From the Young Woman’s Journal, December 1902 –
The Mistakes of Santa Claus
By Annie Pike
“And she says ‘at now father’s gone to Heaven and can’t remind him, Santa Claus may make a mistake and not come.”
“Did mother say that, Buster?” Fanny regarded him with round eyes.
“Yes, and – ” Buster was a little breathless – “she says Christmas ain’t comin’ to our house at all!”
“Oh, Buster! But Christmas has to come. It’s just a day, you know, like Saturday, or Monday, or the Fourth of July, or – or your birthday.”
“That’s what mother said.” Buster rubbed the frost from the window and gazed dejectedly at the falling snow.
If mother said so, it must be true, thought Fanny.
“Buster, why can’t mother remind him?”
“I asked her, but she jes’ cried. I think it must be because she can’t walk to Santa Claus’ house – you know, she’s so sick.” Buster added the last words in his kindest tones. (When Fanny winked that way there were tears behind.) for a moment neither spoke, and then Fanny brightened.
“Buster! Don’t you think, Buster, ‘at Father could tell God about us and get Him to tell Santa Claus – don’t you, Buster?”
This was a new idea to Buster. Fanny did not wait for his answer; she had thought of something else.
“Even if Santa Claus did forget us, Buster, I’d hate for him not to think of mother, and her sick, too. Don’t you remember, – it was just a month ago – father said to you and me, ‘When I’m gone you children must be good to mother?’” After a moment, “how much money have you, Buster?”
“Five cents,” Buster spoke reluctantly; he caught the shadow of an approaching request, and his lately acquired wealth was very dear to him.
“We can do it, then! And – and I don’t care if Santa Claus does make a mistake! Why, Buster, I’ve got five cents, too, and we can get something lovely for poor, sick mother, and she’ll never know whether he forgets or not.” Fanny’s words were brave but she was winking hard. That was enough for Buster. He knew that Fanny had been saving her five cents to buy a doll with real hair. As for himself, there was a train of cars at Smith’s –
Ten minutes later they trudged down the unswept path discussing in loud whispers whether mother would like a vase with gold flowers on it better than a pink wool shawl. Fanny thought the shawl “would be so useful.”
A woman, their mother, watched them from the window until tears blinded her sight. When the fussy little doctor came through the door which had been left open by the children, she was crying, her head upon the window-sill. The doctor began to scold in a loud voice because that was his way. The more he scolded the more the woman cried.
“You don’t understand, doctor,” she sobbed.
“Doubtless not,” said the doctor, dryly. “But what I do understand is that you’re doing a mighty bad thing for yourself.”
“Oh, but, doctor !”
“No buts about it. You – ”
“But the children – Christmas – you know – since John died – ” and the woman began to cry again.
The doctor stood in silence for a moment. Then he said, brusquely but not unkindly, “Christmas will come again. If you care for those children you will look out for yourself.”
“God help me through this Christmas!” she cried.
She would have wept none the less, though perhaps with less bitterness, – if she could have seen them as they entered Smith’s. Buster marched resolutely past the coveted train of cars without even so much as a glance at them. What need of looking? That train – had it not dwelt a glorified vision in the land of his imagination ever since he set eyes on it, and now –
Buster plumped his five cents down on the counter. “We want something for mother,” he announced with a certain pride at being one of the throng of gay shoppers.
“What! For five cents! Why, we haven’t anything for five cents but needles and thread, my little man.” The clerk grinned and winked at the pretty book-keeper at the end of the store while he patted his hair into place.
Buster, discouraged, was about to retreat, when Fanny tugged at his arm. “I heard mother say she hadn’t no needles, and wanted some,” she whispered.
Buster could see the clerk smiling, so he determined to put on a bold front to hide his discomfiture.
“Well,” said he, grandly, “Show us what kinds you have.”
The clerk showed him his assortment, thinking what a joke this would be to tell the young lady who kept the books.
“And we have some with gold heads,” he added, with the magnificence of a jeweller exhibiting a rare collection of canes. That struck Fanny.
“Oh, we want gold heads,” she said.
The clerk smiled as he wrapped up the paper of needles. What a joke on their mother! he thought.
“Why, yes,” (then in a whisper to Fanny, “She ought to have something nice to eat – a candy-dog –”)
Now, Fanny and Buster had both talked longingly of that candy dog. It sat in a show-case near the door and was the most beautiful amber color, – you knew how delicious it must taste. It had been one of Buster’s favorite dreams to possess that particular dog, and to let Fanny lick it sometimes.
The candy dog was five cents. Buster proudly carried the beautiful animal, while Fanny grasped the needles.
That afternoon they decided to hang the stockings without bothering mother, for Mrs. Anderbury, the neighbor-lady, was at their house when they returned, and she told them mother was very sick – that the doctor was with her. They both felt sorry, but they were sure she would be all right in the morning – especially when she should see the needles and dog!
First Buster hung Fanny’s little stocking, then the mate to it for mother, then his own, which was so full of darns that it required keen observation to detect what remained of the original stocking.
Fanny put the needles in the toe of mother’s stocking and Buster carefully inserted the package containing the dog.
“She’ll think Santa Claus brought them, won’t she, Buster?” Fanny whispered. Buster might have agreed but he was too busy with a great and sudden inspiration.
“Fanny! fly and get your red chalk while I get some paper.” Fanny obediently flew. Shortly after this, Buster, out in the snow, was nailing a brilliant placard to the gate:
deere santy Klaws this is where fanny and Buster lives doant Fergit we want a dol with reele hare and cars.
And with this parting injunction to the blundering old saint they both went to bed perfectly happy.
The next morning with the first tray dawn they awoke. In the night they had heard strange noises – the tramp of heavy feet, the opening and shutting of doors, and queer, mysterious sounds – all of which convinced them that Santa Claus had made no mistake.
When they finally crept into the room where their stockings hung, their hearts were palpitating with greatest expectation. Ah, the sight that met their eyes! The first shock took the breath from Fanny and left Buster motionless. In all their lives-to-be there was never one moment more fraught with tragedy for both of them.
“O, Buster! he did make a mistake!” sobbed Fanny.
For a moment Buster stood staring at the three empty, limp stockings, his chin crinkling, then he said, with an effort, “Fanny, we might as well go back to bed.”
“M – mother – ”
“Mother – mustn’t – never – know.” Buster’s voice was deep, but wobbly, as though a man had tried to speak from a child’s heart.
“But – but – ”
“But we haven’t got no presents,” Fanny was gasping with tears again.
“No, Fanny, but – till mother’s well. We got to do it. And she won’t know because there’s the needles – them with gold heads – and the dog – the dog – won’t mother be pleased, Fanny?” Buster gulped on the last word. Down in his heart there was a deep well of disappointment in which he was trying to reflect bright skies for Fanny, whose spirits began to rise at his suggestion.
“Shall we take her stocking to her, Buster?”
“Yes, but we must be jest as chirrupy as a – as a cow!”
When the door had been opened by Mrs. Anderbury, Buster and Fanny stood speechless with astonishment, their eyes riveted on the bed where lay beside their mother a tiny bundle emitting cries like a distressed kitten.
Mrs. Anderbury showed them the little wizened, red visage, and Fanny grasped Buster’s hand tightly, and Buster eyed the newcomer askance. Neither uttered a sound.
Their mother, hearing them, opened her eyes and said in a faint voice, “Merry Christmas, dears. This is what Santa Claus brought.”
(So this was the solution of Santa’s mistake! And such a mistake! Instead of cars, and a doll with real hair, he had brought this! Buster’s heart swelled with indignation.)
The mother was not expecting his vehement exclamation, “Wasn’t it mean of him, mother!”
“O, Buster!” said his mother, so grieved that Buster, seeing vaguely that he had made a mistake, proffered the stocking with the words, “He – he brought you this, mother.” (Fanny wondered if the angels would fly to tell God Buster had told a lie!)
Mrs. Anderbury brought forth from their hiding the needles and dog while the children waited in flushed expectation of their mother’s surprised pleasure. They were not disappointed.
“Oh! how dear! how lovely! Just what I wanted! How could you know!” and two tears were on her cheeks when she asked Fanny and Buster to kiss her.
“Wasn’t it thoughtful of him, mother?” said Fanny, radiant with the delight of pleasing her mother, and forgetting not only the lie, but the angels also. Could the angels do other than forgive her? – “And them with gold heads, too,” she added proudly.
“And the dog licks real good.” (Buster never dreamed that his mother might suspect the source of his knowledge.)
What happened just then, although it was accepted as perfectly natural by the children, has always seemed to me “too good to be true.” It sounds like part of a story, but it is nevertheless a fact that when Mrs. Anderbury called Buster and Fanny, they found the doctor’s daughter waiting for them in the next room with a big basket full of bundles, and then, oh then! – she untied a parcel and out came a fairy doll with really, truly hair! And! – Buster had a train of cars ever, ever so much better than those at Smith’s! My! and there was candy, and nuts, and – Oh! Oh!!
“Santa Claus made a mistake and left these at my house, but they are for a girl named Fanny and a boy named Buster,” said the doctor’s daughter.
“That’s us! That’s us!” they both cried with shining eyes, and Fanny said to Buster, “He mustn’t have seen what you wrote on the gate!” (But he had, for at that moment the placard was decorating the book-case in the doctor’s office. It is a wise Santa that can bring dolls with “reele hare and cars” without a hint. Even with this help the doctor pondered long before he discovered that the cars were not part of the doll’s anatomy!)
“And now,” the young lady’s eyes began to twinkle, “you will please bring me the baby. Santa Claus made a mistake and brought it here.”
Buster looked at Fanny as much as to say, “I thought so!” and tiptoed into his mother’s room.
“Mother, she’s come for the baby.”
“A lady with a fur around her neck what brought the things what Santa Claus made a mistake and took to her house ‘stead of the baby. Now you can get rid of it easy.” He lowered his voice to a whisper, “Hurry, mother, or maybe she’ll go and leave it.”
I think his mother grasped the situation.
“I want the baby.”
“O, but mother! – why – why, mother! You see it doesn’t belong to us and the things do, and – and – ”
“You wouldn’t take the baby from me, Buster! You know it’s just one month since he – since father – left us – ”
Buster never could bear to hear his mother speak of his father, because her voice grew so queer and breathy, and tears always came into her eyes.
He left her and sat down in a corner of the next room, out of sight of the doctor’s daughter. What if he ran away with the cars? What if he and Fanny should slip out of the coal-shed window and walk away off with the doll and cars so that the young lady should never find them? What if – what if she should take the baby away from their mother? Oh, why couldn’t mother give it to her? At thought of his mother’s possible suffering (he remembered how kind father had always been to her), Buster went to hold a whispered conversation with Fanny, who was even doubly hard to persuade. The beautiful doll was against her breast and the mother-feeling was glowing in her heart. It was all right for Buster to talk about giving up his cars, because cars are only things, but dolls! – and a doll with truly hair at that! To Fanny what Buster had suggested was as cruel as King Herod’s massacre. Could she do it? – Even for mother? – (There was a sob) – Ah, yes, for poor sick mother who wanted the ugly little red baby! It was indeed a day of martyrdom. Fanny walked straight across the room and laid the doll back in the basket, then turned and fled into her own bedroom and buried her face in a pillow and wept.
The doctor’s daughter looked puzzled and grieved. She had been talking to Mrs. Anderbury and had missed the scene between Buster and Fanny. To her further astonishment Buster came carrying the train of cars like a jointed worm held by the head.
“I – I guess, if you don’t mind, we’ll keep the baby. You wouldn’t want it – it’s real red and funny and cries, and the doll and cars – ”
“You precious boy! Santa Claus didn’t make a mistake! You can keep the baby. You dears! I am ashamed!”
So it was settled.
That night after Mrs. Anderbury had put out the light, Fanny called across the room, “We thought Santy made a mistake, didn’t we, Buster? He did, a little bit. Mother was real pleased with the needles, and them with gold heads!”
“The dog licked real good.”
“Yes – and, Buster, don’t you think ‘at father told God and God told Santy?” (How solemn it sounded in the dark!)
“Yes, but I don’t see why he sent the baby.”
There was silence for a few moments. Then from Fanny, “It’s awful ugly, and I don’t like it, Buster, but she’s real fond of it.”
“We mustn’t let her know we think it’s awful, Fanny. If she wants it, we’d better let her keep it.”
“Goodnight, Buster. – Buster, do you ‘spose she liked the baby better than the needles and dog?”
Four eyes went shut. The train of cars, well under covers, laid its engine-head beside the boy’s brown curls. The doll’s real hair mingled with hair more yellow. And in the room where the little stranger slept, their mother was praying, “O, God, whatever happens to me, be with them!”
That prayer was answered.