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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 31 pages of information about The First Christmas Tree.

“Once,” said Winfried, smiling, “we were camped by the bank of the river Ohru.  The table was spread for the morning meal, but my comrades cried that it was empty; the provisions were exhausted; we must go without breakfast, and perhaps starve before we could escape from the wilderness.  While they complained, a fish-hawk flew up from the river with flapping wings, and let fall a great pike in the midst of the camp.  There was food enough and to spare.  Never have I seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”

“But the fierce pagans of the forest,” cried the abbess,—­“they may pierce the boy with their arrows, or dash out his brains with their axes.  He is but a child, too young for the dangers of strife.”

“A child in years,” replied Winfried, “but a man in spirit.  And if the hero must fall early in the battle, he wears the brighter crown, not a leaf withered, not a flower fallen.”

The aged princess trembled a little.  She drew Gregor close to her side, and laid her hand gently on his brown hair.

“I am not sure that he wants to leave me yet.  Besides, there is no horse in the stable to give him, now, and he cannot go as befits the grandson of a king.”

Gregor looked straight into her eyes.

“Grandmother,” said he, “dear grandmother, if thou wilt not give me a horse to ride with this man of God, I will go with him afoot.”

[Illustration—­The fields around lay bare to the moon.]

II

THE TRAIL THROUGH THE FOREST

II

Two years had passed, to a day, almost to an hour, since that Christmas eve in the cloister of Pfalzel.  A little company of pilgrims, less than a score a men, were creeping slowly northward through the wide forest that rolled over the hills of central Germany.

At the head of the band marched Winfried, clad in a tunic of fur, with his long black robe girt high about his waist, so that it might not hinder his stride.  His hunter’s boots were crusted with snow.  Drops of ice sparkled like jewels along the thongs that bound his legs.  There was no other ornament to his dress except the bishop’s cross hanging on his breast, and the broad silver clasp that fastened his cloak about his neck.  He carried a strong, tall staff in his hand, fashioned at the top into the form of a cross.

Close beside him, keeping step like a familiar comrade, was the young Prince Gregor.  Long marches through the wilderness had stretched his limbs and broadened his back, and made a man of him in stature as well as in spirit.  His jacket and cap were of wolfskin, and on his shoulder he carried an axe, with broad, shining blade.  He was a mighty woodsman now, and could make a spray of chips fly around him as he hewed his way through the trunk of spruce-tree.

Behind these leaders followed a pair of teamsters, guiding a rude sledge, loaded with food and the equipage of the camp, and drawn by two big, shaggy horses, blowing thick clouds of steam from their frosty nostrils.  Tiny icicles hung from the hairs on their lips.  Their flanks were smoking.  They sank above the fetlocks at every step in the soft snow.

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