Good Sports/Strategy

VIII

STRATEGY

" OH, yes," sighed Mrs. Harvey, "you have to keep after this modern generation of ours, Mrs. Jesse. That's what mothers are for, I think. I don't know anything about Mr. Jesse, but, you see, my husband is a very practical sort of person. Most men are. It's we women who have to keep alive the sentiments."

Mrs. Jesse, bending over embroidery rings, looked up and smiled. She hadn't been living in the little town very long, but already she had heard of how practical Myron Harvey was. It had been he, she recalled, who had spoken so strongly in the town-meeting about the foolish extravagance of spending money on the Fourth of July for public fireworks.

"Poor Myron!" Mrs. Harvey went on. "It sort of riles him all up—bands, and flags, and flowers, and speeches—such things. Yet he'd be among the first to enlist, if his country needed him to fight. That's how Myron is. My goodness! I can't remember when he last gave any of us a Christmas present. It sort of irritates him somehow—buying presents, wishing people a Happy New Year. 'Tom-fool nonsense' he calls it. But he wouldn't see any of his family in trouble, Myron wouldn't."

She looked up thoughtfully, letting her sewing fall.

"At first," she explained, "I tried to make Myron over according to my pattern. But I gave it up after a while as a bad job. It's better not to try to mold husbands too much, Mrs. Jesse. I do all my molding on the children. They're the clay God sent me. And you'd better get down on your knees and thank God you've got some clay to work on too. Women are awful empty-landed without it."

She nodded, bit off her thread with a snap, reeled off a fresh length of cotton, skillfully rethreaded her needle and continued running rapid little rows of stitches.

"I tell you, Mrs. Jesse," she continued, "I was bound that my children should feel some of the joy I do about bands and fireworks and anniversaries. I was bound to pass on to them some of the good old customs my folks passed on to me. I've succeeded, too! Of course it's meant a lot of fuss and bother, with a holiday always around the next corner to get ready for. But it's paid! I don't put any stock at all in this modern-mother, simple holiday talk. I tell you, you simply can't preach the spirit of anniversaries into people's hearts without a few of the symbols. Now my children, Mrs. Jesse, feel all the sweet old sentiments there are to feel, about Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving; and it's because I haven't been lazy and told 'em I hadn't time for colored Easter eggs and Christmas-trees, and flour paste and valentines—such things. The result is, grown-up as they are, they're all just counting on their big Fourth of July dinner at the house next Thursday, with salmon and peas and ice-cream, and the fireworks at night in the empty lot. Winifred and Elsie are coming home especially. You see, we Harveys would feel as if the bottom had dropped out, without our celebration. I tell you, Mrs. Jesse, keeping up old customs together is what makes a family strong, and rich in traditions, I think; or a country either, for that matter. But there! I'm preaching. Myron says I'm like a victrola; set the needle on one of my half-dozen records, and I'm started, and no stopping me."

She broke off gayly into a laugh, fastened her thread with three repeated little jerks, stuck the needle, point down, into the front of her waist and held up the petticoat.

"For Linda's baby," she announced—"this is. Those girls of mine won't have a stitch of machine work on any of their babies' clothes. Nonsense, I say. Why, I remember how proud I was of my first machine-hemmed ruffles. But there! I've started off on another of my records!"

"I've never heard any of them. I enjoy them, Mrs. Harvey," Mrs. Jesse protested.

"No, it's six o'clock and I've got to go along. It's my baby's birthday. He's twenty-six, and I've got to put the candles on his cake, and get up into my gift trunk in the attic, before supper. Junior and his wife are coming over, and I'm sort of afraid Junior's forgotten about Roy's birthday. You have to keep after this modern generation a little. I have a supply of presents on hand for just such emergencies. Good-night, Mrs. Jesse. Come over on the Fourth. You must know us Harveys."

The Fourth of July proved to be a very warm one that year. Mrs. Harvey was down-stairs early, closing blinds and drawing shades, in the hope that a little of the cool night air might be preserved in air-tight and darkened rooms against another day's attack of burning heat and scorching sun. Barefooted, still in her short nightgown, she picked her way out to the back hall to see how the ice had held out. As she was returning, the telephone bell rang. She bustled into the coat closet and took down the receiver.

"Hello, mother," called a fresh, wide-awake voice. "Were you up? It's Linda. Ed has just looked at the thermometer and it's up to eighty-four even now. It's going to be a regular scorcher, Ed says, and I don't think you ought to have us all over there. It's too much for you."

"Nonsense, Linda!"

"No, I mean it. That's why I'm calling so early. Really, mother—"

"Nonsense! Why, the peas are shelled already, and the salmon on the ice. You get dressed and you'll feel better."

At ten o'clock there was a telephone call from Mary. Mary was Mrs. Harvey's youngest daughter and had been married six months. She lived in the next town, six miles away. "It's ninety-two degrees, mother, in the shade," she called. "I've been talking to Phil. He's out in the hammock now, just about all in, poor boy! We've talked it over, Phil and I, and we think it's too hot for you to bother with a big dinner. You've got Winifred and Elsie there and that's plenty, such weather. We'll be over for the fireworks this evening, though."

"You'll be here at one o'clock, and don't be ridiculous, Mary," snapped Mrs. Harvey. "Why, there's a lovely breeze here, and I'm setting the table on the side porch. Tell Phil to move around and keep away from the thermometer." She hung up the receiver. "Too hot! I declare!" she scoffed under her breath, and bustled out on the porch to continue her table decorations with tiny flags and tissue-paper.

Elsie, tall, slight, languid, in a thin dressing-sack of dotted muslin, stood by the long, extended table with a bunch of flat silver in her hands. Elsie was the Harvey daughter who had gone to college and was now a full-fledged librarian in New York.

"That's right, Elsie," said Mrs. Harvey briskly. "Lay them around."

"Oh, mother," sighed Elsie. "Why do you bother so? Why do you make them all come, when it's so hot and no one wants to?"

Mrs. Harvey glanced up quickly. Then, "They do want to come, child," she denied. "They're only afraid it will be too much for me. Why, I like it. Come, come, Elsie, do show a little Fourth of July spirit. Do, dear."

At half-past twelve, the thermometer registered ninety-seven on the side porch. Mrs. Harvey, in the kitchen, prodding the salmon gently with a long fork, was singing softly to herself.

It was nine o'clock before the last rocket in the empty lot beside the Harveys' shot skyward, burst into three floating stars, and fell with a muffled thud in the long grass. It was half-past nine before a troop of timid breezes came stealing up from the meadow, and stealthily found their way to the Harveys' side porch.

The Harveys were all there, the boys stretched full length upon the close-cropped lawn, the girls leaning languidly back in the big porch-chairs, the grandchildren, too tired even for occasional firecrackers, gathered on the steps, arms clasped about their knees—they were all there except Mr. Harvey. He, as usual, had disappeared immediately after the sandwich supper, "out of patience," he had remarked, "with such nonsense." He had been sound asleep now for nearly two hours.

At present the rhythmic squeak of Mrs. Harvey's chair was the only sound to be heard upon the porch as she rocked energetically back and forth in her corner by the railing. She was the only one of the little group who didn't appear utterly exhausted.

"Why, there's a breeze!" she ejaculated cheerfully. "It'll be cooler now. We always do get the breeze on this porch! Now, you children all stay here as long as you want. I guess I'll go up now, if you don't care." She got to her feet. "The fireworks were lovely, boys," she called down to them. "I believe that was the finest pinwheel I ever saw! We've had a lovely day, I think," she went on. "The salmon never was better, or the peas either, and the table looked real pretty, I thought, with those streamers. Haven't we had a nice day?" she asked pleasantly.

"Very nice, mother," sighed Linda.

"Very nice," conceded Junior wearily from the lawn, where he sprawled, full length.

Mrs. Harvey moved over toward the door.

"I declare I believe I shall sleep to-night!" she said, with a satisfied little sigh. "I believe I shall. It's been such a grand old Fourth and such a happy one too—with all my children here. I hope you'll always keep up these family reunions after I'm dead and gone," she said. "I believe in them. Well, good night. Sweet dreams to you all. Better not stay up much later."

The screen door slammed behind her. She stood a moment at the foot of the stairs, then before going up glanced into the parlor to see if everything was all right; squeaked down the hall to the sitting-room and back again; and looked into the dining-room. One of the little breezes from the meadow was stirring the window-curtain. Mrs. Harvey went over to the couch just beneath the window and sat down. "I declare," she whispered, turning her forehead toward the breeze, "that feels good. I'll lie here just a minute."

She fell asleep almost instantly. She didn't know how long she had been dozing when she woke to find the window-curtain brushing her cheek. It could not be very late, though, because the children were still up; she could hear them talking just outside on the porch. That was Linda speaking now.

"Well, now that we've sent the chicks off home to bed," she was saying, "let's go on with what we were discussing about mother."

"It's not only," broke in Mary's crisp young voice, "that mother is wearing herself all out with all this fuss, but she's wearing us all out too. Phil and I were just crazy for a day all by ourselves this year."

"So were we, Mary," said Sally, "last Thanksgiving, Junior and I. We had it all planned to run off to New York and have a little honeymoon time all by ourselves, but when Junior spoke to Mother Harvey about it—why, it seemed like sacrilege to her. We just had to give the idea up."

"It was terribly inconvenient for me to take my vacation just now," sighed librarian Elsie.

"And I had to travel three hours to get here from Portland," said Winifred. "Of course it's nice to be here at the house with mother for a day or two, but there's only one bathroom, as you all know. I didn't have the courage to disappoint poor mother, however."

"Here we've all been just miserable and hot and unhappy all day long, and she thinks we like it!" sputtered Mary.

"It makes me just weary to think about Christmas," broke in Linda. "Mother never wants any presents for herself. That isn't the difficulty. In fact, the poor thing never gets any of much account, but she makes the rest of us hustle. The way she finds out what we're all giving to each other, lists the things up, and then, if any one of us seems to appear neglected, gets after the others, is ridiculous. I found her list, one year. Why really, when I select a present for you, Elsie, for instance, I'm wondering if it's good enough to suit mother. She makes Christmas a terrible burden—so many presents, such a lot of work and expense. Father hates it, too."

"I think," said Elsie, "one of the reasons father hates celebrations so is because mother celebrates so hard. It's making us all hate them—that is what it's doing. Mother is a dear, but I do wish she'd leave us alone for a little while."

"Oh, well," said Junior, "don't feel too strongly about it. We've got to remember that mother is getting older. It won't hurt us, I guess, to humor her a little. We'll have time to celebrate our holidays according to our notions. Mother is getting on toward seventy, you know."

Junior was sitting on the porch now, in a chair tilted back against the casement of the dining-room window. Mrs. Harvey, just inside, could have touched her son's shoulder except for the screen. She lay very still, flat on her back, eyes wide open, her plump hands clasped over her breast. She was afraid Junior could hear her breathe. She didn't dare to raise her hand and push aside the curtain brushing her cheek. They mustn't know she had been listening. She must spare them that. She couldn't risk rising and stealing up-stairs, because there was a spring in the couch that groaned sometimes. She lay imprisoned for nearly an hour.

It was when the children were finally breaking up, pushing the chairs back against the house, and calling out "Good-night," that Mrs. Harvey rose at last, crept noiselessly out to the kitchen and threaded her way up the back stairs to her room. She didn't sleep very much that night. As she lay and listened to Myron, snoring steadily hour after hour in the adjoining room, her bright little eyes peered through the dimness to the row of white cardboard squares stretched along the back of her bureau. They were the pictures of the children. She couldn't see their features, but she felt that they were all conspiring together there on her bureau, just as they had down-stairs on the porch, repeating over and over again the things she had heard them say—the cruel things that had stabbed and hurt.

She didn't cry. That was characteristic. She had learned not to. She only lay and stared, and turned over at intervals of every ten minutes. Once in a while she would whisper out loud, "so that's the story," or, "I must warn Mrs. Jesse," or, grimly, "Well—well, wrong all these years!" and finally before she fell asleep, just before dawn, "I'll do it if it kills me," she declared.

"Mrs. Jesse," she said next day to her neighbor over the picket-fence, as she stopped to leave an offering of two heads of lettuce and a cucumber, "you know what a great talk I gave you the other day about keeping alive sentiments. Well, I knew a woman once who was terribly fond of a sick cat, but she tended and handled it so constant that it died. Keeping alive sentiments is something like keeping alive sick cats—they've got to be let alone a lot. I thought it my duty to tell you."

"Oh, wasn't your Fourth of July party a success?" exclaimed Mrs. Jesse.

"Success, if an old woman like me has got enough youth left to learn new tricks, and I guess she has—I guess she has, Mrs. Jesse!" She ejaculated with spirit, head high, and eyes shining.

Three nights later, Elsie, braiding her long hair before the mirror in the guest-room, remarked to Winifred, lolling on the bed, "I wonder if mother is feeling well. Did you notice anything queer about her to-day?"

"Queer? No. What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing, only,—well—I happen to be thirty-three years old to-day, and—"

"That's so. Of course—the seventh!" interrupted Winifred, "and no one, poor child, no one—"

"Oh, I didn't expect you to remember, all by yourselves, but mother—well, it's the first time she's forgotten. It's the first year of my life that I haven't had a present, and a nice preachy little sermon and a cake with candles on it from mother. Seems queer to have her forget."

Winifred sat up straight.

"It does seem queer—awfully queer," she exclaimed. "I don't like it, Elsie. I'm afraid Junior was right. Mother's getting older. Why, she never forgot before. Poor mother! How badly she'll feel when she does recollect!"

Two weeks later it was Junior's birthday that Mrs. Harvey "forgot."

To Sally, his wife, Junior asked at dinner. "Nothing come over from the house yet?" (the Harvey children all referred to their old home as "the house"), and later, "No word at all from mother to-day?" and at ten P. M. anxiously, "Do you suppose mother's sick?"

But she wasn't, just a little tired, after getting Elsie off to New York, she explained over the telephone,—So it was! His forty-fifth birthday! Well—well! she hoped it was a happy one—and there! she hadn't made him a cake, had she? Had he missed it very much?

"Not a bit—not a bit, mother, Glad enough you didn't bother!" he assured her emphatically. But to Sally he remarked gravely, "Mother's really getting older, Sally, I'm afraid."

In September it was Mary and Phil's wedding anniversary day that mother failed to observe by a little dinner at the house. In October it was the grandchildren's Hallowe'en party that she explained she was a little too tired after the church supper to arrange.

On Thanksgiving, for the first time since any of the children could remember, there was no family reunion at the house. Mother had decided in mid-November to spend Thanksgiving week with her only sister, Julia, who lived in Bangor. Aunt Julia had not been well all the Fall, and each of her letters urged Martha's long-deferred visit more and more impatiently. Mrs. Harvey mentioned her intentions one night to Linda, when the oldest daughter had dropped in on her way home from church.

"Of course," she said, "I do feel dreadfully not to be home Thanksgiving, but I am sort of anxious about Julia, and I think she'd appreciate my going up to spend Thanksgiving with her. I thought Father and Roy could have dinner with you, or with Junior—either one. I don't know as I've ever visited on Thanksgiving Day, and think I'd like to, for once. What do you think?"

"Why," said Linda, perplexed, "if you really want to go, mother, of course we can manage all right."

"I thought you could, too," went on Mrs. Harvey pleasantly. "Perhaps Junior and Sally could take that New York trip of theirs this year. And if Elsie comes home you could take care of her at your house, couldn't you?"

"Yes, indeed, mother. Oh, we'd all get on all right. Don't worry. We'll miss you, of course, but we've been afraid you needed a change. You've seemed sort of tired and different this Fall. Perhaps it will do you good."

"Perhaps," Mrs. Harvey replied brightly. "Well, I'll write Julia to-night, then. Dear me, Linda, see if you can thread this needle."

Linda stopped at Junior's on her way home from the house that night. She found Mary and Phil had been there for supper, and that father had "gone around" after prayer-meeting, to continue a business discussion with his oldest son. Linda made her announcement in regard to mother's plans for Thanksgiving as soon as she entered the big living-room where they were all assembled. A silence followed her news, a silence of amazement, bordering on fear. Sally dropped her sewing in her lap and stared. Junior got up from his chair abruptly, and shoved his hands into his pockets. Mary reached over and pushed her fist into Phil's. Phil gave a long, low, subdued whistle.

"No Thanksgiving dinner at the house!" finally exclaimed Sally.

"Oh, dear, is mother going to be sick?" cried out Mary.

"It doesn't seem as if I could bear it—mother losing all her enthusiasm, this way," almost sobbed Linda.

Mr. Harvey got up and walked out into the hall without a word. He reappeared a moment later, hat on, overcoat buttoned to his chin.

"You make me tired, the whole lot of you!" he blurted out. He stopped at the doctor's on his way home.

Idle hands were Mrs. Harvey's all November, with no surprises to prepare for the children at the Thanksgiving reunion, no muslin curtains to be freshly laundered for the guest-rooms, no new cretonne hangings to be added here and there, no especially mixed mince-meat to be stewed and stirred, and tenderly administered to for hours and hours on the back of the kitchen range. Idle hands, too, that later busied themselves nimbly with no bit of fancy ribbon or embroidery; that jotted joyfully down no list of children's names followed by an array of gifts; idle hands, and idle thoughts that did not plan during the long night hours how a hundred dollars could be evenly distributed, and lovingly, between the children and their children at Christmas-time. For when Mrs. Harvey came back from Aunt Julia's, the week after Thanksgiving, she took out all her best nightgowns from her best-clothes trunk, brought them down-stairs, laid them near at hand in her bottom bureau-drawer, and prepared for an illness. She could devise no other scheme for avoiding the big Christmas celebration. The children must not suspect her of subtle motives; besides, it was easier for her.

The shop windows, trimmed now with Christmas red and evergreen; the counters laden with holiday gifts and children's toys galore; the sidewalks crowded with bare little fir-trees, ready for the joyful trimming and starring and candle-lighting—Oh, no! she could not bear to witness all the happy getting-ready time, and take no part. It was easier to stay in bed; besides, perhaps something really was the matter with her—all the children seemed to think so.

"That's right, Mrs. Jesse," she would smile wanly and longingly from her pillows at the younger woman, as she sat and sewed beside her in mid-December, "that's right. Just you get all the happiness and joy you can out of these holidays when your children are young. Just you do. I've changed my ideas, as you know, this Summer. When your babies are all grown up you mustn't try to drive them too hard. You've got to just leave them alone some. Remember that, my dear. No," she went on cheerily, "no, we aren't having a tree this year. It's the first time since Junior was a tiny little baby. Just think—forty-five years. But it's a great relief to the children. Do? Oh, I've no idea what they are going to do. I imagine there won't be any present-giving though. No presents seems to be the modern idea. By the way—you can have all our Christmas tree trimmings if you want, Mrs. Jesse. I don't believe Linda or Junior will bring their children up on Christmas trees. They won't want the trimmings."

Neither did the Harvey children know what they were going to do. The rudder to their little world seemed to be lost, with mother up-stairs sick in bed. Mother had never been sick at Christmas before. What were they going to do? They didn't know. First the little Harveys began to ask; then Elsie from New York; then Winnifred from Portland. Do? Do? Why, what could they do, with mother sick, and fear that approached consternation possessing their hearts?

"Well," grumbled father, "I'd do something, seems to me—brought up as you were. You act like heathen around here—no Thanksgiving, no Christmas—no Sundays next, I suppose. Is that the way your mother and I brought you up? You disgust me—the whole lot of you. It's about as dismal as a grave around this house lately, and I keep out of it all I can."

"But, father, we thought that you hated—"

"You thought—you thought—you thought— Do less thinking and get your mother well," he flung back crossly.

When Christmas was but seven days away, and the yawning prospect of another dreary holiday like the preceding Thanksgiving stared the Harveys in the face, Linda said to Mary:

"It's like losing mother before she really goes—no Thanksgiving, no Christmas, no getting-together of us all. It's unnatural and it's horrid! Oh, Mary, let's ask Dr. Mason if it would hurt her—a tree, I mean, and presents here at the house, just as always."

"Oh, let's, Linda. Let's!"

"Why, it may be the very thing to rouse her," said Dr. Mason. "Can't tell. No harm anyhow, as I see. Happiness, you know. Nothing like it for a cure. Do everything you can think of to please her. That's the idea."

"Everything you can think of to please her." That night Father Harvey stole out after supper, and returned an hour later bearing with him a small white pasteboard box in his vest pocket.

Christmas morning dawned very bright and sunny that year. Mrs. Harvey, lying quietly awake, flat on her back, hands folded idly, waited patiently for the arrival of the little flickering square of sunlight on the counterpane. To-day her eyes filled with tears at sight of it. Why, this was the first Christmas morning since she could remember that she had not risen very early, before the sun itself, bobbed her head into every occupied bedroom in the house and called out an explosive "Merry Christmas!" She wiped the tears from her eyes with a corner of the sheet. Her thoughts descended to the picture of the empty sitting-room below. "Just as if our Christmas tree had been sick and died," she sighed.

She breakfasted at eight—or tried to. "Don't seem to have any appetite, Delia," she said in explanation of the untouched pile of toast and hardly disturbed omelet. "I declare," she added, when Delia had gone out, "I believe I'm not so well to-day. I don't know as I'm ever going to get up." Then she folded her hands again in their listless fashion on top of the white sheet, neatly folded back over the blanket. Her eyes began their daily pilgrimage up and down the hilly track made by a crack in the white plaster overhead.

Thus she was lying at nine o'clock when the Harvey children and grandchildren, having assembled in the hall below, crawled stealthily up the stairs, suppressing whispers, forefingers pressed upon lips, eyes a-twinkle, and stood ready all in a huddled bunch outside mother's closed door. Then Junior whispered, "Ready!" and opened the door. A chorus of Merry Christmases burst like a dozen stars from a giant rocket.

Mrs. Harvey sat bolt upright in bed. There they were upon her—all the children, all the in-laws, all the grandchildren—all the dear, dear family, all but Myron. Secretly hidden behind the door of the adjoining room, one eye shut, the other held close against the open crack by the hinge, stood Myron Harvey, on tiptoes now, better to observe the expression on Martha's face, as upon the counterpane, where two hours before had lain the solitary little square of sunlight, now began to grow a mound of packages, all shapes and sizes.

As he gazed he heard the children's tumultuous voices: "I made this, every stitch "; "Got to get well to wear mine"; "Wonder if you like jewelry"; "Hope you need what I chose," and intermingled in the turmoil, he caught Martha's gentle ejaculations, "Well, well!" "I declare!" and "Did you ever!"

"Now you're not to worry with all this or get excited, mother," ordered Mary's fresh voice.

"Dr. Mason said," put in Linda, "that we were just to pop in and pop out again. We're all going right down-stairs, and while you're opening your things up here, we're going to be opening ours on the tree down-stairs."

"We just had to have our tree, mother," burst forth impetuous Mary.

"We traced the trimmings to Mrs. Jesse, night before last," said Elsie, "and she said she understood perfectly the sentiment we felt about the dear old things. She was glad to give them back. They're all fastened on in the same old places. We did it last night when you were sound asleep."

"And, by the way, we're staying to dinner," remarked Junior as casually as he knew how, "but don't worry about that—the girls have it all planned and half-cooked already, I guess. I selected the turkey myself."

"You know Thanksgiving was so awful!" pleaded Elsie.

"And the grandchildren would have been heartbroken," put in Sally.

"And we're all sort of dependent on Christmas here at the house," apologized Linda.

When the door finally closed on the last of the noisy troop Mrs. Harvey sat staring straight in front of her. She said nothing, only kept on rolling and unrolling a bit of the top edge of the sheet, back and forth, back and forth, between her thumb and forefinger, as she had throughout the entire scene. The reflection of her face in the mirror, as Mr. Harvey caught it through his crack, made him look away, so bright and heavenly it was. Martha had looked like that on their wedding-day, and then again when their first baby was born. He moved one of his feet.

She glanced toward the door. He appeared on the threshold. She opened her mouth to speak, but he interrupted her.

"I'm no hand at presents myself," he grumbled, "Foolishness, I think—but here's something or other I picked up." Flushing and very ill at ease, he tucked his little box beneath the pile of bundles on the bed, turned quickly and left the room. Mrs. Harvey dropped the edge of the sheet then, reached for the package, and unwrapped it with fingers trembling.

Within the box lay an ugly little brooch made of jet. Mrs. Harvey remembered now, with a little stab of tenderness, that Myron used to admire jet forty years ago. He had given her a velvet cape covered with it when Junior was born.

An hour later Mrs. Jesse, knocking gently on the door, discovered Mrs. Harvey sitting before her bureau doing up her hair. There was a sparkle like bright steel in the sunshine in Mrs. Harvey's eyes. There was the determination of a proud flag in a stiff breeze in the poise of her head. The bed behind her was ripped wide open, the bedclothes stretched back over a chair at the foot. The pillows, stripped now of their white cases, perched atop the turned-back clothes. An array of many-colored Christmas gifts lay in confusion on the table. A pair of patent leather shoes stood at attention upon a near-by chair.

Mrs. Harvey jerked her head into an emphatic little nod at sight of Mrs. Jesse.

"Good morning, Mrs. Jesse," she staccatoed. "Merry Christmas, dear. I'm up, you see. Come in. Do! Sit down! I've got fifteen coming to dinner," she boasted. "Tell you what—I've got to get down-stairs and see about my table—surprise the children. You can hook me up. Seems my children had to have their tree anyhow! Those are my presents on the table there. Did you ever see such a show? I want you to go up-stairs to the attic and bring down all there is in the third trunk on the left. Guess I got enough to just about go around. Nothing like the convenience of a gift-trunk, Mrs. Jesse. Always said so. You better start one. Awful handy."

Mrs. Jesse closed the door behind her and quickly went over to Mrs. Harvey.

"I'm so glad—" she began, tears stood in her eyes,—"oh, so glad that—"

"There, there, dearie, I know you are. You don't need to tell me. Listen!" Then taking the younger woman's hand in hers she repeated, head tilted playfully to one side:

She paused. "I 'left them alone' all the Fall, 'and they've come home' now, Mrs. Jesse—all of my sheep. Even Myron," she added tenderly.