CHAPTER II.

BEFORE DAYLIGHT.

Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her 19th-Century Girls' Series website; please do not use on other sites without permission


ON Christmas morning, at three o'clock, there was a great bustle and pattering of little feet, and buzzing of little voices trying to speak in whispers. Susy and Prudy were awake and astir.

"Where do you s 'pose the stockings are?" buzzed Prudy, in a very loud whisper.

"Eight by the bed-post, Prudy Parlin; and if you don't take care we'll wake everybody up.—'Sh! 'Sh!"

"Mine's pinned on," said Prudy; "and I've pricked my fingers. 0, deary me!"

"Well, of course you've waked 'em all now," exclaimed Susy, indignantly:

"I might have pricked my fingers to pieces, but I wouldn't have said a word."

Mr. and Mrs. Parlin, who were in the next room, were wide awake by this time; but they said nothing, only listened to the whispers of the children, which grew fainter, being smothered and kept down by mouthfuls of candy, lozenges, and peanuts.

The little girls longed for daybreak. The sun, however, seemed to be in no haste, and it was a long while before there was a peep of light. Susy and Prudy waited, wondering whether the sun would really forget to show his face; but all the while they waited they were eating candy; so it was neither dull nor lonely. As for closing their eyes again, they would have scorned the idea. It would be a pity indeed to fall asleep, and lose the pleasure of saying "Merry Christmas" to everybody. Norah, the Irish servant, had said she should be up very early to attend High Mass: they must certainly way-lay her on the stairs. How astonished she would be, when she supposed they were both soundly asleep!

"Let me do it myself," said Susy: "you stay here, Prudy, for you'll be sure to make a noise."

"I'll go on my tippy toes," pleaded Prudy, her mouth half filled with chocolate drops.

So through their mother's room they stole softly, only throwing over one chair, and hitting Dotty's crib a little in their haste. Dotty made a sleepy sound of alarm, and Prudy could not help laughing, but only " in her sleeve," that is, in her "nightie" sleeve, which she put up to her mouth to smother the noise.

When they had reached the backstairs Susy whispered, "0, Norah, is up and gone down. I hear her in the kitchen. 'Sh! 'Sh!"

Susy thought, there was no time to be lost, and she would have rushed down stairs, two steps at a time, but her little sister was exactly in the way.

"Somebody has been and tugged my little chair up here," said Prudy, "and I must tug it back again."

So in the dim light the two children groped their way down stairs, Prudy going first with the chair.

"0, what a little snail! Hurry—can't you?" said Susy, impatiently; "Norah'll be gone! What's the use of our waking up in the night if we can't say Merry Christmas to anybody?"

"Well, ain't I a-hurryin' now?" exclaimed Prudy, plunging forward and falling, chair and all, the whole length of the stairs.

All the house was awake now, for Prudy screamed lustily. Grandma Bead called out from the passage-way,—

"0, little Prudence, has thee broken thy neck?"

Mrs. Parlin rushed out, too frightened to speak, and Mr. Parlin ran down stairs, and took Prudy up in his arms.

"It was—you—did it—Susy Parlin," sobbed the child. "I shouldn't—have— fell, if you—hadn't—have—screamed."

The poor little girl spoke slowly and with difficulty, as if she dropped a bucket into her full heart, and drew up the words one at a time.

"0, mother, I know it was me," said Susy meekly; "and I was careless, and it was all in the dark. I'm sure I hope Prudy'll forgive me."

"No, it wasn't you, neither," said Prudy, whose good humor was restored the moment Susy had made what she considered due confession. "You never touched me, Susy! It was the chair; and I love you just as dearly as ever I did."

Prudy lay on the sofa for some time, looking quite pale by the gas-light, while her mother rubbed her side, and the rest of the family stood looking at her with anxious faces.

It was quite an important occasion for Prudy, who always liked to be the centre of attraction.

"0, mamma," said she, closing her eyes languidly, "when the room makes believe whirl round, does it truly whirl round?"

The truth was, she felt faint and dizzy, though only for a short time.

"I wish," said she, "it had been somebody else that fell down stairs, and not me, for I didn't go down easy! The prongs of the chair pushed right into my side."

But it did not appear that Prudy was much injured, after all. In a few minutes she was skipping about the room almost as nimbly as ever, only stopping to groan every now and then, when she happened to think of it.

"It is a wonder," said Mr. Parlin, "that more children are not lamed for life by such accidents."

"I have often thought of it," said aunt Madge. "Some little ones seem to be making hair-breadth escapes almost every day of their lives. I believe Prudy would have been in her grave long ago, if it had not been for her guardian angel."

The long-expected Christmas had come at last, and Prudy had stumbled into it, as she stumbled into everything else. But it is an ill wind which blows no good to anybody; and it so happened that in all this confusion Susy was able to "wish a Merry Christmas" to Norah, and to the whole family besides.

When Mrs. Parlin found that the children were too thoroughly awake to go to sleep again that morning, she told them they might dress themselves in the parlor if they would keep as quiet as possible, and let the rest of the household take another nap.

It all seemed very strange and delightful to the little girls. It was like another sort of life, this new arrangement of stealing about the house in the silent hours before daybreak. Susy thought she should like to sit up all night, and sleep all day, if the mayor would only hush the streets; it would be so odd!

"0, how dark the clouds are!" said Prudy, peeping out of the window; "it fogs so I can't see a single thing. Susy, I'm going to keep at watch of the sky. Don't you s 'pose, though, 'twill be Christmas all the same, if there's a snow storm?"

"There's been snow," said Susy, "all in the night. Look down at the pavement. Don't you wish that was frosted cake?"

"0, the snow came in the night, so not to wake us up," cried Prudy, clapping her hands; "but it wouldn't have waked us, you know, even in the night, for it came so still."

"But why don't the clouds go off?" she added, sadly.

"I don't know," replied Susy; "perhaps they are waiting till the sun comes and smiles them away."

Such happy children as these were, as they sat peeping out of the window at the dull gray sky!

They did not know that a great mischief was begun that morning—a mischief which was no larger yet than 'a midge's wing.' They were watching the clouds for a snow storm; but they never dreamed of such things as clouds of trouble, which grow darker and darker, and which even the beautiful Christmas sun cannot "smile away."



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