The father rose and straightened himself with something of his old, stern dignity; but at a warm, girlish touch he gulped.
“Dick,” he said queerly, holding out a trembling hand, “we’re—we’re both citizens of the United States, and—it’s Christmas Day.”
[Illustration: “Dick,” he said queerly, holding out a trembling hand, “we’re—we’re both citizens of the United States, and—it’s Christmas Day.”]
Almost before he had finished the boy had bounded across the floor and wrung the outstretched hand, his face radiant with delight. By the fire Ruth cried softly and the Colonel gently patted her dark head, his eyes full of tenderness. Then taking refuge from the sharp pain of his emotion in austere command:
“Dick,” he said sternly, “go to your mother.”
When Uncle Noah, in a state of beatification impossible to describe, summoned the four to the wonderful Christmas dinner Colonel Fairfax was eagerly listening to the tales of Dick’s success as told by Ruth, and Dick was gently patting his mother’s gray hair, a halo of silver crowning a face radiant with happiness—a Christmas quartet whose reconciliation Uncle Noah could as yet but imperfectly comprehend. That he had been the unconscious instrument of it all the gray-eyed lady had already told him; but Uncle Noah, busy with numberless culinary problems in the kitchen, had not as yet had time to ferret it out.
At four o’clock Major Verney, who had been restrained from dashing over to Brierwood hours before only by the necessity of soothing the ruffled feelings of his irate mother after her long wait for a belated sleigh on the porch of the Cotesville church, blustered in with the aggrieved old lady upon his arm.
“We’ve come to supper,” announced the Major. “No, Dick,” as the Colonel rose, “sit down. I know all about it, and to-night you’re all going back to Fernlands with me to celebrate the betrothal of these two youngsters.”
“It has been a day of mysteries,” the Colonel said; “but will someone please tell me what Uncle Noah was doing over at Fernlands this morning when he was needed here?”
A silence fell over the little group. The subject was one whose delicacy forbade the ghost of a blunder.
It was the Major who at last drew his old friend into the deep window recess where but the night before he had watched Uncle Noah pursuing the elusive Job, and told him the story of the faithful old negro’s Christmas Eve.
The Colonel listened intently, the snowy landscape outside growing blurred and misty as the record of the old man’s devotion gradually unfolded. Before the Major had finished the Colonel’s hand had crept to the bell at his side, and, as the darky’s shuffling footsteps echoed along the corridor, he turned again and stared with unseeing eyes at the outline of the old barn. Dick shifted the log and a crimson glow irradiated the old library, making a halo of soft fire about the figure of the old darky as he paused before his master.