Metuchen Edison History Features
In Old Metuchen
David Trumbull Marshall
Published by The Case Publishing Co., Flushing NY 1930
(Second Edition)- (c) 1930
The Night Before Christmas.
(This story, "The Night Before Christmas," was written by my mother, Caroline Trumbull Marshall, sixty years ago.
Sixty years is a long time to wait to have one's manuscript accepted, but the story shall be published for the Editor of this book thinks the story a good one.
Ann was a colored woman and the wife of "Cornelus" whose acquaintance you shall make later.
Ann was one of the good influences of my childhood. She had four children, the oldest an invalid as to body, and the rest, including Cornelus, invalids in mind.)
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
It was the night before Christmas. Ann, our wash-woman, was seated in the corner of the kitchen behind the stove picking ducks - the bright, green feathers of the tails with the quirl at the end she laid carefully apart for the children -the soft breast feathers she tried to put all away in a bag but the fine down would fly off and settle in a fringe round the pots, and cling to the glossy crimps of her hair that peeped out below her turban. They powdered too her eyebrows and her long, black eye-lashes, and made the little ones shout when they came out to claim their treasures of golden, green and glistening brown. They stopped to look lovingly at the bright heads, wishing they too could be saved with all their beauty preserved for the glory of their playhouses.
Poor Ann, she was working now by lamplight, with a kind word for each of the little ones gathered round, enjoying their delight with them and com-forted by the warmth of the sheltered corner where she sat. She had come early in the morning and washed for a family of nine, had ironed a horse full of clothes after noon, and still she worked on be-cause she had promised the ducks should be ready for the Christmas dinner.
I had said to her the week before when she was here, "Ann, you know there is always a good hot fire in the stove and it will bake six pies at a time -- you may do your baking here if you wish and take home your good things all ready for your four little girls." She answered me: "Oh, Mrs. Marshall, I don't never now have nothin' to get ready for Chrismus, When my fust chillens was small I used to try for it, but now when I can get any dinner at home with them it is much as I kin do." So she worked on till her birds lay plump and clean in a long row on the table. She stayed until she had made all tidy and then giving her the bag of feathers and paying her for her fourteen hours' work, I said: "Do not think hard of me because I let you go so empty handed. I would like to share with you what is provided for my little men and women." Lizzie, my eldest, said to me in an undertone, "Mother, you might spare her a pie. I would rather go without myself if she could have one." However we said good night and Ann went home. I could not but think of those four little girls waiting for her, the oldest twelve and the youngest only two, and wishing as they caught sight of the bag of feathers that they might have it to sleep on, and be first to look inside for something nice at daybreak.
We were seated at the breakfast table next morning when their father said, "Now little folks, I am going out with the spring cart and you may all jump in and go with me," and when they began to inquire, "where are we going father," he said, "Well I will take you all over to see Ann. I have a piece of pork ready to take to her and perhaps mother will find something for you." So mother, who had thought it all over before said, "Lizzie, now you may get the pie you wanted to give. It has plums enough in it for all the little thumbs that will come out of four corners over there. And Billy boy, you go catch a chicken big enough to make a meal for them all. Johnny, you get a basket of eggs, and Lina, you may have a can of fruit, and Julie, you get an apple pie, and Dobblekins, you shall have a bag of nuts for them to crack and be sure to tell them not to hammer their fingers as you did. Now Spaddlekins, youngest of all, here is some candy for you and tell Ann you brought something 'sweet, just like yourself.' I will send her a pail of milk, and now all of you be off."
Then such a haze as we had while caps and hoods were put on the seven heads and tippets round the seven little necks and coats and sacks on the seven little backs and mittens on the seventy fingers, and they all stowed away with their baskets, pails and bundles on the bottom of the cart.
When they came to Ann's house the old horse stopped and they shouted "Merry Christmas," till the upper half of the old-time door was opened and Ann, with a puzzled look on her shining face, answered back, "Merry Christmas," and then they began to scramble out and as they crowded into her small room where she was washing, though it was a holiday. They made her sit down and they piled their gifts into her lap and put them round her on the floor, and felt their hearts aglow with the blessedness of giving.
The next day Ann came over and thanked us. "Oh, Mrs. Marshall," she said. "I could do no more work that day. I just sat down and was glad. I tole my chillen I had read just sich a story 'bout sich a s'prise and now it was corned true to us."
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Lasted updated 5/13/99 by Jim Halpin.