The house belonged to a couple who had a great many children and very little money. There was a cupboard beneath the stairs filled with shabby little boots; there was a hat-rack in the hall covered with shabby little caps. They were people of education and culture, for there were books in profusion, and the few pictures on the walls showed an artistic taste; they were tidy people also, for everything was in order, and a peep into the firelit room on the right showed the table set ready for the Christmas meal. It was like wandering through the enchanted empty palaces of the dear old fairy-tales, except that it was not a palace at all, and the banquet spread out on the darned white cloth was of so meagre a description, that at the sight the beholders flushed with a shamed surprise.
That Christmas table—should they ever forget it? If they lived to be a hundred years old should they ever again behold a feast so poor in material goods, so rich in beauty of thought? For it would appear that though money was wanting, there was no lack of love and poetry in this lonely home. The table was decked with great bunches of holly, and before every seat a little card bore the name of a member of the family, printed on a card, which had been further embellished by a flower or spray, painted by an artist whose taste was in advance of his skill—"Father," "Mother," "Amy," "Fred," "Norton," "Mary," "Teddums," "May." Eight names in all, but nine chairs,and the ninth no ordinary, cane-seated chair like the rest, but a beautiful, high-backed, carved-oak erection, ecclesiastical in design, which looked strangely out of place in the bare room.
There was no card before this ninth chair, but on the uncushioned seat lay a square piece of cardboard, bordered with a painted wreath of holly, inscribed on which were four short words.
Margaret and Peg read them with a sudden shortening of the breath and smarting of the eyes:
"For the Christ Child!"
"Ah-h!" Margaret's hand stretched out, seized Peg's, and held it fast. In the rush and bustle of the morning it had been hard to realise the meaning of the day: now, for the first time, the spirit of Christmas flooded her heart, filled it with love, with a longing to help and to serve.
"Peg! Peg!" she cried breathlessly. "How beautiful of them! They have so little themselves, but they have remembered the old custom, the sweet old custom, and made Him welcome. . . ."
The Christmas Child by Mrs. G. de Horne Vaizey
Taken from: The
Empire Annual for Girls, 1911, by Various, Edited by A. R. Buckland