Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Story - The Silver Rattle

The moon shone across the snow and pierced the darkness of the barn through the many holes worn through the old wood.

The animals stood silently in the night; their breath escaping their mouths as billowing puffs of steam.

It was Christmas eve so farmer Sam had brought in new bales of straw and extra feed for the animals. He was a kindly man, especially to his animals at Christmas time.

“After all”, he said “these animals are my best friends, they don’t ask questions and they don’t pass judgment.”

On this particular night as the moonlight shone and the stars glittered in the sky like a million diamonds, something was different in the barn. The animals were a bit more restless than usual. It was as if they sensed Christmas was close and as you all know, Christmas is a time for magic and miracles.“It’s Christmas Eve Bessie,” said Geraldine (Geraldine was Sam’s prize winning Jersey and Bessie was the oldest cow so everyone naturally listened to whatever she had to say). “And I’m going to stay up all night to see what Christmas miracle will occur. What do you think might happen?”

Bessie just nodded her head. She didn’t speak much, but all the animals loved and respected her.

Gertrude the duck was running around as usual flapping her wings making quite a lot of commotion. “I’m so excited, I don’t know what to think, where to go, what to do, oh my!”

The animals continued their discussions on just what miraculous event might occur tonight, while in the old farmhouse Sam and his wife Edna were sitting quietly by the wood stove ~ he with his paper and pipe, which incidentally was not lit, he just liked to hold it between his teeth, and she working the wool in and out of the mesh watching as her picture came to life in her hands.

Sam and Edna had been married for nearly 50 years but had never been blessed with children. The animals they cared for on their farm were their family. Never was there a farm where animals were treated so well. Every day you would find them down in the barn cleaning out the stalls, making sure the water in the trough was fresh and the feed trough was full. Even the barn cats got fresh milk every morning after the cows were milked. This was a happy farm. The animals loved Sam and Edna.

A few miles away from Sam and Edna’s farm, a young couple was running through the snow using only the moon (which was a full moon tonight) to light their way through the dense brush. They knew if they stopped, they would be found by the sheriff who was searching for them after they had stolen bread and cheese from the grocery store in town.

Ben and Emily were hungry, cold and tired. All they wanted was to find somewhere warm to sleep. To make things even more difficult, Emily was pregnant and the baby was due.
As they broke through the trees into a clearing they saw the farm in the distance. Ben took Emily’s hand. “Come on Emily, if we get to that barn, we can rest there until the morning.”

Emily’s feet were so cold she could barely feel her toes, but she knew she had to keep going.

It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, they had lived in a lovely home. Ben had worked for Emily’s parents, Edward and Madalyn Lincoln as a houseboy. But all that changed when Ben and Emily fell in love. As the Lincoln’s youngest daughter, her parents had hoped she would agree to marry Angus Campbell, the mayor’s son. So when they found out that she loved Ben, they were enraged. She told them how much she loved Ben and wanted to marry him, but they were unrelenting.

Not knowing what to do, they ran away. They spent the next few months running and hiding, pinching a little food here and there, sleeping wherever they could find shelter. But the running would have to stop soon, Emily knew the baby would be here soon and they couldn’t keep moving with a baby.

As they came closer to the barn, Emily felt a strange sensation in her stomach, something that she hadn’t felt before. Could the baby be coming? There was no doctor, how could she give birth alone? Fear came over her and her trembling intensified.

Quietly Ben slid the door to the barn open as he and Emily slipped in quietly. They didn’t want to wake anyone as they were terrified of being sent back with the sheriff. Ben would be punished and the baby would be taken away from Emily. This was not the life they wanted for themselves.

The animals moved quietly about as they came in. There was no heat in the barn but at least it provided shelter from the wind.

Ben helped Emily sit down and then went off in search of something to keep them warm. He found the fresh hay that Sam had brought in, so he dragged some over to build a shelter around them. He also found a few worn woolen blankets hanging on a hook which he wrapped around them.

There were a half dozen or so sheep standing near them. They were watching and saw how Emily was shivering.

Quietly one of the sheep said to another, “You know it’s not right, that young girl sitting there so cold, when we have all this warm wool to keep warm. Let’s go make a circle around her to warm her up.”

As Ben and Emily huddled together to stay warm, the sheep made a tight circle around them. Their warm breath and the heat of their bodies instantly warmed up Ben and Emily and they quickly fell asleep.

They slept in the warm circle of the sheep until suddenly Emily woke up with the worst pain she had ever felt in her life. “Ben, Ben, wake up, I think the baby’s coming. We have to find a doctor, I can’t do this alone.”

“Emily, you’re not alone, I’m with you,” Ben said.

“But you’ve never delivered a baby Ben,” Emily replied.

“No, but I saw my mama have my little brother and sister, it looks pretty natural to me. We can do this without a doctor.”

Emily knew the baby was very close. The sheep sensed that a miracle was happening. They tightened the circle around Ben and Emily, followed by the horses and cows. And, they stayed that way keeping the cold away from the little shelter of hay.

A few hours later the first cry of a newborn was heard. The full moon was directly overhead and a beam of moonlight shone down and touched the face of this beautiful new baby as she took her first breaths. Ben took one of the wool blankets, wrapped her and laid her down in the hay nest he had created in an old wood box he found in the back of the barn.

“Emily it’s Christmas morning. Our little girl was born on Christmas day. Let’s call her Christmas to always remind us that she was the best Christmas gift ever!” Ben cried.

“Oh yes,” Emily agreed with him, “she is a wonderful Christmas present.”

Just then, the barn door slid open and Sam came in calling out to his beloved animals. “Bessie, did you keep watch over everyone last night?”

As he lit his lamp, his eyes fell on the scene before him ~ the sheep, horse and cows lined up in three circles around a young boy and girl with a new baby lying in one of his old manger’s filled with hay.

“What’s going on here, how did you two get in here? Well, I guess that doesn’t matter as much as this wee baby and mama that needs some warmth.”

Sam went over to the old wood stove and lit it. As it roared to life, they could feel the warmth spreading throughout the barn.

The animals that had stood guard throughout the night luxuriously stretched their limbs in the warmth.

“That’s so much better,” Geraldine said.

“I agree,” said Eliza (the old mare that he couldn’t ride but loved dearly), “I was getting kinda achy standing still all night.”

Ben and Emily stared in shock as the animals all starting talking to one another and the farmer.

“This was such a magical night Sam,” said Bessie (the oldest cow and definitely the boss). “You should’ve been here. These two came in and built up a lovely bed of hay where this beautiful Christmas baby was born.”

The animals were so excited and talking one over the other. Even if you tried to understand one animal you couldn’t, there were at least fourteen voices going all at once.

Ben and Emily were still shocked at the animals talking and sat with their mouths open just watching all the activity. The farmer “Sam” was walking from one animal to the other calming them down with just a touch of his hand. As he gently touched the head of Bessie, Geraldine, Eliza and each of the other animals, they quickly quietened. He seemed to have a magic touch.

Sam looked at Ben and Emily saying, “Now that these animals are calmed, maybe you could tell me who you are, why you’re here and how I can help you.”

Ben and Emily both started talking at once.

“My goodness, slow down and tell me your story one at a time,” Sam said.

Ben started, “My name is Ben and this is my girlfriend Emily and this” he said looking down at his new baby, “is our new daughter Christmas. We came into your barn because we were so cold, Emily was going to have the baby and we needed somewhere warm and away from the wind.”

“But,” Sam interrupted, “what were you doing out at night in the cold, when clearly Emily should have been safe at home in bed waiting for the birth of this lovely Christmas baby?”

“Well,” Ben said, “that is a long story.”

“It looks like we’ve got lots of time,” Sam said as he pointed to the field outside where a huge snowstorm had whipped up overnight and dumped at least one foot of snow on the ground.

“Well,” Emily started, “Ben used to work for my father and mother, Edward and Madalyn Lincoln. My father is the court judge in Staffordshire. And, Ben was our houseboy and I loved him. We told my father and mother, but they wanted me to marry Angus Campbell, the mayor’s son. So, they wouldn’t hear of it when I told them I wanted to marry Ben. Then when I became pregnant, my father was furious, so Ben and I ran away, slept where we could, stole a little food here and there so we weren’t hungry and now, the sheriff is looking for us to take back home.”

“Well,” Sam said, “that is some story. This farm is a very special place where special and magical things happen. You are both very welcome to stay here as long as you want.”

“It certainly does seem special,” Ben said, “I …. uh …. were your animals actually speaking? Was it my imagination?”

“Yes Ben, they were speaking. Me and these animals just seem to understand each other. They don’t ask for anything except food, water and love. But they give me and my wife so much love in return.”

“But how is it Sam, that they can talk, I’ve never seen or heard any animals talk before,” said Ben.

“Well, as I said Ben, this is a magical place and things happen here that don’t happen anywhere else. Maybe it’s just because we love our animals and treat them so well, so they show their love for us by trusting us with the gift of speech,” Sam responded.

As they continued talking, Edna came quietly in the barn with a box full of gifts for the baby. She sat down on a box beside Emily, opened the box and brought out a lovely quilt she had made many years ago for a baby that never came, then a beautiful crocheted blanket with a matching sweater, bonnet and leggings. She reached in again and brought out flannelet nightgowns, nappies and hand knit woolen nappy covers.

She reached in one more time and brought out a tiny silver baby rattle. Emily though she could hear the tiniest ringing coming from the bell. It was very tarnished, but Edna had a polishing cloth and began to polish the rattle. As she rubbed the rattle with her cloth the ringing grew louder and louder until all heard the beautiful melody of bells.

“How does that little rattle make that melody?” Emily asked.

“It’s a song that only we who believe in the magic of Christmas can hear,” said Edna. “Always believe in the magic and you’ll always hear the melody.”

When Ben and Sam came over, Emily and Edna had baby Christmas dressed in a nightgown, pink sweater, booties, bonnet, swaddled in the crocheted blanket and then laid on the quilt. They had tenderly laid the silver rattle beside her hand.

Edna pointed at Ben and Sam saying, “You two boys come over here and sit down so we can discuss how we’re going to get these two young people back home.”

“We can’t go home Edna,” Emily said, “We would not be welcome. My dad was pretty upset when I told him I loved Ben and did not want to marry Angus. You know how dads are; they think that no one is ever good enough for their little girl.”

“Well,” said Edna, I think little baby Christmas just might change all of that. Maybe when the snow settles down, we can get out the sleigh and take you two back home to your parents.”

“I don’t know,” said Emily. “They were pretty angry when we left and said as long as I stayed with Ben, I wasn’t welcome at home.”

“Emily if you could have one wish, what would it be?” Edna asked.

“To be at home this Christmas with my mom and dad, have them accept and love Ben and now baby Christmas.” Emily replied.

Ben looked out the window and saw that the sun was shining on the snow making it glitter like diamonds.

“The snow always makes Emily smile especially when we used to build snowmen together.” Ben said to Sam. “I remember running around the house raiding drawers and closets looking for the clothes and bits ‘n pieces we needed to decorate the snowman.”

Sam suggested that he and Ben go outside and build a snowman for Emily and baby Christmas.

As they walked through the door, Sam looked back at Edna, gave her a knowing nod and a wink. Then he turned to Ben and said, “Ben instead of making a snowman let’s get the sleigh out, we’ll harness the horses and bundle you, Emily and baby Christmas in the sleigh and drive you back home. You can’t run forever and since it is Christmas day, I’m sure Emily’s parents will feel more forgiving.”

They went over to a second barn on the property where Sam threw open two very large doors. Inside was a beautiful old sleigh. It was dark green and shiny with silver runners. Sam led two horses over to the sleigh where he gently harnessed them up. He wrapped two heavy wool blankets over their backs to keep them warm while they silently stood waiting until Edna, Emily and baby Christmas were safely tucked under piles of feather comforters inside the sleigh.

Sam and Ben hopped up in the front, where Sam grabbed the reins and clicked his teeth. The horses knew this signal and took off. The sleigh moved so gently Ben and Emily couldn’t even tell they were moving.

It seemed that they were in front of the Lincoln’s home in the blink of an eye. As Sam laid down the reins, the door swung open and there stood Edward and Madalyn Lincoln arms wide open as Emily, Ben and baby Christmas ran into their arms.

“Ben, Emily, we have been so worried about you, you shouldn’t have run away especially with the baby coming.” Edward said.

“But daddy,” Emily replied, “We thought you wouldn’t let us be together and you were so angry about the baby when we told you. I didn’t think you wanted us.”

“My darling girl,” said Edward, “time heals. We have had time to miss you and realize how much we love you and how important you are to both of us.”

Madalyn took Emily’s arm, “Come in, come in out of the cold and let me get a look at this beautiful baby.”

“But wait a moment, how did you get home especially with this new baby? It is so cold outside; surely you haven’t been walking all this time.” Edward asked.

“No, no we haven’t been walking,” Emily said as she turned toward the laneway. “Sam and Edna brought …” but she stopped mid sentence. “Where is the sleigh Ben? And where are Sam and Edna?” She asked.

Ben turned to the laneway as well. As they looked down the lane, there was no sign of the sleigh, horses or Sam and Edna. There was not a mark on the snow and no tracks from the runners on the sleigh.

“We stayed in a barn overnight, we were so cold and that’s where baby Christmas was born. Sam and Edna own the farm and they have animals there that spoke to us.” Emily said.

They came inside and gently Emily laid down Christmas on the chaise lounge.

“Are you sure you got a ride home Emily?” asked her father. “There is no sign of anyone having come up the laneway at all.” He said as he came in the front door stamping the snow off his boots in the hallway.

“I’m sure they were there,” said Emily. “Here look at the baby, Edna gave me beautiful pink sweaters, flannel nightgowns and a quilt she made for a baby she wanted but never had.”

As Emily unwrapped Christmas, her mother saw the beautiful handmade quilt and then as the quilt fell open, a glittering silver rattle fell on the floor. It produced the most beautiful melody any of them had ever heard.

“Oh Emily, that is such a beautiful song. How does that little rattle make such a lovely melody?” her mother asked.

“Edna told me that we who believe the magic of Christmas can hear the song and as long as we always believe the magic and we’ll always hear the melody.” Emily said.

“So your Sam and Edna will always be part of the magic of Christmas,” replied Madalyn.

The new houseboy brought out a tray with eggnog and they all sat together in front of the fire enjoying the warmth. Madalyn held baby Christmas gently in her arms as she softly sang a lullaby.

Outside the house in a dark green sleigh with silver runners sat Sam and Edna nodding their heads and smiling. As they drove away, a group of carolers could be heard singing ….

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth


Vickie LeBlanc said...

This is beautiful Barb. You have a wonderful gift with your writing. Thanks for posting.

Colleen said...

thank you for sharing this lovely story Barb! xox


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