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"Christmas is such a happy day at our house," confided one roundcheeked matronly looking woman turning to her companion, a society dame whose daintily gloved hands were free from encumbrance save a silver meshed purse and a costly fur muff. "We have seven little stockings to fill, you know, and you cannot imagine how we enjoy it. If there were twice seven I suppose we'd still find enough to fill them all and our pleasure would be doubled."
"Dear me, I don't see how you do it," drawled the society woman in shocked tones. "Our one child is a terrible expense, I cannot begin to have what I did before she came. One is quite enough. My husband and I are going to New York tomorrow so nurse can have the delightful role of Santa Claus, at our house."
The car stopped and the woman with the holly got off and crossed the street. As she walked up the steps of her elegant home she wondered if there was another in all the land quite so alone as she, for
"Christmas is such a time for memories," she sighed, entering the beautiful hall.
mas is the children's day. Will John lend me his baby I wonder." Martha, the maid, came in bearing a dainty tray.
"Once I thought this was my heart's desire," she mused, her eyes glancing mechanically around. as she sat down by the bright fire "Now I would give it all-for what I in my foolish youth cast aside as too commonplace. I was like that woman on the car who cares for nothing but self, but now I envy little Mrs. Menton and wish I had seven little stockings to fill. Christ
"I know you are cold, Miss Evelyn, so I made you a cup of hot chocolate as soon as I heard you come in," she said putting down the tray with its exquisite chocolate service of Limoges china.
"Thank you, Martha, I am both cold and hungry. You are the most thoughtful girl in the world. Any mail?"
"Just this letter on the mantle," handing it to her. "I will soon have dinner ready now."
She bustled out, and Evelyn pushed away the tray and tore open her letter with an eagerness quite foreign to her usual slowly deliberate manner.
"He consents. John's baby is
"No tiny feet came fretting to her door,
No plaintive voices prattle or complain coming to spend Christmas with
Save in her heart, where one cries out in
me. John's little girl! Now I am
"From John. It is almost more than I expected, and certainly more than I deserve." Thus ruminating she read hurriedly on until she came to the end, while a great wave of joy flooded her heart, and transfigured her face.
After dinner she spent a busy evening planning and scheming for the pleasure of the little stranger. When finally the midnight clock warned her to retire, she went to bed to dream of a little head pillowed on her breast, and a little arm around her neck.
The shabby boy in the booth on the windy corner opened his eyes in wonder next morning when a large order for Christmas trees, holly, and
mistletoe came from the lady who had said she had no children.
The salespeople at the large store where Miss Evelyn did her shopping were equally surprised when she came rushing in, all excitement asking for dolls, Teddy-bears, games, and all sorts of playthings.
When the train from the North came puffing into the station yard. that morning it brought piles of early Christmas packages, but none quite so precious and dainty as the one which the gallant conductor bore so gaily on his arm-a tiny red-coated, dark blue-eyed girl, with auburn curls and an upturned diminutive nose which boasted a freckle or two.
Evelyn was there with outstretched arms hungry to claim the child who had John's eyes and hair and mouth.
"I knew you," laughed the little girl, patting Evelyn's cheek with her soft chubby hand. "You look like the picture papa showed me, I am going to stay one whole week. Are you glad?"
"So glad that I have to keep squeezing and kissing you to make sure you are not a dream child," said Evelyn, her arm tightening around the warm soft little body. "The car is taking us to my house now, little sunshine."
"Why, that's what papa calls me," regarding Evelyn with round pleased eyes. "You love me already, don't you? Now, there's Miss Brown-I've known her ever so long and she don't love me, and I don't love her. Papa does."
"Does he?" said Evelyn, smiling rather sadly. "Come, we must get off now. This is my house."
"Do you live here all alone?" cried Marie, gazing around the lovely hall, and noting the wide. stairs and shining banisters. "What a big, big house for just you. O
Away from life's hurry, and flurry, and worry, Away from gloom,
earth's shadows and
To a world of fair weather we'll float off together
Where roses are always in bloom." By this time Marie lay fast asleep, but Evelyn still sat with the little hand in hers for some time, her eyes fixed broodingly on the tiny features so strikingly like those of the man who had once been her lover. In those old days of poverty-happy days as she now looked back-a priceless love had been lain at her feet but she in her girlish folly and pride mocked at his daring to offer her nothing better than love in a cottage. When he could give her wealth and ease then she would perhaps listen, Evelyn told him, and with that she dismissed him.
He had gone away, very angry and bitter toward her, and after awhile she had heard of his marriage in a neighboring city. Meanwhile Evelyn's parents had died leaving her sufficient means to live in the comfort and luxury she had deemed so essential to happiness. That which she had most desired had been given her, but where was the joy and content which should have come with it?
When John's wife died leaving behind a wee baby girl, Evelyn had written and timidly offered to take the child; while in her heart she prayed that God would give her back the jewel she had thrown
John had sent her back a cool courteous refusal in a few terse hurried lines, man-like, unable to read between the lines of her poor little letter. His love was dead, while Evelyn's, alas, was just awakening to a sense of its bitter loss.
After a silence of four years, she had again written, asking that the
little one might come to spend the Christmas week, and John had graciously consented.
"I wouldn't ask for anything more, if I could but keep her," she whispered prayerfully, still looking wistfully at the sleeping child. "I have lost him, but to have his child would be a great recompense. 0 Father, is it asking too much?"
Christmas eve found Evelyn and little Marie busily engaged in dec-. orating the beautiful Christinas tree which was so tall that it touched the parlor ceiling.
Suddenly the sharp peal of the door-bell startled them both, espe cially Marie who ran and hid her curly head against Evelyn's skirt, whispering excitedly:
"It's Santa Claus. Put me to bed quick or he will go away."
The next moment a tail middleaged man with dark blue eyes and hair and beard of auburn hue stood in the hall peering in upon the pretty parlor scene.
"Looks like Christmas here, Sunshine," he smiled, and next thing Marie, with a little shriek of delight, ran to his open arms.
"Dearest, dearest, we are so glad you've come," she cried, softly patting his cheek. "Now we can hang up your stocking, too."
"No, no, papa cannot stay," putting her down and advancing to take Evelyn's timidly proffered hand in a firm grip. "How well you are looking, Miss Afton, no need to ask if fortune has smiled on you."
"Won't you sit down?" she asked rather formally, though the sudden. bright flush in her cheeks belied the indifference she sought to as
"No, thank you, I just dropped in for a minute to see my baby," he answered gravely. "A party of us. came to the city tonight to hear
"Yes, I wish you could," said Evelyn politely, "though I fear we would be dreadfully dull in comparison with your gay crowd at the hotel."
"I hate crowds," grumbled McLain. The little round table set for two in the dinning-room beyond as seen through the parted curtains certainly looked tempting and restful.
"It has been a long while since you and I ate together, Evelyn," he suddenly remarked, and there was something in his voice and the look he gave her which made Evelyn turn pale, though she met his searching eye bravely. "I wish I could stay, but no, it is impossible."
"Papa, we are going to have the jolliest Christmas," said Marie as they followed him out to the halldoor, "Evelyn and I We have hung up our stockings. You come back, then you will have one, too." "Sorry, little girl, but I simply can't get away tomorrow."
"Thank you so much for lending me this sweet bit of sunshine," said Evelyn, putting her arm lovingly around the clinging child. "I wish I could keep her awhile."
"I am going to Europe soon,"
"I have been unfortunate," confessed McLain rather bitterly. “Marie's mother rebelled fiercely against maternity, and when it came it cost
her her life. Beulah-Miss Brown -made a great deal of my baby at first, but now she does not hesitate to show her dislike for the poor child. The world needs such women as you, Evelyn, with the mother love for every child, to rear these priceless little souls—yet you have passed it by. Ah, well, women are hard to understand. I must go. Have a merry Christmas, children."
With a parting kiss to Marie, and a grave smile for them both, he went out into the cold, stormy night.
"Papa is not very happy tonight," sighed the little girl, quick to dis
cover her father's mood. "I am so
sorry. I would cry if Christmas wasn't so near."
"No, no, darling, den't cry," said Evelyn taking her in her arms and
"Why, John,-Miss Brown,what about her?" she stared at him
wonderingly, then the look in his eyes made her flush rosily and hide her happy face against Marie's curly head.
"Never mind her. It is you-you whom I want. Evelyn, are you going to send me away again?"
"John, I have always loved you," she confessed, her radiant face now lifted close to his. "From the day I sent you away, to call you back has been my heart's desire."