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Holiday mystery

12/02/04 12:00AM By Joe Citro
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(Host) 'Tis the season...for an intriguing story from Commentator Joe Citro that features a mysterious visitor.

(Citro) My collection of regional stories does not contain many appropriate for the Christmas season. But there may be just one.

It took place in late 19th century Glencliff, New Hampshire, where the extremely religious Jonathan Little ran a small hotel. There he conducted prayer meetings and provided lodging for traveling preachers.

When someone left a baby girl on their doorstep, the Littles took her in and made her part of the family, calling her Bessie Ruth.

One wintry night some years later, an unfamiliar young man walked out of nowhere and into town, seeming lost and friendless. The kindly innkeeper offered the stranger a meal and a room for the night.

Coincidentally, that evening was their weekly prayer meeting. The young man eagerly accepted Mr. Little's invitation to join in.

Everyone instantly liked the newcomer. He had a sympathetic nature, possessed great knowledge of the Bible, and added many inspirational comments, demonstrating great wisdom for one so young.

When it was time for bed, Bessie Ruth and her sister led the stranger to a small bedroom in a distant corner of the house.

Next morning, as usual, Jonathan was up at four o'clock. He went directly to the barn to do the milking. An hour later, he sent the girls to call their guest for breakfast. They knocked and knocked but the young man didn't answer. Mrs. Little guessed he was exhausted and needed a bit more rest.

When they tried again later, there was still no response. Fearing his guest might be ill, Mr. Little knocked somewhat more forcefully, then entered.

The room was empty.

It wasn't that the young man had skipped out without paying, for Mr. Little had charged him nothing for accomodations. Odder still, it was clear the bed had not been slept in. Nor was there any indication the room had even been used.

The young man was just...gone. If he had left during the night, someone in that old creaky house would surely have heard him.

Mr. Little was especially puzzled. It had been snowing all night, yet when he'd gone outside at four a.m., the only footprints were his own.

No one ever saw the young man again. For Jonathan Little's family this small event remained a big mystery, but in time they realized its solution.

Remembering the young man's kindness and gentle nature, the family came to believe they had entertained an angel unawares. And who can say? Maybe that's just what happened.

This is Santa Citro, wishing everyone a terrific holiday season.

Novelist Joe CItro is a native Vermonter who lives in Burlington. His new book is, "Cursed in New England: Tales of Damned Yankees."

Copyright 2004 Joseph A. Citro
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