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The New Year’s Gift
by [?]

“JUST four weeks off,” said a little boy, striking his hands together, “and papa will be home!”

“Yes, four weeks more, and we shall see dear father. It will be the happiest New Year’s day we ever had; won’t it, mother?” said the little boy’s sister, a bright smile playing over her face.

“I hope so,” replied the mother. “Father has been away so long, his coming home would make any day in the year a happy one.”

“I wonder what he will bring me for a New Year’s present?” said the boy.

“I know what I’ll get,” said the little sister.

“What?”

“A hundred kisses.”

“Oh! I don’t care much for kisses.”

“But I do; and I’m sure of getting them.”

“I wonder what mamma will get?”

“I know!” replied the sister, with an arch smile.

“What?”

“Just what I will.” And the little girl looked at her mother, and smiled still more archly.

“A hundred kisses, you mean?”

“We’ll see.”

The mother’s hand rested from her work, and she looked at her children, with a calm, yet happy face. Their words had caused her to realize, in imagination, with more than usual distinctness, the fact of her husband’s return, which he had written would be on the first day of the coming new year. He had been away for many months, and home had hardly seemed like home during his absence.

“We mustn’t think too much about it,” said the mother, “or we will get so impatient for dear father’s return as to make ourselves unhappy. I am sure we will all love him better than ever we did, when he does come home!”

“I am sure I will,” returned the little girl.

“Oh! I think I never loved him so well in my life as I have since he has been away.”

Thus talked the mother and her children of the return of one whose presence was so dear to them all.

This brief conversation took place in a farm-house. In the room sat, near the fire, a man whose appearance was any thing but pleasant to the eyes. He was a labourer, who had been hired, some months previously, by the farmer. He did not seem to hear what was said, yet he was listening with reluctant attention. The mother and her children continued still to talk of what was uppermost in their minds–the absent one, and his expected return–until the man became restless, and at last got up and went out.

“I don’t wonder Mr. Foster went out of the room,” said the boy, as the person alluded to shut the door.

“Why, Edward?” asked his sister.

“Can’t you think, Maggy?”

“No. What made him go out?”

“Because we said we were so glad papa was coming home on New Year’s day. I’m sure he must have thought of his home. They won’t be so glad to see him on New Year’s day, as we are to see our dear, good father.”

“Why do you say that, my son?” asked the mother.

“I’m sure they can’t be so glad,” said Edward. “I know I wouldn’t be so glad to see my father, if he was like Mr. Foster. Doesn’t he spend nearly all the money he gets in liquor? I’ve heard you say that his poor wife and children hardly have enough to eat or to wear, although he gets very good wages, and could make them comfortable if he would. No, I’m sure they can’t love him as we love our father, nor be as glad to see him come home as we will be to see our father. And he knows it, and that made him go out of the room. He didn’t like to hear us talking.”

The boy was correct in his conclusions. The man Foster, of whom he spoke, did feel troubled. He had children and a wife, and he was absent from them, and had been absent for many months. On New Year’s day he was to go home; but many painful feelings mingled with the thought of seeing his long-neglected and much-abused family. Since he had been away, he had expended more than half his earnings upon himself, and yet his appearance was worse than when he went from home, for, in exchange for his money, he had received only poison.