The Philanthropist’s Christmas – Intermediate Level

“Did you see this committee yesterday, Mr. Mathews?” asked the Mr. Allan Carter, the well-known philanthropist.

His secretary looked up.

“Yes, sir.”

“You recommend them then?”

“Yes, sir.”

“For fifty thousand?”

“For fifty thousand, yes, sir.”

“Are you sure they can find other people to put up the same amount of money?”

“I went over the list carefully, Mr. Carter. The money is promised, and by responsible people.”

“Very well,” said Mr. Carter. “You may advise them, Mr. Mathews, that my fifty thousand will be available as the bills come in.”

“Yes, sir.”

Old Mr. Carter laid down the letter he had been reading, and took up another. After he read he looked up at his secretary angrily.

“Mr. Mathews!” he said sharply.

“Yes, sir?”

“You are careless, sir!”

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Carter?” questioned the secretary, his face turning red.

The old gentleman tapped impatiently the letter he held in his hand.

“Do you pay no attention, Mr. Mathews, to my rule that NO personal letters containing requests for help are to reach me? How do you account for this, may I ask?”

“I beg your pardon,” said the secretary again. “You will see, Mr. Carter, that that letter is dated three weeks ago. I have had the woman’s case carefully looked into. She is undoubtedly a good person, and undoubtedly in need. And as she speaks of her father as having associated with you, I thought perhaps you would care to see her letter.”

“A thousand worthless men have been associated with me,” said the old man, sharply. “In a great factory, Mr. Mathews, a boy works next to the men he is put with. He does not pick and choose. This woman is probably telling the truth. What of it? You know that I regard my money as a public trust. If my energy, my attention, were to be wasted by countless individual requests for help, what would become of them? My fortune would fall through my fingers like so much sand. You understand, Mr. Mathews? Let me see no more individual letters. You know that Mr. Whittemore has full authority to deal with them.

May I trouble you to ring? I am going out.”

A man appeared very immediately in answer to the bell.

“Sniffen, my overcoat,” said Mr. Carter.

“It is here, sir,” answered Sniffen, helping the thin old man put on the thick coat and a fur cap.

“There is no word of the dog, I suppose, Sniffen?”

“None, sir. The police were here again yesterday sir, but they said as how…”

“The police!” Mr. Carter said loudly. “Eight thousand men who can’t do their job!” He turned quickly and went toward the door, where he stopped a moment.

“Mr. Mathews, since that woman’s letter did reach me, I suppose I must pay for my carelessness… or yours. Send her – what does she say – four children? Send her a hundred dollars. But, to make sure this doesn’t happen again, send it without telling her where it came from. Write her that I pay no attention to such claims.” He went out, and Sniffen closed the door behind him.

“Takes losing the little dog hard, doesn’t he?” remarked Sniffen, sadly, to the secretary. “I’m afraid there isn’t a chance of finding him now. He hasn’t been stolen, and he hasn’t been found, or they’d have brought him back for the reward. He’s been knocked on the head, like as not. He wasn’t much of a dog to look at, you see… just a puppy, I’d call him. And after he learned that trick of getting out of his collar – well, I fancy Mr. Carter’s seen the last of him. I do, indeed.”

As they were talking, Mr. Carter was making his way slowly down the snowy street, upon his usual walk. The walk, however, was not enjoyable today, for Skiddles, his little dog, was not with him to add interest and excitement.

Mr. Carter had found Skiddles in the country a year and a half before. Skiddles, then a puppy, was at the time in a most embarrassing position, stuck in a small pipe, and unable either to go forward or backward. Mr. Carter had pushed him forward, after much effort, as a result of which Skiddles had licked his hand. Something in the little dog’s eye, or his action, made the rich man decide to buy him, which he did at a cost of half a dollar. After that Skiddles became his daily companion, his chief source of enjoyment, and finally the apple of his eye.

Skiddles was of no known parentage, and it was hard to tell exactly what kind of dog he was. But he suited Mr. Carter, who believed that people should be judged by what they do in life, and not by their family tree. What, he thought proudly, did his own family history matter, if it came to that?

But now Skiddles had disappeared. As Sniffen said, he had learned the trick of getting free from his collar. One morning the great front doors had been left open for two minutes while the entrance hall was aired. Skiddles must have ran down the steps and round the corner unseen. At all events, he had disappeared. Although the whole police force of the city had been told to try to find Skiddles, there was still no sign of him. And for three weeks a small, straight, white-bearded man in a fur overcoat had walked alone. His sadness and sense of loss was mixed with increasing anger.

He stood upon a corner uncertainly. One way led to the park, and this he usually took. But today he did not want to go to the park. It made him think too much of Skiddles. He looked the other way. Down there, if one went far enough, lay “slums,” and Mr. Carter hated the sight of slums. As well as making him feel miserable, they raised questions that made him feel uncomfortable. With all his money and all he had given away, was there still necessity for such misery in the world? Worse still came the troubling question at times. Had all his money anything to do with the creation of this misery? He owned no slum buildings, and so made no money off the poor people who lived there. He paid good wages in every factory. He had given sums such as few other philanthropists in the world. Still – there were the slums. However, the worst slums lay some distance off, and he finally turned his back on the park and walked on.

It was the day before Christmas. You saw it in people’s faces. You saw it in the decorations that hung in windows. You saw it, even as you passed the grand, uninviting houses on The Avenue, in the green that here and there on huge doors. But most of all, you saw it in the shops. Up here the shops were smallish, and chiefly sold food and other basic needs. The shop windows were not full of all sorts of wonderful gifts, but there were Christmas-trees of all sizes everywhere. It was amazing how many people in that neighborhood seemed to favor the old-fashioned idea of a tree.

Mr. Carter looked at them with his anger softening. If they made him feel a little more lonely, they allowed him to feel also a little less responsible – for, after all, it was a fairly happy world.

At this moment he noticed something strange a short distance ahead of him. Another Christmas-tree, but one which moved, apparently by itself, slowly along the sidewalk. As Mr. Carter came up to it, he saw that it was being carried, or rather pulled, by a small boy who wore a bright red woolen cap and gloves. As Mr. Carter looked down at him, he looked up at Mr. Carter and spoke cheerfully.

“Going my way, mister?”

“Why… I WAS!” answered Mr Carter, surprised by the question.

“Mind pulling this a little way?” asked the boy, confidently, “my hands are cold.”

“Won’t you enjoy it more if you manage to take it home by yourself? ”

“Oh, it isn’t for me!” said the boy.

“Your employer,” said Mr. Carter, in a serious voice, “is certainly careless if he allows his trees to be delivered in this fashion.”

“I’m not delivering it, either,” said the boy. “This is Bill’s tree.”

“Who is Bill?”

“He’s a boy with a back that’s no good.”

“Is he your brother?”

“No. Take the tree a little way, will you, while I warm myself?”

Mr. Carter took the tree – he did not know why. The boy, free of the tree, ran forward, jumped up and down, slapped his red woolen gloves on his legs, and then ran back again. After repeating these exercises two or three times, he returned to where the old gentleman stood holding the tree.

“Thanks,” he said. “Say, mister, you look like Santa Claus yourself, standing by the tree, with your fur cap and your coat. I bet you don’t have to run to keep warm, hey?” There was a look of surprise on his face and his eyes suddenly lit up as he had an idea.

“Say, mister,” he cried, “will you do something for me? Come in to Bill’s – he lives only a block from here -and just let him see you. He’s only a kid, and he’ll think he’s seen Santa Claus, sure. We can tell him you’re so busy tomorrow you have to go to lots of places today. You won’t have to give him anything. We’re looking out for all that. Bill got hurt in the summer, and he’s been in bed ever since. So we are giving him a Christmas – tree and all. He is getting a lot of things – an air-gun, and a train that goes around when you wind her up. They’re great!”

“You boys are doing this?”

“Well, it’s our club at the settlement, and of course Miss Gray thought of it, and she’s giving Bill the train. Come along, mister.”

“I don’t think so,” said Mr. Carter.

“All right,” said the boy. “I guess, what with Pete and all, Bill will have Christmas enough.”

“Who is Pete?”

“Bill’s dog. He’s had him three weeks now – best little puppy you ever saw!”

A dog which Bill had had three weeks – and in a neighborhood not a quarter of a mile from The Avenue. It was three weeks since Skiddles had disappeared. That this dog was Skiddles was of course most improbable. However, Mr Carter was ready to follow up any information which might lead to the lost dog.

“How did Bill get this dog?” he demanded.

“I found him myself. Some kids had tied a tin can to his tail, and he came into our door. He licked my hand, and then sat up on his back legs. Somebody had taught him that, you know. I thought right away, ‘Here’s a dog for Bill!’ And I took him over there and fed him, and they kept him in Bill’s room two or three days, so he shouldn’t get scared again and run off. Now he wouldn’t leave Bill for anybody. Of course, he isn’t much of a dog,” he added “he’s just a puppy, but he’s very friendly!”

“Boy,” said Mr. Carter, “I guess I’ll just go round and…” He was about to add, “have a look at that dog,” but fearful of letting the boy know that he was interested the dog, he ended – “and see Bill.”

The apartment buildings to which the boy led him were of brick, and reasonably clean. Nearly every window showed some sign of Christmas. The tree-carrier led the way into a dark hall, up one level – Mr. Carter assisting with the tree – and down another dark hall, to a door, on which he knocked. A woman opened it.

“Here’s the tree!” said the boy, in a loud whisper. “Is Bill’s door shut?”

Mr. Carter stepped forward out of the darkness. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “I met this young man in the street. He asked me to come here and see a friend of his who, I understand, was hurt some time ago and will be in bed over Christmas. But if it is a bad time to visit…”

“Come in,” said the woman, warmly, throwing the door open. “I’m Mrs. Bailey. Bill will be glad to see you, sir.”

He stepped inside. The room was well furnished and clean. There was a sewing machine in the corner, and in both the windows hung Christmas decorations. Between the windows was a cleared space, where it seemed the tree, when decorated, was to stand.

“Are all the things here?” the tree-carrier demanded excitedly.

“They’re all here, Jimmy,” answered Mrs. Bailey. “The candy just came.”

“Say,” cried the boy, pulling off his red woolen gloves to blow on his fingers, “won’t it be great? But now Bill’s got to see Santa Claus. I’ll just go in and tell him, and then, when I call, mister, you come on, and pretend you’re Santa Claus.” He then ran to a door at the opposite end of the room, opened it and disappeared.

“Mrs. Bailey,” said Mr. Carter, looking a little embarrassed, “I must say one word. I am Mr. Carter, Mr. Allan Carter. You may have heard my name?”

She shook her head. “No, sir.”

“I live not far from here on The Avenue. Three weeks ago I lost a little dog that I valued very much I have had all the city searched since then, but without success. Today I met the boy who has just left us. He informed me that three weeks ago he found a dog, which is at present in the possession of your son. I wonder – is it not just possible that this dog may be mine?”

Mrs. Bailey smiled. “I guess not, Mr. Carter. The dog Jimmy found hadn’t come off The Avenue – not from the look of him. You know there’s hundreds and hundreds of dogs without homes, sir. But I will say for this one, he has a kind of a way with him.”

“Listen!” said Mr. Carter.

There was a light noise at the door at the far end of the room, a sniffing and a quick scratching of feet. Then: “Woof! woof! woof!” sharp and clear came happy impatient little barks.

Mr. Carter’s eyes brightened. “Yes,” he said, “that is the dog.”

“I doubt if it can be, sir,” said Mrs. Bailey, kindly.

“Open the door, please,” commanded Mr. Carter, “and let us see.” Mrs. Bailey did as he asked. There was an excited rush, a quick jump, and Skiddles, the lost Skiddles, was in his owner’s arms. Mrs. Bailey shut the door with a troubled face.

“I see it’s your dog, sir,” she said, “but I hope you won’t be thinking that Jimmy or I…”

“Mrs. Bailey,” said Mr. Carter, “I could not be so foolish. I was actually thinking quite the opposite! I owe you a thousand thanks.”

Mrs. Bailey looked more cheerful. “Poor little Billy!” she said. “It’ll come hard on him, losing Pete just at Christmas time. But the boys are so good to him, I’m sure he’ll forget it.”

“Who are these boys?” asked Mr. Carter. “Isn’t their action… a little unusual?”

“It’s Miss Gray’s club at the settlement, sir,” explained Mrs. Bailey.

“Every Christmas they do this for somebody. It’s not charity. Billy and I don’t need charity, or take it. It’s just friendliness. They’re good
boys.”

“I see,” said Mr.Carter. He was still thinking about it, though, when the door opened again.

Jimmy looked out with a face shining with pleasure at the thought of what was to come. “All ready, mister!” he said. “Bill’s waiting for you!”

“Jimmy,” began Mrs. Bailey, about to explain, “the gentleman…”

But Mr. Carter held up his hand to stop her. “You’ll let me see your son, Mrs. Bailey?” he asked, gently.

“Why, certainly, sir.”

Mr. Carter put Skiddles down and walked slowly into the inner room. The bed stood with its side toward him. On it lay a small boy of seven. His could not move his body but his arms were free and his face lighted with joy.

“Hello, Santa Claus!” he piped, in an excited voice.

“Hello, Bill!” answered the philanthropist, softly.

The boy turned his eyes on Jimmy. “He knows my name,” he said, with a big smile on his face.

“He knows everybody’s name,” said Jimmy. “Now you tell him what you want, Bill, and he’ll bring it tomorrow.

“How would you like,” said Mr Carter, as if pretending to think. “An… an…” he paused, it seemed so unsuitable for the sickly figure on the bed – “an air-gun?”

“I guess yes,” said Bill, happily.

“And a train of cars,” broke in the impatient Jimmy, “that goes like sixty when you wind her?”

“Yes!” said Bill.

Mr. Carter carefully made notes of this.

“How about,” he asked… “a tree?”

“Honest? “said Bill.

“I think it can be managed,” said Santa Claus. He advanced to the side of the bed.

“I’m glad to have seen you, Bill. You know how busy I am, but I hope – I hope to see you again.”

“Not till next year, of course,” warned Jimmy.

“Not till then, of course,” agreed Santa Claus. “And now, good-bye.”

“You forgot to ask him if he’d been a good boy,” suggested Jimmy.

“I have,” said Bill. “I’ve been fine. You ask mother.”

“She gives you – she gives you both a high character,” said Santa Claus.

“Good-bye again,” and so saying he left the room. Skiddles followed him out.

Mr. Carter closed the door of the bedroom, and then turned to Mrs. Bailey.

She was regarding him with a look of wonder and respect. “Oh, sir,” she said, “I know now who you are – the Mr. Carter that gives so much away to people!”

“Just so, Mrs. Bailey,” said the philanthropist softly. “And there is one gift – or loan, rather – which I should like to make to you. I should like to leave the little dog with you till after the holidays. I’m afraid I’ll have to claim him then. But if you’ll keep him till after Christmas – and let me find, perhaps, another dog for Billy – I would be very grateful.”

Again the door of the bedroom opened, and Jimmy came quietly back. “Bill wants the puppy,” he explained.

“Pete! Pete!” came the weak but happy voice from the inner room.

Skiddles started to move but then paused. Mr. Carter made no sign.

“Pete! Pete!” called the voice again.

Slowly, very slowly, Skiddles turned and went back into the bedroom.

“You see,” said Mr. Carter, smiling, “he won’t be too unhappy away from me, Mrs. Bailey.”

On his way home the philanthropist saw even more signs of Christmas preparations along the streets than before. Although sixty-eight years old, he walked with strong, energetic steps. He even hummed a little tune.

When he reached the house on The Avenue he found his secretary still at work.

“Oh, by the way, Mr. Mathews,” he said, “did you send that letter to the woman, saying I never paid attention to personal requests for help? No? Then write her, please, sending my check for two hundred dollars, and wish her a very Merry Christmas in my name, will you? And from now on will you always let me see such letters as that one – of course after looking into each situation carefully? I fancy perhaps I may have been too hard on these people in the past.”

“Certainly, sir,” answered the confused secretary. He began looking excitedly for his note book.

“I found the little dog,” continued Mr. Carter. “You will be glad to know that.”

“You have found him?” cried the secretary. “Have you got him back, Mr. Carter? Where was he?”

“He was… held up. On Oak Street, I believe,” said Mr. Carter. “No, I have not got him back yet. I have left him with a young boy till after the holidays.”

He settled himself to his papers, for philanthropists must work even on the twenty-fourth of December.

The secretary shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what he had just heard. “I wonder what’s happened?” he said to himself.