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Bread On The Waters
by [?]

A Washington Christmas

[No. This story also is “Invented Example.” But it is founded on facts. It is a pleasure to me, writing fifty-four years after the commission intrusted to me by the late Mrs. Fales, to say that that is a real name, and that her benevolence at a distance is precisely represented here.

Perhaps the large history of the world would be differently written but for that kindness of hers.

I was a very young clergyman, and the remittance she made to me was the first trust of the same kind which had ever been confided to me.]



“Only think, Matty, papa passed right by me when I was sitting with my back to the fire and stitching away on his book-mark without my once seeing him! But he was so busy talking to mamma that he never saw what I was doing, and I huddled it under a newspaper before he came back again. Well, I have got papa’s present done, but I cannot keep out of mamma’s way. Matty, dear, if I will sit in the sun and keep a shawl on, may I not sit in your room and work? It is not one bit cold there. Really, Matty, it is a great deal warmer than it was yesterday.”

“Dear child,” said Matty, to whom everybody came so readily for advice and help, “I can do better for you than that. You shall come into the study; papa will be away all the morning, and I will have the fire kept up there,–and mamma shall never come near you.”

All this, and a thousand times more of plotting and counterplotting, was going on among four children and their elders in a comfortable, free-and-easy seeming household in Washington, as the boys and girls, young men and young women were in the last agonies of making ready for Christmas. Matty is fully entitled to be called a young woman, when we see her. She has just passed her twenty-first birthday. But she looks as fresh and pretty as when she was seventeen, and certainly she is a great deal pleasanter though she be wiser. She is the oldest of the troop. Tom, the next, is expected from Annapolis this afternoon, and Beverly from Charlotte. Then come four boys and girls whose ages and places the reader must guess at as we go on.

The youngest of the family were still young enough to write the names of the presents which they would be glad to receive, or to denote them by rude hieroglyphs, on large sheets of paper. They were wont to pin up these sheets on certain doors, which, by long usage in this free-and-easy family, had come to be regarded as the bulletin-boards of the establishment. Well-nigh every range of created things had some representation on these bulletins,–from an ambling pony round to a “boot- buttenner,” thus spelled out by poor Laura, who was constantly in disgrace, because she always appeared latest at the door when the children started for church, to ride, or for school. The youngsters still held to the theory of announcing thus their wants in advance. Horace doubted whether he were not too old. But there was so much danger that nobody would know how much he needed a jig-saw, that he finally compromised with his dignity, wrote on a virgin sheet of paper, “gig-saw,” signed his name, “Horace Molyneux, Dec. 21,” and left his other presents to conjecture.

And of course at the very end, as Santa Claus and his revels were close upon them, while the work done had been wonderful, that which we ought to have done but which we had left undone, was simply terrible. Here were pictures that must be brought home from the frame-man, who had never pretended he would send them; there were ferns and lycopodiums in pots which must be brought home from the greenhouse; here were presents for other homes, which must not only be finished, but must be put up in paper and sent before night, so as to appear on other trees. Every one of these must be shown to mamma, an approved by her and praised; and every one must be shown to dear Matty, and praised and approved by her. And yet by no accident must Matty see her own presents or dream that any child has remembered her, or mamma see HERS or think herself remembered.