The Red Wagon

Read the story here.

Dawn comes too early. The grandfather clock in the parlor was chiming loudly, announcing the sixth hour of the day. The day was December Twenty-fourth, Christmas Eve.

“That blasted clock,” mumbled Zachariah Weltworth as he rose from his warm, comfortable bed. It seemed like only minutes before he had pushed back the brocade coverlet and climbed into of bed.

The house was cold. His children were grown, and it had been years since he last saw them. His wife, Muriel, left him six years earlier. She only remained around as long as she did because of the children. When his daughter, Melanie, married, his wife packed her bags and moved two thousand miles away. Now, he only thought about her when he had to sign her alimony checks when his attorney stopped by his office at the first of each month.

Zachariah was used to the silence the house offered. Each hour the large clock in the parlor sang out the number of hours of the day. However, when it ended, the house was filled with the sound of emptiness. No longer did the children scamper up the stairs in a playful game of tag. Then, it found it annoying. He would holler out in his usual authoritarian voice for the children to “cease and desist.” The raucous noise would quickly end, and he would wait to hear the pitter patter of their young feet tiptoeing up the staircase.

Now, he longed to hear that again. All that remained was the echoes of their youthfulness. Echoes that haunt him as missed opportunities. No more would the large, stone house be filled with childish spiritedness.

He entered the closet and examined his suits. ‘It is Christmas Eve,’ he thought to himself. ‘What would be appropriate to wear on a day like today?’ He reached for the black wool. After putting on a black tie, he stood back and looked at himself in the cheval floor mirror.

“Not too bad for a sixty-eight year old man,” he said admiringly as he straightened his tie and adjusted his gold cuff links. His dark, black locks had turned white many years earlier. He still darkened the temples that extended slightly down to his sideburns. A female client once thought he would look more gentlemanly with a touch of color in his hair. Upon a later visit, she remarked how a distinguished man he was.

After a final appraisal, he headed downstairs. He retrieved his black cashmere coat and fedora. After a careful inspection in the ornate foyer mirror, he gave a satisfied nod and headed out the door.

His office was two blocks away, so he made the journey each morning on foot. On inclement days, he would summon a cab. Today, however, the morning was cold and brisk. Light snow was falling, but not enough to impede his way to work. He pulled the coat collar tightly around his neck and headed down the desolate street.

Pedestrians were rare on his cobble street lined with aged oak trees. The townhouses were a century old, and only those with prosperous means could afford to reside there. Even though he had lived in the neighborhood for over twenty-five years, most of his neighbors were strangers. When his children were young, he might occasionally be confronted to donate to a charitable cause by a kindly parent. But now that they were departed, he was merely Mr. Weltworth, the neighborhood scrooge. It was a title he wore with pride. At least it ceased their annoying requests for charity.

A block away, he could see the stately tower of his office building. The lights were already on in his third-floor suite. Mr. Young, his law partner, must have already arrived for the day. Even though it was Christmas Eve, depositions, briefs and other legal matters couldn’t be deferred to another day. In two days, he would be required for a court presentation, and there was no holiday for preparation. He had worked hard for years to be recognized as a man with an impeccable reputation. He had sacrificed his family and friends to receive such recognition. He had no time for frivolous celebrations. Christmas, after all, was just another day of the year.

He didn’t see himself as Scrooge. He was a generous benefactor, giving to causes that would merit recognition from his peers. The name of Zachariah Weltworth associated with any charitable organization usually was held in high esteem. However, he was cautious of the checks he wrote, and he was cautious not to be scammed or duped into any questionable affairs. His reputation was all that he now possessed that was dear to him.

As he approached the entrance to his building, he saw a young man who appeared to be in his late teens. He was holding a coffee can with a piece of paper wrapped around it. “Another beggar,” Zachariah mumbled to himself.

The boy held out the can and politely asked, “Would you like to donate to the St. Andrew’s Christmas Fund, Sir?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” rudely replied Zachariah. “I donate to enough causes.”

“But, Sir,” pleaded the boy as he stepped in front of the taller man and held out the can. “Some people won’t have anything to eat for Christmas. We’re trying to collect for twenty families so they can have a nice Christmas dinner tomorrow.”

Zachariah glared down at the persistent boy. “Then,” he hissed angrily, “they should get a job.”

“Times are tough, Sir,” insisted the boy as he thrust the can toward Zachariah. “Won’t you give something?”

“I already gave you my answer,” he replied as he shoved the boy aside. “Now get out of my way before I call the authorities on you. I own this building, and I’ll have you arrested for vagrancy.”

“Sorry, Sir,” replied the boy. He hung his head and walked away. Before he left, he turned and called out, “Merry Christmas, Sir.”

Zachariah ignored him as he unlocked the security entrance and went inside. He turned and looked out the windows to make sure the boy had left.

He took off his coat and shook off the light snow from it. “Everyone always wants something,” he mumbled to himself. “No one wants to work for anything anymore.”

He thought back to when he was a boy, much younger than the one who had blocked him from entering the building just minutes earlier. He began by delivering newspapers to his neighborhood. He arose at four each morning, and it would take him two hours to cover his route. He then went home and slept for an hour before he had to get up and attend school.

When he entered high school, he worked as a clerk for an attorney in his father’s law firm. The same one that bore his name on the building, Jerome S. Weltworth and Son. His father had died fifteen years ago, and he now had a successful law practice. He often thought of changing the firm’s name to better illustrate that he was now head of the firm, but he felt bound by tradition.

“No one gave me anything,” he said aloud. “I’ve earned all I have.”

The last statement sent shivers down his spine, and an immense depression engulfed him. “All I have,” he thought. “All I have.”

As he entered the elevator, he thought about all that he had. He had amassed great wealth. He lived in a massive townhouse decorated with fine antiques and valuable paintings. “I have everything a man could want,” he muttered to himself.

As the elevator door opened, he mused, “Then why do I feel so miserable?”

When he entered his stately office, his personal secretary, Mrs. Darby, was not seated at her desk. He then recalled that she had requested a week earlier to take a leave of absence for the day. He looked out into the hall and noticed that there was little activity. Usually, clerks would be scrambling from office to office conducting legal transactions.

He asked to himself, “How can we get any work done when everyone stays home? Why, when I was a lad, if I had stayed home on the day before a holiday, my father would have had my hide.”

He went back to his office and called three of his partners. Each time he heard a recording that wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and that he or she would return their call on the following day.

“Rubbish,” he hissed as he slammed the phone down on the receiver. “This will never happen again.” He turned on his computer and spent the next few minutes typing an email notifying his partners and personal secretaries that there would be no more vacation leave prior to or the day following a holiday. He muttered, “That should do it,” as he watched to make sure that the email was sent.

He spent the next three hours alone in his office working on a deposition that he would have to present in court immediately after Christmas. One of his clients, a wealthy, local businessman, was being charged with income tax evasion. His clerks had discovered loopholes that were imbedded surreptitiously into the law. If he was to argue the case successfully, then he must become familiar with the covert interpretations of the law. He smiled to himself and thought, ‘I’ll earn millions to keep him from prison.’

He heard the clock in the outer office chime noon. “I might as well go home,” he muttered angrily. “I can’t get much done when no one is around to help me.” He stood and put on his coat and hat. After making sure that his office complex was secure, he headed toward the elevator.

As he waited for the elevator, a cleaning person pushing a cart filled with cleaning products approached. She was a middle-aged woman wearing a tidy gray uniform and white hat. She smiled and said, “Good Day, Sir.”

Zachariah ignored her pleasant greeting. He grumbled, “I’m glad to see someone working today.”

“I’d rather be home with my family, Sir,” she replied, “but I need the money to buy my children Christmas presents.”

The elevator door opened. As he entered, Zachariah announced loudly enough for the woman to hear, “They should learn to not expect anything. I didn’t.”

On the elevator’s descent to the first floor, he thought about all the Christmases he spent alone while his parents spent the holidays in the Catskills. A maid would bring him Christmas dinner prepared by a local restaurant that his father had ordered before his departure. ‘I didn’t expect anything,’ he thought once again as he departed the elevator.

Usually, a doorman would hold the door open for him as he exited the building. Even he was absent from his post. Zachariah shook his head disbelievingly as he pulled his collar tighter when he walked out into the cold winter afternoon.

He found it odd that the streets were rather deserted. However, he was in the business district, and most offices were closed for the holidays. He walked quickly to get home. The wind was blowing briskly, and his cheeks were starting to get cold.

As he approached the last office on the street, a man stepped out from the entrance alcove and blocked Zachariah’s path. He was short, and it appeared he hadn’t shaved in days. Dark circles engulfed his eyes, and crevices lined his face. Though he didn’t seem old, a hard life had aged him beyond his years.

Panic seized Zachariah, but he knew he must not show it to the threatening stranger. Years in court had taught him that the slightest sign of trepidation would signal weakness.

He looked down at the sinister vagrant. He ordered authoritatively, “Get out of my way, Good Man.” When he tried to step around him, the stranger moved to block Zachariah’s path.

“I’m not a good man,” he snarled and thrust out his hand. “I’ll have your wallet, Good Man,” he ordered threateningly.

Zachariah placed his hand protectively to his breast pocket. “I have no money on me,” he insisted.

The vile, little man thrust his hand toward Zachariah once again. “I’ll be the judge of that. Now hand over your wallet.” He put his other hand in his tattered coat pocket and warned, “Or you’ll be sorry you didn’t.”

Suddenly, he heard a youthful voice shout out, “Leave him alone!” He turned to see the young man who had been begging for money that morning outside his office come rushing across the street.

The man pulled a knife from his pocket and pointed it at the boy. “This don’t concern you, Boy!” He jabbed the knife at him and ordered threatening, “Now git!”

The boys stepped in front of Zachariah and positioned himself in case the stranger lunged at him. “You have no right to steal this man’s money!”

“I have every right,” hissed the vagrant. “I’m hungry, and I need a drink.” He glanced behind the boy at the tall man standing behind him. “It don’t appear like he’ll miss it much.” He took a step forward and pointed the knife just inches from the boy’s chest. “Now git out of my way.”

In one quick motion, even before Zachariah had time to comprehend what was happening, the boy disarmed the stranger by grabbing his arm and twisting it. The stranger struggled, but the boy brought his knee to the stranger’s stomach with a violent thud. As the stranger gasped for air, the boy tossed him to the ground.

The stranger rose from the filthy sidewalk with a look of fear. He took one last look at the boy, clutched his chest and ran off down the street. Seconds later, he disappeared into an alley.

Zachariah brushed his coat off and glared down at the boy. He admonished, “That was a very irresponsible thing to do.”

The boy hung his head and replied meekly, “I know, Sir.”

Zachariah insisted, “I could have taken care of myself.” He added with a tone of indignation, “I didn’t need a boy to defend me.”

“I’m sorry, Sir,” the boy responded.

The older man studied the boy before him. He was fair-skinned with long blond hair appearing underneath the woolen cap he had pulled down over his head. ‘He’s an attractive and polite young man,’ thought Zachariah. He didn’t appear like one of the ragamuffins who normally occupied the street corners on his walk home in the evenings. It wasn’t uncommon for one to approach and ask impolitely if they could borrow a smoke.

Zachariah asked in a gentler tone, “Why did you help me anyway? I was so rude to you earlier this morning.”

The boy lifted his head and looked into the man’s eyes. “Because you needed help, Sir.”

“But you could have been harmed.”

“Yes, Sir. I realize that.”

“Yet, you came to my defense?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Zachariah couldn’t understand why someone would come to the aid of a stranger. If he had witnessed someone being mugged on the street, he would have quickened his pace and left the scene immediately. After all, it was the duty of the police to protect citizens.

He asked the boy, “Do you think I should call the police and make a report?”

“It won’t do any good, Sir,” replied the boy. “It is Christmas Eve, and it would probably take hours for them to respond. Besides, the man is blocks from here by now.”

Zachariah reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “Then the least I can do is reward you for your assistance.” He pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and attempted to hand it to the boy.

The boy shook his head and responded, “I can’t take your money, Sir. I was taught you can’t expect anything for doing a good deed.”

“But you may have saved my life,” insisted Zachariah as he thrust the money at the boy.

“I was able to help you, Sir, when you needed help,” he replied proudly. “I have the satisfaction of knowing that I didn’t desert my fellow man when he was in need.”

Zachariah stared into the eyes of the boy. It amazed him because he sensed that the boy actually meant what he said. He didn’t help him expecting a reward. He did it out of the goodness of his heart. As he looked down on the young man, a feeling of guilt swept over him.

He asked, “What is your name, Boy?”

“William Jefferson, Sir,” he replied politely.

“Well, Mr. William Jefferson,” said Zachariah as he handed the bill to the young man. “Give this to the charity you were collecting money for this morning.”

The boy shook his head. “It’s too late, Sir. I turned in my collection already. I was on my way home when I noticed that you were in danger.”

“I feel that I owe you, though,” insisted Zachariah. “Isn’t there any way I can repay you? Can I buy you dinner, or perhaps you are in need of something yourself?”

The boy thought for a moment and then shook his head. “No, Sir. I should be going.”

When he turned to walk away, Zachariah reached out and gently grabbed his shoulder. “There is something,” he said. “I saw the look on your face.”

A saddened look appeared on the boy’s face. “There was, Sir. But it is too late now.”

The older man pleaded, “Please. Tell me what it is?”

Tears welled up in the boy’s eyes as he stared into Zachariah’s face. “I told you this morning that I was collecting money to help feed twenty families Christmas dinner tomorrow?”

Zachariah nodded, “Yes, I remember.”

The boy continued, “One of the families has a little boy named Charles. He is six years old.” The boy shook his head and looked down the desolate street. “But all the stores have closed, and it is too late now.”

“Too late for what?”

“Charles has been telling his mother that he hopes Santa brings him a little red wagon for Christmas. I’ve looked in several stores, but I can’t find one. I was going to use my allowance to buy him the red wagon.” He shook his head sadly. “It would have meant the world to him if I could have found one.”

Zachariah couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I have offered you money, dinner or anything else you might need, and all you ask for is a red wagon for some little boy?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“But why?

The boy looked into Zachariah’s eyes and stated, “Because he’s a little boy, Sir, and tomorrow is Christmas. He’s too young to understand how cruel the world can be. All that matters to him is a little red wagon. I wanted to see the happiness in his eyes when I surprised him with one.” He hung his head and uttered sadly, “Now, it’s too late to buy him one. He’ll be heartbroken when he runs downstairs in the morning and there is no wagon under the tree.”

Zachariah asked, “Is he an only child?”

“No, Sir,” the boy replied. “He has two sisters.”

He asked, “Their ages?”

“Two and nine, I believe. I’m not very good at telling ages,” he apologized.

Zachariah reached into his pocket and pulled out one of his business cards. After writing his address on the back, he handed it to the boy.

“What is this, Sir?”

“William,” replied the older man. “I want you to come by my home tomorrow morning at nine sharp. Can you do that?”

“Yes, Sir,” he replied. “I’ll have to get permission from my mother.” Zachariah took the business card and wrote his personal phone number on the back.

“Have her call me if she has any questions.”

The boy nodded and asked, “But why, Sir?”

Zachariah smiled warmly and replied, “Because I have a good deed to perform.”

The boy returned his smile and said knowingly, “Thank you, Sir.” He then turned and scurried down the street.

“No,” said Zachariah. “Thank you, Mister William Jefferson.” He started walking briskly home. He had a mission to accomplish before nine on Christmas Day.

When Zachariah returned home, he removed his coat and tossed it onto a wingback chair in the foyer. He had no time to hang it meticulously into the coat closet as was his ritual when he returned from a day at the office.

He went through the kitchen, and opened a door next to the immense pantry. It creaked like the bones of an old man as he awakened from a long night’s sleep. Dust covered the steps as he crept cautiously up to the attic above.

He grabbed the string to a light hanging at the top of the stairs. To his delight, a brightness filled the cluttered room. He stood with his hands on his hips and looked around. He asked himself, “Now where did I put those things?”

He hadn’t been in the attic for years. As his children grew older, he cleaned out their bedrooms and brought their personal belongs that they left behind to the attic. He and his wife would get into heated arguments because she wanted to keep their rooms intact so that she could occasionally reminisce about what life was like at an earlier time when the house was filled with joy and laughter.

Zachariah thought she was a foolish old woman. He would argue that the past was gone, and it was best to be forgotten. He couldn’t understand what pleasure she received by clutching an old rag doll to her chest and crying about a past that would never be again.

He rummaged through old dusty furniture and boxes. His clothes were becoming soiled, but he had no time to worry about his appearance. He moved an old armoire in a corner, and there it was. The object of his search- a little red wagon.

He carried it into the middle of the attic and fell upon it. Tears filled his eyes, and he began to sob. He pictured a little boy, Jeremiah, his son on the morning of Christmas forty years earlier. He remembered lying in his warm bed that morning beside his wife as they listened to the children come running from their bedrooms and bounding down the stairs. Seconds later, shouts of joy were heard as Jeremiah, and his younger sister, Melanie, discovered the treasures Santa had brought them as they slept.

On that morning, Zachariah kissed his wife as they crawled out of bed to watch the surprised looks on their children’s faces as they tore off the wrappings of their presents.

As he descended the stairs, Jeremiah ran up to him and grabbed his leg and hugged it tightly. He then ran over to a little red wagon and shouted joyfully, “Look what Santa brought me!” He grabbed the handle and pulled it over to Zachariah. “Pull me in it, Daddy.” He laughed with glee as his father pulled him around the parlor in that little red wagon.

Zachariah’s body trembled as he sobbed and clutched the little red wagon. He had blocked out all memories for so many years. Now, his mind was filled with repressed images of the past.

He wailed, “What have I done?” He ached to see his children again. He had been too busy to notice them as they grew. A business meeting was more important than watching Melanie perform in a school play, or attending one of Jeremiah’s soccer matches. They had grown up, and he had grown old. Years now seemed like minutes, and minutes like seconds.

He held the little red wagon and cried, “I would give up everything I have to pull Jeremiah in this wagon again.”

He rose from the floor and began frantically rummaging through boxes taped shut years earlier. “Eureka!” he shouted as he tore open one and looked inside. He then pulled out a rag doll and clutched it to his chest.

He thought of Melanie on that Christmas morning as she tore open the wrapping on a gift to discover the rag doll. She had jumped to her feet and danced around the room with the ragged doll. Zachariah had put his arm around his wife and laughed at her jubilation.

He put the doll tightly to his chest and rocked it in his arms. “Oh, Melanie,” he cried. She had grown up too fast. It seemed like only yesterday it was that Christmas morning. Now, she lived five hundred miles away with her husband and four children. It had been five years since they last visited. Their visit was cut short when he had to leave suddenly and catch a flight to Miami because a client had been arrested. He talked to her occasionally on the phone, but she never again asked to return for a visit.

Jeremiah he had seen less frequently. He now lived in London with his wife and child. The child was seven, and he had yet to see his grandson. He was sent pictures when he was born, but Zachariah had no idea what he now looked like.

Zachariah pulled the red wagon over to the box and began emptying its contents into it. Many of the dolls and toys he had never seen. He thought, ‘They must be from Christmases I missed.’ And there had been many.

It was after three in the morning when the old gentleman retired for bed. He had found Christmas wrapping and bows, and he spent hours adorning each gift with care. When finished, he carried the red wagon filled with presents downstairs to the parlor. He placed a gift with a silver bow off to the side. He nodded approvingly at all that he had accomplished during the night. For the first time in years, he felt alive.

Zachariah awoke with the grandfather clock in the parlor ringing out six chimes. He dressed and rushed downstairs like a small child rushing to see what Santa had left during his visit.

He paced around the house for an hour. He didn’t want to call too early. At seven, he nervously dialed Melanie’s number. She was reticent at first, but her father’s cheerfulness warmed her heart. They talked for an hour, and he spent several minutes with his grandchildren wishing them a merry Christmas. It was the most wonderful Christmas gift he had ever received. Before hanging up, they made plans for Melanie and her family to visit during the summer. He promised her that this time he would take an overdue vacation so that he could spend time with them.

He waited several minutes to make the next call. It would be more difficult. He and Jeremiah had been estranged since his son went off to college. He recalled with sadness the day Jeremiah stood in the parlor and called him a cold-hearted man when he refused to go with him on his opening day at the university. Jeremiah had told him he was nervous, and he wanted his father’s support.

His cold response was, “Grow up and be a man. My father didn’t see me off when I left home.” Hours later, Zachariah was on a plane to San Francisco to attend a conference.

The phone rang several times before anyone answered. Zachariah was ready to hang up when he heard his son’s stern voice. “Hello, Father? What do you want?”

“I wanted to wish you Merry Christmas, Son,” he replied nervously.

His son retorted, “Well, you have.”

“And,” Zachariah’s voice became thick with emotion, “I wanted to say I love you.”

There was a long silence. Neither said a word, but Zachariah could hear his son softly crying. He muttered, “I’m sorry.”

The conversation started slowly, but after a half hour they were talking like old friends. Jeremiah told him about his wife and son. He listened joyfully as his son told stories about his grandson, Zachary. He was filled with emotion when Jeremiah told his father he named his son after him.

Before hanging up, they made plans for Zachariah to fly to London to visit early in the spring. He promised to make hotel reservations the next day, but Jeremiah insisted that he would stay at their home. He had to wipe away tears when his son said, “You can spend time with your grandson.”

When he finished with the call, he looked at the clock on the wall. He only had twenty minutes until William would arrive. He called a cab, and ten minutes later he was putting the gifts into the trunk. When he looked up, William was walking briskly toward him.

“Merry Christmas, my good friend William Jefferson,” he said cheerfully. As an added measure, he playfully removed his hat and bowed.

William smiled and said, “Good Morning to you too, Sir.”

The older man put his arm around William and insisted, “I wish you would call me Zachariah. Sir makes me feel so old,” he laughed.

“Sorry, Sir,” replied William. “My mother always taught me to pay proper respect to my elders.”

“Your mother is wise,” said Zachariah as he patted William on the back and added, “She must be rather young, though.”

William smiled and said, “She is, Sir.”

Zachariah opened the back door to the cab and told William to get in. “Give the driver the address to your young friend’s house.”

It was a long drive across town. The older man passed through areas he never knew existed. Old boarded up buildings aligned many of the streets. Even in the cold, many people walked the streets in tattered coats.

Finally, they pulled up in front of a row house. The porch sagged, and it appeared it had been years since it was last painted. William jumped out of the car and announced, “We’re here, Sir.”

The old man got out and looked around at his surroundings. It was nothing like his neighborhood. Most of the homes were run down and in need of major repairs. There were old, rusty overhead lights instead of the stately oak trees that adorned his street. Potholes in the road indicated that the city had long abandoned any repairs that were needed.

He looked up when the front door of the brown house flew open. A little boy emerged and hollered, “William!” He ran out barefooted in pajamas too small for his little frame. William knelt as the boy jumped into his arms.

William said cheerfully, “Merry Christmas, Charles!” as he held the boy tightly.

The small boy frowned and tried to hold back tears. “Santa Claus didn’t stop here last night.” He looked at William, pouted and announced sadly, “I knew he wouldn’t bring me my wagon.”

Zachariah reached out, took the young boy from William’s arms and held him. He was an adorable little boy with blonde hair and bright blue eyes. The old man touched his nose and said, “You know what happened?”

They boy’s eyes sparkled as he asked, “What?”

Zachariah smiled and said, “Well, Santa is an old man.” He laughed and continued, “And sometimes his memory isn’t as good as it used to be.” The little boy giggled and nodded his head. “Anyway, when I got up this morning, there were all these presents under my tree.” He squeezed the boy tighter, “And you know what?”

The boy excitedly asked, “What?”

“I’ll tell you what,” replied Zachariah as he lightly pinched the boy’s rosy cheeks. “The presents had your name on them, is what.”

The small boys face lit up brightly as he asked, “They did?”

“Yes, they did,” replied Zachariah. “That silly old fool left them at the wrong place.” He made a gruff face. “Well, I called him this morning and told him he made a mistake and that some little boy would be very disappointed. He offered to get back on his sleigh and take them to the right address.”

The little boy’s eyes shined brightly. Zachariah looked up and noticed a woman standing in the doorway smiling down at him. He nodded slightly and continued his story. “But I could tell that Santa was tired. You know he was out all night delivering presents to good little boys and girls?” Charles giggled and nodded his head. “So anyway, I told him if he gave me the address, I would deliver the presents.”

“You did?” asked the small boy with a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

“I did,” stated Zachariah. He carried the small boy up the steps and handed him to his mother. She was crying as he placed him in her arms.

“Now, you go inside while William and I bring in the gifts.” The boy giggled, pulled himself away from his mother and rushed inside.

She smiled at Zachariah and mouthed, “Thank you.”

He smiled, turned and said to William, “Help me get the presents out of the cab.” After paying the fare and rewarding the driver with a very generous tip, he picked up the wagon and carried it inside.

Charles squealed with glee when he saw it. “A red wagon!” Zachariah put it on the floor and the boy immediately began pulling it around the small, cramped room. Two small girls were standing on a staircase shyly observing what was happening.

Zachariah walked over and asked, “And who might you be?”

“Judith, Sir,” replied the older girl.

He picked up the smaller girl and asked her name. She replied timidly, “Amanda.”

Zachariah put her down and placed his finger to his cheek. “Let me see. Judith and Amanda.” He walked over and took several boxes out of William’s arms. He returned to the girls and handed them the ornately wrapped packages. “I believe these are yours.” The girls smiled, took the gifts and rushed into the living room. They fell to their knees and tore open the wrappings. They squealed with joy when they saw the dolls and other toys Santa had given them.

Zachariah took two other gifts from William and handed them to Charles. “Since you’ve been an extra good boy this year,” he said, “Santa has some more gifts for you.” He watched happily as Charles opened the boxes containing a train set and an old fire engine.

Emotion overcame him when Charles rose from the floor and hugged him tightly. “Tell Santa Claus this is the best Christmas ever!”

As he stood and watched the young children sitting on the floor playing with their gifts, William walked over with an unwrapped gift in his hand. It was the small package with a silver bow. He handed it to Zachariah. “You forgot one, Sir.”

The old man took it and handed it back. “I think Santa wanted you to have this one,” he said with a wink.

William turned it over as he examined it. “What is it, Sir?”

Zachariah laughed and replied, “Well, you won’t find out unless you open it.”

William carefully opened the package. It contained a small velvet jewelry box. He gasped when he opened it up and looked inside. He closed the box and handed it back to Zachariah. “I can’t accept this, Sir. It is too costly.”

“Nonsense,” he replied as he pushed the box toward William. “I want you to have it.”

“But, Sir,” protested William. He took out the gold pocket watch and held it in his hands. He carefully opened it and looked at its ornate features. He again tried to hand it back. “I can’t accept anything this expensive.”

“My boy,” said Zachariah as he placed his arm around the astonished young man. “My father gave me this watch when I was a mere lad about your age. I’ve kept it all these years in hopes of one day finding someone deserving of it. I could have sold it many times, but it means more to me than just money. I wanted to find someone to cherish it, as I have these many years.”

“But, Sir.”

The old man took the pocket watch and placed it back into the boy’s hands. He then closed his hand and placed his over it. “This is my good deed in return,” he pleaded. “Please don’t deny me it.”

William smiled and replied, “I won’t, Sir.” He took the watch, attached the fob to his belt loop and let it fall into his pocket. “I will cherish it forever.”

Just then, Charles’s mother approached. She was holding the hands of the two girls. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know your name.”

The old gentleman smiled and said, “Zachariah Weltworth."

“Mr. Weltworth,” she said apologetically, “We don’t have much, but we would be happy to share with you and William what little we have.” She smiled warmly and asked, “Would you please stay and share Christmas dinner with us?” Charles reached out and held the old man’s hand.

“Madam,” he replied tearfully. “I could think of no better way to spend Christmas than with you and your family.”

He picked up Charles and sat him inside the red wagon. Everyone laughed as he pulled the wagon around the room. The small boy giggled and squealed with glee.

The End

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