Editor’s note: William Livingstone Alden (1837-1908) was a prominent American journalist, fiction writer, and humorist, who, in 1885, published The Adventures of Jimmy Brown, the hero of which was forever getting into incredible trouble. One of Jimmy’s escapades was titled Santa Claus, and is retold here.
The other day I was at Tom McGinnis’s house, and his bigger cousin said there wasn’t any Santa Claus! Well, I knew for certain that it was a fib, but all the same, it worried me.
If there is a Santa Claus — and of course there is — how could he get up on the roof so he could come down the chimney, unless he carried a big ladder with him; and if he did this, how could he carry presents enough to fill mornahundred stockings? And then how could he help getting things all over soot from the chimney, and how does he manage when the chimney is all full of smoke and fire, as it always is at Christmas!
Tom McGinnis’s cousin’s story kept worrying me, and finally I began to think how awful it would be if there was any truth in it. How the children would feel! There’s going to be no end of children at our house this Christmas, and Aunt Eliza and her two small boys are here already. I heard mother and Aunt Eliza talking about Christmas the other day, and they agreed that all the children should sleep on cots in the back parlor, so that they could open their stockings together, and mother said, “You know, Eliza, there’s a big fireplace in that room, and the children can hang their stockings around the chimney.”
Now I know I did wrong, but it was only because I didn’t want the children to be disappointed. Neither do I blame mother, though if she hadn’t spoken about the fireplace in the way she did, it would never have happened. But I do think that they ought to have made a little allowance for me, since I was only trying to help make Christmas successful.
It all happened yesterday. Tom McGinnis had come to see me, and all the folks had gone out to ride except Aunt Eliza’s little boy Harry. We were talking about Christmas, and I was telling Tom how all the children were to sleep in the back parlor, and how there was a chimney there that was just the thing for Santa Claus. We went and looked at the chimney, and then I said to Tom what fun it would be to dress up and come down the chimney and pretend to be Santa Claus, and how it would amuse the children, and how pleased the grown-ups would be.
Tom said that it would be splendid fun, and said we ought to practice coming down the chimney, so that we could do it easily on Christmas-eve. He said I should do it because it was our house; but I said no, he was a visitor, and it would be mean of in me to deprive him of any pleasure. But Tom wouldn’t do it. He said he wasn’t feeling very well, and that he didn’t like to take liberties with our chimney, and, besides, he was afraid that he was so big that he wouldn’t fit the chimney. Then we thought of Harry, and agreed that he was just the right size. Of course Harry said he’d do it for he isn’t afraid of anything, and is so proud to be allowed to play with Tom and me that he would do anything we asked him.
Well, we all went up to the roof, and Tom and I boosted Harry till he got on the top of the chimney and put his legs in it and slid down. He went down like a flash, for he didn’t know enough to brace himself the way the chimney-sweeps do. Tom and I hurried down to the back parlor to meet him; but he had not arrived yet, though the fireplace was full of ashes and soot.
We supposed he had stopped on the way to rest; but then we thought we heard somebody calling, that was a great way off. We went up on the roof, thinking Harry might have climbed back up the chimney, but he wasn’t there. When we got to the chimney we could hear him plain enough. He was crying and yelling for help, for he was stuck about half-way down the chimney, and couldn’t get either up or down.
We decided that the best thing to do was to let a rope down to him, and pull him out. So I got the clothes-line and let it down, but Harry’s arms were jammed close to his sides, so he couldn’t get hold of it. Tom said we ought to make a slippernoose, catch it over Harry’s head, and pull him out that way, but I knew that Harry wasn’t very strong, and I was afraid if we did that he might come apart.
Then I proposed that we get a long pole and push Harry down the rest of the chimney, but after hunting all over we couldn’t find a pole long enough. All this time Harry was crying in the most discontented way, although we were doing all we could for him. That’s the way with little boys. They never have any gratitude, and are always discontented.
As we couldn’t poke Harry down, Tom said let’s try to poke him up. So we told Harry to be patient, and we went down-stairs and took the longest pole we could find and pushed it up the chimney. Bushels of soot came down, and flew over everything, but we couldn’t reach Harry with the pole. By this time we began to feel discouraged. We were awfully sorry for Harry, and if we couldn’t get him out before the folks came home, I would be in a dreadful scrape.
Then I thought that if we built a little fire the draught might draw Harry out. Tom agreed, so I started a fire, but it didn’t loosen Harry a bit, and when we went on the roof to meet him we heard him crying louder than ever, and saying that the smoke was choking him. We got two pails of water and poured them down the chimney. That put the fire out, but Harry became more unreasonable than ever, and said we were trying to drown him. There is no use in wearing yourself out in trying to please little boys. You can’t satisfy them, no matter how much trouble you take.
We tried every plan we could think of to get Harry out of the chimney, but none of them succeeded. Tom said that if we poured a whole lot of oil down the chimney it would make it so slippery that Harry would slide right down into the back parlor, but I said no because I knew the oil would spoil Harry’s clothes, and that would make Aunt Eliza angry. Just then I heard a carriage stop at our gate, and there were the grown folks, who had come home earlier than I had supposed they would. Tom said that he thought he would go home before his folks began to worry, so he went out the back and left me to explain things. They had to send for some men to come and cut a hole through the wall. But they got Harry out all safe; and after they found that he wasn’t a bit hurt, instead of thanking me for all Tom and I had done for him, they seemed to think that I deserved the worst punishment I ever had, and I got it.
I shall never make another attempt to amuse children on Christmas-eve.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!