Little Wolff's Wooden Shoes





A CHRISTMAS STORY BY FRANCOIS COPPEE; ADAPTED AND TRANSLATED BY ALMA J.

FOSTER





ONCE upon a time--so long ago that everybody has forgotten the date--in

a city in the north of Europe--with such a hard name that nobody can

ever remember it--there was a little seven-year-old boy named Wolff,

whose parents were dead, who lived with a cross and stingy old aunt, who

never thought of kissing him more than once a year and who sighed deeply

whenever she gave him a bowlful of soup.



But the poor little fellow had such a sweet nature that in spite of

everything, he loved the old woman, although he was terribly afraid of

her and could never look at her ugly old face without shivering.



As this aunt of little Wolff was known to have a house of her own and an

old woollen stocking full of gold, she had not dared to send the boy to

a charity school; but, in order to get a reduction in the price, she had

so wrangled with the master of the school, to which little Wolff finally

went, that this bad man, vexed at having a pupil so poorly dressed and

paying so little, often punished him unjustly, and even prejudiced his

companions against him, so that the three boys, all sons of rich

parents, made a drudge and laughing stock of the little fellow.



The poor little one was thus as wretched as a child could be and used to

hide himself in corners to weep whenever Christmas time came.



It was the schoolmaster's custom to take all his pupils to the midnight

mass on Christmas Eve, and to bring them home again afterward.



Now, as the winter this year was very bitter, and as heavy snow had been

falling for several days, all the boys came well bundled up in warm

clothes, with fur caps pulled over their ears, padded jackets, gloves

and knitted mittens, and strong, thick-soled boots. Only little Wolff

presented himself shivering in the poor clothes he used to wear both

weekdays and Sundays and having on his feet only thin socks in heavy

wooden shoes.



His naughty companions noticing his sad face and awkward appearance,

made many jokes at his expense; but the little fellow was so busy

blowing on his fingers, and was suffering so much with chilblains, that

he took no notice of them. So the band of youngsters, walking two and

two behind the master, started for the church.



It was pleasant in the church which was brilliant with lighted candles;

and the boys excited by the warmth took advantage of the music of the

choir and the organ to chatter among themselves in low tones. They

bragged about the fun that was awaiting them at home. The mayor's son

had seen, just before starting off, an immense goose ready stuffed and

dressed for cooking. At the alderman's home there was a little pine-tree

with branches laden down with oranges, sweets, and toys. And the

lawyer's cook had put on her cap with such care as she never thought of

taking unless she was expecting something very good!



Then they talked, too, of all that the Christ-Child was going to bring

them, of all he was going to put in their shoes which, you might be

sure, they would take good care to leave in the chimney place before

going to bed; and the eyes of these little urchins, as lively as a cage

of mice, were sparkling in advance over the joy they would have when

they awoke in the morning and saw the pink bag full of sugar-plums, the

little lead soldiers ranged in companies in their boxes, the menageries

smelling of varnished wood, and the magnificent jumping-jacks in purple

and tinsel.



Alas! Little Wolff knew by experience that his old miser of an aunt

would send him to bed supperless, but, with childlike faith and certain

of having been, all the year, as good and industrious as possible, he

hoped that the Christ-Child would not forget him, and so he, too,

planned to place his wooden shoes in good time in the fireplace.



Midnight mass over, the worshippers departed, eager for their fun, and

the band of pupils always walking two and two, and following the

teacher, left the church.



Now, in the porch and seated on a stone bench set in the niche of a

painted arch, a child was sleeping--a child in a white woollen garment,

but with his little feet bare, in spite of the cold. He was not a

beggar, for his garment was white and new, and near him on the floor was

a bundle of carpenter's tools.



In the clear light of the stars, his face, with its closed eyes, shone

with an expression of divine sweetness, and his long, curling, blond

locks seemed to form a halo about his brow. But his little child's feet,

made blue by the cold of this bitter December night, were pitiful to

see!



The boys so well clothed for the winter weather passed by quite

indifferent to the unknown child; several of them, sons of the notables

of the town, however, cast on the vagabond looks in which could be read

all the scorn of the rich for the poor, of the well-fed for the hungry.



But little Wolff, coming last out of the church, stopped, deeply

touched, before the beautiful sleeping child.



"Oh, dear!" said the little fellow to himself, "this is frightful! This

poor little one has no shoes and stockings in this bad weather--and,

what is still worse, he has not even a wooden shoe to leave near him

to-night while he sleeps, into which the little Christ-Child can put

something good to soothe his misery."



And carried away by his loving heart, Wolff drew the wooden shoe from

his right foot, laid it down before the sleeping child, and, as best he

could, sometimes hopping, sometimes limping with his sock wet by the

snow, he went home to his aunt.



"Look at the good-for-nothing!" cried the old woman, full of wrath at

the sight of the shoeless boy. "What have you done with your shoe, you

little villain?"



Little Wolff did not know how to lie, so, although trembling with terror

when he saw the rage of the old shrew, he tried to relate his adventure.



But the miserly old creature only burst into a frightful fit of

laughter.



"Aha! So my young gentleman strips himself for the beggars. Aha! My

young gentleman breaks his pair of shoes for a bare-foot! Here is

something new, forsooth. Very well, since it is this way, I shall put

the only shoe that is left into the chimney-place, and I'll answer for

it that the Christ-Child will put in something to-night to beat you with

in the morning! And you will have only a crust of bread and water

to-morrow. And we shall see if the next time, you will be giving your

shoes to the first vagabond that happens along."



And the wicked woman having boxed the ears of the poor little fellow,

made him climb up into the loft where he had his wretched cubbyhole.



Desolate, the child went to bed in the dark and soon fell asleep, but

his pillow was wet with tears.



But behold! the next morning when the old woman, awakened early by the

cold, went downstairs--oh, wonder of wonders--she saw the big chimney

filled with shining toys, bags of magnificent bonbons, and riches of

every sort, and standing out in front of all this treasure, was the

right wooden shoe which the boy had given to the little vagabond, yes,

and beside it, the one which she had placed in the chimney to hold the

bunch of switches.



As little Wolff, attracted by the cries of his aunt, stood in an ecstasy

of childish delight before the splendid Christmas gifts, shouts of

laughter were heard outside. The woman and child ran out to see what all

this meant, and behold! all the gossips of the town were standing around

the public fountain. What could have happened? Oh, a most ridiculous and

extraordinary thing! The children of the richest men in the town, whom

their parents had planned to surprise with the most beautiful presents

had found only switches in their shoes!



Then the old woman and the child thinking of all the riches in their

chimney were filled with fear. But suddenly they saw the priest appear,

his countenance full of astonishment. Just above the bench placed near

the door of the church, in the very spot where, the night before, a

child in a white garment and with bare feet, in spite of the cold, had

rested his lovely head, the priest had found a circlet of gold imbedded

in the old stones.



Then, they all crossed themselves devoutly, perceiving that this

beautiful sleeping child with the carpenter's tools had been Jesus of

Nazareth himself, who had come back for one hour just as he had been

when he used to work in the home of his parents; and reverently they

bowed before this miracle, which the good God had done to reward the

faith and the love of a little child.





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