Infomotions, Inc.When the Yule Log Burns A Christmas Story / Dalrymple, Leona, 1884-



Author: Dalrymple, Leona, 1884-
Title: When the Yule Log Burns A Christmas Story
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): muggs; christmas; aunt ellen; roger; madge; doctor; ellen; sister madge; ralph; old asher; aunt; yule log; log; doctor ralph; old doctor
Contributor(s): Roche, Charles E. [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 13,473 words (really short) Grade range: 9-11 (high school) Readability score: 60 (average)
Identifier: etext17510
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Title: When the Yule Log Burns
       A Christmas Story

Author: Leona Dalrymple

Release Date: January 13, 2006 [EBook #17510]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

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[Illustration: "The Doctor's old-fashioned house loomed gray-white
through the snow-fringed branches of the trees."]

When the Yule Log Burns
A Christmas Story

By Leona Dalrymple
Author of "Uncle Noah's Christmas Party," etc.




New York Robert M. McBride & Company 1916




Copyright, 1916, by Robert M. McBride & Co.

Published November, 1916




CONTENTS


PART I

IN WHICH WE LIGHT A YULE-LOG

CHAPTER

  I Kindlings

 II Wishing Sparks

III By the Fire

 IV Embers


PART II

IN WHICH WE LIGHT THE NEW LOG WITH THE EMBERS OF THE OLD

  I The Fire Again

 II It Blazes Higher

III The Log at Dawn

 IV The Log at Twilight




Part One

In Which We Light a Yule Log




When the Yule Log Burns




I

Kindlings


Polly, the Doctor's old white mare, plodded slowly along the snowy
country road by the picket fence, and turned in at the snow-capped
posts. Ahead, roofed with the ragged ermine of a newly-fallen snow, the
Doctor's old-fashioned house loomed gray-white through the snow-fringed
branches of the trees, a quaint iron lantern, which was picturesque by
day and luminous and cheerful by night, hanging within the square,
white-pillared portico at the side. That the many-paned, old-fashioned
window on the right framed the snow-white head of Aunt Ellen Leslie, the
Doctor's wife, the old Doctor himself was comfortably aware--for his
kindly eyes missed nothing.

He could have told you with a reflective stroke of his grizzled beard
that the snow had stopped but an hour since, and that now through the
white and heavy lacery of branches to the west glowed the flame-gold of
a winter sunset, glinting ruddily over the box-bordered brick walk, the
orchard and the comfortable barn which snugly housed his huddled cattle;
that the grasslands to the south were thickly blanketed in white; that
beyond in the evergreen forest the stately pines and cedars were
marvelously draped and coiffed in snow. For the old Doctor loved these
things of Nature as he loved the peace and quiet of his home.

So, as he turned in at the driveway and briskly resigned the care of
Polly to old Asher, his seamed and wrinkled helper, the Doctor's eyes
were roving now to a corner, snug beneath a tattered rug of snow, where
by summer Aunt Ellen's petunias and phlox and larkspur grew--and now to
the rose-bushes ridged in down, and at last to his favorite winter nook,
a thicket of black alders freighted with a wealth of berries. How
crimson they were amid the white quiet of the garden! And the brightly
colored fruit of the barberry flamed forth from a snowy bush like the
cheerful elf-lamps of a wood-gnome.

There was equal cheer and color in the old-fashioned sitting-room to
which the Doctor presently made his way, for a wood fire roared with a
winter gleam and crackle in the fireplace and Aunt Ellen Leslie rocked
slowly back and forth by the window with a letter in her hand.

"Another letter!" exclaimed the Doctor, warming his hands before the
blazing log. "God bless my soul, Ellen, we're becoming a nuisance to
Uncle Sam!" But for all the brisk cheeriness of his voice he was
furtively aware that Aunt Ellen's brown eyes were a little tearful, and
presently crossing the room to her side, he gently drew the crumpled
letter from her hand and read it.

"So John's not coming home for Christmas either, eh?" he said at last.
"Well, now, that _is_ too bad! Now, now, _now_, mother," as Aunt Ellen
surreptitiously wiped her glasses, "we should feel proud to have such
busy children. There's Ellen and Margaret and Anne with a horde of
youngsters to make a Christmas for, and John--bless your heart, Ellen,
_there's_ a busy man! A broker now is one of the very busiest of men!
And what with John's kiddies and his beautiful society wife and that
grand Christmas eve ball he mentions--why--" the Doctor cleared his
throat,--"why, dear me, it's not to be wondered at, say I! And Philip
and Howard--busy as--as--as architects and lawyers usually are at
Christmas," he finished lamely. "As for Ralph--" the Doctor looked
away--"well, Ralph hasn't spent a Christmas home since college days."

"It will be the first Christmas we ever spent without some of them
home," ventured Aunt Ellen, biting her lip courageously, whereupon the
old Doctor patted her shoulder gently with a cheery word of advice.

Now, there was something in the touch of the old Doctor's broad and
gentle hand that always soothed, wherefore Aunt Ellen presently wiped
her troublesome glasses again and bravely tried to smile, and the Doctor
making a vast and altogether cheerful to-do about turning the blazing
log, began a brisk description of his day. It had ended, professionally,
at a lonely little house in the heart of the forest, which Jarvis
Hildreth, dying but a scant year since, had bequeathed to his orphaned
children, Madge and Roger.

"And, Ellen," finished the Doctor, soberly, "there he sits by the
window, day by day, poor lame little lad!--staring away so wistfully at
the forest, and Madge, bless her brave young heart!--she bastes and
stitches and sews away, all the while weaving him wonderful yarns about
the pines and cedars to amuse him--all out of her pretty head, mind you!
A lame brother and a passion for books--" said the Doctor, shaking his
head, "a poor inheritance for the lass. They worry me a lot, Ellen, for
Madge looks thin and tired, and to-day--" the Doctor cleared his throat,
"I think she had been crying."

"Crying!" exclaimed Aunt Ellen, her kindly brown eyes warm with
sympathy. "Dear, dear!--And Christmas only three days off! Why, John,
dear, we must have them over here for Christmas. To be sure! And we'll
have a tree for little Roger and a Christmas masquerade and such a
wonderful Christmas altogether as he's never known before!" And Aunt
Ellen, with the all-embracing motherhood of her gentle heart aroused,
fell to planning a Christmas for Madge and Roger Hildreth that would
have gladdened the heart of the Christmas saint himself.

Face aglow, the old Doctor bent and patted his wife's wrinkled hand.

"Why, Ellen," he confessed, warmly, "it's the thing I most desired! Dear
me, it's a very strange thing indeed, my dear, how often we seem to
agree. I'll hitch old Billy to the sleigh and go straight after them now
while Annie's getting supper!" And at that instant one glance at Aunt
Ellen Leslie's fine old face, framed in the winter firelight which grew
brighter as the checkerboard window beside her slowly purpled, would
have revealed to the veriest tyro why the Doctor's patients liked best
to call her "Aunt" Ellen.

So, with a violent jingle of sleigh-bells, the Doctor presently shot
forth again into the white and quiet world, and as he went, gliding
swiftly past the ghostly spruces by the roadside, oddly enough, despite
his cheerful justification to Aunt Ellen, he was fiercely rebelling at
the defection of his children. John and his lovely wife might well have
foregone their fashionable ball. And Howard and Philip--their
holiday-keeping Metropolitan clubs were shallow artificialities surely
compared with a home-keeping reunion about the Yule log. As for the
children of Anne and Ellen and Margaret--well, the Doctor could just
tell those daughters of his that their precious youngsters liked a
country Christmas best--he _knew_ they did!--not the complex,
steam-heated hot-house off-shoot of that rugged flower of simpler times
when homes were further apart, but a country Christmas of keen, crisp
cold and merry sleigh-bells, of rosy cheeks and snow-balls, of skating
on the Deacon's pond and a jubilant hour after around the blazing
wood-fire: a Christmas, in short, such as the old Doctor himself knew
and loved, of simplicity and sympathy and home-keeping heartiness!

And then--there was Ralph--but here the Doctor's face grew very stern.
Wild tales came to him at times of this youngest and most gifted of his
children--tales of intemperate living interlarded with occasional tales
of brilliant surgical achievement on the staff of St. Michael's. For the
old Doctor had guided the steps of his youngest son to the paths of
medicine with a great hope, long abandoned.

Ah--well! The Doctor sighed, abruptly turning his thoughts to Madge and
Roger. They at least should know the heart-glow of a real Christmas! A
masquerade party of his neighbors Christmas eve, perhaps, such as Aunt
Ellen had suggested, and a Yule-log--but now it was, in the midst of his
Christmas plans, that a daring notion flashed temptingly through the
Doctor's head, was banished with a shrug and flashed again, whereupon
with his splendid capacity for prompt decision, the Doctor suddenly
wheeled old Billy about and went sleighing in considerable excitement
into the village whence a host of night-telegrams went singing over the
busy wires to startle eventually a slumbering conscience or so. And
presently when the Doctor drew up with a flourish before the lonely
little house among the forest pines, his earlier depression had
vanished.

So with a prodigious stamping of snow from his feet and a cheerful wave
of his mittened hand to the boy by the window, the Doctor bustled
cheerily indoors and with kindly eyes averted from the single tell-tale
sauce-pan upon the fire, over which Madge Hildreth had bent with sudden
color, fell to bustling about with a queer lump in his throat and
talking ambiguously of Aunt Ellen's Christmas orders, painfully
conscious that the girl's dark face had grown pitifully white and tense
and that Roger's wan little face was glowing. And when the fire was
damped by the Doctor himself, and his Christmas guests hustled into
dazed, protesting readiness, the Doctor deftly muffled the thin little
fellow in blankets and gently carried him out to the waiting sleigh with
arms that were splendid and sturdy and wonderfully reassuring.

"There, there, little man!" he said cheerfully, "we've not hurt the poor
lame leg once, I reckon. And now we'll just help Sister Madge blow out
the lamp and lock the door and be off to Aunt Ellen!"

But, strangely enough, the Doctor halted abruptly in the doorway and
turned his kindly eyes away to the shadowy pines. And Sister Madge, on
her knees by Roger's bed, sobbing and praying in an agony of relief,
presently blew out the lamp herself and wiped her eyes. For nights among
the whispering pines are sleepless and long when work is scarce and
Christmas hovers with cold, forbidding eyes over the restless couch of a
dear and crippled brother.




II

Wishing Sparks


Round the Doctor's house frolicked the brisk, cold wind of a Christmas
eve, boisterously rattling the luminous checkerboard windows and the
Christmas wreaths, tormenting the cheerful flame in the old iron lantern
and whisking away the snow from the shivering elms, whistling eerily
down the Doctor's chimney to startle a strange little cripple by the
Doctor's fire, who, queerly enough, would not be startled.

For to Roger there had never been a wind so Christmasy, or a fire so
bright and warm, and his solemn black eyes glowed! Never a wealth of
holly and barberry and alder-berries so crimson as that which rimmed the
snug old house in Christmas flame! Never such evergreen wreaths, for,
tucked up here in this very chair by Aunt Ellen, he had made them all
himself of boughs from the evergreen forest! And never surely such
enticing odors as had floated out for the last two days from old Annie's
pots and pans as she baked and roasted and boiled and stewed in endless
preparation for Christmas day and the Christmas eve party, scolding away
betimes in indignant whispers at old Asher, who, by reason of a
chuckling air of mystery, was in perpetual disgrace.

Wonderful days indeed for Roger, with Sister Madge's smooth, pale cheeks
catching the flaring scarlet of the holly, and Sister Madge's slim and
willing fingers so busy hanging boughs that she had forgotten to sigh;
with motherly Aunt Ellen so warmly intent upon Roger's comfort and plans
for the masquerade that many a mysterious and significant occurrence
slipped safely by her kindly eyes; and with the excited Doctor's busy
sleigh jingling so hysterically about on secret errands and his kindly
face so full of boyish mystery that Roger, with the key to all this
Christmas intrigue locked safely in his heart, had whispered a shy
little warning in the culprit's attentive ear.

And presently--Roger caught his breath and furtively eyed the
grandfather's clock, ticking boastfully through a welter of
holly--presently it would be time for the Doctor's masquerade, and
later, when the clock struck twelve and the guests unmasked, that great
surprise which the doctor had planned so carefully by telegram!

But now from the kitchen came the sound of the Doctor singing:

                   "Come bring with a noise,
                  My merry, merry boys,
                    The Christmas log to the firing!"

Roger clapped his thin little hands with a cry of delight, for old Asher
and the Doctor were bringing in the Yule-log to light it presently with
the charred remains of the Christmas log of a year ago. To-morrow
another Yule-log would crackle and blaze and shower on the hearth, for
the old Doctor molded a custom to suit his fancy. And here was Annie
splendidly aproned in white, following them in, and Aunt Ellen in a
wonderful old brown-gold brocade disinterred for the doctor's party from
a lavender-sweet cedar chest in the garret. And _Sister Madge_!--Roger
stared--radiant in old-fashioned crimson satin and holly, colorful foils
indeed for her night-black hair and eyes! As for the doctor himself,
Roger now began to realize that with his powdered wig, his satin
breeches and gaily-flowered waistcoat--to say nothing of silken hose and
silver buckles--he was by far the most gorgeous figure of them all!

"I," said the doctor presently, striking the burning Yule-log until the
golden sparks flew out, "I charge thee, log, to burn out old wrongs and
heart-burnings!" and then, in accordance with a cherished custom of his
father's he followed the words with a wish for the good of his
household.

"And I," said old Asher as he struck the log, "I wish for the good of
the horses and cows and all the other live things and," with a terrific
chuckle of mystery, "I wish for things aplenty _this_ night."

"And I," said old Annie, with a terrible look at her imprudent spouse as
she took the poker, "I wish for the harvest--and wit for them that lack
it!"

But Roger had the poker now, his black eyes starry.

"I--I wish for more kind hearts like Aunt Ellen's and the Doctor's," he
burst forth with a strangled sob as the sparks showered gold, "for
more--more sisters like Sister Madge--" his voice quivered and
broke--"and for--for all boys who cannot walk and run--" but Sister
Madge's arm was already around his shoulders and the old Doctor was
patting his arm--wherefore he smiled bravely up at them through
glistening tears.

"Now, now, now, little lad!" reminded the Doctor, "it's Christmas eve!"
Whereupon he drew a chair to the fire and began a wonderful Christmas
tale about St. Boniface and Thunder Oak and the first Christmas tree. A
wonderful old Doctor this--reflected Roger wonderingly. He knew so many
different things--how to scare away tears and all about mistletoe and
Druids, and still another story about a fir tree which Roger opined
respectfully was nothing like so good as Sister Madge's story of the
Cedar King who stood outside his window.

"Very likely not!" admitted the Doctor gravely.

"I've nothing like the respect for Mr. Hans Andersen myself that I have
for Sister Madge."

"I thought," ventured Roger shyly, slipping his hand suddenly into the
Doctor's, "that Doctors only knew how to cure folks!"

"Bless your heart, laddie," exclaimed the Doctor, considerably
staggered; "they know too little of that, I fear. My conscience!" as the
grandfather's clock came into the conversation with a throaty boom,
"it's half-past seven!" and from then on Roger noticed the Doctor was
uneasy, presently opining, with a prodigious "Hum!" that Aunt Ellen
looked mighty pale and tired and that he for one calculated a little
sleigh ride would brace her up for the party. This Aunt Ellen
immediately flouted and the Doctor was eventually forced to pathetic and
frequent reference to his own great need of air.

"Very well, my dear," said Aunt Ellen mildly, striving politely to
conceal her opinion of his mental health, "I'll go, since you feel so
strongly about it, but a sleigh ride in such a wind and such clothes
when one is expecting party guests--" but the relieved Doctor was
already bundling the brown-gold brocade into a fur-lined coat and
furtively winking at Roger! Thus it was that even as the Doctor's sleigh
flew merrily by the Deacon's pond, far across the snowy fields to the
north gleamed the lights of the 7:52 rushing noisily into the village.




III

By the Fire


How it was that the old Doctor somehow lost his way on roads he had
traveled since boyhood was a matter of exceeding mystery and annoyance
to Aunt Ellen, but lose it he did. By the time he found it and jogged
frantically back home, the old house was already aswarm with masked,
mysterious guests and old Asher with a lantern was peering excitedly up
the road. Holly-trimmed sleighs full of merry neighbors in disguise were
dashing gaily up--and in the midst of all the excitement the Doctor
miraculously discovered his own mask and Aunt Ellen's in the pocket of
his great-coat. So hospitable Aunt Ellen, considerably perturbed that so
many of her guests had arrived in her absence--an absence carefully
planned by the Doctor--betook herself to the masquerade, and the
Christmas party began with bandits and minstrels and jesters and all
sorts of queer folk flitting gaily about the house. They paid gallant
court to Roger in his great chair by the fire and presently began to
present for his approval an impromptu Mummer's play.

And now the lights were all out and a masked and courtly old gentleman
in satin breeches was standing in the bright firelight pouring brandy
into a giant bowl of raisins; and now he was gallantly bowing to Roger
himself who was plainly expected to assist with a lighted match. He did
this with trembling fingers and eyes so big and black and eloquent that
the Doctor cleared his throat; and as the leaping flames from the
snapdragon bowl flashed weirdly over the bizarre company in the shadows.
Roger, eagerly watching them snatch the raisins from the fire, fell to
trembling in an ecstasy of delight. Presently a slender arm in a crimson
sleeve, whose wearer was never very far from Roger's chair, slipped
quietly about his shoulders and held him very tight. So, an endless
round of merry Christmas games until, deep and mellow came at last the
majestic boom of the grandfather's clock striking twelve and with it a
hearty babel of Christmas greetings as the Doctor, smiling significantly
down into Roger's excited eyes, gave the signal to unmask.

By the fire a mysterious little knot of guests had been silently
gathering, and now as Aunt Ellen Leslie removed her mask, hand and mask
halted in mid-air as if fixed by the stare of Medusa, and the face above
the brown-gold brocade flamed crimson. For here in Puritan garb was John
Leslie, Jr., and his radiant wife--and Philip and Howard, smiling
Quakers, and Anne and Margaret and Ellen with a trio of husbands, and
beyond a laughing jester in cap and bells, whose dark, handsome face was
a little too reckless and tired about the eyes, Roger thought, for a
really happy Christmas guest--young Doctor Ralph.

As Aunt Ellen's startled eyes swept slowly from the smiling faces of her
children to the proud and chuckling Doctor who had spent Heaven knows
how many dollars in telegraphed commands--she laughed a little and cried
a little and then mingled the two so queerly that she needs must wipe
her eyes and catch at Roger's chair for support, whereupon a kindly
little hand slipped suddenly into hers and Roger looked up and smiled
serenely.

"Don't cry, Aunt Ellen!" he begged shyly. "I knew all about it too and
the Doctor--_he_ did it all!"

"And merry fits he gave us all by telegram, too, mother!" exclaimed
Philip with a grin.

"Moreover," broke in John, patting his mother's shoulder, "there are
eleven kids packed away upstairs like sardines--we hid 'em away while
dad and you were lost, and--" but here with a deafening racket the
stairs door burst wide open and with a swoop and a scream eleven
pajama-ed young bandits with starry eyes bore down upon Aunt Ellen and
the Doctor.

"Great Scott!" exclaimed John, thoroughly scandalized, "you disgraceful
kids! Which one of you stirred this up?" But the guilty face at the tail
of the romping procession was the face of old Asher.

Radiantly triumphant the old Doctor swung little John Leslie 3rd to his
shoulder and faced his laughing family and as old Annie appeared with a
steaming tray--he seized a mug of cider and held it high aloft.

"To the ruddy warmth of the Christmas log and the Christmas home
spirit--" he cried--"to the home-keeping hearts of the country-side!
Gentlemen--I give you--A Country home and a Country Christmas! May more
good folk come to know them!" And little John Leslie cried hoarsely--

"Hooray, grandpop, hooray for a Country Christmas!"

Carelessly alive to the merry spirit of the night, the jester presently
adjusted a flute which hung from his shoulder by a scarlet cord and
lazily piping a Christmas air, wandered to another room--to come
suddenly upon a forgotten playmate of his boyhood days.

"It--it can't be!" he reflected in startled interest. "It surely can't
be Madge Hildreth!"

But Madge Hildreth it surely was, spreading the satin folds of his
grandmother's crimson gown in mocking courtesy. Moreover it was not the
awkward, ragged elfish little gipsy who had tormented his debonair
boyhood with her shy ardent worship of himself and his daring exploits,
but instead a winsome vision of Christmas color and Christmas cheer,
holly-red of cheek, with flashes of scarlet holly in her night black
hair and eyes whose unfathomable dusk reflected no single hint of that
old, wild worship slumbering still in the girl's rebellious heart.

"And the symbolism of this stunning make-up?" queried Ralph after a
while, lazily admiring.

The girl's eyes flashed.

"To-night, if you please," she said, "I am the spirit of the
old-fashioned Christmas who dwells in the holly heart of the evergreen
wood. A _country_ Christmas, ruddy-cheeked and cheerful and rugged like
the winter holly--simple and old-fashioned and hallowed with memories
like this bright soft crimson gown!"

Well, she had been a queer, fanciful youngster too, Doctor Ralph
remembered, always passionately aquiver with a wild sylvan poetry and
over-fond of book-lore like her father. Mischievously glancing at a
spray of mistletoe above the girl's dark head, he stepped forward with
the careless gallantry that had won him many a kindly glance from pretty
eyes and was strangely to fail him now. For at the look in Madge's calm
eyes, he drew back, stammering.

"I--I beg your pardon!" said Doctor Ralph.

Later as he stood thoughtfully by his bedroom window, staring queerly at
the wind-beaten elms, he found himself repeating Madge Hildreth's words.
"Ruddy-cheeked and rugged and cheerful!"--indeed--this unforgettable
Christmas eve. Yes--she was right. Had he not often heard his father say
that the Christmas season epitomized all the rugged sympathy and
heartiness and health of the country year! To-night the blazing
Yule-log, his mother's face--how white her hair was growing, thought
Doctor Ralph with a sudden tightening of his throat--all of these
memories had strummed forgotten and finer chords. And darkly foiling the
homely brightness came the picture of rushing, overstrung, bundle-laden
city crowds, of shop-girls white and weary, of store-heaps of cedar and
holly sapped by electric glare. Rush and strain and worry--yes--and a
spirit of grudging! How unlike the Christmas peace of this white,
wind-world outside his window! So Doctor Ralph went to bed with a sigh
and a shrug--to listen while the sleety boughs tapping at his windows
roused ghostly phantoms of his boyhood. Falling asleep, he dreamt that
pretty Madge Hildreth had lightly waved a Christmas wand of crimson
above his head and dispelled his weariness and discontent.




IV

Embers


And in the morning--there was the royal glitter of a Christmas ice-storm
to bring boyhood memories crowding again, boughs sheathed in crystal
armor and the old barn roof aglaze with ice. Yes--Ralph thrilled--and
there were the Christmas bunches of oats on the fences and trees and the
roof of the barn--how well he remembered! For the old Doctor loved this
Christmas custom too and never forgot the Christmas birds. And
to-day--why of course--there would be double allowances of food for the
cattle and horses, for old Toby the cat and Rover the dog. Hadn't Ralph
once performed this cherished Christmas task himself!

But now, clamoring madly at his door was a romping swarm of youngsters
eager to show Uncle Ralph the Christmas tree which, though he had helped
to trim it the night before, he inspected in great surprise. And here in
his chair by another Yule-log he found Roger, staring wide-eyed at the
glittering tree with his thin little arms full of Christmas gifts. Near
him was Sister Madge whose black eyes, Ralph saw with approval, were
very soft and gentle, and beyond in the coffee-fragrant dining-room Aunt
Ellen and old Annie conspired together over a mammoth breakfast table
decked with holly.

"Oh, John, dear," Ralph heard his mother say as the Doctor came in,
"I've always said that Christmas is a mother's day. Wasn't the first
Christmas a mother's Christmas and the very first tree--a mother's
tree?" and then the Doctor's scandalized retort--"Now--now, now, see
here, Mother Ellen, it's a father's day, too, don't you forget that!"

And so on to the Christmas twilight through a day of romping youngsters
and blazing Yule-logs, of Christmas gifts and Christmas greetings--of a
haunting shame for Doctor Ralph at the memory of the wild Christmas he
had planned to spend with Griffin and Edwards.

With the coming of the broad shadows which lay among the stiff,
ice-fringed spruces like iris velvet, Doctor Ralph's nieces and nephews
went flying out to help old Asher feed the stock. By the quiet fire the
Doctor beckoned Ralph.

"Suppose, my boy," he said, "suppose you take a look at the little lad's
leg here. I've sometimes wondered what you would think of it."

Coloring a little at his father's deferential tone Ralph turned the
stocking back from the pitiful shrunken limb and bent over it, his dark
face keen and grave. And now with the surgeon uppermost, Roger fancied
Doctor Ralph's handsome eyes were nothing like so tired. Save for the
crackle of the fire and the tick of the great clock, there was silence
in the firelit room and presently Roger caught something in Doctor
Ralph's thoughtful face that made his heart leap wildly.

"An operation," said the young Doctor suddenly--and halted, meeting his
father's eyes significantly.

"You are sure!" insisted the old Doctor slowly. "In my day, it was
impossible--quite impossible."

"Times change," said the younger man. "I have performed such an
operation successfully myself. I feel confident, sir--" but Roger had
caught his hand now with a sob that echoed wildly through the quiet
room.

"Oh, Doctor Ralph," he blurted with blazing, agonized eyes, "you
don't--you can't mean, sir, that I'll walk and run like other
boys--and--and climb the Cedar King--" his voice broke in a passionate
fit of weeping.

"Yes," said Doctor Ralph, huskily, "I mean just that. Dad and I, little
man, we're going to do what we can."

By the window Sister Madge buried her face in her hands.

"Come, come, now Sister Madge," came the Doctor's kindly voice a little
later, "you've cried enough, lass. Roger is fretting about you and
Doctor Ralph here, he says he's going to take you for a little
sleigh-ride if you'll honor him by going."

Outside a Christmas moon rode high above a sparkling ice-bright world
and as the sleigh shot away into its quiet glory, Ralph, meeting the
dark, tear-bright eyes of Sister Madge, tucked the robes closer about
her with a hand that shook a little.

"'Gipsy' Hildreth!" he said suddenly, smiling, but the hated nickname
to-night was almost a caress. "Tell me," Ralph's voice was very
grave--"You've been sewing? Mother spoke of it."

"There was nothing else," said Sister Madge. "I could not leave Roger."

"And now Mother wants you to stay on with her. You--you'll do that?"

"She is very lonely," said Madge uncertainly and Ralph bit his lip.

"Mother lonely!" he said. "She didn't tell me that."

"Roger is wild to stay," went on Madge, looking away--"but I--oh--I fear
it is only their wonderful kindness. Still there's the Doctor's
rheumatism--and he does need some one to keep his books."

"Rheumatism!" said Ralph sharply.

"Yes," nodded Madge in surprise--"didn't you know. It's been pretty bad
this winter. He's been thinking some of breaking in young Doctor Price
to take part of his practise now and perhaps all of it later."

"Price!" broke out Ralph indignantly. "Oh--that's absurd! Price couldn't
possibly swing Dad's work. He's not clever enough."

"He's the only one there is," said Madge and Ralph fell silent.

All about them lay a glittering moonlit country of peaceful, firelit
homes and snowy hills--of long quiet roads and shadowy trees and
presently Ralph spoke again.

"You like all this," he said abruptly, "the quiet--the country--and all
of it?"

Sister Madge's black eyes glowed.

"After all," she said, "is it not the only way to live? This scent of
the pine, the long white road, the wild-fire of the winter sunset and
the wind and the hills--are they not God-made messages of mystery to
man? Life among man-made things--like your cities--seems somehow to
exaggerate the importance of man the maker. Life among the God-made
hills dwarfs that artificial sense of egotism. It teaches you to marvel
at the mystery of Creation. Yesterday when the Doctor and I were
gathering the Christmas boughs, the holly glade in the forest seemed
like some ancient mystic Christmas temple of the Druids where one might
tell his rosary in crimson holly beads and forget the world!"

Well--perhaps there was something fine and sweet and holy in the country
something--a tranquil simplicity--a hearty ruggedness--that city
dwellers forfeited in their head-long rush for man-made pleasure. After
all, perhaps the most enduring happiness lay in the heart of these quiet
hills.

"My chief is very keen on country life," said Ralph suddenly. "He
preaches a lot. Development of home-spirit and old-fashioned household
gods--that sort of thing! He's a queerish sort of chap--my chief--and
a bit too--er--candid at times. He was dad's old classmate, you know."
And Ralph fell silent again, frowning.

So Price was to take his father's practise! How it must gall the old
Doctor! And mother was lonely, eh?--and Dad's rheumatism getting the
best of him--Why Great Guns! mother and dad were growing _old_! And some
of those snow-white hairs of theirs had come from worrying over
him--John had said so. Ralph's dark face burned in the chill night wind.
Well, for all old John's cutting sarcasm, his father still had faith in
him and the trust in young Roger's eloquent eyes had fairly hurt him.
God! they did not know! And then this queer Christmas heart-glow. How
Griffin and Edwards and the rest of his gay friends would mock him for
it? _Friends!_ After all--had he any friends in the finer sense of that
finest of words? Such warm-hearted loyal friends for instance as these
neighbors of his father's who had been dropping in all day with a hearty
smile and a Christmas hand-shake. And black-eyed Sister Madge--this
brave, little fighting gipsy-poet here--where--But here Ralph frowned
again and looked away and even when the cheerful lights of home
glimmered through the trees he was still thinking--after an impetuous
burst of confidence to Sister Madge.

So, later, when Doctor Ralph entered his father's study--his chin was
very determined.

"I was ashamed to tell you this morning, sir," he said steadily, "but
I--I'm no longer on the staff of St. Michael's. My hand was shaking
and--and the chief knew why. And, dad," he faced the old Doctor
squarely, "I'm coming back home to keep your practise out of Price's
fool hands. You've always wanted that and my chief has preached it too,
though I couldn't see it somehow until to-day. And presently, sir,
when--when my hand is steadier, I'm going to make the little chap walk
and run. I've--promised Sister Madge." And the old Doctor cleared his
throat and gulped--and finally he wiped his glasses and walked away to
the window. For of all things God could give him--this surely was the
best!

"Oh, grandpop," cried little John Leslie 3rd, bolting into the study in
great excitement--"Come see Roger! We kids have made him the Christmas
king and he's got a crown o' holly on and--and a wand and he's a-tappin'
us this way with it to make us Knights. And I'm the Fir-tree Knight--and
Bob--he's a Cedar Knight and Ned's a spruce and Roger--he says his
pretty sister tells him stories like that smarter'n any in the books.
Oh--do hurry!"

The old Doctor held out his hand to his son.

"Well, Doctor Ralph," he said huskily, "suppose we go tell mother."

So while the Doctor told Aunt Ellen, Ralph bent his knee to this excited
Christmas King enthroned in the heart of the fire-shadows.

"Rise--" said Roger radiantly, tapping him with a cedar wand, "I--I dub
thee first of all my knights--the good, kind Christmas Knight!"

"And here," said Ralph, smiling, "here's Sister Madge. What grand title
now shall we give to her?" But as Sister Madge knelt before him with
firelit shadows dancing in her sweet, dark eyes, Roger dropped the wand
and buried his face on her shoulder with a little sob.

"Nothing good enough for Sister Madge, eh?" broke in the old Doctor,
looking up. "Well, sir, I think you're right."

Now in the silence Aunt Ellen spoke and her words were like a gentle
Christmas benediction.

"'Unto us,'" said Aunt Ellen Leslie as she turned the Christmas log,
"'this night a son is given!'"

But Ralph, by the window, had not heard. For wakening again in his heart
as he stared at the peaceful, moonlit, "God-made" hills--was the old
forgotten boyish love for this rugged, simple life of his father's
dwarfing the lure of the city and the mockery of his fashionable
friends. And down the lane of years ahead, bright with homely happiness
and service to the needs of others--was the dark and winsome face of
Sister Madge, stirring him to ardent resolution.




Part Two

In Which We Light the New Log with the Embers of the Old




I

The Fire Again


"Doctor!" said little Roger slyly, "you got your chin stuck out!"

The Doctor stroked his grizzled beard in hasty apology.

"God bless my soul," he admitted guiltily. "I do believe I have. You've
been so quiet," he added accusingly, "curled up there by the fire that I
must certainly have gotten lonesome. And I most always stick out my chin
that way when I'm lonesome."

Roger, by way of reparation, betook himself to the arm of the Doctor's
chair.

The Doctor's arm closed tight around him. A year ago this little adopted
son of his had been very lame. It was the first Christmas in his life,
indeed, that he had walked.

"Out there," said the Doctor, "the winter twilight's been fighting the
alder berries with purple spears. It's conquered everything in the
garden and covered it up with misty velvet save the snow and the
berries. But the twilight's using heavier spears now and likely it'll
win. _I_ want the alder berries to win out, drat it! Their blaze is so
bright and cheerful."

Roger accepted the challenge to argument with enthusiasm.

"_I_ want the twilight to win," he said.

The Doctor looked slightly scandalized.

"Oh, my, my, my, my!" he said. "I can't for the life of me understand
any such gloomy preference as that. Bless me, if I can."

"Why," crowed Roger jubilantly, "_I_ can, 'cause the more twilighty it
gets, the more it's Christmas eve!"

The Doctor regarded his small friend with admiration.

"By George," he admitted, "I do believe you have me there--" but the
Doctor's kindly eyes did not fire to the name of Christmas as Roger
thought they ought.

"Almost," he said, "I thought you were going to stick out your chin
again. And you're not lonesome now 'cause I'm here an' pretty noisy."

"Hum!" said the Doctor.

"Man to man, now!" urged Roger suddenly.

This was the accepted key to a confessional ceremony which required much
politeness and ruthless honesty.

"Well, Mr. Hildreth," began the Doctor formally.

Roger's face fell.

"I'm your adopted son," he hinted, "and you said that made my name same
as yours."

"Mr. Leslie!" corrected the Doctor, and Roger glowed.

"Well, Mr. Leslie," went on the Doctor thoughtfully, "I'm chuck full of
grievances. There's the rheumatism in my leg, for instance. That's no
sort of thing to have at Christmas."

"But that's better," said Roger. "You said so this morning. I 'spect you
been thinkin' too much about it like you said I did when my leg was
stiff."

"Ahem! And I did hope somebody would come home for Christmas. I like a
house full of romping youngsters--"

Roger pointed an accusing finger.

"Aunt Ellen says every blessed one of your children, an' your
grand-children too, begged and begged you to come to the city for
Christmas an'--an' you wouldn't go 'cause you're old-fashioned and like
a country Christmas so much better--an'--an' because you'd promised to
teach me to skate on the Deacon's pond an' take me sleighin'."

"Dear me," said the Doctor helplessly, "for such a mite of a kiddy, you
do seem remarkably well informed."

"Man to man," reminded Roger inexorably and the Doctor aired his final
grievance.

"And then there's that youngest son of mine--"

"Doctor Ralph?"

"Doctor Ralph! What right had he, I'd like to know, to marry that pretty
sister of yours and go off honeymooning holiday time. Didn't he know
that we needed him and Sister Madge here for Christmas? I miss 'em both.
Young pirate!"

Roger's heart swelled with loyalty. It was Doctor Ralph's skilful hand
that had helped him walk.

"Most likely," he said fairly, "I'm a little to blame there. After I
came home from the hospital, I did tell Sister Madge to marry him--"

"Most likely," acknowledged the Doctor, "I said something similar to
Doctor Ralph. I can't have you shouldering all the responsibility. Well,
your Honor, there's the Christmas evidence. What's the verdict?"

Roger considered. This man to man game had certain phraseological
conclusions.

"No case!" he said suddenly, nor would he alter his decision when the
Doctor protested against its severity.

"You had so awful many peoply sort of places to go," pointed out Roger,
and the Doctor laughed.

"And let you spend this first Christmas on your two legs in a _city_?"
he demanded. "Well, I guess not! No-sir-ee-bob! There!--the alder
berries have faded out and the garden's thick with twilight."

"And it's Christmas eve!" cried Roger, his black eyes shining with
delight.

"Speaking of Christmas," said the Doctor, sniffing luxuriously, "I feel
that I ought to slip out to the kitchen for a minute or so. I do smell
something tremendously Christmasy and spicy--"

Roger caught his breath. With a Christmas intrigue as surely in the air
as the smell of spice, here was dangerous ground.

"Aunt Ellen," he faltered, "Aunt Ellen said she couldn't pos'bly be
bothered with--with any men folks in the kitchen--not even me."

"Pooh!" rebelled the Doctor largely, "that's merely a ruse of hers to
protect the cookies. And what I'd like to know is just this--what's Aunt
Ellen doing in the kitchen anyway? Certainly old Annie's able to do the
Christmas fussing for three people. Aunt Ellen ought to be in here with
us. That was part of my lonesome grievance but I forgot to mention it."

Roger, shivering apprehensively, visioned suspicious stores of Christmas
delicacies--holly and evergreen--and a supper table set for _ten_! And
off somewhere among those purple spears of twilight old Asher, the hired
man, was waiting at the station with the big farm sleigh.

He must keep his eye upon the Doctor until six o'clock, and lure him
away from the window.

"Tell me a story," begged Roger--"over here by the fire." And his voice
was so very tremulous and urgent that the hungry Doctor abandoned his
notion of a Christmas cookie, and complied.

To Roger, in a nervous ecstasy of anticipation, the story was a blurred
hodge-podge of phrases and crackling fire, distant noises of clinking
china and hurrying feet, and wild flights of imagination.... Old Asher
must be coming past the red barn now ... and now down the hill ... and
now past the Deacon's pond ... and now--

Sleigh-bells fairly leaped out of the quiet, and Roger jumped and
gulped, aquiver with excitement. The Doctor regarded him with mild
disfavor.

"Bless my soul," he said in surprise, "that was the quietest part of my
story. You're restless."

"Go on!" said Roger hoarsely, and the obliging Doctor, mistaking his
agitation for interest, went on with his tale.

But Roger had heard old Asher driving along by the picket fence and
turning in at the gate-posts, and the story was no more to him than the
noisy crackle of the log. Off somewhere in the region of the kitchen
door he detected a subdued scuffle of many feet.

The grandfather's clock struck six.... Roger's cheeks were blazing--the
fire and the Doctor still duetting.... Why, oh, why didn't somebody
come and call them to supper?... There had been plenty of time now for
everything. Why--

The door swung back and Roger jumped. Old Annie, Asher's wife, stood in
the doorway, her wrinkled face inscrutable.

"Supper, sir!" she said and vanished. Hand in hand, the Doctor and Roger
went out to supper.

The dining-room door was closed. That in itself was unusual. But the
unsuspecting Doctor pushed through with Roger at his heels, only to halt
and stare dumfounded over his spectacles while Roger screamed and danced
and clapped his hands. For to the startled eyes of Doctor John Leslie,
the snug, old-fashioned room was alive with boys and holly--boys and
boys and boys upon boys, he would have told you in that first instant of
delighted consternation, in different stages of embarrassment and rags.
And one had but to glance at the faces of old Asher and Annie in the
kitchen doorway, at Aunt Ellen, hovering near her Christmas brood with
the look of all mothers in her kind, brown eyes, and then at Roger,
scarlet with enthusiasm, to know that the Doctor had been the victim of
benevolent conspiracy.

"It's a s'prise!" shrieked Roger, "a Christmasy s'prise! Aunt Ellen she
says you're so awful keen on s'prisin' other folks that we'd show
you--an'--an' you'll have a bang-up Christmas with kids like you love
an' so will I, an' so will they an' the minister he went to the city
and found seven boys crazy for Christmas in the country an'--"

"Roger! Roger!" came Aunt Ellen's gentle voice--"do please take a
breath, child. You're turning purple."

The Doctor adjusted his glasses.

"Seven boys!" he said. "Bless my soul, when I opened that door I saw
seventy boys!" He counted them aloud--then for no reason at all save
that he had glanced into seven eager faces, thinner and sharper than he
liked, for all they glowed with excitement and furtive interest in the
long supper table asparkle with lights and holly, he wiped his glasses
and patted Roger on the back.

"Is your leg botherin' so much now, daddy Doctor?" demanded Roger.

"Nothing like so much," admitted the Doctor.

"Are you lonesome 'nuff now to stick out your chin?"

"Bless your heart, Roger," admitted the Doctor huskily, "I'm so full of
Christmas I can hardly breathe!"

"Hooray!" said Roger. "Me, too."




II

It Blazes Higher


It was well that the Doctor had a way with boys, for there was a problem
to be solved here with infinite tact--a problem of protuberant eyes and
paralyzing self-consciousness, of unnatural silences and then unexpected
attempts at speech that died in painful rasps and gurgles, of stubbing
toes and nudging elbows, of a centipedal supply of arms and legs that
interfered with abortive and conscience-stricken attempts at courtesy,
and above all an interest in the weave of the carpet that was at once a
mania and an epidemic--but by the time supper was well under way,
things, in the language of Roger, had begun to hum, and by the time the
Doctor had mastered the identities of his guests, from Jim, the shy,
sullen boy who would not meet his eyes, to Mike's little brother, Muggs,
who consumed prodigious quantities of everything in staring silence, and
looked something like a girl save for a tardily-cast-off suit of Mike's,
somewhat oceanic in flow and fit, the hum had become celebrative and
distinctly a thing of Christmas.

Constraint in the mellowing halo of a Christmas eve supper where holly
and a Yule-log blazed and the winter wind frostily rattled the
checker-paned windows of the sitting-room in jealous spleen, fled to
join the Doctor's rheumatism.

By the time the grandfather's clock struck seven through a haze of
holly, the Doctor had pokered the Yule-log into a frenzied shower of
gold; apples and nuts were steadily disappearing from a basket by the
Doctor's chair and the Doctor himself was relating an original Christmas
tale of adventure, born of uncommon inspiration and excitement, to a
huddled group with circular eyes and contented stomachs. But
Muggs--inimitable workman--his small face partially obscured by the
biggest apple in the basket, had not yet spoken, and Jim, the shy,
sullen little boy to whom Roger had taken a fancy because he was lame,
had met the Doctor's eyes but once, and then with a rush of color.

Now, whether it was the scheming excitement of a busy day or the warmth
of a busy log or the rambling yarn of a busy Doctor, who may say?
Certainly Roger fell asleep at a fictional crisis and remained asleep
for all that Jim furtively nudged him.

"There!" said the Doctor as the clock struck eight, "that's all. To bath
and beds, every one of you! Annie's had a lamp on the kitchen table this
half hour ready to light you up the stairs. My! My! My!--but there's a
busy day ahead. Roger! Well, of all ungrateful listeners! Roger!"

But in the end, the Doctor carried Roger up to bed, preceded by Annie
with the lamp. And while Annie was turning back quilts and smoothing
pillows and fumbling at windows, with the freedom of long service she
soundly berated the Doctor for postponing the bed-time hour with his
Christmas twaddle.

"And Mister Muggs there," she said severely, "has had one apple too
many, I'm thinkin', and the last one as big as his head. He'll need a
pill before morning. The child's packed himself that hard and round ye
fear to touch him." And then because Muggs was such a very little boy
Annie was minded to assist with his bath, and laid kindly hands upon an
indefinite outer garment which began immediately beneath his arm-pits
and ended at his shoe-tops in singular fringe.

"An', ma'am," she explained to Aunt Ellen a little later, "I had to let
him go in to his bath by himself. No more had I touched his
bushel-basket of rags--an' they were hitched over his shoulders with
school straps and somebody's shirtwaist underneath--than he let out a
terrific shriek (ye must have heard him) an' all the boys come runnin'
and crowdin' round him and starin' so frightened at me, an' his brother
yelled at him to keep quiet or something or somebody'd get him, and he
kept quiet that sudden I could fairly see the child swell. He's
unnatural still and unnatural full, ma'am, an' the Doctor better leave
his pills handy."

Bathed and freshly night-gowned, the Doctor's guests tumbled, a little
noisily into bed. Only Jim lay silent and wakeful. Once he nudged his
bed-fellow.

"Luke," he whispered, "d'ye think I'd orta tell 'em?"

"Aw," said Luke sleepily, "dry up, Jim! Gosh, ain't the bed soft!"

Jim sighed.

Christmas came to the old farmhouse with the distant echo of village
bells at midnight but, long before that, Christmas, in a fur cap and
great-coat had swept up the driveway with a jingle of sleigh-bells,
behind old Polly, the Doctor's mare, his sleigh packed high with
bundles. By the light of a late moon, flinging festal silver on the
snow, it might be seen that Christmas resembled a somewhat guilty
looking old gentleman with a grizzled beard.

"I'll catch old Scratch!" he admitted, suddenly overcome by the bulbous
appearance of the sleigh, "but Ellen may say what she will. She
_couldn't_ have thought of everything!"

No call for pills came that night from Muggs, asleep in a crib that had
seen much service. He was awake however long before daylight, trembling
with excitement.

"Mike, oh Mike!" he called hoarsely. "Wake up. It's Christmas mornin'."

Mike, in a big bed with Marty Fay, sat up.

"Don't you _dare_ open your mouth to-day!" he cried in blood-thirsty
accents, "or Mom Murphy'll git ye surer'n scat. Ain't I schemed enuff to
git ye here? Huh? Wanta be sent home--huh?" Muggs ducked beneath the
blankets with a shivering wail.




III

The Log at Dawn


In the still, cold corridors of a farmhouse, with frost-jungles clouding
every window pane and a zero-dark outside, the cry of "Merry Christmas!"
is most at home. Let noses be ever so cold and blanketed bodies ever so
warm, the cry fills the dawn with electric energy. The Doctor began it.
He knew by the instant response that he had started something that he
could not stop. Almost in no time, it seemed, Roger was leading a wild,
bare-footed scamper down the stairs--for Roger _knew_--and the Doctor,
hastily bath-robed and slippered, was on behind with a lamp. But here
was no cyclonic invasion of a dark, cold sitting-room. Old Annie and
Asher knew boys! A log blazed brightly in the fireplace and the lamp was
lit. If the room was over-warm, it proved simply that Annie had seen
boys of another generation rushing down of a Christmas morning, scantily
clad.

And the King of Christmas trees blazed in candle-glory from wall to
wall, tinselled boughs sagging with the weight of its Christmas
freight. It could not have been bigger--it could not have glittered
more. It had as many arms as an Octopus and its shaggy evergreen head,
starred gorgeously with iridescence, brushed the old-fashioned paper on
the ceiling. A great, lovable Christmas giant guarding a cargo of
Christmas gifts!

Muggs emitted one blood-curdling shriek of delight, clapped his hand
over his mouth and began to swell about the cheeks. Then he stepped on
the hem of his night-gown and fell sprawling at Annie's feet.

"Dear me," said Annie vexedly, though she righted him with kindly hands,
"I can't for the life of me make out what ails that child. He acts so
mortal queer at times, an' he's ready to swell up over nothing at all."

With the advent of Aunt Ellen, Christmas packages began to lose twine
and paper, and what the packages lost the sitting-room speedily gained
in disorder. For here were warm suits and overcoats, shoes and stockings
and sweaters and caps, skates and horns and whistles and drums,
home-made pop-corn and candy, oranges--ah! well, sensible gifts in
plenty, and foolish gifts that were wiser than Solomon for they included
a boy's heart as well as his body.

In a lull all eyes turned to Muggs. His pockets were crammed with
pop-corn and candy. One arm was quite as full of toys as he could pack
it--the other had begun the day's conveyance of food from hand to mouth,
but he was regarding a very small, warm suit of clothes and substantial
boots with dangerously quivering lips. Nor could one misinterpret his
disapproval. For a moment the startled Doctor fancied he heard Mike hiss
the astonishing words "Mom Murphy!" but by the time he had wheeled
about, Muggs, with circular eyes of terror, had begun to swell.

"That child," said Annie, "has something on his mind. Don't tell me! I
know it."

The inevitable blare of racket came all too soon. Horns and whistles and
drums united in a deafening blast, and if thanks did not come easily to
the lips of boys, noise did. Nor could Muggs at any time thereafter be
separated from a shoulder drum upon which he had beaten with insane and
single-minded concentration even after the din was past and a hungry
hint of breakfast in the air. Lacking one outlet of expression he had
seized upon another. He drummed his way fiercely upstairs, to dress, and
he drummed his way down to breakfast, a ridiculous self-consciousness in
his small face whenever he glanced at his new suit of clothes. Small as
it was it engulfed him utterly.

"Jim!" said the Doctor suddenly. "You're not limping!"

Jim hung his head and glanced at his shining new shoes.

"No, sir!" he said and gulped.

"Bless me," said the Doctor, adjusting his spectacles, "I thought you
were lame and if I hadn't forgotten it last night you'd have had no
skates this morning."

"I didn't have no heel on one shoe," blurted Jim in confusion, and
Roger, in relief, hoorayed himself into hoarseness.

But Jim, like Muggs, was something of a mystery, and after a time the
Doctor, with a sigh, abandoned his effort to break through the boy's
sullen shyness. Still Jim was the first at the chopping block when Annie
wanted wood, and when the task took on something of the charm of Tom
Sawyer's fence by reason of a winter wren, so tame from overfeeding that
he perched himself now and then upon the handle of the ax, Jim fell back
with resentment and resigned the ax to Marty Fay who spat upon his
hands, doubled up his fists, sparred, in an excess of good spirits, with
an invisible antagonist, and thereafter made the chips fly so fast that
the little wren departed.

Already there were great Christmas bunches of oats upon glistening trees
and fences, but, while Asher was carrying double portions of food to
cattle and horses, to Toby, the cat, and Rover, the dog, the Doctor went
about, with an eager pack of boys at his heels, distributing further
Christmas largess for his feathered friends--suet and crumbs and seed.
For there were chickadees in the clump of red cedars by the barn, and
juncos and nuthatches, white-throated sparrows and winter wrens, all so
frank in their overtures to the Doctor that the boys with one accord
closed threateningly around Muggs to keep him from drumming the birds
into flight. Jim fastened a great chunk of suet to a tree-trunk and very
soon a red-breasted nuthatch was busy with his Christmas breakfast.
Altogether Roger's bang-up Christmas began with terrific bustle, with
Annie, from whose kitchen already floated odors that set the insatiable
Muggs to sniffing, by far the busiest of them all.

The grandfather's clock struck ten. It found the old farmhouse deserted
save for Annie in the kitchen and Aunt Ellen in her rocking chair by the
sitting-room window. The Doctor was guiding his guests to the Deacon's
pond.

New skates, new sweaters, and a pond as smooth as glass! What wonder
then that Roger's trembling fingers bungled his straps, and Jim,
kneeling, fastened them on with nimble fingers.

"Ain't ye never skated?"

"No--I--I been lame. Oh, hurry, Jim! See, Mike's flyin' down the pond
like wind!"

Jim's eyes softened.

"I'll teach ye," he said.

As for the Doctor he had disinterred an ancient pair of skates from the
attic, and presently he began to perform pedal convolutions of such
startling design and eccentricity that the boys gathered about him and
cheered until, seating himself unexpectedly in the center of a
particularly wide and airy flourish, he flatly told the boys to run
about their business.

Now Muggs, though he carried upon his shoulder a ridiculous pair of
elfin skates, was much too small a boy, his brother thought, to embark
upon the ice, wherefore he stood like a sentinel upon the shore and
drummed and ate incessantly, until an orange catapulted from an
overcrowded pocket, when he pursued it with a roar.

The peal of the village town-clock striking twelve came all too soon,
but homing was no task with a turkey at the end. Muggs, still wrapped in
mysterious silence, knew the very spot where Christmas odors began to
permeate the frosty air and redoubled the speed in his drumming arm, but
when after a vigorous scrubbing his glistening eye fell upon the
holly-bright table and an enormous turkey by the Doctor's plate, only a
frosty menace in Mike's eye, it seemed, restrained another
blood-curdling shriek of delight. There was paralyzing apology in his
eyes as Mike's lips formed the soundless threat--"Mom Murphy!"

"He's holdin' himself in," said Annie, "Mister Muggs, give me the drum!
Ye'll not crowd into the chair with that upon your shoulder!"

It seemed that Mister Muggs would. He began to swell. He began to drum.
He carried his point and crammed himself and his drum into his chair at
the table. He did not speak. Neither, from that time on, did he permit
any lapse in his industry. What Muggs did, from drum to drum-sticks, he
did well.

Muggs ate turkey and mashed turnips. Muggs ate potatoes, cranberry
sauce, boiled onions, and quite a little celery. He glinted ahead at a
pie on the sideboard, seemed to make hurried structural calculations,
and pushed his plate again toward the turkey. Aunt Ellen looked at the
Doctor and the Doctor looked at Muggs.

"If the child eats any more," said Annie bluntly from the kitchen door,
"he must have a pill. 'Tis enough for him to drum away the peace of the
Christmas day without stuffin' himself that hard and round ye fear for
his buttons. An' to my mind, if he'd talk more and eat less, he'd not be
in such danger o' burstin'."

Mike looked slightly agitated.

"Muggs," said the Doctor firmly, "it comes to this. More turkey--one
pill. No turkey--no pill."

Muggs exhibited a capacity for instant decision. With stubby forefinger
rigid, he shoved his plate a little closer to the turkey.




IV

The Log at Twilight


There was a straw-ride in the farm sleigh after dinner, a story or two
by the Yule log when the twilight closed in and Annie had lit the
Christmas candles on the tree, and then as the boys were romping in a
game of Roger's the Doctor slipped away to his study for a quiet hour
with a book. His lamp was barely lighted and the book upon his knee when
the door opened and Jim stood before him, his face so white and strained
that the Doctor laid aside his book, thinking instantly, of course, that
here again was too much turkey.

Jim hung his head, one toe burrowing in the carpet.

"Doctor John!" he burst forth hoarsely.

"Yes?"

Jim gulped.

"I--I been in _jail_!"

The Doctor looked once at Jim's face, quivering in an agony of shame,
and hastily wiped his glasses. In the quiet came the laughter of romping
boys.

"Why," said the Doctor very gently, "did you tell me?"

Something in the kindly voice opened the flood-gates of a boy's sore
heart. Jim's mouth quivered piteously, then he broke down and hid his
face behind his elbow, sobbing wildly.

"I wanta be square," he cried passionately, "I wanta be square like
you've been to us, an'--an Luke said ye might not want a jail-bird here
for Christmas. I--stole--coal--for mom--"

It was the old tale, one boy caught, paying for the petty thievery of
the score who ran away. The Doctor heard the mumbled tale to the end and
cleared his throat.

"And so," he said slowly, "you wanted to be square. That's the finest
thing I've heard this Christmas day. Wanted to be square. Well, well!"
His hand was on Jim's shoulder now. "Jim, I wonder if you could come
back to me next Christmas and tell me you'd been absolutely straight--"

"Here!" said Jim in a choking whisper, his eyes blazing through his
tears, "again--for _Christmas_!"

Somewhere on a snowy page a Christmas angel wrote: "One boy saved by the
spirit of a country Christmas!"

"Here," repeated the Doctor, "again--for Christmas." He opened the
door. "Run along, now, Jim," he said kindly, "or the boys will miss
you."

Jim's final words were very queer.

"Doctor John," he blurted, "I--I'm a goin' to send poor little Muggs."

The Doctor was devoutly hoping that Muggs had never been in jail for
stealing food or drums, when Muggs himself appeared clinging desperately
to the hand of Mike. He seemed on the verge of a lachrymose explosion.

Mike's face was very red but it was also very hopeful.

"Jim said to tell ye," he mumbled. "She ain't never had no Christmas an'
the minister he said the order was all boys an'--an' she cried, so Mom
said bring her anyway in my ol' suit--you'd never know,
an'--an'--an'--Oh, my gosh!" finished Mike tragically, "Muggs is a girl.
Her--her name's C-c-c-c-clara!"

The Doctor jumped. So did Muggs. The lachrymose explosion came and the
drum slipped down from the shoulder of Muggs with a clatter.

"Don't wanta go home!" came the heartbroken wail, "don't wanta go home.
Mom Murphy'll git me."

"I--I tol' her," explained Mike uncomfortably, "that she mustn't open
her mouth once--jus' act deaf an' dumb or you'd guess maybe an' send
her home an' Mom Murphy'd git her. An'--an'--she must take a drum like a
boy--"

Literal Muggs! Heaven alone knew by what other blood-thirsty threats
than Mom Murphy Mike had encompassed the stony silence and frenzied
drumming of the little sister who had never had a Christmas.

"But why," burst forth the despairing Doctor. "In heaven's
name--why--Muggs?"

"She makes such awful faces," said Mike apologetically. "Mom don't know
what makes her that way." And then as Muggs was at the climax of one of
the spasms that had won her her name, the Doctor suddenly lifted her in
gentle arms and tossed her to the ceiling.

"Poor, poor little kiddy!" he said huskily. "What a price she's paid for
her Christmas."

But Muggs had forgotten the price. Though it had been a hard day the
Doctor's eyes were kind and twinkly. Muggs buried her flushed and
tearful little face on his shoulder with a sigh of content. He saw now
that one knot of ribbon on the tousled, sunny curls would have told the
story, then he glanced at the bagging suit and opened the door. Muggs
went forth upon the Doctor's shoulder.

"Asher," cried the Doctor, "hitch old Polly to the sleigh and telephone
Sam Remsen that he can oblige me for once and open his store."

"Ye--ye ain't goin' to send her home, are ye?" faltered Mike.

"I'm going," cried the Doctor, "to buy Clara Muggs a dress and a doll.
It's her night."

The boys cheered.







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