The shop was so strung with garlands of Christmas green that it looked like a bower. Bunches of mistletoe and holly added their colors to the holiday cheer. Red Christmas bells hung everywhere.
"My goodness, I never passed such a day in my life," Maida said that night at dinner. She was telling it all to Granny, who had been away on mysterious business of her own. "It's been like a beehive here ever since eight o'clock this morning. If we'd each of us had an extra pair of hands at our knees and another at our waists, perhaps we could have begun to wait on all the people."
"Sure 'twas no more than you deserved for being such busy little bees," Granny approved.
"The only trouble was," Maida went on smilingly, "that they liked everything so much that they could not decide which they wanted most. Of course, the boys preferred Arthur's carvings and the girls Rosie's candy. But it was hard to say who liked Dicky's things the best."
Granny twinkled with delight. She had never told Maida, but she did not need to tell her, that Dicky was her favorite.
"And then the grown people who came, Granny! First Arthur's father on his way to work, then Mrs. Lathrop and Laura—they bought loads of things, and Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Doyle and even Mr. Flanagan bought a hockey-stick. He said," Maida dimpled with delight, "he said he bought it to use on Arthur and Rosie if they ever hooked jack again. Poor Miss Allison bought one of Arthur's 'cats'—what do you suppose for?"
Granny had no idea.
"To wind her wool on. Then Billy came at the last minute and bought everything that was left. And just think, Granny, there was a crowd of little boys and girls who had stood about watching all day without any money to spend and Billy divided among them all the things he bought. Guess how much money they made!"
Granny guessed three sums, and each time Maida said, triumphantly, "More!" At last Granny had to give it up.
"Arthur made five dollars and thirty cents. Dicky made three dollars and eighty-seven cents. Rosie made two dollars and seventy cents."
After dinner that night, Maida accompanied Rosie and Dicky on the Christmas-shopping expedition.
They went first to a big dry goods store with Dicky. They helped Dicky to pick out a fur collar for his mother from a counter marked conspicuously $2.98. The one they selected was of gray and brown fur. It was Maida's opinion that it was sable and chinchilla mixed.
Dicky's face shone with delight when at last he tucked the big round box safely under his arm. "Just think, I've been planning to do this for three years," he said, "and I never could have done it now if it hadn't been for you, Maida."
Next Dicky took the two little girls where they could buy razors. "The kind that goes like a lawn-mower," Rosie explained to the proprietor. The man stared hard before he showed them his stock. But he was very kind and explained to them exactly how the wonderful little machine worked.
Maida noticed that Rosie examined very carefully all the things displayed in windows and on counters. But nothing she saw seemed to satisfy her, for she did not buy.
"What is it, Rosie?" Maida asked after a while.
"I'm looking for something for my mother."
"I'll help you," Maida said. She took Rosie's hand, and, thus linked together, the two little girls discussed everything that they saw.
Suddenly, Rosie uttered a little cry of joy and stopped at a jeweler's window. A tray with the label, "SOLID SILVER, $1," overflowed with little heart-shaped pendants.
"Mama'd love one of those," Rosie said. "She just loved things she could hang round her neck."
They went inside. "It's just what I want," Rosie declared. "But I wish I had a little silver chain for it. I can't afford one though," she concluded wistfully.
"Oh, I know what to do," Maida said. "Buy a piece of narrow black velvet ribbon. Once my father gave my mother a beautiful diamond heart. Mother used to wear it on a black velvet ribbon. Afterwards papa bought her a chain of diamonds. But she always liked the black velvet best and so did papa and so did I. Papa said it made her neck look whiter."
The other three children looked curiously at Maida when she said, "diamond heart." When she said, "string of diamonds," they looked at each other.
"Was that another of your dreams, Maida?" Rosie asked mischievously.
"Dreams!" Maida repeated, firing up. But before she could say anything that she would regret, the dimples came. "Perhaps it was a dream," she said prettily. "But if it was, then everything's a dream."
"I believe every word that Maida says," Dicky protested stoutly.
"I believe that Maida believes it," Arthur said with a smile.
They all stopped with Rosie while she bought the black velvet ribbon and strung the heart on it. She packed it neatly away in the glossy box in which the jeweler had done it up.
"If my mama doesn't come back to wear that heart, nobody else ever will," she said passionately. "Never—never—never—unless I have a little girl of my own some day."
"Your mother'll come back," Maida said.
CHAPTER XIV: CHRISTMAS HAPPENINGS
Maida was awakened early Christmas morning by a long, wild peal of the bell. Before she could collect her scattered wits, she heard Rosie's voice, "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Oh, Granny, won't you please let me run upstairs and wake Maida? I've got something dreadfully important to tell her."
Maida heard Granny's bewildered "All roight, child," heard Rosie's rush through the living-room and then she bounded out of bed, prickling all over with excitement.
"Maida," Rosie called from the stairs, "wake up! I've something wonderful to tell you."
But Maida had guessed it.
"I know," she cried, as Rosie burst into the room. "Your mother's come home."
"My mother's come home," Rosie echoed.
The two little girls seized each other and hopped around the room in a mad dance, Maida chanting in a deep sing-song, "Your mother's come home!" and Rosie screaming at the top of her lungs, "My mother's come home!" After a few moments of this, they sank exhausted on the bed.
"Tell me all about it," Maida gasped. "Begin at the very beginning and don't leave anything out."
"Well, then," Rosie began, "I will. When I went to bed last night after leaving you, I got to thinking of my mother and pretty soon I was so sad that I nearly cried my eyes out. Well, after a long while I got to sleep and I guess I must have been very tired, for I didn't wake up the way I do generally of my own accord. Aunt Theresa had to wake me. She put on my best dress and did my hair this new way and even let me put cologne on. I couldn't think why, because I never dress up until afternoons. Once when I looked at her, I saw there were tears in her eyes and, oh, Maida, it made me feel something awful, for I thought she was going to tell me that my mother was dead. When I came downstairs, my father hugged me and kissed me and sat with me while I ate my breakfast. Oh, I was so afraid he was going to tell me that mother was dead! But he didn't! After awhile, he said, 'Your Christmas presents are all up in your mother's bedroom, Rosie.' So I skipped up there. My father and Aunt Theresa didn't come with me, but I noticed they stood downstairs and listened. I opened the door."
Rosie stopped for breath.
"Go on," Maida entreated; "oh, do hurry."
"Well, there, lying on the bed was my mother. Maida, I felt so queer that I couldn't move. My feet wouldn't walk—-just like in a dream. My mother said, 'Come here, my precious little girl,' but it sounded as if it came from way, way, way off. And Maida then I could move. I ran across the room and hugged her and kissed her until I couldn't breathe. Then she said, 'I have a beautiful Christmas gift for you, little daughter,' and she pulled something over towards me that lay, all wrapped up, in a shawl on the bed. What do you think it was?"
"I don't know. Oh, tell me, Rosie!"
"Guess," Rosie insisted, her eyes dancing.
"Rosie, if you don't tell me this minute, I'll pinch you."
"It was a baby—a little baby brother."
"A baby! Oh, Rosie!"
The two little girls hopped about the room in another mad dance.
"Maida, he's the darlingest baby that ever was in the whole wide world! His name is Edward. He's only six weeks old and he can smile."
"He can—I saw him—and sneeze!"
"That's not all," said Rosie proudly. "He can wink his eyes and double up his fists—and—and—and a whole lot of things. There's no doubt that he's a remarkable baby. My mother says so. And pretty as—oh, he's prettier than any puppy I ever saw. He's a little too pink in the face and he hasn't much hair yet—there's a funny spot in the top of his head that goes up and down all the time that you have to be dreadfully careful about. But he certainly is the loveliest baby I ever saw. What do you think my mother let me do?"
"She let me rock him for a moment. And I asked her if you could rock him some day and she said you could."
"And what else do you think she's going to let me do?"
"I can't guess. Oh, tell me quick, Rosie."
"She says she's going to let me give him his bath Saturdays and Sundays and wheel him out every day in his carriage."
"Rosie," Maida said impressively, "you ought to be the happiest little girl in the world. Think of having a baby brother for a Christmas present. You will let me wheel him sometimes, won't you?"
"Of course I will. I shall divide him exactly in half with you."
"Where has your mother been all this time?" Maida asked.
"Oh, she's been dreadfully sick in a hospital. She was sick after the baby came to her—so sick that she couldn't even take care of him. She said they were afraid she was going to die. But she's all right now. Father bought her for Christmas a beautiful, long, red-silk dress that's just to lie down in. She looks like a queen in it, and yet she looks like a little girl, too, for her hair is done in two braids. Her hair comes way down below her waist like your mother's hair. And when I gave her the little silver heart, she was so pleased with it. She put it right on and it looked sweet. She said she would much rather wear it on a black velvet ribbon than on a silver chain."
"Everything's come out all right, hasn't it?" Maida said with ecstasy.
"I guess it has. Now I must go. I want to be sure to be there when the baby wakes up. I asked my mother when you could see the baby, Maida, and she said to-morrow. I can't wait to show you its feet—you never did see such little toes in your life."
Exciting as this event was, it was as nothing to what followed.
Granny and Maida were still talking about Rosie's happiness when Billy Potter suddenly came marching through the shop and into the living-room.
"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" they all said at once.
"Granny," Billy asked immediately, "if you could have your choice of all the Christmas gifts in the world, which one would you choose?"
An expression of bewilderment came into Granny's bright blue eyes.
"A Christmas gift, Misther Billy," she said in an uncertain tone; "I cudn't t'ink of a t'ing as long as Oi can't have me little Annie wid me."
Maida saw Billy's eyes snap and sparkle at the word Annie. She wondered what—Could it be possible that—She began to tremble.
"And so you'd choose your daughter, Granny?" Billy questioned.
"Choose my daughter. Av coorse Oi wud!" Granny stopped to stare in astonishment at Billy. "Oh, Misther Billy, if you cud only foind her!" She gazed imploringly at him. Billy continued to smile at her, his eyes all "skrinkled up." Granny jumped to her feet. She seized Billy's arm. "Oh, Misther Billy, you have found her," she quavered.
Billy nodded. "I've found her, Granny! I told you I would and I have. Now don't get excited. She's all right and you're all right and everything's all right. She'll be here just as soon as you're ready to see her."
For a moment Maida was afraid Granny was going to faint, for she dropped back into her chair and her eyes filled with tears. But at Billy's last words the old fire came back to her eyes, the color to her cheeks. "Oi want to see her at wance," she said with spirit.
"Listen," Billy said. "Last night I happened to fall into conversation with a young Irishman who had come to read the gas-meter in my house. I asked him where he came from. He said, 'Aldigarey, County Sligo.' I asked him if he knew Annie Flynn. 'Sure, didn't she marry my cousin? She lives—' Well, the short of it is that I went right over to see her, though it was late then. I found her a widow with two children. She nearly went crazy at the prospect of seeing her mother again, but we agreed that we must wait until morning. We planned—oh, come in, Annie," he called suddenly.
At his call, the shop door opened and shut. There was a rush of two pairs of feet through the shop. In the doorway appeared a young woman carrying a baby. Behind her came a little boy on crutches. Granny stood like a marble statue, staring. But Maida screamed.
Who do you suppose they were?
They were Mrs. Dore and Delia and Dicky.
"Oh, my mother!" Mrs. Dore said.
"My little Annie—my little girl," Granny murmured. The tears began to stream down her cheeks.
Followed kissings and huggings by the dozen. Followed questions and answers by the score.
"And to t'ink you've been living forninst us all this time," Granny said after the excitement had died down. She was sitting on the couch now, with Delia asleep in her lap, Mrs. Dore on one side and Dicky on the other. "And sure, me own hearrt was telling me the trut' all the toime did Oi but listhen to ut—for 'twas loving this foine little lad ivry minut av the day." She patted Dicky's head. "And me niver seeing the baby that had me own name!" She cuddled Delia close. "OI'm the happiest woman in the whole woide wurrld this day."
It was arranged that the two families were to have Christmas dinner together. Dicky and Mrs. Dore hurried back for a few moments to bring their turkey to the feast.
"Granny, will you love me just the same now that you've got Dicky and Delia?" Maida said wistfully.
"Love you, my lamb? Sure, I'll love you all the more for 'twas t'rough you I met Misther Billy and t'rough Misther Billy I found me Annie. Ah, Misther Billy, 'tis the grand man you make for such a b'y that you are!"
"Yes, m'm," said Billy.
When Mrs. Dore returned, mother and daughter went to work on the dinner, while Billy and Maida and Dicky trimmed the tree. When the door opened, they caught bits of conversation, Granny's brogue growing thicker and thicker in her excitement, and Mrs. Dore relapsing, under its influence, into old-country speech. At such times, Maida noticed that Billy's eyes always "skrinkled up."
They were just putting the finishing touches to the tree when the window darkened suddenly. Maida looked up in surprise. And then, "Oh, my papa's come!" she screamed; "my papa's come to my Christmas tree after all!"
There is so much to tell about the Christmas tree that I don't know where to begin.
First of all came Laura and Harold. Mrs. Lathrop stopped with them for a moment to congratulate Mrs. Dore on finding her mother.
"Mrs. Lathrop, permit me to introduce my father, Mr. Westabrook," Maida said.
Mrs. Lathrop was very gracious. "The neighborhood have accepted your daughter as Mrs. Flynn's grandchild, Mr. Westabrook. But I guessed the truth from the first. I believed, however, that you wished the matter kept a secret and I have said nothing of it to anybody."
"I thank you, madam," said "Buffalo" Westabrook, bending on her one of his piercing scrutinies. "How ever the neighborhood accepted her, they have given her back her health. I can never be too grateful to them."
Came Rosie next with a, "Oh, Maida, if you could only have seen Edward when my mother bathed him to-night!" Came Arthur, came the Doyles, came the Clark twins with Betsy tagging at their heels. Last of all, to Maida's great delight, came Dr. Pierce.
Nobody was allowed to go into the shop where the tree stood until the last guest had arrived. But in spite of their impatience they had a gay half hour of waiting. Billy amused them with all kinds of games and tricks and jokes, and when he tired, Dr. Pierce, who soon became a great favorite, took them in hand.
Dr. Pierce sat, most of the evening, holding Betsy in his lap, listening to her funny baby chatter and roaring at her escapades. He took a great fancy to the Clark twins and made all manner of fun for the children by pretending that there was only one of them. "Goodness; how you do fly about!" he would say ruefully to Dorothy, "An instant ago you were standing close beside me," or "How can you be here on the couch," he would say to Mabel, "when there you are as plain as a pikestaff standing up in the corner?"
"What can you do about that leg, Eli?" Mr. Westabrook asked Dr. Pierce once when Dicky swung across the room.
"I've been thinking about that," Dr. Pierce answered briskly. "I guess Granny and Annie will have to let me take Dicky for a while. A few months in my hospital and he'll be jumping round here like a frog with the toothache."
"Oh, Dr. Pierce, do you think you can cure him?" Mrs. Dore asked, clasping her hands.
"Cure him!" Dr. Pierce answered with his jolliest laugh. "Of course we can. He's not in half so bad a condition as Maida was when we straightened her out. Greinschmidt taught us a whole bag of tricks. Dicky could almost mend himself if he'd only stay still long enough. Look at Maida. Would you ever think she'd been much worse than Dicky?"
Everybody stared hard at Maida, seated on her father's knee, and she dimpled and blushed under the observation. She was dressed all in white—white ribbons, white sash, white socks and shoes, the softest, filmiest white cobweb dress. Her hair streamed loose—a cascade of delicate, clinging ringlets of the palest gold. Her big, gray eyes, soft with the happiness of the long day, reflected the firelight. Her cheeks had grown round as well as pink and dimpled.
She did not look sick.
"Oh, Dicky," she cried, "just think, you're going to be cured. Didn't I tell you when my father saw you, he'd fix it all right? My father's a magician!"
But Dicky could not answer. He was gulping furiously to keep back the tears of delight. But he smiled his radiant smile. Billy took everybody's attention away from him by turning an unexpected cartwheel in the middle of the floor.
Finally, Maida announced that it was time for the tree. They formed in line and marched into the shop to a tune that Billy thumped out of the silver-toned old spinet.
I wish you could have heard the things the children said.
The tree went close to the ceiling. Just above it, with arms outstretched, swung a beautiful Christmas angel. Hanging from it were all kinds of glittery, quivery, sparkly things in silver and gold. Festooned about it were strings of pop corn and cranberries. At every branch-tip glistened a long glass icicle. And the whole thing was ablaze with candles and veiled in a mist of gold and silver.
At the foot of the tree, groups of tiny figures in painted plaster told the whole Christmas Day story from the moment of the first sight of the star by the shepherds who watched their flocks to the arrival, at the manger, of the Wise Men, bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Billy Potter disappeared for a moment and came in, presently, the most chubby and pink-faced and blue-eyed of Santa Clauses, in purple velvet trimmed with ermine, with long white hair and a long white beard.
I can't begin to name to you all the fruits of that magic tree. From Maida, there came to Rosie a big golden cage with a pair of canary birds, to Arthur a chest of wonderful tools, to Dicky a little bookcase full of beautiful books, to Laura a collection of sashes and ribbons, to Harold a long train of cars. For Molly, Betsy and the Clark twins came so many gifts that you could hardly count them all—dolls and dolls' wardrobes, tiny doll-houses and tinier doll-furniture. For Tim came a sled and bicycle.
To Maida came a wonderful set of paper boxes from Dicky, a long necklace of carved beads from Arthur, a beautiful blank-book, with all her candy recipes, beautifully written out, from Rosie, a warm little pair of knitted bed-shoes from Granny, a quaint, little, old-fashioned locket from Dr. Pierce—he said it had once belonged to another little sick girl who died.
From Billy came a book. Perhaps you can fancy how Maida jumped when she read "The Crystal Ball," by William Potter, on the cover. But I do not think you can imagine how pleased she looked when inside she read the printed dedication, "To Petronilla."
From her father came a beautiful miniature of her mother, painted on ivory. The children crowded about her to see the beautiful face of which Maida had told them so much. There was the mass of golden hair which she had described so proudly. There, too, was a heart-shaped pendant of diamonds, suspended from a black velvet ribbon tied close to the white throat.
The children looked at the picture. Then they looked at each other.
But Maida did not notice. She was watching eagerly while Dr. Pierce and Billy and her father opened her gifts to them.
She was afraid they would not understand. "They're to save time, you see, when you want to shave in a hurry," she explained.
"Maida," her father said gravely, "that is a very thoughtful gift. It's strange when you come to think of it, as busy a man as I am and with all the friends I have, nobody has ever thought to give me a safety razor."
"I don't know how I ever managed to get along without one," Dr. Pierce declared, his curls bobbing.
"As for me—I shall probably save about a third of my income in the future," Billy announced.
All three were so pleased that they laughed for a long time.
"I'm going to give you another Christmas present, Maida," Mr. Westabrook said suddenly, "I'm going to give us both one—a vacation. We're going to start for Europe, week after next."
"Oh, papa, papa, how lovely!" Maida said. "Shall we see Venice again? But how can I give up my little shop and my friends?"
"Maida going away!" the children exclaimed. "Oh, dear! oh, dear!" "But Mr. Westabrook, isn't Maida coming back again?" Rosie asked. "How I shall miss her!" Laura chimed in.
"Take my lamb away," Granny wailed. "Sure, she'll be tuk sick in those woild counthries! You'll have to take me wid you, Misther Westabrook—only—only—" She did not finish her sentence but her eyes went anxiously to her daughter's face.
"No, Granny, you're not to go," Mr. Westabrook said decisively; "You're to stay right here with your daughter and her children. You're all to run the shop and live over it. Maida's old enough and well enough to take care of herself now. And I think she'd better begin to take care of me as well. Don't you think so, Maida?"
"Of course I do, papa. If you need me, I want to."
"Mr. Westabrook," Molly broke into the conversation determinedly, "did you ever give Maida a pair of Shetland ponies?"
Mr. Westabrook bent on the Robin the most amused of his smiles.
"Yes," he said.
"And an automobile?" Tim asked.
Mr. Westabrook turned to the Bogle. "Yes," he said, a little puzzled.
"And did Maida's mother have a gold brush with her initials in diamonds on it?" Rosie asked.
Mr. Westabrook roared. "Yes," he said.
"And have you got twelve peacocks, two of them white?" Arthur asked.
"And has Maida a little theater of her own and a doll-house as big as a cottage?" Laura asked.
"And did she have a May-party last year that she invited over four hundred children to?" Harold asked.
"And did you give her her weight in silver dollars once?" Mabel asked.
"And a family of twenty dolls?" Dorothy asked.
"Yes, you shall see all these things when we come back," Mr. Westabrook promised.
"Then why did she run away?" Betsy asked solemnly.
"I always said Maida was a princess in disguise," Dicky maintained, "and now I suppose she's going back and be a princess again."
"Dicky was the first friend I made, papa," Maida said, smiling at her first friend.
"But you'll come back some time, won't you, Maida?" Dicky begged.
"Yes, Dicky," Maida answered, "I'll come back."
Yes, Maida did come back. And what fun they all have, the Little Six in their private quarters, and the Big Six with their picnics, and their adventures with the Gypsies, is told in Maida's Little House.
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