HERRIES!” said J.T. “For heaven’s sake, turn off that radio in the lounge.”
Herries deftly whisked away a few crumbs from the sparkling damask cloth, placed the usual demitasse and liqueur before J.T., straightened his tall, liveried figure, and noiselessly left the room. Besides old J. T. Protheroe there were no members in the great dining hall of the club; nor in the lounge, the billiard room, the swimming pool, the writing room, the squash courts, the guest rooms. Nowhere throughout the great expanse of the Raleigh Club was there anyone but Mr. J. T. Protheroe and the merest handful of servants.
For it was Christmas Eve.
Not that there was anything so very peculiar about the solitude of J.T. at the dinner hour. Most of the members had families, and it was his custom to dine alone more often than not. A luxurious meal—coffee and liqueur—in his great, thronelike chair at the table. Then, a leisurely twenty-five steps back to his chair at the great street window in the lounge; there to enjoy an especially imported cigar which the steward kept to his own private order.
An hour or two at the window and then the steward’s tap on his shoulder, waking him. A slow tramp up the broad staircase, and sleep between silken sheets
THE CHRISTMAS CAROLS from the radio in the lounge were suddenly interrupted, and Herries returned to his master’s side with the latter’s favorite cigar box.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” said Herries, “but the steward asked me to tell you that this is the last of the box. If you’ll be here tomorrow, sir, should he enquire for more at some of the other clubs?”
“Nonsense, Herries,” said J. T. “Don’t be ridiculous. What’s the matter with the steward?”
“He had them on order, sir,” said Herries. “It seems as though the shipment were late—the Christmas mail and all, you know, sir.”
“Confound the Christmas mail!” said J.T.
Leaving his coffee unfinished, he rose angrily, grasped the last cigar in the box, thrust it in his mouth and, without waiting for Herries to light it, started for the lounge.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” said Herries, “but are you through with me for the night? Because, if you are, sir, I was just thinking—what with it being Christmas Eve and all, sir, and my son home from the sea to join the others for the fun—I would like to get away as early as possible. That is, of course, if convenient to you, sir.”
“Son home from the sea?” said J.T.
“Yes, sir,” replied Herries. “He’s the eldest one, Jamie is —the eldest of seven—and we’ll all be there for the fun. That is, when I get there, sir.”
“Certainly, certainly,” said J.T. “And, Herries”—J.T. reached for his wallet—“seven, did you say?”
“Seven living, sir,” said Herries. “There was one that died—a little girl, sir.”
“Yes, yes,” interrupted J.T. He handed Herries seven crisp ten-dollar bills. “Give them my best Christmas wishes.” He turned and walked briskly into the lounge.
OEFORE THE great street window of the lounge the snow was falling slantwise across the street lamps and the gay lighted windows of the stores; was resting like festive tinsel on hats, overcoats and mysterious Christmas parcels homeward going.
“Christmas,” thought J.T., “the season of gifts.” He chuckled sardonically. People expected every day to be Christmas with him. Giving, giving, giving—year in, year out—walking through life in a sea of outstretched hands. Not that there wras any pleasure in it—nor any pain either—simply that a man with three million dollars in sound securities was expected to do that. And on this night, at any rate, J.T. had always done what he was expected to do.
No one had ever given him anything.
Not that he resented it. There was nothing, of course, that he needed. Naturally people realized that. There was really nothing that he needed . . .
SUDDENLY J.T. noticed that something was wrong.
Anxiously he leaned forward in his great leather chair and scanned the street. J.T. was a most orderly soul ; he liked to see everything in its proper place! But tonight he felt that something was missing from the street scene, which had become as familiar to him as the interior of the club. The same policeman was on duty at the comer. The shops were all lighted. The usual taxis were at the hack stand across the street. Then he realized what was missing.
The little girl who sold the evening papers in front of the club was not there. J.T. had become accustomed to watching her mother bring her to this spot every night for more than a year. “Probably some sort of a racket,” he decided to himself. “The child should have been in bed long ago.”
J.T. had a vague idea as to what time children should be in bed, but he was sure the family of this urchin placed her there as part of another scheme to excite sympathy. Perhaps she was in bed tonight. Perhaps with a cold. It had been damp the night before. “Nonsense,” he thought, “what if she has a cold; all kids have colds.” He often had colds himself.
Just then she arrived and an unusual thing happened. She looked up at the window where J.T. was sitting and smiled shyly, then looked quickly away.
He supjxjsed he would have to send something out to her. A man in his position should. There she was begging again with that little quick smile. Suddenly all the resentment in his soul welled up within him, and the little newsgirl seemed to become the symbol of it. The same old touch. Well, he might as well get it over with. Perhaps if he gave her five dollars she would go away for the night and leave him alone. Taking five dollars from his pocket he rang for Herries. Then he remembered that he had let Herries go home to his family party.
Well, he would have to do it himself. Mumbling angrily, he made his way to the front door, swung open the heavy portals and stood on the steps, snow falling on his bald pate and white shirt front. The little girl was there before him. He looked at her searchingiy, assuming his usual gift-dispensing smile. He knew just what he would say.
But she spoke first.
“May I speak with you, sir?” she hesitated. “It’s —it’s Christmas Eve, you know.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” interrupted J.T. “I know it is Christmas Eve.” The bill crinkled in his hand.
“I see you sitting there, night after night—and you always look so lonely, sir—especially tonight —so I brought you a present.”
From under her shawl she produced something. J.T. looked at it. The lamplight shone on the glistening wrapper of a five-cent cigar.
THERE WERE eight children that night at the Herries’s Christmas Eve party. Eight children and another guest—an elderly man, from whose bald pate a ridiculous paper hat kept tumbling unceremoniously amid the laughter.
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