Choosing the Christmas Tree
Wednesday morning dawned bright and sparkling. During the night, drifts of white snow had piled high against the house and barn.
“We will have to wear leggings and overshoes when we go out today,” said Mother Hubbard to the boys and girls after breakfast, “for we are going to the woods beyond the hill to get the Christmas greens and the Christmas tree and the snow will be deep along the road.” Going to the pantry she returned with a basket which looked as if it might hold enough to feed George Washington’s army. “If I am not mistaken, we are going to have a jolly time, too,” she added.
Soon the merry, laughing crowd, led by Pom and followed by Mother Hubbard and little Miss Muffet were on their way to the woods.
Jack Horner and the other Jack, Jill’s brother, carried the basket of food between them. Boy Blue and Georgie Porgie wore hatchets in their belts, like regular woodsmen, and carried knapsacks filled with tin cups and plates and knives and forks and spoons. The Ten O’Clock Scholar, carrying a blanket over his shoulder, walked by himself. Mary and Jill had huge covered baskets in which to carry home the holly and greens. Little Bo-Peep carried a shining pot in which to boil water. Jumping Joan had a great big pair of rusty shears once used for shearing sheep.
At last they reached the woods. The branches of the fir trees were heavy with the soft white snow. They looked as if the fairies had been out early and hung them with thistle-down.
Mother Hubbard and the girls took a short breathing spell after the long climb up the hill. But the boys pitched in with a will, clearing the snow away from an open place among the trees, and breaking off boughs of sweet-smelling pine and fir to spread on the ground. Over this they laid the blanket on which to sit. Then they built a roaring fire which crackled and leaped up into the air.
The boys then climbed the tops of the pine trees and threw cones which were still on the branches. These they would use in the fire place Christmas eve to make a fine bright blaze. The girls built a tall snowman and when he was all finished he was a sight worth seeing, you may be sure.
“Now we will have our dinner, said Mother Hubbard. “Bring the big basket close to me, boys.”
Oh, how good the warm fire felt to the glowing cheeks and the tingling hands! How delicious were the round frankfurters roasted on sticks over the blaze until they sputtered and cracked open to show their rich brown insides! How good the golden brown beans, baked in Mother Hubbard’s own big crock and warmed again on two stones over the fire! And the slices of brown bread, spread thick with yellow butter and jam! The cups of cocoa from the steaming kettle hung on two forked sticks over the coals! And the little round cakes with citron which ended the meal.
Then Jack Horner and Pom started off by themselves for a little tramp through the woods, and Mother Hubbard and the rest of the children looked about for the tree for Christmas.
Jack Horner had no brothers nor sisters. He was used to playing alone or with his many pets. There was nothing he liked better than to take a walk through the woods or along a country road.
As he and Pom went on under the pine trees, they came to tracks in the snow which told Jack Horner that a heavy sled had been dragged into the woods not long before. A thin narrow mark at the side showed that the one who pulled the sled had walked with a cane and was, perhaps, lame. Jack, always eager for an adventure, followed the trail closely, and soon came upon a little old lady with a thin yellow shawl wrapped tightly around her. Her nose and chin were so bent and twisted that they nearly met over her mouth. She had stopped to pick up a few twigs and her poor back was bent quite double as she stooped.
“Oh, may I not help you?” asked Jack Horner, stepping forward quickly, his cap in hand.
“Thank you, thank you, dearie,” said the old lady in a queer, thin little voice. She straightened up as much as her poor twisted back would let her. Jack Horner saw her eyes for the first time and though they were faded and old, he could not help thinking what nice, kind eyes they were.
“It is pretty hard for an old woman to get about the woods with a sled,” she said, “but I do not mind when I have reached home again with my dog and my cat. They would like to come with me and help, no doubt, but the cat is deaf and the dog is blind. So, you see, it would be more trouble to bring them along. When the curtains are drawn and the twigs are burning brightly in the grate, we sit around just as cozy as can be.”
“That must be nice,” said Jack Horner, his eyes shining. “And now, let me fill your sled for you.” He piled on more branches and logs until the sled was filled to the top. The little old lady stood leaning on her cane while he worked. Jack laid some beautiful branches of holly over the logs for her Christmas holiday.
“You are a fine, brave boy,” said the old woman as Jack Horner helped her start home with her load. “Some day you will grow up to be a fine man. If you will come over to my house in the hollow beyond the turn in the road, I will give you a chestnut to roast in my fire.”
Jack promised to go and see the old woman before Mother Hubbard’s house party should be over.
“That must have been old Mistress McShuttle,” said Mother Hubbard when Jack Horner came back and told the party of his strange adventure. “You shall see her, all of you, and her house, and her dog, and her cat.”
“May we go tomorrow and take her something to make her Christmas happy?” asked Jack Horner who could not forget the poor thin shawl and the heavy sled of old Mistress McShuttle.
“Tomorrow it shall be, said Mother Hubbard, “but it is time for my little boys and girls to go home now.”
Before they started, the boys cut a little ring around the trunk of the big tree they had chosen for their Christmas tree. In this way the woodcutter could make no mistake when he came next day to chop it down.
The sun was sinking behind the hill when the gay party reached Mother Hubbard’s door with their load of greens for Christmas.
“Who would think a day could go so fast as this one?” asked the good old woman, shaking her head. “My, my, the Christmas party is almost half over!”