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´╗┐Title: The Birds' Christmas Carol
Author: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith, 1856-1923
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 "The Birds' Christmas Carol" ***

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THE BIRDS' CHRISTMAS CAROL

BY

KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN



To

The Three Dearest Children in the World, BERTHA, LUCY, AND HORATIO.


  "O little ones, ye cannot know
      The power with which ye plead,
  Nor why, as on through life we go,
      The little child doth lead."



CONTENTS

   I. A LITTLE SNOW-BIRD
  II. DROOPING WINGS
 III. THE BIRD'S NEST
  IV. "BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER"
   V. SOME OTHER BIRDS ARE TAUGHT TO FLY
  VI. "WHEN THE PIE WAS OPENED, THE BIRDS BEGAN TO SING"
 VII. THE BIRDLING FLIES AWAY



The Birds' Christmas Carol.



I.

A LITTLE SNOW BIRD.

It was very early Christmas morning, and in the stillness of the dawn,
with the soft snow falling on the housetops, a little child was born in
the Bird household.

They had intended to name the baby Lucy, if it were a girl; but they
hadn't expected her on Christmas morning, and a real Christmas baby was
not to be lightly named--the whole family agreed in that.

They were consulting about it in the nursery.  Mr. Bird said that he
had assisted in naming the three boys, and that he should leave this
matter entirely to Mrs. Bird; Donald wanted the child called "Maud,"
after a pretty little curly-haired girl who sat next him in school;
Paul chose "Luella," for Luella was the nurse who had been with him
during his whole babyhood, up to the time of his first trousers, and
the name suggested all sorts of comfortable things.  Uncle Jack said
that the first girl should always be named for her mother, no matter
how hideous the name happened to be.

Grandma said that she would prefer not to take any part in the
discussion, and everybody suddenly remembered that Mrs. Bird had
thought of naming the baby Lucy, for Grandma herself; and, while it
would be indelicate for her to favor that name, it would be against
human nature for her to suggest any other, under the circumstances.

Hugh, the "hitherto baby," if that is a possible term, sat in one
corner and said nothing, but felt, in some mysterious way, that his
nose was out of joint; for there was a newer baby now, a possibility he
had never taken into consideration; and the "first girl," too, a still
higher development of treason, which made him actually green with
jealousy.

But it was too profound a subject to be settled then and there, on the
spot; besides, Mama had not been asked, and everybody felt it rather
absurd, after all, to forestall a decree that was certain to be
absolutely wise, just and perfect.

The reason that the subject had been brought up at all so early in the
day lay in the fact that Mrs. Bird never allowed her babies to go over
night unnamed.  She was a person of so great decision of character that
she would have blushed at such a thing; she said that to let blessed
babies go dangling and dawdling about without names, for months and
months, was enough to ruin them for life.  She also said that if one
could not make up one's mind in twenty-four hours it was a sign
that--but I will not repeat the rest, as it might prejudice you against
the most charming woman in the world.

So Donald took his new velocipede and went out to ride up and down the
stone pavement and notch the shins of innocent people as they passed
by, while Paul spun his musical top on the front steps.

But Hugh refused to leave the scene of action.  He seated himself on
the top stair in the hall, banged his head against the railing a few
times, just by way of uncorking the vials of his wrath, and then
subsided into gloomy silence, waiting to declare war if more "first
girl babies" were thrust upon a family already surfeited with that
unnecessary article.

Meanwhile dear Mrs. Bird lay in her room, weak, but safe and happy with
her sweet girl baby by her side and the heaven of motherhood opening
before her.  Nurse was making gruel in the kitchen, and the room was
dim and quiet.  There was a cheerful open fire in the grate, but though
the shutters were closed, the side windows that looked out on the
Church of our Saviour, next door, were wide open.

Suddenly a sound of music poured out into the bright air and drifted
into the chamber.  It was the boy-choir singing Christmas anthems.
Higher and higher rose the clear, fresh voices, full of hope and cheer,
as children's voices always are.  Fuller and fuller grew the burst of
melody as one glad strain fell upon another in joyful harmony:

          "Carol, brothers, carol,
              Carol joyfully,
           Carol the good tidings,
              Carol merrily!
           And pray a gladsome Christmas
              For all your fellow-men;
           Carol, brothers, carol,
              Christmas Day again."

One verse followed another always with the same glad refrain:

          "And pray a gladsome Christmas
              For all your fellow-men:
          Carol, brothers, carol,
              Christmas Day again."

Mrs. Bird thought, as the music floated in upon her gentle sleep, that
she had slipped into heaven with her new baby, and that the angels were
bidding them welcome.  But the tiny bundle by her side stirred a
little, and though it was scarcely more than the ruffling of a feather,
she awoke; for the mother-ear is so close to the heart that it can hear
the faintest whisper of a child.

She opened her eyes and drew the baby closer.  It looked like a rose
dipped in milk, she thought, this pink and white blossom of girlhood,
or like a pink cherub, with its halo of pale yellow hair, finer than
floss silk.

          "Carol, brothers, carol,
              Carol joyfully,
           Carol the good tidings,
              Carol merrily!"

The voices were brimming over with joy.

"Why, my baby," whispered Mrs. Bird in soft surprise, "I had forgotten
what day it was.  You are a little Christmas child, and we will name
you 'Carol'--mother's little Christmas Carol!"

"What!" said Mr. Bird, coming in softly and closing the door behind him.

"Why, Donald, don't you think 'Carol' is a sweet name for a Christmas
baby?  It came to me just a moment ago in the singing as I was lying
here half asleep and half awake."

"I think it is a charming name, dear heart, and that it sounds just
like you, and I hope that, being a girl, this baby has some chance of
being as lovely as her mother," at which speech from the baby's papa,
Mrs. Bird, though she was as weak and tired as she could be, blushed
with happiness.

And so Carol came by her name.

Of course, it was thought foolish by many people, though Uncle Jack
declared laughingly that it was very strange if a whole family of Birds
could not be indulged in a single Carol; and Grandma, who adored the
child, thought the name much more appropriate than Lucy, but was glad
that people would probably think it short for Caroline.

Perhaps because she was born in holiday time, Carol was a very happy
baby.  Of course, she was too tiny to understand the joy of
Christmas-tide, but people say there is everything in a good beginning,
and she may have breathed-in unconsciously the fragrance of evergreens
and holiday dinners; while the peals of sleigh-bells and the laughter
of happy children may have fallen upon her baby ears and wakened in
them a glad surprise at the merry world she had come to live in.

Her cheeks and lips were as red as holly berries; her hair was for all
the world the color of a Christmas candle-flame; her eyes were bright
as stars; her laugh like a chime of Christmas bells, and her tiny hands
forever outstretched in giving.

Such a generous little creature you never saw!  A spoonful of bread and
milk had always to be taken by Mama or nurse before Carol could enjoy
her supper; and whatever bit of cake or sweetmeat found its way into
her pretty fingers, it was straightway broken in half and shared with
Donald, Paul or Hugh; and, when they made believe nibble the morsel
with affected enjoyment, she would clap her hands and crow with
delight.  "Why does she do it?" asked Donald, thoughtfully; "None of us
boys ever did."  "I hardly know," said Mama, catching her darling to
her heart, "except that she is a little Christmas child, and so she has
a tiny share of the blessedest birthday the world ever saw!"



II.

DROOPING WINGS.

It was December, ten years later.  Carol had seen nine Christmas trees
lighted on her birthdays, one after another; nine times she had
assisted in the holiday festivities of the household, though in her
babyhood her share of the gayeties was somewhat limited.

For five years, certainly, she had hidden presents for Mama and Papa in
their own bureau drawers, and harbored a number of secrets sufficiently
large to burst a baby's brain, had it not been for the relief gained by
whispering them all to Mama, at night, when she was in her crib, a
proceeding which did not in the least lessen the value of a secret in
her innocent mind.

For five years she had heard "'Twas the night before Christmas," and
hung up a scarlet stocking many sizes too large for her, and pinned a
sprig of holly on her little white night gown, to show Santa Claus that
she was a "truly" Christmas child, and dreamed of fur-coated saints and
toy-packs and reindeer, and wished everybody a "Merry Christmas" before
it was light in the morning, and lent every one of her new toys to the
neighbors' children before noon, and eaten turkey and plum pudding, and
gone to bed at night in a trance of happiness at the day's pleasures.

Donald was away at college now.  Paul and Hugh were great manly
fellows, taller than their mother.  Papa Bird had grey hairs in his
whiskers; and Grandma, God bless her, had been four Christmases in
heaven.  But Christmas in the Birds' Nest was scarcely as merry now as
it used to be in the bygone years, for the little child that once
brought such an added blessing to the day, lay, month after month, a
patient, helpless invalid, in the room where she was born.

She had never been very strong in body, and it was with a pang of
terror her mother and father noticed, soon after she was five years
old, that she began to limp, ever so slightly; to complain too often of
weariness, and to nestle close to her mother, saying she "would rather
not go out to play, please."  The illness was slight at first, and hope
was always stirring in Mrs. Bird's heart.  "Carol would feel stronger
in the summer-time;" or, "She would be better when she had spent a year
in the country;" or, "She would outgrow it;" or, "They would try a new
physician;" but by and by it came to be all too sure that no physician
save One could make Carol strong again, and that no "summer-time" nor
"country air," unless it were the everlasting summer-time in a heavenly
country, could bring back the little girl to health.

The cheeks and lips that were once as red as holly-berries faded to
faint pink; the star-like eyes grew softer, for they often gleamed
through tears; and the gay child-laugh, that had been like a chime of
Christmas bells, gave place to a smile so lovely, so touching, so
tender and patient, that it filled every corner of the house with a
gentle radiance that might have come from the face of the Christ-child
himself.

Love could do nothing; and when we have said that we have said all, for
it is stronger than anything else in the whole wide world.  Mr. and
Mrs. Bird were talking it over one evening when all the children were
asleep.  A famous physician had visited them that day, and told them
that sometime, it might be in one year, it might be in more, Carol
would slip quietly off into heaven, whence she came.

"Dear heart," said Mr. Bird, pacing up and down the library floor, "it
is no use to shut our eyes to it any longer; Carol will never be well
again.  It almost seems as if I could not bear it when I think of that
loveliest child doomed to lie there day after day, and, what is still
more, to suffer pain that we are helpless to keep away from her.  Merry
Christmas, indeed; it gets to be the saddest day in the year to me!"
and poor Mr. Bird sank into a chair by the table, and buried his face
in his hands, to keep his wife from seeing the tears that would come in
spite of all his efforts.  "But, Donald, dear," said sweet Mrs. Bird,
with trembling voice, "Christmas day may not be so merry with us as it
used, but it is very happy, and that is better, and very blessed, and
that is better yet.  I suffer chiefly for Carol's sake, but I have
almost given up being sorrowful for my own.  I am too happy in the
child, and I see too clearly what she has done for us and for our boys."

"That's true, bless her sweet heart," said Mr. Bird; "she has been
better than a daily sermon in the house ever since she was born, and
especially since she was taken ill."

"Yes, Donald and Paul and Hugh were three strong, willful, boisterous
boys, but you seldom see such tenderness, devotion, thought for others
and self-denial in lads of their years.  A quarrel or a hot word is
almost unknown in this house.  Why?  Carol would hear it, and it would
distress her, she is so full of love and goodness.  The boys study with
all their might and main.  Why?  Partly, at least, because they like to
teach Carol, and amuse her by telling her what they read.  When the
seamstress comes, she likes to sew in Miss Carol's room, because there
she forgets her own troubles, which, Heaven knows, are sore enough!
And as for me, Donald, I am a better woman every day for Carol's sake;
I have to be her eyes, ears, feet, hands--her strength, her hope; and
she, my own little child, is my example!"

"I was wrong, dear heart," said Mr. Bird more cheerfully; "we will try
not to repine, but to rejoice instead, that we have an 'angel of the
house' like Carol."

"And as for her future," Mrs. Bird went on, "I think we need not be
over-anxious.  I feel as if she did not belong altogether to us, and
when she has done what God sent her for, He will take her back to
Himself--and it may not be very long!"  Here it was poor Mrs. Bird's
turn to break down, and Mr. Bird's turn to comfort her.



III.

THE BIRD'S NEST.

Carol herself knew nothing of motherly tears and fatherly anxieties;
she lived on peacefully in the room where she was born.

But you never would have known that room; for Mr. Bird had a great deal
of money, and though he felt sometimes as if he wanted to throw it all
in the ocean, since it could not buy a strong body for his little girl,
yet he was glad to make the place she lived in just as beautiful as it
could be made.

The room had been extended by the building of a large addition that
hung out over the garden below, and was so filled with windows that it
might have been a conservatory.  The ones on the side were thus still
nearer the little Church of our Saviour than they used to be; those in
front looked out on the beautiful harbor, and those in the back
commanded a view of nothing in particular but a little
alley--nevertheless, they were pleasantest of all to Carol, for the
Ruggles family lived in the alley, and the nine little, middle-sized
and big Ruggles children were the source of inexhaustible interest.

The shutters could all be opened and Carol could take a real sun-bath
in this lovely glass-house, or they could all be closed when the dear
head ached or the dear eyes were tired.  The carpet was of soft grey,
with clusters of green bay and holly leaves.  The furniture was of
white wood, on which an artist had painted snow scenes and Christmas
trees and groups of merry children ringing bells and singing carols.

Donald had made a pretty, polished shelf and screwed it on to the
outside of the footboard, and the boys always kept this full of
blooming plants, which they changed from time to time; the head-board,
too, had a bracket on either side, where there were pots of maidenhair
ferns.

Love-birds and canaries hung in their golden houses in the windows, and
they, poor caged things, could hop as far from their wooden perches as
Carol could venture from her little white bed.

On one side of the room was a bookcase filled with hundreds--yes, I
mean it--with hundreds and hundreds of books; books with gay-colored
pictures, books without; books with black and white outline-sketches,
books with none at all; books with verses, books with stories, books
that made children laugh, and some that made them cry; books with words
of one syllable for tiny boys and girls, and books with words of
fearful length to puzzle wise ones.

This was Carol's "Circulating Library."  Every Saturday she chose ten
books, jotting their names down in a little diary; into these she
slipped cards that said:

"Please keep this book two weeks and read it.  With love, Carol Bird."

Then Mrs. Bird stepped into her carriage, and took the ten books to the
Childrens' Hospital, and brought home ten others that she had left
there the fortnight before.

This was a source of great happiness; for some of the Hospital children
that were old enough to print or write, and were strong enough to do
it, wrote Carol cunning little letters about the books, and she
answered them, and they grew to be friends.  (It is very funny, but you
do not always have to see people to love them.  Just think about it,
and see if it isn't so.)

There was a high wainscoting of wood about the room, and on top of
this, in a narrow gilt framework, ran a row of illuminated pictures,
illustrating fairy tales, all in dull blue and gold and scarlet and
silver and other lovely colors.  From the door to the closet there was
the story of "The Fair One with Golden Locks;" from closet to bookcase,
ran "Puss in Boots;" from bookcase to fireplace, was "Jack the
Giant-killer;" and on the other side of the room were "Hop o' my
Thumb," "The Sleeping Beauty," and "Cinderella."

Then there was a great closet full of beautiful things to wear--but
they were all dressing-gowns and slippers and shawls; and there were
drawers full of toys and games; but they were such as you could play
with on your lap.  There were no ninepins, nor balls, nor bows and
arrows, nor bean bags, nor tennis rackets; but, after all, other
children needed these more than Carol Bird, for she was always happy
and contented whatever she had or whatever she lacked; and after the
room had been made so lovely for her, on her eighth Christmas, she
always called herself, in fun, a "Bird of Paradise."

On these particular December days she was happier than usual, for Uncle
Jack was coming from Europe to spend the holidays.  Dear, funny, jolly,
loving, wise Uncle Jack, who came every two or three years, and brought
so much joy with him that the world looked as black as a thunder-cloud
for a week after he went away again.

The mail had brought this letter:--

                                   "LONDON, Nov. 28th, 188-.

Wish you merry Christmas, you dearest birdlings in America!  Preen your
feathers, and stretch the Birds' nest a little, if you please, and let
Uncle Jack in for the holidays.  I am coming with such a trunk full of
treasures that you'll have to borrow the stockings of Barnum's Giant
and Giantess; I am coming to squeeze a certain little lady-bird until
she cries for mercy; I am coming to see if I can find a boy to take
care of a little black pony I bought lately.  It's the strangest thing
I ever knew; I've hunted all over Europe, and can't find a boy to suit
me!  I'll tell you why.  I've set my heart on finding one with a dimple
in his chin, because this pony particularly likes dimples!  ['Hurrah!'
cried Hugh; 'bless my dear dimple; I'll never be ashamed of it again.']
Please drop a note to the clerk of the weather, and have a good,
rousing snow-storm--say on the twenty-second.  None of your meek,
gentle, nonsensical, shilly-shallying snow-storms; not the sort where
the flakes float lazily down from the sky as if they didn't care
whether they ever got here or not, and then melt away as soon as they
touch the earth, but a regular business-like whizzing, whirring,
blurring, cutting snow-storm, warranted to freeze and stay on!

I should like rather a LARGE Christmas tree, if it's convenient--not
one of those 'sprigs,' five or six feet high, that you used to have
three or four years ago, when the birdlings were not fairly feathered
out, but a tree of some size.  Set it up in the garret, if necessary,
and then we can cut a hole in the roof if the tree chances to be too
high for the room.

Tell Bridget to begin to fatten a turkey.  Tell her by the twentieth of
December that turkey must not be able to stand on its legs for fat, and
then on the next three days she must allow it to recline easily on its
side, and stuff it to bursting.  (One ounce of stuffing beforehand is
worth a pound afterwards.)

The pudding must be unusually huge, and darkly, deeply, lugubriously
black in color.  It must be stuck so full of plums that the pudding
itself will ooze out into the pan and not be brought on to the table at
all.  I expect to be there by the twentieth, to manage these little
things--remembering it is the early Bird that catches the worm--but
give you the instructions in case I should be delayed.

And Carol must decide on the size of the tree--she knows best, she was
a Christmas child; and she must plead for the snow-storm--the 'clerk of
the weather' may pay some attention to her; and she must look up the
boy with the dimple for me--she's likelier to find him than I am, this
minute.  She must advise about the turkey, and Bridget must bring the
pudding to her bedside and let her drop every separate plum into it and
stir it once for luck, or I'll not eat a single slice--for Carol is the
dearest part of Christmas to Uncle Jack, and he'll have none of it
without her.  She is better than all the turkeys and puddings and
apples and spare-ribs and wreaths and garlands and mistletoe and
stockings and chimneys and sleigh-bells in Christendom.  She is the
very sweetest Christmas Carol that was ever written, said, sung or
chanted, and I am coming, as fast as ships and railway trains can carry
me, to tell her so."

Carol's joy knew no bounds.  Mr. and Mrs. Bird laughed like children
and kissed each other for sheer delight, and when the boys heard it
they simply whooped like wild Indians, until the Ruggles family, whose
back yard joined their garden, gathered at the door and wondered what
was "up" in the big house.



IV.

"BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER."

Uncle Jack did really come on the twentieth.  He was not detained by
business, nor did he get left behind nor snowed up, as frequently
happens in stories, and in real life too, I am afraid.  The snow-storm
came also; and the turkey nearly died a natural and premature death
from over-eating.  Donald came, too; Donald, with a line of down upon
his upper lip, and Greek and Latin on his tongue, and stores of
knowledge in his handsome head, and stories--bless me, you couldn't
turn over a chip without reminding Donald of something that happened
"at College."

One or the other was always at Carol's bedside, for they fancied her
paler than she used to be, and they could not bear her out of sight.
It was Uncle lack, though, who sat beside her in the winter twilights.
The room was quiet, and almost dark, save for the snow-light outside,
and the flickering flame of the fire, that danced over the "Sleeping
Beauty's" face, and touched the Fair One's golden locks with ruddier
glory.  Carol's hand (all too thin and white these latter days) lay
close clasped in Uncle Jack's, and they talked together quietly of
many, many things.  "I want to tell you all about my plans for
Christmas this year, Uncle Jack," said Carol, on the first evening of
his visit, "because it will be the loveliest one I ever had.  The boys
laugh at me for caring so much about it; but it isn't altogether
because it is Christmas nor because it is my birthday; but long, long
ago, when I first began to be ill, I used to think, the first thing
when I waked on Christmas morning, 'To-day is Christ's birthday--AND
MINE!'  I did not put the words close together, because that made it
seem too bold but I first thought, 'Christ's birthday,' and then, in a
minute, softly to myself--AND MINE!'  'Christ's birthday--AND MINE!'
And so I do not quite feel about Christmas as other girls do.  Mama
says she supposes that ever so many other children have been born on
that day.  I often wonder where they are, Uncle Jack, and whether it is
a dear thought to them, too, or whether I am so much in bed, and so
often alone, that it means more to me.  Oh, I do hope that none of them
are poor, or cold, or hungry; and I wish, I wish they were all as happy
as I, because they are my little brothers and sisters.  Now, Uncle
Jack, dear, I am going to try and make somebody happy every single
Christmas that I live, and this year it is to be the 'Ruggleses in the
rear.'"

"That large and interesting brood of children in the little house at
the end of the back garden?"

"Yes; isn't it nice to see so many together?  We ought to call them the
Ruggles children, of course; but Donald began talking of them as the
'Ruggleses in the rear,' and Papa and Mama took it up, and now we
cannot seem to help it.  The house was built for Mr. Carter's coachman,
but Mr. Carter lives in Europe, and the gentleman who rents his place
doesn't care what happens to it, and so this poor Irish family came to
live there.  When they first moved in, I used to sit in my window and
watch them play in their backyard; they are so strong, and jolly, and
good-natured; and then, one day, I had a terrible headache, and Donald
asked them if they would please not scream quite so loud, and they
explained that they were having a game of circus, but that they would
change and play 'Deaf and Dumb School' all the afternoon."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Uncle Jack, "what an obliging family, to be sure."

"Yes, we all thought it very funny, and I smiled at them from the
window when I was well enough to be up again.  Now, Sarah Maud comes to
her door when the children come home from school, and if Mama nods her
head, 'Yes,' that means 'Carol is very well,' and then you ought to
hear the little Ruggleses yell--I believe they try to see how much
noise they can make; but if Mama shakes her head, 'No,' they always
play at quiet games.  Then, one day, 'Cary,' my pet canary, flew out of
her cage, and Peter Ruggles caught her and brought her back, and I had
him up here in my room to thank him."

"Is Peter the oldest?"

"No; Sarah Maud is the oldest--she helps do the washing; and Peter is
the next.  He is a dressmaker's boy."

"And which is the pretty little red-haired girl?"

"That's Kitty."

"And the fat youngster?"

"Baby Larry."

"And that freckled one?"

"Now, don't laugh--that's Peoria!"

"Carol, you are joking."

"No, really, Uncle dear.  She was born in Peoria; that's all."

"And is the next boy Oshkosh?"

"No," laughed Carol, "the others are Susan, and Clement, and Eily, and
Cornelius."

"How did you ever learn all their names?"

"Well, I have what I call a 'window-school.'  It is too cold now; but
in warm weather I am wheeled out on my little balcony, and the
Ruggleses climb up and walk along our garden fence, and sit down on the
roof of our carriage-house.  That brings them quite near, and I read to
them and tell them stories; On Thanksgiving Day they came up for a few
minutes, it was quite warm at eleven o'clock, and we told each other
what we had to be thankful for; but they gave such queer answers that
Papa had to run away for fear of laughing; and I couldn't understand
them very well.  Susan was thankful for 'TRUNKS,' of all things in the
world; Cornelius, for 'horse cars;' Kitty, for 'pork steak;' while
Clem, who is very quiet, brightened up when I came to him, and said he
was thankful for 'HIS LAME PUPPY.'  Wasn't that pretty?"

"It might teach some of us a lesson, mightn't it, little girl?"

"That's what Mama said.  Now I'm going to give this whole Christmas to
the Ruggleses; and, Uncle Jack, I earned part of the money myself."

"You, my bird; how?"

"Well, you see, it could not be my own, own Christmas if Papa gave me
all the money, and I thought to really keep Christ's birthday I ought
to do something of my very own; and so I talked with Mama.  Of course
she thought of something lovely; she always does; Mama's head is just
brimming over with lovely thoughts, and all I have to do is ask, and
out pops the very one I want.  This thought was, to let her write down,
just as I told her, a description of how a little girl lived in her own
room three years, and what she did to amuse herself; and we sent it to
a magazine and got twenty-five dollars for it.  Just think!"

"Well, well," cried Uncle Jack, "my little girl a real author!  And
what are you going to do with this wonderful 'own' money of yours?"

"I shall give the nine Ruggleses a grand Christmas dinner here in this
very room--that will be Papa's contribution, and afterwards a beautiful
Christmas tree, fairly blooming with presents--that will be my part;
for I have another way of adding to my twenty-five dollars, so that I
can buy everything I like.  I should like it very much if you would sit
at the head of the table, Uncle Jack, for nobody could ever be
frightened of you, you dearest, dearest, dearest thing that ever was!
Mama is going to help us, but Papa and the boys are going to eat
together down stairs for fear of making the little Ruggleses shy; and
after we've had a merry time with the tree we can open my window and
all listen together to the music at the evening church-service, if it
comes before the children go.  I have written a letter to the organist,
and asked him if I might have the two songs I like best.  Will you see
if it is all right?"

                         "BIRDS NEST, Dec. 21st, 188-.

DEAR MR. WILKIE,--

I am the little sick girl who lives next door to the church, and, as I
seldom go out, the music on practice days and Sundays is one of my
greatest pleasures.

I want to know if you can let the boys sing 'Carol, brothers, carol,'
on Christmas night, and if the one who sings 'My ain countree' so
beautifully may please sing that too.  I think it is the loveliest song
in the world, but it always makes me cry; doesn't it you?

If it isn't too much trouble, I hope they can sing them both quite
early, as after ten o'clock I may be asleep.

--Yours respectfully,

                                        CAROL BIRD.

P.S.--The reason I like 'Carol, brothers, carol,' is because the
choir-boys sang it eleven years ago, the morning I was born, and put it
into Mama's head to call me Carol.  She didn't remember then that my
other name would be Bird, because she was half asleep, and couldn't
think of but one thing at a time.  Donald says if I had been born on
the Fourth of July they would have named me 'Independence,' or if on
the twenty-second of February, 'Georgina,' or even 'Cherry,' like
Cherry in Martin Chuzzlewit; but I like my own name and birthday best.

--Yours truly,

                                        CAROL BIRD."


Uncle Jack thought the letter quite right, and did not even smile at
her telling the organist so many family items.  The days flew by, as
they always fly in holiday time, and it was Christmas eve before
anybody knew it.  The family festival was quiet and very pleasant, but
quite swallowed up in the grander preparations for next day.  Carol and
Elfrida, her pretty German nurse, had ransacked books, and introduced
so many plans, and plays, and customs and merry-makings from Germany,
and Holland, and England and a dozen other places, that you would
scarcely have known how or where you were keeping Christmas.  The dog
and the cat had enjoyed their celebration under Carol's direction.
Each had a tiny table with a lighted candle in the center, and a bit of
Bologna sausage placed very near it, and everybody laughed till the
tears stood in their eyes to see Villikins and Dinah struggle to nibble
the sausages, and at the same time evade the candle flame.  Villikins
barked, and sniffed, and howled in impatience, and after many vain
attempts succeeded in dragging off the prize, though he singed his nose
in doing it.  Dinah, meanwhile, watched him placidly, her delicate
nostrils quivering with expectation, and, after all excitement had
subsided, walked with dignity to the table, her beautiful gray satin
tail sweeping behind her, and, calmly putting up one velvet paw, drew
the sausage gently down, and walked out of the room without "turning a
hair," so to speak.  Elfrida had scattered handfuls of seeds over the
snow in the garden, that the wild birds might have a comfortable
breakfast next morning, and had stuffed bundles of dried grasses in the
fireplaces, so that the reindeer of Santa Claus could refresh
themselves after their long gallops across country.  This was really
only done for fun, but it pleased Carol.

And when, after dinner, the whole family had gone to church to see the
Christmas decorations, Carol limped wearily out on her little crutches,
and, with Elfrida's help, placed all the family boots in a row in the
upper hall.  That was to keep the dear ones from quarreling all through
the year.  There were Papa's stout top boots; Mama's pretty buttoned
shoes next; then Uncle Jack's, Donald's, Paul's and Hugh's; and at the
end of the line her own little white worsted slippers.  Last, and
sweetest of all, like the little children in Austria, she put a lighted
candle in her window to guide the dear Christ-child, lest he should
stumble in the dark night as he passed up the deserted street.  This
done, she dropped into bed, a rather tired, but very happy Christmas
fairy.



V.

SOME OTHER BIRDS ARE TAUGHT TO FLY.

Before the earliest Ruggles could wake and toot his five-cent tin horn,
Mrs. Ruggles was up and stirring about the house, for it was a gala day
in the family.  Gala day!  I should think so!  Were not her nine
"childern" invited to a dinner-party at the great house, and weren't
they going to sit down free and equal with the mightiest in the land?
She had been preparing for this grand occasion ever since the receipt
of the invitation, which, by the way, had been speedily enshrined in an
old photograph frame and hung under the looking-glass in the most
prominent place in the kitchen, where it stared the occasional visitor
directly in the eye, and made him pale with envy:

                         "BIRDS' NEST, Dec. 17th, 188-.

DEAR MRS. RUGGLES,--

I am going to have a dinner-party on Christmas day, and would like to
have all your children come.  I want them every one, please, from Sarah
Maud to Baby Larry.  Mama says dinner will be at half-past five, and
the Christmas tree at seven; so you may expect them home at nine
o'clock.  Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, I am,
yours truly,

                                             CAROL BIRD."


Breakfast was on the table promptly at seven o'clock, and there was
very little of it, too; for it was an excellent day for short rations,
though Mrs. Ruggles heaved a sigh as she reflected that even the boys,
with their India-rubber stomachs, would be just as hungry the day after
the dinner-party as if they had never had any at all.

As soon as the scanty meal was over, she announced the plan of the
campaign: "Now Susan, you an' Kitty wash up the dishes; an' Peter,
can't you spread up the beds, so't I can git ter cuttin' out Larry's
new suit?  I ain't satisfied with his close, an' I thought in the night
of a way to make him a dress out of my old plaid shawl--kind o' Scotch
style, yer know.  You other boys clear out from under foot!  Clem, you
and Con hop into bed with Larry while I wash yer underflannins; 'twont
take long to dry 'em.  Sarah Maud, I think 'twould be perfeckly han'som
if you ripped them brass buttons off yer uncle's policeman's coat an'
sewed 'em in a row up the front o' yer green skirt.  Susan, you must
iron out yours an' Kitty's apurns; an' there, I came mighty near
forgettin' Peory's stockin's!  I counted the whole lot last night when
I was washin' of 'em, an' there ain't but nineteen anyhow yer fix 'em,
an' no nine pairs mates nohow; an' I ain't goin' ter have my childern
wear odd stockin's to a dinner-comp'ny, brought up as I was!  Eily,
can't you run out and ask Mis' Cullen ter lend me a pair o' stockin's
for Peory, an' tell her if she will, Peory'll give Jim half her candy
when she gets home.  Won't yer, Peory?"

Peoria was young and greedy, and thought the remedy so much worse than
the disease that she set up a deafening howl at the projected
bargain--a howl so rebellious and so out of all season that her mother
started in her direction with flashing eye and uplifted hand; but she
let it fall suddenly, saying, "No, I won't lick ye Christmas day, if
yer drive me crazy; but speak up smart, now, 'n say whether yer'd
ruther give Tim Cullen half yer candy or go bare-legged ter the party?"
The matter being put so plainly, Peoria collected her faculties, dried
her tears and chose the lesser evil, Clem having hastened the decision
by an affectionate wink, that meant he'd go halves with her on his
candy.

"That's a lady;" cried her mother.  "Now, you young ones that ain't
doin' nothin', play all yer want ter before noontime, for after ye git
through eatin' at twelve o'clock me 'n Sarah Maud's goin' ter give yer
such a washin' an' combin' an' dressin' as yer never had before an'
never will agin, an' then I'm goin' to set yer down an' give yer two
solid hours trainin' in manners; an' 'twon't be no foolin' neither."

"All we've got ter do 's go eat!" grumbled Peter.

"Well, that's enough," responded his mother; "there's more 'n one way
of eatin', let me tell yer, an' you've got a heap ter learn about it,
Peter Ruggles.  Lord sakes, I wish you childern could see the way I was
fetched up to eat--never took a meal o' vittles in the kitchen before I
married Ruggles; but yer can't keep up that style with nine young ones
'n yer Pa always off ter sea."

The big Ruggleses worked so well, and the little Ruggleses kept from
"under foot" so successfully, that by one o'clock nine complete toilets
were laid out in solemn grandeur on the beds.  I say, "complete;" but I
do not know whether they would be called so in the best society.  The
law of compensation had been well applied; he that had necktie had no
cuffs; she that had sash had no handkerchief, and vice versa; but they
all had boots and a certain amount of clothing, such as it was, the
outside layer being in every case quite above criticism.

"Now, Sarah Maud," said Mrs. Ruggles, her face shining with excitement,
"everything is red up an' we can begin.  I've got a boiler 'n a kettle
'n a pot o' hot water.  Peter, you go into the back bedroom, an' I'll
take Susan, Kitty, Peory an' Cornelius; an' Sarah Maud, you take Clem,
'n Eily, 'n Larry, one to a time, an' git as fur as you can with 'em,
an' then I'll finish 'em off while you do yerself."

Sarah Maud couldn't have scrubbed with any more decision and force if
she had been doing floors, and the little Ruggleses bore it bravely,
not from natural heroism, but for the joy that was set before them.
Not being satisfied, however, with the "tone" of their complexions, she
wound up operations by applying a little Bristol brick from the
knife-board, which served as the proverbial "last straw," from under
which the little Ruggleses issued rather red and raw and out of temper.
When the clock struck three they were all clothed, and most of them in
their right minds, ready for those last touches that always take the
most time.  Kitty's red hair was curled in thirty-four ringlets, Sarah
Maud's was braided in one pig-tail, and Susan's and Eily's in two
braids apiece, while Peoria's resisted all advances in the shape of
hair oils and stuck out straight on all sides, like that of the
Circassian girl of the circus--so Clem said; and he was sent into the
bed-room for it too, from whence he was dragged out forgivingly by
Peoria herself, five minutes later. Then--exciting moment--came linen
collars for some and neckties and bows for others, and Eureka! the
Ruggleses were dressed, and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed
like one of these!  A row of seats was formed directly through the
middle of the kitchen.  There were not quite chairs enough for ten,
since the family had rarely all wanted to sit down at once, somebody
always being out, or in bed, but the wood box and the coal-hod finished
out the line nicely.  The children took their places according to age,
Sarah Maud at the head and Larry on the coal-hod, and Mrs. Ruggles
seated herself in front, surveying them proudly as she wiped the sweat
of honest toil from her brow.

"Well," she exclaimed, "if I do say so as shouldn't, I never see a
cleaner, more stylish mess o' childern in my life!  I do wish Ruggles
could look at ye for a minute!  Now, I've of 'en told ye what kind of a
family the McGrills was.  I've got some reason to be proud; your uncle
is on the po-lice force o' New York city; you can take up the newspaper
most any day an' see his name printed right out--James McGrill, and I
can't have my childern fetched up common, like some folks.  When they
go out they've got to have close, and learn ter act decent!  Now, I
want ter see how yer goin' to behave when yer git there to-night.
Let's start in at the beginnin' 'n act out the whole business.  Pile
into the bed-room, there, every last one of ye, an' show me how yer
goin' ter go in't the parlor.  This'll be the parlor 'n I'll be Mis'
Bird."  The youngsters hustled into the next room in high glee, and
Mrs. Ruggles drew herself up in her chair with an infinitely haughty
and purse-proud expression that much better suited a descendant of the
McGrills than modest Mrs. Bird.  The bed-room was small, and there
presently ensued such a clatter that you would have thought a herd of
wild cattle had broken loose; the door opened, and they straggled in,
all the little ones giggling, with Sarah Maud at the head, looking as
if she had been caught in the act of stealing sheep; while Larry, being
last in line, seemed to think the door a sort of gate of heaven which
would be shut in his face if he didn't get there in time; accordingly
he struggled ahead of his elders and disgraced himself by tumbling in
head foremost.

Mrs. Ruggles looked severe.  "There, I knew yer'd do it in some sech
fool-way,--try it agin 'n if Larry can't come in on two legs he can
stay ter home!"

The matter began to assume a graver aspect; the little Ruggleses
stopped giggling and backed into the bed-room, issuing presently with
lock step, Indian file, a scared and hunted expression in every
countenance.

"No, no, no!" cried Mrs. Ruggles, in despair; "Yer look for all the
world like a gang o' pris'ners; there ain't no style ter that; spread
out more, can't yer, an' act kind o' careless like--nobody's goin' ter
kill ye!"  The third time brought deserved success, and the pupils took
their seats in the row.  "Now, yer know," said Mrs. Ruggles, "there
ain't enough decent hats to go round, an' if there was I don' know 's
I'd let yer wear 'em, for the boys would never think to take 'em off
when they got inside--but, anyhow, there ain't enough good ones.  Now,
look me in the eye.  You needn't wear no hats, none of yer, en' when
yer get int' the parlor 'n they ask yer ter lay off yer hats, Sarah
Maud must speak up an' say it was sech a pleasant evenin' an' sech a
short walk that you left yer hats to home to save trouble.  Now, can
you remember?"

All the little Ruggleses shouted, "Yes, marm," in chorus.

"What have you got ter do with it," demanded their mother; "did I tell
YOU to say it!  Wasn't I talkin' ter Sarah Maud?"  The little Ruggleses
hung their diminished heads.  "Yes, marm," they piped, more feebly.
"Now git up, all of ye, an' try it.  Speak up, Sarah Maud."

Sarah Maud's tongue clove to the roof of her mouth.

"Quick!"

"Ma thought--it was--sech a pleasant hat that we'd--we'd better leave
our short walk to home," recited Sarah Maud, in an agony of mental
effort.

This was too much for the boys.

"Oh, whatever shall I do with ye?" moaned the unhappy mother; "I
suppose I've got to learn it to yer!" which she did, word for word,
until Sarah Maud thought she could stand on her head and say it
backwards.

"Now, Cornelius, what are YOU goin' ter say ter make yerself good
comp'ny?"

"Dunno!" said Cornelius, turning pale.

"Well, ye ain't goin' to set there like a bump on a log 'thout sayin' a
word ter pay for yer vittles, air ye?  Ask Mis' Bird how she's feelin'
this evenin', or if Mr. Bird's havin' a busy season, or somethin' like
that.  Now we'll make b'lieve we've got ter the dinner--that won't be
so hard, 'cause yer'll have somethin' to do--it's awful bothersome ter
stan' round an' act stylish.  If they have napkins, Sarah Maud down to
Peory may put 'em in their laps 'n the rest of ye can tuck 'em in yer
necks.  Don't eat with yer fingers--don't grab no vittles off one
'nother's plates; don't reach out for nothin', but wait till yer asked,
'n if yer never GIT asked don't git up and grab it--don't spill nothin'
on the table cloth, or like's not Mis' Bird 'll send yer away from the
table.  Now we'll try a few things ter see how they'll go!  Mr.
Clement, do you eat cramb'ry sarse?"

"Bet yer life!" cried Clem, who, not having taken in the idea exactly,
had mistaken this for an ordinary family question.

"Clement Ruggles, do you mean to tell me that you'd say that to a
dinner party?  I'll give ye one more chance.  Mr. Clement, will you
take some of the cramb'ry?"

"Yes marm, thank ye kindly, if you happen ter have any handy."

"Very good, indeed!  Mr. Peter, do you speak for white or dark meat?"

"I ain't particler as ter color--anything that nobody else wants will
suit me," answered Peter with his best air.

"First rate! nobody could speak more genteel than that.  Miss Kitty,
will you have hard or soft sarse with your pudden?"

"A little of both if you please, an' I'm much obliged," said Kitty with
decided ease and grace, at which all the other Ruggleses pointed the
finger of shame at her and Peter GRUNTED expressively, that their
meaning might not be mistaken.

"You just stop your gruntin', Peter Ruggles; that was all right.  I
wish I could git it inter your heads that it ain't so much what yer
say, as the way yer say it.  Eily, you an' Larry's too little to train,
so you just look at the rest, an' do 's they do, an' the Lord have
mercy on ye an' help ye to act decent!  Now, is there anything more
ye'd like to practice?"

"If yer tell me one more thing I can't set up an' eat," said Peter,
gloomily; "I'm so cram full o' manners now I'm ready ter bust 'thout no
dinner at all."

"Me too," chimed in Cornelius.

"Well, I'm sorry for yer both," rejoined Mrs. Ruggles, sarcastically;
"if the 'mount o' manners yer've got on hand now, troubles ye, you're
dreadful easy hurt!  Now, Sarah Maud, after dinner, about once in so
often, you must say, 'I guess we'd better be goin';' an' if they say,
'Oh, no, set a while longer,' yer can stay; but if they don't say
nothin' you've got ter get up an' go.  Can you remember?"

"ABOUT ONCE IN SO OFTEN!"  Could any words in the language be fraught
with more terrible and wearing uncertainty?

"Well," answered Sarah Maud, mournfully, "seems as if this whole dinner
party set right square on top o' me!  Maybe I could manage my own
manners, but ter manage nine mannerses is worse 'n staying to home!"

"Oh, don't fret," said her mother, good naturedly, "I guess you'll git
along.  I wouldn't mind if folks would only say, 'Oh, childern will be
childern;' but they won't.  They'll say, 'Land o' Goodness, who fetched
them childern up?'  Now it's quarter past five; you can go, an'
whatever yer do, don't forget your mother was a McGrill!"



VI.

"WHEN THE PIE WAS OPENED, THE BIRDS BEGAN TO SING!"

The children went out the back door quietly, and were presently lost to
sight, Sarah Maud slipping and stumbling along absent-mindedly as she
recited, under her breath,
"It--was--such--a--pleasant--evenin'--an--sech--a--short
--walk--we--thought--we'd--leave--our--hats--to--home."

Peter rang the door bell, and presently a servant admitted them, and,
whispering something in Sarah's ear, drew her downstairs into the
kitchen.  The other Ruggleses stood in horror-stricken groups as the
door closed behind their commanding officer; but there was no time for
reflection, for a voice from above was heard, saying, "Come right up
stairs, please!"

          "Theirs not to make reply,
           Theirs not to reason why,
           Theirs but to do or die."

Accordingly, they walked upstairs, and Elfrida, the nurse, ushered them
into a room more splendid than anything they had ever seen.  But, oh
woe! where was Sarah Maud! and was it Fate that Mrs. Bird should say,
at once, "Did you lay your hats in the hall?"  Peter felt himself
elected by circumstance the head of the family, and, casting one
imploring look at tongue-tied Susan, standing next him, said huskily,
"It was so very pleasant--that--that" "That we hadn't good hats enough
to go round," put in little Susan, bravely, to help him out, and then
froze with horror that the ill-fated words had slipped off her tongue.

However, Mrs. Bird said, pleasantly, "Of course you wouldn't wear hats
such a short distance--I forgot when I asked.  Now, will you come right
in to Miss Carol's room, she is so anxious to see you?"

Just then Sarah Maud came up the back-stairs, so radiant with joy from
her secret interview with the cook, that Peter could have pinched her
with a clear conscience, and Carol gave them a joyful welcome. "But
where is Baby Larry?" she cried, looking over the group with searching
eye.  "Didn't he come?"

"Larry!  Larry!"  Good Gracious, where was Larry?  They were all sure
that he had come in with them, for Susan remembered scolding him for
tripping over the door-mat.  Uncle Jack went into convulsions of
laughter.  "Are you sure there were nine of you?" he asked, merrily.

"I think so, sir," said Peoria, timidly; "but, anyhow, there was
Larry;" and she showed signs of weeping.

"Oh, well, cheer up!" cried Uncle Jack.  "I guess he's not lost--only
mislaid.  I'll go and find him before you can say Jack Robinson!"

"I'll go, too, if you please, sir," said Sarah Maud, "for it was my
place to mind him, an' if he's lost I can't relish my vittles!"

The other Ruggleses stood rooted to the floor.  Was this a dinner
party, forsooth; and, if so, why were such things ever spoken of as
festive occasions?

Sarah Maud went out through the hall, calling, "Larry!  Larry!" and
without any interval of suspense a thin voice piped up from below,
"Here I be!"  The truth was that Larry, being deserted by his natural
guardian, dropped behind the rest, and wriggled into the hat-tree to
wait for her, having no notion of walking unprotected into the jaws of
a dinner-party.  Finding that she did not come, he tried to crawl from
his refuge and call somebody, when--dark and dreadful ending to a
tragic day--he found that he was too much intertwined with umbrellas
and canes to move a single step.  He was afraid to yell!  When I have
said this of Larry Ruggles I have pictured a state of helpless terror
that ought to wring tears from every eye; and the sound of Sarah Maud's
beloved voice, some seconds later, was like a strain of angel music in
his ears.  Uncle Jack dried his tears, carried him upstairs, and soon
had him in breathless fits of laughter, while Carol so made the other
Ruggleses forget themselves that they were soon talking like
accomplished diners-out.

Carol's bed had been moved into the farthest corner of the room, and
she was lying on the outside, dressed in a wonderful soft white
wrapper.  Her golden hair fell in soft fluffy curls over her white
forehead and neck, her cheeks flushed delicately, her eyes beamed with
joy, and the children told their mother, afterwards, that she looked as
beautiful as the pictures of the Blessed Virgin.  There was great
bustle behind a huge screen in another part of the room, and at
half-past five this was taken away, and the Christmas dinner-table
stood revealed.  What a wonderful sight it was to the poor little
Ruggles children, who ate their sometimes scanty meals on the kitchen
table!  It blazed with tall colored candles, it gleamed with glass and
silver, it blushed with flowers, it groaned with good things to eat; so
it was not strange that the Ruggleses, forgetting that their mother was
a McGrill, shrieked in admiration of the fairy spectacle.  But Larry's
behavior was the most disgraceful, for he stood not upon the order of
his going, but went at once for a high chair that pointed unmistakably
to him, climbed up like a squirrel, gave a comprehensive look at the
turkey, clapped his hands in ecstacy, rested his fat arms on the table,
and cried, with joy, "I beat the hull lot o' yer!"  Carol laughed until
she cried, giving orders, meanwhile, "Uncle Jack, please sit at the
head, Sarah Maud at the foot, and that will leave four on each side;
Mama is going to help Elfrida, so that the children need not look after
each other, but just have a good time."

A sprig of holly lay by each plate, and nothing would do but each
little Ruggles must leave his seat and have it pinned on by Carol, and
as each course was served one of them pleaded to take something to her.
There was hurrying to and fro, I can assure you, for it is quite a
difficult matter to serve a Christmas dinner on the third floor of a
great city house; but if every dish had had to be carried up a rope
ladder the servants would gladly have done so.  There was turkey and
chicken, with delicious gravy and stuffing, and there were half-a-dozen
vegetables, with cranberry jelly, and celery, and pickles; and as for
the way these delicacies were served, the Ruggleses never forgot it as
long as they lived.

Peter nudged Kitty, who sat next him, and said, "Look, will yer, ev'ry
feller's got his own partic'lar butter; I suppose that's to show yer
can eat that much 'n no more.  No, it ain't neither, for that pig of a
Peory's just gittin' another helpin'!"  "Yes," whispered Kitty, "an'
the napkins is marked with big red letters.  I wonder if that's so
nobody 'll nip 'em; an' oh, Peter, look at the pictures painted right
on ter the dishes.  Did yer ever!"

"The plums is all took out o' my cramb'ry sarse, an' it's friz to a
stiff jell!" shouted Peoria, in wild excitement.

"Hi--yah!  I got a wish-bone!" sung Larry, regardless of Sarah Maud's
frown; after which she asked to have his seat changed, giving as excuse
that he gen'ally set beside her, an' would "feel strange;" the true
reason being that she desired to kick him gently, under the table,
whenever he passed what might be termed "the McGrill line."

"I declare to goodness," murmured Susan, on the other side, "there's so
much to look at I can't scarcely eat nothin!"

"Bet yer life I can!" said Peter, who had kept one servant busily
employed ever since he sat down; for, luckily, no one was asked by
Uncle Jack whether he would have a second helping, but the dishes were
quietly passed under their noses, and not a single Ruggles refused
anything that was offered him, even unto the seventh time.  Then, when
Carol and Uncle Jack perceived that more turkey was a physical
impossibility, the meats were taken off and the dessert was brought
in--a dessert that would have frightened a strong man after such a
dinner as had preceded it.  Not so the Ruggleses--for a strong man is
nothing to a small boy--and they kindled to the dessert as if the
turkey had been a dream and the six vegetables an optical delusion.
There was plum-pudding, mince-pie, and ice-cream, and there were nuts,
and raisins, and oranges.  Kitty chose ice-cream, explaining that she
knew it "by sight," but hadn't never tasted none; but all the rest took
the entire variety, without any regard to consequences.

"My dear child," whispered Uncle Jack, as he took Carol an orange,
"there is no doubt about the necessity of this feast, but I do advise
you after this to have them twice a year, or quarterly, perhaps, for
the way they eat is positively dangerous; I assure you I tremble for
that terrible Peoria.  I'm going to run races with her after dinner."

"Never mind," laughed Carol, "let them eat for once; it does my heart
good to see them, and they shall come oftener next year."

The feast being over, the Ruggleses lay back in their chairs languidly,
and the table was cleared in a trice; then a door was opened into the
next room, and there, in a corner facing Carol's bed, which had been
wheeled as close as possible, stood the brilliantly lighted
Christmas-tree, glittering with gilded walnuts and tiny silver
balloons, and wreathed with snowy chains of pop-corn.  The presents had
been bought mostly with Carol's story money, and were selected after
long consultations with Mrs. Bird.  Each girl had a blue knitted hood,
and each boy a red crocheted comforter, all made by Mama, Carol and
Elfrida ("because if you buy everything, it doesn't show so much love,"
said Carol).  Then every girl had a pretty plaid dress of a different
color, and every boy a warm coat of the right size.  Here the useful
presents stopped, and they were quite enough; but Carol had pleaded to
give them something "for fun."  "I know they need the clothes," she had
said, when they were talking over the matter just after Thanksgiving,
"but they don't care much for them, after all.  Now, Papa, won't you
PLEASE let me go without part of my presents this year, and give me the
money they would cost, to buy something to amuse them?"

"You can have both," said Mr. Bird, promptly; "is there any need of my
little girl's going without her Christmas, I should like to know?
Spend all the money you like."

"But that isn't the thing," objected Carol, nestling close to her
father; "it wouldn't be mine.  What is the use?  Haven't I almost
everything already, and am I not the happiest girl in the world this
year, with Uncle Jack and Donald at home?  Now, Papa, you know very
well it is more blessed to give than to receive; then why won't you let
me do it?  You never look half as happy when you are getting your
presents as when you are giving us ours.  Now, Papa, submit, or I shall
have to be very firm and disagreeable with you!"

"Very well, your Highness, I surrender."

"That's a dear Papa!  Now, what were you going to give me?  Confess!"

"A bronze figure of Santa Claus; and in the little round belly, that
shakes, when he laughs, like a bowl full of jelly, is a wonderful
clock.  Oh, you would never give it up if you could see it."

"Nonsense," laughed Carol; "as I never have to get up to breakfast, nor
go to bed, nor catch trains, I think my old clock will do very well!
Now, Mama, what were you going to give me?"

"Oh, I hadn't decided.  A few more books, and a gold thimble, and a
smelling-bottle, and a music-box."

"Poor Carol," laughed the child, merrily, "she can afford to give up
these lovely things, for there will still be left Uncle Jack, and
Donald, and Paul, and Hugh, and Uncle Rob, and Aunt Elsie, and a dozen
other people."

So Carol had her way, as she generally did, but it was usually a good
way, which was fortunate, under the circumstances; and Sarah Maud had a
set of Miss Alcott's books, and Peter a modest silver watch, Cornelius
a tool-chest, Clement a dog-house for his "lame puppy," Larry a
magnificent Noah's ark, and each of the little girls a beautiful doll.
You can well believe that everybody was very merry and very thankful.
All the family, from Mr. Bird down to the cook, said they had never
seen so much happiness in the space of three hours; but it had to end,
as all things do.  The candles flickered and went out, the tree was
left alone with its gilded ornaments, and Mrs. Bird sent the children
down stairs at half-past eight, thinking that Carol looked tired.

"Now, my darling, you have done quite enough for one day," said Mrs.
Bird, getting Carol into her little night-dress; "I am afraid you will
feel worse to-morrow, and that would be a sad ending to such a good
time."

"Oh, wasn't it a lovely, lovely time," sighed Carol. "From first to
last, everything was just right.  I shall never forget Larry's face
when he looked at the turkey; nor Peter's, when he saw his watch; nor
that sweet, sweet Kitty's smile when she kissed her dolly; nor the
tears in poor, dull Sarah Maud's eyes when she thanked me for her
books; nor--"

"But we mustn't talk any longer about it to-night," said Mrs. Bird,
anxiously; "you are too tired, dear."

"I am not so very tired, Mama.  I have felt well all day; not a bit of
pain anywhere.  Perhaps this has done me good."

"Perhaps; I hope so.  There was no noise or confusion; it was just a
merry time.  Now, may I close the door and leave you alone?  I will
steal in softly the first thing in the morning, and see if you are all
right; but I think you need to be quiet."

"Oh, I'm willing to stay alone; but I am not sleepy yet, and I am going
to hear the music by and by, you know."

"Yes, I have opened the window a little, and put the screen in front of
it, so that you will not feel the air."

"Can I have the shutters open; and won't you turn my bed a little,
please?  This morning I woke ever so early, and one bright beautiful
star shone in that eastern window.  I never saw it before, and I
thought of the Star in the East, that guided the wise men to the place
where Jesus was.  Good night, Mama.  Such a happy, happy day!"

"Good night, my precious little Christmas Carol--mother's blessed
Christmas child."

"Bend your head a minute, mother dear," whispered Carol, calling her
mother back.  "Mama, dear, I do think that we have kept Christ's
birthday this time just as He would like it.  Don't you?"

"I am sure of it," said Mrs. Bird, softly.



VII.

THE BIRDLING FLIES AWAY.

The Ruggleses had finished a last romp in the library with Paul and
Hugh, and Uncle Jack had taken them home, and stayed a while to chat
with Mrs. Ruggles, who opened the door for them, her face all aglow
with excitement and delight.  When Kitty and Clem showed her the
oranges and nuts they had kept for her, she astonished them by saying
that at six o'clock Mrs. Bird had sent her in the finest dinner she had
ever seen in her life; and not only that, but a piece of dress-goods
that must have cost a dollar a yard if it cost a cent.  As Uncle Jack
went down the little porch he looked back into the window for a last
glimpse of the family, as the children gathered about their mother,
showing their beautiful presents again and again, and then upward to a
window in the great house yonder.  "A little child shall lead them," he
thought; "well, if--if anything ever happens to Carol, I will take the
Ruggleses under my wing."

"Softly, Uncle Jack," whispered the boys, as he walked into the library
a little while later; "We are listening to the music in the church.
They sang 'Carol, brothers, carol,' a while ago, and now we think the
organist is beginning to play 'My ain countree' for Carol."

"I hope she hears it," said Mrs. Bird; "but they are very late
to-night, and I dare not speak to her lest she should be asleep.  It is
after ten o'clock."

The boy-soprano, clad in white surplice, stood in the organ loft.

The lamps shone full upon his crown of fair hair, and his pale face,
with its serious blue eyes, looked paler than usual.  Perhaps it was
something in the tender thrill of the voice, or in the sweet words, but
there were tears in many eyes, both in the church and in the great
house next door.

          "I am far frae my hame,
              I am weary aften whiles
           For the langed for hame-bringin
              An' my Faether's welcome smiles.
           An' I'll ne'er be fu' content,
              Until my e'en do see
           The gowden gates o' heaven
              In my ain countree.

           The earth is decked wi' flow'rs,
              Mony tinted, fresh an' gay,
           An' the birdies warble blythely,
              For my Faether made them sae;
           But these sights an' these soun's
              Will as naething be to me,
           When I hear the angels singin'
              In my ain countree.

           Like a bairn to its mither,
              A wee birdie to its nest,
           I fain would be gangin' noo
              Unto my Faether's breast;
           For He gathers in His arms
              Helpless, worthless lambs like me,
           An' carries them Himsel'
              To His ain countree."

There were tears in many eyes, but not in Carol's.  The loving heart
had quietly ceased to beat and the "wee birdie" in the great house had
flown to its "home nest."  Carol had fallen asleep!  But as to the
song, I think perhaps, I cannot say, she heard it after all!

     *      *      *      *      *

So sad an ending to a happy day!  Perhaps--to those who were left--and
yet Carol's mother, even in the freshness of her grief, was glad that
her darling had slipped away on the loveliest day of her life, out of
its glad content, into everlasting peace.

She was glad that she had gone, as she had come, on wings of song, when
all the world was brimming over with joy; glad of every grateful smile,
of every joyous burst of laughter, of every loving thought and word and
deed the dear, last day had brought.

Sadness reigned, it is true, in the little house behind the garden; and
one day poor Sarah Maud, with a courage born of despair, threw on her
hood and shawl, walked straight to a certain house a mile away, dashed
up the marble steps and into good Dr. Bartol's office, falling at his
feet as she cried, "Oh, sir, it was me an' our childern that went to
Miss Carol's last dinner party, an' if we made her worse we can't never
be happy again!"  Then the kind old gentleman took her rough hand in
his and told her to dry her tears, for neither she nor any of her flock
had hastened Carol's flight--indeed, he said that had it not been for
the strong hopes and wishes that filled her tired heart, she could not
have stayed long enough to keep that last merry Christmas with her dear
ones.

And so the old years, fraught with memories, die, one after another,
and the new years, bright with hopes, are born to take their places;
but Carol lives again in every chime of Christmas bells that peal glad
tidings and in every Christmas anthem sung by childish voices.





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