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Full text of "The hermit's Christmas"

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} THE 

I HERMIT'S CHRISTMAS 



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DAVID HE FOREST BURRELL 



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tihvavy of Che trheolo^icd ^tminavy 

PRINCETON • NEW JERSEY 



PRESENTED BY 

The Estate of 
Harold McAfee Robinson, D,D» 




Digitized by the Internet Arciiive 

in 2010 with funding from 

Princeton Theological Seminary Library 



http://www.archive.org/details/hermitschristmasOOburr 




THE 
HERMIT'S CHRISTMAS 



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tX^ THE ^^nrmi ^'& 

^ HERMIT'S CHRISTMAS 

y DAVID DE FOREST BURRELL 




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Copyright, 1912. by 
American Tract Society 







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THE 

HERMIT'S CHRISTMAS 



OX Christmas Day the solitude 
of the hermit Theodore was 
broken in upon. 

The hermit, a gaunt, austere 
figure of a man in a long robe of 
goat's hair, stood before the door 
of his cave upon the heights, look- 
ing out over the wooded slopes 
and the shining waters at their 
feet, when the first intruder made 
his appearance. The sunlight 
glanced from his armor where he 
came out from the forest shadows 
on a bare shoulder of the moun- 
tain far below. The gleam caught 
the hermit's eye, and, without 
moving, he watched while the man 
drew nearer. He climbed but 
slowly under the weight of his ar- 
mor. About his head a white 




The Hermit's Christmas 



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cloth was wrapped as security 
against the hot sun, while his hel- 
met was slung at his back. His 
. great sword he used for a staff. 

At length, stumbling over the 
last stone in utter weariness, he 
reached the hermit's side and 
threw himself upon the ground, 
calling hoarsely for water, in the 
name of all the saints. The her- 
mit brought it, a gourd full, which 
the Crusader drank dry in great 
gulps. He wiped his face, red 
and shining from the exertion of 
his climb. 

"God bless thee for that kindly 
draft, good father." 

"Nay, my son, 'tis but a small 
Christmas gift, since it cost me 
naught save a journey to the 
spring below." 

The knight started. 

"I had forgot! Christmas Day, 
in sooth! and what a place to 
keep it in!" 

"The place matters not, my son, 
so that thy heart be right for the 
feast." 




The Hermit's Christmas 



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The other's eyes twinkled for 
a moment. 

"And dost thou feast on Christ- 
mas Day, father? Methought 
dried peas and, perchance, a cut 
of goat's flesh would be dainties 
fitted to thy scruples." 

The hermit smiled. 

"Why, so they are; but truly 
the food matters little more than 
the place." 

Then the knight sighed loudly. 

"Ah, but I bethink me," he 
said, "of a great hall in Merry 
England, and the boar's head and 
the foaming ale and the songs 
and laughter! I would I were 
there, across yon blue sea!" 

The hermit smiled again. 

"Truly, Sir Knight, dried 
goat's flesh is not a boar's head, 
and this gourd I take from thee is 
not a horn of ale; but this is 
Christmas Day, and thou art wel- 
come." 

"And I will stay, good father, 
and dine wdth thee! but in truth 
I had meant so to do, an the her- 



The Hermit's Christinas 



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mit's face were not too long." He 
glanced up, sidelong, at the her- 
mit's solemn visage above him. 
"Yonder, on the road by the sea, 
lies my horse with a broken leg. 
God's mercy that he did not break 
my skull when he fell! I saw a 
path leading away through the 
forest toward the mountain, and 
as all paths on Athos do now but 
lead to hermits' caves, 'twas but a 
short moment before I turned my 
steps hitherward." 

There was a sound of feet 
clambering up the rocky way. A 
voice reached them, harsh and na- 
sal, uttering loud curses upon 
lands where Christian hospitality 
dwelt in caves on mountain-tops. 
Then an unkempt head came into 
view, followed by a body clothed 
in rags and patches. 

The hermit greeted the new- 
comer after the fashion of the 
East: "Peace to thee." 

The man paused to get his 
breath, and answered, "Thou art 
set on high indeed, holy father. 




The Hermit's Christmas 



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'Twere more friendly to set thy 
cave by the roadside below." 

"Make thy complaint to God 
who made the cave, thou unman- 
nerly rascal!" the knight inter- 
rupted, jumping to his feet. "By 
thy costume thou art a beggar. 
Go thou and beg of richer men." 

"Peace, peace!" said the her- 
mit. "All men are beggars at 
my door — and all are guests — and 
all are welcome." 

"Then thou shalt have a full 
table for thy Christmas dried 
peas, father, for yonder come 
more of thy guests." 

The hermit and the beggar 
looked down where he pointed. 
Up the steep path toiled four 
men, one after the other. The 
three above stood waiting their 
arrival. At length they came. 
The knight checked them off in 
an undertone as the hermit gave 
to each his kindly "Peace to 
thee!" 

"Thou art a merchant, and 
wealthy, by thy girth" — so ran 



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the commentary — "and thou — a 
thief, by thine eyes and thy near- 
ness to Sir Merchant. And thou 
— thou art I know not what, but 
thou hast broken heart written on 
thy face. And thou art a thinker, 
by thy broad brow and thy slen- 
der figure." 

One after another they returned 
the hermit's greeting, each after 
his kind. He whom the knight 
called merchant offered bluntly 
to pay for a good meal; the thief 
spoke with oily heartiness; the 
broken-hearted said never a word; 
and he of the broad brow and the 
uncalloused fingers responded 
with the courtesy of one at home 
in any place. 

"A fair Christmas Day, good 
sirs," quoth the hermit then; "and 
all I have for your Christmas 
feast! Come hither into the shade 
of the rock and sit ye down." 

And without further parley 
down they sat upon the brown 
earth, a strange company, while 
the hermit brought from his cave 



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The Hermit's Christmas 



a great dish of dried meat, and a 
bowl of parched peas, and lastly 
an earthen jar of water, cool and 
sparkling. The beggar made as 
if to put his hand to the dish of 
meat, when the hermit stayed him. 

"An it please you," he said 
gravely, "we will thank the Christ 
who was born this day." 

The beggar withdrew his hand. 
The fat merchant, who had 
thought to put forth his own, 
withheld it. With bowed head 
they waited until the brief prayer 
was done, then set to as hungry 
men, one and all. 

"Tough, but grateful to an 
em^Dt}^ stomach, is thy goat's 
meat," said the man of the broad 
brow. "But tell me. Father Her- 
mit, thou didst return thanks for 
dried meat and peas: dost in very 
truth regard this mean repast as 
a Christmas feast?" 

"That do I!" returned the her- 
mit vigorously. 

"That do I not!" said the other 
in a sneer half hidden in his 



3. 



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beard, "no more do these my fel- 
low-guests, I warrant you. Tell 
me, friend knight, hast any 
thought of Christmas in thy 
mind?" 

"Nay," said the knight frank- 
ly; "only of a snow-white, crisp 
Christmas at home." 

"Sir Beggar? Is this a Christ- 
mas joy to thee?" 

"Nay," said the beggar with a 
whine; "but were I in my own 
town — ah, there beggar-folk feast 
at Christmas-tide at the cost of 
the open-handed rich!" 

"Sir Merchant, what of thee? 
Is this Christmas to thy mind?" 

"Nay," said the merchant be- 
tween bites, "never a Christmas 
without good roast capon." 

"Sir Melancholy? Hast thou 
Christmas cheer? Nay, we need 
not thine answer. And thou. Sir 
Shifty Eyes — is this Christmas to 
thee?" 

"Nay," said the last of all, "I 
see no Christmas joy in this 
shrivelled fare." 

12 




The Hermit's Christmas 



3. 



"Hearest thou, O Father Her- 
mit?" cried the questioner in tri- 
umph. "And thou sayest this 
brings Christmas joy to theel" 

"And truly so it does!" an- 
swered the hermit quietly. Then, 
his eyes sweeping quickly around 
the circle, he spoke more strongly: 
"And more, Sir Philosopher — for 
such I take thee to be — I can tell 
each of you why he has no Christ- 
mas joy from this feast of mine." 

"Come, then," said the philos- 
opher invitingly. 

"Thou first," said the hermit, 
not heeding the sneer no longer 
concealed — "thou art a philoso- 
pher, is it not so? — So I thought. 
— And thou hast exchanged faith 
for reason, and by thy bargain 
thou hast lost thy Christ and thy 
Christmas. Thou wast afraid to 
believe! God manifest in the 
flesh thou couldst not understand, 
and therefore God manifest in the 
flesh thou didst cast away." 

The other would have inter- 
rupted, but the hermit raised his 

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hand to silence him. "Nay, I 
said not I would argue with thee, 
but that I would show thee why 
thou hast no Christmas joy. And 
I have shown thee. Thou hast no 
faith: that is why. Thou, who 
dost come over yonder blue sea 
by faith; who dost follow a moun- 
tain path on faith; — thou, who s^ 
dost not know thyself nor thy 
neighbor nor thy world, but dost 
take all on faith — thou dost not 
believe in the might of the finger 
of God! Not a day passes but 
thou dost believe the unexplain- 
able; yet thou must explain the 
Christ-child before thou wilt be- 
lieve on him! Thou dost not 
know me; thou canst not explain 
one of these dried peas, nor the 
way it grew, nor the sunlight that 
dried it; and yet thou dost eat 
my dried peas gladly! Have I 
hit thee? 'Whosoever shall not re- 
ceive the kingdom of heaven as 



He paused for a moment. The 
philosopher's eyes had fallen; his 



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The Hermit's Christmas 



sneer was gone ; he had not a word 
to say. The hermit turned to the 
thief, who sat next in the circle, 
and shot his next words at him. 

"And thou, I know thine ail- 
\^,^ ment, and why thou hast no 
Christmas joy in thy feast! Thou 
hast stolen money in thy scrip and 
a bad conscience in thy breast." 

The man with the shifty eyes 
gripped his wallet tight and 
turned pale under his tan. 

"Nay, friend thief," said the 
hermit more gently, "this is no 
court of law. There is no judge 
here but thy God. Thou art 
afraid to meet the Christ-child 
when thou comest to judgment; 
that is why thou hast no joy in 
this Christmas-tide. Clear con- 
science doth make glad heart. Get 
thee back and restore what thou 
hast stolen!" 

His eyes sought those of him 
of the melancholy countenance, 
but the man would not look up. 
Nevertheless the hermit addressed 
him, knowing that he heard. 



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The Hermit's Christmas 



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"And thou, Sir Melancholy, 
methinks I know thy sorrow. 
Thou dost think thyself disillu- 
sioned. Sorrow has come thy 
way, and loneliness. Thy friends 
have proven no friends at all. 
And because thou hast lost faith 
in man, thou hast lost faith in 
God, and thou hast forgotten the ^ 
faith of thy childhood. Thou hast 
drunk wormwood and therefore 
thou dost curse God." 

The man had hfted his head 
and was gazing at him, his embit- 
tered hungry soul in his eyes. 
The hermit's tone softened. 

"Oh, thou poor soul!" he said, 
"thou hast done the very oppo- f]) 
site to what thou shouldst have 
done. For instead of false friends 
thou hast a Friend divine. Thy 
house is empty; yet thy Friend 
but keeps thy dear ones for thee 
till thou comest. Thou hast 
looked only at the things which 
are seen; but lift thine eyes! look 
thou at the things which are not 
seen, the eternal things of God I 






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The Hermit's Christmas 



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Then hast thou, even thou, be- 
reaved and lonely, joy in the 
Birthday of thy Lord!" 

He ceased speaking. Suddenly 
the other bowed his head upon his 
arms and was shaken by great 
tearing sobs. They sat in silence 
until he raised his head and said, 
brokenly, and trying to smile, 
"Thou hast wrought a miracle, 
father! These be the first tears 
mine eyes have known in many a 
year." 

"I guessed as much," the her- 
mit said, "and tears be often the 
forerunners of a new joy." 

The Crusader sat next in the 
circle. With the help of the beg- 
gar he had undone the thongs on 
his armor and stripped himself 
of his shining coat of mail. In 
his woolen shirt, worn and marked 
w^ith rust, he was a picture of 
stalwart strength, with knotted 
muscles and heavy shoulders. 

"Thou," began the hermit, 
"thou. Sir Knight, hast been to 
Jerusalem, across yonder waters, 

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The Hermit's Christmas 



to protect the sepulcher of thy 
Lord Christ, whose Birthday this 
is. And thou dost not know thy 
Lord; wherefore thou hast no joy 
in Him." 

"Not know my Lord!" cried 
the knight. 

"Nay, thou knowest not thy 
Lord! By two things I know it ^ 
and will prove it thee. Imprimis, ^ 
thou hast slain thy fellow-men, 
and hast waded in their blood, for 
the sake of thy God. Wherefore 
thou knowest not Him; for the 
Christ is not served by blood-let- 
ting, by the slaying of thy brother- 
men. Thou dost hate the Sara- 
cen who dishonors thy Lord's 
tomb; but thy Lord has bidden 
thee love the Saracen, and thou 
hast not heard his voice. Again, 
thy Lord Christ would have thee 
kindly and tender toward all, both 
man and beast; but thou hast left 
thy good steed, who has borne 
thee to thy Lord's city and thus 
far homeward — thou hast left him 
lying down yonder with a broken 

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limb and hast not put him out of 
his misery. Wherefore, again, 
thou dost not know thy Lord; not 
knowing Him, thou canst have 
none of his joy at his birth-feast! 
Wert thou Christ's man, as thou 
dost wear Christ's cross, thou 
wouldst ere this have cared for 
thy beast!" 

At that the knight leaped to 
his feet. 

"By this cross," he cried, "but 
thou art a bold man, Sir Her- 
mit!" 

His sword was in his hand. 
The hermit made no move. The 
others sat watching the shining 
blade. The knight caught the 
hermit's eye, hesitated, dropped 
his sword with a clatter, and 
turned and strode down the path 
out of sight. 

The hermit turned to the mer- 
chant. 





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The Hermit's Christmas 

so encased thy soul in the fat of 
getting and of self-indulgence 
that thou hast forgotten it. Thou 
hast lived for thyself. Thy treas- 
ure-chest thou hast filled, and 
thou hast wrung thy gold from 
the sweat and tears of many a 
brother-man. God gave thee thy 
talents, but thou hast not re- 
quited God. Thou art swollen 
with what thou hast sucked from 
God's world. Thy pride is in 
what thou callest thine own, and 
thy joy in spending it for what 
thou callest thyself. Thou know- 
est not the Christ-child; for the 
Christ bids thee give, not get; 
and thou hast not found joy in 
this feast, for thou hast through 
it all thought only of thyself! 
The joy of Christ's Birthday will 
come when thou forgettest thy- 
self!" 

And the merchant, when the 
hermit ceased speaking, grew very 
red in the face and fingered his 
wallet uncomfortably. But he 
had not a word to say. 



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The Hermit's Christmas 



3. 



"And thou, Sir Beggar," went 
on the voice of the hermit, "thou 
hast, like thy neighbor, lived by 
sucking the world dry. Thou 
hast taken from the world and 
given nothing. God made thee to 
work, but thou hast disdained to 
work. Thy mind is rich with ex- 
cuses and reasons, but none is 
good: thou art a lazy varlet and 
a selfish one. Therefore thou 
knowest not the Christ. For He 
was a carpenter, and his hands 
were hard with toil. He saved 
men, not lived on them, yonder in 
Nazareth. And none has right 
to joy on Christmas-tide who 
has no respect for himself and no 
joy in honest toil. Stretch out 
thy hand to the plow, not to ask 
an alms! Let thy brow shine 
with the sweat of thy work for 
the Christ; then shalt thou taste 
his joy! He has given himself 
to thee, and thou — thou art a beg- 
gar!" 

He was done. He turned to 
the philosopher with a quiet smile. 




The Hermit's Christmas 



3. 



"Have I not kept my word?" he 
asked. 

The other nodded slowly, then 
lifted his chin with a challenge: 
"In truth thou hast, good host. 
But I, too, am a student of men; 
and I have a flaw to pick in thine 
own case." 

The hermit's smile faded from 
his lips. He seemed for the mo- 
ment to draw into himself; and he 
spoke in a low voice. 

"Nay," he said; "I said not I 
was perfect; nor even that I gath- 
ered from this poor feast all that 
I might have gained of joy. It 
has been the better for your pres- 
ence; and yet — I too confess I 
have known happier feasts." 

It was the philosopher's turn 
to smile, but he had lost his sneer, 
and he did not smile. 

"Thou hast withdrawn thyself. 
Sir Hermit," he said not ungently, 
"from the world and its snares. 
Thou wast weak, and the evil in 
the world drew thee, and thy 
conscience troubled thee ; and thou 



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ih\i\ didst flee, like many others, to the 

V /-> wilderness. Is it not so?" 

He did not wait for a reply, 
but leaned forward and pointed 
his words with a long, slender fin- 
ger. "And thou too hast lost — 
not all, but much, of the joy of 
this feast because thou hast been 
a coward ! A coward ! Thou wast ^^ 
afraid! Though thy Lord fought 
through forty days and forty 
nights of temptation; though he 
did agonize for thee in the gar- 
den; though he did show thee how 
to fight thy soul's battles — thou 
didst run away to the desert! 
Thou hadst a place to fill, a work 
to do, men to serve, a Gospel to 
preach — and thou wast afraid! 
And thou hast but a part of thy 
joy to-day because thou hast for- 
gotten that the Christ-child whose 
feast this is was born to succor 
thee in thy temptations! Thou 
hast no right to this feast! Thou 
shouldst be at thy work in the 
world! Thy Christ hath a work 



for thee!' 



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A silence fell upon them. The 
hermit seemed to have shrunk 
into himself. Absently he rolled 
a parched pea between fingers 
none too steady. His voice trem- 
bled when at length he spoke. 

"I stand like you all, convicted. 
We be but poor Christians all. I 
had thought to keep my soul pure 
by fleeing evil; but" — and his 
voice grew clear and strong — "I 
was wrong. I shall go back! I 
shall go back to serve my Lord 
Christ! And you, brothers? 
What of you all? Will ye go 
back with me to serve our Lord 
and our brothers?" 

He looked around the little cir- 
cle. None answered for a mo- 
ment; then the sorrowful man 
said, ''I will go." "And I," said 
the thief; and the others nodded 
without speaking, all save the 
philosopher, who sat with head 
bent, deep in some soul struggle. 

"Come," said the merchant 
briskly; "an I can break my chain, 
so canst thou." 



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The Hermit's Christmas 



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"Xay, friend," said the philos- 
opher sadly; "it is not chains, but 
the absence of chains, that I feel. 
Could I but bind my soul to thy 
Christ — but how can I? Can a 
man force his soul to accept a 
mystery his mind rejects?" 

Then spoke the sorrowful man, 
with a new and more cheerful 
tone in his voice. 

"Ay, that he can! That have 
I done but now! Truly my mind 
cannot see heaven and mine own 
in heaven; but I am weary of 
guesswork. I will believe and 
hope. And thou — with all thy 
knowledge thou art no wiser as to 
God: thy mind saveth thee not: 
trust thou thy faith." 

"That were wisdom," said the 
hermit slowly. "We speak to 
thee, and thou dost not bid us ex- 
plain ourselves before thou wilt 
hear: and the Christ speaketh to 
thee on this his Day. Wilt thou 
argue? Nay, but believe!" 

And the philosopher looked up at 
them again, and his brow cleared. 



25 



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"Why, good father, the world 
was not built in a day. I will be 
honest with thee: I cannot be- 
lieve; but I will pray Christ to 
help me believe. Is it enough?" 

"I am but a jDoor fool," spoke 
the beggar, "and thou a philoso- 
pher, and yet — if thou dost pray 
to Christ thou dost believe al- 
ready." 

"And that, again, is wisdom," 
quoth the hermit. 

So they sat and talked while 
the shadows moved 'round the 
mountain and the sun began to 
sink over the sea to the west. 

"When the sun goeth down we 
journey into the world," the her- 
mit said. 

Toward twilight the}^ heard the 
footsteps of the soldier, and his 
bronzed face appeared at the head 
of the path. He halted for a mo- 
ment, surveying the scene. They 
were on their feet, girding them- 
selves for the descent. 

"What now?" he cried, when he 
could get his breath. 





The Hermit's Christmas 



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The philosopher spoke for all. 
"We have been to school, Sir 
Knight, as thou hast, and we have 
learned that on this Christmas 
Day which takes us back to the 
world. Wilt come?" 

"So," said the knight, the old 
twinkle in his eye; "and what hast 
thou learned, O wise one?" 

"That the joy of the Christmas 
feast may be found in dried peas 
if faith be there at table." 

"And thou. Sir Beggar?" 

"That the joy of the Christmas 
feast is his w^ho hath honest sweat 
upon his brow." 

"And thou, Sir Merchant?" 

"That the joy of the Christmas 
feast lieth not in the viands, but 
in finding joy for others." 

"And thou, Sir INIelancholy ?" 

"That there may be joy in the 
Christmas feast, even for the bit- 
ter in soul, if they look not back- 
ward, but forward." 

"And thou. Sir— craving thy 
pardon — Sir Thief?" 

"It was a good guess," said the 

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thief. His eyes met the soldier's 
squarely. "But I have learned. 
There is no Christmas joy with- 
out an honest conscience." 

"And thou, good host?" 

"They have taught me, Sir 
Knight! There is no fulness of 
joy for him who shirks the fight. 
We go together back to life. Wilt 
go?" 

The knight stooped for his coat 
of mail. "An some friend here 
will harness me, I will go, and 
gladly. Thou hast taught me, too, 
good father. The Christ whose 
Birthday we keep joyeth not in 
hatred, but in love and kindliness 
to all. Verily, what a school thou 
keepest! Thou hast shown us the 
soul of Christmas! Master and 
scholars, all for the world this 
Christmas Day! God give us joy 
of our journey! " 

So, in the cool of the evening, E^^S^''t 
they filed down from the hermit's V>li) t 
cave to the road that led to the 
world ! 







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PS3503.U8H55 

The hermit's Christmas. 



Princeton Theological Seminary-Speer Library 




1 1012 00003 1981