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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhat Might Have Been Expected - Chapter 7. Aunt Matilda's Christmas
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What Might Have Been Expected - Chapter 7. Aunt Matilda's Christmas Post by :Dusty13 Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2582

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What Might Have Been Expected - Chapter 7. Aunt Matilda's Christmas

CHAPTER VII. AUNT MATILDA'S CHRISTMAS

When Harry and Kate held council that afternoon, their affairs looked a little discouraging. Kate's sumac was weighed, and it was only seven pounds! Seven whole cents, if they took it out in trade, or five and a quarter cents, as Kate calculated, if they took cash. A woman as large as Aunt Matilda could not be supported on that kind of an income, it was plain enough.

But our brave boy and girl were not discouraged. Harry went after his bag the next day, and found it with about ten pounds of leaves in it. Then, for a week or two, he and his sister worked hard and sometimes gathered as much as twenty-five pounds of leaves in a day. But they had their bad days, when there was a great deal of walking and very little picking.

And then, in due course of time, school began and the sumac season was at an end, for the leaves are not merchantable after they begin to turn red, although they are then a great deal prettier to look at.

But then Harry went out early in the morning, and on Saturdays, and shot hares and partridges, and Kate began to sell her chickens, of which she had twenty-seven (eighteen died natural deaths, or were killed by weasels during the summer), they found that they made more money than they could have made by sumac gathering.

"It's a good deal for you two to do for that old woman," said Captain Caseby, one day.

"But, didn't we promise to do it?" said Miss Kate, bravely. "We'd do twice as much, if there were two of her."

It was very fortunate, however, that there were not two of her.

Sometimes they had extraordinary luck. Early one November morning Harry was out in the woods and caught sight of a fat wild-turkey.

Bang!--one dollar.

That was enough to keep Aunt Matilda for a week.

At least it ought to have kept her. But there was something wrong somewhere. Every week it cost more and more to keep the old colored woman in what Harry called "eating material."

"Her appetite must be increasing," said Harry; "she's eaten two pecks of meal this week."

"I don't believe it," said Kate; "she couldn't do it. I believe she has company."

And this turned out to be true.

On inquiry they found that Uncle Braddock was in the habit of taking his meals with Aunt Matilda, sometimes three times a day. Now, Uncle Braddock had a home of his own, where he could get his meals if he chose to go after them, and Harry remonstrated with him on his conduct.

"Why, ye see, Mah'sr Harry," said the old man, "she's so drefful lonesome down dar all by sheself, and sometimes it's a-rainin' an' a long way fur me to go home and git me wrapper all wet jist fur one little meal o' wittles. And when I see what you all is a-doin' fur her, I feels dat I oughter try and do somethin' fur her, too, as long as I kin; an' I can't expect to go about much longer, Mah'sr Harry; de ole wrapper's pretty nigh gin out."

"I don't mind your taking your meals there, now and then," said Harry; "but I don't want you to live there. We can't afford it."

"All right, Mah'sr Harry," said Uncle Braddock, and after that he never came to Aunt Matilda's to meals more than five or six times a week.

And now Christmas, always a great holiday with the negroes of the South, was approaching, and Harry and Kate determined to try and give Aunt Matilda extra good living during Christmas week, and to let her have company every day if she wanted it.

Harry had a pig. He got it in the spring when it was very small, and when its little tail was scarcely long enough to curl. There was a story about his getting this pig.

He and some other boys had been out walking, and several dogs went along with them. The dogs chased a cat--a beautiful, smooth cat, that belonged to old Mr. Truly Matthews. The cat put off at the top of her speed, which was a good deal better than any speed the dogs could show, and darted up a tree right in front of her master's house. The dogs surrounded the tree and barked as if they expected to bark the tree down. One little fuzzy dog, with short legs and hair all over his eyes, actually jumped into a low crotch, and the boys thought he was going to try to climb the tree. If he had ever reached the cat he would have been very sorry he had not stayed at home, for she was a good deal bigger than he was. Harry and his friends endeavored to drive the dogs away from the tree, but it was of no use. Even kicks and blows only made them bark the more. Directly out rushed Mr. Truly Matthews, as angry as he could be. He shouted and scolded at the boys for setting their dogs on his cat, and then he kicked the dogs out of his yard in less time than you could count seventy-two. He was very angry, indeed, and talked about the shocking conduct of the boys to everybody in the village. He would listen to no explanations or excuses.

Harry was extremely sorry that Mr. Matthews was so incensed against him, especially as he knew there was no cause for it, and he was talking about it to Kate one day, when she exclaimed:

"I'll tell you what will be sure to pacify Mr. Matthews, Harry. He has a lot of little pigs that he wants to sell. Just you go and buy one of them, and see if he isn't as good-natured as ever, when he sees your money."

Harry took the advice. He had a couple of dollars, and with them he bought a little pig, the smallest of the lot; and Mr. Matthews, who was very much afraid he could not find purchasers for all his pigs, was as completely pacified as Kate thought he would be.

Harry took his property home, and all through the summer and fall the little pig ran about the yard and the fields and the woods, and ate acorns--and sweet potatoes and turnips when he could get a chance to root them up with his funny little twitchy nose--and grunted and slept in the sun; and about the middle of December he had grown so big that Harry sold him for eleven dollars. Here was quite a capital for Christmas.

"I can't afford to spend it all on Aunt Matilda," said Harry to his mother and Kate, "for I have other things to do with my money. But she's bound to have a good Christmas, and we'll make her a present besides."

Kate was delighted with his idea, and immediately began to suggest all sorts of things for the present. If Harry chose to buy anything that she could "make up," she would go right to work at it. But Harry could not think of anything that would suit exactly, and neither could Kate, nor their mother; and when Mr. Loudon was taken into council, at dinner-time, he could suggest nothing but an army blanket--which suggestion met with no favor at all.

At last Mr. Loudon advised that they should ask Aunt Matilda what she would like to have for a present.

"There's no better way of suiting her than that," said he.

So Harry and Kate went down to the old woman's cabin that afternoon, after school, and asked her.

Aunt Matilda did not hesitate an instant.

"Ef you chil'en is really a-goin' to give me a present, there ain't nothin' I'd rather have than a Chrismis tree."

"A Christmas tree!" cried Harry and Kate both bursting out laughing.

"Yes, indeed, chil'en. Ef ye give me anything, give me a good big fiery Chrismis tree like you all had, year 'fore las'."

Two years before, Harry and Kate had had their last Christmas tree. There were no younger children, and these two were now considered to have outgrown that method of celebrating Christmas. But they had missed their tree last year--missed it very much.

And now Aunt Matilda wanted one. It was the very thing!

"Hurrah!" cried Harry; "you shall have it. Hurrah for Aunt Matilda's Christmas tree!"

"Hurrah!" cried Kate; "won't it be splendid? Hurrah!"

"Hurrah!" said Uncle Braddock, who was just coming up to the cabin door, but he did not shout very loud, and nobody heard him.

"Hurrah! I wonder what dey's all hurrahin' about?" he said to himself.

Harry and Kate had started off to run home with the news, but Aunt Matilda told the old man all about it, and when he heard there was to be a Christmas tree, he was just as glad as anybody.

When it became generally known that Aunt Matilda was to have a Christmas tree, the people of the neighborhood took a great interest in the matter. John Walker and Dick Ford, two colored men of the vicinity, volunteered to get the tree. But when they went out into the woods to cut it, eighteen other colored people, big and little, followed them, some to help and some to give advice.

A very fine tree was selected. It was a pine, ten feet high, and when they brought it into Aunt Matilda's cabin, they could not stand it upright, for her ceiling was rather low.

When Harry and Kate came home from school they were rather surprised to see so big a tree, but it was such a fine one that they thought they must have it. After some consideration it was determined to erect it in a deserted cabin, near by, which had no upper floor, and was high enough to allow the tree to stand up satisfactorily. This was, indeed, an excellent arrangement, for it was better to keep the decoration of the Christmas tree a secret from Aunt Matilda until all was completed.

The next day was a holiday, and Harry and Kate went earnestly to work. A hole was dug in the clay floor of the old cabin, and the tree planted firmly therein. It was very firm, indeed, for a little colored boy named Josephine's Bobby climbed nearly to the topmost branch, without shaking it very much. For four or five days the work of decorating the tree went on. Everybody talked about it, a great many laughed at it, and nearly everybody seemed inclined to give something to hang upon its branches. Kate brought a large box containing the decorations of her last Christmas tree, and she and Harry hung sparkling balls, and golden stars, and silver fishes, and red and blue paper angels, and candy swans, and sugar pears, and glittering things of all sorts, shapes, and sizes upon the boughs. Harry had a step-ladder, and Dick Ford and five colored boys held it firmly while he stood on it and tied on the ornaments. Very soon the neighbors began to send in their contributions. Mrs. Loudon gave a stout woollen dress, which was draped over a lower branch; while Mr. Loudon, who was not to be diverted from his original idea, sent an army blanket, which Kate arranged around the root of the tree, so as to look as much as possible like gray moss. Mr. Darby, who kept the store, sent a large paper bag of sugar and a small bag of tea, which were carefully hung on lower branches. Miss Jane Davis thought she ought to do something, and she contributed a peck of sweet potatoes, which, each tied to a string, were soon dangling from the branches. Then Mr. Truly Matthews, who did not wish to be behind his neighbors in generosity, sent a shoulder of bacon, which looked quite magnificent as it hung about the middle of the tree. Other people sent bars of soap, bags of meal, packages of smoking-tobacco, and flannel petticoats. A pair of shoes was contributed, and several pairs of stockings, which latter were filled with apples and hickory-nuts by the considerate Kate. Several of the school children gave sticks of candy; and old Mrs. Sarah Page, who had nothing else to spare, brought a jug of molasses, which was suspended near the top of the tree. Kate did not fancy the appearance of the jug, and she wreathed it with strings of glittering glass balls; and the shoulder of bacon she stuck full of red berries and holly-leaves. Harry contributed a bright red handkerchief for Aunt Matilda's head, and Kate gave a shawl which was yellower than a sunflower, if such a thing could be. And Harry bore the general expenses of the "extras," which were not trifling.

When Christmas eve arrived everybody came to see Aunt Matilda's Christmas tree. Kate and Harry were inside superintending the final arrangements, and about fifty or sixty persons, colored and white, were gathered around the closed door of the old cabin. When all was ready Aunt Matilda made her appearance, supported on either side by Dick Ford and John Walker, while Uncle Braddock, in his many-colored dressing-gown, followed close behind. Then the door was opened, and Aunt Matilda entered, followed by as many of the crowd as could get in. It was certainly a scene of splendor. A wood fire blazed in the fireplace at one end of the cabin, while dozens of tallow candles lighted up the tree. The gold and silver stars glistened, the many-colored glass balls shone among the green pine boughs; the shoulder of bacon glowed like a bed of flowers, while the jug of molasses hung calm and serene, surrounded by its glittering beads. A universal buzz of approbation and delight arose. No one had ever seen such a Christmas tree before. Every bough and every branch bore something useful as well as ornamental.

As for Aunt Matilda, for several moments she remained speechless with delight. At last she exclaimed:

"Laws-a-massey! It's wuth while being good for ninety-five years to git such a tree at las'."

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