When they came to the house of Gundhar, he bade them throw open the doors of the hall and set the tree in the midst of it. They kindled lights among the branches until it seemed to be tangled full of fire-flies. The children encircled it, wondering, and the sweet odour of the balsam filled the house.
Then Winfried stood beside the chair of Gundhar, on the dais at the end of the hall, and told the story of Bethlehem; of the babe in the manger, of the shepherds on the hills, of the host of angels and their midnight song. All the people listened, charmed into stillness. But the boy Bernhard, on Irma’s knee, folded by her soft arm, grew restless as the story lengthened, and began to prattle softly at his mother’s ear.
“Mother,” whispered the child, “why did you cry out so loud, when the priest was going to send me to Valhalla?”
“Oh, hush, my child,” answered the mother, and pressed him closer to her side.
“Mother,” whispered the boy again, laying his finger on the stains upon her breast, “see, your dress is red! What are these stains? Did some one hurt you?”
The mother closed his mouth with a kiss. “Dear, be still, and listen!”
The boy obeyed. His eyes were heavy with sleep. But he heard the last words of Winfried as he spoke of the angelic messengers, flying over the hills of Judea and singing as they flew. The child wondered and dreamed and listened. Suddenly his face grew bright. He put his lips close to Irma’s cheek again.
“Oh, mother!” he whispered very low, “do not speak. Do you hear them? Those angels have come back again. They are singing now behind the tree.”
And some say that it was true; but others say that it was only Gregor and his companions at the lower end of the hall, chanting their Christmas hymn:
All glory be to God on high,
And to the earth be peace!
Good-will, henceforth, from heaven to men
Begin, and never cease.
***End of the project gutenberg EBOOK the first Christmas tree***
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