A LITTLE BOOK OF PROFITABLE TALES
A LITTLE BOOK OF PROFITABLE TALES
TO MY SEVEREST CRITIC MY MOST LOYAL ADMIRER AND MY ONLY DAUGHTER MARY
FRENCH FIELD THIS LITTLE BOOK OF PROFITABLE TALES IS AFFECTIONATELY
I have never read a poem by Mr. Field without feeling personally drawn to
the author. Long after I had known him as a poet I found that he had
written in prose little scraps or long essays which had attracted me in
just the same way when I had met with them in the newspapers although I
had not known who the author was.
All that he writes indeed is quite free from the conventionalisms to which
authorship as a profession is sadly liable. Because he is free from them
you read his poems or you read his prose and are affected as if you met
him. If you were riding in a Pullman car with him or if you were talking
with him at breakfast over your coffee he would say just such things in
just this way. If he had any art it was the art of concealing art. But I
do not think that he thought much of art. I do not think that he cared
much for what people say about criticism or style. He wrote as he felt or
as he thought without troubling himself much about method. It is this
simplicity or what it is the fashion of the day to call frankness which
gives a singular charm to his writing.
EDWARD E. HALE.
The Tales in this Little Book
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE
THE SYMBOL AND THE SAINT
THE COMING OF THE PRINCE
THE MOUSE AND THE MOONBEAM
THE DIVELL'S CHRYSTMASS
THE MOUNTAIN AND THE SEA
THE ROBIN AND THE VIOLET
THE OAK-TREE AND THE IVY
MARGARET: A PEARL
RODOLPH AND HIS KING
THE HAMPSHIRE HILLS
EZRA'S THANKSGIVIN' OUT WEST
LUDWIG AND ELOISE
FIDO'S LITTLE FRIEND
THE OLD MAN
BILL THE LOKIL EDITOR
THE LITTLE YALLER BABY
THE FAIRIES OF PESTH
+THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE+
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE
Once upon a time the forest was in a great commotion. Early in the evening
the wise old cedars had shaken their heads ominously and predicted strange
things. They had lived in the forest many many years; but never had they
seen such marvellous sights as were to be seen now in the sky and upon
the hills and in the distant village.
"Pray tell us what you see" pleaded a little vine; "we who are not as
tall as you can behold none of these wonderful things. Describe them to
us that we may enjoy them with you."
"I am filled with such amazement" said one of the cedars "that I can
hardly speak. The whole sky seems to be aflame and the stars appear to be
dancing among the clouds; angels walk down from heaven to the earth and
enter the village or talk with the shepherds upon the hills."
The vine listened in mute astonishment. Such things never before had
happened. The vine trembled with excitement. Its nearest neighbor was a
tiny tree so small it scarcely ever was noticed; yet it was a very
beautiful little tree and the vines and ferns and mosses and other humble
residents of the forest loved it dearly.
"How I should like to see the angels!" sighed the little tree "and how I
should like to see the stars dancing among the clouds! It must be very
As the vine and the little tree talked of these things the cedars watched
with increasing interest the wonderful scenes over and beyond the confines
of the forest. Presently they thought they heard music and they were not
mistaken for soon the whole air was full of the sweetest harmonies ever
heard upon earth.
"What beautiful music!" cried the little tree. "I wonder whence it comes."
"The angels are singing" said a cedar; "for none but angels could make
such sweet music."
"But the stars are singing too" said another cedar; "yes and the
shepherds on the hills join in the song and what a strangely glorious
song it is!"
The trees listened to the singing but they did not understand its
meaning: it seemed to be an anthem and it was of a Child that had been
born; but further than this they did not understand. The strange and
glorious song continued all the night; and all that night the angels
walked to and fro and the shepherd-folk talked with the angels and the
stars danced and carolled in high heaven. And it was nearly morning when
the cedars cried out "They are coming to the forest! the angels are
coming to the forest!" And surely enough this was true. The vine and the
little tree were very terrified and they begged their older and stronger
neighbors to protect them from harm. But the cedars were too busy with
their own fears to pay any heed to the faint pleadings of the humble vine
and the little tree. The angels came into the forest singing the same
glorious anthem about the Child and the stars sang in chorus with them
until every part of the woods rang with echoes of that wondrous song.
There was nothing in the appearance of this angel host to inspire fear;
they were clad all in white and there were crowns upon their fair heads
and golden harps in their hands; love hope charity compassion and joy
beamed from their beautiful faces and their presence seemed to fill the
forest with a divine peace. The angels came through the forest to where
the little tree stood and gathering around it they touched it with their
hands and kissed its little branches and sang even more sweetly than
before. And their song was about the Child the Child the Child that had
been born. Then the stars came down from the skies and danced and hung
upon the branches of the tree and they too sang that song--the song of
the Child. And all the other trees and the vines and the ferns and the
mosses beheld in wonder; nor could they understand why all these things
were being done and why this exceeding honor should be shown the little
When the morning came the angels left the forest--all but one angel who
remained behind and lingered near the little tree. Then a cedar asked:
"Why do you tarry with us holy angel?" And the angel answered: "I stay to
guard this little tree for it is sacred and no harm shall come to it."
The little tree felt quite relieved by this assurance and it held up its
head more confidently than ever before. And how it thrived and grew and
waxed in strength and beauty! The cedars said they never had seen the
like. The sun seemed to lavish its choicest rays upon the little tree
heaven dropped its sweetest dew upon it and the winds never came to the
forest that they did not forget their rude manners and linger to kiss the
little tree and sing it their prettiest songs. No danger ever menaced it
no harm threatened; for the angel never slept--through the day and
through the night the angel watched the little tree and protected it from
all evil. Oftentimes the trees talked with the angel; but of course they
understood little of what he said for he spoke always of the Child who
was to become the Master; and always when thus he talked he caressed the
little tree and stroked its branches and leaves and moistened them with
his tears. It all was so very strange that none in the forest could
So the years passed the angel watching his blooming charge. Sometimes the
beasts strayed toward the little tree and threatened to devour its tender
foliage; sometimes the woodman came with his axe intent upon hewing down
the straight and comely thing; sometimes the hot consuming breath of
drought swept from the south and sought to blight the forest and all its
verdure: the angel kept them from the little tree. Serene and beautiful it
grew until now it was no longer a little tree but the pride and glory of
One day the tree heard some one coming through the forest. Hitherto the
angel had hastened to its side when men approached; but now the angel
strode away and stood under the cedars yonder.
"Dear angel" cried the tree "can you not hear the footsteps of some one
approaching? Why do you leave me?"
"Have no fear" said the angel; "for He who comes is the Master."
The Master came to the tree and beheld it. He placed His hands upon its
smooth trunk and branches and the tree was thrilled with a strange and
glorious delight. Then He stooped and kissed the tree and then He turned
and went away.
Many times after that the Master came to the forest and when He came it
always was to where the tree stood. Many times He rested beneath the tree
and enjoyed the shade of its foliage and listened to the music of the
wind as it swept through the rustling leaves. Many times He slept there
and the tree watched over Him and the forest was still and all its
voices were hushed. And the angel hovered near like a faithful sentinel.
Ever and anon men came with the Master to the forest and sat with Him in
the shade of the tree and talked with Him of matters which the tree never
could understand; only it heard that the talk was of love and charity and
gentleness and it saw that the Master was beloved and venerated by the
others. It heard them tell of the Master's goodness and humility--how He
had healed the sick and raised the dead and bestowed inestimable blessings
wherever He walked. And the tree loved the Master for His beauty and His
goodness; and when He came to the forest it was full of joy but when He
came not it was sad. And the other trees of the forest joined in its
happiness and its sorrow for they too loved the Master. And the angel
always hovered near.
The Master came one night alone into the forest and His face was pale
with anguish and wet with tears and He fell upon His knees and prayed.
The tree heard Him and all the forest was still as if it were standing
in the presence of death. And when the morning came lo! the angel had
Then there was a great confusion in the forest. There was a sound of rude
voices and a clashing of swords and staves. Strange men appeared
uttering loud oaths and cruel threats and the tree was filled with
terror. It called aloud for the angel but the angel came not.
"Alas" cried the vine "they have come to destroy the tree the pride and
glory of the forest!"
The forest was sorely agitated but it was in vain. The strange men plied
their axes with cruel vigor and the tree was hewn to the ground. Its
beautiful branches were cut away and cast aside and its soft thick
foliage was strewn to the tenderer mercies of the winds.
"They are killing me!" cried the tree; "why is not the angel here to
But no one heard the piteous cry--none but the other trees of the forest;
and they wept and the little vine wept too.
Then the cruel men dragged the despoiled and hewn tree from the forest
and the forest saw that beauteous thing no more.
But the night wind that swept down from the City of the Great King that
night to ruffle the bosom of distant Galilee tarried in the forest awhile
to say that it had seen that day a cross upraised on Calvary--the tree on
which was stretched the body of the dying Master.
+THE SYMBOL AND THE SAINT+
THE SYMBOL AND THE SAINT
Once upon a time a young man made ready for a voyage. His name was Norss;
broad were his shoulders his cheeks were ruddy his hair was fair and
long his body betokened strength and good-nature shone from his blue
eyes and lurked about the corners of his mouth.
"Where are you going?" asked his neighbor Jans the forge-master.
"I am going sailing for a wife" said Norss.
"For a wife indeed!" cried Jans. "And why go you to seek her in foreign
lands? Are not our maidens good enough and fair enough that you must need
search for a wife elsewhere? For shame Norss! for shame!"
But Norss said "A spirit came to me in my dreams last night and said
'Launch the boat and set sail to-morrow. Have no fear; for I will guide
you to the bride that awaits you.' Then standing there all white and
beautiful the spirit held forth a symbol--such as I had never before
seen--in the figure of a cross and the spirit said: 'By this symbol shall
she be known to you.'"
"If this be so you must need go" said Jans. "But are you well
victualled? Come to my cabin and let me give you venison and bear's
Norss shook his head. "The spirit will provide" said he. "I have no fear
and I shall take no care trusting in the spirit."
So Norss pushed his boat down the beach into the sea and leaped into the
boat and unfurled the sail to the wind. Jan stood wondering on the beach
and watched the boat speed out of sight.
On on many days on sailed Norss--so many leagues that he thought he
must have compassed the earth. In all this time he knew no hunger nor
thirst; it was as the spirit had told him in his dream--no cares nor
dangers beset him. By day the dolphins and the other creatures of the sea
gambolled about his boat; by night a beauteous Star seemed to direct his
course; and when he slept and dreamed he saw ever the spirit clad in
white and holding forth to him the symbol in the similitude of a cross.
At last he came to a strange country--a country so very different from
his own that he could scarcely trust his senses. Instead of the rugged
mountains of the North he saw a gentle landscape of velvety green; the
trees were not pines and firs but cypresses cedars and palms; instead
of the cold crisp air of his native land he scented the perfumed zephyrs
of the Orient; and the wind that filled the sail of his boat and smote his
tanned cheeks was heavy and hot with the odor of cinnamon and spices. The
waters were calm and blue--very different from the white and angry waves
of Norss's native fiord.
As if guided by an unseen hand the boat pointed straight for the beach of
this strangely beautiful land; and ere its prow cleaved the shallower
waters Norss saw a maiden standing on the shore shading her eyes with
her right hand and gazing intently at him. She was the most beautiful
maiden he had ever looked upon. As Norss was fair so was this maiden
dark; her black hair fell loosely about her shoulders in charming contrast
with the white raiment in which her slender graceful form was clad.
Around her neck she wore a golden chain and therefrom was suspended a
small symbol which Norss did not immediately recognize.
"Hast thou come sailing out of the North into the East?" asked the maiden.
"Yes" said Norss.
"And thou art Norss?" she asked.
"I am Norss; and I come seeking my bride" he answered.
"I am she" said the maiden. "My name is Faia. An angel came to me in my
dreams last night and the angel said: 'Stand upon the beach to-day and
Norss shall come out of the North to bear thee home a bride.' So coming
here I found thee sailing to our shore."
Remembering then the spirit's words Norss said: "What symbol have you
Faia that I may know how truly you have spoken?"
"No symbol have I but this" said Faia holding out the symbol that was
attached to the golden chain about her neck. Norss looked upon it and lo!
it was the symbol of his dreams--a tiny wooden cross.
Then Norss clasped Faia in his arms and kissed her and entering into the
boat they sailed away into the North. In all their voyage neither care nor
danger beset them; for as it had been told to them in their dreams so it
came to pass. By day the dolphins and the other creatures of the sea
gambolled about them; by night the winds and the waves sang them to sleep;
and strangely enough the Star which before had led Norss into the East
now shone bright and beautiful in the Northern sky!
When Norss and his bride reached their home Jans the forge-master and
the other neighbors made great joy and all said that Faia was more
beautiful than any other maiden in the land. So merry was Jans that he
built a huge fire in his forge and the flames thereof filled the whole
Northern sky with rays of light that danced up up up to the Star
singing glad songs the while. So Norss and Faia were wed and they went to
live in the cabin in the fir-grove.
To these two was born in good time a son whom they named Claus. On the
night that he was born wondrous things came to pass. To the cabin in the
fir-grove came all the quaint weird spirits--the fairies the elves the
trolls the pixies the fadas the crions the goblins the kobolds the
moss-people the gnomes the dwarfs the water-sprites the courils the
bogles the brownies the nixies the trows the stille-volk--all came to
the cabin in the fir-grove and capered about and sang the strange
beautiful songs of the Mist-Land. And the flames of old Jans's forge
leaped up higher than ever into the Northern sky carrying the joyous
tidings to the Star and full of music was that happy night.
Even in infancy Claus did marvellous things. With his baby hands he
wrought into pretty figures the willows that were given him to play with.
As he grew older he fashioned with the knife old Jans had made for him
many curious toys--carts horses dogs lambs houses trees cats and
birds all of wood and very like to nature. His mother taught him how to
make dolls too--dolls of every kind condition temper and color; proud
dolls homely dolls boy dolls lady dolls wax dolls rubber dolls paper
dolls worsted dolls rag dolls--dolls of every description and without
end. So Claus became at once quite as popular with the little girls as
with the little boys of his native village; for he was so generous that he
gave away all these pretty things as fast as he made them.
Claus seemed to know by instinct every language. As he grew older he would
ramble off into the woods and talk with the trees the rocks and the
beasts of the greenwood; or he would sit on the cliffs overlooking the
fiord and listen to the stories that the waves of the sea loved to tell
him; then too he knew the haunts of the elves and the stille-volk and
many a pretty tale he learned from these little people. When night came
old Jans told him the quaint legends of the North and his mother sang to
him the lullabies she had heard when a little child herself in the
far-distant East. And every night his mother held out to him the symbol in
the similitude of the cross and bade him kiss it ere he went to sleep.
So Claus grew to manhood increasing each day in knowledge and in wisdom.
His works increased too; and his liberality dispensed everywhere the
beauteous things which his fancy conceived and his skill executed. Jans
being now a very old man and having no son of his own gave to Claus his
forge and workshop and taught him those secret arts which he in youth had
learned from cunning masters. Right joyous now was Claus; and many many
times the Northern sky glowed with the flames that danced singing from the
forge while Claus moulded his pretty toys. Every color of the rainbow were
these flames; for they reflected the bright colors of the beauteous things
strewn round that wonderful workshop. Just as of old he had dispensed to
all children alike the homelier toys of his youth so now he gave to all
children alike these more beautiful and more curious gifts. So little
children everywhere loved Claus because he gave them pretty toys and
their parents loved him because he made their little ones so happy.
But now Norss and Faia were come to old age. After long years of love and
happiness they knew that death could not be far distant. And one day Faia
said to Norss: "Neither you nor I dear love fear death; but if we could
choose would we not choose to live always in this our son Claus who has
been so sweet a joy to us?"
"Ay ay" said Norss; "but how is that possible?"
"We shall see" said Faia.
That night Norss dreamed that a spirit came to him and that the spirit
said to him: "Norss thou shalt surely live forever in thy son Claus if
thou wilt but acknowledge the symbol."
Then when the morning was come Norss told his dream to Faia his wife; and
"The same dream had I--an angel appearing to me and speaking these very
"But what of the symbol?" cried Norss.
"I have it here about my neck" said Faia.
So saying Faia drew from her bosom the symbol of wood--a tiny cross
suspended about her neck by the golden chain. And as she stood there
holding the symbol out to Norss he--he thought of the time when first he
saw her on the far-distant Orient shore standing beneath the Star in all
her maidenly glory shading her beauteous eyes with one hand and with the