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The Freys’ Christmas Party
by [?]

There was a great sensation in the old Coppenole house three days before Christmas. The Freys, who lived on the third floor, were going to give a Christmas dinner party, and all the other tenants were invited.

Such a thing had never happened before, and, as Miss Penny told her canary-birds while she filled their seed-cups, it was “like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky.”

The Frey family, consisting of a widow and her brood of half a dozen children, were as poor as any of the tenants in the old building, for wasn’t the mother earning a scant living as a beginner in newspaper work? Didn’t the Frey children do every bit of the house-work, not to mention little outside industries by which the older ones earned small incomes? Didn’t Meg send soft gingerbread to the Christian Woman’s Exchange for sale twice a week, and Ethel find time, with all her studies, to paint butterflies on Swiss aprons for fairs or fetes?

Didn’t everybody know that Conrad, now but thirteen, was a regular solicitor for orders for Christmas-trees, palmetto palms, and gray moss from the woods for decorative uses on holiday occasions?

The idea of people in such circumstances as these giving dinner parties! It was almost incredible; but it was true, for tiny notes of invitation tied with rose-colored ribbons had been flying over the building all the afternoon. The Frey twins, Felix and Felicie, both barefoot, had carried one to each door.

They were written with gold ink on pink paper. A water-colored butterfly was poised in midair somewhere on each one, and at the left lower end were the mysterious letters “R.S.V.P.”

The old Professor who lived in the room next the Frey kitchen got one, and Miss Penny, who occupied the room beyond. So did Mademoiselle Guyosa, who made paper flowers, and the mysterious little woman of the last, worst room in the house–a tiny figure whose face none of her neighbors had ever seen, but who had given her name to the baker and milkman as “Mamzelle St. John.”

And there were others. Madame Coraline, the fortune-teller, who rented the hall room on the second floor, was perhaps more surprised at her invitation than any of the rest. No one ever asked her anywhere. Even the veiled ladies who sometimes visited her darkened chamber always tiptoed up the steps as if they were half ashamed of going there.

The twins had a time getting her to come to the door to receive the invitation, and after vainly rapping several times, they had finally brought a parasol and hammered upon the horseshoe tacked upon the door, until at last it opened just about an inch. And then she was invited.

But, indeed, it is time to be telling how the party originated.

It had been the habit of the Frey children, since they could remember, to save up spare coins all the year for a special fund which they called “Christmas money.”

The old fashion of spending these small amounts in presents for one another had long ago given place to the better one–more in the Christmas spirit–of using it to brighten the day for some one less blessed than themselves.

It is true that on the Christmas before the one of this story they had broken the rule, or only strained it, perhaps, to buy a little stove for their mother’s room.

But a rule that would not stretch enough to take in such a home need would be a poor one indeed.

This year they had had numerous schemes, but somehow none had seemed to appeal to the stockholders in the Christmas firm, and so they had finally called a meeting on the subject.

It was at this meeting that Meg, fourteen years old, having taken the floor, said: “Well, it seems to me that the worst kind of a Christmas must be a lonely one. Just think how nearly all the roomers in this house spent last Christmas–most of ’em sittin’ by their lone selves in their rooms, and some of ’em just eatin’ every-day things! The Professor hadn’t a thing but Bologna-sausage and crackers. I know–’cause I peeped. An’ now, whatever you all are goin’ to do with your money, mine’s goin’ right into this house, to the roomers– some way.”