Christmas Eve from The Easter Eggs and Five Other Stories for Dear Young People by Christof von Schmid - Pages 44-48

Christian and Katharine were very happy that Anton could stay. "This is great," said Christian. "Now when we play there will be three of us."

Then the ranger spoke seriously. "See, child. God has provided for you. The blessings of your good parents call down to you. God heard your dying mother's prayer and he heard your prayer as you knelt in the forest and shivered from the cold. He guided your footsteps and led you to our house. If you hadn't heard our song you would have fallen asleep on your bundle and froze to death. Then I would have found you dead in the forest. God saved you at just the right moment. You should thank God and His Son, whose birth we now celebrate, for the roof you now have over your head. Realize this and never forget to always be grateful to God and conduct yourself as a proper Christian."

Anton promised this with tears in his eyes. It had grown late. The ranger's wife led him to a small chamber with a clean bed and all retired for the night.

The next morning the children gathered again at the manger scene. They had found joy in the Christmas Eve activities and now looked forward to the days of celebration and feasting. But their innocent pleasure was about to be disturbed. A certain young nobleman, Lord von Schilf, who was an avid hunter and often visited the forest ranger, came into the house. He made scoffing remarks about the children standing by the manger and couldn't understand what purpose it served.

"What's it for?" said the ranger. "Take a look out the window, young lord! The ground is covered in deep snow and the trees are bowed with the weight. The children are prisoners in the house, cooped up and could scarcely step one foot out the door. Is it so bad if loving parents wish to create for their children a spring setting in a warm house during the harsh winter weather? This spring landscape with its green forests, blossoming meadows, lowing sheep and shepherds is really the only joyful thing for children in winter. And that's not the least of it! The main thing is, we Christians find joy in the Christmas season because in Christ we have God's love for mankind in human form. We want our children to understand this and take joy in it. I remember when I was a child that the manger gave me the greatest happiness and it was not without blessing for me. May it give my children the same happiness and blessing. May God grant it!"


Chapter Two
The Noble Ranger's Family. Anton's Further Tale.

The forest ranger, who had taken in the poor orphan child, was a very honorable and hard-working man. He was god-fearing, kind to all men, untiring in his service to his prince and uncompromisingly loyal. In the morning it was his first task to direct morning prayers with the mother and children.

Each night he closed the day with evening prayers. Similarly he reverently prayed before and after each meal with his family. One day before the hunt he invited young Lord von Schilf in for lunch just as the soup was being served. The young lord sat down at the table without saying grace. However the forest ranger, whose practice it was never to take a bite before giving thanks, said to the lord, "Pray with us as is befitting a Christian and a reasonable man, otherwise this will be the last time I'll take you out to hunt." The young lord stood up and took part in the prayer, but he did not do it out of reverence for God, merely for his love of hunting.

The noble forest ranger was always happiest when he was in the midst of his family. After a full work day he drank a mugful of beer and on Sundays he had a glass of wine while he spoke to his wife or told the children a pious and instructive tale. When he was in truly fine spirits he took up his harp. The ranger's wife knew many beautiful songs and she accompanied the ranger's harp playing. Even the children at their age knew a few little songs, like Songbird in the Forest, and sang along.

The ranger's children went to school in the nearby parish village of Äschenthal. When the Christmas holiday was over and the path through the forest was clear Christian and Katharine had to go there daily. Anton was thrilled to attend school and soon surpassed all his classmates. His diligence and talent were exceptional. When the ranger returned home at night from the hunt he would sit in his armchair next to the fire. His children would tell him what they had learned that day and they would show him their writing assignments. Anton always had the most to say. His writing was always the best looking and he soon developed great skill in reading. After dinner the children took turns reading aloud. Everyone in the house enjoyed Anton's reading the most. "He reads so naturally," the ranger's wife said. "If one hadn't seen that he had the book right before him, one would think that he wasn't reading the story but reciting it from memory after having heard it."

Sunday was the children's favorite day of the week. Early Sunday mornings they went with their father and mother to church in Äschenthal. They especially liked to do this in Spring and Summer. The path led through the forested mountaintop to a small meadow surrounded by bushes, rocks and tall trees, which offered the children the opportunity for amusement. As they approached the church the rangered admonished them to listen reverently and attentively to the word of God. On the way home he discussed with them the sermon and they elaborated on their own observations.

At table on Sundays the forest ranger was especially jovial. He showed the children his most heartfelt affection. "Eat, children, eat," he said, "and give thanks to God for His gifts." After the meal he took them out to the forest and showed them how to identify the various species of trees, brushes and herbs and how to appreciate their beauty and usefulness.

If the Spring or Summer evening were especially fine the ranger's wife would serve dinner outside on a table with benches under a large linden tree near the house. After dinner they would sing a few beautiful and happy songs. The ranger would play his harp and the birds in the trees would lend their voices.

Anton felt extremely fortunate to be among these noble people for whom piety, harmony and love, diligence, orderliness and contentment reigned. And the good boy was full of gratitude for his stepparents. He would do anything for them. When the ranger came home each night after a day in the forest Anton eagerly brought him his slippers and gray robe with green cuffs, which served as his sleeping robe. When the ranger's wife was in the kitchen at the stove cooking, Anton carried her wood or ran to the vegetable garden in order to save her a few steps and retrieve chives, parsley, or any other green herb she needed. Whatever she wanted was obtained before she even had to say a word.

There was one particularly fine service Anton performed for his stepparents. The ranger had designed a series of maps outlining all the grounds entrusted to him, which he then colored in beautiful and pleasing hues. In the corner of each page he wrote the name of the forest in capital letters and composed a list of the trees and animals in it encircled by a wreath of pine twigs and oak leaves. Anton looked at the compendium so often that he could draw the maps from memory. But what really surprised the ranger was how well Anton could illustrate items from the list. For example, Anton drew an oak tree, which included a description and the name of the forest and next to it one saw a wild boar searching for acorns. Or the name of the forest was spelled out with rocks then surrounded by pine trees while amid the rocks grazed a deer with pointed antlers. Most of all Anton drew and painted during all his free time landscapes and animals. Whenever he found a piece of white paper or even an empty envelop he drew a bird, or a flower or a tree branch. He was never idle. The ranger and his wife loved the boy as their own child and their own children were influenced by Anton's example to be more helpful and active.

One day the forest ranger sent his stepson with a couple of game birds to the neighboring royal hunting lodge at Felseck. The warden there had a guest whom he wished to entertain. Along the way Anton passed a waterfall which crashed down high rocks between dark green pines. Not far from there sat a strange man in a dark blue outfit, who was sketching the waterfall. Anton went over, looked over the man's shoulder at the drawing and couldn't help but loudly exclaim, "Oh, how beautiful! Now that's true art!" He asked permission to get a closer look at the beautiful picture and he received it. "It seems to me," he said as he examined the work, "that the picture is a mirror in which one sees reflected the waterfall with its rocks and trees. Silver, clear water crashes over the rocks and white foam curls between the moss-covered stones. How crisp and green the moss looks on those stones! Why, it looks like you could pick up those stones. And how boldly those pine trees stand out. And there's a deer drinking from the brook. How light he seems on his hooves! You could easily imagine him leaping over ledges and rocks. When I draw a deer it's so stift and lame it looks like it could fall over at any minute. I just can't seem to bring him to life."

The artist smiled because of the boy's praise. At the same time he was impressed by the boy's appreciation for art. He said to Anton, "I see that you are a young artist yourself." "Yes," Anton said. "but I thought I was a great artist. Now I see that I'm not." The artist responded,

"I'd still like to see your work. I will visit you and you must show it to me. Who are your parents and where do you live?" Anton replied, "Oh, I'm a poor orphan boy. Ranger Grünwald took me in as his son." "Then are you related to him as a nephew perhaps?" the artist asked. "No," said Anton. "I came as a stranger to his house. He and his wife immediately took me in and made me their child." "That's exceptional," said the artist. "How did that come about?" Anton related the full story. The artist listened attentively then responded at the end, "The ranger and his wife must be truly noble people. Give them my greetings and tell them that I will visit them tomorrow thank them in the name of humanity for their charity to you."

The artist's name was Riedinger and he had arrived at the royal hunting lodge a few days earlier to restore some old paintings. He also used the opportunity to sketch some of the forest regions which appealed to him. In the evening of the next day he visited the ranger. Both men soon found they were of similar temperament and quickly became friends. The artist wished to see Anton's drawings and requested that he show them. Anton brought them. Mr. Riedinger examined one after the other in detail and smiled several times. Although he found many flaws in them he still liked them a great deal. "Indeed," he said. "There's an artist hidden in that boy. Mr. Grünwald, would you let me instruct him? You should take great pride in him." The ranger nodded his head and responded, "I've known for quite some time what the boy should become. He's fourteen years old now and the school in Äschenthal has nothing more to teach him. And he's too tender-hearted to become a hunter. How much money would you charge to teach him?" "Money to teach him," said the artist. "Let's have no talk of that. You were the one who provided the example when you took in a poor orphan. One noble deed always leads to another just as one candle lights others. It's a natural progression so let things take their course. As soon as I complete my work at the lodge, and if Anton would like to go, he can accompany me to the city. I will spare no effort in teaching him to become an artist."

Anton jumped for joy. But when the day came and the artist drove to the house in a carriage to take Anton with him, the boy wept. The ranger said, "Don't cry Anton. It's not far to the city. We'll visit you often and you can easily visit us on Sundays and holidays. I insist on that," he said to Mr. Riedinger. "Anton must come back often and he is to stay with us through the entire Christmas holiday. You must allow him to do this." "Yes, indeed," the artist replied. "And if your good wife would permit, I would like to come along too." They shook hands. Anton thanked his stepparents. They admonished Anton to honor his teacher, who was doing great things for him, with the same respect he gave his father. Then with the fondest wishes from his stepparents Anton climbed into the carriage and traveled away with the artist.

The excellent artist kept to his word in all things. He was pleased to the heart to have such a capable student. He came often to visit the ranger, sometimes staying for several days in order to sketch the beautiful surrounding mountain forests. The artist could not praise his pupil highly enough. "Just between you and me," he said to the ranger, "He'll be a better artist than I ever was."

Several years later Mr. Riedinger and Anton came to stay with the ranger for the Christmas holiday. Anton was now a young adult. After dinner one evening Mr. Riedinger remained at the table longer than usual. Anton and the children had already gone to bed. The ranger and his wife realized the artist had something on his mind and wished to speak to them. Finally he began. "Anton has learned everything there is to learn from me. Now he must travel. He must see Italy and that won't be inexpensive but it will be worth it. Money could not be put to better use. I guarantee you, there will be plenty of expenses and his time will be fully taken up. But such a journey is well beyond a man of private means. I've been thinking this matter out and I think he shouldn't just travel on other people's money. He should earn some of it himself. He'll need additional income and he'll still have to reserve enough free time to advance his studies in art. What that means for me is I'll have to contribute my share. Following your example I got it in my head to educate him to be an artist. The work he has executed thus far has brought in a very good sum. I set this money aside and will use it for his journey. But it's not enough. Would you be inclined to supplement the deficit? I warn you, it won't be a small amount. Once a man has begun a good deed, he should complete it." He offered the ranger his hand expectantly. The ranger took great pleasure in Anton's good conduct and his advancement in the field of art. He looked to his wife. She nodded. The ranger shook Riedinger's hand and said, "Yes, provided the sum does not exceed my means I will cover it." They calculated how much the trip would cost and unanimously decided that Anton should commence the journey in early Spring.

The artist drove back in a sled to the city with Anton the next morning. The forest ranger and his wife spent the winter making preparations for Anton's trip. At the beginning of Spring Anton spent a few days with his stepparents. His stepfather gave him much good advice and imparted several life lessons. He was uncommonly tender towards Anton. He even took the time to pack Anton's things himself. Anton would be sent to a famous artist whom Mr. Riedinger had recommended. Anton wanted to make the entire journey by foot. Christian, Anton's best friend, had even provided a small valise in which Anton could carry the necessities of daily life.

Finally the departure day arrived. After lunch Anton intended to go to Mr.Riedinger's house in the city and commence his journey from there. The ranger's wife prepared a farewell meal and all ate one last time together until midday. It was a touching family celebration. Everyone was sad that Anton was leaving but the ranger livened the occasion with a cheerful speech. At the end of the meal the ranger raised his glass and said, "Now, Anton, here's to a happy journey and a safe return!" "May God will it," said the ranger's wife as she raised her glass and took a sip. Christian, Katharine and Luise also stood. All had tears in their eyes. Anton was deeply touched. He could no longer hold back the tears and he said, "My beloved parents, how much gratitude I owe you. May God reward your generousity! One day God will put me in a position to repay you all for the many kind things you and my loving siblings have done for me."

Go to pages 49-53

Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks