I thought you all might enjoy reading this new Ted, Fred, Larry & Jim story that I just finished. If you aren't familiar with those four lads, you should get a copy of my book "Home Fires of the Great War" and enjoy the other stories. And whether or not you have read other adventures of Ted, Fred, Larry & Jim, I hope you enjoy this one.
P. S. This story is nearly 3 parts long, but I'm letting you read it all at once.
Ted, Fred, Larry & Jim Play Father Christmas
The time is day before Christmas.
The ages of the boys are:
Ted - nearly 10
Fred - almost 9
Larry - 7
Jim - 6
Their younger sister Margaret was a year old.
The hay in the stable loft rustled as Larry shifted in his seat and crossed his legs. It was warmer in the stable than outside, and he was glad Ted had said they should all meet in the loft. Now if only Ted and Fred would quit whispering to each other and tell him and Jim what they were going to do . . .
“You know that new family that moved?” Ted spoke, interrupting Larry’s thoughts. When his brothers nodded, he added, “They don’t have much.”
“How do you know?” Larry asked.
“‘Cause we saw them arrive,” Fred explained. “And the carriage wasn’t nice and there was only one light in the house when it was dark and there’s only a little wood in the shed.”
“‘Sides,” Ted added, “there wasn’t any trunks, so they can’t have much.”
“They’ll get more when Father Christmas stops by tomorrow,” six-year-old Jim piped up.
‘Jim, “ Fred sighed, “there is no real Father Christmas. Don’t you know that?”
For a moment Jim looked dumbfounded and stared at each of his older brothers in silence. At last he found his voice, “But who brings our gifts?”
“Mama and Papa do,” Ted informed him. “Everyone who’s big knows that.”
Jim looked ready to argue the point of being considered “big,” but Larry, who was only seven, stopped his words.
“That’s all right, Jim,” Larry consoled. “I didn’t know that about Father Christmas when I was your age either.” He neglected to mention the fact that up until that very moment, he had been as sure as his little brother that there must be a Father Christmas.
“But get back to the family,” Ted pulled off one glove and picked up a piece of hay to chew on. “They need help.”
“Why?” Larry was really puzzled by the interest shown in the family.
“‘Cause they don’t have warm clothes or anything,” Fred pointed out. “Not even hay for the baby to sleep in.”
Jim’s eyes grew as large as saucers. If they were that poor, than they must be poorer than Mary and Joseph!
“How do you know there’s a baby?” Larry wanted to know. He wasn’t sure he approved of the idea that Ted and Fred had discovered all about the new family without him and Jim.
Ted sighed. “Larry, ‘course they got a baby. The lady was holding something under her cloak. Now what’re we going to do?”
“Why don’t we play Father Christmas to them?” Fred suggested.
“How?” Ted asked around the piece of straw in his mouth.
“Couldn’t we give them some things?” Larry wanted to know.
Larry tried to scratch his head as he had seen his father do when he was thinking, but found it difficult with his mittens on. “Maybe things we don’t need.”
“I’ve got an extra handkerchief,” Jim suggested.
“And I’ve got more shirts than I need,” Fred decided quickly. “And Papa got a new coat this winter and he still has his old one.”
“Should we ask Mama and Papa?” Larry wondered.
Ted frowned. “They’re gone visiting, won’t be back for hours. Then it’d be too late. They won’t care. Give things away themselves.” The oldest of “those Foster boys,” as the villagers called them, never cared much for proper grammar and often left out “unnecessary” words when just with his brothers.
With that the brothers quickly climbed down from their warm nest in the loft and hurried out into the bitter winter afternoon. Dashing to the house, they burst in and began to pull off their coats and boots, eager to see what they could find to give away.
“I got some old socks,” Larry shouted, waving a pair above his head. “‘Course they have holes.”
“No,” Fred objected at once. “These things have to be nice. Something that you would like to get.”
Jim and Larry frowned. They didn’t want to get just clothes for Christmas. Perhaps they should add some other things.
Before long the four lads had quite a collections of items gathered: Fred’s new shoes (“My old ones are comfortabler,” he said.), Larry and Jim’s best Sunday shirts, Jim’s handkerchief, Ted’s only Sunday knickers that didn’t have any stain on them, Papa’s older coat (He was wearing his new one.), a dress of Mama’s that the boys were sure she never wore, one of baby Maggie’s dresses and a bonnet, two dull looking books from the shelves and some food from the pantry.
Proudly they surveyed the items spread out on the chairs. “Should have stockings though,” Ted muttered.
Instantly Fred, Larry and Jim raced back to their rooms and returned moments later with two pairs of socks. “These don’t have holes,” Larry announced. “They weren’t mine.”
“Think we should add some wood, Ted? They might not have any to cook that goose on.”
“You and me’ll carry some,” Ted directed. “First have to make a bundle.”
It required some debating before a tablecloth was settled upon as the wrappings for their Christmas bundle. With great care, the bundle was tied with string and then came the difficult part of loading the bundle onto the sled. But at last they succeeded, and with Larry and Jim pulling the sled and Ted and Fred carrying the wood, they set off on their first experience of playing Father Christmas.
“Now, we don’t want to be seen,” Ted had instructed, pointing the way to the grove of trees. “We’ll go back lots.”
It was quite a chore for the two youngest Foster boys to drag the heavily loaded sled to the edge of town where the new family had moved, but at last they reached the woods where they could see the front of the house.
Exhausted, Larry dropped the rope of the sled and sank down into the snow. Once he caught his breath, he whispered, “How’re we going to get these things to the house without them seeing us?”
Ted didn’t have an answer ready. That part of the plan hadn’t crossed his mind.
“We could stack the wood on the porch with that little bit they’ve got,” Fred suggested softly. “Then we could . . .” He wasn’t sure how to get the large bundle up onto the porch since it had taken all four of them much effort just to get it onto the sled.
Just then Jim spied a tall figure striding across a nearby field. “We could have Ben carry the bundle!” Eagerly he pointed to the approaching figure.
Seeing a solution to their problem, the Foster boys waved and beckoned until Ben saw them and turned his steps in their direction. Ben was considered nearly grown up by the four boys, him being nearly fifteen.
Ben, on his part, was often much amused by the creative youngsters and wondered where they got their ideas. As he approached the boys he called out, “What’s up, laddies?”
Ted quickly explained the situation and, though he struggled to keep a straight face, Ben agreed to carry the bundle and put it on the porch.
“Should I knock after I put it down?” he inquired.
Ted, Fred, Larry and Jim shook their heads. “No,” Fred explained. “You’re not playing Father Christmas and if they saw you, they would think you had brought the things.”
Swallowing down his laughter, Ben hoisted the parcel from the sled and quietly carried it across the yard and gently placed it on the porch. He couldn’t help but wonder what was in it, but he didn’t dare to ask for he was afraid of laughing.
When he again reached the boys in the shelter of the trees, he said, “You lads had better be getting home now or it will be dark.”
“I can’t walk home,” Jim sighed from where he had sunk down onto the sled.
“Me either,” Larry echoed.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” Ben offered. “You pile on the sled and I’ll pull you all home.” His offer was instantly accepted, and moments later the sled was skimming across the snowy streets directly to the Foster home.
“Darling,” Mrs. Foster addressed her husband from the kitchen. “Have you seen the white linen tablecloth I ironed this morning? I can’t seem to find it.”
Mr. Foster shook his head. “I thought I saw it earlier, but perhaps I saw something else and you never got it out.”
Mrs. Foster sighed. She was sure she had gotten it out and ironed it. “If those boys have gone and used it for a fort or anything like that . . .” she didn’t finish her threat, but with a shake of her head, she returned to the kitchen.
Moments later four red cheeked boys came stamping into the warm kitchen, laughing and shaking snow from their coats. In the flurry of setting the table and seeing that her sons were presentable for the table, Mrs. Foster didn’t think to ask about the missing tablecloth.
Dinner was nearly over when Mr. Foster, who had been eyeing the bookshelves in a puzzled manner asked, “Boys, have you been playing with the books?”
“No, Papa,” came a chorus from around the table.
“Is something wrong with them, Dear?” Mrs. Foster asked.
“Something appears different, but I don’t know what. Perhaps I’m imagining things.”
Later, as the boys got themselves dressed and ready for the Christmas Eve service, they didn’t talk as much as usual; they were listening to the low tones from the other room and beginning to wonder if Mama would notice what they were wearing. She did.
“Frederick!” Mrs. Foster exclaimed, “put on your new shoes, Dear, and hurry.” Then she turned to inspect her other three sons. “Why, Theodore, those knickers have a stain on them and Lawrence, James, where are your new shirts?”
“They aren’t in our room,” Larry piped up.
Mrs. Foster sighed. Many things seemed to be misplaced this evening, but she didn’t have time to search. “Well, put your coats on,” she instructed, pulling her own wrap about her and bending over the cradle to pick up the baby. “We’ll look for them after we get home. No one is likely to notice tonight in the dark. But,” she murmured, “I can’t think what has become of them. Or of my new dress either.”
Coming home in time for supper, Elizabeth, Charles and David Burton blinked in astonishment at the sight of a large bundle lying on their front porch.
“Now where did that come from?” Charles asked.
His brother and sister shook their heads, but before they could answer another boy came around the house and jumped lightly to the porch.
“Oh, hello Ben,” Charles held out his hand to the lad. “This is my brother David and sister Elizabeth.”
“Pleased to meet you both,” Ben smiled and nodded. “I figured someone would be wondering about that bundle, so I thought I’d wait around.”
David, home from college for the holidays, looked interested. “What do you know about it?”
“Only that I was assigned to set it there by the Foster boys. I couldn’t even begin to guess what was in it though.”
“Foster boys? Aren’t they the lads you were telling me about yesterday? The ones who had the whole village out looking for them when they decided to play pirates on the island?” Charles was nudging the bundle with the toe of his boot.
“The same. But I should head home or I’ll be late for supper.” He jumped off the porch. “See you tonight at the Christmas Eve service!” With a merry wave, he was gone.
“Well,” Elizabeth smiled, “now I’m longing to see what’s inside. Let’s take it in and open it. Mother and Father will want to see it too, I’m sure.”
The bundle was carried inside and opened amid peals of laughter. Mr. Burton laughed so hard that soon tears were running down his cheeks as he saw the knickers and shirts and heard his sons’ comical remarks about trying them on.
Elizabeth wondered if she had an old doll around in a trunk somewhere since she was too big for the baby dress.
“These books must belong to a set,” Mr. Burton chuckled, turning the books over in his hands. “Here we have Volume 2 and Volume 5. I wonder why they didn’t send the entire set.”
“Really, Dear,” Mrs. Burton said with a shake of her head, “we should return these as soon as possible. This is a very fine linen table cloth and I don’t believe this dress has even been worn.”
“Not to mention their Christmas goose,” David put in with a chuckle. “It may be wanted tomorrow.”
Mr. Burton looked about the room at the strange assortment of items from the bundle. “If I knew who their father was and where they lived, I’d take the things right straight back; however, since I don’t, I will have to wait until I can speak to the parson after service tonight.”
“That’s a good idea, Papa,” Elizabeth nodded. “Perhaps the Fosters will even been at the service and we can catch a glimpse of our unexpected Father Christmas.”
“I think that would be our four Father Christmases, Sis,” Charles grinned.
The walk home from church that frosty Christmas Eve night was a quiet one for the Fosters. Larry wondered who the man was that had stopped his father and talked to him for several minutes after the service. And why Ben had been talking to those strangers and everyone had looked in their direction.
Arriving home, instead of being sent directly to bed as they expected, the four Foster boys were called over to their father’s armchair. Papa was quiet for several minutes, staring at the fire dancing in the fireplace. At last he spoke. “What were you four boys doing this afternoon while Mama and I were away?”
“Playing,” Ted spoke up quickly.
“What were you playing?” inquired Papa gently.
“We were playing Father Christmas,” little Jim answered eagerly. “And it was such great fun.”
“Yes, Papa,” Larry added. “It was hard work pulling the sleigh, but Ben pulled us home again.”
“I see.” Mr. Foster ran a hand over his face. “And how did you play this new game, Ted?”
“We were just trying to help the new family,” Ted replied.
“Yes, Papa,” Larry leaned against his father’s knee to say, “they are poor and we had to share with them.”
“Your new shoes, Fred? And your knickers, Ted?”
“But Papa,” Jim explained eagerly, “they had to be nice things to give away, ‘cause we wouldn’t give things that weren’t nice to the baby Jesus, so we had to give nice things when we played Father Christmas.”
“I see,” Papa said again. Then he drew his two youngest sons to him and said, looking tenderly at each one, “You wanted to help someone and thought giving away your things was the best thing to do?” Four heads nodded and Mr. Foster went on. “I am very glad you want to help others and are even willing to give up your Christmas goose, but boys, those things were not yours to give. You can’t give things away to others when the things are not yours to give in the first place.”
“But you weren’t here to ask,” Fred mumbled, his head down.
Gently Papa reached out and tipped up his chin. “Did you stop to think what we might have said had we been home, or thought of waiting until we returned?”
Soberly Fred shook his head.
“Ted, you are the oldest,” and Papa motioned him a little closer. “You must learn to think before you do something. Do you even know the family you gave the things to?”
It was Ted’s turn to shake his head.
“I thought not. They are not poor, by any means, and their youngest son is fourteen. A little too big for your clothes, don’t you think?” And Papa smiled. “Now, I will overlook it this time, but remember all of you, never give something away that is not truly yours to give, without first asking. All right?”
Mr. Foster pulled his sons close in a strong embrace. Looking over their heads at his wife, he smiled and, after the four boys had been sent to bed, he said quietly, “Their hearts are in the right place.”
Later that evening, when all the boys were in bed and most were asleep, Larry heard a knock on the door and then the low, deep tones of men talking. Straining his ears, he thought he heard Papa say something about Father Christmas. Quietly slipping from his warm bed, he tiptoed across the cold floor to the bedroom door and peeked through the keyhole. He couldn’t see much, but there was someone else in the room besides Papa and it wasn’t Mama. Then he saw a gloved hand set a wrapped packaged down on a chair. That was enough for Larry. Quickly he scampered back to bed. “I knew there was a Father Christmas,” he whispered to himself with a satisfied sigh.