A Christmas Gift for Kathryn – A Short Childrens Christmas Story

A snowstorm rolled down like a misty white blanket over the fortress-like caprock of Johnson Mesa, slowly engulfing its imposing mass into white nothingness. Kathryn stood on the porch alone, arms wrapped tightly around herself, her ocean blue eyes tearfully staring out far past the mesa and its ghostly attacker.

Somewhere out there, in the rough canyon country beyond the mesa, the wreckage of a single-engine Cessna lay inaccessible to rescuers. It was Daniel’s plane. He had been rushing home from a meeting in Washington to be with his family on Christmas. Just south of Trinidad, near Raton Pass, he radioed a distress call that he had narrowly avoided another aircraft, but had lost engine power and was going in for a crash landing.

Search planes had found the wreckage, but the terrain and the snowstorm made it unlikely a search team would reach it before morning. The search plane had reported no sign of a survivor before weather had forced them back to Pueblo.

“He didn’t even want to make this trip…,” Kathryn sobbed to herself, “…he was so worried about not being home for Christmas. I wish I hadn’t pushed him into going. Why do I always encourage him to do things he says he doesn’t want to?” Her voice trailed off into heart-wrenching sobs.

Kathryn remembered how he always talked about wanting a nice quiet life with her, leaving the rest of the world to take care of itself. She knew he meant it with all his heart, but she also knew it wasn’t his nature. He reminded her of Don Quixote at times, always chasing another windmill and enjoying every minute of it. She smiled through her tears at the thought. She loved the way his eyes twinkled and his voice became animated whenever he talked about his latest project.

“It was always going to be the last one,” Kathryn thought sadly “…he may have been right this time.”

The advance guard of the storm began powdering the porch with snowflakes, and the north wind gave her a chill has she turned to walk back into the house. She would have to tell Cody what happened and had avoided it until now because she could not believe it yet herself. It didn’t “feel” like he was gone.

Kathryn stopped before opening the door to the house, watching her son finish tending to the fire before sitting down at his beloved computer. She dabbed at her tears and smiled as she watched him. At 13, Cody was the spitting image of his father. He had the same twinkle in his eye and determination to accomplish what he set his mind to, as well as his aptitude for computers and technology. He was growing into a fine young man and she was very proud of him. She loved to watch Daniel patiently, though sometimes bluntly,
teach Cody the lessons of life that he had learned the hard way. She knew her husband had lived a hard life before meeting her and she knew he didn’t want Cody to have to learn the same way.

As Kathryn opened the door, she wondered if she would be able to keep Cody from rushing out to rescue his father, once she told him what had happened. He was strongwilled and stubborn like his father, too. But, she knew that he would not disobey her wishes, and she would not allow him to go wandering around in the mountains at night in a snowstorm. The prospect of losing Daniel shattered her deeply… losing them both
would kill her.

Before she could say a word, Cody turned around and smiled at her.

“Hey Mom, Dad sent you an e-mail. It’s pretty long, as usual. He gets mushy again, too.” Kathryn fought back a sob, instead, glaring at her son.

“How many times do I have to tell you to leave my e-mail alone? You haven’t split any firewood yet either, have you? You better get your chores done young man, or I’ll ground your computer again.”

The boy just grinned sheepishly as he rose from his chair and put on his jacket.

“Yes, Mother, I’m going… and I just skimmed it.”

He gave her a wink and she could not help but smile, thinking, “So much like his father…”

She grabbed him and kissed him as he walked towards the door, then hugged him tightly.

“I need to talk to you when you get done. I love you sweetie.”

After Cody walked out into the night, Kathryn slowly walked towards the computer. The message from Daniel was still on the screen and she sat down in front of it. He e-mailed her everyday whenever he was out of town, sometimes more than once. She loved his letters; he was always so cute, so romantic, even after 15 years of marriage. He was a man of few words in person, but his heart flowed into his writing and entranced her. She always thought he should be a writer, but he would only laugh and claim she was the only
person in the world that would read anything he wrote. She scrolled to the beginning and began reading:

My Darling Kathryn,

Hello, beautiful. All the meetings are over, and we have a done deal. The Senator twisted a few arms (after we twisted his a bit) and the funding will be attached to an emergency appropriations bill. As much as I hate playing this game, I gotta admit that I love it when  a plan comes together.

I would have taken off for home by now, but there seems to be some weather over the plains and I’d like to see what it’s going to do before I fly into it. I don’t mind waiting awhile; it gives me time to write to you. I know that I don’t share my feelings or tell you how much I love you as often as I should when I am with you. I guess I am just still shy and in awe of you… even after all these years. My mind overflows with words anytime I even think about you, but they always seem to get lost in between my brain and my
mouth. Sitting here, two thousand miles away and missing you so very much, the words seem to flow to my fingers so easily. I love you so very much, baby.

The plane is gassed up and ready to go, so once the weather looks better I will be making my way home to you. I am so glad you talked me into learning to fly and buying this Cessna. You were exactly right that the only reason I hated flying was because I couldn’t stand not to be in control. Gawd I love to fly. It makes me feel free. I have you to thank, my love; you always know what I want better than I do.

It’s so beautiful when I’m flying, I find myself putting on the autopilot and drinking it all in, thinking of you every second. My mind usually gets lost in thoughts of you, and the special times we have had together.

As much as I love to fly, I miss driving too. There is no better way to see the country than driving right smack through it. I especially miss driving with you. I can think of few times in my life more special than those we spent together on the road, exploring new places that neither of us had ever seen before. I remember when we traveled U.S. 40 through the Rockies. The sheer raw beauty of those mountains made your eyes twinkle with amazement. That twinkle, and the look of delight on your face, made you more
beautiful than those old mountains could ever hope to match. I also remember each place we stopped at. Anywhere we went you would light up the room, and you entranced everyone we met. You made me feel so special to be with you, to be yours, to be loved by you. Of course you have always made me feel that way, from the first day I met you and every second between then and now. Even today I wonder if you can possibly imagine how much I love you.

Kathryn remembered that trip well. She also knew very well how much he loved her, and her love for him was no less. Kathryn had loved every second they were together on that trip. It was their honeymoon, actually. They had taken two weeks to travel the West, taking their time and enjoying all there was to see and do. Being in the truck with him as they drove through the majestic beauty of the Rockies had been heaven to her. He was so attentive, making sure she was comfortable, pointing out anything that might interest or
inspire her, talking to her about everything and anything. She learned more about him in those two weeks than at any other time in their lives. It was not only that he told her all the details of his past, but also that he shared his hopes, dreams, triumphs and failures. He’d had an interesting life, though he didn’t think so, and  she marveled at each experience that had helped make him the man she loved. Though
his voice hid it well, she could see the pain in his eyes when he talked about the loss of his father, or of friends in combat, or of loves past. She also saw the pride in his eyes when he talked of his accomplishments, though he always downplayed them and the mischievous twinkle when he talked of the not-always-legal exploits of his youth.

Kathryn smiled through her moist eyes as she remembered how he held her hand every minute while they were driving, gently caressing the back of her hand with his thumb endlessly. That small gesture had touched her deeply. He made her feel so comfortable, so loved, and so safe. At night he would always take her to some special place to watch the stars. Straight up above, no matter where they were, their own personal star twinkled down at them. Later, during the times they were apart, she would look up at that star and feel closer to him, knowing he was under that same star no matter where he was. The clouds hid that star from view tonight, but she knew it was there, and her heart could feel he was still under that star, somewhere.

After wiping her moist eyes and runny nose with a tissue, Kathryn refocused on the message displayed on the computer screen. She reached out and touched it gently, desperately wanting his hand to be holding hers again. After a moment, she continued reading.

What I miss the most is sitting with you on the porch swing on a cool fall evening, cuddled up under a warm flannel blanket. It is so clear in my mind. I can hear the coyotes yipping in the distance, savor the chilly breeze caressing our faces, see the burning orange face of the harvest moon rising behind the dark fortress of Johnson Mesa, and feel your warm body snuggled close to me. I can see Cody out by the barn, trying to teach the pups some new trick, frustrated by their insistence on playing with him.

How I miss both you and Cody. He’s growing into a fine young man and I am so proud of him. I know that I’m hard on him, but it’s because I love him. I don’t want him to have to make the same mistakes I did, though I know that no matter what I tell him or teach him, ultimately he will still have to learn them on his own. He was so disappointed when he didn’t make the football team, and I feel like it’s my fault. He always hears me talk about how I loved playing, and I fear that he only tried out in an effort to please me. While he is no momma’s boy by any stretch, his heart isn’t into sports. He wants to be an engineer and that is where his heart and mind are. I need to be careful about my prattling on about my football glory days, and spend more time encouraging him to follow his dreams. I wish being a father came with an instruction book. I often worry that I am not doing right for him.

I really do want to help him find his dreams. How ironic, huh? When you met me I thought my life was about over and that my dreams were nothing but wishful thinking. I don’t ever want our son to feel that way. Of course that could never happen with you as his mother. Just as you made me believe in myself again and showed me that I could make our dreams come true, you affect Cody the same way. I have always said that you are the best part of me, baby, the part that was always missing until we found each other.

You are a part of Cody, too, and that makes me feel very confident about how he will turn out as an adult. You are the best part of us both. I sure miss home too baby. I love Raton at Christmas. I love how the streets are so brightly lit and decorated and that the Christmas tree is back on Main Street, where it belongs. I hope I get home in time to take you and Cody for a walk downtown and up through the City of Bethlehem, as we always do. I wish I wouldn’t have missed playing Santa Claus and passing out toys this year, I really enjoy doing that and seeing those kids faces light up. You did write that check to Toys for Tots, didn’t you? I know it was a lot of money, but we have it so why not share it at Christmas? I remember what it’s like to be
poor and wonder if I could even afford a tree for Christmas, let alone presents.

I sometimes wonder if you don’t think I’m crazy around Christmas. I know I tend to go hog wild, and bore you to death with my rantings about the Christmas spirit, how miracles can happen and dreams can come true. I do love Christmas, and I truly believe what I say. Nothing is impossible on Christmas, if people would just let the spirit of the season fill their hearts, and believe. I know that the true spirit of Christmas fills you year around, but I also see the looks you give me when I tell Cody that yes, there is a Santa Claus. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe. Santa Claus exists within us all, if we’d just let him out.

I guess I’d better get cracking and get in the air. The forecasters say that storm should be out of my flight path by the time I get to Kansas. I want to get home to you and Cody and have the most wonderful Christmas ever.

I know you won’t let me tell you not to worry while I’m in the air, because you will anyway. Just remember that I will make it home to you, as I always do, one way or another. I don’t think anything on this earth could stop me from coming home to your arms baby. Heck, I’ll hitch a ride with Santa if I have too.

Before I go, remember that I love you with all of my heart and soul. I know you can feel my love across the miles, because I can feel yours too. See you for dinner my love.
XOXOXO

Yours forever, and beyond,
Daniel
Kathryn stared at his name at the bottom of the message for a long time, before closing her eyes and trying to feel his spirit within her. She knew he couldn’t be dead, she still felt him. But she didn’t know if he was ok, or if he was lying out there in the cold snow, hurt, reaching out to her for help, feeling his life slowly drifting away. Kathryn felt an overwhelming urge to rush right out and look for him herself.

The front door burst open, and Cody entered with an armload of firewood, the wind and snow howling through the open doorway behind him. Kathryn tried to compose herself, but he noticed her tear stained face immediately.

“What’s the matter Mom?” he asked as he stacked the wood near the fireplace. “Bet you’re worried about Dad, ain’t you? I know you didn’t want to tell me, but Sara Duran called earlier to ask if we were OK. I know Dad’s plane crashed. Don’t worry, you know him, he’ll be all right. He always says that God isn’t done playing with him yet.”

Kathryn smiled sadly at her son, thinking he was so much like his father. He tried to put on a brave front for her, but she could see the worry in his eyes… the same worry she had seen in Daniel’s eyes so many times when something was bothering him.

She also remembered something else her husband used to say, only to her, when they first met. She had been so taken by him from the first time they met. She constantly told him what a special man he was and how she just knew he could do anything he set his mind to. He would blush at her flattery, then look her in the eye with those eyes that seemed they were looking past her and a thousand miles away. “I’m just a man, baby. I put my pants on one leg at a time, and I bleed. You don’t want to get involved with me, because
someday I won’t be coming home.”

Kathryn shook her head to remove those words from her memory. As the years passed, he had seemed to lose that fatalistic attitude, and seemed to get younger and more enthusiastic about life every day. She held her arms out to Cody and smiled.

“Come here and give me a hug, my so grown up son. I love you so much.” Cody walked over and hugged his mother tight, wishing he could be out there, helping to look for his father. He wanted to go so bad, but knew that his mother needed him now, and would never let him go anyway. The wind howled angrily and snow pelted the sides of the house as Kathryn held her son tight, thanking God that she had him and praying that his father was OK.

*****

Cody had built a nice roaring fire and Kathryn sat cuddled up on the couch in front of it, long after Cody had went to bed. As the minutes ticked by, she grew more and more afraid for her husband. She knew that Daniel was comfortable in the outdoors, and under normal circumstances could survive a night in a snowstorm with no problem. But his plane had crashed and he was most likely hurt, maybe badly. With each passing moment she felt his life ebbing away, and part of her along with it. She tried to shake the dread
from her mind and think positive.

“If I just concentrate, let my heart reach out, maybe it can keep him warm and safe until help can find him.”

As the fire slowly died to burning embers, her thoughts were of nothing but Daniel as sleep slowly overcame her. The embers of the fire were only a dull glow when Kathryn awoke, hearing a noise outside the house. The lights of the Christmas tree twinkled their multi-colored glow through the living room as she sat up and strained to identify the strange sound.

“Are those bells?” she thought as she rose from the couch. It sure did sound like bells, combined with the rustling of animals’ hooves just outside the house. She wondered if the horses had gotten out of the barn as she walked to the door and opened it. Outside, the snowstorm had passed and the night was clear and still. A  sliver of the moon and countless stars overhead, as well as a foot of new snow, made the
night seem almost like day.

Kathryn didn’t notice the beauty of the night though, all she could see was a sight that made her both laugh and cry all at the same time. A tiny sleigh filled with canvas sacks stood just in front of the porch and eight tiny reindeer pawed at the new snow to reach the sweet grass beneath. Between her and the sleigh a tiny round man was helping a tall figure of a man walk to the house. The little man had a huge white beard, rosy cheeks, and a twinkle in the eye that paled the stars above. His bright red suit lined with snowwhite
fur gave her no doubt who he was… though she couldn’t make herself believe it.

The tall man left her just as much in doubt and disbelief.

“Daniel?”

“DANIEL!!!”

He looked up and grinned that stupid grin he got when he was drunk, and all her doubts and disbelief were erased. She started to run to him, then thinking better of it, turned and held open the door to the house as the old Santa helped Daniel up the stairs and across the porch. Kathryn motioned to him and helped to settle her husband onto the couch. She hugged Daniel close and kissed him repeatedly, but he seemed to be in a daze. She covered him with a blanket, then turned to the old Santa.

“What’s the matter with him…no, first, how did you find him? Wait…I’m sorry, I should thank you… thank you so much for bringing my Daniel home to me.”

The old Santa gave Kathryn a wink before speaking.

“Before you thank me miss, you should know that it was kind of my fault he had problems with his airplane and had to crash land. I was running behind, not paying close attention and I guess my reindeer are getting old… we almost ran into your husband’s plane. He’s a good pilot… better than me,” he grinned sheepishly. “He avoided a collision, but broke his plane doing so. I lost track of where he landed in the snowstorm, so it took me awhile to find him. He has a pretty nasty bump on the head. I let him drink all of my rum, so he’s feeling no pain right now.

He stopped and winked at Kathryn again.

“It’s for medicinal purposes only you see.” Kathryn smiled. “You brought him home to me. That is all that counts. You are a wonderful man.”

She turned to Daniel lying on the couch and continued. “I know now that there really is a Santa Claus. I hate to admit it, but I never really believed before. He always did, though, but I think you already know that.”

“I do.”

She turned back to Santa, but was surprised to see that he wasn’t there anymore. Kathryn ran to the open door but Santa and his sleigh were nowhere to be seen. As she smiled and walked back into the house, she could hear the gentle tinkle of sleigh bells in the quiet New Mexico night.

After throwing a few logs on the fire, Kathryn made sure Daniel was comfortable on the couch, tucking him into the blanket and gently stroking his hair. As she looked at him the joy she felt in her heart overwhelmed her. He looked so peaceful… and safe. She kissed the bump on his forehead softly before slowly getting up and walking off to the bedroom.

She wouldn’t disturb him from his peaceful sleep. She wanted him to have his strength back in the morning, so she could love it right back out of him.

*****

The insistent cocking of the rooster woke Kathryn just after dawn. The morning sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon, and the vista of snow-covered, volcanic mountains, mesas and plains outside her window had a misty, pinkish hue from the reflection of the blazing red clouds above. Kathryn lay there and marveled at the view for a bit, every morning was a new miracle, and she appreciated each one. After a moment her thoughts returned to Daniel, and she rushed to the living room to kiss him Merry
Christmas. She stopped short when she saw that the couch was empty, blanket folded neatly over the back the way she liked it. Daniel was nowhere to be seen. Her mind began to have doubts immediately.

“Was it all a dream?” It had to be… “Santa Claus? Oh my…”

She felt the happiness draining quickly from her heart, replaced with the cold fear of reality. Tears began to well in her big blue eyes.

“Ouch, does my head hurt, a voice mumbled from behind her.

Kathryn turned with a start as Daniel walked a little wobbly up the hall from the bathroom.

“Daniel!” she cried as she launched herself into his arms, hugging and kissing him madly. “Whoa baby.” Unable to keep his balance, Daniel fell flat on his back, Kathryn on top of him, still kissing him over every inch of his face.

“Merry Christmas, Hon,” he whispered.

She stopped kissing him and gazed deeply into his eyes, amazed as always at the depth of their color, and their love.

“Merry Christmas to you too, Darling. I am so glad you were right all these years. Santa Claus gave me the greatest gift of my life this year… you. I love you Daniel.”

Daniel’s blue-green eyes twinkled as he smiled.

“I love you too, baby. More than you can ever imagine.”

They kissed deeply for a moment, before Daniel broke the kiss and gave her a confused look.

“What about Santa Claus?”

“He rescued you and brought you home, dear,” she stated matter-of-factly.

The confusion and laughter in his eyes grew.

“Say what?”

She returned his look with one of shock and scorn.

“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy. Don’t you remember what happened last night?”

“No. In fact, the last thing I remember is…”

He stopped and looked thoughtful for a moment, and Kathryn became worried as the blood drained from his face.

“What do you remember, sweetie?”

Daniel sat up against the wall, pulling her with him and holding her in his arms.

“Well… I was just clipping along, not having much problem with the storm, and almost home, when something almost ran into me. I had to move fast to avoid it, so I didn’t get a good look, but I could swear that it was reindeer pulling a sleigh. I think I clipped the hoof of one too. The next thing I remember is waking up on the couch this morning with a hell of a headache.”

Kathryn just looked up at him and smiled.

“He apologized, baby,” she giggled.

Daniel’s eyes were moist, yet full of joy as he looked at his beautiful wife and held her tight. After a moment, the mirthful strains of their laughter drifted out of the little ranch house and wafted softly over the snow-covered high plains of New Mexico.

by Daniel ‘Chip’ Ciammaichella

http://www.best-christmas-stories.com/category/childrens-christmas-stories/

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Christmas on Big Rattle – A Short Children’s Christmas Story

For more short Children’s Christmas stories, visit Best-Christmas-Stories.com

Archer sat by the rude hearth of his Big Rattle camp, brooding in a sort of tired contentment over the spitting fagots of var and glowing coals of birch.

It was Christmas Eve. He had been out on his snowshoes all that day, and all the day before, springing his traps along the streams and putting his deadfalls out of commission–rather queer work for a
trapper to be about.

But Archer, despite all his gloomy manner, was really a sentimentalist, who practised what he felt.

“Christmas is a season of peace on earth,” he had told himself, while demolishing the logs of a sinister deadfall with his axe; and now the remembrance of his quixotic deed added a brightness to the fire and to
the rough, undecorated walls of the camp.

Outside, the wind ran high in the forest, breaking and sweeping tidelike over the reefs of treetops. The air was bitterly cold. Another voice, almost as fitful as the sough of the wind, sounded across the
night. It was the waters of Stone Arrow Falls, above 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, 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 off 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 all 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.

A white man, no matter how courageous and sinewy, would have been prone in the snow by that time.

But 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 woollen case 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.

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 poor Injun Sacobie, too. Plenty tobac, 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?”

“Bacum,” 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 t’ink,” he said.

“You ungratefu’ little beggar!” laughed Archer, as he pulled a frying pan from under the bunk.

By the time the bacon was fried and the tea steeped, Sacobie was sufficiently revived to leave the bunk and take a seat by the fire.

He ate as all hungry Indians 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. T’ank 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 bacum 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.

“Tobac?” 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 t’ink Sacobie heap big t’ief,” 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 humour.

But at last they both began to nod. The white man 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 tobac, please,” he said. “Squaw, he smoke, too.”

Archer added a couple of sticks of the black leaf to the pile.

“Bacum, too,” said the Micmac. “Bacum better nor fish, anyhow.”

Archer shook his head.

“You’ll have to do with the fish,” he replied; “but I’ll give you a tin 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 dunnage bag near his bunk, he pulled its contents about until he found a bright red silk handkerchief and a red flannel shirt. Their
colour 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 red-skin! “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.

THEODORE GOODRIDGE ROBERTS

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Mr. Bluff’s Experiences of Holidays – A Short Children’s Christmas Story

Posted On November 11, 2008

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“I hate holidays,” said Bachelor 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, deuced 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 Bachelor 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
Bachelor 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 paterfamilias in his pew tantalized me, and the whole atmosphere of the place seemed so much better suited to every one else than me that I came away hating holidays worse than ever. Then I went to the 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 centres 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–”

“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 flavour any more, 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 proteges 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 colour; 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 wroth. 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!'”

OLIVER BELL BUNCE

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Kit and Kat’s Christmas – A Short Christmas Story

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Kit and Kat were very cute and very curious kittens. One day Kit and Kat watched as their round-round Food Lady did something very interesting. First she brought to the big room with the sunny windows large boxes which smelled strange – they smelled yummy.

drawing

Then Food Lady took out some spiky green brushes from the biggest box. She laid the spiky brushes out on the floor and studied a crumpled piece of white paper with black markings on it. She said, “hummm, hummm.” She looked up to see Kit and Kat chewing on one of the spiky brushes. “Kit and Kat! Shoo-shoo-shoo little cats,” she yelled.

Kit and Kat went skittering to the other side of the room. But slowly, very slowly, they crept back to the brushes and hid behind them. Now the lady was putting together a stick with feet which stood straight up. Kit wondered about this new stick. Kat wondered… “was it a climbing stick?”

When the lady went to pick up a brush, Kit and Kat decided to try out Food Lady’s new stick. “O-o-oh so nice to scratch, meeow,” they purred as they climbed up the stick. “Meeow!” they screamed as the stick crashed to the floor. “Kit and Kat!” yelled Food Lady. “Shoo-shoo little cats.”

Food Lady began to stick the green brushes to the stick with the feet. When Food Lady was finished, all the brushes were gone from the floor. Kit and Kat had to rub their eyes. “What’s this? A tree? In the house? Yippee!” Kit and Kat ran round and round the house celebrating their good luck. They were so happy that they had to share their happiness with the Food Lady. Kit and Kat leapt at the Food Lady but they only got as high as her knees. Out came their claws. Rip went Food Lady’s nylons. “Kit and Kat!” yelled Food Lady. “Shoo-shoo-shoo, little cats.”

Kit and Kat went running …..to their new tree! Up the trunk they skittered and skattered. “This new tree sways a lot,” thought the kittens. “This tree is going to fall down! Meow! Meeeow!” yelled the kittens as the green brush tree came crashing to the floor. “Kit and Kat!” yelled Food Lady. “Shoo-shoo-shoo, little cats.”

drawing

Food Lady picked up the tree and opened another box. Kit and Kat just had to see, so they perched on the arm of a chair near the box. The Food Lady unwrapped an object which had many coloured balls attached in a long string. She wrapped first one string then another round and round the green brush tree. As she was doing this, Kit and Kat leaned way out over the box to see what else was inside. Bump! Thump! Kit and Kat fell into the box. Soft tissue broke their fall and they burrowed down deep into the box. Then they waited. And waited.

The Food Lady unwrapped one object, then another, and placed them on the tree. She picked out one, two, three… suddenly Kit stretched out her paw, stretched out her claws, and swat went Kit at the Food Lady’s hand. “Ouch!” she yelled. “Kit and Kat, shoo-shoo-shoo little cats.” But Kit and Kat were stuck. As hard as they tried, they could not get untangled from the stuff in the box. Food Lady tried to help them out but Kit and Kat were all claws and teeth. Food Lady tried to be patient. Food Lady tried to be kind. But Kit and Kat would have none of it. Finally, out sprang Kit and out sprang Kat. They both ran behind the piano and hid.

Shortly after that, two pairs of shiny eyes peered out from behind the piano. Two pair of eyes full of mischief and fun. The tree looked different. It now had interesting objects hanging all over it. Food Lady was hanging metal strings on the tree. They made the tree look like a frosted cake. “Yum, frosting,” thought the kittens. “Let’s taste some.” Kit and Kat crept from their hiding place and tiptoed up to the tree. First they ate one and then two of the shiny, stringy frostings. “Yuck! No taste.” “Blah, it’s like a fir ball!” “Cough,” went Kit. “Choke,” went Kat. And up came the wet, soggy tinsel. “Kit and Kat! Shoo-shoo-shoo little cats,” said the Food Lady.

drawing

The cats ran, but not very far, because something very extraordinary happened. Something which made them turn and look. The tree was bright, the tree was glowing. It twinkled, it flashed. The kittens were scared. The kittens ran away as fast as they could but as they hit the kitchen floor they lost control. Skitter, scatter, crash. They fell over their bowls. Water and food covered the kitchen floor.

“Kit and Cat,” said Food Lady. “I am tired of saying … Kit and Kat! Shoo-shoo-shoo little cats. Let’s give you some time out.” The Food lady scooped up Kit and Kat and put them into the room with the loud flushing well and the drip drip spouts. They liked this room so they were not too sad. As the door closed, Kit and Kat looked for the roll of soft paper which was fun to scratch and unravel on the bathroom floor.

Meanwhile, the Food Lady cleaned up the kitchen floor and placed more colourful objects throughout the house. She took out her recipe box and planned her baking and cooking of wonderful Christmas foods.

When she was finished, she went to let Kit and Kat out of the bathroom. Kit and Kat were curled up on a pile of crumpled and torn toilet paper, sound asleep. The food lady shook her head and smiled. “Kit and Kat, you busy, busy kittens. You’re both so cute. I love you just the way you are.” And as time passed, Kit and Kat grew up to be just as loving as the Food Lady but they were still very busy cats at Christmas time. They were forgiven, for as we all know, not one creature on this earth is perfect.

– by Linda Hastings

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Turkeys Turning the Tables – A Short Children’s Christmas Story

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“Well, you see,” the papa began, on Christmas morning, when the little girl had snuggled in his lap into just the right shape for listening, “it was the night after Thanksgiving, and you know how everybody feels the night after Thanksgiving.”

“Yes; but you needn’t begin that way, papa,” said the little girl; “I’m not going to have any moral to it this time.”

“No, indeed! But it can be a true story, can’t it?”

“I don’t know,” said the little girl; “I like made-up ones.”

“Well, this is going to be a true one, anyway, and it’s no use talking.”[Pg 26]

All the relations in the neighborhood had come to dinner, and then gone back to their own houses, but some of the relations had come from a distance, and these had to stay all night at the grandfather’s. But whether they went or whether they stayed, they all told the grandmother that they did believe it was the best Thanksgiving dinner they had ever eaten in their born days. They had had cranberry sauce, and they’d had mashed potato, and they’d had mince-pie and pandowdy, and they’d had celery, and they’d had Hubbard squash, and they’d had tea and coffee both, and they’d had apple-dumpling with hard sauce, and they’d had hot biscuit and sweet pickle, and mangoes, and frosted cake, and nuts, and cauliflower—

“Don’t mix them all up so!” pleaded the little girl. “It’s perfectly confusing. I can’t hardly tell what they had now.”

“Well, they mixed them up just in[Pg 27] the same way, and I suppose that’s one of the reasons why it happened.”

Whenever a child wanted to go back from dumpling and frosted cake to mashed potato and Hubbard squash—they were old-fashioned kind of people, and they had everything on the table at once, because the grandmother and the aunties cooked it, and they couldn’t keep jumping up all the time to change the plates—and its mother said it shouldn’t, its grandmother said, Indeed it should, then, and helped it herself; and the child’s father would say, Well, he guessed he would go back, too, for a change; and the child’s mother would say, She should think he would be ashamed; and then they would get to going back, till everything was perfectly higgledy-piggledy.

“Oh, shouldn’t you like to have been there, papa?” sighed the little girl.[Pg 28]

“You mustn’t interrupt. Where was I?”

“Higgledy-piggledy.”

“Oh yes!”

Well, but the greatest thing of all was the turkey that they had. It was a gobbler, I tell you, that was nearly as big as a giraffe.

“Papa!”

It took the premium at the county fair, and when it was dressed it weighed fifteen pounds—well, maybe twenty—and it was so heavy that the grandmothers and the aunties couldn’t put it on the table, and they had to get one of the papas to do it. You ought to have heard the hurrahing when the children saw him coming in from the kitchen with it. It seemed as if they couldn’t hardly talk of anything but that turkey the whole dinner-time.[Pg 29]

The grandfather hated to carve, and so one of the papas did it; and whenever he gave anybody a piece, the grandfather would tell some new story about the turkey, till pretty soon the aunties got to saying, “Now, father, stop!” and one of them said it made it seem as if the gobbler was walking about on the table, to hear so much about him, and it took her appetite all away; and that made the papas begin to ask the grandfather more and more about the turkey.

“Yes,” said the little girl, thoughtfully; “I know what papas are.”

“Yes, they’re pretty much all alike.”

And the mammas began to say they acted like a lot of silly boys; and what would the children think? But nothing could stop it; and all through the afternoon and evening, whenever the papas saw any of the aunties or mam[Pg 30]mas round, they would begin to ask the grandfather more particulars about the turkey. The grandfather was pretty forgetful, and he told the same things right over. Well, and so it went on till it came bedtime, and then the mammas and aunties began to laugh and whisper together, and to say they did believe they should dream about that turkey; and when the papas kissed the grandmother good-night, they said, Well, they must have his mate for Christmas; and then they put their arms round the mammas and went out haw-hawing.

“I don’t think they behaved very dignified,” said the little girl.

“Well, you see, they were just funning, and had got going, and it was Thanksgiving, anyway.”

Well, in about half an hour everybody was fast asleep and dreaming—

[Pg 31]

“Is it going to be a dream?” asked the little girl, with some reluctance.

“Didn’t I say it was going to be a true story?”

“Yes.”

“How can it be a dream, then?”

“You said everybody was fast asleep and dreaming.”

“Well, but I hadn’t got through. Everybody except one little girl.”

“Now, papa!”

“What?”

“Don’t you go and say her name was the same as mine, and her eyes the same color.”

“What an idea!”

This was a very good little girl, and very respectful to her papa, and didn’t suspect him of tricks, but just believed everything he said. And she was a very pretty little girl, and had red eyes, and blue cheeks, and straight hair, and a curly nose—

[Pg 32]

“Now, papa, if you get to cutting up—”

“Well, I won’t, then!”

Well, she was rather a delicate little girl, and whenever she over-ate, or anything,

“Have bad dreams! Aha! I told you it was going to be a dream.”

“You wait till I get through.”

She was apt to lie awake thinking, and some of her thinks were pretty dismal. Well, that night, instead of thinking and tossing and turning, and counting a thousand, it seemed to this other little girl that she began to see things as soon as she had got warm in bed, and before, even. And the first thing she saw was a large, bronze-colored—

“Turkey gobbler!”

“No, ma’am. Turkey gobbler’s ghost.”

“Foo!” said the little girl, rather un[Pg 33]easily; “whoever heard of a turkey’s ghost, I should like to know?”

“Never mind, that,” said the papa. “If it hadn’t been a ghost, could the moonlight have shone through it? No, indeed! The stuffing wouldn’t have let it. So you see it must have been a ghost.”

It had a red pasteboard placard round its neck, with First Premium printed on it, and so she knew that it was the ghost of the very turkey they had had for dinner. It was perfectly awful when it put up its tail, and dropped its wings, and strutted just the way the grandfather said it used to do. It seemed to be in a wide pasture, like that back of the house, and the children had to cross it to get home, and they were all afraid of the turkey that kept gobbling at them and threatening them, because they had eaten him up. At last one of the boys—it was the other little girl’s brother—said[Pg 34] he would run across and get his papa to come out and help them, and the first thing she knew the turkey was after him, gaining, gaining, gaining, and all the grass was full of hen-turkeys and turkey chicks, running after him, and gaining, gaining, gaining, and just as he was getting to the wall he tripped and fell over a turkey-pen, and all at once she was in one of the aunties’ room, and the aunty was in bed,
and the turkeys were walking up and down over her, and stretching out their wings, and blaming her. Two of them carried a platter of chicken pie, and there was a large pumpkin jack-o’-lantern hanging to the bedpost to light the room, and it looked just like the other little girl’s brother in the face, only perfectly ridiculous.[Pg 35]

“THE OLD GOBBLER ‘FIRST PREMIUM’ SAID THEY WERE GOING TO TURN THE TABLES NOW.”[Pg 36]

Then the old gobbler, First Premium, clapped his wings, and said, “Come on, chick-chickledren!” and then they all seemed to be in her room, and she was standing in the middle of it in her nigh[Pg 37]t-gown, and tied round and round with ribbons, so she couldn’t move hand or foot. The old gobbler, First Premium, said they were going to turn the tables now, and she knew what he meant, for they had had that in the reader at school just before vacation, and the teacher had explained it. He made a long speech, with his hat on, and kept pointing at her with one of his wings, while he told the other turkeys that it was her grandfather who had done it, and now it was their turn. He said that human beings had been eating turkeys ever since the discovery of America, and it was time for the turkeys to begin paying them back, if they were ever going to. He said she was pretty young, but she was as big as he was, and he had no doubt they would enjoy her.

The other little girl tried to tell him that she was not to blame, and that she only took a very, very little piece.

“But it was right off the breast,” said[Pg 38] the gobbler, and he shed tears, so that the other little girl cried, too. She didn’t have much hopes, they all seemed so spiteful, especially the little turkey chicks; but she told them that she was very tender-hearted, and never hurt a single thing, and she tried to make them understand that there was a great difference between eating people and just eating turkeys.

“What difference, I should like to know?” says the old hen-turkey, pretty snappishly.

“People have got souls, and turkeys haven’t,” says the other little girl.

“I don’t see how that makes it any better,” says the old hen-turkey. “It don’t make it any better for the turkeys. If we haven’t got any souls, we can’t live after we’ve been eaten up, and you can.”

The other little girl was awfully frightened to have the hen-turkey take that tack.

[Pg 39]

“I should think she would ‘a’ been,” said the little girl; and she cuddled snugger into her papa’s arms. “What could she say? Ugh! Go on.”

Well, she didn’t know what to say, that’s a fact. You see, she never thought of it in that light before. All she could say was, “Well, people have got reason, anyway, and turkeys have only got instinct; so there!”

“You’d better look out,” says the old hen-turkey; and all the little turkey chicks got so mad they just hopped, and the oldest little he-turkey, that was just beginning to be a gobbler, he dropped his wings and spread his tail just like his father, and walked round the other little girl till it was perfectly frightful.

“I should think they would ‘a’ been ashamed.”

[Pg 40]

Well, perhaps old First Premium was a little; because he stopped them. “My dear,” he says to the old hen-turkey, and chick-chickledren, “you forget yourselves; you should have a little consideration. Perhaps you wouldn’t behave much better yourselves if you were just going to be eaten.”

And they all began to scream and to cry, “We’ve been eaten, and we’re nothing but turkey ghosts.”

“There, now, papa,” says the little girl, sitting up straight, so as to argue better, “I knew it wasn’t true, all along. How could turkeys have ghosts if they don’t have souls, I should like to know?”

“Oh, easily,” said the papa.

“Tell how,” said the little girl.

“Now look here,” said the papa, “are you telling this story, or am I?”

“You are,” said the little girl, and she cuddled down again. “Go on.”

“Well, then, don’t you interrupt. Where was I? Oh yes.”[Pg 41]

Well, he couldn’t do anything with them, old First Premium couldn’t. They acted perfectly ridiculous, and one little brat of a spiteful little chick piped out, “I speak for a drumstick, ma!” and then they all began: “I want a wing, ma!” and “I’m going to have the wish-bone!” and “I shall have just as much stuffing as ever I please, shan’t I, ma?” till the other little girl was perfectly disgusted with them; she thought they oughtn’t to say it before her, anyway; but she had hardly thought this before they all screamed out, “They used to say it before us,” and then she didn’t know what to say, because she knew how people talked before animals.

“I don’t believe I ever did,” said the little girl. “Go on.”

Well, old First Premium tried to quiet them again, and when he couldn’t he apologized to the other little girl so nicely that she began to like him. He[Pg 42] said they didn’t mean any harm by it; they were just excited, and chickledren would be chickledren.

“Yes,” said the other little girl, “but I think you might take some older person to begin with. It’s a perfect shame to begin with a little girl.”

“Begin!” says old First Premium. “Do you think we’re just beginning? Why, when do you think it is?”

“The night after Thanksgiving.”

“What year?”

“1886.”

They all gave a perfect screech. “Why, it’s Christmas Eve, 1900, and every one of your friends has been eaten up long ago,” says old First Premium, and he began to cry over her, and the old hen-turkey and the little turkey chicks began to wipe their eyes on the backs of their wings.

“I don’t think they were very neat,” said the little girl.[Pg 43]

Well, they were kind-hearted, anyway, and they felt sorry for the other little girl. And she began to think she had made some little impression on them, when she noticed the old hen-turkey beginning to untie her bonnet strings, and the turkey chicks began to spread round her in a circle, with the points of their wings touching, so that she couldn’t get out, and they commenced dancing and singing, and after a while that little he-turkey says, “Who’s it?” and the other little girl, she didn’t know why, says, “I’m it,” and old First Premium says, “Do you promise?” and the other little girl says, “Yes, I promise,” and she knew she was promising, if they would let her go, that people should never eat turkeys any more. And the moon began to shine brighter and brighter through the turkeys, and pretty soon it was the sun, and then it was not the turkeys, but the window-curtains—it was one of those old farm-[Pg 44]houses where they don’t have blinds—and the other little girl—

“Woke up!” shouted the little girl. “There now, papa, what did I tell you? I knew it was a dream all along.”

“No, she didn’t,” said the papa; “and it wasn’t a dream.”

“What was it, then?”

“It was a—trance.”

The little girl turned round, and knelt in her papa’s lap, so as to take him by the shoulders and give him a good shaking. That made him promise to be good, pretty quick, and, “Very well, then,” says the little girl; “if it wasn’t a dream, you’ve got to prove it.”

“But how can I prove it?” says the papa.

“By going on with the story,” says the little girl, and she cuddled down again.

“Oh, well, that’s easy enough.”

[Pg 45]

As soon as it was light in the room, the other little girl could see that the place was full of people, crammed and jammed, and they were all awfully excited, and kept yelling, “Down with the traitress!” “Away with the renegade!” “Shame on the little sneak!” till it was worse than the turkeys, ten times.

She knew that they meant her, and she tried to explain that she just had to promise, and that if they had been in her place they would have promised too; and of course they could do as they pleased about keeping her word, but she was going to keep it, anyway, and never, never, never eat another piece of turkey either at Thanksgiving or at Christmas.

“Very well, then,” says an old lady, who looked like her grandmother, and then began to have a crown on, and to turn into Queen Victoria, “what can we have?”

“Well,” says the other little girl, “you can have oyster soup.”

“What else?”[Pg 46]

“And you can have cranberry sauce.”

“What else?”

“You can have mashed potatoes, and Hubbard squash, and celery, and turnip, and cauliflower.”

“What else?”

“You can have mince-pie, and pandowdy, and plum-pudding.”

“And not a thing on the list,” says the Queen, “that doesn’t go with turkey! Now you see.”

The papa stopped.

“Go on,” said the little girl.

“There isn’t any more.”

The little girl turned round, got up on her knees, took him by the shoulders, and shook him fearfully. “Now, then,” she said, while the papa let his head wag, after the shaking, like a Chinese mandarin’s, and it was a good thing he did not let his tongue stick out. “Now, will you go on? What did the people eat in place of turkey?”[Pg 47]

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know, you awful papa! Well, then, what did the little girl eat?”

“She?” The papa freed himself, and made his preparation to escape. “Why she—oh, she ate goose. Goose is tenderer than turkey, anyway, and more digestible; and there isn’t so much of it, and you can’t overeat yourself, and have bad—”

“Dreams!” cried the little girl.

“Trances,” said the papa, and she began to chase him all round the room.[Pg 48]

– by W. D. Howells

For more short Children’s Christmas stories, visit Best-Christmas-Stories.com

Captain Eli’s Best Ear – A Short Christmas Story

For more short Christmas stories, visit Best-Christmas-Stories.com

The little seaside village of Sponkannis lies so quietly upon a protected spot on our Atlantic coast that it makes no more stir in the world than would a pebble which, held between one’s finger and thumb, should be dipped below the surface of a millpond and then dropped. About the post-office and the store — both under the same roof — the greater number of the houses cluster, as if they had come for their week’s groceries, or were waiting for the mail, while toward the west the dwellings become fewer and fewer, until at last the village blends into a long stretch of sandy coast and scrubby pine-woods. Eastward the village ends abruptly at the foot of a windswept bluff, on which no one cares to build.
Among the last houses in the western end of the village stood two neat, substantial dwellings, one belonging to Captain Eli Bunker, and the other to Captain Cephas Dyer. These householders were two very respectable retired mariners, the first a widower about fifty, and the other a bachelor of perhaps the same age, a few years more or less making but little difference in this region of weather-beaten youth and seasoned age.
Each of these good captains lived alone, and each took entire charge of his own domestic affairs, not because he was poor, but because it pleased him to do so. When Captain Eli retired from the sea he was the owner of a good vessel, which he sold at a fair profit; and Captain Cephas had made money in many a voyage before he built his house in Sponkannis and settled there.
When Captain Eli’s wife was living she was his household manager. But Captain Cephas had never had a woman in his house, except during the first few months of his occupancy, when certain female neighbors came in occasionally to attend to little matters of cleaning which, according to popular notions, properly belong to the sphere of woman.
But Captain Cephas soon put an end to this sort of thing. He did not like a woman’s ways, especially her ways of attending to domestic affairs. He liked to live in sailor fashion, and to keep house in sailor fashion. In his establishment everything was shipshape, and everything which could be stowed away was stowed away, and, if possible, in a bunker. The floors were holystoned nearly every day, and the whole house was repainted about twice a year, a little at a time, when the weather was suitable for this marine recreation. Things not in frequent use were lashed securely to the walls, or perhaps put out of the way by being hauled up to the ceiling by means of blocks and tackle. His cooking was done sailor fashion, like everything else, and he never failed to have plum-duff on Sunday. His well was near his house, and every morning he dropped into it a lead and line, and noted down the depth of water. Three times a day he entered in a little note-book the state of the weather, the height of the mercury in barometer and thermometer, the direction of the wind, and special weather points when necessary.

< 2 >
Captain Eli managed his domestic affairs in an entirely different way. He kept house woman fashion — not, however, in the manner of an ordinary woman, but after the manner of his late wife, Miranda Bunker, now dead some seven years. Like his friend, Captain Cephas, he had had the assistance of his female neighbors during the earlier days of his widowerhood. But he soon found that these women did not do things as Miranda used to do them, and, although he frequently suggested that they should endeavor to imitate the methods of his late consort, they did not even try to do things as she used to do them, preferring their own ways. Therefore it was that Captain Eli determined to keep house by himself, and to do it, as nearly as his nature would allow, as Miranda used to do it. He swept his doors and he shook his door-mats; he washed his paint with soap and hot water; he dusted his furniture with a soft cloth, which he afterwards stuck behind a chest of drawers. He made his bed very neatly, turning down the sheet at the top, and setting the pillow upon edge, smoothing it carefully after he had done so. His cooking was based on the methods of the late Miranda. He had never been able to make bread rise properly, but he had always liked ship- biscuit, and he now greatly preferred them to the risen bread made by his neighbors. And as to coffee and the plainer articles of food with which he furnished his table, even Miranda herself would not have objected to them had she been alive and very hungry.
The houses of the two captains were not very far apart, and they were good neighbors, often smoking their pipes together and talking of the sea. But this was always on the little porch in front of Captain Cephas’s house, or by his kitchen fire in the winter. Captain Eli did not like the smell of tobacco smoke in his house, or even in front of it in summer-time, when the doors were open. He had no objection himself to the odor of tobacco, but it was contrary to the principles of woman housekeeping that rooms should smell of it, and he was always true to those principles.

< 3 >
It was late in a certain December, and through the village there was a pleasant little flutter of Christmas preparations. Captain Eli had been up to the store, and he had stayed there a good while, warming himself by the stove, and watching the women coming in to buy things for Christmas. It was strange how many things they bought for presents or for holiday use — fancy soap and candy, handkerchiefs and little woollen shawls for old people, and a lot of pretty little things which he knew the use of, but which Captain Cephas would never have understood at all had he been there.
As Captain Eli came out of the store he saw a cart in which were two good-sized Christmas trees, which had been cut in the woods, and were going, one to Captain Holmes’s house, and the other to Mother Nelson’s. Captain Holmes had grandchildren, and Mother Nelson, with never a child of her own, good old soul, had three little orphan nieces who never wanted for anything needful at Christmas-time or any other time.
Captain Eli walked home very slowly, taking observations in his mind. It was more than seven years since he had had anything to do with Christmas, except that on that day he had always made himself a mince-pie, the construction and the consumption of which were equally difficult. It is true that neighbors had invited him, and they had invited Captain Cephas, to their Christmas dinners, but neither of these worthy seamen had ever accepted any of these invitations. Even holiday food, when not cooked in sailor fashion, did not agree with Captain Cephas, and it would have pained the good heart of Captain Eli if he had been forced to make believe to enjoy a Christmas dinner so very inferior to those which Miranda used to set before him.
But now the heart of Captain Eli was gently moved by a Christmas flutter. It had been foolish, perhaps, for him to go up to the store at such a time as this, but the mischief had been done. Old feelings had come back to him, and he would be glad to celebrate Christmas this year if he could think of any good way to do it. And the result of his mental observations was that he went over to Captain Cephas’s house to talk to him about it.

< 4 >
Captain Cephas was in his kitchen, smoking his third morning pipe. Captain Eli filled his pipe, lighted it, and sat down by the fire.
“Cap’n,” said he, “what do you say to our keepin Christmas this year? A Christmas dinner is no good if it’s got to be eat alone, and you and me might eat ourn together. It might be in my house, or it might be in your house — it won’t make no great difference to me which. Of course, I like woman housekeepin’, as is laid down in the rules of service fer my house. But next best to that I like sailor housekeepin’, so I don’t mind which house the dinner is in, Cap’n Cephas, so it suits you.”
Captain Cephas took his pipe from his mouth. “You’re pretty late thinkin’ about it,” said he, “fer day after tomorrow’s Christmas.”
“That don’t make no difference,” said Captain Eli. “What things we want that are not in my house or your house we can easily get either up at the store or else in the woods.”
“In the woods!” exclaimed Captain Cephas. “What in the name of thunder do you expect to get in the woods for Christmas?”
“A Christmas tree,” said Captain Eli. “I thought it might be a nice thing to have a Christmas tree fer Christmas. Cap’n Holmes has got one, and Mother Nelson’s got another. I guess nearly everybody’s got one. It won’t cost anything — I can go and cut it.”
Captain Cephas grinned a grin, as if a great leak had been sprung in the side of a vessel, stretching nearly from stem to stern.
“A Christmas tree!” he exclaimed. “Well, I am blessed! But look here, Cap’n Eli. You don’t know what a Christmas tree’s fer. It’s fer children, and not fer grown-ups. Nobody ever does have a Christmas tree in any house where there ain’t no children.”
Captain Eli rose and stood with his back to the fire. “I didn’t think of that,” he said, “but I guess it’s so. And when I come to think of it, a Christmas isn’t much of a Christmas, anyway, without children.”
“You never had none,” said Captain Cephas, “and you’ve kept Christmas.”
“Yes,” replied Captain Eli, reflectively, “we did do it, but there was always a lackment — Miranda has said so, and I have said so.”

< 5 >
“You didn’t have no Christmas tree,” said Captain Cephas.
“No, we didn’t. But I don’t think that folks was as much set on Christmas trees then as they ‘pear to be now. I wonder,” he continued, thoughtfully gazing at the ceiling, “if we was to fix up a Christmas tree — and you and me’s got a lot of pretty things that we’ve picked up all over the world, that would go miles ahead of anything that could be bought at the store fer Christmas trees — if we was to fix up a tree real nice, if we couldn’t get some child or other that wasn’t likely to have a tree to come in and look at it, and stay awhile, and make Christmas more like Christmas. And then, when it went away, it could take along the things that was hangin’ on the tree, and keep ’em fer its own.”
“That wouldn’t work,” said Captain Cephas. “If you get a child into this business, you must let it hang up its stockin’ before it goes to bed, and find it full in the mornin’, and then tell it an all-fired lie about Santa Claus if it asks any questions. Most children think more of stockin’s than they do of trees — so I’ve heard, at least.”
“I’ve got no objections to stockin’s,” said Captain Eli. “If it wanted to hang one up, it could hang one up either here or in my house, wherever we kept Christmas.”
“You couldn’t keep a child all night,” sardonically remarked Captain Cephas, “and no more could I. Fer if it was to get up a croup in the night, it would be as if we was on a lee shore with anchors draggin’ and a gale a-blowin’.”
“That’s so,” said Captain Eli. “You’ve put it fair. I suppose if we did keep a child all night, we’d have to have some sort of a woman within hail in case of a sudden blow.”
Captain Cephas sniffed. “What’s the good of talkin’?” said he. “There ain’t no child, and there ain’t no woman that you could hire to sit all night on my front step or on your front step, a-waitin’ to be piped on deck in case of croup.”
“No,” said Captain Eli. “I don’t suppose there’s any child in this village that ain’t goin’ to be provided with a Christmas tree or a Christmas stockin’, or perhaps both — except, now I come to think of it, that little gal that was brought down here with her mother last summer, and has been kept by Mrs. Crumley sence her mother died.”

< 6 >
“And won’t be kept much longer,” said Captain Cephas, “fer I’ve hearn Mrs. Crumley say she couldn’t afford it.”
“That’s so,” said Captain Eli. “If she can’t afford to keep the little gal, she can’t afford to give no Christmas trees nor stockin’s, and so it seems to me, cap’n, that that little gal would be a pretty good child to help us keep Christmas.”
“You’re all the time forgettin’,” said the other, “that nuther of us can keep a child all night.”
Captain Eli seated himself, and looked ponderingly into the fire. “You’re right, cap’n,” said he. “We’d have to ship some woman to take care of her. Of course, it wouldn’t be no use to ask Mrs. Crumley?”
Captain Cephas laughed. “I should say not.”
“And there doesn’t seem to be anybody else,” said his companion. “Can you think of anybody, cap’n?”
“There ain’t anybody to think of,” replied Captain Cephas, “unless it might be Eliza Trimmer. She’s generally ready enough to do anything that turns up. But she wouldn’t be no good — her house is too far away for either you or me to hail her in case a croup came up suddint.”
“That’s so,” said Captain Eli. “She does live a long way off.”
“So that settles the whole business,” said Captain Cephas. “She’s too far away to come if wanted, and nuther of us couldn’t keep no child without somebody to come if they was wanted, and it’s no use to have a Christmas tree without a child. A Christmas without a Christmas tree don’t seem agreeable to you, cap’n, so I guess we’d better get along just the same as we’ve been in the habit of doin’, and eat our Christmas dinner, as we do our other meals in our own houses.”
Captain Eli looked into the fire. “I don’t like to give up things if I can help it. That was always my way. If wind and tide’s ag’in’ me, I can wait till one or the other, or both of them, serve.”
“Yes,” said Captain Cephas, “you was always that kind of a man.”
“That’s so. But it does ‘pear to me as if I’d have to give up this time, though it’s a pity to do it, on account of the little gal, fer she ain’t likely to have any Christmas this year. She’s a nice little gal, and takes as natural to navigation as if she’d been born at sea. I’ve given her two or three things because she’s so pretty, but there’s nothing she likes so much as a little ship I gave her.”

< 7 >
“Perhaps she was born at sea,” remarked Captain Cephas.
“Perhaps she was,” said the other; “and that makes it the bigger pity.”
For a few moments nothing was said. Then Captain Eli suddenly exclaimed, “I’ll tell you what we might do, cap’n! We might ask Mrs. Trimmer to lend a hand in givin’ the little gal a Christmas. She ain’t got nobody in her house but herself, and I guess she’d be glad enough to help give that little gal a regular Christmas. She could go and get the child, and bring her to your house or to my house, or wherever we’re goin’ to keep Christmas, and –”
“Well,” said Captain Cephas, with an air of scrutinizing inquiry, “what?”
“Well,” replied the other, a little hesitatingly, “so far as I’m concerned, — that is, I don’t mind one way or the other, — she might take her Christmas dinner along with us and the little gal, and then she could fix her stockin’ to be hung up, and help with the Christmas tree, and –”
“Well,” demanded Captain Cephas, “what?”
“Well,” said Captain Eli, “she could — that is, it doesn’t make any difference to me one way or the other — she might stay all night at whatever house we kept Christmas in, and then you and me might spend the night in the other house, and then she could be ready there to help the child in the mornin’, when she came to look at her stockin’.”
Captain Cephas fixed upon his friend an earnest glare. “That’s pretty considerable of an idea to come upon you so suddint,” said he. “But I can tell you one thing: there ain’t a- goin’ to be any such doin’s in my house. If you choose to come over here to sleep, and give up your house to any woman you can find to take care of the little gal, all right. But the thing can’t be done here.”
There was a certain severity in these remarks, but they appeared to affect Captain Eli very pleasantly.

< 8 >
“Well,” said he, “if you’re satisfied, I am. I’ll agree to any plan you choose to make. It doesn’t matter to me which house it’s in, and if you say my house, I say my house. All I want is to make the business agreeable to all concerned. Now it’s time fer me to go to my dinner, and this afternoon we’d better go and try to get things straightened out, because the little gal, and whatever woman comes with her, ought to be at my house tomorrow before dark. S’posin’ we divide up this business: I’ll go and see Mrs. Crumley about the little gal, and you can go and see Mrs. Trimmer.”
“No, sir,” promptly replied Captain Cephas, “I don’t go to see no Mrs. Trimmer. You can see both of them just the same as you can see one — they’re all along the same way. I’ll go cut the Christmas tree.”
“All right,” said Captain Eli. “It don’t make no difference to me which does which. But if I was you, cap’n, I’d cut a good big tree, because we might as well have a good one while we’re about it.”
When he had eaten his dinner, and washed up his dishes, and had put everything away in neat, housewifely order, Captain Eli went to Mrs. Crumley’s house, and very soon finished his business there. Mrs. Crumley kept the only house which might be considered a boarding-house in the village of Sponkannis; and when she had consented to take charge of the little girl who had been left on her hands she had hoped it would not be very long before she would hear from some of her relatives in regard to her maintenance. But she had heard nothing, and had now ceased to expect to hear anything, and in consequence had frequently remarked that she must dispose of the child some way or other, for she couldn’t afford to keep her any longer. Even an absence of a day or two at the house of the good captain would be some relief, and Mrs. Crumley readily consented to the Christmas scheme. As to the little girl, she was delighted. She already looked upon Captain Eli as her best friend in the world.
It was not so easy to go to Mrs. Trimmer’s house and put the business before her. “It ought to be plain sailin’ enough,” Captain Eli said to himself, over and over again, “but, fer all that, it don’t seem to be plain sailin’.”

< 9 >
But he was not a man to be deterred by difficult navigation, and he walked straight to Eliza Trimmer’s house.
Mrs. Trimmer was a comely woman about thirty-five, who had come to the village a year before, and had maintained herself, or at least had tried to, by dressmaking and plain sewing. She had lived at Stetford, a seaport about twenty miles away, and from there, three years before, her husband, Captain Trimmer, had sailed away in a good-sized schooner, and had never returned. She had come to Sponkannis because she thought that there she could live cheaper and get more work than in her former home. She had found the first quite possible, but her success in regard to the work had not been very great.
When Captain Eli entered Mrs. Trimmer’s little room, he found her busy mending a sail. Here fortune favored him. “You turn your hand to ‘most anything, Mrs. Trimmer,” said he, after he had greeted her.
“Oh, yes,” she answered, with a smile, “I am obliged to do that. Mending sails is pretty heavy work, but it’s better than nothing.”
“I had a notion,” said he, “that you was ready to turn your hand to any good kind of business, so I thought I would step in and ask you if you’d turn your hand to a little bit of business I’ve got on the stocks.”
She stopped sewing on the sail, and listened while Captain Eli laid his plan before her. “It’s very kind in you and Captain Cephas to think of all that,” said she. “I have often noticed that poor little girl, and pitied her. Certainly I’ll come, and you needn’t say anything about paying me for it. I wouldn’t think of asking to be paid for doing a thing like that. And besides,” — she smiled again as she spoke, –“if you are going to give me a Christmas dinner, as you say, that will make things more than square.”
Captain Eli did not exactly agree with her, but he was in very good humor, and she was in good humor, and the matter was soon settled, and Mrs. Trimmer promised to come to the captain’s house in the morning and help about the Christmas tree, and in the afternoon to go to get the little girl from Mrs. Crumley’s and bring her to the house.

< 10 >
Captain Eli was delighted with the arrangements. “Things now seem to be goin’ along before a spankin’ breeze,”said he. “But I don’t know about the dinner. I guess you will have to leave that to me. I don’t believe Captain Cephas could eat a woman-cooked dinner. He’s accustomed to livin sailor fashion, you know, and he has declared over and over again to me that woman-cookin’ doesn’t agree with him.”
“But I can cook sailor fashion,” said Mrs. Trimmer, –“just as much sailor fashion as you or Captain Cephas, and if he don’t believe it, I’ll prove it to him; so you needn’t worry about that.”
When the captain had gone, Mrs. Trimmer gayly put away the sail. There was no need to finish it in a hurry, and no knowing when she would get her money for it when it was done. No one had asked her to a Christmas dinner that year, and she had expected to have a lonely time of it. But it would be very pleasant to spend Christmas with the little girl and the two good captains. Instead of sewing any more on the sail, she got out some of her own clothes to see if they needed anything done to them.
The next morning Mrs. Trimmer went to Captain Eli’s house, and finding Captain Cephas there, they all set to work at the Christmas tree, which was a very fine one, and had been planted in a box. Captain Cephas had brought over a bundle of things from his house, and Captain Eli kept running here and there, bringing, each time that he returned, some new object, wonderful or pretty, which he had brought from China or Japan or Corea, or some spicy island of the Eastern seas; and nearly every time he came with these treasures Mrs. Trimmer declared that such things were too good to put upon a Christmas tree, even for such a nice little girl as the one for which that tree was intended. The presents which Captain Cephas brought were much more suitable for the purpose; they were odd and funny, and some of them pretty, but not expensive, as were the fans and bits of shellwork and carved ivories which Captain Eli wished to tie upon the twigs of the tree.

< 11 >
There was a good deal of talk about all this, but Captain Eli had his own way.
“I don’t suppose, after all,” said he, “that the little gal ought to have all the things. This is such a big tree that it’s more like a family tree. Cap’n Cephas can take some of my things, and I can take some of his things, and, Mrs. Trimmer, if there’s anything you like, you can call it your present and take it for your own, so that will be fair and comfortable all round. What I want is to make everybody satisfied.”
“I’m sure I think they ought to be,” said Mrs. Trimmer, looking very kindly at Captain Eli.
Mrs. Trimmer went home to her own house to dinner, and in the afternoon she brought the little girl. She had said there ought to be an early supper, so that the child would have time to enjoy the Christmas tree before she became sleepy.
This meal was prepared entirely by Captain Eli, and in sailor fashion, not woman fashion, so that Captain Cephas could make no excuse for eating his supper at home. Of course they all ought to be together the whole of that Christmas eve. As for the big dinner on the morrow, that was another affair, for Mrs. Trimmer undertook to make Captain Cephas understand that she had always cooked for Captain Trimmer in sailor fashion, and if he objected to her plum-duff, or if anybody else objected to her mince-pie, she was going to be very much surprised.
Captain Cephas ate his supper with a good relish, and was still eating when the rest had finished. As to the Christmas tree, it was the most valuable, if not the most beautiful, that had ever been set up in that region. It had no candles upon it, but was lighted by three lamps and a ship’s lantern placed in the four corners of the room, and the little girl was as happy as if the tree were decorated with little dolls and glass balls. Mrs. Trimmer was intensely pleased and interested to see the child so happy, and Captain Eli was much pleased and interested to see the child and Mrs. Trimmer so happy, and Captain Cephas was interested, and perhaps a little amused in a superior fashion, to see Captain Eli and Mrs. Trimmer and the little child so happy.

< 12 >
Then the distribution of the presents began. Captain Eli asked Captain Cephas if he might have the wooden pipe that the latter had brought for his present. Captain Cephas said he might take it, for all he cared, and be welcome to it. Then Captain Eli gave Captain Cephas a red bandanna handkerchief of a very curious pattern, and Captain Cephas thanked him kindly. After which Captain Eli bestowed upon Mrs. Trimmer a most beautiful tortoise-shell comb, carved and cut and polished in a wonderful way, and with it he gave a tortoise-shell fan, carved in the same fashion, because he said the two things seemed to belong to each other and ought to go together; and he would not listen to one word of what Mrs. Trimmer said about the gifts being too good for her, and that she was not likely ever to use them.
“It seems to me,” said Captain Cephas, “that you might be giving something to the little gal.”
Then Captain Eli remembered that the child ought not to be forgotten, and her soul was lifted into ecstasy by many gifts, some of which Mrs. Trimmer declared were too good for any child in this wide, wide world. But Captain Eli answered that they could be taken care of by somebody until the little girl was old enough to know their value.
Then it was discovered that, unbeknown to anybody else, Mrs. Trimmer had put some presents on the tree, which were things which had been brought by Captain Trimmer from somewhere in the far East or the distant West. These she bestowed upon Captain Cephas and Captain Eli. And the end of all this was that in the whole of Sponkannis, from the foot of the bluff to the east, to the very last house on the shore to the west, there was not one Christmas eve party so happy as this one.
Captain Cephas was not quite so happy as the three others were, but he was very much interested. About nine o’clock the party broke up, and the two captains put on their caps and buttoned up their pea-jackets, and started for Captain Cephas’s house, but not before Captain Eli had carefully fastened every window and every door except the front door, and had told Mrs. Trimmer how to fasten that when they had gone, and had given her a boatswain’s whistle, which she might blow out of the window if there should be a sudden croup and it should be necessary for any one to go anywhere. He was sure he could hear it, for the wind was exactly right for him to hear a whistle from his house. When they had gone Mrs. Trimmer put the little girl to bed, and was delighted to find in what a wonderfully neat and womanlike fashion that house was kept.

< 13 >
It was nearly twelve o’clock that night when Captain Eli, sleeping in his bunk opposite that of Captain Cephas, was aroused by hearing a sound. He had been lying with his best ear uppermost, so that he should hear anything if there happened to be anything to hear. He did hear something, but it was not a boatswain’s whistle; it was a prolonged cry, and it seemed to come from the sea.
In a moment Captain Eli was sitting on the side of his bunk, listening intently. Again came the cry. The window toward the sea was slightly open, and he heard it plainly.
“Cap’n! ” said he, and at the word Captain Cephas was sitting on the side of his bunk, listening. He knew from his companion’s attitude, plainly visible in the light of a lantern which hung on a hook at the other end of the room, that he had been awakened to listen. Again came the cry.
“That’s distress at sea,” said Captain Cephas. “Harken!”
They listened again for nearly a minute, when the cry was repeated.
“Bounce on deck, boys!” said Captain Cephas, getting out on the floor. “There’s some one in distress off shore.”
Captain Eli jumped to the floor, and began to dress quickly.
“It couldn’t be a call from land?” he asked hurriedly. “It don’t sound a bit to you like a boatswain’s whistle, does it?”
“No,” said Captain Cephas, disdainfully. “It’s a call from sea.” Then, seizing a lantern, he rushed down the companionway.
As soon as he was convinced that it was a call from sea, Captain Eli was one in feeling and action with Captain Cephas. The latter hastily opened the draughts of the kitchen stove, and put on some wood, and by the time this was done Captain Eli had the kettle filled and on the stove. Then they clapped on their caps and their pea-jackets, each took an oar from a corner in the back hall, and together they ran down to the beach.
The night was dark, but not very cold, and Captain Cephas had been to the store that morning in his boat.
Whenever he went to the store, and the weather permitted, he rowed there in his boat rather than walk. At the bow of the boat, which was now drawn up on the sand, the two men stood and listened. Again came the cry from the sea.

< 14 >
“It’s something ashore on the Turtle-back Shoal,” said Captain Cephas.
“Yes,” said Captain Eli, “and it’s some small craft, fer that cry is down pretty nigh to the water.”
“Yes,” said Captain Cephas. “And there’s only one man aboard, or else they’d take turns a-hollerin’.”
“He’s a stranger,” said Captain Eli, “or he wouldn’t have tried, even with a cat-boat, to get in over that shoal on ebb- tide.”
As they spoke they ran the boat out into the water and jumped in, each with an oar. Then they pulled for the Turtle-back Shoal.
Although these two captains were men of fifty or thereabout, they were as strong and tough as any young fellows in the village, and they pulled with steady strokes, and sent the heavy boat skimming over the water, not in a straight line toward the Turtle-back Shoal, but now a few points in the darkness this way, and now a few points in the darkness that way, then with a great curve to the south through the dark night, keeping always near the middle of the only good channel out of the bay when the tide was ebbing.
Now the cries from seaward had ceased, but the two captains were not discouraged.
“He’s heard the thumpin’ of our oars,” said Captain Cephas.
“He’s listenin’, and he’ll sing out again if he thinks we’re goin’ wrong,” said Captain Eli. “Of course he doesn’t know anything about that.”
And so when they made the sweep to the south the cry came again, and Captain Eli grinned. “We needn’t to spend no breath hollerin’,” said he. “He’ll hear us makin’ fer him in a minute.”
When they came to head for the shoal they lay on their oars for a moment, while Captain Cephas turned the lantern in the bow, so that its light shone out ahead. He had not wanted the shipwrecked person to see the light when it would seem as if the boat were rowing away from him. He had heard of castaway people who became so wild when they imagined that a ship or boat was going away from them that they jumped overboard.
When the two captains reached the shoal, they found there a cat-boat aground, with one man aboard. His tale was quickly told. He had expected to run into the little bay that afternoon, but the wind had fallen, and in trying to get in after dark, and being a stranger, he had run aground. If he had not been so cold, he said, he would have been willing to stay there till the tide rose; but he was getting chilled, and seeing a light not far away, he concluded to call for help as long as his voice held out.

< 15 >
The two captains did not ask many questions. They helped anchor the cat-boat, and then they took the man on their boat and rowed him to shore. He was getting chilled sitting out there doing nothing, and so when they reached the house they made him some hot grog, and promised in the morning, when the tide rose, they would go out and help him bring his boat in. Then Captain Cephas showed the stranger to a bunk, and they all went to bed. Such experiences had not enough of novelty to the good captains to keep them awake five minutes.
In the morning they were all up very early, and the stranger, who proved to be a seafaring man with bright blue eyes, said that, as his cat-boat seemed to be riding all right at its anchorage, he did not care to go out after her just yet. Any time during flood-tide would do for him, and he had some business that he wanted to attend to as soon as possible.
This suited the two captains very well, for they wished to be on hand when the little girl discovered her stocking.
“Can you tell me,” said the stranger, as he put on his cap, “where I can find a Mrs. Trimmer, who lives in this village?”
At these words all the sturdy stiffness which, from his youth up, had characterized the legs of Captain Eli entirely went out of them, and he sat suddenly upon a bench. For a few moments there was silence.
Then Captain Cephas, who thought some answer should be made to the question, nodded his head.
“I want to see her as soon as I can,” said the stranger. “I have come to see her on particular business that will be a surprise to her. I wanted to be here before Christmas began, and that’s the reason I took that cat-boat from Stetford, because I thought I’d come quicker that way than by land. But the wind fell, as I told you. If either one of you would be good enough to pilot me to where Mrs. Trimmer lives, or to any point where I can get a sight of the place, I’d be obliged.”
Captain Eli rose and with hurried but unsteady steps went into the house (for they had been upon the little piazza), and beckoned to his friend to follow. The two men stood in the kitchen and looked at each other. The face of Captain Eli was of the hue of a clam-shell.

< 16 >
“Go with him, cap’n,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “I can’t do it.”
“To your house?” inquired the other.
“Of course. Take him to my house. There ain’t no other place where she is. Take him along.”
Captain Cephas’s countenance wore an air of the deepest concern, but he thought that the best thing to do was to get the stranger away.
As they walked rapidly toward Captain Eli’s house there was very little said by either Captain Cephas or the stranger. The latter seemed anxious to give Mrs. Trimmer a surprise, and not to say anything which might enable another person to interfere with his project.
The two men had scarcely stepped upon the piazza when Mrs. Trimmer, who had been expecting early visitors, opened the door. She was about to call out “Merry Christmas!” but, her eyes falling upon a stranger, the words stopped at her lips. First she turned red, then she turned pale, and Captain Cephas thought she was about to fall. But before she could do this the stranger had her in his arms. She opened her eyes, which for a moment she had closed, and, gazing into his face, she put her arms around his neck. Then Captain Cephas came away, without thinking of the little girl and the pleasure she would have in discovering her Christmas stocking.
When he had been left alone, Captain Eli sat down near the kitchen stove, close to the very kettle which he had filled with water to heat for the benefit of the man he had helped bring in from the sea, and, with his elbows on his knees and his fingers in his hair, he darkly pondered.
“If I’d only slept with my hard-o’-hearin’ ear up,” he said to himself, “I’d never have heard it.”
In a few moments his better nature condemned this thought.
“That’s next to murder,” he muttered, “fer he couldn’t have kept himself from fallin’ asleep out there in the cold, and when the tide riz held have been blowed out to sea with this wind. If I hadn’t heard him, Captain Cephas never would, fer he wasn’t primed up to wake, as I was.”
But, notwithstanding his better nature, Captain Eli was again saying to himself, when his friend returned, “If I’d only slept with my other ear up!”

< 17 >
Like the honest, straightforward mariner he was, Captain Cephas made an exact report of the facts. “They was huggin’ when I left them,” he said, “and I expect they went indoors pretty soon, fer it was too cold outside. It’s an all-fired shame she happened to be in your house, cap’n, that’s all I’ve got to say about it. It’s a thunderin’ shame.” Captain Eli made no answer. He still sat with his elbows on his knees and his hands in his hair.
“A better course than you laid down fer these Christmas times was never dotted on a chart,” continued Captain Cephas. “From port of sailin’ to port of entry you laid it down clear and fine. But it seems there was rocks that wasn’t marked on the chart.”
“Yes,” groaned Captain Eli, “there was rocks.”
Captain Cephas made no attempt to comfort his friend, but went to work to get breakfast.
When that meal — a rather silent one — was over, Captain Eli felt better. “There was rocks,” he said, “and not a breaker to show where they lay, and I struck ’em bow on. So that’s the end of that voyage. But I’ve tuk to my boats, cap’n, I’ve tuk to my boats.”
“I’m glad to hear you’ve tuk to your boats,” said Captain Cephas, with an approving glance upon his friend.
About ten minutes afterwards Captain Eli said, “I’m goin’ up to my house.”
“By yourself?” said the other.
“Yes, by myself. I’d rather go alone. I don’t intend to mind anything, and I’m goin’ to tell her that she can stay there and spend Christmas, — the place she lives in ain’t no place to spend Christmas, — and she can make the little gal have a good time, and go ‘long just as we intended to go ‘long — plum-duff and mince-pie all the same. I can stay here, and you and me can have our Christmas dinner together, if we choose to give it that name. And if she ain’t ready to go tomorrow, she can stay a day or two longer. It’s all the same to me, if it’s the same to you, cap’n.”
Captain Cephas having said that it was the same to him, Captain Eli put on his cap and buttoned up his pea-jacket, declaring that the sooner he got to his house the better, as she might be thinking that she would have to move out of it now that things were different.

< 18 >
Before Captain Eli reached his house he saw something which pleased him. He saw the sea-going stranger, with his back toward him, walking rapidly in the direction of the village store.
Captain Eli quickly entered his house, and in the doorway of the room where the tree was he met Mrs. Trimmer, beaming brighter than any morning sun that ever rose.
“Merry Christmas!” she exclaimed, holding out both her hands. “I’ve been wondering and wondering when you’d come to bid me `Merry Christmas’ — the merriest Christmas I’ve ever had.”
Captain Eli took her hands and bid her “Merry Christmas” very gravely.
She looked a little surprised. “What’s the matter, Captain Eli?” she exclaimed. “You don’t seem to say that as if you meant it.”
“Oh, yes, I do,” he answered. “This must be an all-fired — I mean a thunderin’ happy Christmas fer you, Mrs. Trimmer.”
“Yes,” said she, her face beaming again. “And to think that it should happen on Christmas day — that this blessed morning, before anything else happened, my Bob, my only brother, should –”
“Your what!” roared Captain Eli, as if he had been shouting orders in a raging storm.
Mrs. Trimmer stepped back almost frightened. “My brother,” said she. “Didn’t he tell you he was my brother — my brother Bob, who sailed away a year before I was married, and who has been in Africa and China and I don’t know where? It’s so long since I heard that he’d gone into trading at Singapore that I’d given him up as married and settled in foreign parts. And here he has come to me as if he’d tumbled from the sky on this blessed Christmas morning.”
Captain Eli made a step forward, his face very much flushed.
“Your brother, Mrs. Trimmer — did you really say it was your brother?”
“Of course it is,” said she. “Who else could it be?” Then she paused for a moment and looked steadfastly at the captain.
“You don’t mean to say, Captain Eli,” she asked, “that you thought it was –”
“Yes, I did,” said Captain Eli, promptly.
Mrs. Trimmer looked straight in the captain’s eyes, then she looked on the ground. Then she changed color and changed back again.
“I don’t understand,” she said hesitatingly, “why — I mean what difference it made.”

< 19 >
“Difference!” exclaimed Captain Eli. “It was all the difference between a man on deck and a man overboard — that’s the difference it was to me. I didn’t expect to be talkin’ to you so early this Christmas mornin’, but things has been sprung on me, and I can’t help it I just want to ask you one thing: Did you think I was gettin’ up this Christmas tree and the Christmas dinner and the whole business fer the good of the little gal, and fer the good of you, and fer the good of Captain Cephas?”
Mrs. Trimmer had now recovered a very fair possession of herself. “Of course I did,” she answered, looking up at him as she spoke. “Who else could it have been for!”
“Well,” said he, “you were mistaken. It wasn’t fer any one of you. It was all fer me — fer my own self.”
“You yourself?” said she. “I don’t see how.”
“But I see how,” he answered. “It’s been a long time since I wanted to speak my mind to you, Mrs. Trimmer, but I didn’t ever have no chance. And all these Christmas doin’s was got up to give me the chance not only of speakin’ to you, but of showin’ my colors better than I could show them in any other way. Everything went on a-skimmin’ till this mornin’, when that stranger that we brought in from the shoal piped up and asked fer you. Then I went overboard — at least, I thought I did — and sunk down, down, clean out of soundin’s.”
“That was too bad, captain,” said she, speaking very gently, “after all your trouble and kindness.”
“But I don’t know now,” he continued, “whether I went overboard or whether I am on deck. Can you tell me, Mrs. Trimmer?”
She looked up at him. Her eyes were very soft, and her lips trembled just a little. “It seems to me, captain,” she said, “that you are on deck — if you want to be.”
The captain stepped closer to her. “Mrs. Trimmer,” said he, “is that brother of yours comin’ back?”
“Yes,” she answered, surprised at the sudden question. “He’s just gone up to the store to buy a shirt and some things. He got himself splashed trying to push his boat off last night.”

< 20 >
“Well, then,” said Captain Eli, “would you mind tellin’ him when he comes back that you and me’s engaged to be married? I don’t know whether I’ve made a mistake in the lights or not, but would you mind tellin’ him that?”
Mrs. Trimmer looked at him. Her eyes were not so soft as they had been, but they were brighter. “I’d rather you’d tell him that yourself,” said she.
The little girl sat on the floor near the Christmas tree, just finishing a large piece of red-and-white candy which she had taken out of her stocking. “People do hug a lot at Christmas- time,” said she to herself. Then she drew out a piece of blue- and-white candy and began on that.
Captain Cephas waited a long time for his friend to return, and at last he thought it would be well to go and look for him. When he entered the house he found Mrs. Trimmer sitting on the sofa in the parlor, with Captain Eli on one side of her and her brother on the other, and each of them holding one of her hands.
“It looks as if I was in port, don’t it?” said Captain Eli to his astonished friend. “Well, here I am, and here’s my fust mate,” inclining his head toward Mrs. Trimmer. “And she’s in port too, safe and sound. And that strange captain on the other side of her, he’s her brother Bob, who’s been away for years and years, and is just home from Madagascar.”
“Singapore,” amended Brother Bob.
Captain Cephas looked from one to the other of the three occupants of the sofa, but made no immediate remark. Presently a smile of genial maliciousness stole over his face, and he asked, “How about the poor little gal? Have you sent her back to Mrs. Crumley’s?”
The little girl came out from behind the Christmas tree, her stocking, now but half filled, in her hand. “Here I am,” she said. “Don’t you want to give me a Christmas hug, Captain Cephas? You and me’s the only ones that hasn’t had any.”
The Christmas dinner was as truly and perfectly a sailor- cooked meal as ever was served on board a ship or off it. Captain Cephas had said that, and when he had so spoken there was no need of further words.

< 21 >
It was nearly dark that afternoon, and they were all sitting around the kitchen fire, the three seafaring men smoking, and Mrs. Trimmer greatly enjoying it. There could be no objection to the smell of tobacco in this house so long as its future mistress enjoyed it. The little girl sat on the floor nursing a Chinese idol which had been one of her presents.
“After all,” said Captain Eli, meditatively, “this whole business come out of my sleepin’ with my best ear up. Fer if I’d slept with my hard-o’-hearin’ ear up –” Mrs. Trimmer put one finger on his lips. “All right,” said Captain Eli, “I won’t say no more. But it would have been different.”
Even now, several years after that Christmas, when there is no Mrs. Trimmer, and the little girl, who has been regularly adopted by Captain Eli and his wife, is studying geography, and knows more about latitude and longitude than her teacher at school, Captain Eli has still a slight superstitious dread of sleeping with his best ear uppermost.
“Of course it’s the most all-fired nonsense,” he says to himself over and over again. Nevertheless, he feels safer when it is his “hard-o’-hearin’ ear” that is not upon the pillow.

– by Frank Stockton

For more short Christmas stories, visit Best-Christmas-Stories.com

Christmas Every Day – A Short Children’s Christmas Story

For more short Children’s Christmas stories, visit Best-Christmas-Stories.com

The little girl came into her papa’s study, as she always did Saturday morning before breakfast, and asked for a story. He tried to beg off that morning, for he was very busy, but she would not let him. So he began:

“Well, once there was a little pig—”

She put her hand over his mouth and stopped him at the word. She said she had heard little pig-stories till she was perfectly sick of them.

“Well, what kind of story shall I tell, then?”

“About Christmas. It’s getting to be the season. It’s past Thanksgiving already.”[Pg 4]

“It seems to me,” her papa argued, “that I’ve told as often about Christmas as I have about little pigs.”

“No difference! Christmas is more interesting.”

“Well!” Her papa roused himself from his writing by a great effort. “Well, then, I’ll tell you about the little girl that wanted it Christmas every day in the year. How would you like that?”

“First-rate!” said the little girl; and she nestled into comfortable shape in his lap, ready for listening.

“Very well, then, this little pig—Oh, what are you pounding me for?”

“Because you said little pig instead of little girl.”

“I should like to know what’s the difference between a little pig and a little girl that wanted it Christmas every day!”

“Papa,” said the little girl, warningly, “if you don’t go on, I’ll give it to you!” And at this her papa darted off[Pg 5] like lightning, and began to tell the story as fast as he could.

Well, once there was a little girl who liked Christmas so much that she wanted it to be Christmas every day in the year; and as soon as Thanksgiving was over she began to send postal-cards to the old Christmas Fairy to ask if she mightn’t have it. But the old fairy never answered any of the postals; and after a while the little girl found out that the Fairy was pretty particular, and wouldn’t notice anything but letters—not even correspondence cards in envelopes; but real letters on sheets of paper, and sealed outside with a monogram—or your initial, anyway. So, then, she began to send her letters; and in about three weeks—or just the day before Christmas, it was—she got a letter from the Fairy, saying she might have it Christmas every day for a year, and then they would see about having it longer.[Pg 6]

The little girl was a good deal excited already, preparing for the old-fashioned, once-a-year Christmas that was coming the next day, and perhaps the Fairy’s promise didn’t make such an impression on her as it would have made at some other time. She just resolved to keep it to herself, and surprise everybody with it as it kept coming true; and then it slipped out of her mind altogether.

She had a splendid Christmas. She went to bed early, so as to let Santa Claus have a chance at the stockings, and in the morning she was up the first of anybody and went and felt them, and found hers all lumpy with packages of candy, and oranges and grapes, and pocket-books and rubber balls, and all kinds of small presents, and her big brother’s with nothing but the tongs in them, and her young lady sister’s with a new silk umbrella, and her papa’s and mamma’s with potatoes and pieces of coal wrapped up in tissue-paper, just as they[Pg 7] always had every Christmas. Then she waited around till the rest of the family were up, and she was the first to burst into the library, when the doors were opened, and look at the large presents laid out on the library-table—books, and portfolios, and boxes of stationery, and breastpins, and dolls, and little stoves, and dozens of handkerchiefs, and ink-stands, and skates, and snow-shovels, and photograph-frames, and little easels, and boxes of water-colors, and Turkish
paste, and nougat, and candied cherries, and dolls’ houses, and waterproofs—and the big Christmas-tree, lighted and standing in a waste-basket in the middle.

She had a splendid Christmas all day. She ate so much candy that she did not want any breakfast; and the whole forenoon the presents kept pouring in that the expressman had not had time to deliver the night before; and she went round giving the presents she had got for other people, and came home and ate[Pg 8] turkey and cranberry for dinner, and plum-pudding and nuts and raisins and oranges and more candy, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a stomach-ache, crying; and her papa said he would see if his house was turned into that sort of fool’s paradise another year; and they had a light supper, and pretty early everybody went to bed cross.

Here the little girl pounded her papa in the back, again.

“Well, what now? Did I say pigs?”

“You made them act like pigs.”

“Well, didn’t they?”

“No matter; you oughtn’t to put it into a story.”

“Very well, then, I’ll take it all out.”

Her father went on:

The little girl slept very heavily, and she slept very late, but she was wakened at last by the other children dancing[Pg 9] round her bed with their stockings full of presents in their hands.

“What is it?” said the little girl, and she rubbed her eyes and tried to rise up in bed.

“Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” they all shouted, and waved their stockings.

“Nonsense! It was Christmas yesterday.”

Her brothers and sisters just laughed. “We don’t know about that. It’s Christmas to-day, anyway. You come into the library and see.”

Then all at once it flashed on the little girl that the Fairy was keeping her promise, and her year of Christmases was beginning. She was dreadfully sleepy, but she sprang up like a lark—a lark that had overeaten itself and gone to bed cross—and darted into the library. There it was again! Books, and portfolios, and boxes of stationery, and breastpins—

[Pg 10]

“You needn’t go over it all, papa; I guess I can remember just what was there,” said the little girl.

Well, and there was the Christmas-tree blazing away, and the family picking out their presents, but looking pretty sleepy, and her father perfectly puzzled, and her mother ready to cry. “I’m sure I don’t see how I’m to dispose of all these things,” said her mother, and her father said it seemed to him they had had something just like it the day before, but he supposed he must have dreamed it. This struck the little girl as the best kind of a joke; and so she ate so much candy she didn’t want any breakfast, and went round carrying presents, and had turkey and cranberry for dinner, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a—

“Papa!”

“Well, what now?”[Pg 11]

“What did you promise, you forgetful thing?”

“Oh! oh yes!”

Well, the next day, it was just the same thing over again, but everybody getting crosser; and at the end of a week’s time so many people had lost their tempers that you could pick up lost tempers anywhere; they perfectly strewed the ground. Even when people tried to recover their tempers they usually got somebody else’s, and it made the most dreadful mix.

The little girl began to get frightened, keeping the secret all to herself; she wanted to tell her mother, but she didn’t dare to; and she was ashamed to ask the Fairy to take back her gift, it seemed ungrateful and ill-bred, and she thought she would try to stand it, but she hardly knew how she could, for a whole year. So it went on and on, and it was Christmas on St. Valentine’s Day and Wash[Pg 12]ington’s Birthday, just the same as any day, and it didn’t skip even the First of April, though everything was counterfeit that day, and that was some little relief.

After a while coal and potatoes began to be awfully scarce, so many had been wrapped up in tissue-paper to fool papas and mammas with. Turkeys got to be about a thousand dollars apiece—

“Papa!”

“Well, what?”

“You’re beginning to fib.”

“Well, two thousand, then.”

And they got to passing off almost anything for turkeys—half-grown humming-birds, and even rocs out of the Arabian Nights—the real turkeys were so scarce. And cranberries—well, they asked a diamond apiece for cranberries. All the woods and orchards were cut down for Christmas-trees, and where[Pg 13] the woods and orchards used to be it looked just like a stubble-field, with the stumps. After a while they had to make Christmas-trees out of rags, and stuff them with bran, like old-fashioned dolls; but there were plenty of rags, because people got so poor, buying presents for one another, that they couldn’t get any new clothes, and they just wore their old ones to tatters. They got so poor that everybody had to go to the poor-house, except the confectioners, and the fancy-store keepers, and the picture-book sellers, and the expressmen; and they all got so rich and proud that they would hardly wait upon a person when he came to buy. It was perfectly shameful!

Well, after it had gone on about three or four months, the little girl, whenever she came into the room in the morning and saw those great ugly, lumpy stockings dangling at the fire-place, and the disgusting presents around everywhere,[Pg 14] used to just sit down and burst out crying. In six months she was perfectly exhausted; she couldn’t even cry any more; she just lay on the lounge and rolled her eyes and panted. About the beginning of October she took to sitting down on dolls wherever she found them—French dolls, or any kind—she hated the sight of them so; and by Thanksgiving she was crazy, and just slammed her presents across the room.

By that time people didn’t carry presents around nicely any more. They flung them over the fence, or through the window, or anything; and, instead of running their tongues out and taking great pains to write “For dear Papa,” or “Mamma,” or “Brother,” or “Sister,” or “Susie,” or “Sammie,” or “Billie,” or “Bobbie,” or “Jimmie,” or “Jennie,” or whoever it was, and troubling to get the spelling right, and then signing their names, and “Xmas, 18—,” they used to write in the gift-books, “Take it,[Pg 15] you horrid old thing!” and then go and bang it against the front door. Nearly everybody had built barns to hold their presents, but pretty soon the barns overflowed, and then they used to let them lie out in the rain, or anywhere. Sometimes the police used to come and tell them to shovel their presents off the sidewalk, or they would arrest them.

“I thought you said everybody had gone to the poor-house,” interrupted the little girl.

“They did go, at first,” said her papa; “but after a while the poor-houses got so full that they had to send the people back to their own houses. They tried to cry, when they got back, but they couldn’t make the least sound.”

“Why couldn’t they?”

“Because they had lost their voices, saying ‘Merry Christmas’ so much. Did I tell you how it was on the Fourth of July?”[Pg 16]

“No; how was it?” And the little girl nestled closer, in expectation of something uncommon.

Well, the night before, the boys stayed up to celebrate, as they always do, and fell asleep before twelve o’clock, as usual, expecting to be wakened by the bells and cannon. But it was nearly eight o’clock before the first boy in the United States woke up, and then he found out what the trouble was. As soon as he could get his clothes on he ran out of the house and smashed a big cannon-torpedo down on the pavement; but it didn’t make any more noise than a damp wad of paper; and after he tried about twenty or thirty more, he began to pick them up and look at them. Every single torpedo was a big raisin! Then he just streaked it up-stairs, and examined his fire-crackers and toy-pistol and two-dollar collection of fireworks, and found that they were nothing but sugar and[Pg 17] candy painted up to look like fireworks! Before ten o’clock every boy in the United States found out that his Fourth of July things had turned into Christmas things; and then they just sat down and cried—they were so mad. There are about
twenty million boys in the United States, and so you can imagine what a noise they made. Some men got together before night, with a little powder that hadn’t turned into purple sugar yet, and they said they would fire off one cannon, anyway. But the cannon burst into a thousand pieces, for it was nothing but rock-candy, and some of the men nearly got killed. The Fourth of July orations all turned into Christmas carols, and when anybody tried to read the Declaration, instead of saying, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary,” he was sure to sing, “God rest you, merry gentlemen.” It was perfectly awful.

[Pg 18]
The little girl drew a deep sigh of satisfaction.

“And how was it at Thanksgiving?”

Her papa hesitated. “Well, I’m almost afraid to tell you. I’m afraid you’ll think it’s wicked.”

“Well, tell, anyway,” said the little girl.

Well, before it came Thanksgiving it had leaked out who had caused all these Christmases. The little girl had suffered so much that she had talked about it in her sleep; and after that hardly anybody would play with her. People just perfectly despised her, because if it had not been for her greediness it wouldn’t have happened; and now, when it came Thanksgiving, and she wanted them to go to church, and have squash-pie and turkey, and show their gratitude, they said that all the turkeys had been eaten up for her old Christmas dinners, and if she would stop the Christmases, they[Pg 19] would see about the gratitude. Wasn’t it dreadful? And the very next day the little girl began to send letters to the Christmas Fairy, and then telegrams, to stop it. But it didn’t do any good; and then she got to calling at the Fairy’s house, but the girl that came to the door always said, “Not at home,” or “Engaged,” or “At dinner,” or something like that; and so it went on till it came to the old once-a-year Christmas Eve.

The little girl fell asleep, and when she woke up in the morning—

“She found it was all nothing but a dream,” suggested the little girl.

“No, indeed!” said her papa. “It was all every bit true!”

“Well, what did she find out, then?”

“Why, that it wasn’t Christmas at last, and wasn’t ever going to be, any more. Now it’s time for breakfast.”

The little girl held her papa fast around the neck.[Pg 20]

“You sha’n’t go if you’re going to leave it so!”

“How do you want it left?”

“Christmas once a year.”

“All right,” said her papa; and he went on again.

Well, there was the greatest rejoicing all over the country, and it extended clear up into Canada. The people met together everywhere, and kissed and cried for joy. The city carts went around and gathered up all the candy and raisins and nuts, and dumped them into the river; and it made the fish perfectly sick; and the whole United States, as far out as Alaska, was one blaze of bonfires, where the children were burning up their gift-books and presents of all kinds. They had the greatest time!

The little girl went to thank the old Fairy because she had stopped its being Christmas, and she said she hoped she would keep her promise and see that[Pg 21] Christmas never, never came again. Then the Fairy frowned, and asked her if she was sure she knew what she meant; and the little girl asked her, Why not? and the old Fairy said that now she was behaving just as greedily as ever, and she’d better look out. This made the little girl think it all over carefully again, and she said she would be willing to have it Christmas about once in a thousand years; and then she said a hundred, and then she said ten, and at last she got down to one. Then the Fairy said that was the good old way that had pleased people ever since Christmas began, and she was agreed. Then the little girl said, “What’re your shoes made of?” And the Fairy said, “Leather.” And the little girl said, “Bargain’s done forever,” and skipped off, and hippity-hopped the whole way home, she was so glad.

“How will that do?” asked the papa.[Pg 22]

“First-rate!” said the little girl; but she hated to have the story stop, and was rather sober. However, her mamma put her head in at the door, and asked her papa:

“Are you never coming to breakfast? What have you been telling that child?”

“Oh, just a moral tale.”

The little girl caught him around the neck again.

“We know! Don’t you tell what, papa! Don’t you tell what!”[Pg 23]

– by W. D. Howells

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Bertie’s Christmas Eve – A Short Christmas Story

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It was Christmas Eve, and the family circle of Luke Steffink, Esq., was aglow with the amiability and random mirth which the occasion demanded. A long and lavish dinner had been partaken of, waits had been round and sung carols; the house-party had regaled itself with more caroling on its own account, and there had been romping which, even in a pulpit reference, could not have been condemned as ragging. In the midst of the general glow, however, there was one black unkindled cinder.
Bertie Steffink, nephew of the aforementioned Luke, had early in life adopted the profession of ne’er-do-weel; his father had been something of the kind before him. At the age of eighteen Bertie had commenced that round of visits to our Colonial possessions, so seemly and desirable in the case of a Prince of the Blood, so suggestive of insincerity in a young man of the middle-class. He had gone to grow tea in Ceylon and fruit in British Columbia, and to help sheep to grow wool in Australia. At the age of twenty he had just returned from some similar errand in Canada, from which it may be gathered that the trial he gave to these various experiments was of the summary drum-head nature. Luke Steffink, who fulfilled the troubled role of guardian and deputy-parent to Bertie, deplored the persistent manifestation of the homing instinct on his nephew’s part, and his solemn thanks earlier in the day for the blessing of reporting a united family had no reference to Bertie’s return.
Arrangements had been promptly made for packing the youth off to a distant corner of Rhodesia, whence return would be a difficult matter; the journey to this uninviting destination was imminent, in fact a more careful and willing traveller would have already begun to think about his packing. Hence Bertie was in no mood to share in the festive spirit which displayed itself around him, and resentment smouldered within him at the eager, self-absorbed discussion of social plans for the coming months which he heard on all sides. Beyond depressing his uncle and the family circle generally by singing “Say au revoir, and not good-bye,” he had taken no part in the evening’s conviviality.
Eleven o’clock had struck some half-hour ago, and the elder Steffinks began to throw out suggestions leading up to that process which they called retiring for the night.

< 2 >
“Come, Teddie, it’s time you were in your little bed, you know,” said Luke Steffink to his thirteen-year-old son.
“That’s where we all ought to be,” said Mrs. Steffink.
“There wouldn’t be room,” said Bertie.
The remark was considered to border on the scandalous; everybody ate raisins and almonds with the nervous industry of sheep feeding during threatening weather.
“In Russia,” said Horace Bordenby, who was staying in the house as a Christmas guest, “I’ve read that the peasants believe that if you go into a cow-house or stable at midnight on Christmas Eve you will hear the animals talk. They’re supposed to have the gift of speech at that one moment of the year.”
“Oh, DO let’s ALL go down to the cow-house and listen to what they’ve got to say!” exclaimed Beryl, to whom anything was thrilling and amusing if you did it in a troop.
Mrs. Steffink made a laughing protest, but gave a virtual consent by saying, “We must all wrap up well, then.” The idea seemed a scatterbrained one to her, and almost heathenish, but if afforded an opportunity for “throwing the young people together,” and as such she welcomed it. Mr. Horace Bordenby was a young man with quite substantial prospects, and he had danced with Beryl at a local subscription ball a sufficient number of times to warrant the authorised inquiry on the part of the neighbours whether “there was anything in it.” Though Mrs. Steffink would not have put it in so many words, she shared the idea of the Russian peasantry that on this night the beast might speak.
The cow-house stood at the junction of the garden with a small paddock, an isolated survival, in a suburban neighbourhood; of what had once been a small farm. Luke Steffink was complacently proud of his cow-house and his two cows; he felt that they gave him a stamp of solidity which no number of Wyandottes or Orpingtons could impart. They even seemed to link him in a sort of inconsequent way with those patriarchs who derived importance from their floating capital of flocks and herbs, he-asses and she-asses. It had been an anxious and momentous occasion when he had had to decide definitely between “the Byre” and “the Ranch” for the naming of his villa residence. A December midnight was hardly the moment he would have chosen for showing his farm-building to visitors, but since it was a fine night, and the young people were anxious for an excuse for a mild frolic, Luke consented to chaperon the expedition. The servants had long since gone to bed, so the house was left in charge of Bertie, who scornfully declined to stir out on the pretext of listening to bovine conversation.

< 3 >
“We must go quietly,” said Luke, as he headed the procession of giggling young folk, brought up in the rear by the shawled and hooded figure of Mrs. Steffink; “I’ve always laid stress on keeping this a quiet and orderly neighbourhood.”
It was a few minutes to midnight when the party reached the cow-house and made its way in by the light of Luke’s stable lantern. For a moment every one stood in silence, almost with a feeling of being in church.
“Daisy — the one lying down — is by a shorthorn bull out of a Guernsey cow,” announced Luke in a hushed voice, which was in keeping with the foregoing impression.
“Is she?” said Bordenby, rather as if he had expected her to be by Rembrandt.
“Myrtle is –”
Myrtle’s family history was cut short by a little scream from the women of the party.
The cow-house door had closed noiselessly behind them and the key had turned gratingly in the lock; then they heard Bertie’s voice pleasantly wishing them good-night and his footsteps retreating along the garden path.
Luke Steffink strode to the window; it was a small square opening of the old-fashioned sort, with iron bars let into the stonework.
“Unlock the door this instant,” he shouted, with as much air of menacing authority as a hen might assume when screaming through the bars of a coop at a marauding hawk. In reply to his summons the hall-door closed with a defiant bang.
A neighbouring clock struck the hour of midnight. If the cows had received the gift of human speech at that moment they would not have been able to make themselves heard. Seven or eight other voices were engaged in describing Bertie’s present conduct and his general character at a high pressure of excitement and indignation.
In the course of half an hour or so everything that it was permissible to say about Bertie had been said some dozens of times, and other topics began to come to the front — the extreme mustiness of the cow-house, the possibility of it catching fire, and the probability of it being a Rowton House for the vagrant rats of the neighbourhood. And still no sign of deliverance came to the unwilling vigil-keepers.
Towards one o’clock the sound of rather boisterous and undisciplined carol-singing approached rapidly, and came to a sudden anchorage, apparently just outside the garden-gate. A motor-load of youthful “bloods,” in a high state of conviviality, had made a temporary halt for repairs; the stoppage, however, did not extend to the vocal efforts of the party, and the watchers in the cow-shed were treated to a highly unauthorised rendering of “Good King Wenceslas,” in which the adjective “good” appeared to be very carelessly applied.

< 4 >
The noise had the effect of bringing Bertie out into the garden, but he utterly ignored the pale, angry faces peering out at the cow-house window, and concentrated his attention on the revellers outside the gate.
“Wassail, you chaps!” he shouted.
“Wassail, old sport!” they shouted back; “we’d jolly well drink y’r health, only we’ve nothing to drink it in.”
“Come and wassail inside,” said Bertie hospitably; “I’m all alone, and there’s heap’s of ‘wet’.”
They were total strangers, but his touch of kindness made them instantly his kin. In another moment the unauthorised version of King Wenceslas, which, like many other scandals, grew worse on repetition, went echoing up the garden path; two of the revellers gave an impromptu performance on the way by executing the staircase waltz up the terraces of what Luke Steffink, hitherto with some justification, called his rock-garden. The rock part of it was still there when the waltz had been accorded its third encore. Luke, more than ever like a cooped hen behind the cow-house bars, was in a position to realise the feelings of concert-goers unable to countermand the call for an encore which they neither desire or deserve.
The hall door closed with a bang on Bertie’s guests, and the sounds of merriment became faint and muffled to the weary watchers at the other end of the garden. Presently two ominous pops, in quick succession, made themselves distinctly heard.
“They’ve got at the champagne!” exclaimed Mrs. Steffink.
“Perhaps it’s the sparkling Moselle,” said Luke hopefully.
Three or four more pops were heard.
“The champagne and the sparkling Moselle,” said Mrs. Steffink.
Luke uncorked an expletive which, like brandy in a temperance household, was only used on rare emergencies. Mr. Horace Bordenby had been making use of similar expressions under his breath for a considerable time past. The experiment of “throwing the young people together” had been prolonged beyond a point when it was likely to produce any romantic result.
Some forty minutes later the hall door opened and disgorged a crowd that had thrown off any restraint of shyness that might have influenced its earlier actions. Its vocal efforts in the direction of carol singing were now supplemented by instrumental music; a Christmas-tree that had been prepared for the children of the gardener and other household retainers had yielded a rich spoil of tin trumpets, rattles, and drums. The life-story of King Wenceslas had been dropped, Luke was thankful to notice, but it was intensely irritating for the chilled prisoners in the cow-house to be told that it was a hot time in the old town tonight, together with some accurate but entirely superfluous information as to the imminence of Christmas morning. Judging by the protests which began to be shouted from the upper windows of neighbouring houses the sentiments prevailing in the cow-house were heartily echoed in other quarters.

< 5 >
The revellers found their car, and, what was more remarkable, managed to drive off in it, with a parting fanfare of tin trumpets. The lively beat of a drum disclosed the fact that the master of the revels remained on the scene.
“Bertie!” came in an angry, imploring chorus of shouts and screams from the cow-house window.
“Hullo,” cried the owner of the name, turning his rather errant steps in the direction of the summons; “are you people still there? Must have heard everything cows got to say by this time. If you haven’t, no use waiting. After all, it’s a Russian legend, and Russian Chrismush Eve not due for ‘nother fortnight. Better come out.”
After one or two ineffectual attempts he managed to pitch the key of the cow-house door in through the window. Then, lifting his voice in the strains of “I’m afraid to go home in the dark,” with a lusty drum accompaniment, he led the way back to the house. The hurried procession of the released that followed in his steps came in for a good deal of the adverse comment that his exuberant display had evoked.
It was the happiest Christmas Eve he had ever spent. To quote his own words, he had a rotten Christmas.

– by Saki

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A Christmas Carol – A Short Children’s Christmas Story

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Master Peter, and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course–and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came
to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by the apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone–too nervous to bear witnesses–to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out. Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose–a
supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a
laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered–flushed, but smiling proudly–with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been, flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of glasses. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:

“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

Which all the family re-echoed.

“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

– Charles Dickens

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God’s Shepherd – A Short Inspiration Christmas Story

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The frost of forty winters had etched deep lines into the shepherd’s face. Having spent his entire life outdoors on Bethlehem’s hills, he was old at forty — and cold. The hillside where he sat this day was cold, too, and he pulled his mantle close about him to block the wind.

Every so often he would shift position, not out of discomfort so much, but from a sense of unease, anxiety, crowdedness. Instead of hundreds of sheep with whom he felt quite at home, this hillside was flocked with people — thousands of them — listening attentively to the Teacher. They could hear him fairly well, except when the wind whisked away his words.

Tobias ben David (pronounced da-VEED) was the shepherd’s name, though people called him Toby. His flocks were in good hands this week, cared for by his grown sons, but Toby had left them to listen to Jesus of Nazareth. Today the Teacher was talking about salvation, how God came to save his people from their waywardness and sins, to rescue them and gather them close.

Now Jesus’ illustration turned to sheep. Toby felt better. He knew a lot more about sheep than people.

“The good shepherd,” Jesus was saying, “lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand who doesn’t own the flock runs away when he sees the wolf coming, but not the good shepherd….” One night, years ago, the men Toby had hired to watch the flock with him fled when they saw a mountain lion roaming the hills. But Toby had stayed. Shepherding was his livelihood. He knew the sacrifices that good shepherding required. He knew about defending defenseless lambs. He knew about putting his life on the line for the sheep. That’s what good shepherds did.

Jesus continued, “Suppose you have 100 sheep and when night comes one is missing. What do you do? You leave the 99 sheep all safe together and then climb the hills, looking, searching until you find the lost sheep. Then you pick him up, put him on your shoulders, bring him down the hill to the camp, and ask your fellow shepherds to rejoice with you.”

“Your heavenly Father is like that,” Jesus said. “When you have lost your way, he will rescue you and save you and never give up on you until he finds you — and you find him.”

Toby’s heart was racing. He felt a lump in his throat. He understood. Toby had combed the hills for lost sheep, not stopping, not quitting. He knew the joy of discovery, of rescuing the sheep from a thicket, of bringing it back and celebrating with his friends. He had been that kind of shepherd.

But he also knew how it felt to wander off, feeling lost, aimless, trapped. Clueless about where he was and where he was going. Flailing about, struggling to climb out of what seemed like a steep ravine. That’s why he came today to hear the Teacher, hoping to regain the faith he had felt as a child, a ten-year-old child.

His mind spun back to the evening of his tenth birthday. Like nearly every night, he was out on the hills with his dad or his uncles, caring for the sheep. The stars were brilliant, dancing in the black sky. But suddenly an overpowering bright light flooded the hillside. A voice boomed out, “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”

A savior, a rescuer — shepherds’ work. He had often wondered about the boy-child they discovered that night, lying in a manger, just as the angel had said. Toby had knelt down and worshipped the baby who bore the world’s destiny upon his tiny shoulders. What had become of him, this baby? By now he must be thirty-something. Had this savior saved anyone yet? Rescued anyone? Could he rescue me from my aimless existence? Toby wondered.

Just then the wind caught Jesus’ words and blew them Toby’s direction. “I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus was saying, “who lays down his life for the sheep. Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” he said with warmth and joy full on his face, “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

I wonder? thought Toby as he felt big tears begin to roll down his cheeks and into his beard. I wonder? thought Toby as joy and the certainty of God’s love began to fill his heart until it seemed like he would explode. I wonder? thought Toby, if this Jesus is the little baby I saw that night, the Savior of the world? Yes, thought Toby, he must be. His words found me and, frankly, he sounds just like he’s … God’s shepherd.

This story quotes Matthew 11:28-29; John 10:11-13 and refers to Luke 2:8-18.

“Copyright Ralph F. Wilson. All rights reserved. Used by permission.”

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