Friday, 16 November 2012
Father Christmas and the Elephunk
Christmas Eve, 1940.
“I’m quite certain this was the place,” said Father Christmas.
He was staring up and down the little street where he had halted his sledge and was pulling at his long white beard as he did so. It was the kind of street that would be called a cul-de-sac, with only one entrance and a brick wall at the other end, and there was just room on each side for six houses.
But now Father Christmas could see no houses at all, only a heap of bricks and plaster, with here and there the leg of an armchair, the back of a sofa, or the iron frame of a bed with a burnt-out mattress protruding from it. It was only where the brilliant moon lit these up that he could see clearly what they were, and it seemed that at this sight he was greatly distressed.
He kept pulling his beard and looking up to see the name of the road on the broken wall of the last house, the shell of which was still left, but even that was in shadow.
“There were sixteen children here,” said Father Christmas sadly. “It was my favourite road in all London.” He spoke half to himself and half to Ready and Willing, the magnificent reindeer that drew the Christmas sledge. They were tossing their horns in their bewilderment, because they could no more make up their minds about what to do than could Father Christmas.
While he was thinking, Father Christmas pushed back the cloak which made him invisible, as well as unheard, and went on talking aloud.
“They’ll all wonder what has become of me as much as I wonder what has become of them,” he continued, looking at the reindeer as if they might have something to suggest. And indeed they would have done so if they could have thought of anything, for all the year they had been looking forward to this night of Christmas Eve, when the gnomes of fairyland would put on their silver harness and they would set out on their wonderful journey with the sledge full of toys that never seemed to come to an end until every child in Christendom had had his or her share.
All they could do now was to shake their heads until their silver bells tinkled and clashed, and the shadow of their horns was like the shadow of a twisted rope being moved from side to side.
But at the sound of Father Christmas’s voice, which, now that he had thrown off his cloak, could be heard by anyone who chanced to be near, there was a little rustle among the rubbish in one of the heaps, and a small boy – a very little boy indeed – came slowly towards him, rubbing his eyes with his knuckles. He was a very dirty little boy, and his clothes had been torn by grubbing about in the heap of broken things. His face was stained with tears, and it was quite evident that no one had given or lent him a handkerchief.
“Please,” he said, catching Father Christmas by his robe, “have you seen my skin elephunk?”
Father Christmas looked down at him and a very kind twinkle came into his blue eyes. He did not even draw back the hood of his cloak, for here was a child in trouble, and nobody knows better than Father Christmas how to put things right again.
First he drew out his big white handkerchief and wiped the grubby little face, and then he answered.
“I haven’t seen anything yet,” he said, except heaps of rubbish. But perhaps we may be able to find it if we try very hard. It’s quite possible that it may have joined the other elephants in my sledge. There are millions of elephants, you know, only you won’t see them all at once!”
Billy – for that was the little boy’s name – shook his head.
“I fink,” he said, “he would have waited until I came back, unless he’s been bombed again and had to go to the hospital. Please, are you an Air Raid Warden?”
Father Christmas shook his head. He was standing in the shadow so that Billy could not see him very well. If he had he would have seen Father Christmas’s merry face grow sad and angry as he looked round the poor little street that had once been full of happy children.
“Where have all the other children gone?” he asked.
“Some of them went in the ambulants,” said Billy, “and some are in the Shelter. Granny’s there too – I came away when she was talking to some ladies. You see” – Billy’s voiced quivered and a dirty little fist went up again to rub his eyes – “I couldn’t go away and leave my elephunk all alone. He might certainly have been bombed if Hitler came back.”
“Well,” said Father Christmas, “I think you will have to go and ask my reindeer, Ready and Willing. They have been standing waiting at the end of the road and they have the brightest eyes in the world, because they were born in fairyland. They could see a pin even if it was right under the biggest heap that Hitler ever made.”
Billy stopped crying in a moment and caught at Father Christmas’s hand.
“Oh, come, please come,” he said. “Perhaps, if there’s another air raid, Ready and Willing will go home to fairyland. Please don’t let them go until they’ve found my elephunk.”
“They won’t go until I do,” said Father Christmas, “but come along and we’ll find out what they have to say.”
To find out what happens to Billy and his Elephunk click Here