* This story was first published in the Youth’s Companion, vol. 83.
Betty stood at her door, gazing drearily down the long, empty corridor in which the breakfast gong echoed mournfully. All the usual brisk scenes of that hour, groups of girls in Peter Thomson suits or starched shirt-waists, or a pair of energetic ones, red-cheeked and shining-eyed from a run in the snow, had vanished as by the hand of some evil magician. Silent and lonely was the corridor.
“And it’s the day before Christmas!” groaned Betty. Two chill little tears hung on her eyelashes.
The night before, in the excitement of getting the girls off with all their trunks and packages intact, she had not realized the homesickness of the deserted school. Now it seemed to pierce her very bones.
“Oh, dear, why did father have to lose his money? ’Twas easy enough last September to decide I wouldn’t take the expensive journey home these holidays, and for all of us to promise we wouldn’t give each other as much as a Christmas card. But now!” The two chill tears slipped over the edge of her eyelashes. “Well, I know how I’ll spend this whole day; I’ll come right up here after breakfast and cry and cry and cry!” Somewhat fortified by this cheering resolve, Betty went to breakfast.
Whatever the material joys of that meal might be, it certainly was not “a feast of reason and a flow of soul.” Betty, whose sense of humour never perished, even in such a frost, looked round the table at the eight grim-faced girls doomed to a Christmas in school, and quoted mischievously to herself: “On with the dance, let joy be unconfined.”
Breakfast bolted, she lagged back to her room, stopping to stare out of the corridor windows.
She saw nothing of the snowy landscape, however. Instead, a picture, the gayest medley of many colours and figures, danced before her eyes: Christmas-trees thumping in through the door, mysterious bundles scurried into dark corners, little brothers and sisters flying about with festoons of mistletoe, scarlet ribbon and holly, everywhere sound and laughter and excitement. The motto of Betty’s family was: “Never do to-day what you can put off till to-morrow”; therefore the preparations of a fortnight were always crowded into a day.
The year before, Betty had rushed till her nerves were taut and her temper snapped, had shaken the twins, raged at the housemaid, and had gone to bed at midnight weeping with weariness. But in memory only the joy of the day remained.
“I think I could endure this jail of a school, and not getting one single present, but it breaks my heart not to give one least little thing to any one! Why, who ever heard of such a Christmas!”
“Won’t you hunt for that blue—”
“Broken my thread again!”
“Give me those scissors!”
Betty jumped out of her day-dream. She had wandered into “Cork” and the three O’Neills surrounded her, staring.