The Christmas Monks by Mary E.
All children have wondered unceasingly from their
very first Christmas up to their very last Christmas,
where the Christmas presents come from. It is very easy
to say that Santa Claus brought them. All well regulated
people know that, of course; but the reindeer, and the
sledge, and the pack crammed with toys, the chimney, and
all the rest of it—that is all true, of course, and
everybody knows about it; but that is not the question
which puzzles. What children want to know is, where do
these Christmas presents come from in the first place?
Where does Santa Claus get them? Well the answer to that
is, In the garden of the Christmas Monks. This
has not been known until very lately; that is, it has
not been known till very lately except in the immediate
vicinity of the Christmas Monks. There, of course, it
has been known for ages. It is rather an out-of-the-way
place; and that accounts for our never hearing of it
The Convent of the Christmas Monks is a most
charmingly picturesque pile of old buildings; there are
towers and turrets, and peaked roofs and arches, and
everything which could possibly be thought of in the
architectural line, to make a convent picturesque. It is
built of graystone; but it is only once in a while that
you can see the graystone, for the walls are almost
completely covered with mistletoe and ivy and evergreen.
There are the most delicious little arched windows with
diamond panes peeping out from the mistletoe and
evergreen, and always at all times of the year, a little
Christmas wreath of ivy and hollyberries is suspended in
the center of every window. Over all the doors, which
are likewise arched, are Christmas garlands, and over
the main entrance Merry Christmas in evergreen
The Christmas Monks are a jolly brethren; the robes
of their order are white, gilded with green garlands,
and they never are seen out at any time of the year
without Christmas wreaths on their heads. Every morning
they file in a long procession into the chapel, to sing
a Christmas carol; and every evening they ring a
Christmas chime on the convent bells.
GOING INTO THE CHAPEL.
They eat roast turkey and plum pudding and mince-pie
for dinner all the year round; and always carry what is
left in baskets trimmed with evergreen, to the poor
people. There are always wax candles lighted and set in
every window of the convent at nightfall; and when the
people in the country about get uncommonly blue and
down-hearted, they always go for a cure to look at the
Convent of the Christmas Monks after the candles are
lighted and the chimes are ringing. It brings to mind
things which never fail to cheer them.
But the principal thing about the Convent of the
Christmas Monks is the garden; for that is where the
Christmas presents grow. This garden extends over a
large number of acres, and is divided into different
departments, just as we divide our flower and vegetable
gardens; one bed for onions, one for cabbages, and one
for phlox, and one for verbenas, etc.
Every spring the Christmas Monks go out to sow the
Christmas-present seeds after they have ploughed the
ground and made it all ready.
There is one enormous bed devoted to rocking-horses.
The rocking-horse seed is curious enough; just little
bits of rocking-horses so small that they can only be
seen through a very, very powerful microscope. The Monks
drop these at quite a distance from each other, so that
they will not interfere while growing; then they cover
them up neatly with earth, and put up a sign-post with
"Rocking-horses" on it in evergreen letters. Just so
with the penny-trumpet seed, and the toy-furniture seed,
the skate-seed, the sled-seed, and all the others.
Perhaps the prettiest and most interesting part of
the garden, is that devoted to wax dolls. There are
other beds for the commoner dolls—for the rag dolls, and
the china dolls, and the rubber dolls, but of course wax
dolls would look much handsomer growing. Wax dolls have
to be planted quite early in the season; for they need a
good start before the sun is very high. The seeds are
the loveliest bits of microscopic dolls imaginable. The
Monks sow them pretty close together, and they begin to
come up by the middle of May. There is first just a
little glimmer of gold, or flaxen, or black, or brown as
the case may be, above the soil. Then the snowy
foreheads appear, and the blue eyes, and black eyes,
and, later on, all those enchanting little heads are out
of the ground, and are nodding and winking and smiling
to each other the whole extent of the field; with their
pinky cheeks and sparkling eyes and curly hair there is
nothing so pretty as these little wax doll heads peeping
out of the earth. Gradually, more and more of them come
to light, and finally by Christmas they are all ready to
gather. There they stand, swaying to and fro, and
dancing lightly on their slender feet which are
connected with the ground, each by a tiny green stem;
their dresses of pink, or blue, or white—for their
dresses grow with them—flutter in the air. Just about
the prettiest sight in the world, is the bed of wax
dolls in the garden of the Christmas Monks at Christmas
Of course ever since this convent and garden were
established (and that was so long ago that the wisest
man can find no books about it) their glories have
attracted a vast deal of admiration and curiosity from
the young people in the surrounding country; but as the
garden is enclosed on all sides by an immensely thick
and high hedge, which no boy could climb, or peep over,
they could only judge of the garden by the fruits which
were parcelled out to them on Christmas-day.
You can judge, then, of the sensation among the young
folks, and older ones, for that matter, when one evening
there appeared hung upon a conspicuous place in the
garden-hedge, a broad strip of white cloth trimmed with
evergreen and printed with the following notice in
"WANTED:—By the Christmas Monks, two
good boys to assist in garden work. Applicants
will be examined by Fathers Anselmus and Ambrose, in the
convent refectory, on April 10th."
This notice was hung out about five o'clock in the
evening, some time in the early part of February. By
noon, the street was so full of boys staring at it with
their mouths wide open, so as to see better, that the
king was obliged to send his bodyguard before him to
clear the way with brooms, when he wanted to pass on his
way from his chamber of state to his palace.
There was not a boy in the country but looked upon
this position as the height of human felicity. To work
all the year in that wonderful garden, and see those
wonderful things growing! and without doubt any boy who
worked there could have all the toys he wanted, just as
a boy who works in a candy-shop always has all the candy
But the great difficulty, of course, was about the
degree of goodness requisite to pass the examination.
The boys in this country were no worse than the boys in
other countries, but there were not many of them that
would not have done a little differently if he had only
known beforehand of the advertisement of the Christmas
Monks. However, they made the most of the time
remaining, and were so good all over the kingdom that a
very millennium seemed dawning. The school teachers used
their ferrules for fire wood, and the King ordered all
the birch-trees cut down and exported, as he thought
there would be no more call For them in his own realm.
When the time for the examination drew near, there
were two boys whom every one thought would obtain the
situation, although some of the other boys had lingering
hopes for themselves; if only the Monks would examine
them on the last six weeks, they thought they might
pass. Still all the older people had decided in their
minds that the Monks would choose these two boys. One
was the Prince, the King's oldest son; and the other was
a poor boy named Peter. The Prince was no better than
the other boys; indeed, to tell the truth, he was not so
good; in fact, was the biggest rogue in the whole
country; but all the lords and the ladies, and all the
people who admired the lords and ladies, said it was
their solemn belief that the Prince was the best boy in
the whole kingdom; and they were prepared to give in
their testimony, one and all, to that effect to the
Peter was really and truly such a good boy that there
was no excuse for saying he was not. His father and
mother were poor people; and Peter worked every minute
out of school hours, to help them along. Then he had a
sweet little crippled sister whom he was never tired of
caring for. Then, too, he contrived to find time to do
lots of little kindnesses for other people. He always
studied his lessons faithfully, and never ran away from
school. Peter was such a good boy, and so modest and
unsuspicious that he was good, that everybody loved him.
He had not the least idea that he could get the place
with the Christmas Monks, but the Prince was sure of it.
When the examination day came all the boys from far
and near, with their hair neatly brushed and parted, and
dressed in their best clothes, flocked into the convent.
Many of their relatives and friends went with them to
witness the examination.
The refectory of the convent where they assembled,
was a very large hall with a delicious smell of roast
turkey and plum pudding in it. All the little boys
sniffed, and their mouths watered.
The two fathers who were to examine the boys were
perched up in a high pulpit so profusely trimmed with
evergreen that it looked like a bird's nest; they were
remarkably pleasant-looking men, and their eyes twinkled
merrily under their Christmas wreaths. Father Anselmus
was a little the taller of the two, and Father Ambrose
was a little the broader; and that was about all the
difference between them in looks.
The little boys all stood up in a row, their friends
stationed themselves in good places, and the examination
Then if one had been placed beside the entrance to
the convent, he would have seen one after another, a
crestfallen little boy with his arm lifted up and
crooked, and his face hidden in it, come out and walk
forlornly away. He had failed to pass.
The two fathers found out that this boy had robbed
birds' nests, and this one stolen apples. And one after
another they walked disconsolately away till there were
only two boys left: the Prince and Peter.
"Now, your Highness," said Father Anselmus, who
always took the lead in the questions, "are you a good
"O holy Father!" exclaimed all the people—there were
a good many fine folks from the court present. "He is
such a good boy! such a wonderful boy! we never knew him
to do a wrong thing."
"I don't suppose he ever robbed a bird's nest?" said
Father Ambrose a little doubtfully.
"No, no!" chorused the people.
"Nor tormented a kitten?"
"No, no, no!" cried they all.
At last everybody being so confident that there could
be no reasonable fault found with the Prince, he was
pronounced competent to enter upon the Monks' service.
Peter they knew a great deal about before—indeed a
glance at his face was enough to satisfy any one of his
goodness; for he did look more like one of the boy
angels in the altar-piece than anything else. So after a
few questions, they accepted him also; and the people
went home and left the two boys with the Christmas
The next morning Peter was obliged to lay aside his
homespun coat, and the Prince his velvet tunic, and both
were dressed in some little white robes with evergreen
girdles like the Monks. Then the Prince was set to
sewing Noah's Ark seed, and Peter picture-book seed. Up
and down they went scattering the seed. Peter sang a
little psalm to himself, but the Prince grumbled because
they had not given him gold-watch or gem seed to plant
instead of the toy which he had outgrown long ago. By
noon Peter had planted all his picture-books, and
fastened up the card to mark them on the pole; but the
Prince had dawdled so his work was not half done.
"We are going to have a trial with this boy," said
the Monks to each other; "we shall have to set him a
penance at once, or we cannot manage him at all."
So the Prince had to go without his dinner, and kneel
on dried peas in the chapel all the afternoon. The next
day he finished his Noah's Arks meekly; but the next day
he rebelled again and had to go the whole length of the
field where they planted jewsharps, on his knees. And so
it was about every other day for the whole year.
One of the brothers had to be set apart in a
meditating cell to invent new penances; for they had
used up all on their list before the Prince had been
with them three months.
The Prince became dreadfully tired of his convent
life, and if he could have brought it about would have
run away. Peter, on the contrary, had never been so
happy in his life. He worked like a bee, and the
pleasure he took in seeing the lovely things he had
planted come up, was unbounded, and the Christmas carols
and chimes delighted his soul. Then, too, he had never
fared so well in his life. He could never remember the
time before when he had been a whole week without being
hungry. He sent his wages every month to his parents;
and he never ceased to wonder at the discontent of the
"They grow so slow," the Prince would say, wrinkling
up his handsome forehead. "I expected to have a
bushelful of new toys every month; and not one have I
had yet. And these stingy old Monks say I can only have
my usual Christmas share anyway, nor can I pick them out
myself. I never saw such a stupid place to stay in in my
life. I want to have my velvet tunic on and go home to
the palace and ride on my white pony with the silver
tail, and hear them all tell me how charming I am." Then
the Prince would crook his arm and put his head on it
Peter pitied him, and tried to comfort him, but it
was not of much use, for the Prince got angry because he
was not discontented as well as himself.
Two weeks before Christmas everything in the garden
was nearly ready to be picked. Some few things needed a
little more December sun, but everything looked perfect.
Some of the Jack-in-the-boxes would not pop out quite
quick enough, and some of the jumping-Jacks were hardly
as limber as they might be as yet; that was all. As it
was so near Christmas the Monks were engaged in their
holy exercises in the chapel for the greater part of the
time, and only went over the garden once a day to see if
everything was all right.
The Prince and Peter were obliged to be there all the
time. There was plenty of work for them to do; for once
in a while something would blow over, and then there
were the penny-trumpets to keep in tune; and that was a
vast sight of work.
THE BOYS AT WORK IN THE CONVENT GARDEN.
One morning the Prince was at one end of the garden
straightening up some wooden soldiers which had toppled
over, and Peter was in the wax doll bed dusting the
dolls. All of a sudden he heard a sweet little voice:
"O, Peter!" He thought at first one of the dolls was
talking, but they could not say anything but papa and
mamma; and had the merest apologies for voices anyway.
"Here I am, Peter!" and there was a little pull at his
sleeve. There was his little sister. She was not any
taller than the dolls around her, and looked uncommonly
like the prettiest, pinkest-cheeked, yellowest-haired
ones; so it was no wonder that Peter did not see her at
first. She stood there poising herself on her crutches,
poor little thing, and smiling lovingly up at Peter.
"Oh, you darling!" cried Peter, catching her up in
his arms. "How did you get in here?"
"I stole in behind one of the Monks," said she. "I
saw him going up the street past our house, and I ran
out and kept behind him all the way. When he opened the
gate I whisked in too, and then I followed him into the
garden. I've been here with the dollies ever since."
"Well," said poor Peter, "I don't see what I am going
to do with you, now you are here. I can't let you out
again; and I don't know what the Monks will say."
"Oh, I know!" cried the little girl gayly. "I'll stay
out here in the garden. I can sleep in one of those
beautiful dolls' cradles over there; and you can bring
me something to eat."
"But the Monks come out every morning to look over
the garden, and they'll be sure to find you," said her
"No, I'll hide! O, Peter, here is a place where there
isn't any doll!"
"Yes; that doll didn't come up."
"Well, I'll tell you what I'll do! I'll just stand
here in this place where the doll didn't come up, and
nobody can tell the difference."
"Well, I don't know but you can do that," said Peter,
although he was still ill at ease. He was so good a boy
he was very much afraid of doing wrong, and offending
his kind friends the Monks; at the same time he could
not help being glad to see his dear little sister.
He smuggled some food out to her, and she played
merrily about him all day; and at night he tucked her
into one of the dolls' cradles with lace pillows and
quilt of rose-colored silk.
The next morning when the Monks were going the
rounds, the father who inspected the wax doll bed, was a
bit nearsighted, and he never noticed the difference
between the dolls and Peter's little sister, who swung
herself on her crutches, and looked just as much like a
wax doll as she possibly could. So the two were
delighted with the success of their plan.
They went on thus for a few days, and Peter could not
help being happy with his darling little sister,
although at the same time he could not help worrying for
fear he was doing wrong.
Something else happened now, which made him worry
still more; the Prince ran away. He had been watching
for a long time for an opportunity to possess himself of
a certain long ladder made of twisted evergreen ropes,
which the Monks kept locked up in the toolhouse. Lately,
by some oversight, the toolhouse had been left unlocked
one day, and the Prince got the ladder. It was the
latter part of the afternoon, and the Christmas Monks
were all in the chapel practicing Christmas carols. The
Prince found a very large hamper, and picked as many
Christmas presents for himself as he could stuff into
it; then he put the ladder against the high gate in
front of the convent, and climbed up, dragging the
hamper after him. When he reached the top of the gate,
which was quite broad, he sat down to rest for a moment
before pulling the ladder up so as to drop it on the
He gave his feet a little triumphant kick as he
looked back at his prison, and down slid the evergreen
ladder! The Prince lost his balance, and would
inevitably have broken his neck if he had not clung
desperately to the hamper which hung over on the convent
side of the fence; and as it was just the same weight as
the Prince, it kept him suspended on the other.
He screamed with all the force of his royal lungs;
was heard by a party of noblemen who were galloping up
the street; was rescued, and carried in state to the
palace. But he was obliged to drop the hamper of
presents, for with it all the ingenuity of the noblemen
could not rescue him as speedily as it was necessary
When the good Monks discovered the escape of the
Prince they were greatly grieved, for they had tried
their best to do well by him; and poor Peter could with
difficulty be comforted. He had been very fond of the
Prince, although the latter had done little except
torment him for the whole year; but Peter had a way of
being fond of folks.
A few days after the Prince ran away, and the day
before the one on which the Christmas presents were to
be gathered, the nearsighted father went out into the
wax doll field again; but this time he had his
spectacles on, and could see just as well as any one,
and even a little better. Peter's little sister was
swinging herself on her crutches, in the place where the
wax doll did not come up, tipping her little face up,
and smiling just like the dolls around her.
"Why, what is this!" said the father. "Hoc credam!
I thought that wax doll did not come up. Can my eyes
deceive me? non verum est! There is a doll
there—and what a doll! on crutches, and in poor, homely
Then the nearsighted father put out his hand toward
Peter's little sister. She jumped—she could not help it,
and the holy father jumped too; the Christmas wreath
actually tumbled off his head.
"It is a miracle!" exclaimed he when he could speak:
"the little girl is alive! parra puella viva est.
I will pick her and take her to the brethren, and we
will pay her the honors she is entitled to."
Then the good father put on his Christmas wreath, for
he dared not venture before his abbot without it, picked
up Peter's little sister, who was trembling in all her
little bones, and carried her into the chapel, where the
Monks were just assembling to sing another carol. He
went right up to the Christmas abbot, who was seated in
a splendid chair, and looked like a king.
"Most holy abbot," said the nearsighted father,
holding out Peter's little sister, "behold a miracle,
vide miraculum! Thou wilt remember that there was
one wax doll planted which did not come up. Behold, in
her place I have found this doll on crutches, which
"Let me see her!" said the abbot; and all the other
Monks crowded around, opening their mouths just like the
little boys around the notice, in order to see better.
"Verum est," said the abbot. "It is verily a
"Rather a lame miracle," said the brother who had
charge of the funny picture-books and the toy monkeys;
they rather threw his mind off its level of sobriety,
and he was apt to make frivolous speeches unbecoming a
THE PRINCE RUNS AWAY.
The abbot gave him a reproving glance, and the
brother, who was the leach of the convent, came forward.
"Let me look at the miracle, most holy abbot," said he.
He took up Peter's sister, and looked carefully at the
small, twisted ankle. "I think I can cure this with my
herbs and simples," said he.
"But I don't know," said the abbot doubtfully. "I
never heard of curing a miracle."
"If it is not lawful, my humble power will not
suffice to cure it," said the father who was the leach.
"True," said the abbot; "take her, then, and exercise
thy healing art upon her, and we will go on with our
Christmas devotions, for which we should now feel all
the more zeal." So the father took away Peter's little
sister, who was still too frightened to speak.
The Christmas Monk was a wonderful doctor, for by
Christmas Eve the little girl was completely cured of
her lameness. This may seem incredible, but it was owing
in great part to the herbs and simples, which are of a
species that our doctors have no knowledge of; and also
to a wonderful lotion which has never been advertised on
Peter of course heard the talk about the miracle, and
knew at once what it meant. He was almost heartbroken to
think he was deceiving the Monks so, but at the same
time he did not dare to confess the truth for fear they
would put a penance upon his sister, and he could not
bear to think of her having to kneel upon dried peas.
He worked hard picking Christmas presents, and hid
his unhappiness as best he could. On Christmas Eve he
was called into the chapel. The Christmas Monks were all
assembled there. The walls were covered with green
garlands and boughs and sprays of hollyberries, and
branches of wax lights were gleaming brightly amongst
them. The altar and the picture of the Blessed Child
behind it were so bright as to almost dazzle one; and
right up in the midst of it, in a lovely white dress,
all wreaths and jewels, in a little chair with a canopy
woven of green branches over it, sat Peter's little
And there were all the Christmas Monks in their white
robes and wreaths, going up in a long procession, with
their hands full of the very showiest Christmas presents
to offer them to her!
But when they reached her and held out the lovely
presents—the first was an enchanting wax doll, the
biggest beauty in the whole garden—instead of reaching
out her hands for them, she just drew back, and said in
her little sweet, piping voice: "Please, I ain't a
millacle, I'm only Peter's little sister."
"Peter?" said the abbot; "the Peter who works in our
"Yes," said the little sister.
Now here was a fine opportunity for a whole convent
full of monks to look foolish—filing up in procession
with their hands full of gifts to offer to a miracle,
and finding there was no miracle, but only Peter's
But the abbot of the Christmas Monks had always
maintained that there were two ways of looking at all
things; if any object was not what you wanted it to be
in one light, that there was another light in which it
would be sure to meet your views.
So now he brought this philosophy to bear.
"This little girl did not come up in the place of the
wax doll, and she is not a miracle in that light," said
he; "but look at her in another light and she is a
miracle—do you not see?"
They all looked at her, the darling little girl, the
very meaning and sweetness of all Christmas in her
loving, trusting, innocent face.
"Yes," said all the Christmas Monks, "she is a
miracle." And they all laid their beautiful Christmas
presents down before her.
Peter was so delighted he hardly knew himself; and,
oh! the joy there was when he led his little sister home
on Christmas-day, and showed all the wonderful presents.
The Christmas Monks always retained Peter in their
employ—in fact he is in their employ to this day. And
his parents, and his little sister who was entirely
cured of her lameness, have never wanted for anything.
As for the Prince, the courtiers were never tired of
discussing and admiring his wonderful knowledge of
physics which led to his adjusting the weight of the
hamper of Christmas presents to his own so nicely that
he could not fall. The Prince liked the talk and the
admiration well enough, but he could not help, also,
being a little glum: for he got no Christmas presents