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“The Great Adventure of Mrs. Santa Claus” (1922)
Report to Moderator Old 05-17-2012 11:16 AM
MerryCarey
 
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When Santa Claus breaks his leg on Christmas Eve, how will he manage to deliver his toys to all the children? Will Mary get the red-headed doll she asked for? And will the little gypsy boy Bianco have his stocking filled for the first time?

Click here for a printable version.

If you enjoy this story, you might also like this Christmas story by the same author:
“There Was a Boy who Lived on Pudding Lane”

* * * * * * * *

“The Great Adventure of Mrs. Santa Claus” by Sarah Addington
From The Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1922

It was the day before Christmas when old Hickety-Stickety, Santa Claus’ postmaster, came hobbling into the workshop where Santa himself and Mrs. Claus and all the toymakers were working at top speed to finish up the last of the Christmas toys. Hickety-Stickety had a wooden leg, and his name sounds just the way his leg sounded as he thumped around there in Santa Claus’ house.

Now it was a strange thing for Hickety-Stickety to do, to go into the workshop at such a critical moment, for Santa Claus had given strict orders that nobody was to interrupt him upon that important day, the busiest of all the year. And yet here came the old postmaster, hickety-stickety, hickety-stickety, walking right into the middle of the room. He walked right past Mrs. Claus, who was making doll dresses faster than doll dresses were ever made before. He walked past all the twelve toymakers, who were sitting at their benches in a nice straight row, pounding and hammering as hard as they could go. And he walked right up to Santa Claus, who was down on his knees, putting the squeak in a whole procession of little woolly lambs.

“Well, I declare, Hickety-Stickety,” said Mrs. Claus disapprovingly, as she looked up at him.

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Hickety-Stickety respectfully. He never would take a hint.

But although he stood there by Santa Claus, waiting for him to look up, Santa Claus seemed not to know that he was there, but just went on, putting squeaks into the little lambs, one after another. As he put the squeaks in he sang a little song to himself:
“Now you put the jumps in the jumping jacks,
And I’ll put the squeaks in the lambs!”
It wasn’t much of a song, to be sure, but Santa Claus sang it every year when he worked on the lambs, and seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.

He went on and on, still singing the song, still putting the squeaks in one after another, and Hickety-Stickety waited and waited, and never once did Santa Claus look up. He had just come to the black sheep of the lot, a little fuzzy fellow with a mischievous eye, and he had just picked out the right squeak for him, when Hickety-Stickety, who could not wait any longer, cleared his throat with a tremendous noise and tapped the floor impatiently with his wooden leg. Santa Claus stopped singing and looked up.

“It’s werry important, sir,” he said to Santa. Hickety’s talk was rather queer, as you will see.

“Oh, a telegram?” inquired Santa Claus, getting up from the floor with a puff and a pant.

“No, sir,” replied Hickety, very solemn. “no tullygrum. It’s another letter.”

“Oh, but look here,” remonstrated Santa Claus, you mustn’t bother me about letters, Hickety-Stickety, on such a day as this. I’m too busy.”

* * * * * * * *

Hickety stood firm on his wooden leg, more solemn than ever.

“We can’t send our babies lambs without squeaks in them, you know,” explained Santa further, “and I haven’t got them half finished, and here it is the day before Christmas.”

Hickety did not move.

“Well, well,” said Santa, seeing that Hickety would stand there until he could say what he wanted to, “let’s have it.”

“Well, sir,” began Hickety, “it’s a letter, a letter from a girl named Mary, and she wants——”

“If she wants something,” broke in Santa Claus, “just give the letter to Toymaker Number Twelve and he’ll attend to her. You know that, Hickety-Stickety, as well as I do.”

“But we ain’t got any sich thing,” burst out Hickety triumphantly. “Santy Claus, sir, we ain’t got any sich thing as Mary wants, and never did we have nuthin’ like it!” Oh, dear, wouldn’t you think a postmaster would talk better than that?

“We haven’t got any such thing?” repeated Santa Claus. “Why, I thought we had everything here that children could possibly want. What in the world does Mary want, Hickety, that we don’t have?”

“She wants,” began Hickety- Stickety, “she wants——”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, hurry up, Hickety,” broke out Mrs. Claus anxiously; for she, too, was listening now, and so were the twelve toymakers.

“She wants, Santy Claus—she wants a red-headed doll. And you know our dolls haven’t a red head among ’em.”

A red-headed doll!

Well, that was a sticker, indeed, for Santa and Mrs. Claus and the twelve toymakers; for a moment they all looked blankly at one another and didn’t know what to say. For whoever would have thought of making a red-headed doll?

They had straight-haired dolls, and curly-haired ones, and baby dolls who did not have any hair at all, but were bald-headed, just as old men and babies always are. They had yellow-haired dolls, and brown-haired ones, and even a Martha Washington doll who had a fine white wig piled up high on her little head. But a red-headed one! Nobody in the whole toyshop had ever thought of making one. Indeed, no little girl had ever wanted one before, until this little girl named Mary had sent in her strange request. It was no wonder Hickety-Stickety had been concerned about Mary’s letter. He wasn’t such a stupid old thing as he seemed.

* * * * * * * *

Mrs. Claus spoke first. “I never thought of it, Santa,” she said to her husband. The dolls were really Mrs. Claus’ especial business, you see, and she felt rather ashamed to be caught napping like this.

“Nor I,” replied her husband. “And I never would have thought of it, not to my dying day.”

“Nor did we,” spoke up the twelve toymakers.

“It never crossed my mind, till I seed that letter,” put in Hickety. (“Seed,” indeed!)

“What in the world will we do?” asked Mrs. Claus, coming down to business.

Nobody replied, for nobody knew what in the world they could do about such a situation. Then Santa Claus had a ray of hope. “Maybe she isn’t a good little girl, Hickety,” he suggested. “And, of course, if she isn’t a good little girl, why, then we wouldn’t have to worry about her.”

Hickety shook his head mournfully. “She’s a werry good little girl,” he said. “I looked her up in the record book, and I find that she’s turrible good, Santa Claus. She don’t even mind washing dishes, and that’s the goodest good they is, you know.”

Santa Claus sighed. Isn’t it funny that all the children are really good?” he said. “We’ve never had to skip one for being bad, have we?” Then he brightened up. “But I’m glad. I don’t believe I could pass one by on Christmas Eve if he were bad,” he added. “Well, what shall we do?” said he, coming back to Mary and the red-headed doll.

Toymaker Number Nine stepped up. “Couldn’t we write her a letter and explain things,” he suggested, “and send her a yellow-haired one instead?”

“Mercy on us, no!” cried out Santa Claus aghast, and Mrs. Claus withered him with one look of horror. “Why, we can’t disappoint one of our children, toymaker. How could you even suggest such a thing?”

“Of course we can’t,” spoke up Mrs. Claus. “We never have disappointed any child as long as we have been in the business, and we won’t begin now.”

Toymaker Number Nine, feeling rather flat, fell back behind the others. “But, dear me,” went on Mrs. Claus, “how will we ever get a red-headed doll, at this last hour?”

“Let’s call in Benjamin Bookfellow,” suggested Toymaker Number One.

“Sure enough!” cried Santa and Mrs. Claus together. “He’s the very man.”

So Hickety-Stickety hobbled out to fetch in Benjamin Bookfellow, the wisest chap in all of the North Country.

Now Benjamin Bookfellow had to be wise, for he wrote all the children’s fairy stories and adventure books that Santa Claus put in the stockings on Christmas. He never read books, of course, because he did not have time, but he wrote them; and if a man writes books himself, he doesn’t have to read other people’s, I suppose. In fact, Benjamin Bookfellow was kept so extremely busy writing books for children that he sometimes “ got behind himself,” as he said, and then he had to call on people called authors, a rather shabby lot, who wrote what he told them to.

* * * * * * * *

Today, as usual, he was sitting in his little glass sun parlor, writing a book under the shade of the plot tree. The plot tree was that luxuriant affair in the corner of Benjamin’s sun parlor which he was so careful to water generously every morning and night at seven. And it was Benjamin Bookfellow’s most cherished possession, for on it grew the plots for his stories, all ripe and ready for use. When he needed a plot, all he had to do was to reach up and nip one off, which is much easier than thinking one up, as any writer-fellow will tell you. The plots were delicious-looking, and as thick as oranges on the tree. And once Toymaker Number Eight, who was really quite a glutton, had attempted to eat one when Benjamin Bookfellow wasn’t looking. Oh, dear, what a stomach ache he had then! If you don’t believe it, you just try to eat a plot yourself, especially an adventure one, and see what a pain it gives you.

Well, when Hickety-Stickety went into the sun parlor and told Benjamin Bookfellow that he was wanted in the workshop, he looked a bit worried, but he got up and went, of course.

When he got there, however, he explained the cause of his worry to Santa Claus. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said to Santa, “but I’m in a great hurry, and I hope you won’t keep me long. I’m just finishing up a bear story, and I’ve left a little boy all alone on page seventy-nine with an extremely hungry bear. He might be eaten up, if I stay away too long.”

“Is he a brave little boy?” asked Santa Claus.

“Yes, sir, very brave,” answered Benjamin Bookfellow.

“Then he’ll be all right,” said Santa Claus. “We won’t keep you but a moment, anyway, but we do need you to help us out of a grave difficulty.”

Then he told Benjamin Bookfellow all about Mary and her strange request for a red-headed doll. And Benjamin, putting his glasses down lower on his nose than usual, and shifting on his feet, and rubbing his hands together, frowned hard at the woolly lambs, who hadn’t done a thing to be frowned at, of course!—and did some deep thinking for a moment.

Then he spoke: “Well, sir, I suggest that you go out into the woods, dig up some Indian paint root, make of it a red dye and dye one of the blond wigs red. Thus, if you hurry it through, Santa Claus, Mary can have her read-headed doll tomorrow as neat as anything, and everybody will be happy.”

Now, you see, Benjamin Bookfellow was a clever chap. For this was the best possible way out of the difficulty, and everybody in the toyshop knew it was the best possible way the minute Benjamin suggested it. All the toymakers murmured with approval, Santa Claus laughed aloud with joy, Hickety-Stickety gave a good grunt, while Mrs. Claus just jumped up and down with excitement and delight.

And so it was decided that Santa Claus should hasten out into the big deep woods to find the Indian paint root. Whereupon he began that minute to pull on his rubber boots, while Mrs. Claus hunted up his ear pads, the twelve toymakers began pounding and hammering again, and Benjamin Bookfellow hastened back to page seventy-nine. Benjamin was just in time, too, to rescue the little boy from the bear, for the bear had controlled himself as long as he could and was licking his chops even then.

* * * * * * * *

It was four o’clock in the afternoon when Mrs. Claus looked up from her sewing and saw Santa Claus coming back through the snow. But what was the matter with the jolly old fellow? Oh, something dreadful must have happened! For his fat cheeks were screwed up tight as if he were in pain, he staggered as he walked, and he was dragging one poor leg behind like a limp rag. Oh, dear! Mrs. Claus dropped her sewing and her scissors, flew to the door and out into the snow where Santa Claus was.

“Oh, Santa darling, what is the matter?” she cried. She had never been so frightened.

Santa Claus, trying hard not to make faces, answered her. “I fell,” he said. “I couldn’t quite see over my stomach, and I fell over a big log while I was getting the Indian paint root.” He pointed to the root in his greatcoat pocket, and then he groaned a very soft little groan under his breath. He was trying hard not to make noises, but somehow they would come anyway.

“Oh, oh! Poor Santa!” exclaimed Mrs. Claus.

Then, little and light as she was, Mrs. Claus supported Santa on her arm and got him into the house, though afterwards she herself said she didn’t know how she did it, he being so big and fat. But she did, and pretty soon Santa Claus was laid out flat on the parlor sofa by the fire, very glad to be there, too, and they were waiting for old Doctor Mistletoe, the best physician in the whole North Country.

* * * * * * * *

When old Doctor Mistletoe got to Santa’s house and examined the leg, he said immediately: “This is a very serious affair, Santa Claus”; and then he proceeded to make it more serious for Santa by punching and poking at it again, until the poor fellow made worse faces than ever with the pain of it. “Yes, very serious,” repeated the old doctor, and he turned to Mrs. Claus, who stood there white and shaky.

“Will he die,” doctor?” she asked him fearfully. Supposing Santa Claus should die, she thought to herself, and almost broke out crying at the mere thought.

But the doctor smiled at the question. “Oh, no,” said he comfortingly; “Santa Claus won’t die, Mrs. Claus. Folks don’t die of broken legs.”

“Broken legs!” cried Mrs. Claus.

“Broken legs!” echoed Santa Claus more faintly. “Is my leg really broken, Doctor Mistletoe?”

“I never saw a leg more broken,” Doctor Mistletoe assured them cheerfully.

And somehow both Santa Claus and his wife took comfort from the fact that since legs had to be broken, this was as complete a job of it as Doctor Mistletoe had ever seen. So Mrs. Claus beamed proudly at Santa, who stopped making faces long enough to smile proudly back.

But old Doctor Mistletoe had become grave again. “Of course, you understand, Santa Claus,” he began, “that men with broken legs don’t go out and about, don’t you?”

Santa Claus looked rather alarmed. “Well, I have to go out tonight,” he said. “This is Christmas Eve.”

* * * * * * * *

But Doctor Mistletoe was shaking his head.

“You can fix me up,” pleaded Santa Claus, quite frightened now, “so’s I can leave here by midnight, can’t you, doctor?”

Doctor Mistletoe was shaking his head harder than ever. “My good friend,” he said sadly, “you can’t go out tonight at midnight or any other night for a long time.”

“But I have to,” interrupted Santa excitedly. “This is Christmas Eve, and I have to go. I simply must go. You know that.”

Doctor Mistletoe kept on wagging his head, and every wag said as plain as day, no, no, no. “I’m sorry——” he began.

“I’m going, I tell you,” cried Santa Claus bravely, and he tried to rise from his chair. But the leg wouldn’t let him, and he sank back as suddenly as if he had been struck, his rosy cheeks quite pale.

“Come, Mrs. Claus,” said Doctor Mistletoe abruptly, “help me here. We must get him to bed and set that leg without another moment’s delay.”

* * * * * * * *

So there he was, laid up in bed on Christmas Eve, the Santa Claus who had been filling the stockings of boys and girls the world over for all these years. He was laid up in bed, it was Christmas eve, and all the children in the world were hanging up their stockings and going early to bed, waiting for him and expecting him—and yet he could not stir forth a step.

And as he said to Mrs. Claus, the pain in his leg was nothing compared to the pain he felt in his heart, thinking of the poor children and their empty stockings the next day. The tears came to his eyes as he said this, and they came to Mrs. Claus’ eyes, too, and for a moment they just blinked mournfully at each other through their tears.

But the next minute Mrs. Claus gave a little jump, for all the world like the toy jumping jacks of Santa Claus’ song.

Santa Claus looked at her, astonished.

“I’ve got it!” she exclaimed. “I’ve got it, Santa Claus!”

“What have you got?” he asked her with great concern. He was sure that, whatever it was, it was very serious.

“I’ve got it!” she cried out again. “And this is it: Since you can’t go out tonight, I’ll go myself, sir. I’ll go down the chimneys and into the houses, and I’ll fill the stockings myself; I will, so the children shan’t be disappointed.”

Santa looked at his remarkable wife admiringly. “Bessie, that’s the very thing,” he said soberly.

Then he began to shout. “Toymakers!” he called. “Come here! Ho, Benjamin Bookfellow! Get busy, everybody! Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

Whereupon things began to spin as merrily as tops there in Santa Claus’ house.

Finally everything was finished; all the games and the books and the toys were packed into the bags; all the candy was in boxes and sacks; all the dolls were stowed away carefully in the sleigh. Mary’s red-headed doll was right on top, because the glue, Hickety explained, was still a little wettish.

When all was ready, everybody in the whole household gathered together in Santa’s room while he gave instructions to his wife.

“You’d better wear my clothes,” he began.

“Oh!” shrieked Mrs. Claus and blushed a fine purple.

“Santa Claus is quite right,” spoke up old Doctor Mistletoe.

“But——” started Mrs. Claus, and then blushed a still finer purple.

* * * * * * * *

Santa Claus looked at doctor Mistletoe in perplexity, Doctor Mistletoe looked at Benjamin Bookfellow, and for once Benjamin Bookfellow did not know what was the matter.

“My dear,” said Santa Claus firmly, “there must be no notions. For, you see, it wouldn’t be really Christmas if a lady in skirts delivered the children’s toys. It is only really Christmas when a fat fellow in a red suit goes around in the sleigh. So you, my dear, must wear the red suit and stuff yourself with pillows; and nobody must ever know that it wasn’t Santa Claus himself—myself, I mean—well, you know what I mean.”

The worst of it was that Mrs. Claus did know what he meant, and she knew that he was right—that Christmas would not really be Christmas if a lady in skirts delivered the children’s toys. In fact, she was not sure it would be Christmas, anyway, with Santa Claus home in bed. And she said this to Santa Claus and Benjamin Bookfellow.

“Yes,” Benjamin Bookfellow answered, “it will be all right, Mrs. Claus, if you only look like Santa Claus, act like Santa Claus, and never, never let anybody know that it isn’t Santa Claus. For if they think it was Santa Claus that came this Christmas, it will be quite the same to them, you know. You see, you are Mrs. Santa Claus; don’t forget that.”

(As if she could ever forget that wonderful fact, thought Mrs. Claus to herself.)

“Very well,” she said aloud. “I’ll wear the red suit and stuff myself up with pillows. I really must, I see, for the sake of the children’s Christmas.” But she told herself that she’d take her skirts along with her, for she would certainly feel more ladylike if they were near by.

* * * * * * * *

And so, after all, there was nothing for Mrs. Claus to do except to dress up in Santa’s suit, stuff herself with pillows, kiss him good-by, hop into the sleigh, and drive off on her wonderful errand as Santa Claus’ substitute. There was nothing else for her to do, and so she did it, though her little feet trembled in Santa’s big boots, her heart flopped wildly under the pillows, and her hands shook as she took up the reins and said “Giddap” in a voice that was only a weak imitation of Santa’s big, hearty tones.

Thus she went off frightened, but courageous, out of the North Country, down into the towns and villages and farmlands, while the children in their beds dreamed of Santa Claus, and Santa Claus in his bed groaned with pain. From roof to roof she went, and down the chimneys, and in every stocking she left the Christmas gifts that the children had asked Santa Claus for. She even left some that they hadn’t asked for, for Santa Claus always has many more toys than his list calls for, you know. Well, on and on she went, and pretty soon she discovered that she was not frightened at all any more, for playing Santa Claus was really such jolly good run, and every place she went the children were fast asleep. In fact, every child in the world was fast asleep that Christmas Eve except one little boy.

* * * * * * * *

Now you must not think that little boy was a bad little boy because he had not gone to sleep on Christmas Eve as all children are supposed to do. For he was not a bad little boy at all. But the reason he was awake was that he didn’t know that he ought to be asleep. In fact, he did not know much about Christmas at all, for he was a little gypsy boy, and had never had a visit from Santa Claus in all his life.

His name was Bianco, and he was six years old, and he lived in a little caravan on wheels at the edge of Calico Corner. Calico Corner was the same town where Mary lived, the very Mary who had asked for the red-headed doll.

Usually Biano and his grandmother, his father and uncles, were in Calico Corner only a little while in the summer. This year, however, his old grandmother had got very lazy, so that when it came time to wander down into the South, the old, wrinkled woman had said she would just stay where she was. And stay she did, and Bianco stayed with her, in the little house on wheels, while the men took the horses and went into the South.

One day Farmer John came to the little caravan and told old Doro that school was open, and that Bianco ought to go. The old woman grunted and took another pipeful, and the next thing Bianco knew, he was in a little brick schoolhouse every day from nine to three.

It was at school that he heard about Santa Claus for the first time. It was Mary who told him.

“But who is he?” asked Bianco.

“He’s the good Christmas saint—no, he isn’t exactly a saint either—fairy, I guess—oh, he’s just Santa Claus.”

* * * * * * * *

But Bianco knew what fairies were, and he had a dim idea about saints, and so he almost knew what Santa Claus was like, though not quite, of course. When he went home that night he was thinking very hard about Santa Claus, and after he and Doro had taken their tea and bread and bacon, he spoke to her about it.

“Dost know of a being called Santa Claus?” he asked her, as she pulled on her pipe and looked deep into the coals of the little open stove.

Doro took the pipe from her mouth and spoke. “This month brings but cold and ice. ’Twould be better, after all, to be in the South.”

But Bianco would not be distracted from his subject, and he told her as she dozed of what he had heard about the Santa Claus of the children in Calico Corner.

“If you believe in him, he comes,” finished up Bianco, “and brings the beautiful things, bright balls of color and——”

“Earrings?” queried the old woman, awakened at last.

Next to tea and tobacco, earrings were what old Doro liked best. She had forgotten that earrings are meant only for little pink ears, but every day hung her big, flabby yellow ones with gaudy brass, though it was true she was not interested in other details of her toilet—washing, for instance.

“Yes, earrings,” said Bianco eagerly.

But Doro was asleep again, and Bianco was left to think about Santa Claus all by himself. The next night he asked Doro again, and he seemed so anxious that the old woman took her pipe out of her mouth for one of her infrequent speeches.

“Things like that are not for us,” she told him. “You are Bianco and I am Doro, and for us are the winds and the fire and the song. They”—she pointed a dirty thumb in the direction of Calico Corner—“may have their sayings and their ways and their ugly houses. But you are Bianco, and you must not forget that.”

Then she went to sleep again, and poor Bianco was left once more to wish for Santa Claus, for even if he was Bianco, he was a little boy just the same, and never had he wished for anything so hard as he was wishing for Santa Claus to visit him.

“I’m afraid he won’t,” he told Mary, “because I’m a gypsy.”

* * * * * * * *

But Mary explained to him that Santa Claus didn’t care what you were, so long as you were good. She was sure, she told him, that if he wrote Santa Claus a letter, he would not fail to come. And so one night Bianco scratched off a letter, which nobody could have read except Santa Claus, for it was hardly writing at all. Indeed, old Doro, when she found it the next day, did not dream it was a letter. It looked like nothing but aimless scribbling to her, so she stuffed up a crack in the window with it. And that was the reason, you see, that Bianco was not on Mrs. Claus’ list, after all, as she went on her rounds that Christmas Eve.

Bianco thought he should burst with excitement that night as he tried to eat his supper, and he could hardly wait until his grandmother should roll on to her bunk and sink into her deep, snoring sleep. For he had not told her that Santa Claus was coming to him that night.

At last Doro tumbled down to sleep. Bianco then took off his little scarlet stockings, just as Mary had told him to, and he hung them on a nail by one of the small, high windows of the caravan. They had holes in them, those scarlet stockings, but Bianco did not notice that, for he was used to holes. Then he crept into bed to wait for Santa Claus.

Mary had forgotten to tell him that he must go to sleep, I suppose, or if she had told him, he had not quite understood. For there he lay, wide awake and staring at the sky, waiting for the first sound of the bells that Mary had told him about, ready for the first glimpse of the holly Christmas Santa Claus.

* * * * * * * *

Once he got up and without lighting the candle he hunted up a piece of bread and a nubbin of old meat. These he put out where Santa Claus might find them, for the old fellow would surely be hungry after his long journey in the cold, Bianco thought. Then he slipped quietly back into bed to wait some more. Once his eyelids, fringed with heavy drops of sleep, closed tight, but something inside him said “Wake up!” and he did so with a jump.

At last, as he lay quiet and expectant, looking at the stars, he heard a far-off music, a sweet clang of a noise that could be nothing else but Santa Claus’ bells. He jumped to his feet and ran to the door to fling it open. There coming down from Farmer John’s house was the sleigh, overflowing with boxes and bundles. There were the reindeer prancing and leaping. He could not see Santa Claus, for the sleigh went too fast for that, but he knew that this was he just the same. Oh, how happy Bianco was at that moment.…

And then, before he knew it, the beautiful vision had passed. He stared and stared, but it was gone. Santa Claus had gone by him, after all! He was left out because he was a gypsy boy.

For a moment Bianco wished he were a girl like Mary, so that he could cry; for boys, and especially gypsy boys, do hate to cry, don’t they? Then the next thing he knew he was out in the snow in his bare feet and without a coat, running, running, running to catch up with the flying sleigh. On and on he ran, breathless and desperate, and still the sleigh was far ahead, indeed so far ahead that he could scarcely hear the bells any more.

Mrs. Claus had come to Mary’s house and was just putting the read-headed doll in Mary’s stocking, when she heard a noise on the front porch. First it was the sound of soft footsteps, then the door knob was tried, and after that there was a thud on the floor.

“Mercy on us!” said Mrs. Claus to herself, “it’s a burglar.”

She listened some more but all was quiet.

“Maybe it’s only a poor beggar,” she whispered. “I’ll peep and see.”

And when she peeped from the window, what do you think she saw? It was not a burglar, oh no! It was not even a poor beggar. It was little Bianco, who had run until he was worn out and who was now lying there at Mary’s door, fast asleep.

“Why, it’s a little boy,” cried good Mrs. Claus, and she hastened out to him.

When Mrs. Claus saw poor little Bianco sound asleep there against the door, she forgot everything except that here was a little boy who needed her help. So she carried him quickly into the house and out into Mary’s mother’s warm kitchen, and she laid him so gently on some pillows by the fire that Bianco hardly stirred in his sleep.

* * * * * * * *

“His poor little feet look pretty cold,” she whispered. She found an old blanket and wrapped them up. “He’ll be hungry when he wakes up,” she thought, and began hunting around for milk to heat. But just then she heard another noise. It was a noise like this: Tip-toe, tip-tap, tip-toe, tip-tap, and it was coming down the back stairs. And suddenly Mrs. Claus became possessed of a panic of fear.

“Oh dear, what am I doing?” she asked herself. “Here are people wide awake in this house, and here I am, right and ready to be discovered at any minute.”

Tip-toe, tip-tap, tip-toe, tip-tap—the noise was coming closer and closer.

“Well, I must do something,” decided Mrs. Claus, with which she leaped with one long stride into the kitchen closet.

It was dark in the closet and Mrs. Claus with her pillows was unusually fat. Bang! Down crashed something from somewhere. “Mercy on us!” breathed Mrs. Claus; “what was that?” It made a noise like a falling milk pan, and she stooped to pick it up. Bump! Something else fell as she moved. The ironing board, she thought. Oh gracious, would these noises never cease? And just then, as she moved ever so little, crash! It sounded like a whole set of dishes. And poor Mrs. Claus just wrung her hands there in the dark.

* * * * * * * *

“I don’t know how to manage these pillows,” she wailed to herself. “I don’t see how Santa Claus gets around with his stomach at all.”

But still the sleeping Bianco did not awaken, although how could poor Mrs. Claus know that, shut up tight there in that dark, hot closet? Now the steps, tip-toe, tip-tap, had come very, very close, a door was opened—it was the back-stairs door, Mrs. Claus guessed—and she heard a voice.

“Bianco!” said the voice, a little-girl voice, whispering excitedly.

It was Mary. Good thing, indeed, that Mrs. Claus was in the closet then, wasn’t it?

Bianco awoke, then, for she heard him say sleepily: “Mary!”

“But what are you doing here?” Mary’s voice asked.

“Oh!” Bianco was fully awake now. “Oh, Mary, the Santa Claus passed me by!”

What was this? Mrs. Claus stood up straighter than ever in the closet. Who was this little boy? Had she really passed him by? Yes; for he was a strange little boy; there was nobody on her list named Bianco.

“Yes,” Bianco went on, “he passed me by. I heard the bells, Mary, and I saw the reindeer, but he didn’t stop. So I ran to follow him, but I didn’t find him.”

There were tears in Bianco’s voice. Mrs. Claus could hear them. There were tears in his soft brown eyes, too, but Mrs. Claus could not see them from her dark hiding place.

* * * * * * * *

“But how did you get here?” persisted Mary.

Bianco did not answer immediately, and Mrs. Claus quaked in the closet. Supposing that he should even halfway remember that she had carried him in. Santa Claus and Benjamin Bookfellow would not like that at all. Then she heard Bianco’s voice again and stopped her quaking to listen.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just don’t remember.”

Oh, what a relief that was to Mrs. Claus!

“Bianco,” said Mary suddenly, “maybe it was a fairy who brought you here!”

“Maybe it was,” replied Bianco.

“Or, Bianco, maybe it was Santa Claus himself.”

Bianco did not answer. There was nothing to say in answer to this remarkable notion.

“No,” Mary said, “it wasn’t Santa Claus, I guess. I don’t know, though.”

Then Mrs. Claus heard Mary move a little, and she heard her whispering again, very fast and low. Mrs. Claus had to lean ’way forward to hear, “though I’ll knock down everything in the closet, I suppose,” she muttered to herself.

“But, Bianco,” Mary was saying, “we must not stay here. We must hurry back to bed and go right to sleep. For Santa Claus does not come at all if we’re not asleep. That’s the reason he didn’t stop at your house, I think.” Of course, Mary did not know that Bianco’s letter had got lost, did she? “Yes, you go home——”

Mary had not quite finished what she was saying when Mrs. Claus suddenly and without any warning began to make more dreadful noises. She had not moved an inch, she thought, or hardly breathed a breath, yet pop! something snapped. It was the belt on Santa Claus’ coat, which had burst quite open. Plump, plump, out came the pillows, rolling everywhere. Bang, crash, rattle—the pillows were knocking things right and left.

“I never in all my life!” groaned Mrs. Claus angrily to herself. “I never did.”

* * * * * * * *

She was waiting now for the children to open the door and catch her, and she was wondering just what Santa Claus would say to her when he found out the horrible truth. But she waited and waited and waited, and they didn’t come. Indeed they didn’t come, for Mary and Bianco, though they heard the noises plain enough, were frightened themselves. For they thought a funny thing. They thought Mrs. Claus was mice!

“Sh-h-h!” cautioned Mary.

Bianco sh-h-h’ed obediently.

“A mouse!” he said, as the noises increased.

“A hundred mouses,” cried Mary; “mice, I mean.”

“Let’s fly,” they both said.

And fly they did. Mary flew upstairs, and Bianco flew out and home, and finally Mrs. Claus emerged from the closet, hot and “all to pieces,” as she said. But she soon had the pillows tucked in tight again and the belt fastened. She was soon hurrying again about her business, for the night was nearly over, and she had one especially important stocking to fill yet. Can you guess whose stocking that was?

* * * * * * * *

As for Bianco, well, he did just as he was told. He ran straight home to the caravan, as fast as only a gypsy boy can run. He jumped into bed, and in bed he made himself go to sleep that minute. The going-to-sleep part was pretty hard, but he hid his head under the covers and said “Santa Claus, Santa Claus, Santa Claus” to himself in a kind of sing-song, and the next minute he was asleep just as Mary had told him to be.

The next morning when he awakened, sure enough, the stockings were filled. Things were spilling out of them, things were falling through the holes, things were piled high on the window sill. There was even a tiny Christmas tree, just big enough for a caravan, with frosty white bells on it, steaming silver tinsel and a sugar angel right on top.

“Oh!” screamed Bianco, springing out of bed. He ran over to his grandmother and shook her awake, and for once that old woman opened her eyes wide at the sight of the tree and the stockings.

Mrs. Claus had come, you see, right from Mary’s house. She had stuffed the stockings and trimmed the tree for Bianco just as she had done for every other child in the world, to make him as happy as all the other children were. But Bianco was the happiest of all, I believe, for it was his first really and truly Christmas, and first times for things are usually the best times, somehow.

Even old Doro was happier than she had been for a long time. Besides the books and toys and games for Bianco, there was a pair of fine earrings for her. They were big earrings, made of gold and jet, the very earrings that old Doro had been dreaming of all her life and had never got before. Isn’t it wonderful how those Clauses always know what people want, even gypsies?

* * * * * * * *

And so it was that Mary, of Calico Corner, got her red-headed doll, Santa Claus broke his leg, Mrs. Claus took his place, and Bianco, the little brown-eyed gypsy, had his first Christmas. It looked pretty bad for Mary for a while, and then it looked still worse for everybody when Santa Claus broke his leg, and Bianco thought it looked bad for him when the reindeer went whizzing past. But it really all turned out beautifully, after all, due entirely to the enterprise of the obliging Mrs. Claus. She even nursed Santa Claus’ leg so well that it got strong and sound again twice as fast as anybody else’s broken leg ever did.

And the best of it all was, that nobody ever knew the difference. Nobody until this very moment ever knew that Santa Claus had to miss a Christmas Eve and that his brave and adventurous wife took his place. Mary didn’t know it. Bianco didn’t know it. You didn’t know it, did you? And I didn’t, I’m sure. And yet that’s exactly what happened one fine white Christmas Eve when we were all asleep.

And as Benjamin Bookfellow said afterwards, it was pretty lucky that Santa Claus wasn’t a bachelor, for if there had not been a Mrs. Claus there wouldn’t have been any Christmas at all that year. It was luckier still for Bianco that it was Mrs. Claus who came upon him instead of Santa. For I don’t believe that any man, even Santa Claus, could have taken care of Bianco as Mrs. Claus did that night, do you? And I’m perfectly certain he never would have thought of the earrings for old Doro!

* * * * * * * *
__________________


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