There was a solemn hush of expectation, that made the sensitive heart of Grace Carden thrill with anticipation.
The clock struck the first quarter--dead silence; the second--the third--dead silence.
But, at the fourth, and with the first stroke of midnight, out burst the full organ and fifty voices, with the "Gloria in excelsis Deo;" and, as that divine hymn surged on, the lighters ran along the walls and lighted the eighty candles, and, for the first time, the twelve waxen pillars, so that, as the hymn concluded, the room was in a blaze, and it was Christmas Day.
Instantly an enormous punch-bowl was brought to the host. He put his lips to it, and said, "Friends, neighbors, I wish you all a merry Christmas." Then there was a cheer that made the whole house echo; and, by this time, the tears were running down Grace Carden's cheeks.
She turned aside, to hide her pious emotion, and found herself right opposite the picture, with this inscription, large and plain, in the blaze of light--
If, in the middle of the pious harmony that had stirred her soul, some blaring trumpet had played a polka, in another key, it could hardly have jarred more upon her devotional frame, than did this earthly line, that glared out between two gigantic yule candles, just lighted in honor of Him, whose mother was in trade when he was born.
She turned from it with deep repugnance, and seated herself in silence at the table.
Very early in the supper she made an excuse, and retired to her room: and, as she went out, her last glance was at the mysterious picture.