How It Happened
T HE way Kristy came to have an odd Christmas at all, was this: she had been very ill at her grandmother's, and though she tried her best, and the good doctor tried his best, she could not get well enough to go home for Christmas.
This was a great grief, of course, for all the girls were having fine times in town, Christmas trees and all sorts of festive doings, and Kristy thought so much about it all and felt so bad about it that the doctor began to shake his head again.
So Mamma told Kristy that she might plan anything she liked, to celebrate the day, and if it were possible, she should have her way. This was a capital idea of Mamma's, for it gave Kristy something to think of for several days before she hit upon just such a programme as she should like best. Christmas trees she was tired of, and besides, a tree would be stupid where she was the only young person. At last a happy thought came to her, which almost made her dance with delight. She would have a party, a new kind of a party, and give everybody a surprise. How her guests would like it she did not know, but that she should enjoy it she was sure. She told Mamma her plan, first making her promise to keep it secret, at least the surprise part of it, and Mamma approved.
It was to be in Grandma's big, old-fashioned kitchen, with its shining oak ceiling and polished floor. The stove that was used for cooking in these days was to be taken away; the great fireplace nearly across the whole end of the room was to be uncovered. The tall brass "fire-dogs" with their queer heads were to be put in place, and a royal fire of logs built up. There was to be no other light in the room, and here on Christmas eve her party was to assemble to be surprised. After that was over they would be treated to doughnuts, apples, and cider—not another thing.
Mamma consulted with Grandma, and the whole thing was arranged just as Kristy wished. Invitations were sent out, mostly to uncles and aunts and kind neighbors, and hardly a person under twenty years of age.
When Grandma saw this odd list of guests she was surprised, and suggested that quite a nice party could be brought together, even here in the country, of young people. But Kristy laughed and said she didn't want a single girl to giggle and disturb, and added that Grandma would understand when she heard the surprise. The day before Christmas there were great doings in the big kitchen. The stove was carried into the laundry and a big pan of doughnuts, or nut-cakes as they called them, were cooked, while the fire-board was taken away and the fireplace filled with big sticks on a foundation of solid log.
Then Aunt Jeanie came over from her house and hung the room with evergreen and bittersweet, and laid down a big rug before the fire, on one side of which was placed like a throne the great "sick-chair" out of the attic, covered with a gay chintz comfortable, and furnished with pillows and everything to make it as nice as a bed.
As soon as it grew dark on Christmas eve and Kristy had taken her supper, the company began to arrive, and two uncles came up to Kristy's room to carry down the "Queen of the Evening," as they called her.
She was already dressed in a soft new double-wrapper of light blue merino which Mamma had made for her, and Uncle John brought her a lovely bouquet of rosebuds that had come in a box from the city, and Uncle Will put on her head a delicate wreath of fresh violets from the same box. Then they crossed hands and "made a chair," which they gravely and with great ceremony offered to the "Queen" to ride down on.
Kristy was delighted; this was somebody's surprise to her. So she laughingly seated herself on the four crossed hands, put one arm around each dear uncle's neck, and away they went down the stairs.
The kitchen looked charming, and no one regretted the stately parlor left alone in the cold. The guests were assembled and already seated as Mamma had arranged, in a large half-circle around the fire, Grandma in her usual rocking-chair at one end, and Kristy on her throne at the other.
"Now, Mamma," said Kristy, after greetings were over, "will you please tell the surprise?"
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Mamma, standing by Kristy's chair, "you know this is to be a surprise party, differing from the common kind because you—the guests—are to be surprised instead of your young hostess here. Not to keep you in suspense I will announce that the ruling love of the 'Queen of the Evening' is stories; and she requests—nay, demands—of every one present that he or she shall each in turn tell her a story."
A chorus of "Oh's" in tones of dismay came from the circle, followed by such remarks as "That's too bad of the little witch!" and "I never could tell a story in my life!" But Mamma rapped on the fire-dogs for silence and spoke again.
"I hear murmurs; let me explain; the terms are not hard. Each one shall tell of the oddest, most miserable or most agreeable Christmas he ever knew about. I'm sure every one of you can remember some story, long or short, connected with that pleasant time, and as good 'subjects' I'm sure you will be glad to gratify our little story-lover."
That silenced every one, for all were fond of Kristy and glad to make her Christmas as bright as possible. Grandma spoke next. "I think that's a very cunning plan on the part of my granddaughter, and while you are all collecting your wits, and brushing up your memories of old times, I'll tell the first story myself. As it is about myself, I have no trouble in recalling it."
"That's lovely of you, Grandma," said Kristy warmly. Grandma smiled across the fireplace, and while Uncle Will stirred up the fire to make a brighter blaze, she brought her knitting out of her pocket and began.