Little Carl's Christmas Eve
by Grace Greenwood
"Come in!" shouted together the host and hostess of a little German
wayside inn, near the banks of the Rhine, and not far below the city of
Basle, and the borders of Switzerland. It was Christmas-eve, and a
tempestuous night. The wind was raving round the little inn, and
tearing away at windows and doors, as though mad to get at the brave
little light within, and extinguish it without mercy. The snow was
falling fast, drifting and driving, obstructing the highway, blinding
the eyes of man and beast.
The "come in" of the host and hostess was in answer to a loud, hurried
rap at the door, by which there immediately entered two travellers.
One, by his military dress, seemed a soldier, and the other appeared to
be his servant. This was the case. General Wallenstein was on his way
from Carlsruhe, to his home in Basle. He had been delayed several
hours by an accident to his post-carriage and by the storm, and now
found himself obliged to stop for the night at this lonely and
comfortless little inn.
When the officer threw aside his plumed hat and military cloak of rich
fur, and strode up to the fire, with his epaulettes flashing in the
light, and his sword knocking against his heels, cling, clang, the
gruff host was greatly impressed with his importance, and willingly
went out to assist the postilion in the care of the horses. As for the
old hostess, she bustled about with wonderful activity to prepare
supper for the great man.
"Ho, Carl!" she cried, "thou young Rhine-sprite, thou water-imp, run to
the wood for another bundle of fagots! Away, haste thee, or I 'll give
thee back to thy elfin kinsfolk, who are ever howling for thee!"
At these strange, sharp words, a wild-looking little boy started up
from a dusky corner of the room, where he had been lying with his head
pillowed on a great tawny Swiss dog, and darted out of the door. He
was coarsely dressed and bare-footed; yet there was something uncommon
about him,—something grand, yet familiar in his look, which struck the
"Is that your child?" he asked.
"No indeed," said the old dame; "I am a poor woman, and have seen
trouble in my time, but, blessed be the saints! I 'm not the mother of
"Why do you call the boy a water-imp?"
"I call him so, your excellency," said the woman, sinking her shrill
voice into an awe-struck tone, "because he came from the water, and
belongs to the water. He floated down the Rhine in the great flood,
four years ago come spring, a mere baby, that could barely tell his
name, perched on the roof of a little chalet, in the night, amid
thunder, lightning, and rain! Now, it is plain that no human child
could have lived through that. My good man spied him in the morning
early, and took him off in his boat. I took him in for pity; but I
have always been afraid of him, and every flood-time I think the Rhine
is coming for his own again."
The traveller seemed deeply interested, and well he might be; for in
the very flood of which the superstitious old dame spoke his only
child, an infant boy, had been lost, with his nurse, whose cottage on
the river-bank below Basle had been swept away by night.
"Was the child quite alone on the roof of the chalet?" he asked in an
"Yes," said the hostess, "all but an old dog, who seemed to belong to
"That dog must have dragged him up on to the roof, and saved him!"
exclaimed the general; "is he yet alive?"
"Yes, just alive. He must be very old, for he is almost stone blind
and deaf. My good man would have put him out of the way long ago, but
for Carl; and as he shares his meals, and makes his bed with him, I
suppose it is no loss to keep the brute."
"Show me the dog!" said the officer, with authority.
"Here he lies, your excellency," said the dame. "We call him
General Wallenstein bent over the dog, touched him gently, and shouted
in his ear his old name of "Leon." The dog had not forgotten it; he
knew that voice, the touch of that hand. With a plaintive, joyful cry,
he sprang up to the breast of his old master, nestled about blindly for
his hands, and licked them unreproved; then sunk down, as though faint
with joy, to his master's feet. The brave soldier was overcome with
emotion; tears fell fast from his eyes. "Faithful creature," he
exclaimed, "you have saved my child, and given him back to me." And
kneeling down, he laid his hand on the head of the poor old dog and
Just at this moment the door opened and little Carl appeared, toiling
up the steps with his arms full of fagots, his cheerful face smiling
brave defiance to winter winds, and night and snow.
"Come hither, Carl," said the soldier. The boy flung down his fagots
and drew near.
"Dost thou know who I am?"
"Ah no,—the good Christmas King, perhaps," said the little lad,
looking full of innocent wonderment.
"Alas, poor child, how shouldst thou remember me!" exclaimed General
Wallenstein, sadly. Then clasping him in his arms, he said, "But I
remember thee; thou art my boy, my dear, long-lost boy! Look in my
face; embrace me; I am thy father!"
"No, surely," said the child, sorely bewildered, "that cannot be, for
they tell me the Rhine is my father."
The soldier smiled through his tears, and soon was able to convince his
little son that he had a better father than the old river that had
carried him away from his tender parents. He told him of a loving
mother who yet sorrowed for him, and of a little blue-eyed sister, who
would rejoice when he came. Carl listened, and wondered, and laughed,
and when he comprehended it all, slid from his father's arms and ran to
embrace old Leon.
The next morning early General Wallenstein, after having generously
rewarded the innkeeper and his wife for having given a home, though a
poor one, to his little son, departed for Basle. In his arms he
carried Carl, carefully wrapped in his warm fur cloak, and if sometimes
the little bare feet of the child were thrust out from their covering,
it was only to bury themselves in the shaggy coat of old Leon, who lay
snugly curled up in the bottom of the carriage.
I will not attempt to tell you of the deep joy of Carl's mother, nor of
the wild delight of his little sister, for I think such things are
quite beyond any one's telling; but altogether it was to the
Wallensteins a Christmas-time to thank God for, and they did thank him.