Around the Yule Log – Willis Boyd Allen

It is the waning of the year. As the twilight, often hastened by the soft blur of falling snow, encroaches more and more upon the brief day, we gather closely about our firesides, and there, heart to heart, are wont to listen as at no other period of this prosaic nineteenth century life, to tales of olden time. More than ever are we drawn together at the season of our Saviour’s birth, when the yule log glows amain and the sweet spirit of Christmas kindles within us a warmth and gladness that responds to the cheerful blaze upon the hearth. Christmas day! Does it not grow dearer to us every year? The summers come and go; we rush to and fro on our little errands of business and pleasure; great joys dawn in our lives, dark shadows of bitter disappointment creep over them; we are glad, sorrowful, eager, weary, well, ill; Life’s heart beats strongly, and Death is busy in its midst; we strive for the Beautiful, the True, and the Good; we hide our faces in helpless agony of shame and remorse; yet again comes the dear Day of days, with its blessed associations, memories, hopes. CHRİSTMAS! Do you remember what that word meant to you when you were a child? What a mysterious halo of light surrounded the day! How the very sound of its name suggested the fragrance of the fir-tree and wax-candles and marvelous toys, and the far-off tinkle of sleigh bells, or beat of tiny reindeer hoofs upon the snowy roof! Has the approach of Christmas but an indifferent charm in this grown-up work-a-day world of ours? If so, let us strive and pray for those delicate sensibilities of childhood that caught and reveled in the fragrant atmosphere of the day; that could hear, knowing naught beyond the bliss it brought, the voice of the Founder of Christmas blessing little children as it blessed them in distant Palestine eighteen centuries ago. Let us forgive our debtors this day as we would be forgiven; let no child’s cry fall unheeded on our ears; let our hearts be open to the tenderest, purest, most sacred thoughts, and to every ennobling influence; let us be alert and watchful, on this bright morning-day of the year; let the sun shine into and through us, shedding its warmth and brightness upon all about us; let us be once more as little children, and put out our hands trustingly, to be led. Hope—Joy—Bethlehem—Christmas—Christ! How softly the words chime together, like Christmas bells! With their sweet music comforting and gladdening our hearts, may we gather by the fireside to-night, to listen to these simple tales AROUND THE YULE LOG. II THE SHADOW OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT I It was at precisely eight o’clock, on the evening of the twenty-fourth of December, that Mr. Broadstreet yawned, glanced at the time-piece, closed the book he had been reading, and stretched himself out comfortably in his smoking-chair before the cannel fire which snapped and rustled cosily in the broad grate. The book was “A Christmas Carol,” and the reader, familiar as he was with its pages, had been considerably affected by that portion relating to Tiny Tim, as well as cheered by the joyful notes with which the Carol ends. For some minutes he sat silently surveying the pattern on his slippers, and apparently working it out again on his own brow. Now, Mr. Broadstreet was not a man to act upon impulse. A lawyer in large and profitable practice, and a shrewd man of business as well, he was never known to do, say, or decide anything without deliberation. “Hold on a bit,” he would say to an eager client, “softly, softly, my friend, you’re too fast for me.

Now, what did you say was done with the property?” and so on to the end of the story. If there was any money in the case, Mr. Broadstreet was pretty sure to draw it out, for the benefit of his clients, and, remotely of course, himself. “When I put my hand down,” he was fond of remarking, with significant gesture upon the office desk, “I never take it up again without something in it.” In the course of his long practice, aided by a series of fortunate speculations, he had amassed such a goodly sum that his name stood near the head of the list of “Our Prominent Taxpayers;” he drove a fine span of horses, and was free enough with his money, in a general way. That is, when some large philanthropic movement was on foot, Alonzo M. Broadstreet, Esq., was pretty sure to be down for a round sum. He paid his share in church and politics, and annually sent a check to the Board of Foreign Missions. He made it a rule, however, never to encourage pauperism by promiscuous almsgiving, and never tried a case or gave legal advice, for love.

Poor people who called at his office for assistance always found him unaccountably busy, and street beggars had long since learned to skip his door on their morning basket-visits. To-night Mr. Broadstreet had picked up the “Carol” in a specially complacent mood. He had spent liberally in Christmas gifts for his wife and children, letting himself almost defy his better judgment by purchasing for the former an expensive pin she had seen and fancied in a show window the week before. Just as he had completed the bargain a rescript had come down from the Supreme Court affirming judgment in his favor in a case which meant at least a five-thousand-dollar fee. Notwithstanding the memory of his recent good luck, he continued, on this particular evening, of all evenings in the year, to knit his brows and give unmistakable evidence that some emotion or reflection, not altogether pleasant, was stirring him powerfully. “Nonsense!” said Mr. Broadstreet presently, half aloud, as if he were addressing some one in the center of the glowing coals. “Nonsense!” he repeated, looking hard at a grotesque, carved figure that supported the mantel: “I’m not like Scrooge. I give freely and I spend freely.

That fire don’t look much like the one old Scrooge warmed his gruel over, does it now?” The marble figure making no answer to this appeal, but continuing his stony gaze, Mr. Broadstreet shifted his position again uneasily. “Don’t I give away hundreds of dollars every year to the Societies, and haven’t I left them a round ten thousand in my will? Won’t somebody mourn for me, eh?” But the carved lips replied never a word, only seeming to curl slightly as the firelight played upon them, thereby assuming such an unpleasantly scornful expression that Mr. Broadstreet began to feel more uncomfortable than ever. Rising hastily from his chair and throwing the book down upon the table, he walked on to the window, rubbed a little place clear upon the frosty pane, and looked out. The night was gloomy enough to make the plainest of homes seem cheery by contrast. Since morning the skies had been dully gray, so that every one who went out wore arctics and carried umbrellas, and was provoked because no storm came. At about the time when the sun might be supposed to be setting, somewhere behind that dismal wall of clouds, a few tiny, shivering flakes had come floating down or up, one could hardly tell which, and had mingled with the dust that, driven by the biting wind, had filled the air, and piled itself in little ridges along the sidewalk, and blinded the eyes of men and beasts throughout the dreary day. Before long the snow overcame the low-born friend with whom it had at first treacherously allied itself, laid it prostrate on the earth, and calling in all its forces rioted victoriously over the field. The storm now took full possession of the city, whitening roofs and pavements, muffling every footfall and wheel-rattle, filling the streets up to their slaty brims with whirling mists of sleety snow, and roaring furiously through the tree-tops and around corners.

As Mr. Broadstreet gazed through his frosty loophole, with mind full of the story he had just finished, he almost fancied he could discern the shadowy forms of old Marley and his fellow-ghosts moaning and wringing their hands as they swept past in trailing white robes. He turned away with a half-shiver and once more ensconced himself in his warm easy chair, taking up the Carol as he did so, and turning its leaves carelessly until he came to a picture of the Ghost of Christmas Present. It was wonderfully well-drawn, following the text with great care, hitting off the idea of the jovial, holly-crowned Spirit to the very life. And then the heap of good things that lay in generous piles about the room! Mr. Broadstreet could almost catch a whiff of fragrance from the turkeys and geese and spicy boughs. Indeed, so strong was the illusion that he involuntarily glanced over his shoulder at the marble-topped table near by, half expecting to see an appetizing dish of eatables at his side. No one had entered, however, and the table was as usual, with only its album and gilt-mounted screen, flanked by a few books that were too choice to be hidden away on the library shelves. When he looked back at the picture in the book, he started and rubbed his eyes. He thought—but it could not have been possible—that the central figure on the page moved slightly; and he was positive that one of the Ghost’s arms, in the engraving, had been raised, while now both were at his side.

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