IN THE ORPHAN HOUSE
by
Susan Coolidge
They sat at supper on Christmas Eve,
The boys of the orphan school.
And the least of them all rose up to say
The quaint old grace in the same old way,
Which always had been the rule:
'Lord Jesus Christ, be Thou our guest,
And share the bread which Thou hast blessed.'

The oaken rafters, holly bedight,
And brave in their Christmas guise,
Cast shadows down on the fair young face,
The hands clasped close with childish grace,
The reverent, wistful eyes:
And for a moment, as he ceased,
Unheeded smoked the Christmas feast.

The smallest scholar he sat him down,
And the spoons began to clink
In the pewter porringers one by one,
But one little fellow had scarce begun
When he stopped and said, 'I think—'
And then he paused with a reddened cheek,
But the kindly master bade him 'Speak!'

'Why does the Lord Christ never come?'
Asked the child in a shy, soft way.
'Time after time we have prayed that He
Would make one of our company,
Just as we did today,
But He never has come for all our prayer.
Do you think He would come if I set Him a chair?'

'Perhaps! Who knoweth?' the master said,
And he made the sign of the cross,
While the zealous little one gladly sped,
And drew a chair to the table’s head
’Neath a great ivy boss,
Then turned to the door as in sure quest
Of the entrance of the Holy Guest.

Even as he waited the latch was raised,
The door swung wide, and lo!
A pale little beggar-boy stood there,
With shoeless feet and flying hair
All powdered white with snow.
'I have no food, I have no bed,
For Christ’s sake take me in,' he said.

The startled scholars were silent all;
The master dumbly gazed.
The shivering beggar he stood still—
The snowflakes melting at their will—
Bewildered and amazed
At the strange hush; and nothing stirred,
And no one uttered a welcoming word,

Till, glad and joyful, the same dear child
Upraised his voice and said:
'The Lord has heard us, now I know,
He could not come Himself, and so
He sent this boy instead,
His chair to fill, His place to take,
For us to welcome for His sake.'

Then quick and zealous every one
Sprang from the table up.
The chair for Jesus ready set
Received the beggar, cold and wet.
Each pressed his plate and cup—
'Take mine' Take mine'' they urged and prayed.
The beggar thanked them, half dismayed.

And as he feasted and quite forgot
His woe in the new content,
The ivy and holly, garlanded
Round the old rafters overhead,
Breathed forth a rich, strange scent,
And it seemed as if in the green-hung hall
Stood a presence unseen which blessed them all.

O lovely legend of olden time,
Be thou as true today'
The Lord Christ stands by every door,
Veiled in the person of His poor,
And all our hearts can pray:
'Lord Jesus Christ, be Thou our guest,
And share the bread which Thou hast blest.'
The end