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One Christmas Day

From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander

“Miss Sims and Miss Nellie Sims, and Miss Horn and Miss Mary Ann Horn, and Miss Hendon, all must come to Mr. J. R. Coleman’s on the twenty-fifth day of December, to a quilting. Be sure to came, and don’t fail to bring your needles with you.”

So read an invitation received by my mother, and including the whole family except my father and brother, who pretended to be very angry over the slight.

I had never been to a big quilting, and, of course, looked forward to the day with great anticipations. I was surprised that my sisters cared so little for the invitation and indulged in so much laughter concerning it.

We had not been living in the country long, and the Colemans were among our first acquaintances. They were “good livers”—a good, old-fashioned family—and, while not going in for style at all, lived well in a rough manner.

Mrs. Coleman was uneducated, but she had a brother who had been off to school, and who, I thought, was an exception. Viewed in the calm light of riper years, his face was very foolish. His forehead and chin retreated from a large nose, and his pale hair and light blue eyes gave him a washed-out appearance; but I thought him charming. He seemed to be quite literary, and I loved books better than anything; so, of course, we were congenial spirits. He was twenty, I was fifteen, and I had no hesitation in appropriating his visits to myself. In the foolishness of my foolish heart, I no doubt put on airs. Indeed, my brother often assured me that I needed taking down a peg. Alas! The taking down came soon enough.

But to return to the quilting. Mother did not care to go, but my sisters, my niece, and myself made ourselves ready on that cold Christmas morning for the festivities at J. R. Coleman’s.

Mary Ann and myself rode horseback, and as brother Henry placed my foot in the stirrup and handed me a black gum switch, he said, with a twinkle in his eye: “I guess your ‘jewlarker’ will come prancing by pretty shortly on his calico steed to escort you to his sister’s.”

“Let him prance,” I said, “and I’ll prance, too;” and I gave old Doc. a cut which made him shy around considerably.

“Sure as fate,” he said, “yonder comes old Calico.”

I neglected to state in the beginning that my admirer’s name was Aleck Martin—“Smart Aleck,” Henry called him—and he rode a spotted horse.

Aleck and Calico pranced up, and we pranced off very gayly indeed. My heart was as light as thistle down, and the little foolish nothings which fell from Aleck’s lips were all pearls that morning.

Mary Ann jogged along behind the buggy where my sister rode, but my “jewlarker” and I led the way.

There was quite a crowd to greet us. Two quilts were stretched and already surrounded by girls with thimbles and needles. Children were playing and babies were squalling in one room, while the mothers lent vigorous aid in getting the dinner ready. All was bustle and gayety. Loud were the laughs and many the jokes. Mrs. Coleman darted from room to room and unearthed from drawers and boxes cakes, pies, and custards that filled the air with Christmas fragrance. The men began to scatter. Aleck was the lion of the occasion, but even he grew tired of joking and fondling his downy mustache and left us.

We quilted—at least I tried to quilt; but my perspiring fingers lost their grip, and needles innumerable were broken.

Time flew. The dinner hour arrived, but the lords of creation—where were they? Our host had disappeared, and not a man, young or old, was to be found on the hill.

Dinner waited; but our hostess, knowing that hot things grow cold and tasteless, said: “We’ll not wait for them, for I feel it in my bones that they have gone up to the stillhouse for a ‘nog;’ and when they come back, their legs will be so slack they can’t walk.”

That speech was laughed at by others, but it was all Greek to me; for, being raised in a temperance family, I actually did not know what a “nog” was; and as to “slack legs”—what could that be?

I learned soon enough. As we went in to dinner the men came back, laughing loudly, boisterously, foolishly; and Aleck, my “jewlarker,” was the slack one. He was actually supported by two men, who held his limber arms over their shoulders, while his worse than limber legs sprawled aimlessly about.

I was frightened and horrified. I thought he was poisoned, and sure enough he was—by the worm of the still. His pale blue eyes had an unmeaning stare, and from his mouth poured forth a stream of profane and filthy talk. Mrs. Coleman seemed to be master of the situation, and marched him off to bed.

The dinner had no charm for me. My appetite was gone, and I could not hide the tears which would come.

We left for home in a little while, but Calico and his master did not prance by my side; and though I saw my sisters laughing in their sleeves, they forbore to tell the disgraceful tale at home in my presence.

After a time Aleck came over again with his head held just as high as ever, but I fled. Never again could I endure his presence, and my first “jewlarker” and I grew to be strangers. No matter how nicely he dressed, or how gayly Calico galloped, or how his hair shone with bear’s oil or his handkerchief shook out its perfume, I carried a mental picture of disheveled hair, bleared eyes; foul, stammering tongue; and limber legs; and thus I remember my first “jewlarker.”