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KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
Book: The Birds’ Christmas Carol
Author: Kate Douglas Wiggin, 1856–1923
First published: 1886
The original book is in the public domain in the United
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TO THE THREE DEAREST CHILDRENIN THE WORLD, BERTHA, LUCY, AND HORATIO.
CONTENTS AND LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONSPAGE Vignette Title
I. A LITTLE SNOW BIRD 5“She is a little Christmas Child” 9 II. DROOPING WINGS 11 III. THE BIRD’S NEST 15 Carol at her window 16 IV. “BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER” 21 The “Window School” 24
V. SOME OTHER BIRDS ARE TAUGHT TO FLY 28
VII. THE BIRDLING FLIES AWAY 49“My Ain Countree” 50 “I thought of the Star in the East” 53 I A Little Snow Bird I T was very early Christmas morning, and in the stillness of the dawn, with the soft snow falling on the housetops, a little child was born in the Bird household.
They had intended to name the baby Lucy, if it were a girl; but they had not expected her on Christmas morning, and a real Christmas baby was not to be lightly named—the whole family agreed in that.
They were consulting about it in the nursery. Mr. Bird said that he had assisted in naming the three boys, and that he should leave this matter entirely to Mrs. Bird; Donald wanted the child called “Dorothy,” after a pretty, curly- haired girl who sat next him in school; Paul chose “Luella,” for Luella was the nurse who had been with him during his whole babyhood, up to the time of his first trousers, and the name suggested all sorts of comfortable things. Uncle Jack said that the first girl should always be named for her mother, no matter how hideous the name happened to be.
Grandma said that she would prefer not to take any part in the discussion, and everybody suddenly remembered that Mrs. Bird had thought of naming the baby Lucy, for Grandma herself; and, while it would be indelicate for her to favor that name, it would be against human nature for her to suggest any other, under the circumstances.
Hugh, the “hitherto baby,” if that is a possible term, sat in one corner and said nothing, but felt, in some mysterious 5 6 Kate Douglas Wiggin way, that his nose was out of joint; for there was a newer baby now, a possibility he had never taken into consideration; and the “first girl,” too,—a still higher development of treason, which made him actually green with jealousy.
But it was too profound a subject to be settled then and there, on the spot; besides, Mamma had not been asked, and everybody felt it rather absurd, after all, to forestall a decree that was certain to be absolutely wise, just, and perfect.
The reason that the subject had been brought up at all so early in the day lay in the fact that Mrs. Bird never allowed her babies to go over night unnamed. She was a person of so great decision of character that she would have blushed at such a thing; she said that to let blessed babies go dangling and dawdling about without names, for months and months, was enough to ruin them for life. She also said that if one could not make up one’s mind in twenty-four hours it was a sign that— But I will not repeat the rest, as it might prejudice you against the most charming woman in the world.
So Donald took his new velocipede and went out to ride up and down the stone pavement and notch the shins of innocent people as they passed by, while Paul spun his musical top on the front steps.
But Hugh refused to leave the scene of action. He seated himself on the top stair in the hall, banged his head against the railing a few times, just by way of uncorking the vials of his wrath, and then subsided into gloomy silence, waiting to declare war if more “first girl babies” were thrust upon a family already surfeited with that unnecessary article.
Meanwhile dear Mrs. Bird lay in her room, weak, but safe and happy, with her sweet girl baby by her side and the heaven of motherhood opening again before her. Nurse was making gruel in the kitchen, and the room was dim and quiet.
There was a cheerful open fire in the grate, but though the THE BIRDS’ CHRISTMAS CAROL 7 shutters were closed, the side windows that looked out on the Church of Our Saviour, next door, were a little open.
Suddenly a sound of music poured out into the bright air and drifted into the chamber. It was the boy choir singing Christmas anthems. Higher and higher rose the clear, fresh voices, full of hope and cheer, as children’s voices always are. Fuller and fuller grew the burst of melody as one glad strain fell upon another in joyful harmony:—
Mrs. Bird thought, as the music floated in upon her gentle sleep, that she had slipped into heaven with her new baby, and that the angels were bidding them welcome. But the tiny bundle by her side stirred a little, and though it was scarcely more than the ruffling of a feather, she awoke; for the mother-ear is so close to the heart that it can hear the faintest whisper of a child.
8 Kate Douglas Wiggin She opened her eyes and drew the baby closer. It looked like a rose dipped in milk, she thought, this pink and white blossom of girlhood, or like a pink cherub, with its halo of pale yellow hair, finer than floss silk.
The voices were brimming over with joy.
“Why, my baby,” whispered Mrs. Bird in soft surprise, “I had forgotten what day it was. You are a little Christmas child, and we will name you ‘Carol’—mother’s Christmas Carol!” “What!” said Mr. Bird, coming in softly and closing the door behind him.
“Why, Donald, don’t you think ‘Carol’ is a sweet name for a Christmas baby? It came to me just a moment ago in the singing, as I was lying here half asleep and half awake.” “I think it is a charming name, dear heart, and sounds just like you, and I hope that, being a girl, this baby has some chance of being as lovely as her mother;”—at which speech from the baby’s papa, Mrs. Bird, though she was as weak and tired as she could be, blushed with happiness.
And so Carol came by her name.
Of course, it was thought foolish by many people, though Uncle Jack declared laughingly that it was very strange if a whole family of Birds could not be indulged in a single Carol; and Grandma, who adored the child, thought the name much more appropriate than Lucy, but was glad that people would probably think it short for Caroline.
THE BIRDS’ CHRISTMAS CAROL 9 Perhaps because she was born in holiday time, Carol was a very happy baby. Of course, she was too tiny to understand the joy of Christmas-tide, but people say there is everything in a good beginning, and she may have breathed in unconsciously the fragrance of evergreens and holiday dinners; while the peals of sleigh-bells and the laughter of happy children may have fallen upon her baby ears and wakened in them a glad surprise at the merry world she had come to live in.
Her cheeks and lips were as red as holly-berries; her hair was for all the world the color of a Christmas candleflame; her eyes were bright as stars; her laugh like a chime 10 Kate Douglas Wiggin of Christmas-bells, and her tiny hands forever outstretched in giving.
Such a generous little creature you never saw! A spoonful of bread and milk had always to be taken by Mamma or nurse before Carol could enjoy her supper;
whatever bit of cake or sweetmeat found its way into her pretty fingers was straightway broken in half to be shared with Donald, Paul, or Hugh; and when they made believe nibble the morsel with affected enjoyment, she would clap her hands and crow with delight.
“Why does she do it?” asked Donald thoughtfully.
“None of us boys ever did.” “I hardly know,” said Mamma, catching her darling to her heart, “except that she is a little Christmas child, and so she has a tiny share of the blessedest birthday the world ever knew!” II
I T was December, ten years later.
Carol had seen nine Christmas trees lighted on her birthdays, one after another; nine times she had assisted in the holiday festivities of the household, though in her babyhood her share of the gayeties was somewhat limited.
For five years, certainly, she had hidden presents for Mamma and Papa in their own bureau drawers, and harbored a number of secrets sufficiently large to burst a baby brain, had it not been for the relief gained by whispering them all to Mamma, at night, when she was in her crib, a proceeding which did not in the least lessen the value of a secret in her innocent mind.
For five years she had heard “ ’Twas the night before Christmas,” and hung up a scarlet stocking many sizes too large for her, and pinned a sprig of holly on her little white nightgown, to show Santa Claus that she was a “truly” Christmas child, and dreamed of fur-coated saints and toypacks and reindeer, and wished everybody a “Merry Christmas” before it was light in the morning, and lent every one of her new toys to the neighbors’ children before noon, and eaten turkey and plum-pudding, and gone to bed at night in a trance of happiness at the day’s pleasures.
Donald was away at college now. Paul and Hugh were great manly fellows, taller than their mother. Papa Bird had
1112 Kate Douglas Wiggin
gray hairs in his whiskers; and Grandma, God bless her, had been four Christmases in heaven.
But Christmas in the Birds’ Nest was scarcely as merry now as it used to be in the bygone years, for the little child, that once brought such an added blessing to the day, lay month after month a patient, helpless invalid, in the room where she was born. She had never been very strong in body, and it was with a pang of terror her mother and father noticed, soon after she was five years old, that she began to limp, ever so slightly; to complain too often of weariness, and to nestle close to her mother, saying she “would rather not go out to play, please.” The illness was slight at first, and hope was always stirring in Mrs. Bird’s heart. “Carol would feel stronger in the summer-time;” or, “She would be better when she had spent a year in the country;” or, “She would outgrow it;” or, “They would try a new physician;” but by and by it came to be all too sure that no physician save One could make Carol strong again, and that no “summer-time” nor “country air,” unless it were the everlasting summer-time in a heavenly country, could bring back the little girl to health.
The cheeks and lips that were once as red as hollyberries faded to faint pink; the star-like eyes grew softer, for they often gleamed through tears; and the gay child-laugh, that had been like a chime of Christmas bells, gave place to a smile so lovely, so touching, so tender and patient, that it filled every corner of the house with a gentle radiance that might have come from the face of the Christ-child himself.
Love could do nothing; and when we have said that we have said all, for it is stronger than anything else in the whole wide world. Mr. and Mrs. Bird were talking it over one evening, when all the children were asleep. A famous physician had visited them that day, and told them that some time, it might be in one year, it might be in more, Carol would slip quietly off into heaven, whence she came.
THE BIRDS’ CHRISTMAS CAROL 13 “It is no use to close our eyes to it any longer,” said Mr.
Bird, as he paced up and down the library floor; “Carol will never be well again. It almost seems as if I could not bear it when I think of that loveliest child doomed to lie there day after day, and, what is still more, to suffer pain that we are helpless to keep away from her. Merry Christmas, indeed; it gets to be the saddest day in the year to me!” and poor Mr.
Bird sank into a chair by the table, and buried his face in his hands to keep his wife from seeing the tears that would come in spite of all his efforts.
“But, Donald, dear,” said sweet Mrs. Bird, with trembling voice, “Christmas Day may not be so merry with us as it used, but it is very happy, and that is better, and very blessed, and that is better yet. I suffer chiefly for Carol’s sake, but I have almost given up being sorrowful for my own. I am too happy in the child, and I see too clearly what she has done for us and the other children. Donald and Paul and Hugh were three strong, willful, boisterous boys, but now you seldom see such tenderness, devotion, thought for others, and self-denial in lads of their years. A quarrel or a hot word is almost unknown in this house, and why? Carol would hear it, and it would distress her, she is so full of love and goodness. The boys study with all their might and main.