“Till the stars
and the angels come to keep
Their watch where my baby lies fast asleep.”
When she told him this, with her hand stroking his and folding it tight with many tender little claspings, he felt that he had found a part of his old home, too, as well as Aunt Desire.
One by one the tapers began to glow on the great tree, and when it was all ablaze the doors were opened for the children to flock in. They stood about the room, bewildered at first, for not one of them had ever seen such a sight before; a tree that glittered and sparkled and shone, that bore stars and rainbows and snow wreaths and gay toys. At first they only drew deep, wondering breaths, and looked at each other with shining eyes. It was all so beautiful and so strange.
Joyce flew here and there, helping to distribute the gifts, feeling her heart grow warmer and warmer as she watched the happy children. “My little daughter never had anything like that in all her life,” said one grateful mother as Joyce laid a doll in the child’s outstretched arms. “She’ll never forget this to her dying day, nor will any of us, dear mademoiselle! We knew not what it was to have so beautiful a Noel!”
When the last toy had been stripped from the branches, it was Cousin Kate’s turn to be surprised. At a signal from madame, the children began circling around the tree, singing a song that the sisters at the village school had taught them for the occasion. It was a happy little song about the green pine-tree, king of all trees and monarch of the woods, because of the crown he yearly wears at Noel. At the close every child came up to madame and Cousin Kate and Joyce, to say “Thank you, madame,” and “Good night,” in the politest way possible.
Gabriel’s accordion led them out again, and the music, growing fainter and fainter, died away in the distance; but in every heart that heard it had been born a memory whose music could never be lost,—the memory of one happy Christmas.
Joyce drew a long breath when it was all over, and, with her arm around Madame Desire’s shoulder, smiled down at Jules.
“How beautifully it has all ended!” she exclaimed. “I am sorry that we have come to the place to say ‘and they all lived happily ever after,’ for that means that it is time to shut the book.”
“Dear heart,” murmured Madame Desire, drawing the child closer to her, “it means that a far sweeter story is just beginning, and it is you who have opened the book for me.”
Joyce flushed with pleasure, saying, “I thought this Christmas would be so lonely; but it has been the happiest of my life.”
[Illustration: “HE TOOK THE LITTLE FELLOW’S HAND IN HIS.”]