& Elbe Christmas Gte
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
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
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
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-
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
"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
*5CC * • •
She interrupted herself by a half-choking cry
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
"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,
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
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
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
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
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 —
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
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-
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."
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.
"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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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-
" 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
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,
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
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,"
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.
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.
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
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-
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
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
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
and breadth flamed with brilliant light, as from
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.
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
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
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-
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,
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.
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-
The evening was filled to the full with joy
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
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."
Nineteen hundred and ten.
BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
3 9999 05987 605
NOV 1 2 WW