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THE HOLY CHILD OF BETHLEHEM.
“Good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”-S. Luke ü. 10.
It was the week before Christmas in the year 18-, the weather had been unusually severe; a great fall of snow had taken place during the three days previous to the night on which my story commences, this had rendered the cold less intense, and on this particular evening rain
set in, a steady down-pour, crushing the hopes and anticipations of the skaters looking forward to pleasant parties on the ice, and causing people to remark, " that now-a-days we did not get a real oldfashioned Christmas."
It was half-past twelve as the hour was told by the great clock on the grand church of S. Michael, in the ancient city of Land the majority of pedestrians had left the streets now covered with dirty half-melted snow and mud combined, and sought their homes, that is to say, all who had any,—those who had not, took shelter under arches and in street gateways, rendered familiar to them by necessity, and crouched there, drawing their tattered garments round them in a pitiful endeavour to shield themselves from the rain which fell as heavily as when it first began.
Towards the outskirts of the city, streets of new and handsome houses were rising as if by magic under the builders' hands, and down one of these streets where the houses were only half finished, came a gentleman, walking with rapid strides, under a large umbrella. This gentleman and a policeman, walking on his beat with a slow and measured step in oilskin cape and shining hat, were the only foot passengers, and their footsteps tramping on the pavement echoed in the half-finished houses with a hollow sound; suddenly the gentleman paused, and listened,
-near him, and yet below where he stood he thought he heard a feeble cry,—the sound was repeated,-surely it was the cry of a
The Doctor, for such was his profession, recognised it at once, as he held his head inside an aperture left for a window, and he immediately endeavoured to effect an entrance, then recollecting he could not find his way in a half-finished building in darkness, and without previous knowledge of the place, he ran hastily after the policeman, who returned with him, and showed the light of his lantern to guide the search.
Dr. Evans was well known to Jacob Willis the policeman, and they were soon busily engaged in looking over every part of the house, but the sound which had guided them was not repeated. With difficulty they descended to the cellar where lay some of the tools of the work. men ; they were about to give up the search as hopeless, when the wailing cry was again heard, and, in a corner of the cellar, in a large tub which had been used for mortar, they discovered, side by side, wrapped in a warm shawl over their baby clothing, two infants of about a month old, -one was sleeping peacefully in his strange cradle, the other had repeated the wailing cry which had led the searchers to their retreat.
On examination the babies proved to be boys, evidently twins, and their discovery was a source of wonder and perturbation to the doctor, but his companion taking one of the little ones in his arms, and kissing the tiny face, said,
“ Doctor, I shall take this one myself.”
“You take it yourself, Jacob !--what will your wife say? It is not more than
since your own child died, and Sally has never been quite strong since. Is it not a sudden resolution, and one you may repent "
“No, sir, Sally will be glad, -she has a tender heart, and yearns for a child. I believe this little ’un is sent to me to-night, and as long as we've got a home he shall share it with us; but what's to become of the other one, sir ?”
Jacob, I think you have taught me a lesson,—take your baby home to your wife, and I will carry this one home with me, we too have lost our only darling, now five years ago, and why should I not see the matter in the same light? We will take care of them to-night, and to-morrow I will call upon you.”
“Very well, doctor; I wish you good night,-a merry Christmas, and a happy new year t'ye."
“The same to you, Willis,—good night.”
Sitting in a pretty drawing-room in a house in the centre of the city was a lady still young and very beautiful, she was tall, and with hair light in colour, and of silky texture; a fire burned cheerily in the bright grate, and her easy-chair was drawn in front of it, her pretty feet, encased in scarlet slippers, rested on the fender, her dress had been exchanged for a loose dressing-gown of purple, and her hair hung unconfined over the back of the chair in wavy masses. On the sofa was arranged a gentleman's dressing-gown and slippers; the gas was turned low, and the room had a half-asleep, cosy look, which is not always found in well furnished drawing-rooms, but here, the flowers in the stand, the open piano, the books lying on the small table near the fire, and the work no longer in progress contributed to the home-like appearance of the apartment, as, wrapped in a deep reverie, Dr. Evans' wife waited the return of her husband from one of his night visits to a dying patient.
Yes, she was very beautiful, but the tears were in her dark blue eyes as she bent over the portrait held in her hand; she was grieving over her lost darling, as she often sighed and grieved when alone, for now she felt that perhaps she should never have another child, and she longed for the clasp of the soft arms round her neck, and the pressure of the velvet cheek upon her own; she tried for the sake of her husband to
“ And now, my
forget, but the anniversary of the dear one's death made her very sorrowful. Cheer up, poor mother, Christmas, holy, blessed Christmas is coming, and will bring thee an untold joy, sent by the Holy One, Who was once Himself a child.
Her husband's rap,—she rises quickly, wiping away her tears, for the domestics are not kept up unless in great emergency,
opens the hall door, and Dr. Evans stumbles in.
“Hold out your arms, Nettie, and take my Christmas gift. I will soon join you when I have removed my wet clothes, it is indeed a soaking night.”
Dumb with surprise Mrs. Evans retreated with the bundle in her arms into her easy-chair, but when she unfastened the shawl and saw the baby, she burst into tears, and when on entering the room her husband witnessed her emotion, he began to repent that he had not taken the child to the Union, but before he could question her a smile broke through her tears as she said,
“Oh, Walter, tell me all about this poor child.”
“Willingly, dear Nettie," and Dr. Evans narrated his adventure, to which his wife listened with breathless attention. love,” he added, " tell me if I have done what you approve, in following the impulse of humanity, and whether, should this infant remain unclaimed, you can take the forsaken nursling and give it a place in your tender mother's heart, or is it still too much occupied with the memory
of our own dear little one who has left us ? Tell me that this task will not be a painful one before we decide upon what we shall do with the poor baby."
Mrs. Evans replied, after a minute of quiet fondling of the tiny creature to hide her tears, “I had been grieving very much before your return, dear Walter, over the portrait of little Ethel, and I repeated the
prayer which I have prayed these five years, that God would in His mercy
send me another child; He has answered my prayer in His own good time and way, I accept the trust which something tells me has been given me this night, and I will be unto the child as a mother. I cannot forget your story, and I must go to-morrow to see Sally Willis. Is it not very remarkable that God should thus deal with two childless mothers ?”
“It is, dear, altogether a most singular incident. I shall feel it a duty to lay the case before the proper authorities, and take every step to discover the mother and father of these children; Willis will of
course do the same; and should nothing transpire respecting them, we will adopt them, and have them baptized on Sunday next,—what do you think of my proposal ?”
“I think it very right; poor little things, how cruel to desert them, and on such a night. Now I will feed the baby, and we will go up stairs."
Mrs. Evans bustled down to bring the necessary ingredients to make some gruel, and baby having taken it with great relish, was warmly packed up and carried to bed, and the domestics, viz., the two female servants and the doctor's man, knew nothing of the matter that night.
We will now see what kind of a reception the other baby met with.
Jacob Willis continued his beat with the child fast asleep in his arms until he was relieved at six o'clock, when no particular notice was taken of his burden, the man who relieved him supposing its destination would be, as usual, the Union.
Jacob walked home, and let himself in, his wife was still in bed, and he went up to his room, as his custom was, to lie down until the living-room was swept and breakfast ready; he did so without disturbing his wife, who slept another hour, when she rose as usual, and went down stairs quietly, fearing in her turn to awake her husband. She had just prepared breakfast, when the baby began to cry, but so often had the poor
man fancied she could hear the voice of her dead child, that she only shook her head, and opened the door at the foot of the stairs to call her husband, surely the baby was there. She went up and saw Jacob sitting on the edge of the bed trying to quiet the little fellow.
“Why, Jacob, you don't mean to tell me as you've got a baby ?where ever did
find it?" In his turn Jacob related the story, not saying anything of the other child, and adding, "Now I'll have my breakfast, and then take him to the Police Court to be claimed." Artful Jacob,
he knew how to manage Sally, although he was somewhat under petticoat-government; he was six feet in height, but his wife who was a most excellent housekeeper, and very fond of her husband, was accustomed to have her own way in most things, and Jacob knew that he must leave his own wishes unexpressed, he therefore chucked the baby under the chin in a vain attempt at play, when Sally, with the ready tears springing to her eyes, whisked it out of his