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“Come to think of it,” remarked California Ed, “it’s funny some ain’t drifted in. Town ain’t settled enough yet for to bring in the rubber- ring brigade, I reckon.”

“To top off this Christmas-tree splurge of Cherokee’s,” went on Baldy, “he’s goin’ to give an imitation of Santa Claus. He’s got a white wig and whiskers that disfigure him up exactly like the pictures of this William Cullen Longfellow in the books, and a red suit of fur-trimmed outside underwear, and eight-ounce gloves, and a stand-up, lay-down croshayed red cap. Ain’t it a shame that a outfit like that can’t get a chance to connect with a Annie and Willie’s prayer layout?”

“When does Cherokee allow to come over with his truck?” inquired Trinidad.

“Mornin’ before Christmas,” said Baldy. “And he wants you folks to have a room fixed up and a tree hauled and ready. And such ladies to assist as can stop breathin’ long enough to let it be a surprise for the kids.”

The unblessed condition of Yellowhammer had been truly described. The voice of childhood had never gladdened its flimsy structures; the patter of restless little feet had never consecrated the one rugged highway between the two rows of tents and rough buildings. Later they would come. But now Yellowhammer was but a mountain camp, and nowhere in it were the roguish, expectant eyes, opening wide at dawn of the enchanting day; the eager, small hands to reach for Santa’s bewildering hoard; the elated, childish voicings of the season’s joy, such as the coming good things of the warm-hearted Cherokee deserved.

Of women there were five in Yellowhammer. The assayer’s wife, the proprietress of the Lucky Strike Hotel, and a laundress whose washtub panned out an ounce of dust a day. These were the permanent feminines; the remaining two were the Spangler Sisters, Misses Fanchon and Erma, of the Transcontinental Comedy Company, then playing in repertoire at the (improvised) Empire Theatre. But of children there were none. Sometimes Miss Fanchon enacted with spirit and address the part of robustious childhood; but between her delineation and the visions of adolescence that the fancy offered as eligible recipients of Cherokee’s holiday stores there seemed to be fixed a gulf.

Christmas would come on Thursday. On Tuesday morning Trinidad, instead of going to work, sought the Judge at the Lucky Strike Hotel.

“It’ll be a disgrace to Yellowhammer,” said Trinidad, “if it throws Cherokee down on his Christmas tree blowout. You might say that that man made this town. For one, I’m goin’ to see what can be done to give Santa Claus a square deal.”

“My co-operation,” said the Judge, “would be gladly forthcoming. I am indebted to Cherokee for past favours. But, I do not see–I have heretofore regarded the absence of children rather as a luxury–but in this instance–still, I do not see–”

“Look at me,” said Trinidad, “and you’ll see old Ways and Means with the fur on. I’m goin’ to hitch up a team and rustle a load of kids for Cherokee’s Santa Claus act, if I have to rob an orphan asylum.”