Peggy's Christmas Present

ELAINE HAMILTON December 1 1923

Peggy's Christmas Present

ELAINE HAMILTON December 1 1923

Peggy's Christmas Present

ELAINE HAMILTON

PEGGY sat on the playroom floor and looked disconsolately at the toys ranged before her. There was, first of all, dear old Teddy, a trifle rakish and weather-beaten; but being dragged through life by the ear would make the stoutest of teddy bears appear slightly dishevelled. Next to him sprawled a coal-black golliwog, grinning under a grotesque scarlet wig. Peggy never had appreciated that present of Auntie Elsie’s. It had taken her some time to get used to the hideous, ever-smiling face and stiff, unnatural limbs. One simply could not cuddle Matilda.

With a little sigh she turned to Uncle Jack’s last Christmas present, a large woolly lamb on wheels. It had been great fun for a while to pull it up and down the nursery floor, but one of the wheels had come off and lost itself, and made the lamb look rather silly and lop-sided.

Besides, Peggy remembered that when she fell and knocked her knee and the tears would come, woolly lamb never comforted her a bit. He seemed too big to hold in her arms and bits of him stuck into her uncomfortably. No, woolly lamb never had met the case.

Huddled by him, were the old stand-bys of years: a rag dollT decrepit and barely recognizable, and Billy the rabbit.

P’raps last year if one shut one’s eyes very tight, one could pretend that Billy was—but one simply couldn’t pretend any more now one was six years old.

Propped near by were tin soldiers, a clockwork boat (long since broken), boxes of bricks and various balls and odd toys.

Peggy’s wistful blue eyes glanced over the collection sadly.

She knew them all by heart.

Oh, why didn’t aunties and uncles understand that at six years old one couldn’t waste time with that sort of toy any longer? One ought to be really busy at that age, playing mothers with golden-haired dolls —washing and ironing and making clothes and hats for them.

It was no use making dresses or coats for Teddy-bear or Matilda; Teddy didn’t need clothes and Peggy did not care whether Matilda needed them or not. And anyhow, nobody so ugly as Matilda ought to have clothes. Teddy-bear was certainly the toy she loved best, but even he lacked something.

She struggled hard to keep back the tears; big girls aged six didn’t cry, mummy said. But, of course, mummy was really too busy to understand just how much Peggy wanted the thing she only whispered to herself now, for mummy had said that new toys were dreffuly ’spensive, and Peggy must be content with the toys she had until Christmas.

LTNTIL Christmas! That was Peggy’s great trouble now. In another few days Christmas would be here and how could she tell mummy exactly what her little heart was aching for. New toys were dreffully ’spensive, mummy had said, and only yesterday she had heard daddy say to mummy with a sigh: “Oh, my dear, how I wish I had more money. You ought to have a fur coat. It is hard that I can’t buy you presents like other men give their wives.” And mummy had kissed him and said, “Never mind, Dick, we have each other and Peggy and our home.”

Peggy had climbed on a chair after that, taken her red post office money, box off the nursery mantelpiece,

and asked daddy please to use all the pennies to buy mummy a fur coat.

Daddy’s eyes had seemed all wet and funny as he had kissed her, thanked her very gravely and promised that one day he and Peggy would buy mummy a nice present together. They had hugged each other very tight then as if they had a big secret in common.

All the same, Peggy knew that now she simply couldn’t tell daddy and fnummy about what was in the shop window just round the corner by the Guildhall. Supposing they knew how much she wanted it, and went and spent all their pennies on buying it for Peggy instead of buying that fur coat for dear mummy! It would be a terrible thing for mummy to be cold just because her selfish, little girl wanted a dollie that opened and shut its eyes, and squawked “Mamma” and had real clothes that would come off and go on. Clothes that would have to be washed and ironed; darling little coats and frocks that made Peggy squirm with joy to think of. Yes, that was all she thought of and longed for by day and dreamed of by night. The

golden haired dollie that opened and shut its eyes! The dollie she had gazed at with bated breath every time she passed the shop.

She ached to cradle it in her little arms. Oh, how gentle and careful she would be never to let it fall; what lovely games they could play, and how busy she would be working hard for it just as mummy worked for her.

Instead, she had golliwogs and teddy bears; woolly rabbits and clockwork ships that wouldn’t go. And new toys were ’spensive.

Slowly she packed the motley collection back in her play cupboard. Perhaps Annie would be ready soon and be able to take her for a walk, and then she would see again in the shop window the big baby doll she loved so much.

HALF way down the staircase was Annie, the little maidof-all-work, dusting the stairs and singing a hymn in her clear, shrill voice. Peggy had often heard the words without understanding their meaning.

“They who offer prayer and sacrifice

Shall reap their heart’s desire,”

sang Annie with a flick of the duster as she finished her work.

“Annie, what does that mean?”

The singer looked up through the tiny swirls of dust at the little figure poised on the landing.

“D’you mean the words of that hymn, Miss Peggy?”

Peggy nodded, curling up on the top stair expectant of information. Annie was grown-up, and grown-ups understand all about difficult words.

Annie rubbed her head and leaned against the stair rails for support in this ordeal. Miss Peggy was always asking such extraordinary questions. However—

“Well, it means if you want à thing very, very much, you must pray to God for it and then give up something you like. Sacrifice means giving up something you’re fond of to somebody who wants it badly,” she explained slowly.

Peggy had already overweighted her prayers with applications for the baby doll that opened and shut its eyes, but sacrifice was new to her.

“Give away something you’re fond of to someone who1 wants it badly,” she murmured. The only thing she was really fond of was her beloved Teddy-bear; if she gave him away there would be nothing left. Now if she could only part with black-faced Matilda! But Annie said it had to be' something you really liked or else it wasn’t sacrifice.

“Mummy dear, are my toys weally my very own to do what I like wiv?” she asked.

Mummy patted the golden curls tenderly. “Why, of course they are, my sweet.”

“To give away if I like?”

“To give away if you like,” Mummy replied with a smile at the earnest little face. “Annie ’s ready to take you for a walk, dear. Run along before the sun goes down.”

Six-years-old trotted back to the playroom with

puckered brow7. The path w7as all clear now7; if you

wanted your heart’s desire and simply couldn't ask

Daddy and Mummy, you prayed hard and then sac-wi-

ficed—Peggy said the new7 w7ord carefully—what you

loved best. She opened the playroom cupboard and lifted

Teddy-bear out almost reverently. Poor, darling Teddy!

Continued on page 51

Peggy’s Chris tmas Present

Continued, from page 27

Suppose he didn’t want to be sac-wi-ficed!

It seemed hardly fair to make him suffer.

“Will you mind so very much, Teddy darling?” she whispered in compunction, her soft cheek pressed to the furry head.

In her heart she felt Teddy really did not mind very much. He might even like to have a change.

“I’m taking Teddy this afternoon, Annie,” she announced. “No, I’d like to carry him myself, please.”

Round the corner of the street, almost outside the shop where Peggy’s “heart’s desire” adorned the centre of the window, they met Uncle Jack.

“Hullo, little sobersides,” he greeted. “Giving Teddy an airing?”

Peggy lifted her head in its scarlet tamo-shanter and regarded her uncle thoughtfully, as a wonderful idea struck her. Supposing Uncle Jack wanted a bear badly;.she could sacrifice her dear Teddy to him and then sometimes see it again. She was sure Uncle Jack would let her see it occasionally. But somehow it all seemed too easy that way. Uncle Jack always looked so gay and laughing; as if he never wanted anything badly. Still— “Uncle Jack,” she began wistfully, “do you want anything very, very badly? I mean, anything—anything like Teddybear?”

Some instinctive understanding of the minds of children checked the laughing reply of the man. There was a serious note in the child’s voice that called for truth.

“Why, sweetheart, Uncle Jack wants lots of things very badly, but I don’t think Teddy-bear would help him much. Tell me what you mean, dear.”

“Well, you see, Teddy’s the dearest thing I have, and he has to be sacwificed to get my heart’s desire.”

Uncle Jack nodded. Children seemed to play some remarkably un-funny games nowadays. But, “I see,” he answered. “And ' what is your heart’s desire?” Peggy crimsoned. “Oh, I simply

mustn't ’xplain that,” she said with the sensitiveness of childhood, her eyes unconsciously turning to the loved one in the window.

Uncle Jack and Annie exchanged glances. “That it?” he asked, in an undertone, with a backward nod toward the baby doll in the window.

“Yes, sir,” Annie replied in a whisper. “Poor lonely little soul, she’s never told anyone, but she just worships that doll, and she’s too loyal to tell her parents because she knows toys cost so much.” “Good egg, Annie. I was wondering what on earth to give her for Christmas.” “Please, Uncle Jack, do you think you could find me somebody who weally wants Teddy-bear? Somebody who’d be very kind to him now he’s got to be sacwificed?”

For a moment the man hesitated. It seemed a shame. Yet, who knew, it might teach the child to believe in answered prayers and such things.

“Why, yes, Peggy,” he said at last. “I fancy I know the very place. You and Annie come along with me and see my landlady’s little boy. He has a bad back and can’t walk, and I believe Teddy will be no end of a comfort to him.”

With shy questioning eyes the two children looked at each other in the landlady’s basement sitting room a little later.

“Hello, Mark; how’s the back to-day?” Uncle Jack asked of the pale-faced little boy lying flat on a bed by the window. “I’ve brought Peggy to talk to you.”

“Have you any toys?” the little girl asked after a moment’s pause.

Mark pointed to a few battered ones at the foot of the bed. “It’s a long time since last Kwismas and I’m afwaid they’ve got wather bwoken,” he apologized.

Peggy looked at them silently. Something seemed to hurt her throat as she saw the only things Mark had to play with. Poor Mark who had to lie still all day while she could run about.

Suddenly she leaned over the narrow cot. “Please, please,” she said painfully, “1 want you to have my Teddy-bear for ! always. He is a great comfort to me if I I have a bad pain.”

Mark reached out his thin arms, halfbelievingly clutched the dear furry creature Peggy thrust into them, and held it to him with shining eyes. Peggy turned away swiftly and caught her uncle’s hand.

“Quick, Uncle Jack, please take me home now. I’m —I’m so dreffully afwaid I’m going to cwy,” Peggy whispered. “Goodbye, Mark. I’m so glad you love Teddy-bear.”

It was a help somehow to feel Uncle Jack’s warm hand squeezing hers as she pattered along beside him. Funny little lumps kept coming into her throat and she had to wink very hard and give tiny sniffs, lest Annie should see her use a hanky, and think it was to wipe tears away. Her arms, too, felt rather empty without Teddy’s dear weight, but—big girls of six years old simply mustn’t cry. Besides, some marvellous working might happen any time now and bring her heart’s desire nearer.

The play cupboard seemed terribly bare without Teddy-bear in his usual corner, and Peggy was sure the hated Matilda had a broader grin of satisfaction. Peggy felt black-faced Matilda had never liked Teddy-bear; perhaps she was even jealous of him and was glad he had gone away.

“Make Mark very kind to Teddy-bear and let dear Teddy be happy in his new home,” she prayed that night on her knees beside her cot. “And please God, if You are not too busy, don’t forget to send Peggy a dollie that opens and shuts its eyes.”

Christmas Eve at last and bedtime. Peggy repeated her prayers automatically, her heart beating almost to suffocation. This was the last chance! If Christmas morning did not bring the thing she longed for, she knew there was no hope. Supposing gentle Jesus found lots of other little girls and boys who deserved presents more than Peggy! Supposing He felt she had been ungrateful about Auntie Elsie’s gift of the dreadful Matilda! And it was not as if she—-Peggy—had been ’straordinarily good either. Annie had just said she was thankful it was Miss Peggy’s bedtime, as she had been so restless and tiresome all day.

“There, now go to sleep like a good girl,” Annie admonished as she tucked in the bed clothes. “I’ve hung your stocking up on the bed rail.”

All night the little figure tossed and twisted in exciting dreams of Mark and Teddy-bear and Matilda.

It was quite late when she awoke and with quick consciousness remembered it was Christmas morning. There on the bed rail was her stocking, stuffed and bulging over with small articles. But Peggy knew that that small stocking was useless to hold her heart’s desire.

So all the prayer and—sacrifice—had been useless!

With shaking limbs she slid out of bed and pattered to the door, passing unnoticed the large cardboard box on a chair at the foot of the bed.

She felt she must see Daddy and Mummy quickly before—before she forgot she was six years old. Swallowing the tight little pain in her throat, she opened the door and peeped out.

On the landing was Daddy, all dressed. He caught her up in his strong arms and gave her a kiss.

“Merry Christmas, little sleepy-head. Daddy thought you were never going to wake up. It’s nearly breakfast time. We must get you dressed.”

Peggy buried her curls in the nice comforty feel of his shoulder. “I fink I want to see my Mummy very much, please, daddy,” she whispered in a small, trembling voice.

“Of course you shall, my pet. Mummy wants to see her little girl too, I expect.”

Two little arms tightened round Daddy’s neck. “Quick, Daddy. It’s dreffully important or I may—may cwy just a teeny bit,” she said in a muffled voice.

“Why, we simply mustn't cry on Christmas Day,” Daddy answered firmly. “Now then, shut your eyes until I tell you to open them. Promise.”

Peggy screwed up her eyes tightly.

“I pwomise, Daddy.”

Softly Daddy opened the door into Mummy’s bedroom. “Here’s someone who belongs to you, Mummy, come to wish you a happy Christmas. She has to

keep her eyes shut till I tell her to open them.”

Peggy felt herself being lifted on to the bed; heard Mummy say: “Leave her to me, Dick; sometimes children take things differently from^what one thinks. They feel intensely.... Open your eyes, my sweet.”

Peggy opened her eyes and blinked as her mind took things in gradually.

In bed was Mummy with such a pretty frilly nighty on, and lots of flowers beside j the bed. Such a pale but radiant-looking Mummy who kissed Peggy tenderly.

“Look what God has sent Mummy, darling,” Mummy whispered. “Such a lovely Christmas present for you.”

Peggy looked, her heart nearly bursting with joy.

For curled in the hollow of Mummy’s arm was Peggy’s heart’s desire, a dollie that opened and shut its eyes; a wonderful dollie that closed its tiny rose petal hand on her finger, and made lovely little coos of content as Peggy smothered its downy head with happy kisses.