Annie F. Johnston

Miss Santa Claus of the Pullman

Children’s Christmas Tale
e-artnow, 2018
ISBN 978-80-268-9881-8

Table of Contents

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII

Chapter I

Table of Contents

The last half hour had seemed endless to Will'm, almost as long as the whole four years of his life. With his stubby little shoes drawn up under him, and his soft bobbed hair flapping over his ears every time the rockers tilted forward, he sat all alone in the sitting-room behind the shop, waiting and rocking.

It seemed as if everybody at the Junction wanted something that afternoon; thread or buttons or yarn, or the home-made doughnuts which helped out the slim stock of goods in the little notion store which had once been the parlor. And it seemed as if Grandma Neal never would finish waiting on the customers and come back to tell the rest of the story about the Camels and the Star; for no sooner did one person go out than another one came in. He knew by the tinkling of the bell over the front door, every time it opened or shut.

The door between the shop and sitting-room being closed, Will'm could not hear much that was said, but several times he caught the word "Christmas," and once somebody said "Santa Claus," in such a loud happy-sounding voice that he slipped down from the chair and ran across the room to open the door a crack. It was only lately that he had begun to hear much about Santa Claus. Not until Libby started to school that fall did they know that there is such a wonderful person in the world. Of course they had heard his name, as they had heard Jack Frost's, and had seen his picture in story-books and advertisements, but they hadn't known that he is really true till the other children told Libby. Now nearly every day she came home with something new she had learned about him.

Will'm must have known always about Christmas though, for he still had a piece of a rubber dog which his father had sent him on his first one, and—a Teddy Bear on his second. And while he couldn't recall anything about those first two festivals except what Libby told him, he could remember the last one perfectly. There had been a sled, and a fire-engine that wound up with a key, and Grandma Neal had made him some cooky soldiers with red cinnamon-drop buttons on their coats.

She wasn't his own grandmother, but she had taken the place of one to Libby and him, all the years he had been in the world. Their father paid their board, to be sure, and sent them presents and came to see them at long intervals when he could get away from his work, but that was so seldom that Will'm did not feel very well acquainted with him; not so well as Libby did. She was three years older, and could even remember a little bit about their mother before she went off to heaven to get well. Mrs. Neal wasn't like a real grandmother in many ways. She was almost too young, for one thing. She was always very brisk and very busy, and, as she frequently remarked, she meant what she said and she would be minded.

That is why Will'm turned the knob so softly that no one noticed for a moment that the door was ajar. A black-bearded man in a rough overcoat was examining a row of dolls which dangled by their necks from a line above the show case. He was saying jokingly:

"Well, Mrs. Neal, I'll have to be buying some of these jimcracks before long. If this mud keeps up, no reindeer living could get out to my place, and it wouldn't do for the young'uns to be disappointed Christmas morning."

Then he caught sight of a section of a small boy peeping through the door, for all that showed of Will'm through the crack was a narrow strip of blue overalls which covered him from neck to ankles, a round pink cheek and one solemn eye peering out from under his thatch of straight flaxen hair like a little Skye terrier's. When the man saw that eye he hurried to say: "Of course mud oughtn't to make any difference to Santy's reindeer. They take the Sky Road, right over the house tops and all."

The crack widened till two eyes peeped in, shining with interest, and both stubby shoes ventured over the threshold. A familiar sniffle made Grandma Neal turn around.

"Go back to the fire, William," she said briskly. "It isn't warm enough in here for you with that cold of yours."

The order was obeyed as promptly as it was given, but with a bang of the door so rebellious and unexpected that the man laughed. There was an amused expression on the woman's face, too, as she glanced up from the package she was tying, to explain with an indulgent smile.

"That wasn't all temper, Mr. Woods. It was part embarrassment that made him slam the door. Usually he doesn't mind strangers, but he takes spells like that sometimes."

"That's only natural," was the drawling answer. "But it isn't everybody who knows how to manage children, Mrs. Neal. I hope now that his stepmother when he gets her, will understand him as well as you do. My wife tells me that the poor little kids are going to have one soon. How do they take to the notion?"

Mrs. Neal stiffened a little at the question, although he was an old friend, and his interest was natural under the circumstances. There was a slight pause, then she said:

"I haven't mentioned the subject to them yet. No use to make them cross their bridge before they get to it. I've no doubt Molly will be good to them. She was a nice little thing when she used to go to school here at the Junction."

"It's queer," mused the man, "how she and Bill Branfield used to think so much of each other, from their First Reader days till both families moved away from here, and then that they should come across each other after all these years, from different states, too."

Instinctively they had lowered their voices, but Will'm on the other side of the closed door was making too much noise of his own to hear anything they were saying. Lying full length on the rug in front of the fire, he battered his heels up and down on the floor and pouted. His cold made him miserable, and being sent out of the shop made him cross. If he had been allowed to stay there's no telling what he might have heard about those reindeer to repeat to Libby when she came home from school.

Suddenly Will'm remembered the last bit of information which she had brought home to him, and, scrambling hastily up from the floor, he climbed into the rocking chair as if something were after him:

"Santa Claus is apt to be looking down the chimney any minute to see how you're behaving. And no matter if your lips don't show it outside, he knows when you're all puckered up with crossness and pouting on the inside!"

At that terrible thought Will'm began to rock violently back and forth and sing. It was a choky, sniffling little tune that he sang. His voice sounded thin and far away even to his own ears, because his cold was so bad. But the thought that Santa might be listening, and would write him down as a good little boy, kept him valiantly at it for several minutes. Then because he had a way of chanting his thoughts out loud sometimes, instead of thinking them to himself, he went on, half chanting, half talking the story of the Camels and the Star, which he was waiting for Grandma Neal to come back and finish. He knew it as well as she did, because she had told it to him so often in the last week.

"An' the wise men rode through the night, an' they rode an' they rode, an' the bells on the bridles went ting-a-ling! just like the bell on Dranma's shop door. An' the drate big Star shined down on 'em and went ahead to show 'em the way. An' the drate big reindeer runned along the Sky Road"—he was mixing Grandma Neal's story now with what he had heard through the crack in the door, and he found the mixture much more thrilling than the original recital. "An' they runned an' they runned an' the sleighbells went ting-a-ling! just like the bell on Dranma's shop door. An' after a long time they all comed to the house where the baby king was at. Nen the wise men jumped off their camels and knelt down and opened all their boxes of pretty things for Him to play with. An' the reindeer knelt down on the roof where the drate big shining star stood still, so Santy could empty all his pack down the baby king's chimney."

It was a queer procession which wandered through Will'm's sniffling, sing-song account. To the camels, sages and herald angels, to the shepherds and the little woolly white lambs of the Judean hills, were added not only Bo Peep and her flock, but Baa the black sheep, and the reindeer team of an unscriptural Saint Nicholas. But it was all Holy Writ to Will'm. Presently the mere thought of angels and stars and silver bells gave him such a big warm feeling inside, that he was brimming over with good-will to everybody.

When Libby came home from school a few minutes later, he was in the midst of his favorite game, one which he played at intervals all through the day. The game was Railroad Train, suggested naturally enough by the constant switching of cars and snorting of engines which went on all day and night at this busy Junction. It was one in which he could be a star performer in each part, as he personated fireman, engineer, conductor and passenger in turn. At the moment Libby came in he was the engine itself, backing, puffing and whistling, his arms going like piston-rods, and his pursed up little mouth giving a very fair imitation of "letting off steam."

"Look out!" he called warningly. "You'll get runned over."

But instead of heeding his warning, Libby planted herself directly in the path of the oncoming engine, ignoring so completely the part he was playing that he stopped short in surprise. Ordinarily she would have fallen in with the game, but now she seemed blind and deaf to the fact that he was playing anything at all. Usually, coming in the back way, she left her muddy overshoes on the latticed porch, her lunch basket on the kitchen table, her wraps on their particular hook in the entry. She was an orderly little soul. But to-day she came in, her coat half off, her hood trailing down her back by its strings, and her thin little tails of tightly braided hair fuzzy and untied, from running bare-headed all the way home to tell the exciting news. She told it in gasps.

"You can write letters to Santa Claus—for whatever you want—and put them up the chimney—and he gets them—and whatever you ask for he'll bring you—if you're good!"

Instantly the engine was a little boy again all a-tingle with this new delicious mystery of Christmastide. He climbed up into the rocking chair and listened, the rapt look on his face deepening. In proof of what she told, Libby had a letter all written and addressed, ready to send. One of the older girls had helped her with it at noon, and she had spent the entire afternoon recess copying it. Because she was just learning to write, she made so many mistakes that it had to be copied several times. She read it aloud to Will'm.

"Dear Santa Claus:—Please bring me a little shiny gold ring like the one that Maudie Peters wears. Yours truly, Libby Branfield."

"Now you watch, and you'll see me send it up the chimney when I get my muddy overshoes off and my hands washed. This might be one of the times when he'd be looking down, and it'd be better for me to be all clean and tidy."

Breathlessly Will'm waited till she came back from the kitchen, her hands and face shining from the scrubbing she had given them with yellow laundry soap, her hair brushed primly back on each side of its parting and her hair ribbons freshly tied. Then she knelt on the rug, the fateful missive in her hand.

"Maudie is going to ask for 'most a dozen presents," she said. "But as long as this will be Santy's first visit to this house I'm not going to ask for more than one thing, and you mustn't either. It wouldn't be polite."

"But we can ask him to bring a ring to Dranma," Will'm suggested, his face beaming at the thought. The answer was positive and terrible out of her wisdom newly gained at both church and school.

"No, we can't! He only brings things to people who bleeve in him. It's the same way it is about going to Heaven. Only those who bleeve will be saved and get in."

"Dranma and Uncle Neal will go to Heaven," insisted Will'm loyally, and in a tone which suggested his willingness to hurt her if she contradicted him. Uncle Neal was "Dranma's" husband.

"Oh, of course, they'll go to Heaven all right," was Libby's impatient answer. "They've got faith in the Bible and the minister and the heathen and such things. But they won't get anything in their stockings because they aren't sure about there even being a Santa Claus! So there!"

"Well, if Santa Claus won't put anything in my Dranma Neal's stocking, he's a mean old thing, and I don't want him to put anything in mine," began Will'm defiantly, but was silenced by the sight of Libby's horrified face.

"Oh, brother! Hush!" she cried, darting a frightened glance over her shoulder towards the chimney. Then in a shocked whisper which scared Will'm worse than a loud yell would have done, she said impressively, "Oh, I hope he hasn't heard you! He never would come to this house as long as he lives! And I couldn't bear for us to find just empty stockings Christmas morning."

There was a tense silence. And then, still on her knees, her hands still clasped over the letter, she moved a few inches nearer the fireplace. The next instant Will'm heard her call imploringly up the chimney, "Oh, dear Santa Claus, if you're up there looking down, please don't mind what Will'm said. He's so little he doesn't know any better. Please forgive him and send us what we ask for, for Jesus' sake, Amen!"

Fascinated, Will'm watched the letter flutter up past the flames, drawn by the strong draught of the flue. Then suddenly shamed by the thought that he had been publicly prayed for, out loud and in the daytime, he ran to cast himself on the old lounge, face downward among the cushions.