A Christmas Hamper; A Volume of Pictures and Stories for Little Folks – Various authors

He seemed a funny old gentleman, the children thought, but still rather nice, especially when he brought those sweets out of his pocket and let them dip into the bag and take what they liked. They had seen him walking through the wood, and then when they left off playing, he had come to sit down beside them, and asked them their names. “Mine’s Hugh, like father,” said the eldest; “and this is Lily, and this is Tom.” The old gentleman looked a little quickly at Tom. “Who is he named after?” he said. The children’s faces grew grave. “He is named after poor Uncle Tom,” said Lily in a low voice, “who went to sea and was drowned.” There was silence for a minute. Then the old gentleman spoke again,— “So poor Uncle Tom was drowned, was he?” “Yes,” said Hugh. “His ship was lost, and everybody was drowned, ’cept two or three that got in the boat, and Uncle Tom wasn’t among them. Father waited and waited, but it wasn’t any good. So then he put up a monument in the church just where we can see it from our pew.” “And we always sings about the saints of God on his burfday,” said Lily, “and father cries a little.” “No, he don’t!” said Hugh indignantly. “Father’s a man, and men don’t cry!” “But he does,” said Lily.

“I saw a weeny little tear on his cheek this morning, for to-day is Uncle Tom’s burfday, and his voice goes all shaky like, ’cause he was so fond of poor Uncle Tom, and says he was so good.” The old gentleman sat silent, staring hard at the ground. “Is it long since Uncle Tom went away?” he said at last. “It is ten years,” replied Hugh. “It was the year I was born.” “Ten years—so it is,” murmured the old gentleman—“only ten years, and it has seemed like a hundred.” The children looked at one another surprised. “Did you ever know Uncle Tom?” asked Hugh curiously. “Yes, I knew him well. I was on his ship.

” “But you aren’t drowned!” cried Lily. The old gentleman smiled. “No,” he said, “I wasn’t drowned; I got off safe. Uncle Tom used to talk to me, though, about his old home, and one day he said that he had carved his name on a tree in the park, and I was to go and see it if I ever got home.” “Oh, I’ll show you,” said little Tom. “It is on a beech tree close by here. I’ll show you. There it is.” He pointed to a tree on which some initials and a date were cut deep into the bark. “It has kept very fresh,” said the old gentleman.

“I thought it would have been grown over by now.” “Father always comes and tidies it up on uncle’s birthday,” said the boy. “See, he is coming now! I’ll go and tell him you are here.—Father!” he shouted, running off—“father, here’s a gentleman who knew Uncle Tom!” But when father came near and saw the old gentleman, he stared at him for a moment as if he had seen a ghost, and then he gave a great cry. “Tom, Tom, it is you yourself!” And it was Uncle Tom, who had not been drowned after all, but when the ship was wrecked had managed to get ashore to an island, and there had lived on the fish he caught, and birds’ eggs, and cocoa-nuts, watching for a sail, like Robinson Crusoe. At last the sail came after ten long years. And when he reached England he did not write, but came down to his old home to see who was there, for of course he had heard no tidings all the time. Nobody recognized him at the village, for the tropical sun had burned his skin brown, and the long waiting and the sorrow and the hardships had turned his hair white. Only his brother knew him by his eyes, for they two had loved each other very much. “But what will father do with your tombstone?” said Lily gravely, as she sat on her uncle’s knee that night.

“It is such a pretty one, with a beautiful angel on it!” Oh, the beautiful snow! We’re all in a glow— Nell, Dolly, and Willie, and Dan; For the primest of fun, When all’s said and done, Is just making a big snow man. Two stones for his eyes Look quite owlishly wise, A hard pinch of snow for his nose; Then a mouth that’s as big As the snout of a pig, And he’ll want an old pipe, I suppose. Then the snow man is done, And to-morrow what fun To make piles of snow cannon all day, And to pelt him with balls Till he totters and falls, And a thaw comes and melts him away.

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