"The Animals' Christmas Tree"
By Jack Snow
Author of The Shaggy Man of Oz, Spectral Snow, and "Princess Chrystal and Prince Eolus," etc.
From Tinkle and Tod; Their Surprising Adventures on Blue Bell Farm, 1942
"How soon do you think he'll be here, Tink?" asked Tod sleepily.
The little boy's eyes were heavy, for it was far past his usual bed time.
" 'Most any time now, Tod," replied Tinkle, trying to repress a yawn. She didn't want the boy to know she was as sleepy as he was.
"Will we see his reindeers, too?" queried Tod.
Try as she might, Tinkle couldn't hold back the yawn that followed. And when she had finished yawning, the girl saw that there was no need to reply to Tod's question, for the little boy was now fast asleep.
Well, thought Tinkle, it was only a little after nine o'clock, and Santa Claus might not come for several hours yet, so it couldn't possibly make any difference if she took just a short nap.
Sighing with content, the little girl snuggled cozily into the depths of the great, soft chair, and was asleep in no time at all.
It was Christmas Eve.
Tod was staying the night at Tinkle's house on Blue Bell Farm, and in answer to their pleas the children had been granted permission to sit up and watch for Santa Claus.
Tinkle's mother and father believed that on one Christmas eve in his life, every boy and girl should be permitted to sit up and watch for Santa Claus. So they had broken the rule that usually prevailed on Blue Bell Farm, that children must be in their beds early on Christmas eve, and allowed Tinkle and her little friend to remain downstairs in the warm living room, while they went upstairs to bed.
The Christmas tree had been put up that evening and decorated, and Mrs. Bell had made a big platter full of chocolate fudge for the children. So with all the excitement of trimming the tree and helping with the making of the candy, to say nothing of the prospective thrill of waiting up for Santa to come, it is no wonder the boy and girl were tired out.
When Tinkle's mother and father had gone upstairs to bed, Mrs. Bell had said to Mr. Bell:
"They'll fall asleep in an hour at the most, and then we can carry them up to their beds."
Mr. Bell had not answered. He only smiled a curious sort of a smile, because he remembered a Christmas long, long ago when he had been a little boy, and his mother had allowed him to wait up for Santa Claus. Very tenderly he kissed Mrs. Bell.
I am sure, if anyone had asked Tinkle's mother, she would have said that was the dearest Christmas present she received.
Tinkle awoke with a start.
For a moment she didn't know where she was, and then she remembered.
Next the girl recalled what it was that had awakened her: she was sure she had heard someone speaking her name.
It was very quiet in the big farm house, so quiet that Tinkle could hear her own breathing, as she listened.
She was right--there it was again!
A small, clear voice said very distinctly:
"Tinkle! Tinkle Bell! Wake up, or we'll be late!"
The girl looked carefully all about her. She could see no one but Tod and he was sleeping soundly. She shook the boy, and his eyes opened slowly.
"Has he come yet?" were his first words.
"Tod!" whispered Tinkle. "There's someone here in the room! Someone's calling my name! Listen!"
And then the voice said, a bit impatiently:
"Well, at least you two children are awake! That's something. I thought I would never be able to arouse you."
Now Tinkle and Tod saw who was speaking.
On the hearth-rug, just before the chairs of the boy and girl, was a mouse.
The children stared at the little creature in wonder.
"Well, for goodness sake," said the animal, "one would think you had never seen a mouse before!"
"We have seen lots of mice," admitted the little girl, "but never a mouse that could talk."
"Well, a good many unusual things happen on Christmas eve, so don't be surprised," advised the brisk little creature. And with a flick of his whiskers, he went on: "Permit me to introduce myself: I am Timor, and my wife and children and I have a very comfortable and convenient apartment in the wall, just behind the pantry. I awakened you, because I thought you would like to go along."
"Go along?" asked Tinkle, who was now wide awake, "Go along where?" And then the girl added musingly: "I'm not sure that you ought to be going anywhere at all yourself tonight. 'Cording to the poem: 'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring,--"
"Not even a mouse!" Timor broke in, finishing the line for her in his high-pitched little voice.
"That's a lovely poem," the mouse declared, "My children always insist that I recite it for them on Christmas eve. But I must say the person who wrote it didn't know very much about mice, or about animals of any kind, for that matter; for if there's ever a night when the mice are likely to be stirring--it's Christmas Eve."
Tinkle was about to ask a question, but Timor went hurriedly on:
"Come! We're wasting time, and it's precious tonight! Do you children want to come along, or not?"
Tod had said nothing, til now. He was steadily regarding the neat little grey mouse with round eyes. Now he declared:
"Sure, we'll go!"
"But where," asked Tinkle, "are you going?"
"To see the animals' Christmas tree, of course," said the mouse.
"Will Santa Claus be there?" asked Tod.
"To be sure, he will," replied Timor. "It's a grand sight, and you two children should feel highly honored, for you will be the first humans ever to have witnessed the spectacle. So you slip on your coats and boots, and I'll get the Mrs. and the children and we'll be off!"
"Well," said Tinkle, with a sigh, "since we're waiting up for Santa Claus anyway, and he'll be there, I guess we might as well see this animals' Christmas tree, too."
"Sure," said Tod, who was already struggling into his coat.
Timor had vanished, only to re-appear a moment later. This time he was accompanied by another mouse, somewhat smaller than he, and six baby mice, who looked so cute and cuddly, that Tinkle was charmed with them.
"This is Mrs. Timor, and our family," said the grey mouse.
Timor's wife greeted Tinkle and Tod in a most friendly and gentle fashion, and Tinkle thought the little mouse's soft brown eyes were wonderfully tender and kind.
"Now," said Timor briskly, "you must open the door, and we'll lead the way!"
Moving cautiously, so as not to disturb her parents, Tinkle opened the front door, and the family of mice scurried through the entrance.
The children followed closely after them.
It was a bright, moonlight night and the ground was covered with heavily packed snow. The children had no difficulty at all in following Timor and his family, although they were surprised to see how fast the six little baby mice could scamper over the snow.
First went Timor, then came his wife, and after her in single file the six baby mice, followed close by Tinkle and Tod. In this fashion they made their way over the meadow to the edge of The Great Forest.
Even in the Great Forest, it was almost as light as day; except that in the day time the trees don't cast such deep shadows. A great, round moon rode high in the sky, and to every object its silver light touched, it seemed to impart a luster of its own. As for the stars, Tinkle thought she had never seen them so magnificent. They looked as though they had been especially polished for an occasion worthy of their last bit of loveliness.
As the children followed the mouse family through the forest, they constantly heard faint scurryings and scamperings in the underbrush, and occasionally small shadows flitted past them on the snow. From above, they heard the rustle of wings. Not a bird note was sounded--this was no time for song--there was only the whir of intent, busy wings beating the air.
The whole of the Great Forest was awake and in motion.
While they penetrated deeper and deeper into the woods, something of the mystery and wonder of the occasion crept over the boy and girl, and they found themselves regarding the forest and the creatures who peopled it in a strange new light. It was as if they were seeing it all clearly for the first time in their lives. The figure of Timor, his wife and the six baby mice assumed a dignity that passed beyond mere size. Animals though they were, the mouse family seemed to Tinkle of no less beauty and lovingness, than a family of humans. The moonlight of Christmas eve shone with equal radiance on the common life that beat in animal and human hearts.
These were serious thoughts; but then Christmas eve with all its joyous merry making, is a serious occasion, and one that should inspire the deepest thought.
Before they suspected that they had come to the end of their strange journey, the children stepped into a clearing, and here Timor and his family paused.
The spectacle that greeted the eyes of Tinkle and Tod caused the children to stop in their tracks and stare in amazement.
For here, deep in the forest groves, was a great circular clearing, and ranged around it in row after row were animals: all the animals of the Great Forest, the meadows, the fields, the orchards and the barnyards of Blue Bell Farm. They were all there. Tinkle recognized many of them. There was Sarah, the brown and white cow and her playful calf, Tobey; and Jeb, the workhorse; and Scamper, the cat, and all the barnyard creatures--the chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The wild animals were far too numerous to mention. The children saw that there were scores of rabbits of all ages and sizes, many squirrels, and a number of beavers from the creek, six families of wood chucks, four possum families, and even a number of very dignified appearing snakes. They were all ranged [around] the clearing in a great circle, in orderly rows--very like the gallery of a theater.
Then the children saw that the center of attraction, the object that held the attention of all the creatures, large and small, was a great fir tree that rose in the very center of the grove. It was truly a forest giant, towering far above the tops of the trees that encircled the clearing.
Timor, the mouse, had gathered his family about him on a little hillock, where they could peer into the clearing, and see the great Christmas tree with ease.
The children drew near to their mouse friends, and Tinkle whispered: "I never saw anything so wonderful! What are they all waiting for?"
"You'll find out, as soon as the Upper Story Folks arrive," answered Timor briefly.
Tinkle longed to ask who the "Upper Story Folks" were, but something in Timor's manner caused the little girl to refrain. All the animals were impressively silent, and seemed to be waiting, as if thoughtless words or sounds would violate the importance of the occasion.
But Tinkle's curiosity concerning the Upper Story Folks was soon satisfied. A rush of wings, thousands of feathery wings, beating the air, answered the girl's question. The birds had arrived. There were hundreds of them, all the birds of the fields and forests of Blue Bell Farm. Quickly, and without a sound, save for the soft flutter and rush of their wings, they took their places on the branches of the trees that encircled the grove.
Now all the spectators seemed to be in their places, and the children were aware of a wave of expectancy, that swept over the clearing. It was the excitement that prevails in the moment before the curtain goes up on the opening act of a play at the theater.
From out of the circle of animals, there came slowly an aged turtle, who made his way to the center of the clearing.
Timor whispered to Tinkle and Tod that the turtle was by far the oldest, and therefore the most honored animal on Blue Bell Farm, and that he had officiated at these ceremonies for more years than most of the animals could remember.
Tinkle listened closely to the quavering voice of the ancient turtle. Some of the words were strange and sounded only half familiar to the ears of the little humans, but Tinkle made out part of the speech, which was, she gathered, a sort of summing up of the joys and happiness shared by the animals living on Blue Bell Farm. The old turtle spoke of the peace and plenty that was for all, of the master of Blue Bell Farm, who was kindly and loved animals, and did nothing to harm the small folk, who made their homes in the forest fastnesses and the open fields and meadows.
The old turtle spoke briefly, and when he had finished and shambled back to his place in the ranks of the spectators, there was only a deep silence, as if each of the animals was gravely considering the wise words of the venerable creature.
It was so deeply quiet, that Tinkle believed she could have heard a pine needle drop on the snow. Tinkle found herself holding her breath, lest her breathing break the spell of the moment.
And then--over all the assembly of animals, there went a flurry of motion. The strain was broken, and hundreds of tiny heads turned to a single direction.
The children followed the gaze of the animals to the northern heavens, and immediately the boy and girl saw what it was that held their attention. Far, far away in the crystal clearness of the night, Tinkle and Tod discerned it unmistakably and they shivered with thrilling wonder.
It was a miniature sleigh, drawn by eight tiny reindeer, so far away, and yet so distinct in the crisp cold air, that it looked like an object viewed through the small end of an opera glass.
Tinkle stared in awe, and grasped Tod's hand. The little boy's fingers interlaced those of the girl tightly, and the two human children knew this was a moment of moments, as they watched with rapt attention, the approach of the world's best loved immortal.
Closer and closer came the tiny figure, and as it drew nearer, it grew in size, until the children could distinguish the figure of Santa Claus, himself, and the great red sleigh, loaded down with toys of every description.
Timor was chattering with excitement:
"Watch closely! Don't miss a thing! He will only be here a moment--he's so busy tonight!"
The sleigh had approached so close, that the merry jingle of its bells rang happily through the night air.
Now the reindeer and the sleigh and its occupant were just above the tips of the trees on the northern edge of the clearing. Here, they swooped down, and an instant later the hooves of the reindeer were treading the ground of the Great Forest, and the gleaming runners of the sleigh were gliding smoothly over the snow.
The reindeer were breathing hard, as they snorted and pranced, and Tinkle could see their frosty breath on the night air.
Santa Claus drove his sleigh straight to the center of the clearing, to the very trunk of the great Christmas tree. Here, the beloved old gentleman, despite his many years, leaped from the sleigh as nimbly as any youngster. Then, he gently touched the base of the great tree with a wand of evergreen, tipped with a star of holly and mistletoe, which he held aloft in a red mitten clad hand.
Before the children realized what had happened, the forest tree was lighted as surely no other Christmas tree had ever been lighted before.
From every branch and every tip of the immense tree, there now hung great flashing, flaming balls of dancing light, scintillating with every color of the rainbow.
Tinkle gasped at the loveliness of the sight: hundreds and hundreds of those flaming spheres of light, that sparkled and glowed with a life of their own. And all about and around the tree, from its wide base to its peaked top, there darted flashing strands of light, streamers of the most brilliant colors, circling the tree, and winding about it like great necklaces of precious jewels.
Set at the very top of the miraculous tree, was the greatest wonder of all: a huge star that shone over all the Great Forest. As it beamed, the majestic star slowly changed color. For a moment it glowed a deep, fiery red, then, mounting through all the known shades of red to a dainty shell pink, it burst into a deep orange, shading swiftly through every conceivable tint of orange, and so on to brilliant yellow and emerald green--through all the hues of the rainbow. And as the magical star glowed, it showered from all five of its points, brilliant streamers of colored lights that radiated into the heavens far beyond the tree.
Timor was chattering excitedly again. "The Northern Lights! The Northern Lights!" the little animal said. "It's the lights from the great Northland, where Santa Claus lives! He brings them with him, and lights our Christmas tree with them! Did you ever see anything so beautiful?" The little grey mouse gazed with shining eyes at the miraculous tree.
Even while the children and the animals watched, spellbound, Santa Claus had leaped back into his sleigh, for the old fellow had no spare moments this night. Now, as the reindeer and the sleigh rose once more into the air, Santa Claus stood up, and waved Goodbye to the assemblage of animals--and, the human children were sure, to them, too. The hearty, jovial voice rang out merrily, as the sleigh climbed higher into the sky:
"A Merry Christmas to all my dear children! Come Dasher! Come Dancer! Come Prancer end Vixen! On Comet! On Cupid! On Donder and Blitzen!"
The children turned for one last look at the tree. They saw that the lights were winking out. The flaring balls of color, the ribbons and streamers and necklaces and garlands of magical fire, and finally last of all, the great polychrome star at the top, all dimmed gently, and faded into nothingness.
Once more the fir tree stood silent in the night; one side of it bright silver with moonlight, the other soft black velvet with shadows. Even without the magnificent lights, the tree was clothed in a simple dignity and nobility, that made it apparent why man had chosen its ever green loveliness to bring into his home, as the Spirit of Christmas.
The animals were departing for their homes. Again there was that flutter of wings, that padding of little paws, and rustling of small furry bodies through the underbrush and over the trails of the Great Forest.
Timor and his family had left the clearing, and were flashing in and out among the trees over the white snow. Tinkle and Tod followed after them, deep in thought.
They reached the house in a short time, and Tinkle carefully opened the door. Timor and his wife and children scurried in, and with softly murmured "Goodnights", the family of mice vanished into the shadows of the big farmhouse.
The boy and girl, suddenly very sleepy, climbed the stairs to their bed rooms. Just before they parted, Tinkle to go to her room, and Tod to the room where he slept when he visited Tinkle, the small boy said:
"Know what, Tink?"
"What, Tod," asked Tinkle, with a yawn.
"I think," announced Tod seriously, "that the mouse was wrong about us being the first people ever to see the animals' Christmas tree."
"Why?" asked Tinkle,
" 'Cause," explained the boy, "someone else must have seen it--or how would we know how to deck'rate our own Christmas trees?"
Which proved that Tod, small though he was, was also a wise little boy.
With whispered "Goodnights," the children parted, and were asleep as soon as they removed their clothes, and crept into their beds.
A few moments later, Mr. Bell appeared from his room, and walking to the stairway, looked down into the big living room. The children were not there. Gently, he opened the door of his little girl's room, and then of Tod's; and seeing them soundly slumbering, he smiled to himself, and went back to his room.
"They're snug in their beds," he said to Mrs. Bell. "They must have decided to wait and see Santa Claus next Christmas."
But if Mr. Bell could have peeped in on the dreams of eight little mice and a small boy and girl, who slept soundly in the great house of Blue Bell Farm, he would have known how mistaken he was.
But he only smiled happily to himself, and as he turned off the light, he said lovingly to Mrs. Bell:
"Goodnight, my dear--Merry Christmas!"
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, November 19, 1916.
Ridiculous Riddles in Rhyme
I wonder sometimes how the Forgetful Poet can think up so many riddles. When I asked him he shook his head and said he guessed he was a genius, and 'pon my soul, I think he is. And you all keep him jumping, I can tell you. Why, hundreds guessed his last riddles correctly, though how you found a pineapple, a tepee and banks in that jumble of nonsense I cannot imagine. Here are the new ones:
Its stories are never told,
And yet it has three--
Sometimes more, sometimes less,
Now then, what can it be?
My first's a meat
We often eat,
We bathe in my last.
I'm a city that's vast?
Dogs have 'em,
And so have trees.
Have what? Just
Kindly tell me, please!
[Answers next time]
Copyright © 2001 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. "The Animals' Christmas Tree" copyright © 2001 Jack Snow. All rights reserved.
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