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Chapter XX--Christmas Fun
 Aunt Penelope was right--the day before Christmas was an awful day for hurry. Everyone simply flew, and almost every six seconds Amy would come in to tell of someone she’d forgotten to remember, Ito would appear to say that someone was wanted by someone at the telephone, and Evelyn would say: “Another pot of poinsettias and ferns. Where shall I tell Jane to put it?” There were lots of roses too, and they made the whole place fragrant and beautiful. In the hall there were millions of packages, unopened cards on a tray, and messenger boys waiting for someone to sign their books. I loved it all, and having Uncle Frank there made it perfect. He kept wandering around saying “Ho hum” and hunting his spectacles, which had all gradually climbed up on his forehead. And he gave the touch of home that I had needed. It is curious, but I have found that you never realize how very much you have missed anyone until you have them near again and don’t miss them.
Lunch was a hurried affair, but at this meal Aunt Penelope became coherent long enough to suggest that I ask Mr. Kempwood up for the celebration and opening of presents, which was to be at eight o’clock, after an early dinner. I said I would love to, and I immediately telephoned him about it, and asked if he would take Uncle Frank that afternoon too. He said he would be charmed to do so, and at five we started for a drive.
Going was great fun, for there was so much excitement. All the shop windows were blazing, and people seemed happy. They always do at Christmas-time; I think even mean spirits warm up and stop refrigerating anything they touch after December twenty-third. But, unfortunately, they begin being mean again about January third or fourth. I have always had the feeling that perhaps the Christmas bills made their pessimism return, for bills are depressing to even a constitutionally happy individual.
But, to get on, we had tea, and I made mine a little heavy, because I really hadn’t had much lunch, and altogether enjoyed myself. Uncle Frank and S. K. got along beautifully and did most of the talking. Because I was hungry, I occupied myself with eating and listening.
“Doubtless that young person will take you to the Jumel Mansion,” said S. K., with a nod toward me and a smile for me.
Uncle Frank nodded.
“Audubon lived near here,” he said after he stood up and slipped out of his coat. “Wonderful man, ho hum.”
“Yes,” agreed S. K., and then slowly smiled, and as if he couldn’t help it. I do too, for Uncle Frank had a string of tinsel tied around his collar and under his chin in a great bow.
I pulled it off and showed it to him, and he explained. He had been helping Evelyn and Herbert trim the tree before we started out, and Amy had given him that four-in-hand. Then he put his hand in his pocket and brought out a bit of a broken glass ball, and then, very carefully, the rest.
“Dearest,” I said, “you will cut yourself!” But he didn’t.
“Must have slipped it in there, thinking it was my handkerchief,” he explained, “then hung my handkerchief on the tree!”
S. K. said it was easy to do those things, and then he smiled at me, and I answered it, for I could see that he liked Uncle Frank and understood him. After we finished eating, S. K. bought me a tiny Santa Claus about an inch long and pinned it on my lapel, and I bought him one and pinned it on his, and Uncle Frank stood looking on and blinking. Then we pushed through the crowd and started on. And being out was gorgeous. I hated going in, but of course we had to, for dinner was to be served very promptly at seven.
The attitude of suspense in the apartment was thrilling. The curtains that frame the living-room doors were drawn across them, and from behind them someone was tacking something up. Greens trailed over pictures, and holly bloomed in jardinières. Corners were lit by all sorts of flowers, and the air smelled like a hothouse.
Aunt Penelope, looking very tired, but happy, met me and told me to make haste about dressing, and I went toward my room. Here, I prepared to bathe, first getting out all the prettiest things I owned and laying them on the bed, for I did want to look very gay. I decided on my pink dress, for it is the most beautiful one I have, and because I thought it would look nice with a bouquet of tiny roses which I found waiting me on my return. S. K. had sent them and they were dear.
Then I began to slip from my clothes, and as I unclasped my bracelet I decided I had been silly about the whole affair and that I probably imagined a good deal of it. For nothing but the noise against the wall and the black form on S. K.’s balcony had occurred to disquiet me during that last week. I opened the drawer to put the bracelet away while I bathed, for I am careful of where I leave it, and when I opened its box I found a note. This was written on brown butcher’s paper, and it was a little hard to make out. It said:
“Natalie Page is ordered to leave her bracelet under a stone which lies beneath the first bush to the right of the side entrance of the Jumel Mansion. This must be done at five o’clock on December 28 without fail. If she comes alone and tells no one, no harm will come to her, but if she speaks of this misfortune will follow quickly and in the worst form. All will be well if instructions are absolutely obeyed, and if not, great suffering and unhappiness are bound to occur. Be wise! Take warning!”
After I read it I put it down. Then I read it again, as I sat on the edge of my bed (my knees shook), and then I wondered how the person who warned me had got it in my bracelet box without anyone’s knowing it? and then--I stood up, clasped the bracelet on, because I thought my arm was the safest place to leave it, and went to get my bath. I hurried because aunt doesn’t like people’s being late. I decided I would forget the affair for this one evening, if I could. And--begin to consider what I would do the next day.
When I was dressed, and I will acknowledge I looked as nice as I can, I hurri............
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