On Santa Claus





GEORGE A. BAKER, JR.



Brave old times those were. In the first half of the seventeenth

century, we mean; before there was any such place as New York and

Manhattan Island was occupied mostly by woods, and had a funny little

Dutch town, known as New Amsterdam, sprouting out of the southern end of

it. Those were the days of solid comfort, of mighty pipes, and unctuous

doughnuts. Winter had not yet been so much affected by artificiality as

he is now-a-days, and was contented to be what he is, not trying to pass

himself off for Spring; and Christmas--well, it was Christmas. Do you

know why? Because in those times Santa Claus used to live in a great old

house in the midst of an evergreen forest, just back of the Hudson, and

about half-way between New Amsterdam and Albany. A house built out of

funny little Dutch bricks, with gables whose sides looked like

stair-cases, and a roof of red tiles with more weathercocks and chimneys

sticking out of it than you could count. Phew, how cold it was there!

The wind roared and shouted around the house, and the snow fell steadily

half the year, so that the summers never melted it away till winter came

again. And Santa Claus thought that was the greatest pleasure in life:

for he loved to have enormous fires in the great fire-places, and the

colder it was, the bigger fires he would have, and the louder the winds

roared around his chimney. There he sat and worked away all the year

round, making dolls, and soldiers, and Noah's arks, and witches, and

every other sort of toy you can think of. When Christmas Eve came he'd

harness up his reindeers, Dasher, and Prancer, and Vixen, and the rest

of them, and wrap himself up in furs, and light his big pipe, and cram

his sled full of the doll-babies and Noah's arks, and all the other toys

he'd been making, and off he'd go with a great shout and tremendous

ringing of sleigh-bells. Before morning he'd be up and down every

chimney in New Amsterdam, filling the stout grey yarn stockings with

toys, and apples, and ginger-bread, laughing and chuckling so all the

while, that the laughs and chuckles didn't get out of the air for a week

afterwards.



But the old house has gone to ruin, and Santa Claus doesn't live there

any longer. You see he married about forty years ago; his wife was a

Grundy, daughter of old Mrs. Grundy, of Fifth Avenue, of whom you've all

heard. She married him for his money, and couldn't put up with his plain

way of living and his careless jollity. He is such an easy-going, good

natured old soul, that she manages him without any trouble. So the first

thing she did was to make him change his name to St. Nicholas; then she

made him give up his old house, and move into town; then she sent away

the reindeers, for she didn't know what Ma _would_ say to such an

outlandish turn-out; then she threw away his pipe because it was vulgar,

and the first Christmas Eve that he went off and stayed out all night

she had hysterics, and declared she'd go home to her Ma, and get a

divorce if he ever did such a thing again. She'd have put a stop to his

giving away toys every year, too, only she thought it looked well, and

as it was, she wouldn't let him make them himself any more, but

compelled him to spend enormous sums in bringing them from Paris, and

Vienna, and Nuremberg.



So now Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, and lives in a brown stone house on

Fifth Avenue, a great deal handsomer than he can afford, and keeps a

carriage, not because he wants it, but because Mrs. Shoddy, next door,

keeps one; and loves, not to be jolly himself and to make everybody else

so, but to please his wife's mother. He has to give an awful pull, what

with his wife's extravagance, and the high prices of Parisian and

Viennese toys, to make both ends meet, although he does speculate in

stocks, and is very lucky. Instead of looking forward to Christmas with

pleasure, and thinking what a good time he will have, he pulls out his

ledger, and groans, and wonders how on earth he's going to make his

presents this year, and thinks he would stop giving them entirely, only

he's so mortally afraid of his mother-in-law, and he knows what she'd

say if he did. So he borrows money wherever he can, and sends over to

Paris for fans, and opera-glasses, and bon-bon boxes, and jewelry, and

when they come he sits down in his parlor and lets his wife tell him

just what to do with them. So she takes out her list and runs over the

names; she has all the rich people down, for she is a religious woman,

and the Bible says unto him that hath, it shall be given. This is the

way she talks: The little Croesuses must have some very elegant things,

of course; their mother's a horrid old cat, but Croesus could help you

very much in business. And there are the Centlivres; we must pick out

something magnificent for them; they give a party Christmas night: of

course the presents will be on exhibition, and I shall sink with shame

if any one else's are handsomer than ours. So she goes on, until all

the rich people are disposed of. Then Santa Claus asks: How about the

Brinkers, my dear? The Brinkers are great favorites of his. Good

gracious, dearest! How often have I told you, you mustn't manifest such

an interest in those Brinkers? What would Ma say if she knew you

associated with such common people! But, I'm Dutch myself, pet. Of

course you are, darling, but there's no need of letting every one know

it! St. Nicholas hardly dares to do it, but he finally suggests very

meekly: The poor children, my darling. Bother the poor children, my

dear! They're a most affectionate couple, you know. Then St. Nicholas

sighs and sighs, and sends for his messengers, and they all come in with

long faces, and take off big packages to the Croesuses and the

Centlivres, and the rest of them. The messengers do their work entirely

as a matter of business, so there isn't a sign of a laugh, nor a symptom

of a chuckle in the air next day. The little Croesuses first cry,

because they haven't received more, and then fight over what they have;

then they eat too much French candy, and get sick and cross, and the

whole house is filled with their noise. So mamma has a headache; and

papa longs for his office, and misses the tick-tick of the stock

telegraph, and thinks what a confounded nuisance holidays are. That is

what Christmas is like in good society.



But I must tell you a secret. Away up in the fourth-story of his grand

house, where his wife never goes, St. Nicholas has a little workshop,

and there he sits whenever he gets a chance, making the most wonderful

dolls, and gorgeous soldiers, and miraculous jumping-jacks, and tin

horns--such quantities of tin horns! Some one ought to speak to him

about those tin horns. But after all they please the poor children, so

we suppose it's all right. Now do you know what he does with these

things? On Christmas Eve he gets his old sled down from the stable away

up by the North Pole, and as soon as his wife is fast asleep, he puts on

his old furs and gets out from under his shirts in his bureau drawer a

Dutch pipe, three times as big as the one his wife threw away, and off

he goes. He tumbles down all the poor people's chimneys, and fills up

the stockings to overflowing, and plants gorgeous Christmas trees in all

the Mission schools.



He has a glorious good time, and laughs and chuckles tremendously,

except when, once in a while, he thinks of what would happen if his wife

found him out.



So there's a little fun going on after all.



Do you know, if it were not for this performance of his, we should wish

with all our heart that St. Nicholas were dead and buried. But we must

say, we wish his wife would die, and that all the Grundy family would

follow her good example, for between them they've spoiled a good many

jolly people besides St. Nicholas.





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