Advent: A Really Merry Christmas

From the Improvement Era, December 1930 –

A Really Merry Christmas

By Margaret C. Moloney

Noah Brown scratched his head, and squirmed about in his chair. He didn’t like the arrangement.

“We could put Andy in a boarding school, of course,” Annie, his wife, continued her argument. “’Tisn’t as if he was on charity. There’s a plenty to educate him — without selling a thing – stock, or farm, or anything; but, it’s Sue Blake I’m thinking about. The shock of Ed’s death has changed her awful, and I’m banking on little Andrew to bring her to.”

“Yes, but didn’t you say she told you emphatically that she didn’t want the boy; that his father had killed her husband, and she’ll never forget it fer the boy? Gosh, Annie, I’d a never thought Sue Blake would turn out that way under trouble. The kindest woman in this country, and now jest because Andy’s father took Ed in his car to that meeting, and a drunk runs into ‘em, and kills ‘em both, she hates the little shaver. I wouldn’t leave the boy with her, Annie. I’d be afraid to. She ain’t right in her head. That’s a fact. I don’t think it would be wise for us to keep him when him and Jack fights all the time, but I say put him in school.”

That was a long speech for Noah, the silent, to make, but as the sole guardian of the boy, since death had taken Ed Blake, the co-guardian, he felt the responsibility John Hanlon had put on him when he had made his will, and he was worried about the wisdom of curing Sue Blake at the sacrifice of John Hanlon’s son.

“Let’s leave him one month, anyway, Noah,” pleaded the wife. “She said he could stay there till we got our arrangements made for him. I’ll tell Andy that his Aunt Sue, as he always called her, is all broke up, and I’m sure he’ll bring her out of it.”

“It’s Andy that’s all broke up. You know that. He’s been robbed of a father that lived for him. He never knew anything but love; but, Sue! Oh, of course, Ed war’nt ever mean to her, but look at the money he piled up, and never a thing in that house to make it easier for her. It don’t seem to me that she’s got any call to act like she’s doin’.”

“It was the shock, Noah. Here comes Andy. If he says he wants to go to Sue, will you let him, just for a tryout? I promise you that I’ll keep my eye on him all the time; and if I see that it won’t work I’ll tell you mighty quick.”

“Well,” said Noah, grudgingly, “if he wants to stay with her; but if he makes the last objection I’ll back him.”

“We were just talking about you, Andy,” Annie told the mournful little fellow that entered, holding out her arm for him. “I thought you might rather go to live with Aunt Sue and keep on in school here than go off to boarding school.”

“Oh, yes,” the little fellow brightened, this face clouded quickly – “if she’d want me.”

Annie’s arm tightened about him.

“She’s had a terrible shock, Andy. She won’t be like her old self for a long, long time, but maybe …”

“Oh, Miz Brown, I’d lots rather live with Aunt Sue, an’ I won’t feel bad if she’s – not – friendly, you know. I know how she feels – just miz’ble with a big lump right here.” His little fist pressed against his own lump showed her the spot. Annie pressed her face to his; and Noah got up suddenly and went to gaze out the window. “Maybe we’d both get over it – together,” he said hopefully, after a little silence.

“Well, you just remember that you don’t have to stay, Andy. If you find Aunt Sue too – unfriendly – you come right to us. Just remember you don’t have to stay,” she reminded him again.

“Oh, yes, I do have to stay,” Andy shook his head. “Daddy’d want me to. Anyway, she won’t hit me – or anything, I guess.”

“If she ever does, Andy,” said Noah, whirling about from his window-gazing, “you come and tell me, do you hear – whether you want to leave or not. Will you promise you’ll come and tell me if she ever hits you – or threatens to?”

“Yes, sir,” said Andy. “But I’m pretty sure Aunt Sue won’t.”

Two whole months the twelve-year-old Spartan battled with his own grief, Aunt Sue’s dearth of love and welcome, and the chores. In vain did Noah argue with Sue Blake about getting someone to do a part of the work that fell onto the boy. She wouldn’t hear to it. Even the lad, himself, was stubborn about keeping on with the chores, doing before and after school hours work that would have taxed a grown man – with never a word of appreciation – a word of any kind, that the woman could avoid uttering.

Finally, just a week before Christmas, Annie came to the conclusion that her experiment had been a terrible failure.

Andy was feeding the turkeys, big noisy fat birds, that had thrived on his care. Annie had coaxed Mrs. Blake out to the pen to see them.

“Which one you going to have for Christmas, Sue?” she asked. “That one?” indicating a monster.

Andy looked quickly at Aunt Sue who stood like a stone image.

“Which one?” persisted Annie.

“I think that little hen would be big enough for us,” said Andy, feeling sorry for his Aunt Sue. “She’s fat.”

“Well, I think not,” snapped Aunt Sue. “That hen’ll go to the market ’long with the rest of ’em.”

“I know it,” said Andy quickly. “I’d just as soon have chicken.” He turned to frown at Annie, but the kindly neighbor glancing up in time to catch the look of hatred flashed at the boy, wouldn’t be silenced.

“Now, Sue,” she argued, “you know you should have one of these turkeys – after the way Andy’s cared for them. You didn’t have one thanksgiving.”

“We had nothin’ to be thankful for, either him or me; and we ain’t goin’ to pertend that we’re merry at Christmas, either,” said Susan Blake, and turned back to the house.

Andy looked after her a second, and swallowed hard, as if the lump in his breast was about to engulf him. Then he looked at Mrs. Brown, whose cheeks were very red. Andy thought her feelings were hurt, and he felt sorry.

Want to see my new Guernsey calf?” he added, to divert her thoughts. “She’s a beauty.”

Annie, struggling to control her anger, followed the boy into the barn.

“She how she loves me,” said Andy, rubbing his face against the velvety softness of the baby calf.

“Listen, Andy,” said Annie. “I want you to get your clothes and come home with me. We’ll have you as our visitor for the holidays, then you’ll go off to school where you’ll be treated – like a human being. You can’t stay here another night.”

“Why, Miz Brown,” cried Andy, climbing out of the calf’s pen, and coming over where he could see her – in the eye. “I can’t leave Aunt Sue – all alone here – Christmas comin’ on, too. She couldn’t do these chores – she’s just too miz’able.”

“And she’s making you miserable; and your father wouldn’t want that. No, dear, you’ve given her her chance, and she’s getting worse. Come, get your clothes. Remember, Andy,” she reminded him when he refused to move, “Noah’s your guardian.” He went with her then to the house.

At the door he stopped.

“If she says she wants me to stay, can I?” he asked anxiously.

“Oh, Andy, child! Do you really want to stay with her?” cried Annie, bewildered.

He nodded. “Can I?” he asked again.

“If she wants you – yes – that is, if she’ll treat you better.” Annie promised, and they went in.

Sue Blake did not speak as they entered.

“Look here, Sue,” Annie began at once. “I’m ready now to take Andy. He’ll spend Christmas with us, and then go to school. You’ll be glad to be rid of him, of course.” She hadn’t meant to say that, but her anger drove her to harshness.

“What?’ cried Sue, staring at the speaker.

“But I can stay, she says,” Andy put in, taking a hesitant step towards her, “if you want me. You do what me, don’t you, aunt Sue?”

Mrs. Blake continued to stare at her neighbor uncomprehendingly.

“You see she doesn’t want you, dear,” Annie reached a comforting hand to the boy, but he brushed it aside and took another step nearer the stricken woman.

“I can stay if you say you want me, Aunt Sue,”he raised his voice, thinking she might not have heard.

Aunt Sue sighed, a long, deep sigh, then turned and looked at the child strangely as if coming out of a long sleep.

“go toher, Andy,” Annie whispered, the tears stinting her eyes.

Andy walked slowly, timidly to Aunt Sue’s side, and leaned against her, as he used to do in other days before the terrible tragedy.

“You do want me, Aunt Sue, don’t you,” he said again, and the childish voice broke – and the next minute he was in Aunt Sue’s arms sobbing the great lump away for all time.

Annie Brown slipped out quietly, unnoticed. Aunt Sue was herself again, mothering the little orphan that had stood by her so staunchly.

“And we’ll have the biggest turkey in that pen for Christmas,” she was bribing the tears away, not realizing that her own face was drenched.

“Oh, gee,” said Andy, coming out of his unhappiness with a start, “and can I cut a little fir tree – for a Christmas tree?”

“Indeed you can, and we’ll – Andy, go to the ’phone and call up that ’lectric company and see if they can install ‘lectricity in here ‘fore Christmas, so’s we can have the tree ’lectric lighted.”

Andy flew to the phone.

“Yes, sir – yes, sir, Aunt Sue, they can. They can,”he shouted. “Oh, boy, won’t we have some Christmas tree, though?”

“And what’s more,” said Aunt Sue, “we’re going to make this house over so’s we won’t have to spend all our time doin’ chores, you an’ me, Andy. We’ll bring the water in, an’ have an oil furnace like Judge Glenn’s got, an’ with ’lectric lights, an’ all, things is goin’ to be diff’rent. An’ in the morning on your way to school you stop and tell Joe Andrug I want to see him. He’s a good hand at milkin’ an’ feedin’, an’ with that passel o’ younguns he can use some extra money, I guess.”

“Oh, gee, Aunt Sue,” said Andy slipping his arm about her neck, “won’t we have a good time – talkin’ an’ readin’ evenings!” His eyes were big and starry, and the starved little heart of him was nigh to bursting with joy.

“An’ come to think of it, Andy,” Aunt Sue went on, smiling into the happy face so near her own, “that turkey’s goin’ to be too big for just us two – what ay we ask Noah an’ Annie and the children over to Christmas dinner. I can have a ’lectric stove put in too, an’ it won’t be no chore a’tall to get a big dinner.”

“Oh, Aunt Sue,” cried Andy, tightening the arm about her neck till she was almost choked, “we’re goin’ to have a really Merry Christmas, ain’t we, huh, Aunt Sue?”

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