Here is a story from Chatterbox, 1912. I really, really loved this story!
GILLIAN’S CHRISTMAS – TREE.
‘Mother, can’t we have a Christmas-tree?’ asked Gillian Derwent, one December day, standing by the table, where her widowed mother sat painting Christmas cards, in a shabby sitting-room at Seacombe, a small South-coast watering-place, where they were spending the winter, for the sake of Mrs. Derwent’s health. The town was famed for its mild climate and sunny aspect, but since the Derwents came, a month ago, the weather had been most inclement. The house where they lodged overlooked a strip of garden — bare and flowerless now — and the muddy road that skirted the beach. It was a pretty enough spot in summer, when the sunshine danced on blue waves and silver sands, and the rows of brick villas along the front were crowded with visitors; but it was very bleak and dreary now: the clouds hung low over the hills that formed a semi-circle behind the bay, and leaden foam-crested waves broke on the shore.
Mrs. Derwent raised her pretty pale face from her work, and put her arm round Gillian, as she replied: ‘I am afraid not, Jill; we have very little money, and there are so many things that must be paid for — food and fire and warm clothes and rent. I do not see how I can possibly afford a Christmas-tree. You have the sea to amuse you instead this year.’
Jill looked rather discontentedly at the grey tumbling waves, and said: ‘But, Mother, the sea has nothing to do with Christmas, and it is not so nice in winter when one can’t bathe or go in a boat, or even play on the sands. Could we have a tiny tree? I will make paper ornaments for it, and if anybody should send us presents, we could hang them on it.’
Tears filled her mother’s blue eyes. It was the first Christmas that she had been obliged to deny her children at least a few simple pleasures, and she felt a pant of regret for their North-country home among the pines.
A kind friend there always sent the little Derwents a Christmas-tree. Their father had been a doctor at Woodfell, a large village, and though they were far from rich, they had been very happy in their pretty home till the previous January, when Dr. Derwent was killed by a fall from his horse, one stormy night. Mrs. Derwent had been brought up by a wealthy aunt, as she was an orphan from baby-hood; and Mrs. Mortimer was her only near relative, and had been so angry when her niece insisted on marrying the young doctor, instead of a rich suitor chosen by the elder lady, that she never wrote or spoke to her after her marriage. Now the young widow was left with three children to bring up on very small means: twelve-year-old Gillian, Bertie, who was nine, and Baby Phyllis, who was only three.
‘Christmas-trees are expensive here,’ Mrs. Derwent said gently. ‘I looked at some yesterday, hoping I might be able to buy one, though we never dreamt of doing so at Woodfell, where Mr. Saile always sent us a nice young fir.’
‘Oh, I wish we were back there!’ cried Jill. ‘I don’t though — I forgot that Seacombe is to make you well. I won’t say another word about a tree.’
‘That’s my brave Jill! We must find something nice to do on Christmas Eve instead of it, and now suppose you and Bertie put on your things and go for a walk. It will do you good, and as Baby is asleep, you had better not wake her, especially as it is rather cold for her to go out.’
Gillian got her well-worn fur cap and winter coat and helped chubby Bertie to put on his outdoor garments. Then the pair set out. Mother said they had better go inland, as it was so damp near the sea, so they climbed the hill behind their house, and soon reached a handsome place, shut in by iron gates, through which Jill’s quick eyes caught a glimpse of a shrubbery full of firs.
‘Oh, Bertie, look! Lovely trees just like those Mr. Saile used to send us. I wish we could have one. There are such a number, I’m sure a wee tree would not be missed!’ and Jill looked wistful.
‘Suppose we go and ask for one,’ suggested Bertie, boldly.
‘Oh, we couldn’t! It is rude to ask for things, and Mother would be so vexed,’ replied Jill, but she drew close to the gate, and peeped in, just as a richly-dressed old lady, leaning on a golden-headed stick, and surrounded by several white dogs, came down the avenue. Bertie loved animals,and was so charmed with the little creatures that he pushed open the gate and ran in, but the old lady exclaimed sharply: ‘Now the, be off! How dare you come in? I don’t allow children here.’
Jill flushed hotly, as she drew Bertie away, and the small boy remarked audibly: ‘What a cross old woman! I don’t like her.’
‘Hush, Bertie. We ought not to have peeped in at her gate; but every one was pleased if we ran in to see them at Woodfell, and I forgot it was different here. Oh, I do wish we could go back.’
On their return, Jill told her mother of their adventure, asking if she did not think the old lady was very unkind.
‘Hardly that, dear; she was not very civil, certainly; but many people dislike children, and we are strangers here. You must never go inside any one’s gates unless you are specially invited.’
‘Very well, Mother,’ said Jill, and just then Phyllis woke from her afternoon nap, and as it was getting dusk, Mother put by her painting and got their tea.
For the next week the children walked daily past the big house on the hill — either the dogs or the fir-trees had an attraction for them — but they never ventured near the gates, though they saw the old lady and her pets on the road several times, and she always stared sharply at them.
On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Derwent told the children to go and gather some ivy to eke out the pennyworth of holly she had bought for Christmas decorations. Jill remembered that beyond the ‘Cross Lady’s House’ there was a copse where plenty of ivy grew, and she took Bertie there. It was a mild, sunny day, very unlike the Christmas weather of the North.
As they were busy getting the ivy, they heard piteous cries, and running in the direction of the sound they found a white dog lying whining on the ground, one paw badly crushed and torn, its fluffy coat matted and dirty.
‘It is one of the Cross Lady’s dogs. Poor little thing! we must take it home,’ said Jill, kneeling beside the animal, and shuddering at the sign of its wounded paw.
‘I’m afraid to go to her house. She will be angry,’ said Bertie.
‘We can’t leave the poor dog here to die. It can’t walk, and it’s very week. I must carry it.’ said Jill, lifting the animal tenderly. Then, bidding her brother carry the basket of ivy, she went back to the great gates, and rang the bell very timidly.
A pleasant-faced woman came out of the lodge. ‘Dear me, if that isn’t Snowball! Where did you find him?’ she exclaimed. ‘Mistress will be glad. He was lost for two days. You found him in the wood? He must have got caught in a trap, and managed to pull his leg out. Come up to the house and tell the lady all about it.’
‘I—I’d rather not, please. Will you take the dog and tell the lady we found him in the wood, and as his paw was so bad, I carried him home. I knew he belonged to this house —-‘
‘Because we saw him with the old lady the day she turned us from the gate,’ interrupted Bertie, to Jill’s dismay. ‘I’m not going to see her — she scolded me.’
‘She won’t scold you now, little man. She will be pleased to get the dog. Come, I will go up too, and explain to Mistress,’ said the kind woman, taking the child’s hand, and leading him up the long avenue, while Jill walked beside her with the dog in her arms. They were shown into a beautiful room where the old lady sat by the fire with two other dogs at her feet, and there was a chorus of exclamations and barks, when the lodge-woman entered with the children and Snowball.
‘You are a kind little girl to bring the dog home,’ the old lady said, looking sharply at Jill. ‘He would have died if he had been another night out in the wood. I suppose he went to hunt rabbits and got hurt. I think you are the children I sent away from the gate the other day. I dare say you meant no harm, but I don’t like people hanging about the place. What were you looking at?’
‘Please, the Christmas-trees (I—I mean the fir-trees), they remind me of the ones we used to have at home. We can’t have one this year, because we are very poor now, but I just wanted to look at the trees.’
‘As you were so kind to Snowball, I shall tell the gardener to take up a nice young fir for you. What do you live. You are strangers here, I know. Tell me your name? You are so like a little girl I used to be very fond of!’ said the old lady with a faint sigh.
‘I am Gillian Derwent, but every one calls me Jill, because Mother is Gillian too. We used to live in Fellshire, but Father died and Mother was ill, so we came here for the winter.’
‘Did your mother ever mention her Aunt Phyllis?’ asked the old lady in great agitation.
‘Oh, yes. Baby is called after her, and Mother often cries because Aunt Phyllis never, never writes to her — not even when Father died! Oh, please, what is the matter?’ as the old lady rose to her feet, white and trembling.
‘I am your Great-aunt Phyllis,’ she said. ‘Take me to your mother, child. I must order the carriage,’ and a few minutes later the children were rolling by the ‘Cross Lady’s’ side along the sea-road, and soon drew up at ‘Myrtle Cottage,’ where Mrs. Derwent could hardly believe her eyes when she saw who her visitor was.
‘I have found you at last, Gillian, and I hope you will forgive me,’ the old woman said. ‘I have been sorry I was so harsh with you for many years, but I was too proud to take the first step towards making friends, and as I was abroad last year I did not hear of your husband’s death. I left London long ago, and took a place here, but I am a lonely old woman, and I hope you and the children will make your home with me. You have some affection for me still, I think, as I hear the youngest is called Phyllis. Will you forgive me and come?’
‘Oh, Aunt, how thankful I shall be to do so!’ Mrs. Derwent said, bursting into tears.
‘Come, dry your eyes and get ready. We must get back at once, if Jill is to have her Christmas-tree this evening!’ said Aunt Phyllis hastily.
And so it happened that Gillian had her wish and they spent a happy Christmas with the ‘Cross Lady’ and the little white dogs.
Maud G. Sargent.