Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket by Lucy Maud
When Lucy Rose met Aunt Cyrilla coming downstairs, somewhat flushed
and breathless from her ascent to the garret, with a big, flat-covered
basket hanging over her plump arm, she gave a little sigh of despair.
Lucy Rose had done her brave best for some years—in fact, ever since
she had put up her hair and lengthened her skirts—to break Aunt
Cyrilla of the habit of carrying that basket with her every time she
went to Pembroke; but Aunt Cyrilla still insisted on taking it, and
only laughed at what she called Lucy Rose's "finicky notions." Lucy
Rose had a horrible, haunting idea that it was extremely provincial
for her aunt always to take the big basket, packed full of country
good things, whenever she went to visit Edward and Geraldine.
Geraldine was so stylish, and might think it queer; and then Aunt
Cyrilla always would carry it on her arm and give cookies and apples
and molasses taffy out of it to every child she encountered and, just
as often as not, to older folks too. Lucy Rose, when she went to town
with Aunt Cyrilla, felt chagrined over this—all of which goes to
prove that Lucy was as yet very young and had a great deal to learn in
That troublesome worry over what Geraldine would think nerved her to
make a protest in this instance.
"Now, Aunt C'rilla," she pleaded, "you're surely not going to take
that funny old basket to Pembroke this time—Christmas Day and all."
"'Deed and 'deed I am," returned Aunt Cyrilla briskly, as she put it
on the table and proceeded to dust it out. "I never went to see Edward
and Geraldine since they were married that I didn't take a basket of
good things along with me for them, and I'm not going to stop now. As
for it's being Christmas, all the more reason. Edward is always real
glad to get some of the old farmhouse goodies. He says they beat city
cooking all hollow, and so they do."
"But it's so countrified," moaned Lucy Rose.
"Well, I am countrified," said Aunt Cyrilla firmly, "and so are you.
And what's more, I don't see that it's anything to be ashamed of.
You've got some real silly pride about you, Lucy Rose. You'll grow
out of it in time, but just now it is giving you a lot of trouble."
"The basket is a lot of trouble," said Lucy Rose crossly. "You're
always mislaying it or afraid you will. And it does look so funny to
be walking through the streets with that big, bulgy basket hanging on
"I'm not a mite worried about its looks," returned Aunt Cyrilla
calmly. "As for its being a trouble, why, maybe it is, but I have
that, and other people have the pleasure of it. Edward and Geraldine
don't need it—I know that—but there may be those that will. And if
it hurts your feelings to walk 'longside of a countrified old lady
with a countrified basket, why, you can just fall behind, as it were."
Aunt Cyrilla nodded and smiled good-humouredly, and Lucy Rose, though
she privately held to her own opinion, had to smile too.
"Now, let me see," said Aunt Cyrilla reflectively, tapping the snowy
kitchen table with the point of her plump, dimpled forefinger, "what
shall I take? That big fruit cake for one thing—Edward does like my
fruit cake; and that cold boiled tongue for another. Those three mince
pies too, they'd spoil before we got back or your uncle'd make himself
sick eating them—mince pie is his besetting sin. And that little
stone bottle full of cream—Geraldine may carry any amount of style,
but I've yet to see her look down on real good country cream, Lucy
Rose; and another bottle of my raspberry vinegar. That plate of jelly
cookies and doughnuts will please the children and fill up the chinks,
and you can bring me that box of ice-cream candy out of the pantry,
and that bag of striped candy sticks your uncle brought home from the
corner last night. And apples, of course—three or four dozen of those
good eaters—and a little pot of my greengage preserves—Edward'll
like that. And some sandwiches and pound cake for a snack for
ourselves. Now, I guess that will do for eatables. The presents for
the children can go in on top. There's a doll for Daisy and the little
boat your uncle made for Ray and a tatted lace handkerchief apiece for
the twins, and the crochet hood for the baby. Now, is that all?"
"There's a cold roast chicken in the pantry," said Lucy Rose wickedly,
"and the pig Uncle Leo killed is hanging up in the porch. Couldn't you
put them in too?"
Aunt Cyrilla smiled broadly. "Well, I guess we'll leave the pig alone;
but since you have reminded me of it, the chicken may as well go in. I
can make room."
Lucy Rose, in spite of her prejudices, helped with the packing and,
not having been trained under Aunt Cyrilla's eye for nothing, did it
very well too, with much clever economy of space. But when Aunt
Cyrilla had put in as a finishing touch a big bouquet of pink and
white everlastings, and tied the bulging covers down with a firm hand,
Lucy Rose stood over the basket and whispered vindictively:
"Some day I'm going to burn this basket—when I get courage enough.
Then there'll be an end of lugging it everywhere we go like a—like an
Uncle Leopold came in just then, shaking his head dubiously. He was
not going to spend Christmas with Edward and Geraldine, and perhaps
the prospect of having to cook and eat his Christmas dinner all alone
made him pessimistic.
"I mistrust you folks won't get to Pembroke tomorrow," he said sagely.
"It's going to storm."
Aunt Cyrilla did not worry over this. She believed matters of this
kind were fore-ordained, and she slept calmly. But Lucy Rose got up
three times in the night to see if it were storming, and when she did
sleep had horrible nightmares of struggling through blinding
snowstorms dragging Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas basket along with her.
It was not snowing in the early morning, and Uncle Leopold drove Aunt
Cyrilla and Lucy Rose and the basket to the station, four miles off.
When they reached there the air was thick with flying flakes. The
stationmaster sold them their tickets with a grim face.
"If there's any more snow comes, the trains might as well keep
Christmas too," he said. "There's been so much snow already that
traffic is blocked half the time, and now there ain't no place to
shovel the snow off onto."
Aunt Cyrilla said that if the train were to get to Pembroke in time
for Christmas, it would get there; and she opened her basket and gave
the stationmaster and three small boys an apple apiece.
"That's the beginning," groaned Lucy Rose to herself.
When their train came along Aunt Cyrilla established herself in one
seat and her basket in another, and looked beamingly around her at her
These were few in number—a delicate little woman at the end of the
car, with a baby and four other children, a young girl across the
aisle with a pale, pretty face, a sunburned lad three seats ahead in a
khaki uniform, a very handsome, imposing old lady in a sealskin coat
ahead of him, and a thin young man with spectacles opposite.
"A minister," reflected Aunt Cyrilla, beginning to classify, "who
takes better care of other folks' souls than of his own body; and
that woman in the sealskin is discontented and cross at something—got
up too early to catch the train, maybe; and that young chap must be
one of the boys not long out of the hospital. That woman's children
look as if they hadn't enjoyed a square meal since they were born; and
if that girl across from me has a mother, I'd like to know what the
woman means, letting her daughter go from home in this weather in
clothes like that."
Lucy Rose merely wondered uncomfortably what the others thought of
Aunt Cyrilla's basket.
They expected to reach Pembroke that night, but as the day wore on the
storm grew worse. Twice the train had to stop while the train hands
dug it out. The third time it could not go on. It was dusk when the
conductor came through the train, replying brusquely to the questions
of the anxious passengers.
"A nice lookout for Christmas—no, impossible to go on or back—track
blocked for miles—what's that, madam?—no, no station near—woods for
miles. We're here for the night. These storms of late have played the
mischief with everything."
"Oh, dear," groaned Lucy Rose.
Aunt Cyrilla looked at her basket complacently. "At any rate, we won't
starve," she said.
The pale, pretty girl seemed indifferent. The sealskin lady looked
crosser than ever. The khaki boy said, "Just my luck," and two of the
children began to cry. Aunt Cyrilla took some apples and striped candy
sticks from her basket and carried them to them. She lifted the oldest
into her ample lap and soon had them all around her, laughing and
The rest of the travellers straggled over to the corner and drifted
into conversation. The khaki boy said it was hard lines not to get
home for Christmas, after all.
"I was invalided from South Africa three months ago, and I've been in
the hospital at Netley ever since. Reached Halifax three days ago and
telegraphed the old folks I'd eat my Christmas dinner with them, and
to have an extra-big turkey because I didn't have any last year.
They'll be badly disappointed."
He looked disappointed too. One khaki sleeve hung empty by his side.
Aunt Cyrilla passed him an apple.
"We were all going down to Grandpa's for Christmas," said the little
mother's oldest boy dolefully. "We've never been there before, and
it's just too bad."
He looked as if he wanted to cry but thought better of it and bit off
a mouthful of candy.
"Will there be any Santa Claus on the train?" demanded his small
sister tearfully. "Jack says there won't."
"I guess he'll find you out," said Aunt Cyrilla reassuringly.
The pale, pretty girl came up and took the baby from the tired mother.
"What a dear little fellow," she said softly.
"Are you going home for Christmas too?" asked Aunt Cyrilla.
The girl shook her head. "I haven't any home. I'm just a shop girl out
of work at present, and I'm going to Pembroke to look for some."
Aunt Cyrilla went to her basket and took out her box of cream candy.
"I guess we might as well enjoy ourselves. Let's eat it all up and
have a good time. Maybe we'll get down to Pembroke in the morning."
The little group grew cheerful as they nibbled, and even the pale girl
brightened up. The little mother told Aunt Cyrilla her story aside.
She had been long estranged from her family, who had disapproved of
her marriage. Her husband had died the previous summer, leaving her in
"Father wrote to me last week and asked me to let bygones be bygones
and come home for Christmas. I was so glad. And the children's hearts
were set on it. It seems too bad that we are not to get there. I have
to be back at work the morning after Christmas."
The khaki boy came up again and shared the candy. He told amusing
stories of campaigning in South Africa. The minister came too, and
listened, and even the sealskin lady turned her head over her
By and by the children fell asleep, one on Aunt Cyrilla's lap and one
on Lucy Rose's, and two on the seat. Aunt Cyrilla and the pale girl
helped the mother make up beds for them. The minister gave his
overcoat and the sealskin lady came forward with a shawl.
"This will do for the baby," she said.
"We must get up some Santa Claus for these youngsters," said the khaki
boy. "Let's hang their stockings on the wall and fill 'em up as best
we can. I've nothing about me but some hard cash and a jack-knife.
I'll give each of 'em a quarter and the boy can have the knife."
"I've nothing but money either," said the sealskin lady regretfully.
Aunt Cyrilla glanced at the little mother. She had fallen asleep with
her head against the seat-back.
"I've got a basket over there," said Aunt Cyrilla firmly, "and I've
some presents in it that I was taking to my nephew's children. I'm
going to give 'em to these. As for the money, I think the mother is
the one for it to go to. She's been telling me her story, and a
pitiful one it is. Let's make up a little purse among us for a
The idea met with favour. The khaki boy passed his cap and everybody
contributed. The sealskin lady put in a crumpled note. When Aunt
Cyrilla straightened it out she saw that it was for twenty dollars.
Meanwhile, Lucy Rose had brought the basket. She smiled at Aunt
Cyrilla as she lugged it down the aisle and Aunt Cyrilla smiled back.
Lucy Rose had never touched that basket of her own accord before.
Ray's boat went to Jacky, and Daisy's doll to his oldest sister, the
twins' lace handkerchiefs to the two smaller girls and the hood to the
baby. Then the stockings were filled up with doughnuts and jelly
cookies and the money was put in an envelope and pinned to the little
"That baby is such a dear little fellow," said the sealskin lady
gently. "He looks something like my little son. He died eighteen
Aunt Cyrilla put her hand over the lady's kid glove. "So did mine,"
she said. Then the two women smiled tenderly at each other. Afterwards
they rested from their labours and all had what Aunt Cyrilla called a
"snack" of sandwiches and pound cake. The khaki boy said he hadn't
tasted anything half so good since he left home.
"They didn't give us pound cake in South Africa," he said.
When morning came the storm was still raging. The children wakened and
went wild with delight over their stockings. The little mother found
her envelope and tried to utter thanks and broke down; and nobody knew
what to say or do, when the conductor fortunately came in and made a
diversion by telling them they might as well resign themselves to
spending Christmas on the train.
"This is serious," said the khaki boy, "when you consider that we've
no provisions. Don't mind for myself, used to half rations or no
rations at all. But these kiddies will have tremendous appetites."
Then Aunt Cyrilla rose to the occasion.
"I've got some emergency rations here," she announced. "There's plenty
for all and we'll have our Christmas dinner, although a cold one.
Breakfast first thing. There's a sandwich apiece left and we must fill
up on what is left of the cookies and doughnuts and save the rest for
a real good spread at dinner time. The only thing is, I haven't any
"I've a box of soda crackers," said the little mother eagerly.
Nobody in that car will ever forget that Christmas. To begin with,
after breakfast they had a concert. The khaki boy gave two
recitations, sang three songs, and gave a whistling solo. Lucy Rose
gave three recitations and the minister a comic reading. The pale shop
girl sang two songs. It was agreed that the khaki boy's whistling solo
was the best number, and Aunt Cyrilla gave him the bouquet of
everlastings as a reward of merit.
Then the conductor came in with the cheerful news that the storm was
almost over and he thought the track would be cleared in a few hours.
"If we can get to the next station we'll be all right," he said. "The
branch joins the main line there and the tracks will be clear."
At noon they had dinner. The train hands were invited in to share it.
The minister carved the chicken with the brakeman's jack-knife and the
khaki boy cut up the tongue and the mince pies, while the sealskin
lady mixed the raspberry vinegar with its due proportion of water.
Bits of paper served as plates. The train furnished a couple of
glasses, a tin pint cup was discovered and given to the children, Aunt
Cyrilla and Lucy Rose and the sealskin lady drank, turn about, from
the latter's graduated medicine glass, the shop girl and the little
mother shared one of the empty bottles, and the khaki boy, the
minister, and the train men drank out of the other bottle.
Everybody declared they had never enjoyed a meal more in their lives.
Certainly it was a merry one, and Aunt Cyrilla's cooking was never
more appreciated; indeed, the bones of the chicken and the pot of
preserves were all that was left. They could not eat the preserves
because they had no spoons, so Aunt Cyrilla gave them to the little
When all was over, a hearty vote of thanks was passed to Aunt Cyrilla
and her basket. The sealskin lady wanted to know how she made her
pound cake, and the khaki boy asked for her receipt for jelly cookies.
And when two hours later the conductor came in and said the
snowploughs had got along and they'd soon be starting, they all
wondered if it could really be less than twenty-four hours since they
"I feel as if I'd been campaigning with you all my life," said the
At the next station they all parted. The little mother and the
children had to take the next train back home. The minister stayed
there, and the khaki boy and the sealskin lady changed trains. The
sealskin lady shook Aunt Cyrilla's hand. She no longer looked
discontented or cross.
"This has been the pleasantest Christmas I have ever spent," she said
heartily. "I shall never forget that wonderful basket of yours. The
little shop girl is going home with me. I've promised her a place in
my husband's store."
When Aunt Cyrilla and Lucy Rose reached Pembroke there was nobody to
meet them because everyone had given up expecting them. It was not far
from the station to Edward's house and Aunt Cyrilla elected to walk.
"I'll carry the basket," said Lucy Rose.
Aunt Cyrilla relinquished it with a smile. Lucy Rose smiled too.
"It's a blessed old basket," said the latter, "and I love it. Please
forget all the silly things I ever said about it, Aunt C'rilla."