Little Gretchen And The Wooden Shoe





ELIZABETH HARRISON





THE following story is one of many which has drifted down to us from the

story-loving nurseries and hearthstones of Germany. I cannot recall when

I first had it told to me as a child, varied, of course, by different

tellers, but always leaving that sweet, tender impression of God's

loving care for the least of his children. I have since read different

versions of it in at least a half-dozen story books for children.



Once upon a time, a long time ago, far away across the great ocean, in a

country called Germany, there could be seen a small log hut on the edge

of a great forest, whose fir-trees extended for miles and miles to the

north. This little house, made of heavy hewn logs, had but one room in

it. A rough pine door gave entrance to this room, and a small square

window admitted the light. At the back of the house was built an

old-fashioned stone chimney, out of which in winter usually curled a

thin, blue smoke, showing that there was not very much fire within.



Small as the house was, it was large enough for the two people who

lived in it. I want to tell you a story to-day about these two people.

One was an old, gray-haired woman, so old that the little children of

the village, nearly half a mile away, often wondered whether she had

come into the world with the huge mountains, and the great fir-trees,

which stood like giants back of her small hut. Her face was wrinkled all

over with deep lines, which, if the children could only have read

aright, would have told them of many years of cheerful, happy,

self-sacrifice, of loving, anxious watching beside sick-beds, of quiet

endurance of pain, of many a day of hunger and cold, and of a thousand

deeds of unselfish love for other people; but, of course, they could not

read this strange handwriting. They only knew that she was old and

wrinkled, and that she stooped as she walked. None of them seemed to

fear her, for her smile was always cheerful, and she had a kindly word

for each of them if they chanced to meet her on her way to and from the

village. With this old, old woman lived a very little girl. So bright

and happy was she that the travellers who passed by the lonesome little

house on the edge of the forest often thought of a sunbeam as they saw

her. These two people were known in the village as Granny Goodyear and

Little Gretchen.



The winter had come and the frost had snapped off many of the smaller

branches from the pine-trees in the forest. Gretchen and her Granny were

up by daybreak each morning. After their simple breakfast of oatmeal,

Gretchen would run to the little closet and fetch Granny's old woollen

shawl, which seemed almost as old as Granny herself. Gretchen always

claimed the right to put the shawl over her Granny's head, even though

she had to climb onto the wooden bench to do it. After carefully pinning

it under Granny's chin, she gave her a good-bye kiss, and Granny started

out for her morning's work in the forest. This work was nothing more nor

less than the gathering up of the twigs and branches which the autumn

winds and winter frosts had thrown upon the ground. These were carefully

gathered into a large bundle which Granny tied together with a strong

linen band. She then managed to lift the bundle to her shoulder and

trudged off to the village with it. Here she sold the fagots for

kindling wood to the people of the village. Sometimes she would get only

a few pence each day, and sometimes a dozen or more, but on this money

little Gretchen and she managed to live; they had their home, and the

forest kindly furnished the wood for the fire which kept them warm in

cold weather.



In the summer time Granny had a little garden at the back of the hut

where she raised, with little Gretchen's help, a few potatoes and

turnips and onions. These she carefully stored away for winter use. To

this meagre supply, the pennies, gained by selling the twigs from the

forest, added the oatmeal for Gretchen and a little black coffee for

Granny. Meat was a thing they never thought of having. It cost too much

money. Still, Granny and Gretchen were very happy, because they loved

each other dearly. Sometimes Gretchen would be left alone all day long

in the hut, because Granny would have some work to do in the village

after selling her bundle of sticks and twigs. It was during these long

days that little Gretchen had taught herself to sing the song which the

wind sang to the pine branches. In the summer time she learned the chirp

and twitter of the birds, until her voice might almost be mistaken for a

bird's voice; she learned to dance as the swaying shadows did, and even

to talk to the stars which shone through the little square window when

Granny came home too late or too tired to talk.



Sometimes, when the weather was fine, or her Granny had an extra bundle

of newly knitted stockings to take to the village, she would let little

Gretchen go along with her. It chanced that one of these trips to the

town came just the week before Christmas, and Gretchen's eyes were

delighted by the sight of the lovely Christmas-trees which stood in the

window of the village store. It seemed to her that she would never tire

of looking at the knit dolls, the woolly lambs, the little wooden shops

with their queer, painted men and women in them, and all the other fine

things. She had never owned a plaything in her whole life; therefore,

toys which you and I would not think much of, seemed to her to be very

beautiful.



That night, after their supper of baked potatoes was over, and little

Gretchen had cleared away the dishes and swept up the hearth, because

Granny dear was so tired, she brought her own small wooden stool and

placed it very near Granny's feet and sat down upon it, folding her

hands on her lap. Granny knew that this meant she wanted to talk about

something, so she smilingly laid away the large Bible which she had been

reading, and took up her knitting, which was as much as to say: "Well,

Gretchen, dear, Granny is ready to listen."



"Granny," said Gretchen slowly, "it's almost Christmas time, isn't it?"



"Yes, dearie," said Granny, "only five more days now," and then she

sighed, but little Gretchen was so happy that she did not notice

Granny's sigh.



"What do you think, Granny, I'll get this Christmas?" said she, looking

up eagerly into Granny's face.



"Ah, child, child," said Granny, shaking her head, "you'll have no

Christmas this year. We are too poor for that."



"Oh, but, Granny," interrupted little Gretchen, "think of all the

beautiful toys we saw in the village to-day. Surely Santa Claus has sent

enough for every little child."



"Ah, dearie," said Granny, "those toys are for people who can pay money

for them, and we have no money to spend for Christmas toys."



"Well, Granny," said Gretchen, "perhaps some of the little children who

live in the great house on the hill at the other end of the village

will be willing to share some of their toys with me. They will be so

glad to give some to a little girl who has none."



"Dear child, dear child," said Granny, leaning forward and stroking the

soft, shiny hair of the little girl, "your heart is full of love. You

would be glad to bring a Christmas to every child; but their heads are

so full of what they are going to get that they forget all about anybody

else but themselves." Then she sighed and shook her head.



"Well, Granny," said Gretchen, her bright, happy tone of voice growing a

little less joyous, "perhaps the dear Santa Claus will show some of the

village children how to make presents that do not cost money, and some

of them may surprise me Christmas morning with a present. And, Granny,

dear," added she, springing up from her low stool, "can't I gather some

of the pine branches and take them to the old sick man who lives in the

house by the mill, so that he can have the sweet smell of our pine

forest in his room all Christmas day?"



"Yes, dearie," said Granny, "you may do what you can to make the

Christmas bright and happy, but you must not expect any present

yourself."



"Oh, but, Granny," said little Gretchen, her face brightening, "you

forget all about the shining Christmas angels, who came down to earth

and sang their wonderful song the night the beautiful Christ-Child was

born! They are so loving and good that they will not forget any little

child. I shall ask my dear stars to-night to tell them of us. You

know," she added, with a look of relief, "the stars are so very high

that they must know the angels quite well, as they come and go with

their messages from the loving God."



Granny sighed, as she half whispered, "Poor child, poor child!" but

Gretchen threw her arm around Granny's neck and gave her a hearty kiss,

saying as she did so: "Oh, Granny, Granny, you don't talk to the stars

often enough, else you wouldn't be sad at Christmas time." Then she

danced all around the room, whirling her little skirts about her to show

Granny how the wind had made the snow dance that day. She looked so

droll and funny that Granny forgot her cares and worries and laughed

with little Gretchen over her new snow-dance. The days passed on, and

the morning before Christmas Eve came. Gretchen having tidied up the

little room--for Granny had taught her to be a careful little

housewife--was off to the forest, singing a birdlike song, almost as

happy and free as the birds themselves. She was very busy that day,

preparing a surprise for Granny. First, however, she gathered the most

beautiful of the fir branches within her reach to take the next morning

to the old sick man who lived by the mill.



The day was all too short for the happy little girl. When Granny came

trudging wearily home that night, she found the frame of the doorway

covered with green pine branches.



"It's to welcome you, Granny! It's to welcome you!" cried Gretchen;

"our old dear home wanted to give you a Christmas welcome. Don't you

see, the branches of evergreen make it look as if it were smiling all

over, and it is trying to say, 'A happy Christmas' to you, Granny!"



Granny laughed and kissed the little girl, as they opened the door and

went in together. Here was a new surprise for Granny. The four posts of

the wooden bed, which stood in one corner of the room, had been trimmed

by the busy little fingers, with smaller and more flexible branches of

the pine-trees. A small bouquet of red mountain-ash berries stood at

each side of the fireplace, and these, together with the trimmed posts

of the bed, gave the plain old room quite a festival look. Gretchen

laughed and clapped her hands and danced about until the house seemed

full of music to poor, tired Granny, whose heart had been sad as she

turned toward their home that night, thinking of the disappointment

which must come to loving little Gretchen the next morning.



After supper was over little Gretchen drew her stool up to Granny's

side, and laying her soft, little hands on Granny's knee, asked to be

told once again the story of the coming of the Christ-Child; how the

night that he was born the beautiful angels had sung their wonderful

song, and how the whole sky had become bright with a strange and

glorious light, never seen by the people of earth before. Gretchen had

heard the story many, many times before, but she never grew tired of

it, and now that Christmas Eve had come again, the happy little child

wanted to hear it once more.



When Granny had finished telling it the two sat quiet and silent for a

little while thinking it over; then Granny rose and said that it was

time for them to go to bed. She slowly took off her heavy wooden shoes,

such as are worn in that country, and placed them beside the hearth.

Gretchen looked thoughtfully at them for a minute or two, and then she

said, "Granny, don't you think that somebody in all this wide world

will think of us to-night?"



"Nay, Gretchen," said Granny, "I don't think any one will."



"Well, then, Granny," said Gretchen, "the Christmas angels will, I know;

so I am going to take one of your wooden shoes, and put it on the

windowsill outside, so that they may see it as they pass by. I am sure

the stars will tell the Christmas angels where the shoe is."



"Ah, you foolish, foolish child," said Granny, "you are only getting

ready for a disappointment. To-morrow morning there will be nothing

whatever in the shoe. I can tell you that now."



But little Gretchen would not listen. She only shook her head and cried

out: "Ah, Granny, you don't talk enough to the stars." With this she

seized the shoe, and, opening the door, hurried out to place it on the

windowsill. It was very dark without, and something soft and cold

seemed to gently kiss her hair and face. Gretchen knew by this that it

was snowing, and she looked up to the sky, anxious to see if the stars

were in sight, but a strong wind was tumbling the dark, heavy

snow-clouds about and had shut away all else.



"Never mind," said Gretchen softly to herself, "the stars are up there,

even if I can't see them, and the Christmas angels do not mind

snowstorms."



Just then a rough wind went sweeping by the little girl, whispering

something to her which she could not understand, and then it made a

sudden rush up to the snow-clouds and parted them, so that the deep,

mysterious sky appeared beyond, and shining down out of the midst of it

was Gretchen's favourite star.



"Ah, little star, little star!" said the child, laughing aloud, "I knew

you were there, though I couldn't see you. Will you whisper to the

Christmas angels as they come by that little Gretchen wants so very much

to have a Christmas gift to-morrow morning, if they have one to spare,

and that she has put one of Granny's shoes upon the windowsill ready for

it?"



A moment more and the little girl, standing on tiptoe, had reached the

windowsill and placed the shoe upon it, and was back again in the house

beside Granny and the warm fire.



The two went quietly to bed, and that night as little Gretchen knelt to

pray to the Heavenly Father, she thanked him for having sent the

Christ-Child into the world to teach all mankind how to be loving and

unselfish, and in a few moments she was quietly sleeping, dreaming of

the Christmas angels.



The next morning, very early, even before the sun was up, little

Gretchen was awakened by the sound of sweet music coming from the

village. She listened for a moment and then she knew that the choir-boys

were singing the Christmas carols in the open air of the village street.

She sprang up out of bed and began to dress herself as quickly as

possible, singing as she dressed. While Granny was slowly putting on her

clothes, little Gretchen, having finished dressing herself, unfastened

the door and hurried out to see what the Christmas angels had left in

the old wooden shoe.



The white snow covered everything--trees, stumps, roads, and

pastures--until the whole world looked like fairyland. Gretchen climbed

up on a large stone which was beneath the window and carefully lifted

down the wooden shoe. The snow tumbled off of it in a shower over the

little girl's hands, but she did not heed that; she ran hurriedly back

into the house, putting her hand into the toe of the shoe as she ran.



"Oh, Granny! Oh, Granny!" she exclaimed, "you didn't believe the

Christmas angels would think about us, but see, they have, they have!

Here is a dear little bird nestled down in the toe of your shoe! Oh,

isn't he beautiful?"



Granny came forward and looked at what the child was holding lovingly

in her hand. There she saw a tiny chick-a-dee, whose wing was evidently

broken by the rough and boisterous winds of the night before, and who

had taken shelter in the safe, dry toe of the old wooden shoe. She

gently took the little bird out of Gretchen's hands, and skilfully bound

his broken wing to his side, so that he need not hurt himself by trying

to fly with it. Then she showed Gretchen how to make a nice warm nest

for the little stranger, close beside the fire, and when their breakfast

was ready she let Gretchen feed the little bird with a few moist crumbs.



Later in the day Gretchen carried the fresh, green boughs to the old

sick man by the mill, and on her way home stopped to see and enjoy the

Christmas toys of some other children whom she knew, never once wishing

that they were hers. When she reached home she found that the little

bird had gone to sleep. Soon, however, he opened his eyes and stretched

his head up, saying just as plain as a bird could say,



"Now, my new friends, I want you to give me something more to eat."

Gretchen gladly fed him again, and then, holding him in her lap, she

softly and gently stroked his gray feathers until the little creature

seemed to lose all fear of her. That evening Granny taught her a

Christmas hymn and told her another beautiful Christmas story. Then

Gretchen made up a funny little story to tell to the birdie. He winked

his eyes and turned his head from side to side in such a droll fashion

that Gretchen laughed until the tears came.



As Granny and she got ready for bed that night, Gretchen put her arms

softly around Granny's neck, and whispered: "What a beautiful Christmas

we have had to-day, Granny! Is there anything in the world more lovely

than Christmas?"



"Nay, child, nay," said Granny, "not to such loving hearts as yours."





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