“Christmas Eve in the Ambrose Channel,” cried a fourth. “A blizzard blowing. The pilot boat, sheathed with ice, wallowing in the teeth of the blinding storm, beats her way up to the lee of the great liner. The pilot, suddenly taken ill, lies gasping on the sofa of the tiny cabin. Impossible for him to take the great liner into port; 2,000 passengers eager to get home for Christmas. But who is this gallant little figure darting up the rope ladder with fluttering skirts? The pilot’s fourteen-year-old daughter. ’I will take the Nausea to her berth! I’ve spent all my life in the Bay, and know every inch of the channel.’ Rough quartermaster weeps as she takes the wheel from his hands. ‘Be easy in your mind, Captain,’ she says; ’but before the customs men come aboard tell me one thing—have you got that bottle of Scotch for my Daddy?’”
* * * * *
“Big New York department store,” insisted the fifth. “Beautiful dark-haired salesgirl at the silk stocking counter. Her slender form trembles with fatigue, but she greets all customers with brave, sweet courtesy. Awful crush, every one buying silk stockings. Kindly floorwalker, sees she is overtaxed, suggests she leave early. Dark girl refuses; says she must be faithful to the Christmas spirit; moreover, she daren’t face the evening battle on the subway. Handsome man comes to the counter to buy. Suddenly a scream, a thud, horrified outcries. Hold back the crowd! Call a physician! No good; handsome man, dead, murdered. Dark-haired girl, still holding the fatal hat-pin, taken in custody, crying hysterically ’When he gave me his name, I couldn’t help it. He’s the one who has caused all the trouble!’ Floorwalker reverently covers the body with a cloth, then looks at the name on the sales slip. ‘Gosh,’ he cries, aghast, ’it’s Coles Phillips!’”
* * * * *
The gathering broke up, and the five men strolled out into the blazing August sunshine. The sultry glow of midsummer beat down upon them, but their thoughts were far away. They were five popular authors comparing notes on the stories they were writing for the Christmas magazines.
I often wonder what inward pangs of laughter or despair he may have felt as he sat behind the old desk in Chase Hall and watched us file in, year after year! Callow, juvenile, ignorant, and cocksure—grotesquely confident of our own manly fulness of worldly savoir—an absurd rabble of youths, miserable flint-heads indeed for such a steel! We were the most unpromising of all material for the scholar’s eye; comfortable, untroubled middle-class lads most of us, to whom study was neither a privilege nor a passion, but only a sober and decent way of growing old enough to enter business.