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Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking
by [?]

The talk of the party was too desultory, too evanescent to follow, but at last they came to the subject of the tramp nuisance, one that had of late vexed the plantations for many miles around. The planter seized the occasion to direct his good-natured fire of raillery at the mistress, accusing her of encouraging the plague. “They swarm up and down the river every winter,” he said. “They overrun New Orleans, and we catch the surplus, which is generally the worst part. And, a day or two ago, Madame New Orleans, suddenly discovering that she can’t go shopping without brushing her skirts against great rows of the vagabonds sunning themselves on the banquettes, says to the police: ‘Catch ’em all,’ and the police catch a dozen or two, and the remaining three or four thousand overflow up and down the levee, and madame there,”–pointing tragically with the carving-knife at her– “feeds them. They won’t work; they defy my overseers, and they make friends with my dogs; and you, madame, feed them before my eyes, and intimidate me when I would interfere. Tell us, please, how many to-day did you thus incite to future laziness and depredation?”

“Six, I think,” said madame, with a reflective smile; “but you know two of them offered to work, for you heard them yourself.”

The planter’s disconcerting laugh rang out again.

“Yes, at their own trades. And one was an artificial-flower maker, and the other a glass-blower. Oh, they were looking for work! Not a hand would they consent to lift to labour of any other kind.”

“And another one,” continued the soft-hearted mistress, “used quite good language. It was really extraordinary for one of his class. And he carried a watch. And had lived in Boston. I don’t believe they are all bad. They have always seemed to me to rather lack development. I always look upon them as children with whom wisdom has remained at a standstill while whiskers have continued to grow. We passed one this evening as we were driving home who had a face as good as it was incompetent. He was whistling the intermezzo from ‘Cavalleria’ and blowing the spirit of Mascagni himself into it.”

A bright eyed young girl who sat at the left of the mistress leaned over, and said in a confidential undertone:

“I wonder, mamma, if that tramp we passed on the road found my stocking, and do you think he will hang it up to-night? Now I can hang up but one. Do you know why I wanted a new pair of silk stockings when I have plenty? Well, old Aunt Judy says, if you hang up two that have never been worn, Santa Claus will fill one with good things, and Monsieur Pambe will place in the other payment for all the words you have spoken–good or bad–on the day before Christmas. That’s why I’ve been unusually nice and polite to everyone to-day. Monsieur Pambe, you know, is a witch gentleman; he–“

The words of the young girl were interrupted by a startling thing.

Like the wraith of some burned-out shooting star, a black streak came crashing through the window-pane and upon the table, where it shivered into fragments a dozen pieces of crystal and china ware, and then glanced between the heads of the guests to the wall, imprinting therein a deep, round indentation, at which, to-day, the visitor to Bellemeade marvels as he gazes upon it and listens to this tale as it is told.

The women screamed in many keys, and the men sprang to their feet, and would have laid their hands upon their swords had not the verities of chronology forbidden.

The planter was the first to act; he sprang to the intruding missile, and held it up to view.

“By Jupiter!” he cried. “A meteoric shower of hosiery! Has communication at last been established with Mars?”

“I should say–ahem–Venus,” ventured a young-gentleman visitor, looking hopefully for approbation toward the unresponsive young-lady visitors.