A Christmas Inspiration by Lucy Maud
"Well, I really think Santa Claus has been very
good to us all," said Jean Lawrence, pulling
the pins out of her heavy coil of fair hair
and letting it ripple over her shoulders.
"So do I," said Nellie Preston as well as she
could with a mouthful of chocolates. "Those
blessed home folks of mine seem to have divined
by instinct the very things I most wanted."
It was the dusk of Christmas Eve and they were
all in Jean Lawrence's room at No. 16 Chestnut
Terrace. No. 16 was a boarding-house, and boarding-houses
are not proverbially cheerful places in
which to spend Christmas, but Jean's room, at least,
was a pleasant spot, and all the girls had brought
their Christmas presents in to show each other.
Christmas came on Sunday that year and the
Saturday evening mail at Chestnut Terrace had been
an exciting one.
Jean had lighted the pink-globed lamp on her
table and the mellow light fell over merry faces as
the girls chatted about their gifts. On the table was
a big white box heaped with roses that betokened
a bit of Christmas extravagance on somebody's
part. Jean's brother had sent them to her from
Montreal, and all the girls were enjoying them in
No. 16 Chestnut Terrace was overrun with girls
generally. But just now only five were left; all the
others had gone home for Christmas, but these five
could not go and were bent on making the best
Belle and Olive Reynolds, who were sitting on
the bed—Jean could never keep them off it—were
High School girls; they were said to be always
laughing, and even the fact that they could not go
home for Christmas because a young brother had
measles did not dampen their spirits.
Beth Hamilton, who was hovering over the
roses, and Nellie Preston, who was eating candy,
were art students, and their homes were too far
away to visit. As for Jean Lawrence, she was an
orphan, and had no home of her own. She worked
on the staff of one of the big city newspapers and
the other girls were a little in awe of her cleverness,
but her nature was a "chummy" one and her room
was a favourite rendezvous. Everybody liked frank,
open-handed and hearted Jean.
"It was so funny to see the postman when he
came this evening," said Olive. "He just bulged with
parcels. They were sticking out in every direction."
"We all got our share of them," said Jean with a
sigh of content.
"Even the cook got six—I counted."
"Miss Allen didn't get a thing—not even a
letter," said Beth quickly. Beth had a trick of seeing
things that other girls didn't.
"I forgot Miss Allen. No, I don't believe she
did," answered Jean thoughtfully as she twisted up
her pretty hair. "How dismal it must be to be so
forlorn as that on Christmas Eve of all times. Ugh!
I'm glad I have friends."
"I saw Miss Allen watching us as we opened our
parcels and letters," Beth went on. "I happened to
look up once, and such an expression as was on her
face, girls! It was pathetic and sad and envious all
at once. It really made me feel bad—for five minutes,"
she concluded honestly.
"Hasn't Miss Allen any friends at all?" asked Beth.
"No, I don't think she has," answered Jean. "She
has lived here for fourteen years, so Mrs. Pickrell
says. Think of that, girls! Fourteen years at Chestnut
Terrace! Is it any wonder that she is thin and
dried-up and snappy?"
"Nobody ever comes to see her and she never
goes anywhere," said Beth. "Dear me! She must
feel lonely now when everybody else is being
remembered by their friends. I can't forget her
face tonight; it actually haunts me. Girls, how
would you feel if you hadn't anyone belonging
to you, and if nobody thought about you at
"Ow!" said Olive, as if the mere idea made her
A little silence followed. To tell the truth, none
of them liked Miss Allen. They knew that she did
not like them either, but considered them frivolous
and pert, and complained when they made a
"The skeleton at the feast," Jean called her,
and certainly the presence of the pale, silent,
discontented-looking woman at the No. 16 table
did not tend to heighten its festivity.
Presently Jean said with a dramatic flourish,
"Girls, I have an inspiration—a Christmas inspiration!"
"What is it?" cried four voices.
"Just this. Let us give Miss Allen a Christmas
surprise. She has not received a single present and
I'm sure she feels lonely. Just think how we would
feel if we were in her place."
"That is true," said Olive thoughtfully. "Do you
know, girls, this evening I went to her room with
a message from Mrs. Pickrell, and I do believe she
had been crying. Her room looked dreadfully bare
and cheerless, too. I think she is very poor. What
are we to do, Jean?"
"Let us each give her something nice. We can
put the things just outside of her door so that she
will see them whenever she opens it. I'll give her
some of Fred's roses too, and I'll write a Christmassy
letter in my very best style to go with them," said
Jean, warming up to her ideas as she talked.
The other girls caught her spirit and entered into
the plan with enthusiasm.
"Splendid!" cried Beth. "Jean, it is an inspiration,
sure enough. Haven't we been horribly selfish—thinking
of nothing but our own gifts and fun
and pleasure? I really feel ashamed."
"Let us do the thing up the very best way we
can," said Nellie, forgetting even her beloved
chocolates in her eagerness. "The shops are open
yet. Let us go up town and invest."
Five minutes later five capped and jacketed
figures were scurrying up the street in the frosty,
starlit December dusk. Miss Allen in her cold little
room heard their gay voices and sighed. She was
crying by herself in the dark. It was Christmas for
everybody but her, she thought drearily.
In an hour the girls came back with their
"Now, let's hold a council of war," said Jean jubilantly.
"I hadn't the faintest idea what Miss Allen
would like so I just guessed wildly. I got her a lace
handkerchief and a big bottle of perfume and a
painted photograph frame—and I'll stick my own
photo in it for fun. That was really all I could afford.
Christmas purchases have left my purse dreadfully
"I got her a glove-box and a pin tray," said Belle,
"and Olive got her a calendar and Whittier's poems.
And besides we are going to give her half of that
big plummy fruit cake Mother sent us from home.
I'm sure she hasn't tasted anything so delicious for
years, for fruit cakes don't grow on Chestnut Terrace
and she never goes anywhere else for a meal."
Beth had bought a pretty cup and saucer and said
she meant to give one of her pretty water-colours
too. Nellie, true to her reputation, had invested in
a big box of chocolate creams, a gorgeously striped
candy cane, a bag of oranges, and a brilliant lampshade
of rose-coloured crepe paper to top off with.
"It makes such a lot of show for the money," she
explained. "I am bankrupt, like Jean."
"Well, we've got a lot of pretty things," said Jean
in a tone of satisfaction. "Now we must do them
up nicely. Will you wrap them in tissue paper, girls,
and tie them with baby ribbon—here's a box of
it—while I write that letter?"
While the others chatted over their parcels Jean
wrote her letter, and Jean could write delightful
letters. She had a decided talent in that respect, and
her correspondents all declared her letters to be
things of beauty and joy forever. She put her best
into Miss Allen's Christmas letter. Since then she
has written many bright and clever things, but I
do not believe she ever in her life wrote anything
more genuinely original and delightful than that
letter. Besides, it breathed the very spirit of Christmas,
and all the girls declared that it was splendid.
"You must all sign it now," said Jean, "and I'll put
it in one of those big envelopes; and, Nellie, won't
you write her name on it in fancy letters?"
Which Nellie proceeded to do, and furthermore
embellished the envelope by a border of chubby
cherubs, dancing hand in hand around it and a
sketch of No. 16 Chestnut Terrace in the corner
in lieu of a stamp. Not content with this she hunted
out a huge sheet of drawing paper and drew upon
it an original pen-and-ink design after her own
heart. A dudish cat—Miss Allen was fond of the
No. 16 cat if she could be said to be fond of anything—was
portrayed seated on a rocker arrayed
in smoking jacket and cap with a cigar waved airily
aloft in one paw while the other held out a placard
bearing the legend "Merry Christmas." A second
cat in full street costume bowed politely, hat in paw,
and waved a banner inscribed with "Happy New
Year," while faintly suggested kittens gambolled
around the border. The girls laughed until they
cried over it and voted it to be the best thing Nellie
had yet done in original work.
All this had taken time and it was past eleven
o'clock. Miss Allen had cried herself to sleep long
ago and everybody else in Chestnut Terrace was
abed when five figures cautiously crept down the
hall, headed by Jean with a dim lamp. Outside of
Miss Allen's door the procession halted and the girls
silently arranged their gifts on the floor.
"That's done," whispered Jean in a tone of satisfaction
as they tiptoed back. "And now let us go
to bed or Mrs. Pickrell, bless her heart, will be
down on us for burning so much midnight oil. Oil
has gone up, you know, girls."
It was in the early morning that Miss Allen
opened her door. But early as it was, another door
down the hall was half open too and five rosy faces
were peering cautiously out. The girls had been
up for an hour for fear they would miss the sight
and were all in Nellie's room, which commanded
a view of Miss Allen's door.
That lady's face was a study. Amazement, incredulity,
wonder, chased each other over it, succeeded
by a glow of pleasure. On the floor before her was
a snug little pyramid of parcels topped by Jean's
letter. On a chair behind it was a bowl of delicious
hot-house roses and Nellie's placard.
Miss Allen looked down the hall but saw
nothing, for Jean had slammed the door just in
time. Half an hour later when they were going
down to breakfast Miss Allen came along the hall
with outstretched hands to meet them. She had
been crying again, but I think her tears were happy
ones; and she was smiling now. A cluster of Jean's
roses were pinned on her breast.
"Oh, girls, girls," she said, with a little tremble in
her voice, "I can never thank you enough. It was so
kind and sweet of you. You don't know how much
good you have done me."
Breakfast was an unusually cheerful affair at No.
16 that morning. There was no skeleton at the feast
and everybody was beaming. Miss Allen laughed
and talked like a girl herself.
"Oh, how surprised I was!" she said. "The roses
were like a bit of summer, and those cats of Nellie's
were so funny and delightful. And your letter too,
Jean! I cried and laughed over it. I shall read it every
day for a year."
After breakfast everyone went to Christmas
service. The girls went uptown to the church they
attended. The city was very beautiful in the
morning sunshine. There had been a white frost
in the night and the tree-lined avenues and public
squares seemed like glimpses of fairyland.
"How lovely the world is," said Jean.
"This is really the very happiest Christmas
morning I have ever known," declared Nellie. "I
never felt so really Christmassy in my inmost soul
"I suppose," said Beth thoughtfully, "that it is
because we have discovered for ourselves the old
truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
I've always known it, in a way, but I never realized
"Blessing on Jean's Christmas inspiration," said
Nellie. "But, girls, let us try to make it an all-the-year-round
inspiration, I say. We can bring a little
of our own sunshine into Miss Allen's life as long as
we live with her."
"Amen to that!" said Jean heartily. "Oh, listen,
girls—the Christmas chimes!"
And over all the beautiful city was wafted the
grand old message of peace on earth and good will
to all the world.