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Chapter 4
Friday, December 19.

This morning, as Rose was sweeping the pavement in front of our house, she was accosted by a small boy with ruddy cheeks and a red cap.

“Is he dead?” asked the small boy, his head interrogatively to one side, a half-expectant, half-wistful light in his twinkling blue eyes.

“Dead?” says Rose, with a little skip. “Who?”

“Why, him,” specified the small boy, ungrammatically insistent. “The little chap which used to sit in the winder and watch us play. I haven’t seen him for three days.”

“Of course he ain’t dead,” answered Rose, indignantly, for, with all her faults, she is very fond of Robin. “Ah guess he can stay in bed if he wan’ster without askin’ you! Shoo! get along!” and she swished viciously at the boy with her broom.

“Then give him this,” cried the red-capped one, hopping nimbly to safety in the gutter; and rolled a great golden orange to her feet. “I bought it with my own pennies to eat in school; but I’d rather he had it,—as long as he isn’t dead.” And he walked whistling down the street.

It was Robin’s “chum” John, to be sure,—and how Bobsie did enjoy that orange!

“It isn’t everybody who has such good friends as me,” he remarked with gusto, between unctuous sucks. “There’s Mrs. Burroughs, who sends over chairs an’ things just when you least expect it; and Francis, who wants me to have ’em (she said I might count him); an’ Georgie, even if we do fight sometimes; an’ my chum John. It’s pleasant to have people love you, isn’t it, Ellie dear?—and very comforting, too.”

In one instance, certainly, the comfort seems to be mutual. Mrs. Burroughs has run in to see Robin several times this last week. They laugh and chatter away together in the jolliest fashion. Indeed, it is quite delightful to hear them; for Bobs has not a particle of shyness with his new friend, while she seems to find an almost painful pleasure in his society. The more we see her, the sweeter we think her; and there was not a dissenting voice when Ernie declared this evening that “Mrs. Burroughs is next door to an angel.”
Saturday, December 20.

Rose left us this afternoon with many protestations of affectionate regard.—

“If ever you wan’ me, jus’ call upon me, Mis’ Graham,” she said to mother. “Ah’m ready to come back any time, at $18 a mont’, and no questions arst.”

I must say it seemed rather nice to have the kitchen to ourselves, the closet shelves all tidy and ship-shape, and clean sash curtains in the windows.

I was to get my first dinner alone, for poor little Robin had had a wretched night, and been in so much pain during the day that we had finally decided to send for the doctor. He was expected at any moment, and mother had to be ready to receive him.

The potatoes were bubbling pleasantly away on the hottest part of the stove, the steak was salted and peppered on the gridiron, ready for broiling, and I had just run in to the dining-room to take a last survey of the table before sitting down to cut up the oranges, when there sounded a tap-tap on the window-pane, and looking up, I saw Hazard’s anxious face peering in at me.

Naturally I ran to the basement door to let him in.

“Is anything the matter, Haze?” I asked,—for he has a latchkey, and it seemed odd that he should tap at the window.

“Hush, Elizabeth,” he answered. “I don’t want ’em to know that I’m home just yet.” And he preceded me into the dining-room, threw his cap upon a chair, sat despairingly down on it, and buried his head in his arms across the chair-back.

“What has happened, Hazard?” I asked, anxiously.

Haze swallowed hard, looked up, and then let his head drop down on his arm again.

“Do answer me, Haze,” I urged. “What is the matter? You aren’t dismissed, are you?”

“Not this time,” returned Haze, unsteadily, “but, from our point of view, it’s all the same as if I were.” And then, in an ashamed and broken voice, the poor boy started in to tell his story.

It seems that he was sent by Mr. Bridges this morning to collect a small debt for the firm. Haze got the money without any trouble, and started at a clip down the office stairs, because the elevator was several flights up, and he wanted to break the record, so to speak, and accomplish his errand in such short time that Mr. Bridges, whose special hobby is promptitude, would be forced to notice and commend him. When he reached the curb there was no car in sight, and Hazard happened to remember that he had not counted his money. Of course he knew that it must be all right, for the firm he was dealing with is perfectly trustworthy and reputable. However, to make sure, Haze thrust his hand into his coat pocket, drew out the little wad of bills, and proceeded to verify them.—There were two tens, a two, and three ones, in all twenty-five dollars, which was the correct sum.

Haze stood with the money in his hand, thinking how nice it would be to have that amount to spend on Christmas, till presently a down-town car came bowling along, Haze thrust the bills hurriedly into the outside pocket of his overcoat, and swung on.

There was a fine-looking, white-bearded old gentleman standing on the back platform. He caught Haze by the arm, and steadied him.

“Young blood will have its way,” he remarked, in admiring reproof. “Some forty years ago I swung aboard the cars in just such style myself.”

“Thank you, sir. That’s all right,” says Haze, never stopping to think that it must have been stage coaches the old gentleman swung aboard.

“Pleasant weather,” remarked Hazard’s new friend, presently. “Crisp, but not too keen. I see you are like myself, and prefer the view from the back platform here, to the stuffy atmosphere within. Oh, the poetry of a great city!” he observed again. “There’s romance here as fine and true as any hid away amid the snowcapped hills and sheltered valleys of my native state. Judging from your physiognomy, my boy, you are of the fibre to appreciate all that. The brow of a scholar, above the ardent eyes of a poet!”

“Thank you, sir,” says Hazey again, blushing a bit, and thinking, I haven’t a doubt, what a nice, appreciative old gentleman he had run across. “I do like to watch the city, and listen to its hum. It’s like wheels within a wheel. If you can keep your place, and pace, all right;—otherwise——”

“Otherwise,” concluded the old gentleman, his eyes fixed abstractedly upon the guard, who had walked the length of the car, and was fumbling with the door handle,—“Otherwise, it is what one might call—bum!”

And then, much to the surprise of Hazard, he hopped lightly to the step, swung himself off the car with a really amazing agility for one of his years, and disappeared among the throng.

Haze was still staring blankly after him when he felt a touch upon his shoulder. “Fare, please,” said the guard.

Haze felt in his overcoat pocket for the nickel, and turned pale. The wad of bills was gone! He had been robbed.

“And the worst of it is,” added Hazard, “that I shall have to make good out of my salary. That means I won’t be able to pay another cent to the family for eight weeks, Elizabeth. And I’d planned what I was going to give you all for Christmas,—and—and Mr. Bridges called me a calf before the entire office! I can stand most things,” concluded poor Hazey, with an angry sort of gulp, “but not, not an ’ninsult!”

Of course I comforted him as well as I could, and told him I would break the matter to mother. But, oh! it took all my courage, I can tell you, when she came down a few moments later, white-faced, and so tired-looking, after her interview with the doctor.

There was no use waiting, however, till after dinner. We should have to wash the dishes then, and she would want to return to Robin. So I began as cheerfully as I could, and mother listened, half as if she had expected it.

“Who could ever suppose that three dollars a week would seem so much?” she said, at last. “Well, we can’t have any Christmas spree, that’s all. I’m sorry, dears, but I do not dare draw anything from the bank. There is only $300 left,—and we may need it all, later.”

Somehow, in the back of my brain I have half a suspicion what mother fears we may need that money for. But I am not going to ask her and make sure. I haven’t the courage, that’s all.

“Mother!” protested Ernie, who had come down to the kitchen in time to hear mother’s last words. “No Christmas spree! What will Robin think?”

“There, there,” said mother, almost harshly. “It can’t be helped, Ernestine. Get the blue dish for the potatoes, and then ring the gong. We mustn’t keep Miss Brown waiting.”

So dinner was served; but though Miss Brown was really very nice, and said that everything was “delicious,” and she thought we should find the new régime a real improvement on the old, I could not feel much pleasure in her praise.

“Shall I tell you something?” asked Ernie, unexpectedly, as she set a dish of milk for Rosebud on the hearth, after the table was cleared and Miss Brown had gone upstairs. “Well, Uncle George is a devil. There!”

“Ernie,” said mother, turning in the doorway with Robin’s tray, which she was about to carry to the nursery, “I don’t wish you to speak that way. It is not right. Uncle George has been a good friend to us, according to his lights, and in this instance the fault is entirely with Hazard. He was foolish and careless, and we cannot expect an exception to be made in his case. It was against my wishes that he took a position,—now it lies with himself to make the best of it, and to try to overcome those faults of character which prevent his being the comfort and support to me that I have a right to expect.”

Poor Hazey, who was helping dry the dishes, blushed to the roots of his hair, and dropped a cup and smashed it.

Oh, dear! I do feel so sorry for everybody! That big splash is a tear;—and to-night there just don’t seem to be any roses, so there!
Monday, December 22.

All last night the wind whistled and howled about the house. This morning we woke to a snowstorm of almost blizzard proportions. And, oh, but the atmosphere was arctic!

“You get up first,” says Ernie, poking her little pink nose above the bed-covers.

“Indeed, I’ll do nothing of the sort,” I answered. “It’s your turn.”

“I thought you loved me, Elizabeth!” wailed Ernestine, reproachfully.

“So I do,” I answered, and hopped heroically forth to the glacial matting.

Ernie followed with hysterical giggles,—and I can tell you it did not take us long to dress!

Fortunately Miss Brown had gone to spend Sunday with a niece in Flatbush, so we did not have her to worry about. Mother made the nursery as comfortable as possible at the sacrifice of heavy inroads upon our precious stock of coal, and there Haze, Ernie, Robin, and I passed the morning. For Haze was taken ill Sunday night with a sharp attack of laryngitis, and was still unfit for the office; and we did not think it wise for Ernie to attempt to make her way to school through the snowdrifts. But, though it is not often now that we have the chance of a day together, it was not especially jolly.

Poor Hazey squatted on the register, very hoarse and gloomy, pegging away at his eternal C?sar; I darned stockings, and understood just how it was that Rose had used to be cross on a stormy Monday; while Ernie, hid in a corner behind a series of screens that she had contrived, sang carols and asked ridiculous riddles, busy as she declared upon “a secret.”

As for Robin, he sat in his shabby little grey flannel dressing-gown, propped up with pillows in the middle of mother’s big bed, talking about Santa Claus and the things he wanted for Christmas.—

“I’ve been good for three weeks,” he boasted vaingloriously. “I’ve taken my cod-liver oil,—haven’t I, Elizabeth? And I’ve finished the First Reader, and learned to spell squirrel! Hope old Santa knows about it, ’cause I want a lot o’ things!”

“Why don’t you write a letter, and tell him what you want?” suggested Ernie.

Whereat, Hazard scowled at her over his C?sar, and I shook my head warningly; but it was already too late. Robin caught gleefully at the suggestion.

“I will,” he piped. “Bring me some paper and a pencil, Elizabeth. Hurry up, now, honey!” For Bobsie dearly loves to write letters, and the fact that no one can read them but himself does not dampen his enthusiasm in the least.

“What is the difference,” sang out Ernie, blithely, while I searched mother’s desk for a half-sheet of note paper, “between a horse and an egg?”

“There’s no difference between you and a donkey,” growled Hazard.

“Well, I like that!” retorted Ernestine; while Robin, after a vigorous suck at the stump of pencil I had handed him, began unctuously upon his letter.

“Dear Santa Claus,” he muttered,—

“I want the Mowgli books,—”

“Jungle Books,” corrected Ernie.

“—and a horse just like Georgie’s,” continued Robin, with a flourish.

“Why not a little, white, cuddly, flannel rabbit with pink eyes?” suggested Ernestine. “You could take that to bed with you, you know, Robin, and the horse would have to sleep in a stall in the closet, which wouldn’t be nearly so convenient!”

“Yes, a little white flannel rabbit with pink eyes,” corrected Robin, obligingly. “And a steamboat what can whistle, and a box of building blocks, an’——”

But here Haze slammed to his book.

“Shut up, Bobs,” he commanded, roughly. “What’s the good? There isn’t any Santa Claus, and you might just as well know it now, as——” but there he stopped; for Robin was staring at him with such round frightened eyes that Ernie and I cried out together,—

“Oh, Hazard! how can you! You ought to be ashamed!”

Haze opened his book again. “I don’t care,” he muttered. “There isn’t any use in his running on like that. He isn’t going to get anything; we all know it, and——”

But Bobsie cried, “I will, too! I’ve taken my cod-liver oil, I tell you!”

And Ernie, running to his side, flung her arms protectingly about him. “Of course you have, honey,” she crooned, “and of course you’ll get some presents! Hazard is only teasing. The idea of there not being any Santa Claus! Who gave you your things last year, I’d like to know?”

Robin’s chin was beginning to quiver, and two great teardrops blinked on the ends of his long lashes. He held his arms tight about Ernie’s neck, and cuddled up against her side.

Haze looked at them a moment, threw his book aside, and strode from the room, I following.

“Hazard!” I began, as soon as the door had shut upon us. “It was cruel! How could you do such a thing?”

“Don’t bother!” answered Haze, gruffly. “I didn’t intend to say it that way, but—Robin isn’t going to get anything. I couldn’t bear to have him go on like that, and know it was all my fault, and,—oh, let me alone, Elizabeth!”

And, shaking my hand from his arm, he turned and bolted upstairs, where I heard the workshop door slam to behind him.

Naturally, if the rest of the house is cold, you can imagine what it must be in the workshop. I was very much afraid that Hazard would add to his sore throat; but I knew it would do no good to speak to him just then, so I returned to the nursery, where Ernie was still sitting on the side of the bed, her arms close about Robin, whispering to him in the most seductive of tones.

“Yes, he looked just like the pictures, Bobsie,” she was saying. “It was in front of Macy’s that we met, and I think he must have been looking about at the toys. I was very much surprised, of course; but I went right up to him, and said,—‘How do you do, Mr. Santa Claus? I’m Robin Graham’s sister.’”

“Did you, Ernie!” cried Robin, with shining eyes. “And what did he say?”

“I can’t tell you that,” returned Ernie, mysteriously, “because it is a secret. But don’t you worry, honey; everything is going to be all right!”

Here I thought it time to interfere; for, though Hazard had been hasty and even unkind in the way he spoke, still we all knew that Robin was not going to get anything for Christmas,—so what was the use of comforting him with false hopes that could only lead to a still more bitter disappointment?

“Run down and set the table, Ernie,” I said, a little dryly. “It’s time for Robin to have his reading lesson, now.”

Bobsie looked at me half shyly under his dark lashes.

“I have a Secret,” he said, and gave Ernie a long kiss before he let her go.

After luncheon, while we were washing the dishes, I asked Ernestine what she meant by talking to Robin so. “There is no good in deceiving him,” I said. “Of course, Hazard did not set about it in the right way, but sooner or later he will have to be told. He isn’t going to get anything. You heard what mother said.”

Ernie looked at me in blank amazement. “Why, Elizabeth!” she cried.

“Ernestine,” I returned, “remember,—you are nearly thirteen years old! Do you believe in Santa Claus, too?”

Ernie laughed and flapped her dish towel. “Of course I do,” she answered, “after my own fashion. You and Hazard are too silly! Mother didn’t mean, I suppose, that she was going to take away all the presents that come to the house for Robin, and burn them? She only meant that we couldn’t spend any money. What’s to prevent Aunt Adelaide giving him something as she always does, I’d like to know? and Georgie? and Geof?” Here Ernie began to two-step to the cupboard with a pile of plates. “Oh, Elizabeth,” she chortled, “he says I can help him choose ’em! Robin will be simply delighted! He has never had anything so stunning in all his life! But there,”—Ernie rattled the plates perilously down on the cupboard shelf. “It’s a secret. I promised I wouldn’t breathe a word! And I know another that Miss Brown told me, and another with Mrs. Burroughs! Hazard is a grumpy goose. Why can’t he think of something to give Bobsie, the way I’m doing,—it needn’t cost, you know,—instead of being so huffy and remorseful about a Past that can’t be Helped?”

Now wasn’t that exactly like Ernie? Christmas is her birthday, and she seems to have the very spirit in her veins. If we were wrecked upon a desert island, I believe she would still find some appropriate way to celebrate.

“So that is what you were busy about behind your screen?” I cried.

“Of course,” says Ernie. “What did you think? You must make something, too, Elizabeth, and I know mother will; and the letter was just a blind to get Robin to believe he wanted the things we can afford to give him. I thought you and Hazard would understand.—And even if we are poor, so long as we love one another and keep jolly, what’s the odds?”

“Ernie,” I answered, “you are a darling. There aren’t any!”

So then we sought an interview with Hazard to explain how matters stood.

“All right,” he answered, none too enthusiastic just at first. “I’ll try,—but it’s different with you girls. I can’t make anything, you see,—little fol-de-rols out of sawdust and gold paper. And everything I’ve saved must go for car fare and expenses these next few weeks. Honestly, I haven’t a cent to call my own, except my lucky penny of 1865, the year Lincoln was shot. And perhaps I’ve lost that.” He searched his pockets. “No,—here it is.”

“Hand it over,” says Ernie. “I know you’ll think the best luck you can possibly have just now is to buy a nice Christmas present for Robin. I’ll do your shopping this year, Hazey, and I’ll promise to get something Bobs will really like, too. Cheer up, children! No Santa Claus, indeed! I’m ashamed of you.”


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