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a framed portrait of Horatio Alger

Horatio Alger

January 13, 1832
July 18, 1899, Natick, Massachusetts
Children’s literature

Job Warner’s Christmas

THE day before Christmas was drawing to a close. Cold gray clouds drifted off to the eastward, and a snow-storm seemed imminent. But in spite of threatening clouds gay throngs crowded the thoroughfares. The shop windows were brilliant with articles of every conceivable variety adapted for Christmas-gifts. So the human tide ebbed and flowed, surging into shops, taxing to the utmost the attention of overworked clerks, and receded with pleasant surprises destined on the following morning to make many households happy.

In front of a large window, brilliantly illuminated, stood an elderly man, somewhat under the middle stature. Job Warner was scarcely fifty; but sedentary habits and long stooping over a desk had bowed his form, and given him the appearance of being several years older than he actually was. For twenty-five years he had been assistant book-keeper in the counting-room of Bentley and Co., importers of dry-goods and wholesale jobbers. His excellent business capacity would have secured him promotion to the post of chief book-keeper, but his own humility and absence of pretension had unconsciously influenced his employers to accept him at his own valuation. So, while the firm had prospered, and made money by hundreds of thousands, Job Warner still continued to be assistant bookkeeper on a modest salary of seven hundred dollars. With a family becoming daily more expensive, the little book-keeper had found it hard work to make both ends meet. He was compelled to live in very poor and incommodious lodgings, and practice humble acts of self-denial, all which he bore with a meek and uncomplaining spirit, with which he was doubtless credited in that better world, where, we trust, all the inequalities of this life will be made up.

The last year had been rather a trying one to Job Warner. The enhanced price of nearly every article which is included under the head of Necessaries had made a rigid economy needful. Months ago the family had given up using sugar, and butter was only used on Sundays. Frugality had become a rule, and was meekly submitted to as a necessary condition of life. But, in spite of his habitual self-denial, the worthy book-keeper was stirred with an impulse to extravagance on this day. In the window before him bloomed a large doll—quite a queen she must have been in the realm of dolls—royally attired in a purple silk dress and a bonnet of the latest style. The eyes of the good book-keeper were fixed in admiration upon this beautiful doll-vision. There was a household pet at home—little Effie—whom the possession of that doll would exalt to the seventh heaven of happiness. True, such a royal lady might spurn the idea of entering so humble a home, and her silks might seem out of place in contrast with the calicoes and ginghams with which Effie and her mother were contented. But when these considerations suggested themselves to Job Warner he triumphantly answered, "Is there anything too good for Effie?"

Yes, we have found out the little book-keeper's weakness. He no sooner thought of little Effie's bright eyes dancing with delight than his habitual prudence forsook him. With an air of desperate resolution he entered the brilliant shop, and, timidly pushing his way among the well-dressed crowds surrounding the counter, asked with an apologetic cough the price of her Royal Highness in the window.

The clerk looked a little surprised at such a question from a man of so humble appearance, and answered, in a short, quick tone, "Five dollars, Sir. Will you take it?"

Five dollars! Job was startled at the price, and answered in an abashed tone that he would not decide just yet.

Outside, he again looked longingly at the doll. Effie would be so delighted with it—but then five dollars! He reckoned up what a number of articles might be purchased for five dollars, and shook his head reluctantly. Mrs. Warner would think he had quite taken leave of his senses. Of course, he must give up all thoughts of it. But no! A daring suggestion occurred to him. Might he not apply to Mr. Bentley for an increase of salary? There had been a general raising of salaries elsewhere. That he knew. His old friend Timothy Fogg had his raised six months ago; but somehow Job had never succeeded in summoning up courage to make such a request of his employer. He was not sure, in his humility, whether he was worth any more than seven hundred dollars a year. But his love for little Effie gave him unwonted boldness. With an increase of salary he could buy this magnificent doll for her, and afford his oldest boy a course of lessons in drawing, for which he had a strong taste. Yes, he would ask to have his salary raised that very night. A little matter of business had detained Mr. John Bentley, the head of the firm, in his office, so that he would be sure to find him on returning thither.

Mr. Bentley was seated in his office glancing over some papers. He was a large, portly man, a little pompous in manner; and a glance from his gray eyes always confused the worthy book-keeper, who, long as he had known him, had never got to feel quite at ease in his company. Job had an indistinct idea that his employer was immensely superior to him in every way, and looked up to him with distant reverence.

John Bentley lifted his eyebrows in surprise as Job shuffled in at the door, his hat under his arm, with an air of nervous trepidation which the consciousness of his errand inspired.

"Have you forgotten any thing, Warner?" demanded Mr. Bentley, in a clear, commanding tone.

"No, Sir, Mr. Bentley; or rather, I should say, yes," stammered the book-keeper." “There was a little matter which I wished to speak to you about. But I should not wish to take up your time, if you are busy, Sir, and I will wait till some other occasion."

"If you can say what you have to say in five minutes, Warner, go on," returned his employer.

"It was about an increase of salary, Mr. Bentley," said he, plunging into his subject and talking fast to keep his courage up. "Prices have been rising of late so much that I find it very difficult to maintain a wife and four children on seven 'hundred dollars a year'. I do, indeed, Sir. If you would be kind enough to add a hundred, or even fifty, I would thank you gratefully, Sir."

"An increase of salary, eh, Warner? Seven hundred dollars used to be considered a very fair salary. Of course some get much more. But you know, Warner, that you are not a first-class man of business. You do your work very satisfactorily, but—"

"I know what you would say, Mr. Bentley," interrupted Job, humbly. "I know my abilities are small, but I try to be faithful. I hope I have always been faithful to the best of my poor abilities."

"Yes, Warner, you have. Don't think I have any complaint to make; but as to an increase of salary, that requires consideration. Probably the high prices will not always last, and in the mean time you can be more economical."

More economical! And this to Job who had been a close economist all his life. However, he did not venture to reply, but, bowing humbly, withdrew. A minute later his employer, who had got through with the business which detained him, put on his overcoat and followed. On his way back Job paused again before the window which had so great an attraction for him. Again he thought how much little Effie would like it. But he felt satisfied, from Mr. Bentley's manner, that there was little hope of an increase of income, and without that such an outlay would be unpardonable extravagance.

"No," he half sighed, "I must give up the idea of buying it, and little Effie must be content with something less expensive."

Mr. John Bentley was close behind and heard this speech. "So he wanted to buy that piece of finery," thought he. "No wonder he demanded an increase of salary. "

The two men continued to walk in the same direction, Job, of course, unconscious of Mr. Bentley's proximity. Suddenly from the darkness of a side-street emerged a little girl, a very picture of wretchedness, with ragged dress, pinched and famished-looking features, and feet bare, notwithstanding the inclement season. She looked up piteously in the face of Job Warner.

"I am very cold and hungry," she murmured.

"Poor child! poor child!" ejaculated Job, compassionately. "Have you no home?"

"No; mother died last week, and since then I have lived in the streets."

"Have you had any thing to eat to-day?"

"Yes, Sir, a cracker."

"Only a cracker," repeated Job, pitifully.

"And your poor feet are bare. How cold you must be!"

"Yes, Sir, I am very cold," said the little girl, shivering.

"And where do you expect to pass the night?"

"I don't know, Sir."

"Where did you sleep last night ?"

"In a doorway; but they drove me off this morning. I wish mother were alive again." The poor child burst into tears, sobbing convulsively.

"Don't cry, my dear!" said Job, soothingly.

"Don't cry. You shall come home with me, and I will let you sleep in a warm bed and give you something to eat. I am poor, my child, but not so poor as you, thank God! I had intended to buy some little presents for my children, but they will be better pleased if I spend the money in making you comfortable. Take my hand, and we shall soon be at home."

During this colloquy John Bentley withdrew into a doorway. He had felt some curiosity to learn how his book-keeper would deal with this claim upon his bounty. There was something in the straightforward simplicity and kind heart of Job that touched him, and made him feel not a little compunction for his own bearing in the interview which had just taken place between them.

"He is about to deprive his children of their Christmas presents for the sake of succoring that poor little outcast," said John Bentley to himself. "He has a noble heart, poor fellow! and he shall be no loser by it. After all, seven hundred dollars must be quite insufficient in these times. I will see what I can do for him."

It was the merchant's better nature that spoke. He was not naturally a selfish man, only inconsiderate. Now that his benevolent impulses were excited, he would not rest till they were embodied in action. Honest Job! never hast thou done a better night's work than this. Thy kindness to the little outcast shall be richly recompensed.

With the little girl's hand firmly clasped in his Job paused before the door of a small wooden tenement, and turning the knob softly entered.

"Why, Job, how late you are!" said a kind motherly woman, advancing to meet him, "and—merciful goodness! who have you there?"

"A poor child, Mary, without father or mother, who was wandering barefoot and hungry through the streets. I couldn't help bringing her home, could I? Think if it had been little Effie!"

"You did quite right, Job. Poor little thing! How thin she is! Are you hungry, little girl?" "Oh, so hungry and cold. May I warm myself by your fire, ma'am?"

"Bless me, child, I ought to have thought of it before. Yes, go and sit down on the cricket, and I will bring you some bread and milk."

While the little girl's wants were being satisfied, Mrs. Warner said, "Well, Job, what have you got for the children?"

"I didn't get any thing, Mary. I was just going to get some little things when this poor child came up. I thought maybe we might be willing to keep her a week or so and fit her out with some better clothes, and I am afraid we can't afford to do that and buy presents for the children too. Do you think they would be willing to do without them for this year?"

"I am sure they will; but as all have hung up their stockings, I must tell them to-night so that they need not be disappointed in the morning."

The considerate mother went up stairs and acquainted the children that their father had brought home a poor little girl who had no father nor mother, and asked if for her sake they would be willing to give up their Christmas presents. This appeal went to the children’s hearts. They were also delighted with the idea of a new play-fellow, and in bright anticipations of the morrow lost sight entirely of the stockings that were destined to remain unfilled.

“What did the children say?” asked Job, a little uneasily.

“Dear children!” said Mrs. Warner, wiping her eyes with motherly affection and pride. “They took it like angels. They are very anxious to see the little girl. I do believe they will regard her as the best Christmas present they could have.”

“I wish we could do something more than keep her for a few days,” said Job, thoughtfully.

“So do I. If you only had a little larger salary, Job, it might be done. Why don’t you ask for more?”

“I did to-night, Mary.”

“And what did Mr. Bentley say?” inquired Mrs. Warner, eagerly.

“He advised me to economize.”

“As if you hadn’t been doing it all your life,” exclaimed his wife, indignantly. “Little he knows what economy is!”

“Hush, Mary,” said Job, half frightened. “Of course he can’t understand how hard a time we have to get along.”

“No, but he ought to inquire. What harm would it do him to give you an extra hundred dollars?”

“I suppose he could afford it,” said Job; “but perhaps he doesn’t think I am worth any more. As he said, seven hundred dollars used to be considered a fair salary.”

“So he refused your application.”

“Well no, not exactly. He said he would take it into consideration. But I am sure from his tone that I have nothing to expect. We must get along as well as we can through the hard times, and perhaps things will improve by-and-by.”

“What a thoroughly good man you are, Job!” said Mrs. Warner, looking affectionately at her husband, who was dear to her in spite of his shabby coat.

“Of course I hav’n’t got a good wife,” he answered, cheerfully; “I won’t call myself poor as long as I have you, as long as I have you, Mary.”

There were few happier or more thankful hearts than those of the shabby book-keeper and his good wife, despite their enforced self-denial and numerous privations. Their souls were filled with a calm and serene trust that the same kind Providence which had guarded and guided them hitherto would continue its beneficent care and protection. Mrs. Warner took up her knitting, and Job, opening the well-used Bible, proceeded to adjust his spectacles, preparatory to reading a chapter, when he was interrupted by a quick, sharp, decisive knock on the outer door.

Taking a tallow-candle from the table Job went to the door and opened it. The wind caused his candle to flicker, so that he did not at first recognize the visitor. When he did his heart gave a sudden bound, and in his surprise he nearly let fall the light.

It was his employer—Mr. John Bentley—who stood before him.

“Well, Warner, may I come in?” inquired the merchant, with an unwonted kindness in his tone.

“To be sure, Mr. Bentley, Sir; I shall be most happy if you will condescend to enter my poor dwelling. It isn’t suitable for such a visitor. But you are heartily welcome, Sir. This way, if you please.”

Mrs. Warner looked up as her husband re-entered the room. Her surprise was little less than his when Mr. Bentley was introduced.

“Mary, this is Mr. Bentley, my respected employer, who has condescended to honor us with a visit. I am sorry we have no better place to receive him in.”

“No apologies, Warner,” said Mr. Bentley, pleasantly throwing aside his usual pompous manner. “I didn’t expect you could live like a prince on seven hundred dollars. Mrs. Warner, I am glad to make your acquaintance. Your husband has served our house long and faithfully, and I trust will continue long in our employ. I am glad he has much to make his home pleasant.”

No one knew better how to pay a compliment gracefully than John Bentley, and Mrs. Warner bowed in gratification, reiterating the assurance of their pleasure in receiving him. The allusion to her husband’s continued services dissipated an apprehension to which Mr. Bentley’s unexpected visit had given rise, that he might be about to lose his situation.

“I have called, Warner, on a little business,” proceeded Mr. Bentley. “You spoke to me tonight about having your salary raised.”

“Yes, Sir,’ said Job, humbly; “I thought afterward that I might be a little presumptuous in supposing my services to be worth more than seven hundred dollars; but indeed, Sir, it required a great deal of economy to make both ends meet. I was thinking more of that than of my own qualifications, I suppose. As you said, Sir—“

“Never mind what I said, Warner,” interrupted the merchant, smiling. “Your application was made unexpectedly and I spoke without consideration. I have thought over what you said, and decided that your application was just and proper. Prices have advanced considerably, as a little investigation has satisfied me. Therefore I have concluded to grant your request. What increase of salary do you ask?”

“I thought of asking for a hundred dollars more,” said Job, timidly; “but if you think that is too much, I should be satisfied and grateful if you could let me have fifty.”

“Do you think you could get along on fifty?” asked Mr. Bentley.

“Yes, Sir—with economy, of course. I always expect to practice economy; and I have a good wife, who knows how to make the most of a little."

"That I can readily believe," said the merchant, politely. "You may consider your salary raised, then, Warner," he proceeded; "and as you have been able to get along on seven hundred dollars, I hope you will be able to afford yourself some additional comforts on a thousand."

"A thousand!" repeated Job and his wife, simultaneously.

"Yes, my good friends," said Mr. Bentley; "I have decided that my assistant book-keeper is fully worth that sum to the firm, and it is my wish to pay those whom I employ what they are justly entitled to."

"How can I ever thank you, Sir?" exclaimed Job, rising and seizing his employer's hand. "I shall consider myself rich with such an income. Mary, did you understand? I am to have a thousand dollars."

"Sir, you are very kind," said Mary, simply. "I need not thank you. Your own heart will tell you how much happiness you have conferred upon us.

"I understand and appreciate what you say," said Mr. Bentley, kindly. "But, Warner," he continued, "there is another matter about which I wish to speak to you. There is a young girl in whom I feel an interest, who is unfortunate enough to stand alone in the world, without father or mother. I have thought that if you and Mrs. Warner would be willing to receive her as one of your family, and bring her up in the same careful manner as your own children, it would be an excellent arrangement for her, while I would take care that you lost nothing by your kindness."

"We shall be most happy to oblige you, Sir," said Mrs. Warner; "but would our plain style of living suit the young lady? We shall, to be sure, be able now to afford a better house."

"I don't think the young lady will find any fault with your housekeeping, Mrs. Warner," said the merchant, "especially as she has probably never been accustomed to living as well as she would with you."

Mrs. Warner looked mystified.

Mr. Bentley smiled.

"The young lady is already in your house," he explained. "In fact, it is the friendless little orphan whom your husband encountered tonight and brought home."

Mrs. Warner's face lighted up with pleasure.

"We will undertake the charge gladly," she answered, "and should have done so if you had not spoken of it. Is it not so, Job?"

"Yes, Mary, it occurred to me as soon as Mr. Bentley spoke of raising my salary."

"And you would really have undertaken such a charge at your own expense?" said Mr. Bentley, wonderingly. "Would it have been just to your own children to diminish their comforts for the sake of doing a charitable action?"

"We shall not be able to leave our children money," said Mrs. Warner, simply, "but we hope to train them up to deeds of kindness. There's a great deal of suffering in the world, Sir. We ought to do our part toward relieving it."

"I honor you, Mrs. Warner, for your unselfish benevolence," returned Mr. Bentley, warmly; "but in this case I shall claim to do my part. I shall allow you two hundred dollars a year for taking charge of this child. You will of course require a larger and more commodious house, and will, I hope, be enabled to afford your children such advantages as they may require to prepare them to act their parts in the world."

"Two hundred dollars!” exclaimed Job, scarcely crediting the testimony of his ears. "Why, that will make twelve hundred! Mr. Bentley, Sir, I hope you will believe me to be grateful. You have so loaded me with benefits that I don't know how to thank you."

"And I am under obligations to you, Warner, also," said Mr. Bentley. "Prosperity had begun to harden my heart. At any rate, it had made me thoughtless of the multitudes who are struggling with ills which my wealth could alleviate. To-night I was an unseen witness of your kindness to the poor girl who crossed your path. I felt rebuked by the contrast between your conduct and mine, and I resolved, God helping me, to become hereafter a better steward of His bounty."

"Indeed, Mr. Bentley, you think too much of the little I did," said Job, modestly.

"Let me keep my own opinion as to that, Warner. By-the-way, it may be well for me to pay the first quarter of our little charge in advance. Here are fifty dollars. At the expiration of six months you may draw upon me for a similar amount. Before I leave you let me take the liberty to suggest that the shops are not yet closed, and you will still have an opportunity of providing Christmas gifts for your children."

"So I shall. Thank you, Mr. Bentley, for kindly reminding me. Effie shall have her doll, after all. Such a doll!" he explained, eagerly, turning toward his wife. "She is as fine as a royal princess!—but not too good for Effie."

"By all means let Effie have her doll," said Mr. Bentley, smiling. " I must bid you goodnight, Mrs. Warner, but when you have moved I will look in upon you again, and shall hope to make the acquaintance of Effie and her doll."

Job Warner was absent an hour. When he returned he was fairly loaded down with gifts. I can not undertake to enumerate them. Enough that prominent among them was Effie's stately present. Can the friendly reader imagine the delight of the children the next morning? Seldom has Christmas dawned on a happier household. Effie was in a perfect ecstasy of delight! Nor was the little outcast forgotten. When her rags were stripped off and she was attired in thick, warm clothing, she seemed suddenly to have been lifted into Paradise. When the transports of the children had partially subsided, Job drew toward him the old Bible, and opening it at the second chapter of St. Luke’s gospel read reverently the account there of the first Christmas-day. Just as he concluded the bells rang out a merry peal, and to the little household seemed with vibrant voices to proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men!”