tisdag 31 december 2013

On the seventh day of Christmas

I recommend "Short Stories, 1909 to 1922", by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Uncle Richard's New Year's Dinner

Prissy Baker was in Oscar Miller's store New Year's morning, buying matches—for New Year's was not kept as a business holiday in Quincy—when her uncle, Richard Baker, came in. He did not look at Prissy, nor did she wish him a happy New Year; she would not have dared. Uncle Richard had not been on speaking terms with her or her father, his only brother, for eight years.
He was a big, ruddy, prosperous-looking man—an uncle to be proud of, Prissy thought wistfully, if only he were like other people's uncles, or, indeed, like what he used to be himself. He was the only uncle Prissy had, and when she had been a little girl they had been great friends; but that was before the quarrel, in which Prissy had had no share, to be sure, although Uncle Richard seemed to include her in his rancour.
Richard Baker, so he informed Mr. Miller, was on his way to Navarre with a load of pork.
"I didn't intend going over until the afternoon," he said, "but Joe Hemming sent word yesterday he wouldn't be buying pork after twelve today. So I have to tote my hogs over at once. I don't care about doing business New Year's morning."
"Should think New Year's would be pretty much the same as any other day to you," said Mr. Miller, for Richard Baker was a bachelor, with only old Mrs. Janeway to keep house for him.
"Well, I always like a good dinner on New Year's," said Richard Baker. "It's about the only way I can celebrate. Mrs. Janeway wanted to spend the day with her son's family over at Oriental, so I was laying out to cook my own dinner. I got everything ready in the pantry last night, 'fore I got word about the pork. I won't get back from Navarre before one o'clock, so I reckon I'll have to put up with a cold bite."
After her Uncle Richard had driven away, Prissy walked thoughtfully home. She had planned to spend a nice, lazy holiday with the new book her father had given her at Christmas and a box of candy. She did not even mean to cook a dinner, for her father had had to go to town that morning to meet a friend and would be gone the whole day. There was nobody else to cook dinner for. Prissy's mother had died when Prissy was a baby. She was her father's housekeeper, and they had jolly times together.
But as she walked home, she could not help thinking about Uncle Richard. He would certainly have cold New Year cheer, enough to chill the whole coming year. She felt sorry for him, picturing him returning from Navarre, cold and hungry, to find a fireless house and an uncooked dinner in the pantry.
Suddenly an idea popped into Prissy's head. Dared she? Oh, she never could! But he would never know—there would be plenty of time—she would!
Prissy hurried home, put her matches away, took a regretful peep at her unopened book, then locked the door and started up the road to Uncle Richard's house half a mile away. She meant to go and cook Uncle Richard's dinner for him, get it all beautifully ready, then slip away before he came home. He would never suspect her of it. Prissy would not have him suspect for the world; she thought he would be more likely to throw a dinner of her cooking out of doors than to eat it.
Eight years before this, when Prissy had been nine years old, Richard and Irving Baker had quarrelled over the division of a piece of property. The fault had been mainly on Richard's side, and that very fact made him all the more unrelenting and stubborn. He had never spoken to his brother since, and he declared he never would. Prissy and her father felt very badly over it, but Uncle Richard did not seem to feel badly at all. To all appearance he had completely forgotten that there were such people in the world as his brother Irving and his niece Prissy.
Prissy had no trouble in breaking into Uncle Richard's house, for the woodshed door was unfastened. She tripped into the hostile kitchen with rosy cheeks and mischief sparkling in her eyes. This was an adventure—this was fun! She would tell her father all about it when he came home at night and what a laugh they would have!
There was still a good fire in the stove, and in the pantry Prissy found the dinner in its raw state—a fine roast of fresh pork, potatoes, cabbage, turnips and the ingredients of a raisin pudding, for Richard Baker was fond of raisin puddings, and could make them as well as Mrs. Janeway could, if that was anything to boast of.
In a short time the kitchen was full of bubbling and hissings and...

måndag 30 december 2013

On the sixth day of Christmas

I recommend "Roads of Destiny, by O. Henry


It was with much caution that Whistling Dick slid back the door of the box-car, for Article 5716, City Ordinances, authorized (perhaps unconstitutionally) arrest on suspicion, and he was familiar of old with this ordinance. So, before climbing out, he surveyed the field with all the care of a good general.
He saw no change since his last visit to this big, alms-giving, long-suffering city of the South, the cold weather paradise of the tramps. The levee where his freight-car stood was pimpled with dark bulks of merchandise. The breeze reeked with the well-remembered, sickening smell of the old tarpaulins that covered bales and barrels. The dun river slipped along among the shipping with an oily gurgle. Far down toward Chalmette he could see the great bend in the stream, outlined by the row of electric lights. Across the river Algiers lay, a long, irregular blot, made darker by the dawn which lightened the sky beyond. An industrious tug or two, coming for some early sailing ship, gave a few appalling toots, that seemed to be the signal for breaking day. The Italian luggers were creeping nearer their landing, laden with early vegetables and shellfish. A vague roar, subterranean in quality, from dray wheels and street cars, began to make itself heard and felt; and the ferryboats, the Mary Anns of water craft, stirred sullenly to their menial morning tasks.
Whistling Dick's red head popped suddenly back into the car. A sight too imposing and magnificent for his gaze had been added to the scene. A vast, incomparable policeman rounded a pile of rice sacks and stood within twenty yards of the car. The daily miracle of the dawn, now being performed above Algiers, received the flattering attention of this specimen of municipal official splendour. He gazed with unbiased dignity at the faintly glowing colours until, at last, he turned to them his broad back, as if convinced that legal interference was not needed, and the sunrise might proceed unchecked. So he turned his face to the rice bags, and, drawing a flat flask from an inside pocket, he placed it to his lips and regarded the firmament.
Whistling Dick, professional tramp, possessed a half-friendly acquaintance with this officer. They had met several times before on the levee at night, for the officer, himself a lover of music, had been attracted by the exquisite whistling of the shiftless vagabond. Still, he did not care, under the present circumstances, to renew the acquaintance. There is a difference between meeting a policeman on a lonely wharf and whistling a few operatic airs with him, and being caught by him crawling out of a freight-car. So Dick waited, as even a New Orleans policeman must move on some time—perhaps it is a retributive law of nature—and before long "Big Fritz" majestically disappeared between the trains of cars.
Whistling Dick waited as long as his judgment advised, and then slid swiftly to the ground. Assuming as far as possible the air of an honest labourer who seeks his daily toil, he moved across the network of railway lines, with the intention of making his way by quiet Girod Street to a certain bench in Lafayette Square, where, according to appointment, he hoped to rejoin a pal known as "Slick," this adventurous pilgrim having preceded him by one day in a cattle-car into which a loose slat had enticed him.
As Whistling Dick picked his way where night still lingered among the big, reeking, musty warehouses, he gave way to the habit that had won for him his title. Subdued, yet clear, with each note as true and liquid as a bobolink's, his whistle tinkled about the dim, cold mountains of brick like drops of rain falling into a hidden pool. He followed an air, but it swam mistily into a swirling current of improvisation. You could cull out the trill of mountain brooks, the staccato of green rushes shivering above chilly lagoons, the pipe of sleepy birds.
Rounding a corner, the whistler collided with a mountain of blue and brass.
"So," observed the mountain calmly, "You are already pack. Und dere vill not pe frost before two veeks yet! Und you haf forgotten how to vistle. Dere was a valse note in dot last bar."
"Watcher know about it?" said Whistling Dick, with tentative familiarity; "you wit yer little Gherman-band nixcumrous chunes. Watcher know about music? Pick yer ears, and listen agin. Here's de way I whistled it—see?"
He puckered his lips, but the big policeman held up his hand.
"Shtop," he said, "und learn der right way. Und learn also dot a rolling shtone can't vistle for a cent."
Big Fritz's heavy moustache rounded into a circle, and from its depths came a sound deep and mellow as that from a flute. He repeated a few bars of the air the tramp had been whistling. The rendition was cold, but correct, and he emphasized the note he had taken exception to.
"Dot p is p natural, und not p vlat. Py der vay, you petter pe glad I meet you. Von hour later, und I vould half to put you in a gage to vistle mit der chail pirds. Der orders are to bull all der pums after sunrise."
"To which?"
"To bull der pums—eferybody mitout fisible means. Dirty days is der price, or fifteen tollars."
"Is dat straight, or a game you givin' me?"

söndag 29 december 2013

On the fifth day of Christmas

I recommend "The Little Mixer, by Lillian Nicholson Shearon


There was no fault to be found with the present itself; the trouble lay in the method of transportation. This thought was definite enough in Hannah's mind, but she had to rely upon a seven-year-old vocabulary for expression, and grown-ups are notably dull of comprehension. Even mothers don't always understand without being told exactly in so many words.
"I didn't say the kimono wasn't nice, Mama," explained Hannah, "and 'course Cousin Carrie was awful good to send it to me, but—but Santy Claus is going to bring Virginia one to-morrow night, down the chimbley!"
Rose Joseph slipped the absurd little garment over her daughter's dainty lingerie frock, and stood her on a chair that she might view herself in the narrow mirror between the windows of the living-room. The child was as lovely as a flower, but vanity was still sound asleep in her soul, and she glanced indifferently at the reflection, her body sagging with disappointment. "It is just like those little Japanese girls wear," her mother cried in that over-enthusiastic adult tone which warns a child he is about to be the recipient of a gold brick. "I am sure Virginia's can't be any nicer than this one!"
"But, Mama, Santy Claus is going bring hers down the chimbley. Mine"—her voice dropped to a mournful key—"mine came through the door!"
"But, darling, what difference does that make just so you get it?"
Pity for her mother's barren childhood shone in Hannah's soft black eyes. "That's—that's no way for presents to come," she explained; "Mama, it's Chris'mus."
"It is Chanuca," Mrs. Joseph responded firmly. "Remember you are a Jewess, dear."
"I can't never forget it," said the child with a catch in her voice, "'specially at Chris'mus."
"But, darling, the Jewish children have Chanuca; it comes about the same time as Christmas, and amounts to the same thing."
Hannah shook her bronze curls. "Chanuca is because the children of Israel took Jerusalem and the temple away from the bad people," she recited glibly, "and—and you say prayers, and light candles—eight days, and—and all your uncles and aunts and cousins send you things, but Santy Claus, he don't pay any 'tention to Chanuca. Chris'mus is just one day, and Santy Claus comes down the chimbley and brings things to all good children—'cept little Jews—because it is the birthday of our Saviour."
Mrs. Joseph was silent so long that Hannah felt she had convinced her mother of the superiority of the Gentile Christmas over the Jewish Chanuca, and she continued more in detail. "And the children's kinfolks just give Santy Claus money, and tell him what to buy, and he brings the presents, and nobody has to bother about it 'cept him."
"Hannah," Mrs. Joseph interrupted coldly, "who told you about the birthday of—of the Saviour?"
"Nellie Halloran," answered Hannah, "and Virginia, too. They've—they've got the same one."
"The same what?"
"The same Saviour," Hannah explained.
"Darling, hasn't Mama told you many times, that you must never, never talk about religion to Nellie and Virginia?"
"Oh, we don't, Mama, never, never! But 'course we got to talk about Santy Claus, and things."
There seemed to be no reasonable objection to that, so Mrs. Joseph dropped the subject. She spent a great deal of time folding the despised and rejected kimono into its tissue-paper wrappings. Presently she brought a narrow parcel from another room.
"See what Uncle Aaron has sent you, dear," she cried gaily. "A little man; you wind him up in the back with this key—so—and then he dances and plays the fiddle!"
Hannah forced a polite giggle at the little man's antics. He too rested under the ban of having come "through the door," and her attention soon wandered.
"Nellie got a jumping-jack in the very top of her stocking last Chris'mus; 'cause she's such a jumping-jack herself, her papa said. You know, Mama, Santy Claus puts nuts and candy, and little things in your stocking and puts your big things all around the room. Sometimes he brings a tree and hangs them all on a tree. Virginia and Nellie want a tree and a new doll. Virginia gets a new doll every Chris'mus, and she's got every doll Santy ever brought her—even her little, baby, rubber doll. She's eight years old and will have eight dolls! But Nellie ain't—hasn't saved a single one, and she's scared she won't get one this Chris'mus—awful scared."
"Why, dear?" asked Mrs. Joseph, when Hannah paused for breath.
"Because the doll Santy brought Nellie last Chris'mus, you know what? She was playing Indian with her brother one day, and chopped her head off! And Nellie's mama says she don't know whether old Santy's going to forget that or not! But Nellie, she says she prays hard to the Virgin Mary every night—if she don't go to sleep too quick. Mama, what's a virgin? Mama, what's——"
"A virgin is a lady who has never been married," answered Mrs. Joseph, putting the neglected musician back into his box.
Hannah wrestled alone for a moment with a mighty ecclesiastical problem, and then gave it up.
"The Virgin Mary is God's mother," Hannah continued. "That's her picture over our fireplace,"—pointing to a copy of a crude thirteenth century Madonna and Child in a carved Gothic frame, which Eli and Rose Joseph had bought in Italy while on their wedding trip. Flanked now by candles burning in silver candelabra in honor of Chanuca, it gave the mantel a passing resemblance to a Catholic shrine.
"I don't think God's mother is very pretty, do you, Mama? And I think Nellie's little brother is a heap prettier'n God was when He was a baby."
Mrs. Joseph showed signs of having reached the limit. "Hannah," she said firmly, "it is time you were in bed."
"But, Papa hasn't come home yet."
"Papa will be late to-night, dear."
"The Chris'mus rush," sighed Hannah. "Mama, you haven't looked down my throat to-day," she added, playing for time.
Mrs. Joseph went through the daily ritual. "It looks all right," she pronounced.
"It is all right," came the triumphant answer. "It is never going to be sore again. Virginia says——"
"Never mind what Virginia says. If your throat ever hurts you the least little bit, you are to come to me instantly and tell me. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Mama, but it isn't going to hurt any more," Hannah insisted.
"Come on up-stairs to bed."
Still Hannah hung back. She had not played her trump card yet, and the time was short. She caught her mother's slim white hand in hers and fingered nervously at the rings. "Mama," she almost whispered, "Virginia says it's Jewish mamas' fault that Santy Claus don't come to see Jewish children. If the mamas would just go to Santy and tell him to come—You will, won't you, Mama? Please, Mama!"

lördag 28 december 2013

On the fourth day of Christmas

I recommend "Miss Muffet's Christmas Party, by Samuel McChord Crothers
 'Twas the night before Christmas, and it was very quiet in Mrs. Muffet's house,—altogether too quiet, thought little Miss Muffet, as she sat trying to eat her curds and whey. For Mrs. Muffet was a very severe mother and had her own ideas about bringing up children,—and so had Mr. Muffet, or rather he had the same ideas, only warmed over. One of these was on the necessity of care in the diet of growing children. "First," said Mrs. Muffet, "we must find out what the children don't like, and then we must make them eat plenty of it; next to breaking their wills, there is nothing so necessary as breaking their appetites." Mrs. Muffet had read this in a book, and so she knew it must be true; and Mr. Muffet had heard Mrs. Muffet say it so many times that he knew it was true.

So every morning little Miss Muffet had three courses: first, curds and whey; second, whey and curds; third, curdled whey. She had the same things for the other meals, but the order was changed about. An experienced housekeeper tells me that the third course is impossible to prepare, as whey cannot be curdled. All I have to say is that this housekeeper had not known Mrs. Muffet. Mrs. Muffet could curdle anything. But the worst days of the year for little Miss Muffet were the holidays, for they were occasions that had to be improved. Now for a little girl to improve an occasion is about the hardest work she can do, especially when she doesn't know how. If she had been left to herself, Miss Muffet wouldn't have improved them at all, but would have left them in their natural state.

fredag 27 december 2013

On the third day of Christmas

I recommend "The Christmas Angel", by Abbie Farwell Brown


At the sound of footsteps along the hall Miss Terry looked up from the letter which she was reading for the sixth time. "Of course I would not see him," she said, pursing her lips into a hard line. "Certainly not!"
A bump on the library door, as from an opposing knee, did duty for a knock.
"Bring the box in here, Norah," said Miss Terry, holding open the door for her servant, who was gasping under the weight of a packing-case. "Set it down on the rug by the fire-place. I am going to look it over and burn up the rubbish this evening."
She glanced once more at the letter in her hand, then with a sniff tossed it upon the fire.
Her mistress looked up from the fire, where the bit of writing was writhing painfully, and caught the expression of Norah's face.
"What have you there?" she asked, frowning, as she took the object into her own hands. "The Christmas Angel!" she exclaimed under her breath. "I had quite forgotten it." Then as if it burned her fingers she thrust the little image back into the box and turned to Norah brusquely. "There, that's all. You can go now, Norah," she said.
"Yes'm," answered the maid. She hesitated. "If you please'm, it's Christmas Eve."
"Well, I believe so," snapped Miss Terry, who seemed to be in a particularly bad humor this evening. "What do you want?"
Norah flushed; but she was hardened to her mistress's manner. "Only to ask if I may go out for a little while to see the decorations and hear the singing."
"Why, all the windows along the street are full of candles," answered Norah; "rows of candles in every house, to light the Christ Child on his way when he comes through the city to-night."
"Fiddlestick!" again snarled her mistress.
"And choir-boys are going about the streets, they say, singing carols in front of the lighted houses," continued Norah enthusiastically. "It must sound so pretty!"
"They had much better be at home in bed. I believe people are losing their minds!"

torsdag 26 december 2013

On the second day of Christmas

 I recommend "Old Christmas From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving", by Washington Irving.

We were ushered into this banqueting scene with the sound of minstrelsy, the old harper being seated on a stool beside the fireplace, and twanging his instrument with a vast deal more power than melody. Never did Christmas board display a more goodly and gracious assemblage of countenances: those who were not handsome were, at least, happy; and happiness is a rare improver of your hard-favoured visage. I always consider an old English family as well worth studying as a collection of Holbein's portraits or Albert Durer's prints. There is much antiquarian lore to be acquired; much knowledge of the physiognomies of former times. Perhaps it may be from having continually before their eyes those rows of old family portraits, with which the mansions of this country are stocked; certain it is, that the quaint features of antiquity are often most faithfully perpetuated in these ancient lines; and I have traced an old family nose through a whole picture gallery, legitimately handed down from generation to generation, almost from the time of the Conquest. Something of the kind was to be observed in the worthy company around me. Many of their faces had evidently originated in a Gothic age, and been merely copied by succeeding generations; and there was one little girl, in particular, of staid demeanour, with a high Roman nose, and an antique vinegar aspect, who was a great favourite of the Squire's, being, as he said, a Bracebridge all over, and the very counterpart of one of his ancestors who figured in the court of Henry VIII.

onsdag 25 december 2013

On the first day of Christmas

 I recommend "A Little Book of Christmas", by John Kendrick Bangs.

HETHERINGTON wasn't half a bad sort of a fellow, but he had his peculiarities, most of which were the natural defects of a lack of imagination. He didn't believe in ghosts, or Santa Claus, or any of the thousands of other things that he hadn't seen with his own eyes, and as he walked home that rather chilly afternoon just before Christmas and found nearly every corner of the highway decorated with bogus Saints, wearing the shoddy regalia of Kris-Kringle, the sight made him a trifle irritable. He had had a fairly good luncheon that day, one indeed that ought to have mellowed his disposition materially, but which somehow or other had not so resulted. In fact, Hetherington was in a state of raspy petulance that boded ill for his digestion, and when he had reached the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, the constant iteration and reiteration of these shivering figures of the god of the Yule had got on his nerves to such an extent as to make him aggressively quarrelsome. He had controlled the asperities of his soul tolerably well on the way uptown, but the remark of a small child on the highway, made to a hurrying mother, as they passed a stalwart-looking replica of the idol of his Christmas dreams, banging away on a tambourine to attract attention to the iron pot before him, placed there to catch the pennies of the charitably inclined wayfarer—"Oh, mar, there's Sandy Claus now!"—was too much for him.
"Tush! Nonsense!" ejaculated Hetherington, glowering at the shivering figure in the turkey-red robe. "The idea of filling children's minds up with such balderdash! Santa Claus, indeed! There isn't a genuine Santa Claus in the whole bogus bunch."
The Saint on the corner banged his tambourine just under Hetherington's ear with just enough force to jar loose the accumulated irascibility of the well-fed gentleman.
"This is a fine job for an able-bodied man like you!" said Hetherington with a sneer. "Why don't you go to work instead of helping to perpetuate this annual fake?"

tisdag 24 december 2013

A Visit From Saint Nicholas



Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap—

When out on the lawn there rose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon, on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blitzen—
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So, up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With a sleigh full of toys—and St. Nicholas too.
And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack;
His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
 He was chubby and plump—a right jolly old elf;
And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

A Visit From Saint Nicholas, by Clement Moore