Welcome to Andre Norton's Reading Corner


andre norton storyteller 1948

Andre the Librarian hosting "Story Time" at the Cleveland Public Library ~ 1948


"Come on In! . . .Take a Seat! . . . and Settle Down! . . ."

As we share with you a tale by one of the leading story tellers of the past century.

Twice a Month (on the 1st and the 16th) We are going to post an original story by Andre Norton

During the showcase period you will be able to read it here free of charge.

Many were only published once.

So it's a sure thing that there's going to be a few you have never heard of.

The order will be rather random in hopes you return often.

Happy Reading!


A Very Dickensy Christmas

by Andre Norton 

last spell


1st Published ~ The Magic of Christmas (1992) Edited by John Silbersack & Christopher Schelling, Published by Penguin/Roc, PB, 0-451-45190-2, 221pg ~ cover by unknown


Last Printing in English ~ Tales from High Hallack vol. 2 (2014) Published by Premier Digital Publishing, DM & TP, 1-624-67189-6, $22.95, 450pg ~ cover by Kib Prestridge


Bibliography Page - A Very Dickensy Christmas


"It is to be," Mrs. Hotchkiss stated with the inflexibility of one who refused to accept opposition from either mankind or the weather, "a regular old-fashioned Southern Christmas---very Dickensy."

"Dickens was English," Sara said in her mind. She kept her lips firmly closed, however.

"Laurel Hall is perfect, of course"---Mrs. Hotchkiss would have seen to it speedily if her guidebook enshrined Maryland manor house, three times lauded for its super-fine bed and breakfast rating, "if we can just have snow." She paused, was not---suggesting that she would put in an order for that with a higher authority. "Then Jed will bring out the sleigh."

"Of course, the drag hunt will meet here on Boxing Day---"

Sara so forgot herself as to murmur inquiringly "Boxing Day?"

"Yes." Mrs. Hotchkiss brought her hand firmly down on a section of the Christmas issue of the London Illustrated News. It was opened to a well-worn page listing the delights of spending a Christmas in a country mansion. "Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is time for a fox hunt. We have arranged for a special meeting of the Rex Hall Hounds---it is only drag hunting, but they say the huntsman who lays the trail is very good, and last season's hunt was most exciting---quite the leading local event of the winter. So this year Willard Grayson, he's master, has agreed to assemble the hunt here. "Her eyes shown with that glare of a collector finding some treasure in a trash heap, "Of course, we weren't open to the public before---

"Not," she declared firmly, "that we are open to the general public now. The guest list has been very carefully selected---we even have an acceptance from Ambassador Willard and his family.

"That is why we must have the ghosts." She stared over Sara's shoulder into the wide entrance hall. "Mrs. Willard is very interested in local history; she particularly mentioned the ghosts, her secretary said, when she finally decided they would come.

'It must be very carefully arranged. Jed will pick you up at the bus stop and bring you in the side way. The west wing has always been kept for only family, and you will have a room there. You must make very sure that you are not seen by any of the guests; it will spoil everything if you are. You will arrive the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Your first appearance will be that night at five minutes after midnight. You will walk along the upper hall where it is part balcony, with your partner. Both of you will stand at the top of the stairs.

"The lighting will be candlelight, and Lorenz has set up a most ingenious veil-like hanging through which you will pass and so return unseen to your own quarters." Mrs. Hotchkiss transferred her attention to Sara completely for the first time. It was a critical and very piercing pair of eyes the girl now faced.

"You'll do." tone suggested that that should he modified by "barely." "You will try on the dress the minute you get here so Miss Evans can see if it fits. Remember, your meals will be served in your room, and you are not to be seen by any guest."

Sara nodded. It was an odd job, to be a Christmas ghost in order to project the proper atmosphere for Mrs. Hotchkiss's new essay into bed and breakfasting. But it was odd enough to be interesting, and she certainly had no other plans for the Christmas season. That was a time for family parties, and her family had ceased to exist two years back when a plane met a mountaintop on a foggy morning.

She had managed to keep busy at a number of things, the latest being helping out in Rose Wright's vintage dress shop as a model---there was always a demand for someone able to wear fashions which fitted a very slender waist. That was where she had encountered Mrs. Hotchkiss and been swept into this venture of ghosting.

Who was her fellow ghost? Some actor out of a job, she supposed. And an efficient one, as her temporary employer would have known just where to find the proper type.

There was the story to fall back on, faultlessly typed out by Mrs. Hotchkiss's secretary and now in Sara's bag. Young daughter of the house, falling in love with a boy who chose to go south for the fighting during the Civil War. His return at Christmas to see her, his being betrayed and shot in the garden; girl dies of lingering sorrow and perhaps regret---maybe she had urged him into that visit. Very sentimental and properly ghostly.

Mrs. Hotchkiss's belief in the power of suggestion was well-served. When Sara disembarked from the bus from Baltimore in the late morning of the day before Christmas, there was already a satisfactory sifting of snow on the ground and a promising fall continuing in air. She saw, as they left the small town, a country well-veiled in the season's white, with splashes of color marking those houses where the inhabitants had thought to add to the Christmas feeling with displays of their own imagination.

Her driver was not a talkative man, and Sara was content just to enjoy the country. For the first time she felt a timid stirring of what might even be termed "the Christmas spirit."

Laurel Hall was duly impressive. She had a good look at massive door wreaths and impressive formal swags of pine and holly as they passed the main part of the house and swung on around the side. It was larger than she had thought---having the look of a lesser cousin of one of the English manors she had seen pictured. It was old, but it had been well kept up, and was impressive enough to front a card.

Sara was greeted by Mrs. Hotchkiss's secretary, who looked rather harried, and shown to her room with a speed which gave her little time to look around. As she went, Miss Evans continued to impress upon her charge the need for keeping strictly to her quarters and remaining unseen. Her surroundings, however, were as impressive as the house of which they were a part. This wing of Laurel Hall had never been subjected to the impious invasion of bed and breakfasters, no matter how lofty those might be, but had rather been kept "for the family." But it was rather overwhelming to one used to a studio apartment over a garage.

The bed was huge and curtained. There was even a fireplace where a fire was burning, and there was a table flanked by a chair. But Sara was given little time to list any such amenities.

Miss Evans pointed firmly to the bed and the dress which lay outspread there.

"You're to try it on at once." She was smoothing out the very full skirt. "If there is fitting to be done, Martha will have to do it quickly. She is to maid the Lee and the Tucker suites and won't have time to do anything later."

Sara shed car coat, sweater, T-shirt, and jeans and stood while Miss Evans tossed the dress over her head. It was not vintage, she was sure of that; a modern copy and a rather shoddy one, such as might be worn in a third-rate production of Gone With the Wind. And it certainly did not fit! It slipped down Sara's slight figure and nearly cascaded to the floor if she had not caught it.

"It's hopeless!" Miss Evans's harried expression dug a deeper wrinkle or two. "You will have to see about the other.”

She left Sara to disentangle herself from the froth of skirt and went to tug at the rounded top of a big trunk. The tray she discarded quickly, to shake out of crumbling and much creased paper a second dress.

"Oh," Sara's hard-learned knowledge from the shop was quick to awake a protest. "That is fragile." She ran her hand lovingly along the folds of old satin lying across the secretary's arm.

"It's old, all right. Let's see if it fits."

"It won't fit if it's in rags," countered Sara firmly. She possessed herself of the dress and put it on with due care. There was a tall wardrobe at one side of the room, and one of its door mirrors furnished a floor-length view.

The satin was yellowed but must have once been white. There were festoons of ruffles around the very full skirt, caught up at intervals with fat satin roses of a dark red. The bodice was low cut and the sleeves mere puffs of lace with a rose to hold each so.

Sara held out the skirt. "It fits. But I'll have to have something to wear to hold this out---this was meant to be worn over hoops."

Miss Evans looked a little less strained. "Oh, yes, Mrs. Hotchkiss thought of that." She turned back to the bed to pick up a contraption formed of hoops of varying sizes, narrowing toward the waist and held together with a weaving of wide bands. "This was meant for the other dress but ought to go with this all right. You'll have to fix your hair like this." She turned and picked up an octagonal box frame of an 1860s photograph. The picture was yellow---a most serious, even distressed-looking young lady, or else the process of being photographed was in those days painful, no beauty perhaps. Her dark hair was drawn back into a net which was marked on one side by a wreath of small flowers.

Miss Evans was already on her way to the door. She made a gesture at the trunk as she passed it. "Other stuff you may need is in there---gloves, fan--- Martha will bring your lunch. The bathroom's through that door. Mrs. Hotchkiss wrote out instructions, you'll find them on the desk. I've got to run." And she was gone.

A half hour later, when her lunch was brought to her on a tray, Sara was well settled in. The food was good, but the maid who had brought it had some of the same harried air that Miss Evans had shown and had certainly not been talkative, Sara sipped her second cup of coffee and reread the instructions for her part in the evening's entertainment. There was a distinct timetable laid out: she was to be gowned and ready at exactly five minutes to midnight---there was a desk clock ticking away above where the instructions had been laid---her partner in the ghost world would come to her door.

Arm and arm they would walk along to where the hall became the balcony. The lighting below would be limited to candles both in holders and on the stairs. Once there they must turn to face one another. Her partner would bow, she would curtsy. They would then face the stairs but in retreat, not to descend, and find the filmy curtain which would veil them from any audience below. Once so veiled they were to return as quickly as possible to the west wing and safety. It sounded very well staged and somehow, knowing Mrs. Hotchkiss, Sara thought it might turn out just as planned.

She had not expected this restlessness, however. 'Ihough she had come prepared with reading matter, she felt caged. There were no sounds to penetrate the thick walls, yet she was certain that the guests were already arriving. Even those arrivals were hidden from the windows on this side of the house. It had continued to snow steadily, and there were corners of drift around the bushes below, matched by even smaller pockets on the windowsills.

The maid who had brought her lunch had stirred up the fire, though the house was not chill. Central heating of a modern period, Sara guessed, and certainly in the west wing which was family quarters. She wondered about the family---of whom did that consist these days? The Seldons, who had held this manor since the time of the second King Charles, were long gone---unless Mrs. Hotchkiss was in some way a descendant. No one had spoken of a Mr. Hotchkiss.

She went back to survey what she had laid out on the bed. satin slippers from the trunk were too frail to be worn, as were the lace clocked hose, but those would not be seen under the spread of skirt. Her own white panty hose were suitable enough, as were the low-heeled slippers she had brought. There were two much belaced and betucked petticoats which were all right, and the fan, with its delicately carved ivory sticks, webbed together with lace, had survived. The short white kid gloves flaked apart at her touch---but there was a pair of lace mitts which were lying with the dress she could not wear, and those would do.

Sara picked up one of the books she had brought along, a history of costume. However, she did more leafing through it and looking at the illustrations than actually reading. That odd feeling that she was somehow removed from real life as it was being lived at Laurel Hall right now seemed to grow stronger and stronger as the early winter dusk drew in.

She wondered about her partner to be. He was an actor, of course, and to him this would be just another job, a very short one. Would he find it amusing to play the ghost, or boring and something to be quickly put behind him?

For at least the tenth time she picked up the sheet of instructions and read it through, though by this time she could recite it by heart. She had better get dressed early and do some walking about---a good thing the bedroom was so large---so she could discover just how to manage the skirt.

Her dinner, also tray borne, arrived early. Sticking up right between cup and small coffee pot was a note folded three-cornered.

"All will be ready---leave at exactly five minutes to twelve.”

More fussing, maybe that was Miss Evans.

Sara ate. The food was very good, and she thought she was being given a share of what was being served downstairs. At least Mrs. Hotchkiss did not stint with that.

At ten she began to dress. Luckily, even if the rest of the hall might be doomed to candles, there was good electric light here and an excellent makeup mirror in the bathroom. She twisted her hair around and wove it up with a ribbon as she had devised in the afternoon, enough like the snood thing the girl in the picture wore to pass. She had even been able to detach three of the red roses from less visible portions of the skirt ruffles to fasten to the side and, after a long and critical inspection of her face, thought she would pass in candlelight. Leaving off any rouge, she had used mainly powder and even in this bad light her skin looked much whiter.

The assumption of the dress over the hoop was a struggle and she could, she knew, have done with the aid of another pair of hands. But it was done at last, and she had actually managed to make secure the last small fastening.

Fan and mitts in hand, she faced the long mirror of the wardrobe and was actually startled. Somehow she did not look like Sara Haines masquerading as a ghost, but like a girl who might once have occupied this room by right of birth and been secure in the heart of a loving family.

She spread her skirts with twists of the wrist which seemed very natural, and she curtsied to that other girl. No, that was not quite right. Try it again. The skirt, all laces and roses, swirled out and this time---yes, that was just the way she must do it!

Now she turned and took short steps down the length of the room. They always spoke of ghosts as gliding. How did one glide? Or was that only a fantasy of writers? Slowly, don't let the hoops swing so---now, try again. Well, maybe not a glide but at least not a stride. For one who habitually wore jeans this was a new art.

Sara opened the fan, eyed an arm chair coquettishly and curtsied. She wished she could stand off and watch herself with a critic's eye. Luckily they were not going to be on display long, her fellow ghost and she. Down the room, watch the hoop for swaying, now turn and curtsy. Sara drew a deep breath. At least the hoop hadn't tilted up. But by candlelight a lot of faults could be hidden and---

There was a tap at her door.

The maid come to see if she needed help? No---her eyes had found the clock---actors would say they were on. She drew herself up and took several deep breaths, one part of her surprised at her uneasiness. There was nothing to this, walk down the hall, let herself be seen, step back through a curtain---one would think she was going to play Lady Macbeth or something of the sort.

Sara opened the door.

He was not tall; he could not have bettered her own five feet six inches by more than three inches at the most. Nor was he dark. Though the hallway was not brightly lighted, the beam from the room behind her easily picked out that unruly mop of hair which was only slightly removed from being a distressing gingery shade. He was not handsome; there were no dark demanding eyes questing for her from either side of an imperious hawk sharp nose--- No, the nose was close to snub and he was not smoldering; he was favoring her with close to a conspiratorial grin.

Even his grey uniform did not fit too well. Certainly Mrs. Hotchkiss had not had a secondary costume for him to fall back upon. The yellow sash pulled in the jacket in visible wrinkles at his waist. But his black boots shone bravely, and when he swept her a grand bow somehow he seemed at home in those badly tailored clothes.

Sara curtsied. "I'm Sara Haines," she introduced herself a little breathlessly. And now she was very glad she had not been fronted by Rhett Butler or any such heartthrob.

His cheerful grin became an open smile. "Bryce Seldon, at your service." He stood aside a little and crooked his arm in invitation.

' 'Bryce Seldon," she repeated. "But that was---"

"Oh, there have been a number of us from time to time along the family tree," he assured her cheerfully.

So that was it! Mrs. Hotchkiss had fastened upon some surviving member of another branch of the family to play her ghostly captain. But of course, that was an excellent solution; he would know far more about their little charade.

"This way?" Sara fitted her mitted hand comfortably into the crook of his elbow. A good many of her doubts had vanished. This was going to be a fun thing---

"This way," he agreed, and led her to the right. She hurried to manage the swing of her skirts, at least he did not have her kind of costume to contend with.

They moved at a sedate pace along the hall, and suddenly lights and sound enveloped them from the left. They had reached that part which became balcony and now they would be visible to anyone watching. Bryce, she found it very easy to think of him so, curbed his stride even more.

Then she heard a gasp, a couple of cries from below, but she kept her head turned a little as if she were regarding with dotish approval the countenance of her escort.

They reached the head of the stairs. Sara loosed her hold on that grey-clad arm and Bryce stepped around to face her. One of her hands went out to him without her even willing it as she sank into the practiced curtsy. Her fingers were taken in a strong grasp and lifted until he could brush them lightly with his lips. Then she was standing again. But he did not release her hand; rather he drew her on, her back to the stairs, and she felt the long strips of the veiling flutter about her. There were sounds from below, but Bryce was hurrying her on now, turning once more to the west wing. They must be out of sight before anyone came exploring, she knew that.

However, he did not just deliver her to the door of the room in which she had spent such boring hours, instead he tucked her hand under his arm firmly again.

"They won't follow." He seemed very sure of that. "Want to do a bit of sightseeing, Sara?"

"Oh, yes!" The excitement which had gripped her ever since she had left her room was holding. They could not join the party, but that did not mean they had to just shut themselves up again.

"Now this"---he had drawn her along as if he were very eager to have her company and was afraid that she might not give it---"is the long gallery, right over the ballroom. Family portraits---" He waved one hand to the wall. There were a few very dim lights along the inner wall to her right, the blankness of draped windows to her left.

Sara had a sudden idea.

"Are we there?" He had not loosed his hold on her, but she pointed with the fan in her other hand to the row of dimly seen pictures.

For a moment he hesitated. Then he chuckled. "Just half and half, as it were," he answered. "I am afraid, lovely lady, I cannot introduce you to your ancestress---of the spirit. For his sins Bryce is remembered with paint and varnish, but not very well. Over here."

He drew her to a position near the door through which they had come. If there had not been one of the low wattage lights near it, she might have seen nothing at all. As it was Sara was startled. Clearly the portrait had not been done by a very competent artist; his subject had the wooden aspect of a primitive, yet the hair---and certainly the nose---

"Common enough looking fellow, isn't he?" commented her escort.

"But---but you do look like him!" she blurted out, and then tried to cover her uncomplimentary error. "It's just the color of the hair---the eyes---"

He was laughing. "And all the rest of it, lovely lady. But the hair's family---you'll find it repeated half a dozen times along here---" He waved a hand to the wall of portraits.

It was then that the music reached them; somehow those thick walls could not drown out the sound. In the ballroom below, they were playing a waltz.

Her companion turned swiftly and made her another of those courtly bows. "My lady, will you do me the very great honor of your hand for this dance---?"

Sara smiled unsteadily. That queer feeling of being still somehow caught up in a play held her again. "Sir," she made answer in a small voice, "I will be most pleased---"

He swung her out almost as if he were afraid she might change her mind. And as she danced, Sara heard him humming. She could never remember any dance which had been like this, which had lifted her out and away from all the world which she knew.

They were close to one of the tall windows when the music stopped. Over her partner's shoulder, Sara thought she could see the brush of falling snow against the windowpane.

"A very Dickensy Christmas---" she murmured as their hands fell apart.

"A what?"

Sara laughed. "That is what Mrs. Hotchkiss said she wanted---a very Dickensy Christmas---with snow, only there's no stagecoach like on a card. I wonder if there is a Scrooge down below some place. If there is, she'll soon rout him out and get him into the proper frame of mind."

"Why did you come?" The question was shot at her so suddenly she found no way of evading it as she might have done had she been given more time. Instead she found herself talking of the mountain and the plane, the too small apartment in Baltimore which she shared with Ann, who had gone to visit her friend's family in Richmond. Even as she talked, she wondered why she was telling all this to a stranger.

He nodded when she had done. And then she thought it her turn.

"And you---?"

He had turned away from her a fraction and was looking through the window into the night.

"I don't have a roommate bound for Richmond. But our stories do not differ so much. This was something to do and---" Now he turned his head to smile at her. "Sometimes fate plays queer jokes on us, Sara. I find myself highly in favor of Mrs. Hotchkiss's Christmases---as far as they pertain to you and me."

Somewhere along the gallery a clock struck. Sara shivered. That sound might have summoned up the chill which had touched her for a moment. He was holding out his hand.

"Come, Sara, 'tis time for ghostlings to be abed---"

"Tomorrow?" She was slightly breathless.

"Of course," he said, "we have our obligations to fulfill tomorrow evening."

But he did not say anything about meeting her earlier, Sara thought, as she carefully unfastened the gown a little later and saw it laid out in a way to least crush its ruffling. Maybe he had some other job outside---Only as she crawled into the huge bed she wished that she could be sure of that. He did seem to like her---or had until she had spilled out all that about her life. Had she sounded like a whiner? She thumped the pillow and stared up into the drapery of the bed.

Doubts dropped away with the coming of sleep, but they crowded back with the arrival of her breakfast, which awoke her in the morning. The maid plumped the tray down on the table by the fire.

"Merry Christmas, miss. My, you were a real treat last night. I was coming in with the punch cups when you bowed. Oh, it was like a movie, so it was! They were all talking about it after. 'Course we knew as how it wasn't any ghost, but some of them---I think maybe the half believed."

Sara sat up in bed. "Merry Christmas," she echoed the other's greeting automatically. "So it went well?"

The maid nodded enthusiastically. "Madam was very pleased, heard her say so to Miss Evans. Now, I've got to run, there'll be a lot of doings today---"

She was gone as Sara put on her robe and went to wash before sitting down to eat. The breakfast was a hearty one, probably in the proper tradition, too. She found she could not resist the biscuits and jam.

Merry Christmas, she said to herself. But in truth she wanted very much to say that to her companion of the night before. For the first time she felt as if there was a stir of new life somewhere deep within her.

She was restless, longing to go out into the white world beyond for a long walk. It had stopped snowing, but she stepped hurriedly back from the window as two horses came trotting along, a sleigh at their backs, their driver well-bundled up on a small seat behind the low open body of the vehicle in which there were furs and stocking caps and high clear voices she could hear, though not the words. Another of Mrs. Hotchkiss's plans brought to triumphant fruition. The maid had returned for her tray, very much in a hurry but pausing long enough to say that the big tree was really a sight to be seen and there was to be a special singer of folksongs in for the evening.

Sara had her own plans for the evening, and she had plenty of time to hone and polish them, even if she did spend time with her costume books and begin two of her paperback mysteries and lay them aside for the crime of being dull.

Never had she been so glad to see evening come. She had gobbled her dinner, and it was worth better attention; it was very plain that she was being fed as well as the paying guests. However, it could have been a cold and greasy burger as far as she was concerned, something to be gulped down to keep her going.

Though it was good policy to stick to the wan makeup she had devised the night before, she was not prevented from making the most of what she could use. And she had the small bottle of rose Oil some whim had made her tuck into her kit, though the use of perfume had not been important for a long time. Now as she twisted the lid, the odor was strong enough to make her believe that all those crimson garlands on her dress were alive and at the height of their fragrance. She took to pacing the room. When the knock came, she glanced at the clock. He was early, too!

Sara jerked at the door in her impatience. She still had a fraction of fear---it might not be him.

"Merry Christmas!" They said it together, their voices mingling, Sara's hands quite without her direction going out to him. But he was bowing and holding out to her a small box. It was stained, one end of it cracked half-open, yet there was a twist of ribbon faded to dust color about it.

She stared at it, and him, and at it again, and then very slowly took the box. It seemed very fragile, and the cover broke to bits when she opened it. Inside, on a scrap of time-discolored material, was a heart of onyx patterned with a spray of seed pearl flowers, the same tiny pearls outlining the heart. She caught at a gleam of chain as the box quite fell into scraps.

"It's---it's beautiful!" Sara cupped it in her hand and then swiftly closed the space between them and touched her lips to his.

"Wear it," he said. "It was meant to be worn, you know."

She pressed it into his hand and turned around, pulling up her ribbon-bound hair so he could fasten the chain. Nor was she surprised at the touch of his lips just where he settled the chain.

Then his hands were on her shoulders and he turned her about, smiling his wide smile. ' 'You do a poor little gift great credit, my lady."

Her hand arose again to cup over the heart. "Not poor, not little---I work with old things, remember! This is a very lovely piece and very old. Is it---is it from your family?"

Somehow she wanted so much for him to say yes.

"In a way you might say so." He nodded. "None but I have the right to bestow it, dear one. Shall we fulfill our bargain and then be free again?"

Once more he offered her his arm and they made their stately progress out onto the balcony. There were more voices below tonight, Sara thought. She made her curtsy as grand and graceful as she could, marveling at how, though he looked boyishly clumsy in his ill-fitting uniform, he could be the polished gentleman of past story when he wished.

Then they were back through the curtain, and Sara was not surprised when they came once more into the gallery. Tonight there was no music from below. Her escort went to a small table and fingered a box there---the tinkle of a tune answered and he was back.

"You will grant me the very great honor, my lady?" He held out his hand.

Once more they floated down the gallery.

"You are very, very beautiful, Sara," he said, hardly above a whisper. "Very young and very beautiful."

She smiled. "You are very gallant, sir. Remember, I have looked many times in my mirror.

The tinkle of the music had stopped. Another sound had taken its place. Rhythm of a different sort and time. Sara remembered what the maid had said about the folk singer.

Her partner muttered something. Then suddenly his head went up and he was plainly listening.

"I must go," he told her.

"But---when will I see you?" Sara asked.

He was already at the door in three great strides, and she gathered up her skirts to hurry after him. Only when she came out into the hall there was nothing moving in the shadows between the night lights, nothing until Miss Evans came into view.

"Miss Haines! You are out of your room!"

"I was with---"

"You must go back at once! There has been a change of plan. You will have to leave early in the morning as Mrs. Hotchkiss has promised to show the ambassador and Mrs. Willard through the west wing. You must be out of your room before then. You will see Mrs. Hotchkiss in her sitting room at seven. Martha will bring you your breakfast before you go."

Sara trailed back to her room. If they would send her off by seven, then they would send Bryce, too. Her hand cradled the heart. For some reason, though it had been resting against her flesh it felt cold. She unfastened the clasp and held the pendant out to see the better. There was something odd---a half memory stirring deep in her mind. The back did not feel as smooth as it should. She flipped it over.

There was a tiny oval of glass set in a rounded curve of gold and under that---could it be hair? Sara held it closer to the lamp. The glass was clouded, but surely what it covered was a bit of hair. The Victorians had a liking for such sentimental treasures. She could believe that Bryce might have given her some family piece. The hair aroused a stir of uneasiness, but when she turned the pendant over, the lacy beauty of the pearl flowers enchanted her anew.

Yes, doubtless they would be decanted at the bus station together tomorrow. She would see him again--- Later, when Sara went to sleep, the chain was once more clasped around her neck and her hand guarded her treasure.

Did she dream? Afterward she was sure she did, but her quick awakening at the tapping on her door brought her so swiftly out of any dream that memory could not hold it.

She showered and dressed in record time, then ate in gulps of coffee and mouthfuls of toast. Sara gave a last search around the room to make sure she had not forgotten anything. However, more than half her attention was already downstairs, meeting with Bryce, off to the bus stop. Or maybe he had a car and would offer her a ride!

Only when she entered Mrs. Hotchkiss's sitting room, it was to find her employer at her desk dictating to Miss Evans---and there was so sign of her fellow ghost.

"Oh, Miss Haines." Mrs. Hotchkiss paused her dictation nearly in mid-word. "It is good you are so prompt. I wish to tell you that you did splendidly, splendidly. Why, anyone watching you would surely have believed you did have an escort, and it did not matter that that stupid young man did not appear. It all went very well indeed; we intend to repeat it next year. Please consider yourself engaged as Of now---"

"There---there was no one---no Bryce?" Somehow Sara forced out the words.

"As you saw, he did not see fit to appear. My dear, what a charming necklace. It looks very old---" Mrs. Hotchkiss was staring at the pendant, and Sara's hand flew to cover it.

"It---it was a Christmas gift," she said. But where had it come from? No Bryce---no partner in the dance---no other---

"Here is your check. I hate to hurry you off like this, my dear, but the Willards have decided they would rather see some of the family treasures in the west wing than attend the hunt. Remember, now, we shall want you again next year. I have no doubts that the story of your charming appearance will spread where it will do the most good and that the Laurel Hall Christmases will become quite sought after entertainment. Now, you must hurry. Jed is waiting at the side door."

Sara held the check in one hand without looking at it. "Yes," she agreed, and then with some force, "I must hurry!"

She did not remember climbing the side stairs, of turning left instead of right. But when she came to a halt in the long gallery, she knew exactly where she was.

Breathless, she looked at that woodenly painted primitive portrait which had so little charm. But there was charm, and life, and---

"But you were here---you were!" she said in what was hardly more than a whisper.

Sara was never afterward sure whether that answer rang in her ears or in her head, but it was sharply confident:

" 'Deed, I was, Sara, my sweet lady. Time touched time for a space, you see. There will be next year, darling---a wonderful Dickensy Christmas---just you wait and see!"

 Andre Norton's Reading Corner

Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton.com

Formatted by Jay P. Watts ~ aka: Lotsawatts ~ 2022

Duplication of this story (in whole or in part) for profit of any kind NOT permitted.



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