"how you yourself had come to the royal residence, how a few days earlier before my arrival you had left without having settled matters.
"I wanted to go immediately to the prince. 'Don't do that!' the Forestry Counselor said. "It wouldn't be proper. Tomorrow morning you must request a special audinece. I will accompany you. Things have already been prepared so we will have a favorable reception.' We were received early the next morning. I began by talking about you and spoke with great zeal. I told about how I came to your house, and everything you did for me. I was quite thorough. The Forestry Counselor said several times, 'Get to the matter at hand!' But the prince just smiled and said, 'Let him speak! The gratitude of a good son shown towards his parents pleases me. In the end we will find out what it's all about.' I got to the part about Lord von Schilf and told the prince why he was so hostile towards you, how he would have gone to prison for poaching if the late prince had not pardonned him. 'The Forestry Supervisor was a young man back then and would have received a pardon anyway,' said the prince. 'Now go on, go on.' I showed him the letter which you, dear father, wrote to me in Italy. I had taken it out of my trunk the night before. The letter contained nothing other than the best well wishes, which could have applied as well to the hereditary prince, who was living in that country with me. The prince read the letter. 'Now I remember,' said the prince. 'You told me about this brave man while we were in Italy. Any man who could write such a letter and raise such a good son could not be a bad person.' 'For that reason,' I said, 'Your Highness must punish the Forestry Supervisor and grant the son his father's commission.' The prince replied with a smile, 'Things don't move that fast as you think, young man. First I must hear from the Forestry Supervisor.' He gestured to the Foresty Counselor, who was standing near the window, and spoke with him for a few minutes. The Forestry Counselor sat and started writing. The prince said to me, 'Be calm, dear Kroner. Everything will be alright.'
"While the Counselor wrote, the prince discussed paintings with me. 'My late father,' he said, 'left me quite a handsome collection. I am curious to see what you have to say about it. In any case, the paintings must be placed in proper order. I am giving you this task. Will you accept the commission?' 'With great please,' I replied, 'but after the Christmas holiday. First I must go see my noble stepparents on Christmas Eve, especially since they are in such dire straights and bring them the happy news.' 'That's not too much to ask!' said the prince. 'I will gladly stand aside for a show of gratitude to good parents.'
"The Forestry Counselor finish writing and presented the page to the prince. He signed it. 'Give my greetings to you good stepfather,' he said to me, 'and tell the brave old man he shouldn't worry.'
"'You spoke so freely with the prince,' the Counselor said as he accomapnied me to my room. 'Your love for your stepparents made this pardonable. And I find the most direct course is always the shortest.' I asked the Counselor what the prince had said to him and what he had been commanded to write. After asking several times he finally faced me and told me the prince said, 'Someone tried to mislead me into committing an injustice. There lies the decree, which appoints another man in place of the old ranger. If I hadn't had second thoughts about it I probably would have signed it. Someone counted on that.
"'I want this matter thoroughly investigated.' What the Counselor wrote was a command to the Forestry Supervisor roughly containing the following: His Highness would be very displeased if the Forestry Supervisor continues to treat Ranger Grünwald so unfairly. The Forestry Supervisor is to immediately cease harrassing the old ranger and his son. The Counselor was instructed to send the command by royal messenger. Then the prince said, Now it's up to me to appease the old man as soon as possible. The Counselor gave me the task of sending you his greetings and telling you the investigation ordered by the prince has fallen in your favor and your son shall hold the position of ranger.'"
Like all the others in the household, the old ranger wiped his eyes several times as the tale was told. Then he stood up, embraced Anton, took the gauze from the painting of Jesus' birth, looked thankfully to heaven, and exclaimed, "Now let us sing songs of praise with the angels. Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good will towards men."
The Christmas Tree
After Anton finished his story he regarded with concern the appearance of his dear parents. With pain he noticed how they had aged. Their gray hair and face wrinkles nearly brought him to tears. He said nothing about this so as not to trouble them. He looked with great awe at his siblings, Christian, Katharine and Luise, who had grown to full adulthood. Upon seeing Christian's two children he exclaimed, "My God, how time flies! Twenty years ago Christian, Katharine and I were children like these. And Luise was even smaller. Now I find these children in our place." He happily gazed at the two children. "Now," he said, "have you already received your Christmas gifts?" "No!", said little Franz. "Did you by any chance bring us anything?" "Yes, I have," replied Anton. "I didn't forget you. But you must wait until morning when my coach arrives. Everything is in it."
With this dinner was served. Afterwards the children were put to bed. "These beautiful little ones," Anton said, "Tomorrow we will make them extremely happy. We'll set up a Christmas tree for them. In some regions a manger scene is customary. In others it's the Christmas tree. Out of love for his children Christian should go out this night into the nearby forest and bring back a small fir tree. I will bring the necessary items to decorate it. I left my coachman behind in Äschenthal because his horses were nearly lame. I came up the footpath over the mountains. But tomorrow before daybreak the coach will arrive with my bags and the other packages."
Early the next morning while the children were still snug and secure in their beds, the adults were busy setting up the tree and decorating it.
A young, beautiful fir tree with thick green branches was set up in the corner of the parlor between the windows. Once the coach was unloaded Antpn opened a large satchel, which was filled with every conceivable item to make children happy. He hung small gifts on the branches of the tree. There were pretty fruits, colorful confections, little baskets full of sugared almonds, wreathes of artificial flowers decorated with rosy pink and sky blue ribbons, along with glittering toys. He knew how to artfully arranged them all. He also took out a couple dozen small tin lamps filled with wax and hung them carefully on the tree. When all was ready Katharine and Luise went to awaken the children.
The children sprang to the parlor but then stood mesmerized by the sparkling sight. At first they could not speak out of awe and delight for this unexpected surprise. They thought the shimmering tree was magic. They didn't know if they were awake or dreaming. Finally they exclaimed with pleasure,"Oh, how beautiful. How grand!" Franz said, "In winter there's no such tree as this with its branches filled with fruit in our forest." "Yes," said Klara, "Such trees only grow in paradise or in heaven. Is it true, mother, that the Christ Child sent us this tree?"
"Something like that, but not quite," their mother said. "Christ, who once was a child in a manger and now lives in heaven, has bestowed this joy upon us. If He hadn't been born we would know nothing about Christmas joy or Christmas presents."
"That's wonderful," said the children. "We will hold Him dear and follow Him. He is so good and He loves children. The joy He has brought us is unlike any other in the world." The parents and grandparents thanked Anton for the many delights he had brought for their children and grandchildren. "It's just a small thing," replied Anton. "Not worth talking about. I hope you too will accept a small Christmas gift from me." He opened his trunk, which was standing in the corner of the parlor. "You once filled this trunk for my trip and I think it would be wrong if I returned it to you empty." He gave the women costly clothing of fur, taffeta and silk. The young ranger received an excellent double flint rifle. "And for you, beloved father," Anton said to the old ranger, "I bring fortification in your elder days. This basket is filled with the best Rhine wine. And here is a goblet for you." Anton handed him a silver goblet lined with gold. Etched on the goblet was a wreath of oak leaves with the words, "To my beloved father, Friedrich Grünwald, in commemoration of Christmas Eve 1740, given at the Christmas feast in 1768 by his grateful son, Anton Kroner." The old ranger embraced Anton with tears in his eyes. Anton also handed him a roll of gold coins. "You spent a great sum on me," he said "and it would not be right if your own children and grandchildren went short because of it." The old man was astonished and didn't want to accept the gift, but Anton said, "This is just a small gift from me. Our noble prince has rewarded me handsomely and his gift will reward me a second time because I am now in a position to repay part of an old debt, which can never fully be repaid." All in attendance were completely astonished. The old ranger's wife said, "Oh, Anton. How could we have imagined on that first Christmas Eve when you came to us that you would be the one to provide us this year with such a joyous Christmas. You saved us from great distress by interceding with His Royal Highness and now
you want to reward us so handsomely for what we did for you!" "This was God's work," replied Anton. "He led me to your house in order to bless both you and me. May His Name be praised."
Then Anton said, "Now let me take my leave of you." "What? How? Why?" all replied in shock. "I will go to Mr. Riedinger. I hope to attend church services there and give my excellent art teacher some unexpected happiness by my visit. I'll bring him back here tomorrow night. Then we can all continue the Christmas festivities and happily celebrate through the rest of the old year." All accompanied Anton to his coach. On the evening of the next day Anton returned with his teacher and the old ranger cottage secreted in the midst of the remote forest housed the most blessed people ever to have lived on this earth.
Further noteworthy events concerning Anton are briefly these. He asked the ranger and his wife for their daughter Luise's hand in marriage. Both joyfully agreed to this. Anton purchased his own home within the district, had much to do as a highly esteemed painter, and lived with Luise in blessed harmony.
The following spring the prince arrived unexpectedly at the royal lodge at Felseck accompanied by Foresty Counselor Müller and a few other forestry agents to inspect the woods. Forestry Supervisor, Lord von Schilf, was very disturbed by this and received little good news after the visit. His district was found to be in disgraceful condition. "From the records he sent me I thought everything was in good shape," said the prince. "The report was beautifully written, figures in the columns all matched up, but I find that the forest is other than reported. The man has dreadfully deceived me." Upon investigation it was discovered that the Forestry Supervisor had sold thousands upon thousands more cords of wood to a neighboring ironworks than he had reported in his ledger. In order to keep up with his nearly princely expenditures he had squandered not only his own money and put himself in debt but also embezzled funds from his prince. The prince removed him from office and commanded him to repay what he had stolen. Lord von Schilf now had to live on his small, highly mortgaged estate in dire circumstances.
The prince found the forest district under the old ranger's care in excellent condition. He came in person to the house, showed his pleasure to the old man, allowed himself to be introduced to the entire family, and spoke with them amicably. Before he mounted his white steed held in waiting before the ranger's cottage by a squire, the prince pointed to the ranger's son and said, "Henceforth he is a forest ranger. We will make sure his appointment is more secure than before!" "And you, sir," the prince said to the old ranger, "You may be somewhat old but you are far from the grizzled old man Lord von Schilf said you were. And despite your age you are still vital. I cannot allow you to leave my service. You will understand when I say to you, Live well, Lord Forestry Supervisor."
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks