Excerpt: The Burglar’s Christmas

The Burglar’s Christmas was originally published near the beginning of Willa Cather’s writing career in 1896 under the pseudonym of Elizabeth L. Seymour. The story follows William Crawford on the cold streets of Chicago as he contemplates the multiple failures plaguing his life, including his time at college and careers in journalism, real estate, and performing. Distraught, he tries one more role: thief. Attempting to burgle a residence and caught in the act by the lady of the house, William must come to terms with the choices that led him to that moment. Cather provides a heartwarming short story of redemption and love at Christmas, a timely reminder that kindness is in everyone, just waiting to be uncovered.

From page five: To-night, as this man stood stranded in the streets of the city, his hour came. It was not the first time he had been hungry and desperate and alone. But always before there had been some outlook, some chance ahead, some pleasure yet untasted that seemed worth the effort, some face that he fancied was, or would be, dear. But it was not so to- night. The unyielding conviction was upon him that he had failed in everything, had outlived everything. It had been near him for a long time, that Pale Spectre. He had caught its shadow at the bottom of his glass many a time, at the head of his bed when he was sleepless at night, in the twilight shadows when some great sunset broke upon him. It had made life hateful to him when he awoke in the morning before now. But now it settled slowly over him, like night, the endless Northern nights that bid the sun a long farewell. It rose up before him like granite. From this brilliant city with its glad bustle of Yule-tide he was shut off as completely as though he were a creature of another species. His days seemed numbered and done, sealed over like the little coral cells at the bottom of the sea. Involuntarily he drew that cold air through his lungs slowly, as though he were tasting it for the last time.

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