From Harper's Weekly Vol. XLI No. 2139 (December 18, 1897)
The sun was setting in a strip of sky as bright and clearly flowing as a golden river. Above it lay violet clouds piled in still strata, like rocks. The wind blew cold from the north. South of the village was a high round hill; the lower part of it bristled with the yellow-gray stubble of corn, in the midst of which forgotten pumpkins gleamed with unexpected gold; the upper part was covered with a mat of coarse grass, beaten flat, southward, toward the summit, by the north wind. It was the day before Christmas, and yet there was no snow, and had been none that season, with the exception of occasional flurries.
On the crest of the hill was one great bowlder of a kind of rock found nowhere else in the vicinity, a lonely outcast from prehistoric times and conditions. This rock, seen from the village, bore a strong resemblance to a turreted castle, and had given that name to the hill. It had been Castle Hill ever since the oldest villager could remember.
From the northern slope of the hill there was a good view of the little sea-side village, with its sickle-shaped stretch of beach, and white crawl of surf beyond. Smoke columns rose from the village chimneys and veered slightly toward the south. The bell in the steeple of the white meeting-house on the right of the main street caught the gleam of the low sun, and hung a bell of gold; the weather-vane on a barn pointed south like a finger of light; the windows in the town-hall, which was broadside to the west, looked full of fire.
From the southern slope of the hill all this was lost; the rigid highway stretched to the city through frozen swamps and stark woods, and not a dwelling was in sight except a white farm-house or two on vantage-points of distant hills.
On this southern slope three wayfarers had set up a camp, building a fire of brush collected from the nearest wood, under the lee of the great castle-shaped rock, availing themselves of the cold shelter of this primitive fastness of nature. They had been driven to this extremity by the lack of a lock-up in the village, and all other refuge had been denied them, even on Christmas eve. The farmers' barns had been fastened, or guarded by growling dogs, and the house doors had been clapped in their faces with a puff of the very wind of inhospitality.
“The cow that gives the milk of human kindness 'ain't got her stable in this damned village,” declared the eldest of the three. He threw some more brush on the fire as he spoke; he had builded the fire, and was most active in replenishing it, as he had been about bringing the fuel from the wood in the first place. He was over sixty, but one of those whom age preserves instead of disintegrates. His old face was as full of lines as a withered apple, but his eyes were instinct with keen fire, and his mouth had quirks of quizzical shrewdness at the corners. He moved, too, with a sort of sinewy grace which had in it a suggestion of reserve. Old Harlow had been in his day a star — a cheap and inglorious one perhaps, but still a star, shining with its own lustre in the midst of the indistinguishable glimmer of the common throng. His name had figured prominently in the bills of many a circus and variety show, and his shrewd face had adorned many a barn and fence in that very locality.
There came a sharp blast of wind from the north, cutting around the corner of the rock as the old man threw a stick on the fire. The sparks flew up, and Harlow, with an oath which ended in a laugh, flung himself down head-first, and begun bowling in airy somersaults down the hill. Over and over he went, fairly bounding from the turf like a ball, until he reached the corn stubble. Then he was up with long leaps like a chamois, and was back at the camp with a magnificent revolution of his long body which landed him on his feet.
“What in thunder are you doin'?” inquired one of his companions. He spoke with a surly thickness; his dialect was rustic, and yet there was something in his tone which betrayed education — an involuntary lapsing of cadences into finer habits.
“Openin' the damper in the stove of Nature,” replied Harlow, with a grunt. “If fo'ks wa'n't so damn lazy they wouldn't need any other fires. Every man has his own stove and his own kindlin'-wood in his own body. All he's got to do is to git up and git, and set it goin'. I was chilled through to my marrer-bones, and now I'm as warm as though I was piped for steam.”
The other man gave a sigh indicative of both weariness and impatience, and said no more. He was a stout man, younger than Harlow, sitting over the fire in such a position as to present the largest possible portion of his body to the heat. He fairly hollowed himself upon it, and seemed to embrace it with all his members. His red face, which had a purplish cast about the mouth, brooded over it with a wistful gloating.
The third man lay flat on the turf, his back to the rock, between it and the fire, the warmest place in the camp. His ragged coat, and Harlow's also, covered him to his chin; the firelight was red on his face, which was as delicate as a girl's. He looked scarcely eighteen. His fair hair grew low on his forehead, and his blue eyes had an innocent, wondering expression under slightly raised dark eyebrows. He seemed to breathe with difficulty as he lay there. Suddenly he said, sobbingly, with piteous complaint: “I can't stan' this much longer. I tell you I can't.” Then he raised himself on his elbow, leaned over, and coughed. Harlow looked at him, scowling painfully; the other man glowered at the fire, without moving a muscle.
“It's — so,” gasped the young man, when he got his breath; “it's so. Nothin' but the bare ground to sleep on such weather as this, and not a mouthful fit for a dog, an' me with my lungs achin' as if the air I draw in was — fire.” His weak voice failed him. He flung himself over on his face and wept aloud, for impotent self-pity, like a child.
“We do all we can for you, Dick,” said old Harlow, with pathetic apology.
“You won't have to do for me much — longer,” returned Dick, amidst his weak sobs. Then he coughed again, struggling desperately for breath.
The stout man was fumbling in his pockets for a small flask. He drew the cork, and held the flask to Dick's mouth. His own mouth was shut hard, his eyes averted. “Here, take a swallow of this whiskey; it'll do you good,” he said, in a strained voice.
“Yes, take it, Dick,” said old Harlow. “Here's Doctor been a-savin' of it up for you, when he wants it fearful bad himself. We are doin' all we kin for ye, boy.”
Dick, his throat and chest working convulsively, took a long pull at the flask. The stout man turned his face more resolutely away.
“Easy, Dick, easy,” admonished old Harlow. “You'd better take that bottle now, or he won't have none left if he's took worse in the night, Doctor.”
Doctor, still with his face averted, took the bottle from Dick, who did not resist, put in the cork tightly, and replaced it in his pocket.
Dick lay back, and an expression of relaxation and a shadow of comfort came over his face as the fire of the liquor crept through his veins. Presently he began to talk, and his voice sounded stronger, though its appealing, querulous tone was still evident. “Here's this town,” said he, “where my mother was born, and her father and mother before her; where everybody knew my grandfather, and looked up to him because he had property, and lived in the biggest house in town when he wasn't off on a cruise. Owned one of the biggest ships that ever sailed from these parts, my grandfather did, and when mother was a girl she had it all her own way, I can tell you. Then mother got married, and her husband died; then she married my father, and went away to live. Then grandfather's ship was lost, with him on board, and grandmother died, and the property here was sold, and father failed, and then he died, and then mother died, and there wa'n't nobody and nothin' except me. Here's this town, where my folks used to live and be looked up to, and here I be sick, and nobody to take me in. There's that old maid grandfather's house was sold to. If I went there I don't s'pose it would make any odds; she'd turn me out of my own grandfather's house. Wonder if she keeps the silver teaspoons and her purse in the entry for burglars now —”
“Hey?” said old Harlow, with a quick glance of his eye.
“Mother told me about it,” said Dick. “Somebody out West, where we lived, who'd been a-visitin' here, told her. That old maid — Trumbull her name was — used to leave her front door unlocked, and put her silver teaspoons and purse at the foot of the stairs, all ready for burglars to take and not wake her up.”
“Damned rot! don't believe a word of it,” remarked Harlow, with a half-chuckle.
“Too much horse sense for a woman,” said the stout man. “Why, I doctored one for a tumor brought on by sleepin' on her silver cream-jug to keep it from burglars. That's something like; but catch a woman reasonin' out that when a thief sets out to take the teaspoons he's goin' to, if he has to take her life into the bargain, and that she might just as well let 'em be taken with as little trouble and risk to herself as possible!”
“It's so,” declared Dick. “Mother —” Then his voice failed him, and he coughed again, though not as violently as before, and lay back, spent, and panting softly, the tears of suffering and self-pity streaming from his blue eyes.
The stout man got up, pulled off his old coat, leaving himself in a ragged shirt, and laid it over the young man, tucking it in well at the sides. Old Harlow tossed some more wood on the fire, then looked slyly at the stout man, raising a cautious beckoning finger. The two slipped around the corner of the rock and walked a little way down the other slope, then stopped.
“Look here,” said old Harlow to the other; “you used to doctor. What about him?” He jerked an elbow violently toward the rock behind which the young man lay.
“Weak lungs — inherited most likely — bad cold,” replied the other, shortly.
“Dangerous enough if somethin' ain't done for it before long — pneumonia most likely.”
“S'pose — a warm bed an' plenty to eat —”
The other man nodded.
“Might as well talk about heaven,” said old Harlow. Then, reflectively, “There's the hospital, I s'pose, if we could git him to the city.”
“Get him to the city?” repeated the other, with sarcastic emphasis. “How'd we get him to the city? In our special Pullman train? He'd die on the road; an' if he didn't — if he wasn't fit for the dissectin'-table when he got to the hospital door — how'd we get him into a bed? Who's goin' to measure the yards of red tape necessary for that? God only knows what rot it would be about city poor and town poor, and residents and non-residents, and incurability, and all the rest of it.”
“I s'pose,” said old Harlow, reflectively, “if you an' me hadn't been along, that woman in the farm-house this mornin', that give us hot coffee, an' asked him how long he'd had his cold, might have took him in. He looks so kind of pretty an' innocent.”
The other man nodded, with glowing eyes fixed on the village below. As they stood there the twilight had suddenly deepened into night, and the village windows had gleamed out, one after another, like stars.
“There ain't no harm in him, exceptin' what he's rubbed off other people,” continued old Harlow. He hesitated. “S'pose maybe he'd be better off if we wa'n't with him,” he said, in a troubled voice.
Then the other man turned fiercely upon him. “What's the sense of our leavin' him till we've got him under cover somewhere?” he demanded. “Time enough for us to quit then.”
“How are we goin' to git him under cover anywheres?” asked old Harlow, looking at him with a strange expression, half of fear, half of entreaty. He did not reply, but stood gazing frowningly at the village below, with its long main street bordered by houses whose windows were parallelograms of white-curtained light. Midway of the street stood the church, brilliantly lighted, and dark throngs of people were passing in the doors.
Old Harlow's gaze followed his companion's. “What's goin' on in the damned town?” he inquired, in a gloomily indifferent way.
“Christmas,” returned the other, shortly. “Christmas tree.”
“Lord!” ejaculated old Harlow, in a tone of gentle contempt.
The two continued to gaze at the dark cubic masses of the village houses with their twinkling lights flanked by the white gleaming beach and the great vagueness of sea; at the church with its brilliant windows, and the shadowy throngs in the street moving toward and passing in the door.
Suddenly old Harlow faced his companion. “S'pose there's any truth in that yarn of his?” he whispered, hoarsely.
“Quit it, for God's sake!”
“There'd be no need of you —”
“There's need of me if there's need of you. What d'ye take me for?”
“Somebody'd have to keep out of it on account of the boy. If only one of us —”
“I tell you —”
“No use quarrellin' about that now. S'pose it's so?”
“Quit it, I tell you!”
“If it was —” said old Harlow, slowly.
There was a pause. The two men, unmindful of the cold wind, continued to stand gazing down at the lighted village, and the dark shapes hurrying on their errand of Christmas cheer.
On the street below, Candace Trumbull was going to the Christmas tree. She had a straight, handsome figure, though she was not young. She stepped out emphatically, holding her bonneted head high, with a decisive swish of silken skirts, and a firm swing of arms under her rich cloak. Had it not been for her bounty the tree could not have borne its Christmas fruit in the vestry of the little church. The parish was very poor; Miss Trumbull was the only person of independent means who belonged to it. She had bought the major part of the presents. She had supplied the colored balls, the candy garlands, the paper angels, and the wax lights for the decoration of the tree.
Candace passed through the Christmas throngs as an acknowledged benefactress, greeted with gratitude and respect, and a certain amount of deferential affection, but not with familiarity, though her exceeding frankness and directness of speech might have seemed to invite it.
With a certain class of village folk frankness intimidates more than reserve; it drives them at once into their shells of suspicion and self-consciousness.
Candace Trumbull, although she gave so many presents, had none hung on the tree for her. No one had dared attempt anything of that sort since the Christmas tree five years before, when the Sunday-school had taken a contribution and given her a picture.
She had not arisen when her name was called during the distribution of presents. When the Sunday-school superintendent himself came down the aisle, bringing the picture, she waved him aside and stood up, looking around with a frown on her handsome face. She then announced, with no preface and no apology, that she wanted no present — that she had done nothing for a reward, but because they were in need, and that she considered them lacking in common-sense to spend the money, which they could not afford to spend on presents for their own families, on a present for her, and thus do away with half the benefit of her bounty. Lastly, she declared that she would not take the picture — that they could hang it on the vestry wall or throw it into the sea, whichever they chose; it was all one to her. She would not take the picture.
Then Candace Trumbull had sat down, amidst a general gasp and shiver of consternation, and the next Sunday the picture had hung on the vestry wall. There were those who considered that she had robbed her own benevolence of its grace and her beneficiaries of their independence by refusing to accept their little token of gratitude; but nobody told her so. She continued her benefits, and her name was never called again when the gifts were distributed.
This Christmas eve she went home after the tree quite satisfied and happy in her own fashion. She was not a woman to let any regrets or wistful imaginations cloud her happiness. All her joys of life were complete. She went home alone, and entered her solitary house without a sigh for the fuller Christmas experience of other women. She fixed her fires for the night, said her prayers, went to bed in the great south chamber, and fell asleep with a sense of absolute security, and reliance upon her Maker and herself. Candace Trumbull believed in God and religion, but she would not have been in the least afraid alone in the dark had she lost her faith.
She was not afraid when she waked up a little after midnight and heard some one open the window in the front hall. She sat up and listened for a minute, thinking that a dream might have deceived her. Then she got out of bed, lighted a candle, and put on her wrapper and her slippers.
Old Harlow, moving stealthily across a broad shaft of moonlight in the hall outside, saw the sudden streak of candle-light under the threshold of a door, and stood still, trembling. Then the door was flung open, and he saw a tall elderly woman, in a palm-leaf-patterned wrapper, holding a candle, whose light shone full upon a face absolutely fearless, and rather imperious than angry.
“Who are you?” she demanded, in a clear loud voice, which seemed to ring through the house like a trumpet. She looked straight at old Harlow, who cowered before her.
“My name's Harlow,” he said, in a stammering way, like a schoolboy.
“What are you doing in my front entry, Mr. Harlow?”
“Nothing,” gasped Harlow, desperately. Then the humorous quirks about his mouth deepened a little.
But Candace Trumbull followed him sharply around his corner of subterfuge.
“What did you come into my front entry for?” she demanded.
“I came to steal,” answered old Harlow, feebly.
“What did you come to steal?”
“What made you think I had money here for you to steal?”
“Heard you kept some in — a purse, and — the silver teaspoons, and — the teapot in a bundle — on the stairs — all ready for burglars; heard — you left your front door unlocked,” answered old Harlow, stammering; but again the humorous quirks deepened.
“Didn't you know better than to believe such a story as that?” asked Candace Trumbull, with scorn.
Old Harlow reeled suddenly as he stood. All at once he felt utterly bewildered. He had eaten little for days past, he was old, and his small reserve of nerve strength was giving way under this great pressure. “No, mum,” he muttered, incoherently.
“What did you want the money for?”
Old Harlow looked at her vaguely, then spread out his empty hands with a curious, unconsciously dramatic gesture. Miss Trumbull noticed that he was very pale.
“How did you get in that window?”
“Clim' — up the post of the porch.”
“Up the post?”
“Yes. I used ter play in a circus.”
There was a mist over old Harlow's eyes. He seemed to see nothing in the present, past, or future, in all life, but that little circle of candle-light making a nimbus around that commanding female face. He drew a short hard breath, and reached for the stair balustrade to steady himself.
“What's the matter?” demanded Candace Trumbull. “Have you been drinking?”
Old Harlow shook his head.
“Are you sick?”
Old Harlow shook his head again. But his questioner, after one long keen glance at him, stepped forward and took him by the arm. “Now you step along down stairs with me,” she ordered.
Old Harlow, as in a dream, knew himself stumbling down stairs, with the woman's strong hand under his arm. His shuffling feet touched the stairs without feeling them, as if he descended on steps of air.
“Don't you fall,” admonished his helper, sharply, and old Harlow felt that he would not dare to fall.
At half past one o'clock on Christmas morning old Harlow sat down to the table in the stately dining-room of the fine old Trumbull mansion and ate his first square meal for months. Candace Trumbull sat watching him, with none of the softness, but all the active strength of pity in her face. Just before he finished eating she rose and went out of the room. Harlow heard the door close after her, and looked longingly, not at the silver spoons and the silver coffee service, but at the bread and meat and cakes which he could not eat. He took some bread and carried it toward his pocket, then put it back on the plate.
When his hostess returned he spoke of his own accord for the first time. “Can I have what's left to take with me?” he asked, pointing toward the bread and meat.
“Yes, you can,” said she, readily. She went into the kitchen, and returned with brown wrapping-paper and a large bottle. She made a parcel of the bread and meat and cakes, and filled the bottle with the remainder of the coffee.
“Thank ye,” Harlow said, when she handed them to him. He was edging toward the door, with his provisions in his trembling hands, when Candace Trumbull stopped him.
“Wait a minute,” said she, and held out toward him a roll of something which he saw was money — bank-notes rolled around some silver coin. “Here,” said Candace Trumbull, “is the money you came to steal. It is all I have in the house — thirty-nine dollars and twenty-nine cents — take it.”
Old Harlow's face flamed crimson. He made an angry thrusting motion with his whole body toward the money.
“Why don't you take it, after you've been to all this trouble to get it, climbing in my second-story window at one o'clock in the morning?” demanded Candace Trumbull.
“Thank ye,” old Harlow gasped out, still thrusting away the money. He would have given anything to have turned and run out of sight of her face.
“Take it,” ordered Candace Trumbull. Suddenly her voice softened a little, though her words were brusque. “Take it, and don't be a fool,” said she. “It's Christmas, and if you need this money it belongs to you. If you need it, and I don't, it's yours by right. Take it, and I advise you not to spend it in drink, but buy yourself some decent clothes and a ticket to the city, and see if you can't get another chance in a circus, and earn some money to keep you when you're past work. You must be able to work awhile longer at your old trade, or you couldn't have climbed in that window; the porch roof juts out nearly three feet over the post. Now take this and go, and be sure and shut the door when you go out.”
Old Harlow went. He marched as obediently and unhesitatingly as a dog that had been sent on an errand, until he reached the base of the hill. Then he stopped, seated himself on a stone, took the money from his pocket, unfolded and counted it.
Suddenly ambition, which had slumbered long, awoke in the breast of the old man on that Christmas morning. “S'pose I turn over a new leaf,” said old Harlow. “S'pose I —” He took a crumpled sheet of newspaper from his pocket, smoothed it out, and tried to read it by the moonlight; he could not, however, he remembered well enough. He had picked it up on the road the day before, and had read of an accident to an old acquaintance of his in a variety theatre. “Might git the chance if I struck while the iron was hot,” ruminated old Harlow. “Nobody but him and me is livin' as can do two or three of them specialties. S'pose I take this here an' buy me some decent clothes an' a ticket to New York, an' go to a hotel an' git a room, an' then go for the manager. Ten chances to one I'd git the job. I'm 'bout as limber as ever I was; trampin' has kept my joints oiled, an' I 'ain't had enough to eat to git too fat. S'pose —” Old Harlow stared gloomily at the money. “If it's divided into three parts there won't be enough, nohow,” said he.
Old Harlow rose, money in hand, and went up the hill. When near the top he whistled softly, and the stout man came around the corner of the great rock. Harlow beckoned him down the hill a little way.
“Well?” said the stout man, interrogatively, when they stopped. His face showed pale in the moonlight, and his great frame trembled as if with a chill.
“Front door wa'n't unlocked; no money an' no spoons ready; no truth in that fool yarn,” said old Harlow, shortly, but his eyes twinkled and his mouth twitched.
“Told you so,” returned the other, with a sigh of relief.
“I clim' in the front window, over the porch,” said old Harlow.
“What — what did you do that for?”
“An' she heard me, and came out in a loose gown with red figgers on it, a-holdin' a candle.”
The stout man groaned. “What in —” he began, but Harlow interrupted him.
“There ain't no harm done,” said he. “If there was more women like that one there wouldn't be no need of prisons, for there wouldn't be no criminals. If I'd hit thet kind of woman, instead of the kind I did, mebbe there wouldn't have been me. She's got religion an' horse sense b'iled down together. She could steer this whole damn country into the millennium in less than five year if it was left to her, an' make the workin'-classes an' the millionaires lay down in peace together. Be hanged if I wouldn't lay where she pointed her finger; there was a diamond ring a-shinin' on it, but she wa'n't afraid. Afraid! there ain't no fear in her. I never see her like. See!” Old Harlow unfolded the roll of money before his companion's bewildered eyes. “Thirty-nine dollars an' twenty-nine cents,” said he, in a shaking voice.
“Thirty-nine dollars an' twenty-nine cents!” proclaimed old Harlow, with a sort of crow of triumph. “It's a present from her — a Christmas present! Damn it! think of us with a Christmas present — a Christmas present!” Tears flowed down old Harlow's leathery cheeks; his voice broke.
“You — don't mean?”
“Yes, I do mean she gave it to me; an' that wa'n't all; a good square meal — bread an' meat an' cake an' hot coffee set out on the dinin'-table, an' I've got some here. Have some, Doctor, have some.” Old Harlow brandished the package of food and the bottle of coffee in the other man's face.
“What's that in the bottle?”
“Hot coffee; feel the bottle. Have some, Doctor.”
“He must have some at once,” the other returned, hoarsely.
“Yes; an' — Doctor —” Old Harlow hesitated. “About dividin' of the money?” said he.
“Oh, it's all yours.”
“Why is it all mine?”
“You run all the risk; it was given to you.”
“You'd 'a' run the risk if I hadn't made you stay with him an' keep the fire goin'.”
“Yes, I would; but I didn't like the job. I wasn't brought up to rob women.”
“I wa'n't,” replied old Harlow, simply.
“You keep that money; it's yours.”
“No, it ain't. There ain't no use talkin', Doctor; it's goin' to be divided.”
The two stood looking at each other.
“What d'ye plan to do with your share?” inquired old Harlow.
“I won't take it, I tell you.”
“If you do?”
“Buy myself something decent, an' — well, maybe I'd go back.”
Old Harlow nodded soberly. “How is he?” he asked, with a jerk of his head toward the rock.
“Asleep. The fire's good, and he's covered up with his coat and mine.”
“How is he, d'ye think?”
“Pneumonia, if he doesn't get under shelter before long.”
“I s'pose that money would git him boarded somewheres, mebbe in that farm-house two mile back, where the woman give us hot coffee an' doughnuts, for three dollar a week till spring,” said old Harlow, reflectively.
“I suppose so,” said the other, after a little pause.
“An', there'd be enough beside, to git him a decent suit an' a flannel shirt or two an' some shoes,” continued old Harlow.
The other nodded.
“We could fix him up, git his hair cut and face washed, an' send him there to ask for board, pay in advance. He looks so kind of pretty and wishful, I guess that most any woman would take him in; besides, them farmer folks are always hankerin' after board money.”
The other gave a frown of grave assent.
“But — if we divided it up there wouldn't be enough —”
“No, there wouldn't. An' I've been a-thinkin'. That woman says to me: ‘You must be able to work at your old trade, or you couldn't have clim' up my porch, with the roof a-juttin' out 'most three foot beyond the post. Why don't you git another job in a circus?’ I've been thinkin' after we git him fixed you an' me 'll tramp to Boston an' see if we can't git some job there, an' I'll git enough to buy me somethin' decent to wear, an' see if I can't get a chance in some show later on, and then half of what I git is yours, Doctor.”
The stout man straightened himself, and threw back his broad shoulders in his old flannel shirt. “I don't live on you while there's a bone in my body,” said he. “I'll do my share. We'll give every cent of that money to the boy. I won't take enough to buy one drink, and — I've given him the rest of the whiskey.”
“There won't be enough if we divide,” repeated old Harlow; and even in his heroism of sacrifice there was, and no shame to him, a piteous wistfulness in his tone.
“No, there won't,” declared the other; and he went, as he spoke, up the hill, with the bottle of hot coffee in his hand.
In a square old farm-house two miles out of the village, on the road to Boston, the family did not have their Christmas dinner until after candle-light, because the daughter, who was a school-teacher in a village twenty miles away, could not get home earlier. She had driven over with her lover. It was five o'clock before the family sat down to dinner — David Baxter, his wife, their daughter Laura, her lover, and Dick, in a clean shirt and collar and new suit. His fair hair was brushed smooth, his face was clean and beaming with gentle happiness. There was no great power of original sin in the lad; he depended largely for his evil and his good upon his companions. Dick's future path of life through even and pleasant places was very possible, with this impetus.
Outside the night was clear and cold. All the Christmas stars shone, but the moon had not arisen. In the yard stood two men, pressing as close to the window as they could without being seen.
“See him!” said old Harlow, in an excited whisper. “See him, Doctor!”
“It's roast turkey,” murmured the other.
“See 'em a-fillin' of his plate — see 'em! Now they're puttin' on the turkey, great pieces of white meat — an' there goes the dark, an' the gravy. Now the potatoes, an' the squash, an' the onion. There she goes — there she goes! Now see him eat — see him eat, Doctor!”
Doctor looked, and unconsciously, every time the boy sitting in that warm room, at the well-spread table, with that good and kindly company, swallowed a mouthful of his Christmas dinner, he swallowed too. Old Harlow also, between his excited whispers, gulped, and even smacked his lips, as if he tasted to its utmost savor each delicious morsel that the boy put into his mouth.
The two outcasts, standing outside all homes of earth on Christmas night, received perhaps a crumb of the very sacrament of Christmas as they watched the poor brother whom they loved better than themselves eat his Christmas dinner.