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Table of Contents:
[+:+] Christmas On Big Rattle
Dancing Dan’s Christmas
Scarecrow, Your Name should be Rodney Dangerfield
The Beggar at the Window
Christmas at the Boston Music Hall
Christmas and the Birth of a Nation
It Doesn’t Always Take Three Ghosts
The Christmas Tree
The Night Before and the Night After Christmas
Karma and the Little Girl From Provincetown
The Young and the Old
Who Will Help Somebody?
I Hate Holidays
Christmas Under the Snow
After discovering and enjoying a few long forgotten holiday classics from publications about a hundred years old, I thought it might be fun to dust them off, take out some of the outdated words, do a bit of research about the writers, and republish them on my blog Adventures in Type and Space: Billrrrrr.blogspot.com/
Once I began I couldn’t stop. I enjoyed the classic tales and was eager to learn a bit about the authors. I published one a day for two weeks beginning in early December, 2016. I was delighted to find that the stories were read many thousands of times.
A few readers commented that they got a good deal of pleasure and holiday cheer from the tales and also from my annotations. They suggested that I gather the items that were scattered across “Type and Space” into a single, low price volume. I’m more than happy to comply.
Here then, are the old yarns that I discovered from old books and magazines of long ago – Christmas Classics Refreshed.
Christmas On Big Rattle
This Christmas tale comes from the northern-most part of the 48 ‘united states’ – though there were only 46 United States back in 1905 when the good hearted trapper, John Archer and his sometimes friend, Sacobie (a Micmac Indian); observed the holiday in a very unconventional fashion.
Archer was a ‘County Boy’ – the name given to the men of the hearty band of settlers who dared live in untamed Aroostook County where winter temperatures of 20 below are as common as the fir trees beside snow covered roads.
Even as I’m annotating this story near Christmas 2017, the topmost part of Maine is still much like it was 300 years ago. Vast tracts of it remain ‘unincorporated’. Pristine forests that rarely see two legged creatures still exist in ‘The County’ – which is larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.
As big as Archer’s territory was, the range of Sacobie’s people was far greater. The ‘Micmac’ nation, some 40,000 strong, was spread across Maine and on north and west into Canada – throughout the Maritimes, and even into Nova Scotia.
Settle back now and share a sparse Christmas in a threadbare shack on the side of Big Rattle, somewhere in the rugged area of Maine known to its residents as “The County”.
Christmas On Big Rattle
By Theodore Goodridge Roberts
Archer sat by the rude hearth of his cabin on Big Rattle Mountain, about 250 miles north of the nearest city, Bangor Maine. He was brooding in a sort of tired contentment over the crackling logs and glowing coals of his fire.
It was Christmas Eve. He had been out on his snowshoes all that day, and all the day before, setting his traps along the streams and resetting the ones that had sprung without collecting a body.
Archer, despite his gloomy manner, was really a sentimentalist, who practiced what he felt.
“Christmas is a season of peace on earth,” he had told himself, while demolishing the logs of a fallen tree with his axe; and now the remembrance of his idealistic deed added a brightness to the fire and to the rough, undecorated walls of the cabin.
Outside, the wind ran high in the forest, breaking and sweeping tide-like over the reefs of treetops. The air was bitterly cold. Another voice, almost as fitful as the rustling of the wind, sounded across the night. It was the waters of Stone Arrow Falls, higher up, on Big Rattle.
The frosts had drawn their bonds of ice and blankets of silencing snow over all the rest of the stream, but the white and black face of the falls still flashed from a window in the great house of crystal, and threw out a voice of desolation.
Sacobie Bear, a full-blooded Micmac ‘Indian’, uttered a grunt of relief when his ears caught the bellow of Stone Arrow Falls. He stood still, and turned his head from side to side, questioningly.
“Good!” he said. “Big Rattle over there, Archer’s camp over there. I go there. Good ‘nough!”
He hitched his old smooth-bore rifle higher under his arm and continued his journey. Sacobie had tramped many miles—all the way from ice-imprisoned Fox Harbor. His papoose was sick. His squaw was hungry. Sacobie’s belt was drawn tight.
During that weary journey his old rifle had not banged once, although few eyes save those of timberwolf and lynx were sharper in the hunt than Sacobie’s. The Indian was reeling with hunger and weakness, but he held bravely on.
Sacobie, with his head down and his round snowshoes padding! padding! like the feet of a frightened duck, raced with death toward the haven of Archer’s cabin.
Archer was dreaming of a Christmas-time in a great faraway city, when he was startled by a rattle of snowshoes at his threshold and a soft beating on his door, like weak blows from mittened hands. He sprang across the cabin and pulled open the door.
A short, stooping figure shuffled in and reeled against him. A rifle in a case made of wool clattered at his feet.
“Mer’ Christmas! How-do?” said a weary voice.
“Merry Christmas, brother!” replied Archer. Then, “Bless me, but it’s Sacobie Bear! Why, what’s the matter, Sacobie?”
“Heap tired! Heap hungry!” replied the Micmac, sinking to the floor.
Archer lifted the Indian and carried him over to the bunk at the farther end of the room. He filled his iron-pot spoon with brandy, and inserted the point of it between Sacobie’s unresisting jaws. Then he loosened the Micmac’s coat and shirt and belt.
He removed his moccasins and stockings and rubbed the straight thin feet with brandy.
Autumn trapping on Big Rattle, where a moose can grow almost as large as a trailside cabin
After a while Sacobie Bear opened his eyes and gazed up at Archer.
“Good!” he said. “John Archer, he heap fine man, anyhow. Mighty good to Sacobie, too. Plenty tobacco, I s’pose. Plenty rum, too.”
“No more rum, my son,” replied Archer, tossing what was left in the mug against the log wall, and corking the bottle. “and no smoke until you have had a feed. What do you say to bacon and tea! Or would tinned beef suit you better?”
“Bacon,” replied Sacobie.
He hoisted himself to his elbow, and wistfully sniffed the fumes of brandy that came from the direction of his bare feet. “Heap waste of good rum, me think,” he said.
By the time the bacon was fried and the tea brewed, Sacobie was sufficiently revived to leave the bunk and take a seat by the fire.
He ate as all hungry people do; and Archer looked on in wonder and whimsical regret, remembering the miles and miles he had tramped with that bacon on his back.
“Sacobie, you will kill yourself!” he protested.
“Sacobie no kill himself now,” replied the Micmac, as he bolted a brown slice and a mouthful of hard bread. “Sacobie more like to kill himself when he empty. Want to live when he chock-full. Good fun. Thank you for more tea.”
Archer filled the extended mug and poured in the molasses—“long sweet’nin’” they call it in that region.
“What brings you so far from Fox Harbor this time of year?” inquired Archer.
“Squaw sick. Papoose sick. Bote empty. Wan’ good bacon to eat.”
Archer smiled at the fire. “Any luck trapping?” he asked.
His guest shook his head and hid his face behind the upturned mug.
“Not much,” he replied, presently.
He drew his sleeve across his mouth, and then produced a clay pipe from a pocket in his shirt.
“Tobacco?” he inquired.
Archer passed him a dark and heavy plug of tobacco.
“Knife?” queried Sacobie.
“Try your own knife on it,” answered Archer, grinning.
With a sigh Sacobie produced his sheath-knife.
“You think Sacobie heap big thief,” he said, accusingly.
“Knives are easily lost—in people’s pockets!” replied Archer.
The two men talked for hours. Sacobie Bear was a great gossip for one of his race. In fact, he had a Micmac nickname which, translated, meant “the man who deafens his friends with much talk.” Archer, however, was pleased with his ready chatter and unforced humor.
But at last they both began to nod. John Archer made up a bed on the floor for Sacobie with a couple of caribou skins and a heavy blanket. Then he gathered together a few plugs of tobacco, some tea, flour, and dried fish.
Sacobie watched him with freshly aroused interest.
“More tobacco, please,” he said. “Squaw, she smoke, too.”
Archer added a couple of sticks of the black leaf to the pile.
“Bacon, too,” said the Micmac. “Bacon better than fish, anyhow.”
Archer shook his head.
“You’ll have to do with the fish,” he replied; “but I’ll give you a can of condensed milk for the papoose.”
“Ah, ah! Him good stuff!” exclaimed Sacobie.
Archer considered the provisions for a second or two. Then, going over to a large cloth bag near his bunk, he pulled its contents about until he found a bright red silk handkerchief and a red flannel shirt. Their color was too gaudy for his taste. “These things are for your squaw,” he said.
Sacobie was delighted. Archer tied the articles into a neat pack and stood it in the corner, beside his guest’s rifle.
“Now you had better turn in,” he said, and blew out the light.
In ten minutes both men slept the sleep of the weary. The fire, a great mass of red coals, faded and flushed like some fabulous jewel. The wind washed over the cabin and fingered the eaves, and brushed furtive hands against the door.
It was dawn when Archer awoke. He sat up in his bunk and looked about the quiet, gray-lighted room. Sacobie Bear was nowhere to be seen.
He glanced at the corner by the door. Rifle and pack were both gone. He looked up at the rafter where his slab of bacon was always hung. It, too, was gone.
He jumped out of his bunk and ran to the door. Opening it, he looked out. Not a breath of air stirred. In the east, saffron and scarlet, broke the Christmas morning, and blue on the white surface of the world lay the imprints of Sacobie’s round snowshoes.
For a long time the trapper stood in the doorway in silence, looking out at the stillness and beauty.
“Poor Sacobie!” he said, after a while. “Well, he’s welcome to the bacon, even if it is all I had.”
He turned to light the fire and prepare breakfast. Something at the foot of his bunk caught his eye. He went over and took it up. It was a cured skin—a beautiful specimen of fox. He turned it over, and on the white hide an uncultured hand had written, with a charred stick, “Archer.”
“Well, bless that old Micmac! “exclaimed the trapper, huskily. “Bless his puckered eyes! Who’d have thought that I should get a Christmas present?”
This story was first printed in the ‘Youth’s Companion’, Dec. 14, 1905. The magazine, based in Boston enjoyed great success for more than 100 years before being merged into another publication in 1929.
Theodore Goodridge Roberts (July 7, 1877 – February 24, 1953) was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick (about 70 miles from Houlton, Maine in Aroostook County) but travelled the world over as a news correspondent, poet and novelist. Sent to Cuba in 1896 to cover the Spanish American War, he contracted Malaria.
He was shipped to New York where the specialists who treated him told him to return to his hometown to die. A Canadian doctor and his nurse, Frances Allen told Roberts to disregard the ‘expert’ opinion and they brought him back to health. Roberts and Frances were married soon after.
An adventurer all his life, Roberts enlisted in the Canadian army when The Great War broke out in 1914, despite his 37 years.
Though not widely read today because much of his work is considered dated, he was quite successful in his time, publishing 34 novels and more than 100 stories and poems.
Dancing Dan’s Christmas
Sadly, almost forgotten today is the world of Damon Runyon. It still exists in New York City around Broadway, but unhappily his stories and the collection of odd characters that brought them to life are rarely seen or heard in the 2000’s. Theater goers and movie goers once knew his tales well when they were assembled and put into a 1955 film called ‘Guys and Dolls’ starring Frank Sinatra.
For Christmas this year, let’s return to those thrilling days of the fabulous 1950s and to a world of hilarious ‘gangsters’ created by Runyon, the sports writer who became one of America’s greatest yarn spinners.
Here’s a 3600 word sample of one of Runyon's best - a holiday prank with unexpected results
Dancing Dan’s Christmas, by Damon Runyon
So it’s almost Christmas, and in fact it is the evening before Christmas, and I am in Good Time Charley Bernstein’s little speakeasy in West Forty-seventh Street, wishing Charley a Merry Christmas and having a few hot Tom and Jerrys with him.
This hot Tom and Jerry is an old time drink that is once used by one and all in this country to celebrate Christmas with, and in fact it is once so popular that many New York people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.
(Editor’s note. The Tom and Jerry is made with rum, brandy and hot milk – it’s a variant of egg nog that was devised in 1821. The name comes not from the Tom and Jerry cartoons, but from a popular book published the same year as the ‘invention’ of the drink.)
But anybody will tell you that there is nothing that brings out the true holiday spirit like hot Tom and Jerry, and I hear that since Tom and Jerry goes out of style in the United States, the holiday spirit is never quite the same.
Well, as Good Time Charley and I are expressing our holiday sentiments to each other over our hot Tom and Jerry, and I am trying to think up the poem about the night before Christmas and all through the house, which I know will interest Charley no little, all of a sudden there is a big knock at the front door, and when Charley opens the door, who comes in carrying a large package under one arm but a guy by the name of Dancing Dan.
This Dancing Dan is a good-looking young guy, who always seems well-dressed, and he is called by the name of Dancing Dan because he is a great hand for dancing around and about with dolls in night clubs, and other spots where there is any dancing. In fact, Dan never seems to be doing anything else, although I hear rumors that when he is not dancing he is carrying on in a most illegal manner at one thing and another. But of course you can always hear rumors in this town about anybody, and personally I am rather fond of Dancing Dan as he always seems to be getting a great belt out of life.
Anybody in town will tell you that Dancing Dan is a guy with no Barnaby whatever in him, and in fact he has about as much gizzard as anybody around, although I wish to say I always question his judgment in dancing so much with Miss Muriel O’Neill, who works in the Half Moon night club. And the reason I question his judgment in this respect is because everybody knows that Miss Muriel O’Neill is a doll who is very well thought of by Heine Schmitz, and Heine Schmitz is not such a guy as will take kindly to anybody dancing more than once and a half with a doll that he thinks well of.
Well, anyway, as Dancing Dan comes in, he weighs up the joint in one quick peek, and then he tosses the package he is carrying into a corner where it goes plunk, as if there is something very heavy in it, and then he steps up to the bar alongside of Charley and me and wishes to know what we are drinking.
Naturally we start boosting hot Tom and Jerry to Dancing Dan, and he says he will take a crack at it with us, and after one crack, Dancing Dan says he will have another crack, and Merry Christmas to us with it, and the first thing anybody knows it is a couple of hours later and we still are still having cracks at the hot Tom and Jerry with Dancing Dan, and Dan says he never drinks anything so soothing in his life. In fact, Dancing Dan says he will recommend Tom and Jerry to everybody he knows, only he does not know anybody good enough for Tom and Jerry, except maybe Miss Muriel O’Neill, and she does not drink anything with drugstore rye in it.
Well, several times while we are drinking this Tom and Jerry, customers come to the door of Good Time Charley’s little speakeasy and knock, but by now Charley is commencing to be afraid they will wish Tom and Jerry, too, and he does not feel we will have enough for ourselves, so he hangs out a sign which says “Closed on Account of Christmas,” and the only one he will let in is a guy by the name of Ooky, who is nothing but an old rumdum, and who is going around all week dressed like Santa Claus and carrying a sign advertising Moe Lewinsky’s clothing joint around in Sixth Avenue.
This Ooky is still wearing his Santa Claus outfit when Charley lets him in, and the reason Charley permits such a character as Ooky in his joint is because Ooky does the porter work for Charley when he is not Santa Claus for Moe Lewinsky, such as sweeping out, and washing the glasses, and one thing and another.
Well, it is about nine-thirty when Ooky comes in, and his puppies are aching, and he is all petered out generally from walking up and down and here and there with his sign, for any time a guy is Santa Claus for Moe Lewinsky he must earn his dough. In fact, Ooky is so fatigued, and his puppies hurt him so much that Dancing Dan and Good Time Charley and I all feel very sorry for him, and invite him to have a few mugs of hot Tom and Jerry with us, and wish him plenty of Merry Christmas.
But old Ooky is not accustomed to Tom and Jerry and after about the fifth mug he folds up in a chair, and goes right to sleep on us. He is wearing a pretty good Santa Claus make-up, what with a nice red suit trimmed with white cotton, and a wig, and false nose, and long white whiskers, and a big sack stuffed with excelsior on his back, and if I do not know Santa Claus is not apt to be such a guy as will snore loud enough to rattle the windows, I will think Ooky is Santa Claus sure enough.
Well, we forget Ooky and let him sleep, and go on with our hot Tom and Jerry, and in the meantime we try to think up a few songs appropriate to Christmas, and Dancing Dan finally renders My Dad’s Dinner Pail in a nice baritone and very loud, while I do first rate with Will You Love Me in December As You Do in May?
About midnight Dancing Dan wishes to see how he looks as Santa Claus.
So Good Time Charley and I help Dancing Dan pull off Ooky’s outfit and put it on Dan, and this is easy as Ooky only has this Santa Claus outfit on over his ordinary clothes, and he does not even wake up when we are undressing him of the Santa Claus uniform.
Well, I wish to say I see many a Santa Claus in my time, but I never see a better looking Santa Claus than Dancing Dan, especially after he gets the wig and white whiskers fixed just right, and we put a sofa pillow that Good Time Charley happens to have around the joint for the cat to sleep on down his pants to give Dancing Dan a nice fat stomach such as Santa Claus is bound to have.
“Well,” Charley finally says, “it is a great pity we do not know where there are some stockings hung up somewhere, because then,” he says, “you can go around and stuff things in these stockings, as I always hear this is the main idea of a Santa Claus. But,” Charley says, “I do not suppose anybody in this section has any stockings hung up, or if they have,” he says, “the chances are they are so full of holes they will not hold anything. Anyway,” Charley says, “even if there are any stockings hung up we do not have anything to stuff in them, although personally, “ he says, “I will gladly donate a few pints of Scotch.”
Well, I am pointing out that we have no reindeer and that a Santa Claus is bound to look like a terrible sap if he goes around without any reindeer, but Charley’s remarks seem to give Dancing Dan an idea, for all of a sudden he speaks as follows:
“Why,” Dancing Dan says, “I know where a stocking is hung up. It is hung up at Miss Muriel O’Neill’s flat over here in West Forty-ninth Street. This stocking is hung up by nobody but a party by the name of Gammer O’Neill, who is Miss Muriel O’Neill’s grandmamma, “ Dancing Dan says. “Gammer O’Neill is going on ninety-odd,” he says, “and Miss Muriel O’Neill told me she cannot hold out much longer, what with one thing and another, including being a little childish in spots.
“Now,” Dancing Dan says, “I remember Miss Muriel O’Neill is telling me just the other night how Gammer O’Neill hangs up her stocking on Christmas Eve all her life, and,” he says, “I judge from what Miss Muriel O’Neill says that the old doll always believes Santa Claus will come along one Christmas and fill the stocking full of beautiful gifts. But,” Dancing Dan says, “Miss Muriel O’Neill tells me Santa Claus never does this, though Miss Muriel O’Neill personally always takes a few gifts home and puts them into the stocking to make Gammer O’Neill feel better.
“But, of course,” Dancing Dan says, “these gifts are nothing much because Miss Muriel O’Neill is very poor, and proud, and also good, and will not take a dime off of anybody and I can lick the guy who says she will.
“Now,” Dancing Dan goes on, “it seems that while Gammer O’Neill is very happy to get whatever she finds in her stocking on Christmas morning, she does not understand why Santa Claus is not more liberal, and,” he says, “Miss Muriel O’Neill is saying to me that she only wishes she can give Gammer O’Neill one real big Christmas before the old doll puts her checks back in the rack.
“So,” Dancing Dan states, “here is a job for us. Miss Muriel O’Neill and her grandmamma live all alone in this flat over in West Forty-ninth street, and,” he says, “at such an hour as this Miss Muriel O’Neill is bound to be working, and the chances are Gammer O’Neill is sound asleep, and we will just hop over there and Santa Claus will fill up her stocking with beautiful gifts. “
Well, I say, I do not see where we are going to get any beautiful gifts at his time of night, what with all the stores being closed, unless we dash into an all-night drug store and buy a few bottles of perfume and a bum toilet set is guys always do when they forget about their ever-loving wives until after store hours on Christmas Eve, but Dancing Dan says never mind about this, but let us have a few more Tom and Jerrys first.
So we have a few more Tom and Jerrys and then Dancing Dan picks up he package he heaves into the corner, and dumps most of the excelsior out of Ooky’s Santa Claus sack, and puts the bundle in, and Good Time Charley turns out all the lights, but one, and leaves a bottle of Scotch on the able in front of Ooky for a Christmas gift, and away we go.
Personally, I regret very much leaving the hot Tom and Jerry, but then I’m also very enthusiastic about going along to help Dancing Dan play Santa Claus, while Good Time Charley is practically overjoyed, as it is the first time in his life Charley is ever mixed up in so much holiday spirit.
As we go up Broadway, headed for Forty-ninth Street, Charley and I see many citizens we know and give them a large hello, and wish them Merry Christmas, and some of these citizens shake hands with Santa Claus, not knowing he is nobody but Dancing Dan, although later I understand there’s some gossip among these citizens because they claim a Santa Claus with such a breath on him as our Santa Claus has is a little out of line.
And once we are somewhat embarrassed when a lot of little kids going home with their parents from a late Christmas party somewhere gather about Santa Claus with shouts of childish glee, and some of them wish to climb up Santa Claus’ legs. Naturally, Santa Claus gets a little peevish, and calls them a few names, and one of the parents comes up and wishes to know what is the idea of Santa Claus using such language, and Santa Claus takes a punch at the parent, all of which is no doubt astonishing to the little kids who have an idea of Santa Claus as a very kindly old guy.
Well, finally we arrive in front of the place where Dancing Dan says Miss Muriel O’Neill and her grandmamma live, and it is nothing but a tenement house not far back off Madison Square Garden, and furthermore it is a walk-up, and at this time there are no lights burning in the joint except a gas jet in the main hall, and by the light of this jet we look at the names on the letter boxes, such as you always find in the hall of these joints, and we see that Miss Muriel O’Neill and her grandmamma live on the fifth floor.
This is the top floor, and personally I do not like the idea of walking up five flights of stairs, and I am willing to let Dancing Dan and Good Time Charley go, but Dancing Dan insists we must all go, and finally I agree with him because Charley is commencing to argue that the right way for us to do is to get on the roof and let Santa Claus go down a chimney, and is making so much noise I am afraid he will wake somebody up.
So up the stairs we climb and finally we come to a door on the top floor that has a little card in a slot that says O'Neill, so we know we reach our destination. Dancing Dan first tries the knob, and right away the door opens, and we are in a little two- or three-room flat, with not much furniture in it, and what furniture there is, is very poor. One single gas jet is burning near a bed in a room just off the one the door opens into, and by this light we see a very old doll is sleeping on the bed, so we judge this is nobody but Gammer O'Neill.
On her face is a large smile, as if she is dreaming of something very pleasant. On a chair at the head of the bed is hung a long black stocking, and it seems to be such a stocking as is often patched and mended, so I can see that what Miss Muriel O’Neill tells Dancing Dan about her grandmamma hanging up her stocking is really true, although up to this time I have my doubts.
Finally Dancing Dan unslings the sack on his back, and takes out his package, and unties this package, and all of a sudden out pops a raft of big diamond bracelets, and diamond rings, and diamond brooches, and diamond necklaces, and I do not know what else in the way of diamonds, and Dancing Dan and I begin stuffing these diamonds into the stocking and Good Time Charley pitches in and helps us.
There are enough diamonds to fill the stocking to the muzzle, and it is no small stocking, at that, and I judge that Gammer O’Neill has a pretty fair set of bunting sticks when she is young. In fact, there are so many diamonds that we have enough left over to make a nice little pile on the chair after we fill the stocking plumb up, leaving a nice diamond-studded vanity case sticking out the top where we figure it will hit Gammer O’Neill’s eye when she wakes up.
And it is not until I get out in the fresh air again that all of a sudden I remember seeing large headlines in the afternoon papers about a five hundred-G’s stickup in the afternoon of one of the biggest diamond merchants in Maiden Lane while he is sitting in his office, and I also recall once hearing rumors that Dancing Dan is one of the best lone-hand git-‘em-up guys in the world.
Naturally, I commence to wonder if I am in the proper company when I am with Dancing Dan, even if he is Santa Claus. So I leave him on the next corner arguing with Good Time Charley about whether they ought to go and find some more presents somewhere, and look for other stockings to stuff, and I hasten on home and go to bed.
The next day I find I have such a noggin that I do not care to stir around, and in fact I do not stir around much for a couple of weeks.
Then one night I drop around to Good Time Charley’s little speakeasy, and ask Charley what is doing.
“Well,” Charley says, “many things are doing, and personally,” he says, “I’m greatly surprised I do not see you at Gammer O’Neill’s wake.
“You know Gammer O’Neill leaves this wicked old world a couple of days after Christmas,” Good Time Charley says, “and,” he says, “Miss Muriel O’Neill states that Doc Moggs claims it is at least a day after she is entitled to go, but she is sustained,” Charley says, “by great happiness in finding her stocking filled with beautiful gifts on Christmas morning.
“According to Miss Muriel O’Neill,” Charley says, “Gammer O’Neill dies practically convinced that there is a Santa Claus, although of course,” he says, “Miss Muriel O’Neill does not tell her the real owner of the gifts, an all-right guy by the name of Shapiro leaves the gifts with her after Miss Muriel O’Neill notifies him of finding of same.
“It seems,” Charley says, “this Shapiro is a tender-hearted guy, who is willing to help keep Gammer O’Neill with us a little longer when Doc Moggs says leaving the gifts with her will do it.
“So,” Charley says, “everything is quite all right, as the coppers cannot figure anything except that maybe the rascal who takes the gifts from Shapiro gets conscience-stricken, and leaves them the first place he can, and Miss Muriel O’Neill receives a ten-G’s reward for finding the gifts and returning them. And,” Charley says, “I hear Dancing Dan is in San Francisco and is figuring on reforming and becoming a dancing teacher, so he can marry Miss Muriel O’Neill, and of course,” he says, “we all hope and trust she never learns any details of Dancing Dan’s career.”
[ * ]
Well, it is Christmas Eve a year later that I run into a guy by the name of Shotgun Sam, who is mobbed up with Heine Schmitz in Harlem, and who is a very, very obnoxious character indeed.
“Well, well, well,” Shotgun says, “the last time I see you is another Christmas Eve like this, and you are coming out of Good Time Charley’s joint, and,” he says, “you certainly have your pots on.”
“Well, Shotgun,” I says, “I am sorry you get such a wrong impression of me, but the truth is,” I say, “on the occasion you speak of, I am suffering from a dizzy feeling in my head.”
“It is all right with me,” Shotgun says. “I have a tip this guy Dancing Dan is in Good Time Charley’s the night I see you, and Mockie Morgan, and GunnerJack and me are casing the joint, because,” he says, “Heine Schmitz is all sored up at Dan over some doll, although of course,” Shotgun says, “it is all right now, as Heine has another doll.
“Anyway,” he says, “we never get to see Dancing Dan. We watch the joint from six-thirty in the evening until daylight Christmas morning, and nobody goes in all night but old Ooky the Santa Claus guy in his Santa Claus makeup, and,” Shotgun says, “nobody comes out except you and Good Time Charley and Ooky.
“Well,” Shotgun says, “it is a great break for Dancing Dan he never goes in or comes out of Good Time Charley’s, at that, because,” he says, “we are waiting for him on the second-floor front of the building across the way with some nice little sawed-offs, and are under orders from Heine not to miss. “
“Well, Shotgun,” I say, “Merry Christmas.”
“Well, all right,” Shotgun says, “Merry Christmas.”
Scarecrow, Your Name should be Rodney Dangerfield
Pity the poor stick man. He has to work hard all summer for no pay. He’s given the worst of hand-me-down rags for clothes. The most horrible slight of all, is that in winter when he should be having a warm, comfortable rest; he’s left all by himself in a desolate field with the rotting remains of corn stalks or whatever else he risked life and limb for.
Take snowmen. They don’t work. They are a lazy lot, simply standing around doing nothing while everybody else has to shovel the walkways and plow the streets. They are totally ornamental, having no useful function, and yet they get a song named after them? I’m certain you remember the tune. It’s called “Frosty the Snowman”.
Well people of the world – what about the scarecrows? Where’s their ode?
Oh wait a minute, there is a tribute to scarecrows. Mary Wilkins of Randolph, Massachusetts (1852-1930) wrote a charming little fantasy about a one year old bird battler named Jimmy Scarecrow. Much of her work dealt with fantasy and the supernatural.
In the story that follows, she gives life to her stick man and creates an interesting little 2,000 word holiday tale that she titled:
Jimmy Scarecrow’s Christmas
By Mary Eleanor Wilkens, written in the late 1880’s, possibly for Harper’s Magazine which published a good deal of her work.
Mary Wilkins in 1899
Jimmy Scarecrow led a sad life in the winter. Jimmy’s greatest grief was his lack of occupation. He liked to be useful, and in winter he was absolutely of no use at all.
He wondered how many such miserable winters he would have to endure. He was a young Scarecrow, and this was his first one. He was strongly made, and although his wooden joints creaked a little when the wind blew he did not grow in the least rickety. Every morning, when the wintry sun peered like a hard yellow eye across the dry corn-stubble, Jimmy felt sad, but at Christmas time his heart nearly broke.
On Christmas Eve Santa Claus came in his sledge heaped high with presents, urging his team of reindeer across the field. He was on his way to the farmhouse where Betsey lived with her Aunt Hannah.
Betsey was a very good little girl with very smooth yellow curls, and she had a great many presents. Santa Claus had a large wax doll-baby for her on his arm, tucked up against the fur collar of his coat. He was afraid to trust it in the pack, lest it get broken.
When poor Jimmy Scarecrow saw Santa Claus his heart gave a great leap. “Santa Claus! Here I am!” he cried out, but Santa Claus did not hear him.
“Santa Claus, please give me a little present. I was good all summer and kept the crows out of the corn,” pleaded the poor Scarecrow in his choking voice, but Santa Claus passed by with a merry halloo and a great clamour of bells.
Then Jimmy Scarecrow stood in the corn-stubble and shook with sobs until his joints creaked. “I am of no use in the world, and everybody has forgotten me,” he moaned. But he was mistaken.
The next morning Betsey sat at the window holding her Christmas doll-baby, and she looked out at Jimmy Scarecrow standing alone in the field amidst the corn-stubble.
“Aunt Hannah?” said she. Aunt Hannah was making a crazy patchwork quilt, and she frowned hard at a triangular piece of red silk and circular piece of pink, wondering how to fit them together. “Well?” said she.
“Did Santa Claus bring the Scarecrow any Christmas present?”
“No, of course he didn’t.”
“Because he’s a Scarecrow. Don’t ask silly questions.”
“I wouldn’t like to be treated so, if I was a Scarecrow,” said Betsey, but her Aunt Hannah did not hear her. She was busy cutting a triangular snip out of the round piece of pink silk so the piece of red silk could be feather-stitched into it.
It was snowing hard out of doors, and the north wind blew. The Scarecrow’s poor old coat got whiter and whiter with snow. Sometimes he almost vanished in the thick white storm. Aunt Hannah worked until the middle of the afternoon on her crazy quilt. Then she got up and spread it out over the sofa with an air of pride.
“There,” said she, “that’s done, and that makes the eighth. I’ve got one for every bed in the house, and I’ve given four away. I’d give this away if I knew of anybody that wanted it.”
Aunt Hannah put on her hood and shawl, and drew some blue yarn stockings on over her shoes, and set out through the snow to carry a slice of plum-pudding to her sister Susan, who lived down the road. Half an hour after Aunt Hannah had gone Betsey put her little red plaid shawl over her head, and ran across the field to Jimmy Scarecrow. She carried her new doll-baby smuggled up under her shawl.
“Wish you Merry Christmas!” she said to Jimmy Scarecrow.
“Wish you the same,” said Jimmy, but his voice was choked with sobs, and was also muffled, for his old hat had slipped down to his chin. Betsey looked pitifully at the old hat fringed with icicles, like frozen tears, and the old snow-laden coat. “I’ve brought you a Christmas present,” said she, and with that she tucked her doll-baby inside Jimmy Scarecrow’s coat, sticking its tiny feet into a pocket.
“Thank you,” said Jimmy Scarecrow faintly.
“You’re welcome,” said she. “Keep her under your overcoat, so the snow won’t wet her, and she won’t catch cold, she’s delicate.”
“Yes, I will,” said Jimmy Scarecrow, and he tried hard to bring one of his stiff, outstretched arms around to clasp the doll-baby.
“Don’t you feel cold in that old summer coat?” asked Betsey.
“If I bad a little exercise, I should be warm,” he replied. But he shivered, and the wind whistled through his rags.
“You wait a minute,” said Betsey, and was off across the field.
Jimmy Scarecrow stood in the corn-stubble, with the doll-baby under his coat and waited, and soon Betsey was back again with Aunt Hannah’s crazy quilt trailing in the snow behind her.
“Here,” said she, “here is something to keep you warm,” and she folded the crazy quilt around the Scarecrow and pinned it.
“Aunt Hannah wants to give it away if anybody wants it,” she explained. “She’s got so many crazy quilts in the house now she doesn’t know what to do with them. Good-bye—be sure you keep the doll-baby covered up.” And with that she ran cross the field, and left Jimmy Scarecrow alone with the crazy quilt and the doll-baby.
The bright flash of colors under Jimmy’s hat-brim dazzled his eyes, and he felt a little alarmed. “I hope this quilt is harmless if it IS crazy,” he said. But the quilt was warm, and he dismissed his fears. Soon the doll-baby whimpered, but he creaked his joints a little, and that amused it, and he heard it cooing inside his coat.
Jimmy Scarecrow had never felt so happy in his life as he did for an hour or so.
But after that the snow began to turn to rain, and the crazy quilt was soaked through and through: and not only that, but his coat and the poor doll-baby. It cried pitifully for a while, and then it was still, and he was afraid it was dead.
It grew very dark, and the rain fell in sheets, the snow melted, and Jimmy Scarecrow stood halfway up his old boots in water. He was saying to himself that the saddest hour of his life had come, when suddenly he again heard Santa Claus’ sleigh-bells and his merry voice talking to his reindeer. It was after midnight, Christmas was over, and Santa was hastening home to the North Pole.
“Santa Claus! dear Santa Claus!” cried Jimmy Scarecrow with a great sob, and that time Santa Claus heard him and drew rein.
“Who’s there?” he shouted out of the darkness.
“It’s only me,” replied the Scarecrow.
“Who’s me?” shouted Santa Claus.
Santa got out of his sledge and waded up.
“Have you been standing here ever since corn was ripe?” he asked pityingly, and Jimmy replied that he had.
“What’s that over your shoulders?” Santa Claus continued, holding up his lantern.
“It’s a crazy quilt. And what are you holding under your coat?”
“The doll-baby that Betsey gave me, and I’m afraid it’s dead,” poor Jimmy Scarecrow sobbed.
“Nonsense!” cried Santa Claus. “Let me see it!” And with that he pulled the doll-baby out from under the Scarecrow’s coat, and patted its back, and shook it a little, and it began to cry, and then to crow. “It’s all right,” said Santa Claus. “This is the doll-baby I gave Betsey, and it is not at all delicate. It went through the measles, and the chicken-pox, and the mumps, and the whooping-cough, before it left the North Pole. Now get into the sledge, Jimmy Scarecrow, and bring the doll-baby and the crazy quilt. I have never had any quilts that weren’t in their right minds at the North Pole, but maybe I can cure this one. Get in!” Santa chirruped to his reindeer, and they drew the sledge up close in a beautiful curve.
“Get in, Jimmy Scarecrow, and come with me to the North Pole!” he cried.
“Please, how long shall I stay?” asked Jimmy Scarecrow.
“Why, you are going to live with me,” replied Santa Claus. “I’ve been looking for a person like you for a long time.”
“Are there any crows to scare away at the North Pole? I want to be useful,” Jimmy Scarecrow said, anxiously.
“No,” answered Santa Claus, “but I don’t want you to scare away crows. I want you to scare away Arctic Explorers. I can keep you in work for a thousand years, and scaring away Arctic Explorers from the North Pole is much more important than scaring away crows from corn. Why, if they found the Pole, there wouldn’t be a piece an inch long left in a week’s time, and the earth would cave in like an apple without a core! They would whittle it all to pieces, and carry it away in their pockets for souvenirs. Come along; I am in a hurry.”
“I will go on two conditions,” said Jimmy. “First, I want to make a present to Aunt Hannah and Betsey, next Christmas.” “You shall make them any present you choose. What else?”
“I want some way provided to scare the crows out of the corn next summer, while I am away,” said Jimmy.
“That is easily managed,” said Santa Claus. “Just wait a minute.”
Santa took his stylographic pen out of his pocket, went with his lantern close to one of the fence-posts, and wrote these words upon it:
NOTICE TO CROWS
Whichever crow shall hereafter hop, fly, or flop into this field during the absence of Jimmy Scarecrow, and therefrom purloin, steal, or abstract corn, shall be instantly, in a twinkling and a trice, turned snow-white, and be ever after a disgrace, a byword and a reproach to his whole race.
Per order of Santa Claus.
“The corn will be safe now,” said Santa Claus, “get in.” Jimmy got into the sledge and they flew away over the fields, out of sight, with merry halloos and a great clamor of bells.
The next morning there was much surprise at the farmhouse, when Aunt Hannah and Betsey looked out of the window and the Scarecrow was not in the field holding out his stiff arms over the corn stubble. Betsey had told Aunt Hannah she had given away the crazy quilt and the doll-baby, but had been scolded very little.
“You must not give away anything of yours again without asking permission,” said Aunt Hannah. “And you have no right to give anything of mine, even if you know I don’t want it. Now both my pretty quilt and your beautiful doll-baby are spoiled.”
That was all Aunt Hannah had said. She thought she would send John after the quilt and the doll-baby next morning as soon as it was light.
But Jimmy Scarecrow was gone, and the crazy quilt and the doll-baby with him. John, the servant-man, searched everywhere, but not a trace of them could he find. “They must have all blown away, mum,” he said to Aunt Hannah.
“We shall have to have another scarecrow next summer,” said she.
But the next summer there was no need of a scarecrow, for not a crow came past the fence-post on which Santa Claus had written his notice to crows. The cornfield was never so beautiful, and not a single grain was stolen by a crow, and everybody wondered at it, for they could not read the crow-language in which Santa had written.
“It is a great mystery to me why the crows don’t come into our cornfield, when there is no scarecrow,” said Aunt Hannah.
But she had a still greater mystery to solve when Christmas came round again. Then she and Betsey had each a strange present. They found them in the sitting-room on Christmas morning. Aunt Hannah’s present was her old crazy quilt, remodelled, with every piece cut square and true, and matched exactly to its neighbor.
“Why, it’s my old crazy quilt, but it isn’t crazy now!” cried Aunt Hannah, and her very spectacles seemed to glisten with amazement.
Betsey’s present was her doll-baby of the Christmas before; but the doll was a year older. She had grown an inch, and could walk and say, “mamma,” and “how do?” She was changed a good deal, but Betsey knew her at once. “It’s my doll-baby!” she cried, and snatched her up and kissed her.
But neither Aunt Hannah nor Betsey ever knew that the quilt and the doll were Jimmy Scarecrow’s Christmas presents to them.
The Author, Mary E. Wilkins, was raised in the staunch New England religious style of Orthodox Congregationalists. Though she was born in 1852, it’s fair to say that the type of religion she learned was nearly unchanged from the severe dogma of the pilgrims and puritans who landed in Provincetown in 1620.
Her upbringing was strict and her schooling was even more stringent as she was educated at a ‘female’ seminary in Western Massachusetts. A pretty enough young lady, Mary could have set her cap for any of a thousand young men in her town, but she remained an ‘old maid’ until finally marrying for the first and only time at the age of 50.
Ill fate matched her with an alcoholic, non-practicing medical doctor who was later committed to a State Hospital for the Insane. Worse yet, he was wealthy and when he died, he left all his money to his chauffeur. To his widow he bequeathed – you guessed it, one stinkin’ dollar! How the will was not challenged and how someone certified to be of ‘unsound mind’ could have even made a will; is unknown.
But Mary soldiered on and made a pretty good name for her-self in the 1880s and 1890s. She became a New England celebrity and was the first winner of the William Dean Howells Medal for Distinction in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
She passed away at age 77 in 1930, after decades of critical and commercial success, including becoming the first winner of the William Dean Howells medal for distinction in fiction, from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
The Beggar at the Window
Author Unknown, Adapted by Bill Russo for the Christmas Series “Family Friendly holiday tales and bedtime stories”.
The Beggar at the Window on Christmas Eve
A folk tale from ages ago – or perhaps it is from just last year. At any rate, the message delivered in this little story of 1800 words is as new as tomorrow and as timeless as the heavens. Here now is the narrative of the ragged little boy who peered into people’s windows on the night before Christmas……
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, on the night before Christmas, a little child was wandering all alone through the streets of Boston, or maybe it was New York – perhaps Chicago. It was a very big city, whatever its name.
There were many people on the street, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, and even gray-haired grandfathers and grandmothers, all of whom were hurrying home with bundles of presents for each other and for their little ones. Fine carriages rolled by, express wagons rattled past, even old carts were pressed into service, and all things seemed in a hurry and glad with expectation of the coming Christmas morning.
From some of the windows bright lights were already beginning to stream until it was almost as bright as day. But the little child seemed to have no home, and wandered about listlessly from street to street.
No one took any notice of him except perhaps Jack Frost, who bit his bare toes and made the ends of his fingers tingle. The north wind, too, seemed to notice the child, for it blew against him and pierced his ragged garments through and through, causing him to shiver with cold. Home after home he passed, looking with longing eyes through the windows, in upon the glad, happy children, most of whom were helping to trim the Christmas trees for the coming day.
“Surely,” said the child to himself, “where there is so must gladness and happiness, some of it may be for me.” So with timid steps he approached a large, elegant house. Through the windows, he could see a tall and stately Christmas tree already lighted. Many presents hung upon it. Its green boughs were trimmed with gold and silver ornaments.
Slowly he climbed up the broad steps and gently rapped at the door. It was opened by a large man, who appeared to be a butler or some other servant of the house.
He had a kindly face, although his voice was deep and gruff. He looked at the little child for a moment, then sadly shook his head and said, “Go down off the steps. There is no room here for such as you.” He looked sorry as he spoke; possibly he remembered his own little ones at home, and was glad that they were not out in this cold and bitter night.
Through the open door a bright light shone, and the warm air, filled with fragrance of the Christmas pine, rushed out from the inner room and greeted the little wanderer with a kiss. As the child turned back into the cold and darkness, he wondered why the footman had spoken thus, for surely, thought he, those little children would love to have another companion join them in their joyous Christmas festival. But the little children inside did not even know that he had knocked at the door.
The street grew colder and darker as the child passed on. He went sadly forward, saying to himself, “Is there no one in this great city who will share the Christmas with me?” Farther and farther down the street he wandered, to where the homes were not so large and beautiful. There seemed to be little children inside of nearly all the houses. They were dancing and frolicking about. Christmas trees could be seen in nearly every window, with beautiful dolls and trumpets and picture-books and balls and tops and other dainty toys hung upon them.
In one window the child noticed a little lamb made of soft white wool. Around its neck was tied a red ribbon. It had evidently been hung on the tree for one of the children. The little stranger stopped before this window and looked long and earnestly at the beautiful things inside, but most of all was he drawn toward the white lamb. At last creeping up to the window-pane, he gently tapped upon it. A little girl came to the window and looked out into the dark street where the snow had now begun to fall. She saw the child, but she only frowned and shook her head and said, “Go away and come some other time. We are too busy to take care of you now.”
Back into the dark, cold streets he turned again. The wind was whirling past him and seemed to say, “Hurry on, hurry on, we have no time to stop. ‘Tis Christmas Eve and everybody is in a hurry to-night.”
Again and again the little child rapped softly at door or window-pane. At each place he was refused admission. One mother feared he might have some ugly disease which her darlings would catch; another father said he had only enough for his own children and none to spare for beggars. Still another told him to go home where he belonged, and not to trouble other folks.
The hours passed; later grew the night, and colder grew the wind, and darker seemed the street. Farther and farther the little one wandered. There was scarcely any one left upon the street by this time, and the few who remained did not seem to see the child, when suddenly ahead of him there appeared a bright, single ray of light. It shone through the darkness into the child’s eyes. He looked up smilingly and said, “I will go where the small light beckons, perhaps they will share their Christmas with me.”
Hurrying past all the other houses, he soon reached the end of the street and went straight up to the window from which the light was streaming. It was a poor, little, low house, but the child cared not for that. The light seemed still to call him in.
From what do you suppose the light came? Nothing but a tallow candle which had been placed in an old cup with a broken handle, in the window, as a glad token of Christmas Eve. There was neither curtain nor shade to the small, square window and as the little child looked in he saw standing upon a neat wooden table a branch of a Christmas tree.
The room was plainly furnished but it was very clean. Near the fireplace sat a lovely faced mother with a little two-year-old on her knee and an older child beside her. The two children were looking into their mother’s face and listening to a story. She must have been telling them a Christmas story, I think. A few bright coals were burning in the fireplace, and all seemed light and warm within.
The little wanderer crept closer and closer to the window-pane. So sweet was the mother’s face, so loving seemed the little children, that at last he took courage and tapped gently, very gently on the door. The mother stopped talking, the little children looked up. “What was that, mother?” asked the little girl at her side.
“I think it was someone tapping on the door,” replied the mother. “Run as quickly as you can and open it, dear, for it is a bitter cold night to keep any one waiting in this storm.” “Oh, mother, I think it was the bough of the tree tapping against the window-pane,” said the little girl. “Do please go on with our story.”
Again the little wanderer tapped upon the door. “My child, my child,” exclaimed the mother, rising, “that certainly was a rap on the door. Run quickly and open it. No one must be left out in the cold on our beautiful Christmas Eve.”
The child ran to the door and threw it wide open. The mother saw the
ragged stranger standing without, cold and shivering, with bare head
and almost bare feet. She held out both hands and drew him into the
warm, bright room.
“You poor, dear child,” was all she said, and
putting her arms around him, she drew him close to her breast. “He is
very cold, my children,” she exclaimed. “We must warm him.” “And,”
added the little girl, “we must love him and give him some of our
“Yes,” said the mother, “but first let us warm him—“
The mother sat down by the fire with the little child on her lap, and her own little ones warmed his half-frozen hands in theirs. The mother smoothed his tangled curls, and, bending low over his head, kissed the child’s face. She gathered the three little ones in her arms and the candle and the fire light shone over them. For a moment the room was very still.
By and by the little girl said softly, to her mother, “May we not light the Christmas tree, and let him see how beautiful it looks?” “Yes,” said the mother. With that she seated the child on a low stool beside the fire, and went herself to fetch the few simple ornaments which from year to year she had saved for her children’s Christmas tree.
They were soon so busy that they did not notice the room had filled with a strange and brilliant light. They turned and looked at the spot where the little wanderer sat. His ragged clothes had changed to garments white and beautiful; his tangled curls seemed like a halo of golden light about his head; but most glorious of all was his face, which shone with a light so dazzling that they could scarcely look upon it.
In silent wonder they gazed at the child. Their little room seemed to grow larger and larger, until it was as wide as the whole world, the roof of their low house seemed to expand and rise, until it reached to the sky.
With a sweet and gentle smile the wonderful child looked upon them for a moment, and then slowly rose and floated through the air, above the treetops, beyond the church spire, higher even than the clouds themselves, until he appeared to them to be a shining star in the sky above.
At last he disappeared from sight. The astonished children turned in hushed awe to their mother, and said in a whisper, “Oh, mother, it was the Christ-Child, was it not?” And the mother answered in a low tone, “Yes.”
And it is said in the North End of Boston and the South Side of Chicago and even all around the world; that each Christmas Eve the little Christ-Child wanders through some town or village, and those who receive him and take him into their homes and hearts have given to them this celestial vision which is denied to others.
Christmas at the Boston Music Hall
Annotated by Bill Russo, this version of the story first appeared in the blog: Adventures in Type and Space http://billrrrrr.blogspot.com/
Christmas at the Boston Music Hall
The story that follows takes place in Boston at the turn of the century – from the 1800s to the 1900s. The setting is the affluent area of the Boston Music Hall on Winter Street. The grand theater was home to the world famous Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Later, when the symphony moved to a new building, the venue became one of America’s finest Vaudeville Theaters. In 1915, it was converted to a motion picture house called the Orpheum Theater. Now, in the 2000’s the ancient hall is still in existence and continues to offer a wide variety of live entertainments.
In our tale, written by an unheralded author that I call “Ma Lane”, a group of proper and wealthy Beacon Hill college students are on their way to a monumental performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra featuring the premiere of a new work by the recently deceased Johannes Brahms.
Brahms had been a close friend of the Boston conductor, George Henschel. By 1900 Brahms’ work was so highly valued that he was called one of the three ‘B’s’ – Beethoven, Brahms, and Bach.
It was no wonder then that our rich young friends were in a hurry to get to the Music Hall………
A Christmas Matinee
By Ma Lane
It was the day before Christmas just before 1900. Snow was falling heavily in the streets of Boston, but the crowd of shoppers seemed undiminished. As the storm increased, groups gathered at the corners and in sheltering doorways to wait for belated cars; but the holiday cheer was in the air, and there was no grumbling. Mothers dragging tired children through the slush of the streets; pretty girls hurrying home for the holidays; here and there a harassed-looking man with perhaps a single package which he had taken a whole morning to select—all had the same spirit of tolerant good-humor.
“School Street! School Street!” called the conductor of an electric car. A group of young people at the farther end of the car started to their feet. One of them, a young man wearing a heavy fur-trimmed coat, addressed the conductor angrily.
“I said, ‘Music Hall,’ didn’t I?” he demanded. “Now we’ve got to walk back in the snow because of your stupidity!”
Boston Music Hall in 1900, just before it was converted to a Vaudeville Theater. The building is still in use in the 2000s; now known as the Orpheum Theater.
“Oh, never mind, Frank!” one of the girls interposed. “We ought to have been looking out ourselves! Six of us, and we went by without a thought! It is all Mrs. Tirrell’s fault! She shouldn’t have been so entertaining!”
The young matron dimpled and blushed. “That’s charming of you, Maidie,” she said, gathering up her silk skirts as she prepared to step down into the pond before her. “The compliment makes up for the blame. But how it snows!”
“It doesn’t matter. We all have rubber boots on,” returned Maidie Williams, undisturbed.
“Fares, please!” said the conductor.
Frank Armstrong thrust his gloved hand deep into his pocket with angry vehemence. “There’s your money,” he said, “and be quick about the change, will you? We’ve lost time enough!”
The man counted out the change with stiff, red fingers, closed his lips firmly as if to keep back an obvious rejoinder, rang up the six fares with careful accuracy, and gave the signal to go ahead. The car went on into the drifting storm.
Armstrong laughed shortly as he rapidly counted the bits of silver lying in his open palm. He turned instinctively, but two or three cars were already between him and the one he was looking for.
“The fellow must be an imbecile,” he said, rejoining the group on the crossing. “He’s given me back a dollar and twenty cents, and I handed him a dollar bill.”
“Oh, can’t you stop him?” cried Maidie Williams, with a backward step into the wet street.
The Harvard junior, who was carrying her umbrella, protested: “What’s the use. Miss Williams? He’ll make it up before he gets to Scollay Square, you may be sure. Those chaps don’t lose anything. Why, the other day, I gave one a quarter and he went off as cool as you please. ‘Where’s my change?’ said I. ‘You gave me a nickel,’ said he. And there wasn’t anybody to swear that I didn’t except myself, and I didn’t count.”
“But that doesn’t make any difference,” insisted the girl warmly. “Because one conductor was dishonest, we needn’t be. I beg your pardon, Frank, but it does seem to me just stealing.”
“Oh, come along!” said her cousin, with an easy laugh. “I guess the West End Corporation won’t go without their dinners to-morrow. Here, Maidie, here’s the ill-gotten fifty cents. I think you ought to treat us all after the concert; still, I won’t urge you. I wash my hands of all responsibility. But I do wish you hadn’t such an unpleasant conscience.”
Maidie flushed under the sting of his rudeness, but she went on quietly with the rest. It was evident that any attempt to overtake the car was out of the question.
“Did you notice his number, Frank?” she asked, suddenly.
“No, I never thought of it” said Frank, stopping short. “However, I probably shouldn’t make any complaint if I had. I shall forget all about it tomorrow. I find it’s never safe to let the sun go down on my wrath. It’s very likely not to be there the next day.”
“I wasn’t thinking of making a complaint,” said Maidie; but the two young men were enjoying the small joke too much to notice what she said.
The great doorway of Music Hall was just ahead. In a moment the party was within its friendly shelter, stamping off the snow. The girls were adjusting veils and hats with adroit feminine touches; the pretty chaperon was beaming approval upon them, and the young men were taking off their wet overcoats, when Maidie turned again in sudden desperation.
“Mr. Harris,” she said, rather faintly, for she did not like to make herself disagreeable, “do you suppose that car comes right back from Scollay Square?”
“What car?” asked Walter Harris, blankly. “Oh, the one we came in? Yes, I suppose it does. They’re running all the time, anyway. Why, you are not sick, are you, Miss Williams?”
There was genuine concern in his tone. This girl, with her sweet, vibrant voice, her clear gray eyes, seemed very charming to him. She wasn’t beautiful, perhaps, but she was the kind of girl he liked. There was a steady earnestness in the gray eyes that made him think of his mother.
“No,” said Maidie, slowly. “I’m all right, thank you. But I wish I could find that man again. I know sometimes they have to make it up if their accounts are wrong, and I couldn’t—we couldn’t feel very comfortable—“
Frank Armstrong interrupted her. “Maidie,” he said, with the studied calmness with which one speaks to an unreasonable child, “you are perfectly absurd. Here it is within five minutes of the time for the concert to begin. It is impossible to tell when that car is coming back. You are making us all very uncomfortable. Mrs. Tirrell, won’t you please tell her not to spoil our afternoon?”
“I think he’s right, Maidie,” said Mrs. Tirrell. “It’s very nice of you to feel so sorry for the poor man, but he really was very careless. It was all his own fault. And just think how far he made us walk! My feet are quite damp. We ought to go in directly or we shall all take cold, and I’m sure you wouldn’t like that, my dear.”
She led the way as she spoke, the two girls and young Armstrong following. Maidie hesitated. It was so easy to go in, to forget everything in the light and warmth and excitement.
“No,” said she, very firmly, and as much to herself as to the young man who stood waiting for her. “I must go back and try to make it right.
I’m so sorry, Mr. Harris, but if you will tell them—“
“Why, I’m going with you, of course” said the young fellow, impulsively. “If I’d only looked once at the man I’d go alone, but I shouldn’t know him from Adam.”
Maidie laughed. “Oh, I don’t want to lose the whole concert, Mr. Harris, and Frank, has all the tickets. You must go after them and try to make my peace. I’ll come just as soon as I can. Don’t wait for me, please. If you’ll come and look for me here the first number, and not let them scold me too much—“ She ended with an imploring little catch in her breath that was almost a sob.
“They won’t say a word, Miss Williams!” cried Walter Harris, with honest admiration in his eyes.
But she was gone already, and conscious that further delay was only making matters worse, he went on into the hall.
Meanwhile, the car swung heavily along the wet rails on its way to the turning-point. It was nearly empty now. An old gentleman and his nurse were the only occupants. Jim Stevens, the conductor, had stepped inside the car.
“Too bad I forgot those young people wanted to get off at Music Hall,” he was thinking to himself. “I don’t see how I came to do it. That chap looked as if he wanted to complain of me, and I don’t know as I blame him. I’d have said I was sorry if he hadn’t been so sharp with his tongue. I hope he won’t complain just now. ‘Twould be a pretty bad time for me to get into trouble, with Mary and the baby both sick. I’m too sleepy to be good for much, that’s a fact. Sitting up three nights running takes hold of a fellow somehow when he’s at work all day. The rent’s paid, that’s one thing, if it hasn’t left me but half a dollar to my name. Hullo!” He was struck by a sudden distinct recollection of the coins he had returned. “Why, I gave him fifty cents too much!”
He glanced up at the dial which indicated the fares and began to count the change in his pocket. He knew exactly how much money he had had at the beginning of the trip. He counted carefully. Then he plunged his hand into the heavy canvas pocket of his coat. Perhaps he had half a dollar there. No, it was empty!
He faced the fact reluctantly. Fifty cents short, ten fares! Gone into the pocket of the young gentleman with the fur collar! The conductor’s hand shook as he put the money back in his pocket. It meant—what did it mean? He drew a long breath.
Christmas Eve! A dark dreary little room upstairs in a noisy tenement house. A pale, thin woman on a shabby lounge vainly trying to quiet a fretful child. The child is thin and pale, too, with a hard, racking cough. There is a small fire in the stove, a very small fire; coal is so high. The medicine stands on the shelf. “Medicine won’t do much good,” the doctor had said; “he needs beef and cream.”
Jim’s heart sank at the thought. He could almost hear the baby asking;
“Isn’t papa coming soon? Isn’t he, mamma?”
“Poor little kid!” Jim said, softly, under his breath. “And I won’t have a thing to take home to him; nor Mary’s violets, either. It’ll be the first Christmas that ever happened. I suppose that chap would think it was ridiculous for me to be buying violets. He wouldn’t understand what the flowers mean to Mary. Perhaps he didn’t notice I gave him too much. That kind don’t know how much they have. They just pull it out as if it was newspaper.”
The conductor went out into the snow to help the nurse, who was assisting the old gentleman to the ground. Then the car swung on again. Jim turned up the collar of his coat about his ears and stamped his feet. There was the florist’s shop where he had meant to buy the violets, and the toy-shop was just around the corner.
A thought flashed across his tired brain. “Plenty of men would do it; they do it every day. Nobody ever would be the poorer for it. This car will be crowded going home. I needn’t ring in every fare; nobody could tell. But Mary! She wouldn’t touch those violets if she knew. And she’d know. I’d have to tell her. I couldn’t keep it from her, she’s that quick.”
He jumped off to adjust the trolley with a curious sense of unreality. It couldn’t be that he was really going home this Christmas Eve with empty hands. Well, they must all suffer together for his carelessness. It was his own fault, but it was hard. And he was so tired!
To his amazement he found his eyes were blurred as be watched the people crowding into the car. What? Was he going to cry like a baby—he, a great burly man of thirty years?
“It’s no use,” he thought. “I couldn’t do it. The first time I gave Mary violets was the night she said she’d marry me. I told her then I’d do my best to make her proud of me. I guess she wouldn’t be very proud of a man who could cheat. She’d rather starve than have a ribbon she couldn’t pay for.”
He rang up a dozen fares with a steady hand. The temptation was over. Six more strokes—then nine without a falter. He even imagined the bell rang more distinctly than usual, even encouragingly. The car stopped. Jim flung the door open with a triumphant sweep of his arm. He felt ready to face the world. But the baby—his arm dropped. It was hard.
He turned to help the young girl who was waiting at the step. Through the whirling snow he saw her eager face, with a quick recognition lighting the steady eyes, and wondered dimly, as he stood with his hand on the signal-strap, where he could have seen her before.
He knew immediately.
“There was a mistake,” she said, with a shy tremor in her voice. “You gave us too much change and here it is.” She held out to Jim the piece of silver which had given him such an unhappy quarter of an hour.
He took it like one dazed. Would the young lady think he was crazy to care so much about so small a coin? He must say something. “Thank you, miss,” he stammered as well as he could. “You see, I thought it was gone—and there’s the baby—and it’s Christmas Eve—and my wife’s sick—and you can’t understand—“
It certainly was not remarkable that she couldn’t.
“But I do,” she said, simply. “I was afraid of that. And I thought perhaps there was a baby, so I brought my Christmas present for her,” and something else dropped into Jim’s cold hand.
“What you waiting for?” shouted the motorman from the front platform.
The girl had disappeared in the snow.
Jim rang the bell to go ahead, and gazed again at the two shining half dollars in his hand.
“I didn’t have a chance to tell her,” he explained to his wife late in the evening, as he sat in a tiny rocking-chair several sizes too small for him, “that the baby wasn’t a her at all, though if I thought he’d grow up into such a lovely one as she is, I don’t know but I almost wish he was.”
“Poor Jim!” said Mary, with a little laugh as she put up her hand to stroke his rough cheek. “I guess you’re tired.”
“And I should say,” he added, stretching out his long legs toward the few red sparks in the bottom of the grate, “I should say she had tears in her eyes, too, but I was that near crying myself I couldn’t be sure.”
The little room was sweet with the odor of English violets. Asleep in the bed lay the boy, a toy horse clasped close to his breast.
“Bless her heart!” said Mary, softly.
Meanwhile, back at the Music Hall…..
“Well, Miss Williams,” said Walter Harris, as he sprang to meet a snow-covered figure coming swiftly along the sidewalk. “I can see that you found him. You’ve lost the first number, but the Boston Symphony Orchestra won’t scold you—not this time.”
The girl turned a radiant face upon him. “Thank you,” she said, shaking the snowy crystals from her skirt. “I don’t care now if they do. I should have lost more than that if I had stayed.”
In episode 137 of Seinfeld, the cast members meet their complete polar opposites: Bizarro Jerry, Bizarro Kramer, Bizarro George, and Bizarro Newman. The writers of the long running sit-com lifted the idea directly from the pages of a Superman Comic in which the man of steel meets his complete opposite.
Most of us probably will never encounter the Bizarro version of ourselves, but there is a chance that somewhere in the world there exists a ‘reverse doppleganger’ for everyone.
When I first read today’s featured classic tale, I instantly thought of Ebenezer Scrooge – before he had his run-in with a trio of ghosts. The thought struck me that if ever there was a perfect polar opposite to Scrooge – A Bizzaro Scrooge – it is Ann the washerwoman, the hero of the fascinating little 3,000 word vintage narrative that follows:
“I just realized what tomorrow is! It’s Christmas Day and I clean forgot all about it,” said old Ann, the washerwoman, pausing in her work and holding the flatiron suspended in the air. “Much good it’ll do us,” growled a discontented voice from the coarse bed in the corner.
“We haven’t much extra, to be sure,” answered Ann cheerfully, bringing the iron down onto the shirt before her, “but at least we’ve got enough to eat, and a good fire, and that’s more than some have, not a thousand miles from here either.”
“We might have plenty more,” said the fretful voice, “if you didn’t think so much more of strangers than you do of your own folk’s comfort, keeping a houseful of beggars, as if you was a lady!”
“Now, John,” replied Ann, taking another flatiron from the fire, “you’re not half so bad as you pretend. You wouldn’t have me turn them poor creatures into the streets to freeze, now, would you?”
“It’s none of our business to pay rent for them,” grumbled John. “Every one for himself, I say, these hard times. If they can’t pay you’d ought to send ‘em off; there’s plenty as can.”
“They’d pay quick enough if they could get work,” said Ann. “They’re good honest people, every one, and paid me regular as long as they had a cent. But when hundreds are out of work in the city, what can they do?”
“That’s none o’ your business, you can turn ‘em out!” growled John.
“And leave the poor children to freeze as well as starve?” said Ann. “Who’d ever take ‘em in without money, I’d like to know? No, John,” bringing her iron down as though she meant it, “I’m glad I’m well enough to wash and iron, and pay my rent, and so long as I can do that, and keep the hunger away from you and the child, I’ll never turn the poor souls out, leastways, not in this freezing winter weather.” “An’ here’s Christmas,” the old man went on whiningly, “an’ not a penny to spend, an’ I needin’ another blanket so bad, with my rhumatizm, and I haven’t had a drop of tea for I don’t know how long!”
“I know it,” said Ann, never mentioning that she too had been without tea, and not only that, but with small allowance of food of any kind, “and I’m desperate sorry I can’t get a bit of something for Katey. The child never missed a little something in her stocking before.”
“Yes,” John struck in, “much you care for your flesh an’ blood. The child hasn’t had a thing this winter.”
“That’s true enough,” said Ann, with a sigh, “an’ it’s the hardest thing of all that I’ve had to keep her out o’ school when she was doing so beautiful.”
“And her feet all on the ground,” growled John.
“I know her shoes is bad,” said Ann, hanging the shirt up on a line that stretched across the room, and was already nearly full of freshly ironed clothes, “but they’re better than the Parker children’s.”
“What’s that to us?” almost shouted the weak old man, shaking his fist at her in his rage.
“Well, keep your temper, old man,” said Ann. “I’m sorry it goes so hard with you, but as long as I can stand on my feet, I won’t turn anybody out to freeze, that’s certain.”
“How much’ll you get for them?” said the miserable old man, after a few moments’ silence, indicating by his hand the clean clothes on the line.
“Two dollars,” said Ann, “and half of it must go to help make up next month’s rent. I’ve got a good bit to make up yet, and only a week to do it in, and I won’t have another cent till day after to-morrow.”
“Well, I wish you’d manage to buy me a little tea,” whined the old man;
“seems as if that would go right to the spot, and warm up my old bones a bit.”
“I’ll try,” said Ann, revolving in her mind how she could save a few pennies from her indispensable purchases to get tea and sugar, for without sugar he would not touch it.
Wearied with his unusual exertion, the old man now dropped off to sleep, and Ann went softly about, folding and piling the clothes into a big basket already half full. When they were all packed in, and nicely covered with a piece of clean muslin, she took an old shawl and hood from a nail in the corner, put them on, blew out the candle, for it must not burn one moment unnecessarily, and, taking up her basket, went out into the cold winter night, softly closing the door behind her.
The house was on an alley, but as soon as she turned the corner she was in the bright streets, glittering with lamps and happy people. The shop windows were brilliant with Christmas displays, and thousands of warmly dressed buyers were lingering before them, laughing and chatting, and selecting their purchases. Surely it seemed as if there could be no want here.
As quickly as her burden would let her, the old washerwoman passed through the crowd into a broad street and rang the basement bell of a large, showy house.
“Oh, it’s the washerwoman!” said a flashy-looking servant who answered the bell; “set the basket right here. Mrs. Keithe can’t look them over to-night. There’s company in the parlour—Miss Carry’s Christmas party.”
“Ask her to please pay me—at least a part,” said old Ann hastily. “I don’t see how I can do without the money. I counted on it.”
“I’ll ask her,” said the young woman, turning to go upstairs; “but it’s no use.”
Returning in a moment, she delivered the message. “She has no change to-night; you’re to come in the morning.”
“Dear me!” thought Ann, as she plodded back through the streets, “it’ll be even worse than I expected, for there’s not a morsel to eat in the house, and not a penny to buy one with. Well—well—the Lord will provide, the Good Book says, but it’s mighty dark days, and it’s hard to believe.”
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 to bed without any supper.
Her husband grumbled, and Katey—who came in from a neighbor’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 child.
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 stupor 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 fifty-five—sixty—seventy—eighty—eighty-five—ninety—one 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, Mommy, and new shoes—and is it really Christmas?”
“It’s really Christmas, darlin’,” said Ann, “and you’ll see what mommy’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 neighborhood. When at last she went home, her big basket was stuffed as full as it could hold, and she carried a bundle besides.
“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 wool stockings; oh! how warm you’ll be!”
“Oh, how nice, Mommy!” cried Katey, jumping about. “When will you make my frock?”
“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 go too!”
“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 around.
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 everyone.
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.”
Harriet Mann Miller (25 June 1831 – 25 December 1918) who often wrote as Olive Thorne Miller was born to write. She took up the craft as a small child. After her marriage, she put aside her writing during four pregnancies and for some years after, as she raised her children.
But as they grew towards self sufficiency she resumed her career which spawned 24 complete books and close to 1,000 acclaimed articles on ornithology and other subjects.
Besides being an acknowledged expert naturalist and ornithologist, she wrote children’s books and short stories.
Christmas and the Birth of a Nation
Another Christmas Classic annotated by Bill Russo as part of the series of family friendly holiday tales.
Christmas in Seventeen Seventy Six
Annotation by by Bill Russo, 2016.
Story by Anne Hollingsworth Wharton, 1895
Soon it will be the 250th anniversary of the birth of a nation – The United States. There will be countless celebrations and events. IF Football (Soccer) fans have their way, one of the biggest could take place in Philadelphia in 2026. As of 2017, the U.S. is the favorite to host the World Cup finals in the city of the Liberty Bell and where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. Those earth shaking events all happened in the year 1776. It’s just a history date to us obviously because none of us were not around when General Washington and his army blazed the freedom trail.
Have you ever thought what ordinary people like us were doing more than two centuries ago? The nation was split between those favoring to remain aligned with England (Tories) and those who wished for independence (Whigs). The cruel war forced many of the Tories to flee the country. Numerous others went into hiding or swore false allegiance to the Whigs.
Johnny got his gun and went to war, but what of the mothers who took care of the homes after the fathers left for battle? You’ve probably seen illustrations of the people of the 1700s. They dressed funny. The heads of many of the men were shrouded in long hair and they had overgrown beards that made them look like primitive primates.
But they were people just like you and me. Our Christmas tale/bedtime story for today is about a young boy and girl who lived in Bordentown, New Jersey – not far from the battlefield in Trenton.
The father of the boy and girl was a soldier in George Washington’s army. The troops were camped a couple miles north of Trenton on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River.
If you Google Bordentown on your Android, Apple, or your PC; you’ll see that the community is about seven miles below Trenton; where 1500 Hessian troops were holed up after capturing the town. The Hessians were German soldiers hired by the English to help defeat the colonial Tories trying to forge a new nation of 13 colonies. In all, about 30,000 such soldiers of fortune did battle for England in the Revolutionary War.
The Hessians holding Bordentown were supplemented by a single troop of about 200 British Light Horsemen. The cavalrymen’s work was mostly reconnaissance and scouting
Besides having captured Bordentown, there were British and Hessian troops in the surrounding area and this seriously interfered with the plans of the father of the boy and girl of our story. He was a Captain with Washington’s army and he wanted to be home with his family for the holiday.
Here’s the tale, as written more than a century ago by Anne Hollingsworth Wharton:
Captain Tracy had high hopes of be able to go home to eat his Christmas dinner with his wife and children. The children, Kitty and Harry, who had not lived long enough to see many wars, could not imagine such a thing as Christmas without their father, and had busied themselves for weeks in making everything ready to have a merry time with him. Kitty, who loved to play quite as much as any frolicsome girl of to-day, had spent all her spare time in knitting a pair of thick wool stockings, which seems a wonderful feat for a little girl only eight years old to perform! Can you see her sitting by the great chimney-place, filled with its roaring, crackling logs, in her quaint, short-waisted dress, knitting away steadily, and puckering up her rosy, dimpled face over the strange twists and turns of that old stocking? I can see her, and I can also hear her sweet voice as she chatters away to her mother about “how ‘sprised papa will be to find that his little girl can knit like a grown-up woman,” while Harry spreads out on the hearth a goodly store of shellbark hickory nuts that he has gathered and is keeping for his share of the ‘sprise.
“What if he shouldn’t come?” asks Harry, suddenly.
“Oh, he’ll come! Papa never stays away on Christmas,” says Kitty, looking up into her mother’s face for an echo to her words. Instead she sees something very like tears in her mother’s eyes.
“Oh, mamma, don’t you think he’ll come?”
“He will come if he possibly can,” says Mrs. Tracy; “and if he cannot, we will keep Christmas whenever dear papa does come home.”
“It won’t be half so nice,” said Kitty, “nothing’s so nice as REALLY Christmas, and how’s Kris Kringle going to know about it if we change the day?”
“We’ll let him come just the same, and if he brings anything for papa we can put it away for him.”
This plan, still, seemed a poor one to Miss Kitty, who went to her bed in a sober mood that night, and was heard telling her dear dolly, Martha Washington that “wars were mis’able, and that when she married she should have a man who kept a candy-shop for a husband, and not a soldier—no, Martha, not even if he’s as nice as papa!”
As Martha made no objection to this little arrangement, being an obedient child, they were both soon fast asleep. The days of that cold winter of 1776 wore on; so cold it was that the sufferings of the soldiers were great, their bleeding feet often leaving marks on the pure white snow over which they marched. As Christmas drew near there was a feeling among the patriots that some blow was about to be struck; but what it was, and from whence they knew not; and, better than all, the British had no idea that any strong blow could come from Washington’s army, weak and out of heart, as they thought, after being chased through Jersey by Cornwallis.
Mrs. Tracy looked anxiously each day for news of the husband and father only a few miles away, yet so separated by the river and the enemy’s troops that they seemed like a hundred. Christmas Eve came, but brought with it few rejoicings. The hearts of the people were too sad to be taken up with merrymaking, although the Hessian soldiers in the town, good-natured Germans, who only fought the Americans because they were paid for it, gave themselves up to the feasting and revelry.
“Shall we hang up our stockings?” asked Kitty, in rather a doleful voice.
“Yes,” said her mother, “Santa Claus won’t forget you, I am sure, although he has been kept pretty busy looking after the soldiers this winter.”
“Which side is he on?” asked Harry.
“The right side, of course,” said Mrs. Tracy, which was the most sensible answer she could possibly have given. So:…. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.”
Two little rosy faces lay fast asleep upon the pillow when the good old soul came dashing over the roof about one o’clock, and after filling each stocking with red apples, and leaving a cornucopia of sugar-plums for each child, he turned for a moment to look at the sleeping faces, for St. Nicholas has a tender spot in his great big heart for a soldier’s children. Then, remembering many other small folks waiting for him all over the land, he sprang up the chimney and was away in a trice.
Santa Claus, in the form of Mrs. Tracy’s farmer brother, brought her a splendid turkey; but because the Hessians were uncommonly fond of turkey, it came hidden under a load of wood. Harry was very fond of turkey, too, as well as of all other good things; but when his mother said, “It’s such a fine bird, it seems too bad to eat it without father,” Harry cried out, “Yes, keep it for papa!” and Kitty, joining in the chorus, the vote was unanimous, and the turkey was hung away to await the return of the good soldier, although it seemed strange, as Kitty told Martha Washington, “to have no papa and no turkey on Christmas Day.”
The day passed and night came, cold with a steady fall of rain and sleet. Kitty prayed that her “dear papa might not be out in the storm, and that he might come home and wear his beautiful blue stockings”;
“And eat his turkey,” said Harry’s sleepy voice; after which they were soon in the land of dreams.
Toward morning the good people in Bordentown were suddenly aroused by firing in the distance, which became more and more distinct as the day wore on. There was great excitement in the town; men and women gathered together in little groups in the streets to wonder what it was all about, and neighbors came dropping into Mrs. Tracy’s parlor, all day long, one after the other, to say what they thought of the firing.
In the evening there came a body of Hessians flying into the town, to say that General Washington had surprised the British at Trenton, early that morning, and completely routed them, which so frightened the Hessians in Bordentown that they left without the slightest ceremony.
It was a joyful hour to the good town people when the red-jackets turned their backs on them, thinking every moment that the patriot army would be after them. Indeed, it seemed as if wonders would never cease that day, for while rejoicings were still loud, over the departure of the enemy, there came a knock at Mrs. Tracy’s door, and while she was wondering whether she dared open it, it was pushed ajar, and a tall soldier entered. What a scream of delight greeted that soldier, and how Kitty and Harry danced about him and clung to his knees, while Mrs. Tracy drew him toward the warm blaze, and helped him off with his damp cloak!
Cold and tired Captain Tracy was, after a night’s march in the streets and a day’s fighting; but he was not too weary to smile at the dear faces around him, or to pat Kitty’s head when she brought his warm stockings and would put them on the tired feet, herself.
Suddenly there was a sharp, quick bark outside the door. “What’s that?”
“Oh, I forgot. Open the door. Here, Fido, Fido!”
Into the room there sprang a beautiful little spaniel, white, with tan spots, and ears of the longest, softest, and silkiest.
“What a little dear!” exclaimed Kitty; “where did it come from?”
“From the battle of Trenton,” said her father. “His poor master was shot. After the red-coats had turned their backs, and I was hurrying along one of the streets where the fight had been the fiercest, I heard a low groan, and, turning, saw a British officer lying among a number of slain. I raised his head; he begged for some water, which I brought him, and bending down my ear I heard him whisper, ‘Dying—last battle—say a prayer.’ He tried to follow me in the words of a prayer, and then, taking my hand, laid it on something soft and warm, nestling close up to his breast—it was this little dog. The gentleman—for he was a real gentleman—gasped out, ‘Take care of my poor Fido; good-night,’ and was gone. It was as much as I could do to get the little creature away from his dead master; he clung to him as if he loved him better than life. You’ll take care of him, won’t you, children? I brought him home to you, for a Christmas present.”
“Pretty little Fido,” said Kitty, taking the soft, curly creature in her arms; “I think it’s the best present in the world, and to-morrow is to be real Christmas, because you are home, papa.”
“And we’ll eat the turkey,” said Harry, “and hickory nuts, lots of them that I saved for you. What a good time we’ll have! And oh, papa, don’t go to war any more, but stay at home, with mother and Kitty and Fido and me.”
“What would become of our country if we should all do that, my little man? It was a good day’s work that we did this Christmas, getting the army all across the river so quickly and quietly that we surprised the enemy, and gained a victory, with the loss of few men.”
Thus it was that some of the good people of 1776 spent their Christmas, that their children and grandchildren might spend many of them as citizens of a free nation.
After-notes and a poem by Bill Russo:
In the great picture of the Revolutionary War, the battle at Trenton was barely a dot. About 2400 of Washington’s fighters, captured nearly a thousand British soldiers and caused another thousand to flee. There were only two fatalities among the Colonial army – both men died from the hardship of the march and the encampment, rather than in the battle. Twenty two English soldiers were killed in the surprise attack by Washington’s forces.
The skirmish might have been relatively small, but it was huge in restoring the morale of the shabby colonial army. It ushered in a wave of fresh money and new recruits that was a great help in the final push to victory.
“On Christmas day in 17 and Seventy-six,
Our gallant troops, with their bayonets fixed,
to Trenton, New Jersey they marched away.
and routed the Hessian army that frosty day.
In truth it was a battle rather small
But the victory news was heard by all.
New recruits came in many a score
For they saw U.S. victory was in store”
It Doesn’t Always Take Three Ghosts
Another narrarive in the series of family friendly Christmas/bedtime stories, compiled and annotated by Bill Russo
To be an enduring classic, a story doesn’t always need three ghosts rattling chains and promising some old soul, hellfire and damnation if he doesn’t change his miserly ways. Sometimes just a little bit of magic from a small boy or a tiny puppy will do the work of a whole graveyard full of spectral apparitions.
Such is the case with today’s tale, written by Chicago author, businessman, and legislator James W. Linn. He was the nephew of the great reformer Jane Addams, who was an activist, philosopher, social worker and co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Much of Ms. Addams passion for the poor and for charitable causes rubbed on her nephew, as evidenced in this gentle story that starts out in the Chicago financial district but soon winds its way to the poor side of town.
Read on now and take a look inside the mind of a very rich man who battles with himself about balancing the ‘conservation of his fortune with the needs of the people’.
James titled his story………
The Philanthropist’s Christmas
“Did you see this committee yesterday, Mr. Mathews?” asked the philanthropist.
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 flushing.
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 letter.”
“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 ‘ow—“
“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 neighborhood seemed to favor the old-fashioned idea of a tree.
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 cheerfully:
“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 maneuvers 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. Bill got hurt in the summer, and he’s been in bed ever since. So we are giving him a Christmas—tree and all. He gets a bunch of things—an air gun, and a train that goes around when you wind her up. They’re great!”
“You boys are doing this?”
“Well, it’s our club at the settlement, and of course Miss Gray thought of it, and she’s givin’ Bill the train. Come along, mister.”
But Mr. Carter declined.
“All right,” said the boy. “I guess, what with Pete and all, Bill will have Christmas enough.”
“Who is Pete?”
“Bill’s dog. He’s had him three weeks now—best little pup you ever saw!”
A dog which Bill had had three weeks—and in a neighborhood not a quarter of a mile from the avenue. It was three weeks since Skiddles had disappeared. That this dog was Skiddles was of course most improbable, and yet the philanthropist was ready to grasp at any clue which might lead to the lost terrier.
“How did Bill get this dog?” he demanded.
“I found him myself. Some kids had tin-canned him, and he came into our entry. He licked my hand, and then sat up on his hind legs. Somebody’d taught him that, you know. I thought right away, ‘Here’s a dog for Bill!’ And I took him over there and fed him, and they kept him in Bill’s room two or three days, so he shouldn’t get scared again and run off; and now he wouldn’t leave Bill for anybody. Of course, he ain’t much of a dog, Pete ain’t,” he added “he’s just a pup, but he’s mighty friendly!”
“Boy,” said Mr. Carter, “I guess I’ll just go round and”—he was about to add,” have a look at that dog,” but fearful of raising suspicion, he ended—“and see Bill.”
The tenements to which the boy led him were of brick, and reasonably clean. Nearly every window showed some sign of Christmas.
The tree-bearer led the way into a dark hall, up one flight—Mr. Carter assisting with the tree—and down another dark hall, to a door, on which he knocked. A woman opened it.
“Here’s the tree!” said the boy, in a loud whisper. “Is Bill’s door shut?”
Mr. Carter stepped forward out of the darkness. “I beg your pardon,
madam,” he said. “I met this young man in the street, and he asked me
to come here and see a playmate of his who is, I understand, an
invalid. But if I am intruding—“
“Come in,” said the woman, heartily, throwing the door open. “Bill will be glad to see you, sir.”
The philanthropist stepped inside.
The room was decently furnished and clean. There was a sewing machine in the corner, and in both the windows hung wreaths of holly. Between the windows was a cleared space, where evidently the tree, when decorated, was to stand.
“Are all the things here?” eagerly demanded the tree-bearer.
“They’re all here, Jimmy,” answered Mrs. Bailey. “The candy just came.”
“Say,” cried the boy, pulling off his red flannel mittens to blow on his fingers, “won’t it be great? But now Bill’s got to see Santa Claus. I’ll just go in and tell him, an’ then, when I holler, mister, you come on, and pretend you’re Santa Claus.” And with incredible swiftness the boy opened the door at the opposite end of the room and disappeared.
“Madam,” said Mr. Carter, in considerable embarrassment, “I must say one word. I am Mr. Carter, Mr. Allan Carter. You may have heard my name?”
She shook her head. “No, sir.”
“I live not far from here on the avenue. Three weeks ago I lost a little dog that I valued very much I have had all the city searched since then, in vain. To-day I met the boy who has just left us. He informed me that three weeks ago he found a dog, which is at present in the possession of your son. I wonder—is it not just possible that this dog may be mine?”
Mrs. Bailey smiled. “I guess not, Mr. Carter. The dog Jimmy found hadn’t come off the avenue—not from the look of him. You know there’s hundreds and hundreds of dogs without homes, sir. But I will say for this one, he has a kind of a way with him.”
“Hark!” said Mr. Carter.
There was a rustling and a snuffing at the door at the far end of the room, a quick scratching of feet. Then:
“Woof! woof! woof!” sharp and clear came happy impatient little barks.
The philanthropist’s eyes brightened. “Yes,” he said, “that is the dog.”
“I doubt if it can be, sir,” said Mrs. Bailey, deprecatingly.
“Open the door, please,” commanded the philanthropist, “and let us see.” Mrs. Bailey complied. There was a quick jump, a tumbling rush, and Skiddles, the lost Skiddles, was in the philanthropist’s arms. Mrs. Bailey shut the door with a troubled face.
“I see it’s your dog, sir,” she said, “but I hope you won’t be thinking that Jimmy or I—“
“Madam,” interrupted Mr. Carter, “I could not be so foolish. On the contrary, I owe you a thousand thanks.”
Mrs. Bailey looked more cheerful. “Poor little Billy!” she said. “It’ll come hard on him, losing Pete just at Christmas time. But the boys are so good to him, I dare say he’ll forget it.”
“Who are these boys?” inquired the philanthropist. “Isn’t their action—somewhat unusual?”
“It’s Miss Gray’s club at the settlement, sir,” explained Mrs. Bailey. “Every Christmas they do this for somebody. It’s not charity; Billy and I don’t need charity, or take it. It’s just friendliness. They’re good boys.”
“I see,” said the philanthropist. He was still wondering about it, though, when the door opened again, and Jimmy thrust out a face shining with anticipation.
“All ready, mister!” he said. “Bill’s waitin’ for you!”
“Jimmy,” began Mrs. Bailey, about to explain, “the gentleman—“
But the philanthropist held up his hand, interrupting her. “You’ll let me see your son, Mrs. Bailey?” he asked, gently.
“Why, certainly, sir.”
Mr. Carter put Skiddles down and walked slowly into the inner room. The bed stood with its side toward him. On it lay a small boy of seven, rigid of body, but with his arms free and his face lighted with joy. “Hello, Santa Claus!” he piped, in a voice shrill with excitement.
“Hello, Bill!” answered the philanthropist, sedately.
The boy turned his eyes on Jimmy.
“He knows my name,” he said, with glee.
“He knows everybody’s name,” said Jimmy. “Now you tell him what you want, Bill, and he’ll bring it to-morrow.
“How would you like,” said the philanthropist, reflectively, “an—an—“ he hesitated, it seemed so incongruous with that stiff figure on the bed—“an airgun?”
“I guess yes,” said Bill, happily.
“And a train of cars,” broke in the impatient Jimmy, “that goes like sixty when you wind her?”
“Hi!” said Bill.
The philanthropist solemnly made notes of this.
“How about,” he remarked, inquiringly, “a tree?”
“Honest? “said Bill.
“I think it can be managed,” said Santa Claus. He advanced to the bedside.
“I’m glad to have seen you, Bill. You know how busy I am, but I hope—I hope to see you again.”
“Not till next year, of course,“ warned Jimmy.
“Not till then, of course,” assented Santa Claus. “And now, good-bye.”
“You forgot to ask him if he’d been a good boy,” suggested Jimmy.
“I have,” said Bill. “I’ve been fine. You ask mother.”
“She gives you—she gives you both a high character,” said Santa Claus.
“Good-bye again,” and so saying he withdrew. Skiddles followed him out. The philanthropist closed the door of the bedroom, and then turned to Mrs. Bailey.
She was regarding him with awestruck eyes.
“Oh, sir,” she said, “I know now who you are—the Mr. Carter that gives so much away to people!”
The philanthropist nodded, deprecatingly.
“Just so, Mrs. Bailey,” he said. “And there is one gift—or loan rather—which I should like to make to you. I should like to leave the little dog with you till after the holidays. I’m afraid I’ll have to claim him then; but if you’ll keep him till after Christmas—and let me find, perhaps, another dog for Billy—I shall be much obliged.”
Again the door of the bedroom opened, and Jimmy emerged quietly.
“Bill wants the pup,” he explained.
“Pete! Pete!” came the piping but happy voice from the inner room.
Skiddles hesitated. Mr. Carter made no sign.
“Pete! Pete!” shrilled the voice again.
Slowly, very slowly, Skiddles turned and went back into the bedroom.
“You see,” said Mr. Carter, smiling, “he won’t be too unhappy away from me, Mrs. Bailey.”
On his way home the philanthropist saw even more evidences of Christmas gaiety along the streets than before. He stepped out briskly, in spite of his sixty-eight years; he even hummed a little tune.
When he reached the house on the avenue he found his secretary still at work.
“Oh, by the way, Mr. Mathews,” he said, “did you send that letter to the woman, saying I never paid attention to personal appeals? No? Then write her, please, enclosing my check for two hundred dollars, and wish her a very Merry Christmas in my name, will you? And hereafter will you always let me see such letters as that one—of course after careful investigation? I fancy perhaps I may have been too rigid in the past.”
“Certainly, sir,” answered the bewildered secretary. He began fumbling excitedly for his note-book.
“I found the little dog,” continued the philanthropist. “You will be glad to know that.”
“You have found him?” cried the secretary. “Have you got him back, Mr.
Carter? Where was he?”
“He was—detained—on Oak Street, I believe,” said the philanthropist. “No, I have not got him back yet. I have left him with a young boy till after the holidays.”
He settled himself to his papers, for philanthropists must toil even on the twenty-fourth of December, but the secretary shook his head in a daze. “I wonder what’s happened?” he said to himself.
The Christmas Tree
The story that follows is nearly 200 years old, but since it is a Christmas tale, it’s actually new every single year. Though not as well known as many of his other works this story by Hans Christian Anderson packs many life lessons into a fascinating short narrative of 3300 words.
The Christmas Tree
By Hans Christian Anderson
(originally titled, The Fir Tree)
Introduction and annotation by Bill Russo
Anderson’s bittersweet fairy tale is about a young tree that couldn’t wait to grow up. Before, and after, its first publication in 1844 he promoted his story by reading it aloud at parties and gatherings in his native Denmark.
Shortly before Christmas, the year after the yarn was published he read the Christmas Tree story and his Ugly Duckling tale at an important holiday party given by Count Bismarck-Bohlen. Among the many people gathered in the great mansion was Wilhelm Grimm. The younger Grimm of the famous Grimm Brothers liked the story of the tree very much. Anderson wrote of the success of the story and of Grimm’s fondness for it, in his diary.
Here now is the bittersweet story of the Christmas Tree:
Out in the woods stood a nice little Fir-tree. The place he had was a very good one; the sun shone on him; as to fresh air, there was enough of that, and round him grew many large-sized comrades, pines as well as firs. But the little Fir wanted so very much to be a grown-up tree.
He did not think of the warm sun and of the fresh air; he did not care for the little cottage children that ran about and prattled when they were in the woods looking for wild strawberries. The children often came with a whole pitcher full of berries, or a long row of them threaded on a straw, and sat down near the young tree and said, “Oh, how pretty he is! what a nice little fir!” But this was what the Tree could not bear to hear.
At the end of a year he had shot up a good deal, and after another year he was another long bit taller; for with fir-trees one can always tell by the shoots how many years old they are.
“Oh, were I but such a high tree as the others are!” sighed he. “Then I should be able to spread out my branches, and with the tops to look into the wide world! Then would the birds build nests among my branches; and when there was a breeze, I could bend with as much stateliness as the others!”
Neither the sunbeams, nor the birds, nor the red clouds, which morning and evening sailed above them, gave the little Tree any pleasure.
In winter, when the snow lay glittering on the ground, a hare would often come leaping along, and jump right over the little Tree. Oh, that made him so angry! But two winters were past, and in the third the tree was so large that the hare was obliged to go round it. “To grow and grow, to get older and be tall,” thought the Tree—“that, after all, is the most delightful thing in the world!”
In autumn the wood-cutters always came and felled some of the largest trees. This happened every year; and the young Fir-tree, that had now grown to a very comely size, trembled at the sight; for the magnificent great trees fell to the earth with noise and cracking, the branches were lopped off, and the trees looked long and bare; they were hardly to be recognized; and then they were laid in carts, and the horses dragged them out of the woods.
Where did they go to? What became of them?
In spring, when the Swallows and the Storks came, the Tree asked them, “Don’t you know where they have been taken? Have you not met them anywhere?”
The Swallows did not know anything about it; but the Stork looked musing, nodded his head, and said: “Yes, I think I know; I met many ships as I was flying hither from Egypt; on the ships were magnificent masts, and I venture to assert that it was they that smelt so of fir. I may congratulate you, for they lifted themselves on high most majestically!”
“Oh, were I but old enough to fly across the sea! But how does the sea look in reality? What is it like?”
“That would take a long time to explain,” said the Stork, and with these words off he went.
“Rejoice in thy growth!” said the Sunbeams, “rejoice in thy vigorous growth, and in the fresh life that moveth within thee!”
And the Wind kissed the Tree, and the Dew wept tears over him; but the Fir understood it not.
When Christmas came, quite young trees were cut down; trees which often were not even as large or of the same age as this Fir-tree, who could never rest, but always wanted to be off. These young trees, and they were always the finest looking, retained their branches; they were laid on carts, and the horses drew them out of the woods.
“Where are they going to?” asked the Fir. “They are not taller than I; there was one indeed that was considerably shorter; and why do they retain all their branches? Whither are they taken?”
“We know! we know!” chirped the Sparrows. “We have peeped in at the windows in the town below! We know whither they are taken! The greatest splendour and the greatest magnificence one can imagine await them. We peeped through the windows, and saw them planted in the middle of the warm room, and ornamented with the most splendid things—with gilded apples, with gingerbread, with toys, and many hundred lights!”
“And then?” asked the Fir-tree, trembling in every bough. “And then?
What happens then?”
“We did not see anything more: it was incomparably beautiful.”
“I would fain know if I am destined for so glorious a career,” cried the Tree, rejoicing. “That is still better than to cross the sea! What a longing do I suffer! Were Christmas but come! I am now tall, and my branches spread like the others that were carried off last year! Oh, were I but already on the cart. Were I in the warm room with all the splendour and magnificence! Yes; then something better, something still grander, will surely follow, or wherefore should they thus ornament me? Something better, something still grander, MUST follow—but what? Oh, how I long, how I suffer! I do not know myself what is the matter with me!”
“Rejoice in our presence!” said the Air and the Sunlight; “rejoice in thy own fresh youth!”
But the Tree did not rejoice at all; he grew and grew, and was green both winter and summer. People that saw him said, “What a fine tree!” and toward Christmas he was one of the first that was cut down. The axe struck deep into the very pith; the tree fell to the earth with a sigh: he felt a pang—it was like a swoon; he could not think of happiness, for he was sorrowful at being separated from his home, from the place where he had sprung up. He knew well that he should never see his dear old comrades, the little bushes and flowers around him, any more; perhaps not even the birds! The departure was not at all agreeable.
The Tree only came to himself when he was unloaded in a courtyard with the other trees, and heard a man say, “That one is splendid! we don’t want the others.” Then two servants came in rich livery and carried the Fir-tree into a large and splendid drawing-room. Portraits were hanging on the walls, and near the white porcelain stove stood two large Chinese vases with lions on the covers. There, too, were large easy chairs, silken sofas, large tables full of picture-books, and full of toys worth hundreds and hundreds of crowns—at least the children said so. And the Fir-tree was stuck upright in a cask that was filled with sand: but no one could see that it was a cask, for green cloth was hung all around it, and it stood on a large gayly coloured carpet. Oh, how the Tree quivered! What was to happen? The servants, as well as the young ladies, decorated it. On one branch there hung little nets cut out of coloured paper, and each net was filled with sugar-plums; and among the other boughs gilded apples and walnuts were suspended, looking as though they had grown there, and little blue and white tapers were placed among the leaves. Dolls that looked for all the world like men—the Tree had never beheld such before—were seen among the foliage, and at the very top a large star of gold tinsel was fixed. It was really splendid—beyond description splendid.
“This evening!” said they all; “how it will shine this evening!”
“Oh,” thought the Tree, “if the evening were but come! If the tapers were but lighted! And then I wonder what will happen! Perhaps the other trees from the forest will come to look at me! Perhaps the sparrows will beat against the window-panes! I wonder if I shall take root here, and winter and summer stand covered with ornaments!”
He knew very much about the matter! but he was so impatient that for sheer longing he got a pain in his back, and this with trees is the same thing as a headache with us.
The candles were now lighted. What brightness! What splendour! The Tree trembled so in every bough that one of the tapers set fire to the foliage. It blazed up splendidly.
“Help! Help!” cried the young ladies, and they quickly put out the fire.
Now the Tree did not even dare tremble. What a state he was in! He was so uneasy lest he should lose something of his splendour, that he was quite bewildered amidst the glare and brightness; when suddenly both folding-doors opened, and a troop of children rushed in as if they would upset the Tree. The older persons followed quietly; the little ones stood quite still. But it was only for a moment; then they shouted so that the whole place reechoed with their rejoicing; they danced round the tree, and one present after the other was pulled off.
“What are they about?” thought the Tree. “What is to happen now?” And the lights burned down to the very branches, and as they burned down they were put out, one after the other, and then the children had permission to plunder the tree. So they fell upon it with such violence that all its branches cracked; if it had not been fixed firmly in the cask, it would certainly have tumbled down.
The children danced about with their beautiful playthings: no one looked at the Tree except the old nurse, who peeped between the branches; but it was only to see if there was a fig or an apple left that had been forgotten.
“A story! a story!” cried the children, drawing a little fat man toward the tree. He seated himself under it, and said: “Now we are in the shade, and the Tree can listen, too. But I shall tell only one story. Now which will you have: that about Ivedy-Avedy, or about Klumpy-Dumpy who tumbled downstairs, and yet after all came to the throne and married the princess?”
“Ivedy-Avedy!” cried some; “Klumpy-Dumpy” cried the others. There was such a bawling and screaming—the Fir-tree alone was silent, and he thought to himself, “Am I not to bawl with the rest?—am I to do nothing whatever?” for he was one of the company, and had done what he had to do.
And the man told about Klumpy-Dumpy that tumbled down, who notwithstanding came to the throne, and at last married the princess. And the children clapped their hands, and cried out, “Oh, go on! Do go on!” They wanted to hear about Ivedy-Avedy, too, but the little man only told them about Klumpy-Dumpy. The Fir-tree stood quite still and absorbed in thought; the birds in the woods had never related the like of this. “Klumpy-Dumpy fell downstairs, and yet he married the princess! Yes! Yes! that’s the way of the world!” thought the Fir-tree, and believed it all, because the man who told the story was so good-looking. “Well, well! who knows, perhaps I may fall downstairs, too, and get a princess as wife!” And he looked forward with joy to the morrow, when he hoped to be decked out again with lights, playthings, fruits, and tinsel.
“I won’t tremble to-morrow,” thought the Fir-tree. “I will enjoy to the full all my splendour. To-morrow I shall hear again the story of Klumpy-Dumpy, and perhaps that of Ivedy-Avedy, too.” And the whole night the Tree stood still and in deep thought.
In the morning the servant and the housemaid came in.
“Now, then, the splendour will begin again,” thought the Fir. But they dragged him out of the room, and up the stairs into the loft; and here in a dark corner, where no daylight could enter, they left him. “What’s the meaning of this?” thought the Tree. “What am I to do here? What shall I hear now, I wonder?” And he leaned against the wall, lost in reverie. Time enough had he, too, for his reflections; for days and nights passed on, and nobody came up; and when at last somebody did come, it was only to put some great trunks in a corner out of the way. There stood the Tree quite hidden; it seemed as if he had been entirely forgotten.
“’Tis now winter out of doors!” thought the Tree. “The earth is hard and covered with snow; men cannot plant me now, and therefore I have been put up here under shelter till the springtime comes! How thoughtful that is! How kind man is, after all! If it only were not so dark here, and so terribly lonely! Not even a hare. And out in the woods it was so pleasant, when the snow was on the ground, and the hare leaped by; yes—even when he jumped over me; but I did not like it then. It is really terribly lonely here!”
“Squeak! squeak!” said a little Mouse at the same moment, peeping out of his hole. And then another little one came. They sniffed about the Fir-tree, and rustled among the branches.
“It is dreadfully cold,” said the Mouse. “But for that, it would be delightful here, old Fir, wouldn’t it?”
“I am by no means old,” said the Fir-tree. “There’s many a one considerably older than I am.”
“Where do you come from,” asked the Mice; “and what can you do?” They were so extremely curious. “Tell us about the most beautiful spot on the earth. Have you never been there? Were you never in the larder, where cheeses lie on the shelves, and hams hang from above; where one dances about on tallow-candles; that place where one enters lean, and comes out again fat and portly?”
“I know no such place,” said the Tree, “but I know the woods, where the sun shines, and where the little birds sing.” And then he told all about his youth; and the little Mice had never heard the like before; and they listened and said:
“Well, to be sure! How much you have seen! How happy you must have been!”
“I?” said the Fir-tree, thinking over what he had himself related. “Yes, in reality those were happy times.” And then he told about Christmas Eve, when he was decked out with cakes and candles.
“Oh,” said the little Mice, “how fortunate you have been, old Fir-tree!”
“I am by no means old,” said he. “I came from the woods this winter; I am in my prime, and am only rather short for my age.”
“What delightful stories you know!” said the Mice: and the next night they came with four other little Mice, who were to hear what the tree recounted; and the more he related, the more plainly he remembered all himself; and it appeared as if those times had really been happy times. “But they may still come—they may still come. Klumpy-Dumpy fell downstairs and yet he got a princess,” and he thought at the moment of a nice little Birch-tree growing out in the woods; to the Fir, that would be a real charming princess.
“Who is Klumpy-Dumpy?” asked the Mice. So then the Fir-tree told the whole fairy tale, for he could remember every single word of it; and the little Mice jumped for joy up to the very top of the Tree. Next night two more Mice came, and on Sunday two Rats, even; but they said the stories were not interesting, which vexed the little Mice; and they, too, now began to think them not so very amusing either.
“Do you know only one story?” asked the Rats.
“Only that one,” answered the Tree. “I heard it on my happiest evening; but I did not then know how happy I was.”
“It is a very stupid story. Don’t you know one about bacon and tallow candles? Can’t you tell any larder stories?”
“No,” said the Tree.
“Then good-bye,” said the Rats; and they went home.
At last the little Mice stayed away also; and the Tree sighed: “After all, it was very pleasant when the sleek little Mice sat around me and listened to what I told them. Now that too is over. But I will take good care to enjoy myself when I am brought out again.”
But when was that to be? Why, one morning there came a quantity of people and set to work in the loft. The trunks were moved, the Tree was pulled out and thrown—rather hard, it is true—down on the floor, but a man drew him toward the stairs, where the daylight shone.
“Now a merry life will begin again,” thought the Tree. He felt the fresh air, the first sunbeam—and now he was out in the courtyard. All passed so quickly, there was so much going on around him, that the Tree quite forgot to look to himself. The court adjoined a garden, and all was in flower; the roses hung so fresh and odorous over the balustrade, the lindens were in blossom, the Swallows flew by, and said, “Quirre-vit! my husband is come!” but it was not the Fir-tree that they meant.
“Now, then, I shall really enjoy life,” said he, exultingly, and spread out his branches; but, alas! they were all withered and yellow. It was in a corner that he lay, among weeds and nettles. The golden star of tinsel was still on the top of the Tree, and glittered in the sunshine.
In the courtyard some of the merry children were playing who had danced at Christmas round the Fir-tree, and were so glad at the sight of him. One of the youngest ran and tore off the golden star.
“Only look what is still on the ugly old Christmas tree!” said he, trampling on the branches, so that they all cracked beneath his feet. And the Tree beheld all the beauty of the flowers, and the freshness in the garden; he beheld himself, and wished he had remained in his dark corner in the loft; he thought of his first youth in the woods, of the merry Christmas Eve, and of the little Mice who had listened with so much pleasure to the story of Klumpy-Dumpy.
“’Tis over—‘tis past!” said the poor Tree. “Had I but rejoiced when I had reason to do so! But now ‘tis past, ‘tis past!”
And the gardener’s boy chopped the Tree into small pieces; there was a whole heap lying there. The wood flamed up splendidly under the large brewing copper, and it sighed so deeply! Each sigh was like a shot.
The boys played about in the court, and the youngest wore the gold star on his breast which the Tree had had on the happiest evening of his life. However, that was over now—the Tree gone, the story at an end. All, all was over; every tale must end at last.
The Night Before and the Night After Christmas
[It’s the greatest Christmas classic ever,
To meddle & change it is my endeavor.
I hope that you’ll not think me the fool,
for I’m just wishing you a happy Yule.]
Merry Christmas Bill Russo
Cape Cod, USA
The Night Before Christmas and the Night After Christmas
For today’s holiday story, here’s something old and something new. The ancient verse was written in 1823 and is one of the most famous poems in the world.
Though some people doubt that it was Clement Moore who wrote “Twas the night before Christmas”; there seem to be no other claimants to the piece, so I think it’s proper we say that he is indeed the writer.
As to who wrote the ‘Night After Christmas’, I don’t think anybody did. It just grew from a few people playing a variation on the theme. I had the pleasure of writing a few of the lines and I hope you might get a chuckle from reading them.
So, for what it’s worth – here are both:
The Night Before Christmas and The Night After Christmas:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In the hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there. The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads. And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow Gave the lustre of midday to objects below—
When what to my wondering eyes should appear But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled and shouted and called them by name—
“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer! Now, Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Dunder and Blixen!
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away! Dash away! Dash away! All!”
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky, So up to the house-top the coursers they flew With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas, too. And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof The prancing and pawing of each tiny hoof. As I drew in my head, and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, And he looked like a pedlar just opening his pack. His eyes—how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;His droll little mouth was drawn up in a bow, And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself. A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head, Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings—then turned with a jerk, And laying his finger aside of his nose, And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose. He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”
The Night After Christmas:
‘Twas the night after Christmas, and all through the house Not a creature was stirring—except for a mouse. The stockings were flung in haste over the chair, for good old St. Nicholas had been here, and gone elsewhere. The children were restlessly tossing in bed, for the pie and the candy were heavy as lead;
For an ‘all nighter’ and to binge watch on Netflix:
Mamma and I had, Chinese food and chopsticks,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter. Away to the window I went with a dash, Flung open the shutter, and threw up the sash. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, Gave the lustre of noon-day to objects below.
When what to my anxious eyes should appear
but a Lexus, and a chauffeur saying the doctor is here!
The little old driver, the doctor did jettison,
I knew that he brought us some medicine.
I drew in my head, and was turning around, when upstairs came the Doctor, with scarcely a sound, He wore a thick overcoat, made long ago, And the beard on his chin was white as the snow. He spoke a few words, and went straight to his work;
He felt all the pulses,—then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose, with a nod of his head, he did propose:—
“a spoonful of the meds will make everyone feel dandy.
But no more food! No nuts, no raisins, no pies and no candy.
These tender young stomachs cannot those well digest
All the sweets that they get; toys and books are the best.
But I know my advice will not find many friends,
For the days of Christmas the other way tends.
The fathers and mothers, and Santa Claus, too,
Are indeed overfed. Here’s something for you!”
If your tummies get queasier,
take this milk of magnesia.
Then, I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight:
These feastings and candies make Doctors’ bills just right!”
Karma and the Little Girl From Provincetown
Except that I am the editor and annotator of this collection, I have no right to include the next story in this anthology, for it is not particularly well written. It is neither ancient, nor was it penned by a famous author. The brief narrative was hammered out a year or two ago (I think 2014 or 15) by myself.
It is hoped however, that my little yarn will be allowed to reside among the greats in this volume without too many complaints. I hope you like it.
Cape Cod – 2017
Karma and the Little Girl From Provincetown
Copyright 2017 by Bill Russo
Table of Contents
Chapter One: The Two Christmas Births
Chapter Two: Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware
Chapter Three: The Following Day
Chapter Four: A Frozen Dish of Karma
Karma will always have her way. Sometimes she needs a bit of a push – a nudge in the right direction. It’s near Christmas and all is not well for a family in Provincetown. An enterprising young lady has plans to change things for the better by doing battle with the richest man on Cape Cod.
The Two Christmas Births
In the tiny city of Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod there lived a poor fisherman and his wife. They had a sweet young daughter named Maria. Their home, a ramshackle cottage, not far from Commercial Street, was threatened daily with destruction by the rise and fall of the sea.
In summer, the man, whose name was Francisco Da Silva, began fishing every day at sunrise from his small boat and brought his catch to sell at the wharf just as the sun was setting in the harbor. His profits were enough to buy bread and milk but little more.
In winter, the family survived off the summer cash until it was gone. Afterwards they existed until spring on little more than love.
On December 25th at the turn of the century the world was preparing for the 2000thbirthday of the Man from Nazareth. The Da Silva household was doing their best to get ready for that celebration and one more – it was also the 12th birthday of Maria. She had been born on December 25 in the drafty cottage, after the family had been turned away from the John Barclay Medical Center, for having no money and no insurance.
It was a difficult birth, but a kindly neighbor lady helped, and both mother and daughter were fine.
“Maria came out with her eyes wide open and alert.” said the midwife, Mrs. Pires. “It’s rare, but I have seen it before. It usually means the child will be healthy, vigorous and perhaps a seer.”
As time went by Maria was that and more. She was one of the smartest students in the entire seventh grade. There were 215 students in the Provincetown school system (grades K through 12) that year. Maria’s class was the largest with 27 pupils.
A problem with the heating system caused an early Christmas break. Maria helped her mother with holiday preparations. They knitted new mittens, scarves, and hats for presents for each other and made cheery Christmas cards by coloring in seasonal pictures from the newspaper and pasting them on cardboard.
As always Maria’s dad Francisco tried to get winter work. He was able to make a few dollars by shoveling snow left by the storm that helped to over burden the school’s creaky heating system.
He made just enough money to be able to buy a wonderful holiday dinner for his family. The table would overflow with turkey and ham, grapes and apples, wine and eggnog, and chocolates and candy canes.
There would not however be enough money for the one thing that Maria had desired for two years – a shiny bicycle like the one in the window of the toy store.
2. Caveat Emptor – Buyer Beware
In desperation Francisco walked to the medical center owned by John Barclay, the wealthiest man in town. As he trudged through the snow into the parking lot, he saw Mr. Barclay getting out of his car. He gave some instructions to his chauffer and began walking to the entrance of his health care building.
“Mr. Barclay. Hold up a second. Can I speak with you?”
Barclay turned and looked without slowing his walk.
“I’m busy Da Silva,” he said brusquely. “Some of us on Cape Cod have to work year round. We can’t all be lucky enough to have a summer job”
“Work is what I want to talk to you about Mr. Barclay. If I could just have a few days employment so that I can buy my family a Christmas present; and it’s my daughter’s birthday as well.”
“You should have saved your summer fishing money instead of begging me for……..”
“Listen Barclay, I am not begging for anything. I am asking you man to man for a job of work. Rich as you are you cannot disrespect and disregard me.”
“I’m sorry ‘Cisco’ for being impolite,” said Barclay adopting a patronizing tone, “but I am quite busy with my new acquisition of Hyannis Health Stop and other things. We are not hiring right now. Good day.”
Barclay stomped off as if offended by the mere presence of the fisherman. He went inside without looking back. Barclay was flush with cash after unloading 500 acres of mostly useless land in a town off Cape Cod. He had successfully spread a rumor that the property was eventually going to be the site of a gambling casino to be operated on behalf of the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans. The lie grew a veneer of truth when the tribe expressed momentary interest. When that interest died down six months later, it was too late for the investment group that had paid many millions to Barclay for land worth at most a few hundred thousand dollars.
“Caveat Emptor,” said Barclay. “Let the Buyer Beware!”
Da Silva, for his part, continued his search for a job of work. The community was home to less than 2000 year round residents, so there were few places to look.
That night at a meager supper he told his family what had happened when he tried to get work from Barclay.
“Don’t be sad Daddy.” advised the soon to be 12 year old girl. “Barclay will be served a little dish of karma soon enough. And usually once karma starts putting things on a person’s table, bad things happen. Barclay will get his. I just know it.”
The Shimmering, Shifting Sands – The eternal Cape Cod Dunes are always moving, but never really change.
Cape Cod in Summer. Photo by Bill Russo
3. The Following Day
The next day brought sunshine and an unseasonal warm-up to near 60. The sands at Herring Cove Beach shimmered like gemstones in the brilliant rising sun when Maria and her mom arrived for some exercise and beach combing.
Aside from some pretty shells, they saw little on the beach until Maria glimpsed a shiny reddish stone shaped like an egg. Picking it up, she waved her arms and cried…
“Look Mama an egg rock! I never expected to find such a treasure on the beach. It’s a real egg rock. See how round it is. How smooth it is. And notice the gorgeous red hue.”
An Egg Rock found in a ‘dry wash’. It was sold on Ebay for $600.00
“What’s an egg rock?”
“Oh Mom, it’s very special! An egg rock is an unusual stone. It is not just shaped like an egg – it is an egg. It’s said that sometimes there is a gem inside. When the rock is cracked, out may tumble a diamond or a giant ruby. You never know what’s going to be inside. I know that this is a good luck omen. Let’s walk home by way of Commercial Street. Maybe we can go in the toy store and just look.”
“But Maria I feel so bad. You know we cannot buy you the bike. Your Dad and I tried, but we just….”
“Don’t worry about that Mama. I think everything is going to work out fine.”
Warm sunshine had melted the snow and the sidewalks were bristling with people taking advantage of the fine weather. Many shops were closed for the season but several restaurants and galleries were open. The toy store had set up a sidewalk display highlighted by a shiny new blue Raleigh bicycle with three speeds – just like the original English bikes. This was the very bike that Maria desired.
Last minute shoppers queued around piles of wooden soldiers, board games, hockey sticks, baseball gloves and huge stacks of the year’s most popular electronic item, the Playstation Two.
Commercial Street in the 2000s
Commercial Street in the 1880s
4. A Frozen Dish of Karma
Maria noticed that John Barclay was among the crowd looking with excitement at Sony’s new game system. She knew that Barclay was interested in anything that was new and expensive.
Johnny Dimpell, was showing Barclay the assortment of games available for the Playstation 2. It was common knowledge that the millionaire had a young grand daughter who he doted on. Dimpell knew that he had a potential sale of hundreds of dollars, maybe more.
Maria recalled the talk with her dad about karma. She had an idea. She began chatting excitedly, more than loud enough for Barclay to hear.
“Mama I really cannot trade an egg rock for a bicycle. What if the egg rock has a gem inside worth a hundred bicycles? No Mama, I simply cannot do it no matter how much I admire the very honest and astute Mr. Dimpell and his store.”
“What are you talking about Maria?”
“Play along Mom. You’ll see,” Maria laughed.
Maria kept up the patter and her mom joined in. Finally both Mr. Dimpell and Barclay were curious enough to wander over to join in.
“What’s this about an egg rock Maria?”
“Oh Mr. Dimpell”, said Maria’s mom, “she found an egg rock that washed ashore on Herring Cove beach. Can you believe it?”
“What is an egg rock?” wondered the rich man.
“Oh hello Mr. Barclay, I didn’t know you were here,” Maria fibbed. “You probably know more about egg rocks than I do. I am sure you have at least one in your collection. As you are aware, an egg rock is really more egg than rock. The outer shell can be broken. I have heard it said that inside, sometimes a great treasure gem can be found. You know, just like discovering a pearl in an oyster.”
“I’ve never heard of an egg rock,” said Barclay.
“What about it Dimpell? Is there such a thing?”
“Well yes Mr. Barclay. I have even seen them for sale, though I have never had any in my store.”
“Maria is thinking of cashing it in so that she can buy the blue Raleigh,” said the mother.
“No Mom. I told you that I want the bicycle, but I don’t want to give up the egg rock. I think that it’s good luck. If I keep it, I will get much more than just a new bicycle.”
“I might be interested in getting an egg rock for my granddaughter,” stated the rich man. “Dimpell, how much will you charge me for one?”
“Mr. Barclay I don’t carry them. I don’t have any. In the summer I am sure you can get all you want over at the…….”
“I can’t wait until summer. I need an egg rock now. Christmas is only two days away. My granddaughter has to have an egg rock under her tree! I must have one.”
“Mrs. Da Silva,” Barclay addressed Maria’s mom, “please persuade your daughter to sell me her egg rock. I will give her the money for the bike and an extra hundred dollars besides.”
Maria and her mother stepped away from the two men to discuss the situation. After much ‘pleading’ by mother to daughter, Maria agreed to the sale.
“I will sell you this rock Mr. Barclay. But I cannot guarantee that this particular egg rock will have a rare gem inside. I recommend never breaking it open. Keep its contents a mystery. Do we have a deal?”
The excited millionaire happily agreed and peeled off the cash to Maria from a roll as thick as an apple. Maria paid for the blue Raleigh and gave her mom the extra hundred dollars saying, “Merry Christmas Mama.”
The Da Silvas had their best Christmas ever thanks to the windfall of the egg rock.
Mr. Barclay was once again a hero to his granddaughter as he presented her with the only egg rock obtainable that season on all of Cape Cod.
The week after Christmas once again found Francisco Da Silva looking for winter work on Commercial Street. Something had changed. Everywhere he went he was looked upon with honor and people were queuing up to give jobs to the father of such a fine girl as Maria Da Silva.
“Maria has always been a great student and a wonderful daughter. Why suddenly is everyone celebrating her?” he asked the toy store owner, Mr. Dimpell.
“Don’t you know Cisco? Ask Maria, she will tell you.”
At dinner that evening he did question Maria and had a great laugh when she explained everything. She gave her father a clipping from last summer’s ad from the Town Hardware store and told him to bring it to Mr. Barclay. She also gave him a message to deliver.
Cisco walked to the parking lot of the John Barclay Medical center and waited for the great man to step from his limmo.
“Mr. Barclay. Hold up a minute I have something for you from my daughter Maria.”
“Oh hello Da Silva. What have you got for me?”
Cisco handed Barclay the advertisement from the hardware store. It read:
“Egg Rocks Now At Town Hardware
$9.99 for one cubic foot of egg rocks.
Perfect for landscaping. Round and Smooth”
Barclay read the advertisement and looked up at Cisco with a scowl growing on his surprised face. Before he could say anything, Cisco added…..
“She said to give you a message…..
Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer Beware!”
Egg Rocks for Landscaping. Twelve dollars for Thirty Pounds at Home Depot.
When Karma attacks, she is powerful and vindictive. Sadly in our everyday life, far too often we see situations where Karma has missed the boat.
If your days and nights are troubling and there’s a John Barclay stomping on the garden of your life; perhaps a week or two on Cape Cod will help. Get on the old King’s Highway at the Sagamore Bridge and travel all the way to the end of the earth – Provincetown. Wander down Commercial Street and ask for the little girl from Provincetown. She lives there still and everybody knows her. Perhaps, if your story is sad enough, or good enough, Maria will help you to serve up a big dish of frozen karma.
The Young and the Old
A Christmas Sharing, originally called ‘The Telltale Tile’
This short story of 3000 words comes from the pen of Harriet Miller. Writing in 1904, as part of a longer work, she crafted this little yarn about the special bond that often exists between the very young and the very old. The two have special places in the theater of life, one seated close to the exit and the other at the entrance.
The story begins in the drafty old home of elderly spinster, Constance Bennett. Her neighbor had stopped in for a chat and mentioned that a newly widowed lady in their village was probably headed for the poorhouse.
Seeming to exist only in ancient stories, the poorhouse was all too real to the people living in the early days of the 1900s. Populated mostly by the elderly and the disabled, they were dreary, shabby places for people with no means of supporting themselves. In the United States the Poorhouses began to disappear after the Social Security Act of 1935. By 1950 the last of the barren, human warehouses had closed for good.
“And they do say she’ll have to go to the poorhouse,” the neighbor informed Miss Bennett.
“To the poorhouse! How dreadful! And the children, too?” Miss Bennett shuddered.
“Yes; unless somebody’ll adopt them, and that’s not very likely. Well, I must go,” the visitor went on, rising. “I wish I could do something for her, but, with my houseful of children, I’ve got a use for every penny I can rake and scrape.”
“I’m sure I am in the same boat even if I have only myself,” said Miss Bennett, as she closed the door. “I’m sure I am,” she repeated to herself as she resumed her knitting; “it’s as much as I can do to make ends meet, scrimping as I do, not to speak of laying up a cent for sickness and old age.”
“But the poorhouse!” she said again. “I wish I could help her!” and the needles flew in and out, in and out, faster than ever, as she turned this over in her mind. “I might give up something,” she said at last, “though I don’t know what, unless—unless,” she said slowly, thinking of her one luxury, “unless I give up my tea, and it don’t seem as if I COULD do that.”
For some time the thought worked in her mind, and finally she resolved to make the sacrifice of her only indulgence for six months, and send the money to her suffering neighbor, Mrs. Stanley, though she had never seen her, and she had only heard she was in want.
Some time later, the widow woman, Mrs. Stanley was surprised by a small gift of money “from a friend,” as was said on the envelope containing it.
“Who sent it?” she asked, from the chair where she was sitting when the gift was brought to her.
“Miss Bennett told me not to tell,” said the boy, unconscious that he had already told.
The next day Miss Bennett sat at the window knitting, as usual—for her constant contribution to the poor fund of the church was a certain number of stockings and mittens—when she saw a young girl coming up to the door of the cottage.
“Who can that be?” she said to herself. “I never saw her before. Come in!” she called; in answer to a knock. The girl entered, and walked up to Miss Bennett.
“Are you Miss Bennett?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Miss Bennett with an amused smile,
“Well, I’m Hetty Stanley.”
Miss Bennett started, and her color grew a little brighter.
“I’m glad to see you, Hetty.” she said, “won’t you sit down?”
“Yes, if you please,” said Hetty, taking a chair near her.
“I came to tell you how much we love you for—“
“Oh, don’t! Don’t say any more!” interrupted Miss Bennett; “never mind that! Tell me about your mother and your baby brother.”
This was an interesting subject, and they talked earnestly about it. The time passed so quickly that, before she knew it, she had been in the house an hour. When she went away Miss Bennett asked her to come again, a thing she had never been known to do before, for she was not fond of young people in general.
“But, then, Hetty’s different,” she said to herself, when wondering at her own interest.
“Did you thank kind Miss Bennett?” was her mother’s question as Hetty opened the door.
Hetty stopped as if struck, “Why, no! I don’t think I did.”
“And stayed so long, too? Whatever did you do? I’ve heard she isn’t fond of people generally.”
“We talked; and—I think she’s ever so nice. She asked me to come again; may I?”
“Of course you may, if she cares to have you. I should be glad to do something to please her.”
That visit of Hetty’s was the first of a long series. Almost every day she found her way to the lonely cottage, where a visitor rarely came, and a strange intimacy grew up between the old and the young. Hetty learned to knit from her friend and many an hour they spent knitting while Miss Bennett ransacked her memory for stories to tell. And then, one day, she brought down from a big chest in the garret two of the books she used to have when she was young and let Hetty look at them.
One was “Thaddeus of Warsaw,” and the other “Scottish Chiefs.” Poor Hetty had not a volume to her name and these were treasures indeed. She read them to herself, and she read them aloud to Miss Bennett, who, much to her own surprise found her interest almost as eager as Hetty’s.
All this time Christmas was drawing near. Strange, unusual feelings began to stir in Miss Bennett’s heart, though generally she did not think much about that happy time. She wanted to make Hetty a happy day. Money she had almost none, so she went into the garret, where her youthful treasures had long been hidden. From the chest from which she had taken the books she now took a small box of light-colored wood, with a transferred engraving on the cover. With a sigh—for the sight of it brought up old memories—Miss Bennett lifted the cover by its loop of ribbon, took out a package of old letters, and went downstairs with the box, taking also a few bits of bright silk from a bundle in the chest.
“I can fit it up for a workbox,” she said, “and I’m sure Hetty will like it.”
For many days after this Miss Bennett had her secret work, which she carefully hid when she saw Hetty coming. Slowly, in this way, she made a pretty needle-book, a tiny pincushion, and an emery bag like a big strawberry. Then from her own scanty stock she added needles, pins, thread, and her only pair of small scissors, scoured to the last extreme of brightness.
One thing only she had to buy—a thimble, and that she bought for a penny, of brass so bright it was quite as handsome as gold.
Very pretty the little box looked when full; in the bottom lay a quilted lining, which had always been there, and upon this the fittings she had made. Besides this, Miss Bennett knit a pair of mittens for each of Hetty’s brothers and sisters.
The happiest girl in town on Christmas morning was Hetty Stanley. To begin with, she had the delight of giving the mittens to the children, and when she ran over to tell Miss Bennett how pleased they were, she was surprised by the present of the odd little workbox and its pretty contents.
Christmas was over all too soon, and New Year’s, and it was about the middle of January that the time came which, all her life, Miss Bennett had dreaded—the time when she should be helpless. She had not money enough to hire a girl, and so the only thing she could imagine when that day should come was her special horror—the poorhouse.
But that good deed of hers had already borne fruit, and was still bearing. When Hetty came over one day, and found her dear friend lying on the floor as if dead, she was dreadfully frightened, of course, but she ran after the neighbors and the doctor, and bustled about the house as if she belonged to it.
Miss Bennett was not dead—she had a slight stroke of paralysis; and though she was soon better, and would be able to talk, and probably to knit, and possibly to get about the house, she would never be able to live alone and do everything for herself, as she had done.
So the doctor told the neighbors who came in to help, and so Hetty heard, as she listened eagerly for news.
“Of course she can’t live here any longer; she’ll have to go to a hospital,” said one woman.
“Or to the poorhouse, more likely,” said another.
“She’ll hate that,” said the first speaker. “I’ve heard her shudder over the poorhouse.”
“She shall never go there!” declared Hetty, with blazing eyes.
“Who’s to prevent that?” asked the second speaker, turning a look of disdain on Hetty.
“I am,” was the fearless answer. “I know all Miss Bennett’s ways, and I can take care of her, and I will,” went on Hetty indignantly; and turning suddenly, she was surprised to find Miss Bennett’s eyes fixed on her with an eager, questioning look.
“There! she understands! she’s better!” cried Hetty. “May I stay and take care of you, dear Miss Bennett?” she asked, running up to the bed.
“Yes, you may,” interrupted the doctor, seeing the look in his patient’s face; “but you mustn’t agitate her now. And now, my good women”—turning to the others—“I think she can get along with her young friend here, whom I happen to know is a womanly young girl, and will be attentive and careful.”
They took the hint and went away, and the doctor gave directions to Hetty what to do, telling her she must not leave Miss Bennett. So she was now regularly installed as nurse and housekeeper.
Days and weeks rolled by. Miss Bennett was able to be up in her chair, to talk and knit, and to walk about the house, but was not able to be left alone. Indeed, she had a horror of being left alone; she could not bear Hetty out of her sight, and Hetty’s mother was very willing to spare her, for she had many mouths to fill.
To provide food for two out of what had been scrimping for one was a problem; but Miss Bennett ate very little, and she did not resume her tea so they managed to get along and not really suffer.
One day Hetty sat by the fire with her precious box on her knee, which she was putting to rights for the twentieth time. The box was empty, and her sharp young eyes noticed a little dust on the silk lining.
“I think I’ll take this out and dust it,” she said to Miss Bennett, “if you don’t mind.”
“Do as you like with it,” answered Miss Bennett; “it is yours.”
So she carefully lifted the silk, which stuck a little.
“Why, here’s something under it,” she said—“an old paper, and it has writing on.”
“Bring it to me,” said Miss Bennett; “perhaps it’s a letter I have forgotten.”
Hetty brought it.
“Why, it’s father’s writing!” said Miss Bennett, looking closely at the faded paper; “and what can it mean? I never saw it before. It says, ‘Look, and ye shall find’—that’s a Bible text. And what is this under it? ‘A word to the wise is sufficient.’ I don’t understand—he must have put it there himself, for I never took that lining out—I thought it was fastened. What can it mean?” and she pondered over it long, and all day seemed absent-minded.
After tea, when they sat before the kitchen fire, as they always did, with only the firelight flickering and dancing on the walls while they knitted, or told stories, or talked, she told Hetty about her father: that they had lived comfortably in this house, which he built, and that everybody supposed that he had plenty of money, and would leave enough to take care of his only child, but that when he died suddenly nothing had been found, and nothing ever had been, from that day to this.
“Part of the place I let to John Thompson, Hetty, and that rent is all I have to live on. I don’t know what makes me think of old times so to-night.”
“I know,” said Hetty; “it’s that paper, and I know what it reminds me of,” she suddenly shouted, in a way very unusual with her. “It’s that tile over there,” and she jumped up and ran to the side of the fireplace, and put her hand on the tile she meant.
On each side of the fireplace was a row of tiles. They were Bible subjects, and Miss Bennett had often told Hetty the story of each one, and also the stories she used to make up about them when she was young. The one Hetty had her hand on now bore the picture of a woman standing before a closed door, and below her the words of the yellow bit of paper: “Look, and ye shall find.”
“I always felt there was something different about that,” said Hetty eagerly, “and you know you told me your father talked to you about it—about what to seek in the world when he was gone away, and other things.”
“Yes, so he did,” said Miss Bennett thoughtfully; “come to think of it, he said a great deal about it, and in a meaning way. I don’t understand it,” she said slowly, turning it over in her mind.
“I do!” cried Hetty, enthusiastically. “I believe you are to seek here! I believe it’s loose!” and she tried to shake it. “It is loose!” she cried excitedly. “Oh, Miss Bennett, may I take it out?”
Miss Bennett had turned deadly pale. “Yes,” she gasped, hardly knowing what she expected, or dared to hope.
A sudden push from Hetty’s strong fingers, and the tile slipped out at one side and fell to the floor. Behind it was an opening into the brickwork. Hetty thrust in her hand.
“There’s something in there!” she said in an awed tone.
“A light!” said Miss Bennett hoarsely.
There was not a candle in the house, but Hetty seized a brand from the fire, and held it up and looked in.
“It looks like bags—tied up,” she cried. “Oh, come here yourself!”
The old woman hobbled over and thrust her hand into the hole, bringing out what was once a bag, but which crumpled to pieces in her hands, and with it—oh, wonder!—a handful of gold pieces, which fell with a jingle on the hearth, and rolled every way.
“My father’s money! Oh, Hetty!” was all she could say, and she seized a chair to keep from falling, while Hetty was nearly wild, and talked like a crazy person.
“Oh, goody! goody! now you can have things to eat! and we can have a candle! and you won’t have to go to the poorhouse!”
“No, indeed, you dear child!” cried Miss Bennett who had found her voice. “Thanks to you—you blessing!—I shall be comfortable now the rest of my days. And you! oh! I shall never forget you! Through you has everything good come to me.”
“Oh, but you have been so good to me, dear Miss Bennett!”
“I should never have guessed it, you precious child! If it had not been for your quickness I should have died and never found it.”
“And if you hadn’t given me the box, it might have rusted away in that chest.”
“Thank God for everything, child! Take money out of my purse and go buy a candle. We need not save it for bread now. Oh, child!” she interrupted herself, “do you know, we shall have everything we want to-morrow. Go! Go! I want to see how much there is.”
The candle bought, the gold was taken out and counted, and proved to be more than enough to give Miss Bennett a comfortable income without touching the principal. It was put back, and the tile replaced, as the safest place to keep it till morning, when Miss Bennett intended to put it into a bank.
But though they went to bed, there was not a wink of sleep for Miss Bennett, for planning what she would do. There were a thousand things she wanted to do first. To get clothes for Hetty, to brighten up the old house, to hire a girl to relieve Hetty, so that the dear child should go to school, to train her into a noble woman—all her old ambitions and wishes for herself sprang into life for Hetty. For not a thought of her future life was separate from Hetty.
In a very short time everything was changed in Miss Bennett’s cottage. She had publicly adopted Hetty, and announced her as her heir. A girl had been installed in the kitchen, and Hetty, in pretty new clothes, had begun school. Fresh paint inside and out, with many new comforts, made the old house charming and bright. But nothing could change the pleasant and happy relations between the two friends, and a more contented and cheerful household could not be found anywhere.
Happiness is a wonderful doctor and Miss Bennett grew so much better, that she could travel, and when Hetty had finished school days, they saw a little of the world before they settled down to a quiet, useful life.
“Every comfort on earth I owe to you,” said Hetty, one day, when Miss Bennett had proposed some new thing to add to her enjoyment.
“Ah, dear Hetty! how much do I owe to you! But for you, I should, no doubt, be at this moment a shivering pauper in that terrible poorhouse, while someone else would be living in this dear old house. And it all comes,” she added softly, “of that one unselfish thought, of that one self-denial for others.”
Harriet Mann Miller (25 June 1831 – 25 December 1918) who often wrote as Olive Thorne Miller was born to write. She took up the craft as a small child. After her marriage, she put aside her writing during four pregnancies and for some years after, as she raised her children.
But as they grew towards self sufficiency she resumed her career which spawned 24 complete books and close to 1,000 acclaimed articles on ornithology and other subjects.
Besides being an acknowledged expert naturalist and ornithologist, she wrote children’s books and short stories.
Who Will Help Somebody?
Who will Help Someone on Christmas Day?
Collected and annotated
By Bill Russo
Will you help someone today?
A total stranger’s mishaps
will take you out of your way;
make you late for work perhaps.
The young boy in this short tale,
written by one from the ‘old school’,
is one of the rare boys who did not fail.
He followed the Golden Rule!
It’s so easy to turn away and walk by when we hear a stranger cry. We take care of our own family, but cannot be expected to give aid and comfort to people we don’t know. Can we? This story is set in late December but it’s not really a Christmas narrative – yet it conveys the real meaning of Christmas as well as just about any story written specifically for December 25th. In just 1200 words, an ancient narrative by Ann Morrison, that I call,
Will You Help Someone Today?
“Boys,” said Mrs. Howard one morning, looking up from a letter she was reading, “I have had a letter from your grandmother. She writes that she is returning to Massachusetts shortly.”
The boys went on with their breakfast without showing any great amount of interest in this piece of news, for they had never seen their grandmother, and therefore could not very well be expected to show any affection for her.
Now Mrs. Howard, the mother of two of the boys and aunt to the third little fellow, was a widow and very poor, and often found it a hard task to provide for her “three boys,” as she called them, for, having adopted her little orphan nephew, she always treated him as her own son. She had sometimes thought it strange that old Mrs. Howard should not have offered to provide for Larry herself but she had never done so, and at last the younger Mrs. Howard had ceased to expect it. But now, right at the end of her letter, Grandmother Howard wrote:—
“I have been thinking that perhaps it would come a little hard on you to support not only your own two boys, but poor Alice’s son, and so, on my return to Massachusetts, I propose, if you are willing, to adopt one of them, for I am a lonely old woman and shall be glad of a young face about me again.”
After thinking the matter over, Mrs. Howard decided she would say nothing about their grandmother’s intention to the boys, as she thought that it was just possible she might change her mind again.
Time passed on, and winter set in, and full of the delights of skating, the boys forgot all about the expected arrival of their grandmother.
During the Christmas holidays the boys one morning started off to Kelleher’s Pond for a good day’s skating. They carried their dinner with them, and were told to be sure and be home before dark.
As they ran along the frosty Essex Street they came suddenly upon a poor old woman, so suddenly that Larry ran right up against her before he could stop himself. The old woman grumbled about “lazy, selfish boys, only thinking of their own pleasure, and not caring what happened to a poor old woman!”
But Larry stopped at once and apologized, in his polite little way, for his carelessness.
“I am sorry,” he said. “I hope I did not hurt you; and you have such heavy parcels to carry too. Won’t you let me help you?”
“Oh! come on, Larry,” said his cousins; “we shall never get to the pond at this rate!”
“Yes, go on,” said the old woman sharply; “your skating is of a great deal more importance than an old woman, eh?”
But Larry’s only answer was to take the parcels and trudge merrily along beside his companion.
On the way to her cottage the old woman asked him all sorts of questions about himself and his cousins, and then, having reached her cottage, dismissed him with scarcely a “thank you” for the trouble he had taken. But Larry did not take it much to heart.
He raced along, trying his hardest to overtake his cousins before they reached the pond, and was soon skimming about with the rest of them.
Mr. Kelleher, the iceman, in whose ice-pond the boys were skating, afterwards came down to the edge of the frozen lake to watch the fun, and, being a kind-hearted old gentleman, offered to give a prize of a new pair of skates to the boy who should win the greatest number of races.
As it was getting late, it was arranged that the contest would happen on the following day, and the businessman invited all the boys who took part in it, to come up to his house to a holiday party, after the fun was over.
How delighted Larry was, for he was a first-rate skater, and he did so want a new pair of skates!
But Mr. Kelleher’s skates were not to be won by him, for on the following day as he and his cousins were on their way to the pond, they came across the curious old woman whom they had met on the previous day.
She was sitting on the ground, and seemed to be in great pain. The boys stopped to ask what ailed her, and she told them that she had slipped and twisted her foot, and was afraid that her ankle was sprained, for she could not bear to put it to the ground.
“You musn’t sit here in the cold,” said Larry; “come, try and get up, and I will help you home.”
“Oh! Larry,” cried both his cousins, “don’t go. You will be late for the races, and lose your chance of the prize.”
Poor Larry! He turned first red, then white, and then said, in a husky tone of voice—
“Never mind—you go on without me.”
“You’re a good boy,” said the old woman. “Will you be very sorry to miss the fun?”
Larry muttered something about not minding much, and then the brave little fellow set himself to help the poor old woman home, as gently and tenderly as he could.
She would not let him come in with her, but told him to run off as quickly as he could, and perhaps after all, he would not be too late for the skating. But Larry could not bear to leave her alone and in pain, so he decided to run home and fetch his Aunt.
When Mrs. Howard arrived at the cottage, you can think how surprised she was to find that Larry’s “poor old woman” was none other than Grandmother Howard herself, who wishing to find out the real characters of her grandsons, had chosen to come in this disguise to the North Shore city where they lived.
You will easily guess which of the three boys the Grandmother chose to be her companion. And oh! what a lovely Grandmother she was, as not only Larry, but his cousins too, found out. She always seemed to know exactly what a boy wanted, and still better, to give it to him.
Walter and Stanley often felt terribly ashamed of the selfish manner in which they had behaved, and wished they were more like Larry.
But Granny told them that it was “never too late to mend,” and they took her advice, and I am quite sure that at the present moment if they were to meet a poor old woman in distress by the roadside, they would not pass her by, as they once did Grandmother Howard.
I Hate Holidays
Oliver Bell Bunce (1828-1890) was a learned man of science, writing a number of articles in “Popular Science” and other periodicals throughout most of the latter half of the 1800s. He also was an avid commenter of the times, noting in an 1889 piece in Harper’s, “women’s fiction is disappearing in favor of stories that appear to be written solely with men in mind. Have women stopped reading?” he wondered or“ is this the final abolition of sexual differences we so often hear prophecied?”
O.B. Bunce, was based in New York City where he wrote several novels and instructional books. He also had an interest in short stories as evidenced by the following 2800 word piece that concerns a man who is not hateful, but has a pretty solid reason for ‘hating’ holidays.
“I hate holidays,” said the bachelor Martin Bluff to me, with some little irritation, on a Christmas a few years ago. Then he paused an instant, after which he resumed: “I don’t mean to say that I hate to see people enjoying themselves. But I hate holidays, nevertheless, because to me they are always the saddest and dreariest days of the year. I shudder at the name of holiday. I dread the approach of one, and thank heaven when it is over. I pass through, on a holiday, the most horrible sensations, the bitterest feelings, the most oppressive melancholy; in fact, I am not myself at holiday-times.”
“Very strange,” I ventured to interpose.
“A plague on it!” said he, almost with violence. “I’m not inhuman. I don’t wish anybody harm. I’m glad people can enjoy themselves. But I hate holidays all the same. You see, this is the reason: I am a bachelor; I am without kin; I am in a place that did not know me at birth. And so, when holidays come around, there is no place anywhere for me. I have friends, of course; I don’t think I’ve been a very sulky, shut-in, reticent fellow; and there is many a board that has a place for me—but not at Christmastime. At Christmas, the dinner is a family gathering; and I’ve no family. There is such a gathering of kindred on this occasion, such a reunion of family folk, that there is no place for a friend, even if the friend be liked. Christmas, with all its kindliness and charity and good-will, is, after all, quite selfish. Each little set gathers within its own circle; and people like me, with no particular circle, are left in the lurch. So you see, on the day of all the days in the year that my heart pines for good cheer, I’m without an invitation.
“Oh, it’s because I pine for good cheer,” said the bachelor, sharply, interrupting my attempt to speak, “that I hate holidays. If I were an infernally selfish fellow, I wouldn’t hate holidays. I’d go off and have some fun all to myself, somewhere or somehow. But, you see, I hate to be in the dark when all the rest of the world is in light. I hate holidays because I ought to be merry and happy on holidays and can’t.
“Don’t tell me,” he cried, stopping the word that was on my lips; “I tell you, I hate holidays. The shops look merry, do they, with their bright toys and their green branches? The pantomime is crowded with merry hearts, is it? The circus and the show are brimful of fun and laughter, are they? Well, they all make me miserable. I haven’t any pretty-faced girls or bright-eyed boys to take to the circus or the show, and all the nice girls and fine boys of my acquaintance have their uncles or their grand-dads or their cousins to take them to those places; so, if I go, I must go alone. But I don’t go. I can’t bear the chill of seeing everybody happy, and knowing myself so lonely and desolate. Confound it, sir! I’ve too much heart to be happy under such circumstances! I’m too humane, sir! And the result is, I hate holidays. It’s miserable to be out, and yet I can’t stay at home, for I get thinking of Christmases past. I can’t read—the shadow of my heart makes it impossible. I can’t walk—for I see nothing but pictures through the bright windows, and happy groups of pleasure-seekers. The fact is, I’ve nothing to do but to hate holidays. But will you not dine with me?”
Of course, I had to plead engagement with my own family circle, and I couldn’t quite invite Mr. Bluff home that day, when Cousin Charles and his wife, and Sister Susan and her daughter, and three of my wife’s kin had come in from the country, all to make a merry Christmas with us. I felt sorry, but it was quite impossible, so I wished Mr. Bluff a “Merry Christmas,” and hurried homeward through the cold and nipping air.
I did not meet Marty Bluff again until a week after Christmas of the next year, when I learned some strange particulars of what occurred to him after our parting on the occasion just described. I will let Mr. Bluff tell his adventure for himself.
“I went to church,” said he, “and was as sad there as everywhere else. Of course, the evergreens were pretty, and the music fine; but all around me were happy groups of people, who could scarcely keep down merry Christmas long enough to do reverence to sacred Christmas. And nobody was alone but me. Every happy family in their pew tantalized me, and the whole atmosphere of the place seemed so much better suited to everyone else than me that I came away hating holidays worse than ever.
Then I went to see a play, and sat down in a box all alone by myself. Everybody seemed on the best of terms with everybody else, and jokes and banter passed from one to another with the most good-natured freedom. Everybody but me was in a little group of friends. I was the only person in the whole theatre that was alone. And then there was such clapping of hands, and roars of laughter, and shouts of delight at all the fun going on upon the stage, all of which was rendered doubly enjoyable by everybody having somebody with whom to share and interchange the pleasure, that my loneliness got simply unbearable, and I hated holidays infinitely worse than ever.
“By five o’clock the holiday became so intolerable that I said I’d go and get a dinner. The best dinner the town could provide – a sumptuous dinner for one. A dinner with many courses, with wines of the finest brands, with bright lights, with a cheerful fire, with every condition of comfort—and I’d see if I couldn’t for once extract a little pleasure out of a holiday!
“The handsome dining-room at the club looked bright, but it was empty. Who dines at this club on Christmas but lonely bachelors? There was a flutter of surprise when I ordered a dinner, and the few attendants were, no doubt, glad of something to break the monotony of the hours.
“My dinner was well served. The spacious room looked lonely; but the white, snowy cloths, the rich window hangings, the warm tints of the walls, the sparkle of the fire in the steel grate, gave the room an air of elegance and cheerfulness; and then the table at which I dined was close to the window, and through the partly drawn curtains were visible centers of lonely, cold streets, with bright lights from many a window, it is true, but there was a storm, and snow began whirling through the street. I let my imagination paint the streets as cold and dreary as it would, just to extract a little pleasure by way of contrast from the brilliant room of which I was apparently sole master.
“I dined well, and recalled in fancy old, youthful Christmases, and pledged mentally many an old friend, and my melancholy was mellowing into a low, sad undertone, when, just as I was raising a glass of wine to my lips, I was startled by a picture at the windowpane. It was a pale, wild, haggard face, in a great cloud of black hair, pressed against the glass. As I looked it vanished. With a strange thrill at my heart, which my lips mocked with a derisive sneer, I finished the wine and set down the glass. It was, of course, only a beggar-girl that had crept up to the window and stole a glance at the bright scene within; but still the pale face troubled me a little, and threw a fresh shadow on my heart.
I filled my glass once more with wine, and was again about to drink, when the face reappeared at the window. It was so white, so thin, with eyes so large, wild, and hungry-looking, and the black, unkempt hair, into which the snow had drifted, formed so strange and weird a frame to the picture, that I was fairly startled. Replacing untasted the liquor on the table, I rose and went close to the pane. The face had vanished, and I could see no object within many feet of the window. The storm had increased, and the snow was driving in wild gusts through the streets, which were empty, save here and there a hurrying wayfarer. The whole scene was cold, wild, and desolate, and I could not repress a keen thrill of sympathy for the child, whoever it was, whose only Christmas was to watch, in cold and storm, the rich banquet ungratefully enjoyed by the lonely bachelor.
I resumed my place at the table; but the dinner was finished, and the wine had no further relish. I was haunted by the vision at the window, and began, with an unreasonable irritation at the interruption, to repeat with fresh warmth my detestation of holidays. One couldn’t even dine alone on a holiday with any sort of comfort, I declared. On holidays one was tormented by too much pleasure on one side, and too much misery on the other. And then, I said, hunting for justification of my dislike of the day, ‘How many other people are, like me, made miserable by seeing the fullness of enjoyment others possess!’
“Oh, yes, I know,” sarcastically replied the bachelor to a comment of mine; “of course, all magnanimous, generous, and noble-souled people delight in seeing other people made happy, and are quite content to
accept this vicarious felicity. But I, you see, and this dear little girl—“
“Oh, I forgot,” said Bachelor Bluff, blushing a little, in spite of a desperate effort not to do so. “I didn’t tell you. Well, it was so absurd! I kept thinking, thinking of the pale, haggard, lonely little girl on the cold and desolate side of the window-pane, and the over-fed, discontented, lonely old bachelor on the splendid side of the window-pane, and I didn’t get much happier thinking about it, I can assure you. I drank glass after glass of the wine—not that I enjoyed its flavor anymore, but mechanically, as it were, and with a sort of hope thereby to drown unpleasant reminders. I tried to attribute my annoyance in the matter to holidays, and so denounced them more vehemently than ever. I rose once in a while and went to the window, but could see no one to whom the pale face could have belonged.
“At last, in no very amiable mood, I got up, put on my wrappers, and went out; and the first thing I did was to run against a small figure crouching in the doorway. A face looked up quickly at the rough encounter, and I saw the pale features of the window-pane. I was very irritated and angry, and spoke harshly; and then, all at once, I am sure I don’t know how it happened, but it flashed upon me that I, of all men, had no right to utter a harsh word to one oppressed with so wretched a Christmas as this poor creature was.
I couldn’t say another word, but began feeling in my pocket for some money, and then I asked a question or two, and then I don’t quite know how it came about—isn’t it very warm here?” exclaimed Bachelor Bluff, rising and walking about, and wiping the perspiration from his brow.
“Well, you see,” he resumed nervously, “it was very absurd, but I did believe the girl’s story—the old story, you know, of privation and suffering, and just thought I’d go home with the brat and see if what she said was all true. And then I remembered that all the shops were closed, and not a purchase could be made. I went back and persuaded the steward to put up for me a hamper of provisions, which the half-wild little youngster helped me carry through the snow, dancing with delight all the way. And isn’t this enough?”
“Not a bit, Mr. Bluff. I must have the whole story.”
“I declare,” said Bachelor Bluff, “there’s no whole story to tell. A widow with children in great need, that was what I found; and they had a feast that night, and a little money to buy them a load of wood and a garment or two the next day; and they were all so bright, and so merry, and so thankful, and so good, that, when I got home that night, I was mightily amazed that, instead of going to bed sour at holidays, I was in a state of great contentment in regard to holidays. In fact, I was really merry. I whistled. I sang. I do believe I cut a caper. The poor wretches I had left had been so merry over their unlooked-for Christmas banquet that their spirits infected mine.
“And then I got thinking again. Of course, holidays had been miserable to me, I said. What right had a well-to-do, lonely old bachelor hovering wistfully in the vicinity of happy circles, when all about there were so many people as lonely as he, and yet oppressed with want?
‘Good gracious!’ I exclaimed, ‘to think of a man complaining of loneliness with thousands of wretches yearning for his help and comfort, with endless opportunities for work and company, with hundreds of pleasant and delightful things to do. Just to think of it! It put me in a great fury at myself to think of it. I tried pretty hard to escape from myself and began inventing excuses and all that sort of thing, but I rigidly forced myself to look squarely at my own conduct. And then I reconciled my confidence by declaring that, if ever after that day I hated a holiday again, might my holidays end at once and forever!
“Did I go and see my protegees again? What a question! Why—well, no matter. If the widow is comfortable now, it is because she has found a way to earn without difficulty enough for her few wants. That’s no fault of mine. I would have done more for her, but she wouldn’t let me. But just let me tell you about New Year’s—the New-Year’s day that followed the Christmas I’ve been describing. It was lucky for me there was another holiday only a week off. Bless you! I had so much to do that day I was completely bewildered, and the hours weren’t half long enough. I did make a few social calls, but then I hurried them over; and then hastened to my little girl, whose face had already caught a touch of color; and she, looking quite handsome in her new frock and her ribbons, took me to other poor folk, and,—well, that’s about the whole story.
“Oh, as to the next Christmas. Well, I didn’t dine alone, as you may guess. It was up three stairs, that’s true, and there was none of that elegance that marked the dinner of the year before; but it was merry, and happy, and bright; it was a generous, honest, hearty Christmas dinner, that it was, although I do wish the widow hadn’t talked so much about the mysterious way a turkey had been left at her door the night before. And Molly—that’s the little girl—and I had a rousing appetite. We went to church early; then we had been down to the Five Points to carry the poor outcasts there something for their Christmas dinner; in fact, we had done wonders of work, and Molly was in high spirits, and so the Christmas dinner was a great success.
“Dear me, sir, no! Just as you say. Holidays are not in the least wearisome any more. Plague on it! When a man tells me now that he hates holidays, I find myself getting very angry. I pin him by the buttonhole at once, and tell him my experience. The fact is, if I were at dinner on a holiday, and anybody should ask me for a sentiment, I should say, ‘God bless all holidays!’”
Christmas Under the Snow
For the final story in this collection, let’s go back to 1904 for this 3000 word chestnut from Harriet Mann Miller, writing as Olive Thorne Miller. She tells of the prairie in winter and a family being hopelessly snowbound at Christmas.
The concept of literally having your house buried by snow is foreign to most people. If you know someone who lived through the great Northeast Blizzard of 1978 that closed down Massachusetts and much of New England, New York, and New Jersey for more than a week in the early part of February that winter – ask them about it.
Single story homes were invisible due to the depth of the heavy snow. People in houses with two floors, were only able to see out of the second floor windows. All street level doors were smothered by a frozen wall of ice and snow. The people whose doors opened outward spent many weary hours just trying to get them open more than a crack.
Parking lots looked like white oceans. The roofs of the cars were three feet under the waves of the frosted sea. Cars and pickup trucks were buried and would remain so for several days. It didn’t matter though, because the authorities ordered that the roads be closed. The streets were impossible to navigate with a regular car, but even those people who had snow plows and such, were instructed not to leave their driveways.
Like logs stuck in a frozen white river, hundreds of cars were stranded on Route 128 near Boston, during the Blizzard of 1978
It was a horrible period. Food was short. Many homes had no heat. Electricity was off for days. It was the worst week of their life for many people – and yet it also was, in many ways, the best week of their life.
In hard times, the true and generous nature of people often shines through. Such is the case in the following story, [*“Christmas Under the Snow”. *]
It was just before Christmas, and Mr. Barnes was starting for the nearest village. The family was out at the door to see him start and give him the last charges.
“Don’t forget the Christmas dinner, papa,” said Willie.
‘”Specially the chickens for the pie!” put in Nora.
“An’ the waisins,” piped up little Tot, standing on tiptoe to give papa a good-bye kiss.
“I hate to have you go, George,” said Mrs. Barnes anxiously. “It looks to me like a storm.”
“Oh, I guess it won’t be much,” said Mr. Barnes lightly; “and the youngsters must have their Christmas dinner, you know.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Barnes, “remember this, George: if there is a bad storm don’t try to come back. Stay in the village till it is over. We can get along alone for a few days, can’t we, Willie?” turning to the boy who was giving the last touches to the harness of old Tim, the horse.
“Oh, yes! Papa, I can take care of mamma,” said Willie earnestly.
“And get up the Christmas dinner out of nothing?” asked papa, smiling.
“I don’t know,” said Willie, hesitating, as he remembered the proposed dinner, in which he felt a deep interest.
“What could you do for the chicken pie?” went on papa with a roguish look in his eye, “or the plum-pudding?”
“Or the waisins?” broke in Tot anxiously.
“Tot has set her heart on the raisins,” said papa, tossing the small maiden up higher than his head, and dropping her all laughing on the door-step, “and Tot shall have them sure, if papa can find them in town. Now good-bye, all! Willie, remember to take care of mamma, and I depend on you to get up a Christmas dinner if I don’t get back. Now, wife, don’t worry!” were his last words as the faithful old horse started down the road.
Mrs. Barnes turned one more glance to the west, where a low, heavy bank of clouds was slowly rising, and went into the little house to attend to her morning duties.
“Willie,” she said, when they were all in the snug little log-cabin in which they lived, “I’m sure there’s going to be a storm, and it may be snow. You had better prepare enough wood for two or three days; Nora will help bring it in.”
“Me, too!” said grave little Tot.
“Yes, Tot may help too,” said mamma.
This simple little home was a busy place, and soon everyone was hard at work. It was late in the afternoon before the pile of wood, which had been steadily growing all day, was high enough to satisfy Willie, for now there was no doubt about the coming storm, and it would probably bring snow; no one could guess how much, in that country of heavy storms.
“I wish the village was not so far off, so that papa could get back to-night,” said Willie, as he came in with his last load.
Mrs. Barnes glanced out of the window. Broad scattering snowflakes were silently falling; the advance guard, she felt them to be, of a numerous host.
“So do I,” she replied anxiously, “or that he did not have to come over that dreadful prairie, where it is so easy to get lost.”
“But old Tim knows the way, even in the dark,” said Willie proudly. “I believe Tim knows more’n some folks.”
“No doubt he does, about the way home,” said mamma, “and we won’t worry about papa, but have our supper and go to bed. That’ll make the time seem short.”
The meal was soon eaten and cleared away, the fire carefully covered up on the hearth, and the whole little family quietly in bed. Then the storm, which had been making ready all day, came down upon them in earnest.
The bleak wind howled around the corners, the white flakes by millions and millions came with it, and hurled themselves upon that house. In fact, that poor little cabin alone on the wide prairie seemed to be the object of their sport. They sifted through the cracks in the walls, around the windows, and under the door, and made pretty little drifts on the floor. They piled up against it outside, covered the steps, and then the door, and then the windows, and then the roof, and at last buried it completely out of sight under the soft, white mass.
And all the time the mother and her three children lay snugly covered up in their beds fast asleep, and knew nothing about it.
The night passed away and morning came, but no light broke through the windows of the cabin. Mrs. Barnes woke at the usual time, but finding it still dark and perfectly quiet outside, she concluded that the storm was over, and with a sigh of relief turned over to sleep again. About eight o’clock, however, she could sleep no more, and became wide awake enough to think the darkness strange. At that moment the clock struck, and the truth flashed over her.
Being buried under snow is no uncommon thing on the wide prairies, and since they had wood and cornmeal in plenty, she would not have been much alarmed if her husband had been home. But snow deep enough to bury them must cover up all landmarks, and she knew her husband would not rest till he had found them. To get lost on the trackless prairie was fearfully easy, and to suffer and die almost in sight of home was no unusual thing, and was her one dread in living there.
A few moments she lay quiet in bed, to calm herself and get control of her own anxieties before she spoke to the children.
“Willie,” she said at last, “are you awake?”
“Yes, mamma,” said Willie; “I’ve been awake ever so long; isn’t it most morning?”
“Willie,” said the mother quietly, “we mustn’t be frightened, but I think—I’m afraid—we are snowed in.”
Willie bounded to his feet and ran to the door. “Don’t open it!” said mamma hastily; “the snow may fall in. Light a candle and look out the window.”
In a moment the flickering rays of the candle fell upon the window. Willie drew back the curtain. Snow was tightly banked up against it to the top.
“Why, mamma,” he exclaimed, “so we are! and how can papa find us? and what shall we do?”
“We must do the best we can,” said mamma, in a voice which she tried to make steady, “and trust that it isn’t very deep, and that Tim and papa will find us, and dig us out.”
By this time the little girls were awake and inclined to be very much frightened, but mamma was calm now, and Willie was brave and hopeful. They all dressed, and Willie started the fire. The smoke refused to rise, but puffed out into the room, and Mrs. Barnes knew that if the chimney were closed they would probably suffocate, if they did not starve or freeze.
The smoke in a few minutes choked them, and, seeing that something must be done, she put the two girls, well wrapped in blankets, into the shed outside the back door, closed the door to keep out the smoke, and then went with Willie to the low attic, where a scuttle door opened onto the roof.
“We must try,” she said, “to get it open without letting in too much snow, and see if we can manage to clear the chimney.”
“I can reach the chimney from the scuttle with a shovel,” said Willie.
“I often have with a stick.”
After much labour, and several small avalanches of snow, the scuttle was opened far enough for Willie to stand on the top round of the short ladder, and beat a hole through to the light, which was only a foot above. He then shovelled off the top of the chimney, which was ornamented with a big round cushion of snow, and then by beating and shovelling he was able to clear the door, which he opened wide, and Mrs. Barnes came up on the ladder to look out. Dreary indeed was the scene! Nothing but snow as far as the eye could reach, and flakes still falling, though lightly.
The storm was evidently almost over, but the sky was gray and overcast.
They closed the door, went down, and soon had a fire, hoping that the smoke would guide somebody to them.
Breakfast was taken by candle-light, dinner—in time—in the same way, and supper passed with no sound from the outside world.
Many times Willie and mamma went to the scuttle door to see if anyone was in sight, but not a shadow broke the broad expanse of white over which toward night the sun shone. Of course there were no signs of the roads, for through so deep snow none could be broken, and until the sun and frost should form a crust on top there was little hope of their being reached.
The second morning broke, and Willie hurried up to his post of lookout the first thing. No person was in sight, but he found a light crust on the snow, and the first thing he noticed was a few half-starved birds trying in vain to pick up something to eat. They looked weak and almost exhausted, and a thought struck Willie.
It was hard to keep up the courage of the little household. Nora had openly lamented that to-night was Christmas Eve, and no Christmas dinner to be had. Tot had grown very tearful about her “waisins,” and Mrs. Barnes, though she tried to keep up heart, had become very pale and silent.
Willie, though he felt unbounded faith in papa, and especially in Tim, found it hard to suppress his own complaints when he remembered that Christmas would probably be passed in the same dismal way, with fears for papa added to their own misery.
The wood, too, was getting low, and mamma dared not let the fire go out, as that was the only sign of their existence to anybody; and though she did not speak of it, Willie knew, too, that they had not many candles, and in two days at farthest they would be left in the dark.
The thought that struck Willie pleased him greatly, and he was sure it would cheer up the rest. He made his plans, and went to work to carry them out without saying anything about it.
He brought out of a corner of the attic an old boxtrap he had used in the summer to catch birds and small animals, set it carefully on the snow, and scattered crumbs of corn-bread to attract the birds.
In half an hour he went up again, and found to his delight he had caught bigger game—a poor rabbit which had come from no one knows where over the crust to find food.
This gave Willie a new idea; they could save their Christmas dinner after all; rabbits made very nice pies.
Poor Bunny was quietly laid to rest, and the trap set again. This time another rabbit was caught, perhaps the mate of the first. This was the last of the rabbits, but the next catch was a couple of snowbirds. These Willie carefully placed in a corner of the attic, using the trap for a cage, and giving them plenty of food and water.
When the girls were fast asleep, with tears on their cheeks for the dreadful Christmas they were going to have, Willie told mamma about his plans. Mamma was pale and weak with anxiety, and his news first made her laugh and then cry. But after a few moments given to her long pent-up tears, she felt much better and entered into his plans heartily.
The two captives up in the attic were to be Christmas presents to the girls, and the rabbits were to make the long anticipated pie. As for plum-pudding, of course that couldn’t be thought of.
“But don’t you think, mamma,” said Willie eagerly, “that you could make some sort of a cake out of meal, and wouldn’t hickory nuts be good in it? You know I have some left up in the attic, and I might crack them softly up there, and don’t you think they would be good?” he concluded anxiously.
“Well, perhaps so,” said mamma, anxious to please him and help him in his generous plans. “I can try. If I only had some eggs—but seems to me I have heard that snow beaten into cake would make it light—and there’s snow enough, I’m sure,” she added with a faint smile, the first Willie had seen for three days.
The smile alone he felt to be a great achievement, and he crept carefully up the ladder, cracked the nuts to the last one, brought them down, and mamma picked the meats out, while he dressed the two rabbits which had come so opportunely to be their Christmas dinner. “Wish you Merry Christmas!” he called out to Nora and Tot when they waked. “See what Santa Claus has brought you!”
Before they had time to remember what a sorry Christmas it was to be, they received their presents, a live bird, for each, a bird that was never to be kept in a cage, but fly about the house till summer came, and then to go away if it wished.
Pets were scarce on the prairie, and the girls were delighted. Nothing papa could have brought them would have given them so much happiness.
They thought no more of the dinner, but hurried to dress themselves and feed the birds, which were quite tame from hunger and weariness. But after a while they saw preparations for dinner, too. Mamma made a crust and lined a deep dish—the chicken pie dish—and then she brought a mysterious something out of the cupboard, all cut up so that it looked as if it might be chicken, and put it in the dish with other things, and then she tucked them all under a thick crust, and set it down in a tin oven before the fire to bake. And that was not all. She got out some more cornmeal, and made a batter, and put in some sugar and something else which she slipped in from a bowl, and which looked in the batter something like raisins; and at the last moment Willie brought her a cup of snow and she hastily beat it into the cake, or pudding, whichever you might call it, while the children laughed at the idea of making a cake out of snow. This went into the same oven and pretty soon it rose up light and showed a beautiful brown crust, while the pie was steaming through little fork holes on top, and sending out most delicious odors.
At the last minute, when the table was set and everything ready to come up, Willie ran up to look out of the scuttle, as he had every hour of daylight since they were buried. In a moment came a wild shout down the ladder.
“They’re coming! Hurrah for old Tim!”
Mamma rushed up and looked out, and saw—to be sure—old Tim slowly coming along over the crust, drawing after him a wood sled on which were two men.
“It’s papa!” shouted Willie, waving his arms to attract their attention.
“Willie!” came back over the snow in tones of agony. “Is that you? Are all well?”
“All well!” shouted Willie, “and just going to have our Christmas dinner.”
“Dinner?” echoed papa, who was now nearer.
“Where is the house, then?”
“Oh, down here!” said Willie, “under the snow; but we’re all right, only we mustn’t let the plum-pudding spoil.”
Looking into the attic, Willie found that mamma had fainted away, and this news brought to her aid papa and the other man, who proved to be a good friend who had come to help.
Tim was tied to the chimney, whose thread of smoke had guided them home, and all went down into the dark room. Mrs. Barnes soon recovered, and while Willie dished up the smoking dinner, stories were told on both sides.
Mr. Barnes had been trying to get through the snow and to find them all the time, but until the last night had made a stiff crust he had been unable to do so. Then Mrs. Barnes told her story, winding up with the account of Willie’s Christmas dinner. “And if it hadn’t been for his keeping up our hearts I don’t know what would have become of us,” she said at last.
“Well, my son,” said papa, “you did take care of mamma, and get up a dinner out of nothing, sure enough; and now we’ll eat the dinner, which I am sure is delicious.”
So it proved to be; even the cake, or pudding, which Tot christened snow pudding, was voted very nice, and the hickory nuts as good as raisins. When they had finished, Mr. Barnes brought in his packages, gave Tot and the rest some “sure-enough waisins,” and added his Christmas presents to Willie’s; but though all were overjoyed, nothing was quite so nice in their eyes as the two live birds.
After dinner the two men and Willie dug out passages from the doors, through the snow, which had wasted a good deal, uncovered the windows, and made a slanting way to his shed for old Tim. Then for two or three days Willie made tunnels and little rooms under the snow, and for two weeks, while the snow lasted, Nora and Tot had fine times in the little snow playhouses.
And so closes this box of Christmas treats, most of which are at least a hundred years old. I hope you found them not stale, but as fresh as the next 25th of December. If you had half as much joy in opening the pages and poring through them as I did in collecting and annotating the tales, then we’ve both had a nice little holiday gift.
Merry Christmas to all.
Cape Cod 2017
Bill Russo, retired on Cape Cod, was educated in Boston at the Huntington School and at Grahm College in Kenmore Square. He was editor of several newspapers in Massachusetts as well as a former disc jockey, news writer/presenter, and broadcaster for various outlets in New England.
His sighting of a swamp creature just before the turn of the century, led to appearances in the Bridgewater Triangle Documentary Film, America’s Bermuda Triangle, and on Destination America’s Monsters and Mysteries series.
In addition to his radio and newspaper work, he held management positions in logistics and warehousing as well as a stint as an ironworker and President of Boston Local 501 of the Shopmen’s Ironworkers Union.
Contact Bill at All e-mails are personally answered
Bill’s Blog is called Adventures in Type and Space:
He also shares news and videos on his Youtube Channel:
Fifteen obscure heartwarming Christmas tales, most of them more than a century old, are brought to life in this delightful, family friendly collection. Unearthed from ancient magazines, books, and newspapers the stories have been updated and annotated for today’s readers by Bill Russo. From the "Bizarro Scrooge", to the "Rodney Dangerfield Christmas Tree", and on to “Twas the Night After Christmas” you’ll find humor and joy in these relatively unknown gems. The tales, first presented in 2016 as entries in the blog “Adventures in Type and Space” reached many thousands. Comments and suggestions prompted the creation of this anthology..