Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
SARAH O. JEWETT.
Jack and Annie Thomas had been busy for a long time before Christmas Day. Jack would not let any one come inside the door of his workshop, at the top of the house, and when he went out he carried the key in his pocket. It was sometimes inconvenient, for the way to the outside of the roof lay through that room, and once, when some workmen came to mend the slates and Jack was nowhere to be found, they had to go down stairs again, with all their slates and tools, and beg an entrance through the next house. Jack was very sorry when his father represented the trouble he had caused and the loss of time; but he kept the door locked afterward all the same, though he tried not to forget to give the key to his grandmother, as a solemn trust, when he was going to school in the morning, or away with some of his cronies for the whole of the afternoon.
As for Annie, she spent a great deal of time out of the house, for her work could not be attended to in public, any more than Jack's, and she had a little afghan at the house of one friend, and a white shawl at another place, which she was crocheting for her father and grandmother respectively. She spent an afternoon or evening over these, whenever she could; but she did not like to shut herself in her own room at home. Her father said one day, uneasily, that Annie seemed to be out a good deal; but her mother only laughed, and said they would be sure to see more of her a little later in the season.
There were various treasures hidden away in the least visited closets and the bureau-drawers; and, altogether, there were more secret undertakings known to the different members of the Thomas family than there had ever been before. Jack declared that he was afraid to speak, for fear he should either tell some of his own secrets or somebody's else.
The two young people were looking with great eagerness for the coming of their favorite aunt, whom they always welcomed with perfect delight. Jack said she was just as good as another fellow, and Annie would rather have a walk or a talk with Aunt Grace than with any girl she knew. Somehow Miss Elliston had a way of winning the confidence and love of a great many people and you always felt better and happier for being with her.
It was late in the afternoon of Christmas Day, and the presents had all been given and taken, and the surprises were all over with, and our friends had been to church in the morning and had somehow or other contrived to see almost everybody they knew to say "Merry Christmas" and to compare notes about the gifts and the plans of the day. The Christmas dinner had been an early one, and even that was over, and the servants had gone away to keep the rest of the holiday with their own people -- all except old Ellen, who had been the nurse and whose friends lived far up in the country.
It was a very cold afternoon and the city streets were almost empty. Jack and Annie were going to a Christmas party that evening, at the house of one of their cousins; but, in the last hours of the afternoon, there did not seem to be much to do.
Our friends were sitting in their aunt's room, one at each front window, and Miss Elliston was lying on the couch that had been pulled before the open wood-fire. It was a very comfortable corner, and she had three or four books beside her, that had been among her presents; but it was too dark in the room for reading, though the daylight had only just begun to fade a little out of doors.
"It seems so funny to have had dinner at one o'clock," said Jack. "It makes me lose my reckoning. If I weren't so lazy, I would go out for a little while," and he gave a desperate yawn, so that Tatters, the dog, who had been lying in front of the fire, got up and came to look at him with an air of deep anxiety, at which his master laughed and patted him and smoothed the hair under his new collar.
"Tatters seems to be as sleepy as the rest of us," said Aunt Grace, laughing. "I think he must have had a famous dinner. He looks rounder and lazier than ever. Poor little doggy! he's growing quite old and sober. I meant to tell you, in better season, such a pretty thing that I read the other day, in a book about Norway. They always give all the animals belonging to a household double their usual allowance, and so there is a great Christmas feasting; but, more than that, both the peasants and the people in the towns always feed the wild birds. They buy little sheaves of oats and barley in the markets or tie them up for themselves on the farms, and these are fastened on trees or outside the houses. Nobody forgets, not even the very poorest people, to give the birds a Christmas dinner."
"I'm going down-stairs this very minute for some crumbs," said Annie. "Here is a whole flock of sparrows just outside, on the parlor window roof," and away she went in a hurry.
It was a good bit of fun to watch the sparrows squabbling over the bits of bread, and Jack and Annie were much entertained for awhile; and, at last, Miss Elliston yielded to their entreaties, and came to see two valiant members of that family of birds, which had seized a piece of crust together and would not let go. They fluttered about and rustled their wings in the leafless vine that grew on the house, and they lost hold for a minute, and then caught fast again. It was truly an exciting moment. Jack clapped his hands with delight and behaved as if he were four, instead of fourteen; but presently the sparrows all flew away down the street and the entertainment was over.
"I do think Christmas is a lovely day," said Annie, after a little silence. "I don't think I ever had such a good time as I have had to-day. Everybody is so nice and everybody does the kindest and pleasantest things for you. It is a good deal of trouble to get ready for it; but nobody minds. Even the people in the streets look at you and laugh."
"I do think it is wonderful how every one feels something of the peace on earth and good will to men," said Aunt Grace. "I think the great pity is that with so many it is the only day in the year when that feeling does come. And a great many give presents just because they think they must, and they make a hard piece of work over it and don't know what they shall get and wonder what they will do. It is too bad ever to have that cold-heartedness about Christmas, and it is worse to forget afterward the kindness our friends have shown us and to go on just the same as ever. When we give something to one of our friends, I think it ought to be to show our love [for] and to give pleasure. I have been thinking this afternoon what a business we make of doing kind things on this one day, and I wonder why we don't wish to do them every day in the year and try to put the same spirit into the whole of our lives. I wish we could have a whole year of Christmas days. I mean a whole year of trying to do everything we can for everybody."
"I know one thing," said Jack; "my money wouldn't hold out long." And Miss Elliston and Annie both laughed.
"But do you know, Jack, that I think the things we give away are, after all, the least of it. It is feeling that people are fond of us and have tried to make us pleased and happy. You grandmother has said half a dozen times to me about that shawl that Annie gave her: `I can't get over the dear child's having taken all those stitches and done all that work for me!' And your father is wondering how she found time, with her going to school and practicing and all, to make him the little afghan for the library sofa; and Mamma has been so much delighted with the work-table you have made for her and inlaid so prettily. It really is a charming thing [think], Jack; but she likes it best because you spent so much time and such loving care in doing it for her, and in order to buy presents, you went without things yourself and saved your allowance. Don't you see you have shown a dear, generous, good will to all of us?" And, now Christmas is over, I don't think we ought to stop and behave as if we were done with all that; and, since we have shown our affection one day in the year, our friends must be contented and wait until they get their next Christmas present. I wish we could try to make the days after Christmas happy ones for the people we are with. There are so many little pleasures and small services to be given, I think it is a pity we shouldn't wish our neighbors a merry day very often and do a great deal more to make things pleasant for them. I have lived long enough to find out one thing: That it is doing little things for our friends that makes them happiest. A great service or an expensive gift oftentimes carries with it a weight of obligation; but we all like to feel that the small comforts and concerns of our lives are of interest and importance to the people we love. And I believe, if we try to do all the kind little things we can every day for the people we live with, the great gifts and services will take care of themselves.
Jack had been silent, and so had Annie, and it had grown dark out of doors. They never minded their Aunt Grace's little sermons, as they did some other people's, there was something that always made them glad to listen. Annie came across the room, and sat on the rug by the sofa in the firelight; and Jack said, valiantly: "I was wondering, a little while ago, what I should do with myself, now it is after Christmas; but I never thought of keeping it all the year round."South Berwick, Me.
"After Christmas" appeared in The Independent (34:27-8) on December 28, 1882. Probable errors have been corrected and indicated with brackets. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
Rebecca Wall, of Winston-Salem State University, suggests that this story compares interestingly with "Christmas Every Day" (1892) a well-known Christmas story by William Dean Howells. His collection of holiday stories is available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/22519.
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peace on earth: See Luke 2.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College
Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers