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A night with Santa Claus by Annie R. Annan

From The book of stories by Fanny E. Coe

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Not very long ago, and not far from here, lived a little boy named Robby Morgan. Now I must tell at once how Robby looked, else how will you know him if you meet him in the street? Blue-eyed was Rob, and fair-haired, and pug-nosed,--just the sweetest trifle, his mother said. Well, the day before Christmas, Rob thought it would be a fine thing to run down the High Street and see what was going on. After dinner his mother put on his fur cap and bright scarf, and filled his pockets with biscuits. She told him to be very polite to Santa Claus if he should happen to meet him. Off he trotted, merry as a cricket, with now a skip, and now a slide. At every corner he held his breath, half expecting to run into Santa himself. Nothing of the sort happened, however, and he soon found himself before the gay windows of a toyshop. There he saw a spring hobbyhorse, as large as a Shetland pony, all saddled and bridled, too--lacking nothing but a rider. Rob pressed his nose against the glass, and tried to imagine the feelings of a boy in that saddle. He might have stood there all day, had not a ragged little fellow pulled his coat. "Wouldn't you like that popgun?" he piped. "Catch me looking at popguns!" said Rob shortly. But when he saw how tattered the boy's jacket was, he said more softly, "P'r'aps you'd like a biscuit?"

"Only try me!" said the shrill little voice. There was a queer lump in Rob's throat as he emptied one pocket of its biscuits and thrust them into the dirty, eager hands. Then he marched down the street without so much as glancing at that glorious steed again. Brighter and brighter grew the windows, more and more full of toys. At last our boy stood, with open eyes and mouth, before a great shop lighted from top to bottom, for it was growing dark. Rob came near taking off his cap and saying, "How do you do, sir?" To whom? you ask. Why, to an image of Santa Claus, the size of life, holding a Christmas tree hung with wonderful fruit. Soon a happy thought struck Rob. "Surely this must be Santa Claus's own store, where he comes to fill his basket with toys! What if I were to hide there and wait for him?" As I said, he was a brave little chap, and he walked straight into the shop with the stream of big people. Everybody was busy. No one had time to look at our mite of a Rob. He tried in vain to find a quiet corner, till he caught sight of some winding stairs that led up to the next storey. He crept up, scarcely daring to breathe.

What a fairyland! Toys everywhere! Oceans of toys! Nothing but toys! Excepting one happy little boy! Think of fifty great rocking-horses in a pile; of whole flocks of woolly sheep and curly dogs, with the real bark in them; stacks of drums; regiments of soldiers armed to the teeth; companies of firemen drawing their hose-carts; no end of wheel-barrows and bicycles! Rob screwed his knuckles into his eyes, as a gentle hint, that they had better not play him any tricks, and then stared with might and main. Suddenly Rob thought he heard a footstep on the stairs. Fearing to be caught, he hid behind a go-cart. No one came, however, and as he felt rather hungry, he took out the remaining biscuits and had a fine supper. Why didn't Santa Claus come? Rob was really getting sleepy. He stretched out his tired legs, and, turning one of the woolly sheep on its side, pillowed his curly head upon it. It was so nice to lie there, looking up at the ceiling hung with toys, and with the faint hum of voices in his ears. The blue eyes grew more and more heavy. Rob was fast asleep. Midnight! The bells rang loud and clear, as if they had great news to tell the world. What noise is that besides the bells? And look, oh, look! who is that striding up the room with a great basket on his back? He has stolen his coat from a polar bear, and his cap, too, I declare! His boots are of red leather and reach to his knees. His coat and cap are trimmed with wreaths of holly, bright with scarlet berries.

Good sir, let us see your face--why! that is the best part of him--so round and so ruddy, such twinkling eyes, and such a merry look about those dimples! But see his long white beard--can he be old? Oh, very, very old! Over nineteen hundred years! Is that not a long life, little ones? But he has a young heart--this dear old man,--and a kind one. Can you guess his name? "Hurrah for Santa Claus!" Right!--the very one. He put his basket down near Robby, and with his back turned to him shook the snow from his fur coat. Some of the flakes fell on Rob's face and roused him from his sleep. Opening his eyes, he saw the white figure, but did not stir nor cry out, lest the vision should vanish. But bless his big heart! _he_ had no idea of vanishing till his night's work was done. He took a large book from his pocket, opened at the first page, and looked at it very closely.

"Tommy Turner" was written at the top, and just below was a little map,--yes, there was Tommy's heart mapped out like a country. Part of the land was marked _good_, part of it _bad_. Here and there were little flags to point out places where battles had been fought during the year. Some of them were black and some white; wherever a good feeling had won the fight, there was a white one. "Tommy Turner," said Santa Claus aloud,--"six white flags, three black ones. That leaves only three presents for Tommy: but we must see what can be done for him." So he bustled among the toys, and soon had a ball, a horse, and a Noah's ark tied up in a parcel, which he tossed into the basket. Name after name was read off, some of them belonging to Rob's playmates, and you may be sure that the little boy listened with his heart in his mouth. "Robby Morgan!" said Santa Claus. In his excitement that small lad nearly upset the cart, but Santa did not notice it. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven"--Rob's breath came very short--"whites!" He almost clapped his hands.

"One, two, three, _blacks_! Now I wonder what that little chap would like--here's a drum, a box of tools, a knife, a menagerie. If he hadn't played truant from school that day, and then told a fib about it, I'd give him a rocking-horse." Rob groaned in anguish of spirit. "But, bless him! he's a fine little fellow, and perhaps he will do better next year if I give him the horse." That was too much for our boy. With a "hurrah" he jumped up and turned a somersault right at Santa Claus's feet. "Good gracious!" cried Santa, "what's this?" "Come along, I'll show you the one," cried Rob. Santa Claus allowed himself to be led off to the pile of horses. You may believe that Rob's sharp eyes soon picked out the one with the longest tail and thickest mane. "Well, he beats all the boys that I ever saw! What shall I do with the little spy?" "O dear Santa Claus!" cried Robby, hugging the red boots, "do just take me along with you; I'll stick tight when you slide down the chimney." "Yes, no doubt you will stick tight--in the chimney, my little man." "I mean to your back," said Rob, with a quiver in his voice. Santa Claus can't bear to see little folks in trouble, so he took the boy into his arms, and asked him where he wanted to go. "To Tommy Turner's, and oh, you know that boy in the awful old jacket that likes popguns," was the breathless reply.

Of course he knew him, for he knows every boy and girl in Christendom; so a popgun was added to the medley of toys. Santa Claus then strapped Rob and the basket on his back. He next crept through an open window to a ladder he had placed there, down which he ran as nimbly as a squirrel. The reindeer before the sledge were in a hurry to be off, and tinkled their silver bells right merrily. An instant more, and they were snugly tucked up in the white robes--an instant more, and they were flying like the wind over the snow. Ah! Tommy's home. Santa Claus sprang out, placed the light ladder against the house, and before Rob could wink--a good fair wink--they were on the roof making for the chimney. Whether it swallowed him, or he swallowed it, is still a puzzle to Robby. Tommy lay sleeping in his little bed and dreaming of a merry Christmas. His rosy mouth was puckered into something between a whistle and a smile. Rob longed to give him a friendly punch, but Santa Claus shook his head. They filled his stocking and hurried away, for empty little stockings the world over were waiting for that generous hand. On they sped again, never stopping until they came to a wretched little hovel. A black pipe instead of a chimney was sticking through the roof.

Rob thought, "Now I guess he'll _have_ to give it up." But no, he softly pushed the door open and stepped in. On a ragged cot lay the urchin to whom Robby had given the biscuits. One of them, half-eaten, was still clutched in his hand. Santa Claus gently opened the other little fist and put the popgun into it. "Give him my drum," whispered Rob, and Santa Claus, without a word, placed it near the rumpled head. How swiftly they flew under the bright stars! How sweetly rang the bells! When Santa Claus reined up at Robby's door, he found his little comrade fast asleep. He laid him tenderly in his crib, and drew off a stocking, which he filled with the smaller toys. The rocking-horse he placed close to the crib, that Rob might mount him on Christmas morning. A kiss, and he was gone. _P.S._ Rob's mother says it was all a dream, but he declares that "it's true as true can be!" I prefer to take his word for it.


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