T UKTU still sat on the back of Whitefoot. As Santa Claus talked, he came over to Whitefoot and gently stroked his face. Whitefoot stood without motion. It was the more surprising, because Whitefoot had always been rather unruly. He never had been one to willingly acknowledge a master. Only Tuktu had been able to handle him without trouble. Santa looked up straight into the eyes of Tuktu. "Tell me, my dear," said he, "how you came to venture into this valley. Did you not know that only the deer folk come here?"
"Yes, I knew," replied Tuktu in a low voice. "I knew, Good Santa, and I would not have thought of coming myself. It was Whitefoot who brought me here. He brought me here, and I didn't know where he was bringing me."
Then she told how she had been lost in the fog, and how when she had awakened from her nap in the midst of the great herd, she had discovered where she was. She told how she would have left, even then, but could not. And her lips trembled a little as she talked, for she was fearful that the Good Spirit might think that she had done wrong.
"And why do you think that the deer folk come here every year?" inquired Santa Claus.
"That the blessed eight may be chosen," said Tuktu.
"And what, my dear, do you mean by the blessed eight?" Santa Claus inquired.
Then Tuktu told him of the tales she had heard around the winter firepots, and how it had been long known that every year eight deer were chosen from the great herd in the Valley of the Good Spirit; and how the following year these deer always returned to their owners, and were the finest sled-deer in all the North, so that the owner of one of these was considered blessed above his fellows.
Santa Claus sighed. "They ought to be good sled-deer," said he. "I spend enough time in training them. For what purpose, my dear, do you think these deer are chosen each year?"
Tuktu shook her head. "That," said she, "no one knows. All that is known is that each year the eight deer are chosen, and the following year they are returned to bless their owners. That is enough. The Good Spirit has some wise purpose, or the deer would not be taken and returned."
"Do you know," said Santa, "that the reindeer are among the oldest of all the peoples of the earth? It is so. It has been said that man was created to look after the reindeer, and the reindeer were created to look after man. Almost since man was, the reindeer have furnished him with food and clothing, and have carried him or drawn him wherever he wished to go. Have you driven deer to the sled? Have you ever sat behind a running reindeer and felt the rush of the cutting wind? And felt now and then the sting of the snow thrown from his flying feet?"
Tuktu's eyes shone and she clapped her hands softly. "Don't you love it?" she cried.
Santa Claus nodded, and he chuckled. "That is why the eight deer are chosen each year," said he. "When I made my first Christmas journey, it was a reindeer who drew my sled. My pack was small and my journey was short, and a single deer was all I needed. But as the Christmas spirit swept farther and farther throughout the Great World, and more and more children looked for my coming, my pack became larger and I had to travel much faster. So then I used two deer; and then three, four, five, until now eight are needed. Eight of the finest deer to be found in all the herds.
They must have speed and strength, for they must take me fast and carry me far. They must have beauty, with antlers of many points. They must be stout of heart and full of courage. They must be gentle. So it is that each year I must get a new team, and so each year the reindeer, the finest in all the great Northland, feed for a while in Kringle Valley. Then when the time comes, as it came to-day, they pass before me at their best, that I may choose those for my next Christmas journey into the Great World. Those you saw vanish in the colored mist are the eight who will take me next Christmas to carry joy to little folk. In all that great herd you saw, there is none other the equal of those chosen. And all the deer folk know it. Just once will they make that wonderful journey, for only for that one time will they be at their very best. At the next Christmas there will be eight others to take their places. But always the eight bear the same names. Would you like to hear them, Tuktu?"
Shyly Tuktu nodded. "If you please," she said.
My, how the eyes of old Santa Claus twinkled! "They are Donder and Blitzen, Dancer and Prancer, Dasher and Vixen, Comet and Cupid," said he. "I couldn't drive deer by any other names. They are magic names. And those deer will become magic deer when they start on their Christmas journey. Now, my dear, Whitefoot will take you straight back to the place from which he brought you. You have seen that which you may never see again—the choosing of the deer. But always you will remember that in the Valley of the Good Spirit, love dwells, and that love may be carried throughout the world, the blessed reindeer are chosen each year."