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Betty's Bright Idea

(1876)


"When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts
unto men."--Eph. iv. 8.

--

Some say that ever, 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrate,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long.
And then, they say, no evil spirit walks;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, no witch hath power to charm,--
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.

And this holy time, so hallowed and so gracious, was settling down over
the great roaring, rattling, seething life-world of New York in the good
year 1875. Who does not feel its on-coming in the shops and streets, in
the festive air of trade and business, in the thousand garnitures by
which every store hangs out triumphal banners and solicits you to buy
something for a Christmas gift? For it is the peculiarity of all this
array of prints, confectionery, dry goods, and manufactures of all kinds,
that their bravery and splendor at Christmas tide is all to seduce you
into generosity, and importune you to give something to others. It says
to you, "The dear God gave you an unspeakable gift; give you a lesser
gift to your brother!"

Do we ever think, when we walk those busy, bustling streets, all alive
with Christmas shoppers, and mingle with the rushing tides that throng
and jostle through the stores, that unseen spirits may be hastening to
and fro along those same ways bearing Christ's Christmas gifts to men--
gifts whose value no earthly gold or gems can represent?

Yet, on this morning of the day before Christmas, were these Shining
Ones, moving to and fro with the crowd, whose faces were loving and
serene as the invisible stars, whose robes took no defilement from the
spatter and the rush of earth, whose coming and going was still as the
falling snow-flakes. They entered houses without ringing door-bells, they
passed through apartments without opening doors, and everywhere they were
bearing Christ's Christmas presents, and silently offering them to
whoever would open their souls to receive. Like themselves, their gifts
were invisible--incapable of weight and measurement in gross earthly
scales. To mourners they carried joy; to weary and perplexed hearts,
peace; to souls stifling in luxury and self-indulgence they carried that
noble discontent that rises to aspiration for higher things. Sometimes
they took away an earthly treasure to make room for a heavenly one. They
took health, but left resignation and cheerful faith. They took the babe
from the dear cradle, but left in its place a heart full of pity for the
suffering on earth and a fellowship with the blessed in heaven. Let us
follow their footsteps awhile.

SCENE I.


A young girl's boudoir in one of our American palaces of luxury, built
after the choicest fancy of the architect, and furnished in all the
latest devices of household decoration. Pictures, statuettes, and every
form of _bijouterie_ make the room a miracle of beauty, and the little
princess of all sits in an easy chair before the fire, and thus revolves
with herself:

"O, dear me! Christmas is a bore! Such a rush and crush in the streets,
such a jam in the shops, and then _such_ a fuss thinking up presents for
everybody! All for nothing, too; for nobody Wants anything. I'm sure _I_
don't. I'm surfeited now with pictures and jewelry, and bon-bon boxes,
and little china dogs and cats--and all these things that get so thick
you can't move without upsetting some of them. There's papa, he don't
want anything. He never uses any of my Christmas presents when I get
them; and mamma, she has every earthly thing I can think of, and said the
other day she did hope nobody'd give her any more worsted work! Then Aunt
Maria and Uncle John, they don't want the things I give them; they have
more than they know what to do with, now. All the boys say they don't
want any more cigar cases or slippers, or smoking caps. Oh, dear!"

Here the Shining Ones came and stood over the little lady, and looked
down on her with faces of pity, which seemed blent with a serene and
half-amused indulgence. It was a heavenly amusement, such as that with
which mothers listen to the foolish-wise prattle of children just
learning to talk.

As the grave, sweet eyes rested tenderly on her, the girl somehow grew
graver, leaned back in her chair, and sighed a little.

"I wish I knew how to be better!" she said to herself. "I remember last
Sunday's text, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' That must
mean something! Well, isn't there something, too, in the Bible about not
giving to your rich neighbors that can give again, but giving to the poor
that cannot recompense you? I don't know any poor people. Papa says there
are very few deserving poor people. Well, for the matter of that, there
aren't many _deserving rich_ people. I, for example, how much do I
_deserve_ to have all these nice things? I'm no better than the poor
shop-girls that go trudging by in the cold at six o'clock in the morning--
ugh! it makes me shiver to think of it. I know if I had to do that _I_
shouldn't be good at all. Well, I'd like to give to poor people, if I
knew any."

At this moment the door opened and the maid entered.

"Betty, do you know any poor people I ought to get things for, this
Christmas?"

"Poor folks is always plenty, miss," said Betty.

"O yes, of course, beggars; but I mean people that I could do something
for besides just give cold victuals or money. I don't know where to hunt
them up, and should be afraid to go if I did. O dear! it's no use. I'll
give it up."

"Why, Miss Florence, that 'ud be too bad, afther bein' that good in yer
heart, to let the poor folks alone for fear of goin' to them. But ye
needn't do that, for, now I think of it, there's John Morley's wife."

"What, the gardener father turned off for drinking?"

"The same, miss. Poor boy, he's not so bad, and he's got a wife and two
as pretty children as ever you see."

"I always liked John," said the young lady. "But papa is so strict about
some things! He says he never will keep a man a day if he finds out that
he drinks."

She was quite silent for a minute, and then broke out:

"I don't care; it's a good idea! I say, Betty, do you know where John's
wife lives?"

"Yes, miss, I've been there often."

"Well, then, this afternoon I'll go with you and see if I can do anything
for them."


SCENE II.


An attic room, neat and clean, but poorly furnished; a bed and a trundle-
bed, a small cooking-stove, a shelf with a few dishes, one or two chairs
and stools, a pale, thin woman working on a vest.

Her face is anxious; her thin hands tremble with weakness, and now and
then, as she works, quiet tears drop, which she wipes quickly. Poor
people cannot afford to shed tears; it takes time and injures eyesight.

This is John Morley's wife. This morning he has risen and gone out in a
desperate mood. "No use to try," he says. "Didn't I go a whole year and
never touch a drop? And now just because I fell once I'm kicked out! No
use to try. When a fellow once trips, everybody gives him a kick. Talk
about love of Christ! Who believes it? Don't see much love of Christ
where I go. Your Christians hit a fellow that's down as hard as anybody.
It's everybody for himself and devil take the hindmost. Well, I'll trudge
up to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and see if they'll take me on there--if they
won't I might as well go to sea, or to the devil," and out he flings.

"Mamma!" says a little voice, "what are we going to have for our
Christmas?"

It is a little girl, with soft curly hair and bright, earnest eyes, that
speaks.

A sturdy little fellow of four presses up to the mother's knee and
repeats the question, "Sha'n't we have a Christmas, mother?"

It overcomes the poor woman; she leans forward and breaks into sobbing,--
a tempest of sorrow, long suppressed, that shakes her weak frame as she
thinks that her husband is out of work, desperate, discouraged, and
tempted of the devil, that the rent is falling due, and only the poor pay
of her needle to meet it with. In one of those quick flashes which
concentrate through the imagination the sorrows of years, she seems to
see her little home broken up, her husband in the gutter, her children
turned into the street. At this moment there goes up from her heart a
despairing cry, such as a poor, hunted, tired-out creature gives when
brought to the last gasp of endurance. It was like the shriek of the hare
when the hounds are upon it. She clasps her hands and cries out, "O my
God, help me."

There was no voice of any that answered; there was no sound of foot-fall
on the staircase; no one entered the door; and yet that agonized cry had
reached the heart it was meant for. The Shining Ones were with her; they
stood, with faces full of tenderness, beaming down upon her; they brought
her a Christmas gift from Christ--the gift of trust. She knew not from
whence came the courage and rest that entered her soul; but while her
little ones stood wondering and silent, she turned and drew to herself
her well-worn Bible. Hands that she did not see guided her as she turned
the pages, and pointed the words: _He shall deliver the needy when he
crieth; the poor also and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the
poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem
their soul from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in
his sight._

She laid down her poor wan cheek on the merciful old book, as on her
mother's breast, and gave up all the tangled skein of life into the hands
of Infinite Pity. There seemed a consoling presence in the room, and her
tired heart found rest.

She wiped away her tears, kissed her children, and smiled upon them. Then
she rose, gathered up her finished work, and attired herself to go forth
and carry it back to the shop.

"Mother," said the children softly, "they are dressing the church, and
the gates are open, and people are going in and out; mayn't we play there
by the church?"

The mother looked out on the ivy-grown walls of the church, with its
flocks of twittering sparrows, and said:

"Yes, my little birds; you may play there if you'll be very good and
quiet."

The mother had only her small, close attic room for her darlings, and to
satisfy all their childish desire for variety and motion, she had only
the refuge of the streets. She was a decent, godly woman, and the bold
manners and evil words of street vagrants were terrible to her; and so,
when the church gates were open for daily morning and evening prayers,
she had often begged the sexton to let her little ones come in and hear
the singing, and wander hand in hand around the old church walls. He was
a kindly old man, and the children, stealing round like two still,
bright-eyed little mice, had gained upon his heart, and he made them
welcome there. It gave the mother a feeling of protection to have them
play near the church, as if it were a father's house.

So she put on their little hoods and tippets, and led them forth, and saw
them into the yard; and as she looked to the old gray church, with its
rustling ivy bowers and flocks of birds, her heart swelled within her.
"Yea, the sparrow hath found a house and the swallow a nest where she may
lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God!"
And the Shining Ones walking with her said, "Fear not; ye are of more
value than many sparrows."

SCENE III.


The little ones went gayly into the yard. They had been scared by their
mother's tears; but she had smiled again, and that had made all right
with them. The sun was shining brightly, and they were on the sunny side
of the old church, and they laughed and chirped and chittered to each
other as merrily as the little birds in the ivy boughs.

The old sexton came to the side door and threw out an armful of refuse
greens, and then stopped a moment and nodded kindly at them.

"May we play with them, please, sir?" said the little Elsie, looking up
with great reverence.

"Oh, yes, to be sure; these are done with--they are no good now."

"Oh, Tottie!" cried Elsie, rapturously, "just think, he says we may play
with all these. Why, here's ever and ever so much green, enough to play
house. Let's play build a house for father and mother."

"I'm going to build a big house for 'em when I grow up," said Tottie,
"and I mean to have glass bead windows in it."

Tottie had once had presented to him a box of colored glass beads to
string, and he could think of nothing finer in the future than unlimited
glass beads.

Meanwhile, his sister began planting pine branches upright in the snow,
to make her house.

"You see we can make believe there are windows and doors and a roof," she
said, "and it's just as good. Now, let's make believe there is a bed in
this corner, and we will lie down to sleep."

And Tottie obediently couched himself in the allotted corner and shut his
eyes very hard, though after a moment he remarked that the snow got into
his neck.

"You must play it isn't snow--play it's feathers," said Elsie.

"But I don't like it," persisted Tottie, "it don't feel a bit like
feathers."

"Oh, well, then," said Elsie, accommodating herself to circumstances,
"let's play get up now and I'll get breakfast."

Just now the door opened again, and the sexton began sweeping the refuse
out of the church. There were bits of ivy and holly, and ruffles of
ground-pine, and lots of bright red berries that came flying forth into
the yard, and the children screamed for joy. "O Tottie!" "O Elsie!" "Only
see how many pretty things--lots and lots!"

The sexton stood and looked and laughed as he saw the little ones so
eager for the scraps and remnants.

"Don't you want to come in and see the church?" he said. "It's all done
now, and a brave sight it is. You may come in."

They tipped in softly, with large bright, wondering eyes. The light
through the stained glass windows fell blue and crimson and yellow on the
pillars all ruffled with ground-pine and brightened with scarlet bitter-
sweet berries, and there were stars and crosses and mottoes in green all
through the bowery aisles, while the organist, hid in a thicket of
verdure, was practicing softly, and sweet voices sung:

"Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King."

The little ones wandered up and down the long aisles in a dream of awe
and wonder. "Hush, Tottie!" said Elsie when he broke into an eager
exclamation, "don't make a noise. I do believe it's something like
heaven," she said, under her breath.

They made the course of the church and came round by the door again,
where the sexton stood smiling on them.

"You can find lots of pretty Christmas greens out there," he said,
pointing to the door; "perhaps your folks would like to have some."

"Oh, thank you, sir," exclaimed. Elsie, rapturously. "Oh, Tottie, only
think! Let's gather a good lot and go home and dress our room for
Christmas. Oh, _won't_ mother be astonished when she comes home, we'll
make it so pretty!"

And forthwith the children began gathering into their little aprons
wreaths of ground-pine, sprigs of holly, and twigs of crimson bitter-
sweet. The sexton, seeing their zeal, brought out to them a little cross,
fancifully made of red alder-berries and pine.

Then he said, "A lady took that down to put up a bigger one, and she gave
it to me; you may have it if you want it."

"Oh, how beautiful," said Elsie. "How glad I am to have this for mother!
When she comes back she won't know our room; it will be as fine as the
church."

Soon the little gleaners were toddling off out of the yard--moving masses
of green with all that their aprons and their little hands could carry.

The sexton looked after them. "Take heed that ye despise not these little
ones," he said to himself, "for in heaven their angels--"

A ray of tenderness fell on the old man's head; it was from the Shining
One who watched the children. He thought it was an afternoon sunbeam. His
heart grew gentle and peaceful, and his thoughts went far back to a
distant green grove where his own little one was sleeping. "Seems to me
I've loved all little ones ever since," he said, thinking far back to the
Christmas week when his lamb was laid to rest. "Well, she shall not
return to me, but I shall go to her." The smile of the Shining One made a
warm glow in his heart, which followed him all the way home.

The children had a merry time dressing the room. They stuck good big
bushes of pine in each window; they put a little ruffle of ground-pine
round mother's Bible, and they fastened the beautiful red cross up over
the table, and they stuck sprigs of pine or holly into every crack that
could be made, by fair means or foul, to accept it, and they were
immensely satisfied and delighted. Tottie insisted on hanging up his
string of many-colored beads in the window to imitate the effect of the
stained glass of the great church window.

"It looks pretty when the light comes through," he remarked; and Elsie
admitted that they might play they were painted windows, with some show
of propriety. When everything had been stuck somewhere, Elsie swept the
floor, and made up a fire, and put on the tea-kettle, to have everything
ready to strike mother favorably on her return.


SCENE IV.


A freezing, bright, cold afternoon. "Cold as Christmas!" say cheery
voices, as the crowds rush to and fro into shops and stores, and come out
with hands full of presents.

"Yes, cold as Christmas," says John Morley. "I should think so! Cold
enough for a fellow that can't get in anywhere--that nobody wants and
nobody helps! I should think so."

John had been trudging all day from point to point, only to hear the old
story: times were hard, work was dull, nobody wanted him, and he felt
morose and surly--out of humor with himself and with everybody else.

It is true that his misfortunes were from his own fault; but that
consideration never makes a man a particle more patient or good-natured--
indeed, it is an additional bitterness in his cup. John was an
Englishman. When he first landed in New York from the old country, he had
been wild and dissipated and given to drinking. But by his wife's earnest
entreaties he had been persuaded to sign the temperance pledge, and had
gone on prosperously keeping it for a year. He had a good place and good
wages, and all went well with him till in an evil hour he met some of his
former boon-companions, and was induced to have a social evening with
them.

In the first half hour of that evening were lost the fruits of the whole
year's self-denial and self-control. He was not only drunk that night,
but he went off for a fortnight, and was drunk night after night, and
came back to find that his master had discharged him in indignation. John
thinks this over bitterly, as he thuds about in the cold and calls
himself a fool.

Yet, if the truth must be confessed, John had not much "sense of sin," so
called. He looked on himself as an unfortunate and rather ill-used man,
for had he not tried very hard to be good, and gone a great while against
the stream of evil inclination? and now, just for one yielding, he was
pitched out of place, and everybody was turned against him! He thought
this was hard measure. Didn't everybody hit wrong sometimes? Didn't rich
fellows have their wine, and drink a little too much now and then? Yet
nobody was down on _them_.

"It's only because I'm poor," said John. "Poor folks' sins are never
pardoned. There's my good wife--poor girl!" and John's heart felt as if
it were breaking, for he was an affectionate creature, and loved his wife
and babies, and in his deepest consciousness he knew that he was the one
at fault. We have heard much about the sufferings of the wives and
children of men who are overtaken with drink; but what is not so well
understood is the sufferings of the men themselves in their sober
moments, when they feel that they are becoming a curse to all that are
dearest to them. John's very soul was wrung within him to think of the
misery he had brought on his wife and children--the greater miseries that
might be in store for them. He was faint of heart; he was tired; he had
eaten nothing for hours, and on ahead he saw a drinking saloon. Why
shouldn't he go and take one good drink, and then pitch off a ferry-boat
into the East River, and so end the whole miserable muddle of life
altogether?

John's steps were turning that way, when one of the Shining Ones, who had
watched him all day, came nearer and took his hand. He felt no touch; but
at that moment there darted into his soul a thought of his mother, long
dead, and he stopped irresolute, then turned to walk another way. The
hand that was guiding him led him to turn a corner, and his curiosity was
excited by a stream of people who seemed to be pressing into a building.
A distant sound of singing was heard as he drew nearer, and soon he found
himself passing with the multitude into a great prayer-meeting. The music
grew more distinct as he went in. A man was singing in clear, penetrating
tones:

"What means this eager, anxious throng,
Which moves with busy haste along;
These wondrous gatherings day by day;
What means this strange commotion, say?
In accents hushed the throng reply,
'Jesus of Nazareth passeth by!'"

John had but a vague idea of religion, yet something in the singing
affected him; and, weary and footsore and heartsore as he was, he sank
into a seat and listened with absorbed attention:

"Jesus! 'tis he who once below
Man's pathway trod in toil and woe;
And burdened ones where'er he came
Brought out their sick and deaf and lame.
The blind rejoiced to hear the cry,
'Jesus of Nazareth passeth by!'

"Ho, all ye heavy-laden, come!
Here's pardon, comfort, rest, and home.
Ye wanderers from a Father's face,
Return, accept his proffered grace.
Ye tempted ones, there's refuge nigh--
'Jesus of Nazareth passeth by!'"

A plain man, who spoke the language of plain working-men, now arose and
read from his Bible the words which the angel of old spoke to the
shepherds of Bethlehem:

"_Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be
to all people, for unto you is born this day a Saviour, which is Christ
the Lord._"

The man went on to speak of this with an intense practical earnestness
that soon made John feel as if _he_, individually, were being talked to;
and the purport of the speech was this: that God had sent to him, John
Morley, a Saviour to save him from his sins, to lift him above his
weakness, to help him overcome his bad habits; that His name was called
Jesus, because he shall save his people _from their sins_. John listened
with a strange new thrill. This was what he needed--a Friend, all-
powerful, all-pitiful, who would undertake for him and help him to
overcome himself--for he sorely felt how weak he was. Here was a Friend
that could have compassion on the ignorant and them that were out of the
way. The thought brought tears to his eyes and a glow of hope to his
heart. What if He _would_ help him? for deep down in John's heart, worse
than cold or hunger or weariness, was the dreadful conviction that he was
a doomed man, that he should drink again as he had drunk, and never come
to good, but fall lower and lower, and drag all who loved him down with
him.

And was this mighty Saviour given to him?

"Yes," cried the man who was speaking; "to _you;_ to you, who have lost
name and place; to you, that nobody cares for; to you, who have been down
in the gutter. God has sent you a Saviour to take you up out of the mud
and mire, to wash you clean, to give you strength to overcome your sins,
and lead you home to his blessed kingdom. This is the glad tidings of
great joy that the angels brought on the first Christmas day. Christ was
_God's Christmas gift_ to a poor, lost world, and you may have him now,
to-day. He may be your own Saviour--yours as much as if there were no
other one on earth to be saved. He is looking for you to-day, coming
after you, seeking you; he calls you by me. Oh, accept him now!"

There was a deep breathing of suppressed emotion as the speaker sat down,
a pause of solemn stillness.

A faint strain of music was heard, and the singer began singing a
pathetic ballad of a lost sheep and of the Shepherd going forth to seek
it:

"There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold,
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold--
Away on the mountains wild and bare,
Away from the tender Shepherd's care.

"'Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?'
But the Shepherd made answer: ''Tis of mine
Has wandered away from me;
And although the road be rough and steep
I go to the desert to find my sheep.'"

John heard with an absorbed interest. All around him were eager
listeners, breathless, leaning forward with intense attention. The song
went on:

"But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord went through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry--
Sick and helpless, and ready to die."

There was a throbbing pathos in the intonation, and the verse floated
over the weeping throng; when, after a pause, the strain was taken up
triumphantly:

"But all through the mountains thunder-riven,
And up from the rocky steep,
There rose a cry to the gates of heaven,
'Rejoice! I have found my sheep!'
And the angels echoed around the throne,
'Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!'"

All day long, poor John had felt so lonesome! Nobody cared for him;
nobody wanted him; everything was against him; and, worst of all, he had
no faith in himself. But here was this Friend, _seeking_ him, following
him through the cold alleys and crowded streets. In heaven they would be
glad to hear that he had become a good man. The thought broke down all
his pride, all his bitterness; he wept like a little child; and the
Christmas gift of Christ--the sense of a real, present, loving, pitying
Saviour--came into his very _soul_.

He went homeward as one in a dream. He passed the drinking-saloon without
a thought or wish of drinking. The expulsive force of a new emotion had
for the time driven out all temptation. Raised above weakness, he thought
only of this Jesus, this Saviour from sin, who he now believed had
followed him and found him, and he longed to go home and tell his wife
what great things the Lord had done for him.


SCENE V.


Meanwhile a little drama had been acting in John's humble home. His wife
had been to the shop that day and come home with the pittance for her
work in her hands.

"I'll pay you full price to-day, but we can't pay such prices any
longer," the man had said over the counter as he paid her. "Hard times--
work dull--we are cutting down all our work-folks; you'll have to take a
third less next time."

"I'll do my best," she said meekly, as she took her bundle of work and
turned wearily away, but the invisible arm of the Shining One was round
her, and the words again thrilled through her that she had read that
morning: "He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and
precious shall their blood be in his sight." She saw no earthly helper;
she heard none and felt none, and yet her soul was sustained, and she
came home in peace.

When she opened the door of her little room she drew back astonished at
the sight that presented itself. A brisk fire was roaring in the stove,
and the tea-kettle was sputtering and sending out clouds of steam. A
table with a white cloth on it was drawn out before the fire, and a new
tea set of pure white cups and saucers, with teapot, sugar-bowl, and
creamer, complete, gave a festive air to the whole. There were bread, and
butter, and ham-sandwiches, and a Christmas cake all frosted, with little
blue and red and green candles round it ready to be lighted, and a bunch
of hot-house flowers in a pretty little vase in the centre.

A new stuffed rocking-chair stood on one side of the stove, and there sat
Miss Florence De Witt, our young princess of Scene First, holding little
Elsie in her lap, while the broad, honest countenance of Betty was
beaming with kindness down on the delighted face of Tottie. Both children
were dressed from head to foot in complete new suits of clothes, and
Elsie was holding with tender devotion a fine doll, while Tottie rejoiced
in a horse and cart which he was maneuvering under Betty's
superintendence.

The little princess had pleased herself in getting up all this tableau.
Doing good was a novelty to her, and she plunged into it with the zest of
a new amusement. The amazed look of the poor woman, her dazed expressions
of rapture and incredulous joy, the shrieks and cries of confused delight
with which the little ones met their mother, delighted her more than any
scene she had ever witnessed at the opera--with this added grace, unknown
to her, that at this scene the invisible Shining Ones were pleased
witnesses.

She had been out with Betty, buying here and there whatever was wanted,--
and what was _not_ wanted for those who had been living so long without
work or money?

She had their little coal-bin filled, and a nice pile of wood and
kindlings put behind the stove. She had bought a nice rocking-chair for
the mother to rest in. She had dressed the children from head to foot at
a ready-made clothing store, and bought them toys to their hearts'
desire, while Betty had set the table for a Christmas feast.

And now she said to the poor woman at last:

"I'm so sorry John lost his place at father's. He was so kind and
obliging, and I always liked him; and I've been thinking, if you'd get
him to sign the pledge over again from Christmas Eve, never to touch
another drop, I'll get papa to take him back. I always do get papa to do
what I want, and the fact is, he hasn't got anybody that suited him so
well since John left. So you tell John that I mean to go surety for him;
he certainly won't fail _me_. Tell him _I trust him_." And Miss Florence
pulled out a paper wherein, in her best round hand, she had written out
again the temperance pledge, and dated it "_Christmas Eve, 1875_."

"Now, you come with John to-morrow morning, and bring this with his name
to it, and you'll see what I'll do!" and, with a kiss to the children,
the little good fairy departed, leaving the family to their Christmas
Eve.

What that Christmas Eve was, when the husband and father came home with
the new and softened heart that had been given him, who can say? There
were joyful tears and solemn prayers, and earnest vows and purposes of a
new life heard by the Shining Ones in the room that night.

"And the angels echoed around the throne,
Rejoice! for the Lord brings back his own."

SCENE VI.


"Now, papa, I want you to give me something special to-day, because it's
Christmas," said the little princess to her father, as she kissed and
wished him "Merry Christmas" next morning.

"What is it, Pussy--half of my kingdom?"

"No, no, papa; not so much as that. It's a little bit of my own way that
I want."

"Of course; well, what is it?"

"Well, I want you to take John back again."

Her father's face grew hard.

"Now, please, papa, don't say a word till you have heard me. John was a
capital gardener; he kept the green-house looking beautiful; and this
Mike that we've got now, he's nothing but an apprentice, and stupid as an
owl at that! He'll never do in the world."

"All that is very true," said Mr. De Witt, "but _John drinks_, and I
_won't_ have a drinking man."

"But, papa, _I_ mean to take care of that. I've written out the
temperance pledge, and dated it, and got John to sign it, and _here it
is_," and she handed the paper to her father, who read it carefully, and
sat turning it in his hands while his daughter went on:

"You ought to have seen how poor, how very poor they were. His wife is
such a nice, quiet, hardworking woman, and has two such pretty children.
I went to see them and carry them Christmas things yesterday, but it's no
good doing anything if John can't get work. She told me how the poor
fellow had been walking the streets in the cold, day after day, trying
everywhere, and nobody would take him. It's a dreadful time now for a man
to be out of work, and it isn't fair his poor wife and children should
suffer. Do try him again, papa!"

"John always did better with the pineapples than anybody we have tried,"
said Mrs. De Witt at this point. "He is the only one who really
understands pineapples."

At this moment the door opened, and there was a sound of chirping voices
in the hall. "Please, Miss Florence," said Betty, "the little folks says
they wants to give you a Christmas." She added in a whisper: "They thinks
much of giving you something, poor little things--plaze take it of 'em."
And little Tottie at the word marched in and offered the young princess
his dear, beautiful, beloved string of glass beads, and Elsie presented
the cross of red berries--most dear to her heart and fair to her eyes.
"We wanted to give _you something_" she said bashfully.

"Oh, you lovely dears!" cried Florence; "how sweet of you! I shall keep
these beautiful glass beads always, and put the cross up over my
dressing-table. I thank you _ever_ so much!"

"Are those John's children?" asked Mr. De Witt, winking a tear out of his
eye--he was at bottom a soft-hearted old gentleman.

"Yes, papa," said Florence, caressing Elsie's curly hair,--"see how sweet
they are!"

"Well--you may tell John I'll try him again." And so passed Florence's
Christmas, with a new, warm sense of joy in her heart, a feeling of
something in the world to be done, worth doing.

"How much joy one can give with a little money!" she said to herself as
she counted over what she had spent on her Christmas. Ah yes! and how
true that "It _is_ more blessed to give than to receive." A shining,
invisible hand was laid on her head in blessing as she lay down that
night, and a sweet sense of a loving presence stole like music into her
soul. Unknown to herself, she had that day taken the first step out of
self-life into that life of love and care for others which brought the
King of Glory down to share earth's toils and sorrows. And that precious
experience was Christ's Christmas gift to her.


THE END.

Harriet Beecher Stowe