"A Christmas White Elephant" (1895)
11-11-2011 07:26 AM
It's always difficult to dispose of the Christmas tree at the end of the holiday season. But it's a lot more difficult when your five-year-old daughter has adopted the tree as her pet!
Click here for a printable version.
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"A Christmas White Elephant" by W. A. Wilson
From St. Nicholas magazine, December 1895
Fred was in a sad quandary. There were certain things in the house which managed themselves, that is, were attended to by Agnes, his wife. There were others which required careful and judicious treatment, he said. These were left to him, of course. He found them, usually, more or less disagreeable. This case, however, was particularly difficult to deal with; the more so as it was plain to him that not only his own feelings, but those of Cecie, his little five-year-old daughter, had become involved. Now, he was much attached to his only child, and, whatever might happen to his own feelings, he objected to hers being wounded in any way. The situation, therefore, because more and more perplexing. As a natural consequence, he put off, from day to day, deciding what was to be done.
Agnes had expressed herself with her customary decision. "We simply cannot keep it in the house," she said, one evening when Fred went into the matter once for all.
"That is true," admitted her husband.
"Very well, then; we may as well get rid of it at once," she concluded.
"Yes, but how?" asked Fred, with an air of clinching the matter with a question she would find it difficult to answer.
"How? That is simple enough, surely."
"Don't see it."
"Why, open the door and put it out."
"Wh-a-at!" cried Fred, "and let it die in the yard?"
"Why, yes. You don't need to be so silly about it."
"Silly about it! Silly about it!! It's all very well to say 'silly' about it, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't sleep at nights. It's a good thing Cecie is not here to hear her mother."
"Really, Fred, it seems to me that you are driving matters a little too far," remarked Agnes, in a tone of great severity.
"Driving! That's not bad. I am not driving. I am being driven," said Fred, pleased however that he seemed to have the better of the argument.
"Well, I don't know," she said. "You agree that it cannot stay, and yet you object to letting it go."
"I do nothing of the kind," said Fred, helplessly. "I only said it wasn't feasible. It simply cannot be put out to die. It doesn't cost much to feed it, you must admit."
"That is true," said Agnes; "but that has nothing to do with it. Surely there is no use going over all the reasons again."
"Then," said Fred, in desperation, "let us get a man to take it out into the country somewhere and leave it to its fate. Perhaps some one would take a fancy to it," he added, rising.
"That would cost more than it is worth. Besides, it is a good thing Cecie is not here to hear her father," laughed Agnes, and the subject was allowed to drop once more.
Fred felt that the matter was becoming serious. If Agnes were so unreasonable, what would Cecie say to a proposal to turn her newly found friend out of doors? If it had only not been so very large!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Cecie had become quite a personage of importance in the household. Her father was reminded so often of himself by things she said and did, that he strove in every way to protect her from being, as he called it, badly used: that is, from being misconstrued and misunderstood. A strong feeling had, consequently, grown up between them. This case, this Green White Elephant of a Christmas-tree, was a characteristic instance. Only Cecie could have caused such a fuss about such a trifle. The more he thought about it the more ridiculous it seemed. Yet, as he said, it was easier to laugh than to say what was to be done.
Toward the end of the previous month, Robin, a friend, having sent a present consisting of a large Christmas-tree growing in an earthen pot, Fred went into town—unknown, of course, to Cecie—to purchase decorations for it. The same evening that young lady, having danced about the house all day and feeling tired, begged her father to read to her, as she expressed it, a nice fairy tale. Fred was an artist, and had been occupied for some months illustrating a new edition of Hans Christian Andersen. He took up an old volume of his fairy stories and opened it at random. It chanced that he stumbled upon the story of The Fir-tree. This, as it happened, had not yet been read to his daughter; and, as her father prepared to read, he noticed that she settled herself on her stool at her mother's feet, and elaborately smoothed her pinafore out before her, as she was wont to do on great occasions: for no occasion was so great to Cecie as the first reading of a new fairly tale.
He did not stop to think. It did not occur to him precisely what the result of reading that particular story at that particular time would most likely be. Otherwise he would probably have kept it for another day. But he did not; he read innocently on, and Cecie listened. When he had finished she surprised him by saying nothing. She sat quite still, and seemed to have become very thoughtful. After a time she rose and went quietly into the room where the Christmas-tree was standing.
Presently a small voice called out: "Papa!"
Fred, suspecting what had happened, rose and went in. Agnes remained. She had an important piece of sewing to do.
"Papa," asked Cecie, whose blond curls scarcely reached the lowest branches of the tree, "it never moves, does it?"
"And it is alive just like us?"
"Yes. That is—well, yes; not exactly, you know, but it is quite alive."
"What does it feed on all the time, then?"
"The juices of the earth," said Fred, with the air of an experienced gardener. "That is why we must give it water. It requires air, too, for it sucks moisture in with these, as well." And he pinched the branch nearest him, and a few needles came off between his fingers.
"Doesn't that hurt the tree?" cried Cecie.
"Oh, no; it won't mind that."
"Wouldn't it like some juices just now, papa?"
"I think not. The earth is moist enough."
"Oh, let me! I'll go and get some water," said Cecie, starting toward the door.
"No, no; it has sufficient."
"But perhaps it would like a long drink. I do, sometimes," pleaded the little girl, in tones which usually had the desired effect.
"No!" said the head of the family, to satisfy himself that he could be firm occasionally.
There was a pause. Cecie stood still, looking up at the handsome stranger as if she had never seen a tree before. "Do you think it hears us talking about it, papa?" she said after a moment.
"Perhaps it is asleep," she suggested, moving closer to her father and putting her little hand in his.
"Perhaps it is," said Fred, feeling that, after all, the tree might as well have had some water.
"But how does it sleep when it has no eyes?"
"Oh, it just sleeps in its own way."
"Standing up like that always?"
"Yes, just as, just as—let me see—as horses do, for example."
"Oh, but horses don't always," retorted Cecie; because the baker had told her, the other day, that his horse lay down on the straw and went to sleep whenever it got home at night.
"They sometimes do," observed Fred, in the interests of parental authority, meaning at the first opportunity to get reliable information on the subject of the private life of horses.
"Then will it like to live with us?"
Fred thought it would, if they were kind to it.
"And we will be kind to it, won't we?"
"Of course we will," Fred promised in the innocence of his heart, for he was a child of nature himself, fond of flowers and trees and everything that lived a free and healthy life.
Then Cecie said good-night to her tree, "and pleasant dreams"; and when she had closed the door for the night and left her new friend alone, she went contentedly away with her nurse; and Fred sat down blissfully unconscious that he had committed himself in any way.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The following forenoon, after struggling for an hour to get into his work, Fred had just got fairly settled when he was startled by a fall, a crash of crockery, and a loud wail in the room adjoining his studio. Laying down his drawing-board and pen, with a sigh, he went to the folding doors and opened them.
Cecie had already been picked up. She was standing like a little model for a statuette, holding out her limp and dripping hands. Her pinafore and dress were soaked with water, and there was a pond on the bright waxed floor, dotted with islands of broken stoneware jug. The cat in the center of the further room was excitedly licking its back. Cecie's lips were puckered up in great distress, and her eyes were lost in a spasm of tears, for she had startled no one more than she had herself.
Fred could not help smiling. He bent down and comforted her, and, after the tears had ceased, said that to prevent confusion in future, either he or mama, or at all events nuse, would see that the tree got sufficient water. Cecie was to give herself no concern whatever. There was no need to trouble herself about it. Would she be good and not do so any more?
"Y-y-yes," promised Cecie, feeling, however, that she was promising away her entire interest in life.
"Oh, I will tell you," said Fred. "Every evening at tea-time remind me that the tree is thirsty. Nurse can fetch us water, and we can give it some."
Cecie was led away for a change of clothes with an expression on her face like sunshine breaking through the clouds on an April day. Fred, with a reflection of it glistening in his eyes, went back to his room and took up his board.
That evening he was busy decorating the tree for some time after Cecie had gone to sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The next evening was Christmas eve; but when the happy moment arrived, and the doors were flung open, disclosing the tree in a blaze of light, Cecie did not seem to rise to the occasion quite so enthusiastically as her parents had expected; and yet this was not only the largest but the finest tree she had ever had. Cecie, however, was not one who could be gay to order; and with her the unexpected usually happened. This time it was not that she did not think her protégé beautiful. She was divided between admiration and another feeling. She was wondering if it would care to be lighted up with candles within an inch of its life like that, and covered with glittering ornaments till it could scarcely breathe; whether it liked to have molten wax run all over its fresh green branches; and whether it were being treated with proper respect in being made to hold up such a load of things.
Fred laughed heartily when she confided her anxieties to him, and said, "Oh, that won't matter. Don't mind that, little woman."
"But don't you remember that the story said when trees had barkache it was as bad as headache is to us?"
"Oh, but it is strong," said her father. "It doesn't feel such little things."
"Well, I would have barkache—headache, I mean," said Cecie, laughing at her slip, "if I had to carry all those burning candles."
Later, when the little party had broken up and Fred was left alone, he sat down in an easy-chair. A question had occurred to him while Cecie was speaking. This tree of hers—what was to be done with it when its time came?
He and mama had no means of disposing of it, living in the city as they did, and it could not be kept in the house. Moreover, Cecie would require to know what had been done with it. Previous Christmas-trees had had their death-blows dealt them in the forest. With this one, it was different. It was not only still living, but, thanks to Cecie, was becoming from day to day more and more a personality in the house.
Parents, he reflected, really ought to remember to tell their children, when talking of the duty of kindness to all dumb creatures, that there are exceptions to every rule—that is to say, if they wish to avoid drifting into ridiculous situations. To think of the father of a family hesitating about such a paltry thing as this! He looked up at the moment, and his eyes fell upon the tree. How beautiful it certainly was, in spite of all the finery and tinsel!
Cecie was an odd child! However, when Christmas was over, other things would distract her attention, he hoped, and then it would be time enough to—well, that could be determined when the time came. Perhaps something would turn up before then. Perhaps the thing would decide itself in some way.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The next day, being Christmas, was a holiday. Fred sat reading in his easy-chair before the studio fire. Cecie, not far away, lay upon the floor, propping her head up with her arms, deeply engrossed in an illustrated spelling-book. For a few moments there was no sound but the grave beat of the old timepiece hanging on the wall and the nervous ticking of two modern clocks in the adjoining room. A thin fall of snow had slid down the studio windows and collected at the bottom of the panes.
Presently Fred laid down his book, and said, over his shoulder: "Where is Dolly to-day?"
"She's asleep just now," she said, rising and going to her father's side. "She's been making plum-pudding." Taking the watch from her father's pocket, and holding it sideways, she continued:
"What time is it?"
"A quarter past three."
"But you said it was twelve when the hands were together."
"Yes; but when they are together at the top."
Cecie gave it up. Replacing the watch, she said, in an altered tone of voice: "Papa!"
"Trees don't care for anything but growing, do they?"
"Well, I don't know that they care much even for that. They have to grow just as you, just as I, must do."
"Must you grow, papa?"
"I? Well, I suppose I am done growing now," said Fred.
"Will you never grow, never any more?" asked Cecie, so seriously that her father turned around and looked at her, and smiled.
"Well, dear," he said, stroking her hair, "it wouldn't do, you know, if we never stopped. Think how big we should get to be!"
Cecie burst into a gay laugh. "We couldn't get in by the door, unless we bent down and crept in on our hands and knees, could we?"
"Of course we couldn't," laughed Fred.
"But it is funny, too, that we have to stop growing. Tell me, papa," she continued, looking earnestly at him, "are you very old?"
"Who? I?" said Fred, aghast. "No—of course not. I am quite young."
"How old is old, then?"
"Old? Let me see. Fifty is old, or sixty—thereabouts," said Fred.
After a silence Cecie began again:
"Will I ever be old, papa?"
"Why, certainly, my dear," said Fred, cheerfully; "that is," he added, as if feeling guilty of some vague ungallantry, "I hope so."
"And never grow any more, like you?"
"But wouldn't you like to keep growing always?"
"I don't know. I feel pretty comfortable as I am. If I were a little girl like you it might be different."
"Do people only want to grow when they are young?"
Fred shifted in his chair, and then, drawing her closer to him, said: "Why do you ask about the tree caring to grow?"
"Because you read in the story that the tree said to itself: 'Let me grow, only let me grow; there is nothing so beautiful in all the world.'"
"I don't remember."
"Wait, and I will get the book," said Cecie.
She returned with the volume, which she had opened at the proper place, and declared that it was at the very beginning.
"How did you know that that is the place?"
"Because the picture of the tree is there," replied the child, simply.
Fred patted her on the cheek, and ran his eye rapidly down the page. At length he said:
"Oh, yes, you are right. Here it is:
"Be happy," said the Sunshine, "that you are young. Rejoice in your growth, and in the young life that is within you." And the Wind kissed the tree by day, and the Dew wept over it by night: but the Fir-tree did not understand."What didn't it understand?" asked Cecie.
"Oh, I don't know," said her father carelessly.
"That some day it would stop growing, like you, and might want to grow some more, and couldn't," cried Cecie, breaking into a dance of joy: for she had a great belief that her father knew nearly everything, and it was a great treat to her to be able to tell him something he did not know.
Finally, as if by way of further relieving her feelings, she caught up one foot, and hopped round the studio, and out at the open door.
As she did so, Fred's book slipped from his knee and fell. He picked it up again, but laid it on the table. Resuming his chair, he sat for some time with his head resting on his hand, looking absently at the fire.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Cecie sometimes had fits of not knowing what to do with her limbs; or it might, perhaps, be more correct to say that her limbs had fits of not knowing what to do with themselves and her. At one moment she would be seen lounging about like a marionette, hanging on her father or mother or whoever happened to be near. The next minute she had gone. She was likely, however, to reappear at any moment, like a kitten, the innocent victim of some strange galvanic power.
These moods had the additional peculiarity of usually occurring when every one else was disposed to be quiet. This occasion being no exception, Fred was soon startled from his reverie by warm lips sending a sudden "Boo-o-o!" near his ear.
"What's the matter?" he cried out, twitching as if from an electric shock.
Cecie applied her lips to his ear again.
"I don't know," he said, laughing, and rubbing that organ energetically.
"Can't. There isn't anything forgotten."
"Oh, yes, there is," said Cecie, and whispering a second time.
"Oh, not just now, I think," said Fred, smiling, as she retreated a pace to watch the effect of the joyful communication.
"But you said you would."
"It won't require any water to-day."
"Oh, yes. You know it has all the candles and things to hold."
Fred rose resignedly, and went into the room, and the tree was ceremoniously and most deliberately watered, to the complete satisfaction of its patroness.
It was large enough, certainly (its top just touched the ceiling of the room in which it stood), but it was very kind of Robin, Fred reflected, to have sent such a handsome tree. If, therefore, this newly born enthusiasm of Cecie's for growing were to be encouraged, it might soon be necessary to take her friend into the studio. But that was entirely out of the question. He could not afford the space. Sooner or later he must come to a decision. There seemed to be no resource but to break it up for fire-wood. Cecie could be sent for a walk while that was being done. Who was to do it, however? It was not work for his wife, and he—well, he did not care to do it. He was not accustomed to use an ax, for one thing; besides, work of that sort was bad for an artist's hands.
Nurse would do it. Why not? She was a great, strong woman.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It was not until the first week of the New Year, when the mistletoe and holly and other relics of Christmas were being cleared away, that the subject of their silent visitor came up again.
If Cecie would only tire of it, he would say to himself at times, or if it would only die! Of the latter, unfortunately, there seemed to be very little prospect, unless, indeed, it died by drowning. Thanks to Cecie's watchfulness, there seemed a distant possibility of that.
Once he pulled himself together, and, without daring to address himself directly to his daughter, spoke about the matter, in a seemingly casual manner, in her presence.
"What shall we do when the tree is away?" he said to mama.
"It isn't going away, is it, papa?" asked Cecie, looking up in great surprise. "You said it was to be allowed to stay."
"C-certainly, my dear. I mean, what would we have done if it had been going away?"
Cecie's calmness had quite disarmed him.
"Where could it have gone, poor thing?" asked Cecie, tenderly.
"I-don't-know," said Fred, hopelessly.
Again he and Agnes were talking obscurely about it, so that the child might not understand.
Presently Cecie said in a low whisper:
"S-sh, mama, s-sh! Don't talk like that. The tree might hear you, and think you were talking about it."
"But, my dear," said her mother, seizing the opportunity, "we are talking about it." Suddenly lowering her voice, in response to an expression in Cecie's face, she added:
"Something must be done, you know. It cannot stay here always."
"Then," said Cecie in a hoarse whisper to her father, who had begun to crumble bread upon the table-cloth, "why did you let it hear you say it could, Papa?"
"Me, dear? I didn't."
"Yes, you did; the first night it came," persisted Cecie, her eyes filling suddenly.
"Did I? Well, but we don't need to chop it up, you know," said Fred, soothingly.
"Chop it up!" cried Cecie, horrified. "Who said we would chop it up?"
"Why, why,—nobody. Did nurse say so?"
"Nurse? Why, no. She loves it as much as I do now, ever since I told her," said Cecie.
"Oh! I didn't know," said the victim, feeling that the toils were closing around him, and beginning to wonder if Hunding found it inconvenient to have a tree growing through the roof of his abode. It might look picturesque at least, if the worst came to the worst.
"Poor thing!" said Cecie, turning to their helpless charge; "we promised to be kind to you, and we will, won't we?"
Neither Fred nor Agnes said a word. They felt that their best course was to wait.
Cecie, however, made it difficult for them at the outset by saying good-night to her tree that evening with even more kindliness in her voice than usual.
Fred complained to Agnes afterward, as they sat alone together, that it was impossible to work when one was constantly distracted by the small things of life. Agnes aid, "Stuff and nonsense!" Moreover, she added, laughing, it was absurd to call Cecie's tree a small thing of life. It was already too large, and, what was worse, seemed to be growing larger.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It was no wonder, therefore, that Fred was in a great quandary.
Whenever he chance to see the tree, standing on its stool, so submissive or so indifferent, he could not quite make out which, but certainly so undeniably fresh and healthy-looking, his conscience gave a twinge. He began to avoid the "prison," as Agnes jestingly called the room in which it stood; for when he met the tree face to face, he always thought of the Good Robber, and how he must have felt when he took the Babes by the hand and led them to the Wood; and when he heard nurse watering it and spraying its branches twice a day, he winced, for he had delegated the work to her in the steadfast hope that she would forget to do it.
Once, with a bitter remembrance of this, he said to Agnes, who had complained of her neglect: "Yes, she does nothing she is told to do, that girl."
"Oh, papa," broke in Cecie, who happened to be in a corner of the room, "you can't say that. Look at the way she keeps the tree. Why, there are buds upon it already!"
At another time, Agnes, who had just decided to take the law into her own hands and give orders for the execution, without saying anything either to Cecie or her husband, was busy arranging her bookcase, when Fred looked up from the letter he was writing and said: "S-sh! Who is that in the next room?"
"It is only Cecie."
"But she is talking to some one."
Agnes laid down the book she was dusting, and, going softly to the door, stood still and listened. As she did so, a curious look, that was half smile and half something else, crossed her face.
"They are having a great time in there," she said in a lowered tone, coming away from the door. "Cecie is telling it a long stody about a walk she had in the park with nurse."
Agnes resumed her work amongst the books, and decided that in the mean time there was no hurry. The tree could remain where it was for a day or two longer.
At last, at the eleventh hour, quite unexpectedly, a solution of the difficulty arrived.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
One windy night toward the end of January, Fred was awakened by the slamming of the folding windows in a room down-stairs.
He lay, reluctant to rise, for some moments, but on the noise being repeated, sprang out of bed, and put on his slippers.
Passing the staircase window like a ghost, he reached the hall, and moved toward the parlor door. The shutters were closed, and the room was dark. After feeling about and upsetting a vase of water filled with flowers, and a few glasses and ornaments on a table, he succeeded in finding the matches and struck a light.
He opened the door of the room whence the noise was coming; but, as he did so, the window was blown wide open, his lamp was extinguished, and he found himself in an almost forgotten presence.
Majestic and calm, within a few paces of him, stood the tree, in the great flood of moonlight which streamed in past the fluttering curtains.
Fifteen seconds later, Fred had shuffled up the staircase, and was coiled up in his bed again.
He told Cecie in the morning.
The tree's old friends had missed it, she said, and had come to pay it a visit to see how it was getting on.
"What friends?" asked Frederick-of-the-Guilty-Conscience.
"The Moonlight and the Wind," said Cecie.
"Oh," said Fred.
That this little episode impressed Cecie was evident; but it was not until the following Saturday that she said anything of an idea which it seemed to have suggested to her. It was the first time since New Year's that Fred had found time to run out beyond the city, which he was in the habit of doing as often as he could, to spend a few hours in the pure, fresh air of his favorite woods. Agnes usually accompanied him, and, for the first time, they yielded to Cecie's entreaties, and took her also with them.
These snatches of health-giving air, these walks, short though they were, on the country soil, were everything to Fred. Two hours of freedom amongst the trees, in the silence of the forest, he used to say, were enough to clear a week's cobwebs from the brain. They did more for him that day—they solved the problem of the tree.
To reach their favorite walk it was necessary to go by steamboat to a station down the river, and thence climb a short, steep hill to a wood which stretched for miles beyond. It was apt to be dusty and less attractive in the summer months, but in late autumn and winter and early spring, when deserted by the picnicking crowd, it was a beautiful and peaceful spot. The favorite corner of Fred's was a small pond which lay in the midst of a thicket of young elms and oaks. When Cecie saw this for the first time she remained very quiet for some moments. Two fir-trees growing together at a corner of the pond seemed to have attracted her attention.
"What are you thinking about?" asked her father.
"I am thinking—why not send our tree out here and let it grow beside the others? Look at these two poor trees standing over there, all alone. It would be happier too, I think. It would like to be beside them."
"Do you think it would?" asked Fred, musingly.
"I am sure of it!" cried Cecie, excitedly. "It would get the dew, and the wind, and the rain, and the sun, and could grow and grow all the time. I am afraid it won't grow much with us."
An hour afterward they stood on the pier watching their steamboat coming up the river.
"Now," said Fred, who seemed to be in unusually good spirits, "we have only to ask Robin if he is willing."
"Willing—what to do?"
"To let us send his present into the woods to live, instead of keeping it ourselves," said Fred, quite gravely.
"Oh, he will," said Cecie, confidently. "I will go and ask him. Nurse can take me—to-morrow morning—before breakfast-time."
"I think I wouldn't go quite so soon," said her father, with an amused look. "Robin doesn't—I mean Robin is very busy in the early mornings."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The snow and ice had disappeared from the streets and avenues, and in the mild skies of the early days of February there was a glad respite from the cold, and a welcome promise of the coming spring.
The sun no longer hid behind banks of fog; but rose from day to day with clear and lustrous face. The mists had gathered up their trains and fled, and the skies were filled with armies of fleecy clouds. The grass in the parks seemed already to feel the breath of April, the crocuses peeped out from their beds of earth and hurried on their yellow garments, while the trees donned a livery of tiny buds and stood in sleepy readiness for the festival. The busy steamers plying up and down the river became suddenly gay with color; for the passengers no longer huddled together in heated cabins, but crowded out upon the deck that they might breathe the fresh air.
Beyond the city, nature seemed less eager to listen to fair promises, for her landscapes lay still as they had been left by the marauding winds of winter. The country roads were bleak and bare, the shrubs and hedges stripped of their leaves and left stifled with snow and mud, and the deserted footpaths wandered listlessly through the maze of trunks and branches and lawless thorns. Yet when the sun shone into the thickets and down upon the inert ground, everything seemed to quicken: the ice retreated into the shady corners of the ponds, the drowsy trees lazily stretched themselves, and here and there in the recesses a bird took courage and began piping feeble snatches of almost forgotten song.
On the afternoon of one of these early February days the deserted woods seemed quieter even than they had been in the dead of winter. There was not a breath of wind to ruffle the surface of the pond beside which a young fir-tree had recently been planted. Far in the distance a dog's bark or a cockcrow might be heard; still farther, perhaps, a long, faint whistle from a train winding along the river's bank; or, nearer at hand, the rustle of a falling leaf: but these only served to make the silence more profound.
Close beside two other firs, standing in friendly reserve somewhat aloof from the attendant herd of young oaks and elms, the new member of the mute community depended its lustrous green reflection into the somber mirror at its feet. Behind it rose the slender stems of two silver birches. In a corner near at hand a marsh-willow had burst into a mist of downy buds; and, still nearer, an old oak, as if to show an example to the younger members of its family, who still clung to their tattered covering of leaves, stretched its bare and rugged limbs far up above its neighbors, and stood, sterns and weather-beaten, on its carpet of grass and fallen acorns.
The mossy footpath which skirted the pond led to a clearing in the wood where it joined a broader way. This crossed a more open tract of ground covered with bushes and clogged with heather and dark-leaved brambles, until at one corner the country road appeared from behind a clump of trees. Between this corner and the point, some distance further on, where the road descended the wooded hill leading to the river, a gardener's cottage was situated.
At the gate of this cottage, toward sunset on a February afternoon, three figures were standing. The one, in colored shirt-sleeves and ample corduroys, wore a gardener's blue apron; the others were clad in the more conventional clothing of the city.
One of them wore a dark hat and cloak, and beside him stood a little figure dressed in a quaint gown of blue trimmed with sable. From beneath the felt and feathers of her hat one of her blonde curls escaped and lay gracefully upon her shoulder.
A fourth figure, that of the gardener's wife, a motherly-looking woman in a faded cotton dress, presently disappeared into a small greenhouse near the cottage, and closed the door behind her.
"Well," said the owner of the blue apron, in an affable tone, to his visitors, when at length they prepared to leave, "I suppose Missy will be satisfied now."
"I think so," said the figure in the cloak, looking down to "Missy," who smiled a shy assent. "I certainly am very well satisfied," he added, with a quizzical look, while buttoning his cloak.
When they set out, a few minutes later, the sun was glittering behind the trees, the earth was strong and deep in color, and the sky was filled with light.
They had reached the point where the road dipped suddenly in the direction of the steamer pier, when the door of the greenhouse opened, and the woman with the faded gown reappeared, tying up a bouquet as she walked slowly into the garden.
She did not look up at first, but when she did so and found that the strangers had gone, she threw her scissors down upon a table, ran past her husband, who was lingering at the gate, and hastened after them along the road.
They turned on hearing her, and when she reached them she bent down, and, with a mixture of hesitancy and tenderness, placed the flowers between two small, gloved hands, and retreated.
A minute afterward she was standing in the middle of the empty road, bareheaded, and with cheeks hot and flushed, watching a waving cloak and a little dot of blue gradually disappearing down the avenue.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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