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Full text of "A live Christmas tree : Christmas story"




PS3513 
.158 3L5 
1910x 




BOSTON 
PUBLIC 
LIBRARY 




& Elbe Christmas Gte 



CHRISTMAS STORY 



By 



BRADLEY GILMAN 





A Live Christmas Tree 

HE more Hypatia Fenderson saw of 
her new Forty-H. P. Conrad-Plymp- 
ton, the less she cared for her horses; 
blue-ribbon creatures of high pedi- 
gree though they were, their restless 
clacking of bits and chaotic clatter of hoofs 
became an increasing irritation to her, once she 
had felt the thrill of a "full speed," on the Wal- 
bridge Turnpike, with her ear attuned to the 
obedient murmur of her high-grade car. 

To-day, holding the Titan in leash, outside 
the town-hall, the golden glory of the October 
afternoon cast no spell over her; she waited 
impatiently for her husband, who was presiding 
at a meeting of the Anti-Tuberculosis League 
within. Presently he appeared, hurrying, and 
explaining his necessary delay, and became her 
passenger. He had been her passenger all 
along the highway of their wedded life; some 
cynical friends said he had been a captive at her 
chariot wheels; even said it to him; but warm- 
hearted Tom laughed and loved, and Hypatia 
knew not that he was the very breath of her life. 
She sat stiffly erect at the wheel; she could 
not relax into the conventional chauffeur loll. 
Local bucolic wits said that she was trying to 

1 



live above the gasoline smell; and it must be 
conceded that always she had the manner of one 
in whose mouth the cup of life left a bad taste. 
Now, in special, she was moody and misanthropic. 
"Why will you . . . waste time . . . with those 
. . . garrulous old women . . . male and fe- 
male!" she clicked, ratchet-like, and accom- 
panied herself as in an obbligato, with throttle, 
sparker, and advancing gears. 

"Really," laughed Tom Fenderson, "I fail 
to identify. The women of our League are not 
garrulous, they are simply women; and the men 
are no more old women than ... I am." 

"You are . . . sometimes, Tom." This in 
a suppressive tone, with a quizzical dilation of 
petal-like nostrils, but with keen gray eyes fixed 
on the brown ribbon of highway ahead. 

A mile and more of clear country road now 
opened, and Hypatia, still cynical — even metallic 
— a modern Centaur — soliloquized : " It is such 
a waste of time and strength — this holding of 
tiresome meetings, and this extracting of re- 
luctant dollars; and what for? Aiding im- 
perfect specimens of the human race to draw 
out a few more unhappy days of existence. 
How futile to combat the inexorable law of the 
* survival of the fittest ' ! " 

"Thanks, Mrs. Herbert Spencer," commented 
Tom, unshaken and smiling. "Your scientific 

2 



hierarch did indeed point out a far-reaching 
law, but laws have exceptions, you remember; 
that's where our League steps in. We hold by 
Nature; but we appeal to her against herself; 
to higher law against lower, you understand." 

Hypatia's lip curled obdurately. "Old stock 
arguments. I've heard them many times;" and 
she seemed so vital, so dominant a being, in her 
self-reliant grace and beauty, that Disease would 
not have dared molest her, and even Death, 
with uplifted dart, might have stayed his arm. 

Their obedient Geni, sighing in his bondage, 
bore them swiftly on through fields of yellow 
corn, under arches of leafy gold, and over slopes 
of highway which seemed to bend pliantly beneath 
them. Tom, "the Passenger," noted with eye 
and ear the varied splendor of the waning day; 
the lucent yellow of golden rod, the turgid SilenUs 
purple of sumac, and the arcs of cryptic circles 
cut by restless south-beckoned swallows into 
the velvety blue of the sky. Yet his joy in the 
crimson and golden glory was shot across, at 
intervals, by the sombre wish that his wife might 
share with him his zealous interest in this crusade 
against the Great White Plague. Then he 
suddenly recalled a remark which his friend, 
the stock broker, had inadvertently dropped, 
the day before: "That wife of yours, Tom, is 
one of a thousand. Why, she wired me last 

3 



week, after that tenement-house exposure, to sell 
all her shares in the United Claims Company. 
They really own that deadly tenement-house 
district, you know, and won't make improve- 
ments." 

The broker's voice had vibrated with admira- 
tion, and Hypatia's husband had mechanically 
nodded and confirmed, "Yes, I know"; but he 
had not known. Still he knew her — as well 
as anybody could — and was not surprised. 
Now he recalled the matter, and it comforted 
him. 

"One of the weak points in this whole move- 
ment," resumed Hypatia, aggressively, "is that 
you people — physicians as well as others — 
don't use plain speech with persons who ought 
to hear it. You all beat about the bush. You 
give to the disease which you are combatting 
mild and misleading names, or you accept such 
when used by friends of the patient; but, mark 
me, the truth should be held up to people; facts, 
even harsh facts, should be boldly faced; yes, 
and nearly all people will welcome them . . ." 

Her husband was shaking his head slowly 
but firmly, and sat with compressed lips. ' You 
don't agree, I know;" she went on, her tones 
growing more insistent; "but just try it; you will 

5 J 
*5CC * • • 

She interrupted herself by a half-choking cry 

4 



of alarm, her gray-gauntleted hands strained 
fiercely at the wheel, and a sharp clicking and 
clacking of gears arrested the car's progress 
within thrice its length. Tom gasped and clung 
to his seat. He had caught only a glimpse of 
two boyish figures, as they had burst forth from 
two great mounds of red and yellow leaves by 
the roadside, and vanished in front of the car. 
One boy sped across the road in safety; but the 
other . . . the car — though with speed slackened 
— struck him, and tossed him, screaming, back 
among the red and yellow leaves, where he now 
lay motionless. 

"It's those McDermott twins;" cried Tom, 
leaping from the car. 

" Yes, those dreadful twins, Micky and Macky ;" 
echoed Hypatia, as she braked, and reversed, 
and stopped the car. " Mic-Macs, indeed; little 
Indians; scourges of the town." 

But little Micky McDermott was less injured 
than terrified. In a moment Tom was at his 
side, raising him up, and Macky close after him. 
The child drew a few long breaths, stared about 
him, then turned to his noisily sobbing brother: 
"Shut up . . . Mack," he enjoined. "I'm . . . 
all right. What . . . was it?" This last with 
inquiring gaze at the bearded face bending 
anxiously over him. 

All right he was, indeed; shaken and bruised, 

5 



but in nowise disabled; and when he heard the 
voice of the "Fine Lady" in the car speaking 
to him, he responded with alacrity. " Climb 
in!" it had directed, "both of you. I will take 
you home." 

Her voice was steady, her manner collected; 
and Tom Fenderson stepped in after the now 
eager twins — himself pale and trembling — and 
wondered at the marvellous poise of the woman 
beside him. 

The twins gave themselves up to the full 
rapture of the "joy ride," and rolled about 
gleefully on the big back seat. 

"What is that in your hand?" demanded 
Tom, now inspecting Micky more calmly. 

The urchin held it up — a fragment, the mere 
neck of a large brown bottle, with tattered yellow 
wrapper still hanging from it. He had clung 
to it through everything. Tom took it and read 
aloud, derisively, from its showy wrapper, 
" Omnio curativo — the world-renowned remedy 
for colds, hoarseness, and pains in the chest 
and back; warranted to restore health and 
strength: a guarantee given with ten bottles." 

Then followed "testimonials" from names, 
suffixed with "M.D." and hailing from obscure 
towns in remote States of the Union. 

Tom held it an instant before his wife's keen 
eyes, then threw it far out into the bushes. " Got 

6 



it from the store;" volunteered Macky, as if he 
owed the information in partial payment for 
his ride. "It's for father. His cough's awful 
bad." 

Hypatia's eyes were bent upon the now narrow 
and winding "back road," but red glowed in 
her pale cheeks as she spoke with unwonted 
stress: "The other fragments of that precious 
bottle are probably scattered on the Turnpike, 
lying in wait for the next motor car. And you 
noticed, didn't you, the wording of that adver- 
tisement on the wrapper? Nothing said about 
'consumption,' or 'phthisis' — only 'colds,' and 
'hoarseness,' and pains in general. Deceitful, 
deadly euphemisms ! ' ' 

Tom Fenderson had nothing to give in response 
save an assenting nod. 

" And this imp of a boy, too — he says his 
father's cough is 'awful.' Probably the whole 
family think and talk merely 'cough,' and say, 
'It is so wearing.' I've heard the same kind 
of futile maundering before, and it is a shame 
that hard, stern facts are so ignored." 

The perfect machine glided, like a sentient 
thing, along the grooves of the forest road; and 
on the front seat uneasy, angry silence reigned, 
but on the back seat the two "Mic-Macs" dis- 
ported themselves like irresponsible cherubs. It 
was joy unexpected and even unhoped for — 

7 



this triumph of a motor ride. " Gee, what 
fun!" confided Macky rapturously. "We're jest 
like rich folks now. Ain't we, Mick?" 

"Well, you can jest thank me;" responded 
his fellow-imp, loftily, while his restless fingers 
explored the various metal and leather surfaces 
around him, and his eager eyes searched out 
other delightful novelties of the well-appointed 
car. " If I hadn't got knocked over, you wouldn't 
have this fine ride." 

"An' you wouldn't yourself;" retorted Macky, 
instinctively parrying his brother's attack in 
words, as often in more corporeal ways. "But 
I say, Mick, here we are home again. See, an' 
there's Pa, diggin' p'taters, an' 'Tina shutt'n' 
up the chicks." 

The terse way in which Hypatia now sug- 
gested that Tom remain in charge of the car 
implied deliberate design; and, as she followed 
the voluble twins to the door of the plain little 
homestead, her firm mouth grew firmer, and her 
clear gray eyes became even clearer and more 
dominating. 

The dramatic tale which the twins jointly 
and severally poured out — tragedy transformed 
into comedy — was like a tangle of their own 
kite-string; but stout-bodied, big-hearted Mrs. 
McDermott was quick at practical details — 
with fingers or wits; and, in a trice, she dis- 

8 



entangled the snarl of exclamatory explanations, 
flung her bare red arms tightly around the bub- 
bling, gesticulating urchins, and gathered them, 
with a mighty mother-hug, to her loving breast. 

"And the bottle of medicine, you say, was 
smashed?" she inquired, presently. Then she 
discovered the impressive figure of Hypatia 
Fenderson outside the door, and half-curtseyed, 
with an old-fashioned grace and dignity. "Ex- 
cuse me, Marm, I did not see you before. I 
was so put about by the children's story that . . ." 

The good woman's tongue was as mobile as 
her heart was warm ; and Hypatia interrupted — 
with decision, yet with those circumflex tones 
which she Vainly intended should convey kind- 
liness— "Yes, Mrs. McDermott, the bottle 
was broken, and no loss to any one. The mixture 
it contained cost about a dollar, but any druggist 
could put it up for a quarter of that sum." 

Here she waved off, with gloved hand, the 
invitation to enter, which Mrs. McDermott 
brokenly and shyly extended, and continued, 
standing stiffly at the foot of the steps beside 
the luxuriant hydrangea, " Such mixtures are 
fraudulent in at least two ways. Their cost is 
excessive, and they encourage sick people in 
thinking that their ailments are slight and easily 
cured, when really those ailments may be deep- 
seated and dangerous." 

9 



Mrs. McDermott stood uneasily in the door- 
way, with red, swollen hands of tireless toil 
clasped in front. She smiled constrainedly under 
the doubtful pleasure of the call, and nodded in 
agreement with her visitor's views, thus far ex- 
pressed in impersonal generalization. But Hy- 
patia now entered upon more definite and more 
delicate ground: "You doubtless know, my good 
woman, that often people say they have only a 
cold, or a bad cough, when they really have . . . 
er . . . something much more serious than that." 

The mild brown eyes of the stout woman in 
the doorway showed a gathering perplexity, and 
her tone was a guarded one as she responded: 
"Yes . . . er . . . I've known such." 

"Of course you have;" continued her visitor, 
plucking with insistent fingers a I: the hydrangea 
petals. "And now, to bring this matter down 
to realities, your husband, for example, has . . . 
has . . . er . . what do you say is his exact 
sickness, Mrs. McDermott?" 

Hypatia bit her lip in vexation at herself. 
That "plain, frank statement of evident facts, 
which she had long advocated, seemed to halt 
in its unfolding; and as she glanced at the ample 
figure filling the doorway, she felt positively 
at a loss for words. Mrs. McDermott was no 
longer leaning against the side of the door, but 
stood firmly erect, and even rigid. 

10 



"I don't rightly know why yer ask, Marm, 
but since yer do, it's a little matter of a cough 
my man has; that's all; we all have such things; 
in big houses, as well as little ones." 

There was a vigor and even a defiance in the 
sturdy housewife's terminal sentence, which 
Hypatia, calling herself a neighbor, had never 
before noted. She was now quick to feel the 
barrier so suddenly erected, yet she chose to 
ignore it, and persisted, " But, my good woman . ." 

The hollow circumflex in this form of address 
made its listener shut her teeth in protest. 

"... There are simple colds and coughs, 
and then . . . er . . . also . . . there are . . . 
worse things, which colds and coughs lead to. 
I am sure that an intelligent, experienced woman, 
like you, knows that." 

Mrs. McDermott's round, red face seemed to 
be undergoing mysterious transformation. Firm, 
hard lines appeared in it, ridges and knots where 
before had been soft creases and rounded curves. 
She was distinctly pale, too, and her brown eyes 
seemed darker, and keener, and more animal- 
like. Constantina, the slender, delicate daughter, 
after shutting in the fowls for the night, had come 
nearer to listen, and the tall, thin, stooping man 
had left the potato-patch and entered the back 
door. As for the irrepressible " Mic-Macs " — 
perpetual motion incarnated — they hung around 

11 



the fascinating motor-car, like their scalp-lock 
prototypes around a cut-off prairie schooner; 
and all of Tom Fenderson's resources were fully 
taxed to keep them and the car from coming to 
harm. 

The mother of the family stood boldly at bay 
against the invader of her home; former defer- 
ence of cottage to mansion was laid aside; shy- 
ness — because of imperfect grammar and faulty 
intonation in the presence of smooth diction 
and modulated speech — was utterly forgotten ; 
mother-nature and wife-nature became united, 
solidified, and sublimated into fierce, protective 
passion. 

Hypatia broke the painful silence. She could 
not easily relinquish her cherished theory of 
candor, and the beauty of truth unadorned. 
"You must know, Mrs. McDermott," she offered 
more tentatively, "that often a really serious 
disease can be treated with success if it is recog- 
nized as such. As for myself . . 

"You must excuse me, Marm . . . Mrs. 
Fenderson, I mean, but I don't rightly know 
what you're talking about." She broke through 
her visitor's softly spun web of speech like an 
aroused lioness through a frail and futile net. 
She seemed to rock with suppressed energy. 
She threw a quick glance behind her — having 
heard the back door open and shut — and went 

12 



on in a louder and harsher tone, "We're all 
very well here, thank you, barrin' a little cough, 
somewhat wearin', of my husband's; we are 
doin' fine, an he's gett n better every day." 

It was a defiance, almost a threat. "Ex- 
tremely disagreeable;" Hypatia thought, un- 
consciously gathering up her skirts, as if from 
contamination. She knew that her social pres- 
tige had ceased, for the time; indeed, it had 
been burnt up in the furnace of this woman's 
emotion. The two were facing each other, 
woman to woman; and Hypatia now recognized 
the failure of her attempt by a last formal, cour- 
teous sentence, and went back to the car and its 
passenger. 

Not a word was offered by tactful Tom Fen- 
derson as they sped along the road; but he knew 
that the interview had been a serious disappoint- 
ment to his autocratic helpmeet; for she drove 
with more speed than was her wont, and she 
scattered fowls and dogs recklessly, and ran 
up steep Cobb Hill on her high gear. 

During three weeks, nothing was said by 
either of them regarding the stinging rebuff 
at the little farmhouse under the hill. Then, 
one day, in the study, Hypatia sat attentively 
examining a new patent spark-plug, held in her 
left hand, while giving her right indifferently 
to the caresses of a superb Ben Lomond collie, 

13 



who seemed to recognize the spark-plug as a 
successful rival. Suddenly she remarked, turn- 
ing the plug from side to side, critically: "It 
isn't of much use to try to help people who won't 
help themselves." 

That meant the McDermotts ; nothing else; 
as her husband now assumed. "But we must 
first make sure that they are not helping them- 
selves;" he ventured, with caution. 

"Certainly it did not look like it;" she con- 
tinued, coldly. 

" But they are fighting hard — those Mc- 
Dermotts," he said, now with more warmth. 
"As I happen to know." 

"Not if I heard her correctly," countered 
Hypatia, in a severe tone. "And we must as- 
sume that people mean what they say." 

"I'm not so sure of that;" Tom commented, 
nervously reaching for a particular pamphlet, 
in the pile on the table. "None of us mortals 
is wholly consistent. Do you and I always 
act quite as we speak? Sometimes, my dear, 
people . . . people look in one direction, 
and . . . and move in quite another." 

He seemed much absorbed in his search 
among the pamphlets, but he knew that her 
keen gray eyes had been turned upon him like 
tiny searchlights; and he continued more rapidly, 
as if resolved to have his full speech without 

14 



let or hindrance. " Mrs. McDermott, for ex- 
ample, as you know, talks about a 'bad cold,' 
and 'a wearing cough,' and 'a slight hoarse- 
ness ' — no extrenier terms than those — but, 
really, she is acting very differently; she is fight- 
ing desperately the Great White Plague; and 
she knows it." 

Then, as if aroused by his own words, he 
ceased his search among the papers, and stood 
erect before his wife, who met his earnest gaze 
with an indulgent raising of her white brow. 
"Yes, Hypatia, that big, blowzy woman is a 
heroine." He spoke with a vehemence rare in 
him. " She is nobly fighting a fierce battle 
for one whom she loves more than her life; and 
she has to fight — oh, the anguish of it — 
with a smile on her lips and a cheerful word on 
her tongue, when a terrible dread is gnawing 
at her loving heart." 

Hypatia was at least interested. That could 
not be denied. Both hands were clasped in her 
lap over the now neglected spark-plug, but she 
was quite unconvinced and a bit contemptuous. 
" How do you know so much about this family ?" 
she asked, in a frigid tone. 

Her husband answered promptly: "By things 
I have seen and heard. Our district-nurse 
was called there twice; and the second time, 
Mrs. McDermott, nervously and with tears, 

15 



suggested that she would best not come again. 
But the nurse is quick and tactful, and she had 
already learned that hints which she had dropped 
during the first visit had been snapped up by 
Mrs. McDermott and that pale, clever daughter, 
and were being acted upon. Moreover, I my- 
self observed that both windows of the attic, 
frames and all, had been removed; and one of 
those voluble twins told me, when I asked, that 
his father slept up there. You see the bearing 
of all that, my dear?" 

I Hypatia drew her thin Underlip between her 
white teeth, drummed nervously on the spark- 
plug, and looked alternately at it and at her 
husband. "How about that useless, deceitful 
bottle of medicine?" she asked, triumphantly. 
"That doesn't look as though they faced the 
hard facts of their case." 

f '-"Impulsive Tom Fenderson snapped his fingers 
in the air. " That for the bottle of quack medi- 
cine! It proves nothing. It is only an outer 
feint, to keep up her husband's courage. Yes, 
and to keep up her own, poor soul, if you can 
understand such an inconsistent position." 

Hypatia turned and turned the metallic object 
in her hands, slowly yet uneasily. Her husband 
tried in vain to follow the involutions of her 
thought. Her mind was in one of its Star Cham- 
ber sessions; her judgment would find expression 

16 



later, he knew, but no hint would be given con- 
cerning her mental processes. 

She arose and moved towards the door; pass- 
ing a mirror, she paused and daintily touched 
hair and collar with slender, reparative fingers; 
but the disorder she felt was not in her outer 
self; it was within; and this inner disorder she 
now bore, in pride and silence, to her own room. 

With a sigh Tom Fenderson dropped into 
his big easy-chair and leaned head upon hand; 
"Oh, the pity of it!" he groaned. Whether 
he had in mind the fierce, silent struggle at the 
little farmhouse, or the strange, inflexible nature 
under his own roof, who could say? If the 
latter, then there was a ray of hope in the frigid 
silence which had been her only response to his 
vehement plea. Open, candid concession was 
as impossible for her as for the moon and the 
stars to make obeisance to human mandate. 

The weeks slipped swiftly away. Tom Fen- 
derson respected his wife's reticence, but scanned 
the heavens for signs of the times. And when 
Hypatia, not long afterward, donned a new 
fur coat, without explanation, he wondered — 
and yet did not wonder — what had become of 
the old one. The district-nurse, taking her 
life in her hands, faced Mrs. McDermott in still 
another visit, and reported that Mr. McDermott 
was now living altogether in a well-built "shack," 

17 



on the hillock back of his house, and that he 
wore a fur coat during the day and slept in a 
fur bag at night. 

"These are luxuries inexplicable," quoth Tom, 
"for plain people like the McDermotts. Who 
can have bestowed them ? And who possibly 
can have induced that proud little group to keep 
them?" So, for days, whenever the bell 
rang, he was expectant of meeting Mrs. Mc- 
Dermott's stalwart form and resonant voice at 
the door, she being laden with the furry garments. 
"Still, she can't return the shack," he said, nod- 
ding and smiling at himself in the mirror. " And 
the non-returnable real estate may serve to 
anchor the personal property where it is." 

Christmas was now near at hand. It is easy 
of celebration with a warm house and a festal 
tree ; but how could a little family — say, like 
the McDermotts — celebrate it in their wonted 
way when the stricken, though now convalescing, 
head of the family was self-exiled from his own 
fireside, and had bared his face and nostrils 
to the healing airs of heaven, for weeks past, 
and must do so for weeks to come? 

Thus Tom Fenderson pondered, in silence 
and even aloud at times, and each time he ended 
his reflection with a grim and comforting con- 
fidence that somehow his resourceful wife would 
find a way. 

18 



Then came an invitation, two days before 
Christmas. The twins brought it. A note in 
Constantina's fine, clear script and signed by 
her, but somewhat soiled by defects in the postal 
service — as yet an "infant industry." 

In effect,— "Would Mr. Fenderson kindly 
come over to the Upland field, on Christmas 
Eve, at six o'clock, and join the McDermott 
family in holding 'tree-festivities'?" 

Tom read it and re-read it, then sent mes- 
sengers Micky and Macky away, each with a 
large slice of cake, and read it again. He scanned 
the words and weighed the sentences for signs 
of his wife's hand, but in vain; yet, although he 
was sure of her agency in the affair, he would 
not mention it to her. He knew her too well to 
knock more loudly or persistently at the portal 
of her personality, bolted as it was by a rigid 
reserve, and barred with many sensibilities. 

Christmas day came, cold and clear; and at 
a quarter before six o'clock, he donned his heavy 
overcoat and set forth across the lawn. The 
sun had made a flaming exit from his day's 
duties, and the crystalline air showed the earth 
everywhere covered with a firm white carpet, 
while the star-host above seemed to twinkle 
with eagerness over the singular Christmas 
festivity now impending, which they — with 
rare good fortune — were to share. 

19 



Across the level lawn, and through the fringe 
of cedars, then over the mossy stone-wall, and 
across the uneven vegetable garden — now deep 
in its winter slumber — and at last down over 
the slope of the Upland field, toward the western 
corner, as Constantina's note had indicated. 

In that snug corner there had been — almost 
as far back as Tom could remember — a group 
of three beautiful larch trees. He had seen 
them grow from frail babyhood through vigorous 
youth to sturdy, symmetrical maturity; and, only 
a month before, he had held hard at his own 
explosive wrath while trying to mollify his wife's, 
as they learned from their farmer that a field- 
fire, started by Unknown hands, had kindled a 
rubbish heap beneath the trees, had caught the 
trees themselves, and had ruined two out of the 
three. 

Of course his own and his wife's indignation 
had reverted instantly to the McDermott twins 
— heedless, irresponsible mischief-makers of the 
neighborhood, — but they had attempted nothing 
punitive. The farmer had cut down the two 
disfigured trees, and now as Tom drew near 
the tall, luxuriant survivor, he could make out 
many singular objects amongst its dense foliage. 
A few steps nearer, and the secret was clear to 
him. This was the Christmas tree; the living 
Christmas tree; and here was to be held a Christ- 

20 



mas al fresco, such as even an exiled invalid, 
like Mr. McDermott, might attend. 

Now fell upon Tom's ear the sounds of voices, 
in hushed tones, and he saw warmly-wrapped 
human figures moving about the tree, and he 
also heard sundry gigglings and gurglings of 
boyish voices which argued convincingly for the 
presence of the inseparable and ubiquitous 
"Mic-Macs." 

Yes, there were the McDermotts all, and the 
district-nurse, and the farmer's family, and 
several neighbors. Hypatia Fenderson herself 
was there, yet appeared to have nothing to do 
with directing events. It was the farmer — her 
farmer and overseer — who took charge of every- 
thing, or seemed to; and Hypatia, calm, sphinx- 
like as ever, had leisure to walk about like any 
other spectator. 

And now somebody gave a signal; perhaps 
it was the farmer, perhaps not; and — O marvel 
of marvels — the great dark tree was instantly 
flooded with light from its host of electric bulbs. 
A luminous atmosphere of golden glory per- 
meated the tree and radiated over the human 
faces that stared wonderingly up at it. Then 
the yellow glow ceased, and was followed by a 
flood of azure light, and bulbs flashed like sap- 
phires in its branches. Still another change, 
and the magic tree throughout its great height 

21 



and breadth flamed with brilliant light, as from 
countless rubies. 

The first faint murmur of wonder and delight 
among the rapt spectators slowly crystallized 
into more audible expression. Each voiced 
his feeling in his own way. Mrs. McDermott 
wiped her eyes, and told her silent husband 
that there never was anything seen like it before, 
nothing so beautiful on earth; and Constantina 
whispered to the district-nurse that it was like 
the Tree of Life, in the Garden of Eden. As 
for the redoubtable twins, they gaped and gasped, 
but for a minute only; soon each nudged the 
other, and audibly exclaimed : " Gee, what a 
show!" Then veered off into those inarticulate, 
juvenile frothings and fizzings which are the 
normal effervescence of happy childhood's aerated 
cup of life. 

But the presents ! Where were they ? You 
may be sure that at least two of the spectators 
were not to be diverted from thoughts of them 
by any mere aesthetic color-appeals, however 
wonderful; and when the farmer took from the 
tree sundry small packages, and gave one to 
each person present, and Micky and Macky 
had dived into theirs, and found candy — that 
ambrosia of childhood — then they felt sure 
that the Christmas tree festivity was not — as 
they had half feared — a dream and a delusion. 

22 



There were gifts for all; and varied were the 
joyous exclamations — loud or soft, short or 
long — with which these were received from 
the farmer's friendly hands; and, all the time, 
the great, radiant tree looked down from its 
luminous height, and seemed to rejoice with 
them. Indeed, Micky was not wholly wrong 
when he burst out: "Gee, it's a really and truly 
live Christmas tree; not a dead one, like most 
Christmas trees!" 

And Macky responded: "Yes, it's the real 
thing; it's alive; an' it will be alive to-morrow, 
and afterward, an' we can come . . . 

Then Micky elbowed him violently and re- 
pressively, so that he became suddenly silent; 
and a hurried conference in hoarse whispers 
ensued between them, which may have been 
prompted by pangs of conscience, and doubtless 
dealt with the danger of field fires. 

Gifts for all there were; yes, a queer set of 
checkers and a checker-board for Tom Fender- 
son, from the twins, made by them out of spools 
and an old table-leaf, the year before, and their 
companions through many a rainy day since. 
There was also a pair of home-knitted slippers 
for the nurse, from Constantina, thick and warm, 
such as might be worn by a silent sister of mercy, 
in the tender ministrations of wintry midnights; 
and a copy of Kingsley's "Hypatia" came to 

23 



her of the same name. This also from Con- 
stantina. Also there were large, bulging pack- 
ages firmly done Up in brown paper for Mrs. 
McDermott and her husband; and these, being 
cautiously nipped open at the sides and corners, 
caused smiles of curiosity to widen into joyous 
laughter, and made hearts already happy ten- 
fold happier. 

A tiny packet came in due time to Constantina; 
and it caused her such throbs of hope and joy 
that she leaned upon her mother for support. 
"See, Mr. Fenderson!" exclaimed the mother 
to Tom, as he came near; for she had learned 
to confide in her sympathetic neighbor and friend 
almost as readily as in her husband ; " See, what 
a lovely letter my Constantina has!" And 
Tom read easily, by the bright light of the radiant, 
rejoicing Christmas Tree, that Constantina 's 
trial as private secretary had been successful, 
and that she was engaged forthwith at ten dol- 
lars a week. 

One glance at the familiar name and address 
signed, and Tom knew that his wife's hand 
was back of the hand that had written the letter; 
and he was deeply content that she should walk 
in her own labyrinthine paths. 

But, at this moment, he was summoned to 
receive another gift; and he stood, positively 
blushing, when he had opened the package, 

24 



and found a book — "Baring Gould's Lives of 
the Saints." It came from Mr. McDermott; 
and, at the end of the table of contents, was 
written, " One Saint omitted — Thomas G. 
Fenderson." 

Tom walked over and gave the shy donor 
a hearty grip, and the vigorous grip given in 
return not only showed a grateful affection, but 
was good evidence of the sick man's returning 
health and strength — which of late had been 
clearly apparent to all. 

But the centre of the celebration, the focus 
of the joyous forces of the evening, was, after 
all, the McDermott twins; and when they had 
donned the fur caps which had come to them, 
and had pulled down the sideflaps over their 
ears, and had put on the long rubber boots — 
reaching nearly to their hips — which the tree 
had bestowed, then they looked as if bent Upon 
exploration, Arctic or Antarctic. To be sure, 
the snowshoes which each now received formed 
a cumbersome combination with the long rubber 
boots; but they were promptly and enthusiasti- 
cally put on; and in them the active youngsters 
made several noisy excursions out into the sur- 
rounding darkness, but soon came plunging 
back into the welcome circle of light and affec- 
tion. 

The evening was filled to the full with joy 

25 



and goodwill; and there was a splendid ring of 
reality in Mrs. McDermott's laugh, and a note 
of confidence in her tones, as she rallied her 
shy, silent husband, and called upon one and 
another friend to see how well he looked. 

The crowning surprise of this glad evening 
of surprises came fitly at the last. The twins 
had become strangely silent and invisible, dur- 
ing several minutes, and then Hypatia called 
the attention of Mr. and Mrs. McDermott to 
two large packages, hanging high upon the tree, 
and now being carefully lowered on a pulley 
by the farmer. These bulky packages, on 
reaching the ground, were brought over by him 
and carefully deposited on end in front of them; 
and they were asked to read the labels. 

One label read: "For Mother," and the other 
read: "For Father"; but no sooner were these 
words uttered, in a puzzled tone, by Mrs. Mc- 
Dermott, than mysterious gurglings and ex- 
plosive splutterings issued from the bundles. 
Then the stout brown paper was burst open, 
and, with shouts of delight, Micky and Macky 
sprang out and leaped upon their unresisting 
parents, and gave them great "bear hugs," 
and entered vigorously on "a hundred kisses," 
until even loving Mrs. McDermott laughingly 
begged them to desist. 

So that was the way in which the McDermotts 

26 



celebrated their open-air Christmas. The elec- 
tric current which made the great, sombre tree 
spring into radiance and beauty, had been easily 
switched from the wire along the highway. It 
was an "overhead current;" whereas the kindly 
force which had brought weal, in place of woe, 
to the McDermott household, and had culminated 
at the Christmas tree, was more in the nature 
of an "under-ground current." But it was 
effective; and Tom Fenderson rejoiced. And 
he said, again and again, "There is no use in 
trying to thwart Hypatia; she will have her way." 



Bradley Gilman 



Canton, Massachusetts. 
December twenty-fifth, 
Nineteen hundred and ten. 



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