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´╗┐Title: In the Heart of the Christmas Pines
Author: Dalrymple, Leona, 1884-
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 "In the Heart of the Christmas Pines" ***

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In the Heart of the Christmas Pines

[Illustration: The ever-busy crutch fell unheeded to the floor and Aunt
Cheerful Loring fell sobbing to her knees.]

In the Heart of the Christmas Pines

    Leona Dalrymple

    Author of "Uncle Noah's Christmas Party,"
    "Diane of the Green Van," etc.

    Illustrations By
    Charles L. Wrenn

    New York
    McBride, Nast & Company

    Copyright 1913 and 1914, by

    Second Printing
    September, 1914

    Published October, 1914



       I THE COTTAGE IN THE PINES                 13

      II "LORD CHESTERFIELD"                      31

     III THE INVISIBLE GUEST                      49

      IV SON ROBERT'S LETTER                      63

       V THE LITTLE HERMIT                        79


     VII "LADY ARIEL"                            103

    VIII THE LADY OF THE FIRE-GLOW               117

The Illustrations

  The ever-busy crutch fell unheeded to the floor and Aunt
      Cheerful Loring fell sobbing to her knees      _Frontispiece_


  The boy seated himself upon the window sill and doffed
      his dripping cap with the air of a gallant             34

  So by the window the Lady Ariel and Aunt Cheerful gaily
      made crimson chains for a Christmas tree               64

  Jean drew forth the pitiful little canvas bag and
      stuffed it full of greenbacks                         112


The Cottage in the Pines

In the Heart of the Christmas Pines


THROUGH the chill rain of the December twilight a train crept slowly
up the valley like a storm-beaten glow-worm, its single Pullman
passenger a woman, youthful and yet mature, whose beauty was marred
by indefinable shadows in the beautiful gray eyes and hard and bitter
lines about the mouth. It had been a long and tiresome journey through
a sodden world roofed with a marquee of mist; three days of cloud and
rain from her lonely home in Denver to the goal ahead, an unfamiliar
village of which her hazy mental picture had been inspired by the
imagery of a friend.

A ruined mill with dripping eaves, a grinding shudder of brakes,
and the train halted. With quick interest in her eyes, the traveler
alighted, but outside on the sodden village platform her interest fled
panic-stricken in an overpowering surge of loneliness and dismay.
Surely, surely, thought Jean Varian, a bleak enough goal for her
odd caprice! Great, wind-beaten trees dripped above the village and
the covered bridge; fog-ridden hills towered in the distance like
ghostly gables of the valley; and at the head of the street in the
old-fashioned hotel to which days before she had whimsically written
for rooms, only a single unpromising light flickered dully through the
wind and rain.

But the night was settling rapidly and with a careless direction to the
staring baggageman, Jean Varian turned away into the muddy street and
made her way to the hotel where a man in boots with a bucket in his
hand was stumping heavily away from the pump to the long, low hitching
sheds beyond.

It was essentially rural in its homely comfort, the Westowe House, with
brightly colored cornucopias in the parlor carpet and hair-cloth parlor
furniture blotched with tidies that tobogganed dizzily to the floor at
a touch; but Mrs. Pryce, the proprietor's wife, was stout and ruddy and
so frankly and intimately curious that Jean kept to her room for the
greater part of the day that followed.

The rain continued. Outside, the stable-man tramped noisily about among
the steaming horses, the pump creaked under frequent duress; Mrs. Pryce
was insistently hospitable and insistently curious; and at twilight,
appalled by the dreary monotony of it all, Jean restlessly set forth to
explore the village. It was already dark when in her careless circuit
she approached the railroad. The night train was puffing leisurely past
the sheep-pen and a man was tramping toward the post-office with a
mail-bag over his shoulder. Ahead with a promise of further monotony
and curiosity flickered the lights of the Westowe House. Jean's
footsteps lagged.

Now just behind the station, parallel with the glistening rails, lay
a country lane, and down this, in the heart of the rain and dark,
twinkled a single light so cheerful and inviting that Jean halted
unconsciously. Vaguely she remembered having caught its elfin glimmer
the night before, but now as she watched, it twinkled so irresistibly
with an inferential atmosphere of warmth and cheer that the girl
gathered her wet cloak about her and set off toward it in a pleasant
glow of curiosity.

A smell of wet pine filled the lane, but though the way was very
dark and a little lonely, Jean Varian hurried on, halting at last
with a smothered sigh of envy. For here in the heart of the dripping
pine-trees, lay a tiny cottage, so white and trim and cheery that even
the croon of the gallant pines that brushed the roof bore in it nothing
of the night's melancholy. Now the light that twinkled among the
pine-needles and the rain-glisten of the night came from a lamp held
through an open porch-window from within by the hand of a tiny woman
with a shawl about her head, and even as Jean stared wonderingly, the
watcher in the window spoke.

"_Good_ evening!" she called brightly. "It is so very windy and wet
to-night. Perhaps I can persuade you to step in and have a cup of hot
tea with me!"

"But--but," stammered Jean from the rain and shadows, "I--I did not
dream you could see me!"

"Why, neither I can, my dear!" briskly replied the little woman, "but
many a cold and weary straggler from the night train sees my light and
whenever I call there is, as a rule, an answer! And now,"--with an
energetic cordiality wonderfully compelling--"if you will please come
straight up the walk and open the front door, you'll find a fire and a
welcome just as warm. Why, bless your tired heart," she added with a
quick, birdlike turn of her muffled head that brought the light upon
her face, "my kettle is singing away here like a cricket. Do hurry!"

Wonderingly, Jean obeyed. Who could withstand the irresistible warmth
of the little woman's hospitality? And with the opening of the cottage
door, the astonished guest left all the chill and melancholy of the
winter night behind her, for here in a snugly-curtained room roared
a rollicking, jovial blade of a wood-fire, waggishly throwing the
reflection of his ever-busy fire-sword upon the old-fashioned walls
and checkerboard carpet, the oval portraits and the snowy supper
cloth, trimly decked in china blue, all the while filling the room
with his boisterous crackles and chuckles of delight! And steaming
madly away in spirited rivalry over an alcohol blaze, a handsome brass
kettle, ludicrously fat and complacent, hummed a throaty jubilate of
self-approval. Surely the splendid emperor of all kettles! thought Jean
Varian, smiling, this exuberant egotist with his polished armor and his
plume of steam!

"And such a vain fellow, too, my dear!" chirped an amused voice at
Jean's elbow, "but then he's such a very cheerful comrade I forgive him
that!" and the girl starting, found herself smiling warmly down into
the face of her hostess.

And what a tiny hostess she was to be sure, quite as trim and
picturesque in her white woolen gown as the cottage itself. Snow-white,
too, her hair, framing a fine old face with eyes of china blue, eyes
so bright and friendly that Jean unconsciously likened them to the
light among the pines. And like the odor of pine about the cottage, an
aura of cheeriness hovered about the owner.

Now presently, as the hospitable little woman went bustling about,
intent upon the comfort of her unknown guest in the chair by the fire,
Jean saw with a sudden husk in her throat that this cheerful little
hostess of hers was very lame; that wherever she went a tiny crutch,
half-hidden beneath a fold of her gown, went tap! tap! tapping!
steadily along, as sprightly and energetic a crutch as one might find,
and somehow the bitterness in the traveler's eyes softened at the
sight of it and her beautiful face warmed into kindliness.

"Do please let me help you!" she begged suddenly. And so these two
women, brought together by the whim of the one and the kindliness of
the other and perhaps by a floating strand of Fate, worked busily
together over the making of the tea, the one with the unaccustomed
hands of the aristocrat; the other with the deft experience of cheerful

Tap! tap! tap! went the crutch about the room; drip! drip! drip! the
rain among the pines; the steaming Emperor hummed and the fire chuckled
and in the midst of it all, the hostess suddenly halted.

"Now, my dear," she exclaimed, with swift color in her wrinkled cheeks,
"the very foolish folk of Westowe call me Aunt Cheerful and I'd like
to have you do the same, for although it's a very foolish name indeed,
still I'm only a very foolish old woman and I'm very fond of it."

Aunt Cheerful! Jean glanced at the slight figure leaning lightly upon
her crutch with a sudden mist across her eyes.

"Aunt Cheerful it shall be indeed!" she said gently.

"And my lane here they call Pine Tree Lane, because at either end you
may catch the pleasant odor of my pines. And the cottage--well, what
else could it be, my dear, but Pine Tree Cottage!"

With a sudden impulse Aunt Cheerful crossed the room with a quick tap!
tap! of her crutch and laid a small hand impulsively upon Jean's arm.

"My dear," she said wistfully, "you'll pardon a lonely old woman her
frankness? I've taken a very great fancy to you! Why not stay to supper
with me?"

"Oh, no, no!" protested Jean quickly; "I--you are too kind!" She
glanced at the little supper table set for three and Aunt Cheerful

"Only a foolish fancy!" she nodded. "In reality, my dear, I live alone,
quite alone!"

And later, her protests engulfed in the hubbub of calming the indignant
Emperor sputtering fussily over this unprecedented neglect, Jean came
to learn more fully of this "foolish fancy." Quietly Aunt Cheerful
added a fourth place at the table and with ready tact Jean slipped into
it unquestioning.

"My dear," exclaimed Aunt Cheerful quickly, "I thank you!" then,
catching the warm friendliness and sympathy in the eyes of her guest,
she colored.

"Oh, my dear," she burst forth, "never, never was there such a foolish
old woman as I. I'm sure you will not laugh at me if I tell you that
the plate just opposite is always set for my busy son in the far West.
And lonely nights like this when the rain drips through the pines
or the snow polka-dots the lane and the ghostly wind comes rattling
my windows, I like to pretend that he's there in his chair, big and
gallant and handsome as always, and then I--I sometimes talk aloud to
him and pass him the dishes I know he likes. Just a foolish mother's
game," she added, flushing hotly, "and I--I do not know why it is I
have told you my weakness. Surely," with quick apology, "you must think
me very silly indeed!"

"Oh, no, no, no!" cried Jean, an odd catch in her voice, "I think it is
all very beautiful!" and Aunt Cheerful's face grew radiant.

"Do you indeed!" she exclaimed, beaming. "Well, now, I _am_ pleased.
I've always feared it was very weak and silly!" Then, suddenly struck
by the rich color in her guest's cheeks and the wonderful gentleness
that had magically obscured the shadows in the girl's fine eyes, she
added delightedly, "Why, how refreshed you are looking, child! Dear
me, I do believe I'll keep you over night. No, not a word, my dear!
Just hear the rain and the wind. Why bless your heart, that's answer


"Lord Chesterfield"



THE Emperor retired with a drowsy bubble; the busy Fire-blusterer
astride the smouldering log replaced his sword of flame in a sheath of
embers, and Aunt Cheerful's room settled into shadowy quiet with only
the sleepy glow of the fire to light it. By the window, blocked from
the room by a screen, a lamp sent its bright rays through the pines to
light the dark of the lane beyond.

"And now," exclaimed Aunt Cheerful from her chair by the fire, "is
the time, my dear, when I always see my Lady of the Fireglow in her
flame-colored satin! Jewels of fire flash about her throat and hair,
and very beautiful she is too, I fancy, though to be sure I am never
able to catch a glimpse of her face!" Aunt Cheerful smiled across the
firelit hearth at the shadowy figure of her guest. "And the third place
at the table," she owned wistfully, "is always for her, for somehow to
me she is the fire's promise of the kind and beautiful wife who may one
day come into my big son's life and therefore into mine!"

The clock above the mantel struck nine and to Jean's astonishment a
window beside the screen was suddenly raised from the porch side and
a boy's head and shoulders appeared, plainly visible in the fan of
light from the hidden lamp. Not a very large boy--surely a scant dozen
years lay behind him!--but a strangely self-possessed little chap
nevertheless, with damp, waving hair, a grim little chin, and cheeks as
rosy as the apple of health itself.

Now as Jean watched from her shadowy corner, the boy carefully shifted
his oil-skin packet of papers, seated himself upon the window sill and
doffed his dripping cap with the air of a court gallant. And mortal
ears never heard a stranger conversation.

"Good evening, Lady Cheerful!" he said deferentially, his grave brown
eyes seeking the spot by the fire where Aunt Cheerful's white woolen
gown glimmered faintly in the firelight.

"Why, good evening, Lord Chesterfield!" returned Aunt Cheerful, a
wonderful warmth and affection in her voice; "I trust I see you well
this evening, sir?"

"Very well indeed, I thank you, ma'am! I trust," he added very
politely, "that your Ladyship is enjoying good health?"

"I am indeed. May I venture to ask your Lordship how you have found
business this evening?"

Lord Chesterfield looked gravely at the dripping oilskin.

"The night is very wet," he admitted, "and business poor!"

[Illustration: The boy seated himself upon the window-sill and doffed
his dripping cap with the air of a gallant.]

"Dear, dear! What a pity!"

"But, as usual, I have given myself the honor of stopping at the
post-office for your Ladyship's mail."

"Kindly and courteous and thoughtful as ever!" nodded Aunt Cheerful.
Lord Chesterfield's cheeks reddened with pleasure.

"There was nothing!" he said regretfully. "Now as to the
news"--frowning thoughtfully--"Mrs. Bobbins' twins have the measles."

"Well, now, I _am_ sorry!" exclaimed Aunt Cheerful sympathetically.

"And Grandmother Radcliffe's cow 'pears to be growing more mopey and
blue each day. She bellows terrible mournful."

"I can't imagine," mused Aunt Cheerful, "what _can_ be the matter with
that poor cow!"

"The strange lady at the hotel went walking to-night in the rain and
she's not back yet. Most likely she's gone a-visitin'."

"Hum!" said Aunt Cheerful.

"And then"--Lord Chesterfield cleared his throat--"I wouldn't tell you
this, ma'am, but your Ladyship would surely ask me. I'm sorry to have
to tell you that there's another leak in that roof of mine."

"Another leak! Oh, my dear boy!" exclaimed Aunt Cheerful in dismay,
startled out of her court manners by her quick solicitude.

"It is nothing, madam, I assure you!" urged Lord Chesterfield
gallantly, "I've got mos' a pound of chewin' gum from the boys to mend
it with. They took up a chewing gum subscription," he added gratefully.

"Lord Chesterfield," said Aunt Cheerful very soberly, "I'm afraid
you'll have to give up that hermit hut of yours. It's growing very
leaky! You've thought over very, very carefully that proposition of
coming to live with me?"

"Very carefully, ma'am, I thank you!" said Lord Chesterfield firmly.
"I'm afraid I prefer to stay a bachelor."

"And may I venture a question concerning the health of your Lordship's
many patients?"

"All doing nicely, ma'am, very nicely."

With a quick twist of his arm, the bachelor dropped a newspaper within
and rising bowed, a gallant little figure of a gentleman framed in the

"Allow me to present your Ladyship with one of my papers!" he said

"And allow me to thank you for it!" interposed Aunt Cheerful gently.

Again the boy raised his tattered cap and smiled, a grave little smile
for all its brightness.

"Good night, Lady Cheerful!" he said.

"Good night, Lord Chesterfield and remember--any time your bachelor
life grows too lonely--"

But Lord Chesterfield was off into the shadows of the dripping lane,
whistling as cheerily as a robin.

Aunt Cheerful turned to the mystified guest at her fireside.

"Oh, my dear," she exclaimed gratefully, "how very tactful of you to
make no sound. The presence of a stranger would have confused him so!
Just a little game we play each night, Lord Chesterfield and I--"

"What a dear little lad he is!" exclaimed Jean.

Aunt Cheerful bent and turned the dying log.

"A kindly, courteous little gentleman, ever-mindful of my poor lame
foot;" she said thoughtfully, "with his proud, boyish heart afire with
dreams--dreams of becoming a very great doctor and a gallant gentleman.
Why, my dear, his father was such a queer hermit who lived with
this little son of his in a ruined shack along the river, a ragged,
handsome, silent man of very great culture, 'twas said, and this fall
when he died the boy refused to leave his crazy hut. A chore here and a
chore there, so he lives, a wee, lovable, busy little hermit, selling
his newspapers, sweeping out the school and the church, and doctoring
all the sick animals about with arnica and witch-hazel. To be sure a
hundred friendly eyes in Westowe watch over him in secret but few dare
offer him any aid."

"But why 'Lord Chesterfield'?"

"I have read him such portions of Lord Chesterfield as I deemed
suitable," replied Aunt Cheerful, "and we play our little game at his
request that he may grow familiar with the ways and words of gentlemen."

And Jean Varian brushed something away from her long dark lashes that
sparkled suspiciously like a tear. Surely Aunt Cheerful and gallant
Lord Chesterfield were worth the many, many miles of the rainy journey!

"And now, my dear, to bed!" suggested Aunt Cheerful, smiling and with
a busy tap! tap! of her crutch she was briskly leading the way up the
winding stairway to a room above.

A smell of pine, the lighting of a lamp, the quick crackle of dry
wood as Aunt Cheerful bent over a tiny fire-place, and Jean uttered
a cry of admiration. Pine cones and branches showered in pattern
across the wall-paper and the carpet; pine-sprigged chintz covered the
old-fashioned chairs, and from somewhere a pine pillow gave forth the
fragrance of the winter forest.

"My Pine Bough Bedroom!" exclaimed Aunt Cheerful delightedly; "and how
glad I am you like it. And I furnished it so, my dear, in a little
wave of superstition. An old and wrinkled gypsy was passing through my
lane and when I called her in for a cup of tea, what do you suppose
she said? 'Kind lady, great happiness will come to you one day in the
heart of the Christmas pines!' Doubtless an idle phrase that came to
her with the smell of the pine but I often think of it. Good night, my

But Jean laid an impetuous hand upon the old lady's shoulder.

"Aunt Cheerful," she said gently, "you have not once asked me my name!"

"Why neither I have, my dear," nodded Aunt Cheerful, "but then I
fancied you would tell me yourself if you wished me to know."

Jean colored hotly.

"Aunt Cheerful," she said hurriedly, "there are reasons, for a time
at least, why--why I can not tell you my name or why I have come to
Westowe! Oh, I do hope you will not misunderstand me. May I not," she
added pleadingly, "join in name that little group of nobility to which
Lord Chesterfield and Lady Cheerful belong?"

"Why to be sure, you may!" exclaimed Aunt Cheerful, smiling. "I shall
call you the Lady Ariel for you came to me like a beautiful spirit out
of the wind and rain. Good night, dear."

Very thoughtfully, Jean loosened the shining masses of her dark hair
and brushed it.

"The Lady Ariel!" she mused, smiling. "And surely as whimsical a guest
as any spirit of the air might be." Absently the girl's eyes rested
upon a book, exquisitely bound in Levant, on a table near-by. It bore
the title "Songs of Cheer" and with a smile at the eternal cheeriness
of this chance shelter of hers, the girl opened it.

    "To my cheerful little mother,"

read the inscription in a man's bold handwriting,

    "For every line seems a fragrant breath of her.

                                   "ROBERT LORING.

    "Thanksgiving, Nineteen Eleven."

And as the Lady Ariel read, her beautiful face flamed scarlet, and
shaking queerly, she dropped to her knees by the snowy bed, all her
superb self-possession gone in a passionate fit of weeping.

Brush! brush! went the dripping pines against the window in a
ceaseless monody, and presently this very strange guest of Aunt
Cheerful's raised her head. Very white and strained her face but her
eyes were shining.

    "'The leper no longer crouched at his side,'"

she quoted softly;

    "'But stood before him glorified,
     Shining and tall and fair and straight
     As the pillar that stood by the Beautiful Gate.

           *       *       *       *       *

     And the Voice that was calmer than silence said,
    "Lo, it is I, be not afraid!
     In many climes, without avail,
     Thou hast spent thy life for the Holy Grail
     Behold it is here!"'"


The Invisible Guest



DAWN etched a shadowy lace of pine branches across the window of the
Lady Ariel's Pine Bough Chamber, and with a quick thrill of realization
Jean rose. In the night the rain had turned to snow, lightly thatching
the ground in white, and ghost-like through the dawn loomed Aunt
Cheerful's pines, hung with snowy tippets of ragged fur. From her
window, Jean wonderingly watched a sturdy little figure appear among
the pines below and halt at the wood-pile where he busily began to
split kindlings, whistling very softly to himself and glancing
furtively at the silent cottage. The kindlings neatly stacked on the
cottage porch, this rosy-cheeked little wood-chopper of the dawn
briskly swept the snow from the walks and porch, carefully removed a
sodden sheet of paper from the trim garden, and vanished stealthily
again among the pines.

Now although Lady Ariel was never quite sure just how it all came
about, night found her still at Pine Tree Cottage, and again at
dawn she watched Lord Chesterfield at his furtive tasks. And so,
eventually, swept away again and again by the warmth of Aunt Cheerful's
hospitality, Jean came to linger on at the cottage in the pines,
thrilled unaccountably by the unquestioning friendliness of her cheery

Each night when the mail train came in, Aunt Cheerful's lamp flashed
its friendly message through the pines; each night her birdlike voice
carried its invitation into the dark of the lane. And sometimes it was
a weary villager, homing through the twilight, who answered her call
and sometimes an astonished stranger lured into the lane by the smell
of the pine and the brightness of her light. But to all the welcome
was the same. Aunt Cheerful's cosmic hospitality made no distinctions,
and presently Jean came to know that the fame of Pine Tree Cottage was

And as regularly as the lamp flashed among the pines, so in
mid-evening came Lord Chesterfield with his Lady's mail and her paper,
his courteous queries for her Ladyship's health and his relishful
exposition of the village news. Brave, kindly little hermit! Jean's
heart warmed to his boyish gallantry. And presently when the first
constraint had worn away, Lord Chesterfield's courtly queries from the
window-sill included the health of the Lady Ariel.

Nights by the fire there was much talk, too, of the beautiful Lady of
the Fireglow and Jean grew to marvel at the wealth of love steadily
piling up in the heart of Aunt Cheerful for Son Robert's sometime wife.
As for "Son Robert" himself, the caress in Aunt Cheerful's voice
when she spoke his name, thrilled her guest indescribably. Flying
mother-winged about the night's sleepy fireglow, there were eloquent
tales of his boyhood daring, of school days when he had won a Harvard
scholarship, of his brilliant career in the busy West, but as the days
unfolded their glowing flower of biography, Jean found that, manlike,
despite his untiring forethought for her comfort, Robert Loring had
undervalued what his mother longed for most, his presence! that five
thoughtless years had sped busily away since his last home-coming;
years so long and lonely for the little cripple in Pine Tree Lane that
a quick resentment flamed loyally up in Jean's awakening heart and her
eyes softened in a new understanding of the many devices by which Aunt
Cheerful Loring had somehow contrived to color the barren years.

"But _this_ Christmas," Aunt Cheerful was wont to finish her eloquent
monograph, "he is surely coming for he has written so much about it and
oh, my dear!"--with shining eyes--"what a very wonderful Christmas I
shall have indeed!"

Thus, imperceptibly, the strange and whimsical comradeship of these two
women grew into something stronger, something so deep and beautiful
that the Lady Ariel's face grew to mirror its imprint. And Aunt
Cheerful, clinging wistfully to the companionship of this lovable,
mysterious guest who had come straight into her heart from the wind and
rain, deftly lured the Lady Ariel into lingering.

Came the busy fortnight before Christmas, and over the snowy ridges
peeped the December sun like the round and jolly face of the Christmas
Saint with his snow-beard veiling the hills and the river-valley
below. And now with a merry jingle of sleigh-bells Westowe awoke to
the activities of the season and Aunt Cheerful's crutch was never so
busy tap! tap! tapping about with endless plans for "Son Robert's
Christmas." Nights Lord Chesterfield's eyes shone with suppressed
excitement as he courteously regaled his noble friends with the
village news, and betimes with a wonderful new glow about her heart,
the Lady Ariel set out one morning for the busy city to the South upon
a tour of Christmas shopping.

There were many errands, and when at night-fall tired and happy, Jean
hurried to the station laden with bundles, the mail train was already
traveling leisurely up the valley. Wherefore this light-hearted
Christmas shopper rode homeward over the country roads in a livery
sleigh, cheeks aglow with the winter cold and eyes alive to the still
white beauty of the winter night.

It was already supper-time when the sleigh turned into Pine Tree Lane
and Jean, entering softly at the rear to surprise Aunt Cheerful,
halted noiselessly in the kitchen. For though the room beyond was quite
empty save for the humming Emperor and the busy swashbuckler in the
fire, Aunt Cheerful was chatting away to an invisible guest. And these
were the words Lady Ariel heard:

"A biscuit, Robert? . . . Certainly. Oh, I am so sorry Lady Ariel
missed her train. She has grown so fond of my biscuit. . . . And here,
my dear boy, is your favorite jam. . . . Robert," she said wistfully,
"I do so wish you could grow to love my beautiful Lady Ariel. Each
day she grows more lovely. She is so quick and sweet and tireless, so
ever-mindful of my comfort and my poor lame foot. . . . And do you
know, Robert, I can not help thinking that with her wonderful gray eyes
and the shining masses of her dark hair, she must be very like my Lady
in the Fire. . . . To be sure, Robert, you are right as always. . . .
It is true that I have never seen the face in the fireglow but I would
so like that daughter of my dreams to be like my dear, dear Lady
Ariel. . . . No! No! Robert, I do not know who she is. . . . I will
not ask her that. . . . Surely she will tell me in her own good time
if she wishes me to know. And, besides, has she not asked me to trust
her? . . . And Robert, it is so very odd. Though she has the white and
beautiful hands of a princess with never a mark of toil upon them, yet
she has scrubbed and swept and ironed and baked for me as busily as a
farmer's daughter. She is so quick to learn, so gentle and tactful--Oh,
Robert!"--her voice shook with a little sob--"I'm altogether a very
foolish old woman but I've grown to love her so that I can not let her
go out of my life as swiftly and strangely as she came into it. If only
you would come and help me keep her--"

But the Lady Ariel was gone, out into the shadows of the pines, the hot
tears raining down her face.

And late that night a telegram went singing over the wires to Denver, a
telegram having to do with a flame-colored satin and a case of jewels.



Son Robert's Letter



FROM Aunt Cheerful's kitchen came the sound of a woman singing, of
footsteps, quick and light, and presently of a pleasant call through
the doorway into the room beyond.

"Aunt Cheerful?"

"Yes, Lady Ariel?"

"I've polished the Emperor until he fairly illumines the kitchen!"

"My dear, you pamper him _too_ much!"

"And I've made the salad for supper--"

"Bless your dear, generous heart, child!" exclaimed Aunt Cheerful.
"You're too good. Now come help me string cranberries for the chapel
tree. I'm sure you'll find it restful after such a busy hour in the

So by the window the Lady Ariel and Aunt Cheerful gaily made crimson
chains for a Christmas tree until the purple of the twilight gathered
among the pines and the swaggerer in the fire awoke to fight the
gathering shadows with his busy sword of flame. By the window Jean
stared absently out at the fading pines.

"Aunt Cheerful?"

"Yes, Lady Ariel."

[Illustration: So by the window the Lady Ariel and Aunt Cheerful gaily
made crimson chains for a Christmas tree.]

"How wonderfully tranquil it all is here. See, it is beginning to
snow. White and drifting feathers of peace, I'm sure! Oh, Aunt
Cheerful," she said with a little sigh, "how much I envy you!"

"Envy me, Lady Ariel?"

"Yes. Your cottage and your pines and the quiet of this dear old lane.
Somehow I have grown to love it all! And then all your friends here in

"But surely, child, you too have friends!"

"Not so sincere and loyal as yours, Aunt Cheerful. And then you have
Lord Chesterfield and your--your son in the West and I have no one."

"No one!"

"No one!" Jean repeated. "Never a kinsman even, save a nomadic uncle
with a strain of gipsy blood in his veins and even he faded out of my
life like all the others years ago. It--it is a very odd thing, Aunt
Cheerful, to be quite alone, and sometimes it is very, very lonely."

"Oh, my dear Lady Ariel!" exclaimed Aunt Cheerful in real distress. "I
am so sorry!" For an impetuous instant a question seemed to hover upon
her lips, then with a quick movement of decision she was tap-tapping
about the room, lighting the lamp and drawing the shades.

"Come, come, Lady Ariel!" she exclaimed, smiling. "You're not in your
usual good spirits to-night! We'll set the Emperor to singing and have
our tea!"

But Jean's depression lingered and so it was that when Lord
Chesterfield peered into her shadowy corner by the fire that night, her
chair was empty.

"Good evening, Lady Cheerful!" he said, disappointment in his voice.

"Why, good evening, Lord Chesterfield. Dear, dear! your Lordship's cap
is full of snow!"

"It is nothing, madam, I assure you! I trust your Ladyship is well?"

"Very well indeed."

"And the Lady Ariel?"

"Well"--Aunt Cheerful hesitated--"a little quiet and tired, I should
say. She has gone up to bed."

Into Lord Chesterfield's eyes leaped a sudden excitement.

"A 'normous box came by express," he burst forth breathlessly, "and it
was full up of spensive, glittery Christmas things for the chapel tree
and--and--a letter came from a candy man and he said a strange lady'd
bought and paid for s'ficient candy and oranges and--and everything
for mos' everybody in Westowe to be delivered at the Sunday School day
before Christmas and--and presents came on ahead in a box 'cause they
won't spoil waitin' and--and nobody knows--"

"Oh, my dear Lord Chesterfield," broke in Aunt Cheerful in alarm, "do,
_do_, my dear boy, take a breath!"

"Who sent 'em!" finished Lord Chesterfield. "And Grandmother Radcliffe
she reckons maybe Lady Ariel is a princess in disguise and she sent

"A princess in disguise!" exclaimed Aunt Cheerful. "Dear, dear, that
would be strange!"

"And maybe," went on Lord Chesterfield in growing excitement, "maybe
your Ladyship will rec'lect how my dog medicines were gettin' pretty
low and owin' to er--to--er--" His Lordship cleared his throat with a
prodigious "Hum!--I beg your Ladyship's pardon but--er--were financial
embarrassments just the words you told me that time?"

"Financial embarrassment!" nodded Aunt Cheerful gravely.

"Owing to my financial embarrassments I couldn't buy more till after
Christmas and--and this morning, ma'am, there was an express package
for me with witch-hazel and arnica and sponges and liniments and
bandages and mos' a reg'lar doctor's outfit in it. Mos' likely I'll
'speriment on Carlo's rheumatism to-night with a new liniment."

"Now I do wonder," mused Aunt Cheerful absently, "if your mysterious
friend could possibly be the one who keeps my garden so trim and chops
my kindlings. Dear, dear! What a very strange and mysterious place
Westowe has become!"

Lord Chesterfield's fine little face colored hotly.

"I hardly think they are the same," he owned honestly; then, quick
contrition in his eyes, he vaulted lightly over the window sill and
drew a letter from his pocket. "Oh, Lady Cheerful," he apologized, "I
do beg your Ladyship's pardon. Fact is, I--I mos' forgot your letter!"

"Why, bless your heart, child," exclaimed Aunt Cheerful warmly, "who
wouldn't forget a letter with such a magic box on his mind! Your
Lordship will pardon me if I read it this very minute? It's from my
son!" And Lord Chesterfield bowed a courtly acquiescence.

So with swift color in her cheeks, Aunt Cheerful read, but as she read
her hand began to tremble and suddenly the letter fluttered unheeded
to the floor and a great tear rolled slowly down her face and splashed
on the white woolen gown. And even as he watched, his grave little face
perturbed, the mantle of formal courtesy vanished and Lord Chesterfield
sprang forward, a kindly little lad alive with sympathy.

"Oh, Aunt Cheerful," he blurted boyishly, "I'm _awfully_ sorry!"

But with a muffled sob Aunt Cheerful patted his arm, taking refuge in
the words of the game they played.

"It--it is nothing at all, Lord Chesterfield, I assure you!" she said

"My busy son writes me that--that after all he can not come for

But even as she bent to regain the letter, she began trembling and
crying again so pitifully that Lord Chesterfield's face colored darkly
and for all he bit his lips like the brave little fighter he was at all
times, still a great sob welled up in his own throat and his eyes grew
gentle. And presently in the quiet, Aunt Cheerful felt the diffident
touch of a boyish hand upon her shoulder and looking up met the eyes of
the little hermit, oddly resolute for all their sympathy.

"Aunt Cheerful," said he firmly, "I--I'm 'fraid I'd better stay here
all night. Fact is," with a squaring of chin and shoulders, "I feel
that you'd better have a man in the house."

But Aunt Cheerful's wan smile bore in it something resolute of her old

"Oh, my dear boy," she exclaimed gratefully, "it is more than good of
you to offer, but you must remember poor Carlo's rheumatism and the new
liniment and all the responsibilities of your bachelor life. And anyway
I'm quite alright now. Silly old women have such spells."

So presently, after a deal of urging, Lord Chesterfield departed and
Aunt Cheerful went tap! tap! tapping softly out into the kitchen to mix
her bread. And even as she worked, a perturbed little sentinel with a
round boyish face peered furtively in at the kitchen window, loath to
leave the cottage among the pines when sorrow lay upon it.

Now as Aunt Cheerful worked she began to sing, and the song was one
that had often bolstered her waning courage before. And surely in the
very words of it lay the fragrance of her own resourceful cheeriness.

    "There is ever a song somewhere, my dear;
     In the midnight black or the midday blue;
     The robin pipes when the sun is here,
     And the cricket chirrups the whole night through.
     The buds may blow and the fruit may grow,
     And the Autumn leaves drop crisp and sere;
     But whether the sun or the rain or the snow,
     There is ever a song somewhere, my dear."

Whereat, hearing the cheerful song of his honored lady, a great relief
shone suddenly in Lord Chesterfield's anxious eyes, and whistling
softly to himself he disappeared among the pines.


The Little Hermit



BUT to-night as Lord Chesterfield hurried down through the quiet of the
village to his weather-beaten shack along the river, his whistle grew
slightly erratic and presently ceased altogether, and when at last he
removed the rusty key from the nail by the door, his shining eyes and
grim little chin betokened an unusual excitement and determination.

In the single room of his shanty Lord Chesterfield lit his lamp,
and truly light never fell upon a stranger boyhood shelter. For the
hermit's rude bed was neatly made and the floor as neatly swept, his
battered cookstove polished and the medicine bottles upon his rickety
table ranged in a careful row. And once the busy hermit had raked his
fire into a bright and warming glow, for all its lonely rattling when
the wind blew, the river shanty was as snug and neat a place as one
might find.

Now as Lord Chesterfield bustled energetically about the fire, there
came a whining and a scratching at the shanty door and, as he opened
it, a huge dog limped slowly in with a joyous bark of greeting. With
ready affection in his eyes, the hermit bent and patted the shaggy
brown head of his visitor, for this was Carlo, the toll-gate keeper's
old and rheumatic pensioner, who nightly limped up the tow-path to be
properly bathed and petted. And the dialogue of the gallant Doctor and
his patient-in-chief barely varied.

"Good evening, Carlo!" (very brisk and professional).

A joyous bark.

"And how is the rheumatism to-night?"

A very great wagging of a very bushy tail but a bark of considerable

"Hum! Well, well, we'll have to attend to that. Step right over this
way if you please!" And the Doctor, frowning portentously, bathed
Carlo's flank ever so gently, with now and then a kindly word of
reassurance. These medical attentions properly completed, Carlo, whose
sense of professional etiquette was none too keen, fell to nosing
frankly about the hut until he found a certain plate of scraps, and
having neatly attended to this single spot of disorder, he limped back
to the hermit and suggestively lowered his handsome head. Whereupon
the Doctor removed a very small package tied to his collar and grandly
bowed his patient to the door.

A blast of wind rattled the shanty as Carlo departed. On tiptoe the
hermit locked the door, carefully drew the shades, and with infinite
caution removed a plank from the floor. Very furtively he drew forth
a dirty canvas bag, pitifully small for all its pleasant clink and
unwrapped Carlo's package, a coin which Carlo's kindly master nightly
sent for Carlo's fee. Then together with such coins as he could spare
from the day's proceeds this provident little hermit hid them all away
again in the canvas bag beneath the plank, for this was the hidden
hoard that Lord Chesterfield fancied would one day make him a very
great doctor.

And as the final task of the busy evening, the hermit wrote a letter.

                                          "December 18th.

    "_Dear Mr. Robert Loring_:

    "She got your letter and cried and she most alwus
    never cries so shaky, Aunt Cheerful Loring I mean.
    Oh, please _do_ come! She feels so awful bad and once
    when I was awful sick this winter she lived three days
    in this old shanty here with me and sat up all night
    account of medacines and no other bed and she read
    me every day bout Lord Chesterfield and I'd like to
    do something big for her she's so awful brave and so
    awful lame. Sometimes like to-night when I looked in
    the winda she sings to keep her spirits up. Oh, please,
    please Mr. Loring, can't we maybe surprise her for
    Christmas? I do most everything I can for her but just
    one thing you could do would be more than all. Five
    years is awful long. Most likely you won't know who I
    am unless she wrote. She calls me Lord Chesterfield
    and lots of folks here call me Doc and the hermut but,
    sir, I have the honer to sine myself--

                                          "NORMAN VARIAN."

For so Lord Chesterfield fancied his illustrious namesake might finish
such a letter.

And as he sealed the letter, the boy looked wistfully up at a ragged
photograph of his dead father tacked carefully above the table and very
slowly he read aloud the single line of writing beneath it.

"Always remember, little son," it read, "that first of all, though
you've seen hard times, you're a gentleman!"

And suddenly Lord Chesterfield's brave little head went forward upon
his hands with a choking sob, for after all he was only a proud and
lonely little bachelor who had greatly loved his father.

So the little hermit's letter went forth upon a Christmas mission to
come to its final goal in a luxurious suite of offices in Denver on the
desk of Robert Loring. And Robert Loring read the eloquent plea with
unwonted color in his face and a startled shame in his fine eyes, for,
unconsciously vivid, the boy's letter had strikingly bared the inner
life of his brave and cheerful mother.

"Five years!" said Robert Loring aghast. "It can't be!"

But swiftly reviewing the years crowded with activity he knew that
the little hermit had written the truth, and he flushed again. For the
thought of his mother's lonely life in Pine Tree Lane subtly dwarfed
the urgent calls of effort and ambition which had kept him from her. A
giant hand of rebuke indeed that Lord Chesterfield had wielded.

So, swiftly over the night wires went a telegram to one Norman Varian,
and even as Robert Loring wrote the lad's name, he stared at it very


From the Shadow of the Pine-Boughs


WILDLY the Christmas moon rose over Westowe, silvering the snowy
hill-gables to the north and the covered bridge; trailing a snow-white
ribbon of light through Pine Tree Lane, and mantling the cottage among
the pines with the peaceful moon-fire of a Christmas Eve.

And up through the snow-sparkle of the steep moon-lit path to the
chapel on the hill climbed Aunt Cheerful Loring, helped ever so gently
upward by the sturdy arm of gallant Lord Chesterfield. Snow-sparkle and
a Christmas moon and the sound of the chapel organ through the lighted
windows above! What wonder that all of it lured Aunt Cheerful to climb
as she had never climbed before, with scarcely a thought for the poor
lame foot.

"Not so fast, Lady Cheerful!" begged the boy gently.

"But, my dear Lord Chesterfield," urged Aunt Cheerful with a brisk tap!
tap! of her crutch, "I can not possibly miss any of this wonderful
Christmas celebration for which you have worked so busily and--hear!
already they are singing the Christmas hymn!"

Down through the cold air from the moonlit chapel above came the sound
of a reverent chorus chanting "Holy Night," and Lord Chesterfield's
brown eyes glowed strangely.

"It--it is only the song service they have beforehand," he said
re-assuringly, "for--for to-night, Aunt Cheerful," he added with
smothered excitement, "they can't begin without me!"

Pine and holly and tinsel and gifts, so they loomed ahead as Lord
Chesterfield led his honored lady to her pew and bent over her with a
flame of color in his smooth, young cheeks.

"Aunt Cheerful," he stammered excitedly, "I--I beg your Ladyship's
pardon but--but will you please 'scuse me now. I--I've got a mos'
important errand!"

Primly the hermit had climbed the chapel hill with his lady, but now
with never a backward look he raced madly down the path and through
the village to the railroad station, a flushed and panting youngster
trembling with excitement. Far below where rails and moonlit sky merged
appeared a light and upon its steadily growing disk Lord Chesterfield
fixed his eyes in a fever of fascination. Chug-a-chug! Chug-a-chug!
Chug-a-chug! How desperately slow it crept up through the snow-silver
of the valley! And how wildly the hermit's glowing heart pounded away
beneath his Sunday suit!

On came the train at last and halted, and presently Lord Chesterfield
was hurrying excitedly down the platform toward a man, young and tall,
whose handsome eyes were surely of a most familiar blue. Gravely the
little hermit raised his cap and bowed.

"Good evening!" he ventured sturdily "Are you--are you Mr. Robert

"Robert Loring, indeed!" answered the young man gravely; "and very much
at your service." And his eyes were gentle as he held out his hand.
"And you, I take it, are Lord Chesterfield himself. Well, sir, I'm glad
to know you."

Now there was such an earnest ring of respect and deference in this
young man's pleasant voice that Lord Chesterfield colored with
pleasure. So, very gravely, these two shook hands and, still finely
punctilious, the little hermit cleared his throat.

"May I," he queried politely--"may I--er--take you to my--er--bachelor
'partments for something to eat first?"

Robert Loring's keen eyes traveled over the manly figure of his little
friend with never a smile.

"Let me thank your Lordship," he said gratefully, "but I've already
dined. From now on, sir, my time is yours."

Lord Chesterfield grasped his arm in a spasm of excitement.

"Oh, sir, Mr. Robert," he burst forth in great relief, "I am so awful
glad, for there ain't a single minute to lose. Bill Flittergill, sir,
he went and bust his arm a while back and oh, sir, will you come
to the chapel and take his place and dress up in the Santa Claus
suit and--give the presents and--and when I say like this--'Lord
Chesterfield's present to Aunt Cheerful Loring with his respects!' will
you just--just take off your mask when she comes up and oh--sir, _will_

And Robert Loring rested one hand very gently on the boy's shoulder.

"Old chap," he said huskily, "I want you to understand that I leave
everything, absolutely everything to you. I've managed things long
enough and it seems to me I've made a most astonishing mess of it!"

So that night in Westowe Chapel a broad-shouldered Kris Kringle
dispensed the Christmas gifts as the hermit directed until the
glittering tree was fairly stripped and the magic box quite empty, and
at last with a hoarse little quaver in his voice, Lord Chesterfield
came to the final name upon his list.

"Lord Chesterfield's present to Aunt Cheerful Loring!" he announced
with a gulp, and, coloring with pleasure, Aunt Cheerful came hurrying
up the aisle with a brisk tap! tap! of her crutch.

"Now, oh, _now_, Mr. Robert!" prompted Kris Kringle's agitated helper.
So with a hand that visibly shook, Robert Loring removed his beard and
mask and stepped from the Christmas shadow of the pine boughs.

For a tense instant Aunt Cheerful stared, stared at the smiling face of
her big and gallant son with eyes so wild and startled that she seemed
but a pitiful little crippled ghost swaying weakly upon her crutch,
then the ever-busy crutch fell unheeded to the floor and Aunt Cheerful
Loring fell sobbing to her knees, one trembling out-stretched hand
clutching desperately at the ragged fur on Kris Kringle's coat as if to
keep the dear apparition from fading away again before her very eyes.

"Oh, Robert, oh, my dear boy!" she cried incoherently. "It--it was
the Christmas pines as the gipsy said--" then in the hush that spread
electrically over the little chapel, she began to shake and sob and
laugh so queerly that Lord Chesterfield leaped to her side. But Robert
Loring, with misty eyes, bent and gently raised his mother to her feet.

"Brave, brave little mother!" he said huskily. "I did not know."

Somewhere in the tear-dimmed host of friends within the chapel, a
kindly voice in a wave of quick consideration for the tearful little
cripple clinging so pitifully to her son, struck up the Christmas hymn
and once more, that eventful Christmas Eve, the strains of "Holy Night"
went sweeping out from the hill chapel over the moonlit snow.


"Lady Ariel"


MEANWHILE in the Pine Bough Bedroom, Jean was writing a letter.

"My maid, Celeste, has forwarded to me your letter," she wrote, "and
now when I know that I must write you where I am and why I have
come here, that at last I must answer your insistent question, oh,
Robert!--it is very hard indeed.

"How mockingly to-night your words are ringing in my ears!

"'And so,' you said that memorable night, 'it is but right for me
to tell you now, Jean, that with marriage, if you grant me that
happiness, my brave and lonely little mother comes back into my
home-life for all time!'

"Very handsome and very resolute you looked, but Robert, I wonder if
you guessed what a queer resentful chill crept into my selfish heart at
your words. Like a grim leper stalking at my side rose the thought that
once more Life was ironically robbing me of its finest and sweetest.
Oh, Robert, how can I write you now that I did not want your mother
in my home and life, intruding upon the first happiness of my lonely
life--that I wanted only you!

"I asked you to wait without seeing me again until I should write you
and with Celeste's connivance I slipped away in the night, bent upon
the maddest, crudest whim that ever selfish heart devised. For I came
to the little village you had so often described--to Westowe--and I
came--yes, I must write it all crude and narrow as it is--to appraise,
to coldly analyze and dissect--your mother, to see if I deemed her
_worthy_ a place in my home and my new life with you! And out of the
rain and dark, Fate's twinkling light lured me to her very door!

"For, Robert, I am here in the dear peace and quiet of this
pine-scented lane, unknown, unquestioned, trusted as I surely do not
deserve, lingering on day by day with this dear, brave little mother
of yours, and now I know that it is I who am not worthy, that my very
quest was a profanation that makes my cheeks burn with the utter shame
of it. And something has stirred in my lonely heart at the sight of her
that has been hushed since early childhood. So often these days I find
myself repeating those wonderful words of Lowell's:

    "'The leper no longer crouched at his side,
     But stood before him glorified,
     Shining and tall and fair and straight
     As the pillar that stood by the Beautiful Gate.

           *       *       *       *       *

     And the Voice that was calmer than silence said
    "Lo, it is I, be not afraid!
     In many climes, without avail,
     Thou hast spent thy life for the Holy Grail
     Behold it is here."'"

"So the leper of selfish resentment no longer crouches at my side.
Instead there is something so shining and beautiful that I grow afraid.
'In many climes without avail!' And even that is I, Egypt and India and
Syria and the uttermost parts of the world, so in a mad search for life
I have gone and gone again and here in the heart of the pines I have
found life and peace and love, the Holy Grail.

"After all, Robert, how much of life's heart-glow I have been denied
until now. Those black and bitter childhood days, the under-current of
resentment because the only heir to the Varian millions was not a boy,
the tearless agony of the nights when first divorce and later death
took my father and mother out of my life and I cried for sisters, for
brothers, for cousins, for anything in God's world to give some touch
of humanness to my barren life--such is my cycle of memory. I wonder if
you can guess the utter desolation that comes with the knowledge that
you are quite alone with never a single blood-tie to warm the ice about
your heart.

"But, now, I have worked with my hands. I have scrubbed and ironed and
baked, I have lived for another besides myself, I have watched the
lives of two whose brave and cheerful compassion for each other bears
in it the touch of holiness and I have come to know a wee soldier
whose sturdiness on life's firing line, like that of your mother, has
shamed me again and again. Such a wonderfully courteous little lad he
is, Robert, with his hermit hut and his buried savings and his dreams
of becoming a very great doctor. And some day when I can devise a way
of breaking through the wall of his pride, I am going to make him what
he dreams. Robert, I think the ice is melting around my heart at last.
I am gaining a broader vision.

"Lady Ariel--it is so Aunt Cheerful calls me. Oh, Robert, how can I go
to her and tell her why I came, how I linger here day by day hoping
for courage to ask her pardon. And it has grown even harder now that
I know that she would have the kind and beautiful wife of her son like
Lady Ariel, that she has whimsically chosen to see in me her fanciful
Lady of the Fireglow garbed wondrously in flame-colored satin! For
how can I let her glimpse the cruel canker that lay in the heart of
the daughter of her dreams. On the bed as I write lies a gown of
'flame-colored satin' and the Varian jewels, and this moonlit Christmas
Eve when she comes from the chapel, I shall go to her as she has
dreamed of me and on my knees I shall beg her forgiveness and a place
in the beautiful shrine of her brave and cheerful heart.

"Oh, Robert, pray for me that I may not hurt her!"

Very thoughtfully Jean sealed the letter and directed it to Robert
Loring, then she began a brisk pilgrimage about the quiet house. Holly
and mistletoe and Christmas wreaths came mysteriously to light from a
box beneath the Lady Ariel's bed, and soon the cottage among the pines
smiled cheerfully through a Christmas flare of pine and holly. For Aunt
Cheerful's Christmas interest had somehow waned after Robert's letter,
and at the hermit's diffident suggestion, Lady Ariel had taken the
pleasant task upon herself.

And when the deft and busy decorator had finished her work, she slipped
into her cloak and went hurrying through the village toward the
covered bridge. Very lonely and small the hermit's hut in the moonlight
and with a catch in her throat, Jean took the rusty key from the nail
and entered. Only Aunt Cheerful and Lady Ariel knew the secret of the
buried savings. So to-night Jean hurriedly searched the hermit's floor
for a certain creaking board, and when at last she drew forth the
pitiful little canvas bag, she stuffed it full of greenbacks.

[Illustration: Jean drew forth the pitiful little canvas bag and
stuffed it full of greenbacks.]

The chill silver of the winter moonlight flooded brightly through
the open door, haloing the figure of the girl upon her knees in the
desolate shanty and flashing full upon the ragged photograph above the
table. So as Jean turned, her startled eyes rested directly upon the
features of the hermit's father, and the girl stared aghast, her face
white in the moonlight. For the face was the face of her nomad Uncle
whose life had been irrevocably marred by the cruelty of her father.
And as Jean stared, somewhere within her the ice melted for all time.
Starved and eager strands of kinsmanship went flying out to twine
hungrily about the gallant heart of Lord Chesterfield, and there upon
her knees in the river shack, the heiress to the Varian millions fell
to sobbing and praying incoherently for the love of her little cousin.
And even as she prayed, faintly over the village came the echo of the
Christmas hymn.


The Lady of the Fire-Glow


INTENT in the kitchen upon the preparation of a little surprise supper
for Aunt Cheerful and the hermit, Jean had not heard the opening of the
cottage door and therefore when a man's pleasant voice broke in upon
her thoughts, she started so violently that the spoon in her hand went
clattering to the floor.

"I beg your pardon," said Robert Loring, "but my mother bade me tell
the Lady Ariel that she has gone with Hiram Scudder to carry the
chapel's Christmas gifts to the poor of Westowe."

But oddly enough there was no answer at all from the white-aproned
worker in his mother's kitchen, moreover she did not even turn her head
and a little puzzled, Robert Loring raised his voice.

"I beg your pardon," he began again and halted--for Lady Ariel had
turned as he spoke with a wistful smile of apology about her lips.

Unutterable astonishment flamed up in Robert Loring's eyes, but he did
not speak, for there was something in Jean's face that somehow made the
power of words depart. In a queer silence they faced each other, Robert
Loring's memory flashing back to the night at the opera when he had
first seen this girl before him in the white and silver of trailing
satin, when the beautiful chill and bitterness of her eyes had left
their imprint upon his soul for eternity. There were no shadows in her
eyes to-night; and smoothing away the lines of soul-rebellion, a new
strength and sweetness lay wistfully about her mouth. Ruffled hair and
toil-marked hands! With a sudden bound, Robert Loring caught the girl's
hands within his own.

"Oh, Jean, Jean!" he cried wonderingly, "what does it all mean? Celeste
would not tell me where you had gone." But Jean slipped from his arms
with a laugh that was half a sob.

"Oh, no! no! Robert," she said bravely, "you must read your letter
first and know me for what I am."

So by the kitchen window, Robert Loring read his letter and when he
finished his eyes were very thoughtful.

"Jean, dear," he said gently, "there is much for which you and I must
one day beg my little mother's pardon but surely you have not erred so
much as I."

By the fireglow with the Emperor humming a festive prediction of tea
for the Christmas supper, Robert Loring heard the story of Lady Ariel's
whimsical journey and its climax in the hermit's hut, but when the
jingle of sleigh-bells outside announced the halting of Hiram Scudder's
sleigh Jean went flying happily from the room and up the stairs. With
a tap! tap! tapping! of the crutch--never so brisk and cheerful as
to-night, Aunt Cheerful presently entered upon the arm of the gallant

"Oh, Robert, my dear boy!" she exclaimed happily. "How very like my
dear Lady Ariel to surprise me with all this glow of holly and the
Christmas wreaths. You can not imagine how cheerily they smiled at me
through the pines! And dear me, bless the child's heart, the table
is set for a little supper and the Emperor singing a Christmas hymn.
Never, never was there such another Christmas since the world began."

But Robert Loring drew his mother to a seat by the fire and gently
began to tell her something of the wife who was to come at last into
his mother's life and his own, and somehow as he talked Aunt Cheerful
grew very quiet and a little sad and presently she turned quite around
that she might not look into the fireglow for since Lady Ariel's coming
she had made wistful plans of her own about Son Robert's wife and the
fireglow mocked her with the impotency of them all. And when a quick
step on the stairway betokened the return of Lady Ariel, a great tear
rolled slowly down Aunt Cheerful's face and turning she fell back in
her chair with a cry of awe.

For surely so radiant a Christmas vision never stood framed in a
holly-crowned doorway before. Flame-colored satin trailed about the
Lady Ariel's slender figure; diamonds flashed about her throat and
hair. And as she gasped and stared, first at the eloquent eyes of her
son and then at the Christmas vision in the doorway, Aunt Cheerful
Loring knew the truth. With a wild tapping of her crutch she went
flying swiftly across the quiet room.

"Oh, my beautiful Lady of the Fireglow!" she cried, sobbing for the
very joy of it all. "My dear, dear Lady Ariel!"

And Lord Chesterfield, kindly little courtier that he was, began
briskly to poke the fire that he might not be an outside witness to
this Christmas scene of joy and reunion, but a great loneliness swept
over him and all the while he was stirring up the sleepy swashbuckler
in the fire he was swallowing manfully. So in his tearful abstraction
the hermit did not know that Jean's eyes were full upon him or that
with a soft rustle of the flame-colored satin she had crossed the room
and seated herself beside him.

"Lord Chesterfield," said Jean gently, "all these wonderful days you
have not once told me your Lordship's name."

"Why, why, no, Lady Ariel," stammered the boy in quick apology, "I
haven't. I do beg your Ladyship's pardon. It is Norman Varian."

"Norman Varian!" repeated Jean. "It is a very familiar name, your

Smiling Lady Ariel slipped a paper into the hermit's hand. And these
were the very astonishing words the paper bore:

    "I hereby pledge myself by the memory of my dead uncle,
    Norman Varian, to make of my brave little cousin a
    gentleman and a scholar and a very great Doctor.

    "Christmas eve.                     JEAN VARIAN."

And when Lord Chesterfield reached the familiar surname at the end, he
knew why Lady Ariel's beautiful face had haunted his dreams--it was a
face very like the face of his dead father; moreover he knew why the
look in the girl's gray eyes had so hurt his throat for, unlike his
own, they were Varian eyes. And as the brave little hermit slowly came
to realize that in this lonely world he was not quite alone, that here
were kindly eyes that had the right of kinsmanship to watch over his
sturdy climb to manhood, his pride and independence ruthlessly deserted
him and he dropped on his knees and buried his face in Jean's lap, a
forlorn little lad unnerved at the end of a gallant fight.

"Oh, Cousin Jean," he blurted with a great sob, "I been so awful lonely
'specially when the wind blew nights and I missed daddy so and--and the
canvas bag's been fillin' so awful slow and mos' every rain there was a
new leak--"

Jean stroked her cousin's hair with a hand that trembled a little.

Now in the silence that fell over the room, the wrathful Emperor burst
suddenly into a perfect bubble of ferocity. He steamed and he hissed
and he bubbled and grumbled, he fumed at the mouth and rattled his
helmet and tossed his plume of steam about in an imperial rage, for
when had royalty been so persistently ignored as on this Christmas Eve!
And presently as the four sat down to the Christmas supper, through the
moonlit pines came the sound of the chapel bell ringing in a Christmas



       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Note: Varied hyphenation was retained most notably in
that Fire-glow or Fire-Glow retains a hyphen in some titles but not in
the text.

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