The Christmas Angel





Phoebe watched the two unhappily, sighed when they disappeared around

the corner of the house, and set her bowl of butter upon the broad, flat

rock which just missed being overflowed with water, and sighed again.



"I'm afraid it isn't going to work," she murmured aloud; for Phoebe,

having lived much of her life in the loneliness which the West means

to women, frequently talked to herself. "She's such a nice little

thing--but the boys don't take to her like I thought they would. I don't

see as she's having a mite of influence on their manners, unless it's to

make them act worse, just to shock her. Clark USED to take off his hat

when he come into the house most every time. And great grief! Now he'd

wear it and his chaps and spurs to the table, if I didn't make him take

them off. She's nice--she's most too nice. I've got to give that girl a

good talking to."



She mounted the steps to the back porch, tried the kitchen door, and

found it locked. She went around to the door on the west side, opposite

the gate, found that also secured upon the inside, and passed grimly to

the next.



"My grief! I didn't know any of these doors COULD be locked!" she

muttered angrily. "They never have been before that I ever heard of."

She stopped before Evadna's window, and saw, through a slit in the green

blind, that the old-fashioned bureau had been pulled close before it.

"My grief!" she whispered disgustedly, and retraced her steps to

the east side, which, being next to the pond, was more secluded.

She surveyed dryly a window left wide open there, gathered her

brown-and-white calico dress close about her plump person, and crawled

grimly through into the sitting-room, where, to the distress of Phoebe's

order-loving soul, the carpet was daily well-sanded with the tread of

boys' boots fresh from outdoors, and where cigarette stubs decorated

every window-sill, and the stale odor of Peaceful's pipe was never long

absent.



She went first to all the outer rooms, and unlocked every one of the

outraged doors which, unless in the uproar and excitement of racing,

laughing boys pursuing one another all over the place with much slamming

and good-natured threats of various sorts, had never before barred the

way of any man, be he red or white, came he at noon or at midnight.



Evadna's door was barricaded, as Phoebe discovered when she turned the

knob and attempted to walk in. She gave the door an indignant push, and

heard a muffled shriek within, as if Evadna's head was buried under her

pillow.



"My grief! A body'd think you expected to be killed and eaten," she

called out unsympathetically. "You open this door! Vadnie Ramsey.

This is a nice way to act with my own boys, in my own house! A body'd

think--"



There was the sound of something heavy being dragged laboriously away

from the barricaded door; and in a minute a vividly blue eye appeared at

a narrow crack.



"Oh, I don't see how you dare to L-LIVE in such a place, Aunt Phoebe!"

she cried tearfully, opening the door a bit wider. "Those Indians--and

that awful man--"



"That was only Grant, honey. Let me in. There's a few things I want

to say to you, Vadnie. You promised to help me teach my boys to be

gentle--it's all they lack, and it takes gentle women, honey--"



"I am gentle," Evadna protested grievedly. "I've never once forgotten

to be gentle and quiet, and I haven't done a thing to them--but they're

horrid and rough, anyway--"



"Let me in, honey, and we'll talk it over. Something's got to be done.

If you wouldn't be so timid, and would make friends with them, instead

of looking at them as if you expected them to murder you--I must say,

Vadnie, you're a real temptation; they can't help scaring you when you

go around acting as if you expected to be scared. You--you're TOO--" The

door opened still wider, and she went in. "Now, the idea of a great girl

like you hiding her head under a pillow just because Grant asked old

Hagar to apologize!"



Evadna sat down upon the edge of the bed and stared unwinkingly at her

aunt. "They don't apologize like that in New Jersey," she observed, with

some resentment in her voice, and dabbed at her unbelievably blue eyes

with a moist ball of handkerchief.



"I know they don't, honey." Phoebe patted her hand reassuringly. "That's

what I want you to help me teach my boys--to be real gentlemen. They're

pure gold, every one of them; but I can't deny they're pretty rough on

the outside sometimes. And I hope you will be--"



"Oh, I know. I understand perfectly. You just got me out here as a--a

sort of sandpaper for your boys' manners!" Evadna choked over a little

sob of self-pity. "I can just tell you one thing, Aunt Phoebe, that

fellow you call Grant ought to be smoothed with one of those funny axes

they hew logs with."



Phoebe bit her lips because she wanted to treat the subject very

seriously. "I want you to promise me, honey, that you will be

particularly nice to Grant; PARTICULARLY nice. He's so alone, and

he's very proud and sensitive, because he feels his loneliness. No one

understands him as I do--"



"I hate him!" gritted Evadna, in an emphatic whisper which her Aunt

Phoebe thought it wise not to seem to hear.



Phoebe settled herself comfortably for a long talk. The murmur of her

voice as she explained and comforted and advised came soothingly from

the room, with now and then an interruption while she waited for a tardy

answer to some question. Finally she rose and stood in the doorway,

looking back at a huddled figure on the bed.



"Now dry your eyes and be a good girl, and remember what you've

promised," she admonished kindly. "Aunt Phoebe didn't mean to scold you,

honey; she only wants you to feel that you belong here, and she wants

you to like her boys and have them like you. They've always wanted a

sister to pet; and Aunt Phoebe is hoping you'll not disappoint her.

You'll try; won't you, Vadnie?"



"Y--yes," murmured Vadnie meekly from the pillow. "I know you will."

Phoebe looked at her for a moment longer rather wistfully, and turned

away. "I do wish she had some spunk," she muttered complainingly, not

thinking that Evadna might hear her. "She don't take after the Ramseys

none--there wasn't anything mushy about them that I ever heard of."



"Mushy! MUSHY!" Evadna sat up and stared at nothing at all while she

repeated the word under her breath. "She wants me to be gentle--she

preached gentleness in her letters, and told how her boys need it, and

then--she calls it being MUSHY!"



She reached mechanically for her hair-brush, and fumbled in a tumbled

mass of shining, yellow hair quite as unbelievable in its way as were

her eyes--Grant had shown a faculty for observing keenly when he called

her a Christmas angel--and drew out a half-dozen hairpins, letting them

slide from her lap to the floor. "MUSHY!" she repeated, and shook down

her hair so that it framed her face and those eyes of hers. "I suppose

that's what they all say behind my back. And how can a girl be nice

WITHOUT being mushy?" She drew the brush meditatively through her

hair. "I am scared to death of Indians," she admitted, with analytical

frankness, "and tarantulas and snakes--but--MUSHY!"



Grant stood smoking in the doorway of the sitting-room, where he could

look out upon the smooth waters of the pond darkening under the shade of

the poplars and the bluff behind, when Evadna came out of her room. He

glanced across at her, saw her hesitate, as if she were meditating a

retreat, and gave his shoulders a twitch of tolerant amusement that she

should be afraid of him. Then he stared out over the pond again. Evadna

walked straight over to him.



"So you're that other savage whose manners I'm supposed to smooth, are

you?" she asked abruptly, coming to a stop within three feet of him, and

regarding him carefully, her hands clasped behind her.



"Please don't tease the animals," Grant returned, in the same impersonal

tone which she had seen fit to employ--but his eyes turned for a

sidelong glance at her, although he appeared to be watching the trout

rise lazily to the insects skimming over the surface of the water.



"I'm supposed to be nice to you--par-TIC-ularly nice--because you need

it most. I dare say you do, judging from what I've seen of you. At any

rate, I've promised. But I just want you to understand that I'm not

going to mean one single bit of it. I don't like you--I can't endure

you!--and if I'm nice, it will just be because I've promised Aunt

Phoebe. You're not to take my politeness at its face value, for back of

it I shall dislike you all the time."



Grant's lips twitched, and there was a covert twinkle in his eyes,

though he looked around him with elaborate surprise.



"It's early in the day for mosquitoes," he drawled; "but I was sure I

heard one buzzing somewhere close."



"Aunt Phoebe ought to get a street roller to smooth your manners,"

Evadna observed pointedly.



"Instead it's as if she hung her picture of a Christmas angel up before

the wolf's den, eh?" he suggested calmly, betraying his Indian blood

in the unconsciously symbolic form of expression. "No doubt the wolf's

nature will be greatly benefited--his teeth will be dulled for his

prey, his voice softened for the nightcry--if he should ever, by chance,

discover that the Christmas angel is there."



"I don't think he'll be long in making the discovery." The blue of

Evadna's eyes darkened and darkened until they were almost black.

"Christmas angel,--well, I like that! Much you know about angels."



Grant turned his head indolently and regarded her.



"If it isn't a Christmas angel--they're always very blue and very

golden, and pinky-whitey--if it isn't a Christmas angel, for the Lord's

sake what is it?" He gave his head a slight shake, as if the problem was

beyond his solving, and flicked the ashes from his cigarette.



"Oh, I could pinch you!" She gritted her teeth to prove she meant what

she said.



"It says it could pinch me." Grant lazily addressed the trout. "I wonder

why it didn't, then, when it was being squashed?"



"I just wish to goodness I had! Only I suppose Aunt Phoebe--"



"I do believe it's got a temper. I wonder, now, if it could be a LIVE

angel?" Grant spoke to the softly swaying poplars.



"Oh, you--there now!" She made a swift little rush at him, nipped his

biceps between a very small thumb and two fingers, and stood back,

breathing quickly and regarding him in a shamed defiance. "I'll show you

whether I'm alive!" she panted vindictively.



"It's alive, and it's a humming-bird. Angels don't pinch." Grant laid a

finger upon his arm and drawled his solution of a trivial mystery.

"It mistook me for a honeysuckle, and gave me a peck to make sure."

He smiled indulgently, and exhaled a long wreath of smoke from his

nostrils. "Dear little humming-birds--so simple and so harmless!"



"And I've promised to be nice to--THAT!" cried Evadna, in bitterness,

and rushed past him to the porch.



Being a house built to shelter a family of boys, and steps being a

superfluity scorned by their agile legs, there was a sheer drop of three

feet to the ground upon that side. Evadna made it in a jump, just as the

boys did, and landed lightly upon her slippered feet.



"I hate you--hate you--HATE YOU!" she cried, her eyes blazing up at his

amused face before she ran off among the trees.



"It sings a sweet little song," he taunted, and his laughter followed

her mockingly as she fled from him into the shadows.



"What's the joke, Good Injun? Tell us, so we can laugh too." Wally

and Jack hurried in from the kitchen and made for the doorway where he

stood.



From under his straight, black brows Grant sent a keen glance into the

shade of the grove, where, an instant before, had flickered the white

of Evadna's dress. The shadows lay there quietly now, undisturbed by so

much as a sleepy bird's fluttering wings.



"I was just thinking of the way I yanked that dog down into old

Wolfbelly's camp," he said, though there was no tangible reason for

lying to them. "Mister!" he added, his eyes still searching the shadows

out there in the grove, "we certainly did go some!"





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