“They’ll be here in a few minutes,” they said; “somebody go and bring the children down;” and within a very little while subdued noises were heard outside, and the lifting of the latch of the yard gate. The children were in their nightgowns, hardly fully awake; a low voice outside was heard giving orders; and then there arose on the night the carol.
“Hush!” they said to the wondering children; “listen!...”
It was the Cherry Tree Carol that rose outside, of how sweet Mary, the Queen of Galilee, besought Joseph to pluck the cherries for her Babe, and Joseph refused; and the voices of the singers, that had begun hesitatingly, grew strong and loud and free.
“... and Joseph wouldn’t pluck the cherries,” somebody was whispering to the tiny Angela....
“Mary said to Cherry Tree,
’Bow down to my knee,
That I may pluck cherries
For my Babe and me.’”
the carollers sang; and “Now listen, darling,” the one who held Angela murmured....
“The uppermost spray then
Bowed down to her knee;
’Thus you may see, Joseph,
These cherries are for me.’
“’O, eat your cherries, Mary,
Give them your Babe now;
O, eat your cherries, Mary,
That grew upon the bough._’”
The little Angela, within the arms that held her, murmured, “It’s the gipsies, isn’t it, mother?”
“No, darling. The gipsies have gone. It’s the carol-singers, singing because Jesus was born.”
“But, mother ... it is the gipsies, isn’t it?... ’Cos look...”
“At Aunt Rachel, mother ... The gipsy woman wouldn’t go without her little baby, would she?”
“No, she wouldn’t do that.”
“Then has she lent it to Aunt Rachel, like I lend my new toys sometimes?”
The mother glanced across at Aunt Rachel, and then gathered the night-gowned figure more closely.
“The darling’s only half awake,” she murmured.... “Poor Aunt Rachel’s sleepy too....”
Aunt Rachel, her head dropped, her hands lightly folded as if about some shape that none saw but herself, her face again ineffable with that sweet and peaceful smile, was once more rocking softly in her chair.
A TALE OF ARTISTIC CONSCIENCE
As I lighted my guests down the stairs of my Chelsea lodgings, turned up the hall gas that they might see the steps at the front door, and shook hands with them, I bade them good night the more heartily that I was glad to see their backs. Lest this should seem but an inhospitable confession, let me state, first, that they had invited themselves, dropping in in ones and twos until seven or eight of them had assembled in my garret, and, secondly, that I was rather extraordinarily curious to know why, at close on midnight, the one I knew least well of all had seen fit to remain after the others had taken their departure. To these two considerations I must add a third, namely, that I had become tardily conscious that, if Andriaovsky had not lingered of himself, I should certainly have asked him to do so.