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Eugene Wood

Part 4 out of 4

somehow, and then the reindeer would fly to the next house, and
the next, and so on, and so on. The mystic hour draws near. Like
a tidal wave it rolls around the world, foaming at its crest in a
golden spray of gifts and love. The mystic hour.

"Oh, just a little longer, just a little longer."

"No, no. You cain't hardly prop your eyes open now. Come now.
Get to bed. Now, Elmer Lonnie; now, Mary Ellen; now, Janey; now,
Eddie; now, Lycurgus. Don't be naughty at the last minute and say,
'I don't want to,' or else Santa Claus won't come a-near. No, sir."

After the last drink of water and the last "Now I lay me," a long
pause . . . . Then from the spare bedroom the loud rustling of
stiff paper, the snap of broken, string, and whispers of, "Won't
her eyes stick out when she sees that!" and, "He's been just
fretting for a sled; I'm so glad it was so 't we could get it for
him," and, "I s'pose we ort n't to spent so much, but seems like
with such nice young ones 's we've got 't ain't no more 'n right
we should do for 'em all we can afford, 'n' mebby a little more.
Janey 's ' 'stiffcut' said she was 100 in everything, deportment
an' all."

At one house something white slips down the staircase to where a
good view can be had through the half-open parlor door. It pauses
when a step cracks loudly in the stillness. The parlor door
is slammed to.

"D' you think he saw?"

"I don't know. I'm afraid so. Little tyke!"

Something white creeps back and crawls into bed. A heart thumps
violently under the covers, and two big, round eyes stare up at
the dark ceiling. Somebody has eaten of the fruit of the Tree of
Knowledge, and the gates of Eden have shut behind him forever.

He does not sense that now; he is glad in the exulting consciousness
that he is "a little kid" no longer. Pretty soon he'll be a man,
and then. . . . and then. . . . Oh, what grand things are to happen

The mutual gifts are brought out with many a shamefaced: "It looks
awful little, but 't was the best I could do for the money. You
see I spent more on the children than I lotted to," and many a
cheerful fib of: "Why, that's exactly what I've been wishing for."
Some poor fools, that have never learned and never will learn that
the truest word ever spoken is: "It is more blessed to give than to
receive," make their husbands a present of a parlor lamp or a pair
of lace curtains, and their wives a present of a sack of flour, or
enough muslin to make half a dozen shirts. And there are deeper
depths. There are such words as: "What possessed you to buy me that
old thing? Well, I won't have it! Now!" The stove-door is slammed
open and the gift crammed in upon the coals, and two people sit
there with lips puffed out, chests heaving and hearts burning with

It is the truth, but cover it up. Cover it up. Turn away the head.
On this Holy Night of Illusion let us forget the truth for once.
There are three hundred and sixty-four other nights in which to
consider the eternal verities. On this one, let us be as little
children. "Let us now go even to Bethlehem and see this thing
which is come to pass."

The mystic hour draws nigh. The lights go out, one by one. The
watchman at the flax mills rings the bell, and they that are waking
count the strokes that tremble in the frosty air. Eleven o'clock.
Father and mother sit silent by the fire. The tree in the corner
of the room flashes its tinselry in the dying light. A cinder
tinkles on the hearth. Their thoughts are one. "He would be nine
years old, if he had lived," murmurs the mother. Their hands grope
for each other, meet and clasp. Something aches in their throats.
The red coals swell and blur into a formless mass.

The mystic hour is come. The town sleeps. The moon rides high in
the clear heavens. The wind sighs in the fir trees. Faint and
far-off across the centuries sounds the chant of angels.

The hour is come.


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