The shadows of Christmas eve were falling over the city as George Thomas, a New York city mechanic, stepped down on the sidewalk in Park place on his way homeward. His earning capacity was $18 per week, but because of the prevailing hard times his income had been reduced to $12. This sum, with some little change, comprised his cash capital. As he buttoned his coat about his neck he reflected ruefully that this was a very small sum with which to meet his expenses and to buy Christmas presents. The wind blew briskly down Park place as he walked toward Broadway, thinking of the coming rent day, the empty coal bin, and the new dress he had promised his wife. His thoughts were saddened as he remembered that his little boy would have been nearly five years old had he lived until Christmas. There was a sense of constriction in his throat as he thought of last year's Christmas tree, bright with spangles, irradiated with light and whitened with popcorn balls. Then against the walls of memory stood out clear and distinct the figure of his little boy standing in his white nightgown in the gay dawn of Christmas day, with flushed cheeks and eyes dancing with delight, looking at the marvelous Christmas tree.
On Park row, near the corner of Chambers street, there was a toy store of a most wondrous variety. As Thomas came down the street, his mind intent on his own misery, his gaze fell upon one of the most pathetic figures he had ever seen. Before the window of the toy store stood a little boy, whose nose was flattened against the pane. His body shivered with the cold, but his soul was aflame with desire, which was expressed in his hungry eyes.
Thomas estimated his age at 5 years. He wore an old coat, which had evidently been made for a boy twice his age. Pins usurped the place of buttons on the garment. His feet were thrust into a pair of yellow gaiters, assiduous wear affording excellent but cruel ventilation. His trousers, held up by pieces of string, were frayed and windowed in a manner suggestive of the fact that the boy had been dandied upon poverty's knee. Thomas took in all these details as he stopped beside the boys and watched him. The indurated expression in the little face, the pinched nostrils, the blue circles under the eyes, and the wolfish look on the wan features faded away as the child turned to Thomas and said:
"Say, mister, lif' me up so I kin see de candy cigarettes!"
Thomas lifted the boy in his strong arms so that his range of vision included all the Tantalus delights of the bazaar.
"I wisht me mudder was goin' t' hav' a Krismus tree, but she says she can't have none dis year, 'cause she ain't go no dust. She scrubs in the Morse buildin' en gets $4 a week. Say, dat's a lot o' money, ain't it? Hully gee! Look at de dinky little tin sojer! Ain't he a corker! Mister, is your little boy goin' to have a Krismus tree?"
"I'm afraid not this year sonny." Thomas replied. "My little boy is in Heaven."
"Where's dat? Across de river?"
"Yes, it is across the river," replied Thomas, gravely, putting the little fellow down upon the sidewalk. "What is your name?" he continued.
"Tommy O'Dowd." replied the boy, "and I live in Middle alley."
"Well, Tommy," said Thomas, "you go with me to the telegraph office and then I'll go home with you."
And so, hand in hand, the strangely assorted pair went to the telegraph office and Thomas sent this dispatch to his wife in Harlem:
"Dear Mollie: Detained down town by important business. Will be home at 11 o'clock."
"Do you know the way home?" asked Thomas as they came out of the telegraph office on Park Row again.
"Yes," said Tommy, scornfully. "I know all de streets. Ye goes down New Chambers street till ye comes to Roosevelt, den ye goes down Roosevelt till ye get to Cherry en den y' are in Middle alley."
They followed this itinerary. Tommy running ahead to point out the way. They entered the alley between two enormous brick tenements, through a big iron gate, and after a wearisome climb up crooked stairways arrived at the O'Dowd residence. Tommy went into the room, and as Thomas lingered on the threshold he heard a strident voice say:
"So that's you, you litte scut! Sure you had the heart e' me ar bruk I was that freckened! Ah, good evenin' to ye, sir," as Thomas stepped inside. "Come in, sir. It's little we have, but ye're welkim as if 'twace a palace, sir. Tommy, ye amodhoun, you, get the gintleman a chair,"
"I hope you will excuse me, Mrs. O'Dowd" said Thomas, "but I saw your little boy looking in a toy store window and thinking he might be lost I came home with him."
"Now, ain't that kind o' you, sir," exclaimed Mrs. O' Dowd. "Sure it's not many would do the same, so there."
"But ye needn't be freckoned about that little blaggard. Faith, he'd find his way from Harlem to the Batthery, so he would.
In much genial converse the time passed, while Tommy and his mother supped on mackeral and potatoes. And when Tommy had been tucked away for the night in his mother's bed under the mantel, on which stood a plaster cast of the Virgin, with hands outspread in benediction. Thomas had a whispered talk with Mrs. O'Dowd, interrupted at frequent intervals by such exclamations as, "Oh, dear, may your shadow never grow less!" "May your wife never attend your funeral," etc.
At 9 o'clock Thomas was walking up Roosevelt street with eager footsteps. He stopped at a grocery store and made a purchase, then hurried up into Park Row again. The toy store man was putting up his shutters, but Thomas prevailed on him to go inside, and at 10 o'clock he was back in Middle alley again. Tears of delight filled Mrs. O'Dowd's eyes as she met him at the entrance to the alley and led him up the labryinthine staircase. There was more mysterious whispering. Then Mrs. O'Dowd flew downstairs again to get a bundle of kindling wood. It was well that Tommy was a sound sleeper, as the fleeting forms of shadowy figures and the rustle of papers would have disturbed him.
It was 11:30 when Thomas arrived at home and greeted his anxious wife. When they retired Thomas said:
"Molly, set the alarm for 4 o'clock tomorrow and get your wraps ready for I intend to take you along to help play a joke on Tommy O'Dowd."
She plied him with questions, he gave her evasive replies. At 5 o'clock Thomas and his wife arrived at Middle alley.
"Is he awake?" he asked anxiously of Mrs. O'Dowd, who met them at the door.
"No; the saints he praised, he sleepin' like the dead. Come here at the dure and watch."
The door had been thrown wide open, but Mrs. O'Dowd had hung her Sunday shawl over the opening. Behind the folds of this garment the three persons watched and waited. The blinds had been carefully closed, so that not a ray of sunlight came into the room. Three kerosene lamps were blazing with light to their utmost capacity. It was painfully still in the room, and by listening intently Thomas thought he could hear the gentle breathing of the little boy. As the minutes ticked slowly away the suspense was almost unbearable. A movement in the bed caught the ears of the listeners. Then the bed clothes were thrown aside and the little fellow sat upright, apparently paralyzed with amazement. Upon a little table between the windows stood a Christmas tree two feet tall stuck in the middle of a bundle of wood. The light was reflected from a hundred pieces of red paper tied to the scrawny boughs, a dozen red and white popcorn balls hung like apples on the limbs. Little candles twinkled through the scant foliage, while barber-pole candy, a tin soldier and a jumping jack were prominently displayed. It was an Aladdin-like scene. And before this radiant vision, like a saint before a shrine, with hands clasped in adoring admiration, stood little Tommy, while his mother was weeping tears of joy with her face hidden in the shawl.
Thomas and his wife stole quietly out and left them.
"George, stop," said Mrs. Thomas when they reached the corner of Roosevelt and Cherry streets.
Uplifting her face, which was convulsively working with tender emotion, said said:
"What did it cost to play that little joke on Tommy?"
Just 71 cents, sweetheart," he replied.
They walked on for another block. But Mrs. Thomas was bubbling over with excitement, and she stopped her husband again and exclaimed:
"But you haven't any Christmas present yourself."
Nonsense, Molly, haven't -------"
He was interrupted by two soft arms around his neck and a kiss. Then Molly began to cry. But George quickly soothed her, and as they sat in the elevated car flying toward Harlem he said:
"Molly, I thought I was a very much abused man last night, but I've changed my mind. I think I could walk from the the Battery to Harlem on soap bubbles and never burst a bubble to-day."
Lafayette Gazette 12/24/1898.
From the Lafayette Gazette of Christmas Day, December 25th, 1897:
TO ALL, A MERRY CHRISTMAS.
To-day is Christmas. It is the happy time of the year. The cares and vexations are cast aside, and the mind undergoes a complete change. And this change is not alone confined to the little ones, but both young and old are brought under the brightening influences of the Christmas holidays. This is right, for it is the anniversary that commemorates the birth of Him who brought "peace on earth; good will to man." It is the time of year above all others that life presents its brightest side, that we give and receive gifts, but when the heart delights more in giving than in receiving, a beautiful exemplification of the saying of Christ that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
The Christmas anniversary marks the passing away of another year, and while it is a time of enjoyment and amusement, it always brings to the mind a thought of the past, an anxiety for the future. Life is made up of peculiar elements, and it is well that we have such an anniversary as Christmas. For it stands out as a dividing line between what has been and what is to be. It affords us a pleasing opportunity to take a retrospective view of our past lives, and to look forward to the future with new plan's for life's career.
The past year has not been one of continued successes, nor has it been one of successive disappointments; neither has it been a year fraught with all joy nor all sorrow. The silver chain of success has been weakened here and there by the alloyed links of failure. The cup of joy has been made incomplete by the tear drops of sorrow.
But perhaps it is well that it is this. For it is an axiom of truth that the hand and heart are made stronger by reverses. It is the knowledge of the bitter that makes the appreciation of the sweet.
It may be that we are disposed to believe that we have been less fortunate than others, but such is not the case. No life's song is without notes of sadness, and weaker is this note in proportion to the way one sees that bright or dark side of things.
Taken all in all, we have everything to be thankful for, and in no grander way can we show this spirit of thoughtfulness than by making glad some poor heart during the days of merriment.
Let us not forget that this can be done not alone by giving presents, but by giving words of happiness and good cheer.
The Gazette in all its bounty of heart wishes everyone, young and old, rich and poor, great and small, a happy and delightful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. In the language of old Rip Van Winkle, "May you all live long and prosper." Lafayette Gazette 12/25/1897.
A Child's Christmas.
The following composition on Christmas was handed us by Prof. R. E. Cunningham. It was written by little Winnie Pefferkorn, and coming from a little girl only nine years old is of so much merit that we take pleasure in publishing it:
"Christmas is a jolly day. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus Christ was born on that day. On Christmas-eve night we pop firecrackers, Roman-candles, sky-rockets. We have a good time on that night, especially we young children. St. Nicholas brings us pretty toys such as dolls, pianos, carts, sets, etc. We go to bed early and sleep sound, while St. Nicholas puts our toys in our stockings and pillow slips. We have nice toys on Christmas. We wish our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers a merry Christmas, and we enjoy the rest of the day. We eat candies, cakes, fruits, turkeys, pigs, chickens and luscious dishes. We run about in our glee popping fire-crackers. I receive nice presents from our father and mother. On that day we generally have Christmas-trees with all kinds of things on it, with pretty candles upon it. I attend early mass that day at five o'clock and enjoy the rest of the day. I wish that all my school-mates would spend a merry Christmas and a happy New Year."
Lafayette Gazette 12/25/1897.
CHRISTMAS A. D. 1900.
(By Ellen Wheeler Wilcox.)
Full nineteen hundred year, and yet
Behold how Christians Christ forget
Outside of churches! Where, I pray,
In Social Life? See class with class
Contending each to each surpass,
And hear their biting words of scorn
For one (like Thee,) more humbly horn.
Then look in business circles, - there
Is conflict in the very air.
Beneath fair smiles hate hides it form;
There strong men knock the weaker down
And Much goes riding over I ess,
And this is what we call success
And then the armies! God, what means
This conquest of the Philippines? -
This Boer and Briton slaughter, and
This raid upon far China's land?
It means that forms have not sufficed
To teach mankind the law of Christ.
It means the church has failed to be
A guide to high humanity.
It means the great and growing need
Of something better than a creed
To lift the human race above
The more of greed. Christ's law was Love;
To live for universal good.
To make the world one brotherhood.
This was the purpose and the scope
Of all His teachings; yet we grope
Through war and strife, and gloom and tear,
Now, after nineteen hundred years.
And yet I question not, nor doubt
But that God's will is working out
A purpose, glorious and great.
And so I trust, and hope, and wait.
Until love's banner be unfurled
To civilize the Christian world.
Lafayette Gazette 12/29/1900.