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"Lill's Travels in Santa Claus Land" (1878)
Report to Moderator Old 10-26-2011 08:48 AM
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A fanciful story about a little girl's visit to Santa Claus Land. Written in 1878, this story contains what may be the first reference to a Mrs. Santa Claus. It also contains a unique detail: Santa grows his toys!

Click here for a printable version.

* * * * * * * *

"Lill's Travels in Santa Claus Land" by Ellis Towne, Sophie May and Ella Farman
From Lill's Travels in Santa Claus Land and Other Stories by Ellis Towne, Sophie May and Ella Farman (1878)

Effie had been playing with her dolls one cold December morning, and Lill had been reading, until both were tired. But it stormed too hard to go out, and, as Mrs. Pelerine had said they need not do anything for two hours, their little jaws might have been dislocated by yawning before they would as much as pick up a pin. Presently Lill said, "Effie, shall I tell you a story?"

"O yes! do!" said Effie, and she climbed up by Lill in the large rocking-chair in front of the grate. She kept very still, for she knew Lill's stories were not to be interrupted by a sound, or even a motion. The first thing Lill did was to fix her eyes on the fire, and rock backward and forward quite hard for a little while, and then she said, "Now I am going to tell you about my thought travels, and they are apt to be a little queerer, but O! ever so much nicer, than the other kind!"

As Lill's stories usually had a formal introduction she began: "Once upon a time, when I was taking a walk through the great field beyond the orchard, I went way on, 'round where the path turns behind the hill. And after I had walked a little way, I came to a high wall—built right up into the sky. At first I thought I had discovered the 'ends of the earth,' or perhaps I had somehow come to the great wall of China. But after walking a long way I came to a large gate, and over it was printed in beautiful gold letters, 'Santa Claus Land,' and the letters were large enough for a baby to read!"

How large that might be Lill did not stop to explain.

"But the gate was shut tight," she continued, "and though I knocked and knocked and knocked, as hard as I could, nobody came to open it. I was dreadfully disappointed, because I felt as if Santa Claus must live here all of the year except when he went out to pay Christmas visits, and it would be so lovely to see him in his own home, you know. But what was I to do? The gate was entirely too high to climb over, and there wasn't even a crack to peek through!"

Here Lill paused, and Effie drew a long breath, and looked greatly disappointed. Then Lill went on:

"But you see, as I was poking about, I pressed a bell-spring, and in a moment—jingle, jingle, jingle, the bells went ringing far and near, with such a merry sound as was never heard before. While they were still ringing the gate slowly opened and I walked in. I didn't even stop to inquire if Santa Claus was at home, for I forgot all about myself and my manners, it was so lovely. First there was a small paved square like a court; it was surrounded by rows and rows of dark green trees, with several avenues opening between them.

"In the centre of the court was a beautiful marble fountain, with streams of sugar plums and bon-bons tumbling out of it. Funny-looking little men were filling cornucopias at the fountain, and pretty little barefoot children, with chubby hands and dimpled shoulders, took them as soon as they were filled, and ran off with them. They were all too much occupied to speak to me, but as I came up to the fountain one of the funny little fellows gave me a cornucopia, and I marched on with the babies.

"We went down one of the avenues, which would have been very dark only it was splendidly lighted up with Christmas candles. I saw the babies were slyly eating a candy or two, so I tasted mine, and they were delicious—the real Christmas kind. After we had gone a little way, the trees were smaller and not so close together, and here there were other funny little fellows who were climbing up on ladders and tying toys and bon-bons to the trees. The children stopped and delivered their packages, but I walked on, for there was something in the distance that I was curious to see. I could see that it was a large garden, that looked as if it might be well cared for, and had many things growing in it. But even in the distance it didn't look natural, and when I reached it I found it was a very uncommon kind of a garden indeed. I could scarcely believe my eyes, but there were dolls and donkeys and drays and cars and croquet coming up in long, straight rows, and ever so many other things beside. In one place the wooden dolls had only just started; their funny little heads were just above ground, and I thought they looked very much surprised at their surroundings. Farther on were china dolls, that looked quite grown up, and I suppose were ready to pull; and a gardener was hoeing a row of soldiers that didn't look in a very healthy condition, or as if they had done very well.

"The gardener looked familiar, I thought, and as I approached him he stopped work and, leaning on his hoe he said, 'How do you do, Lilian? I am very glad to see you.'

"The moment he raised his face I knew it was Santa Claus, for he looked exactly like the portrait we have of him. You can easily believe I was glad then! I ran and put both of my hands in his, fairly shouting that I was so glad to find him.

"He laughed and said:

"'Why, I am generally to be found here or hereabouts, for I work in the grounds every day.'

"And I laughed too, because his laugh sounded so funny; like the brook going over stones, and the wind up in the trees. Two or three times, when I thought he had done he would burst out again, laughing the vowels in this way: 'Ha, ha, ha, ha! He, he, he, he, he! Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi! Ho, ho, ho, h-o-oo!'"

Lill did it very well, and Effie laughed till the tears came to her eyes; and she could quite believe Lill when she said, "It grew to be so funny that I couldn't stand, but fell over into one of the little chairs that were growing in a bed just beyond the soldiers.

"When Santa Claus saw that he stopped suddenly, saying:

"'There, that will do. I take a hearty laugh every day, for the sake of digestion.'

"Then he added, in a whisper, 'That is the reason I live so long and don't grow old. I've been the same age ever since the chroniclers began to take notes, and those who are best able to judge think I'll continue to be this way for about one thousand eight hundred and seventy-six years longer,—they probably took a new observation at the Centennial, and they know exactly.'

"I was greatly delighted to hear this, and I told him so. He nodded and winked and said it was 'all right,' and then asked if I'd like to see the place. I said I would, so he threw down the hoe with a sigh, saying, 'I don't believe I shall have more than half a crop of soldiers this season. They came up well, but the arms and legs seem to be weak. When I get to town I'll have to send out some girls with glue pots, to stick them fast.'

"The town was at some distance, and our path took us by flower-beds where some exquisite little toys were growing, and a hot-bed where new varieties were being prop—propagated. Pretty soon we came to a plantation of young trees, with rattles, and rubber balls, and ivory rings growing on the branches, and as we went past they rang and bounded about in the merriest sort of a way.

"'There's a nice growth,' said Santa Claus, and it was a nice growth for babies; but just beyond I saw something so perfectly splendid that I didn't care about the plantation."

"Well," said Lill impressively, seeing that Effie was sufficiently expectant, "It was a lovely grove. The trees were large, with long drooping branches, and the branches were just loaded with dolls' clothes. There were elegant silk dresses, with lovely sashes of every color—"

Just here Effie couldn't help saying "O!" for she had a weakness for sashes. Lill looked stern, and put a warning hand over her mouth, and went on.

"There was everything that the most fashionable doll could want, growing in the greatest profusion. Some of the clothes had fallen, and there were funny-looking girls picking them up, and packing them in trunks and boxes. 'These are all ripe,' said Santa Claus, stopping to shake a tree, and the clothes came tumbling down so fast that the workers were busier than ever. The grove was on a hill, so that we had a beautiful view of the country. First there was a park filled with reindeer, and beyond that was the town, and at one side a large farm-yard filled with animals of all sorts.

"But as Santa Claus seemed in a hurry I did not stop long to look. Our path led through the park, and we stopped to call 'Prancer' and 'Dancer' and 'Donder' and 'Blitzen,' and Santa Claus fed them with lumps of sugar from his pocket. He pointed out 'Comet' and 'Cupid' in a distant part of the park; 'Dasher' and 'Vixen' were nowhere to be seen.

"Here I found most of the houses were Swiss cottages, but there were some fine churches and public buildings, all of beautifully illustrated building blocks, and we stopped for a moment at a long depot, in which a locomotive was just smashing up.

"Santa Claus' house stood in the middle of the town. It was an old-fashioned looking house, very broad and low, with an enormous chimney. There was a wide step in front of the door, shaded by a fig-tree and grape-vine, and morning-glories and scarlet beans clambered by the side of the latticed windows; and there were great round rose-bushes, with great, round roses, on either side of the walk leading to the door."

"O! it must have smelled like a party," said Effie, and then subsided, as she remembered that she was interrupting.

"Inside, the house was just cozy and comfortable, a real grandfatherly sort of a place. A big chair was drawn up in front of the window, and a big book was open on a table in front of the chair. A great pack half made up was on the floor, and Santa Claus stopped to add a few things from his pocket. Then he went to the kitchen, and brought me a lunch of milk and strawberries and cookies, for he said I must be tired after my long walk.

"After I had rested a little while, he said if I liked I might go with him to the observatory. But just as we were starting a funny little fellow stopped at the door with a wheelbarrow full of boxes of dishes. After Santa Claus had taken the boxes out and put them in the pack he said slowly,—

"'Let me see!'

"He laid his finger beside his nose as he said it, and looked at me attentively, as if I were a sum in addition, and he was adding me up. I guess I must have come out right, for he looked satisfied, and said I'd better go to the mine first, and then join him in the observatory. Now I am afraid he was not exactly polite not to go with me himself," added Lill, gravely, "but then he apologized by saying he had some work to do. So I followed the little fellow with the wheelbarrow, and we soon came to what looked like the entrance of a cave, but I suppose it was the mine. I followed my guide to the interior without stopping to look at the boxes and piles of dishes outside. Here I found other funny little people, busily at work with picks and shovels, taking out wooden dishes from the bottom of the cave, and china and glass from the top and sides, for the dishes hung down just like stalactites in Mammoth Cave."

Here Lill opened the book she had been reading, and showed Effie a picture of the stalactites.

"It was so curious and so pretty that I should have remained longer," said Lill, "only I remembered the observatory and Santa Claus.

"When I went outside I heard his voice calling out, 'Lilian! Lilian!' It sounded a great way off, and yet somehow it seemed to fill the air just as the wind does. I only had to look for a moment, for very near by was a high tower. I wonder I did not see it before; but in these queer countries you are sure to see something new every time you look about. Santa Claus was standing up at a window near the top, and I ran to the entrance and commenced climbing the stairs. It was a long journey, and I was quite out of breath when I came to the end of it. But here there was such a cozy, luxurious little room, full of stuffed chairs and lounges, bird cages and flowers in the windows, and pictures on the wall, that it was delightful to rest. There was a lady sitting by a golden desk, writing in a large book, and Santa Claus was looking through a great telescope, and every once in a while he stopped and put his ear to a large speaking-tube. While I was resting he went on with his observations.

"Presently he said to the lady, 'Put down a good mark for Sarah Buttermilk. I see she is trying to conquer her quick temper.'

"'Two bad ones for Isaac Clappertongue; he'll drive his mother to the insane asylum yet.'

"'Bad ones all around for the Crossley children,—they quarrel too much.'

"'A good one for Harry and Alice Pleasure, they are quick to mind.'

"'And give Ruth Olive ten, for she is a peacemaker.'"

Just then he happened to look at me and saw I was rested, so he politely asked what I thought of the country. I said it was magnificent. He said he was sorry I didn't stop in the green-house, where he had wax dolls and other delicate things growing. I was very sorry about that, and then I said I thought he must be very happy to own so many delightful things.

"'Of course I'm happy,' said Santa Claus, and then he sighed. 'But it is an awful responsibility to reward so many children according to their deserts. For I take these observations every day, and I know who is good and who is bad.'

"I was glad he told me about this, and now, if he would only tell me what time of day he took the observations, I would have obtained really valuable information. So I stood up and made my best courtesy and said,—

"'Please, sir, would you tell me what time of day you usually look?'

"'O,' he answered, carelessly, 'any time from seven in the morning till ten at night. I am not a bit particular about time. I often go without my own meals in order to make a record of table manners. For instance: last evening I saw you turn your spoon over in your mouth, and that's very unmannerly for a girl nearly fourteen.'

"'O, I didn't know you were looking,' said I, very much ashamed; 'and I'll never do it again,' I promised.

"Then he said I might look through the telescope, and I looked right down into our house. There was mother very busy and very tired, and all of the children teasing. It was queer, for I was there, too, and the bad-est of any. Pretty soon I ran to a quiet corner with a book, and in a few minutes mamma had to leave her work and call, 'Lilian, Lilian, it's time for you to practise.'

"'Yes, mamma,' I answered, 'I'll come right away.'

"As soon as I said this Santa Claus whistled for 'Comet' and 'Cupid,' and they came tearing up the tower. He put me in a tiny sleigh, and away we went, over great snow-banks of clouds, and before I had time to think I was landed in the big chair, and mamma was calling 'Lilian, Lilian, it's time for you to practise,' just as she is doing now, and I must go."

So Lill answered, "Yes, mamma," and ran to the piano.

Effie sank back in the chair to think. She wished Lill had found out how many black marks she had, and whether that lady was Mrs. Santa Claus—and had, in fact, obtained more accurate information about many things.

But when she asked about some of them afterwards, Lill said she didn't know, for the next time she had traveled in that direction she found Santa Claus Land had moved.
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