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a pair of home-made snow-shoes. Grandma Lewis had knit some red wristlets for me, and Cousin Lucy a cap to match. I was the happiest boy in the state of Maine!” Tom paused a moment. “But somehow, Ann, what I remember most was the spirit of the day itself. Cousin Lucy had worked hard, I know, and in the evening had a lot of the neighbors in; but she was the life of the crowd. Ann, I’d like you to meet and really know Cousin Lucy. I wish she 'd ask us to visit them sometime.” “Somehow, I never supposed—” Ann began hesitatingly. “Supposed what?” Tom asked. “Well, I guess I never gave your firtree cousins much thought, Tom. I did n’t think you cared particularly. You've never talked much about them nor made any effort to—” “Yes, I know,” Tom broke in, ‘‘and the more shame to me, too. It’s queer sometimes, that, no matter how much you may think of people, you just sort of drift apart. But you ’d better get to bed now, Ann; you look tired to death.” Christmas day dawned upon a clear and sparkling world. There had been a flurry of snow during the night, and in the keen morning sunlight everything shone clean and freshly garbed. Within the house, fires blazed; the tang of evergreen mingled with the odor of half-burned candles. The scarlet splash of holly berries gleamed amid their gloss of green leaves, and there was a happy confusion of torn wrappings, broken seals, and piled-up gifts. The dinner was a success, as Ann's dinners always were; but
later that evening, as Ann struggled with the fastening of her new gown, “I did n’t know I was so tired,” she remarked, with a little sigh of weariness. And she repeated the words at intervals all during the week that followed. So that
it was a rather wan little figure that faced Tom across the breakfast-table the morning after New Year's. There was a pile of letters beside her plate. “I know exactly, Tom Brewster, what 's in every one of these missives. I could read them off to you with my eyes shut. I never feel that Christmas is really over for another year,” she added ironically, “until assured that my gifts have arrived and are herewith acknowledged with due and proper gratefulness.” Tom grinned as he opened up his morning paper. There was a silence for several minutes while Ann slowly slit the seals one by one. She picked up a square white envelop that bore her father's well-known handwriting, and a minute later a sudden exclamation made Tom look up. “Why, Tom-Tom Brewster!” Ann's eyes glanced down the single page; then she began to read aloud:
“My dear Ann: “Perhaps you won't remember it, but you gave me a muffler for Christmas once long ago, when you were a very little girl. You picked it out yourself, and I 'll say this—that you showed remarkably good taste. That muffler, or what 's left of it, is tucked away somewhere in the attic now. The one you sent this year gives me almost as much pleasure as did that other one, although I suppose I 'll have to concede that these new styles are really prettier (but not any warmer or more useful) than the old. Your mother thinks they must be coming back into favor again, but I don't care whether they are or not. They 're warm and they help keep a clean collar clean. For my part, I 'm glad we're getting away from the showy Christmases of the last few years and down to a simpler, saner giving and receiving. “Lots of love and thanks to you and Tom, “FATHER...”
Ann drew forth a small folded sheet that had been tucked inside the other one. It read:
“Dear Ann: “I'm just going to add a line to put in with your father's, for we have a house full of company and there 's no time now for a real letter. Your box this year, although something of a surprise, was none the less welcome. I have thought for several years that we ought all of us to give simpler gifts. A remembrance, no matter how small, if carefully and thoughtfully chosen to meet the need or desire of the recipient, carries with it more of the real Christmas spirit than the costliest gift or one chosen at random. I don't know when I've had an apron given me before! I began to think they had gone out of fashion. I put yours right on, and your father said it made him think of when you children were little. The boys will write you themselves, but I 'll just say that Ned and Harold both remarked that it seemed fine to get a stick-pin once more. (You know we 've always tried to think up something different, with the result that both are rather low on that article.) We 've had lots of fun with Hugh's game. He confided to me that he 'd been hoping somebody would give him one. So you see, Ann dear, we are all pleased with our things and send you our grateful thanks. Love to you both from, “MOTHER. “P. S. I was afraid my letter telling of your Aunt
Cordelia's arrival had not reached you in time, but I need not have worried. She was much taken with that case for holding her yarn. She'd had one and lost it. And Katy was real pleased with that pretty handkerchief.”
With hands that trembled a little, and with burning cheeks, Ann drew forth the last letter in the pile. It was postmarked Maine, and contained two plain lined sheets, tablet S1ze.
“This is from Cousin Lucy,” Ann began, a queer little note creeping into her voice:
“My dear Ann: “When we opened your box on Christmas morning, I thought I had never seen anything so attractive. Seals and ribbons and greetings may not mean so much, perhaps, to you city people; but for us isolated ones, they add a great deal to our enjoyment and appreciation. Your gifts fulfilled certain long-felt desires, one or two of which I suspect are older than you are, Ann. Perhaps you cannot understand the joy of receiving something you 've always wanted, yet did not really need. The necessary things we can and do buy, as a rule, but the others—the little amenities of life—it is for these that Christmas was instituted. The wise men might have brought other and needed things to the Bethlehem manger, but they did n't.' They brought gold and frankincense and myrrh! I am writing with my beautiful pin before me on the table. You see, it is the first one—the first really nice pin–I 've ever owned. That is fulfilled desire number one. The second is the sight of your Cousin Henry enjoying a bit of leisure before the fire with his new book. I suppose Tom may have told you that once, as a young man, your Cousin Henry made this very trip to the headwaters' of the Peace River. So few new and worth-while books find their way to us. Louise and the boys will write later, so I'll only say that Alec actually takes his big flash-light to bed with him; Joe is inordinately proud of that safetyrazor; and as for little Henry—well his father and I both feel that we ought to thank you on our own behalf, for all our efforts to make an out-ofdoor lad of him seem to have failed hitherto. He is the student of the family, but the new skates lure him outside and help to strike the proper balance. Louise loves her beaded bag, as, indeed, what girl would n't! And as for Grandma Lewis, she fairly flaunts that bit of rose-point. She confided to me that at eighty years she had at last o up all hope of ever possessing a piece of real ace! “I have written a long letter, but I doubt if, after all, I 've really succeeded in expressing even a small part of our appreciation to you and Tom for your carefully chosen gifts. To feel that a certain thing has been chosen especially for you, to fit your own individuality and particular desire, if not always need, -this, it has always seemed to me, is the true spirit of Christmas. And I think you have found it, Ann. Before closing I want to ask if you and Tom can’t arrange to make us a visit this summer? “Wishing you both a Happy New Year, “Lovingly, “Cousin LUCY.”
Ann Brewster laid down the letter with something that was half a sob and half a laugh. “I’m just too ashamed to live!”
“Why, what 's the matter, Ann?” Tom looked puzzled.
“Cousin Lucy speaks of my “carefully chosen gifts.” And—and they were n’t at all. They were n’t even meant for any of them. You see,” Ann swallowed the lump in her throat, “I’ve always just chosen their things at random. Yes I have, Tom. One of those Christmas obligations you spoke of the other night, to be disposed of with as little time and effort as possible. And then last week, when I was hurrying to get everything off, Nancy Wells came over and I left a lot of things for her to finish wrapping while I dashed off to the dressmaker's. And I suppose, in some way, I got the fir-tree cousins' and the home pile mixed.”
Tom pushed back his chair from the table.
“Seems to me, Ann dear, that we 've had the answer to our query, ‘What's wrong with Christmas?” Cousin Lucy is right. To make the gift fit the person. When you go to buy a dress or I a suit of clothes, we choose the particular cut suited to our own individuality, don’t we? Not to some one else's. And could n’t that rule apply as well to the selecting of gifts? You've sort of stumbled upon the truth this year, Ann, but—”
Tom stopped, whistling thoughtfully as he drew on his overcoat. There was a misty
By RALPH HENRY BARBOUR
SYNOPSIS OF PREVIOUS INSTALMENT NED and Laurie Turner, fifteen years of age, twins, and as like as two peas in a pod, arrive at Orstead,
New York, from their home in California, to enter the Hillman School. village, they make inquiries of a girl of their own age in a white middy suit.
Losing their way in the Later in the day they set
out for a walk and come across a quaint little house, in a side street, whose lower floor is occupied by a
CHAPTER III CAKES AND ALE
“HELLO!” exclaimed the twins in one voice. “Hello,” replied the girl, and they suspected that she was smiling, although their eyes were still too unused to the dimness of the little store for them to be certain. She was still only a vague figure in white, with a deeper blur where her face should have been. Treading on each other's heels, Ned and Laurie followed her to the other side. The twilight brightened and objects became more distinct. They were in front of a sort of trough-like box in which, half afloat in a pool of ice-water, were bottles of tonic and soda and ginger-ale. Behind it was a counter on which reposed a modest array of pastry. “What do you want?” asked the girl in the middy. “Ginger-ale,” answered Ned. you live here?” “No, this is the shop,” was the reply. live upstairs.” “Oh, well, you know what I mean,” muttered Ned. “Is this your store?” “It 's my mother's. I help in it afternoons. My mother is Mrs. Deane. The boys call her the Widow. I'm Polly Deane.” “Please to know you,” said Laurie. “Our name 's Turner. I'm Laurie and he 's Ned. Let me open that for you.” “Oh, no, thanks. I 've opened hundreds of them. Oh dear! You said ginger-ale, did n’t you? And I've opened a root-beer. It 's so dark in here in the afternoon.” “That's all right,” Ned assured her. “We like root-beer. We'd just as soon have it as ginger-ale. Would n’t we, Laurie?” “Yet bet! We're crazy about it.” “Are you sure? It's no trouble to- Well, this is ginger-ale, anyway. I’m awfully sorry!” “What do we care?” asked Ned. “We don't own it.” “Don’t own it?” repeated Polly, in a puzzled tone. “That 's just an expression of his,” explained Laurie. “He 's awfully slangy. I
In quest of cold drinks, the twins enter and are waited on by the girl in the white middy.
try to break him of it, but it 's no use. It 's fierce.” “Of course you don't use slang?” asked Polly, demurely. “Who wants the rootbeer?” “You take it,” said Laurie, hurriedly. “No, you,” said Ned. “You’re fonder of it than I am, Laurie. I don't mind, really!” Laurie managed a surreptitious kick on his brother's shin. “Tell you what,” he exclaimed, “we 'll mix 'em!” Ned agreed, though not enthusiastically, and with the aid of a third glass, the deed was done. The boys tasted experimentally, each asking a question over the rim of his glass. Then looks of relief came over both faces and they sighed ecstatically. “Corking!” they breathed in unison. Polly laughed. “I never knew any one to do that before,” she said. “I 'm glad you like it. I’ll tell the other boys about it.” “No, you must n’t,” protested Ned. “It's our invention. We 'll call it—call it—” “Call it an Accident,” suggested Laurie. “We'll call it a Polly,” continued the other. “It really is bully. It 's--it 's different; is n’t it, Laurie? Have another?”
“Who were those on?” was the suspicious reply. “You. The next is on me. Only maybe
another would n’t taste as good, eh?” “Don’t you fool yourself! I'll risk that.” However, the third and fourth bottles, properly combined though they were, lacked novelty, and it was some time before the last glass was emptied. Meanwhile, of course, they talked. The boys acknowledged that, so far, they liked what they had seen of the school. Mention of the doctor and Miss Hillman brought forth warm praise from Polly. “Every one likes the doctor ever so much,” she declared. “And Miss Tabitha is—” “Miss what?” interrupted Laurie. “Miss Tabitha. That 's her name.” Polly laughed softly. “They call her ‘Tabby,”—the boys, I mean, -but they like her. She 's a dear, even if she does look sort of
of cranky. She is n’t, though, a bit. She makes believe she's awfully stern, but she 's just as soft as–as—” “As Laurie's head?’’ offered Ned, helpfully. “Say, you sell most everything here, don't you? Are those cream-puffs?” Ned slipped a hand into his pocket and
account here, Laurie. Sometimes a fellow forgets to put any money in his pocket, you know. Does your mother make these?” “Yes, the cream-cakes, and some of the others. The rest, Miss Comfort makes.” “That's another funny name,” said Laurie. “Who is Miss Comfort?”
Laurie coughed furiously. Ned's hand came forth empty. He turned away from temptation. “They look mighty good,” he said. “If we 'd seen those before we 'd had all that ginger-ale—” Polly spoke detachedly. “You can have credit if you like,” she said, placing the empty bottles aside. “The doctor lets the boys run bills here up to a dollar. They can’t go over a dollar, though.” “Personally,” observed Laurie, jingling some coins in a trousers pocket, “I prefer to pay cash. Still, there are times—”. “Yes, a fellow gets short now and then,” said Ned, turning for another look at the pastry counter. “Maybe, just for—for convenience, it would be a good plan to have an
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“She 's—she 's just Miss Comfort, I guess,” replied Polly. “She lives on the next corner, in the house with the white shutters. She 's quite old, almost seventy I suppose, and she makes the nicest cake in Orstead. Everybody goes to her for cakes. That's the way she lives, I guess.” “Maybe we 'd ought to help her,” suggested Ned, mentally choosing the largest and fattest cakes on the tray. “I guess we'll take a couple. How much are they?” “Six cents apiece,” said Polly. “Do you want them in a bag?” “No, thanks.” Ned handed one of the cakes to Laurie; “we 'll eat them now.” Then, between mouthfuls: “Maybe you ’d better charge this to us. If we 're going to