Christmas at Red Butte by Lucy Maud
"Of course Santa Claus will come," said Jimmy Martin confidently.
Jimmy was ten, and at ten it is easy to be confident. "Why, he's got
to come because it is Christmas Eve, and he always has come. You
know that, twins."
Yes, the twins knew it and, cheered by Jimmy's superior wisdom, their
doubts passed away. There had been one terrible moment when Theodora
had sighed and told them they mustn't be too much disappointed if
Santa Claus did not come this year because the crops had been poor,
and he mightn't have had enough presents to go around.
"That doesn't make any difference to Santa Claus," scoffed Jimmy. "You
know as well as I do, Theodora Prentice, that Santa Claus is rich
whether the crops fail or not. They failed three years ago, before
Father died, but Santa Claus came all the same. Prob'bly you don't
remember it, twins, 'cause you were too little, but I do. Of course
he'll come, so don't you worry a mite. And he'll bring my skates and
your dolls. He knows we're expecting them, Theodora, 'cause we wrote
him a letter last week, and threw it up the chimney. And there'll be
candy and nuts, of course, and Mother's gone to town to buy a turkey.
I tell you we're going to have a ripping Christmas."
"Well, don't use such slangy words about it, Jimmy-boy," sighed
Theodora. She couldn't bear to dampen their hopes any further, and
perhaps Aunt Elizabeth might manage it if the colt sold well. But
Theodora had her painful doubts, and she sighed again as she looked
out of the window far down the trail that wound across the prairie,
red-lighted by the declining sun of the short wintry afternoon.
"Do people always sigh like that when they get to be sixteen?" asked
Jimmy curiously. "You didn't sigh like that when you were only
fifteen, Theodora. I wish you wouldn't. It makes me feel funny—and
it's not a nice kind of funniness either."
"It's a bad habit I've got into lately," said Theodora, trying to
laugh. "Old folks are dull sometimes, you know, Jimmy-boy."
"Sixteen is awful old, isn't it?" said Jimmy reflectively. "I'll
tell you what I'm going to do when I'm sixteen, Theodora. I'm going
to pay off the mortgage, and buy mother a silk dress, and a piano for
the twins. Won't that be elegant? I'll be able to do that 'cause I'm a
man. Of course if I was only a girl I couldn't."
"I hope you'll be a good kind brave man and a real help to your
mother," said Theodora softly, sitting down before the cosy fire and
lifting the fat little twins into her lap.
"Oh, I'll be good to her, never you fear," assured Jimmy, squatting
comfortably down on the little fur rug before the stove—the skin of
the coyote his father had killed four years ago. "I believe in being
good to your mother when you've only got the one. Now tell us a story,
Theodora—a real jolly story, you know, with lots of fighting in it.
Only please don't kill anybody. I like to hear about fighting, but I
like to have all the people come out alive."
Theodora laughed, and began a story about the Riel Rebellion of '85—a
story which had the double merit of being true and exciting at the
same time. It was quite dark when she finished, and the twins were
nodding, but Jimmy's eyes were wide open and sparkling.
"That was great," he said, drawing a long breath. "Tell us another."
"No, it's bedtime for you all," said Theodora firmly. "One story at a
time is my rule, you know."
"But I want to sit up till Mother comes home," objected Jimmy.
"You can't. She may be very late, for she would have to wait to see
Mr. Porter. Besides, you don't know what time Santa Claus might
come—if he comes at all. If he were to drive along and see you
children up instead of being sound asleep in bed, he might go right on
and never call at all."
This argument was too much for Jimmy.
"All right, we'll go. But we have to hang up our stockings first.
Twins, get yours."
The twins toddled off in great excitement, and brought back their
Sunday stockings, which Jimmy proceeded to hang along the edge of the
mantel shelf. This done, they all trooped obediently off to bed.
Theodora gave another sigh, and seated herself at the window, where
she could watch the moonlit prairie for Mrs. Martin's homecoming and
knit at the same time.
I am afraid that you will think from all the sighing Theodora was
doing that she was a very melancholy and despondent young lady. You
couldn't think anything more unlike the real Theodora. She was the
jolliest, bravest girl of sixteen in all Saskatchewan, as her shining
brown eyes and rosy, dimpled cheeks would have told you; and her sighs
were not on her own account, but simply for fear the children were
going to be disappointed. She knew that they would be almost
heartbroken if Santa Claus did not come, and that this would hurt the
patient hardworking little mother more than all else.
Five years before this, Theodora had come to live with Uncle George
and Aunt Elizabeth in the little log house at Red Butte. Her own
mother had just died, and Theodora had only her big brother Donald
left, and Donald had Klondike fever. The Martins were poor, but they
had gladly made room for their little niece, and Theodora had lived
there ever since, her aunt's right-hand girl and the beloved playmate
of the children. They had been very happy until Uncle George's death
two years before this Christmas Eve; but since then there had been
hard times in the little log house, and though Mrs. Martin and
Theodora did their best, it was a woefully hard task to make both ends
meet, especially this year when their crops had been poor. Theodora
and her aunt had made every sacrifice possible for the children's
sake, and at least Jimmy and the twins had not felt the pinch very
At seven Mrs. Martins bells jingled at the door and Theodora flew out.
"Go right in and get warm, Auntie," she said briskly. "I'll take Ned
away and unharness him."
"It's a bitterly cold night," said Mrs. Martin wearily. There was a
note of discouragement in her voice that struck dismay to Theodora's
"I'm afraid it means no Christmas for the children tomorrow," she
thought sadly, as she led Ned away to the stable. When she returned to
the kitchen Mrs. Martin was sitting by the fire, her face in her
chilled hand, sobbing convulsively.
"Auntie—oh, Auntie, don't!" exclaimed Theodora impulsively. It was
such a rare thing to see her plucky, resolute little aunt in tears.
"You're cold and tired—I'll have a nice cup of tea for you in a
"No, it isn't that," said Mrs. Martin brokenly "It was seeing those
stockings hanging there. Theodora, I couldn't get a thing for the
children—not a single thing. Mr. Porter would only give forty dollars
for the colt, and when all the bills were paid there was barely enough
left for such necessaries as we must have. I suppose I ought to feel
thankful I could get those. But the thought of the children's
disappointment tomorrow is more than I can bear. It would have been
better to have told them long ago, but I kept building on getting more
for the colt. Well, it's weak and foolish to give way like this. We'd
better both take a cup of tea and go to bed. It will save fuel."
When Theodora went up to her little room her face was very thoughtful.
She took a small box from her table and carried it to the window. In
it was a very pretty little gold locket hung on a narrow blue ribbon.
Theodora held it tenderly in her fingers, and looked out over the
moonlit prairie with a very sober face. Could she give up her dear
locket—the locket Donald had given her just before he started for the
Klondike? She had never thought she could do such a thing. It was
almost the only thing she had to remind her of Donald—handsome,
merry, impulsive, warmhearted Donald, who had gone away four years ago
with a smile on his bonny face and splendid hope in his heart.
"Here's a locket for you, Gift o' God," he had said gaily—he had such
a dear loving habit of calling her by the beautiful meaning of her
name. A lump came into Theodora's throat as she remembered it. "I
couldn't afford a chain too, but when I come back I'll bring you a
rope of Klondike nuggets for it."
Then he had gone away. For two years letters had come from him
regularly. Then he wrote that he had joined a prospecting party to a
remote wilderness. After that was silence, deepening into anguish of
suspense that finally ended in hopelessness. A rumour came that Donald
Prentice was dead. None had returned from the expedition he had
joined. Theodora had long ago given up all hope of ever seeing Donald
again. Hence her locket was doubly dear to her.
But Aunt Elizabeth had always been so good and loving and kind to her.
Could she not make the sacrifice for her sake? Yes, she could and
would. Theodora flung up her head with a gesture that meant decision.
She took out of the locket the bits of hair—her mother's and
Donald's—which it contained (perhaps a tear or two fell as she did
so) and then hastily donned her warmest cap and wraps. It was only
three miles to Spencer; she could easily walk it in an hour and, as it
was Christmas Eve, the shops would be open late. She muse walk, for
Ned could not be taken out again, and the mare's foot was sore.
Besides, Aunt Elizabeth must not know until it was done.
As stealthily as if she were bound on some nefarious errand, Theodora
slipped downstairs and out of the house. The next minute she was
hurrying along the trail in the moonlight. The great dazzling prairie
was around her, the mystery and splendour of the northern night all
about her. It was very calm and cold, but Theodora walked so briskly
that she kept warm. The trail from Red Butte to Spencer was a lonely
one. Mr. Lurgan's house, halfway to town, was the only dwelling on it.
When Theodora reached Spencer she made her way at once to the only
jewellery store the little town contained. Mr. Benson, its owner, had
been a friend of her uncle's, and Theodora felt sure that he would
buy her locket. Nevertheless her heart beat quickly, and her breath
came and went uncomfortably fast as she went in. Suppose he wouldn't
buy it. Then there would be no Christmas for the children at Red
"Good evening, Miss Theodora," said Mr. Benson briskly. "What can I do
"I'm afraid I'm not a very welcome sort of customer, Mr. Benson," said
Theodora, with an uncertain smile. "I want to sell, not buy. Could
you—will you buy this locket?"
Mr. Benson pursed up his lips, took up the locket, and examined it.
"Well, I don't often buy second-hand stuff," he said, after some
reflection, "but I don't mind obliging you, Miss Theodora. I'll give
you four dollars for this trinket."
Theodora knew the locket had cost a great deal more than that, but
four dollars would get what she wanted, and she dared not ask for
more. In a few minutes the locket was in Mr. Benson's possession, and
Theodora, with four crisp new bills in her purse, was hurrying to the
toy store. Half an hour later she was on her way back to Red Butte,
with as many parcels as she could carry—Jimmy's skates, two lovely
dolls for the twins, packages of nuts and candy, and a nice plump
turkey. Theodora beguiled her lonely tramp by picturing the children's
joy in the morning.
About a quarter of a mile past Mr. Lurgan's house the trail curved
suddenly about a bluff of poplars. As Theodora rounded the turn she
halted in amazement. Almost at her feet the body of a man was lying
across the road. He was clad in a big fur coat, and had a fur cap
pulled well down over his forehead and ears. Almost all of him that
could be seen was a full bushy beard. Theodora had no idea who he was,
or where he had come from. But she realized that he was unconscious,
and that he would speedily freeze to death if help were not brought.
The footprints of a horse galloping across the prairie suggested a
fall and a runaway, but Theodora did not waste time in speculation.
She ran back at full speed to Mr. Lurgan's, and roused the household.
In a few minutes Mr. Lurgan and his son had hitched a horse to a
wood-sleigh, and hurried down the trail to the unfortunate man.
Theodora, knowing that her assistance was not needed, and that she
ought to get home as quickly as possible, went on her way as soon as
she had seen the stranger in safe keeping. When she reached the little
log house she crept in, cautiously put the children's gifts in their
stockings, placed the turkey on the table where Aunt Elizabeth would
see it the first thing in the morning, and then slipped off to bed, a
very weary but very happy girl.
The joy that reigned in the little log house the next day more than
repaid Theodora for her sacrifice.
"Whoopee, didn't I tell you that Santa Claus would come all right!"
shouted the delighted Jimmy. "Oh, what splendid skates!"
The twins hugged their dolls in silent rapture, but Aunt Elizabeth's
face was the best of all.
Then the dinner had to be prepared, and everybody had a hand in that.
Just as Theodora, after a grave peep into the oven, had announced that
the turkey was done, a sleigh dashed around the house. Theodora flew
to answer the knock at the door, and there stood Mr. Lurgan and a big,
bewhiskered, fur-coated fellow whom Theodora recognized as the
stranger she had found on the trail. But—was he a stranger? There
was something oddly familiar in those merry brown eyes. Theodora felt
herself growing dizzy.
"Donald!" she gasped. "Oh, Donald!"
And then she was in the big fellow's arms, laughing and crying at the
Donald it was indeed. And then followed half an hour during which
everybody talked at once, and the turkey would have been burned to a
crisp had it not been for the presence of mind of Mr. Lurgan who,
being the least excited of them all, took it out of the oven, and set
it on the back of the stove.
"To think that it was you last night, and that I never dreamed it,"
exclaimed Theodora. "Oh, Donald, if I hadn't gone to town!"
"I'd have frozen to death, I'm afraid," said Donald soberly. "I got
into Spencer on the last train last night. I felt that I must come
right out—I couldn't wait till morning. But there wasn't a team to be
got for love or money—it was Christmas Eve and all the livery rigs
were out. So I came on horseback. Just by that bluff something
frightened my horse, and he shied violently. I was half asleep and
thinking of my little sister, and I went off like a shot. I suppose I
struck my head against a tree. Anyway, I knew nothing more until I
came to in Mr. Lurgan's kitchen. I wasn't much hurt—feel none the
worse of it except for a sore head and shoulder. But, oh, Gift o' God,
how you have grown! I can't realize that you are the little sister I
left four years ago. I suppose you have been thinking I was dead?"
"Yes, and, oh, Donald, where have you been?"
"Well, I went way up north with a prospecting party. We had a tough
time the first year, I can tell you, and some of us never came back.
We weren't in a country where post offices were lying round loose
either, you see. Then at last, just as we were about giving up in
despair, we struck it rich. I've brought a snug little pile home with
me, and things are going to look up in this log house, Gift o' God.
There'll be no more worrying for you dear people over mortgages."
"I'm so glad—for Auntie's sake," said Theodora, with shining eyes.
"But, oh, Donald, it's best of all just to have you back. I'm so
perfectly happy that I don't know what to do or say."
"Well, I think you might have dinner," said Jimmy in an injured tone.
"The turkey's getting stone cold, and I'm most starving. I just can't
stand it another minute."
So, with a laugh, they all sat down to the table and ate the merriest
Christmas dinner the little log house had ever known.