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Jimmy Scarecrow's Christmas






MARY E. WILKINS FREEMAN


JIMMY SCARECROW led a sad life in the winter. Jimmy's greatest grief was
his lack of occupation. He liked to be useful, and in winter he was
absolutely of no use at all.

He wondered how many such miserable winters he would have to endure. He
was a young Scarecrow, and this was his first one. He was strongly made,
and although his wooden joints creaked a little when the wind blew he
did not grow in the least rickety. Every morning, when the wintry sun
peered like a hard yellow eye across the dry corn-stubble, Jimmy felt
sad, but at Christmas time his heart nearly broke.

On Christmas Eve Santa Claus came in his sledge heaped high with
presents, urging his team of reindeer across the field. He was on his
way to the farmhouse where Betsey lived with her Aunt Hannah.

Betsey was a very good little girl with very smooth yellow curls, and
she had a great many presents. Santa Claus had a large wax doll-baby for
her on his arm, tucked up against the fur collar of his coat. He was
afraid to trust it in the pack, lest it get broken.

When poor Jimmy Scarecrow saw Santa Claus his heart gave a great leap.
"Santa Claus! Here I am!" he cried out, but Santa Claus did not hear
him.

"Santa Claus, please give me a little present. I was good all summer and
kept the crows out of the corn," pleaded the poor Scarecrow in his
choking voice, but Santa Claus passed by with a merry halloo and a great
clamour of bells.

Then Jimmy Scarecrow stood in the corn-stubble and shook with sobs until
his joints creaked. "I am of no use in the world, and everybody has
forgotten me," he moaned. But he was mistaken.

The next morning Betsey sat at the window holding her Christmas
doll-baby, and she looked out at Jimmy Scarecrow standing alone in the
field amidst the corn-stubble.

"Aunt Hannah?" said she. Aunt Hannah was making a crazy patchwork quilt,
and she frowned hard at a triangular piece of red silk and circular
piece of pink, wondering how to fit them together. "Well?" said she.

"Did Santa Claus bring the Scarecrow any Christmas present?"

"No, of course he didn't."

"Why not?"

"Because he's a Scarecrow. Don't ask silly questions."

"I wouldn't like to be treated so, if I was a Scarecrow," said Betsey,
but her Aunt Hannah did not hear her. She was busy cutting a triangular
snip out of the round piece of pink silk so the piece of red silk could
be feather-stitched into it.

It was snowing hard out of doors, and the north wind blew. The
Scarecrow's poor old coat got whiter and whiter with snow. Sometimes he
almost vanished in the thick white storm. Aunt Hannah worked until the
middle of the afternoon on her crazy quilt. Then she got up and spread
it out over the sofa with an air of pride.

"There," said she, "that's done, and that makes the eighth. I've got one
for every bed in the house, and I've given four away. I'd give this away
if I knew of anybody that wanted it."

Aunt Hannah put on her hood and shawl, and drew some blue yarn stockings
on over her shoes, and set out through the snow to carry a slice of
plum-pudding to her sister Susan, who lived down the road. Half an hour
after Aunt Hannah had gone Betsey put her little red plaid shawl over
her head, and ran across the field to Jimmy Scarecrow. She carried her
new doll-baby smuggled up under her shawl.

"Wish you Merry Christmas!" she said to Jimmy Scarecrow.

"Wish you the same," said Jimmy, but his voice was choked with sobs, and
was also muffled, for his old hat had slipped down to his chin. Betsey
looked pitifully at the old hat fringed with icicles, like frozen tears,
and the old snow-laden coat. "I've brought you a Christmas present,"
said she, and with that she tucked her doll-baby inside Jimmy
Scarecrow's coat, sticking its tiny feet into a pocket.

"Thank you," said Jimmy Scarecrow faintly.

"You're welcome," said she. "Keep her under your overcoat, so the snow
won't wet her, and she won't catch cold, she's delicate."

"Yes, I will," said Jimmy Scarecrow, and he tried hard to bring one of
his stiff, outstretched arms around to clasp the doll-baby.

"Don't you feel cold in that old summer coat?" asked Betsey.

"If I had a little exercise, I should be warm," he replied. But he
shivered, and the wind whistled through his rags.

"You wait a minute," said Betsey, and was off across the field.

Jimmy Scarecrow stood in the corn-stubble, with the doll-baby under his
coat and waited, and soon Betsey was back again with Aunt Hannah's crazy
quilt trailing in the snow behind her.

"Here," said she, "here is something to keep you warm," and she folded
the crazy quilt around the Scarecrow and pinned it.

"Aunt Hannah wants to give it away if anybody wants it," she explained.
"She's got so many crazy quilts in the house now she doesn't know what
to do with them. Good-bye--be sure you keep the doll-baby covered up."
And with that she ran across the field, and left Jimmy Scarecrow alone
with the crazy quilt and the doll-baby.

The bright flash of colours under Jimmy's hat-brim dazzled his eyes, and
he felt a little alarmed. "I hope this quilt is harmless if it is
crazy," he said. But the quilt was warm, and he dismissed his fears.
Soon the doll-baby whimpered, but he creaked his joints a little, and
that amused it, and he heard it cooing inside his coat.

Jimmy Scarecrow had never felt so happy in his life as he did for an
hour or so. But after that the snow began to turn to rain, and the crazy
quilt was soaked through and through: and not only that, but his coat
and the poor doll-baby. It cried pitifully for a while, and then it was
still, and he was afraid it was dead.

It grew very dark, and the rain fell in sheets, the snow melted, and
Jimmy Scarecrow stood halfway up his old boots in water. He was saying
to himself that the saddest hour of his life had come, when suddenly he
again heard Santa Claus' sleigh-bells and his merry voice talking to his
reindeer. It was after midnight, Christmas was over, and Santa was
hastening home to the North Pole.

"Santa Claus! dear Santa Claus!" cried Jimmy Scarecrow with a great sob,
and that time Santa Claus heard him and drew rein.

"Who's there?" he shouted out of the darkness.

"It's only me," replied the Scarecrow.

"Who's me?" shouted Santa Claus.

"Jimmy Scarecrow!"

Santa got out of his sledge and waded up. "Have you been standing here
ever since corn was ripe?" he asked pityingly, and Jimmy replied that he
had.

"What's that over your shoulders?" Santa Claus continued, holding up his
lantern.

"It's a crazy quilt."

"And what are you holding under your coat?"

"The doll-baby that Betsey gave me, and I'm afraid it's dead," poor
Jimmy Scarecrow sobbed.

"Nonsense!" cried Santa Claus. "Let me see it!" And with that he pulled
the doll-baby out from under the Scarecrow's coat, and patted its back,
and shook it a little, and it began to cry, and then to crow. "It's all
right," said Santa Claus. "This is the doll-baby I gave Betsey, and it
is not at all delicate. It went through the measles, and the
chicken-pox, and the mumps, and the whooping-cough, before it left the
North Pole. Now get into the sledge, Jimmy Scarecrow, and bring the
doll-baby and the crazy quilt. I have never had any quilts that weren't
in their right minds at the North Pole, but maybe I can cure this one.
Get in!" Santa chirruped to his reindeer, and they drew the sledge up
close in a beautiful curve.

"Get in, Jimmy Scarecrow, and come with me to the North Pole!" he
cried.

"Please, how long shall I stay?" asked Jimmy Scarecrow.

"Why, you are going to live with me," replied Santa Claus. "I've been
looking for a person like you for a long time."

"Are there any crows to scare away at the North Pole? I want to be
useful," Jimmy Scarecrow said, anxiously.

"No," answered Santa Claus, "but I don't want you to scare away crows. I
want you to scare away Arctic Explorers. I can keep you in work for a
thousand years, and scaring away Arctic Explorers from the North Pole is
much more important than scaring away crows from corn. Why, if they
found the Pole, there wouldn't be a piece an inch long left in a week's
time, and the earth would cave in like an apple without a core! They
would whittle it all to pieces, and carry it away in their pockets for
souvenirs. Come along; I am in a hurry."

"I will go on two conditions," said Jimmy. "First, I want to make a
present to Aunt Hannah and Betsey, next Christmas."

"You shall make them any present you choose. What else?"

"I want some way provided to scare the crows out of the corn next
summer, while I am away," said Jimmy.

"That is easily managed," said Santa Claus. "Just wait a minute."

Santa took his stylographic pen out of his pocket, went with his lantern
close to one of the fence-posts, and wrote these words upon it:


NOTICE TO CROWS
Whichever crow shall hereafter hop, fly, or flop
into this field during the absence of Jimmy
Scarecrow, and therefrom purloin, steal, or
abstract corn, shall be instantly, in a twinkling
and a trice, turned snow-white, and be ever after
a disgrace, a byword and a reproach to his whole
race.
Per order of SANTA CLAUS.

"The corn will be safe now," said Santa Claus, "get in." Jimmy got into
the sledge and they flew away over the fields, out of sight, with merry
halloos and a great clamour of bells.

The next morning there was much surprise at the farmhouse, when Aunt
Hannah and Betsey looked out of the window and the Scarecrow was not in
the field holding out his stiff arms over the corn stubble. Betsey had
told Aunt Hannah she had given away the crazy quilt and the doll-baby,
but had been scolded very little.

"You must not give away anything of yours again without asking
permission," said Aunt Hannah. "And you have no right to give anything
of mine, even if you know I don't want it. Now both my pretty quilt and
your beautiful doll-baby are spoiled."

That was all Aunt Hannah had said. She thought she would send John
after the quilt and the doll-baby next morning as soon as it was light.

But Jimmy Scarecrow was gone, and the crazy quilt and the doll-baby with
him. John, the servant-man, searched everywhere, but not a trace of them
could he find. "They must have all blown away, mum," he said to Aunt
Hannah.

"We shall have to have another scarecrow next summer," said she.

But the next summer there was no need of a scarecrow, for not a crow
came past the fence-post on which Santa Claus had written his notice to
crows. The cornfield was never so beautiful, and not a single grain was
stolen by a crow, and everybody wondered at it, for they could not read
the crow-language in which Santa had written.

"It is a great mystery to me why the crows don't come into our
cornfield, when there is no scarecrow," said Aunt Hannah.

But she had a still greater mystery to solve when Christmas came round
again. Then she and Betsey had each a strange present. They found them
in the sitting-room on Christmas morning. Aunt Hannah's present was her
old crazy quilt, remodelled, with every piece cut square and true, and
matched exactly to its neighbour.

"Why, it's my old crazy quilt, but it isn't crazy now!" cried Aunt
Hannah, and her very spectacles seemed to glisten with amazement.

Betsey's present was her doll-baby of the Christmas before; but the doll
was a year older. She had grown an inch, and could walk and say,
"mamma," and "how do?" She was changed a good deal, but Betsey knew her
at once. "It's my doll-baby!" she cried, and snatched her up and kissed
her.

But neither Aunt Hannah nor Betsey ever knew that the quilt and the doll
were Jimmy Scarecrow's Christmas presents to them.





Next: Why The Chimes Rang

Previous: A Story Of The Christ-child



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