Algaonice, Taqi al-Din, Mary Somerville, and Tycho Brahe were some of North’s heroes. Their inventions and observations of the workings of the starry firmament, worthy of Ombric himself, sang to his soul.
But when it came down to it, none of their orreries, steam turbines, or armillary spheres could hold back Time. And the current rushing-by of Time was telling the Guardian of Wonder that as of today, November 24, 1887, Christmas was only a month away.
North sighed and turned back to his Observometer, a marvel in and of itself insomuch as it operated as much by magic as by technology. Normally this telescope gathered information all on its own, hour after hour unceasingly, day after month after year after decade, as to which children were Naughty and which were Nice, only needing North’s lightest touch every few weeks to compile The Lists.
Today, however, he was in an odd mood, at loose ends, unable to focus. It was Thursday in most parts of the globe, creeping towards Friday in some. He was almost tempted to bend Manny’s ear to complain of his restlessness, but did not want to alarm his old friend.
Phil and Henrietta seemed to have the Workshop under control, despite the rapidly increasing pace of Yeti production and elf hindrance, and thus North found himself actively using the Observometer for the first time in centuries.
He scanned Australia and the Pacific Rim first, sighing over the lack of children in Antarctica. Then Asia, Africa, Europe, and finally the Americas.
The Observometer seemed to tug North’s hand as it passed over the east coast of the United States. Intrigued, he turned the focus first on New York City, then on the borough of Brooklyn, and finally to a carriage house roof where nine raggedy children sat and conversed with a girl on a glassed-in porch balcony which overhung the yard.
Well, “conversed” may have seemed an insufficient description. The girl on the balcony, who appeared to be an invalid, was swaddled in a thick nightrobe and blankets and sat in a wheeled chair. Her voice was sweet and very serious, with an undercurrent of suppressed laughter. The children on the roof seemed to be as comfortable with their precarious perch as if they’d been born to it. They were answering the girl’s questions in tones ranging from high-pitched squeaks to almost full-throated bellows.
“The way clocks tick!”
“My lame puppy.”
“All the words in the world.”
With a start, North realized that the gist of the conversation was that they were all listing the things they were grateful for. A strange assortment to his ear, but apparently dear to them. In particular, the eldest girl on the roof, who held a squirming toddler on her lap, struck a chord with him; it was she who had made the last statement. Her reddish-brown hair was neatly braided, and she was tall and raw-boned, but if he closed his eyes, he could almost hear Katherine’s voice in her words.
The bundled-up girl on the balcony nodded at each of their comments, and listed the people in her life as what she was grateful for, and lastly that she had been born a Christmas child.
North’s face broke out into a glorious grin. Stroking his beard, he shouted, “IDEA!” and bolted out of the observatory, racing down the stairs three at a time to his own private workshop.
A few days later, there were gifts of his own devising, to be delivered to a certain brownstone with an overhanging glassed-in balcony.... a bookshelf with brackets and shutters to protect precious volumes from grubby hands, a silver watch with elegant curlicues on the casing and a glorious sound, a tool chest for woodworking that any malletier would envy, a truly incredible Noah’s ark with animals that seemed about to roar and squeal and gallop, a carpeted dog-house where a faithful canine could rest in comfort, a full place setting for twelve [that all MATCHED!] with cunningly carved wooden cups, bowls and plates, and a veritable chorus line of lovely dolls.
With a little help from the Sandman, North was able to convince the inhabitants of the brownstone - mother, father, three brothers, a visiting uncle, and one frail young lady - that the gifts for their back garden neighbors had all been acquired through their own devices.
As far as holiday magic went, that was only fitting, after all.