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Star Over Bethlehem: Christmas Stories and Poems

Star Over Bethlehem: Christmas Stories and Poems
Star Over Bethlehem: Christmas Stories and Poems Agatha Christie A reproduction in one unique volume of three of Agatha Christie’s rarest and most sought-after books – Star Over Bethlehem, The Road of Dreams and Poems.The most popular detective story writer of all time turns her hand to the subject of Christmas.In a manger in Bethlehem, an angel offers Mary a vision of things to come… and a chance to change it all.A naughty little donkey learns the meaning of love as he carries a very special mother and child safely to Egypt.Mrs Hargreaves wanted to like people, but didn't really know how. Then she reached out to touch a stranger, and her eyes were opened to love.Here, in this charming gift edition, Agatha Christie’s stories and poems capture the true meaning of Christmas.This special collector’s edition contains a wealth of Agatha Christie rarities - not only all the stories, poems and illustrations from her long out-of-print book Star Over Bethlehem (1965), but also a reproduction of all her rare poetry from the two collections The Road of Dreams (1924) and Poems (1973). STAR OVER BETHLEHEM including THE ROAD OF DREAMS and POEMS by Agatha Christie Copyright Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) Star over Bethlehem first published in Great Britain by Collins 1965 Poems first published in Great Britain by Collins 1973 The Road of Dreams first published in Great Britain by Geoffrey Bles 1924 Copyright © 1924, 1965 and 1973 by Agatha Christie Mallowan. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books. ISBN 978-0-00-728421-4 EPub Edition © 2010 ISBN: 9780007423804 Version: 2017-04-13 Contents Cover (#u1d34a563-7101-54c3-8493-2b47672b7cc8) Title Page (#ubd31f457-35fc-5b3b-91aa-fd246e5c928e) Copyright Star Over Bethlehem’s Contents A Greeting Star over Bethlehem A Wreath for Christmas The Naughty Donkey Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh The Water Bus In the Cool of the Evening Jenny by the Sky Promotion in the Highest The Saints of God The Island Poems’s Contents Volume I A Masque from Italy The Players (#litres_trial_promo) The Comedy of the Arts (#litres_trial_promo) The Prologue: Sung by Columbine (#litres_trial_promo) Harlequin’s Song (#litres_trial_promo) Pierrot’s Song to the Moon (#litres_trial_promo) Pierrette Dancing on the Green (#litres_trial_promo) Columbine’s Song (#litres_trial_promo) Pulcinella (#litres_trial_promo) The Song of Pierrot by the Hearth (#litres_trial_promo) The Last Song of Columbine (#litres_trial_promo) Pierrot Grown Old (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue: Spoken by Punchinello (#litres_trial_promo) Ballads The Ballad of the Flint (#litres_trial_promo) Elizabeth of England (#litres_trial_promo) The Bells of Brittany (#litres_trial_promo) Isolt of Brittany (#litres_trial_promo) Dark Sheila (#litres_trial_promo) Ballad of the Maytime (#litres_trial_promo) The Princess Sings (#litres_trial_promo) Dreams and Fantasies The Dream Spinners (#litres_trial_promo) Down in the Wood (#litres_trial_promo) The Road of Dreams (#litres_trial_promo) Heritage (#litres_trial_promo) The Wanderer (#litres_trial_promo) The Dream City (#litres_trial_promo) A Passing (#litres_trial_promo) Other Poems Spring (#litres_trial_promo) Young Morning (#litres_trial_promo) Hymn to Ra (#litres_trial_promo) A Palm Tree in the Desert (#litres_trial_promo) World Hymn 1914 (#litres_trial_promo) Easter 1918 (#litres_trial_promo) To a Beautiful Old Lady (#litres_trial_promo) Wild Roses (#litres_trial_promo) Love Passes (#litres_trial_promo) Progression (#litres_trial_promo) There Where My Lover Lies (#litres_trial_promo) Volume II Things Beauty (#litres_trial_promo) The Water Flows (#litres_trial_promo) The Sculptor (#litres_trial_promo) A Wandering Tune (#litres_trial_promo) Places Ctesiphon (#litres_trial_promo) In Baghdad (#litres_trial_promo) An Island (#litres_trial_promo) The Nile (#litres_trial_promo) Dartmoor (#litres_trial_promo) To a Cedar Tree (#litres_trial_promo) Calvary (#litres_trial_promo) Love Poems and Others Count Fersen to the Queen (#litres_trial_promo) Beatrice Passes (#litres_trial_promo) Undine (#litres_trial_promo) Hawthorn Trees in Spring (#litres_trial_promo) The Lament of the Tortured Lover (#litres_trial_promo) What Is Love? (#litres_trial_promo) To M.E.L.M. in Absence (#litres_trial_promo) Remembrance (#litres_trial_promo) A Choice (#litres_trial_promo) My Flower Garden (#litres_trial_promo) Enchantment (#litres_trial_promo) Jenny by the Sky (#litres_trial_promo) Verses of Nowadays From a Grown-up to a Child (#litres_trial_promo) I Wore My New Canary Suit (#litres_trial_promo) Racial Musings (#litres_trial_promo) Picnic 1960 (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) STAR OVER BETHLEHEM STAR OVER BETHLEHEM and other stories by Agatha Christie Mallowan Decorations by Elsie Wrigley For Hydie A Greeting Praise to the Yule Log! Leap, Flames, merrily. Hail to the Wassail Bowl! Bubble,Wine, rosily! In the Manger lies the Child; Asses, Oxen, braying, lowing, Cackling Hens and Cocks a’crowing. Overfull the Inn to-night, Up above a star shines bright, Shepherds kneel beside their fold, Wise Men bring their gifts of Gold, Angels in the Sky above Trumpet forth God’s gift of Love. Waken, children, one and all, Wake to hear the trumpet call, Leave your sleeping, ’tis the Day, Christmas, glorious Christmas Day! Star over Bethlehem Mary looked down at the baby in the manger. She was alone in the stable except for the animals. As she smiled down at the child her heart was full of pride and happiness. Then suddenly she heard the rustling of wings and turning, she saw a great Angel standing in the doorway. The Angel shone with the radiance of the morning sun, and the beauty of his face was so great that Mary’s eyes were dazzled and she had to turn aside her head. Then the Angel said (and his voice was like a golden trumpet): ‘Do not be afraid, Mary....’ And Mary answered in her sweet low voice: ‘I am not afraid, Oh Holy One of God, but the Light of your Countenance dazzles me.’ The Angel said:‘I have come to speak to you.’ Mary said:‘Speak on, Holy One. Let me hear the commands of the Lord God.’ The Angel said: ‘I have come with no commands. But since you are specially dear to God, it is permitted that, with my aid, you should look into the future....’ Then Mary looked down at the child and asked eagerly: ‘Into his future?’ Her face lit up with joyful anticipation. ‘Yes,’ said the Angel gently.‘Into his future . . . Give me your hand.’ Mary stretched out her hand and took that of the Angel. It was like touching flame – yet flame that did not burn. She shrank back a little and the Angel said again: ‘Do not be afraid. I am immortal and you are mortal, but my touch shall not hurt you. . . .’ Then the Angel stretched out his great golden wing over the sleeping child and said: ‘Look into the future, Mother, and see your Son. . . .’ And Mary looked straight ahead of her and the stable walls melted and dissolved and she was looking into a Garden. It was night and there were stars overhead and a man was kneeling, praying. Something stirred in Mary’s heart, and her motherhood told her that it was her son who knelt there. She said thankfully to herself: ‘He has become a good man – a devout man – he prays to God.’ And then suddenly she caught her breath, for the man had raised his face and she saw the agony on it – the despair and the sorrow . . . and she knew that she was looking on greater anguish than any she had ever known or seen. For the man was utterly alone. He was praying to God, praying that this cup of anguish might be taken from him – and there was no answer to his prayer. God was absent and silent. . . . And Mary cried out: ‘Why does not God answer him and give him comfort?’ And she heard the voice of the Angel say: ‘It is not God’s purpose that he should have comfort.’ Then Mary bowed her head meekly and said: ‘It is not for us to know the inscrutable purposes of God. But has this man – my son – has he no friends? No kindly human friends?’ The Angel rustled his wing and the picture dissolved into another part of the Garden and Mary saw some men lying asleep. She said bitterly:‘He needs them – my son needs them – and they do not care!’ The Angel said: ‘They are only fallible human creatures . . .’ Mary murmured to herself: ‘But he is a good man, my son. A good and upright man.’ Then again the wing of the Angel rustled, and Mary saw a road winding up a hill, and three men on it carrying crosses, and a crowd behind them and some Roman soldiers. The Angel said:‘What do you see now?’ Mary said:‘I see three criminals going to execution.’ The left hand man turned his head and Mary saw a cruel crafty face, a low bestial type – and she drew back a little. ‘Yes,’ she said,‘they are criminals.’ Then the man in the centre stumbled and nearly fell, and as he turned his face, Mary recognised him and she cried out sharply: ‘No, no, it cannot be that my son is a criminal!’ But the Angel rustled his wing and she saw the three crosses set up, and the figure hanging in agony on the centre one was the man she knew to be her son. His cracked lips parted and she heard the words that came from them: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ And Mary cried out: ‘No, no, it is not true! He cannot have done anything really wrong. There has been some dreadful mistake. It can happen sometimes.There has been some confusion of identity; he has been mistaken for someone else. He is suffering for someone else’s crime.’ But again the Angel rustled his wings and this time Mary was looking at the figure of the man she revered most on earth – the High Priest of her Church. He was a noble-looking man, and he stood up now and with solemn hands he tore and rent the garment he was wearing, and cried out in a loud voice: ‘This man has spoken Blasphemy!’ And Mary looked beyond him and saw the figure of the man who had spoken Blasphemy – and it was her son. Then the pictures faded and there was only the mud-brick wall of the stable, and Mary was trembling and crying out brokenly: ‘I cannot believe it – I cannot believe it.We are a God-fearing straight-living family – all my family. Yes, and Joseph’s family too. And we shall bring him up carefully to practise religion and to revere and honour the faith of his fathers. A son of ours could never be guilty of blasphemy – I cannot believe it! All this that you have shown me cannot be true.’ Then the Angel said:‘Look at me, Mary.’ And Mary looked at him and saw the radiance surrounding him and the beauty of his Face. And the Angel said: ‘What I have shown you is Truth. For I am the Morning Angel, and the Light of the Morning is Truth. Do you believe now?’ And sorely against her will, Mary knew that what she had been shown was indeed Truth . . . and she could not disbelieve any more. The tears raced down her cheeks and she bent over the child in the manger, her arms outspread as though to protect him. She cried out: ‘My child . . . my little helpless child . . . what can I do to save you? To spare you from what is to come? Not only from the sorrow and the pain, but from the evil that will blossom in your heart? Oh indeed it would have been better for you if you had never been born, or if you had died with your first breath. For then you would have gone back to God pure and unsoiled.’ And the Angel said: ‘That is why I have come to you, Mary.’ Mary said:‘What do you mean?’ The Angel answered: ‘You have seen the future. It is in your power to say if your child shall live or die.’ Then Mary bent her head, and amidst stifled sobs she murmured: ‘The Lord gave him to me . . . If the Lord now takes him away, then I see that it may indeed be mercy, and though it tears my flesh I submit to God’s will.’ But the Angel said softly: ‘It is not quite like that. God lays no command on you. The choice is yours. You have seen the future. Choose now if the child shall live or die.’ Then Mary was silent for a little while. She was a woman who thought slowly. She looked once at the Angel for guidance, but the Angel gave her none. He was golden and beautiful and infinitely remote. She thought of the pictures that had been shown her – of the agony in the garden, of the shameful death, of a man who, at the hour of death, was forsaken of God, and she heard again the dreadful word Blasphemy.... And now, at this moment, the sleeping babe was pure and innocent and happy.... But she did not decide at once, she went on thinking – going over and over again those pictures she had been shown. And in doing so a curious thing happened, for she remembered little things that she had not been aware of seeing at the time. She saw, for instance, the face of the man on the right-hand cross. . . . Not an evil face, only a weak one – and it was turned towards the centre cross and on it was an expression of love and trust and adoration. . . . And it came to Mary, with sudden wonder – ‘It was at my son he was looking like that . . .’ And suddenly, sharply and clearly, she saw her son’s face as it had been when he looked down at his sleeping friends in the garden.There was sadness there, and pity and understanding and a great love . . .And she thought:‘It is the face of a good man . . .’ And she saw again the scene of accusation. But this time she looked, not at the splendid High Priest, but at the face of the accused man . . . and in his eyes was no consciousness of guilt. . . . And Mary’s face grew very troubled. Then the Angel said: ‘Have you made your choice, Mary? Will you spare your son suffering and evildoing?’ And Mary said slowly: ‘It is not for me, an ignorant and simple woman, to understand the High Purposes of God.The Lord gave me my child. If the Lord takes him away, then that is His will. But since God has given him life, it is not for me to take that life away. For it may be that in my child’s life there are things that I do not properly understand . . . It may be that I have seen only part of a picture, not the whole. My baby’s life is his own, not mine, and I have no right to dispose of it.’ ‘Think again,’ said the Angel. ‘Will you not lay your child in my arms and I will bear him back to God?’ ‘Take him in your arms if it is God’s command,’ said Mary.‘But I will not lay him there.’ There was a great rustling of wings and a blaze of light and the Angel vanished. Joseph came in a moment later and Mary told him of what had occurred. Joseph approved of what Mary had done. ‘You did right, wife,’ he said.‘And who knows, this may have been a lying Angel.’ ‘No,’ said Mary.‘He did not lie.’ She was sure of that with every instinct in her. ‘I do not believe a word of it all,’ said Joseph stoutly.‘We will bring our son up very carefully and give him good religious instruction, for it is education that counts. He shall work in the shop and go with us to the Synagogue on the Sabbath and keep all the Feasts and the Purifications.’ Looking in the manger, he said: ‘See, our son is smiling . . .’ And indeed the boy was smiling and holding out tiny hands to his mother as though to say ‘Well Done.’ But aloft in the vaults of blue, the Angel was quivering with pride and rage. ‘To think that I should fail with a foolish, ignorant, woman! Well, there will come another chance. One day when He is weary and hungry and weak . . . Then I will take him up to the top of a mountain and show him the Kingdoms of this World of mine. I will offer him the Lordship of them all. He shall control Cities and Kings and Peoples . . . He shall have the Power of causing wars to cease and hunger and oppression to vanish. One gesture of worship to me and he shall be able to establish peace and plenty, contentment and good will – know himself to be a Supreme Power for Good. He can never withstand that temptation!’ And Lucifer, Son of the Morning, laughed aloud in ignorance and arrogance and flashed through the sky like a burning streak of fire down to the nethermost depths. . . . In the East, three Watchers of the Heavens came to their Masters and said: ‘We have seen a Great Light in the Sky. It must be that some great Personage is born.’ But whilst all muttered and exclaimed of Signs and Portents a very old Watcher murmured: ‘A Sign from God? God has no need of Signs and Wonders. It is more likely to be a Sign from Satan. It is in my mind that if God were to come amongst us, he would come very quietly....’ But in the Stable there was much fun and good company. The ass brayed, and the horses neighed and the oxen lowed, and men and women crowded in to see the baby and passed him from one to the other, and he laughed and crowed and smiled at them all. ‘See,’ they cried. ‘He loves everybody! There never was such a Child. . . .’ A Wreath for Christmas When Mary made a Holly wreath The blood ran red – ran red. Another Mary wove the Thorns That crowned her Master’s head. But the Mistletoe was far away Across a Western sea, And the Mistletoe was wreathed around A Pagan Apple Tree. In Glastonbury grew a Thorn, When Joseph came to trade. And the Holly Bush was common growth In every wooded glade. But the Mistletoe was sacred where The Sun arose each morn, And the Mistletoe knew nothing of The Babe in Bethlehem born. Saint Patrick sailed the stormy seas To preach the Cross – and so He found Eve’s Tree – with serpent coiled – And hung with Mistletoe. ‘I bid thee, Serpent, leave this Land, And open, Plant, thine ears.’ He preached the Tale of Christ – and Lo! The Mistletoe wept tears. . . . The Holly bush has berries red, Blood-red upon each bough. The Thorn it blooms with golden flowers, And Kissing’s fashion now. What will you give to Christ the Lord? O! Pagan Bough so green? ‘The Tears that I have shed for One Whom I have never seen . . .’ Let Man then give his life for Man, The blood-red berries say, And Men have love for fellow men, Where Gorse flowers bloom so gay. And the Tears of Man be shed for Man Where Mistletoe gleams white. Come, pity, love and sacrifice.... God bless us all this night! The Naughty Donkey Once upon a time there was a very naughty little donkey. He liked being naughty. When anything was put on his back he kicked it off, and he ran after people trying to bite them. His master couldn’t do anything with him, so he sold him to another master, and that master couldn’t do anything with him and also sold him, and finally he was sold for a few pence to a dreadful old man who bought old worn-out donkeys and killed them by overwork and ill treatment. But the naughty donkey chased the old man and bit him, and then ran away kicking up his heels. He didn’t mean to be caught again so he joined a caravan that was going along the road. ‘Nobody will know who I belong to in all this crowd,’ thought the donkey. These people were all going up to the city of Bethlehem, and when they got there they went into a big Khan full of people and animals. The little donkey slipped into a nice cool stable where there was an ox and a camel.The camel was very haughty, like all camels, because camels think that they alone know the hundredth and secret name of God. He was too proud to speak to the donkey So the donkey began to boast. He loved boasting. ‘I am a very unusual donkey,’ he said, ‘I have foresight and hindsight.’ ‘What is that?’ said the ox. ‘Like my forelegs – in front of me – and my hind legs – behind me.Why, my great great, thirty-seventh time great grandmother belonged to the Prophet Balaam, and saw with her own eyes the Angel of the Lord!’ But the ox went on chewing and the camel remained proud. Then a man and a woman came in, and there was a lot of fuss, but the donkey soon found out that there was nothing to fuss about, only a woman going to have a baby which happens every day. And after the baby was born some shepherds came and made a fuss of the baby – but shepherds are very simple folk. But then some men in long rich robes came. ‘V.I.P.s,’ hissed the camel. ‘What’s that?’ asked the donkey. ‘Very Important People,’ said the camel, ‘bringing gifts.’ The donkey thought the gifts might be something good to eat, so when it was dark he began nosing around. But the first gift was yellow and hard, with no taste, the second made the donkey sneeze and when he licked the third, the taste was nasty and bitter. ‘What stupid gifts,’ said the donkey, disappointed. But as he stood there by the Manger, the baby stretched out his little hand and caught hold of the donkey’s ear, clutching it tight as very young babies will. And than a very odd thing happened. The donkey didn’t want to be naughty any more. For the first time in his life he wanted to be good. And he wanted to give the baby a gift – but he hadn’t anything to give. The baby seemed to like his ear, but the ear was part of him – and then another strange idea came to him. Perhaps he could give the baby himself.... It was not very long after that that Joseph came in with a tall stranger. The stranger was speaking urgently to Joseph, and as the donkey stared at them he could hardly believe his eyes! The stranger seemed to dissolve and in his place stood an Angel of the Lord, a golden figure with wings. But after a moment the Angel changed back again into a mere man. ‘Dear dear, I’m seeing things,’ said the donkey to himself.‘It must be all that fodder I ate.’ Joseph spoke to Mary. ‘We must take the child and flee.There is no time to be lost.’ His eye fell on the donkey.‘We will take this donkey here, and leave money for his owner whoever he may be. In that way no time will be lost.’ So they went out on the road from Bethlehem. But as they came to a narrow place, the Angel of the Lord appeared with a flaming sword, and the donkey turned aside and began to climb the hillside. Joseph tried to turn him back on to the road, but Mary said: ‘Let him be. Remember the Prophet Balaam.’ And just as they got to the shelter of some olive trees, the soldiers of King Herod came clattering down the road with drawn swords. ‘Just like my great grandmother,’ said the donkey, very pleased with himself.‘I wonder if I have foresight as well.’ He blinked his eyes – and he saw a dim picture – a donkey fallen into a pit and a man helping to pull it out. . . . ‘Why, it’s my Master, grown up to be a man,’ said the donkey. Then he saw another picture . . . the same man, riding on a donkey into a city. . . .‘Of course,’ said the donkey.‘He’s going to be crowned King!’ But the Crown seemed to be, not Gold, but Thorns (the donkey loved thorns and thistles – but it seemed the wrong thing for a Crown) and there was a smell he knew and feared – the smell of blood; and there was something on a sponge, bitter like the myrrh he had tasted in the stable.... And the little donkey knew suddenly that he didn’t want foresight any more. He just wanted to live for the day, to love his little Master and be loved by him, and to carry Him and his mother safely to Egypt. Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Gold, frankincense and myrrh. . . . As Mary stands Beside the Cross, those are the words that beat Upon her brain, and make her clench her hands, On Calvary, in noonday’s burning heat. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi kneel By simple shepherds all agog with joy, And Angels praising God who doth reveal, His love for men in Christ, the new born Boy. Where now the incense? Where the kingly gold? For Jesus only bitter myrrh and woe. No kingly figure hangs here – just a son In pain and dying. ...How shall Mary know That with his sigh ‘’Tis finished,’ all is told; Then – in that moment – Christ’s reign has begun? The Water Bus Mrs Hargreaves didn’t like people. She tried to, because she was a woman of high principle and a religious woman, and she knew very well that one ought to love one’s fellow creatures. But she didn’t find it easy – and sometimes she found it downright impossible. All that she could do was, as you might say, to go through the motions. She sent cheques for a little more than she could afford to reputable charities. She sat on committees for worthy objects, and even attended public meetings for abolishing injustices, which was really more effort than anything else, because, of course, it meant close proximity to human bodies, and she hated to be touched. She was able easily to obey the admonitions posted up in public transport, such as:‘Don’t travel in the rush hour’; because to go in trains and buses, enveloped tightly in a sweltering crowd of humanity, was definitely her idea of hell on earth. If children fell down in the street, she always picked them up and bought them sweets or small toys to ‘make them better.’ She sent books and flowers to sick people in Hospital. Her largest subscriptions were to communities of nuns in Africa,because they and the people to whom they ministered, were so far away that she would never have to come in contact with them, and also because she admired and envied the nuns who actually seemed to enjoy the work they did,and because she wished with all her heart that she were like them. She was willing to be just, kind, fair, and charitable to people,so long as she did not have to see,hear or touch them. But she knew very well that that was not enough. Mrs Hargreaves was a middle-aged widow with a son and daughter who were both married and lived far away, and she herself lived in a flat in comfortable circumstances in London – and she didn’t like people and there didn’t seem to be anything she could do about it. She was standing on this particular morning by her daily woman who was sitting sobbing on a chair in the kitchen and mopping her eyes. ‘ – never told me nothing, she didn’t – not her own Mum! Just goes off to this awful place – and how she heard about it, I don’t know – and this wicked woman did things to her, and it went septic – or what ever they call it – and they took her off to Hospital and she’s lying there now, dying . . . Won’t say who the man was – not even now. Terrible it is, my own daughter – such a pretty little girl she used to be, lovely curls. I used to dress her ever so nice. Everybody said she was a lovely little thing . . .’ She gave a gulp and blew her nose. Mrs Hargreaves stood there wanting to be kind, but not really knowing how, because she couldn’t really feel the right kind of feeling. She made a soothing sort of noise, and said that she was very very sorry. And was there anything she could do? Mrs Chubb paid no attention to this query. ‘I s’pose I ought to have looked after her better . . . been at home more in the evenings . . . found out what she was up to and who her friends were – but children don’t like you poking your nose into their affairs nowadays – and I wanted to make a bit of extra money, too. Not for myself – I’d been thinking of getting Edie a slap-up gramophone – ever so musical she is – or something nice for the home. I’m not one for spending money on myself . . .’ She broke off for another good blow. ‘If there is anything I can do?’ repeated Mrs Hargreaves. She suggested hopefully, ‘A private room in the Hospital?’ But Mrs Chubb was not attracted by that idea. ‘Very kind of you, Madam, but they look after her very well in the ward. And it’s more cheerful for her. She wouldn’t like to be cooped away in a room by herself. In the ward, you see, there’s always something going on.’ Yes, Mrs Hargreaves saw it all clearly in her mind’s eye. Lots of women sitting up in bed, or lying with closed eyes; old women smelling of sickness and old age – the smell of poverty and disease percolating through the clean impersonal odour of disinfectants. Nurses scurrying along, with trays of instruments and trolleys of meals, or washing apparatus, and finally the screens going up round a bed . . . The whole picture made her shiver – but she perceived quite clearly that to Mrs Chubb’s daughter there would be solace and distraction in ‘the ward’ because Mrs Chubb’s daughter liked people. Mrs Hargreaves stood there by the sobbing mother and longed for the gift she hadn’t got.What she wanted was to be able to put her arm round the weeping woman’s shoulder and say something completely fatuous like ‘There, there, my dear’ – and mean it. But going through the motions would be no good at all.Actions without feeling were useless.They were without content . . . Quite suddenly Mrs Chubb gave her nose a final trumpet-like blow and sat up. ‘There,’ she said brightly.‘I feel better. She straightened a scarf on her shoulders and looked up at Mrs Hargreaves with a sudden and astonishing cheerfulness. ‘Nothing like a good cry, is there?’ Mrs Hargreaves had never had a good cry. Her griefs had always been inward and dark. She didn’t quite know what to say. ‘Does you good talking about things,’ said Mrs Chubb. ‘I’d best get on with the washing up. We’re nearly out of tea and butter, by the way. I’ll have to run round to the shops.’ Mrs Hargreaves said quickly that she would do the washing up and would also do the shopping and she urged Mrs Chubb to go home in a taxi. Mrs Chubb said no point in a taxi when the 11 bus got you there just as quick; so Mrs Hargreaves gave her two pound notes and said perhaps she would like to take her daughter something in Hospital? Mrs Chubb thanked her and went. Mrs Hargreaves went to the sink and knew that once again she had done the wrong thing. Mrs Chubb would have much preferred to clink about in the sink, retailing fresh bits of information of a macabre character from time to time, and then she could have gone to the shops and met plenty of her fellow kind and talked to them, and they would have had relatives in hospitals, too, and they all could have exchanged stories. In that way the time until Hospital visiting hours would have passed quickly and pleasantly. ‘Why do I always do the wrong thing?’ thought Mrs Hargreaves, washing up deftly and competently; and had no need to search for the answer. ‘Because I don’t care for people.’ When she had stacked everything away, Mrs Hargreaves took a shopping bag and went to shop. It was Friday and therefore a busy day. There was a crowd in the butcher’s shop.Women pressed against Mrs Hargreaves, elbowed her aside, pushed baskets and bags between her and the counter. Mrs Hargreaves always gave way. ‘Excuse me, I was here before you.’ A tall thin olive-skinned woman infiltrated herself. It was quite untrue and they both knew it, but Mrs Hargreaves stood politely back. Unfortunately, she acquired a defender, one of those large brawny women who are public spirited and insist on seeing justice is done. ‘You didn’t ought to let her push you around, luv,’ she admonished, leaning heavily on Mrs Hargreaves’ shoulder and breathing gusts of strong peppermint in her face.‘You was here long before she was. I come in right on her heels and I know. Go on now.’ She administered a fierce dig in the ribs.‘Push in there and stand up for your rights!’ ‘It really doesn’t matter,’ said Mrs Hargreaves.‘I’m not in a hurry.’ Her attitude pleased nobody. The original thruster, now in negotiation for a pound and a half of frying steak, turned and gave battle in a whining slightly foreign voice. ‘If you think you get here before me, why not you say? No good being so high and mighty and saying’ (she mimicked the words) ‘it doesn’t matter! How do you think that makes me feel? I don’t want to go out of my turn.’ ‘Oh no,’ said Mrs Hargreaves’ champion with heavy irony.‘Oh no, of course not! We all know that, don’t we?’ She looked round and immediately obtained a chorus of assent.The thruster seemed to be well known. ‘We know her and her ways,’ said one woman darkly. ‘Pound and a half of rump,’ said the butcher thrusting forth a parcel. ‘Now then, come along, who’s next, please?’ Mrs Hargreaves made her purchases and escaped to the street, thinking how really awful people were! She went into the greengrocer next, to buy lemons and a lettuce. The woman at the greengrocer’s was, as usual, affectionate. ‘Well, ducks, what can we do for you today?’ She rang up the cash register; said ‘Ta’ and ‘Here you are, dearie,’ as she pressed a bulging bag into the arms of an elderly gentleman who looked at her in disgust and alarm. ‘She always calls me that,’ the old gentleman confided gloomily when the woman had gone in search of lemons. ‘ “Dear”, and “Dearie” and “Love”. I don’t even know the woman’s name!’ Mrs Hargreaves said she thought it was just a fashion. The old gentleman looked dubious and moved off, leaving Mrs Hargreaves feeling faintly cheered by the discovery of a fellow sufferer. Her shopping bag was quite heavy by now, so she thought she would take a bus home.There were three or four people waiting at the bus stop, and an ill-tempered conductress shouted at the passengers. ‘Come along now, hurry along, please – we can’t wait here all day.’ She scooped up an elderly arthritic lady and thrust her staggering into the bus where someone caught her and steered her to a seat, and seized Mrs Hargreaves by the arm above the elbow with iron fingers, causing her acute pain. ‘Inside, only. Full up now.’ She tugged violently at a bell, the bus shot forward and Mrs Hargreaves collapsed on top of a large woman occupying, through no fault of her own, a good three-quarters of a seat for two. ‘I’m so sorry,’ gasped Mrs Hargreaves. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/star-over-bethlehem-christmas-stories-and-poems/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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