When the Yule Log Burns: A Christmas Story, by Leona Dalrymple, Part X
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.
Sleigh-bells fairly leaped out of the quiet, and Roger jumped and gulped, aquiver with excitement. The Doctor regarded him with mild disfavor.
"Bless my soul," he said in surprise, "that was the quietest part of my story. You're restless."
"Go on!" said Roger hoarsely, and the obliging Doctor, mistaking his agitation for interest, went on with his tale.
But Roger had heard old Asher driving along by the picket fence and turning in at the gate-posts, and the story was no more to him than the noisy crackle of the log. Off somewhere in the region of the kitchen door he detected a subdued scuffle of many feet.
The grandfather's clock struck six.... Roger's cheeks were blazing--the fire and the Doctor still duetting.... Why, oh, why didn't somebody come and call them to supper?... There had been plenty of time now for everything. Why--
The door swung back and Roger jumped. Old Annie, Asher's wife, stood in the doorway, her wrinkled face inscrutable.
"Supper, sir!" she said and vanished. Hand in hand, the Doctor and Roger went out to supper.
The dining-room door was closed. That in itself was unusual. But the unsuspecting Doctor pushed through with Roger at his heels, only to halt and stare dumfounded over his spectacles while Roger screamed and danced and clapped his hands. For to the startled eyes of Doctor John Leslie, the snug, old-fashioned room was alive with boys and holly--boys and boys and boys upon boys, he would have told you in that first instant of delighted consternation, in different stages of embarrassment and rags. And one had but to glance at the faces of old Asher and Annie in the kitchen doorway, at Aunt Ellen, hovering near her Christmas brood with the look of all mothers in her kind, brown eyes, and then at Roger, scarlet with enthusiasm, to know that the Doctor had been the victim of benevolent conspiracy.
"It's a s'prise!" shrieked Roger, "a Christmasy s'prise! Aunt Ellen she says you're so awful keen on s'prisin' other folks that we'd show you--an'--an' you'll have a bang-up Christmas with kids like you love an' so will I, an' so will they an' the minister he went to the city and found seven boys crazy for Christmas in the country an'--"
"Roger! Roger!" came Aunt Ellen's gentle voice--"do please take a breath, child. You're turning purple."
The Doctor adjusted his glasses.
"Seven boys!" he said. "Bless my soul, when I opened that door I saw seventy boys!" He counted them aloud--then for no reason at all save that he had glanced into seven eager faces, thinner and sharper than he liked, for all they glowed with excitement and furtive interest in the long supper table asparkle with lights and holly, he wiped his glasses and patted Roger on the back.
"Is your leg botherin' so much now, daddy Doctor?" demanded Roger.
"Nothing like so much," admitted the Doctor.
"Are you lonesome 'nuff now to stick out your chin?"
"Bless your heart, Roger," admitted the Doctor huskily, "I'm so full of Christmas I can hardly breathe!"
"Hooray!" said Roger. "Me, too."
It Blazes Higher
It was well that the Doctor had a way with boys, for there was a problem to be solved here with infinite tact--a problem of protuberant eyes and paralyzing self-consciousness, of unnatural silences and then unexpected attempts at speech that died in painful rasps and gurgles, of stubbing toes and nudging elbows, of a centipedal supply of arms and legs that interfered with abortive and conscience-stricken attempts at courtesy, and above all an interest in the weave of the carpet that was at once a mania and an epidemic--but by the time supper was well under way, things, in the language of Roger, had begun to hum, and by the time the Doctor had mastered the identities of his guests, from Jim, the shy, sullen boy who would not meet his eyes, to Mike's little brother, Muggs, who consumed prodigious quantities of everything in staring silence, and looked something like a girl save for a tardily-cast-off suit of Mike's, somewhat oceanic in flow and fit, the hum had become celebrative and distinctly a thing of Christmas.
Constraint in the mellowing halo of a Christmas eve supper where holly and a Yule-log blazed and the winter wind frostily rattled the checker-paned windows of the sitting-room in jealous spleen, fled to join the Doctor's rheumatism.
By the time the grandfather's clock struck seven through a haze of holly, the Doctor had pokered the Yule-log into a frenzied shower of gold; apples and nuts were steadily disappearing from a basket by the Doctor's chair and the Doctor himself was relating an original Christmas tale of adventure, born of uncommon inspiration and excitement, to a huddled group with circular eyes and contented stomachs. But Muggs--inimitable workman--his small face partially obscured by the biggest apple in the basket, had not yet spoken, and Jim, the shy, sullen little boy to whom Roger had taken a fancy because he was lame, had met the Doctor's eyes but once, and then with a rush of color.