HOW THE CHRISTMAS SAINT WAS PROVED
The whispering died away as they heard
heavy steps and saw a line of light under the shut
door. Then a last muffled caution from the larger
boy on the cot.
“Now, remember! There ain’t
any, but don’t you let on there ain’t else
he won’t bring you a single thing!”
Before the despairing soul on the
trundle-bed could pierce the vulnerable heel of this,
the door opened slowly to the broad shape of Clytemnestra.
One hand shaded her eyes from the candle she carried,
and she peered into the corner where the two beds
were, a flurry of eagerness in her face, checked by
At once from the older boy came the
sounds of one who breathes labouredly in deep sleep
after a hard day. But the littler boy sat rebelliously
up, digging combative fists into eyes that the light
tickled. Clytemnestra warmly rebuked him, first
simulating the frown of the irritated.
“Now, Bernal! Wide awake!
My days alive! You act like a wild Indian’s
little boy. This’ll never do.
Now you go right to sleep this minute, while I watch
you. Look how fine and good Allan is.”
She spoke low, not to awaken the one virtuous sleeper,
who seemed thereupon to breathe with a more swelling
and obtrusive rectitude.
“Clytie now ain’t
there any Santa Claus?”
“Now what a sinful question that is!”
“But is there?”
“Don’t he bring you things?”
“Oh, there ain’t
any!” There was a sullen desperation in this,
as of one done with quibbles. But the woman still
“Well, if you don’t lie
down and go to sleep quicker’n a wink I bet you
anything he won’t bring you a single play-pretty.”
There came an unmistakable blare of
triumph into the busy snore on the cot.
But the heart of the skeptic was sunk.
This evasion was more disillusioning than downright
confession. A moment the little boy regarded
her, wholly in sorrow, with big eyes that blinked alarmingly.
Then came his last shot; the final bullet which the
besieged warrior will sometimes reserve for his own
destruction. There could no longer be any pretense
between them. Bravely he faced her.
“Now you just needn’t
try to keep it from me any longer! I know
there ain’t any ” One tensely
tragic second he paused to gather himself “It’s
all over town!” There being nothing further
to live for, he delivered himself to grief to
be tortured and destroyed.
Clytie set the candle on the bureau
and came to hover him. Within the pressing arms
and upon the proffered bosom he wept out one of those
griefs that may not be told that only the
heart can understand. Yet, when the first passion
of it was spent she began to reassure him, begging
him not to be misled by idle gossip; to take not even
her own testimony, but to wait and see what he would
see. At last he listened and was a little soothed.
It appeared that Santa Claus was one you might believe
in or might not. Even Clytie seemed to be puzzled
about him. He could see that she overflowed with
belief in him, yet he could not make her confess it
in plain straight words. The meat of it was that
good children found things on Christmas morning which
must have been left by some one if not by
Santa Claus, then by whom? Did the little boy
believe, for example, that Milo Barrus did it?
He was the village atheist, and so bad a man that he
loved to spell God with a little g.
He mused upon this while his tears
dried, finding it plausible. Of course it couldn’t
be Milo Barrus, so it must be Santa Claus.
Was Clytie certain some presents would be there in
the morning? If he went directly to sleep, she
Hereupon the larger boy on the cot,
who had for some moments listened in forgetful silence,
became again virtuously asleep in a public manner.
But the littler boy must yet have
talk. Could the bells of Santa Claus be heard
when he came?
Clytie had known some children, of
exceptional merit, it was true, who claimed to have
heard his bells on certain nights when they had gone
early to sleep.
Why would he never leave anything
for a child that got up out of bed and caught him
at it? Suppose one had to get up for a drink.
Because it broke the charm.
But if a very, very good child
just happened to wake up while he was in the
room, and didn’t pay the least attention to him,
or even look sidewise or anything
Even this were hazardous, it seemed;
though if the child were indeed very good all might
not yet be lost.
“Well, won’t you leave
the light for me? The dark gets in my eyes.”
But this was another adverse condition,
making everything impossible. So she chided and
reassured him, tucked the covers once more about his
neck, and left him, with a final comment on the advantage
of sleeping at once.
When the room was dark and Clytie’s
footsteps had sounded down the hall, he called softly
to his brother; but that wise child was now truly asleep.
So the littler boy lay musing, having resolved to stay
awake and solve the mystery once for all.
From wondering what he might receive
he came to wondering if he were good. His last
meditation was upon the Sunday-school book his dear
mother had helped him read before they took her away
with a new little baby that had never amounted to
much; before he and Allan came to Grandfather Delcher’s
to live where there was a great deal to
eat. The name of the book was “Ben Holt.”
He remembered this especially because a text often
quoted in the story said “A good name is rather
to be chosen than great riches.” He had
often wondered why Ben Holt should be considered an
especially good name; and why Ben Holt came to choose
it instead of the goldpiece he found and returned
to the schoolmaster, before he fell sick and was sent
away to the country where the merry haymakers were.
Of course, there were worse names than Ben Holt.
It was surely better than Eygji Watts, whose sanguine
parents were said to have named him with the first
five letters they drew from a hat containing the alphabet;
Ben Holt was assuredly better than Eygji, even had
this not been rendered into “Hedge-hog”
by careless companions. His last confusion of
ideas was a wondering if Bernal Linford was as good
a name as Ben Holt, and why he could not remember having
chosen it in preference to a goldpiece. Back of
this, in his fading consciousness was the high-coloured
image of a candy cane, too splendid for earth.
Then, far in the night, as it might
have seemed to the little boy, came the step of slippered
feet. This time Clytie, satisfying herself that
both boys slept, set down her candle and went softly
out, leaving the door open. There came back with
her one bearing gifts a tall, dark old man,
with a face of many deep lines and severe set, who
yet somehow shed kindness, as if he held a spirit
of light prisoned within his darkness, so that, while
only now and then could a visible ray of it escape
through the sombre eye or through a sudden winning
quality in the harsh voice, it nevertheless radiated
from him sensibly at all times, to belie his sternness
and puzzle those who feared him.
Uneasy enough he looked now as Clytie
unloaded him of the bundles and bulky toys. In
a silence broken only by their breathing they quickly
bestowed the gifts some in the hanging stockings
at the fire-place, others beside each bed, in chairs
or on the mantel.
Then they were in the hall again,
the door closed so that they could speak. The
old man took up his own candle from a stand against
“The little one is like her,” he said.
“He’s awful cunning and
bright, but Allan is the handsomest. Never in
my born days did I see so beautiful a boy.”
“But he’s like the father,
line for line.” There was a sudden savage
roughness in the voice, a sterner set to the shaven
upper lip and straight mouth, though he still spoke
low. “Like the huckstering, godless fiddle-player
that took her away from me. What a mercy of God’s
he’ll never see her again she with
the saved and he what a reckoning for him
when he goes!”
“But he was not bad to let you take them.”
“He boasted to me that he’d
not have done it, except that she begged him with
her last breath to promise it. He said the words
with great maudlin tears raining down his face, when
my own eyes were dry!”
“How good if you can leave them
both in the church, preaching the word where you preached
it so many years!”
“I misdoubt the father’s
blood in them at least, in the older.
But it’s late. Good night, Clytie a
good Christmas to you.”
“More to you, Mr. Delcher! Good night!”