“B’lieve I’d rather hear about Injuns,” said the boy.
“We shall hear about them too,” the mother added. “They’re like folks o’ the olden time. They make a terrible fuss; but they’ve got to hold still an’ have their claws cut.”
Presently she sat down by a table, where there were candles, and began reading aloud from a county paper. She read anecdotes of men, remarkable for their success and piety, and an account of Indian fighting, interrupted, as a red man lifted his tomahawk to slay, by the rattle of an arrow on the buttery door.
It was off the cross-gun of young Paul. He had seen everything in the story and had taken aim at the said Indian just in the nick of time.
She read, also, the old sweet story of the coming of the Christ Child.
“Some say it was a night like this,” said she, as the story ended.
Paul had listened, his thin, sober face glowing.
“I’ll bet Santa Claus was good to him,” said he. “Brought him sleds an’ candy an’ nuts an’ raisins an’ new boots an’ everything.”
“Why do you think so?” asked his mother, who was now reading intently.
“’Cos he was a good boy. He wouldn’t cry if he had to fill the wood box; would he, mother?”
That query held a hidden rebuke for his brother Tom.
“I do not know, but I do not think he was ever saucy or spoke a bad word.”
“Huh!” said Tom, reflectively; “then I guess he never had no mustard plaster put on him.”
The widow bade him hush.
“Er never had nuthin’ done to him, neither,” the boy continued, rocking vigorously in his little chair.
“Mustn’t speak so of Christ,” the mother added.
“Wal,” said Paul, rising, “I guess I’ll hang up my stockin’s.”
“One’ll do, Paul,” said his sister Polly, with a knowing air.
“No, ’twon’t,” the boy insisted. “They ain’t half ’s big as yours. I’m goin’ t’ try it, anyway, an’ see what he’ll do to ’em.”
He drew off his stockings and pinned them carefully to the braces on the back of a chair.
“Well, my son,” said Mrs. Vaughn, looking over the top of her paper, “it’s bad weather; Santa Claus may not be able to get here.”
“Oh, yes, he can,” said the boy, confidently, but with a little quiver of alarm in his voice. “I’m sure he’ll come. He has a team of reindeers. ‘An’ the deeper the snow the faster they go.’”
Soon the others bared their feet and hung their stockings on four chairs in a row beside the first.
Then they all got on the bed in the corner and pulled a quilt over them to wait for Santa Claus. The mother went on with her reading as they chattered.
Sleep hushed them presently. But for the crackling of the fire, and the push and whistle of the wind, that room had become as a peaceful, silent cave under the storm.
The widow rose stealthily and opened a bureau drawer. The row of limp stockings began to look cheerful and animated. Little packages fell to their toes, and the shortest began to reach for the floor. But while they were fat in the foot they were still very lean in the leg.