AmblesideOnline: The Making of a Christmas Story
first half of chapter 4, "Two Short Stories," excerpted from The
Holiday Round , a
book of short stories (not about Christmas) by A.
posted at the Project
Making of a Christmas Story
carried out in the best end of Fleet Street)
mantle of white lay upon the Embankment, where our story opens,
gleaming and glistening as it caught the rays of the cold December sun;
an embroidery of white fringed the trees; and under a canopy of white
the proud palaces of Savoy and Cecil reared their silent heads. The
mighty river in front was motionless, for the finger of Death had laid
its icy hand upon it. Above -- the hard blue sky stretching to
eternity; below -- the white purity of innocence. London in the grip of
Come, I like this. This is going to be good. A cold day, was it not?
at once the quiet of the morning was disturbed. In the distance a bell
rang out, sending a joyous paean to the heavens. Another took up the
word, and then another, and another. Westminster caught the message
from Bartholomew the son of Thunder, and flung it to Giles Without, who
gave it gently to Andrew by the Wardrobe. Suddenly the air was filled
with bells, all chanting together of peace and happiness, mirth and
jollity -- a frenzy of bells.
Duke, father of four fine children, waking in his Highland castle,
heard and smiled as he thought of his little ones....
Merchant Prince, turning over in his Streatham residence, heard, and
turned again to sleep, with love for all mankind in his heart....
Pauper in his workhouse, up betimes, heard, and chuckled at the
prospect of his Christmas dinner....
on the Embankment, Robert Hardrow, with a cynical smile on his lips,
listened to the splendid irony of it.
We really are getting to the story now, are we not?
That was all local colour. I want to make it quite clear that it was
Yes, yes, quite so. This is certainly a Christmas story. I think I
shall like Robert, do you know?]
was Christmas day, so much at least was clear to him. With that same
cynical smile on his lips, he pulled his shivering rags about him, and
half unconsciously felt at the growth of beard about his chin. Nobody
would recognize him now. His friends (as he had thought them) would
pass by without a glance for the poor outcast near them. The women that
he had known would draw their skirts away from him in horror. Even Lady
Alice! The cause of it all!
thoughts flew back to that last scene, but twenty-four hours ago, when
they had parted for ever. As he had entered the hall he had half
wondered to himself if there could be anybody in the world that day
happier than himself. Tall, well-connected, a vice-president of the
Tariff Reform League, and engaged to the sweetest girl in England, he
had been the envy of all. Little did he think that that very night he
was to receive his conge! What mattered it now how or why they had
quarrelled? A few hasty words, a bitter taunt, tears, and then the end.
cry from her -- "Go, and let me never see your face again!"
sneer from him -- "I will go, but first give me back the presents I
have promised you!"
slammed door and -- silence.
use, without her guidance, to try to keep straight any more? Bereft of
her love, Robert had sunk steadily. Gambling, drink, morphia, billiards
and cigars -- he had taken to them all; until now in the wretched
figure of the outcast on the Embankment you would never have recognized
the once spruce figure of Handsome Hardrow.
It all seems to have happened rather rapidly, does it not? Twenty-four
hours ago he had been --
You forget that this is a SHORT story.]
Hardow! How absurd it sounded now! He had let his beard grow, his
clothes were in rags, a scar over one eye testified --
Yes, yes. Of course, I quite admit that a man might go to the bad in
twenty-four hours, but would his beard grow as --
Look here, you've heard of a man going grey with trouble in a single
night, haven't you?
Well, it's the same idea as that.
Ah, quite so, quite so.
Where was I?
A scar over one eye was just testifying -- I suppose he had two eyes in
the ordinary way?]
testified to a drunken frolic of an hour or two ago. Never before,
thought the policeman, as he passed upon his beat, had such a pitiful
figure cowered upon the Embankment, and prayed for the night to cover
Er - -
To tell the truth I am rather stuck for the moment.
What is the trouble?
I don't quite know what to do with Robert for ten hours or so.
Couldn't he go somewhere by a local line?
This is not a humorous story. The point is that I want him to be
outside a certain house some twenty miles from town at eight o'clock
If I were Robert I should certainly start at once.
No, I have it.]
he sat there, his thoughts flew over the bridge of years, and he was
wafted on the wings of memory to other and happier Yuletides. That
Christmas when he had received his first bicycle....
merry house-party at the place of his Cambridge friend....
at The Towers, where he had first met Alice!
hours passed rapidly thus...
. . .
. . . .
I put dots to denote the flight of years.
Besides, it will give the reader time for a sandwich.]
got up and shook himself.
One moment. This is a Christmas story. When are you coming to the robin?
I really can't be bothered about robins just now. I assure you all the
best Christmas stories begin like this nowadays. We may get to a robin
later; I cannot say.
We must. My readers expect a robin, and they shall have it. And a
wassail-bowl, and a turkey, and a Christmas-tree, and a --
Yes, yes; but wait. We shall come to little Elsie soon, and then
perhaps it will be all right.
Little Elsie. Good!]
got up and shook himself. Then he shivered miserably, as the cold wind
cut through him like a knife. For a moment he stood motionless, gazing
over the stone parapet into the dark river beyond, and as he gazed a
thought came into his mind. Why not end it all -- here and now? He had
nothing to live for. One swift plunge, and --
You forget. The river was frozen.
Dash it, I was just going to say that.]
no! Even in this Fate was against him. The river was frozen over! He
turned away with a curse....
happened afterwards Robert never quite understood. Almost unconsciously
he must have crossed one of the numerous bridges which span the river
and join North London to South. Once on the other side, he seems to
have set his face steadily before him, and to have dragged his weary
limbs on and on, regardless of time and place. He walked like one in a
dream, his mind drugged by the dull narcotic of physical pain. Suddenly
he realized that he had left London behind him, and was in the more
open spaces of the country. The houses were more scattered; the
recurring villa of the clerk had given place to the isolated mansion of
the stock broker. Each residence stood in its own splendid grounds,
surrounded by fine old forest trees and approached by a long carriage
sweep. Electric --
Quite so. The whole forming a magnificent estate for a retired
gentleman. Never mind that.]
stood at the entrance to one of these houses, and the iron entered into
his soul. How different was this man's position from his own! What
right had this man -- a perfect stranger -- to be happy and contented
in the heart of his family, while he, Robert, stood, a homeless
wanderer, alone in the cold?
unconsciously he wandered down the drive, hardly realizing what he was
doing until he was brought up by the gay lights of the windows. Still
without thinking, he stooped down and peered into the brilliantly lit
room above him. Within all was jollity; beautiful women moved to and
fro, and the happy laughter of children came to him. "Elsie," he heard
someone call, and a childish treble responded.
Now for the robin.
I am very sorry. I have just remembered something rather sad. The fact
is that, two days before, Elsie had forgotten to feed the robin, and in
consequence it had died before this story opens.
That is really very awkward. I have already arranged with an artist to
do some pictures, and *I* remember *I* particularly ordered a robin and
a wassail. What about the wassail?
Elsie always had her porridge upstairs.]
terrible thought had come into Robert's head. It was nearly twelve
o'clock. The house-party was retiring to bed. He heard the
"Good-nights" wafted through the open window; the lights went out, to
reappear upstairs. Presently they too went out, and Robert was alone
with the darkened house.
temptation was too much for a conscience already sodden with billiards,
drink and cigars. He flung a leg over the sill and drew himself gently
into the room. At least he would have one good meal, he too would have
his Christmas dinner before the end came. He switched the light on and
turned eagerly to the table. His eyes ravenously scanned the contents.
Turkey, mince-pies, plum-pudding -- all was there as in the days
This is better. I ordered a turkey, I remember. What about the
mistletoe and holly? I rather think I asked for some of them.
We must let the readers take something for granted
I am not so sure. Couldn't you say something like this: "Holly and
mistletoe hung in festoons upon the wall?"]
even holly and mistletoe hung in festoons upon the wall.
a sigh of content Hardrow flung himself into a chair, and seized a
knife and fork. Soon a plate liberally heaped with good things was
before him. Greedily he set to work, with the appetite of a man who had
not tasted food for several hours....
said a voice. "Are you Father Kwistmas?"
turned suddenly, and gazed in amazement at the white-robed figure in
he murmured huskily.
How did he know? And why "Huskily"?
He didn't know, he guessed. And his mouth was full.]
you Father Kwistmas?" repeated Elsie.
felt at his chin, and thanked Heaven again that he had let his beard
grow. Almost mechanically he decided to wear the mask -- in short, to
my dear," he said. "I just looked in to know what you would like me to
late, aren't oo? Oughtn't oo to have come this morning?"
This is splendid. This quite reconciles me to the absence of Robin, But
what was Elsie doing downstairs?
I am making Robert ask her that question directly.
Yes, but just tell me now -- between friends.
She had left her golliwog in the room, and couldn't sleep without her.
I knew that was it.]
I'm late, dear," said Robert, with a smile, "why, so are you."
good food and wine in his veins were doing their work, and a pleasant
warmth was stealing over Hardrow. He found to his surprise that airy
banter still came easy to him.
what," he continued lightly, "do I owe the honour of this meeting?"
came downstairs for my dolly," said Elsie. "The one you sent me this
morning, do you remember?"
course I do, my dear."
what have you bwought me now, Father Kwistmas?"
started. If he was to play the role successfully he must find something
to give her now. The remains of the turkey, a pair of finger-bowls, his
old hat -- all these came hastily into his mind, and were dismissed. He
had nothing of value on him. All had been pawned long ago.
The gold locket studded with diamonds and rubies, which contained
Alice's photograph. The one memento of her that he had kept, even when
the pangs of starvation were upon him. He brought it from its
resting-place next his heart.
little something to wear round your neck, child," he said. "See!"
oo," said Elsie. "Why, it opens!"
it opens," said Robert moodily.
it's Alith! Sister Alith!"
I thought you'd like that.]
leapt to his feet as if he had been shot.
sister Alith. Does oo know her too?"
sister! Heavens! He covered his face with his hands.
are you doing here, Elsie?" said a voice. "Go to bed, child. Why, who
How exactly do you work the lisping?
What do you mean? Don't children of Elsie's tender years lisp sometimes?
Yes, but just now she said "Kwistmas" quite correctly --
I am glad you noticed that. That was an effect which was intended to
produce. Lisping is brought about by placing the tongue upon the hard
surface of the palate and in cases where the subject in unduly excited
or influenced by emotion the lisp becomes more pronounced. In this case
Yeth, I thee.]
her away," cried Robert, without raising his head.
door opened, and closed again.
said Alice calmly, "and who are you? You may have lied to this poor
child, but you cannot deceive me. You are NOT Father Christmas."
miserable man raised his shamefaced head and looked haggardly at her.
he muttered, "don't you remember me?"
gazed at him earnestly.
But how changed!"
we parted, Alice, much has happened."
it seems only yesterday that I saw you!"
It *was* only yesterday.
Yes, yes. Don't interrupt now, please.]
it has seemed years."
what are you doing here?" said Alice.
what are YOU doing here?" answered Robert.
I think Alice's question was the more reasonable one.]
uncle Joseph lives here."
gave a sudden cry.
uncle Joseph! Then I have broken into your uncle Joseph's house! Alice,
send me away! Put me in prison! Do what you will to me! I can never
hold up my head again."
Alice looked gently at the wretched figure in front of her.
glad to see you again," she said. "Because I wanted to say that it was
you forgive me?"
you? If you knew what my life has been since I left you! If you knew
into what paths of wickedness I have sunk! How only this evening,
unnerved by excess, I have deliberately broken into this house -- your
uncle Joseph's house -- in order to obtain food. Already I have eaten
more than half a turkey and the best part of a plum-pudding. If you
knew, I -- "
gesture of infinite compassion she stopped him.
let us forgive each other," she said with a smile. "A new year is
took her in his arms.
the distance the bells began to ring in the New Year. A message of hope
to all weary travellers on life's highway. It was New Year's Day!
I thought Christmas Day had started on the embankment. This would be
*I'm* sorry, but it must end like that. *I* must have my bells. You can
That's all very well. *I* have a good deal to explain as it is. Some of
your story doesn't fit the pictures at all, and it is too late now to
get new ones done.
*I* am afraid *I* cannot work to order.
Yes, *I* know. The artist said the same thing. Well, *I* must manage
somehow, *I* suppose. Good-bye. Rotten weather for August, isn't it?]