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

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.

"And, Ellen," finished the Doctor, soberly, "there he sits by the window, day by day, poor lame little lad!--staring away so wistfully at the forest, and Madge, bless her brave young heart!--she bastes and stitches and sews away, all the while weaving him wonderful yarns about the pines and cedars to amuse him--all out of her pretty head, mind you!  A lame brother and a passion for books--" said the Doctor, shaking his head, "a poor inheritance for the lass.  They worry me a lot, Ellen, for Madge looks thin and tired, and to-day--" the Doctor cleared his throat, "I think she had been crying."

"Crying!" exclaimed Aunt Ellen, her kindly brown eyes warm with sympathy.  "Dear, dear!--And Christmas only three days off!  Why, John, dear, we must have them over here for Christmas.  To be sure!  And we'll have a tree for little Roger and a Christmas masquerade and such a wonderful Christmas altogether as he's never known before!"  And Aunt Ellen, with the all-embracing motherhood of her gentle heart aroused, fell to planning a Christmas for Madge and Roger Hildreth that would have gladdened the heart of the Christmas saint himself.

Face aglow, the old Doctor bent and patted his wife's wrinkled hand.

"Why, Ellen," he confessed, warmly, "it's the thing I most desired!  Dear me, it's a very strange thing indeed, my dear, how often we seem to agree.  I'll hitch old Billy to the sleigh and go straight after them now while Annie's getting supper!"  And at that instant one glance at Aunt Ellen Leslie's fine old face, framed in the winter firelight which grew brighter as the checkerboard window beside her slowly purpled, would have revealed to the veriest tyro why the Doctor's patients liked best to call her "Aunt" Ellen.

So, with a violent jingle of sleigh-bells, the Doctor presently shot forth again into the white and quiet world, and as he went, gliding swiftly past the ghostly spruces by the roadside, oddly enough, despite his cheerful justification to Aunt Ellen, he was fiercely rebelling at the defection of his children.  John and his lovely wife might well have foregone their fashionable ball.  And Howard and Philip--their holiday-keeping Metropolitan clubs were shallow artificialities surely compared with a home-keeping reunion about the Yule log.  As for the children of Anne and Ellen and Margaret--well, the Doctor could just tell those daughters of his that their precious youngsters liked a country Christmas best--he knew they did!--not the complex, steam-heated hot-house off-shoot of that rugged flower of simpler times when homes were further apart, but a country Christmas of keen, crisp cold and merry sleigh-bells, of rosy cheeks and snow-balls, of skating on the Deacon's pond and a jubilant hour after around the blazing wood-fire: a Christmas, in short, such as the old Doctor himself knew and loved, of simplicity and sympathy and home-keeping heartiness!

And then--there was Ralph--but here the Doctor's face grew very stern.  Wild tales came to him at times of this youngest and most gifted of his children--tales of intemperate living interlarded with occasional tales of brilliant surgical achievement on the staff of St. Michael's.  For the old Doctor had guided the steps of his youngest son to the paths of medicine with a great hope, long abandoned.

Ah--well!  The Doctor sighed, abruptly turning his thoughts to Madge and Roger.  They at least should know the heart-glow of a real Christmas!  A masquerade party of his neighbors Christmas eve, perhaps, such as Aunt Ellen had suggested, and a Yule-log--but now it was, in the midst of his Christmas plans, that a daring notion flashed temptingly through the Doctor's head, was banished with a shrug and flashed again, whereupon with his splendid capacity for prompt decision, the Doctor suddenly wheeled old Billy about and went sleighing in considerable excitement into the village whence a host of night-telegrams went singing over the busy wires to startle eventually a slumbering conscience or so.  And presently when the Doctor drew up with a flourish before the lonely little house among the forest pines, his earlier depression had vanished.

So with a prodigious stamping of snow from his feet and a cheerful wave of his mittened hand to the boy by the window, the Doctor bustled cheerily indoors and with kindly eyes averted from the single tell-tale sauce-pan upon the fire, over which Madge Hildreth had bent with sudden color, fell to bustling about with a queer lump in his throat and talking ambiguously of Aunt Ellen's Christmas orders, painfully conscious that the girl's dark face had grown pitifully white and tense and that Roger's wan little face was glowing.  And when the fire was damped by the Doctor himself, and his Christmas guests hustled into dazed, protesting readiness, the Doctor deftly muffled the thin little fellow in blankets and gently carried him out to the waiting sleigh with arms that were splendid and sturdy and wonderfully reassuring.


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