Charlie's Christmas

OH how cold and miserable everything is! Hardly a thought to be uppermost on Christmas eve in the mind of a little school-boy; and yet it was that which filled the mind of Charlie Earle on the Christmas eve of which I am going to tell you. Only a few hours before, he had been as happy as any boy could be. Everybody was going home, and everybody was in the highest spirits and full of the most delightful hopes of what the holidays would bring them; and now everybody except Charlie has gone home, and he is left alone in the dreary school-room, knowing that at any rate Christmas day, and maybe many other days, are to be spent away from home, and from all the pleasant doings which he had pictured to himself and others only the very day before.

The coming of the post-bag had been scarcely noticed in the school-room that morning. So when old Bunce, the butler, looked in at the door and said, “Master Earle is wanted in the doctor’s room,” the boys all wondered, and Charlie’s neighbor whispered to him, “Whatever can he want you for, Earle?” The doctor’s tale was soon told, and it was one which sent Charlie back to the school-room with a very different face to the one with which he had left it. A letter had come to Doctor West from Charlie’s father, and in it a note from his mother to Charlie himself, written the night before, and saying that a summons had come that very morning calling them to Charlie’s grandmother, who was very ill, and that they were starting for Scotland that night and would be almost at their journey’s end when Charlie got the news. The note said that Laura, Charlie’s sister, would go with them, but that they could not wait for Charlie himself, so they had written to Mrs. Lamb, Charlie’s old nurse, who lived about ten miles from Dr. West’s, and had asked her to take charge of him for a day or two, till more was known of his grandmother’s state and some better plan could be made for him. It was sad enough for Charlie to hear of the illness of his kind old grandmother—sad enough to see the merry start of the other boys, while he had to stay behind; but to have to think of Christmas day spent away from father and mother, away from Laura and home, was excuse enough for a few bitter tears. But unpleasant things come to an end as well as pleasant ones, and Charlie’s lonely waiting in the school-room came to its end, and he found himself that afternoon snugly packed into the Blackridge coach, and forgetting his own troubles in listening to the cheery chatter of the other passengers, and in looking at what was to be seen as the coach rolled briskly along the snow-covered road. It was quite dark when they reached Blackridge, and Charlie looked out at the people gathered round the door of the “Packhorse Inn,” and a sudden fear filled his mind lest there should be no one there to meet him; but he soon saw by the light at the inn door Nurse Lamb herself, with her kind face looking so beaming that it seemed a little bit like really going home.

“Here, father,” said Nurse Lamb to her jolly-looking husband; “here’s Master Charlie, safe and sound! You bring the luggage in the barrow while I take him home quick, for I am sure he must be cold.”

And so nurse bustled Charlie off down a lane and across a meadow, till they came to a wicket-gate, beyond which stood the back of a low, deep-thatched cottage half buried in snow. On getting round to the front the door was opened by a little girl, and nurse called out, “Here, Molly, here we are;” adding, “Molly is my step-daughter, Master Charlie—the one I used to tell you about before I was married, when we were down at Hastings.”

A snow-covered barn and farmyard

WINTER.

When they got into the house, there  was the kitchen with its rows of bright pewter plates, its wide hearth and roaring fire, its hams hanging to the beams, all just as they had been described in the days when nurse’s new home at Blackridge Farm was a subject of never-ending interest to the two children in Mrs. Earle’s nursery.

After he had had a capital tea, Charlie was allowed to go round with the farmer to see that the horses were all right for the night, Charlie carrying the lantern and feeling himself quite a man as he followed the farmer into the stable. There was much coming and going at the farm that evening, for was it not Christmas eve? and nurse was busy sending off gifts to neighbors who were not so thriving as herself, and busy, too, in making preparations for the morrow. Charlie meanwhile sat in the settle and made friends with Molly, who was about his own age and knew much more, though she was only a girl, about dogs and rabbits and tadpoles than London-bred Charlie. By and by they helped to stir the great plum-pudding, and dressed the kitchen and parlor with evergreens, till nurse called them to come and hear the chimes.

And Charlie thought it very beautiful as he stood at the door and listened to the bells. And as they stood there the wind wafted to them also the voices of the choir as they went on their round through the village, singing their carols; and then Charlie went to bed with “Hark, the herald angels sing!” ringing in his ears.

Next morning Charlie, as he ran down stairs, could hardly believe this was really Christmas day, all was so unlike any Christmas he had known before; but in the kitchen he found one thing like the Christmas mornings at home, for he found quite a little pile of parcels beside his plate, containing the pretty gifts prepared by father and mother and Laura, and sent by them to nurse, so that at any rate the little lad should not be robbed of this part of his Christmas pleasures. There was a note, too, from mother, saying that she and father and Laura were safe in Edinburgh, and that grandmother was better, and that she hoped to tell him in her next letter when they and he should meet at home in London. Such a bright beginning was enough to make all the rest of the day bright; and bright it was. Charlie found plenty to do till church-time, as Molly showed him all the nooks and corners about the farm.

The old church, with its high pews and country congregation made Charlie feel that he must be dreaming. Surely it could not be Christmas, but must be the autumn? and he and Laura and everybody had come away from London for the holidays?

No; it was no dream. It was really Christmas; for there, round the pillars, were the holly-wreaths with their red berries, and there, behind the chancel-screen, were the same Christmas texts as in their church in London. When service was over, Charlie and Molly hurried home to help Martha, the farm-girl, to have all in readiness for the Christmas dinner. But after dinner there was not much sitting still—at any rate for Charlie; for who could think of sitting still indoors, when outside there were a pond covered with ice and a farmyard full of horses and dogs?

Nor was the evening after tea without its pleasure. When the snow began to fall, and the doors and windows were tightly closed, then a huge log was piled on the fire; and while Farmer and Mrs. Lamb sat and talked before it in the parlor, Charlie and Molly had a fine game of romps in the big kitchen with Martha; and when they were tired of that, they sat on the hearth and roasted chestnuts, while nurse read a Christmas tale to them.

And here I must leave Charlie finishing his Christmas day, hoping that any who read this story of it may agree with Charlie in thinking, when he laid his head on the pillow that night, that, though it had been spent far from home, it had not been an unhappy day, after all.