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The Girl in the Golden Atom Part 55

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"Oh, Eena, please will you say to Oteo we want the tree from the wood-shed--in the dining-room."

The little maid hesitated. Her mistress smiled and added a few words in foreign tongue. The girl disappeared.

"Every window gets a holly wreath," the Doctor said. "They're in a box outside in the wood-shed."

"Look what I've got," said the Big Business Man, and produced from his pocket a little folded object which he opened triumphantly into a long serpent of filigree red paper on a string with little red and green paper bells hanging from it. "Across the doorway," he added, waving his hand.

A moment after there came a stamping of feet on the porch outside, and then the banging of an outer door. A young man and girl burst into the room, kicking the snow from their feet and laughing. The youth carried two pairs of ice-skates slung over his shoulder; as he entered the room he flung them clattering to the floor.

The girl, even at first glance, was extraordinarily pretty. She was small and very slender of build. She wore stout high-laced tan shoes, a heavy woollen skirt that fell to her shoe-tops and a short, belted coat, with a high collar b.u.t.toned tight about her throat. She was covered now with snow. Her face and the locks of hair that strayed from under her knitted cap were soaking wet.

"He threw me down," she appealed to the others.

"I didn't--she fell."

"You did; into the snow you threw me--off the road." She laughed. "But I am learning to skate."

"She fell three times," said her companion accusingly.

"Twice only, it was," the girl corrected. She pulled off her cap, and a great ma.s.s of black hair came tumbling down about her shoulders.

Lylda, from her chair before the fire, smiled mischievously.

"Aura, my sister," she said in a tone of gentle reproof. "So immodest it is to show all that hair."

The girl in confusion began gathering it up.

"Don't you let her tease you, Aura," said the Big Business Man. "It's very beautiful hair."

"Where's Loto?" asked the Very Young Man, pulling off his hat and coat.

"In bed--see his stocking there."

A childish treble voice was calling from upstairs. "Good night, Aura--good night, my friend Jack."

"Good night, old man--see you to-morrow," the Very Young Man called back in answer.

"You mustn't make so much noise," the Doctor said reprovingly. "He'll never get to sleep."

"No, you mustn't," the Big Business Man agreed. "To-morrow's a very very big day for him."

"Some Christmas," commented the Very Young Man looking around. "Where's the holly and stuff?"

"Oh, we've got it all right, don't you worry," said the Banker.

"And mistletoe," said Lylda, twinkling. "For you, Jack."

Eena again stood in the doorway and said something to her mistress. "The tree is ready," said Lylda.

The Chemist rose to his feet. "Come on, everybody; let's go trim it."

They crowded gaily into the dining-room, leaving the Very Young Man and Aura sitting alone by the fire. For some time they sat silent, listening to the laughter of the others tr.i.m.m.i.n.g the tree.

The Very Young Man looked at the girl beside him as she sat staring into the fire. She had taken off her heavy coat, and her figure seemed long and very slim in the clothes she was wearing now. She sat bending forward, with her hands clasped over her knees. The long line of her slender arm and shoulder, and the delicacy of her profile turned towards him, made the Very Young Man realize anew how fragile she was, and how beautiful.

Her ma.s.s of hair was coiled in a great black pile on her head, with a big, loose knot low at the neck. The iridescence of her skin gleamed under the flaming red of her cheeks. Her lips, too, were red, with the smooth, rich red of coral. The Very Young Man thought with a shock of surprise that he had never noticed before that they were red; in the ring there had been no such color.

In the room adjoining, his friends were proposing a toast over the Christmas punch bowl. The Chemist's voice floated in through the doorway.

"To the Oroids--happiness to them." Then for an instant there was silence as they drank the toast.

Aura met the Very Young Man's eyes and smiled a little wanly.

"Happiness--to them! I wonder. We who are so happy to-night--I wonder, are they?"

The Very Young Man leaned towards her. "You are happy, Aura?"

The girl nodded, still staring wistfully into the fire.

"I want you to be," the Very Young Man added simply, and fell silent.

A blazing log in the fire twisted and rolled to one side; the crackling flames leaped higher, bathing the girl's drooping little figure in their golden light.

The Very Young Man after a time found himself murmuring familiar lines of poetry. His memory leaped back. A boat sailing over a silent summer lake--underneath the stars--the warmth of a girl's soft little body touching his--her hair, twisted about his fingers--the thrill in his heart; he felt it now as his lips formed the words:

"The stars would be your pearls upon a string, The world a ruby for your finger-ring, And you could have the sun and moon to wear, If I were king."

"You remember, Aura, that night in the boat?"

Again the girl nodded. "I shall learn to read it--some day," she said eagerly. "And all the others that you told me. I want to. They sing--so beautifully."

A sleigh pa.s.sed along the road outside; the jingle of its bells drifted in to them. The Very Young Man reached over and gently touched the girl's hand; her fingers closed over his with an answering pressure. His heart was beating fast.

"Aura," he said earnestly. "I want to be King--for you--this first Christmas and always. I want to give you--all there is in this life, of happiness, that I can give--just for you."

The girl met his gaze with eyes that were melting with tenderness.

"I love you, Aura," he said softly.

"I love you, too, Jack," she whispered, and held her lips up to his.

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