"It was Christmas Eve. There had been snow, then a dripping thaw that had filled the river, followed by a sudden hard frost. The trees dangled with icicles that tinkled like Japanese bells. The eaves were jagged with ice daggers. The ground was hard like glazed rock, the moat frozen. Toby and Alexander, with their mother, had gone on foot to Midnight Mass at the big church in Penny Soaky across the river. The little church in this village belonged to what Linnet called the preachies, who did not celebrate Midnight Mass. The family had gone on foot because the road was too slippery for horses, the ruts too hard for a coach. Linnet could not walk so far, so she was put to bed and the grandmother sat downstairs alone.
Linnet took Orlando, her little black and white curly dog, to bed with her. She had a little spruce tree in her bedroom--it was her own idea--for the birds. On such a cold night her tame birds had come in to sleep in its branches. They were curled up with their heads under their wings.
The tits were balls of blue, or primrose-green; the robins red; the chaffinches pink. Linnet had put a crystal star on top. It glittered among the shadows in the candlelight. As she lay in bed she heard the wind singing through the icicles outside. It was an eerie sound that made her think of the enormous silence of the country across which it blew. Every now and then an icicle broke off with a sharp crack.
Linnet lay and listened, thinking of her mother and her two brothers walking along the field paths in the brilliant moonlight with their black shadows following under their feet. If she listened for the outside noises she could hear the water going through the water gates and over the weir. There was no flood, but a deep, strong current. She could hear occasionally the owls and the desolate herons. Once she heard a fox bark. Inside her room perhaps one of the birds shifted and chirped softly in its sleep. She could hear Orlando breathing into his own fur. She could hear the candle fluttering like a little flag. It was all so very quiet.
Presently she heard something else, something very strange. Outside on the ice-hard ground there were footsteps that could be nothing and nobody that she knew, not Boggis's hobnailed boots, not her grandmother nor the quick young maid, not a horse! She was not frightened, she was simply certain that it did not belong to the everyday world. Orlando woke up and listened. Linnet could feel his tail softly beating against her ribs.
She got out of bed, wrapping herself in the cover so that she looked like the Russian doll, then she opened the window and leant out. Orlando stood beside her with his paws on the window-sill. She could distinctly hear the steps, heavy but soft, coming along the side of the house. The wind was like a knife against her cheek and all the stars twinkled with cold. Orlando's reassuring tail was still wagging against her.
Out into the moonlight came St. Christopher himself, huge and gentle with his head among the stars, taking the stone Child on his shoulders to Midnight Mass. As they went past, Orlando lifted his chin and gave a little cry, and from the stables came a quiet whinny. All the birds in the spruce tree woke up and flew out of the window, circling round St. Christopher with excited calls. The stone giant strode across the lawns with his bare feet and soon came to the river. At the edge there was thin, loose ice that shivered like a window-pane as he stepped in. The water rushed round his legs and the reflection of the moon was torn to wet ribbons. The stream crept up to his waist and, as he still went on, to his armpits. When it looked as if he could go no farther Linnet heard a child's voice singing gaily. The sound was torn and scattered by the wind as the moon's reflection had been by the water, but she recognized the song as it came in snatches.
To-morrow shall be my dancing dayAs the Child sang, it clutched St. Christopher by the hair to hold him firmly. St. Christopher felt his way carefully foot by foot, through the deepest part and came out safely on the other side. Linnet saw him striding away across the meadows. The birds returned, coming in one by one past her head at the open window and chattering as they settled down again on the tree.
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play
To call my true love to the dance.
Sing, O my love, O my love, my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my own true love.
When St. Christopher was out of sight Linnet realized that it was cold. She also remembered that she had got into bed without saying her prayers. She said them now, and Orlando lay on her feet and kept them warm till she had finished. Then she got into bed again and before long the bells rang out for midnight, and it was Christmas morning. When the boys came back she told them what she had seen. Alexander said he too had seen St. Christopher kneeling among the tombstones outside the church in the shadow of a big cypress tree. He thought nobody else had noticed.
Of course they rushed out first thing in the morning to look, and found St. Christopher in his place as usual with icicles all over him, but the sun was falling on the stone Child and the hand that it held up looked almost pink."
This story was taken from The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston, and tells the story of an 8 year old boy who comes to spend Christmas in the strange old ancestral home of his Grandmother. The boy soon learns that the house is benevolently haunted by the ghosts of three children -- Toby, Alexander, and Linnet -- who had lived in the house during the 16th century. Linnet, the youngest ghost, is the subject of the story related above.