Saturday, 14 December 2013

How Old Mr. Long-Tail Became a Santa Claus

(By Harrison Cady)

No Sir-ree, you don't catch me giving anything to Christmas charity. No, sir-ree! It's all nonsense anyway," said old Mr Long-Tail as he slammed his door shut with a great bang right in the face of a startled snowbird who had called to ask for a contribution for the Christmas fund for the poor and needy.

Then with a frown he turned, drawing his old dressing gown more closely about him, and hobbled over to his easy-chair before the fire. Seating himself among its cushions, he proceeded to pour out a steaming bowl of broth from a copper pot and to help himself to a bit of toast from a trivet before the fire.

"Ha, ha!" he squeaked, "This is pretty snug." And his lips curled into a satisfied smile as he glanced over to where the boisterous snowflakes were dashing against the window pane.

"Who-o-o! Who-o-o!" whistled the cold North Wind as it rattled the shutters.

"Crackety-crackety," answered the leaping flames in the grate, with a merry shower of sparks.

Mr. Long-Tail was very snug. His comfortable little house fairly glowed with warmth, and its pantry shelves sagged under their weight of good things. So, on this cold winter's day, the Day-Before-Christmas, he of all the many forest folk could afford to scoff and shoo away unwelcome callers. Why should he worry about the needy and the cold? His shelves were full and his fire was warm. Besides, did he not have many storehouses filled to overflowing?

But many in the great world were not as free from worry as Mr. Long-Tail. Many days of heavy storms and cruel winds had drifted the snow and covered fields and forests alike with a thick white mantle which, freezing, had made it almost impossible for many little creatures to reach their hidden stores to find a stray berry.

For weeks they had been watching and waiting in the hope of better weather. Christmas was drawing near, and they had planned a celebration around a great fir tree which grew on a lofty knoll at the edge of the forest. They had planned to trim it with long garlands of holly, while myriads of blazing candles would glisten and sparkle upon boughs laden with presents.

Then one day came a great blizzard which howled and shrieked and added huge drifts of snow. The little forest people looked out from their windows to see the blizzard imps dancing in glee, and as days went by they slowly gave up hope of the great Christmas celebration. Many tiny creatures watched their storehouses of provisions gradually disappear under the snow, and each day saw the list of the needy increase.

So the Day-Before-Christmas found every little eye carrying a look of worry, and every little voice sobbed, "We can do but little for this Christmas, and that only for the very poor." All but old Mr. Long-Tail. His eyes held no look of worry. He was in a class by himself, for, as sometimes happens, not any of his storehouses were buried and every snowflake that fell before his door seemed to be instantly whisked away by the North-Wind.

So he sat by his fire and drank his broth and wheezed in his most disagreeable voice, "Christmas! I'll have none of it!"

To explain: Old Mr Long-Tail was a rat, and a very miserly one at that. In fact, he belonged to the great family of Miser Rats who had a habit of gathering away in funny little storehouses where one could find everything from an old button to a bit of brightly coloured glass, along with queer dried roots and vegetables. Old Mr. Long-Tail had lived a long time and, as he had inherited the family traits, his storehouses were many.

He sat all alone the Day-Before-Christmas, buried in his great armchair, and thought only of how very comfortable he was--he, the very richest creature in the great forest. But old Mr. Long-Tail was not happy, for all his great riches there was one thing more he longed for - a certain kind of yellow corn that was hidden away in a certain old barn a goodly distance away.

"Ah! If I only had a little of that fine corn for my Christmas dinner," sighed old Mr. Long-Tail, for secretly he did intend to celebrate Christmas Day, but all by himself.

Finally he went to the window and peered out. "Whew! It's a pretty rough day, but I believe I might make it," he exclaimed as he drew on his big coat and wound his woolen scarf about his neck. Then he threw an empty sack over his shoulder and, buckling on a pair of snowshoes, headed for that distant barn.

Reaching it after a very long and difficult trip, he removed his snowshoes and crawled under the old building until he came to a convenient crack in the floor. Raising himself carefully he crept noiselessly within. Everything was silent and deserted except for the groaning of the wind about the eaves. Mr. Long-Tail lost not time in getting across the floor to a large wooden bin beside the wall, and he sped quickly along its side until he came to an opening, and then, with a hurried look over his shoulder, he stepped inside - not inside the bin, but right into a large box trap. The cover dropped with a thunderous clap, and old Mr. Long-Tail found himself a prisoner.

It was all so sudden and unexpected that it quite took his breath away. He tried to find a way of escape, but there was no escape for old Mr. Long-Tail. Exhausted, he crouched down and moaned, "Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I'm caught! I'm caught!" and his falling tears splashed on the floor of his prison.

Yes, he was caught, and caught so well that unless something unforeseen happened he was doomed to spend his Christmas Day in that box trap. Poor old Mr. Long-Tail, who had planned to celebrate all alone with a delicious feast!

One hour passed; then another; then many more followed, and Mr. Long-Tail commenced to feel cold and hungry - yes, hungry right that terrible trap in that well-filled corn bin. He shivered and shivered until the old box trap fairly made the corn rattle.

"Hush! Hush! What's that?" whispered one little snowbird to another as they huddled under the eaves of the old barn. "I hear something."

Just then old Mr. Long-Tail gave a low moan.

"Whew! Someone is in distress," cried the little snowbirds together as they cocked their heads and listened.

Again came a moan.

"Whew! Some poor soul is in distress and we must help him."

Then those two little snowbirds spread their wings and went whirling down to a windowsill, and finding a broken pane they poked their heads in and listened until they heard the sob again.

Then they both peeped loudly, "Who's there?"

Faintly from the bin came a plaintive cry: "Help! Help! It's me, poor Mr. Long-Tail."

The two little snowbirds without hesitation flew right into the old barn and investigated.

"It's old Mr. Long-Tail all right," said one as he spied the tip of the rat's tail protruding fro the end of the box.
"Oh! so you are the crabbed old fellow who shooed us away from your door this morning," said the other.

Mr. Long-Tail sobbed, "Set me free and anything I own is yours."

"We are going to set you free all right," cried the little birds, "but we don't want anything of yours. No sir. We only accept presents from willing givers, and just to show you, we are going to return good for evil."

They began to dig those yellow ears of corn from under the old box trap until it fell on its side and the cover opened enough for Mr. Long-Tail to slip out. He didn't stop, and he didn't even thank the snowbirds for saving his life! He only ran just as fast as his legs would carry him straight for his home.

"My! That was a narrow escape," he puffed as he bolted his heavy door. "You don't catch me leaving this snug little house again." And he stirred the fire and dropped into his big easy-chair.

For a long time he sat and looked into the crackling flames as they danced and leaped up the chimney. Then gradually old Mr. Long-Tail commenced to see strange shapes. Curious visions appeared; and along with them came troubling thoughts.

As the flames danced they shaped themselves into weird pictures of huddled creatures bent with cold and hunger drawing their thin coats about them. He could hear the roar of the winter tempest; he saw lines of empty stockings and heard plaintive calls for food.

Then he saw a score of rich storehouses filled to overflowing, with doors heavily barred, while before them walked a grotesque figure turning away groups of starving forest folk. And last of all, he saw two tiny snowbirds helping someone out of a trap, someone who whined and whimpered and cried, "Help! Help! It's me, poor Mr. Long-Tail."

This was too much for him. He jumped suddenly to his feet and cried "That's me, a mean old miser, who does nothing for anyone but himself. The poor and needy I turn away, and I don't even thank those who save my life!"

Ashamed and humbled, he sat down again and remained motionless for a long time. Then, with a sudden cry of joy, he jumped to his feet and looked at the clock.

"Hurrah! There's yet time. There are still a few hours left," he cried as he drew on his coat and gathering a pile of empty bags together, disappeared into the night.

The Night-Before-Christmas! That magic hour of all the year when Santa Claus, behind his team of reindeer steeds, rides from one chimney top to another. But on this particular night the little creatures of the great forest had given up all hope of any Christmas visitor and were huddled in their beds for warmth. They were fast asleep, dreaming their troubled dreams of empty shelves and stockings.

Outside, the great world lay covered with ice and snow, for the blizzard had gone on its way and a cold winter moon shone on the hanging icicles.

Then suddenly there came, at the exact hour of twelve, the ringing of a bell. The little people awoke with a start and cried "It's a Christmas bell! It's a Christmas bell!"

In a flash, they were out of their beds and, hurriedly dressing, they scampered towards the echoing bell. And what do you suppose they saw?

A smiling old long-tailed rat ringing the bell! Before him on the ground were spread thousands of wonderful Christmas gifts, and above them was the sign:

Good will toward men.
Merry Christmas to All!
From Mr Longtail

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