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Children's Christmas Story: The Greatest of These

The Greatest of These: Joseph Mills Hanson

“Shut up the stove, Nels.” Charlie blew out the light and opened the door. “There, hang it!” he exclaimed, turning back. “I forgot the note. Ought to be in ink, I suppose. Well, never mind now; we won’t put on any style about it.”

He took down a pencil from the shelf, and, extracting a bit of wrapping paper from a bundle behind the woodbox, wrote the note by the light of the lantern.

“There, I guess that will do,” he said, finally. “Come on!”

Outside, the night air was cold and bracing, and in the black vault of the sky the winter constellations flashed and throbbed. The shadows of the two men, thrown by the lantern, bobbed huge and grotesque across the snow and among the bare branches of the cottonwoods, as they moved toward the barn.

“Ay tank ve put on dose extra side poards and make her an even fifty pushel,” said Nels, after they had backed the wagon up to the granary door. “Ve might as vell do it oop right, skence ve’re at it.”

Having carried out this suggestion, the two shovelled steadily, with short intervals of rest, for three quarters of an hour, the dark pile of grain in the wagon-box rising gradually until it stood flush with the top.

Good it was to look upon, cold and soft and yielding to the touch, this heaped-up wealth from the inexhaustible treasure-house of the mighty West. Charlie and Nels felt something of this as they viewed the results of their labours for a moment before hitching up the team.

“It’s A number one hard,” said Charlie, picking up a handful and sifting it slowly through his fingers, “and it’ll fetch seventy-four cents. But you can’t raise any worse on this old farm of ours if you try,” he added, a little proudly. “Nor anywhere else in the Jim River Valley, for that matter.”

As they approached the Roney place, looking dim and indistinct in the darkness, their voices hushed apprehensively, and the noise of the sled-runners slipping through the snow seemed to them to increase from a purr to a roar.

“Here, stob a minute!” whispered Nels, in agony of discovery. “Ve’re magin’ an awful noise. Ay’ll go und take a beek.”

He slipped away and cautiously approached the house. “Et’s all right,” he whispered, hoarsely, returning after a moment; “dere all asleeb. But go easy; Ay tank ve pest go easy.” They seemed burdened all at once with the consciences of criminals, and went forward with almost guilty timidity.

“Thunder, dere’s a bump! Vy don’d you drive garefuller, Sharlie?”

“Drive yourself, if you think you can do any better!” As they came into the yard a dog suddenly ran out from the barn, barking furiously. Charlie reined up with an ejaculation of despair; “Look there, the dog! We’re done for now, sure! Stop him, Nels! Throw somethin’ at ‘im!”

The noise seemed to their excited ears louder than the crash of artillery. Nels threw a piece of snow crust. The dog ran back a few steps, but his barking did not diminish.

“Here, hold the lines. I’ll try to catch ‘im.” Charlie jumped from the wagon and approached the dog with coaxing words: “Come, doggie, good doggie, nice boy, come!”

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