This is based on a true story. Topeliusīancestor Cristopher Toppelius
was taken to Russia, where he escaped from several years later
and after a long walk returned to his native country.

The Birch and The Star

I still know an old story about a boy and a girl who throughout their life only wanted to reach one single goal. How many of us could say the same? Nearly two hundred years ago there was a big distress in Finland. The war raged around the country, towns and houses were burnt, the fields were trod and hundreds of thousands of people died of sword, of hunger, in exile and of frightening diseases. Then neither seen nor heard nothing else but sighs and tears, moans, sorrow, pain and blood; and those who had any hope remaining, could no longer know what to wish for, as the plague of God crossed our country disciplining it strictly; those memories are never forgotten.

During this big distress many families were also divided so that a few were taken to the enemies' country, others fled into the forests and woods or to far-away Sweden; the wife knew nothing any more about her husband, the brother about his sister and the father and the mother did not know about their children if they were still alive or already dead. Thatīs why, when peace came at last and those still being alive returned home, only sparse could not miss a relative nor cry.

It is told in a story of Knight Bluebeard that he sent his sister to the tower from which one could see far to the road and every little while was asking her: "Anna, my sister, do you see anyone coming ?" Likewise many asked each other when the cottage seemed gloomy and the dear ones did not arrive: "Is anybody coming?" And usually the answer was: "No one !"-But sometimes it happened as in the fairy-tale of Bluebeard that from far away a small dust cloud was seen on the road and at last a group of refugees who were lookig for their close relations was seen... Among them the father's and the mother's eyes were looking for their loved ones. And if they after many, many years found them then the joy was so big as if there had not been any sorrow. The houses rose suddenly, the fields gave fruits again and instead of the gone sorrows a new time dawned.

During this long war there were two small children, a boy and a girl, taken far away with others to a foreign country in which they had good people to take care of them. The years went by, the brother and the sister grew bigger. But even though they did not suffer from any shortcoming, and even though they had everything, they were not able to forget their father, their mother and their native country. Their mind was as that of the Babylonian Jews taken to captivity who hung their harps on the willows and could not play or dance in a foreign country because their heart was in Jerusalem. When the rumors told that there was a peace in Finland again and those who wanted and were able could go back, the foreign country became uncomfortable for the children and they asked to be allowed to go home. Foreigners, their guardians, laughed and said:

"Home? Oh you, thoughtless children, do you know how long a way it is there? More than a thousand kilometers.

"But we donīt mind" the children said,"as long as we get home."

"But you have now a new home with us. There is enough clothing here and plenty of food to eat, good fruit, milk to drink, warm clothes, nice dwellings and kind people who from their heart loves you. What do you still want?"

"Yes, the children said, "but we want to go home."

"Thereīs a big distress in your home and lack of everything. There you must live in big poverty, mosses as your bed, fir twigs as your roof, and frost as your continual companion and bark as your everyday bread. All your friends and your parents, your brothers, your sisters already died a long time ago; when looking for their traces, you will find only the wolves' traces which have gone along the snow in that deserted place where your cottage stood before."

"Yes," said the children, "but we want to go home."

"But ten years have gone since you were taken away from there. Then you were small and thoughtless; the brother was five years old and the sister was four years old. Now you are fifteen and fourteen, and you are not familiar enough with the world. Everything you have forgotten, the road there, and your parents too, and your parents have also forgotten you likewise."

"Yes," the children said," but we want to go home."

"Who will show you the way?"

"God," the boy said.

"And I remember that there was a big birch in which the beautiful birds sing at dawn."

"And I remember the star which shines through the leaves in the evenings," the girl said.

"Poor children," the foreign guardians said, "your request is stupid and pernicious." And they forbade children from thinking of the whole matter any more.

But the more they forbade, the more the children thought about it and they did not do it beause of disobedience but because of the irresistible desire to return to the native country constantly smoldered in their minds.
Once on a moonlit night, when the boy did not get even a wink of sleep because of his thoughts, he asked his sister:

"Are you sleeping?"

The sister answered: "I canīt sleep, our home is in my mind.

"In mine too," the boy said.

"Come, let us gather our clothes together and flee from here."

"Yes," the sister said and they set off quietly. Outside the clear moon was shining on paths and the night was wonderful. After a moment the girl said:

"I just wonder, my brother, I am afraid that we can not find the road home."

- The brother answered: "Let us always go towards the north-west, where we see at midsummer time that the sun is setting, there is our home .”

After a moment the sister said again: "I just wonder, my brother, I am afraid that the beasts and robbers may harm us."

- The brother convinced:" God is protecting us. Do you still remember the prayer which we learnt at home when we were small: Wherever I may go, Godīs protection is with me. "

Yes," the girl said. "God has sent his angels to go with us in a foreign country."
So they now hastened happily forward. The boy cut from the sprout of the oak a staff to supports himself and to defend himself and his sister. But nothing happened to them . One day they arrived to a crossroads from which two broad roads separated and they did not know where to turn. Then two small birds started to chirp along the road to the left.

"Come" the brother said "this is the right road, I hear it in the chirp of the birds."

" Yes," the girl said, our birds are different from other birds. The angels of God have dressed in a bird's form in order to lead us home."

They went on and the birds flew ahead from branch to branch so slowly that the children could easily follow them. The children ate the fruits of the forest, drank the clear water of the wells and rested nights on the soft bear moss. As they wondered they noticed that wherever they arrived in the daytime, they always got food and where they stopped in the evening , they found a suitable resting place. This they could not understand themselves. When seeing the birds they exclaimed:

"Look, the angels of God lead us!"

This way they went on, the long trip... At last the girl began to get tired and said to the boy:

"When can we start looking for our birch ?"

He answered: "Only when we hear the language which our father and our mother spoke."

While they went a long trip towards the northwest, summer began to reach its end and the air in the forest got gloomy. The girl asked:

" Is our birch not seen yet?"

-- The boy answered: "Not yet."

The Landscape they went through was now changing. Thus far they had gone through the wide plains, but now they came to the regions in which there were hills, mountains, currents and big lakes alternately. The girl said:

"How do we get over high mountains?"

The boy answered:" I carry you." And so he did indeed. Again the girl asked:

"How do we get over the rapid currents and over open lakes?"

The boy said: "We row"

And he rowed over the lakes and currents because, whenever they came to the shore, the boat was as waiting for them. Over some streams the boy and the girl swam and they swam lightly on the waves like the swans, because the angels flew next to them in a bird's form.
Once they had gone all day without resting since the morning and were very tired. They arrived at a solitary house in the evening. The house had recently been built from massive logs to replace of the one which had burnt. There was a small child peeling turnips in the yard of the house.

"Would you give us one turnip?" the boy asked.

”Come into the cottage,” the child said, ”there my mother will give you food."

Then the boy clapped his hands eagerly, he embraced and kissed the child crying from the joy.

"Why are you so happy, my brother? Why?" the girl asked.

-Would I not be happy?" the boy answered. "This child speaks our father's and mother's language. Now we may begin to look for the birch and star."

They went into the cottage, in which they were welcomed kindly. The people of the house asked the children where they came from.The boy answered:

"We come from a foreign country and search for our home but we do not have any other sign than the birch which grows in the yard of the house and in which the birds will sing when the sun rises and a clear star twinkles through its leaves in the evenings."

With sorrow and pity, the people said:

"There are many thousands of birches growing in the world and there are thousands of shining stars in the sky. How is it possible that among so many you would find the right ones?" The boy and the girl said:

"God will lead us. Even now his angels have escorted us a long way to our own country. We are halfway home already."

"Finland is so big,"

the inhabitants of the cottage said shaking their head.

"But God is still bigger, the boy answered."

And they thanked the people of the house and set off again. Now they did not need to eat in the forests but they went from house to house and even if there were wide forests between the human habitations and big poverty dominated everywhere, they always found a place to sleep and bread when they needed because all the people pitied them. But they did not find the birch and the star.
From house to house they searched for them and saw many birches and many stars but not those they wanted.

"Oh," the girl sighed," Finland is so big and we are so small! We will never find our home."

But the boy reprimanded her by saying: "Do you believe in God?"

-"Yes, I do," the girl said.

"Then you also know that even bigger wonders have taken place. When the shepherds at night wandered to Betlehem, the star went ahead of them. It also goes ahead of us if only we believe! "

So the girl said,"yes," as her habit always was to say to her brother.

And with happy minds they continued their trip.
At last when they had travelled for over a year they came to a solitary house in the evening. It was Whitsunday evening at the end of May and the the first leaves of summer were budding. Coming to the yard of the house, they saw a big, thick-growing birch on it, with small light green leaves, and the twinkling evening star shone in the evening twilight. The Summer evening was transparent already, only this star which was the biggest and clearest of all, was seen on the sky.

"Thereīs our birch, there!" the boy exclaimed immediately.

"Thereīs our star!" the girl said at the same time.

And embracing each other they thanked God and wept in tears of happiness. ”

"There is a stable to which father always took his horse", the boy said pondering.

"And I remember the well from which mother watered cows from, the girl said."

"Here at the root of the birch are two small crosses, I wonder what they might mean?" said the boy. ”

"I am afraid of going into the cottage," the girl said.

"What if father and mother are not alive any more or do not know us any more! Go ahead my brother!"

"I will first listen behind the door," the boy said with a beating heart.

There was an old man and his wife sitting in the cottage; they were not old actually but the sorrows and troubles had wrinkled their forehead before times. The man said to his wife:

"Now it is the Whitsunday when God sent a comforter to sorrowful hearts; but to us a comfort will not come. All our four children are gone two of them rest under the birch and two were taken to the enemies' country from which they will never return to us. It is hard to live alone in our old days."

The wife said: "Is God not almighty and forever good? He who led the children of Israel from captivity can also give us our children back, if He sees it good."

How old would our youngest children be now if they still lived?"

The father said:

" The boy would be sixteen, and the girl fifteen years old. But we have not earned so big a blessing of the Lord that we would get our dear children back."

When he was still talking, the door opened and a boy stepped into the cottage and also a girl who said that they had come from far away and asked for a piece of bread.

"Come closer, children,” the father said, ”and stay a night with us!"

So big would be our children, too, if they would still live and would be with us.”

"Look, two so wonderful children," the wife said! "Oh, so beautiful would also our children be, if they would live and be here!"

And both parents cried bitterly. Then the children were not able to hide their identities any more but hastened in the fatherīs and motherīs arms with tears in their eyes crying:

"Donīt you know us? We are your dear children and God has led us miraculously back to you from the foreign country."

And the parents embraced them full of wordless love falling on their knees with the children and they thanked God who on Whitsunday eve had given so big a comfort to everybody. Then the children had to tell all about their life and the parents did likewise; even though each one had had to taste much sorrow, it had now totally been forgotten and had become a joy. The father felt the boy's arms and was pleased when noticing strong muscles and the mother stroked her daughter's dark hair kissing her rosy cheeks, hundreds of times.

"This morning I had a feeling that something good is going to happen," the mother said in childish happiness, "when two strange birds sang today so happily in the birch."

"Yes, I know them," the girl said. "They are two angels in a bird' s form which have flown ahead of us, directing us the whole journey and now they are happy with us when we have found our home."

"Come again to greet the birch and the star!" the boy said.

"You see, sister, our small sisters rest under it. If we rested there under that green hummock and our sisters stood in this place of ours and looked at our grave, how would things be then?"

"Then you would be in heaven with the angels of God," the mother said gently.

"Now I know," the girl said. "Angels in a birdīs disguise which have followed us and which today are announcing our home-coming in the birch, they were our small sisters who are sleeping in the grave. They always whispered in our hearts: "go home! go home! to comfort your father and your mother!" They also said to us:” there is the right birch there, there the right star, amongst thousands. God had chosen them and had sent them to protect us. Thank you our sister! Thank you, dear God!"

"Look," the boy said," how gently the star is twinkling through the leaves !" Now we have found our home; now we do not go further, my sister!"

Dear children," the father said " In this world the life of a human being is a migration towards an everlasting goal. Always wander with God in your hearts and the everlasting goal in front of your eyes!” When the angels were directing you, you kept stable; let them show you the way henceforth! "You looked for the birch --it stood for your native country. So your native country should be the lifetime goal of your work and your love! "You looked for the star --it stands for everlasting life, let it be your light throughout your lives!"

The children and the mother folded their hands and said: "Amen !

Translation Ritva Raesmaa
(I apologize for all the mistakes there are!)