His medals were, of course, sent to the colonel. But the violets in the little book went back to mademoiselle. And the old hat, crushed into three-cornered shape, went back. And I told her what he had done.
She wrote to me in her stiff English:
“I have loved a great man. For me, monsieur, it is enough. Their souls unite in victory!”
It was so cold that the world seemed as stiff and stark as a poet’s hell. A little moon was frozen against a pallid sky. The old dark houses with their towers and gables wore the rigid look of iron edifices. The saint over the church door at the corner had an icicle on his nose. Even the street lights shone faint and benumbed through clouded glass.
Ostrander, with his blood like ice within his veins, yearned for a Scriptural purgatory with red fire and flame. To be warm would be heaven. It was a wise old Dante who had made hell cold!
As he crossed the threshold of his filthy tenement he felt for the first time a sense of its shelter. Within its walls there was something that approached warmth, and in his room at the top there was a bed with a blanket.
Making his way toward the bed and its promise of comfort, he was stopped on the second stairway by a voice which came out of the dark.
“Mr. Tony, you didn’t see our tree.”
Peering down, he answered the voice: “I was going up to get warm.”
“Milly said to tell you that we had a fire.”
“A real fire, Pussy? I didn’t know that there was one in the world.”
He came down again to the first floor. Pussy was waiting—a freckled dot of a child tied up in a man’s coat.
The fire was in a small round stove. On top of the stove something was boiling. The room was neat but bare, the stove, a table, and three chairs its only furnishing. In a room beyond were two beds covered with patchwork quilts.
On the table was a tree. It was a Christmas tree—just a branch of pine and some cheap spangly things. The mother of the children sewed all day and late into the night. She had worked a little longer each night for a month that the children might have the tree.
There was no light in the room but that of a small and smoky lamp.
Milly spoke of it. “We ought to have candles.”
Ostrander, shrugged close to the stove, with his hands out to its heat, knew that they ought to have electric lights, colored ones, a hundred perhaps, and a tree that touched the stars!
But he said: “When I go out I’ll bring you a red candle—a long one—and we’ll put it on the shelf over the table.”
Milly, who was resting her tired young body in a big rocker with the baby in her arms, asked: “Can we put it in a bottle or stand it in a cup? We haven’t any candlestick.”
“We can do better than that,” he told her, “with a saucer turned upside down and covered with salt to look like snow.”