TROUBLE AT THE INN

                                By Dina Donahue


          For many years now, whenever  Christmas pageants are talked about
          in a  certain little  town in  the Midwest,  someone  is sure  to
          mention the name of Wallace  Purling.  Wally's performance in one
          annual production of the nativity play has slipped onto the realm
          of legend.   But the  old-timers who  were in  the audience  that
          night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.

          Wally  was nine  that year  and in  the second  grade,  though he
          should have been in the fourth.  Most people in town knew that he
          had difficulty  in keeping up.   He was  big and clumsy,  slow in
          movement and mind.   Still, his  class, all of whom  were smaller
          than he, had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask
          to play  ball with them  or any game,  for that matter,  in which
          winning was important.

          Most often they'd find a way to keep him out but Wally would hang
          around anyway not sulking, just hoping.  He was always a  helpful
          boy, a  willing and smiling one, and the natural protector of the
          underdog.   Sometimes if the  older boys chased the  younger ones
          away,  it would  always  be  Wally who'd  say,  "can' they  stay?
          They're no bother"

          Wally fancied  the ideal of being a shepherd  with a flute in the
          Christmas  pageant that  year,  but  the  play's  director,  Miss
          Lumbar, assigned  him to a more  important role.  After  all, she
          reasoned, the Innkeeper  did not have too many  lines and Wally's
          size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

          And  so  it  happened  that the  usual  large,  partisan audience
          gathered  for the  town's yearly  extravaganza  of beard,  crown,
          halos and a whole stage full of squeaky voices.   No one on stage
          or off  was more caught up on the magic of the night than Wallace
          Purling.  They said later that he  stood in the wings and watched
          the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss
          Lumbar had  to make  sure he didn't'  wander on stage  before his
          cue.

          Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding
          Mary  to the door of the Inn.   Joseph knocked hard on the wooden
          door  sat into  the painted  backdrop.   Wally the  innkeeper was
          there, waiting.

          "What do you  want?"  Wally said,  swinging the door open  with a
          brusque gesture.

          "We seek lodging."

          "Seek  it elsewhere,"  Wally  looked  straight  ahead  but  spoke
          vigorously.  "The Inn is filled."

          "Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain.  We have traveled far and
          are very weary."

          "There is no  room in this Inn  for you."  Wally  looked properly
          stern.


          "Please, good  Innkeeper, this is  my wife,  Mary.  She  is heavy
          with child hand needs a place to rest.  Surely you must have some
          small corner for her.  She is so tired."

          Now, for the  first time, the Innkeeper relaxed  his still stance
          and looked down at Mary.  With that, there was a long pause, long
          enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
          "No! Be gone!" the prompter whispered from the wings.

          "No!"  Wally repeated automatically, "Be gone!"

          Joseph sadly  placed his arm around  Mary and Mary laid  her head
          upon her husband"s shoulder  and the two of them started  to move
          away.   The  Innkeeper did  not return  inside his  Inn, however.
          Wally  stood there in  the doorway, watching  the forlorn couple.
          His  mouth was  open, his  brow  creased with  concern, his  eyes
          filling unmistakable with tears.

          And suddenly the Christmas pageant became different from all  the
          others.

          "Don't go, Joseph,"  Wally called out.   "Bring Mary back."   And
          Wallace Purling's face  grew into a bright smile.   "You can have
          my room!"

          Some people  in town  thought that the  pageant had  been ruined.
          Yet  there were  others....many, many others...who  considered it
          the most Christmasy of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

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