Present by Mrs.
W. J. Hays
"'Tis an ill wind that blows no good."
It had been a hard, cold, cruel winter, and one that just suited
old Frozen Nose, the Storm King, whose palace of ice was on the
north shore of the Polar Sea. He had ordered Rain, Hail, and Snow,
his slaves, to accompany Lord Boreas Bluster on an invasion of the
temperate zone, and when they had done his bidding he harnessed up
his four-in-hand team of polar bears and went as far south as he
dared, just to see how well they had obeyed him. How he roared with
laughter when he found nearly all vegetation killed, and the earth
wrapped in a white mantle as thick as his own bear-skins piled six
feet deep! There was no nonsense about that sort of work.
"Catch any pert, saucy little flowers sticking up their heads
through such a blanket!" said Frozen Nose to himself. "No, no; I've fixed 'em
for a few years, anyhow. They're dead as door-nails, and Spring
with all her airs and graces will never bring them to life again.
Ugh! how I hate 'em and all sweet smells! Wish I might never have
anything but whale-oil on my hair and handkerchiefs for the rest of
"There's no fear but what you will, and stale at that," said the
ugliest of his children, young Chilblain, giving his father's big
toe a tweak as he passed, and grinning when he heard Frozen Nose
"There's the gout again, I do believe!"
But Boreas Bluster, coming in just then, saw what was going on,
and gave Chilblain a whack that sent him spinning out of the
To tell the truth, Boreas was not as hardhearted as he looked.
He was the most honest and straightforward of all Frozen Nose's
friends. To be sure, he had to obey stern commands, and do many
things that required a show of fierceness, but in the course of his
travels he often yielded to a kind impulse, and restrained his fury
when to indulge it would have pleased old Frozen Nose mightily.
day he had met with a strange adventure, which had been the
occasion of a hasty return to the palace, and had so stirred his
heart that the whack he gave young Chilblain was but the
safety-valve to his feelings—a sort of letting off of steam
which otherwise might have exploded and burst every block of ice in
In the many furious storms which had occurred of late Boreas had
seen the destruction of numerous forests, and had even assisted in
laying waste the country. But one night an avalanche had buried a
hamlet from which only one living soul had escaped, and that was a
young child—a mere sprig of a girl, with hair like the flax
and eyes like its flowers, a little, timid, crying child—whom
B.B. had actually taken in his arms and carried all the way out of
the woods, over the mountains, and finally into Frozen Nose's own
palace by the Polar Sea.
Never had such a thing happened before. Never had the tones of a
child's voice pierced his dull ears, and made that big
sledge-hammer of a heart positively ache with its throbs. It was a
new and even a dangerous feeling; for though he made young
Chilblain's impertinence the pretext of an outburst, he might just as
readily have given a cuff to the hoary-headed Prime-minister, Sir
Solomon Snow-Ball—and then there would have been a
revolution. But happily for the peace of the Polar Sea palace, B.B.
was satisfied with Chilblain's howl of rage, and in another moment
had sunk down into his favorite arm-chair of twisted walrus tusks,
and was lost in thought.
It was a curious scene, these three old men half asleep in their
bear-skins, smoking long pipes of smouldering sea-weed. No fire
danced on the hearth, no lamp shed its lustre, but the moon's pale
beams gleamed on the glittering walls and lit the ice-crystals with
its silver rays. B.B.'s thoughts seemed to be of a troublesome
nature, for he sighed heavily, almost creating a whirlwind, and at
last, looking cautiously at his companions, and seeing they were
asleep, he rose and went softly from the room. In the hall was a
huge pile of furs, among which B.B. gently pushed until he found
the object of his search, which, lifting carefully, he bound about
him with thongs of reindeer hide. Then pulling on his immense
snow-shoes, and drawing his cap closely about his ears, he went out into the
B.B. was aware that it would be impossible for him to keep his
little Flax-Flower any longer in Frozen Nose's dominions; indeed,
he had only hidden her in the hall until he could decide what
course to pursue, for he knew only too well that Chilblain, in
seeking revenge, would be sure to discover his secret, and do all
he could to injure him. Personally he had little to fear, but the
punishment for mortals entering Frozen Nose's realm was death, and
Flax-Flower was mortal.
With the speed for which he was so celebrated, Boreas slid over
the ground in a southerly direction, never stopping until he had
come upon what seemed to be a river which led down to a dark forest
He was now at least three thousand miles from the Storm King's
palace, and could afford to rest Wiping his brow, and panting still
with his recent efforts, Boreas drew a corner of the bundle of furs
away from the face of Flax-Flower, and looked at the sleeping
child. As he did so a thrill of tenderness made him long
to kiss her,
but he knew that his rough caress would chill her with fear. So,
softly wrapping her up again, he plunged into the pine forest.
Stopping again when in the middle of it, he gave a shrill whistle,
which was responded to by one fainter and farther away, and
presently a dwarf in the garb of an Esquimau emerged from the dusky
gloom, and bending low, said,
"What will you, my master?"
"I would see thy lord, the good St. Nicholas—the Storm
King's enemy. Is he at home?"
"He is at home, but he is no man's enemy. What message shall I
"Tell him that Boreas, of the Frozen Noses, awaits him." The
dwarf vanished, and returned.
"My lord bids thee enter, but entreats thee to be gentle, and
remember the manners of his court."
"That was a needless charge, considering my errand. Never has my
mood been more peaceful. But it strikes me as passing strange thus
to dictate terms to one of my station," responded Boreas,
"Pardon," answered the dwarf, "but we are no sticklers for
ceremony, and recognize no rank save goodness. Follow me if it be thy wish to
Pushing aside the heavy boughs on which the snow lay in icy
masses that rattled and clashed like bolts and bars, he uncovered a
low-arched opening into what seemed a vast snow-bank. Through this
tunnel he and Boreas made their way to a broad court, which was as
airy as a soap-bubble, round in shape, with pillars and dome of
glass, through which streamed rays of light softer than sunshine
and brighter than moonbeams.
From this court a broad, low stairway led to another apartment,
which was as free from any show or splendor as the kitchen of a
farm-house, and, indeed, in its suggestion of homely comfort and
hospitality it was not unlike that cheery place. A Saxon motto,
meaning "Welcome to those who hunger," was carved in the wooden
frame of the fireplace. The floor was sanded, the tables and chairs
were of oak, blackened by age, as were also the timbers of the
ceiling, and cut and carved with curious devices.
On a big settle by the fire sat an old man, whose twinkling eyes
could but just see through the shaggy and snowy brows which
overhung them, and whose white beard fell in a flowing
mass upon his breast. What could be seen of his face bore a kind
"Ho, ho, old Bluster!" he cried, in a clear and merry voice,
drawing up and around him the sheepskin mantle which was beside
him, "What new freak is this of yours to enter our peaceful
dwelling? Methought you were so sworn to do the Storm King's
bidding that no power other than his rough sway could compel your
presence. Come you on your own account or on his? Be it either, you
are free to partake of our bounty. Ho, there, Merrythought! heave
on more logs and heat the poker, that we may thrust it fizzing into
our tankards: 'tis always bitter cold when Boreas is abroad."
The dwarf skipped quickly to his task, assisted by a dozen
others, and Boreas, unstrapping his bundle, drew little
Flax-Flower, still sleeping, from the furs.
"Mine is a strange errand, good Claus—so strange, that I
hardly know myself to be myself. Rough and stormy as I am ever, a
child's misery has made me once gentle. You know my mad career, my
furious passions, and that they indeed are the strength of the
Storm King's realm. Too well I knew that I should be but the sport of
mocking derision if I appealed to his mercy in behalf of this
suffering child. Mercy, did I say? He knows none. Death alone could
have met this little creature, whose cries have aroused within me
the deepest feelings I have ever known. To be honest, I have not
always been the fierce being I appear. Many and many a time,
unknown to you, I have followed you on your errands of love and
pity, and watched with admiration the course you have pursued. This
has induced me now to come and ask your favor for my treasure.
Wake, little Flax-Flower, wake!" he continued, gently kissing the
child's eyes, who, so stirred, rubbed her sleepy lids with rosy
little fists, and looked around in astonishment.
"Ha!" said the good St. Nicholas; "This is indeed a strange
story for you to tell, friend Bluster. Ho, there, Merrythought!
send for Mrs. Christmas, my house-keeper. The child may be
frightened at our grim faces. But what a pretty little dear it is!"
said Claus, in the kindest tones, putting out his big fat hand to
caress her. To Boreas's surprise Flax-Flower did not shrink from
his salute, but with a bright smile
the old man's arms and kissed him.
Turning away with a pang of jealousy, Boreas muttered, "She
wouldn't kiss me; but no matter. That settles it. She's in
the right place, and I'll leave her. Farewell, Claus; I'm off. No,
no; I've no time for eating and drinking. Frozen Nose will be
thundering at my absence already. There's a storm brewing even now;
I feel it in my bones." So saying, he tramped noisily out of the
apartment, nearly knocking over a fleshy dame in ruffled cap and
whitest apron, whose rosy cheeks were like winter apples, and who
bore in her hands a huge mince-pie in which was stuck a sprig of
"Come mother, cease thy spinning, and look at the lovely tree
that Olaf has brought thee; it stands as straight as himself in the
best room. Surely thou wilt deck it to please him."
"Ah, Fritz! how can I?" said the forester's wife, rising from
her wheel, with a sad but sweet smile, in obedience to her husbands
is surely no reason for longer indulging thy grief. Our child is
too happy in heaven to wish her return to earth, and whatever the
good God sends of pleasure or innocent mirth we should take with
thankfulness. Look at the tree; it is the very image of Olaf's own
strong youth. Make it pretty to-night, and he will be glad. A good
friend is he for two lonely beings like us to possess."
"You are right, Fritz," said the wife, wiping a tear from her
eyes. "For Olaf's sake I will dress the tree and bake a cake." So
saying, she tidied up her best parlor, and took from a brass-bound
chest the gay ribbons and trinkets which had not been used since
the Christmas eve her little one last spent on earth.
Very lonely and sad would these two people have been but for
Olaf, the son of their nearest neighbor. It was he whose clear
ringing voice might be heard in the forest when returning from his
work, and Fritz said that it made labor light but to hear him. It
was he, too, who, when Fritz had been lamed by the fall of a tree,
had borne him home on his strong young shoulders; so it was no
wonder that the good wife was grateful to him. Often at evening he
made their fireside bright with his songs and merry stories,
and now it was but just that they should shake off their sorrow for
his sake; so the good wife drew out her spotless board, and kneaded
spice-cakes, and spread her best damask, and set out the fine
"Ah, if I had my little one!" murmured the good woman. "but God
knows best," she quickly added, as she remembered many
"Here comes Olaf!" shouted Fritz from below. "Come quickly, lest
he think thee tardy."
"Yes, yes, I come. I see him," was her reply. "but what is that
he carries—something he has picked up on the way?"
"A Christmas gift for thee," was the merry answer from Olaf's
ringing voice, as he laid a strange bundle in her arms.
Little Flax-Flower had been with St. Nicholas a whole long week.
In that time she had been in every nook and corner of his dwelling.
She had seen all his elves and dwarfs
manufacturing every known toy to be found in the world. She had
watched the dolls' dress-makers; she had ridden the toy horses; she
had blown the brass bugles and beaten the drums until Mrs.
Christmas had to put cotton in her ears.
Now all this was very delightful, and made Santa Claus laugh
long and loud. He would not have cared if she had brought the house
down on his ears, so long as she had a bright smile and a kiss for
him. But when Boreas Bluster stopped to see how his young ward was
getting on, he shook his head gravely and told Mrs. Christmas he
feared she was spoiling Flax-Flower. But Mrs. Christmas laughed
just in the same manner that Santa Claus had done, and declared
that the child must have all she wanted.
Unfortunately, Flax-Flower went into the kitchen one day, and
finding all the cooks busily making sugar-plums, helped herself so
largely to taffy that she was made very ill; she ate, besides,
quite a menagerie of lemon-candy elephants, camels, and kangaroos,
which disagreed with themselves and with her; so that her head
ached, and she had to be put to bed, with a hot-water bottle and a
mustard draught for companions. This
as Boreas had stopped in to inquire about his pet, and he shook his
head gravely when Mrs. Christmas related the incident. But Santa
Claus only laughed till the air seemed full of merriment.
"Ah, my dear Claus, I see you have too easy and gentle a nature
to deal with wilful little mortals in an every-day way; besides,
you have to think of so many that it unfits you for the care of a
single one," said Boreas, in his least gruff manner. "I shall have
to find another home for Flax-Flower."
"Well," replied St. Nicholas, "I confess I can refuse nothing to
a good child. Children to me are all like so many empty
stockings—made to be filled. But I have had some doubts about
keeping Flax-Flower. Mrs. Christmas and I are afraid it will make
the others jealous; it is that, and not the stuffing down
lollipops, that makes me think you are right. Now her feast-day
comes soon—I mean Mrs. Christmas's day," said Santa Claus,
with a nod—"And if you will just give my sleigh a lift, I
think I can tuck in Flaxie and carry her to some people I
know—some people who will appreciate her and be kind to her;
yes, and even cross in a wholesome way, seeing that's what you approve
Here Santa pretended to be very gruff himself, but Boreas saw
through it. He knew that St. Nicholas, on the whole, believed that
Flaxie would be better off without so much amusement and without so
many temptations to do nothing but play all day long, and this was
the way the matter ended.
Just before Christmas day Santa Claus's sleigh was brought out
into the beautiful court I have described; eight lively young
reindeer were harnessed to it, and thousands of toys were packed in
it; furs were wrapped around Flaxie, who was now quite well, and
Mrs. Christmas herself made up a box of delicacies for her to eat
on the way.
"Think of us often, dear child," she whispered, "And give my
love to everybody."
Then the dwarfs gave the sleigh a push from behind, the bells of
the harness rang out a merry peal, the reindeer pranced, Santa
Claus snapped his whip, and away they flew, with Boreas behind them
on his snow-shoes.
"Now, Flaxie," said Santa Claus, after they had skimmed over the
snow with lightning speed for hours, "before you go to sleep, as I see you
are doing, I want to speak to you. I want you always to remember
this visit to my house with pleasure, and tell all the children you
may meet how much I love them, how much it pleases me to know that
they are good, and how it really distresses me when they are not;
tell them, too, that as long as Mrs. Christmas lives we will do all
we can for their happiness, and all we ask in return is a grateful
spirit. Do you think you can remember all this? Well, as you say
you can, tell them also to hang up an extra stocking, whenever
there is room by the chimney, for some little waif that hasn't a
stocking to hang up for himself. Now go to sleep as soon as you
please, and may your dreams be sweet!"
Cuddled down in the comfortable furs, Flaxie knew nothing more
till she found herself awake and in the arms of a tall young fellow
whose name was Olaf, and who carried her into the brightest, nicest
little parlor, and set her down in front of a fine Christmas-tree,
"There, Mistress Kindheart, see what Christmas has brought you.
I found her in the forest, and a great bearded giant told me to
bring her to you."
it is my little Lena come back, I do believe!" cried the woman,
while tears of joy ran down her face.
"Nay, mother, nay," said her husband; "but she shall take our
lost one's place. Come, little one, tell us who thou art and from
whence thou art come."
Then Flaxie told the story of her visit to St. Nicholas, while
Olaf, Fritz, and his wife listened in amazement.
Much as Flax-Flower had enjoyed all she had seen and done, it
was delightful to be again with people of her own flesh and blood,
and learn to say the sweet word "Mother."
That Christmas was a merry one, but no merrier than the many
which came after, for Flax-Flower became a dutiful daughter to the
kind people who gave her a home. She and Olaf were like sister and
brother to each other, and they were known throughout all the
country-side for their kindness to the poor and unfortunate,
especially at Christmas-time.
Frozen Nose still reigns in his palace on the Polar Sea, and it
is mainly owing to him and his wicked son Chilblain that nothing
more is known of that still unexplored region; but
Bluster spends much of his time with good St. Nicholas and Mrs.
Christmas. He tires of the severity of his life, and likes a snug
corner where he can relate the story of his finding Flax-Flower,
whom he still loves very tenderly. Often on an evening he ventures
down to take a peep at her in her happy home, and little does she
suspect that the cooling breeze at the close of a warm day is
Boreas's gift of thoughtful kindness.