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Little Chris


IALL. RIGHTS RESERVED]. Little Chris BY KATE MAUD JOHNSON. 'For we are very lucky with a lamp before the door, And Leerie stops to light it, as he lights so many more, And, 0, before you hurry by with ladder and with light, 0, Leerie, see a little child,, and nod to him to-night!" L. g Cleopatra's Needle pointed up to a clear, blue sky. The W-.i.a June sun was stream- ing radiantly down en it, as if it were try- ing to remind it of the hot suns of Egypt. The river danced and glittered in the strong afternoon light, as it flowed on through the busy scenes of the great city, to the wide sea beyond. The embankment was one of Chris Pember- ton's favourite spots. He was always called Chris, often "Little Chris," for his full name was altogether too long for such a little boy; true lie was nearly twelve years old in age, but not more than seven or eight in size, and his back was not straight. Perhaps his father would not have named the little one Christopher, had he known the Wee boy would always be delicate, and nover grow big enough to carry such a weighty name. On this particular afternoon, little Chris sat curled up on a seat facing the crouching lions and the moiing river. In his dark vel- vet suit and large white collar; with his quiet, serious littit face propped on his hand, and his deep, grey eyes taking in everything in a dreamy way, he looked an interesting child. Still, there was something sad ana pathetic about the boy, so small for his years. "Nurse," Chris said, to a thoughtful, tniddle aged woman, who sat by his side on the seat, "Tell me all you know about Cleo- patra.'s Needle." I don't know anything about it, Master Chris, why should I? You must ask your papa, or Master Tom, when you get home," and nurse went on thinking of more prosaic things than old obelisks. "It does not matter, thank you, I do know a lot about it, my papa has told me. I love it, that is why I want to come here some- tirixCrS, just to look at it, you know. Then I Can think of Egypt, where there are big, big deserts, camcis, pyramids, and the Sphinx." The Needle spoke to little Chris of waving palm trees, trackless deserts, and bright colours on sky and land. He was in another world-the children's country—where the children are all strong and glad. How anyone could love Cleopatra's Needle passed nurse's power of comprehension, but she was never surprised at little Christ ideas, he was always saying queer things. The boy went on talking in a clear, sweet voice, "I love it because t'can fancy all sorts of stories about it. It stood, on and on, for hundreds of years away in Egypt, and then men brought it away from its blue skies and wide deserts, when "it was old and grey, to our London." The boy turned eagerly to the silent woman by his side, and the light of the yiver was shining in his eyes as he went on, it did not trouble him that she looked solid, "I think, maybe, the river talks to it as it tolls by, when all is quiet, and it is night. What should you think they would 8}¡i to eaeh other, nurse?" "I don't know," nurse said truthfully, as she shook her head; imagination was not oiie Of her strong points. The boy's eyes grew dreamy, a far away look came into them, that nurse called un- canny. "I think the river says 'I am going On and on to the great ocean, where the Waters seem to touch the sky, I have done my Work here, and out there, there will be no 'banks to hold me, I shall be free and so happy.' "And my Cleopatra's Needle points to the fikv, it has always pointed up, and I think It says to the river, There is another sea, a Sea of glass, where the angels are, and they are always making sweet music on their harps.' The Needle has stood so long, it Inust know a lot." "It is only stone." That was all nurse Could think of to say, it did not matter, Chris Spoke more to himself than to her. Then there was silence in Chris's corner of *he seat, until, when the boy's mood changed, «e said brightly, "When I am a strong man, I -aID going to hunt lions and tigers in Africa, and follow the trail of the Indian over the prairies, and see the elephants in the jungles. I shall be a traveller, and see wonderful things. This was all very unusual, Chris was gener- ally so quiet. Nurse looked grim, she .knew litile Chris would not live to grow up, and According to her strict ideas, he ought to be Prepared for death, instead of planning for a future that would never come. She took life seriously, fancies and dreams etood for so much wasted time. What good Could they do, if they never came to any- thing? Finding nurse rather unympathetic And not at all interested in jungles or foreign travel, Chris was silent, but he was dreaming fiolden dreams of a wonderful future, all filled kVIlitil adventure, exciting scenes and mystery, a perfect Eldorado of bright fancy, that he would find some day beyond the sea, he was ♦Ostein the exciting fancies of dreamland. «gairi he was not the feeble, small boy, but active, strong, tall boy, like other bovs, With his face taun«d by Indian suns, and ins <V klown about by salt sea-breezes. # Master Chris, we must go home, it is ly11^6 time." it was nurse's voice that, broke Oe golden dream, and brought his thoughts gu abruptly to things as they really were. ne did not know it. Grown-up people nevei _«ow these things, although they do them «very c[ay_ Was a noisy' merry group of children who hered around the nursery table that afler- °n for tea, in the old fashioned house in toeBsquare."Jackie, why didn't you speak i anf* Weenie when we were at your tnooi sports this afternoon, we all waved till hands ached," Peggy asked as she cut the ''V?to thick slices for nm'*a- kids f°WS ^on'^ speak to their sisters and to 1or°thers out of doors, specially at Chivni$Ports?" Jackie said, loftily. Ilis J ,^lry was still in the bud. «ud(lenlv 'nlI /r10" Tom said, jumping up teen i., ie c'ose tue meal, I'm fif- teell y at the close of tue meal, I'm fif- ,? last °1 to-morrow, actually fifteen afc +1, fi .seenu'd worth emphasising, With ti6 children were duly impressed «Je importance of it. When one's years 'each VSVen .seems a great age to "r!v .Tom was to be envied me, 1 wish I was as old," Jackie fcrea'rl ,last^y swallowed his last piece of ♦he van- Jam- "It's horrid to be only ten, JTftckip fi. c £ eeP along awfully slow," and Jackets » two sticky hands into hi# tS to feel if his marbles were safe. "You ought to be thankful to be any age,' Peggy said, laughingly. "Well, yqu's not Peggy, you's only lately," Tom suggested. There was a general rush to the cupboard door, on which many notches were ruthlessly cut in the darkened wood, and the names of Tom, Peggy, Chris, Jackie, Bobby, and Weenie were cut in large letters. There was plenty of fun and shouts of laughter, as one after another discovered that they had grown a bit taller. Lit tie Chris sat curled up on the deep win- dow seat, and looked on wistfully. They were all so glad over growing taller. He was glad they did not call to him to stand up to I:> the mark, where his name was cut. But when the nursery was empty, he got down and went up to the worn cupboard door with a beating heart. All the names had gone up. How fast the healthy, romping boys and guls were growing! Little Chris stood back to the door, in the orthodox way of measuring himself, after the fashion of children, and put his thin little hand up to feel the mark. It was the same, he had not grown an inch. The mark had been there a long, long time, and the small head covered with brown curls never reached higher than the old mark cut some time back now. A chill came into his heart, and a lump into his throat. He sat down on a hassock, and everything in the room swam round in a mist, because his eyes were full of blinding tears. Somehow hunting wild animals in the forests of Africa, sailing on the high seas like the great Christopher of old, or, "indeed, do- ing any of the wonderful things he was al-1 ways dreaming of doing, seemed a long way off, and quite impossible now. It was as if he had lost earth, after having a glimpse of it through the enchanted gates that lead to it —for they surely would be closed against one so small. Little Chris put up his small hands, as if to push open the gates, but he could not, When the little ones came. back to play, little Chris sat in the window-seat and looked on. The sun was still high and the lamp- ilghter would not be round for a long time. "Chris, tell us a story, do please," Weenie said, suddenly, and the rest left their toys and gathered around the window-seat. Chris told of "Toomai of the Elephants." Toorr j who rode bravely on Kala Nag's back, and saw the wild elephants dance in their secret dancing-place, of how he came back at day- break, with his fae-a grey and pinched, and his hair full of leaves and drenched with dew, of how he tried to salute the great Peterson Sahib, and cried faintly, "The dance—the elephant dance. I have seen it, and I die." "But he did not die," Bobby said stoutly, for he knew the story well. Chris had often told it. For he loved Kipling's stories. "No," Chris said, as he went on, "he did not die, although when Kala Nag sat down, Toomai slipped off his neck in a dead faint, he did not die, he became a great hero, for he had seen what no one else had ever seen—and Maehua Appa, the great hunter, lifted him up and showed him to all the elephants, and said in a loud voice, 'Here is the little one that has seen your dances in your hidden places. Give him honour, my lords, make your salute to Toomai of the elephants! "Chris, you do tell stories most beauti fully, you are ever so much too good/ Weenie said, with shining i eyes, as Chris finished the story of Tooma. "But you did not say what Toomai's father said, you know." Weenie knew the story too well to have one bit left out. "He said, 'The govern- ment may pay for elephants, but they belong to us Mahouts,' little Chris added, with a bright smile. "Is that the end, Chris?" Bobby asked slowly. He thought that the proper thing to say at the end of any story. "Yes." Chris was happy again; it was something to charm others with the stories he rsad and loved. "Miss Peggy, little Chris reads too much, that's my opinion; his head is stuffed full of queer ideas," nurse said decidedly, as she ex- amined Jackie's stocking with a critical eye. "Poor little Chris, it makes him happy," was all Peggy said. Peggy was curled up in the old armchair, and had been listening to the story. Peggy was nearly fourteen, and she was tall, but no one could tell stories like little Chris, even Jackie knew that. "Two children did we stray and talk Wise, idle, childish things." By-and-bye the tones of the piano sounded through the long drawing-room in the old house in the square; but above the music Chris's shrill voice rang out singing sweetly: "Angels sing on, your faithful watches keep- ing, Sing us sweet fragments of the songs above, Till morning's joy shall end the night of weeping, And life's long shadows break in cloudless love." Tom was standing in the hall, deciding if he would go out or not, and instantly he made up his mind that he would stay in with Chris. The little boy looked lonely in the big room, singing to himself, Tom thought, as he stood in the doorway, listening to the song; he caught a glimpse, too, of the white face that was turned to the window. As Chris sang the last words, Tom walked up to the piano and lifted the child on to his knee, as he sat down in an easy chair. "Tell me, Chris, why are you alone, and why do you sing about angels ? Chris put his head wearily on Tom's shoul- der. Tom was so trong. and true, it was so easy to talk to him, he always understood, and he did not laugh when Chris said queer things. Tom felt the joy of being big and strong, and he was very kind to little Chris, because of it. I "It is comforting to sing of angels some- times. This afternoon I planned and planned about what I would do when I am a man. It was so sunny and bright on the Embank- ment, I felt like other boys." "Did nurse take you?" "Yes, and the river seemed so happy as it went on and on to the sea. And we sat by Cleopatra's Needle. Sometimes things we want seem so near, don't they, Tom?" Chris said, as he sat up straight and looked into Tom's face eagerly. "Almost as if you could touch them, then something happens, and they are so far away, and it is all dull again." Then Tom and Chris talked of other things as they sat by the window, looking out into the old-fashioned square. Except for a police- man going his rounds, and a flower-gin sell- ing wallflowers and daffodils from a big bas- ket, the square was quiet and deserted. The late summer sun was setting in golden glory, somewhere beyond the houses, and the tall trees had caught some of the warm light in their topmost branches. ".Tom, it will all come back to you, and I ani* so glad that it will." "What will come back; Chris?" Tom asked in a puzaled way. "Why, your kindness to me, of course," Chris said with a deep sigh, as he leaned back. "You take me out,. anct walk with Me-jail. boys are not like you are. Dick Brown said the other day, 'Well, I'll go on, I can't stop to walk with kids. Dick is not nice, he may be big, but he is not kind, And it was raining, I could not hold the um brella up in the wind, but Dick went on. If I had been strong he would have walked with me. And you, you are always kind and good, Tom." There was a quiver in the boy's voice. Tom put his arm tightly around the child, just because he was a boy he did not say any- thing. But he mado up 'his mind to give up more time to little Chris. "I love to picture it all coming back to you, and it will come back in hundreds of ways, I am sure it will, Tom," and Chrises eyes grew brighter and larger. j Weenie had come into the room, and sat curkd up on a chair, her chubby face was resting on her hands as she looked out of the long window at the trees in the garden square. Weenie did not understand the boy's talk, so she was quiet and thought her own thoughts. "Whatv are you thinking of, Weenie?" Tom askecl. "rS8 just thinking 'bout Heaven, that's all See, some of the gold has fallen off the sun and got caught uj on the trees. God has got a lot of geld, so he throws it down for uu to see," Weenie said, turning her laughing face to the boys. Then Bcbby came into the room, and stood with his hands in his pockets, thinking deeply. At eight years old, Boboy only thought about Heaven at very rare intervals just now he was thinking of a desert island, with coral reefs and rolling surf, and tall i cocoanut palms waving against blue skies. When nurse worried him he always thought of his desert island, where nurses and nur- series are unknown—then he was happy. "Weenie and me's going- to be travellers, and get shipwrecked on a desert island and kill lions we must be travellers, we couldn't be anything eke, you know," Bobby said stoutly. He had come to tell Weenie that they had to go to bed, and naturally it made him long for his desert island. "Peggy can't come with us, 'cause she don't want to be shipwrecked. I'm sur- prised," Weenie observed scornfully. "Jackie says girls are no good when they want to get a scholarship, they are always reading," Bobby explained. "Bobby and me's going to find 'Toomai of the Elephants,' and he will teach us how to catch wild elephants," 'Weenie said in a shrill voice. "Who tells you Kipling's tales?" Tom asked with surprise. "Why, Chris, of course, don't you know that?" Weenie exclaimed in mild amaze- ment. Weenie and Bobby sat and talked wise, idle. childish things, and Tom did not guess how shut out the slnall. white-faced boy felt to hear the strong, healthy children plan and talk. It was not so much that he wanted to be shipwrecked particularly, like little Bobby and Weenie, but he did want a share in the big outside world. How should Tom guess? For little Chris had not told him that another notch was not nevded to mark his height on the eld nursery door, and only Chris remembered how long the old mark had been in the same place. It was the thought of that low mark that chilled his heart. "All round the house is the jet black night, It stares through the window pane, It crawls in the corners, hiding from tha light, And moves with the moving flame." When the lamplighter came his rounds to light his lamps just before the black shadows had had time to creep round the dark shrubs and the rough trunks of the old laburnams and limes that grew in the garden of the square—Chris went to bed, and the friendly light of the street lamp lighted his room when the candles were put out and the shadows were everywhere. When he slept ii was to the song of trees in the old garden, singing their nighfc- sows. And little Chris dreamed of rivers flowing on brightly to the wide seas, and of Cleopatra's Needle pointing up to the world ( where there are no shadows. He was a tall boy in his dreams, with no trouble in his heart. When Chris awoke, it was early morning, the sun was shining. He sat up and won- dered what had mode him unhappy the even- ing before. Then he thought, with a deep- drawn sigh, of the low notch on the nursery door. It was that. I In the next room Jackie, Bobby, and Weenie had met to play Indian Wars in their nightdress 3s. "I shall take Mary Jane to our desert island, and let her ride on the elephants in the forest," Weenie was saying, in a high- pitched voice, ds she sat on a pile of pillows on the floor, nursing her favourite doll. No, you won't, the doll is a dowdy, and will disgrace us," Jackie said, bluntly. "Then Mary Jane and me will have an island all to ourselves." "Take the wax one in the yellow dress, and leave Mary Jane in England," Bobby sug- gested in a. conciliating voice. "No, it would break her heart to be left behind," Weenie said, slowly, gathering l;P the shabby dc'l in her arm-. "I shall go and tell Chris," and her chceks were like pop- pies. Auàonce more Chris for.pot to be sad. as ha ".f up in b?d and told Weenie the story of "Blue Beard to comfort her as she sat cnrled up at the foot of his bed to T.iA!"h> Chris was an hero, but he never eel it. it so unheroic to be weak, and to bear dumbly and patiently one's lot day after day. camo falling leaves, and cirHiv rains, and liJle Chris began to fail, he T:1I,d the bright, snnnv days sadly. Jre was so Hrrcl when he climbed upstairs fa bed in 4'V dark e r lings that he could no' .-sleep, but would lie awake and watch th weird .4'" >s [e shadows made on the waP: and ceiling by the trees in the square, as ware blown about by the autumn winds, in the light of the street lamps. So, as the lamp-lighter went his rounds those dull autumn clars, he did not know that the lampat he lighted outside one house, where he saw often the faces of little chil- dren pressed against the window panes, chccved one si -k child when he. was lying •awake at night, while the shadows were hav- ing it all own way, and the nights were long, and the wind was in the trees. As little Chris looked into the darkness, his wide-open eyes often. asked the question that Stevenson's sick child asked: "Why is the room so gaunt and great? Why am I lying awake so late?" In the black night, the old dreams of ad- venture and of travel in unknown lands still came to Chris, except when he was vert i weary, and the pain was bad, then the dreams gave place to thoughts of angels, and the njfetiiiig1 of the trees became the rustling of thfir white wings, until the morning would come again, and the light of the efrset lamps would grow dim and faded in .ao r "110 grey light of the new day. Then1 came a time when- the nights had grown very long, and the days had shortened and grown cold, when all in the house in the old square walked about with hushed footsteps and with tears in their eyes. The big house seemed so empty and silent, the blird" were drawn down, the children spoke in whispers, and forgot to play. "Li'ile Chris is dead," they said. Bobby and Weenie sat on the nursery win- dow-seat and said to each other in low whis- pers "Little Chris is dead, little Chris is dead," and for the first time in their short memories, the bright prospect of being ship- wrecked and cast up on a desert island, failed to choer them. They could only look at his name cut on the brown door, and re- member he would never measure himself again by that mark. "And who will tell us of 'Toomai' aud of 'Mowgli' now Chris has gone to heaven!" Bobby askd slowly, as he began to realise their loss bit by bit. "No one," Weenie said, shaking- her head gravely. "Little Chris is dead," Tom said with a I lump in his throat, and an empty place in his heart, as he sat alone in the chilly gar- den. And Jackie buried his tear-stained face F in his pillow when he went to bed at night, and said to himself: "Little Chris is dead, little Chris is dead." The next day, when Peggy took the child- ren for a walk around the square, Jackie walked between Bobby and Weenie, although Weenie was hugging Mary Jane under her arm. Jackie wanted to do something: hard and good, because he was miserable. He r.1sD put that week's pocket money into Dr. Bamardo's box, because he felt he would never want to buy or eat toffy again. Jackie remembered' with remorse he had not put any in for a long time, and made good reso- lutions for the future, He also made Bobby and Weenic put theira in too, and Weenie promised faithfully to put hers in every week, as long as she lived. Moreover. Bobby opened his money box, and put in all his savings, which amounted to two- pence halfpenny. After that bit of self-sacri- fice, the three children felt a little less miser- able. It is wonderfully comforting to do hard, good things, sometimes. Ei"" little Chris was not dead. He had only gone to a fairer world. To the country the river hr.il sung; of, and Cleopatra's Needle had pointed up to in the sunny days of To the country where there are no sick children. There he could grow strong and tall. The mark on the cupboard door in the nursery tells what his height was here. In the City Beautiful he would grow beyond the low mark. The Eldorado he thought of seeking in hisclreaiyis was never so fair as that City. In a few days Bobby and Weenie got deeply interested in their desert island again. The interest came back when Bobby said sud- denly one morning, as he rushed up to Weenie, who was standing looking disconso- lately out of the window: "Let's go in the garden, and play we are tra veHers, Weenie. "0, yes, Bobby, Ise Tonging to be lost in our forest again." "I did not think we should ever be happy again; Jackie said we never should," Bobby exclaimed breathlessly, as they scampered up on a mound of 'sand behind the trees, to rest after an exciting chase in the forest. It was their- desert island, until they could find a real one. "We've been awfully good and played at nothing for a whole week, and been quite miserable," Weenie said, apologetically, as she seated herself and Mary Jane safely in the middle of the island.. It was a sunny day, a sunny day after days of gloom and IT in, and one can't be very miserable when the sun shines in winter. In time Peggy won her scholarship, and Tom worked hard at college, for he wanted to do great things in the world. But there was always a sweet riiemory locked up in each heart in the old home in the square. It 'I was the memory of little Chris.



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