Christmas Story

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Winter 2003,
Winter 2003
Original Images:



The following story is taken from a book: OUR BOYS AND GIRLS. Oliver Optic's Magazine. 1868. Boston: Published by Lee and Shepard.

THE HOLE IN THE BAG.
BY JULIA P. BALLARD.

A CHRISTMAS STORY.

CARL SCHERNI sat alone in his library. It was Christmas Eve. The tall, myriad-fingered fir was holding out its generous arms in the next room, laden with toys and useful gifts for his children. The fragrance of its balsam breath reached him through the open door. It was ten times sweeter than the air in his library. If you ask why, I only need point to the cigar-stand on the table beside him. As he rose to take an Havana from the hand of the statuette, which for twenty years had held out to him his choice brown roll, Carl started. A package filled the bronze hand in place of the rolls. What could it mean? “Ah, it is Christmas Eve, and the good wife means me to be satisfied with some gift to-night, instead of my usual treat. I wonder if she is looking in at the door!” He turned his head. All was still. Carl took the package from the moveless fingers. He looked at it, felt it, smelt of it, but learned nothing.

For Carl, with love and hope.

He knew the handwriting. It was Paulette's. He scarcely understood why she wrote more than “with love.”

“Hope, hope,” he said aloud, in a questioning way. He took up his penknife to cut the string, but first walked to the open door, looked at the tree, and thought of the gentle hands that had wrought and hung there so many gifts of love. Love seemed glinting in letters of burnished gold from every burden that weighed down the yielding boughs. He thought of Paulette's kindness and forbearance for more than twenty years. And surely it had been well returned! Yes; still there was one thing, Carl knew, which even for her he had not been willing to give up. True, she had never blamed him, nor teased him about it. Noble wives never do. But she had told him how she felt, and what she would like more than a little. And he had smiled and kissed her, and smoked on, as even noble men will do!

He passed on by the tree into the bedroom. Paulette was asleep. A smile lingered about her lips, and he thought it was born since she placed the package in the bronze hand. So he went back to the library, and cut the cord to see. Ah, Paulette! You have hit the nail on the head! You have beaten Santa Claus tonight. Only a curiously carved box, of some rich, dark wood; on the cover a quaint little man, dropping a silver dollar into the open mouth of a bag. A pile of dollars lies on one side, from which he has just taken it, and under the bag are more, rolling away to the edge of the cover. Ah, there is a hole in the bag ! So he may keep on taking up dollars and putting them into the bag; and they, alas! will keep on rolling along to the cover's edge, and quite out of sight.

Silly man! Can he not see there is a hole in the bag? Ah, but where is he looking? What does he hold in the other hand? Surely it is a cigar! The end is bright scarlet. He is watching the tip of blue that rims the scarlet with a pale, dusty edge. He does not look at the bag!

“A fine cigar-box, truly. Very suggestive!” said Carl. “With love and hope !’ Just like Paulette! How long has she been studying out that bit of mischief? How long a time has old Rupert spent over it? or has it been made to order at all?”

Just then Carl spied a narrow slip of paper in the box-“Haggai, i. 6.” That was all. He thought it might be enough; so he found the chapter and verse. “He that earneth wages, earneth it to put into a bag with holes.”

“A pretty striking text,” said Carl to himself. “Old Peter Barnes does that; working all the week like a slave, and putting his money in the ale-house every Saturday night. Punch bowls and brandy cups are bags with big holes. But this queer little man isn't holding a cup. I suppose there are other bags with holes. If I had one, I should like to drop an Havana or two into it to please Paulette.”

What else Carl thought just then I can't say. He looked around uneasily, then went to a little drawer in his secretary, and opened a banded box of cedar, and took out a cigar. The thoughts he had after that went up with the smoke; but they came back again, for that was a farewell cigar for Carl. He thought a while after he threw the last of it into the dying fire. Then he took the cedar box, wrapped it up, directed it to his wife, and hung it on the strongest arm of the Christmas fir. It may seem a trifle to change a man. I can't explain it; but I know that on smaller pivots than this little symbolic cigar-holder many a destiny has turned. A glimpse of a long-forgotten wedding-ring once stopped the hole in a drunkard's bag. An old Bible, in a neglected corner, once stopped the hole in a gambler's bag. An act of Quaker honesty once stopped forever the hole in a robber's bag. Be this as it may, the next morning, when the eager children were shouting and clapping hands over wonderful gifts, and Paulette's tears fell silently on the lid of a cedar box, Carl stopped all the fuss by telling his wife and children to be quiet while he gave them

The Story of Hans and Claire.

Of course they were ready, and this was it:-

Once there was a poor little boy, and he lived in a poor little home. His father worked hard to put bread into six little mouths besides his own; so he ran away from home, to make his own fortune. He fared badly enough for a while, till at length he met a very sweet lady, too beautiful for me to describe.

“If I could only live where I might look at her, and listen to her voice! “

His good fairy heard his wish, and said,-

“If you will be true, and pure, and good, I will put you where you can always see her face and hear her voice.”

The poor boy's eyes sparkled as he promised the fairy he would. Then she held a glass before him, and lo! he was as handsome as the beautiful lady! His face was ruddy, his locks glossy, his eye bright, his smile radiant. Then the lady thought, “I would like always to look at him, and hear his voice.” And the good fairy pleased them both, and pronounced them man and wife. Then she whispered a secret to the boy-a man now.

“Here is a bag; drop every dollar you earn into it, only spending what is for your real and best good, and you will fill the bag. If you fail to do so, you will find it empty.”

So Hans dropped his dollars into the bag, and Claire dropped dollars in also; and it began to grow fat, and they had enough be-sides to supply all their need. Their home was very happy. Every one loved to come and see them; and all said, “What wonderful people are Hans and Claire!” They did not lack for favor from small and great; and their good fairy smiled on them daily.

One day Hans went with a stranger on a long journey. He rode through vale and forest, and open field, and beside broad rivers, and talked of all he saw with his new companion. They came to a field where a strange plant grew.

“What is this?” asked Hans.

“Do you not know?” said the stranger. “I will show you.”

So they went into the field. Hans admired the restless oceah of waving green, with rose-hued, bell-shaped blossoms dotting it with singular beauty. Then the stranger tempted Carl. He told him it was a plant “good to make one wise;” that people had found it so for four hundred years. That the first people who lived in this land knew this, and so they dried the leaves, and put them in hollow canes, and smoked themselves wise. Some had rich tubes of silver, and some of tortoise shell, and some of gold, and they grew wiser; and some used the leaves in long, slender, solid rolls, and they grew wisest of all. Soon he persuaded Hans to try a roll; and there, in the midst of this new Eden, he took the roll, and enveloped himself in its mysterious cloud. A dreamy feeling of rest came over him; he forgot his friend, forgot everything for a while. He was growing wise!

Hans went home; and after that he and the stranger met often. Claire wondered who had woven a spell about Hans. He did not come home so early at night. He did not toss and hug the little ones so often. He did not always speak so pleasantly to her. Sometimes he refused the little dainties she had been wont to prepare for him with her own hands. Worse than all, he was changing his friends. Those who had come to see them before were all charming people, such as Hans used to be. Now some were rough men, boisterous men, full of coarse jokes. So Claire slipped away, and left them alone with Hans. He, too, seemed to grow like them. Worse yet, the bag the good fairy had given him began to grow thin. He put in the dollars, but they seemed to vanish. Hans did not at once notice this. He wondered he did not prosper. He wondered his lands began to slip from him, and his taxes to grow a burden. But he looked in every place except the right place to find the reason.

OUR BOYS AND GIRLS.

One day Claire wanted some money. She had always had it before, and many a sorrowful face had smiled with joy on leaving her. Now she was denied money.

One day, after Hans went out with the stranger, Claire went in alone, and looked at the bag. She turned it about, over, and upside down, and she found there was a big hole in the bottom. Then the good fairy told her a secret, and when Hans came in she told it to him. He looked at the bag. Sure enough, a big hole, where dollars and dollars must have gone through! He held it up in wonder, and the fairy whispered,-

“Did you keep your promise?”

Hans started. What had he done?

Then she took him with her to the stranger's home, and showed him a chest, in which lay piled a glittering till-full of dollars-dollars which had all rolled out of his bottomless bag. For the stranger owned the treacherous sea of green and rose color, and he knew well how to fill his coffers by blinding other people's eyes. Then the fairy held the glass before Hans. His own mirror surely did not tell such a tale. Sunken eyes, prominent cheek bones, sallow complexion, teeth disrobed of pearl, deep furrows in forehead and cheek-a haggard face, truly!

“Now,” said the fairy, “if you will renew the first promise,-give up whatever is impure,-I will give you a whole bag, and a new face.”

“I will,” said Hans. So she held the glass before him again; and now he felt ready to see Claire. They went together to the bag. It was whole and heavy. Claire looked like a new being. Hans's heart grew light. His choice friends came back. The boisterous, rude, uncleanly people fell away, one by one. His home was transformed. All his dollars staid in the mended bag except those which went for things “pure and good,” and he never missed them.

Paulette understood the story, and said, “Her Christmas gift, with the story, was better than all she had ever made or given in her life.” Carl doubted this; but the children clapped their hands, and said they voted for the good fairy, and would never put dollars into bags with holes in the bottom, even if they slid through in tubes of tortoise, or silver, or solid gold.