THE QUEER LITTLE BAKER MAN *
ALL the children were glad when the Little Baker came to town and hung the sign above his queer little brown shop:
THANKSGIVING LOAVES TO SELL
Each child ran to tell the news to another child, until soon the streets echoed with the sound of many running feet, and the clear November air was full of the sound of happy laughter, as a crowd of little children thronged as near as they dared to the Little Baker's shop, while the boldest crept so close that they could feel the heat from the big brick oven, and see the gleaming rows of bakery pans.
The Little Baker said never a word. He washed his hands at the windmill water spout and dried them, waving them in the crisp air. Then he unfolded a long spotless table, and setting it up before his shop door, he began to mold the loaves, while the wondering children drew nearer and nearer to watch him.
He molded big long loaves, and tiny round loaves; wee loaves filled with currants, square loaves with queer markings on them; fat loaves and flat loaves and loaves in shapes such as the children had never seen before, and, always as he molded, he sang a soft tune to these words:
Buy my loaves of brown and white,
Molded for the child's delight.
Who forgets another's need
Eats unthankful and in greed;
But the child who breaks his bread
With another, Love has fed.
By and by the children began to whisper to each other.
"I shall buy that very biggest loaf," said the Biggest Boy. "Mother lets me buy what I wish. I shall eat it alone, which is fair if I pay for it."
"Oh," said the Tiniest Little Girl, "that would be greedy. You could never eat so big a loaf alone."
"If I pay for it, it is mine," said the Biggest Boy, boastfully, "and one need not share what is his own, unless he wishes."
"Oh," said the Tiniest Little Girl, but she said it more softly this time, and she drew away from the Biggest Boy and looked at him with eyes that had grown big and round.
"I have a penny," she said to the Little Lame Boy, "and you and I can have one of those wee loaves together. They have currants in them, so we shall not mind if the loaf is small.?)
"No, indeed," said the Little Lame Boy, whose face had grown wistful when the Biggest Boy talked of the great loaf. "No, indeed, but you shall take the bigger piece."
Then the Little Baker raked out the bright coals from the great oven into an iron basket and he put in the loaves, every one, while the children crowded closer, with eager faces.
When the last loaf was in, he shut the oven door with a clang so loud and merry that the children broke into a shout of laughter.
Then the Queer Little Baker came and stood in his tent door, and he was smiling; and he sang again a merry little tune to these words:
Clang! clang! my oven floor:
My loaves will bake us oft before;
And you may play where shines the sun
Until each loaf is brown and done.
Then away ran the children, laughing and looking back at the door of the shop where the Queer Little Baker stood and where the raked-out coals, bursting at times, cast long red lights against the brown walls; and as they ran they sang together the Queer Little Baker's merry song:
Clang! clang! my oven floor:
My loaves will bake as oft before.
Then some played at hide and seek among the sheaves of ungarnered corn, and some ran gleefully through the heaped-up leaves of russet and gold for joy to hear them rustling. But some, eager, returned home for pennies to buy a loaf when the Queer Little Baker should call.
So the hour passed, till, above the sound of the rustling corn, and the sounds of all other voices, the children heard the Little Baker's call:
The loaves are ready, white and brown,
For every little child in town.
Come buy Thanksgiving loaves and eat,
But only Love can make them sweet.
Soon all the air was filled with the sound of swift-running feet, as the children flew, like a cloud of leaves blown by the wind, in answer to the Queer Little Baker's call. When they came to his shop they paused, laughing and whispering, as the Little Baker laid out the loaves on the spotless table.
"This is mine," said the Biggest Boy, and laying down a silver coin he snatched the great loaf and ran away to break it by himself.
Then came the Impatient Boy, crying:
"Give me my loaf. This is mine, and give it to me at once. Do you not see my coin is silver? Do not keep me waiting."
The Little Baker said never a word. He did not smile, he did not frown, he did not hurry. He gave the Impatient Boy his loaf and watched him, as he, too, hurried away to eat his loaf alone.
Then came others crowding and pushing with their money, the strongest and rudest gaining first place; and snatching each a loaf, they ran off to eat without a word of thanks, while some very little children looked on wistfully, not able even to gain a place. All this time the Queer Little Baker kept steadily on, laying out the beautiful loaves on the spotless table.
A Gentle Lad came, when the crowd grew less and, giving all the pennies he had, he bought loaves for all the little ones; so that by and by no one was without a loaf. The Tiniest Little Girl went away hand in hand with the Little Lame Boy to share her wee loaf, and both were smiling; and whoever broke one of those smallest loaves found it larger than it had seemed at first.
But now the Biggest Boy was beginning to frown.
"This loaf is sour," he said angrily.
"But is it not your own loaf," said the Baker, "and did you not choose it yourself, and choose to eat it alone? Do not complain of the loaf since it is your own choosing."
Then those who had snatched the loaves ungratefully and hurried away, without waiting for a word of thanks, came back.
"We came for good bread," they cried, "but those loaves are sodden and heavy."
"See the lad there with all those children. His bread is light. Give us, too, light bread and sweet."
But the Baker smiled a strange smile.
"You chose in haste," he said, "as those choose who have no thought in sharing. I cannot change your loaves. I cannot choose for you. Had you, buying, forgotten that mine are Thanksgiving loaves? I shall come again; then you can buy more wisely."
Then these children went away thoughtful.
But the very little children and the Gentle Lad sat eating their bread with joyous laughter, and each tiny loaf was broken into many pieces as they shared with each other, and to them the bread was as fine as cake and as sweet as honey.
Then the Queer Little Baker brought cold water and put out the fire. He folded his spotless table and took down the boards of his little brown shop, and packed all into his wagon and drove away, singing a quaint tune. Soft winds rustled the corn and swept the boughs together with a musical chuckling. And where the brown leaves were piled thickest, making a little mound, sat the Tiniest Little Girl and the Little Lame Boy eating their sweet currant loaf happily together.