XVI. CHRISTMAS IN THE ALLEY*
* From “Kristy’s Queer Christmas,” Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1904.
OLIVE THORNE MILLER
“I declare for ‘t, to-morrow is Christmas Day an’ I clean forgot all about it,” said old Ann, the washerwoman, pausing in her work and holding the flatiron suspended in the air.
“Much good it’ll do us,” growled a discontented voice from the coarse bed in the corner.
“We haven’t much extra, to be sure,” answered Ann cheerfully, bringing the iron down onto the shirt-bosom before her, “but at least we’ve enough to eat, and a good fire, and that’s more’n some have, not a thousand miles from here either.”
“We might have plenty more,” said the fretful voice, “if you didn’t think so much more of strangers than you do of your own folk’s comfort, keeping a houseful of beggars, as if you was a lady!”
“Now, John,” replied Ann, taking another iron from the fire, “you’re not half so bad as you pretend. You wouldn’t have me turn them poor creatures into the streets to freeze, now, would you?”
“It’s none of our business to pay rent for them,” grumbled John. “Every one for himself, I say, these hard times. If they can’t pay you’d ought to send ’em off; there’s plenty as can.”
“They’d pay quick enough if they could get work,” said Ann. “They’re good honest fellows, every one, and paid me regular as long as they had a cent. But when hundreds are out o’ work in the city, what can they do?”
“That’s none o’ your business, you can turn ’em out!” growled John.
“And leave the poor children to freeze as well as starve?” said Ann. “Who’d ever take ’em in without money, I’d like to know? No, John,” bringing her iron down as though she meant it, “I’m glad I’m well enough to wash and iron, and pay my rent, and so long as I can do that, and keep the hunger away from you and the child, I’ll never turn the poor souls out, leastways, not in this freezing winter weather.”
“An’ here’s Christmas,” the old man went on whiningly, “an’ not a penny to spend, an’ I needin’ another blanket so bad, with my rhumatiz, an’ haven’t had a drop of tea for I don’t know how long!”
“I know it,” said Ann, never mentioning that she too had been without tea, and not only that, but with small allowance of food of any kind, “and I’m desperate sorry I can’t get a bit of something for Katey. The child never missed a little something in her stocking before.”
“Yes,” John struck in, “much you care for your flesh an’ blood. The child ha’n’t had a thing this winter.”
“That’s true enough,” said Ann, with a sigh, “an’ it’s the hardest thing of all that I’ve had to keep her out o’ school when she was doing so beautiful.”
“An’ her feet all on the ground,” growled John.
“I know her shoes is bad,” said Ann, hanging the shirt up on a line that stretched across the room, and was already nearly full of freshly ironed clothes, “but they’re better than the Parker children’s.”