“Her Christmas Ships” by Emilie Loring

At my house, we’re in the scurrying part of the holiday season–cleaning, decorating, shopping, wrapping, planning, planning… With Happy Landings completed, for the first time in a long while I have time to make some of my presents. It feels good to return to creative, homemade gifts. Emilie had an idea that we might try, all wrapped up in a little short story for us. It’s an early one, 1914, presented here in its entirety. Enjoy!

Her Christmas Ships

by Emilie Loring

“Sure, Miss Virginia, someone’s sent yer a Thankgiving present. It’s heavy enough, believe me!”

The maid with her transformation, her velvet pumps with their run-down heels, projected her head, then herself within the doorway. Eager, palpitating curiosity fired her eyes and juggled her breath as she looked at the girl before her. Never to Melinda’s knowledge had there been a package for the occupant of this room before.

Virginia Carter stretched out her hand and for a moment stared unseeingly at the girl. She tried to smile her thanks, but there was a tremor in her voice, a mist before her eyes, and a perceptible tightening of her lips.

“It’s not a present, ‘Linda. It is something which has been re-returned.” She stumbled on the last word.

With a disappointed, “Ain’t that a shame now!” the maid closed the hall door with a bang and Virginia sank into the big chair which was drawn before the old fashioned grate.

“Ugh!” she grimaced, as she opened the package and read the printed note of rejection within. “The editor who returned you hasn’t the slightest shred of imagination or he never would have sent you winging home on Thanksgiving Day. Of course, though,” she struggled to be just, “he must have thousands of manuscripts submitted and he couldn’t know that all my hopes of a Christmas jubilation were built upon you.”

She turned the leaves of her story and read snatches of it. In the pages, she had embodied her own experiences during the two years she had been in Boston. Life, which had seemed so simple when she arrived, was now all complexity. She still had courage, but the future loomed big with menace and the hope of making more than a bare living by her writing–she shook herself sharply–nothing could be more futile than for her to sit here imagining trouble.

“This is Thanksgiving Day, not Worry Day, Silver Heels,” she cried as she picked up the sleek Maltese kitten which had stalked into the room when Melinda opened the door. “Curl down in my lap, kitty, and we’ll think out a plan to make a merry Christmas without any money.”

We’ll think out a plan to make a Merry Christmas

She blinked the tears from her eyes as she thought of the father and mother who could no longer be remembered materially. The hand which stroked the kitten grew very tender. Then there was Tom, in Texas; he was working hard and had no inkling of the rather rough road over which she was stumbling. He was living in the shadow of war this year, as were many, many others, and he had enough to think of without having his sister on his mind. She thought of the different friends whom she would like to remember, but–how could she? It would take all that she could count upon to pay for her bare living between now and the new year.

She looked about the room which she had made homelike with the furnishings which she had had at college. From picture to picture her eyes traveled, and a smile parted her lips as she gazed at the happy faces which seemed to laugh back at her.

“How I should love to hear from them all,” she said aloud, then her eyes clouded as she realized why she had not heard of late. She was the one to blame. She had had to struggle and had been too proud to let them know. Even Jane–Jane her best beloved–had not known where she was this last year. Jane had so much, lived in such luxury, and then there was her brother, Geoffrey.

The girl’s lips lost their color as she thought of him. Why, she wondered in humiliation past all belief, and with the dull ache at her heart which always accompanied her thought of Geoffrey Sewall, why had she hurt him so? Well, he had his revenge if he but knew it; no other man made the slightest impression on her; it was always his face she saw, his voice she heard. She dropped her head on the arm of the chair. The gray kitten stretched out a silvery paw and gently patted the wavy, dark hair. He touched it again as though in chiding remonstrance.

We have love and time and an opulent imagination

Virginia lifted her head and cuddled the kitten close. “Silver Heels,” she whispered. “We haven’t any money to spend, but we have love and time and an opulent imagination–we’ll send some Christmas letters!”

The idea took root and grew with the rapidity of a plant under a magician’s wand. The girl’s cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkled with inspiration. “Oh-o-o!” she gave a long-drawn crow of delight. “I’ll write to every friend I ever had and I’ll post the letters so that they will be received on Christmas Eve. One thing I can do–even if some editors think I can’t–I can write, my Silver Heels!”

Virginia made her list and hunted up addresses. Then, her project having assumed too big proportions for a room, she sought the clear, cold outdoors of the November afternoon that it might have the whole world in which to spread. Passers-by noted the radiant, intense look in the girl’s eyes and smiled in friendly sympathy with her enthusiasm and beauty. She planned the material for her different letters and the means of getting information of matters which she knew would interest her friends.

Animated by the possibilities of her vision, she didn’t even mind the loneliness of a holiday dinner in the dingy boarding house. In her enthusiastic mood the dining room looked homelike. The pictures, with their defiantly tipped corners, against the blatant, “futurist” wallpaper, seemed almost attractive; even the indecently naked rubber-plant at the window appeared to take on an almost tropical luxuriance.

The girl brought to the room a vivifying cheeriness which was contagious. Good Mrs. Johnson, the landlady, smoothed her wrinkled brow a bit as she looked at Virginia’s glowing eyes. The son of the house ceased his growling and with diffident awkwardness pulled out her chair. John Mills, who was traveling agent for a firm which made agricultural implements, smiled at her in friendly greeting. He was little and wizened and old, but he looked like a demi-god to the girl as there flashed into her mind the possibility of the help he could give her.

She began an eager conversation with him. Her interest and attention stimulated old Mills far more than the sweet cider which had been served as the crowning, Bacchanalian touch to the holiday feast. By the time coffee was poured, he was gallantly cracking nuts for Virginia while she plied him with questions. To his clear-headed comments on business and the improvement in machinery, he added little stories with humanity put in and dollars left out.

“I’ll give you a catalogue of our goods which is only offered to the trade, if you’d care to have it,” he proffered timidly.

Would she! One of her letters was to be sent to farmer friends in Maine. With the help of the catalogue she could not only indite an epistle which would make them open their eyes wide, but she could illustrate it with cuts of up-to-date tools and equipment.

Even with the shops blazing with Christmas temptations which she had no money to buy, there were no depressed moments for Virginia. She did her six hours of regular work every day, then sallied forth for material for her letters. There were to be thirty of them. To give them the vivid impress of actuality, she visited art galleries; she extravaganly indulged in a few postcards of the most famous paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts to use as illustrations; she scanned the papers for notices of folk handiwork; she, who had hated and feared going out alone in the evening, now attended free lectures, heard noted men and women speak, and squeezed her way through crowds. She looked for color, drama, beauty. She searched for human variety.

She visited Franklin Park and spent hours in the aviary before the great cage, in which all sorts of bipeds with hideous, unpronounceable names danced and skipped and fluttered and flew in hysterical-winged abandon. She made crude sketches of these lively creatures for she intended to write a most wonderful story for Tom’s kiddies. She fed the bears; she studied the elephants; no thing was too unimportant for her eager eyes to see, her active brain to utilize and her unskilled pencil to sketch.

She wrote her letters in the evenings, and as the holidays approached, the pile of plump, white envelopes with their Christmas seals increased. Her Christmas ships, she called them. Well freighted with love and her best thought, they would set sail from her room, the only home she had. Would they all reach port, she wondered. Would there be ships sent in return? Perhaps some might founder by the way.

Well freighted with love and best thought

Thirty! Should she make the number thirty-one and write to Geoff? She had read in the papers that he was abroad, but she could send the letter to his club and it would be forwarded. She had vowed that she would write to all her friends; surely Geoffrey was her friend.

She left his letter till the last and wrote it after she had written to Jane. To her, in a happy, humorous way, she recounted her experiences, frankly acknowledging that she had been waiting for some measure of success to report, before writing. Then added whimsically, “But Fame has had a crowded year and has simply replied, ‘Line busy!’ when I have tried to make connection. So Janey, I am hungering for a word from you. Do write.”

To Geoffrey Sewall she wrote:

“I am writing to all my friends this Christmas. I send this little ship to you. It is loaded high with good wishes, and the sails which carry it are the remembrances of the many, many happy hours we have spent together.” “Virginia Carter”

On Christmas Eve, John Mills and the girl attended service. It was a perfect night. The air was clear and as the two comrades started for church, a light snow began to fall. The windows in the houses which they passed were brilliant with row upon row of lighted candles; garlands of green adorned the iron grilles at the doorways. On a street corner a cart stood. It was piled high with carrots and apples mixed with meal. The man in charge was feeding a pair of great draught horses which had just drawn a heavy load up a hill. Then he gave their driver a hot drink from a tank which contained coffee. Evidently, some one or ones had elected that both man and beast should be cheered and fed this Christmas Eve.

A fire-engine, belching flame and smoke, swept by. At one of the windows of a great house, a curtain was pulled hastily aside and for a moment Virginia glimpsed a party of merry-faced young girls in dainty frocks, seated at an exquisitely appointed table with a stately butler in attendance; then the curtain fell and shut in the luminous warmth and luxury of the picture. The girl felt a tightening of the throat but she turned resolutely to her companion:

“These street scenes are equal in picturesqueness to any one might see abroad. If the persons who are so snugly ensconced indoors tonight were in a strange city, they would fare forth for color and adventure,” she said gayly.

“It costs nothing to see this,” replied John Mills sagely, “therefore they have not discovered it.”

The church was crowded when they entered, but they found seats in a remote alcove. The Processional hymn raised Virginia’s spirit high above the disappointments of the past; the Star of Bethlehem glowed significant and real as the rich, male voices sang softly and thrillingly:

"Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King.
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing."

When Virginia and her companion left the church, the snow still fell with feathery softness. It lay like diamond dust on men’s shoulders, it transformed rusty iron fences into glittering marble. Candles gleamed and flickered in wreathed windows; within the houses, shadowy groups stood looking out. From the distance came the voices of singers; nearer they drew and nearer, then, with one accord the waiting people surged in the direction of the sound.

Candles gleamed and fllickered

The girl and old Mills followed them, followed them to the Square to where they paused under the windows of a convent. Gentle-faced, white-capped sisters smiled a Christmas greeting to the crowd. On they went to the jail before which the singers carolled their message of celestial choirs and answering hills of Palestine.

“A happy Christmas! A happy Christmas!” sounded everywhere. As Virginia and her escort made their way homeward, across the Common, past the mammoth tree with its gleaming red and green lights, a strain from the Hill above floated down to them:

"Bright on Bethlehem's joyous plains
Breaks the first Christmas morn."

An excited, disheveled Melinda greeted them when they entered the door of the boarding-house. “Here’s a package for you, Miss Virginia. I’ll bet it ain’t no return this time!” she whispered in a hoarse undertone which might have been guaranteed to rouse the Seven Sleepers.

A wonderful, white world

Virginia glanced at the wonderful white world without before she closed the hall door, then looked at the box which Melinda was holding in her arms. With a cry of excitement, she stripped off her gloves and opened it. John Mills looked on in sympathetic eagerness. The gray kitten, perched on the newel post, watched through glinting, green, speculative eyes.

When Virginia removed the cover there were suppressed exclamations of delight. Roses lay revealed, great fragrant crimson roses on long, green, satiny leaved stems. As the girl lifted them, the air about seemed to quiver and pulsate with their beauty and their fragrance and their color.

She buried her face in them for a moment, then searched in the box for a card. There was none to be found. “Where did they come from? When did they come?” she asked in an excited whisper.

“A boy brought ’em at about ten o’clock. He said thet they’d been telegraphed from New York. He must have taken me fer a bonehead ter think he could make me believe that them flowers came over a wire,” sniffed Melinda belligerently.

“He meant that the order for them was telegraphed,” laughed Virginia happily. “New York,” she repeated, in a puzzled tone, then her eyes grew radiant. “Why it must have been Jane! Oh, Jane, you dear!” With a sob she hid her face in the flowers.

Melinda brought the vases the house afforded and the two arranged the roses. Virginia stood them about the dingy living-room or parlor, as it was known in the house.

“They give an air of riotous, exotic grandeur to these halls!” She waved her hands with a theatrical flourish. Her cheeks were almost the color of the flowers, her eyes shone like stars.

An air of riotous, exotic grandeur!

“Well perhaps, Miss,” said Melinda doubtfully, “I don’t know jest what you mean, but I get yer drift. them posies will be wishin’ everyone a Merry Christmas in the morning an’ no mistake.”

Virginia drew the stem of a half open bud through the buttonhole of John Mills’s coat. “Good-night,” she said, “I’ve had a wonderful Christmas Eve, thanks to you.”

He patted her hand tenderly. “Good night, Miss Virginia. You’ve made me very happy. These flowers must be the return of one of your ships. May many more come to port heavily laden.” He waited till she nodded at him from the hall above, then drew a chair before the glowing coals in the Franklin stove in the parlor and lighted his pipe. The fragrance of the roses stirred sleeping memories and he relived his youth.

“Miss Virginia! Miss Virginia!

Virginia sensed the call in her dream. She opened drowsy eyes. The room was quite dark. She heard gentle knocking, then Melinda’s voice.

“Miss Virginia! It’s a half past seven an’ there’s a sea captain down stairs what says he must see you an’ see you quick!”

“A what?” Virginia sprang out of bed, slipped into a kimono and turned on the light. She opened the door and Melinda entered.

“A sea captain to see me?” she asked in doubting amazement.

“Yes, miss!” Melinda’s eyes were bulging and she fairly gulped in her excitement. “The bell rang five minutes ago. When I went to the door, there stood a tall man with a queer, shiny look in his eyes. He asked fer you, Miss, an’ when I asked his name, he said, ‘Tell her thet the captain of a ship is down stairs an’ wants her to hurry.”

Incredulity, hope flamed in Virginia’s eyes. “Help me, will you ‘Linda?” was all the answer she made.

“Where is this–this captain?” she asked as she fastened her blouse.

“I put him in the parlor, but he was thet restless thet he jest follered me into the hall. Say, but he’s a good looker, miss! He’s as handsome as a movie actor.”

With the consciousness that at the imminent risk of breaking her neck, Melinda was hanging over the upper hall balustrade, Virginia ran lightly down the stairs. In the middle of the last flight she stopped. A man stood in the hall looking up at her. The force of his personality set her pulses hammering. She put her hand to her heart as she looked into his bronzed face and read the passionate question in his eyes.

“Oh,” she ejaculated, “Oh!” Even in the midst of her agitation she was sub-consciously likening her explamations to reports from a machine gun. She slowly covered the distance between herself and her visitor.

“I thought you were abroad, Geoff,” she stammered as he seized her hands and drew her into the room.

“But you received my roses?” he looked about at the masses of crimson fragrance, “I found your note at the club last night. I only returned to this country yesterday. I saw Jane. The ship you sent her had just reached port. I took the midnight train over and I have engaged seats for our return on the ten o’clock.”

Our return?” echoed the girl. She looked up at him for a moment, then turned away, the light in his eyes confused her and made her breath catch in her throat.

“We are to take our Christmas dinner with Jane,” he explained. “I have a note in my pocket from her. You’re not to have it until you’re on the train. I’m captain of this ship!” he laughed with buoyant happiness. “You’ll have to put up with it. I’ve been starving, starving for a sight of you and now that I’ve found you–” he bent his head to her hands and kissed them passionately, “Have you had your breakfast?” he asked quickly.

“Breakfast?” Virginia attempted a flouting tone, but her voice broke and betrayed her. “Why, I was not awake when Melinda brought your message.”

“Then pack your bag and we’ll go to breakfast together. Hurry, dear!” he pleaded.

In dazed, incredulous happiness Virginia mounted the stairs. Once she turned and smiled down upon him. She couldn’t reason, she only knew that for her there would be no more loneliness, nor bitterness, nor fear. She called Melinda to help her and as one in a dream packed her bag and arranged her hat and veil.

She scribbled a note for her landlady. “Tell them all, every one, that I wish them a Merry Christmas,” she said with trembling lips. “I am going to a very dear friend in New York. I’ll leave the roses as a greeting.”

She gave a last look about her room and went slowly down the stairs. Sewall was in earnest conversation with Mrs. Johnson. The girl colored adorably as the woman looked at her. The latter’s worn face brightened.

“I hear you’re goin’ off for Christmas, Miss Carter,” she said. “We shall miss you. You see, sir, she and her ships have kept us all interested and happy this year.”

In the stress of her emotion Virginia threw her arms around her neck. “I shall be back soon, Mrs. Johnson,” she whispered.

“Will you?” The woman looked at the dark head so near her white one. She glanced quizzically up into the man’s gray eyes, “Will you?” she repeated again, then she smiled as she added softly, “Well, perhaps.”

Sewall had helped Virginia into the waiting taxi and was about to follow when breathless Melinda thrust a letter into his hand.

“It’s for her,” she jerked out, “It come last night but I was so crazy over them roses that I forgot to give it to her.”

As the cab started, Virginia tore open the envelope. She gave a little shout of joy. “Listen,” she said, then read:

Miss Virginia Carter.
My Dear Miss Carter:
"We take pleasure in sending you a check for fifty dollars, in payment for your story "The White Crane Learns the Hesitation." It is written with a richness of imagination which will make us glad to see more of your work.
Yours truly, etc."

The girl looked up with glowing eyes. She waved letter and check in glee. “Do you see that, Geoff? That is from a story I wrote from material collected for my Christmas ships. What a cargo they have brought!” She turned to the letter again, “There’s an editor with imagination! He must have planned for me to get that check on Christmas day. I could hug him!”

Strong arms took forcible, dominant possession of her.

“You haven’t a moment to waste on an editor,” said a voice close to her lips.

Happy Landings, everyone!

12 thoughts on ““Her Christmas Ships” by Emilie Loring

  1. This is a sweet story with a joyous ending. It seems so melancholy for a while. I do like that each ship was tailored to the recipient. That is a very meaningful gift. I am glad she is no longer alone, but she really was not alone before, and she saw that too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed the story. After my husband’s death in 2019 I quit celebrating holidays. At 75, decorating is too difficult for me. Yet, I must admit that sometimes I miss the old days. Christ Jesus is the reason for the season and He is my true joy. I will always have Christmas joy in my heart because I have asked Jesus to be my Lord and Saviour.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I’ve been saying I think every other year would be enough Christmas for me — and debating whether writing a Christmas letter even makes sense for 2022. But i think I should reconsider after reading this. thanks Patti and Emilie!

    Liked by 1 person

Please write your comment here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s