A TRAGEDY OF CHRISTMAS GIFTS.
BY DESMOND COKE.
TOMMY’S charm did not lie in his looks.
His limbs were skinny and too long for his inches; he gazed coldly at the world through hard, black eyes; his teeth were strangely like two rows of beads sewn upon the surface of his countenance. He did not differ, in fact, so far as looks go, from any other of his race; he was a typical toy “hairy monkey.”
But Eva loved him with a love seldom lavished on his kind. From the day that Tommy came into her hands she abjured the race of dolls, and sat hour after hour holding Tommy’s soft form in her loving arms, fondly kissing his boot-button eyes. Mrs. Percy did not really approve of her daughter’s infatuation. It seemed to her that, in a girl of eight, a taste for dolls would show a more housewifely disposition. When Christmas came she bought a lovely waxen creature that said “Mam-ma,” closed its eyes, and made no protest at the doffing of its elaborate costume. Eva put it in the cupboard, and told Tommy, fondly but fully, exactly what she thought of dolls; she valued them no more than babies. … Mrs. Percy tried a compromise upon her girl’s ninth birthday, and bought a hairy monkey that had a waxen face inserted half-way up its furry body—somewhat like the legendary Esquimaux. This Eva regarded as an insult to the tribe of monkeys. Expectant of a second Tommy, she burst, so soon as her mother had gone, into a storm of grief and anger. When Mrs. Percy came back some five minutes later she found Eva, hot tears coursing down her cheeks, hammering the waxen face savagely upon a chair-leg. …
It was now that she gave in. Four years saw a long succession of hairy monkeys, black, grey, white; but through all Tommy held his kingship. When, at thirteen, Eva went to school, she took the whole tribe with her, wrapped in a brown paper parcel, which she held through all the journey, and smuggled somehow to her dormitory. When the lights were out she unpacked it, with much rustling, and laid her friends, as was the custom, in her bed, each with its little furry head set neatly on the pillow. They all slept with her, at this time six of them, but Tommy always next to her. It was their familiar presence that made this night, her first from home, seem bearable.
Next evening when she came upstairs she found a laughing crowd about her bed. The witty housemaid had formed a tableau with the discovered monkeys, out on the counterpane, for all to see. The audience was certainly appreciative.
“Here’s the keeper of the monkey-house!” cried one of the tallest girls, as Eva, in shame and misery, drew near and made a grab to rescue her beloved pets. The tall girl seized Tommy—Tommy!—and ran towards the washing-stand. “Let’s drown them!” she cried. Eva did not stop to think. She dashed after Tommy’s captor, gripped her wrist, and, in a burst of helpless fury, bit it almost to the bone. A good deal was said, but nothing more was done. Eva, defiant outwardly, inwardly ashamed, clambered into bed, and hugged a tear-wet Tommy till sleep came upon her.
Possibly the girls admired her courage, or perhaps the natural child struggled up through the assumed young woman. One by one they came to take an interest in Tommy and the others. They asked questions as to name, age, character of each, and Eva loved to answer them. Finally, one or two even begged the loan, now and then, of a monkey—but Eva never gave them Tommy.
She went home at the end of term with something of the feelings of a conqueror. She had just ranged the monkeys safely on their familiar seat, the chest of drawers, when Gertrude entered. Gertrude was Eva’s senior by seven years, a cold, stately creature, and the two sisters lived in a truceless state of feud.
“You don’t mean to say,” began the elder, “that you took those ridiculous monkeys to school?”
“Of course I did.”
“I thought you’d given them away or something. What a kid you are, Eva! Fancy taking—of course, you can’t do it again. Why, you're thirteen now!”
She moved towards the row of monkeys, leaning, in precedence of age, against the wall. Eva, too, in instinct of defence, stepped forward. Gertrude possibly observed the motion.
“Oh, I won’t touch them—did ’ums! You can play with them here; only”—she drew nearer, critically—“that one is too filthy!”
She clearly looked for opposition, and forestalled it. By an incredibly swift turn of the wrist she seized Tommy and hurled him at the fire. Gertrude at school had been a cricketer, and Tommy fell straight into the blazing coals with a little fizzle and a sudden flare. Eva rushed forward, but Gertrude, laughing, caught her by the shoulder, and held her so for half a minute. Eva struggled, shouted, cried, but Gertrude held her until Tommy showed only as a blazing mass; then she let go, so roughly that she threw her forward on the carpet.
“Little idiot!” she cried impatiently and left the room.
Eva, not weighing results or planning actions, thinking of nothing but her darling Tommy, ran to the fire and plunged her hand into the leaping flame. Instinctively she drew it out hurriedly without its prize.
“Tommy, Tommy!” she cried, as though the name could bring him back to her.
Long after Gertrude had gone she lay sobbing there, not for her smarting fingers—that was nothing—but for loneliness and pain of heart.
“What on earth was all the noise upstairs, dear?” Mrs. Percy asked, as Gertrude entered, rather breathless.
“Oh, I was burning one of Eva’s monkeys, that’s all.” She looked anxiously towards her mother. She was just beginning to feel that possibly she had been rather brutal.
“It was terribly filthy,” she added, in a justifying tone. “She'd had it for years, and it had lost one eye, and in places was quite hairless, like a dirty glove.”
Dear old Mrs. Percy shuddered. “I’ve often told Eva to throw them away,” she said, settling once more to her knitting. “it’s high time she got over all that nonsense.”
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1931, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 91 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.