The Toys of Peace and Other Stories HTML version

Bertie's Christmas Eve
It was Christmas Eve, and the family circle of Luke Steffink, Esq., was aglow with the
amiability and random mirth which the occasion demanded. A long and lavish dinner had
been partaken of, waits had been round and sung carols; the house-party had regaled
itself with more caroling on its own account, and there had been romping which, even in
a pulpit reference, could not have been condemned as ragging. In the midst of the general
glow, however, there was one black unkindled cinder.
Bertie Steffink, nephew of the aforementioned Luke, had early in life adopted the
profession of ne'er-do-weel; his father had been something of the kind before him. At the
age of eighteen Bertie had commenced that round of visits to our Colonial possessions, so
seemly and desirable in the case of a Prince of the Blood, so suggestive of insincerity in a
young man of the middle-class. He had gone to grow tea in Ceylon and fruit in British
Columbia, and to help sheep to grow wool in Australia. At the age of twenty he had just
returned from some similar errand in Canada, from which it may be gathered that the trial
he gave to these various experiments was of the summary drum-head nature. Luke
Steffink, who fulfilled the troubled role of guardian and deputy-parent to Bertie, deplored
the persistent manifestation of the homing instinct on his nephew's part, and his solemn
thanks earlier in the day for the blessing of reporting a united family had no reference to
Bertie's return.
Arrangements had been promptly made for packing the youth off to a distant corner of
Rhodesia, whence return would be a difficult matter; the journey to this uninviting
destination was imminent, in fact a more careful and willing traveller would have already
begun to think about his packing. Hence Bertie was in no mood to share in the festive
spirit which displayed itself around him, and resentment smouldered within him at the
eager, self-absorbed discussion of social plans for the coming months which he heard on
all sides. Beyond depressing his uncle and the family circle generally by singing "Say au
revoir, and not good-bye," he had taken no part in the evening's conviviality.
Eleven o'clock had struck some half-hour ago, and the elder Steffinks began to throw out
suggestions leading up to that process which they called retiring for the night.
"Come, Teddie, it's time you were in your little bed, you know," said Luke Steffink to his
thirteen-year-old son.
"That's where we all ought to be," said Mrs. Steffink.
"There wouldn't be room," said Bertie.
The remark was considered to border on the scandalous; everybody ate raisins and
almonds with the nervous industry of sheep feeding during threatening weather.