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T was December, ten years later.
Carol had seen nine Christmas
trees lighted on her birthdays, one after another; nine times she
had assisted in the holiday festivities of the household, though
in her babyhood her share of the gayeties was somewhat limited.
For five years, certainly, she had hidden presents for Mamma and
Papa in their own bureau drawers, and harbored a number of
secrets sufficiently large to burst a baby brain, had it not
been for the relief gained by whispering them all to Mamma, at
night, when she was in her crib, a proceeding which did not in
the least lessen the value of a secret in her innocent mind.
For five years she had heard " 'Twas
the night before Christmas,"
and hung up a scarlet stocking many sizes too large for her, and
pinned a sprig of holly on her little white night gown, to show
 Claus that she was a "truly" Christmas child, and dreamed
of fur-coated saints and toy-packs and reindeer, and wished
everybody a "Merry Christmas" before it was light in the morning,
and lent every one of her new toys to the neighbors' children
before noon, and eaten turkey and plum-pudding, and gone to bed
at night in a trance of happiness at the day's pleasures.
Donald was away at college now. Paul and Hugh were great manly
fellows, taller than their mother. Papa Bird had gray hairs in
his whiskers; and Grandma, God bless her, had been four
Christmases in heaven.
But Christmas in the Birds' Nest was
scarcely as merry now as it used to be in the bygone years, for
the little child that once brought such an added blessing to the
day, lay, month after month, a patient, helpless invalid, in the
room where she was born.
She had never been very strong in body, and it was with a pang of
terror her mother and father noticed, soon after she was five
years old, that she began to limp, ever so slightly; to complain
too often of weariness, and to nestle close to her mother, saying
she "would rather not go out to play, please." The illness was
slight at first, and hope was always stirring in Mrs. Bird's
 "Carol would feel stronger in the summer-time;" or, "She
would be better when she had spent a year in the country;" or,
"She would outgrow it;" or, "They would try a new physician;" but
by and by it came to be all too sure that no physician save One
could make Carol strong again, and that no "summer-time" nor
"country air," unless it were the everlasting summer-time in a
heavenly country, could bring back the little girl to health.
The cheeks and lips that were once as red as holly-berries faded
to faint pink; the star-like eyes grew softer, for they often
gleamed through tears; and the gay child-laugh, that had been
like a chime of Christmas bells, gave place to a smile so lovely,
so touching, so tender and patient, that it filled every corner
of the house with a gentle radiance that might have come from the
face of the Christ-child himself.
Love could do nothing; and when we have said that we have said
all, for it is stronger than anything else in the whole wide
world. Mr. and Mrs. Bird were talking it over one evening, when
all the children were asleep. A famous physician had visited
them that day, and told them that some time, it might be in one
year, it might be in more, Carol would slip quietly off into
heaven, whence she came.
 "It is no use to shut our eyes to it any longer,"
said Mr. Bird, as he paced up and down the library
floor; "Carol will never be well again. It almost seems
as if I could not bear
it when I think of that loveliest child doomed to lie there day
after day, and, what is still more, to suffer pain that we are
helpless to keep away from her. Merry Christmas, indeed; it
gets to be the saddest day in the year to me!" and poor Mr. Bird
sank into a chair by the table, and buried his face in his hands
to keep his wife from seeing the tears that would come in spite
of all his efforts.
"But, Donald, dear," said sweet Mrs. Bird,
with trembling voice, "Christmas Day may not be so merry with us
as it used, but it is very happy, and that is better, and very
blessed, and that is better yet. I suffer chiefly for Carol's
sake, but I have almost given up being sorrowful for my own. I
am too happy in the child, and I see too clearly what she has
done for us and the other children. Donald and Paul
and Hugh were three strong, willful,
boisterous boys, but now you seldom see such tenderness, devotion,
thought for others, and self-denial in lads of their years. A
quarrel or a hot word is almost unknown in this house. Why?
Carol would hear it, and it would distress her, she is so full of
 goodness. The boys study with all their might and main.
Why? Partly, at least, because they like to teach Carol, and
amuse her by telling her what they read. When the seamstress
comes, she likes to sew in Miss Carol's room, because there she
forgets her own troubles, which, Heaven knows, are sore enough!
And as for me, Donald, I am a better woman every day for Carol's
sake; I have to be her eyes, ears, feet, hands,—her strength, her
hope; and she, my own little child, is my example!"
"I was wrong, dear heart," said Mr. Bird more cheerfully; "we
will try not to repine, but to rejoice instead, that we have an
'angel of the house.' "
"And as for her future," Mrs. Bird went on, "I think we need not
be over-anxious. I feel as if she did not belong altogether to
us, but that when she has done what God sent her for, He will take her
back to Himself—and it may not be very long!" Here it was poor
Mrs. Bird's turn to break down, and Mr. Bird's turn to comfort