Every day on Daily Readers' Book Club we offer an article length section of a book until that book is done. We are currently reading Leona Darlymple's When the Yule Log Burns: A Christmas Story. This book will have 14 parts.
The Log at Dawn
In the still, cold corridors of a farmhouse, with frost-jungles clouding every window pane and a zero-dark outside, the cry of "Merry Christmas!" is most at home. Let noses be ever so cold and blanketed bodies ever so warm, the cry fills the dawn with electric energy. The Doctor began it. He knew by the instant response that he had started something that he could not stop. Almost in no time, it seemed, Roger was leading a wild, bare-footed scamper down the stairs--for Roger knew--and the Doctor, hastily bath-robed and slippered, was on behind with a lamp. But here was no cyclonic invasion of a dark, cold sitting-room. Old Annie and Asher knew boys! A log blazed brightly in the fireplace and the lamp was lit. If the room was over-warm, it proved simply that Annie had seen boys of another generation rushing down of a Christmas morning, scantily clad.
And the King of Christmas trees blazed in candle-glory from wall to wall, tinselled boughs sagging with the weight of its Christmas freight. It could not have been bigger--it could not have glittered more. It had as many arms as an Octopus and its shaggy evergreen head, starred gorgeously with iridescence, brushed the old-fashioned paper on the ceiling. A great, lovable Christmas giant guarding a cargo of Christmas gifts!
Muggs emitted one blood-curdling shriek of delight, clapped his hand over his mouth and began to swell about the cheeks. Then he stepped on the hem of his night-gown and fell sprawling at Annie's feet.
"Dear me," said Annie vexedly, though she righted him with kindly hands, "I can't for the life of me make out what ails that child. He acts so mortal queer at times, an' he's ready to swell up over nothing at all."
With the advent of Aunt Ellen, Christmas packages began to lose twine and paper, and what the packages lost the sitting-room speedily gained in disorder. For here were warm suits and overcoats, shoes and stockings and sweaters and caps, skates and horns and whistles and drums, home-made pop-corn and candy, oranges--ah! well, sensible gifts in plenty, and foolish gifts that were wiser than Solomon for they included a boy's heart as well as his body.
In a lull all eyes turned to Muggs. His pockets were crammed with pop-corn and candy. One arm was quite as full of toys as he could pack it--the other had begun the day's conveyance of food from hand to mouth, but he was regarding a very small, warm suit of clothes and substantial boots with dangerously quivering lips. Nor could one misinterpret his disapproval. For a moment the startled Doctor fancied he heard Mike hiss the astonishing words "Mom Murphy!" but by the time he had wheeled about, Muggs, with circular eyes of terror, had begun to swell.
"That child," said Annie, "has something on his mind. Don't tell me! I know it."
The inevitable blare of racket came all too soon. Horns and whistles and drums united in a deafening blast, and if thanks did not come easily to the lips of boys, noise did. Nor could Muggs at any time thereafter be separated from a shoulder drum upon which he had beaten with insane and single-minded concentration even after the din was past and a hungry hint of breakfast in the air. Lacking one outlet of expression he had seized upon another. He drummed his way fiercely upstairs, to dress, and he drummed his way down to breakfast, a ridiculous self-consciousness in his small face whenever he glanced at his new suit of clothes. Small as it was it engulfed him utterly.
"Jim!" said the Doctor suddenly. "You're not limping!"
Jim hung his head and glanced at his shining new shoes.
"No, sir!" he said and gulped.
"Bless me," said the Doctor, adjusting his spectacles, "I thought you were lame and if I hadn't forgotten it last night you'd have had no skates this morning."
"I didn't have no heel on one shoe," blurted Jim in confusion, and Roger, in relief, hoorayed himself into hoarseness.
But Jim, like Muggs, was something of a mystery, and after a time the Doctor, with a sigh, abandoned his effort to break through the boy's sullen shyness. Still Jim was the first at the chopping block when Annie wanted wood, and when the task took on something of the charm of Tom Sawyer's fence by reason of a winter wren, so tame from overfeeding that he perched himself now and then upon the handle of the ax, Jim fell back with resentment and resigned the ax to Marty Fay who spat upon his hands, doubled up his fists, sparred, in an excess of good spirits, with an invisible antagonist, and thereafter made the chips fly so fast that the little wren departed.
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