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A cherry Santa Claus hat was perched atop the fluffy yarn, threaded through the top of the rocking horse and braded to loo...
A cluster of four children stood alone nearest the corner opposite the blushing Santa Claus, where the slow notes of Green...
The eldest boy wouldn’t bother wasting his breath on a toy store.<br />He confined himself to the curb and breathed short ...
“I like the one with curls.”<br />Beneath the woolen edge of his snow-encrusted stocking cap, the boy wrinkled his freckle...
“You? With a pistol?” Jen scrunched her face into a childish interpretation of her French teacher’s characteristic scowl.<...
“Jen. Ben.”<br />She extended one hand to each of them, interrupting the squabble that had developed, and waited patiently...
The neatly stitched seams of their mittens knotted between their hands, she inched them slowly back from the mesmerizing g...
Janice accompanied the address with a stiff-lipped smile.<br />The young Bernard only brushed the wet flakes that dribbled...
*   *   *<br />They ran the length of the cobblestone drive that stretched between them and the low lights of the townhous...
Their warm breaths colliding with the frigid, winter air and entangling their lips in thin wisps of white, they lined up t...
Bernard, being the oldest, reached forward to knock on the glass and cherry double doors.<br />
At first, there was no response. Then the sound of light footsteps brushed down a staircase on the inside of the town hous...
“Mabel?”<br />A middle-aged woman interrupted the gray light that settled into the spaces between bricks. Stands of raven ...
She brushed a streak of flour from her leathery hands on the front of her apron. In a clump, the children were ushered in ...
Her fingers were stained with chocolate and yellow sprinkles.<br />She was a spindly creature with long fingers and a narr...
The tops of Bernard’s ears turned pink.<br />“Light a fire in the nursery; they’ll take the hot chocolate in there. Turn d...
Bernard strung his and each of his siblings’ dampened scarves over a wooden arm of the coat rack.<br />Mabel chattered on ...
“Your father has taken the Missus Clarke to Derbyshire for the evening; I am assured they will, however, be back in time f...
*   *   *<br />She passed the hours lying rigidly in bed, watching vacantly the dulling glow of fire that settled near the...
Finally, somewhere near the time the grandfather clock in the room opposite the nursery struck eleven, the tinny sound of ...
Keeping her nightgown clutched close, she got up to peak through a frosted pane in the window.<br />
A foot of snow had fallen below and enveloped the grounds in a continuous array of sparkling white. Over the top slid a da...
The front door closed and rattled a floor below.<br />In the winter silence, only the sound of the single, brass bell tied...
The symphony faded and was replaced by the soft creaking of footsteps on the stairs.<br />Surely they’ll come in to say go...
She scrambled back beneath her blankets, burrowing her chin into the thick quilt that smelled of soap and pacing her breat...
With every creak of the townhouse, every one of Mabel’s shuffles on the floor below, and sound of Bernard turning over in ...
Finally, she peeled the covers back and slipped her feet into the nearest pair of slippers, her arms into a bathrobe. Cree...
I should say goodnight.<br />She let herself out into the hall and pursued the doorway at the far end, from which the soft...
Nearer the door, light footsteps mingled with the voices.<br />
Blanche, dressed in a cotton nightcap and nightgown, rounded the corner, all but colliding with the young Miss Clarke.<br />
Blanche’s face was illuminated by a citrine halo of light that encircled the wick of her closely-clutched candle. Her fing...
“Oh, dear.” She sighed and bit her lip, letting a plump droplet of uncolored wax dribble off the edge of the candle and sp...
The two walked arm in arm to the nursery, where they each climbed beneath their covers and settled quietly until the grand...
The fire had been rekindled in the nursery.<br />Cupping their hands around gently crafted teacups, filled partway full of...
The walks had been shoveled that morning, though they were hardly finished when Mister and Missus Clarke announced their i...
They settled into the carriage, now. Their mother was dressed in an elegant ice blue gown that had always been a token of ...
Bernard, having drifted from the hearth and slumped into the window seat, ignored the gesture and retracted his gaze from ...
“…With candy canes and silver lanes aglow. It’s beginning–-” Janice interrupted her song with a frustrated sigh and tried ...
Her reasoning fell on deaf ears. Benjamin, his fists clasped together in a vague imitation of the wooden pistol from the t...
“Sit down, Ben.” Bernard lackadaisically abandoned his seat in the window and loomed before the seven year old. His expres...
The young boy, however, couldn’t be bothered to notice. He only turned the “pistol” at Bernard and ran wildly to the dollh...
“And what about you?” She narrowed her trodden expression into a glare that she turned on her older brother. “You were goi...
“Blanche?”<br />The tips of Bernard’s ears turned pink.<br />“Blanche,” he repeated, the corners of his mouth pinched grim...
Janice turned her nose at the idea.<br />“You only believe that because you love her.”<br />Bernard scowled and his ears b...
He stomped out of the nursery after this, trailing some distance after Benjamin, who had burst through the oak double door...
All down the hall, the girls could hear him yell.<br />“Christmas isn’t about getting what we want, Benjamin. You’re getti...
The sleek banister slid beneath their hands, barely brushing the fingertips of the three children who clamored down the st...
Beyond the staircase unfolded a glittering veil that had descended the parlor overnight. Strands of glass blown icicles dr...
The children squealed and exclaimed in delight and surprise.<br />Benjamin and Jennifer raced toward the packages, devouri...
He sat with his legs swinging from the window seat and allowed presents to be collected on a cushion next to his, but made...
Present by present, the others tore into the gifts.<br />Each girl unwrapped a doll – Jen: a baby doll with blue eyes set ...
Ben stood in the center of the room, going on in a loud voice about the snow boots that encompassed his legs nearly passed...
Not prompted so much as ordered by his father, Bernard undid the ribbon from the top present of his cluster.<br />The blue...
Catching sight immediately, Benjamin scuffled across the room in his snow boots and climbed next to Bernard in the window ...
Jennifer was unwrapping a pinafore, and Janice a hair bow, when her father replaced his pipe to the end table and announce...
Their mother smiled demurely, and motioned for Mabel, who stood in the other room with their overcoats. She bore scarves a...
At first, the children only blinked at their parents.<br />“But we haven’t exchanged gifts,” Janice finally countered soft...
“That’s lovely, dear.” Missus Clarke brushed a ringlet back from her daughter’s eyes, but straightened quickly thereafter ...
Janice scrambled to her feet, allowing the presents that had piled in her skirt to tumble to the floor, and dragged Jen by...
“It’s a short benefit, dear.”<br />Craning her neck to watch for her mother, Janice blurted opposition to their parent’s e...
She counted quickly to three, and feverishly, the children began to play and sing.<br />“It’s beginning to look like Chris...
“There’s a tree in the grand hotel; one in the park as well—”<br />Slower and slower their fingers played; slower and slow...
Mabel, who had been standing in the back of the room for the duration of the chaos, biting her lip quietly for the childre...
Bernard was the first to exit. He leapt to the floor from the window seat and, his face a downturned mask of unreadable di...
Ben, his eyes drawn immediately to the pistol abandoned in the window, lunged for the toy and, once it was tucked protecti...
Just as Jen slid off the bench and dragged herself up, step by step, Ben could be heard beginning to yell as he repeated l...
Janice was the last to move. Rigidly, she sat at the piano, her fingers stiffly falling on the keys, out of order and time...
In the background, a door opened and closed softly. Her demeanor diminished even further as she sensed someone else enter ...
There was no reply made. Someone only approached the piano at a slow pace, settling into Jen’s place on the bench when nea...
The slender figures extended over the keys and patched the holes Janice had left in the carol.<br />
Janice’s eyes met her mother’s face.<br />“It’s beginning to look like Christmas.”<br />
A curious face reappeared around the corner at the top of the staircase. Leading Blanche by the hand, Jen tiptoed inquisit...
Ben came next, his pistol packed safely into the pocket of Mabel’s apron. She led the boy by the hand and, taking a seat o...
It was the Mister Clarke and Bernard who entered last. Slowly, they, too, joined the crowd around the piano.<br />
“Soon the bells will start.”<br />All but Bernard joined in the carol. The young boy stood stubbornly at his father’s side...
“And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing.”<br />Mister Clarke, taking note of his son’s silence,...
“Right within your heart.”<br />
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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

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Christmas Story

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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

  1. 1.
  2. 2. A cherry Santa Claus hat was perched atop the fluffy yarn, threaded through the top of the rocking horse and braded to look like a mane. The wooden toy swayed in the window, succeeded by a display of marbles, baby dolls, and Yo-Yo’s done up in vibrant colors arranged on a thick blanket of fake snow.<br />The colored lights surrounded the tiny figures of the little children who, caked in freshly fallen snow up to their ankles, lead mothers and fathers from behind.<br />
  3. 3. A cluster of four children stood alone nearest the corner opposite the blushing Santa Claus, where the slow notes of Greensleeves bubbled loudest from a gramophone. The three youngest pressed their woolen mittens to the glass, wiping every once in a while at the wreath of fog that crystallized on the glass.<br />
  4. 4. The eldest boy wouldn’t bother wasting his breath on a toy store.<br />He confined himself to the curb and breathed short puffs of clammy air onto his smudged eyeglasses lenses.<br />“Oh, Janice,” the younger girl sighed dreamily at her older sister and pressed her nose to the window. “The blue-eyed doll is perfect.”<br />
  5. 5. “I like the one with curls.”<br />Beneath the woolen edge of his snow-encrusted stocking cap, the boy wrinkled his freckled nose in disgust of his older sisters’ wish lists.<br />“Well, I’m not going to waste Christmas on dumb baby dolls. I’m getting a pistol.” His iris eyes glittered when they fell onto the roundly sanded edges and painted trigger of the wooden toy.<br />
  6. 6. “You? With a pistol?” Jen scrunched her face into a childish interpretation of her French teacher’s characteristic scowl.<br />“Barney says I’m old enough.”<br />Janice glanced toward the shadowy figure that slumped in a puddle of slush caked into the crevice of the sidewalk curb by passing carriage wheels.<br />
  7. 7. “Jen. Ben.”<br />She extended one hand to each of them, interrupting the squabble that had developed, and waited patiently for their smaller fingers to wrap around her own.<br />
  8. 8. The neatly stitched seams of their mittens knotted between their hands, she inched them slowly back from the mesmerizing glow of the toy store window. Step by step the music faded. Green Sleeves had recoiled completely behind the glass and the warm glow faded into icy slivers of snow that filtered through the city in rough gusts of wind.<br />The three siblings, the two youngest quieted by the disenchantment of the city street, approached the eldest figure of the Clarke family.<br />“Barney.”<br />
  9. 9. Janice accompanied the address with a stiff-lipped smile.<br />The young Bernard only brushed the wet flakes that dribbled down the tops of his ears, stuffed his fallow hair deeper into his stocking cap, and resumed the lead.<br />In both hands he carried petite, tweed suitcases, and on his back a canvas bag that matched that of Benjamin.<br />A train whistled in the background.<br />
  10. 10. * * *<br />They ran the length of the cobblestone drive that stretched between them and the low lights of the townhouse. Bernard, even, had quickened his impatient pace so that his snow boots slapped against the frosty stones in an only slightly less than eager gate.<br />
  11. 11. Their warm breaths colliding with the frigid, winter air and entangling their lips in thin wisps of white, they lined up the toes of their scuffed snow boots on the edge of the doormat.<br />
  12. 12. Bernard, being the oldest, reached forward to knock on the glass and cherry double doors.<br />
  13. 13. At first, there was no response. Then the sound of light footsteps brushed down a staircase on the inside of the town house, through the foyer, and rested finally at the other side of the door.<br />A brass bell the size of Benjamin’s thumb tinkled softly against the dried-out leaves and berries someone had woven into a wreath and hung from the doorknocker.<br />
  14. 14. “Mabel?”<br />A middle-aged woman interrupted the gray light that settled into the spaces between bricks. Stands of raven hair, dulling only slightly now by her seventh Christmas spent brightening the quaint building, peeked out beneath her cap in close-cut curls.<br />“Come in, come in!”<br />
  15. 15. She brushed a streak of flour from her leathery hands on the front of her apron. In a clump, the children were ushered in from the cold.<br />“Welcome home, children.” Turning over her shoulder, she yelled for a similarly dressed woman, though much younger, called Blanche.<br />
  16. 16. Her fingers were stained with chocolate and yellow sprinkles.<br />She was a spindly creature with long fingers and a narrow chin. She had yet to master her lanky limbs and so moved awkwardly and clumsily in many of the jobs she did.<br />She hurried from the direction of the kitchen, now, at an unmeasured gate and stopped abruptly several feet from the doorway.<br />
  17. 17. The tops of Bernard’s ears turned pink.<br />“Light a fire in the nursery; they’ll take the hot chocolate in there. Turn down the blankets for Mister Benjamin and Miss Jennifer.” Almost as if an afterthought, she added, as she began to undo the buttons of the littler children’s overcoats: “And take care not to get any frosting on the blankets, they’ve only just been changed.”<br />
  18. 18. Bernard strung his and each of his siblings’ dampened scarves over a wooden arm of the coat rack.<br />Mabel chattered on while they four stripped down to their school frocks.<br />
  19. 19. “Your father has taken the Missus Clarke to Derbyshire for the evening; I am assured they will, however, be back in time for breakfast.” She left the sodden mittens strung over the toes of the snow boots, slicked with melting ice that reflected the dull flicker of a mounted candle, at the foot of the coat rack. “Up we go, now: you’ll need all the rest you can get if you’re to stay up Christmas Eve.”<br />
  20. 20. * * *<br />She passed the hours lying rigidly in bed, watching vacantly the dulling glow of fire that settled near the bases of the charred logs and listening to the steady breaths that slipped through the gaps between the cotton sheets and feather pillows.<br />
  21. 21. Finally, somewhere near the time the grandfather clock in the room opposite the nursery struck eleven, the tinny sound of a thousand miniature bells began in the distance.<br />
  22. 22. Keeping her nightgown clutched close, she got up to peak through a frosted pane in the window.<br />
  23. 23. A foot of snow had fallen below and enveloped the grounds in a continuous array of sparkling white. Over the top slid a darkened sleigh draped with silver bells that reflected the moonlight in bright glints. From one side, out stepped the Mister Clarke, followed by the Missus. As dark shapes, they ascended the townhouse.<br />
  24. 24. The front door closed and rattled a floor below.<br />In the winter silence, only the sound of the single, brass bell tied to the wreath rang. Then: the soft, polite greetings of her mother and father exchanged with Mabel.<br />Outside her window, the Clydesdales tore the sleigh away in a torrent of silver bells.<br />
  25. 25. The symphony faded and was replaced by the soft creaking of footsteps on the stairs.<br />Surely they’ll come in to say good night.<br />
  26. 26. She scrambled back beneath her blankets, burrowing her chin into the thick quilt that smelled of soap and pacing her breathing with that of her slumbering siblings.<br />She strained her ears for the sound of the nursery door open.<br />
  27. 27. With every creak of the townhouse, every one of Mabel’s shuffles on the floor below, and sound of Bernard turning over in the next bed over resonated within her ears, a hundred times louder and more exciting. Every bump, every squeak, was her parents coming in to tuck them into bed – she was sure.<br />
  28. 28. Finally, she peeled the covers back and slipped her feet into the nearest pair of slippers, her arms into a bathrobe. Creeping noiselessly passed the other beds, she tried the handle of the door and poked her head into the hall.<br />
  29. 29. I should say goodnight.<br />She let herself out into the hall and pursued the doorway at the far end, from which the soft voice of her mother danced with the deeper tones of her father.<br />
  30. 30. Nearer the door, light footsteps mingled with the voices.<br />
  31. 31. Blanche, dressed in a cotton nightcap and nightgown, rounded the corner, all but colliding with the young Miss Clarke.<br />
  32. 32. Blanche’s face was illuminated by a citrine halo of light that encircled the wick of her closely-clutched candle. Her finger nails dug into the wax and piled thin flakes of the material along her fingers. <br />She clutched her heart with one hand as if to calm it and, with the other, tipped the candle toward the white face that had popped up in the darkness.<br />
  33. 33. “Oh, dear.” She sighed and bit her lip, letting a plump droplet of uncolored wax dribble off the edge of the candle and splatter in between a crevice in the floorboard. She looked between the doorway and the child, and listened to the voices of the Mister and Missus Clarke. Sympathetically, she smiled. “Come now, Miss Janice. It’s nearly Christmas Eve.”<br />
  34. 34. The two walked arm in arm to the nursery, where they each climbed beneath their covers and settled quietly until the grandfather clock announced December 24th.<br />
  35. 35. The fire had been rekindled in the nursery.<br />Cupping their hands around gently crafted teacups, filled partway full of cocoa, they settled around the cardinal flames while the snow collected in thick piles at the window panes and the loose sound of carriage wheels rattled over the cobblestone below.<br />
  36. 36. The walks had been shoveled that morning, though they were hardly finished when Mister and Missus Clarke announced their intention to attend a neighbor’s ball.<br />
  37. 37. They settled into the carriage, now. Their mother was dressed in an elegant ice blue gown that had always been a token of her eldest daughter’s admiration.<br />She waved at the nursery window from the white grounds below. <br />
  38. 38. Bernard, having drifted from the hearth and slumped into the window seat, ignored the gesture and retracted his gaze from the outside.<br />
  39. 39. “…With candy canes and silver lanes aglow. It’s beginning–-” Janice interrupted her song with a frustrated sigh and tried with her own hands to quiet the rapid, antsy movements of her youngest brother. “Couldn’t you at least pretend to listen, Ben? At least try to learn the words.”<br />
  40. 40. Her reasoning fell on deaf ears. Benjamin, his fists clasped together in a vague imitation of the wooden pistol from the toy store, screamed indecipherably in opposition and ripped his hands from Janet’s. Pleased at his own speed, he laughed and embarked on a second round of the nursery, turning his “pistol” toward anything that moved or glittered.<br />
  41. 41. “Sit down, Ben.” Bernard lackadaisically abandoned his seat in the window and loomed before the seven year old. His expression was stern and impatient.<br />
  42. 42. The young boy, however, couldn’t be bothered to notice. He only turned the “pistol” at Bernard and ran wildly to the dollhouse where Jen played.<br />Janice sighed again in defeat.<br />
  43. 43. “And what about you?” She narrowed her trodden expression into a glare that she turned on her older brother. “You were going to sing with Benjamin.”<br />“The song isn’t going to happen, anyway. Blanche said--”<br />
  44. 44. “Blanche?”<br />The tips of Bernard’s ears turned pink.<br />“Blanche,” he repeated, the corners of his mouth pinched grimly, “says mother and father will be out to a benefit tomorrow.”<br />
  45. 45. Janice turned her nose at the idea.<br />“You only believe that because you love her.”<br />Bernard scowled and his ears burned bright red. “They aren’t coming,” he said purposefully through a clenched jaw. “You’ll only be playing piano alone to an empty room.”<br />
  46. 46. He stomped out of the nursery after this, trailing some distance after Benjamin, who had burst through the oak double doors and made it partway to the staircase with the “pistol.”<br />
  47. 47. All down the hall, the girls could hear him yell.<br />“Christmas isn’t about getting what we want, Benjamin. You’re getting snow boots.”<br />
  48. 48. The sleek banister slid beneath their hands, barely brushing the fingertips of the three children who clamored down the staircase.<br />The fourth child lingered behind, descending slowly, stair by stair.<br />
  49. 49. Beyond the staircase unfolded a glittering veil that had descended the parlor overnight. Strands of glass blown icicles draped over the banister; four rotund stockings swung from nails above the hearth; neat, silver packages encircled the base of a freshly cut evergreen tree, trimmed in cranberries and thin, wax candles that balanced atop branches.<br />
  50. 50. The children squealed and exclaimed in delight and surprise.<br />Benjamin and Jennifer raced toward the packages, devouring the nametags and separating the boxes among the four of them. Bernard only vaguely followed suit once Janice, too, had left the stairs and settled in between the silver packaging, squeezing her mother’s lace-covered hand as she passed.<br />
  51. 51. He sat with his legs swinging from the window seat and allowed presents to be collected on a cushion next to his, but made no move to open them.<br />
  52. 52. Present by present, the others tore into the gifts.<br />Each girl unwrapped a doll – Jen: a baby doll with blue eyes set in a heart-shaped face; Janice: an elegantly dressed glass doll with ginger curls piled high atop her head.<br />
  53. 53. Ben stood in the center of the room, going on in a loud voice about the snow boots that encompassed his legs nearly passed the knee. The shoes, several sizes too large, scuffed against the wooden floor as he marched around the parlor in exhibition of the present.<br />
  54. 54. Not prompted so much as ordered by his father, Bernard undid the ribbon from the top present of his cluster.<br />The blue paper peeled away to reveal a rectangular case that displayed a pistol.<br />
  55. 55. Catching sight immediately, Benjamin scuffled across the room in his snow boots and climbed next to Bernard in the window seat. He craned his neck over the painted wooden toy.<br />
  56. 56. Jennifer was unwrapping a pinafore, and Janice a hair bow, when her father replaced his pipe to the end table and announced:<br />“Your mother and I are off to an orphans’ benefit in Berkshire.”<br />
  57. 57. Their mother smiled demurely, and motioned for Mabel, who stood in the other room with their overcoats. She bore scarves and mittens as well, and Blanche, who trailed at her heals, carried in a steaming pot of tea cradled in a towel.<br />She replaced the Mister and Missus’ tea with scalding portions that would warm them for the sleigh ride.<br />
  58. 58. At first, the children only blinked at their parents.<br />“But we haven’t exchanged gifts,” Janice finally countered softly. “Jen and I’ve been learning a song on piano, and the boys are--”<br />
  59. 59. “That’s lovely, dear.” Missus Clarke brushed a ringlet back from her daughter’s eyes, but straightened quickly thereafter to slide her arms into the velvet coat. She busied herself with sipping down the scalding tea and fixing Mister Clarke’s top hat. In between dashing between rooms, she insisted: “Your father and I will hear it when we return.”<br />
  60. 60. Janice scrambled to her feet, allowing the presents that had piled in her skirt to tumble to the floor, and dragged Jen by the hand to the bench of the piano. Directing her to sit, she also tugged Ben from the window seat and motioned for the defiant Bernard to join her.<br />“The train leaves tomorrow morning, mother. We’re going back to school.”<br />
  61. 61. “It’s a short benefit, dear.”<br />Craning her neck to watch for her mother, Janice blurted opposition to their parent’s early departure as they passed through the parlor.<br />“But I promise: it will only take a moment.”<br />
  62. 62. She counted quickly to three, and feverishly, the children began to play and sing.<br />“It’s beginning to look like Christmas--”<br />“Dear, have you seen my gloves?”<br />“—everywhere you go--”<br />“No, the crème ones.”<br />
  63. 63. “There’s a tree in the grand hotel; one in the park as well—”<br />Slower and slower their fingers played; slower and slower Benjamin sang. As the song drew to a premature close, the Mister and Missus Clarke appeared in the parlor one last time.<br />“That was just lovely, dear.” Missus Clarke bent and awarded her eldest daughter with a soft kiss on the top of the head. “You as well, Ben, Jen. Mabel?”<br />
  64. 64. Mabel, who had been standing in the back of the room for the duration of the chaos, biting her lip quietly for the children as their parents bustled feverishly from the townhouse Christmas morning, stepped forward in compliance.<br />“Take the children to the nursery. They can finish opening their presents there.”<br />
  65. 65. Bernard was the first to exit. He leapt to the floor from the window seat and, his face a downturned mask of unreadable discontent, ascended the stairs more quickly than he’d descended them.<br />
  66. 66. Ben, his eyes drawn immediately to the pistol abandoned in the window, lunged for the toy and, once it was tucked protectively into his hand, followed obediently at his brother’s heels.<br />
  67. 67. Just as Jen slid off the bench and dragged herself up, step by step, Ben could be heard beginning to yell as he repeated last night’s games with a real wooden pistol.<br />
  68. 68. Janice was the last to move. Rigidly, she sat at the piano, her fingers stiffly falling on the keys, out of order and time.<br />Her head remained bent toward them.<br />The sturdy kind that doesn’t mind the snow.<br />
  69. 69. In the background, a door opened and closed softly. Her demeanor diminished even further as she sensed someone else enter the room.<br />“Mabel, please don’t ask me to come to the nursery. I won’t come.”<br />
  70. 70. There was no reply made. Someone only approached the piano at a slow pace, settling into Jen’s place on the bench when near enough.<br />
  71. 71. The slender figures extended over the keys and patched the holes Janice had left in the carol.<br />
  72. 72. Janice’s eyes met her mother’s face.<br />“It’s beginning to look like Christmas.”<br />
  73. 73. A curious face reappeared around the corner at the top of the staircase. Leading Blanche by the hand, Jen tiptoed inquisitively down the carpeted steps and found a spot near the bench.<br />
  74. 74. Ben came next, his pistol packed safely into the pocket of Mabel’s apron. She led the boy by the hand and, taking a seat on the edge of the chair, balanced the boisterous boy on her knee.<br />His young voice joined the others.<br />
  75. 75. It was the Mister Clarke and Bernard who entered last. Slowly, they, too, joined the crowd around the piano.<br />
  76. 76. “Soon the bells will start.”<br />All but Bernard joined in the carol. The young boy stood stubbornly at his father’s side, his face set in an indifferent expression and his ears faintly glowing pink from his proximity to Blanche.<br />
  77. 77. “And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing.”<br />Mister Clarke, taking note of his son’s silence, gave Bernard a sharp poke in the ribs with his elbow.<br />
  78. 78. “Right within your heart.”<br />

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