A Christmas Mistake by Lucy Maud Montgomery
"Tomorrow is Christmas," announced Teddy
Grant exultantly, as he sat on the floor
struggling manfully with a refractory bootlace
that was knotted and tagless and stubbornly
refused to go into the eyelets of Teddy's patched
boots. "Ain't I glad, though. Hurrah!"
His mother was washing the breakfast dishes in
a dreary, listless sort of way. She looked tired and
broken-spirited. Ted's enthusiasm seemed to grate
on her, for she answered sharply:
"Christmas, indeed. I can't see that it is anything
for us to rejoice over. Other people may be glad
enough, but what with winter coming on I'd
sooner it was spring than Christmas. Mary Alice,
do lift that child out of the ashes and put its shoes
and stockings on. Everything seems to be at sixes
and sevens here this morning."
Keith, the oldest boy, was coiled up on the sofa
calmly working out some algebra problems, quite
oblivious to the noise around him. But he looked
up from his slate, with his pencil suspended above
an obstinate equation, to declaim with a flourish:
"Christmas comes but once a year,
And then Mother wishes it wasn't here."
"I don't, then," said Gordon, son number two,
who was preparing his own noon lunch of bread
and molasses at the table, and making an atrocious
mess of crumbs and sugary syrup over everything.
"I know one thing to be thankful for, and that is
that there'll be no school. We'll have a whole week
Gordon was noted for his aversion to school and
his affection for holidays.
"And we're going to have turkey for dinner,"
declared Teddy, getting up off the floor and rushing
to secure his share of bread and molasses,
"and cranb'ry sauce and—and—pound cake! Ain't
"No, you are not," said Mrs. Grant desperately,
dropping the dishcloth and snatching the baby on
her knee to wipe the crust of cinders and molasses
from the chubby pink-and-white face. "You may as
well know it now, children, I've kept it from you so
far in hopes that something would turn up, but
nothing has. We can't have any Christmas dinner
tomorrow—we can't afford it. I've pinched and
saved every way I could for the last month, hoping
that I'd be able to get a turkey for you anyhow, but
you'll have to do without it. There's that doctor's
bill to pay and a dozen other bills coming in—and
people say they can't wait. I suppose they can't, but
it's kind of hard, I must say."
The little Grants stood with open mouths and
horrified eyes. No turkey for Christmas! Was the
world coming to an end? Wouldn't the government
interfere if anyone ventured to dispense with a
The gluttonous Teddy stuffed his fists into his
eyes and lifted up his voice. Keith, who understood
better than the others the look on his mother's face,
took his blubbering young brother by the collar and
marched him into the porch. The twins, seeing the
summary proceeding, swallowed the outcries they
had intended to make, although they couldn't keep
a few big tears from running down their fat cheeks.
Mrs. Grant looked pityingly at the disappointed
faces about her.
"Don't cry, children, you make me feel worse.
We are not the only ones who will have to do
without a Christmas turkey. We ought to be very
thankful that we have anything to eat at all. I hate
to disappoint you, but it can't be helped."
"Never mind, Mother," said Keith, comfortingly,
relaxing his hold upon the porch door, whereupon
it suddenly flew open and precipitated Teddy, who
had been tugging at the handle, heels over head
backwards. "We know you've done your best. It's
been a hard year for you. Just wait, though. I'll soon
be grown up, and then you and these greedy
youngsters shall feast on turkey every day of the
year. Hello, Teddy, have you got on your feet again?
Mind, sir, no more blubbering!"
"When I'm a man," announced Teddy with
dignity, "I'd just like to see you put me in the porch.
And I mean to have turkey all the time and I won't
give you any, either."
"All right, you greedy small boy. Only take
yourself off to school now, and let us hear no more
squeaks out of you. Tramp, all of you, and give
Mother a chance to get her work done."
Mrs. Grant got up and fell to work at her dishes
with a brighter face.
"Well, we mustn't give in; perhaps things will
be better after a while. I'll make a famous bread
pudding, and you can boil some molasses taffy and
ask those little Smithsons next door to help you pull
it. They won't whine for turkey, I'll be bound. I
don't suppose they ever tasted such a thing in all
their lives. If I could afford it, I'd have had them
all in to dinner with us. That sermon Mr. Evans
preached last Sunday kind of stirred me up. He said
we ought always to try and share our Christmas joy
with some poor souls who had never learned the
meaning of the word. I can't do as much as I'd like
to. It was different when your father was alive."
The noisy group grew silent as they always did
when their father was spoken of. He had died the
year before, and since his death the little family had
had a hard time. Keith, to hide his feelings, began
to hector the rest.
"Mary Alice, do hurry up. Here, you twin nuisances,
get off to school. If you don't you'll be late
and then the master will give you a whipping."
"He won't," answered the irrepressible Teddy.
"He never whips us, he doesn't. He stands us on the
floor sometimes, though," he added, remembering
the many times his own chubby legs had been seen
to better advantage on the school platform.
"That man," said Mrs. Grant, alluding to the
teacher, "makes me nervous. He is the most abstracted
creature I ever saw in my life. It is a wonder
to me he doesn't walk straight into the river some
day. You'll meet him meandering along the street,
gazing into vacancy, and he'll never see you nor
hear a word you say half the time."
"Yesterday," said Gordon, chuckling over the
remembrance, "he came in with a big piece of
paper he'd picked up on the entry floor in one hand
and his hat in the other—and he stuffed his hat into
the coal-scuttle and hung up the paper on a nail as
grave as you please. Never knew the difference till
Ned Slocum went and told him. He's always doing
things like that."
Keith had collected his books and now marched
his brothers and sisters off to school. Left alone
with the baby, Mrs. Grant betook herself to her
work with a heavy heart. But a second interruption
broke the progress of her dish-washing.
"I declare," she said, with a surprised glance
through the window, "if there isn't that absent-minded
schoolteacher coming through the yard!
What can he want? Dear me, I do hope Teddy
hasn't been cutting capers in school again."
For the teacher's last call had been in October
and had been occasioned by the fact that the irrepressible
Teddy would persist in going to school
with his pockets filled with live crickets and in
driving them harnessed to strings up and down the
aisle when the teacher's back was turned. All mild
methods of punishment having failed, the teacher
had called to talk it over with Mrs. Grant, with the
happy result that Teddy's behaviour had improved—in
the matter of crickets at least.
But it was about time for another outbreak.
Teddy had been unnaturally good for too long a
time. Poor Mrs. Grant feared that it was the calm
before a storm, and it was with nervous haste that
she went to the door and greeted the young
He was a slight, pale, boyish-looking fellow, with
an abstracted, musing look in his large dark eyes.
Mrs. Grant noticed with amusement that he wore
a white straw hat in spite of the season. His eyes
were directed to her face with his usual unseeing
"Just as though he was looking through me at
something a thousand miles away," said Mrs. Grant
afterwards. "I believe he was, too. His body was
right there on the step before me, but where his
soul was is more than you or I or anybody can tell."
"Good morning," he said absently. "I have just
called on my way to school with a message from
Miss Millar. She wants you all to come up and have
Christmas dinner with her tomorrow."
"For the land's sake!" said Mrs. Grant blankly.
"I don't understand." To herself she thought, "I
wish I dared take him and shake him to find if he's
walking in his sleep or not."
"You and all the children—every one," went on
the teacher dreamily, as if he were reciting a lesson
learned beforehand. "She told me to tell you to be
sure and come. Shall I say that you will?"
"Oh, yes, that is—I suppose—I don't know," said
Mrs. Grant incoherently. "I never expected—yes,
you may tell her we'll come," she concluded
"Thank you," said the abstracted messenger,
gravely lifting his hat and looking squarely through
Mrs. Grant into unknown regions. When he had
gone Mrs. Grant went in and sat down, laughing in
a sort of hysterical way.
"I wonder if it is all right. Could Cornelia really
have told him? She must, I suppose, but it is enough
to take one's breath."
Mrs. Grant and Cornelia Millar were cousins,
and had once been the closest of friends, but that
was years ago, before some spiteful reports and ill-natured
gossip had come between them, making
only a little rift at first that soon widened into a
chasm of coldness and alienation. Therefore this
invitation surprised Mrs. Grant greatly.
Miss Cornelia was a maiden lady of certain
years, with a comfortable bank account and a handsome,
old-fashioned house on the hill behind the
village. She always boarded the schoolteachers and
looked after them maternally; she was an active
church worker and a tower of strength to struggling
ministers and their families.
"If Cornelia has seen fit at last to hold out the
hand of reconciliation I'm glad enough to take it.
Dear knows, I've wanted to make up often enough,
but I didn't think she ever would. We've both of
us got too much pride and stubbornness. It's the
Turner blood in us that does it. The Turners were
all so set. But I mean to do my part now she has
And Mrs. Grant made a final attack on the dishes
with a beaming face.
When the little Grants came home and heard
the news, Teddy stood on his head to express his
delight, the twins kissed each other, and Mary Alice
and Gordon danced around the kitchen.
Keith thought himself too big to betray any joy
over a Christmas dinner, but he whistled while
doing the chores until the bare welkin in the yard
rang, and Teddy, in spite of unheard of misdemeanours,
was not collared off into the porch once.
When the young teacher got home from school
that evening he found the yellow house full of all
sorts of delectable odours. Miss Cornelia herself
was concocting mince pies after the famous family
recipe, while her ancient and faithful handmaiden,
Hannah, was straining into moulds the cranberry
jelly. The open pantry door revealed a tempting
array of Christmas delicacies.
"Did you call and invite the Smithsons up to
dinner as I told you?" asked Miss Cornelia anxiously.
"Yes," was the dreamy response as he glided
through the kitchen and vanished into the hall.
Miss Cornelia crimped the edges of her pies
delicately with a relieved air. "I made certain he'd
forget it," she said. "You just have to watch him as
if he were a mere child. Didn't I catch him yesterday
starting off to school in his carpet slippers? And
in spite of me he got away today in that ridiculous
summer hat. You'd better set that jelly in the out-pantry
to cool, Hannah; it looks good. We'll give
those poor little Smithsons a feast for once in their
lives if they never get another."
At this juncture the hall door flew open and Mr.
Palmer appeared on the threshold. He seemed considerably
agitated and for once his eyes had lost
their look of space-searching.
"Miss Millar, I am afraid I did make a mistake
this morning—it has just dawned on me. I am
almost sure that I called at Mrs. Grant's and invited
her and her family instead of the Smithsons. And
she said they would come."
Miss Cornelia's face was a study.
"Mr. Palmer," she said, flourishing her crimping
fork tragically, "do you mean to say you went
and invited Linda Grant here tomorrow? Linda
Grant, of all women in this world!"
"I did," said the teacher with penitent wretchedness.
"It was very careless of me—I am very sorry.
What can I do? I'll go down and tell them I made
a mistake if you like."
"You can't do that," groaned Miss Cornelia,
sitting down and wrinkling up her forehead in dire
perplexity. "It would never do in the world. For
pity's sake, let me think for a minute."
Miss Cornelia did think—to good purpose evidently,
for her forehead smoothed out as her meditations
proceeded and her face brightened. Then
she got up briskly. "Well, you've done it and no
mistake. I don't know that I'm sorry, either.
Anyhow, we'll leave it as it is. But you must go
straight down now and invite the Smithsons too.
And for pity's sake, don't make any more mistakes."
When he had gone Miss Cornelia opened her
heart to Hannah. "I never could have done it myself—never;
the Turner is too strong in me. But I'm
glad it is done. I've been wanting for years to make
up with Linda. And now the chance has come,
thanks to that blessed blundering boy, I mean to
make the most of it. Mind, Hannah, you never
whisper a word about its being a mistake. Linda
must never know. Poor Linda! She's had a hard
time. Hannah, we must make some more pies, and
I must go straight down to the store and get some
more Santa Claus stuff; I've only got enough to go
around the Smithsons."
When Mrs. Grant and her family arrived at the
yellow house next morning Miss Cornelia herself
ran out bareheaded to meet them. The two women
shook hands a little stiffly and then a rill of long-repressed
affection trickled out from some secret
spring in Miss Cornelia's heart and she kissed her
new-found old friend tenderly. Linda returned the
kiss warmly, and both felt that the old-time friendship
was theirs again.
The little Smithsons all came and they and the
little Grants sat down on the long bright dining
room to a dinner that made history in their small
lives, and was eaten over again in happy dreams for
How those children did eat! And how beaming
Miss Cornelia and grim-faced, soft-hearted Hannah
and even the absent-minded teacher himself enjoyed
After dinner Miss Cornelia distributed among
the delighted little souls the presents she had bought
for them, and then turned them loose in the big
shining kitchen to have a taffy pull—and they had
it to their hearts' content! And as for the shocking,
taffyfied state into which they got their own rosy
faces and that once immaculate domain—well, as
Miss Cornelia and Hannah never said one word
about it, neither will I.
The four women enjoyed the afternoon in their
own way, and the schoolteacher buried himself in
algebra to his own great satisfaction.
When her guests went home in the starlit
December dusk, Miss Cornelia walked part of the
way with them and had a long confidential talk
with Mrs. Grant. When she returned it was to find
Hannah groaning in and over the kitchen and the
schoolteacher dreamily trying to clean some
molasses off his boots with the kitchen hairbrush.
Long-suffering Miss Cornelia rescued her property
and despatched Mr. Palmer into the woodshed to
find the shoe-brush. Then she sat down and
"Hannah, what will become of that boy yet?
There's no counting on what he'll do next. I don't
know how he'll ever get through the world, I'm
sure, but I'll look after him while he's here at least.
I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for this Christmas
blunder. What an awful mess this place is in!
But, Hannah, did you ever in the world see anything
so delightful as that little Tommy Smithson
stuffing himself with plum cake, not to mention
Teddy Grant? It did me good just to see them."