“I’se brought yoh a Christmas surprise, Massa Job Fairfax,” said Uncle Noah, and he sprinkled the floor of the hut thick with corn that the turkey might find it in the morning.
With his heart full of thanksgiving the negro plodded homeward through the snow. As he reached the old barn the great clock in the library struck twelve and faintly through the snowy air floated the distant silvery chimes of the Cotesville bells, clear and sweet, ringing in a Christmas morning.
Creeping to bed long after the first rooster had crowed Uncle Noah had sought the kitchen again with the sunrise, his tired eyes opening jubilantly upon a snapping cold Christmas morning radiant in gold and white. Downstairs clusters of holly and mistletoe festooned doors and windows, dotted the old-fashioned hanging lamps with spots of crimson, and crowned the family portraits with royal diadems, and evergreen wreaths hung in the windows—all the work of a wrinkled pair of faithful brown hands toiling while the world slept. In the library a blazing wood fire leaped and crackled, while in the dining-room the table was spread for breakfast. Certain long-needed articles of china, which had mysteriously disappeared from time to time since the autumn, dotted a tablecloth free from holes (a new one subjected to a severe laundry process during the night), and the napkins no longer resembled Ku-Klux masks. A great bowl of purple orchids glowed at Mrs. Fairfax’s plate.
The Colonel greeted the Christmas festoons of holly in the library with a stare of astonished approval. A question had risen to his lips, but the warning look in Uncle Noah’s eyes as they rested on Mrs. Fairfax had checked it. These two had had many financial and domestic secrets from the dear lady, and the Colonel promptly decided that Uncle Noah had sold some forgotten relic and had once more made use of his highly developed faculty for expanding a small sum to incredible elasticity, and he praised the result accordingly. Mrs. Fairfax, too, brightened wonderfully, yielding to the Christmas spirit with which the old darky had contrived to fill the house.
Uncle Noah felt a glow of delight at their outspoken appreciation, and, bowing elaborately, he ushered his master and mistress in to breakfast. Here again, as he seated himself, the Colonel was conscious of an agreeable flood of astonishment. There was quite an air about this Christmas breakfast. Fixing his keen eyes on the tablecloth and napkins, he stealthily fingered them with a searching look at the waiting negro. Fortunately his interest was speedily diverted. He caught sight of the orchids and the tear-stained face of his wife bending over them. With a wrench of his chair he arose.
“Patricia!” he said stormily, “did I not say that nothing of his—did I not—” he paused and gulped. “Uncle Noah,” he added unsteadily, “that turkey of yours is gobbling like a fiend under the window; you—he—”