Jacob Toddle looked out of his office window at the Christmas shoppers below him and sighed heavily. They were at it again. Fighting, pulling each other’s hair and being obnoxiously rude. The High Street was the worst sight to see at this time of year. It was the Wednesday before Christmas in December eighteen ninety nine. The first pure white snowflakes of the year were gently floating down upon the Christmas shoppers, but they were too busy arguing to notice. He shook his head.
“Something has to be done about it. There hasn’t been a happy Christmas since I can remember.” he said to himself.
Jacob was a handsome man with dark brown eyes and dark, wavy hair that hung down to his shoulders. He worked for the local newspaper, The Stoney Tor Tattler at Feltham’s Publishers & Press Offices. The tall brick building sat in the middle of the busy high street full of all kinds of shops and businesses. At the end of the High Street, as you turned left out of the office, was the town square, which was overlooked by the magnificent gothic architecture of the Town Hall. On the left of this great building was a small museum, which had 6 rooms of various historical exhibits on two floors and on its right was the Stoney Grand Hotel.
Looking right he could see the narrow streets and colourful houses of the town’s normally friendly, happy folk. As he walked home from the office to his own little residence each day, people always said hello or waved as he walked past. But when Christmas time came around they all seemed to turn from lovely people into rude, angry monsters who didn’t have time for anyone. Even their pet dogs growled at him and the cats hissed as he went past. It was as if the whole town had become infected with a giant argument that was much too big for one person and so everyone got a bit of it. They didn’t enjoy the snow, they hated their presents and the spirit of the season was nowhere to be found. It was the same every year.
Thomas Downey stood next to Jacob nodding in agreement. Thomas had been Jacob’s closest friend since they were small children.
“I will have to think of something to sort this out once and for all.” Jacob said. The Editor of the newspaper, Mr. Frederick Feltham walked into the room. He was a short, stocky man with a large black beard that rested on his chest and it wobbled as he moved. A robin redbreast could have nested in there quite comfortably.
“Don’t get involved Mr Toddle.” he said, “It will end in no good. Look how awful they are to each other at this time of year. Whatever will they do to you?”
As the trio looked out of the window they saw a man pass by the sweet shop on the other side of the road. He walked along stiffly with his cane tapping on the snowy pavement, trying to ignore the fact that he had been splattered with flour and eggs. He had made two holes in the flour on his face to see where he was going and raw egg was still dripping from the brim of his top hat. A group of naughty children were running off in the other direction laughing. The three men shuddered at the thought.
“You see?” Mr Feltham liked to be right and even though he mostly was it could be a little irritating. But Jacob refused to be as grumpy as everyone else was at Christmas.
Jacob twirled the end of his thin moustache with his right hand while deep in thought. Suddenly he turned towards his fellow men.
“Can I speak frankly Mr Feltham?”
“Of course Mr Toddle.” said Mr Feltham.
“If this goes on Santa will stop coming to Stoney Tor altogether. What is the point of delivering presents to a lot of miserable, unappreciative people? He has much better things to do. He can’t wait until he gets out of the village on Christmas Eve and who can blame him?”
“Very true.” said Thomas, nodding sadly. Mr Toddle placed his arm across Mr Feltham’s broad shoulders. Frederick did not want to listen to Jacob but nevertheless he looked up into the young journalist’s eyes.
“Listen. I have a plan and it is one where we will not have to have any contact with any of them at all, whatsoever. All we have to do is give them a guiding hand. A push in the right direction.” said Jacob.
“What could you possibly do that would make Christmas better?” asked Thomas looking at the chaos beneath them.
“I will write a special news report, a message. It will be the talk of the town,” said Jacob. He waved his hand across the air as if he could see the headline in front of him. “From this year onwards Christmas will be as joyous and wonderful as it should have been every year past.”
“I really do hope you are right. It won’t be easy to quell that lot.” said Thomas with a sad smile. He patted Jacob on the back and walked away with Mr Feltham. It was hard to believe anything could save Christmas after all this time.
* * *
Jacob stayed by the window deep in thought for some time. In the quiet of the first floor office he could hear the sound of the printing machine that chugged liked a heartbeat located on the floor below. Every now and then he smiled to himself. Jacob knew what he had to do and all he needed was his talent with words and a little bit of magic.
Later, in the evening, when all was dark outside and the white-blanketed world was quiet for a while, Thomas sighed and got up from the chair behind his desk and walked over to the coat rack in the corner of the room.
“Its very late Jacob. Why don’t you get off home?” Thomas said, putting on his woollen scarf and coat. Jacob looked up from where he sat at his desk and he had to admit he was tempted. He had been working on the Christmas message all afternoon and evening but could not get it quite right. The clock on the wall told him it was already nine’ o’clock.
“I really want to get this finished Thomas. I just need a little bit longer.” said Jacob.
“Well, try not to stay too late then.” said Thomas, “Oh, and Mr Feltham asked me to tell you that he has asked the printing boy downstairs to stay late, so he can add your message to the front page of tomorrow’s edition. Let him know when you are ready but try not to keep the poor boy up too late Jacob.” Jacob smiled at him and nodded.
“Tomorrow then.” said Thomas smiling back and with a tip of his hat he was gone. Jacob heard him whistling God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen as he went down the stairs and left the building.
Jacob got back to working on the message and after a while he began to pace up and down in the small office to help him think. Then he started to get a headache and decided to have a break. The clock showed the time to be just after midnight. He walked into the corridor, to the top of the wooden staircase that led from the first floor where he worked and headed down toward the ground floor where the reception desk stood. He sat down on the second from top stair. Jacob knew what it was he wanted to say but he needed to get it exactly right. But the right words were eluding him and as hard as he concentrated nothing came to mind. After a time a sadness overcame him and he thought that maybe he had been wrong. Maybe he couldn’t save Christmas after all. With a heavy heart he went into the office to fetch his coat and hat. He hooked his walking cane over the crook of his arm and turned down the gas lamp until the flame died and darkness shrouded the room.
“Why can’t I think of it?” Jacob asked himself, “What am I missing?”
At the top of the stairs he paused and looked down to the reception room of the building. He could see the reception desk sitting against the right hand wall. This was where the print workers and office staff signed in for work each morning. Visitors would sit on the wooden chairs by the desk, with their backs to the large front window, waiting to report a story or to ask for an advert to be placed. If you walked down the stairs and straight on you came to the entrance’s double doors. The two large glass panels within the doorframes gave a view of the passing world on the high street outside. At this late time of the night there was hardly any movement, but in the day the high street bustled with men and women rushing about their daily business or selling their wares to passers by, all shouting and offering a better deal than the last. In a semi-circular piece of glass set above these two doors was the name of the business. It read in reverse from the inside where Jacob stood, but he knew the words very well, Feltham’s Publishers & Press Offices. An idea slowly began to form in his mind as he looked at those words, with their large scrolled initials painted on the glass.
“That’s it.” Jacob whispered. As the idea began to take shape he ran up the staircase and back into the office.