Nancy clung to the base of a gas street lamp just across the street from St. Andrews shivering as she listened to the beautiful hymns and organ music late on Christmas Eve. The tiny child’s clothes were too thin to ward off the December chill and wind, and the cloth wrapped around the perforated soles of her shoes did nothing to keep out the snow.
She couldn’t go back but no one else would take her. Papa had never come home from his sea voyage to America where he said he could earn a fortune for their poor family, and Mama had been beaten and murdered on the way home from cleaning the houses of rich folk, all for a few farthings.
Auntie Pierce took in her baby brother Benjy but said she wanted no “dirty little girl” in her home and sent her away to her friend Lady Harrington to work with the maids. The maids said she was too small and weak and would be nothing but a nuisance, so sent her back to her Auntie’s. Auntie’s man servant refused her entry at the door and she found herself alone.
A boy named Charley Bates discovered her begging on a street corner for just a few pence with which to buy bread and took her to Fagin with promises of work and pay. It was then she embarked on her new life as a thief.
She had no wish to steal and had no talent as a cut purse. Nancy was only six-years-old and she prayed to Jesus every night that he would bring her someone who would love her and protect her so she could get away from that awful Fagin.
She couldn’t go back to Fagin because she had nothing to bring him. How could she steal on the night baby Jesus was born? If only she could go into the church and pray, but she was nothing but a beggar girl and an orphan. Who would have pity on her and take her in except a miser and a scoundrel? Besides, she didn’t have a gift for the infant Christ.
The man’s voice was behind her. She whirled quickly expecting a Constable and was ready to run. Instead she found herself peering at a dark looking man dressed in clean but common clothes. He had unusually long dark hair, curls pushing out hither and thither from under his hat, and his black beard was bushy and thick.
“Please, I will not hurt you, small one.”
He was smiling and stood a respectable distance away. He spoke English with a strange accent. The man looked into her glistening eyes as if they were the windows into her soul, as if he could see in an instant every day and night she had breathed and cried and dreamed in her short little life.
“Why are you out here alone in this terrible cold, child? Why do you cry? Have you no mother or father?”
“No, Sir. You see, Papa went away and never came back and my Mama died. Auntie won’t take me in and I have to steal for Master Fagin for even a tiny bit of food and place to sleep.”
Nancy desperately hoped the man would take pity on her and give her a small amount of coin. Then Fagin would shelter and feed her for another day and perhaps not beat her so badly this time.
“That is a terrible thing, child. What about the people in that church over there? Could they not help you?”
“I’m only an orphan and beggar girl, Sir. Those fine Christian folk wouldn’t help one such as me. If you could just be so kind as to take pity on me. Anything would help.”
She was looking down as her tears one by one landed in the snow at her feet so she couldn’t see the remarkable look of compassion on the foreigner’s face or the fact that he was also crying.
Then he composed himself. “I will help you child, but you must come with me.”
Now she was terrified. Sometimes Master Fagin would take boys or girls into his room and when they came out again, they were sobbing and complaining of where he had touched them. They all whispered about what happened to those children and Nancy was afraid that’s what this man wanted to do to her.
“No, I only mean to take you to a young couple who have been wanting to care for a child. They have been praying for a miracle and I believe that miracle is you.”
She was so startled by such an outrageous statement that she hadn’t realized at first he was escorting her across the street toward the church, his hand very lightly touching her shoulder.
Then she saw a man and woman, not in the clothes of the wealthy, but those of good, upstanding working folk, coming out of the church doors.
“You see, child? They leave early. The woman is in tears. She has dreamed of a child for a long time and it is difficult for her to listen to the hymns about the birth of the Anointed One.”
“You mean Jesus?” She looked up and smiled for the first time.
He looked at her and patted her shoulder but didn’t reply.
“Here they come. Follow me.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Barrows. It is so good to see you again.” He was jovial and greeted the couple with open arms. Strangely, Nancy now felt safe concealed behind the odd Gentleman.
“Miles,” the woman said holding onto the man’s arm. “It’s Mr. Abramson. You remember.”
“Yes I do, Helen. Pleased to meet you again, Sir.” The young Miles Barrows extended a hand. “Merry Christmas, Sir.”
“Yes.” Abramson accepted the hand and they shook. “Merry Christmas to you as well.”
“We can’t thank you enough for your loan and we promise we will repay you promptly.”
“Mr. Barrows, this is hardly the time to discuss business and I completely trust in your integrity. I have actually come to ask a favor.”
Nancy felt Mr. Abramson’s hand on her back ushering her forward in front of him.
“It has come to my attention that this delightful child has no one to care for her, no parents or family of any kind. As you can see, she is ill-dressed for the weather and has access neither to food or a warm bed. I would consider your debt to me repaid in full if you would take her into your humble home as your own. I have it within my power to make the legal arrangements for the placement to be permanent. That is, if everyone is agreeable.”
Helen Barrows knelt down in the snow unmindful of the cold. “Darling, what is your name.”
She felt instantly shy and yet for the first time in a long time, hopeful. “Nancy. I’m six years old.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Well, Mr. Abramson has been very kind to my husband and I and we trust that he would not ask such a thing unless he knew what you needed and…” She looked up at her husband who was smiling and nodding at her. “…and what we needed. We don’t know each other, but if you’d like, you can come home with us. I promise we will take care of you.”
Nancy looked up at Mr. Abramson as if he were someone she could trust, waiting for his approval.
“I know this is very sudden Nancy, but I promise that things will turn out for the best. Mr. and Mrs. Barrows are some of the kindest people in my acquaintance and you will be well cared for in their charge.”
She looked back at the Barrows. “Well, I am without food or a place to stay. I suppose I can come home with you if you’ll have me. I promise to work very hard, and I’ll barely eat a thing, and…”
Overwhelmed with pity and sorrow, Helen took the little girl in her arms and held her tight. “Oh my darling, we don’t want a servant to work for us, we want a child to love.” The woman and girl sobbed together. “We need you as much as you need us.”
Miles also knelt down and the three hugged and cried together.
“May I suggest, it being quite cold out tonight, that you go back into your church and offer prayers of thanks to God. Then take the little girl home. I’m sure she would appreciate a good meal by a warm fire.”
Mr. Barrows stood and vigorously shook Mr. Abramson’s hand. “Sir, I have no way to thank you. No way at all. This is nothing short of a Christmas miracle. It’s a miracle, Sir.”
“You are quite welcome, my good fellow. However as I said, you are doing me a favor and in exchange, any debt you owe me is now settled. I must be running off, but I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas.”
“Would you come in and pray with us, Mr. Abramson.”
Abramson took a step backward from Miles. “Perhaps some other time, but rest assured I am with you in spirit.”
“Yes Sir. Thank you, Sir.” Miles was waving now.
“Yes, thank you, Mr. Abramson,” Helen added.
Nancy walked forward a few steps. “I want to say thank you, too.”
Abramson crouched down. “The only thanks I want from you little Nancy, is for you to grow up and have a happy life. May the God of Heaven watch over you and protect you always.”
She leaned over and whispered into his ear, “I miss my baby brother terribly, Sir. Please ask God watch over him, too.”
He whispered back, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Nancy stepped back and stood with the Barrows. “Thank you, Mr. Abramson.”
“Now hurry,” he called. “It is almost midnight.”
The three of them ran up the stairs as the Christmas music reached a climax. They turned back for one last look, but their benefactor was nowhere in sight. Then they opened the doors and stepped into the house of God as a family.
When they were gone, the middle eastern man stepped out from behind the street lamp near where Nancy had first seen him and whispered to himself, “By next week, dear Auntie Pierce will tire of little Benjy’s crying and foist him off on her distant cousins. Nancy will be overjoyed to be reunited with her brother again.”
Then he looked down at the place in the snow where Nancy’s tears had fallen earlier. “She was so worried she had no gift for her baby Jesus.”
He bent down and, finding a robust and luscious red rose blooming in the cold, plucked it and held it to his nose, savoring the bouquet.
“My dear, you are a gift to God and of God.”
He put the flower in his lapel and started walking as snow once again began to fall. “Besides, it’s not even my birthday.”
I wrote this for the Thursday photo prompt – Window #writephoto of 4 January 2018 hosted by Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. The idea is to use the title and image presented as the inspiration for crafting a short story, poem, or some other creative piece.
The image was called “winter rose,” so I chose to let that be my focus rather than the window (though I do mention the word “window” in my story).
Commonly known as hellebores, the Eurasian genus Helleborus consists of approximately 20 species of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae, within which it gave its name to the tribe of Helleboreae. The scientific name Helleborus derives from the Greek name for H. orientalis, helléboros, from elein “to injure” and “food”. Many species are poisonous. Despite names such as “winter rose”, “Christmas rose” and “Lenten rose”, hellebores are not closely related to the rose family (Rosaceae).
I happened to notice in the folklore section of the article that:
Helleborus niger is commonly called the Christmas rose, due to an old legend that it sprouted in the snow from the tears of a young girl who had no gift to give the Christ child in Bethlehem.
I found a similar story at the Institute of Agriculture website for the University of Tennessee.
I wasn’t interested in writing about the Biblical account of the birth of Christ, but I had an idea that included the character Fagin from Charles Dickens’s 1839 novel Oliver Twist. I checked and discovered that Dickens’s book A Christmas Carol was published just a few years later in 1843.
I know, Christmas has come and gone, and I’m sure this very much seems like a Christmas story, but this is the direction in which the muse led me.
I hope you have all guessed the identity of my mysterious Mr. Abramson. Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach) would have appeared as a middle eastern man, which means he would have had a dark complexion, dark hair on the longer side, and a large, black beard. I gave him an accent to accentuate his being a “foreigner,” and the last bit about December 25th not being his birthday, well it probably wasn’t. You can read more about that in my article Was He Born in a Sukkah?.
I hope you enjoyed my wee tale.