A Jest of Circumstance
INTO the grey cold light of a merciless early winter morning, from the steps of a Pullman stepped one and another of last night’s travellers. Women most of them, half
buried in furs; only a few of them showing signs of the difficulties that a rolling, swaying Pullman offers in the performance of one’s toilette.
“Leave my ‘traps’ on the platform, porter! This one should have been in the baggage van. Someone is coming to meet me. Just put them here!”
The girl who had thus spoken stood beside a little heap of luggage, decorated with the initials ‘P. H. D.’
“Hand over your quarter, old man! She’s as English as you make’em. You said Irish!"
The exchange of the coin did not, however, prevent a sidelong glance at the girl who had just spoken and who stood, smiling and radiant, in the harsh grey light.
“Goodbye, my dear! Goodbye. It has been such a pleasure to know you! Is—er—er, the fiancé here? I am just dying to see him,” and a charming, greyhaired woman looked down the platform through her lorgnette.
“Not yet, Mrs. Wilbur. We must surely have got in a few minutes too soon. Yes, I shall certainly bring him to tea. You did already give me your telephone number, you know. Goodbye,” and her voice, merry and confident, trailed off, as she watched Mrs. Wilbur being rapturously welcomed by her family.
“Oh, my dear Miss Dale! Oh, I was hoping you wouldn’t get away before I saw you!” A short woman, with a magnificent sable stole, and a platinum wrist watch, tried to seize the girl’s hand, and, as her own were already filled with innumerable small travelling appendages, these naturally filtered to the platform.
“Oh, and do tell me! I never know just what one should give the porter. A shilling? Why, my dear, you are in Canada now and you mustn’t talk about shillings. I suppose you mean a quarter. Well, of course, he didn’t really do very much for me, besides opening and closing windows, etc.—wouldn’t even have shined my shoes, unless I had suggested it. However, of course—here, porter. Well that’s that'.
It was obvious that the girl was not at all interested in the chatter going on beside her.
“It’s very strange that my husband is not here and all these things to carry. Yes, porter, a boy for this, and this, and this, and my hat-box, and these rugs. Dear me! After giving that quarter away, I find I haven’t any change. No! I wouldn’t think of borroiving, Miss Dale. Probably the boy’s a scout, and this will give him his chance Qf doing his one kindness a day—Goodbye!”
With a smile of contempt at the rich woman’s cheap economy, Phyllis saw her swallowed up in the crowd at the station entrance.
The crowd was already beginning to thin out. At first Phyllis with difficulty kept her place beside her traps; fully occupied in keeping her things together.
Frequently stretching to her full height, she sent searching glances over the heads, and between the shoulders of the people.
Sometimes, a vivid Hush would color her cheeks, and ebbing, leave her white.
CONFIDENCE was gradually changing to doubt—doubt to a growing fear.
Stories from newspapers came crowding to her mind about girls who had gone to Canada to be married, only to find their lovers missing or already married men.
She—Phyllis Dale, daughter of an honoiable old English family—! It was incredible, and she would not think it.
When her steamer slipped into the dock at St. John, she had eagerly looked, half expectant, for Bruce’s dear welcoming face. As he was not there, she had reasoned with herself, how far St. John was from his homeland how she should not expect it.
But here—now—at the meeting place—!
“Pardon me, Miss Dale, may I not get you a taxi, or rather a sleigh?”
A belated traveller stepped from the Pullman, and interrupted her thoughts.
“No thank you, I expect—Yes, we have had a splendid trip. It was your aunt who introduced you to me on the train, was it not? She is charming.”
He did not seem anxious to go.
“Will you not at least let me carry your things to the waiting room? You will be frozen here!” and, as she still shook her head, “Then I shall hope to have the pleasure of seeing you some time at my aunt’s.”
And he smiled in a friendly way, as he raised his hat and turned out of the gate.
“Jove! Not what you would call a warm welcome to Canada,” he thought, glancing back at the now almost solitary figure. “I thought Aunt Molly said that she was coming out to be married. Why couldn’t some of these women have waited around until they saw she was met.”
He hesitated, half turning back, anxious to remedy the thoughtlessness of his women folk, but at the remembrance of a certain glint in her eyes, decided not to interfere.
“Proud, too, as Lucifer!” he decided, and went on his way.
As a matter of fact, the face of the girl now alone on the platform gave little index to the turmoil going on beneath. Waves of brilliant color succeeded by pallor, heralds of emotion over which we have no mastery, were the only
In the face of a shock, unintelligible yet cruel, she was struggling to control a medley of confused emotions.
The porter of last night’s Pullman, not comprehending why any intelligent mortal should prefer to stand outside in this bitter cold, when she could sit inside in the warmth, spoke to her twice before she heard him.
“Yuh let me carry dem things to de waitin’ room, Missy. Yuh shoh freeze out hyah!”
As she turned to follow him. half-involuntarily—she drew off her long leather gloves, holding up her slender tanned fingers, which now had an appearance of numbness. She had not noticed the keen breath of a Canadian winter morning, and now looked at her hands, half puzzled, as if she were not quite sure of the cause of her trouble—the slowly freezing finger, or the slowly freezing heart.
Bending under many “traps,” the darky led her into the high arched waiting-room, from which emanated a grateful warmth.
“Now, Missy, you jest stay right hyar, an’ if nobody comes, you go in ’dar foh a mighty good cup o’coffee.”
And the darky with a real old fashioned darky grin shuffled off.
Folks madly hurrying to catch trains! Folks madly hurrying to get away from trains! Meetings! Partings! Just what you have seen a thousand times!
To Phyllis, they meant nothing — simply a movi n g background, somewhat hazy.
The man’s figure for which she was seeking was not there—a tall, boyish figure, with au
artificial arm andón his face a ready smile.
It was nothing to her, that all these other moving faces were strange and unfamiliar. Indeed át was with a start that she noticed opposite her a face she knew—though after all it was only a shadow. She had happened to sit down opposite a long mirror and it was Phyllis Dale that looked back at her—only it was a pale, puzzled, frightened Phyllis, not the face she was accustomed to look at every morning in far away Surrey.
Nothing very extraordinary in that face either, you would say. Just a wholesome young English girl, the like of whom y où used to meet every day in Regent Street or the Park. Slender, middle height, dressed in a brown smooth cloth coat and skirt, well cut, with a leather belt around her waist, her hat soft and furry of the same shade, with a. speckled pheasant breast nestling in its brim.
Had you known her to be artistic, you might have guessed, from the color of her dress, that her eyes were the same color, though rather more hazel.
Where her hat turned up at the side, her hair showed fair. Not the curls of a real heroine, mind you, but perfectly straight, soft, silky hair. One hesitates to confess, that it was worn in coils round her head—so horribly oldfashioned!
When the girls in Surrey protested against her keeping up the old style, she always told them if they could show her a more becoming way, she would be awfully glad to adopt it—but they never could.
It was really her color you would first notice, her wonderful changing red and white that a painter could not. catch because it shaded into every thought of her mind, and every movement of her body. Phyllis’ coloring was her one real glory.
As you know her better you may cavil at her.
But consider—when a placid Surrey godmother sends forth the fiat “Her name shall be Phyllis!” she expects, does she not, that the little bundle in her arms will develop into a simple, modest, be-good-and-you-will-be-happy sort of girl?
And here, instead, is a self-reliant young woman, who has come three thousand miles to marry her lover—and instead of dissolving into tears at his non-appearance, is trying to face the situation, with at least outward composure.
Is her godmother, then, to blame—I ask you?
Phyllis sat down on a long bench, the other end of which supported a family of beadeyed Galicians, and took stock of herself.
With a desperate effort she strove tosuppresa the dull, awful ache that assailed her, and to shut away her mental vision from the yawning emptiness of things as they appeared without him as a part of her dream.
Frightened she was, horribly frightened, not physically frightened, nor because she happened to be alone in a strange city and in a new continent. Phyllis knew she was perfectly able to walk out of the statio n and take a room in some reliable hotel. She had money in her pocket, and a good English tongue in her head.
It was of the future she was terrified. Next week! Next year! It was that her dream was shattered; her pride in the dust; and that her father must be told.
The real grief—that love had failed her, and must therefore never, never, never dare again come nigh her, that was bearable because it was secret; no other eye could see it; it was her hidden wound. But the part that must be played with others; of that she was terrified.
Phyllis, looking up, found a question in the eyes of the shadow girl opposite, a big question, one as yet unanswered what could one do with the rest of one’s life?
Thank God, besides the question, she found a message
in the mirror.
I THINK it was the speckled wing, nestling in her furry hat, that brought her courage back. Her father, dreamy, a book-worm, with eyes for the sky rather than for the earth, on the Surrey moors one day spied the bit of lovely color, picked up the feather, and presented it to Phyllis with an old-fashioned courtly bow.
"It is for your trousseau, my dear!”
"It will be in my very best—in my going away hat!” Phyllis declared, laughing, and here it was.
The shimmering green and gold recalled so vividly the home atmosphere, that she suddenly (lung out her arms, as if to cast away all that was false and humiliating, and stood erect to meet a new and empty world as “One who never turned his back, but marched breast forward!”
Often in the old Surrey garden Phyllis heard her father read the lines of the poet whom he loved. The fire of it nerved her, but the next line brought a quiver to her lips; “Never doubted cloud would break!”
"It isn’t true; it isn’t true; my clouds can never break!” Phyllis, you see, saw her life in blacks and whites. It is not given to youth to pick out the kindly, softer shades that blend the two and make life possible.
It used to be one of the family jokes, to call her “Practical Phyl.” Living with a book-worm father, and an old grandmother, could the girl be anything else? Over the name Phyllis had many a smile.
She knew a corner, hidden by larkspurs, stocks, mignonette and sweet williams, where one could spend hours weaving mysterious dreams, with Love for the centre, richer as the weeks flew by, gilded by the sun, with the very faintest grey of uncertainty as a shading. And the fulfilment of the dream would be—a meeting—here!
Two school girls sat down beside her, throwing back their grey squirrel furs, and crossing their legs.
“Say, Miss Smith mi'lit have waited to correct these papers for another term! I felt sure we were going to miss the train!”
"Oh, Golly! I can hardly wait! Holidays and Christmas together snuff of a spree! With the dance I am going to give too! Crickey, I can hardly wait.”
"Goodness Gracious! Heavens! What do you think! If I haven’t gone and left the tie for Bill in the corner of my drawer! And only two days more till Christmas!” Here was a fact that came back to Phyllis with an extra stab. Christmas! How she had always loved it! It is easier to sink into a soft morass of emotion, with one’s memories in one’s arms, than by taking arms to slay them. Phyllis knew it and struggled against it.
“Now I must earn my name—‘Practical Phyl”—she said decidedly. From an obviously new travelling bag, she picked out one from a bundle of letters. Could she have made a ghastly mistake ?
“—Hard luck—that they are having so much fag about the fit of my arm, and worst luck that it is the right. I have tried and really, Phyllis, I don’t seem to be able to make a fist of it with the left. Never did think much of a letter written by a third party, and the chap that is writing this is something of a kidder. So, old girl, 1 will held on to what I want to really say till 1 see you later.
“I am meeting all the old gang now, and it is real good to see them again!
The girls are teaching me the new' dances. Did I tell you about Nan Fraser? She was in the year below me at college. She is a widow now, only married a few months to Bob before he was knocked out, at the beginning of ’15.
“She W'ent to work in a hospital afterwards and she has only been back a few months. Bob and I w'ere such pals that I suppose it is up to me to see something of her. We used to call her “the Kid,” and she doesn’t look much more now. I suppose it’s the light curls we used to tease her about and the thin black dress!
"And you’ve really decided not to come till next spring! Well, old girl, what you say goes. I’ve got my two room apartment in the burg where Flo, my married sister lives, you know'. I guess I’ll be there in a couple
A man, with a racoon coat, glanced hurriedly in at the entrance. Phyllis’ heart beat in her throat. She half rose. The man, seeing the sudden movement, came towards her. It was not Bruce. Her heart sank again, carrying the blood from her cheeks and
Just for that moment, she’had forgotten to be “Practical Phyl.”
The hands of the big clock in the centre showed that she had arrived in the city almost two hours ago. Well, when the hands were at XI she would find a room for herself, some place in the city. Meantime she still had a few minutes to try and understand.
The letter in her hand brought back the sensation it had caused in her faraway garden. “One of the old gang, —a widow—light curls and a thin black dress.” Phyllis didn’t like it, and she knew that Nan had been a widow long enough to discard the thin black dress if it were not vastly becoming.
Crowds were hustling in now, bringing draughts of cold air; cheeks glowing from the cold; stamping their feet, and blowing on their fingers.
One little newsboy with clothes enough to cover him, but not to shield him from even a summer breeze, got close up to the heat ventilators, embracing the pipes with his thin little frozen arms.
When they had all hurried past, she would go on with her thinking.
It was just a week before her father’s married sister from California had come to visit them that the letter had arrived. There was that morning when her aunt had said at the breakfast table:
“Going to be married in the spring, are you, Phyllis? Too bad, that you could not go out with me. I could have sailed to a Canadian port and chaperoned you.”
She was, however, much more taken up with chipping her egg, than with what she was saying.
“When are you sailing, aunt?”
“In a couple of weeks now. It would have been quite jolly to travel together, wouldn’t it?”
“It would be more than that,” Phyllis’ father interrupted, “I don’t at all like the idea of her starting out alone for Canada, and especially under the circumstances. I wish we could have arranged for her to go with you, Marion.”
“Why, father!” Phyllis gasped, amazed at such a practical idea emanating from him. And the matter was dropped.
Later, however, quick as a flash, a sudden decision came to the girl. There was nothing unusual in that. All of Phyllis’ decisions were made in the same way. I am not sure, however, that a vision of Nan and her thin black dress (and her light curls) did not aid and abet this particular
Spring! What a long time hence—and Bruce was very
With the bait of her aunt’s chaperonage it was easy to persuade her father. In his delight that his girl would not sail alone he suddenly emerged into the practical man cf the house.
“Use me, my dear, let me do your errands, or your packing.”
“Have mercy on us,” shrieked Phyllis, in a gale of laughter over the thought of the trunk her father would pack.
Only a week to prepare, but it was that or—next spring!
Oh, Nan! For what hurrying and flurrying, for what racing and chasing, are you responsible, you and your light curls and your thin black dress!
They say that joy takes long in the telling, and Bruce’s cabled message was carefully thought out. Other two wires, merely giving her pals the date of her sailing, took
but a moment to dash off and the three were carefully tucked in her father’s pocket to be carried to the post office in Godaiming.
“That was the first wire,” counted Phyllis. “The second when we reached St. John, and the third when we left it.”
She raised her eyes to the clock—XI. Her head erect,
and straightening the droop at the corner of her troubled mouth, she checked her traps and marched out to the second chapter of her life.
“XAES, madam, the rooms were all taken by yesterday I morning. Sorry, but there is not one. Another hotel? I am afraid the bigger ones are usually all filled at this season, but here is the address of a smaller one where you would be quite comfortable.”
“Oh, no, m’am. Not a one left! All gone this morning, good and early!” The glance of obvious admiration, accompanying the words, prevented further questions.
Phyllis stood in a square and looked about her. WThat an extraordinarily busy place! People rushing about in every direction! Girls almost buried in furs! Oh, of course! She had forgotten, Christmas shopping!
In the midst of it all was Phyllis, alone, desperately alone, not even a corner for her in one of their hotels.
She had often been in London alone; had gone up for a couple of days perhaps, when she sometimes was unable to secure a room till night. But that was different. London! why that was home!
Presently, noticing how many of the passers-by glanced at her, a girl with curiously sad eyes and a brilliant color in her cheeks, she walked toward a quiet street, leading from the Square. Nearby was a large stone building, decorated with a brass plate denoting that it was intended for young women.
Phyllis was soon in the office and put her usual question to a1 pleasant-faced secretary.
“So sorry, but all the rooms are filled! Excuse me!”— the telephone bell had rung. “Well, that, I suppose, is luck. One of the girls has got another week’s holiday, and is going home; but—it is a double-room. Do you mind?” “Very much,” thought Phyllis, though she was thankful indeed to have found it.
“Pardon me—but we like to know a little about the girls who come to us. Have you just arrived?”
“Oh, are you coming out to work here?”
“I suppose you are going to friends?”
“No,” flashed Phyllis. “May I have the room at once? I would be glad to bring up my traps from the station?” “Oh, I shall see to that,” the secretary went on pleasantly, leading Phyllis through long corridors to a small room, with two beds, the walls plastered with photographs.
“Miss Higgins, who will share it with you, is a goodhearted little soul. She is in one of our biggest dry goods stores all day.”
Phyllis didn’t care where she was all day, as longas she wasn’t there and had she heard it, she wouldn’t have known that a “dry goods store” meant a draper’s shop. But she felt very grateful when the secretary, whose sympathy guessed trouble but whose tact did not speak of it, closed the door, and left her alone.
Alone! None to guard against! None to question her! She was at last alone. She threw open her window, drew down the shade, and, slipping down by the side of the bed, buried her face in the pillow.
One dees not peer through closed doors.
From a church, almost close up against the window, rang out boys’ voices.
“Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!”
Thank God for song!
Phyllis closed her ears. These Christmas songs were not for her. She would not listen. No, she could not listen.
“Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph in the skies!”
Perhaps, after all, it softened the •bitterness of the hours that followed.
A WHITE hoar frost settled over -tx the city, and stretched its fingers through the open window, touching Phyllis by the bed. Shivering she rose, rested, better, wanting action.
One thing must be done immediate^ ly—send a cable to her father, telling of her safe arrival. She had purposely delayed, thinking that when Bruce met her, they would send the cablegram together.
She had already decided that what had happened to-day must never be told to her people. She would find something to do, anything that would be an excuse for not returning home. The mere idea of going back to Surrey—and explanations— even perhaps furtive looks of pity! That, at least, was not endurable, even in the thinking.
When her mind was clearer, she would think out a reason to send them why she had not married Bruce, but the real truth they would never know.
Continued on page 48
Jest of Circumstance
Continued from page 30
Having made careful inquiries as to the whereabouts of the telegraph office, Phyllis stepped out into the dusk.
Christmas! Christmas! The whole city mad with it! Joying in it! Laughing in it!
The streets ablaze with light. Wonderful windows! Marvellous shops! Such toys! Such color! Scarlet and tinsel and silver! Whatever it be, let it be gay.
Oh, Christmas! Christmas! How we need you! How we fore you!
Keep in the shadows, Phyllis! Keep in the shadows! These women from the Pullman! They will be here, perhaps, hurrying from one shop to another! Keep in the shadow! You do not want to see them, nor them to see you.
Even—it might happen suddenly—without any warning—one might—confront Bruce!
There are quiet streets, Phyllis; leading from the garish highway of merriment, up to the slopes of the white tranquil Hill.
Crunching through the frozen snow, with one’s face to the sunset. How one tramps! How one thinks!
A sled whizzes past, the boys and girls shrieking and yelling in the ecstasy of speed. Let them pass. Up here in the frozen slopes, it is Peace, and one possesses the Silence of the Hills, till the white is wrapped in shadow, and night is here.
The descent from Avernus is easy. The descent from the Hill top to one half of a double room is a task.
Standing on the threshold of her room Phyllis saw a girl, dressed in the very height of fashion, on her knees frankly admiring her leather suitcase.
“Say, are you P.H.D.? Nifty luggage you’ve got all right! Hope you don’t mind me admirin’ it. I’m Miss Higgins. The sec’try says you’re Miss Dale. Pleased to meet you, Miss Dale!”
Phyllis returned the friendly nod, with a horrible sinking of her heart. If she had known such loquaciousness went with a double room she might have tried further.
“Say! I’m just dead beat; anyway, I thought I’d come in early to-night. The sec’try told me you had just come to Canada, and I thought maybe you would be lonesome and I’d be sociable like!”
The girl was removing a very fashionable hat and Phyllis saw that the black eyes, which had before been entirely obliterated by the hat, glanced at her clothes keenly, and finished up with a smile, friendly and “sociable like.”
“That was very kind of you, but I am really very tired, and I think I would like to go to bed at once.”
“Oh don’t you mind me; an’ say, I've got a swell story here, if you would like me to •read it aloud?”
“Thank you, very much, but I believe I would rather sleep.”
This was scarcely Miss Higgins’ idea of sociability, however, although she did allow a short pause to intervene, while she searched vigorously in her top drawer.
“Can you beat it? Seems ’sif everything I own kep’ gittin’ in this drawer! Here’s me tearin’ home to finish Christmas presents, and takin’ half my time to find
them. Oh, gee. Here’s my last bottle of perfume been runnin’ out!”
An assortment of silk stockings and lace collars having been thrown on the floor, a bundle, pinned up in a clean towel, was found some layers further down the drawer.
“Gee! but you have to hide it careful when Gladys is round. She’s my girl frien’ an’ this is her Christmas present I’m makin’. It’s the newest style of sachet. Aint it swell?”
' I 'HE girl sat on the end of her bed, on top of her piled up belongings, to bring her nearer to the light, embroidering with considerable skill a rich piece of silk.
Phyllis watched her, interested.
“I thought you were ‘dead-beat,’ ” she remarked. Phyllis never could resist new phrases.
“So I am, but this is Christmas presents. Gee, many’s the Christmas Eve I’ve sat up pretty near all night finishin’ my Christmas presents.”
(Oh, Christmas! Christmas! Giving means Loving. )
“Say,” she went on later, glancing for a second at Phyllis brushing her hair, “you’ve got some hair. It would look grand if you knew how to do it up stylish. There’s a girl in the ‘Ribbons’ that can do hair swell. I’ll ask her to show you how.”
“She is a dear,” thought Phyllis, drawn for a minute from the contemplation of herself and her troubles, and wondering why the sachet was suddenly being pinned up and put away.
“There! Didn’t I pretty near forget you was tired. An’ I s’pose, you have a headache. Folks most always do have headaches when they travel. I’ll just pop the light out in a mo’.”
Chattering volubly, she made her preparations for bed. A word here and there, perhaps, reached Phyllis’ understanding, till suddenly an interrogative silence seemed to call for an answer.
Looking up at the girl, shivering on the edge of her bed, Phyllis was shocked to see how pinched and weary was the little pale face, now that her hair had been brushed back fop the night. She was looking at Phyllis anxiously and almost shyly.
“Did you ask me something? I’m afraid I didn’t bear,” said Phyllis.
“Where you got it, you know. All the girls use it—’specially like now, when we’re all dead beat. But none of them put it on as grand as you.”
“Put what on,” repeated Phyllis, puzzled. “I really don’t know what you mean.” “Gee! It would be swell if you would show me how,” and the girl rubbed her pale cheeks wistfully, and looked so admiringly at Phyllis’ rich coloring that she understood.
Phyllis understood and laughed, and a wave of feeling sent her to the other bed, where she tucked the shivering little piece of humanity between the sheets:
“You get it in England, in the rain and the sunshine, and walking on the moors, and digging in the gardens,” she said. And, opening the window, she threw her travelling rug over the protesting girl and turned out the light.
Gazing into the darkness for hour after hour, she finally fell asleep in the early dawn, worn out and exhausted.
'T'WO days until Christmas would be A past. Then she could take steps to find some position. Not having before made such an attempt she did not count on difficulties. She was educated and she was strong. She had no fears—only she wanted the time of holly, and festivities, and carols, and all the dear, dear things that had been so much to her in other years to be over first.
Thank God there was a Mountain here, a place of solitary paths half buried in snow; groves of trees, their boughs crackling beneath a smooth coating of frost. And empty quarries, with caves, hidden in the side of the hill, furnished with beds of snow, and decorated with icicles and frozen mist.
Humanity, with its curious eyes, and its questioning tongue was not there, and Phyllis turned to the Mountain with a thankful heart.
Lingering on the white slopes, climbing the paths, stumbling over frozen tracks, Phyllis spent long hours, her mind going over and over the same questions, like the incessant whirring of a machine.
From the moment she had left her room in the morning until her return, with the exception of the few words she had spoken to an old woman at a church, it had been a day of silence.
Miss Higgins was already here, and Silence skulked out of the door. It could not rest in her environment.
“Gee, Miss Dale, some people have all the luck! Here’s you doing nothin’ all day, like any swell dame. Here’s me dead beat with sellin’ ’em Christmas presents. There aint nothin’ left of me to ‘write home about’. And that’s no lie.”
A voice, tired to the point of irritation, eyes, drawn and strained, burning cheeks! The girl in a heap on the bed was right. There wasn’t much left “to write home about.”
“My, but sometimes I hate this here Christmas!” the tired girl went on, her voice hoarse and broken. “All this chasin’ and drivin’ an’—.”
Phyllis roused herself. Here was a sick girl, or in any case here was an exhausted girl. Carefully putting away the stylish hat which had been thrown on the chair, Phyllis set to work to put her to bed. “You need a good night’s sleep. You will be all right to-morrow,” she said. But she wasn’t.
Waking later from a fitful doze, Phyllis saw a still, white figure sitting on the floor near the open window. The white rays of the moon, and the reflection of the snow, gave an unnatural appearance of marble.
She had once seen in France a white marble statue of Jeanne d’Arc. The figure on the floor was exactly like it. Night and the light of a planet had transfigured a little shop girl—a feverish, sick shop girl, into the form of the saint of France.
“I was hot, an’ I wanted to get cool,” she cried, struggling peevishly as Phyllis almost lifted her back into bed.
"TF I stop in bed I will lose my job, and Athat’s all there is to it,” she insisted, next morning when Phyllis, seeing signs of a high temperature, had asked the secretary to send for a doctor.
“Nonsense! Nonsense!” replied that gentleman, irritably, “the girls always talk like that!”
In his trail he left sobs, stormy and uncontrollable, and protests that her job would be gone forever.
“D’ye think Mr. Hicks would stand for it! Christmas Eve! An’ me at the laces -stoppin’ away!” she protested.
“Perhaps he will find someone else -just for the day.”
“I think I see him diggin’ round the day before Christmas! You jest bet I am goin’ to get up, and never mind what.” As Phyllis watched the futile attempt to stand, she suddenly announced:
“Look here, I’ll tell you! I’ll take your place to-day—if you think that Mr. Hicks will have me.”
“Yes, me. I’m going.”
Followed explanations, and directions, excitedly given.
"An’ for the land’s sake don’t mix up the filet lace—”
But Phyllis was oil, with long swift steps, feeling for the first time, since the terrible morning in the station, like Phyllis Dale. She breathed in the cold frosty air, rubbed her ears and her hands briskly
till they tingled, and in a wonderful glow of color turned in at the grey stone block described to her.
“Pardon me, madame, but the shop isn’t open yet, and you’ve come in at the door for the employees.”
“Oh, but—may I speak to Mr. Hicks? You are Mr. Hicks? Well, would I do— do you think? I mean, Miss Higgins is very ill and can’t come, and I shall take her place for the day, if you like.”
Mr. Hicks was skilled in the study of humanity—at least of customers—and was not blind enough to overlook the fact that Phyllis behind his counter, ignorant as she confessed herself to be of the art of selling, might nevertheless be in no small degree a decoration to his department. After some demurring and expostulating as to her lack of training he agreed to accept her as Miss Higgins’ substitute.
“But be careful. Pray be careful, my dear Miss Dale—! The novelties are at your counter too!”
And the day before Christmas had begun.
Here and there, hither and thither, jostled and pushed the folks. It was like wine to the women, it was Hades to the
The grown-ups were children again; and the children, because they carried their own money, and made their own purchases, were grown-ups.
The Mountain had sent its own representative, for the woods came walking in. Fields of green trees, baby trees, were here, bearing a very different fruit from the parent trees, left behind on the hill.
The bells from the cathedral were clanging and clashing the joy of the year!
Busy, busy folk, everywhere studying their paper lists with puzzled faces. '
“Oh heavens!” wailed a woman’s voice, near Phyllis, “I’ve lost my list!”
Phyllis rescued it from being done to death by countless feet.
Grace—Don’t know, and so on for half a column.
People were gripped by the wonderful passion of giving that takes possession of humanity at the anniversary day of the Birth of Christ.
The Spirit of Christmas floated into the store, rubbing shoulders with the jostling folk.
'T'HE other girls at the counter seemed A rather suspicious of Phyllis. When she had time to think her mind flew to the picture her father would have of her today—Christmas eve—going gaily through the shops with Bruce—learning to know his sister, whom they had expected would meet Phyllis—happy—cared for—perhaps already a bride!
And here she was, serving behind the counter, friendless, except for little Miss Higgins.
At first she was rather embarrassed, dreading to look round in case a figure that she feared, yet longed to see, might be there. As the hours wore on, however, she became accustomed to it and lost her nervousness.
“Gloves on the next counter.”
“Fancy goods in the basement.” “Children’s boots upstairs!”
“Well, I do think that’s too much! Yes, it is, dear! Your Aunt May only gave me a ‘passed on’ present last Christmas, and I don’t intend to spend so much on her.” And a tall woman, with the face of a Madonna, and the heart of an adding machine, hurried her wondering daughter to the bargain counter.
Presently there passed an old gentleman, with a handsome fur coat, and a girl about twenty or so, looking rather distressed, lagging behind him.
“Get that for your mother from me, and that will settle her for another year,” he commanded, pointing to a lace collar on a stand.
“But, Uncle, don’t you remember I told you last night that I had already bought a lace for mother for my present to her?” The girl, who could scarcely be seen for parcels, spoke in a very distressed voice.
“There you are again! Always contradicting. I thought you came to help me, and all you do is to put obstacles in the way of everything I suggest. Can’t you agree about anything? This Christmas business is bad enough itself, without this everlasting contradiction.” And the irascible old gentleman shoved his hands in his pockets, turned his back on his niece, and made a dive for the door.
He, as you may notice, had missed the Spirit of Christmas.
The bells rang out merrily! Christmas bells!
What fools we mortals be! Phyllis, all the morning, had scarcely dared to look across the counter to the other aisles in dread of whom she might see. Now as the hours passed, dread changed to hunger and longing.
“Say, girls, Mr. Hicks says as there’s coffee and sandwiches in the rest-room, and that you are to slip off by turns and take it, as the store will be open till ten o’clock.”
Phyllis looked up to smile at the important voice of the small messenger of good tidings. Her eyes, sweeping upwards, were suddenly arrested.
In the next aisle, bending over something on the counter, turning, laughing and excited, to a girl beside him, was Bruce. The store whirled about her, and the blood raced madly through her veins, clogging her brain, leaving her at the mercy of instinct.
Hanging out of a train window in a London station, his eyes riveted on her, pleading that the parting might not.be too long—that was the last time! A whirlwind of memories rushed through her mind.
In any case, she would know. She must know what had brought ruin to her love and her life. He need not see her— she would make vastly sure that he would not see her—but Phyllis must have definite knowledge.
With a sudden movement, she was pushing past the girls, who were too busy to give more than an annoyed glance, and hurrying to the dressing room for her coat.
“Say, that English girl is in some hurry for her food. Seems like she hadn’t had anything to eat for a month,” remarked the girl next to where she had stood, and in the turmoil of selling that was for the time all the notice that was taken of her sudden disappearance.
Hurrying from the entrance on the side street, she hovered near the great glass central doors, until a merry, familiar laugh told her that her waiting was over.
DAST the cross streets she went, with A their Christmas traffic, where it was easy to follow unobserved; past the handsome houses of the wealthy, unshaded windows showing rosy lights, Christmas trees, and rooms full of children; past the great white hospital, glistening in its dress of hoar frost; up to the slope of the Hill.
The light of the rising moon shone on a little stone house, oh! much simpler and tinier than the grand ones surrounding it. with a roadside shrubbery of evergreen shielding it from the road.
Here the man and the girl turned in, and Phyllis, from the shadows on the other side of the road, saw that a latch key admitted them both. So it was here.
The fire that seemed to burn her up died out suddenly. Cold, silent, Phyllis continued up the glittering white slope.
The mystery of Christmas was in the Night that lay about her -garnished, ready, waiting. A world—white and clean -above her a sky, mysterious, dark, bringing forth stars, bright, tingling Christmas
Oh, Night of Nights!
With bitterness in her heart, Phyllis, a stranger and alone, turned impatiently from the peace of the whitened hills. The city below her sparkled and glittered, white and radiant; beyond lay the frozen
There was a slight movement lower down, and footsteps were approaching. Phyllis turned to leave the solitary spaces and to hide herself in the world below.
After all, other girls had their hearts wrung, and their pride trampled on.
Phyllis stumbled over the frozen snow, the cold becoming keener every moment, and the road but a polished sheet of ice.
She hastened past the little stone house with the roadside shrubbery, and turned her eyes away. She had seen enough.
Suddenly, there was the sound of the banging of a door; and a man’s step crunched quickly over the frozen road behind her. Phyllis hurried on in the shelter of the dead trees.
Opposite the entrance to a large square house, a ‘sleigh, scarcely visible for its load of parcels, was drawn up—the horse champing and fretting, excited by the cold, and the noise of its own bells.
A sudden shout from a party of children sliding on the next street startled the animal. It tossed its head and started off. The driver, waiting at the house
door to deliver parcels, threw them down and made a dash for his horse.
Phyllis reached the open gate at the identical moment. In the collision Phyllis being the lighter, went down, while the man made a leap on the back of his sleigh, seized his reins, shouted a word of apology in French, and had disappeared in a trice.
In her haste to rise, Phyllis stepped on a piece of loose frozen snow and fell again, giving herself a considerable blow.
Two long strides brought the man from the house to her side. Stooping, le put out his hand to assist her.
“Please let me help you. That great rough dolt deserves a thrashing.”
Though the blow had left her weak and giddy, she knew she dared not speak. Keeping her head as much in the shadow as possible, she struggled to her feet, muttering something about being “all right.” Suddenly, with a phiz and a crackle, an electric lamp, in the middle of the road, which had been out, glared over their heads, straight into the face of Phyllis. “Phyllis—my God—you—!”
The man, dazed, fell back.
IN THE face of his bewilderment, the A girl became suddenly calm. No cheap heroics for her. She suddenly felt surely she had already lost enough dignity, following him like a mad thing! Thank heaven, she had control of herself again.
“Of course it is I, Phyllis Dale. There is no need for us to talk. We shall not meet again, I am sure, if either of us can help it. 1 had not known before that men were capable of such things. Please let me pass.”
And, indeed, in his bewilderment he almost did let her pass. As she moved, however, he suddenly caught her wrist with his left hand. It was obvious that the right was an artificial limb.
“What do you mean? What are you saying? Don’t you see I am all in the dark? I thought you were in Surrey, Phyllis. When did you come? Why didn’t I know? Why should we not meet
The girl struggled to go. “Are you mad, Phyllis, to think I will let you go like this? Is your father here too?”
“My telegrams have already told you.” “Your telegrams! What telegrams?”
For a brief second puzzled silence lay between them. The man in his height looked almost grotesque in his big loose coat, his eyes blazing with impatience; the girl, losing her grip, her heart beating through her white face. About them the night with its Christmas mystery.
“Tell me, Phyllis, I swear to you I have not the faintest knowledge of what you mean!”
“My father sent you a telegram, telling you I was leaving with my aunt without— waiting for Spring—giving you the name of my steamer, and the time when I would arrive. I wired you from St. John whenever we reached it, and again the next day, when my train left. I have found that I have been a trusting fool, and that you never wished or expected me to come at all.
I leave you my congratulations!”
She half turned to the little stone house further up the hill, but the man did not notice. He was silent for a second and then, releasing her. looked straight into her eyes.
“Phyllis, Phyllis, my darling,” he said. “You and 1 have had a narrow escape from being tricked out of the happiness of our lives. None of your telegrams has ever reached me. A fortnight ago my artificial arm went back on me. The nerves of my shoulder hurt as they did after my first operation, and I was sent back to hospital to have another limb fitted.
“The hospital isn’t in this city, you know. Phyllis dear, and 1 shut up my little apartment and left at once, without giving any directions for letters. 1 thought 1 would be back in a few days, and my shoulder was stinging like the mischief, Phyllis I couldn’t think of another thing! ”
A toboggan, carrying its load of happy boys and girls, approached them, and they stopped speaking until it passed.
“I only came back to-day, dear, and Nan met me,” “Ah, Nan!” His eyes, riveted on her face, saw the muscles twitch, and a revelation came to him.
“Nan met. me,”.he went on. “She knew 1 was bringing down her Christmas present from Gerald. Gerald, you know, is her new fiancée. Afterwards, she went with meshopping for something I wanted for you. my darling. Oh, 1 sent you a real
present ten days ago, but I wanted to buy something for you on Christmas Eve! Nan said she would do it up for me in real Christmas style, so 1 went home with her. Here it is—”, he went on, dragging a paper parcel, covered with Christmas seals, from his breast pocket. “Oh. Phyllis— oh, Phyllis—”
ís there one reason why Phyllis should not be the Phyllis of the garden in dear old Surrey—Phyllis, the loving and beloved?
The Christmas stars, using their Morse code, twinkled back “None,” and sure they ought to know!
“Gee! Miss Dale, what’s got you? Say, but your eyes are shining! You look as if you’d been gettin’ Christmas presents instead of sellin’ them.”
Phyllis ran over to the little bed, and put her arms round the little figure.
“So I have,” she whispered, “the grandest, finest present any girl ever got, and you have to hurry up and get well, for in two days you are going to put on a new frock, that is my Christmas present to you, and come to my wedding!”
“Can you heat it!” gasped little Miss Higgins.