The Words of the Perrin Family
Hans stood shivering outside the church.
It was a cold winter afternoon, and snow had covered a little town like a blanket of dazzling white. As the town cathedral clock tolled five, a little boy dressed in ragged clothes stood shivering in the cathedral doorway. He looked up at the big tower and wondered what the bell must look like. But the bitter wind blew so cruelly through his rags that he shrank back into the doorway again, glad for any shelter from the biting cold.
At this moment the great doors of the cathedral were thrown open. The little boy, whose name was Hans, knew that men and women would now come to the church to pray. He had often peeped in through the doors, and had looked in wonder at the pretty candles, the beautiful figure of the mother of Jesus, and the white-robed priests kneeling at the altar.
The sounds of the organ and the voices of the choir had filled him with a great longing to learn more about it all. If only his clothes had been a little better, he would have dared to go in, as he had often see quite poor people do, but he was clothed in rags and did not even have a cap on his head or boots on his feet. She stood in a corner by the door and watched the people go in.
Many ladies had long fur coats, and nearly all the men had big, warm collars and mufflers. Hans wondered what it would be like to have thick clothes and not to feel cold or hungry. Poor boy, he could not imagine it, for his limbs ached with cold, and he had scarcely eaten for two days.
As he watched the crowd, a beautiful carriage came up. A little girl inside it looked at him, and then turned and spoke to a lady next to her. The lady handed her something from a basket, and then the coachman opened the door and they both stepped out on to the pavement.
The little girl offered the apple to Hans.
Oh, how beautiful they were, especially the little girl! Poor Hans opened his eyes in astonishment. He almost thought she must be a fairy! She had a coat of pretty white fur with a little cap and muff to match. Around her face fell golden curls, and on her feet she wore tiny white boots.
As the girl and the lady came up the steps, Hans saw that she was carrying a beautiful rosy apple. When they reached the top, he could hardly believe it when the little girl ran up to him and, holding out the apple to him, said, "Here, little boy, would you like this apple?" Before he had time to speak she ran after the lady and he was left standing with the apple in his hands!
He was so surprised that he jumped forward and gazed after the two as they went into the cathedral. He saw the little girl kneel down by the side of her mother as the priests began to pray.
He stood there a long time, watching them and longing with all his heart to go in and kneel with the others. It was very quiet at the back of the church, and Hans at last got enough courage to come just into the dimly-lit entrance. After a few moments, he could not resist his desire to go in any longer, and he suddenly ran forward and knelt down quickly against one of the chairs. He shut his eyes and kept quite still until at last he heard the organ begin to play. All the people had risen from their knees, and were standing up.
How he listened and watched as the service went on! As Hans heard the beautiful music, his heart felt as if it were growing bigger and bigger. He wanted to cry with happiness.
One of the priests began moving about the church with a golden plate in his hand and, as he held it before the people, they placed money on it. Poor Hans! How he longed to put money on the plate, too! An idea came to him -- why not give the rosy apple to the good God to whom the priests were praying?
Before his eyes, Hans' apple turned into pure gold.
His apple was all that he had in the world. It was his next meal, and the only thing which had brought him pleasure for a long time. It would be hard to let it go, but he was full of a great longing to give something. His fear was whether or not his offering was good enough.
He hugged it closely to his heart, and became more and more excited. As the priest came near, he rose from his chair and, with a frightened, happy sigh he placed his rosy apple on the big golden plate. He thought with delight how pretty and red it looked among all the coins, and he watched eagerly as the priest lifted the plate high and prayed that God would accept the gifts of His people.
Then a wonderful thing happened! The pretty rosy apple which a moment before had been held so tightly in Hans' little fingers was turned into pure, shining gold! Into the little boy's heart there swept a great joy that was never to leave it.
Hans' face had such a glad smile on it. Of all the gifts that were laid in the plate, the little rosy apple was the greatest in the sight of God.