“They’ve got at the champagne!” exclaimed Mrs. Steffink.
“Perhaps it’s the sparkling Moselle,” said Luke hopefully.
Three or four more pops were heard.
“The champagne and the sparkling Moselle,” said Mrs. Steffink.
Luke uncorked an expletive which, like brandy in a temperance household, was only used on rare emergencies. Mr. Horace Bordenby had been making use of similar expressions under his breath for a considerable time past. The experiment of “throwing the young people together” had been prolonged beyond a point when it was likely to produce any romantic result.
Some forty minutes later the hall door opened and disgorged a crowd that had thrown off any restraint of shyness that might have influenced its earlier actions. Its vocal efforts in the direction of carol singing were now supplemented by instrumental music; a Christmas-tree that had been prepared for the children of the gardener and other household retainers had yielded a rich spoil of tin trumpets, rattles, and drums. The life-story of King Wenceslas had been dropped, Luke was thankful to notice, but it was intensely irritating for the chilled prisoners in the cow-house to be told that it was a hot time in the old town to-night, together with some accurate but entirely superfluous information as to the imminence of Christmas morning. Judging by the protests which began to be shouted from the upper windows of neighbouring houses the sentiments prevailing in the cow-house were heartily echoed in other quarters.
The revellers found their car, and, what was more remarkable, managed to drive off in it, with a parting fanfare of tin trumpets. The lively beat of a drum disclosed the fact that the master of the revels remained on the scene.
“Bertie!” came in an angry, imploring chorus of shouts and screams from the cow-house window.
“Hullo,” cried the owner of the name, turning his rather errant steps in the direction of the summons; “are you people still there? Must have heard everything cows got to say by this time. If you haven’t, no use waiting. After all, it’s a Russian legend, and Russian Chrismush Eve not due for ’nother fortnight. Better come out.”
After one or two ineffectual attempts he managed to pitch the key of the cow-house door in through the window. Then, lifting his voice in the strains of “I’m afraid to go home in the dark,” with a lusty drum accompaniment, he led the way back to the house. The hurried procession of the released that followed in his steps came in for a good deal of the adverse comment that his exuberant display had evoked.
It was the happiest Christmas Eve he had ever spent. To quote his own words, he had a rotten Christmas.