When he saw the creek rising, Mr. Edwards said, he had known that Santa Claus could not get across it. (“But you crossed it,” Laura said. “Yes,” Mr. Edwards replied, “but Santa Claus is too old and fat. He couldn’t make it, where a long, lean razor-back like me could do so.”) And Mr. Edwards reasoned that if Santa Claus couldn’t cross the creek, likely he would come no farther south than Independence. Why should he come forty miles across the prairie, only to be turned back? Of course he wouldn’t do that!
So, Mr. Edwards had walked to Independence. (“In the rain?” Mary asked. Mr. Edwards said he wore his rubber coat.) And there, coming down the street in Independence, he had met Santa Claus. (“In the daytime?” Laura asked. She hadn’t thought that anyone could see Santa Claus in the daytime. No, Mr. Edwards said; it was night, but light shone out across the street from the saloons.)
Well, the first thing Santa Claus said was, “Hello, Edwards!” (“Did he know you?” Mary asked, and Laura asked, “How did you know he was really Santa Claus?” Mr. Edwards said that Santa Claus knew everybody. And he had recognized Santa at once by his whiskers. Santa had the longest, thickest, whitest set of whiskers west of the Mississippi.)
So Santa Claus said, “Hello, Edwards! Last time I saw you you were sleeping on a cornshuck bed in Tennessee.” And Mr. Edwards well remembered the little pair of red-yarn mittens that Santa Claus had left for him that time.
Then Santa Claus said: “I understand you’re living now down along the Verdigris River. Have you ever met up, down yonder, with two little young girls named Mary and Laura?”
“I surely am acquainted with them,” Mr. Edwards replied.
“It rests heavy on my mind,” said Santa Claus. “They are both of them sweet, pretty, good little young things, and I know they are expecting me. I surely do hate to disappoint two good little girls like them. Yet with the water up the way it is, I can’t ever make it across that creek. I can figure no way whatsoever to get to their cabin this year. Edwards,” Santa Claus said, “Would you do me the favor to fetch them their gifts this one time?”
“I’ll do that, and with pleasure,” Mr. Edwards told him.
Then Santa Claus and Mr. Edwards stepped across the street to the hitching-posts where the pack mule was tied. (“Didn’t he have his reindeer?” Laura asked. “You know he couldn’t,” Mary said. “There isn’t any snow.” Exactly, said Mr. Edwards. Santa Claus traveled with a pack mule in the southwest.”)
And Santa Claus uncinched the pack and looked through it, and he took out the presents for Mary and Laura.
“Oh, what are they?” Laura cried; but Mary asked, “Then what did he do?”
Then he shook hands with Mr. Edwards, and he swung up on his fine bay horse. Santa Claus rode well for a man of his weight and build. And he tucked his long, white whiskers under his bandana. “So long, Edwards,” he said, and he rode away on the Fort Dodge trail, leading his pack-mule and whistling.
Laura and Mary were silent an instant, thinking of that.
Then Ma said, “You may look now, girls.”
Something was shining bright in the top of Laura’s stocking. She squealed and jumped out of bed. So did Mary, but Laura beat her to the fireplace. And the shining thing was a glittering new tin cup.
Mary had one exactly like it.
These new tin cups were their very own. Now they each had a cup to drink out of. Laura jumped up and down and shouted and laughed, but Mary stood still and looked with shining eyes at her own tin cup.
Then they plunged their hands into the stockings again. And they pulled out two long sticks of candy. It was peppermint candy, striped red and white. They looked and looked at the beautiful candy, and Laura licked her stick, just one lick. But Mary was not so greedy. She didn’t even take one lick of her stick.
Those stockings weren’t empty yet. Mary and Laura pulled out two small packages. They unwrapped them, and each found a little heart-shaped cake. Over their delicate brown tops was sprinkled white sugar. The sparkling grains lay like tiny drifts of snow.
The cakes were too pretty to eat. Mary and Laura just looked at them. But at last Laura turned hers over, and she nibbled a tiny nibble from underneath, where it wouldn’t show. And the inside of the cake was white!
It had been made of pure white flour, and sweetened with white sugar.
Laura and Mary never would have looked in their stockings again. The cups and the cakes and the candy were almost too much. They were too happy to speak. But Ma asked if they were sure their stockings were empty.
Then they put their hands down inside them, to make sure.
And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny!
They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny. Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.
There never had been such a Christmas.
...She looked up again when Ma gasped. And Mr. Edwards was taking sweet potatoes out of his pockets. He said they had helped to balance the package on his head when he swam across the creek. He thought Pa and Ma might like them, with the Christmas turkey.
There were nine sweet potatoes. Mr. Edwards had brought them all the way from town, too. It was just too much. Pa said so. “It’s too much, Edwards,” he said. They never could thank him enough.
Mary and Laura were too excited to eat breakfast. They drank the milk from their shining new cups, but they could not swallow the rabbit stew and the cornmeal mush.
“Don’t make them, Charles,” Ma said. “It will soon be dinner-time.”
For Christmas dinner there was tender, juicy, roasted turkey. There were the sweet potatoes, baked in the ashes and carefully wiped to that you could eat the good skins, too. There was a loaf of salt-rising bread made from the last of the white flour.
And after all that there were stewed dried blackberries and little cakes. But these little cakes were made with brown sugar and they did not have white sugar sprinkled over their tops.
Then Pa and Ma and Mr. Edwards sat by the fire and talked about Christmas times back in Tennessee and up north in the Big Woods. But Mary and Laura looked at their beautiful cakes and played with their pennies and drank their water out of their new cups. And little by little they licked and sucked their sticks of candy, till each stick was sharp-pointed on one end.
That was a happy Christmas.
Thursday, 24 December 2009
Happy Holidays, everyone!