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the three little girls standing on the platform and following every move with their eyes as a dog watches his master, she gave the caster to Miss Crutchet and Miss Crutchet cried, she was so surprised. They were tears of joy, she said. After that, she went into Miss Munsell's room, and three little girls in there gave Miss Mussell a copy of Tennyson's poems that cost exactly $2.53, which was what Miss Crutchet had collected, and Miss Mussell cried because she was so surprised. How they could guess that she wanted a copy of Tennyson's poems, she couldn't think, but she would always keep the book and prize it because her dear pupils had given it to her. And just as Selma Morgenroth called out to the monitor, Charley Freer, who sat in Miss Crutchers chair, while she was absent: "Teacher! Make Miky Ryan he should ka-vit a-pullin' at my hair yet!" and the school was laughing because she called Charley Freer "teacher," in came Miss Crutchet as cross as anything, and boxed Miky Ryan's ears and shook Selma Morgenroth for making so much noise. They didn't give anything, though they promised they would.
It was not alone in the day schools that there were extra preparations. The Sunday-schools were getting ready, too, and when Janey Pettit came home and told her Pa how big her class was, he started to say something, but her Ma shook her head at him and he looked very serious and seemed to be trying hard not to smile. He was very much interested, though, when she told him that Iky Morgenroth, whose father kept the One-Price Clothing House down on Main Street, had joined, and how he didn't know enough to take his hat off when he came into church. Patsy Gubbins and Miky Ryan and six boys from the Baptist Sunday-School had joined, too, and they all went into Miss Sarepta Downey's class, so that she had two whole pews full to teach, and they acted just awful. The infant class was crowded, and there was one little boy that grabbed for the collection when it was passed in front of him, and got a whole handful and wouldn't give it up, and they had to twist the money out of his fist, and he screamed and "hollered" like he was being killed. And coming home, Sophy Perkins, who goes to the Baptist Church, told her that there wasn't going to be any Christmas tree at their Sabbath-school. She said that there wasn't hardly anybody out. The teachers just sat round and finally went into the pastor's Bible class. Mr. Pettit said he was surprised to hear it. It couldn't have been the weather that kept them away, could it? Janey said she didn't know. Then he asked her what they were going to sing for Christmas, and she began on "We three kings of Orient are," and broke off to ask him what "Orient" meant, and he told her that Orient was out on the Sunbury pike, about three miles this side of Olive Green, and her Ma said: "Lester Pettit, I wish't you'd ever grow up and learn how to behave yourself. Why, honey, it means the East. The three wise men came from the East, don't you mind?"
At the Centre Street M. E. Church, where Janey Pettit went to Sunday-school, there were big doings. Little Lycurgus Emerson, whose mother sent him down to Littell's in a hurry for two pounds of brown sugar, and who had already been an hour and a half getting past Plotner's and Case's, heard Brother Littell and Abel Horn talking over what they had decided at the "fishery meetin'." (By the time Curg got so that he shaved, he knew that "officiary" was the right way to say it, just as "certificate" is the right way to say "stiffcut.") There was going to be a Christmas tree clear up to the ceiling, all stuck full of candles and strung with pop-corn, and a chimney for Santa Claus to climb down and give out the presents and call out the names on them. Every child in the Sunday-school was to get a bag of candy and an orange, and there were going to be "exercises." Curg thought it would be kind of funny to go through gymnastics, but, just then, he saw Uncle Billy Nicholson come in, and he hid. He didn't want to be patted on the head and - asked things.
Uncle Billy had his mouth all puckered up, and his eyebrows looked more like tooth-brushes than ever. He put down the list of groceries that Aunt Libby had written out for him, because he couldn't remember things very well, and commenced to lay down the law.
"Such carryin's on in the house o' God!" he snorted. "Why the very idy! Talk about them Pharisees an' Sadducees a-makin' the temple a den o' thieves! W'y, you're a-turnin' it into a theayter with your play-actin' tomfoolery! They'll be no blessin' on it, now you mark."
"Aunt Libby say whether she wanted stoned raisins?" asked Brother Littell, who was copying off the list on the order book.
"I disremember, but you better send up the reg'lar raisins. Gittin' too many newfangled contraptions these days. They're a-callin' it a theayter right now, the Babtists is. What you astin' fer your eatin' apples? Whew! My souls alive! I don't wonder you grocery storekeepers git rich in a hurry. No, I guess you needn't send 'ny up. Taste too strong o' money. Don't have no good apples now no more anyways. All so dried up and pethy. An' what is it but a theayter, I'd like to know? Weth your lectures about the Ar'tic regions an' your mum-socials, an' all like that, chargin' money fer to git in the meetin' house. I tell you what it is, Brother Littell, the women folks 'd take the money they fritter away on ribbons and artificial flowers an' gold an'costly apparel, which I have saw them turned away from the love-feast fer wearin', an' 'ud give it in fer quarterage an' he'p support the preachin' of the Word, they wouldn't need to be no shows in the meetin' house an' they 'd be more expeerimental religion."
Abel Horn (Abel led the singing in meeting, and had a loud bass voice; he always began before everybody and ended after everybody) was standing behind Uncle Billy, and Lycurgus could see him with his head juked forward and his eyebrows up and his mouth wide open in silent laughter, very disconcerting to Brother Littell, who didn't want to anger Uncle Billy, and maybe lose his trade by grinning in his face.
"An' now you got to go an' put up a Christmas tree right in the altar," stormed Uncle Billy, "an' dike it all out with pop-corn an' candles. You're gittin' as bad 's the Catholics, every bit. Worse, I say, becuz they never had the Gospel light, an' is jist led round by the priest an' have to pay to git their sins forgive. But you, you're a-walkin' right smack dab into it, weth your eyes open, teachin' fer Gospel the inventions o' men."
"W'y what, Uncle Billy?"
"W'y, this here Santy Claus a-climbin' down a chimley an' a-cuttin' up didoes fer to make them little ones think they is a reel Santy Claus 'cuz they seen him to the meetin' house. Poot soon when they git a little older 'n' they find out how you been afoolin' 'em about Santy Claus, they'll wonder if what you been a-tellin' 'em about the Good Man ain't off o' the same bolt o' goods, an' another one o' them cunningly devised fables. Think they'll come any blessin' on tellin' a lie? An' a-actin' it out? No, sir. No, sir. Ain't ary good thing to a lie, no way you kin fix it. How kin they be? Who's the father of lies? W'y the Old Scratch! That's who. An' here you go a - "
The old man was so wroth that he couldn't finish and turned and stamped out, slamming the door after him.
Brother Littell winked and waited till Mr. Nicholson got out before he mildly observed "Kind o' hot in under the collar, 'pears like."
"Righteous mad, I s'pose," said Abel Horn.
"You waited on yit, bub?" asked Brother Littell. "I betchy he's a-thinkin' right now he'll take his letter out o' Centre Street an' go to the Barefoot Church. He would, too, if 't wasn't clean plumb at the fur end o' town an' a reg'lar mud-hole to git there."
"Pity him an' a few more of 'em up in the Amen corner wouldn't go," said Abel Horn. "Mind the time we sung, 'There is a Stream?' You know they's a solo in it fer the soprano. Well, 't is kind o' operatic an' skallyhootin' up an' down the scale. I give the solo to Tilly Wilkerson an' if that old skeezicks didn't beller right out in the middle of it: 'It's a disgrace tud Divine service!' He did. You could 'a' heard him clear to the court-house. My! I thought I'd go up. Tilly, she was kind o' scared an' trimbly, but she stuck to it like a major. Said afterwards she'd 'a' finished that solo if it was the last act she ever done."
"Who's a-goin' to be Santy Claus?" asked Brother Littell, with cheerful irrevelance.
"The committee thought that had better be kept a secret," replied Abel, with as much dignity as his four feet nine would admit of.
"Ort to be somebody kind o' heavy-set, ort n't it?" hinted the grocer, giving a recognizable description of himself.
"Well, I don' know 'bout that," contested Abel. "Git somebody kind o' spry an' he could pad out weth a pilfer. A pussy man 'd find it rather onhandy comin' down that chimbly an' hoppin' hether an' yan takin' things off o' the tree. Need somebody with a good strong voice, too, to call off the names . . . . Woosh's you'd git them things up to the house soon 's you kin, Otho. Ma's in a hurry fer 'em."
"Betchy two cents," said Brother Littell to his clerk, Clarence Bowersox, "'at Abel Horn 'll be Santy Claus."
"Git out!" doubted Clarence.
"'Ll, you see now. He's the daggonedest feller to crowd himself in an' be the head leader o' everything. W'y, he ain't no more call to be Santy Claus 'n that hitchin' post out yan. Little, dried-up runt, bald 's a apple. Told me one time: 'I never grow'd a' inch tell I was sixteen 'n' then I shot up like a weed.' . . . Bub, you tell yer Ma if she wants a turkey fer Christmas she better be gittin' her order in right quick."
Only six more days till Christmas now - only five - only four - only three - only two - Christmas Eve. One day more of holding in such swelling secrets, and some of the young folks would have popped right wide open. Families gather about the Franklin stove, Pa and Ma gaping and rubbing their eyes - saying, "Oh, hum!" and making out that they are just plumb perishing for the lack of sleep. But the children cannot take the hint. They don't want to go to bed. The imminence of a great event nerves them in their hopeless fight against the hosts of Nod. They sit and stare with bulging eyes at the red coals and dancing flames, spurting out here and there like tiny sabers.
The mystic hour draws near. Sometime in the night will come the jingle of silver bells, and the patter of tiny hoofs. Old Santa will halloo: "Whoa!" and come sliding down the chimney. The drowsing heads, fuddled with weariness, wrestle clumsily with the problem, "How is he to get through the stove without burning himself?" Reason falters and Faith triumphs. It would be done somehow, and then the reindeer would fly to the next house, and the next, and so on, and so on. The mystic hour draws near. Like
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