Guys, I know that most of you know that I am *slightly* obsessed with Christmas. It's right up there with British novels, murder mysteries, breathing, and things like that. So, how could I let this month slip by without at least one Christmas plot? Besides, this time two years ago I was writing my first draft of the novel form of Christmas at the Tittletons. So, in honor of CatT, here is a Christmas story for all of you lovely people.
First scene only. I'm still working out the plot.
East Prussia, 1774
Up and down. Up and down. Kaspar felt the air resist the smooth, wooden boards of the organ-pump. They were beautiful, those boards, carved on the borders with tiny birds, harps, flowers, stars, and angels. All of them were different, and all of them were caught in a twining, leafy vine. Kaspar knew the carvings on the boards as if they were his friends.
They were his friends, in a way. He hadn't very many friends, but there was old Ingel Artmann, the organist. Old Ingel had made a place for Kaspar in his cramped little house on the edge of the tiny hamlet that he called home. Kaspar wanted to call it home, but he was always too frightened. Even now, when he must have been nearly fourteen, he was frightened. Seven long years he had pumped the organ for old Ingel, ever since he had wandered into the town on that frigid Christmas night.
Old Ingel called him Kaspar, after one of the three Kings, because it was only fitting that a child who came on Christmas be named something Christmas-sounding. Some people in the town, who liked to find fault with everything that others did, said that Kaspar should have been named something else because, after all, Epiphany, or Dreikonigsfest, was not until January 6, and it was disrespectful to take up a name like that. They didn't say much, though, because no one else took in the boy, so they soon forgot him unless he was directly under their noses.
They didn't mean to be cruel, these good village people. They had their own lives to live. They couldn't be expected to bother with a half-frozen, nameless orphan boy who had the misfortune to be wandering around their town on Christmas night.
So, the old Ingel-man took him in. He was so very, incredibly old that people (the same ones who gossiped about Kaspar's name, of course), always said, if they ever saw him, that he looked about to die. Certainly now, as he bent over the organ keys, he did not look anything but frail. His hair, long and white, fell like snowy feathers in wisps to his shoulders. His hands seemed like translucent parchment, pale yellow with gnarly bones and long, slender fingers with discolored nails and knobby knuckles. His frame, once tall, was bent over, hunched like a slender bow from long years at the church organ. His face was pale and old, but instead of being terribly wrinkled it merely looked thin, as though a tiny scratch of the fingernail would tear a hole in that tissue-paper skin. His eyes gazed out from deep sockets, their blueness intense with age. His smile was wide, whenever he did smile, a cracking of his dry, thread-thin lips that revealed his uneven teeth, most of them black, all of them broken.
"Tonight," he said to Kaspar, "Tonight they will sing for us. Eh, my boy?"
Kaspar nodded, his eyes shining with excitement. Christmas Eve was the best of all the nights in the year. The organ played more beautifully then than on any other night. Ingel was ready. He ran his fingers lovingly over the keys, worn down from his many years of playing. Kaspar had once asked him how many years he had played, and Ingel had only said that he wasn't sure. More than sixty, that he knew.
Frau Hertzel was in the church, putting up greenery in anticipation of the special service in the evening. She looked up into the organ loft and hailed the old organist.
"Old Ingel! A good Christmastide to you!"
"Thank you, Frau Hertzel," said Ingel. "It looks lovely."
Frau Hertzel smiled broadly. Her thick shoulders hunched and she looked down, quite pleased. "Oh, it's nothing. A little greenery and a few wooden angels. Anyone could do as much."
"But you have done it," said Ingel. "Thank you." His voice cracked a little and he looked past her as Pastor Brechmann and his son, Josef, entered the church.
"Ah, Ingel, I see you have arrived early. So much the better," said Pastor Brechmann. "Our services will be wonderful tonight."
"They are always wonderful, Pastor," said Ingel.
But no one said anything to Kaspar. He sat in his little niche, which was growing much too small for his lanky fourteen-year-old body. The niche was behind the carven railing,and no one saw him. They knew he was there, of course, else Ingel would never have been able to play his organ. But he was only a part of the rest of the church, and not worth speaking to at all.
They did their preparations, and then they left, but Ingel lingered at the organ, playing a few bars of his song.
"Old Ingel," said Kaspar, looking up suddenly from his carvings.
"Yes, lad?" said Ingel.
"Would you please teach me how to play the organ?" asked the boy.
Ingel smiled that broken-toothed smile of his. There was goodwill in that smile, and humor and light and many other things that were all joyful and right. No one else ever had such a smile, but the townspeople didn't know much about it, because so few of them ever bothered with the organist. "I thought you would never ask me," he said.
Thanks for reading, and God bless,