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odd that none of the guests had arrived; but then, it was fashionable to be late!
Ten minutes more passed. Still no arrivals. It was evident that each was planning not to be the first to get there, and that they would all descend on the house and assault the door bell at once. Mrs. Brownlow repeatedly smoothed the wrinkles out of her tidy apron, and Mr. Brownlow began to perspire, with responsibility.
Meanwhile the crowd outside, recognizing no rigid bonds of etiquette, rapidly increased in numbers. Mr. Brownlow, to pass the time and please the poor little homeless creatures, lighted two of the candles.
The response from the front yard fence was immediate. A low murmur of delight ran along the line, and several dull-eyed babies were hoisted, in the arms of babies scarcely older than themselves, to behold the rare vision of candles in a tree, just illumining the further splendors glistening here and there among the branches.
The kind man's heart warmed towards them, and he lighted two more candles. The delight of the audience could now hardly be restrained, and the babies, having been temporarily lowered by the aching little arms of their respective nurses, were shot up once more to view the redoubled grandeur.
The whole family had become so much interested in these small outcasts that they had not noticed the flight of time. Now some one glanced suddenly at the clock, and exclaimed:
"It's nearly half past five!"
The Brownlows looked at one another blankly. Poor Mrs. Brownlow's smart ribbons drooped in conscious abasement, while mortification and pride struggled in their wearer's kindly face, over which, after a moment's silence, one large tear slowly rolled, and dropped off.
Mr. Brownlow gave himself a little shake and sat down, as was his wont upon critical occasions. As his absent gaze wandered about the room, so prettily decked for the guests who didn't come, it fell upon a little worn,
gilt-edged volume on the table. At that sight, a new thought occurred to him. "Clarissy," he said softly, going over to his wife and putting his arm around her, Clarissy," seein's the well-off folks haven't accepted, don't you think we'd better invite some of the others in?" And he pointed significantly toward the window.
Mrs. Brownlow, despatching another tear after the first, nodded. She was not quite equal to words yet. Being a woman, the neglect of her little party cut her even more deeply than it did her husband.
Mr. Brownlow stepped to the front door. Nay more, he walked down the short flight of steps, took one little girl by the hand, and said in his pleasant, fatherly way, Wouldn't you like to go in and look at the tree; Come, Puss," (to the waif at his side)" we'll start first." With these words he led the way back through the open door, and into the warm, lighted room. The children hung back a little, but seeing that no harm came to the first guest, soon flocked in, each trying to keep behind all the rest, but at the same time shouldering the babies up into view as before.
In the delightful confusion that followed, the good hosts forgot all about the miscarriage of their plans. They completely outdid themselves, in efforts to please their hastily acquired company. Bob spoke a piece, the girls sang duets. Mrs. Brownlow had held every individual baby in her motherly arms before half an hour was over. And as for Mr. Brownlow, it was simply marvelous to see him go among those children, giving them the presents, and initiating their owners into the mysterious impelling forces of monkeys with yellow legs and gymnastic tendencies; filling the boys' pockets with pop-corn, blowing horns and tin whistles; now assaulting the tree (it had been lighted throughout, and-bless it-how firm it stood now!) for fresh novelties, now diving into the kitchen and returning in an unspeakably cohesive state of breathlessness and molasses candy,—all the while laughing, talking, patting heads, joking, until
the kindly "Spirit of Christmas Present" would have wept and smiled at once, for the pleasure of the sight. And now, my young friends," said Mr. Brownlow, raising his voice, "we'll have a little ice-cream in the back room. Ladies first, gentlemen afterward!" So saying, he gallantly stood on one side, with a sweep of his hand, to allow Mrs. Brownlow to precede him. But just as the words left his mouth there came a sharp ring at the door bell.
"It's a carriage!" gasped Mrs. Brownlow, flying to the front window, and backing precipitately. "Susie, go to that door an' see who 'tis. Land sakes, what a mess this parlor's in!" And she gazed with a true housekeeper's dismay at the littered carpet and dripping candles.
"Deacon Holsum and Mrs. Hartwell, pa!" announced Susie, throwing open the parlor door.
The lady thus mentioned came forward with outstretched hand. Catching a glimpse of Mrs. Brownlow's embarrassed face she exclaimed quickly:
"Isn't this splendid! Father and I were just driving past, and we saw your tree through the window, and couldn't resist dropping in upon you. You won't mind will you?"
"Mind-you!" repeated Mrs. Brownlow, in astonishment. Why of course not-only you were so late-we didn't expect "
Mrs. Hartwell looked puzzled.
"Pardon me,-I don't think I quite understand—-” "The invitation was for five, you know, ma'am." "But we received no invitation!"
Mr. Brownlow, who had greeted the deacon heartily and then listened with amazement to this conversation, now turned upon Bob, with a signally futile attempt at a withering glance.
Bob looked as puzzled as the rest, for a moment. Then his face fell, and he flushed to the roots of his hair. "I-I-must have-forgot-" he stammered. "Forgotten what?"
"The invitations-they're in my desk now!" said Bob, with utterly despairing tone and self-abasement.
Mrs. Hartwell's silvery little laugh rang out-it was as near moonlight playing on the upper keys of an organ as anything you can imagine-and she grasped Mrs. Brownlow's hand.
"You poor dear!" she cried, kissing her hostess, who stood speechless, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, "so that's why nobody came! But who has cluttered -who has been having such a good time here, then?"
Mr. Brownlow silently led the last two arrivals to the door of the next room, and pointed in. It was now the kind deacon's turn to be touched.
"Into the highways!" he murmured, as he looked upon the unwashed, hungry little circle about the table.
"I s'pose," said Mr. Brownlow doubtfully, "they'd like to have you sit down with 'em, just's if they were folks-if you don't mind?"
Mind! I wish you could have seen the rich furs and overcoat come off and go down on the floor in a heap, before Polly could catch them!
When they were all seated, Mr. Brownlow looked over to the deacon, and he asked a blessing on the little ones gathered there. "Thy servants, the masters of this house have suffered them to come unto Thee," he said in his prayer. "Wilt Thou take them into Thine arms, O Father of lights, and bless them!"
A momentary hush followed, and then the fun began again. Sweetly and swiftly kind words flew back and forth across the table, each one carrying its own golden thread and weaving the hearts of poor and rich into the one fine fabric of brotherhood and humanity they were meant to form.
Outside, the snow had begun to fall, each crystaled fake whispering softly as it touched the earth that Christmas night, "Peace-Peace!"
-Every Other Saturday.
HOW MICKEY GOT KILT IN THE WAR.
A pinsion-claim agent! Will, then, sor,
You're the mon that I'm wanting to see!
Though I would have been off to the army,
But me b'y, me poor Mickey, was kilt, sor;
He was not cut in two wid a sabre,
Yis, it was a rash le'p to be making;
But, in faith, thin, he had to, I'm sure; For he heard them a shlamming an' banging, An' a thrying to break in the dure.
They were going to capture poor Mickey;
An' indeed it was four-stories high.
No, it was not the fall, sor, that kilt him;
Och! he loved the owld flag, did brave Mickey,
He was lepping the bounties, you know.