The Christmas Masquerade
by Mary E. Wilkins
On Christmas Eve the Mayor's stately mansion
presented a beautiful appearance. There were rows of
different-colored wax candles burning in every window,
and beyond them one could see the chandeliers of gold
and crystal blazing with light. The fiddles were
squeaking merrily, and lovely little forms flew past the
windows in time to the music.
There were gorgeous carpets laid from the door to the
street, and carriages were constantly arriving, and
fresh guests tripping over them. They were all children.
The Mayor was giving a Christmas Masquerade to-night, to
all the children in the city, the poor as well as the
rich. The preparation for this ball had been making an
immense sensation for the last three months. Placards
had been up in the most conspicuous points in the city,
and all the daily newspapers had at least a column
devoted to it, headed with
THE MAYOR'S CHRISTMAS
very large letters.
The Mayor had promised to defray the expenses of all
the poor children whose parents were unable to do so,
and the bills for their costumes were directed to be
sent in to him.
Of course there was a great deal of excitement among
the regular costumers of the city, and they all resolved
to vie with one another in being the most popular, and
the best patronized on this gala occasion. But the
placards and the notices had not been out a week before
a new Costumer appeared, who cast all the others into
the shade directly. He set up his shop on the corner of
one of the principal streets, and hung up his beautiful
costumes in the windows. He was a little fellow, not
much larger than a boy of ten. His cheeks were as red as
roses, and he had on a long curling wig as white as
snow. He wore a suit of crimson velvet knee-breeches,
and a little swallow-tailed coat with beautiful golden
buttons. Deep lace ruffles fell over his slender white
hands, and he wore elegant knee-buckles of glittering
stones. He sat on a high stool behind his counter and
served his customers himself; he kept no clerk.
It did not take the children long to discover what
beautiful things he had, and how superior he was to the
other costumers, and they begun to flock to his shop
immediately, from the Mayor's daughter to the poor
rag-picker's. The children were to select their own
costumes; the Mayor had stipulated that. It was to be a
children's ball in every sense of the word.
So they decided to be fairies, and shepherdesses, and
princesses, according to their own fancies; and this new
costumer had charming costumes to suit them.
It was noticeable, that, for the most part, the
children of the rich, who had always had everything they
desired, would choose the parts of goose-girls and
peasants and such like; and the poor children jumped
eagerly at the chance of being princesses or fairies for
a few hours in their miserable lives.
When Christmas Eve came, and the children flocked
into the Mayor's mansion, whether it was owing to the
Costumer's art, or their own adaptation to the
characters they had chosen, it was wonderful how
lifelike their representations were. Those little
fairies in their short skirts of silken gauze, in which
golden sparkles appeared as they moved, with their
little funny gossamer wings, like butterflies, looked
like real fairies. It did not seem possible, when they
floated around to the music, half supported on the tips
of their dainty toes, half by their filmy, purple wings,
their delicate bodies swaying in time, that they could
be anything but fairies. It seemed absurd to imagine
that they were Johnny Mullens, the washwoman's son, and
Polly Flinders, the charwoman's little girl, and so on.
The Mayor's daughter, who had chosen the character of
a goose-girl, looked so like a true one that one could
hardly dream she ever was anything else. She was,
ordinarily, a slender, dainty little lady, rather tall
for her age. She now looked very short and stubbed and
brown, just as if she had been accustomed to tend geese
in all sorts of weather. It was so with all the
others—the Red Riding-hoods, the princesses, the Bo
Peeps, and with every one of the characters who came to
the Mayor's ball; Red Riding-hood looked round, with
big, frightened eyes, all ready to spy the wolf, and
carried her little pat of butter and pot of honey
gingerly in her basket; Bo Peep's eyes looked red with
weeping for the loss of her sheep; and the princesses
swept about so grandly in their splendid brocaded
trains, and held their crowned heads so high that people
half believed them to be true princesses.
But there never was anything like the fun at the
Mayor's Christmas ball. The fiddlers fiddled and
fiddled, and the children danced and danced on the
beautiful waxed floors. The Mayor, with his family and a
few grand guests, sat on a dais covered with blue velvet
at one end of the dancing hall, and watched the sport.
They were all delighted. The Mayor's eldest daughter sat
in front and clapped her little soft white hands. She
was a tall, beautiful young maiden, and wore a white
dress, and a little cap woven of blue violets on her
yellow hair. Her name was Violetta.
THERE NEVER WAS ANYTHING LIKE THE FUN AT THE MAYOR'S
The supper was served at midnight—and such a supper!
The mountains of pink and white ices, and the cakes with
sugar castles and flower-gardens on the tops of them,
and the charming shapes of gold and ruby-colored
jellies! There were wonderful bonbons which even the
Mayor's daughter did not have every day; and all sorts
of fruits, fresh and candied. They had cowslip wine in
green glasses, and elderberry wine in red, and they
drank each other's health. The glasses held a thimbleful
each; the Mayor's wife thought that was all the wine
they ought to have. Under each child's plate there was a
pretty present; and every one had a basket of bonbons
and cake to carry home.
At four o'clock the fiddlers put up their fiddles and
the children went home; fairies and shepherdesses and
pages and princesses all jabbering gleefully about the
splendid time they had had.
But in a short time what consternation there was
throughout the city! When the proud and fond parents
attempted to unbutton their children's dresses, in order
to prepare them for bed, not a single costume would come
off. The buttons buttoned again as fast as they were
unbuttoned; even if they pulled out a pin, in it would
slip again in a twinkling; and when a string was untied
it tied itself up again into a bow-knot. The parents
were dreadfully frightened. But the children were so
tired out they finally let them go to bed in their fancy
costumes, and thought perhaps they would come off better
in the morning. So Red Riding-hood went to bed in her
little red cloak, holding fast to her basket full of
dainties for her grandmother, and Bo Peep slept with her
crook in her hand.
The children all went to bed readily enough, they
were so very tired, even though they had to go in this
strange array. All but the fairies—they danced and
pirouetted and would not be still.
THEIR PARENTS STARED IN GREAT DISTRESS.
"We want to swing on the blades of grass," they kept
saying, "and play hide-and-seek in the lily-cups, and
take a nap between the leaves of the roses."
The poor charwomen and coal-heavers, whose children
the fairies were for the most part, stared at them in
great distress. They did not know what to do with these
radiant, frisky little creatures into which their
Johnnys and their Pollys and Betseys were so suddenly
transformed. But the fairies went to bed quietly enough
when daylight came, and were soon fast asleep.
There was no further trouble till twelve o'clock,
when all the children woke up. Then a great wave of
alarm spread over the city. Not one of the costumes
would come off then. The buttons buttoned as fast as
they were unbuttoned; the pins quilted themselves in as
fast as they were pulled out; and the strings flew round
like lightning and twisted themselves into bow-knots as
fast as they were untied.
And that was not the worst of it; every one of the
children seemed to have become, in reality, the
character which he or she had assumed.
The Mayor's daughter declared she was going to tend
her geese out in the pasture, and the shepherdesses
sprang out of their little beds of down, throwing aside
their silken quilts, and cried that they must go out and
watch their sheep. The princesses jumped up from their
straw pallets, and wanted to go to court; and all the
rest of them likewise. Poor little Red Riding-hood
sobbed and sobbed because she couldn't go and carry her
basket to her grandmother, and as she didn't have any
grandmother she couldn't go, of course, and her parents
were very much troubled. It was all so mysterious and
dreadful. The news spread very rapidly over the city,
and soon a great crowd gathered around the new
Costumer's shop, for every one thought he must be
responsible for all this mischief.
The shop door was locked; but they soon battered it
down with stones. When they rushed in the Costumer was
not there; he had disappeared with all his wares. Then
they did not know what to do. But it was evident that
they must do something before long, for the state of
affairs was growing worse and worse.
The Mayor's little daughter braced her back up
against the tapestried wall and planted her two feet in
their thick shoes firmly. "I will go and tend my geese!"
she kept crying. "I won't eat my breakfast! I won't go
out in the park! I won't go to school. I'm going to tend
my geese—I will, I will, I will!"
And the princesses trailed their rich trains over the
rough, unpainted floors in their parents' poor little
huts, and held their crowned heads very high and
demanded to be taken to court. The princesses were,
mostly, geese-girls when they were their proper selves,
and their geese were suffering, and their poor parents
did not know what they were going to do, and they wrung
their hands and wept as they gazed on their gorgeously-appareled
Finally, the Mayor called a meeting of the Aldermen,
and they all assembled in the City Hall. Nearly every
one of them had a son or a daughter who was a
chimney-sweep, or a little watch-girl, or a shepherdess.
They appointed a chairman and they took a great many
votes, and contrary votes; but they did not agree on
anything, until some one proposed that they consult the
Wise Woman. Then they all held up their hands, and voted
I WILL GO AND TEND MY GEESE!
So the whole board of Aldermen set out, walking by
twos, with the Mayor at their head, to consult the Wise
Woman. The Aldermen were all very fleshy, and carried
gold-headed canes which they swung very high at every
step. They held their heads well back, and their chins
stiff, and whenever they met common people they sniffed
gently. They were very imposing.
The Wise Woman lived in a little hut on the
out-skirts of the city. She kept a Black Cat; except for
her, she was all alone. She was very old, and had
brought up a great many children, and she was considered
But when the Aldermen reached her hut and found her
seated by the fire, holding her Black Cat, a new
difficulty presented itself. She had always been quite
deaf, and people had been obliged to scream as loud as
they could in order to make her hear; but, lately, she
had grown much deafer, and when the Aldermen attempted
to lay the case before her she could not hear a word. In
fact, she was so very deaf that she could not
distinguish a tone below G-sharp. The Aldermen screamed
till they were quite red in their faces, but all to no
purpose; none of them could get up to G-sharp, of
So the Aldermen all went back, swinging their
gold-headed canes, and they had another meeting in the
City Hall. Then they decided to send the highest Soprano
Singer in the church choir to the Wise Woman; she could
sing up to G-sharp just as easy as not. So the
high-Soprano Singer set out for the Wise Woman's in the
Mayor's coach, and the Aldermen marched behind, swinging
their gold-headed canes.
The high-Soprano Singer put her head down close to
the Wise Woman's ear, and sang all about the Christmas
Masquerade, and the dreadful dilemma everybody was in,
in G-sharp—she even went higher, sometimes—and the Wise
Woman heard every word. She nodded three times, and
every time she nodded she looked wiser.
"Go home, and give 'em a spoonful of castor-oil, all
'round," she piped up; then she took a pinch of snuff,
and wouldn't say any more.
So the Aldermen went home, and each one took a
district and marched through it, with a servant carrying
an immense bowl and spoon, and every child had to take a
dose of castor-oil.
But it didn't do a bit of good. The children cried
and struggled when they were forced to take the
castor-oil; but, two minutes afterward, the
chimney-sweeps were crying for their brooms, and the
princesses screaming because they couldn't go to court,
and the Mayor's daughter, who had been given a double
dose, cried louder and more sturdily: "I want to go and
tend my geese! I will go and tend my geese!"
So the Aldermen took the high-Soprano Singer, and
they consulted the Wise Woman again. She was taking a
nap this time, and the Singer had to sing up to B-flat
before she could wake her. Then she was very cross, and
the Black Cat put up his back and spit at the Aldermen.
"Give 'em a spanking all 'round," she snapped out,
"and if that don't work put 'em to bed without their
Then the Aldermen marched back to try that; and all
the children in the city were spanked, and when that
didn't do any good they were put to bed without any
supper. But the next morning when they woke up they were
worse than ever.
The Mayor and the Aldermen were very indignant, and
considered that they had been imposed upon and insulted.
So they set out for the Wise Woman's again, with the
She sang in G-sharp how the Aldermen and the Mayor
considered her an imposter, and did not think she was
wise at all, and they wished her to take her Black Cat
and move beyond the limits of the city. She sang it
beautifully; it sounded like the very finest Italian
"Deary me," piped the Wise Woman, when she had
finished, "how very grand these gentlemen are." Her
Black Cat put up his back and spit.
"Five times one Black Cat are five Black Cats," said
the Wise Woman. And, directly, there were five Black
Cats, spitting and miauling.
"Five times five Black Cats are twenty-five Black
Cats." And then there were twenty-five of the angry
"Five times twenty-five Black Cats are one hundred
and twenty-five Black Cats," added the Wise Woman, with
SHE SANG IT BEAUTIFULLY.
Then the Mayor and the Aldermen and the high-Soprano
Singer fled precipitately out the door and back to the
city. One hundred and twenty-five Black Cats had seemed
to fill the Wise Woman's hut full, and when they all
spit and miauled together it was dreadful. The visitors
could not wait for her to multiply Black Cats any
As winter wore on, and spring came, the condition of
things grew more intolerable. Physicians had been
consulted, who advised that the children should be
allowed to follow their own bents, for fear of injury to
their constitutions. So the rich Aldermen's daughters
were actually out in the fields herding sheep, and their
sons sweeping chimneys or carrying newspapers; while the
poor charwomen's and coal-heavers' children spent their
time like princesses and fairies. Such a topsy-turvy
state of society was shocking. Why, the Mayor's little
daughter was tending geese out in the meadow like any
common goose-girl! Her pretty elder sister, Violetta,
felt very sad about it, and used often to cast about in
her mind for some way of relief.
When cherries were ripe in spring, Violetta thought
she would ask the Cherry-man about it. She thought the
Cherry-man quite wise. He was a very pretty young
fellow, and he brought cherries to sell in graceful
little straw baskets lined with moss. So she stood in
the kitchen-door, one morning, and told him all about
the great trouble that had come upon the city. He
listened in great astonishment; he had never heard of it
before. He lived several miles out in the country.
"How did the Costumer look?" he asked respectfully;
he thought Violetta the most beautiful lady on earth.
Then Violetta described the Costumer, and told him of
the unavailing attempts that had been made to find him.
There were a great many detectives out, constantly at
"I know where he is!" said the Cherry-man. "He's up
in one of my cherry-trees. He's been living there ever
since cherries were ripe, and he won't come down."
Then Violetta ran and told her father in great
excitement, and he at once called a meeting of the
Aldermen, and in a few hours half the city was on the
road to the Cherry-man's.
He had a beautiful orchard of cherry-trees, all laden
with fruit. And, sure enough, in one of the largest, way
up amongst the topmost branches, sat the Costumer in his
red velvet short-clothes and his diamond knee-buckles.
He looked down between the green boughs. "Good-morning,
friends," he shouted.
The Aldermen shook their gold-headed canes at him,
and the people danced round the tree in a rage. Then
they began to climb. But they soon found that to be
impossible. As fast as they touched a hand or foot to
the tree, back it flew with a jerk exactly as if the
tree pushed it. They tried a ladder, but the ladder fell
back the moment it touched the tree, and lay sprawling
upon the ground. Finally, they brought axes and thought
they could chop the tree down, Costumer and all; but the
wood resisted the axes as if it were iron, and only
dented them, receiving no impression itself.
Meanwhile, the Costumer sat up in the tree, eating
cherries, and throwing the stones down. Finally, he
stood up on a stout branch and, looking down, addressed
"It's of no use, your trying to accomplish anything
in this way," said he; "you'd better parley. I'm willing
to come to terms with you, and make everything right, on
The people grew quiet then, and the Mayor stepped
forward as spokesman. "Name your two conditions," said
he, rather testily. "You own, tacitly, that you are the
cause of all this trouble."
"Well," said the Costumer, reaching out for a handful
of cherries, "this Christmas Masquerade of yours was a
beautiful idea; but you wouldn't do it every year, and
your successors might not do it at all. I want those
poor children to have a Christmas every year. My first
condition is, that every poor child in the city hangs
its stocking for gifts in the City Hall on every
Christmas Eve, and gets it filled, too. I want the
resolution filed and put away in the city archives."
"We agree to the first condition!" cried the people
with one voice, without waiting for the Mayor and
"The second condition," said the Costumer, "is that
this good young Cherry-man here, has the Mayor's
daughter, Violetta, for his wife. He has been kind to
me, letting me live in his cherry-tree, and eat his
cherries, and I want to reward him."
"We consent!" cried all the people; but the Mayor,
though he was so generous, was a proud man. "I will not
consent to the second condition," he cried angrily.
"Very well," replied the Costumer, picking some more
cherries, "then your youngest daughter tends geese the
rest of her life, that's all!"
The Mayor was in great distress; but the thought of
his youngest daughter being a goose-girl all her life
was too much for him. He gave in at last.
"Now go home, and take the costumes off your
children," said the Costumer, "and leave me in peace to
Then the people hastened back to the city and found,
to their great delight, that the costumes would come
off. The pins staid out, the buttons staid unbuttoned,
and the strings staid untied. The children were dressed
in their own proper clothes and were their own proper
selves once more. The shepherdesses and the
chimney-sweeps came home, and were washed and dressed in
silks and velvets, and went to embroidering and playing
lawn-tennis. And the princesses and the fairies put on
their own suitable dresses, and went about their useful
employments. There was great rejoicing in every home.
Violetta thought she had never been so happy, now that
her dear little sister was no longer a goose-girl, but
her own dainty little lady-self.
The resolution to provide every poor child in the
city with a stocking full of gifts on Christmas was
solemnly filed, and deposited in the city archives, and
was never broken.
Violetta was married to the Cherry-man, and all the
children came to the wedding, and strewed flowers in her
path till her feet were quite hidden in them. The
Costumer had mysteriously disappeared from the
cherry-tree the night before, but he left, at the foot,
some beautiful wedding presents for the bride—a silver
service with a pattern of cherries engraved on it, and a
set of china with cherries on it, in hand-painting, and
a white satin robe, embroidered with cherries down the