This story takes place around the time of A Knock at the Shop’s Door. The link is listed below in the Temperance Stories.
Bobby Johnston lived with his parents Bulford and Maggie in a small shack by the river in Ballard Town. Bulford worked in the coal mines of the Ballard Family of Temperance.
The river served as a natural transportation avenue for the black gold from the earth. The more coal the miners like Bulford dug the happier the Ballard Family became.
Alasdair and Marley Ballard, sons of George, enjoyed watching the coal barges on their way down the river. The one thing that made these men happy was counting the cash from their enterprises.
Bulford had worked for the Ballard Mining Company for ten years and never missed a day. Sickness could not keep him from the mines.
Like most mining operations, the miners lived in the company town near the mines. Their pay was in company script which was only redeemable at the Ballard Store. Each worker received three buckets of coal each week. More could be bought at the store during winter months.
Alasdair, unlike his brother Marley, was a bit less like Scrooge. Several years before he had instituted a Christmas bonus for those men who never missed a day of work. The work week was six days long.
These fortunate workers received thirty dollars in cash which could be spent in Temperance. In addition each of these men received two fruitcakes from August Wiederman’s Collin Street Bakery. The fruitcakes would arrive from Texas by train car on December 23.
Bobby attended the mining school for the children since the school in Temperance was up the river and quite a trek on foot. Miss Tilly, the school mistress, saw in Bobby a bright, inquisitive mind, eager to learn with a thirst for knowledge.
Maggie, his mother, kept herself busy by doing laundry for the single men and providing food for them. Some weeks she earned more than her husband. She was a very prudent woman, taking pride in her care of her place of residence.
Unlike many of the shacks in the community, Maggie had made sure broken windows were replaced, even though they were very costly at the company store. The reason so many of the humble dwellings had broken windows on Christmas and all the other days of the year was the cost of glass.
Many believed it was another way the Ballards milked them dry since the price of coal rose in winter and keeping a place warm with broken windows required a lot of coal. It was a typical Ballard economy model of business.
Alasdair Ballard would close the mine at 5 on December 23 and would keep it closed until January 3. The bonus for the perfect attendance workers was distributed on December 23 with the fruitcakes.
All this distribution was handled by Henry Swicegood, Alasdair’s trusted and able foreman, as the men came by the office. Naturally, there was some resentment among those men who did not qualify for the Christmas bonus and fruitcakes.
When Bulford came by the office for his bonus and fruitcakes, Henry had a surprise for him. Alasdair was in his office and wanted to see him.
This shocked Bulford because Alasdair rarely had conversations with the men. Henry was the one they interacted with.
Going into the inner office, Bulford was definitely nervous and concerned. Each December 24 some men were dismissed from the mining operation and sent packing by the guards.
It was called the Ballard’s Lump of Coal maneuver. Based on the old story of lumps of coals placed in naughty children’s stocks by Santa, this dismissal was as real as the cold mountain winds.
“Have a seat, Mister Johnston.”
Bulford looked at the vermilion velvet chairs and looked down his front at the coal dust clinging to his overalls. Clearing his throat, he replied, “Sir, my clothes are too dirty to sit in your fine chairs.”
Alasdair gave him a quick once over. “I never cared for these red velvet chairs that my older sister chose. Please sit.”
Sitting down, Bulford was impressed how comfortable the chair felt. Regal comfort at a quality price.
“Mister Johnston, you have worked for my company for ten years and have not missed a day of work. To be blunt, I am impressed. In addition, Mister Swicegood said that you are one of the best coal miners that he has ever seen in his twenty-five years.”
Bulford sat stunned. He did not know what to say. This was not the Alasdair Ballard that the men whispered about as being the spawn of the devil.
“Also he said that you were humble which I can see for myself.”
Stuttering, he said, “I try my best, Sir.”
“I wish we had a hundred men like you in these mines, and I appreciate your loyalty.”
“Loyalty?” Bulford wondered what he meant.
“I see that you are puzzled by my statement. Let’s me explain—Edwin Murdstone.”
“He’s a difficult man, Sir.”
“I appreciate you attempting to temper his rhetoric about unionizing the mine. I am sure that you have heard that when mines are unionized men lose their jobs and their families are out in the cold.”
“I understand that Karl Rector and Phil Cagle are just as enamored with this union nonsense as Murdstone.”
“Unfortunately, they are, Sir. I have attempted to reason with them, but they are hell-bent on this course of action.”
“Hell-bent is an appropriate choice of word for this, Mister Johnston.”
They talked for another twenty minutes. Finally, Alasdair said,
“Well, the day draws near to a close. I am sure that you want to get to your family for supper and plan for that shopping trip tomorrow to Temperance.”
“Need to buy a few things for Maggie and Bobby for Christmas.”
“Mister Johnston, I have been thinking about your wife and son. She is a real inspiration in the camp and a moral boaster by what she does. I appreciate that.”
“Thank you, Sir. I will tell her.”
“Tomorrow when you go to Temperance have her go to Miss Esther Havisham’s Boutique and pick out two dresses and other accessories. It’s my Christmas present to her. Miss Esther will be expecting her.”
“I don’t know what to say, Sir.”
“There’s nothing to say, Mister Johnston. I understand Miss Esther has just received some exquisite dresses from Madeleine Vionnet’s shop in New York City. Get there early before my sisters do.”
“And, Miss Tilly says that your son is her best pupil, being an especially good writer at the age of ten. Drop by Hall’s Five and Dime and get the boy as much writing materials that he wants—no limit. It’s my treat for him being such a studious young man. Mister Hall has been informed.”
“Thank you. Merry Christmas to you and your family.”
“Merry Christmas, Mister Johnston. Oh! I almost forgot.” Pulling a brown envelope from his coat pocket and handed it to Bulford. “A well-deserved bonus.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Leaving the office, he wished Swicegood a Merry Christmas and headed home. Swicegood entered Alasdair’s office.
“A very good man there, Henry. We could use more of his kind.”
“Have these three chairs delivered to the Johnston Family on Christmas morning. I am weary of looking at them.”
“My sister! She can go to blazes if she finds out, but in case she asks, they were tarnished by too much coal soot,” he laughed.
“I decided to wait until tomorrow at sunset to have the union trinity booted from the camp. It should be a nice Christmas Eve surprise for Murdstone, Rector and Cagle. Give the guards an additional five dollars for their troubles.”
“Doc Carr says that Rector’s daughter has pneumonia.” Henry said with a note of sadness.
Alasdair raised his right eyebrow. “Well, you know what they say: the night air is good for you. He should have thought about his family before joining with the riffraff unionizers.”
When Buford arrived home, he shared the good news with Maggie. He handed her his bonus since she took care of the money.
Opening the envelope, she gasped.
“What is it?”
“There’s 120 dollars here. This must be a mistake.”
“It must be.” Taking the envelope and his coat, he headed back to the office.
Henry had left, and Alasdair was just leaving when he saw Bulford coming.
“Sir, there’s mistake in my bonus. It’s four times the amount.”
Alasdair smiled, “No mistake, Mister Johnston. $120.00 was the correct amount.”
After a few seconds of being stunned, Bulford uttered, “Thank you, Sir.”
“Merry Christmas.” Alasdair said.
Bulford turned and went down the road. Alasdair watched until he disappeared. “An honest man,” he said. “I will put him to good use in the year to come. Need to weed out the unionizers. Small price to pay for loyalty. “
My Christmas Wish for you:
Merry Christmas! God bless you everyone!
May this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day find you blessed with generosity of spirit. May you live Christmas well by sharing your gold and myrrh and frankincense.
May your Christmas gift come when your time is right. May you have a joyful Christmas! Live Christmas well.
G. D. Williams © 2015
Professor Phillips Comes For A Christmas Visit: A Short Story
The Attic’s Secret: A Christmas Short Story
Mrs. Thompson’s Missing Rhubarb Pie: A Short Story
A Knock at the Shop’s Door: A Christmas Eve Short Story
The Christmas Gift—A Short Story