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Farmer John's Christmas Box

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It was the anemoon belore OnrBfr mus Day, arid honesfc John Grahame was paeking up his butter tuba and the rerunant of his Christmas marketing beforo rcturning to his expectant faniily f ar off in the quiet country. All day long tho great market-housc had been full to overilowing with an eager crowd of people, busy with the buying of t'aeir Christmas cheer; and John's fat turkeys, ducks, and country, home-made sausages had been so well patronized that not one remained to burden his tvv-o strong horses, which had drawn the whole heavy load into the great city on the afternoon previous. Many a 'kindly arreeting of tho season had been glven honest John by his smiling custoruers; for St. Nicholas gives to all who love hirn a happy face and light heart in this his own festive season. One thing yet remained to be done, and John would have sooner lost his strong right hand than have neglected this picasant duty. There must be è hice present bought for the kind wife at home, and stop- a happy thought flasbed athwart the good man's mind. He would buy Margery a new bonnet, for times had been hard this winter, and, although she had made no mention of it, John well kaew in his heart that it would be the verv thing to please her. Then thero was his little Dolly, who, with her eyes as black as a sloeberry and bright as stars on a frosly night, had stood on tip-toe to kiss him as he sat in his wagon well rolled in a blíinket to keep out the cold, and who ran down the walk to open the wido gate, kissing her hand to him until he was hidden froni sight by a turn in thé road. "Pussy shall have her doü she has asked for so often, and a good big box of sugar plums, too,' ' he softly promised himself, a loring look coming into his mild browneyes; so. calling his boy totinishhis preparalions for him, he sallied forth on his errand of love. He strolled along the busy streets, looking iuto the store-windows with wondering curiosity until a müliner's display ciusrht his eye, aud he paused in front of the window. His big, buriy frame, with ita rough overcoat, took'up so mueh room and looked so utterly out of place that many s, eurious, smiling look was cast upon him. He stood so long a time timing to conquer his difiidence and enter the stort; that a little street gamin sang out, with a nísal twang, ''Say, old 'un, which suits yor complexion beat? Buy the one wilh the peakcil top, old eabbage head." John, thus rudcly roused to a sense of his pusition, shook his big list goodnaturtdly at tlie s-.uicy urchin and en tered the store. Good humor and love held high caruival i;i John's heart this sed Cnristm'ns tlde and left no roonr for unkind feelings for any one. L'Uü smiling saleslady, wondring at ¦ Ld custo'mijr, display edseveral bonnets to Jo;in"s astonished eyes, fajriy Dewilderingnim vii.h the variety of shape, colorí, feathers, and flowers.and tho many other varieties. that she exhibited to him. At last he sank into a ofaair, saying, "Well, ma'am, I gue3s t'll liave toleave it to you; Ican drive a plow and manage a farm, but l can't buy a wonian's bonnet." The woniau laughed heartily, aud, pickïng out ons of quiet gray silk, with a red roso aud gray foather, preseuled it to hi.- tired gaze, and our good farmer, glad to be quit of this hereulean tasj (worae to him tban a whole day 's hay making), elutclied the bonnet box, and without a muvmur paid the fash; ionable priee tho woman uamcd, only too glad to get oflthus easily. Nexi cam the toy store. " Tiiere he foui:d less diffieitlty, and soon pickod "out an immense dolí, almostas larga as i he human Dolly. and to lva was added thu box of goodies so dear to the heart of all Itttlc ones. Now thon he was all ready and in another half-hour was rattling over the stones of 'tho eky toward tiie country. The huis1'."!, as if kaowing whither they wero bound, laid themselves to tli;r work rih!. wiliingly, every now aud theu ptfiymlly ttfrnmg toward one another and nodding, as if exchanging their ideas on the many queer sights tney had geeu in the wonflerfok great city, John turned vip the collar of I is overooat and tucked in his blankat closely arouud bim, for he faced the wind and the sunset sky looked angry and lowering. In fací, in less than half an liour snowflakes bepan to fall, at iirst slowly and softly, then faster and faster, nutil Uie air grew thick and misty with tlie quickly falling flakes. The stout horses bont their heads to tho gusts of wind iliat wbirlecl tho snow in their faces, and John urged them on in cheery tonos. Unco he stopped and lightcd his lantern, which he camed for such emergencies, and the rays feil f ar into the road ahead, just cnough to make darkness visible. As the horses paoeed at the top of a steep hill to regain 'brcath after their long pull, John thought he heaid a fueblo cry on the sido of tho road. He listened intently and heard it repeated. He hurriedly snatciied up the lantern and quickly proceeded in the direction from wlienco the sound camo, and there, by the rays of tho light which he carried, and all ouddled un under a blanket shawl, was a baby about nino months old. "]Mycerte3!" exclaimed John. "l've fouad my Christmas box. Poor, wee lambkin! What hard-hearted wretch left you hero to die, poor little innocent?" The baby stoppcd crying and looked at him with ' her tingcr iu her niouth and her great blue eyes üxed, half in wonuer, half in fear, on his pitymg face. John held out his arms coaxingly, and a smilo carne over the baby face and "Coo, coo," brokc in lisping tones froni the rose bud niouth. He tenderly liftcd tho little creature, and opening his coat folded her iu close to his great warm hoart. No sound save tiiat of the bitter wind disturbed the stillness, no track of any livliig being was to be found, and John, Wil h his burden in his arms, clambered back iuto his wagon, and, closely nestling the littl' mechirrupedto his stout lorses, that knew the road too well .to need much watching. Wondering, solomn thoughts carne to John as hc sat there with Iho baby in ïis arms, of that othor little Baby, who jame to tliis world so inany conturies xgo that very night; who was bom xmong the dumb boasts and cradled in tho manger of a stable, bul who wlthiu was LorS and Saviour. And ho thought how tho very stars had siuig for ioy, and how a thrill of hnppiness vibr.itod Erorn end to end of God's fair world at ;ho advent of tho promised King; and as theso thoughts came solcmnlv, sweetly, throurin: to bis mind, his voieo rang out olearly over Uie stormy Qiht in the dear old Christmas hymn, "Whenshepfierdswatchedthelrflocksbyiilght and ho vowed that tuis Christmas baby should share bis home and ¦ïeart with his own llesh aüd blood Presentí}' his voice ccat.ed,and, looking down, hu saw his baby fasl asleep, her long lashes lying on iéé soft check; and quieüy and geni ly he tlrew out his warm buffalo-robe and jjtöt aboutinhis mind for a_ plací which to lay his sleeping charge. Tho large empty box, wüieb had bornehzs poultry to market, eaught his eye, and p'acing in it his warm, comfortable, robe, he made a soft bed for his Christmas present; so hü ñéstlea her down amonr the skins and covercd her with his overcoat. Ho did not mind the coid, althongh his fiice glowed scarlot and he had to swing bis arras and slap his hfcnds to keep the blood in circulation ; bui he whistled merrily to his good horse?. that rattled on with inercased speed and soon drew up before the gato pi his farm-house. The door was oponed and the iigurc of a woman appeared, peering into the durkness; the light of a candle sho shielded wilh her hand falling upon the black eyes and eager face of Dolly, who stood with her hcad pushod out undet her mother's arm. "Margery," shouled John to his wife, 'come seo" my Chrislmas box. Give the iight to David and let him liold it hcre in the wagon. Here, give me both your hands," said John, stooping down and helping his wondering wife into the wagon; and there, quietly sleepjng her rosy eheek closely to the soft skins, lay John's Christmas box. Her mother-heart was touchcd, and, opening to this little, waif, sho bore her into her own happy home, lookina: already upon her as her own. Wh(Tcould depiet Dolly's delight at this "real, live baby?" Not even the great magniiicence of tho new purchasc or the purchase of the box of candies could compare, in her estimation, with this newly-found treasure. The baby-girl's quaint, serlous ways wcro a never-failiris: souroe of delighi, and Dolly wondered, howshe ever could nave cared for her stupid baby, that could not crov or laugh or poko its little fingers inlo her eyes and pull her hair; and onco again Margery and John grew voung in watching and guarding their Christmas box. ':¦ Years rolled on, briitging their usual clianges of joy and sorrow, of good and ovil fortune; had left their traces in wrinkles and gray hairs oa the.middleaged, and opened the gates of Heaven to'many of the old; had changad ïomping school-children into stroag young men and sweet, winning maidens. But the old farm-house stül stoed, looking very little older than it di.! sevnteen years ago this Christmas Evo. Surely time hath dealt gontly here; there sits John, as ever - his hair more thickly mixed with grey, his brow more wrinkled, but with a soft sadness n his eyes that was new to theifi. A young woman sits by ths wiïuiow tying a close, warm hood on a chubby baby, the very minaturc of John, and the young mother is a íae-simllo of the Margery of old, whoni, alas! we do not iind. ar.d a loving memory ever green in John's faithful heart remains of the farmer'a wife. "Well, father," said Doliy, givin;:; lier baby a hearty kiss and sett'ng him down on the Hoor until sho tied 0:1 her own hood and folded close ly iier wuinn shawl, "I must bu getting toward home. ired will be wanting his supper, and it'a a goodïsh piece to walk againsE this Meak wind. I hate to leave you all alone, but Clarie will soon be in. So be sure to como to-morrow night after ehuirch, and we will have a morry Christmas." So saying, Dolly picked up her fa.t baby with a loving squeeze. and, nodding gayly, left tho houst. "So like her mother," mnroiurèd' John to himself, as he turned with a sigh into his solitary home, and, liUing his pipe, he settled hinriolf in tho warm chimney corner. Tho embers gkr.w.d brighlly on the hearth, casting a pleasant glow on the shining pewter ranged ou the dresser and half ülnniinaling the dtisky corners of thelarge old-fashioned kitchen. John, gazingiuto tliücoals, saw maay a pleasant siglit. J-'irst pocred otit a emiling baby face; r.cxt carne a little golden-haired lassie, with a bright fairy figure, flying down the path with OHtstrefched arms to meet him retuming home.tïred with his hard d.iy's work; this faded into a slemlcr school-girl, with large serious eyes, the very color of the midsummer sky, hoveriug arouid iiim with an eager love aud ar.xions to forestall his slightest wish; nextr citmc a sick-chamber, witli the poor, weary, pain-worn occupant tenderiy nursed and soothed by tiiiü samo sweet f:ico and gentle hand; then asadand v.7eary liniu, when all the world seemed empty and his loneliness became all but heartbreakiur; but even amid this blaekness was the one bright face, ever winsomo and kind. and ever striving, with all the mightof a loving licart. g:ip left by death. "God bless my Christnias box!" John' murmured, softiy - when there stolean arm around his neck, a voice spoke in his car, and a soft kiss stole upon his chcek: ' Why, father, dear, how long have you been asleep! the lire is all out and your pipe, too. They keptme longerat cliurch lixiDg the grecinsthau 1 thought for; you should see how pretty it looks. Hark, father! listen to the Christmas carol! they are praeticing it for to-mor row!" The golden head was drawn clos3ly the breast whcre it had lain so helplessly seventeen years ago, and in the soft gloaming of the twdight, John and his Christmas baby listened with hushcd breath to the mysterious, beautiful voices borne to them froni tho neighboring church.


Ann Arbor Courier
Old News