But the poor little lad was naturally so good that he loved his aunt even though she frightened him very much; for he could never see her without trembling with fear she would whip him.
As Fred's aunt was known through the village to have a house and an old stocking full of gold, she did not dare send her nephew to the school for the poor, but she obtained a reduced rate from the schoolmaster whose school little Fred attended. The teacher, vexed at having a scholar who dressed so badly and who paid so poorly, often blamed him unjustly, and even set his fellow pupils against him.
On Christmas Eve, the schoolmaster was to take all his pupils to midnight Mass and bring them back to their homes. As the winter was very severe that year, and as for several years a great quantity of snow had fallen, the children came to the teacher's house warmly wrapped and bundled up, with fur caps pulled gloves and mittens, and good thick-nail boots with strong soles. But only little Fred came shivering in the clothes that he wore week days and Sundays, and with nothing on his feet but course socks and heavy wooden shoes.
His thoughtless comrades made a thousand jests at his forlorn looks and his peasant's dress: but little Fred was so occupied in blowing on his fingers to keep them warm that he took no notice of the boys or of what they said.
Then the pupils, with the schoolmaster at their head, started for the church. As they went they talked of the fine suppers that were awaiting them at home.
The son of the mayor had seen, before he went out, a very large goose. At the house on one of the boys there was a little fir tree in a wooden box, from whose branches hung oranges, sweetmeats, and toys.
The children spoke, too, of what the Christ Child would bring them, and what He would put in their shoes, which they would, of course, be very careful to leave in the chimney before going to bed. And the eyes of those little boys, lively as a parcel of mice, sparkled in advance with the joy of seeing in fancy, pink paper bag's and cakes, lead soldiers, and jumping jacks, etc.
Little Fred knew very well by experience that his old aunt would sent him supperless to bed; but, knowing that all year he had been as good and careful as possible, he hoped that the Christ Child would not forget him; and he, too, looked eagerly forward to putting his wooden shoes in the ashes of the fireplace.
When the midnight Mass was ended, every one went away, anxious for his supper, and the band children, walking two by two after their teacher, left the church.
In the porch, sitting on a stone seat, a child was sleeping a child who was clad in a robe of white linen, and whose feet were bare, notwithstanding the cold. He was not a beggar, for his robe was new and fresh, and near him on the ground was seen a square, a hatchet, a pair of compasses, and other tools of a carpenter. Under the light of the stars, his face bore and expression of divine sweetness, and his long locks of golden hair seemed like a crown about his head. But the child's feet, blue in the cold of December night, were sad to see.
The children, so well clothed for winter, passed heedlessly by before the unknown child. One of them, a son of the principal man in the village, looked at the waif with an expression in which no pity could be seen.
But little Fred, coming last out of the church, stopped, full with compassion, before the sleeping child.
"Alas!" said the orphan to himself, "it is too bad this little one has to go barefooted in such cold weather. But what is worse that all, he has not even a boot or a wooden shoe to leave before him while he sleeps tonight, so that the Christ Child could put something there to comfort him in his misery."
And carried away by the goodness of his heart, little Fred took off the wooden shoe from his right foot, and laid it in front of the sleeping child. Then limping along on his poor blistered foot and dragging his sock through the snow, he went back to his aunt's house.
"Look at the worthless fellow!" cried his aunt, full of anger at his return without one of his shoes. "What have you done with your wooden shoe, little wretch?"
Little Fred did not know how to deceive, and although he was shaking with terror, he tried to stammer out some account of his adventure.
The old women burst into a frightful peal of laughter "Ah, my brave gentleman takes off his shoes for beggars! Ah, my brave little gentleman gives away his shoes to a barefooted child! This is something new! Ah, well, since it is so, I am going to put in the chimney the wooden shoe you have left, and I promise you the Christ Child will leave something there tonight, to whip you win in the morning.
And you shall have to pass tomorrow on dry bread and water. We will see if next time you give away your shoes to the first tramp that comes."
Then the aunt, after having given the boy a couple of slaps, made him climb up to his bed in the attic. Grieved to the heart, the child went to bed in the dark, and soon fell asleep, his pillow wet with tears.
The next morning, when the old women went down stairs--- O what a wonderful sight- she saw the great chimney full of beautiful things; and before all these splendid things the right shoe, that her nephew had given to the little waif, stood by the side of the left shoe, that she herself had put there that very night, and where she meant to put a birch rod.
As little Fred, running down to learn the meaning of his aunt's exclamations, stood in wonder before all these splendid gifts, suddenly there were loud cries and laughter out of doors. The old women and the little boy went out to know what it all meant, and saw the neighbors gathered around the public fountain. What had happened? Oh, something very amusing and strange! The children of all the rich people in the village, whose parents had wished to surprise them with the most beautiful gifts, had found only rods in there shoes.
Then the orphan and the old women, thinking of all the beautiful things that were in their chimney, were full of amazement. But presently they saw the priest coming towards them, with wonder in his face. In the church porch, where the child, clad in a white robe and with bare feet, had rested his sleeping head, the priest had just seen a circle of gold incrusted with precious stones.
Then the people understood that the beautiful child, near whom their were carpenter's tools, was the Christ Child in person. He had become for an hour such as He was when He worked in His parent's house. And all thanked God for the miracle that He had seen fit to work, to reward the faith and charity of a child.
Source; The Ideal Catholic Readers Fifth Reader- Imprimatur;1916