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JIMMY SCARECROW'S CHRISTMAS

from The Children's Book Of Christmas Stories





Jimmy Scarecrow led a sad life in the winter. Jimmy's greatest grief
was his lack of occupation. He liked to be useful, and in winter he was
absolutely of no use at all.

He wondered how many such miserable winters he would have to endure. He
was a young Scarecrow, and this was his first one. He was strongly
made, and although his wooden joints creaked a little when the wind
blew he did not grow in the least rickety. Every morning, when the
wintry sun peered like a hard yellow eye across the dry corn-stubble,
Jimmy felt sad, but at Christmas time his heart nearly broke.

On Christmas Eve Santa Claus came in his sledge heaped high with
presents, urging his team of reindeer across the field. He was on his
way to the farmhouse where Betsey lived with her Aunt Hannah.

Betsey was a very good little girl with very smooth yellow curls, and
she had a great many presents. Santa Claus had a large wax doll-baby
for her on his arm, tucked up against the fur collar of his coat. He
was afraid to trust it in the pack, lest it get broken.

When poor Jimmy Scarecrow saw Santa Claus his heart gave a great leap.
"Santa Claus! Here I am!" he cried out, but Santa Claus did not hear
him.

"Santa Claus, please give me a little present. I was good all summer
and kept the crows out of the corn," pleaded the poor Scarecrow in his
choking voice, but Santa Claus passed by with a merry halloo and a
great clamour of bells.

Then Jimmy Scarecrow stood in the corn-stubble and shook with sobs
until his joints creaked. "I am of no use in the world, and everybody
has forgotten me," he moaned. But he was mistaken.

The next morning Betsey sat at the window holding her Christmas
doll-baby, and she looked out at Jimmy Scarecrow standing alone in the
field amidst the corn-stubble.

"Aunt Hannah?" said she. Aunt Hannah was making a crazy patchwork
quilt, and she frowned hard at a triangular piece of red silk and
circular piece of pink, wondering how to fit them together. "Well?"
said she.

"Did Santa Claus bring the Scarecrow any Christmas present?"

"No, of course he didn't."

"Why not?"

"Because he's a Scarecrow. Don't ask silly questions."

"I wouldn't like to be treated so, if I was a Scarecrow," said Betsey,
but her Aunt Hannah did not hear her. She was busy cutting a triangular
snip out of the round piece of pink silk so the piece of red silk could
be feather-stitched into it.

It was snowing hard out of doors, and the north wind blew. The
Scarecrow's poor old coat got whiter and whiter with snow. Sometimes he
almost vanished in the thick white storm. Aunt Hannah worked until the
middle of the afternoon on her crazy quilt. Then she got up and spread
it out over the sofa with an air of pride.

"There," said she, "that's done, and that makes the eighth. I've got
one for every bed in the house, and I've given four away. I'd give this
away if I knew of anybody that wanted it."

Aunt Hannah put on her hood and shawl, and drew some blue yarn
stockings on over her shoes, and set out through the snow to carry a
slice of plum-pudding to her sister Susan, who lived down the road.
Half an hour after Aunt Hannah had gone Betsey put her little red plaid
shawl over her head, and ran across the field to Jimmy Scarecrow. She
carried her new doll-baby smuggled up under her shawl.

"Wish you Merry Christmas!" she said to Jimmy Scarecrow.

"Wish you the same," said Jimmy, but his voice was choked with sobs,
and was also muffled, for his old hat had slipped down to his chin.
Betsey looked pitifully at the old hat fringed with icicles, like
frozen tears, and the old snow-laden coat. "I've brought you a
Christmas present," said she, and with that she tucked her doll-baby
inside Jimmy Scarecrow's coat, sticking its tiny feet into a pocket.

"Thank you," said Jimmy Scarecrow faintly.

"You're welcome," said she. "Keep her under your overcoat, so the snow
won't wet her, and she won't catch cold, she's delicate."

"Yes, I will," said Jimmy Scarecrow, and he tried hard to bring one of
his stiff, outstretched arms around to clasp the doll-baby.

"Don't you feel cold in that old summer coat?" asked Betsey.

"If I bad a little exercise, I should be warm," he replied. But he
shivered, and the wind whistled through his rags.

"You wait a minute," said Betsey, and was off across the field.

Jimmy Scarecrow stood in the corn-stubble, with the doll-baby under his
coat and waited, and soon Betsey was back again with Aunt Hannah's
crazy quilt trailing in the snow behind her.

"Here," said she, "here is something to keep you warm," and she folded
the crazy quilt around the Scarecrow and pinned it.

"Aunt Hannah wants to give it away if anybody wants it," she explained.
"She's got so many crazy quilts in the house now she doesn't know what
to do with them. Good-bye--be sure you keep the doll-baby covered up."
And with that she ran cross the field, and left Jimmy Scarecrow alone
with the crazy quilt and the doll-baby.

The bright flash of colours under Jimmy's hat-brim dazzled his eyes,
and he felt a little alarmed. "I hope this quilt is harmless if it IS
crazy," he said. But the quilt was warm, and he dismissed his fears.
Soon the doll-baby whimpered, but he creaked his joints a little, and
that amused it, and he heard it cooing inside his coat.

Jimmy Scarecrow had never felt so happy in his life as he did for an
hour or so. But after that the snow began to turn to rain, and the
crazy quilt was soaked through and through: and not only that, but his
coat and the poor doll-baby. It cried pitifully for a while, and then
it was still, and he was afraid it was dead.

It grew very dark, and the rain fell in sheets, the snow melted, and
Jimmy Scarecrow stood halfway up his old boots in water. He was saying
to himself that the saddest hour of his life had come, when suddenly he
again heard Santa Claus' sleigh-bells and his merry voice talking to
his reindeer. It was after midnight, Christmas was over, and Santa was
hastening home to the North Pole.

"Santa Claus! dear Santa Claus!" cried Jimmy Scarecrow with a great
sob, and that time Santa Claus heard him and drew rein.

"Who's there?" he shouted out of the darkness.

"It's only me," replied the Scarecrow.

"Who's me?" shouted Santa Claus.

"Jimmy Scarecrow!"

Santa got out of his sledge and waded up. "Have you been standing here
ever since corn was ripe?" he asked pityingly, and Jimmy replied that
he had.

"What's that over your shoulders?" Santa Claus continued, holding up
his lantern.

"It's a crazy quilt."

"And what are you holding under your coat?"

"The doll-baby that Betsey gave me, and I'm afraid it's dead," poor
Jimmy Scarecrow sobbed.

"Nonsense!" cried Santa Claus. "Let me see it!" And with that he pulled
the doll-baby out from under the Scarecrow's coat, and patted its back,
and shook it a little, and it began to cry, and then to crow. "It's all
right," said Santa Claus. "This is the doll-baby I gave Betsey, and it
is not at all delicate. It went through the measles, and the
chicken-pox, and the mumps, and the whooping-cough, before it left the
North Pole. Now get into the sledge, Jimmy Scarecrow, and bring the
doll-baby and the crazy quilt. I have never had any quilts that weren't
in their right minds at the North Pole, but maybe I can cure this one.
Get in!" Santa chirruped to his reindeer, and they drew the sledge up
close in a beautiful curve.

"Get in, Jimmy Scarecrow, and come with me to the North Pole!" he cried.

"Please, how long shall I stay?" asked Jimmy Scarecrow.

"Why, you are going to live with me," replied Santa Claus. "I've been
looking for a person like you for a long time."

"Are there any crows to scare away at the North Pole? I want to be
useful," Jimmy Scarecrow said, anxiously.

"No," answered Santa Claus, "but I don't want you to scare away crows.
I want you to scare away Arctic Explorers. I can keep you in work for a
thousand years, and scaring away Arctic Explorers from the North Pole
is much more important than scaring away crows from corn. Why, if they
found the Pole, there wouldn't be a piece an inch long left in a week's
time, and the earth would cave in like an apple without a core! They
would whittle it all to pieces, and carry it away in their pockets for
souvenirs. Come along; I am in a hurry."

"I will go on two conditions," said Jimmy. "First, I want to make a
present to Aunt Hannah and Betsey, next Christmas."

"You shall make them any present you choose. What else?"

"I want some way provided to scare the crows out of the corn next
summer, while I am away," said Jimmy.

"That is easily managed," said Santa Claus. "Just wait a minute."

Santa took his stylographic pen out of his pocket, went with his
lantern close to one of the fence-posts, and wrote these words upon it:



Whichever crow shall hereafter hop, fly, or flop into this field during
the absence of Jimmy Scarecrow, and therefrom purloin, steal, or
abstract corn, shall be instantly, in a twinkling and a trice, turned
snow-white, and be ever after a disgrace, a byword and a reproach to
his whole race.
Per order of Santa Claus.

"The corn will be safe now," said Santa Claus, "get in." Jimmy got into
the sledge and they flew away over the fields, out of sight, with merry
halloos and a great clamour of bells.

The next morning there was much surprise at the farmhouse, when Aunt
Hannah and Betsey looked out of the window and the Scarecrow was not in
the field holding out his stiff arms over the corn stubble. Betsey had
told Aunt Hannah she had given away the crazy quilt and the doll-baby,
but had been scolded very little.

"You must not give away anything of yours again without asking
permission," said Aunt Hannah. "And you have no right to give anything
of mine, even if you know I don't want it. Now both my pretty quilt and
your beautiful doll-baby are spoiled."

That was all Aunt Hannah had said. She thought she would send John
after the quilt and the doll-baby next morning as soon as it was light.

But Jimmy Scarecrow was gone, and the crazy quilt and the doll-baby
with him. John, the servant-man, searched everywhere, but not a trace
of them could he find. "They must have all blown away, mum," he said to
Aunt Hannah.

"We shall have to have another scarecrow next summer," said she.

But the next summer there was no need of a scarecrow, for not a crow
came past the fence-post on which Santa Claus had written his notice to
crows. The cornfield was never so beautiful, and not a single grain was
stolen by a crow, and everybody wondered at it, for they could not read
the crow-language in which Santa had written.

"It is a great mystery to me why the crows don't come into our
cornfield, when there is no scarecrow," said Aunt Hannah.

But she had a still greater mystery to solve when Christmas came round
again. Then she and Betsey had each a strange present. They found them
in the sitting-room on Christmas morning. Aunt Hannah's present was her
old crazy quilt, remodelled, with every piece cut square and true, and
matched exactly to its neighbour.

"Why, it's my old crazy quilt, but it isn't crazy now!" cried Aunt
Hannah, and her very spectacles seemed to glisten with amazement.

Betsey's present was her doll-baby of the Christmas before; but the
doll was a year older. She had grown an inch, and could walk and say,
"mamma," and "how do?" She was changed a good deal, but Betsey knew her
at once. "It's my doll-baby!" she cried, and snatched her up and kissed
her.

But neither Aunt Hannah nor Betsey ever knew that the quilt and the
doll were Jimmy Scarecrow's Christmas presents to them.



WHY THE CHIMES RANG*



There was once in a faraway country where few people have ever
travelled, a wonderful church. It stood on a high hill in the midst of
a great city; and every Sunday, as well as on sacred days like
Christmas, thousands of people climbed the hill to its great archways,
looking like lines of ants all moving in the same direction.

When you came to the building itself, you found stone columns and dark
passages, and a grand entrance leading to the main room of the church.
This room was so long that one standing at the doorway could scarcely
see to the other end, where the choir stood by the marble altar. In the
farthest corner was the organ; and this organ was so loud, that
sometimes when it played, the people for miles around would close their
shutters and prepare for a great thunderstorm. Altogether, no such
church as this was ever seen before, especially when it was lighted up
for some festival, and crowded with people, young and old. But the
strangest thing about the whole building was the wonderful chime of
bells.

At one corner of the church was a great gray tower, with ivy growing
over it as far up as one could see. I say as far as one could see,
because the tower was quite great enough to fit the great church, and
it rose so far into the sky that it was only in very fair weather that
any one claimed to be able to see the top. Even then one could not be
certain that it was in sight. Up, and up, and up climbed the stones and
the ivy; and as the men who built the church had been dead for hundreds
of years, every one had forgotten how high the tower was supposed to be.

Now all the people knew that at the top of the tower was a chime of
Christmas bells. They had hung there ever since the church had been
built, and were the most beautiful bells in the world. Some thought it
was because a great musician had cast them and arranged them in their
place; others said it was because of the great height, which reached up
where the air was clearest and purest; however that might be no one who
had ever heard the chimes denied that they were the sweetest in the
world. Some described them as sounding like angels far up in the sky;
others as sounding like strange winds singing through the trees.

But the fact was that no one had heard them for years and years. There
was an old man living not far from the church who said that his mother
had spoken of hearing them when she was a little girl, and he was the
only one who was sure of as much as that. They were Christmas chimes,
you see, and were not meant to be played by men or on common days. It
was the custom on Christmas Eve for all the people to bring to the
church their offerings to the Christ-Child; and when the greatest and
best offering was laid on the altar there used to come sounding through
the music of the choir the Christmas chimes far up in the tower. Some
said that the wind rang them, and others, that they were so high that
the angels could set them swinging. But for many long years they had
never been heard. It was said that people had been growing less careful
of their gifts for the Christ-Child, and that no offering was brought
great enough to deserve the music of the chimes.

Every Christmas Eve the rich people still crowded to the altar, each
one trying to bring some better gift than any other, without giving
anything that he wanted for himself, and the church was crowded with
those who thought that perhaps the wonderful bells might be heard
again. But although the service was splendid, and the offerings plenty,
only the roar of the wind could be heard, far up in the stone tower.

Now, a number of miles from the city, in a little country village,
where nothing could be seen of the great church but glimpses of the
tower when the weather was fine, lived a boy named Pedro, and his
little brother. They knew very little about the Christmas chimes, but
they had heard of the service in the church on Christmas Eve, and had a
secret plan which they had often talked over when by themselves, to go
to see the beautiful celebration.

"Nobody can guess, Little Brother," Pedro would say; "all the fine
things there are to see and hear; and I have even heard it said that
the Christ-Child sometimes comes down to bless the service. What if we
could see Him?"

The day before Christmas was bitterly cold, with a few lonely
snowflakes flying in the air, and a hard white crust on the ground.
Sure enough Pedro and Little Brother were able to slip quietly away
early in the afternoon; and although the walking was hard in the frosty
air, before nightfall they had trudged so far, hand in hand, that they
saw the lights of the big city just ahead of them. Indeed they were
about to enter one of the great gates in the wall that surrounded it,
when they saw something dark on the snow near their path, and stepped
aside to look at it.

It was a poor woman, who had fallen just outside the city, too sick and
tired to get in where she might have found shelter. The soft snow made
of a drift a sort of pillow for her, and she would soon be so sound
asleep, in the wintry air, that no one could ever waken her again. All
this Pedro saw in a moment and he knelt down beside her and tried to
rouse her, even tugging at her arm a little, as though he would have
tried to carry her away. He turned her face toward him, so that he
could rub some of the snow on it, and when he had looked at her
silently a moment he stood up again, and said:

"It's no use, Little Brother. You will have to go on alone."

"Alone?" cried Little Brother. "And you not see the Christmas festival?"

"No," said Pedro, and he could not keep back a bit of a choking sound
in his throat. "See this poor woman. Her face looks like the Madonna in
the chapel window, and she will freeze to death if nobody cares for
her. Every one has gone to the church now, but when you come back you
can bring some one to help her. I will rub her to keep her from
freezing, and perhaps get her to eat the bun that is left in my pocket."

"But I cannot bear to leave you, and go on alone," said Little Brother.

"Both of us need not miss the service," said Pedro. "and it had better
be I than you. You can easily find your way to church; and you must see
and hear everything twice, Little Brother--once for you and once for
me. I am sure the Christ-Child must know how I should love to come with
you and worship Him; and oh! if you get a chance, Little Brother, to
slip up to the altar without getting in any one's way, take this little
silver piece of mine, and lay it down for my offering, when no one is
looking. Do not forget where you have left me, and forgive me for not
going with you."

In this way he hurried Little Brother off to the city and winked hard
to keep back the tears, as he heard the crunching footsteps sounding
farther and farther away in the twilight. It was pretty hard to lose
the music and splendour of the Christmas celebration that he had been
planning for so long, and spend the time instead in that lonely place
in the snow.

The great church was a wonderful place that night. Every one said that
it had never looked so bright and beautiful before. When the organ
played and the thousands of people sang, the walls shook with the
sound, and little Pedro, away outside the city wall, felt the earth
tremble around them.

At the close of the service came the procession with the offerings to
be laid on the altar. Rich men and great men marched proudly up to lay
down their gifts to the Christ-Child. Some brought wonderful jewels,
some baskets of gold so heavy that they could scarcely carry them down
the aisle. A great writer laid down a book that he had been making for
years and years. And last of all walked the king of the country, hoping
with all the rest to win for himself the chime of the Christmas bells.
There went a great murmur through the church as the people saw the king
take from his head the royal crown, all set with precious stones, and
lay it gleaming on the altar, as his offering to the Holy Child.
"Surely," every one said, "we shall hear the bells now, for nothing
like this has ever happened before."

But still only the cold old wind was heard in the tower and the people
shook their heads; and some of them said, as they had before, that they
never really believed the story of the chimes, and doubted if they ever
rang at all.

The procession was over, and the choir began the closing hymn. Suddenly
the organist stopped playing; and every one looked at the old minister,
who was standing by the altar, holding up his hand for silence. Not a
sound could be heard from any one in the church, but as all the people
strained their ears to listen, there came softly, but distinctly,
swinging through the air, the sound of the chimes in the tower. So far
away, and yet so clear the music seemed--so much sweeter were the notes
than anything that had been heard before, rising and falling away up
there in the sky, that the people in the church sat for a moment as
still as though something held each of them by the shoulders. Then they
all stood up together and stared straight at the altar, to see what
great gift had awakened the long silent bells.

But all that the nearest of them saw was the childish figure of Little
Brother, who had crept softly down the aisle when no one was looking,
and had laid Pedro's little piece of silver on the altar.





Next: THE BIRDS' CHRISTMAS

Previous: A STORY OF THE CHRIST-CHILD



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