Closing his eyes, shaking his head, Zachariah hoped the
two children were a figment of his imagination and that
when he opened his eyes they would be gone…
He opened his eyes…
Climbing Boy 21: Sacrifice
December 24, 1843
The children were still there.
Unable to turn away, Zachariah stared at the children
and, his eyes following the movement, as he stared a petal
fell from the broken rose and as though floating on a ghostly
breeze, fluttered slowly to the ground.
“You! You, boy!”
Coming from behind, the words breaking his trancelike
attention, forcing his eyes from the window, Zachariah
turned back to the counter.
A familiar face loomed over him.
“An’ what can I get for ya?”
“Uh, Sir…” Stopping, turning his face from the man
behind the counter, he looked over his shoulder… through
the once-again moisture-coated, distorted window.
The children were no longer there.
Breathing deeply, actually sighing with relief, he turned
back to the man behind the counter. “‘ow much’a your
sweets…” digging into his right pocket, holding his hand
palm up, “might I buy with this?”
Reaching over the counter, the man took the coin from
the boy’s hand.
“Aye, laddie,” the confectioner said, smiling. “I see ya
passin’ by here most every day lookin’ inta’me window, an’
at times I wanna run after ya and give ya sumtin’ from me
shop,” he said in a thick, Scottish accent. “But I never has,
so today, bein’ as it’s Christmas, I’m gonna give ya sumtin’
special.” About to reach above the counter to give the coin
back, but thinking better of it, withdrawing his hand. “Ya
looks to be an’ independent lad what wants to pay his own
Beginning to say, “No,” but feeling the man expected an
affirmative answer, said, “Yes, Sir. I been taught to pay me
“That’s what I thought!”
Putting the coin on the shelf behind the counter, taking a
small square of wrapping paper, the man turned back to
Zachariah. “I knew ya ta be a good, independent lad, an’
‘stead’a me not takin’ ya money, I’m gonna give ya sumtin’
extra! An’ what is it ya be wantin’?”
“Thank ya, Sir!” His face set in concentration, the boy’s
eyes darted from tray to tray.
Well used to this with children and adults, waiting
patiently a few moments, “I know it be hard ta make up ya
mind, lad. Ya wants me to give ya me favorites?”
Relieved of having to make this unsolvable decision, “Aye,
Sir, I’d surely like ya to do that!”
Reaching to his right, the confectioner took a large, dark
chocolate pecan cluster off a tray. Walking to the far end of
the counter, he choose a cherry cream.
The candies were the largest remaining on either tray,
and far in excess of what the boy’s copper would
Returning to Zachariah, twisting the four corners of the
paper tightly together making a kind of bag, the confectioner
handed it across the counter.
“Boy, ya be mindin’ if I shake ya hand? Ya know, for
Smiling, reaching up, Zachariah offered his hand.
Reaching down, the man took hold of the boy’s hand
and, as man to man, the two shook hands.
“Thank ya for the sweets, Sir. A good Christmas to ya.”
“An’ the same to ya, laddie.” Wiping his hand on his apron,
“May the Lord be with ya!” the man said as he turned, “How
may I help ya, Sir?” to take care of another customer.
With his treasure held tightly in his hand, Zachariah
started for the door.
As he did, he couldn’t help but look to the window.
They’re there again, the children!
His heart quickening, hesitating, opening the door,
Zachariah stepped through.
Feeling the sudden chill of outside, unwilling to look upon
the emaciated faces of the girl or boy, looking neither to the
right or the left, wanting to be past the children, his eyes
focused on the plumes of the vapor of his breath, he walked,
and as he did…
Their bodies pivoting from the window, the expressionless
eyes of the boy and girl followed Zachariah as he walked
from the shop.
One… two… three paces… For an unknown reason,
compelled to stop, stopping, turning, he faced the children.
Three paces separating Zachariah from the brother and
sister, the two looked upon the little chimney sweep and he
looked back and, as before, the girl stood with her hand
upon the boy’s shoulder, and, as before, the tattered clothing
of the boy and girl moved in a wind that Zachariah sensed
as cold, frigid even, but oddly, could not feel.
The faces of the boy and girl were sunken and gaunt.
Their eyes, set deeply within black hollows, had an intense,
hungry look that thrust to Zachariah’s soul.
Clutching his candy—holding the four ends of the packet
tightly in his clenched fist—he tried to smile… but the
corners of his mouth—twitching with the effort—could not.
Her eyes leaving Zachariah’s face, her head lowering,
the girl looked down, to the tray that hung from the biting
twine held about her neck, to the one remaining rose, to the
rose with the broken stem.
Forcing his eyes from their faces, Zachariah looked at
the flower also… And as he looked, separating, the wilted
rose broke from its stem and fell to the ground.
Shuddering, not knowing what to do and wanting, very
badly, to be gone from these two, turning away, Zachariah
began to walk…
One pace… Feeling the now familiar sensation of the
children’s eyes piercing his back.
Three paces… Wind. He felt wind.
Four paces… Cold. With each step he became colder.
Seven paces… Harder. The wind blew harder.
Nine paces… The sky becoming blacker by the second,
the moon was near gone and even the brightest star barely
visible. Ten paces.
He felt a gnawing in his…? Mind. A gnawing in his…?
Eleven paces… He knew what he had to do… He knew
what he must do!
Stopping, standing perfectly still, looking upward,
speaking to the black sky, “It ain’t fair!” Imploring, looking
for a reason not to do what he knew he must. Holding his
arms skyward, Zachariah felt the weight of the candy in his
hand. “It ain’t fair!” he repeated. “What ‘ave I got?”
Answering himself: “I ain’t got nothin’ neither!”
And a succession of pictures played through his mind:
Mr. Archibald’s crinkly smile and his offer of a kitten;
The men that had played with him at the factory;
The friendship of Marco, the fishmonger;
The touches and warmth of the many people he’d met on
this night; The smile and tears of the pretty lady;
The silver coin the lady had given him that weighted in
his pocket; And most of all, this coming before all else,
seeing the lady’s face before him, he now knew the face
of his mother.
His shoulders slumped in defeat.
Feeling a stirring in his pocket, stretching his finger
within, he scratched the mouse’s head… “An’ Mousy! I got
you, too, Mousy!”
His shoulders lifting with resolution, straightening his
back, he turned around.
As before, standing as before the boy and girl remained
looking at him.
Snow began to fall as, retracing his steps, Zachariah stood
before the two gaunt, hollow-eyed children.
Lifting her hand from the boy’s shoulder, the girl held it
Zachariah put his candy—his treasure—onto the girl’s
hand and found, though forced, he could, he did, the little
climbing boy smiled.
Silent, the boy and girl, though, did not smile in return.
Feeling the weight of his sacrifice within his mind, within
his heart, turning, Zachariah began to walk.
Two paces… three paces. Turning back, “A good Chris…”
The girl and boy were gone.