Wishing you a merry Christmas filled with joy, peace, health and plenty, and a happy New Year!
Julia Ried (in Isabella’s novel of the same name) had ten dollars with which to purchase Christmas gifts for her family and friends.
She knew exactly what she wanted to give her mother, sister Sadie and brother Alfred for Christmas; and since this would be her first Christmas away from home, she even thought out how she would ship the gifts to her family:
I had packed them in imagination in a neat little box, and written the accompanying letter scores of times.
In our modern world, ten dollars doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but in 1873, when Julia Ried was published, those ten dollars went much further than they do today.
For example, Julia could purchase a set of six handkerchiefs to give to Sadie at a cost of only thirty cents:
And since a lady could never have enough handkerchiefs, Julia might instead have opted to give Sadie a dozen of them (with fancy colored borders) at a cost of just 48 cents:
Or, Julia might have purchased for Sadie a knitted cap and scarf set, since such sets were just as popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s as they are now.
For Alfred, Julia might have purchased a new shirt to wear to his job as a store clerk (or even two shirts at these prices):
This full-page newspaper ad from 1912 illustrates other affordable gifts Julia might have chosen for Alfred, from a sturdy pair of gloves to a warm sweater to a new cap (click on the image to see a larger version):
When it came to selecting a gift for her mother, Julia knew no ordinary gift would do. She wrote:
Dear mother, she seemed to think that her first and greatest duty in life was to toil for and spare her children. Patient, faithful, tender mother! Tonight, as I recall her sweet, pale, tired face, I can think of no frown of impatience or anger that ever marred its sweetness. I can think of nothing left undone, that she could do, to smooth the path in which her children trod.
Clearly a special gift was in order for Mrs. Ried. A very pretty sewing box, covered in a sturdy but lovely patterned fabric (called “cretonne”) might have been the perfect gift:
Or she might have chosen for her mother a lovely ladies’ hat pin to add some sparkle to her life:
All of these would have been thoughtful gifts for Julia to send home to her family; but …
If you have read the book, you know that that Julia succumbed to an entirely different temptation when it came to spending her ten dollars—a temptation that left her with no money to buy gifts she wanted to give her family!
As the characters in Isabella’s novels so often did, Julia Ried had to learn many lessons about the dangers of peer pressure and placing trust in the wrong person—lessons that are just as relevant today as they were in 1873.
What do you think of the Christmas gifts in these ads from the late 1800s/early 1900s?
Which gifts would you purchase to give loved ones?
With holiday preparations in full swing, it’s nice to stop every once in a while to remind ourselves of the true meaning of the season.
“A Sweet Old Story” is a short piece Isabella wrote for The Pansy magazine in 1885, telling the story of Christ’s birth in simple terms. The lovely woodcut illustrations below were part of the original magazine issue.
A great many hundred years ago, away and away across the water, one beautiful starry night something happened.
Up among the hills and the rocks the sheep were taking their rest; safe from wolf or tiger because the faithful shepherds watched all night.
They were gathered in a sheltered place around the fire and they were talking. Good men, they were, who believed what God had told them in the Bible, and were watching for his promises to come to pass.
If we had been near I think we might have heard something like this:
“It is a long time that we have been waiting for the King to come.”
“Yes,” says another; “years and years! I remember how my grandmother used to gather us about her and tell us how the Lord was to send us a king to rule over us, and to make all wrong things right. She used to think he might come in her day; and she sat often listening and watching, to see if she could hear his voice.”
“How do you think it will be?” asked a third. “Do you think He will come suddenly from the sky, with bands of music, and guards of angels, and with a crown on his head, speaking in a voice of thunder to all wrong doers?”
The first shepherd shook his head. “I do not know,” he said. “I often wonder how it will be; and I read over and over again the promises of his coming. Some of them sound as though he was to be poor and alone; but how can that be when he is to rule the world? I do not understand it; but I long to see my king.”
Just then a light brighter than the sun shone all around them.
“What is that?” they said.
Could the world be on fire? No, all was quiet down in the valleys; and the earth was sleeping. The shepherds looked at one another and said not a word; but their limbs trembled so that they could hardly stand.
“Look! What is that, coming from the brightness! It must surely be an angel.”
He is speaking. “Fear not,” and his voice was like the sound of music.
As he spoke, the fear seemed all to glide away from the shepherds, and they felt a strange, sweet happiness stealing over them.
Then came the wonderful words: “There was born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour for you; he is Christ the Lord.”
O glorious news! How shall they know where to find him?
“Listen,” the angels tell them. “You will find the baby in a manger.”
What strange news was this! The King of Glory, the Saviour of the world to be found in a manger!
But before they could say a word, suddenly the air was filled with angels. They were singing this song: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace, good-will toward men.”
The music to which these words were sung was not like any that the shepherds had ever heard before; nor did they hear anything like it again, until the angels opened the golden gates and showed them the way to the palace of their King. Only a few minutes, and the angels soared away, the beautiful light faded, the sweet voices were lost in the blue distance, and there was only the sheep asleep on the hillsides, and the stars smiling down on them.
Do you think they thought it a dream? Oh no. Listen to what they said:
“Let us go right away to find the Lord. He will be in Bethlehem; that is the city of David. The Lord has sent his angels to tell this news; we shall see our King!”
And they hurried away.
Did they find the King? Yes, they found him; a little baby in a manger, his father and mother watching over him.
Oh, I don’t know what they said when they saw that baby. I have often wondered whether they dared to touch him, to put his soft hand on their faces, and kiss his sweet pure lips. But this I know. Wherever they went, they told that the King had come, and they had seen him.
Years and years ago it happened, yet the men and women, boys and girls are talking, singing and thinking about it today. The most wonderful night the world has ever known was that in which the angels sang the song of the new-born King.
The shepherds who first told the story have been with the King in his palace, I suppose, for as many as eighteen hundred years, but on Christmas eve in the year eighteen hundred and eighty-five, two sweet little girls are going out with their baskets full of holly leaves and buds, and in the sweet moonlight with the stars looking down on them, are to sing for their sick mother the same sweet old story which I have been telling you.
These are the words they will sing:
The angels, the angels, who sang on Christmas eve,
And waked the shepherds so long ago,
What was the song that they caroled so?
Glad tidings, glad tidings, to you, to you, we bring,
Of peace on earth, good-will to men;
And angels echoed the song again
Glad tidings, glad tidings, to you, to you we bring.
They found Him, they found Him
Beneath the Eastern Star,
And kings and shepherds kneeled down to pray
Around the manger where Jesus lay.
What treasure, what treasure, can little children bring?
And where is the blessed Redeemer now,
That round His cradle we all may bow?
No treasure, no treasure, is half so sweet to Him,
As little children who greet Him here
With loving heart and open ear;
No treasure, no treasure, is half so sweet to Him.
A Note from Jenny:
Isabella often wove her own life experiences—and those of her family—into her stories. I suspect the two little girls and their ailing mother were real people Isabella knew. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify who they were, but one day, I hope to discover “the story behind this story” and share it with you.
Here’s the next installment of A Dozen of Them by Isabella Alden. If you missed Chapter 1, you can read it here.
A Dozen of Them
BLESSING, AND HONOR, AND GLORY, AND POWER, BE UNTO HIM THAT SITTETH UPON THE THRONE, AND UNTO THE LAMB, FOR EVER AND EVER.
THEREFORE ARE THEY BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD, AND SERVE HIM DAY AND NIGHT IN HIS TEMPLE.
THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST BE WITH YOU ALL. AMEN.
It gave Joseph a curious sensation to hear his verse sung over and over again by the choir, the great organ rolling out the melody and seeming to him to speak the words almost as distinctly as the voices did. He had chosen that first verse as his motto for the month, with a dim idea that it somehow fitted Christmas, though he couldn’t have told why he thought so. It was sufficiently unpractical not to disturb his conscience, at least; and of this he thought with satisfaction. It would not do to have to live by so many verses. That last month’s selection, “Feed my lambs,” had perfectly amazed him with its power to keep him busy. It was not only little Rettie, always on hand to be amused, or petted, or helped, in some way, but it was the little neighbor boy who followed his brother when he came for milk; and the little Irish girl who cried over her spelling lesson; and the little Dutch boy whom some of them made fun of, in Sunday-school. Many a time during the month, Joseph had sighed a little, and smiled a little, over the bondage in which that verse held him and had got to hold him for a whole year, and he wondered if Jean had known what she was about. At least he must know what he was about; another verse of that kind would not do to follow soon. This one was grand and majestic, ever so far above him; it was not to be supposed that he could in any way join that wonderful army who were praising. Joseph listened to it with a curious mixture of awe over the grandeur, and satisfaction that it was his, and did not trouble him.
He was seated in the great church, and it was Christmas Eve. The children’s anthem was being sung first by the choir, then by a troop of children who appeared to catch the strain and re-echo it as far as their shrill young voices could reach. This was the closing anthem of the evening.
It had been a very nice evening to Joseph. He had taken part in the recitation, and his teacher had whispered, “Well done, Joseph,” when he took his seat.
He had mounted little Rettie on his knee, the better to view the great Christmas-tree, thereby winning a smile and a “Thank you, Joseph!” from Mrs. Calland.
He had answered to his name when called, and received a handsome Bible from his teacher; altogether he had never spent a happier Christmas Eve. He saw himself writing a letter to his sister to tell all about it; and just then that anthem burst forth. Then the minister arose to pronounce the benediction. But instead of doing it, he made a little speech.
“Children,” he said, “I heard one of you call the anthem a grown-up anthem. I asked what that meant, and the little fellow who said so, told me it wasn’t for boys and girls, but for angels, and such things. That is a mistake. It is for you and me; you at four, and I at forty, and all the rest of you who are all the way between. ‘Blessing and honor;’ suppose we go no farther than that. Can’t we bless Him? Can’t we say thank you to the Lord for all his mercies? And can’t we honor Him? Don’t you remember that every little thing we do, or keep from doing, because we think it would please Him, is an honor to Him?”
There was more to the talk; not much, though, for the minister knew better than to make a long talk on Christmas Eve. But, bless you, it was long enough for Joseph! It came over him with a dismayed sort of feeling, that with all his care he had chosen a verse which was going to hedge him about worse than the other had. “Every little thing we do, or keep from doing. Oh, dear!” he said, and was startled to discover that he almost said it aloud. “A fellow gets all mixed up with verses and things, and can’t stir. I wish Jean had been asleep when she made me promise.”
However, he got through Christmas day beautifully. It happened that every duty of his that day had to do with what he liked, and was no trouble at all. It was mere fun to sweep the light snow from the front walk in the clear sparkling morning. It was simply delight to hitch up the ponies and go to the depot for company who were coming to the farm to dinner. He liked nothing better than to turn pony himself, and give Bettie a ride on her box sled; and so through the day everything was merry and happy. I am not sure that he thought of his verse more than once; that was when they were seated at the beautiful dinner table and a sentence of thanksgiving in the blessing reminded him of it. Not unpleasantly; he found that he felt very thankful indeed, and would just as soon say, “I thank you,” as not. If that was what the verse meant by “blessing” he was more than willing.
In the evening the school-tree was to be enjoyed, and none looked forward to it more than Joseph. For the past two days the schoolroom door had been shut against them all, and speculation had run high as to what glories it would reveal when next it opened for them. The time was drawing near; Joseph came with a bound from across the hall at Farmer Fowler’s bidding, to see if the kitchen doors were closed against the wind which was rising. He had heard the call to open the schoolroom doors; in ten minutes more all the mysteries hidden therein would be revealed.
In the middle of the kitchen he stood still. I am not sure but it would be very near the truth to say that his heart stood still as well as his body. The door leading into the dining-room was open, and in the great dining-room fireplace there crackled, and blazed, and roared a freshly adjusted log, sending up flames which lighted the entire room as with sunlight glory. But the fire did more than glow and sparkle, it snapped—sent out spitefully across the room regular showers of brilliant sparks, lighting, some of them, on the cedar with which the mantel was trimmed. Joseph sprang to them before they did mischief, then stood again as if rooted to the spot. A fresh log, very large, one of the sputtering kind, and it would sputter in that way, sending out its showers of dangerous sparks for a half-hour at least—longer than that—until all the fun in the schoolroom was well over.
What of it all? What concern was it of his? He didn’t put the log on. He had never been set to watch the dining-room fire. No; but what was that? “Blessing, and honor, and glory!” Well, what of it? What had blessing, and honor, and glory, to do with a few sparks which might not do a bit of harm if left to themselves? Sparks almost always died out if left alone.
What was that he said? “Every little thing we do or keep from doing, because we think it would please Him, is an honor to Him.”
Dear, dear! Why need the minister have said that? It wasn’t talk for Christmas Eve! And was it to be supposed that he, Joseph, who had never belonged to a family Christmas-tree before in his life, could stay out there and watch sparks while all the fun was going on? He really couldn’t.
Hark! Listen to that shouting! The fun had begun; he must go this minute. Wait! Look at that spark! It had lighted on the tissue-paper mat on the lamp-stand; it was going to burn! It will burn, it will blaze and set the house on fire! No, it won’t; the wicked and industrious little sprite has been firmly crushed in Joseph’s fingers, and has died, and left only a sooty fleck on the whiteness to tell of its intentions. But Joseph turned from it, and sat down in the big wooden rocker, near the snapping log, his face sorrowful and determined.
There was no help for it. The fun must go on, and the snapping must go on, and he must sit and watch it. “Every little thing we keep from doing.” He could keep from going into the schoolroom, and he knew it would please Him.
“Because,” said Joseph scornfully, to the log, “any idiot would know it was the right thing to do. You are not to be trusted, you snapping old thing, and you have got to be watched.” Why, then, he was bound to do it, because he had promised to be led by the verse of his choice. “It’s enough sight worse than the other one,” he told the log mournfully, meaning the other verse; and then he kept watch in silence. No more sparks made even an attempt to do any harm, which Joseph considered mean in them after having obliged him to stay and watch them. They might at least have given him the excitement of undoing their mischief. He even meditated deserting them as past the dangerous point, but just then a perfect shower blazed out into the room, and though they every one died out before they settled, Joseph told them that was no sign of what they might choose to do next time.
At last there came a prolonged shout from the distant schoolroom, mingled with the opening of doors, and the hurrying of eager feet and cries of:
“Where is he? Where’s Joseph?”
“Why, where in the world can Joseph be!” And the dining-room was peopled with eager searchers, among whom came Farmer Fowler.
“Why, my boy,” he said, as Joseph arose from the rocker, “what in the world does this mean? Haven’t you been in at the fun, after all? We didn’t notice until your name was called. Why weren’t you there?”
“I had to watch the sparks,” said Joseph, pointing to the snapping log. And then I am glad to state that those sparks did show a little sense of decency, and coming out in a perfect shower, lighted on the other tissue-paper mat, and Joseph had to suit the action to the word, and spring to its rescue.
“Well, I never!” said Fanner Fowler.
“I really think that is remarkable,” said Mrs. Calland. But whether they meant the sparks, or the log, or the tissue-paper mat, none of them explained.
And then all the children talked at once.
“Why, you had a hand-sled!” said one.
“A perfect beauty!” exclaimed another.
“One of the boss kind!” explained a third. “And it has your name on it in red letters.”
“Come on in and see it!” Whereupon the troop vanished with Joseph at their heels. He thought he could safely leave the sparks to Farmer Fowler’s care for awhile.
“Father,” said Mrs. Calland, “I think that is a very remarkable boy; I wish you would let me have him. I believe Harry would take him into the office.”
“We’ll wait and see whether you can do better by him than I,” said Farmer Fowler, his eyes twinkling. “I think your mother has plans for him. Well, mother, I don’t know but he saved the old farmhouse for us tonight. That log is uncommon snappy. He is an unusual boy, somehow, and no mistake.”
“I told you so from the first,” said Mother Fowler, looking as pleased as though he was her son.
But Joseph knew nothing about this, and, in fact, had forgotten all about his verse. He was examining his new sled, and thinking how he would describe it to Jean when he wrote.
Chapter 3 will be posted on Thursday, January 12, 2017. See you then!
Earle and his friends plan to make the days after Christmas special for one deserving family in Part 2 of “Earle’s Afterwards Tree.” If you missed Part 1 of the story, you can read it here.
Perhaps the Crawfords never had a busier day than that one in which the Hunters went to help keep Grandmother’s birthday. It was such an important day that Mr. Crawford actually stayed from the office for several hours to help!
The Hunters’ sitting-room was found to be in good order, and with so little furniture in it that very little was to be done to make it ready for the tree. But after that was dragged in, and set up in state in the very center of the room, business began.
No “afterwards,” surely, had ever grown after the fashion of this one! There were dollies, and books, and slates, and drawing paper, and Christmas cards, and jackknives, and stockings, and dresses, and caps, and mittens, and hoods, and sacks, and—but what is the use of trying to tell it? One present must be described. It filled Earle Crawford’s heart full almost to overflowing with joy. Robbie Hunter, although he was nearly six years older than Earle, was nevertheless a dear friend of his. Now, Robbie Hunter had remarked to him perhaps twenty-five times already this winter that if he only had a bicycle he could get lots of errands to do for folks and earn a good deal of money.
“You see,” he would say, “we have so little snow here, that a bicycle can be used almost all winter; and things are stretched so far apart that a fellow can’t do many errands before the day is done, if he has to depend on his feet; and as for the street cars, why, they take all the profits.”
Earle had listened and been convinced, and the two had wearied their brains trying to plan some way by which a bicycle might be secured; all to no purpose up to this time. Yet here, standing under the tallest branches of this “afterwards” tree was a first-class bicycle in perfect order, although not quite new, and marked:
Robert E. Hunter; from Santa Claus’ cousin.
“Because,” said the giver, “Santa Claus is supposed to come this way only at Christmas time, but his first cousins scurry over the country for the ‘afterwards’ things.”
When Mrs. Crawford saw that bicycle, she said, “Oh, poor boy! That must have been hard. But wasn’t it noble in him?”
That needs explaining. The bicycle had belonged to Dr. Holland’s only son, Fletcher. It had been a present to him on his last birthday.
“A trifle too large for him just now, perhaps,” his uncle had said, “but I wanted to get one that would last; and he’ll grow to it.”
No, he wouldn’t. The accident which had broken his leg and hurt his hip, happened months before Robbie Hunter was hurt, and now Robbie was out on crutches, and with a fair prospect of throwing them aside in a few days. But Fletcher Holland would never be able to do without his. Oh, worse than that; he knew his father feared that even crutches could not be used much; and that by and by he would be unable to step at all. It was some trouble about the hip which Fletcher did not understand, but he knew the fact as well as though they had told him, which they tried not to do. Yes, it had been hard. It took him one long, bright morning, sitting in his easy chair, with one hand on his crutch and the other just covering the quiver on his lips while he gazed out of the window at nothing, and thought. Should he? Could he? Why not? It was his very own to do with as he would. Robbie Hunter needed it; could help support the family with it, and he, Fletcher …
Then there was a long break even in the thoughts, and Fletcher let go his crutch to brush away the tears lest mama should come in and see them. But he settled it that morning, and sent the bicycle in the afternoon around to the Crawfords, to be ready for the tree.
Well, the busy day was done at last; so was the work. None too soon, although the Hunter family did not get back until after five o’clock. They had not meant to stay so late; but Grandma had cried when they talked of going, and said it was probably her last birthday with them, and they had lingered to comfort her. Because of this, and some other things, the ride home was a quiet one. They had had a good day, and a good dinner. Grandma’s son-in-law was far from wealthy, but he had a farm, and a good many things can be raised on a farm to make a dinner table inviting. Aunt Jane had done her best, and everybody enjoyed it. Yet, in spite of it, the Hunters were getting hungry again. Dinner had been quite early in the day for Grandma’s sake; now it was five o’clock, and it was found to be impossible to forget that they had almost nothing in the house for supper. Oh, yes, they had bread, of course, and some butter; they were not starving; but stale bread and butter which one needed to remember was scarce and high-priced, did not make a very inviting meal. Mrs. Hunter, as she tucked her shawl closer about the baby and snuggled him to her, could not help thinking how dingy and desolate the little kitchen would look tonight with its fireless stove, and the chill of a day alone upon it. Other people too, looked at the Hunter cottage and thought somewhat the same thoughts.
“Isn’t that a gloomy little house where the Hunters live?” Carl Burton asked his father as they drove by on their way from school. Mr. Burton nearly always stopped at the school-house for Carl and Alice; he had them with him now, tucked among the bright-colored robes, and done up in costly furs. The Burtons all turned and looked at the little house.
“Yes,” said Mr. Burton, “it does look rather desolate. The Hunters are having a hard time, I hear. I suppose they will not have much of a supper tonight; and here you and Alice are fretting because I forgot to order the angel cake; when we shall probably have cold turkey and muffins, and I don’t know what not, I presume the Hunters will have to be contented with plain bread and butter.”
Much he knew about it! Mrs. Crawford’s cook, Nannie, and Mrs. Holland’s second girl, Kate, were at that moment engaged in putting the finishing touches to as dainty a tea table as the Burtons themselves could desire.
There was even cold turkey, in delicate pink and white slices, and angel cake, besides. This supper had been Earle Crawford’s final stroke of preparation. “Because, you know, mama, they always have splendid Christmas suppers; and an afterwards Christmas ought to be just as nice.”
Just as Nannie set a plate of muffins on the corner of the stove to keep warm, Kate exclaimed: “There they are! Now let’s scud!”
Away they scurried, out of the back door and down the hill, just as Clara Hunter blew around the corner holding to her bonnet with both hands lest the wind carry it away.
“Give me the key, father,” she had said, “and I’ll run around and unlock the back door so that mother can get in quick, with Baby. And I’ll have a fire in a—Why-ee! We didn’t lock this door, after all! Why, there is a fire, mother! There’s—Oh, mother, mother! What does it mean?”
They were all in the kitchen by this time, Father, and Robbie, and all. For the first minute they stood and stared. There was the table laden with dainties, aglow with light from a new lamp which did not smoke, and had come to stay!
“I didn’t know there were witches nowadays,” said Father Hunter, and he rubbed his eyes.
Robbie hobbled around the table to investigate. “Look here!” he said, “Here’s a card; and it says on it: ‘An Afterwards Christmas from Santa Claus and his friends.’”
At last they got down to that table; the horse having been come after by an unusually obliging fellow from the Works, who said he wanted her right away, and it would be all right to leave the wagon in the back yard for the night; Mr. Crawford said so.
“Good!” said Robbie, rubbing his hands. “Now we can sit right down and eat this supper which the witches have brought, while it is hot. Mother, I wouldn’t be afraid to wager my old hat that Mrs. Crawford’s Nannie made those muffins; they look just like her.”
Whoever made them, the Hunters voted them and everything else splendid; and were not too busy wondering and guessing, to eat heartily.
Once Mrs. Hunter said, with a bit of a sigh, “There is enough on this table tonight to have been spread over several days.” But a clamor of voices silenced her, father joining in.
“Some of our friends,” he said, “have intended it for a Christmas treat; and we’ll enjoy it and be grateful, even if we should be hungry next week.”
It was Mary who finally said that it was getting very warm in the kitchen; shouldn’t she open the door to the other room a crack? Which she did, and exclaimed, and threw it wide open, and behold! There was the “afterwards” tree in all its glory!
I wish I could describe that tree, and the things which lay about it and under it and behind it; and the bewilderment and joy of the Hunter family.
“What can it all mean?” first one Hunter said, then another. And when each had had his turn, they began again and said it over, for nobody knew how many times. By and by Robbie discovered the bicycle; then he shouted so loud that his mother said:
“Robbie, if you were not on crutches you would almost deserve to have your ears boxed! See how you have frightened Baby!”
Then Robbie sat flat on the floor, and laughed, and laughed, until Mary said, “Why, I believe he is crazy!”
Then what did he do but plump his head into a cushion which was under the tree for the baby, and actually cry! He had wanted a bicycle so dreadfully, and had not expected one any more than he expected to have the moon.
Father Hunter, however, had not heard this last uproar at all. He had found a letter. The very letter which Earle Crawford had feared he would not care for, and was reading and re-reading it, and wiping his eyes and saying, “God bless him! That will help us through. I can see daylight.”
It was a very short letter; only a receipt for eight months rent; the two which he was behind, and the six which were to come before the year would close.
Meantime, Mary, and Clara, and Minnie, were finding packages which read: “From your loving classmates,” or, “For a dear girl, from another girl,” or some such equally bewildering statement.
“Here is another letter,” said Mrs. Hunter.
She leaned over her husband’s shoulder to read, and drew a long breath of intense relief as she said: “Oh, children! It is Dr. Holland’s bill, receipted!”
There! I’m going to give it up. I wanted to tell you about it, but I cannot do the subject justice. Earle Crawford declared months afterwards that the very best time he ever had in his life, had to do with that “Afterwards” tree; and every Hunter in the company agreed with him.
“A capital idea,” said Dr. Holland; “a worthy tribute to a good family who had been unfortunate, and needed only a lift over a hard place. And it cost very little time or money. Everybody gave the little that they could get along without, as well as not. There wasn’t a sacrifice in it; except yours, my boy.” And he laid his hand tenderly on Fletcher’s shoulder, his eyes dimming with tears. But the boy looked up brightly and said:
“Never mind, father, I’m getting used to it.”
Merry Christmas to you!
One little boy makes Christmas a special day for the entire town in this Isabella Alden story first published in 1895.
Christmas was quite over at last, although it had lasted a longer time than usual. In the Crawford family there had been two Christmases, as the children expressed it; at least, there had been two Christmas trees. One at Grandma’s house on Christmas eve, as usual; and then, because Uncle Richard lived twelve miles away and two of his young people had been ill and could not come to the frolic at Grandma’s, all the family went there on Christmas day, and in the evening had frolic number two, with a second tree as much like the first as possible. Even Earle, who was the youngest of the group which gathered at Grandma’s, admitted that perhaps he had had presents enough for once. He could not think of a single “’nother” thing that he truly wanted. Morever, he was quite tired out; so much so, that in the midst of talk in Grandma’s room, after dinner, he curled up in Grandpa’s chair with the down pillow at his head and fell asleep.
And perhaps because they had been talking about the Hunter family just before that, he dreamed of the Hunter family. Never perhaps was there a more vivid dream. Earle’s head bobbed forward quite away from the pillow, although Grandma tried twice to make him more comfortable. His neck was rather stiff when he awoke, much astonished to find that he had been sleeping a long time, and all the family had scattered to their various duties or pleasures; except only Grandma, who sat knitting.
Earle rubbed his stiff neck thoughtfully, busy with his dream. At last his thoughts took shape in a question.
Said Grandma, after a thoughtful pause, “I don’t really know, dearie; I have heard all about it, but I can’t remember the reason. It has been a custom for a long time, and I think it comes from the Germans; but Grandma has forgotten a good many things.”
While she knitted and mused over the unfortunateness of not being able to answer all the questions of all her grandchildren, Earle continued thinking. Then another question:
“Grandma, do they never have afterwards trees?”
“Afterwards trees! What kind would they be, dearie?”
“Why, you know—Christmas is quite gone for a whole year; and so is New Year’s, but couldn’t there be a tree made like a Christmas one, and all trimmed up and everything, if there was a reason for it, any time along through the month?”
Grandma admitted that if there were sufficient reason this might be done; but hinted that the reason ought to be very large, as people were generally tired of Christmas trees after they were all over, and quite willing to wait a year before they got another one ready.
“I’m not tired of them,” said Earle, meditatively; “and, Grandma, I had such a funny dream. I dreamed about Clara and Minnie Hunter, and all the Hunters.”
Grandma remarked that that was not at all strange, as they had been talking about all the Hunters, she remembered, just before he dropped to sleep.
“I know it,” said Earle, “and the last thing I heard was Aunt Kate saying it was a shame the children were not remembered in some way. She said she should never vote again to give up the Christmas tree of the Sunday-school, just on account of people like the Hunters. And then, Grandma, I went to sleep and dreamed that we had a tree at the Hunters’, or for the Hunters; I don’t see where it could have been, because it was in a large room—larger than any they have in their house, but all the things on the tree were for them. Oh, such lots and lots of things, Grandma! Some were queer; I couldn’t tell what they were—I guess they were just dream things—but some of them I knew. I saw Laura’s dollie, Augusta Jane, there, just as plain as day; and my last year’s building blocks, and Jack’s great ball, and Susie Perkins’ transparent slate, and ever so many things! Now, Grandma, why wouldn’t that be a good plan? We might have an afterwards tree just for the Hunters; and we might each put something on it of our own that we did not need any more. We’ve got such lots and lots of new ones.”
That was the way it began. Surely never was a plan made, awake or dreaming, which took hold of the hearts of the people better than this one did.
The Hunters belonged to that class of whom our elders say when they talk about them, that they “have seen better days.” They were not wretchedly poor; that is, they lived in a fairly comfortable house, and managed by great care to have enough very plain food to eat each day. But the winter had been, thus far, one of the hardest of their lives. Mr. Hunter had begun it by being ill, and losing his place in the Iron Works. When he was ready to work again, after three months’ time, he had to take a different place in the Works, and receive less pay. Then Robbie had broken his leg and suffered no end of pain, and caused much expense. Last of all, the baby had the scarlet fever and lay for days so near death that the school children hushed their voices as they passed near the corner, and wondered if that baby was alive yet. Baby was alive and doing well; but her long illness made heavy bills; not only to the doctor and druggist, but at the grocer’s as well; for Mrs. Hunter and her oldest daughter, Mary, who were used to sewing steadily all day and every day to help support the family, had not been able to do a thing since Robbie broke his leg.
There were other troubles, too. Mr. Hunter’s brother who owed him fifty dollars, could not pay one cent; and the man of whom he bought feed for his cow was determined to have his pay. All things considered, the Hunters had never come to such a dreary, discouraged place before in their lives. Mr. Hunter, who was a good man, tried to be brave; but he could not help being quieter than usual, and saying occasionally, even before the children, that he did not know what was to become of them if the Iron Works shut down, as there were rumors that they would, for a few weeks. They would have to beg, or starve, he was afraid.
Mrs. Hunter sewed steadily, trying to make up for lost time; but she often wiped away tears, and Mary’s eyes, when she came downstairs after doing the morning work, sometimes looked red. Of course there had been no Christmas tree nor Christmas dinner nor Christmas gifts of any sort, except for Baby. Robbie went out on his crutches for the first time since the accident, and bought a rubber doll for her; and she eagerly sucked the red paint from its cheeks in less than five minutes thereafter. This was the only attempt at gifts. The children, even the younger ones, Clara and Minnie, had been very good; they had not once wished before their father, that they could have a Christmas like other girls; but they had looked sober over that and other things, more than once. Perhaps they would have looked more sober still, had they been able to realize just how hard a struggle their father and mother were having.
So now you are made acquainted with the family about which Earle Crawford dreamed. His “afterwards tree” was hailed by father and mother and aunts, uncles and cousins, as “just the thing.”
The members of the Sabbath-school class to which Clara and Minnie Hunter belonged, all took hold of it with a will; the A-Division of the graded school where Clara went, said they should be delighted to help; and the grammar school to which Robbie Hunter belonged, heard of it and offered to join.
Dr. Holland heard his boy describing what was to be done, and asked a few questions, and said that was a bright thought, he would help it along; the Hunters were worthy people who meant to do their best.
Old Mr. Ames, who owned the house in which the Hunters lived, heard of it, and laughed and said it was the best “afterwards” he had ever known of, and he would write them a letter to put on the tree. To be sure, Earle Crawford looked grave and a bit troubled over this, and said he did not believe the Hunters would care for a letter from old Mr. Ames, and he wanted only real nice things on the tree; but his father advised him not to worry. At last the “afterwards” was ready.
It was delightful to think how things “happened” just right for their plans. Only the day before the tree was to be dressed, and while they were still planning where they should stand it, Mr. Hunter came to Mr. Crawford with a request. Mrs. Hunter’s mother was an old woman, and a lame one. She lived five miles away in the country; and had been used for thirty years to have her children come to spend her birthday with her. Tomorrow she would be eighty-three years old, and her son-in-law had sent for them all to come, as usual; he had only half-time now at the Works, and his wife had no sewing for tomorrow; so they could go if they could get a wagon. Old Billy, the horse at the Works, could be had for the day, but the wagon was in use elsewhere. Would Mr. Crawford be so kind as to lend his old farm wagon? They could all pile into it, and they were rather anxious to go, because the children had gotten along without Christmas this year. They usually went up on the train, but it cost ten cents apiece, and there were eight of them, and—well, they couldn’t this year.
Never was a man more pleased to lend his wagon. He could hardly wait until evening to tell Earle the delightful news. When they heard it a shout went up at the Crawford tea-table. The Hunters were to take themselves off early in the morning. What was to hinder planting the tree in their own little front room, then closing the house and leaving them to discover it as best they might when they reached home?