Below is a story I wrote last year for Christmas. I first set out to write a story about the passage of time and, with no specific plot in mind, this is the story that developed. It has gone through numerous tweakings and revisions but the story that unfolded on the page in the first draft was essentially the same story as the last.
Some feel this is a very sad story, and there certainly are some very sad elements, but I did not write this to be a sad story and feel the essence is actually one of happiness and is indicative that a true gift is not measured by its monetary value but rather by the amount of wealth it draws from the heart. I hope you enjoy it.
CHRISTMAS IN WEMBLEY WOODS
On the morn before Thanksgiving, on a hill just south of the Wembley woods, a little boy stood playing on a drum made from an old barrel, a piece of cloth, and a faded rope with two matchsticks. The sound the drum made was very soft but, being very poor, his parents could afford to give him nothing better. His parents loved him dearly and he, not realizing he was soon to be orphaned, thought all of life was well. Each day, just before dawn, he would rise from his bed, get dressed, then walk to the top of the hill where he would play his drum with his matchsticks, just like a soldier, as the sun marched its way across in time. Made by his father, the drum had been given to him as a gift on the Christmas just passed, and he loved it more than anything else.
At exactly three days prior Christmas, and to the hour, a serious fate befell the boy’s parents, making him an orphan. The boy, upon hearing of his parents’ demise, did not cry as he wanted to look very brave, but a smile left his heart that day and would not appear again for a very long time. On the next morning, exactly two days prior Christmas, the boy did not climb the hill as he usually did and he would never climb that hill again. The sun still rose on all the days that came after, but without his drumming it did not seem to shine as bright as before and moved just a bit slower on its journey across the sky.
It was at the stroke of noon, by the constable’s watch, exactly on Christmas day, the boy was told he was to go live in a village close to the town of Southaven far beyond sight of the Wembley woods and the hill where he loved to play his drum. Told he would leave on that same Christmas day he was allowed only one small sack for his things and the drum he loved remained behind with his toys made of old spindles and threaded yarn. It now sat lonesome in a box on the hearth of the empty house that was once his home. For three long days, and by carriage, the boy journeyed to the other side of the Wembley woods. As he passed through his beloved woods, he spoke his quiet goodbyes to the trees and the hill where he once played his drum. The hill and the trees bid him a goodbye as well but silently as they disappeared from his view, but never from his memory.
On the fourth days after this same Christmas, and at precisely one after midnight, by the carriage driver’s watch, the wheels stopped turning in the village far from the Wembley woods but close to the town of Southaven. In this village lived a man with a great tall hat and an ivory pipe who, as it was understood, was the brother of the boy’s father. The man, who cared for his brother deeply, and upon hearing of his untimely demise, pledged to care for his brother’s son forever and for always.
At the point of six hours passing, by the clock on the table in the hall, and on this fourth day after Christmas, the boy first met the man who was to care for him forever and for always. Placing his hand firmly on the boys head, the man gave it a gentle twist from side to side, smiled, and then without a word simply walked away. However, the boy found a welcome entrance into his home, was shown to a very large room, and was told it was to be his own forever and for always.
The morning of the fifth day after this same Christmas was like any other. The sun still rose outside the bedroom window but to the boy it still seemed to shine less brightly and still marched a little slower across the sky above that village close to the town of Southaven. The boy did not rise early on this day, remaining instead in bed; head under the covers, until a maid and two menservants brought him breakfast, drew a bath and presented him with new silk clothes. Sitting up slowly in the bed the boy ate his breakfast silently and then rising from the bed, took his bath, dressed and sat quietly the whole day at the window looking toward the Wembley woods. With a tear in his eye, and an ache in his heart, he wished only for the drum and matchsticks his father had so lovingly given him one Christmas ago and for nearly three long years he spoke not a word.
It was on the eve of Thanksgiving, and after nearly three years passed, the man who was the brother of the boy’s father, taking the boy on his knee for the very first time, gave him a hug. For just a slight moment, a smile appeared on the boy’s heart but disappeared long before it could be brought to his lips. As he looked across the shoulder of the man and out the window, he could see that a light snow had begun to fall. The man, having spoken very little to the boy, on this day inquired what he wanted from the tree on Christmas morn. With a tear in his eye, the boy spoke only one word as he still rested on the man’s shoulder. “Drum”.
It was exactly one week, six hours and seven minutes after the boy spoke this one word, the man found a drum at a mercantile in the town of Southaven which was close to the village in which he lived. He purchased the drum for the boy and paid a very large sum. Bringing it to the maid and two menservants he gave instructions they should polish it, wrap it in fine satin and place it in the closet beneath the stairs. Here the drum would sit, secure, protected, and finely wrapped, until the eve of Christmas when, as the boy still slept, it would be placed under the tree with three other packages containing a pair of socks, two shirts and one wooden horse.
On this third Christmas after his parent’s demise and at precisely six o’clock, by the clock on the dresser in the corner of his room, the boy woke and watched from his window as the sun marched slowly across the sky. The maid and two menservants brought him a special breakfast of gingerbread cookies, eggnog and a tall glass of apple cider which the boy ate quickly then removed himself to his bath. Returning to his room a short time later, he put on a new shirt made from red and green silk, some brown woolen britches and a pair of heavy warm socks then descended the stairs to sit very still in the parlor, in front of the tree, and wait for the man to rise from his sleep so he could open his presents.
At the stroke of ten on that Christmas morn, by the chime of the clock in the entryway, the man entered the parlor, sat in his chair, placed his pipe in his mouth and gave permission to the boy to open his gifts. One by one, the boy opened his presents of a pair of socks, two shirts, and one wooden horse; which for a moment or two he galloped across the floor; then placed it again under the tree and sat on the man’s lap.
The man, at fifteen past that same hour, gave instructions to the manservant to bring the finely wrapped drum and place it on the boy’s lap. The boy loosened the bow letting the silk wrapping fall from his lap onto the floor. Inside he saw the drum, which shone very, very bright and without a word turned and kissed the man on the cheek, then set the drum on the floor, under the tree, and went to his room to sit in the window and look out toward the Wembley woods. As he watched, the snow continued to fall and after one hour, and with a tear in his eye, he retired to bed and dreamed he was a soldier standing on a lonesome hill without a drum.
On the morn after this third Christmas, the boy did not rise from the bed or eat his breakfast as outside the window the snow continued to fall. At precisely noon, by the watch in his pocket, the man, being worried about the boy, called to him. The boy, still in his pajamas and heavy warm socks, descended the stairs, sat on the man’s lap, then began to cry. Holding him close, the man inquired what made him so sad. The boy, who had not spoken a word in nearly three years, save one word “drum”, began to speak.
“On one Christmas past, I do not know which; my father made me a drum from an old barrel, a piece of cloth, and a faded rope. My mother wrapped the drum in her favorite apron and she gave it to me on the eve of Christmas as we ate our bread and soup. Every morning, in the Wembley woods, I played this drum on the hill, just like a soldier, while the sun marched quickly across the sky and shined bright. The drum you have given me is bright and beautiful but belongs to another little boy, not me. My drum is in a box on a hearth in a house that was once my home by the Wembley woods.” Then after he had spoken these words, the boy would speak no more and went to his bed to sleep.
On the evening of hearing these words, the man did not sleep and in his heart and in his thoughts knew he must recover the boys drum from the Wembley Woods. At six a.m. precisely, by the clock on the mantle in his bedroom, he called for the two menservants instructing them to make ready his carriage, as he would make the long and perilous winter journey to the Wembley woods. There he would find the drum on the hearth in the house that was once the home of his brother’s son and bring it to the boy whose heart no longer smiled.
At precisely seven minutes past nine o’clock on the morning of New Years day, by the carriage driver’s watch, the man found the house that was once the home of his brother’s son and on the hearth in a box sat the drum and a few toys made from old spindles and threaded yarn. Next to the box were two matchsticks. The man picked up the box with the drum and the toys and placed them safely in the back of his carriage for the long journey home. For ten perilous days, he traveled back through the snow arriving precisely at four minutes past noon by the clock in the entry hall. Weary from his long journey he gave the drum to the little boy then set the box with the toys made from old spindles and yarn on the table by the chair and retired to his bed to sleep. The boy, hugging his drum tightly in his arms, and leaving the toys of old spindles and yarn on the table next to the chair, walked up the stairs to his room to sit by his window and watch the trees in the yard as the snow no longer fell.
Upon rising early from his bed the next morning the boy went to the pantry to find two new matchsticks, then stood in the garden behind his home, next to a trellis, and played his drum like a soldier as the sun marched into the sky. The sound he made was very soft but, having been poor and not yet knowing he was very rich, his parents could have afforded him nothing better. The sun marching across the sky that day cast its rays a little brighter on the village close to the town of Southaven and a smile appeared on the boy’s heart and soon found its way to his lips. He remembered now the hugs of his father, the kisses of his mother and the hill where he once stood in the Wembley woods to play his drum. Then holding his drum tightly in his arms, the boy ran to find his father’s brother. Upon finding him he spoke only four small words “I love you papa.” and then he never spoke another word again for as long as he lived. However, in his heart, and on that day, he pledged he would someday care for the brother of his father forever and for always.
After exactly fifty-one years, seven months and sixteen days passed the man who had cared for the boy forever and for always became very ill, and the same day died. The boy, now long grown, had done all he pledged in his heart to do and had cared for the man who was the brother of his father forever and for always. The sun, having already risen on that day, marched slowly overhead and shone just a little less bright. The boy, now long grown, at the tide of evening on that same day, went with his drum to the garden next to the trellis, and just like a soldier, with two old matchsticks drummed to the sun as it finished its march across the sky and then disappeared.
For exactly three days, four hours and twenty-five minutes, after learning of the man’s demise, a smile did not find its way to the lips of the boy, now long grown, but it still remained on his heart. Having lived a rich life, and upon learning the man who had cared for him so deeply forever and for always had left him all his worldly possessions, the boy, now long grown, went to the mans grave, placed his drum on top, then simply walked away. For the rest of his days, which were precisely twenty one years, eleven days, twelve and a half minutes, the boy, now long grown, lived as a wealthy man who had also in his life been very rich.
© Copyright 2006 by Scott Haas Revised 2007 by Scott Haas All rights reserved.
p.s. I received a very kind e-mail recently asking where my posts have been. There is a long answer to that... but...the short answer is that I needed a break, I took it, and I will be back in the New Year with new vigor. I hope to approach this blog from more of a correspondent view in the new year, with a few interviews scattered about and most likely a few field trips as well. Have a Merry Christmas, a joyous Kwanzaa and a belated Hanukkah blessing. And for the rest of you, Happy Festivus if you please. Oh yeah, Happy New Year too! See you then in a weird net blog sort of way.