A.N. I know I do this every year, but I like the story. >.<

As the little ragtag girl made her way through the opened window, she scanned the room carefully, noting the roaring hearth, the pot of tea, and the mink shawl. But there was no one around, no sign of life, in fact, save a lonely mouse that scuttled back into its corner as soon as her bare feet touched the ground.

She was safe for now.

The ragtag girl glided across the room, ignorant of the trail of mud her frost-bitten feet left across the polished marble floors and imported Oriental rug. It would certainly stain, but her gaze was committed to the roaring fire, a cheerful source of warmth she could only recall with the greatest difficulty. A creak upstairs broke her concentration, and she ran to the door, easing it open as she assessed her situation. A old-fashioned, festive tune filled the air, and she paused, vaguely recognising a church tune played early every Christmas morning.

There was still no one in sight, and the little ragtag girl easily made her way down the corridor, to the room she had seen from the street. Three down from the corner, four, five…she counted the doors until one flew open, and the ragtag girl was trapped in a tight embrace.

“Hattie!” squealed the hugger, a girl of eight or nine, with hair in tight braids which fell over a checkered nightgown. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t come.”

“I got lost,” said Hattie, her eyes wide as she took in her surroundings. A pink lace coverlet, pink tapestries on the wall, a row of pink-clad dolls on the mantle.

“Do you like it?” said the hugger girl, spinning around on the floor. “Pink is my favourite. I asked Santa for a pink pony for Christmas. I think it would look darling with the little dogcart we have.”

“Who’s Santa?” Shock had loosened her tongue, and the words flew out of Hattie’s mouth. The hugger girl looked shocked.

“Hattie! You mean you’ve never heard of Santa? Who else would give you all of those presents on Christmas morning?”

“Presents?”

“Yes! You know, under the Christmas tree! Wrapped in paper and…Hattie? Hattie, darling, are you crying? Don’t be cross, Hattie, I’m sorry if I made you upset, darling…oh, Hattie, please don’t cry, darling, don’t be cross with me now…”

“I’m not crying,” said Hattie. But the other girl’s whimpering persisted to alarming volumes, and Hattie, worried that someone would hear, had no choice but to raise her own voice. “ABBIE! STOP!”

“Miss Abigail?” Just like that, the old housekeeper’s footsteps were on the stairs. “Is anything amiss? I thought I heard voices.”

“See what you’ve done?” scowled Abigail. “Now Mrs Peterson shall come up, and everything will be ruined!”

“What I’ve done!” countered Hattie. “I do think you’re the…”

There was a knock on the door. “Miss Abigail?”

“Under the bed!” shrieked Lottie. But the window was already open and, by the time Mrs Peterson had begun a thorough search of the room for the ‘villainous thieves’ who had left skid marks all down the corridor, Hattie was long gone, curled up under the icicles of a house two down, finding warmth in the exhaust pipes. Abigail’s voice followed her down the street, vehement protests that she had just been ‘playing pretend’ and that her dolls’ tea party was now ‘horridly ruined’.

But Hattie stayed curled in her corner long after the noise died down, and the sun had given way to stars and street lamps. She felt her feet freeze again, but the pain was somehow dulled by visions of pink, lace-clad dolls and exotic tapestries hanging from the ceiling.

When the milkman found her the next morning, there was a smile on Hattie’s lips, deep blue and frozen shut. It was not the first beggar girl he’d found on his rounds, and would scarcely be the last, but the peaceful image of the smile on the dead girl’s face would be one that would follow him for many Christmases more to come.

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