Read THE OLD RELIABLE of Plum Pudding, free online book, by Christopher Morley, on ReadCentral.com.

“Express train stalled in a snowdrift,” said one.  “The irascible old white-haired gentleman in the Pullman smoker; the good-natured travelling salesman; the wistful young widow in the day coach, with her six-year-old blue-eyed little daughter.  A coal-black Pullman porter who braves the shrieking gale to bring in a tree from the copse along the track.  Red-headed brakeman (kiddies of his own at home), frostbitten by standing all night between the couplings, holding parts of broken steampipe together so the Pullman car will keep warm.  Young widow and her child, of course, sleeping in the Pullman; white-haired old gentleman vacates his berth in their favour.  Good-natured travelling salesman up all night, making cigar-band decorations for the Tree, which is all ready in the dining car in the morning ­”

“Old English inn on a desolate moor,” said another.  “Bright fire of coals in the coffee room, sporting prints, yellow old newspaper cutting framed on the mantelpiece describing gruesome murder committed in the house in 1760.  Terrible night of storm ­sleet tingling on the panes; crimson curtains fluttering in the draught; roads crusted with ice; savoury fumes of roast goose, plum pudding, and brandy.  Pretty chambermaid in evident anxiety about something; guest tries to kiss her in the corridor; she’s too distrait to give the matter proper attention.  She has heard faint agonized cries above the howling of the gale ­”

“I like the sound of hymns,” ventured a third.  “Frosty vestibule of fashionable church, rolling thunders of the organ, fringes of icicles silvered by moonlight, poor old Salvation Army Santa Claus shivering outside and tinkling his pathetic little bell.  Humane note:  those scarlet Christmas robes of the Army not nearly as warm as they look.  Hard-hearted vestryman, member of old Knickerbocker family, always wears white margins on his vest, suddenly touched by compassion, empties the collection plate into Santa’s bucket.  Santa hurries off to the S.A. headquarters crying ’The little ones will bless you for this.’  Vestryman accused of having pocketed the collection, dreadful scandal, too proud to admit what he had done with it ­”

“Christmas Eve in the Ambrose Channel,” cried a fourth.  “A blizzard blowing.  The pilot boat, sheathed with ice, wallowing in the teeth of the blinding storm, beats her way up to the lee of the great liner.  The pilot, suddenly taken ill, lies gasping on the sofa of the tiny cabin.  Impossible for him to take the great liner into port; 2,000 passengers eager to get home for Christmas.  But who is this gallant little figure darting up the rope ladder with fluttering skirts?  The pilot’s fourteen-year-old daughter. ’I will take the Nausea to her berth!  I’ve spent all my life in the Bay, and know every inch of the channel.’  Rough quartermaster weeps as she takes the wheel from his hands.  ‘Be easy in your mind, Captain,’ she says; ’but before the customs men come aboard tell me one thing ­have you got that bottle of Scotch for my Daddy?’”

“Big New York department store,” insisted the fifth.  “Beautiful dark-haired salesgirl at the silk stocking counter.  Her slender form trembles with fatigue, but she greets all customers with brave, sweet courtesy.  Awful crush, every one buying silk stockings.  Kindly floorwalker, sees she is overtaxed, suggests she leave early.  Dark girl refuses; says she must be faithful to the Christmas spirit; moreover, she daren’t face the evening battle on the subway.  Handsome man comes to the counter to buy.  Suddenly a scream, a thud, horrified outcries.  Hold back the crowd!  Call a physician!  No good; handsome man, dead, murdered.  Dark-haired girl, still holding the fatal hat-pin, taken in custody, crying hysterically ’When he gave me his name, I couldn’t help it.  He’s the one who has caused all the trouble!’ Floorwalker reverently covers the body with a cloth, then looks at the name on the sales slip.  ‘Gosh,’ he cries, aghast, ’it’s Coles Phillips!’”

The gathering broke up, and the five men strolled out into the blazing August sunshine.  The sultry glow of midsummer beat down upon them, but their thoughts were far away.  They were five popular authors comparing notes on the stories they were writing for the Christmas magazines.