Christmas Eve from The Easter Eggs and Five Other Stories for Dear Young People by Christof von Schmid - Pages 54-58

He became supervisor of forest rangers. With great pomp he moved into the royal lodge at Felseck, a portion of which was provided to him as a residence. He was now the good ranger's superior and he constantly tormented the old man. There was no end to the reprimands. The ranger couldn't do anything right. Lord von Schilf knew the Minister of Forests, who was highly valued by the new prince, and brought him over to his side, making the ranger's situation even more hostile.

"You are no longer worthy of serving," he said to the ranger one day. "I will attempt to find a capable man to maintain the beautiful forest." The ranger replied, "I will gladly retire from my post. I should have done it a long time ago when the late prince would have granted it. My son is to become the new ranger." "That could have been the case!" Lord von Schilf answered. "I recall hearing something about that at the time." The ranger referred to the royal decree by which his son was married. "Pah," exclaimed Lord von Schilf. "I know the decree well. It is merely a commendation for good conduct, nothing more. The youngster is worthless. I prefer to choose my own man."

The grizzled old man tried in vain to hide his tears and said, "Don't be unfair, Lord Supervisor! You believe I once did you a disservice and now you making every effort to punish me." "What," said Lord von Schilf with scorn burning in his eyes. "I remember your rudeness! You are an uncouth and arrogant fool. You had little regard for people of higher standing and yet you maintain yourself on servant wages. You threw away your savings on that beggar boy Anton. You didn't know how to control your own income so how are you going to take good care of someone else's property and support the interests of the prince? Leave! There's nothing else to discuss. I hope I don't have to deal with you or ever set eyes on you again."

The ranger left. "Hm," he thought on his way home. "The supervising ranger may say what he likes but my woods are in the best condition. However he feels about me, he can't take that away. I will wait and see what happens." When he arrived home he told his family nothing about what the supervisor said so as not to distress them.

A few days later as the old man returned from the forest and rested in his armchair a messenger entered the parlor and handed him a letter from the Forestry Service. In the letter was stated that former Ranger Grünewald was released from service due to old age and incompetance. Until a replacement was found he was to surrender the duties of his office to the neighboring ranger in Waldenbruch. There was no mention of a pension for the old man or an appointment for his son. The only comment was that from the moment he received the letter the former ranger was not to hunt in the forest or even be seen with a weapon.

The old ranger opened the letter and was dismayed. Once he had recovered he read the letter to his family, all of whom were in the parlor occupied by their own tasks. The elder ranger's wife and two daughters turned pale with dread. The young ranger burned with rage over the supervisor's maliciousness. The young ranger's wife stood speechless then began to cry. Her children cried with her. All were filled with misery. But the old ranger stood quietly in the middle of the room and spoke. "Do not forget that the old God still lives. Against His will evil men cannot harm us. This test comes from Him. Things will turn out fine for us.

"In Him we will trust. We will be comforted. I will do what I can to dispute this. Tomorrow at daybreak I will go to the prince. He is as noble as his late father. He will listen to me and not allow an old retainer, who has loyally served his princely house for forty years, to suffer from poverty and starvation along with his wife, children and grandchildren. You, Christian, must go with me. We should both be able to go without asking the supervisor's permission. We'll make the journey on foot. The necessary clothing should already be in our hunting bags. Now go get ready so we can leave early."

The old ranger got up the following morning long before daybreak and woke his son. "I can't wait for dawn to come," he said. "There's bright moonlight and we know the way. Let's go!" All in the house were concerned for the travelers, especially for their old father and grandfather. The first eight days they barely knew how to comfort themselves. But as more days followed and the weather became more unsettled and stormy they were filled with distress. "Oh," they said, "Christian is strong enough to withstand this but how will our old father get through it?" The two children of the young ranger looked to the front door every minute to see if their father and grandfather would enter.

Thus passed the first eight days and then another eight days in deep concern. Soon after the two rangers' departure a letter was delivered by a boy in the supervisor's employ. The ranger's wife didn't want to open it, fearing it was bad news. The boy said with a scornful grin, "It's strange that the old man and his young hothead of a son left the residence. The lord supervisor is certain of this. They'll accomplish nothing and return in schame and disgrace." All in the house prayed daily. May God will it that the two travelers have good audience with the prince and return safely. Even the children prayed without being told to.

Amid these unfortunate happenings holy Christmas Eve arrived. Twilight came earlier than usual and the sky was entirely filled with dense clouds. Gusty winds blew through the old oaks and swaying pine trees in the forest. It snowed and rained heavily and the gutters teamed with rainwater like a stream rushing over rocks. "Dear God," said the old ranger's wife after looking out the window for a long time. "They still aren't home. If they don't return for Christmas Eve I'll know they've met with misfortune. Things are unspeakably bad. This is weather in which a man wouldn't even let a dog out to hunt. And the pathway is soaked. Oh, if only they would return and let things take their course."

She opened the window, looked out, and cried, "Praise God, they're coming!" Everyone rushed to the front door and asked, "How did things go in the city?" "I'm hopeful that everything will turn out!" said the old ranger. "We caused you a lot of grief because we were gone so long. I became sick on the journey and couldn't go on. When I felt better there was a lot of rain which flooded the rivers and streams so we had to stay put a few days longer. But praise God, we made it home." He entered the house and sat in his armchair by the warming fire. The old ranger's wife brought a bottle of wine, two glasses and an oil lamp. "Take some refreshment," she said as she handed them glasses. "I'm sure you both need it. Dinner will be ready soon."

The young ranger whispered to his wife, "Things didn't go well. We may lose our jobs." His wife withdrew and quietly told the others. The old ranger saw how all their faces grew dark and fear showed in their eyes. "I guess Christian told you," he said. "There's really nothing to hide. You shall hear everything but don't be sad. This evening a Savior is born to us. With this joyous news we shall forget out earthly troubles, at least you should not take them too strongly to heart."

The ranger continued, "When we reached the royal residence in late evening I went to old Forest Ministry counselor Müller. He's a very capable man, I thought. In the olden days he was my supervisor and friend. The noble man greeted me sincerely. I told him my problem. He said, 'You've made a very hostile enemy in the new Forestry Supervisor. He wants to turn your job over to a younger man, who was one of his retainers and constantly sends him reports about you and your son. I'm afraid he's quite persistant and also wishes to deprive good Christian of his daily bread.' Oh dear, I said, I hope it doesn't come to that. I intend to go to the prince myself. 'You do that,' said the forestry counselor. 'But right now you come at an inopportune time. His Lordship has been busy. You may not get an audience. You should go to the top of the Forest Ministry and see the other Forestry advisors as well. But I fear you won't get a pleasant reception. Lord von Schilf has completely confused them.' I found that the Forestry Counselor was right. I encountered many curt receptions. The Upper Forestry Minister greeted me coldly and quickly dismissed me. The other couselors didn't treat me much better. I saw their unfriendly faces and heard many harsh comments. I wasn't granted audience to see the prince. But I don't want to discuss this now. It's making us unhappy and tonight all people throughout Christendom should rejoice because it's Christmas Eve. We should dwell on the birth of our Savior. That will lighten our mood.

He directed his gaze to the painting of Jesus' birth which Anton had sent them. It hung in the parlor in the place where the mirror used to hang and was covered with fine white gauze to protect it. The old ranger's small grandchildren, two lovely children named Franz and Klara, had looked forward to the Christmas Eve feast for many weeks. They jumped up and dried the tears on their bright faces. "Grandmother," little Franz said, "Shall we take away the gauze and light a few more candles like last year so we can see the picture better?" "And you, Grandfather," Klara spoke, "Will you get your harp so we can sing the Christmas songs our mother taught us?"

"Indeed," replied the ranger. "We shall sing Christmas songs. But tell me, did anything particular happen while we were away?" "Nothing," said the old ranger's wife. "Only after your departure another letter came from the Forestry Supervisor. I don't know what it is." She handed him the sealed letter. He opened it, grew pale, and turned his eyes to heaven. "Lord, Thy will be done!" All looked fearfully and expectantly to the ranger. "What is it?" asked the grandmother. "We must leave this house," he said. "We must move immediately. In this letter the supervisor has commanded that the house must be cleaned out and vacated by Christmas Eve so the new ranger can move in on Christmas day. He threatens that if we disobey him we will be put out by his retainers.

"I'm surprised they're not already here. We don't have much time before they will throw us out of the house."

With this unexpected news all were gripped with panic. Even the old ranger looked longingly to heaven then spoke quietly. "Beloved children, it's His will that we must leave this house. We will have to separate because I don't know anyone who will be able to take us all in. I had hoped to enjoy my old age in your midst. I had hoped you would all be around me in this house at my deathbed. God has decided otherside. We shall yield to His will. We have enjoyed many Christmas Eves in this parlor. Let us accept this sorrow from God's hand."

"You are right, beloved husband," the ranger's wife said. "We shall surrender to God and take comfort in our greatest trial. He will send help at the proper time."

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. "You have come," said the old ranger, "to drive us from this parlor." The ranger's son looked towards his weapon and cried, "That's not going to happen. You're not going to evict my aged parents, my lovely wife, my children, my sisters from this house. The first person who lays a hand on them ..."

"No, my son," spoke the old father, "don't say such terrible things. You'll be arrest and nothing good can come of that. Don't resist. Nothing good comes from violence! God stands over us and them. If they want us to leave this house on this night, then we'll go to the cave in the forest we've used during stormy weather while on the hunt."


Chapter Five

An Unexpected Visit

In the meanwhile there was another knock at the door, this time louder than before. "Go, Christian," said the old ranger, "and open the door." Christian went. After a few moments a handsome man entered, dressed in a dark green coat and fur hat. "It's the new ranger!" everyone thought in fear. The unknown visitor himself seemed shocked to find so many reddened eyes and pale faces. He took off his hat, stood still for a few moments, then said, "Don't you recognize me anymore?" "Oh, God," cried Luise, "it's Anton!" "Anton," exclaimed Katharine, "is it possibly you?" "What are you thinking", the old mother said. "This young man is much larger and stronger than Anton." "Really, it is him," spoke Christian. "It is Anton! For the love of heaven, Brother, how did you get here? I would have thought you'd be in Rome, hundreds of miles from here!" The old father rubbed his eyes as if he didn't believe them then slowly approached the visitor. He suddenly stretched out his arms and embraced Anton, unable to say anything more than "O my dear son!" They hugged for a long time. Then Anton greeted his noble stepmother and his siblings Christian, Katharine and Luise.

His heart was full of joy to see them again. Even the young ranger's wife and her children, whom Anton had never seen before, greeted him with warmth and joy. As sad as they had been a few minutes before, they were all happy now. The unexpected happiness banished all sadness just as the rising sun replaces the nighttime shadows.

The old mother spoke. "Oh, Anton! You find us in a very desperate state. You saw our tears as you entered the parlor. Let us tell you about our troubles." "I know everything," said Anton. "You can rest assured, beloved parents! Your situation has been set right. I've just come from the prince. He sends you greetings, dear father."

"Me?" replied the old father. "How could you come from the prince? I don't understand. I fear this is surely just a happy dream."

"No, it's not a dream," said Anton. "It's real. Sit down for a moment in your armchair, dear father. And mother, take your place and let me tell you all about it." He took off his coat and pulled over a couple chairs. The happy stepparents set Anton between them. The others stood around them and looked at Anton full of wonder and astonishment. Anton related his story.

"As you know, not long ago our current royal prince was the heir apparent traveling in Italy. He came to Rome to see the paintings of young artists. Among the many pictures there was one in particular which pleased him the most. Someone told him the artist who painted it was from his own principality and was named Anton Kroner. The prince summoned me, praised me, and was especially generous towards me. He asked me how much I wanted for the painting and then magnanimously paid me twice the asking price. He wanted to see the most famous paintings in Rome and I often accompanied him. I even got to sit beside him in his carriage and dine with him a few times.

"In Rome there were many old paintings of exceptional beauty for sale but the prince could not postpone the day of his ascension to the throne. He had to return home to oversee the government. He commissioned me to buy paintings and see that they were delivered to him undamaged. This was an honorable commission which was very close to my heart. I was also fortunate to be able to procure the paintings for a far lesser sum than the prince had provided.

"Since I had already seen everything that a painter should see in Italy and a ship was ready to set sail, I boarded myself along with the artworks. I arrived safely home with my precious cargo. I rented a specially outfitted coach for the paintings, and rode in it myself to make sure the paintings suffered no damage until we reached the royal residence. The prince received me graciously and was highly pleased. I told him I was very happy to have procured the paintings for him, then asked for permission to turn them over to him. He rewarded me handsomely and asked me to advise him on their proper display. He commanded I be provided with a room in the royal residence for a prolonged stay.

"One night as I sat in my room it occurred to me to visit old Forestry Counselor Müller. Besides the prince he was the only person I knew in residence. I remembered, dear father, that when he was your supervisor you often visited with him and enjoyed a close friendship. He asked me how I had gotten there. I told him. "You return at a fortunate time!" he said. Then he told me how things were with you, beloved father; how the Forestry Supervisor had caused you trouble,

Go to pages 59-62

Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks