Christmas Eve

The story so far: Sally’s friend Emily has found Elizabeth’s bonnet in the attic! But try as they might, the two girls cannot find the missing Elizabeth.

Next morning Sally woke feeling extremely strange. Her throat was very sore, and she felt hot and cold by turns, and quite horribly weak besides. Her voice came out as a hoarse croak.

“My goodness,” said Aunt Sarah, peering down at her. She placed a hand on Sally’s forehead. “Why, you’re simply burning up. You stay right here in bed. I’ll call the doctor.”

Sally fell back asleep and woke to see what at first looked like a faraway round moon hovering over her bed. But it was, after all, Dr. Green, a pleasant red-faced man.

“You’re going to be right here in bed for a few days, it seems,” he said. “You have a touch of the flu that’s going around, and you’re not going to feel like doing much else.”

A few days! What about Elizabeth? Sally wondered in anguish. A few days could mean a week, and then she’d probably be going home, and Aunt Sarah would sell the house, and she’d never find Elizabeth!

Dr. Green took the thermometer from Sally’s mouth and nodded. “Feverish, all right,” he said. “But there’s no need for your aunt to worry your parents. Just stay in bed and take your medicine regularly. You’ll be up before you know it.”

For a few days Sally slept a good deal of the time. Aunt Sarah brought her books to read and paper dolls to cut out. Sometimes they just talked together, mostly about California.

“You must like it there a lot,” said Sally rather wistfully. “I suppose you want to go back as soon as you can.”

“Well, I only came here to sell the house.”

“I wonder,” said Sally, “if another girl will live here.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” said Aunt Sarah. “It’s the apartment owners who are interested in buying the house, for expansion.”

“Expansion?” asked Sally. “What do you mean?”

“Well, they want to make more apartment buildings.”

“You mean,” cried Sally, “they’d tear the house down?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Aunt Sarah.

Sally’s eyes filled with tears.

“Why, Sally,” said her aunt, taking her hand. “Do you like this old house so much?”

Sally gulped and nodded. “I wish you didn’t have to sell it.”

But her aunt only patted her hand and said nothing.

Then one day Emily was allowed to come in and sit by Sally’s bed.

“I don’t think I’m going to find Elizabeth,” Sally said. “I’m not going to have time. I’ll be going back to school, and Aunt Sarah will go back to California, and –” Sally told Emily about how the house would be torn down.

“Oh, but you will find her!” cried Emily, looking up at the picture. “I just know you will.”

“I hope you’re right,” said Sally.

At last the day came when Sally was well enough to get out of bed.

“Aunt Sarah,” she asked, “do you think I could go up to the attic today?”

Her aunt said nothing for a time, then said, “I thought perhaps you ought to play outside–but it is a little chilly. I suppose it won’t hurt you. Go ahead.”

“Oh, thank you!” Off Sally went at once, followed by her faithful Shadow.

How wonderful the attic looked to Sally after her long absence! The little brass label on the other Sally’s trunk winked a greeting at her, but she passed it by and went straight to the mirror.

Feeling suddenly quite out of breath, she remembered that she had just gotten over being sick. There’s a sort of ringing in my ears, she told herself, closing her eyes. For there was a faint sound, as if someone was whistling “Jingle Bells” – and there were bells ringing!

Sally opened her eyes and saw the other Sally in the mirror. There was no mistaking her. She was wearing a red velvet cape with a pointed hood, and her hands were tucked into a white fur muff just like the one Elizabeth carried in the picture. The little doll was seated upon her lap, and she too was wearing a tiny red-hooded cape. Snow was swirling around them. And how dark it was; the stars looked as if they were falling, too, all mixed up with the twirling snowflakes.

Sally snuggled down into the fur rug which covered her knees and those of her mother, who sat beside her. They were riding in the red sleigh, the sleigh bells ringing as they glided over the glittering snow. Her father was on the driver’s seat high above them, whistling “Jingle Bells” and gently slapping the reins in his hands on the rising and falling back of the horse. When the horse turned its head, Sally could see its great eye flashing in the light of the lanterns that hung on either side of the sleigh. The cloud of its frosty breath hovered in the crystal air.

They sped along past the lighted windows of farmhouses, past the schoolhouse and the reaching spire of the church, with the silver moon caught on its tip.

“Whoa,” said Sally’s father at last. Sally could see that they had stopped at the edge of a forest. Her father jumped out into the snow.

“Ah, there she is,” he said, lifting one of the lanterns and holding it so that Sally and her mother could see the fir tree, which lay on its side almost buried in the snow. “The biggest Christmas tree in the whole forest!”

He stood the tree up, shook some of the snow from its branches, hoisted it onto the back of the sleigh, and secured it with ropes.

Back they drove through the frosted air, over the moon-sparkled drifts. “Merry Christmas!” called their neighbors as they passed in their own sleighs. “Merry Christmas!” they shouted in return.

The tree was dragged into the house at last. They stood it up in a corner of the parlor next to the melodeon. It fit exactly, the tip just brushing the ceiling.

“It’s beautiful!” said Sally.

NEXT WEEK: Elizabeth

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