is our first-born son,” said Joseph, “and the Most High has sent him to us. He is a marvellous child: great things are foretold of him. You may go in, but quietly, for the child and his mother Mary are asleep.”
So the sad shepherd went in quietly. His long shadow entered before him, for the sunrise was flowing into the door of the grotto. It was made clean and put in order, and a bed of straw was laid in the corner on the ground.
The child was asleep, but the young mother was waking, for she had taken him from the manger into her lap, where her maiden veil of white was spread to receive him. And she was singing very softly as she bent over him in wonder and content.
Ammiel saluted her and kneeled down to look at the child. He saw nothing different from other young children. The mother waited for him to speak of angels, as the other shepherds had done. The sad shepherd did not speak, but only looked. And as he looked his face changed.
“You have suffered pain and danger and sorrow for his sake,” he said gently.
“They are past,” she answered, “and for his sake I have suffered them gladly.”
“He is very little and helpless; you must bear many troubles for his sake.”
“To care for him is my joy, and to bear him lightens my burden.”
“He does not know you, he can do nothing for you.”
“But I know him. I have carried him under my heart, he is my son and my king.”
“Why do you love him?”
The mother looked up at the sad shepherd with a great reproach in her soft eyes. Then her look grew pitiful as it rested on his face.
“You are a sorrowful man,” she said.
“I am a wicked man,” he answered.
She shook her head gently.
“I know nothing of that,” she said, “but you must be very sorrowful, since you are born of a woman and yet you ask a mother why she loves her child. I love him for love’s sake, because God has given him to me.”
So the mother Mary leaned over her little son again and began to croon a song as if she were alone with him.
But Ammiel was still there, watching and thinking and beginning to remember. It came back to him that there was a woman in Galilee who had wept when he was rebuked; whose eyes had followed him when he was unhappy, as if she longed to do something for him; whose voice had broken and dropped silent while she covered her tear-stained face when he went away.
His thoughts flowed swiftly and silently toward her and after her like rapid waves of light. There was a thought of her bending over a little child in her lap, singing softly for pure joy,-and the child was himself. There was a thought of her lifting a little child to the breast that had borne him as a burden and a pain, to nourish him there as a comfort and a treasure,-and the child was himself. There was a thought of her watching and tending and guiding