ST. NICHOLAS AND ST. VALENTINE
"What are the children all doing to-day?" said Katy laying down "Norway and the Norwegians," which she was reading for the fourth time; "I haven't seen them since breakfast."
Aunt Izzie, who was sewing on the other side of the room, looked up from her work.
"I don't know," she said, "they're over at Cecy's, or somewhere. They'll be back before long, I guess."
Her voice sounded a little odd and mysterious, but Katy didn't notice it.
"I thought of such a nice plan yesterday," she went on. "That was that all of them should hang their stockings up here to-morrow night instead of in the nursery. Then I could see them open their presents, you know. Mayn't they, Aunt Izzie? It would be real fun."
"I don't believe there will be any objection," replied her aunt. She looked as if she were trying not to laugh. Katy wondered what was the matter with her.
It was more than two months now since Cousin Helen went away, and Winter had fairly come. Snow was falling out-doors. Katy could see the thick flakes go whirling past the window, but the sight did not chill her. It only made the room look warmer and more cosy. It was a pleasant room now. There was a bright fire in the grate. Everything was neat and orderly, the air was sweet with mignonette, from a little glass of flowers which stood on the table, and the Katy who lay in bed, was a very different-looking Katy from the forlorn girl of the last chapter.
Cousin Helen's visit, though it lasted only one day, did great good. Not that Katy grew perfect all at once. None of us do that, even in books. But it is everything to be started in the right path. Katy's feet were on it now; and though she often stumbled and slipped, and often sat down discouraged, she kept on pretty steadily, in spite of bad days, which made her say to herself that she was not getting forward at all.
These bad days, when everything seemed hard, and she herself was cross and fretful, and drove the children out of her room, cost Katy many bitter tears. But after them she would pick herself up, and try again, and harder. And I think that in spite of drawbacks, the little scholar, on the whole, was learning her lesson pretty well.
Cousin Helen was a great comfort all this time. She never forgot Katy. Nearly every week some little thing came from her. Sometimes it was a pencil note, written from her sofa. Sometimes it was an interesting book, or a new magazine, or some pretty little thing for the room. The crimson wrapper which Katy wore was one of her presents, so were the bright chromos of Autumn leaves which hung on the wall, the little stand for the books—all sorts of things. Katy loved to look about her as she lay. All the room seemed full of Cousin Helen and her kindness.
"I wish I had something pretty to put into everybody's stocking," she went on, wistfully; "but I've only got the muffetees for Papa, and these reins for Phil." She took them from under her pillow as she spoke—gay worsted affairs, with bells sewed on here and there. She had knit them herself, a very little bit at a time.
"There's my pink sash," she said suddenly, "I might give that to Clover. I only wore it once, you know, and I don't think I got any spots on it. Would you please fetch it and let me see, Aunt Izzie? It's in the top drawer."
Aunt Izzie brought the sash. It proved to be quite fresh, and they both decided that it would do nicely for Clover.
"You know I sha'n't want sashes for ever so long," said Katy, in rather a sad tone, "And this is a beauty."
When she spoke next, her voice was bright again.
"I wish I had something real nice for Elsie. Do you know, Aunt Izzie—I think Elsie is the dearest little girl that ever was."
"I'm glad you've found it out," said Aunt Izzie, who had always been specially fond of Elsie.
"What she wants most of all is a writing-desk," continued Katy. "And Johnnie wants a sled. But, oh dear! these are such big things. And I've only got two dollars and a quarter."
Aunt Izzie marched out of the room without saying anything. When she came back she had something folded up in her hand.
"I didn't know what to give you for Christmas, Katy," she said, "because Helen sends you such a lot of things that there don't seem to be anything you haven't already. So I thought I'd give you this, and let you choose for yourself. But if you've set your heart on getting presents for the children, perhaps you'd rather have it now." So saying, Aunt Izzie laid on the bed a crisp, new five-dollar bill!
"How good you are!" cried Katy, flushed with pleasure. And indeed Aunt Izzie did seem to have grown wonderfully good of late. Perhaps Katy had got hold of her smooth handle!
Being now in possession of seven dollars and a quarter, Katy could afford to be gorgeously generous. She gave Aunt Izzie an exact description of the desk she wanted.
"It's no matter about its being very big," said Katy, "but it must have a blue velvet lining, and an inkstand, with a silver top. And please buy some little sheets of paper and envelopes, and a pen-handle; the prettiest you can find. Oh! and there must be a lock and key. Don't forget that, Aunt Izzie."
"No, I won't. What else?"
"I'd like the sled to be green," went on Katy, "and to have a nice name. Sky-Scraper would be nice, if there was one. Johnnie saw a sled once called Sky-Scraper, and she said it was splendid. And if there's money enough left, Aunty, won't you buy me a real nice book for Dorry, and another for Cecy, and a silver thimble for Mary? Her old one is full of holes. Oh! and some candy. And something for Debby and Bridget—some little thing, you know. I think that's all!"
Was ever seven dollars and a quarter expected to do so much? Aunt Izzie must have been a witch, indeed, to make it hold out. But she did, and next day all the precious bundles came home. How Katy enjoyed untying the strings!
Everything was exactly right.
"There wasn't any Sky-Scraper," said Aunt Izzie, "so I got 'Snow-Skimmer' instead."
"It's beautiful, and I like it just as well," said Katy contentedly.
"Oh, hide them, hide them!" she cried with sudden terror, "somebody's coming." But the somebody was only Papa, who put his head into the room as Aunt Izzie, laden with bundles, scuttled across the hall.
Katy was glad to catch him alone. She had a little private secret to talk over with him. It was about Aunt Izzie, for whom she, as yet, had no present.
"I thought perhaps you'd get me a book like that one of Cousin Helen's, which Aunt Izzie liked so much," she said. "I don't recollect the name exactly. It was something about a Shadow. But I've spent all my money."
"Never mind about that," said Dr. Carr. "We'll make that right. 'The Shadow of the Cross'—was that it? I'll buy it this afternoon."
"Oh, thank you, Papa! And please get a brown cover, if you can, because Cousin Helen's was brown. And you won't let Aunt Izzie know, will you? Be careful, Papa!"
"I'll swallow the book first, brown cover and all," said Papa, making a funny face. He was pleased to see Katy so interested about anything again.
These delightful secrets took up so much of her thoughts, that Katy scarcely found time to wonder at the absence of the children, who generally haunted her room, but who for three days back had hardly been seen. However, after supper they all came up in a body, looking very merry, and as if they had been having a good time somewhere.
"You don't know what we've been doing," began Philly.
"Hush, Phil!" said Clover, in a warning voice. Then she divided the stockings which she held in her hand. And everybody proceeded to hang them up.
Dorry hung his on one side of the fireplace, and John hers exactly opposite. Clover and Phil suspended theirs side by side, on two handles of the bureau.
"I'm going to put mine here, close to Katy, so that she can see it the first fing in the mornin'," said Elsie, pinning hers to the bed-post.
Then they all sat down round the fire to write their wishes on bits of paper, and see whether they would burn, or fly up the chimney. If they did the latter, it was a sign that Santa Claus had them safe, and would bring the things wished for.
John wished for a sled and a doll's tea-set, and the continuation of the Swiss Family Robinson. Dorry's list ran thus:
A new Bibel,
Harry and Lucy,
Everything else Santa Claus likes."
When they had written these lists they threw them into the fire. The fire gave a flicker just then, and the papers vanished. Nobody saw exactly how. John thought they flew up chimney, but Dorry said they didn't. Phil dropped his piece in very solemnly. It flamed for a minute, then sank into ashes.
"There, you won't get it, whatever it was!" said Dorry. "What did you write, Phil?"
"Nofing," said Phil, "only just Philly Carr."
The children shouted.
"I wrote 'a writing-desk' on mine," remarked Elsie, sorrowfully, "but it all burned up."
Katy chuckled when she heard this.
And now Clover produced her list. She read aloud:
"'Strive and Thrive,'
A pair of kid gloves,
A good temper!"
Then she dropped it into the fire. Behold, it flew straight up chimney.
"How queer!" said Katy; "none of the rest of them did that."
The truth was, that Clover, who was a canny little mortal, had slipped across the room and opened the door just before putting her wishes in. This, of course, made a draft, and sent the paper right upward.
Pretty soon Aunt Izzie came in and swept them all off to bed.
"I know how it will be in the morning," she said, "you'll all be up and racing about as soon as it is light. So you must get your sleep now, if ever."
After they had gone, Katy recollected that nobody had offered to hang a stocking up for her. She felt a little hurt when she thought of it. "But I suppose they forgot," she said to herself.
A little later Papa and Aunt Izzie came in, and they filled the stockings. It was great fun. Each was brought to Katy, as she lay in bed, that she might arrange it as she liked.
The toes were stuffed with candy and oranges. Then came the parcels, all shapes and sizes, tied in white paper, with ribbons, and labelled.
"What's that?" asked Dr. Carr, as Aunt Izzie rammed a long, narrow package into Clover's stocking.
"A nail-brush," answered Aunt Izzie. "Clover needed a new one."
How Papa and Katy laughed! "I don't believe Santa Claus ever had such a thing before," said Dr. Carr.
"He's a very dirty old gentleman, then," observed Aunt Izzie, grimly.
The desk and sled were too big to go into any stocking, so they were wrapped in paper and hung beneath the other things. It was ten o'clock before all was done, and Papa and Aunt Izzie went away. Katy lay a long time watching the queer shapes of the stocking-legs as they dangled in the firelight. Then she fell asleep.
It seemed only a minute, before something touched her and woke her up. Behold, it was day-time, and there was Philly in his nightgown, climbing up on the bed to kiss her! The rest of the children, half dressed, were dancing about with their stockings in their hands.
"Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!" they cried. "Oh, Katy, such beautiful, beautiful things!"
"Oh!" shrieked Elsie, who at that moment spied her desk, "Santa Claus did bring it, after all! Why, it's got 'from Katy' written on it! Oh, Katy, it's so sweet, and I'm so happy!" and Elsie hugged Katy, and sobbed for pleasure.
But what was that strange thing beside the bed! Katy stared, and rubbed her eyes. It certainly had not been there when she went to sleep. How had it come?
It was a little evergreen tree planted in a red flower-pot. The pot had stripes of gilt paper stuck on it, and gilt stars and crosses, which made it look very gay. The boughs of the tree were hung with oranges, and nuts, and shiny red apples, and pop-corn balls, and strings of bright berries. There were also a number of little packages tied with blue and crimson ribbon, and altogether the tree looked so pretty, that Katy gave a cry of delighted surprise.
"It's a Christmas-tree for you, because you're sick, you know!" said the children, all trying to hug her at once.
"We made it ourselves," said Dorry, hopping about on one foot; "I pasted the black stars on the pot."
"And I popped the corn!" cried Philly.
"Do you like it?" asked Elsie, cuddling close to Katy. "That's my present—that one tied with a green ribbon. I wish it was nicer! Don't you want to open 'em right away?"
Of course Katy wanted to. All sorts of things came out of the little bundles. The children had arranged every parcel themselves. No grown person had been allowed to help in the least.
Elsie's present was a pen-wiper, with a gray flannel kitten on it. Johnnie's, a doll's tea-tray of scarlet tin.
"Isn't it beau-ti-ful?" she said, admiringly.
Dorry's gift, I regret to say, was a huge red-and-yellow spider, which whirred wildly when waved at the end of its string.
"They didn't want me to buy it," said he, "but I did! I thought it would amoose you. Does it amoose you, Katy?"
"Yes, indeed," said Katy, laughing and blinking as Dorry waved the spider to and fro before her eyes.
"You can play with it when we ain't here and you're all alone, you know," remarked Dorry, highly gratified.
"But you don't notice what the tree's standing upon," said Clover.
It was a chair, a very large and curious one, with a long-cushioned back, which ended in a footstool.
"That's Papa's present," said Clover; "see, it tips back so as to be just like a bed. And Papa says he thinks pretty soon you can lie on it, in the window, where you can see us play."
"Does he really?" said Katy, doubtfully. It still hurt her very much to be touched or moved.
"And see what's tied to the arm of the chair," said Elsie.
It was a little silver bell, with "Katy" engraved on the handle.
"Cousin Helen sent it. It's for you to ring when you want anybody to come," explained Elsie.
More surprises. To the other arm of the chair was fastened a beautiful book. It was "The Wide Wide World"—and there Was Katy's name written on it, 'from her affectionate Cecy.' On it stood a great parcel of dried cherries from Mrs. Hall. Mrs. Hall had the most delicious dried cherries, the children thought.
"How perfectly lovely everybody is!" said Katy, with grateful tears in her eyes.
That was a pleasant Christmas. The children declared it to be the nicest they had ever had. And though Katy couldn't quite say that, she enjoyed it too, and was very happy.
It was several weeks before she was able to use the chair, but when once she became accustomed to it, it proved very comfortable. Aunt Izzie would dress her in the morning, tip the chair back till it was on a level with the bed, and then, very gently and gradually, draw her over on to it. Wheeling across the room was always painful, but sitting in the window and looking out at the clouds, the people going by, and the children playing in the snow, was delightful. How delightful nobody knows, excepting those who, like Katy, have lain for six months in bed, without a peep at the outside world. Every day she grew brighter and more cheerful.
"How jolly Santa Claus was this year!" She happened to say one day, when she was talking with Cecy. "I wish another Saint would come and pay us a visit. But I don't know any more, except Cousin Helen, and she can't."
"There's St. Valentine," suggested Cecy.
"Sure enough. What a bright thought!" cried Katy, clapping her hands. "Oh, Cecy, let's do something funny on Valentine's-Day! Such a good idea has just popped into my mind."
So the two girls put their heads together and held a long, mysterious confabulation. What it was about, we shall see farther on.
Valentine's-Day was the next Friday. When the children came home from school on Thursday afternoon, Aunt Izzie met them, and, to their great surprise, told them that Cecy was come to drink tea, and they must all go up stairs and be made nice.
"But Cecy comes most every day," remarked Dorry, who didn't see the connection between this fact and having his face washed.
"Yes—but to-night you are to take tea in Katy's room," said Aunt Izzie; "here are the invitations: one for each of you."
Sure enough, there was a neat little note for each, requesting the pleasure of their company at "Queen Katharine's Palace," that afternoon, at six o'clock.
This put quite a different aspect on the affair. The children scampered up stairs, and pretty soon, all nicely brushed and washed, they were knocking formally at the door of the "Palace." How fine it sounded!
The room looked bright and inviting. Katy, in her chair, sat close to the fire, Cecy was beside her, and there was a round table all set out with a white cloth and mugs of milk and biscuit, and strawberry-Jam and doughnuts. In the middle was a loaf of frosted cake. There was something on the icing which looked like pink letters, and Clover, leaning forward, read aloud, "St. Valentine."
"What's that for?" asked Dorry.
"Why, you know this is St. Valentine's-Eve," replied Katy. "Debbie remembered it, I guess, so she put that on."
Nothing more was said about St. Valentine just then. But when the last pink letter of his name had been eaten, and the supper had been cleared away, suddenly, as the children sat by the fire, there was a loud rap at the door.
"Who can that be?" said Katy; "please see, Clover!"
So Clover opened the door. There stood Bridget, trying very hard not to laugh, and holding a letter in her hand.
"It's a note as has come for you, Miss Clover," she said.
"For me!" cried Clover, much amazed. Then she shut the door, and brought the note to the table.
"How very funny!" she exclaimed, as she looked at the envelope, which was a green and white one. There was something hard inside. Clover broke the seal. Out tumbled a small green velvet pincushion made in the shape of a clover-leaf, with a tiny stem of wire wound with green silk. Pinned to the cushion was a paper, with these verses:
"Some people love roses well,
Tulips, gayly dressed,
Some love violets blue and sweet,—
I love Clover best.
"Though she has a modest air,
Though no grace she boast,
Though no gardener call her fair,
I love Clover most.
"Butterfly may pass her by,
He is but a rover,
I'm a faithful, loving Bee—
And I stick to Clover."
This was the first valentine Clover had ever had. She was perfectly enchanted.
"Oh, who do you suppose sent it?" she cried.
But before anybody could answer, there came another loud knock at the door, which made them all jump. Behold, Bridget again, with a second letter!
"It's for you, Miss Elsie, this time," she said with a grin.
There was an instant rush from all the children, and the envelope was torn open in the twinkling of an eye. Inside was a little ivory seal with "Elsie" on it in old English letters, and these rhymes:
"I know a little girl,
She is very dear to me,
She is just as sweet as honey
When she chooses so to be,
And her name begins with E, and ends with E.
"She has brown hair which
And black eyes for to see
With, teeth like tiny pearls,
And dimples, one, two—three,
And her name begins with E, and ends with E.
"Her little feet run faster
Than other feet can flee,
As she brushes quickly past, her
Voice hums like a bee,
And her name begins with E, and ends with E.
"Do you ask me why I love her?
Then I shall answer thee,
Because I can't help loving,
She is so sweet to me,
This little girl whose name begins and ends with 'E.'"
"It's just like a fairy story," said Elsie, whose eyes had grown as big as saucers from surprise, while these verses were being read aloud by Cecy.
Another knock. This time there was a perfect handful of letters. Everybody had one. Katy, to her great surprise, had two.
"Why, what can this be?" she said. But when she peeped into the second one, she saw Cousin Helen's handwriting, and she put it into her pocket, till the valentines should be read.
Dorry's was opened first. It had the picture of a pie at the top—I ought to explain that Dorry had lately been having a siege with the dentist.
"Little Jack Horner
Sat in his corner,
Eating his Christmas pie,
When a sudden grimace
Spread over his face,
And he began loudly to cry.
"His tender Mamma
Heard the sound from afar,
And hastened to comfort her child;
'What aileth my John?'
She inquired in a tone
Which belied her question mild.
"'Oh, Mother,' he said,
'Every tooth in my head
Jumps and aches and is loose, O my!
And it hurts me to eat
Anything that is sweet—
So what will become of my pie?'
"It were vain to describe
How he roared and he cried,
And howled like a miniature tempest;
Suffice it to say,
That the very next day
He had all his teeth pulled by a dentist!"
This valentine made the children laugh for a long time. Johnnie's envelope held a paper doll named "Red Riding-Hood." These were the verses:
"I send you my picture, dear
Johnnie, to show
That I'm just as alive as you,
And that you needn't cry over my fate
Any more, as you used to do.
"The wolf didn't hurt me at all
For I kicked and fought and cried,
Till he dropped me out of his mouth, and ran
Away in the woods to hide.
"And Grandma and I have lived
In the little brown house so small,
And churned fresh butter and made cream cheeses,
Nor seen the wolf at all.
"So cry no more for fear I am
The naughty wolf is shot,
And if you will come to tea some evening
You shall see for yourself I'm not."
Johnnie was immensely pleased at this, for Red Riding-Hood was a great favorite of hers.
Philly had a bit of india-rubber in his letter, which was written with very black ink on a big sheet of foolscap:
"I was once a naughty man,
And I hid beneath the bed,
To steal your india-rubbers,
But I chewed them up instead.
"Then you called out, 'Who is
I was thrown most in a fit,
And I let the india-rubbers fall—
All but this little bit.
"I'm sorry for my naughty ways,
And now, to make amends,
I send the chewed piece back again,
And beg we may be friends.
"Just listen to mine," said Cecy, who had all along pretended to be as much surprised as anybody, and now behaved as if she could hardly wait till Philly's was finished. Then she read aloud:
"If I were a bird
And you were a bird,
What would we do?
Why you should be little and I would be big,
And, side by side on a cherry-tree twig,
We'd kiss with our yellow bills, and coo—
That's what we'd do!
"If I were a fish
And you were a fish,
What would we do?
We'd frolic, and whisk our little tails,
And play all sorts of tricks with the whales,
And call on the oysters, and order a 'stew,'
That's what we'd do!
"If I were a bee
And you were a bee,
What would we do?
We'd find a home in a breezy wood,
And store it with honey sweet and good.
You should feed me and I would feed you,
That's what we'd do!
"I think that's the prettiest of all," said Clover.
"I don't," said Elsie. "I think mine is the prettiest. Cecy didn't have any seal in hers, either." And she fondled the little seal, which all this time she had held in her hand.
"Katy, you ought to have read yours first because you are the oldest," said Clover.
"Mine isn't much," replied Katy, and she read:
"The rose is red the violet
Sugar is sweet, and so are you."
"What a mean valentine!" cried Elsie, with flashing eyes. "It's a real shame, Katy! You ought to have had the best of all."
Katy could hardly keep from laughing. The fact was that the verses for the others had taken so long, that no time had been left for writing a valentine to herself. So, thinking it would excite suspicion to have none, she had scribbled this old rhyme at the last moment.
"It isn't very nice," she said, trying to look as pensive as she could, "but never mind."
"It's a shame!" repeated Elsie, petting her very hard to make up for the injustice.
"Hasn't it been a funny evening?" said John; and Dorry replied, "Yes; we never had such good times before Katy was sick, did we?"
Katy heard this with a mingled feeling of pleasure and pain. "I think the children do love me a little more of late," she said to herself. "But, oh, why couldn't I be good to them when I was well and strong!"
She didn't open Cousin Helen's letter until the rest were all gone to bed. I think somebody must have written and told about the valentine party, for instead of a note there were these verses in Cousin Helen's own clear, pretty hand. It wasn't a valentine, because it was too solemn, as Katy explained to Clover, next day. "But," she added, "it is a great deal beautifuller than any valentine that ever was written." And Clover thought so too.
These were the verses:
"I used to go to a bright
Where Youth and Frolic taught in turn;
But idle scholar that I was,
I liked to play, I would not learn;
So the Great Teacher did ordain
That I should try the School of Pain.
"One of the infant class I am
With little, easy lessons, set
In a great book; the higher class
Have harder ones than I, and yet
I find mine hard, and can't restrain
My tears while studying thus with Pain.
"There are two Teachers in the
One has a gentle voice and low,
And smiles upon her scholars, as
She softly passes to and fro.
Her name is Love; 'tis very plain
She shuns the sharper teacher, Pain.
"Or so I sometimes think; and
At other times, they meet and kiss,
And look so strangely like, that I
Am puzzled to tell how it is,
Or whence the change which makes it vain
To guess if it be—Love or Pain.
"They tell me if I study well,
And learn my lessons, I shall be
Moved upward to that higher class
Where dear Love teaches constantly;
And I work hard, in hopes to gain
Reward, and get away from Pain.
"Yet Pain is sometimes kind,
Me on when I am very dull;
I thank him often in my heart;
But Love is far more beautiful;
Under her tender, gentle reign
I must learn faster than of Pain.
"So I will do my very best,
Nor chide the clock, nor call it slow;
That when the Teacher calls me up
To see if I am fit to go,
I may to Love's high class attain,
And bid a sweet good-by to Pain."