The dining-room door was closed. That in itself was unusual. But the unsuspecting Doctor pushed through with Roger at his heels, only to halt and stare dumfounded over his spectacles while Roger screamed and danced and clapped his hands. For to the startled eyes of Doctor John Leslie, the snug, old-fashioned room was alive with boys and holly—boys and boys and boys upon boys, he would have told you in that first instant of delighted consternation, in different stages of embarrassment and rags. And one had but to glance at the faces of old Asher and Annie in the kitchen doorway, at Aunt Ellen, hovering near her Christmas brood with the look of all mothers in her kind, brown eyes, and then at Roger, scarlet with enthusiasm, to know that the Doctor had been the victim of benevolent conspiracy.
“It’s a s’prise!” shrieked Roger, “a Christmasy s’prise! Aunt Ellen she says you’re so awful keen on s’prisin’ other folks that we’d show you—an’—an’ you’ll have a bang-up Christmas with kids like you love an’ so will I, an’ so will they an’ the minister he went to the city and found seven boys crazy for Christmas in the country an’—”
“Roger! Roger!” came Aunt Ellen’s gentle voice—“do please take a breath, child. You’re turning purple.”
The Doctor adjusted his glasses.
“Seven boys!” he said. “Bless my soul, when I opened that door I saw seventy boys!” He counted them aloud—then for no reason at all save that he had glanced into seven eager faces, thinner and sharper than he liked, for all they glowed with excitement and furtive interest in the long supper table asparkle with lights and holly, he wiped his glasses and patted Roger on the back.
“Is your leg botherin’ so much now, daddy Doctor?” demanded Roger.
“Nothing like so much,” admitted the Doctor.
“Are you lonesome ’nuff now to stick out your chin?”
“Bless your heart, Roger,” admitted the Doctor huskily, “I’m so full of Christmas I can hardly breathe!”
“Hooray!” said Roger. “Me, too.”
It Blazes Higher
It was well that the Doctor had a way with boys, for there was a problem to be solved here with infinite tact—a problem of protuberant eyes and paralyzing self-consciousness, of unnatural silences and then unexpected attempts at speech that died in painful rasps and gurgles, of stubbing toes and nudging elbows, of a centipedal supply of arms and legs that interfered with abortive and conscience-stricken attempts at courtesy, and above all an interest in the weave of the carpet that was at once a mania and an epidemic—but by the time supper was well under way, things, in the language of Roger, had begun to hum, and by the time the Doctor had mastered the identities of his guests, from Jim, the shy, sullen boy who would not meet his eyes, to Mike’s little brother, Muggs, who consumed prodigious quantities of everything in staring silence, and looked something like a girl save for a tardily-cast-off suit of Mike’s, somewhat oceanic in flow and fit, the hum had become celebrative and distinctly a thing of Christmas.