“Of course, Maman (Mama)!” Louis said. “First I will take the socks you knitted to Monsieur Dubois, then I will meet my friends.” Louis looked at the clock. He still had plenty of time. The puppet show did not start for another hour.
“Here!” His mother handed Louis a small, brightly wrapped package. “And remember to wish Monsieur Dubois Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) and invite him again to have Christmas dinner with us.”
“He will not come, Maman. He will just smile and say that Christmas is a time for families as he does every year.”
“Too bad! Nothing is as sad as being old and alone at Christmastime. I do wish we could make him understand that our Christmas would be happier if we could share it with him.” Louis nodded politely, though he did not think that he would be any happier if Monsieur Dubois came for dinner. Christmas was perfect for Louis, just as it was.
“Hurry home as soon as the show is over, Louis. Grandpère (Grandfather) will be arriving soon.”
Louis smiled excitedly. “Do you think that Grandpère has finished my music box?”
“Perhaps,” his mother answered, “but do not ask him. He is always busy, and making a music box takes a long time.”
Louis was very proud of his grandfather, a fine craftsman who owned a shop in the city, where he repaired watches and clocks. In his spare time he had been making a music box for Louis, one that would play “La Marseillaise” (French national anthem).
Louis hurried to meet his friends. He decided to take the gift to Monsieur Dubois after the puppet show. He hastily stuffed the package into his pocket. His mother would not mind when he explained what he had done.
When the show was over, the children did not stop to visit with each other as they usually did. Christmas Eve was a special time, and they were all eager to get home. Outside, Louis talked for just a moment with the other boys. Then he remembered Monsieur Dubois and felt in his pocket. His eyes widened in distress. “The gift for Monsieur Dubois is gone!” he cried.
One after another Louis turned his pockets inside out. Followed by his friends, he ran back inside the hall where the puppet show had been. They searched the cloakroom, then the hall, looking up and down the aisles and beneath the seats. The package was not there.
“Maman will be angry and disappointed in me!” Louis said. “Even if I don’t tell her, I’m sure she will find out,” Louis said sadly.
When Louis got home, Grandpère had just arrived from the city, and Maman was smiling and hurrying about. Louis’s heart rose. He was lucky; he had only to remain silent. Maman was much too busy now to ask him about Monsieur Dubois.
His grandfather placed a hand on Louis’s shoulder. “Ah, how you have grown, mon petit (my little one)!” His dark eyes twinkled. “I have a surprise for you.”
“The music box!” Louis cried.
“Close your eyes,” Grandpère said.
Louis obeyed, smiling.
“Now!” Grandpère cried.
“La Marseillaise” tinkled and chimed from a small, beautifully carved music box, and—wonder of wonders—two tiny soldiers moved in a slow circle on top of the box.
Louis clapped his hands. “It’s wonderful, Grandpère! I have never had so fine a gift. No one in the world has so kind a grandpère as I.”
Grandpère’s eyes were bright. “And without you, my grandson, and your mother and father, I would be a lonely old man.”
Louis swallowed uncomfortably, for suddenly he saw the face of Monsieur Dubois, who had no one. All that evening, try as he might, he could not get the thought of the lonely old man out of his mind—not even when he placed his shoes before the fireplace so that Père Noël (Father Christmas) [Santa Claus] could put a gift or two in them. And when Louis awakened before daylight on Christmas morning, his first thoughts were of Monsieur Dubois. His heart was heavy. Even the music box on the table beside his bed did not help.
Suddenly Louis knew what he must do. He must take Monsieur Dubois a gift, a very fine gift, so that the old man would know that he was not forgotten at Christmas. He must go at once and be back before his parents and grandfather awakened.
As he dressed, Louis forced back a feeling of sadness. The music box was the only gift that he had that was fine enough for Monsieur Dubois.
It was still dark outside, and Louis had to ring several times before Monsieur Dubois opened the door.
“Joyeux Noël, Louis!” Monsieur Dubois greeted him. “Come in! Come in! You are early this morning.”
“Joyeux Noël, Monsieur.” Louis smiled. “I—I was supposed to bring your gift yesterday, but I have brought it for you today, instead.”
Louis wound the music box and placed it on the table. He stood back, listening to the tinkling music and watching the proud little soldiers. “Is it not beautiful!”
“Yes, Louis, very beautiful.” Monsieur Dubois’s eyes were thoughtful. “Now tell me, Louis, why did you bring me one of your gifts?”
Louis hung his head.
“Come, Louis. Tell me,” Monsieur Dubois insisted, smiling kindly.
Before he realized it, Louis told the whole story. “I—I’m sorry, Monsieur,” he finished. “I hoped that the music box was a fine enough gift to make up for my carelessness.”
“It is the finest gift that I have ever received, Louis,” Monsieur Dubois said softly. “But I want you to keep it for me. Each Christmas bring it here, and we will play it together.”
Louis’s face cleared. “You are not angry, Monsieur?”
“No, Louis. I am not angry.”
“And you will have Christmas dinner with us? Please, Monsieur!” Louis pleaded. “Our Christmas will be happier if we can share it with you,” Louis said, repeating his mother’s words. And, strangely, they were no longer just words. Now he understood them. Monsieur Dubois seemed to understand, too, for his face brightened like a Christmas candle.
“Wait for me, Louis,” he cried. “I will put on my finest suit.” Then Monsieur Dubois laughed. “Today, Louis, you and I have both learned something important. We have learned the real meaning of Christmas.”