Bettina decided to make sure her letter got to Santa by casting it in the hottest, most important fire in the world (in her world, that is.) She would take it to the boiler room, and burn it in the fire that made the Schöneluft go.
As she made her way down the passage, she thought of other reasons the boiler room might hold the key to Father Christmas. The boiler crew were all small fellows, with odd habits and a strange language all their own, just as Santa’s elves might be. She wondered if elves looked like the boiler crew. She reached the door to the boiler room and knocked politely.
The boiler crew generally allowed the family into their domain only to work, cleaning and oiling and greasing things. Father had been known, when facing a particularly knotty problem with an invention, to come to the boiler room and talk about it, sometimes bringing diagrams or models or unfinished creations. Since Herr vonHedwig (and that is Bettina’s father’s name) did not speak the language of the crew, no one knew what he might learn from them, but he always came out in a better mood than when he went in.
The door opened slowly, and she entered. The boiler chief came, and patted her on the head. Though she did not know it (and therefore it never went to her head), Bettina was a great favorite in the boiler room. She showed him (or her – Bettina couldn’t tell) the letter, with the sketch of Father Christmas on it.
“Letter for Santa,” she said. Then, pointing to the boiler, “Send to Santa.”
There was a flurry of chattering, then the Chief nodded wisely.
“Ook,” he said. Or that’s what Bettina thought he said, having no understanding of his language.
He lead her in front of a great metal door with a smoked glass porthole, turned the massive wheel set in its center, and opened it. The heat from the furnace blasted out, and Bettina’s hair blew straight back. Her face got all red and hot, and she blinked in the hot air. Gently the Chief patted her shoulder, and took the letter from her, casting it into the white hot fire.
She thanked them all most gratefully, and made her way back to her room. Someone would come and make her take a nap soon. She found half a crayon under the bed, climbed into her playhouse, and drew pictures of the dolly she wanted. Not because felt she needed another illustration, but because it was fun. She had drawn six different versions when Annabelle and Mirabelle burst in.
“You little beast!” Annabelle said.
“You’ve destroyed the nib on our favorite pen,” scolded Mirabelle.
“And splattered every thing with our purple ink!” added Annabelle.
“Which was also our favorite!” said Mirabelle.
“And poor Mirabelle’s laboratory book was open and she can hardly read the results of her flying monkey experiments,” finished Annabelle.
Bettina tried to explain, but with the sinking feeling that she should have known better at the time, and had no way to make it up to them.
“Well what was so important that you had to ruin our things rather than use your own? Mirabelle asked.
Bettina showed them the drawing she’d made. “Santa letter,” she said. “Dolly go boom.”
Just then their Father came in to enforce Bettina’s naptime. Annabelle and Mirabelle were hustled out of the room and found themselves standing in the passageway, each holding one of Bettina’s drawings.
“Oh,” said Mirabelle, studying hers, “I see. Hmm… I suppose you could do it with a spring.” She whipped a notebook and pencil out of her pinafore and made notes on Bettina’s sketch. “Ha ha! If I built them on strings, or thin wire, really, then she can wind them back in with a key on the back!”
“Nonsense,” retorted her sister. “It would be better done with magnets.”
“She’d lose the pieces.”
“It would still be more fun.”
They stopped arguing and met each other’s eyes. It was three days to Christmas.
“Race you to the lab!”
Christmas morning dawned with enchantment, and wonder, and noise, as it often does for a happy family. Everyone delighted one another with clever (and sometimes thoughtful) gifts, and Father Christmas had filled their stockings with sumptuous treats. But when the smoke cleared (Father and Ulrik made their own Christmas crackers, rather enthusiastically) Bettina was a bit sad.
“What’s wrong, my darling?” asked Mother, drawing her onto her lap. “Are you not happy with your toys?”
“Good toys,” said Bettina bravely, but still she sighed. Annabelle and Mirabelle exchanged a wink.
“Look there,” said Annabelle, “I can see a bit of wrapping under the tree.”
“Oh yes,” said Mirabelle, “I see it too. Bettina, you’re the smallest. Crawl under and see what it is.”
Bettina dutifully crawled under the enormous evergreen and emerged with a brightly colored bundle in each hand. Her eyes grew wide as she considered the labels.
“For me!” She tore one open, as Mirabelle giggled. In the package she found a dolly, beautifully dressed, with fine red hair. “Oh!”
“Go on,” urged her sister, “squeeze her middle!”
Bettina did so, and there was the click of a spring, and the doll’s head and limbs shot off in every direction. Bettina squealed with joy. “Dolly go boom!” she shouted. “Dolly go boom!”
“There’s a key on the back, so you can wind the bits back in and do it again.” Mirabelle explained.
Bettina did so, over and over, laughing maniacally.
“Now mine!” Annabelle insisted.
Annabelle’s gift was a handsome boy doll wearing a tweed suit and lab apron.
“Ulrik!” declared Bettina.
“Good Lord, I hope not,” Ulrik said.
Bettina squeezed the doll, and his head and limbs flew off around the room, accompanied by laughter and shrieks of “Dolly go boom!”
Who shall say what role Father Christmas played in making Bettina’s wishes come true? So long as this revered exemplar of giving inspires us to generosity, I say that every gift given this season bears his mark.
And so Bettina had a happy Christmas, and more so her sisters who made her wish come true. And may we all, dear readers, have a joyful season.