Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; Ten Christmas stories – Edward Everett Hale

HERE he comes! here he comes!” “He” was the “post-rider,” an institution now almost of the past. He rode by the house and threw off a copy of the “Boston Gazette.” Now the “Boston Gazette,” of this particular issue, gave the results of the drawing of the great Massachusetts State Lottery of the Eastern Lands in the Waldo Patent. Mr. Cutts, the elder, took the “Gazette,” and opened it with a smile that pretended to be careless; but even he showed the eager anxiety which they all felt, as he tore off the wrapper and unfolded the fatal sheet. “Letter from London,” “Letter from Philadelphia,” “Child with two heads,”—thus he ran down the columns of the little page,—uneasily. “Here it is! here it is!—Drawing of the great State Lottery. ‘In the presence of the Honourable Treasurer of the Commonwealth, and of their Honours the Commissioners of the Honourable Council,—was drawn yesterday, at the State House, the first distribution of numbers’——here are the numbers,—’First combination, 375–1. Second, 421–7. Third, 591–6. Fourth, 594–1. Fifth,'”—and here Mr. Cutts started off his feet,—”‘Fifth, 219–7.’ Sybil, my darling! it is so! 219–7! See, dear child! 219–7! 219–7! O my God! to think it should come so!” And he fairly sat down, and buried his head in his hands, and cried. The others, for a full minute, did not dare break in on excitement so intense, and were silent; but, in a minute more, of course, little Simeon, the youngest of the tribes who were represented there, gained courage to pick up the paper, and to spell out again the same words which his father had read with so much emotion; and, with his sister Sally, who came to help him, to add to the store of information, as to what prize number 5—219–7—might bring.

For this was a lottery in which there were no blanks. The old Commonwealth of Massachusetts, having terrible war debts to pay after the Revolution, had nothing but lands in Maine to pay them with. Now lands in Maine were not very salable, and, if the simple and ordinary process of sale had been followed, the lands might not have been sold till this day. So they were distributed by these Lotteries, which in that time seemed gigantic. Every ticket-holder had some piece of land awarded to him, I think,—but to the most, I fear, the lands were hardly worth the hunting up, to settle upon. But, to induce as many to buy as might, there were prizes. No. 1, I think, even had a “stately mansion” on the land,—according to the advertisement. No. 2 had some special water-power facilities. No. 5, which Mr. Cutts’s ticket had drawn, was two thousand acres on Tripp’s Cove,—described in the programme as that “well-known Harbor of Refuge, where Fifty Line of Battle Ship could lie in safety.” To this cove the two thousand acres so adjoined that the programme represented them as the site of the great “Mercantile Metropolis of the Future.” Samuel Cutts was too old a man, and had already tested too critically his own powers in what the world calls “business,” by a sad satire, to give a great deal of faith to the promises of the prospectus, as to the commercial prosperity of Tripp’s Cove.

He had come out of the Revolution a BrigadierGeneral, with an honorable record of service,—with rheumatism which would never be cured,—with a good deal of paper money which would never be redeemed, which the Continent and the Commonwealth had paid him for his seven years,—and without that place in the world of peace which he had had when these years began. The very severest trial of the Revolution was to be found in the condition in which the officers of the army were left after it was over. They were men who had distinguished themselves in their profession, and who had done their very best to make that profession unnecessary in the future. To go back to their old callings was hard. Other men were in their places, and there did not seem to be room for two. Under the wretched political system of the old Confederation there was no such rapid spring of the material prosperity of the country as should find for them new fields in new enterprise. Peace did any thing but lead in Plenty. Often indeed, in history, has Plenty been a little coy before she could be tempted, with her pretty tender feet, to press the stubble and the ashes left by the havoc of War. And thus it was that General Cutts had returned to his old love whom he had married in a leave of absence just before Bunker Hill, and had begun his new life with her in Old Newbury in Massachusetts, at a time when there was little opening for him,—or for any man who had spent seven years in learning how to do well what was never to be done again. And in doing what there was to do he had not succeeded. He had just squeezed pork and potatoes and Indian meal enough out of a worn-out farm to keep Sybil, his wife, and their growing family of children alive. He had, once or twice, gone up to Boston to find what chances might be open for him there. But, alas, Boston was in a bad way too, as well as Samuel Cutts. Once he had joined some old companions, who had gone out to the Western Reserve in Northern Ohio, to see what opening might be there. But the outlook seemed unfavorable for carrying so far, overland, a delicate woman and six little children into a wilderness.

If he could have scraped together a little money, he said, he would buy a share in one of the ships he saw rotting in Boston or Salem, and try some foreign adventure. But, alas! the ships would not have been rotting had it been easy for any man to scrape together a little money to buy them. And so, year in and year out, Samuel Cutts and his wife dressed the children more and more plainly, bought less sugar and more molasses, brought down the family diet more strictly to pork and beans, pea-soup, hasty-pudding, and rye-and-indian,—and Samuel Cutts looked more and more sadly on the prospect before these boys and girls, and the life for which he was training them. Do not think that he was a profligate, my dear cousin Eunice, because he had bought a lottery ticket. Please to observe that to buy lottery tickets was represented to be as much the duty of all good citizens, as it was proved to be, eleven years ago, your duty to make Havelocks and to knit stockings. Samuel Cutts, in the outset, had bought his lottery ticket only “to encourage the others,” and to do his honorable share in paying the war debt. Then, I must confess, he had thought more of the ticket than he had supposed he would. The children had made a romance about it,—what they would do, and what they would not do, if they drew the first prize. Samuel Cutts and Sybil Cutts themselves had got drawn into the interest of the children, and many was the night when they had sat up, without any light but that of a pine-torch, planning out the details of the little colony they would form at the East-ward,—if—if only one of the ten great prizes should, by any marvel, fall to him. And now Tripp’s Cove—which, perhaps, he had thought of as much as he had thought of any of the ten—had fallen to him. This was the reason why he showed so much emotion, and why he could hardly speak, when he read the numbers. It was because that had come to him which represented so completely what he wanted, and yet which he had not even dared to pray for. It was so much more than he expected,—it was the dream of years, indeed, made true. For Samuel Cutts had proved to himself that he was a good leader of men. He knew he was, and many men knew it who had followed him under Carolina suns, and in the snows of Valley Forge.

Samuel Cutts knew, equally well, that he was not a good maker of money, nor creator of pork and potatoes. Six years of farming in the valley of the Merrimac had proved that to him, if he had never learned it before. Samuel Cutts’s dream had been, when he went away to explore the Western Reserve, that he would like to bring together some of the best line officers and some of the best privates of the old “Fighting Twenty-seventh,” and take them, with his old provident skill, which had served them so well upon so many camping-grounds, to some region where they could stand by each other again, as they had stood by each other before, and where sky and earth would yield them more than sky and earth have yet yielded any man in Eastern Massachusetts. Well! as I said, the Western Reserve did not seem to be the place. After all, “the Fighting Twenty-seventh” were not skilled in the tilling of the land. They furnished their quota when the boats were to be drawn through the ice of the Delaware, to assist in Rahl’s Christmas party at Trenton. Many was the embarkation at the “head of Elk,” in which the “Fighting Twenty-seventh” had provided half the seamen for the transport. It was “the Fighting Twenty-seventh” who cut out the “Princess Charlotte” cutter in Edisto Bay. But the “Fighting Twenty-seventh” had never, so far as any one knew, beaten one sword into one ploughshare, nor one spear into one pruning-hook. But Tripp’s Cove seemed to offer a different prospect. Why not, with a dozen or two of the old set, establish there, not the New Jerusalem, indeed, but something a little more elastic, a little more helpful, a little more alive, than these kiln-dried, sundried, and time-dried old towns of the seaboard of Massachusetts? At any rate, they could live together in Tripp’s Cove, as they wintered together at Valley Forge, at Bennett’s Hollow, by the Green Licks, and in the Lykens Intervale. This was the question which Samuel Cutts wanted to solve, and which the fatal figures 219-7 put him in the way of solving. “Tripp’s Cove is our Christmas present,” said Sybil Cutts to her husband, as they went to bed. But so far removed were the habits of New England then from the observance of ecclesiastical anniversaries, that no one else had remembered that day that it was Christmas which was passing.



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Updated: 29 October 2020 — 18:50

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