Authors: Sonia Halbach
A Division of
P.O. Box 2160
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Cover Art by Dan Verkys
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ISBN 978-1-62007-962-1 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-62007-963-8 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-62007-964-5 (hardcover)
For Grandma Ruth and Grandpa John, and our many Christmas Eves.
And in memory of Lily, Sarah, and Grace Badger
Learn more about the Lily Sarah Grace Fund at
s soon as the carriage came around the street corner, Maggie Ogden glimpsed the snow-powdered sycamore that stood beside the west porch of Chelsea Manor. Strips of its brown and gray patterned bark desperately clung to the trunk as though sensing an impending storm, for even the estate’s distinguished trees knew of the disturbance brought on by the arrival of the holiday season.
“Was it last Christmas when there was too much brandy in the plum pudding?” Clemmie Ogden mumbled while the carriage bumped along the cobblestone road.
“That was two years ago, Clemmie,” corrected Catharine, as she gripped the black lace shawl draped around her porcelain neck. The ends of Catharine’s mouth turned up as she recalled the incident. “Aunt Lucretia had three slices and was giggling all evening.”
Fourteen-year-old Maggie was seated between her older siblings in the back of the carriage. She listened to the hooves trotting up the avenue before adding, “Last Christmas, Grandfather Clement went missing at Jefferson Market. Remember? We couldn’t find him for hours.”
Clemmie snorted. “Grandfather was attempting to escape Aunt Emily’s endless Yuletide cheer. His disappearance was quite intentional, I assure you.”
Before Maggie could respond to her brother, the carriage lurched to a stop in front of their grandfather’s mansion.
Chelsea Manor had been built upon farmland, but by the mid-nineteenth century the city had nearly crept to the mansion’s front stoop. South of the Manor, a brownstone church and seminary campus stood where once had been an apple orchard. Row houses pressed against the borders of the estate while a railroad company laid its tracks along the west end, dividing Chelsea and the banks of the Hudson River.
But Chelsea Manor itself remained untouched, sitting on top of a hill that was supported by high stone walls where New York City’s streets and avenues had been carved out. And inside the Manor was even less affected by the wafting scent of industry and change making its way across Manhattan.
Grandfather Clement had lived in Chelsea Manor all seventy-five years of his life, and he planned to die there, possibly sometime soon. But even though Grandfather Clement had deemed the past year to be his last, Christmas arrived once again to the Manor in 1854, and with it, the entire family. By late December, Grandfather Clement’s five living children, two daughters-in-law, one son-in-law, and seven grandchildren were settled in his mansion for the holidays.
Maggie didn’t mind staying at Chelsea Manor. The tradition was a fairly predictable one. From the moment Maggie walked into the mansion’s foyer, greeted by a handful of servants and chattering relatives, her body seemed to fall into a simple state of holiday routine. Every year the same family members were seen, the same meals were eaten, and the same conversations were had.
“Why, Catharine, I dare say that you have become the most beautiful woman in all of Manhattan,” Aunt Lucretia squealed, grasping Catharine in a tight embrace.
“Young Clement, have you reconsidered studying at the seminary?” Uncle William said, poking Clemmie’s chest with a stubby finger. “I still believe that you would make a fine theologian.”
“And Maggie,” Uncle Benjamin greeted, turning to acknowledge the least noticed person of her party. “What’s it that you do to occupy your time these days?”
Maggie smiled accordingly. “I remain in a constant pursuit of betterment.” Her response was received with approving nods.
Yes, it was a predictable tradition indeed.
But there was one annual occurrence only Maggie knew about. And it was the peculiar dream she had each Christmas season where the legendary St. Nicholas would fall from Chelsea Manor’s rooftop. And this year proved to be no different.
After the family retired for the evening, Maggie once again dreamed that St. Nicholas stepped too close to the rooftop’s edge and his polished boots slipped from the shingles. As the bearded man’s plump body tumbled through the misty air, the tattered sack clutched in his hand burst like a Christmas cracker, and a colorful explosion of red, green, and gold tinsel decorated the glittering lawn below while hundreds of baby dolls, snare drums, and wooden guns rained down from the sky.
Although Maggie had dreamed the same thing many times before, after awakening in the early morning of Christmas Eve Day, she still anxiously ran over to the window. The family would never tolerate some jolly old elf sprawled on Grandfather Clement’s prominent estate―and on Christmas Eve Day, no less. Such a scandal would cause quite the outrage within the household, undoubtedly spoiling the entire holiday.
“How rude!” Maggie pictured Aunt Maria squawking at the sight of the motionless Christmas saint.
Then Uncle Clement Francis would surely prod the bulbous body with the tip of his cane, shaking his head in disgust while muttering, “I do not know what is more tragic―his fall or his fall’s lack of propriety.”
So Maggie felt a silly sense of relief when there was no trace of St. Nicholas as she looked out Chelsea Manor’s third-story window where swirling flakes greeted her like an early present. It appeared the night had only brought a gentle, agreeable snow.
But then a chilling thought froze Maggie at the window. There was something about her dream that had been different this year.
Was another figure on the rooftop with St. Nicholas?
Had the old man been pushed?
Maggie shook her head. No, that couldn’t be right. The dream was always the same. St. Nicholas simply slipped from the rooftop. And she brushed aside the nonsensical idea of him falling any other way.
Maggie ordinarily wouldn’t leave her bedroom until the pink sun drifted over the cusp of the estate, but the dream had left her feeling uncomfortably wide awake. Also, the portrait of late Aunt Margaret that hung over Maggie’s bed wouldn’t stop staring. The painted eyes of her beautiful―yet deceased―aunt usually followed Maggie around the room, but today they were even more penetrating.
Maggie glanced across the bedroom and watched as twelve-year-old Gertrude continued to sleep soundly. Maggie’s younger cousin appeared free of nightmares as she muttered, “But, Mother, it was Gardiner who took a second bowl of lemon sherbet…”
As the stale predawn light leaked into the bedroom, Maggie slipped out to the hallway with a coat in hand, mindful of her sleeping relatives.
Maggie’s other cousins Gardiner and Louis resided in the bedroom just down the hallway. Before even opening the door, Maggie heard snores coming from Gertrude’s twin brother, Gardiner. On the far end of the room, Louis was slumped on a separate bed, back arched with his arm draped to the floor. The curly-haired boy’s hand was still mindlessly clutching the blankets that had been tossed to the ground during a lively slumber.
Maggie got along with fifteen-year-old Louis. He was a good-humored boy who often mocked the family’s obsession with the city’s high society and their efforts toward being above reproach. And whether the target was Uncle William’s ability to weave misquoted scripture into most daily conversations, or Aunt Emily’s well-intended pleasantries that were spoken even when things were not all that pleasant―Louis was provided with much fodder for his ridicule.