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NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Book for Class VIII
Subject: English
Chapter: Chapter 1 – The Best Christmas Present in the World

Class VIII NCERT English Text Book Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World is given below.

Before you read

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

There are some dates or periods of time in the history of the world that are so significant that everyone knows and remembers them. The story you will read mentions one such  date and event: a war between the British and the Germans in 1914. Can you guess which war it was?

Do you know which events the dates below refer to?

(a) 4 July 1776
(b) 17 December 1903
(c) 6 August 1945
(d) 30 January 1948
(e) 12 April 1961 (f) 20 July 1969

The answers are on page 23.

I

spotted it in a junk shop in Bridport, a roll-top desk. The man said it was early  nineteenth century, and oak. I had wanted one, but they were far too expensive. This one was in a bad condition, the roll-top in several pieces, one leg clumsily mended, scorch marks all down one side. It was going for very little money. I thought I could restore it. It would be a risk, a challenge, but I had to have it. I paid the man and brought it back to my workroom at the back of the garage. I began work on it on  Christmas Eve. I removed the roll-top completely and pulled out the drawers. The veneer had lifted almost everywhere — it

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

looked like water damage to me. Both fire and water had clearly taken their toll on this  desk. The last drawer was stuck fast. I tried all I could to ease it out gently. In the end I  used brute force. I struck it sharply with the side of my fist and the drawer flew open to  reveal a shallow space underneath, a secret drawer. There was something in there. I  reached in and took out a small black tin box. Sello-taped to the top of it was a piece of lined notepaper,

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

and written on it in shaky handwriting:  “Jim’s last letter,  received January  25, 1915. To be  buried with me  when the time comes.”

I knew as I  did it that it was wrong of me to open  the box, but  curiosity got the  better of my  scruples. It usually  does.  Inside the box there was an envelope. The address
read: “Mrs Jim Macpherson, 12 Copper Beeches, Bridport, Dorset.” I took out the letter and unfolded it.  It was written in pencil and dated at the top — “December 26, 1914”.

Comprehension Check

1. What did the author find in a junk shop?

2. What did he find in a secret drawer? Who do you think had put it in there?

II

Dearest Connie,
I write to you in a much happier frame of mind because something wonderful has just happened that I must tell

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

you about at once. We were all standing to in our trenches yesterday morning,  Christmas morning.

It was crisp and quiet all about, as beautiful a morning as I’ve ever   seen, as cold and frosty as a Christmas morning should be.

I should like to be able to tell you that we began it. But the truth, I’m ashamed to say, is  that Fritz began it.

First someone saw a white flag waving from the trenches opposite.  Then they were calling out to us from across no man’s land, “Happy Christmas, Tommy!  Happy Christmas!” When we had got over the surprise, some of us shouted back, “Same  to you, Fritz! Same to you!”

I thought that would be that. We all did. But then suddenly  one of them was up there in his grey greatcoat and waving a white flag.

“Don’t shoot, lads!” someone shouted. And no one did. Then there was another Fritz up on the parapet, and another. “Keep your heads down,” I told the  men, “it’s a trick.” But it wasn’t.

One of the Germans was waving a bottle above his head. “It is Christmas Day, Tommy.  We have schnapps.

 We have sausage. We meet you? Yes?” By this time there were  dozens of them walking towards us across no man’s land and not a rifle between them.  Little Private Morris was the first up.

“Come on, boys. What are we waiting for?” And  then there was no stopping them. I was the  officer. I should have stopped them there  and then, I suppose, but the truth is that it never even occurred to me I should.

All along  their line and ours I could see men walking slowly towards one another, grey coats, khaki coats meeting in the middle.

And I was one of them. I was part of this. In the  middle of the war we were making peace.

You cannot imagine, dearest Connie, my feelings as I looked into the eyes of the Fritz   officer, who approached me, hand outstretched.

“Hans Wolf,” he said, gripping my hand warmly and holding it. “I am from Dusseldorf.  I play the cello in the orchestra. Happy Christmas.”

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

“Captain Jim Macpherson,” I replied. “And a Happy Christmas to you too. I’m a school  teacher from Dorset, in the west of England.”

“Ah, Dorset,” he smiled. “I know this  place. I know it very well.” We shared my rum ration and his excellent sausage.

And we  talked, Connie, how we talked. He spoke almost perfect English. But it turned out that  he had never set foot in Dorset, never even been to England. He had learned all he knew of England from school, and from reading books in English.

His favourite writer was  Thomas Hardy, his favourite book Far from the Madding Crowd. So out there in no  man’s land we talked of Bathsheba and Gabriel Oak and Sergeant Troy and Dorset.

He  had a wife and one son, born just six months ago. As I looked about me there were  huddles of khaki and grey everywhere, all over no man’s land, smoking, laughing,  talking, drinking, eating. Hans Wolf and I shared what was left of your wonderful  Christmas cake, Connie.

He thought the marzipan was the best he had ever tasted. I  agreed. We agreed about everything, and he was my enemy. There never was a  Christmas party like it, Connie.

Then someone, I don’t know who, brought out a football. Greatcoats were dumped in  piles to make goalposts, and the next thing we knew it was Tommy against Fritz out in  the middle of no man’s land.

Hans Wolf and I looked on and cheered, clapping our  hands and stamping our feet, to keep out the cold as much as anything. There was a  moment when I noticed our breaths mingling in the air between us.

He saw it too and  smiled. “Jim Macpherson,” he said after a while, “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.”

“I’d prefer cricket,” I told him. “Then we Tommies could be sure of winning, probably.” We laughed at that, and together we watched the game. Sad to say,

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

Connie, Fritz won, two goals to one. But as Hans Wolf generously said, our goal was  wider than theirs, so it wasn’t quite fair.

The time came, and all too soon, when the game was finished, the schnapps and the rum  and the sausage had long since run out, and we knew it was all over.

I wished Hans well  and told him I hoped he would see his family again soon, that the fighting would end and
we could all go home.

“I think that is what every soldier wants, on both sides,” Hans Wolf said. “Take care, Jim  Macpherson. I shall never forget this moment, nor you.”

He saluted and walked away  from me slowly, unwillingly, I felt. He turned to wave just once and then became one of   the hundreds of grey-coated men drifting back towards their trenches.

That night, back in our dugouts, we heard them singing a carol, and singing it quite  beautifully. It was Stille Nacht, Silent Night. Our boys gave them a rousing chorus of  While Shepherds Watched.

We exchanged carols for a while and then we all fell silent.  We had had our time of peace and goodwill, a time I will treasure as long as I live.

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

Dearest Connie, by Christmas time next year, this war will be nothing but a distant and   terrible memory. I know from all that happened today how much both  armies long for  peace. We shall be together again soon, I’m sure of it.

Your loving, Jim.

Comprehension Check

1. Who had written the letter, to whom, and when?

2. Why was the letter written — what was the wonderful thing that had happened?

3. What jobs did Hans Wolf and Jim Macpherson have when they were not soldiers?

4. Had Hans Wolf ever been to Dorset? Why did he say he knew it?

5. Do you think Jim Macpherson came back from the war? How do you know this?

III

I folded the letter again and slipped it carefully back into  its envelope. I kept awake all   night. By morning I knew what I had to do. I drove into Bridport, just a few miles away.

I asked a boy walking his dog where Copper Beeches was. House number 12 turned out to  be nothing but a burned-ut shell, the roof gaping, the windows boarded-up.

I knocked at the house next door and asked if ayne knew the whereabouts of a Mrs Macpherson. Oh yes, said the old man in his slippers, he knew her  well.

A lovely old lady, he told me, a bit  muddle-headed,  but at her age she was entitled to be, wasn’t she? A hundred and one years old. She had been in the house when it caught fire.

No one really knew how the fire had started, but it could well have been candles. She  used candles rather than electricity, because she always thought electricity was too  expensive.

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

The fireman had got her out just in time. She was in a nursing home now, he  told me, Burlington House, on the Dorchester road, on the other side of town.

 

Comprehension Check

1. Why did the author go to Bridport?

2. How old was Mrs Macpherson now? Where was she?

I found Burlington House Nursing Home easily enough.

There were paper chains up in  the hallway and a lighted Christmas tree stood in the corner with a lopsided angel on top.

I said I was a friend come to visit Mrs Macpherson to bring her a Christmas present.

I could see through into the dining room where everyone was wearing a paper hat and singing.

The matron had a hat on too and seemed happy enough to see me. She even offered me a

mince pie. She walked me along the corridor.

 “Mrs Macpherson is not in with the  others,”

she told me. “She’s rather confused today so we thought it best if she had a good  rest.

She has no family you know, no one visits.

So I’m sure she’ll be only too pleased to  see you.”

She took me into a conservatory with wicker chairs and potted plants all around and left me.

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

The old lady was sitting in a wheelchair, her hands folded i her lap.

She had silver white hair pinned into a wispy bun. She was gazing out at
the garden.

“Hello,” I said. She turned and looked up at me vacantly. “Happy Christmas,
Connie,

” I went on. “I found this. I think it’s yours.” As  I was  speaking her eyes never left my face. I opened the tin box and gave it to her.

That was the moment her eyes lit up with recognition and   her face became suffused with a sudden glow of happiness.

I explained about the desk, about how I had found it, but I don’t think she was listening. For a while

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

she said nothing, but stroked the letter tenderly with her fingertips.

Suddenly she reached out and took my hand. Her eyes were filled with tears. “You told  me you’d come home by Christmas, dearest,” she said. “And here you are, the best Christmas present in the world. Come closer,

Jim dear, sit down.”

I sat down beside her, and she kissed my cheek. “I read your letter so often Jim, every  day. I wanted to hear your voice in my head. It always made me feel you were with me.  And now you are. Now you’re back you can read it to me yourself. Would you do that  for me, Jim dear? I just want to hear your voice again. I’d love that so much. And then  perhaps we’ll have some tea.  I’ve made you a nice Christmas cake, marzipan all around.  I know how much you love marzipan.”

MICHAEL MORPURGO

Comprehension Check

1. Who did Connie Macpherson think her visitor was?

2. Which sentence in the text shows that the visitor did not try to hide his identity?

Working with the text

1. For how long do you think Connie had kept Jim’s letter? Give reasons for

your answer.

2. Why do you think the desk had been sold, and when?

3. Why do Jim and Hans think that games or sports are good ways of resolving conflicts? Do you agree?

4. Do you think the soldiers of the two armies are like each other, or different from each other? Find evidence from the story to support your answer.

5. Mention the various ways in which the British and the German soldiers become friends and find things in common at Christmas.

6. What is Connie’s Christmas present? Why is it “the best Christmas present in the world”?

7. Do you think the title of this story is suitable for it? Can you think of any other title(s)?

Working with Language

1. Look at these sentences from the story.

I spotted it in a junk shop in Bridport… The man said it was made in the early nineteenth century… This one was  in bad condition… The italicised verbs are in the past tense. They tell us what happened in the past, before now.

(i) Read the passage below and underline the verbs in the past tense. A man got on the train and sat down. The   compartment was empty except for one lady. She took her gloves off. A few hours later the police arrested the man. They held him for 24 hours and then freed him.

Now look at these sentences.

The veneer had lifted almost everywhere. Both fire and water had taken their toll on this desk.

Notice the verb forms had lifted, had taken (their toll). The author found and bought the desk in the past. The  desk was damaged before the author found it and bought it. Fire and water had damaged the desk before the  author found it and bought it.

  • We use verb forms like had damaged for an event in the ‘earlier past’. If there are two events in the past, we use  the ‘had…’ form for the event that occurred first in the past.
  • We also use the past perfect tense to show that something was wished for, or expected before a particular time  in the past. For example, I had always wanted one…
  • Discuss with your partner the difference in meaning in the

sentences below.

When I reached the station, the train left.

When I reached the station, the train had left.

(ii) Fill in the blanks using the correct form of the verbs in brackets.

My little sister is very naughty. When she __________ (come) back from school yesterday, she had  __________ (tear) her dress.

We __________ (ask) her how it had __________ (happen). She __________ (say) she __________ __________ (have, quarrel) with a boy.

She __________ __________ (have, beat) him in a race and he __________ __________ (have, try) to push her. She __________ __________ (have, tell) the teacher and so he __________ __________ (have, chase) her, and she __________ __________ (have, fall) down and __________ __________ (have, tear) her dress.

(iii) Underline the verbs and arrange them in two columns, Past and Earlier past.

(a) My friends set out to see the caves in the next town, but I stayed at home, because I had seen them already.

(b) When they arrived at the station, their train had left. They came back home, but by that time I had gone out to see a movie!

(c) So they sat outside and ate the lunch I had packed for them.

(d) By the time I returned, they had fallen asleep!

Past Earlier past

2. Dictionary work

By the end of the journey, we had run out of drinking water.  Look at the verb run out of in this sentence. It is a  phrasal verb: it has two parts, a verb and a preposition or an adverb. Phrasal verbs often have meanings that are  different from the meanings of their parts. Find these phrasal verbs in the story.

burn out    light up    look on      run out    keep out

Write down the sentences in which they occur. Consult a dictionary and write down the meaning that you think  matches the meaning of the phrasal verb in the sentence.

3. Noun phrase

Read the following sentence.

I took out a small black tin box.

  • The phrase in italics is a noun phrase.
  • It has the noun — box — as the head word, and three adjectives preceding it.
  • Notice the order in which the adjectives occur — size (small), colour (black) and material (tin) of which it is made.
  • We rarely use more than four adjectives before a noun and there is no rigid order in which they are used, though there is a preferred order of modifiers/adjectives in a noun phrase, as given below.
determiner modifier 1
(opinion,
feeling)
modifier 2
(size, shape, age)
modifier 3
(colour)
modifier 4
(material)
head word
a/an/
the
nice/lazy/
beautiful
tall/
round/
old/young
red/white/
light/dark
silk/cotton/
woollen
woman
man/
table/chair

4. The table below contains a list of nouns and some adjectives. Use as many adjectives as you can to describe  each noun. You might come up with some funny descriptions!

 

Nouns Adjectives
elephant circular, striped, enormous, multicoloured,round, cheerful, wild, blue, red, chubby,large, medium-sized, cold
face
building
water

Speaking

1. In groups discuss whether wars are a good way to end conflicts between countries. Then present your arguments to the whole class.

2. What kind of presents do you like and why? What are the things you keep in mind when you buy presents for others? Discuss with your partner. (For example, you might buy a book because it can be read and re-read over a period of time.)

Writing

1. Imagine that you are Jim. You have returned to your town after the war. In your diary record how you feel  about the changes you see and the events that occur in your town. You could begin like this

25 December, 1919
It’s Christmas today, but the town looks…..

Or

Suppose you are the visitor. You are in a dilemma. You don’t know whether to disclose your identity and  disappoint the old lady or let her believe that her dear Jim has come back. Write a letter to a friend highlighting  your anxiety, fears and feelings.

2. Given below is the outline of a story. Construct the story using the outline.

A young, newly married doctor _______________ freedom fighter _______________ exiled to the  Andaman and Nicobar Islands by the British _______________ infamous Cellular Jail _______________  prisoners tortured _______________ revolt by inmates _______________ doctor hanged  _______________ wife waits for his return _______________ becomes old _______________  continues to wait with hope and faith.

War is the greatest plague that can afflict humanity; it destroys religion, it destroys states, it destroys families.

— Martin Luther

This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an  adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.

— Erich Maria Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front

The Ant and The Cricket

A fable is a story, often with animals as characters, that conveys a moral. This poem about an ant and a cricket  contains an idea of far-reaching significance, which is as true of a four-legged cricket as of a ‘two-legged one’.  Surely, you have seen a cricket that has two legs!

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

A silly young cricket, accustomed to sing Through the warm, sunny months of gay summer and spring, Began to  complain when he found that, at home, His cupboard was empty, and winter was come.

Not a crumb to be found
On the snow-covered ground;
Not a flower could he see,
Not a leaf on a tree.

“Oh! what will become,” says the cricket, “of me?”

It last by starvation and  famine made bold, All dripping with wet, and all trembling with cold, Away he  set off to a miserly ant,

To see if, to keep him alive, he would grant

Him shelter from rain,
And a mouthful of grain.
He wished only to borrow;
He’d repay it tomorrow;

If not, he must die of starvation and sorrow.

NCERT Class VIII English Chapter 1 The Best Christmas Present in the World

Says the ant to the cricket, “I’m your  servant and friend, But we ants never borrow; we ants never lend.

But tell me, dear cricket, did you lay  nothing by When the weather was warm?” Quoth the cricket, “Not I!

My heart was so light That I sang day  and night, For all nature looked gay.” “You sang, Sir, you say?

Go then,” says the ant, “and dance the winter away.”

Thus ending, he hastily lifted the wicket,

And out of the door turned the poor little cricket. Folks call this a fable. I’ll warrant it true:  Some crickets have  four legs, and some have two. adapted from Aesop’s Fables

Glossary

accustomed to sing: used to singing; in the habit of singing

 famine: scarcity of food; having nothing to eat

lay  nothing by: save nothing

quoth: (old English) said

Working with the Poem

1. The cricket says, “Oh! what will become of me?” When does he say it, and why?

2. (i) Find in the poem the lines that mean the same as “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” (Shakespeare).

(ii) What is your opinion of the ant’s principles?

3. The ant tells the cricket to “dance the winter away”. Do you think the word ‘dance’ is appropriate here? If so, why?

4. (i) Which lines in the poem express the poet’s comment? Read them aloud.

(ii) Write the comment in your own words.

If you know a fable in your own language, narrate it to your classmates.

Answers to Questions on page 9.

(a) American Declaration of Independence.

(b) Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first flight, remaining in the air for 12 seconds and covering 120 feet.

(c) Hiroshima Day: an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan on this day.

(d) Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

(e) Yuri A. Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth.

(f) Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon.

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