Aquarian Age Stories for Children
What Child Is This?
Gussie Ross Jobe
Many years ago in the village of Gdynis in
Poland, quite close to the Dnieper River, a mean little cottage huddled
forlornly against an outbuilding, the same thatched roof covering both. The
outhouse was intended for the farm stock and built close by so that the stock
could be easily reached if attacked by wolves in the middle of the night, but
alas! for over a year now the outbuilding had sheltered no goat nor pig. The
house sheltered a mother and two children, a boy of twelve named Ignace and his
younger sister Vilma.
They were very poor. Even when Father Stradka was with them it
had been hard to find food and clothing. Now a year had passed since Father had
been swept overboard from his little fishing vessel one stormy night and never a
trace of him was ever found. Mother had taken up the burden of providing for her
little family. She had obtained day work at the big house on the hill belonging
to the wealthy Varcona family.
Today was bitterly cold. Ignace and Vilma had worked hard
dragging dead twigs from the forest. They burned quickly in the china stove
scarcely serving to take the chill from their hands. They were saving the
heavier pieces to burn when Mother returned at sundown. Standing before the
window peering through the frost-furred pane they watched the bend in the road
for a first glimpse of their mother. Oh! how hungry they were, for this was
Christmas Eve and the last of the three fast days. They had fasted because
Mother said it was right and it brought luck, and besides there was so little to
eat. Tonight when the first star appeared in the sky the fast period would be
They hoped their mother would bring from the big house some rich
scraps but the Varcona family were mean and stingy even though they were quite
rich. Often Mother Stradka was glad to bring the bones and skins of the fish
along with the rinds of the rutabagas and the outer leaves of the cabbage which
she made into quite a nice soup for her children. It had been a long time now
since they had tasted milk, for their one goat had been sold when no bread could
be bought. But there had been a few straws left in the outhouse and these the
children had strewn upon the table which they had laid for four places: for
Mother, themselves, and the young Christ Child whom they knew would come
and sup with them after their three-day fast if they put a plate for him. The
straws were symbolic of His little manger but Vilma and Ignace did not realize
that. They only knew it was customary to place straws upon the feast table at
They glanced at the table from time to time and their faces
expressed deep satisfaction with its appearance. The wooden plates were scoured
to a perfect whiteness; the bowl sat empty waiting for whatever Mother could
bring them from the Varcona table. Their little mugs would hold nothing but
water, or a little weak unsweetened tea if the cook at the big house spilled a
few of the precious leaves upon the table. When she did this, Mother gathered
them in a little heap and wrapped them in the corner of her head turban. How the
tea warmed their thin little stomachs!
The children saw that it was growing dusk and they watched the
skies for the bright twinkle. There it was! Right over the water! How large and
bright it was tonight. Such a large one it must have been when the watching
Shepherds left their sheep and followed it, coming upon the stable where lay the
A small figure now appeared around the bend in the road.
"She's coming! Mother's coming!" they shouted and ran to put the
largest of their twigs upon the fire. Mother plodded wearily along the snowy
road but her patient face lit up when she saw the waiting children at the
window. Poor babes! Row she wished she had something real good to offer them.
How hungry they must be after their fast.
"My! My!" she said as she entered the low doorway.
"What a lovely warm fire and how sweet and clean the table looks. Just wait
until I take off my shawl and I will warm the food and . . . you will never
guess so I'll tell you. The cook gave me a little ground coffee, and a lump of
sugar fell upon the floor so cook said I might have it. We shall have sweetened
coffee and diced beets to break fast this holy night!" The children's faces
fell a trifle but their mother bustled about filling the kettle and scraping the
thickened beets into a pan. The mother pretended not to see their disappointment
but when they sat down she portioned the food into three plates, one for the
Christ Child, one for Vilma and one for Ignace. She poured only a very little of
the unsweetened and weak coffee into her mug.
"It's very good, Mother," they exclaimed after the
first bite and indeed most anything would seem good after fasting. "Don't
you want any, Mother?"
"My, no, I'm so full of food. I ate with the cook and how I
wish I could have brought you my share."
"What did you have, Mother?" they asked with full
mouths. The mother cast about in her mind quickly then said with a great show of
enthusiasm: "Blinis, my dears. Good rich blinis."
"Blinis," they echoed and chewed the beets more
slowly. How nice it would have been to have broken fast on blinis. Mother drank
the last of her coffee and rose to look at the little fir tree the children had
brought from the forest.
"It is a very pretty one," she said, "and just
the right size." Even though there were no presents or pretties to hang on
this tree, to have one in the house at Yuletide was considered lucky.
The children, scraping the last of the beets from their plates,
looked up suddenly to see a little boy entering the door. He was a very
beautiful child about Ignace 's age. He was poorly clad and his feet were bare.
Mother turned and saw him, too. She rushed toward him with a cry of pity.
"Oh, my poor child! Look at your little blue feet. Are they
entirely frozen?" She pulled forward an empty chair. "Sit here while I
rub them." The child eyed the beets that had been piled on the Christ
Child's plate. Mother noticed the hungry look. "Eat them," she urged.
"They were meant for the little Christ Child but He would want a hungry lad
to have them."
"Yes," the child at last said, "He would want me
to be warmed and fed." He ate the beets and drank the coffee while the
woman sat on the floor at his feet and rubbed them between the folds of her
woolen skirt. Ignace stood at the child 's side. He thought he had never seen
such bright alert eyes. "Did you run away from the orphanage?" Ignace
"No," returned the guest, "but I know the
"Where are you from and whither are you going?" Vilma
"I came from a strange and unknown land and must return
thence." His grave eyes looked at her kindly.
"Oh, but not tonight. Mother, say that he must spend the
good Christmas Eve with us. It is far too cold for a little child to be
"I shall spend the night with many like you." He to
"At least take my shoes," Ignace pressed him back into
"Have you others?"
"No, but that matters not. I can wrap my feet in cloths
until warm weather comes." His hands were busy with his shoe laces. The
child allowed Ignace to lace the shoes upon his feet. He pointed to the bare fir
tree in the corner. "Before I go shall I tell you how the fir tree became a
"Oh, yes. Do." They moved closer to him as he began,
The child's voice flowed out like liquid gold, not loud but distinct. The tiny
fire in the china stove suddenly sent out a burst of warmth. It smelled as if
some mysterious and fragrant wood was heaped upon it, a drowsy aroma that
permeated the entire room arose. From beneath some rafter a cricket chirped in
undertones that did not disturb the story. The fire flickered and flared and lit
the room dimly. Through the small window the huge Christmas star could be seen.
"Twelve centuries ago," the child began, 'the good
Englishman Wilfred left his English home and on Christmas Eve sought out a
certain tribe of pagans who made living sacrifices to the 'blood oak tree.'
Beneath this Oak of Geismas he found these pagans about to sacrifice the little
Prince Asulf to the god Thor. Boldly he rushed in and after berating them for
their cruelty seized an axe and felled the blood tree. With his arms around the
little Prince he faced the angry tribe who were minded to kill him then and
there. Suddenly in the spot where the blood oak had stood there appeared a misty
fir tree. The tribesmen were awed as they watched many beautiful balls of light
settle amid the fir tree branches. Here they flickered and glowed while the
pagans backed away from this miracle in fear and trembling. That was the last of
the blood tree and its human sacrifices, and ever since the fir tree has
symbolized Christmas and that is why it is always green -year in and year
Mother's head was nid-nid-nodding. She jerked it up and peered
through the gloom at her children. Both Ignace and Vilma sat with heads bowed
upon folded arms that rested on the table but the strange little boy was gone.
The fire had died out but the room was still deliciously warm
and still held that subtle, spicy fragrance that was so sweet. The mother stood
up, distressed that she had slept while their guest had taken his departure
without her Godspeed.
"Oh, dear. How sorry I am. He must have thought us poor
hosts to sleep as he talked." Or had he told the story? - perhaps she
had dreamed it. "Come now, sleepy heads! You have slept as our guest
took his departure." She turned down the covers of their beds as she spoke
and the children awoke yawning. They glanced through the window at the big star
which was paling in the gray dawn.
"Why, Mother! we cannot go to bed for already it is
dawn." They pointed to the growing light at the window.
"Why, so it is - how strange. Well then, 'tis the blessed
Christmas morning. A merry Christmas to you, my lambs, and may the Christ Child
shower you with blessings . . . ." Just then a soft light began to glow
about the tree and many colored balls of light flickered in and out of the
little fir tree branches, dying out as the children crept in awe toward it.
"Just as it happened to the fir tree in the story,"
breathed Vilma, and her mother nodded. Then she had not dreamed it after all.
The child had really been here and had told them the legend. She went to the
stove to restart the fire. The star had now entirely left the heavens and the
dawn grew brighter. Suddenly the door again opened. The child again,
Ignace thought, as he started toward the door. However, it was not the child who
entered the door but a bearded man with a pack upon his back. What a time for
strange visitors, thought Ignace.
"Are you the good Saint Nickolas?" he started to ask
but was interrupted by a cry from his mother. "Beloved!" She reached
the man and was folded to his bosom. The pack was dropped to the floor. It
seemed a long time to the puzzled children before the two drew apart, then they
saw that tears of joy were flowing down their mother's cheeks.
Children, see! do you not know your father?"
"But . . . our father is dead . . . " They crept
nearer searching the bearded face for some trace of the remembered parent. The
man drew children and mother to him before the china stove.
"I was as one dead for a long time. Swept unconscious upon
a strange shore I was carried to a hospital and lay a long time knowing nothing,
not even my name. Slowly I recovered my strength but not my memory. I worked for
those who mined beneath the ground for gold. One day I myself found a large
nugget of gold. It was of great value and I sold it for much money. It did not
make me happy for I was still as one without a past. Several nights ago I had a
dream in which a beautiful child with hair like the sun and eyes as jewels came
to my bedside. He looked at me and it seemed as if a million sharp needles
pierced every inch of my body and a great singing sounded in my ears. Above the
uproar the child's voice came to me saying:
"'Small Ignace and his sister await thee,' and with a start
I awoke and remembered my name and my home place and all the past. I have
traveled night and day to reach you on this holy day. I stopped only long enough
to buy gifts." He pointed to the fallen pack. The children now climbed upon
their father and smothered him with embraces and kisses, for this was in truth
their father who had been dead and now by the grace of God was alive again.
Later the pack was inspected and found to contain sweets and
toys and coats for both children and the mother. Ignace, trying on the shoes,
mused to himself that only last night he had given away his only pair of shoes
and now he had two pairs, new and shining. The mother beckoned him inside,
holding her little Bible. She could not read but Ignace could, and Mother knew
the place where each verse could be found. She held the Bible out to Ignace.
"Read here," she said, her thumb marking a verse. Ignace took the
Bible and read aloud: "And whoso shall receive one such little child
receiveth Me." Mother and son looked into one another's eyes.
"It was the Christ Child," they whispered in