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.
As Aunt Ellen's startled eyes swept slowly from the smiling faces of her children to the proud and chuckling Doctor who had spent Heaven knows how many dollars in telegraphed commands--she laughed a little and cried a little and then mingled the two so queerly that she needs must wipe her eyes and catch at Roger's chair for support, whereupon a kindly little hand slipped suddenly into hers and Roger looked up and smiled serenely.
"Don't cry, Aunt Ellen!" he begged shyly. "I knew all about it too and the Doctor--he did it all!"
"And merry fits he gave us all by telegram, too, mother!" exclaimed Philip with a grin.
"Moreover," broke in John, patting his mother's shoulder, "there are eleven kids packed away upstairs like sardines--we hid 'em away while dad and you were lost, and--" but here with a deafening racket the stairs door burst wide open and with a swoop and a scream eleven pajama-ed young bandits with starry eyes bore down upon Aunt Ellen and the Doctor.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed John, thoroughly scandalized, "you disgraceful kids! Which one of you stirred this up?" But the guilty face at the tail of the romping procession was the face of old Asher.
Radiantly triumphant the old Doctor swung little John Leslie 3rd to his shoulder and faced his laughing family and as old Annie appeared with a steaming tray--he seized a mug of cider and held it high aloft.
"To the ruddy warmth of the Christmas log and the Christmas home spirit--" he cried--"to the home-keeping hearts of the country-side! Gentlemen--I give you--A Country home and a Country Christmas! May more good folk come to know them!" And little John Leslie cried hoarsely--
"Hooray, grandpop, hooray for a Country Christmas!"
Carelessly alive to the merry spirit of the night, the jester presently adjusted a flute which hung from his shoulder by a scarlet cord and lazily piping a Christmas air, wandered to another room--to come suddenly upon a forgotten playmate of his boyhood days.
"It--it can't be!" he reflected in startled interest. "It surely can't be Madge Hildreth!"
But Madge Hildreth it surely was, spreading the satin folds of his grandmother's crimson gown in mocking courtesy. Moreover it was not the awkward, ragged elfish little gipsy who had tormented his debonair boyhood with her shy ardent worship of himself and his daring exploits, but instead a winsome vision of Christmas color and Christmas cheer, holly-red of cheek, with flashes of scarlet holly in her night black hair and eyes whose unfathomable dusk reflected no single hint of that old, wild worship slumbering still in the girl's rebellious heart.
"And the symbolism of this stunning make-up?" queried Ralph after a while, lazily admiring.
The girl's eyes flashed.
"To-night, if you please," she said, "I am the spirit of the old-fashioned Christmas who dwells in the holly heart of the evergreen wood. A country Christmas, ruddy-cheeked and cheerful and rugged like the winter holly--simple and old-fashioned and hallowed with memories like this bright soft crimson gown!"
Well, she had been a queer, fanciful youngster too, Doctor Ralph remembered, always passionately aquiver with a wild sylvan poetry and over-fond of book-lore like her father. Mischievously glancing at a spray of mistletoe above the girl's dark head, he stepped forward with the careless gallantry that had won him many a kindly glance from pretty eyes and was strangely to fail him now. For at the look in Madge's calm eyes, he drew back, stammering.
"I--I beg your pardon!" said Doctor Ralph.
Later as he stood thoughtfully by his bedroom window, staring queerly at the wind-beaten elms, he found himself repeating Madge Hildreth's words. "Ruddy-cheeked and rugged and cheerful!"--indeed--this unforgettable Christmas eve. Yes--she was right. Had he not often heard his father say that the Christmas season epitomized all the rugged sympathy and heartiness and health of the country year! To-night the blazing Yule-log, his mother's face--how white her hair was growing, thought Doctor Ralph with a sudden tightening of his throat--all of these memories had strummed forgotten and finer chords. And darkly foiling the homely brightness came the picture of rushing, overstrung, bundle-laden city crowds, of shop-girls white and weary, of store-heaps of cedar and holly sapped by electric glare. Rush and strain and worry--yes--and a spirit of grudging! How unlike the Christmas peace of this white, wind-world outside his window! So Doctor Ralph went to bed with a sigh and a shrug--to listen while the sleety boughs tapping at his windows roused ghostly phantoms of his boyhood. Falling asleep, he dreamt that pretty Madge Hildreth had lightly waved a Christmas wand of crimson above his head and dispelled his weariness and discontent.