As if to lighten the boy’s heart he opened a box and took out a mouth-organ. He held it so the light sparkled on its shiny side. Then he put his pipe in his pocket and began to dance and play lively music. Step and tune quickened. The bulky figure was flying up and down above a great clatter of big boots, his head wagging to keep time. The oldest children were laughing, and the boy Paul, he began to smile in the midst of a great sob that shook him to the toes. The player stopped suddenly, stuffed the instrument in a stocking, and went on with his work. Presently he uncovered a stick of candy long as a man’s arm. There were spiral stripes of red from end to end of it. He used it for a fiddle-bow, whistling with terrific energy and sawing the air. Then he put shawls and tippets and boots and various little packages on the other chairs.
At last he drew out of the sack a sheet of pasteboard, with string attached, and hung it on the wall. It bore the simple message, rudely lettered in black, as follows:—
“Mery Crismus. And Children
i have the
honnor to remane, Yours Respec’fully
His work done, he swung the pack to his shoulders and made off as they all broke the silence with a hearty “Thank you, Santa Claus!”
They listened a moment, as he went away with a loud and merry laugh sounding above the roar of the wind. It was the voice of a big and gentle heart, but gave no other clew. In a moment cries of delight, and a rustle of wrappings, filled the room. As on wings of the bitter wind, joy and good fortune had come to them, and, in that little house, had drifted deep as the snow without.
The children went to their beds with slow feet and quick pulses. Paul begged for the sacred privilege of wearing his new boots to bed, but compromised on having them beside his pillow. The boys went to sleep at last, with all their treasures heaped about them. Tom shortly rolled upon the little jumping-jack, that broke away and butted him in the face with a loud squawk. It roused the boy, who promptly set up a defence in which the stuffed hen lost her tail-feathers and the jumping-jack was violently put out of bed. When the mother came to see what had happened, order had been restored—the boys were both sleeping.
It was an odd little room under bare shingles above stairs. Great chests, filled with relics of another time and country, sat against the walls. Here and there a bunch of herbs or a few ears of corn, their husks braided, hung on the bare rafters. The aroma of the summer fields—of peppermint, catnip, and lobelia—haunted it. Chimney and stovepipe tempered the cold. A crack in the gable end let in a sift of snow that had been heaping up a lonely little drift on the bare floor. The widow covered the boys tenderly and took their treasures off the bed, all save the little wooden monkey, which, as if frightened by the melee, had hidden