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XV Mary Elizabeth’s Soldierly Christmas
Mary Elizabeth looked up from the soldier scarf she was learning to knit. Her mother, in the rocker beside Mary Elizabeth’s hassock, caught a bit of anxious thought that rested between Mary Elizabeth’s brown eyes. “What is it?” she asked, putting her hand down upon Mary Elizabeth’s to stop the knitting needles.

“I was thinking,” Mary Elizabeth sighed, “just thinking, Mother. It’s going to be a very soldierly Christmas this year, isn’t it? But the children—they don’t realize it and they’re thinking and talking about Santa Claus. Are we going to have the tree this year?”

Mary Elizabeth’s mother patted Mary Elizabeth’s hand softly. “We’ve always had one, haven’t we, daughter?” she said. “Can[Pg 196] you remember the time when we did not have one?”

“No,” laughed Mary Elizabeth. “I suppose it was when I was too small a baby ever to have a tree or so little that I didn’t know what the lights were and thought I would like to play with their sparkles—but I do remember the tree we had when I was a little bit older. It was before any of the children came. I was about three years old, I think. You told me that the tree was made in honor of the little Christ Child’s birthday and I always thought you meant a little child like myself and expected to see him—”

Mary Elizabeth paused. “Then I grew bigger, and by and by there were all the children and the baby, and I was the oldest and we all thought that a funny friend who was a jolly old man called Santa Claus brought us the toys we found in our stockings. We thought all the play was real—about his coming down the chimney and about his sleigh with the eight reindeer. It used to seem strange that so big a man as Santa Claus could squeeze down our chimney and by and by I suspected it was all a play and you told me[Pg 197] that it was just a funny, jolly way to make the very little children enjoy the fun of Christmas surprises. You told me then that I might help toward Christmas myself by trimming the tree. That was to be my part: each year I was to do it all myself and every year I tried to make it some new and lovely kind of a surprise. I always have loved to fix the tree. I always have felt that it must be the kind of a tree that the little Christ Child would love if he came in the way that I used to think you meant when I was still little.”

“Your tree has always been a beautiful tree, Mary Elizabeth,” Mother smiled. “It has always been a tree that shone with happiness. Each year we have loved it so that the children could not bear to part with it at New Years, you know.”

Mary Elizabeth smiled. But her question still remained unanswered. “Will there be a tree this year?” she asked. “I’m afraid the children would be sad without it, Mother.”

“I, too, have been thinking, Mary Elizabeth,” said Mother. “It is indeed a soldierly Christmas. What do you think we had better do?”

[Pg 198]“Well,” answered Mary Elizabeth, thoughtfully. “We have the ornaments, though I usually buy some new ones. I would have to get candles. The tree would not cost so very much, only it seems as if every penny ought to go to the little French and Belgian children—and there are the soldiers to send things to—and when everything is the way it is, why it really hardly seems like Christmas!”

“I know,” returned Mother. “But we sent all the money in the children’s bank and all your money and my money, Mary Elizabeth. We have the soldiers’ things all done—almost. I think we ought to have the tree for the children and you can fix it up somehow, can’t you?”

“Yes,” smiled Mary Elizabeth, but she was thinking that she must somehow find a way to make that tree as pretty as usual—even without any money to buy things!

That day and the next, Mary Elizabeth pondered the question. She thought of this and of that but nothing seemed quite right. There was no way to earn any money. And the tree had no star for the top. It had been lost, somehow. It was not with the tree fixings[Pg 199] in the box in the attic! How to get a new star, that was one question. How to get the candles was another. And Mary Elizabeth’s tree had always been a tree that people came in to look at and admire. It was not like any other tree. It was always a surprise, somehow. Money was needed to buy things to make it wonderful. Money was needed to make it a bright surprise as usual!

At school, Mary Elizabeth found herself puzzling over this problem as vacation time drew near. It was harder for her than any arithmetic problem, for it could not be solved at all. Twice she saved five cents by walking home and that bought candles. But the problem remained as usual. It was how to get more money.

Then there came the day when the magazine came. It was always something of an event when the magazine came. It had new pictures in it and often it had cut-out pages for the little children. Once there had been a circus with clowns to cut out and ever since that time, Brother somehow got hold of the paper as soon as Mother took it from its wrapper. He was always hoping for more circus, you[Pg 200] know. He knew its pages by heart and spelled out the titles and headings of the pictures. When Mary Elizabeth came home one day, he announced that the magazine had come.

“What’s in it?” questioned Mary Elizabeth.

“Pictures,” Brother replied mysteriously, “but not any of a circus. It’s a puzzle page. You have to guess what the pictures are and they’ll give a prize of five dollars to the one who answers and tells what the pictures are.” But Brother was still busy with the magazine and Mary Elizabeth was called away to help Mother with the little sister. She did not see the page, though she thought about it and wondered if she could answer all the questions and get the money that way to trim the Christmas tree. In the evening, after supper, after the little children had gone off to bed and Brother, too, with them, she found the magazine and looked it over. Yes, it was a contest. And the pictures were Mother Goose. It seemed easy to guess them—Mary Elizabeth guessed Simple Simon right away. It was the picture of a funny doll fishing in a little pail with a hook and line. She tried the others.[Pg 201] She was not so sure of all but she guessed them with the help of the little children’s Mother Goose to refresh her memory. She was so excited that she felt the prize was already hers. She was sure she must win!

Just think of it: the first prize was five whole dollars and the second prize was two whole dollars and there were eight other prizes each of one whole big dollar—ten chances that Mary Elizabeth might earn some money for her Christmas tree! Her hands shook as she took up pen and put it to paper. She used her very best paper and three times or more she discarded what she had written and tried to do better. She wrote with extreme pains and slowly. It took all the evening just to write the short answer. S............
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