The Narrator Finds a Roll-top Desk
The narrator had been wanting to buy a roll-top desk for a very long time. Finding it expensive, he was unable to do so.Finally, he finds one in a junk shop in Bridport. The desk was a very old early 19th century make and it was made of oak. The junk shopkeeper was selling it at a low price as the desk was in a bad condition. Its roll-top was broken into a number of pieces and it also had many burn marks. It was probably recovered from Mrs Macpherson’s house after it caught fire.
The Contents of the Secret Drawer and the Narrator Reads the Letter
While repairing the desk and opening one of its drawers that had got stuck, the narrator comes across a secret drawer. In the secret drawer, the narrator finds a smallbox. On top of the box there was a note written and stuck with the help of a cello tape- “Jim’s last letter, received on 25th January, 1915. To be buried with me when the time comes.” The note was written in a shaky handwriting, which meant that it was written by old Mrs Macpherson and was not written long back.
Despite knowing that it is morally wrong to read someone else’s letter, the narrator begins reading because he couldn’t suppress his curiosity. The narrator gets to know from the envelope that the letter was for Mrs Macpherson. The letter was written on 26th December, 1914, a day after Christmas by Mrs Macpherson’s husband. Mrs Macpherson’s husband was away to fight in the war against Germans.
Jim Macpherson Recall about Christmas Celebration with Germans
Jim was happy to share with his wife the details of the previous day, Christmas morning. He describes how on the battlefront, he experienced something quite unexpected. Jim sees the Fritz waving a white flag and cheerfully crying out, “Happy Christmas”. Jim was quite surprised and he thought it to be some dirty trick of the Germans and therefore ordered his soldiers to be alert and ” keep your heads down”.
After the initial wave of surprise and suspicion was over, Jim realised that the Fritz wanted to celebrate Christmas with them. This idea was responded with an equal thrill by the British soldiers and soon both the warring camps were sharing their food and drinks with each other. The men from both the sides were walking towards each other “with not a rifle between them .” It was quite an astonishing sight for Jim, for ” in the middle of the war we were making peace.”
The Conversation between Jim Macpherson and Hans Wolf Leads to Football Match
The German officer greeted Jim. His name was Hans Wolf and soon both were talking to each other about their life, their hobbies and had various such other small talks. Hans Wolf told Jim that he was from Dusseldorf and used to play cello in the orchestra. Jim, likewise, informed him that he was a school teacher from Dorset. Jim figured out that Hans knew a lot about Dorset, though he had never been to that place.
After some time both the camps arranged themselves into teams to play football. It was difficult to imagine that these were war soldiers and enemies playing football. Hans Wolf commented that a game or a sport is a much better way of resolving conflicts than going on a war.” I think this is how we should resolve this war. A football match. No one dies in a football match. No children are orphaned. No wives become widows.” Jim replied that he preferred cricket to football, but both agreed that war was detestable and hateful to both of them, rather to all of them.
Time to Return to their War Camps
As the match came to an end, the time to go back to their camps and place themselves again as enemies had come. The troops on both the sides were sad to return and wished each other well with a hope that the war would end soon and they would go back to their families. Even after the soldiers returned to their respective camps, they continued to cheer each other with Christmas carols, like ‘ Silent Night’ and “While Shepherds Watched”.
The Narrator Meets Mrs Macpherson
Jim ends the letter on a note that before the next Christmas, the war would long be over and he would return home to be re-united with his wife, Connie.
Having finished reading the letter, the narrator kept thinking about the letter and its contents and the next morning he decided to go and meet Mrs Macpherson. The narrator goes to her house and there he only finds the remains of a burnt down house. After talking to to the neighbours, the narrator goes to the nursing home where Mrs Macpherson was admitted. There he finds her sitting on a wheelchair. She was blankly staring out of the window. The narrator carried with him the small tin box in which he had found the letter and handed it over to Mrs Macpherson.
Mrs Macpherson Mistakenly Believes the Narrator to be Her Husband
Mrs Macpherson on seeing the box, looks up to see the stranger and mistakenly assumes the narrator to be her husband, Jim. She remembers the promise Jim had made years ago, of returning back home on Christmas and rejoices thinking that finally Jim kept his promise and has come back to her. She calls his return ” the best Christmas present in the world”. She, then, asks him to read out the letter to her in his own voice for she had been missing his voice.