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NE year, when Nicholas was about fifty
years old, and his hair and beard were
getting as white as the snow around his
cottage, and he was growing as round as
the balls he gave the children, a strange
family came to live in the village. Not
much of a family, to be sure—just one
little old man, as brown and wrinkled as
a nut, and a thin little girl, who shrank
away from the crowd of villagers who had
gathered, as they always gathered when something new and
strange was happening.
"His name is Carl Dinsler," one woman whispered.
"The old Squire's housekeeper told me about him. They
say he's very rich. He must be to have money enough to
buy the big house on the hill."
"He may be rich," remarked another, "but he certainly
doesn't look it. Why, that poor old nag he drove
 into the village must be almost a hundred, and did you see
how poorly and shabbily he was dressed?"
"Yes, and that poor little mite he had with him; she
looks as though a good meal wouldn't do her any harm.
Who is she, anyway?"
"That's his granddaughter. The child's parents died
just a short while ago, away down in the southlands, and
they say this old man bought the house up here to be alone."
"He can stay alone, then," sniffed another woman.
"Did you see the black looks he turned on us all, when we
only came out to welcome them to the village?"
"Yes," sighed another, "but somehow I pity that little
one. Who's to take care of her up in that big barn
of a place?"
It was lucky the villagers had a chance to get a good
look at the newcomers on their first appearance in town;
for after that day, little was seen of them. The little girl
seemed to have vanished completely; the old man descended
the hill only to buy small amounts of food—some
fish and some flour. And the very curious ones, who
climbed the hill just to see what was going on, came back
to the village with strange news indeed!
"Do you know what he has done?" demanded one
 small boy of an interested group. "He's nailed up all the
gates and left only the front one open, and even that he
keeps locked with a bolt as long as this." He spread his
hands about a yard apart. His listeners gasped. "Yes,
and that's not all. I don't know how you could get into
the house, for he's put up boards where the front and side
doors used to be and on all the windows. There's not one
sign of life in the old place now. You'd never know a soul
"Why, the man must be crazy," they all said,
astounded. "He must be afraid of somebody."
"Afraid, nothing!" one man remarked scornfully.
"Unless he's afraid someone will steal his wealth away from
"He's a surly old wretch," added the schoolmaster.
"I tried to see him the other day to ask if he was going to
send the child to school. He wouldn't let me get any
farther than the front gate. He wanted to know all about the
school, and when I told him the children usually brought
vegetables or meat or a few coins each week to pay for their
schooling, he snarled at me, and told me to go about my
business; that he'd take care of his grandchild's education."
"The poor little thing," exclaimed one motherly-looking
 woman, "I'd like to tell that old miser what I think of
"Well, this is a piece of news that will interest Nicholas,
the wood-carver," said another. "One more child in the
village, and a lonely one, too."
"Nicholas knows all about her," they heard a deep
voice say, and all turned to see that it was the wood-carver
himself, who had joined the group unnoticed. "Her name
is Katje. I once knew a little girl named Katje," he went
on with a sad, faraway look in his usually merry blue eyes,
"and that's why I'd like to do something for this poor child."
"Why, how did you find out her name, Nicholas? "
"She was wandering around in the yard like a forlorn
little puppy who's been locked in," Nicholas answered.
"I was passing that way and stopped at the gate to talk
with her. She says she's not allowed to go outside the
fence, and that she can play in the yard only an hour each
day. She also told me that her grandfather doesn't want
her to mix with the village children for fear she'll talk about
the gold he has."
The honest villagers were indignant. "As if we'd touch
his old money," they said angrily.
"I don't know what we can do about it," said Nicholas
 thoughtfully. "We can't force our way into the house,
and after all, it's his own grandchild. I guess we'll just
have to wait around and see what happens. I can't believe
anyone could stay as hard as that with a little child in the
The others shook their heads. "He's hard all through,
that old rascal. Why, I'll wager he wouldn't even let her
put out her stocking on Christmas Eve."
"That's a safe wager," laughed Nicholas. "He wouldn't
open his front door even to let something free come in."
The crowd dispersed, and Nicholas went back to his
work-bench; but all through the months that followed, his
mind was occupied with the thought of the lonely little
Katje. He saw her several times after that, and learned
that it was true that she would not be allowed to hang up
her stocking. The last time he visited her he had been seen
by old Dinsler, who waved his stick at him and told him
angrily to keep away from his house and his grandchild.
And after that day, Katje was to be seen no more.
Hoping for the best, however, Nicholas carefully made
a few little toys for Katje and packed them away with his
other gifts, and went on thinking and thinking until, just
about a week before Christmas, when he was taking a walk
 around the big boarded-up house, hoping to catch a glimpse
of Katje, a wonderful idea struck him. He had been
staring up at the forbidding-looking house, all barred and
locked, when his attention was caught by the huge stone
chimney on the roof. His eyes brightened; he slapped his
thigh and chuckled to himself. "I'll try it! I may get
stuck, but it's worth the attempt."
Christmas Eve that year was a dark, moonless night.
The wind whistled mournfully through the deserted streets,
and a cold sleet stung Nicholas' face and covered his sleigh
and reindeer with a shining coat of ice.
"Come on now, my good lads," he encouraged his deer.
"Trip's almost over; we've only the house on the hill now.
It'll probably take me the rest of the night," he muttered
to himself, shivering in his red coat and looking like a big
snow-man, with the rain and sleet forming icicles on his
snowy white beard.
He tied the deer to the front gate and then, taking his
sack from the back of the sleigh, climbed from his high seat
to the top bar of the fence, and in a moment was down in
the yard. He stopped to listen; not a sound could be heard
but a few shutters banging in the wind and the sighing of
the big pines.
 He crept over to the side of the house, where a sort of
porch covered one door and made an excellent ladder to the
roof. He had a hard time, fat and bulky as he was and
encumbered by the sack on his back; but he finally puffed
his way up to the top of the porch, and in a few minutes was
crouched on the sloping roof of the house.
Now was the dangerous part. The roof was slippery
with the sleet and rain that had fallen; he had to take out
his little knife and hack away the ice, to form wedges where
he could get a foothold. Once he paused breathless, when
he thought he heard footsteps in the darkness below. He
listened intently, but discovered it was only the impatient
stamping of one of his reindeer.
NICHOLAS PAUSED BREATHLESS.
Finally a big shape loomed up above him—it was the
chimney. Nicholas stopped to rest a moment, then leaned
over the wide edge and looked down into inky blackness.
"Just as I thought," he murmured in a satisfied tone.
"The old miser lets his fire go out nights, even such a
bitter cold one as this."
He climbed over the edge and then began his slow,
perilous descent, feeling carefully with his feet for jutting
bricks, pressing one hand flat on the sides, and bracing his
 back firmly against the walls, and so slowly made his way
through the sooty chimney until he finally felt solid earth
beneath his feet.
He stepped out of the fireplace into a room which was
only slightly lighter than the black chimney. When his
eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he made out the
dim outlines of a table and, groping around, found the stub
of a candle, which he lit. Then he set to work swiftly. He
drew out from his pack a bright blue woolen stocking, which
he filled to the brim with little toys and nuts and raisins,
for he thought the hungry little girl might like a few sweets.
Then he hung the fat stocking right on the fireplace,
weighted down with a heavy brass candlestick. He stood
back a moment to survey his work and was just leaning
over the candle to blow it out and make his difficult way
back up the chimney, when he was startled by the sudden
opening of a door, and a furious figure dashed into the room.
"Sneaking into my house, eh? After my gold, I suppose!
I'll show you how I treat thieves; I'll show you!"
The old man picked up a heavy pair of iron fire-tongs
and made a lunge at Nicholas, who rapidly sprang aside,
so that the table was between him and the mad old
 "Don't be such a fool, man," he said quickly, realizing
that the other was in such a rage he was dangerous. "I
haven't come here after your gold. Look . . ."
"You haven't, eh? Then what brings you here, if it
isn't some thieving purpose? Why do you break into an
honest man's house in the dead of night if it isn't for the
wealth I'm supposed to have?"
"What brings me here? Look behind you at that
stocking there. The other children in the village leave
theirs outside their doors, but you have that poor child so
frightened she's afraid to ask you for anything. I only
wanted to make her feel she was just as good as the others,
that she could get gifts the same as they find on Christmas
"Gifts," exclaimed the old man, bewildered, lowering
his dangerous-looking weapon. "You give things away?"
He looked at Nicholas as though he were some strange kind
"Yes," answered Nicholas, relieved to see the fire-tongs
out of sight. "I'll even give you a Christmas gift,
you foolish old man. Here, if gold's all you care for, here's
more—and more—and more, to add to your hoard!"
"IF GOLD'S ALL YOU CARE FOR, HERE'S MORE."
And he reached into his deep pockets and poured a
 stream of bright gold on the table under old Carl's astonished eyes.
"There, that's just to show you how unimportant I
think money is compared to the love of a little child, which
you might have. Did you ever try to make Katje's eyes
twinkle at you? No, you only see the bright glitter of this
stuff, and so her eyes are sad, pitiful things when you look
into them. Did you ever feel her warm little hand tuck
itself into yours? No. Your fingers are satisfied with the
cold touch of gold. I pity you, old man, but don't you dare
touch that stocking or I'll make you sorry for yourself as
well. And now," he finished his tirade and brushed some
soot from one eye, " now, will you please show me the way
to the door. I don't intend to climb up that chimney.
I'll never get this suit clean again!"
He marched out of the room, a ridiculous, stout figure,
covered with soot from head to toe, and yet somehow a very
impressive person to old Carl, who hastened ahead of him
and silently let him out into the black, stormy night.
The village buzzed with excitement during the following
week. Something had stirred up the old miser on the hill!
He had ripped off the boards from his doors and windows;
 he had bought a new horse and sleigh; he had stocked his
larder with huge quantities of food-stuffs. Next, he interviewed
the schoolmaster, and within a few days, Katje and
her grandfather were seen on the road leading to the school,
the little girl's face beaming up at the old man, her feet
skipping along to catch up with his long strides and her
warm little hand tucked close in his gnarled old fist.
And all because Nicholas had climbed down a chimney
to fill a stocking!