No one heard these plaintive words. No one paid attention to the tears in the words of a poorly dressed woman standing alone on the corner of a big and busy city street.
Passers-by hurriedly walked past her, and carriages rushed noisily along the snowy road. Laughter and lively talking were heard all around...
The holy, great night before the Nativity of Christ was falling on earth. It shone with stars, shrouding the city in a mysterious haze.
“Give alms... I am not begging for myself, but for my children...”
The woman’s voice suddenly broke off, and she started weeping softly, trembling under her rags. She wiped her tears with her numb fingers, but they again rolled down her emaciated cheeks. Nobody cared about her...
And she did not think about herself, that she was frozen all over, that she had not eaten a crumb since the morning... Her concern was only for her children, and her heart ached for them...
They, the poor ones, were there, in a cold dark hovel, hungry and chilled through... And waiting for her... What would she bring them or what would she say? The next day was a great festival, fun and joy for all children, but only her poor children were hungry and unhappy.
What should she do? Until recently she had worked as best she could, exerting her last strength...
Then she took to her bed and lost her last job...
The feast was coming, and she had nowhere to get a piece of bread...
Oh, children, poor children! For their sake she had decided—for the first time in her life—to beg... She had no heart to do that, it stuck in her throat to say it... But the thought that her children were hungry, that they would celebrate the Nativity of Christ hungry and unhappy, that thought was tormenting her. She was ready for anything. And in a few hours she had managed to collect several kopecks... Poor children! Other children had a Christmas tree; they were cheerful and happy on this great day, and only her children...
“Give me alms, good people! Give for Christ’s sake!”
And as if in response to her despair, the bell rang nearby... for the Vigil. Yes, she must go and pray... Perhaps prayer would ease her heart... She would pray fervently for them, for her children... With unsteady steps she walked to the church...
The whole church was beautifully lit. There was a multitude of people inside it. Cheerful, happy faces. Hiding in a corner, she fell to her knees and froze. All her boundless motherly love, all her grief for the children were poured out in her fervent prayer and silent mournful sobs. “Help me, O Lord! Help me!” she cried. And to whom, if not to the Lord, the Intercessor and Protector of the weak and unfortunate, would she have poured out her grief and pain? She prayed quietly in a corner, with tears rolling down her poor face.
She did not notice how the Vigil had ended and did not see how someone had approached her...
“Why are you crying?” she heard a gentle voice behind her, which seemed to her to be Heavenly music.
The woman looked up and saw in front of her a small, expensively dressed girl. The clear, child’s eyes were gazing at her with sweet sympathy. An old nanny was standing behind the girl.
“You have some misfortune, don’t you? You’re poor thing!” These words, spoken in a gentle childish voice, deeply touched her.
“Woe! My children are starving—they haven’t eaten anything since the morning... Tomorrow is such a great feast...”
“They have eaten nothing? They are starving?” The girl’s face expressed horror.
“Nanny, what is this! The children haven’t eaten anything! And tomorrow they’ll be hungry! Nanny! How is could it be?”
The small child’s hand slid into her muff.
“Please take it! Here is some money... I don’t know how much... feed the children... For God’s sake... Ah, nanny, this is awful! They’ve eaten nothing! How can this be, nanny!”
Large tears welled up in the girl’s eyes.
“Well, Manichka, what’s to be done? They live in poverty! And they, the poor, suffer from hunger and cold. They are waiting for the Lord to help them!”
“Oh, nanny, I feel so sorry for them! Where do you live? How many children do you have?”
“My husband died almost six months ago... I was left with three children in my arms. I couldn’t work—I was sick all the time, so I have had to become a beggar... We live not far away. Here... On the corner in the basement of the large stone house of the merchant Osipov...”
“Nanny, almost next to us! And I didn’t know!.. Let’s go quickly—now I know what to do!”
The girl left the church swiftly, accompanied by the old nanny.
The poor woman followed them absent-mindedly. She held a wallet in her hands with a five-ruble note in it. Remembering nothing except that she could now warm and feed her dear children, she went into a store, bought provisions, bread, tea, sugar and ran home. There was still enough kindling left to heat the stove with.
She ran home with all her might.
At last she reached their dark hovel. The figures of three children rushed up to her.
“Mommy! We’re hungry! Have you brought something to eat? Our dearest!”
She hugged all three of them and doused them with her tears.
“The Lord has sent us some food! Nadya, light the stove! Petyusha, put the samovar1 on! Let’s get warm and eat to honor the great day!”
Thus festivity came into the damp, gloomy hovel. The children were joyful, warm and chatting. Their mother was rejoicing at their animation and chatter. But every now and then a sad thought crossed her mind... what next? What would happen next?
“Well, the Lord won’t abandon us!” she said to herself, pinning her hopes on God.
Little Nadya quietly came up to her mother, clung to her and said:
“Tell me mama, is it true that on Christmas night a Christmas angel flies down from Heaven and brings gifts to poor children? Tell me, mama!”
The boys surrounded their mother too. And, wishing to comfort the little ones, she began to tell them that the Lord takes care of poor children and sends them His angel on the great Christmas night, and this angel brings them gifts and treats!
“And a tree, mom?”
“And a Christmas tree, children! A good, bright, shiny Christmas tree!” Suddenly someone knocked on the basement door. The children rushed to open the door. A man appeared with a small green tree in his hands. Behind him was a pretty, blond girl with a bag, accompanied by her nanny who was carrying various parcels and packages.
The children hugged their mother timidly.
“Is it an angel, mom? Is it an angel?” They whispered faintly, looking reverently at the pretty, well-dressed little girl.
The tree had already been standing on the floor for a long time. The old nanny untied the packages, pulling out delicious buns, knot-shaped biscuits, cheese, butter and eggs, decking the tree with candles and gifts. The children still could not believe their eyes. Admiring the “angel”, they were silent and motionless.
“Here you are! Merry Christmas!” a child’s voice was heard. “Happy feast!”
The girl put the bag on the table and disappeared like a radiant vision before the children and their mother could come to their senses.
The “Nativity angel” flew in, brought the children a Christmas tree, gifts, joy and disappeared...
Manya’s mother had been waiting for her at home. She hugged the daughter warmly and clasped her to her bosom.
“My good girl!” she said, kissing her daughter’s happy face. “You yourself have sacrificed your tree and gifts and given everything to the poor children! You have a golden heart! God will reward you for this...”
Manya was left without her Christmas tree and gifts, but she was all shining with happiness. With her sweet face and golden hair, she really looked like a “Christmas angel”.