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The front door, opening directly into the living-room, with its long table, and its flashing fire lighting the eager faces round it--nobody had thought of or bothered to make any other light in that room--was flung open by a fur-gloved hand, and a large figure appeared in the doorway. A ruddy face looked in upon the scene. This face possessed a pair of keen gray eyes, a distinguished nose, and a determined mouth beneath a close-trimmed moustache with flecks of gray in it.
Brown sprang up. "Doctor Brainard!" he cried joyfully, and came forward with outstretched hand.
The unexpected guest advanced. Behind him appeared others. To the dazed and gazing boys these people might have come from Greenland, so enveloped were they in defences against the cold. Motor coats of rich fur, furry hats and caps, floating silken veils, muffs, rugs--wherever they came from they could not have minded coming, sharp as was the November air outside, as the boys, who had been hanging about the house since the first approach of twilight, well knew.
Dr. Bruce Brainard was followed by two men and three women. In the flickering firelight Brown was obliged to come close to each, as in smiling silence they approached him, before he could make sure whom the furs and scarfs enshrouded. "Sue!" he exclaimed, discovering his sister. "And Hugh Breckenridge! This is great, brother-in-law! Mrs. Brainard--can it be Mrs. Brainard? How kind of you! You must have known how I've been wanting to see you. Webb Atchison, is that you, looming behind there? How are you, old fellow? But--this lady in the veil--"
He bent closer as he took the gloved hand outstretched, but all he could make out in the traitorous light was a pair of dark eyes, and lips that must be laughing behind the heavy silken veil.
"Do I know her?" he asked, looking round upon the others, who were watching him.
"You have met her," Hugh Breckenridge assured him.
"Several times," added Webb Atchison.
"But not of late," said Brown, "or else I--"
"Once to have seen her," declared Doctor Brainard, "means never to forget."
"You put me in a hard place," Brown objected, trying in vain to distinguish outlines through the veil. "She isn't going to lift it? Must I guess?"
"Of course you must guess, Don," cried his sister.
"How can he?" laughed Breckenridge. "He knows so many fair beings of about that height, and furs and veils are disguising things. Without them, of course, though she wore a mask, he would have no difficulty."
"Will you speak one word?" asked Brown of the unknown.
She shook her head.
"Then--forgive me, but I'm puzzled," said he, laying light but determined hold upon the veil. "I can't imagine at all who--would honour me--"
He gently lifted the veil. The others saw his expression change as the drawn folds revealed a face whose dark-eyed beauty was vividly enhanced by the fire-glow upon cheeks which the November frost had stung into a wonder colour. There was a general laugh of appreciation.
"Never would have thought it, eh?" chuckled Webb Atchison, a fine and prosperous figure of a bachelor past his first youth but not yet arrived at middle age, and with the look of one who does what he pleases with other people. "Well, it wasn't her plan, I assure you. She was horror-stricken when she learned where we were bound."
"Donald Brown in his bachelor apartment in the Worthington was one person, this queer fellow living in a roadside cabin is quite another," suggested Dr. Bruce Brainard quizzically. "Still, I'll warrant Miss Forrest will confess to a bit of curiosity, when she found she was in for it."
"Were you curious?" asked Donald Brown. He was still looking steadily down into the lifted face of the person before him. Into his own face had come a look as of one who has been taken unawares at a vulnerable point, but who has instantly rallied his forces to stand out the attack.
"They were all curious," answered Miss Forrest, and the sound of her voice was different from that of the other voices. If, as Doctor Brainard had jestingly but truthfully said, one who had seen her would not forget her, a similar statement might with equal truth be made of the hearing of her voice. The one word Brown had asked from her lips could certainly have revealed her to him--and would have done so while he had a memory.
"To see if we know how to keep Thanksgiving here?" Brown inquired of the group, though his eyes came back again to Helena Forrest's face.
"To see if you had anything to be thankful for," cried Sue Breckenridge. "Well, Don, now that we are here, are you going to invite us to stay? Or--is your present company--"
Brown wheeled and went over to the boys, who were staring, open-eyed and motionless.
"You'll help me out, fellows, won't you?" he said in a low tone--and they felt him still one of them, for the tone was the old one of comradeship. "You see, I have nowhere to ask my guests to sit down. If each of you will take what you can at a time, and carry everything out into the kitchen, and then take out the table, I'll be much obliged. You are coming again soon, you know; but for to-night, you see, I must call it off. Tom, you'll see to taking off the tablecloth, will you? Fold it up any sort of way, but don't let the crumbs get out. All right?"
There was a tumultuous pushing back of chairs. In short order it was all accomplished. The guests stood at one side, looking at the boys as curiously as the boys had looked at them, while the dishes disappeared as fast as many hands could carry them. The big bowl of geraniums was removed by Brown himself, who set it carefully upon his reading-table at the side of the room, and the tablecloth was painstakingly manipulated by Tom Kelcey so that hardly a crumb fell upon the floor. There was one crash of crockery in the kitchen, followed by a smothered howl from the boy who in his agitation had done the deed, but this was the only accident.
Brown turned again to his guests.
"Now," said he, "will you make yourselves at home? It's a cold night out. Let's have off the furs and sit by the fire. Mrs. Brainard, allow me to help you out of that coat. This is the happiest sort of a surprise for me!"
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