John Rawson's Christmas Present
It was a cold, forbidding day, as it well might be, for it was the day before Christmas, when a young man of twenty-seven, his face well bronzed by exposure, stood on the hill that overlooked the village of Wellburn, and with thoughtful gaze let his eyes rest upon the peaceful little village that had once been his home.
“It is ten years,” he thought, “since I saw Wellburn and it looks still the same — not a day older than when I left it. How full of changes and vicissitudes it has been to me. But all has turned out happily, thank God! I come home with money enough to make me rich in the eyes of my old neighbors. If only they are living to share it with me I shall be happy.” And who were they?
Ten years ago John Rawson had left home without his father’s permission. He had always been a headstrong boy, full of wild animal spirits, and impatient of control. Perhaps his father had not been forbearing enough with him. At all events their wills clashed, there was a bitter scene and mutual recrimination, and one morning John made up a little bundle of clothes and left home before sunrise. His father had never heard from him since.
He had led a life of vicissitudes. Shipping on board a vessel bound for the East Indies, he had gone thither and returned, and then made other voyages, spending as he went till five years previous he reached Australia and there turned over a new leaf. He became steady, for time favored him and he rapidly accumulated money. But why during all this time did he not write home? Did not the image of his grandmother and her sorrowful face ever come before him and lead him to yearn for tidings from home?
Yes, often, but he was proud. His father had predicted that he would never do well, and he wished to come home prosperous. For his father he did not fear. He was comfortably off, and poverty was the last thing he anticipated for him.
But nothing is more uncertain than money. Mr. Rawson rashly invested his money in some promising Western speculation, and lost it all. The money had been raised by a mortgage on his farm, and that had been foreclosed only three months before. Bodily infirmity came upon the farmer with his pecuniary troubles, and too ill to work he and his wife were glad to find a temporary shelter in a miserable little cabin which in his days of prosperity he would have deemed uninhabitable.
“What day is it, wife?” he asked in a dispirited voice, looking up from the arm-chair in which he sat.
“And tomorrow will be Christmas day?”
“Merry Christmas, I used to call it, but I shall never have another merry Christmas.”
‘You must try to be resigned, dear husband. Doubtless our little calamities have come upon us for some good purpose. Otherwise God would not have sent them.”
“Perhaps so, Sarah. That is the right way to look at it, if one can, no doubt, but I can’t help regretting the past.”
“We did not know our own happiness then, husband. But after all, poverty is not the worst thing we can suffer.”
“What is there worse?”
“The loss of those we love,” said his wife in a low voice.
“I know what you are thinking of,” he said, sadly. “Of our son.”
“Yes. He might have been the staff and stay of our old age, but he was impetuous and unmanageable, and in our old age we are forsaken.”
“But not forsaken of God.”
“I hope not.”
“I am sure not. He may yet turn our sorrow into gladness.”
“It is too late for that, Sarah.”
“It is never too late for Him.”
It was easy to see that the wife’s faith was deeper and more earnest than that of the husband, as is generally the case. She still believed in and trusted God, he only partially.
The night passed away, and the morrow dawned — Christmas Day. It was bright and beautiful. The sunshine lay like a glory upon the broad fields, and everything looked bright and cheerful.
“Raise the curtain, Sarah,” said Mr. Rawson. “No, not that one, the one that looks towards our old house.”
She did as requested.
“How many Christmas Days I have spent there. I little thought I should ever have come to this.”
“Let us be thankful for even this shelter, husband. It might have been worse.”
“I don’t well see how.”
She did not answer him immediately, for he was not in a cheerful mood.
“What are we going to have for dinner?” he asked soon after.
“I thought we would warm up the meat we had yesterday,” his wife said hesitatingly.
“A rare Christmas dinner,” he said bitterly.
“I am afraid there are some who would feel themselves fortunate even with that.”
“What a provoking woman you are!” said he peevishly.
“Because I won’t look on the dark side,” she returned with a faint smile. “I would, if it would make me feel any happier.”
“Don’t talk to me of happiness. That will never come again for us.
“I don’t know how it is, husband, but I never felt more cheerful or light-hearted in my life. I can’t help feeling that some great happiness is in store for us.”
“If you mean that we are ever likely to get our money back, you need have no hopes of that. It is utterly and irrevocably gone.” He might have added that it was his own indiscreet act by which it had been lost, but we are apt to be indulgent in our own follies.
“No, it isn’t that,” said Mrs. Rawson. “I don’t know indeed what it is, but as we sometimes have presentments of evil, I think we may sometimes have a feeling of the approach of joy.”
There was a silence unbroken, till a vigorous knock was heard at the door.
Mrs. Rawson answered the summons herself. She saw herself the young man introduced at the commencement of the story, but either her eyes were dim or her maternal instinct failed her for she did not recognize in the well-knit and vigorous frame of the young man, the boy of seventeen, who ten years before had left her roof, and had never been seen or heard of since.
It was not without a quicker motion of the heart, that the young man looked upon the worn but well- remembered face of the gentle mother whom he had known so well.
“Is Mr. Rawson at home?” he inquired.
“Yes, sir. Would you like to see him?”
“If you please.”
“Please come in. My husband is a little infirm, at present, but I hope he will soon be able to be about as usual.”
The young man entered, and tears rose in his eyes when he saw the mean habitation with which his parents had to be contented. “Thank God,” he thought, “I shall be able to change all that.”
“Excuse the liberty I have taken in calling upon you, Mr. Rawson,” he said, ‘but I have some thoughts of purchasing the farm which you formerly owned, and have been referred to you for your information concerning it. It is really a valuable farm, is it not?”
“An excellent one — none better — and would have been mine today if I had not been drawn on to speculate in property which I had never seen. The result is, poverty in my old age.”
“You have been indeed unfortunate, sir, but the tide may turn.”
Mr. Rawson shook his head impatiently.
“That is what my wife tells me,” he said, “but there is little hope of that.”
“Should you regard five thousand dollars as too high a price for the farm, Mr. Rawson?”
“No, it is well worth that.”
“I am glad of it, for to tell the truth, I have already bought it.”
“Will you settle on it yourself? In that case we shall be neighbors.”
“Yes, I hope we may be very near neighbors, but I did not buy the farm for myself, but as a Christmas present for some dear friends of mine.”
“A Christmas present. It is a valuable one indeed.”
“Yes, but since it is intended for my father it cannot be considered too valuable.”
“Your father is fortunate in having so devoted a son.”
“I am not sure that he thinks so. I am afraid that I have been lacking in duty.”
“I beg pardon, sir, but you have not yet mentioned your name.”
“My name,” said the young man, deliberately, “is John Rawson.”
“John!” exclaimed the mother, rising and looking eagerly in his face.
“Yes, mother,” said the young man, embracing her, “the truant has returned. Is he welcome?”
“Oh, John, this is a happy day. I was sure something was going to happen to make it a merry Christmas.”
An hour was passed in relating his varied experience, and then John Rawson said,
“Father, I have bought the old farm back again, not for myself but for you. Here is the deed. It is yours wholly and without incumbrance.”
“But can you afford such a gift, my son?” asked his father, doubtfully.
“I could buy it thrice over, Father, if I pleased. I have been prospered in Australia, and am independent.”
“Then I shall accept it, John, thankfully. You can’t tell how I have mourned its loss, and how much joy I shall feel in going back. Just before you came my heart was full of repining. God has shown me my error by loading me with benefits. Blessed be His name!”
So the day which open inauspiciously, closed happily, and John Rawson felt that he had never passed a merrier Christmas.
(First appeared in Gleason's Literary Companion, December 28, 1867)