Written by Phila Butler Bowman.
All the children were glad when the Little Baker came to town and hung the sign above his curious little brown shop,
“Thanksgiving Loaves to Sell.”
Each child ran to tell the news to another child until soon the streets echoed with the sound of many running feet, and the clear November air was full of the sound of happy laughter, as a crowd of little children squeezed as near as they dared to the Little Baker’s shop, while the boldest crept so close that they could feel the heat from the big brick oven, and see the gleaming rows of baker’s pans.
The Little Baker never said a word. He washed his hands at the windmill water spout and dried them, waving them in the crisp air. Then he unfolded a long, spotless table, and setting it up before his shop door, he began to mold the loaves, while the curious children grew nearer and nearer to watch him.
He molded big, long loaves, and tiny, round loaves; wee loaves filled with currants, square loaves with unusual markings on them, fat loaves and flat loaves, and loaves in shapes such as the children had never seen before, and always as he molded he sang a soft tune to these words:
“Buy my loaves of brown and white,
Molded for the child’s delight.
Who forgets another’s need,
Eats unthankful and in greed;
But the child who breaks his bread
With another, Love has fed.”
By and by the children began to whisper to each other.
“I shall buy that very biggest loaf,” said the Biggest Boy. “Mother lets me buy what I wish. I shall eat it alone, which is fair if I pay for it.”
“Oh,” said the Tiniest Little Girl, “that would be greedy. You could never eat such a big loaf alone.”
“If I pay for it, it is mine,” said the Biggest Boy, boastfully, “and one need not share what is his own unless he wishes.”
“Oh,” said the Tiniest Little Girl, but she said it more softly this time, and she drew away from the Biggest Boy, and looked at him with eyes that had grown big and round.
“I have a penny,” she said to the Littlest Boy, “and you and I can have one of those wee loaves together. They have currants in them, so we shall not mind if the loaf is small.”
“No, indeed,” said the Littlest Boy, whose face had grown wistful when the Biggest Boy had talked of the great loaf. “No, indeed, but you shall take the bigger piece.”
Then the Baker Man raked out the bright coals from the great oven into an iron basket, and he put in the loaves, every one, while the children crowded closer with eager faces.
When the last loaf was in, he shut the oven door with a clang so loud and merry that the children broke into a shout of laughter.
Then the Strange Little Baker Man came and stood in his tent door, and he was smiling, and he sang again a merry little tune to these words:
“Clang, clang, my oven floor,
My loaves will bake as oft before,
As you may play where shines the sun
Until each loaf is brown and done.”
Then away ran the children, laughing, and looking at the door of the shop where the Strange Little Baker stood, and where the raked-out coals, bursting at times, cast long, red lights against the brown wall, and as they ran they sang together the Strange Little Baker’s merry song:
“Clang, clang, my oven floor,
The loaves will bake as oft before.”
Then some played hide-and-seek among the sheaves of uncollected corn, and some ran gleefully through the heaped-up leaves of russet and gold for joy to hear them rustling. But some, eager, returned home for pennies to buy a loaf when the Strange Little Baker should call.
“The loaves are ready, white and brown,
For every little child in town,
Come buy Thanksgiving loaves to eat,
But only Love can make them sweet.”
Soon all the air was filled with the sound of the swift running feet, as the children flew like a cloud of leaves blown by the wind in answer to the Strange Little Baker’s call. When they came to his shop they paused, laughing and whispering, as the Little Baker laid out the loaves on the spotless table.
“This is mine,” said the Biggest Boy, and laying down a silver coin he snatched the great loaf, and ran away to break it by himself.
Then came the Impatient Boy, crying: “Give me my loaf. This is mine, and give it to me at once. Do you not see that my coin is silver? Do not keep me waiting.”
The Little Baker never said a word. He did not smile, he did not frown, he did not hurry. He gave the Impatient Boy his loaf and watched him, as he, too, hurried away to eat his loaf alone.
Then came others, crowding, pushing with their money, the strongest and rudest gaining first place, and snatching a loaf for each of them they ran off to eat without a word of thanks, while some very little children looked on wistfully, not able even to gain a place. All this time the Strange Little Baker kept steadily on laying out the beautiful loaves on the spotless table.
A Gentle Lad came, when the crowd grew less, and giving all the pennies he had he bought loaves for all the little ones; so that by and by no one was without a loaf. The Tiniest Little Girl went away hand in hand with the Littlest Boy to share his wee loaf, and both were smiling, and whoever broke one of those smallest loaves found it larger than it had seemed at first.
But now the biggest Boy was beginning to frown.
“This loaf is sour,” he said angrily.
“But is it not your own loaf,” said the Baker, “and did you not choose it yourself, and choose to eat it alone? Do not complain about the loaf since it is your own choosing.”
Then those who had snatched the loaves ungratefully and hurried away, without waiting for a word of thanks, came back.
“We came for good bread,” they cried, “but these loaves are sodden and heavy.”
“See the lad there with all those children. His bread is light. Give us, too, light and sweet bread.”
But the Baker smiled a strange smile. “You chose in haste,” he said, “as those choose who have no thought in sharing. I can not change your loaves. I can not choose for you. Had you, buying, forgotten that mine are Thanksgiving loaves? I shall come again; then you can buy more wisely.”
Then these children went away thoughtfully.
But the very little children and the Gentle Lad sat eating their bread with joyous laughter, and each tiny loaf was broken into many pieces as they shared with each other, and to them the bread was as fine as cake and as sweet as honey.
Then the Strange Little Baker brought cold water and put out the fire. He folded his spotless table, and took down the boards of his little brown shop, packed all into his wagon, and drove away singing a quaint tune. Soft winds rustled the corn, and swept the boughs together with a musical chuckling. And where the brown leaves were piled thickest, making a little mound, sat the Tiniest Little Girl and the Littlest Boy, eating their sweet currant loaf happily together.