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 Twilight
There was a straw-ride in the farm sleigh after dinner, a story or two by the Yule log when the twilight closed in and Annie had lit the Christmas candles on the tree, and then as the boys were romping in a game of Roger's the Doctor slipped away to his study for a quiet hour with a book. His lamp was barely lighted and the book upon his knee when the door opened and Jim stood before him, his face so white and strained that the Doctor laid aside his book, thinking instantly, of course, that here again was too much turkey.
Jim hung his head, one toe burrowing in the carpet.
"Doctor John!" he burst forth hoarsely.
"I--I been in jail!"
The Doctor looked once at Jim's face, quivering in an agony of shame, and hastily wiped his glasses. In the quiet came the laughter of romping boys.
"Why," said the Doctor very gently, "did you tell me?"
Something in the kindly voice opened the flood-gates of a boy's sore heart. Jim's mouth quivered piteously, then he broke down and hid his face behind his elbow, sobbing wildly.
"I wanta be square," he cried passionately, "I wanta be square like you've been to us, an'--an Luke said ye might not want a jail-bird here for Christmas. I--stole--coal--for mom--"
It was the old tale, one boy caught, paying for the petty thievery of the score who ran away. The Doctor heard the mumbled tale to the end and cleared his throat.
"And so," he said slowly, "you wanted to be square. That's the finest thing I've heard this Christmas day. Wanted to be square. Well, well!" His hand was on Jim's shoulder now. "Jim, I wonder if you could come back to me next Christmas and tell me you'd been absolutely straight--"
"Here!" said Jim in a choking whisper, his eyes blazing through his tears, "again--for Christmas!"
Somewhere on a snowy page a Christmas angel wrote: "One boy saved by the spirit of a country Christmas!"
"Here," repeated the Doctor, "again--for Christmas." He opened the door. "Run along, now, Jim," he said kindly, "or the boys will miss you."
Jim's final words were very queer.
"Doctor John," he blurted, "I--I'm a goin' to send poor little Muggs."
The Doctor was devoutly hoping that Muggs had never been in jail for stealing food or drums, when Muggs himself appeared clinging desperately to the hand of Mike. He seemed on the verge of a lachrymose explosion.
Mike's face was very red but it was also very hopeful.
"Jim said to tell ye," he mumbled. "She ain't never had no Christmas an' the minister he said the order was all boys an'--an' she cried, so Mom said bring her anyway in my ol' suit--you'd never know, an'--an'--an'--Oh, my gosh!" finished Mike tragically, "Muggs is a girl. Her--her name's C-c-c-c-clara!"
The Doctor jumped. So did Muggs. The lachrymose explosion came and the drum slipped down from the shoulder of Muggs with a clatter.
"Don't wanta go home!" came the heartbroken wail, "don't wanta go home. Mom Murphy'll git me."
"I--I tol' her," explained Mike uncomfortably, "that she mustn't open her mouth once--jus' act deaf an' dumb or you'd guess maybe an' send her home an' Mom Murphy'd git her. An'--an'--she must take a drum like a boy--"
Literal Muggs! Heaven alone knew by what other blood-thirsty threats than Mom Murphy Mike had encompassed the stony silence and frenzied drumming of the little sister who had never had a Christmas.
"But why," burst forth the despairing Doctor. "In heaven's name--why--Muggs?"
"She makes such awful faces," said Mike apologetically. "Mom don't know what makes her that way." And then as Muggs was at the climax of one of the spasms that had won her her name, the Doctor suddenly lifted her in gentle arms and tossed her to the ceiling.
"Poor, poor little kiddy!" he said huskily. "What a price she's paid for her Christmas."
But Muggs had forgotten the price. Though it had been a hard day the Doctor's eyes were kind and twinkly. Muggs buried her flushed and tearful little face on his shoulder with a sigh of content. He saw now that one knot of ribbon on the tousled, sunny curls would have told the story, then he glanced at the bagging suit and opened the door. Muggs went forth upon the Doctor's shoulder.
"Asher," cried the Doctor, "hitch old Polly to the sleigh and telephone Sam Remsen that he can oblige me for once and open his store."
"Ye--ye ain't goin' to send her home, are ye?" faltered Mike.
"I'm going," cried the Doctor, "to buy Clara Muggs a dress and a doll. It's her night."
The boys cheered.