It was a bitter winter night. A steady curtain of snow fell. The ensuing chill kissed the stone walls of the cottage and seeped in through the crags. But, the fire burning in the hearth inside coated it in mellow, tepid warmth.
A lone, stout candle flickered inside the cottage. By its light an industrious servant worked. He was bent over a massive table heaped with an assortment of items. He grunted as he laboured over his task of rummaging through them and sorting them.
‘Oh dear,’ he muttered, edgy and worried, as he noted the time for the fifth time in the past half hour. It was ten O’clock. ‘I must hustle. The old man will be angry if I do not complete the work on time. I must complete it before he arrives. They are all depending on me. Oh dear…’ With some difficulty he quelled his rising anxiety and tore his eyes off the clock.
‘Are you finished yet?’ A sonorous voice asked.
The servant cringed. Just what he had feared! Master was here already.
‘Al…almost, Master. Ju…just a little more time,’ he mumbled, stuttering in his nervousness. ‘Soon, Master.’
Tomorrow was an important day for Master. As always, the old man wanted everything to be perfect for the grand celebration and feasts. Sloppiness would not be tolerated, he was sure. None of the servants had ever seen Master angry. But, one never knew. So far, the work had always been completed well in time on all previous occasions. This delay was unprecedented.
‘If only Bernie could help…’ he rued, thinking of the other helper who had developed severe frostbite in his fingers.
He looked again at the clock. Startled, he squeaked, ‘Eleven O’clock! Oh, no… I need to hasten.’
He cast an anxious glance at His Master. Thankfully, the old man had seated himself on a chair by the hearth. He seemed to be in a merry mood today.
‘Oh, thank god! Master doesn’t seem to look angry,’ he thought with a relieved exhale. ‘The impending festivities have put him in a happy mood. I’d better hustle and finish now.’
The clock hands inched towards midnight.
‘Well? Are you done?’ The old man asked again, the slightest frown flirting with his forehead.
‘ju..jus a few more minutes, Master,’ he begged, jumpy under the scrutiny. The old man looked pointedly at the clock, grunted and started pacing the floor.
The servant bent down and recommenced work at a feverish pace. His bony fingers were a blur of furious activity. God, please don’t let Master get angry, he prayed.
The clock struck twelve. The servant’s hands stilled. He had done it! He had finished the task single-handedly and on time!
‘It’s done Master,’ he said and bowed deferentially.
‘Ho, ho, ho…so, it is!’ exclaimed Santa in a jolly, booming voice. ‘It’s time to celebrate Christmas,’ he said and picked up the sacks of toys that the assiduous elf had beautifully sorted and packed.
Image credit – I stock free photos