Part 3 out of 5
Entering the house, Ann sat down silently before the expiring fire. She
was tired, her bones ached, and she was faint for want of food.
Wearily she rested her head on her hands, and tried to think of some
way to get a few cents. She had nothing she could sell or pawn,
everything she could do without had gone before, in similar
emergencies. After sitting there some time, and revolving plan after
plan, only to find them all impossible, she was forced to conclude that
they must go supperless to bed.
Her husband grumbled, and Katey--who came in from a neighbour's--cried
with hunger, and after they were asleep old Ann crept into bed to keep
warm, more disheartened than she had been all winter.
If we could only see a little way ahead! All this time--the darkest the
house on the alley had seen--help was on the way to them. A
kind-hearted city missionary, visiting one of the unfortunate families
living in the upper rooms of old Ann's house, had learned from them of
the noble charity of the humble old washerwoman. It was more than
princely charity, for she not only denied herself nearly every comfort,
but she endured the reproaches of her husband, and the tears of her
Telling the story to a party of his friends this Christmas Eve, their
hearts were troubled, and they at once emptied their purses into his
hands for her. And the gift was at that very moment in the pocket of
the missionary, waiting for morning to make her Christmas happy.
Christmas morning broke clear and cold. Ann was up early, as usual,
made her fire, with the last of her coal, cleared up her two rooms,
and, leaving her husband and Katey in bed, was about starting out to
try and get her money to provide a breakfast for them. At the door she
met the missionary.
"Good-morning, Ann," said he. "I wish you a Merry Christmas."
"Thank you, sir," said Ann cheerfully; "the same to yourself."
"Have you been to breakfast already?" asked the missionary.
"No, sir," said Ann. "I was just going out for it."
"I haven't either," said he, "but I couldn't bear to wait until I had
eaten breakfast before I brought you your Christmas present--I suspect
you haven't had any yet."
Ann smiled. "Indeed, sir, I haven't had one since I can remember."
"Well, I have one for you. Come in, and I'll tell you about it."
Too much amazed for words, Ann led him into the room. The missionary
opened his purse, and handed her a roll of bills.
"Why--what!" she gasped, taking it mechanically.
"Some friends of mine heard of your generous treatment of the poor
families upstairs," he went on, "and they send you this, with their
respects and best wishes for Christmas. Do just what you please with
it--it is wholly yours. No thanks," he went on, as she struggled to
speak. "It's not from me. Just enjoy it--that's all. It has done them
more good to give than it can you to receive," and before she could
speak a word he was gone.
What did the old washerwoman do?
Well, first she fell on her knees and buried her agitated face in the
bedclothes. After a while she became aware of a storm of words from her
husband, and she got up, subdued as much as possible her agitation, and
tried to answer his frantic questions.
"How much did he give you, old stupid?" he screamed; "can't you speak,
or are you struck dumb? Wake up! I just wish I could reach you! I'd
shake you till your teeth rattled!"
His vicious looks were a sign, it was evident that he only lacked the
strength to be as good as his word. Ann roused herself from her stupour
and spoke at last.
"I don't know. I'll count it." She unrolled the bills and began.
"O Lord!" she exclaimed excitedly, "here's ten-dollar bills! One, two,
three, and a twenty-that makes five--and five are
hundred--and two and five are seven, and two and one are ten,
twenty--twenty-five--one hundred and twenty-five! Why, I'm rich!" she
shouted. "Bless the Lord! Oh, this is the glorious Christmas Day! I
knew He'd provide. Katey! Katey!" she screamed at the door of the other
room, where the child lay asleep. "Merry Christmas to you, darlin'! Now
you can have some shoes! and a new dress! and--and--breakfast, and a
regular Christmas dinner! Oh! I believe I shall go crazy!"
But she did not. Joy seldom hurts people, and she was brought back to
everyday affairs by the querulous voice of her husband.
"Now I will have my tea, an' a new blanket, an' some tobacco--how I
have wanted a pipe!" and he went on enumerating his wants while Ann
bustled about, putting away most of her money, and once more getting
ready to go out.
"I'll run out and get some breakfast," she said, "but don't you tell a
soul about the money."
"No! they'll rob us!" shrieked the old man.
"Nonsense! I'll hide it well, but I want to keep it a secret for
another reason. Mind, Katey, don't you tell?"
"No!" said Katey, with wide eyes. "But can I truly have a new frock,
Mammy, and new shoes--and is it really Christmas?"
"It's really Christmas, darlin'," said Ann, "and you'll see what
mammy'll bring home to you, after breakfast."
The luxurious meal of sausages, potatoes, and hot tea was soon smoking
on the table, and was eagerly devoured by Katey and her father. But Ann
could not eat much. She was absent-minded, and only drank a cup of tea.
As soon as breakfast was over, she left Katey to wash the dishes, and
started out again.
She walked slowly down the street, revolving a great plan in her mind.
"Let me see," she said to herself. "They shall have a happy day for
once. I suppose John'll grumble, but the Lord has sent me this money,
and I mean to use part of it to make one good day for them."
Having settled this in her mind, she walked on more quickly, and
visited various shops in the neighbourhood. When at last she went home,
her big basket was stuffed as full as it could hold, and she carried a
"Here's your tea, John," she said cheerfully, as she unpacked the
basket, "a whole pound of it, and sugar, and tobacco, and a new pipe."
"Give me some now," said the old man eagerly; "don't wait to take out
the rest of the things."
"And here's a new frock for you, Katey," old Ann went on, after making
John happy with his treasures, "a real bright one, and a pair of shoes,
and some real woollen stockings; oh! how warm you'll be!"
"Oh, how nice, Mammy!" cried Katey, jumping about. "When will you make
"To-morrow," answered the mother, "and you can go to school again."
"Oh, goody!" she began, but her face fell. "If only Molly Parker could
"You wait and see," answered Ann, with a knowing look. "Who knows what
Christmas will bring to Molly Parker?"
"Now here's a nice big roast," the happy woman went on, still
unpacking, "and potatoes and turnips and cabbage and bread and butter
and coffee and--"
"What in the world! You goin' to give a party?" asked the old man
between the puffs, staring at her in wonder.
"I'll tell you just what I am going to do," said Ann firmly, bracing
herself for opposition, "and it's as good as done, so you needn't say a
word about it. I'm going to have a Christmas dinner, and I'm going to
invite every blessed soul in this house to come. They shall be warm and
full for once in their lives, please God! And, Katey," she went on
breathlessly, before the old man had sufficiently recovered from his
astonishment to speak, "go right upstairs now, and invite every one of
'em from the fathers down to Mrs. Parker's baby to come to dinner at
three o'clock; we'll have to keep fashionable hours, it's so late now;
and mind, Katey, not a word about the money. And hurry back, child, I
want you to help me."
To her surprise, the opposition from her husband was less than she
expected. The genial tobacco seemed to have quieted his nerves, and
even opened his heart. Grateful for this, Ann resolved that his pipe
should never lack tobacco while she could work.
But now the cares of dinner absorbed her. The meat and vegetables were
prepared, the pudding made, and the long table spread, though she had
to borrow every table in the house, and every dish to have enough to go
At three o'clock when the guests came in, it was really a very pleasant
sight. The bright warm fire, the long table, covered with a
substantial, and, to them, a luxurious meal, all smoking hot. John, in
his neatly brushed suit, in an armchair at the foot of the table, Ann
in a bustle of hurry and welcome, and a plate and a seat for every one.
How the half-starved creatures enjoyed it; how the children stuffed and
the parents looked on with a happiness that was very near to tears; how
old John actually smiled and urged them to send back their plates again
and again, and how Ann, the washerwoman, was the life and soul of it
all, I can't half tell.
After dinner, when the poor women lodgers insisted on clearing up, and
the poor men sat down by the fire to smoke, for old John actually
passed around his beloved tobacco, Ann quietly slipped out for a few
minutes, took four large bundles from a closet under the stairs, and
disappeared upstairs. She was scarcely missed before she was back again.
Well, of course it was a great day in the house on the alley, and the
guests sat long into the twilight before the warm fire, talking of
their old homes in the fatherland, the hard winter, and prospects for
work in the spring.
When at last they returned to the chilly discomfort of their own rooms,
each family found a package containing a new warm dress and pair of
shoes for every woman and child in the family.
"And I have enough left,"' said Ann the washerwoman, to herself, when
she was reckoning up the expenses of the day, "to buy my coal and pay
my rent till spring, so I can save my old bones a bit. And sure John
can't grumble at their staying now, for it's all along of keeping them
that I had such a blessed Christmas day at all."
XVII. A CHRISTMAS STAR*
* Published by permission of the American Book Co.
"Come now, my dear little stars," said Mother Moon, "and I will tell
you the Christmas story."
Every morning for a week before Christmas, Mother Moon used to call all
the little stars around her and tell them a story.
It was always the same story, but the stars never wearied of it. It was
the story of the Christmas star--the Star of Bethlehem.
When Mother Moon had finished the story the little stars always said:
"And the star is shining still, isn't it, Mother Moon, even if we can't
And Mother Moon would answer: "Yes, my dears, only now it shines for
men's hearts instead of their eyes."
Then the stars would bid the Mother Moon good-night and put on their
little blue nightcaps and go to bed in the sky chamber; for the stars'
bedtime is when people down on the earth are beginning to waken and see
that it is morning.
But that particular morning when the little stars said good-night and
went quietly away, one golden star still lingered beside Mother Moon.
"What is the matter, my little star?" asked the Mother Moon. "Why don't
you go with your little sisters?"
"Oh, Mother Moon," said the golden star. "I am so sad! I wish I could
shine for some one's heart like that star of wonder that you tell us
"Why, aren't you happy up here in the sky country?" asked Mother Moon.
"Yes, I have been very happy," said the star; "but to-night it seems
just as if I must find some heart to shine for."
"Then if that is so," said Mother Moon, "the time has come, my little
star, for you to go through the Wonder Entry."
"The Wonder Entry? What is that?" asked the star. But the Mother Moon
made no answer.
Rising, she took the little star by the hand and led it to a door that
it had never seen before.
The Mother Moon opened the door, and there was a long dark entry; at
the far end was shining a little speck of light.
"What is this?" asked the star.
"It is the Wonder Entry; and it is through this that you must go to
find the heart where you belong," said the Mother Moon.
Then the little star was afraid.
It longed to go through the entry as it had never longed for anything
before; and yet it was afraid and clung to the Mother Moon.
But very gently, almost sadly, the Mother Moon drew her hand away. "Go,
my child," she said.
Then, wondering and trembling, the little star stepped into the Wonder
Entry, and the door of the sky house closed behind it.
The next thing the star knew it was hanging in a toy shop with a whole
row of other stars blue and red and silver. It itself was gold. The
shop smelled of evergreen, and was full of Christmas shoppers, men and
women and children; but of them all, the star looked at no one but a
little boy standing in front of the counter; for as soon as the star
saw the child it knew that he was the one to whom it belonged.
The little boy was standing beside a sweet-faced woman in a long black
veil and he was not looking at anything in particular.
The star shook and trembled on the string that held it, because it was
afraid lest the child would not see it, or lest, if he did, he would
not know it as his star.
The lady had a number of toys on the counter before her, and she was
saying: "Now I think we have presents for every one: There's the doll
for Lou, and the game for Ned, and the music box for May; and then the
rocking horse and the sled."
Suddenly the little boy caught her by the arm. "Oh, mother," he said.
He had seen the star.
"Well, what is it, darling?" asked the lady.
"Oh, mother, just see that star up there! I wish--oh, I do wish I had
"Oh, my dear, we have so many things for the Christmas-tree," said the
"Yes, I know, but I do want the star," said the child.
"Very well," said the mother, smiling; "then we will take that, too."
So the star was taken down from the place where it hung and wrapped up
in a piece of paper, and all the while it thrilled with joy, for now it
belonged to the little boy.
It was not until the afternoon before Christmas, when the tree was
being decorated, that the golden star was unwrapped and taken out from
"Here is something else," said the sweet-faced lady. "We must hang this
on the tree. Paul took such a fancy to it that I had to get it for him.
He will never be satisfied unless we hang it on too."
"Oh, yes," said some one else who was helping to decorate the tree; "we
will hang it here on the very top."
So the little star hung on the highest branch of the Christmas-tree.
That evening all the candles were lighted on the Christmas-tree, and
there were so many that they fairly dazzled the eyes; and the gold and
silver balls, the fairies and the glass fruits, shone and twinkled in
the light; and high above them all shone the golden star.
At seven o'clock a bell was rung, and then the folding doors of the
room where the Christmas-tree stood were thrown open, and a crowd of
children came trooping in.
They laughed and shouted and pointed, and all talked together, and
after a while there was music, and presents were taken from the tree
and given to the children.
How different it all was from the great wide, still sky house!
But the star had never been so happy in all its life; for the little
boy was there.
He stood apart from the other children, looking up at the star, with
his hands clasped behind him, and he did not seem to care for the toys
and the games.
At last it was all over. The lights were put out, the children went
home, and the house grew still.
Then the ornaments on the tree began to talk among themselves.
"So that is all over," said a silver ball. "It was very gay this
evening--the gayest Christmas I remember."
"Yes," said a glass bunch of grapes; "the best of it is over. Of course
people will come to look at us for several days yet, but it won't be
like this evening."
"And then I suppose we'll be laid away for another year," said a paper
fairy. "Really it seems hardly worth while. Such a few days out of the
year and then to be shut up in the dark box again. I almost wish I were
a paper doll."
The bunch of grapes was wrong in saying that people would come to look
at the Christmas-tree the next few days, for it stood neglected in the
library and nobody came near it. Everybody in the house went about very
quietly, with anxious faces; for the little boy was ill.
At last, one evening, a woman came into the room with a servant. The
woman wore the cap and apron of a nurse.
"That is it," she said, pointing to the golden star. The servant
climbed up on some steps and took down the star and put it in the
nurse's hand, and she carried it out into the hall and upstairs to a
room where the little boy lay.
The sweet-faced lady was sitting by the bed, and as the nurse came in
she held out her hand for the star.
"Is this what you wanted, my darling?" she asked, bending over the
The child nodded and held out his hands for the star; and as he clasped
it a wonderful, shining smile came over his face.
The next morning the little boy's room was very still and dark.
The golden piece of paper that had been the star lay on a table beside
the bed, its five points very sharp and bright.
But it was not the real star, any more than a person's body is the real
The real star was living and shining now in the little boy's heart, and
it had gone out with him into a new and more beautiful sky country than
it had ever known before--the sky country where the little child angels
live, each one carrying in its heart its own particular star.
XVIII. THE QUEEREST CHRISTMAS*
* This story was first published in the Youth's Companion, vol. 83.
GRACE MARGARET GALLAHER
Betty stood at her door, gazing drearily down the long, empty corridor
in which the breakfast gong echoed mournfully. All the usual brisk
scenes of that hour, groups of girls in Peter Thomson suits or starched
shirt-waists, or a pair of energetic ones, red-cheeked and shining-eyed
from a run in the snow, had vanished as by the hand of some evil
magician. Silent and lonely was the corridor.
"And it's the day before Christmas!" groaned Betty. Two chill little
tears hung on her eyelashes.
The night before, in the excitement of getting the girls off with all
their trunks and packages intact, she had not realized the homesickness
of the deserted school. Now it seemed to pierce her very bones.
"Oh, dear, why did father have to lose his money? 'Twas easy enough
last September to decide I wouldn't take the expensive journey home
these holidays, and for all of us to promise we wouldn't give each
other as much as a Christmas card. But now!" The two chill tears
slipped over the edge of her eyelashes. "Well, I know how I'll spend
this whole day; I'll come right up here after breakfast and cry and cry
and cry!" Somewhat fortified by this cheering resolve, Betty went to
Whatever the material joys of that meal might be, it certainly was not
"a feast of reason and a flow of soul." Betty, whose sense of humour
never perished, even in such a frost, looked round the table at the
eight grim-faced girls doomed to a Christmas in school, and quoted
mischievously to herself: "On with the dance, let joy be unconfined."
Breakfast bolted, she lagged back to her room, stopping to stare out of
the corridor windows.
She saw nothing of the snowy landscape, however. Instead, a picture,
the gayest medley of many colours and figures, danced before her eyes:
Christmas-trees thumping in through the door, mysterious bundles
scurried into dark corners, little brothers and sisters flying about
with festoons of mistletoe, scarlet ribbon and holly, everywhere sound
and laughter and excitement. The motto of Betty's family was: "Never do
to-day what you can put off till to-morrow"; therefore the preparations
of a fortnight were always crowded into a day.
The year before, Betty had rushed till her nerves were taut and her
temper snapped, had shaken the twins, raged at the housemaid, and had
gone to bed at midnight weeping with weariness. But in memory only the
joy of the day remained.
"I think I could endure this jail of a school, and not getting one
single present, but it breaks my heart not to give one least little
thing to any one! Why, who ever heard of such a Christmas!"
"Won't you hunt for that blue--"
"Broken my thread again!"
"Give me those scissors!"
Betty jumped out of her day-dream. She had wandered into "Cork" and the
three O'Neills surrounded her, staring.
"I beg your pardon--I heard you--and it was so like home the day before
"Did you hear the heathen rage?" cried Katherine.
"Dolls for Aunt Anne's mission," explained Constance.
"You're so forehanded that all your presents went a week ago, I
suppose," Eleanor swept clear a chair. "The clan O'Neill is never
"You'd think I was from the number of thumbs I've grown this morning.
Oh, misery!" Eleanor jerked a snarl of thread out on the floor.
Betty had never cared for "Cork" but now the hot worried faces of its
girls appealed to her. "Let me help. I'm a regular silkworm."
The O'Neills assented with eagerness, and Betty began to sew in a
capable, swift way that made the others stare and sigh with relief.
The dolls were many, the O'Neills slow. Betty worked till her feet
twitched on the floor; yet she enjoyed the morning, for it held an
entirely new sensation, that of helping some one else get ready for
"We never should have finished if you hadn't helped! Thank you, Betty
Luther, very, VERY much! You're a duck! Let's run to luncheon together,
Somehow the big corridors did not seem half so bleak echoing to those
warm O'Neill voices.
"This morning's just spun by, but, oh, this long, dreary afternoon!"
sighed Betty, as she wandered into the library. "Oh, me, there goes
Alice Johns with her arms loaded with presents to mail, and I can't
give a single soul anything!"
"Do you know where 'Quotations for Occasions' has gone?" Betty turned
to face pretty Rosamond Howitt, the only senior left behind.
"Gone to be rebound. I heard Miss Dyce say so."
"Oh, dear, I needed it so."
"Could I help? I know a lot of rhymes and tags of proverbs and things
"Oh, if you would help me, I'd be so grateful! Won't you come to my
room? You see, I promised a friend in town, who is to have a Christmas
dinner, and who's been very kind to me, that I'd paint the place cards
and write some quotation appropriate to each guest. I'm shamefully late
over it, my own gifts took such a time; but the painting, at least, is
Rosamond led the way to her room, and there displayed the cards which
she had painted.
"You can't think of my helplessness! If it were a Greek verb now, or a
lost and strayed angle--but poetry!"
Betty trotted back and forth between the room and the library, delved
into books, and even evolved a verse which she audaciously tagged "old
play," in imitation of Sir Walter Scott.
"I think they are really and truly very bright, and I know Mrs. Fernell
will be delighted." Rosamond wrapped up the cards carefully. "I can't
begin to tell you how you've helped me. It was sweet in you to give me
your whole afternoon."
The dinner-bell rang at that moment, and the two went down together.
"Come for a little run; I haven't been out all day," whispered
Rosamond, slipping her hand into Betty's as they left the table.
A great round moon swung cold and bright over the pines by the lodge.
"Down the road a bit--just a little way--to the church," suggested
They stepped out into the silent country road.
"Why, the little mission is as gay as--as Christmas! I wonder why?"
Betty glanced at the bright windows of the small plain church. "Oh,
some Christmas-eve doings," she answered.
Some one stepped quickly out from the church door.
"Oh, Miss Vernon, I am relieved! I had begun to fear you could not
The girls saw it was the tall old rector, his white hair shining silver
bright in the moonbeams.
"We're just two girls from the school, sir," said Rosamond.
"Dear, dear!" His voice was both impatient and distressed. "I hoped you
were my organist. We are all ready for our Christmas-eve service, but
we can do nothing without the music."
"I can play the organ a little," said Betty. "I'd be glad to help."
"You can? My dear child, how fortunate! But--do you know the service?"
"Yes, sir, it's my church."
No vested choir stood ready to march triumphantly chanting into the
choir stalls. Only a few boys and girls waited in the dim old choir
loft, where Rosamond seated herself quietly.
Betty's fingers trembled so at first that the music sounded dull and
far away; but her courage crept back to her in the silence of the
church, and the organ seemed to help her with a brave power of its own.
In the dark church only the altar and a great gold star above it shone
bright. Through an open window somewhere behind her she could hear the
winter wind rattling the ivy leaves and bending the trees. Yet,
somehow, she did not feel lonesome and forsaken this Christmas eve, far
away from home, but safe and comforted and sheltered. The voice of the
old rector reached her faintly in pauses; habit led her along the
service, and the star at the altar held her eyes.
Strange new ideas and emotions flowed in upon her brain. Tears stole
softly into her eyes, yet she felt in her heart a sweet glow. Slowly
the Christmas picture that had flamed and danced before her all day,
painted in the glory of holly and mistletoe and tinsel, faded out, and
another shaped itself, solemn and beautiful in the altar light.
"My dear child, I thank you very much!" The old rector held Betty's
hand in both his. "I cannot have a Christmas morning service--our
people have too much to do to come then--but I was especially anxious
that our evening service should have some message, some inspiration for
them, and your music has made it so. You have given me great aid. May
your Christmas be a blessed one."
"I was glad to play, sir. Thank you!" answered Betty, simply.
"Let's run!" she cried to Rosamond, and they raced back to school.
She fell asleep that night without one smallest tear.
The next morning Betty dressed hastily, and catching up her mandolin,
set out into the corridor.
Something swung against her hand as she opened the door. It was a great
bunch of holly, glossy green leaves and glowing berries, and hidden in
the leaves a card: "Betty, Merry Christmas," was all, but only one girl
wrote that dainty hand.
"A winter rose," whispered Betty, happily, and stuck the bunch into the
ribbon of her mandolin.
Down the corridor she ran until she faced a closed door. Then, twanging
her mandolin, she burst out with all her power into a gay Christmas
carol. High and sweet sang her voice in the silent corridor all through
the gay carol. Then, sweeter still, it changed into a Christmas hymn.
Then from behind the closed doors sounded voices:
"Merry Christmas, Betty Luther!"
Then Constance O'Neill's deep, smooth alto flowed into Betty's soprano;
and at the last all nine girls joined in "Adeste Fideles." Christmas
morning began with music and laughter.
"This is your place, Betty. You are lord of Christmas morning."
Betty stood, blushing, red as the holly in her hand, before the
breakfast table. Miss Hyle, the teacher at the head of the table, had
given up her place.
The breakfast was a merry one. After it somebody suggested that they
all go skating on the pond.
Betty hesitated and glanced at Miss Hyle and Miss Thrasher, the two
She approached them and said, "Won't you come skating, too?"
Miss Thrasher, hardly older than Betty herself, and pretty in a white
frightened way, refused, but almost cheerfully. "I have a Christmas box
to open and Christmas letters to write. Thank you very much."
Betty's heart sank as she saw Miss Hyle's face. "Goodness, she's
Miss Hyle was the most unpopular teacher in school. Neither
ill-tempered nor harsh, she was so cold, remote and rigid in face,
voice, and manner that the warmest blooded shivered away from her, the
least sensitive shrank.
"I have no skates, but I should like to borrow a pair to learn, if I
may. I have never tried," she said.
The tragedies of a beginner on skates are to the observers, especially
if such be school-girls, subjects for unalloyed mirth. The nine girls
choked and turned their backs and even giggled aloud as Miss Hyle went
prone, now backward with a whack, now forward in a limp crumple.
But amusement became admiration. Miss Hyle stumbled, fell, laughed
merrily, scrambled up, struck out, and skated. Presently she was
swinging up the pond in stroke with Betty and Eleanor O'Neill.
"Miss Hyle, you're great!" cried Betty, at the end of the morning.
"I've taught dozens and scores to skate, but never anybody like you.
You've a genius for skating."
Miss Hyle's blue eyes shot a sudden flash at Betty that made her whole
severe face light up. "I've never had a chance to learn--at home there
never is any ice--but I have always been athletic."
"Where is your home, Miss Hyle?" asked Betty.
"India?" gasped Eleanor. "How delightful! Oh, won't you tell us about
it, Miss Hyle?"
So it was that Miss Hyle found herself talking about something besides
triangles to girls who really wanted to hear, and so it was that the
flash came often into her eyes.
"I have had a happy morning, thank you, Betty--and all." She said it
very simply, yet a quick throb of pity and liking beat in Betty's heart.
"How stupid we are about judging people!" she thought. Yet Betty had
always prided herself on her character-reading.
"Hurrah, the mail and express are in!" The girls ran excitedly to their
Betty alone went to hers without interest. "Why, Hilma, what's
The little round-faced Swedish maid mopped the big tears with her
duster, and choked out:
"Of course there is! You're crying like everything."
Hilma wept aloud. "Christmas Day it is, and mine family and mine
friends have party, now, all day."
Hilma jerked her head toward the window.
"Oh, you mean in town? Why can't you go?"
"I work. And never before am I from home Christmas day."
Betty shivered. "Never before am _I_ from home Christmas day," she
She went close to the girl, very tall and slim and bright beside the
dumpy, flaxen Hilma.
"What work do you do?"
"The cook, he cooks the dinner and the supper; I put it on and wait it
on the young ladies and wash the dishes. The others all are gone."
Betty laughed suddenly. "Hilma, go put on your best clothes, quick, and
go down to your party. I'm going to do your work."
Hilma's eyes rounded with amazement. "The cook, he be mad."
"No, he won't. He won't care whether it's Hilma or Betty, if things get
done all right. I know how to wait on table and wash dishes. There's no
housekeeper here to object. Run along, Hilma; be back by nine
Hilma's face beamed through her tears. She was speechless with joy, but
she seized Betty's slim brown hand and kissed it loudly.
"What larks!" "Is it a joke?" "Betty, you're the handsomest butler!"
Betty, in a white shirt-waist suit, a jolly red bow pinned on her white
apron, and a little cap cocked on her dark hair, waved them to their
seats at the holly-decked table.
"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!"
"Nobody is ill, Betty?" Rosamond asked, anxiously.
"If I had three guesses, I should use every one that our maid wanted to
go into town for the day, and Betty took her place." It was Miss Hyle's
Betty blushed. It was her turn now to flash back a glance; and those
two sparks kindled the fire of friendship.
It was a jolly Christmas dinner, with the "butler" eating with the
"And now the dishes!" thought Betty. It must be admitted the "washing
up" after a Christmas dinner of twelve is not a subject for much joy.
"I propose we all help Betty wash the dishes!" cried Rosamond Howitt.
Out in the kitchen every one laughed and talked and got in the way, and
had a good time; and if the milk pitcher was knocked on the floor and
the pudding bowl emptied in Betty's lap--why, it was all "Merry
After that they all skated again. When they came in, little Miss
Thrasher, looking almost gay in a rose-red gown, met them in the
"I thought it would be fun," she said, shyly, "to have supper in my
room. I have a big box from home. I couldn't possible eat all the
things myself, and if you'll bring chafing-dishes and spoons, and those
things, I'll cook it, and we can sit round my open fire."
Miss Thrasher's room was homelike, with its fire of white-birch and its
easy chairs, and Miss Thrasher herself proved to be a pleasant hostess.
After supper Miss Hyle told a tale of India, Miss Thrasher gave a Rocky
Mountain adventure, and the girls contributed ghost and burglar stories
till each guest was in a thrill of delightful horror.
"We've had really a fine day!"
"I expected to die of homesickness, but it's been jolly!"
"So did I, but I have actually been happy."
Thus the girls commented as they started for bed.
"I have enjoyed my day," said little Miss Thrasher, "very much."
"Yes, indeed, it's been a merry Christmas." Miss Hyle spoke almost
Betty gave a little jump; she realized each one of them was holding her
hand and pressing it a little. "Thank you, it's been a lovely evening.
Rosamond had invited Betty to share her roommate's bed, but both girls
were too tired and sleepy for any confidence.
"It's been the queerest Christmas!" thought Betty, as she drifted
toward sleep. "Why, I haven't given one single soul one single present!"
Yet she smiled, drowsily happy, and then the room seemed to fill with a
bright, warm light, and round the bed there danced a great Christmas
wreath, made up of the faces of the three O'Neills, and the thin old
rector, with his white hair, and pretty Rosamond, and frightened Miss
Thrasher and the homesick girls, and lonely Miss Hyle, and tear-dimmed
And all the faces smiled and nodded, and called, "Merry Christmas,
Betty, Merry Christmas!"
XIX. OLD FATHER CHRISTMAS
"The custom of Christmas-trees came from Germany. I can remember when
they were first introduced into England, and what wonderful things we
thought them. Now, every village school has its tree, and the scholars
openly discuss whether the presents have been 'good,' or 'mean,' as
compared with other trees in former years. The first one that I ever
saw I believed to have come from Good Father Christmas himself; but
little boys have grown too wise now to be taken in for their own
amusement. They are not excited by secret and mysterious preparations
in the back drawing-room; they hardly confess to the thrill--which I
feel to this day--when the folding doors are thrown open, and amid the
blaze of tapers, mamma, like a Fate, advances with her scissors to give
every one what falls to his lot.
"Well, young people, when I was eight years old I had not seen a
Christmas-tree, and the first picture of one I ever saw was the picture
of that held by Old Father Christmas in my godmother's picture-book.
'"What are those things on the tree?' I asked.
"'Candles,' said my father.
"'No, father, not the candles; the other things?'
"'Those are toys, my son.'
"'Are they ever taken off?'
"'Yes, they are taken off, and given to the children who stand around
"Patty and I grasped each other by the hand, and with one voice
murmured; 'How kind of Old Father Christmas!'
"By and by I asked, 'How old is Father Christmas?'
"My father laughed, and said, 'One thousand eight hundred and thirty
years, child,' which was then the year of our Lord, and thus one
thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the first great Christmas
"'He LOOKS very old,' whispered Patty.
"And I, who was, for my age, what Kitty called 'Bible-learned,' said
thoughtfully, and with some puzzledness of mind, 'Then he's older than
"But my father had left the room, and did not hear my difficulty.
"November and December went by, and still the picture-book kept all its
charm for Patty and me; and we pondered on and loved Old Father
Christmas as children can love and realize a fancy friend. To those who
remember the fancies of their childhood I need say no more.
"Christmas week came, Christmas Eve came. My father and mother were
mysteriously and unaccountably busy in the parlour (we had only one
parlour), and Patty and I were not allowed to go in. We went into the
kitchen, but even here was no place of rest for as. Kitty was 'all over
the place,' as she phrased it, and cakes, mince pies, and puddings were
with her. As she justly observed, 'There was no place there for
children and books to sit with their toes in the fire, when a body
wanted to be at the oven all along. The cat was enough for HER temper,'
"As to puss, who obstinately refused to take a hint which drove her out
into the Christmas frost, she returned again and again with soft steps,
and a stupidity that was, I think, affected, to the warm hearth, only
to fly at intervals, like a football, before Kitty's hasty slipper.
"We had more sense, or less courage. We bowed to Kitty's behests, and
went to the back door.
"Patty and I were hardy children, and accustomed to 'run out' in all
weathers, without much extra wrapping up. We put Kitty's shawl over our
two heads, and went outside. I rather hoped to see something of Dick,
for it was holiday time; but no Dick passed. He was busy helping his
father to bore holes in the carved seats of the church, which were to
hold sprigs of holly for the morrow--that was the idea of church
decoration in my young days. You have improved on your elders there,
young people, and I am candid enough to allow it. Still, the sprigs of
red and green were better than nothing, and, like your lovely wreaths
and pious devices, they made one feel as if the old black wood were
bursting into life and leaf again for very Christmas joy; and, if only
one knelt carefully, they did not scratch his nose.
"Well, Dick was busy, and not to be seen. We ran across the little yard
and looked over the wall at the end to see if we could see anything or
anybody. From this point there was a pleasant meadow field sloping
prettily away to a little hill about three quarters of a mile distant;
which, catching some fine breezes from the moors beyond, was held to be
a place of cure for whooping-cough, or kincough, as it was vulgarly
called. Up to the top of this Kitty had dragged me, and carried Patty,
when we were recovering from the complaint, as I well remember. It was
the only 'change of air' we could afford, and I dare say it did as well
as if we had gone into badly drained lodgings at the seaside.
"This hill was now covered with snow and stood off against the gray
sky. The white fields looked vast and dreary in the dusk. The only gay
things to be seen were the berries on the holly hedge, in the little
lane--which, running by the end of our back-yard, led up to the
Hall--and the fat robin, that was staring at me. I was looking at the
robin, when Patty, who had been peering out of her corner of Kitty's
shawl, gave a great jump that dragged the shawl from our heads, and
"I looked. An old man was coming along the lane. His hair and beard
were as white as cotton-wool. He had a face like the sort of apple that
keeps well in winter; his coat was old and brown. There was snow about
him in patches, and he carried a small fir-tree.
"The same conviction seized upon us both. With one breath, we
exclaimed, 'IT'S OLD FATHER CHRISTMAS!'
"I know now that it was only an old man of the place, with whom we did
not happen to be acquainted and that he was taking a little fir-tree up
to the Hall, to be made into a Christmas-tree. He was a very
good-humoured old fellow, and rather deaf, for which he made up by
smiling and nodding his head a good deal, and saying, 'aye, aye, to be
sure!' at likely intervals.
"As he passed us and met our earnest gaze, he smiled and nodded so
earnestly that I was bold enough to cry, 'Good-evening, Father
"'Same to you!' said he, in a high-pitched voice.
"'Then you ARE Father Christmas?' said Patty.
"'And a happy New Year,' was Father Christmas's reply, which rather put
me out. But he smiled in such a satisfactory manner that Patty went on,
'You're very old, aren't you?'
"'So I be, miss, so I be,' said Father Christmas, nodding.
"'Father says you're eighteen hundred and thirty years old,' I muttered.
"'Aye, aye, to be sure,' said Father Christmas. 'I'm a long age.'
"A VERY long age, thought I, and I added, 'You're nearly twice as old
as Methuselah, you know,' thinking that this might have struck him.
"'Aye, aye,' said Father Christmas; but he did not seem to think
anything of it. After a pause he held up the tree, and cried, 'D'ye
know what this is, little miss?'
"'A Christmas-tree,' said Patty.
"And the old man smiled and nodded.
"I leant over the wall, and shouted, 'But there are no candles.'
"'By and by,' said Father Christmas, nodding as before. 'When it's dark
they'll all be lighted up. That'll be a fine sight!'
'"Toys, too,there'll be, won't there?' said Patty.
"Father Christmas nodded his head. 'And sweeties,' he added,
"I could feel Patty trembling, and my own heart beat fast. The thought
which agitated us both was this: 'Was Father Christmas bringing the
tree to us?' But very anxiety, and some modesty also, kept us from
"Only when the old man shouldered his tree, and prepared to move on, I
cried in despair, 'Oh, are you going?'
"'I'm coming back by and by,' said he.
"'How soon?' cried Patty.
"'About four o'clock,' said the old man smiling. 'I'm only going up
"'Up yonder!' This puzzled us. Father Christmas had pointed, but so
indefinitely that he might have been pointing to the sky, or the
fields, or the little wood at the end of the Squire's grounds. I
thought the latter, and suggested to Patty that perhaps he had some
place underground like Aladdin's cave, where he got the candles, and
all the pretty things for the tree. This idea pleased us both, and we
amused ourselves by wondering what Old Father Christmas would choose
for us from his stores in that wonderful hole where he dressed his
"'I wonder, Patty,' said I, 'why there's no picture of Father
Christmas's dog in the book.' For at the old man's heels in the lane
there crept a little brown and white spaniel looking very dirty in the
"'Perhaps it's a new dog that he's got to take care of his cave,' said
"When we went indoors we examined the picture afresh by the dim light
from the passage window, but there was no dog there.
"My father passed us at this moment, and patted my head. 'Father,' said
I, 'I don't know, but I do think Old Father Christmas is going to bring
us a Christmas-tree to-night.'
"'Who's been telling you that?' said my father.
But he passed on before I could explain that we had seen Father
Christmas himself, and had had his word for it that he would return at
four o'clock, and that the candles on his tree would be lighted as soon
as it was dark.
"We hovered on the outskirts of the rooms till four o'clock came. We
sat on the stairs and watched the big clock, which I was just learning
to read; and Patty made herself giddy with constantly looking up and
counting the four strokes, toward which the hour hand slowly moved. We
put our noses into the kitchen now and then, to smell the cakes and get
warm, and anon we hung about the parlour door, and were most unjustly
accused of trying to peep. What did we care what our mother was doing
in the parlour?--we, who had seen Old Father Christmas himself, and
were expecting him back again every moment!
"At last the church clock struck. The sounds boomed heavily through the
frost, and Patty thought there were four of them. Then, after due
choking and whirring, our own clock struck, and we counted the strokes
quite clearly--one! two! three! four! Then we got Kitty's shawl once
more, and stole out into the backyard. We ran to our old place, and
peeped, but could see nothing.
"'We'd better get up on to the wall,' I said; and with some difficulty
and distress from rubbing her bare knees against the cold stone, and
getting the snow up her sleeves, Patty got on to the coping of the
little wall. I was just struggling after her, when something warm and
something cold coming suddenly against the bare calves of my legs made
me shriek with fright. I came down 'with a run' and bruised my knees,
my elbows, and my chin; and the snow that hadn't gone up Patty's
sleeves went down my neck. Then I found that the cold thing was a dog's
nose and the warm thing was his tongue; and Patty cried from her post
of observation, 'It's Father Christmas's dog and he's licking your
"It really was the dirty little brown and white spaniel, and he
persisted in licking me, and jumping on me, and making curious little
noises, that must have meant something if one had known his language. I
was rather harassed at the moment. My legs were sore, I was a little
afraid of the dog, and Patty was very much afraid of sitting on the
wall without me.
'"You won't fall,' I said to her. 'Get down, will you?' I said to the
"'Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall,' said Patty.
"'Bow! wow!' said the dog.
"I pulled Patty down, and the dog tried to pull me down; but when my
little sister was on her feet, to my relief, he transferred his
attentions to her. When he had jumped at her, and licked her several
times, he turned around and ran away.
"'He's gone,' said I; 'I'm so glad.'
"But even as I spoke he was back again, crouching at Patty's feet, and
glaring at her with eyes the colour of his ears.
"Now, Patty was very fond of animals, and when the dog looked at her
she looked at the dog, and then she said to me, 'He wants us to go with
"On which (as if he understood our language, though we were ignorant of
his) the spaniel sprang away, and went off as hard as he could; and
Patty and I went after him, a dim hope crossing my mind--'Perhaps
Father Christmas has sent him for us.'
"The idea was rather favoured by the fact he led us up the lane. Only a
little way; then he stopped by something lying in the ditch--and once
more we cried in the same breath, 'It's Old Father Christmas!'
"Returning from the Hall, the old man had slipped upon a bit of ice,
and lay stunned in the snow.
"Patty began to cry. 'I think he's dead!' she sobbed.
"'He is so very old, I don't wonder,' I murmured; 'but perhaps he's
not. I'll fetch father.'
"My father and Kitty were soon on the spot. Kitty was as strong as a
man; and they carried Father Christmas between them into the kitchen.
There he quickly revived.
"I must do Kitty the justice to say that she did not utter a word of
complaint at the disturbance of her labours; and that she drew the old
man's chair close up to the oven with her own hand. She was so much
affected by the behaviour of his dog that she admitted him even to the
hearth; on which puss, being acute enough to see how matters stood, lay
down with her back so close to the spaniel's that Kitty could not expel
one without kicking both.
"For our parts, we felt sadly anxious about the tree; otherwise we
could have wished for no better treat than to sit at Kitty's round
table taking tea with Father Christmas. Our usual fare of thick bread
and treacle was to-night exchanged for a delicious variety of cakes,
which were none the worse to us for being 'tasters and wasters'--that
is, little bits of dough, or shortbread, put in to try the state of the
oven, and certain cakes that had got broken or burnt in the baking.
"Well, there we sat, helping Old Father Christmas to tea and cake, and
wondering in our hearts what could have become of the tree.
"Patty and I felt a delicacy in asking Old Father Christmas about the
tree. It was not until we had had tea three times round, with tasters
and wasters to match, that Patty said very gently: 'It's quite dark
now.' And then she heaved a deep sigh.
"Burning anxiety overcame me. I leaned toward Father Christmas, and
shouted--I had found out that it was needful to shout--"'I suppose the
candles are on the tree now?'
"'Just about putting of 'em on,' said Father Christmas.
"'And the presents, too?' said Patty.
"'Aye, aye, TO be sure,' said Father Christmas, and he smiled
"I was thinking what further questions I might venture upon, when he
pushed his cup toward Patty saying, 'Since you are so pressing, miss,
I'll take another dish.'
"And Kitty, swooping on us from the oven, cried, 'Make yourself at
home, sir; there's more where these came from. Make a long arm, Miss
Patty, and hand them cakes.'
"So we had to devote ourselves to the duties of the table; and Patty,
holding the lid with one hand and pouring with the other, supplied
Father Christmas's wants with a heavy heart.
"At last he was satisfied. I said grace, during which he stood, and,
indeed, he stood for some time afterward with his eyes shut--I fancy
under the impression that I was still speaking. He had just said a
fervent 'amen,' and reseated himself, when my father put his head into
the kitchen, and made this remarkable statement:
"'Old Father Christmas has sent a tree to the young people.'
"Patty and I uttered a cry of delight, and we forthwith danced round
the old man, saying, 'How nice; Oh, how kind of you!' which I think
must have bewildered him, but he only smiled and nodded.
"'Come along,' said my father. 'Come, children. Come, Reuben. Come,
"And he went into the parlour, and we all followed him.
"My godmother's picture of a Christmas-tree was very pretty; and the
flames of the candles were so naturally done in red and yellow that I
always wondered that they did not shine at night. But the picture was
nothing to the reality. We had been sitting almost in the dark, for, as
Kitty said, 'Firelight was quite enough to burn at meal-times.' And
when the parlour door was thrown open, and the tree, with lighted
tapers on all the branches, burst upon our view, the blaze was
dazzling, and threw such a glory round the little gifts, and the bags
of coloured muslin, with acid drops and pink rose drops and comfits
inside, as I shall never forget. We all got something; and Patty and I,
at any rate, believed that the things came from the stores of Old
Father Christmas. We were not undeceived even by his gratefully
accepting a bundle of old clothes which had been hastily put together
to form his present.
"We were all very happy; even Kitty, I think, though she kept her
sleeves rolled up, and seemed rather to grudge enjoying herself (a weak
point in some energetic characters). She went back to her oven before
the lights were out and the angel on the top of the tree taken down.
She locked up her present (a little work-box) at once. She often showed
it off afterward, but it was kept in the same bit of tissue paper till
she died. Our presents certainly did not last so long!
"The old man died about a week afterward, so we never made his
acquaintance as a common personage. When he was buried, his little dog
came to us. I suppose he remembered the hospitality he had received.
Patty adopted him, and he was very faithful. Puss always looked on him
with favour. I hoped during our rambles together in the following
summer that he would lead us at last to the cave where Christmas-trees
are dressed. But he never did.
"Our parents often spoke of his late master as 'old Reuben,' but
children are not easily disabused of a favourite fancy, and in Patty's
thoughts and in mine the old man was long gratefully remembered as Old
XX. A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Master Peter, and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the
goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of
all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter
of course--and in truth it was something very like it in that house.
Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan)
hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour;
Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot
plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the
two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting
themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into
their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came
to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It
was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly
all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but
when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth,
one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim,
excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle
of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was
such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness,
were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by the apple-sauce
and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family;
indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small
atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet
every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular,
were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates
being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone--too
nervous to bear witnesses--to take the pudding up and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in
turning out. Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the
back-yard and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose--a
supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of
horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A
smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an
eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a
laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute
Mrs. Cratchit entered--flushed, but smiling proudly--with the pudding,
like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of
half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly
stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he
regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since
their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her
mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of
flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or
thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have
been, flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at
such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth
swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and
considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a
shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew
round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a
one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glasses.
Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden
goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks,
while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob
"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!"
Which all the family re-echoed.
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
XXI. HOW CHRISTMAS CAME TO THE SANTA MARIA FLATS*
* From "Ickery Ann and Other Girls and Boys," by Elia W. Peattie.
Copyright, 1898, by Herbert S. Stone & Co., Duffield & Co., successors.
ELIA W. PEATTIE
There were twenty-six flat children, and none of them had ever been
flat children until that year. Previously they had all been home
children. and as such had, of course, had beautiful Christmases, in
which their relations with Santa Claus had been of the most intimate
and personal nature.
Now, owing to their residence in the Santa Maria flats, and the Lease,
all was changed. The Lease was a strange forbiddance, a ukase issued by
a tyrant, which took from children their natural liberties and rights.
Though, to be sure--as every one of the flat children knew--they were
in the greatest kind of luck to be allowed to live at all, and
especially were they fortunate past the lot of children to be permitted
to live in a flat. There were many flats in the great city, so polished
and carved and burnished and be-lackeyed that children were not allowed
to enter within the portals, save on visits of ceremony in charge of
parents or governesses. And in one flat, where Cecil de Koven le Baron
was born--just by accident and without intending any harm--he was
evicted, along with his parents, by the time he reached the age where
he seemed likely to be graduated from the go-cart. And yet that flat
had not nearly so imposing a name as the Santa Maria.
The twenty-six children of the Santa Maria flats belonged to twenty
families. All of these twenty families were peculiar, as you might
learn any day by interviewing the families concerning one another. But
they bore with each other's peculiarities quite cheerfully and spoke in
the hall when they met. Sometimes this tolerance would even extend to
conversation about the janitor, a thin creature who did the work of
five men. The ladies complained that he never smiled.
"I wouldn't so much mind the hot water pipes leaking now and then," the
ladies would remark in the vestibule, rustling their skirts to show
that they wore silk petticoats, "if only the janitor would smile. But
he looks like a cemetery."
"I know it," would be the response. "I told Mr. Wilberforce last night
that if he would only get a cheerful janitor I wouldn't mind our having
rubber instead of Axminster on the stairs."
"You know we were promised Axminster when we moved in," would be the
plaintive response. The ladies would stand together for a moment
wrapped in gloomy reflection, and then part.
The kitchen and nurse maids felt on the subject, too.
"If Carl Carlsen would only smile," they used to exclaim in sibilant
whispers, as they passed on the way to the laundry. "If he'd come in
an' joke while we wus washin'!"
Only Kara Johnson never said anything on the subject because she knew
why Carlsen didn't smile, and was sorry for it, and would have made it
all right--if it hadn't been for Lars Larsen.
Dear, dear, but this is a digression from the subject of the Lease.
That terrible document was held over the heads of the children as the
Herodian pronunciamento concerning small boys was over the heads of the
It was in the Lease not to run--not to jump--not to yell. It was in the
Lease not to sing in the halls, not to call from story to story, not to
slide down the banisters. And there were blocks of banisters so smooth
and wide and beautiful that the attraction between them and the seats
of the little boy's trousers was like the attraction of a magnet for a
nail. Yet not a leg, crooked or straight, fat or thin, was ever to be
thrown over these polished surfaces!
It was in the Lease, too, that no peddler or agent, or suspicious
stranger was to enter the Santa Maria, neither by the front door nor
the back. The janitor stood in his uniform at the rear, and the lackey
in his uniform at the front, to prevent any such intrusion upon the
privacy of the aristocratic Santa Marias. The lackey, who politely
directed people, and summoned elevators, and whistled up tubes and rang
bells, thus conducting the complex social life of those favoured
apartments, was not one to make a mistake, and admit any person not
calculated to ornament the front parlours of the flatters.
It was this that worried the children.
For how could such a dear, disorderly, democratic rascal as the
children's saint ever hope to gain a pass to that exclusive entrance
and get up to the rooms of the flat children?
"You can see for yourself," said Ernest, who lived on the first floor,
to Roderick who lived on the fourth, "that if Santa Claus can't get up
the front stairs, and can't get up the back stairs, that all he can do
is to come down the chimney. And he can't come down the chimney--at
least, he can't get out of the fireplace."
"Why not?" asked Roderick, who was busy with an "all-day sucker" and
not inclined to take a gloomy view of anything.
"Goosey!" cried Ernest, in great disdain. "I'll show you!" and he led
Roderick, with his sucker, right into the best parlour, where the
fireplace was, and showed him an awful thing.
Of course, to the ordinary observer, there was nothing awful about the
fireplace. Everything in the way of bric-a-brac possessed by the Santa
Maria flatters was artistic. It may have been in the Lease that only
people with esthetic tastes were to be admitted to the apartments.
However that may be, the fireplace, with its vases and pictures and
trinkets, was something quite wonderful. Indian incense burned in a
mysterious little dish, pictures of purple ladies were hung in odd
corners, calendars in letters nobody could read, served to decorate, if
not to educate, and glass vases of strange colours and extraordinary
shapes stood about filled with roses. None of these things were awful.
At least no one would have dared say they were. But what was awful was
the formation of the grate. It was not a hospitable place with
andirons, where noble logs of wood could be laid for the burning, nor
did it have a generous iron basket where honest anthracite could glow
away into the nights. Not a bit of it. It held a vertical plate of
stuff that looked like dirty cotton wool, on which a tiny blue flame
leaped when the gas was turned on and ignited.
"You can see for yourself!" said Ernest tragically.
Roderick could see for himself. There was an inch-wide opening down
which the Friend of the Children could squeeze himself, and, as
everybody knows, he needs a good deal of room now, for he has grown
portly with age, and his pack every year becomes bigger, owing to the
ever-increasing number of girls and boys he has to supply
"Gimini!" said Roderick, and dropped his all-day sucker on the old
Bokara rug that Ernest's mamma had bought the week before at a
fashionable furnishing shop, and which had given the sore throat to all
the family, owing to some cunning little germs that had come over with
the rug to see what American throats were like.
Oh, me, yes! but Roderick could see! Anybody could see! And a boy could
see better than anybody.
"Let's go see the Telephone Boy," said Roderick. This seemed the wisest
thing to do. When in doubt, all the children went to the Telephone Boy,
who was the most fascinating person, with knowledge of the most
wonderful kind and of a nature to throw that of Mrs. Scheherazade
quite, quite in the shade--which, considering how long that loquacious
lady had been a Shade, is perhaps not surprising.
The Telephone Boy knew the answers to all the conundrums in the world,
and a way out of nearly all troubles such as are likely to overtake
boys and girls. But now he had no suggestions to offer and could speak
no comfortable words.
"He can't git inter de front, an' he can't git inter de back, an' he
can't come down no chimney in dis here house, an' I tell yer dose," he
said, and shut his mouth grimly, while cold apprehension crept around
Ernest's heart and took the sweetness out of Roderick's sucker.
Nevertheless, hope springs eternal, and the boys each and individually
asked their fathers--tremendously wise and good men--if they thought
there was any hope that Santa Claus would get into the Santa Maria
flats, and each of the fathers looked up from his paper and said he'd
be blessed if he did!
And the words sunk deep and deep and drew the tears when the doors were
closed and the soft black was all about and nobody could laugh because
a boy was found crying! The girls cried too--for the awful news was
whistled up tubes and whistled down tubes, till all the twenty-six flat
children knew about it. The next day it was talked over in the brick
court, where the children used to go to shout and race. But on this day
there was neither shouting nor racing. There was, instead, a shaking of
heads, a surreptitious dropping of tears, a guessing and protesting and
lamenting. All the flat mothers congratulated themselves on the fact
that their children were becoming so quiet and orderly, and wondered
what could have come over them when they noted that they neglected to
run after the patrol wagon as it whizzed round the block.
It was decided, after a solemn talk, that every child should go to its
own fireplace and investigate. In the event of any fireplace being
found with an opening big enough to admit Santa Claus, a note could be
left directing him along the halls to the other apartments. A spirit of
universal brotherhood had taken possession of the Santa Maria flatters.
Misery bound them together. But the investigation proved to be
disheartening. The cruel asbestos grates were everywhere. Hope lay
As time went on, melancholy settled upon the flat children. The parents
noted it, and wondered if there could be sewer gas in the apartments.
One over-anxious mother called in a physician, who gave the poor little
child some medicine which made it quite ill. No one suspected the
truth, though the children were often heard to say that it was evident
that there was to be no Christmas for them! But then, what more natural
for a child to say, thus hoping to win protestations--so the mothers
reasoned, and let the remark pass.
The day before Christmas was gray and dismal. There was no
wind--indeed, there was a sort of tightness in the air, as if the
supply of freshness had given out. People had headaches--even the
Telephone Boy was cross--and none of the spirit of the time appeared to
enliven the flat children. There appeared to be no stir--no mystery. No
whisperings went on in the corners--or at least, so it seemed to the
sad babies of the Santa Maria.
"It's as plain as a monkey on a hand-organ," said the Telephone Boy to
the attendants at his salon in the basement, "that there ain't to be no
Christmas for we--no, not for we!"
Had not Dorothy produced, at this junction, from the folds of her
fluffy silken skirts several substantial sticks of gum, there is no
saying to what depths of discouragement the flat children would have
About six o'clock it seemed as if the children would smother for lack
of air! It was very peculiar. Even the janitor noticed it. He spoke
about it to Kara at the head of the back stairs, and she held her hand
so as to let him see the new silver ring on her fourth finger, and he
let go of the rope on the elevator on which he was standing and dropped
to the bottom of the shaft, so that Kara sent up a wild hallo of alarm.
But the janitor emerged as melancholy and unruffled as ever, only
looking at his watch to see if it had been stopped by the concussion.
The Telephone Boy, who usually got a bit of something hot sent down to
him from one of the tables, owing to the fact that he never ate any
meal save breakfast at home, was quite forgotten on this day, and dined
off two russet apples, and drew up his belt to stop the ache--for the
Telephone Boy was growing very fast indeed, in spite of his poverty,
and couldn't seem to stop growing somehow, although he said to himself
every day that it was perfectly brutal of him to keep on that way when
his mother had so many mouths to feed.
Well, well, the tightness of the air got worse. Every one was cross at
dinner and complained of feeling tired afterward, and of wanting to go
to bed. For all of that it was not to get to sleep, and the children
tossed and tumbled for a long time before they put their little hands
in the big, soft shadowy clasp of the Sandman, and trooped away after
him to the happy town of sleep.
It seemed to the flat children that they had been asleep but a few
moments when there came a terrible burst of wind that shook even that
great house to its foundations. Actually, as they sat up in bed and
called to their parents or their nurses, their voices seemed smothered
with roar. Could it be that the wind was a great wild beast with a
hundred tongues which licked at the roof of the building? And how many
voices must it have to bellow as it did?
Sounds of falling glass, of breaking shutters, of crashing chimneys
greeted their ears--not that they knew what all these sounds meant.
They only knew that it seemed as if the end of the world had come.
Ernest, miserable as he was, wondered if the Telephone Boy had gotten
safely home, or if he were alone in the draughty room in the basement;
and Roderick hugged his big brother, who slept with him and said, "Now
I lay me," three times running, as fast as ever his tongue would say it.
After a terrible time the wind settled down into a steady howl like a
hungry wolf, and the children went to sleep, worn out with fright and
conscious that the bedclothes could not keep out the cold.
Dawn came. The children awoke, shivering. They sat up in bed and looked
about them--yes, they did, the whole twenty-six of them in their
different apartments and their different homes. And what do you suppose
they saw--what do you suppose the twenty-six flat children saw as they
looked about them?
Why, stockings, stuffed full, and trees hung full, and boxes packed
full! Yes, they did! It was Christmas morning, and the bells were
ringing, and all the little flat children were laughing, for Santa
Claus had come! He had really come! In the wind and wild weather, while
the tongues of the wind licked hungrily at the roof, while the wind
howled like a hungry wolf, he had crept in somehow and laughing, no
doubt, and chuckling, without question, he had filled the stockings and
the trees and the boxes! Dear me, dear me, but it was a happy time! It
makes me out of breath to think what a happy time it was, and how
surprised the flat children were, and how they wondered how it could
ever have happened.
But they found out, of course! It happened in the simplest way! Every
skylight in the place was blown off and away, and that was how the wind
howled so, and how the bedclothes would not keep the children warm, and
how Santa Claus got in. The wind corkscrewed down into these holes, and
the reckless children with their drums and dolls, their guns and toy
dishes, danced around in the maelstrom and sang:
"Here's where Santa Claus came!
This is how he got in-
We should count it a sin
Yes, count it a shame,
If it hurt when he fell on the floor."
Roderick's sister, who was clever for a child of her age, and who had
read Monte Cristo ten times, though she was only eleven, wrote this
poem, which every one thought very fine.
And of course all the parents thought and said that Santa Claus must
have jumped down the skylights. By noon there were other skylights put
in, and not a sign left of the way he made his entrance--not that the
way mattered a bit, no, not a bit.
Perhaps you think the Telephone Boy didn't get anything! Maybe you
imagine that Santa Claus didn't get down that far. But you are
mistaken. The shaft below one of the skylights went away to the bottom
of the building, and it stands to reason that the old fellow must have
fallen way through. At any rate there was a copy of "Tom Sawyer," and a
whole plum pudding, and a number of other things, more useful but not
so interesting, found down in the chilly basement room. There were,
In closing it is only proper to mention that Kara Johnson crocheted a
white silk four-in-hand necktie for Carl Carlsen, the janitor--and the
XX. THE LEGEND OF BABOUSCKA*
*From "The Children's Hour," published by the Milton Bradley Co.
ADAPTED FROM THE RUSSIAN
It was the night the dear Christ-Child came to Bethlehem. In a country
far away from Him, an old, old woman named Babouscka sat in her snug
little house by her warm fire. The wind was drifting the snow outside
and howling down the chimney, but it only made Babouscka's fire burn
"How glad I am that I may stay indoors," said Babouscka, holding her
hands out to the bright blaze.
But suddenly she heard a loud rap at her door. She opened it and her
candle shone on three old men standing outside in the snow. Their
beards were as white as the snow, and so long that they reached the
ground. Their eyes shone kindly in the light of Babouscka's candle, and
their arms were full of precious things--boxes of jewels, and
sweet-smelling oils, and ointments.
"We have travelled far, Babouscka," they said, "and we stop to tell you
of the Baby Prince born this night in Bethlehem. He comes to rule the
world and teach all men to be loving and true. We carry Him gifts. Come
with us, Babouscka."
But Babouscka looked at the drifting snow, and then inside at her cozy
room and the crackling fire. "It is too late for me to go with you,
good sirs," she said, "the weather is too cold." She went inside again
and shut the door, and the old men journeyed on to Bethlehem without
her. But as Babouscka sat by her fire, rocking, she began to think
about the Little Christ-Child, for she loved all babies.
"To-morrow I will go to find Him," she said; "to-morrow, when it is
light, and I will carry Him some toys."
So when it was morning Babouscka put on her long cloak and took her
staff, and filled her basket with the pretty things a baby would
like--gold balls, and wooden toys, and strings of silver cobwebs--and
she set out to find the Christ-Child.
But, oh, Babouscka had forgotten to ask the three old men the road to
Bethlehem, and they travelled so far through the night that she could
not overtake them. Up and down the road she hurried, through woods and
fields and towns, saying to whomsoever she met: "I go to find the
Christ-Child. Where does He lie? I bring some pretty toys for His sake."
But no one could tell her the way to go, and they all said: "Farther
on, Babouscka, farther on." So she travelled on and on and on for years
and years--but she never found the little Christ-Child.
They say that old Babouscka is travelling still, looking for Him. When
it comes Christmas Eve, and the children are lying fast asleep,
Babouscka comes softly through the snowy fields and towns, wrapped in
her long cloak and carrying her basket on her arm. With her staff she
raps gently at the doors and goes inside and holds her candle close to
the little children's faces.
"Is He here?" she asks. "Is the little Christ-Child here?" And then she
turns sorrowfully away again, crying: "Farther on, farther on!" But
before she leaves she takes a toy from her basket and lays it beside
the pillow for a Christmas gift. "For His sake," she says softly, and
then hurries on through the years and forever in search of the little
XXIII. CHRISTMAS IN THE BARN*
* From "In the Child's World," by Emilie Poulssen, Milton Bradley Co.,
Publishers. Used by permission.
Only two more days and Christmas would be here! It had been snowing
hard, and Johnny was standing at the window, looking at the soft, white
snow which covered the ground half a foot deep. Presently he heard the
noise of wheels coming up the road, and a wagon turned in at the gate
and came past the window. Johnny was very curious to know what the
wagon could be bringing. He pressed his little nose close to the cold
window pane, and to his great surprise, saw two large Christmas-trees.
Johnny wondered why there were TWO trees, and turned quickly to run and
tell mamma all about it; but then remembered that mamma was not at
home. She had gone to the city to buy some Christmas presents and would
not return until quite late. Johnny began to feel that his toes and
fingers had grown quite cold from standing at the window so long; so he
drew his own little chair up to the cheerful grate fire and sat there
quietly thinking. Pussy, who had been curled up like a little bundle of
wool, in the very warmest corner, jumped up, and, going to Johnny,
rubbed her head against his knee to attract his attention. He patted
her gently and began to talk to her about what was in his thoughts.
He had been puzzling over the TWO trees which had come, and at last had
made up his mind about them. "I know now, Pussy," said he, "why there
are two trees. This morning when I kissed Papa good-bye at the gate he
said he was going to buy one for me, and mamma, who was busy in the
house, did not hear him say so; and I am sure she must have bought the
other. But what shall we do with two Christmas-trees?"
Pussy jumped into his lap and purred and purred. A plan suddenly
flashed into Johnny's mind. "Would you like to have one, Pussy?" Pussy
purred more loudly, and it seemed almost as though she had said yes.
"Oh! I will, I will! if mamma will let me. I'll have a Christmas-tree
out in the bam for you, Pussy, and for all the pets; and then you'll
all be as happy as I shall be with my tree in the parlour."
By this time it had grown quite late. There was a ring at the
door-bell; and quick as a flash Johnny ran, with happy, smiling face,
to meet papa and mamma and gave them each a loving kiss. During the
evening he told them all that he had done that day and also about the
two big trees which the man had brought. It was just as Johnny had
thought. Papa and mamma had each bought one, and as it was so near
Christmas they thought they would not send either of them back. Johnny
was very glad of this, and told them of the happy plan he had made and
asked if he might have the extra tree. Papa and mamma smiled a little
as Johnny explained his plan but they said he might have the tree, and
Johnny went to bed feeling very happy.
That night his papa fastened the tree into a block of wood so that it
would stand firmly and then set it in the middle of the barn floor. The
next day when Johnny had finished his lessons he went to the kitchen,
and asked Annie, the cook, if she would save the bones and potato
parings and all other leavings from the day's meals and give them to
him the following morning. He also begged her to give him several
cupfuls of salt and cornmeal, which she did, putting them in paper bags
for him. Then she gave him the dishes he asked for--a few chipped ones
not good enough to be used at table--and an old wooden bowl. Annie
wanted to know what Johnny intended to do with all these things, but he
only said: "Wait until to-morrow, then you shall see." He gathered up
all the things which the cook had given him and carried them to the
barn, placing them on a shelf in one corner, where he was sure no one
would touch them and where they would be all ready for him to use the
Christmas morning came, and, as soon as he could, Johnny hurried out to
the barn, where stood the Christmas-tree which he was going to trim for
all his pets. The first thing he did was to get a paper bag of oats;
this he tied to one of the branches of the tree, for Brownie the mare.
Then he made up several bundles of hay and tied these on the other side
of the tree, not quite so high up, where White Face, the cow, could
reach them; and on the lowest branches some more hay for Spotty, the
Next Johnny hurried to the kitchen to get the things Annie had promised
to save for him. She had plenty to give. With his arms and hands full
he went back to the barn. He found three "lovely" bones with plenty of
meat on them; these he tied together to another branch of the tree, for
Rover, his big black dog. Under the tree he placed the big wooden bowl,
and filled it well with potato parings, rice, and meat, left from
yesterday's dinner; this was the "full and tempting trough" for
Piggywig. Near this he placed a bowl of milk for Pussy, on one plate
the salt for the pet lamb, and on another the cornmeal for the dear
little chickens. On the top of the tree he tied a basket of nuts; these
were for his pet squirrel; and I had almost forgotten to tell you of
the bunch of carrots tied very low down where soft white Bunny could
When all was done, Johnny stood off a little way to look at this
wonderful Christmas-tree. Clapping his hands with delight, he ran to
call papa and mamma and Annie, and they laughed aloud when they saw
what he had done. It was the funniest Christmas-tree they had ever
seen. They were sure the pets would like the presents Johnny had chosen.
Then there was a busy time in the barn. Papa and mamma and Annie helped
about bringing in the animals, and before long, Brownie, White Face,
Spotty, Rover, Piggywig, Pussy, Lambkin, the chickens, the squirrel and
Bunny, the rabbit, had been led each to his own Christmas breakfast on
and under the tree. What a funny sight it was to see them all standing
around looking happy and contented, eating and drinking with such an
While watching them Johnny had another thought, and he ran quickly to
the house, and brought out the new trumpet which papa had given him for
Christmas. By this time the animals had all finished their breakfast
and Johnny gave a little toot on his trumpet as a signal that the tree
festival was over. Brownie went, neighing and prancing, to her stall,
White Face walked demurely off with a bellow, which Spotty, the calf,
running at her heels, tried to imitate; the little lamb skipped
bleating away; Piggywig walked off with a grunt; Pussy jumped on the
fence with a mew; the squirrel still sat up in the tree cracking her
nuts; Bunny hopped to her snug little quarters; while Rover, barking
loudly, chased the chickens back to their coop. Such a hubbub of
noises! Mamma said it sounded as if they were trying to say "Merry
Christmas to you, Johnny! Merry Christmas to all."
XXIV. THE PHILANTHROPIST'S CHRISTMAS*
This story was first published in the Youth's Companion, vol. 82.
JAMES WEBER LINN
"Did you see this committee yesterday, Mr. Mathews?" asked the
His secretary looked up.
"You recommend them then?"
"For fifty thousand?"
"For fifty thousand--yes, sir."
"Their corresponding subscriptions are guaranteed?"
"I went over the list carefully, Mr. Carter. The money is promised, and
by responsible people."
"Very well," said the philanthropist. "You may notify them, Mr.
Mathews, that my fifty thousand will be available as the bills come in."
Old Mr. Carter laid down the letter he had been reading, and took up
another. As he perused it his white eyebrows rose in irritation.
"Mr. Mathews!" he snapped.
"You are careless, sir!"
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Carter?" questioned the secretary, his face
The old gentleman tapped impatiently the letter he held in his hand.
"Do you pay no attention, Mr. Mathews, to my rule that NO personal
letters containing appeals for aid are to reach me? How do you account
for this, may I ask?"
"I beg your pardon," said the secretary again. "You will see, Mr.
Carter, that that letter is dated three weeks ago. I have had the
woman's case carefully investigated. She is undoubtedly of good
reputation, and undoubtedly in need; and as she speaks of her father as
having associated with you, I thought perhaps you would care to see her
"A thousand worthless fellows associated with me," said the old man,
harshly. "In a great factory, Mr. Mathews, a boy works alongside of the
men he is put with; he does not pick and choose. I dare say this woman
is telling the truth. What of it? You know that I regard my money as a
public trust. Were my energy, my concentration, to be wasted by
innumerable individual assaults, what would become of them? My fortune
would slip through my fingers as unprofitably as sand. You understand,
Mr. Mathews? Let me see no more individual letters. You know that Mr.
Whittemore has full authority to deal with them. May I trouble you to
ring? I am going out."
A man appeared very promptly in answer to the bell.
"Sniffen, my overcoat," said the philanthropist.
"It is 'ere, sir," answered Sniffen, helping the thin old man into the
great fur folds.
"There is no word of the dog, I suppose, Sniffen?"
"None, sir. The police was here again yesterday sir, but they said as
"The police!" The words were fierce with scorn. "Eight thousand
incompetents!" He turned abruptly and went toward the door, where he
halted a moment.
"Mr. Mathews, since that woman's letter did reach me, I suppose I must
pay for my carelessness--or yours. Send her--what does she say--four
children?-- send her a hundred dollars. But, for my sake, send it
anonymously. Write her that I pay no attention to such claims." He went
out, and Sniffen closed the door behind him.
"Takes losin' the little dog 'ard, don't he?" remarked Sniffen, sadly,
to the secretary. "I'm afraid there ain't a chance of findin' 'im now.
'E ain't been stole, nor 'e ain't been found, or they'd 'ave brung him
back for the reward. 'E's been knocked on the 'ead, like as not. 'E
wasn't much of a dog to look at, you see--just a pup, I'd call 'im. An'
after 'e learned that trick of slippin' 'is collar off--well, I fancy
Mr. Carter's seen the last of 'im. I do, indeed."
Mr. Carter meanwhile was making his way slowly down the snowy avenue,
upon his accustomed walk. The walk, however, was dull to-day, for
Skiddles, his little terrier, was not with him to add interest and
excitement. Mr. Carter had found Skiddles in the country a year and a
half before. Skiddles, then a puppy, was at the time in a most
undignified and undesirable position, stuck in a drain tile, and unable
either to advance or to retreat. Mr. Carter had shoved him forward,
after a heroic struggle, whereupon Skiddles had licked his hand.
Something in the little dog's eye, or his action, had induced the rich
philanthropist to bargain for him and buy him at a cost of half a
dollar. Thereafter Skiddles became his daily companion, his chief
distraction, and finally the apple of his eye.
Skiddles was of no known parentage, hardly of any known breed, but he
suited Mr. Carter. What, the millionaire reflected with a proud
cynicism, were his own antecedents, if it came to that? But now
Skiddles had disappeared.
As Sniffen said, he had learned the trick of slipping free from his
collar. One morning the great front doors had been left open for two
minutes while the hallway was aired. Skiddles must have slipped down
the marble steps unseen, and dodged round the corner. At all events, he
had vanished, and although the whole police force of the city had been
roused to secure his return, it was aroused in vain. And for three
weeks, therefore, a small, straight, white bearded man in a fur
overcoat had walked in mournful irritation alone.
He stood upon a corner uncertainly. One way led to the park, and this
he usually took; but to-day he did not want to go to the park--it was
too reminiscent of Skiddles. He looked the other way. Down there, if
one went far enough, lay "slums," and Mr. Carter hated the sight of
slums; they always made him miserable and discontented. With all his
money and his philanthropy, was there still necessity for such misery
in the world? Worse still came the intrusive question at times: Had all
his money anything to do with the creation of this misery? He owned no
tenements; he paid good wages in every factory; he had given sums such
as few men have given in the history of philanthropy. Still--there were
the slums. However, the worst slums lay some distance off, and he
finally turned his back on the park and walked on.
It was the day before Christmas. You saw it in people's faces; you saw
it in the holly wreaths that hung in windows; you saw it, even as you
passed the splendid, forbidding houses on the avenue, in the green that
here and there banked massive doors; but most of all, you saw it in the
shops. Up here the shops were smallish, and chiefly of the provision
variety, so there was no bewildering display of gifts; but there were
Christmas-trees everywhere, of all sizes. It was astonishing how many
people in that neighbourhood seemed to favour the old-fashioned idea of
Mr. Carter looked at them with his irritation softening. If they made
him feel a trifle more lonely, they allowed him to feel also a trifle
less responsible--for, after all, it was a fairly happy world.
At this moment he perceived a curious phenomenon a short distance
before him--another Christmas-tree, but one which moved, apparently of
its own volition, along the sidewalk. As Mr. Carter overtook it, he
saw that it was borne, or dragged, rather by a small boy who wore a
bright red flannel cap and mittens of the same peculiar material. As
Mr. Carter looked down at him, he looked up at Mr. Carter, and spoke
"Goin' my way, mister?"
"Why," said the philanthropist, somewhat taken back, "I WAS!"
"Mind draggin' this a little way?" asked the boy, confidently, "my
hands is cold."
"Won't you enjoy it more if you manage to take it home by yourself? "
"Oh, it ain't for me!" said the boy.
"Your employer," said the philanthropist, severely, "is certainly
careless if he allows his trees to be delivered in this fashion."
"I ain't deliverin' it, either," said the boy. "This is Bill's tree."
"Who is Bill?"
"He's a feller with a back that's no good."
"Is he your brother?"
"No. Take the tree a little way, will you, while I warm myself?"
The philanthropist accepted the burden--he did not know why. The boy,
released, ran forward, jumped up and down, slapped his red flannel
mittens on his legs, and then ran back again. After repeating these
manoeuvres two or three times, he returned to where the old gentleman
stood holding the tree.
"Thanks," he said. "Say, mister, you look like Santa Claus yourself,
standin' by the tree, with your fur cap and your coat. I bet you don't
have to run to keep warm, hey?" There was high admiration in his look.
Suddenly his eyes sparkled with an inspiration.
"Say, mister," he cried, "will you do something for me? Come in to
Bill's--he lives only a block from here--and just let him see you. He's
only a kid, and he'll think he's seen Santa Claus, sure. We can tell
him you're so busy to-morrow you have to go to lots of places to-day.
You won't have to give him anything. We're looking out for all that.