“There, there, little man!” he said cheerfully, “we’ve not hurt the poor lame leg once, I reckon. And now we’ll just help Sister Madge blow out the lamp and lock the door and be off to Aunt Ellen!”
But, strangely enough, the Doctor halted abruptly in the doorway and turned his kindly eyes away to the shadowy pines. And Sister Madge, on her knees by Roger’s bed, sobbing and praying in an agony of relief, presently blew out the lamp herself and wiped her eyes. For nights among the whispering pines are sleepless and long when work is scarce and Christmas hovers with cold, forbidding eyes over the restless couch of a dear and crippled brother.
Round the Doctor’s house frolicked the brisk, cold wind of a Christmas eve, boisterously rattling the luminous checkerboard windows and the Christmas wreaths, tormenting the cheerful flame in the old iron lantern and whisking away the snow from the shivering elms, whistling eerily down the Doctor’s chimney to startle a strange little cripple by the Doctor’s fire, who, queerly enough, would not be startled.
For to Roger there had never been a wind so Christmasy, or a fire so bright and warm, and his solemn black eyes glowed! Never a wealth of holly and barberry and alder-berries so crimson as that which rimmed the snug old house in Christmas flame! Never such evergreen wreaths, for, tucked up here in this very chair by Aunt Ellen, he had made them all himself of boughs from the evergreen forest! And never surely such enticing odors as had floated out for the last two days from old Annie’s pots and pans as she baked and roasted and boiled and stewed in endless preparation for Christmas day and the Christmas eve party, scolding away betimes in indignant whispers at old Asher, who, by reason of a chuckling air of mystery, was in perpetual disgrace.
Wonderful days indeed for Roger, with Sister Madge’s smooth, pale cheeks catching the flaring scarlet of the holly, and Sister Madge’s slim and willing fingers so busy hanging boughs that she had forgotten to sigh; with motherly Aunt Ellen so warmly intent upon Roger’s comfort and plans for the masquerade that many a mysterious and significant occurrence slipped safely by her kindly eyes; and with the excited Doctor’s busy sleigh jingling so hysterically about on secret errands and his kindly face so full of boyish mystery that Roger, with the key to all this Christmas intrigue locked safely in his heart, had whispered a shy little warning in the culprit’s attentive ear.
And presently—Roger caught his breath and furtively eyed the grandfather’s clock, ticking boastfully through a welter of holly—presently it would be time for the Doctor’s masquerade, and later, when the clock struck twelve and the guests unmasked, that great surprise which the doctor had planned so carefully by telegram!
But now from the kitchen came the sound of the Doctor singing: