From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1936 –
“Evergreen and Folly”
Snow was falling; a biting wind hurled the flakes viciously against faces and inside coat-collars. But the high spirits of the Christmas Eve shopping crowd defied the discomforts of the storm. Cheeks glowed; eyes peered narrowly but merrily above close-drawn furs and tightly clutched packages; voices rose with increased good cheer. Even the colored lights of the street decorations seemed to sparkle and glow more festively.
Edward Thane, warm and comfortable inside his big black limousine, viewed the scene in his usual detached manner. Distinctly alien, more than a little intolerant, he felt himself to be – apart from all the world at this season when goodwill was the expressed order. Christmas had long since ceased to mean anything to Ed Thayne personally. An able secretary discharged the few duties he felt obligatory – sending a few cards, giving to a half-dozen preferred charities, preparing “bonuses” for presentation to a few employees of long standing. That would be about all. And even that mattered but little.
Before the glittering facade of Thayne’s, Incorporated, the limousine stopped, double-parked – for the “Private Parking Only” sign had been completely ignored. The chauffeur opened the door and stood attentively while The Boss climbed out.
“You may as well have the evening, Parks,” Thayne said. “I’ll take a taxi home.”
“Thank you, sir. It’s – Merry Christmas, then, Mr. Thayne.”
Thayne nodded acknowledgment. “Make a family day of it. I’ll not want you before three or four – maybe not then. I’ll call you.”
Parks glowed. “Say – thanks a million, sir” –
But The Boss was picking his way gingerly between two parked cars; the chauffeur watched him cross the slushy sidewalk and disappear into the store. Then, springing lightly to his seat, Parks was on his way, grinning for all the world to see. Holiday bound!
The Boss, walking with bent head and looking neither to right nor left, went directly to his office on the mezzanine. Seated there at his desk, he could, by turning a little in his chair, look out over a wide sector of the store’s main floor, now thronged with shoppers. The scene, though colorful, gave him no particular pleasure save his satisfaction with the business outlook. He asked himself why he had come downtown tonight. He was not needed here; his organization functioned smoothly and efficiently under the guiding hand of the acting manager – who was expected to assume complete control of the establishment within a few years. It was almost as much his concern now as it was Thayne’s, who had spent forty years developing his business and found it his one real interest, his only hobby, and his strongest habit.
Yet Thayne knew that even that did not explain why he had chosen not to remain at home this evening. Rather, he could not endure to remain at home – not among the inevitable Christmas greens with which Hawkins and his Missis had decked the rooms and made gay the windows. From those, he wanted invariably to run away; tonight, he had felt that he must run away.
Year after year – twelve of them had now marched past since his house had become silent and lonely – the Boss had resolved to order his faithful servants to omit the holiday decorations. But he could never bring himself to issue the command. And regularly on the eighteenth of December, Hawkins would bring in the holly and branches of evergreen, and a sprig – the finest he could find – of mistletoe to place above the portrait of Genevieve Thayne which hung above the library mantle. Mistletoe had been Vieve’s delight.
“Never forget, Hawkins,” she’d told him many times, “mistletoe over my picture at Christmas-time –”
Remembering, Ed Thayne experienced that sharp pang that always came with the thought of Genevieve. Unseeingly he fingered the gold inkwell, a part of the handsome desk set which his office force had today presented to him. Beside the inkwell stood the set of Kipling, in tooled-leather bindings, which was the department managers’ collective gift. He sighed, knowing the anxious thought and discussion behind the selection of these things that meant so little to him, though he was not unappreciative. He knew they found it difficult, choosing things for The Boss, who “had everything.” “Everything” meaning all the things that other people wished for and could not afford to buy, but nothing that, after all, mattered very greatly. Ed Thayne would have given his “everything” gladly if for one day he could have Genevieve back with him.
But then – his lips twisted ironically – Genevieve would not have enjoyed that day! Vieve had so loved the things money could buy. Her lovely home, clothes, jewels, fun. She loved glitter and excitement. She had reveled in the Christmas-New Year season, when there were parties galore and everyone seemed intent on throwing their responsibilities to the winds and going quite mad with pleasure.
That time when she was not feeling so well, and he had remonstrated with her, urged her to stay in and rest and be taken care of – she’d laughed and said,
“After a while, dear – not now! After a while – it will be too soon – I shall be old, and stiff in the joints, and – maybe – quite content to sit by the fire and knit. But it will be horrid –” and her beautiful eyes grew somber, holding for a moment an expression of stark fear. Her fear of growing-old time. – Lovely Genevieve, who’d had no need to fear old age, since it would never overtake her!
She had cast the mood aside. “I’ll rest a lot next week, Ed,” she’d said prettily. “There’s only tonight and tomorrow night, and then the holidays are over for another year. Don’t gloom tonight, dear, please! You know it’s such a long time until another season of evergreen and holly.”
“Evergreen and – folly!” he’d answered her, unable to keep a certain sharpness out of his voice. “Sometimes, my darling, I wonder if we’re not all a little crazy at this time of year! Dancing all night, eating all day – if we’re awake enough! – rushing all hours. What’s it all about, anyway?”
Then, because she had looked hurt, he’d added hastily,
“Good gracious, my dearest, don’t mind me! Dance forever, if you wish – and I believe you’d like to! I think you must be Youth incarnate, Vieve darling, and will never grow old. So we’ll run along to your evergreen and folly, as much and as long as you say!”
“Evergreen and folly” – he was pleased with that. And “You’ll never grow old –” had brought him her brightest smile. Poor little pun! An unwitting prophecy!
Disregarding her “bit of a cold,” they’d gone out with their crowd in a heavy snowstorm, singing hilariously through cold, wet streets, their welcome to Vieve’s last New Year.
And ever since, Ed Thayne had hated and dreaded the coming of each Christmas-time. If only he could run away from it – but where could one escape Christmas?
The jingle of bells, a rising din of shouts and laughter, recalled The Boss to the present. He stepped out to the railing at the edge of the mezzanine, looked down. Below, a jolly Santa Claus was pretending to try to hide from a group of excited children. Small sleighbells on his wrists and boot-tops chimed merrily.
Glancing upward, Santa raised one hand towards The boss, shaking his bells with an extra flourish by way of salute.
“Ain’t we got fun, Ed!” he called, as his eyes, deep blue and sparkling with good humor, met the grayer blue of Thayne’s. Then, observing a panting youngster about to clutch him, he dashed away, out of Thayne’s range of vision.
The Acting Manager stood beside The Boss.
“Great guy, that Bill Garman,” he commented. “Gets a bigger kick out of life than any of us.”
“No doubt. Still, he seems fitted for – better roles than that of a make-believe Santa Claus,” Thayne answered somewhat shortly, and turned away.
He and Bill had been close friends once. What had become of that friendship? – Just petered out, he supposed, through diverging interests and ambitions. Ed, the successful merchant, with one goal in view. Bill, a sort of happy vagabond, adventuring through many fields and headed nowhere in particular so long as he had a good time. They just didn’t stick together … And now, when both were growing old, Bill played Santa Claus in Ed’s mercantile palace, and was glad of a job.
Thayne sighed. Rummaged in a drawer for some papers and looked through them without the slightest idea what they were about. Old ghosts were all around him … but they would be more poignantly persistent at home!
Just before closing-time he finally left his office and emerged into the storm, which was raging more furiously than before. He looked up and down the street for the taxi he had ordered, but there was none in sight. His eyes fastened on a figure just leaving the employees’ entrance of Thayne’s – a man whose shabby overcoat and pulled-down cap did not conceal a gay red-and-white Santa Claus costume beneath. The wind played with his coat-tails and with his long white beard; bells, muffled, jingled faintly. Bill – who would now be looking for another job.
On a sudden impulse, Ed Thayne started towards him. He’d ask Bill to spend Christmas Day with him – auld lang syne, or something like that … Bill had not seen Ed; he was hurrying to cross the street. Ed hesitated – and at the moment, a swift gust of wind tore his hat off his head, and he turned to grab at it frantically and temperishly. In the same instant he heard a shrieking of automobile brakes, a man’s shout, a woman’s scream. People began running from every direction, and Thayne ran with them.
“I saw it – the wind – blew his whiskers up over his eyes – he stepped backward – ” a woman was crying hysterically.
A child’s terrified voice … “It’s Santa Claus, mama – they hit Santa Claus!” … The mother, comforting him – “Not Santa himself, dear – a helper – ” Confusion, hubbub … an officer taking charge. The officer knew Ed Thayne, let him come nearer.
Thayne knelt beside Bill; called his name. There was a moan in answer. Someone said, “Here – my car – ”
At the hospital, after a while, Bill looked out from a white maze of bandages and pillows. His bewildered gaze met Thayne’s anxious one.
“Ain’t we – got – fun, Ed,” he murmured through a wry smile. “How’d I do it?”
Thayne told him.
“You’ll be around again before long,” he concluded.
“Before long – but gee whiz – I forgot – I – ” Bill struggled to rise. A nurse stepped forward, warningly.
“Something I can do for you, Bill?” Thayne asked.
Bill’s distress increased.
“I don’t know, Boss – you could – only you wouldn’t,” he said enigmatically. “Maybe you could find someone who would, though. You see – I promised to be Santa Claus at a kids’ party – girl I know is giving it. I can’t disappoint her – she’s been good to me; biscuits and things, you know – ” he grinned. “She’s my next door neighbor. I was hurrying to get to her place when I – got – this; I remember now. Say, what time is it?”
“Nine four,” Thayne told him after a glance at his watch.
“Good Lord!” Bill groaned. “I was to be there at eight-thirty! Ed, you’ll have to do it! not time to find someone else – those kids will be heart-broken – ” Again he tried to sit up, and again the nurse warned him back.
“Sure, Bill,” Thayne said, and instantly regretted it. “I’ll do it.”
Bill relaxed. “You’re a pal! You can wear my outfit – Nurse, did I mess up that Santa suit?”
“Not too much. The wig – but I’ll make him one out of some cotton,” the nurse promised.
“Bully for you!” Bill applauded her. “Hurry, Ed – and when you’re ready I’ll tell you how to get there, and – and – all that.”
The young nurse “hurried” willingly. This was her first Christmas Eve on duty, and she’d been rather blue and lonely. But now it was turning into an adventure – helping the great Mr. Thayne into a Santa Claus suit!
Feeling an utter fool, Thayne went back to undergo Bill’s grinning inspection.
“Okay, pal – you’ll do – and it’ll be good for you, too; fun! But – rush!”
Thayne rushed, his brain in a fuddle. “Fun – good for him!” – good for Ed Thayne, who hated Christmas. Good heavens! What does one say when impersonating Santa Claus for a bunch of kids, anyway?
The girl who’d been good to Bill – “with biscuits and things” – was shocked, sympathetic, grateful, kind, all at the same time. She dispelled Thayne’s panic inside of three minutes. He played a game with the children, made wise-cracks – goodness knows how! – and distributed gifts. And then he told them that it was way past bedtime (his fault, for being late, but they must “scoot” now), and besides, he had to be on his way to – everywhere!
A pale boy with worried brown eyes slipped through the door ahead of him.
“Mr. Santa Claus – ”
“I was wondering, Mister, if you’re not too awfully in a hurry – if you could – ”
Not more than ten, Thayne noted mentally, wondering at the child’s agitation. He bent down and took the thin hand, surprised at the tenderness that swept over him.
“What can I do for you, my boy?” he asked, smiling; expecting some childish request for gifts, and wondering what he should say in reply.
“Well, you see, Mister – my little sister, she’s been sick and couldn’t come to the party, and she feels just awful bad ‘cause she didn’t get to see you – I mean Santa Claus – at all this year. Could you come to see her, just for a minute or two? – It’s only two doors down the street, and up one stairs. And – and – you see, she thinks you’re real yet; she’s only four and a half – ”
Thayne experienced a shock, realizing the sad superior wisdom of ten years – over four-and-a-half.
“You just show me the way,” he said.
The little girl had eyes like the boy’s – big and dark and clear, in a pale little face. A face whose gravity Thayne thought, was too marked for such a tender age. Something about her took hold of his heart, as she stared up at him so believingly and then sat up in her bed. The boy hastened to draw a blanket around her shoulders.
“Mom said you must keep something around you, Sistie!”
“But I’m warm enough, and I’m lots better, too,” Sistie said, and held eager hands to Thayne. “Santa Claus! Did you come just to see me?”
“Sure I did. I heard you couldn’t come to see me, so I ran in to – to wish you a Merry Christmas.”
“You’re nice,” she said. “Sit down by me.”
He sat down awkwardly on the edge of the bed. Something to say –
“What’s your name, my dear? I – er – seem sort of mixed up tonight, there are so many names.”
She laughed at that, wrinkling her nose and displaying tiny white teeth within a mouth of entrancing curves.
“I’m Genevie. Didn’t Jimmy tell you?”
“She means Genevieve,” Jimmy told Thayne in a whisper. But Sistie had heard.
“That’s what I said – Genevie,” she began defensively.
“I know,” her brother hastened to assure her. “I just thought he didn’t hear you, quite.”
Thayne heard without comprehending, for his thoughts had raced back over the years to that other Genevieve, who had held his heart in her two hands. He felt shaken and panicky.
“Will you bring me a dolly, Santa Claus? – Not a big one, but a cuddly little one?” Genevieve was asking, clinging eagerly to his fingers.
He had no time then to reply, for in the doorway appeared a woman, young, but tired-old. She stood with her hand on the door knob, staring, while Thayne got to his feet.
“That’s my Momsie. She had to work tonight,” Genevieve exclaimed. And “Momsie! This is Santa Claus! He comed to see me, and I’m better, too.”
Jimmy hurried to explain “Santa’s” presence.
“Thank you so much,” the mother said, her eyes misty. “She wanted so much to see Santa.”
“I told him to bring me a dolly, Momsie,” Genevieve returned to the topic of chief interest. “And Santa, Jimmy’s a nawful nice boy, ‘ceptin’ he teases sometimes, but not much. Will you bring him some paints, ‘cause that’s what he’d like best?”
Thayne bent over her, smiling. “I’ll certainly do my best, Genevieve. You go to sleep now. I have to talk to your mother a moment, and then hurry away. I’ve such a lot of things to do!”
“I know. You’re ‘most the busiest man there is, aren’t you? I’ll be good. I’m mostly good, aren’t I, Momsie?”
“I should say you are!” The mother kissed her. “Now good night, dear. Sleep tight!”
The other room – apparently they had but the two – was a sort of kitchen-living-room. Thayne looked about curiously. Humble though it was, he noted, the Christmas “folly” had entered here also. Cheap little wreaths pinned to the curtains; a tiny artificial tree – obviously it had known service at other Christmases, for it was faded and scraggly – crowded into a small space against one wall. But above the tree, carefully tacked to the plaster wall, was something that caught and held Ed Thayne’s attention.
It was a picture, crudely done with wax crayons, of a child asleep in a manger; and beside the manger, a woman watching. There had been no attempt to draw her features; her draped robes hid her face and form. Yet there was something about the portrayal of her that was far more effective than detail, unless expertly handled, could have been. Thayne studied it, fascinated.
“Jimmy did that,” said Jimmy’s mother. “We – think he did pretty well, for a ten-year-old.”
“Remarkably well!” Thayne agreed. “It has something – more than just the lines and color. A – sort of – personality, I’d call it, I think.”
She nodded. “We think it’s because he loved it so – the story, I mean. You see – we’ve not been able to observe the – what you might call the material side of Christmas, very much; so we’ve stressed the spiritual. The children love the Bethlehem story – they know it by heart! So Jimmy undertook to illustrate it.”
Jimmy, at his mother’s side, allowed her without protest to tousle his dark hair.
“I’ll do a better one, some day,” he said. “That’s only the first time I’ve tried. Maybe I shouldn’t ought to’ve tried it at all, till I’m bigger – and better. Drawing a picture of – the Lord Jesus – ” he left the rest of his thought eloquently unsaid.
Before the boy’s adoring, sincere reverence, Thayne felt suddenly humbled. He thought with dismay of the worldly selfish years he’d lost, and longed unutterably to atone for them. When he could speak, he turned resolutely.
“Tell you what, Jimmy. I’ll be around after a while, and don’t you forget to hang up that stocking. I’ll see what kind of painting paraphernalia I can find for a boy to practice with – a boy who’s going to do fine things if he keeps his talent growing bigger – and better.”
“Gee, Mister!” Jimmy breathed. “You make it seem like – there’s a really Santa Claus!”
“Sometimes,” Thayne said gravely, “sometimes there really is. Not as often as should be, in this gloomy old world; but once in a while, believe it or not, the old duffer really shows up. Will you step in and see if Genevieve’s asleep? – While I have a word with your mother?”
“Sure. And – and – thanks a million!” Jimmy’s parting look warmed Thayne’s heart.
“You’re very kind, sir,” the mother began, “but I’m afraid you really shouldn’t think of doing more than you already have done.”
“Please!” he urged. “I know what you’re thinking – but you don’t know what this will mean to me. You’ll be shocked – but I want to tell you – that tonight, here in this room, I’ve realized the meaning of Christmas. I must have known it, long ago – but forgotten.”
Her glance, clear and deep like her children’s, questioned him.
“For years,” he explained, “almost as long as I can remember, in fact, Christmas meant to me and mine – just – gayety – frivolous good times. Then – something happened that – changed all that; there couldn’t be – gayety, for me, any more. Since then, I’ve felt – well – bitter, about it. Seeing people rush crazily into things; more festivities – they call them festivities! – than their bodies and minds can stand; more buying than their purses can afford – that’s the sort of thing I mean. I’ve seen that only – I guess, because it was what I looked for. I’ve wished I could run away from it all. It’s been to me – well, I’ve called it the season of ‘evergreen and folly’.”
“Oh!” – the merest murmur of shocked sympathy.
“Now – tonight – this.” He turned again to Jimmy’s work of art. “Not just the drawing, though it’s amazingly good, and that boy must be encouraged and given opportunities for development of his talent; – but the spirit back of the effort, has spoken to me. This Santa Claus role – ” he indicated his gaudy costume – “is new to me. Less than two hours ago, I would have refused it if I could have decently done so – but now, I’d like to carry it through, for your boy and girl. Not extravagantly – not to divert them from their spiritual observance, as you call it, of the day. But a few things they’d enjoy, perhaps some that they need, that Santa might bring them; I’d appreciate your letting me do it – for my own sake as well as theirs.”
“Besides,” he added in a lower tone, and pleadingly, “it would be in memory of another lovely person whose name was Genevieve. She was all I had – and I lost her.”
That carried the point, as he might have known it would.
“If it’s possible to manage, at this late hour – ” she began; but his joyous chuckle interrupted her.
“I know exactly how – why, this minute, I own a whole store!” he answered, surprised at his own sudden lightness of heart. “I’ll get the watchman to help – if he doesn’t die of amazement first!”
It was well past midnight when Thayne, his mind full of a thousand eager plans, arrived at the door of his waiting house. Ran up the steps, as he hadn’t done in a long, long time.
The door flew open and Hawkins, breathing a loud sigh of relief, stood by as The Boss entered. Inside, at the farther end of the hall, Hawkins’ Missis and Parks were standing, their faces grave and anxious and all at once relaxing into their customary expressions of respectful waiting.
Thayne, comprehending, was remorseful. “Great guns! You’ve been worrying about me!” he exclaimed.
“Well, sir – yes, sir,” Hawkins said guardedly. “That is, sir, it was most unusual, sir – ”
The Missis came forward, and Parks followed.
“You see, sir, after Parks told us – ”
“I just happened to drop in, sir,” Parks explained, “and mentioned you’d given me the evening – ”
“So when it got awful late and you didn’t come home, sir, we called him back to talk over what we might do. We were that anxious, sir!”
“I’m – very sorry. I just didn’t think,” Thayne said astonishingly. More astonishingly still, he grinned at them. “But you should never be surprised at anything that happens in the season of evergreen and folly.”
“Yes, sir.” Hawkins lifted one eyebrow ever so slightly. “No, sir – not anything, sir.”
He proceeded to relieve Thayne of overcoat and hat.
Simultaneous gasps from all three servants greeted the disclosure of a decidedly soiled and mussed Santa Claus costume.
“Oh, yes – you’ll find the wig and beard in my coat pocket, Hawkins. They – er – got in my way.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll look after them, sir.”
“Well – getting on towards Christmas morning, isn’t it?” Thayne remarked.
“Yes, sir. that is – ”
“Then, Merry Christmas to you all! I wish you were all having as much fun as I’ve had tonight; yes, sir, – I declare, it was fun. A little folly now and then – glorious folly! Never enjoyed myself so much. Goodnight!”
“Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir.”
“Goodnight, Mr. Thayne.”
Thayne started up the stairs. His servants stood staring after him for a long moment, then they turned and stared at each other. The notes of an old Christmas carol drifted down to them … The Boss – was whistling, like any schoolboy.