A Christmas Story.
1855 promises no cheer for Walsh and Finnan. Living by their wits has left them hungry, cold, penniless and living in a freezing attic. With no prospects they are not enjoying any of the festive season. However, Walsh has come up with a cunning idea that may solve all their problems. The only trouble is that his plan involves a long walk in the snow and then helping themselves to someone else's Christmas. Will they carry out Walsh's plan or learn the true meaning of Christmas?
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If there was glass in the window, it would have stopped the snow blowing in. If there had been a fire in the hearth, the flames would have warmed the garret room. If there had been one candle in its holder there would have been some light. If there had been even a box or crate to sit on, the man could have rested at his ease. If there had been a coat on his back, his thin frame might have felt some warmth. If there had been tobacco in his pipe he could have smoked.
The man lifted the bottle to his lips. One last drop trickled out. Now there was not even gin to drown his misery. He flung the black bottle into the corner of the room where it clattered against several of its fellows. The man crossed to the window, moved aside the dirty, billowing rag that covered it and peered out.
Below, people hurried past on the pavement. Most with their heads bowed low against the snow, easy marks for the barefoot urchins scampering about in the snow, their feet frozen blue. The man scowled. Not so many years ago, he was one of them. No place to call home, no food in his belly, living by his wits and nimble fingers. Turning his head, on the street corner the man saw the ale house, the Blue Bells, was doing a roaring trade. Amber light and honky-tonk music from a barrel-organ spilled from its open doors.
Inside the ale house, the man knew there would be warmth, laughter and jolly companionship. However, the man did not even have the price of a latch lifter to gain admittance. As he watched, a man reeled out of the Blue Bells clutching his stove-pipe hat to his head followed by cries of, "merry Christmas".
The watching man coughed, a thin hacking sound. He checked his handkerchief for blood. There were no bloody red spots. The man wondered when the dreaded Consumption would come and claim him for its own. Unless he got food and warmth soon it couldn't be too long before the Devil knocked on his door.
As if summoned by his thoughts, there was a rap on the flimsy door. The man turned from the window as the door creaked open. He half expected the smell of coal and brimstone and a blast of heat as from a furnace's open door. He was so cold he would almost have welcomed the fiery pits of Hell.
Instead, the man from the ale house stood in the doorway. The newcomer swayed and half stepped, half toppled into the room. With difficulty the intruder kept his feet and propped himself up in a corner. His stove-pipe hat fell to the boards.
"Finnan, me old Fenian mate, you should... should have," the newcomer's thoughts tailed off.
The man so addressed left his place by the window, placed his hands under the other's armpits and helped his friend slide down the wall until he was sprawled out on the floor. Finnan picked up a handful of burlap sacks and greasy rags and draped them over his friend's body.
"I see you brought us back a plump golden goose, roasted parsnips, a huge plum pudding with holly on the top, half a dozen mince pies, nuts and a bottle of brandy to wash it down with," Finnan said, his County Mayo accent still strong despite his having lived in Liverpool these last six years.
The other man looked up from his place on the floor. A lopsided grin on his face. "Sadly, the food slipped through my fingers on the way home but the brandy I can provide." He rummaged through his voluminous, many pocketed coat and produced a black bottle, the live companion of its dead friends in the corner. "Well, gin instead of French brandy but who wants to imbibe a heathen foreign spirit on a night like this?"
"That'll do me fine," said Finnan, snatching the black bottle from his friend's hand, uncorking it and taking a long, long pull. He wiped his lips and handed the bottle back. The harsh liquor hit his stomach, warming him.
"'Tis a miracle worker you are, Walsh. That'll keep the chill out."
The bottle was still lighter when Walsh passed it up.