"Fourth floor please." Mrs. Carson left the elevator, and walked down the broad aisle between toy motor cars, toy rocking horses, dolls, and games. She stopped beside the rope which enclosed the square set apart for the children where attendants helped them into marvelous swings, lifted them to the backs of camels, elephants, or horses on the merrygo-around, or let them sail tiny boats on a miniature sea. The young woman stood fascinated! This would be the third year that she had spent a morning before that rail, for the joyous laughter and those happy faces brought back memories of her own little boy who was just five years old last month.
It seemed cruel that the man who had been her husband should have this child at Christmas. Yet, she could not bear to think of the long summer days by the lake, without his smiling face and the warm caresses of his chubby hands.
Three years it had been since the court had decided that father and mother might live apart, but should share the boy for equal periods of six months. Now he had the boy and it was only a few days before Christmas.
Of course, her boy would not be there in a public play room, but she liked to find the boys who resembled him. Watching them at their play, she suddenly realized that she was sobbing then crying and laughing at the same time and not able to stop.
A woman led her away to an emergency room where after a long rest, asked if she had a lost child.
The question revived her. These people had no right to know. She said she felt better and ordered a taxi to take her home.
When she had taken off her wraps and thrown herself upon the couch, she told her faithful maid that she had become exhausted in one of the stores and would have a light lunch served there in her room before trying to sleep.
She had only half-heard the words of sympathy, the scolding for "doing too much," but the caresses and careful arrangement of the pillows were a comfort. After the luncheon she tried in vain to sleep. Wandering about the room, her eyes fell on a little red book which she had thrown on the table a week before.
A friend had persuaded her to attend a tabernacle service. At the close of the meeting a young woman with a most attractive face had given her the little book, saying, "Will you not read it sometime, please?" She had smiled and said, "Yes," but had not done it.
Now, she had opened the little book, and lying down again, began to read the verses marked in red.
Utterly worn out by the strains of the morning, she did not read long, but closing her eyes, thought over the words. The rain which had been threatening all day, began to fall and the room grew dark. Turning her face to the wall, she finally slept.
In her dreams, she found herself mixed up with a large procession of every sort of people who were rushing along a great highway toward a soft gray curtain of a cloud which hid the sky. Where it touched the earth a man stood—a man with a long robe and a wonderful face.
"Where are you all going?" she asked those by her side. A gray-haired woman responded, "To see the star; it is the Bethlehem star you know. They say that if you can see it, your mind and heart will be at peace and you will be happy the rest of your life."
The younger woman looked at the unhappy faces about her, then said, "I will walk along with you. We all look as though we need something to make us happy."
After a long while she found herself by the man with a wonderful face and his keen eyes looked her through.
"Would you see the star?"
"Yes, I want peace of mind and heart. I need it."
"Will you pay? It is a costly star." "What must I pay?" she asked fearfully.
"Will you try to forgive him?" He asked so softly that no one else could hear.
"No, not that!" she cried. "Anything but that!"
"It is the price you must pay to see the star and know its peace."
But she shook her head and slowly joined the company of disappointed seekers who were going down the hill.
Tears filled her eyes as she stumbled along. On the great plain below, she saw men lying dead in the snow, hundreds of them. The smoke of burning cities and the blaze of burning shells made her heart ache. A voice seemed to say, "If only those who have brought men to this could see the star, peace would come to earth, but it is a costly star and they will not pay." Failing to locate the speaker, she walked on, and after a long time, sat down to rest. There at the foot of the hill was a brightly lighted home. Before the fireplace, a man and woman stood facing each other with hate and anger deforming their faces.
A moment more and the man flung himself furiously into his coat and left the home. Again the mysterious voice remarked, "They need to see the star, but they will not pay. Neither can put himself in the place of the other. See, see the scores of wrecked homes—little children in them suffering the penalty. Selfishness has made both man and woman deaf and blind." Scorched by the words which seemed to reach her inmost soul, she cried out, "Lead me back; I must see the star."
"You called; did you want anything? It sounded as if you were in pain." (The nurse stood at the door anxious and troubled.)
"No," she answered, "I must have dreamed. I am glad you wakened me. Frank and Louise are coming for dinner, and I'll have to dress at once."
Contrary to her usual dread of spending an evening alone, she longed to have her friends leave soon, that she might be able to think. When at last the "Good nights" had been said, she hurried to her room, undressed quickly, and turned on her bed lamp to read the "Testament," again. How many times she had read all night, seeking to drown memories that would not let her sleep, but never words like these!
She had never taken religion very seriously. The life of the One who began in that manger, to which the thoughts of millions would turn on Christmas morning, and ended in a day's agony on the cross, and the glory of an open tomb, had never before impressed her.
But now she closed the book and turned out the light, conscious of an Unseen but Sympathetic Presence.
In the dark she began to think of the days when James Carson had told her that he loved her. Then her wedding. The first year in his father's house, the misunderstandings—then, the baby. Crowding upon her memory came the things she had said to him the day the child was a year old; of the words of disdain with which he had met storms of anger. "He should have been more patient," she told herself as she had many, many times before. But now, the words of the dream came hauntingly.
"Neither can put himself in the other's place. Selfishness has made both man and woman, deaf and blind!" Memories of the child came rushing o'er her—the last awful scene when the man had begged her to try again, to make one more attempt to understand him. He said he would do anything to save them for the child's sake, from the publicity of separation, but she had answered that she could never forgive him of both herself and the child.
She had meant then to take her little two-year-old son and go back to her own home, but the court had said, "No!"
All their quarrels had started with such petty things but how the memories hurt! Forgive him? It was the price of the star! Then she would never see it.
The loneliness and longing would not be banished, for she could not fight it off with hard and bitter thoughts as before.
Finally in the gray light of early morning, she rose and knelt by the bed. After a long time she said slowly and aloud to the "Presence," "Show me the Star—I will pay; I will try to forgive him. Help me!"
It was her first prayer. Into her heart came a sense of peace. Comforted and conscious of a sustaining strength, she went back to bed. The stars were fading; one seemed brighter than the others, and watching it she fell asleep.
While Alma Carson had been dressing for dinner and trying in vain to shake herself free from her dream, the man who had been her partner in what he so often, sarcastically called, "The Disillusionment," sat in his living room with his little son upon his knee. The child had been "saying a piece" which he was to repeat with the other children at a Christmas service. With expression and accuracy that would have done credit to a person much older than "just five," he said the words of the first Christmas story.
His aunt had taught it to him carefully, but she refused to answer any questions about the things which she taught, and this evening, a whole volley of them followed the recital of "the piece." Angels and wise men, shepherds and camel, mangers, gold, frankincense and myrrh, all came in for their share, and the questionnaire ended with the important interrogation—"Did you ever see the star, Daddy? Have you looked for it? Wouldn't you like to see it?"
Negative answers came from the man whose thoughts flew back over the years to the day when he had, himself, stumbled through the words, "For we have seen His star in the East and are come to worship Him." The child soon changed the subject and shaking his father by the shoulder, demanded, "Tell me, Daddy, am I going to have a Christmas tree? Am I?"
"Sure you are, and a big tree that will touch the ceiling this year since you are such a big boy."
"What will be on it?"
"What do you want on it?"
(The boy did not hesitate for a moment. Evidently he had thought it all out.) When, breathless, the boy had finished, the father exclaimed, "One tree—you will need a forest of Christmas trees!"
"Fine! Who is going to come to see my tree, Daddy? The big cousins who came last year—will they all come?"
"Yes, we'll ask anybody you want."
"Truly, will we, Daddy?"
He snuggled down into his father's arms and played with the fingers of the hand which held him tightly. He was silent for so long that his father asked, "Well, have you decided whom you want?"
"Yes," the child answered. "I want mother. Last Christmas she didn't have any tree. I asked her in the summer. She had only presents—she liked mine the best. But she didn't have any candy—nobody gave her any. Daddy, I wish you and mother lived in the same house. Helen's mother and her daddy live in the same house and so do Allen's." (He sighed.) "I asked her all summer to come and see me and she has never come. She's got lovely sunshine hair, and she can swim fine! She teached me, only I can't do it yet!" He was still for a moment or so, then added, "I guess I'll ask Carl. He's a scout. That'll be enough. She can tell stories better than Auntie and better than you, Daddy. Maybe she'll tell the one—" (His aunt interrupted by saying that it was past time for bed and daddy's dinner was ready.)
The child seldom spoke of his mother for he found that no one answered, and a strange, uncomfortable feeling always followed the mention of her name, but having started talking about her, he found it very hard to stop and protested vigorously as his aunt led him off to bed.
James Carson did not eat very heartily and he was not in a talkative mood. "Sunshine Hair." He had told her that very thing himself. He remembered the day on the lake and the look with which she had answered him. He had taught her to swim. She was so vigorous that she had soon surpassed her teacher.
Immediately after dinner he left for the mid-week service of the church in which he was an officer. When his father died, the whole congregation had mourned the loss of their most prominent member and real friend, and they had pressed him to take his father's place. Of late, he had often tried to give it up, but they would not listen to it.
Usually he did not attend the weekly service, but tonight his presence had been requested, for over a hundred people were to seek membership in the church. The largest number that had ever come before.
James Carson paid little attention to the singing, none whatever to the prayers, though his head was bowed. He was lost in his own thoughts during the opening paragraphs of the minister's talk, but was brought back by the words, "Have you seen the star? You men and women of this great city—" And the boy's question, "Have you seen the star, Daddy?"
The minister was certain that not many had seen it. He said that men today found it difficult to seek stars. They loved their own will and way, were filled with pride and steeped in greed and selfishness.
James Carson walked home alone. Ever since the day when the court, at the bidding of his influence, his money, and his demand, had given the boy into his keeping for the half year, holidays had been a source of dread.
As the child grew older the strange arrangement of a mother in the summer and a father in the winter, had never puzzled him; of late, his questions were hard to answer. Someday, the boy would have to be told. What should he tell him? And what poor reinforcement their influence would be when it was his turn to meet life's temptations!
On the way to his own room, the father stopped to look at the boy. He often stood gazing down at the child so like himself; wishing that he might always keep him a boy of five.
Tonight he stood longer than usual, then went to bed to lie staring into the darkness, thinking of things that even his strong will could not banish. He did not know that within one-half hour's walk, she was struggling to forgive him, that she might see the star.
In spite of all his efforts now he remembered his taunting words when the court had given him his son: remembered the intolerant fashion in which the first years he had dismissed her as "unreasonable" or laughed at her judgments. She was young. She had been an only daughter, unrestrained and petted and he had not given her long to learn new ways.
He felt a deep sense of shame for the first time. He gave up the fight against the memories and let them come—the night their boy was born—how courageous she had been. He felt for a moment that he would like to go to her and say that he had been unfair, but he had never said that to anyone!
He did not see the child the next morning. It was raining and as he stepped out into the chill air, he hated the world!
Business was dull for him at the holidays and that afternoon his work was done at three o'clock. He sat looking out over the roofs of the city, thinking in spite of himself, of the boy's wish that his mother might come to the Christmas tree, of the sunshine hair and the stories.
She would not come, of course, but what should he say to the child by way of explanation?
"Why not send the boy to her for Christmas?" the words darted into his conscience as if they had been spoken aloud. But that, he told himself, he could not do. Still, the words of the minister the night before persistently penetrated his thinking.
His was a perfectly appointed office—his father's position, business, home. Everything he had was his father's and yet he had never measured up as a boy or as a young man, to that father's expectations and hopes.
His little son and he had his father's name. He looked up at the keen, strong face over the desk. Tears sprang into his eyes and yielding to a sudden impulse, he bowed his head upon the desk and cried aloud, "O, God help me!"
He sat there a long time and then the Miracle came—the Creator touched the soul of a man He had made and finished His creation. The strengthening presence of a brother who had been through a man's Gethsemane stole into the office on the 12th floor so quietly that the great, noisy, bustling city rode on unawares.
It was five when he left his office. He had made his plans. He would send the child to her in the morning for the holidays and the tree should follow.
When the boy was told, a shout of joy filled the house, "Oh, Daddy, couldn't we go now?"
The "we" stung the heart of the man, who could not help the jealous pang that came as the boy clapped his hands and danced about the room.
Putting the child to bed that night was a difficult task for the boy's aunt, but she made no comment. When, hours later, James Carson looked in at his son, the boy stirred in his sleep, opened his eyes and seeing his father, sat up quickly and cried, "Is it morning, Daddy?" The man shook his head, kissed the sleepy little face and told him morning would come soon, and then hurried to his own MOM.
Despite the wakeful hours and the morning that came too quickly, the man felt a strange quietness of mind that he had never known before.
At eight o'clock they telephoned to see if Mrs. Carson would be at home that morning. She would be there until 11. At half past nine, his suitcase packed and dressed in the fur coat and cap that made him look in his aunt's words, "perfectable adorable," the boy climbed into the motor car with his father and a maid.
The man began to give instructions to the half-listening boy as to what he should say and do.
"Tell your mother that your daddy sent you for the holidays because you said you wanted her at your Christmas tree. The tree will come at noon. Tell her you are a Christmas visitor. You can stay until New Year, then Mary will come for you. Now listen, Sonny, be sure to telephone Daddy every day at half-past four. I will be at the office Christmas day, too—don't forget!"
The chauffeur was turning the car—there was the apartment. The man seized his son, held him tightly and kissed him again and again. He suddenly felt that the Divine Will of the heavenly court was wrong to ask him to leave with the lonely woman the child who loved her and wanted her so much. Somehow, it seemed too great!
Not until the maid picked up the suitcase did the boy realize that his father was not going with him. He stood very still on the walk. "Aren't you coming, Daddy?" And in response to his father's "No" the little face clouded. "Is it to be like summer?" he asked sadly. The man could not answer.
"Run along, Laddie," he said, "You're a Christmas visitor. Think how surprised she'll be. I'll send the tree at noon."
He watched them enter the door of the big modern apartment then stepped from the car and walked away, rapidly.
Alma Carson was writing a list of names when the bell rang. The day before had been the first that she had known peace or even approached happiness. Not hearing the doorbell, she was astonished to hear the exclamations of her maid,. and then a child's laugh. A moment later found her in the hall. "The surprise" was almost too much, but she heard it saying. "Daddy sent me. I'm a Christmas visitor, and surprise, and the tree will be here at noon, 'cause I wanted you for my Christmas tree."
Had it not been for a child's evident joy, his insistence that the suitcase be unpacked, his questions about where they should put the tree and what should go on it—a perfect volley of questions which gave her no time to think—she could not have controlled the emotions which surged over her.
At noon, as they sat down for lunch at the little table she always used for him at the lake, he looked over at her, his face beaming and said, "It's nice isn't it, Mother? Just like summer, only it's 'most Christmas."
She could keep back the tears no longer, but fled from the room. He followed her, calling, "Has the tree come? Has it come? Daddy said it would!"
And it had! It must be attended to and there was no time for tears when a Christmas tree had to be looked after.
A box filled with all sorts of decorations came with the tree, and it was nearly four o'clock when the tinsel and gay bulbs, colored chains of every sort and candles that must be lighted, Santa Clauses, big and little and a wonderful electric star were fastened to the branches to the satisfaction of both the decorators.
The child was tired and content to lie in the arms of his mother, listening to a story.
"Tell me about the 'boat that never got to shore'," he begged. "Daddy doesn't know it and Auntie doesn't."
Two or three times he asked, "Is it half-past four?" and as the story closed he asked again.
"Why do you want to know dear?" she asked gently.
"'Cause then every day, I telephone Daddy at the office. I mustn't forget!"
"It's half-past four now," she said and he ran to the telephone. He seemed such a baby to her that she listened in astonishment as the clear little voice gave the correct number. (She did not know how often he had interrupted important business interviews since he had learned that number.)
"Hello, Daddy! It's come! Yes, she was very surprised. It's all decorated and it's beautiful, and I like it!"
Then in dismay she heard pleadingly, "Daddy, won't you come and see it 'fore I go to bed? We can light the star when it's dark. Will you come? No, Daddy, tonight! What?" And then–
"He says can he come to see it? He said I must ask you. Can he Mother? Say yes, quick!"
"You can, Daddy. I asked her twice `n she says yes."
The man at the other end of the wire tried to speak calmly, but the child said, "I can't hear you Daddy. What