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Father Christmas
by [?]

Outside in the street the rain fell pitilessly, but inside the Children’s Shop all was warmth and brightness. Happy young people of all ages pressed along, and I had no sooner opened the door than I was received into the eager stream of shoppers and hurried away to Fairyland. A slight block at one corner pitched me into an old, white-bearded gentleman who was standing next to me. Instantly my hat was in my hand.

“I beg your pardon,” I said with a bow. “I was–Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were real.” I straightened him up, looked at his price, and wondered whether I should buy him.

“What do you mean by real?” he said.

I started violently and took my hat off again.

“I am very stupid this morning,” I began. “The fact is I mistook you for a toy. A foolish error.”

“I AM a toy.”

“In that case,” I said in some annoyance, “I can’t stay here arguing with you. Good-morning.” And I took my hat off for the third time.

“Don’t go. Stop and buy me. You’ll never get what you want if you don’t take me with you. I’ve been in this place for years, and I know exactly where everything is. Besides, as I shall have to give away all your presents for you, it’s only fair that–“

An attendant came up and looked at me inquiringly.

“How much is this THING?” I said, and jerked a thumb at it.

“The Father Christmas?”

“Yes. I think I’ll have it. I’ll take it with me–you needn’t wrap it up.”

I handed over some money and we pushed on together.

“You heard what I called you?” I said to him. “A thing. So don’t go putting yourself forward.”

He gazed up innocently from under my arm.

“What shall we get first?” he asked.

“I want the engine-room. The locomotive in the home. The boy’s own railroad track.”

“That’s downstairs. But did you really think of an engine? I mean, isn’t it rather large and heavy? Why not get a–“

I smacked his head, and we went downstairs.

It was a delightful room. I was introduced to practically the whole of the Great Western Railway’s rolling stock.

“Engine, three carriages and a guard’s van. That’s right. Then I shall want some rails, of course…. SHUT up, will you?” I said angrily, when the attendant was out of hearing.

“It’s the extra weight,” he sighed. “The reindeer don’t like it. And these modern chimneys–you’ve no idea what a squeeze it is. However–“

“Those are very jolly,” I said when I had examined the rails. “I shall want about a mile of them. Threepence ha’penny a foot? Then I shan’t want nearly a mile.”

I got about thirty feet, and then turned to switches and signals and lamps and things. I bought a lot of those. You never know what emergency might not arise on the nursery floor, and if anything happened for want of a switch or two I should never forgive myself.

Just as we were going away I caught sight of the jolliest little clockwork torpedo boat. I stopped irresolute.

“Don’t be silly,” said the voice under my arm. “You’ll never be asked to the house again if you give that.”

“Why not?”

“Wait till the children have fallen into the bath once or twice with all their clothes on, and then ask the mother why not.”

“I see,” I said stiffly, and we went upstairs.

“The next thing we want is bricks.”

“Bricks,” said Father Christmas uneasily. “Bricks. Yes, there’s bricks. Have you ever thought of one of those nice little woolly rabbits–“

“Where do we get bricks?”

“Bricks. You know, I don’t think mothers are as fond as all that of BRICKS.”

“I got the mother’s present yesterday, thanks very much. This is for one of the children.”

They showed me bricks and they showed me pictures of what the bricks would build. Palaces, simply palaces. Gone was the Balbus-wall of our youth; gone was the fort with its arrow-holes for the archers. Nothing now but temples and Moorish palaces.