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“The Man Who Didn’t Know Christmas from the Fourth of July” (1922)
Report to Moderator Old 05-21-2012 11:18 AM
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Money is no object—Mrs. Clifton wants to throw the absolutely perfect Christmas party. She’s hired young Star Fielding—a self-made Christmas specialist—to make it so, and after weeks of work, the party is about to unfold on Christmas Eve. The demands of her work and the aid of a most surprising Santa Claus combine to create a different kind of perfect Christmas for the overwhelmed Star.

Click here for a printable version.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“The Man Who Didn’t Know Christmas from the Fourth of July” by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott
From The Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1922

As though God Himself—grown tired of a brown December—had said “Let there be shininginess!” and there was shiningness, the twenty-fourth of December burst in a glittering ice storm upon an otherwise dun-colored world. Dank as fog but incontestably tangible—every twig, branch, blade of grass, stone wall, swollen to an abnormal size in its icy casing, fantastically exaggerated, extravagantly italicized—the incredible landscape fairly smote upon one’s startled senses.

At her holly-sprigged breakfast table, drawn close to the blazing hearth fire, Mrs. Raleigh Clifton’s pleasant worldly face showed palpable signs of excitement. Framed in the snugly mature and elaborate coiffure of gray hair the excitement seemed oddly ingenuous.

“Oh, if the sun only comes out,” she gloated, “my reputation is made! Absolutely made, I say! Not just for this Christmas party alone, I mean, but for all parties to come. No entertainment would ever equal it, let alone surpass it.”

From the broad bay window overlooking the amazingly weird and glittering sweep of his country acreage, Mr. Raleigh Clifton turned back with an expression on his lips that was only half muffled—nothing could have muffled the expression in his eyes. “G-gad!” he said. “It fairly takes one’s breath away. It looks like a great glass chandelier, like a crackleware ice pitcher, a shivered windowpane. A whole hillside of saplings tortured and twisted into a mere crystal thicket! At any moment one expects to see a crystal bird dart out across a crystal meadow, a crystal bud burst into bloom upon a crystal branch. Even the air, the sky——Why, one’s almost afraid to sneeze for fear——” Half agrin, half aghast, he turned even once again to survey the brittle, barbaric chaos of his woods and meadows. Across his half-averted shoulder he cast back a sudden shrewd glance at his wife. “W-whoop-eeee!” he said. “Talk about ‘a bull in a china shop’; what about reindeer in a glass factory?”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Now you just stop!” cried Mrs. Raleigh Clifton. “Always throwing cold water——”

“Ice,” interpolated her husband.

“Something,” compromised Mrs. Clifton. “Always throwing something on my projects.”

“Money usually,” chuckled Clifton.

“Well, it’s worth it—this party anyway,” attested Mrs. Raleigh Clifton.

“If the reindeer can stand up,” murmured Mr. Raleigh Clifton.

“Stand up?” protested Mrs. Raleigh Clifton. “Why, of course they can stand up. Why in the world shouldn’t they stand up? It’s what they’re made for, isn’t it—to stand up on ice?”

“Um-m,” conceded Mr. Clifton.

“And with the queer old high-backed sleigh we’ve borrowed from the country club,” persisted Mrs. Raleigh Clifton quite undauntedly, “and the polar-bear skins I finally succeeded in renting from town, and old Angus himself in scarlet suit and hood with tinsel whiskers four feet long—oh, truly, Raleigh,” she cried out with increasing excitement, “even if the sun doesn’t shine a ray today, or the moon tonight, with the spotlight facilities we’ve got, just that one scene alone is absolutely perfect! Think of it, Raleigh!” she cried. “Think of it! After dinner tonight, when everybody’s just a little bit dull, a little bit sleepy, there’s be that sudden quick summons to the window—I’ll have you give it, I think. And there, in the flare of the moon or the spotlight—truly, Raleigh, I don’t care which—there, dashing out of that black wood road that drops from the hill to the meadow, will be the Santa Claus sleigh. Reindeer! Jingle bells! Santa Claus! A pack of gifts! Everything!”

With a shrug of the shoulders Clifton reached for his cup of coffee. “Speaking of Christmas plans,” he essayed quite abruptly. “Where is the Young Person?” Rather significantly as he spoke he cocked his ear towards the half-open door through which issued very faintly but none the less definitely the curiously unmistakable timbre of two voices that were not agreeing with each other.

“In the upper hallway, I should judge,” said his wife, “wrangling with the electrician.”

“Why ‘wrangling’?” queried Clifton.

“Because the young electrician has altogether too many ideas of his own,” admitted Mrs. Clifton. “If there is one thing in the world I despise it’s a worker who has ideas of his own! When I employ anybody—be he housemaid, chauffeur, house painter or electrician—it is because I merely want that many extra hands or feet to help negotiate the ideas that I already have. When I cheerfully and frankly annex anybody who’s got more ideas than I have, then I equally frankly and cheerfully commit myself to work for him.”

“Such as—whom?” said her husband.

“Yourself,” flirted Mrs. Raleigh Clifton.

“H’m-m-m,” grunted Clifton. “How about the Young Person?”

“The Young Person,” admitted Mrs. Clifton, “is an exception to everything. She not only works for me but with me; never once have I had to work for her. It’s what I specially stipulated when I wrote to the art school. ‘Send me someone clever, but not too clever,’ I wrote. ‘Docile without being servile, original without being arrogant. I’m going to have a Christmas party,’ I told them. ‘The grandest one ever given. There’ll be twenty guests for a night and a day. I shall need a Christmas helper for at least six weeks preceding it—shopping lists to make out, mail-order blunders to fuss over and readjust, favors to make, novelties to invent, menus to plan, rooms to trim, packages to garnish and bedeck—haven’t you someone,’ I implored them, ‘graduate or undergraduate—but for mercy’s sake not older than twenty—who’s so all tired out with overwork that she wouldn’t half mind overplay for a while? Because, of course,’ I told them quite frankly, ‘it will be overplay.

“‘When the limit’s the sky, things can’t help being just a bit hectic.’ So they sent me—thank heaven, it was Star Fielding that they sent me! They had a girl who was presumably a bit more muscular, when it comes to hanging wreaths and infinitely sterner with the mail-order blunderers, but her name was Muggins.”

“Frankly,” admitted Mr. Raleigh Clifton, “I think their decision was wise. Even without any muscle at all a Christmas helper named Star Fielding would be preferable to forty amazons who answered to the clarion call of Muggins.”

“Yet you think she ought to have some muscle, don’t you?” parried Mrs. Raleigh Clifton.

“Brains,” attested Mr. Raleigh Clifton without a moment’s hesitation; “that’s what puts things through; not just muscle. Because, after all,” he said, tapping at the bill-stuffed wallet in his pocket, “anybody who has plunged as heavily on a venture as this youngster seems to have done has got to put it through.”

“Oh, mercy!” cried his wife in mock alarm. “Don’t tell me at this late date that you’re beginning to count the cost.”

“I count the cost of nothing that succeeds.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

From under her carefully modeled eyebrows Mrs. Raleigh Clifton studied her husband’s face for a single hesitant moment. “Succeed!” she attested. “Why, of course we’re going to succeed. Nothing that Star Fielding negotiated could help succeeding. It was Star who discovered that there was a big circus in winter quarters not more than ten miles away and that they not only had reindeer but reindeer trained and broken to jingle bells and harness. It was Star who cajoled old Hans, their real Laplander keeper, into our frolicsome service. Indeed,” she conceded conscientiously, “it’s Star’s own idea about having the jolly Santa Claus sleigh spring out of the woods and dash up across the meadow with its load of presents, my own original preference being just for a statuesque grouping of shepherds and sheep, with a sudden spotlight blazed upon ’em, and an absolute burst of carol from somewhere, ‘While shepherds watched their flocks by night,’ and all that sort of thing. But, of course, we’d have had to spike ’em all down in the snow to make ’em hold their positions. And Star was afraid they’d catch cold in their stomachs.”

“Who?” said her husband.

“The sheep, you silly.”

“O-h!” said Clifton.

“Foolish!” accused Mrs. Clifton with the faintest possible hint of exasperation. “You’ve been away so much the last two months coining money you don’t seem to appreciate the—the simpler pleasures of the home.”

“Produce them,” said Clifton.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

With a touch of the bell Mrs. Raleigh summoned the butler. “Adams,” she ordered, “produce Miss Fielding.”

Level eye to level eye across the gold glint of their coffee cups the husband and wife laughed at each other.

With the soft thud of light feet descending the stairs the Young Person heralded her acquiescence to the summons. In another moment she stood before them—a mere slip of a girl in a great chintzy bungalow apron, with one small hand lifted sharply to sweep back a mop of black hair from her faintly startled sky-blue eyes. “Did you call me?”

With a perfectly noncommittal expression on his face Mr. Raleigh Clifton surveyed the gay little apparition. It seemed to be the pattern of the bungalow apron that intrigued him most—row after row of very prim and tiny green spruce trees on a white ground, with red holly berries shot like bullets through it—and heaven knew what kind of size of a red-satin pussycat flaunting flamboyantly at the slim, demure little throat. “Good morning, Miss—er—Fielding,” said Mr. Raleigh Clifton.

“Good morning, Mr. Clifton,” said the girl.

“Have you had your breakfast?” said Mrs. Clifton.

With a grimace as faint as the startled look in her eyes the girl’s glance flashed past Mrs. Clifton’s snug head to the clock on the mantelpiece. “Oh, hours ago,” she admitted. “Before dawn, to be perfectly frank. Oh, there’s so much to do still, Mrs. Clifton,” she flamed and quickened. “You were perfectly right last night about the tinsel ribbon. It wasn’t wide enough; it’s got to be almost as wide as a sash ribbon to make a real thrill on those hat boxes. And the tongues of those reindeer bells—every one of them had to be tested last night and readjusted more or less. I hope it didn’t disturb you. And just as I was going to sleep I solved the problem of the maids’ costumes being too tight. And I wrote the menus, so you don’t have to worry any more about that. And I phoned to New York for the extra barrel of bamboo vine to wind the banisters with. And we’re working on the stairs now.”

“Do you mind telling me, Miss Fielding,” Mr. Raleigh Clifton quite abruptly asked, “just what the nature of the wrangle was that you were having just now in the upper hallway with the electrician?”

“Wrangle!” protested the girl. “Oh,” she laughed, “it’s merely that the electrician is altogether too—too stubborn for so young a man.”

“That’s just exactly what I told you, Raleigh,” said Mrs. Raleigh Clifton.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Oh, he’s nice as can be,” attested the girl. “It’s only fair to say that. But—but stubborn. Every minute he’s been here—almost a month now—everything new I suggest, everything new I invent, he says, ‘Have you counted the cost?’ ‘Have you counted the cost?’ ‘Have you counted the cost?’” With a gesture that was almost passionate she swung round towards her employer and back to her employer’s husband again. “And Mrs. Clifton said we didn’t have to count the cost,” she cried. “Mrs. Clifton said——”

“You don’t,” said Mr. Raleigh Clifton.

“It—it takes all the impulse out of everything,” protested the girl. “It—it makes it seem so—so awfully conscientious, when all in the world you want it to seem like is like a revel. ‘Have you counted the cost?’” Mockingly her clear young voice took up the refrain. “‘Counted the cost, counted the cost, counted the cost.’ Why, the man doesn’t know what an impulse is!” she cried out tempestuously. “He hasn’t a fancy in his head. He doesn’t know Christmas from the Fourth of July. Why, up in the hall just now when I told him my plan about the stairs——”

“What plan?” said Mr. Raleigh Clifton.

With an ecstatic little chuckle the girl glanced back across her shoulder at Mrs. Raleigh Clifton. “Well, as long as Mrs. Clifton said ‘The limit is the sky,’” she quoted laughingly, “I thought I’d make it a starry sky. It isn’t just my own gay ideas that I’ve tried to carry out,” she protested, “but everybody’s gay ideas—Mrs. Clifton’s, the cook’s, the butler’s each separate chambermaid and waitress; even old Hans with his reindeer. Truly, you don’t know how hard I’ve tried!

“Mrs. Clifton wanted all the presents she gave this year to be golden. We’ve made them golden—lorgnettes, wrist watches, vanity boxes, riding crops—even the rag doll for the fruit peddler’s baby had little gold rings in its ears. The cook said she’d had a dream once about a Christmas dinner table that was set completely in silver; so we’ve set our Christmas Eve dinner table absolutely in silver—a silver-tissue table cloth that’s like a sheet of stars; silver-luster dishes that shine as though they’d just been dipped from a silver seas; a great bunch of silver-filigree roses, all aglint and agleam with tiny electric lights. The butler’s go a brand-new suit—holly-leaf green, but very correct. The maids thought they’d like to serve in red frocks, so in red frocks they shall serve—and with bells on their heels. And old Hans—old Hans is going to drive the reindeer sleigh, of course; but for real Christmas sport, to satisfy old Hans’ ultimate idea of the fitness of things, we’ve built a toboggan slide.”

“Well, you certainly seem to have stopped at nothing,” remarked Mr. Raleigh Clifton dryly.

“We haven’t,” triumphed Mrs. Raleigh Clifton.

“We—couldn’t,” murmured the girl with the faintest possible grimace towards the slippery landscape outside.

A bit quizzically Mr. Raleigh Clifton followed the glance. Quite unexpectedly he threw back his head and laughed. “Well, you’re right today, anyway,” he admitted. “Whoever starts anything today will surely have to finish it.”

“It’s merely a question of energy,” said the girl with the faintest possible sag of fatigue across one gay, chintz shoulder, “hours, energy, light. If only I had a hundred pairs of hands, a hundred pairs of eyes, a hundred——Oh, I wish you could see the things we’re sending the neighbors,” she rallied with palpable enthusiasm. “Yes, every ‘abutting neighbor,’ as Mrs. Clifton insists upon calling the sheep farmers all around us, is to be gifted and astonished—sleds and dolls, of course, for the youngsters. And for the menfolks, of course, knives and flashlights and gloves and pipes; and mirrors for the pretty girls; and books for the thinkers; and skeins and skeins of gay-colored yarns for those who sit by the fire; and flower seeds for some who wouldn’t otherwise, perhaps, be thinking very much about spring. But, oh, you ought to see the way we’re going to give them!” she cried. “Not even on little Christmas trees, or thrust into gay tarlatan stockings, or garnished with tinsel, or wrapped in candy-colored papers, but stuffed into pockets. Santa Claus coats—that’s the idea—a dozen of them we’ve bought; turkey red something-or-other with white canton-flannel trimmings. And the grocery boy is going to make the deliveries for us.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Everybody always has such a lot of things ordered for the day before Christmas, so we’ve bribed him to forget one package at every house—something, I mean, that he’s actually obliged to make good and go back with—candy or raisins or something like that. Just at dusk tonight we’ve arranged for it. The red-cheeked grocery boy will come dashing in with his forgotten package; and on the way out he’ll hang up a Santa Claus coat with every pocket bulging. In the shed just outside the kitchen door it will be—on a wooden peg, or course—snuggled in like a scarlet flame between old Gramp’s dingy jumper and little Lena’s mouse-colored muffler and young Peterkin’s raggedy overalls. And there’s the teeniest, tinkliest little tin music box tucked away in each coat and primed at the very first touch of investigation to fairly explode into a tiny, tinkly tin carol. And when mother—at the sink in all probability—cocks her blond head toward the shed, and the children come trooping in, fretting and fuming, ‘Oh, mother, do you really think Santa Claus will come?’—mother’ll give just one scream. ‘He’s already been here,’ she’ll scream, ‘and left his coat behind him. Look—look—look!’”

“U’m-m,” said Mr. Raleigh Clifton.

Excited by fatigue the girl’s eyes quickened like stars.

“But for our real carols,” she cried, “the real carols here at the house tonight, we’ve got the most scrumptious voices—looks and voices both. Like a vocal Christmas card, it will be. Just their faces and their songs bursting out of green hemlock boughs in the jungle nook under the stairs. The littlest boy soprano from the Cathedral we’ve got—his voice and his face; blond; fluty, ecstatic, extravagantly ecclesiastic—like a like toy he sings, like a live top that’s swallowed an angel. Can’t you just hear him paraphrase:
“God rest you—merrie Noah’s arks,
Let nothing you dismay.
“That’s the entrancing effect. And for our bass we’ve coaxed an old sheep herder from the village choir loft—patriarchal, untrained, sonorous, with a face like a granite cliff—even a whisper from him would joggle your marrow like the thump of a bass drum:
“Come hither—ye faithful—
“And the young village milliner, duly persuaded, has proffered all her small-town sophistication as well as a really lovely contralto voice to the chorus. Wait till you hear her slash a mezzo note like a silver quill—a troubadour’s quill—through the gloom of a threnody!
“Vel-vet night—s-il-ky night.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *

With a little sharp jerk of his head Mr. Raleigh Clifton jumped up from his breakfast table and strode over to the fire. The puzzled glance that he threw back across his shoulder seemed just about evenly divided between his wife and the young stranger.

“Do you mind telling me,” he demanded, “just what in the world it is that you women see in Christmas?”

“Why, you silly,” laughed his wife, “it’s such a lark! Such a racket; that’s the whole why.”

“No, it isn’t that at all,” said the girl. With an earnestness that robbed the contradiction of all rancor she stepped forward suddenly out of the taming, restricting frame of the doorway into the middle of the room. “I know—because Christmas is my business.”

“Your business?” queried Mr. Raleigh Clifton with a mildly skeptical sort of amusement.

“Your business?” echoed Mrs. Raleigh Clifton.

Red as holly, the girl’s cheeks flushed to the incredulity. All the little green spruce trees on her absurd pinafore seemed bristling suddenly with resentment.

“Yes, just exactly that,” she attested with a shy but rather definite dignity. “I’m an advertiser—in one of the big stores in New York—why, that’s how I’m paying my way through the art school. Christmas advertising—that’s my specialty. Way off in May or June every year we have to begin working on it—drawing, phrasing, studying. It isn’t just the psychology of advertising, you understand, that I have to study, but the psychology of Christmas. Study, study, study—in ancient times and brand new catalogues, at the library, in the museum, on the street, in the shops, Christmas history, Christmas customs, Christmas markets, Christmas people—oh, most of anything in the world, Christmas people! You ask what grown women see in Christmas—or grown men either, for the matter of that?”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

All aflutter and aflush in her childish chintzy frock and her sudden womanish intensity she took a single step forward and reached out a small hand as though for support to the gleaming white surface of the breakfast table.

“They see,” she said, “just exactly what some other grown person—ten, twenty, thirty years before—had the spiritual wits to implant in their childish minds. They see a silver answer to a tinsel signal—memories too poignant to express, a long-disrupted family circle welded for one brief flash together again, a dog’s bark out of oblivion, the absurd landscape on a long-forgotten sled, the tingle of a frosty night, the crackle of a winter dawn, all the thrill and magic of suspense and surprise, the exultancy of all the frolic senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste—a world aglitter, in harmony, at feast; love, friendship, tenderness, even the mystery of the Nativity itself, conjured into actuality by the scent of a peppermint-candy stick, or the clamor of chimes across the city roof tops. Why that Santa Claus sleigh tonight, dashing out of the black woods, that isn’t just a Santa Claus sleigh; it’s a trumpet call to the eyes, a signal back to childhood. And if you’ve got any Christmas in you it’s going to sort of get you—the surprise of it, the dazzle, the audacity.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“But if you haven’t got any Christmas in you, you won’t get it, eh?” quizzed Mr. Raleigh Clifton a bit dryly.

To the infinite astonishment and embarrassment of both Mr. and Mrs. Raleigh Clifton the girl’s sky-blue eyes starred suddenly with tears.

“If you haven’t got any Christmas in you—you can’t get it,” she said.

With a thoroughly masculine impulse, to avoid an awkward instant at any cost, Mr. Raleigh Clifton threw back his head and laughed. “I get the bills anyway,” he said.

“You get the bills,” admitted the girl with a faint grimace that was really a very creditable effort to regain her smile.

Once again Mr. Raleigh Clifton narrowed his pale, shrewd eyes to the amazing jungle of little green spruce trees and garlanded holly berries that patterned her pinafore.

“Do you mind telling me,” he asked quite abruptly, “just how old you are? You women wear such extraordinary clothes there’s no chance at all for a man to guess.”

“I’m twenty-two,” quickened the girl. “And next year, if everything goes all right, they’re going to send me abroad—the store, I mean—to find out everything I can about the Continental Christmas customs, and the Asiatic ones, too, for the matter of that. Next year we’re going to put every plate-glass window on the street into a Christmas tableau—English, French, Swiss, German, Russian, Syrian, Armenian—a window to a nation; and the one most typical Christmas custom depicted in each. Such revel of beauty and valor, such a swish of silks and satins, such a glint of gems and gold-braided uniforms as will make our wax dummies look twice as real as the tired Christmas shoppers who stare in at them.”

“U’m-m,” conceded Mr. Raleigh Clifton.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Last year we put only one window into tableau,” deprecated the girl with professional concern. “The Miser’s Christmas, we called it. Everything silver gray: a silver-gray room, silver-gray bookcases, silver-gray rugs, silver-gray birch logs smoking—not blazing—on a silver-gray hearth, a silver-gray man sitting at a silver-gray table spread with great piles of silver-gray money. At the man’s feet in a little circle of light a tiny silver-gray mouse sitting sharply upright with his little head cocked on one side staring bright-eyed at the miser. In the miser’s hand, the only spots of color, a flaming scarlet mousetrap and a crumb of yellow cheese. The miser’s hands were mechanical. They ran by electricity. There was a trick about it; the trick worked only at store-closing time when the Christmas crowds were all on their way home. Every night just at closing time the miser did one of two things—but no one could tell just which thing it was going to be: he either tossed the crumb of cheese to the mouse or he finished baiting his trap. If he decided to toss the crumb of cheese to the mouse a little silver star sizzled suddenly at the end of his finger tips, along an invisible wire the yellow crumb of cheese flew pop into the mouse’s mouth, and everything in the window went jet black and disappeared, except the surprised figure of the little mouse itself, glowing like silver phosphorescence, with a tiny wreath of holly round its neck—the wreath had been there all the time, of course, but you didn’t notice it till the electric lights in the holly berries reddened. And if the miser finished baiting his trap nothing happened at all—except blackness—and a horrid little squeak. People used to stand for hours waiting to see which it was going to be. Children went wild over it.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Men got gambling so on it that two preachers finally denounced it from the pulpit. But it brought us lots of business to our small-ware counters,” she confided with palpable pride. “‘At least I could Christmas one mouse!’ everybody seemed to argue. And this year we’re got birds,” she quickened. “Dozens and dozens of them in a huge window banked with long-leafed pine and artificial snow and icicles—cardinal birds they are and some sort of a vivid green finish—with the prettiest child you ever saw, all dressed up in white rabbit skins, sitting under the biggest frosted pine bough of all with a tray of suet in its hands. A real child, I mean. And the birds eat, and fly and fly and fly, here, there, everywhere. Red, green; red, green—across the frosted picture. And——”

“Do you mind telling me, Miss Fielding,” said Mr. Raleigh Clifton quite abruptly, “how—if you are as important as all this to the store in question—you ever managed to get away, at just this season, to help Mrs. Clifton—and me—with our humbler celebration?”

“Humbler?” laughed the girl. “W-wait till you get the bills,” she warned him.

“Oh, Mr. Clifton will never mind about the bills,” interposed Mrs. Clifton serenely, “as long as the party is a success!” Teasingly, challengingly she glanced at her husband. “But let one thing go wrong,” she teased. “Let there be a single mistake, a blunder, a muddle—that’s why we’re driving you so, this last day.” She interrupted herself impulsively. “There mustn’t be any blunders, or muddles. I thought I told you, Raleigh,’ she readdressed her husband with equal precipitousness, “that Miss Fielding had had a bit of a breakdown and——”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Oh, nothing at all,” insisted the girl. “Just a little tired, that was all. And the store work, of course, all the Christmas advertising plans and campaignings are pretty much over by late summer or early fall; so that when Mrs. Clifton wrote the people at the art school about a Christmas helper it was only natural, I suppose, that they thought rather specially of me. And I——” With a little shrug of the shoulders she reached up once more to sweep back the fluff of dark hair from her sky-blue eyes. “And I—I’d rather have died than not come,” she confessed. “With all your—your——” Swamped with embarrassment for one single instant only, her cheeks went crimson and paled again. “With all your money,” she finished quite frankly. “So much of my Christmas work has been just theory that—that——”

“Oh! So you’re using us as an experiment station, eh?” quizzed Mr. Raleigh Clifton. Prolonging the somewhat disconcerting manner and method of his banter he threw back his head suddenly and began to laugh. From the depths of his pocketbook he extracted a folded paper or two and scanned it quizzically before returning it again to his pocket. “Well, considering your extreme youth, Miss Fielding,” he observed, “and the lavishness of your ideas, I think you must have been born a Christmas expert.”

Between Mrs. Raleigh Clifton and the girl a little smiling signal passed.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Born a Christmas expert?” cried the girl. “I guess you don’t know who I am. I was born in a shack on an Ohio farm. We’re so poor that—we’re the kind of poor, I mean”—she interrupted herself somewhat hectically—“that my stepfather has every new mechanical farm implement known to beast or man, but my mother hasn’t even an eggbeater. Until a little Christmas drawing of mine on the back of an old paper bag attracted the attention of a tourist who happened to be interested also in the art school, I’d never seen Christmas presents enough to go round, not even for a family of three; or gay paper enough to wrap up presents for two; or ribbon enough to garnish a present for one.

“‘Never mind,’ my mother used to say, ‘there never is enough. If you had a million dollars it wouldn’t be enough to express the Christmas in you—if you’ve really got it in you. There’s always something missing, someone overlooked; a box of tinsel nonsense lost in the mails, and an otherwise perfect tree falls just that much short of perfection; one holly wreath minus for the front windows, and your house blazes forth in a broken-toothed grin instead of the shining smile you intended; a friendly letter forgotten, and all the gay chimes in your heart are flatted.’”

With a toss of her spirited little head she rallied her sagging shoulders into line again. “So, you see, when I really got a chance to make a ‘perfect’ Christmas——” she confided. “Money, time, intention—absolutely unstinted—that’s what makes me so impatient with the electrician,” she interrupted herself quite irrelevantly.

Half smiling, half frowning, she challenged the faces before her. “Why, once,” she said, “one I read about a woman who waited five years to be married in order that she might have an absolutely perfect and complete trousseau; everything she wanted, every color, every shape, every stitch. But when the momentous day came she slipped up on a blue hat, the one thing she wanted most of all. Not a penny left for it, not a dime, not a dollar! It spoiled everything; not just her trousseau, but everything—all the rest of her life.”

The bright challenge in her eyes faded into a mere haze of perplexity.

“Think of being as near to perfection,” she worried, “as the width of a blue hat—and missing it!” Half smiles, half frowns she turned back to Mr. Raleigh Clifton. “You don’t seem to understand what we’ve accomplished,” she reproached him. “Mrs. Clifton and I haven’t overlooked anybody. And there’s ribbon left.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“What in the world is it,” said Mr. Raleigh Clifton quite abruptly, “that you want this electrician and his men to do?”

“Oh-h!” quickened the girl. “Why, nothing so very astonishing, the least significant thing of all perhaps. It’s about the stairs; I wanted the stairs illuminated, so that, all banked in as they are with pines and spruces, like a woodland path leading up a dark hillside, there’ll be no illumination at all on them except as each guest passing upward brushes a spray of lambent flame out of a balsam-scented shadow, or treads by chance on the wire that illuminates a child’s shining footprint on the step just ahead of him; but——”

“You mean,” interrupted Mr. Raleigh Clifton, “that except for this one lack you consider your Christmas plans perfect?”

“Absolutely,” said the girl.

Smitten with a sudden air of impatience Mr. Raleigh Clifton jumped up from the breakfast table and stalked over to the great bay window breasting out like the prow of a ship into the glittering landscape. As though it had been spray in his face the appalling weirdness of the scene stung itself into his squinting eyes, shipped itself across his wincing mouth. Almost with a snarl he swung back into the room again.

“Perfection,” he announced, “is an almost unknown experience in human existence.” Before the somewhat imperturbable expression on the two women’s faces he threw back his head and laughed. “Speaking of the width of a blue hat,” he drawled, “standing between oneself and perfection, it would be sort of a pity, wouldn’t it, to be thwarted by the narrowness of a red head?”

With a gesture that looked creaky, but which made no sound whatsoever, he crossed the room to the pantry, spoke a word to the butler and summoned the electrician to him.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Across the intervening space the girl’s glance met the woman’s. With a little, soft, gaspy sigh of relief the young hand reached to the older.

“Oh, oh, oh!” she said. “I’ve always thought Christmas was a beautiful business. But today—today——” Over her half-averted shoulder her eyes dilated suddenly to the amazing crystal landscape outside. “But today,” she thrilled, “it’s like a holy business; the Christmas of a lifetime, a Christmas in italics—white italics, everywhere. It’s as though”—she quickened and flamed—“it’s as though if life holds anything good for you, anywhere, anything wonderful, I mean, a real miracle of joy—it ought to happen today.”

“Perhaps it will,” laughed Mrs. Raleigh Clifton significantly.

Between husband and wife a swift glance passed; from the man to the woman a flash of warning; from the woman to the man a jocose defiance.

“Yes, indeed; I will tell her if I want to,” insisted Mrs. Raleigh Clifton. “There’s no reason in the world why she shouldn’t know.”

“Know—what?” puzzled the girl.

“Our nephew is coming,” triumphed Mrs. Raleigh Clifton. “Mr. Clifton’s nephew, that is. Way from California. His first visit it is, too, though goodness knows we’ve tried hard enough before to get him. But it seems to have taken——”

“Hush,” said Mr. Clifton.

“But it seems to have taken your photograph to bring him,” triumphed Mrs. Raleigh Clifton.

“M-my photograph!” stammered the girl.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Yes. That funny little snapshot I took of you at the circus grounds that first day we went over, when the reindeer tried to trample you so playfully and you had to climb the fence.”

“W-what!” said the girl. “W-what! You sent a funny picture of me, like that—to a perfectly strange man!”

Quite as red-headed as the girl had suggested, but tall and stalwart as well as surprised looking, the young electrician loomed in the doorway.

Mr. Raleigh Clifton wasted no words with him. The briefest nod acknowledged his existence. “It seems to be the general concurrence of opinion among the women of my household,” he affirmed, “that you are lacking in imagination as well as in impulsiveness. You are, however, as I understand, rated as a rattling good electrician.” With a shrug of the shoulder he delivered his ultimatum: “If Miss Fielding wants an old-man-Friday footstep illuminated on the stairs, illuminate it!”

“Old—man—Friday?” stammered the young electricity.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Out of the shining white-and-silver circle of the breakfast table, under the shadowy festoons of bamboo and the bright staccato touch of holly berries, the girl passed swiftly to the two men. From the older man’s arid smile to the younger man’s puzzled grin she glanced with a soft, baffled sort of surprised and reproach.

“This isn’t a Robinson Crusoe party,” she explained with the faintest possible hint of sarcasm. “This is a Christmas party—the day of the Child. As there doesn’t happen to be any child for the party, I thought—I thought I’d have just a child’s silver footprint on the stairs, like a memory left in light instead of stone or cement.” From the great flapping pockets of her absurd pinafore she drew out two silvery, tin-foil patterns of a little child’s bare foot and handed them to the electrician.

Facile as fluid the tin foil curved to the warm palms of the young electrician’s astonished hands.

“Those—are—the patterns,” said the girl and turned on her heel.

In a clamor of stamping expressmen and back-door errand boys and front-door postmen and side-door chauffeurs the day banged itself away. At each new jar, jolt, joggle, the threat of shivered oak trees, of crackled meadows, of tall pines, snapping like slender-stemmed wine glasses, slashed through one’s startled senses. Like screaming lips stifled under glass, like a high note indefinitely sustained, crackle and hush, crackle and hush, the incredible day sped on to its equally incredible twilight.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

A last stitch here, a last tack there, a fresh twist to a holly ribbon, a compliment to the cook, an admonition to the stable boy, a smouch of red candle grease to extract from the hall rug, a slight alteration to be made in Mrs. Raleigh Clifton’s dinner gown, ice to dig from a refractory gutter—because everyone whose natural business it was to dig ice from refractory gutters proved infinitely busier with something else—flowers to rearrange, a cable to be sent to London, a cable to be received from London, a poll parrot’s cage to be turned at the last moment into a tinsel-latticed bower, a reporter from town to interview, and every guest’s name to be spelled correctly. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang! Ting-a-ling-ling-ling-ling. A precipitant twilight hurtling itself into a precipitant night. Six o’clock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine. New tasks to each hour—then a moment’s blissful slipping from aching shoes to soft-stockinged feet. A sigh begun but never finished. Then out of tinsel chaos and festooned ferment, sharper than the thorn of holly, shriller than the rustle of tissue paper, the age-old, utterly irreconcilable shock of the first guest’s arrival.

Caught in the green jungle of the lower hall, with her shoes in her hand, her absurd pinafore still unchanged, Star Fielding fled to the first haven she could reach, the screened alcove where the telephone struck its harsh metallic lips through great boughs infinitely more accustomed to the whisper of winds or the throaty chirp of birds. From the moment’s sacristy of the green maze she saw a dozen servants spring automatically to their appointed places, heard the great oaken door creak back before the onslaught of stamping feet and chattering voices, felt the sweet, unscented chill of the outdoors sweep through the exotic house, sensed rather than saw the blur of luxuriant furs, the flare of laughing faces, Mr. Raleigh Clifton’s austere hand clap down with unwonted demonstrativeness on a young man’s shoulder, Mrs. Raleigh Clifton’s precipitous herding of everyone to the jungle-dark stairs.

“But we can’t see!” protested somebody. “It’s pitch black. Which way do we go?” echoed a dozen voices.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

By the graze of a fur cuff against a hemlock bough a spray of light blazed like a gold fern from the darkness. Under the intrepid tread of the most venturesome a little child’s silver footprints quickened luminously on the step just above and were gone again. A startled woman reaching blindly for the balustrade kindled a red candle glow on her white face. At the turn of the stairs the little silver footprints woke to life again. From mysterious spaces above a blinding flurry of artificial snow descended suddenly on everybody’s astonished head. Beyond the snow a jolly green candle blinked and twinkled. Laughing, pushing, shoving, stumbling, the gay crowd sped to their rooms.

Stealing out of her hiding place with her shoes still clutched in her hands, Star Fielding started cautiously for her room. In the middle of the great hall an unexpected obstacle blocked her tiptoed flight.

At the huge bronze brazier fuming with balsam smoke a young man was standing. Out of the smoke itself, the gray, blurry, woodsy, magic Christmas fragrance, he seemed to emerge like something conjured out of a Christmas dream.

Roused by an unintentioned stir on her part he looked up suddenly and saw her.

It was the young man whom Mr. Raleigh Clifton had greeted so affectionately.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Swept by the dismay of her tousled hair, her childish frock, her stockinged feet, she dropped her shoes from a flaccid hand and fled for the back staircase.

“Star! Star Fielding!” intercepted Mrs. Raleigh Clifton’s peremptory figure and voice. “Where—where in the world have you been? And why aren’t you dressed? We’re not going to wait till after dinner for the Santa Claus sleigh. Hans has just phoned from the stable that the moon may be out in five minutes.”

“In five minutes?” gasped the girl.

Even as she questioned, Mr. Raleigh Clifton’s resonant voice rang out the terse, authoritative summons agreed upon.

Like a horn of plenty precipitously spilled, the laughing, speculative guests came hurtling down the jungle-green stairs. In gay evening dresses spangled with jewels the women fluttered and flurried to reach the vantage point. Sleek as ravens in their black clothes the laughing men followed them.

Still fleeing before them, tousled, disheveled, unready, the girl slipped back into the shadowy telephone alcove and pressed close to the window. Her pulses were dancing with excitement and suspense.

“If the Santa Claus sleigh goes right,” she reasoned, “everything will go right; but if a reindeer flounders or balks, if the time is bungled so much as half a minute, if the wrong person glimpses it first, if the moon——”

Black as indigo against the encroaching moonlight the scattering clouds billowed and glowered. In solemn and momentous silhouette the wooded hillside loomed into the mystery. Out of the wooded hillside like a cathedral arch two towering sentinel pines curved to a cavernous path. As though some majestic gallantry had thrown down a silver rug for that which was to come, the first moonbeam flickered palely at the edge of the path.

On the glassed porch somewhere a woman screamed! A man’s gasp echoed gutturally the same astonishment. Out of the dark and cavernous path, into the iridescent brilliance of a million sparkling diamonds, kindled by the sudden flood of moonlight, leaped the Santa Claus sleigh—reindeer prancing, antlers forking, sleigh bells jingling; Santa Claus in scarlet, glittering with silver, a long tinsel beard floating in the wind.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

A shout like the shout of a young mob went up from the crowd on the porch.

By concerted signal the whole crystal meadow burst suddenly into a shower of sparklers. From crystal shrubs and crystal boulders green and gold and red and silver fire birds shot back and forth in rainbow arcs of light. Close in the balsam-scented greenery under the stairs the old sheep herder’s sonorous voice awoke to bloom forth its undauntable conviction:
Lo, we are shepherds the same as they
Who kept the Christmas of yesterday!
Half heard, half guessed at, the contralto’s lush-lipped words wove in and out like ribbons through the melody:
Be-hold the flocks—of our tender—care!
The faith—we hold! And the love we bear!
Beside old memories—watching here,
This holy night of the passing year.
“Shepherds are—parking—their camels here,” insisted the boy soprano’s twinkling voice.

Transcending the fantasy suddenly and the song, transcending the laughter and the color and the scent of balsam, transcending even the jingling, thudding onslaught of little hoofs racing to deliver their gorgeous gifts, the peal of Christmas chimes across the frosted hills—solemn, significant, immortally poignant:
Calm on the listening ear of night
Come Heaven’s melodious strains,
Where wild Judea stretches far
Her silver-mantled plains.

The answering hills of Palestine
Send back their glad reply,
And greet from all their holy heights
The Day Spring from on high.

O’er the blue depths of Galilee
There comes a holier calm,
And Sharon waves in solemn praise
Her silent groves of palm.
Glory to God! The——
* * * * * * * * * * * *

With a perfectly unexplainable sob in her throat Star Fielding jumped back from the window. In the very moment of exultancy, rapture of the eye and ear, gratification of ambition, relief from suspense, the world went black before her eyes. Piteously, frenziedly, she groped for the door.

For one fleeting instant a young man’s startled face flared out of balsam smoke.

“Stop!” she cried. “Stop! Oh, I want this Christmas to stop; there’s such a thing as too much. I can’t stand it. It’s too perfect. It’s——”

In the fleshy clap of Mrs. Raleigh Clifton’s hand across her babbling lips, sense and sound ceased.

Rallying almost immediately back to consciousness she found herself still in the little telephone room. But the door was shut this time. Without trying to look, without trying to listen, the whole scene came seeping back to her. Someone was talking at the telephone; it was Mrs. Raleigh Clifton.

“Is this the hospital?” questioned Mrs. Raleigh Clifton. “This is Mrs. Raleigh Clifton, of Cliftonmede. The most distressing thing has happened. I’m giving a Christmas party tonight, perhaps you’ve heard? The house is packed. My Christmas helper, a young woman from the city whom I’ve been employing for some weeks, has just collapsed. Hysterical, you know, and all that sort of thing! I’m devoted to her; there’s nothing I wouldn’t do, but there’s not a nook or corner in my house tonight where I can put a sick person—what?—you’ve nothing but an ambulance that you can send? An ambulance? Oh, please not that.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Rousing herself with extraordinary effort, Star Fielding faltered out the question on her lips:

“Have I spoiled your party? Does Mr. Clifton know?”

In a buxom, flame-colored embrace Mrs. Raleigh Clifton’s satin arms swept precipitously about her.

“Oh, my dear, my very dear; not a soul knows except my nephew and myself—and the electrician.”

“Electrician?” puzzled Star Fielding.

“I was he who switched off the lights,” triumphed Mrs. Raleigh Clifton. “Now that showed real wits I think!”

“Did—did your nephew—think I was crazy?” faltered the girl.

In Mrs. Raleigh Clifton’s cheeks the color echoed suddenly the flame of her gown.

“Well, of course,” she admitted reluctantly, “he was just a bit startled. But tomorrow——” Once again in genuine affection she gathered the girl into her arms. “But tomorrow we’ll startle him quite another way.”

All blurs and shadows, the room began to fade again before Star Fielding’s eyes.

“I—don’t—mind,” she murmured.

“Mind what?” cried Mrs. Clifton.

“Going,” said Star Fielding. Mumblingly the word “hospital” formed on her lips and faded again. With a shiver she tried to shake the thought of the ambulance from her. “Over—over the hills and far away,” she rallied with a pitiful effort at nonchalance.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Oh, but my dear,” explained Mrs. Raleigh Clifton, “it will be the very best thing in the world for you tonight. Care and quiet, absolute quiet. And in the morning, the very first thing, I promise you I’ll come for you. Just a few miles it is, and we’ll bundle you up all comfy and warm and——”

“I—don’t—mind,” faltered Star Fielding and slipped off into oblivion again.

When she woke the next time it was with the slap and sting of frosty air on her cheeks.

“This is not hospital,” she reasoned gladly.

Gradually she discovered herself to be on the shadowed side porch of the great house—shadows everywhere; not a light, not a flicker from a single blazing window to reach or finger her dark retreat; shadows on the steps; the shadow of a hemlock tree across the icy driveway. Now and then some indefinitely featured maid as hooded and blanketed as herself flitted in and out of the darkness. Days, hours, minutes, seconds slowly readjusted themselves in her mind. From the clamor of voice just beyond the bright blazing windows, the cries of pleasure and surprise, she reasoned that the gay Santa Claus sleigh had just disgorged its glittering treasure, and sensed by the far tinkle of bells, the creak of harness, the impatient stamp of hoofs, that already the reindeer scented the cloverous hay of their Christmas mangers and were champing for the stables. “Pretty soon, now,” she reasoned, “the ambulance will come, long, low, sinister——”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

But it was the returning Santa Claus sleigh that reached the side porch first. In a glitter of scarlet and silver, with a jingle of bells, dancing, prancing, slipping, sliding, the sleigh swept round the moonlit corner of the house into the shadows.

“Dear little old insignificant homesick Hans,” she quickened, “glorified for this one night by pillows and a scarlet coat into the most momentous personality of the year!”

With a flourish of his myriad-lashed whip, each lash tipped with a tinsel star, the Santa Claus drew up in the shadow.

In the unbelievable humiliation of her breakdown, the unbelievable imminence of the ambulance and the hospital, the make-believe Santa Claus before her seemed suddenly the only real person in the world. Impulsively she edge a little bit forward in her chair. On the brow of the step just below her a pale gleam caught her eye. It was a little tin-foil footprint, faintly crumpled, just as somebody had dropped it. On the step just beyond it its little mate brightened a trifle more luminously to a chance ray of light from a stable lantern.

“Leading out!” quickened the girl. “Leading out!”

From the faintly glimmering depths of his great tinsel beard the Santa Claus lifted his scarlet-hooded head.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Were her eyes deceiving her? Was she indeed going mad? Or was the Santa Claus turning back the great fluffing polar-bear robe and beckoning her to the empty place beside him?

With one hand clapped across a hysterical laugh on her lips she struggled out of her encompassing blankets, tiptoed down the steps and slipped into the sleigh.

“Home, James!” she said. And smothered her reviving mirth in a polar bear’s felt-lined cheek.

With a crackle of the whip that was like a sheet of stars yanked down above her head the Santa Claus sleigh slipped out of the driveway into the yard and from the yard into the open road. Like a plunge into ice water the frosty winds slapped across her overwrought senses. Over moonlit meadow and shadowy dale, through great green woods still struggling frantically out of their icy casings, with hoofs thumping like drumsticks on the frozen ground, bells jingling, the long whip crackling its stars overhead, the tinsel beard stinging like sleet across her face, the wild course ran.

“In every little snow-smothered cot,” she warmed to remember, “Santa Claus has hung his coat and hat tonight! A world atinkle, a world”——

Like a scarlet lily on a silver torrent whose every wave crested in jingle bells, color merged into speed and speed into music and music into color again, until purged at last of all murk and muddle the girl’s fretted mind cleared to crystal again.

With her lips at the old Santa Claus’ ear she whispered her confession.

“I guess I was pretty tired, Hans,” she admitted. “I guess I’d forgotten to eat anything all day—and yesterday too. There wasn’t much time for eating, I guess—I guess I was just a little bit homesick perhaps. I guess——”

On a white hill that domed like a frosted cake, a little bright-eyed house loomed up against the moonlit horizon line.

“What a watchy looking little house!” cried the girl. “Like a little faithful sheep it looks; watching even after the shepherds have gone.”

Vaguely to her astonishment the Santa Claus sleigh drew up into the yard, and the old Santa Claus clambered quickly out of his robes and struggled to a footing on the icy ground.

“You get out here,” he confided quite tersely.

“I—what?” said the girl.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

With a sharp, upward gesture the old Santa Claus stripped the tinsel beard and muffling hood from his face and stood forth in the moonlight, no wizened, deprecating old Laplander, but the young electrician himself.

“I’m taking you to your mother!” he said. “Don’t ever taunt a chap again with his lack of—impulsiveness!”

“To my—mother?” gasped the girl.

With a splurge of yellow lamplight the house door swung back suddenly and the girl stumbled into her mother’s arms.

“What—what?” she cried.

“Why—why, I never even dreamed that they’d bring you before tomorrow night,” stammered the mother. “Busy as you were—why, what’s the matter? Has anything happened?” she stopped anxiously to demand of her daughter’s dumfounded face. Little, frail, wan, misused by time and chance, all the heroic motherhood in her flamed up to glory in her worried eyes. “Yes, I know,” she stammered. “Yes, I know it was for a hired girl that you send me my Christmas money; but, after all”—she quickened and gloated—“it was my tired girl that I wanted most to see. Oh, yes, of course I knew about your ill turn in the early winter, but you made so little of that. It was only when”——Significantly she nodded towards the young electrician. “It was he,” she said, “who telegraphed me last week.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Releasing her arms from her mother’s neck, the girl stepped back with her shoulders braced against the wainscoting and stared at the electrician.

“You—telegraphed my mother?” she demanded.

“You—needed her,” said the young electrician quite calmly. Across the calmness of the assertion a faint wince showed suddenly at one corner of his mouth. “I lost a little sister once,” he said, “who didn’t know when to stop.” The faintest possible smile blocked out the wince. “Maybe I needed your mother too,” he added a bit dryly. Across his inscrutable cheek bones a slight flush deepened. With a gesture most astonishing shy for anyone intent on making such imperturbable statements he swept one keen-fingered hands across his auburn-shadowed forehead.

“While you were so everlastingly busy with Christmas,” he said, “you wouldn’t even look at me. But now that—by your own confession—you’ve had one perfect Christmas, couldn’t you possibly, if your mother approved, put just a little of your imagination on me?”

With a gesture totally unexpected he threw back his head and laughed. It was an odd little laugh. But even in the motley, mixed-up costume of Christmas myth and very-much-alive young business man there was dignity in the laugh and an unmistakable tang of spiritual shrewdness. The glance that he threw at Star Fielding was absolutely unescapable.

“Maybe I didn’t know Christmas from the Fourth of July,” he said. “But—I know it—now. Maybe I haven’t a fancy in my head—except for you—but don’t ever say again,” he warned her, “that I’m always counting the cost.”

“Counting the cost?” repeated Star Fielding vaguely.

Once again the young electrician threw back his head and laughed.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“I’ve stolen four irreplaceable reindeer,” he gloated, “and driven them half to death in all probability. And abducted Mrs. Raleigh Clifton’s most valued servitor, and queered myself and firm for all time, I suppose, with the richest magnate in this section of the country; and——”

“Oh, what will your firm say?” cried the girl in an impulse of sincere concern.

“The firm has already spoken,” said the young electrician. “I am the firm.”

“What!” said the girl. “What!”

“You—didn’t think I was just a day laborer, did you?” teased the young electrician. “Maybe the first one we sent you was, and the second; but——”

With a shrug of delight he turned to Star Fielding’s mother. “But after we found out what was wanted,” he teased, “the elaborateness of it, the inevitable complications, after we’d made our first estimates, added up our first figures and learned from each workman in turn that ‘the boss’ was a little girl in pinafores, why it did seem a bit best that the head of the firm should take a glance at the situation. So, he who came to scoff remained to pray—to pay,” he corrected himself dryly.

With a little gesture of uneasiness the girl walked over to the window and looked out. Once again in that wonderful gleaming landscape the sense of white italics overwhelmed her, of an episode written once for a lifetime, in—white italics.

Uneasily the young electrician followed her to the window.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“Couldn’t a chap learn imagination?” he worried. “Couldn’t you teach a chap—if you really wanted to?”

“Imagination?” faltered the girl.

Quizzically from her unfolding hand she showed up a tiny crumple of tin foil.

“Was it you?” she said, “who dropped the little footprints on the steps?”

“It was,” said the young electrician. “Wasn’t it your own wish to have all the dark paths marked with them?”

In a sudden impulse of apprehension he straightened his fine young shoulders to meet the blow.

“Great zounds!” he demanded. “Have I made a nuisance of myself tonight, Star, instead of just a fool? Was there, perhaps, someone else? Was there a man back there at the big house tonight—that you wanted to be with?”

With a little frown between her level brows the girl looked out at the whiteness of the everlasting hills and back to the young electrician’s face. A tiny smile twinkled at the corner of her mouth.

“There was a man,” she said, “who came all the way from California to meet me tonight. Only I didn’t meet him.”

“From California?” scoffed the young electrician with a sudden hoot of joy. “That’s nothing. My people came—four generations ago—way from ‘Merrie England’—just for this.”

“For—for what?” stammered the girl.

Very gently, very reverently, out of his pretense of brusqueness and austerity, the young electrician reached for her hand and lifted it to his lips.

“For this!” he said.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

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