Read CHAPTER VI of The Little City Of Hope A Christmas Story, free online book, by F. Marion Crawford, on


Newton went to the pond, because he said he was going out for that purpose, and it might be convenient to be able to swear that he had really been down to the water’s edge.  As if to enjoy the pleasure of anticipation, too, he had his skates with him in a green flannel bag, though it was quite out of the question that the ice should bear already, and it was not even likely that the water would be already frozen over.  However, he took the skates with him, a very good pair, of a new model, which his father had given him towards the end of the previous winter, so that he had not used them more than half a dozen times.  It was very cold, but of course the ice would not bear yet.  The sun had not set, and as he was already half-way to the town, the boy apparently thought he might as well go on instead of returning at once to the cottage, where he would have to occupy himself with his books till supper-time, supposing that it occurred to his father to have any supper in his present condition.  The prospect was not wildly gay, and besides, something must be done at once.  Newton was possessed by that idea.

When Overholt had been alone for some time, he got up from the horsehair sofa and crept up the stairs, leaning on the shaky bannister like an old man.  In his own room he plunged his face into icy cold water again and again, as if it were burning, and the sharp chill revived his nerves a little.  There was no stove in the room, and before midnight the water would be frozen in the pitcher.  He sat down and rubbed his forehead and wondered whether he was really any better, or was only imagining or even pretending that he was, because he wanted to be.  Our own reflections about our own sensations are never so silly as at the greatest moments in our lives, because the tremendous strain on the higher faculties releases all the little ones, as in sleep, and they behave and reason as idiotically as they do in dreams, which is saying a good deal.  Perhaps lunatics are only people who are perpetually asleep and dreaming with one part of their brains while the other parts are awake.  They certainly behave as if that were the matter, and it seems a rational explanation of ordinary insanity, curable or incurable.  Did you ever talk to a lunatic?  On the subject on which he is insane he thinks and talks as you do when you are dreaming; but he may be quite awake and sensible about all other matters.  He dreams he is rich, and he goes out and orders cartloads of things from shops.  Pray, have you never dreamt that you were rich?  Or he dreams that he is a poached egg, and must have a piece of toast to sit down upon.  I believe that well-known story of a lunatic to be founded on fact.  Have you never dreamt that you were somebody or something quite different from yourself?  Have you never dreamt that you were an innocent man, persecuted, tried for a crime, and sentenced to prison, or even death?  And yet, at the same time, in your dream, you were behaving with the utmost good sense about everything else.  When you are dreaming, you are a perfect lunatic; why may it not be true that the waking lunatic is really dreaming all the time, with one part of his brain?

John Henry Overholt was apparently wide awake, but he had been morally stunned that day; he was dreaming that he was going crazy, and he could not, for the life of him, tell whether he really felt any better after cooling his head in the basin than before, though it seemed immensely important to find out, just then.  Afterwards, when it was all over, and things were settled again, he remembered only a blank time, which had lasted from the moment when he had broken down before the little City until he found himself sitting in the parlour alone before the supper table with a bright lamp burning, and wondering why his boy did not come home.  The dream was over then; his head ached a good deal and he did not feel hungry, but that was all; burning anxiety had cooled to leaden care.  He knew quite well that it was all over with the Motor, that his friends at the College would find him some sort of employment, and that in due time he would succeed in working off his debt to the bank, dollar by dollar.  He had got his soul back out of the claws of despair that had nearly flown away with it.  There was no hope, but he could live without it because he must not only live himself, but keep his boy alive.  Somehow, he would get along on credit for a week or two, till he could get work.  At all events there were his tools to sell, and the Motor must go for old brass, bronze, iron, and steel.  He would see about selling the stuff the next day, and with what it would bring he could at least pay cash for necessaries, and the bank must wait.  There was no hope in that, but there was the plain sense of an honest man.  He was not a coward; he had only been brutally stunned, and now that he had recovered from the blow he would do his duty.  But an innocent man who walks steadily to endure an undeserved death is not a man that hopes for anything, and it was like death to Overholt to give up his invention.

The door opened and Newton came in quietly.  His face was flushed with the cold and his eyes were bright.  What was the weight of leaden care to the glorious main-spring of healthy thirteen?  Overholt was proud of his boy, nevertheless, for facing the dreary prospect of no Christmas so bravely.  Then he had a surprise.

“I’ve got a little money, father.  It’s not much, I know, but it’s something to go on with for a day or two.  There it is.”

Newton produced three well-worn dollar bills and some small change, which his father stared at in amazement.

“There’s three dollars and seventy cents,” he said.  “And you told me you had four or five dollars left.”

Before he sat down he piled the change neatly on the bills beside his father’s plate; then he took his seat, very red indeed and looking at the table-cloth.

“Where on earth did you get it?” asked Overholt, leaning back in his chair.

“Well” ­the boy hesitated and got redder still ­“I didn’t steal it, anyway,” he said.  “It’s mine all right.  I mean it’s yours.”

“Of course you didn’t steal it!” cried John Henry.  “But where did you get it?  You haven’t had more than a few cents at a time for weeks and weeks, so you can’t have saved it!”

“I didn’t beg it either,” Newton answered.

“Or borrow it, my boy?”

“No!  I wasn’t going to borrow money I couldn’t pay!  I’d rather not tell you, all the same, father!  At least, I earned twenty cents of it.  That’s the odd twenty, that makes the three seventy.  I don’t mind telling you that.”

“Oh, you earned twenty cents of it?  Well, I’m glad of that, anyhow.  What did you do?”

“I sort of hung round the depot till the train came in, and I carried a man’s valise across to the hotel for him.  He gave me ten cents.  Some of the boys do that, you know, but I thought you wouldn’t care to have me do it till I had to!”

“That’s all right.  It does you credit.  How about the other ten cents?”

“Old Bangs saw me pass his shop, and he asked me to come in and said he’d give me ten cents if I’d do some sums for him.  I guess he’s pretty busy just now.  He said he’d give me ten cents every day till Christmas if I’d come in after school and do the sums.  His boy’s got mumps or something, and can’t.  There’s no harm in that, is there, father?”

“Harm!  I’m proud of you, my boy.  You’ll win through ­some day!”

It was the first relief from his misery the poor man had felt since he had read the letter about the overdraft in the morning.

“What I can’t understand is the rest of the money,” said Overholt.

Newton looked very uncomfortable again, and moved uneasily on his chair.

“Oh well, I suppose I’ve got to tell you,” he said, looking down into his plate and very busy with his knife and fork.  “Say, you won’t tell mother, will you?  She wouldn’t like it.”

“I won’t tell her.”

“Well” ­the boy hesitated ­“I sold some things,” he said at last, in a low voice.

“Oh!  There’s no great harm in that, my boy.  What did you sell?”

“My skates and my watch,” said Newton, just audibly.  “You see I didn’t somehow feel as if I were going to skate much this winter ­and I don’t really need to know what time it is if I start right by the clock to go to school.  I say, don’t tell mother.  She gave me the watch, you know, last Christmas.  Of course, you gave me the skates, but you’ll understand better than she would.”

Overholt was profoundly touched, for he knew what delight the good skates meant in the cold weather, and the pride the boy had felt in the silver watch that kept such excellent time.  But he could not think of much to say just then, for the sight of the poor little pile of dirty money that was the sordid price of so much pleasure and satisfaction half-choked him.

“You’re a brave boy,” he said in a low tone.

But Newton was indefinitely far from understanding that he had done anything brave; he merely felt much better now, because he had confessed and had the matter off his mind.

“Oh well, you see, something had to be done quick,” he said, “and I couldn’t think of anything else.  But I’ll go and earn that ten cents of Bangs every afternoon, you bet!  And I guess I can pick up a quarter at the depot now and then; that is, if you don’t mind.  It isn’t much, I know, but it’ll help a little.”

“It’s helped already, more than you have any idea,” said Overholt.

He remembered with bitter shame how he had completely broken down before his son that afternoon, and how quietly the lad had gone off to make his great sacrifice, pretending that he only wanted to see whether the pond was freezing.

“Well,” said Newton, “I’m glad you don’t think it was mean of me to go and sell the watch mother gave me.  And I’m glad you feel better.  You do feel a good deal better, don’t you?”

“A thousand times better!” answered Overholt, almost cheerfully.

“I’m glad.  Maybe you’ll feel like working on the City a little after supper.”

“I was afraid Hope had given us up to-day, and had flown away for good and all,” said the inventor.  “But you’ve brought her home with you again, bless you!  Yes, we’ll do some work after supper, and after you go to bed I’ll just have one more good evening with the Motor before I give it up for ever.”

Newton looked up.

“You aren’t going to give it up for ever,” he said in a tone of conviction.  “You can’t.”

Overholt explained calmly enough that he must sell the machine for old metal the very next day, and sell the tools too.  But the boy shook his head.

“You’ll curl up and die if you do that,” he said.  “Besides, if mother were here she wouldn’t let you do it, so you oughtn’t to.  The reason why she’s gone to be a governess is because she wouldn’t let you give up the Motor, father.  You know it is.”

“Yes.  It’s true ­but ­” he hesitated.

“You simply can’t do it, that’s all.  So I’m perfectly certain you won’t!  I believe everything will come round all right, anyway, if you only don’t worry.  That’s what I believe, father.”

“It’s a hopeful view, at all events.  The only objection to it is that it’s a good deal like dreaming, and I’ve no right to dream any more.  When you see that I’m going to, you must make me sit up and mind my lesson!”

He even laughed a little, and it was not badly done, considering that he did it on purpose to show how he meant to make the best of it all, though Hope would not do anything for him.  He ate something too, if only to keep the hungry boy company.

They went into the workshop, and found the bright moonlight streaming through the window that looked east.  It fell full on the motionless Motor, under its plate-glass case, and turned all the steel and brass to silver and gold, and from the clean snow that covered the desolateness of the yard outside the moon sent a white reflection upwards that mingled with the direct moonlight in a ghostly sort of way.  Newton stood still and looked at the machine, while Overholt felt about for matches.

“If only it would begin to move now, just of itself!”

The man knew that it would not, and wished that the boy would not even suggest such a thing, and he sighed as he lit the lamp.  But all the same he meant to spend half the night in taking a last farewell of the engine, and of all the parts on which he had spent months and years, only to let them be broken up for old metal in the end.

The two sat down on each side of the little City and went to work to build the railway station; and after all, when Overholt looked at the Common and the College and remembered how happy he had been there, he began to feel that since dreams were nothing but dreams, except that they were a great waste of time and money, and of energy and endurance, he might possibly find some happiness again in the old life, if he could only get back to it.

So Hope came back, rather bedraggled and worn out after her long excursion, and took a very humble lodging in the little City which had once been all hers and the capital of her kingdom.  But she was there, all the same, peeping out of a small window to see whether she would be welcome if she went out and took a little walk in the streets.

For the blindest of all blind people are those who have quite made up their minds not to see; and the most miserable of all the hopeless ones are those that wilfully turn their backs on Hope when she stands at the next corner holding out her hand rather timidly.

But Overholt was not one of these, and he took it gladly when it was offered, and stood ready to be led away by a new path, which was not the road to fame or wealth, but which might bring him to a quiet little place where he could live in peace with those he loved, and after all that would be a great deal.