The winter was over now, and all the Laughing Valley was filled with joyous excitement. The brook was so happy at being free once again that it gurgled more boisterously than ever and dashed so recklessly against the rocks that it sent showers of spray high in the air. The grass thrust its sharp little blades upward through the mat of dead stalks where it had hidden from the snow, but the flowers were yet too timid to show themselves, although the Ryls were busy feeding their roots. The sun was in remarkably good humor, and sent his rays dancing merrily throughout the Valley.
Claus was eating his dinner one day when he heard a timid knock on his door.
“Come in!” he called.
No one entered, but after a pause came another rapping.
Claus jumped up and threw open the door. Before him stood a small girl holding a smaller brother fast by the hand.
“Is you Tlaus?” she asked, shyly.
“Indeed I am, my dear!” he answered, with a laugh, as he caught both children in his arms and kissed them. “You are very welcome, and you have come just in time to share my dinner.”
He took them to the table and fed them with fresh milk and nut-cakes. When they had eaten enough he asked:
“Why have you made this long journey to see me?”
“I wants a tat!” replied little Mayrie; and her brother, who had not yet learned to speak many words, nodded his head and exclaimed like an echo: “Tat!”
“Oh, you want my toy cats, do you?” returned Claus, greatly pleased to discover that his creations were so popular with children.
The little visitors nodded eagerly.
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “I have but one cat now ready, for I carried two to children in the town yesterday. And the one I have shall be given to your brother, Mayrie, because he is the smaller; and the next one I make shall be for you.”
The boy’s face was bright with smiles as he took the precious toy Claus held out to him; but little Mayrie covered her face with her arm and began to sob grievously.
“I—I—I wants a t—t—tat now!” she wailed.
Her disappointment made Claus feel miserable for a moment. Then he suddenly remembered Shiegra.
“Don’t cry, darling!” he said, soothingly; “I have a toy much nicer than a cat, and you shall have that.”
He went to the cupboard and drew out the image of the lioness, which he placed on the table before Mayrie.
The girl raised her arm and gave one glance at the fierce teeth and glaring eyes of the beast, and then, uttering a terrified scream, she rushed from the house. The boy followed her, also screaming lustily, and even dropping his precious cat in his fear.
For a moment Claus stood motionless, being puzzled and astonished. Then he threw Shiegra’s image into the cupboard and ran after the children, calling to them not to be frightened.
Little Mayrie stopped in her flight and her brother clung to her skirt; but they both cast fearful glances at the house until Claus had assured them many times that the beast had been locked in the cupboard.
“Yet why were you frightened at seeing it?” he asked. “It is only a toy to play with!”
“It’s bad!” said Mayrie, decidedly, “an’—an’—just horrid, an’ not a bit nice, like tats!”
“Perhaps you are right,” returned Claus, thoughtfully. “But if you will return with me to the house I will soon make you a pretty cat.”
So they timidly entered the house again, having faith in their friend’s words; and afterward they had the joy of watching Claus carve out a cat from a bit of wood and paint it in natural colors. It did not take him long to do this, for he had become skillful with his knife by this time, and Mayrie loved her toy the more dearly because she had seen it made.
After his little visitors had trotted away on their journey homeward Claus sat long in deep thought. And he then decided that such fierce creatures as his friend the lioness would never do as models from which to fashion his toys.
“There must be nothing to frighten the dear babies,” he reflected; “and while I know Shiegra well, and am not afraid of her, it is but natural that children should look upon her image with terror. Hereafter I will choose such mild-mannered animals as squirrels and rabbits and deer and lambkins from which to carve my toys, for then the little ones will love rather than fear them.”
He began his work that very day, and before bedtime had made a wooden rabbit and a lamb. They were not quite so lifelike as the cats had been, because they were formed from memory, while Blinkie had sat very still for Claus to look at while he worked.
But the new toys pleased the children nevertheless, and the fame of Claus’ playthings quickly spread to every cottage on plain and in village. He always carried his gifts to the sick or crippled children, but those who were strong enough walked to the house in the Valley to ask for them, so a little path was soon worn from the plain to the door of the toy-maker’s cottage.
First came the children who had been playmates of Claus, before he began to make toys. These, you may be sure, were well supplied. Then children who lived farther away heard of the wonderful images and made journeys to the Valley to secure them. All little ones were welcome, and never a one went away empty-handed.
This demand for his handiwork kept Claus busily occupied, but he was quite happy in knowing the pleasure he gave to so many of the dear children. His friends the immortals were pleased with his success and supported him bravely.
The Knooks selected for him clear pieces of soft wood, that his knife might not be blunted in cutting them; the Ryls kept him supplied with paints of all colors and brushes fashioned from the tips of timothy grasses; the Fairies discovered that the workman needed saws and chisels and hammers and nails, as well as knives, and brought him a goodly array of such tools.
Claus soon turned his living room into a most wonderful workshop. He built a bench before the window, and arranged his tools and paints so that he could reach everything as he sat on his stool. And as he finished toy after toy to delight the hearts of little children he found himself growing so gay and happy that he could not refrain from singing and laughing and whistling all the day long.
“It’s because I live in the Laughing Valley, where everything else laughs!” said Claus.
But that was not the reason.