Read CHAPTER IV - IT WAS THE SAME CHRISTMAS MORNING of A Little Book for Christmas, free online book, by Cyrus Townsend Brady, on ReadCentral.com.

In Which it is Shown how Different the Same Things may Be

A Story for Girls

In Philadelphia the rich and the poor live cheek by jowl-or rather, back to back.  Between the streets of the rich and parallel to them, run the alleys of the poor.  The rich man’s garage jostles elbows with the poor man’s dwelling.

In a big house fronting on one of the most fashionable streets lived a little girl named Ethel.  Other people lived in the big house also, a father, a mother, a butler, a French maid, and a host of other servants.  Back of the big house was the garage.  Facing the garage on the other side of the alley was a little, old one-story-and-a-half brick house.  In this house dwelt a little girl named Maggie.  With her lived her father who was a labourer; her mother, who took in washing; and half a dozen brothers, four of whom worked at something or other, while the two littlest went to school.

Ethel and Maggie never played together.  Their acquaintance was simply a bowing one-better perhaps, a smiling one.  From one window in the big playroom which was so far to one side of the house that Ethel could see past the garage and get a glimpse of the window of the living-room in Maggie’s house, the two little girls at first stared at each other.  One day Maggie nodded and smiled, then Ethel, feeling very much frightened, for she had been cautioned against playing with or noticing the children in the alley, nodded and smiled back.  Now neither of the children felt happy unless they had held a pantomimic conversation from window to window at some time during the day.

It was Christmas morning.  Ethel awoke very early, as all properly organized children do on that day at least.  She had a beautiful room in which she slept alone.  Adjacent to it, in another room almost as beautiful, slept Celeste, her mamma’s French maid.  Ethel had been exquisitely trained.  She lay awake a long time before making a sound or movement, wishing it were time to arise.  But Christmas was strong upon her, the infection of the season was in her blood.  Presently she slipped softly out of bed, pattered across the room, paused at the door which gave entrance to the hall which led to her mother’s apartments, then turned and plumped down upon Celeste.

“Merry Christmas,” she cried shaking the maid.

To awaken Celeste was a task of some difficulty.  Ordinarily the French woman would have been indignant at being thus summarily routed out before the appointed hour but something of the spirit of Christmas had touched her as well.  She answered the salutation of the little girl kindly enough, but as she sat up in bed she lifted a reproving finger.

“But,” she said, “you mus’ keep ze silence, Mademoiselle Ethel.  Madame, vôtre maman, she say she mus’ not be disturb’ in ze morning.  She haf been out verlate in ze night and she haf go to ze bed ver’ early.  She say you mus’ be ver’ quiet on ze Matin de Noel!”

“I will be quiet, Celeste,” answered the little girl, her lip quivering at the injunction.

It was so hard to be repressed all the time but especially on Christmas Day of all others.

“Zen I will help you to dress immédiatement, and zen Villiam, he vill call us to see ze tree.”

Never had the captious little girl been more docile, more obedient.  Dressing Ethel that morning was a pleasure to Celeste.  Scarcely had she completed the task and put on her own clothing when there was a tap on the door.

“Vat is it?”

“Mornin’, Miss Celeste,” spoke a heavy voice outside, a voice subdued to a decorous softness of tone, “if you an’ Miss Ethel are ready, the tree is lit, an’-”

“Ve air ready, Monsieur Villiam,” answered Celeste, throwing open the door dramatically.

Ethel opened her mouth to welcome the butler-for if that solemn and portentous individual ever unbent it was to Miss Ethel, whom in his heart of hearts he adored-but he placed a warning finger to his lip and whispered in an awestruck voice: 

“The master, your father, came in late last night, Miss, an’ he said there must be no noise or racket this morning.”

Ethel nodded sadly, her eyes filling at her disappointment; William then marched down the hall with a stately magnificence peculiar to butlers, and opened the door into the playroom.  He flung it wide and stood to one side like a grenadier, as Celeste and Ethel entered.  There was a gorgeous tree, beautifully trimmed.  William had bought the tree and Celeste’s French taste had adorned it.  It was a sight to delight any child’s eyes and the things strewn around it on the floor were even more attractive.  Everything that money could buy, that Celeste and William could think of was there.  Ethel’s mother had given her maid carte blanche to buy the child whatever she liked, and Ethel’s father had done the same with William.  The two had pooled their issue and the result was a toyshop dream.  Ethel looked at the things in silence.

“How do you like it, Miss?” asked William at last rather anxiously.

“Mademoiselle is not pleased?” questioned the French woman.

“It-it-is lovely,” faltered the little girl.

“We haf selected zem ourselves.”

“Yes, Miss.”

“Didn’t mamma-buy anything-or papa-or Santa?”

“Zey tell us to get vatever you vould like and nevair mind ze money.”

“It was so good of you, I am sure,” said Ethel struggling valiantly against disappointment almost too great to bear.  “Everything is beautiful but-I-wish mamma or papa had-I wish they were here-I’d like them to wish me a Merry Christmas.”

The little lip trembled but the upper teeth came down on it firmly.  The child had courage.  William looked at Celeste and Celeste shrugged her shoulders, both knowing what was lacking.

“I am sure, Miss, that they do wish you a Merry Christmas, an’”-the butler began bravely, but the situation was too much for him.  “There goes the master’s bell,” he said quickly and turned and stalked out of the room gravely, although no bell had summoned him.

“You may go, Celeste,” said Ethel with a dignity not unlike her mother’s manner.

The maid shrugged her shoulders again, left the room and closed the door.  Everything was lovely, everything was there except that personal touch which means so much even to the littlest girl.  Ethel was used to being cared for by others than her parents but it came especially hard on her this morning.  She turned, leaving the beautiful things as they were placed about the tree, and walked to the end window whence she could get a view of the little house beyond the garage over the back wall.

There was a Christmas tree in Maggie’s house too.  It wouldn’t have made a respectable branch for Ethel’s tree, and the trimmings were so cheap and poor that Celeste would have thrown them into the waste basket immediately.  There were a few common, cheap, perishable little toys around the tree on the floor but to Maggie it was a glimpse of heaven.  She stood in her little white night-gown-no such thing as dressing for her on Christmas morning-staring around her.  The whole family was grouped about her, even the littlest brothers, who went to school because they were not big enough to work, forgot their own joy in watching their little sister.  Her father, her mother, the big boys all in a state of more or less dishevelled undress stood around her, pointing out first one thing and then another which they had been able to get for her by denying themselves some of the necessities of life.  Maggie was so happy that her eyes brimmed, yet she did not cry.  She laughed, she clapped her hands, and kissed them all round and finally found herself, a big orange in one hand, a tin trumpet in the other, perched upon her father’s broad shoulders leading a frantic march around the narrow confines of the living-room.  As she passed by the one window she caught a glimpse of the alley.  It had been snowing throughout the night and the ground was white.

“Oh,” she screamed with delight, “let me see the snow on Christmas morning.”

Her father walked over to the window, parted the cheap lace curtains, while Maggie clapped her hands gleefully at the prospect.  Presently she lifted her eyes and looked toward the other window high up in the air, where Ethel stood, a mournful little figure.  Maggie’s papa looked too.  He knew how cheap and poor were the little gifts he had bought for his daughter.

“I wish,” he thought, “that she could have some of the things that child up there has.”

Maggie however was quite content.  She smiled, flourished her trumpet, waved her orange, but there was no answering smile on Ethel’s face now.  Finally the wistful little girl in the big house languidly waved her hand, and then Maggie was taken away to be dressed lest she should catch cold after the mischief was done.

“I hope that she’s having a nice Christmas,” said Maggie, referring to Ethel.

“I hope so too,” answered her mother, wishing that her little girl might have some of the beautiful gifts she knew must be in the great house.

“Whatever she has,” said Maggie, gleefully, “she can’t have any nicer Christmas than I have, that you and papa and the boys gave me.  I’m just as happy as I can be.”

Over in the big house, Ethel was also wishing.  She was so unhappy since she had seen Maggie in the arms of her big, bearded father, standing by the window, that she could control herself no longer.  She turned away and threw herself down on the floor in front of the tree and buried her face in her hands bursting into tears.

It was Christmas morning and she was all alone.