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Santa Claus Visits the Van Johnsons, from the Harper's


Swing low, sweet chariot—
Goin' fur to car' me home;
Swing low, sweet chariot—
Goin' fur to car' me home.
Debbil tought he would spite me—
Goin' fur to car' me home,
By cuttin' down my apple-tree—
Goin' fur to car' me home;
But he didn't spite ah-me at all—
Goin' fur to car' me home;
Fur I had apples all de fall—

"Oh, jess shut up wiff yo' ole apples, Chrissfer C'lumbus Van Johnson, an' lissen at dat ar wat Miss Bowles done bin a-tellin' me," said Queen Victoria, suddenly making her appearance at the gate which opened out of Mrs. Bowles's back garden into the small yard where her brother sat with Primrose Ann in his arms.

The Van Johnsons were a colored family who lived in a Southern city in a small three-roomed wooden house on the lot in the rear of Mrs. Bowles's garden, and Mrs. Bowles was their landlady and very good friend. Indeed, I don't know what they would have done without her, for when she came from the North, and rented the big house, they were in the depths of poverty. The kind lady found them work, gave them bright smiles, words of encouragement, fruit, vegetables, and spelling lessons, and so won their simple, grateful hearts that they looked upon her as a miracle of patience, goodness, and wisdom. And as for Baby Bowles—the rosy-cheeked, sweet-voiced, sunshiny little thing—the whole family, from Primrose Ann up to Mr. Van Johnson, adored her, and Queen Victoria was "happy as a queen" when allowed to take care of and amuse her.

"Wat's dat ar yo's speakin'?" asked Christopher Columbus (so named, his father said, "'cause he war da fustest chile, de discoberer ob de family, as it war") as Queen Victoria hopped into the yard on one leg, and he stopped rocking—if you can call throwing yourself back on the hind-legs of a common wooden chair, and then coming down on the fore-legs with a bounce and a bang, rocking—the youngest Van Johnson with such a jerk that her eyes and mouth flew open, and out of the latter came a tremendous yell. "Dar now," said Christopher Columbus, "yo's done gone an' woked dis yere Primrose Ann, an' I's bin hours an' hours an' hours an' hours gittin her asleep. Girls am de wustest bodders I ebber see. I allus dishated girls."

"Ain't yo' 'shamed yo'seff, Chrissfer C'lumbus," said Queen Victoria, indignantly, "wen bofe yo' sisters am girls? But spect yo' don't want to lissen at wat Miss Bowles done bin a-tellin' me. Hi! Washington Webster's a-comin', an' I'll jess tell him dat ar secrek all by hisseff."

"No yo' won't; yo' goin' to tell me too," said her big brother. "An' yo' better stop a-rollin' yo' eyes—yo' got de sassiest eyes I ebber see since de day dat I war bohn—an' go on wiff yo' story."

"Story?" repeated Washington Webster, sauntering up to them, leading a big cat—dragging, perhaps, would be the better word, as poor puss was trying hard to get away—by a string.

"'Bout Mahser Zanty Claws," said Queen, opening her eyes so wide that they seemed to spread over half her face. "Miss Bowles says to-morrer's Chrissmus, an' to-day's day befo' Chrissmus, an' to-night Mahser Zanty Claws go 'bout"—lowering her voice almost to a whisper—"an' put tings in chillun's stockin's dat 'haved deirselbs."

"Am Mahser Zanty Claws any lashun to dat ar ole man wiff de allspice hoof?" asked Washington Webster, with a scared look.

"Allspice hoof! Lissen at dat ar foolish young crow. Clove hoof, yo' means," said Queen Victoria. "Dat's anodder gemman 'tirely. Mahser Zanty Claws am good. He gits yo' dolls, an' candies, an' apples, an' nuts, an' books, an' drums, an' wissels, an' new cloze."

"Golly! wish he'd frow some trowsus an' jackits an' sich like fruit 'roun' here," said Christopher Columbus.

"Trowsus wiff red 'spenders an' a pistil pockit," said Washington Webster, "an' a gole watch, an' a sled all yaller, wiff green stars on it, an'—"

"Yo' bofe talk 's if yo'd bin awful good," interrupted Queen Victoria. "Maybe Mahser Zanty Claws disagree wiff yo'."

"Who dat ar done gone git her head cracked wiff de wooden spoon fur gobblin' all de hom'ny befo' de breakfuss war ready?" said Washington Webster, slyly.

"I 'most wish dar war no Washington Websters in de hull worle—I certainly do. Dey's too sassy to lib," said Queen Victoria. "An' sich busybodies—dey certainly is."

"But how am we to know wedder we's Mahser Zanty Claws's kine o' good chillun?" said Christopher Columbus. "We's might be good nuff fur ourseffs, an' not good nuff fur him. If I knowed he come yere certain sure, I git some green ornamuntses from ole Pete Campout—he done gone got hunderds an' hunderds an' piles an' piles—to stick up on de walls, an' make de house look more despectable like."

"Let's go an' ax Miss Bowles," said Queen Victoria. "Baby Bowles am fass asleep, an' she's in de kitchen makin' pies, an' she know ebberyting—she certainly do."

And off they all trooped, Primrose Ann, cat, and all.

"Come in," called the pleasant voice of their landlady, when they rapped on her door; and in they tumbled, asking the same question all together in one breath: "Mahser Zanty Claws comin' to our house, Miss Bowles?" Christopher Columbus adding, "'Pears dough we muss ornamentem some if he do."

Mrs. Bowles crimped the edge of her last pie, and then sat down, the children standing in a row before her.

"Have you all been very good?" she said. "Suppose you tell me what good thing you have done since yesterday afternoon. Then I can guess about Santa Claus."


"Primrose Ann cried fur dat ar orange yo' gib me," said Queen Victoria, after a moment's thought, "an' I eat it up quick 's I could, an' didn't gib her none, 'cause I's 'fraid she git de stummick-ache."

"I car'd home de washin' fur mommy fur two cakes an' some candy," said Washington Webster.

"And you?" asked Mrs. Bowles, turning to Christopher Columbus.

"I ran 'way from 'Dolphus Snow, an' wouldn't fight him, 'cause I 'fraid I hurt him," said Christopher, gravely.

Mrs. Bowles laughed merrily. "Go home and ornament," she said. "I am sure Santa Claus will pay you a visit."

And he did; for on Christmas morning, when the young Van Johnsons rushed pell-mell, helter-skelter, into the room prepared for his call, a new jacket hung on one chair, a new pair of trousers on the other; a doll's head peeped out of Queen Victoria's stocking; a new sled, gayly painted, announced itself in big letters "The Go Ahead"; lots of toys were waiting for Primrose Ann; and four papers of goodies reposed on the lowest shelf of the cupboard.

"'Pears dat ar Mahser Zanty Claws don't take zact measure fur boys' cloze," said Christopher Columbus, as he tried to struggle into the jacket. "Dis yere jackit's twicet too small."

"An' dis yere trowsusloons am twicet too big," said Washington Webster, as he drew them up to his armpits.

"Lor' bress you, honey-bugs!" called their mommy from the doorway, "yo' has got tings mixed. Dat ar jackit's fur de odder boy, an' dem trowsus too." And they all burst out laughing as Christopher Columbus and Washington Webster exchanged Christmas gifts, and laughed so loud that Mrs. Bowles came, over to see what was the matter, bringing Baby Bowles, who, seeing how jolly everybody was, began clapping her tiny hands, and shouting, "Melly Kissme! melly Kissme!"