The Poor: A Christmas Story
“ ... So if there are fairies,” said Richard, “why should n’t there be a Santa Claus? It’s no harder to be Santa Claus than fairies.”
“ But there are not truly fairies,” Evelyn protested.
“ You can’t be sure,” said the boy. “Ellen has seen them in Ireland; and Olsen, one of the sailors on the yacht, has seen them in Norway; and last summer one of our half-breeds at the camp told me that he had seen wood-fairies and a loup-garou.”
“ What is that ? ”
“I could not make out ’xactly, because this packer, Réné, spoke such funny French, quite different from ours. I think it was some very dangerous animal that you could n’t kill, no matter how much you shot it. But I believe in fairies most because Uncle Dick told me so, and he never tells lies to amuse children.”
“ Do you s’pose that he would tell us about them now? ” asked the little girl wistfully.
“ I don’t know,” said Richard. “Chundra Khan told me that he was feeling very ill. This blizzard brings out your fever when you’ve lived for a long time in India.”
Evelyn walked to the window and pressed her face against the glass. In the garden below, the fine powdery snow was swirling in beautiful curving drifts across the paths and around the strawed shrubs and big marble urns. One could dimly see the gray outlines of the stable and garage.
“ It is very dull for Christmas Eve,” said Evelyn.
Richard looked up from the wonderful cathedral which he was building on the floor. At the same moment there came into the room a pretty French governess, who threw up her hands at sight of his edifice.
“ Oh, lala la ! ” she cried. “ Que tu es habile, chéri ! But Chundra Khan has come to ask if you would not like to go and see his master?”
“ Good! ” cried Richard, springing to his feet. “ Come on, Evelyn; perhaps he will tell us about the fairies.”
The two children hurried from the play-room, down the heavily carpeted hall and broad marble stairway, through an antechamber, to one of the guest suites of the palatial house. Outside the door was a very tall Hindu with an ascetic, benevolent face beneath a snowy turban.
“Good afternoon, Chundra Khan,” said Richard.
“ Hazrat salamat,” said the man, with a kindly smile and the salutation of his caste. He opened the door, and the children entered a cheerful morning-room where a big-framed man with a gaunt, swarthy face was resting on a chaiselongue.
“ How do you do, my dears,” he said, in a deep voice.
The two children greeted him politely. “ We were just talking of you, Uncle Dick,” said Richard. “ I was telling Evelyn that you said that there were fairies.”
“ Yes,” said Uncle Dick, “ that is true. There are fairies.”
Richard glanced triumphantly at the little girl, who did not appear to be convinced. Uncle Dick, watching them both from under his bushy eyebrows, looked for a moment intently at the boy, then turned to his servant.
“ Get the ball,” he said in Hindustani. Chundra Khan slipped from the room and returned immediately with some object wrapped in a black scarf. At a nod from his master he drew up a tabourette and placed upon it a little hollowed cup of ebony in which there rested a crystal globe the size of a tennis-ball.
“ Look into this ball, my dears,” said Uncle Dick, “ and you will see a fairy picture.”
Chundra Khan stepped softly to the window and lowered the dark shade. The luminous shadows deepened in the glowing heart of the crystal sphere. The children leaned forward, gazing into its depths. They had looked but a few moments when Richard’s eyes suddenly lightened and he pushed his face nearer to the globe.
“ How pretty,” he said. “ Do you see them, Evelyn ? ”
“See what?” asked the little girl.
“ A lot of brown people bathing in a river. There are flights and flights of wide steps, and the people keep going up and down. Most of them have turbans like Chundra Khan. How thin they are — ”
“ Benares, perhaps,” muttered Uncle Dick, and Chundra Khan nodded with his kindly smile.
“I don’t see a thing ! ” said Evelyn sharply. She pushed Richard’s head aside with her own, and the boy readily gave her his place.
“Now it’s gone,” he said. “No, here it comes again — No, it’s something else — how pretty! —it’s all green —trees, trees, trees, all blowing in the wind, with blue sky behind, and big white, fluffy clouds —Why, there’s a waterfall — it’s getting more clear, and the spray makes a rainbow — Look, Evelyn — ” he drew back his head.
“ Where ?” cried the little girl. “I can’t see a thing;” her voice was petulant. “ Where do you look ? ”
But Richard was staring fixedly at something across the room.
“ What do you see, my boy? ” asked his uncle who was watching him intently.
“It’s very odd. I thought I saw Chundra Khan pointing out the window, but there is Chundra Khan behind you. Or, perhaps, it was n’t Chundra Khan; but I am sure there was somebody.” He looked into the globe.
Uncle Dick glanced at the Hindu.
“ Apparently the lad can see for himself,” he said in Hindustani. “ Did you make him a telescope ? ”
“ There was no need, Sahib. He can use his Kâmic sight. I have made one for the little girl, but she is less gifted.”
“ I see a lady walking under some palm trees,” said Richard. “ Now it’s getting milky — ”
Again Evelyn pushed him away, stared for a moment, then got up suddenly and walked to the window without a word.
“ Put the ball away, Chundra Khan,” said Uncle Dick.
Richard, with an uncomfortable sense that Evelyn was hurt and angry, walked over to where she stood in the big baywindow looking up Fifth Avenue. The fierce gusty wind was driving the fine snow in frantic eddies; serried drifts were heaping themselves across street and sidewalk; the Park opposite was a swimming void of pearly gray.
“ It’s good weather for Santa Claus, Evelyn,” said Richard.
The little girl sniffed. “ I don’t believe those beggars opposite think so,” she answered.
“Where? Oh, there in the niche of the wall ? ”
Evelyn shrugged and walked away, but Richard stood with his eyes fastened on the snow-bound waifs across the street. There was a woman with two children, one on either side, huddled beneath her scanty cape. In front of them lay a huge bundle which, apparently, they had been carrying, until forced to stop and rest. An eddy of wind had drifted the snow in over them until they were turned into a shapeless mound.
An automobile ploughed, panting, through the drifts. A gentleman, his fur-lined overcoat buttoned to his ears, valiantly breasted the savage gusts of wind. At his heels leaped two Irish terriers, who swam joyously through the deep drifts and snapped at the swirling snowflakes. They discovered the crouching figures and set up a furious barking. The gentleman looked around, but did not stop.
Richard turned slowly to his uncle.
“ Those people must be very tired to sit in that cold place,” he remarked.
“Poor people are often tired, Richard.”
“ They must be very cold.”
“ That is also one of the penalties of being poor.”
“ Perhaps they are hungry.”
“ That goes with the other two,” said Uncle Dick.
Oh, they are used to it,” said Evelyn scornfully.
“ It does not seem fair,” said Richard, “ for people to be sitting cold and hungry and tired on Christmas Eve in front of houses like this.” He looked at his uncle and his face grew crimson. “Uncle Dick — ? ”
“ Yes, Richard? ”
“ Will you lend me twenty dollars until to-morrow ? ”
“Certainly. Chundra Khan, get twenty dollars from my pocket-book,”
The Hindu walked into the other room and returned with a roll of bills.
“Thank you, Uncle Dick,” said Richard. “ Aunt Eliza gives me a twenty-dollar gold piece every Christmas. I was going to buy a dachshund pup, but this is more important. Will you do me a favor, Chundra Khan ? ”
“ With pleasure, Sahib.”
“ Take this money across the street and give it to that woman and wish her a merry Christmas. Don’t forget to wish her a merry Christmas, Chundra Khan. That is more important than the money.”
“ Bahut achcha, Protector of the Poor, I will not forget.”
Richard walked slowdy to the window. Uncle Dick glanced at the Hindu.
“ He has the Sight, and he has the pure, unselfish heart,” said he in Hindustani. “ He is nearly ready for his Guru.”
“ In my poor opinion he is ready now, Sahib,” said Chundra Khan.
When Richard sat down to his supper he looked curiously at the creamy milk and the appetizing broth of chicken and rice.
“ I wonder what it is like to be very hungry,” he thought to himself, “ and to know that you are going to be hungrier every minute and that there is nothing to eat.” His imagination was unequal to the problem, and as a means toward its solution he decided to try going without his supper. He got up from his chair.
“ I shall not eat anything to-night, Mademoiselle,” said he.
At first the governess thought that it was only a whim, but when she discovered that the boy’s mind was resolved, there was a conflict of two wills, and to her amazement the French woman discovered that of her charge to be the stronger.
“ But you must eat, chéri! ” she cried. “ You will be ill.”
She plied him with arguments and en - treaties, but the boy was obdurate. The governess became alarmed. One does not permit experiments of such a kind upon the health of the sole heir to a hundred million dollars. Also she was puzzled, for Richard had never proved disobedient.
“ I will not be ill, Mademoiselle,” he answered wearily, “and I do not mean to be ertêlé. It is only that I have been thinking a great deal about the poor, and that there are a good many to-night who will have to go to bed hungry because there is nothing to eat, and I wish to see how it feels.”
Later in the evening Richard went to the window of one of the drawing-rooms in the front of the house. “ Do not turn on the lights, James,” he said to the footman. With his face against the pane, he stared out into the night. It had stopped snowing, the sky had cleared, but the wind was blowing gustily. Where the avenue was cut by a side street a blast of wind swirled the powdery snow about an arc-light. Two battered-looking men with shovels lurched past and melted into the gloom. Their cowering shoulders showed the chill striking to the core, and at the corner they seemed to shrink when met by the freezing gale from the river. “ They are very cold,” thought Richard; “ perhaps they are hungry too.” A third figure came lurching out of the darkness. Directly opposite he paused and shook his fist at the house, then shambled on. “ I wonder why he did that,” thought Richard, and turned away with a heavy heart.
He made a brave effort at cheerfulness when he hung up his stocking before going to bed, but it was a failure, “ It was the sight of those poor.” thought the governess to herself. “ He is so sensitive, cher petit gosse.” She had brought him some milk and begged him to drink it before going to sleep; when he had courteously but firmly declined to do so, she left the pitcher on his little bedstand and wished him good-night. After she had gone, Richard lay awake, thinking. “It gives you a queer feeling in your stomach to go without supper,” he thought. “ How awful it must be when you have not had any luncheon either; but there must be a great many of the poor that way. Perhaps they are cold — hungry and cold. I s’pose that makes it worse.” It occurred to him that he would see for himself. “ I want to know exactly how they feel,” he thought, “ so that when I’m grown up and rich I won’t forget.” He pulled the light fleecy blankets from off him and threw them on the floor. The cold-air ventilator of his room was open, and in a few minutes, as he was getting drowsy, a shudder brought him back to wakefulness. “ It keeps you from sleeping to be cold,” he thought; “ it’s worse than the hunger part.” Presently he shivered off into a semi-consciousness only to wake with a start. “ It’s like trying to sleep standing up,” he thought. “It does n’t seem to rest you when you’re cold. So this is the way they feel. I’m glad to know. How awful it must be to be poor — and then of course you’re dirty too, and that must be the worst of all.”
The cold air was circulating through his room. His teeth chattered a little. “ I s’pose you’re apt to catch cold — but so are the poor. I s’pose it’s foolish,” — he drew in his limbs and thought longingly of the warm blankets within reach of his hand, —“but I’ll do it this one night if it kills me.” He lay a shuddering little heap while the drowsiness fought against the chill which began to bite deeper. “ If you’ve felt it yourself you’re not so apt to forget what it’s like.”
Fantastic ideas began to swim through his head; he half roused, tense, but with mind confused. The delicious feeling of sleepy comfort and warmth was entirely lacking. “ I believe I’d rather stay awake altogether —how deep the snow is!” Again his thoughts were becoming confused, when a most extraordinary thing occurred.
For the horrid sensation of shivering tension disappeared, and there came in its place a feeling of bodily lightness. It seemed to him that he was rising from the bed — and then he discovered that he was wide awake and standing in the middle of the room. Something brushed his elbow, and he looked around to see Chundra Khan smiling down upon him. The room was lit by a soft, delicious glow.
“ How very odd! What has happened, Chundra Khan ?” asked Richard.
“ We are going for a journey, Little Brother,” said the Hindu. As he spoke the door of the room opened and Mademoiselle came in. It did not strike Richard as strange that he should have seen her before she had opened the door, but it did strike him as very strange when she walked to his bed without paying the slightest heed to the Hindu or himself.
“Dear little heart” he heard her whisper in French. “ He would suffer like the poor.” She gathered up the blankets and began to spread them softly on the bed.
“ But I am here, Mademoiselle! ” cried Richard.
“ And you are there also, Little Brother,” said Chundra Khan, in his rich voice. “ There is your heavy body asleep in the bed — what we call in India your Sthula Sharîra. That which you are in now is a much nicer body, your Kâmic body. It cannot be hurt nor suffer from heat and cold and hunger, and it is so fine that nothing can stop it.”
“ Ah,” said Richard, “ I know that body. It is the one we go around in when we dream. Then this is a dream.”
” No, Little Brother, this is no dream. This is much more real than all that happens in that uncomfortable heavy body. It is when you are in that body that you cannot always remember the things which have happened when you were in this one. Now let us go.”
Chundra Khan took his hand, and they moved toward the wall. There was a feeling as of pushing through thick vapor, and Richard looked down and saw the street directly under him. Yet, although startled and giddy, he felt no actual fear of falling. A sense of lightness in this wonderful new body seemed to hold him uP.
Chundra Khan looked at him and smiled. “ That is right, Little Brother,” he said. “ People who are not used to this body often expect to fall, and the result is that they do fall. They are not hurt, of course, but they are badly frightened and rush back into their heavy bodies, and then awake and think that they have dreamed of falling.”
The air about them was full of moving shapes, but most of these were vague and misty and wrapped in a vapor of constantly changing colors. Some were moving fast, but most were floating idly here and there. Richard asked what they were.
“ The greater part of them are people whose heavy bodies are asleep, and these are their light bodies, but too wrapped up in their own thoughts to notice what is going on about them. Now, Little Bro ther, we are free to go where we choose. No land is too far for us to visit, nothing is hidden from our eyes. We can go to any part of this earth, or, if you had rather, I will take you to the beautiful and wonderful country where people go when they are set free from their earth-bodies and remain until they are fit for the heavenworld, which we Hindus call Devachan.”
They had settled slowly to the ground, and were now standing on the sidewalk near the spot where Richard had seen the poor woman in the afternoon.
The snow was swirling all about them, but they could not feel the wind nor was there the slightest sense of cold. Richard looked down the long straight windswept avenue, with its double row of lights and its stately line of palaces, then glanced at the little niche in the wall which had sheltered the woman and children.
“ Some other night, Chundra Khan,” said he, “ perhaps you will take me there, but to-night I want to see — the poor.”
“ So be it, Little Brother. Then let us go.”
They rose rapidly from the ground until well clear of the housetops, then moved swiftly toward the East Side of the city. Once they passed close over the top of the tall chimney of a power-house, and for an instant Richard looked straight down and saw the lurid glare of the flame as it licked up and swirled about him. He shrank away in terror.
“You must be of good heart, Little Brother,” cautioned the Hindu. “ Nothing can hurt you, but if you become terrified there is danger that you may find yourself back in your heavy body.”
After that the boy was careful, though several times frightened; once when some dark body with an evil face swept down upon them from the heights. At a stern word from Chundra Khan it flew into a thousand fragments and dissipated in a cloud of vapor.
They reached the district of tenements, — tall, drab buildings where the poor are herded. In front of one of these they halted, poised in mid-air outside its gray walls.
“ Here are the poor,” said Chundra Khan, “ nested like vermin. Think of the room inside, Little Brother; try to look beyond the walls themselves and you will find that they melt away.”
Richard looked, focusing his eyes beyond the wall, which suddenly faded, leaving open to his vision a bare, dirty room packed with people. To the boy’s clairvoyant sight the room itself appeared to hold an atmosphere of thick, viscid slime, which oozed sluggishly about the person of any who moved. There were bearded men and squalid women, and children with pitiful bones and the faces of meagre demons. Some of the folk were asleep, others huddled close together. A bottle passed from hand to hand. All about the place there hovered brutal shapes with faces of indescribable wickedness, gloating on the misery of those within. Richard drew back with a shudder, and the drab outer wall sprang into form again.
“Those are not the poor, Chundra Khan!” he cried. “ That is a pack of devils.”
“ Poverty makes devils of the weak, Little Brother.”
“ But what could you do for such creatures ? ”
“ Love in time redeems us all, Little Protector of the Poor.”
They dropped a story lower. “ Here are some poor of another kind,” said Chundra Khan. “ A glorious heavenworld waits for such as these.”
Again Richard focused his eyes to look beyond the wall. He saw another bare room and three children asleep in a bed. They were huddled close, and the smallest, who was in the middle, breathed hoarsely and at times coughed. A gaunt man was fumbling with numb fingers at three little stockings which hung at the foot of the bed. His ragged overcoat was spread over the children, and at times a shiver shook his bony frame. In a corner of the room stood a snow-shovel.
“ This man,” said Chundra Khan, “ is one of the ten thousand who were turned out of work by the hard times. It was he whom you saw look up and shake his fist as he passed the window.”
“ Why did he do that, Chundra Khan ? ”
“ Because, Little Brother,” — the Hindu’s voice was very gentle, — “it was by your father’s order that the works were closed where he earned a living for himself and his children.”
Richard shuddered. The man drew from his ragged pocket a little china doll, looked at it, and smiled. He dropped it into the larger stocking, but it slipped through a hole in the heel, fell to the floor, and broke in two. He snatched up the fragments with a hoarse little cry, held them in his huge hand, and stared at them stupidly. “ Broke! ” Richard heard him mutter in a husky voice. “Broke in two! ” The tattered sleeve was drawn across the deep-set eyes. For a moment he seemed quite overcome by the catastrophe, then with a piece of string he tied up the hole in the stocking and dropped in the broken fragments. Into the second stocking he put a little rubber ball, into the third a pocket knife. After that he took from his pocket six caramels. One of these he half raised to his mouth, and a sudden wolfish flame glowed in his eyes.
“ He has had nothing to eat since morning,” said Chundra Khan. “ He bought these trifles for his children and he could not wait his turn on the ‘bread line ' because the youngest child was sick and in need of broth.”
One of the children began to speak. “ Cold, daddy,” it muttered. The father started guiltily, dropped the candies into the stockings, then slipped off his coat and spread it on the bed. He ripped a piece of ragged carpet from the floor, wrapped it about his head and shoulders, crouched in a corner, and his chin dropped upon his chest.
“ It is too awful —too awful, Chundra Khan! ” moaned Richard.
“ Listen,” said the Hindu.
There rose suddenly on the flaws of the gusty wind the pealing of chimes. From all parts of the city the church bells took up the joyous medley and carried it to the cold, glittering sky. But gradually, when the clamor had almost reached its height, there swelled another sound before which these mortal noises dwindled and were lost. It rumbled deep and throbbing, and Richard, in sudden awe, looked up at Chundra Khan.
The Hindu was standing with bowed head.
“ A Saviour of the World,” said he. “ This is his night.”
From the uttermost depths of the heaven above, and up from the heart of the very earth, there breathed the deepening chorus of a mighty chant. With it came flooding in from each unfathomable dimension of space a glorious, radiant light, multi-colored, all-illumining, which shone through the walls of the houses until the entire world glowed like some wondrous, translucent body.
Grander and grander rolled the celestial anthem; brighter and brighter blazed the lovely harmony of colors. Then slowly the music throbbed away. The radiance faded in pulsing waves. The winter’s night rested again upon the city.
“ Where now, Little Brother? ” asked the Hindu.
They had visited many quarters, seen more misery than the child’s full heart could hold, while his soul had drawn back quivering from horrors which his KamaManas revealed to him with age-old understanding.
“ We must find my father, Chundra Khan! ” he moaned. “ We must find my father! He is rich — he cannot know of all this suffering—or if he knows he cannot understand. We must make him understand. We must make him see it as it is, as we see it, as the poor themselves see it. Let us find my father.”
The Hindu smiled. “ But you forget, Little Protector of the Poor, that in your light body your father could neither see you nor hear your voice. How could you hope to make him understand ? ”
“ I do not know, Chundra Khan — but I want to try.”
For an instant Chundra Khan seemed to hesitate; then he said, “ Come, Little Brother, we will find your father.”
They rose lightly until well above the housetops, then wafted westward over the city. The Hudson River, flowing black and cold between its snow-covered banks, was almost under them when they came dropping down from the heights to stand before the gate of an exquisite little palace standing in a tiny garden on the upper Riverside Drive.
“ Your father is here,” said the Hindu. “ Let us go in. Nobody can see us in our Kâmic bodies, but neither can they hear us, nor feel the touch of our hands, so your task will not be easy, Little Brother of my Soul.”
They entered, drifting gently through the stone walls, which gave before them like a cloud of steam. As they did so, Richard became suddenly conscious of a terrible depression. The keen, clear atmosphere of the outer world was replaced by some viscid and oppressive element in which the boy felt himself helplessly entangled. His faculties, which had been so sharp and clear, seemed dulled and clouded. He saw vaguely, and as though he were looking through swirls of multi-colored smoke, that there was a supper-party in progress; he heard in a muffled way the thick chatter of men’s and women’s voices, the dull tinkle of wine-glasses, with the clink of silver on porcelain. The persons of the people at the table were vague and ill-defined, some being more distinct than others. Fortunately for him, his untrained faculties could not perceive many of the objects which were visible to Chandra Khan, but he was nearly overcome by a terrible sensation of repulsion which was almost fear.
“What is it, Chundra Khan?” he gasped, speaking with difficulty. “ What is this horrid stuff around us ? I can scarcely move or speak or think.”
“ It is what we Hindus call kâmamanic matter, little Brother, and is given off from the minds of these people who are eating and drinking here,” answered the Hindu. “ You will have to fight your way through it as best you can. In this light world of ours, thoughts take form and color, but these thoughts are such shifting, selfish, unshaped things as to be only a bog of desires. Shall we leave this place ? ”
“ No,” said the boy. “ I think that my father is over there. I must try to speak to him.”
He fought his way across the room. Now and then a vague, unpleasant figure drifted before him, and once an evil, leering face was thrust into his; but the boy, although badly frightened, did not flinch. “Get out of my way!” he commanded fiercely; “ you are only a thought, and an ugly one at that! ”
His feet dragged heavily, and the oozing, lurid air-slime stifled him, but he struggled on. In a sudden clearing of the atmosphere, he saw the room more plainly: there were bunches of mistletoe and garlands of holly here and there; in the middle of the table was a bowl of gardenias, and as he looked at it he suddenly caught sight of his father’s face directly opposite. With infinite labor, Richard dragged himself around the table until at last he stood by his father’s side.
“ Father! ” he gasped, in the soundless voice of his other world, “ father — it is I — Richard! ”
Vague as the man’s face appeared through its swimming mass of colored vapor, Richard could see that it held no consciousness of his presence. He tried again to speak, but his words seemed to be caught and entangled in the turbid atmosphere. He was dimly conscious that an orchestra was playing in an alcove behind him; also that his father was talking to a woman on his left who appeared to be the hostess.
Summoning all of his strength, the boy made another effort. “ Father! ” he cried, “ I want to tell you about the poor! The poor! Can’t you hear me, daddy? It is Richard! Richard! ”
For an instant he thought that his mes sage had been received, for his father slightly moved his head. But the woman spoke to him and he looked at her with a laugh, and then the fog seemed to close in again, and with it came the sensation of a crowd of people pressing in from every side. Richard felt as though he were being shoved and pushed this way and that by dim, vague forms which swirled and eddied in fumes of constantly changing, muddy colors. Sometimes these crowding figures dissolved before his eyes to mix with the turbid atmosphere. Others would stare for a moment into his face with empty eyes, babbling in foolish voices. A few writhed past, laughing vacantly, as an echo laughs. Some glared red and angry with blotched faces and swollen veins; yet, repulsive as was the whole stirring horde, Richard felt no fear of it, but rather an utter disregard which was scarcely even contempt. In some vague way he seemed to realize that these shapes had no personalities of their own, but were merely reflections of the selfish, greedy, silly thoughts and words and feelings of the people at the suppertable.
But, whatever they were, they interfered with what he had set himself to do, and with a fierce determination he pushed himself against his father’s elbow.
“ Father! father! ” he cried, “ do not listen to all of this chatter! Think of the poor, father! It is Christmas night! Think of the men who have no work! Think of their little children who are hungry! ”
His face was close to his father’s, and for a moment it seemed to Richard that he had made himself heard. A sudden light shone from his father’s eyes, and he stared straight in front of him. Then the woman at his side leaned toward him and asked some question, and Richard heard him give a short laugh and answer, “ The poor.” At this the woman seemed to protest, pouring out a torrent of words while a lurid, angry color eddied about her.
“The poor!” shrieked Richard. “The poor, father! The poor! ” But even as he spoke, he felt the sudden tug of some violent force which was dragging him bodily away. Stronger and stronger it grew, this terrific power which he felt instinctively to be tearing him from his world of lightness and clear thought, drawing him back even in the moment of his victory, as he could tell from the growing light which kindled in his father’s eyes.
“ The poor, father ! The poor ! ” he shrieked, and as he did so a sense of heaviness, of distance, surged through him with the shock of a physical pain. It was as though he were entangled in the toils of some great mesh which gave beneath his struggles, but would not let go. His voice, even his mind, was smothered in the limitations of the heavy body, and as he fought to overcome this rapidly growing heaviness he seemed to see a smile of triumph in the gleaming eyes of the woman.
“Chundra Khan! ” he cried. “ Chundra Khan — I’m going — I’m going. Help — Help! Chundra Khan!”
Richard suddenly awoke. His governess was leaning over his bed.
“ Chéri,” she was saying softly, “it is only a nightmare.”
The boy roused himself and looked about the room.
“ Where is Chundra Khan? Ah, then it was this. I am back in my heavy body. You brought me back, Mademoiselle! Oh, why did you do it? Why could n’t you have waited ? Another moment, just another little moment, and think what it would have meant to the poor! ” He burst into tears.
His governess kept him in bed the following day, and there he examined his Christmas presents with polite but listless interest. The doctor came and pronounced him quite well, but forbade any more experiments in the matter of diet. At noon his father looked in to see him.
“ Merry Christmas, old chap,” said he.
“Merry Christmas, father,” said Richard.
“ Santa Claus treat you pretty well ? ”
“ Father,” said Richard, “ last night when you were at supper in that house on the Riverside Drive — ”
“ Eh — what? What’s that? ”
“ I was there,” said Richard calmly. “ It was really this morning — about three o’clock, I should think; but when you have been out all night you don’t think about it’s being morning, do you, daddy ? ”
“ But, my boy — what are you talking about? You have not been out of this room.”
Richard made a little gesture with his hand. “ I was in my light body,” said he, “ but I was there. It was a little house of gray stone with a garden in front of it. There were bunches of mistletoe in the dining-room and a basin full of gardenias in the middle of the table, and some musicians in the alcove who were playing so loud that you had to shout. I could not see the people very well because the air was so thick with selfish thoughts—”
The eyes of the millionaire were starting from his head. He started to speak, then checked himself to listen.
“ I was trying to tell you about the poor, father — the men whom you laid off from work. Oh, daddy, if you only knew! ” The tears gushed from Richard’s eyes. “Take them back!” he sobbed. “ Take them back, daddy dear.”
“I have never denied it, Dick,” said the millionaire, “ but I have got to believe in it after this. The thought of what it would cost to take back all of this labor suggested Richard, and my mental image was so strong that in some way it impressed itself on the boy’s brain. He is a sensitive little chap. But the most extraordinary part of it is that he received, not only the thought itself, but also a picture of all of my immediate surroundings, — the room, the music, the flowers on the table — even the location of the house itself! ”
“ That is very interesting,” said Uncle Dick dryly.
“Interesting! It’s uncanny! It sends the shivers down my spine! In the boy’s mind it was mixed up with a lot of dream stuff about Chundra Khan, and the poor starving in attics, and celestial music, and I don’t know what! But the part which concerned myself was absolutely correct! ”
“ Then why not the rest of it? ”
The millionaire shrugged his shoulders. “ That’s too deep for a practical business man. But I will acknowledge that there may have been some reason which we cannot explain behind it all. I do not believe that such things happen for nothing, do you ? ”
“ I certainly do not.”
“ Nor I. We will not say anything about this. People would laugh, or think that I had gone a little mad. But the men come back to work. There is some reason for my having impressed all that was in my mind upon the mind of my son! ”
“ Perhaps,” said Uncle Dick, in his dry voice, “it was the other way about.”
But Chundra Khan said nothing.