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NE Christmas Eve Nicholas did not
have such an easy time making his
rounds of the village houses. To begin
with, he was considerably amused and
rather dismayed to discover that,
instead of one embroidered bag for each
house, the children had followed little
Laurens' example, and had each put out
a woolen stocking. So with some families
having five or six children, there
was often quite a row of stockings nailed up on the door.
Of course, Nicholas could not very well put just one toy in
each stocking, it made the rest of it look so flat and empty;
but since he hadn't stocked his sleigh with enough gifts so
that there would be several for each child, he found himself
with an empty sleigh, and only half-way through his list!
"Lucky I have that extra supply of toys at home in the
chest," he said to himself as he made a flying trip back to
 the cottage for more gifts. He loaded the sleigh again and
started out once more, with the night half gone and his list
Poor old Lufka, his horse, tried his best, but he was getting
old and could not make very fast progress through the
heavy snow. He kept turning a patient head around at
Nicholas, who spoke to him encouragingly. "Come on,
now, lad; only two more houses. You can make it; the
sleigh's not so heavy now with all that double load delivered."
Lufka wagged his head at his master's voice and tossed
it in the air as though to say, "Yes, but tonight we had to
make an extra trip back to the cottage, and when I thought
I was going to be nicely bedded down for the night, off you
went again! And I must say I like the snow better when
there's a crust on top, instead of this heavy stuff. I'm
always stumbling—there, now!"
Down went the good old beast into a ditch, and crack
went one of the sleigh runners. Nicholas climbed down,
and after reassuring himself that Lufka had no broken bones,
shook his head ruefully at the sight of the old sleigh.
"I guess that's the end of that, old boy," he remarked
to Lufka, who had stumbled upright and was now busy
try-  ing to flick the snow off with his tail. "Looks as though
we'll have to get a new sleigh, and I'm afraid your traveling
days are over, too. You're getting a little old for this
Nicholas had to finish his Christmas visits on foot, and
the first rosy streaks of dawn were brightening the sky when
he and Lufka finally returned to the cottage,—Nicholas,
fat and rosy, puffing heavily; Lufka dragging his tired old
bones straight to the door of his stable.
For many days after that particular Christmas Eve, the
villagers and children who passed Nicholas' door noticed
that he was not working at his bench. Instead, there could
be heard sounds of hammering and sawing from the large
shed where he kept his supply of wood and where he did the
larger pieces of work which required more room.
The villagers said to each other, "Must be some beautiful
bridal chest that keeps Nicholas so busy these days.
Or maybe it's a boat he's building for himself," they
Spring came, the late northern spring, and Nicholas was
again seen at his work-bench. When curious townsfolk
questioned him on his long, secret task of the winter, he
would only shake his dark yellow head (the yellow was
 now beginning to show streaks of white) and say with a sly
smile, "You'll see soon enough. Just you wait."
Soon, however, the villagers forgot their curiosity in a
new, exciting piece of news which was spreading over the
village. Nicholas heard most of it at his work-bench, where
people of all ages gathered now and then to chat with the
"What's this I hear about the Squire, Otto?" Nicholas
asked his old friend, with whom he had lived as a boy.
"Ah," said Otto, puffing contentedly at his pipe and
settling down to a long gossip. "They say things haven't
gone so well with him these past five years or more. First
there were those ships of his that didn't come home; then
they say that his overseer ran away with a good part of a
year's rents . . ."
"Yes," put in old Hans Klinker, "then there was that
matter of a mine that his son persuaded him to invest in."
"Too bad," they all sighed, with a sort of self-satisfied
air that they would have done nothing so foolish with their
money, if they had ever had any to be foolish with.
"And now," continued Otto, leaning forward with the
most interesting part of his story, "now he has to sell most
of his lands and household goods to pay the creditors and
 start in again. Will you be going up to the sale tomorrow,
Nicholas looked up from the piece of wood he was planing,
to ask, "Now what would I be buying from the Squire?
I don't want any more land, and I can make for myself as
fine furniture as any he has in his house."
"He has some good animals up there," said old Hans.
"Those two horses now, and that set of reindeer."
"True enough," said Nicholas, finally interested enough
to put down his work. "Lufka's too old to be much help
to me now. I think I might go up there with you boys
tomorrow and see some of the excitement."
So the next morning found Nicholas in the center of an
eager, curious crowd—farmers who hoped to get some of the
Squire's good land cheap; fishermen who were interested in
the two or three boats the Squire owned; housewives who
thought they might like a chair or a table from such a fine
household; and scores of others who had come along just
to watch the rest of the crowd.
Nicholas wandered down to the stables, and was instantly
surrounded by a group of men who knew he was
interested in horses and were ready to give him much
 Nicholas, however, walked past the stables where the
horses were lodged, and made directly for the larger
"He's after Donder and Blitzen," the men whispered
among themselves. "He always admired them, they went
Yes, there was Nicholas, his round figure in the bright
red suit standing at the door of the stable, his hands on his
roomy hips, gazing thoughtfully in at the darkened stalls.
Two deer, inside, excited at the noises of the crowd, thrust
their frightened heads through the top part of the door.
"Well," said Nicholas softly, "you poor beasties don't
look much like thunder and lightning now. Not afraid of
me, are you?" He put a reassuring hand on the larger
deer's shoulder. The melting brown eyes looked trustingly
into the blue ones. The deer whimpered and thrust its
warm black nose into Nicholas' hand.
"I guess we'll get along all right," said Nicholas in a satisfied
tone. "Now to find your master and see about this
"Here's the Squire now," called out one of the men.
"Nicholas wants to buy Donder and Blitzen, Squire."
The Squire, a bent old man with a worried look on his
 face, seemed dazed by this mob of people taking possession
of his house and goods.
"Well, he can't have Donder and Blitzen, alone," he
said almost fretfully. "That set of reindeer goes together
or not at all. Why, Donder would go raving mad if you
tried to separate her from the rest of her family."
"Family!" exclaimed Nicholas. "Why, Squire, I need
only two reindeer. How many more . . ."
Suddenly there was a loud crash of breaking wood, a
mad rush of people away from one of the stalls, and seemingly
in one brown streak, there was a little reindeer running
madly about the farmyard, pursuing one unfortunate villager
who couldn't run as fast as the others.
"That's Vixen," shouted the old Squire, distracted.
"Here, catch him quick. He's a young imp. He'll hurt
Everybody ran about in a frenzy, but Vixen was nimble,
and even paused in his mad rush to look impudently over
his shoulder at his pursuers. Then he would give a naughty
toss of his head as if to say, "Come, catch me," and was off
again, leaping over carts and farming implements, knocking
a man's hat off with the young horns just beginning to grow,
finally clearing a high fence with one bound, and paused
 panting on the other side to gaze through the bars mischievously
at the hot, breathless group of men.
EVERYBODY RAN ABOUT IN A FRENZY.
Nicholas had not joined in the chase; he was standing
at the door of the stalls, holding on to his fat stomach and
shaking all over with mirth.
"I'll take the lot of them," he cried out. "I don't
know what the others are like, but I must have that little
Vixen. I haven't laughed so much in years. Why, just
to see the neat way he clipped off Ivan Prosof's hat!" He
went into another gale of laughter, then made his way through
the crowd to the Squire, where he finally concluded the
bargain, and acquired not two, but eight reindeer,—Donder
and Blitzen, the mamma and papa, with their six children,
Dasher and Dancer, Comet and Cupid, and Prancer and