George MacDonald.

Adela Cathcart, Volume 2 online

. (page 12 of 12)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 12 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"Next morning, - that was Christmas-day, - he went out for a walk alone,
apparently oppressed with the thought with which the serious part of
our conversation on the preceding evening had closed. Of course nothing
less than a threepenny piece would do for a crossing-sweeper on
Christmas-day; but one tiny little girl touched his heart so that
the usual coin was doubled. Still this did not relieve the heart of
the giver sufficiently; for the child looked up in his face in a way,
whatever the way was, that made his heart ache. So he gave her a
shilling. But he felt no better after that. - I am following his own
account of feelings and circumstances.

"'This won't do,' said Uncle Peter to himself. 'What is your name?'
said Uncle Peter to the little girl.

"'Little Christmas,' she answered.

"'Little Christmas!' exclaimed Uncle Peter. 'I see why that wouldn't
do now. What do you mean?'

"'Little Christmas, sir; please, sir.'

"'Who calls you that?'

"'Everybody, sir.'

"'Why do they call you that?'

"'It's my name, sir.'

"'What's your father's name?'

"'I ain't got none, sir'

"'But you know what his name was?'

"'No, sir.'

"'How did you get your name then? It must be the same as your father's,
you know.'

"'Then I suppose my father was Christmas-day, sir, for I knows of none
else. They always calls me Little Christmas.'

"'H'm! A little sister of mine, I see,' said Uncle Peter to himself.

"'Well, who's your mother?'

"'My aunt, sir. She knows I'm out, sir.'

"There was not the least impudence in the child's tone or manner in
saying this. She looked up at him with her gipsy eye in the most
confident manner. She had not struck him in the least as beautiful;
but the longer he looked at her, the more he was pleased with her.

"'Is your aunt kind to you?'

"'She gives me my wittles.'

"'Suppose you did not get any money all day, what would she say to you?'

"'Oh, she won't give me a hidin' to-day, sir, supposin' I gets no more.
You've giv' me enough already, sir; thank you, sir. I'll change it into

"'She does beat you sometimes, then?'

"'Oh, my!'

"Here she rubbed her arms and elbows as if she ached all over at the
thought, and these were the only parts she could reach to rub for the

"'I _will_,' said Uncle Peter to himself.

"'Do you think you were born on Christmas-day, little one?'

"'I think I was once, sir.'

"'I shall teach the child to tell lies if I go on asking her questions
in this way,' thought my uncle. 'Will you go home with me?' he said

"'Yes, sir, if you will tell me where to put my broom, for I must not
go home without it, else aunt would wollop me.'

"'I will buy you a new broom.'

"'But aunt would wollop me all the same if I did not bring home the old
one for our Christmas fire.'

"'Never mind. I will take care of you. You may bring your broom if you
like, though,' he added, seeing a cloud come over the little face.

"'Thank you, sir,' said the child; and, shouldering her broom, she
trotted along behind him, as he led the way home.

"But this would not do, either. Before they had gone twelve paces,
he had the child in one hand; and before they had gone a second twelve,
he had the broom in the other. And so Uncle Peter walked home with his
child and his broom. The latter he set down inside the door, and the
former he led upstairs to his room. There he seated her on a chair by
the fire, and ringing the bell, asked the landlady to bring a basin
of bread and milk. The woman cast a look of indignation and wrath at
the poor little immortal. She might have been the impersonation of
Christmas-day in the catacombs, as she sat with her feet wide apart,
and reaching halfway down the legs of the chair, and her black eyes
staring from the midst of knotted tangles of hair that never felt comb
or brush, or were defended from the wind by bonnet or hood. I dare say
uncle's poor apartment, with its cases of stuffed birds and its square
piano that was used for a cupboard, seemed to her the most sumptuous of
conceivable abodes. But she said nothing - only stared. When her bread
and milk came, she ate it up without a word, and when she had finished
it, sat still for a moment, as if pondering what it became her to do
next. Then she rose, dropped a courtesy, and said: - 'Thank you, sir.
Please, sir, where's my broom?'

"'Oh, but I want you to stop with me, and be my little girl.'

"'Please, sir, I would rather go to my crossing.'

"The face of Little Christmas lengthened visibly, and she was upon the
point of crying. Uncle Peter saw that he had been too precipitate, and
that he must woo the child before he could hope to win her; so he asked
her for her address. But though she knew the way to her home perfectly,
she could give only what seemed to him the most confused directions how
to find it. No doubt to her they seemed as clear as day. Afraid of
terrifying her by following her, the best way seemed to him to promise
her a new frock on the morrow, if she would come and fetch it. Her face
brightened so at the sound of a new frock, that my uncle had very little
fear of the fault being hers if she did not come.

"'Will you know the way back, my dear?'"

"'I always know my way anywheres,' answered she. So she was allowed to
depart with her cherished broom."

"Uncle Peter took my mother into council upon the affair of the frock.
She thought an old one of my sister's would do best. But my uncle had
said a _new_ frock, and a new one it must be. So next day my mother
went with him to buy one, and was excessively amused with his entire
ignorance of what was suitable for the child. However, the frock being
purchased, he saw how absurd it would be to put a new frock over such
garments as she must have below, and accordingly made my mother buy
everything to clothe her completely. With these treasures he hastened
home, and found poor Little Christmas and her broom waiting for him
outside the door, for the landlady would not let her in. This roused the
wrath of my uncle to such a degree, that, although he had borne wrongs
innumerable and aggravated for a long period of years without complaint,
he walked in and gave her notice that he would leave in a week. I think
she expected he would forget all about it before the day arrived; but
with his further designs for Little Christmas, he was not likely to
forget it; and I fear I have seldom enjoyed anything so much as the
consternation of the woman (whom I heartily hated) when she saw a truck
arrive to remove my uncle's few personal possessions from her
inhospitable roof. I believe she took her revenge by giving her cronies
to understand that she had turned my uncle away at a week's warning for
bringing home improper companions to her respectable house. - But to
return to Little Christmas. She fared all the better for the landlady's
unkindness; for my mother took her home and washed her with her own soft
hands from head to foot; and then put all the new clothes on her, and
she looked charming. How my uncle would have managed I can't think.
He was delighted at the improvement in her appearance. I saw him turn
round and wipe his eyes with his handkerchief.

"'Now, Little Christmas, will you come and live with me?' said he.

"She pulled the same face, though not quite so long as before, and said,
'I would rather go to my crossing, please, sir.'

"My uncle heaved a sigh and let her go.

"She shouldered her broom as if it had been the rifle of a giant, and
trotted away to her work.

"But next day, and the next, and the next, she was not to be seen at
her wonted corner. When a whole week had passed and she did not make
her appearance, my uncle was in despair. "'You see, Charlie,' said he,
'I am fated to be of no use to anybody, though I was born on

"The very next day, however, being Sunday, my uncle found her as he went
to church. She was sweeping a new crossing. She seemed to have found a
lower deep still, for, alas! all her new clothes were gone, and she was
more tattered and wretched-looking than before. As soon as she saw my
uncle she burst into tears.

"'Look,' she said, pulling up her little frock, and showing her thigh
with a terrible bruise upon it; '_she_ did it.'

"A fresh burst of tears followed.

"'Where are your new clothes, Little Christmas?' asked my uncle.

"'She sold them for gin, and then beat me awful. Please, sir, I couldn't
help it.'

"The child's tears were so bitter, that my uncle, without thinking,
said -

"'Never mind, dear; you shall have another frock.'

"Her tears ceased, and her face brightened for a moment; but the weeping
returned almost instantaneously with increased violence, and she sobbed

"'It's no use, sir; she'd only serve me the same, sir.'

"'Will you come home and live with me, then?'

"'Yes, please.'

"She flung her broom from her into the middle of the street, nearly
throwing down a cab-horse, betwixt whose fore-legs it tried to pass;
then, heedless of the oaths of the man, whom my uncle pacified with a
shilling, put her hand in that of her friend and trotted home with him.
From that day till the day of his death she never left him - of her own
accord, at least.

"My uncle had, by this time, got into lodgings with a woman of the right
sort, who received the little stray lamb with open arms and open heart.
Once more she was washed and clothed from head to foot, and from skin to
frock. My uncle never allowed her to go out without him, or some one who
was capable of protecting her. He did not think it at all necessary to
supply the woman, who might not be her aunt after all, with gin
unlimited, for the privilege of rescuing Little Christmas from her
cruelty. So he felt that she was in great danger of being carried off,
for the sake either of her earnings or her ransom; and, in fact, some
very suspicious-looking characters were several times observed prowling
about in the neighbourhood. Uncle Peter, however, took what care he
could to prevent any report of this reaching the ears of Little
Christmas, lest she should live in terror; and contented himself with
watching her carefully. It was some time before my mother would consent
to our playing with her freely and beyond her sight; for it was strange
to hear the ugly words which would now and then break from her dear
little innocent lips. But she was very easily cured of this, although,
of course, some time must pass before she could be quite depended upon.
She was a sweet-tempered, loving child. But the love seemed for some
time to have no way of showing itself, so little had she been used to
ways of love and tenderness. When we kissed her she never returned the
kiss, but only stared; yet whatever we asked her to do she would do as
if her whole heart was in it; and I did not doubt it was. Now I know it

"After a few years, when Christmas began to be considered tolerably
capable of taking care of herself, the vigilance of my uncle gradually
relaxed a little. A month before her thirteenth birthday, as near as my
uncle could guess, the girl disappeared. She had gone to the day-school
as usual, and was expected home in the afternoon; for my uncle would
never part with her to go to a boarding-school, and yet wished her to
have the benefit of mingling with her fellows, and not being always tied
to the button-hole of an old bachelor. But she did not return at the
usual hour. My uncle went to inquire about her. She had left the school
with the rest. Night drew on. My uncle was in despair. He roamed the
streets all night; spoke about his child to every policeman he met;
went to the station-house of the district, and described her; had bills
printed, and offered a hundred pounds reward for her restoration.
All was unavailing. The miscreants must have seen bills, but feared to
repose confidence in the offer. Poor Uncle Peter drooped and grew thin.
Before the month was out, his clothes were hanging about him like a
sack. He could hardly swallow a mouthful; hardly even sit down to a
meal. I believe he loved his Little Christmas every whit as much as
if she had been his own daughter - perhaps more - for he could not help
thinking of what she might have been if he had not rescued her; and he
felt that God had given her to him as certainly as if she had been his
own child, only that she had come in another way. He would get out of
bed in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and go wandering up and
down the streets, and into dreadful places, sometimes, to try to find
her. But fasting and watching could not go on long without bringing
friends with them. Uncle Peter was seized with a fever, which grew and
grew till his life was despaired of. He was very delirious at times,
and then the strangest fancies had possession of his brain. Sometimes
he seemed to see the horrid woman she called her aunt, torturing the
poor child; sometimes it was old Pagan Father Christmas, clothed in snow
and ice, come to fetch his daughter; sometimes it was his old landlady
shutting her out in the frost; or himself finding her afterwards, but
frozen so hard to the ground that he could not move her to get her
indoors. The doctors seemed doubtful, and gave as their opinion - a
decided shake of the head.

"Christmas-day arrived. In the afternoon, to the wonder of all about
him, although he had been wandering a moment before, he suddenly said -

"'I was born on Christmas-day, you know. This is the first Christmas-day
that didn't bring me good luck.'

"Turning to me, he added -

"'Charlie, my boy, its' a good thing ANOTHER besides me was born on
Christmas-day, isn't it?'

"'Yes, dear uncle,' said I; and it was all I could say. He lay quite
quiet for a few minutes, when there came a gentle knock to the street

"'That's Chrissy!' he cried, starting up in bed, and stretching out his
arms with trembling eagerness. 'And me to say this Christmas-day would
bring me no good!'

"He fell back on his pillow, and burst into a flood of tears.

"I rushed down to the door, and reached it before the servant. I stared.
There stood a girl about the size of Chrissy, with an old battered
bonnet on, and a ragged shawl. She was standing on the door-step,
trembling. I felt she was trembling somehow, for I don't think I saw it.
She had Chrissy's eyes too, I thought; but the light was dim now, for
the evening was coming on.

"All this passed through my mind in a moment, during which she stood

"'What is it?' I said, in a tremor of expectation.

"'Charlie, don't you know me?' she said, and burst into tears.

"We were in each other's arms in a moment - for the first time. But
Chrissy is my wife now. I led her up stairs in triumph, and into my
uncle's room.

"'I knew it was my lamb!' he cried, stretching out his arms, and trying
to lift himself up, only he was too weak.

"Chrissy flew to his arms. She was very dirty, and her clothes had such
a smell of poverty! But there she lay in my uncle's bosom, both of them
sobbing, for a long time; and when at last she withdrew, she tumbled
down on the floor, and there she lay motionless. I was in a dreadful
fright, but my mother came in at the moment, while I was trying to put
some brandy within her cold lips, and got her into a warm bath, and put
her to bed.

"In the morning she was much better, though the doctor would not let
her get up for a day or two. I think, however, that was partly for my
uncle's sake.

"When at length she entered the room one morning, dressed in her own
nice clothes, for there were plenty in the wardrobe in her room, my
uncle stretched out his arms to her once more, and said:

"'Ah! Chrissy, I thought I was going to have my own way, an die on
Christmas-day; but it would have been one too soon, before I had found
you, my darling."


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 12 of 12)