From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1933 –
Leonora’s Christmas Visit
By Lella Marler Hoggan
Billy’s enthusiasm bubbled over in shrieks of happy laughter as Daddy lifted Mama in his strong arms that she might pin the shining star on the very tip of the Christmas tree.
“Don’t you let me fall, Papa Gordon,” warned Mildred, as she reached out cautiously to fasten the star in place.
“You’re perfectly safe,” assured John, chuckling softly. “My arms are more secure than that wobbly ladder.”
“There,” and Mama gave a little sigh of relief as her feet touched the carpet again.
“Now, Mama, draw down the blinds. Here, Billy.”
The child’s face was a picture of awed surprise as his little hand touched the magic button that illuminated the beautiful tree. Soft lights shed their colored radiance across the clustered green needles, the sparkling tinsel, and the bright ornaments. The Christmas star fairly scintillated.
But the solemn moment was interrupted by the burr-r-r of the doorbell. As Daddy hurried to answer the ring, Mother raised the window shades and the spell was broken.
This Christmas was the most outstanding event in little four-year-old Billy’s life. He stood and gazed at the tree rapturously. Then suddenly remembering, he exclaimed,
“Oh, Mama, where shall we hang the stockings?”
“Right here by the mantel, see. Daddy has the hooks all ready.”
He clapped his little hands for joy.
“Sister will sure be glad when she wakes up and sees this pretty tree. Shall I wake her now?”
“No, let her sleep. You and I have many things to do yet.”
Mildred’s face clouded with anxiety as she noticed the telegram in John’s hand. But his beaming countenance allayed her fears.
“Well, well,” he smiled. “We’re going to have company for Christmas, Mildred. Leonora Willis, an old friend of mine, wires that she is coming to spend a few days with us.”
“That will be lovely,” acknowledged Mildred. and John was so occupied with his own recollections that he did not notice the lack of enthusiasm in her voice.
“Well, well!” he repeated. “I haven’t seen Leonora for years. We used to go to school together. In fact, she was a sweetheart of mine. It will bring back many pleasant memories to meet Leonora again.”
Billy caught his father’s hand joyously. “Shall we hang the stockings now, Daddy?”
“No, Son, not until Christmas eve. Mama will see about that.” John’s enthusiasm for the tree and for Billy’s plans seemed to have suddenly waned.
“When is she coming?” asked Mildred.
“Let’s see, today is Friday. She will arrive sometime tomorrow. “Christmas comes on Monday, so she will not leave before Tuesday.”
“Aren’t you going to meet her?”
“She doesn’t say what time she will get here. Oh, you can’t tell a thing about Leonora’s plans. She may come dashing in here before breakfast in the morning; and again, she may call me up at 11 p.m. to come down to the station and get her. All I can tell you is that when she arrives, she will be here.”
John laughed. Then looking at his watch, he suddenly remembered that he had an appointment in an hour. So Mildred hurriedly prepared lunch. John jubilantly related many incidents of his school days, in which Leonora had a prominent place.
Baby Ruth awakened in time to get her good-bye kiss along with Mama and Billy. And then Daddy was gone.
“Home at the regular time, Mama,” he called as he waved happily to the two children.
After the lunch dishes were cleared away Mildred went to look over her guest room. It had not been used for weeks. It had been cleaned along with the other rooms. But the bedding would have to be aired and fresh linen would be needed. She viewed the bedspread disconsolately. It was frayed at the ends. And the curtains did not look very crisp. She decided that both should be laundered. She really should have a new spread. She would have to make a trip to town. There were a number of last minute purchases to be made, anyway.
Then, too, she would have to do some extra baking, if she was going to have a guest tomorrow. She wondered what sort of guest Leonora would be. Not that it mattered, only, she wondered.
It was sufficient to know that Leonora was an old sweetheart of John’s. Nothing must be left undone that would add to her comfort and happiness while she was a guest in John’s home.
The stores were so crowded with Christmas shoppers that it would take some time to make her purchases. Perhaps she could get her neighbor to come in and take care of the children. Aunt Polly, as they called her, had been a friend of John’s for years. She had known him before he became a college teacher. In fact, she had lived in the little town where John was born, and had known and loved his mother. Possibly she had known Leonora Willis, too. Yes, Mildred decided, she would get Aunt Polly to come over and keep the children. The stores would not be so crowded early in the morning. That would be the best time to go. So she laundered her curtains and spread and other pieces of linen. She aired the bedding and washed the windows, and did some baking.
When her guest room was finished it looked very pretty, all except the frayed spread. It would never do. She would have to have a new one. But when she counted her money, she was afraid she would not have enough for the purchase.
While dusting the living room, she discovered that her Christmas present for her mother had not been mailed. It was wrapped and addressed. But in his excitement about the telegram, John had forgotten to take the parcel. The sight of it, now, added another obligation to her already over taxed pocket-book.
How could she have forgotten it? She must have a Christmas present for Leonora Willis. But what?
Over and over again, she figured the necessary purchases. The meagre amount refused to be spun out sufficiently to cover her needs. True, there was the money she had saved so carefully to make the last payment on the beautiful set of books for John. She remembered the numberless little sacrifices she had made in order to get the gift. No, she could not use that money. And she was determined that John should not know of her needs.
And then, happy thought, she saw her way out. She would give Leonora the beautiful piece of handwork she had made for her mother. She could make her mother another piece. And mothers always understand. It was providential, after all, that John had forgotten to mail the parcel. She would write her mother a lovely letter.
“Are you going to have Aunt Polly over for Christmas?” John asked at dinner that evening.
“Of course,” smiled Mildred, “it would scarcely be Christmas without Aunt Polly.”
“I was thinking,” remarked John, “she will enjoy seeing Leonora again.”
“Oh, so she knows Leonora?”
“Yes, even better than she knows me,” chuckled John.
“What sort of girl is your friend, John?” asked Mildred, abruptly. “Is she light or dark? is she tall or plump?”
“Leonora? Oh, she’s rather tall and slender, and light, very light complexioned. She has blue eyes, and well, I can’t tell you much about her. She’s just Leonora. You’ll understand when you see her.”
That night Mildred was very painstaking in her preparations for bed. Her cheeks became rose pink as she massaged the cream into her clear soft skin. She brushed her glossy brown hair until it clustered about her face in shining waves.
“Leonora Willis, a sweetheart. And I didn’t even know John had an old sweetheart. I might have known, though. A man like John would, of course, have more than one sweetheart.”
Aunt Polly was glad to keep the children.
“I’ll stir you up a batch of pies while I’m here, Mildred,” she announced. “I can’t sit around doin’ nothing. Ruth will likely sleep till you get back, and Billy can stay right in here where it’s warm, and help me.”
“I’ll not be gone long,” promised Mildred. “But there are a few things I have to attend to. You see John’s old friend, Leonora Willis, is coming for Christmas. She’ll be here today.”
“Lennie Willis comin’ for Christmas? My stars, I’ll be glad to see Lennie again. What time’ll she get here?”
“She didn’t say. She just wired saying she was coming today.”
“Yes, that’s Lennie. Most likely she don’t know herself what train she’ll take ‘till she gets to the depot. Lennie never knows what she’s goin’ to do ‘till she does it. Why, land sakes, Dave Miller’s been ready to marry Lennie a dozen times. But by the time he’s ready she’s generally miles away, plannin’ on something more romantic.”
“I wish you’d come in and see my room,” invited Mildred. “How do you like it?”
“Why, Mildred, it’s beautiful,” said Aunt Polly frankly. “The pink in your curtains just matches that pretty embroidery on your pillow cases and these other pieces of linen.”
“I really should have a new spread,” said Mildred, wistfully. “Perhaps I can find one this morning.”
“Why, child alive, why don’t you use that white quilt of John’s? The one that his mother made with the pink roses on it.”
“Oh, you dear heart, I never once thought of that quilt.” Mildred brought it from her large chest and spread it carefully over the bed. Then she fluffed up the pillows and put them in place.
“It’s a dream,” she exulted. “Now all I need is a bowl of pink flowers on that table to make the room look just right.”
“It’s as pretty as a picture. But Mildred, you’re goin’ to too much work for Lennie. I’m afraid she’ll not appreciate it. You see, mostly, Lennie’s worryin’ about makin’ herself comfortable, and wonderin’ if her paint’s on straight or if her nose needs another little dab of powder.”
“Yes, but she’s one of John’s old friends, you know, and I must have things nice for her.”
“You couldn’t have them much nicer, my dear. You’re always thinkin’ of someone else. I never saw such a girl. Now Lennie would worry more over a runner in her silk stockin’ than she would over a famine in India.”
Mildred reached home from town in time to cook a somewhat elaborate dinner, which she served at noon. The table was laid in the dining room with her best silver and linen.
John made a great many trips to the front door under the pretext, as Mildred thought, of watching for the mail. The mail man finally arrived but Leonora did not appear. John did not try to hide his disappointment.
By three o’clock he had gone back to town to attend a meeting.
Mildred looked into her guest room with satisfaction. Streaks of sunshine lay across the dainty white bed. On the table was a bowl of the pinkest half-blown rose buds intertwined with lacy green ferns.
“It is worth it,” sighed Mildred, remembering that the roses had been purchased at the sacrifice of the darlingest red-robed Santa Claus. It was the one she had planned for days to place on the mantle just above Billy’s stocking.
But Mildred had the happy faculty of adjusting her emotions to any emergency.
Ruth and Billy were sleeping quietly, so she decided it was a good time to write her letter to her mother. Assembling her materials, she had scarcely begun when the doorbell burred loud and long. She hurried to the door to be confronted by a carefully gowned young woman, a perfect blonde, whom she recognized at once as Leonora.
“I’m sure you’re Miss Willis, aren’t you?” she greeted. “Come right in. I’m very glad to see you.”
“And you?” questioned Leonora. “Are you John’s wife?”
“Of course I am,” laughed Mildred.
“But I was always under the impression that John married a blonde. I can’t make it seem natural that you’re John’s wife.”
“You look exactly as I thought you would,” smiled Mildred. “Let me take your wraps, and sit over here where it’s warm. I’m sure you must be chilly – that wind is so crisp.”
“I’m half frozen,” admitted Leonora. “I wasn’t sure about your address so I walked up from the station and carried my bag.”
“You dear girl,” sympathized Mildred. “Had we only known when you would arrive we certainly should have met you.”
“Well, I’m here, thank goodness. But I’ll have to trouble you for a sandwich. I forgot to take a lunch, and number eight is a through train with no diner, so you may know I’m ravenous.”
“Well, you shall certainly have something to eat at once.”
“I’ll just sit in the kitchen while you fix it,” volunteered Leonora. “Don’t bother with any frills whatever.”
So Leonora sat at the little kitchen table spread with a simple lunch cloth, for her belated meal. But what the table lacked in artistic decoration was made up by Mildred’s thoughtful lovely service. And before Leonora finished, her sandwich had stretched itself to a three course, hot dinner.
“This pie is wonderful,” she effused. “Just like Grandmother used to make at Christmas. Do you make your own mince meat?”
“Yes. John made the mincemeat last Saturday while he was out of school. And Aunt Polly Tucker made the pies this morning while I was in town.”
“Aunt Polly Tucker? Not the Aunt Polly from our home town, is it?
“The same. I’m sure there could be no duplicate of Aunt Polly.”
“They don’t grow in pairs,” laughed Leonora, using Aunt Polly’s own idiom. “I’m going to call her up right now.”
And Aunt Polly was at the door, calling out her sunny greeting before Leonora had scarcely finished her dessert.
“Lennie, you don’t grow a day older, do you?” queried she.
“No, Aunt Polly, I quit having birthdays years ago,” laughed Leonora.
“So did I, Lennie, and I never miss ‘em. But tell me, girl, how’s all the folks? What’s goin’ on at home, anyway?”
“Just rolling along, Aunt Polly. Not a ripple of anything unusual.”
“You’re not married, I guess.”
“No, not yet.”
“How’s the Barton twins and Sally Davis? And what’s become of old man Dougan? Have they finished the Church yet? Why girl, they’s a hundred things I want to know.”
And so the old time reminiscences ran on.
Billy awakened and showed Miss Willis the Christmas tree and the place for his and Sister’s stockings. Leonora, strictly against family rule, rocked Ruth to sleep before she had eaten her evening meal, and gave Billy a generous piece of mince pie.
After Aunt Polly left, Leonora cleaned her shoes and pressed her suit.
“I wonder if you’d mind catching up that little snag in my skirt, Mildred,” she asked, as casually as if she had known Mildred for years. “I’m so awkward with a needle.”
“And I guess I’ll have to trouble you for some tissue paper and a ball of cord. I have a few Christmas presents I want to wrap. Billy can help me.”
“You bring the scissors, Billy dear, and I’ll let you put on the Christmas seals.”
Mildred was glad to darn the tiny tear in the beautiful skirt, and to find the needed articles for Leonora. Later, too, she put away the ironing board and the shoe brushes and cleaned up the scraps of paper and string.
So that altogether, by the time John came, the perfect blonde had ceased to be an awesome guest and had established herself on good fellowship terms with Mildred, and made a willing, happy bond slave of little Billy.
Leonora greeted John with a kiss, and all unmindful of his blushing, self-conscious manner, laughingly narrated her adventure of arriving cold and empty, and carrying her bag from the station.
“Next time you’ll remember to tell me what train you’re taking,” bantered John, “so I can meet you with the car.”
In the midst of the greetings there was a call to the door, and Mildred hurried out to learn that a delivery boy had come with the set of books – John’s Christmas present. He gave her a receipt for that last precious payment and deposited the box in the basement.
“What a narrow escape,” breathed Mildred. “After all these weeks of stealthily guarding the secret, it would have been disastrous had John answered the door.”
Lest John might ask some question about the delivery, she announced carelessly, “That turkey is a beauty, John, I’m sure. I thank you for attending that for me.”
“Glad it suited,” acknowledged John. “I told Harry to be sure it was young and fat.”
“It looks to be both,” informed Mildred.
A half hour later she surveyed the ice box anxiously, wondering by what dietetic magic she could convert her leftovers into a semblance of a formal, balanced, attractive dinner. Leonora relieved the situation, however, by calling from the dining room, “Don’t attempt to serve a hot meal tonight, Mildred. John and I are going downtown. I have to do a little shopping and we may decide to go to a show. I wouldn’t dare eat again so soon, or I couldn’t sleep. And I know John will be satisfied with a lunch so we can be going right away.”
John graciously consented to her plans and they were soon ready. “We’ll not be late,” he promised, kissing Mildred and Billy goodnight. “Sorry you’re not going, too.
After tenderly tucking Billy in for the night, Mildred went back to the interrupted letter to her mother. After it was finished she remembered that she must unwrap her mother’s parcel and exchange the greeting card for one bearing Leonora’s name.
She went to John’s desk to get the parcel, but it was gone. She could not locate it anywhere. John must have taken it with him to mail it. Now she was in a dilemma. She could have cried from sheer vexation. She felt that bad luck had been winging itself in her wake all day.
She waited up for John and Leonora. It was nearly midnight when they came. She cut her Christmas cake and wanted to serve them a hot drink, but they would not taste the cake nor drink anything warm.
“We had a light lunch at the café after the show,” announced Leonora. Mildred had to confess to herself that she did not like the high handed way in which her guest was upsetting the household arrangements. It was altogether too Bohemian.
Sunday morning Leonora arose early. She came into the kitchen where Mildred was preparing breakfast.
“By the way, Mildred,” she drawled, easily, “I’ve changed my plans about Christmas. I’ve decided to leave this afternoon.”
And before Mildred could remonstrate, she turned to John and asked, “Can’t you take me down to Cousin Laura’s place this morning?” John was preparing to attend an important church meeting, but his sense of hospitality demanded that he should carry out her desires.
“What time can you be back, Leonora?” he asked.
“I seldom tie myself with promises,” she announced, “but I think, perhaps, we could be back about three.”
Mildred gave her approval, laughing bravely to hide her disappointment. When they were ready to leave, Leonora kissed Billy good-bye and waved blithely to Mildred.
Mildred came back to the disordered rooms somewhat reluctantly. This was a real adventure, to stand passively by and watch your husband’s old sweetheart walk out into the morning sunshine beside him, and imperiously put to naught your most careful plans. But it must be met graciously.
It was now only ten o’clock. By hurrying a little, she could put her rooms in order, care for the babies, and have the Christmas dinner – turkey, fruit pudding, and all – ready to serve by three o’clock. It was the magnanimous thing to do. And she was determined to give the full measure of her gracious hospitality to John’s old sweetheart.
She decided to use her new steam cooker for the preparation of her dinner. Accordingly, the young, plump turkey was stuffed and trussed and fastened by the legs to the top part of the steamer. The fruit pudding was in a covered receptacle in another compartment of the same steamer. After carefully watching her dinner for some time to make sure that everything was just right, she finally closed the cooker and with calm assurance began to put the rooms in order. There were numberless tasks to be done in order to have everything immaculate by three o’clock. And her thoughts were preoccupied.
She had finished the rooms and had come in to prepare the vegetables, when she suddenly realized that she had not looked to the fowl for some time. Hurrying to the stove, she opened the cooker and her heart almost failed her.
“Oh,” she moaned, “what a pitiful wreck.” Closing the cooker, she dropped into a chair and burying her face in her arms she sobbed softly. All of her best resolves were oozing out in self pity for her miserable failure. But there were footsteps on the porch and she looked up into Aunt Polly’s smiling countenance.
“Now, now, my girl, it’s not so bad as that,” she soothed.
“Open that steamer,” challenged Mildred, “and you’ll see it’s not mere emotionalism I’m exhibiting.”
Aunt Polly opened the receptacle and peered in solemnly at the cause of Mildred’s collapse. Then slowly turning around her face mellowed in a rippling laugh.
“If it wasn’t so funny,” she said, “it would be tragic.” She laughed until her eyes were moist with tears, and Mildred’s were bright with laughter.
“That poor old turk,” chuckled Aunt Polly. “Them two drum sticks looks so pitiful danglin’ from the top of that steamer, while the proud old fellow lies in a mangled heap that way, rollin’ in his own dressin’. But it could be worse. ‘What the eye don’t see’ you know – Say, Mildred, just run in the other room for a minute and see what Billy and Ruth are needin’. When I whistle you come back.”
Mildred waited anxiously for some minutes before she came hurrying back in answer to the shrill little whistle.
“You’re a magician, Aunt Polly,” she exclaimed. “You’ve put Humpty Dumpty together again.”
There was the big fat turkey all properly trussed and lying sedately in a buttered pan ready for the oven.
“When that turkey’s on the platter all brown and garnished,” said Aunt Polly, “no one’ll know the difference but you and me. And we’ll not be sayin’ anything. He’s so tender he’ll melt in their mouths.”
“You’re the saving grace of all my disasters,” confessed Mildred, winking back the tears.
“What good is a neighbor if you can’t use ‘em once in a while when you’re in a pinch?”
To herself, Aunt Polly ruminated, “That girl’s homesick just like I told John.”
It was four o’clock. The Christmas dinner waited in the oven for the belated John and Leonora. The children were getting restless.
“I’m going to give them their dinner,” announced Mildred. “And we may as well eat with them.”
“Just as well,” consented Aunt Polly. “Let’s eat in the kitchen.”
“No,” said Mildred, decidedly. “A Christmas dinner tastes better served properly. We’ll have the best linen and silver, candlesticks and all.”
Billy and Ruth were elated.
“Oh, see the big turkey and the Christmas candles,” exclaimed Billy. They were so happy over the lighted candles and the decorations they could scarcely eat the carefully selected portions of food their mother had placed on their plates.
Mildred and Aunt Polly tried to be cheerful. Once Mildred looked up and smiled. “I have an uncanny feeling,” she said, “that John and Leonora are standing in that doorway watching us.”
“Pay no attention to ’em, Mildred, just laugh ‘em out of countenance,” advised Aunt Polly, seriously. “I used to have a neighbor who always imagined her mother-in-law was standin’ in the doorway dictatin’ the sunshine out of her life. ‘What makes you tolerate such intrusion?’ I asked her. ‘How can I change it?’ she asked, helplessly. ‘Put her to work,’ says I: ‘that’ll rout any ghost. Just smile pleasantly and say, “Good mornin’, Mother. Come right in. Just set down and dry the dishes while I wash ‘em.” Keep up a line of pleasant talk, and she’ll not stay long.’”
“I feel sorry for women who worry about their in-laws, and the bitter things their husbands say about it,” remarked Mildred.
“So do I,” replied Aunt Polly. “I used to worry some over things Sam said that hurt me. But, lawsey me, ‘taint no use. These days, when he begins to crab around, I know he’s needin’ a tonic or a fishin’ trip, and I just set about plannin’ a good dinner and don’t hear a word he says. After he’s all through I look up smilin’ and say, ‘What’s that you say, Samuel? Was you speakin’ to me?’ And he says, ‘No, not particular, Polly.’ And that ends it.”
“That’s certainly a cheerful way of avoiding commotion,” laughed Mildred.
‘Well, men’s men and women’s women, and you can’t change ‘em. God didn’t intend they should be alike or he’d cut ‘em all by one pattern. And there’s things about a house that men don’t know nothin’ about. And there’s no use wastin’ tears and energy tryin’ to teach ‘em. If you need sympathy go and tell your mother or some woman you can trust. Bein’ a woman she’ll understand, and give you the word you’ll need to get by on. But when it comes to the big lessons of life, and death, and happiness, no woman on earth can take the place of your husband.”
After a few minutes of silence Aunt Polly went on, “To my notion, naggin’ is a positive crime. Now when Sam comes in in a bilious state of mind, I pray silently, ‘Dear Lord, please excuse Sam. He doesn’t mean to be so cross. He’ll feel better when his stomach is full.’”
The fire on the grate glowed softly as Mildred sat on a low chair and told Billy and Ruth the story of the first Christmas. Aunt Polly rocked in her chair as she sang them some little songs that her mother used to sing to her on Christmas eve.
Billy hung his stocking and Ruth had to be lifted up to hang hers. Then they knelt by their mother’s knee and said their prayers.
When they were asleep, Aunt Polly and Mildred brought the box of books up from the basement, and placed it behind the tree. Mildred had emptied one shelf in the book case thinking to put them there, but she decided that John would enjoy opening the box himself. “He loves to touch the beautifully tooled leather,” she said, “and feel the smooth surface of the linen paper under his fingers. To him, a well made book is a priceless treasure.”
“He’ll get a world of joy out of ‘em,” said Aunt Polly.
Drawing out a large drawer in John’s desk, to make room for the books she had removed from the case, Mildred was surprised to find her mother’s parcel. John had not mailed it after all. And that reminded her that she had not mailed her Christmas letter to her mother. It was too late now. She placed them on top of the box of books.
“We’ll let Santa Claus take them to her,” she said ironically. “Perhaps he is not too busy.”
Papers and booklets were cluttered up by John’s desk.
“If I attempt to put them away,” she explained to Aunt Polly, “John never can find what he wants. So I let him straighten it when he gets ready.”
“Men are all alike that way,” asserted Aunt Polly, “only some are more so. Sam is decidedly more so. When we was first married it worried me, and I’d call his attention to it gentle like, so as not to offend him. As months went by I spoke of it more hefty, you might say. But lawsey me, it didn’t do no good. You’d have to almost disfigure Sam to get him to be orderly. I wanted peace in the home, so I just went about the house pickin’ up after Sam, and smoothin’ out his clothes and his temper, as if it was a joy and a privilege, which it is now. Why, land sakes, I’d feel lost if I’d come into a room after Sam had been in a few minutes, and find things orderly. I’d know he was sick, which he would be, too.”
“You’ll miss him while he’s at Frank’s, every day.”
“Miss him? Why life wouldn’t be worth livin’ without Sam. He’ll be back next week and I’ll sure be glad of that.”
The hours wore on, ten, eleven, twelve o’clock; and still Mildred and Polly sat before the fire alone. Mildred did not try any longer to conceal her uneasiness. Groundless fears were consuming her.
“They may have met with an accident. Shall we call the hospital?”
“The hospital will call you if they are there.”
“Do you think – they surely couldn’t – Oh, Aunt Polly, shall I call the police?”
“No,” was Aunt Polly’s uncompromising reply. “This is one of the times when you have to sit tight and pray earnestly. Don’t let your faith or courage wavier. Men like John don’t go bad over night.”
“Will you pray with me?” And Mildred’s pleading eyes held a nameless fear.
The two women knelt beside the bed where the sleeping children lay. Mildred’s brown curls clustered close against the white locks of the older woman. Aunt Polly’s voice was soft and clear as she made her humble petition. When they arose Mildred kissed her gently. “Thank you so much,” she said. “It is all right.”
The children slept quietly.
It was nearly two o’clock.
“Can’t you lie down?’ asked Mildred.
“No, we’ll just sit here together. They’ll be coming soon now,” said Aunt Polly, reassuringly.
In less than half an hour she hurried to open the front door as footsteps and voices neared the house.
Mildred waited by the fireplace trying to calm her fluttering heart, as she recognized John’s voice. She must meet this situation bravely and becomingly.
“What alibi,” she wondered, “would Leonora offer for this breach of conventional behavior?”
And then she was held close in John’s arms.
“I’ve brought you a Christmas present,” he whispered, as he kissed her tenderly.
“Mildred, my girl.”
Then followed hurried explanations of a wrecked train that had finally been transferred to another track. And the story of the long anxious hours John had spent waiting at the station for the delayed coach to arrive: not knowing, himself, whether the mother would be one of the fortunate passengers to arrive alive and safe, or whether she would be one of those left behind lying maimed or crushed in some hospital.
“Your mother and I planned this surprise weeks ago,” he explained, “and I hated to spoil it all. Besides, I did not know just what news I might have to bring you when the train did not arrive. All that I could have told you would only have added to your anxiety rather than allayed it. So I decided all I could do was to wait for your Mother’s arrival.” After the explanations and greetings were over Johns at munching walnuts and smiling into the fireplace.
“Aren’t any of you interested enough in Leonora Willis to inquire about her?” he asked.
“And who is Leonora Willis?” questioned Mildred’s mother.
“She’s my guest,” confessed Mildred. “And in the joy of seeing you, Mother, and having John back safely, I had almost forgotten.”
“It’s about time you spoke up, young man,” volunteered Aunt Polly. “Do you realize how many hours it’s been since you left this house with Lennie Willis?”
“I realize that it’s hours longer than I expected it would be. But I was lawfully detained.”
“You could have called up,” persisted Aunt Polly.
Mildred looked around the circle of happy faces, and across at the sleeping children. She patted John’s hand tenderly. What did it matter after all? Was not her cup of joy already running over? How much more of heaven did Aunt Polly expect on this Christmas morning?
“Now listen, Aunt Polly,” said John, contritely. “I was under solemn promise to keep a secret for Leonora until Christmas morning. It is now two-thirty,” he said, looking at his watch. “So I’m at liberty to tell you, that Dave Miller eloped with Leonora Willis last night. They were married at that little church south of the bridge, and left on the 10 p.m. California Limited for their honeymoon.
“John,” gasped Aunt Polly, incredulously, “if that’s true I can forgive you everything. Why, Dave’s been tryin’ for seven years to marry Lennie. Tell me, how did he manage it?”
“Well, knowing how she loved romance,” explained John, “he conceived the idea of an elopement and a Christmas in the sunny South.” John’s eyes were half closed in merriment.
“John Gordon,” challenged Aunt Polly, “you planned that elopement yourself, and you know it. Dave Miller never would have thought of it in a life time.”
“Say, Mildred,” smiled John, “I think your mother’s half starved. Can’t you give us a hand out?”
“It’s all prepared, John, from roast turkey to plum pudding. Turn on the heat and I’ll set the table.”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” countermanded Mildred’s mother. “We’re all going to bed and get a little sleep before these children wake up and begin to celebrate. John, right there in the top of my bag is a parcel. It’s a red-robed Santa Claus for Billy. Where do you want it, Mildred?”
“On the mantle, Mother, just above their stockings,” smiled Mildred.
“John, you had better look to the furnace. Mother and Aunt Polly can sleep in the room next to mine, it’s all ready for my Christmas guest. I’m so happy I’m afraid I can’t even go to sleep.”