Sleep in Peace
(from “The Bulfinch Mice”)
By Ann Connery Frantz
Far below the bell tower in the old town church, the Bulfinch Mice slept in a heap beneath the stairwell, heads and tails a tangle.
Outside, the wind whistled through bare trees and snow fell heavily, plopping and drifting against the roof. But no snow entered their warm nest. Every hour, the Paul Revere bell rang out in the sky above Lancaster, its loud peals awakening them like an alarm clock.
And every hour, Papa Mouse took roll: “Thayer?” Here. “Wintle?” Here. “Bart?” Here. “Otto?” Here. “Ivan?” Here. “Little Nattie?” Here, Papa.
Then everyone would fall back to sleep.
During the long cold winter, they snuggled together in the nest, and shared everything they’d heard and seen on warmer days. Then Mama and Papa would repeat the old stories, memories passed down through the generations of church mice, so that history lived on. …
“It’s Christmas Eve,” said Thayer. “People will sing carols and hug one another more closely than usual. And they’ll leave plenty of cough drops and cookie crumbs behind in the pews.” Children always came to church with their pockets stuffed.
“Oh, goody,” said Little Nattie. “Let the party begin!”
“Not just yet,” Mama Mouse warned them. “There are some things we all have to talk about first.”
“Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?” She nodded to Thayer softly, and said, “Not yet, son; let’s see if someone else knows the answer.”
The little mice looked at each other with questioning faces. “If it’s about food, I’m going to be there,” said Otto, sniffing with his wrinkled nose.
“Yes, Otto,” said Mama Mouse. “But what else?”
“Music!” Bart shouted. “Loud organ music and people singing. La-La-La-La.”
“Well, that’s part of it, too, Bart,” Mama Mouse said, “but what else?”
“It’s about an old story,” said Wintle, who loved to tell tales. “A Mama and a Daddy go to a barn and a baby is born there, with the sheep and the goats around them, and the stars bright in the sky.”
“Very good, Wintle,” Mama Mouse said. “You’re all doing a very good job of remembering. But what else is Christmas about?”
“I know!” said Ivan and Nattie, shouting at once.
“Ivan?” said Mama. “What can you tell us?”
“Christmas is about everyone being happy, and everyone being good to each other, and safe. The mice didn’t need to fear the cat the night the baby was born. And the dogs didn’t bark at the sheep. They were all friends.”
“And the night was peaceful,” said Nattie. “The stars shone above the baby’s crib, and the moon lit the land around them. And bird creatures who flew—angels they called them—sang for the baby and his family.”
“Oh, you children are just wonderful at remembering,” Mama said. “How would you like to watch the Christmas Eve service today?”
So they waited through the afternoon, now and then dreaming of doughnut crumbs and cookies, and hoping the children would leave plenty of crumbs behind. In their sleep, their little noses wiggled with anticipation.
As the bell tolled four times, children in warm coats and bright, snug caps came up the front steps and into the church with their parents. If they were too loud, their parents shushed them, and if they ran in the aisles, their parents managed to grab them by the elbow and sit them down in a pew with warning looks on their faces.
The Bulfinch mice were excited—it wasn’t often there was a service just for children, and they were glad to be part of it. They watched as the families sang Christmas carols, loudly and partly off-key. Bart, who loved music, sang right along—his voice a squeal, but in tune. Upstairs, near where the mice were sitting, the organist played along with the children and their parents. They sang “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and Papa said, “Remember, mousekins. This was written by a minister of this church. His name was Pastor Sears, and the mice back then loved him for his kindness.”
“Yes, Papa, we will remember,” they whispered together, smiling happily at the beautiful song.
Later, the pastor told the children the legend of the first Christmas. “Remember this story,” Mama Mouse said. “Yes, Mama, we will remember,” they whispered, nodding their heads and waving their tails.
As the service ended, everyone, including Bart, sang “Silent Night,” the Bulfinch Mouse family’s favorite hymn. “It reminds me of snow, and happiness,” said Bart. “It reminds me of snowflakes,” said Nattie. “It reminds me of starry nights,” said Ivan. “And dinner!” shouted Otto.
“It reminds me of families,” said Wintle.
“And what do you think of when you hear ‘Silent Night,’ Thayer?” asked Mama Mouse.
“I think about how much we love each other, Mama,” Thayer said. “And about how much all the animals and children loved the baby born on Christmas. And it makes me happy inside.”
Mama smiled, and Papa patted Thayer on the ears. They were proud of their little family.
“It’s time for us to go downstairs, children,” he said. “With any luck, there’ll be some food left in the pews. But we must hurry; there’ll be another service later on.” They scuttled through the church, and indeed did find a few treasures. Ivan munched his favorite kind of cookie, and Nattie waved a sparkly hair bow in her tail, happy to have found a treasure.
Later, the children heard the hymns once more, during the late service—a large crowd this time, singing and holding candles in the dark as the voices of “Silent Night” filled the room.
Outside First Church, snow fell, softly fell, to the tree tops, and the roof tops, and then covered the Town Green. Far below the snow-draped bell tower and the snow-covered eaves, out of sight and out of hearing, the Bulfinch mice stirred as the Paul Revere bell pealed—12 times for midnight—and the people left the church, wishing each other a “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you, children,” said Mama Mouse.
“And sleep in peace,” Papa said.