Read CHAPTER VIII - EVEN UNTO BETHLEHEM of Pearl and Periwinkle , free online book, by Anna Graetz, on ReadCentral.com.

After Periwinkle’s recovery the children’s visits to Mr. Grey’s home became quite frequent. Miss Maise wisely concluded that if the Greys wanted to idolize Myra’s children she might as well not interfere. Pearl especially loved to visit there, for Mr. Grey, who was quite an accomplished musician, seeing her interest, helped her in her music and they spent many delightful hours in playing and singing. One Friday evening, two weeks before Christmas, Pearl had just finished singing a most wonderful melody with such sweetness and tenderness that Mr. Grey seemed almost entranced.

“Isn’t it lovely?” asked Pearl breathlessly. “If that were only a church song I could sing it in the choir. The music is really church music, isn’t it?” she added critically. “I believe the angel’s ‘Glory’ song must have sounded something like this one.”

“The very thing,” exclaimed Mr. Grey with delight. “Nothing could suit your voice better than this song. Now if I would write a Christmas song for this music would you sing it at church on Christmas Eve?”

“Oh, Mr. Grey,” cried the excited girl, “could you do that? I thought it took a wise man to write a poem.” Mr. Grey passed over the uncomplimentary remark with a smile.

“I used to be rather clever at rhyming things, Pearl,” he said. “If I only could write half of what is in my heart, it might make a very presentable song. And now if you will come tomorrow afternoon we’ll practise it,” adding, “but, Pearl dear, you must promise me not to sing it to anybody not even to your aunt before Christmas.”

The Christmas season found Pearl and Periwinkle busily engaged in all sorts of preparations. They helped Miss Hetty bake wonderful Christmas cakes. Their combined efforts were necessary to make what they thought would be just the thing for Joe Smith. And Pearl did not hesitate to call on Miss Hetty to show her how to hemstitch a handkerchief for Robert Grey. The most fun of all, however, was to get Miss Hetty’s present into the house and stow it safely away, which they finally accomplished when Miss Hetty happened to discover that there were some things which had to be attended to in the attic.

But best of all was the joy of helping Zeke Grey and Emil Maise cut down the enormous tree for the church. Nor did the children wonder, nor take any credit to themselves when the son-in-law of Jeoffrey Maise worked side by side with the nephew of Jim Grey, to set the tree in place.

Yet when it came to filling the candy sacks and decorating the tree these tasks were assigned as separate duties to the ladies of the two clans. Both parties still could not forget the past even around the children’s Christmas tree. The minister’s son was everywhere and so too was Alois Maise who was just home for the holidays.

While the church was thus the scene of festive preparation, Pearl was busily engaged in rehearsing her song with Mr. Grey.

“Splendid!” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “I didn’t imagine that my words would fit so well. They don’t amount to much in themselves, girlie, but you must sing into them all that my heart would say. Sing as you do now, and the minister and Joe and I, and perhaps perhaps Aunt Hetty will bless you forever, dear.”

The delight of dressing that evening, the joy of the hurried supper, the happiness in walking hand in hand with the beloved aunt to the brightly lighted church! How could Miss Hetty or the children ever forget that night!

“Do you know, Auntie,” said Peri thoughtfully, while the soft snow fell about them, “I’m thinking of my last Christmas. How much different this one is. Now we have you, and a home, and Mr. Grey, and Joe and everything we need and everybody loves us. Even Pearl wouldn’t go back to the circus for anything. But I keep thinking tonight of what the Fat Woman said, last Christmas when Jerry the clown gave her a silver mirror. She said, ’Thanks awfully for making me remember that Christmas is here again. But I guess it ain’t so much what we give and get as it is the way we feel about giving and getting it round Christmas time.’ I told this to Joe Smith yesterday and he said, ’Yes, Peri, the spirit of Christmas is the Spirit of Him whose birthday we celebrate.’ Oh, Aunt Hetty, aren’t you aren’t you hoping that I’ll grow up to be like Smith some day? I wish that I could do something for him. It’s grand to do things to make people happy and good. I reckon the two are about the same thing, happiness and goodness. Oh, just look how the church is lit up! Have I talked too much, Aunt Hetty?”

By this time they were at the church door and, trembling with excitement, they entered. Pearl and Periwinkle took their places in the children’s choir, beaming with happiness and joy, while Aunty Hetty, with a sparkle in her eyes and a new warmth in her heart, took her place near the front.

Joe Smith occupied an advantageous position from which he could see everything that was going on. There for the first time did he realize all that the children of the circus had done for the parish.

His heart was gladdened when he saw an old lady of the Grey “clan” smiling sweetly as she accepted Alois Maise’s proffer of her little gilt-edge hymnbook. He smiled to himself as Hetty Maise made room for Kitty Farwell when the latter, arriving late, found her own pew occupied. His smile broadened into a grin as he watched them singing from the same book, held at arm’s length, as if they still were afraid of each other.

The program “passed off” much as all Christmas Eve services do, an occasional prompting, a song a trifle off key, a crying baby quickly hushed with peppermints or crackers.

But beneath it all there was a deep undercurrent of some unexplainable feeling. A ruddy glow suffused Miss Hetty’s cheeks. Robert Grey felt the presence of some great unknown joy. The primary youngsters lisping their faltering words, the men lighting the candles that sent forth the glorious message sparkling from the trees, all seemed moved.

“Was the angels’ song, ‘Peace, good will,’ at last to be realized? was it finally to find its true response in the forgiving, loving hearts of his faction-split congregation?” that was the minister’s hopeful thought. Wise in experience, he recognized this pervading influence knew that it only needed an impulse, like a spark in a powder magazine, to bring about its expression.

At last it was all over but Pearl’s song. A dainty figure dressed entirely in white stepped reverently before the altar the sweet charm of childish innocence making its appeal even before a note was sung.

The tense silence was broken. Sweet tones with throbbing notes of appeal, carrying with them that Christmas message of immeasurable love, penetrated every corner of the house of worship and the heart of every listener. The story that she sung that oft-repeated but never old message of love, of peace, of good-will, that binds the heart to God and makes the whole world kin yes they had heard it often but now their hearts, long irritated by selfish pride and hate, yielded to this sweet-voiced appeal, so softly yet so compellingly beating on these fast-crumbling barriers.

The song was ended. For a moment there was hushed silence. Then Jeoffrey, then Herman Grey Lane, Miss Hetty, Robert Grey everyone arose, and the minister stood before them with tears streaming from his eyes and falteringly yet fervently pronounced upon them the benediction.

After the doxology had been sung with more fervor than melody, things happened so fast that Pearl and Periwinkle never could get them straightened out. Very little was said, but people smiled at one another through tears and clasped hands silently. And strangest of all Mr. Grey and Aunt Hetty were leaving church together, and seemed to have actually forgotten their existence. But she turned at the door, and they heard her say softly:

“The children, Robert, the dear children!” and she came back and kissed them as she had never done before.

“Peri shall go to college in a few years,” said Mr. Grey, “and Pearl shall study music.” Then he kissed them also and Miss Hetty with a pretty blush called him their Uncle Robert.

The last candle on the tree twinkled and went out. Pearl, borne aloft in Uncle Robert’s arms, had grown very tired and sleepy. It was Peri who told her the next day how the minister had come up just as they were leaving and had spoken some words that sounded very much like a benediction.