Mary Ware, The Little Colonel's Chum, Chapter 8: Christmas Day At Eugenia's

MARY WARE, THE LITTLE COLONEL'S CHUM
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1908
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Table Of Contents

 

CHAPTER VIII.
CHRISTMAS DAY AT EUGENIA'S

"ATHOUGH this is only the twenty-fourth of December, my Christmas has already begun," wrote Mary in her diary next day; "for this morning when I looked out of the window everything was white with snow. It has been so long since I have seen such, a sight, all the roofs and chimney tops a-glisten, that I could hardly keep away from the window long enough to dress.

"Phil stayed quite late last night. Just as he was leaving, Mrs. Boyd and Miss Lucy came home, and of course we had to stay up a little while longer to meet them. By the time Joyce had turned the davenport in the studio into a bed for me, it was past midnight, and I couldn't go to sleep for hours. There was so much to think about.

"The next thing I knew I smelled coffee, and heard Joyce whistling just as she used to at home when she was getting breakfast, and I didn't waste many minutes in going out to her in that cunning kitchenette. It is all white tiling and shining nickel-plate, as easy to keep clean as a china dish, and just a delight to work in. I never thought so before, but now it seems to me that it is just as nice to know how to serve a delicious meal as easily as Joyce does as it is to put a picture on canvas. I can see now what a good thing it was for both of us that we had to serve such a long apprenticeship in work and housekeeping, even if it did seem hard at the time.

"'It gives a girl a sort of Midas touch,'  Phil said last night; 'makes her able to gild even a garret and to turn any old place into a home.' He was so charmed with everything about the flat that he said he wanted to move into one right away, and make biscuits himself on a glass-topped table, and do stunts with the fireless cooker like Joyce. He has had a surfeit of cafés and hotels and boarding-houses.

"While we were at breakfast the postman came, and there were letters and packages for everybody. Lloyd sent a present to each of us. Mine was a darling little lace fan all spangled, like a cobweb with dew-drops caught in its meshes. We opened everything then and there, as we had already had part of our presents. Jack's to me was this holiday trip, and Mamma's was the shirt-waist that I travelled in from Washington.

"Joyce got a check that she hadn't expected before next month, and another one that she hadn't expected at all. It was for some initial letter sketches and tail-pieces that had been travelling around to different magazines for months. Besides, there was an order for a frontispiece for a child's magazine. She was so happy she could hardly finish her breakfast, and said now she could give me the present she had planned to give me in the beginning. She had been disappointed about some other work she had counted on, and thought she would have to cut my present down to some gloves and a book, but now she could play Santa Claus in fine style, and carry out her original intention. Just as soon as things were in order, she would take me down town and let me choose it.

"It was so exciting, not knowing what it was going to be, and hurrying along with the crowds of shoppers; everybody so smiling and happy and good-natured, no matter how much they were bumped into. I felt Christmasey down to my finger-tips, although they were nearly frozen. Last night's snow was almost a blizzard, and left it stinging cold.

"At last, after buying a lot of little things to put on the tree at Eugenia's, and keeping me guessing for over an hour about my present, Joyce took us into a furrier's, and bought me a beautiful set of furs; a lovely long boa and a muff like the one Lloyd had her picture taken in the first year she was at Warwick Hall. I've always wanted furs like them. They look so opulent and luxurious. And maybe I wasn't proud and happy when I saw myself in the mirror! They just make my costume, and they made a world of difference in my comfort when we went out into the icy air again. I certainly would have squealed if I hadn't remembered that we were on Broadway, when Joyce told me that I looked so stunning that she could not keep her eyes off me. I knew just how happy it made her to be able to give me such a present, for I remembered what pleasure I had in sending Jack the watch-fob that I had earned all myself.

"Then we went to Wanamaker's and by that time it was so late she said we'd better go up stairs and take lunch there. There wouldn't be time to go home and prepare it ourselves. There was music playing, and it was all so gay and lively that I kept getting more and more excited every moment. Finally, while we were waiting for our orders to be filled, Betty said, 'It is so festive, I believe I'll give Mary my present now, instead of waiting till we get to Eugenia's.' Then she took a jeweller's box from her shopping bag, and, to and behold, when I opened it, the little bloodstone ring that I'd been longing for all these weeks! I was so happy I nearly cried.

"After lunch we came back to the flat to get our suit-cases. Joyce is packing hers now. In just a few minutes she will be ready, and then we will turn the key in the door and be off for Eugenia's. Mrs. Boyd and Miss Lucy have gone to Brooklyn to spend Christmas, and Miss Henrietta is away on a month's vacation."

The suburban train was crowded when the girls reached it. Even the aisles were full of bundle-laden passengers, until the first few stations were past. Then Betty and Joyce found seats together, and a fat old lady good-naturedly drew herself up as far as possible, in order that Mary might squeeze past her to the vacant seat next the window.

"I can't set there myself, on account of the cold coming in the cracks so," she wheezed apologetically. "But young people don't feel draughts, and anyway, you can put your muff up between you and it if you do."

"Mary has a travelling companion after her own heart," laughed Joyce to Betty, as they watched the old lady's bonnet bobbing an energetic accompaniment to her remarks. "She's always picking up acquaintances on the train. She can get more enjoyment out of a day's railroad journey than some people get in a trip around the world."

"It is the same way at school," answered Betty. "You have no idea how popular she is, just because she is interested in everybody in that sweet friendly way."

They went on to talk of other things, so absorbed in their own conversation that they thought no more about Mary's. So they did not see that presently she turned away from her garrulous companion, and, wrapped in her own thoughts, sat gazing at the flying landscape. It was not at the snowy fields she was smiling with that happy light in her eyes, nor at the gleaming river. She was only dimly conscious of them and had forgotten entirely that it was the famous Hudson whose shore-line they were following. For once she was finding her own thoughts more interesting than the conversation of an unexplored stranger, although the old lady had taken her generously into her confidence during the first quarter of an hour. Indeed, it was one of those very confidences which had sent Mary off into her revery.

"I tell Silas that no one ever does keep Christmas just right till they get to be grand-parents like us, and have the children bringing their children home to hang up their stockings in the old chimney corner. 'Peared like, that first Christmas that Silas and me spent together in our own house couldn't be happier, but it didn't hold a candle to them that came afterwards, when there was little Si and Emmy and Joe to buy toys for. Silas says we get a triple extract out of the day now, because we not only have our enjoyment of it, but what we get watching our children enjoy watching their children's fun."

She reached forward and with some difficulty extracted a toy from the covered basket on the floor at her feet, a wooden monkey on a stick. "I'm just looking forward to seeing Pa's face when he drops that into Joe's baby's little sock."

Her own kindly old face was a study, as she slid the grotesque monkey up and down the rod, chuckling in pleased anticipation. And Mary, with her readiness to put herself into another's place, smiled with her, sharing sympathetically the anticipation of her return. Straightway in her imagination, she herself was a grandmother, going home to some adoring old Silas, who had shared her joys and troubles for over half a century.

Up to this moment she had been thinking that it could not be possible for any one to have a happier Christmas than she was having. A dozen times she had smoothed the soft fur of her boa with a caressing hand, and slipped back her glove to delight her eyes with the sight of her bloodstone ring, while her thoughts ran on ahead to the house-party towards which they were speeding. But the old lady's words had opened up a vista that set her to day-dreaming.

If by the road or by the hill or by the far sea-way "he" should really come, some day, then of course the Christmases they would spend together would be happier than this. Jack had always said that she would have her "innings" when she was a grandmother. All her life Mary had been dreaming romances about other people, now in a vague sweet way those dreams began to centre around herself.

It was almost dark when they left the train. Phil was at the station to meet them with a sleigh and a team of spirited black horses.

"Oh, sleighbells!" sighed Joyce, ecstatically, as she climbed into the back seat beside Betty. "I haven't been behind any since I left Plainsville. I wish we had forty miles to go. Nothing makes me feel so larky as the sound of sleighbells."

Phil glanced back over his shoulder. "It is a bare mile and a half to the house, but I told Eugenia I'd bring you home the roundabout way to make the drive longer, if you all were not cold. What do you say?"

"The long way by all means!" cried Joyce and Betty in the same breath.

Phil laughed. "The ayes have it. Even Mary's eyes, although she doesn't say anything," he added, seeing the beaming smile that crossed her face at the prospect of a longer drive. "They are shining like two stars," he went on mischievously, amused to see the colour flame up into her cheeks, and noticing how becoming it was. Then his mettlesome horses claimed his attention for awhile.

Later, as he looked back from time to time, in conversation with the older girls, his glance rested on Mary, sitting beside him as contented and happy as a kitten in those becoming furs, and he thought with satisfaction that the little Vicar was growing up to be a very pretty girl after all. Her eyes were positively starry under her long, curling lashes.

That Eugenia regarded their coming as a great event, they felt from the moment the sleigh drew up to the house. From every window streamed a welcoming light, and the front door, flung open at their approach, showed that the wide reception hall had been transformed into a bower of Christmas greens. Eugenia, radiant in her most becoming dinner gown of holly red, came running down the steps to meet them.

Ever since she had been established as mistress of this beautiful country place, she had longed for them to visit her. Guests she had in plenty, for young Doctor Tremont and his wife were noted for their lavish hospitality, but the welcome accorded her new friends and neighbours was nothing to the one reserved for these old friends of her girlhood. She wanted them to see for themselves that she had made no mistake in her weaving, and that marriage had indeed brought her the "diamond leaf " that Abdallah found only in Paradise.

"Patricia had just dropped asleep," she told them as she led the way up stairs. Not that it was the proper time, but she was always doing unexpected things. That very day she had surprised them with four new words which they had not dreamed she could say. Eliot had orders to bring her in the moment that she awakened, so they could soon see the most remarkable child in the world. Yes, Eliot was still with her, good old Eliot. She intended to keep her always. Not as a maid, however. She had earned the position of guardian angel to Patricia by all her years of devoted service, and she played her part to perfection.

While the girls opened their suit-cases and changed their dresses to costumes more suitable for evening, Eugenia stood in the door between the two rooms, turning first one way and then the other to answer the questions rapidly propounded. Mary, thankful that her white pongee had not wrinkled, divided her attention between the donning of that, and the information that Eugenia was imparting.

She had named the baby for Stuart's great-aunt Patricia, who for so many years had been like a mother to the boys and Elsie. She felt that she owed the dear, prim old lady that much as a sort of reparation for all she had suffered at the hands of the boys whom she had loved so dearly in spite of her inability to understand them. Father Tremont had been so touched and pleased when she proposed it. No, he could not be with them this Christmas. He had taken Elsie to the south of France. She was not very strong. Yes, Phil approved of her choice of names, but he said just as soon as she was old enough he intended to buy her a monkey and name it Dago, so that there would be one Patricia who was not afraid of such a pet.1 (1 See " The Story of Dago "for an account of Phil's and Stuart's childhood.)

"Mary, who had watched with keen interest the unwrapping of the dozens of beautiful wedding gifts at The Locusts, took a peculiar pleasure in looking around for them now, and recognizing them among the handsome furnishings of the different rooms. Heretofore the Locusts had been her ideal of all that a home should be, but this far surpassed anything she had ever seen in luxurious fittings.

As the girls followed their hostess over the house, with admiring exclamations for each room, Mary thought with inward amusement of the cold shivers she had had, as she stood with the bridal party between the Rose-gate and the flower crowned altar, listening to the solemn vow: "I, Eugenia, --- take thee, Stuart --- for better, for worse---" There had been no worse. It was all better, infinitely better, and the shivers had been entirely unnecessary.

Stuart came in presently, from a long round of professional visits. The young doctor had nearly as large a practise as his father, and had been riding all afternoon. Mary caught a glimpse of his meeting with Eugenia, in the hall, and when he came in, cordial as a boy in his welcome, and by numberless little courtesies showing himself the most considerate of hosts and husbands, she thought again, "This is one time it was certainly all 'for better.'"

"Where is 'Pat's Pill'?" he asked, looking around for Phil. "That is Patricia's name for him, as near as she can say it. Wouldn't you know that she was a doctor's daughter, by giving her doting uncle a pill for a name?"

Phil and Mr. Forbes came in together. To Betty, one of the pleasantest parts of her visit was this meeting with the "Cousin Carl," who had added such vistas of delight to her life by taking her to Europe the year she was threatened with blindness. His hair was grayer now than then, and the years had added a few lines to his kind face, but he was not nearly so grave. He smiled oftener, and she noticed with satisfaction his evident pride in Eugenia since she had blossomed into such a happy, enthusiastic housewife, and his devotion to little Patricia, when she was brought in for awhile just after dinner.

She was a fascinating little creature, all smiles and dimples and coquettish shrugs, and she held royal court the few moments she was allowed to monopolize the attention of the company. It was her second Christmas eve, and she had been brought down for the first public ceremony of hanging her stocking in the great chimney corner. Even after she was carried away it was plain to be seen how the interest of the house centred around her. There was a tender glow in Eugenia's eyes every time she looked at the tiny white stocking hanging from the  holly wreathed mantel. And it was also plain to be seen that the little stocking gave a deeper meaning to the words carved underneath, to every one gathered around the fire: "East or West, Home is best." When the trimming of the great tree in the library began, it was found that each member of the household had bought her enough toys to stock a show-window.

"There is really too much for one kid," said Phil gravely, surveying his own lavish contributions. "What can she do with them when it is all over?"

Eugenia glanced from the long row of dolls she was counting, to the assortment of stuffed animals and toys already weighting the tinsel-decked branches. "She shall keep them only a day. I have made up my mind that she shall not grow up to be the selfish child that I was before Betty came along with her Tusitala story and her Road of the Loving Heart. She is to begin to build one now, even before she is old enough to understand. This is her first Christmas tree. To-morrow she shall choose one gift from each person's assortment of offerings. To-morrow night the tree and all the rest of the presents are to be turned over to the little orphans of St. Boniface Refuge."

"Daddy's name for her is 'Blessing,'" explained Stuart. "So you see she is in a fair way to be trained up to fit it."

Since the tree was for children only, no gifts for the older people appeared among its branches, but in the night some silent-footed Kriss Kringle made his stealthy rounds, and left a gay little red and white stocking by every bedside. Mary discovered hers early in the morning, after the maid had been in to turn on the heat in the radiator, and close the windows. She wondered how it could have been placed there without her knowledge, for the slightest motion set the tiny bells on heel and toe a-jingling. She touched it several times just to start the silvery tinkle, then sitting up in bed emptied its treasures out on the counterpane. It was filled with bonbons and many inexpensive trifles, but down in the toe was a little gold thimble, from Patricia.

It was in the chair under the stocking that she found the gloves from Eugenia, the book from "Cousin Carl "and a long box that she opened with breathless interest because Phil's card lay atop. On it was scribbled, "The 'Best Man's' best wishes for a Merry Christmas to Mary."

Tearing off the ribbons and the tissue paper wrappings she lifted the lid, and then drew a long rapturous breath, exclaiming, "Roses! American Beauty roses! The first flowers a man ever sent me --- and from the Best Man!"

She laid her face down among the cool velvety petals and closed her eyes, drinking in the fragrance. Then she lifted each perfect bud and half blown flower to examine it separately, revelling in the sweetness and colour. Then the uncomfortable thought occurred to her that she was happier over this gift than she had been over the furs or the long-wished-for ring, and she began to make excuses to herself.

"Maybe if I'd always had them sent to me as Lloyd and Betty and the other girls have, it wouldn't seem such a big thing. But this is the first time. Of course it doesn't mean anything as it would if he had sent them to Lloyd. He is in love with her. Still --- I'm glad he chose roses."

She touched the last one to her lips. It was so cool and sweet that she held it there a moment before she slipped out of bed and ran across the room to thrust the long stems into the water pitcher. She would ask the maid for a more fitting receptacle after awhile, but in the meantime she would keep them fresh as possible.

When she went down to breakfast she wore one thrust in her belt, and some of its colour seemed to have found its way into her cheeks when she thanked Phil for his gift. The same rose was pinned on her coat, when later in the morning they went to a Christmas service at St. Boniface, the little stone church in the village, a mile away. Eugenia had suggested their going. She said it would be such a picture with the snow on its ivy-covered belfry, and the icicles hanging from the eaves. Some noted singer was to be in the choir, and would sing several solos. The walking would be fine through the dry crunching snow, and as they had right of way through all of the neighbouring estates between them and the village, it would be like going through an English park.

Stuart had an urgent round of professional visits to make and could not join them, and at the last moment some message came from the Orphanage in reference to the tree, which kept Eugenia at home to make some alteration in her plans. So when the time came to start only the four guests set out across the snowy lawn, down the woodland path leading to the village. They went Indian file at first in order that Phil might make a trail through the snow, until they reached the beaten path.

It was colder than they had expected to find it, and presently Mary dropped back to the rear, so that she might hold her muff up, unobserved, to shield the rose she wore. She could not bear to have its lovely petals take on a dark purplish tinge at the edges where the frost curled them. In the church the steam-heated atmosphere brought out its fragrance till it was almost overpoweringly sweet, but when she glanced down she saw that it was no longer crisp and glowing. It had wilted in the sudden change, and hung limp and dying on its stem.

"I'll put it away in an envelope when I get back to the house," thought Mary. "When they all fade I'll save the leaves and make a potpourri of them like we made of Eugenia's wedding roses, and put them away in my little Japanese rose-jar, to keep always."

Then the music began, and she entered heartily into the beautiful Christmas service. The offering was to be divided among the various charities of the parish, it had been announced, and Mary, remembering the bright new quarter in her purse, was glad that she had earned that bit of silver herself. It made it so much more of a personal offering than if she had saved it from her allowance. She slipped her purse out of her jacket pocket as the prelude of the offertory filled the aisles and rose to the arches of the vaulted roof.

The man who carried the plate was slowly making his way towards the pew in which she sat, and with her gaze fixed on him, she began fumbling with the clasp of her purse, under cover of her muff. She had never seen such a rubicund portly gentleman, with two double chins and expansive bald spot on his crown. She held the coin between her fingers awaiting his slow approach. Just as he reached the end of their pew where Phil was sitting, she sneezed. Not a loud sneeze, but one of those inward convulsions that makes the whole body twitch spasmodically.

It sent a handful of petals from the wilted rose showering down into her lap. The coin dropped back into her purse as she made an instinctive grab to save them from going to the floor. Then blushing and embarrassed as the plate paused in front of her, she fumbled desperately in her purse to regain the dropped quarter. The instant the coin left her fingers she saw the mistake she had made, and reached out her hand as if to snatch it back. But it was too late, even if she had had the courage to reclaim it. She had dropped her English shilling into the plate instead of the quarter! Her precious talisman from the bride's cake, that she had carried as a pocket piece ever since Eugenia's wedding.

Betty, who sat next to her, was the only one who saw her confusion, and her sudden movement towards the plate after it passed. She glanced at her curiously, wondering at her agitation, but the next moment forgot it in listening to the wonderful voice that took up the solo.

But the solo, as far as Mary was concerned, might have been a siren whistle or a steam calliope. She was watching the man of the bald head and the double chins, who had walked off with her shilling. Down the central aisle went the pompous gentleman at last in company with two others, and the three plates were received by the rector and blessed and deposited on the altar, all in the most deliberate fashion, while Mary twisted her fingers and thought of desperate but impossible plans to rescue her shilling.

If she had been alone she would have hurried to the front at the close of the service, and watched to see who became the custodian of the alms. Then she could have pounced upon him and begged to be allowed to rectify her mistake. But Phil and the girls would think she had lost her mind if they should see her do such a thing, unless she explained to them. Somehow she shrank from letting anybody know how highly she valued that shilling. All at once she had grown self-conscious. She had not known herself, just how much she cared for it until it was gone beyond recall. Aside from the sentiment for which she cherished it she had a superstitious feeling that her fate was bound up with it in such a way that the gods would cease to be propitious if she lost the talisman that influenced them.

No feasible plan occurred to her, however. The choir passed out in slow recessional. The congregation as slowly followed. Mary loitered as long as possible, even going back for her handkerchief, which she had purposely dropped in the pew to give her an excuse to return. But her anxious glances revealed nothing. The vestry door was closed, and nobody was inside the chancel rail.

As they passed down the steps Phil turned to glance at a small bulletin board outside the door, on which the hours of the service were printed in gilt letters. "Dudley Eames, Rector," he read in a low tone. "Strange I never can remember that man's name, when Stuart is always quoting him. They are both great golf players, and were eternally making engagements with each other over the phone. when I was here last summer. I heard it often enough to remember it, I'm sure."

He did not see the expression of relief which his remark brought to Mary's face. It held a suggestion which she resolved to act upon as soon as she could find opportunity. She would telephone to the rector about it.

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