The little boy whose story is told here lived in the beautiful country of "Once upon a Time." His name, as I heard it, was Tommy Trot; but I think that, maybe, this was only a nick-name. When he was about your age, he had, on Christmas Eve, the wonderful adventure of seeing Santa Claus in his own country, where he lives and makes all the beautiful things that boys and girls get at Christmas. In fact, he not only went to see him in his own wonderful city away up toward the North Pole, where the snow never melts and the Aurora lightens up the sky; but he and his friend, Johnny Stout, went with dogs and guns to hunt the great polar bear whose skin afterwards always lay in front of the big library fireplace in Tommy's home.
This is the way it all happened.
Tommy lived in a big house on top of quite a high hill, not far from a town which could be seen clearly from the front portico and windows. Around the house was a large lawn with trees and shrubbery in it, and at the back was a big lot, in one corner of which stood the stables and barns, while on the other side sloped down a long steep hill to a little stream bordered with willows and maples and with a tract of woodland beyond. This lot was known as the "cow-pasture," and the woodland was known as the "wood-lot," while yet beyond was a field which Peake, the farmer, always spoke of as the "big field." On the other side of the cow-lot, where the stables stood, was a road which ran down the hill and across the stream and beyond the woods, and on the other side of this road near the bottom of the hill was the little house in which lived Johnny Stout and his mother. They had no fields or lots, but only a backyard in which there were chickens and pigeons and, in the Fall, just before Tommy's visit to Santa Claus, two white goats, named "Billy" and "Carry," which Johnny had broken and used to drive to a little rough wagon which he had made himself out of a box set on four wheels.
Tommy had no brothers or sisters, and the only cousins he had in town were little girls younger than himself, to whom he had to "give up" when any one was around, so he was not as fond of them as he should have been; and Sate, his dog, a terrier of temper and humours, was about his only real playmate. He used to play by himself and he was often very lonely, though he had more toys than any other boy he knew. In fact, he had so many toys that he was unable to enjoy any one of them very long, and after having them a little while he usually broke them up. He used to enjoy the stories which his father read to him out of Mother Goose and the fairy-books and the tales he told him of travellers and hunters who had shot lions and bears and Bengal tigers; but when he grew tired of this, he often wished he could go out in the street and play all the time like Johnny Stout and some of the other boys. Several times he slipped out into the road beyond the cow-lot to try to get a chance to play with Johnny who was only about a year older than he, but could do so many things which Tommy could not do that he quite envied him. It was one of the proudest days of his life when Johnny let him come over and drive his goats, and when he went home that evening, although he was quite cold, he was so full of having driven them that he could not think or talk of anything else, and when Christmas drew near, one of the first things he wrote to ask Santa Claus for, when he put the letter in the library fire, was a wagon and a pair of goats. Even his father's statement that he feared he was too small yet for Santa Claus to bring him such things, did not wholly dampen his hope.
He even began to dream of being able to go out some time and join the bigger boys in coasting down the long hill on the other side from Johnny Stout's, for though his father and mother thought he was still rather small to do this, his father had promised that he might do it sometime, and Tommy thought "sometime" would be after his next birthday. When the heavy snow fell just before Christmas he began to be sorry that he had broken up the sled Santa Claus had given him the Christmas before. In fact, Tommy had never wanted a sled so much as he did the afternoon two days before Christmas, when he persuaded his father to take him out again to the coasting hill to see the boys coasting. There were all sorts of sleds: short sleds and long sleds, bob-sleds and flexible fliers. They held one, two, three, and sometimes even half a dozen boys and girls--for there were girls, too--all shouting and laughing as they went flying down the hill, some sitting and some lying down, but all flying and shouting, and none taking the least notice of Tommy. Sate made them take notice of him; for he would rush out after the sleds, barking just as if they had been cats, and several times he got bowled over--once, indeed, he got tangled up in the string of a sled and was dragged squealing with fright down the hill. Suddenly, however, Tommy gave a jump. Among the sleds flying by, most of them painted red, and very fine looking, was a plain, unpainted one, and lying full length upon it, on his stomach, with his heels high in the air, was Johnny Stout, with a red comforter around his neck, and a big cap pulled down over his ears. Tommy knew him at once.
"Look, father, look!" he cried, pointing; but Johnny's sled was far down the hill before his father could see him. A few minutes later he came trudging up the hill again and, seeing Tommy, ran across and asked him if he would like to have a ride. Tommy's heart bounded, but sank within him again when his father said, "I am afraid he is rather little."
"Oh! I'll take care of him, sir," said Johnny, whose cheeks were glowing. Tommy began to jump up and down.
"Please, father, please," he urged. His father only smiled.
"Why, you are not so very big yourself," he said to Johnny.
"Big enough to take care of him," said Johnny.
"Why, father, he's awful big," chimed in Tommy.
"Do you think so?" laughed his father. He turned to Johnny. "What is your name?"
"Johnny, sir. I live down below your house." He pointed across toward his own home.
"I know him," said Tommy proudly. "He has got goats and he let me drive them."
"Yes, he can drive," said Johnny, condescendingly, with a nod, and Tommy was proud of his praise. His father looked at him.
"Is your sled strong?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. I made it myself," said Johnny, and he gave the sled a good kick to show how strong it was.
"All right," said Tommy's father. They followed Johnny to the top of the slide, and Tommy got on in front and his father tucked his coat in.
"Hold on and don't be afraid," he said.
"Afraid!" said Tommy contemptuously. Just then Johnny, with a whoop and a push which almost upset Tommy, flung himself on behind and away they went down the hill, as Johnny said, "just ski-uting."
Tommy had had sledding in his own yard; but he had never before had any real coasting like this, and he had never dreamed before of anything like the thrill of dashing down that long hill, flying like the wind, with Johnny on behind, yelling "Look out!" to every one, and guiding so that the sled tore in and out among the others, and at the foot of the hill actually turned around the curve and went far on down the road.
"You're all right," said Johnny, and Tommy had never felt prouder. His only regret was that the hill did not tilt up the other way so that they could coast back instead of having to trudge back on foot.
Tommy had never before had any real coasting like this.
When they got back again to the top of the hill, Tommy's father wanted to know if they had had enough, but Tommy told him he never could have enough. So they coasted down again and again, until at length his father thought they had better be going home, and Johnny said he had to go home, too, "to help his mother."
"How do you help?" asked Tommy's father, as they started off.
"Oh, just little ways," said Johnny. "I get wood--and split it up--and go to Mr. Bucket's and get her things for her--draw water and feed the cow, when we had a cow--we ain't got a cow now since our cow died--and--oh--just a few little things like that."
Tommy's father made no reply, and Tommy, himself, was divided between wonder that Johnny could call all that work "just a few little things," and shame that he should say, "ain't got," which he, himself, had been told he must never say.
His father, however, presently asked, "Who is Mr. Bucket?"
"Don't you know Mr. Bucket?" said Johnny. "He keeps that grocery on Hill Street. He gave me the box I made this old thing out of."
"Oh," said Tommy's father, and turned and looked the sled over again.
"What was the matter with your cow?" asked Tommy.
"Broke her leg--right here," and Johnny pulled up his trousers and showed just where the leg was broken below the knee. "The doctor said she must be killed, and so she was; but Mr. Bucket said he could have saved her if the 'Siety would've let him. He'd 'a just swung her up until she got well."
"How?" asked Tommy, much interested.
"What Society?" asked his father.
Johnny answered the last question first. "'Pervention of Cruelty,'" he said, shortly.
"Oh," said Tommy's father.
"I know how she broke her leg," said Johnny.
"How did she break her leg?" inquired Tommy.
"A boy done it. I know him and I know he done it, and some day I'm going to catch him when he ain't looking for me."
"You have not had a cow since?" inquired Tommy's father. "Then you do not have to go and drive her up and milk her when the weather is cold?"
"Oh, I would not mind that," said Johnny cheerily. "I'd drive her up if the weather was as cold as Greenland, and milk her, too, so I had her. I used to love to feed her and I didn't mind carryin' milk around; for I used to get money for it for my mother to buy things with; but now, since that boy broke her leg and the 'Siety killed her----"
He did not say what there was since; he just stopped talking and presently Tommy's father said: "You do not have so much money since?"
"No, sir!" said Johnny, "and my mother has to work a heap harder, you see."
"And you work too?"
"Some," said Johnny. "I sell papers and clean off the sidewalk when there is snow to clean off, and run errands for Mr. Bucket and do a few things. Well, I've got to go along," he added, "I've got some things to do now. I was just trying this old sled over on the hill to see how she would go. I've got some work to do now"; and he trotted off, whistling and dragging his sled behind him.
As Tommy and his father turned into their grounds, his father asked, "Where did he say he lived?"
"Wait, I'll show you," said Tommy, proud of his knowledge. "Down there [pointing]. See that little house down in the bottom, away over beyond the cow-pasture?"
"How do you know he lives there?"
"Because I've been there. He's got goats," said Tommy, "and he let me drive them. I wish I had some goats. I wish Santa Claus would bring me two goats like Johnny's."
"Which would you rather have? Goats or a cow?" asked his father.
"Goats," said Tommy, promptly.
"I wonder if Johnny would!" laughed his father.
"Father, where is Greenland?" said Tommy, presently.
"A country away up at the North--away up in that direction." His father pointed far across the cow-pasture, which lay shining in the evening light. "I must show it to you on the map."
"Is it very cold there?" asked Tommy.
"Very cold in winter."
"Colder than this?"
"Oh, yes, because it is so far north that the sun never gets up in winter to warm it, and away up there the winter is just one long night and the summer one long day."
"Why, that's where Santa Claus comes from," said Tommy. "Do people live up there?"
"People called Eskimos," said his father, "who live by fishing and hunting."
"Tell me about them," said Tommy. "What do they hunt?"
"Bears," said his father, "polar bears--and walrus--and seals--and----"
"Oh, tell me about them," said Tommy, eagerly.
So, as they walked along, his father told him of the strange little, flat-faced people, who live all winter in houses made of ice and snow and hunted on the ice-floes for polar bears and seals and walrus, and in the summer got in their little kiaks and paddled around, hunting for seals and walrus with their arrows and harpoons, on the "pans" or smooth ice, where every family of "harps" or seals have their own private door, gnawed down through the ice with their teeth.
"I wish I could go there," said Tommy, his eyes gazing across the long, white glistening fields with the dark border of the woodland beyond and the rich saffron of the winter sky above the tree-tops stretching across in a border below the steelly white of the upper heavens.
"What would you do?" asked his father.
"Hunt polar bears," said Tommy promptly. "I'd get one most as big as the library, so mother could give you the skin; because I heard her say she would like to have one in front of the library fire, and the only way she could get one would be to give it to you for Christmas."
His father laughed. "All right, get a big one."
"You will have to give me a gun. A real gun that will shoot. A big one--so big." Tommy measured with his arms out straight. "Bigger than that. And I tell you what I would do. I would get Johnny and we would hitch his goats to the sled and drive all the way up there and hunt polar bears, and I'd hunt for sealskins, too, so you could give mother a coat. I heard her say she wanted you to give her one. Wouldn't it be fine if I could get a great big bearskin and a sealskin, too! I wish I had Johnny's goats!"
"You must have dogs up there to draw your sled," said his father.
"All right! After I got there I would get Santa Claus to give me some," said Tommy. "But you give me the gun."
His father laughed again. "Well, maybe--some day," said he.
"'Some day' is too far away," said Tommy. "I want to go now."
"Not so far away when you are my age," said his father smiling. "Ah, there is where the North Star is," he said, pointing. "You cannot see it yet. I will show it to you later, so you can steer by it."
"That is the way Santa Claus comes," said Tommy, his eyes on the Northern sky. "I am going to wait for him tomorrow night."
"You know he does not bring things to boys who keep awake!"
"I know; but I won't let him see me."
As they trudged along Tommy suddenly asked, "Don't you wish, Father, Santa Claus would bring Johnny a cow for his mother?"
"Why, yes," said his father.
"Like Cowslip or Rose or even old Crumpled Horn?"
"Like our cows!" echoed his father, absently. "Why, yes."
"Because they are all fine cows, you know. Peake says so, and Peake knows a good cow," said Tommy, proud of his intimacy with the farmer. "I tell you what I am going to do when I get home," he declared. "I am going to write another letter to Santa Claus and put it in the chimney and ask him to send Johnny a whole lot of things: a cow and a gun and all sorts of things. Do you think it's too late for him to get it now?"
"I don't know. It is pretty late," said his father. "Why didn't you ask him to send these things to Johnny when you wrote your other letter?"
"I did not think of it," said Tommy, frankly. "I forgot him."
"Do you ask only for yourself?"
"No. For little Sis and Mother and Peake and one other, but I'm not going to tell you who he is."
His father smiled. "Not Johnny?"
"No," said Tommy. "I forgot him."
"I am afraid I did, too," said his father slowly. "Well, write another and try. You can never tell. Trying is better than crying."
This was two days before Christmas. And the next afternoon Tommy went again with his father to the coasting-hill to see the boys and once more take a coast with Johnny. But no Johnny was there and no other boy asked Tommy if he wanted a ride. So, they returned home much disappointed, his father telling him more about the Eskimos and the polar bears. But, just as they were turning the corner before reaching the gate which led into their grounds, they came on Johnny struggling along through the snow, under the weight of a big basket full of bundles. At sight of them he swung the basket down in the snow with a loud, "Whew, that's heavy! I tell you." Tommy ran forward to meet him.
"We have been looking for you," he said.
"I could not go to-day," explained Johnny. "I had to work. I am working for Mr. Bucket to-day to make some money to buy Christmas things."
"How much do you make?" asked Tommy's father.
"Half a dollar to-day, if I work late. I generally make ten cents, sometimes fifteen."
"That is a pretty heavy load--in the snow," said Tommy's father, as Johnny stooped and swung his basket up on his hip.
"Oh, I can manage it," said the boy, cheerfully. "A boy stole my sled last night, or I would carry it on that."
"Stole your sled!" cried Tommy.
"Yes, I left it outside the door when I was getting my load to put on, and when I came out it was gone. I wish I could catch him."
"I am going to watch for him, too," said Tommy.
"If I had a box I could make another one," said Johnny. "Maybe, Mr. Bucket will give me one after Christmas. He said maybe he would. Then I will give you another ride." He called over his shoulder to them, as he trudged off, "Well, good-by. I hope you will have a merry Christmas, and that Santa Claus will bring you lots of things," and away he trudged. They wished him a merry Christmas, too, and then turned into their grounds.
"Father," said Tommy, suddenly, "let's give Johnny a sled."
"Yes," said his father, "you might give him yours--the one you got last Christmas."
"I haven't got it now. It's gone," said Tommy.
"Did some one take it--like Johnny's?"
"No, I broke it," said Tommy, crestfallen.
"You might mend it?" suggested his father.
"I broke it all up," said Tommy, sadly.
"Ah, that is a pity," said his father.
Tommy was still thinking.
"Father, why can't I give him a box?" he said. "The basement and the wood-shed are full of big boxes."
"Why not give him the one I gave you a few days ago?"
"I broke it up, too," said Tommy shamefacedly.
"Oh," said his father. "That's a pity. Johnny could have made a sled out of it." Tommy felt very troubled, and he began to think what he might do.
"If you will give me another, I will give it to Johnny," he said presently.
"Why, I'll tell you what I will do," said his father. "I will furnish the box if you will carry it over to Johnny's home."
"All right. I will do it," said Tommy promptly. So as soon as they reached home Tommy dived down into the basement and soon came out, puffing and blowing, dragging along with him a big box as high as his head.
"I am afraid that is too big for you to carry," suggested his father.
"Oh, I will make Richard carry it."
"Richard is my servant, not yours," said his father. "Besides, you were to carry it yourself."
"It is too big for me. The snow is too deep."
"Now, if you had not broken up your sled you might carry it on that," said his father.
"Yes," said Tommy sadly. "I wish I had not broken it up. I'll be bound that I don't break up the next one I get."
"That's a good beginning," said his father. "But wishing alone will never do anything, not even if you had the magical wishing-cap I read you about. You must not only wish; you must help yourself. Now, Johnny would make a sled out of that box."
"I wish I could," said Tommy. "I would try if I had some tools. I wish I had some tools."
"What tools would you need?"
Tommy thought a minute. "Why, a hammer and some nails."
"A hammer and nails would hardly make a sled by themselves."
"Why, no. I wish I had a saw, too."
"I thought Santa Claus brought you all these tools last Christmas?" suggested his father.
"He did; but I lost them," said Tommy.
"Did you ever hunt for them?"
"Some. I have hunted for the hammer."
"Well, suppose you hunt again. Look everywhere. If you find any I might lend you the others. You might look in my lumber room." Tommy ran off and soon returned with a hammer and some nails which he had found, and a few minutes later his father brought a saw and a hatchet, and they selected a good box, which Tommy could drag out, and put it in the back hall.
"Now," said Tommy, "what shall we do next?" "That is for you to say," said his father. "Johnny does not ask that question. He thinks for himself."
"Well, we must knock this box to pieces," said Tommy.
"I think so, too," assented his father. "Very carefully, so as not to split the boards."
"Yes, very carefully," said Tommy, and he began to hammer. The nails, however, were in very tight and there was a strip of iron along each of the edges, through which they were driven, so it was hard work; but when Tommy really tried and could not get the boards off, his father helped him, and soon the strips were off and the boards quickly followed.
"Now what shall we do?" asked his father.
"Why, we must make the sled."
"Why, we must have runners and then the top to sit on. That's all."
"Very well. Go ahead," said his father. So Tommy picked up two boards and looked at them. But they were square at the ends.
"We must make the runners," he said sadly.
"That's so," said his father.
"Will you saw them for me?" asked Tommy.
"Yes, if you will show me where to saw." Tommy pondered.
"Wait," he said, and he ran off, and in a moment came back with a picture of a sled in a magazine. "Now make it this way," he said, showing his father how he should saw the edges.
He was surprised to see how well his father could do this, and his admiration for him increased as he found that he could handle the tools quite as well as Peake, the farmer; and soon the sled began to look like a real sled with runners, sawed true, and with cross-pieces for the feet to rest on, and even with a strip of iron, taken from the edges of the boxes, carefully nailed on the bottom of the runners.
Suddenly Tommy cried, "Father, why not give Johnny this sled?"
"The very thing!" exclaimed his father with a smile. And Tommy felt quite proud of having suggested it.
"I wish it had a place to hitch on the goats," said Tommy, thoughtfully.
"Let's make one," said his father; and in a few minutes two holes were bored in the front of the runners.
It was now about dusk, and Tommy said he would like to take the sled down to Johnny's house and leave it at his door where he could find it when he came home from work, and, maybe, he might think Santa Claus had brought it. So he and his father went together, Tommy dragging the sled and, while his father waited at the gate, Tommy took the sled and put it in the yard at the little side-door of Johnny's home. As they were going along, he said, pointing to a small shed-like out-building at the end of the little yard, "That's the cow-house. He keeps his goats there, too. Don't you wish Santa Claus would bring his mother a cow? I don't see how he could get down that small chimney!" he said, gazing at the little flue which came out of the roof. "I wonder if he does?"
"I wonder if he does?" said his father to himself.
When Tommy slipped back again and found his father waiting for him at the gate, he thought he had never had so fine a time in all his life. He determined to make a sled for somebody every Christmas.