Stories of the Pilgrims - M. B. Pumphrey

The Christmas Candle

In the little village of Swansea, lived a widow with her two children, Mary and Benjamin. The mother was a very good woman, always ready to nurse the sick, food the hungry, or do anything she could to help those who needed her.

Indians lived in the forest about Swansea, and this good woman was always kind to them. When they were ill she went to see them, and made them broth, and gave them medicine. She tried to teach them about God.

Many of them came to her house, and she read the Bible to them. Nearly all of the Indians loved her and would do anything for her.

Among the Indians who came to this house was one named Warmsly. He was very fond of cider and would ask for it at every house.

When cider has stood for some time, we say it becomes "hard." Hard cider is not fit to drink. It is only fit to make vinegar. Warmsly liked the hard cider best.

One day he came to the house and asked Mary for hard cider.

"I cannot give it to you," she said. "It makes you drunk."

Then Warmsly grew angry and said, "You get cider, quick."

Mary called her mother, who said, "No, Warmsly, cider is wrong."

Then the Indian pretended to be sick and said he needed it for medicine.

"No, you can never get cider here," said Mary's mother again.

Oh, how angry Warmsly was then! His wicked eyes flashed as he said, "You be sorry! Me pay you. Big fight soon! Indians kill all English. Me pay you! Ugh!"

Sure enough, the "big fight" came sooner than any one thought. The very next Sunday, as they were coming home from church, the Indians fell upon the people, killing many and burning their homes. This, you remember, was the beginning of King Philip's War.

But the Indians remembered the kind woman who had been their friend. They did not harm her family or her home.

But she did not forget the angry words of Warmsly. "I know quite well the other Indians will not harm us, but I am afraid of Warmsly," she would say. For a long time after this she would not allow Mary or Benjamin to go away from the house alone.

The summer passed and Warmsly did not come. At last Philip was dead and the dreadful war was ended. Autumn came, and with it, peace and thanksgiving.

"I think Warmsly must have been killed in the war," said the mother, at last.

One day, early in November, she began to make her winter's supply of candles. She hung two great kettles of tallow over the fire to melt.

"I think we will make a Christmas candle such as we used to have in England when I was a little girl," she told the children.

Mary clapped her hands in delight, for she had never had a real Christmas.

There were no stockings hung up on Christmas eve in the old Puritan homes. No Christmas trees sparkled with lighted candles and bowed under their load of toys and pretty gifts. There was no Santa Claus, and no gay holiday for the Puritan fathers and mothers thought such things were foolish and wicked.

"I think there can be no harm in a Christmas candle," thought Benjamin's mother, as she sent him to find a goose quill.

When he came back, she showed him how to put a little powder into it. Very carefully the quill of powder was tied to a wick which hung over a small stick.

Then Mary and Benjamin held the stick and let the wick down into the melted tallow. When they drew it up, it was covered with the tallow. This soon grew hard, and they dipped it again. Now they could hardly see the quill or the wick because of the thick white coat of tallow around them. The candle grew thicker each time it was dipped, and at last it was done.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"The candle grew thicker each time
it was dipped"

"Now you must not put it where it is too cold or it will crack," said their mother. So they put it up on the kitchen shelf where they could look at it.

"Oh, it is more than a month until Christmas," said the mother. "The candle will grow yellow and ugly if you leave it there."

So it was carefully wrapped in paper and put away in a box; but every few days the children would get it out and look at it. They would gently rub its smooth sides and wonder just where that quill of powder was hidden.

Would Christmas never come? Weeks before, they had invited every child in the school to a Christmas party, but since there were only ten pupils, it did not make a very large party after all.

Benjamin hunted for the rosiest apples and the sweetest nuts, and put them away for the candle party. From the beams above the fireplace hung many ears of pop corn, dry and shining.

At last Christmas day came. But no one thought of staying home from school or work because it was Christmas. So the children all went to school, and it was well they did, for the day would have seemed endless to them. The party was to be in the evening, as of course the candle must not be lighted until dark.

But "dark" comes very early at Christmas time, and as soon as the little folks were made clean and ready after school, it was time to go to the party.

In the big kitchen a fire burned merrily in the fireplace. How the flames snapped and crackled as they leaped up the great chimney!

Benjamin passed the rosy-cheeked apples, and the children put them in a row on the hearth to roast. On the bricks near the fire they placed a pile of chestnuts and covered them with hot ashes.

The powder candle was lighted and placed upon the table, and all the other candles were snuffed out.

By and by the chestnuts on the hearth began to burst their shells and pop out. At each loud pop the children would jump and look at the candle.

"When that candle goes off, you will not think it a chestnut," laughed Benjamin. "It will make a noise like a gun."

Then the story-telling began. The children did not have story books in those days. All the stories they knew were those told them by parents and friends. These were usually true stories of the wild life of those early times.

"What a fuss Tige is making!" said Mary. "What do you suppose he is barking and growling at?"

"I hear voices outside," answered her mother. "Very likely some of the parents have come for their children. I will go out and quiet Tige, and tell them he is tied."

When she stepped to the door she could hear voices near the old cider press. Surely those tall, dark figures were not those of her neighbors. When her eyes had grown more used to the darkness, she could see plainly the forms of three Indians, who now came toward the house.

She hurried into the house and locked the door. She had hardly reached the room where the children were when, with a loud crash, the Indians broke open the door and came in. Great was her terror when she saw that their leader was Warmsly. "Cider, now!" said Warmsly, as he sat down near the table.

What could the woman do? She must not give him the cider. There is nothing more terrible than a drunken Indian. "It must be getting late," she thought, "and the men will soon come for their children. If I can only get Warmsly's mind off the cider until then!"

She passed the Indians apples, and nuts, cold meat, and bread, and they ate greedily. But they did not forget the cider. "White squaw get cider, quick," said Warmsly, shaking his big tomahawk with an ugly look.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"She passed the Indians apples"

"Oh, if the neighbors would only come now!" thought the mother, as she went slowly to the cupboard. She took down a large brown pitcher and set it on the table. Then she slowly walked back to the cupboard and took down her pewter mugs, one at a time.

The Indians watched her with eager eyes. "White squaw get cider, quick," repeated Warmsly, looking uglier than ever.

But the words were hardly out of his mouth when there was a great flash of light. Puff! bang! went the candle with a noise like the firing of a cannon. Benjamin had put too much powder in the quill. There was a loud rattling of dishes and windows. The children screamed in terror. Even the fire was much scattered and dimmed with a shower of ashes. Then all was strangely still. The rank powder smoke filled the room and everything was hidden in thick darkness.

When the smoke cleared away, the reviving light of the fire showed the hatchets of the Indians on the floor, and the kitchen door wide open. Not a savage was to be seen. No doubt they thought the white men were upon them, so they made their way back to the forest as fast as possible.

That was the last the colonists ever saw of Warmsly.

The neighbors had heard the noise of the candle, and now came to take their children home from the party. How astonished they were to hear the story of the Indians! "God has been very good to us in saving thee and our children from the savages," they said.

Each year after that a Christmas candle was burned in many homes, and the story of how one saved the children of Swansea never grew old. When the children who were at that party grew to be men and women, they told it to their children and grandchildren. And the grandchildren have passed the story down to us.