“’I learn that you have a bay mare with starred face and a white stocking.’ It is Trove who speaks.
“‘Yes; there she is, coming yonder.’
“The mare is a rack of bones, limping, weary, sore. But see her foot lift! You can’t kill the pride of the Barbary. She falters; her driver lashes her over the head. Trove is running toward her. He climbs a front wheel, and down comes the driver. In a minute Trove has her by the bit. He calls her by name—Phyllis! The slim ears begin to move. She nickers. God, sir! she is trying to see him. One eye is bleeding, the other blind. His arms go round her neck, sir, and he hides his face in her mane. That mare you ride—she is the granddaughter of Phyllis. I’d as soon think of selling my wife. Really, sir, Darrel was right. God’ll mind the look of your horses.”
So spake an old man sitting in the firelight. Since they sat down the short hand of the clock had nearly circled the dial. There was a little pause. He did love a horse—that old man of the hills.
“Trove went home with the mare,” he continued. “She recovered the sight of one eye, and had a box-stall and the brook pasture—you know, that one by the beech grove. He got home the day before Christmas. Polly met him at the depot—a charming lady, sir, and a child of three was with her,—a little girl, dark eyes and flaxen, curly hair. You remember Beryl?—eyes like her mother’s.
“I was there at the depot that day. Well, it looked as if they were still in their honeymoon.
“‘Dear little wife!’ said Trove, as he kissed Polly. Then he took the child in his arms, and I went to dinner with them. They lived half a mile or so out of Hillsborough.
“‘Hello!’ said Trove, as we entered. ‘Here’s a merry Christmas!’
“Polly had trimmed the house. There against the wall was a tapering fir-tree, hung with tinsel and popcorn. All around the room were green branches of holly and hemlock.
“‘I’m glad you found Phyllis,’ said she.
“‘Poor Phyllis!’ he answered. ’They broke her down with hard work, and then sold her. She’ll be here to-morrow.’
“‘You saw Darrel on the way?’
“’Yes, and he is the same miracle of happiness. I think he will soon be free. Leblanc is there in prison—convicted of a crime in Whitehall. As I expected, there is a red mark on the back of his left hand. Day after to-morrow we go again to Dannemora. Sweetheart! I hurried home to see you.’ And then—well, I do like to see it—the fondness of young people.
“Night came, dark and stormy, with snow in the west wind. They were sitting there by the Christmas tree, all bright with candles—Polly, Trove, and the little child. They were talking of old times. They heard a rap at the door. Trove flung it open. He spoke a word of surprise. There was the old Santa Claus of Cedar Hill—upon my word, sir—the very one. He entered, shaking his great coat, his beard full of snow. He let down his sack there by the lighted tree. He beckoned to the little one.