The Twelfth Guest by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman
"I DON'T see how it happened, for my part," Mrs. Childs said.
"Paulina, you set the table."
"You counted up yesterday how many there'd be, and you said
twelve; don't you know you did, mother? So I didn't count to-day. I
just put on the plates," said Paulina, smilingly defensive.
Paulina had something of a helpless and gentle look when she
smiled. Her mouth was rather large, and the upper jaw full, so the
smile seemed hardly under her control. She was quite pretty; her
complexion was so delicate and her eyes so pleasant. "Well, I don't
see how I made such a blunder," her mother remarked further, as she
went on pouring tea.
On the opposite side of the table were a plate, a knife and fork,
and a little dish of cranberry sauce, with an empty chair before
them. There was no guest to fill it.
"It's a sign somebody's comin' that's hungry," Mrs. Childs'
brother's wife said, with soft effusiveness which was out of
proportion to the words.
The brother was carving the turkey. Caleb Childs, the host, was an
old man, and his hands trembled. Moreover, no one, he himself least
of all, ever had any confidence in his ability in such directions.
Whenever he helped himself to gravy, his wife watched anxiously lest
be should spill it, and he always did. He spilled some to-day. There
was a great spot on the beautiful clean table-cloth. Caleb set his
cup and saucer over it quickly, with a little clatter because of his
unsteady hand. Then he looked at his wife. He hoped she had not seen,
but she had.
"You'd better have let John give you the gravy," she said, in a
John, rigidly solicitous, bent over the turkey. He carved slowly
and laboriously, but everybody had faith in him. The shoulders to
which a burden is shifted have the credit of being strong. His wife,
in her best black dress, sat smilingly, with her head canted a little
to one side. It was a way she had when visiting. Ordinarily she did
not assume it at her sister-in-law's house, but this was an extra
occasion. Her fine manners spread their wings involuntarily. When she
spoke about the sign, the young woman next her sniffed.
"I don't take any stock in signs," said she, with a bluntness
which seemed to crash through the other's airiness with such force as
to almost hurt itself. She was a distant cousin of Mr. Childs. Her
husband and three children were with her. Mrs. Childs' unmarried
sister, Maria Stone, made up the eleven at the table. Maria's gaunt
face was unhealthily red about the pointed nose and the high
cheek-bones; her eyes looked with a steady sharpness through her
spectacles. "Well, it will be time enough to believe the sign when
the twelfth one comes," said she, with a summary air. She had a
judicial way of speaking. She had taught school ever since she was
sixteen, and now she was sixty. She had just given up teaching. It
was to celebrate that, and her final home-coming, that her sister was
giving a Christmas dinner instead of a Thanksgiving one this year.
The school had been in session during Thanksgiving week.
Maria Stone had scarcely spoken when there was a knock on the
outer door, which led directly into the room. They all started. They
were a plain, unimaginative company, but for some reason a thrill of
superstitious and fantastic expectation ran through them. No one
arose. They were all silent for a moment, listening and looking at
the empty chair in their midst. Then the knock came again.
"Go to the door, Paulina," said her mother.
The young girl looked at her half fearfully, but she rose at once,
and went and opened the door. Everybody stretched around to see. A
girl stood on the stone step looking into the room. There she stood,
and never said a word. Paulina looked around at her mother, with her
innocent, half-involuntary smile.
"Ask her what she wants," said Mrs. Childs.
"What do you want?" repeated Paulina, like a sweet echo.
Still the girl said nothing. A gust of north wind swept into the
room. John's wife shivered, then looked around to see if any one had
"You must speak up quick an' tell what you want, so we can shut
the door; it's cold," said Mrs. Childs.
The girl's small sharp face was sheathed in an old worsted hood;
her eyes glared out of it like a frightened cat's. Suddenly she
turned to go. She was evidently abashed by the company.
"Don't you want somethin' to eat?" Mrs. Childs asked, speaking up
"It ain't no matter." She just mumbled it.
She would not repeat it. She was quite off the step by this
"You make her come in, Paulina," said Maria Stone, suddenly. "She
wants something to eat, but she's half scared to death. You talk to
"Hadn't you better come in, and have something to eat?" said
Paulina, shyly persuasive.
"Tell her she can sit right down here by the stove, where it's
warm, and have a good plate of dinner," said Maria.
Paulina fluttered softly down to the stone step. The chilly
snow-wind came right in her sweet, rosy face. "You can have a chair
by the stove, where it's warm, and a good plate of dinner," said
The girl looked at her.
"Won't you come in?" said Paulina, of her own accord, and always
The stranger made a little hesitating movement forward.
"Bring her in, quick! and shut the door," Maria called out then.
And Paulina entered with the girl stealing timidly in her wake.
"Take off your hood an' shawl," Mrs. Childs said, "an' sit down
here by the stove, an' I'll give you some dinner." She spoke kindly.
She was a warm-hearted woman, but she was rigidly built, and did not.
relax too quickly into action.
But the cousin, who had been observing, with head alertly raised,
interrupted. She cast a mischievous glance at John's wife--the empty
chair was between them. "For pity's sake!" cried she; "you ain't
goin' to shove her off in the corner? Why, here's this chair. She's
the twelfth one. Here's where she ought to sit." There was a mixture
of heartiness and sport in the young woman's manner. She pulled the
chair back from the table. "Come right over here," said she.
There was a slight flutter of consternation among the guests. They
were all narrow-lived country people. Their customs had made deeper
grooves in their roads; they were more fastidious and jealous of
their social rights than many in higher positions. They eyed this
forlorn girl, in her in her faded and dingy woollens which fluttered
airily and showed their pitiful thinness.
Mrs. Childs stood staring at the cousin. She did not think she
could be in earnest.
But she was. "Come," said she; "put some turkey in this plate,
"Why, it's jest as the rest of you say," Mrs. Childs said,
finally, with hesitation. She looked embarrassed and doubtful.
"Say! Why, they say just as I do," the cousin went on. "Why
shouldn't they? Come right around here." She tapped the chair
The girl looked at Mrs. Childs. "You can go an' sit down there
where she says," she said, slowly, in a constrained tone.
"Come," called the cousin again. And the girl took the empty
chair, with the guests all smiling stiffly.
Mrs. Childs began filling a plate for the new-comer.
Now that her hood was removed, one could see her face more
plainly. It was thin, and of that pale brown tint which exposure
gives to some blond skins. Still there was a tangible beauty which
showed through all that. Her fair hair stood up softly, with a kind
of airy roughness which caught the light. She was apparently about
"What's your name?" inquired the school-mistress sister,
The girl started. "Christine," she said, after a second.
A little thrill ran around the table. The company looked at each
other. They were none of them conversant with the Christmas legends,
but at that moment the universal sentiment of them seemed to seize
upon their fancies. The day, the mysterious appearance of the girl,
the name, which was strange to their ears--all startled them, and
gave them a vague sense of the supernatural. They, however, struggled
against it with their matter-of-fact pride, and threw it off
"Christine what?" Maria asked further.
The girl kept her scared eyes on Maria's face, but she made no
"What's your other name? Why don't you speak?"
Suddenly she rose.
"What are you goin' to do?"
"I'd--ruther--go, I guess."
"What are you goin' for? You ain't had your dinner."
"I--can't tell it," whispered the girl.
"Can't tell your name?"
She shook her head.
"Sit down, and eat your dinner," said Maria.
There was a strong sentiment of disapprobation among the company.
But when Christine's food was actually before her, and she seemed to
settle down upon it, like a bird, they viewed her with more
toleration. She was evidently half starved. Their discovery of that
fact gave them at once a fellow-feeling toward her on this feast-day,
and a complacent sense of their own benevolence.
As the dinner progressed the spirits of the party appeared to
rise, and a certain jollity which was almost hilarity prevailed.
Beyond providing the strange guest plentifully with food, they seemed
to ignore her entirely. Still nothing was more certain than the fact
that they did not. Every outburst of merriment was yielded to with
the most thorough sense of her presence, which appeared in some
subtle way to excite it. It was as if this forlorn twelfth guest were
the foreign element needed to produce a state of nervous
effervescence in those staid, decorous people who surrounded her.
This taste of mystery and unusualness, once fairly admitted, although
reluctantly, to their unaccustomed palates, served them as wine with
their Christmas dinner.
It was late in the afternoon when they arose from the table.
Christine went directly for her hood and shawl, and put them on. The
others, talking among themselves, were stealthily observant of her.
Christine began opening the door.
"Are you goin' home now?" asked Mrs. Childs.
"I ain't got any."
"Where did you come from?"
The girl looked at her. Then she unlatched the door.
"Stop!" Mrs. Childs cried, sharply. "What are you goin' for? Why
don't you answer?"
She stood still, but did not speak.
"Well, shut the door up, an' wait a minute," said Mrs. Childs.
She stood close to a window, and she stared out scrutinizingly.
There was no house in sight. First came a great yard, then wide
stretches of fields; a desolate gray road curved around them on the
left. The sky was covered with still, low clouds; the sun had not
shone out that day. The ground was all bare and rigid. Out in the
yard some gray hens were huddled together in little groups for
warmth; their red combs showed out. Two crows flew up, away over on
the edge of the field.
"It's goin' to snow," said Mrs. Childs.
"I'm afeard it is," said Caleb, looking at the girl.
He gave a sort of silent sob, and brushed some tears out of his
old eyes with the back of his hands.
"See here a minute, Maria," said Mrs. Childs.
The two women whispered together; then Maria stepped in front of
the girl, and stood, tall and stiff and impressive.
"Now see here," said she; "we want you to speak up and tell us
your other name, and where you came from, and not keep us waiting any
"I--can't." They guessed what she said from the motion of her
head. She opened the door entirely then and stepped out.
Suddenly Maria made one stride forward and seized her by her
shoulders, which felt like knife-blades through the thin clothes.
"Well," said she, "we've been fussing long enough; we've got all
these dishes to clear away. It's bitter cold, and it's going to snow,
and you ain't going out of this house one step to-night, no matter
what you are. You'd ought to tell us who you are, and it ain't many
folks that would keep you if you wouldn't; but we ain't goin' to have
you found dead in the road, for our own credit. It ain't on your
account. Now you just take those things off again, and go and sit
down in that chair."
Christine sat in the chair. Her pointed chin dipped down on her
neck, whose poor little muscles showed above her dress, which sagged
away from it. She never looked up. The women cleared off the table,
and cast curious glances at her.
After the dishes were washed and put away, the company were all
assembled in the sitting-room for an hour or so; then they went home.
The cousin, passing through the kitchen to join her husband, who was
waiting with his team at the door, ran hastily up to Christine.
"You stop at my house when you go to-morrow morning," said she.
"Mrs. Childs will tell you where 'tis-half a mile below here."
When the company were all gone, Mrs. Childs called Christine into
the sitting-room. "You'd better come in here and sit now," said she.
"I'm goin' to let the kitchen fire go down; I ain't goin' to get
another regular meal; I'm jest goin' to make a cup of tea on the
sittin'-room stove by-an'-by."
The sitting-room was warm, and restrainedly comfortable with its
ordinary village furnishings--its ingrain carpet, its little peaked
clock on a corner of the high black shelf, its red-covered
card-table, which had stood in the same spot for forty years. There
was a little newspaper-covered stand, with some plants on it, before
a window. There was one red geranium in blossom.
Paulina was going out that evening. Soon after the company went
she commenced to get ready, and her mother and aunt seemed to be
helping her. Christine was alone in the sitting-room for the greater
part of an hour.
Finally the three women came in, and Paulina stood before the
sitting-room glass for a last look at herself. She had on her best
red cashmere, with some white lace around her throat. She had a red
geranium flower with some leaves in her hair. Paulina's brown hair,
which was rather thin, was very silky. It was apt to part into little
soft strands on her forehead. She wore it brushed smoothly back. Her
mother would not allow her to curl it.
The two older women stood looking at her. "Don't you think she
looks nice, Christine?" Mrs. Childs asked, in a sudden overflow of
love and pride, which led her to ask sympathy from even this forlorn
"Yes, marm." Christine regarded Paulina, in her red cashmere and
geranium flower, with sharp, solemn eyes. When she really looked at
any one, her gaze was as unflinching as that of a child.
There was a sudden roll of wheels in the yard.
"Willard's come!" said Mrs. Childs. "Run to the door an' tell him
you'll be right out, Paulina, an' I'll get your things ready."
After Paulina had been helped into her coat and hood, and the
wheels had bowled out of the yard with a quick dash, the mother
turned to Christine.
"My daughter's gone to a Christmas tree over to the church," said
she. "That was Willard Morris that came for her. He's a real nice
young man that lives about a mile from here."
Mrs. Childs' tone was at once gently patronizing and elated.
When Christine was shown to a little back bedroom that night,
nobody dreamed how many times she was to occupy it. Maria and Mrs.
Childs, who after the door was closed set a table against it softly
and erected a tiltish pyramid of milkpans, to serve as an alarm in
case the strange guest should try to leave her room with evil
intentions, were fully convinced that she would depart early on the
"I dun know but I've run an awful risk keeping her," Mrs. Childs
said. "I don't like her not tellin' where she come from. Nobody knows
but she belongs to a gang of burglars, an' they've kind of sent her
on ahead to spy out things an' unlock the doors for 'em."
"I know it," said Maria. "I wouldn't have had her stay for a
thousand dollars if it hadn't looked so much like snow. Well, I'll
get up an' start her off early in the morning."
But Maria Stone could not carry out this resolution. The next
morning she was ill with a sudden and severe attack of erysipelas.
Moreover, there was a hard snow-storm, the worst of the season; it
would have been barbarous to have turned the girl out-of-doors on
such a morning. Moreover, she developed an unexpected capacity for
usefulness. She assisted Pauline about the housework with timid
alacrity, and Mrs. Childs could devote all her time to her
"She takes right hold as if she was used to it," she told Maria.
"I'd rather keep her a while than not, if I only knew a little more
"I don't believe but what I could get it out of her after a while
if I tried," said Maria, with her magisterial air, which illness
could not subdue.
However, even Maria, with all her well-fostered imperiousness, had
no effect on the girl's resolution; she continued as much of a
mystery as ever. Still the days went on, then the weeks and months,
and she remained in the Childs family.
None of them could tell exactly how it had been brought about. The
most definite course seemed to be that her arrival had apparently
been the signal for a general decline of health in the family. Maria
had hardly recovered when Caleb Childs was laid up with the
rheumatism; then Mrs. Childs had a long spell of exhaustion from
overwork in nursing. Christine proved exceedingly useful in these
emergencies. Their need of her appeared to be the dominant, and only
outwardly evident, reason for her stay; still there was a deeper one
which they themselves only faintly realized--this poor young girl,
who was rendered almost repulsive to these honest downright folk by
her persistent cloak of mystery, had somehow, in a very short time,
melted herself, as it were, into their own lives. Christine asleep of
a night in her little back bedroom, Christine of a day stepping about
the house in one of Paulina's old gowns, became a part of their
existence, and a part which was not far from the nature of a
sweetness to their senses.
She still retained her mild shyness of manner, and rarely spoke
unless spoken to. Now that she was warmly sheltered and well fed, her
beauty became evident. She grew prettier every day. Her cheeks became
softly dimpled; her hair turned golden. Her language was rude and
illiterate, but its very uncouthness had about it something of a soft
She was really prettier than Paulina.
The two young girls were much together, but could hardly be said
to be intimate. There were few confidences between them, and
confidences are essential for the intimacy of young girls.
Willard Morris came regularly twice a week to see Paulina, and
everybody spoke of them as engaged to each other.
Along in August Mrs. Childs drove over to town one afternoon and
bought a piece of cotton cloth and a little embroidery and lace. Then
some fine sewing went on, but with no comment in the household. Mrs.
Childs had simply said, "I guess we may as well get a few things made
up for you, Paulina, you're getting rather short." And Paulina had
sewed all day long, with a gentle industry, when the work was
There was a report that the marriage was to take place on
Thanksgiving Day. But about the first of October Willard Morris
stopped going to the Childs house. There was no explanation. He
simply did not come as usual on Sunday night, nor the following
Wednesday, nor the next Sunday. Paulina kindled her little parlor
fire, whose sticks she had laid with maiden preciseness; she arrayed
herself in her best gown and ribbons. When at nine o'clock Willard
had not come, she blew out the parlor lamp, shut up the parlor stove,
and went to bed. Nothing was said before her, but there was much talk
and surmise between Mrs. Childs and Maria, and a good deal of it went
on before Christine.
It was a little while after the affair of Cyrus Morris's note, and
they wondered if it could have anything to do with that. Cyrus Morris
was Willard's uncle, and the note affair had occasioned much distress
in the Childs family for a month back. The note was for twenty-five
hundred dollars, and Cyrus Morris had given it to Caleb Childs. The
time, which was two years, had expired on the first of September, and
then Caleb could not find the note.
He had kept it in his old-fashioned desk, which stood in one
corner of the kitchen. He searched there a day and half a night,
pulling all the soiled, creasy old papers out of the drawers and
pigeonholes before he would answer his wife's inquiries as to what be
Finally he broke down and told. "I've lost that note of Morris's,"
said he. "I dun know what I'm goin' to do."
He stood looking gloomily at the desk with its piles of papers.
His rough old chin dropped down on his breast.
The women were all in the kitchen, and they stopped and
"Why, father," said his wife, "where have you put it?"
"I put it here in this top drawer, and it ain't there."
"Let me look," said Maria, in a confident tone. But even Maria's
energetic and self-assured researches failed. "Well, it ain't here,"
said she. "I don't know what you've done with it."
"I don't believe you put it in that drawer, father," said his
"It was in there two weeks ago. I see it."
"Then you took it out afterwards."
"I ain't laid hands on't."
"You must have; it couldn't have gone off without hands. You know
you're kind of forgetful, father."
"I guess I know when I've took a paper out of a drawer. I know a
leetle somethin' yit."
"Well, I don't suppose there'll be any trouble about it, will
there?" said Mrs. Childs. "Of course he knows he give the note, an'
had the money."
"I dun know as there'll be any trouble, but I'd ruther give a
hundred dollar than had it happen."
After dinner Caleb shaved, put on his other coat and hat, and
trudged soberly up the road to Cyrus Morris's. Cyrus Morris was an
elderly man, who had quite a local reputation for wealth and business
shrewdness. Caleb, who was lowly-natured and easily impressed by
another's importance, always made a call upon him quite a formal
affair, and shaved and dressed up. He was absent about an hour
to-day. When he returned he went into the sitting-room, where the
women sat with their sewing. He dropped into a chair, and looked
straight ahead, with his forehead knitted.
The women dropped their work and looked at him, and then at each
"What did he say, father?" Mrs. Childs asked at length.
"Say! He's a rascal, that's what he is, an' I'll tell him so,
"Ain't he goin' to pay it?"
"No, he ain't."
"Why, father, I don't believe it! You didn't get hold of it
straight," said his wife.
"Why, what did he say?"
"He didn't say anything."
"Doesn't he remember he had the money and gave the note, and has
been paying interest on it?" queried Maria.
"He jest laughed, an' said 'twa'n't accordin' to law to pay unless
I showed the note an' give it up to him. He said he couldn't be sure
but I'd want him to pay it over ag'in. I know where that note
Caleb's voice had deep meaning in it. The women stared at him.
"It's in Cyrus Morris's desk--that's where it is."
"Why, father, you're crazy!"
"No, I ain't crazy, nuther. I know what I'm talkin' about.
"It's just where you put it," interrupted Maria, taking up her
sewing with a switch; "and I wouldn't lay the blame onto anybody
"You'd ought to ha' looked out for a paper like that," said his
wife. "I guess I should if it had been me. If you've gone an' lost
all that money through your carelessness, you've done it, that's all
I've got to say. I don't see what we're goin' to do."
Caleb bent forward and fixed his eyes upon the women. He held up
his shaking hand impressively. "If you'll stop talkin' just a
minute," said he, "I'll tell you what I was goin' to. Now I'd like to
know just one thing: Wa'n't Cyrus Morris alone in that kitchen as
much as fifteen minutes a week ago to-day? Didn't you leave him there
while you went to look arter me? Wa'n't the key in the desk? Answer
His wife looked at him with cold surprise and severity.
"I wouldn't talk in any such way as that if I was you, father,"
said she. "It don't show a Christian spirit. It's jest layin' the
blame of your own carelessness onto somebody else. You're all the one
that's to blame. An' when it comes to it, you'd never ought to let
Cyrus Morris have the money anyhow. I could have told you better. I
knew what kind of a man he was."
"He's a rascal," said Caleb, catching eagerly at the first note of
foreign condemnation in his wife's words. "He'd ought to be put in
state's-prison. I don't think much of his relations nuther. I don't
want nothin' to do with 'em, an' I don't want none of my folks
Paulina's soft cheeks flushed. Then she suddenly spoke out as she
had never spoken in her life.
"It doesn't make it out because he's a bad man that his relations
are," said she. "You haven't any right to speak so, father. And I
guess you won't stop me having anything to do with them, if you want
She was all pink and trembling. Suddenly she burst out crying, and
ran out of the room.
"You'd ought to be ashamed of yourself, father," exclaimed Mrs.
"I didn't think of her takin' on it so," muttered Caleb, humbly.
"I didn't mean nothin'."
Caleb did not seem like himself through the following days. His
simple old face took on an expression of strained thought, which made
it look strange. He was tottering on a height of mental effort and
worry which was almost above the breathing capacity of his innocent
and placid nature. Many a night he rose, lighted a candle, and
tremulously fumbled over his desk until morning, in the vain hope of
finding missing note.
One night, while he was so searching, some one touched him softly
on the arm.
He jumped and turned. It was Christine. She had stolen in
"Oh, it's you!" said he.
"Ain't you found it?"
"Found it? No; an' I sha'n't, nuther." He turned away from her and
pulled out another drawer. The girl stood watching him wistfully. "It
was a big yellow paper," the old man went on--"a big yellow paper,
an' I'd wrote on the back on't, 'Cyrus Morris's note.' An' the
interest he'd, paid was set down on the back on't, too."
"It's too bad you can't find it," said she.
"It ain't no use lookin'; it ain't here, an' that's the hull on't.
It's in his desk. I ain't got no more doubt on't than nothin' at
"Where--does he keep his desk?"
"In his kitchen; it's jest like this one."
"Would this key open it?"
"I dun know but 'twould. But it ain't no use. I s'pose I'll have
to lose it." Caleb sobbed silently and wiped his eyes.
A few days later he came, all breathless, into the sitting room.
He could hardly speak; but he held out a folded yellow paper, which
fluttered and blew in his unsteady hand like a yellow maple-leaf in
an autumn gale.
"Look-a-here!" he gasped--"look-a-here!"
"Why, for goodness' sake, what's the matter?" cried Maria. She and
Mrs. Childs and Paulina were there, sewing peacefully.
"Why, for mercy's sake, what is it, father? Are you crazy?"
"What note? Don't get so excited, father."
"Cyrus Morris's note. That's what note 'tis. Look-a-here!"
The women all arose and pressed around him, to look at it.
"Where did you find it, father?" asked his wife, who was quite
"I suppose it was just where you put it," broke in Maria, with
"No, it wa'n't. No, it wa'n't, nuther. Don't you go to crowin' too
quick, Maria. That paper was just where I told you 'twas. What do you
think of that, hey?"
"Oh, father, you didn't!"
"It was layin' right there in his desk. That's where 'twas. Jest
where I knew--" "Father, you didn't go over there an' take it!"
The three women stared at him with dilated eyes.
"No, I didn't."
The old man jerked his head towards the kitchen door. "She."
"How did she get it?" asked Maria, in her magisterial manner,
which no astonishment could agitate.
"She saw Cyrus and Mis' Morris ride past, an' then she run over
there, an' she got in through the window an' got it; that's how."
Caleb braced himself like a stubborn child, in case any exception
were taken to it all.
"It beats everything I ever heard," said Mrs. Childs, faintly.
"Next time you'll believe what I tell you!" said Caleb.
The whole family were in a state of delight over the recovery of
the note; still Christine got rather hesitating gratitude. She was
sharply questioned, and rather reproved than otherwise.
This theft, which could hardly be called a theft, aroused the old
distrust of her.
"It served him just right, and it wasn't stealing, because it
didn't belong to him; and I don't know what you would have done if
she hadn't taken it," said Maria; "but, for all that, it went all
"So it did over me," said her sister. "I felt just as you did, an'
I felt as if it was real ungrateful too, when the poor child did it
just for us."
But there were no such misgivings for poor Caleb, with his money,
and his triumph over iniquitous Cyrus Morris. He was wholly and
"It was a blessed day when we took that little girl in," he told
"I hope it'll prove so," said she.
Paulina took her lover's desertion quietly. She had just as many
soft smiles for every one; there was no alteration in her gentle,
obliging ways. Still her mother used to listen at her door, and she
knew that she cried instead of sleeping many a night. She was not
able to eat much, either, although she tried to with pleasant
willingness when her mother urged her.
After a while she was plainly grown thin, and her pretty color had
faded. Her mother could not keep her eyes from her.
"Sometimes I think I'll go an' ask Willard myself what this kind
of work means," she broke out with an abashed abruptness one
afternoon. She and Paulina happened to be alone in the
"You'll kill me if you do, mother," said Paulina. Then she began
"Well, I won't do anything you don't want me to, of course," said
her mother. She pretended not to see that Paulina was crying.
Willard had stopped coming about the first of October; the time
wore on until it was the first of December, and he had not once been
to the house, and Paulina had not exchanged a word with him in the
One night she had a fainting-spell. She fell heavily while
crossing the sitting-room floor. They got her on to the lounge, and
she soon revived; but her mother had lost all control of herself. She
came out into the kitchen and paced the floor.
"Oh, my darlin'!" she wailed. "She's goin' to die. What shall I
do? All the child I've got in the world. An' he's killed her! That
scamp! I wish I could get my hands on him. Oh, Paulina, Paulina, to
think it should come to this!"
Christine was in the room, and she listened with eyes dilated and
lips parted. She was afraid that shrill wail would reach Paulina in
the next room.
"She'll hear you," she said, finally.
Mrs. Childs grew quieter at that, and presently Maria called her
into the sitting-room.
Christine stood thinking for a moment. Then she got her hood and
shawl, put on her rubbers, and went out. She shut the door softly, so
nobody should hear. When she stepped forth she plunged knee-deep into
snow. It was snowing hard, as it had been all day. It was a cold
storm, too; the wind was bitter. Christine waded out of the yard and
down the street. She was so small and light that she staggered when
she tried to step firmly in some tracks ahead of her. There was a
full moon behind the clouds, and there was a soft white light in
spite of the storm. Christine kept on down the street, in the
direction of Willard Morris's house. It was a mile distant. Once in a
while she stopped and turned herself about, that the terrible wind
might smite her back instead of her face. When she reached the house
she waded painfully through the yard to the side-door and knocked.
Pretty soon it opened, and Willard stood there in the entry, with a
lamp in his hand.
"Good-evening," said he, doubtfully, peering out.
"Good-evenin'." The light shone on Christine's face.
The snow clung to her soft hair, so it was quite white. Her cheeks
had a deep, soft color, like roses; her blue eyes blinked a little in
the lamp-light, but seemed rather to flicker like jewels or stars.
She panted softly through her parted lips. She stood there, with the
snow-flakes driving in light past her, and "She looks like an angel,"
came swiftly into Willard Morris's head before he spoke.
"Oh, it's you," said he.
Then they stood waiting. "Why, won't you come in?" said Willard,
finally, with an awkward blush. "I declare I never thought. I ain't
She shook her head. "No, thank you," said she.
"Did--you want to see mother?"
The young man stared at her in increasing perplexity. His own
fair, handsome young face got more and more flushed. His forehead
wrinkled. "Was there anything you wanted?"
"No, I guess not," Christine replied, with a slow softness.
Willard shifted the lamp into his other hand and sighed. "It's a
pretty hard storm," he remarked, with an air of forced patience.
"Didn't you find it terrible hard walking?"
Willard was silent again. "See here, they're all well down at your
house, ain't they?" said he, finally. A look of anxious interest had
sprung into his eyes. He had begun to take alarm.
"I guess so."
Suddenly he spoke out impetuously. "Say, Christine, I don't know
what you came here for; you can tell me afterwards. I don't know what
you'll think of me, but---Well, I want to know something. Say--well,
I haven't been 'round for quite a while. You don't-suppose--they've
cared much, any of them?"
"I don't know."
"Well, I don't suppose you do, but--you might have noticed. Say,
Christine, you don't think she--you know whom I mean--cared anything
about my coming, do you?"
"I don't know," she said again, softly, with her eyes fixed warily
on his face.
"Well, I guess she didn't; she wouldn't have said what she did if
Christine's eyes gave a sudden gleam. "What did she say?"
"Said she wouldn't have anything more to do with me," said the
young man, bitterly. "She was afraid I would be up to just such
tricks as my uncle was, trying to cheat her father. That was too much
for me. I wasn't going to stand that from any girl." He shook his
"She didn't say it."
"Yes, she did; her own father told my uncle so. Mother was in the
next room and heard it."
"No, she didn't say it," the girl repeated.
"How do you know?"
"I heard her say something different[,]" Christine told him.
"I'm going right up there," cried he, when he heard that.
"Wait a minute, and I'll go along with you."
"I dun know as you'd better--to-night," Christine said, looking
out towards the road evasively. "She--ain't been very well
"Who? Paulina? What's the matter?"
"She had a faintin'-spell jest before I came out," answered
Christine, with stiff gravity.
"Oh! Is she real sick?"
"She was some better."
"Don't you suppose I could see her just a few minutes? I wouldn't
stay to tire her," said the young man, eagerly.
"I dun know."
"I must, anyhow."
Christine fixed her eyes on his with a solemn sharpness. "What
makes you want to?"
"What makes me want to? Why, I'd give ten years to see her five
"Well, mebbe you could come over a few minutes."
"Wait a minute!" cried Willard. "I'll get my hat."
"I'd better go first, I guess. The parlor fire'll be to
"Then had I better wait?"
"I guess so."
"Then I'll be along in about an hour. Say, you haven't said what
Christine was off the step.
"It ain't any matter," murmured she.
"Say--she didn't send you?"
"No, she didn't."
"I didn't mean that. I didn't suppose she did," said Willard, with
an abashed air. "What did you want, Christine?"
"There's somethin' I want you to promise," said she, suddenly.
"Don't you say anything about Mr. Childs."
"Why, how can I help it?"
"He's an old man, an' he was so worked up he didn't know what he
was sayin'. They'll all scold him. Don't say anything."
"Well, I won't say anything. I don't know what I'm going to tell
Christine turned to go.
"You didn't say what 'twas you wanted," called Willard again.
But she made no reply. She was pushing through the deep snow out
of the yard.
It was quite early yet, only a few minutes after seven. It was
eight when she reached home. She entered the house without any one
seeing her. She pulled off her snowy things, and went into the
Paulina was alone there. She was lying on the lounge. She was very
pale, but she looked up and smiled when Christine entered.
Christine brought the fresh out-door air with her. Paulina noticed
it. "Where have you been?" whispered she.
Then Christine bent over her, and talked fast in a low tone.
Presently Paulina raised herself and sat up. "Tonight?" cried she,
in an eager whisper. Her cheeks grew red.
"Yes; I'll go make the parlor fire."
"It's all ready to light." Suddenly Paulina threw her arms around
Christine and kissed her. Both girls blushed.
"I don't think I said one thing to him that you wouldn't have
wanted me to," said Christine.
"You didn't--ask him to come?"
"No, I didn't, honest."
When Mrs. Childs entered, a few minutes later, she found her
daughter standing before the glass.
"Why, Paulina!" cried she.
"I feel a good deal better, mother," said Paulina.
"Ain't you goin' to bed?"
"I guess I won't quite yet."
"I've got it all ready for you. I thought you wouldn't feel like
"I guess I will; a little while."
Soon the door-bell rang with a sharp peal. Everybody
jumped--Paulina rose and went to the door.
Mrs. Childs and Maria, listening, heard Willard's familiar voice,
then the opening of the parlor door.
"It's him!" gasped Mrs. Childs. She and Maria looked at each
It was about two hours before the soft murmur of voices in the
parlor ceased, the outer door closed with a thud, and Paulina came
into the room. She was blushing and smiling, but she could not look
in any one's face at first.
"Well," said her mother, "who was it?"
"Willard. It's all right."
It was not long before the fine sewing was brought out again, and
presently two silk dresses were bought for Paulina. It was known
about that she was to be married on Christmas Day. Christine assisted
in the preparation. All the family called to mind afterwards the
obedience so ready as to be loving which she yielded to their
biddings during those few hurried weeks. She sewed, she made cake,
she ran of errands, she wearied herself joyfully for the happiness of
this other young girl.
About a week before the wedding, Christine, saying good-night when
about to retire one evening, behaved strangely. They remembered it
afterwards. She went up to Paulina and kissed her when saying
good-night. It was something which she had never before done. Then
she stood in the door, looking at them all. There was a sad, almost a
solemn, expression on her fair girlish face.
"Why, what's the matter?" said Maria.
"Nothin'," said Christine. "Good-night."
That was the last time they ever saw her. The next morning Mrs.
Childs, going to call her, found her room vacant. There was a great
alarm. When they did not find her in the house nor the neighborhood,
people were aroused, and there was a search instigated. It was
prosecuted eagerly, but to no purpose. Paulina's wedding evening
came, and Christine was still missing.
Paulina had been married, and was standing beside her husband, in
the midst of the chattering guests, when Caleb stole out of the room.
He opened the north door, and stood looking out over the dusky
fields. "Christiny!" he called; "Christiny!"
Presently he looked up at the deep sky, full of stars, and called
again--"Christiny! Christiny!" But there was no answer save in light.
When Christine stood in the sitting room door and said good-night,
her friends had their last sight and sound of her. Their Twelfth
Guest had departed from their hospitality forever.