Swiftly now the last moments went by, and a “Merry Christmas” was said by one and another as they took their seats at the plentiful repast Aunt Betsy had provided, Mark feasting more on Helen’s face than on the viands spread before him. It was hard for him to leave her, hard for her to let him go, but the duty was imperative, and so when at last the frosty air grew keener as the small hours of night crept on, he stood with his arms about her, nor thought it unworthy of a soldier that his own tears mingled with hers as he bade her good-by, kissing her again and again, and calling her his precious wife, whose memory would make his camp-life brighter and shorten the days of absence. There was no one with them when at last Mark’s horse dashed from the yard over the creaking snow, leaving Helen alone upon the doorstep, with the glittering stars shining above her head and her husband’s farewell kiss wet upon her lips.
“When shall we meet again?” she sobbed, gazing up at the clear blue sky, as if to find the answer there.
But only the December wind sweeping down from the steep hillside, and blowing across her forehead, made reply to that questioning, as she waited till the last faint sound of Mark Ray’s bells died away in the distance, and then shivering with cold re-entered the farmhouse.
AFTER CHRISTMAS EVE.
Merrily rang the bells next day, the sexton deeming it his duty to send forth a merry peal in honor of the bride whose husband had remembered his boy so liberally. But Helen’s heart was very sad as she met the smiling faces of her friends, and Mark had never been prayed for more earnestly than on that Christmas morning, when Helen knelt at the altar rail and received the sacred symbols of a Savior’s dying love, asking that God would keep the soldier husband, hastening on to New York, and from thence to Washington. Much the Silvertonians discussed the wedding, nor were these discussions likely to be shortened by the arrival of Mattie Tubbs and Tom, who came by the express from New York, both surprised at what they heard, and both loud in their praises of Captain Ray, “the best and kindest man that ever lived,” Tom said, while Mattie told fabulous stories of his wealth. Had Helen been the queen she could hardly have been stared at more curiously than she was that Christmas day, when late in the afternoon she drove through the town with Katy, the villagers looking admiringly after her, noting the tie of her bonnet, the arrangement of her face trimmings, and discovering in both a style and fitness they had never discovered before. As the wife of Mark Ray Helen became suddenly a heroine, in whose presence poor Katy subsided completely, nor was the interest at all diminished when two days later Mrs. Banker came to Silverton and was met at the depot by Helen, whom she hugged affectionately, calling her “my dear daughter,” and holding her hand all the