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“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year!!!

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From all of us at Leeds Book Club...


First up for LeedsBookClub is The Human by Matt Haig
Date: 8th January
Venue: Medusa Bar, Horsforth

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A Visit From St. Nicholas

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A Visit From St. Nicholas 
 

by Clement Clark Moore (1822)
 
’T WAS the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that ST. NICHOLAS soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,        5
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.        10
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,        15
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;        20
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,        25
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.        30
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,        35
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;        40
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,        45
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,        50
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,        55

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.
 
 
 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Chris Nickson Exclusive Short Story - Family

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Christmas Short Story

Family 
by 
Chris Nickson

Leeds, December 1889

It was still dark when she finished the baking, and bitter outside the kitchen. She washed the flour from her hands, walked through the yard and unlocked gate that led to Roundhay Road. The draymen would arrive soon enough, the sharp sound of hooves as the horses stopped outside the Victoria. She peeked out into the street. The air was winter-heavy and wet with soot.
It was early but there were already men out walking, on their way to jobs in the boot factories and tanneries, the mills and breweries. The gas lamps offered a faint glow. She turned and caught the silhouette of someone crouched on the doorstep of the pub.
Someone small. A boy.
“Waiting for something, luv?” Annabelle Atkinson asked as she crossed her arms. “We’ll not be open for two hours yet.”
“I’m just sitting,” the lad answered. She could hear the cold in his voice. As she came closer, she was that his face was grubby and he was only wearing a thin shirt and a pair of ragged trousers that left his calves bare, his shoes were held together withpieces of  string. He wasn’t local, she was certain of that. Annabelle knew everyone around Sheepscar, each man, woman and child. “No law agin it, is there?” he asked.
“Not if you want to stay there,” she told him. “Warmer inside, though. The oven’s going. Cup of tea. Maybe even breakfast if you’re not too cheeky.”
He was torn, it was plain on his face. He was thin as a stick and didn’t look as if he’d had a full meal in days. She didn’t say anything more, deliberately turning away to stare back up the road towards the endless streets of back-to-back houses and factories that lined the way out to Harehills. December. It would be a good while yet before it was light. As light as it ever got when the air was filled with fog and smoke.
When she looked again he was there, standing close, expectant and wary.
“You’re not having me on, missus?”
“No, luv, in you go.” She watched him run through the yard and into the kitchen. By the time she entered he was already standing by the oven, hands outstretched, soaking in the heat. She didn’t have any bairns of her own. Her husband had been older, then he’d died and she’d taken over running the pub. However it had happened, she’d never caught. Now she was courting again, a man called Tom Harper, a copper of all things, and set to wed next year if she could ever persuade him to pop the question.
She cut two doorsteps of bread, buttered them thickly and placed them on the table in front of him. Before he could grab one she took hold of his tiny wrist and said,
“You’re not eating with those filthy hands. Get them under the tap. Your face, too. We’re not short on soap.”
He returned, skin scrubbed and glowing, grabbing the food before she could say anything more. Annabelle brewed tea, one cup for herself, another for him, milky, with plenty of sugar.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Henry, missus,” he answered with his mouth full.
“You can call me Annabelle. Where are you from? I’ve not seen you around before.”
“Me and me da just moved here two day back. We was living in Morley, then me mam and me sister got ill and died and me da started drinking and lost his job so we had to leave.” The words came out in a rush. “He thought we might do better up here.”
She smiled softly. The lad couldn’t be more than eight. But what had happened to him was no more than had happened in so many families.
“We’d best get you home then, Henry. Your da’ll be worried. Get some food in you and I’ll walk you back.”
“He din’t wake up yesterday, missus.” He said the words flatly.
“What do you mean, luv?”
“He’d had a few drinks the night before so I thought he were asleep. I knew he’d belt me if I tried to wake him up, so I left. When I got back the door were locked and he din’t answer. I don’t know anyone round here so I din’t know where to go.”
“Right,” she said after a minute. “You tell me where you live, Henry and I’ll go and see your Da.” Emma the maid came into the kitchen, raising her eyebrows at the sight of the child. “Can you make him something hot?” Annabelle asked. “Bacon and eggs or summat. Poor little sod’s perishing. And see he gets a bath after. I’m off to see his Da.”
“Are you posh, missus?” Henry asked, looking at the servant in awe.
“No, luv,” Annabelle laughed. “I’m not.”

Armenia Grove ended in a big stone wall at the back of the dyeworks. A little further along, Gipton beck ran along past the school, down to the mill pond. Number six was the same as its neighbours, all blackened brick and rotting woodwork, the front door opening as the turned the handle. Henry and his father had the upstairs room at the front, the boy had told her. Locked, just he’d said. She knocked but there was no reply.
Back on the street, Annabelle caught a glimpse of Bert Hardwick and shouted him over before he could duck out of sight.
“There’s a door I need opening,” she said.
He gave her a sheepish glance. “I don’t do that no more. I’m over at the brick works now. It’s steady, like.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to take owt, you daft ‘apeth. Just work the lock for me. Or do you want me to tell your Annie about seeing you with Betsy Ainsworth the other night?”
It only took him a few seconds, working with the tip of his pocket knife. Before she could enter, he’d vanished, boots hammering down the stairs. Men, she thought. They were all bloody useless.
Rags covered the window, blocking out the first light. But she could still see the shape on the floor, huddled under a threadbare blanket. Annabelle spoke his name but he didn’t stir. She reached out to touch his cheek then recoiled with a gasp as soon as her fingers felt his cold skin.
Quietly, she left the house.

Dan the barman was emptying the spittoons and polishing the tables. She asked him to find the beat bobby and take him to the house on Armenia Grove.
“He’ll know what to do.”
She brightened her expression and walked through to the kitchen. Henry was sitting in front of the oven, wearing nothing more than a large towel. Emma had stoked up the fire and washed his clothes; they were strung up on the wooden rack, steaming as they dried.
“You look better all cleaned up,” she told him. “Right handsome.”
“Did you find my Da, missus?”
“I did.” She stood by the chair and took hold of his hand. “What’s his Christian name?”
“Edward,” the boy answered. “But everyone calls him Ted.” Worry flashed across his eyes. “Why, missus?”
She gazed at him for a moment.
“I don’t know how to tell you, Henry, so I’ll just do it straight. Your father’s dead. It looks like he passed away in his sleep. I’m sorry.”
His grip tightened.
“But…” he began, then the words failed him. He began to cry and she cradled him close, rocking him softly until the tears turned to slow hiccoughs.

“Tom, you’ve got to help him.”
He’d arrived after work, close to eight on a dreary evening, exhausted and dirty. He’d ended up chasing a pickpocket out to Marsh Lane, finally bringing him down in the mud that passed for road there. She’d kept a plate warm in the oven for him, the way she always did, hoping he’d visit on the way back to his lodgings.
“Where is he now?” Inspector Harper asked.
“Fast asleep.” She smoothed the silk gown and with a satisfied sigh, let down her hair so it fanned over her shoulders. The mutter of voices came from the bar downstairs. “Poor little lamb’s all cried out. I finally got him to tell me that his mother’s sister lives in Morley. She’s Temperance, so after his ma died, she wouldn’t have anything to do with his father because he was a drinker. What do you think? Maybe she’d take him in.”
“Maybe. What’s her name?”
“Molly Wild.”
“I’ll get in touch with the station down there. Someone will let her know. I can’t promise anything. What about the father?”
“The undertaker has him. Burial tomorrow up at Beckett Street.”
He shook his head.
“You’re paying?”
“Someone has to,” she pointed out. “Come on, Tom. I couldn’t let the boy’s father go to a pauper’s grave, could I?”
“No,” he answered slowly. “I suppose you couldn’t.”
“It’s only money. I have the brass for that.”

Two days passed before the woman arrived. Annabelle had set Henry to work, washing glasses and helping with small tasks in the kitchen. He was an eager little worker, humming as he did whatever he was told. Only when the memories caught up with him would his face crumple and the tears begin. She fed him well and tucked him into the spare bed every night, watching from the doorway until he was asleep.
“There’s a woman outside wanting to talk to you,” Sad Andrew told her as he entered the Victoria. It was a little after ten in the morning, the fog thick as twilight.
“Tell her to come in, then,” she said. “I’m right here.”
“She won’t come into a public house.” He mimicked a prim voice and Annabelle sighed, drying her raw hands on an old cloth before pulling a shawl around her shoulders and pasting a smile on her face.
A horse and cart stood at the curb, driven by a man with hunched shoulders and a defeated expression. The woman had climbed down, glancing at the pub with a critical eye. Her bonnet was black, her gown a plain charcoal grey, button boots peeking from the hem.
“You must be Mrs.Wild.”
“I am,” she replied with a sniff.
“I’m Mrs. Atkinson.” The woman’s gaze moved to Annabelle’s hand, no ring on the third finger. “I’m a widow.”
“I see.” Her tone was disapproving. “The police came,” she said as if it was the most humiliating thing that could have happened. “They said Henry’s here and that his father’s dead.”
“That’s right. Do you want to see him?”
The woman stepped back as if she’d been slapped.
“I would never set foot on licensed premises.”
“Then I’m glad not everyone’s like you,” Annabelle said, smiling to take the sting from her words. “I’d be out of business in a week.”
“Was it the drink that killed my sister’s husband?”
“I don’t know, luv. All I did was take the boy in and see that his father was buried. But now you’re here, I’m sure Henry will be glad to have a home with you.”
“We already have five children.”
“Then you’ll hardly notice another.” She tried to make her voice light.
“We have good, God-fearing children.”
“You’ll love Henry. He’s a wonderful little boy.” She paused for a heartbeat. “And he’s flesh and blood to you. Your sister’s boy.”
“I don’t know.”
“Tell me something, luv,” Annabelle said. “You strike me as someone who likes to live by the Bible.”
“Of course we do.” Mrs. Wild lifted her head.
“Then what does it say inre about looking after those in need?”
“Don’t you go quoting that to me!” the woman bristled. “I’ll not have that from someone who runs a place like this.”
“What about someone who took your nephew in when he had nowhere else to go and arranged his father’s burial?” It didn’t matter who the woman was or what Annabelle needed from her. No one was going to speak to her that way. “Or doesn’t that count because I own a pub?”
The man on the cart turned.
“Just bring the lad out, missus.” He glared at his wife. “Don’t worry, we’ll look after him proper, won’t we, Molly? Like you said, he’s family.”
She stood on the doorstep of the Victoria, watching them drive away until they vanished into the fog. Henry had clung to her, not wanting to leave, crying once again as his aunt looked on, hawk-faced.
But it was for the best, she told herself. They were family.
* * * * *
Chris Nickson

Reviews
Richard Nottingham - Book 1 - The Broken Token
Richard Nottingham - Book 2 - Cold Cruel Winter
Richard Nottingham - Book 3 - The Constant Lovers
Richard Nottingham - Book 4 - Come The Fear

Exclusive Short Stories

Christmas Short Story - Family 
Christmas Short Story - Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw

Richard Nottingham 03 - Sanctuary - LIMITED TIME ONLY
Richard Nottingham 02 - December
Richard Nottingham 01 - Home


Podcast Interviews
02 - Chris Nickson - Interview about Come the Fear book launch!
Mobile Link - Chris Nickson 2
01 - Chris Nickson - Interview about Richard Nottingham
Mobile Link - Chris Nickson

Contact Details
Follow Chris on Twitter - @ChrisNickson2
Visit Chris' website - HERE
Best Book of 2001 - Library Journal Award

Miscellaneous
Leeds Playlist - Coming Soon!
Sweet Tooth - Mary Nottingham's Lemon Meringue Pie

* * * * *
Chris Nickson Table of Contents
* * * * *

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Gift of the Magi - O. Henry

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The Gift of the Magi
O Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."
The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."
"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Down rippled the brown cascade.
"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.
"Give it to me quick," said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty seven cents?"
At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two—and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again—you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice—what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
Jim looked about the room curiously.
"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you—sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

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Christmas - Table of Contents

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Story of the Other Wise Man - Henry Van Dyke

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Originally posted in 1895, this beautiful story has become part of our Christmas lore. 

In lieu of a read-a-long this year (I intended too then suddenly it's the 6th of December and I've organised nothing.), I thought that I would share one of my favourite festive tales.  

The links lead to a HTML version of the story by Project Gutenberg.


The Story of the Other Wise Man
Henry Van Dyke

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.



Introduction

You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they traveled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking, and the strange way of his finding, the One whom he sought—I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of Man.

Part 01 - Introduction
Part 05 - A pearl of a great price

Free e-versions
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Kindle            - The Story of the Other Wise Man
Project Gutenberg - The Story of the Other Wise Man

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Christmas - Table of Contents
 

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