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The Blue Flower and Other Stories

The First Christmas-Tree
I
The day before Christmas, in the year of our Lord 722.
Broad snow-meadows glistening white along the banks of the river Moselle; steep hill-
sides blooming with mystic forget-me-not where the glow of the setting sun cast long
shadows down their eastern slope; an arch of clearest, deepest gentian bending overhead;
in the centre of the aerial garden the walls of the cloister of Pfalzel, steel-blue to the east,
violet to the west; silence over all,--a gentle, eager, conscious stillness, diffused through
the air, as if earth and sky were hushing themselves to hear the voice of the river faintly
murmuring down the valley.
In the cloister, too, there was silence at the sunset hour. All day long there had been a
strange and joyful stir among the nuns. A breeze of curiosity and excitement had swept
along the corridors and through every quiet cell. A famous visitor had come to the
convent.
It was Winfried of England, whose name in the Roman tongue was Boniface, and whom
men called the Apostle of Germany. A great preacher; a wonderful scholar; but, more
than all, a daring traveller, a venturesome pilgrim, a priest of romance.
He had left his home and his fair estate in Wessex; he would not stay in the rich
monastery of Nutescelle, even though they had chosen him as the abbot; he had refused a
bishopric at the court of King Karl. Nothing would content him but to go out into the wild
woods and preach to the heathen.
Through the forests of Hesse and Thuringia, and along the borders of Saxony, he had
wandered for years, with a handful of companions, sleeping under the trees, crossing
mountains and marshes, now here, now there, never satisfied with ease and comfort,
always in love with hardship and danger.
What a man he was! Fair and slight, but straight as a spear and strong as an oaken staff.
His face was still young; the smooth skin was bronzed by wind and sun. His gray eyes,
clean and kind, flashed like fire when he spoke of his adventures, and of the evil deeds of
the false priests with whom he contended.
What tales he had told that day! Not of miracles wrought by sacred relics; not of courts
and councils and splendid cathedrals; though he knew much of these things. But to-day
he had spoken of long journeyings by sea and land; of perils by fire and flood; of wolves
and bears, and fierce snowstorms, and black nights in the lonely forest; of dark altars of
heathen gods, and weird, bloody sacrifices, and narrow escapes from murderous bands of
wandering savages.
 
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