This is my entry to the 4th edition of Calling All Writers, located in the Stories Forum. If you are looking for sex, lewdness, nudity, erotic acts, adult themes - click away now. You will not find any of that here. What you will find is a family Christmas story.
For reasons of my own I do not allow public comments, nor do I make them. Feel free to send me a message with any comments or critiques. Copyright pending.
The Christmas Coat
Back in the days when gentlemen wore wigs and ruffles and ladies were powdered and bejeweled, there lived a poor tailor and his daughter. Richard was a proud and frugal man. He worked from sunup until sundown; sometimes well into the night, by the light of one candle. His creations were made of the finest silks and brocades. He wasted very little of the precious fabric. All of the leftover cloth was placed into a trunk for safe-keeping.
His daughter, Christina, was a dark haired beauty with pale skin and lips as red as roses. She looked very much like her mother, who had died in childbirth. Richard missed his wife but took comfort in his daughter. She was a good and gentle child, and quite bright. She had hopes of some day securing a position as a governess in the home of a wealthy family.
In the meantime, she cared for their little home and cooked meals. The two of them were known for their kindness and generosity, giving what little they could to those who were less fortunate. If you were hungry, there would always be a plate of food for you at their table and a warm place by the fire.
Christina even made sure she left a bit of bread and milk near the mouse hole by the kitchen door. Poor things, she thought. They were probably hungry too, in the dead of winter. Besides, if she left them a bit of food each night, perhaps they would not nibble at hers and her father’s. The two poor, but good, people found happiness in the simple pleasures of life and nature, of kindness and caring.
One blustery day not long before Christmas, with all of his orders met, Richard began work on a majestic coat. It was his thought that seeing this coat in his window, the great gentlemen of the town would each demand one of their own. He carefully cut the cherry-red velvet and cream colored satin that would line the coat. As he worked, he decided the coat would be a one-of-a-kind creation. He only wished he could embellish the winter coat with onyx buttons.
He worked like a man possessed, at times forgetting to eat his meals and falling asleep at his work table. Late one night, Richard awoke to Christina gently nudging his shoulder.
“Papa wake up, it’s time you went to bed,” Christina said quietly.
Richard was too tired to do anything other than fumble his way into his room and collapse on his bed. Christina draped the unfinished coat over the back of a chair and retired for the evening.
The next morning Christina was setting the table with a pot of tea and hot cereal when Richard came into the room, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Good morning sweet Christina,“ he said, kissing his daughter on the cheek. “Thank you for sending me to bed, but I have so much work to do, if I’m to display this coat before Christmas. Where is it?”
“It’s on the chair, Papa, right where I….,” Christina looked at the chair but the coat wasn’t where she had set it. Together, they searched the small corner of the room used as a workshop and found the coat neatly folded underneath Richard’s work table. “Honestly, Papa, I laid it on the chair. I would never have put it there.”
Richard was fussing with the garment when he unfolded it and was taken by surprise. Sewn down the front of the coat were six shiny onyx buttons.
“Oh my,” Christina exclaimed. “Papa, they’re beautiful. Look how they sparkle.”
“Did you do this, my child? Did you buy these and sew them on the coat?”
“Why, no, I didn’t,” said Christina, seeing her father’s concern. “Didn’t you put them there?”
“No, I didn’t. I couldn’t afford such beautiful buttons. But where….?” he asked, looking around the room. Nothing looked out of place. “This is a mystery; one I don’t think I can solve.”
Richard spent the day and night hunched over the red velvet coat. He affixed the satin lining, finishing the sleeves and constantly looking at the black buttons. Christina heard him humming a strange little tune throughout the day. When she asked him about it, he said he didn’t know what it was, but it was just something that stuck in his head.
The tailor worked until his eyes could no longer focus. Then Richard folded the
coat and placed it in the middle of his table. Tomorrow, he thought, he would embroider roses down the arms of the coat. Christmas roses, he thought, and perhaps some pine boughs. Surely that touch would add to its elegance.
When Richard brought his cup of tea to his work table the following day, the coat was hanging on the back of his chair. That’s strange, he thought, but shook his head and shrugged. He must have been too tired to remember exactly where he placed it. Then he looked at it again.
“Christina, come quickly,” Richard called to his daughter.
Christina rounded the corner to see her father hunched over his table, carefully inspecting the red velvet coat. He looked up when he heard her enter.
“Please daughter, tell me the truth. Did you embroider these sleeves last night? I won’t be angry, I’m very grateful, but I have to know the truth.”
Seeing the concerned look on Richard’s face, she would have loved to have told him that she did it as a surprise, but couldn’t. He asked for honesty.
“Papa, please believe me. I never touched your coat. I wouldn’t. It is much too important for me to even dream of working on it. What if I were to make a mistake?”
Richard smiled at her and then blinked in amazement as he studied the beautiful stitching. “Then the mystery continues. It would be wonderful to think that a fairy has blessed our lives, but this does concern me. Don’t look so worried child, I’m sure things will be all right,” he told Christina.
He worked very hard to finish the coat that day, still humming the same strange little tune. Before laying it down for the night, he tried it on. Richard was a slight man and he had tailored the coat for himself. If nothing else, it would be the coat he would be buried in. The fit was precise, the stitching was impeccable; he was certain the great men of the village would want one just like it. If only, he thought; if only it had something else to make it stand out.
Then it came to him – white fur trim would really set off the red velvet. But, he thought, that was an impossible dream.
He hung the coat on the back of his chair before going upstairs. He checked to see that Christina was sleeping and then retired to his bedroom. It was very late and he knew he would get only a few hours of sleep that night.
When Christina came into the house from the root cellar the next morning, she found her father moving from room to room in a frantic search.
“Papa, what’s wrong?”
Richard stopped and looked at her with a worried expression. “My coat – it’s gone! I put in on my chair last night and now it’s gone. Some thief must have seen it through the window and taken it!”
Christina joined in the search, but they couldn’t find it anywhere.
“Papa, stop,” she said. “You have more fabric in your trunk. I’ll help you start another one. If both of us work, we’ll have it done in no time.”
Richard bowed his head and sadly walked over to his trunk, feeling as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. The girl hugged him, patted his shoulder, and left him to return to the kitchen. He had hoped the coat would be displayed while everyone was still feeling the generous spirit of the season.
Richard’s shout startled Christina and she ran to his workshop. In his hands, was the red velvet coat with the beautiful onyx buttons, now trimmed with thick, soft, snowy-white fur. Richard started to tremble.
“Papa, it’s beautiful! You didn’t tell me you bought fur for your coat,” exclaimed Christina.
“But I didn’t,” Richard said in a shaky voice. He looked at his daughter, confused and upset. “I can’t afford this kind of trim. I hung the coat on my chair last night. I don’t know what’s happening. What if the coat is bewitched?”
Christina took the coat into her arms and twirled around the room, humming the same strange little tune Richard had hummed yesterday.
“It’s a miracle, Papa, strange but true. This will be the finest coat in the entire village, and everyone will want one. Please don’t worry, just accept this magical gift.”
With some coaxing, Richard returned to his work table and began inspecting the stitches that held the trim. They were so small, he could barely see them. Whoever worked on the coat was very skilled; far more skilled than he.
After the dinner hour had passed and Christina had retired, Richard felt there was nothing else he could add to the coat; it was perfect. His eyes were red from straining and his back ached from the hours of labor. He hung the coat on his wicker dress-maker’s form and placed it in the window of his shop. Tomorrow, all who passed would see the brilliant red in his window and be drawn to it.
He looked at it one more time and had an inspiration. Tomorrow he would fashion a beautiful cap to match with the coat. As he walked away he remembered that the past few nights he wished for something special to add to the coat and the next morning it was there. He looked over his shoulder at the coat and wished – he wished for a fine cap, made of red velvet and fur, before he went to his room.
Unlike the previous nights, the tailor did not fall asleep. He waited, listening for the slightest sound. He was sure that Christina had something to do with the extra work that was done on the coat, but he didn’t know how. Tonight he would wait and see.
The church bells chimed twelve times. Midnight, he thought, and then he finally heard it; little voices singing in the night. Very quietly, Richard crept down the stairs to see what was going on in his little workshop. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw next. By the light of the moon through the dusty window, a magical scene played out before him.
On his work table were eight small mice, scampering in many different directions. Four of them were working with the scissors and cutting red velvet, two were threading a needle, while the last two were laying out white fur trim. All of this was going on while they sang a happy little tune:
He works all day, while we mice play.
He sleeps at night and we make it right.
Heavy scissors, hard to lift
Need to cut to make our gift.
Carefully we stitch, stitch, stitch,
Working together to make him rich.
Richard’s gasp halted the action before him. The mice seemed to be frozen right to their spots. Richard tried to speak and tried to move but he couldn’t. When Christina came in behind him carrying a candle for light, it was she who spoke.
“Oh my, what’s going on? How is this possible?” she asked in astonishment. And then she smiled.
The mice giggled in unison. The largest of them crept forward and spoke in a very tiny voice.
“You see, miss, you’ve been so very kind to us, leaving us bread and milk so that we don’t starve, and well….this was the only way we could think to repay you.”
“T…t…talking mice?” Richard began to find his voice. “Is this the work of the devil?”
“No, not the devil,” the pudgy leader of the mice said as Christina picked her up in her hands. “The Worchester Witch turned us into the little beasts you see before you. Many, many years ago, my sisters and I were playing in the woods near our home. We found the witch’s hut and went inside. We meant no harm, but with eight of us in there, we ruined some of her herbs and broke a jar of smelly liquid. She found us as we were trying to clean up the mess. She cast a spell on us and turned us into mice.”
Christina felt sad, “You poor dears isn’t there anything we can do?”
“Bless you child, but we have a good life living here with you. Because of her spell, we are smarter than ordinary mice, and with our tiny paws, we can sew very well indeed. We have chosen to use our skills to help those who are kind to us. That is why we have worked on this coat. We want it to be the very best, to thank you for all you have done for us.”
Richard sat in his chair, rubbing his eyes in disbelief. He picked up the piece of velvet that had been cut and already embroidered with Christmas roses. The fur trim would be the perfect touch. The mice perched on his table before him, waiting to hear what he would say.
“Beyond my wildest dreams, I could never imagine such a thing. Talking, singing, sewing mice, presenting me with such a beautiful gift,” said Richard to the group. “You will always have a place in my home.”
While Christina went off to bed once more, he stayed with his new-found friends and together they finished the elegant cap.
The next afternoon the completed coat and cap were displayed in Richard’s window. Christina had collected evergreen boughs and red berries from the woods and placed them around candlesticks in the window. It made for a very festive display. She worked to fashion a wreath of evergreens to hang on their front door, an unspoken invitation to all who passed.
Two gentlemen immediately stopped to look at the garment, and placed orders for their own, in the colors of their choice. A generous deposit assured them of getting elegant fabrics and rich fur trim.
The sun was setting and Christina was getting ready to blow out the candles in the window, when a loud knock sounded at the door. It was late for shoppers, she thought, but called to her father and then went to see who was there.
The wind all but blew the door wide open as she turned the knob. Standing with newly fallen snow swirling around him, was a man who seemed to fill the doorway. Christina must have looked surprised as she beckoned him into the house, watching him having to duck through the doorway.
“Ha, ha, ho,” he laughed, seeing the look on her face.
Christina could not look away. His face was that of a young man, rosy cheeks, sparkling blue eyes, but he had hair as white as the snow. He was very tall, and looked to be very well fed. She had no doubt that he was very, very strong.
Richard came into the room and greeted the stranger warmly. After shaking hands, the large man introduced himself.
“My name is Kris and I live north of here. It’s quite cold in my village and I’m looking for a coat and cap. The one in your window seems to be perfect,” he said with a warm tone in his voice. His smile seemed to fill the room.
Christina seemed enchanted with the stranger. She sat quietly in her father’s chair, but her eyes never left Kris. The sound of his voice was rich and soothing.
“May I try this on?” Kris asked, starting to reach for the coat.
Richard was puzzled, knowing that the coat had been tailored to his size. He was much shorter and much smaller than Kris, and feared the man would burst the seams of his magnificent creation.
Kris saw his dismay, but just smiled as he eased his arm into the first sleeve, then the other. Unbelievably, he pulled the coat all the way around him and fastened the buttons. The white fur blended with his white hair. Kris’ cheeks seemed to glow even rosier against the red of the coat. When he placed the cap on his head, it was as if Richard had created the garment with only one man in mind.
Kris turned left and right, checking his look in the mirror. Christina left the room and returned with a sprig of holly.
“Do you mind?” she asked in a soft voice, as she reached up and attached it to the fur of the hat.
“Thank you,” said Kris, as he took her hand and kissed it.
At that moment, it was as if time stood still for the two young people. They stood in the center of the room, their hands locked, staring into each other’s eyes. The little tailor knew he was watching the rest of Christina’s life unfold.
Kris dropped her hand and stepped back to address Richard. “Sir, I would like your permission to take your daughter for a walk before you have dinner.”
“That is up to my daughter. If she agrees then I will invite you to sit at our table and share our meal.”
If there was one thing Richard was sure of, it was that this was an honest and trustworthy man – and a gentle one. Given his size, he was also sure that his daughter would be forever safe with Kris. Richard nodded his approval and looked to Christina. Her face lit up so he told her to get her cloak.
As the men waited for Christina, Richard could have sworn he saw one or more of the mice peeking from the edge of his worktable. When his daughter returned, Christina was dressed in a cloak he had never seen before; a cloak of red velvet trimmed with snowy-white fur, and embroidered with Christmas roses. Christina’s dark hair rested against the fur and her cheeks glowed with a rosy red color.
Richard thought he heard tiny giggles as Christina kissed him on the cheek and promised to be back shortly. Richard then looked at Kris’ big, hearty smile and shook the hand of the man he knew would soon become his son. When he closed the door behind the young couple, the eight sister mice scurried into the room. They danced around in a circle, singing a song of love.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, chuckling. “Are you now matchmakers as well as seamstresses?”
They giggled as they danced. The eldest sister came forward and said, “We had nothing to do with this, other than make Christina a cloak to match your coat. The gentleman made his own way here. Their eyes told of love, and we are so pleased.”
Kris offered his arm to Christina, and they walked out into the quiet of the early evening. The moon made the snow glow magically, and the flakes fell around them in a lazy pattern. They spoke in hushed tones, about their hopes and dreams. Christina felt as if this was the man she had waited for her whole life. When they returned to her house, only then did Kris lower his head and place a soft kiss on her cheek.
Kris and Christina were married in a candlelight ceremony on Christmas Eve. The small stone church was decorated in evergreens. Kris insisted on wearing his red coat, while Christina wore the dress her mother wore, the day she married her father.
Richard didn’t have to worry about being alone when the day came for Christina to follow her husband to his northern home. Kris made it clear there was room and work for his father-in-law. They packed their meager belongings onto a sleigh that was drawn by a magnificent horse. Before leaving, Christina beckoned the sister mice to climb into a basket and come with them, so the family would stay complete.
Their journey was a long one, taking three days. They stopped and made camp in the forests, eating the bread, fruit and cheese that Christina had packed. Kris seemed to be comfortable with the out of doors, building big roaring fires to keep everyone warm, and to heat water for tea. Little snow made its way through the canopy of evergreen trees, so beds were fashioned on pine needles.
Kris slowed the sleigh as they approached the village. Nestled in a valley, surrounded by hills and forest, it appeared to be a tiny winter mirage. Smoke rose from the chimneys and you could see the village still decked out in its Christmas finery.
Kris’ village welcomed Christina with open arms, and embraced her gentle manner. Together the couple became known for their generosity, celebrating their wedding anniversary each year, by giving gifts to those in need. No child was left wanting, no family went unfed. Richard and the mice made sure there were warm coats for all the children, fine dresses for the ladies and sturdy work clothes for the men.