Now, a Christmas story should be one. For a good
many years the ingenious writers have been putting forth
tales for the holiday numbers that employed every
subtle, evasive, indirect and strategic scheme they could
invent to disguise the Christmas flavor. So far has this
new practice been carried that nowadays when you read
a story in a holiday magazine the only way you can tell
it is a Christmas story is to look at the footnote which
reads: ["The incidents in the above story happened on
There is progress in this; but it is all very sad. There are just as
many real Christmas stories as ever, if we would only dig 'em up. Me, I
am for the Scrooge and Marley Christmas story, and the Annie and
Willie's prayer poem, and the long lost son coming home on the stroke of
twelve to the poorly thatched cottage with his arms full of talking
dolls and popcorn balls and--Zip! you hear the second mortgage on the
cottage go flying off it into the deep snow.
So, this is to warn you that there is no subterfuge about this
story--and you might come upon stockings hung to the mantel and plum
puddings and hark! the chimes! and wealthy misers loosening up and
handing over penny whistles to lame newsboys if you read further.
Once I knocked at a door (I have so many things to tell you I keep on
losing sight of the story). It was the front door of a furnished room
house in West 'Teenth Street. I was looking for a young illustrator
named Paley originally and irrevocably from Terre Haute. Paley doesn't
enter even into the first serial rights of this Christmas story; I
mention him simply in explaining why I came to knock at the door--some
people have so much curiosity.
The door was opened by the landlady. I had seen hundreds like her. And I
had smelled before that cold, dank, furnished draught of air that
hurried by her to escape immurement in the furnished house.
She was stout, and her face and lands were as white as though she had
been drowned in a barrel of vinegar. One hand held together at her
throat a buttonless flannel dressing sacque whose lines had been cut by
no tape or butterick known to mortal woman. Beneath this a too-long,
flowered, black sateen skirt was draped about her, reaching the floor in
stiff wrinkles and folds.
The rest of her was yellow. Her hair, in some bygone age, had been
dipped in the fountain of folly presided over by the merry nymph
Hydrogen; but now, except at the roots, it had returned to its natural
grim and grizzled white.
Her eyes and teeth and finger nails were yellow. Her chops hung low and
shook when she moved. The look on her face was exactly that smileless
look of fatal melancholy that you may have seen on the countenance of a
hound left sitting on the doorstep of a deserted cabin.
I inquired for Paley. After a long look of cold suspicion the landlady
spoke, and her voice matched the dingy roughness of her flannel sacque.
Paley? Was I sure that was the name? And wasn't it, likely, Mr.
Sanderson I meant, in the third floor rear? No; it was Paley I wanted.
Again that frozen, shrewd, steady study of my soul from her pale-yellow,
unwinking eyes, trying to penetrate my mask of deception and rout out my
true motives from my lying lips. There was a Mr. Tompkins in the front
hall bedroom two flights up. Perhaps it was he I was seeking. He worked
of nights; he never came in till seven in the morning. Or if it was
really Mr. Tucker (thinly disguised as Paley) that I was hunting I would
have to call between five and ----
But no; I held firmly to Paley. There was no such name among her
lodgers. Click! the door closed swiftly in my face; and I heard through
the panels the clanking of chains and bolts.
I went down the steps and stopped to consider. The number of this house
was 43. I was sure Paley had said 43--or perhaps it was 45 or 47--I
decided to try 47, the second house farther along.
I rang the bell. The door opened; and there stood the same woman. I
wasn't confronted by just a resemblance--it was the SAME woman holding
together the same old sacque at her throat and looking at me with the
same yellow eyes as if she had never seen me before on earth. I saw on
the knuckle of her second finger the same red-and-black spot made,
probably, by a recent burn against a hot stove.
I stood speechless and gaping while one with moderate haste might have
told fifty. I couldn't have spoken Paley's name even if I had remembered
it. I did the only thing that a brave man who believes there are
mysterious forces in nature that we do not yet fully comprehend could
have done in the circumstances. I backed down the steps to the sidewalk
and then hurried away frontward, fully understanding how incidents like
that must bother the psychical research people and the census takers.
Of course I heard an explanation of it afterward, as we always do about
The landlady was Mrs. Kannon; and she leased three adjoining houses,
which she made into one by cutting arched doorways through the walls.
She sat in the middle house and answered the three bells.
I wonder why I have maundered so slowly through the prologue. I have it!
it was simply to say to you, in the form of introduction rife through
the Middle West: "Shake hands with Mrs. Kannon."
For, it was in her triple house that the Christmas story happened; and
it was there where I picked up the incontrovertible facts from the
gossip of many roomers and met Stickney--and saw the necktie.
Christmas came that year on Thursday, and snow came with it.
Stickney (Harry Clarence Fowler Stickney to whomsoever his full
baptismal cognominal burdens may be of interest) reached his address at
six-thirty Wednesday afternoon. "Address" is New Yorkese for "home."
Stickney roomed at 45 West 'Teenth Street, third floor rear hall room.
He was twenty years and four months old, and he worked in a
cameras-of-all-kinds, photographic supplies and films-developed store. I
don't know what kind of work he did in the store; but you must have seen
him. He is the young man who always comes behind the counter to wait on
you and lets you talk for five minutes, telling him what you want. When
you are done, he calls the proprietor at the top of his voice to wait on
you, and walks away whistling between his teeth.
I don't want to bother about describing to you his appearance; but, if
you are a man reader, I will say that Stickncy looked precisely like the
young chap that you always find sitting in your chair smoking a
cigarette after you have missed a shot while playing pool--not billiards
but pool--when you want to sit down yourself.
There are some to whom Christmas gives no Christmassy essence. Of
course, prosperous people and comfortable people who have homes or flats
or rooms with meals, and even people who live in apartment houses with
hotel service get something of the Christmas flavor. They give one
another presents with the cost mark scratched off with a penknife; and
they hang holly wreaths in the front windows and when they are asked
whether they prefer light or dark meat from the turkey they say: "Both,
please," and giggle and have lots of fun. And the very poorest people
have the best time of it. The Army gives 'em a dinner, and the 10 A. M.
issue of the Night Final edition of the newspaper with the largest
circulation in the city leaves a basket at their door full of an apple,
a Lake Ronkonkoma squab, a scrambled eggplant and a bunch of Kalamazoo
bleached parsley. The poorer you are the more Christmas does for you.
But, I'll tell you to what kind of a mortal Christmas seems to be only
the day before the twenty-sixth day of December. It's the chap in the
big city earning sixteen dollars a week, with no friends and few
acquaintances, who finds himself with only fifty cents in his pocket on
Christmas eve. He can't accept charity; he can't borrow; he knows no one
who would invite him to dinner. I have a fancy that when the shepherds
left their flocks to follow the star of Bethlehem there was a
bandy-legged young fellow among them who was just learning the sheep
business. So they said to him, "Bobby, we're going to investigate this
star route and see what's in it. If it should turn out to be the first
Christmas day we don't want to miss it. And, as you are not a wise man,
and as you couldn't possibly purchase a present to take along, suppose
you stay behind and mind the sheep."
So as we may say, Harry Stickney was a direct descendant of the shepherd
who was left behind to take care of the flocks.
Getting back to facts, Stickney rang the doorbell of 45. He had a habit
of forgetting his latchkey.
Instantly the door opened and there stood Mrs. Kannon, clutching her
sacque together at the throat and gorgonizing him with her opaque,
(To give you good measure, here is a story within a story. Once a roomer
in 47 who had the Scotch habit--not kilts, but a habit of drinking
Scotch--began to figure to himself what might happen if two persons
should ring the doorbells of 43 and 47 at the same time. Visions of two
halves of Mrs. Kannon appearing respectively and simultaneously at the
two entrances, each clutching at a side of an open, flapping sacque that
could never meet, overpowered him. Bellevue got him.)
"Evening," said Stickney cheerlessly, as he distributed little piles of
muddy slush along the hall matting. "Think we'll have snow?"
"You left your key," said--
(Here the manuscript ends.)