Christmas Outside of Eden
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by Conningsby Dawson
Category: Classic Literature/Young Adult
Description: A Classic Christmas Tale based on the premise that Christmas was Christmas, even before the birth of Christ.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2006 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [48 KB]
Reading time: 29-41 min.
This is the story the robins tell as they huddle beneath the holly on the Eve of Christmas. They have told it every Christmas Eve since the world started. They commenced telling it long before Christ was born, for their memory goes further back than men's. The Christmas which they celebrate began just outside of Eden, within sight of its gold-locked doors.
The robins have only two stories: one for Christmas and one for Easter. Their Easter story is quite different. It has to do with how they got the splash of red upon their breasts. It was when God's son was hanging on the cross.
They wanted to do something to spare him. They were too weak to pull out the nails from his feet and hands; so they tore their little breasts in plucking the thorns one by one from the crown that had been set upon his forehead. Since then God has allowed their breasts to remain red as a remembrance of His gratitude.
But their Christmas story happened long before, when they weren't robin red-breasts but only robins. It is a merry, tender sort of story. They twitter it in a chuckling fashion to their children. If you prefer to hear it firsthand, creep out to the nearest holly-bush on almost any Christmas Eve when snow has made the night all pale and shadowy. If the robins have chosen your holly-bush as their rendezvous and you understand their language, you won't need to read what I have written.
Like all true stories, it is much better told than read. It's the story of the first laugh that was ever heard in earth or heaven. To be enjoyed properly it needs the chuckling twitter of the grown-up robins and the squeaky interruptions of the baby birds asking questions. When they get terrifically excited, they jig up and down on the holly-branches and the frozen snow falls with a brittle clatter.
Then the mother and father birds say, "Hush!" quite suddenly. No one speaks for a full five seconds. They huddle closer, listening and holding their breath. That's how the story ought to be heard, after nightfall on Christmas Eve, when behind darkened windows little boys and girls have gone to bed early, having hung up their very biggest stockings.
Of course I can't tell it that way on paper, but I'll do my best to repeat the precise words in which the robins tell it. * * * *
It was very long ago at the beginning of all wonders. Sun, moon and stars were new; they wandered about in the clouds uncertainly, calling to one another like ships in a fog. It was the same on earth; neither trees, nor rivers, nor animals were quite sure why they had been created or what was expected of them. They were terribly afraid of doing wrong and they had good reason, for the Man and Woman had done wrong and had been locked out of Eden.
That had happened in April, when the world was three months old. Up to that time everything had gone very well. No one had known what fear was. No one had guessed that anything existed outside the walls of Eden or that there was such a thing as wrongdoing.
Animals, trees and rivers had lived together with the Man and the Woman in the high-walled garden as a happy family. If they had wanted to know anything, they had asked the Man; he had always given them answers, even though he had to invent them. They had never dreamt of doubting him--not even the Woman. The reason for this had been God.
Every afternoon God had come stepping down from the sky to walk with the Man through the sun-spangled shadows of the grassy paths. They had heard the kindly rumble of His voice like distant thunder and the little tones of the Man as he asked his questions. At six o'clock regularly God had shaken hands with the Man and climbed leisurely back up the sky-blue stairs that led to Heaven. Because of this the Man had gained a reputation among the animals for being wise. They had thought of him as God's friend. He had given orders to everybody; even to the Woman; and everyone had been proud to obey him.
It had been in April the great change had occurred. There had been all kinds of rumors. The first that had been suspected had been when God had failed to come for His customary walk; the next had been when He had arrived with His face hidden in anger.
The trees of Eden had bent and clashed as if a strong wind were blowing. Everything living that was not rooted, had run away to hide. Nevertheless, when God had called to the Man, they had tiptoed nearer to listen. The trouble had seemed to be about some fruit. God had told the Man that he must not pluck it; he had not only plucked it, but had eaten of it. So had the Woman. It had seemed a small matter to make such a fuss about. They had supposed that God's anger would soon blow over and that everything would be again as friendly as before. God had given the Man and Woman no time to pack. He had marched them beyond the walls and locked the golden gates of Eden against them forever.
And so everything might have been had it not been for the Man. Instead of saying he was sorry, he had started to argue and blame the Woman. At that God had refused to speak with him longer.
He had ordered the Man and Woman and all the animals to leave Eden immediately. He had given them no time to pack. Lining them up like soldiers, He had numbered them to make certain that none were missing and then, with the Man and Woman leading, had marched them beyond the walls and locked the golden gates of Eden against them forever.
Since then all had been privation and confusion. The animals, from regarding the Man as their lord, had grown to despise him. They had blamed him for their misfortunes. They had told him that it was his fault that they had lost their happiness and that God walked the earth no more. The woman had told him so most particularly. Of all the created world only the dog and the robin had remained faithful to him. The dog slept across his feet at night to keep them warm and the robin sang to him each dawn that he should not lose courage. * * * *
Through the world's first summer things had not been so bad, though of course the wilderness that grew outside of Eden was not so comfortable as the garden they had lost. In the garden no one had needed to work: food had grown on the trees to one's hand and, because it was so sheltered, the weather had been always pleasant. It hadn't been necessary to wear clothing; it hadn't been necessary to build houses, for it had never rained. Birds hadn't troubled to make nests, nor rabbits to dig warrens. Everybody had felt perfectly safe to sleep out-of-doors, wherever he happened to find himself, without a thought of protection.
Here in the wilderness it was different. There were no paths. The jungle grew up tall and threatening. Thorns leaned out to tear one's flesh. If it hadn't been for the elephant uprooting trees in his fits of temper, no one would have been able to travel anywhere. One by one the animals slunk away and began to lead their own lives independently, making lairs for themselves. Every day that went by they avoided the Man and Woman more and more.
At first they used to peep out of the thicket to jeer at their helplessness; soon they learned to disregard them as if they were not there. From having believed himself to be the wisest of living creatures the Man discovered himself to be the most incompetent. Often and often he would creep to the gold-locked gates and peer between the bars, hoping to see God walking there as formerly. But God walked no more. As He had climbed back into Heaven, He had destroyed the sky-blue stairs behind Him. There was no way in which the Man could reach Him to ask His advice or pardon.
But it was the Woman who caused the Man most unhappiness. It wasn't that she despised and blamed him. He'd grown used to that since leaving Eden. Everybody, except the dog and the robin, despised and blamed him.
The Woman caused him unhappiness because she was unwell--really unwell; not just an upset stomach or a headache. In Eden she had always been strong and beautiful, like sunlight leaping on the smooth, green lawn--so white and pink and darting. Her long gold hair had swayed about her like a flame; her white arms had parted it as though she were a swimmer. Her eyes had been shy and merry from dawn to dusk. She had been a darling; never a cross word had she spoken. The furry creatures of the woods had been her playmates and the birds had perched upon her shoulders to sing their finest songs.
Now she was wan and thin as a withered branch. Like the elephant uprooting trees, she often lost her temper. Sometimes she was sorry for her crossness; more often she wasn't. When the Man offered her things to eat, no matter what trouble he'd taken to get them, she'd say she wasn't hungry. And yet he loved her none the less for her perverseness. He was so afraid.... He couldn't have told you of what he was afraid, for nobody had had time to die in the world as yet.
He was filled with dread lest, like God, she might vanish and walk the earth no more. So he cudgelled his brains to find things to cure her. He invented wrong remedies, just as in Eden he had invented wrong answers to the animals' questions. He was never certain whether they would do her good or harm; but he always assured her gravely that, if she'd only try them, she'd feel instantly better. She never did; on the contrary she felt worse and worse. Perhaps the wilderness was the cause. Perhaps it was the forbidden fruit she had eaten. Perhaps it was a little of both, plus a touch of Eden-sickness. She had never known an hour's ill-health up to the moment when she had eaten the fruit and been turned out of the garden.
The poor Man was distracted. He didn't care what he did or whom he robbed, if only he might hear her singing again and see her once more smiling.
What he did wasn't tactful; it only made the animals hate him--all except the dog and the robin--and brought new dangers about his head. It was the month of October and nights were getting shivery. He had scraped together fallen leaves to make a bed for her and had woven a covering of withered grasses. In spite of this, from the setting of the sun till long after its rising, all through the dark hours her teeth chattered.
She cried continually; every time she cried, out in the jungle the hyena scoffed. The Man rarely got any rest until full day. All night he was rubbing her back, her feet and hands in an effort to make her warm. As a consequence he slept late and accomplished hardly any work. He didn't even have time to notice how all the animals were building houses. The Woman was so fretful that he never dared leave her for longer than an hour. The poor thing was forever complaining that God might have made her out of something better than a rib, if He was going to make her at all.
It was a colder night than usual, when the Woman was crying very bitterly and the hyena was doing more than his ordinary share of scoffing, that the idea occurred to the Man. The hyena was scoffing because he was comfortable; he was comfortable because of the heavy coat that he wore.
The Man determined to teach him a lesson by taking his coat from him. It was another remedy; he hoped that if he clothed the Woman with it, she might grow strong. Telling her that he wouldn't be gone for long, he padded stealthily away, followed by the dog, and faded out of sight among the shadows.
They found the hyena in an open space which the elephant had been clearing the day before. He was seated on his hind legs, gazing up at the moon with his fine warm coat all bristly, scoffing and scoffing. He was far too busy with his ill-natured merriment to hear them coming. In a flash the dog had him by the throat, holding him while the man robbed him of his clothing.
When they had stripped him of everything, even of his bushy tail, they let him go and he fled naked, howling the alarm through the forest. By the time they got back to the Woman all the underbrush was stirring. From every part of the wilderness, in twos and threes, the animals were coming together. The night was alive with their glowing eyes; the leaves trembled with their savage muttering.
"Be quick," whispered the Man. "Put this on."
She dried her tears as she felt the warmth of the fur. "It's comfy," she sobbed. "It fits exactly." And then, "Oh, Man, I'm frightened. What have you done? You gave me a present once before."
The Man was making a club out of a tree. As he stripped it of its branches, he answered boastfully, "It was I and the dog; we did it together. You were cold, so we stole the hyena's coat from him. All the animals are angry. They know that we shall do again what we have done once. They feel safe no longer. They say it must be stopped. They want to get back the hyena's coat from us."
"And they will, oh, my master," the dog interrupted, "unless we protect ourselves. Through the wilderness, not many miles from here, a limestone ridge rises above the forest. In the limestone ridge there is a cave. If we can win our way to it before our enemies come together, we can stand in the entrance and guard the Woman."
So the dog ran ahead growling with such fierceness that everything fled from his path. Behind him came the Man carrying the Woman very closely because he loved her, and trailing his tremendous club. By dawn, before their enemies could guess their purpose, they had gained the cave. By the time the animals had held their conference and decreed that the Man and the dog must be punished, they had escaped and were ready to defy all comers.