XXVIII. "Tibi Splendet Focus"
 

There was one watcher of all this, and one listener, outside of the Yellow House, that none of the party suspected, and that was Henry Lord, Ph.D.

When he left Mrs. Carey at the gate at five o'clock, he went back to his own house and ordered his supper to be brought him on a tray in his study. He particularly liked this, always, as it freed him from all responsibility of serving his children, and making an occasional remark; and as a matter of fact everybody was as pleased as he when he ate alone, the occasional meals Olive and Cyril had by themselves being the only ones they ever enjoyed or digested.

He studied and wrote and consulted heavy tomes, and walked up and down the room, and pulled out colored plates from portfolios, all with great satisfaction until he chanced to look at the clock when it struck ten. He had forgotten to send for the children as he had promised Mother Carey! He went out into the hall and called Mrs. Bangs in a stentorian voice. No answer. Irritated, as he always was when crossed in the slightest degree, he went downstairs and found the kitchen empty.

"Her cub of a nephew has been staying to supper with her, guzzling and cramming himself at my expense," he thought, "and now she has walked home with him! It's perfect nonsense to go after a girl of sixteen and a boy of thirteen. As if they couldn't walk along a country road at ten o'clock! Still, it may look odd if some one doesn't go, and I can't lock the house till they come, anyway."

He drew on his great coat, put on his cap, and started down the lane in no good humor. It was a crisp, starlight night and the ground was freezing fast. He walked along, his hands in his pockets, his head bent. As he went through the gate to the main road he glanced up. The Yellow House, a third of a mile distant, was a blaze of light! There must have been a candle or a lamp in every one of its windows, he thought. The ground rose a little where the house stood, and although it could not be seen in summer because of the dense foliage everywhere, the trees were nearly bare now.

"My handsome neighbor is extravagant," he said to himself with a grim smile. "Is the illumination for Thanksgiving, I wonder? Oh, no, I remember she said the party was in the nature of a housewarming."

As he went up the pathway he saw that the shades were up and no curtains drawn anywhere. The Yellow House had no intention of hiding its lights under bushels that evening, of all others; besides, there were no neighbors within a long distance.

Standing on the lowest of the governor's "circ'lar steps" he could see the corner where the group stood singing, with shining faces:--

  "Once more the liberal year laughs out
  O'er richer stores than gems or gold."

Mother Carey's fine head rose nobly from her simple black dress, and her throat was as white as the deep lace collar that was her only ornament.

Nancy he knew by sight, and Nancy in a crimson dress was singing her thankful heart out. Who was the dark-haired girl standing by her side, the two with arms round each other's waists,--his own Olive! He had always thought her unattractive, but her hair was smoothly braided and her eyes all aglow. Cyril stood between Gilbert and Mother Carey. Cyril, he knew, could not carry a tune to save his life, but he seemed to be opening his lips and uttering words all the same. Where was the timid eye, the "hangdog look," the shrinking manner, he so disliked in his son? Great Heavens! the boy laid his hand on Mrs. Carey's shoulder and beat time there gently with a finger, as if a mother's shoulder could be used for any nice, necessary sort of purpose.

If he knocked at the door now, he thought, he should interrupt the party; which was seemingly at its height. He, Henry Lord, Ph.D., certainly had no intention of going in to join it, not with Ossian Popham and Bill Harmon as fellow guests.

He made his way curiously around the outside of the house, looking in at all the windows, and by choosing various positions, seeing as much as he could of the different rooms. Finally he went up on the little back piazza, attracted by the firelight in the family sitting room. There was a noble fire, and once, while he was looking, Digby Popham stole quietly in, braced up the logs with a proprietary air, swept up the hearth, replaced the brass wire screen, and stole out again as quickly as possible, so that he might not miss too much of the party.

"They seem to feel pretty much at home," thought Mr. Lord.

The fire blazed higher and brighter. It lighted up certain words painted in dark green and gold on the white panel under the mantelpiece. He pressed his face quite close to the window, thinking that he must be mistaken in seeing such unconnected letters as T-i-b-i, but gradually they looked clearer to him and he read distinctly "Tibi splendet focus."

"Somebody knows his Horace," thought Henry Lord, Ph.D., as he stumbled off the piazza. "'For you the hearth-fire glows,' I shan't go in; not with that crew; let them wait; and if it gets too late, somebody else will walk home with the children."

"For you the hearth-fire glows."

He picked his way along the side of the house to the front, every window sending out its candle gleam.

"For you the hearth-fire glows."

From dozens of windows the welcome shone. Its gleams and sparkles positively pursued him as he turned his face towards the road and his own dark, cheerless house. Perhaps he had better, on the whole, keep one lamp burning in the lower part after this, to show that the place was inhabited?

"For you the hearth-fire glows."

He had "bricked up" the fireplace in his study and put an air-tight stove in, because it was simply impossible to feed an open fire and write a book at the same time. He didn't know that you could write twice as good a book in half the time with an open fire to help you! He didn't know any single one of the myriad aids that can come to you from such cheery, unexpected sources of grace and inspiration!

"For you the hearth-fire glows."

Would the words never stop ringing in his ears? Perhaps, after all, it would look queer to Mrs. Carey (he cared nothing for Popham or Harmon opinion) if he left the children to get home by themselves. Perhaps--

"FOR YOU THE HEARTH-FIRE GLOWS."

Henry Lord, Ph.D., ascended the steps, and plied the knocker. Digby Popham came out of the parlor and opened the front door.

Everybody listened to see who was the late comer at the party.

"Will you kindly tell Miss Olive and Master Cyril Lord that their father has called for them?"

Mr. Lord's cold, severe voice sounded clearly in the parlor, and every word could be distinctly heard.

Gilbert and Nancy were standing together, and Gilbert whispered instantly to his sister: "The old beast has actually called for Olive and Cyril!"

"Hush, Gilly! He must be a 'new beast' or he wouldn't have come at all!" answered Nancy.