The following story is from one of the first antique books I ever owned. It is from the 1880s, and it is called Merry Doings of Childhood. It has fantastic stories, and has some of the most beautiful pictures that are still vibrant and dark.
Some stories are not so sunny. They are there to be used as a warning—much like the Public Service Announcements, or PSAs, that are floating around the ‘net from past years. Here is a cautionary tale about being careful outside in the snow!
A few years ago I spent a Christmas with some relations of mine at a country parsonage. It was a pleasant house to spend the Christmas in; or, indeed, to visit at any time in the year, I can tell you; and I need hardly add—for how could Christmas be merry without them?—that there was a family of children at the parsonage. There were four children,—one girl and three boys,—Fred, Louis, Ronald (he is the little friend I am going to tell you about to-day), and dear little Jessie, that you see in the picture, comng down the hill behind her brothers.
Such fun and merry-making! Such coasting and snowballing by the old school-house, such rosey cheeks and bright eyes, such a Christmas-tree, and such a profusion of evergreen everywhere at the parsonage that Christmas! Then the supplies of roast turkeys, geese, beef, plum-puddings, and mince-pies that issued from the parsonage kitchen seemed unlimited; and let me tell you, the poor people round about had their full share in all those good things. In short, Christmas was kept in true spirit; kept as, it is said, our forefathers kept it, when the yule-log blazed upon the hearth, and
“The poor did not want, but had for relief
Plum-pudding, goose, capon, mince-pies, and roast beef.”
But now for my story. It was the day before Christmas, and I was passing through the hall on my way from the dining-room, where we had just had lunch, when I felt a cold blast that set me shivering, and discovered that the hall-door was open. The four children were all standing in the porch, watching the snow-flakes as they came whirling down thicker and thicker every minute. Louis, Fred, and Jessier were under
shelter, but that merry little pickle Ronald—a child of seven years old—was outside, trying to catch the snow-flakes as they fell.
“Do come in, children,” I cried, “and shut the door.”
“We are looking at the feather Mother Goose is plucking,” said little Jessie; “but it is cold.”
“Come along, Ronald,” said Louis, catching hold of his little brother’s arm.
“No, I won’t come in!” answered Ronald. “It is the first snow I have seen this winter.”
“Very well,” said Louis, with all the dignity of a public-school boy, “then stay out; but I wont have the door left open.”
As he spoke, Louis shut the door upon Ronald. I was already settled by the drawing-room fire, when Fred told me house Louis had shut Ronald out in the snow. I instantly went to teh door and opened it: the little boy was not to be seen. I called, “Ronald! Ronald!” but no answer came. Returning into the house, I told his mamma what had happened, and she thought he had, no doubt, run round the back of the house, and gone in by the kitchen. After waiting a little while, as he still did not appear, we went into the kitchen to inquire. No; he had not been through that way. There stood the pudding-pan with the materials in it, and the wooden spoon too, all ready for the family stir. The cook was red-faced and smiling, but had seen “no sign of Master Ronald there.”
We went to the hall-door and looked out again, when we saw the rector, who had been out to visit some sick parishioner, come trudging home through the snow. He laughed at our alarm, and said to his wife, “Depend upon it, my dear, the naughty boy has got back into the house somehow,and is only hiding himself.”
An hour went by, then all began to be seriously anxious. The servants were set to work to search the house thoroughly, then the gardener’s cottage, the stables, the cow-house, even the pigsty, were all looked into. No Ronald was to be found.
The short December day was closing in. The snow had
ceased; there was a hard frost, and the stars were beginning to peep out, like golden lamps hanging in the sky. I stood at the drawing-room window, looking at all this, though thinking only of poor Ronald. Suddenly it struck me how easily any one might hide behind the trunk of an enormous oak, which grew opposite to the windows, at the farther end of the garden. The thought had no sooner crossed my mind than I hastened out, and felt disappointed and surprised, on approaching the tree, to find no one standing behind it. Luckily I went close up to it; then I discovered what I was in search of.
His body and legs covered with snow, his little head resting agianst the tree, and with one hand peeping up through the snow like a snowdrop,—there lay the insensible form of my dear little friend. I raised him up, and, staggering under his weight, carried him into the house, calling out as I entered teh door, “I have found him! I have found him!” But the poor father and mother were hardly less anxious than before, when they beheld the white face and stiff limbs of their little boy. The doctor was sent for instantly, and fortunately soon arrived, for we knew not how to treat the child. Under his care Ronald soon recovered his senses, and he was sufficiently well the next evening to enjoy his merry Christmas with the rest.
His own account of all that happened to him was simply this: while hiding behind the tree, waiting for somebody to come look for him, he felt, first, very cold, then very sleepy, and he remembered nothing more. This drowsiness is a common effect of cold, and if the little boy had remained out an hour or two longer, he might never have awakened.
The good clergy man and his wife—and all of us indeed—found in this dear child’s recovery an additional reason for thanksgiving to God on that happy Christmas day.