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THE CANDLE IN THE FOREST
Reprinted by permission from Joe L.
Wheeler- Editor/Compiler of the Christmas in
My Heart Series Christmas in My Heart
The small girl's
mother was saying, "The onions will be silver, and the carrots
will be gold -"
"And the potatoes will be ivory,"
said the small girl, and they laughed together. The small
girl's mother had a big white bowl in her lap, and she was
cutting up vegetables. The onions were the hardest, because
she cried over them..
"But our tears will be pearls,"
said the small girl's mother, and they laughed at that and dried
their eyes, and found the carrots much easier, and the potatoes
the easiest of all.
Then the next-door neighbor came
in and said, "What are you doing?"
"We are making a vegetable pie for
our Christmas dinner," said the small girl's mother.
"And the onions are silver, and
the carrots are gold, and the potatoes are ivory," said the
"I am sure I don't know what you
are talking about," said the next-door neighbor. "We are going
to have turkey for dinner, and cranberries and celery."
The small girl laughed and clapped
her hands. "But we are going to have a Christmas pie - and the
onions will be silver and the carrots gold -"
"You said that once," said the
next-door neighbor, "and I should think you'd know they weren't
anything of the kind."
"But they are," said the small
girl, all shining eyes and rosy cheeks.
"Run along, darling," said the
small girl's mother, "and find poor Pussy-purr-up. He's out in
the cold. And you can put on your red sweater and red cap."
So the small girl hopped away like
a happy robin, and the next-door neighbor said, "She's old
enough to know that onions aren't silver."
"But they are," said the small
girl's mother. "And the carrots are gold and the potatoes are
The next-door neighbor's face was
flaming. "If you say that again, I'll scream. It sounds silly
"but it isn't in the least sill,"
said the small girl's mother, and her eyes were blue as
sapphires, and as clear as the sea; "it is sensible. When
people are poor, they have to make the most of little things.
And we'll have only inexpensive things in our pie, but the
onions will be silver --"
The lips of the next-door neighbor
were folded in a thin line. "If you had acted like a sensible
creature, I shouldn't have asked you for the rent."
The small girl's mother was silent
for a moment; then she said, "I am sorry -- it ought to be
sensible to make the best of things."
"Well," said the
next-door-neighbor, sitting down in a chair with a very stiff
back, "a pie is a pie. And I wouldn't teach a child to call it
"I haven't taught her to call it
anything else. I was only trying to make her feel that it was
something fine and splendid for Christmas Day, so I said that
the onions were silver -- "
"Don't say that again," snapped
the next-door-neighbor, "and I want the rent as soon as
With that, she flung up her head
and marched out the front door, and it slammed behind her and
made wild echoes in the little home. And the small girl's
mother stood there alone in the middle of the floor, and her
eyes were like the sea in a storm.
But presently the door opened, and
the small girl, looking like a red-breast robin, hopped in, and
after her came a great black cat with his tail in the air, and
he said, "Purr-up," which gave him his name. And the small
girl said, out of the things she had been thinking, "Mother, why
don't we have turkey?"
The clear look came back into the
eyes of the small girl's mother, and she said, "Because we are
And the small girl said, "What is
And her mother said, "It is making
the best of what God gives us. And our best for Christmas Day,
my darling, is our Christmas pie."
So she kissed the small girl, and
they finished peeling the vegetables, and then they put them to
simmer on the back of the stove.
After that, the small girl had her
supper of bread and milk, and Pussy-purr-up had milk in a saucer
on the hearth, and the small girl climbed up in her mother's lap
and said, "Tell me a story."
But the small girl's mother said,
"Won't it be nicer to talk about Christmas presents?"
And the small girl sat up and
And the mother said, "Let's tell
each other what we'd rather have in the whole wide world."
"Oh, let's," said the small girl.
"And I'll tell you first that I want a doll - and I want it to
have a pink dress- and I want it to have eyes that open and shut
-- and I want it to have shoes and stockings -- and I want it to
have curly hair --" She had to stop, because she didn't have
any breath left in her body, and when she got her breath back,
she said, "Now, what do you want, Mother, more than anything
else in the whole wide world?"
"Well," said the mother, "I want a
"Oh," said the small scornfully,
"I shouldn't think you'd want that."
"Because a chocolate mouse isn't
"Oh, yes, it is," said the small
girl's mother. "A chocolate mouse is Dickory Dock, and
-where-have-you-been-was-frightened-under-a-chair, and the mice
in Three-Blind-Mice ran after the farmer's wife, and the mouse
in A-Frog-would-a-Wooing-Go went down the throat of the cow --"
And the small girl said, "Could a
chocolate mouse do all that?"
"Well," said the small girl's
mother, "we could put him on the clock, and under a chair and
cut his tail with a carving knife, and at the very last we could
eat him like a crow --"
The small girl said, shivering
deliciously, And he wouldn't be a real mouse?"
"No, just a chocolate one, with
"Do you think I'll get one for
"I'm not sure," said the mother.
"Would he be nicer than a doll?"
The small girl's mother hesitated,
then told her the truth. "My darling, Mother saved up money for
a doll, but the next-door-neighbor wants the rent."
"Hasn't Daddy any more money?"
"Poor Daddy has been sick so
"But he's well now."
"I know. But he has to pay for
the doctors, and the money for medicine, and money for your red
sweater, and money for milk for Pussy-purr-up, and money for our
"The boy-next-door says we're
"We are rich, my darling. We have
love, each other and Pussy-purr-up --"
"His mother won't let him have a
cat," said the small girl, with her mind still on the
boy-next-door. "But he's going to have a radio."
"Would you rather have a radio
The small girl gave a crow of
derision. "I'd rather have Pussy-purr-up than anything else in
the whole wide world."
At that, the great cat, who had
been sitting on the hearth with his paws tucked under him and
his eyes like moons, stretched out his satin-shining length and
jumped up on the arm of the chair beside the small girl and her
mother, and began to sing a song that was like a mill-wheel away
off. He purred to them so loud and so long that at last the
small girl grew drowsy.
"Tell me some more about the
chocolate mouse," she said, and nodded and slept.
The small girl's mother carried
her into another room, put her to bed, and came back to the
kitchen, and it was full of shadows.
But she didn't let herself sit
among them. She wrapped herself in a great cape and went out
into the cold dusk. There was a sweep of wind, heavy clouds
overhead, and a band of dull orange showing back of the trees,
where the sun had burned down.
She went straight from her little
house to the big house of the next-door-neighbor and rang the
bell at the back entrance. A maid let her into the kitchen, and
there was the next-door-neighbor, and the two women who worked
for her, and a daughter-in-law who had come to spend Christmas.
the great range was glowing, and things were simmering, and
things were baking, and things were boiling, and things were
broiling, and there were the fragrances of a thousand delicious
dishes in the air.
And the next-door-neighbor said:
"We are trying to get as much done as possible tonight. We have
plans for 12 people for Christmas dinner tomorrow."
And the daughter-in-law, who was
all dressed up and had an apron tied about her, said in a sharp
voice, "I can't see why you don't let your maids work for you."
And the next-door-neighbor said:
"I have always worked. There is no excuse for laziness."
And the daughter-in-law said, "I'm
not lazy, if that's what you mean. And we'll never have any
dinner if I have to cook it." And away she went out of the
kitchen with tears of rage in her eyes.
And the next-door-neighbor said,
"if she hadn't gone when she did, I should have told her to
go," and there was rage in her eyes but no tears.
She took her hands out of the pan
of bread crumbs and sage, which was being mixed for the
stuffing, and said to the small girl's mother, "Did you come to
pay the rent?"
The small girl's mother handed her
the money, and the next-door-neighbor went upstairs to write a
receipt. Nobody asked the small girl's mother to sit down, so
she stood in the middle of the floor and sniffed the entrancing
fragrances, and looked at the mountain of food that would have
served her small family for a month.
While she waited, the
boy-next-door came in and said, "Are you the small girl's
"Are you going to have a tree?"
"Do you want to see mine?"
"It would be wonderful."
So he led her down a long passage
to a great room, and there was a tree that touched the ceiling,
and on the very top branches and on all the other branches were
myriads of little lights that shone like stars, and there were
gold bells and silver ones, and red and blue and green balls and
under the tree and on it were toys for boys and toys for girls,
and one of the toys was a doll in a pink dress! At that, the
heart of the small girl's mother tightened, and she was glad she
wasn't a thief, or she would have snatched at the pink doll when
the boy wasn't looking, and hidden it under her cape, and run
away with it.
The next-door-neighbor-boy was
saying, "it's the finest tree anybody has around here. But Dad
and Mother know that I've seen it."
"Oh, don't they?" said the small
"no," said the boy-next-door, with
a wide grin, "and it's fun to fool' em."
"Is it?" said the small girl's
mother. "Now, do you know I should think the very nicest thing
is the whole world would be not to have seen the tree."
"Because," said the small girl's
mother, "the nicest thing in the world would be to have somebody
tie a handkerchief around your eyes, so tight, and then to have
somebody take your hand and lead you in and out, and in and out,
and in and out, until you didn't know where you were, and then
to have them untie the handkerchief -- and there would be the
tree, all shining and splendid!" She stopped, but her singing
voice seemed to echo and re-echo in the great room. The boy's
staring eyes had a new look in them. "Did anybody every tie a
handkerchief over your eyes?"
"Oh, yes --"
"And lead you in and out, and in
"Well, nobody does things like
that in our house. They think it's silly."
The small girl's mother laughed,
and her laugh tinkled like a bell. "Do you think it's silly?"
He was eager. "No, I don't."
She held out her hand to him.
"Will you come and see our tree?"
"No, tomorrow morning -- early."
"I'd like it!"
So that was a bargain, and with a
quick squeeze of their hands on it. And the small girl's mother
went back to the kitchen, and the next-door-neighbor came down
with the receipt, and the small girl's mother went out the back
door and found that the orange band that had burned on the
horizon was gone, and that there was just the wind and the
singing of the trees.
Two men passed her on the brick
walk that led to the house, and one of the men was saying, "If
you'd only be fair to me, Father."
And the other man said, "all you
want of me is money."
"You taught me that, Father."
"Blame it on me --"
"You are to blame. You and mother
-- did you ever show me the finer things?"
Their angry voices seemed to beat
against the noise of the wind and the singing trees, so that the
small girl's mother shivered, and drew her cape around her, and
ran as fast as she could to her little house.
There was all the shadows to meet
her, but she did not sit among them. She made coffee and a dish
of milk toast, and set the toast in the oven to keep hot, and
then she stood at the window watching. At last she saw
through the darkness what looked like a star low down, and she
knew that that star was a lantern, and she ran and opened the
And her young husband set the
lantern down on the threshold, and took her in his arms, and
said, The sight of you is more than food and drink."
When he said that, she knew he had
had a hard day, but her heart leaped because she knew that what
he had said of her was true.
Then they went into the house
together, and she set the food before him. And that he might
forget his hard day, she told him of her own. And when she came
to the part about the next-door-neighbor and the rent, she said,
"I am telling you this because it has a happy ending."
And he put his hands over hers and
said, "Everything with you has a happy ending."
"Well, this is a happy ending, "
said the small girl's mother, with all the sapphires in her eyes
emphasizing it. "Because when I went over to pay the rent, I
was feeling how poor were and wishing that I had a pink doll for
Baby, and books for you, and , and -- and a magic carpet to
carry us away from work and worry. And then I went into the
parlor and saw the tree -- with everything hanging on it that
was glittering and gorgeous, and then I came home." Her breath
was quick and her lips smiling. "I came home -- and I was glad
I lived in my little home."
"What made you glad, dearest?"
"Oh, love is here; and hate is
there, and a boy's deceit, a man's injustice. They were saying
sharp things to each other -- and -- and their will be a stalled
ox -- and in my little house is the faith of a child in the
goodness of God, and the bravery of a man who fought for his
She was in his arms now.
"And the blessing of a woman who
has never known defeat." His voice broke on the words.
In that moment it seemed as if
the wind stopped blowing, and as if the trees stopped sighing,
as if there was the sound of heavenly singing.
The small girl's mother and the
small girl's father sat up very late that night. They popped a
great bowlfull of crisp snowy corn and made it into balls; they
boiled sugar and molasses, and cracked nuts, and made candy of
them. they cut funny little Christmas fairies out of paper and
painted their jackets bright red, with round silver buttons of
the tinfoil tat came on cream cheese. And then they put the
balls and the candy in a big basket, and set it away. And the
small girl's mother brought out the chocolate mouse.
"We will put this on the clock,"
she said, "where her eyes will rest on it the first thing in the
So they put it there, and it
seemed as natural as life, so that Pussy-purr-up positively
licked his chops and sat in front of the clock as if to keep his
eye on the chocolate mouse. The small girl's mother said, "She
was lovely about giving up the doll, and she will love the
"We'll have to get up very
early," said the small girl's father.
"And you'll have to run a head to
light the candle."
Well, they got up before dawn the
next morning, and so did the boy-next-door. He was there on the
step, waiting blowing on his hands and beating them quite like
the poor little boys do in a Christmas story, who haven't any
mittens. But he wasn't a poor little boy, and he had so many
pairs of fur-trimmed gloves that he didn't know what to do with
them, but he had left the house in a such a hurry that he had
forgotten to put them on. So there he stood on the front step
of the little house, blowing on his hands and beating them. And
it was dark, with a sort of pale shine in the heavens, which
didn't seem to come from the stars or the herald of the dawn; it
was just a mystical silver glow that set the boy's heart to
He had never been out alone like
this. He had always stayed in his warm bed until somebody
called him, and then he had waited until they had called again,
and then he had dressed and gone to breakfast, where his father
scolded because he ate too fast. But this day had begun with
adventure, and for the first time, under that silvery sky, he
felt the thrill of it.
Then suddenly someone came around
the house - someone tall and thin, with a cap on his head and
an empty basket in his hands.
"Hello," he said. "A merry
It was the small girl's father,
and he put the key in the lock and went in, and turned on a
light, and there was the table set for four.
And the small girl's father said,
"You see, we have a set a place for you. We must eat something
before we go out."
And the boy said, "Are we going
out? I came to see the tree."
"We are going out to see the
Before the boy could ask any
questions, the small girl's mother appeared with fingers on her
lips and said, "Sh-sh," and then she began to recite in a hushed
voice, "Hickory-Dickory-Doc - "
Then there was a little cry and
the sound of dancing feet, and the small girl in a red dressing
gown came flying in.
"Oh, Mother, Mother, the mouse in
on the clock - the mouse is on the clock!"
Well, it seemed to the little boy
that he had never seen anything so exciting as the things that
followed. The chocolate mouse went up the clock and under the
chair and would have had it tail cut off except that the small
girl begged to save it.
"I want to keep it as it is,
And playing this game as if it
were the most important thing in the whole wide world were the
small girl's mother and the small girl's father, all laughing
and flushed, and chanting the quaint old words to the quaint old
music. The boy-next-door held his breath for fear he would wake
up from this entrancing dream and find himself in his own big
house, alone in his puffy bed, or eating breakfast with his
stodgy parents who had never played with him in his life. He
found himself laughing too, and flushed and happy, and trying to
sin in his funny boy's voice.
The small girl absolutely refused
to eat the mouse. "He's my darling Christmas mouse, Mother."
So her mother said, "Well, I'll
put him on the clock again, where Pussy-purr-up can't get him
while we are out."
"Oh, are we going out?" said the
small girl, round eyed.
"Where are we going?"
"To find Christmas."
That was all the small girl's
mother would tell. So they had breakfast, and everything tasted
perfectly delicious to the boy-next-door. But first they bowed
their heads, and the small girl's father said, "Dear
Christ-Child, on this Christmas morning, bless these children,
and keep our hearts young and full of love for Thee."
The boy-next-door, when he lifted
his head, had a funny feeling as if he wanted to cry, and yet it
was a lovely feeling, all warm and comfortable inside.
For breakfast they each had a
great baked apple, and great slices of sweet bread and butter,
and great glasses of milk, and as soon as they had finished,
away they went out of the door and down into the woods back of
the house, ad wen they were deep into the woods, the small
girl's father took out of his pocket a little flute and began to
play; he played thin piping tunes that went flitting around
among the trees, and the small girl and her mother hummed the
tunes until it sounded like singing bees, and their feet fairly
danced and the boy found himself humming and dancing with them.
Then suddenly the piping ceased,
and hush fell over the wood. It was so still that they could
almost hear each other breathe - so still that when a light
flamed suddenly in that open space, it burned without a flicker.
The light came from a red candle
that was set in the top of a small living tree. It was the only
light on the tree, but it shoed the snowy balls.
"It's our tree, my darling, "he
heard the small girl's mother saying.
Suddenly it seemed to the boy that
his heart would burst in his breast. He wanted someone to speak
to him like that. The small girl sat high on her father's
shoulder, and her father held her mother's hand. It was like a
chain of gold, their holding hands like that, the loving each
The boy reach out and touched the
woman's hand. she looked down at him and drew him close. He
felt warmed and comforted. Their candle burning there in the
darkness was like some sacred fire of friendship. He wished
that it would never go out, that he might stand there watching
it, with his small cold hand in the clasp of the small girl's
It was late when the
boy-next-door got back to his own big house. But he had not
been missed. Everybody was up, ad everything was upset. The
daughter-in-law had declared the night before that she would not
stay another day beneath that roof, and off she had gone with
her young husband, and her little girl, who was to have had the
pink doll on the tree.
"And good riddance," said the
next-door-neighbor. But she ate not breakfast, and she went to
the kitchen ad worked with her maids to get the dinner ready,
and there were covers laid for nine instead of 12.
And the next-door-neighbor kept
saying, "Good riddance - good riddance," and not once did she
say, "A merry Christmas."
But the boy-next-door had
something in his heart that was warm and glowing like the candle
in the forest, and he came to his mother and said, "May I have
the pink dolly?"
She spoke frowningly. "What does
a boy want of a doll?"
"I'd like to give it to the little
girl next door."
"Do you think I can buy dolls to
give away in charity?"
"Well, they gave me a Christmas
"What did they give you?"
He opened his hand and showed a
little flute tied with a gay red ribbon. He lifted it to his
lips and blew on it, a thin piping tune.
"Oh, that," said his mother
scornfully. "Why, that's nothing but a reed from the pond."
But the boy knew it was more than
that. It was a magic pipe that made you dance, and made your
heart warm and happy.
So he said again, "I'd like to
give her the doll. " And he reached out his little hand and
touched his mother's - and his eyes were wistful.
His mother's own eyes softened -
she had lost one son that day - and she said, "Oh, well, do as
you please," and went back to the kitchen.
The boy-next-door ran into the
great room and took the doll from the tree, and wrapped her in
paper, and flew out the door and down the brick walk and
straight to the little house. When the door was opened, he saw
that his friends were just sitting down to dinner - and there
was the pie, all brown and piping hot, with a wreath of holly,
and the small girl was saying, "And the onions were silver, and
the carrots were gold -"
The boy-next-door went up to the
small girl and said, "I've brought you a present."
With his eyes all lighted up, he
took off the paper in which it was wrapped, and there was the
doll, in rosy frills, with eyes that opened and shut, and shoes
and stockings, and curly hair that was bobbed and beautiful.
And the small girl, in a whirlwind
of happiness, said, "Is it really my doll?" and the
boy-next-door felt very shy and happy, and he said, "Yes."
And the small girl's mother said,
"It was a beautiful thing to do," and she bent and kissed
him. Again that bursting feeling came into the boy's heart and
he lifted his face to hers and said, "May I come sometimes and
be your boy?"
And she said, "Yes."
And when at last he went away, she
stood in the door and watched him, such a little lad, who knew
so little of loving. And because she knew so much of love, her
eyes filled to overflowing.
But presently she wiped the tears
away and went back to the table; and she smiled at the small
girl and at the small girl's father.
"And the potatoes were ivory," she
said. "Oh, who would ask for turkey, when they can have pie
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