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ÇALL BIGHTS RESK»';J».I…

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ÃALL BIGHTS RESK»';J».I Hester's Christmas Evfc rr KATHARINE NEWLDT. It was Tommy, the druggist. Wis boy, that first called Mr. Carmicnael a Curmud- geon. g "I don't know exactly what it means," he said, "but I'm thinking it would mean a fierce old fellow that would set a dog against a boy sooner than give him a penny." After that the village children were very much afraid of the Curmudgeon. Not en- tirely because of Tommy, though, but also because of the Curmudgeon's eagle face and â¢q uick-moving eyebrows. Whenever the children chanced to meet Mr. Carmichael marching along the village street they turned the nearest corner and ran for home. At such times he was on his way either to the post office or to his own house on the hill. He never varied his beat to the village, but he rambled freely over his own acres and other people's distant woodlands, carrying a gun under his arm and followed by a great black, deep-voiced h( -id. He never tried to shoot anything, but he looked, so Tommy said, "awf'ly fierce. The house on the hill had not been the Curmudgeon'ts very long. In the village Mr. Carmichael was still spoken of as the "new old gentleman." The "old old gentle- man had not been a Curmudgeon. He had been "a dear"âa plump, ruddy- cheeked, twinkly-eyed dear. He had loved children, and had given famous partiesâ Christmas parties in especial, that would make your mouth water. The children, whose round little heads hadi bobbed familiarly into everv one of the rooms of Endicott House, thought it very cruel that just before a Christmas time they should be barred out of it by a Curmudgeon. "I wouldn't have eared so much," growled Tommy, in the midst of a group of chil- dren pelting home from school the day before vacation, "if it hadn't been a Christ- mas time. But it's too unfair that any- body's Christmas fun should be spoiled by an old Curmudgeon." "He must be lonely up there on the hill," murmured small Hester, the doctor's little girl. "Jes' a big dog and no one else to play with. He will be very lonely Christ- mas Eve." "Dare you to go up and spend it with lim, then taunted Tommy. The colour came flushing all over Resters face and she shrank back a little. She was a shy, small, sensitive girl, the sort of little girl that unmanly boys delight to tease and manly boys love to protect. It seemed such a silly idea to give Hester a (lare" that the children laughed out in a chorus that rang through the frosty air like a prophecy of Christmas bells. Hester and the black dog and the Curmudgeon^â that would be a likely party for a Christ- maci Eve! But though Hester laughed a little with them, -she could not forget the Curmud- geon's loneliness. She thought of him so much during holiday-week, that several times her feet turned, almost of their own accord, towards the entrance of Endicott House. Long after the other children had forgotten Tommy's Filly dare, she thought of it, not as a dare, for Hester had to sus- tain no reputation for courage, but as ax idea, that somehow weighed upon her tender little heart like a dutiful kindness that should not be left undone. A lonely Christ- mas Eve! Why, nobody, not the fiercest Curmudgeon that ever lived, should have a lonely Christmas Eve. She thought of her own father with 1 his "8Ãx rollicking youngsters, and then she thought of the Curmudgeon with his black dog. Can a dog wish his master a merry Christmas? No, not with the best will in the world. This picture of the lonely Curmudgeon quite spoiled the Sunday-school Christmas treat for Hester. It was given on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth, the won- derful "day before," that is somehow even more wonderful than the Day itself. But Hester slipped off during the last game and let herself out of the rectory. Already it was Christmas Eve. The ruddy sunset light had faded. There was a thin layer of snow that sparkled evenly like the snow on Christmas-cards. Above, the star* were beginning to sparkle in the same dim, universal way. But one great star hung apart from the rest. It hung like a sap- Ptire and silver lamp just above the dark lioii8e on tne mil. it seemea as it the star beckoned to Hester, for she stepped quickly towards it over the dry, bright snow Just before she reached Endicott House the star disappeared behind the hill, and at the same moment a great black thing came bounding down towards Hester. It stopped short within a yard of her, and lifted up its head and howled. It was the Curmudgeon's great blaci dog, and it waa tied to a tree before the door. Hester's face was certainly as white as the snow. Fright had taken away all her strength. She could not, at first, even turn to run away. And before her strength came back her courage had come back too. There was in Hester a quiet steadiness of purpose that was quite as strong as any showier kind of bravery. Shp drew a deep breath and walked on. She walked slowly, it is true, and hesitatingly, l'lt ,.he came close up to the dog and hpld out her hand with a shaky little whisper of "Nice boy! Nice boy The" nice boy made a great bound and broke his chain. And then he sprang upon the little girl, but only tn kiss her face. Again and again he kissed it, and wheeled about her, and beat the snow with his fore- ipaws, and cuddled his head at her feet with a frenzy of delight. "Y ou are not a Curmudgeon at any rate," sighed Hester, when she had stopped tremb- ling and had got her breath. The dog followed her up to the door and stood, wagging and panting, while she knocked. He had evidently made up his mind to see her through her adventure. "Is Mr. Carmichael at home?" she asked the dull-looking woman who came in answer to the knock. The woman looked at Hester and pointed down the hall. Then she went away, leav- ing the child and the great dog alone in the dimness It was very dim indeed in the Curmud- geon's house. But Hester, like the other children, had been there in the days of Mr. Endicott. So she walked down the hall and paused outside the library door. Her heart iwas beating very fast. It was not too late to run away even now, she thought. A Curmudgeon might be very cruel to such a bold little girl. She remembered the beak nose. and the working eyebrows, and the eagle eye:?. and took a few flitting, run- away steps. "I am more Tra-U of him than I was of the (to- thought Hester. "I've met. so many dogs, but I never met Cri..iwdgc.-ii before in all my life." But the dog licked her hand encourag- ingly, and she came back. She knocked very softly, and hed open the door. T here, 111 front of his'dun fire, jrst ;t.; she had p hiii), sut the Curmudgeon, jo- c upon-his hand, and the fireUght g?owi" i'n up. hi.. sad old eye- Hester h? jj-fucd the dro^ so very so?'<!y th?'. she haj Utr? <«) !ook a long minute bci're she wa? vioti" and during that mf- utt, ^he.«aw that the sad old eyas were full of tlenrs. At '?e tnd of the minute Mr. Carmjef¡nd <ookrdnp n? .?'?vered, with a start, the 1;.t.41 >'r* :K- or v sy. '!â¢â¢ â¢â¢â¢.â¢â V ⢠> ..('kcd'ip and ¿("I:; :?uin, ,'thi his i?nd: ) 'clutched almost Sercely at the arm of Ms chair. Hester noticed that even under the glow of the fire, his face grew rather white. Then suddenly he leaned towards her, a the sweetest smile Hester had ever eeca flashed up from his sensitive lips to bis keen, kind eyes. He put out his hand. "A little girl said the Curmudgeon softly. "Who has sent me a little girl for Christmas Eve?" Hester came up close to him and laid her little hand upon his knee. "Nobody sent me. Mr. Carmichael." she said shyly. "I came 'cos I thought maybe I'd wish you a merry Christmas, and maybe you'd be jes' a little lonely to-night." The old man took off Hester's wraps as skilfully as a mother, and drew the soft, bright-haired soul to his knee. Hester found herself leaning comfortably against him. She was sure he had held little girl. before Even her father was not more "comfortable" than Mr Carmichael. "Do you know," said the Curmudgeon dreamily, "I was thinking, when you camt in of a little girl?" "Is that why you were crying?" "Ah! But I am not crying any more" The black dog had come to rest his great head on Mr. Carmichael's other knee. Hit eyes were wistfully full of a desire to under- stand. He's a very nice dog, isn't he?" said Hester. "I used to be afraid of him. It is very silly to Le afraid of things." And she cuddled closer. "What is your name, little Christmas- Eve-girl?" "llctîter sir." "Then, Hester, will you spend Christmaa Eve with me? I will have a message car- ried to your parents." Hester had a momentary pang. But aain the thought of her father, with his six rollicking children all so much livelier than the big black dog, occurred to her, and she looked up bravely with her dear little shy smile. "I should love to, Mr. Carmichael." she said. He stood up at once, very much pleased. and he called the woman and told her to "light up." When the big, dark room had been made cheerful with drawn curtains and kindled lamps, and the leaping Samei that sprang up to welcome a fresh log, Mr. Carmichael added: l "Bring the cake and the wine too, Martha. Let everything be as it was when "âhis voice dropped a littleâ"when my grand-daughter was with us on Christ- mas Eve." Martha bustled about. quite roused from her vagueness, and Hester began to forget that she had ever been afraid. "How very wrong Tommy was about Curmudgeons!" she thought. For this Curmudgeon was the best of company He was droll and sweet and sympathetic. He gave Hester a tiny sip of wine and a great piece of cake with icing, and he gave himself a glassful of wine and a small piece of cake "to make things even." They drank to each other's health, and Hester was taught to touch glasses and to say, "Here's to » merry Cijristmas "which delighted her "And now," cried Mr. Carmichael, when the last drop and the last crumb had dis- appeared, "come with me Hester, for some reason, began to feel ex- cited She put her hand in his and looked lip eagerly at him as he led her through the lug rooms and across the hall to a closed door. "And what do you think is in there, Bested" he cried mysteriously. "I don't know." whispered Hester, but the colour came up into her face. Then shut your eyes," said Mr. Car. michael, "and 'open sesame' There was the sound of an opening door and Hester s hds flew wide. She shut them again at once for dazzlement. The world seemed full of towering green and gold A tree blazed to the ceiling. It was gilded and glistening Ball" of silver flashed back the light of a thousand candles on its generous, broad boughs Winged cherubs hung on bright wings, starry wreaths wrapped its trunk. And a great star. like the one that bad beckoned to her outside, trembled on its topmost branch Hester thought it must have come down through the roof to see her surprise and to rejoice in her obedience to its summons-the dear, kindly Christmas star. Hester had put her hands to her cheeks for ra pture, and her eyes were very large. "Oh!" she said. and "Ob!" again. Then. forg-ptful of herself and of every- one. she began to flit about like a dazzled little white moth How the old man watched her under his working brows, and how Martha laughed with her apron to her eyes All at once Hester stopped short. She had made a discovery. Under the tree were Christmas present. They were presents for a little girl She could see a big, round- eyed lady doll in a chair, and a wee. round- eyed baby doll in a cradle And there were books aud games. She crept up, and gazed and reverently touched. While she was gazing. Mr. Carmichael laid his hand on her head. "Every Christmas Eve I have the tree in memory of my little girl," he said, "and afterwards 1 send away the presents. But, Hester, this Christmas you are my little girl, and the presents are all yours." It was very marvellous and bewildering to shy little Hester, who had never had an adventure in her life. The time passed like a dream. And when at last Martha had put her into her cloak and hat, kissing her as if she couldn't help it, it seemed quite natural to Hester that Mr. Carmichael should lift her up, doll and all, and say: m "And now I will carry my little Christ- mas-Eve girl home." He stepped out with her into the silent night, and the great black dog followed them, snuffing affectionately at Hester's little dangling feet. "I will thank you now," murmured Hester drowsily, "and I will tell you some- thing funny, too, if you would like to hear it. Mr. Carmichael said he would like to hear something funny very much. Hester meant to fell him about silly little Tommy, but long before she could get to the point of her story, she was fast asleep in the Curmudgeon's strong and gentle arms.

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