Santa Claus in Petticoats
Allan C. Shore
Who wrote “The Beluchustan League,” etc.
CHRISTMAS was only five days away. The displays in the shopwindows announced the fact. In the marketplace were huge clumps of fir trees, waiting to be candled, bespangled, and ornamented with fruit the like of which no tree in a state of nature had ever borne. It seemed as if a new Birnan Wood had been brought to a modern Dunsinane.
Holly wreaths and mistletoe decorations had begun to appear in the windows of people forehanded with their pleasures, and the note of Christmas was everywhere in the air. To make matters all the more seasonable the unusually fine autumn and early winter had given place to real Christmas weather. The Clerk of the Bureau that arranges this important affair had grown tired of hearing sniffy folks going round grunting the ancient humbug about green Christmases making fat church-yards, and had given to the world what it pretended to want, grinning up his sleeve at the thought of the coal bills they would have to tackle. There were two inches of snow on the ground, clean dry snow that glistened in the sunlight like diamonds. Beachaven Harbor, usually well stocked with small shipping, was exceptionally empty this morning, so the big yacht that glided in stately fashion up to her moorings, had the place pretty much to herself.
On the pier, leaning leisurely over its iron rail, were two men, very obviously gentlemen of leisure, out at elbows and knees, as well in sundry other places of their attire. They watched the progress of the yacht with critical interest.
“X-A-N-T-I-P-P-E,” slowly spelled the collarless man, reading the gilded name on the bow, “and what’s “X-A-N-T-I-PP-E”?” he demanded of his companion.
“Xantippe,” declared the other who presumably was a bit of a scholar, who had a muffler about his neck that looked suspiciously like the leg of a stocking, “was a lady of the old times, Greek or Dago or something like that, and she had both will and temper of her own, teaching
the world that every man is a fool to some woman. She 0n th
was the dame who put the original socks into Socrates, who was a philosopher outside his home, but an easy mark within. That ship out there belongs to Miss Pandora Fulcher of Fulcherville, Grantchester, New York, and half a dozen other places. She fills the pay envelopes of ten thousand people in her mills up at Fulcherville every week, and has more millions than you and I have nickels. When she takes a fancy to a bed that rocks at night, she steps aboard that yacht and goes wherever there’s enough water to float to her, and her notion inclines.”
“And she ain’t married?” said the collarless gentleman, properly appaled that all this grandeur and glory should not be benefiting some needy person of the male persuasion.
“Married!” retorted the erudite one, in high scorn. “Does she look as if she ever said. ‘Yes, my love, the bacon and eggs will be here inside two minutes. Now read your paper and don’t look ‘cross at your little pet.’ There she is, coming ashore in the launch.”
“No, she don’t,” admitted the wasted bachelor without the collar. “I guess the man who tried to slop over her would have his nerve with him.”
“Now you’ve said something,” conceded the philosopher. “Good morning, Miss Fulcher. A lovely day. Welcome to Beachaven.” And he doffed the remains of his hat with a reckless gallantry that threatened to sever finally the connection between brim and bowl. “And a Merry Christmas to you, Ma’am.”
The big, grim-looking woman’s eyes twinkled as she surveyed the two.
“Same to you, and many of them,” she replied. “I wish you would keep an eye on the boat out there, and see that nobody runs off with it.” And, slipping a retainer in the hand of each, she went off.
“Some class!” murmured the admiring bachelor as he nursed the dollar bill. “Come on and drink her health. We can watch the ship through the windows.”
AT the end of the pier Miss Fulcher hesitated a moment, then turned in the direction of the Board Walk. Beachaven prided itself on being a winter as well as a summer resort, and this mild December had enabled it to maintain its reputation. There were many visitors in town. Some would presently leave to spend the festive season in their homes; but as a rule Christmas time was brisk, bright, and bustling in Beachaven.
It was now near to noon, the morfling Promenade was at its gayest and busiest. Down the Walk Miss Pandora swung with the gait of the bo’sun of a battleship, the well-dressed mob parting before her like pretty pleasure craft before some majestic liner.
She was tall, with gipsy-tanned face, dark, piercing eyes, and the beaked nose of great Caesar himself. She wore a short skirt of some dark material, and on her head was a hat that looked as if it had been borrowed from some banana peddler. She must have been nearer sixty than fifty. To-day her grim visage looked grimmer than ordinary. Near the end of the Promenade she sat down on one of the benches facing the sea, flinging the jacket that she had carried on her arm, over her shoulders. Past her filed the promenaders; the ladies in their smartest, for there was enough chill in the appearance of the white world to warrant the production of new furs; neatly attired men in new winter coats; neat nursemaids with spick and span babies in spick and span carriages; small boys and girls playing on the sand with a parade kind of deeorousness that made sport look like a solemn social function.
The sands appeared as if they had been sifted and combed out nicely, and the very sea had a filtered and sterilized aspect. That was Beachaven, and it made Miss Pandora’s soul ache with its severe and obstrusive fashionableness. She took it all in gloomily, and was about to rise and pursue her way when she saw a
young man, also very smart and fashionable-looking, strolling down the Walk toward her.
rpHE gloom vanished from her features, -*• a smile lighted up her dark countenance as Dick Ambler approached. Dick was a distant relative, and held in high esteem by her because he treated her, not as a multi-millionaire, from whom he might have expectations, but as a good sort of a fellow. She rather approved of his career, which while not over distinguished had been of a kind to appeal to her. He had sowed a crop of wild oats, not very serious ones, in so highly original a way, as to appeal to her love of the unusual. He was a lawyer, and had charge of her personal affairs, not being burdened, as she said, with much legal knowledge, but having an unusual quantity of horse-sense.
“Dick, I never properly realized your angelic qualities before,” she said, as he came up and seated himself by her side.
“No, they insinuate themselves into the mind of the world in a way quite their own,” he answered. “I came down for a sniff of the briny before real winter falls, and was breakfasting at a disgraceful hour in my hotel over there when I saw the Xantippe come in. When did you get
“Last night,” she told him.
“We lay outside till morning and waddled in an hour or so ago. Had the very dickens of a time coming over. Ran into a rip-snorter of a gale off the Fastnet, and came on our ear the rest of the way. The ship’s going into Bullard’s dry-dock here, so it is a case of a life ashore until Spring comes. I’ve got into a peck of trouble, Dick, first class trouble that will keep me round for quite a bit.”
“What, in Beachaven?”
“Lord, no” replied Miss Pandora. “Three days here would put me in my coffin. Dick! That's my notion of the place of future punishment.” And she waved her hand comprehensively over Beachaven
“Well,” said Dick. “It has points over the other establishment, for the trains run out as well as in. What are the particular creases in the rose leaves?”
“Creases? They are crevasses, man,” she replied. “First the Xantippe out of commission, and then there are the mill troubles. You have seen about the strike in the papers?”
Dick nodded. The newspapers certainly had made a terrific fuss over the Fulcherville troubles.
“They have photographs of me, and the Xantippe, and my houses, and the luxuries I am steeped in. I am represented as a ferocious tyrant, grinding the faces of the poor, and fattening on the blood and flesh of the working classes,” she mourned.
“But surely you do not pay
attention to the stuff the cub reporters write?” he asked. “To them you are just fair game, of the kind they don’t often get a shot at. When you go hunting you don’t give a hoot for the feelings of the bird, or you wouldn’t shoot at all. You are just the bird in this case, and, as they regard it, some bird too.” *
“I’ll let them know that there are birds and birds, before I have done with them,” she threatened darkly. “The Fulchers have been in that town for four generations, building up the business from the very ground. They have always been known as generous employers, willing to give and take in a fair-minded way. Now there is all this fuss just because there have been a few foreign-born girls taken into one of the weaving sheds. It isn’t as if there were any less work for the others. There is plenty for all, and they make no kick about the wages. It makes me mad clear through, Dick, to think that a noisy mischief-maker like that Ben Parsons can stir up all this fuss. Well, I am going to Fulcherville just the same for Christmas, and the thing has got to be straightened out, one way or another. If I can’t meet that Ben Parsons on his own ground and lick him to a frazzle, my
name is not Pandora Fulcher. Seen the paper of Wednesday? They have an article on me that makes Nero, in comparison, a putty saint, and they head the screed, ‘Black Christmas for Fulcherville. People starving while the Multi-Millionairess basks in sunny climes!’.”
P\ICK grinned broadly. He had read L' the article. The reporter had certainly spread himself.
“I wonder if you could arrange to go up with me, Dick?” she asked. “There may be points you can give me, and some detail you could handle better than I could. Do you mind being rotten-egged as a blood-sucker, chastened with a brick as a non-producer, or at least rebuked with a dead kitten as a malefactor of great wealth ?”
“I’d love to sustain any of the roles,’ he replied.
“That’s fine.” And she sighed her relief. “Now I am going up to the h-’tel. I have letters to write, and some shopping to do, but if you will dig up Douglass, my skipper, and bring him along to dinner to-night at seven, I’ll be glad to see you. Meantime I’ve got to hustle for I wouldn’t stay in this decorous hole overnight
for a king’s ransom, and I mean to leave by the night mail. Pretty kind of a girl!” She suddenly broke off, and her eyes followed a tall-fresh-colored girl, who walk-
“Very charming!” said Dick who had already regarded her with approval. “Pity such a rose girl can’t snip off the ugly kind of thorn that goes with her. However, it is not my business to separate thorns and roses.”
The man with the girl was a showy, over-dressed, ill-favored fellow' of very unattractive type. As the two passed out of sight, Miss Pandora rose and went over to the hotel.
All afternoon she worked, writing and giving Bullard an interview about the work to be done to the yacht. She had nearly finished w'hen her tw'o guests ar-
'T'HEY lingered a little time after the -*• meal, talking about the sea and ships. Then she dismissed them in order that she might put the finishing touches on her work. They went off for a game of billiards, Dick arranging to return later, and see her off. He did not intend to go on to Fulcherville until Monday.
She finished her work earlier than she had anticipated, and went out for the air and to take a last look at the moonlit sea. By this time the tide was well up, the wind had freshened, and was flinging the waves on the beach with the thunderous roar that Miss Pandora loved more than any other music in the world.
For some minutes she stood, leaning over the sea wall, watching the play of the moonlight on the tumbling waters, and listening to the rise and fall of the cadences of the sea’s grand orchestra. She was aroused from abstraction by the sound of voices, and, looking in the direction whence it came she saw four persons, two women and two men standing
near one of the covered seats of the Walk. The light of the street lamp was sufficiently bright to enable her distinguish the girl and the man whom she and Dick had seen a few hours before.
The members of the little group evidently thought they had the place to themselves, for they spoke loudly. From what she could hear Miss Pandora gathered that the girl and her companion had come in from the country for the day to see the Christmas shops, and had missed the last train home. The girl’s alarm was very real, and the persuasions of her companions seemed to increase it. The woman with her was very urgent in her offers of hospitality, but the girl was doubtful and suspicious.
“I’d rather stay here in the streets till morning,” she said.
“And have the police gather you in? You foolish child, you can’t stay out, especially on a winter night with snow on the ground,” the woman replied. “Better come with me, and catch the first train to Fulcherville, or wherever you are going in the morning.”
“If I stayed away from home all night my father would almost kill me,” said the girl. “I can get as far as Grantchester by the midnight mail, and there I’ll be able to find friends.”
“What, at two or three in the morning?” asked the woman.
“If there’s nothing else I can do, I will find Miss Fulcher’s house, and I know that any girl from the mills can get help there if she is in a fix. Will you lend me the money to get there? You know' my purse was taken away from me this afternoon.”
“I have no money to lend,” replied the
man who had been with her in the morning. “Why don’t you act sensibly and go with the lady here? In the morning we’U find a way to get you back home.”
“If I can’t get the money I will stay where I am till morning. I have my watch I can pawn as soon as the shops open,” the girl said doggedly.
“There will be no shops open on Sunday morning,” said her companion, grinning at her perplexity. At this the other man intervened.
“Why don’t you lend the girl the money?” he asked, with apparent rebuke to the man and good-will to the girl. “Here, if he won’t let you have it I will. How much do you want?”
“Four dollars will do,” answered the girl gratefully. “If you will give me your address I will send it back -to you just as soon as I get home.”
“That’s alright,” said the man goodnaturedly. “Take ten and you will have enough.” He took out a roll and handed her the ten.
“Now you can catch the midnight train into Grantchester, and fix things all right. It is only nine now, so we’ll go along and have some supper. Then we’ll see you off at the station. And next time you come out for the day get a real man to bring you.”
The girl appeared quite satisfied now. She put the money into her pocket and they all walked away. They had not gone very far before Miss Pandora set out after them. There was no policeman in sight, and no time to hunt for one, but she kept closely behind the group until she saw them enter a disreputable-looking supper house and go to the dining-room on an upper floor. After she had seen them inside, she went to a nearby drug store and called up the hotel where she had left Dick anct Douglass. To her great delight the operator succeeded in getting Ambler on the line. A few words explained the situation, and Miss Pandora went into the street again and entered the restaurant, proceeding upstairs.
TT was a frowsy looking place, and there * were only the four in the room. A towsled waiter came and took their order, glancing across at the newcomer as if wondering what brought an old woman into the place at that hour. He lounged over to her table, and she asked for something to be brought her. He went out, and presently returned with four glasses of liquor for those at the other table. Miss Fulcher’s quick eye caught his wink as he set one of the glasses before the girl. He then went out and brought the sandwich the solitary customer had ordered. Miss Pandora at once got to her feet, on the withdrawal of the man, and went over to the table at which the four sat, reaching, with a word of apology, for the salt castor. She managed clumsily, for she sent the beer of the girl flying over the cloth, and scattered the party. The tall man of the group, he who had lent the money, looked up quickly, but saw only an awkward-looking old woman, who seemed short of manner^.
“Easy, old lady,” he said. “Beer must be cheap where you come from.”
“That kind is dear at any price,” she answered shortly.
The fellow rose with an oath. The other woman screamed angrily. The girl got up frightened at the prospect of trouble, and the waiter entered the room to find out what the disturbance was about.
“Here, Bert, throw the old lady out,
and you needn’t be too particular about breaking her neck. I am fond of ladies’ society but I like to pick for myself,” said the tall man.
Bert appeared not in the least unwilling, and drew near Miss Pandora. As he was about to lay hands on her she picked up a well-filled water bottle, and dropped it neatly on the towsled head, and Bert dropped for the count. The owner of the place came rushing in to find out what the fuss was about. Things looked unpleasant for Miss Pandora, but at this moment Ambler, one of the toughest guards any eastern college team had ever possessed, and Douglass, six feet of seatoughened steel and whalebone, came up the stairs, and in about forty seconds the strife was over. Miss Pandora went downstairs with the girl in her charge, and tingling all over with delight at the adventure. When she reached the street she had still the bottle in her hand.
“Souvenir?” asked Dick. “If you don’t want it, we’ll pass it up.” And with a shrewd heave he flung it through one of the upper windows of the restaurant.
The victors went on their way triumphII
TT was a sad home-coming for Miss Fulcher. Of all places in which she had pride, her home town stood first. Of all people to whom she was attached by sentiment and much real affection there were none who stood on the same level as those of the town that had grown with the fortunes of her family. The clatter of machinery in the Fulcherville Mills, the very smoke of their tall chimneys, the orderly streets of the town, the neat rows of cottages each standing in its own garden, the Park and Public buildings, all roused pride in her. It was not a selfish, arrogant pride, but one that was clean and honest. To-day there was no clatter of machinery. At the street corners were knots of men, arguing the situation and discussing the merits of the disagreement, instead of making the machinery produce.
Ambler saw how deeply she was hurt, but he could not discern how the situation was to be mended. He had met Ezra Flaxton the superintendent and the firm-
handed but kindly head of the works and had found he was fully resolved there shculd be no yielding on the question.
The matter had been made ten times worse by the extravagances of agitators, who had seized on the opportunity to widen the gap between capital and labor. It was a dispute that might have been settled in five minutes by reasonable people, but one grievance had been added to another, and a great many had been invented, until the quarrel had become a bitter personal one, between owner and workers. On the walls of the town were placarded notices announcing that in the evening a great mass meeting would be held to take the situation into consideration, and to make some provision to meet the distress that would fall with particular hardship at Christmas time. Six weeks the strike had lasted, and in many homes the pinch was being severely felt. The shop windows were making a brave show of Christmas decorations and seasonable goods, but there was a certain pathos in the attempt to make a show of gaiety. Snow had begun _to fall heavily. A white Christmas is pleasant enough in
prosperous times, but when fuel is scarce, the stock of provisions low, the purse shrunken, a cold Christmas is not the most desirable. For the first few weeks of the trouble the tradesmen in the stores had been considerate, but when the bills began to mount up, week after week, and there was no prospect of the trouble ending, the shopkeepers had to consider their own interests.
THE big hall was crowded with men and women workers at the appointed hour. On the platform was the chairman —one of the weavers—and at his side Ben Parsons, the leader of the movement.
Parsons was a striking-looking man, lean almost to emaciation, with the face of an enthusiast, and the blazing eyes of the prophet who believes that to him has been given an inspired message. He kept a small book and newspaper shop in the town, was well read, especially on social questions, and had a spirit whose tempering had been received from early religious faith. The man was absolutely sincere, and would have gone to the stake for the principles he preached with such fiery zeal. Narrow-minded, all his thought running in the same groove, he saw but one thing, and the inequalities of life had made a rebel of him. Perhaps the realization that he had been a failure, left behind in the race by men who were inferior to him in ability, had thoroughly soured him. In his utterance was something of the eloquence of the Hebrew prophet, sombre at times almost to grandeur, and it was from the prophets he drew most of his inspiration. The people to whom he spoke had been brought up in much the same school of thought, and the struggle of the worker for full emancipation and elevation was in their very blood.
“We are told,” he said, facing the multitude that hung breathlessly on his words, “that this is a trivial matter. It is more than the mere question of the admission of a few workers into the mills that employ thousands. It is the insertion of the thin edge of the wedge that would soon be driven home. It means the gradual lowering of wages, so much less for the worker, so much more for the woman whose heel is on the necks of ten thousand people.
“What weapon have we with which to resist the power of capital? Only the right to refuse to work, the right to strike, until conditions are made reasonable. And what does that terrible right mean to you and to me? It means that hunger and want are creeping into the houses of the people. We have either to submit to oppression or starve. At this season of the year when Christ came into the world to bring His Gospel of Brotherhood to the world, to preach liberty to the captives, and establish peace and goodwill on earth, there will be hundreds of men and women and children in this town who will know the keen pinch of hunger and want. What does it matter to the woman who owns these mills? Will she suffer hunger or deprivation because the factories are shut down? Will this make any difference to the way she lives? Close them forever, and she need not cut down her own luxuries by a single dollai 's worth. She has her fine houses, her great mills, her broad lands, her rich stores of money and investments, her yacht, and all the servants who are paid to surround her with every comfort. Whether you starve, or are forced by hunger to surrender, makes no difference to her. We are slaves owned
body and soul by her, we are Lazarus lying sick at the rich man’s gate, getting only the crumbs that fall from his table. We are told that when Dives died he went straight to hell, and Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. Why did Dives go to hell? Was it because he was rich? No, no man was ever yet sent to hell because he was rich, and no man ever yet entered heaven because he was poor. The rich man was punished because, having all the good things of this life, he permitted the sick man to lie helplessly at his gate, with only the crumbs to feed him, and the dogs to lick his sores. It was for the sin of heartlessness that Dives went to hell, because of the poverty and meanness of his soul.”
A/fUCH more he said that had little to do with the matter in which the workers were concerned. The crowd was with him, heart and soul and lungs, and when he had finished his argument, he counseled further resistance, and asked aid for those who would be in sore need this Christmas time. He sat down, and for a moment or two there was great silence. The chairman was just rising from his seat to put the suggestions of the speaker before the meeting in practical form, when there was a movement at the back of the hall. A woman arose from some place near the door, and marched down the narrow aisle, between the rows of the strikers. Her face was set and tense, dark and grim.
“Miss Fulcher!” The whisper ran round the hall, growing momentarily louder.
She climbed the steps leading to the platform, nodded to the chairman and Parsons, and then turned to face the crowd. There was an imperiousness in her very appearance that commanded silence, even had the throng been unwilling to listen to her, a fearlessness that all acknowledged.
“1 have been seated over there at the back of the room,” she said. “I have been looking pretty steadily at the portrait of me painted by Ben Parsons. Women, they say, are vain, and I have no desire or liking to be made uglier than nature intended me to be. I have looked into the glass pretty much as all women do, I suppose, but I never knew I was just what Ben represents me as being. Still it is good to see ourselves through the vision of others. Now then, what is all this fuss about? Three or four girls, whose parents came over from Europe to make their home here, to help build up this nation, have been taken into the weaving sheds, have been permitted to earn their living. Because of this, the other weavers have dropped their work, and the rest of the people in the mills have gone out, in what they call sympathy with them. I remember the time when some of you who are now on strike were foreigners, newly come to this country. Those who were here already did not give the newcomers any enthusiastic welcome. They said what Ben Parsons has said tomight, pretty much, the old tale that work will be scarce and wages go down. Has work become scarce? Have wages gone down? You know that it has not been so in either
“There has been more work, the mills that once employed less than a hundred now pay wages to ten thousand, and bigger wages too. Ben says that if these girls are allowed to work in the sheds,
wages will go down. You know better than that.”
“It will come. It is only a question of time,” answered Ben.
“I never argue with a prophet,” laughed Miss Pandora. “If a man tells me that the ponds are going to be frozen over next fourth of July, I am not going to contradict him, but if he is waiting for that ice to cool his drinks, I think he is booked for a disappointment.”
“She’ll trim you, Ben. No good talking against a woman,” bawled a fat weaver in one of the front rows.
“Trim him!” said Miss Pandora. “I never knew a man I could not talk blind, deaf, and dumb inside five minutes.”
The crowd began to laugh with her, and she pressed home her advantage. “When well-intentioned neighbors get together there need be no talk about Dives and Lazarus,” she said. “If I am wrong tell me where the fault is, and I promise that if what you say is reasonable I will make it right. And where you are wrong, I will do my best to straighten it out. Ben says something about the hardship of one woman having her heel on ten thousand necks. That would not hurt anything like as much as ten thousand heels on one neck. Now let me talk plainly so that there will be no misunderstanding. These foreign-born girls are going into the weaving sheds, not because I say so, but because you know it is right that they should. There will be no cut wages, and there is no question of wedges, thick or thin. You expect a square deal from me, and I look for the same from you. There is just one thing I concede to Ben Parsons, and I have realized it more or less ever since I heard of this unfortunate strike. I am a proud woman in some ways, and my pride has been badly hurt. I had always thought that near to each other as man and wife, were the people who work in these mills and those who control them. It came to me as a great shock when I heard of this trouble. Perhaps I have been partly in the wrong. I have been running hither and thither about the world, and I feel that there has not been the close personal touch between us there should have been. I have taken too much for granted, and my negligence has been at the root of much of the misunderstanding. There is going to be no more of it. This talk of a black Christmas at Fulcherville has reached my heart. I don’t like black Christmases or anything else black, and I want this to be the brightest, happiest Christmas you have ever spent. The mill doors will be open to-morrow morning. Are you going to end this quarrel and come in?”
There was a terrific roar of “Yes,” that shook the building.
“That sounds good,” said Miss Pandora. “Now for the other part. I have been at fault for getting out of touch with you, and I will pay for it. You have been out six weeks, and it has cost you a lot of money. You cannot do much at Christmas without money. Santa Claus with an empty pocket is the most dismal fellow I know. There will be a month’s pay in the morning for all those whose names were on the books at the time the strike began, and who come back. I fine myself so much because of my part in the muddle. Now get out and try to put a Christmas smile on the town.”
SHE walked down the steps and vanished by a side door while the tumult of rejoicing was raging. The crowd poured into the streets, and instead of a smile,
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Fulcherville put on its most riotous gaiety. The shops in the streets that had shut early for lack of business opened again, though the hour was late. Tradesmen who had made their heads ache from shaking them in token of denial, now eased them by a nodding motion. The town began to look Christmassy, decorations that people bad been too dispirited to put up began to appear in the lighted windows, the spirit of Christmas was in the very air, children got out of their beds to talk about Santa Claus and full stockings and loaded Christmas trees.
It was a very late hour when Miss Pandora left her hotel, and w-alked, byside streets, to one of the quieter parts of the town. She stopped before a little shuttered shop, with cottage behind it, opened the gate and went in. The place had a gloomy, woe begone look—dark, desolate, cheerless, a dull black patch on the drifted snow.
She tapped on the door, and beard the sound of approaching steps. A light was switched on, the door opened, and Ben Parsons stood there. He looked twenty years older since the meeting was over. His thin face was drawn and hungry-looking. there was a fire in his eyes that was half passion, half pathetic sadness.
“I want to have a word with you, Ben,” she said.
“It is Miss Fulcher, mother,” said Ben leading the way into the kitchen beyond the dull little shop. Mrs. Parsons, a pleasant-faced, elderly woman sat in the chair, her hands folded before her, her eyes red with weeping.
“We are in great trouble, Miss Fulcher,” said Ben, his head bowed.
“Oh, my girl, my little girl!” cried Mrs. Parsons.” She left home on Saturday to visit friends, as we thought. She was to have come back at night, but when she did not return we thought she had stayed with friends at Grantchester. We telegraphed there and got an answer only a little while ago, that our friends there had never seen her.”
“We can’t help it,” said Ben with stoical sternness that had infinite pathos in it. “If it is as we fear, she need never darken our doors again.”
“Why don’t you apply a bit of the Gospel you were firing off at me just now into your own trouble?” snanoed Miss Pandora. “But you are mistaken, Mrs. Parsons. I saw Alice only a few minutes ago. I believe she is there at the door
BOTH husband and wife raced to reach the shop entrance, but the mother was there first, her arms about the girl, hugging and kissing her in an ecstacy of joy, pulling her into the light of the sitting room. The girl reached out to embrace her father, but he drew back.
“I want to know where you have been since Saturday,” he demanded, his brows lowered.
“Ben Parsons, you are the finest Pharisee I ever saw,” scoffed Miss Pandora. “You want to know where she has been? Well, she has been at my house in Grantchester, paying a visit to Dives, as you might say. Good night, all of you!” And without further farewell she departed.
“You are a triple-plated fraud, Aunt Pnndy," said Dick Ambler who was smoking a cigar on the road in front of the house. “I went to that meeting expecting to be rotten-egged, chastened with a brick
as a non-producer, or at least rebuked with the corpse of a defunct kitten, but there was nothing at all doing, not an egg, not a brick, not a corpse. You are a carttail, tub-thumping, barn-storming fraud. Rut say you trimmed them to the queen’s
“I did nothing of the sort, Dick Ambler.” she answered. “They trimmed me, and I was never so glad of a trimming in all my born days. Best of all there will be a bright Christmas for Fulcherville.”
“Thanks to Santa Claus in petticoats,” laughed Dick.