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Children's Christmas Story: The Greatest of These

The Greatest of These: Joseph Mills Hanson

Nels picked up the frying-pan and Charlie the biscuits, and set them on the oilcloth-covered table, where a plate of butter, a jar of plum jelly, and a coffee-pot were already standing.

Outside the frozen kitchen window the snow-covered fields and meadows stretched, glistening and silent, away to the dark belt of timber by the river. Along the deep-rutted road in front a belated lumber-wagon passed slowly, the wheels crunching through the packed snow with a wavering, incessant shriek.

The two men hitched their chairs up to the table, and without ceremony helped themselves liberally to the steaming food. For a few moments they seemed oblivious to everything but the demands of hunger. The potatoes and biscuits disappeared with surprising rapidity, washed down by large drafts of coffee. These men, labouring steadily through the short daylight hours in the dry, cold air of the Dakota winter, were like engines whose fires had burned low–they were taking fuel. Presently, the first keen edge of appetite satisfied, they ate more slowly, and Nels, straightening up with a sigh, spoke:

“Ay seen Seigert in town ta-day. Ha vants von hundred fifty fer dose team.”

“Come down, eh?” commented Charlie. “Well, they’re worth that. We’d better take ’em, Nels. We’ll need ’em in the spring if we break the north forty.”

“Yas, et’s a nice team,” agreed Nels. “Ha vas driven ham ta-day.”

“Is he haulin’ corn?”

“Na; he had his kids oop gettin’ Christmas presents.”

“Chris–By gracious! to-morrow’s Christmas!”

Nels nodded solemnly, as one possessing superior knowledge. Charlie became thoughtful.

“We’ll come in sort of slim on it here, I reckon, Nels. Christmas ain’t right, somehow, out here. Back in Wisconsin, where I came from, there’s where you get your Christmas!” Charlie spoke with the unswerving prejudice of mankind for the land of his birth.

“Yas, dose been right. En da ol’ kontry dey havin’ gret times Christmas.”

Their thoughts were all bent now upon the holiday scenes of the past. As they finished the meal and cleared away and washed the dishes they related incidents of their boyhood’s time, compared, reiterated, and embellished. As they talked they grew jovial, and laughed often.

“The skee broke an’ you went over kerplunk, hey? Haw, haw! That reminds me of one time in Wisconsin–”

Something of the joyous spirit of the Christmastide seemed to have entered into this little farmhouse set in the midst of the lonely, white fields. In the hearts of these men, moving about in their dim-lighted room, was reechoed the joyous murmur of the great world without: the gayety of the throngs in city streets, where the brilliant shop-windows, rich with holiday spoils, smile out upon the passing crowd, and the clang of street-cars and roar of traffic mingle with the cries of street-venders. The work finished, they drew their chairs to the stove, and filled their pipes, still talking.

“Well, well,” said Charlie, after the laugh occasioned by one of Nels’ droll stories had subsided. “It’s nice to think of those old times. I’d hate to have been one of these kids that can’t have any fun. Christmas or any other time,”

“Ay gass dere ain’t anybody much dot don’d have someding dis tams a year.”

“Oh, yes, there are, Nels! You bet there are!”

Charlie nodded at his partner with serious conviction.

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