The Overture by Henry S. Armstrong
Christmas! What worldly care could ever lessen the joy of that eventful day? At your first waking in the morning, when you lie gazing in drowsy listlessness at the brass ornament on your bed-tester, when the ring of the milkman is like a dream, and the cries of the bread-man and newspaper-boy sound far off in the distance, it peals at you in the laughter and gay greetings of the servants in the yard. Your senses are aroused by a promiscuous discharging of pistols, and you are filled with a vague thought that the whole city has been formed into a line of skirmishers. You are startled by a noise on the front pavement, which sounds like an energetic drummer beating the long roll on a barrel-head; and you have an indistinct idea that some improvident urchin (up since the dawn) has just expended his last fire-cracker.
At length there is a stir in the room near you. You hear the patter of little feet on the stairs, and the sound of childish voices in the drawing-room. What transports of admiration, what peals of joyous clamor, fall on your sleepy ears! The patter on the stairs sounds louder and louder, the ringing voices come nearer and nearer; you hear the little hands on your door-knob, and you hurry on your dressing-gown; for it is Christmas morning.
What a wonderful time you have at breakfast! There are a half-dozen silver forks for ma, a new napkin-ring for you, and what astonishing hay-wagons and crying dolls for the children! Jane, the house-maid, is beaming with happiness in a new collar and black silk apron; and Bridget will persist in wearing her silver thimble and carrying her new work-basket, though they threaten utter destruction to the beefsteak-plate.
You sit an unusually long time over your coffee that morning, and say an unusual number of facetious things to everybody. You cover Jane with confusion, and throw Bridget into an explosion of mirth, by slyly alluding to a blue-eyed young dray-man you one evening noticed seated on the kitchen steps. Perhaps you venture a prediction on the miserable existence he is some day destined to experience,--when a look from the little lady in the merino morning-wrapper checks you, and you confess to yourself that you are feeling uncommonly happy.
At last the breakfast ends, and the children go out for a romp. Perhaps you are a little taken aback when you are informed your easy-chair has been removed to the library; but you see Bridget, still in secure possession of her thimble and work-basket, with a huge china bowl in one hand and an egg-beater in the other, looking very warm and very much confused, and you take your departure to your own domain, to con over the morning papers.
You hear an indistinct sound of the drawing of corks and beating of eggs; of a great many dishes being taken out of the china-closet, and a good many orders being given in an undertone,--why is it women always will speak in a whisper when there is a man about the house?--and you lose yourself in the "leader," or the prices current.
The skirmishers have evidently suffered disaster; for the firing becomes more and more distant, and at length dies from your hearing. You are favored with a call from the improvident little boy, who requests you to grant him the privilege of collecting such of his unexploded fire-crackers as may be in your front yard, giving you, at the same time, the interesting information that they are to be made into "spit-devils." You are overwhelmed by a profound bow from the grocer's lad as he passes your window, and you invite him in and beg that he will honor you by accepting half a dollar and a handful of doughnuts:--the lady in the merino morning-wrapper has provided a cake-basket full for the occasion. You are also waited on by the milkman, who, you are glad to see, is really flesh and blood, and not, as you have sometimes supposed, an unearthly bell-ringer who visited this sublunary sphere only at five A.M., and then for the sole purpose of disturbing your morning nap. You are also complimented by the wood-man and wood-sawyer, an English sailor with a wooden leg, who once nearly swamped you in a tornado of nautical interjections, on your presenting him a new pea-jacket. And then comes the German fruit-woman, whose first customer you have the distinguished honor to be, and who, in consequence, has taken breakfast in your kitchen for the last ten years. You remember that on one occasion she spoke of her little boy, named Heinderich, who was suffering with his teeth; and when you hope that Heinderich is better, you are surprised to learn that he is quite a large boy, going to the public school, and that the lady in the merino morning-wrapper has just sent him a new cap.
The heaping pile of doughnuts gradually lessens, until finally there is not one left. The last dish is evidently taken from the china-closet, and the whole house is filled with that portentous stillness which causes the mothers of mischievous offspring so much trepidation.
You expect to see the merino morning-wrapper reconnoitering the movements of your own sweet pledges of affection; but she doesn't: you can only hear the ticking of the little French clock on the mantle-piece, and the spluttering of the coal as it bursts into a gassy flame between the bars of the grate, and you almost imagine Christmas has passed. You are deceived; for by-and-by you hear your children's footsteps as they skip over the garden-walk, and the sound of their ringing laughter as they rush in out of the cold, and their clamor rises louder and gladder and more jubilant than ever. Grandpa! Who does not know him, with his joyous face and hearty morning greeting? How resplendent he looks in his broadcloth suit, his gold-headed cane and great blue overcoat! What quantities of almonds and raisins, of oranges and sweetmeats, those overcoat-pockets contain! What child ever lived who did not believe grandpa's pocket a cornucopia for all juvenile desires? The day passes on. The turkey never looked browner or juicier, and the blaze on the pudding-sauce never burned bluer; the kissing under the mistletoe was never more delightful, nor the blindman's-buff ever played with a greater zest: but the merriest Christmas must end. Your little girl, tired and sleepy, kneels at your feet, and you pass your fingers through her soft curls, while she repeats her simple prayer: "God bless pa, God bless ma, God bless grandpa, God bless little brother, and God bless Santa Claus;" and you hope that God will bless Santa Claus. You thank your Creator you are the master of that quiet home and the father of those dear children, and go to your rest with a heart full of gratitude. You hope that all the newspaper-boys, and all the milkmen and bread-men's children, and all the little boys and girls who have no fathers or mothers or grandpas, and all the poor, and all the sick, and all the blind, and all the distressed, have had a merry Christmas.
At a time like this, when the security of your own reward relaxes scrutiny for the shortcomings of others, I would have you take up these "Trifles."