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Title: Christmas on Wheels
Author: Allen, Willis Boyd
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Christmas on Wheels" ***

                               ON WHEELS

                           WILLIS BOYD ALLEN


                         CHRISTMAS ON WHEELS.


A railroad station in a large city is hardly an inviting spot, at its
best; but at the close of a cheerless, blustering December day, when
biting draughts of wind come scurrying in at every open door, filling
the air with a gray compound of dust and fine snow; when passengers
tramp up and down the long platform, waiting impatiently for their
trains; when newsboys wander about with disconsolate, red faces, hands
in pockets and bundles of unsold papers under their ragged and shivering
arms; when, in general, human-kind presents itself as altogether a
frozen, forlorn, discouraged, and hopeless race, condemned to be swept
about on the nipping, dusty wind, like Francesca and her lover, at the
rate of thirty miles an hour--then the station becomes positively

So thought Bob Estabrook as he paced to and fro in the Boston & Albany
depot, traveling-bag in hand, on just such a night as I have described.
Beside him, locomotives puffed and plunged and backed on the shining
rails, as if they, too, felt compelled to trot up and down to keep
themselves warm, and in even tolerably good humor.

“Just my luck!” growled Bob with a misanthropic glare at a loud-voiced
family who were passing; “Christmas coming, two jolly Brighton parties
and an oratorio thrown up, and here am I, fired off to San Francisco. So
much for being junior member of a law firm. Wonder what”--

Here the ruffled current of his meditations ran plump against a rock,
and as suddenly diverged from its former course. The rock was no less
than a young person who at that moment approached with a gray-haired man
and inquired the way to the ticket office.

“Just beyond the waiting-room, on the right,” replied Bob, pointing to
the office and lifting his hat courteously, in response to the lady’s

He watched them with growing interest as they followed his directions
and stood before the lighted window. The two silhouettes were decidedly
out of the common. The voice, whose delicate tones still lingered
pleasantly about Mr. Robert Estabrook’s fastidious ears, was an
individual voice, as distinguishable from any other he remembered as was
the owner’s bright face, the little fur collar beneath it, the
daintily-gloved hands, and the pretty brown traveling suit.

“Dignified old fellow!” mused Bob, irrelevantly, as the couple moved
toward the train gates. “Probably her father. Perhaps--hallo! by
George, they’re going on my car!”

With which breath of summer in his winter of discontent the young man
proceeded to finish his cigar, consult his watch, and, as the last
warning bell rang, step upon the platform of the already moving Pullman.

It must be admitted that as he entered he gave an expectant glance down
the aisle of the car; but the sombre curtains hanging from ceiling to
floor told no tales. Too sleepy to speculate and too learned in the
marvelous acoustic properties of a sleeping-car to engage the porter in
conversation on the subject, he found his berth, arranged himself for
the night with the nonchalance of an old traveler, and, laying his head
upon his vibrating atom of a pillow, was soon plunged into a dream at
least fifty miles long.


It was snowing, and snowing hard. Moreover, it had been snowing all
night, and all the afternoon before. The wind rioted furiously over the
broad Missouri plains, alternately building up huge castles of snow and
throwing them down again like a fretful child; overtaking the belated
teamster on his homeward journey, clutching him with its icy hand, and
leaving him buried in a tomb spotless as the fairest marble; howling,
shrieking, racing madly to and fro, never out of breath, always the same
tireless, pitiless, awful power. Rocks, fields, sometimes even forests
were blotted out of the landscape.

A mere hyphen upon the broad white page lay the Western-bound
train, held fast by the soft but firm hand. The fires in the
locomotives--there were two of them--had been suffered to go out, the
fuel in the tenders was exhausted, and the great creatures waited
silently together, left alone in the storm, while the snow drifted
higher and higher upon their patient backs.

When Bob had waked that morning, to find the tempest more furious than
ever, and the train stuck fast in a huge snowbank, his first thought was
of dismay at the possible detention in the narrow limits of the Pullman,
which seemed much colder than it had before; his next was to wonder how
the change of fortune would affect Gertrude Raymond. Of course he had
long ago become acquainted with the brown traveling suit and fur collar.
Of course there had been numberless little services for him to perform
for her and the old gentleman, who had indeed proved to be her father.
Bob had already begun to dread the end of the journey. He had gone to
his berth the night before wishing that San Francisco were ten days
from Boston instead of six. Providence having taken him at his word and
indicated that the journey would be of at least that duration, if not
more, he was disposed, like no few of his fellow-mortals, to grumble.

Once more he became misanthropic. “There’s Miss Raymond, now,” he
growled to himself, knocking his head savagely against the upper berth
in his attempt to look out through the frosty pane, “sitting over across
the aisle day after day with her kid gloves and all that. Nice enough,
of course,” recalling one or two spirited conversations where hours had
slipped by like minutes, “but confoundedly useless like the rest of ’em.
If she were like mother, now, there’d be no trouble. She’d take care of
herself. But as it is, the whole car will be turned upside down for her
to-day, for fear she’ll freeze or starve or spoil her complexion, or

Here Bob turned an extremely cold shoulder on the window, and having
performed a sort of horizontal toilet, emerged from his berth, his hair
on end, and his face expressive of utter defiance to the world in
general and contempt of fashionable young ladies in particular.

At that moment Miss Raymond appeared in the aisle, sweet and rosy as a
June morning, her cheeks glowing and her eyes sparkling with fun.

“Good-morning, Mr. Estabrook,” she said demurely, settling the fur
collar about her neck.

Bob endeavored to look dignified and was conscious of failure.

“Good mo-morning,” he replied with some stiffness, and a shiver which
took him by surprise. It was cold, jumping out of that warm berth.

“I understand we must stay--but don’t let me detain you,” she added with
a sly glance at his hair.

Bob turned and marched off solemnly to the masculine end of the car,
washed in ice-water, completed his toilet, and came back refreshed.
Breakfast was formally served as usual, and then a council of war was
held. Conductor, engineers, and brakemen being consulted, and
inventories taken, it was found that while food was abundant, the stock
of wood in the bins would not last till noon. There were twelve railroad
men and thirty-five passengers on board, some twenty of the latter being
emigrants in a second-class behind the two Pullmans.

The little company gathered in the snow-bound car looked blankly at each
other, some of them instinctively drawing their wraps more tightly about
their shoulders, as if they already felt the approaching chill.

It was miles to the nearest station in either direction. Above, below,
on all sides, was the white blur of tumultuous, wind-lashed snow.

The silence was broken pleasantly. Once more Bob felt the power of those
clear, sweet tones.

“The men must make up a party to hunt for wood,” she said. “While you’re
gone we women will do what we can for those who are left.”

The necessity for immediate action was evident, and without further
words the council broke up, to obey her suggestion.

A dozen men, looking like amateur Esquimaux, and floundering up to their
armpits at the first step, started off through the drifts. One of the
train-men who knew the line of the road thoroughly, was sure they must
be near a certain clump of trees where plenty of wood could be obtained.
Taking the precaution to move in single line, one of the engineers, a
broad-shouldered six-footer, leading the way, and steering by compass,
they were soon out of sight. As they struck off at right angles to the
track, Bob thought he recognized a face pressed close to the pane and
watching them anxiously; but he could not be sure.

Two hours later the men appeared once more, some staggering under huge
logs, some with axes, some with bundles of lighter boughs for kindling.
In another five minutes smoke was going up cheerily from the whole line
of cars, for the trees had proved to be less than a quarter of a mile
distant and the supply would be plentiful before night.

When Bob Estabrook stamped into his own car, hugging up a big armful of
wood, he was a different looking fellow from the trim young lawyer who
was wont to stand before the jury seats in the Boston Court House. He
had on a pair of immense blue yarn mittens loaned by a kindly brakeman,
his face was scratched with refractory twigs, his eyebrows were
frosted, his moustache an icy caret.

The average tramp might well have hesitated before acknowledging kinship
with him.

His eye roved through the length of the car as it had that first night
in the depot. She was not there. He was as anxious as a boy for her

“Guess I’ll take it into the next car,” he said apologetically to the
nearest passenger; “there’s more coming just behind.”

She was not in the second Pullman. Of course she wasn’t in the baggage
car. Was it possible--? He entered the third and last car, recoiling
just a bit at the odor of crowded and unclean poverty which met him at
the door.

Sure enough, there she sat--his idle, fashionable type of
inutility--with one frowzy child upon the seat beside her, two very
rumpled-looking boys in front, and a baby with terracotta hair in her
arms. Somehow, the baby’s hair against the fur collar didn’t look so
badly as you would expect, either. She seemed to be singing it to sleep,
and kept on with her soft crooning as she glanced up over the tangled
red locks at snowy Bob and his armful of wood, with a look in her eyes
that would have sent him cheerfully to Alaska for more, had there been
need. A few seats off, I ought to say, her father was talking kindly and
earnestly to a rough-looking man and his wife, the latter of whom wore
the dear old gentleman’s cloak. Fathers and daughters are apt to be
pretty much alike in these things, you see.


With the cheerful heat of the fires, the kind offices of nearly all the
well-dressed people to the poorer ones,--for they were not slow, these
kid-gloved Pullman passengers, to follow Miss Raymond’s example,--the
day wore on quietly and not unpleasantly toward its close. Then some one
suddenly remembered that it was Christmas Eve.

“Dear me!” cried Miss Raymond delightedly, reaching round the baby to
clap her hands; “let’s have a Christmas party!”

A few sighed and shook their heads as they thought of their own home
firesides; one or two smiled indulgently on the small enthusiast;
several chimed in at once. Conductor and baggage-master were consulted,
and the spacious baggage car “specially engaged for the occasion,” the
originator of the scheme triumphantly announced. Preparations commenced
without delay. All the young people put their heads together in one
corner, and many were the explosions of laughter as the programme grew.
Trunks were visited by their owners and small articles abstracted
therefrom to serve as gifts for the emigrants and train-men, to whose
particular entertainment the evening was by common consent to be

Just as the lamps were lighted in the train, our hero, who had
disappeared early in the afternoon, returned, dragging after him a small
stunted pine tree, which seemed to have strayed away from its native
forests on purpose for the celebration. On being admitted to the grand
hall, Bob further added to the decorations a few strings of a queer,
mossy sort of evergreen. Hereupon a very young man with light eyebrows,
who had hitherto been inconspicuous, suddenly appeared from the depths
of a battered trunk, over the edge of which he had for some time been
bent like a siphon, and with a beaming face produced a box of veritable
tiny wax candles! He was “on the road,” he explained, for a large
wholesale toyshop, and these were samples. He guessed he could make it
all right with the firm.

Of course the affair was a great success. I have no space to tell of the
sheltered walk that Bob constructed of rugs from car to car; of the
beautified interior of the old baggage car, draped with shawls and
brightened with bits of ribbon; of the mute wonder of the poor
emigrants, a number of whom had but just arrived from Germany, and could
not speak a word of English; of their unbounded delight when the
glistening tree was disclosed, and the cries of “Weihnachtsbaum!
Weihnachtsbaum!” from their rumpled children, whose faces waked into a
glow of blissful recollection at the sight. Ah! if you could have seen
the pretty gifts, the brave little pine (which all the managers agreed
couldn’t possibly have been used had it been an inch taller); the
improvised tableaux, wherein Bob successively personated an
organ-grinder, a pug dog, and Hamlet, amid thunders of applause from the
brakemen and engineers! Then the passengers sang a simple Christmas
carol, Miss Raymond leading with her pure soprano, and Bob chiming in
like the diapason of an organ.

Just as the last words died away a sudden hush came over the audience.
Could it be an illusion, or did they hear the muffled but sweet notes of
a church bell faintly sounding without? Tears came into the eyes of some
of the roughest of the emigrants as they listened, and thought of a wee
belfry somewhere in the Fatherland, where the Christmas bells were
calling to prayers that night. The sound of the bells ceased, and the
merriment went on, while the young man, with eyebrows lighter than ever,
but with radiant face, let himself quietly into the car unnoticed. It
had been his own thought to creep out into the storm, clear away the
snow from the nearest locomotive bell, and ring it while the gayety was
at its height.

All this indeed there was, and more; but to Bob the joy and sweetness of
the evening centred in one bright face. What mattered it if the wind
roared and moaned about the lonely snow-drifted train, while he could
look into those brown eyes and listen to that voice for whose every tone
he was fast learning to watch?

Well, the blockade was raised, and the long railroad trip finished at
last. But two of its passengers, at least, have agreed to enter upon a
still longer journey.


She says it all began when he came staggering in with his armful of wood
and his blue mittens; and he? he doesn’t care at all when it began. He
only realizes the joy that has come to him, and believes that after a
certain day next May it will be Christmas for him all the year round.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Christmas on Wheels" ***

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