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Title: On Christmas Day in the Morning
Author: Richmond, Grace S. (Grace Smith), 1866-1959
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "On Christmas Day in the Morning" ***

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     [Illustration: "'I HAVEN'T GIVEN YOU ANY CHRISTMAS PRESENT.
      WILL--I--DO?'"]


                                  On
                            Christmas Day
                            in the Morning


                                 _By_
                          GRACE S. RICHMOND


                            Illustrated by
                          CHARLES M. RELYEA



                        GARDEN CITY  NEW YORK
                      DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
                                MCMXI



                         COPYRIGHT, 1905, BY
                      THE RIDGWAY-THAYER COMPANY

                         COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY
                      DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY

       *       *       *       *       *



Illustrations


"'I haven't given you any Christmas present. Will--I--do?'" _Frontispiece_

"Stumbling over their own feet and bundles ... the crew poured into the
warm kitchen"

"'The children!' she was saying. 'They--they--John--they must be _here_'"

"'Merry Christmas, mammy and daddy!'"

       *       *       *       *       *



On Christmas Day in the Morning

    And all the angels in heaven do sing,
      On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
    And all the bells on earth do ring,
      On Christmas Day in the morning.

--OLD SONG.


That Christmas Day virtually began a whole year beforehand, with a
red-hot letter written by Guy Fernald to his younger sister, Nan, who
had been married to Samuel Burnett just two and one-half years. The
letter was read aloud by Mrs. Burnett to her husband at the breakfast
table, the second day after Christmas. From start to finish it was
upon one subject, and it read as follows:

DEAR NAN:

     It's a confounded, full-grown shame that not a soul of us
     all got home for Christmas--except yours truly, and he only
     for a couple of hours. What have the blessed old folks done
     to us that we treat them like this? I was invited to the
     Sewalls' for the day, and went, of course--you know why. We
     had a ripping time, but along toward evening I began to feel
     worried. I really thought Ralph was home--he wrote me that
     he might swing round that way by the holidays--but I knew
     the rest of you were all wrapped up in your own Christmas
     trees and weren't going to get there.

     Well, I took the seven-thirty down and walked in on them.
     Sitting all alone by the fire, by George, just like the
     pictures you see of "The Birds All Flown," and that sort of
     thing. I felt gulpish in my throat, on my honour I did, when
     I looked at them. Mother just gave one gasp and flew into my
     arms, and Dad got up more slowly--he has that darned
     rheumatism worse than ever this winter--and came over and I
     thought he'd shake my hand off. Well--I sat down between
     them by the fire, and pretty soon I got down in the old way
     on a cushion by mother, and let her run her fingers through
     my hair, the way she used to--and Nan, I'll be indicted for
     perjury if her hand wasn't trembly. They were so glad to
     see me it made my throat ache.

     Ralph had written he couldn't get round, and of course you'd
     all written and sent them things--jolly things, and they
     appreciated them. But--blame it all--they were just dead
     lonesome--and the whole outfit of us within three hundred
     miles, most within thirty!

     Nan--next Christmas it's going to be different. That's all I
     say. I've got it all planned out. The idea popped into my
     head when I came away last night. Not that they had a word
     of blame--not they. They understood all about the children,
     and the cold snap, and Ed's being under the weather, and
     Oliver's wife's neuralgia, and Ralph's girl in the West, and
     all that. But that didn't make the thing any easier for
     them. As I say, next year--But you'll all hear from me then.
     Meanwhile--run down and see them once or twice this winter,
     will you, Nan? Somehow it struck me they aren't so young
     as--they used to be.

     Splendid winter weather. Margaret Sewall's a peach, but I
     don't seem to make much headway. My best to Sam.

Your affectionate brother,

GUY.

Gay Nan had felt a slight choking in her own throat as she read this
letter. "We really must make an effort to be there Christmas next
year, Sam," she said to her husband, and Sam assented cheerfully. He
only wished there were a father and mother somewhere in the world for
him to go home to.

Guy wrote the same sort of thing, with more or less detail, to Edson
and Oliver, his married elder brothers; to Ralph, his unmarried
brother; and to Carolyn--Mrs. Charles Wetmore, his other--and
elder--married sister. He received varied and more or less sympathetic
responses, to the effect that with so many little children, and such
snowdrifts as always blocked the roads leading toward North Estabrook,
it really was not strange--and of course somebody would go next year.
But they had all sent the nicest gifts they could find. Didn't Guy
think mother liked those beautiful Russian sables Ralph sent her? And
wasn't father pleased with his gold-headed cane from Oliver? Surely
with such presents pouring in from all the children, Father and Mother
Fernald couldn't feel so awfully neglected.

"Gold-headed cane be hanged!" Guy exploded when he read this last
sentence from the letter of Marian, Oliver's wife. "I'll bet she put
him up to it. If anybody dares give me a gold-headed cane before I'm
ninety-five I'll thrash him with it on the spot. He wasn't using it,
either--bless him. He had his old hickory stick, and he wouldn't have
had that if that abominable rheumatism hadn't gripped him so hard. He
isn't old enough to use a cane, by jolly, and Ol ought to know it, if
Marian doesn't. I'm glad I sent him that typewriter. He liked that, I
know he did, and it'll amuse him, too--not make him think he's ready
to die!"

Guy was not the fellow to forget anything which had taken hold of him
as that pathetic Christmas home-coming had done. When the year had
nearly rolled around, the first of December saw him at work getting
his plans in train. He began with his eldest brother, Oliver, because
he considered Mrs. Oliver the hardest proposition he had to tackle in
the carrying out of his idea.

"You see," he expounded patiently, as they sat and stared at him, "it
isn't that they aren't always awfully glad to see the whole outfit,
children and all, but it just struck me it would do 'em a lot of good
to revive old times. I thought if we could make it just as much as
possible like one of the old Christmases before anybody got
married--hang up the stockings and all, you know--it would give them a
mighty jolly surprise. I plan to have us all creep in in the night and
go to bed in our old rooms. And then in the morning--See?"

Mrs. Oliver looked at him. An eager flush lit his still boyish
face--Guy was twenty-eight--and his blue eyes were very bright. His
lithe, muscular figure bent toward her pleadingly; all his arguments
were aimed at her. Oliver sat back in his impassive way and watched
them both. It could not be denied that it was Marian's decisions which
usually ruled in matters of this sort.

"It seems to me a very strange plan," was Mrs. Oliver's comment, when
Guy had laid the whole thing before her in the most tactful manner he
could command. She spoke rather coldly. "It is not usual to think that
families should be broken up like this on Christmas Day, of all days
in the year. Four families, with somebody gone--a mother or a
father--just to please two elderly people who expect nothing of the
sort, and who understand just why we can't all get home at once. Don't
you think you are really asking a good deal?"

Guy kept his temper, though it was hard work. "It doesn't seem to me I
am," he answered quite gently. "It's only for once. I really don't
think father and mother would care much what sort of presents we
brought them, if we only came ourselves. Of course, I know I'm asking
a sacrifice of each family, and it may seem almost an insult not to
invite the children and all, yet--perhaps next year we'll try a
gathering of all the clans. But just for this year--honestly--I do
awfully wish you'd give me my way. If you'd seen those two last
Christmas--"

He broke off, glancing appealingly at Oliver himself. To his surprise,
that gentleman shifted his pipe to the corner of his mouth and put a
few pertinent questions to his younger brother. Had he thought it all
out? What time should they arrive there? How early on the day after
Christmas could they get away? Was he positive they could all crowd
into the house without rousing and alarming the pair?

"Sure thing," Guy declared, quickly. "Marietta--well, you know I've
had the soft side of her old heart ever since I was born, somehow. I
talked it all over with her last year, and I'm solid with her, all
right. She'll work the game. You see, father's quite a bit deaf now--"

"Father deaf?"

"Sure. Didn't you know it?"

"Forgotten. But mother'd hear us."

"No, she wouldn't. Don't you know how she trusts everything about the
house to Marietta since she got that fall--"

"Mother get a fall?"

"Why, _yes_!" Guy stared at his brother with some impatience. "Don't
you remember she fell down the back stairs a year ago last October,
and hurt her knee?"

"Certainly, Oliver," his wife interposed. "I wrote for you to tell her
how sorry we were. But I supposed she had entirely recovered."

"She's a little bit lame, and always will be," said Guy, a touch of
reproach in his tone. "Her knee stiffens up in the night, and she
doesn't get up and go prowling about at the least noise, the way she
used to. Marietta won't let her. So if we make a whisper of noise
Marietta'll tell her it's the cat or something. Good Lord! yes--it can
be worked all right. The only thing that worries me is the fear that I
can't get you all to take hold of the scheme. On my word, Ol,"--he
turned quite away from his sister-in-law's critical gaze and faced his
brother with something like indignation in his frank young
eyes--"don't we owe the old home anything but a present tied up in
tissue paper once a year?"

Marian began to speak. She thought Guy was exceeding his rights in
talking as if they had been at fault. It was not often that elderly
people had so many children within call--loyal children who would do
anything within reason. But certainly a man owed something to his own
family. And at Christmas! Why not carry out this plan at some other--

Her husband abruptly interrupted her. He took his pipe quite out of
his mouth and spoke decidedly.

"Guy, I believe you're right. I'll be sorry to desert my own kids, of
course, but I rather think they can stand it for once. If the others
fall into line, you may count on me."

Guy got away, feeling that the worst of his troubles was over. In his
younger sister, Nan, he hoped to find an ardent ally and he was not
disappointed. Carolyn--Mrs. Charles Wetmore--also fell in heartily
with the plan. Ralph, from somewhere in the far West, wrote that he
would get home or break a leg. Edson thought the idea rather a foolish
one, but was persuaded by Jessica, his wife--whom Guy privately
declared a trump--that he must go by all means. And so they all fell
into line, and there remained for Guy only the working out of the
details.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Mis' Fernald"--Marietta Cooley strove with all the decision of which
she was capable to keep her high-pitched, middle-aged voice in
order--"'fore you get to bed I'm most forgettin' what I was to ask
you. I s'pose you'll laugh, but Guy--he wrote me partic'lar he wanted
you and his father to"--Marietta's rather stern, thin face took on a
curious expression--"to hang up your stockin's."

Mrs. Fernald paused in the door-way of the bedroom opening from the
sitting-room downstairs. She looked back at Marietta with her gentle
smile.

"Guy wrote that?" she asked. "Then--it almost looks as if he might be
coming himself, doesn't it, Marietta?"

"Well, I don't know's I'd really expect him," Marietta replied,
turning her face away and busying herself about the hearth. "I guess
what he meant was more in the way of a surprise for a Christmas
present--something that'll go into a stockin', maybe."

"It's rather odd he should have written you to ask me," mused Mrs.
Fernald, as she looked out the stockings.

Marietta considered rapidly. "Well, I s'pose he intended for me to get
'em on the sly without mentionin' it to you, an' put in what he sent,
but I sort of guessed you might like to fall in with his idee by
hangin' 'em up yourself, here by the chimbley, where the children all
used to do it. Here's the nails, same as they always was."

Mrs. Fernald found the stockings, and touched her husband on the
shoulder, as he sat unlacing his shoes. "Father, Guy wrote he wanted
us to hang up our stockings," she said, raising her voice a little and
speaking very distinctly. The elderly man beside her looked up,
smiling.

"Well, well," he said, "anything to please the boy. It doesn't seem
more than a year since he was a little fellow hanging up his own
stocking, does it, mother?"

The stockings were hung in silence. They looked thin and lonely as
they dangled beside the dying fire. Marietta hastened to make them
less lonely. "Well," she said, in a shame-faced way, "the silly boy
said I was to hang mine, too. Goodness knows what he'll find to put
into it that'll fit, 'less it's a poker."

They smiled kindly at her, wished her good night, and went back into
their own room. The little episode had aroused no suspicions. It was
very like Guy's affectionate boyishness.

"I presume he'll be down," said Mrs. Fernald, as she limped quietly
about the room, making ready for bed. "Don't you remember how he
surprised us last year? I'm sorry the others can't come. Of course, I
sent them all the invitation, just as usual--I shall always do
that--but it _is_ pretty snowy weather, and I suppose they don't quite
like to risk it."

Presently, as she was putting out the light, she heard Marietta at the
door.

"Mis' Fernald, Peter Piper's got back in this part o' the house,
somehow, and I can't lay hands on him. Beats all how cute that cat is.
Seem's if he knows when I'm goin' to put him out in the wood-shed. I
don't think likely he'll do no harm, but I thought I'd tell you, so 'f
you heard any queer noises in the night you'd know it was Peter."

"Very well, Marietta"--the soft voice came back to the schemer on the
other side of the door. "Peter will be all right, wherever he is. I
shan't be alarmed if I hear him."

"All right, Mis' Fernald; I just thought I'd let you know," and the
guileful one went grinning away.

       *       *       *       *       *

_There was a long silence in the quiet sleeping-room. Then, out of the
darkness, came this little colloquy:_

_"Emeline, you aren't getting to sleep."_

_"I--know I'm not, John. I--Christmas Eve keeps one awake, somehow. It
always did."_

_"Yes.... I don't suppose the children realise at all, do they?"_

_"Oh, no--oh, no! They don't realise--they never will, till--they're
here themselves. It's all right. I think--I think at least Guy will be
down to-morrow, don't you?"_

_"I guess maybe he will." Then, after a short silence. "Mother--you've
got me, you know. You know--you've always got me, dear."_

_"Yes." She would not let him hear the sob in her voice. She crept
close, and spoke cheerfully in his best ear. "And you've got me,
Johnny Boy!"_

_"Thank the Lord, I have!"_

_So, counting their blessings, they fell asleep at last. But, even in
sleep, one set of lashes was strangely wet._

       *       *       *       *       *

"Christopher Jinks, what a drift!"

"Lucky we weren't two hours later."

"_Sh-h_--they might hear us."

"Nan, stop laughing, or I'll drop a snowball down your neck!"

"Here, Carol, give me your hand. I'll plough you through. Large bodies
move slowly, of course, but go elbows first and you'll get there."

"Gee _whiz_! Can't you get that door open? I'll bet it's frozen fast."

A light showed inside the kitchen. The storm-door swung open,
propelled by force from inside. A cautious voice said low: "That the
Fernald family?"

A chorus of whispers came back at Miss Marietta Cooley:

"Yes, yes--let us in, we're freezing."

"You bet we're the Fernald family--every man-Jack of us--not one
missing."

"Oh, Marietta--you dear old thing!"

"Hurry up--this is their side of the house."

"_Sh-h-h_--"

"Carol, your _sh-h-ishes_ would wake the dead!"

[Illustration: "STUMBLING OVER THEIR OWN FEET AND BUNDLES ... THE CREW
POURED INTO THE WARM KITCHEN"]

Stumbling over their own feet and bundles in the endeavour to be
preternaturally quiet, the crew poured into the warm kitchen. Bearded
Oliver, oldest of the clan; stout Edson, big Ralph, tall and slender
Guy--and the two daughters of the house, Carolyn, growing plump and
rosy at thirty; Nan, slim and girlish at twenty-four--they were all
there. Marietta heaved a sigh of content as she looked them over.

"Well, I didn't really think you'd get here--all of you. Thank the
Lord, you have. I s'pose you're tearin' hungry, bein' past 'leven. If
you think you can eat quiet as cats, I'll feed you up, but if you're
goin' to make as much rumpus as you did comin' round the corner o' the
wood-shed I'll have to pack you straight off to bed up the back
stairs."

They pleaded for mercy and hot food. They got it--everything that
could be had that would diffuse no odour of cookery through the
house. Smoking clam-broth, a great pot of baked beans, cold meats, and
jellies--they had no reason to complain of their reception. They ate
hungrily with the appetites of winter travel.

"Say, but this is great," exulted Ralph, the stalwart, consuming a
huge wedge of mince pie with a fine disregard for any consequences
that might overtake him. "This alone is worth it. I haven't eaten such
pie in a century. What a jolly place this old kitchen is! Let's have a
candy-pull to-morrow. I haven't been home Christmas in--let me see--by
Jove, I believe it's six--seven--yes, seven years. Look here: there's
been some excuse for me, but what about you people that live near?"

He looked accusingly about. Carolyn got up and came around to him.
"Don't talk about it to-night," she whispered. "We haven't any of us
realised how long it's been."

"We'll get off to bed now," Guy declared, rising. "I can't get over
the feeling that they may catch us down here. If either of them should
want some hot water or anything--"

"The dining-room door's bolted," Marietta assured him, "but it might
need explainin' if I had to bring 'em hot water by way of the parlour.
Now, go awful careful up them stairs. They're pretty near over your
ma's head, but I don't dare have you tramp through the settin'-room to
the front ones. Now, remember that seventh stair creaks like
Ned--you've got to step right on the outside edge of it to keep it
quiet. I don't know but what you boys better step right up over that
seventh stair without touchin' foot to it."

"All right--we'll step!"

"Who's going to fix the bundles?" Carolyn paused to ask as she started
up the stairs.

"Marietta," Guy answered. "I've labeled every one, so it'll be easy.
If they hear paper rattle, they'll think it's the usual presents we've
sent on, and if they come out they'll see Marietta, so it's all right.
Quiet, now. Remember the seventh stair!"

They crept up, one by one, each to his or her old room. There needed
to be no "doubling up," for the house was large, and each room had
been left precisely as its owner had left it. It was rather ghostly,
this stealing silently about with candles, and in the necessity for
the suppression of speech the animation of the party rather suffered
eclipse. It was late, and they were beginning to be sleepy, so they
were soon in bed. But, somehow, once composed for slumber, more than
one grew wakeful again.

Guy, lying staring at a patch of wintry moonlight on the odd striped
paper of his wall--it had stopped snowing since they had come into the
house, and the clouds had broken away, leaving a brilliant
sky--discovered his door to be softly opening. The glimmer of a candle
filtered through the crack, a voice whispered his name.

"Who is it?" he answered under his breath.

"It's Nan. May I come in?"

"Of course. What's up?"

"Nothing. I wanted to talk a minute." She came noiselessly in, wrapped
in a woolly scarlet kimono, scarlet slippers on her feet, her brown
braids hanging down her back. The frost-bloom lately on her cheeks had
melted into a ruddy glow, her eyes were stars. She set her candle on
the little stand, and sat down on the edge of Guy's bed. He raised
himself on his elbow and lay looking appreciatively at her.

"This is like old times," he said. "But won't you be cold?"

"Not a bit. I'm only going to stay a minute. Anyhow, this thing is
warm as toast.... Yes, isn't it like old times?"

"Got your lessons for to-morrow?"

She laughed. "All but my Cæsar. You'll help me with that, in the
morning, won't you?"

"Sure--if you'll make some cushions for my bobs."

"I will. Guy--how's Lucy Harper?"

"She's all right. How's Bob Fields?"

"Oh, I don't care for him, now!" She tossed her head.

He kept up the play. "Like Dave Strong better, huh? He's a softy."

"He isn't. Oh, Guy--I heard you had a new girl."

"New girl nothing. Don't care for girls."

"Yes, you do. At least I think you do. Her name's--Margaret."

The play ceased abruptly. Guy's face changed. "Perhaps I do," he
murmured, while his sister watched him in the candle-light.

"She won't answer yet?" she asked very gently.

"Not a word."

"You've cared a good while, haven't you, dear?"

"Seems like ages. Suppose it isn't."

"No--only two years, really caring hard. Plenty of time left."

He moved his head impatiently. "Yes, if I didn't mind seeing her smile
on Tommy Gower--de'il take him--just as sweetly as she smiles on me.
If she ever held out the tip of her finger to me, I'd seize it and
hold on to it for fair. But she doesn't. She won't. And she's going
South next week for the rest of the winter, and there's a fellow down
there in South Carolina where she goes--oh, he--he's red-headed after
her, like the rest of us. And, well--I'm up against it good and hard,
Nan, and that's the truth."

"Poor boy. And you gave up going to see her on Christmas Day, and came
down here into the country just to--"

"Just to get even with myself for the way I've neglected 'em these two
years while my head's been so full of--her. It isn't fair. After last
year I'd have come home to-day if it had meant I had to
lose--well--Margaret knows I'm here. I don't know what she thinks."

"I don't believe, Guy, boy, she thinks the less of you. Yes--I must
go. It will all come right in the end, dear--I'm sure of it. No, I
don't know how Margaret feels--Good night--good night!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Christmas morning, breaking upon a wintry world--the Star in the East
long set. Outside the house a great silence of drift-wrapped hill and
plain;--inside, a crackling fire upon a wide hearth, and a pair of
elderly people waking to a lonely holiday.

[Illustration: "'THE CHILDREN!' SHE WAS SAYING.
'THEY--THEY--JOHN--THEY MUST BE HERE!'"]

Mrs. Fernald crept to the door of her room--the injured knee always
made walking difficult after a night's quiet. She meant to sit down by
the fire which she had lately heard Marietta stirring and feeding into
activity, and warm herself at its flame. She remembered with a sad
little smile that she and John had hung their stockings there, and
looked to see what miracle had been wrought in the night.

"_Father_!"--Her voice caught in her throat.... What was all this?...
By some mysterious influence her husband learned that she was calling
him, though he had not really heard. He came to the door and looked at
her, then at the chimneypiece where the stockings hung--a long row of
them, as they had not hung since the children grew up--stockings of
quality: one of brown silk, Nan's; a fine gray sock with scarlet
clocks, Ralph's,--all stuffed to the top, with bundles overflowing
upon the chimneypiece and even to the floor below.

"What's this--what's this?" John Fernald's voice was puzzled. "Whose
are these?" He limped closer. He put on his spectacles and stared hard
at a parcel protruding from the sock with the scarlet clocks.

"'_Merry Christmas to Ralph from Nan_,'" he read. "'To Ralph from
Nan,'" he repeated vaguely. His gaze turned to his wife. His eyes were
wide like a child's. But she was getting to her feet, from the chair
into which she had dropped.

"The children!" she was saying. "They--they--John--they must be
_here_!"

He followed her through the chilly hall to the front staircase, seldom
used now, and up--as rapidly as those slow, stiff joints would allow.
Trembling, Mrs. Fernald pushed open the first door at the top.

A rumpled brown head raised itself from among the pillows, a pair of
sleepy but affectionate brown eyes smiled back at the two faces
peering in, and a voice brimful of mirth cried softly: "Merry
Christmas, mammy and daddy!" They stared at her, their eyes growing
misty. _It was their little daughter Nan, not yet grown up!_

They could not believe it. Even when they had been to every room;--had
seen their big son Ralph, still sleeping, his yet youthful face, full
of healthy colour, pillowed on his brawny arm, and his mother had
gently kissed him awake to be half-strangled in his hug;--when they
had met Edson's hearty laugh as he fired a pillow at them--carefully,
so that his father could catch it;--when they had seen plump pretty
Carol pulling on her stockings as she sat on the floor smiling up at
them;--Oliver, advancing to meet them in his bath-robe and
slippers;--Guy, holding out both arms from above his blankets, and
shouting "Merry Christmas!--and how do you like your children?"--even
then it was difficult to realise that not one was missing--and that no
one else was there. Unconsciously Mrs. Fernald found herself looking
about for the sons' wives and daughters' husbands and children. She
loved them all;--yet--to have her own, and no others, just for this
one day--it was happiness indeed.

When they were all downstairs, about the fire, there was great
rejoicing. They had Marietta in; indeed, she had been hovering
continuously in the background, to the apparently frightful jeopardy
of the breakfast in preparation, upon which, nevertheless, she had
managed to keep a practised eye.

"And you were in it, Marietta?" Mr. Fernald said to her in
astonishment, when he first saw her. "How in the world did you get all
these people into the house and to bed without waking us?"

"It was pretty consid'able of a resk," Marietta replied, with modest
pride, "'seein' as how they was inclined to be middlin' lively. But I
kep' a-hushin' 'em up, and I filled 'em up so full of victuals they
couldn't talk. I didn't know's there'd be any eatables left for
to-day," she added--which last remark, since she had been slyly baking
for a week, Guy thought might be considered pure bluff.

At the breakfast table, while the eight heads were bent, this
thanksgiving arose, as the master of the house, in a voice not quite
steady, offered it to One Unseen:

_Thou who camest to us on that first Christmas Day, we bless Thee for
this good and perfect gift Thou sendest us to-day, that Thou
forgettest us not in these later years, but givest us the greatest joy
of our lives in these our loyal children._

Nan's hand clutched Guy's under the table. "Doesn't that make it worth
it?" his grasp said to her, and hers replied with a frantic pressure,
"Indeed it does, but we don't deserve it."

... It was late in the afternoon, a tremendous Christmas dinner well
over, and the group scattered, when Guy and his mother sat alone by
the fire. The "boys" had gone out to the great stock barn with their
father to talk over with him every detail of the prosperous business
he, with the help of an invaluable assistant, was yet able to manage.
Carolyn and Nan had ostensibly gone with them, but in reality the
former was calling upon an old friend of her childhood, and the latter
had begged a horse and sleigh and driven merrily away alone upon an
errand she would tell no one but her mother.

[Illustration: "'MERRY CHRISTMAS, MAMMY AND DADDY!'"]

Mrs. Fernald sat in her low chair at the side of the hearth, her son
upon a cushion at her feet, his head resting against her knee. Her
slender fingers were gently threading the thick locks of his hair, as
she listened while he talked to her of everything in his life, and, at
last, of the one thing he cared most about.

"Sometimes I get desperate and think I may as well give her up for
good and all," he was saying. "She's so--so--_elusive_--I don't know
any other word for it. I never can tell how I stand with her. She's
going South next week. I've asked her to answer me before she goes.
Somehow I've clung to the hope that I'd get my answer to-day. You'll
laugh, but I left word with my office-boy to wire me if a note or
anything from her came. It's four o'clock, and I haven't heard.
She--you see, I can't help thinking it's because she's going to--turn
me down--and--hates to do it--Christmas Day!"

He turned suddenly and buried his face in his mother's lap; his
shoulders heaved a little in spite of himself. His mother's hand
caressed his head more tenderly than ever, but, if he could have seen,
her eyes were very bright.

They were silent for a long time. Then suddenly a jingle of sleigh
bells approached through the falling winter twilight, drew near, and
stopped at the door. Guy's mother laid her hands upon his shoulders.
"Son," she said, "there's some one stopping now. Perhaps it's the boy
with a message from the station."

He was on his feet in an instant. Her eyes followed him as he rushed
away through the hall. Then she rose and quietly closed the
sitting-room door behind him.

As Guy flung open the front door, a tall and slender figure in gray
furs and a wide gray hat was coming up the walk. Eyes whose glance had
long been his dearest torture met Guy Fernald's and fell. Lips like
which there were no others in the world smiled tremulously in response
to his eager exclamation. And over the piquant young face rose an
exquisite colour which was not altogether born of the wintry air. The
girl who for two years had been only "elusive" had taken the
significant step of coming to North Estabrook in response to an
eloquent telephone message sent that morning by Nan.

Holding both her hands fast, Guy led her up into the house--and found
himself alone with her in the shadowy hall. With one gay shout Nan had
driven away toward the barn. The inner doors were all closed. Blessing
the wondrous sagacity of his womankind, Guy took advantage of his
moment.

"Nan brought you--I see that. I know you're very fond of her, but--you
didn't come wholly to please her, did you--Margaret?"

"Not wholly."

"I've been looking all day for my answer. I--oh--I wonder if--" he was
gathering courage from her aspect, which for the first time in his
experience failed to keep him at a distance--"_dare_ I think
you--_bring it_?"

She slowly lifted her face. "I thought it was so--so dear of you," she
murmured, "to come home to your people instead of--staying with me. I
thought you deserved--what you say--you want--"

"_Margaret_--you--"

"I haven't given you any Christmas present. Will--I--do?"

"Will _you_ do!... _Oh_!"--It was a great explosive sigh of relief
and joy, and as he gave vent to it he caught her close.
"Will--_you_--do!... Good Lord!... I rather _think you will_!"

       *       *       *       *       *

_"Emeline--"_

_"Yes, John dear?"_

_"You're not--crying?"_

_"Oh, no--no, no, John!" What a blessing deafness is sometimes! The
ear cannot detect the delicate tremolo which might tell the story too
plainly. And in the darkness of night, the eye cannot see._

_"It's been a pretty nice day, hasn't it?"_

_"A beautiful day!"_

_"I guess there's no doubt but the children care a good deal for the
old folks yet."_

_"No doubt at all, dear."_

_"It's good to think they're all asleep under the roof once more,
isn't it?--And one extra one. We like her, don't we?"_

_"Oh, very, very much!"_

_"Yes, Guy's done well. I always thought he'd get her, if he hung on.
The Fernalds always hang on, but Guy's got a mite of a temper--I
didn't know but he might let go a little too soon. Well--it's great to
think they all plan to spend every Christmas Day with us, isn't it,
Emeline?"_

_"Yes, dear--it's--great."_

_"Well--I must let you go to sleep. It's been a big day, and I guess
you're tired. Emeline, we've not only got each other--we've got the
children too. That's a pretty happy thing at our age, isn't it, now?"_

_"Yes--yes."_

_"Good night--Christmas Night, Emeline."_

_"Good night, dear."_

       *       *       *       *       *

By the Same Author

The Second Violin
The Indifference of Juliet
With Juliet in England
Round the Corner in Gay Street

Also many short stories for children

       *       *       *       *       *





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