“There must have been some mistake,” the poor woman kept murmuring as she examined the baskets and found how liberal and varied was the supply, “for who could or would have been so kind?”
“Why, mommie,” said little Sue, reproachfully, “Santa Claus brought ’em. Haven’t you always told us that Santa Claus liked to make us happy?”
The long-exiled father felt that he could restrain himself but a few moments longer, and he was glad to see that the rest of his purchases were at the door. With a look so intent, and yearning concentration of thought so intense that it was strange that they could not feel his presence, he bent his eyes once more upon a scene that would imprint itself upon his memory forever.
But while he stood there, another scene came before his mental vision. Oddly enough his thought went back to that far-off Southern brookside, where he had lain with his hands in the cool water. He leaned against the window-casing, with the Northern snow whirling about his head; but he breathed the balmy breath of a Southern forest, the wood-thrush sang in the trees overhead, and he could—so it seemed to him—actually feel the water-worn pebbles under his palms as he watched the life-blood ebbing from his side. Then there was a dim consciousness of rough but kindly arms bearing him through the underbrush, and more distinctly the memory of weary weeks of convalescence in a mountaineer’s cabin. All these scenes of peril, before he finally reached the Union lines, passed before him as he stood in a species of trance beside the window of his home.
The half-grown boys sent from the restaurant and toy-shop could not be mistaken for Santa Claus even by the credulous fancy of the children, and Mrs. Marlow stepped forward eagerly and said:
“I am sure there is some mistake. You are certainly leaving these articles at the wrong house.” The faces of the children began to grow anxious and troubled also, for even their faith could not accept such marvellous good-fortune. Jamie looked at the sled with a kind of awe, and saw at a glance that it was handsomer than any in the street “Mr. Lansing, a wealthy man, lives a little further on,” Mrs. Marlow began to urge; “and these things must be meant—”
“Isn’t your name Mrs. Anson Marlow?” asked the boy from the restaurant.
“Then I must do as I’ve been told;” and he opened his tray and placed the turkey, the ham, and the coffee on the table.
“If he’s right, I’m right too,” said he of the toy-shop. “Them was my directions;” and they were both about to depart when the woman sprang forward and gasped: “Stay!”
She clasped her hands and trembled violently.
“Who sent these things?” she faltered.
“Our bosses, mum,” replied the boy from the restaurant, hesitatingly.
She sprang toward him, seized his arm, and looked imploringly into his face. “Who ordered them sent?” she asked in a low, passionate voice.