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THIS little Christmas story is reprinted from THE Pine Needle, a periodical issued by Bishop Hopkins Hall of Burlington, Vermont. 



The Carol Singers

 “Beg pardon sir, but may I go out this evening?”  Then, as his master looked up from his paper with raised eye-brows, the straight-backed valet hastily added, “It is Christmas Eve, sir, you know.”

             Ashford took his cigar from his mouth and brought his fist down hard on the table, and answered angrily, “Well, what if it is Christmas Eve, Jenkins?  That makes no difference to me.  You know what my opinion of Christmas is.  No, I hired you to wait on me, and not to go gallivanting around.”

             “All right sir.  Thank you sir,” and the thoroughly frightened valet hastily but silently retreated, while Ashford took up his cigar and resumed his reading.

             John Ashford was a middle-aged man of forty-five with a fine, clean-shaven face which bore an unsually [sic] stern expression.  His hair was already gray at his temples and his steel gray eyes seemed to pierce through every object upon which they rested.  Little was known of him, except that he was very wealthy.  Ten years ago he had come over to America from Italy, and, after purchasing a fine old brown-stone house, and hiring three servants, had shut himself up, and had nothing whatsoever to do with his neighbors.  During the first two or three years people had tried to become acquainted with him, but they had finally stopped calling upon him, as he openly showed that he wanted nothing to do with them.  Some fanciful people had imagined that he was an Italian count, a prisoner in hiding, or maybe had been disappointed in love.  Whether these rumors reached his ears or not, Ashford never satisfied their curiosity by a word, so no wonder that he became known as “The Man of Mystery”.

             Ashford laid his paper down, and gazed long and thoughtfully into the fire.  Fifteen years ago that night, he would never forget  I He rose and walked to his desk, and, taking a key from his pocket, unlocked a drawer, and drew a picture from underneath a pile of papers.  He gazed at it with tears in his eyes.  It was a miniature of a happy-faced young woman, of about twenty-three, with light curly hair and blue eyes.  Holding it in his hand, he sat down in front of the fire, and went over the short, happy years that were never to be his again.

             They had been married for four years and were living happily together with their little two-year-old daughter Margaret, when the tragedy had happened.  It was Christmas Eve, exactly fifteen years ago to-night, and they had been trimming the little Christmas tree for Margaret, when suddenly they heard a cry of “Fire! fire!” from the street.  Ashford ran out to see what had happened, and found the house next to his in flames.  He ran to help, and for an hour they worked trying to check the fire, but it was no use.  The fire was beyond control.  Suddenly a cry from the people made Ashford look up from his work.  With horrified eyes he saw that the flames were coming through the windows of his own house!  His one thought was of his dear ones within, and he hastened to their aid.  Fighting his way through the smoke, he finally found his wife — dead.  She had gone upstairs to Margaret, but had been overcome before her husband reached her.  But where was Margaret?  Ashford searched for her in vain.  He at last came sorrowfully to the conclusion that she had been destroyed in the great fire, which had caused such unhappiness to many others.  Then Ashford left Italy, a sad and embittered man, vowing that he would never have anything to do with Christmas again.

             Suddenly the man was awakened from his reverie by the sound of childish voices singing beneath his window.  Annoyed at being disturbed, he was about to call for Jenkins to put a stop to it, when suddenly he paused, with his hand outstretched to, push the bell.  What was that?  It was a carol, half forgotten by him, that his wife used to sing to him at Christmas.  He bent forward to hear more clearly, and, as he listened, at curious notion for crabbed John Ashford formed in his mind.

             He rang for Jenkins, and, when his valet answered, said to him, “Jenkins, ask the children outside to come in for a minute.” 

             “But, but sir, they are the Italian children from the tenements,” said Jenkins in amazement.

               “Italian children would hardly be singing carols like that,” said Ashford, with a touch of sarcasm.

             “No, sir, but Cook says they learned to sing them at St. Patrick's, sir.”

             “Well, ask them to come in.  I don't care who they are or where they learned to sing.  I want you to do as I tell you!”

             “Yes sir,” and the puzzled valet disappeared.

             When the half-frightened children had entered the spacious living-room, gazing with wonder at the grim-looking man before them, Ashford motioned Jenkins to go.  The astonished Jenkins went out, but remained rather near to the door on the other side.  Ashford looked around at the group of children and said in a voice which he tried to make less sharp, “Well, my children, I enjoyed your singing very much indeed.  Won't you sit down?”  Then, as they remained standing, Ashford was about to repeat his question, when a timid, black-eyed boy came forward, and, with evident embarrassment, spoke, “Please, mister, but we must be a-goin' on.  We ain't got no right to be hangin' around this here joint.”

             Ashford, rather amused in spite of himself, said, “Where must you be `a-goin' on' to, my boy?”

             At this juncture, a pretty young girl of about sixteen, with large, blue eyes and a mop of curly golden hair, in strange contrast with the darker children, stepped forward from behind the others, where she had remained unnoticed by Ashford.

             “Tony Capasolli, stop talking like that to the ‑!” she began to say in an imperious voice to Tony, who was evidently her brother, when she was interrupted by a sharp exclamation from Ashford.  He saw in the child before him a striking resemblance to the miniature at which he had been looking.  “No.  It can't be she!  Child, tell me your name, quickly!” he found himself gasping.

             “Why, Margaret Capasolli,” answered the girl in astonishment at the strange outburst from Ashford.

             “Where do you live?  How old are you?  Tell me!”  Then, seeing that the children were really becoming alarmed, he said in a voice which he tried to control, “Don't worry, children, everything's all right.”  He gave a quick push to the bell, and Jenkins came in, looking very red and flustered.

            “Jenkins, have the car brought to the door at once, and get something to eat for these children.”

             Then, turning to the children, he asked, “Won't you sing again the carol that you were singing just before you came in?”

             The children quickly did as they were bid, and when Jenkins reappeared, he found his master looking at Margaret with an eager expression on his usually stern countenance.  “The car 's ready, sir.”

             “Very well,” said Ashford.  “I'm going to take you and Tony home,” he explained to Margaret; and seeing that the other children were standing around with expectant looks on their faces, he added, “Jenkins will look after you.  Come on, children,” motioning to Margaret and Tony.

             As they were being driven to the tenement house where Margaret and Tony lived, directed by Tony, who, seated beside the chauffeur, was now very much excited over the state of affairs, Ashford tried to question the girl as to her past life, but could get nothing very clearly from her.  Presently the automobile stopped in front of a tenement house and a group of staring, curious children gathered about the car.

             Margaret led the way through dirty, evil-smelling halls with unkempt looking children playing around, into a small, but clean room.  Around the small stove were seated an Italian couple, who rose in surprise as Ashford entered with the children.

             For four hours that night, Ashford and the Italian, who was a fruit-peddler, sat in the little room talking.  Little by little Ashford was able to draw out the story told by the peddler in his broken English.

             It was Christmas Eve in the little Italian village.  Tony Capasolli sat in his kitchen telling his wife about the big fire that had destroyed many of the houses in the American quarter of the town, while he watched her prepare a dish of steaming hot spaghetti for him.

             Suddenly a cry from the doorway made them start up in surprise.  Upon opening the door, they found a little two-year-old girl, sitting upon the steps, crying.  They were kind-hearted, simple people, so they took the child in and cared for her.  In their ignorance they knew of nothing to do except to keep “Marg-ret”, who had evidently been separated from her parents by the great fire.

             So for years they stayed in the little village, until business began to be bad for Capasolli, who then brought his wife and two children over to America.  Here they had lived peacefully for five years.

             As Ashford listened to the story he became more and more excited.  When the Italian ended, Ashford rose and said in a queer, strained voice, “Yes, it's she, it's Margaret!”  At Capasolli’s look of amazement, he added, “Don't you see?  She's my Margaret, my daughter!  Yes, yes, we lost her in that fire.  Oh, can't you understand?”  At last, after Ashford had tried to explain, a look of understanding came into the Italian's face, “Yes, yes,” he said at length, “I see, she must be yours.  You may have her, but she is ver’ dear to us.”

             As Santa Claus was going back to his wintry home after his long day's work, he happened to look into a certain brown-stone house.  The scene he saw was evidently a pleasant one, for he grunted with satisfaction.  In one corner of the big living-room was a huge Christmas tree, around which were a number of Italian children playing.  In another corner an Italian couple were planning of the wonderful times to come in the nice little cottage with a fruit store attached, which Mr. Ashford had promised them.

             And in another corner of the room sat John Ashford and his daughter.  Margaret could not yet quite realize what had happened, but she was very happy in her new home, and she was sure she was going to love her father very much.  As for John Ashford, the stern expression of his face was softened, and he was supremely happy as he thought of the many years to come when he and his daughter would be together.


Dorothy McLellan's original "Carol Singers" paper.  From a private collection. 


                Dorothy McLellan was born on July 28, 1904, in Paris, where her parents, Hugh and Margaret, went to school.  She died February 6, 1986, in New York City, at the age of 81.  She married George Kellogg of Plattsburgh and had one child.

            Hugh published a short story his daughter Dorothy wrote using his Moorsfield Press.  The story was printed in 1920 and was the fourth production of Hugh’s press.  The Plattsburgh Daily Press of Wednesday, May 26, 1920, mentioned this printing when it did a short story about the establishment of the press.


             Clinton County has an acquisition in the cause of letters and the art of fine printing in the establishment of the Moorsfield Press at Champlain, owned and conducted by Mr. Hugh McLellan, historian and Lincoln collector of that place who has also in his profession as architect won international fame by his statues of Champlain at Plattsburgh and Crown Point. 

             The work of the Moorsfield Press is mainly in historical lines, with a variation this spring in the publication of a charming short Christmas story by the school-girl daughter of the proprietor, Miss Dorothy McLellan, who is a pupil at the Bishop Hopkins school at Burlington.  This brochure entitled “The Carol Singers” is a delightful piece of work, interesting in composition and exquisite in typographical workmanship reflecting high credit on the publisher as well as on the talented authoress. 


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