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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 then!

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 hate.

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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