THE weird exclamation seemed to issue from nowwherein particular, but issue it did nevertheless, raucous and defiant:
“T-r-r-r-uck! Er-r-her-r-r-r tr-r-r-r-uck!”
Somewhere, sometime I had heard a cry like that before, but never, never in the heart of a Christmas shopping
The brunette behind the show-case looked over at me, mild suspicion in her hazel eyes. ƒ picked on the bespectacled man with the world-weary face as the guilty party, but found him gazing intently at me with an insinuating grin pulling down the corners of his mouth.
The strange sound was repeated, this time with a muffled note of distress.
The tall man with the world-weary visage leaned over the head of the cranky-looking little old woman between us and asked in a sarcastic whisper: “Why don’t you hire a hall?”
I saw he had mistaken me for what I had misjudged him to be an amateur ventriloquist endeavoring to play cheap pranks in the crowd. I had just about concluded that it must be the little old woman who was thus amusing herself when I became conscious of something fluffy struggling in the huge black shopping bag she was carrying. A sharp pecking at my shin drew my attention downward and discovered to me the real culprit.
A live Plymouth Rock rooster in a militant, hungry mood had projected his heavily-combed head out of the jaw of the shopping bag the old lady was carrying and was endeavoring to forage lunch off the calf of my leg.
As the old lady stuffed the erring fowl’s head back into the bag an exasperating titter ran through the crowd. The old woman glowered at me much as if I were a trespasser on Mother Earth. She was plainly in a mood to start trouble, and not wishing to be made the “goat” for her rooster’s erratic actions, I moved out of the perilous
The ‘‘Punch” Behind the Spirit
DUT I was not destined to get away from the woman with -U the rooster so easily. Three times on that floor I ■chanced into groups where she and her bird in the bag inevitably bobbed up serenely as Banquo’s ghost. I could see that she thought I was shadowing her, when, as a matter of fact, I was doing my level best to get her and her infamous Plymouth Rock cock out of sight and out of
I raced for an elevator and stayed on it till I was sure I had put three or four flights between myself and the old lady with the feathered companion.
But I hadn’t lost ’em. They seemed bound to inflict themselves into the routine of my peregrinations in search for the “punch” behind the Christmas spirit. I wanted to catch, if I could, the genesis of that peculiar super-animation that annually takes hold of the World and his Wife, turns year-round grouches into erstwhile philanthropists, loosens up the purse-strings of the tight-wad and brings mankind in general, for a period at least, close to the Divinity within itself.
For this purpose I haci allowed myself to get caught in a surging’ river of hu-
manity on the streets of one of Canada’s greatest human hives during the zenith of the early Christmas rush. Like a rain-drop that falls into the torrent I was whirled away, an infinitesimal item in a swaying, jostling, tautnerved throng, quite as helpless to direct m y course independently as the day I went down the Fraser river rapids in one of the famous Tête Jaune Cache rafts — only in this case instead of the hostile cliffs of the gorge at the foot of Mount Robson the walls of grey skyscrapers ranged round me.
The elements of the crush were made up for the
most part of women and school kiddies with a smattering of family men and babes in arms, all with a single objective the Christmas bargain-counters in the city’s largest
The wide ribbon of heaving humanity paused momentarily and tightened up. Soon it was on the forward move again. On through the double glass doors it crashed and emptied itself over the first floor with the patter of thousands of feet and a jargon of voices that resolved their united sounds into a growing rumble not unlike the first onslaught of a midsummer ram storm.
Devil Take the Hindmost at First
HERE, if anywhere, in the vortex of this holidaying crowd, I thought, must be answers in plenty from real
life incident to the riddle I had set out to solve.
The Fates, however, were at first apparently against me. What was happening around me was all very much in the spirit of “everyone for himself and let the devil take care of the hindmost;” at times ludicrous, but in no wise conducive to loftier sentiment.
The rabble decidedly was imbued with one savage and primitive instinct, and that to search out and appropriate the most value for its money. In this fixed intention the fe-
male of the species exemplified her title to supremacy. From solid formation they broke “over the top” at the main entrance into fierce raiding parties and stormed the bargain-counters. For some minutes there was nothing but a babel of feminine chatter and a wild pawing over of neatly laid out goods.
The first wave of the general assault began to wear down. Then the automatic cash-carriers began to whizz-bang and crash, proving that the sales-people as the defending party were beginning to score. The cash-carrier is the heavy artillery of the sales force. Its trajectory carries it high over the heads of the immediate enemy, but it has the virtue of never missing the distant target at which it is directed. Everything from small-change “shrap.” up to fifty-dollar “Jack Johnsons” was popping into the cash desk departments as the store staff settled down for a day of heavy siege. There was a scant courtesy for a “war correspondent” in this fray. I found myself crowded against a show-case displaying numerous small articles of women’s wear. I was not the only mere man made
prisoner for the moment. Immediately to my left was the lean, bespectacled man with that look of great world-weariness on his gaunt features.
Just then the woman with the rooster in the bag hove upon the scene and
drove me precipitantly to the elevator and the upper regions.
Here I emerged into an entirely different atmosphere. Here in the
different atmosphere. Christmas Show department was almost a suppressed sanctity to the din of crowding feet; there was less of a jarring note to the rumble of voices. Children in the seventh heaven of delight and expectancy romped about in groups from show-case to show-case or danced in the circle allowed by the straps with which many mothers held their off-spring in leash.
The major portion of the crowd had centered around a big canopy, under which, on a broad dais, old Kris Kringle —an honest-to-goodness live Santa Claus—sat upon his throne.
Across the front of Santa’s dais a gangway with railings
had been constructed and over this thousands and thousands of tiny feet pattered the live-long day—an endless procession of little folks marching in single file to meet and shake hands with their Yuletide idol, the Monarch of Giftland from up in the Arctics.
I stood long, as many others stood, and watched the changing scene, fascinated by a something that was not the mere color scheme, or the bright lights or the artistic novelty of the thing. There was something else here that went deeper; that sang reminiscently through the heartstrings like voices from lips long stilled and swept one back, back through the years to the pre-Christmas visions of childhood. It was something in that glow that sat upon the children’s faces that begot the feeling.
A childish yell, followed by a scream of fright and pain, broke in upon the reverie and brought the crowd roundabout to their toes.
The cause of this most inappropriate rumpus was not far to seek.So soon as I noted the crabbed little old woman with the huge black shopping bag at a point just across the little square from Santa’s headquarters I had all but guessed what had happened. A small boy had been leaning against a glass show-case feasting his eyes on the display of small toys within when the warlike Plymouth Rock cock in the old woman’s black bag stretched his neck above his conning-tower and, laying hold of the child’s ear with his beak, gave it a vicious tweak. The old woman blamed the child, not her rooster, and it seemed to me as she glowered down at the youngster that her particular mission on this mundane sphere was taking the joy out of life.
The little drama under the Santa Claus canopy went on as if nothing in the world had happened. There seemed
no end to the procession of shining faces and sparkling eyes, each in his or her turn grasping with a reverent diffidence the out-stretched hand of the patriarch and whispering in his ear the particular thing they had set their hearts upon. It was a truly democratic procession.
Next to the dandified, white-collared little chap from the home of wealth strode the poor widow’s son in threadbare and much-mended garb ; before the rosy-cheeked little maid, buried in costly furs and trinkets, tripped a daughter the less affluent, eyes aged beyond her years, from “little mother” duties no doubt. Canadians in the making were there, descendents of races more varied than the group that essayed to complete the Tower of Babel, but in this supreme moment fused by a singular glow— the glow of the Yuletide “illusion.”
A pug-nosed little maid stood before Santa.
Continued on page 78
The Yuletide Glow
Continued from page 78
Her shabby, ill-fitting coat and her wan, pinched little face told their own story as she leaned forward to whisper in Santa’s ear. She named presents as a matter of course; she knew such joys were not for the like of her.
There was a rough elbowing near me and a big man, obviously of the western out-of-doors, two-fisted type, plowed his way through the crowd and seized the little pug-nosed girl’s arm as she left from the gangway. I could not hear what he said, but if I had to lay a wager on the matter I would set it down as, “Tell me what you asked Old Whiskers to send you for Christmas.” Furthermore, I’m as certain the meek little daughter of the slums received her heart’s desire and perhaps a new winter coat into the bargain.
It was in the air, this thing—a craving to do something big and helpful, not for mere public approbation but for the applause of the keenest critic of all, Self.
Here was a greater sermon than any earthly preacher might expound, more potent, more heart-searching than the pen of the gifted could set on paper. It was written on the little children’s faces, aglow with a faith in what we elders call illusion—the faith of little children so much referred to in Holy Writ.
And Even the Rooster Woman!
I LOOKED about me. On the adult faces, it seemed to me, there gleamed a reflection of that which I saw upon the kiddies’. A venerable old man stood near me, leaning forward upon a cane, hair and beard as gleamingly white as the midwinter snows; a fine old benevolent face with cheeks of parchment hue. Deep in his beard one could sense a smile, but his faded old blue eyes were moist from the emotion that was upon him.
They say that extreme old age harks back to toddling days at a bound, that “when the years draw nigh,” and “the clouds return not after the rain,” the sungilt of childhood plays in its greatest splendor on Memory’s walls. Was this grand old gentleman living over his boyhood again? I was convinced he was, for on his features sat the self-same haloed gleam that sat upon the children’s—the glow of the Yuletide “illusion.”
This then was the true genesis of the Christmas spirit. There was^need to
seek no further. I hurried away, and in doing so I almost collided with the old woman with the rooster in the bag.
Dull thump back to clammy earth? No. Instead of brushing past her I paused in surprise. No longer did she seem the crabbed old termagant of an hour before. Her features had been glorified by the gleam I had seen upon the old man’s and upon the adults’ round the Christmas Show, her eyes still fixed upon the procession of tots in front of Santa’s dais.
Softly I tried to draw her attention to the fact that her male chicken was working his way out of the black shopping-bag. But she either did not hear or else she worried little.
Even she had been touched by the mystic Yuletide glow.
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