Monday, January 7, 2008

The Final Installment of Ryan's Christmas Story

Monday December 24
Christmas Story Continued
Margaret's Christmas Present
That night, before she went to bed, the little girl asked the old man, "Grandfather, I need to ask a favor of you." "Of course, my dear, anything," the old man said. "I've been knitting you a scarf for Christmas, but I also wanted to give Perry one, and I don't have time to make him another one. He says he is going away soon after Christmas, and you are staying here with me forever, so I was wondering, could I give him your scarf, and make you another one after Christmas. I promise to make it as soon as I can." The old man, touched by yet another proof of his grand-daughter's angelic qualities, readily agreed of course. I don't think he could ever have refused her anything she asked. Christmas day dawned bright over the white hills of upstate New York. Perry woke to find one of his socks at the foot of his bed stuffed with gifts. Martha relaxed the rules a little bit that morning, enough to allow the two children to meet in the kitchen as soon as they were dressed to compare their stockings' content without doing any chores. She had even baked some of her special holiday nut roll which she allowed them to eat for breakfast. Perry was especially entranced by the pocket knife he found in the toe of his stocking. Martha pursed her lips a little at that. She had told James the manservant, who liked the boy immensely, that every boy needed a knife, but she had also told him that one blade was plenty enough. Now Perry was sitting at the table opening and closing three different blades and a corkscrew with the reverent fascination that all males feel for their first weapon. Neither Perry nor Margaret, nor any other child in the church for that matter, could sit still during that service. A thick snowfall that promised to continue all afternoon only added to the excitement. Coming back home Perry's amazement only grew for under the tree were still more gifts for him. A scarf from Margaret, a pair of socks from Martha, a suit of clothes from James, and even a baseball bat from Dick. Not the most practical of presents, but it sealed the truce between them. The old man gave him a shiny silver dollar, which Martha did not approve of, but for once the old man did what he chose without being guided by her. Perry sat in the midst of his new found wealth, speechless, blinking back his tears amid the chatter around him, until Martha sent both the children out of doors to play until dinner. Perry covered himself in glory during the snowball fight that occurred between the children from Brown lane and the children from the farms. He had the novel idea of using the sleds as barricades or shields while advancing on the well entrenched farm children, who were hiding behind the hedgerows. In this way the Brown Lane army advanced under a hail of snowballs, not entirely free of ice, before dropping the shields and throwing snowballs at point blank range, chasing them from the field. Martha even allowed them to stay up late, and Perry beat Margaret at several games of checkers, which put him in a boasting mood until the old man severely trounced him three times in a road. The housekeeper wisely sent both of the children to bed before frayed tempers and a long day resulted in a quarrel.Perry stayed a few more days, helping to take down the Christmas decorations. Then, on New Years Eve, the family woke up to find that he was gone. He had taken his posessions with him, and nothing else, and he had left this note: "Thanks to all yue. I was reel glad to spen Krissmis with yue. Hope yur do well. Margaret, I will keep my promiss." Two weeks later a young boy appeared in the lobby of Patrick, St. James and Still. He was tall for his age, muddy, but with clothes that were not out of repair, and a bag over his shoulder with a baseball bat sticking out of the top of it. He boldly walked to the desk where the porter sat and said, "I'm looking for Mr. St. James." "Do you have an appointment?" the porter asked sarcastically. "Nah, just tell him it's important, chap." "Indeed," the porter blinked in surprise. "Perhaps you would like to sit while you are waiting?" "Thanks," the boy winked. "Don't mind if I do." He sat in one of the chairs in the lobby and pulled a newspaper out of his bag and began to read. The porter, of course, did not call Mr. St. James. The boy still sat there all day, reading the newspaper, and occasionally asking questions like "What does o-c-c-i-d-e-n-t-a-l spell?" and "What does "conservative" mean?" Evening came, and people began to leave, lawyers, clerks, secretaries, assistants. Most of them wished the porter a good night, and the boy looked all of them over closely, but didn't speak to any of them. The porter began to be curious about what this boy wanted so badly that he was willing to sit all day to wait for it. About nine-thirty an office door opened and shut and a tall, well dressed man, clean shaven with blond hair, looking somewhat preoccuppied walked into the lobby. He didn't notice the boy, but he bid the porter goodnight. "Goodnight, Mr. St. James," the porter said, somewhat more loudly than was necessary. Perry, for it was he, of course, leapt up, stowed his newspaper, and followed the gentleman out with a wink and a cheery "Thanks, chum," for the porter. "Eh, St. James," Perry yelled as soon as he stepped outside. It was quite dark, and some snow was falling. Mr. St. James stopped near a streetlight and turned in surprise. Seeing Perry, he fumbled in his pocket, pulled out a coin and tossed it to the boy. He was turning to walk away when the coin hit him in the back of the head, as hard as the boy could throw it. "I beg your pardon," the man said indignantly. "Did I ask you for any money, St. James? I've got words to have out with you." "Do I know you?" Mr. St. James asked. "No, but I know you. I know you're a blithering idiot." "I will not be talked to in this fashion by a boy," the solicitor said haughtily. "Oh, well excuse me. It's about your daughter, Margaret." When the man started and stared at him the boy laughed and went on. "Oh, I see that got your attention. When was the last time she got your attention I wonder? The night her ma died givin' birth?" "How do you know all this?" "Never you mind, I just know. I know she prays every night to God that He'll send you home to her. Don't know why she wants to see a sucker like you, but since God wasn't listening to her, I thought I would." "So you think you're the hand of God?" the man asked with a bitter half smile. "Where was He, then, when I prayed for my wife?" "Oh, I dunno about the hand of God thing," the boys eyes narrowed as he thought about that. "Maybe, you never know. I know this though, you an' me, we're selfish bastards, is what we are. Margaret is something different. If I were God, I don't think I'd much want to listen to the likes of you an' me, but Margaret, now she's the type He ought to listen to. Well now I've told you, and you do what you like. Maybe she's better off without you anyway, sucker." Perry shouldered his sack and turned and walked away. Neither Margaret, nor any of her family ever saw him again. A week later, Margaret was playing with her friends in the front yard. Unbeknownst to her, a tall man in a great coat had walked up to the wrought iron fence from the street and was watching her. His eyes were wistful, blue beneath his blond hair. He knew the brown curls and brown eyes he saw bouncing and laughing beneath her red hood. He knew them, and he loved them. He had always loved them. Perhaps, he should just go, he thought. He was an arrogant, selfish fool, and he knew it. Perhaps the boy had been right and she was better off without him. His eyes were getting blurry, and he blinked, and in the time it took him to blink, she had turned and seen him. He could not read her face, for he didn't know it. He didn't know her. He wouldn't blame her if she hated him. He would just go, back to London, back to his hole, and never bother her again. He never got the chance. She screamed, "Daddy" and ran to him. Never minding the wrought iron fence between them, never minding the spikes on top of it, she ran and jumped to him, never doubting that he would catch her. In the next instant they were holding each other like they would never let go, and I'm not sure who was crying most. Brought out of her kitchen at the sound of Margaret's scream, Martha stopped and caught her throat in surprise. Composing herself, she looked up to heaven, partly thinking, "It's about time," partly thinking, "Are you sure about this?" but mostly thankful. Then she shrugged, shook herself all over and smiled as if she couldn't help herself. Walking out to the gate, she curtsied in the old style. "Welcome home, sir, and may I say it, it has been too long. Come in, and wouldn't you know it, as providence would have it, I've got the kettle on."

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