As it had been earlier, the velvet sky was pitch black and
the full moon shone brilliantly to the accompaniment of
millions upon millions of radiantly gleaming stars, and, as
far as Zachariah could see, the earth was bathed in creamy
whiteness, for all within sight was covered with sparkling
crystals of pure, white snow.
Waiting, the stranger held his hand to the little boy.
Climbing Boy 27: Halo
December 24, 1843
He looked up as the door closed behind Zachariah and, as
though the closing of the door signaled a change in his life,
Johnson knew, instantly, that now and for the rest of his
life, for so long as he lived, he would be alone…
The one room shack suddenly felt larger and colder and
drearier, and empty… so empty!
An overpowering loneliness overtaking him, “Oh, Lordy!”
he cried aloud and, looking to the ceiling, Johnson paused,
for these words, these words that he’d heard the boy speak
so many times, seemed to reverberate in his mind.
“Lordy! What did I do?”
The realization that he was alone—truly alone—that
Zachariah was forever out of his life, was almost more than
he could endure.
“Why’d I do it? Why’d I give me boy away?”
Pausing again, Me boy? Thinking in amazement that he’d
never thought of Zachariah as ‘his boy’ before.
Looking at the neat stack of coins on the table, bitter
tears stinging his eyes, Was it worth it? he thought, Giving
the…Giving me boy away for this!
Fearful of the answer, lifting the “gold” coin he attempted
to find reassurance by biting it… then by hefting it, but only
felt the coin’s coldness…
A coldness so intense that it seared his flesh. A coldness
so extreme that the coin dropped from his hand onto the
stack of coins, knocking them into a jumbled mound.
His head spinning, his eyes came out of focus.
The three bottles of gin, along with what he’d been given
to drink in the pubs he’d visited throughout the day now
taking its toll, he tried to focus his eyes, but couldn’t, and
nodding onto his chest, his head suddenly became
“Tired. So tired!”
Wearily lifting himself from the chair, Johnson stumbled
across the room where he fell, unconscious, onto his cot.
The smoldering wood became glowing ash… then dust.
The shack became dark… then frigidly cold.
In his sleep…
Even in his inebriated sleep, Johnson sensed an
Awakened by the cold, “Zachariah!” Remembering, his first
thought was of the boy, “Zachariah, me boy!”
Staring through the darkness to the far side of the shack,
to the boy’s pallet, he saw…
Something was there.
There was a shadow, a shadow that was darker than
Squinting, Johnson rubbed his knuckles over his eyes.
There appeared to be a figure on the boy’s pallet, sitting
up, leaning against the wall.
I must ‘ave been dreamin’. Cold vapor flowing from his
mouth, “Oh, Lordy,” Johnson said aloud, “it ain’t never
‘appened! Thank ya, Jesus! Thank ya!”
Coming off his cot, rushing across the room he dropped
to his knees next to Zachariah’s pallet.
“Zachariah! Zachriah me boy!” he cried. “I’m so sorry!
So sorry for the way I been treatin’ ya. Things’ll be different.
Soon’s it’s light, in the mornin’, we’ll go to the factory an’ ya
can ’ave one’a Archie’s kitt…”
A fissure opening in the thick bank of black clouds allowed
a beam of moonlight to stream through the shack’s only
window… onto the pallet of Zachariah, where…
Propped against the wall was the burlap and rag
“Oh, my Lord!” Johnson’s cries echoed through the cold,
The Halo of Light
The two walked through the glistening night, and the cold,
yet balmy breeze, and the gentle kiss of falling snow.
But for the snow all was still—still and quiet.
Protectively, lovingly, the stranger put his hand on the
The stranger’s touch warmed Zachariah with a
comforting warmth he remembered only from the dream
of the embrace of his mother.
Coming off the dirt path, the two walked onto the
cobblestone road and within moments arrived within the
sphere of the warming yellow glow of a gas-lit street lamp.
Stopping, removing a glove, holding Zachariah’s chin
gently in his bare hand, the stranger tilted the boy’s face
Looking at Zachariah’s angelic face the stranger’s face
broadened into a wide smile, and…
Looking up, Zachariah could not help but smile in
Reflecting in the soft glow of the street lamp, the
stranger’s eyes fairly twinkled, and his flowing white
beard seemingly shone with an iridescent glow.
Nearby, there was the impatient rustling of hooves and
the tinkle of small bells.
Reaching his hand to Zachariah, “Come, lad,” the
stranger said. “It’s near Christmas and there’s many that
await us this night.”
Hand in hand, the two passed from the yellow glow of
the street lamp and silently walked upon the snow-covered,
And the brilliantly shining moon, reflecting onto the
round crown of the top hat formed a luminous…
Halo of light.
December 24, 1910
Twisting on his grandfather’s lap, looking at him, “But Papa,”
the little boy says, “he’ll be so dirty!”
Lowering the book he’d been reading to his grandson,
the old man peers at the boy over the rim of his spectacles.
“Saint Nicholas, Papa!” the boy points to the fireplace.
“How does Saint Nicholas stay clean when he comes down
Mulling the boy’s question, “How does Saint Nicholas
stay clean?” the old man repeats.
“Yes, it’s so dirty there, Papa!”
Gazing at the burning fireplace, the remembrance of a
story his mother had once told him comes to mind, a story
about, “A little climbing boy that looks much like you,” she
had said. “A little climbing boy that became an angel and
the helper of Saint Nicholas, because, after all, how does
Saint Nicholas remain clean?”
Placing the book and his spectacles on the table alongside
the chair, lifting his grandson, the old man turns the boy in
“There was a story my mother—your great gra’mama—
told me when I was, oh, even smaller than you….”
When you lived in England, Papa?”
“Yes, Stephen. When I lived in London, your great
gra’mama told me a story about a little climbing boy… Do
you know what a climbing boy is?”
“You wouldn’t, would you? Well, I’ll explain in the story.
Anyway, Stephen, this is the story about a little boy who
became an angel and the helper of Saint Nicholas, and that
little boy had light hair and blue eyes…”
“Like me, Papa?”
“Yes,” tousling the boy’s hair, “just like you.
“Well,” the old man continues, “a long time ago there
was a little climbing boy by the name of…” trying to
remember, he stops. “Ah, yes!” Albert says, “Zachariah…”