Chapter I. Ready for a Race
 

One by one the lights went out. One by one the shoppers left the toy department of the store. One by one the clerks rode down in the elevators. At last all was still and quiet and dark--that is, all dark except for a small light, so the night-watchman could see his way around.

"Now we can have some fun!" cried a voice, and it seemed to come from a Calico Clown, lying down in a box next to a Bold Tin Soldier. "Now we can really be ourselves, and talk and move about."

"We can, if we are sure there is no one to watch us," bleated a Lamb on Wheels, who stood on the floor near a White Rocking Horse. "You know, as well as I do, Calico Clown, that we cannot do as we please if there are any eyes watching us," said the Lamb.

"No one can see us," said the Bold Tin Soldier. "I am glad the clerks and shoppers are gone. It will be some time before the watchman comes up here, and my men and I will be glad to move about. All ready there!" he called to his soldiers, for he was captain over a brave company of tin warriors. "Attention! Stand up straight and get ready to march! You have been in your box all day, and now it is time to come out!"

It was true; the Bold Tin Soldier and his men had been in a box on the toy counter all day. For, as you have been told, the playthings cannot make believe come to life nor move about when any human eyes are watching them. They must wait until they are alone, which is generally after dark. That is why you have never seen your doll or your rocking horse moving about by itself.

But now, in the toy store, from which every one had gone, some strange things happened. The Calico Clown stood up near the Candy Rabbit and looked about. Then the Calico Clown banged together the shiny brass cymbals he held in his hands.

"Clang! Bang!" went the cymbals.

"Ha! that sounds like war," cried the Bold Tin Soldier. "Come, my men! Forward--march!"

And then and there the tin soldiers, with their captain holding his shiny tin sword in his hand, marched out of their box and around the toy counter of the big department store.

Yes, I wish you could have seen them; but it isn't allowed, you know. Just the very minute the eyes of a boy or a girl, or, for that matter, a father or mother or aunt, uncle or cousin--just the very moment any one looks, the toys are as still as clothespins.

"Aren't they fine?" cried a Monkey on a Stick, as he scrambled up to the very top of his staff, so he might look over the pile of building blocks that stood near some picture books. "I wish I were a soldier!"

"Oh, no!" exclaimed a Boy Doll.

"You are funnier as a Monkey," remarked the Calico Clown.

"But I am not as funny as you are," laughed the Monkey. "Tell us a joke, that's a good fellow! Tell us something funny, Calico Clown, so we may laugh. We have had no fun all day."

"All right," agreed the Calico Clown, with a smile, as he softly banged his cymbals together. "I'll see if I can think of a joke."

The Bold Tin Soldier and his men stopped marching to listen to what the Calico Clown might say. The Candy Rabbit raised his big ears up straighter, so that he would miss nothing. The Lamb on Wheels gave herself a shake, seemingly so the kinks would come out of her woolly coat, and the Monkey on a Stick swung by his tail.

"Yes, I'll tell you a joke," said the Calico Clown. "It is a sort of riddle. Listen, and see if any of you can answer it."

"The Sawdust Doll was very clever at answering riddles," said the Bold Tin Soldier. "I wish she were here now."

"But she isn't," said the Candy Rabbit. "I liked that Sawdust Doll very much, but she has gone away."

"Yes, some lady bought her for a little girl's birthday," came from the Monkey on a Stick. "You are right, Tin Soldier, that doll was very clever at answering the riddles the Clown used to ask."

"Well, if you don't all stop talking now, how am I going to tell this joke?" asked the Calico Clown crossly. "Now, who is a--"

"I wonder if the Sawdust Doll will come back and see us once again, as she did before?" asked the Lamb on Wheels, not paying much attention to what the Calico Clown said. "Don't you remember, Tin Soldier, how she once came back to us, after she had been sold and taken away?"

"Clang! Bang!" went the cymbals of the Calico Clown.

"What's the matter?" asked the Monkey on a Stick.

"Matter? Matter enough, I should say!" replied the Clown. "Here I am asked to tell a funny joke, and none of you will listen. You keep on talking about the Sawdust Doll. I liked her as much as any one. But she is gone--she was sold away from us. To-morrow some of us may be sold, and never see the others again. Let's be gay and jolly while we can!"

"That's what I say!" exclaimed the Candy Rabbit. "Really, we are not very polite to go on talking when the Calico Clown wants to amuse us with one of his famous jokes. We should listen to him."

"You are right!" cried the Bold Tin Soldier. "Come now," he went on, as he waved his sword over his head, "I do not want to be cross with you, my toy friends, but I command silence! Silence while the Calico Clown tells his joke!"

The toys on the counters and shelves settled down and turned their eyes toward the Clown in his funny calico suit of many colors.

"I'm sure you will all laugh at this joke!" cried the Calico Clown. "It is so funny I have to laugh myself whenever I tell it. Thank you for getting them quiet so they can listen to me, Bold Tin Soldier. I am glad you are a friend--"

"Say, you'd better tell that joke, if you're going to!" broke in the captain. "I don't know how long they'll stay quiet. And I want to march around some more before morning comes and we have to stay in our box all day. You know it is the Christmas season, and any one of us may be bought any day and taken far off. So let us be jolly together while we may. All quiet now, for the Calico Clown's joke!"

"Thank you," returned the funny fellow again. "Now, why is it that when--"

And just then there was a rumbling, rolling sound on the floor of the toy department.

"Dear me!" exclaimed the Candy Rabbit, "can that be the watchman coming so soon?"

They all listened, and heard the noise more plainly. It rumbled and rolled nearer and nearer.

"Dear me!" said the Calico Clown, "I'm never going to get a chance to tell my joke. What is it, Candy Rabbit? Can you see?"

The sweet chap was just going to say he could see nothing, when there came a whinny from a big White Rocking Horse standing on the floor near a lawn swing.

"Oh, you're here at last, are you?" neighed the White Rocking Horse.

"Yes, I'm here," answered a voice, and with it came again the rumbling, rolling sound. "I'm sorry if I am late, but I had to go over in the sporting goods section to get a pair to fit me."

"A pair of what to fit who? Who is it?" asked the Monkey on a Stick, for he had taken a seat behind a pile of building blocks, and could not see very well.

"What's going on here, anyhow?" he asked, as he began to climb up to the top of his stick.

Then all the toys looked at the White Rocking Horse, and they saw, trundling toward him, an Elephant on roller skates.

"Oh, how funny he looks!" laughed the Calico Clown. "Oh, dear me! This is better than any joke I could tell! Oh, how funny!" And the Calico Clown doubled up in such a kink of laughter that his cymbals tinkled again and again.

"What is so funny?" asked the Elephant on roller skates.

"You are," replied the Clown. "Of course we are glad to see you," he added. "And please excuse me for laughing at you. But, really, I cannot help it! You do look so funny! I--I never saw an elephant on roller skates before."

"And I never before was on roller skates," answered the toy Elephant. "I don't believe I'll ever put them on again, either," he said. "But when the White Rocking Horse asked me to race with him, that was the only way I could think of to make it fair, as he is so much faster than I. He said I might put anything I liked on my feet."

"What's this? What's this?" cried the Bold Tin Soldier. "Is there to be a race between an Elephant on roller skates and the White Rocking Horse?"

"Yes," answered the Horse himself, "we are going to have a little race, just for fun, you know. I thought it would be amusing."

"Where are you going to run the race?" asked the Candy Rabbit.

"Down to the elevators and back again," answered the White Rocking Horse. "You see, my friends, it came about in this way," he explained. "The Elephant was always telling how fast he could run. He said the real elephants in the jungle, after whom he is patterned, were swifter than horses. I said I did not think so. I told him I could beat him in a race, so we agreed to try it some night. I said he could put on roller skates if he wished, since I had rockers, like those of a chair, fastened on my hoofs."

The White Rocking Horse was a proud fellow, with his long tail and mane of real hair. Proudly he held up his head. Proudly he rocked to and fro. On his back was a red saddle of real leather.

"Get ready for the race!" called the Calico Clown, clanging his cymbals. "This will be real, jolly fun! Ready for the race!"

The Horse and Elephant stood on a line, which was a crack in the floor, and they were just going to rush toward the elevators when, all of a sudden, the Candy Rabbit cried:

"Hush!"