Bedtime-Story, for Busy Business-Parents
Whimsical Bedtime Stories for Children of All Ages
The Christmas Family
It looked just like a picture from a Christmas card. All around,
the land was covered in snow; deep and crisp and beautiful snow. And everywhere
the trees and rooftops sparkled, white as the stars which twinkled merrily in
the evening sky. Here and there, carrot-nosed snowmen stood like sentries; guarding
the houses wherever children had played that afternoon. Like Christmas bells,
jingling voices had laughed into the air: Christmas Eve had arrived, and magic snow had fallen to the ground.
But all was peaceful now. Without a murmur, the little ones had gone to bed, and the sound of music and laughter in the "Royal Oak Inn" was the only sign of life on this silent night.
|Now, just further on from the "Royal Oak" - at the far end of Sudsey Road, in fact - was a huge house surrounded by trees and a large garden. This house was the village Orphanage - and not just the Orphanage of this village, but the Orphanage of other, neighbouring, villages, too. Manor Hall was its name, and it was the home of nineteen children.|
Manor Hall was a very old house, having stood for over two hundred years, and, as it had been used as a children's home for at least half of that time, depending mainly upon charity for its upkeep, was in rather a bad state of repair. The woodwork needed several coats of paint; slates were forever falling from the roof; and the surrounding wooden fence had been mended so many times that it was difficult to tell just which was the fence and which was the repair. Even the sparkling snow seemed unable to brighten the gloom.
Altogether, Manor Hall was a very dark and forbidding place. So much so, that the threat of being sent to "The Home" by an indignant parent was always more than enough to "fettle" even the most mischievous Sudsey child.
It was very rare, in fact, for any of the youngsters to stray near the Hall, and they never, ever, played with the children living there. To be an orphan in Sudsey was the worst most imaginable thing that could happen to anyone.
At least, it was as far as Toby was concerned. For, at eight years of age, Toby was the eldest of the Manor Hall children and he had lived there for as long as he could remember. He was three years old, in fact, when he had arrived at the Hall; his father, a sailor, had been drowned at sea; and his mother had died about a year later. "...from enough drink to drown a hundred sailors", as Toby's grandmother would tell him without a hint of sympathy, whenever he had asked about her. "And don't you forget it!" And when she, too, passed away a while later, there was really nowhere else for him to go.
And so, for a long time afterwards, Toby would awake each day at Manor Hall, wash and dress himself, his head full of dreams and his heart full of hope that, some day, someone would come along to give him a home.
That someone would come along and choose him above all the other children and he would have a mother and father, perhaps a brother or sister, and he could be happy again - not that he could particularly remember what being happy was like.
But such a day never came, and Toby would lie awake in bed at night, his sleepy eyes filled with salty tears that trickled down upon his face and soaked the pillow beneath his rosy cheeks. No soft hands to smooth his brow; no warm voice to sing him lullabies or tell him stories of wizards and dragons and of the handsome prince who rode into the night to save the world and claim the hand of the beautiful princess.
"None of my kids'll ever be orphans," he vowed .
However, on this particular Christmas Eve, Toby was even more restless than usual and, try as he might, he simply could not get to sleep. He felt so very lonely in the large bedroom, as his best friend and room-mate, Stevie, had found a new home only a few days earlier.
As he lay awake in bed, staring at the picture on the wall of the Christmas Family playing happily in the snow, Toby was remembering the nights when he and Stevie couldn't sleep and played games of football or cricket with a paper ball. And sometimes they played aliens and spacemen, fighting upon some unknown planet among the stars. Many a time, old Mrs Crotchet, the Matron of Manor Hall, had been awoken from her slumbers by Toby shouting at the top of his voice, "Goal!" or "Got you, creep!" or by his pretending to be some kind of extra-terrestrial fighter-plane and jumping from his bed to zoom around the room to "zap" the enemy.
But, as always, by the time Mrs Crotchet could reach their door, both boys would be buried deep inside their beds, snoring like old men on a cold night.
"Are you asleep, boys?" she would enquire.
"Yes, Mrs Crotchet," they would chorus.
"Very good," she would say.
And pretty soon, as if by magic, they really would be asleep.
"Maybe Stevie'll come back and play with me sometimes," thought Toby. Deep inside, though, he knew this would not happen, and he turned over yet again in an effort to fall asleep, and to forget.
Just then, out of the corner of his eye, Toby noticed a large shiny pointed icicle hanging down outside his window. Quickly, he climbed out of bed, and, dragging a chair with him, tiptoed over to the window. Standing on the chair, Toby undid the latch and pulled down the top half. Then he reached upward and stretched out to grasp the icicle, but it was too far away to reach. Lifting one knee onto the window ledge Toby tried again. Now he could reach it! But, as he touched the icicle, it snapped and fell, smashing into tiny pieces upon the hard ground below.
"Hey Stevie, did you see that!" cried Toby.
But the silence that followed halted his excitement almost
as soon as it had begun. Toby had forgotten; Stevie wasn't there anymore, and
this made him feel rather foolish ... foolish, and rather more than a little
sorry for himself.
Toby crawled back into bed.
The icy wind blew into the dark room from the open window and swirled a small flurry of snow around the quietly weeping figure on the bed.
Toby was cold and unhappy and didn't care that tomorrow was Christmas Day.
"What's wrong, Toby?" said a voice. "Why are you crying?"
Toby gave out a loud squeak, doing a rather good impersonation of a frightened mouse. Quivering like a leaf, he shut his eyes, not daring to look through his fingers, which he held over his eyes.
"Well?" enquired the voice. "Aren't you going to answer me?"
It was a man's voice, and one which Toby did not recognise.
"Wh-wh-who s-s-said th-that?" ventured Toby at last in a shaky voice.
"Well," came the reply. "If you took a look,
you might just find out!"
|Slowly, Toby took a tiny peep. There, before him, was a rather round figure in a large, brown overcoat. His hair was white, as was his beard, and he had big, red rosy cheeks with shining, smiling eyes.|
Toby dropped his hands in disbelief. It was him - from the picture! It was Mr. Christmas! The picture of the Christmas Family had come to life!
Toby's eyes and mouth were wide open in amazement and his heart was almost peeping over his tonsils at the very thought of it.
Mr. Christmas held out his hand.
"Yes, it's me. I'm Mr. Christmas. How do you do?" Then he laughed, and said: "Dont be sad, Toby. Nothings ever as bad as it seems. Come enjoy the day with me and my family. Snow is all around and there's plenty of time still to play before supper."
Toby hesitated. Though he wasnt afraid, he really wasnt too sure what to do. "Don't worry," said Mr Christmas. "Mrs Crotchet won't mind. In fact, I think she would rather like to join us if she could."
Toby took his hand. Suddenly, he was in a land of soft snow and beautiful shining sunlight. There was no wind and he actually felt quite warm.
|And very soon, after being introduced to the other children, he was sliding down the hill on a sled, building snowmen, throwing snowballs, and a million other things that children do when snow is on the ground.|
Toby enjoyed himself so much that, even in a snowball fight, he didn't mind at all being on the losing side. He just sat there, covered in snow, laughing his head off. Not that he gave up trying, though; he was still throwing snowballs all the way to the house!
Inside the house - or cottage, as it was - Mrs Christmas had supper all prepared. After checking that they had all washed properly -especially behind their ears (why this always seemed to happen at mealtimes Toby could never quite understand, since his food never went anywhere near his ears) - they were allowed to eat.
Toby could not believe his eyes when he saw all the food upon the table; there were all sorts of wonderful-looking things to eat. He didn't know what half the things he saw were called but he ate them just the same.
The strange thing was that, during the whole of the supper, the table always looked as if it hadn't been touched. As though, as soon as something was eaten, another was put in its place.
Sometimes, Toby would try to keep his eyes open in the hope of catching someone doing this but, as soon as he would blink, the table would immediately become full again. Almost as full as Toby, who had an appetite to match the largest table.
After a time, when everyone had had enough and the table was cleared away, they all filed into another room. And there, seated in a rocking chair by a roaring fire, was an old lady.
"Good evening, Grandma," cried all the children at once, including Toby, who was feeling quite at home by now. "Will you tell us a story? Please tell us one! Just one, Grandma, please!"
"All right," she laughed, putting down the book she was reading. "Which story would you like?"
"The one about the handsome prince and the ugly toad," cried Jennifer. "I like that one."
"It's the princess and the ugly toad, silly!" groaned David. "And we must've heard it at least a dozen times!"
"I'd like to hear it," said Toby. "I've
never heard that one before."
This caused the poor boy to turn bright red - much to the amusement of all the others.
And so, when everyone had settled down comfortably, Grandma began to tell the story and Toby listened intently, not only because he had never heard the story before, but also because he wished to escape the rapt attentions of young Jennifer, who was still gazing up at him and holding tightly onto his hand as though he might float away should she let go.
At the end of the story, Toby clapped so hard that little Jennifer thought she would never get her hand back in one piece.
All in all, Toby had never known such happiness, such fun, such - Oh! If he felt anymore, he would simply burst!
By and by, whilst listening to Grandma's wonderful fairy stories, Toby's head rested upon Mrs Christmas' soft lap and, gently lulled by her fingers caressing his dark- brown hair, he drifted slowly off to sleep.
The flickering shadows upon the wall became wizards and dragons, and Toby became the handsome prince who wielded a magic sword to save the world and win the hand of the fair princess.
A day of adventure and a night of dreams! What more could a young boy wish?
"Come along, sleepyhead," Toby heard a cheery female voice say, somewhere in the distance, "Or you'll miss the carol service. You'll need to work up an appetite for your Christmas dinner!"
With that, Miss Perry, one of the assistants living-in at Manor Hall, pulled some clothes from a drawer and placed them for Toby on the chair. After seeing that there was enough water in which to wash, she danced from the room singing happily to herself.
Toby awoke with a start.
The sharp sunlight sparkled on the snow and pierced his sleeping eyes so that he had to hold one hand above his eyebrows. Dejectedly, he slumped back against his pillow, wishing very hard to himself.
"A dream! It was just a dream. The stories about a toad turning into a prince; and the sleeping princess. All those things I ate and I didn't feel sick, and the sled..."
Toby jumped up and ran to the picture on the wall.
The sled was still at the bottom of the hill and Mr Christmas was putting the carrot on the snowman's face, just as he always was.
Shoulders hunched, Toby turned away. It was no use; he really had been dreaming.
Slowly, Toby washed and dressed himself. It was his favourite outfit of red jumper and blue short pants. Miss Perry had made sure they were freshly cleaned for Christmas Day. Not that Toby noticed very much. His mind was far, far away.
After a while, Toby made his way downstairs to the dining hall. As he walked towards the door, old Mrs Crotchet was leaving her room to accompany the children on the piano at the carol service. She was smiling, and when she sat down at the piano, Toby realised that the Grandma in his dream looked very much like Mrs Crotchet. It really had to have been a dream; Mrs Crotchet had never once told him any fairy stories.
"I bet no ugly toad would ever let her kiss him, either," he thought.
During the course of the carol service, Toby only gave his voice half-heartedly, and he stared restlessly out of the window, watching the snow-flakes fall silently upon the tops of the trees.
When it came to eating his Christmas lunch, he picked idly at his meal and resisted all attempts to join in the fun and games afterwards. He barely played the game of musical chairs, and was one of the first to lose his seat.
Toby didn't even raise a smile when Miranda, perched high upon the shoulders of Mr Hobbs, the Carpenter, managed to drop her ice-cream on his shiny bald head.
Given half a chance, he would have stuck his ice-cream on Mr Hobbs' head, too! As far as Toby was concerned, he was just sick and fed up and wanted to be left alone. For a few moments, he even considered leaving the room to go back to bed.
"Maybe..." he thought. "If I fall asleep, I could visit the Christmas Family again."
Just then, the door opened and Miss Perry stuck her head through the gap. "Toby, Mrs Crotchet wants to see you right away."
Toby got up from his seat.
"And I'm not surprised, either," Miss Perry continued as he passed her. "A right misery you've been today, spoiling it for everyone. Don't know what's got into you, I don't."
"Huh!" thought Toby. "I get scolded for making too much noise and now I'm going to get scolded for not making any!"
So, off he wandered down the cold grey corridor, turning right at the broom cupboard which had no door, and arrived at Mrs Crotchet's room. He knocked twice. "Come in," called Mrs Crotchet.
Toby opened the door with his eyes downcast, and once inside
the room he turned and closed it before turning back to face the wrath of Mrs
What he saw next was nearly more than his little boy's mind could take.
Seated there was a heavy-set gentleman with rosy cheeks, a
white beard, and a big brown coat, and with him was a small plump woman, also
with rosy cheeks, no white beard, but a double chin and the warmest smile.
Toby's mind raced.
"Mr and Mrs Christmas!" he thought. "But-but it can't be! But it - it must be! It is!"
And he stared up at both of them, his face turning as red as his jumper and his knees shaking like the jelly which he had left behind in the dining hall.
"Toby, this is Mr Winter and his wife, Mrs Winter," announced Mrs Crotchet in her best formal voice. "They have kindly offered to have you stay with them for a while. Perhaps, if things work out, and you behave yourself, you may stay with them for good. What do you say?"
Toby didn't need to say anything as tears of joy began to stream down his happy face. Already, Mrs Winter was tucking his shirt tail into his trousers, while Mr Winter was offering him a sweet from a large paper bag.
Even as they left Manor Hall, Mr Winter and Toby were throwing snowballs at each other and laughing, while Mrs Winter was trying with great difficulty to get Toby to put on a warm coat which she had brought with her.
The way they all behaved, you'd think they had already met!.
Back inside the Orphanage, old Mrs. Crotchet climbed the stairway to the fourth floor and entered the room that used to belong to Toby. After tidying the washbasin and smoothing down the bed, she looked at the picture of the Christmas Family and smiled gently to herself.
Mrs. Christmas was inside the house making the supper; Mr. Christmas was putting a carrot on the snowman's face, just as he always was, and the children were throwing snowballs at each other.
And there, sitting astride the sled at the top of the hill, was a little boy - a little brown-haired boy wearing a bright red jumper and a pair of blue short pants!
About the Author: Emerson Ruel is an administrator in the North East of England. He lives alone with a large, fluffy white cat who seems much more likely to catch a cold than she is a mouse! Probably explains why she can usually be found lying aslep in front of the fire! Emerson has also written a novel, of wizards and dragons - the kind young Toby in The Christmas Family loved to read. Emerson is always writing. Well, why settle for living just in this world, when, with a little help from a pen, countless others may be found! In his original draft, this tale was entitled "Mr. and Mrs. Christmas". Bedtime-Story editors complimented Emerson, saying that his description of the painting "The Christmas Family" was so vivid he appeared to have been drawing inspiration from an actual painting, and we asked him if such a painting actually existed. He replied..."Thank you for your very kind comments. I am afraid the picture upon the wall may no longer exist, except in my head. As a child of three years until four I attended a nursery. One of the young ladies there, no doubt, painted the picture I remember so well..." So perhaps The Christmas Family is real. You never know. Write to Emerson Ruel in care of this email address to tell him how much you enjoyed reading his tale, The Christmas Family, at Bedtime-Story.
Interim Illustrations Courtesy of Bedtime-Story