The Chapter after the End
T HE last thing David remembered that night was hearing Mr. Peter's voice booming out a "Merry Christmas" to each of the departing guests. Incredible and humiliating as it might seem, Johanna had had to help him to bed! He was so worn out with the work and the joy of all that had happened that day that his eyes would not stay open long enough for him to make the proper going-to-bed arrangements for himself.
And the first thing David thought about when he woke Christmas morning was the locked-out fairy. Yes, even before he thought about the gift that was coming that day from father.
Where was the fairy? He had not seen him for two days, had not come upon a single track that might have been his in all his tramping through the woods for greens. He did not like to think it, but perhaps the fairy was shivering and hungry in some hollow tree or deserted rabbit-burrow, homesick and alone, while he, David, had almost, yes, had almost unlocked the door that led back into his old world—almost found opening-time.
It did not seem fair that now the fairy should be left out, when his own happiness was the fairy's doing, after all; when he would never have found the way to Christmas or the way out of loneliness if the fairy had not made the trail for him to follow. He made up his mind at once, even before he was out of bed, that he would spend Christmas day hunting for the fairy and seeing to it that he had all the comforts that mere mortals could supply.
Then he remembered the Christmas gift that was coming. Perhaps it was something he could share with the fairy. He had thought about it a good many times in the days since father's letter had come; and he had speculated a good deal as to what it could be. It might be some strange curiosity from the East—father was tremendously interested in curiosities; or it might be books, as father was fond of books. Of one thing he was certain, it would be something that father would like himself; he could not imagine father choosing anything else.
Breakfast was late. They had seen Christmas day in before the last guest had gone the night before; and when there are no stockings to empty, no presents to unwrap, there is no need to hurry breakfast along or speed the day. Everybody was in rare good humor. Mr. Peter swung David to his shoulder and marched three times round the table, singing, "Good King Wenceslas."
"Faith, 'tis the best keeping of Christmas I have seen since I came to this country," was Barney's comment.
"I think 'tis the best I ever had," said Johanna.
"I know what I'm going to do," shouted Mr. Peter. "I'm going to steal the chart and take it back with me to the city; and next year when the notion begins to take me that I want to dodge Christmas again I'll unroll the chart, take a good look at it, and make straight for the right road. And I tell you what!" He put two hands on David's shoulders. "I believe it would be just as well to have you along, young man. With you there, and Barney and Johanna, I couldn't go wrong, you know; and we could take a lot of other poor, tired mortals on the road with us and show them such a Christmas as would warm their hearts and keep their memories green for the rest of their lives."
"Aye, that's true," agreed Johanna. "But if ye don't sit down and stop talking, Mr. Peter, ye'll be taking the road to a cold breakfast."
They were not half through when a knocking came at the front door. Barney answered it, and came back in a moment with a puzzled smile on his face.
" 'Tis your friend, the trapper," he said to David. "He'll not come in; but he wants to be speaking with ye, laddy."
Wondering much what it could mean, David slipped from his chair and went into the hall. The trapper was standing just inside the door, and he was holding something small and gray in his great fur mitten.
"Nicholas Bassaraba has brought you something. It was there this morning, hanging on a peg in the woodshed. See!" He held up the coat of a gray squirrel.
"Where— How did it get there?"
The trapper shrugged his shoulders.
"Ah—how should I know? But I can guess. And you? Where are your wits, your fancy, my friend?"
David took the skin between his hands, rubbing his fingers through the soft fur.
"You think he brought it back? That he—"
"Is it not possible? He has gone back to his country—his people. He is no longer what you call 'locked out.' So he gives back again what he borrowed from Nicholas Bassaraba—the coat. Ah, he is a fairy of honor; and I bring it to you, my friend. It may be that is what the manikin intends when he hangs it on the peg. At any rate, it is yours to keep always; a symbol, a memory of how you found the way to the cabins and the hearts of some lonely men. Yes, this you shall keep; while we keep other memories. It is well."
He turned toward the door to be gone, but David held him back.
"But it isn't just memories, you know. I'm coming back again and again to hear more stories of the gipsies. And in the spring, Barney says, perhaps you'll help me find a den of young foxes or raccoons. I've always wanted to have some to tame."
The trapper smiled.
"Even so. We will go together. It is not hard to find the litters of young things in the spring; they are very plentiful."
After the trapper had gone David stood a minute thinking before he went back to his breakfast. So this was a white winter. And Johanna had said that about as often as a white winter the fairy raths opened on Christmas Eve—just for that night. Somehow the fairy must have known this would happen; and he had gone back to Ireland, back to his rath, a locked-out fairy no longer.
There was a broad smile of happiness on David's face as he took his seat at the table again.
"Ye certainly look pleased with your present," teased Barney. "What did he bring ye now—just a squirrel's skin?"
"No, not just! Wait until to-night and I'll tell you and Johanna one of your own Irish stories. Only this one will have American improvements." And David nodded his head mysteriously after Johanna's own fashion.
It was then that the telephone rang and Barney answered it. If there had been a puzzled smile on his face before, when the trapper came, there was a veritable labyrinth of expressions now as he came back to the kitchen. There was a tangle of mystery, astonishment, delight, incredulity, and excitement; and even Johanna herself could not guess what lay at the heart of it all.
"Speak up, Barney, man," she cried. "What has happened ye?"
And Mr. Peter slapped him on the back and thundered at him: "Wake up, sir! You look as if you'd been dreaming about fairies!"
"Maybe I have," chuckled Barney; then he sobered. "No, 'twas the station-agent that 'phoned. He says the wee lad's Christmas present has come from across the water, and he's sending it up this minute by the stage-driver."
"Is it as large as that?" gasped David in surprise.
"Aye, it's a good size." And Barney chuckled harder than ever.
Johanna looked at him sharply.
"Faith, I'm believing ye know what the wee laddy's getting."
"Maybe I do, but I'm not going to be telling one of ye—not till it gets here."
It was a very excited group that gathered in the window nook and waited for the stage-driver to make the trip up to the hilltop. It would take some time, they knew, for the going was slow, as he had reported the night before, and they all waited with a reasonable amount of patience. All but Barney. He strode up and down the living-room, slapping his knees and chuckling to himself as if he were bursting with the rarest, biggest piece of news a man ever had to keep to himself.
"For the love of St. Patrick, can't ye sit down and keep quiet a minute, man?" Johanna asked in desperation. "By the way ye are acting ye'll have the lad thinking his father's sent him a live elephant or some one o' those creatures that run wild in the East."
With a final triumphant whoop Barney sprang to the door and threw it open.
" 'Tis almost here!" he cried. "I can hear the bells on the sleigh."
"So can I," cried David. "And there's the team and the sleigh and— Why, there's somebody in it besides the driver!"
He was off from the window-seat and beside Barney at the door, and the others followed quickly, as the driver touched the team with his whip and the sleigh flew into plain view. Yes, there certainly was some one on the seat with the driver!
"Mercy on us!" gasped Johanna.
"Merry Christmas!" shouted Barney and Mr. Peter together.
But David could not shout. He could only keep whispering to himself, over and over: "Mother! It's mother!"