The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
by Violet Picton-Warlow
A Story for Children
Two children were waiting alone in a large nursery one Christmas Eve, a good many years ago. The walls of the rooms were almost covered with brightly-coloured pictures, and round the frames of these pictures were twisted wreaths of holly and evergreens. Over the mantel-piece hung a print, representing an angel standing upon a snowy plain; in his hands he held a branch of mistletoe, Christmas roses were blossoming at his feet, and on the ground around him lay quantities of toys, picture-books, dogs, every possible thing that any child could wish to possess. Underneath this engraving were printed the words--"The Children's Christmas Angel."
Tea-things were laid out upon the nursery table, but the tea itself had not yet been brought up, and Mab and Jack were waiting in the dusk, by the blazing fire, the light of which fell full upon their faces, until the nurse should re-appear with the tea-pot and lamp. The little boy and girl were twins of six years old; their birthday had passed just a month ago. They thought it a great pity that they only had one birthday between them, for that meant only one extra holiday in the year instead of two. Jack was a little taller than Mab; he had curly dark hair, brown eyes, and a brown skin; Mab's hair was also dark and curly, but her eyes were blue, and her complexion very fair. Considering that the children were twins, they were not very much alike. Jack was lying on the hearthrug, with his head on his hands, doing nothing at all. Mab was sitting on a little stool at his feet, by the side of the fire; she had been looking at a picture-book by the light of the flames, but it had now slipped unheeded from her lap to the floor; her arms were clasped round her knees, and she was gazing into the glowing coals, evidently thinking deeply. Suddenly Jack sat up and began to whistle, or rather, began trying to whistle, for he could not manage it at all; one heard much puffing and blowing out of breath, but very little sound else, and although he thought the performance quite lovely, what other sounds he did produce were most unmusical. He was very proud of this accomplishment, and had been practising it hard for weeks, under the tuition of Jim, a little next-door neighbour. Jim was eight years old, and went every day to a real boy's school where they had masters, so Jack, who went to a Kindergarten with Mab, looked upon him as a very grand person indeed. The tune he was now puffing out with a great deal of trouble was "Good King Winsilas." This noise aroused Mab from her day-dream, she slipped off her stool on to the hearthrug near her brother, and said--
"What do you think the Christmas Angel will bring us to-night, Dzaak?"--"Jack" was a word Mab had not yet learnt to say properly; her "a's" were always very broad and "j" she looked upon as an impossible letter to pronounce.
Jack's puckered lips resumed their usual shape, and he answered her question by another.
"What do you want most, Mab? I want a ball, and some marbles, and a paint-box, and a cricket-bat, and lots of oranges and apples."
Mab looked at him in surprise.
"Who's going to play cricket with you, Dzaak?" she asked.
"Jim, of course."
"Where are you going to play? You can't in the streets, Mummy won't let you."
"Don't want to play in the streets. We'll do it in our own back-yard."
"Then I can come to," said Mab. She was not very fond of Jim, because she was afraid Jack liked running about with him, better than playing with her. She almost expected now to hear her brother say she could not play cricket with them, but he said nothing of the sort.
"Of course you can," he replied. "We'll have awful fun; one to bat, one to bowl, and one to run after the ball. You didn't tell me what you wanted, Mab." "I want a big book of fairy-tales, and I want a lovely dolly that can open and shut its eyes, like the one we saw in the shop, do you remember, Dzaak?" For when Jim was not there, Jack sometimes joined his little sister in her games with her dolls, and was most clever in mending broken legs and arms, and in patching up dollies' chairs and tables, but not for worlds would he have allowed his boy-friends to know this.
"Only I don't think the Angel could possibly put that doll in my stocking," went on Mab. "Do you think I'd better ask Father to let me hang up one of his? I don't think even that would large 'nough! And if the Angel couldn't find anywhere to put my dolly, he might take it away again."
"Oh, that'll be all right," said Jack cheerfully. "He wouldn't take it away 'cos of that, he'd stick it on the table or somewhere. Besides, Jim says there's no such things as Christmas Angels. I 'blieve it's just Mummy brings our toys."
"Dzim's a bad boy, and he doesn't know anything 'bout it," sad Mab with decision. "Mummy said to me to-day, 'I wonder if the Angel will bring you a dolly, Mab?' And she knows better'n Dzim," the little girl added, scornfully. "The man who painted that picture," she looked over the mantel-piece as she spoke, "must have seen one, else how did he know what they were like?"
Jack said no more. It was very strange that Jim could be wrong, but Mab's argument seemed to him unanswerable. "How could a man make a picture of anything he had never seen?" Besides, nurse now appeared with a tray, and no more talk about Christmas Angels was possible; for children seldom speak before "grown-ups" in the way that they do when they are alone.
After tea the twins always went to the drawing-room for an hour, and Mummy generally told them fairy-tales, or Father romped with them; but this evening they all talked together about many things, and afterwards Mummy told them once again the story of the Christ-child that they already knew so well, but were never tired of hearing. At half-past seven, after having said their prayers, which they always did downstairs, they went up again to the nursery. As Mab said good-night to her mother, she whispered, "Mummy, do you really think the Christmas Angel will bring me a dolly?"
"I'm quite sure he will," answered Mummy, smiling as she thought of her little daughter's longed-for treasure, which could open and shut its eyes, lying in a box in her room, wrapped in many folds of silver paper. So Mab went to bed perfectly happy. She slept in a room with Nurse, and Jack had a little room that opened into hers; the door between the two was always left open at night, because Mab said that when it was open, Jack didn't seem so far away as when it was shut. Both the children had made up their minds to stay awake "all night," in hopes of seeing the Angel, but, strange to say, they had scarcely been in bed half an hour before they both fell fast asleep. Suddenly Mab awoke; she thought she must have been asleep for hours, and that it was now the middle of the night; but it really was not yet ten o'clock. To her surprise, the room was quite light, not with daylight, but as if there were a lamp or candle burning on the other side of her bed-curtains. She saw no one in the room, and was very much puzzled. "I wonder who it can be," she thought. "It was quite dark when I went to sleep. And why isn't Nursie here?" She sat up and peeped round the curtain; a small lamp had been placed on a table near the bed. Then the thought flashed across her mind that the Christmas Angel would soon appear. "Of course, Mummy must have left the lamp here so that he could see where to put our presents. I hope he'll come soon." Just at that moment she heard footsteps outside, and she lay back again, scarcely able to breathe with excitement. She watched the door as it opened, and saw--was it possible?--Mummy, carrying a large wax doll in her hands and various parcels under her arms. "Oh, what a lovely doll," thought Mab; "but why has Mummy got it?" From beneath her half-closed eyelids she watched her mother as she placed the doll on the table, filled the little stocking that lay there ready with odds and ends of the kind that children love, and then, taking up the lamp, left the room as quietly as possible. Only after she had gone did Mab realise that no Christmas Angel would she see to-night, and that Mummy had done what she had looked upon as his work. Could it be that Jim was right, after all, in what he had told Jack? And if so, what about Mummy? One of them must be wrong. Poor little Mab was so troubled that she could not go to sleep again; she jumped out of bed, and ran into her brother's room to tell him all about it. In her anxiety to awaken him without loss of time she twisted her fingers in his curly locks and gave them a good pull.
"Dzaak, Dzaak," she said half crying; "do wake up, oh, do wake up quick!" "Ou," growled Jack sleepily, "is it you, Mab? Just leave my hair alone. And what do you want? 'Tisn't time to get up, I don't b'lieve. I'm 'sleep." "No, you're not 'sleep, 'cos I've just waked you. And it was Mummy put the toys in our rooms; I saw her. Come downstairs with me, and let's ask her. I'm 'fraid to go alone. Do come, dear Dzaak!"
Poor Jack got out of his nice warm bed, and hand-in-hand the two little white-robed figures crept through the dark rooms into the lighted passage. Then they ran down the stairs to the drawing-room, and opening the door saw mother and father talking by the fire. Dropping Jack's hand, Mab rushed across the room to Mummy, and clinging round her neck, began to sob bitterly. Jack followed more slowly, and stood gravely watching his little sister.
"Why, Mab, my darling, whatever is the matter?" cried the startled mother, lifting the shivering child into her lap and trying to soothe her. But Mab could not speak for tears.
"Jack, what is it? Tell me at once," said Mummy, who was quite frightened. Father had said nothing; but fetching his own coat from the hall he wrapped Jack warmly up in it and took him on his knee, having first given his wife the sofa-rug with which to cover the little girl.
"Now, my little man, let us hear all about it," he said. "Did Mab have a bad dream?"
"I don't know," said Jack. "But she saw Mummy fill our stockings, and she thought the Angel would do it. And Jim said there wasn't a Christmas Angel; and she didn't b'lieve him. And now she's 'fraid there really isn't one, and she's sorry. And so 'm I. It's such a pretty picture. And if the man never saw one, how did he paint it? So she's crying." Father looked hopelessly bewildered over this explanation; but Mummy understood at once. Mummy always did understand.
"Say that there is a Christmas Angel, Mummy," sobbed Mab. "Say Dzim was wrong. There is one, really, isn't there?"
Poor Mummy at first did not quite know what to answer; she reflected that perhaps she had been a little to blame for having allowed Mab to believe that the pretty stories she had heard of Christmas Angels and their gifts were all perfectly true, word for word. She thought it over for a few moments, and then:
"My darlings," she said, "there is certainly a Christmas Angel, but he doesn't give us such thing as you had asked for; the gifts he brings are far better."
Mab began to feel interested, and her sobs ceased.
"What does he bring us, Mummy?" asked Jack.
"He brings us gifts from Heaven, dear; gifts of peace and good-will, far more precious than any earthly things we may wish to have. He comes from God, because he is the Spirit of Love that was in the Christ-child Himself. You cannot see him, neither can I, nor anyone else, but some day you will see the Christ-child in Heaven if you try to be like Him. Do you understand, darlings?"
"I don't know--I think so--a little," said Mab. She was very small, but she understood quite enough to comfort her greatly. Mummy always knew everything, and if she said there was a Christmas Angel, a Christmas Angel there must be, whether one could see him or not. That was the reasoning of Mummy's little daughter, and very good reasoning it was. Then Father carried her upstairs again, and Mummy carried Jack. By this time they were very sleepy; indeed, Mab fell asleep almost before she was put into bed again, but she woke up enough to murmur, as Mummy stooped down to kiss her, "And Dzim was wrong."
Jack next day explained the matter to Jim in this way: "Mummy says the Christmas Angel is the kind of feeling that makes you want to be nice to everyone at Christmas." I think he had understood his mother's meaning very well, don't you?
But it was a long time before he understood how "a man could make a picture of anything he had never seen!" He understands it now though, for last year he painted a beautiful picture of himself and Mab by the fire in their old nursery, with the light of the flames upon their faces; he is lying with his head upon his hands, and Mab is sitting on a little stool at the side of the hearth; a picture-book is lying on the floor beside her; she has her hands clasped over her knees, and is gazing at the glowing coals. He signs his pictures "Dzaak," and strangers seeing them always think he must be a foreigner.
"For Dzaak," they say, "is most certainly not an English name." Nobody but himself and Mab knows why he calls himself so, for it never occurs to anyone that it is simply a little child's way of pronouncing that very English name, "Jack."
The painting of himself and his little sister is called "One Christmas Eve." I asked Mab what the name meant, and she told me this story of the Christmas Angel.
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