Susy Diller's Christmas Feast by Unknown

"Please'm, only a penny. I'm most froze and starved!"

The carriage stood at the edge of the sidewalk, and Mrs. Linley was just going out with her two children to buy some Christmas gifts. Nellie was all scarlet and ermine, her sweet, happy face framed in with golden curls, and Master Frank not a whit behind in elegance, though a trifle more haughty, as you could tell by the wide distance he gave the miserable little beggar.

"Get away!" said Mrs. Linley, with a disdainful sweep of the hand.

The woman and the child looked at each other—one of those glances that stamp a face upon one's memory. Mrs. Linley was always afraid of street trash. They might have fever, or small pox, or some other infection, lurking in their rags.

The carriage drove on. The children were happy, generous, well-behaved, and belonged to a Christian family. They were going to prove all this now. Besides gifts for mama and papa, and some little cousins, half a dozen poor children were to be remembered.

They spent all the pleasant, sunshiny middle of the day going from shop to shop. What hosts of tempting things! A perfect Santa Clause revel everywhere. It was like a glimpse of fairy-land.

Frank and Nellie laughed and talked, ran to mama with a hundred pretty things, but did not tease.

They had quite a load in the carriage. And oh! wouldn't lame Johnny Ashton be delighted with his books, and the wheel-chair mama had bought him, and Susy Dorr would be the happiest of the happy in her new plaid dress, and her teacups and saucers.

"Poor children love to play just as well as rich children, don't they, mama?" said grave, sweet Nellie.

"I hope you will never forget, my dear, that we are all created alike, and that all the poor little ones are just as precious in God's sight."

"And it is so nice to make them happy!"

Mrs. Linley gave her darling a smile.

"And Christ the Lord was born for everybody," Frank added in a reflective manner. "My teacher told me so on Sabbath,—so that all little children might be saved, and,—have a merry Christmas."

"Maybe they can't all have a merry Christmas. Some are very poor and sick, and nobody seems to care for them—like the little beggar-girl who stood watching us when we started. O mama! isn't it hard? What becomes of them?"

The sweet face was full of tender pity.

"God takes care of them, like the sparrows," said Frank.

[Illustration: "<i>They shivered with the cold.</i>"]

Mrs. Linley did not answer. Already her heart condemned her, for after all, she was a kind-hearted woman. She half expected to find the wretched object on her doorstep. If so, she would try to make amends for her harsh words. But she was not there.

When they returned home from shopping, they shivered with the cold and ran to the register. Then papa came home, and they had the happiest Christmas eve imaginable. Of course one cannot make one's charities go all around the world, but Mrs. Linley thought she had stretched hers a long distance. So she had. And yet she might have given the child at her door a few pennies. But street-beggars were so often thieves!

Meanwhile the little beggar girl wandered on. For nearly a week she had slept in the station-house and begged a little during the day, just enough to keep body and soul together. She used to sell matches and pins, but she had no capital to buy a new stock, and there were so many in the trade. A month ago the old woman with whom she had lived died suddenly. Then she had to live the best she could.

She went on asking now and then for a penny. Some gave the forlorn little beggar a scowl, some did not even deign to look, and one or two men spoke roughly to her. Oh! She was so hungry and so cold.

The bright sunshine did not seem to warm her a bit. She looked wistfully into basement windows. She stared at the merry, happy children who ran by in warm clothing. Her shoes were out to the ground; her tatters flapped in the biting wind.

It was growing colder and colder. She ran along until she came to a restaurant. Such a delightful, savory smell came through the grating, and a faint warmth that was most grateful to her. Not a mouthful of anything had she eaten since yesterday noon. People went along with great market baskets full; men with bundles in their arms, girls and boys with Christmas gifts,—all hurrying homeward.

[Illustration: "<i>She came to a restaurant.</i>"]

"Move on, move on, there!" said the stern voice of a policeman.

What if she was arrested and sent to prison? She would have something to eat. And the pain gnawing at her stomach was so hard to bear. There was a jacket she might steal—the men around would be sure to see her. She reached out her hand.

No, she couldn't. She never had been a thief. She remembered her mother, who had died two years ago. The pretty lady getting into the carriage had made her think of her! Oh! how good it was that the dear mother could never be hungry again. And she had said, "Jennie, never tell a lie, never steal."

She sat down on a doorstep and began to cry. It was very cold now, and she was so chilled that the tears froze on her thin cheeks. She curled herself up in the corner. If she could only get to sleep.

"Hillo!" said a cheerful voice, and some one shook her by the shoulder. "You'll freeze to death here! It's pinching cold! You better run home."

"Lemme be. I haven't any home. And I was almost asleep. You've brought all the old pain back."

Sturdy young Susy Diller, herself a poor working girl, dragged up the forlorn little object and scanned the thin, blue face.

"Where have you been?"

"Station-houses and such," the child answered sullenly. "After old Molly died, they turned me out. I hadn't any capital, so I had to go out of trade. I've tried to beg—"

[Illustration: "<i>She sat down on a doorstep and began to cry.</i>"]

Susy stood considering. What would Granny say if she brought the poor thing home? "Don't you ask another one to your Christmas party," she had said already. "There won't be room for 'em to stand on one foot." Susy drew her sleeve across her eyes. Somehow her heart had grown very tender since she had been going to the mission school. A little scene flashed into her mind: On Sabbath, Mr. Linley, the most splendid man in the world, Susy insisted to Granny, had been explaining to the boys and girls how even the Saviour of all the world had been houseless.

"I wish I'd been there!" said Susy bravely, "I'd a' took Him in."

"Susy," replied Mr. Linley, "when we do such a thing for the very poorest and meanest, we do it for the Lord." And then he read the beautiful commendation that the Saviour was to bestow at the last upon those who did what they could in this world, picturing their blessed joy and surprise as they said: "Lord, when saw we Thee hungry and fed Thee, or sick and ministered unto Thee?" He had a way of making such vivid pictures that the boys used to listen wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

So Susy had announced to Granny that she meant to give a Christmas party, and repeated to her all the conversation at the Sabbath-school as she always did.

"I thought you was going to get that nice new jacket? And you have just money enough."

"I'll wait two or three weeks for that," declared Susy. "You see it's so much nicer on Christmas. I don't understand a bit how the Saviour did come down to earth, but it seems good to think He was a little boy, though He was a good sight better'n any of us. When you think of all that, you can get kinder nigh to him, just as I do to Mr. Linley, our Sabbath-school teacher.

"And maybe, if we ask in the poor and lame, He will look down and think Susy Diller is trying to keep Christmas the right way. There'll be lame Tim Jenkins,—you know he was run over by the street cars,—-and Humpy, whose mother is dead, and the little Smith that I set up in the paper business, and Kit Benner, who's been sick and lost his place, and—"

It was then that Granny had said: "Don't ask another one. There won't be room enough for 'em to stand on one foot."

"And we'll have a rousin' turkey,—I know where I can get one real cheap,—and cranberry sauce, and pickles, and mince pie. A regular feast, and no mistake!"

But finally Susy had found two more; so now there were six of them. Susy had work in a factory and took care of Granny, who was too old to do much of anything, and was almost bent double with rheumatism. They had a room on the second floor of a tumble-down barrack, and one small bedroom out of it; but Granny thought it almost a palace, because Susy was so good to her.

And now here was one more to share their Christmas dinner. What would Granny say! But the young missionary did not stop long to consider the matter,—here was a case of real suffering, and Susy's conscience quickly adjusted itself—

"Come along," said Susy to the little vagrant, thinking somehow of the Lord of all who had not where to lay His head.

"For maybe if He was here," she soliloquized, "we shouldn't be able to tell Him from anyone else. And it's just—anybody."

[Illustration: "<i>She dropped into a little heap before the fire.</i>"]

Susy took the little estray by the arm, and hurried her along. Poor little Jennie! her feet seemed hardly to touch the ground, they were so cold and numb. She didn't much care even if she was being taken to the station house.

But she wasn't. After a while she felt the warmth and heard the voices, but she was so tired and sleepy that she dropped into a little heap before the fire and only heard her young rescuer say:—

"Let her sleep, Granny; it'll do her more good than anything else."

[Illustration: <i>"It was a famous Christmas feast."</i>]

"But, Susy, child, we can't take care of her all the time. And—" Granny stopped there, looking into Susy's eyes.

"It's Christmas eve, Granny. I feel as if we ought to do something, even if we have only a manger to take people into."

By and by, Jennie Morgan, the poor little waif, woke up, had some supper, and told her story. It was like hundreds of others, only her mother was a beautiful lady. She had seen some one in the street this morning that looked just like her.

"She's smart and chipper, Granny, and she'll soon be better," said Susy.

Jennie's cheeks were very red the next morning, and her eyes very bright; moreover, her voice had a curious tremble in it, but she declared she was quite well. It was so delightful to be housed and warm, and to have no great hungry pangs gnawing at her stomach.

Susy went out a while, and Granny prepared her turkey to roast. Poor Jennie thought there never had been such a savory fragrance before.

It was a famous Christmas feast. There were lame Tim with a clean face, and a new red necktie to do honor to the occasion; Humpy, as the little fellow was called, who sold pins, tape, and shoe strings on the corner, and had grown deformed from a bad fall; Kit Benner, looking white enough and thin enough to frighten you; three others, and the little stray Jennie Morgan, besides Granny, in a new cap and new calico gown.

Such a time as they had! They were so crowded around the table that they had hardly elbow room. They made jokes, laughed, drank Granny's health in the fragrant coffee, and were as happy as the happiest.

Meanwhile, over at Mr. Linley's they had a grand tree. Nellie, dressed like a fairy, distributed the gifts, carefully laying aside those for the poor. Of course they could not ask such people into their festivities. It was honor enough to hang their gifts on their beautiful tree. Then Mrs. Linley played, and they had some charming carols.

They had two or three songs sung also at Susy Diller's. Susy had learned them at the mission school. Finally Jennie begged to lie down in the corner by the stove, for she felt a little chilly, and her head was aching.

"O Susy, won't you sing again?" she pleaded. "It's like heaven. Mother used to tell me about it. And do you suppose that the Lord Jesus cares for little girls who have to live on the street and sleep where they can? Sometimes they can't help lying and stealing."

"Yes, He does care. Mr. Linley told me so. You see," and Susy laid her forefinger in the palm of the other hand, "you see this is the way: He puts the thought into other people's hearts, 'cause He isn't here any more to do the work."

"Oh!" said Jennie slowly, and with a sage nod, "wouldn't it be good, Susy, if He would put it into the hearts of rich folks? they could do so much."

"Sometimes He does. Look at the newsboys' dinner! And there's a good many things."

Poor Jennie sighed a little. She could not make it out straight in her tired brain.

The crowd went away presently, declaring that it was the jolliest sort of a Christmas. They thanked Susy and Granny over and over again.

The next day was Sabbath. Susy begged Mr. Linley to come and see the little sick girl at her house. And one way and another, the story of the Christmas feast came out.

For Jennie, the little beggar girl, was very sick. Cold and hunger had done their worst. It had been so hard and dreary since her mother died, with no one to care for her, and to have to dodge around continually, kicked and cuffed and almost starved. And if the Lord up above did care—

"She's a pretty sick little girl," said Susy, "but Granny and I will do our best to pull her through."

Mr. Linley felt the pulse and shook his head. The fever was high and there was no strength to battle with it.

And then he looked into Susy's great, wistful eyes, and was touched to the heart. The child had learned the sweetest and noblest lesson of all. She had gone out into the highway and hedges, she had gathered in the lame and the halt and the blind.

"You see I've grown fond of her, a'ready," explained Susy. "I'd do anything for her."

"I'm afraid it's too late. I will send in a doctor, and some delicacies from the house."

"If you please, I'd rather not have you do the last. You see Granny spoke a little cross at first, and now she's trying to make it all up to her. She'll feel better if she does everything; and she's a good heart, has Granny."

What a point of conscience here amid poverty and ignorance!

"The lessons have not all been on my side," said Mr. Linley to his wife afterward. "The poor little factory girl has taught me something that I shall never forget. To think of her going without her coat that she might provide a dinner for some homeless, hungry children. I wish you would go and see them, my dear." Mrs. Linley went with her husband.

[Illustration: <i>"O Mother! Mother!"</i>]

Susy stared as if she had seen an angel. Granny dropped a curtesy, and dusted a chair with her apron.

"Little Jennie," Susy whispered, "poor little girl, can't you open your eyes a minute?"

She opened them—wider—wider. Then she rose a little and stared around—stretched out her trembling hands toward Mrs. Linley, and cried:—

"O mother! mother! Susy said I should find you. I tried to be good, not to lie or steal, though I was nearly starved. And Susy's been so—kind. She brought me in—to the Christmas—dinner—"

Mrs. Linley caught the swaying form in her arms. The last words quivered slowly on her lips and her eyes drooped. She remembered just where she had seen the child, and a pang of bitter self-upbraiding pierced her heart. She kissed the still lips for her mother's sake, and laid her gently down. Had Susy and Granny entertained an angel unawares, while her blind eyes had not been able to discern "the least of these?"

"Oh!" said Susy sobbing, "I'm so glad you came. I s'pose she thought it was her own mother, for she has talked about her all the time. Poor little girl! I shall always be thankful that I brought her in out of the cold, though I never guessed she was going to die."

"The fame of your Christmas feast has gone up among the angels, Susy," said Mr. Linley reverently. "And now, my dear girl, have little Jennie buried where you like, and bring the bill to me. I want a little share in your good work."

Mr. and Mrs. Linley walked home quietly. Had her beautiful Christmas tree borne any such fruit as this?

"For I was an hungered and ye fed me."