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

HOW THE KING OF HEARTS MADE A FEAST IN THE CITY OF HOPE

When Overholt understood what he heard, he opened his eyes and looked up into his son’s face, moving his head mournfully from side to side as it lay on the boards.  But suddenly he caught sight of the engine.  He gasped for breath, his jaw dropped, and his eyes were starting from their sockets as he struggled to get up with the boy’s help.

His voice came with a sort of rasping scream that did not sound human, and then broke into wild laughter, interrupted by broken words.

“Mad!” he cried.  “I knew it ­it had to come ­my boy ­help me to get away from that thing ­I’m raving mad ­I see it moving ­”

“But it really is moving, father!  Wake up!  Look at it!  The wheel is going round and round!”

Then Overholt was silent, sitting up on the floor and leaning against his arm.  Slowly he realised that he was in his senses, and that the dream of long years had come true.  Not a sound broke the stillness, so perfect was the machinery, except a kind of very soft hum made by the heavy fly-wheel revolving in the air.

“Are you sure, boy?  Aren’t we dreaming?” he asked in a low tone.

“It’s going like clock-work, as sure as you’re born,” the lad answered.  “I think your falling down shook it up and started it.  That was all it wanted.”

The inventor got up slowly, first upon his knees, at last to his feet, never once taking his eyes from the beautiful engine.  He went close to it, and put out his hand, till he felt the air thrown off by the wheel, and he gently touched the smooth, swift-turning rim with one finger, incredulous still.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said at last, yielding to the evidence of touch and sight.  “It works, and it works to perfection.  If it doesn’t stop soon, it will go on for twenty-four hours!”

Almost as much overcome by joy as he had been by despair, he let himself sink into his seat.

“Get me that tea-bottle,” he said unsteadily.  “Quick!  I feel as if I were going to faint again!”

The draught he swallowed steadied his nerves, and then he sat a long time quite silent in his unutterable satisfaction, and Newton stood beside him watching the moving levers, the rising and sinking valve rods, and the steadily whirling wheel.

“She did it, my boy,” Overholt said at last, very softly.  “Your mother did it!  Without her help the Motor would have been broken up for old metal three weeks ago.”

“It’s something like a Christmas present,” Newton answered.  “But then I always said she wouldn’t let you give it up.  Do you know, father, when you fell just now, I thought you were dead, you looked just awful!  And it was quite a long time before I saw that the Motor was moving.  And then, when I did see it, and thought you were dead ­well, I can’t tell you ­”

“Poor little chap!  But it’s all right now, my boy, and I haven’t spoilt your Christmas, after all!”

“Not quite!”

Newton laughed joyfully, and, turning round, he saw the little City smiling on its board in the strong light, with the tiny red and green wreaths in the windows and the pretty booths, and the crowds of little people buying Christmas presents at them.

“They’re going to have a pretty good time in the City too,” the boy observed.  “They know just as well as we do that Hope has come to stay now!”

But Overholt did not hear.  Silent and rapt he sat in his old Shaker rocking-chair gazing steadily at the great success of his life, that was moving ceaselessly before his eyes, where motionless failure had sat mocking him but a few minutes ago; and as the wheel whirled steadily round and round, throwing off a little breeze like a fan, the cruel past was wafted away like a mist by a morning wind, and the bright future floated in and filled its place altogether and more also, as daylight shows the distance which was all hidden from us by the close darkness we groped in before it rose.

Overholt sat still, and saw, and wondered, and little by little the wheel and the soft vision of near happiness hypnotised him, for his body and brain were weary beyond words to tell, so that all at once his eyes were shut and he was sleeping like a child, as happy in dreamland as he had just been awake; and happier far, for there was a dear presence with him now, a hand he loved lay quietly in his, and he heard a sweet low voice that was far away.

The boy saw, and understood, for ever since he had been very small he had been taught that he must not wake his father, who slept badly at all times, and little or not at all when he was anxious.  So Newton would not disturb him now, and at once formed a brave resolution to sit bolt upright all night, if necessary, for fear of making any noise.  Besides, he did not feel at all sleepy.  There was the Motor to look at, and there was Christmas to think of, and it was bright and clear outside where the snow was like silver, under the young moon.  He could look out of the window as he sat, or at his father, or at the beautiful moving engine, or at the little City of Hope, all without doing more than just turning his head.

To tell the truth, it was not really a great sacrifice he was making, for if there is anything that strikes a boy of thirteen as more wildly exciting than anything else in the world, it is to sit up all night instead of going to bed like a Christian child; moreover, the workshop was warm, and his own room would be freezing cold, and he was so well used to the vile odour of the chemical stuff, that he did not notice it at all.  It was even said to be healthy to breathe the fumes of it, as the air of a tannery is good for the lungs, or even London coal smoke.

But it is one thing to resolve to keep awake, even with many delightful things to think about; it is quite another to keep one’s eyes open when they are quite sure that they ought to be shut, and that you ought to be tucked up in bed.  The boy found it so, and in less than half an hour his arm had got across the back of the chair, his cheek was resting on it quite comfortably, and he was in dreamland with his father, and quite as perfectly happy.

So the two slept in their chairs under the big bright lamps; and while they rested the Air-Motor worked silently, hour after hour, and the heavy wheel whirled steadily on its axle, and only its soft and drowsy humming was heard in the still air.

That was the most refreshing sleep Overholt remembered for a long time.  When he stirred at last and opened his eyes, he did not even know that he had slept, and forgot that he had closed his eyes when he saw the engine moving.  He thought it was still nine o’clock in the evening, and that the boy might as well finish his little nap where he was, before going to bed.  Newton might sleep till ten o’clock if he liked.

The lamps burned steadily, for they held enough oil to last sixteen hours when the winter darkness is longest, and they had not been lighted till after supper.

But all at once Overholt was aware of a little change in the colour of things, and he slowly rubbed his eyes and looked about him, and towards the window.  The moon had set long ago; there was a grey light on the snow outside and in the clear air, and Overholt knew that it was the dawn.  He looked at his watch then, and it was nearly seven o’clock; for in New York and Connecticut, as you may see by your pocket calendar, the sun rises at twenty-three minutes past seven on Christmas morning.

He sprang to his feet in astonishment, and at the sound Newton awoke and looked up in blank and sleepy surprise.

“Merry Christmas, my boy!” cried Overholt, and he laughed happily.

“Not yet,” answered Newton in a disappointed tone, and rubbing his arm, which was stiff.  “I’ve got to go to bed first, I suppose.”

“Oh no!  You and I have slept in our chairs all night and the sun is rising, so it’s merry Christmas in earnest!  And the Motor is running still, after nine or ten hours.  What a sleep we’ve had!”

The boy looked out of the window stupidly, and vaguely wished that his father would not make fun of him.  Then he saw the dawn, and jumped up in wild delight.

“Hurrah!” he shouted.  “Merry Christmas!  Hurrah! hurrah!” If anything could make that morning happier than it had promised to be, it was to have actually cheated bed for the first time in his life.

They were gloriously happy, as people have a right to be, and should be, when they have been living in all sorts of trouble, with a great purpose before them, and have won through and got all they hoped for, if not quite all they could have wished ­because there is absolutely no limit to wishing if you let it go on.

The people watched them curiously in church, for they looked so happy; and for a long time the man’s expression had always been anxious, if it had no longer been sad of late, and the boy’s young face had been preternaturally grave; yet every one saw that neither of them even had a new coat for Christmas Day, and that both needed one pretty badly.  But no one thought the worse of them for that, and in the generous Good Will that was everywhere that morning everybody was glad to see that every one else looked happy.

In due time the two got home again; the Motor was still working to perfection, as if nothing could ever stop it again, and Overholt oiled the bearings carefully, passed a leather over the fixed parts, and examined the whole machine minutely before sitting down to the feast, while Newton stood beside him, looking on and hoping that he would not be long.

The boy had his new watch in his pocket, and it told him that it was time for that turkey at last, and his new skates were in the parlour, and there was splendid ice on the pond where the boys had cleared away the snow, and it was the most perfect Christmas weather that ever was; and in order to enjoy everything it would be necessary to get to work soon.

The two were before the Air-Motor, turning their backs to the door; and they heard it open quietly, for old Barbara always came to call Overholt to his meals, because he was very apt to forget them.

“We are just coming,” he said, without turning round.  But the boy turned, for he was hungry for the good things; and suddenly a perfect yell of joy rent the air, and he dashed forward as Overholt turned sharp round.

“Mother!”

“Helen!”

And there she was, instead of in Munich.  For the rich people she was with had happily smashed their automobile without hurting themselves, and had taken a fancy to spend Christmas at home; and, after the manner of very rich people, they had managed everything in a moment, had picked up their children and the governess, had just caught the fastest steamer afloat at Cherbourg, and had arrived in New York late on Christmas Eve.  And Helen Overholt had taken the earliest train that she could manage to get ready for, and had come out directly to surprise her two in their lonely cottage.

So John Henry Overholt had his three wishes after all on Christmas Day.  And everybody had helped to bring it all about, even Mr. Burnside, who had said that Hope was cheap and that there was plenty of it to be had.

But as for the little Christmas City in which Hope had dwelt and waited so long, they all three put the last touches to it together, and carried it with them when they went back to the College town, where they felt that they would be happier than anywhere else in the world, even if they were to grow very rich, which seems quite likely now.

That is how it all happened.