When the Yule Log Burns: A Christmas Story, by Leona Dalrymple, Part XIII

When the Yule Log Burns

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.

Already there were great Christmas bunches of oats upon glistening trees and fences, but, while Asher was carrying double portions of food to cattle and horses, to Toby, the cat, and Rover, the dog, the Doctor went about, with an eager pack of boys at his heels, distributing further Christmas largess for his feathered friends--suet and crumbs and seed.  For there were chickadees in the clump of red cedars by the barn, and juncos and nuthatches, white-throated sparrows and winter wrens, all so frank in their overtures to the Doctor that the boys with one accord closed threateningly around Muggs to keep him from drumming the birds into flight.  Jim fastened a great chunk of suet to a tree-trunk and very soon a red-breasted nuthatch was busy with his Christmas breakfast.  Altogether Roger's bang-up Christmas began with terrific bustle, with Annie, from whose kitchen already floated odors that set the insatiable Muggs to sniffing, by far the busiest of them all.

The grandfather's clock struck ten.  It found the old farmhouse deserted save for Annie in the kitchen and Aunt Ellen in her rocking chair by the sitting-room window.  The Doctor was guiding his guests to the Deacon's pond.

New skates, new sweaters, and a pond as smooth as glass!  What wonder then that Roger's trembling fingers bungled his straps, and Jim, kneeling, fastened them on with nimble fingers.

"Ain't ye never skated?"

"No--I--I been lame.  Oh, hurry, Jim!  See, Mike's flyin' down the pond like wind!"

Jim's eyes softened.

"I'll teach ye," he said.

As for the Doctor he had disinterred an ancient pair of skates from the attic, and presently he began to perform pedal convolutions of such startling design and eccentricity that the boys gathered about him and cheered until, seating himself unexpectedly in the center of a particularly wide and airy flourish, he flatly told the boys to run about their business.

Now Muggs, though he carried upon his shoulder a ridiculous pair of elfin skates, was much too small a boy, his brother thought, to embark upon the ice, wherefore he stood like a sentinel upon the shore and drummed and ate incessantly, until an orange catapulted from an overcrowded pocket, when he pursued it with a roar.

The peal of the village town-clock striking twelve came all too soon, but homing was no task with a turkey at the end.  Muggs, still wrapped in mysterious silence, knew the very spot where Christmas odors began to permeate the frosty air and redoubled the speed in his drumming arm, but when after a vigorous scrubbing his glistening eye fell upon the holly-bright table and an enormous turkey by the Doctor's plate, only a frosty menace in Mike's eye, it seemed, restrained another blood-curdling shriek of delight.  There was paralyzing apology in his eyes as Mike's lips formed the soundless threat--"Mom Murphy!"

"He's holdin' himself in," said Annie, "Mister Muggs, give me the drum!  Ye'll not crowd into the chair with that upon your shoulder!"

It seemed that Mister Muggs would.  He began to swell.  He began to drum.  He carried his point and crammed himself and his drum into his chair at the table.  He did not speak.  Neither, from that time on, did he permit any lapse in his industry.  What Muggs did, from drum to drum-sticks, he did well.

Muggs ate turkey and mashed turnips.  Muggs ate potatoes, cranberry sauce, boiled onions, and quite a little celery.  He glinted ahead at a pie on the sideboard, seemed to make hurried structural calculations, and pushed his plate again toward the turkey.  Aunt Ellen looked at the Doctor and the Doctor looked at Muggs.

"If the child eats any more," said Annie bluntly from the kitchen door, "he must have a pill.  'Tis enough for him to drum away the peace of the Christmas day without stuffin' himself that hard and round ye fear for his buttons.  An' to my mind, if he'd talk more and eat less, he'd not be in such danger o' burstin'."

Mike looked slightly agitated.

"Muggs," said the Doctor firmly, "it comes to this.  More turkey--one pill.  No turkey--no pill."

Muggs exhibited a capacity for instant decision.  With stubby forefinger rigid, he shoved his plate a little closer to the turkey.


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