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An Unfinished Christmas Story
[Probably begun several years before his death. Published, as it here appears, in Short
Stories, January, 1911.]
Now, a Christmas story should be one. For a good many years the ingenious writers have
been putting forth tales for the holiday numbers that employed every subtle, evasive,
indirect and strategic scheme they could invent to disguise the Christmas flavor. So far
has this new practice been carried that nowadays when you read a story in a holiday
magazine the only way you can tell it is a Christmas story is to look at the footnote which
reads: ["The incidents in the above story happened on December 25th.—ED."]
There is progress in this; but it is all very sad. There are just as many real Christmas
stories as ever, if we would only dig 'em up. Me, I am for the Scrooge and Marley
Christmas story, and the Annie and Willie's prayer poem, and the long lost son coming
home on the stroke of twelve to the poorly thatched cottage with his arms full of talking
dolls and popcorn balls and—Zip! you hear the second mortgage on the cottage go flying
off it into the deep snow.
So, this is to warn you that there is no subterfuge about this story—and you might come
upon stockings hung to the mantel and plum puddings and hark! the chimes! and wealthy
misers loosening up and handing over penny whistles to lame newsboys if you read
Once I knocked at a door (I have so many things to tell you I keep on losing sight of the
story). It was the front door of a furnished room house in West 'Teenth Street. I was
looking for a young illustrator named Paley originally and irrevocably from Terre Haute.
Paley doesn't enter even into the first serial rights of this Christmas story; I mention him
simply in explaining why I came to knock at the door—some people have so much
The door was opened by the landlady. I had seen hundreds like her. And I had smelled
before that cold, dank, furnished draught of air that hurried by her to escape immurement
in the furnished house.
She was stout, and her face and lands were as white as though she had been drowned in a
barrel of vinegar. One hand held together at her throat a buttonless flannel dressing
sacque whose lines had been cut by no tape or butterick known to mortal woman.
Beneath this a too-long, flowered, black sateen skirt was draped about her, reaching the
floor in stiff wrinkles and folds.
The rest of her was yellow. Her hair, in some bygone age, had been dipped in the
fountain of folly presided over by the merry nymph Hydrogen; but now, except at the
roots, it had returned to its natural grim and grizzled white.