A Christmas fantasy, with a moral
  • A Christmas fantasy, with a moral

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A Christmas Fantasy, with a moral

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A Christmas Fantasy, with a moral

HER name was Mildred Wentworth, and she lived on the slope of Beacon Hill, in one of those old-fashioned swell-front houses which have the inestimable privilege of looking upon Boston Common. It was Christmas afternoon, and she had gone up to the blue room, on the fourth floor, in order to make a careful inspection in solitude of the various gifts that had been left in her slender stocking and at her bedside the previous night.     
  Mildred was in some respects a very old child for her age, which she described as being “half past seven,” and had a habit of spending hours alone in the large front chamber occupied by herself and the governess. This day the governess had gone to keep Christmas with her own family in South Boston, and so it chanced that Mildred had been left to dispose of her time as she pleased during the entire afternoon. She was well content to have the opportunity, for fortune had treated her magnificently, and it was deep satisfaction, after the excitement of the morning, to sit in the middle of that spacious room, with its three windows overlooking the pearl-crusted trees in the Common, and examine her treasures without any chance of interruption.     
  The looms of Cashmere and the workshops of Germany, the patient Chinaman and the irresponsible polar bear, had alike contributed to those treasures. Among other articles was a small square box covered with mottled paper and having an outlandish, mysterious aspect, as if it belonged to a magician. When you loosened the catch of this box, possibly supposing it to contain bonbons of a superior quality, there sprang forth a terrible little monster, with a drifting white beard like a snowstorm, round emerald-green eyes, and a pessimistic expression of countenance generally, as though he had been reading Tolstoi or Schopenhauer.     
  This abrupt personage, whose family name was Heliogabalus, was known for simplicity’s sake as Jumping Jack; and though the explanation of the matter is beset with difficulties, it is not to be concealed that he held a higher place in the esteem of Miss Wentworth than any of her other possessions, not excluding a tall wax doll fin de siècle, with a pallid complexion and a profusion of blond hair. Titania was not more in love with Nick Bottom the weaver than Mildred with Jumping Jack. It was surely not his personal beauty that won her, for he had none; it was not his intellect, for intellect does not take up its abode in a forehead of such singular construction as that of Jumping Jack. But whatever the secret charm was, it worked. On a more realistic stage than this we see analogous cases every day. Perhaps Oberon still exercises his fairy craft in our material world, and scatters at will upon the eyelids of mortals the magic distillation of that “little Western flower” which
     “Will make or man or woman madly dote
    Upon the next live creature that it sees.”
     
  For an hour or so Mildred amused herself sufficiently by shutting Heliogabalus up in the chest and letting him spring out again; then she grew weary of the diversion, and finally began to lose patience with her elastic companion because he was unable to crowd himself into the box and undo the latch with his own fingers. This was extremely unreasonable, but so was Mildred made.     
  “How tedious you are!” she cried, at last. “You dull little old man, I don’t see how I ever came to like you. I don’t like you any more, with your glass eyes and your silly pink mouth always open and never saying the least thing. What do you mean, sir, by standing and staring at me in that tiresome way? You look enough like Dobbs the butcher to be his brother, or to be Dobbs himself. I wonder you don’t up and say, ‘Steaks or chops, mum?’ Dear me! I wish you really had some life in you, and could move about, and talk with me, and make yourself agreeable. Do be alive!”     
  Mildred gave a little laugh at her own absurdity, and then, being an imaginative creature, came presently to regard the idea as not altogether absurd, and, finally, as not absurd at all. If a bough that has been frozen to death all winter can put forth blossoms in the spring, why might not an inanimate object, which already possessed many of the surface attributes of humanity, and possibly some of the internal mechanism, add to itself the crowning gift of speech? In view of the daily phenomena of existence, would that be so very astonishing? Of course the problem took a simpler shape than this in Mildred’s unsophisticated thought.     
  She folded her hands in her lap, and, rocking to and fro, reflected how pleasant it would be if Jumping Jack or her doll could come to life, like the marble lady in the play, and do some of the talking. What wonderful stories Jumping Jack would have to tell, for example! He must have had no end of remarkable adventures before he lost his mind. Probably the very latest intelligence from Lilliput was in his possession, and perhaps he was even now vainly trying to deliver himself of it. His fixed, open mouth hinted as much. The Land of the Pygmies, in the heart of Darkest Africa—just then widely discussed in the newspapers—was, of course, familiar ground to him. How interesting it would be to learn, at first hand, of the manners and customs of those little folk. Doubtless he had been a great traveler in foreign parts; the label, in German text, on the bottom of his trunk showed that he had recently come from Munich. Munich! What magic there was in the very word! As Mildred rocked to and fro, her active little brain weaving the most grotesque fancies, a drowsiness stole over her...

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