THE GIRL WHO TROD ON THE LOAF 663
and quicker than the snow-flake .melts, and becomes a drop of water that falls on the warm lips of a child, the stony form of Inger was changed to mis"fc, and a little bird soared with the speed of lightning upward into the world of men. But the bird was timid and shy towards all things around ; it was ashamed of itself, ashamed to encounter any living thing, and hurriedly sought to conceal itself in a dark hole in an old crumbling wall; there it sat cowering, trembling through its whole frame, and unable to utter a sound, for it had no voice. Long it sat there before it could rightly see all the beauty around it; for beauty there was. The air was fresh and mild, the moon shone so clear ; trees and bushes exhaled fragrance, and it was right pleasant where it sat, and its coat of feathers was clean and pure. How all creation seemed to speak of beneficence and love ! The bird wanted to sing of the thoughts that stirred in its breast, but it could not; gladly would it have sung as the cuckoo and the nightingale sang in spring-time. But Heaven, that hears the mute song of praise of the worm, could hear the notes of praise which now trembled in the breast of the bird, as David's psalms were heard before thev had fashioned themselves into words and song.
For weeks these toneless songs stirred within the bird ; at last, the holy Christmas-time approached. The peasant who dwelt near set up a pole by the old wall, with some ears of corn bound to the top, that the birds of heaven might have a good meal, and rejoice in the happy, blessed time.
And on Christmas morning the sun arose and shone upon the ears of corn, which were surrounded by a number of twittering birds. Then out of the hole in the wall streamed forth the voice of another bird, and the bird soared forth from its hiding-place ; and in heaven it was well known what bird this was.
It was a hard winter. The ponds were covered with ice, and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air were stinted for food. Our little bird flew away over the high road, and in the ruts of the sledges it found here and there a grain of corn, and at the halting-places some crumbs. Of these it ate only a few, but it called all the other hungry