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- Beasley's Christmas Party - 10/10 -


Beasley was back in an instant, shouting as he came: "TAKE your pardners! Balance ALL!"

And then and there, and all by himself, he danced a quadrille, performing at one and the same time for four lively couples. Never in my life have I seen such gyrations and capers as were cut by that long-legged, loose-jointed, miraculously flying figure. He was in the wildest motion without cessation, never the fraction of an instant still; calling the figures at the top of his voice and dancing them simultaneously; his expression anxious but polite (as is the habit of other dancers); his hands extended as if to swing his partner or corner, or "opposite lady"; and his feet lifting high and flapping down in an old-fashioned step. "FIRST four, forward and back!" he shouted. "Forward and SALUTE! BALANCE to corners! SWING pardners! GR-R-RAND Right-and-Left!"

I think the combination of abandon and decorum with which he performed that "Grand Right-and-Left" was the funniest thing I have ever seen. But I didn't laugh at it.

Neither did Miss Apperthwaite.

"NOW do you believe me?" Peck was arguing, fiercely, with Mr. Schulmeyer. "Is he crazy, or ain't he?"

"He is," Grist agreed, hoarsely. "He is a stark, starin', ravin', roarin' lunatic! And the nigger's humorin' him!"

They were all staring, open-mouthed and aghast, into the lighted room.

"Do you see where it puts US?" Simeon Peck's rasping voice rose high.

"I guess I do!" said Grist. "We come out to buy a barn, and got a house and lot fer the same money. It's the greatest night's work you ever done, Sim Peck!"

"I guess it is!"

"Shake on it, Sim."

They shook hands, exalted with triumph.

"This'll do the work," giggled Peck. "It's about two-thousand per cent. better than the story we started to git. Why, Dave Beasley'll be in a padded cell in a month! It'll be all over town to-morrow, and he'll have as much chance fer governor as that nigger in there!" In his ecstasy he smote Dowden deliriously in the ribs. "What do you think of your candidate NOW?"

"Wait," said Dowden. "Who came in the hacks that Grist saw?"

This staggered Mr. Peck. He rubbed his mitten over his woollen cap as if scratching his head. "Why," he said, slowly--"who in Halifax DID come in them hacks?"

"The Hunchbergs," said I.

"Who's the Hunchbergs? Where--"

"Listen," said Dowden.

"FIRST couple, FACE out!" shouted Beasley, facing out with an invisible lady on his akimboed arm, while old Bob sawed madly at A New Coon in Town.

"SECOND couple, FALL in!" Beasley wheeled about and enacted the second couple.

"THIRD couple!" He fell in behind himself again.

"FOURTH couple, IF you please! BALANCE--ALL!--I beg your pardon, Miss Molanna, I'm afraid I stepped on your train.--SASHAY ALL!"

After the "sashay"--the noblest and most dashing bit of gymnastics displayed in the whole quadrille--he bowed profoundly to his invisible partner and came to a pause, wiping his streaming face. Old Bob dexterously swung A New Coon into the stately measures of a triumphal march.

"And now," Beasley announced, in stentorian tones, "if the ladies will be so kind as to take the gentlemen's arms, we will proceed to the dining-room and partake of a slight collation."

Thereupon came a slender piping of joy from that part of the room screened from us by the Tree.

"Oh, Cousin David Beasley, that was the BEAUTIFULLEST quadrille ever danced in the world! And, please, won't YOU take Mrs. Hunchberg out to supper?"

Then into the vision of our paralyzed and dumfounded watchers came the little wagon, pulled by the old colored woman, Bob's wife, in her best, and there, propped upon pillows, lay Hamilton Swift, Junior, his soul shining rapture out of his great eyes, a bright spot of color on each of his thin cheeks. He lifted himself on one elbow, and for an instant something seemed to be wrong with the brace under his chin.

Beasley sprang to him and adjusted it tenderly. Then he bowed elaborately toward the mantel-piece.

"Mrs. Hunchberg," he said, "may I have the honor?" And offered his arm.

"And I must have MISTER Hunchberg," chirped Hamilton. "He must walk with me."

"He tells ME," said Beasley, "he'll be mighty glad to. And there's a plate of bones for Simpledoria."

"You lead the way," cried the child; "you and Mrs. Hunchberg."

"Are we all in line?" Beasley glanced back over his shoulder. "HOO-ray! Now, let us on. Ho! there!"

"BR-R-RA-vo!" applauded Mister Swift.

And Beasley, his head thrown back and his chest out, proudly led the way, stepping nobly and in time to the exhilarating measures. Hamilton Swift, Junior, towed by the beaming old mammy, followed in his wagon, his thin little arm uplifted and his fingers curled as if they held a trusted hand.

When they reached the door, old Bob rose, turned in after them, and, still fiddling, played the procession and himself down the hall.

And so they marched away, and we were left staring into the empty room....

"My soul!" said the "Journal" reporter, gasping. "And he did all THAT--just to please a little sick kid!"

"I can't figure it out," murmured Sim Peck, piteously.

"_I_ can," said the "Journal" reporter. "This story WILL be all over town to-morrow." He glanced at me, and I nodded. "It'll be all over town," he continued, "though not in any of the papers--and I don't believe it's going to hurt Dave Beasley's chances any."

Mr. Peck and his companions turned toward the street; they went silently.

The young man from the "Journal" overtook them. "Thank you for sending for me," he said, cordially. "You've given me a treat. I'm FER Beasley!"

Dowden put his hand on my shoulder. He had not observed the third figure still remaining.

"Well, sir," he remarked, shaking the snow from his coat, "they were right about one thing: it certainly was mighty low down of Dave not to invite ME--and you, too--to his Christmas party. Let him go to thunder with his old invitations, I'm going in, anyway! Come on. I'm plum froze."

There was a side door just beyond the bay-window, and Dowden went to it and rang, loud and long. It was Beasley himself who opened it.

"What in the name--" he began, as the ruddy light fell upon Dowden's face and upon me, standing a little way behind. "What ARE you two--snow-banks? What on earth are you fellows doing out here?"

"We've come to your Christmas party, you old horse-thief!" Thus Mr. Dowden.

"HOO-ray!" said Beasley.

Dowden turned to me. "Aren't you coming?"

"What are you waiting for, old fellow?" said Beasley.

I waited a moment longer, and then it happened.

She came out of the shadow and went to the foot of the steps, her cloak falling from her shoulders as she passed me. I picked it up.

She lifted her arms pleadingly, though her head was bent with what seemed to me a beautiful sort of shame. She stood there with the snow driving against her and did not speak. Beasley drew his hand slowly across his eyes--to see if they were really there, I think.

"David," she said, at last. "You've got so many lovely people in your house to-night: isn't there room for--for just one fool? It's Christmas-time!"


Beasley's Christmas Party - 10/10

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