“A Luckless Santa Claus” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Miss Harmon was responsible for the whole thing. If it had not been for her foolish whim, Talbot would not have made a fool of himself, and–but I am getting ahead of my story.
It was Christmas Eve. Salvation Army Santa Clauses with highly colored noses proclaimed it as they beat upon rickety paper chimneys with tin spoons. Package laden old bachelors forgot to worry about how many slippers and dressing gowns they would have to thank people for next day, and joined in the general air of excitement that pervaded busy Manhattan.
In the parlor of a house situated on a dimly lighted residence street somewhere east of Broadway, sat the lady who, as I have said before, started the whole business. She was holding a conversation half frivolous, half sentimental, with a faultlessly dressed young man who sat with her on the sofa. All of this was quite right and proper, however, for they were engaged to be married in June.
“Harry Talbot,” said Dorothy Harmon, as she rose and stood laughing at the merry young gentleman beside her, “if you aren’t the most ridiculous boy I ever met, I’ll eat that terrible box of candy you brought me last week!”
“Dorothy,” reproved the young man, “you should receive gifts in the spirit in which they are given. That box of candy cost me much of my hard earned money.”
“Your hard earned money, indeed!” scoffed Dorothy. “You know very well that you never earned a cent in your life. Golf and dancing–that is the sum total of your occupations. Why, you can’t even spend money, much less earn it!”
“My dear Dorothy, I succeeded in running up some very choice bills last month, as you will find if you consult my father.”
“That’s not spending your money. That’s wasting it. Why, I don’t think you could give away twenty-five dollars in the right way to save your life.”
“But why on earth,” remonstrated Harry, “should I want to give away twenty-five dollars?”
“Because,” explained Dorothy, “that would be real charity. It’s nothing to charge a desk to your father and have it sent to me, but to give money to people you don’t know is something.”
“Why, any old fellow can give away money,” protested Harry.
“Then,” exclaimed Dorothy, “we’ll see if you can. I don’t believe that you could give twenty-five dollars in the course of an evening if you tried.”
“Indeed, I could.”
“Then try it!” And Dorothy, dashing into the hall, took down his coat and hat and placed them in his reluctant hands. “It is now half-past eight. You be here by ten o’clock.”
“But, but,” gasped Harry.
Dorothy was edging him towards the door.
“How much money have you?” she demanded.
Harry gloomily put his hand in his pocket and counted out a handful of bills.
“Exactly twenty-five dollars and five cents.”
“Very well! Now listen! These are the conditions. You go out and give this money to anybody you care to whom you have never seen before. Don’t give more than two dollars to any one person. And be back here by ten o’clock with no more than five cents in your pocket.”
“But,” declared Harry, still backing towards the door, “I want my twenty-five dollars.”
“Harry,” said Dorothy sweetly, “I am surprised!” and with that, she slammed the door in his face.
“I insist,” muttered Harry, “that this is a most unusual pro- ceeding.”
He walked down the steps and hesitated.
“Now,” he thought, “Where shall I go?”
He considered a moment and finally started off towards Broad- way. He had gone about half a block when he saw a gentleman in a top hat approaching. Harry hesitated. Then he made up his mind, and, stepping towards the man, emitted what he intended for a pleasant laugh but what sounded more like a gurgle, and loudly vociferated, “Merry Christmas, friend!”
Hey, didn’t we just accuse Mark Twain of dissing Santa? Dude had a heart, of course. Here’s a letter he ghost wrote for St. Nick to his beloved daughter Susie:
Palace of St. Nicholas
In the Moon
MY DEAR SUSIE CLEMENS:
I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands–for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples’ alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister’s jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters–I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself–and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: “Little Snow Flake,” (for that is the child’s name) “I’m glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I.” That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn’t hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage very heavy.
There was a word or two in your mama’s letter which I couldn’t be certain of. I took it to be “a trunk full of doll’s clothes.” Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o’clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak–otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse’s bed and put your car to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, “Welcome, Santa Claus!” Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say “Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens,” you must say “Good-by, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here–I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, ‘I know somebody up there and like her, too.’ ” Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall–if it is a trunk you want–because I couldn’t get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.
People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all–so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven’t time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag–else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus’s boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?
Good-by for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.
Your loving SANTA CLAUS
Whom people sometimes call “The Man in the Moon”
In Chapter 31 of his travel piece A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain wonders (in typical cynical fashion) why dear ole Saint Nick, who abandoned his kids, should deserve a loving reputation:
Presently we passed the place where a man of better odor was born. This was the children’s friend, Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas. There are some unaccountable reputations in the world. This saint’s is an instance. He has ranked for ages as the peculiar friend of children, yet it appears he was not much of a friend to his own. He had ten of them, and when fifty years old he left them, and sought out as dismal a refuge from the world as possible, and became a hermit in order that he might reflect upon pious themes without being disturbed by the joyous and other noises from the nursery, doubtless.
Judging by Pilate and St. Nicholas, there exists no rule for the construction of hermits; they seem made out of all kinds of material. But Pilate attended to the matter of expiating his sin while he was alive, whereas St. Nicholas will probably have to go on climbing down sooty chimneys, Christmas eve, forever, and conferring kindness on other people’s children, to make up for deserting his own. His bones are kept in a church in a village (Sachseln) which we visited, and are naturally held in great reverence. His portrait is common in the farmhouses of the region, but is believed by many to be but an indifferent likeness. During his hermit life, according to legend, he partook of the bread and wine of the communion once a month, but all the rest of the month he fasted.
From Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, a shocking, weird, gross, Christmasy reference near the end of the book. The context is that, in 1950s America, Sibyl, a white woman, wants the narrator, a black man, to fulfill her rape fantasy. Page 522 of my edition–
I’m finishing up Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and I came to this shocking, weird, gross, Christmasy reference near the end of the book. The context is that, in 1950s America, Sibyl, a white woman, wants the narrator, a black man, to fulfill her rape fantasy. Page 522 of my edition–