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Alice's Christmas-tree






CHAPTER I.

Alice MacNeil had made the plan of this Christmas-tree, all by herself
and for herself. She had a due estimate of those manufactured trees
which hard-worked "Sabbath Schools" get up for rewards of merit for the
children who have been regular, and at the last moment have saved
attendance-tickets enough. Nor did Alice MacNeil sit in judgment on
these. She had a due estimate of them. But for her Christmas-tree she
had two plans not included in those more meritorious buddings and
bourgeonings of the winter. First, she meant to get it up without any
help from anybody. And, secondly, she meant that the boys and girls who
had anything from it should be regular laners and by-way farers,--they
were to have no tickets of respectability,--they were not in any way to
buy their way in; but, for this once, those were to come in to a
Christmas-tree who happened to be ragged and in the streets when the
Christmas-tree was ready.

So Alice asked Mr. Williams, the minister, if she could have one of the
rooms in the vestry when Christmas eve came; and he, good saint, was
only too glad to let her. He offered, gently, his assistance in sifting
out the dirty boys and girls, intimating to Alice that there was dirt
and dirt; and that, even in those lowest depths which she was plunging
into, there were yet lower deeps which she might find it wise to shun.
But here Alice told him frankly that she would rather try her experiment
fairly through. Perhaps she was wrong, but she would like to see that
she was wrong in her own way. Any way, on Christmas eve, she wanted no
distinctions.

That part of her plan went bravely forward.

Her main difficulty came on the other side,--that she had too many to
help her. She was not able to carry out the first part of her plan, and
make or buy all her presents herself. For everybody was pleased with
this notion of a truly catholic or universal tree; and everybody wanted
to help. Well, if anybody would send her a box of dominos, or a
jack-knife, or an open-eye-shut-eye doll, who was Alice to say it should
not go on the tree? and when Mrs. Hesperides sent round a box of Fayal
oranges, who was Alice to say that the children should not have oranges?
And when Mr. Gorham Parsons sent in well-nigh a barrel full of
Hubbardston None-such apples, who was Alice to say they should not have
apples? So the tree grew and grew, and bore more and more fruit, till it
was clear that there would be more than eighty reliable presents on it,
besides apples and oranges, almonds and raisins galore.

Now you see this was a very great enlargement of Alice's plan; and it
brought her to grief, as you shall see. She had proposed a cosey little
tree for fifteen or twenty children. Well, if she had held to that, she
would have had no more than she and Lillie, and Mr. Williams, and Mr.
Gilmore, and John Flagg, and I, could have managed easily, particularly
if mamma was there too. There would have been room enough in the chapel
parlor; and it would have been, as I believe, just the pretty and
cheerful Christmas jollity that Alice meant it should be. But when it
came to eighty presents, and a company of eighty of the unwashed and
unticketed, it became quite a different thing.

For now Alice began to fear that there would not be children enough in
the highways and by-ways. So she started herself, as evening drew on,
with George, the old faithful black major-domo, and she walked through
the worst streets she knew anything of, of all those near the chapel;
and, whenever she saw a brat particularly dirty, or a group of brats
particularly forlorn, she sailed up gallantly, and, though she was
frightened to death, she invited them to the tree. She gave little
admittance cards, that said, "7 o'clock, Christmas Eve, 507 Livingstone
Avenue," for fear the children would not remember. And she told Mr.
Flagg that he and Mr. Gilmore might take some cards and walk out toward
Williamsburg, and do the same thing, only they were to be sure that they
asked the dirtiest and most forlorn children they saw. There was a
friendly policeman with whom Alice had been brought into communication
by the boys in her father's office, and he also was permitted to give
notice of the tree. But he was also to be at the street door, armed
with the strong arm of "The People of New York," and when the full quota
of eighty had been admitted he was to admit no more.

Ah me! My poor Alice issued her cards only too freely. Better indeed, it
seemed, had she held to her original plan; at least she thought so, and
thinks so to this day. But I am not so certain. A hard time she had of
it, however. Quarter of seven found the little Arabs in crowds around
the door, with hundreds of others who thought they also were to find out
what a "free lunch" was. The faithful officer Purdy was in attendance
also; he passed in all who had the cards; he sent away legions, let me
say, who had reason to dread him; but still there assembled a larger and
larger throng about the door. Alice and Lillie, and the young gentlemen,
and Mrs. MacNeil, were all at work up stairs, and the tree was a perfect
beauty at last. They lighted up, and nothing could have been more
lovely.

"Let them in!" said John Flagg rushing to the door, where expectant
knocks had been heard already. "Let them in,--the smallest girls
first!"

"Smallest girls," indeed! The door swung open, and a tide of boy and
girl, girl and boy, boy big to hobble-de-hoy-dom, and girl big to
young-woman-dom, came surging in, wildly screaming, scolding, pushing,
and pulling. Omitting the profanity, these are the Christmas carols that
fell on Alice's ear.

"Out o' that!" "Take that, then!" "Who are you?" "Hold your jaw!"
"Can't you behave decent?" "You lie!" "Get out of my light!" "Oh,
dear! you killed me!" "Who's killed?" "Golly! see there!" "I say, ma'am,
give me that pair of skates!" "Shut up--" and so on, the howls being
more and more impertinent, as the shepherds who had come to adore became
more and more used to the position they were in.

Young Gilmore, who was willing to oblige Alice, but was not going to
stand any nonsense, and would have willingly knocked the heads together
of any five couples of this rebel rout, mounted on a corner of the
railing, which, by Mr. Williams's prescience had been built around the
tree, and addressed the riotous assembly.

They stopped to hear him, supposing he was to deliver the gifts, to
which they had been summoned.

He told them pretty roundly that if they did not keep the peace, and
stop crowding and yelling, they should all be turned out of doors; that
they were to pass the little girls and boys forward first, and that
nobody would have any thing to eat till this was done.

Some approach to obedience followed. A few little waifs were found, who
in decency could be called little girls and boys. But, alas! as she
looked down from her chair, Alice felt as if most of her guests looked
like shameless, hulking big boys and big girls, only too well fitted to
grapple with the world, and only too eager to accept its gifts without
grappling. She and Lillie tried to forget this. They kissed a few little
girls, and saw the faintest gleam of pleasure on one or two little
faces. But there, also, the pleasure was almost extinct, in fear of the
big boys and big girls howling around.

So the howling began again, as the distribution went forward. "Give me
that jack-knife!" "I say, Mister, I'm as big as he is," "He had one
before and hid it," "Be down, Tom Mulligan,--get off that fence or I'll
hide you," "I don't want the book, give me them skates," "You sha'n't
have the skates, I'll have 'em myself--" and so on. John Flagg finally
knocked down Tom Mulligan, who had squeezed round behind the tree, in an
effort to steal something, and had the satisfaction of sending him
bellowing from the room, with his face covered with blood from his nose.
Gilmore, meanwhile, was rapidly distributing an orange and an apple to
each, which, while the oranges were sucked, gave a moment's quiet. Alice
and the ladies, badly frightened, were stripping the tree as fast as
they could, and at last announced that it was all clear, with almost as
eager joy as half an hour before they had announced that it was all
full. "There's a candy horn on top, give me that." "Give me that little
apple." "Give me the old sheep." "Hoo! hurrah, for the old sheep!" This
of a little lamb which had been placed as an appropriate ornament in
front. Then began a howl about oranges. "I want another orange." "Bill's
got some, and I've got none." "I say, Mister, give me an orange."

To which Mister replied, by opening the window, and speaking into the
street,--"I say, Purdy, call four officers and come up and clear this
room."

The room did not wait for the officers: it cleared itself very soon on
this order, and was left a scene of wreck and dirt. Orange-peel trampled
down on the floor; cake thrown down and mashed to mud, intermixed with
that which had come in on boots, and the water which had been slobbered
over from hasty mugs; the sugar plums which had fallen in scrambles, and
little sprays of green too, trodden into the mass,--all made an aspect
of filth like a market side-walk. And poor Alice was half crying and
half laughing; poor Lillie was wholly crying. Gilmore and Flagg were
explaining to each other how gladly they would have thrashed the whole
set.

The thought uppermost in Alice's mind was that she had been a clear, out
and out fool! And that, probably, is the impression of the greater part
of the readers of her story,--or would have been the impression of any
one who only had her point of view.


CHAPTER II.

Perhaps the reader is willing to take another point of view.

As the group stood there, talking over the riot as Mrs. MacNeil called
it,--as John Flagg tried to make Alice laugh by bringing her a
half-piece of frosted pound-cake, and proving to her that it had not
been on the floor,--as she said, her eyes streaming with tears, "I tell
you, John! I am a fool, and I know I am, and nobody but a fool would
have started such a row,"--as all this happened, Patrick Crehore came
back for his little sister's orange which he had wrapped in her
handkerchief and left on one of the book-racks in the room. Patrick was
alone now, and was therefore sheepish enough, and got himself and his
orange out of the room as soon as he well could. But he was sharp enough
to note the whole position, and keen enough to catch Alice's words as
she spoke to Mr. Flagg. Indeed, the general look of disappointment and
chagrin in the room, and the contrast between this filthy ruin and the
pretty elegance of half an hour ago, were distinct enough to be
observed by a much more stupid boy than Patrick Crehore. He went down
stairs and found Bridget waiting, and walked home with the little
toddler, meditating rather more than was his wont on Alice's phrase, "I
tell you, I am a fool." Meditating on it, he hauled Bridget up five
flights of stairs and broke in on the little room where a table spread
with a plentiful supply of tea, baker's bread, butter, cheese, and
cabbage, waited their return. Jerry Crehore, his father, sat smoking,
and his mother was tidying up the room.

"And had ye a good time, me darling? And ye 've brought home your
orange, and a doll too, and mittens too. And what did you have, Pat?"

So Pat explained, almost sulkily, that he had a checker-board, and a set
of checker-men, which he produced; but he put them by as if he hated the
sight of them, and for a minute dropped the subject, while he helped
little Biddy to cabbage. He ate something himself, drank some tea, and
then delivered his rage with much unction, a little profanity, great
incoherency,--but to his own relief.

"It's a mean thing it is, all of it," said he, "I'll be hanged but it
is! I dunno who the lady is; but we've made her cry bad, I know that;
and the boys acted like Nick. They knew that as well as I do. The man
there had to knock one of the fellows down, bedad, and served him right,
too. I say, the fellows fought, and hollared, and stole, and sure ye 'd
thought ye was driving pigs down the Eighth Avenue, and I was as bad as
the worst of 'em. That's what the boys did when a lady asked 'em to
Christmas."

"That was a mean thing to do," said Jerry, taking his pipe from his
mouth for a longer speech than he had ever been known to make while
smoking.

Mrs. Crehore stopped in her dish-wiping, sat down, and gave her opinion.
She did not know what a Christmas-tree was, having never seed one nor
heared of one. But she did know that those who went to see a lady should
show manners and behave like jintlemen, or not go at all. She expressed
her conviction that Tom Mulligan was rightly served, and her regret that
he had not two black eyes instead of one. She would have been glad,
indeed, if certain Floyds, and Sullivans, and Flahertys with whose
names of baptism she was better acquainted than I am, had shared a
similar fate.

This oration, and the oracle of his father still more, appeased Pat
somewhat; and when his supper was finished, after long silence, he said,
"We'll give her a Christmas present. We will. Tom Mulligan and Bill
Floyd and I will give it. The others sha'n't know. I know what we'll
give her. I'll tell Bill Floyd that we made her cry."


CHAPTER III.

After supper, accordingly, Pat Crehore repaired to certain rendezvous of
the younger life of the neighborhood, known to him, in search of Bill
Floyd. Bill was not at the first, nor at the second, there being indeed
no rule or principle known to men or even to archangels by which Bill's
presence at any particular spot at any particular time could be
definitely stated. But Bill also, in his proud free-will, obeyed certain
general laws; and accordingly Pat found him inspecting, as a volunteer
officer of police, the hauling out and oiling of certain hose at the
house of a neighboring hose company. "Come here, Bill. I got something
to show you."

Bill had already carried home and put in safe keeping a copy of
Routledge's "Robinson Crusoe," which had been given to him.

He left the hose inspection willingly, and hurried along with Pat, past
many attractive groups, not even stopping where a brewer's horse had
fallen on the ground, till Pat brought him in triumph to the gaudy
window of a shoe-shop, lighted up gayly and full of the wares by which
even shoe-shops lure in customers for Christmas.

"See there!" said Pat, nearly breathless. And he pointed to the very
centre of the display, a pair of slippers made from bronze-gilt kid, and
displaying a hideous blue silk bow upon the gilding. For what class of
dancers or of maskers these slippers may have been made, or by what
canon of beauty, I know not. Only they were the centre of decoration in
the shoe-shop window. Pat looked at them with admiration, as he had
often done, and said again to Bill Floyd, "See there, ain't them
handsome?"

"Golly!" said Bill, "I guess so."

"Bill, let's buy them little shoes, and give 'em to her."

"Give 'em to who?" said Bill, from whose mind the Christmas-tree had for
the moment faded, under the rivalry of the hose company, the brewer's
horse, and the shop window. "Give 'em to who?"

"Why, her, I don't know who she is. The gal that made the
what-do-ye-call-it, the tree, you know, and give us the oranges, where
old Purdy was. I say, Bill, it was a mean dirty shame to make such a row
there, when we was bid to a party; and I want to make the gal a present,
for I see her crying, Bill. Crying cos it was such a row." Again, I omit
certain profane expressions which did not add any real energy to the
declaration.

"They is handsome," said Bill, meditatingly. "Ain't the blue ones
handsomest?"

"No," said Pat, who saw he had gained his lodgment, and that the
carrying his point was now only a matter of time. "The gould ones is the
ones for me. We'll give 'em to the gal for a Christmas present, you and
I and Tom Mulligan."

Bill Floyd did not dissent, being indeed in the habit of going as he
was led, as were most of the "rebel rout" with whom he had an hour ago
been acting. He assented entirely to Pat's proposal. By "Christmas" both
parties understood that the present was to be made before Twelfth Night,
not necessarily on Christmas day. Neither of them had a penny; but both
of them knew, perfectly well, that whenever they chose to get a little
money they could do so.

They soon solved their first question, as to the cost of the coveted
slippers. True, they knew, of course, that they would be ejected from
the decent shop if they went in to inquire. But, by lying in wait, they
soon discovered Delia Sullivan, a decent-looking girl they knew, passing
by, and having made her their confidant, so far that she was sure she
was not fooled, they sent her in to inquire. The girl returned to
announce, to the astonishment of all parties, that the shoes cost six
dollars.

"Hew!" cried Pat, "six dollars for them are! I bought my mother's new
over-shoes for one." But not the least did he 'bate of his
determination, and he and Bill Floyd went in search of Tom Mulligan.

Tom was found as easily as Bill. But it was not so easy to enlist him.
Tom was in a regular corner liquor store with men who were sitting
smoking, drinking, and telling dirty stories. Either of the other boys
would have been whipped at home if he had been known to be seen sitting
in this place, and the punishment would have been well bestowed. But Tom
Mulligan had had nobody thrash him for many a day till John Flagg had
struck out so smartly from the shoulder. Perhaps, had there been some
thrashing as discriminating as Jerry Flaherty's, it had been better for
Tom Mulligan. The boys found him easily enough, but, as I said, had some
difficulty in getting him away. With many assurances, however, that they
had something to tell him, and something to show him, they lured him
from the shadow of the comfortable stove into the night.

Pat Crehore, who had more of the tact of oratory than he knew, then
boldly told Tom Mulligan the story of the Christmas-tree, as it passed
after Tom's ejection. Tom was sour at first, but soon warmed to the
narrative, and even showed indignation at the behavior of boys who had
seemed to carry themselves less obnoxiously than he did. All the boys
agreed, that but for certain others who had never been asked to come,
and ought to be ashamed to be there with them as were, there would have
been no row. They all agreed that on some suitable occasion unknown to
me and to this story they would take vengeance on these Tidds and
Sullivans. When Pat Crehore wound up his statement, by telling how he
saw the ladies crying, and all the pretty room looking like a pig-sty,
Tom Mulligan was as loud as he was in saying that it was all wrong, and
that nobody but blackguards would have joined in it, in particular such
blackguards as the Tidds and Sullivans above alluded to.

Then to Tom's sympathizing ear was confided the project of the gold
shoes, as the slippers were always called, in this honorable company.
And Tom completely approved. He even approved the price. He explained to
the others that it would be mean to give to a lady any thing of less
price. This was exactly the sum which recommended itself to his better
judgment. And so the boys went home, agreeing to meet Christmas morning
as a Committee of Ways and Means.

To the discussions of this committee I need not admit you. Many plans
were proposed: one that they should serve through the holidays at
certain ten-pin alleys, known to them; one that they should buy off
Fogarty from his newspaper route for a few days. But the decision was,
that Pat, the most decent in appearance, should dress up in a certain
Sunday suit he had, and offer the services of himself, and two unknown
friends of his, as extra cork-boys at Birnebaum's brewery, where Tom
Mulligan reported they were working nights, that they might fill an
extra order. This device succeeded. Pat and his friends were put on
duty, for trial, on the night of the 26th; and, the foreman of the
corking-room being satisfied, they retained their engagements till New
Year's eve, when they were paid three dollars each, and resigned their
positions.

"Let's buy her three shoes!" said Bill, in enthusiasm at their success.
But this proposal was rejected. Each of the other boys had a private
plan for an extra present to "her" by this time. The sacred six dollars
was folded up in a bit of straw paper from the brewery, and the young
gentlemen went home to make their toilets, a process they had had no
chance to go through, on Christmas eve. After this, there was really no
difficulty about their going into the shoe-shop, and none about
consummating the purchase,--to the utter astonishment of the dealer. The
gold shoes were bought, rolled up in paper, and ready for delivery.

Bill Floyd had meanwhile learned, by inquiry at the chapel, where she
lived, though there were doubts whether any of them knew her name. The
others rejected his proposals that they should take street cars, and
they boldly pushed afoot up to Clinton Avenue, and rang, not without
terror, at the door.

Terror did not diminish when black George appeared, whose acquaintance
they had made at the tree. But fortunately George did not recognize them
in their apparel of elegance. When they asked for the "lady that gave
the tree," he bade them wait a minute, and in less than a minute Alice
came running out to meet them. To the boys' great delight, she was not
crying now.

"If you please, ma'am," said Tom, who had been commissioned as
spokesman,--"if you please, them's our Christmas present to you, ma'am.
Them's gold shoes. And please, ma'am, we're very sorry there was such
a row at the Christmas, ma'am. It was mean, ma'am. Good-by, ma'am."

Alice's eyes were opening wider and wider, nor at this moment did she
understand. "Gold shoes," and "row at the Christmas," stuck by her,
however; and she understood there was a present. So, of course, she said
the right thing, by accident, and did the right thing, being a lady
through and through.

"No, you must not go away. Come in, boys, come in. I did not know you,
you know." As how should she. "Come in and sit down."

"Can't ye take off your hat?" said Tom, in an aside to Pat, who had
neglected this reverence as he entered. And Tom was thus a little
established in his own esteem.

And Alice opened the parcel, and had her presence of mind by this time;
and, amazed as she was at the gold shoes, showed no amazement,--nay,
even slipped off her own slipper, and showed that the gold shoe fitted,
to the delight of Tom, who was trying to explain that the man would
change them if they were too small. She found an apple for each boy,
thanked and praised each one separately; and the interview would have
been perfect, had she not innocently asked Tom what was the matter with
his eye. Tom's eye! Why, it was the black eye John Flagg gave him. I am
sorry to say Bill Floyd sniggered; but Pat came to the front this time,
and said "a man hurt him." Then Alice produced some mittens, which had
been left, and asked whose those were. But the boys did not know.

"I say, fellars, I'm going down to the writing-school, at the Union,"
said Pat, when they got into the street, all of them being in the mood
that conceals emotion. "I say, let's all go."

To this they agreed.

"I say, I went there last week Monday, with Meg McManus. I say, fellars,
it's real good fun."

The other fellows, having on the unfamiliar best rig, were well aware
that they must not descend to their familiar haunts, and all consented.

To the amazement of the teacher, these three hulking boys allied
themselves to the side of order, took their places as they were bidden,
turned the public opinion of the class, and made the Botany Bay of the
school to be its quietest class that night.

To his amazement the same result followed the next night. And to his
greater amazement, the next.

To Alice's amazement, she received on Twelfth Night a gilt valentine
envelope, within which, on heavily ruled paper, were announced these
truths:--

MARM,--The mitins wur Nora Killpatrick's. She lives inn Water
street place behind the Lager Brewery.

Yours to command,
WILLIAM FLOYD.
THOMAS MULLIGAN.
PATRICK CREHORE.

The names which they could copy from signs were correctly spelled.

To Pat's amazement, Tom Mulligan held on at the writing-school all
winter. When it ended, he wrote the best hand of any of them.

To my amazement, one evening when I looked in at Longman's, two years to
a day after Alice's tree, a bright black-eyed young man, who had tied up
for me the copy of Masson's "Milton," which I had given myself for a
Christmas present, said: "You don't remember me." I owned innocence.

"My name is Mulligan--Thomas Mulligan. Would you thank Mr. John Flagg,
if you meet him, for a Christmas present he gave me two years ago, at
Miss Alice MacNeil's Christmas-tree. It was the best present I ever had,
and the only one I ever deserved."

And I said I would do so.

* * * * *

I told Alice afterward never to think she was going to catch all the
fish there were in any school. I told her to whiten the water with
ground-bait enough for all, and to thank God if her heavenly fishing
were skilful enough to save one.





Next: Daily Bread

Previous: Christmas Waits In Boston



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