“A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year” Annual Salutation
(from Mysteries of City Life, by James Rees
Philadelphia, J.W. Moore Publishing, 1849, pp. 91-100)
It was Christmas eve. Around a cheerless fire in a humble dwelling were seated four persons, a man, his wife, and two children. The age of the one, a boy was about ten, that of the other, a girl, seven. They were looking up from their little stools to their parents, whose conversation they had been listening to with some attention, and anxiously awaiting for an opportunity to speak upon a subject in which their hearts were much interested. Christmas eve is an epoch in the life of youth. They look forward to its approach with all those pleasing anticipations ever attendant on boyhood, and to the fulfillment of those joyous dreams which pictured that happy event in all the gorgeous colors of youthful fancy. There is a charm in the very sound of Christmas; it comes upon the heart that is care worn like a ray of hope; it sheds upon the pallid cheek of sorrow a beam with illumines the darkest chambers of the soul; it is a day set apart for the great purpose of purifying the moral world, and giving to created things a glimpse of that which is eternal. The Sabbath is the holy day of the week – Christmas of the year. Happy they who can meet it with a smile – happy they who extend to their children the full hand, and strew their pathway with the gems their young fancies had conjured up. The hobby-horse in the eyes of a little urchin, is a mine of wealth; a doll to a smiling faced girl, is a gift whose price, in her estimation, is beyond human computation. – There is not one upon whom a parent or friend bestows a testimonial of affection or esteem, but becomes in the eyes of the receiver a prize to be remembered when other and “brighter things shall have passed away.”
That happy moment when the morn breaks upon the holyday and the stockings treasures are laid before them, in worth, in their estimation, all the promises and bright prospects of the great future. What is the future to the enjoyment of youth who bask in the sunshine of the present?
There was a pause in the conversation, the little girl looked up and met the tearful eyes of her pale cheeked mother, the past had been the subject of their discourse, and the remembrance had filled their hearts with grief. Their daughter spoke. “Mother, I have tied my stocking to that big nail near the fire place, do you think Kris Kringle will come down the chimney tonight?”
“O, sister, what nonsense,” quickly replied the boy, how can such a huge figure as he is represented get down our poor chimney?”
“That is it, my child – it is because we are poor. Poverty keeps from the humble door all the bright things of the earth, except virtue, truth, and religion, these are more of heaven than of earth, and are the poor man’s friend in his hours of adversity.”
“Then, father, I will take my stocking down, I thought, indeed, mother, I thought that Santa Claus and Kris Kringle loved all those who are good, and have not I been good? I know my lesson, I love you, mother, and my brother dearly, and do whatever I am told.”
“Yes, yes, you are a good girl, do not take the stocking down. Custom, at least, should be observed, and perhaps thy young heart may not be disappointed.” This was uttered with a sigh, which was responded to by the mother and silence again reigned in that humble dwelling.
“Yes,” muttered the father, “this night seven years ago SHE disappeared, eloped, and no tidings heard of her since. And these children----.”
“Think of it no more, husband, she was an ungrateful child; but this not all, the anniversary of that misfortune heralds in another, our rent is due tomorrow and a merciless landlord to deal with. What shall we do?”
“Ungrateful child! Yes, yes, so she was, at least in that one set, for up to that period was she not our pride, our comfort? You ask what shall we do about the rent. Why, do as others have done before us, go to the poor-house; and that day which has and will give joy to thousands, will be to us the gloomiest; and that little girl, that dear creature whose stocking now hangs upon the rusty nail in expectation of finding therein some pleasing toy, will find in its place a mouldy crust of bread – it is all her father has to give. God be with us, but this is a fearful world.”
“O, husband, say not that. The world is Deity’s work and are not all created things his creatures?”
“True, it is our lot, then, come what will, let us bear it patiently. Yes, wife, you are right. But I have often thought, and sometimes my thoughts assume strange forms, and the mind conceives strange ideas. There is a fearful mystery in the philosophy of Deity, for do we not see the wicked prosper, and the righteous begging bread? Crime dwells in palaces and sits in cushioned pews: it rides in costly vehicles, and mocks the cries of the poor for bread, while honest poverty starves. I often think of this, and regret to say find myself murmuring at the degrees of Providence.”
“Dear husband, what are the few short years of life on earth to that which is eternal. If the righteous suffer here, will they not be forever happy there? While wicked and the prosperous man of crime, for his short lived pleasures on earth, will meet an eternity of wo hereafter.”
“You are my better angel, Gertrude, from this time forth I will never repine. Hark! Some one knocks, see, John, who it is.”
John opened the door and admitted into the room an old man and woman, both carrying a bundle, evidently all their worldly wealth. The old traveller stood for a moment in the middle of the room, gazing on the group before him, then inquired how far they were from the city.
“Two miles,” was the answer.
“Two miles – we will not be able to reach it to-night, my dear wife is nearly tired out, we have travelled far today.”
“Then, sir, travel no further. John, hand chairs – sit down – that lowly bed is yours for the night – to-morrow it is the landlord’s – sleep there in peace. Wife, get some bread and cheese for our guests; and John, put some more chips on the fire, for the wind whistles wintry around the house.”
“And is this your family, all your family?” inquired the female traveller in a tremulous voice.
“No! no! not all, we had one other – a daughter.”
“Dead! Alas, we must all die.”
“Dead to us, my good woman, but not to the world; but let us speak no more of her. Here is some bread and cheese, it is all poverty has to offer, and to it you are heartily welcome.”
There was another pause, every one seemed wrapped up in their own thoughts, and as the wind whistled around the house and shook its old dilapidated windows, they mechanically crept closer to the meager fire. There came upon their ears, in that lonely quiet house, the sound of merry voices, the violin, the tambourine, and the loud jocund laugh broke upon the stillness like some ill-omened messenger. Yet was it Christmas eve. But from whence came such strains? This question was asked by the traveller.
“Ah, sir,” replied their host, “those joyful sounds, in which are mingled many a youthful voice, proceed from the dwelling of my landlord. He is wealthy, immensely wealthy; and although lavish to extravagance in his own family, he is ever the poor man’s foe. Many an inmate of the poor-house owes his fate to that hard-hearted, cruel man. Even now these very sounds which should proceed from happy hearts, are forced and intended to mock our poverty.”
“Is it possible!”
“Go to that door, sir, look out and you will see that his windows are up so as the gay sounds may reach our wretched ears. Ah, sir, human nature is a mystery, this is one of its enigmas, and can only be explained when the secrets of all hearts must be made known. – Hark! That about – all mockery – all mockery.”
The morn of Christmas day was a lovely one, the sun arose bright and beautiful, its soft beams warmed the chilly air and made a million of young hearts happy. Scarcely had the light broke into that little chamber than the young child stole slily out of bed and crept softly into the room where slept the two travellers. One look toward the chimney place, one glance at her stocking was the first idea, and then toward the bed where the old couple lay – they still slept, all was quiet. Her little heart throbbed with high hope; her dreams had been pleasing ones: dolls, toys, and games had danced gaily through her mind during the night. Streaks of light came down through the half closed shutters, and as she stepped stealthily across the room, objects became more distinct, the fire place before all dark, now assumed its natural color, and the stocking, what was that! What object now rivets her gaze that she stands spell bound in the centre of the room? Step by step she approached nearer to the place, and to her surprise and astonishment she found, not only the stocking full, but on the stool beneath it were many pleasing and delightful toys. – Books, candies, &c., lay strewed all around; was it a dream of her youthful fancy? Or was it reality! Her head run round, the room seemed full of strange objects. Fairies were dancing on the carpet, Elfin sprites seemed whirling their little forms through the room, and as she cast her eyes on the bed, the figures of the two old people had changed, and two pair of sparkling eyes were gazing on her – alarmed, astonished, but bent upon the stocking’s treasure, she gave one wild scream of joy and fear, caught the treasure in her arms, grasping at the same time the well filled stool she rushed wildly from the room. As she passed through the door a peal of laughter followed, and closing it she bounded into the sleeping apartment of her parents. In an instant the house was all alive, the scream awoke her father and mother, and her brother springing toward her snatched a box on which was written his own name, he grasped it eagerly, and opening it found to his surprise that it was filled with handsome bound books and various amusing games and toys.
“O, father,” exclaimed the delighted Jane, “Kris Kringle has been here. See, see what he has brought us. O such beautiful toys, such gems of things. I am so happy.”
And the delighted girl danced and capered about the room, gazing alternately at her little store and her equally astonished parents. The old man muttered something about “he suspected them both when they first put foot within his door.”
Having dressed themselves they descended to the lower room, and making up a fire, the kitchen, which was used as their eating room, soon presented a cheerful and Christmas like appearance. The coffee was made, the cakes baked, and the poor oppressed family, who expected to be turned out their house for the non-payment of rent, forgot awhile their troubles and their grief. There are moments when the doors of memory are closed, and the bright sunshine of hope makes the future all clear. Sorrow is not eternal, it has its changes, its stops, and its antidote; they come in the moment of trail, and presto! The whole scene of life is variegated with the pleasing colors of fancy. Is it all fancy? Let us see.
“Now, good wife, knock at the door of our guests, bid them come forth to our humble meal; they have been kind to our children, and their strange dress and manner, assumed no doubt for purposes of their own, is no business of ours. Call them to breakfast.”
The wife obeyed, and the door being opened, out came, not the decrepit old man and woman, but a young and lovely couple dressed in fine clothes, their faces lit up with smiles, and the merry Christmas was given with a fervor and sincerity, to hear which was to feel that it came from the heart. The humble family started and gazed upon their guests; the children crept behind their parents, for their youthful imaginations had already clothed their kind patrons in a supernatural garb.
“How is this,”” exclaimed the father, “why these disguises, and ----.”
“Hush sir,” exclaimed the laughing couple, “recollect this is Christmas morn, and we now appear, not as old Santa Claus and his wife, but as we are, the mere actors of this pleasing farce. But say no more, your coffee smells delicious, these cakes look inviting, and my Amelia is hungry, I know she is.”
“Amelia,” muttered their host and hostess.
“Yes, Amelia; why, how sad you look, is there anything in the sound calculated to make you feel sad?”
“No, no, on the contrary, the name calls up the past, when all was joy, all was happiness.”
“Ah, William, see how you distress these poor people. No more of this.”
“But, sir,” exclaimed their host, “one word, gracious heaven, let me gaze once more on that face. Wife, look – look up! See! Do you not – am I awake?”
“Father! Mother! Do you no know your long lost Amelia?”
“My child! My child!” screamed the mother, and in a moment the daughter was clasped to the breast of her over-powered parent.
“Stand back!” exclaimed her father, as Amelia now approached him, “stand back! Let not the crimson blush of shame mantle on thy mother’s cheek for taking to her arms the lost and abandoned. Away! Leave us to our sorrow; the withered tree cannot revive, though the green tendril should entwine itself once more around it. Its purity is gone.”
“O, father! Hear me.”
“Speak not, ungrateful girl; that man, that base ------.”
“Silence, father, wrong him not, he is all truth, all honor.”
“He is thy paramour, girl."
“No, father, he is my kind and affectionate husband.”
“Ah! Thy husband!”
In a moment the daughter was clinging to the breast of her father. Then there was joy, and the Christmas morn looked forward to in sorrow, became all sunshine and happiness.
Our story is told. William Sandford had stolen away, like Othello, the old mans daughter, and like him, married her. William had been wild and dissipated, and was forbidden the house. Amelia loved him; they were young and foolish, the world appeared before them all sunshine, a garden of flowers – they looked not for the clouds, they dreamed not of the thorns. Shortly after the elopement they left America for England. Amelia sent a letter to her father, which it appears he never received. They left friends and home – thought not of the misery they had caused, and the sorrowing hearts of those they left behind. Reflection in youth is not the reflection of age. The one is the offspring of a day, the other of years. One agitates the surface of the mind, the other maddens the brain.
After their arrival in England, Sandford became heir to a large estate; then it was, after Providence had blessed them with a fine boy, they thought of the past, for parents only feel for parents. The remembrance of a father’s kindness, a mother’s love, came over Amelia’s dream of happiness like a cloud, frowning on her joy, and dimming the brightness of her life’s sunshine. That heart can never know happiness which closes its doors against a parent’s love.
“Dear mother, can you forgive me – father, will you bless your Amelia once more?”
“Say no more, all is forgotten – all is forgiven.”
“And my brother, too, and dear little sis – God bless me, but I am so happy.”
To say they were happy is a word scarcely strong enough. Repentance brings happiness, and the sunshine of religion sheds over the soul that holy ray of light which nothing on earth can ever dim. It is the star of Jehovah fixed eternal in the heart.
Did the landlord seize their little furniture? No! Happiness was theirs, and a more cheerful Christmas day could not be imagined than the one passed beneath the humble roof of Robert Paxson. Let my readers reflect on the moral of this sketch, if it creates one throb of pleasure and sympathy for the poor family now made happy, then is the author fully repaid for his CHRISTMAS LEGEND.