“Bless your heart, laddie,” exclaimed the Doctor, considerably staggered; “they know too little of that, I fear. My conscience!” as the grandfather’s clock came into the conversation with a throaty boom, “it’s half-past seven!” and from then on Roger noticed the Doctor was uneasy, presently opining, with a prodigious “Hum!” that Aunt Ellen looked mighty pale and tired and that he for one calculated a little sleigh ride would brace her up for the party. This Aunt Ellen immediately flouted and the Doctor was eventually forced to pathetic and frequent reference to his own great need of air.
“Very well, my dear,” said Aunt Ellen mildly, striving politely to conceal her opinion of his mental health, “I’ll go, since you feel so strongly about it, but a sleigh ride in such a wind and such clothes when one is expecting party guests—” but the relieved Doctor was already bundling the brown-gold brocade into a fur-lined coat and furtively winking at Roger! Thus it was that even as the Doctor’s sleigh flew merrily by the Deacon’s pond, far across the snowy fields to the north gleamed the lights of the 7:52 rushing noisily into the village.
By the Fire
How it was that the old Doctor somehow lost his way on roads he had traveled since boyhood was a matter of exceeding mystery and annoyance to Aunt Ellen, but lose it he did. By the time he found it and jogged frantically back home, the old house was already aswarm with masked, mysterious guests and old Asher with a lantern was peering excitedly up the road. Holly-trimmed sleighs full of merry neighbors in disguise were dashing gaily up—and in the midst of all the excitement the Doctor miraculously discovered his own mask and Aunt Ellen’s in the pocket of his great-coat. So hospitable Aunt Ellen, considerably perturbed that so many of her guests had arrived in her absence—an absence carefully planned by the Doctor—betook herself to the masquerade, and the Christmas party began with bandits and minstrels and jesters and all sorts of queer folk flitting gaily about the house. They paid gallant court to Roger in his great chair by the fire and presently began to present for his approval an impromptu Mummer’s play.
And now the lights were all out and a masked and courtly old gentleman in satin breeches was standing in the bright firelight pouring brandy into a giant bowl of raisins; and now he was gallantly bowing to Roger himself who was plainly expected to assist with a lighted match. He did this with trembling fingers and eyes so big and black and eloquent that the Doctor cleared his throat; and as the leaping flames from the snapdragon bowl flashed weirdly over the bizarre company in the shadows. Roger, eagerly watching them snatch the raisins from the fire, fell to trembling in an ecstasy of delight. Presently a slender arm in a crimson sleeve, whose wearer was never very far from Roger’s chair, slipped quietly about his shoulders and held him very tight. So, an endless round of merry Christmas games until, deep and mellow came at last the majestic boom of the grandfather’s clock striking twelve and with it a hearty babel of Christmas greetings as the Doctor, smiling significantly down into Roger’s excited eyes, gave the signal to unmask.