Peace on Earth, Good-will to Dogs/II
It's a dull person who doesn't wake up Christmas Morning with a curiously ticklish sense of Tinsel in the pit of his stomach!--A sort of a Shine! A kind of a Pain!
"Glisten and Tears,
Pang of the years."
So much was born on Christmas Day! So much has died! So much is yet to come! Balsam-Scented, with the pulse of bells, how the senses sing! Memories that wouldn't have batted an eye for all the Gabriel Trumpets in Eternity leaping to life at the sound of a twopenny horn! Merry Folk who were with us once and are no more! Dream Folk who have never been with us yet but will be some time! Ache of old carols! Zest of new-fangled games! Flavor of puddings! Shine of silver and glass! The pleasant frosty smell of the Express-man! The Gift Beautiful! The Gift Dutiful! The Gift that Didn't Come! _Heigho_! Manger and Toy-Shop,--Miracle and Mirth,--
"Glisten and Tears,
LAUGH at the years!"
Flame Nourice certainly was willing to laugh at the years. Eighteen usually is!
Waking at Dawn two single thoughts consumed her,--the Lay Reader, and the humpiest of the express packages downstairs.
The Lay Reader's name was Bertrand. "Bertrand the Lay Reader," Flame always called him. The rest of the Parish called him Mr. Laurello.
It was the thought of Bertrand the Lay Reader that made Flame laugh the most.
"As long as I've promised most faithfully not to see him," she laughed, "how can I possibly go to church? For the first Christmas in my life," she laughed, "I won't have to go to church!"
With this obligation so cheerfully canceled, the exploration of the humpiest express package loomed definitely as the next task on the horizon.
Hoping for a fur coat from her Father, fearing for a set of encyclopedias from her Mother, she tore back the wrappings with eager hands only to find,--all-astonished, and half a-scream,--a gay, gauzy layer of animal masks nosing interrogatively up at her. Less practical surely than the fur coat,--more amusing, certainly, than encyclopedias,--the funny "false faces" grinned up at her with a curiously excitative audacity. Where from?--No identifying card! What for? No conceivable clew!--Unless perhaps just on general principles a donation for the Sunday School Christmas Tree?--But there wasn't going to be any tree! Tentatively she reached into the box and touched the fiercely striped face of a tiger, the fantastically exaggerated beak of a red and green parrot. "U-m-m-m," mused Flame. "Whatever in the world shall I do with them?" Then quite abruptly she sank back on her heels and began to laugh and laugh and laugh. Even the Lay Reader had not received such a laughing But even to herself she did not say just what she was laughing at. It was a time for deeds, it would seem, and not for words.
Certainly the morning was very full of deeds!
There was, of course, a present from her Mother to be opened,--warm, woolly stockings and things like that. But no one was ever swerved from an original purpose by trying on warm, woolly stockings. And from her Father there was the most absurd little box no bigger than your nose marked, "For a week in New York," and stuffed to the brim with the sweetest bright green dollar bills. But, of course, you couldn't try those on. And half the Parish sent presents. But no Parish ever sent presents that needed to be tried on. No gay, fluffy scarfs,--no lacey, frivolous pettiskirts,--no bright delaying hat-ribbons! Just books,--illustrated poems usually, very wholesome pickles,--and always a huge motto to recommend, "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men."—To "Men"?--Why not to Women?--Why not at least to "_Dogs_?" questioned Flame quite abruptly.
Taken all in all it was not a Christmas Morning of sentiment but a Christmas morning of _works_! Kitchen works, mostly! Useful, flavorous adventures with a turkey! A somewhat nervous sally with an apple pie! Intermittently, of course, a few experiments with flour paste! A flaire or two with a paint brush! An errand to the attic! Interminable giggles!
Surely it was four o'clock before she was even ready to start for the Rattle-Pane House. And "starting" is by no means the same as arriving. Dragging a sledful of miscellaneous Christmas goods an eighth of a mile over bare ground is not an easy task. She had to make three tugging trips. And each start was delayed by her big gray pussy cat stealing out to try to follow her. And each arrival complicated by the yelpings and leapings and general cavortings of four dogs who didn't see any reason in the world why they shouldn't escape from their forced imprisonment in the shed-yard and prance home with her. Even with the third start and the third arrival finally accomplished, the crafty cat stood waiting for her on the steps of the Rattle-Pane House,--back arched, fur bristled, spitting like some new kind of weather-cock at the storm in the shed-yard, and had to be thrust quite unceremoniously into a much too small covered basket and lashed down with yards and yards of tinsel that was needed quite definitely for something else.--It isn't just the way of the Transgressor that's hard.--Nobody's way is any too easy!
The door-key, though, was exactly where the old Butler had said it would be,--under the door mat, and the key itself turned astonishingly cordially in the rusty old lock. Never in her whole little life having owned a door-key to her own house it seemed quite an adventure in itself to be walking thus possessively through an unfamiliar hall into an absolutely unknown kitchen and goodness knew what on either side and beyond.
Perfectly simply too as the old Butler had promised, the four dog dishes, heaping to the brim, loomed in prim line upon the kitchen table waiting for distribution.
"U-m-m," sniffed Flame. "Nothing but mush! _Mush_!--All over the world to-day I suppose--while their masters are feasting at other people's houses on puddings and--and cigarettes! How the poor darlings must suffer! Locked in sheds! Tied in yards! Stuffed down cellar!"
"Me-o-w," twinged a plaintive hint from the hallway just outside.
"Oh, but cats are different," argued Flame. "So soft, so plushy, so spineless! Cats were _meant_ to be stuffed into things."
Without further parleying she doffed her red tam and sweater, donned a huge white all-enveloping pinafore, and started to ameliorate as best she could the Christmas sufferings of the "poor darlings" immediately at hand.
It was at least a yellow kitchen,--or had been once. In all that gray, dank, neglected house, the one suggestion of old sunshine.
"We shall have our dinner here," chuckled Flame. "After the carols--we shall have our dinner here."
Very boisterously in the yard just outside the window the four dogs scuffled and raced for sheer excitement and joy at this most unexpected advent of human companionship. Intermittently from time to time by the aid of old boxes or barrels they clawed their way up to the cobwebby window-sill to peer at the strange proceedings. Intermittently from time to time they fell back into the frozen yard in a chaos of fur and yelps.
By five o'clock certainly the faded yellow kitchen must have looked very strange, even to a dog!
Straight down its dingy, wobbly-floored center stretched a long table cheerfully spread with "the Rev. Mrs. Flamande Nourice's" second best table cloth. Quaint high-backed chairs dragged in from the shadowy parlor circled the table. A pleasant china plate gleamed like a hand-painted moon before each chair. At one end of the table loomed a big brown turkey; at the other, the appropriate vegetables. Pies, cakes, and doughnuts, interspersed themselves between. Green wreaths streaming with scarlet ribbons hung nonchalantly across every chair-top. Tinsel garlands shone on the walls. In the doorway reared a hastily constructed mimicry of a railroad crossing sign.
Directly opposite and conspicuously placed above the rusty stove-pipe stretched the Parish's Gift Motto—duly re-adjusted.
"_Peace_ on _Earth_, Good Will to _Dogs_."
"Fatuously silly," admitted Flame even to herself. "But yet it does add something to the Gayety of Rations!"
Stepping aside for a single thrilling moment to study the full effect of her handiwork, the first psychological puzzle of her life smote sharply across her senses. Namely, that you never really get the whole fun out of anything unless you are absolutely alone.--But the very first instant you find yourself absolutely alone with a Really-Good-Time you begin to twist and turn and hunt about for somebody Very Special to share it with you!
The only "Very Special" person that Flame could think of was "Bertrand the Lay Reader."
All a-blush with the sheer mental surprise of it she fled to the shed door to summon the dogs.
"Maybe even the dogs won't come!" she reasoned hectically. "Maybe nothing will come! Maybe that's always the way things happen when you get your own way about something else!"
Like a blast from the Arctic the Christmas twilight swept in on her. It crisped her cheeks,--crinkled her hair! Turned her spine to a wisp of tinsel! All outdoors seemed suddenly creaking with frost! All indoors, with _unknownness_!
"Come, Beautiful-Lovely!" she implored. "Come, Lopsy! Miss Flora! Come, Blunder-Blot!'"
But there was really no need of entreaty. A turn of the door-knob would have brought them! Leaping, loping, four abreast, they came plunging like so many North Winds to their party! Streak of Snow,--Glow of Fire,--Frozen Mud—Sun-Spot!--Yelping-mouthed—slapping-tailed! Backs bristling! Legs stiffening! Wolf Hound, Setter, Bull Dog, Dalmatian,--each according to his kind, hurtling, crowding!
"Oh, dear me, dear me," struggled Flame. "Maybe a carol would calm them."
To a certain extent a carol surely did. The hair-cloth parlor of the Rattle-Pane House would have calmed anything. And the mousey smell of the old piano fairly jerked the dogs to its senile old ivory keyboard. Cocking their ears to its quavering treble notes,--snorting their nostrils through its gritty guttural basses, they watched Flame's facile fingers sweep from sound to sound.
"Oh, what a--glorious lark!" quivered Flame. "What a--a _lonely_ glorious lark!"
Timidly at first but with an increasing abandon, half laughter and half tears, the clear young soprano voice took up its playful paraphrase,
"God rest you merrie--animals!
Let nothing you dismay!"
It was just at this moment that Beautiful-Lovely, the Wolf Hound,--muzzled lifted, eyes rolling, jabbed his shrill nose into space and harmony with a carol of his own,--octaves of agony,--Heaven knows what of ecstasy,--that would have hurried an owl to its nest, a ghoul to a moving picture show!
"Wow-Wow--_Wow_!" caroled Beautiful-Lovely. "Ww--ow--Ww--ow--_Ww--Oo--Wwwww_!"
As Flame's hands dropped from the piano the unmistakable creak of red wheels sounded on the frozen driveway just outside.
No one but "Bertrand the Lay Reader" drove a buggy with red wheels! To the infinite scandalization of the Parish—no one but "Bertrand the Lay Reader" drove a buggy with red wheels!--Fleet steps sounded suddenly on the path! Startled fists beat furiously on the door!
"What is it? What is it?" shouted a familiar voice. "Whatever in the world is happening? Is it _murder_? Let me in! _Let me in!_"
"Sil--ly!" hissed Flame through a crack in the door. "It's nothing but a party! Don't you know a--a party when you hear it?"
For an instant only, blank silence greeted her confidence. Then "Bertrand the Lay Reader" relaxed in an indisputably genuine gasp of astonishment.
"Why! Why, is that you, Miss Flame?" he gasped. "Why, I thought it was a murder! Why--Why, whatever in the world are you doing here?"
"I--I'm having a party," hissed Flame through the key-hole.
"A--a--party?" stammered the Lay Reader. "Open the door!"
"No, I--can't," said Flame.
"Why not?" demanded the Lay Reader.
Helplessly in the darkness of the vestibule Flame looked up,--and down,--and sideways,--but met always in every direction the memory of her promise.
"I--I just can't," she admitted a bit weakly. "It wouldn't be convenient.--I--I've got trouble with my eyes."
"Trouble with your eyes?" questioned the Lay Reader.
"I didn't go away with my Father and Mother," confided Flame.
"No,--so I notice," observed the Lay Reader. "_Please_ open the door!"
"Why?" parried Flame.
"I've been looking for you everywhere," urged the Lay Reader. "At the Senior Warden's! At all the Vestrymen's houses! Even at the Sexton's! I knew you didn't go away! The Garage Man told me there were only two!--I thought surely I'd find you at your own house.--But I only found sled tracks."
"That was me,--I," mumbled Flame.
"And then I heard these awful screams," shuddered the Lay Reader.
"That was a Carol," said Flame.
"A Carol?" scoffed the Lay Reader. "Open the door!"
"Well--just a crack," conceded Flame.
It was astonishing how a man as broad-shouldered as the Lay Reader could pass so easily through a crack.
Conscience-stricken Flame fled before him with her elbow crooked across her forehead.
"Oh, my eyes! My eyes!" she cried.
"Well, really," puzzled the Lay Reader. "Though I claim, of course, to be ordinarily bright--I had never suspected myself of being actually dazzling."
"Oh, you're not bright at all," protested Flame. "It's just my promise.--I promised Mother not to see you!"
"Not to see _me_?" questioned the Lay Reader. It was astonishing how almost instantaneously a man as purely theoretical as the Lay Reader was supposed to be, thought of a perfectly practical solution to the difficulty. "Why--why we might tie my big handkerchief across your eyes," he suggested. "Just till we get this mystery straightened out.--Surely there is nothing more or less than just plain righteousness in--that!"
"What a splendid idea!" capitulated Flame. "But, of course, if I'm absolutely blindfolded," she wavered for a second only, "you'll have to lead me by the hand."
"I could do that," admitted the Lay Reader.
With the big white handkerchief once tied firmly across her eyes, Flame's last scruple vanished.
"Well, you see," she began quite precipitously, "I _did_ think it would be such fun to have a party!--A party all my own, I mean!--A party just exactly as I wanted it! No Parish in it at all! Or good works! Or anything! Just _fun_!--And as long as Mother and Father had to go away anyway--" Even though the blinding bandage the young eyes seemed to lift in a half wistful sort of appeal. "You see there's some sort of property involved," she confided quite impulsively. "Uncle Wally's making a new will. There's a corn-barn and a private chapel and a collection of Chinese lanterns and a piebald pony principally under dispute.--Mother, of course thinks we ought to have the corn-barn. But Father can't decide between the Chinese lanterns and the private chapel.--Personally," she sighed, "I'm hoping for the piebald pony."
"Yes, but this--party?" prodded the Lay Reader.
"Oh, yes,--the party--" quickened Flame.
"Why have it in a deserted house?" questioned the Lay Reader with some incisiveness.
Even with her eyes closely bandaged Flame could see perfectly clearly that the Lay Reader was really quite troubled.
"Oh, but you see it isn't exactly a deserted house," she explained.
"Who lives here?" demanded the Lay Reader.
"I don't know--exactly," admitted Flame. "But the Butler is a friend of mine and--"
"The--Butler is a friend of yours?" gasped the Lay Reader. Already, if Flame could only have seen it, his head was cocked with sudden intentness towards the parlor door. "There is certainly something very strange about all this," he whispered a bit hectically. "I could almost have sworn that I heard a faint scuffle,--the horrid sound of a person--strangling."
"Strangling?" giggled Flame. "Oh, that is just the sound of Miss Flora's 'girlish glee'! If she'd only be content to chew the corner of the piano cover! But when she insists on inhaling it, too!"
"Miss Flora?" gasped the Lay Reader. "Is this a Mad House?"
"Miss Flora is a--a dog," confided Flame a bit coolly. "I neglected--it seems--to state that this is a dog-party that I'm having."
"_Dogs_?" winced the Lay Reader. "Will they bite?"
"Only if you don't trust them," confided Flame.
"But it's so hard to trust a dog that will bite you if you don't trust him," frowned the Lay Reader. "It makes such a sort of a--a vicious circle, as it were."
"Vicious Circe?" mused Flame, a bit absent-mindedly. "No, I don't think it's nice at all to call Miss Flora a 'Vicious Circe.'" It was Flame's turn now to wince back a little. "I--I hate people who hate dogs!" she cried out quite abruptly.
"Oh, I don't hate them," lied the Lay Reader like a gentleman, "it's only that--that--. You see a dog bit me once!" he confided with significant emphasis.
"I--bit a dentist--once," mused Flame without any emphasis at all.
"Oh, but I say, Miss Flame," deprecated the Lay Reader. "That's different! When a dog bites you, you know, there's always more or less question whether he was mad or not."
"There doesn't seem to have been any question at all," mused Flame, "that _you_ were mad! Did you have _your_ head sent off to be investigated or anything?"
"Oh, I say, Miss Flame," implored the Lay Reader, "I tell you I _like_ dogs,--good dogs! I assure you I'm very--oh, very much interested in this dog party of yours! Such a quaint idea! So--so--! If I could be of any possible assistance?" he implored.
"Maybe you could be," relaxed Flame ever so faintly. "But if you're really coming to my party," she stiffened again, "you've got to behave like my party!"
"Why, of course I'll behave like your party!" laughed the Lay Reader.
"There _is_ a problem," admitted Flame. "Five problems, to be perfectly accurate.--Four dogs, and a cat in the wood-shed."
"And a cat in the wood-shed?" echoed the Lay Reader quite idiotically.
"The table is set," affirmed Flame. "The places, all ready!--But I don't know how to get the dogs into their chairs!--They run around so! They yelp! They jump!--They haven't had a mouthful to eat, you see, since last night, this time!--And when they once see the turkey I'm--I'm afraid they'll stampede it."
"Turkey?" quizzed the Lay Reader who had dined that day on corned beef.
"Oh, of course, mush was what they were intended to have," admitted Flame. "Piles and piles of mush! Extra piles and piles of mush I should judge because it was Christmas Day!... But don't you think mush does seem a bit dull?" she questioned appealingly. "For Christmas Day? Oh, I did think a turkey would taste so good!"
"It certainly would," conceded the Lay Reader.
"So if you'd help me--" wheedled Flame, "it would be well-worth staying blindfolded for.... For, of course, I shall have to stay blindfolded. But I can see a little of the floor," she admitted, "though I couldn't of course break my promise to my Mother by seeing you."
"No, certainly not," admitted the Lay Reader.
"Otherwise--" murmured Flame with a faint gesture towards the door.
"I will help you," said the Lay Reader.
"Where is your hand?" fumbled Flame.
"_Here_!" attested the Lay Reader.
"Lead us to the dogs!" commanded Flame.
Now the Captain of a ship feels genuinely obligated, it would seem, to go down with his ship if tragic circumstances so insist. But he never,--so far as I've ever heard, felt the slightest obligation whatsoever to go down with another captain's ship,--to be martyred in short for any job not distinctly his own. So Bertrand Lorello,--who for the cause he served, wouldn't have hesitated an instant probably, to be torn by Hindoo lions,--devoured by South Sea cannibals,--fallen upon by a chapel spire,--trampled to death even at a church rummage sale,--saw no conceivable reason at the moment for being eaten by dogs at a purely social function.
Even groping through a balsam-scented darkness with one hand clasping the thrilly fingers of a lovely young girl, this distaste did not altogether leave him.
"This--this mush that you speak of?" he questioned quite abruptly. "With the dogs as--as nervous as you say,--so unfortunately liable to stampede? Don't you think that perhaps a little mush served first,--a good deal of mush I would say, served first,--might act as a--as a sort of anesthetic?... Somewhere in the past I am almost sure I have read that mush in sufficient quantities, you understand, is really quite a--quite an anesthetic."
Very palpably in the darkness he heard a single throaty swallow.
"Lead us to the--mush," said Flame.
In another instant the door-knob turned in his hand, and the cheerful kitchen lamp-light,--glitter of tinsel,--flare of red ribbons,--savor of foods, smote sharply on him.
"Oh, I say, how _jolly_!" cried the Lay Reader.
"Don't let me bump into anything!" begged the blindfolded Flame, still holding tight to his hand.
"Oh, I say, Miss Flame," kindled the entranced Lay Reader, "it's _you_ that look the jolliest! All in white that way! I've never seen you wear _that_ to church, have I?"
"This is a pinafore," confided Flame coolly. "A bungalow apron, the fashion papers call it.... No, you've never seen me wear--this to church."
"O--h," said the Lay Reader.
"Get the mush," said Flame.
"The what?" asked the Lay Reader.
"It's there on the table by the window," gestured Flame. "Please set all four dishes on the floor,--each dish, of course, in a separate corner," ordered Flame. "There is a reason.... And then open the parlor door."
"Open the parlor door?" questioned the Lay Reader. It was no mere grammatical form of speech but a real query in the Lay Reader's mind.
"Well, maybe I'd better," conceded Flame. "Lead me to it."
Roused into frenzy by the sound of a stranger's step, a stranger's voice, the four dogs fumed and seethed on the other side of the panel.
"Sniff--Sniff--_Snort_!" the Red Setter sucked at the crack in the door.
"Woof! Woof! _Woof_!" roared the big Wolf Hound.
"Slam! Bang! Slash!" slapped the Dalmatian's crisp weight.
"Yi! Yi! Yi!" sang the Bull Dog.
"Hush! _Hush_, Dogs!" implored Flame. "This is Father's Lay Reader!"
"Your--Lay Reader!" contradicted the young man gallantly. It _was_ pretty gallant of him, wasn't it? Considering everything?
In another instant four _shapes_ with teeth in them came hurtling through!
If Flame had never in her life admired the Lay Reader she certainly would have admired him now for the sheer cold-blooded foresight which had presaged the inevitable reaction of the dogs upon the mush and the mush upon the dogs. With a single sniff at his heels, a prod of paws in his stomach, the onslaught swerved—and passed. Guzzlingly from four separate corners of the room issued sounds of joy and fulfillment.
With an impulse quite surprising even to herself Flame thrust both hands into the Lay Reader's clasp.
"You _are_ nice, aren't you?" she quickened. In an instant of weakness one hand crept up to the blinding bandage, and recovered its honor as instantly. "Oh, I do wish I _could_ see you," sighed Flame. "You're so good-looking! Even Mother thinks you're _so_ good-looking!... Though she does get awfully worked up, of course, about your 'amorous eyes'!"
"Does your Mother think I've got ... 'amorous eyes'?" asked the Lay Reader a bit tersely. Behind his spectacles as he spoke the orbs in question softened and glowed like some rare exotic bloom under glass. "Does your Mother ... think I've got amorous eyes?"
"Oh, yes!" said Flame.
"And your Father?" drawled the Lay Reader.
"Why, Father says _of course_ you've got 'amorous eyes'!" confided Flame with the faintest possible tinge of surprise at even being asked such a question. "That's the funny thing about Mother and Father," chuckled Flame. "They're always saying the same thing and meaning something entirely different by it. Why, when Mother says with her mouth all pursed up, 'I have every reason to believe that Mr. Lorello is engaged to the daughter of the Rector in his former Parish,' Father just puts back his head and howls, and says, 'Why, _of course_, Mr. Lorello is engaged to the daughter of the Rector in his former Parish! All Lay Readers...."
In the sudden hush that ensued a faint sense of uneasiness flickered through Flame's shoulders.
"Is it you that have hushed? Or the dogs?" she asked.
"The dogs," said the Lay Reader.
Very cautiously, absolutely honorably, Flame turned her back to the Lay Reader, and lifted the bandage just far enough to prove the Lay Reader's assertion.
Bulging with mush the four dogs lay at rest on rounding sides with limp legs straggling, or crouched like lions' heads on paws, with limpid eyes blinking above yawny mouths.
"O--h," crooned Flame. "How sweet! Only, of course, with what's to follow," she regretted thriftily, "it's an awful waste of mush.... Excelsior warmed in the oven would have served just as well."
At the threat of a shadow across her eyeball she jerked the bandage back into place.
"Now, Mr. Lorello," she suggested blithely, "if you'll get the Bibles...."
"Bibles?" stiffened the Lay Reader. "Bibles? Why, really, Miss Flame, I couldn't countenance any sort of mock service! Even just for--for quaintness,--even for Christmas quaintness!"
"Mock service?" puzzled Flame. "Bibles?... Oh, I don't want you to preach out of 'em," she hastened perfectly amiably to explain. "All I want them for is to plump-up the chairs.... The seats you see are too low for the dogs.... Oh, I suppose dictionaries would do," she compromised reluctantly. "Only dictionaries are always so scarce."
Obediently the Lay Reader raked the parlor book-cases for "plump-upable" books. With real dexterity he built Chemistries on Sermons and Ancient Poems on Cook Books till the desired heights were reached.
For a single minute more Flame took another peep at the table.
"Set a chair for yourself directly opposite me!" she ordered. For sheer hilarious satisfaction her feet began to dance and her hands to clap. "And whenever I really feel obliged to look," she sparkled, "you'll just have to leave the table, that's all!... And now...?" Appraisingly her muffled eye swept the shining vista. "Perfect!" she triumphed. "Perfect!" Then quite abruptly the eager mouth wilted. "Why ... Why I've forgotten the carving knife and fork!" she cried out in real distress. "Oh, how stupid of me!" Arduously, but without avail, she searched through all the drawers and cupboards of the Rattle-Pane kitchen. A single alternative occurred to her. "You'll have to go over to my house and get them,--Mr. Lorello!" she said. "Were you ever in my kitchen? Or my pantry?"
"No," admitted the Lay Reader.
"Well, you'll have to climb in through the window--someway," worried Flame. "I've mislaid my key somewhere here among all these dishes and boxes. And the pantry," she explained very explicitly, "is the third door on the right as you enter.... You'll see a chest of drawers. Open the second of 'em.... Or maybe you'd better look through all of them.... Only please ... please hurry!" Imploringly the little head lifted.
"If I hurry enough," said the Lay Reader quite impulsively, "may I have a kiss when I get back?"
"A kiss?" hooted Flame. In the curve of her cheek a dimple opened suddenly. "Well ... maybe," said Flame.
As though the word were wings the Lay Reader snatched his hat and sped out into the night.
It was astonishing how all the warm housey air seemed to rush out with him, and all the shivery frost rush back.
A little bit listlessly Flame dragged down the bandage from her eyes.
"It must be the creaks on the stairs that make it so awfully lonely all of a sudden," argued Flame. "It must be because the dogs snore so.... No mere man could make it so empty." With a precipitous nudge of the memory she dashed to the door and helloed to the fast retreating figure. "Oh, Bertrand! Bertrand!" she called, "I got sort of mixed up. It's the second door on the left! And if you don't find 'em there you'd better go up in Mother's room and turn out the silver chest! _Hurry_!"
Rallying back to the bright Christmas kitchen for the real business at hand, an accusing blush rose to the young spot where the dimple had been.
"Oh, Shucks!" parried Flame. "I kissed a Bishop before I was five!--What's a Lay Reader?" As one humanely willing to condone the future as well as the past she rolled up her white sleeves without further introspection, and dragged out from the protecting shadow of the sink the "humpiest box" which had so excited her emotions at home in an earlier hour of the day. Cracklingly under her eager fingers the clumsy cover slid off, exposing once more to her enraptured gaze the gay-colored muslin layer of animal masks leering fatuously up at her.
Only with her hand across her mouth did she keep from crying out. Very swiftly her glance traveled from the grinning muslin faces before her to the solemn fur faces on the other side of the room. The hand across her mouth tightened.
"Why, it's something like Creation," she giggled. "This having to decide which face to give to which animal!"
As expeditiously as possible she made her selection.
"Poor Miss Flora must be so tired of being so plain," she thought. "I'll give her the first choice of everything! Something really lovely! It can't help resting her!"
With this kind idea in mind she selected for Miss Flora a canary's face.--Softly yellow! Bland as treacle! Its swelling, tender muslin throat fairly reeking with the suggestion of innocent song! No one gazing once upon such ornithological purity would ever speak a harsh word again, even to a sparrow!
Nudging Miss Flora cautiously from her sonorous nap, Flame beguiled her with half a doughnut to her appointed chair, boosted her still cautiously to her pinnacle of books, and with various swift adjustments of fasteners, knotting of tie-strings,--an extra breathing hole jabbed through the beak, slipped the canary's beautiful blond countenance over Miss Flora's frankly grizzled mug.
For a single terrifying instant Miss Flora's crinkled sides tightened,--a snarl like ripped silk slipped through her straining lungs. Then once convinced that the mask was not a gas-box she accepted the liberty with reasonable _sang-froid_ and sat blinking beadily out through the canary's yellow-rimmed eye-sockets with frank curiosity towards such proceedings as were about to follow. It was easy to see she was accustomed to sitting in chairs.
For the Wolf Hound Flame chose a Giraffe's head. Certain anatomical similarities seemed to make the choice wise. With a long vividly striped stockinet neck wrinkling like a mousquetaire glove, the neat small head that so closely fitted his own neat small head, the tweaked, interrogative ears,--Beautiful-Lovely, the Wolf Hound, reared up majestically in his own chair. He also, once convinced that the mask was not a gas-box, resigned himself to the inevitable, and corporeally independent of such vain props as Chemistries or Sermons, lolled his fine height against the mahogany chair-back.
To Blunder-Blot, the trim Dalmatian, Flame assigned the Parrot's head, arrogantly beaked, gorgeously variegated, altogether querulous.
For Lopsy, the crafty Setter, she selected a White Rabbit's artless, pink-eared visage.
Yet out of the whole box of masks it had been the Bengal Tiger's fiercely bewhiskered visage that had fascinated Flame the most. Regretfully from its more or less nondescript companions, she picked up the Bengal Tiger now and pulled at its real, bristle-whiskers. In one of the chairs a dog stirred quite irrelevantly. Cocking her own head towards the wood-shed Flame could not be perfectly sure whether she heard a twinge of cat or a twinge of conscience. The unflinching glare of the Bengal Tiger only served to increase her self-reproach.
"After all," reasoned Flame, "it would be easy enough to set another place! And pile a few extra books!... I'm almost sure I saw a black plush bag in the parlor.... If the cat could be put in something like a black plush bag,--something perfectly enveloping like that? So that not a single line of its--its figure could be observed?... And it had a new head given it? A perfectly sufficient head--like a Bengal Tiger?--I see no reason why--"
In five minutes the deed was accomplished. Its lovely sinuous "figure" reduced to the stolid contour of a black plush work-bag, its small uneasy head thrust into the roomy muslin cranium of the Bengal Tiger, the astonished Cat found herself slumping soggily on a great teetering pile of books, staring down as best she might through the Bengal Tiger's ear at the weirdest assemblage of animals which any domestic cat of her acquaintance had ever been forced to contemplate.
Coincidental with the appearance of the Cat a faint thrill passed through the rest of the company.... Nothing very much! No more, no less indeed, than passes through any company at the introduction of purely extraneous matter. From the empty plate which she had commandeered as a temporary pillow the Yellow Canary lifted an interrogative beak.... That was all! At Flame's left, the White-Haired Rabbit emitted an incongruous bark.... Scarcely worth reporting! Across the table the Giraffe thumped a white, plumy tail. Thoughtfully the Parrot's hooked nose slanted slightly to one side.
"Oh, I wish Bertrand would come!" fretted Flame. "Maybe this time he'll notice my 'Christmas Crossing' sign!" she chuckled with sudden triumph. "Talk about surprises!" Very diplomatically as she spoke she broke another doughnut in two and drew all the dogs' attention to herself. Almost hysterical with amusement she surveyed the scene before her. "Well, at least we can have 'grace' before the Preacher comes!" she laughed. A step on the gravel walk startled her suddenly. In a flash she had jerked down the blind-folding handkerchief across her eyes again, and folding her hands and the doughnut before her burst softly into paraphrase.
'Now we—sit us down to eat Thrice our share of Flesh and Sweet. If we should burst before we're through, Oh what in—Dogdom shall we do?'
Thus it was that the Master of the House, returning unexpectedly to his unfamiliar domicile, stumbled upon a scene that might have shaken the reason of a less sober young man.
Startled first by the unwonted illumination from his kitchen windows, and second by the unprecedented aroma of Fir Balsam that greeted him even through the key-hole of his new front door, his feelings may well be imagined when groping through the dingy hall he first beheld the gallows-like structure reared in the kitchen doorway.
"My God!" he ejaculated, "Barrett is getting ready to hang himself! Gone mad probably--or something!"
Curdled with horror he forced himself to the object, only to note with convulsive relief but increasing bewilderment the cheerful phrasing and ultimate intent of the structure itself. "'Christmas Crossing'?" he repeated blankly. "'Look out for Surprises'?--'Shop, Cook, and Glisten'?" With his hand across his eyes he reeled back slightly against the wall. "It is I that have gone mad!" he gasped.
A little uncertain whether he was afraid of What-He-Was-About-to-See, or whether What-He-Was-About-to-See ought to be afraid of him, he craned his neck as best he could round the corner of the huge buffet that blocked the kitchen vista. A fresh bewilderment met his eyes. Where he had once seen cobwebs flapping grayly across the chimney-breast loomed now the gay worsted recommendation that _dogs specially_, should be considered in the Christmas Season. Throwing all caution aside he passed the buffet and plunged into the kitchen.
"Oh, _do_ hurry!" cried an eager young voice. "I thought my hair would be white before you came!"
Like a man paralyzed he stopped short in his tracks to stare at the scene before him! The long, bright table! The absolutely formal food! A blindfolded girl! A perfectly strange blindfolded girl ... with her dark hair forty years this side of white—_begging him to hurry_!... A Black Velvet Bag surmounted by a Tiger's head stirring strangely in a chair piled high with books!... Seated next to the Black Velvet Bag a Canary as big as a Turkey Gobbler!... A Giraffe stepping suddenly forward with—with dog-paws thrust into his soup plate!... A White Rabbit heavily wreathed in holly rousing cautiously from his cushions!... A Parrot with a twitching black and white short-haired tail!... An empty chair facing the Girl! _An empty chair facing the Girl._
"If this is _madness_," thought Delcote quite precipitously, "I am at least the Master of the Asylum!"
In another instant, with a prodigious stride he had slipped into the vacant seat.
"... So sorry to have kept you waiting," he murmured.
At the first sound of that unfamiliar voice, Flame yanked the handkerchief from her eyes, took one blank glance at the Stranger, and burst forth into a muffled, but altogether blood-curdling scream.
"Oh ... Oh ... Owwwwwwww!" said the scream.
As though waiting only for that one signal to break the spell of their enchantment, the Canary leaped upward and grabbed the Bengal Tiger by his muslin nose,--the White Rabbit sprang to "point" on the cooling turkey, and the Red and Green Parrot fell to the floor in a desperate effort to settle once and for all with the black spot that itched so impulsively on his left shoulder!
For a moment only, in comparative quiet, the Concerned struggled with the Concerned. Then true to all Dog Psychology,--absolutely indisputable, absolutely unalterable, the Non-Concerned leaped in upon the Non-Concerned! Half on his guard, but wholely on his itch, the jostled Parrot shot like a catapult across the floor! Lost to all sense of honor or table-manners the benign-faced Giraffe with his benign face still towering blandly in the air, burst through his own neck with a most curious anatomical effect,--locked his teeth in the Parrot's gay throat and rolled with him under the table in mortal combat!
Round and round the room spun the Yellow Canary and the Black Plush Bag!
Retreating as best she could from her muslin nose,--the Bengal Tiger or rather that which was within the Bengal Tiger, waged her war for Freedom! Ripping like a chicken through its shell she succeeded at last in hatching one front paw and one hind paw into action. Wallowing,--stumbling,--rolling,--yowling,--she humped from mantle-piece to chair-top, and from box to table.
Loyally the rabbit-eared Setter took up the chase. Mauled in the scuffle he ran with his meek face upside down! Lost to all reason, defiant of all morale, he proceeded to flush the game!
Dish-pans clattered, stools tipped over, pictures banged on the walls!
From her terrorized perch on the back of her chair Flame watched the fracas with dilated eyes.
Hunched in the hug of his own arms the Stranger sat rocking himself to and fro in uncontrollable, choking mirth,--"ribald mirth" was what Flame called it.
"Stop!" she begged. "Stop it! Somebody _stop_ it!"
It was not until the Black Plush Bag at bay had ripped a red streak down Miss Flora's avid nose that the Stranger rose to interfere.
Very definitely then, with quick deeds, incisive words, he separated the immediate combatants, and ordered the other dogs into submission.
"Here you, Demon Direful!" he addressed the white Wolf Hound. "Drop that, Orion!" he shouted to the Irish Setter. "Cut it out, John!" he thundered at the Coach Dog.
"Their names are 'Beautiful-Lovely'!" cried Flame. "And 'Lopsy!' and 'Blunder-Blot!'"
With his hand on the Wolf Hound's collar, the Stranger stopped and stared up with frank astonishment, not to say resentment, at the girl's interference.
"Their names are _what_?" he said.
Something in the special intonation of the question infuriated Flame.... Maybe she thought his mouth scornful,--his narrowing eyes...? Goodness knows what she thought of his suddenly narrowing eyes!
In an instant she had jumped from her retreat to the floor.
"Who are you, anyway?" she demanded. "How dare you come here like this? Butting into my party!... And--and spoiling my discipline with the dogs! Who are you, I say?"
With Demon Direful, alias Beautiful-Lovely tugging wildly at his restraint, the Stranger's scornful mouth turned precipitously up, instead of down.
"Who am I?" he said. "Why, no one special at all except just--the Master of the House!"
"_What_?" gasped Flame.
"Earle Delcote," bowed the Stranger.
With a little hand that trembled perfectly palpably Flame reached back to the arm of the big carved chair for support.
"Why--why, but Mr. Delcote is an old man," she gasped. "I'm almost sure he's an old man."
The smile on Delcote's mouth spread suddenly to his eyes.
"Not yet,--Thank God!" he bowed.
With a panic-stricken glance at doors, windows, cracks, the chimney pipe itself, Flame sank limply down in her seat again and gestured towards the empty place opposite her.
"Have a--have a chair," she stammered. Great tears welled suddenly to her eyes. "Oh, I--I know I oughtn't to be here," she struggled. "It's perfectly ... awful! I haven't the slightest right! Not the slightest! It's the--the cheekiest thing that any girl in the world ever did!... But your Butler said...! And he did so want to go away and--And I did so love your dogs! And I did so want to make _one_ Christmas in the world just--exactly the way I wanted it! And--and--Mother and Father will be crazy!... And--and--"
Without a single glance at anything except herself, the Master of the House slipped back into his chair.
"Have a heart!" he said.
Flame did _not_ accept this suggestion. With a very severe frown and downcast eyes she sat staring at the table. It seemed a very cheerless table suddenly, with all the dogs in various stages of disheveled finery grouped blatantly around their Master's chair.
"I can at least have my cat," she thought, "my--faithful cat!" In another instant she had slipped from the table, extracted poor Puss from a clutter of pans in the back of a cupboard, stripped the last shred of masquerade from her outraged form, and brought her back growling and bristling to perch on one arm of the high-backed chair. "Th--ere!" said Flame.
Glancing up from this innocent triumph, she encountered the eyes of the Master of the House fixed speculatively on the big turkey.
"I'm afraid everything is very cold," she confided with distinctly formal regret.
"Not for anything," laughed Delcote quite suddenly, "would I have kept you waiting--if I had only known."
Two spots of color glowed hotly in the girl's cheeks.
"It was not for you I was waiting," she said coldly.
"N--o?" teased Delcote. "You astonish me. For whom, then? Some incredible wight who, worse than late--isn't going to show up at all?... Heaven sent, I consider myself.... How else could so little a girl have managed so big a turkey?"
"There ... isn't any ... carving knife," whispered Flame.
The tears were glistening on her cheeks now instead of just in her eyes. A less observing man than Delcote might have thought the tears were really for the carving knife.
"What? No carving knife?" he roared imperiously. "And the house guaranteed 'furnished'?" Very furiously he began to hunt all around the kitchen in the most impossible places.
"Oh, it's furnished all right," quivered Flame. "It's just chock-full of dead things! Pressed flowers! And old plush bags! And pressed flowers! And--and pressed flowers!"
"Great Heavens!" groaned Delcote. "And I came here to forget 'dead things'!"
"Your--your Butler said you'd had misfortunes," murmured Flame.
"Misfortunes?" rallied Delcote. "I should think I had! In a single year I've lost health,--money,--most everything I own in the world except my man and my dogs!"
"They're ... good dogs," testified Flame.
"And the Doctor's sent me here for six months," persisted Delcote, "before he'll even hear of my plunging into things again!"
"Six months is a--a good long time," said Flame. "If you'd turn the hems we could make yellow curtains for the parlor in no time at all!"
"W--we?" stammered Delcote.
"M--Mother," said Flame. "... It's a long time since any dogs lived in the Rattle-Pane House."
"Rattle-_Brain_ house?" bridled Delcote.
"Rattle-_Pane_ House," corrected Flame.
A little bit worriedly Delcote returned to his seat.
"I shall have to rend the turkey, instead of carve it," he said.
"Rend it," acquiesced Flame.
In the midst of the rending a dark frown appeared between Delcote's eyes.
"These--these guests that you were expecting--?" he questioned.
"Oh, _stop_!" cried Flame. "Dreadful as I am I never--never would have dreamed of inviting 'guests'!"
"This 'guest' then," frowned Delcote. "Was he...?"
"Oh, you mean ... Bertrand?" flushed Flame. "Oh, truly, I didn't invite him! He just butted in ... same as you!"
"Same as ... I?" stammered Delcote.
"Well..." floundered Flame. "Well ... you know what I mean and ..."
With peculiar intentness the Master of the House fixed his eyes on the knotted white handkerchief which Flame had thrown across the corner of her chair.
"And is this 'Bertrand' person so ... so dazzling," he questioned, "that human eye may not look safely upon his countenance?"
"Bertrand ... dazzling?" protested Flame. "Oh, no! He's really quite dull.... It was only," she explained with sudden friendliness, "It was only that I had promised Mother not to 'see' him.... So, of course, when he butted in I...."
"O--h," relaxed the Master of the House. With a precipitous flippancy of manners which did not conform at all to the somewhat tragic austerity of his face he snatched up his knife and fork and thumped joyously on the table with the handles of them. "And some people talk about a country village being dull in the Winter Time!" he chuckled. "With a Dog's Masquerade and a Robbery at the Rectory all happening the same evening!" Grabbing her cat in her arms, Flame jerked her chair back from the table.
"A--a robbery at the Rectory?" she gasped. "Why--why, I'm the Rectory! I must go home at once!"
"Oh, Shucks!" shrugged the Master of the House. "It's all over now. But the people at the railroad station were certainly buzzing about it as I came through."
"B--buzzing about it?" articulated Flame with some difficulty.
Expeditiously the Master of the House resumed his rending of the turkey.
"Are you really from the Rectory?" he questioned. "How amusing.... Well, there's nothing really you could do about it now.... The constable and his prisoner are already on their way to the County Seat--wherever that may be. And a freshly 'burgled' house is rather a creepy place for a young girl to return to all alone.... Your parents are away, I believe?"
"Con--stable ... constable," babbled Flame quite idiotically.
"Yes, the regular constable was off Christmasing somewhere it seems, so he put a substitute on his job, a stranger from somewhere. Some substitute that! No mulling over hot toddies on Christmas night for him! He _saw_ the marauder crawling in through the Rectory window! He _saw_ him fumbling now to the left, now to the right, all through the front hall! He followed him up the stairs to a closet where the silver was evidently kept! He caught the man red-handed as it were! Or rather--white-handed," flushed the Master of the House for some quite unaccountable reason. "To be perfectly accurate," he explained conscientiously, "he was caught with a pair of--of--" Delicately he spelt out the word. "With a pair of--c-o-r-s-e-t-s rolled up in his hand. But inside the roll it seemed there was a solid silver--very elaborate carving set which the Parish had recently presented. The wretch was just unrolling it,--them, when he was caught."
"That was Bertrand!" said Flame. "My Father's Lay Reader."
It was the man's turn now to jump to his feet.
"_What_?" he cried.
"I sent him for the carving knife," said Flame.
"_What_?" repeated the man. Consternation versus Hilarity went racing suddenly like a cat-and-dog combat across his eyes.
"Yes," said Flame.
From the outside door the sound of furious knocking occurred suddenly.
"That sounds to me like--like parents' knocking," shivered Flame.
"It sounds to me like an escaped Lay Reader," said her Host.
With a single impulse they both started for the door.
"Don't worry, Little Girl," whispered the young Stranger in the dark hall.
"I'll try not to," quivered Flame.
They were both right, it seemed.
It was Parents _and_ the Lay Reader.
All three breathless, all three excited, all three reproachful,--they swept into the warm, balsam-scented Rattle-Pane House with a gust of frost, a threat of disaster.
"F--lame," sighed her Father.
"Flame!" scolded her Mother.
"Flame?" implored the Lay Reader.
"What a pretty name," beamed the Master of the House. "Pray be seated, everybody," he gestured graciously to left and right,--shoving one dog expeditiously under the table with his foot, while he yanked another out of a chair with his least gesticulating hand. "This is certainly a very great pleasure, I assure you," he affirmed distinctly to Miss Flamande Nourice. "Returning quite unexpectedly to my new house this lonely Christmas evening," he explained very definitely to the Rev. Flamande Nourice, "I can't express to you what it means to me to find this pleasant gathering of neighbors waiting here to welcome me! And when I think of the effort _you_ must have made to get here, Mr. Bertrand," he beamed. "A young man of all your obligations and--complications--"
"Pleasant ... gathering of neighbors?" questioned Mrs. Nourice with some emotion.
"Oh, I forgot," deprecated the Master of the House with real concern. "Your Christmas season is not, of course, as inherently 'pleasant' as one might wish.... I was told at the railroad station how you and Mr. Nourice had been called away by the illness of a relative."
"We were called away," confided Mrs. Nourice with increasing asperity, "called away at considerable inconvenience--by a very sick relative--to receive the present of a Piebald pony."
"Oh, goody!" quickened Flame and collapsed again under the weight of her Mother's glance.
"And then came this terrible telephone message," shuddered her Mother. "The implied dishonor of one of your Father's most trusted--most trusted associates!"
"I was right in the midst of such an interesting book," deplored her Father. "And Uncle Wally wouldn't lend it."
"So we borrowed Uncle Wally's new automobile and started right for home!" explained her Mother. "It was at the Junction that we made connections with the Constable and his prisoner."
"His--victim," intercepted the Lay Reader coldly.
At this interception everybody turned suddenly and looked at the Lay Reader. His mouth was twisted very slightly to one side. It gave him a rather unpleasant snarling expression. If this expression had been vocal instead of muscular it would have shocked his hearers.
"Your Father had to go on board the train and identify him," persisted Flame's Mother. "It was very distressing.... The Constable was most unwilling to release him. Your Father had to use every kind of an argument."
"Every ... kind," mused her Father. "He doesn't even deny being in the house," continued her Mother, "being in my closet, ... being caught with a--a--"
"With a silver carving knife and fork in his hand," intercepted the Lay Reader hastily.
"Yet all the time he persists," frowned Flame's Mother, "that there is some one in the world who can give a perfectly good explanation if only,--he won't even say 'he or she' but 'it', if only 'it' would."
Something in the stricken expression of her daughter's face brought a sudden flicker of suspicion to the Mother's eyes.
"_You_ don't know anything about this, do you, Flame?" she demanded. "Is it remotely possible that after your promise to me,--your sacred promise to me--?" The whole structure of the home,--of mutual confidence,--of all the Future itself, crackled and toppled in her voice.
To the Lay Reader's face, and right _through_ the Lay Reader's face, to the face of the Master of the House, Flame's glance went homing with an unaccountable impulse.
With one elbow leaning casually on the mantle-piece, his narrowed eyes faintly inscrutable, faintly smiling, it seemed suddenly to the young Master of the House that he had been waiting all his discouraged years for just that glance. His heart gave the queerest jump.
Flame's face turned suddenly very pink.
Like a person in a dream, she turned back to her Mother. There was a smile on her face, but even the smile was the smile of a dreaming person.
"No--Mother," she said, "I haven't seen Bertrand ... to-day."
"Why, you're looking right at him now!" protested her exasperated Mother.
With a gentle murmur of dissent, Flame's Father stepped forward and laid his arm across the young girl's shoulder. "She--she may be looking at him," he said. "But I'm almost perfectly sure that she doesn't ... see him."
"Why, whatever in the world do you mean?" demanded his wife. "Whatever in the world does anybody mean? If there was only another woman here! A mature ... sane woman! A----" With a flare of accusation she turned from Flame to the Master of the House. "This Miss Flora that my daughter spoke of,--where is she? I insist on seeing her! Please summon her instantly!"
Crossing genially to the table the Master of the House reached down and dragged out the Bull Dog by the brindled scuff of her neck. The scratch on her nose was still bleeding slightly. And one eye was closed.
"This is--Miss Flora!" he said.
Indignantly Flame's Mother glanced at the dog, and then from her daughter's face to the face of the young man again.
"And you call _that_--a lady?" she demanded.
"N--not technically," admitted the young man.
For an instant a perfectly tense silence reigned. Then from under a shadowy basket the Cat crept out, shining, sinuous, with extended paw, and began to pat a sprig of holly cautiously along the floor.
Yielding to the reaction Flame bent down suddenly and hugging the Wolf Hound's head to her breast buried her face in the soft, sweet shagginess.
"Not sanitary, Mother?" she protested. "Why, they're as sanitary as--as violets!"
As though dreaming he were late to church and had forgotten his vestments, Flame's Father reached out nervously and draped a great string of ground-pine stole-like about his neck.
"We all," broke in the Master of the House quite irrelevantly, "seem to have experienced a slight twinge of irritability--the past few minutes. Hunger, I've no doubt!... So suppose we all sit down together to this sumptuous--if somewhat chilled repast? After the soup certainly, even after very cold soup, all explanations I'm sure will be--cheerfully and satisfactorily exchanged. Miss--Flame I know has a most amusing story to tell and--"
"Oh, yes!" rallied Flame. "And it's almost all about being blindfolded and sending poor Mr. Lorello--"
"So if by any chance, Mr.--Mr. Bertrand," interrupted the Master of the House a bit abruptly, "you happen to have the carving knife and fork still on your person ... I thought I saw a white string hanging--"
"I have!" said the Lay Reader with his first real grin.
With great formality the Master of the House drew back a chair and bowed Flame's Mother to it.
Then suddenly the Red Setter lifted his sensitive nose in the air, and the spotted Dalmatian bristled faintly across the ridge of his back. Through the whole room, it seemed, swept a curious cottony sense of Something-About-to-Happen! Was it that a sound hushed? Or that a hush decided suddenly to be a sound?
With a little sharp catch of her breath Flame dashed to the window, and swung the sash upward! Where once had breathed the drab, dusty smell of frozen grass and mud quickened suddenly a curious metallic dampness like the smell of new pennies.
"Mr. ... Delcote!" she called.
In an instant his slender form silhouetted darkly with hers in the open window against the eternal mystery and majesty of a Christmas night.
"And _then_ the snow came!"