Read CHAPTER XVII - A Christmas surprise of Molly Brown's Sophomore Days , free online book, by Nell Speed, on ReadCentral.com.

At six o’clock that evening a mouse’s tail brushed Molly’s door.

“Come in, little one,” called Molly, recognizing Otoyo’s tap. “My, how dressed up you are!” she cried as the little Japanese appeared in the doorway blushing and hesitating.

“You like it? This is real American young lady’s toilet. It came from a greatly big store in New York.”

Molly felt a real regret sometimes in correcting Otoyo’s funny English. Was not the Brown family careful for many years to call bears “b’ars” just because the youngest brother said it when he was a little child?

“But why did you wear your pink cashmere this evening, dear?” she asked.

“Ah, but this is a holidee. In Japan we wear always best on holidee.”

“Then I must dress up, too, I suppose,” remarked Molly, sighing, “and I had thought to let myself off easy to-night, Otoyo. But I couldn’t appear before Mrs. Murphy in this old garment and you so resplendent. What shall I wear, chicken?” she asked, pinching Otoyo’s cheek.

“The dress of sky blue.”

“What, my last year’s best?” laughed Molly. “My lady, you ask too much. I must preserve that for year after next best. But, seeing that you are doing honor to this happy occasion, Miss Sen, I’ll wear it to please you.”

She soon attired herself in the blue crepe de chine over which she and Nance had labored so industriously the winter before.

The two girls strolled downstairs together and at the first landing Molly began sniffing the air.

“’If my olé nose don’t tell no lies,
It ‘pears like I smells custard pies,’”

she remarked smiling.

“It’s meence,” said Otoyo.

Molly squeezed the little Japanese’s plump waist.

“Yes, I know it’s ‘meence,’” she said, “but custard pies stand for mince and turkey and baked macaroni and all sorts of good things. We’ll soon find out what Mrs. Murphy’s been up to.”

Pushing open the dining room door, she gave a start of surprise. The room was deserted and almost dark, and the long table was not even set for two.

“Why, we must have come down too soon, Otoyo. You little monkey, you led me to believe it was quite late.”

Otoyo smiled and winked both eyes rapidly several times.

“I think Mrs. Murphee is a very week-ed ladee,” she said slowly. “She run away from thees house and leave us all alone. We shall have no deener? Ah, that will be very sadlee.”

They retreated from the dismal, deserted dining room into the hall. Immediately a door at the far end was thrown open and a flood of light poured from Mrs. Markham’s sitting room. Then Mrs. Murphy’s ample figure blocked the doorway, and in her rich Irish brogue she called:

“You poor little lost lambs, is it for me you’re lookin’, then? Here I am and here’s your supper waitin’ for you.”

Mrs. Markham was away for the holidays.

“All right, Mrs. Murphy,” called Molly cheerfully. Taking Otoyo’s hand, she led her down the hall. “Why, little one, I don’t believe you are well,” she exclaimed. “Your hands are cold and you are trembling.”

The truth is, Miss Sen was almost hysterical with suppressed excitement.

“No, no, no,” she replied. “I am feeling quite, quitely well.”

Grasping Molly’s hand more firmly, she began running as if the strain were too great to be endured longer.

All this time Molly had not the faintest suspicion of the surprises awaiting her in Mrs. Markham’s sitting room. Imagine her amazement when she found herself confronting Miss Grace Green, her two brothers and Lawrence Upton in that cozy apartment! In the center was a round table set for six, and in the center of the round table was the most adorable miniature Christmas tree decorated with tiny ornaments and little candles, their diminutive points of light blinking cheerfully. Four tall silver candlesticks with red shades flanked the Christmas tree at each side; a wood fire crackled in the open fireplace and everywhere were bunches and garlands of holly.

Molly was quite speechless at first and she came very near crying. But she choked back the lump which would rise in her throat and smiled bravely at the company.

“I hope you are pleased with the surprise, dear,” said Miss Grace Green, kissing her. “It seemed to Edwin and me that six homeless people should unite in making a Christmas for themselves. Lawrence is like you. He lives too far away for Christmas at home, and I am at the mercies of a boarding house. So, Mrs. Murphy has agreed to be a mother to all of us this Christmas and cheer us up.”

“Shure, and I’d like to be the mother of such a foine family,” said Mrs. Murphy. “Me old man wouldn’t mind the responsibility, either, I’m thinkin’.”

They all laughed and Molly found herself shaking hands with Professor Green and Dodo and Lawrence Upton; kissing Miss Green again; rapturously admiring the exquisite little tree and rushing from one holly decoration to another, to the joy of Otoyo, who had arranged the greens with her own hands.

Surely such a happy Christmas party had never taken place before at old brown Queen’s. Mrs. Murphy herself waited on the table and joined in the conversation whenever she chose, and once Mr. Murphy, baggage master at Wellington station, popped his head in at the door and smiling broadly, remarked:

“Shure, ‘tis a happy party ye’re after makin’ the night; brothers and sisters; swatehearts and frinds all gathered togither around the same board. It’ll be a merry evenin’ for ye, young ladies and gintlemin, and it’s wishin’ ye well I am with all me heart.”

“Thank you, Mr. Murphy,” said the Professor, “and we be wishin’ the same to you and many Christmasses to follow.”

“Which one of us is your swateheart, Miss Sen?” asked Lawrence Upton mischievously.

“I like better the ‘meat-sweet’ than the sweet-heart,” answered Miss Sen demurely. There was no doubt, however, that she knew the meaning of the word “sweetheart.”

How they all laughed at this and teased Lawrence.

“Just be bonbon and you’ll be a ‘meat-sweet’ Larry,” said the Professor, who appeared this evening to have laid aside all official dignity and become as youthful as his brother Dodo.

After dinner the table was cleared, the fire built up, and the company gathered around the hearth. They roasted chestnuts and told ghost stories. Otoyo in the quaintest English told a blood-curdling Japanese story which interested Professor Green so deeply that he took out a little book and jotted down notes, and questioned her regarding names and places.

Molly knew a true story of a haunted house in Kentucky, fallen into ruins because no one had dared live in it for years.

Then Mrs. Murphy brought in the lamps and Professor Green drew up at the table and read aloud Dickens’s “Christmas Carol.” Molly’s mother had read to her children the immortal story of “Tiny Tim” ever since they could remember on Christmas day, and it gave Molly much secret pleasure to know that these dear kind friends had kept up the same practice. After that they fetched down Judy’s guitar and, with Molly accompanying, they sang some of the good old songs that people think they have forgotten until they hear the thrum of the guitar and someone starts the singing.

At last the tower clock boomed midnight, and as the echo of the final stroke vibrated in the room, the door opened and Santa Claus stood on the threshold.

“Shure, an’ I’m just on the nick of time,” he said with a good Irish accent, as he unstrapped his pack and proceeded to distribute packages done up in white tissue paper tied with red ribbons.

There were presents for everyone with no names attached, but Molly suspected Professor Green of being the giver of the pretty things. Hers was a volume of Rossetti’s poems bound in dark blue leather. There was a pretty volume of Tennyson’s poems for Otoyo; and funny gifts for everybody, with delightful jingles attached which the Professor read very gravely. Otoyo almost had hysterics over her toy, which was simply a small, imitation book shelf on which was a row of the works of Emerson and Carlyle, filled with “meat-sweets.”

Only one thing happened to mar that evening’s pleasure, and this was the fault of the little Japanese herself, to her undying mortification and sorrow. When the party was at its very height and they had joined hands and were circling around Santa Claus, who was singing “The Wearing of the Green,” Otoyo unexpectedly broke from the circle and with a funny, squeaky little scream pointed wildly at the window.

“Why, child, what frightened you?” asked Miss Grace Green, taking the girl’s hand and looking into her white, scared face.

But Otoyo refused to explain and would only say over and over:

“I ask pardon. I feel so sorrowfully to make this beeg disturbance. Will you forgive Otoyo?”

“Of course we forgive you, dear. And won’t you tell us what you saw?”

“No, no, no. It was notheeng.”

“We ought to be going, at any rate,” said the Professor. “Miss Sen isn’t accustomed to celebrations like this when old people turn into children and children turn into infants.”

“Am I an infant?” asked Molly, “or a child?”

“I am afraid you still belong to the infant class, Miss Brown,” replied the Professor regretfully.

They attributed Otoyo’s fright to nervousness caused from over-excitement, and a few minutes later the party broke up.

It was one o’clock when the two girls finally climbed upstairs to the lonely silent third floor. Molly escorted Otoyo to her little room and turned on the light.

“Now, little one,” she said, putting her hands on the Japanese girl’s shoulders and searching her face, “what was it you saw at the window?”

Otoyo closed the door carefully and, tipping back to Molly’s side, whispered:

“The greatly beeg black eyes of Mees Blount look in from the window outside. She was very angree. Oh, so angree! She look like an eevil spirit.”

“Then she didn’t go to New York, after all! But how silly not to have joined us. What a jealous, strange girl she is!”

Molly could not know, however, with what care and secrecy the Greens had guarded their Christmas plans from Judith, who had caught a glimpse of the Professor and his sister at the general store that afternoon. It was revealed to her that her cousins would much rather not spend Christmas with her, and with a sullen, stubborn determination she changed her mind about going to New York. There was a good deal of the savage in her untamed nature, and that night, wandering unhappily about the college grounds and hearing sounds of laughter and singing from Queen’s, she pressed her face against the window and the gay picture she saw inflamed her mind with rage and bitterness. The poor girl did resemble an evil spirit at that moment. There was hatred in her heart for every merrymaker in the room, and if she had had a dynamite bomb she would have thrown it into the midst of the company without a moment’s hesitation.

When Molly went to her own room after her talk with Otoyo, she found a note on her dressing table which did not worry her in the least considering she was quite innocent of the charge.

“You told me a falsehood this morning with all your preaching. I’d rather live over the post-office next to an incessant talker who does laundry work than stay in the same house with a person as deceitful and untruthful as you. J. B.”

“I’m sorry for the poor soul,” thought Molly, as she contemplated her own happy image in the glass. “She is like a traveller who deliberately takes the hardest road and chooses all the most disagreeable places to walk in. If she would just turn around and go the other way she would find it so much more agreeable for herself and all concerned.”

Nevertheless, Molly felt a secret relief that Judith had chosen to stay over the post-office.

As for the incorrigible Judith, she did leave for New York early next morning and spent the rest of the holidays with her mother and brother.

Molly saw a great deal of the Greens for the next few days. They had tea together and long walks, and once the Professor read aloud to his sister and the little girl from Kentucky in the privacy of his own study. Miss Green and her two brothers left Wellington on New Year’s Eve to visit some cousins in the next county, and still Molly was not lonely, for Lawrence Upton put in a great deal of time teaching her to skate and showing Otoyo and her the country around Wellington.