“We filled the little stockings hanging on the mantel. Then they helped me to put on my beard an’ the greatcoat an’ cap an’ the pack over all, an’ Mrs. Bill an’ I went out-of-doors. We stood still an’ listened for a moment. Two baby voices were calling out of an upper window: ‘Santa Claus, please come, Santa Claus!’ Then we heard the window close an’ the chatter above stairs, but we stood still. Mrs. Bill seemed to be laughing, but I observed that her handkerchief had the centre of the stage in this little comedy.
“In half a minute I stole down the road an’ picked up the bells that lay beside it, an’ came prancin’ to the door with a great jingle, an’ in I went an’ took my stand by the Christmas tree. We could hear the hurry of small feet, an’ eager, half-hushed voices in the hall overhead. Then down the stairway came my slender battalion in the last scene of the siege. Their eyes were wide with wonder, their feet slow with fear. The little captain of three years ran straight to Mrs. Bill an’ lay hold of her gown, an’ partly hid himself in its folds, an’ stood peekin’ out at me. It was a masterful bit of strategy. I wonder how he could have done it so well. She raised him in her arms an’ held him close. A great music-box in a corner began to play:
“’O tannenbaum! O tannenbaum!
wie grun sind deine blaetter!’
[Illustration: Their eyes were wide with wonder.]
“Then with laughter an’ merry jests we emptied the pack, an’ gathered from the tree whose fruit has fed the starving human heart for more than a thousand years, an’ how it filled those friends o’ mine!
“Well, it was the night of my life, an’ when I turned to go, its climax fell upon me. Mrs. Bill kneeled at my feet, an’ said with tears in her eyes, an’ her lips an’ voice trembling:
“’O Santa Claus! you have given me many things, but I beg for more—five more.’
“The city had fallen. Its queen was on her knees. The victorious army was swarming into the open gate of her arms. The hosts of doubt an’ fear were fleeing.
“I refuse to tell you all that happened in the next minute or two. A witness has some rights when testifyin’ against his own manhood.
“I helped the woman to her feet, an’ said:
“’They are yours. I shall be happy enough, and, anyhow, I do not think I shall need them now.’
“An’ so I left them as happy as human beings have any right to be. At last they had caught up with Lizzie, an’ I, too, was in a fair way to overtake her.
“An’ how fared Dan in his pursuit of that remarkable maiden? Why, that very night Lizzie an’ Dan had been shakin’ the tree o’ love, an’ I guess the fruit on it was fairly ripe an’ meller. Next day they came up to my house together.
“Dan couldn’t hold his happiness, an’ slopped over as soon as he was inside the door.
“‘Mr. Potter,’ says he, with more than Christmas merriment, ’we’re going to be married next month.’