- chapter: CRISTOBAL.A CHRISTMAS LEGEND.
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A CHRISTMAS LEGEND.
LONG ago, in fair Burgundy, lived a lad named Cristobal. His large dark eyes lay under the fringe of his lids, full of shadows; eyes as lustrous as purple amethysts, and, alas! as sightless.
He had not always been blind, as perhaps a wild and passionate lad, named Jasper, might have told you. On a certain Christmas Eve, a merry boy was little Cristobal, as he pattered along to church, trying with his wooden shoes to keep time to the dancing bells. In his hand he carried a Christmas candle of various colors. Never, he thought, | | 20 was a rainbow so exquisitely tinted as that candle. Carefully he watched it when it winked its sleepy eye, eagerly begging his mamma to snuff it awake again. How gaily the streets twinkled with midnight lanterns! And how mortifying to the stars to be out-done by such a grand illumination!
A new painting had just been hung in the church,--the Holy Child, called by the people "Little Jesus," with an aureola about his head. Cristobal looked at this picture with reverent delight; and, to his surprise, the Holy Child returned his gaze: wherever he went, the sweet, sorrowful eyes followed him. There was a wondrous charm in that pleading glance. Why was it so wistful? What had those deep eyes to say?
The air was cloudy with the breath of frankincense and myrrh. Deep voices and the heavy organ sounded chants and an- | | 21 thems. There were prayers to the coming Messiah, and the sprinkling of holy water; and, at last, the midnight mass was ended.
Then, in tumult and great haste, the people went home for merry-makings. Cristobal, eager to see what the Yule-log might have in store for him, rushed out of the church with careless speed, stumbling over a boy who stood in his way,--the haughty, insolent Jasper. Jasper's beautiful Christmas-candle was cracked in twenty pieces by his fall.
"I'll teach you better manners, young peasant!" cried he, rushing upon Cristobal in a frenzy, and dealing fierce blows without mercy or reason.
It was then that Cristobal's eyes went out like falling stars. Their lustre and beauty remained; but they were empty caskets, their vision gone.| | 22
Then followed terrible anguish; and all Cristobal's mother could do was to hold her boy in her arms, and soothe him by singing. At last the fever was spent; but the pain still throbbed on, and sometimes seemed to burn into Cristobal's brain. He cried out again and again, "What right had that fierce Jasper to spring upon me so? I meant him no harm; and he knew it. Oh, I would like to see him chained in a den! He is like the wicked people who are turned into wolves at Christmas-tide. I would cry for joy if I could hear him groan with such pain as mine!"
Poor Cristobal never hoped to see again. He carried in his mind pictures of cities and hamlets, of trees, flowers, and old familiar faces; but oftenest came Jasper's face, just as it had last glared on him with blood-thirsty eyes. It was a terrible countenance. Only | | 23 one charm could dispel the horror,--the remembrance of the beautiful Child in the church. That picture blotted out every thing else. It was like the refrain in the Burgundy carols, "Noel, Noel," which comes again and again, and never tires of coming.
A whole year passed away. Cristobal's mother only prayed now that her boy might suffer less: she had ceased to pray for the healing of his blindness.
Now it was Christmas-tide again. Ever since Advent, people had been clearing their throats, and singing carols. They roasted chestnuts, drank white wine, and chanted praises of the "Little Jesus," who was soon to come, bringing peace on earth, good-will to men.
In the streets, one heard bagpipes and minstrels; and, by the hearthstones, the music of the wandering piper. The children began to | | 24 talk again of the Yule-log, and to wonder what gifts Noel would bring to place under each end of it; for these little folks, who have no stocking-saint like our Santa Claus, believe in another quite as good, who rains down sugar-plums in the night.
Everywhere there was a joyful bustle. Housewives were making ready their choicest dishes for the great Christmas-supper; fathers were slyly peeping into shop-windows, and children hoarding their sous and centimes for bonbons and comfits.
Everybody was merry but Cristobal; or so thought the lad. He had no money to spend, and little but pain for his holiday cheer. A patch here and there in his worn clothes was the best present his thrifty mother was able to make; always excepting the little variegated taper, which few were too poor to buy.| | 25
Christmas Eve came. Family friends dropped in. The Yule-log was set on the fire with shouts and singing. "Oh that I could see these kind faces!" moaned Cristobal. "No doubt, Jasper's chestnuts are popping merrily; and his shoes will be full of presents. And here am I! My head aches, and my eye-balls burn."
He stole out of the room, and, throwing himself on a wicker bench, mused over his troubles in solitude. One might have supposed him sleeping; for how should one imagine that his beautiful eyes were of no manner of use, except when they were closed? When Cristobal said, "Let me see," he dropped his eye-lids; and what he saw then, no artist can paint.
On this night, a beautiful child appeared before him, as like the picture of the Little Jesus as if it had stepped out of its frame on | | 26 the church-wall. Even the crimson and blue tints of the old painting were faithfully preserved; and every fold of the soft drapery was the very same.
"I saw you, Cristobal, when you came before me with your colored candle, one year ago."
"I knew it, I knew it!" cried Cristobal, clasping his hands in awe. "I saw your eyes follow me; and I never once turned but you were looking. They told me it was only a picture; but I said for that very reason your eyes were sorrowful,--you longed to be alive."
The child replied by a slight motion of the head; and the aureola trembled like sunlight on the water. The longer Cristobal gazed, the more courage he gathered. "Lovely vision," said he, "if vision you may be,--I have said to myself, I would gladly walk to | | 27 Rome with peas in my shoes, if I could know what you wished to say to me that Christmas night."
"Only this, little brother: Are you ready for Christmas ?"
"Alas! no: I never am. I have only two sous in the world."
"Poor Cristobal! Yet, without a centime, one may be ready for Christmas."
"But I am so very unhappy!"
"You do indeed look sad, little brother: where is your pain?"
"In my eyes," moaned the boy, pouring out the words with a delightful sense of relief; for he was sure they dropped into a pitying heart. "Beloved little Jesus, let me tell you that since I saw you last I have been wickedly injured. Now I have always a pain in my eyes: there are two flames behind them, which burn day and night."| | 28
I grieve for you," said the Child with exquisite tenderness; "yet, dear boy, for all that, you might be ready for Christmas: but, is there not also a pain throbbing and burning in your heart?"
"Oh, if you mean that, I am tossed up and down by vexation: I am full of hatred against that terrible Jasper. It was all about a miserable Christmas-candle he carried. I broke it by pushing him down. Tell me, was he right to fly at me like a wild' beast? Ought he not to suffer even as I have suffered? Is it just, is it right, for the great man's son to put out a peasant boy's eyes, and be happy again?"
"Misguided Jasper!" said the Child solemnly; "let him answer for his own sin: judge not, little brother."
Cristobal hid his face in his hands, and wept for shame.| | 29
"Shall I give you ten golden words for a Christmas-gift? Will you hide them in your heart, and be happy?"
"I will," answered Cristobal.
"They are these," said the Child with a voice of wondrous sweetness: "Pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you."
Cristobal repeated the words, a soft light stealing over his face. "I will remember," he said, looking up to meet the pleading eyes of the Child: but, lo! the whole face had melted into the aureola; nothing was left but light. Yet Cristobal was filled with a new joy; and, as he opened his eyes, his dream--if dream it were--changed, becoming as sweet and solemn as a prayer. It seemed to him that the roof of the cottage glittered with stars, and was no longer a roof, but the boundless sky; and, afar off, like remem- | | 30 bered music, a voice fell on his ear, "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you your trespasses."
Cristobal arose, and, although still blind, walked in light. "It is the aureola which has stolen into my heart," thought Cristobal. "The pain and hate are all gone. Now I am ready for Christmas. I wish I could help poor Jasper, who has such a weight of guilt to carry!"
Next day, "golden-sided" Burgundy saw no happier boy than Cristobal. He walked in the procession that night, carrying a candle whose light he could not see; but what did it signify, since there was light in his soul ?"
Hark! In the midst of the Christmas-chimes breaks the jangling of fire-bells. The count's house is on fire! The sparks pour | | 31 out thicker and faster; tongues of flame leap to the sky; the bells clang hoarsely; the Christmas procession is broken into wild disorder; the wheels of the engine roll through the streets, unheard in the din.
Cristobal rushed eagerly toward the flames, but was pulled away by the people.
"We cannot drown the fire!" they cried: "the building must fall! Are the inmates all safe?"
"All, thank Heaven!" cried the count.
"No: Jasper! See, he waves his hand from the third story! Save him! save my boy!"
Jasper had set fire to a curtain with his fatal Christmas-candle. Now he raved and shouted in vain: no one would venture up the ladder.
"0 Little Jesus," whispered Cristobal, "give light to my eyes, even as unto my soul! Let me save Jasper!"| | 32
At once the iron band fell from Cristobal's vision. He saw, and, at the same moment, felt a supernatural strength. He tore away from the restraining arms of the people; he rushed up the ladder, shouting, "In the name of the Little Jesus!" He reached the window, heedless of his scorched arms. "Jasper!" he cried, seizing the half-conscious boy, "be not afraid: I have the strength to carry you."
And down the ladder he bore him, step by step, through the crackling flames.
Jasper was revived; and the fainting Cristobal was borne through the streets in the arms of the populace.
"Wonder of wonders!" they all shouted.
"It was the Little Jesus," gasped Cristobal: "he opened my eyes; he guided me up the ladder, and down again!"
"Hallelujah " was now the cry. "On the | | 33 birthday of our Lord, the blind receive their sight."
"It is a triumph of faith," said the saints reverently.
"A miracle," murmured the nuns, making the sign of the cross.
"Not a miracle," replied the wise doctors, after they had first consulted their books: "it is only the electrifying of the optic nerve."
But hardly any two could agree; and what was so mysterious at the time is no clearer now.
"Dear little Cristobal," sobbed the broken-hearted Jasper, "how could you forgive such a wicked boy as I?"
"It was very easy," replied Cristobal, "when once the Little Jesus called me 'brother,' and bade me pray for you."
"Oh that I could repay you for your won- | | 34 derful deed of love," said Jasper, through his tears.
"Do not thank me," whispered Cristobal, with a look of awe; "thank the Little Jesus. And when he comes again next year, to ask what feelings we hold in our hearts, let us both be ready for Christmas."
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