He took a decanter, poured out a drink and drained it off. His hand trembled, but the stimulant helped him a little. It enabled him to collect his ideas and think. But his thoughts still ran on Christmas and his loneliness.
Why should not he give a Christmas dinner and invite his friends? Yes, that was what he would do. Whom should he ask? His mind began to run over the list. Every one he knew had his own house; and as to friends—why, he didn’t have any friends! He had only acquaintances. He stopped suddenly, appalled by the fact. He had not a friend in the world! Why was it? In answer to the thought the seven figures flashed into sight. He put his hand to his eyes to shut them out. He knew now why. He had been too busy to make friends. He had given his youth and his middle manhood to accumulate—those seven figures again!—And he had given up his friendships. He was now almost aged.
He walked into his drawing-room and turned up the light—all the lights to look at himself in a big mirror. He did look at himself and he was confounded. He was not only no longer young—he was prepared for this—but he was old. He would not have dreamed he could be so old. He was gray and wrinkled.
As he faced himself his blood seemed suddenly to chill. He was conscious of a sensible ebb as if the tide about his heart had suddenly sunk lower. Perhaps, it was the cooling of the atmosphere as the fire in his library died out,—or was it his blood?
He went back into his library not ten minutes, but ten years older than when he left it.
He sank into his chair and insensibly began to scan his life. He had just seen himself as he was; he now saw himself as he had been long ago, and saw how he had become what he was. The whole past lay before him like a slanting pathway.
He followed it back to where it began—in an old home far off in the country.
He was a very little boy. All about was the bustle and stir of preparation for Christmas. Cheer was in every face, for it was in every heart. Boxes were coming from the city by every conveyance. The store-room and closets were centres of unspeakable interest, shrouded in delightful mystery. The kitchen was lighted by the roaring fire and steaming from the numberless good things preparing for the next day’s feast. Friends were arriving from the distant railway and were greeted with universal delight. The very rigor of the weather was deemed a part of the Christmas joy, for it was known that Santa Claus with his jingling sleigh came the better through the deeper snow. Everything gave the little boy joy, particularly going with his father and mother to bear good things to poor people who lived in smaller houses. They were always giving; but Christmas was the season for a more general and generous distribution. He recalled across forty years his father and mother putting the presents into his hands to bestow, and his father’s words, “My boy, learn the pleasure of giving.”