It was a freezing snowy evening the day before Christmas eve 1842, but ten year old Christabel still wanted to go outside. Her parents had gone to the theatre and with tomorrow being a busy day the servants had all gone to bed early, expect for Christabel’s Nanny and maid.
The three of them were sat before the crackling fireplace in the nursery. Nanny and maid were sewing up holes in socks and dresses, they were growing tired with the heat of the room and the darkness. Christabel had been reading a book of poetry but she was finding it difficult and her mind kept wondering.
She looked over at the window and saw in the glow of the gaslights from the street below that it was snowing again. The silent, soft balls of white were floating down lazily, brushing against the frosty glass.
‘I want to go out,’ Christabel declared, there was still a slight lingering of a french accent to her words.
Nanny looked up at her then over to the window, ‘it’s late and snowing,’ she answered.
‘I don’t care,’ Christabel declared.
Throwing her book down, she left the nursery and went to her bedroom. Christabel pulled out her red winter coat which she put on over her white evening dress then sort a hat to match.
‘I really do not think this is a good idea. It is all most bed time,’ Nanny said from the doorway.
Christabel ignored her and emptied more of the wardrobe out, scattering the clothes around with no care.
Her maid came forward and with the ease of knowing her little mistress’ wardrobe, found a suitable white hat with a red flower, black ankle walking boots and a white hand muff. She dressed the child quickly as she had down for years now, without saying a word. The maid knew her place well.
‘I want to go out,’ Christabel stated and now dressed, she left the room.
With a sign, Nanny returned to her room to get ready. The maid began tidying away all the clothes. Christabel walked down the grand staircase, the gaslights on the wall pooling light around and casting shadows on the paintings high above. The silence and stillness of the house give Christabel a slight chill but she would not show it or say anything to the servants.
Stepping into the hallway, Christabel found that only one gas lamp had been left on. The housekeeper had left it for her parents return. The stretching corridor behind her looked unfamiliar, dark, scary and she imagined it full of wild animals waiting to eat her. Christabel turned her back on it and looked at the front door.
Soon Nanny joined her and they walked out together. The snow fluttered around them and Christabel with all child wonder, looked up and around. She smiled and wanted to laugh but held it in. They walked across to the little park that stood in the middle of a square shape block of houses. There was no one else out but them.
The snow was thick and untouched on the ground, they walked down the path which could be just made out in the dim glow of the street gas lamps. Christabel breathed in the cold air, it chilled her but she felt warm enough not to complain. From between the evergreen bushes which the snow was slowly turning white, she saw something shinning.
‘What is that?’ she pointed out.
Nanny looked and replied, ‘I do not know.’
Christabel walked over and found that near the bandstand someone had put up a pine tree and decorated it. Glass coloured balls, white frill lacy, other little ornaments decorated the branches and at the top a red star. She stared in wonder, it was so beautiful and she had not seen anything like it before.
‘Oh,’ Nanny said, ‘it’s a Christmas tree.’
Christabel repeated the words to herself in a whisper.
‘It is pretty,’ Nanny added, ‘the king and queen have one. They are becoming fashionable.’
Still in silent wonder, Christabel looked at the reflection of light and snow in the glass balls. There was something magical and awing about the decorated tree that she could not look away or think of what to say.
‘We should get back now,’ Nanny spoke after a minute or so, ‘it’s getting colder and the snow is thickening.’
‘What will happened to the tree?’ Christabel asked.
‘I…Nothing. People will come to admire it and maybe on Christmas day everyone will sing and give gifts around it.’
Christabel nodded and looked up at the star which seemed to be shinnying.
A cold wind started blowing, the snow fell faster and thicker.
Nanny took Christabel’s hand, ‘we need to go now. You can come back and see the tree again.’
‘Yes,’ Christabel answered.
Together they walked back. Nanny wanted to go quickly but the snow half-blinded them and the path was slippy as the new snow was freezing on top of the layer they had walked on. Tall trees loomed on the path, shaking in the wind and making them both feel nervous.
They reached the park gates soon enough and were back on the well light street. Stopping to get there breath, they both heard the clip clop of horses’ hoofs and the creaking of wooden wheels. Around a corner came a black handsome cab pulled by a dappled grey mare.
The carriage stopped outside a house and the driver helped two figures get out. The horse stomped on the ground, eager to be off to a warm stable. The reins rattled loudly then the handsome’s door was banged shut and the driver snapped the reins. The mare neighed and walked on.
Nanny and Christabel crossed over and walked up the gate of the house. The figures before them had seemed to be heading this way too and as the front door opened and light was realised out, Christabel saw her parents.
‘Mama! Papa!’ she shouted.
Her parents turned on the doorstep, dressed in all their theatre finer, Christabel ran up to meet them, almost falling over.
‘Come and see what we found in the park!’ she cried.
‘Christabel what are you doing awake and out at this hour?’ Mama demanded, ‘get inside at once!’
Christabel stepped into the house, still talking as she tried to tell her parents all about the walk, the snow and the Christmas tree. Her parents did not seem to be listening to her though. They are taking off coats and hats.
Nanny helped Christabel out of her things, not saying anything though the child included her. Nanny kept her eyes down, she knew she was in trouble with the Master and wanted nothing to do with the child’s talk of the tree.
‘What are you going on about?’ Mama finally cut in.
Christabel opened then shut her mouth, realising her parents had not been listening to her. She felt a bubble of emotion and tears pricked her eyes. She held her breath and tried to keep it all in. Her parents disliked it when Christabel got hysterical and they would not give into her demands then.
‘Miss Lockwood,’ Papa spoke addressing Nanny.
‘Yes, Sir,’ the Nanny began the gushed, ‘Miss wanted to see the snow in the gas lights, how wonderful it is! We went to the park and someone has decorated a tree there like the king and queen have in the palace. It was pretty and Miss I think would like to have one of her own in the house.’
Christabel nodded looking at both her parents full of excitement as a silent crept in.
‘We will see about it tomorrow,’ Papa answered, ‘now to bed.’
‘Thank you, Papa!’ Christabel cried.
She kissed her parents, bid them goodnight and went upstairs. Nanny trailed behind, carrying everything up, glad that things had worked out.