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A Story Of Nuremberg
by [?]

“Lisbeth,” he said, with grave kindness, “I know that I am asking a great deal of you when I beg you to take this child under our roof. He will be to you much care and trouble, and may never find his way into your heart. At any other time, believe me, I would not put this burden on your shoulders. But it is Christmas eve, and were I to refuse a shelter to this helpless baby I would feel like one of those who had no room within their inns for the Holy Child. Dear wife, will you not receive him for love of me and of God, and let him share with little Kala in your care?”

Lisbeth’s only reply was one characteristic of the woman. She was moved by her husband’s appeal, against what she considered her better judgment; and without a single word she picked up the boy from the floor and laid him in the cradle by the side of her own little daughter. Then, with a smile–and her smiles came but rarely–she proceeded to carry off Peter’s wet cloak and to bring in his supper. So with this mute assent the matter was settled, and the deformed child was received into the stone-mason’s family.

And in a different way he became the source of much gratification to both husband and wife. The first regarded him with real kindness and an almost fatherly affection, for the boy soon began to manifest a quick intelligence and a winning gentleness that might readily have found their way into a harder heart. Lisbeth, too, had her reward; for it was sweet to her soul to hear her neighbors say, as they stopped to watch the two children playing in the doorway: “Ah! Lisbeth, it is not many a woman who would take the care you do of a wretched little humpback like that;” or, “It was a lucky chance for the poor child that threw him into such hands as yours, Mistress Burkgmaeier;” or, “Did ever little Kala look so fair and straight as when she had that crooked boy by her side?”

And did not the good pastor from the Frauenkirche say to her, with tears starting in his gentle eyes: “God will surely reward you for your kindness to this helpless little one?” Nay, better yet, did not the Stadtholder’s lady lean out from her beautiful carriage, and say before three of the neighbors, who were standing by and heard every word: “You are a good woman, Mistress Burkgmaeier, to take the same care of this miserable child as of your own pretty little daughter”?–which was something to be really proud of; for, whereas it was the obvious duty of a priest to admire a virtuous act, it was not often that a noble lady deigned thus to express her approbation.

Yes, Lisbeth felt, as she listened serenely to all this praise–surely so well merited–that there was some compensation in the world for such charitable deeds as hers, even when they involved a fair amount of sacrifice. And little Gabriel, before whom many of these remarks were uttered, pondered over them in secret, and gradually evolved three facts from the curious puzzle of his life–first, that he did not really belong to what seemed to be his home; second, that he was not loved in it as was Kala; third, that Kala was pretty and he was ugly. So with these three melancholy scraps of knowledge the poor child began his earthly education.

And Kala was very pretty. Tall and strong-limbed, with her mother’s beautiful hair and skin, and with her mother’s clear, meaningless blue eyes, the little girl attracted attention wherever she was seen. No better foil to her vigorous young beauty could have been found than the pale, misshapen boy whom all the world called ugly. The children played together under Lisbeth’s watchful eye, and Gabriel in all things yielded to his companion’s imperious will, so that peace reigned ever over their sports. But when Sigmund Wahnschaffe, the son of the bronze-worker in the neighboring street, joined them, then Kala would have no more of Gabriel’s company. For Sigmund was strong as a young Hercules and surpassed all the other lads in their boyish games. When he would play with her, Kala turned her back ungratefully upon the patient companion of her idler moments, who was fain to watch in silence the pleasures he might not share.