St. Nicholas/Volume 40/Number 2/Books and Reading

BOOKS AND READING

BY HILDEGARDE HAWTHORNE


A CHRISTMAS EVE ADVENTURE

John and Rose were sitting before the fire looking very disconsolate indeed; and this was surely a pity, for it was Christmas eve, when every child should be particularly happy and excited. A fine, snowy eve, too, with the clouds just breaking in the west, to show a large, red sun through the branches of the trees—in summer, their leaves were so thick, he used to disappear when he got behind them, but now he sent a ruddy path across the new-fallen snow, right through the window and into the room.

The fire leaped and played over the big logs in the fireplace in the jolliest way imaginable, chuckling and whispering to itself, while the wood snapped cheerily in reply. Everything indoors and out was clearly in the best of spirits and ready for holiday fun.

But little Rose’s blue eyes had been slowly filling with tears, and suddenly she let her head fall on her brother’s shoulder, and burst right out crying. They were snuggled up together in the big, red arm-chair that was just big enough for them both.

John patted her back encouragingly. “There, there, Sis,’ he whispered; “this is n’t the only Christmas we ’ll ever have.” But the whisper was a little shaky.

“It ’s this Christmas,” wailed the little girl. “Other Christmases don’t seem to matter. They are n't real yet!”

“I know,” returned John, cuddling her to him.

She stopped crying, except for an occasional sniff, and both children watched the fire at its busy playing.

“I suppose the fire does n’t know we can’t have any Christmas,” Rose said presently. “See how it jumps and laughs. Mama said it had been such a hard year, we ought to be thankful we had a fire and a roof and enough to eat. She said lots and lots of little children did n’t have; but I thought every one had Christmas. Did n’t you?”

“No, I knew that they did n’t. But then we were kinder used to Christmas.”

“Yes,” agreed Rose, sadly. “But Papa said everything went wrong this year, an’ that ’s why we can’t have any Christmas.”

The sun had gone while the children were talking, and except for the fitful light of the fire, the room was dark. Many, many shadows were crowding into it, getting ready for all the work of the night.

Suddenly Rose pointed to the mantelpiece. “Why—what ’s that?” she exclaimed.

“What?” said her brother, looking where she pointed. And then they both said “Oh!” very softly and slowly.

For there, sitting on the edge of the mantel-piece, right beside the clock, was an unmistakable fairy.

“Don’t be frightened, children,” she said, in a silvery voice like the tinkle of a breaking icicle, as soon as she saw they had discovered her. “I ’ve been wondering when you ’d notice me.”

And here the little figure, not one bit bigger than Rose’s tiny kitten, Snowflake, jumped off the mantelpiece straight to the arm of the big chair. And “Oh!” said John and Rose again, at the very same instant.

The fairy smiled at them. She was dressed in white fur that shone and twinkled like the snow when the sun shines on it. And on her floating, golden curls was set what looked like a tiny crown of icicles. Her cheeks were a lovely pink, and her face the sweetest and merriest conceivable. And when she spoke, her voice was like the clear ringing of skates on ice, except for a ripple of laughter that ran through it all the time.

“I ’m the Christmas fairy,” she said, smiling. “When Santa Claus cannot come, I take his place as well as I can; so I ’ve come to you this year.”

“We never heard of you,” said John, gravely, looking at her with the deepest admiration. “What do you do?”

“I don’t take things to children, like my big friend and his reindeer; but I take children to things—to other places, and times, and people. I bring them to Christmas, you see, instead of bringing Christmas to them.”

“Can you bring us to Christmas?” asked both the children.

“That ’s what I ’m here for! And the sooner we ’re off, the more we ’ll have. We will find some of your old friends, and see what sort of a time they are having.”

She took hold of Rose’s right hand as she spoke, and of John’s left one. “Shut your eyes,” she said.

They shut them tight. Instantly they were conscious of a sort of breathless feeling, as though they had been running uphill very fast. Then they felt a little shake, and the fairy loosed their hands.

“Here we are!” she exclaimed.

They opened their eyes, and gazed around in astonishment.

Before them stretched a vast blue sea, spread beneath a sky as blue as itself. A warm, perfumed air surrounded them, and the wind rustled through the leaves of a big palm under which they stood. At one side a cave opened into a cliff; and seated before this cave, at a roughly made table, were two men. One of them, though tanned very dark, was a white man, for he had a blond beard and curling, long hair. He was curiously dressed in skins that had been made into a coat and trousers. The other man was very black, with white, flashing teeth and shiny eyes. Between them, on the ground, lay a dog, and a parrot climbed about a pole that stood near. Tethered in a patch of grass was a nanny-goat. On the table was a fine dinner, with smoking dishes and heaps of lovely fruit.

“It ’s Robinson Crusoe and man Friday,” cried John, with a gasp.

Robinson Crusoe looked up when John spoke, and immediately beckoned the children to come near.

“This is a great treat,’ he said. “These are two little friends of mine,” he went on, turning to Friday. “I think we met last Christmas in a big blue book, did n’t we?” he asked John. “Well, sit right down—you, too, dear Christmas fairy. Many a jolly little party you ’ve brought me, and it does make such a pleasant break in the monotony.

He had a deep, gruff voice, but the kindest manner. The children felt thoroughly at home at once, and sat down to the feast. Presently every one was laughing and chattering, and eating away at a great rate. Friday played tricks with the parrot and the dog, and Crusoe showed them his clock, and all the clever arrangements in his cave, one after another, and seemed to have as pleasant a time as the three visitors.

“This makes a real Christmas of it for me,” he kept saying. “You know, I ’m often mighty glad Santa Claus does n’t get round to all you children—it ’s such a treat to have some of you run in on me this way.”

“Well, you are going to be rescued pretty soon, you know,” said Rose, eagerly, feeling sorry for poor Robinson Crusoe in his loneliness.

But just then the fairy caught the children’s hands again:

“Must n’t tell the end of the story,” she whispered. “Shut your eyes; we must be off.”

Instantly the breathless feeling returned. And in a moment the little shock. When John and Rose opened their eyes this time, however, it was upon a very different scene.

They were in a square, comfortable room, which was charmingly decorated with wreaths and festoons of evergreen and holly. In the center was a Christmas tree, brilliantly lighted with candles and all hung over with shining ornaments, glowing fruit, and packages done up in colored paper. Several smiling grown-up people in quaint, old-fashioned clothes stood near the tree, and round it danced a circle of laughing children. As soon as they saw John and Rose and the fairy, they seized their hands too, and off every one went, laughing and shouting, round and round.

At length they stopped, quite tired out. And then the packages and the fruit were taken from the tree, and divided among the children, Rose and John getting theirs with the rest. Such excitement! They had gilded gingerbread figures, and red apples, and Rose had a doll, and John a shining pair of skates.

Suddenly Rose whispered to her brother: “Oh, Johnnie, listen! the tree is talking!”

So it was. Its branches were moving a little, and rustling, and the rustling made words.

“I suppose now it will begin all over again,” the tree murmured happily. “They will put on lovely fresh candles and new packages and glit- tering stars. What a wonderful life, and what a happy little fir-tree I am!”

“Why,” Rose whispered once more, “it is the little fir-tree in the Hans Andersen book for which we always felt so sorry.”

And so it was!

“What a pity it must be disappointed!” exclaimed John. And there was the fairy at once.

“Sh! ’sh!” she said. “Come, give me your hands.”

And at once they grew breathless again, and felt once more the little shock.

This time they opened their eyes to find themselves in another room, small and rather dark. But there was a big window at one end, before which stood two children, a boy and girl about as old as John and Rose. And through the window you could see clear into another house, where there was another tree, as fine as the one they had just left. Many children played around it, and ate cakes and laughed.

“Oh, come and look!” cried the two children at the window, as soon as they saw Rose and John. “Is n’t it wonderful! is n’t it beautiful!” And then they, too, began to dance.

Just then, the door opened, and in came a queer, little, old lady, looking rather like a funny old witch.

“It ’s the Bluebird,” whispered John and Rose, greatly excited. “Oh, see, see!”

For, sure enough, the little old woman, who had been talking all this while, suddenly waved her stick—and then all sorts of wonderful things began to happen.

Out of the clock came the wonderful Hours, misty and radiant, and began their lovely dance. And there were the Dog and the Cat, talking away, and Bread, and Milk, and Light, most wonderful of all. John and Rose were so delighted they could n’t even speak. But they clutched tight hold of each other and of the fairy, who was twinkling and smiling at a great rate.

Wilder got the dance, till every one was at it, round and round, and in and out. The Dog barked as well as talked, and the Cat got quite angry, and complained to Rose, who stroked him. Bread and Milk chased each other, and every one laughed—my, what a noise!

Suddenly it all began to grow dim; but the laughter and the talk grew louder than ever, and so did the barking—so loud that—

There were John and Rose, sitting close together in the big arm-chair!

And the door into the hall was being opened, and outside a prodigious racket was going on! Towzer was barking his head off, and Papa and Mama were laughing and exclaiming.

“Children, children, wake up! Here is your Uncle Jack, straight from fairyland, I do believe,” their mother was saying. “And Santa Claus never brought any more Christmas than he has with him.”

Through the door came Papa, and Mama, and Towzer, and a big man in a fur coat with quantities of parcels. John and Rose gave one loud shout of joy, and jumped straight at him. It really was their Uncle Jack, who had gone away to the West, and whom they had n’t seen for ages!

“Why, Rose, it ’s just as though we were in a story ourselves,” said Jack, when things had quieted down a bit; “but where ’s the Christmas fairy?”

Somehow, she had slipped away, and, so far, they have never seen her again.