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Good Words 1860
A Winter's Tale

It was in January 1841, and in the ancient city of Antwerp. The beautiful streets were almost deserted, the cold was so intense; but my story leads me into a dark and narrow lane, and a poor room, in which it was as cold as out of doors. In this wretched abode, a thinly-clad young woman sat weeping by the bedside of a child, which looked as if it was soon to be laid in a bed where cold and hunger are felt no more. Hear the stove, in which, however, no wood was burning, stood a little boy of about six years, asking for bread. His mother gave no reply, but, after a while, the request was repeated —"Do, mother, give me something, if it be ever so little; I cannot endure the hunger." And the mother gave him a small piece of bread, and said—"I wanted it for your little sister; but I fear she will not require it any more." Little Hansel seized it eagerly, but returned half of it for the sick child. Soon afterwards, the father of the family entered, deep sorrow and disappointment on his wan countenance. "We are very unhappy, Theresa," said he to his wife; "I have stood the whole day at the train with my wheelbarrow, and have not earned a farthing." Little Hansel asked—"Have you brought me nothing to eat?" But the father's face was so stern, that the child was afraid, and said—"I won't ask again." When the father looked at the sick child, his soul was overwhelmed with distress and anguish. "Nothing remains for me," he exclaimed, at last, "but to sell my wheelbarrow."

It is the custom in Antwerp, that every Friday a kind of auction is held in the market-place, to which people bring whatever they have to sell. The poor man brought his wheelbarrow, and waited till his turn came. How, it so happened, that two rich young ladies were just then passing that way, and, being struck with the sad expression of the man's countenance, stood beside him, and heard him telling his story to a neighbour. After consulting with each other they bought the wheelbarrow for twenty-seven francs, to the great astonishment and amusement of the bystanders. They paid immediately, and asked him to take it home for them. He requested them to allow him to go first to his house, and after hearing where it was, they said that they could go that way. On their road there they bought potatoes, bread, rice, and wood. It was all put on the wheelbarrow, and soon they were before the poor man's door. They followed him into his room, and what a scene presented itself to their view! The woman lay fainting on the floor, and the little boy was crying bitterly. Wine was soon procured, a fire lit, and little Hansel's hunger appeased. They now told the poor man, that the wheelbarrow and all its contents were his, and that they would in future help him and give him employment. After having promised to send a doctor to see the child, they took their leave. The poor parents could scarcely believe in their deliverance; they were unable to utter a single word of gratitude,—and the ladies also were silent for a long time on their way home. At last one of them said—"There can be no greater blessedness on earth, than to be sent by God to relieve the poor in their distress." From that time they devoted themselves to the poor, visiting from house to house in the most destitute streets, and bringing help and consolation to the needy.

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