A Christmas Story by Mrs. W. J. Hays
Author of "The Princess Idleways."
"Now, Teddie, be a good boy, there's a darling, and, little Clover,
don't tease Daisy. Please let mamma go away to church and know that you
are all sweet and lovely and clean as new little pennies to-night."
Splash went one little body into the bath-tub, and splash went another,
and again a third; and then, like so many roses after a shower, out they
came, dripping, and laughing and screaming with glee. The little mother
was kept busy enough, for it was Christmas-eve, and the carols and
anthems were to be rehearsed for the last time, and Mrs. Morton's clear
soprano voice could not be spared. Indeed, her voice was all that kept
Teddie and Clover and Daisy in their neat little box of a house, for
their father, a brave fireman, had been killed more than two years
before at a fearful fire, and since then their mother had striven hard
to maintain her little family by sewing, and singing, and doing whatever
work her slender hands could accomplish which would bring in food and
clothing for her children.
"Be dood, Teddie," repeated Daisy, after her mother, as she shook out
her little wet curls at him, and Clover solemnly raised his finger at
his bigger brother, with the warning,
"Remember, Santa Claus comes to-night."
"Yes, and the stockings must be hung up," said Ted, who forthwith
proceeded to attend to that important duty.
"There! how do they look?—one brown, that's mine; one blue, that's
Clover's; and one red, that's Daisy's." They were pinned fast to the
fender with many pins and much care.
"But, mamma," said Clover, "the stove's in the way. Santa Claus can't
get down with that big black thing stopping the chimney."
"Oh, the fire will go out by-and-by, and then he may creep through the
stove-pipe and out of the door."
"He'll be awful dirty, then," said Daisy.
"Well, 'he was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot, and his
clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot,' so that is to be
expected. But really, dear children, you must jump into your beds, and
let me tuck you up; it is time for me to go."
Very quickly the rosy little faces were nestling in the pillows, and
Mrs. Morton, after kissing them, put out the lamp and left them to their
slumbers. Hastily putting on her cloak and bonnet, she paused at the
door of her sitting-room to see if the fire was safe. The room was dark
but for the gleaming stove, the chairs and table were all in order, and
in one corner, under a covering of paper, was the little tree she had
decked in odd moments to delight the eyes of her children. She could not
afford wax candles, so the morning was to bring the tree as well as the
other gifts. Sure that all was in readiness, she tripped down the
stairs, locked her door, and sped over the snow to the church, the two
tall towers of which stood out against the starry sky.
As she entered the church, her mind full of her duties and her heart
tender with thoughts of her children, she thought she saw a dusky little
object crouching in the angle made by the towers; but she was already
late, and had no time to linger. Up she went to the choir, which was
full of light, but the body of the church was dark. Without any words,
she took up her sheet of music and began to sing. Never had the carols
and anthems seemed so sweet to her, and her voice rose clear and pure as
a bird's. The organist paused to listen, and her companions turned
satisfied glances upon her; but she went on unconsciously, as a bird
does until the burden of its theme is finished, and its exultant strains
are lost in silence. They went over the whole Church service, the
glorious Te Deum, the Benedictus, and the anthem for the day, "Unto
us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given," and every delicate chord
and fugue had to be repeated until the desired perfection of harmony was
attained. It was really a very long and arduous study; but of all days
Christmas demands good music, and they were willing to do their best. At
last all were satisfied, and somewhat tired; but the organist turned to
Mrs. Morton, and asked her if she would sing one hymn for him alone, as
he especially desired to hear her voice in this one tune. Of course she
could not refuse, and to an exquisitely harmonious air she began,
"Calm on the listening ear of night
Come heaven's melodious strains,
Where wild Judæa stretches far
Her silver-mantled plains.
"Light on thy hills, Jerusalem!
The Saviour now is born!
And bright on Bethlehem's joyous plains
Breaks the first Christmas morn."
Only the first and last verses of that exquisite hymn; but like "angels
with their sparkling lyres," her voice seemed to have lost its
earthliness, and soared, as if it were winged, up to the very gate of
heaven. When she ceased singing, there was a hush upon all, as if they
had been carried near to the celestial portals.
One by one they pressed her hand in quiet congratulation, and with a
"Merry Christmas" bade her good-night. Mrs. Morton was a little excited
with her unusual efforts, and while the old organist was locking up,
thought she would run down and warm herself in the church. As she
hastened toward the great heater, she tripped over something, which, to
her great surprise and alarm, she perceived what appeared to be a great
bundle was in reality a sleeping child.
Yes, a child, and a little one—a boy of not more than seven years, with
elfish brown locks, and eyelashes which swept the olive tint of his
cheek. All curled up in a heap, in clothes which a man might have worn,
so big and shapeless were they, with one arm under his head for a
pillow, and the other tightly grasping a violin. Far had he wandered in
the cold wintry air, until, attracted by the light and warmth of the
great church, he had stolen in for shelter, and then as his little ears
drank in the melody of the rehearsing choir, and the warmth comforted
him, he fell fast asleep. He was dreaming now of the warm sunny land of
his birth: olive-trees and orchards, purple clusters of the vineyards,
donkeys laden with oranges, and the blue sky of Naples shining over the
blue bay. Then, in his dream, an angel came floating down out of the
pure ether, wafting sweet perfumes on its white wings, and singing—oh!
what heavenly strains!—till his little soul was filled with joy; for
the angel seemed to be his mother who had died, and her kind voice again
saluted him, and he answered, softly, "Madre mia!"
"Poor child!" said Mrs. Morton, softly, "it seems a pity to waken him,
but we must do it; he can not stay here all night." The old organist
touched him; but his sleep was too sound for a touch to arouse him, and
Mrs. Morton had to again and again lift his head and stroke his little
brown hand, before, with amazed and widely fearful looks, he answered
"Who are you, child, and what are you doing here?" asked the organist.
"I'm Toni, Toni," was the answer, and he began to cry. "Oh, please let
me go: the Padrone will kill me."
"Why will he kill you, and why are you here?"
"He will kill me because I have no money. I have lost, also, my way."
"Have you no home, no mother?" asked Mrs. Morton, gently.
"No, signora, no, madame, no mother. We all live, Baptiste and Vincenzo
and I, with the Padrone. We play the harp and the violin; but I was
tired, and I could not keep with the others, and they scolded me, oh, so
sharply! and I was weary and cold, and crept in here where the angels
sing, and it was so beautiful I could not go away."
The organist muttered, "Police," at which the child again sobbed
violently. "Yes, to the station-house, of course, he must go."
But Mrs. Morton remembered the three faces asleep on their pillows at
home, and as she looked at this tear-stained, dirty little gypsy, she
said to the organist, "I will take care of him to-night." So, under the
stars, the Christmas stars, gleaming so brightly, she led the little
All was still and safe in the little house. "Not a creature was
stirring, not even a mouse." The fire still gleamed in the kitchen and
the sitting-room, and it was the work of only a few moments to divest
the little musician of his uncouth garments, to pop him into the tub of
hot suds, to scrub him well, until his lean little body shone like
bronze, to slip him into a night-gown, to give him a slice of bread and
butter, and then to tuck him up on the cozy lounge.
The children slept like tops, and the tired little mother was glad to
say her prayers, and lie down beside them.
The stars were still shining when she awoke; for Christmas-day would be
a busy one, and there were no moments to lose. Already the milkman was
at the door, and the hands of the kitchen clock pointed to six.
Hark! what was that?
A long, low, sweet sound, like a voice calling her. She listened, and
again it came. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,
good-will toward men," so it seemed to breathe. Then it rose in a gay
carol, a sweet gushing thanksgiving, and the children came tumbling down
in their night-gowns; they rushed to the door of the sitting-room, and
there beside his improvised bed stood the young musician, playing on his
violin as if all the world were his audience. His brown eyes flashed now
with light, and then grew dark and tender, as he drew the sweet sounds
out. The children gazed in wonderment: where had this child come from?
had he dropped from the stars? had an angel come among them? He played
on and on, until, from sheer fatigue, he put his instrument down. Then
Teddie and Clover and Daisy came about him; they touched his hands, his
curly locks, his violin, to see if all were real. Then they whirled
round the room in a mad dance of delight, for the mother had uncovered
the tree, and it was really Christmas morning.
Ah, what a happy day for poor little Toni! How nice he looked in
Teddie's clothes! how gentle he was with Daisy! how he frolicked with
Clover! and when Mrs. Morton came from church, how softly he played all
his pretty melodies for her! It was a day of feast and gladness; and
when, to her surprise and pleasure, a committee of church people waited
upon Mrs. Morton to give her a purse, through the meshes of which
glittered gold pieces, she said then and there that Toni should never go
to the harsh and cruel Padrone again.
Perhaps some time as you listen to a sweet voice singing to the
accompaniment of a violin you may think of Mrs. Morton and Toni, and be
glad that the world bestows its applause and its gifts upon them, and
that the vision of his mother and her love which came to Toni on that
Christmas-eve has been made to him a reality.