IT was bright and beautiful all day, and then, when no one could possibly wait any longer, it was Christmas evening. The coal glowed in the grate with a splendid blaze: all the gas-burners were lighted, and so were everybody's eyes. If one had listened, one might have heard, from out of doors, a joyful tinkling of sleigh-bells; yet I fancy nobody could have told whether the streets were still or noisy, or whether the sky had a moon in it or not; for nobody was quiet long enough to notice.

But by and by, when the right time had come, the folding-doors were opened, just like the two covers to a Christmas fairy book. Then, in a second, it was so still you might have heard a pin drop.

Such a funny little old gentleman had arrived: his face alive with dimples, and smiles, and wrinkles. His cheeks were as red and round as winter apples, and where there wasn't a wrinkle there was a dimple; and no doubt there was a dimple in his chin, and his chin maybe was double, only you couldn't tell, for it was hidden ever so deep under a beard as white as a snow-drift.

He walked along, tottering under the weight of a huge pack full of presents. He extended his small arms towards the audience ' most affectionately, and you could see that his antiquated coatsleeves were bristling with toys and glistening with ornaments. His eyes twinkled with fun, and his mouth, which seemed nearly worn out with laughing, grew bigger every minute.

It took the dear old gentleman some time to clear his throat; but when he had found his voice, which at first was as fine as a knitting-needle, and all of a tremble, he made


"How do, my darlings? How do, all round? Bless your little hearts, how do you all do? Did they tell ye Santa wasn't a-comin', my dears? Did your grandpas and grandmas say, 'Humph! there isn't any such a person.' My love to the good old people. I know they mean all right; but tell them they'll have to give it up now! ' '

(Here Santa Claus made a low bow. Everybody laughed and clapped; but Prudy whispered, "0, don't he look old all over? What has he done. with his' teeth? 0, dear, has anybody pulled 'em out?")

"Yes, my dears," continued the old 'gentleman, encouraged by the applause, —"yes, my dears, here I am, as jolly as ever! But bless your sweet little hearts, I've had a terrible time getting here! The wind has been blowin' me up as fierce as yon please, and I've been shook round as if I wasn't of more account than a kernel of corn in a popper!

"0,0, I've been ducked up to the chin in some awful deep snow-drifts, up there by the North Pole! This is the very first time the storms have come so heavy as to cover over the end of the North Pole! But this year they had to dig three days before they could find it. 0, ho !

"I was a-wanderin' round all last night; a real shivery night, too! Got so broke up, there's nothing left of me but small pieces. 0, hum!

"Such a time as I had in some of those chimneys, you haven't any idee! Why, if you'll believe me, over there in Iceland somebody forgot to clear out the chimney, and there I stuck fast, like a fish-bone in your throat; couldn't be picked out, couldn't be swallowed!

" The funniest time that was! How I laughed! And then the children's mother woke up, and, '0 dear,' said she; 'hear the wind sigh down the chimney!' 'Only me,' says I; 'and I've caught you napping this time! ' She helped me out, and when I had caught my breath, I climbed out the window; but, deary me, I shouldn't wonder if that very woman went to sleep again, and thought it was all a dream! Heigh-ho! that's the way they always treat poor Santa Claus nowadays."

(Here the children laughed, and Susy said, "I guess he must have bumped his nose against that chimney: see what a hump!")

"0, 0, don't you make sport of me, children! My nose is big, to be sure, but I'm going to keep it and make the best of it! If you loved Santa as he loves you, you wouldn't mind the looks. I was going to change my coat and dickey; but then, thinks I, I'll come just as I am! I patted myself on the shoulder, and says I, 'Santa Claus, don't you fret if you are growin' old! You may look a little dried up, but your heart isn't wrinkled; 0, no!' You see father Adam and me was very near of an age, but somehow I never growed up! I always thought big folks did very well in their place; but for my part, give me the children. Hurrah for the children!"

(Great clapping and laughing.)

"I tell you, darlings, I haven't forgot a single one of you. My pockets are running over. I've been preparing presents for you ever since last fall, when the birds broke up housekeeping.

"Here's a tippet for the Prudy girl, and she may have it for nothing; and they are cheaper 'n that, if you take 'em by the quantity.

"I'm a walkin' book-case. Why, I've brought stories and histories enough to set up a store! I've got more nuts than you can shake a hammer at; but I think there's more bark to 'em than there is bite. 0, 0, I find I can't crack 'em with my teeth, as I used to a hundred years ago!

"But my dear, sweet, cunning little hearers, I must be a-goin'. Queen Victoria, said she to me, said she, 'Now, Santa, my love, do you hurry back to fill my children's stockings before the clock strikes twelve.' Queen Vic is an excellent woman, and is left a poor widow; so I can't disappoint her, poor soul!

"I must be a-goin'! Would like to hug and kiss you all round, but can't stop. (Kisses his hand and bows.) A Merry Christmas to you all, and a Happy New Year."

So saying, Santa Claus suddenly disappeared at the hall door, dropping his heavy pack upon the table.

In another minute the lively old gentleman was in the front parlor without any mask, and of course it was nobody but cousin Percy, "with his face off."

Then they all fell to work sorting out presents. Prudy seized her fur tippet, and put it on at once.

"0, how pretty I look," said she; "just like a little cat! Ain't I cunning?"

But nobody could pause to attend to Prudy, though she chatted very fast, without commas or periods, and held up to view a large wax doll which "would be alive if it could talk." They all had gifts as well as Prudy, and wished to talk rather than to listen. They asked questions without waiting for answers, and did not mind interrupting one another, and talking all at once, like a party of school children.

All this was hardly polite, it is true; but people are sometimes surprised out of their good manners on Christmas evenings, and must be forgiven for it, as such a good time happens but once a year.

Percy broke in with an old song, and went through with a whole stanza of it, although no one listened to a word:—

"Good luck unto old Christmas,
    And long life let us sing,
For he doeth more good unto the poor
    Than many a crowned king."

"My beautiful books!" cried aunt Madge; "Russia morocco."

"My writing-desk, — has any one looked at it?" said Mrs. Parlin; "rosewood, inlaid with brass."

"My skates!" broke in Susy, at the top of her voice.

"Hush!" screamed cousin Percy;— "won't anybody please notice my drum? If you won't look, then look out for a drum in each ear?"

And, as nobody would look or pay the slightest attention, they all had to hear "Dixie" pounded out in true martial style, till they held on to their ears.

"Battlety bang!" went the drum. "Tweet, tweet," whistled the little musical instruments which the children were blowing.

"Have pity on us!" cried aunt Madge; "I am bewildered; my head is floating like a Chinese garden."

"Order!" shouted Mr. Parlin, laughing.

"0, yes, sir," said Percy, seizing Susy and whirling her round. "Children, why don't you try to preserve order ? My nerves are strung up like violin-strings! I've got a pound of headache to every ounce of brains. Susy Parlin, do try to keep still!"

"Thee needn't pretend it is all Susan," said grandma Bead, smiling. "Thee and little Prudence are the noisiest of the whole!"

In fact, they raised such a din, that after a while poor grandma Read smoothed the Quaker cap over her smiling face, and stole off into her own chamber, where she could "settle down into quietness." Much noise always confused grandma Read.

But in a very few moments, when the excitement began to die out, there was a season of overwhelming gratitude. Everybody had to thank everybody else; and Mr. Parlin, who had a beautiful dressing-gown to be grateful for, nevertheless found time to tell Susy, over and over again, how delighted he was with her book-mark, made, by her own fingers, of three wide strips of velvet ribbon; on the ends of which were fastened a cross, a star, and an anchor, of card-board.

"Papa, one ribbon is to keep your place in the Old Testament," said Susy; "one is to stay in the middle, at the births and marriages; and the other one is for our chapter in the New Testament, you know."

"I think my lamp-mat is very pretty," said aunt Madge, kissing Susy; "every bit as pretty as if Prudy hadn't "been and told.' "

Prudy had bought a shawl-pin for her mother, a fierce little wooden soldier for aunt Madge, and something for everybody else but Susy. Not that she forgot Susy. 0, no! but one's money does not always hold out, even at Christmas time.

"Why," said Mr. Parlin, "what is this sticking fast to the sole of my new slipper ? Molasses candy, I do believe."

"Yes, sir; that's for Susy," cried Prudy, suddenly remembering how she had tucked it in at the last moment, when she could not stop to find any wrapping-paper. "It isn't so big as it was, but it's the biggest piece I had in this world. I saved it last night. Susy likes 'lasses candy, and I couldn't think of nothin' else."

It was a wonder that Prudy's candy had not spoiled some of the nice presents.

Susy received several pretty things; and though she did not talk quite so much as Prudy, she was just as happy. For one thing, she had what she had not dreamed was possible for a little girl— a bottle of otto of rose; "just like a young lady. "

This was a real delight to Susy; but Prudy, sniffing at it, said, coolly, "0„ ho! it smell's if it didn't cost more'n a cent! "Tisn't half so sweet as pepmint!"

Before Dotty could be put to bed, she had contrived to break several toys, all of which happened to be Susy's—a sugar temple, a glass pitcher, and a small vase.

This was an evening long to be remembered ; but the most remarkable event of all was to come.

"Susy, my daughter," said Mr. Parlin, "have you been wondering why yon don't see a present from me?"

Susy blushed. She had certainly expected something handsome this year from her father.

"I haven't forgotten you my dear; but the present I have chosen wouldn't sit very well on the shoulders of such a little fellow as Santa Claus."

Percy laughed. "Wouldn't it have been a load uncle?"

"Hush!" whispered aunt Madge; "she isn't to know till morning."

"But papa" said Susy her eyes shining with excitement "why couldn't you bring it in here now?"

"It is better off out of doors. Indeed, to tell the truth, my child, it is hardly suitable for the parlor."

"Now Miss Susy," said Percy, measuring off his words on the tips of his fingers, "I'm authorized to tell you it's something yon mustn't take in your lap, mustn't hang on a nail; if you do, you'll lose it. I'm sure 'twill please you, Susy, because it's a mute, and can't speak. You—"

"0 hush talking about dumb people! I shouldn't think you'd make sport of Freddy Jackson. If you was a little deaf-and-dumber than you are now, I'd like you better!"

"0, dear, dear!" cried she, dancing about the room; ' ' what can it be? I can't wait!"

"Only think; all night before I'll know," thought she, as she touched her pillow. "0, Prudy, to-morrow morning! Only think of to-morrow morning! All my other presents are just nothing at all. Anything is so much nicer when you don't know what it is!"

On to chapter 4

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