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As originally published in
The Atlantic Monthly

December 1903

Santa Claus At Lonely Cove

by Norman Duncan

THERE was a lusty old wind scampering over Lonely Cove, -- a big, rollicking winter's gale blowing straight out of the North. Had there been no snow, -- had the earth been naked brown and the rocks black in the night, had the pines of the Great Hill and of the gully called Long-an'-Deep been free to toss their arms and tell their dreadful secrets to the storm, had gusts of black rain fallen angrily on the window-panes, had the low growl of breakers come up from the sea, -- had there not been snow, indeed, and had it not been Christmas Eve, the three little Jutts would long ago have crept up to bed, led by the hand of Martha, the sister, herself timid of the wind and of the dark, but still dissembling great courage; and they would have slipped into bed in a hurry, with Sammy between them, to whom Martha would have sung all the hushaby songs she knew, to help him to sleep. But it WAS Christmas Eve, and there WAS snow with the wind, -- clouds of thick flakes; and the earth was soft and white from Battle Harbor up the Labrador coast to places beyond the furthest cove to which the schooners of men had gone for fish. So the three little Jutts sat waiting at the kitchen fire, not by any means shaken in their purpose, but, rather, only pleasurably thrilled by all the noises, great and small and known and queer, -- sudden rattle at the window, and long, gruff roar in the cellar, -- which that jolly old winter's wind could devise to frighten them.

Return to Flashback: Ghosts of Christmases Past "The wind's playin' bear, the night!" laughed Jimmie Jutt.

Sammy flung an impudent challenge to the big black bear. " Boo-o-oo!" said he, to frighten it.

"'T will not cotch US, b'y," said Martha very softly; and she gave little Sammy a quick, close hug, and snatched a kiss from his lips.

"Boo!" shouted Sammy, more impudent than ever.

"Sammy Jutt," said Jimmie Jutt, "you're not keepin' watch. Sure, an we don't look out the word'll come an' burn up afore us knows, -- like it done las' Christmas."

And so they all began again to look intently through the half-opened stove door into the blazing fire.

"Does you really think us'll get it, Martha?" asked Jimmie.

Martha looked at Sammy, who was blinking sharply at Martha, -- and Martha nodded.

"'T will be fine for Sammy," said Jimmie.

"'N'mama," lisped Sammy.

"'T will be fine for you, Sammy," said Martha. "My but 't will."

"'N' mama," Sammy persisted.

The father and mother of the three little Jutts -- they were Skipper Jonas and Matilda Jutt, who have the only cottage at Lonely Cove, as all Labrador men know -- were off by themselves in the cold front room. They were in trouble; the eyes of Matilda were wet and red, and had been the day long; and while she made use of her apron to dry her tears and stifle her sobs, Jonas patted her rounded back with a hand that was meant to be gentle, saying the while, "Hush! woman, dear, lest the young ones hears you cryin'. 'T would 'a' been all right, an the fish had n't failed; an' 't will be all right next year. Woan't you hush, Matilda?" which only moved her to greater weeping." T' see them dears sittin' there," she sobbed, "an' t' think o' what they wants, an' t' think o' them waitin' an' waiting an' t' think o' them havin' t' get the letter you writ -- Oh, Jonas!" and she could say no more for the lump in her throat. There was nothing for Jonas to do but pat her on the back and mutter, "Hush, woman, dear!" again and again; and, at last, firmly to say, "Come, now! I've the letter up me sleeve. Do you do what you said. Us'll go in." Very sad and shamefaced they went into the kitchen, where the little Jutts sat expectant at the fire.

"Sure, zur," said Jimmie, snatching a hasty glance at his father's face, "'t is not come yet."

"But 't will be along soon, zur, I'm thinkin'," Martha added, never moving her hopeful eyes from the stove.

Little Sammy merely continued to blink rapidly at the red crack.

"Oh, ay," said Jonas, " you'll be havin' that letter down soon. Sure, he's never long with the answer."

Jonas stood awkwardly behind the children. Nobody stirred, nobody spoke; all eyes were steadily fixed on the stove door -- until Matilda Jutt, calling courage to strike the blow, pretended sudden fright.

"Look!" she exclaimed. "Sure, there's something under the table!"

"The poor subterfuge was sufficient; the little Jutts faced about in great alarm; and before they had turned again to the watch, Skipper Jonas dropped a letter on the damper of the stove.

"Oh!" cried Jimmie Jutt.

"Oh! " Martha screeched.

"Oo-o-o!" gurgled Sammy.

Martha, now very solemn, took up the letter. She looked it over, back and face, somewhat wistful the whiles as though she feared disappointment; then she let it fall to her lap, and stared from

Sammy to Jimmie, and back to Sammy again.

"I'm thinkin' he 's t' come!" cried Jimmie confidently, his blue eyes fairly blazing with delight.

"I'm thinking so, too," said Martha; but her voice was shaking, and so low that it would be hard to vouch for what she said.

Matilda suddenly left the room. But, "Oh, I don't think he'll be comin', this year," said poor Jonas. "'T is awful weather. Sure it must be FEARFUL down North. "'T is like he'll not be able t' stir out, the night."

Martha opened the letter. Jimmie watched her face for a sign. Skipper Jonas turned away. She glanced the writing over; but before her face -- and a wonderfully expressive little face it was -- had time to change with joy or the reverse, there was a loud knocking on the door, -- a knocking and stamping and repeated shouting of "Ha! I'll freeze to death! Open the door! Ha! I'll perish on your doorstep! How long WILL it take you?" with more stamping, a hail of loud knocks and more than one heavy kick; so that the Jutts, both big and little, were very quickly roused from their stupor of amazement that there should come a knock on the door that night.

"Good Lord! Will you NEVER open the door? Ho, within! ARE you going to let a fellow man die on your very door step? OPEN THIS DOOR!"

So gruff was the voice -- so big and commanding and angry, and so loud (and continuously louder) did the heavy fists and feet fall upon the door, and so sudden was the outcry and strange the manner of the man, and so late was the night and wild the wind and far away the little cottage -- that the little Jutts huddled close together, and Sammy, his eyelids stiff with horror, blinked no longer, but slipped from his chair and limped to his sister, whose hand he clutched.

"I'll freeze, I tell you!" came the voice without. "Open the -- Ha' Thank you," in a mollified way, as Skipper Jonas opened the door. "May I come in?"

"An' welcome, zur!" cried the hearty Jonas. "'T' is a wild night."

"Ha! Thank you. Yes -- a wild night. Caught sight of your light from the top of the hill. I'll leave my racquets here. Straight ahead? Thank you. I see the glow of the fire. Ha!"

After some further stamping and puffing and many a gasping "Ha!" there entered a queer old man with a pack on his back. He was not rotund, -- not rotund at all; rather lean, and tall, and straight as a spruce. But he was rosy enough, and had curling white hair, escaping in heavy masses from his fur cap, and an astonishingly long white beard; and his eyes flashed here and there and everywhere, twinkling most merrily all the time, so that one was irresistibly moved to chuckle with delight at the very sight of them, no matter how suddenly or how terribly the thick gray brows fell over them. There was snow on his pack, snow on his shoulders, snow in his beard and hair, snow encrusting his long skin boots. He must have had a time of it in the storm that day, floundering down the gully from Gander Rock, where the light in Skipper Jonas Jutt's window is first visible on a thick night.

"Hello!" he cried, stopping short. What's this? Kids? Good! Three of them. Ha! How are you?"

The manner of asking the question was most indignant, not to say threatening; and a gasp and heavy frown accompanied it. The fierce little glance that darted from the old man's eyes was indubitably directed at little Sammy, as though -- God save us! -- the lad had no right to be anything BUT well, and ought to be, and should be, birched on the instant if he had the temerity to admit the smallest ache or pain from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. But Sammy looked frankly into the flashing little eyes, grinned, chuckled audibly, and lisped that he was better.

"Huh!" growled the stranger; and he searched Sammy's white face and skinny body as though for evidence to the contrary, "I'll attend to YOU."

Presently the old fellow returned with Skipper Jonas from the shed, where he had laid off his boots and his pack -- Sammy was quick to note the absence of that significant burden -- and been swept clean of snow. Presently, too, he cocked his head and sniffed; and he sniffed, and sniffed again, and said "Ha!" in a way that most other folk smack their lips; and, at last, he fixed his eyes on the fat pork that sizzled and spluttered in the pan Matilda had made haste to put over the fire; and not another word did he say until the table was laid: whereupon, be ejaculated a long and sudden "Ha!" And fell to. With such alacrity, such determination, and a gusto so manifest, did he attack the fried pork and bread and tea, that, as Sammy was driven to admit, he was more like a man who had trudged a long day's journey than one who had sped a greater distance in a more unusual way.

"And now, lass," said the stranger when there was nothing left on the table, and he had drawn up to the fire, "what 's what?"

To this extraordinary question, delivered, as it was, in a manner that called imperatively for an answer, Martha Jutt did not know what to say.

"What 's what, I say?" repeated the stranger.

Quite startled, Martha lifted the letter from her lap. "He 's not coming zur," she gasped, for lack of something better.

"Hum!" said the stranger." You 're disappointed. So he 's not coming?"

"No, zur -- not this year."

"That's too bad. But you must n't mind it, you know, -- not for an instant. What 's the matter with him?"

"He 've broke his leg, zur."

"What! Broken his leg ? Poor fellow. How did he come to do that?"

"Catchin' one o' they wild deer, zur."

"Extraordinary -- most! But he was a fool to try it. Broken a leg, eh? How long ago?"

"Sure, it can't be more than half an hour; for he 've" --

"Half an hour!" cried the stranger. "Where is he? It can't be far. I'll fix him. Where is he?"

"North Pole, zur," whispered Sammy.

"Oh-h-h!" cried the stranger; and he pursed his lips and winked at Sammy in a way most peculiar. "I SEE!"

"Iss, zur," Jimmie rattled eagerly. "You could n't get there quick, zur, could you, an' fix un up so he could make a shift at travelin'? We 're fair disappointed that he 's not" --

"Ha!" the stranger interrupted. "I see. Hum! Well now!" And having thus incoherently exclaimed for a little, the light in his eyes growing merrier all the time, he most unaccountably worked himself into a great rage. "The lazy rascal!" he shouted, jumping out of his chair and beginning to stamp the room, frowning terribly." The fat, idle, blundering dunderhead! Did they send you that word? Did they, now? Tell me, did they? Give me that letter."

He snatched the letter from Martha's lap; and he paused to slap it angrily, from time to time, as he read it.


DEAR MARTHA -- Few lines is to let you know on accounts of havin broke my leg catchin the deer Im sory im in a state of helth not bein able so as to be out in heavy wether. hopin you is all well as it leaves me

Yrs respectful


Will com next yere sure pop. Fish was poor an it would not be much this yere anyways. tel Sammy.

"Ha!" shouted the angry old fellow, as he crushed the letter to a little ball and flung it under the table. "Ha!" That's the kind of thing that happens when one's away from home. There you have it! Discipline gone to the dogs. System gone to the dogs. Now, what do you think of that?"

He tugged at his long white beard, and tweaked his long red nose, and bit his under lip, and trembled and puffed, and said "Ha!" in a fashion so threatening that one must needs have fled the room had there not been a curiously reassuring twinkle in each of his red little eyes.

"What do you think of that?" he repeated fiercely at last. "A countermanded order! I'll attend to HIM," he burst out, "I'll fix THAT fellow. The lazy dunderhead, I'll soon fix HIM! Give me pen and ink. Where's the paper? Never mind. I've some in the pack. One moment, and I'll" --

He rushed to the shed, to the great surprise and alarm of the little Jutts, and loudly called back for a candle (which Skipper Jonas, now utterly bewildered, carried to him); and when he had been gone a long time, he returned with a letter in his hand, still puffing and ejaculating in a great rage.

"See that?" said he to the three little Jutts. "Well, THAT'S for Santa Claus's clerk. That'll fix HIM. That'll blister the stupid fellow."

"Please, zur! whispered Martha Jutt.

"Well?" snapped the stranger, stopping short in a rush to the stove.

"Please, zur!" said Martha, taking courage, and laying a timid hand on his arm. "Sure, I don't know what 't is all about. I don't know what blunder he've made. But I'm thinkin', zur, you'll be sorry if you acts in haste. 'Tis wise t'count a hundred. Don't' be TOO hard on un, zur. 'T is like the blunder may be mended. 'T is like he'll do better next time. Don't be hard" --

"HARD on him?" the stranger interrupted. "Hard on HIM! Hard on that" --

"Ay, zur," she pleaded, looking fearlessly up. "Won't you count a hundred?"

"Count it," said he grimly.

Martha counted. It is to be admitted that the numbers fell slowly, and yet more slowly, from her lips, until -- and she was keenly on the watch -- she saw a gentler look overspread the stranger's face; and then she rattled them off, lest he change his mind once more.

" -- an' a hundred!" she concluded, breathless.

"Well," the stranger drawled, rubbing his nose, "I'll modify it," whereupon Martha smiled, "just to 'blige YOU," whereupon she blushed.

So he scratched a deal of the letter out; then he sealed it, strode to the stove, opened the door, flung the letter into the flames, slammed the door, and turned with a wondrously sweet smile to the amazed little Jutts.

"There!" he sighed, "I think that'll do the business. We'll soon know, at any rate."

They waited, all very still, all with eyes wide open, all gazing fixedly at the door of the stove. Then all at once -- and in the very deepest of the silence -- the stranger uttered a starling "Ha!" leaped from his chair with such violence that he overturned it, awkwardly upset Jimmie Jutt's stool, and sent the lad tumbling head over heels (for which he did not stop to apologize); and there was great confusion: in the midst of which the extraordinary old fellow jerked the stove door wide open, thrust in his arm and snatched a blazing letter straight from the flames, -- all before Jimmie and Martha and Sammy Jutt had time to recover from the daze into which the sudden uproar had thrown them.

"There!" cried the stranger, when he had managed to extinguish the blaze.

"We'll just see what's in this. 'T is better news, I'll warrant."

You may be sure that the little Jutts were blinking amazement. There could be no doubt about the authenticity of THAT communication. and the stranger seemed to know it: for he calmly tore the envelope open, glanced the letter over, and turned to Martha, the broadest of grins wrinkling his ruddy face.

"Martha Jutt," said he, "will you PLEASE be good enough to read THAT."

And Martha read: --

NORTH POLE, Dec. 24, 10:18 P.M.





RESPECTED SIR, -- Regret erroneous report. Mistake of a clerk in the Bureau of Information. Santa Claus got away at 9:36. Wind blowing due south, and strong and fresh.

SNOW, Chief Clerk.

Whereupon there was a great outburst of glee. It was the stranger who raised the first cheer. Three times three and a tiger! And what a tiger it was! It fairly put the noisy old gale to shame. What with the treble of Sammy, which was of the thinnest description, and the treble of Martha, which never was so full and sure, and the treble of Jimmie, which dangerously bordered on a cracked bass, and what with Matilda's cackle and Skipper Jonas's croak and the stranger's guttural uproar (which might have been mistaken for a very double bass), -- what with all this, as you may be sure, the shout of the wind was nowhere. Then they joined hands (it was the stranger who began it by catching Martha and Matilda) and danced the table round, shaking their feet and tossing their arms, the glee ever more uproarious, -- danced until they were breathless, every one of them, save little Sammy, who was not asked to join the gambol, but sat still in his chair, and seemed to expect no invitation.

"Wind blowing due south, and strong and fresh," said Jimmie, when, at last, they sat down. "He'll be down in a hurry, with they swift deer. My! but he'll just WHIZ in this gale."

"But 't is sad 't is too late t' get word to un," said Martha, the smile gone from her face.

"Sad, is it?" cried the stranger. "Sad! What's the word you're wanting to send? What is it you" --

"'T is something for Sammy, zur."

Sammy gave Martha a quick dig in the ribs. "'N' mama," he lisped reproachfully.

"Iss, zur; we're wantin' it bad, -- fair BAD, -- an' does you think us could get word to un?"

"We can try it, anyway," the stranger answered heartily. "Maybe we can catch him on the way down. Ha! Where's that pen? Here we are. Now?"

He scribbled rapidly, folded the letter in great haste, and dispatched it to Santa Claus's clerk by the simple process of throwing it in the fire. As before, he went to his pack in the shed, taking the candle with him, -- the errand was really most trivial, -- and stayed so long that the little Juts, who now loved him very much, wished that the need might not arise again. But, all in good time, he returned, and sat to watch for the reply, intent as any of them; and, presently, he snatched the stove door open, creating great confusion in the act, as before; and before the little Jutts could recover from the sudden surprise, he held up a smoking letter. Then he read aloud: --

Try Hamilton Inlet. Touches there 10:48. Time of arrival at Lonely Cove uncertain. No use waiting up.

SNOW, Clerk.

"By Jove!" exclaimed the stranger. "That's bully! Touches Hamilton Inlet at 10:48." He consulted his watch. "It's now 10:43 and a half. We've just four and a half minutes. I'll get a message off at once. Where's that confounded pen? Ha! Here we are. Now -- what is it you want for Sammy and mama?"

The three little Jutts were suddenly thrown into a fearful state of excitement. They tried to talk all at once; but not one of them could frame a coherent sentence. It was terrible to see.

"The Exterminator!" Martha managed to jerk out at last.

"Oh, ay!" cried Jimmie Jutt. "don't be starin' like that! Write un down. Pine's Prompt Pain Exterminator. Two bottles guaranteed t' cure. Make it two bottles, zur. We wants t' work a cure. PLEASE, zur, make haste!"

The stranger stared at Jimmie.

"Oh, zur," groaned Martha, "don't be starin' like that! Write, zur. 'T was all in the paper what the prospector left last summer. Pine's Prompt Pain Exterminator. Cures boils, rheumatism, pains in the back an' chest, sore throat, an' all they things, an' warts on the hands by simple application with brown paper. We wants it for Sammy's rheumatiz, zur. Oh" --

"None genuine without the label," Jimmie put in, in an excited rattle. "Money refunded if no cure. Get a bottle with the label, zur. Get TWO bottles, zur. Oh" --

The stranger laughed, -- laughed aloud, and laughed again. "By Jove!" he roared. "You'll get it. It's funny, but by Jove, he's got it in stock!"

The laughter and repeated assurance vastly encouraged Jimmie and Martha, -- the stranger wrote like mad while he talked, -- but not little Sammy. All that he lisped, all that he shouted, all that he screamed, had gone unheeded. He could put up with the neglect no longer; so he limped over the floor to Martha, and tugged at her sleeve, and pulled at Jimmie's coat-tail, and jogged the stranger's arm, until, at last, he attracted a measure of attention. Notwithstanding his mother's protests -- notwithstanding her giggles and waving hands, notwithstanding that she blushed as red as ink (until, indeed, her freckles were all lost to sight), notwithstanding that she threw her apron over her head and rushed headlong from the room, to the imminent danger of the door-posts -- little Sammy insisted that his mother's gift should be named in the letter of request.

"Quick!" cried the stranger. "What is it, boy ? We've but half a minute left."

Sammy began to stutter.

Make haste, b'y!" cried Jimmie.

"One -- bottle -- of -- the -- Magic -- Egyptian -- Beautifier," said Sammy, quite distinctly for the first time in his, life.

The stranger looked blank; but he; doggedly nodded his head, nevertheless, and wrote it down and off went the letter at precisely 10.47.45 by the stranger's watch.

Later, when the excitement had all subsided, the stranger took little Sammy in his lap and told him he was a very good boy, and looked deep in his eyes, and stroked his hair, and, at last, very tenderly bared his knee. Sammy flinched at that; and he said, "Ouch!" once and screwed up his face when the stranger -- his gruffness all gone, his eyes gentle and sad, his hand as light as a mother's -- worked the joint and felt the knee-cap and socket with the tips of his fingers. "And is this the rheumatiz the Prompt Exterminator is to cure, Sammy?" was the question asked. "Ah, is that where it hurts you? Right on the point of the bones there? And was there no fall on the rock, at all? Oh, there WAS a fall. And the bruise was just there -- where it hurts so much? And it's very hard to bear, isn't it? That's too bad, -- that's very sad, indeed. But, perhaps -- perhaps, Sammy, -- I can fix it for you, if you're brave. And are you brave? No? Oh, I think you are! And you'll try to be, at any rate, won't you? Of course. That's a good boy."

And so the stranger mended Sammy Jutt's knee, with sharp knives and strips of cotton, while the lad lay white and still on the kitchen table and a queer smell spread all over the house.

"Doctor, zur," said Matilda Jutt, when the children were put to bed, with Martha to watch by Sammy, who was very sick, "has you really got a bottle o' Pine's Prompt Exterminator?"

I've an empty bottle, ma'am, sure enough -- picked it up at Poverty Cove yesterday -- label and all -- thought it might come useful. I'll put Sammy's medicine in that -- they'll not know the difference, and they'll be content with one bottle, I'm sure -- and you'll treat the knee with it as I've told you. That 's all. I'm off to bed now; for I must be gone before the children wake in the morning."

"Oh, ay, zur; and" -- She hesitated, much embarrassed.

"Well, ma'am?"

"Would you mind puttin' some queer lookin' stuff in one o' they bottles o' yours ?"

"Not at all," in surprise.

"An' writin' something on a bit o' paper," she went on, pulling at her apron and looking down, "an' gluin' it t' the bottle?"

"Not in the least. But what shall I write?"

She flushed. "'Magic Egyptian Beautifier,' zur," she whispered; "for I'm thinkin' 't would please little Sammy t' think that Sandy Claws left -- something -- for me -- too."

Now, if you think that the three little Jutts found nothing but bottles of medicine in their stockings, when they got down stairs on Christmas morning, you are very much mistaken. Indeed, there was more than that, -- a great deal more than that. I will not tell you what it was; for you might sniff, and say, "Huh! That's nothing." But there was more than medicine. No man -- rich man, poor man, beggar man nor thief, doctor, lawyer nor merchant chief -- ever yet left a Hudson Bay Company's post, stared in the face by the chance of having to seek hospitality of a Christmas Eve, -- no right-feeling man, I say, ever yet left a Hudson Bay Company's post, under such circumstances, without putting something more than medicine in his pack. I am in a position to say, at any rate, that the Labrador Mission Doctor who mended Sammy Jutt's knee never once did in his long life. And I know, too, -- you may be interested to learn it, -- that as he floundered through the deep snow on the way to the bedside of James Luff at Back Harbor, soon after dawn the next day, he was mighty glad that he did n't, though not one of the merry shouts came over the white miles to his ears. But he shouted merrily for himself, for he was very happy; and that's the way you'd feel, too, if you spent your life hunting good deeds to do.

It only remains to say that you may tell Sammy Jutt as often as you like that there is no Santa Claus. He will not believe you. He knows better. SANTA CLAUS MENDED HIS KNEE!

Return to Flashback: Ghosts of Christmases Past

"Santa Claus At Lonely Cove" by Norman Duncan, The Atlantic Monthly, December 1903; Volume 92, No. 554; pages 742-749.
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