December 1, 2009; Published by Amy Puetz; P.O. Box 429; Wright, WY 82732
If you have trouble viewing this email, you can read it online. Click here.
MERRY CHRISTMAS! Here we are again! Time for singing Christmas carols and decorating the house. Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the white crisp snow, the music, the movies, and most of all the spirit of Christmas. Last year I read A Christmas Carol for the first time and my favorite part of the book was the quote towards the end that says, "It was always said of him [Scrooge], that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge." What does it mean to keep Christmas well? It's more than just being busy and active during the holidays. It's an attitude of sharing joy, peace, hope, and love with others. My ambition this holiday season is to keep Christmas well.
This issue has three very delightful stories that you are going to love. Without further ado let's get started.
It was the day before Christmas in the year 189--. Snow was falling heavily in the streets of Boston, but the crowd of shoppers seemed undiminished. As the storm increased, groups gathered at the corners and in sheltering doorways to wait for belated cars; but the holiday cheer was in the air, and there was no grumbling. Mothers dragging tired children through the slush of the streets; pretty girls hurrying home for the holidays; here and there a harassed-looking man with perhaps a single package which he had taken a whole morning to select--all had the same spirit of tolerant good-humor.
"School Street! School Street!" called the conductor of an electric car. A group of young people at the farther end of the car started to their feet. One of them, a young man wearing a heavy fur-trimmed coat, addressed the conductor angrily.
"I said, 'Music Hall,' didn't I?" he demanded. "Now we've got to walk back in the snow because of your stupidity!"
"Oh, never mind, Frank!" one of the girls interposed "We ought to have been looking out ourselves! Six of us, and we went by without a thought! It is all Mrs. Tirrell's fault! She shouldn't have been so entertaining!"
The young matron dimpled and blushed. "That's charming of you, Maidie," she said, gathering up her silk skirts as she prepared to step down into the pond before her. "The compliment makes up for the blame. But how it snows!"
"It doesn't matter. We all have gaiters on," returned Maidie Williams, undisturbed.
"Fares, please!" said the conductor unresponsively.
Frank Armstrong thrust his gloved hand deep into his pocket with angry vehemence. "There's your money," he said, "and be quick about the change, will you? We've lost time enough!"
The man counted out the change with stiff, red fingers, closed his lips firmly as if to keep back an obvious rejoinder, rang up the six fares with careful accuracy, and gave the signal to go ahead. The car went on into the drifting storm.
Armstrong laughed shortly as he rapidly counted the bits of silver lying in his open palm. He turned instinctively, but two or three cars were already between him and the one he was looking for.
"The fellow must be an imbecile," he said, rejoining the group on the crossing. "He's given me back a dollar and twenty cents, and I handed him a dollar bill."
"Oh, can't you stop him?" cried Maidie Williams, with a backward step into the wet street.
The Harvard junior, who was carrying her umbrella, protested: "What's the use, Miss Williams? He'll make it up before he gets to Scollay Square, you may be sure. Those chaps don't lose anything. Why, the other day, I gave one a quarter and he went off as cool as you please. 'Where's my change?' said I. 'You gave me a nickel,' said he. And there wasn't anybody to swear that I didn't except myself, and I didn't count."
"But that doesn't make any difference," insisted the girl warmly. "Because one conductor was dishonest, we needn't be. I beg your pardon, Frank, but it does seem to me just stealing."
"Oh, come along!" said her cousin, with an easy laugh. "I guess the West End Corporation won't go without their dinners tomorrow. Here, Maidie, here's the ill-gotten fifty cents. I think you ought to treat us all after the concert; still, I won't urge you. I wash my hands of all responsibility. But I do wish you hadn't such an unpleasant conscience."
Maidie flushed under the sting of his cousinly rudeness, but she went on quietly with the rest. It was evident that any attempt to overtake the car was out of the question.
"Did you notice his number, Frank?" she asked, suddenly.
"No, I never thought of it" said Frank, stopping short. "However, I probably shouldn't make any complaint if I had. I shall forget all about it tomorrow. I find it's never safe to let the sun go down on my wrath. It's very likely not to be there the next day."
"I wasn't thinking of making a complaint," said Maidie; but the two young men were enjoying the small joke too much to notice what she said.
The great doorway of Music Hall was just ahead. In a moment the party were within its friendly shelter, stamping off the snow. The girls were adjusting veils and hats with skillful feminine touches; the pretty chaperone was beaming approval upon them, and the young men were taking off their wet overcoats, when Maidie turned again in sudden desperation.
"Mr. Harris," she said, rather faintly, for she did not like to make herself disagreeable, "do you suppose that car comes right back from Scollay Square?"
"What car?" asked Walter Harris, blankly. "Oh, the one we came in? Yes, I suppose it does. They're running all the time, anyway. Why, you are not sick, are you, Miss Williams?"
There was genuine concern in his tone. This girl, with her sweet, vibrant voice, her clear gray eyes, seemed very charming to him. She wasn't beautiful, perhaps, but she was the kind of girl he liked. There was a steady earnestness in the gray eyes that made him think of his mother.
"No." said Maidie, slowly. "I'm all right, thank you. But I wish I could find that man again. I know sometimes they have to make it up if their accounts are wrong, and I couldn't--we couldn't feel very comfortable--"
Frank Armstrong interrupted her. "Maidie," he said, with the studied calmness with which one speaks to an unreasonable child, "you are perfectly absurd. Here it is within five minutes of the time for the concert to begin. It is impossible to tell when that car is coming back. You are making us all very uncomfortable. Mrs. Tirrill, won't you please tell her not to spoil our afternoon?"
"I think he's right, Maidie," said Mrs. Tirrell. "It's very nice of you to feel so sorry for the poor man, but he really was very careless. It was all his own fault. And just think how far he made us walk! My feet are quite damp. We ought to go in directly or we shall all take cold, and I'm sure you wouldn't like that, my dear."
She led the way as she spoke, the two girls and young Armstrong following. Maidie hesitated. It was so easy to go in, to forget everything in the light and warmth and excitement.
"No," said she, very firmly, and as much to herself as to the young man who stood waiting for her. "I must go back and try to make it right. I'm so sorry, Mr. Harris, but if you will tell them."
"Why, I'm going with you, of course," said the young fellow, impulsively. "If I'd only looked once at the man I'd go alone, but I shouldn't know him from Adam."
Maidie laughed. "Oh, I don't want to lose the whole concert, Mr. Harris, and Frank has all the tickets. You must go after them and try to make my peace. I'll come just as soon as I can. Don't wait for me, please. If you'll come and look for me here after the first number, and not let them scold me too much--" She ended with an imploring little catch in her breath that was almost a sob.
"They sha'n't say a word, Miss Williams!" cried Walter Harris, with honest admiration in his eyes. But she was gone already, and conscious that further delay was only making matters worse, he went on into the hall.
Meanwhile, the car swung heavily along the wet rails on its way to the turning-point. It was nearly empty now. An old gentleman and his nurse were the only occupants. Jim Stevens, the conductor, had stepped inside the car.
"Too bad I forgot those young people wanted to get off at Music Hall," he was thinking to himself. "I don't see how I came to do it. That chap looked as if he wanted to complain of me, and I don't know as I blame him. I'd have said I was sorry if he hadn't been so sharp with his tongue. I hope he won't complain just now. 'Twould be a pretty bad tune for me to get into trouble, with Mary and the baby both sick. I'm too sleepy to be good for much, that's a fact. Sitting up three nights running takes hold of a fellow somehow when he's at work all day. The rent's paid, that's one thing, if it hasn't left me but half a dollar to my name. Hullo!" He was struck by a sudden distinct recollection of the coins he had returned. "Why, I gave him fifty cents too much!"
He glanced up at the dial which indicated the fares and began to count the change in his pocket. He knew exactly how much money he had had at the beginning of the trip. He counted carefully. Then he plunged his hand into the heavy canvas pocket of his coat. Perhaps he had half a dollar there. No, it was empty!
He faced the fact reluctantly. Fifty cents short, ten fares! Gone into the pocket of the young gentleman with the fur collar! The conductor's hand shook as he put the money back in his pocket. It meant--what did it mean? He drew a long breath.
Christmas Eve! A dark dreary little room upstairs in a noisy tenement house. A pale, thin woman on a shabby lounge vainly trying to quiet a fretful child. The child is thin and pale, too, with a hard, racking cough. There is a small fire in the stove, a very small fire; coal is so high. The medicine stands on the shelf. "Medicine won't do much good," the doctor had said; "he needs beef and cream."
Jim's heart sank at the thought. He could almost hear the baby asking: "Isn't Papa coming soon? Isn't he, Mamma?"
"Poor little kid!" Jim said, softly, under his breath. "And I shan't have a thing to take home to him; nor Mary's violets, either. It'll be the first Christmas that ever happened. I suppose that chap would think it was ridiculous for me to be buying violets. He wouldn't understand what the flowers mean to Mary. Perhaps he didn't notice I gave him too much. That kind don't know how much they have. They just pull it out as if it was newspaper."
The conductor went out into the snow to help the nurse, who was assisting the old gentleman to the ground. Then the car swung on again. Jim turned up the collar of his coat about his ears and stamped his feet. There was the florist's shop where he had meant to buy the violets, and the toy-shop was just around the corner.
A thought flashed across his tired brain. "Plenty of men would do it; they do it every day. Nobody ever would be the poorer for it. This car will be crowded going home. I needn't ring in every fare; nobody could tell. But Mary! She wouldn't touch those violets if she knew. And she'd know. I'd have to tell her. I couldn't keep it from her, she's that quick."
He jumped off to adjust the trolley with a curious sense of unreality. It couldn't be that he was really going home this Christmas Eve with empty hands. Well, they must all suffer together for his carelessness. It was his own fault, but it was hard. And he was so tired!
To his amazement he found his eyes were blurred as he watched the people crowding into the car. What! Was he going to cry like a baby--he, a great burly man of thirty years?
"It's no use," he thought. "I couldn't do it. The first time I gave Mary violets was the night she said she'd marry me. I told her then I'd do my best to make her proud of me. I guess she wouldn't be very proud of a man who could cheat. She'd rather starve than have a ribbon she couldn't pay for."
He rang up a dozen fares with a steady hand. The temptation was over. Six more strokes--then nine without a falter. He even imagined the bell rang more distinctly than usual, even encouragingly.
The car stopped. Jim flung the door open with a triumphant sweep of his arm. He felt ready to face the world. But the baby--his arm dropped. It was hard.
He turned to help the young girl who was waiting at the step. Through the whirling snow he saw her eager face, with a quick recognition lighting the steady eyes, and wondered dimly, as he stood with his hand on the signal-strap, where he could have seen her before. He knew immediately.
"There was a mistake," she said, with a shy tremor in her voice. "You gave us too much change and here it is." She held out to Jim the piece of silver which had given him such an unhappy quarter of an hour.
He took it like one dazed. Would the young lady think he was crazy to care so much about so small a coin? He must say something. "Thank you, miss," he stammered as well as he could. "You see, I thought it was gone--and there's the baby--and it's Christmas Eve--and my wife's sick--and you can't understand."
It certainly was not remarkable that she couldn't.
"But I do," she said, simply. "I was afraid of that. And I thought perhaps there was a baby, so I brought my Christmas present for her," and something else dropped into Jim's cold hand.
"What you waiting for?" shouted the motorman from the front platform. The girl had disappeared in the snow.
Jim rang the bell to go ahead, and gazed again at the two shining half dollars in his hand.
"I didn't have a chance to tell her," he explained to his wife late in the evening, as he sat in a tiny rocking chair several sizes too small for him, "that the baby wasn't a her at all, though if I thought he'd grow up into such a lovely one as she is, I don't know but I almost wish he was."
"Poor Jim!" said Mary, with a little laugh as she put up her hand to stroke his rough cheek. "I guess you're tired."
"And I should say," he added, stretching out his long legs toward the few red sparks in the bottom of the grate, "I should say she had tears in her eyes, too, but I was that near crying myself I couldn't be sure."
The little room was sweet with the odor of English violets. Asleep in the bed lay the boy, a toy horse clasped close to his breast.
"Bless her heart!" said Mary, softly.
"Well, Miss Williams," said Walter Harris, as he sprang to meet a snow-covered figure coming swiftly along the sidewalk. "I can see that you found him. You've lost the first number, but they won't scold you--not this time."
The girl turned a radiant face upon him. "Thank you," she said, shaking the snowy crystals from her skirt. "I don't care now if they do. I should have lost more than that if I had stayed."
The Little Sister's Vacation by Winifred M Kirkland, 1913
It was to be a glorious Christmas at Doctor Brewer's. All "the children"--little Peggy and her mother always spoke of the grown-up ones as "the children"--were coming home. Mabel was coming from Ohio with her big husband and her two babies, Minna and little Robin, the year-old grandson whom the home family had never seen; Hazen was coming all the way from the Johns Hopkins Medical School, and Arna was coming home from her teaching in New York.
It was a trial to Peggy that vacation did not begin until the very day before Christmas, and then continued only one meager week. After school hours she had helped her mother in the Christmas preparations every day until she crept into bed at night with aching arms and tired feet, to lie there tossing about, whether from weariness or glad excitement she did not know.
"Not so hard, daughter," the doctor said to her once.
"Oh, Papa," protested her mother, "when we're so busy, and Peggy is so handy!"
"Not so hard," he repeated, with his eyes on fifteen-year-old Peggy's delicate face, as, wearing her braids pinned up on her head and a pinafore down to her toes, she stoned raisins and blanched almonds, rolled bread crumbs and beat eggs, dusted and polished and made ready for the children.
Finally, after a day of flying about, helping with the many last things, Peggy let down her braids and put on her new crimson shirtwaist, and stood with her mother in the front doorway, for it was Christmas Eve at last, and the station bus was rattling up with the first home comers, Arna and Hazen.
Then there were voices ringing up and down the dark street, and there were happy tears in the mother's eyes, and Arna had taken Peggy's face in her two soft-gloved hands and lifted it up and kissed it, and Hazen had swung his little sister up in the air just as of old. Peggy's tired feet were dancing for joy. She was helping Arna take off her things, was carrying her bag upstairs--would have carried Hazen's heavy grip, too, only her father took it from her.
"Set the kettle to boil, Peggy," directed her mother; "then run upstairs and see if Arna wants anything. We'll wait supper till the rest come."
The rest came on the nine o'clock train, such a load of them--the big, bluff brother-in-law, Mabel, plump and laughing, as always, Minna, elfin and bright-eyed, and sleepy Baby Robin. Such hugging, such a hubbub of baby talk! How many things there seemed to be to do for those precious babies right away!
Peggy was here and there and everywhere. Everything was in joyous confusion. Supper was to be set on, too. While the rest ate, Peggy sat by, holding Robin, her own little nephew, and managing at the same time to pick up the things--napkin, knife, spoon, bread--that Minna, hilarious with the late hour, flung from her high chair.
It seemed as if they would never be all stowed away for the night. Some of them wanted pitchers of warm water, some of them pitchers of cold, and the alcohol stove must be brought up for heating the baby's milk at night. The house was crowded, too. Peggy had given up her room to Hazen, and slept on a cot in the sewing room with Minna.
The cot had been enlarged by having three chairs piled with pillows, set along the side. But Minna preferred to sleep in the middle of the cot, or else across it, her restless little feet pounding at Peggy's ribs; and Peggy was unused to any bedfellow.
She lay long awake thinking proudly of the children, of Hazen, the tall brother, with his twinkling eyes, his drolleries, his teasing; of graceful Arna who dressed so daintily, talked so cleverly, and had been to college. Arna was going to send Peggy to college, too--it was so good of Arna! But for all Peggy's admiration for Arna, it was Mabel, the eldest sister, who was the more approachable. Mabel did not pretend even to as much learning as Peggy had herself; she was happy-go-lucky and sweet-tempered. Then her husband was a great jolly fellow, with whom it was impossible to be shy, and the babies--there never were such adorable babies, Peggy thought. Just here her niece gave her a particularly vicious kick, and Peggy opposed to her train of admiring thoughts, "But I'm so tired."
It did not seem to Peggy that she had been asleep at all when she was waked with a vigorous pounding on her chest and a shrill little voice in her ear:
"Oh, no, it isn't, Minna!" pleaded Peggy, struggling with sleepiness. "It's all dark still."
"Ch'is'mus, Ch'is'mus, Ch'is'mus!" reiterated Minna, continuing to pound.
"Hush, dear! You'll wake Aunt Arna, and she's tired after being all day on the chou-chou cars."
"Merry Ch'is'mus, Aunty Arna!" shouted the irrepressible Minna.
"Oh, darling, be quiet! We'll play little pig goes to market. I'll tell you a story, only be quiet a little while."
It took Peggy's utmost effort to keep the little wriggler still for the hour from five to six. Then, however, her shrill, "Merry Ch'is'mus!" roused the household. Protests were of no avail. Minna was the only granddaughter. Dark as it was, people must get up.
Peggy must dress Minna and then hurry down to help get breakfast--not so easy a task with Minna ever at one's heels. The quick-moving sprite seemed to be everywhere--into the sugar-bowl, the cookie jar, the steaming teakettle--before one could turn about. Urged on by the impatient little girl, the grown-ups made short work of breakfast.
After the meal, according to time-honored Brower custom, they formed in procession, single file, Minna first, then Ben with Baby Robin. They each held aloft a sprig of holly, and they all kept time as they sang, "God rest you, merry gentlemen," in their march from the dining-room to the office. And there they must form in circle about the tree, and dance three times round, singing "The Christmas-tree is an evergreen," before they could touch a single present.
The presents are done up according to custom, packages of every shape and size, but all in white paper and tied with red ribbon, and all marked for somebody with somebody else's best love. They all fall to opening, and the babies' shouts are not the only ones to be heard.
Passers-by smile indulgently at the racket, remembering that all the Browers are home for Christmas, and the Browers were ever a jovial company.
Peggy gazes at her gifts quietly, but with shining eyes--little gold cuff pins from Hazen, just like Arna's; a set of furs from Mabel and Ben; but she likes Arna's gift best of all, a complete set of her favorite author.
But much as they would like to linger about the Christmas tree, Peggy and her mother, at least, must remember that the dishes must be washed and the beds made, and that the family must get ready for church. Peggy does not go to church, and nobody dreams how much she wants to go. She loves the Christmas music. No hymn rings so with joy as: "Jerusalem Triumphs, Messiah is King."
The choir sings it only once a year, on the Christmas morning. Besides, her chum Esther will be at church, and Peggy has been too busy to go to see her since she came home from boarding-school for the holidays. But somebody must stay at home, and that somebody who but Peggy? Somebody must baste the turkey, and prepare the vegetables and take care of the babies.
Peggy is surprised to find how difficult it is to combine dinner-getting with baby-tending. When she opens the oven-door, there is Minna's head thrust up under her arm, the inquisitive little nose in great danger by reason of sputtering gravy.
"Minna," protests Peggy, "you mustn't eat another bit of candy!" and Minna opens her mouth in a howl, prolonged, but without tears and without change of color. Robin joins in, he does not know why. Peggy is a doting aunt, but an honest one. She is vexed by a growing conviction that Mabel's babies are sadly spoiled. Peggy is ashamed of herself; surely she ought to be perfectly happy playing with Minna and Robin. Instead, she finds that the thing she would like best of all to be doing at this moment, next to going to church, would be to be lying on her father's couch in the office, all by herself, reading.
The dinner is a savory triumph for Peggy and her mother. The gravy and the mashed potato are entirely of Peggy's workmanship, and Peggy has had a hand in most of the other dishes, too, as the mother proudly tells. How that merry party can eat! Peggy is waitress, and it is long before the passing is over, and she can sit down in her own place. She is just as fond of the unusual Christmas good things as are the rest, but somehow, before she is well started at her turkey, it is time for changing plates for dessert, and before she has tasted her nuts and raisins the babies have succumbed to sleepiness, and it is Peggy who must carry them upstairs for their nap--just in the middle of one of Hazen's funniest stories, too.
And all the time the little sister is so ready, so quickly serviceable, that somehow nobody notices--nobody but the doctor. It is he who finds Peggy, half an hour later, all alone in the kitchen. The mother and the older daughters are gathered about the sitting-room hearth, engaged in the dear, delicious talk about the little things that are always left out of letters.
The doctor interrupts them. "Peggy is all alone," he says.
"But we're having such a good talk," the mother pleads, "and Peggy will be done in no time! Peggy is so handy!"
"Well, girls?" is all the doctor says, with quiet command in his eyes, and Peggy is not left to wash the Christmas dishes all alone. Because she is smiling and her cheeks are bright, her sisters do not notice that her eyes are wet, for Peggy is hotly ashamed of certain thoughts and feelings that she cannot down. She forgets them for a while, however, sitting on the hearthrug, snuggled against her father's knee in the Christmas twilight.
Yet the troublesome thoughts came back in the evening, when Peggy sat upstairs in the dark with Minna, vainly trying to induce the excited little girl to go to sleep, while bursts of merriment from the family below were always breaking in upon the two in their banishment.
There was another restless night of it with the little niece, and another too early waking. Everybody but Minna was sleepy enough, and breakfast was a protracted meal, to which the "children" came down slowly one by one. Arna did not appear at all, and Peggy carried up to her the daintiest of trays, all of her own preparing. Arna's kiss of thanks was great reward. It was dinner-time before Peggy realized it, and she had hoped to find a quiet hour for her Latin. The dreadful regent's examination was to come the next week, and Peggy wanted to study for it. She had once thought of asking Arna to help her, but Arna seemed so tired.
In the afternoon Esther came to see her chum, and to take her home with her to spend the night. The babies, fretful with after-Christmas-crossness, were tumbling over their aunt, and sadly interrupting confidences, while Peggy explained that she could not go out that evening. All the family were going to the church sociable and she must put the babies to bed.
"I think it's mean," Esther broke in. "Isn't it your vacation as well as theirs? Do make that child stop pulling your hair!"
If Esther's words had only not echoed through Peggy's head as they did that night! "But it is so mean of me, so mean of me, to want my own vacation!" sobbed Peggy in the darkness. "I ought just to be glad they're all at home."
Her self-reproach made her readier than ever to wait, on them all the next morning. Nobody could make such buckwheat cakes as could Mrs. Brower; nobody could turn them as could Peggy. They were worth coming from New York and Baltimore and Ohio to eat. Peggy stood at the griddle half an hour, an hour, two hours. Her head was aching. Hazen, the latest riser, was joyously calling for more.
At eleven o'clock Peggy realized that she had had no breakfast herself, and that her mother was hurrying her off to investigate the lateness of the butcher. Her head ached more and more, and she seemed strangely slow in her dinner-getting and dish-washing. Her father was away, and there was no one to help in the clearing-up. It was three before she had finished.
Outside the sleigh-bells sounded enticing. It was the first sleighing of the season. Mabel and Ben had been off for a ride, and Arna and Hazen, too. How Peggy longed to be skimming over the snow instead of polishing knives all alone in the kitchen. Sue Cummings came that afternoon to invite Peggy to her party, given in Esther's honor. Sue enumerated six other gatherings that were being given that week in honor of Esther's visit home. Sue seemed to dwell much on the subject. Presently Peggy, with hot cheeks, understood why. Everybody was giving Esther a party, everybody but Peggy herself. Esther's own chum, and all the other girls, were talking about it.
Peggy stood at the door to see Sue out, and watched the sleighs fly by. Out in the sitting-room she heard her mother saying, "Yes, of course we can have waffles for supper. Where's Peggy?" Then Peggy ran away.
In the wintry dusk the doctor came stamping in, shaking the snow from his bearskins. As always, "Where's Peggy?" was his first question.
Peggy was not to be found, they told him. They had been all over the house, calling her. They thought she must have gone out with Sue. The doctor seemed to doubt this. He went through the upstairs rooms, calling her softly. But Peggy was not in any of the bedrooms, or in any of the closets, either. There was still the kitchen attic to be tried.
There came a husky little moan out of its depths, as he whispered, "Daughter!" He groped his way to her, and sitting down on a trunk, folded her into his bearskin coat.
"Now tell Father all about it," he said. And it all came out with many sobs--the nights and dawns with Minna, the Latin, the sleighing, Esther's party, breakfast, the weariness, the headache; and last the waffles, which had moved the one unbearable thing.
"And it is so mean of me, so mean of me!" sobbed Peggy. "But, oh, daddy, I do want a vacation!"
"And you shall have one," he answered.
He carried her straight into her own room, laid her down on her own bed, and tumbled Hazen's things into the hall. Then he went downstairs and talked to his family.
Presently the mother came stealing in. bearing a glass of medicine the doctor-father had sent. Then she undressed Peggy and put her to bed as if she had been a baby, and sat by, smoothing her hair, until she fell asleep.
It seemed to Peggy that she had slept a long, long time. The sun was shining bright. Her door opened a crack and Arna peeped in, and seeing her awake, came to the bed and kissed her good morning.
"I'm so sorry, little sister!" she said.
"Sorry for what?" asked the wondering Peggy.
"Because I didn't see," said Arna. "But now I'm going to bring up your breakfast."
"Oh, no!" cried Peggy, sitting up.
"Oh, yes!" said Arna, with quiet authority. It was as dainty cooking as Peggy's own, and Arna sat by to watch her eat.
"You're so good to me, Arna!" said Peggy.
"Not very," answered Arna, dryly. "When you've finished this you must lie up here away from the children and read."
"But who will take care of Minna?" questioned Peggy.
"Minna's mamma," answered a voice from the next room, where Mabel was pounding pillows. She came to the door to look in on Peggy in all her luxury of orange marmalade to eat, Christmas books to read, and Arna to wait upon her.
"I think mothers, not aunts, were meant to look after babies," said Mabel. "I'm so sorry, dear!"
"Oh, I wish you two wouldn't talk like that!" cried Peggy. "I'm so ashamed."
"All right, we'll stop talking," said Mabel quickly, "but we'll remember."
They would not let Peggy lift her hand to any of the work that day. Mabel managed the babies masterfully. Arna moved quietly about, accomplishing wonders.
"But aren't you tired, Arna?" queried, Peggy.
"Not a bit of it, and I'll have time to help you with your Caesar before--"
"Before what?" asked Peggy, but got no answer. They had been translating famously, when, in the late afternoon, there came a ring of the doorbell. Peggy found Hazen bowing low, and craving "Mistress Peggy's company." A sleigh and two prancing horses stood at the gate.
It was a glorious drive. Peggy's eyes danced and her laugh rang out at Hazen's drolleries. The world stretched white all about them, and their horses flew on and on like the wind. They rode till dark, then turned back to the village, twinkling with lights.
The Brower house was alight in every window, and there was the sound of many voices in the hall. The door flew open upon a laughing crowd of boys and girls. Peggy, all glowing and rosy with the wind, stood utterly bewildered until Esther rushed forward and hugged and shook her.
"It's a party!" she exclaimed. "One of your mother's waffle suppers! We're all here! Isn't it splendid?"
"But, but, but " stammered Peggy.
"'But, but, but,'" mimicked Esther. "But this is your vacation, don't you see?"
The Telltale Tile by Olive Thorne Miller, 1904
It begins with a bit of gossip of a neighbor who had come in to see Miss Bennett, and was telling her about a family who had lately moved into the place and were in serious trouble. "And they do say she'll have to go to the poorhouse," she ended.
"To the poorhouse! How dreadful! And the children, too?" and Miss Bennett shuddered.
"Yes; unless somebody'll adopt them, and that's not very likely. Well, I must go," the visitor went on, rising. "I wish I could do something for her, but, with my houseful of children, I've got use for every penny I can rake and scrape."
"I'm sure I have, with only myself," said Miss Bennett, as she closed the door. "I'm sure I have," she repeated to herself as she resumed her knitting; "it's as much as I can do to make ends meet, scrimping as I do, not to speak of laying up a cent for sickness and old age."
"But the poorhouse!" she said again. "I wish I could help her!" and the needles flew in and out, in and out, faster than ever, as she turned this over in her mind. "I might give up something," she said at last, "though I don't know what, unless--unless," she said slowly, thinking of her one luxury, "unless I give up my tea, and it don't seem as if I could do that."
Some time the thought worked in her mind, and finally she resolved to make the sacrifice of her only indulgence for six months, and send the money to her suffering neighbor, Mrs. Stanley, though she had never seen her, and she had only heard she was in want.
How much of a sacrifice that was you can hardly guess, you who have so many luxuries.
That evening Mrs. Stanley was surprised by a small gift of money "from a friend," as was said on the envelope containing it.
"Who sent it?" she asked, from the bed where she was lying.
"Miss Bennett told me not to tell," said the boy, unconscious that he had already told.
The next day Miss Bennett sat at the window knitting, as usual--for her constant contribution to the poor fund of the church was a certain number of stockings and mittens--when she saw a young girl coming up to the door of the cottage.
"Who can that be?" she said to herself. "I never saw her before. Come in!" she called, in answer to a knock. The girl entered, and walked up to Miss Bennett.
"Are you Miss Bennett?" she asked.
"Yes," said Miss Bennett with an amused smile
"Well, I'm Hetty Stanley."
Miss Bennett started, and her color grew a little brighter.
"I'm glad to see you, Hetty." she said, "won't you sit down?"
"Yes, if you please," said Hetty, taking a chair near her.
"I came to tell you how much we love you for--"
"Oh, don't! Don't say any more!" interrupted Miss Bennett; "never mind that! Tell me about your mother and your baby brother."
This was an interesting subject, and they talked earnestly about it. The time passed so quickly that, before she knew it, she had been in the house an hour. When she went away Miss Bennett asked her to come again, a thing she had never been known to do before, for she was not fond of young people in general.
"But, then, Hetty's different," she said to herself when wondering at her own interest.
"Did you thank kind Miss Bennett?" was her mother's question as Hetty opened the door.
Hetty stopped as if struck, "Why, no! I don't think I did."
"And stayed so long, too? Whatever did you do? I've heard she isn't fond of people generally."
"We talked and--I think she's ever so nice. She asked me to come again; may I?"
"Of course you may, if she cares to have you. I should be glad to do something to please her."
That visit of Hetty's was the first of a long series. Almost every day she found her way to the lonely cottage, where a visitor rarely came, and a strange intimacy grew up between the old and the young. Hetty learned from her friend to knit, and many an hour they spent knitting while Miss Bennett ransacked her memory for stories to tell. And then, one day, she brought down from a big chest in the garret two of the books she used to have when she was young, and let Hetty look at them.
One was "Thaddeus of Warsaw," and the other "Scottish Chiefs." Poor Hetty had not the dozens of books you have, and these were treasures indeed. She read them to herself, and she read them aloud to Miss Bennett, who, much to her own surprise, found her interest almost as eager as Hetty's.
All this time Christmas was drawing near, and strange, unusual feelings began to stir in Miss Bennett's heart, though generally she did not think much about that happy time. She wanted to make Hetty a happy day. Money she had none, so she went into the garret, where her youthful treasures had long been hidden. From the chest from which she had taken the books she now took a small box of light-colored wood, with a transferred engraving on the cover. With a sigh--for the sight of it brought up old memories--Miss Bennett lifted the cover by its loop of ribbon, took out a package of old letters, and went downstairs with the box, taking also a few bits of bright silk from a bundle in the chest.
"I can fit it up for a workbox," she said, "and I'm sure Hetty will like it."
For many days after this Miss Bennett had her secret work, which she carefully hid when she saw Hetty coming. Slowly, in this way, she made a pretty needle-book, a tiny pincushion, and an emery bag like a big strawberry. Then from her own scanty stock she added needles, pins, thread, and her only pair of small scissors, scoured to the last extreme of brightness. One thing only she had to buy--a thimble, and that she bought for a penny, of brass so bright it was quite as handsome as gold.
Very pretty the little box looked when full; in the bottom lay a quilted lining, which had always been there, and upon this the fittings she had made. Besides this, Miss Bennett knit a pair of mittens for each of Hetty's brothers and sisters.
The happiest girl in town on Christmas morning was Hetty Stanley. To begin with, she had the delight of giving the mittens to the children, and when she ran over to tell Miss Bennett how pleased they were she was surprised by the present of the odd little workbox and its pretty contents.
Christmas was over all too soon, and New Year's, and it was about the middle of January that the time came which, all her life, Miss Bennett had dreaded--the time when she should be helpless. She had not money enough to hire a girl, and so the only thing she could imagine when that day should come was her special horror--the poorhouse.
But that good deed of hers had already borne fruit, and was still bearing. When Hetty came over one day, and found her dear friend lying on the floor as if dead, she was dreadfully frightened, of course, but she ran after the neighbors and the doctor, and bustled about the house as if she belonged to it.
Miss Bennett was not dead--she had a slight stroke of paralysis; and though she was soon better, and would be able to talk, and probably to knit, and possibly to get about the house, she would never be able to live alone and do everything for herself, as she had done.
So the doctor told the neighbors who came in to help, and so Hetty heard, as she listened eagerly for news.
"Of course she can't live here any longer; she'll have to go to a hospital," said one woman.
"Or to the poorhouse, more likely," said another.
"She'll hate that," said the first speaker. "I've heard her shudder over the poorhouse."
"She shall never go there!" declared Hetty, with blazing eyes.
"Hoity-toity! Who's to prevent?" asked the second speaker, turning a look of disdain on Hetty.
"I am," was the fearless answer. "I know all Miss Bennett's ways, and I can take care of her, and I will," went on Hetty indignantly; and turning suddenly, she was surprised to find Miss Bennett's eyes fixed on her with an eager, questioning look.
"There! She understands! She's better!" cried Hetty. "Mayn't I stay and take care of you, dear Miss Bennett?" she asked, running up to the bed.
"Yes, you may," interrupted the doctor, seeing the look in his patient's face; "but you mustn't agitate her now. And now, my good women"--turning to the others--"I think she can get along with her young friend here, whom I happen to know is a womanly young girl, and will be attentive and careful."
They took the hint and went away, and the doctor gave directions to Hetty what to do, telling her she must not leave Miss Bennett. So she was now regularly installed as nurse and housekeeper.
Days and weeks rolled by. Miss Bennett was able to be up in her chair, to talk and knit, and to walk about the house, but was not able to be left alone. Indeed, she had a horror of being left alone; she could not bear Hetty out of her sight, and Hetty's mother was very willing to spare her, for she had many mouths to fill.
To provide food for two out of what had been scrimping for one was a problem; but Miss Bennett ate very little, and she did not resume her tea so they managed to get along and not really suffer.
One day Hetty sat by the fire with her precious box on her knee, which she was putting to rights for the twentieth time. The box was empty, and her sharp young eyes noticed a little dust on the silk lining.
"I think I'll take this out and dust it," she said to Miss Bennett, "if you don't mind."
"Do as you like with it," answered Miss Bennett; "it is yours."
So she carefully lifted the silk, which stuck a little.
"Why, here's something under it," she said--"an old paper, and it has writing on."
"Bring it to me," said Miss Bennett; "perhaps it's a letter I have forgotten."
Hetty brought it.
"Why, it's father's writing!" said Miss Bennett, looking closely at the faded paper; "and what can it mean? I never saw it before. It says, 'Look, and ye shall find'--that's a Bible text. And what is this under it? 'A word to the wise is sufficient.' I don't understand--he must have put it there himself, for I never took that lining out--I thought it was fastened. What can it mean?" and she pondered over it long, and all day seemed absent-minded.
After tea, when they sat before the kitchen fire, as they always did, with only the firelight flickering and dancing on the walls while they knitted, or told stories, or talked, she told Hetty about her father: that they had lived comfortably in this house, which he built, and that everybody supposed that he had plenty of money, and would leave enough to take care of his only child, but that when he died suddenly nothing had been found, and nothing ever had been, from that day to this.
"Part of the place I let to John Thompson, Hetty, and that rent is all I have to live on. I don't know what makes me think of old times so tonight."
"I know," said Hetty; "it's that paper, and I know what it reminds me of," she suddenly shouted, in a way very unusual with her. "It's that tile over there," and she jumped up and ran to the side of the fireplace, and put her hand on the tile she meant.
On each side of the fireplace was a row of tiles. They were Bible subjects, and Miss Bennett had often told Hetty the story of each one, and also the stories she used to make up about them when she was young. The one Hetty had her hand on now bore the picture of a woman standing before a closed door, and below her the words of the yellow bit of paper: "Look, and ye shall find."
"I always felt there was something different about that," said Hetty eagerly, "and you know you told me your father talked to you about it--about what to seek in the world when he was gone away, and other things."
"Yes, so he did," said Miss Bennett thoughtfully; "come to think of it, he said a great deal about it, and in a meaning way. I don't understand it," she said slowly, turning it over in her mind.
"I do!" cried Hetty, enthusiastically. "I believe you are to seek here! I believe it's loose!" and she tried to shake it. "It is loose!" she cried excitedly. "Oh, Miss Bennett, may I take it out?"
Miss Bennett had turned deadly pale. "Yes," she gasped, hardly knowing what she expected, or dared to hope.
A sudden push from Hetty's strong fingers, and the tile slipped out at one side and fell to the floor. Behind it was an opening into the brickwork. Hetty thrust in her hand.
"There's something in there!" she said in an awed tone.
"A light!" said Miss Bennett hoarsely.
There was not a candle in the house, but Hetty seized a brand from the fire, and held it up and looked in.
"It looks like bags--tied up," she cried. "Oh, come here yourself!"
The old woman hobbled over and thrust her hand into the hole, bringing out what was once a bag, but which crumpled to pieces in her hands, and with it--oh, wonder!--A handful of gold pieces, which fell with a jingle on the hearth, and rolled every way.
"My father's money! Oh, Hetty!" was all she could say, and she seized a chair to keep from falling, while Hetty was nearly wild, and talked like a crazy person.
"Oh, goody! Goody! Now you can have things to eat! And we can have a candle! And you won't have to go to the poorhouse!"
"No, indeed, you dear child!" cried Miss Bennett who had found her voice. "Thanks to you--you blessing!--I shall be comfortable now the rest of my days. And you! Oh! I shall never forget you! Through you has everything good come to me."
"Oh, but you have been so good to me, dear Miss Bennett!"
"I should never have guessed it, you precious child! If it had not been for your quickness I should have died and never found it."
"And if you hadn't given me the box, it might have rusted away in that chest."
"Thank God for everything, child! Take money out of my purse and go buy a candle. We need not save it for bread now. Oh, child!" she interrupted herself, "do you know, we shall have everything we want tomorrow. Go! Go! I want to see how much there is."
The candle bought, the gold was taken out and counted, and proved to be more than enough to give Miss Bennett a comfortable income without touching the principal. It was put back, and the tile replaced, as the safest place to keep it till morning, when Miss Bennett intended to put it into a bank.
But though they went to bed, there was not a wink of sleep for Miss Bennett, for planning what she would do. There were a thousand things she wanted to do first. To get clothes for Hetty, to brighten up the old house, to hire a girl to relieve Hetty, so that the dear child should go to school, to train her into a noble woman--all her old ambitions and wishes for herself sprang into life for Hetty. For not a thought of her future life was separate from Hetty.
In a very short time everything was changed in Miss Bennett's cottage. She had publicly adopted Hetty, and announced her as her heir. A girl had been installed in the kitchen, and Hetty, in pretty new clothes, had begun school. Fresh paint inside and out, with many new comforts, made the old house charming and bright. But nothing could change the pleasant and happy relations between the two friends, and a more contented and cheerful household could not be found anywhere.
Happiness is a wonderful doctor and Miss Bennett grew so much better, that she could travel, and when Hetty had finished school days, they saw a little of the world before they settled down to a quiet, useful life.
"Every comfort on earth I owe to you," said Hetty, one day, when Miss Bennett had proposed some new thing to add to her enjoyment.
"Ah, dear Hetty! How much do I owe to you! But for you, I should, no doubt, be at this moment a shivering pauper in that terrible poorhouse, while someone else would be living in this dear old house. And it all comes," she added softly, "of that one unselfish thought, of that one self-denial for others."
Mystery Woman Contest
Last issues answer - Grace Darling Winners - Judy Laurie Benefiel Stephanie Y.
This lady was born on Christmas day in 1821. The name given to her at birth was Clarissa but we know her by her nickname. At a young age she became interested in nursing. She worked as a teacher for many years before she began nursing. During the American Civil War she served as a nurse and found that helping other people gave her the greatest joy. Later she started the American Red Cross. She died in 1912. Who is she?
http://amypuetz.com/store/contact_us.html">Email your answer (with "Mystery Woman Contest" in the subject line) and be registered to win a free copy of The Birds' Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin. Only one entry per person. Entries must be received by December 15th.
The Birds' Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin
This timeless classic was first published in 1886 and tells the story of Carol a girl born on Christmas day. Carol's love and generosity is a reflection of the Christmas season--only she keeps the spirit of Christmas alive all year long. A very touching book!
Can't wait to see if you won? You can buy it now!
In each issue of Heroines of the Past we will have a Mystery Woman Contest. A picture and description of a woman from the featured era covered will be included. To participate in the contest, email your answer to Amy with "Mystery Woman Contest" in the subject line. All the entries will be put into a hat and a winner will be chosen. Each time the prize will be different. Entries must be received by December 15th. The winner will be announced in the next Heroines of the Past e-zine.
A stellar score by Irving Berlin and the entertaining team of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye made this joyous musical a smash hit in 1954---and it's just as charming today! Revisit this colorful holiday extravaganza and soon your whole family will be humming songs like "Blue Skies," "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep," and the title track. Approx. 120 minutes.
Make this uplifting 1946 classic a holiday tradition in your home! Meet down-and-out businessman George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart); his tireless wife, Mary (Donna Reed); and moneygrubbing Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore). Despairing George believes his small-town life's been a failure---but will a hapless angel named Clarence and a Christmas Eve miracle convince him otherwise? Black and white. Two hours, 10 minutes.
Sample a festive feast of holiday storytelling! Like a tree adorned with the choicest ornaments, this heartwarming collection represents the very best from the perennially popular Christmas in My Heart anthologies. Enjoy 18 timeless tales carefully selected from throughout Wheeler's nostalgic series. Great for reading-aloud gatherings, it offers space for recording your own cherished memories. 224 pages, hardcover from Howard.
Sure to warm the hearts and souls of readers of all ages, Joe Wheeler's second volume of heart warming, hand-picked Christmas stories are encapsulated in this elegant Christmas keepsake for the whole family. The Best of Christmas in My Heart, Volume 2 also includes personal journaling pages for you to record your own treasured memories for years to come. Binding: Paper Over Board.
The agnostic neighbor, the unbelieving friend---you never know who may show up at church this Christmas. For just such seekers, Strobel uses his investigative abilities to dig for the truth in Scripture. Focusing on Luke 2, he has answers for those who ask: Was the incarnation a hoax---or the pivotal event of history? 112 pages, hardcover from Zondervan.
Behind the Christmas songs we love to sing lie fascinating stories that will enrich your holiday celebration. Taking you inside the nativity of over thirty favorite songs and carols, Ace Collins introduces you to people you've never met, stories you've never heard, and meanings you'd never have imagined.
What precise moment in history do we still connect with the angelic message of "The Hallelujah Chorus"? Which country singer's early struggles are reflected in the song "Pretty Paper"? Why was "The Little Drummer Boy" set aside for so long after its writing? Collins reveals the hidden stories behind these and 29 other Christmas favorites! 192 pages, hardcover from Zondervan.
Christmas trees, presents, nativity scenes, wreaths, holly and ivy - these symbols infuse our holiday season with warmth and meaning. But do you know the origins of our favorite Yuletide traditions? Weaving faith with history, Collins's fascinating stories of the inspiration behind beloved Christmas customs will enrich your holiday celebrations for years to come. 195 pages, hardcover from Zondervan.