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    black and white woodcut image of flowers in grass

    The Legend of the Christmas Rose

    By Selma Lagerlöf

    December 11, 2020
    • sabbir gazi

      very helpful

    • Keith U. McCrary

      I am delighted to discover this fabulous tale readily available online. It is a wonderfilled story so appropriate for Advent time (four weeks before Christmas). The author, Selma Lagerlöf happens to be the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. As a Waldorf educator for nearly fifty years, I found it especially appropriate for children from age seven on.

    This story is from Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old. Get the book here.

    Robber Mother, who lived in Robbers’ Cave in Göinge Forest, went down to the village one day on a begging tour. Robber Father, who was an outlawed man, did not dare to leave the forest, but had to content himself with lying in wait for the wayfarers who ventured within its borders. But at that time travelers were not very plentiful in Southern Skåne. If it so happened that the man had had a few weeks of ill luck with his hunt, his wife would take to the road. She took with her five youngsters, and each youngster wore a ragged leathern suit and birch-bark shoes and bore a sack on his back as long as himself. When Robber Mother stepped inside the door of a cabin, no one dared refuse to give her whatever she demanded; for she was not above coming back the following night and setting fire to the house if she had not been well received. Robber Mother and her brood were worse than a pack of wolves, and many a man felt like running a spear through them; but it was never done, because they all knew that the man stayed up in the forest, and he would have known how to wreak vengeance if anything had happened to the children or the old woman.

    Now that Robber Mother went from house to house and begged, she came one day to Övid, which at that time was a cloister. She rang the bell of the cloister gate and asked for food. The watchman let down a small wicket in the gate and handed her six round bread cakes – one for herself and one for each of the five children.

    While the mother was standing quietly at the gate, her youngsters were running about. And now one of them came and pulled at her skirt, as a signal that he had discovered something which she ought to come and see, and Robber Mother followed him promptly.

    The entire cloister was surrounded by a high and strong wall, but the youngster had managed to find a little back gate which stood ajar. When Robber Mother got there, she pushed the gate open and walked inside without asking leave, as it was her custom to do.

    Övid Cloister was managed at that time by Abbot Hans, who knew all about herbs. Just within the cloister wall he had planted a little herb garden, and it was into this that the old woman had forced her way.

    At first glance Robber Mother was so astonished that she paused at the gate. It was high summertide, and Abbot Hans’s garden was so full of flowers that the eyes were fairly dazzled by the blues, reds, and yellows, as one looked into it. But presently an indulgent smile spread over her features, and she started to walk up a narrow path that lay between many flower-beds.

    In the garden a lay brother walked about, pulling up weeds. It was he who had left the door in the wall open, that he might throw the weeds and tares on the rubbish heap outside.

    When he saw Robber Mother coming in, with all five youngsters in tow, he ran toward her at once and ordered them away. But the beggar woman walked right on as before. She cast her eyes up and down, looking now at the stiff white lilies which spread near the ground, then on the ivy climbing high upon the cloister wall, and took no notice whatever of the lay brother.

    He thought she had not understood him, and wanted to take her by the arm and turn her toward the gate. But when the robber woman saw his purpose, she gave him a look that sent him reeling backward. She had been walking with back bent under her beggar’s pack, but now she straightened herself to her full height. “I am Robber Mother from Göinge Forest; so touch me if you dare!” And it was obvious that she was as certain she would be left in peace as if she had announced that she was the Queen of Denmark.

    And yet the lay brother dared to oppose her, although now, when he knew who she was, he spoke reasonably to her, “You must know, Robber Mother, that this is a monks’ cloister, and no woman in the land is allowed within these walls. If you do not go away, the monks will be angry with me because I forgot to close the gate, and perhaps they will drive me away from the cloister and the herb garden.”

    But such prayers were wasted on Robber Mother. She walked straight ahead among the little flower-beds and looked at the hyssop with its magenta blossoms, and at the honeysuckles, which were full of deep orange-colored flower clusters.

    Then the lay brother knew of no other remedy than to run into the cloister and call for help.

    He returned with two stalwart monks, and Robber Mother saw that now it meant business! With feet firmly planted she stood in the path and began shrieking in strident tones all the awful vengeance she would wreak on the cloister if she couldn’t remain in the herb garden as long as she wished. But the monks did not see why they need fear her and thought only of driving her out. Then Robber Mother let out a perfect volley of shrieks, and, throwing herself upon the monks, clawed and bit at them; so did all the youngsters. The men soon learned that she could overpower them, and all they could do was to go back into the cloister for reinforcements.

    As they ran through the passageway which led to the cloister, they met Abbot Hans, who came rushing out to learn what all this noise was about. Then they had to confess that Robber Mother from Göinge Forest had come into the cloister and that they were unable to drive her out and must call for assistance.

    But Abbot Hans upbraided them for using force and forbade their calling for help. He sent both monks back to their work, and although he was an old and fragile man, he took with him only the lay brother.

    When Abbot Hans came out in the garden, Robber Moth­er was still wandering among the flower-beds. He regarded her with astonishment. He was certain that Robber Moth­er had never before seen an herb garden; yet she sauntered leisurely between all the small patches, each of which had been planted with its own species of rare flower, and looked at them as if they were old acquaintances. At some she smiled, at others she shook her head.

    Abbot Hans loved his herb garden as much as it was possible for him to love anything earthly and perishable. Wild and terrible as the old woman looked, he couldn’t help liking that she had fought with three monks for the privilege of viewing the garden in peace. He came up to her and asked in a mild tone if the garden pleased her.

    Robber Mother turned defiantly toward Abbot Hans, for she expected only to be trapped and overpowered. But when she noticed his white hair and bent form, she answered peaceably, “First, when I saw this, I thought I had never seen a prettier garden; but now I see that it can’t be compared with one I know of.”

    a black and white woodcut of a small bird

    Abbot Hans had certainly expected a different answer. When he heard that Robber Mother had seen a garden more beautiful than his, a faint flush spread over his withered cheek. The lay brother, who was standing close by, immediately began to censure the old woman. “This is Abbot Hans,” said he, “who with much care and diligence has gathered the flowers from far and near for his herb garden. We all know that there is not a more beautiful garden to be found in all Skåne, and it is not befitting that you, who live in the wild forest all the year around, should find fault with his work.”

    “I don’t wish to make myself the judge of either him or you,” said Robber Mother. “I’m only saying that if you could see the garden of which I am thinking you would uproot all the flowers planted here and cast them away like weeds.”

    But the Abbot’s assistant was hardly less proud of the flowers than the Abbot himself, and after hearing her remarks he laughed derisively. “I can understand that you only talk like this to tease us. It must be a pretty garden that you have made for yourself amongst the pines in Göinge Forest! I’d be willing to wager my soul’s salvation that you have never before been within the walls of an herb garden.”

    Robber Mother grew crimson with rage to think that her word was doubted, and she cried out: “It may be true that until today I had never been within the walls of an herb garden; but you monks, who are holy men, certainly must know that on every Christmas Eve the great Göinge Forest is transformed into a beautiful garden, to commemorate the hour of our Lord’s birth. We who live in the forest have seen this happen every year. And in that garden I have seen flowers so lovely that I dared not lift my hand to pluck them.”

    The lay brother wanted to continue the argument, but Abbot Hans gave him a sign to be silent. For, ever since his childhood, Abbot Hans had heard it said that on every Christmas Eve the forest was dressed in holiday glory. He had often longed to see it, but he had never had the good fortune. Eagerly he begged and implored Robber Mother that he might come up to the Robbers’ Cave on Christmas Eve. If she would only send one of her children to show him the way, he could ride up there alone, and he would never betray them – on the contrary, he would reward them, in so far as it lay in his power.

    Robber Mother said no at first, for she was thinking of Robber Father and of the peril which might befall him should she permit Abbot Hans to ride up to their cave. At the same time the desire to prove to the monk that the garden which she knew was more beautiful than his got the better of her, and she gave in. “But more than one follower you cannot take with you,” said she, “and you are not to waylay us or trap us, as sure as you are a holy man.”

    This Abbot Hans promised, and then Robber Mother went her way. Abbot Hans commanded the lay brother not to reveal to a soul that which had been agreed upon. He feared that the monks, should they learn of his purpose, would not allow a man of his years to go up to the Robbers’ Cave.

    Nor did he himself intend to reveal his project to a human being. And then it happened that Archbishop Absalon from Lund came to Övid and remained through the night. When Abbot Hans was showing him the herb garden, he got to thinking of Robber Mother’s visit, and the lay brother, who was at work in the garden, heard Abbot Hans telling the Bishop about Robber Father, who these many years had lived as an outlaw in the forest, and asking him for a letter of ransom for the man, that he might lead an honest life among respectable folk. “As things are now,” said Abbot Hans, “his children are growing up into worse malefactors than himself, and you will soon have a whole gang of robbers to deal with up there in the forest.”

    But the Archbishop replied that he did not care to let the robber loose among honest folk in the villages. It would be best for all that he remain in the forest.

    Then Abbot Hans grew zealous and told the Bishop all about Göinge Forest, which, every year at Yuletide, clothed itself in summer bloom around the Robbers’ Cave. “If these bandits are not so bad but that God’s glories can be made manifest to them, surely we cannot be too wicked to experience the same blessing.”

    The Archbishop knew how to answer Abbot Hans. “This much I will promise you, Abbot Hans,” he said, smiling, “that any day you send me a blossom from the garden in Göinge Forest, I will give you letters of ransom for all the outlaws you may choose to plead for.”

    The lay brother apprehended that Bishop Absalon believed as little in this story of Robber Mother’s as he himself; but Abbot Hans perceived nothing of the sort, but thanked Absalon for his good promise and said that he would surely send him the flower.

    Abbot Hans had his way. And the following Christmas Eve he did not sit at home with his monks in Övid Cloister, but was on his way to Göinge Forest. One of Robber Mother’s wild youngsters ran ahead of him, and close behind him was the lay brother who had talked with Robber Mother in the herb garden.

    Abbot Hans had been longing to make this journey, and he was very happy now that it had come to pass. But it was a different matter with the lay brother who accompanied him. Abbot Hans was very dear to him, and he would not willingly have allowed another to attend him and watch over him; but he didn’t believe that he should see any Christmas Eve garden. He thought the whole thing a snare which Robber Mother had, with great cunning, laid for Abbot Hans, that he might fall into her husband’s clutches.

    While Abbot Hans was riding toward the forest, he saw that everywhere they were preparing to celebrate Christmas. In every peasant settlement fires were lighted in the bathhouse to warm it for the afternoon bathing. Great hunks of meat and bread were being carried from the larders into the cabins, and from the barns came the men with big sheaves of straw to be strewn over the floors.

    As he rode by the little country churches, he observed that each parson, with his sexton, was busily engaged in decorating his church; and when he came to the road which leads to Bösjo Cloister, he observed that all the poor of the parish were coming with armfuls of bread and long candles, which they had received at the cloister gate.

    When Abbot Hans saw all these Christmas preparations, his haste increased. He was thinking of the festivities that awaited him, which were greater than any the others would be privileged to enjoy.

    But the lay brother whined and fretted when he saw how they were preparing to celebrate Christmas in every humble cottage. He grew more and more anxious, and begged and implored Abbot Hans to turn back and not to throw himself deliberately into the robber’s hands.

    Abbot Hans went straight ahead, paying no heed to his lamentations. He left the plain behind him and came up into desolate and wild forest regions. Here the road was bad, almost like a stony and burr-strewn path, with neither bridge nor plank to help them over brooklet and rivulet. The farther they rode, the colder it grew, and after a while they came upon snow-covered ground.

    black and white woodcut of a flower in grass

    It turned out to be a long and hazardous ride through the forest. They climbed steep and slippery side paths, crawled over swamp and marsh, and pushed through windfall and bramble. Just as daylight was waning, the robber boy guided them across a forest meadow, skirted by tall, naked leaf trees and green fir trees. Back of the meadow loomed a mountain wall, and in this wall they saw a door of thick boards. Now Abbot Hans understood that they had arrived, and dismounted. The child opened the heavy door for him, and he looked into a poor mountain grotto, with bare stone walls. Robber Mother was seated before a log fire that burned in the middle of the floor. Alongside the walls were beds of virgin pine and moss, and on one of these beds lay Robber Father asleep.

    “Come in, you out there!” shouted Robber Mother without rising, “and fetch the horses in with you, so they won’t be destroyed by the night cold.”

    Abbot Hans walked boldly into the cave, and the lay brother followed. Here were wretchedness and poverty! and nothing was done to celebrate Christmas. Robber Mother had neither brewed nor baked; she had neither washed nor scoured. The youngsters were lying on the floor around a kettle, eating; but no better food was provided for them than a watery gruel.

    Robber Mother spoke in a tone as haughty and dictatorial as any well-to-do peasant woman. “Sit down by the fire and warm yourself, Abbot Hans,” said she, “and if you have food with you, eat, for the food which we in the forest prepare you wouldn’t care to taste. And if you are tired after the long journey, you can lie down on one of these beds to sleep. You needn’t be afraid of oversleeping, for I’m sitting here by the fire keeping watch. I shall awaken you in time to see that which you have come up here to see.”

    Abbot Hans obeyed Robber Mother and brought forth his food sack; but he was so fatigued after the journey he was hardly able to eat, and as soon as he could stretch himself on the bed, he fell asleep.

    The lay brother was also assigned a bed to rest upon, but he didn’t dare sleep, as he thought he had better keep his eye on Robber Father to prevent his getting up and capturing Abbot Hans. But gradually fatigue got the better of him, too, and he dropped into a doze.

    When he woke up, he saw that Abbot Hans had left his bed and was sitting by the fire talking with Robber Mother. The outlawed robber sat also by the fire. He was a tall, raw-boned man with a dull, sluggish appearance. His back was turned to Abbot Hans, as though he would have it appear that he was not listening to the conversation.

    Abbot Hans was telling Robber Mother all about the Christmas preparations he had seen on the journey, reminding her of Christmas feasts and games which she must have known in her youth, when she lived at peace with mankind. “I’m sorry for your children, who can never run on the village street in holiday dress or tumble in the Christmas straw,” said he.

    At first Robber Mother answered in short, gruff sentences, but by degrees she became more subdued and ­listened more intently. Suddenly Robber Father turned toward Abbot Hans and shook his clenched fist in his face. “You miserable monk! Did you come here to coax from me my wife and children? Don’t you know that I am an outlaw and may not leave the forest?”

    Abbot Hans looked him fearlessly in the eyes. “It is my purpose to get a letter of ransom for you from Archbishop Absalon,” said he. He had hardly finished speaking when the robber and his wife burst out laughing. They knew well enough the kind of mercy a forest robber could expect from Bishop Absalon!

    “Oh, if I get a letter of ransom from Absalon,” said Robber Father, “then I’ll promise you that never again will I steal so much as a goose.”

    The lay brother was annoyed with the robber folk for daring to laugh at Abbot Hans, but on his own account he was well pleased. He had seldom seen the Abbot sitting more peaceful and meek with his monks at Övid than he now sat with this wild robber folk.

    Suddenly Robber Mother rose. “You sit here and talk, Abbot Hans,” she said, “so that we are forgetting to look at the forest. Now I can hear, even in this cave, how the Christmas bells are ringing.”

    The words were barely uttered when they all sprang up and rushed out. But in the forest it was still dark night and bleak winter. The only thing they marked was a distant clang borne on a light south wind.

    “How can this bell ringing ever awaken the dead forest?” thought Abbot Hans. For now, as he stood out in the winter darkness, he thought it far more impossible that a summer garden could spring up here than it had seemed to him before.

    When the bells had been ringing a few moments, a sudden illumination penetrated the forest; the next moment it was dark again, and then the light came back. It pushed its way forward between the stark trees, like a shimmering mist. This much it effected: The darkness merged into a faint daybreak. Then Abbot Hans saw that the snow had vanished from the ground, as if someone had removed a carpet, and the earth began to take on a green covering. Then the ferns shot up their fronds, rolled like a bishop’s staff. The heather that grew on the stony hills and the bog-myrtle rooted in the ground moss dressed themselves quickly in new bloom. The moss-tufts thickened and raised themselves, and the spring blossoms shot upward their swelling buds, which already had a touch of color.

    a black and white woodcut of a small bird

    Abbot Hans’s heart beat fast as he marked the first signs of the forest’s awakening. “Old man that I am, shall I behold such a miracle?” thought he, and the tears wanted to spring to his eyes. Again it grew so hazy that he feared the darkness would once more cover the earth; but almost immediately there came a new wave of light. It brought with it the splash of rivulet and the rush of cataract. Then the leaves of the trees burst into bloom, as if a swarm of green butterflies came flying and clustered on the branches. It was not only trees and plants that awoke, but crossbeaks hopped from branch to branch, and the woodpeckers hammered on the limbs until the splinters fairly flew around them. A flock of starlings from up country lighted in a fir top to rest. They were paradise starlings. The tips of each tiny feather shone in brilliant reds, and, as the birds moved, they glittered like so many jewels.

    Again, all was dark for an instant, but soon there came a new light wave. A fresh, warm south wind blew and scattered over the forest meadow all the little seeds that had been brought from southern lands by birds and ships and winds, and which could not thrive elsewhere because of this country’s cruel cold. These took root and sprang up the instant they touched the ground.

    When the next warm wind came along, the blueberries and lingon ripened. Cranes and wild geese shrieked in the air, the bullfinches built nests, and the baby squirrels began playing on the branches of the trees.

    Everything came so fast now that Abbot Hans could not stop to reflect on how immeasurably great was the miracle that was taking place. He had time only to use his eyes and ears. The next light wave that came rushing in brought with it the scent of newly plowed acres, and far off in the distance the milkmaids were heard coaxing the cows – and the tinkle of the sheep’s bells. Pine and spruce trees were so thickly clothed with red cones that they shone like crimson mantles. The juniper berries changed color every second, and forest flowers covered the ground till it was all red, blue, and yellow.

    Abbot Hans bent down to the earth and broke off a wild strawberry blossom, and, as he straightened up, the berry ripened in his hand.

    The mother fox came out of her lair with a big litter of black-legged young. She went up to Robber Mother and scratched at her skirt, and Robber Mother bent down to her and praised her young. The horned owl, who had just begun his night chase, was astonished at the light and went back to his ravine to perch for the night. The male cuckoo crowed, and his mate stole up to the nests of the little birds with her egg in her mouth.

    Robber Mother’s youngsters let out perfect shrieks of delight. They stuffed themselves with wild strawberries that hung on the bushes, large as pinecones. One of them played with a litter of young hares; another ran a race with some young crows, which had hopped from their nest before they were really ready; a third caught up an adder from the ground and wound it around his neck and arm.

    Robber Father was standing out on a marsh eating raspberries. When he glanced up, a big black bear stood beside him. Robber Father broke off an osier twig and struck the bear on the nose. “Keep to your own ground, you!” he said; “this is my turf.” Then the huge bear turned around and lumbered off in another direction.

    New waves of warmth and light kept coming, and now they brought with them seeds from the starflower. Golden pollen from rye fields fairly flew in the air. Then came butterflies, so big that they looked like flying lilies. The beehive in a hollow oak was already so full of honey that it dripped down on the trunk of the tree. Then all the flowers whose seed had been brought from foreign lands began to blossom. The loveliest roses climbed up the mountain wall in a race with the blackberry vines, and from the forest meadow sprang flowers as large as human faces.

    Abbot Hans thought of the flower he was to pluck for Bishop Absalon; but each new flower that appeared was more beautiful than the others, and he wanted to choose the most beautiful of all.

    Wave upon wave kept coming until the air was so filled with light that it glittered. All the life and beauty and joy of summer smiled on Abbot Hans. He felt that earth could bring no greater happiness than that which welled up about him, and he said to himself, “I do not know what new beauties the next wave that comes can bring with it.”

    black and white woodcut of a flower in grass

    But the light kept streaming in, and now it seemed to Abbot Hans that it carried with it something from an infinite distance. He felt a celestial atmosphere enfolding him, and tremblingly he began to anticipate, now that earth’s joys had come, that the glories of heaven were approaching.

    Then Abbot Hans marked how all grew still; the birds hushed their songs, the flowers ceased growing, and the young foxes played no more. The glory now nearing was such that the heart wanted to stop beating; the eyes wept without one’s knowing it; the soul longed to soar away into the Eternal. From far in the distance faint harp tones were heard, and celestial song, like a soft murmur, reached him.

    Abbot Hans clasped his hands and dropped to his knees. His face was radiant with bliss. Never had he dreamed that even in this life it should be granted him to taste the joys of heaven, and to hear angels sing Christmas carols!

    But beside Abbot Hans stood the lay brother who had accompanied him. In his mind there were dark thoughts. “This cannot be a true miracle,” he thought, “since it is revealed to malefactors. This does not come from God, but has its origin in witchcraft and is sent hither by Satan. It is the Evil One’s power that is tempting us and compelling us to see that which has no real existence.”

    From afar were heard the sound of angel harps and the tones of a Miserere. But the lay brother thought it was the evil spirits of hell coming closer. “They would enchant and seduce us,” sighed he, “and we shall be sold into perdition.”

    The angel throng was so near now that Abbot Hans saw their bright forms through the forest branches. The lay brother saw them, too; but back of all this wondrous beauty he saw only some dread evil. For him it was the devil who performed these wonders on the anniversary of our Savior’s birth. It was done simply for the purpose of more effectually deluding poor human beings.

    All the while the birds had been circling around the head of Abbot Hans, and they let him take them in his hands. But all the animals were afraid of the lay brother; no bird perched on his shoulder, no snake played at his feet. Then there came a little forest dove. When she marked that the angels were nearing, she plucked up courage and flew down on the lay brother’s shoulder and laid her head against his cheek.

    Then it appeared to him as if sorcery were come right upon him, to tempt and corrupt him. He struck with his hand at the forest dove and cried in such a loud voice that it rang throughout the forest, “Go thou back to hell, whence thou art come!”

    Just then the angels were so near that Abbot Hans felt the feathery touch of their great wings, and he bowed down to earth in reverent greeting.

    But when the lay brother’s words sounded, their song was hushed and the holy guests turned in flight. At the same time the light and the mild warmth vanished in unspeakable terror for the darkness and cold in a human heart. Darkness sank over the earth, like a coverlet; frost came, all the growths shriveled up; the animals and birds hastened away; the rushing of streams was hushed; the leaves dropped from the trees, rustling like rain.

    Abbot Hans felt how his heart, which had but lately swelled with bliss, was now contracting with insufferable agony. “I can never outlive this,” thought he, “that the angels from heaven had been so close to me and were driven away; that they wanted to sing Christmas carols for me and were driven to flight.”

    Then he remembered the flower he had promised Bishop Absalon, and at the last moment he fumbled among the leaves and moss to try and find a blossom. But he sensed how the ground under his fingers froze and how the white snow came gliding over the ground. Then his heart caused him even greater anguish. He could not rise, but fell prostrate on the ground and lay there.

    When the robber folk and the lay brother had groped their way back to the cave, they missed Abbot Hans. They took brands with them and went out to search for him. They found him dead upon the coverlet of snow.

    Then the lay brother began weeping and lamenting, for he understood that it was he who had killed Abbot Hans because he had dashed from him the cup of happiness which he had been thirsting to drain to its last drop.

    When Abbot Hans had been carried down to Övid, those who took charge of the dead saw that he held his right hand locked tight around something which he must have grasped at the moment of death. When they finally got his hand opened, they found that the thing which he had held in such an iron grip was a pair of white root bulbs, which he had torn from among the moss and leaves.

    When the lay brother who had accompanied Abbot Hans saw the bulbs, he took them and planted them in Abbot Hans’s herb garden.

    He guarded them the whole year to see if any flower would spring from them. But in vain he waited through the spring, the summer, and the autumn. Finally, when winter had set in and all the leaves and the flowers were dead, he ceased caring for them.

    a black and white woodcut of a small bird

    But when Christmas Eve came again, he was so strongly reminded of Abbot Hans that he wandered out into the garden to think of him. And look! as he came to the spot where he had planted the bare root bulbs, he saw that from them had sprung flourishing green stalks, which bore beautiful flowers with silver white leaves.

    He called out all the monks at Övid, and when they saw that this plant bloomed on Christmas Eve, when all the other growths were as if dead, they understood that this flower had in truth been plucked by Abbot Hans from the Christmas garden in Göinge Forest. Then the lay brother asked the monks if he might take a few blossoms to Bishop Absalon.

    And when he appeared before Bishop Absalon, he gave him the flowers and said: “Abbot Hans sends you these. They are the flowers he promised to pick for you from the garden in Göinge Forest.”

    When Bishop Absalon beheld the flowers, which had sprung from the earth in darkest winter, and heard the words, he turned as pale as if he had met a ghost. He sat in silence a moment; thereupon he said, “Abbot Hans has faithfully kept his word and I shall also keep mine.” And he ordered that a letter of ransom be drawn up for the wild robber who was outlawed and had been forced to live in the forest ever since his youth.

    He handed the letter to the lay brother, who departed at once for the robbers’ cave. When he stepped in there on Christmas Day, the robber came toward him with axe uplifted. “I’d like to hack you monks into bits, as many as you are!” said he. “It must be your fault that Göinge Forest did not last night dress itself in Christmas bloom.”

    “The fault is mine alone,” said the lay brother, “and I will gladly die for it; but first I must deliver a message from Abbot Hans.” And he drew forth the Bishop’s letter and told the man that he was free. “Hereafter you and your children shall play in the Christmas straw and celebrate your Christmas among people, just as Abbot Hans wished to have it,” said he.

    Then Robber Father stood there pale and speechless, but Robber Mother said in his name, “Abbot Hans has indeed kept his word, and Robber Father will keep his.”

    When the robber and his wife left the cave, the lay brother moved in and lived all alone in the forest, in constant meditation and prayer that his hard-heartedness might be forgiven him.

    But Göinge Forest never again celebrated the hour of our Savior’s birth; and of all its glory, there lives today only the plant which Abbot Hans had plucked. It has been named the Christmas Rose. And each year at Christmastide she sends forth from the earth her green stalks and white blossoms, as if she never could forget that she had once grown in the great Christmas garden at Göinge Forest.

    From Home For Christmas: Stories for Young and Old.

    black and white woodcut of an old monk kneeling in flowers
    Contributed By SelmaLagerlof Selma Lagerlöf

    Selma Lagerlöf, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was a Swedish storyteller and novelist.

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