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Ch. 10 - The Errors of Santa Claus

It was Christmas Eve.

The Browns, who lived in the adjoining house, had been
dining with the Joneses.

Brown and Jones were sitting over wine and walnuts at
the table. The others had gone upstairs.

"What are you giving to your boy for Christmas?" asked
Brown.

"A train," said Jones, "new kind of thing--automatic."

"Let's have a look at it," said Brown.

Jones fetched a parcel from the sideboard and began
unwrapping it.

"Ingenious thing, isn't it?" he said. "Goes on its own
rails. Queer how kids love to play with trains, isn't it?"

"Yes," assented Brown. "How are the rails fixed?"

"Wait, I'll show you," said Jones. "Just help me to shove
these dinner things aside and roll back the cloth. There!
See! You lay the rails like that and fasten them at the
ends, so--"

"Oh, yes, I catch on, makes a grade, doesn't it? Just
the thing to amuse a child, isn't it? I got Willy a toy
aeroplane."

"I know, they're great. I got Edwin one on his birthday.
But I thought I'd get him a train this time. I told him
Santa Claus was going to bring him something altogether
new this time. Edwin, of course, believes in Santa Claus
absolutely. Say, look at this locomotive, would you? It
has a spring coiled up inside the fire box."

"Wind her up," said Brown with great interest. "Let's
see her go."

"All right," said Jones. "Just pile up two or three plates
or something to lean the end of the rails on. There,
notice the way it buzzes before it starts. Isn't that a
great thing for a kid, eh?"

"Yes," said Brown. "And say, see this little string to
pull the whistle! By Gad, it toots, eh? Just like real?"

"Now then, Brown," Jones went on, "you hitch on those
cars and I'll start her. I'll be engineer, eh!"

Half an hour later Brown and Jones were still playing
trains on the dining-room table.

But their wives upstairs in the drawing-room hardly
noticed their absence. They were too much interested.

"Oh, I think it's perfectly sweet," said Mrs. Brown.
"Just the loveliest doll I've seen in years. I must get
one like it for Ulvina. Won't Clarisse be perfectly
enchanted?"

"Yes," answered Mrs. Jones, "and then she'll have all
the fun of arranging the dresses. Children love that so
much. Look, there are three little dresses with the doll,
aren't they cute? All cut out and ready to stitch together."

"Oh, how perfectly lovely!" exclaimed Mrs. Brown. "I
think the mauve one would suit the doll best, don't you,
with such golden hair? Only don't you think it would make
it much nicer to turn back the collar, so, and to put a
little band--so?"

"_What_ a good idea!" said Mrs. Jones. "Do let's try it.
Just wait, I'll get a needle in a minute. I'll tell
Clarisse that Santa Claus sewed it himself. The child
believes in Santa Claus absolutely."

And half an hour later Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Brown were so
busy stitching dolls' clothes that they could not hear
the roaring of the little train up and down the dining
table, and had no idea what the four children were doing.

Nor did the children miss their mothers.

"Dandy, aren't they?" Edwin Jones was saying to little
Willie Brown, as they sat in Edwin's bedroom. "A hundred
in a box, with cork tips, and see, an amber mouthpiece
that fits into a little case at the side. Good present
for Dad, eh?"

"Fine!" said Willie appreciatively. "I'm giving Father cigars."

"I know, I thought of cigars too. Men always like cigars
and cigarettes. You can't go wrong on them. Say, would
you like to try one or two of these cigarettes? We can
take them from the bottom. You'll like them, they're
Russian--away ahead of Egyptian."

"Thanks," answered Willie. "I'd like one immensely. I
only started smoking last spring--on my twelfth birthday.
I think a feller's a fool to begin smoking cigarettes
too soon, don't you? It stunts him. I waited till I was
twelve."

"Me too," said Edwin, as they lighted their cigarettes.
"In fact, I wouldn't buy them now if it weren't for Dad.
I simply _had_ to give him something from Santa Claus.
He believes in Santa Claus absolutely, you know."

And, while this was going on, Clarisse was showing little
Ulvina the absolutely lovely little bridge set that she
got for her mother.

"Aren't these markers perfectly charming?" said Ulvina.
"And don't you love this little Dutch design--or is it
Flemish, darling?"

"Dutch," said Clarisse. "Isn't it quaint? And aren't
these the dearest little things, for putting the money
in when you play. I needn't have got them with it--they'd
have sold the rest separately--but I think it's too
utterly slow playing without money, don't you?"

"Oh, abominable," shuddered Ulvina. "But your mamma never
plays for money, does she?"

"Mamma! Oh, gracious, no. Mamma's far too slow for that.
But I shall tell her that Santa Claus insisted on putting
in the little money boxes."

"I suppose she believes in Santa Claus, just as my mamma
does."

"Oh, absolutely," said Clarisse, and added, "What if we
play a little game! With a double dummy, the French way,
or Norwegian Skat, if you like. That only needs two."

"All right," agreed Ulvina, and in a few minutes they
were deep in a game of cards with a little pile of pocket
money beside them.

About half an hour later, all the members of the two
families were again in the drawing-room. But of course
nobody said anything about the presents. In any case they
were all too busy looking at the beautiful big Bible,
with maps in it, that the Joneses had brought to give to
Grandfather. They all agreed that, with the help of it,
Grandfather could hunt up any place in Palestine in a
moment, day or night.

But upstairs, away upstairs in a sitting-room of his own
Grandfather Jones was looking with an affectionate eye
at the presents that stood beside him. There was a
beautiful whisky decanter, with silver filigree outside
(and whiskey inside) for Jones, and for the little boy
a big nickel-plated Jew's harp.

Later on, far in the night, the person, or the influence,
or whatever it is called Santa Claus, took all the presents
and placed them in the people's stockings.

And, being blind as he always has been, he gave the wrong
things to the wrong people--in fact, he gave them just
as indicated above.

But the next day, in the course of Christmas morning,
the situation straightened itself out, just as it always
does.

Indeed, by ten o'clock, Brown and Jones were playing with
the train, and Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Jones were making
dolls' clothes, and the boys were smoking cigarettes,
and Clarisse and Ulvina were playing cards for their
pocket-money.

And upstairs--away up--Grandfather was drinking whisky
and playing the Jew's harp.

And so Christmas, just as it always does, turned out all
right after all.

Stephen Leacock