A Christmas Carol

I’m sure most English speaking people know the plot of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There have been dozens of filmed versions of it, but I highly recommend reading the novella, for that is the best version of all.

Throughout his adult life Dickens wrote and lectured on the plight of the poor – a topic he had first-hand knowledge of. As a child he’d lived a comfortable life and attended good schools, but only because his father spent more than he earned as a Navy Pay Office clerk. When Dickens was twelve years old his father was sent to debtors prison and the boy left school to begin working at a rat-infested boot blacking factory.

Nineteen years later, after he’d become a successful novelist, Dickens planned to write a political pamphlet on the subject of poverty, but then decided a story would reach a larger audience. In December of 1843 Dickens published A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas.. The novella was not an immediate financial success, but it has remained in print for more than 170 years.

One Christmas Eve, on an afternoon so dark “fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole,” miserly money-lender Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by two gentlemen collecting funds to help poor families. Scrooge did not approve of their endeavor and asked if the prisons, workhouses and treadmills were still in operation.

Treadmills? Was Scrooge wondering if the poor had access to exercise equipment? No, the treadmills in question were massive wooden wheels with steps built into the perimeter. Men trod those steps for ten hours a day, and the turning wheel pumped water or crushed grain.

Once used as a punishment in English prisons, treadmills may have been used in some workhouses, where conditions were purposely kept so harsh that the destitute usually refused to apply for help through the 1834 Poor Law.

When Scrooge asked his visitors about the prisons and workhouses he was told: “Many can’t go there; many would rather die.” Scrooge then declared: “If they would rather die they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

After the gentlemen left, and Scrooge reluctantly allowed his clerk, Bob Cratchit, to have Christmas off, the miser went home and began his encounter with ghosts. He first met up with the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, and when Scrooge told him he’d always been a good man of business Marley informed him that charity and mercy were a man’s business, and those who neglect those duties during their life suffer the consequences after death.

Marley then stated he had come to try and save him from an eternity of torment, and said Scrooge would be haunted by three spirits. Scrooge did not like the idea of being haunted and said he’d rather not be saved. Fortunately Marley ignored Scrooge’s wishes and proceeded to tell him the timetable that had been set up for visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

In Scrooge’s encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Past the reader learns of his neglected childhood, when he was left alone at a boarding school during holidays, about his apprenticeship with a benevolent employer, and his engagement to a young woman who broke the marriage contract when his single-minded pursuit of material gains changed the man she had once admired.

A much subdued Scrooge met the Ghost of Christmas Present, who showed him the home life of many people, including his clerk, Bob Cratchit, The Cratchit family had many children, but the most memorable one was Tiny Tim, a frail boy who used a crutch, and had his limbs encased in an iron frame.

Dickens doesn’t state the reason for Tiny Tim’s poor health, but one modern-day guess is he suffered from a combination of rickets (which causes soft bones) and tuberculosis. Poor nutrition and cramped living conditions, with little chance to be in sunlight, would have brought on the diseases. Poverty was killing Tiny Tim.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was an unseen spirit, shrouded in a black garment. He communicated by means of extending a robed arm to point out what Scrooge should observe. He would not answer whether the scenes shown were what would happen, or merely what might take place.

Scrooge was shown the home of the bereaved Cratchit family, preparing for Tiny Tim’s burial. And he learned of the death of a man who is not mourned, and whose belongings were looted and sold at a back-alley pawn shop. Who was that friendless man? Even the few who haven’t read the story or watched a movie version of A Christmas Carol shouldn’t have much trouble figuring out which possible death would push Ebenezer Scrooge on to total repentance.

In the end Scrooge had a merry Christmas, but then on December 26th he took rather feisty delight in rushing to work, hoping to catch Bob Cartchit showing up late. His clerk did arrive late, and Scrooge growled at him and demanded that he step into his office, where he was told: “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore I am about to raise your salary!”

Poor Bob was not the brightest of fellows, plus he’d spent years taking verbal abuse from the most miserly of misers. His reaction was to move closer to a ruler. “He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a straight-waistcoat.”

Scrooge had taken heed of what the ghost of Jacob Marley had said – that charity and mercy were a man’s business. His change for the better was permanent, and Tiny Tim did not die, no doubt due to a higher family income that could afford better quality groceries and needed medical care.

I have a friend who likes stories “with a bow at the end” – her way of saying she likes happy endings. A Christmas Carol ends with a quote from Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”

Charles Dickens is considered one of the greatest English writers of all time. I must admit that I’ve never read my way through any of his long novels, but I’ve read A Christmas Carol several times, and can attest that it is well written. It takes up 52 pages of my paperback anthology of favorite Christmas poems and stories, so it can be read in one afternoon or evening.

If you’d like to read A Christmas Carol it can be downloaded free of charge at:


Joel Chandler Harris & Uncle Remus

Judging a nineteenth century writer by twenty-first century standards is not a fair fight. It is easier to pass judgment on an era’s faults than it is to comprehend what it was like to live during the time period.

Soon after the Civil War had ended Joel Chandler Harris began publishing stories based on African folk tales. Starting in 1880 the stories became a series of Uncle Remus books, about a former slave who befriended a young white boy living on a plantation. Speaking in thick Southern dialect Uncle Remus told stories about trickster Brer (Brother) Rabbit, who could out wit other animals.

The books became best sellers, and Harris received fan letters from English writer Rudyard Kipling and U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. He was a friend of Samuel Clemens a/k/a Mark Twain. Uncle Remus stories remained popular for generations, and in 1946 several of them became the basis for an Academy Award winning movie The Song of the South.

But starting in about 1970 the stories fell out of favor, and Uncle Remus began to be seen as a racial stereotype. It was claimed the former slave’s kind and friendly demeanor made it seem as though slavery had been a benevolent work arrangement.

Harris was accused of stealing from the African American heritage, and was criticized for not doing more to improve the lives of southern blacks during his decades of work as a newspaper editor. Wow, serious complaints.

Instead of wading into all the controversy I will tell you a little about the writer.

Joel Chandler Harris was born in Eatonton, Georgia, but sources differ on whether his birth year was 1845 or 1848. What everyone agrees on is that his mother never married, and his father’s identity is unknown. At the time of his birth – and for more than a century afterwards – the word used in laws and court documents to describe Harris’ legal status was bastard. Many people based respectability on family background, and Harris spent a lifetime knowing a large swath of “proper” society rejected him due to the circumstances of his birth.

Harris and his mother got by on his mother’s meager earnings from sewing and gardening work, and from the charity of neighbors. They lived in a cottage behind the home of a physician named Dr. Andrew Reid, and the doctor paid for the boy’s school tuition.

During Harris’ school years he became known for his pranks and practical jokes. This may have been a defense strategy, to provide classmates with an opportunity to laugh at his antics instead of mocking him. Harris was not just a child with unknown paternity – he also had fiery red hair, freckles, was short in stature and stuttered. He later remarked that he had been a forlorn and friendless boy.

Harris loved to read, and the local postmaster would save newspapers and magazines for him. In 1862 he began work as a type setter at a weekly newspaper The Countryman, published at Turnwold plantation, nine miles from Eatonton. The young man had grown up without a father in his life, and the newspaper owner, Joseph Addison Turner, became a father-figure to him. Turner allowed Harris to read the books in his library, and encouraged him to write stories and articles for publication.

When Harris wasn’t working he would go to the slave quarters and listen to elderly slaves tell stories about trickster animals. One of the slaves was Uncle George Terrell, who became a second father-figure to Harris, as well as the inspiration for the Uncle Remus character.

In 1864 Union troops under the leadership of General Sherman ransacked Turnwold plantation, but The Countryman continued to be published up until 1866. The Union army left many of the neighboring plantations in ruins, and buying a newspaper became a luxury few could afford.

During the next decade Harris worked at several newspapers, leaving one of them because fellow employees continually mocked his appearance. While working at the Savannah Morning News he wrote a humor column, Affairs of Georgia, that was often reprinted in other newspapers.

In 1873 Harris married eighteen year old Mary Ester LaRose. He continued at the Morning News until 1876, when the Harris family moved to Atlanta to escape a yellow fever epidemic.

From 1876 to 1900 Harris worked at the Atlantic Constitution. He began a column which featured an ex-slave named Uncle Remus who would stop by the newspaper office and give his opinion on social and racial issues. In 1879 the Atlantic Constitution published The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox as Told by Uncle Remus, one of the tales Harris had heard in the slave quarters at Turnwold plantation. Uncle Remus stories became a regular feature in the newspaper. The stories were reprinted in papers across the country, and publisher D. Appleton and Company asked Harris to compile them into a book.

Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings was published in 1880. In Mr. Harris’ introduction he wrote that the stories “may be considered a curiously sympathetic supplement to Mrs. Stowe’s wonderful defense of slavery as it existed in the South. Mrs. Stowe …. painted the portrait of the Southern slave-owner, and defended him.” He was referring to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and I’m at a loss to explain what he meant by stating the book was a “defense of slavery.” Perhaps it would be easier to understand if I had read his words in 1880.

From what I have read about Joel Chandler Harris it appears he felt most slave owners had been good people, and cruelty to slaves had been a rare occurrence. Back in the 1860s the short, red-headed, stuttering, illegitimate young man had found acceptance and encouragement from a slave owner, and Harris had happy memories of visiting the slave quarters at Turnwold plantation.

During his time as an assistant editor and editorial writer at the Atlantic Constitution Harris acknowledged that slavery had ended and reconstruction of the South was the law of the land. He believed freed slaves had a right to an education, plus unrestricted access to the ballot box. And he felt it was vital to preserve the legacy of the African folk tales he’d heard from Uncle George Terrell and others who’d spent most of their lives as unpaid laborers on Southern plantations.

He may have believed that the average black person was less intelligent than the average white person, but if that had been his opinion he shared the viewpoint of many white people who’d had more formal education than he’d received.

As to the criticism that Harris had not been a strong enough advocate for the rights of former slaves I’ll not attempt to decide if he was prejudiced against the cause, or if he felt he couldn’t antagonize the whites who supported Southern newspapers.

Harris ended his newspaper career in 1900, but continued to write for major magazines, and to compile Uncle Remus stories into books up until his 1908 death from cirrhosis of the liver. Although he’d suffered from alcoholism the former forlorn and friendless boy had been a beloved husband and father, as well as the shy and modest author of dozens of books once admired around the world.

Should his stories be read today? The only caution I’d give to those interested in the work of Joel Chandler Harris is that his use of regional dialect requires the reader to interpret the equivalent of a foreign language. Here is the first sentence spoken by Uncle Remus:

“Bimeby, one day, atter Brer Fox bin doin’ all dat he could fer ter ketch Brer Rabbit, en Brer Rabbit bein doin’ all he could fer ter keep ‘im fum it, Brer Fox say to hisse’f dat he’d put up a game on Brer Rabbit, en he ain’t mo’n got de wuds out’n his mouf twel Brer Rabbit came a lopin’ up de big road, lookin’ des ez plump, en ez fat, en ez sassy ez a Moggin hoss in a barley-patch.”

With a little practice it becomes easier to understand what Uncle Remus is saying, but the stories never become a quick read. If you wish to take on a challenge the book Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings can be downloaded without cost at: www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2306/pg2306-images.html

Pollyanna and the Glad Game

“Pollyanna” has become a noun meaning an overly optimistic person,but some may use the term without realizing the name is the title character of a best-selling novel.

Eleanor H. Porter’s book was first published in 1913, and anyone who reads the story learns that an eleven-year-old orphan named Pollyanna Whittier often had a difficult time finding something in her life to feel glad about.

We’ll start with Pollyanna’s mother, who had been born into a prominent family, had been expected to marry the wealthiest man in town, and was ostracized for marrying the pastor of a small mission church in a western state. The Rev. Whittier’s family was so poor that all clothing, toys, rugs or pictures had to come from mission barrels of donated items.

Pollyanna had been the only one of the Whittier children to live beyond infancy, and Mrs. Whittier died when her daughter was quite young. The girl was raised by her beloved father and the Ladies’ Aiders – church women in the Ladies’ Aid society. When her father died she was sent to live with her maternal Aunt Polly Harrison.

Aunt Polly was a wealthy forty-year-old spinster who took in Pollyanna because it was her duty to do so, though she had no interest in her sister’s child. She had an attic room prepared for her niece to sleep in, and sent Nancy, her hired girl, to meet the train bringing the unwanted relative. The orphan girl arrived when the summer sun made the attic sweltering hot, but the attic windows had no screens so were not allowed to be opened to cool the room at night, for Aunt Polly didn’t want flies in her house.

Pollyanna was a friendly chatterbox who loved to get to know everyone she met. She found comfort in talking about her father, but Aunt Polly forbade her to mention Rev. Whittier in her presence – so the aunt became one of the few residents in town who didn’t immediately learn about her brother-in-law’s Just Being Glad Game.

The game began when Rev. Whittier asked that a doll be sent in the next mission barrel, but instead of a toy a pair of crutches were received. To lessen his daughter’s disappointment the minister told her to think of something good about the barrel’s contents, and Pollyanna was able to be glad that she hadn’t needed to use the crutches. Soon she discovered that if she tried hard enough she could find something to be glad about in the most trying of times.

When Pollyanna entered her aunt’s house, was walked past beautifully furnished rooms, and then saw her shabby attic room, it took awhile for her to be glad. But then she saw the view from the window, and said she didn’t need pictures on the walls when she could see beauty by looking outside. Despite the Glad Game she cried herself to sleep on her first night in the attic, for her father had gone away to Heaven, and she was so far removed from anyone else in her aunt’s big house.

Pollyanna began teaching the Glad Game to over-worked Nancy, and to Mrs. Snow, an invalid neighbor who had been finding fault with everything for the past fifteen years. And she began greeting the dour man who never spoke to anyone – especially fool girls who insisted on being cheerful. Soon most of the townspeople were trading stories of how the girl with the sunny disposition was making life a little brighter.

The girl tended to see the best of people, but some events troubled her rosy outlook. One day she met ten-year-old Jimmy Bean, who wanted to leave the Orphans’ Home and find a home with a family, where there would be a mother, and not just a matron. Pollyanna was sure her Aunt Polly would take in the boy, but her aunt refused to offer him a home, and called him a dirty begger.

That was a shock to Pollyanna, but she felt the best solution was to go to the local Ladies Aid meeting to find Jimmy a home. Once again she met with refusal, plus she learned some Ladies Aiders were only concerned with having their name at the top of the list of contributers to the foreign missions – a status that would be compromised by helping a boy in their own community.

Our heroine continued on with spreading gladness, and was gratified with the positive change in Mrs. Snow’s outlook on life. Aunt Polly’s heart thawed enough to move Pollyanna out of the attic and into a beautiful bedroom, and even the grumpy man who hated everyone made an exception and became friends with Pollyanna.

But even a loving girl raised on her dear father’s Just Be Glad Game has her breaking point, and Pollyanna’s occurred when she was struck by an automobile and suffered spinal injuries. Pollyanna overheard the doctor say she will never walk again, and becomes so devastated that she is unable to think of anything to be glad about.

Fortunately all the people Pollyanna had been helping began stopping by with messages about how playing the game had made them glad, and it eased their difficulties. She even learned that Jimmy Bean would be getting a real home. Aunt Polly is finally told about the Glad Game and is able to help Pollyanna take up the game once more. And if Aunt Polly could only bring herself to get over a quarrel that took place fifteen years ago there was someone who knew someone who might help Pollyanna walk once more….

Pollyanna is a novel about a likable girl with enough minor faults to make her believable. She tends to talk too much, which often leads to humorous reactions from those around her. At times she does seem a bit too naive and good natured, but I found her story entertaining.

The book can be downloaded free of charge at:


The Littlest Rebel

I first became aware of this story when I made a flea market purchase of a Little Big Book (Saalfield Publishing Company’s version of Whitman’s Big Little Books). The volume had numerous photos from the 1935 Shirley Temple movie, but almost none of the illustrations had any connection with the book’s plot line.

After reading my abridged version of The Littlest Rebel I watched the movie, then downloaded and read the complete 1914 novel, which was an adaption of a 1911 stage play.

The play was written by Edward H. Peple, who was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1869. Since Peple began life in the former Confederate capital just five years after the Civil War ended I assume he grew up hearing stories about the days of the Confederacy. Though he writes of a family loyal to the Southern Cause, he portrays most Union Army officers and enlisted men in a sympathetic light.

The film version begins right when war is being declared and, since it is a Shirley Temple movie, the first scene is of singing and dancing at young Virgie Cary’s birthday party. The festivities ended abruptly when Virgie’s father learned of the attack at Fort Sumter, and he goes off to fight for his country.

The book, however, begins in 1864, three years into the war, when seven-year-old Virginia Cary is one of the few remaining residents on the family’s plantation near Richmond. There are only Virgie and her mother, plus two remaining slaves – a foolish girl named Sally Ann, and loyal Uncle Billy. Most of the livestock had been taken by both the Union and Confederate armies, and there was little remaining food of any kind.

Virgie’s father, Captain Herbert Cary, a scout in the Confederate Army, comes home for a ten minute visit to hug his family and change horses. Moments after he leaves Union cavalrymen, led by Colonel Morrison, came in search of Captain Cary.

Morrison told Mrs. Cary they had to search the house, but he assured her no harm would come to her property. Unfortunately, after the search was concluded, drunken Sergeant Dudley – who’d been an overseer on the plantation until Captain Cary had horsewhipped and fired him for mistreating slaves – set fire to the upstairs rooms.

Sergeant Dudley staggered out of the burning house and rushed away. He was ordered to halt, and when he did not Morrison shot and killed him.

In the next chapter young Virgie was the only one living on what was left of the plantation. Her mother had died, Sally Ann ran off, and Uncle Billy had gone to Richmond in search of food, but the Union Army blocked his return. Virgie was barefooted, dressed in rags, and staying in an overseer’s cabin. She was surviving on berries and parched-acorn coffee.

Her father, wounded and on foot, comes to her with a pass from General Lee to get her safely through the military lines. But Colonel Morrison and his men returned in search of Captain Cary. The colonel was separated from his men when he discovered the captain’s hiding place, and the captain asked him to get Virgie to Richmond, and not let her know he was to be executed.

Colonel Morrison decided to allow Captain Cary to get his daughter to safety, and requested that he travel as a father and not as a scout, and to forget anything he might see while slipping through the Union lines. He wrote his own pass on the back of the one from General Lee, and left with his troops.

During the Carys walk to Richmond they met up with Union soldiers. Corporal Dudley, the brother of the man Colonel Morrison shot after the man torched the Cary home, came into possession of the double pass. It was proof that Morrison helped a suspected spy escape, and the corporal went after revenge.

Both Captain Cary and Colonel Morrison were put under arrest, and the colonel was court-martialed and found guilty of treason. Both officers received the death sentence.

In the Shirley Temple movie Virgie and Uncle Billy set out for Washington and asked President Lincoln to pardon the captain and the colonel. But in the novel author Edward H. Peple knew who had the real power during the war. The officer who’d served as Colonel Morrison’s court-martial counsel went to see General Grant and asked for a pardon.

General Grant referred to himself as a war machine. He focused on what needed to be done to defeat the enemy, and if a defective cog was found within the machinery of war it was replaced for the purpose of reuniting the country. Grant was not swayed by sob stories. But when a barefoot girl in a ragged dress defeated the sentries and rushed into the general’s headquarters he was presented with a witness to the crucial question of whether Captain Cary was merely an enemy scout, or if he truly had been a spy.

I found The Littlest Rebel a compelling book, though it is not politically correct. There were viewpoints on slavery that made me want to reach into certain paragraphs and bang heads against a wall. But the story is about a little girl who looses all except her Daddy, and her love for the Southern Cause and General Lee. She remained determined to make the best of her ordeals, and be a brave “soldier.”

The war was coming to an end, both of Virgie’s parents had known the South would be defeated, but both believed the fighting had to continue. Virgie met some good “damn Yankees” and her seven-year-old intellect pondered how they would need to follow commands from their own general, whom she assumed they loved as much as she loved General Lee.

The book is melodramatic, with the purplest of purple prose about love and honor, and fighting for a doomed cause. I found some sections cringe-worthy, but was often near tears as I read about flawed people I grew to care about.

If you would like to read The Littlest Rebel it can be downloaded free of charge at: www.gutenberg.org/files/15414/15414-h/15414-h.htm

Robert Louis Stevenson

On November 13, 1850 Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson was born into a family of engineers who designed, constructed and inspected lighthouses along the Scottish coasts. His grandfather was famous for his lighthouse improvements.

Young Stevenson was expected to follow in the family profession, but he first had to survive his childhood, for he had “weak lungs” and was often bedridden with painful breathing problems – which may or may not have been due to a form of tuberculosis.

He loved stories, both those told at his sick bed and those he read, and at an early age he began writing. As a child he was enrolled at several schools, but health problems kept him out of the classroom most of the time, so much of his early education came from private tutors. When he was able to do so he would take sea voyages with his father on inspection tours. The workings of the lighthouses didn’t interest him, but he loved to be out on the water.

The only occupation he wanted was to be a writer but at the age of seventeen, to please his parents, he began studying engineering at Edinburgh University. After three years he refused to continue his studies, and though his father gave up on his only son becoming an engineer he insisted on a backup career for him. Stevenson studied law and was called to the Scottish bar at age twenty-five, but he never practiced law.

When he was about twenty he changed the spelling of one middle name, and dropped the use of Balfour – his mother’s maiden name. From then on he would be Robert Louis Stevenson. This was just one of his decisions that didn’t please his family.

The Stevensons were wealthy professionals who adhered to the social conventions of their state in life. Robert Louis Stevenson was brilliant, hard working (despite physical limitations), compassionate, and kind to all he met. He was also an eccentric who apparently didn’t understand why his appearance and behavior was considered outlandish.

He’d always been too thin and, starting as a young man, he grew his hair long. He tended to dress in miss-matched clothing, topped with a long ulster coat. Strangers often viewed him as a tramp, which distressed him, for he had been raised to be a gentleman.

After finishing his law studies Stevenson committed his time to writing. In 1876 he joined an artists’ colony near Paris. It was there he met the love of his life. Fanny Osbourne did not meet the immediate approval of the Stevenson family. Not only was she an American ten years older than Robert Louis, but she was the mother of three children, married to a philandering man. Fanny had moved to France to be separated from her husband, Sam Osbourne, but he had traveled to be reunited with her at the death of their youngest child.

Fanny Osbourne returned to the United States with her husband and remaining two children, but corresponded with Stevenson. He decided to follow her to America. The trip nearly killed him.

Now in his late twenties, Stevenson had been living on gifts from his parents. He decided it was time to make his own way in the world. Taking only a change of clothing and some volumes of American history he made the ten day Atlantic voyage as a second class passenger, but chose to spend most of the crossing with the steerage passengers. Time spent in the cramped and filthy steerage area caused a lingering rash on his hands, plus he lost fourteen pounds. When he arrived in New York his five-foot-ten-inch frame was down to a weight of a hundred and five pounds.

Stevenson learned Fanny was living near San Francisco, suffering from “inflammation of the brain.” He took a two-week cross country trip on an emigrant train. Conditions would have been hard for a healthy man to endure, and Stevenson was far from healthy. Railroad cars were crowded and dirty, and on one of the days meals were not available. For part of the trip Stevenson climbed to the roof of a freight car and crossed the prairie sitting outside, breathing in the fresh air his weak lungs needed.

After crossing an ocean and a continent to be with his loved one Stevenson arrived in California a physical wreck, dressed in ragged clothes. And Fanny Osbourne told him she wasn’t sure if she should divorce her husband. Her teenage daughter had just eloped, but her twelve year old son Sam – who went by his middle name of Lloyd – needed a proper home. Stevenson had renounced his family’s wealth, but was making little money from his writing.

Stevenson hired a horse and buckboard and planned to nurse his broken heart by camping in the mountains. On the second day he collapsed and lay on the ground for two days until being found by a goat herder. He spent two weeks convalescing, sitting up in bed, giving reading lessons to two little ranch girls. No matter how weak his condition he possessed a strong, pleasant voice, and he loved helping children.

He then returned to Fanny, now living in Monterey, and learned she was obtaining a divorce. Stevenson found a cheap room near the sea, and spent most of his waking hours writing. He earned little money and began skipping meals. During an influenza epidemic he stayed up nights with his landlady’s four-year-old son, who was thought to be dying.

The boy survived but Stevenson nearly died of hemorrhages, brought on by days of high fever and coughing. Fanny came to be his nurse – and would continue nursing Stevenson for the remainder of his life. His parents learned of his desperate situation and sent a telegram stating they would send him the sum of two-hundred-fifty pounds a year. Twice before they had sent money to their son, but he never received the funds.

On May 19, 1880 Stevenson, who described himself as being “a mere complication of cough and bones,” married Fanny. To save on expenses they honeymooned in the bunkhouse of an abandoned mining town called Silverado.

The new family traveled in search of a place where Robert Louis Stevenson could regain his health. Wherever he was he wrote, and whenever he could he tramped about outside, often with his stepson, who adored his new father. They traveled to Scotland to visit Stevenson’s parents. The damp weather was bad for his health, but his parents learned to appreciate their daughter-in-law.

It was in Scotland that Stevenson drew a treasure map to amuse Lloyd. From that map came his first best selling book. Treasure Island was published in 1883. A Child’s Garden of Verse was published in 1885, followed by Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886. He became wealthy from his own efforts, and was a beloved author around the world.

Stevenson wrote poetry, magazine articles, travel books, and adventure novels that were often set in Scotland. Because of his health he could no longer live in his birth country, but the history he’d learned as a child never left him.

In 1890 the Stevensons settled in the South Pacific island of Samoa where they bought land and built a home. During Stevenson’s years in Samoa he did not consider himself a superior European. He loved the Samoan people and their culture, and his neighbors loved him. He took the native name of Tusitala, which means Teller of Tales.

On December 3, 1894, at the age of forty-four, Stevenson died of a ruptured blood vessel in his brain. He was buried on a Samoan mountain top overlooking the sea. On his grave marker are the words he requested to be his epitaph:

Under the wide and starry sky,

Dig the grave and let me lie.

Glad did I live and gladly die,

And I lay me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:

Here he lies where he longed to be,

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

Captain January

I watched both movies based on this short book – the 1924 silent film starring Baby Peggy, and the 1936 musical version with Shirley Temple. Since the films had the same basic ending I was sure I knew how the book would conclude. Not even close.

Before you meet seventy-year-old Captain Januarius Judkins (a/k/a Captain January a/k/a Daddy Captain) and ten-year-old Star Bright I’ll tell you a little about the author.

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards was born in Boston on February 27, 1850. Her father was Samuel Gridley Howe, who helped establish the Perkins Institute, the first school for the blind in the United States. Mrs. Richard’s mother was Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

After marrying her next-door neighbor Mrs. Richards would become the mother of seven children. She began writing and selling children’s poetry and novels, as well as biographies. In 1917 Mrs. Richards and her sister, Maud Howe Elliot won the Pulitizer Prize for Julia Ward Howe, a biography about their mother.

The author had more than 90 books published. Captain January was first printed in 1890.

The reader learns about Captain January’s background from the stories he tells to Star Bright. He’d run off to sea as a young boy and in time worked his way up to being ship’s captain. His last vessel was destroyed in a cyclone, and the captain was shipwrecked on a desert island – five years with a ship mate, and ten years alone after the mate died.

He was finally rescued and returned to his boyhood hometown, but couldn’t get used to being around people. He learned of the need for a lighthouse keeper on a island off the coast of Maine, asked for, and obtained the job. Once again he was living in solitude, until ten years before the story begins.

During a gale a shipwreck occurred on the lighthouse island’s rocky coast, and the only survivor was a baby girl. The next day Captain January sent for the minister to give a proper burial to the bodies he recovered, but refused to give up the baby he named Star Bright. He was sure the Lord wanted him to care for the little survivor.

He obtained a milk cow named Imogen, and later asked the minister for a couple of books to use in educating his girl. He was given the Bible, plus a book of Shakespeare’s plays. Those books became greatly loved by Star and the captain, but neither liked the dictionary the minister also gave them. That book was considered a troublemaker.

Star was not perfect – she could be bossy, had a quick temper, and didn’t like being in the company of strangers. Well, a girl raised by a recluse, and who read Shakespeare to a cow, can’t be expected to behave like an average child. But she adored her Daddy Captain, and enjoyed the company of the only person encouraged to visit the lighthouse.

Bob Peet was the pilot of the steamer Huntress that regularly went past the island. Some thought him not quite right in his mind because of his stubborn and quiet ways, but Captain January liked him because he could “belay his jaw” and sit for hours without feeling the need to speak.

One day Bob came by for a visit, and admitted he wasn’t on the Huntress because he’d run her aground on the sand during a thick fog. All aboard would have to wait until high tide before finishing their journey.

With the captain’s approval Bob rowed Star close to the grounded steamer. That short outing had serious consequences, for a lady passenger saw the girl, and was shocked by the resemblance to her sister, who’d been lost at sea – along with her husband and baby – ten years ago.

The next day the minister was rowed to the island to tell Captain January that wealthy Mrs. Morton was sure Star was her niece and wanted to do what was best for the girl. In an hour’s time Bob Peet would row Mr. and Mrs. Morton to the lighthouse. At first the poor captain railed at the injustice of a stranger claiming any right to the child who had become his reason for living, but though he was rough and uneducated Januarius Judkins had faith in the Lord’s will.

With heartbroken dignity he greeted Mr. and Mrs. Morton, and declared his lighthouse island to be “Good anchorage for a shipwrecked mariner like me, but no place for ladies or – or them as belongs to ladies.”

The captain was willing to give up his treasure, but when Star was asked to go off with her relatives she replied that they could kill her and take away her body, but she would never leave when she was alive. Mrs. Morton was not cruel, and so she left her niece with the lighthouse captain.

One crisis passed, but another one was looming.

On Christmas day Bob Peet came with pockets filled with candy and oranges, plus he brought a large box containing presents and a letter from Star’s aunt. When Star took her beautiful new doll up to her bedroom the captain made plans with Bob.

The Lord was letting Captain January know that he would soon receive his “final sailing orders” and Star needed to be taken care of. The captain would fly a blue pennant as a signal, and when Bob went past as pilot of the Huntress he would look for that pennant, and when he saw it he’d know all was well. (I looked in my father’s World War II edition of The Bluejackets’ Manual and saw that a blue pennant meant “senior officer present.”)

When the time came when Bob didn’t see the signal pennant he was to tell the steamer’s captain to send a telegram to Mr. and Mrs. Morton, and Bob was to row to the lighthouse and comfort Star.

I will end this summary by stating both of the film versions ended with Star going to live with a wealthy family, and the captain being hired to take charge of the family’s yacht. There are no yachts in the novel.

Is there anyone who doesn’t love the romance and lore of old-time lighthouses? This brief, six-chapter novel has a nautical flavor to it, with the main characters speaking in seafaring terms. The author moved to Maine a few years after her marriage, so I am sure the local dialect rings true.

Captain January and Star Bright are both salty individuals, but I grew to care for the loving and believable family. More than thirty-five years after writing Captain January Laura E. Richards wrote a sequel entitled Star Bright, published in 1927. This second book was apparently not a best seller, and the few copies I’ve seen for sale are on the pricey side. But I know I will eventually acquire a copy, for I want to know more about the story.

I found this book when I came up with the idea to read all of the original stories Shirley Temple movies were based on, and I was expecting the novel to be rather trite. It now holds a permanent place as one of my favorite Bookshelf Companions.

If you’d like to read Captain January it can be downloaded without charge at:


The Peterkin Papers Delightful In Small Doses

Years ago I obtained a book of classic Christmas poems and stories, and one story was The Peterkins’ Christmas Tree, about a family preparing for the holiday. Alas, when the family’s evergreen was cut and delivered it was discovered that it was too tall to stand in the back parlor.

What to do? Agamemnon, the eldest son, suggested the tree be set up slanting, but Mrs. Peterkin was sure that would make her dizzy, plus the candles would drip.

Then Mr. Peterkin decided to have the parlor ceiling raised, to make room for the top of the tree. Not the entire parlor ceiling, (for daughter Elizabeth Eliza’s bedroom was above the parlor, and it would be awkward having no floor during alterations,) but just a ridge along the back of the room, where the tree would be placed.

When a carpenter was consulted, he suggested cutting off some of the tree at the lower end, but the family had already made up their minds to raise the parlor ceiling.

While the carpentry work was being done some family members attempted to make tree ornaments, and others went shopping for decorations, but no one ended up with much of anything.

At the last minute disaster was averted by the delivery of a large box of ornaments sent by the lady from Philadelphia, and the family ended up with a wonderful Christmas tree.

I am not always amused by stories about foolish people, but I liked the Peterkins, and their well-meaning ways. A few years later I obtained The St. Nicholas Anthology, and one of the stories collected from that children’s magazine was The Peterkins Celebrate the Fourth of July.

Over time I came across other Peterkin tales, and began to sort everyone out. In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin was their grown daughter, Elizabeth Eliza, who was named after two aunts. The oldest son was Agamemnon, who had briefly attended several colleges. Next came Solomon John, who liked to make things. And lastly were the little boys – there were either two or three of them (one story says three, another mentions “both” of the boys). Readers never learn their names, or much about them, other than that they often wore India rubber boots.

The family appears to have lived in a village, and often took the train to Boston. And they had a sensible friend – the lady from Philadelphia.

I attempted to learned something about the author, Lucrecia P. Hale, who lived from 1820 to 1900. She was from a distinguished Boston family. Her father had been named after his uncle, Nathan Hale, the patriot who’d declared “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

Her mother was the sister of orator Edward Everett, the main speaker at the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery. (After Mr. Everett spoke for more than two hours President Lincoln gave his brief Gettysburg Address, which began “Four score and seven years ago…)

Several of Miss Hale’s ten siblings were authors; her brother Edward Everett Hale wrote The Man Without a Country.

Miss Hale had a great interest in education, and was one of the first six women elected to the Boston School Committee. She was a prolific writer, whose published work includes many novels, books on religious subjects, and on the art of needlework.

In 1868 her story The Lady Who Put Salt In Her Coffee was published in the children’s magazine Our Young Folks. That was the first of dozens of stories about the foolish Peterkin family. I wonder if Miss Hale would be pleased or annoyed if she knew that only her silly stories were now remembered. I hope she enjoyed writing them – and that they amused her highly-educated Boston family.

Every so often I read another Peterkin story, and enjoy most of them, though I find a few too ridiculous to have any charm for me. And I’ve learned that Peterkin stories are like rich deserts – too much at one time doesn’t agree with me.

So I take them one story now and then, and I learn what to do if the delivery men bring in a piano and set it up against a window, with the back facing the middle of the room. You open up the window, take the piano stool out onto the piazza (porch) and play your music through the window. When cold weather sets in this method of music making becomes uncomfortable, but fortunately the lady from Philadelphia comes up with a solution to the problem …

If you’d like to get to know the Peterkin family you can download The Peterkin Papers free of charge at:


The Little Colonel Books

I own the first four volumes of the Little Colonel series, and recently reread them for the first time in at least a decade. Alas, I didn’t find them to be as entertaining as they once seemed to me.

The author, Annie Fellows Johnston, was born in Indiana in 1863. In 1888 she married a widower with three children, and just four years later Mrs. Johnston became a widow with stepchildren to support through her work as a writer.

When her stepchildren visited relatives in Kentucky Mrs. Johnston fell in love with the area, and (as a website explains it) “with its atmosphere of leisure and aristocracy left over from the days of slavery.” She later moved to the state. In 1895 Mrs. Johnston wrote The Little Colonel which tells the story of a five-year-old girl named Lloyd Sherman.

Lloyd’s grandfather had been a colonel in the Confederate Army, and had lost both his right arm and his only son in the Civil War. Colonel Lloyd’s only daughter married a wealthy Yankee, and had been disowned. The daughter gave birth to Lloyd, who was nicknamed the Little Colonel because she was just as quick-tempered and stubborn as her grandfather.

After Mr. Sherman lost his money, and went out west to try and earn some more, Lloyd’s parents refused to ask the colonel for any help. Mrs. Sherman, Lloyd and a black servant moved near the colonel’s plantation, into a cottage Mrs. Sherman had inherited from her mother. (It was never explained just why the colonel’s deceased wife had a cottage to leave her daughter.)

Lloyd pays visits to her grandfather, the two argue and scold, but eventually learn to love each other. Then Mr. Sherman came home with a fever, and it was thought he might die. Lloyd rushed to her grandfather, asked him to come and help, and the grandfather refused. Lloyd declared she never wanted to see him again, the grandfather remained stubborn … until the happy ending when all was forgiven. (And yes, there is a rather dull Shirley Temple movie that tells the Hollywood version of this tale.)

The next volume in what would become a series was The Giant Scissors about a western girl named Joyce Ware who spends a year in France, near an estate with a massive gate that has a pair of scissors as part of the ironwork design. Book three was Two Little Knights of Kentucky, where the Little Colonel has a minor role in a story about two brothers that live near her home.

The fourth was the first one I read, for The Little Colonel’s House Party was a book I somehow acquired when I was young. In this story Mrs. Sherman invites the daughters of her dearest school friends to come and spend part of the summer. The house party guests are Joyce Ware (fresh from her trip to France), a poor orphan named Betty, and a wealthy spoiled brat named Eugenia.

During the recent reread I found Betty and Joyce to be the nice girls, and Lloyd too easily influenced by Eugenia’s ideas that parental rules don’t have to be followed. Towards the end obedient Betty came down with the measles brought home by the disobedient girls. The measles affected her eyes, and for a time it was believed she might be permanently blind.

Fortunately Betty regained her sight, but not before important lessons were learned by all, especially Eugenia. And in future novels Lloyd had her adventures while obeying her parents and being a proper young lady, which made her a rather dull character. As a five-year-old, facing a family crisis, it was acceptable for the Little Colonel to be feisty, but as she grew older she was admonished to be polite and patient, which turned her into a nice, but unexceptional girl.

After The Little Colonel’s House Party children sent letters to Annie Fellows Johnston imploring her to keep writing about Lloyd and her friends. Mrs. Johnston dutifully wrote the next novel, The Little Colonel’s Holidays, which I just read online. That novel taught me that just about anything can happen in a Little Colonel book.

Lloyd was invited to visit the farm family who had raised Betty. The Little Colonel enjoyed the visit, though for a time she disliked the angry teenage girl, Molly, who’d come from the orphan asylum to help with household chores.

Betty talked with Molly and was told her dreadful secret – Molly’s father had been a good man until he started drinking liquor. Soon the family was destitute. Her mother died, her grandmother was sent to an insane asylum, and just as Molly and her younger sister, Dot, were to be taken to an orphan asylum the drunken father carried off the sickly Dot, and no one had seen her since.

Both Lloyd and Betty wrote letters to Joyce and Eugenia, and soon all the girls were dedicated to finding poor Dot. When Lloyd left the farm, and traveled to a different location for Thanksgiving and Christmas, she told her hosts about Molly and Dot, so I knew the poor waif would be located by the end of the novel.

Lloyd found Dot while delivering gifts to a charity hospital, but while Molly was briefly reunited with her sister, Dot dies a few days later, on Christmas evening, just as the last Christmas tree candle went out.  Mrs. Johnston informs her readers that “nothing but the cruelty and neglect of a drunken father had caused Dot’s illness and death.” Molly was at peace over Dot’s death, for she knew her sister would never again be starved or beaten, plus her sister had been happy for the month she spent at the hospital.

I wasn’t pleased with the ending, but the novel apparently sold well, for Mrs. Johnston went on to write about Lloyd Sherman traveling to Europe, going to boarding school, and visiting Joyce Ware after Joyce’s brother was seriously injured and the Ware family moved to Arizona to aid his recovery.

The Little Colonel’s Knight Comes Riding tells of Lloyd’s marriage, and after that the series switched to books about Joyce’s younger sister Mary Ware – whose family moved to Texas due to the brother’s continued poor health.

I learned that the books with western settings came about because the author’s stepson, John Johnston, contracted tuberculosis, and Mrs. Johnston went with him to Arizona, California and Texas in an eight-year attempt to save his life. While the fictional character, Jack Ware, eventually regained his health, Mrs. Johnston’s stepson died when he was only 29. After his death Mrs. Johnston returned to Kentucky.

While researching this book series I discovered there is an Annie Fellows Johnston and The Little Colonel website. At the site is information about the author, and the people who inspired the fictional characters. There are also links enabling readers to download all of the Little Colonel books.

While I don’t plan to collect the remaining books in this series, I will probably read them online, mainly to learn what happens to the orphan girl, Betty, as well as the Ware family.

Annie Fellows Johnston wrote fourteen Little Colonel novels between 1895 and 1912. In addition, chapters of some books were slightly revised and published as smaller books. For example, The Story of the Red Cross As Told to the Little Colonel (published in 1918) consists of five chapters from The Little Colonel’s Hero (published in 1902), with a new ending chapter. The book series must have had a large and loyal following, for the volumes stayed in print until at least the 1930s.

Though I can’t give the Little Colonel books a glowing recommendation, they are a look at what past generations of young people liked to read about. And the Little Colonel’s poorer friends are both interesting and likable. In my humble opinion, being born into the leisure and aristocracy of the Old South sure put a crimp in your ability to carry along a book series based only on your own merits.

To learn more, go to: http://www.littlecolonel.com

Captains Courageous

I’ll ‘fess up and say that while I can’t swim, and am afraid of going out on the water, I have a fascination for the lore of sailing ships. As long as I’m on dry land and in a comfy seat I enjoy an occasional sea story filled with descriptions of sails and riggings and the changing appearance of the seemingly-endless ocean.

 Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 novel, subtitled A Story of the Grand Banks, takes its title from the ballad Mary Ambree, which speaks of “captains courageous of valour so bold.” The novel’s main character, fifteen-year-old Harvey Cheyne, Jr., did not immediately have such noble thoughts towards the captain of the fishing boat that became his unplanned home for many months.

The reader first learns of Harvey through uncomplimentary remarks made in the smoking room of a ocean liner. The only child of a wealthy California businessman, Harvey was traveling with his mother, who was going to Europe “with the boy and her nerves, trying to find out what will amuse him.”

Harvey entered the smoking room, boasted of never getting seasick, and asked if anyone had a cigarette. As a cruel joke he was offered a cheap cigar. To avoid anyone knowing the harsh tobacco made him sick he staggered out to a deserted part of the deck, and a roll of the ship sent him overboard.

He was rescued by a fisherman, and taken to the Gloucester schooner We’re Here. After meeting the captain, Disko Troop, Harvey demanded to be taken to New York right away. To prove that his father was wealthy Harvey reached into his pocket for his large roll of money, discovered it was gone, and accused Disko of stealing it.

Disko thought Harvey’s talk of a wealthy father, and getting two hundred dollars a month for spending money, was caused by a knock on the head when he fell overboard, and offered to hire him at ten-and-a-half dollars a month, since one of the crew had drowned.

The offer angered Harvey, but for the first time in his life his demands were refused, so he agreed to work as a “second boy” after Disko bloodied his nose to knock some sense into him.

Disko’s son, Dan, liked having someone his own age to work and talk with. He believed Harvey’s story of being wealthy, but couldn’t imagine Mr. Cheyne, Sr. having enough money to buy anything as grand as a fishing boat.

A boy’s work on the We’re Here  was cleaning the schooner and helping the cook until the men returned from fishing out of dories. After supper, work continued with cleaning and salting the day’s catch. (The livers of codfish were scooped out and dumped into a separate container.) After that the boys took their turns keeping night watch.

Harvey felt pride in his growing skills, and in the occasional grunted acknowledgements that his work was acceptable. He wondered what his parents’ reaction would be if they knew of the tasks he was mastering.

Captains Courageous introduces the reader to everyone working on the We’re Here.  All are interesting characters, but Penn – short for Pennsylvania – tugged at my sympathies. Penn was a hard working but unskilled fisherman who worried about Harvey’s parents, for it seemed to him that nothing could be worse than believing your child had died.

Dan told Harvey that Penn had been a preacher, and he and his family were staying at a hotel in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on the night the dam broke and destroyed the town. Penn’s wife and children drowned, and after that he wandered about with no memory of his past. Dan’s Uncle Salters took Penn under his wing, and saw that no harm came to him. It was believed that if Penn ever remembered what had happened it would kill him.

I enjoyed learning the fisherman’s life along with Harvey. There was joy and beauty, but also danger. The weather often turned deadly, plus an ocean liner could collide with a smaller sailing vessel and not even know it had left death and destruction in its wake.

I won’t give details to spoil the story for anyone who will read the novel, but at one point there was a great tragedy, and Penn stepped forward, declared he was a minister of the gospel, prayed for a miracle, and everyone on board credited him with obtaining one. Afterwards poor bewildered Penn commented that he’d had a strange dream, with no recollection of what he had accomplished.

After many adventures the We’re Here returned to Gloucester with flag at half-mast in honor of the fisherman who’d been swept overboard in a gale before Harvey came onboard. Harvey stayed with the Troop family, including Uncle Salters and Penn, and sent off a telegram to his father.

For a time the story switches to another point of view, and the reader learns what an 1890s multimillionaire can do if he wants to break the speed record for traveling across country.

Harvey Cheyne, Sr. owned several railroads and had a private car, so telegrams were sent out ordering all regularly scheduled trains to be sidelined so he and his wife could have the right-of-way as they raced to be reunited with their son.

After an exhilarating train trip Mr. and Mrs. Cheyne were in awe of the transformation of their weak and selfish son into a strong and healthy young man. And Harvey and Dan both delighted over Disko Troop’s consternation at being “mistook in his judgments” when he learned Harvey hadn’t been lying when he had insisted he was wealthy.

If I had written Captains Courageous I would have ended the story there, or perhaps after telling about the annual memorial day where the names of all who’d died at sea were read aloud. (In a year’s time Gloucester had lost 117 seamen.) But Kipling goes on to plan out Harvey and Dan’s careers, and the story ends when Harvey is a year away from graduating from college. Not a bad ending, but it wasn’t as exciting as the adventures on the We’re Here.

Three movies have been based on Captains Courageous. I’m told that the 1977 television movie is an accurate depiction of the novel’s plot, but the 1937 theatrical release and the 1996 television version tell a good story, though not the one Kipling wrote.

If you’d like to read the book it can be downloaded free of charge at:


Easter Eve Among the Cossacks

This is a bonus Bookshelf Companions post. Instead of me writing paragraphs that tell about a book, I’m going to share a story from the May, 1878 issue of St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls – just because I like it, and it gives a little history lesson about a long ago culture.

The original story had footnotes at the end, but I’m including those in brackets within the story. I wasn’t sure just what a Cossack was, so I looked it up and learned it meant “a member of a group of frontiersmen of southern Russia organized as cavalry in the czarist army.” (The New Britannica-Webster Dictionary)

Here is The Charcoal-Burners’ Fire; Or, Easter Eve Among the Cossacks (A Russian Legend) by David Ker:

“If you want me to tell you any wonderful stories, Barin, such as you’ve been telling us,” says Ostap Mordenko, shaking his bushy yellow beard, as he finished his cup of tea, “you’re just looking for corn upon a rock, as the saying is; for I never had an adventure since the day I was born, except that time when I slipped through a hole in the ice, last winter. But, perhaps, it will do as well if I tell you an old tale that I’ve heard many a time from my grandfather, that’s dead (may the kingdom of heaven be his!), and which will show you how there may be hope for a man, even when everything seems to be at the very worst.

“Many, many years ago, there lived in a village on the Don River, a poor man. When I say he was poor, I don’t mean that he had a few holes in his coat at times, or that he had to go without a dinner every now and then, for that’s what we’ve all had to do in our time; but it fairly seemed as if poverty were his brother, and had come to stay with him for good and all. Many a cold day his stove was unlighted, because he couldn’t afford to buy wood; and he lived on black bread and cold water from the New Year to the Nativity – it was no good talking to him about cabbage soup, or salted cucumber, or tea with lemon in it. [The three great dainties of the Russian peasant.]

“Now, if he had only himself to be troubled about, it wouldn’t have mattered a kopeck, [One third of a penny; one hundred kopecks equal one rouble.] for a man can always make shift for himself. But, you see, this man had been married once upon a time, and, although his wife was gone, his three children were left, and he had them to care for as well as himself. And, what was worse, instead of being boys, who might have gone out and earned something for themselves, they were all girls, who could do nothing but stay at home and cry for food, and many a time it went to his heart so that he stopped his ears, and ran out of the house that he mightn’t hear them.

“However, as the saying is, ‘Bear up, Cossack, and thou’ll be Maman (chief) some day;’ so he struggled on somehow or other, till as last it came to Easter Eve. And then all the village was up like a fair, some lighting candles before pictures of the saints; some baking cakes and pies, and all sorts of good things; others running about in their best clothes, greeting their friends and relations; and, as soon as it came to midnight, such a kissing and embracing, such a shaking of hands and exchanging of good wishes, as I daresay you’ve seen many a time in our villages; and nothing to be heard all over the place but ‘Christ is risen!’ ‘He is risen indeed!’ [The Easter greeting, and reply.]

“But, as you may think, our poor Stepka (Stephen) had neither new clothes or rejoicing in his hut – nor lighted candles either, for that matter. The good old priest had left him a few tapers as he passed, for he was always a kind man to the poor; but he had quite forgotten that the poor fellow would have nothing to kindle them with, and so, though the candles were in their places, all ready for lighting, there was not a glimmer of light to be be seen! And that troubled poor Stepka more than all his other griefs, for he was a true Russian, and thought it a sore thing that he could not even do honor to the day on which our Lord had arisen from the dead. Besides, he had hoped that the sight of the pretty light would amuse his children, and make them forget their hunger a little; and at the thought of their disappointment his heart was very sore.

“However, as the proverb says, ‘Sitting still won’t make one’s corn grow.’ So he got up and went out to beg a light from some of his neighbors. But the people of the village (it’s a pity to have to say it), were a hard-hearted, cross-grained set, who had not a morsel of compassion for a man in trouble; for they forgot that the tears of the poor are God’s thunder-bolts, and that every one of them will burn into a man’s soul at last, as good father Arkadi used to tell us. So when poor Stepka came up to one door after another, saying humbly, ‘Give me a light for my Easter candles, good neighbors, for the love of Heaven,’ some mocked at him, and others bade him begone, and others asked why he didn’t take better care of his own concerns, instead of coming bothering them; and one or two laughed, and told him there was a fine bright moon overhead, and all he had to do was to reach up a good long stick and get as much light as he wanted. So, you see, the poor fellow didn’t get much by the move; and what with the disappointment, and what with grief at finding himself so shabbily treated by his own neighbors, just because he happened to be poor, he was ready to go out of his wits outright.

“Just then he happened to look down into the plain (for the village stood on the slope of a hill), and behold! there were ever so many lights twinkling all over it, as if a regiment were encamped there; and Stepka thought that this must be a gang of charcoal-burners halting for the night, as they often did in passing to and fro. So, then, the thought struck him, ‘Why shouldn’t I go and beg a light from them; they can’t well be harder upon me than my own neighbors have been. I’ll try, at any rate!’

“And off he set, down the hill, right toward the encampment.

“The nearer he came to it, the brighter the fires seemed to burn; and the sight of the cheery light, and all the people coming and going around it, all so busy and happy, made him feel comforted without knowing why. He went up to the nearest fire, and took off his cap.

“‘Christ is risen!’ said he.

“‘He is risen indeed!’ answered one of the black men, in such a clear, sweet voice, that it sounded to Stepka just like his mother singing him to sleep when he was a child.

“‘Give me a light for my Easter candles, good people, I pray you.’

“‘You are heartily welcome,’ said the other, pointing to the glowing fire; ‘but how are you going to carry it home?’

“‘Oh, dear me!’ cried poor Stepka, striking his forehead, ‘I never though of that!’

“‘Well, that shows that you were very much in earnest, my friend,’ said the other, laughing; ‘but never mind; I think we can manage it for you. Lay down your coat.’

Stepka pulled off his old patched coat and laid it on the ground, wondering what was to come next; but what was his amazement when the man coolly threw two great shovelfuls of blazing wood on the coat, as coolly as if it were a charcoal bucket!

“‘Hallo! Hallo!’ cried Stepka, seizing his arm, ‘what on earth are you about, burning my coat that way?’

“‘Your coat will be none the worse, brother,’ said the charcoal-burner, with a curious smile. ‘Look and see!’

“And, sure enough, the fire lay quietly in the hollow of the coat, and never singed a thread of it! Stepka was so startled, that for a moment he thought he had to do, not with charcoal-burners, but with something worse; but, remembering how they had greeted him in the Holy Name, he became easy again.

“‘Good luck to you, my lad,’ said the strange man, as the Cossack took up his load. ‘You’ll get it home all right, never fear.’

“Away went Stepka like one in a dream, and never stopped till he got to his own house. He lighted all his candles, and then awoke his children (who had cried themselves to sleep) that they might enjoy the bonny light; and, when they saw it they clapped their hands and shouted for joy.

“Just then Stepka happened to look toward his coat, which he had laid down on the table, with the burning wood still in it, and started as if he had been stung. It was chock-full of gold – good, solid, ducats [The Russian word is “tchervontzi” – gold pieces worth five dollars each.]

“Now, just at that moment one of the neighbors happened to be passing, and hearing the children hurrahing and clapping their hands, he peeped through the window, wondering what they could find to be merry about. But, when he saw the heap of gold on the table, everything went clean out of his head, and he opened the door and burst in, like a wolf flying from the dogs.

“‘I say,’ cried he, without even stopping to give Stepka the greeting of the day, ‘where did you get this fine legacy from? It makes one’s eyes blink to look at it!’

“Now, Stepka was a good-hearted fellow, as I’ve said, and he never thought of remembering how badly this very man had treated him an hour or two before, but just told him the whole story right out, exactly as I tell you now. The other hardly waited to hear the end of it, but set off full speed to find these wonderful charcoal burners and try if he couldn’t get some gold out of them, too. And, as there had been more than a few listeners at the door while the tale was being told, it ended with the whole village running like mad in the same direction.

“When they got to the burners’ camp, the charcoal men looked at them rather queerly, as well they might, to see such a procession come to ask for a light all at once. However, they said nothing, but signed to them to lay their coats on the ground, and served out two shovelfuls of burning wood to each; and away went the roguish villagers, chuckling at the thought of getting rich so easily, and thinking what they would do with their money.

“But they had hardly gone a quarter of the way home, when the foremost suddenly gave a terrible howl and let fall his load; and in another moment all the rest joined it, till there was a chorus that you might have heard a mile off. And they had good reason; for, although the fire had laid in Stepka’s coat, it wouldn’t lie in theirs – it had burned right through, and their holiday clothes were spoiled, and their hands famously blistered, and all that was left of their riches was a smoke and smell like the burning of fifty tar-barrels. And when they turned to abuse the charcoal-burners, the charcoal-burners were gone; fires, camp and men had all vanished like a dream!

“But as for Stepka, his gold stuck by him, and he used it well. And always, on the day of his visit to the charcoal-burners, he gave a good dinner to as many poor folks as he could get together, saying that he must be good to others, even as God had been good to him. And that’s the end of my story.”