A PRICELESS CHRISTMAS GIFT
| “‘Heevnin’ News.’ Special, sir?”
“‘Heevnin’ News.’ Special, sir?”
There were two distinct voices, but you could not distinguish the speakers. You could dimly discern two little dark objects a few feet in front of you, but the fog was so thick that they almost appeared to be without form and void.
“‘Heevnin’ News,’ sir? Special, sir?”
“‘Heevnin’ News,’ sir? Special, sir?”
One voice was full and pleasant and bouyant. The other was weak and light and shaky. As they came nearer, you could see that their bodies presented the same contrast. One was hearty and plump and vigorous. The other was wan and thin and feeble.
I felt in my pocket for a copper to buy a paper, and the healthier boy instinctively sprang towards me with a paper in his hand.
Then, as if with a ﬂash of thought, he stepped back, and said to his little rival tradesman: “Here, Jimmy, thee tak’ this. I hope ’at theau’ll get sowd up soon, an’ get whoam, for theau looks gradely parish’d.”
Jimmy came forward with his paper, and then both quickly disappeared in the fog.
It was Christmas Eve, but how gloomy and dark, how cold and dismal everything appeared to be. The street lights you could not see till you suddenly came upon them, and then they quickly vanished. The lights in the shop windows that were close to you seemed a long distance away, and the people whom you met looked like shadowy spectres hurrying on towards eternity.
But the fog thickened and blackened. You kept close to the buildings for guidance, and hesitated when you came to a crossing street for fear of stepping into the unknown. It was impossible to tell where you were or how far you had gone. At intervals you would recognise a building, and this would encourage you to go on.
I had not gone far after leaving the paper boys before the darkness seemed to be mysteriously ﬁlled with sweet sounds of music. Then I could hear the strains of an organ rising and falling, to be mingled presently with the swell of human voices telling us to be not afraid, but to “Say Unto the Cities of Judah, Behold Your God!” How strange and how impressive it all was. How near the music sounded to be, and yet, as you heard the organ and the voices gradually become subdued, and softly die away, and as you tried to pierce the impenetrable darkness around you, you felt it to be far, far away, and you wondered whether, on that Christmas Eve, you were listening to angel songs from the distant realms beyond. Then you were aroused from your wandering thoughts by the inspiring call of the invisible choir to “Arise and Shine, for thy light is come.”
I thought of the delicate newspaper boy, and wondered whether his light was to be here or hereafter. I wondered whether the approaching season of good cheer would bring any tidings of great joy to him. But the fog had swallowed him up, and probably I should never see him again.
My thoughts were interrupted, and my further progress prevented by the unexpected appearance across my path of a large building, from the windows of which the lights seemed to be doing battle with the thick darkness outside. For a moment I was lost. How could that building have sprung up so quickly in the middle of the street? While I was trying to fathom the mystery, I heard voices from within the building sing with great power “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
Ah! I knew where I was then. I had wandered a little out of my way, and had come close by a church, in which I had seen it announced that the oratorio of the “Messiah” was to be performed that evening. I lingered a moment or two, because the situation was so remarkable and so fascinating. There was nothing to be seen above or below, around or about, save two or three dim and shadowy lights from the church windows. All the world beside seemed to be blotted out. I felt alone, and crept closer to the door of the church in which there seemed to be light and life. The invisible choir burst forth with the chorus, “For unto us a child is born,” and I felt riveted to the spot.
Just as the last notes died away, and I felt the chilly darkness about me again, a cheerful voice near me said:
“Theighur! Jimmy! Isn’t that grand?”
“Aye! it is. An’ when ev’rything else abeawt is so dark an’ quiet, it seawnds as if it wur angels i’ heaven ’at wur singin’, Sam. Has’ta ever yerd ’em, Sam?”
“Yerd who? Th’ angels?”
“Aye! Aw’ve yerd ’em an’ seen ’em mony o’ time when aw’ve been asleep, but aw’ve awlus wakkent when they wur just takin’ me thro’ th’ gate into Heaven. Eh! but it’s a nice place, Sam. It awlus looks so warm an’ comfortable, an’ th’ angels awlus look so happy an’ so good. But aw dunno’ think ’at they ever go short of a butty cake, dun they, Sam? Onybody owt to be good ’at awlus han their bellies full.”
Just then the church door was opened to admit two or three people, and the two boys peeped in.
“Did ta’ see that?” asked Sam, enthusiastically.
“Aye! aw did, Sam. An’ aw felt it, too. It smelt nice an’ warm i’ theer, Sam. Aw should like to go inside. Will they let me, Sam?”
“Aw dunnot think ’at they will, Jimmy. Theau sees, churches aren’t for sich like as thee an’ me.”
“Heaw’s that, Sam?” earnestly inquired the little fellow. “Heaw is it ’at churches an’ heaven are nobbut for folk wi’ ﬁne clooas an’ a full belly?”
“Aw connot tell thee, Jimmy, ony moore nor aw can tell thee heaw it is ’at Santy Claus awlus tak’s Kesmus presents to those childer ’at han plenty, an’ leeovs o thoose beawt ’at have noane.”
“An’ who’s Santy Claus, Sam?”
“It’s a felley with a white beard an’ a big tag ’at goes reawnd to th’ heauses an’ puts nice little presents into little lads’ an’ wenches’ stockin’s. Has he never been to ye’r heause, Jimmy?”
“Not ’at aw ever know’d on. But there’d be no need for him to come to eawr heause, Sam.”
“Becose aw’ve no stockin’s.”
“Aw never thowt o’ that, Jimmy. Wilta ha’ mine?”
“Eh, neawe, Sam, never mind. Beside, look heaw starv’d theau’d be if theau wur’ beawt stockin’s on a cowd neet like this.”
“An’ what if aw wur’, Jimmy; aw con stand it better nor thee, connot I? Theau con give ’em me back again after Santy Claus has been.”
They had forgotten the organ and the choir for a moment, so had I. My interest was centred in the intensely human drama that was being played just outside the church door. The two lads sat themselves down on the church step, and laid their bundle of newspapers on the ﬂoor, for they were the same two paper boys that had interested me in the street a short time before. Quickly the stronger lad divested himself of his clogs and stockings, and helped the other boy with them on to his feet.
“Theighur,” he said, in a tone indicating great pleasure, “who says Santy Claus winnot come to thee? Neaw, thee go whoam, Jimmy, for theau’rt shiverin’ wi’ cowd, an’ aw’ll sell thy pappers for thee. Here, put this mufﬂer on, an’ dunnot forget to hang thy stockin’s on th’ bed’s feet ready for mornin’.”
But Jimmy hesitated. “What will my mother say abeawt my pappers?” he asked.
“Tell thy mother ’at it’ll be o reet. Aw’ll sell ’em for thee. But it’s very dark, an’ theau’ll happen miss thy road. Aw’ll just go wi’ thee agate a bit.”
He picked up the two bundles of papers, and placing one under each arm, he led the way into the biting darkness. I heard his cheerful cry of “‘Heevnin’ News!’ Special edition!” repeated two or three times, and then it became inaudible. I heard another voice singing that divine assurance, “He shall feed His ﬂock,” and I wondered whether the poor little lamb which I had just seen would receive his due share.
I do not know how long I stayed pondering over the scene which I had just witnessed. Somehow I could not get away from it. I tried to think of the festive season, and of the joy and the happiness which are inseparably connected with it, but my thoughts returned to the hungry lad and his little heroic protector. I endeavoured to interest myself in the music which ﬂoated so sweetly on the waves of the air, but I could not help reﬂecting on the luxury of the fashionable congregation that assembled in the church and of the Christian act which had just been performed in the cold, damp fog on the bare church step.
I made my way back to the main street, and there found a group of people sympathetically discussing the cause of an accident which had just occured. It was impossible to ascertain exactly how it happened, as the thick fog, added to the darkness of the night, had prevented anybody seeing what really took place. I gathered, however, the information that two boys were crossing the road, when a motor car was heard coming along. No one could see it, and no one could tell which way it was coming. Neither could the occupants of the car see farther than a few feet in front of them, with the result that the boys were knocked down, and one of them, it was feared, was seriously injured. No one knew who the boys were, and all that I could learn was that they had been taken in the motor car to the Inﬁrmary. I had a strange presentiment that these were the two boys who had so recently been full of hopes and plans for the reception of Santa Claus.
I felt that I must go to the Inﬁrmary to set my doubts at rest, so I turned my steps in that direction as well as the darkness would ermit. On arriving at the institution, I saw a motor car at the door, and on enquiries, I was informed that it had just brought in two boys who had met with a serious accident. As I had reason to believe that I was much interested in the boys, I was permitted to enter the room where the injured ones awaited the doctor. The resident surgeon assured me that one of the boys had suffered little beyond the shock, but he was afraid that the other might prove dangerous.
My fears were, unhappily, too well founded. The stronger boy — the one who had given up his clogs and stockings and his mufﬂer to help his comrade — was the one who had fared the worst in the accident. The owner of the car, who refused to leave until he had seen the doctor, and who was anxious to do something to help the sufferers, told me that the incident was so full of heroism and self-sacriﬁce that he could scarcely yet realise it. He was riding only at a moderate pace, but the fog was so dense that the lights from his lamps could not show any object more than one or two yards in front of him.
At one point he suddenly saw a little boy step in front of the car. He blew his horn, applied his brake, and swerved the car to avoid running the lad down, when another boy rushed across to save his companion. He succeeded in pushing him out of danger, but he received the full force of the collision himself. He was knocked down, and two wheels of the car passed over him.
When the doctor came, he shook his head in a signiﬁcant manner, and we felt that the case was hopeless. He tried to cheer his patient by telling him that he would perhaps live to ride in a motor car yet, but the boy did not seem to view the prospect with hope. His voice was faint, but he succeeded in asking the doctor if Jimmy was safe and unhurt. The doctor assured him that he was, and Jimmy was brought to him to conﬁrm the assurance.
Sam smiled when he saw him, and he whispered to him: “Theau’ll hang thy stockin’ up Jimmy, wiltno’?”
“Aye, aw will, Sam; but aw’d raythur Santy Claus did summat for thee neaw nor me.”
“He’ll do that, Jimmy, never fear. Th’ only difference between thee an’ me, Jimmy, is ’at Santy Claus is comin’ to thee an’ aw’m goin’ to him.”
When I called in the morning to see him, he had gone.