Then Nicolas, moderating his speed, looked about him; before, behind, and on each side of him stretched the fairy scene; a plain strewn with stars and flooded with light.
"To the left, Zakhare says. Why to the left?" thought he. "We were going to the Melukows'. But we are going where fate directs or as Heaven may guide us. It is all very strange and most delightful, is it not?" he said, turning to the others.
"Oh! look at his eyelashes and beard; they are quite white!" exclaimed one of the sweet young men, with pencilled mustache and arched eyebrows.
"That I believe is Natacha?" said Nicolas. "And that little Circassian—who is he? I do not know him, but I like his looks uncommonly! Are you not frozen?" Their answer was a shout of laughter.
Dimmler was talking himself hoarse, and he must be saying very funny things, for the party in his sleigh were in fits of laughing.
"Better and better," said Nicolas to himself; "now we are in an enchanted forest—the black shadows lie across a flooring of diamonds and mix with the sparkling of gems. That might be a fairy palace, out there, built of large blocks of marble and jewelled tiles? Did I not hear the howl of wild beasts in the distance? Supposing it were only Melukovka that I am coming to after all! On my word, it would be no less miraculous to have reached port after steering so completely at random!"
It was, in fact, Melukovka, for he could see the house servants coming out on the balcony with lights, and then down to meet them, only too glad of this unexpected diversion.
"Who is there?" a voice asked within.
"The mummers from Count Rostow's; they are his teams," replied the servants.
* * * * *
Pelagueia Danilovna Melukow, a stout and commanding personality, in spectacles and a flowing dressing-gown, was sitting in her drawing-room surrounded by her children, whom she was doing her best to amuse by modelling heads in wax and tracing the shadows they cast on the wall, when steps and voices were heard in the ante-room. Hussars, witches, clowns, and bears were rubbing their faces, which were scorched by the cold and covered with rime, or shaking the snow off their clothes. As soon as they had cast off their furs they rushed into the large drawing-room, which was hastily lighted up. Dimmler, the clown, and Nicolas, the marquise, performed a dance, while the others stood close along the wall, the children shouting and jumping about them with glee.
"It is impossible to know who is who—can that really be Natacha? Look at her; does not she remind you of some one? Edward, before Karlovitch, how fine you are! and how beautifully you dance! Oh! and that splendid Circassian—why, it is Sonia! What a kind and delightful surprise; we were so desperately dull. Ha, ha! what a beautiful hussar! A real hussar, or a real monkey of a boy—which is he, I wonder? I cannot look at you without laughing." They all shouted and laughed and talked at once, at the top of their voices.
Natacha, to whom the Melukows were devoted, soon vanished with them to their own room, where corks and various articles of men's clothing were brought to them, and clutched by bare arms through a half-open door. Ten minutes later all the young people of the house rejoined the company, equally unrecognizable. Pelagueia Danilovna, going and coming among them all, with her spectacles on her nose and a quiet smile, had seats arranged and a supper laid out for the visitors, masters and servants alike. She looked straight in the face of each in turn, recognizing no one of the motley crew—neither the Rostows, nor Dimmler, nor even her own children, nor any of the clothes they figured in.
"That one, who is she?" she asked the governess, stopping a Kazan Tartar, who was, in fact, her own daughter. "One of the Rostows, is it not? And you, gallant hussar, what regiment do you belong to?" she went on, addressing Natacha. "Give some pastila to this Turkish lady," she cried to the butler; "it is not forbidden by her religion, I believe."
At the sight of some of the reckless dancing which the mummers performed under the shelter of their disguise, Pelagueia Danilovna could not help hiding her face in her handkerchief, while her huge person shook with uncontrollable laughter—the laugh of a kindly matron, frankly jovial and gay.
When they had danced all the national dances, ending with the Horovody, she placed every one, both masters and servants, in a large circle, holding a cord with a ring and a rouble, and for a while they played games. An hour after, when the finery was the worse for wear and heat and laughter had removed much of the charcoal, Pelagueia Danilovna could recognize them, compliment the girls on the success of their disguise, and thank the whole party for the amusement they had given her. Supper was served for the company in the drawing-room, and for the servants in the large dining-room.
"You should try your fortune in the bathroom over there; that is enough to frighten you!" said an old maid who lived with the Melukows.
"Why?" said the eldest girl.
"Oh! you would never dare to do it; you must be very brave."
"Well, I will go," said Sonia.
"Tell us what happened to that young girl, you know," said the youngest Melukow.
"Once a young girl went to the bath, taking with her a cock and two plates with knives and forks, which is what you must do; and she waited. Suddenly she heard horses' bells—some one was coming; he stopped, came up-stairs, and she saw an officer walk into the room; a real live officer—at least so he seemed—who sat down opposite to her where the second cover was laid."
"Oh! how horrible!" exclaimed Natacha, wide-eyed. "And he spoke to her—really spoke?"
"Yes, just as if he had really been a man. He begged and prayed her to listen to him, and all she had to do was to refuse him and hold out till the cock crowed; but she was too much frightened. She covered her face with her hands, and he clasped her in his arms; luckily some girls who were on the watch rushed in when she screamed."
"Why do you terrify them with such nonsense?" said Pelagueia Danilovna.
"But, mamma, you know you wanted to try your fortune too."
"And if you try your fortune in a barn, what do you do?" asked Sonia.
"That is quite simple. You must go to the barn—now, for instance—and listen. If you hear thrashing, it is for ill-luck; if you hear grain dropping, that is good."
"Tell us, mother, what happened to you in the barn."
"It is so long ago," said the mother, with a smile, "that I have quite forgotten; besides, not one of you is brave enough to try it."
"Yes, I will go," said Sonia. "Let me go."
"Go by all means if you are not afraid."
"May I, Madame Schoss?" said Sonia to the governess.
Now, whether playing games or sitting quietly and chatting, Nicolas had not left Sonia's side the whole evening; he felt as if he had seen her for the first time, and only just now appreciated all her merits. Bright, bewitchingly pretty in her quaint costume, and excited as she very rarely was, she had completely fascinated him.
"What a simpleton I must have been!" thought he, responding in thought to those sparkling eyes and that triumphant smile which had revealed to him a little dimple at the tip of her mustache that he had never observed before.
"I am afraid of nothing," she declared. She rose, asked her way, precisely, to the barn, and every detail as to what she was to expect, waiting there in total silence; then she threw a fur cloak over her shoulders, glanced at Nicolas, and went on.
She went along the corridor and down the back-stairs; while Nicolas, saying that the heat of the room was too much for him, slipped out by the front entrance. It was as cold as ever, and the moon seemed to be shining even more brightly than before. The snow at her feet was strewn with stars, while their sisters overhead twinkled in the deep gloom of the sky, and she soon looked away from them, back to the gleaming earth in its radiant mantle of ermine.
Nicolas hurried across the hall, turned the corner of the house, and went past the side door where Sonia was to come out. Half-way to the barn stacks of wood, in the full moonlight, threw their shadows on the path, and beyond, an alley of lime-trees traced a tangled pattern on the snow with the fine crossed lines of their leafless twigs. The beams of the house and its snow-laden roof looked as if they had been hewn out of a block of opal, with iridescent lights where the facets caught the silvery moonlight. Suddenly a bough fell crashing off a tree in the garden; then all was still again. Sonia's heart beat high with gladness; as if she were drinking in not common air, but some life-giving elixir of eternal youth and joy.
"Straight on, if you please, miss, and on no account look behind you."
"I am not afraid," said Sonia, her little shoes tapping the stone steps and then crunching the carpet of snow as she ran to meet Nicolas, who was within a couple of yards of her. And yet not the Nicolas of every-day life. What had transfigured him so completely? Was it his woman's costume with frizzed-out hair, or was it that radiant smile which he so rarely wore, and which at this moment illumined his face?
"But Sonia is quite unlike herself, and yet she is herself," thought Nicolas on his side, looking down at the sweet little face in the moonlight. He slipped his arms under the fur cloak that wrapped her, and drew her to him, and he kissed her lips, which still tasted of the burned cork that had blackened her mustache.
"Nicolas—Sonia," they whispered; and Sonia put her little hands round his face. Then, hand in hand, they ran to the barn and back, and each went in by the different doors they had come out of.
Natacha, who had noted everything, managed so that she, Mme. Schoss, and Dimmler should return in one sleigh, while the maids went with Nicolas and Sonia in another. Nicolas was in no hurry to get home; he could not help looking at Sonia and trying to find under her disguise the true Sonia—his Sonia, from whom nothing now could ever part him. The magical effects of moonlight, the remembrance of that kiss on her sweet lips, the dizzy flight of the snow-clad ground under the horses' hoofs, the black sky, studded with diamonds, that bent over their heads, the icy air that seemed to give vigor to his lungs—all was enough to make him fancy that they were transported to a land of magic.
"Sonia, are you not cold?"
"No; and you?"
Nicolas pulled up, and giving the reins to a man to drive, he ran back to the sleigh in which Natacha was sitting.
"Listen," he said, in a whisper and in French; "I have made up my mind to tell Sonia."
"And you have spoken to her?" exclaimed Natacha, radiant with joy.
"Oh, Natacha, how queer that mustache makes you look! Are you glad?"
"Glad! I am delighted. I did not say anything, you know, but I have been so vexed with you. She is a jewel, a heart of gold. I—I am often naughty, and I have no right to have all the happiness to myself now. Go, go back to her."
"No. Wait one minute. Mercy, how funny you look!" he repeated, examining her closely and discovering in her face, too, an unwonted tenderness and emotion that struck him deeply. "Natacha, is there not some magic at the bottom of it all, heh?"
"You have acted very wisely. Go."
"If I had ever seen Natacha look as she does at this moment I should have asked her advice and have obeyed her, whatever she had bid me do; and all would have gone well. So you are glad?" he said, aloud. "I have done right?"
"Yes, yes, of course you have! I was quite angry with mamma the other day about you two. Mamma would have it that Sonia was running after you. I will not allow any one to say—no, nor even to think—any evil of her, for she is sweetness and truth itself."
"So much the better." Nicolas jumped down and in a few long strides overtook his own sleigh, where the little Circassian received him with a smile from under the fur hood; and the Circassian was Sonia, and Sonia beyond a doubt would be his beloved little wife!
When they got home the two girls went into the countess's room and gave her an account of their expedition; then they went to bed. Without stopping to wipe off their mustaches they stood chattering as they undressed; they had so much to say of their happiness, their future prospects, the friendship between their husbands:
"But, oh! when will it all be? I am so afraid it will never come to pass," said Natacha, as she went toward a table on which two looking-glasses stood.
"Sit down," said Sonia, "and look in the glass; perhaps you will see something about it." Natacha lighted two pairs of candles and seated herself. "I certainly see a pair of mustaches," she said, laughing.
"You should not laugh," said the maid, very gravely.
Natacha settled herself to gaze without blinking into the mirror; she put on a solemn face and sat in silence for some time, wondering what she should see. Would a coffin rise before her, or would Prince Andre presently stand revealed against the confused background in the shining glass? Her eyes were weary and could hardly distinguish even the flickering light of the candles. But with the best will in the world she could see nothing; not a spot to suggest the image either of a coffin or of a human form. She rose.
"Why do other people see things and I never see anything at all? Take my place, Sonia; you must look for yourself and for me, too. I am so frightened; if I could but know!"
Sonia sat down and fixed her eyes on the mirror.
"Sofia Alexandrovna will be sure to see something," whispered Douniacha; "but you always are laughing at such things." Sonia heard the remark and Natacha's whispered reply: "Yes, she is sure to see something; she did last year." Three minutes they waited in total silence. "She is sure to see something," Natacha repeated, trembling.
Sonia started back, covered her face with one hand, and cried out:
"You saw something? What did you see?" And Natacha rushed forward to hold up the glass.
But Sonia had seen nothing; her eyes were getting dim, and she was on the point of giving it up when Natacha's exclamation had stopped her; she did not want to disappoint them; but there is nothing so tiring as sitting motionless. She did not know why she had called out and hidden her face.
"Did you see him?" asked Natacha.
"Yes; stop a minute. I saw him," said Sonia, not quite sure whether "him" was to mean Nicolas or Prince Andre. "Why not make them believe that I saw something?" she thought. "A great many people have done so before, and no one can prove the contrary. Yes, I saw him," she repeated.
"How? standing up or lying down?"
"I saw him—at first there was nothing; then suddenly I saw him lying down."
"Andre, lying down? Then he is ill!" And Natacha gazed horror-stricken at her companion.
"Not at all; he seemed quite cheerful, on the contrary," said she, beginning to believe in her own inventions.
"And then—Sonia, what then?"
"Then I saw only confusion—red and blue."
"And when will he come back, Sonia? When shall I see him again? O God! I am afraid for him—afraid of everything."
And, without listening to Sonia's attempts at comfort, Natacha slipped into bed, and, long after the lights were out, she lay motionless but awake, her eyes fixed on the moonshine that came dimly through the frost-embroidered windows.
A Wayfarer's Fancy.
"A felicitous combination of the German, the Sclave, and the Semite, with grand features, brown hair floating in artistic fashion, and brown eyes in spectacles."
It was the time of the great war. Germany was desolated. Towns and villages were destroyed by flames. Order and law had given way to savage power; and from the walls of many a ruined house of God the wooden image of the Saviour looked down with a face of anguish on the horrors of the degenerate times.
The terrified citizens of towns that were still untouched by war, hid themselves within their narrow walls, awaiting, in tremulous fear, the day on which their homes must also fall a prey to plundering soldiers. If any one were obliged to go beyond the boundaries, he would glance anxiously at the bushes on either side of the road; and when night came on, he would be forced to look with horror and sorrow at the reddened horizon, where a little village or lonely hamlet was burning to ashes.
But who is it cowers there in the ditch by the highway? A dried-up little man with deathly-pale countenance, and clad in a black coat! Flee, Wanderer! let him not gaze at you with his piercing gray eyes! Beware! for that old man is the Plague-man!
The heart of the Wanderer sinks within him. Horrified he rushes away, and thanks heaven when, in the gray of the morning, he sees again the towers of his native town. Enraptured by the sight of home he believes these towers with the dear, well-known faces can protect him; but the old cripple has been quicker than he. Before break of day he has knocked at the town-gate, and the gate-keeper, on opening it, has scarcely looked into his gray eyes before he sank down as though some one had felled him with an axe.
Then the gray old man begins his terrible work. Like a bat he slips into all dwellings; no gate and no bolt is an obstacle to him. Right up into the lofts he climbs and opens the most secret chamber. That threshold he passes is doomed to the Black-death.
* * * * *
It had happened thus to a little town in Franconia, where but a few houses remained untouched by the terrible plague. In this town there lived a poor, honest couple with their child, a boy of nearly three years. Their cottage lay on a small hill, and was divided from the road by a little garden. People ascribed it to this that the awful spirit for a long time had left their home untouched. But at last he seemed to have found his way to even this out-of-the-way place.
A few days before Christmas the boy fell sick, and on Christmas morning he lay motionless in bed, so that the poor parents thought the plague had taken their child from them. The father wanted to bury the body at once, but the mother showed him the rosy cheeks of the dead child, and said that a death that looked so like sleep could do them no harm. Thereupon she went into the little garden and cut box-tree leaves from under the snow, and made a wreath for the dead darling. She placed the wreath on his curly head and moved his bed into the middle of the room, where she set candles burning around it, just as we do in quieter times for a dear departed one. Then she went into the wood, cut down a small Christmas-tree and placed it, all decorated with lights, nuts, and bright tinsel, next to the coffin, in order that the dead child might also have his Christmas pleasure.
This was the only Christmas-tree that the poor stricken town lit up! People passing along the road looked with secret jealousy at the illuminated window, wondering how they could still rejoice in such bitter times. But no gladsome sounds from the window reached the street, where flake after flake was whirling down from the gray heavens, covering everything in its white cloak. And unceasingly, as flake after flake sank down to earth, so in the little chamber the tears of the poor woman rolled down her cheeks till the lights of the Christmas-tree burned low, the fire in the stove died away, and sleep closed the streaming eyes of the mother. Then all was quiet, very quiet, in the little chamber.
* * * * *
But at the gates of Heaven it was very noisy that evening. Countless hosts were crowding up the broad stairway, young and old, rich and poor: a mixed and motley crowd. There the patrician elbowed the tailor who had made his coat; the general the lowest sutler; and a ragged beggar was even next to a king, who drew his purple closer around him in order not to be contaminated. All were pushing towards the great, light gate, and many a one, who on earth had only beaten and jostled others, received here in the crowd his own first jostling. At the gate stood a beautiful, tall angel, who sprinkled each one with water out of a golden vessel. The touch of this water obliterated at once all remembrance of the past.
St. Peter, who considered the noise and bustle too much of a good thing, was of the opinion that mankind had none of the bother of dying, all the work falling on him; and he was accordingly grumbling to himself. Suddenly he saw a little fellow, clad only in a shirt, standing before him, shivering all over, and regarding him with innocent, childish eyes, as if asking whether he might enter. St. Peter, unwilling that such little folks should cause delay in business, said, roughly, "In with you!" The little frightened fellow rushed, thereupon, so quickly through the gate that the angel did not have time to sprinkle him with the waters of oblivion.
Now, as children of two years have but short memories and very harmless pasts, the angel smilingly let him slip by. Once inside, little Hans was seized by a host of flying angels and whirled away to Paradise, which was more beautiful than the fairest garden on earth. Rare plants with big, magnificently colored blossoms filled the air with spicy odor. Here dwelt the tiny children who had left earth before they knew anything of it. Here they could dream on forever; and their breath swept softly over every bud. Large butterflies with silken wings were bathing in the clear ether, and floating entranced from bud to bud. The heavens glittered and lightened as though composed of millions of diamonds; yet the sun did not blind the eye, nor the warmth rise to summer heat. Eternal spring had banished from these regions battle and death, tempest and decay, and far away below in misty distance lay all the sorrows of tormented creation. Amongst the flowers wandered blissful forms, absorbed in the beauty of surrounding harmony.
The boy curiously observed all this splendor, peered into the dewy buds of the flowers, examined the wings of his heavenly playmates, and was not a little rejoiced on observing that two wings had also grown on him, with which he could fly like a bird. "If neighbor Liesel could only see me!" thought Hans, and he felt quite proud at the thought. For, notwithstanding all the splendor about him, the picture of his parents' home presented itself constantly to his little mind. He had an excellent memory of the much despised earth, which soon with magnetic power drew all his thoughts towards it. At the sight of the wonderful flowers of Paradise, such as the earth never produces, he could think of nothing but the violets, and crocuses, and tulips which curled up in spring-time out of the black earth of his father's garden. The golden fruits on the trees reminded him of the gilded ones of the Christmas-tree, and seemed to him even brighter; and although the Paradise of heaven, with its eternal clearness, was a thousand times more beautiful than the changing air below, yet the little heart felt a dim yearning for the beloved earth, the griefs of which he had not yet learned to measure; and, amidst all this angelic beauty, he only felt an uncontrollable longing for the plain, human countenance of his mother. Then there came an end to his enjoyment. He began to cry, and, finally, to roar lustily. The other little angels gathered astonished around him, staring at the strange playmate who had dewdrops in his eyes and made such awful faces. Such a thing did not generally occur in heaven, where all were good and quiet. But just then St. James came along and, on seeing the crying angel, he spoke pleasantly to him, and finally took him up in his arms in order to comfort him. But a great surprise lay in store for the Saint; for it would have been easier for him to convert a thousand heathens than to quiet the little unruly fellow, who commenced kicking and wriggling, and made such a terrible outcry that the angels fluttered away in consternation. There stood the Saint with the child in his arms, and did not know what to do! At last he concluded to show the strange being to the Lord Himself, and went with the little one before His throne. Then the Lord Almighty smiled, and all the angels around His throne smiled, when they saw St. James, who certainly did not seem very well adapted for nursing children, and in whose arms little Hans, regardless of all surroundings, continued to roar unmercifully. But the merciful Lord opined that the greatest squallers often turned out the best men, and He ordered an angel to carry the little one back to dear earth.
And this was done. With mighty strokes of his pinions the heavenly messenger floated back to earth, which came nearer and nearer with its mountains, lakes, and rivers, and with the old, lifeworn town, and from out the town rose up the gabled roof of the parents' home with a cap of snow upon it.
The boy in the coffin opened his eyes, and with a cry of joy his mother pressed him to her heart. Among the boughs of the Christmas-tree there was a soft rustling and whispering.
Methinks the tree remembered that winter is only a deep sleep, and was dreaming of spring.
The years of misery and war were over. In the streets of the old town, where only a few years ago the roll of the drum resounded, and where the plague, in deathly silence, had spread its black wings, there, the stork on the town-hall heard, to his great satisfaction, merry shouts of children,—the ringing laugh of peace. A group of boys chased each other noisily over the market-place, playing at war. War! which had desolated so many of their homes. Oh! the fresh, merry laughter of childhood! how like unto ivy it climbeth over all ruins and findeth at last the sunshine!
But there was one not amongst the noisy group, and that one was Hans. His parents perceived with anxiety that the little noisy child had grown into a silent, shy boy, who avoided the games of his comrades and dreamingly went his own way. For hours he sat in the garden on the bench near his mother's flowers, and gazed dreamingly at the busy bees and butterflies, or lay in the woods near by and stared up through the branches of the beech-trees at the blue sky.
"What are you thinking of?" his mother would ask at times; then he would start up like one awakened from sleep, the thread of whose dreams are broken by awaking. "He is ill," the mother would think, anxiously. But folks would shake their heads suspiciously when, on speaking to the boy, they received no other answer than a shy, questioning look. "There is something wanting," said some, with an unmistakable gesture. "He is a fool," murmured others.
Thus a boy fares who has peeped too early into Paradise. The children of his own age made fun of him, and poor Hans would have been quite forsaken if Liesel from next door had not taken his part. She was quite the opposite to him,—merry and high-spirited. Whilst he sat dreaming, she was romping about, singing and laughing. But the children kept together, and the parents thought they might some day be a pair. The boy's reserved nature vexed the father, and, being of the opinion that man's hand cannot learn too early to handle and knead the tough clay of existence, he apprenticed him to a potter, in the hope that time would change the character of his son. He was mistaken, however; the boy grew up a fine, handsome youth, but in character he remained the boy of former days. If he looked up from his work it was not in order to gaze, like other journeymen, after a young girl who maybe was tripping past; but to stare up at the sky, which shone so blue between the houses, or to follow with his eyes the great white clouds away,—who knows whither? In his free time he did not go like others to the market-place, but would mount the ramparts at the back of his parents' house and gaze into the valley below, where the river was bearing its silvery wavelets into the far distance. What might not be in the far distance? Far, far away yonder must be the place where the dream of his childhood was realized! How astonished, then, was his father, when one fine sunny spring morning his son stood before him, with knapsack and staff, in order to bid him farewell before setting out on his travels. Who would ever have thought he would want to travel! The father rejoiced in the belief that the son would seek work according to the custom of journeymen workmen, and gave him his blessing, and much good advice besides. But he hardly even heard the words and advice of his father; there was a singing in his ears and a mist before his eyes, so that he felt like one intoxicated. Yes, he was a fool! Nor did he see the tears his mother and Liesel were shedding at his departure: he only thought of that far-off land, of the dream of his childhood. What mattered to him their tears! He wanted only to travel to find his Eden. And he travelled. With each rising sun he arose and thought, "To-day you will find what you seek;" and when he laid himself down tired at night, he thought, "To-morrow I shall reach my goal;" and, happy in this thought, he would fall asleep. No mountain was too steep for him, no path too stony, no forest too dense; he thought of his Eden, and minded not the thorns that tore his flesh. Yes, he was a fool!
Far behind him, forgotten, lay his home in the dim distance!
No living creature could tell him where his Paradise lay! The birds of the forest went on with their song; the deer gazed at him astonished; the brooks babbled on monotonously and sought the way to the ocean. People he asked only laughed, and they looked back at the strange lad, shaking their heads.
Quickly the time flew by; the spring faded, summer and autumn passed, and still he wandered on. His path, that once lay before him green and fair, was now covered with snow. He, however, heeded it not, and journeyed on. It must come at last, the long-sought goal! At last he reached a mighty snow-covered mountain range, so mighty that he said to himself, "Beyond this it must surely lie," and in glad hope passed forward. A whole day he ascended over snow and ice: his feet were sore and bruised, and he was shivering from the cold, and yet no hut was to be seen that might offer him shelter. The sun went down in crimson behind the ice-armored mountains, leaving behind a bitter coldness, so great that the stars in the heavens shivered with frost.
Then it occurred to tired Hans that it was Christmas, and for the first time on his journey he thought for a long while of home, where the Christmas-tree was now lighting up the warm room, and the dear ones were assembling around it. But what mattered the Christmas-tree to him; he was seeking Paradise!
Suddenly he saw on the roadside an old man. He was sitting on his bundle, and leaning his head on his hands. He must have been very old, for his face was furrowed like the bark of an oak, and his snowy beard hung nearly to the ground.
Then tired Hans rejoiced, greeted him, and asked how far it might be to the nearest habitation of man.
"To-day you can no longer reach it," replied the old man. "Whither are you journeying?"
"I seek Paradise," answered Hans: "nearly a year have I wandered over the earth, and yet have not found it."
Thereupon the old man arose, laid his hands upon Hans's shoulder, and said, "Turn back and go home! I have wandered for more than a thousand years on earth, and sought Paradise, and have not found it. Know, then, I am Ahasuerus, doomed to everlasting wandering as a penance. Wherever I go I am persecuted; where I knock the gate is locked; and nowhere have I a home. Stones are my bed, and my bundle is my pillow. Go, poor fool! return to the place of your birth. There, some day, they will dig a grave for you, wherein you may sleep peacefully. Go back to your home, where a Christmas-tree is lit up for you, and where you are loved, and leave to me all wandering and seeking: to me, the poor, old, accursed man!"
Then Hans was very sad: he threw down his bundle, sat down in the snow, and wept bitterly. However, he was so tired from the long journey that he soon forgot all his misery, and fell into a deep slumber. The old man spread his cloak over him to protect him from the cold, and then listened to the deep-drawn breathing of precious sleep, that drowns all cares. The youth lying there could sleep, and die, and forget! but he himself must keep awake, and live, and wander!
Upon the face of Hans a smile was playing; he was dreaming! Did he see the long-sought Paradise? He saw in his dream a house with snow-covered gable and little windows; a small house, closely encircled by other houses, a garden in front. In a room inside sat his parents round a cheerful fire. The spinning-wheel whizzed, and the cat purred in comfort in front of the fire. Softly there fell, now and again, a needle from the Christmas-tree. A resinous, pine-tree odor filled the room. From the next house a clear, maiden's voice was singing the old, old Christmas carol,—
"A rose has bloomed From a tender root, Our fathers have sung: Out of Jesse it came."
And the crackling of the fire, the whizzing of the spinning-wheel, and the maiden's song seemed to the dreamer fairer than a thousand Edens. An indescribable homesickness overcame him.
When he awoke, the east was radiant with the blush of morning. He sprang up and seized his staff. Scales seemed to fall from his eyes. "Home, home!" a thousand voices seemed to echo within him.
But up the mountains, outlined by the red of the morn, he saw the old man wandering on his comfortless path.
A Yarn Spun by a Yankee.
"A white-haired, thin-visaged, weather-worn old gentleman in a blue, Quaker-cut coat."
A TALE OF A TURKEY.
The shutters of a little spur of warehouses which breaks out into mountainous stores and open valleys of streets around the corner, but which itself overlooks no fairer view than a narrow, muddy alley of a thoroughfare scarcely broad enough to admit two drays abreast, and, by actual measurement,—taken with persistent diligence by the adjacent office boys,—just two running-jumps from gutter to gutter; the shutters of this, in its own eyes, important little trade centre, were up, and a great clattering they had made in getting up on a clear, tingling night before Christmas, eighteen hundred and—no matter what.
The porters had come out in their faded greatcoats, bandaged right and left in woolly mufflers, and more than usually clumsy in padded gloves, and had been bitten and tossed about by the wind with such unbecoming violence that even a porter felt it necessary to hurry and bustle. Taking the shutters by assault from the foe's embraces, they had thumped, and banged, and hammered, and scolded them into place, and, in undignified haste, had betaken themselves, steaming warm breath through their fingers, into their proper and respective places by the counting-house fire.
The magic—so it seemed in its effects—tolling of a deep-toned bell in the neighborhood would not allow them to doze long in their warm nooks, but, like the jealous monster in the fairy-tale, kept its captives always going, going, going, for its sixth stroke had not died away before they began to appear again, this time with the addition of fur hats and little dinner-baskets, and with no perceptible noses—unless the existence of watery eyes above their mufflers argued the missing features to be in their proper places below—and with an accelerated gait—also an act of enchantment.
William, of No. 6, bawled as loud as his worsted gag would permit across the street (so termed by a figure of rhetoric) to James, of No. 7:
"Hello, Jim! Cold as blazes, ain't it?"
James, of No. 7, assenting, Thomas, of No. 4, would like to know "How blazes can be cold, now?"
William, of No. 6, would say "as thunder," if that would suit him any better; and as it appeared to do so they, with half a dozen others, breasted the wind and trudged out into the blustery streets beyond.
The merchants, too, had locked their doors, and tried their knobs, and looked up at the faces of their stores as if to say, "Merry Christmas to you, and I wish you a pleasant day to-morrow!" but in reality to see that all was fast, and perchance to indulge in a comfortable survey of their snug little properties—and the complacent tread with which they followed the porters gives color to the suspicion—and draw from it momentum for the enjoyment of the morrow's holiday.
The shutters, then, were up—stop, not all up! One, as you may see by the shaft of gas-light that has just fallen across the pavement near the top of the court, is still down.
The little square window through which the light eddies on the bricks is supported on either side by a heavy door, and all three, the two doors and the window, are in turn crowned and anointed on the head, as it were, by a very bold sign containing very brazen—in every sense of the word—letters which announced pompously, like some servants of similar metallic qualities, the name of their master.
Emanuel Griffin—the tongue uncontrollably adds Esquire—was the name, and there, if you had looked through the window, in a deep funnel of a room, at a desk near the fire, head behind the open leaves of a ledger, and feet beneath the warm recesses of the stove, sat its possessor.
Outside the railing which formed a barrier between Emanuel Griffin, Esq., and the business world, and encompassed with a less elaborate railing, sat, on a high stool in a cold corner, the little, blackish-green (perhaps the color gas-light imparts to faded black) clerk of Emanuel Griffin, Esq. Whether David Dubbs, such was he called, derived the power of writing from his mouth; or whether the gentle excitation of moving his lips over toothless gums assisted thought; or whether, as some said, he chewed tobacco, a position which nobody ever held long, as nobody ever proved him to have expectorated during his whole life; his mouth—always closed—moved up and down, up and down, with the motion of his pen. Hair he had none, that is, none to speak of; there were some few isolated white locks behind his ears and at the back of his head, but he made no pretensions to have any, and openly acknowledged himself bald—and very candid of him it was to do so.
Chroniclers have told us how, after fierce battles that have raged from dawn till nightfall, the moon has come calmly up from the horizon and shone peacefully and serenely over the field of strife and death. So arose a beneficent smile ever and anon over the wrinkled and careworn face of the old clerk; but still he wrote on, Faithful Dave! and if pleasant thoughts swept through him they avoided the business that occupied his hands and did not interrupt it.
They had long sat in quietness, only broken by the noise of turning leaves and crackling coals,—but, in truth, if David Dubbs's eye, in its course to and from the clock, had not, like the world, worked silently on its axis, there must have been continual creaking—when a noise like the name of David emanated from the ledger, and following it—for it was near-sighted—the head of Emanuel Griffin, Esq., lifted itself to an erect posture and repeated in a less muffled tone, "David!"
"Yes, sir," answered the old clerk, in a weak little voice, and climbing down to the floor from his perch.
"You may lock up, David. Ten thousand and odd. Ten thousand's a good year, David; a very good year. Very—good—indeed! But go and lock up," and then Mr. Griffin took a glance at the clock. "Half-past six! Why it's surprising how time does fly, and Christmas Eve, too. Well, well! But hurry up with the shutters, David, and we shan't be long——"
Before Mr. Griffin had fully delivered himself of these remarks the little person of David Dubbs was out in the cold, was in and out among the screws on the door, had put up the shutters, and simultaneously with the last word stood in the half-opened door and, all unseen by his employer, waved his hand to some one at the corner of the court. He then walked as quickly as his little, bent legs—parabolic were they in outline, but, as this is not a geometric treatise, it is of no particular consequence—would permit him up the long aisle in the centre of the room, and sent off timid little echoes of his steps to ramble away among the bales of crockery—for it was crockery that Emanuel Griffin, Esq., dealt in—and rattle among the piles of plates.
Having reached again his little cage of an office, he took down from its accustomed peg an old, threadbare coat, and, with much exertion and outstretching of arms, finally got it on, turned up the collar, tied about his ears a not very robust scarf, and laid thereon, as the copestone of his apparel, a dingy high hat that had undergone, in point of nap, as many reverses as its wearer in point of fortune. Thus attired, he tipped his hat to his employer, all ready, like himself, to depart, and started out.
Before he reached the door, a cry from Mr. Griffin arrested him, and he came hastily back; for, although it would have required a thumbscrew to have made him confess it, yet he had all day long looked forward to the time of parting, when he half expected Emanuel Griffin, Esq., contrary to his custom though it was, would offer him some little gift out of the increased profits of a business he had done no little to advance. But no such design had Mr. Griffin conceived, or if he had it was very soon suppressed as entirely unworthy of a man of purely business habits, and all he had to say was,—
"I know, David, there is something I was to have told you to do. Mrs. Griffin impressed it on me this morning, but,"—here he stood thinking for a moment,—"no matter," he resumed. "I guess it was nothing very important, so good-by, David, and a—good-by!" He was going to say "and a merry Christmas;" but for a man of purely business habits to unbend so far and become cheerful—why, it's subversive of all business discipline, and so he thought to himself.
David, doubly disappointed, turned and passed out, and his old eyes must have been extremely sensitive to the wind, for they ran with something very like tears that he wiped away with his glove as he muttered,—
"So, no Christmas, after all. Poor girls! Poor girls!" Mr. Griffin was not long behind his faithful old clerk. He extinguished the lights with great care, and then, with the key in his hand, felt his way to the door, banged it after him, and locked it with the satisfaction of a miser over a casket of treasures. His journey home led him to the opposite end of the court from that which David had passed through, and he therefore did not overtake him.
And if he had, would this hard, business-encrusted heart have been less cold than the bitter winds that assailed it? Would the sight which made David Dubbs forget the fierceness of night have penetrated the chilly place where it rested and warmed it in pitying activity? Would the tender impulses, which the unsifted morals of barter extinguish, as they extinguish much of the nobility in man, have enkindled anew and brightened this misery? Not if dollars would have done it; nay, not if even a word would have done it, would Emanuel Griffin have relaxed from the demeanor which purely business habits imposed upon him. He felt it due to his position in business society to maintain rigidly its maxims, the chief of which, "Do unto others as they would do unto you, if they could," he practised to the letter.
Poor David Dubbs! Oh, the long time it seemed since boon companions had smitten him on the back and cried, "Bravo, Dave Dubbs! Bravo, old fellow!" to his little songs, or encouraged him by such exclamations as "Dave Dubbs can't be beat at a ballad!" Oh, the long, long time ago! But to proceed. As David Dubbs met the ambushed winds that leaped upon him at the corner of the court, he also met the person to whom he had waved his hand from the store-door. If you had looked for the stature of a man you would have been doubly mistaken,—first in sex, next in size. It was neither a man nor a woman. There, in a blustery doorway, shaking with cold, but ever on the alert, crouched a little girl. She wore a knitted hood, and out of it fell overflowing curls; but her poor, attenuated little body was ill-assorted with plenty of any kind, and the wealth of curls mocked the poverty of her clothes. A patched shawl affected to protect her poor little shoulders, and a calico dress flapped coldly about her legs. As David turned the corner she arose, and, for all her stiffness and shivering, exclaimed, cheerily, "A merry Christmas, father!" and reached to kiss him.
He took her in his arms—she was very, very slight—and lifted her to his lips, and then, throwing one side of his own scanty coat about her and holding it there with an affectionate hug, he said, "Come, come, little daughter, it's too bleak for a little body like you to be out. It's cruel, cruel, but I dared not tell him it was so late. What does he know or care for my poor little faithful, Loving Scout?"
"Your Scout couldn't miss Christmas Eve, father, if it was ever so cold."
"And does she ever miss? No, no, she's a dutiful Scout, winter and summer, rain and shine, morning and night, and what should I ever do without her!"
So, talking and fighting the wind by turns, they walked on, the bent and shuffling old man and his Little Scout, as he had named her and as they all affectionately called her, through dark streets where, ever and anon, a car or belated dray shivered by, as if the cold had touched even its insensibility, and made the tracks resound and the paving blocks rattle in the clear air; through deep cisterns of streets, between lofty stone banks—as stern almost as their governing boards, for, although boards are chiefly wooden, a supplication will quickly petrify them; through rows of illuminated stores like walls of Arabian Night visions, with traceries of frost on their windows richer in design than the gems within them; through clustering crowds that entered or left continually the swinging doors of saloons and hotels; past waiting carriages; past swearing men; past laughing ladies, and past beggars, wearier, and colder, and lonelier than themselves. So they travelled, scarcely heeding what they saw in their speed until, on the margin of all the din, by a turn through a dark street, they reached a darker alley, and, passing down it, at last stopped before their own homely door.
The building had once been a warehouse,—David liked it the better for that, he said. "Why, all my life has been spent in trade, and, you see, I've sort a become attached to anything that smacks of it, though I've little reason to feel so, the Lord knows!" he would exclaim to his friends. Up above, over a long door in the top story—you can scarcely make it out in the uncertain light—jutted a weather-beaten crane, with a long disused pulley dangling at its point, cracked, and rusted, and abandoned, and no less cracked and abandoned, shot out from the second floor a moss-covered platform that had been intended for the reception of bales of stuffs that had never arrived. The mortar had, here and there, been wrenched from between the bricks by savage weather and age, and the doors, too, had shrunk before their united malignity. How such a house had drifted to such a locality is unaccountable, unless—as is often the case—some navigator of real estate had thought he descried a port, where was only a shoal that left his venture high and dry among newer and costlier craft.
However, the nearest approach it had made in the last twenty years or so—so David said—to fulfilling its commercial place in the world was in opening its doors to a gentleman in the carpentering line. This gentleman, Mr. Jacob Tripple by name, occupied the ground floor, and all around it were scattered evidences, in the shape of window-frames, and wooden-horses, and props, and old lumber, of a thriving business. He, with all his men, had departed long ago and left the place dark, and still, and cold.
It had lain in this stupor of silence for more than an hour, waiting against hope to be resuscitated by any stray echoes that should drop in from the neighboring hubbub and waken it up, when it caught among its bleak angles the cheery voice of David's Little Scout, and revived—as some old men do under the charm of gentle words—to a more respectable opinion of itself. So immediately it seemed refreshed, that if it were possible for such a decrepit—not to say inanimate—old structure as that even metaphorically to prick up its ears, it metaphorically did as the sound of Dolly's—her proper name—cheery welcome home echoed round it.
"Here we are once more, father," she cried, breaking away from him to have the door open when he plodded up to it. "Once more, and a welcome home, and a merry Christmas to you!"
"Always on duty, Little Scout! Always on duty!" he called after her. (The wind was keen and drew water to his eyes again, and again he brushed it away.) "Always on duty," he went on repeating, with a doleful effort at cheerfulness.
She was up-stairs by that time, and, opening the door above, had called in, "Here's father!" then ran back to meet him, which she did at the door below.
What these unusual proceedings meant, David Dubbs might have guessed or might have known traditionally, they being of an annual nature, but whether he did or not, or whether his ignorance was also traditional, he gave no sign, and walked feebly up-stairs, guided by the Little Scout, just as if it were not Christmas Eve at all.
What the proceedings did mean was that a steaming pot of coffee at the given signal was lifted from its warm corner and tilted into a cup that held a conspicuous place at the head of a little white spread table. On its right hand sat, in the position of an honored and seldom present guest, a juicy-complexioned, but not corpulent beefsteak; opposite to it, inviting death by explosion, rested a bowl full of steaming potatoes in their native jackets, and the centre was fully occupied by a huge loaf with a large family of slices.
Around this collation—aroused by the signal, for they had been idly waiting before—moved two pairs of hands with loving attention. The cloth was resmoothed, the knives and forks straightened, a brace of mealy potatoes was emptied on the two plates that awaited them, and at last a ruddy slice of beefsteak was deposited beside and oozed through them its savoriness. This last climax was reached just as the door opened, and the two pairs of hands speedily transferred themselves to the duty—no very arduous one—of helping David and Dolly out of their wraps.
And then, with many caresses and kisses and cries of "Take this side, father, where the coals are bright!" or "Put your feet here and get them good and warm, poor Little Scout!" then, when thick flying questions and travellings to the one end of the room for things that were not wanted, and excursions to the other end of the room for things that were wanted; when the chairs were drawn up; when the grateful old man and his little daughter, with those tender hands over their mouths to stifle the gratitude they struggled to utter, were duly seated at the table, and when the kettle was singing its approval in the corner, then, only,—when all these preliminaries were gone through with,—did the possessors of the hands that devised them seat themselves on a low wooden settee opposite the table and enjoy the zest and delight they had ministered to.
Good nature and tender hearts, pale faces and cheerful eyes, honest red hands and neatly bound-up hair have never been faithfully reproduced in a state of print and paper, much less in imagination, and, indeed, how can anything so buxom and comely, even if the plainest in dress, be expected to be? It is, therefore, needless to say that the twin daughters of David, namely, Molly and Polly Dubbs, being all that is here set down, should have been seen in all their kindliness to be truly known, and no other form of introduction would do them full justice.
Molly was the counterpart of Polly in all respects save height. She was a very little taller than Polly, and a fortunate thing it had been for all concerned that she was so. Else, consider the vexation of the measles and other diseases essential to youth. Why, in their quandary which to begin on, they almost missed the twins altogether as it was. Consider the complexity of young lovers who should pour into the ears of Polly passionate adjectives intended solely to captivate the heart of Molly; and, most important of all, consider the conflict of choice which would have disquieted the soul of Mr. Jacob Tripple and at last driven him to the alternatives of suicide or bigamy.
But all these dangers had been averted by the provisions of Nature, and the twins, who had supped, for economic reasons, earlier in the evening, sat beaming on while David and little Dolly heartily devoured the supper.
David, looking up now for the first time, in the interval of a mouthful swallowed and a mouthful threatened, espied a bowery wreath of holly that hung around a picture of General Washington in the act of crossing a dark, green river Delaware in a court dress of red and breeches of yellow, surrounded on all sides by ice and officers in rainbow uniforms, and, as this was the only adornment of a rather bare room, it is no wonder it caught his eye.
"Why, who's been a-brightening up the gen'ral so Christmas-like?" he exclaimed.
"We did, father! Leastwise it was Polly's present," said Molly.
"And who may be a-sending presents to Polly now?" asked David, with a twinkle in his eye that had seen better days but none kindlier. "It wasn't young Cuffy over at the baker's, nor Jake Tripple, now, was it?"
He looked at Polly for an answer, whereat she stretched her arm along the back of the settee and let fall her hand on Molly's shoulder with a punch which was intended as punishment for the giggles her sister struggled to confine in her mouth with both hands; but which, in spite of her, bubbled over and attacked David, and then, with a blush, Polly muttered,—
"It wasn't young Cuffy at all, and I hate his loafy, little face, and I hate——"
"Not Jacob Tripple! No, no, not good Jake Tripple?" said David, reprovingly.
"I didn't say that, father!" she exclaimed. "He's your good old friend, and how could I hate him? He came in just before leaving for the day, and asked for you—what, made him think you were home I can't tell, for it was long before your time—and asked for you, and left the wreath for—for—me."
The hem of her long checkered apron then needed close scrutiny and folding for some unknown purpose, and this duty diverted her thoughts from the subject, but she turned to Dolly, who enjoyed this banter in her own quiet little way, which seldom rippled into a loud laugh, for her own quiet little face was too pale and too pinched to invite such freebooters. "Come, come, Little Scout," she said. "Is she warm now, and were the rations good, and did she meet Kriss Kingle on his cold journey (with a caress of her pale little cheeks) with heaps of warm dresses, and heaps of pretty dolls, and heaps of sweetmeats too big to carry himself, so he asked her to carry some home to help him! Did she? (with another caress.) And would our Little Scout be sorry if he didn't come himself to look after them and——"
"Ah, that reminds me!" said David, quite audibly for him, and rising from the table with knife and fork still in hand.
"What reminds you, father?" asked the twins, in chorus.
"Why, coming home!" said David, not very intelligibly.
"What coming home?" again from the chorus, in expectant attitude.
"Why, Tom, I told you!" which he hadn't done at all, but as by this time he was deep in the cupboard, where his overcoat hung, and as his voice was a little more muffled than usual, it was useless to argue the point, so the chorus loudly exclaimed,—
"Yes, yes, yes!" from David, faintly and rather testily, as he had groped through his old coat, and had successively dropped the knife and fork, reeking with gravy, into the inside and outside pockets.
"To be sure! Tom coming home and I clean forgot it, what with the cold and the surprises," he said again, emerging with the knife and fork in one hand and a letter in the other. "Here it is. He'll be home to-morrow, he says, God willin', and eat our turkey with us. Poor Tom, poor boy! He's been away so long he's forgot Griffin and hard times, or he wouldn't say that!"
"Tom! Be home! and to-morrow?"—interruption of chorus as it reaches for the letter, opens and reads it aloud—Dolly being lifted in the sturdy arms of Molly to look over.
David, meanwhile, overcome by the toothsomeness of beefsteak, falls to again, while the others dance a sort of fandango, and turn up the rag carpet, and rattle the dishes on the dresser, and lift Dolly high in the air to the improvised tune of "Tom's coming home! Tom's coming home! Tom's coming home to-morrow!"
"It's another mouth to feed, but it's hard to wish the poor boy back to Californy again," huskily said David; then he exclaimed, as the noise increased, "Hey dey! Why, you'll spill the coffee next, and cave in the walls, too, in a minute, and then there'll be no home for Tom to come to!"
This was good humoredly added as the final swing was given to the dance, which brought the twins holding Dolly aloft in their arms laughing and panting on the settee.
"But tell us, father, is he coming home for good? He don't say so in the letter," asked Dolly, and all leaned forward to hear his answer.
"Coming home for good?" mused David. "Yes, he's coming home for good, I hope; but I'm fearful he'll find little beside the good in his sisters' hearts."
"Poor Tom," said Dolly, with far-away eyes, "he's had a weary life of it in the mines, I guess, poor fellow."
"Yes, yes," said David, "and that's what makes it harder that we can't greet him with a good Christmas to-morrow. Well, well, it'll be a delight to see my poor boy again, hard times or no hard times, and we'll be as cheerful as we can be and are now, thanks to my good girls," and here he arose from the table, and, seating himself at the fire, opened a morning paper that he had found in the waste-basket in Mr. Griffin's counting-house (and very worthless it must have been to be found there!) in which, through the kind offices of a massive old pair of spectacles, he was soon absorbed.
And now, while the Little Scout—in fulfilment of her established character—plays the spy on sundry crumbs that slink from notice under the table, and while the twins, too busy to talk, wash the dishes and dispose them in a glistening row along the dresser, and, while David opens the paper and plods up and down it, column by column, like a ploughman furrow by furrow up and down a field, and with almost as much toil; and while the ancient clock on the shelf over the stove and under the motley General Washington ticks loud enough to be heard above the clinking dishes and simmering kettle; and while the table, divested of its cloth and exhibiting a stained and blistered old back, is glad enough to avoid attention by being stowed away in the corner; while the pleasant spirits of domesticity that come only at the call of good men, and good wives, and good sons, and good daughters, but resist the imperious beckonings of the wealthiest hands, and wing on over their roofs to lowlier, and scantier, and purer habitations—while the pleasant spirits of domesticity and kindliness throng invisibly into the room, and David Dubbs reads stray scraps from his paper to his daughters, grouped near the fire at his feet, we must softly withdraw and leave them to the care of coming Christmas dreams.
Christmas morning had opened brightly with David Dubbs. The sun, preceded down the court by hustling winds that knocked at every citizen's door and demanded admittance for their oncoming master, had left at each house a gift of golden cheerfulness. The sky above was so blithe and blue that it smiled down at even so insignificant a crack as David Dubbs's court must have appeared to it; and the cold was a jolly and snappish cold.
The twins and David's Little Scout were as merry as the Christmas chimes they lingered and listened to, and not the daintiest dinner that Mr. Cuffy (and that gentleman held the subject somewhat in mind, too, on Polly's account) could have delivered at their door would have added one jot of happiness to their abundance. David's poor old back bent under the stress of poverty that would permit him no indulgences for them—all the more dear on that day; but, used to loving self-denial, they never missed what they so little desired, and so far were they from giving it a thought, that if David had spoken out what he so wilfully turned over and over in his mind, that would have given them far more pain and anxiety. Mr. Tripple was early in his shop, presumptively to attend to some forgotten duties, but, as he did not pay very active attention to anything but carefully tying up a square box in white paper, and as he did pay very active attention to what went on up-stairs, at the same time exhibiting no hurry to get home to dinner, David, who had, towards noon, gone around the corner with Polly to make some little purchases of groceries before the stores closed, dropped in on his way back and invited Mr. Tripple up-stairs. Mr. Tripple at first firmly refused, and said, "Very much obliged, Dave, but couldn't think of it. Indeed not. They'd 'spect me at home, ye know, Dave." Whereupon Miss Polly added her entreaties, and said he needn't expect anything very much, but if he would walk up they would be very happy to have him. Mr. Tripple would have walked up—and, indeed, wanted very much to walk up—at first, but his extreme awkwardness, aggravated by holiday clothes of a tight cut and by a paper collar bent above his coat like a scimetar, and almost as sharp and glistening as that weapon, impelled him to do violence to his wishes in order to appear calm—under her eyes—and to deceive them politely as to his real desire. But now, lured on by the siren voice of Polly, he consented to go up "a little while" (which meant all the afternoon), and taking the white box under his arm he locked the shop-door and followed them up the creaking stairs.
Arrived in the room and relieved of hat and coat, Mr. Tripple bowed mysteriously to Dolly, and, intrusting her with the box, whispered,—"Go and hand that to sister Polly, little un." Polly, receiving it from her, exclaimed in surprise,—
"For me, Mr. Tripple?"
"Yes, miss," he replied, growing red and smiling broadly, "a little something for Christmas, that's all."
Polly opened the box and extracted a pasteboard plane with some artificial shavings pasted upon it, which, when lifted apart, discovered a heap of sweetmeats. Dolly and Molly, looking on, exclaimed, "Why, Mr. Tripple, what a surprise!" and Polly blushingly added, "So very unexpected!"
Mr. Tripple grew redder and nervously crossed his legs, saying, "I thought 'twould be kind a appropriate to the trade, you know, and so I just fetched it up, and——"
Then Polly, seeing his embarrassment, called on David and the rest to come and help themselves, and there was good humor and laughing until the twins darted away to got dinner, which was soon prepared, for there was little enough to get, and all invited to sit up to the table.
All were duly in their places, and David had, in accordance with Christmas custom, offered grace. Mr. Tripple and the girls were slowly raising their bowed heads, when a loud knock announced a visitor, and hastened the raising of heads to an unseemly hurry.
"Tom!" all exclaimed.
Molly hurried down-stairs, and the rest rushed to the stair-landing, where, in a moment, they received, not Tom, but a large, square basket that emitted a very fragrant smell of roasted fowl, in the arms of the returning Molly. Once in the room, the lid was off in a twinkling, and out came a sizable plate, enveloped in dainty, clean napkins, which, being removed in layers, exhibited, in all its brown deliciousness, a huge turkey, just done to a turn.
The party gathered around in pleased wonder, and as Molly threw the napkins into the basket a card fell on the floor. She picked it up and, astonished, read, "Emanuel Griffin."
"What!" said David, snatching it and reading it aloud to himself, "Emanuel Griffin. So it is, and no mistake!" and then he burst out, "Hurrah! hurrah for Griffin! I knew he couldn't forget us this year!" His poor old face was almost young again, and his voice,—why, it could actually be heard as he ran on: "Why, there never was such a year for the china trade, Tripple, and how could he forget me? Jacob Tripple, your hand! A kiss, Little Scout! Why, your old father's 'most young again, and his good girls shall dine like other good girls, after all! How very thoughtful of Griffin to send it in the nick of time, too. Come, sit up again before it gets cold, and I wish we had something as hot to drink Griffin's health in. Why, I believe I could sing a song again if we had something hot. I do, indeed!"
So he ran on in his childish delight at the thought of being remembered, and at the far more grateful thought that his beloved daughters were to share the gift with him.
When he had ceased, all turned to Molly and asked in one breath who had left it. When the clamor slackened, she replied, "Why, young Cuffy from the baker's, and all he said was, 'David Dubbs,—to be sent—card inside,' and then kissing his hand, and crying 'Love to her,' meaning I don't know who," with a smirk at Polly, "he jumped aboard his wagon and flew away down the court."
Never was a turkey enjoyed so much, and never had a turkey better deserved it.
Mr. Tripple grew bland and talkative under its juicy influence. He even winked at Polly occasionally, and one time actually chucked her under the chin. She sat next to him, remarking that if he had his way she should live forever on turkey and sugar-plums. David ventured to say that that course of diet would be pretty indigestive, whereupon Mr. Tripple fondly suggested, as he gazed into her eyes, "How would love do for a substitute, then?" implying that "his way" would supply that abstract edible in equally large doses.
David dryly added "Starvation," and thereupon Polly covered her face with her hands, but left open a laughing eye at Molly, and Mr. Tripple looked boldly around the board as a man who had said a very bright thing indeed, after which survey he broke out into a not very comfortable laugh. All the rest laughed, too, then, and such good humor prevailed that nothing seemed amiss, and Mr. Tripple's inexperience was kindly overlooked.
But now the turkey was fast becoming skeletonized, and the good company was fast becoming the reverse. The jollity was increasing and the serious intentions of Mr. Tripple were impending and ready to fall into open profession on the slightest encouragement. The Little Scout's pinched and pale face—sweet and uncomplaining, even through hunger and want—smiled gently and less sadly as it leaned in Molly's arms, and, looking up, she said,—
"Poor father! How quiet you were last night when we were walking home. I knew you were thinking about to-day and the poor dinner. How kind it was of good Mr. Griffin. I'd like to thank him myself, father!"
"And so you shall, Little Scout," said David, gayly, bending over and kissing her with boyish contempt of aged bones; "and so you shall, and I make no doubt he'll be glad to see you, too, Deary."
The clock in a neighboring steeple, simultaneously with its ancient kinsman on the shelf, and followed by incoming echoes of a score of others, struck one; but the company little heeded that, and the conviviality was far from diminishing when another summons rattled the street door, and again all exclaimed "There's Tom!" and crowded to the landing as before.
Polly this time tripped down and came back in a moment with only a letter, saying,—
"A young man, father, with this letter for Mr. Griffin. It's addressed to his store, but he said it was important, and, knowing you lived here, he depended on you to deliver it at once."
"Has he gone?" said David, grasping it.
"Yes, father," replied Polly, "right off."
Here was a pitiable state of affairs indeed. David Dubbs, aroused from the joyful celebration of his Christmas dinner and from the midst of this cosey party and sent off across the river to his master's house with a miserable letter and by a miserable young man (and if delivering letters when every other well-intentioned man is eating his turkey isn't miserable, why what is it?). Sent off on a graceless errand for nothing, perhaps. But his kind employer, who had done so much for his comfort and joy that very day, must not suffer by his neglect, and off he must post; that was imperative. Mr. Tripple offered his services when David had started down-stairs, and when there was no chance of his turning back, but David said, "No, no, Tripple; you just stay and keep the girls company till I get back, and that'll be enough for you to attend to. Good-by, girls. Good-by, Little Scout; if it wasn't so cold, she should go too." And off he trudged, as patient, and cheerful, and proud of his master's attention and of his mission, too, now he had fully set out, as many a younger and better dressed man would have been.
When Emanuel Griffin, Esq., leaving the dark little street wherein stood his warehouse and wherein very much of his life and very little of his money was spent—which latter fact had, however, no merely local application but was of a general nature—when, to resume, Emanuel Griffin, Esq., buttoning up his overcoat and, leaving the dark little street, turned the next corner among the mountainous stores and looked vexedly around for a car to bear him to his home across the river, and rattled his keys in his pocket, and nearly hummed a tune in his impatience, suddenly, as the car appeared like a new planet, and with the easy-going motions of a planet in its ascent had nearly reached him—suddenly a thought of something forgotten flashed through his mind, and the violence of its reaction turned him completely around and sent him in a precipitous hurry in the opposite direction, namely, in that which David Dubbs and his little daughter had pursued but a short time before.
"Pshaw!" he muttered, and looked as if he would like to add something a great deal stronger. "That's what I forgot to tell David; but Mrs. G. 'll never forget it, nor forgive it, either, if I don't attend to it before I get home." So he turned up his collar, and rubbed his ears, and hurried on to keep warm.
His destination proved to be a fancy bakery in the neighborhood of David Dubbs's house. The pavement in front of it at that hour and season, owing to holiday orders, was sending up warm steam from the oven beneath, and a fragrant and appetizing smell of hot bread and browning cakes pervaded the street. It was a large establishment of the kind, and besides its legitimate line of bread-baking, took charge of the cooking and preparing of dinners for ladies of limited domestic conveniences in fashionable life. Heedless of the delicious scents which had attracted several men with greedy eyes to linger at the window and devour in fancy—a process which left them hungrier than ever—the heaps of loaves and cakes on the counter within; heedless of the supplicating looks the men turned on him, and of the confidential attempts of one or two at a begging whisper (but his hurry was in nowise chargeable with that inattention); heedless of everything but finishing his errand and getting home, Mr. Griffin pushed through the crowd in the store, and, reaching the counter, beckoned to a light-haired, light-eyed, and red-cheeked youth, in a blue tie and black waistcoat that, through constant friction with loaves and flour-barrels, had become of a light pepper-and-salt pattern, and hurriedly said,—
"I want a turkey, Cuffy, of about fifteen or twenty pounds, cooked and sent to my house by one o'clock to-morrow."
"Can't do it, Mr. Griffin," said the young man, who knew him and had bowed as he came up.
"Can't do what?" exclaimed Mr. Griffin, with surprise and dismay.
"Can't send it out," returned the young man, firmly.
"Oh!" said Mr. Griffin, relieved; "I thought you meant that you couldn't prepare it!"
"No, sir," commenced the young man. "You see, sir, Mr. Griffin, it's so late in the day that all our teams is ordered fur to-morrow at that time, and so is our boys, but——"
"Well, I'll soon fix that, Cuffy," said Mr. Griffin, opening his coat and taking out a card. "There, just pin that on the turkey when it is ready, and carry it over here to Dubbs's—David Dubbs is my clerk. He will understand the card, and bring the turkey out to my house. I shouldn't be so particular about it if Mrs. Griffin had not impressed it on me this morning. I almost forgot it, too."
Then asking the price, and answering,—
"That is very high, Cuffy;" to which that young man replied,—
"I know it is, sir, Mr. Griffin, but then, you see, the demand is werry great, sir."
Mr. Griffin paid the bill and hurried out, took a car at the next corner, and, after a long, cold ride, got home to allay the anxiety of Mrs. Griffin by assuring her that the turkey was ordered, and would be sent home promptly to-morrow by David Dubbs.
Christmas morning was, among the Griffin household, which consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Griffin and a superannuated servant, a very busy morning indeed, for the reason that Mrs. Griffin had, according to annual custom, invited more guests to dine than she could conveniently provide for. Their house was a cottage in the suburbs, pretty enough in summer and no thanks to its mistress or the superannuated servant either, but to the unaided impulse of nature, which climbed, in the form of bowery vines, wherever a vine could find clinging room; but now, in the midst of winter, bright though the day was, the skeletons of so much green gayety looked bare, and inhospitable, and cold. The house was approached by a long path that started at the iron gate and led up to the porch. It was far from a large house, and looked inconvenient, and famished for paint, and it was no less inconvenient than it looked, a fact, indeed, which necessitated the purchase of a cooked turkey, for the oven was small, and the stove in the crazy little kitchen needed all the surface it could afford for the vegetables, oysters, and other viands which then only, throughout the year, it blazed and glowed under.
The morning wore on and twelve o'clock arrived. The big table in the little dining-room was duly dressed and adorned with Mrs. Griffin's miscellaneous silver; and after a heated debate between that lady and the Superannuated, it was decided that when the company were all in the parlor the dining-room door should be left open, and at the bottom of the table, which now projected against the door, an additional chair for Mr. Griffin should be inserted. Mrs. Griffin said of course the company must squeeze in, but they understood all that, and were glad enough to get in by any means, to which Superannuated readily assented.
One o'clock, and now the company were all arrived. Mrs. Griffin was duly excused by Mr. Griffin, who received them, on the plea of domestic duties. They were mostly in the parlor, which contained, beside them, a set of red velvet furniture and a shining piano, on legs which emulated the unsteadiness of Superannuated's own, and which, in huskiness of voice, also resembled that person; a portrait of Mr. Griffin in rigid broadcloth, and a companion portrait of Mrs. Griffin in low neck and volumes of lace; and last, a very pimply-looking carpet, which seemed to suffer from a severe rash.
Mr. Griffin had occupied the space between the folding-doors as the company arrived and suavely—as suavely, by the way, as his wincing at the cost of it all would admit of—received, introduced, and seated them. The first arrival was a single gentleman, whom he saluted as Fred. He was short, and bald, and spasmodic,—so much so that his pantaloons were never straight, and his collar, through much moistening of its raspy edges, was soiled. After him, a lady and gentleman drove up to the gate in a carriage, and, alighting, the lady swept up the path, in a double sense, while her husband upbraided the driver for the muddy condition of the carriage, and then, loudly, "At ten, William!" To which William as loudly replied, "Can't do it, sir. Got another order; but I'll send you another man."
The gentleman answered more quietly, with a careful look at the house, where Mr. Griffin awaited him on the porch,—
"Very well, driver;" and also swept in, and was introduced to Fred as Mr. Abbert.
Now came a pair who walked, and were addressed and handed around by the host as "My dear friends, Mr. and Mrs. Dripps;" and then the volume of new-comers became quite abundant; so much so that a number of gentlemen with no apparent use for their hands were forced to lean about the hall and sit on the stairs, which they did up to the very top one. When the company had simmered down a good deal, and only a few very bold gentlemen ventured to launch remarks into the unanswering silence, and when everybody was wondering what everybody else was going to do next, and all were, as they reported the next day, "enjoying themselves immensely," there was a stir above stairs, a rustling of dresses, and then the gentlemen on the stairs, like a row of falling bricks, were driven down before the gracious smiles and bows of the transformed hostess.
Tripping down after them and falling at last into the extended arms of her husband—rather unsteady under the weight—while the stiffly polite gentlemen formed a compact crowd out to the door. Mrs. Griffin was led, with no little difficulty, through the seated guests, bestowing bows, and smiles, and "Glad to see you, my dear Mr. Dripps," and "How well you're looking, my dear Mrs. Abbert," and "Welcome, gentlemen," (whereat a murmur ran through the crowd and all shook their heads and tried to turn round and bow, but utterly failed,) and "Oh! here's my old Fred," and sundry other bewitching remarks that led the crowd of gentlemen to murmur again something like "Charming, be Gad!" and grow uneasy.
But now the bell was rung by Superannuated, who had duly inserted the chair, and Mr. Abbert, receiving the hostess from the arm of her husband and in turn delivering his smiling wife to Mr. Griffin, led off the throng to dinner.
When they arrived at the protruding table, by a preconcerted arrangement Mrs. Griffin handed Mr. Abbert to the one side and squeezed herself through the other—an action which was imitated by the rest of the company, who were finally seated close up to the door—all but Mr. Griffin, who was to occupy the extra chair, and, as he was already inside, and there was no other means of exit, he was obliged to pass through the kitchen and around the house. He soon appeared again through the front door and the dinner began.
Mrs. Griffin, who had long before left Superannuated to finish while she perfected her toilet, now rang the bell and, on her appearance, whispered in her ear. Superannuated whispered in her mistress's ear. Mrs. Griffin thereupon uttered a little cry and looked at Mr. Griffin. Mr. Griffin, in consternation, cried, "My dear!" and attempted to squeeze between the chairs, but failed. Then he looked wildly about him, and at last ran through the front door. He soon reappeared at the side of his fainting wife, who revived enough to say,—
"I shall never, never forgive you! Oh, the humiliation! the agony!" then fainted again.
"What is it?" "What's the matter?" "She's fainted!" and confused screams of the ladies came from all sides. Mrs. Dripps passed along her salts bottle. Mrs. Abbert held Mrs. Griffin's head, and Fred applied water. Under the strong influence of these restoratives she soon revived, and whispered to her husband something which caused him also to start and look despairingly at her.
She then said to him, loud enough for all to hear, "You must tell them it was your fault. Oh, the humiliation!" Here she burst out again, with her handkerchief to her eyes, and Mrs. Abbert soothingly said, "Oh, never mind him, my dear. I wouldn't mind him!" This was growing invidious, and all the gentlemen at the bottom of the table were looking scornfully at him.
He therefore said, in a loud voice,—
"The turkey has not arrived,—that is all."
"That is all," whimpered Mrs. Griffin, mockingly. "That is all, he says; and isn't it enough, sir, to have all your domestic failings exposed to the world?"
Mrs. Griffin alluded to cooking facilities, and grew very bitter, while "the world" simpered and exchanged looks.
Mr. Griffin then, in desperation, explained the whole matter,—how he had left the card for David Dubbs, and paid for the turkey, and come unsuspectingly home. "As," he added, "I have done year after year, for——"
Here Mrs. Griffin checked him with symptoms of another faint, and he stopped short.
Mr. Abbert then said it was all that rascally clerk, and he ought to be discharged at once.
"I know 'em," he added violently and with deeply implied wisdom, which, by the way, was the only species of wisdom he ever attained to. "I know 'em, Griffin!"
Mr. Fred was of a similar opinion, and even more violent in his denunciation of David, as he had set his heart on turkey, and the appetite died painfully within him.
All the ladies and gentlemen were of various opinions, but all concentrated their rage on the poor, innocent little clerk, and panted for his clerkly death. In the midst of all this commotion the door-bell rang, and intensified it twofold, for nobody could get through to the door but by going around the house. This Superannuated finally did, and brought back with her the identical little clerk,—the poor, agitated, and bowing little clerk who had unconsciously aroused all the indignation and tumult, whom sundry gentlemen at the lower end of the table had threatened with severe punishment if they ever caught sight of him, and who, now catching sight of him, were more than usually silent.
Mr. Griffin looked threateningly at him as, hat in hand, he walked up to him, presented a letter, and, in his faint voice, said,—
"A letter for you, sir, left for me to deliver."
He took it, and David continued tremulously to say,—
"And how can I thank you, sir, and madam," turning to Mrs. Griffin, "for the bounteous gift——"
"Gift?" exclaimed both in a breath; "what gift? Where is the turkey you brought? What gift? What gift?"
"Why, a splendid turkey, with your card kindly——"
This was received by the company with a volley of cries and calls, by a relapse on the part of Mrs. Griffin, and by the descent of Mr. Griffin's hand upon David's coat-collar, and finally by poor, frightened David's ejectment from the kitchen-door, harshly reproached by his employer as a thief and vagabond, and warned never to show his face in his store again.
"Be off, now!" he cried after him, "you ungrateful, deceitful old villain!" and then he slammed the door, and joined the hungry guests, to whom he declaimed at some length on the thanklessness of the lower classes.
Mrs. Griffin was quickly re-restored, this time to a state of injured perfection, and after the united apologies of herself and husband, and more abuse of poor, luckless David Dubbs, the company concluded with pretty bad grace to make the most of what had been prepared in the way of vegetables and side dishes, long ago cold. Mr. Griffin was mad, insulted, and hungry, and the contents of the letter he had received seemed to add very little warmth to the food, but a great deal to his anger, for he tore it up into very small pieces, as if it were David himself he was torturing, and, with a look the company did not consider very sociable, scattered it on the floor.
The sky, as if presaging David Dubbs's misfortune, had grown overcast, and flung down spiteful little sallies of snow as he crossed the river on his way to Mr. Griffin's. The creaking of the bridge's huge timbers and the splitting ice below it made him shiver and pull his threadbare coat close about him and sacrifice his old hands to the wind to save his freezing ears. The same scarf bound them as the night before, but an icy gale like that which swept from the open river would have frozen through arctic furs. Notwithstanding all this, his spirits were lighter than usual. The scene he had left at home floated on before his eyes, and transfused itself with the black, sketchy trees against the sky and blent with the ragged barbs of smoke that depended from cottage chimneys. The wind had been boisterous enough, and would have torn it away on a cantering jaunt not many minutes ago, but, surcharged as it was now with blinding snow, it had its own liberty to look after, and paid little heed to anything else.
The snow came on thicker and thicker, and had begun to whiten the streets by the time David reached Mr. Griffin's house, and now, as he stood shocked and bewildered in the garden again, it lay deep and dreadfully silent as far as the eye could reach. Had he heard truly? Had he, for the first time in a long, and honest, and reputable life, been called a thief? And by the man whom his heart had overflowed in gratitude to but a moment before! David Dubbs a thief! And what of? What had he stolen? Oh, it was cruel to his poor old heart! "And the girls so merry, even now," he thought. How; how could he go to them with these bitter tidings? To be deprived of even the poor means his pen had faithfully and honestly earned for them; to toil so long, so wearily for the meed of a thief, for the name of a thief! and he wept in his utter woe.
His hat was still on his head, his coat was undone, his scarf had fallen back on his shoulders; his poor old eyes were wide apart again, now, and the wind tugged at his scanty hair, and the snow, no whiter than itself, sifted through it and drifted into the folds of his clothes. But, stunned, and tortured, and despairing though he was, the old clerk staggered on insensibly homeward. Back through the dreary trees; back through the drifted streets; back to the bridge, where he stopped by some fatal impulse and leaned near a bleak abutment that overlooked the river—gazing, gazing, gazing in a blank stare at the driving channel below. The thought, the lurking purpose was shadowed dimly on his distraught mind. The cold, rolling river once passed, the seething cakes of ice once passed, and it would soon be over, soon be over. Life had been a worthless gift to him. His youth had been falsely colored by the visions of childhood; his age had been falsely colored by the ambitions of youth. Nothing he had looked to in the distance ever had grown into reality. Why should he survive his good name! And he clutched the stones and raised himself up and quivered at the top of the stone wall.
But now his hand relaxed, and his face, clouded and suffering before, fell into a calmer look of attention, almost a smile broke over it, and he gazed out against the sky as if transfixed.
It was the vision that had, like the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, preceded and gladdened him on his way; the scene of his happy, unsuspecting girls; of the pale Little Scout—whose simple touch would then have instantly revived and soothed him, whose tender love was his comfort, his sanctuary from pursuing evils; the scene of his old home, far cosier, far more beloved, far more cheerful for all its homeliness, for all its poverty, than the more pretentious one of Emanuel Griffin; the scene of lowly pleasures it had cherished; of the bitter trials it had assuaged; and, finally, of the bright, laughing group he had left there, oh! so little prepared, so little conscious of the blight he would bring among them. This vision, these thoughts had flowed in upon his already disturbed mind, and had driven quite away all consciousness of where he was or how long he had stood in the bitter cold, when a policeman—overcoated, and furred, and frozen-bearded,—came by, and, suspecting things to be not altogether right, caught David by the sleeve, and adjusted his scarf and hat, saying,—
"No loafing on the bridge, old man. Move on; move on, now!" at which David started, looked all around him, and then moved on as commanded. His back, always bent, and his gait, always decrepit and shuffling, were now pitiably so, and he had a long, long journey before him; but, thanks be to Him whose omnipotent care protects and watches over the poor in spirit, he had escaped a far longer one. On and on he went, not cold now, not thinking, not in haste; passing thick-coated travellers who ran, and clapped their hands, and swung their arms for warmth; passing gay companies in cabs that rolled over the snow as softly as footsteps on velvet. But he heeded nothing of all this, and staggered onward to his own poor home.
A light was streaming out from the windows of the old warehouse, crossing the snow piled on the platform above and slanting on the heaps beneath. It was an inviting glimmer, a herald from within to all cold travellers without of the blessedness of home, and, as David approached the corner of the court, his eye was greeted cheerily by its "Welcome home!" and, indeed, it was the first thing he had distinctly seen since leaving the house of Mr. Griffin. But his heart failed him. How could he face his dear girls again and tell them of the destitution of to-morrow? Of the worse than poverty? Thus he thought, and lingered, and slunk away by turns, but the ray of home-born light allured him, impassively, into its midst, and as he stood over against the house, a poor, weak, old man, rambling in his mind, and heroically deciding rather to leave them in peace to-night, one more night, and return to them to-morrow, a window was thrown up, and Jacob Tripple, putting forth his head, looked up and down the court, and then directly in front of him, where David stood immovable in the light.
"Why, there he is, now!" he cried. "What's gone amiss, David? What's kept you so long? Here he is! Here he is!" he exclaimed again and again, and, drawing in his head in much less time than the words could be said, Jacob Tripple, followed by the girls, was down-stairs, was—still followed by the girls—out in the snow, and had forcibly carried David up with them.
They laid him on the settee, moaning and crying aloud against Emanuel Griffin, and repeating again and again that they were "Beggars, beggars, beggars!" and exclaiming, "My poor Little Scout! My poor girls! My poor——"
"They shall not suffer, father!" said a new voice, the sound of which raised him up with wide-opened eyes and palsied hands at his head, and a long stare at the speaker—"It's Tom, father. Don't you know me?" repeated the voice.
Know him! How should he know him? tall, and brawny, and whiskered, with pleasant blue eyes, and ruddy cheeks, and good nature streaming from his whole face! Him who, so many years ago,—a beardless youth—had run off to California after gold bubbles, and whom little good had been heard of when anything at all was heard of him. Know him? Of course he did not; but, as he sat down beside him on the settee and shook his old hand, David put his arms about his neck, and hung his head upon his bosom, and saw, in imagination, the thriftless boy of long ago whom he loved for all his waywardness.
Tom's strong arms soon bore him to his old seat near the fire, and, for the first time, David's wandering eye noticed the bower of green holly and red-berried mistletoe that decked the room. General Washington was loaded with it. The old clock, actually striking in a cheerier voice the hour of nine, had its full share. The dresser hid in festoons of it. Even David's chair had its sprig. But what was that on the floor? An opened trunk, like a cloven pomegranate, displaying within rich trinkets that many a lady might covet?