Chapter 4 | The China Cat | The Story of a Nodding Donkey

The Nodding Donkey stood straight and stiff on his four legs, with his shiny, new coat of varnish—the one he had received in the workshop of Santa Claus at the North Pole. The Donkey wished he might move about and talk with some of the other toys he saw all around him, but he dared not, as the old gentleman and the two ladies were standing in front of him and looking straight at the toy. All the Donkey dared do was to nod his head, for, being made on purpose to do that, it was perfectly proper for him to do so, just as the Jumping Jack jumped, or some of the funny Clowns banged together their brass cymbals.

"Isn't he the dearest Donkey you ever saw, Angelina?" said one of the ladies to the other.

"He certainly is, Geraldine," was the answer. "But something seems to be the matter with his head. It is loose!"

"Tut! Tut! Nonsense! It is made that way, just the same as the moving head of the Fuzzy Bear," said the old gentleman, whose name was Horatio Mugg. At first the Nodding Donkey had taken this old gentleman for a relative of Santa Claus, for he had the same white hair and whiskers and wore almost the same sort of glasses. But a second look showed the Nodding Donkey that this was not any relation of St. Nicholas. Besides, this toy store was not at all like the workshop of Santa Claus.

The Nodding Donkey was at last on Earth in a toy store, and there, it was hoped, some one would see him and buy him for some boy or girl for Christmas.

The toy store was kept by Mr. Horatio Mugg and his two daughters, one being named Angelina and the other Geraldine.

Mr. Horatio Mugg was the jolliest toy-store man you can imagine! Since his own two daughters had grown up he seemed to think he must look after all the other children in his neighborhood. He was always glad to see the boys and girls in his store. He liked to have them look at the toys, and sometimes he showed them how steam engines or flying machines worked.

Of course there were many dolls, big and little—Sawdust Dolls, Bisque Dolls, Wooden Dolls, some very handsomely dressed, with silk or satin dresses and white stockings and white kid shoes. And some had the cutest hats, and some even had gloves, think of that!

And then the animals—Lions and Tigers, and a Striped Zebra, and funny Monkeys and Goats, Dogs, Spotted Cows and many kinds of Rocking Horses. And even funny little Mice, that ran all around the floor when they were wound up.

And then the other toys—trains of cars, fire engines, building blocks, and oh! so many, many things! It was truly a wonderful place, was that store. It was a place where you could spend an hour or two and the time would fly so fast you would scarcely know where it had gone to.

Mr. Mugg knew all about toys, which kind were the best for boys, which the girls liked the best, and he knew which to put in his window so the children would stop and press their noses flat against the glass to look and see the playthings.

"Yes, the Nodding Donkey will be a fine toy for Christmas," said Mr. Mugg, looking over the tops of his glasses at the new arrival. "This last box of playthings I received are the best we ever had. Santa Claus and his men certainly are preparing a fine Christmas this year."

"I think I shall dust off the Donkey," said Geraldine. "He will be much shinier then, and look better."

"And I must dust the China Cat," said her sister Angelina. "She is so white that the least speck shows on her. Real white cats are very fussy about keeping themselves clean, so I do not see why a white China Cat should not be treated the same way. You dust the Nodding Donkey, Geraldine, and I'll dust the Cat."

"That China Cat seems to act as if she wanted to speak to me," thought the Donkey. "Perhaps, after the store is closed to-night, as the workshop of Santa Claus is closed, I may speak to her."

Up and down and to and fro the head of the Nodding Donkey moved as Geraldine Mugg dusted him. Then she set him back on the shelf, as her sister did the China Cat.

"Come here, Daughters, and see this set of Soldiers," called Mr. Mugg, who was unpacking more toys from the box. "They are the nicest we ever had."

"Oh, what fine red coats they wear!" said Angelina.

"And how their guns shine!" exclaimed Geraldine. "Our store will look lovely when we get all the toys placed in it."

"I think the store looks very well as it is," thought the Nodding Donkey to himself, as he stood straight and stiff on his shelf, his coat of varnish glistening in the light. "I never saw such a wonderful place."

And, indeed, the toy store of Mr. Horatio Mugg was a place of delight for all boys and girls. I could not begin to tell you all the things that were in it. Mr. Mugg kept only toys. All the different sorts that were ever made were there gathered together, ready for the Christmas trade.

And as the Nodding Donkey, standing beside the white China Cat, looked on and listened, he saw boys and girls, with their fathers or mothers, coming in to look at the toys. Some were ordered to be put away until Christmas should come. Others were taken at once, to be mailed perhaps to some far-off city.

As the Nodding Donkey watched he saw a little boy with blue eyes and golden hair come in and point to a Jack in the Box.

"Please, Mother, will you tell Santa Claus to bring me that for Christmas?" begged the little boy.

"Yes, I will do that," his mother promised. "And now, Sister, what would you like?" the lady asked.

The Nodding Donkey looked down and saw a little girl, with dark hair and brown eyes standing beside the little boy. This girl pointed to a large doll, and, to his surprise, the Donkey saw that it was the same one he had spoken to in the packing case.

"You may put that Doll aside for my little girl for Christmas, Mr. Mugg," said the lady.

"Very well, Madam, it shall be done," replied the toy man, and he lifted the Cloth Doll down off the shelf.

"Oh, dear! she is going away, and I shall never see her again," thought the Nodding Donkey. "That is the only sad part of life for us toys. We make friends, but we never know how long we may keep them. We are so often separated."

Mr. Mugg put the doll down under the counter, where no other little girl might see her and want her. Then the toy man reached up and gently touched the head of the Donkey, so that it nodded harder than ever.

"Here is a new toy that just came in," said Mr. Mugg. "It is one of the latest. It is called a Nodding Donkey, and once you start his head going it will move for hours."

"Oh, it is nice!" said the lady. "Would you rather have that than your Jack in the Box, Robert?" she asked the little boy.

The boy stood first on one foot and then on the other. He looked first at the Jack in the Box and then at the Donkey.

"They are both nice," he said; "but I think I would rather have the Jack. I'll have the Donkey next Christmas."

The Jack in the Box was set aside with the Cloth Doll, and then the lady and the little boy and girl passed on. But all that day there were many other boys and girls who came into the store to look at the toys. Some only came to look, while others, as before, bought the things they wanted, or had them set aside for Christmas.

After a while it began to grow dark in the store, just as it had grown dark in the workshop of Santa Claus.

"Now I will soon be able to move about and talk to the other toys," thought the Nodding Donkey. But this was not to be—just yet.

"Turn on the lights, Angelina," called Mr. Mugg to his daughter, and soon the store was glowing brightly.

"Hum! It seems they work at night here, as well as by day," thought the Nodding Donkey. "It was not so at North Pole Land. But it is very jolly, and I like it."

During the evening, when the lights were glowing, many other customers came in, but there were not so many boys and girls. The Nodding Donkey had been taken down more than once and made to do his trick of shaking his head, but, so far, no one had bought him. And though the China Cat had also been looked at and admired, no one had bought her.

At last Mr. Mugg stretched his arms, yawned as though he might be very sleepy, and said:

"Turn out the lights, Angelina! It is time to close the shop and go to bed."

Soon the toy shop was in darkness, all except one light that was kept burning all night. The place became very still and quiet, the only noise being made by a little mouse, who came out to get some crumbs dropped by Mr. Mugg, who had eaten his lunch in the store.

"Ahem!" suddenly said the Nodding Donkey. "Do you mind if I speak to you?" he asked the China Cat, who stood near him on the shelf.

"Not at all," was the kind answer. "I was just going to ask how you came here."

"I came direct from the workshop of Santa Claus at the North Pole," answered the Nodding Donkey. "And I suppose, just as we toys could do there, that we are allowed to move about and talk while here."

"Oh, yes," answered the China Cat. "We can make believe we are alive as long as no one sees us. But tell me, how is everything at the North Pole? It is some time since I was there, as I was made early in the season."

"Well, Santa Claus is as happy and jolly as ever," said the Nodding Donkey, "and his men are just as busy. We had a dreadful accident though, coming down to Earth!"

"You did?" mewed the China Cat. "Tell me about it," and she moved her tail from one side to the other.

Before the Nodding Donkey could speak in answer to this request, a voice suddenly asked:

"I say, Nodding Donkey, do you kick?"

"Kick? Of course not," the Nodding Donkey answered. "Why do you ask such a question? Who are you, anyhow?" and he looked all around.

"Hush! Don't get him started," whispered the China Cat. "It's the Policeman with his club, and if he begins to tickle you he'll never stop. Oh, here he comes now! Here comes the Policeman!"