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- The Children's Book of Christmas Stories - 30/46 -
XXIV. THE PHILANTHROPIST'S CHRISTMAS*
This story was first published in the Youth's Companion, vol. 82.
JAMES WEBER LINN
"Did you see this committee yesterday, Mr. Mathews?" asked the philanthropist.
His secretary looked up.
"You recommend them then?"
"For fifty thousand?"
"For fifty thousand--yes, sir."
"Their corresponding subscriptions are guaranteed?"
"I went over the list carefully, Mr. Carter. The money is promised, and by responsible people."
"Very well," said the philanthropist. "You may notify them, Mr. Mathews, that my fifty thousand will be available as the bills come in."
Old Mr. Carter laid down the letter he had been reading, and took up another. As he perused it his white eyebrows rose in irritation.
"Mr. Mathews!" he snapped.
"You are careless, sir!"
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Carter?" questioned the secretary, his face flushing.
The old gentleman tapped impatiently the letter he held in his hand. "Do you pay no attention, Mr. Mathews, to my rule that NO personal letters containing appeals for aid are to reach me? How do you account for this, may I ask?"
"I beg your pardon," said the secretary again. "You will see, Mr. Carter, that that letter is dated three weeks ago. I have had the woman's case carefully investigated. She is undoubtedly of good reputation, and undoubtedly in need; and as she speaks of her father as having associated with you, I thought perhaps you would care to see her letter."
"A thousand worthless fellows associated with me," said the old man, harshly. "In a great factory, Mr. Mathews, a boy works alongside of the men he is put with; he does not pick and choose. I dare say this woman is telling the truth. What of it? You know that I regard my money as a public trust. Were my energy, my concentration, to be wasted by innumerable individual assaults, what would become of them? My fortune would slip through my fingers as unprofitably as sand. You understand, Mr. Mathews? Let me see no more individual letters. You know that Mr. Whittemore has full authority to deal with them. May I trouble you to ring? I am going out."
A man appeared very promptly in answer to the bell.
"Sniffen, my overcoat," said the philanthropist.
"It is 'ere, sir," answered Sniffen, helping the thin old man into the great fur folds.
"There is no word of the dog, I suppose, Sniffen?"
"None, sir. The police was here again yesterday sir, but they said as 'ow--"
"The police!" The words were fierce with scorn. "Eight thousand incompetents!" He turned abruptly and went toward the door, where he halted a moment.
"Mr. Mathews, since that woman's letter did reach me, I suppose I must pay for my carelessness--or yours. Send her--what does she say--four children?-- send her a hundred dollars. But, for my sake, send it anonymously. Write her that I pay no attention to such claims." He went out, and Sniffen closed the door behind him.
"Takes losin' the little dog 'ard, don't he?" remarked Sniffen, sadly, to the secretary. "I'm afraid there ain't a chance of findin' 'im now. 'E ain't been stole, nor 'e ain't been found, or they'd 'ave brung him back for the reward. 'E's been knocked on the 'ead, like as not. 'E wasn't much of a dog to look at, you see--just a pup, I'd call 'im. An' after 'e learned that trick of slippin' 'is collar off--well, I fancy Mr. Carter's seen the last of 'im. I do, indeed."
Mr. Carter meanwhile was making his way slowly down the snowy avenue, upon his accustomed walk. The walk, however, was dull to-day, for Skiddles, his little terrier, was not with him to add interest and excitement. Mr. Carter had found Skiddles in the country a year and a half before. Skiddles, then a puppy, was at the time in a most undignified and undesirable position, stuck in a drain tile, and unable either to advance or to retreat. Mr. Carter had shoved him forward, after a heroic struggle, whereupon Skiddles had licked his hand. Something in the little dog's eye, or his action, had induced the rich philanthropist to bargain for him and buy him at a cost of half a dollar. Thereafter Skiddles became his daily companion, his chief distraction, and finally the apple of his eye.
Skiddles was of no known parentage, hardly of any known breed, but he suited Mr. Carter. What, the millionaire reflected with a proud cynicism, were his own antecedents, if it came to that? But now Skiddles had disappeared.
As Sniffen said, he had learned the trick of slipping free from his collar. One morning the great front doors had been left open for two minutes while the hallway was aired. Skiddles must have slipped down the marble steps unseen, and dodged round the corner. At all events, he had vanished, and although the whole police force of the city had been roused to secure his return, it was aroused in vain. And for three weeks, therefore, a small, straight, white bearded man in a fur overcoat had walked in mournful irritation alone.
He stood upon a corner uncertainly. One way led to the park, and this he usually took; but to-day he did not want to go to the park--it was too reminiscent of Skiddles. He looked the other way. Down there, if one went far enough, lay "slums," and Mr. Carter hated the sight of slums; they always made him miserable and discontented. With all his money and his philanthropy, was there still necessity for such misery in the world? Worse still came the intrusive question at times: Had all his money anything to do with the creation of this misery? He owned no tenements; he paid good wages in every factory; he had given sums such as few men have given in the history of philanthropy. Still--there were the slums. However, the worst slums lay some distance off, and he finally turned his back on the park and walked on.
It was the day before Christmas. You saw it in people's faces; you saw it in the holly wreaths that hung in windows; you saw it, even as you passed the splendid, forbidding houses on the avenue, in the green that here and there banked massive doors; but most of all, you saw it in the shops. Up here the shops were smallish, and chiefly of the provision variety, so there was no bewildering display of gifts; but there were Christmas-trees everywhere, of all sizes. It was astonishing how many people in that neighbourhood seemed to favour the old-fashioned idea of a tree.
Mr. Carter looked at them with his irritation softening. If they made him feel a trifle more lonely, they allowed him to feel also a trifle less responsible--for, after all, it was a fairly happy world.
At this moment he perceived a curious phenomenon a short distance before him--another Christmas-tree, but one which moved, apparently of its own volition, along the sidewalk. As Mr. Carter overtook it, he saw that it was borne, or dragged, rather by a small boy who wore a bright red flannel cap and mittens of the same peculiar material. As Mr. Carter looked down at him, he looked up at Mr. Carter, and spoke cheerfully:
"Goin' my way, mister?"
"Why," said the philanthropist, somewhat taken back, "I WAS!"
"Mind draggin' this a little way?" asked the boy, confidently, "my hands is cold."
"Won't you enjoy it more if you manage to take it home by yourself? "
"Oh, it ain't for me!" said the boy.
"Your employer," said the philanthropist, severely, "is certainly careless if he allows his trees to be delivered in this fashion."
"I ain't deliverin' it, either," said the boy. "This is Bill's tree."
"Who is Bill?"
"He's a feller with a back that's no good."
"Is he your brother?"
"No. Take the tree a little way, will you, while I warm myself?"
The philanthropist accepted the burden--he did not know why. The boy, released, ran forward, jumped up and down, slapped his red flannel mittens on his legs, and then ran back again. After repeating these manoeuvres two or three times, he returned to where the old gentleman stood holding the tree.
"Thanks," he said. "Say, mister, you look like Santa Claus yourself, standin' by the tree, with your fur cap and your coat. I bet you don't have to run to keep warm, hey?" There was high admiration in his look. Suddenly his eyes sparkled with an inspiration.
"Say, mister," he cried, "will you do something for me? Come in to Bill's--he lives only a block from here--and just let him see you. He's only a kid, and he'll think he's seen Santa Claus, sure. We can tell him you're so busy to-morrow you have to go to lots of places to-day. You won't have to give him anything. We're looking out for all that.
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