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Polly and the Princess by Emma C. Dowd

Part 6 out of 6

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lively!"

The rosy-cheeked Saint took up a big parcel, and read off, in a
clear voice, "Miss Katharine Crilly."

Starling was nearest, and took the package; but Miss Crilly, a
little upset at being the owner of the first name called, jumped up
and hurried across the room for her present, unheedful of mistletoe
and the eyes that were watching her. Just inside the enchanted
circle, the sudden hush of the room gave her its warning. She
caught the eager glances directed beyond her, and turning her head
uttered a startled cry. Almost at the same instant an arm shot
toward her, missing its aim by scarce an inch. With one bound she
cleared the invisible line of danger, and, scudding straight past
Starling and her inviting parcel, stopped only at the detaining
hand of her laughing hostess.

"Mercy sakes!" she cried, and her face rivaled in color the Santa
Claus reds, as she met the laughing eyes of her host.

She came back with her parcel, much flurried and still scarlet of
face, while squeals of laughter and gay sallies rang about her.

After that there was more heed, and the distribution of presents
went on without further hindrance.

The big bag was empty at last, and Santa Claus exclaimed with a
sigh: "Oh, but it's hot! I say, let's get off some of this
toggery!" He slipped himself out of his fur coat, pulled off his
cap and his mask--and there was David Collins, smiling blithely to
the company!

The others were quick in following his example, and Madam Santa
Claus stood revealed as laughing Polly, with Patricia, Leonora,
Blue, and Doodles clustered round her.

Then there was plenty to say, many thanks to be given, and much
chatter and laughter. In the midst of it all, Nelson Randolph made
himself heard:--

"Ye men-folk, listen! I am glad to share my rewards with you, so
go ahead, David and Blue and Doodles, and obtain as much tribute as
possible under the mistletoe!"

"How can you share what you haven't got and never had and don't
know as you ever will have?" laughed Miss Crilly.

He turned toward the saucy speaker and shook his finger sternly.

"Jilting me, and then taunting me of my failure! Katharine Crilly,
perhaps before midnight the slipper will be on the other foot!"

This brought a hubbub of applause and merriment, and the ladies
backed away from the charmed circle and giggled and talked gayly
among themselves.

But Christmas presents are bewitching things, and it was not long
before mistletoe was all forgotten in the beauties of fine
needlework, the mysteries of new stitches, and the attractions of
dainty knickknacks. David and Blue and Doodles succeeded in making
momentary captives of Mrs. Tenney, Mrs. Winslow Teed. and Miss
Lily, while Polly and Patricia were several times arrested on their
heedless ways across the room.

Nelson Randolph seemed to have eyes only for Miss Crilly, although
once Polly almost walked into his hands. A short but exciting race
she led him before dodging behind Miss Mullaly's chair and asking
breathlessly if the mistletoe was all over the room.

He halted and looked round on the laughing company.

"My word of honor! I forgot!--Lady Polly, I humbly beg your
gracious pardon!" He bowed low.

"Granted, Sir Rogue!" she replied, dropping a curtsy.

Full of the spirit of mischief, Patricia slipped away to the piano.
And so the waltzing began.

Of course, everybody knew what to expect from their "men-folk"
partners unless they were exceedingly wary, and only an occasional
couple whirled into the enchanted circle.

Ice cream and cakes were succeeded by music and the singing of
carols, until somebody suggested that it was time to go home.

The host took out his watch.

"I shall not open the door for anybody yet," he declared. "Only
ten o'clock! Master Lark will give us another song!"

But before the command had been obeyed, the telephone rang lustily.

"Oh, is it!" Mrs. Randolph heard her husband say. "Thank you all,
and a Merry Christmas to every one of you!"

When he returned he nodded smilingly to her, and then Doodles gave
a funny little sleepy song that none of the others had heard,--"The
Land of I-dunno-where."

Afterwards came more carols, until Blue and Doodles had to hurry
away lest they miss the last car to Foxford.

The all-day guests began to put on their wraps, word was sent to
bring up the car, and all was bustle and happy words and Merry
Christmases in abundance. Each guest carried a pretty basket
filled with gifts from the host and hostess, and it was nearly
eleven before the last load was off, with the sleighful of young
folks to keep it company.

Nelson Randolph and his wife went silently back to the deserted
living-room.

"Seems kind of lonely, doesn't it?" she said.

"Not a bit!" he replied, leading her under the mistletoe and
claiming his reward.

"They did have a good time," she said happily.

"The best, I'll warrant, that they've had for a decade." He looked
down at his wife searchingly.

"What is it?" she smiled.

"You didn't care, did you?"

"For what?"

He tossed his head toward the branch above them.

"No, indeed!" she replied. "Why should I?"

"I didn't think you would," he said slowly; "but some women would
have had a fit!"

"I wasn't built that way," she laughed. "I think I enjoyed it more
than any of the rest of you!"

"My dearest wife!" he said gravely, while his lips found their
favorite spot where a curl strayed over her forehead,--"My dearest
wife!"

She heard with almost a start. Did he realize his words, or was it
simply an impulsive phrase? A story had been told her once--but,
no, that did not belong to Christmas Eve!

"It was all a happening," he went on. "I spied the mistletoe when
I was coming home, and it set me to wondering if it wouldn't help
out; so I brought it along. I wanted those dear women to have a
real Christmas merry-making, not a sham affair. Take such folks,
they'll generally sit around and talk, and laugh a little, and
think they are celebrating something. I wanted them to have a
young Christmas. And I didn't catch anybody after all," he ended,
a plaintive note in his voice.

"You didn't try to catch anybody, did you?" she smiled.

"What ever put such a thing into your head?" he demanded fiercely.

She laughed. "I have seen you a few times before to-night."

He frowned--then broke into a chuckle.

"Bless you!" he said fervently.

"Nelson Randolph!" she suddenly cried out, trying to break away
from him, "The windows! I forgot!"

"What's the matter with them?" he twinkled. "They're all shut."

"But the shades! They're up!--Nelson!"

"What if they are?" he returned comfortably.

"Somebody may look in!"

He smilingly held her tight. "If any wanderer is abroad in this
cold, he ought to be rewarded with a picture of domestic bliss."

"But if Mrs. Betts should be coming home late!--"

"She'd probably be disappointed that it was only I, instead of some
other woman's husband."

"Nelson, do let me go!...I think we might find easier seats," she
laughed, as she came back to him.

He turned her toward the little mantel clock. It was two minutes
of twelve.

"Almost Christmas morning!" she said softly. "I wonder if they'll
call us up to-night."

"Hardly. We should have heard before. Everything was complete at
ten o'clock."

"How surprised they were!" she mused smilingly. "I'm so glad you
did it for them."

"I am glad you did it!" he amended.

She started to reply, but he lifted a detaining finger. The city
hall clock was striking the hour.

"My princess,"--his lips touched her own,--"I wish you the
joyfulest Christmas--"

"Ting! ting! Ting! ti-i-ng!" broke in imperiously.

"Go," he urged, loosing his clasp.

"Oh, Mis' Randolph! is that you?" came in Miss Crilly's clear
voice. "We all wish you a merry, merry Christmas, and we thank you
more than we can ever tell if we live to be a hundred years old!
They piled into my room to wait till Christmas morning, for they
would have me do the talking, though I can't do it half so well as
some of the rest of 'em! Oh, you don't know how surprised we were!
We stood talking in my door. Mis' Albright and Miss Mullaly and
Miss Major and I, and I said, 'Come in and sit down!' So I struck
a light, and happened to glance this way! Well, I gave one scream,
and looked round to make sure where I was; and Miss Mullaly she
squealed out, 'How came that here?' Then I spun across the room
lively! And when I picked up your card with its dear little piece
of mistletoe--well, you could have knocked me down easy! We heard
little shouts and laughs all up and down, and Miss Major said, 'I
wonder--' and ran right off to her room quick. Then the others
caught on, and they went! I had to follow, of course, to see! And
when we found there was a 'phone in every room--we just didn't know
what to do! Why, if I wake up in the night I shall want to run
over here to feel of it, just to make sure it is true! To think of
your doing it for us!"

"I didn't! It is Mr. Randolph you ought to be thanking, not me!
He--"

There was a dash across the room and the receiver was caught from
her hand.

"No, no! I had nothing to do with it! I only filled my wife's
order--that's all!"

"Nelson Randolph!" she expostulated. "Let me have the telephone!"

But he shook his head. "Thank you, Miss Crilly, on her behalf!
I'm mighty glad you like them. What's that? Oh, well, if she did,
I should be there beside her, thanking Him for giving me so good a
wife!"

"What are you talking about? I want to know!"

With a smile he relinquished the instrument.

"I heard you say that! I told him that Miss Mullaly said you ought
to get down on your knees every day of your life and thank the Lord
for giving you such a good husband."

"You can tell Miss Mullaly that is just what I do!"

"My! I will. Isn't this fun, to be talking with you this
way!--and at midnight, too! Oh, why didn't I think of it when he
was there! Well, you thank him for us all! You ought to have
heard us gabble when we found those five-dollar gold pieces in our
baskets! It was lovely of him to do it! And those shoes you gave
me--did you crochet them yourself?"

"Certainly."

"All those stitches for me! They're beautiful! I've always wished
I had some of that kind. And--just think!--I shouldn't be here
to-night if it hadn't been for you! Oh, I couldn't thank you
enough if I should live to be a thousand years old! You'll be sure
and come to our tree, won't you?"

"We will look in on you some time during the evening. We can run
away from the Dudleys' for a little while."

"Well, I am so full of happiness I believe one drop more would make
my eyes spill over! I never thought I should chime in with Mis'
Puddicombe, but to-night I do! June Holiday Home _is_ the gate of
heaven--and all because of you and Polly!"

THE END

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