After supper, Mariah was allowed to stay up and open her gift bag at the kitchen table, while her parents watched. There was the now-traditional piece of coal, symbolic of the industry and prosperity of the city. (Many families had started a tradition of burning the lump of coal late on New Year’s Eve, hoping to burn away the bad memories of the previous year, and bring themselves luck for the new one.) There were several pieces of candy, as well as two whole oranges. There was a small doll for her, and a small, carved wooden bear that she wouldn’t mind playing with for a couple years before she passed it on to John.
As she’d pulled out the bear, though, she’d felt the weight of something else on it, though whatever it was slipped off before she could pull it into the light, hitting the table with a metallic sound. Mariah set the bear aside and delved her hand deep into the bag. Her groping fingers encountered something thin, which she grasped and pulled up into the lamp light. As the entire thing came flashing into her sight, she gasped.
It was brass, not gold – brass being more appropriate to a girl her age. But otherwise, it looked exactly like the gold necklace and locket that were even now around her mother’s neck. They had been a present from her father to her mother last Christmas, and inside the locket were two tiny, crudely-drawn portraits of Mariah and John, courtesy of Mariah herself. Mariah hadn’t been entirely happy with how her drawings had turned out, but Mother had said they were perfect. And ever since she’d seen her mother put that beautiful necklace on, and saw it shining on her neck, Mariah had craved such a necklace for herself. Once or twice over the past year, when her mother wasn’t immediately around and wasn’t wearing it, Mariah had dared to slip it on, though only for a few minutes. And now, here was her heart’s desire in her hands. With slightly trembling fingers, she fumbled at the locket, opening it to reveal two tiny, exquisitely-drawn portraits of her mother and father.
The models of those portraits looked from them to her with astonishment. “But you didn’t call Steam Santa,” Mariah’s mother said. “How… why?”
Shyly, Mariah told them about what she’d done for Kendra. As she related it, the astonishment eased from their faces, and was replaced with fond smiles. Her mother hugged her first. Then her father came and hugged her, too, looking down at her with pride. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said. “The personal touch is important.” He tapped her lightly on the nose, grinning. She grinned back up at him, her face once again alight with joy as she left the room to get ready for bed.
A few weeks later, Mariah received permission from her mother to go visit the orphanage, and Kendra. She was curious to see how the girl was doing. But when she inquired, the harried, yet somehow still cheerful, matron who came in answer to her inquiries told her that Kendra was no longer there.
“She left for London a few days ago,” the woman said, “with her new parents.” She explained that the two adults had been traveling by train from Ravella, and were caught in the delay caused by Steam Santa’s arrival. They had, of course, joined the other passengers in viewing the festivities, but when they saw Kendra, they’d been so taken with her that they’d decided almost immediately to adopt her. Kendra had been just as taken with them, the matron assured Mariah, and looked set to have a settled, contented, happy childhood from now on.
“Oh, I’m so pleased for her,” Mariah exclaimed. “Thank you, Matron.” Before she could turn to go, though, the matron added, “Wait – are you the girl who loaned Kendra a megaphone?” When Marian nodded, she continued, “Kendra left a message with me for you. She said that she can’t ever thank you enough.” The woman looked at her curiously, as if she couldn’t quite reconcile such effusive thanks with such a simple act.
Mariah, though, simply repeated, “Thank you, Matron,” bobbed a curtsey, and hurried out and through the crowds of children playing in the front courtyard. As she walked back toward home, she was unaware that she was smiling to herself – a special, secret smile.