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W. L. W. White: Our Boys, How Christmas Eve was enjoyed years ago

[The following is reprinted from the Dec. 25, 1886, edition of the Daily Reporter., McMinnville, Vol. 1, No. 95; price: 2 cents]

Eighteen years ago Christmas eve, in the city of N——, a group of six young men might have been seen around the vestibule of Grace church. There were services and a Christmas tree afterwards, and the young men were making some plan to pass away the evening. They were all in the early flush of manhood, the eldest being about 20, while the youngest was in the neighborhood of 17 summers. As they talked in earnest conversation, the people began to arrive and they drew back from the door to finish their plans before entering.

“Then it is settled boys,” said Harry Slater. “After the entertainment we are all to meet here and for the first time in our lives play Santa Claus and make the poor happy for one day at least.”

“Then we can’t go to the ball,” said Frank Hastings.

“Well, it is hard to give that up,” replied Willie Blackwood, “but the tickets are $1.50 each. There are six of us and that would be $9. Just think how many good things we can get for that sum.”

Now look here fellers,” put in Charley Mason; “You know what we promised the girls and how are you going to get around that? Why! Miss Maud Chamberlain would not speak to me again if I failed to put in appearance for her at the appointed time.”

“It is a bad fix,” remarked Lawrence Sherman the eldest of all, a quiet young man, “but I uphold Blackwood in what he says. The money wasted on the ball would be but a temporary pleasure, while if put into a basket of good things it would make so many happy, that for my part the sacrifice would be comparatively small.”

“Here is my view,” said Ernest Inglewood. “Lawrence is the eldest of us all. I say let us count our money and give it to him, reserving but a dollar and a half each, and if afterwards we repent, can put that in, too. We will stay and attend the service and let Lawrence go and get a sleigh; buy all he can; get some masks to disguise our faces, and we will meet him at Mason’s Bazaar at 9 o’clock.”

“Good!” cried all the boys together, “that is the best plan of all. Let’s count out the cash!”

There was a good deal searching of pockets, and as fast as the boys got the money in the hands they put it into Lawrence’s hat, retaining only a dollar and a half each. 

“Thirty-seven dollars here,” said Lawrence, “and nine more in our pockets, making $46 all told. Gracious! We can get the sleigh full.”

The boys all laughed at the coming fun as Lawrence put the money in his pocket.

“I’ll go now and get everything ready so when you come down we’ll start. Shall I speak to your father, Charley, about what we propose to do. He might help us?”

“By all means,” answered Charley Mason.

Just then the great organ in the loft began a low, solemn voluntary, and the boys hastily entered and took their placed in the choral.

The organist, a new player recently from New York, proved to be an artist of more than ordinary ability. The rich melody rose and fell in exquisite harmony; now loud and deep, then low and sweet, carrying one’s thoughts way beyond the River of Life into that mysterious hence, where angelic voices steal softly o’er the longing soul. During this voluntary the rector of Christ church entered the chancel and knelt at the altar. While the pastor was engaged in offering up his silent prayer, the organist played with soft pedals and the music came floating down from the organ loft as if it were ever so far away; low, sad-like and dreamy. The sweet sounds grew fainter and fainter; only an echo remained. As the minister arose from his kneeling position, the organ opened forth in a grand, triumphant burst of melody. The building seemed fairly to tremble as the great bass pipes sent forth their notes. It seemed as though this huge organ was thundering forth. “Remember the poor, for on this day Christ, the Son of man was born.”

The boys stood ready with their parts as the soprano began Handel’s beautiful oratorio, the Creation — Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will toward man. The soprano sang with rare sweetness tonight and when Ernest Inglewood commenced his tenor part in a duo with Miss Royal, way down in his heart a small voice was crying, “remember the poor.”

Ernest sang with unusual effect and his pure tenor voice was heard in every part of the church. When the quartet came forth there were many handkerchiefs in demand as from the organ loft came the sweet strains of the Mesiah: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” 

The rector, Mr. Paxton, mounted his pulpit and in clear voice said:

“Let us pray.”

It was a prayer that penetrated to the hearts core of more than one poor sinner that sat in that congregation in costly garments. He prayed for the audience; he asked blessings on the poor as well as the rich; but one sentence that struck deep in the hearts of the young men was, as nearly as I can remember, as follows:

“And now, most heavenly Father I beseech you to install in the hearts of those present a kind remembrance of the poor and lonely. Guide them thou great Director, in the holy paths of charity, for sweet charity’s sake, for there are countless numbers in our city tonight that look upon the coming of the morrow with dread and fear, for their treasury is empty and poverty stands at the half shut door.”

After the sermon the Christmas tree was tendered to the children and our boys left the church and hastened to Mason’s Bazaar, where they found Lawrence in a hearty voice. “Hurry up and get in for we have no time to lose.”

“Hold on a minute you jolly old Saint,” said Ernest Inglewood, “here’s my dollar and a half. I find that my conscience will not permit of my keeping it,” and he gave the money to Lawrence.

“And here’s mine, too,” chimed the boys one after another.

“You see,” said Ernest by way of explanation, “we had a splendid sermon and the seed fell in good places.”

Thanks, thanks, you dear fellows,” enthusiastically said Lawrence. “I had to go in debt a little. I bought sixteen turkeys and ran short seven dollars, but now we are all right, so jump in.”

Lawrence had provided a lot of bells, and the boys left Mason’s Bazaar, a large crowd that had congregated to watch them off, gave a grand cheer when Mr. Mason informed them what the boys had done, and several voices in the crowd could be heard to say: “God bless them, God bless them; hope they’ll find my house.”

A drive of two miles and they were in the outskirts of the city, and near the manufacturing village of Willamantic. The boys drove slowly into town, first removing the bells so as to make no noise. Passing down the almost deserted streets, the boys got out of the sleigh and taking a turkey in one hand, a basket of candies, nuts, oranges, apples and toys, in the other, they separated according to Lawrence’s directions, and went to the abodes of those who had combated with fate, only to be thrust unheadingly aside, crushed and discouraged.

The first house that Ernest Inglewood visited was somewhat apart from the rest. There was a faint light in the window but no curtain, through which Ernest could see a father and mother sitting by the stove to keep warm, while by the chimney place hung four small stockings as empty as the open air. Ernest drew near the window and listened. He heard the father say:

“It’s no use mother; I can’t get a cent anywhere. I went to Mr. Mean for a little money till the mill started up, but he said he could not spare it. The stores won’t trust any of us. I got a chance this afternoon to cut some wood and a man gave me fifty cents and a dozen big red apples. So we can fill those dear little stockings with love and apples, this year, dear wife, and the fifty cents will get us some meat and cread for the morrow, and the poor little ones up stars won’t lose their faith in Santa Claus.”

Ernest’s eyers were running with tears so fast that he said afterward “the he thought he would melt all the snow around where he stood.” Approaching the door quietly, he opened it wide and in a gruff voice said:

“Kind folks, Old Santa Claus is out here in the street and he sent me here to wish you a Merry Christmas, so look out.” And with a quick motion Ernest hit the father with a turkey, and nearly knocked the mother down with a package of toys, nuts, etc., and then ran away like a reindeer before they could say a word.

Lawrence in the meantime had been making up more parcels and when the boys retuned in high spirits, he bade them be quiet and quickly dispatched them away. 

This time the boys went all together. As they came to a house one of them would run up, throw the door open and yell “Merry Christmas,” slam the turkey at the table, leave a bundle of toys and go pell mell into the darkness.

What fun they had. When they had delivered about half of their stock they noticed many lights appearing, and fearing that they would be discovered, they would drive up to a house (they had put all the sleigh bells on), making a merry jingle, jingle, knock at the door, and when some one appeared they would throw a package at him, and before the attacked party could pick themselves up, these boys were off and away to the next house. The last house was quite away out on the road home. As they approached this place, Lawrence said:

“Boys, you have had all the fun. It’s my turn now.” Taking the last basket of packages, he departed.

He was absent but a few minutes when the boys in the sleigh heard music, and then singing. Their curiosity was instantly aroused and driving the horses into an empty shed that stood nearby, they quickly started for the house where the music was in progress. As Charley Mason, who was in advance, was within a few feet of the house he turned, as a flood of melody came pouring forth from the dwelling, and beckoning his companions to him said:

“Well I never! Who do you think that is that’s singing? Wll it’s just Maud Chamberlain and no one else. But what in the world is she doing here. I’m going to find out.”

As Charley started toward the house the door swung open, and the boys could see that there was quite a gathering. Approaching nearer, they heard laughing, and Maud Chamberlain wa saying:

“What in the world possessed these boys to do such a thing, Mr. Mason?”

“Now Miss Maud, you have me cornered. I am of the opinion that Lawrence Sherman and Ernest Inglewood put it into their heads. At any rate it is deserving of much praise, as the boys had saved up their money to enjoy the holidays, and now it’s all gone.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Mrs. Mason, who with a party of ladies and gentlemen had entered joyously into a plan to help the boys, and they had gathered a number of children at this house and were having a Christmas tree. “I am proud of all the boys. If we could only catch them; but I am afraid the girls will not be able to get the sleigh without the boys hearing them.” 

“What in thunder does she mean,” said Charley in a stage whisper.

“Looks as though they had sent a party of girls out to capture us. I believe Lawrence knew all about this and has given us away. Let’s make a rush for the sleigh before the girls get there, and go a skating home and leave Lawrence,” they all cried together.

“All right,” whispered Charley. The boys stole quietly back to the shed and as Charley jumped into the sleigh, he fell plump into a pair of soft little arms that flew around his neck and held him a prisoner while a pair of rosy lips let out a peal of laughter.

“Let’s go,” cried Charley, struggling. “Who are you? Help, boys.”

But the boys were in the same fix and could lend no aid.

“Isn’t this jolly?” cried Mamie Mason, who had her brother a prisoner. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Only think a party of timid girls capturing five brave young men. Oh, my,” and the merry girl laughed and clapped her hands in great glee.

The girls took the boys back to the house, and presented them to the company. They received kind words for their praiseworthy act, and were rewarded by being taken into Mr. Mason’s large sleigh with the girls and given a splendid sleigh ride, also an elegant supper at Mr. Mason’s residence, which none of them ever forgot.

And this is how six young men many years ago, acted upon the impulse of a generous moment, when the angels in Heaven were singing into their hearts, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will toward man.”

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