It was two days before Christmas, and Marcie was troubled. She sat on the floor in the glowing fan of warmth from the fire, over a dozen books stacked by her, and flipped through one until she came to a manger scene. In the picture, shepherds had come to visit the Baby Jesus. The Kings were off in the distance, but plainly on the way. Even a cow and a donkey stood nearby in the stable.
It was just as she had thought. Marcie shut the book with a snap, and picked up another. The manger scene in this one was a bit different. The Kings were kneeling in front of the Crib. A boy goatherd stood behind them. A couple of cherubs hovered over the shepherds. But, except for some animals, there was no one else.
Marcie looked through every Christmas book she owned. She found tall and short shepherds, fat and thin Kings, black sheep and white lambs. She found boys 'with crutches and crooks, and even one dressed like a choirboy.
But, in each story, someone was missing from the manger. There was no little girl. Not one.
Marcie went into the kitchen where her mother was feeding Kevin, her baby brother. "Mom, when the Baby Jesus was born, how come no little girl went to the stable to see him?"
Her mother spooned some mashed potatoes carefully into Kevin's mouth, and smiled up at Marcie. "Are you sure no one did?"
"Have you ever seen a picture of a little girl at the manger?" Marcie demanded.
"Why, I guess not," her mother answered, her hazel eyes thoughtful. "Unless you count angels. Some of them look as though they might be little girls."
Marcie shook her head emphatically. "You can't count angels. They're too--too angelic. I mean plain, ordinary girls like me."
"I never thought of it before," her mother admitted, "but you are right. It is odd."
Marcie's older brother, Tod, came bursting in, bringing a rush of cold air with him. "I'm starving." he announced, seizing an apple from a bowl on the kitchen table and crunching into it.
"I'll start lunch. Marcie, will you finish feeding Kevin? And this afternoon," her mother said, you and I must finish up the pageant costumes."
Marcie beamed, thrilled by the reminder of how soon the pageant was. She had been looking forward to it for days and days--in fact, for a year, because she had been sick with a bad cold last Christmas, so she and her mother had stayed home from church.
The pageant was going to be tomorrow, Christmas Eve. This year, Marcie's mother had been chosen to play the Mother of Jesus. Her father was one of the Kings, and Tod was a shepherd boy. Marcie's name would be on the program, too, for helping with the costumes.
She could hardly wait to see how everybody looked. Probably the most beautiful costume of all was the Herald Angel's. It was white and so heavenly. Marcie had helped make it.
She wondered if she would ever get to be the Herald Angel. This year the part had gone to Dorothy Cooper. Dorothy was a senior. She had an irritating manner and crooked teeth, but she could play the trumpet, so she was ideal for the part. Her trumpet could lead the carol singing.
Marcie sighed. About the only thing I'd be ideal for, she thought, is a plain, ordinary little girl. But, of course, there was no role like that.
As though reading her mind, her mother said, "Tod, Marcie and I were wondering why no little girls are ever shown at the manger, in Christmas scenes. Why do you suppose that is?"
"Because it's a man's world, what's why," Tod said cheerfully. He tramped away, whistling.
Furious, Marcie wanted to yell after him, "It is not! It's a girl's world."
But underneath, she had her doubts. Sometimes it seemed to her that boys had the best of everything and not just at Christmas, either. Tod could run faster that she could, skate better, climb trees higher. He was allowed to stay out after dark and to play rough games. When he tore his clothes or got them dirty, people said approvingly that he was a "real boy," but when she acted wild, she was scolded for being "unladylike."
Kevin couldn't do much, of course, but he certainly got away with a lot. No one minded that he had terrible table manners. Even now, he was dribbling his mashed potatoes. And everybody waited on him. And people thought he was so cute-adorable, they said--for no better reason than that he had red hair, only two teeth, and dimples.
In her heart, Marcie feared that she herself was reflected in the pane of the kitchen window: just a usual kind of little girl, with long brown pigtails and a freckled nose. She was in- between