Bertie’s New Year

He stood on the sagging doorstep and looked out on the snowy world.
His hands were clasped behind him, and his thin face wore a
thoughtful, puzzled look. The door behind him opened jerkingly, and a
scowling woman came out with a pan of dishwater in her hand.

“Ain’t you gone yet, Bert?” she said sharply. “What in the world are
you hanging round for?”

“It’s early yet,” said Bertie cheerfully. “I thought maybe George
Fraser’d be along and I’d get a lift as far as the store.”

“Well, I never saw such laziness! No wonder old Sampson won’t keep you
longer than the holidays if you’re no smarter than that. Goodness, if
I don’t settle that boy!”–as the sound of fretful crying came from
the kitchen behind her.

“What is wrong with William John?” asked Bertie.

“Why, he wants to go out coasting with those Robinson boys, but he
can’t. He hasn’t got any mittens and he would catch his death of cold

Her voice seemed to imply that William John had died of cold several
times already.

Bertie looked soberly down at his old, well-darned mittens. It was
very cold, and he would have a great many errands to run. He shivered,
and looked up at his aunt’s hard face as she stood wiping her dish-pan
with a grim frown which boded no good to the discontented William
John. Then he suddenly pulled off his mittens and held them out.

“Here–he can have mine. I’ll get on without them well enough.”

“Nonsense!” said Mrs. Ross, but less unkindly. “The fingers would
freeze off you. Don’t be a goose.”

“It’s all right,” persisted Bertie. “I don’t need them–much. And
William John doesn’t hardly ever get out.”

He thrust them into her hand and ran quickly down the street, as
though he feared that the keen air might make him change his mind in
spite of himself. He had to stop a great many times that day to
breathe on his purple hands. Still, he did not regret having lent his
mittens to William John–poor, pale, sickly little William John, who
had so few pleasures.

It was sunset when Bertie laid an armful of parcels down on the steps
of Doctor Forbes’s handsome house. His back was turned towards the big
bay window at one side, and he was busy trying to warm his hands, so
he did not see the two small faces looking at him through the frosty

“Just look at that poor little boy, Amy,” said the taller of the two.
“He is almost frozen, I believe. Why doesn’t Caroline hurry and open
the door?”

“There she goes now,” said Amy. “Edie, couldn’t we coax her to let him
come in and get warm? He looks so cold.” And she drew her sister out
into the hall, where the housekeeper was taking Bertie’s parcels.

“Caroline,” whispered Edith timidly, “please tell that poor little
fellow to come in and get warm–he looks very cold.”

“He’s used to the cold, I warrant you,” said the housekeeper rather
impatiently. “It won’t hurt him.”

“But it is Christmas week,” said Edith gravely, “and you know,
Caroline, when Mamma was here she used to say that we ought to be
particularly thoughtful of others who were not so happy or well-off as
we were at this time.”

Perhaps Edith’s reference to her mother softened Caroline, for she
turned to Bertie and said cordially enough, “Come in, and warm
yourself before you go. It’s a cold day.”

Bertie shyly followed her to the kitchen.

“Sit up to the fire,” said Caroline, placing a chair for him, while
Edith and Amy came round to the other side of the stove and watched
him with friendly interest.

“What’s your name?” asked Caroline.

“Robert Ross, ma’am.”

“Oh, you’re Mrs. Ross’s nephew then,” said Caroline, breaking eggs
into her cake-bowl, and whisking them deftly round. “And you’re
Sampson’s errand boy just now? My goodness,” as the boy spread his
blue hands over the fire, “where are your mittens, child? You’re never
out without mittens a day like this!”

“I lent them to William John–he hadn’t any,” faltered Bertie. He did
not know but that the lady might consider it a grave crime to be

“No mittens!” exclaimed Amy in dismay. “Why, I have three pairs. And
who is William John?”

“He is my cousin,” said Bertie. “And he’s awful sickly. He wanted to
go out to play, and he hadn’t any mittens, so I lent him mine. I
didn’t miss them–much.”

“What kind of a Christmas did you have?”

“We didn’t have any.”

“No Christmas!” said Amy, quite overcome. “Oh, well, I suppose you are
going to have a good time on New Year’s instead.”

Bertie shook his head.

“No’m, I guess not. We never have it different from other times.”

Amy was silent from sheer amazement. Edith understood better, and she
changed the subject.

“Have you any brothers or sisters, Bertie?”

“No’m,” returned Bertie cheerfully. “I guess there’s enough of us
without that. I must be going now. I’m very much obliged to you.”

Edith slipped from the room as he spoke, and met him again at the
door. She held out a pair of warm-looking mittens.

“These are for William John,” she said simply, “so that you can have
your own. They are a pair of mine which are too big for me. I know
Papa will say it is all right. Goodbye, Bertie.”

“Goodbye–and thank you,” stammered Bertie, as the door closed. Then
he hastened home to William John.

That evening Doctor Forbes noticed a peculiarly thoughtful look on
Edith’s face as she sat gazing into the glowing coal fire after
dinner. He laid his hand on her dark curls inquiringly.

“What are you musing over?”

“There was a little boy here today,” began Edith.

“Oh, such a dear little boy,” broke in Amy eagerly from the corner,
where she was playing with her kitten. “His name was Bertie Ross. He
brought up the parcels, and we asked him in to get warm. He had no
mittens, and his hands were almost frozen. And, oh, Papa, just
think!–he said he never had any Christmas or New Year at all.”

“Poor little fellow!” said the doctor. “I’ve heard of him; a pretty
hard time he has of it, I think.”

“He was so pretty, Papa. And Edie gave him her blue mittens for
William John.”

“The plot deepens. Who is William John?”

“Oh, a cousin or something, didn’t he say Edie? Anyway, he is sick,
and he wanted to go coasting, and Bertie gave him his mittens. And I
suppose he never had any Christmas either.”

“There are plenty who haven’t,” said the doctor, taking up his paper
with a sigh. “Well, girlies, you seem interested in this little fellow
so, if you like, you may invite him and his cousin to take dinner with
you on New Year’s night.”

“Oh, Papa!” said Edith, her eyes shining like stars.

The doctor laughed. “Write him a nice little note of invitation–you
are the lady of the house, you know–and I’ll see that he gets it

And this was how it came to pass that Bertie received the next day his
first invitation to dine out. He read the little note through three
times in order fully to take in its contents, and then went around the
rest of the day in deep abstraction as though he was trying to decide
some very important question. It was with the same expression that he
opened the door at home in the evening. His aunt was stirring some
oatmeal mush on the stove.

“Is that you, Bert?” She spoke sharply. She always spoke sharply, even
when not intending it; it had grown to be a habit.

“Yes’m,” said Bertie meekly, as he hung up his cap.

“I s’pose you’ve only got one day more at the store,” said Mrs. Ross.
“Sampson didn’t say anything about keeping you longer, did he?”

“No. He said he couldn’t–I asked him.”

“Well, I didn’t expect he would. You’ll have a holiday on New Year’s
anyhow; whether you’ll have anything to eat or not is a different

“I’ve an invitation to dinner,” said Bertie timidly, “me and William
John. It’s from Doctor Forbes’s little girls–the ones that gave me
the mittens.”

He handed her the little note, and Mrs. Ross stooped down and read it
by the fitful gleam of light which came from the cracked stove.

“Well, you can please yourself,” she said as she handed it back, “but
William John couldn’t go if he had ten invitations. He caught cold
coasting yesterday. I told him he would, but he was bound to go, and
now he’s laid up for a week. Listen to him barking in the bedroom

“Well, then, I won’t go either,” said Bertie with a sigh, it might be
of relief, or it might be of disappointment. “I wouldn’t go there all

“You’re a goose!” said his aunt. “They wouldn’t eat you. But as I
said, please yourself. Anyhow, hold your tongue about it to William
John, or you’ll have him crying and bawling to go too.”

The caution came too late. William John had already heard it, and when
his mother went in to rub his chest with liniment, she found him with
the ragged quilt over his head crying.

“Come, William John, I want to rub you.”

“I don’t want to be rubbed–g’way,” sobbed William John. “I heard you
out there–you needn’t think I didn’t. Bertie’s going to Doctor
Forbes’s to dinner and I can’t go.”

“Well, you’ve only yourself to thank for it,” returned his mother. “If
you hadn’t persisted in going out coasting yesterday when I wanted you
to stay in, you’d have been able to go to Doctor Forbes’s. Little boys
who won’t do as they’re told always get into trouble. Stop crying,
now. I dare say if Bertie goes they’ll send you some candy, or

But William John refused to be comforted. He cried himself to sleep
that night, and when Bertie went in to see him next morning, he found
him sitting up in bed with his eyes red and swollen and the faded
quilt drawn up around his pinched face.

“Well, William John, how are you?”

“I ain’t any better,” replied William John mournfully. “I s’pose
you’ll have a great time tomorrow night, Bertie?”

“Oh, I’m not going since you can’t,” said Bertie cheerily. He thought
this would comfort William John, but it had exactly the opposite
effect. William John had cried until he could cry no more, but he
turned around and sobbed.

“There now!” he said in tearless despair. “That’s just what I
expected. I did s’pose if I couldn’t go you would, and tell me about
it. You’re mean as mean can be.”

“Come now, William John, don’t be so cross. I thought you’d rather
have me home, but I’ll go, if you want me to.”

“Honest, now?”

“Yes, honest. I’ll go anywhere to please you. I must be off to the
store now. Goodbye.”

Thus committed, Bertie took his courage in both hands and went. The
next evening at dusk found him standing at Doctor Forbes’s door with
a very violently beating heart. He was carefully dressed in his
well-worn best suit and a neat white collar. The frosty air had
crimsoned his cheeks and his hair was curling round his face.

Caroline opened the door and showed him into the parlour, where Edith
and Amy were eagerly awaiting him.

“Happy New Year, Bertie,” cried Amy. “And–but, why, where is William

“He couldn’t come,” answered Bertie anxiously–he was afraid he might
not be welcome without William John. “He’s real sick. He caught cold
and has to stay in bed; but he wanted to come awful bad.”

“Oh, dear me! Poor William John!” said Amy in a disappointed tone. But
all further remarks were cut short by the entrance of Doctor Forbes.

“How do you do?” he said, giving Bertie’s hand a hearty shake. “But
where is the other little fellow my girls were expecting?”

Bertie patiently reaccounted for William John’s non-appearance.

“It’s a bad time for colds,” said the doctor, sitting down and
attacking the fire. “I dare say, though, you have to run so fast these
days that a cold couldn’t catch you. I suppose you’ll soon be leaving
Sampson’s. He told me he didn’t need you after the holiday season was
over. What are you going at next? Have you anything in view?”

Bertie shook his head sorrowfully.

“No, sir; but,” he added more cheerfully, “I guess I’ll find something
if I hunt around lively. I almost always do.”

He forgot his shyness; his face flushed hopefully, and he looked
straight at the doctor with his bright, earnest eyes. The doctor poked
the fire energetically and looked very wise. But just then the girls
came up and carried Bertie off to display their holiday gifts. And
there was a fur cap and a pair of mittens for him! He wondered whether
he was dreaming.

“And here’s a picture-book for William John,” said Amy, “and there is
a sled out in the kitchen for him. Oh, there’s the dinner-bell. I’m
awfully hungry. Papa says that is my ‘normal condition,’ but I don’t
know what that means.”

As for that dinner–Bertie might sometimes have seen such a repast in
delightful dreams, but certainly never out of them. It was a feast to
be dated from.

When the plum pudding came on, the doctor, who had been notably
silent, leaned back in his chair, placed his finger-tips together, and
looked critically at Bertie.

“So Mr. Sampson can’t keep you?”

Bertie’s face sobered at once. He had almost forgotten his

“No, sir. He says I’m too small for the heavy work.”

“Well, you are rather small–but no doubt you will grow. Boys have a
queer habit of doing that. I think you know how to make yourself
useful. I need a boy here to run errands and look after my horse. If
you like, I’ll try you. You can live here, and go to school. I
sometimes hear of places for boys in my rounds, and the first good one
that will suit you, I’ll bespeak for you. How will that do?”

“Oh, sir, you are too good,” said Bertie with a choke in his voice.

“Well, that is settled,” said the doctor genially. “Come on Monday
then. And perhaps we can do something for that other little chap,
William, or John, or whatever his name is. Will you have some more
pudding, Bertie?”

“No, thank you,” said Bertie. Pudding, indeed! He could not have eaten
another mouthful after such wonderful and unexpected good fortune.

After dinner they played games, and cracked nuts, and roasted apples,
until the clock struck nine; then Bertie got up to go.

“Off, are you?” said the doctor, looking up from his paper. “Well,
I’ll expect you on Monday, remember.”

“Yes, sir,” said Bertie happily. He was not likely to forget.

As he went out Amy came through the hall with a red sled.

“Here is William John’s present. I’ve tied all the other things on so
that they can’t fall off.”

Edith was at the door-with a parcel. “Here are some nuts and candies
for William John,” she said. “And tell him we all wish him a ‘Happy
New Year.'”

“Thank you,” said Bertie. “I’ve had a splendid time. I’ll tell William
John. Goodnight.”

He stepped out. It was frostier than ever. The snow crackled and
snapped, the stars were keen and bright, but to Bertie, running down
the street with William John’s sled thumping merrily behind him, the
world was aglow with rosy hope and promise. He was quite sure he could
never forget this wonderful New Year.