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"The Purloined Christmas" (1897)
Report to Moderator Old 05-21-2012 11:34 AM
MerryCarey
 
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Someone has crept into the House of Annum and stolen six holidays from Father Time—including Christmas! Can the 25th of December be found in time to save Christmas?

Click here for a printable version.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"The Purloined Christmas" by Gelett Burgess
From St. Nicholas magazine, December 1897

None of the Vernal Months had heard anything, for they had slept soundly in their pink spring beds on the ground floor. They were a dimpled, blushing trio, the youngest and gayest daughters of old Father Time. Mistress May had twined arbutus around their room, and little April had spread the floor with pussy-willow; so soft that one could hear never a footfall.

The Summer Sisters, too, had heard no one enter, but had purred musically, the whole night through, in their rose-hung apartment on the second floor of the House of Annum. Augusta had heard absolutely nothing. But, then, every one knew she was a very sleepy maid.

Nor were the Autumnal Months aware of the robbery, and the Winter Months had not awakened. And yet a great misfortune had fallen upon the house where dwelt the twelve Maiden Months in the four suites of the Seasons; thieves had entered during the night, and six of the most valuable possessions of the household had been stolen! Six precious days had been filched from the calendar of the House of Annum! February had lost her fourteenth, and May her first day. July's fourth was missing. October looked in vain for her last day, while November could find but three Thursdays in her set. But, worst of all, the 25th of December was gone! How was the year to be carried on? What could be done without Christmas?

Old Father Time was furious. The other holidays might be supplied somehow; if only some movable holiday had been stolen, now, almost any of the days near it might have been used, and no one but a few almanac-makers would have been the wiser. It would be pretty hard to keep the loss of the 4th of July quiet; but as for Christmas, it was simply impossible to conceal its absence; the Year would be disgraced unless the 25th of December was brought back on time!

There was no time to be lost, either; for the earth was bowling along around the sun as if nothing had happened; and the Signs of the Zodiac were calling at frequent intervals. The news of the burglary soon spread up the Decade, through the Nineteenth Century, and it became known before long all over the Christian Era! The chief customers began to arrive at the House of Annum, and Father Time could hardly stand still with the worry. St. Valentine was highly incensed—there could, would, and should be no love-making until the 14th of February was found! The hall fairly shimmered with ghosts and hobgoblins asking for news of All-Hallowe'en. The Hobby-horse bewailed the loss of May-day—the only time of the year when he could get any exercise.

The turkeys were, in fact, the only things that did not regret the larceny. They thought that they might get along one year without Thanksgiving day, and do their own gobbling.

So Father Time called his daughters together in the great hall of the House of Annum, and they came down to him, Season by Season, robed in pink and white and brown and golden-red. And they talked and talked and talked, as folk will over a burglary. January was very cool, indeed; for she had lost nothing. Miss March blustered and blew into a temper; and April alternately wept and laughed hysterically. Augusta was hot with anger at the outrage; and the melancholy November was sullen, and her countenance was overcast.

At last, after many inquiries, Father Time found among the servants an old Equinox who had been kept awake by the gossiping whispers of the Autumnal Maidens; she had seen a mortal in the House of Annum! And then the Summer Solstice confessed, with tears of contrition, that she had, the evening before, let in a beautiful beggar-maid with long hair and eyes of brook-hazel!

Then all the Months cried, and St. Valentine cried, "Oh, it is the Princess Pittipums that has stolen the days! None else so fair, and none else so clever, as to gain entrance into the House of Annum, and find the most precious of our holidays!" For Pittipums had played mischievously with the universe before this, and at one time had even stolen a star to wear in her hair!

So Father Time dispatched messengers forthwith to go and summon the pretty culprit, and restore the missing days to their proper places in the calendar. And they found the Princess Pittipums on a little throne, playing with May-day, queening herself with a thousand playful fancies. so they haled her back into the hall, crying, and the Maiden Months reproached her. And as she was a fickle baggage, she confessed her sinlets with a great show of penitence, and told them where the days were hid.

The 14th of February she had hidden in the heart of a crusty old bachelor, a scoffer at lovers' follies. Who would have dreamed of looking there? The 4th of July she had concealed in the crown of the Queen of England; surely, no one could have thought of that place! The last day of October she had been naughty enough to tuck into the globe of an electric light, so that no ghost might ever find it; and as for Thanksgiving day, the turkeys stood guard over that, where it was buried in the northeast corner of her uncle's barnyard.

So after much trouble the purloined days were recovered at last, just in time for them to be used (and, indeed, Thanksgiving day was dug up a little late, and didn't begin till five o'clock of the morning)—all except Christmas day, which the naughty Pittipums absolutely refused to return! It got to be late and later, and Father Time was at his wits' end to know what to do. The 21st was already finished, the 22d was taken down and used,—the 23d,—and at last came the 24th, and the Princess was still obstinate! Was the whole world to skip Christmas day for her perversity? Everyone in the House of Annum was cast down; never since the world began had the Year been in such danger. The Maiden Months offered her the pick of the weather for a whole year; she should have any days stretched to fit her pleasure, or shrunk if they went on wrong, if she would only return the 25th!

Santa Claus was in despair, but, hoping against hope, he packed his toys with an anxious face, and prepared for his ride, ready to start on the instant, should Pittipums relent. His reindeer stood whinnying at the gate, but he dared not start on his rounds, for fear the stroke of midnight should launch him into the day after Christmas. It got to be six o'clock, eight o'clock,—eleven o'clock,—and Father Time was just about to take the 26th day out of the cupboard, when the Lady December came weeping to the Princess Pittipums for a last appeal.

"Oh, Pittipums," said December, "I pray you, spare me my disgrace, and return my 25th, that the little children may keep Christmas day!"

Then the Princess Pittipums peered out of the window of the great House of Annum, and far down below upon the earth she beheld a million little children in their little beds, and their stockings, and all—dreaming of Santa Claus. "It really is too bad," she said; "but the fact is, the 25th is my birthday, and I want to keep it out of the Year, so that I may never grow any older!"

Then all the Maiden Months cried, and Father Time cried, "But no one grows older on Christmas day; indeed, every one grows younger!"

"What!—really?" said the Princess.

"Oh, surely!" said Father Time. "It has been that way for nearly nineteen hundred years, now."

"Why, then, here's the day; for of course I don't need it," said Pittipums; and she took a very merry Christmas out of her sleeve, where it had been safe and warm all the time. It was now exactly one half-minute to twelve.

With a whoop, Santa Claus jumped into his sleigh, shouted to the reindeer, and was off, pell-mell!

* * * * * * * * * * * *
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