Moving about on his little lawn in the dark, Ebenezer Rule was
aware of two deeper shadows before him. They were between him and
the leafless lilacs and mulberries that lined the street wall. A
moment before he had been looking at that darkness and remembering
how, once, as a little boy, he had slept there under the wall and
had dreamed that he had a kingdom.
"Who is't?" he asked sharply.
"Hello, Ebenezer," said Simeon Buck, "it's only me and Abel.
Ebenezer Rule came toward them. It was so dark that they could
barely distinguish each other. Their voices had to do it all.
"What you doing out here?" one of the deeper shadows
"Oh, nothing," said Ebenezer, irritably, "not a thing."
He did not ask them to go in the house, and the three stood
there awkwardly, handling the time like a blunt instrument. Then
Simeon Buck, proprietor of the Simeon Buck North American Dry Goods
Exchange, plunged into what they had come to say.
"Ebenezer," he said, with those variations of intonation which
mean an effort to be delicate, "is—is there any likelihood that the
factory will open up this Fall?"
"No, there ain't," Ebenezer said, like something shutting.
"Nor—nor this Winter?" Simeon pursued.
"No, sir," said Ebenezer, like something opening again to shut
with a bang.
"Well, if you're sure—" said Simeon.
Ebenezer cut him short. "I'm dead sure," he said. "I've turned
over my orders to my brother's house in the City. He can
handle 'em all and not have to pay his men a cent more wages." And
this was as if something had been locked.
"Well," said Simeon, "then, Abel, I move we go ahead."
Abel Ames, proprietor of the Granger County Merchandise Emporium
("The A. T. Stewart's of the Middle West," he advertised it),
sighed heavily—a vast, triple sigh, that seemed to sigh both in and
out, as a schoolboy whistles.
"Well," he said, "I hate to do it. But I'll be billblowed if I
want to think of paying for a third or so of this town's Christmas
presents and carrying 'em right through the Winter. I done that
last year, and Fourth of July I had all I could do to keep from
wishing most of the crowd Merry Christmas, 'count of their still
owing me. I'm a merchant and a citizen, but I ain't no patent
adjustable Christmas tree."
"Me neither," Simeon said. "Last year it
was me give a silk cloak and a Five Dollar
umbrella and a fur bore and a bushel of knick-knicks to the folks
in this town. My name wa'n't on the cards, but it's me that's paid
for 'em—up to now. I'm sick of it. The storekeepers
of this town may make a good thing out of Christmas, but they'd
ought to get some of the credit instead of giving it all, by
"What you going to do?" inquired Ebenezer, dryly.
"Well, of course last year was an exceptional year," said Abel,
He hesitated to say "owing to the failure of the Ebenezer Rule
Factory Company," and so stammered with the utmost delicacy, and
skipped a measure.
"And we thought," Simeon finished, "that if the factory
wasn't going to open up this Winter, we'd work things so's to have
little or no Christmas in town this year—being so much of the
present giving falls on us to carry on our books."
"It ain't only the factory wages, of course," Abel interposed,
"it's the folks's savings being et up in—"
"—the failure," he would have added, but skipped a mere beat
"—and we want to try to give 'em a chance to pay us up for last
Christmas before they come on to themselves with another
celebration," he added reasonably.
Ebenezer Rule laughed—a descending scale of laughter that seemed
to have no organs wherewith to function in the open, and so never
got beyond the gutturals.
"How you going to fix it?" he inquired again.
"Why," said Simeon, "everybody in town's talking that they
ain't going to give anybody anything for Christmas. Some means it
and some don't. Some'll do it and some'll back out. But the
churches has decided to omit Christmas exercises altogether this
year. Some thought to have speaking pieces, but everybody concluded
if they had exercises without oranges and candy the children'd go
home disappointed, so they've left the whole thing slide—"
"It don't seem just right for 'em not to celebrate the birth of
our Lord just because they can't afford the candy," Abel Ames
observed mildly, but Simeon hurried on:—
"—slide, and my idea and Abel's is to get the town meeting to
vote a petition to the same effect asking the town not to try to do
anything with their Christmas this year. We heard the factory
wasn't going to open, and we thought if we could tell 'em that for
sure, it would settle it—and save him and me and all the rest
of 'em. Would—would you be willing for us to tell the town meeting
that? It's to-night—we're on the way there."
"Sure," said Ebenezer Rule, "tell 'em. And you might point out
to 'em," he added, with his spasm of gutturals, "that failures is
often salutary measures. Public benefactions. Fixes folks so's they
can't spend their money fool."
He walked with them across the lawn, going between them and
guiding them among the empty aster beds.
"They think I et up their savings in the failure," he went on,
"when all I done is to bring 'em face to face with the fact that
for years they've been overspending themselves. It takes Christmas
to show that up. This whole Christmas business is about wore out,
anyhow. Ain't it?"
"That's what," Simeon said, "it's a spendin' sham, from edge to
Abel Ames was silent. The three skirted the flower beds and came
out on the level sweep of turf before the house that was no house
in the darkness, save that they remembered how it looked: a square,
smoked thing, with a beard of dead creepers and white shades lidded
over its never-lighted windows—a fit home for this man least-liked
of the three hundred neighbours who made Old Trail Town. He touched
the elbows of the other two men as they walked in the dark, but he
rarely touched any human being. And now Abel Ames suddenly put his
hand down on that of Ebenezer, where it lay in the crook of Abel's
"What you got there?" he asked.
"Nothing much," Ebenezer answered, irritably again. "It's an old
glass. I was looking over some rubbish, and I found it—over back.
It's a field glass."
"What you got a field glass out in the dark for?" Abel
"I used to fool with it some when I was a little shaver,"
Ebenezer said. He put the glass in Abel's hand. "On the sky," he
Abel lifted the glass and turned it on the heavens. There, above
the little side lawn, the firmament had unclothed itself of
branches and lay in a glorious nakedness to three horizons.
"Thunder," Abel said, "look at 'em look."
Sweeping the field with the lens, Abel spoke meanwhile.
"Seems as if I'd kind of miss all the fuss in the store around
Christmas," he said,—"the extra rush and the trimming up and
"Abel'll miss lavishin' his store with cut paper, I guess," said
Simeon; "he dotes on tassels."
"Last year," Abel went on, not lowering the glass, "I had a
little kid come in the store Christmas Eve, that I'd never see
before. He ask' me if he could get warm—and he set down on the edge
of a chair by the stove, and he took in everything in the place. I
ask' him his name, and he just smiled. I ask' him if he was glad it
was Christmas, and he says, Was I. I was goin' to give him some
cough drops, but when I come back from waiting on somebody he was
gone. I never could find out who he was, nor see anybody that saw
him. I thought mebbe this Christmas he'd come back. Lord, don't it
look like a pasture of buttercups up there? Here, Simeon."
Simeon, talking, took the glass and lifted it to the stars.
"Cut paper doin's is all very well," he said, "but the worst
nightmare of the year to the stores is Christmas. I always think
it's come to be 'Peace on earth, good will to men and extravagance
of women.' Quite a nice little till of gold pieces up there in
the sky, ain't there? I'd kind o' like to stake a claim out up
there—eh? Lay it out along about around that bright one down
there—by Josh," he broke off, "look at that bright one."
Simeon kept looking through the glass, and he leaned a little
forward to try to see the better.
"What is it?" he repeated, "what's that one? It's the biggest
star I ever see—"
The other two looked where he was looking, low in the east. But
they saw nothing save boughs indeterminately moving and a spatter
of sparkling points not more bright than those of the upper
"You look," Simeon bade the vague presence that was his host;
but through the glass, Ebenezer still saw nothing that challenged
"I don't know the name of a star in the sky, except the
dipper," he grumbled, "but I don't see anything out of the
"It is," Simeon protested; "I tell you, it's the biggest star I
ever saw. It's blue and purple and green and yellow—"
Abel had the glass now, and he had looked hardly sooner than he
"Sure," he said, "I've got it. It is blue and
purple and green and yellow, and it's as big as most stars put
together. It twinkles—yes, sir, and it swings … " he broke
off, laughing at the mystification of the others, and laughed so
that he could not go on.
"Is it a comet, do you s'pose?" said Simeon.
"No," said Abel, "no. It's come to stay. It's our individual
private star. It's the arc light in front of the Town Hall you two
are looking at."
They moved to where Abel stood, and from there, up the rise of
ground to the east, they could see Simeon's star, shining
softly and throwing long rays, it seemed, almost to where they
stood: the lamp that marked the heart of the village.
"Shucks," said Simeon.
"Sold," said Ebenezer.
"Why, I don't know," said Abel, "I kind of like to see it
through the glass. It looks like it was a bigger light than we give
it credit for."
"It's a big enough light," said Ebenezer, testily. It was his
own plant at the factory that made possible the town's three arc
lights, and these had been continued by him at the factory's
"No use making fun of your friends' eyesight because you're all
of twenty minutes younger than them," Simeon grumbled. "Come on,
Abel. It must be gettin' round the clock."
"A man owns the hull thing with a glass o' this stamp," he
said. "How much does one like that cost?" he inquired.
"I'll sell you this one—" began Ebenezer; "wait a week or two
and I may sell you this one," he said. "I ain't really looked
through it myself yet."
Not much after this, the two went away and left Ebenezer in the
He stood in the middle of his little grass plot and looked
through his glass again. That night there was, so to say, nothing
remote about the sky, save its distance. It had none of the
reticence of clouds. It made you think of a bed of golden bells,
each invisible stalk trying on its own account to help forward some
Spring. As he had said, he did not know one star from another, nor
a planet for a planet with a name. It had been years since he had
seen the heavens so near. He moved about, looking, and passed the
wall of leafless lilacs and mulberries. Stars hung in his
boughs like fruit for the plucking. They patterned patches of sky.
He looked away and back, and it was as if the stars repeated
themselves, like the chorus of everything.
"You beggars," Ebenezer said, "awful dressed up, ain't you? It
must be for something up there—it ain't for anything down here, let
me tell you."
He went up to his dark back door. From without there he could
hear Kate Kerr, his general servant, who had sufficient personality
to compel the term "housekeeper," setting sponge for bread, with a
slapping, hollow sound and a force that implied a frown for every
down stroke of the iron spoon. He knew how she would turn toward
the door as he entered, with her way of arching eyebrows, in the
manner of one about to recite the symptoms of a change for the
worse—or at best to say "about the same" to everything in the
universe. And when Kate Kerr spoke, she always whispered on
the faintest provocation.
A sudden distaste for the entire inside of his house seized
Ebenezer. He turned and wandered back down the little dark yard,
looking up at the high field of the stars, with only his dim
"There must be quite a little to know about them," he thought,
"if anybody was enough interested."
Then he remembered Simeon and Abel, and laughed again in his
"I done the town a good turn for once, didn't I?" he thought;
"I've fixed folks so's they can't spend their money fool!"
Two steps from Ebenezer's front gate, Simeon and Abel overtook a
woman. She had a long shawl over her head, and she was humming some
faint air of her own making.
"Coming to the meeting, Mary?" Simeon asked as they passed
"No," said Mary Chavah, "I started for it. But it's such a nice
night I'm going to walk around."
"Things are going to go your way to that meeting, I guess," said
Simeon; "ain't you always found fault with Christmas?"
"They's a lot o' nonsense about it," Mary assented; "I don't
ever bother myself much with it. Why?"
"I donno but we'll all come round to your way of thinking
to-night," said Simeon.
"For just this year!" Abel Ames called back, as they went
"You can't do much else, I guess," said Mary. "Everybody dips
Christmas up out of their pocketbooks, and if there ain't nothing
there, they can't dip."
The men laughed with her, and went on down the long street
toward the town. Mary followed slowly, under the yellowing elms
that made great golden shades for the dim post lamps. And high
at the far end of the street down which they went, hung the blue
arc light before the Town Hall, center to the constellation of the
home lights and the shop lights and the street lights, all near
neighbours to the stream and sweep of the stars hanging a little
higher and shining as by one sun.