The Street of Seven Stars HTML version

Chapter 15
Christmas-Eve in the saloon of Maria Theresa! Christmas-Eve, with the great chandelier
recklessly ablaze and a pig's head with cranberry eyes for supper! Christmas-Eve, with a
two-foot tree gleaming with candles on the stand, and beside the stand, in a huge chair,
It had been a busy day for Harmony. In the morning there had been shopping and
marketing, and such a temptation to be reckless, with the shops full of ecstasies and the
old flower women fairly overburdened. There had been anxieties, too, such as the pig's
head, which must be done a certain way, and Jimmy, who must be left with the Portier's
wife as nurse while all of them went to the hospital. The house revolved around Jimmy
now, Jimmy, who seemed the better for the moving, and whose mother as yet had failed
to materialize.
In the afternoon Harmony played at the hospital. Peter took her as the early twilight was
falling in through the gate where the sentry kept guard and so to the great courtyard. In
this grim playground men wandered about, smoking their daily allowance of tobacco and
moving to keep warm, offscourings of the barracks, derelicts of the slums, with here and
there an honest citizen lamenting a Christmas away from home. The hospital was always
pathetic to Harmony; on this Christmas-Eve she found it harrowing. Its very size shocked
her, that there should be so much suffering, so much that was appalling, frightful,
insupportable. Peter felt her quiver under his hand. A hospital in festivity is very
affecting. It smiles through its tears. And in every assemblage there are sharply defined
lines of difference. There are those who are going home soon, God willing; there are
those who will go home some time after long days and longer nights. And there are those
who will never go home and who know it. And because of this the ones who are never
going home are most festively clad, as if, by way of compensation, the nurses mean to
give them all future Christmasses in one. They receive an extra orange, or a pair of
gloves, perhaps,--and they are not the less grateful because they understand. And when
everything is over they lay away in the bedside stand the gloves they will never wear, and
divide the extra orange with a less fortunate one who is almost recovered. Their last
Christmas is past.
"How beautiful the tree was!" they say. Or, "Did you hear how the children sang? So
little, to sing like that! It made me think--of angels."
Peter led Harmony across the courtyard, through many twisting corridors, and up and
down more twisting staircases to the room where she was to play. There were many
Christmas trees in the hospital that afternoon; no one hall could have held the thousands
of patients, the doctors, the nurses. Sometimes a single ward had its own tree, its own
entertainment. Occasionally two or three joined forces, preempted a lecture-room, and
wheeled or hobbled or carried in their convalescents. In such case an imposing audience
was the result.