| This Way to Christmas|
|by Ruth Sawyer|
|Stranded in upstate New York with just seven days to go until Christmas, a lonesome boy comes up with an ingenious way to bring Christmas to the equally lonesome inhabitants of his small mountain community, all of whom were spending the winter far from home. Visiting each in turn, David befriends his neighbors and delights in hearing the Christmas stories they share with him, stories they heard in their homelands long ago. A final celebration brings all the neighbors of different nationalities together, forging relationships that will outlast the holiday season and sending a message of hope to a war-torn world. Ages 9-12 |
THE LOCKED-OUT FAIRY
WO months had passed since David had
come to the Hill Country—two months in
which he had thrown himself with all the stoutness
of heart he could muster into the new life
and the things Johanna had promised. He had
spent long, crisp November days with Barney
in the woods, watching him fell the trees marked
for fire-wood and learning to use his end of a
cross-cut saw. When the snow came and the
lumber roads were packed hard for sledding he
had shared in the driving of the team and the
piling of the logs. He had learned to skee and
to snow-shoe; already he had dulled his skates
on the pond above the beaver dam. Yet in
spite of all these things, in spite of Barney's
good-natured comradeship and Johanna's faithful
care and love, the ache in his heart had
grown deeper until his loneliness seemed to
shut him in like the snow-capped hills about
 him. And now it was seven days before Christmas—and
not a word had been said concerning
David had begun to wonder if in all that
country of bare hilltops and empty valleys, of
snow and fir-tree and wild creature, there was
anything out of which one could possibly make
a Christmas. And slowly the conviction had
been borne in upon him that there was not.
The very thought of the toy-stores in the city,
of the windows with their displays of Christmas
knickknacks, of the street booths covered with
greens, of what the boys on the block were
doing and talking about, of the memories of all
the other Christmases that had been, brought
unspeakable pangs to his soul. He wondered
how he was ever going to stand it—this
Christmas that was no Christmas.
And this is how it happened that at dusk-hour,
seven days before Christmas, a very low-spirited
boy of eight—going-on-nine—sat curled
up on the window-seat of the lodge, looking out
through the diamond panes and wishing with
all his heart that he was somebody else in some
other place and that it was some other time of
Barney was always bedding down the horses
 at this time and Johanna was getting supper;
and as there was never anything in particular
for David to do it had become a custom with
him to watch for the lighting of the lamps in
the cabins of the "heathen." There were four
cabins—only one was a cottage; and he could
see them all from the lodge by a mere change of
position or window. Somehow he liked them,
or thought he should like them if he knew them,
in spite of all the unalluring things Johanna had
said about them. According to her the families
who lived in them were outcasts, speaking
strange tongues and worshiping strange gods,
and quite unfit to cross the door-steps of honest
Christian folk. David hardly knew whether
Barney shared this opinion or not. Barney
teased Johanna a good deal and laughed at her
remarks every time she aired her grievance:
that there should be no decent neighbors like
themselves on all that barren hilltop. In his
own heart David clung persistently to the
feeling that he should like them all if he ever got
near enough to make their acquaintance.
It was always the "lunger's" lamp that shone
out first in the dusk. David could usually tell
to the minute when it would be lighted by
watching the shadow on the foot-hill. Johanna
 was uncertain from what country these neighbors
had come, but she thought it was Portugal.
And Portuguese! Words always failed her when
she tried to convey to David the exact place
that Portuguese held among the heathen; but
he was under the impression that it must be
very near the top. One of these neighbors was
sick with bad lungs, so his family had come to
try the open-air cure of the hills; and they had
been here since early spring. David never saw
their tiny spark of a light spring out against the
dark of the gathering gloom that he did not
make a wish that the "lunger" might be a
good deal better the next day.
Across the ridge from the foot-hill lay the
lumber-camp, and here David always looked for
the second light. The camp was temporarily
deserted, the company having decided to wait a
year or two before cutting down any more
timber, and the loggers had been sent to
another camp farther north. Only the cook, an
old negro, had remained behind to guard the
property from fire and poachers, and he it was
that lighted in his shack the solitary lamp that
sent its twinkling greeting up to David every
Straight down the hill shone the third light
 from the trapper's cabin, and it was always
close to dark before that was lighted. What the
trapper's nationality was Johanna had never
happened to specify; but she had often
declared that he was one of those bad-looking
dark men from the East—Asia, perhaps; and
she had not a doubt that he had come to the
woods to escape the law. David's mental
picture of him was something quite dreadful; and
yet when his light sprang out of the dark and
twinkled at him up the white slope he always
found himself desperately sorry for the trapper,
alone by himself with the creatures he had
trapped or shot—and his thoughts.
The fourth light came through another window,
shining up from the opposite slope of the
hill—the slope that led toward the station and
the village beyond. This was the flagman's
light and it hung in the little hut by the junction
where the main railroad crossed the circuit line.
It was always lighted when David looked for it,
and he always sat watching until he should see
the colored signal-lights swing out on the track
beyond, for then he knew the flagman's work
was over for the day—that is, if all was well on
the road. It happened sometimes, however,
that there was a snow-slide down the ravine
 above the crossing, or sometimes a storm
uprooted a tree and hurled it across the track, and
then the flagman was on guard all night. Now,
the flagman was German; and Johanna's voice
always took on a particularly forbidding and
contemptuous tone whenever she spoke of him.
David had often marveled at this, for in the
city his father had friends who were German
and they were very good friends. Once David
had spoken his mind:
"I don't see why you call him a heathen,
Johanna, just because he was born in the
country that's making the war. It wasn't his
fault—and I don't see why that's any reason for
treating him as if he had made the trouble himself."
"Well, how do ye think we'd be treated if we
were over there now in that heathen's country?
Sure, ye wouldn't find them loving us any to
speak of." Johanna's lips had curled scornfully.
"Ye can take my word for it, laddy, if
we were there the same as he's here we would be
counting ourselves lucky to be alive at all, and
not expecting to be asked in for any tea-drinking parties."
It troubled David, none the less, this strange
unfriendliness of Johanna's; and this night the
 weight of it hung particularly heavy upon him.
He turned back to his window-nook with a
heart made heavier by this condition of alienage.
No family, no neighbors, no Christmas—it
was a dreary outlook; and he could not picture
a single face or a single hearthside behind
those four lights that blinked at him in such a
He realized suddenly that he was very tired.
Half the day he had spent clearing a space on
the beaver pond big enough for skating; and
clearing off a day's fall of snow with a shovel
and a broom is hard work. He leaned against
the window niche and pillowed his head on his
arm. He guessed he would go to bed right
after supper. Wouldn't it be fun now, if he
could wish himself into one of those cabins,
whichever one he chose, and see what was
happening there this minute? If he had found the
locked-out fairy Johanna had talked so much
about he might have learned wishing magic
from him. What had happened to the fairy,
anyway? Of course it was half a tale and half
a joke; nevertheless the locked-out fairy had
continued to seem very real to him through
these two months of isolation, and wherever
he had gone his eye had been always alert for
 some sign of him. Unbelievable, as it may seem,
the failure to find him had brought keen
disappointment. David had speculated many
times as to where he might be living, where he
would find his food, how he would keep himself
warm. A fairy's clothes were very light,
according to Johanna. Undoubtedly he had
come over in just his green jerkin and knee-breeches,
with stockings and slippers to match;
and these were not fit covering for winter
weather like this.
David smiled through half-shut eyes. The
fairy might steal a pelt from the trapper's
supply; that would certainly keep him warm; and
if he were anything of a tailor he could make
himself a cap and a coat in no time. Or, better
yet, he might pick out one that just fitted him
and creep into it without having to make it over;
a mink's skin would be about the right size, or
a squirrel's. His smile deepened at his own
conceit. Then something in the dusk outside
caught his eye. Some small creature was
hopping across the snow toward the lodge.
David flattened his nose to the window to see
better, and made out very distinctly the pointed
ears, curved back, and long, bushy tail of a
squirrel—a gray squirrel. At once he thought
 of some nuts in his jacket pocket, nuts left over
from an after-dinner cracking. He dug for
them successfully, and opening the window a
little he dropped them out. Nearer came the
squirrel, fearlessly eager, oblivious of the eyes
that were watching him with growing interest.
He reached the nuts and was nosing them about
for the most appetizing when he sat up suddenly
on his hind legs, clutching the nut of his choice
between his forepaws, and cocking his head as he
did so toward the window.
The effect on David was magical. He gave
his eyes one insistent rub and then he opened
the window wider.
"Come in," he called, softly. "Please do
For he had seen under the alert little ears
something quite different from the sharp nose
and whiskers of the every-day squirrel. There
were a pair of blue eyes that winked outrageously
at him, while a round, smooth face
wrinkled into smiles and a mouth knowingly
grinned at him. It was the locked-out fairy
He bobbed his head at David's invitation,
fastened his little white teeth firmly in the
nut, and scrambled up the bush that grew
 just outside. A minute more and he was
through the window and down beside David
on the seat.
"Ah—ee, laddy, where have your eyes been
this fortnight?" he asked. "I've whisked about
ye and chattered down at ye from half a score
o' pine-trees—and ye never saw me!"
David colored shamefully.
"Never mind. 'Tis a compliment ye've been
paying to my art," and the fairy cocked his head
and whisked his tail and hopped about in the
most convincing fashion.
David held his sides and rocked back and
forth with merriment. "It's perfect," he
laughed; "simply perfect!"
"Aye, 'tis fair; but I've not mastered the
knack o' the tail yet. I can swing it grand, but
I can't curl it up stylish. I can fool the mortals
easy enough, but ye should see the looks the
squirrels give me sometimes when I'm after
trying to show off before them."
There was nothing but admiration in David's
look of response. "The coat fits you splendidly," he said.
"Sure—'tis as snug as if it grew on me.
But I miss my pockets, and I'm not liking the
color as well as if it were green."
 David laughed again. "Why, I believe you
are as Irish as Johanna."
And why shouldn't I be? Faith, there are
worse faults, I'm thinking. Now tell me,
laddy, what's ailing ye? Ye've been more than
uncommon downhearted lately."
"How did you know?"
"Could a wee fairy man be watching ye
for a fortnight, coming and going, and not
"Well, it's lonesomeness; lonesomeness and
Christmas." David owned up to it bravely.
"'Tis easy guessing ye're lonesome—that's an
ailment that's growing chronic on this
hillside. But what's the matter with Christmas?"
"There isn't any. There isn't going to be
any Christmas!" And having at last given
utterance to his state of mind, David finished
with a sorrowful wail.
"And why isn't there, then? Tell me that."
"You can't make Christmas out of miles of
snow and acres of fir-trees. What's a boy
going to do when there aren't any stores or things
to buy, or Christmas fixings, or people, and
nobody goes about with secrets or surprises?"
The fairy pushed back the top of his head and
the gray ears fell off like a fur hood, showing the
 fairy's own tow head beneath. He reached for
his thinking-lock and pulled it vigorously.
"I should say," he said at last, "that a boy
could do comfortably without them. Sure,
weren't there Christmases long before there were
toy-shops? No, no, laddy. Christmas lies in
the hearts and memories of good folk, and ye'll
find it wherever ye can find them!"
David shook his head doubtfully.
"I don't see how that can be, but even
suppose it's true, there aren't even good folk here."
The fairy grinned derisively and wagged his
furry paw in the direction of the lights shining
on the hillside:
"What's the meaning of that, and that, and
that? Now I should be calling them good folk,
the same as ye here."
"Hush!" David looked furtively toward the
door that led into the kitchen. "It wouldn't
do to let Johanna hear you. Why, she thinks—"
The fairy raised a silencing paw to his lips.
"Whist, there, laddy! If ye are after wanting
to find Christmas ye'd best begin by passing on
naught but kind sayings. Maybe ye are not
knowing it, but they are the very cairn that
mark the way to Christmas. Now I'll drive a
bargain with ye. If ye'll start out and look for
 Christmas I'll agree to help ye find the road to
"Yes," agreed David, eagerly.
"But there's one thing ye must promise me.
To put out of your mind for all time these
notions that ye are bound to find Christmas
hanging with the tinsel balls to the Christmas
tree or tied to the end of a stocking. Ye must
make up your mind to find it with your heart
and not with your fingers and your eyes."
"But," objected David, "how can you have
Christmas without Christmas things?"
"Ye can't. But ye've got the wrong idea
entirely about the things. Ye say now that
it's turkey and plum-cake and the presents ye
give and the presents ye get; and I say 'tis
thinkings and feelings and sayings and
rememberings. I'm not meaning, mind ye, that
there is anything the matter with the first lot,
and there's many a fine Christmas that has
them in, but they'll never make a Christmas of
themselves, not in a thousand years. And
what's more, ye can do grand without them."
David rubbed his forehead in abject bewilderment.
It was all very hard to understand;
and as far as he could see the fairy was pointing
out a day that sounded like any ordinary day
 of the year and not at all like Christmas.
But, thanks to Johanna, David had an absolute
faith in the infallibility of fairies. If he said
so it must be true; at least it was worth trying.
So he held out his hand and the fairy laid a
furry paw over the ball of his forefinger in
"It's a bargain," David said.
"It is that," agreed the fairy. "And there's
nothing now to hinder my going."
He pulled the gray ears over his tow head again
until there was only a small part of fairy left.
"Don't ye be forgetting," he reminded David
as he slipped through the window. "I'll be on
the watch out for ye the morrow."
David watched him scramble down the bush,
stopping a moment at the bottom to gather up
the remainder of the nuts, which he stuffed away
miraculously somewhere between his cheek and
the fur. Then he raised a furry paw to his ear
in a silent salute.
"Good-by," said David, softly, "good-by.
I'm so glad you came."
And it seemed to him that he heard from over
the snow the fairy's good-by in Gaelic, just as
Barney or Johanna might have said it:
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