A MERRY CHRISTMAS
Next morning, snow was in the air. Hard bits of snow were leaping and whirling in the howling wind.
Laura could not go out to play. In the stable, Spot and Pete and Bright stood all day long, eating the hay and straw. In the dugout, Pa mended his boots while Ma read to him again the story called Millbank. Mary sewed and Laura played with Charlotte. She could let Carrie hold Charlotte, but Carrie was too little to play with paper dolls; she might tear one.
That afternoon, when Carrie was asleep, Ma beckoned Mary and Laura. Her face was shining with a secret. They put their heads close to hers, and she told them. They could make a button- string for Carrie’s Christmas!
They climbed onto their bed and turned their backs to Carrie and spread their laps wide. Ma brought them her button-box.
The box was almost full. Ma had saved but- tons since she was smaller than Laura, and she had buttons her mother had saved when her mother was a little girl. There were blue buttons and red buttons, silvery and goldy buttons, curved-in buttons with tiny raised castles and bridges and trees on them, and twinkling jet buttons, painted china buttons, striped buttons, buttons like juicy blackberries, and even one tiny dog-head button. Laura squealed when she saw it.
“Sh!” Ma shushed her. But Carrie did not wake up.
Ma gave them all those buttons to make a button string for Carrie.
After that, Laura did not mind staying in the dugout. When she saw the outdoors, the wind was driving snowdrifts across the bare frozen land. The creek was ice and the willow-tops rattled. In the dugout she and Mary had their secret.
They played gently with Carrie and gave her everything she wanted. They cuddled her and sang to her and got her to sleep whenever they could. Then they worked on the button-string.
Mary had one end of the string and Laura had the other. They picked out the buttons they wanted and strung them on the string. They held the string out and looked at it and took off some buttons and put on others. Sometimes they took every button off and started again. They were going to make the most beautiful button-string in the world.
One day Ma told them that this was the day before Christmas. They must finish the button- string that day.
They could not get Carrie to sleep. She ran and shouted, climbed on benches and jumped off, and skipped and sang. She did not get tired. Mary told her to sit still like a little lady, but she wouldn’t. Laura let her hold Charlotte, and she jounced Charlotte up and down and flung her against the wall.
Finally, Ma cuddled her and sang. Laura and Mary were perfectly still. Lower and lower Ma sang, and Carrie’s eyes blinked till they shut. When softly Ma stopped singing, Carrie’s eyes popped open and she shouted, “More, Ma! More!”
But at last she fell asleep. Then quickly, quickly, Laura and Mary finished the button- string. Ma tied the ends together for them. It was done; they could not change one button more. It was a beautiful button-string.
That evening after supper, when Carrie was sound asleep, Ma hung her clean little pair of stockings from the table edge. Laura and Mary, in their nightgowns, slid the button-string into one stocking.
Then that was all. Mary and Laura were going to bed when Pa asked them, “Aren’t you girls going to hang your stockings?”
“But I thought,” Laura said, “I thought Santa Claus was going to bring us horses.”
“Maybe he will,” said Pa. “But little girls al- ways hang up their stockings on Christmas Eve, don’t they?”
Laura did not know what to think. Neither did Mary. Ma took two clean stockings out of the clothes-box, and Pa helped hang them beside Carrie’s. Laura and Mary said their prayers and went to sleep, wondering.
In the morning Laura heard the fire crackling. She opened one eye the least bit, and saw lamp- light, and a bulge in her Christmas stocking.
She yelled and jumped out of bed. Mary came running, too, and Carrie woke up. In Laura’s stocking, and in Mary’s stocking, there were little paper packages, just alike. In the packages was candy.
Laura had six pieces, and Mary had six. They had never seen such beautiful candy. It was too beautiful to eat. Some pieces were like ribbons, bent in waves. Some were short bits of round stick candy, and on their flat ends were colored flowers that went all the way through. Some were perfectly round and striped.
In one of Carrie’s stockings were four pieces of that beautiful candy. In the other was the button-string. Carrie’s eyes and her mouth were perfectly round when she saw it. Then she squealed and grabbed it and squealed again. She sat on Pa’s knee, looking at her candy and her button-string and wriggling and laughing with joy.
Then it was time for Pa to do the chores. He said, “Do you suppose there is anything for us in the stable?” And Ma said, “Dress as fast as you can, girls, and you can go to the stable and see what Pa finds.”
It was winter, so they had to put on stockings and shoes. But Ma helped them button up the shoes and she pinned their shawls under their chins. They ran out into the cold.
Everything was gray, except a long red streak in the eastern sky. Its red light shone on the patches of gray-white snow. Snow was caught in the dead grass on the walls and roof of the stable and it was red. Pa stood waiting in the stable door. He laughed when he saw Laura and Mary, and he stepped outside to let them go in.
There, standing in Pete’s and Bright’s places, were two horses.
They were larger than Pet and Patty, and they were a soft, red-brown color, shining like silk. Their manes and tails were black. Their eyes were bright and gentle. They put their velvety noses down to Laura and nibbled softly at her hand and breathed warm on it.
“Well, flutterbudget!” said Pa. “And Mary.
How do you girls like your Christmas?”
“Very much, Pa,” said Mary, but Laura could only say, “Oh, Pa!”
Pa’s eyes shone deep and he asked, “Who wants to ride the Christmas horses to water?”
Laura could hardly wait while he lifted Mary up and showed her how to hold on to the mane and told her not to be afraid. Then Pa’s strong hands swung Laura up. She sat on the horse’s big, gentle back and felt its aliveness carrying her.
All outdoors was glittering now with sun- shine on snow and frost. Pa went ahead, leading the horses and carrying his ax to break the ice in the creek so they could drink. The horses lifted their heads and took deep breaths and whooshed the cold out of their noses. Their velvety ears pricked forward, then back and forward again.
Laura held to her horse’s mane and clapped her shoes together and laughed. Pa and the horses and Mary and Laura were all happy in the gay, cold Christmas morning.