Twelve by the Mail
It was very frosty, starry clear weather, quiet and calm.
Bump! A pot was thrown against a door. Bang! Fireworks were shot off to welcome the new year, for it was New Year's Eve; and now the clock struck twelve!
Trateratra! There came the mail. The big mail coach stopped outside the gate to the town. It carried twelve people and couldn't hold more, for all the seats were taken.
"Hurrah! Hurrah!" rang out in the houses, where people were celebrating New Year's Eve. They arose with full glasses and drank a toast to the new year.
"Health and good wishes for the new year!" they said. "A pretty little wife! Lots of money! An end to nonsense!"
Yes, these were their wishes for one another, and glasses were struck together, while the mail coach stopped in front of the town gate with the unknown guests, the twelve travelers.
What kind of people were they? They had passports and luggage with them; yes, even presents for you and me and for all the people in the town. Who were these strangers? What did they want, and what did they bring?
"Good morning!" they said to the sentry at the town gate.
"Good morning!" said he, as the clock had struck twelve. "Your name? Your profession?" asked the sentry when the first of them stepped out of the carriage.
"Look in the passport!" said the man. "I am myself!" And a splendid-looking fellow he was, too, dressed in a bearskin and fur boots. "I am the man on whom many people pin their hopes. Come to see me tomorrow, and I'll give you a real new year! I throw dollars and cents about, give presents, and, yes, I even give balls, thirty-one of them; that's all the nights I have to spare. My ships are frozen tight, but in my office it is warm. I am a merchant, and my name is January. I have only bills!"
Then came the second. He was a comedian, a theatrical director, the manager of masked balls, and all the amusements you could think of. His luggage consisted of a great barrel.
"We'll beat the cat out of the barrel at carnival time!" he said.