Story type: Literature
Mr. Holiday stepped upon the rear platform of his car, the Mishawaka, exactly two seconds before the express, with a series of faint, well-oiled jolts, began to crawl forward and issue from beneath the glass roof of the Grand Central into the damp, pelting snow. Mr. Holiday called the porter and told him for the good of his soul that fifty years ago travelling had not been the easy matter that it was to-day. This off his mind, he pulled an Evening Post from his pocket and dismissed the porter by beginning to read. He still wore his overcoat and high silk hat. These he would not remove until time had proved that the temperature of his car was properly regulated.
He became restless after a while and hurried to the forward compartment of the Mishawaka to see if all his trunks had been put on. He counted them over several times, and each time he came to the black trunk he sniffed and wrinkled up his nose indignantly. The black trunk was filled with the most ridiculous and expensive rubbish that he had ever been called upon to purchase. When his married daughters and his wife had learned, by “prying,” that he was going to New York on business, they had gathered about him with lists as long as his arm, and they had badgered him and pestered him until he had flown into a passion and snatched the lists and thrown them on the floor. But at that the ladies had looked such indignant, heart-broken daggers at him that, very ungraciously, it is true, and with language that made their sensibilities hop like peas in a pan, he had felt obliged to relent. He had gathered up the lists and stuffed them into his pocket, and had turned away with one bitter and awful phrase.
“Waste not, want not!” he had said.
He now glared and sniffed at the black trunk, and called for the porter.
“Do you know what’s in that trunk?” he said in a pettish, indignant voice. “It’s full of Christmas presents for my grandchildren. It’s got crocodiles in it and lions and Billy Possums and music-boxes and dolls and yachts and steam-engines and spiders and monkeys and doll’s furniture and china. It cost me seven hundred and forty-two dollars and nine cents to fill that trunk. Do you know where I wish it was?”
The porter did not know.
“I wish it was in Jericho!” said Mr. Holiday.
He fingered the brass knob of the door that led forward to the regular coaches, turned it presently, and closed it behind him.
His progress through the train resembled that of a mongoose turned loose in new quarters. Nothing escaped his prying scrutiny or love of petty information. If he came to a smoking compartment, he would thrust aside the curtain and peer in. If it contained not more than three persons, he would then enter, seat himself, and proceed to ask them personal questions. It was curious that people so seldom resented being questioned by Mr. Holiday; perhaps his evident sincerity in seeking for information accounted for this; perhaps the fact that he was famous, and that nearly everybody in the country knew him by sight. Perhaps it is impossible for a little gentleman of eighty, very smartly dressed, with a carnation in his buttonhole, to be impertinent. And then he took such immense and childish pleasure in the answers that he got, and sometimes wrote them down in his note-book, with comments, as:
“Got into conversation with a lady with a flat face. She gave me her age as forty-two. I should have said nearer sixty.
“Man of fifty tells me has had wart on nose for twenty-five years; has had it removed by electrolysis twice, but it persists. Tell him that I have never had a wart.”
He asked people their ages, whence they came, where they were going; what they did for a living; if they drank; if they smoked; if their parents were alive; what their beefsteak cost them a pound; what kind of underwear they wore; what church they attended; if they shaved themselves; if married; if single; the number of their children; why they did not have more children; how many trunks they had in the baggage-car; whether they had seen to it that their trunks were put on board, etc. Very young men sometimes gave him joking and sportive answers; but it did not take him long to catch such drifts, and he usually managed to crush their sponsors thoroughly. For he had the great white dignity of years upon his head; and the dignity of two or three hundred million dollars at his back.
During his peregrinations he came to a closed door which tempted him strangely. It was probably the door of a private state-room; it might be the door of a dust closet. He meditated, with his finger upon the knob. “I’ll just open it slowly,” he thought, “and if I make a mistake I’ll say I thought it was a smoking compartment.”
As the door opened a smell of roses came out. Huddled into the seat that rides forward was a beautiful girl, very much dishevelled and weeping bitterly, with her head upon one of those coarse white pillows which the Pullman Company provides. Her roses lay upon the seat opposite. She was so self-centred in her misery that she was not aware that the door had been opened, a head thrust in and withdrawn, and the door closed. But she was sure that a still, small voice had suddenly spoken in her mind, and said: “Brace up.” Presently she stopped crying, as became one who had been made the subject of a manifestation, and began to put her hair in order at the narrow mirror between the two windows. Meanwhile, though Mr. Holiday was making himself scarce, as the saying is, he was consumed with interest to know why the beautiful girl was weeping. And he meant to find out.
But in the meantime another case provoked his interest. A handsome woman of thirty-five occupied Section 7 in Car 6. She was dressed in close-fitting black, with a touch of white at her throat and wrists.
Mr. Holiday had seen her from the extreme end of the car, and by the time he was opposite to where she sat it became necessary for him to have an answer to the questions that had presented themselves about her. Without any awkward preliminaries, he bent over and said:
“I’ve been wondering, ma’am, if you are dressed in black for your father or your husband.”
She looked up, recognized the famous eccentric, and smiled.
“Won’t you sit down, Mr. Holiday?” she said, and made room for him.
“I wear black,” she said, when he had seated himself, “not because I am in mourning for anybody, but because I think it’s becoming to me. You see, I have very light-colored hair.”
“Does all that hair grow on your head?” Mr. Holiday asked, simply and without offence.
“Every bit of it,” she said.
“I have a splendid head of hair, too,” he commented. “But there’s a young man in the car back of this who’ll be twenty-two years of age in February, and he’s got more dandruff than hair. Where are you going?”
“Is that your home?”
“No. I’m a bird of passage.”
“What is your name?”
“I am Miss Hampton,” she said, and she hoped that he might have heard of her. But he hadn’t. And she explained herself. “I’m to play at the Euclid Theatre Christmas night.”
“An actor?” he said.
“Well,” she admitted, “some say so, and some won’t hear of it.”
“How much money do you earn?”
“Two hundred dollars a week.”
Mr. Holiday wrote that in his note-book.
“I’ve got some little nieces and nephews in New York,” she volunteered. “Don’t you think it’s hard to be a genuine aunt and to have to spend Christmas alone in a strange place?”
“Not for two hundred dollars a week,” said Mr. Holiday unsympathetically. “You ought to thank your stars and garters.”
Presently, after patting her on the back with two fingers, he rose, bowed, and passed on down the aisle. On the right, in the end section, was a very old couple, with snow-white hair, and a great deal of old-fashioned luggage. Mr. Holiday greeted them cordially, and asked their ages. The old gentleman was seventy-six and proud of it; the old lady was seventy. Mr. Holiday informed them that he was eighty, but that they were probably the next oldest people on the train. Anyway, he would find out and let them know. They smiled good-naturedly, and the old lady cuddled a little against the old gentleman, for it was cold in that car. Mr. Holiday turned abruptly.
“I forgot to ask you where you are going?” he said.
They told him that they were going to spend Christmas with their daughter and son-in-law and the new baby in Cleveland. It was a long journey. But the season made them feel young and strong. Did Mr. Holiday think there was any danger of being delayed by the snow? It was coming down very fast. They could not remember ever to have been in a sleeping-car when it was snowing so hard outside. Mr. Holiday said that he would ask the conductor about the snow, and let them know.
In the smoking compartment of the next car forward sat a very young man, all alone. He looked at once sulky and frightened. He wasn’t smoking, but was drumming on the window sill with his finger nails. He had a gardenia in his button-hole, and was dressed evidently in his very best suit–a handsome dark gray, over a malaga-grape-colored waistcoat. In his necktie was a diamond horseshoe pin.
“Young man,” said Mr. Holiday, seating himself, “what makes you look so cross?”
The young man started to say, “None of your business,” but perceived in time the eager face and snow-white hair of his questioner, and checked himself.
“Why,” he said tolerantly, “do I look as savage as all that?”
“It isn’t money troubles,” said Mr. Holiday, “or you would have pawned that diamond pin.”
“Wouldn’t you be cross,” said the young man, “if you had to look forward to sitting up all night in a cold smoking compartment?”
“Can’t you get a berth?”
“I had a drawing-room,” said the young man, “but at the last minute I had to give it up to a lady.”
Mr. Holiday’s eyes twinkled with benign interest. He had connected the gardenia in the young man’s coat with the roses of the girl who was weeping.
“I know,” he said, “drawing-room, Car 5. She was crying, but I told her to brace up, and I guess she’s stopped.”
The young man jumped to his feet.
“Oh!” he said.
Mr. Holiday chuckled.
“I was right,” he said. “I’ve been right seven times out of the ten for twenty-five years. I’ve kept a record.”
Upon an impulse the young man checked his headlong inclination to rush to the girl who was weeping.
“If you are right as often as that,” he said, “for God’s sake tell me what to do.”
“Certainly,” said Mr. Holiday, “and it won’t cost you a cent. What’s the matter?”
“She” said the young man with an accent, for there was but the one, “came to the station to see me off. She gave me this.” He touched the gardenia gently. “I gave her some roses. Just as the train started to pull out I dared her to come with me … she came!”
“Tut–tut!” said Mr. Holiday.
“What are we to do?” cried the young man.
“Go back and sit with her,” said Mr. Holiday, “and leave the door wide open. I’m going through the train now to see who’s on board; so don’t worry. Leave it all to me.”
The last car forward before you came to the baggage-car and the express car was a common day coach. It was draughty. It had been used as a smoker in a period not so very remote. A dog must have passed an uncomfortable night in it.
Near the rear door sat a man in a new derby hat and a new black coat. Further forward on the same side three children had stuffed themselves into one seat. The middle child, a well-grown girl of thirteen or fourteen, seemed by her superior height to shelter the little tots at her side. Only the blue imitation sailor caps of these appeared above the top of the seat; and the top of each cap, including that worn by the older girl, had a centrepiece of white about the size of a gentleman’s visiting card. Mr. Holiday promised himself the pleasure of investigating these later. In the meanwhile his interest was excited by the ears of the man in the new derby. They were not large, but they had an appearance of sticking out further than was necessary; and Mr. Holiday was about to ask their owner the reason why, when he noticed for himself that it was because the owner’s hair had been cut so very, very short. Indeed, he had little gray eighth-inch bristles instead of hair. Mr. Holiday wondered why. He seated himself behind the man, and leaned forward. The man stirred uneasily.
“I should think you’d be afraid of catching cold in this draughty car with your hair cut so short,” said Mr. Holiday.
“I am,” said the man tersely.
“Why did you let them cut it so short then?”
“Let them!” grunted the man, with ineffable scorn. “Let them! You’d have let them!”
“I would not,” retorted Mr. Holiday crisply. “My wife cuts my hair for me, just the way I tell her to.”
The man turned a careworn, unhappy face.
“My wife used to cut mine,” he said. “But then I–I got into the habit of having it done for me…. Ever been to Ohio Penitentiary, mister? … That’s the finest tonsorial parlor in America–anything from a shave to the electric treatment.”
“Ohio Penitentiary is a jail for felons,” said Mr. Holiday severely.
“Quite so,” said the man, “as I was telling you.”
His voice had a plaintive, subdued note of defiance in it. It was that of a person who is tired of lying and beating about the bush.
“When did you get out?” asked Mr. Holiday simply.
“Eight days ago,” said the man, “and when I get good and sick of looking for jobs and getting turned down–I guess I’ll go back.”
“First they make you work,” said Mr. Holiday with a pleased chuckle, “and then they won’t let you work. That’s the law. But you take my advice–you fool ’em!”
“I never fooled anybody,” said the man, and he ripped a holy name from the depths of his downheartedness.
Mr. Holiday had extracted his note-book, and under cover of the seat-back was preparing to take notes and make comments.
“What did you use to do for a living–before?” he asked.
“I was teller in a bank.”
“And what happened?”
“Then,” said the man, “the missus had twins, followed by typhoid fever.” His admissions came with hopeless frankness. “And I couldn’t pay for all that luxury. So I stole.”
“What bank were you teller in?”
“The Painsville Bank–Painsville. I’m going to them now to–to see if they won’t let up. The wife says that’s the thing to do–go right to the boil of trouble and prick it.”
“What did your wife do while you were away?” asked Mr. Holiday delicately.
“She did odd jobs, and brought the twins up healthy.”
“I remember the Painsville business,” said Mr. Holiday, “because I own stock in that bank. You only took about two hundred dollars.”
“That was all I needed,” said the man. “It saved the missus and the kids–so what’s the odds?”
“But don’t you intend to pay it back?”
“Not if the world won’t let me earn any money. I tried for jobs all to-day, and yesterday, and the day before. I told my story straight. The missus wrote that was the thing to do. But I guess she’s wrong for once. What would you do if you were a banker and I came to you and said: ‘I’m just out of jail, where I went for stealing; but I mean to be honest. Won’t you give me work?’”
Mr. Holiday wondered what he would do. He was beginning to like the ex-convict’s frankness.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked.
“Everybody knows you by sight, Mr. Holiday.”
“Then you know,” said the little old gentleman, “that I’ve sent plenty of people to jail in my time–plenty of them.”
“I’ve heard that said,” said the man.
“But,” said Mr. Holiday sharply, “nobody ever tells stories about the wrongdoers I have forgiven. Your case never came to me. I believe I would have shown mercy.”
He closed his note-book and rose.
“Keep telling your story straight, my man, and asking for work.”
He paused, as if waiting a reply; but the man only grunted, and he passed forward to the children. First he examined the visiting-card effects on the tops of their hats, and noticed that these were paper labels sewed down, and bearing the names and destinations of the little passengers. Freddie, Alice, and Euphemia Caldwell, reading from left to right, were consigned in the care of the conductor to Silas Caldwell, Painsville, Ohio.
Alice had her arms around Freddie and Euphemia, and her pretty head was bent first to one and then to the other. Mr. Holiday seated himself gently behind the trio, and listened for some time. He learned that “mother” was in the hospital, and “father” had to be with her, and that the children were going to “Uncle Silas” until sent for. And Uncle Silas was a very “grouchy” man, and one must mind one’s P’s and Q’s, and never be naughty, or Uncle Silas would have the law of one. But she, Alice, would take care of them.
“Going to spend Christmas with Uncle, are you?” piped Mr. Holiday suddenly; “that’s right!”
The little tots, very much interested and startled, faced about, but Alice looked like a little reproving angel.
“Oh!” she said, climbing out of the seat, “I must speak with you first,”
Mr. Holiday was actually surprised; but he went aside with the child, where the tots could not hear.
Absolutely without consciousness of doing so, Alice patted and rearranged the old gentleman’s carnation, and talked to him in a gentle, reproving tone.
“I’ve done everything I could,” she said, “to keep the idea of Christmas away from them. They didn’t know when it came until you spoke. But now they know, and I don’t know what I shall do … our uncle,” she explained, “doesn’t celebrate Christmas; he made father understand that before he agreed to take us until mother got well. So father and I agreed we’d keep putting Christmas off until mother was well and we were all together again. But now they’ll want their Christmas–and I can’t give it to them.”
“Well, well,” said Mr. Holiday cheerfully. “I have put my foot in it. And I suppose Freddie and Euphemia will carry on and raise Cain when they find there’s no Santy Claus in Painsville?”
“Don’t you fret, Alice,” said Mr. Holiday. “When I get people in trouble I get ’em out. Your Uncle Silas is a friend of mine–he has to be. I’m going to send him a telegram.” He smiled, and chucked her under the chin. “I’m not much on Christmas myself,” he said, “but an obligation’s an obligation.” He shook hands with her, nodded in a friendly way to the ex-convict, and passed out of the car on his return journey, consulting his note-book as he went.
First he revisited the old couple, and told them that next to himself they were in fact the oldest persons on the train, and that they need not worry about the snow because he had asked the conductor about it, and the conductor had said that it was all right. Then he started to revisit Miss Hampton, but was turned from his purpose by a new face in the car. The new face rose, thin and white, on a long thin neck from a clerical collar, and its owner was busy with a pad and a pencil.
“Writing a sermon?” asked Mr. Holiday.
The clergyman looked up and smiled.
“No, sir,” he said. “I’m doing a sum in addition, and making heavy work of it.”
“I’ll do it for you,” said Mr. Holiday eagerly. He was a lightning adder, and not in the least averse to showing off. The clergyman, still smiling, yielded up the pad.
“I’m trying to make it come to two thousand dollars,” he said, “and I can’t.”
“That’s because,” said Mr. Holiday, returning the pad after one swift glance up and down the columns, “it only comes to thirteen hundred and twenty-five dollars. You had the answer correct.”
“It’s for repairs to the church,” said the clergyman dismally. “The contractor calls for two thousand; and I’m just about ready to give up.”
“Well,” said Mr. Holiday, “I’m going to get my dinner now, and maybe later I can give you some idea how to raise the balance. I’ve raised a good deal of money in my time.” He chuckled.
“I know that, Mr. Holiday,” said the clergyman, “and I should be glad of any–suggestion that you might care to make.”
Mr. Holiday seated himself facing Miss Hampton. She smiled, and nodded, and laid aside the book she had been reading. Mr. Holiday’s eyes twinkled.
“I’m going to turn you out of this section,” he said.
“Why?” She smiled.
“Because there’s a young friend of mine wants it,” he said.
“Now, really!” said Miss Hampton, still smiling.
“You’re going to carry your duds to the drawing-room, Car 5,” he said. Then, the twinkle in his eyes becoming exceedingly gossipy and sportive, he told her about the young people who had eloped without exactly meaning to. Miss Hampton was delighted.
She and Mr. Holiday hurried to the drawing-room in Car 5, of which the door had been left wide open, according to Mr. Holiday’s orders. The young people looked very happy and unhappy all at once, and as soon as Mr. Holiday had begun to state their situation to them without mincing, they assumed a tremendous pair of blushes, which they were not able to efface for a long time.
“And now,” he finished, glaring at the uncomfortable young man, “you bring your duds and put them in Miss Hampton’s section. And then you gather up Miss Hampton’s duds and bring ’em in here.” And he turned and shook his finger at the girl. “Mind you,” he said, “don’t you ever run away again without a chaperon. They don’t grow on every bush.”
Somehow, Mr. Holiday had overlooked the other drawing-room (B) in Car 5. Now he came suddenly upon it, and peered in, for the door was ajar. But he drew back with a sharp jerk as if he had seen a rattlesnake. All the kindness went out of the old gentleman’s face, and between anger and hatred he turned white.
“Jolyff!” he muttered. And, all the elasticity gone from his gait, he stumbled back to his own car, revolving and muttering unchristian thoughts. For he and Jolyff had been meeting all their lives, it seemed, in court and out; sometimes with the right on one side, sometimes on the other. Each had cost the other a thousand wicked threats and a mint of money.
Mr. Holiday’s wanderings through the train had aroused all the kindlier feelings in his nature. He was going home to his wife and family: expensive and foolish as it seemed, he had the trunk full of toys for the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren, and he was glad of it. He had put things right for two prepossessing young people who had made a wrong start; he had been gallant to an actress; he had determined to help the clergyman out with his repair fund; to find work for a convict, and to see to it that three children should have a pleasant visit with an uncle who was really crotchety, disagreeable, and mean.
But now he did not care about pleasant things any more. He could think of nothing but Jolyff; of nothing but old sores that rankled; of great deals that had gone wrong, through his enemy. And in that spirit he picked at his Christmas Eve dinner, and went to bed.
It seemed to Mr. Holiday every time he woke, which was often, that the train had just started to move, after standing still for a long time, and that the porter had never before allowed his car to grow so cold. He turned the current into the reading light at the head of his bed and consulted his watch.
Two o’clock. He got to wondering at exactly what hour all those hundreds of years ago Christ had been born. Had it been as cold as this in the old barn? Whew!
No, Bethlehem was in the semi-tropics or thereabout, but the common car in which the three children were passing the night was not. This thought came to Mr. Holiday without invitation, and, like all unwelcome guests, made a long stay. So persistent, indeed, was the thought, meeting his mind at every turn and dogging its footsteps, that he forgot all about Jolyff and all about everything else. Finally he rang for the porter, but had no answer. He rang again and again. Then the train jolted slowly to a standstill, and Mr. Holiday got up and dressed, and went forward once more through the narrow aisles of thick curtains to the common car. But the passengers in that car had amalgamated. Alice and the convict, blue with cold, were in the same seat, and Alice was hugging Freddie, who slept fitfully, to her breast, and the convict was hugging Euphemia, who cried gently and softly like a cold and hungry kitten, to his. The convict had taken off his overcoat and wrapped it as well as he could about all the children.
Mr. Holiday tapped the convict on the shoulder. “Merry Christmas!” he said cynically. The convict started and turned. “Bring these babies back to my car,” said Mr. Holiday, “and help me put ’em to bed.” “That’s a good deed, Mr. Holiday,” said the convict. He started to put on his overcoat. The undressing and putting to bed had not waked Freddie.
Euphemia had stopped crying. And Alice, when the two men had helped her with her dress, which buttoned down the back, had suddenly flung her arms first around one and then around the other, and given each a kiss good night.
The convict buttoned his coat and turned up his collar.
“Good-night, sir,” he said, “and thank you.”
Mr. Holiday waved the thanks aside and pointed to a door of shining mahogany.
“There’s a bed for you, too,” he said gently.
The convict hesitated.
Then–it may have been owing to the sudden starting of the train–he lurched against the door, and with a sound that was mighty like a sob thrust it open and slammed it shut behind him.
Mr. Holiday smiled and went back to his own bed. This time he slept soundly.
At seven o’clock the porter called him, according to orders. The train was standing still.
“Merry Christmas, Mistah Holiday, sah!” grinned the porter. “Seven o’clock, sah!”
“Merry Christmas,” said Mr. Holiday. “Why are we stopping?”
“We’s snowed in,” grinned the porter.
“Snowed in!” exclaimed Mr. Holiday. “Where?”
“‘Tween Albany and Buffalo, sah. Dey ain’t any name to de place. Dey ain’t any place.”
“There are three children,” said Mr. Holiday, “in the stateroom next to this and a gentleman in the other stateroom. You call ’em in about an hour and ask ’em what they’ll take for breakfast. Bring me some coffee, and ask the conductor how late we’re going to be.”
With his coffee Mr. Holiday learned that the train might be twenty-four hours late in getting to Cleveland. The conductor supposed that ploughs were at work along the track; but the blizzard was still raging.
That he would be separated from his wife on Christmas Day for the first time in their married life did not amuse Mr. Holiday; and although too much of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren bored him to extinction, still he felt that any festive day on which they were not all with him was a festive day gone very wrong indeed. But it was not as a sop to his own feelings of disappointment that he decided to celebrate Christmas in the train. It was a mixture of good-nature and, I am afraid, of malice. He said to himself:
“I shall invite all the passengers to one-o’clock dinner and a Christmas tree afterward with games and punch. I shall invite the conductor and the brakeman; the porters shall come to serve dinner. I shall invite the engineer and the fireman and the express-man. I shall invite everybody except Jolyff.”
The old gentleman sucked in his lips tightly and dwelt upon this thought with satisfaction. Jolyff loved a party; Jolyff loved to drink healths, and clap people on the back, and make little speeches, and exert himself generally to amuse less gifted persons and make them feel at home. And it was pleasant to think of him as sitting alone while a fine celebration was banging and roaring in the very next car–a celebration to which even an ex-convict had been invited.
First, Mr. Holiday summoned Miss Hampton and the girl who had run away to be his aides-de-camp. They decided that the party was really for the benefit of Freddie, Alice, and Euphemia, so these were packed off at once to the common car to be as far as possible from the scene of preparations. Then, with Mr. Holiday’s porter, and his cook, and the ex-convict as men of all work, commenced the task of ordering the car for a crowd and decorating it, and improvising a Christmas tree. Miss Hampton set to work with a wooden bucket, sugar, rum, brandy, eggs, milk, and heaven knows what not, to brew a punch. Every now and then Mr. Holiday appeared, to see how she was getting on, and to taste the concoction, and to pay her pretty, old-fashioned compliments. The girl who had run away was helping the porter to lay the table and trying to write invitations to the passengers at the same time, Mr. Holiday having furnished her from his note-book with all of their names. Now and then there were hurried consultations as to what would be a suitable gift for a given person. The “next oldest” people in the train were to receive a pair of the silver candlesticks from the table. The train hands were to receive money, and suddenly Mr. Holiday discovered that he had only a few dollars in cash with him. He sought out the clergyman.
“Merry Christmas!” he said.
“Merry Christmas!” said the clergyman.
“Have you,” said Mr. Holiday, “any of your rebuilding fund with you?”
“Why, yes,” said the clergyman, smiling, “some two hundred dollars, and I cannot deny that it is agony to me to carry about so large a sum.”
Mr. Holiday simply held out his hand, palm up.
“Why–what–” began the clergyman in embarrassment.
“I will give you my check for that sum,” said Mr. Holiday, “and something over for your fund. I hope you will dine with me, in my car, at one o’clock.”
He hurried away with the two hundred dollars. It was his intention to sample Miss Hampton’s punch again; but he turned from this on a sudden impulse and sought out the young man who had been run away with. With this attractive person he talked very earnestly for half an hour, and asked him an infinite number of questions; just the kind of questions that he had asked the young men who had aspired to the hands of his own daughters. And these must have been satisfactorily answered, because at the end of the interview Mr. Holiday patted the young man on the back and said that he would see him later.
Next he came face to face with Mr. Jolyff, and the two old gentlemen stared at each other coldly, but without any sign of recognition. Once–ever so many years ago–they had been intimate friends. Mr. Holiday had never had any other friend of whom he had been so fond. He tried now to recall what their first difference had been, and because he could not he thought he must be growing infirm. And he began to think of his approaching party with less pleasure. He had let himself in for a good deal of bother, he thought.
But this time Miss Hampton made him take a whole teaspoonful of punch, and told him what a dear he was, and what a good time everybody was going to have, and that she would do anything in the world for him; she would even recite “The Night Before Christmas” for his company, if he asked her. And then they did a great deal of whispering, and finally Mr. Holiday said:
“But suppose they balk?”
“Nonsense,” said Miss Hampton; “would you and I balk if we were in their places?”
The pretty actress and the old gentleman laughed and bowed to each other, and exchanged the most arch looks imaginable. And then Miss Hampton exclaimed:
“Good Lord–it’s twelve-thirty.”
Then there came to them a sudden dreadful smell of burning feathers. They dashed into the observation end of the car and found the ex-convict smothering an incipient conflagration of the Christmas tree, which was made of dusters, with his hands.
The girl who had run away was despatching the porter with the last batch of invitations. The ex-convict showed them his burned hands.
“You go and feel the champagne,” said Mr. Holiday, “that’ll cool’em.”
Mr. Holiday himself went to fetch the children. In his pockets were the envelopes containing money for the train hands, the envelope containing a check for the two hundred dollars that he had borrowed from the clergyman, and enough over to complete the rebuilding fund which the clergyman had tried so hard to collect. And there was an envelope for the ex-convict–not with money in it, but with an I.O.U.
“I.O.U. A Good Job,” Mr. Holiday had written on a card and signed his name. And he had taken out of his satchel and transferred to his waistcoat pocket a pair of wonderful black pearls that he sometimes wore at important dinners. And he was going to give one of these to Miss Hampton and one to the girl who had run away. And then there were all the wonderful toys and things for Alice, and Freddie, and Euphemia, and he was going to present them with the black trunk, too, so that they could take their gifts off the train when it eventually got to Painsville. And Mr. Holiday had thought of everybody, and had prepared a little speech to speak to his guests; and for two of his guests he had arranged one of the greatest surprises that can be sprung on two guests; and he ought to have been perfectly happy. But he wasn’t.
When he passed the door of Mr. Jolyff’s drawing-room he noted that it was tightly closed. And it ought to have pleased him to see how his enemy had taken his exclusion from the party to heart, and had shut himself away from any sign or sound of it. But, although he smiled cynically, he wasn’t altogether pleased. And presently he made a wry mouth, as if he were taking something unpleasant; and he began to hustle Freddie and Euphemia so as to get away from that closed door as quickly as possible.
The girl who had run away was talking with Mr. Holiday when suddenly she began to grow conscious and uncomfortable. She gave one swift look about her, and saw that all the passengers, and all the train hands, and porters, and the express-man were looking at her and smiling, and she saw that they had ranged themselves against the sides of the car and were making themselves as small as possible. Then she saw the young man looking at her with a wonderful, nervous, radiant look. And then she saw that the clergyman was standing all by himself, in a space that the crowd had just managed to leave open for him, and that he had on his surplice, and that he was marking a place in his prayer-book with one finger. Then she understood.
Instinctively she caught Mr. Holiday’s arm and clung to it, and Mr. Holiday, smiling, patted her hand and began to draw her gently toward the young man and the clergyman. It looked for a moment as if she were going to hang back, and protest, and make a scene. But just when everybody was beginning to fear the worst, and to look frightfully nervous and uncomfortable, a wonderful and beautiful expression came into her face, and her eyes lighted, and seemed to grow larger and darker all at the same time. And if there were any present who had regarded the impromptu wedding as something of a joke, these now had their minds changed for them in the quickest kind of a jiffy. And if there were any present who doubted of the beauty and dignity of love, these had their minds changed for them, too. And they knew that they were witnesses, not to a silly elopement, but to the great occasion in the lives of two very young people who were absolutely sure of their love for each other, and who would cherish each other in sickness and peril, in good times and bad, in merry times and in heart-breaking times, until death did them part.
And then suddenly, just when the clergyman was about to begin, just when Miss Hampton had succeeded in righting herself from smothering a sob, Mr. Holiday, whose face, had you but noticed it, had been growing longer and longer, and drearier and drearier, gave a half-strangled cry:
Wholly oblivious to everything and everybody but what was in his mind at the moment, he dropped the bride’s hand as if it had been a red-hot horseshoe and started to bolt from the car. But, strangely enough, the old face that had grown so long and dreary was now wreathed in smiles, and he was heard to mutter as he went:
“Just a minute, while I get Jolyff!”
* * * * *
Mr. Jolyff and Mr. Holiday lifted their glasses. And Mr. Holiday said, so that all could hear:
“I drink to my old friends and to my new friends. And I drink to the lesson of Christmas. For Christmas,” said he, and he smiled in a wonderful way, “teaches us that in all the world there is absolutely nothing that we cannot forgive….”
The two very old gentlemen clinked their glasses together, and, looking each other affectionately in the eyes, might have been heard to mutter, somewhat brokenly, each the other’s Christian name.