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A Merry Christmas, Page 3

Louisa May Alcott

  “So like my Anna! And this is her little girl? God bless you, my darling! You are so good to come and see me!” said Grandma when the emotion had passed and she was able to speak again.

  “Why Grandma, as soon as I knew where to find you, I was in a tizzy to come. Already I know that I will want to stay here with you as long as you will have me,” Kate said, caressing her grandmother’s hand affectionately.

  “Then you shall never leave, for I will always want you, my darling,” Grandma assured her. “Now tell me everything. It is like an angel coming to see me quite unannounced. Sit close, and let me feel sure it isn’t one of the dreams I create to cheer myself when I’m feeling lonely.”

  Kate sat on a little stool at her grandmother’s feet and, leaning on her knee, told all her little story. All the while, the old lady fed her hungry eyes with the sight of the fresh, young face, listened to the music of the child’s loving voice, and felt the happy certainty that God had sent her a wonderful gift.

  Kate spent the long, happy day talking and listening, looking at her new home and, to her delight, being fawned over by the two old women. Her eyes quickly read the truth of Grandma’s lonely life, and her warm heart was soon flooded with tender pity for her. Kate resolved to devote herself to making her grandmother happy in her few remaining years, for at eighty, everyone should have the blessing of loving children.

  To Dolly and Madam, it really did seem as if an angel had come, a singing, smiling, chattering sprite, who danced all over the old house, making blithe echoes in the silent house and brightening every room she entered. They also soon grew fond of Bessie, who welcomed their help caring for her charge.

  Kate opened all the shutters and let in the sun, saying she must see which room she liked best before she settled in. She played on the old piano, which wheezed and jangled, all out of tune. But no one minded, for the girlish voice was as sweet as a lark’s. She invaded Dolly’s sacred kitchen and messed to her heart’s content, delighting the old soul by praising her skill and begging to be taught all she knew.

  She took possession of Grandma’s little parlor and made it so cozy that the old lady felt as if she might have stumbled into someone else’s front room. Cushioned armchairs, fur footstools, soft rugs, and delicate warm shawls appeared like magic.

  Kate planted flowers in the deep, sunny window seats and hung pictures of lovely places on the oaken walls. She found a dainty workbasket for herself and placed it near Grandma’s quaint one. And, best of all, she spent plenty of time in the little chair next to Grandma’s rocker.

  The first thing in the morning, Kate awakened her grandmother with a kiss and a cheery, “Good morning!” And all day, she hovered about her with willing hands and quick feet. Kate’s loving heart returned her grandmother’s love and pledged her the tender reverence, which is the beautiful tribute the young should pay the old. In the twilight, the bright head could always be found at the old woman’s knee, listening to the stories of the past or making lively plans for the future. Together, they whiled away the time that had once been filled with sadness.

  Kate never found it lonely, seldom wished for other society, and grew every day more certain that, in this home, she would find the cherishing she needed and do the good she hoped to do for others.

  Dolly and Bessie were on capital terms; each trying to see which could sing “Little Kate’s” praises loudest and spoil her quickest by unquestioning obedience to her every whim. They were a happy family, indeed! And the dull November days went by so fast that Christmas was at hand before they knew it.

  All the uncles had written to ask Kate to pass the holidays with them, feeling sure that by then she would be longing for a change. But she had refused them all, thanking them for their gracious invitations. “I wish to stay with Grandma,” she told them, “for she cannot go to join other people’s merrymaking.”

  Her uncles urged, her aunts advised, and her cousins teased, but Kate denied them all, yet offended no one, for she was inspired by a grand idea and carried it out with help from Dolly and Bessie. Her grandma never suspected a thing.

  “We are going to have a little Christmas fun up here among ourselves, and you mustn’t know about it until we are ready. So just sit all cozy in your chair, and let me riot about as I like. I know you won’t mind, and I think you’ll say it is splendid when I’ve carried out my plan,” said Kate, when the old lady wondered what she was thinking about so deeply, with her brows knit and her lips smiling.

  “Very well, dear, do anything you like, and I shall enjoy it, only please don’t tire yourself out by trying to do too much,” said Grandma. And with that she became deaf and blind to the mysteries that went on about her.

  Because her Grandma was lame and seldom left her few favorite rooms, Kate, with the help of her devoted helpers, was able to turn the house topsy-turvy. Together, the three trimmed the hall and parlor and great dining room with shining holly and evergreen, lay fires ready for kindling on the hearths that had been cold for years, and made beds fit for sleeping all over the house.

  What went on in the kitchen, only Dolly could tell. But such delicious odors as stole out made Grandma sniff the air and think of merry Christmas revels long ago.

  Up in her room, Kate wrote lots of letters and sent so many orders to the city that Bessie was soon throwing up her hands. More letters came in reply, and Kate studied each one carefully with a look of pure happiness on her face.

  Big bundles were left by the express man, who came so often that the gates were left open and the lawn was full of sleigh tracks. The shops in the village were ravaged by Mistress Kate, who laid in stores of bright ribbon, toys, nuts, and all manner of delightful things.

  “I really think the sweet young thing has lost her mind,” said the postmaster as she flew out of the office one day with a handful of letters.

  If Grandma had thought the girl out of her wits, no one could have blamed her, for on Christmas day she really did behave in the most puzzling manner.

  “You are going to church with me this morning, Grandma. It’s all arranged. A closed sleigh is coming for us; the sleighing is lovely, the church all trimmed out for the holidays, and I must have you see it. I shall wrap you in fur, and we will go and say our prayers together, like good girls, won’t we?” said Kate, who was in an unusual flutter, her eyes shining bright, her lips full of smiles, and her feet dancing in spite of her.

  “Anywhere you like, my darling,” Grandma answered. “I’d start for Australia tomorrow, if you wanted me to go with you.”

  So they went to church, and Grandma did enjoy it, for she had many blessings to thank God for, chief among them the treasure of a dutiful, loving child. Kate tried to keep herself quiet, but the odd little flutter would not subside and seemed to get worse and worse as time went on. It increased rapidly as they drove home, and when Grandma was safe in her little parlor again, Kate’s hands trembled so she could hardly tie the strings of the old lady’s fancy cap.

  “We must take a look in the big parlor. It is all trimmed out, and I have my presents in there. Is it ready, Dolly?” Kate asked, as the dear, old servant appeared, looking greatly excited.

  “We have been quiet so long, poor Dolly doesn’t know what to make of a little gayety,” Grandma said, smiling at her beloved companion.

  “Lord, bless us, my dear mum! It’s all so beautiful and kind of surprising. I feel as if miracles are coming to pass again,” answered Dolly, actually wiping away a tear with her best apron.

  “Come, Grandma,” urged Kate offering her arm. “You look so sweet and dear,” she added, smoothing the soft, silken shawl about the old lady’s shoulders and kissing the placid, old face that beamed at her from under the festive, new cap.

  “I always said Madam was the finest and dearest of women,” Dolly went on. “But, do hurry, Miss Kate. That parlor door could burst open at any moment and spoil the surprise,” with which mysterious remark Dolly vanished, giggling.

  Across the hall they went, but at the
door Kate paused, and said with a look Grandma never forgot, “I hope I have done right. I hope you will like my present and not find it too much for you. At any rate, remember that I meant to please you and give you the thing you need and long for most, my dear, sweet grandmother.”

  “My good child, don’t be afraid. I shall like anything you do and thank you for your thoughtfulness,” Grandma answered. “But, oh my! What a curious noise.”

  Without another word, Kate threw open the door and led Grandma in. Only a step or two—for the lady stopped short and stared about her, as if she didn’t know her own best parlor. No wonder she didn’t, for it was full of people, and such people! All her sons, their wives, and children rose as she came in, and turned to greet her with smiling faces. Uncle George went up and kissed her, saying, with a choke in his voice, “A merry Christmas, Mother!” and everybody echoed the words in a chorus of goodwill that went straight to the heart.

  Poor Grandma could not bear it and sat down in her big chair, trembling and sobbing like a little child. Kate hung over her, fearing the surprise had been too much; but joy seldom kills, and presently, the old lady was calm enough to look up and welcome them all by stretching out her feeble hands and saying, brokenly yet heartily, “God bless you, my children! This is a merry Christmas, indeed! Now tell me all about what you’ve been doing. And give me names, for I don’t know half the little ones.”

  Then Uncle George explained that it was Kate’s plan, and told how she had made everyone agree to it, pleading so eloquently for Grandma that all the other plans were given up. They had arrived while she was at church and had been, with difficulty, kept from bursting out before the time.

  “Do you like your present?” whispered Kate, quite calm and happy now that the grand surprise was safely over.

  Grandma answered with a silent kiss that said more than the warmest words, and then Kate put everyone at ease by leading up the children, one by one, and introducing each with some lively speech. Everyone enjoyed this and became acquainted quickly, for Grandma thought the children the most remarkable she had ever seen. The little people soon made up their minds that an old lady who had such a very nice, big house and such a dinner waiting for them (of course, they had peeped everywhere) was a most desirable and charming grandma.

  By the time the first raptures were over, Dolly and Bessie had dinner on the table, and the procession, headed by Madam proudly escorted by her eldest son, filed into the dining room where such a party had not met for years.

  The dinner itself was most spectacular. Everyone partook copiously of everything, and they laughed and talked, told stories, and sang songs. The cheer they gave Grandma was almost too much for her to bear.

  After that, the elders sat with Grandma in the parlor, while the younger part of the flock trooped after Kate all over the house. Fires burned everywhere, and the long unused toys that had belonged to their fathers were brought out for their amusement. The big nursery was full of games, and here Bessie collected the little ones when the older boys and girls were invited by Kate to go outside for sledding. The evening ended with a cozy tea and a dance in the long hall.

  The going to bed that night was the best joke of all, for though Kate’s arrangements were a bit odd, everyone loved them quite well. There were many rooms, but not enough for all to have one apiece. So the uncles and aunts had the four big chambers, all the boys were ordered into the great playroom, where beds were made on the floor and a great fire was blazing. The nursery was devoted to the girls, and the little ones were sprinkled ’round wherever a snug corner was found.

  How the riotous flock were ever packed away into their beds no one knows. The lads caroused until long past midnight, and no knocking on the walls of paternal boots or whispered entreaties of maternal voices through the keyholes had any effect, for it was impossible to resist the present advantages for a grand Christmas rampage.

  The older girls giggled and told secrets, while the little ones tumbled into bed and went to sleep at once, quite exhausted by the festivities of this remarkable day.

  Grandma, down in her own cozy room, sat listening to the blithe noises with a smile on her face, for the past seemed to have come back again. It was as if her own boys and girls were once again frolicking in the rooms above her head, as they had done forty years before.

  “It’s all so beautiful. I can’t go to bed, Dolly, and lose any of it. They’ll go away tomorrow, and I may never see them again,” she said, as Dolly tied on her nightcap and brought her slippers.

  “Yes, you will, Mum. That dear child has made it so pleasant that they won’t be able to stay away. You’ll see plenty of them, if they carry out half the plans they had made. Mrs. George wants to come up and pass the summer here; Mr. Tom says he shall send his boys to school here; and every girl among them has promised Kate to make her a long visit. You’ll never be lonely again, Mum.”

  “Thank God for that!” Grandma said bowing her head to acknowledge that she had received a great blessing. “Dolly, I want to go and look at those children. It seems so like a dream to have them here, I must be sure of it,” said Grandma, folding her wrapper about her, and getting up with great decision.

  “Oh my, Mum,” Dolly protested. “You haven’t been up those stairs in months. The dears are just fine, sleeping warm as toast.”

  But Grandma would go, so Dolly gave her an arm, and together the two dear friends hobbled up the wide stairs and peeped in at the precious children. The lads looked like a camp of weary warriors reposing after a victory, and Grandma went laughing away when she had taken a proud survey of this promising portion of the younger generation.

  The nursery was like a little convent full of rosy nuns sleeping peacefully, while a picture of Saint Agnes, with her lamb, smiled on them from the wall. The firelight flickered over the white figures and sweet faces, as if the sight were too fair to be lost in darkness. The little ones lay about, looking like little Cupids with sugar hearts and faded roses still clutched in their chubby hands.

  “My darlings!” whispered Grandma, lingering fondly over them to cover a pair of rosy feet, put back a pile of tumbled curls, or kiss a little mouth still smiling in its sleep.

  But when she came to the coldest corner of the room, where Kate lay on the hardest mattress, under the thinnest quilt, the old lady’s eyes were full of tender tears. Forgetting the stiff joints that bent so painfully, she knelt slowly down and, putting her arms about the girl, blessed her in silence for the happiness she had given one old heart.

  Kate woke at once and started up, exclaiming with a smile, “Why Grandma, I was dreaming about an angel, and you look like one with your white gown and silvery hair!”

  “No, dear, you are the angel in this house. How can I ever give you up?” answered Madam, holding fast the treasure that came to her so late.

  “You never need to, Grandma, for I have made my choice.”

  The Quiet Little Woman

  PATTY STOOD AT THE WINDOW LOOKING thoughtfully down at a group of girls playing in the yard below. All had cropped heads, all wore brown gowns with blue aprons, and all were orphans like herself. Some were pretty and some plain, some rosy and gay, some pale and feeble, but all seemed to be happy and having a good time in spite of many hardships.

  More than once, one of the girls nodded and beckoned to Patty, but she shook her head decidedly and continued to stand listlessly watching and thinking to herself with a child’s impatient spirit—

  Oh, if someone would only come and take me away! I’m so tired of living here, and I don’t think I can bear it much longer.

  Poor Patty might well wish for a change; she had been in the orphanage ever since she could remember. And though everyone was very kind to her, she was heartily tired of the place and longed to find a home.

  At the orphanage, the children were taught and cared for until they were old enough to help themselves, then they were adopted or went to work as servants. Now and then, some forlorn child was claimed by family. And once the re
latives of a little girl named Katy proved to be rich and generous people who came for her in a fine carriage, treated all the other girls in honor of the happy day, and from time to time, let Katy visit them with arms full of gifts for her former playmates and friends.

  Katy’s situation made a great stir in the orphanage, and the children never tired of talking about it and telling it to newcomers as a sort of modern-day fairy tale. For a time, each hoped to be claimed in the same way, and listening to stories of what they would do when their turn came was a favorite amusement.

  By and by, Katy ceased to come, and gradually new girls took the places of those who had left. Eventually, Katy’s good fortune was forgotten by all but Patty. To her, it remained a splendid possibility, and she comforted her loneliness by dreaming of the day her “folks” would come for her and bear her away to a future of luxury and pleasure, rest and love. But year after year, no one came for Patty, who worked and waited as others were chosen and she was left to the many duties and few pleasures of her dull life.

  People who came for pets chose the pretty, little ones; and those who wanted servants took the tall, strong, merry-faced girls, who spoke up brightly and promised to learn to do anything required of them. Patty’s pale face, short figure with one shoulder higher than the other, and shy ways limited her opportunities. She was not ill now, but looked so, and was a sober, quiet little woman at the age of thirteen.

  The good matron often recommended Patty as a neat, capable, and gentle little person, but no one seemed to want her, and after every failure, her heart grew heavier and her face sadder, for the thought of spending the rest of her life there in the orphanage was unbearable.

  No one guessed what a world of hopes and thoughts and feelings lay hidden beneath that blue pinafore, what dreams this solitary child enjoyed, or what a hungry, aspiring young soul lived in her crooked little body.

  But God knew, and when the time came, He remembered Patty and sent her the help she so desperately needed. Sometimes when we least expect it, a small cross proves a lovely crown, a seemingly unimportant event becomes a lifelong experience, or a stranger becomes a friend.