HE fishermen of the village smoked one
pipe after another, and scratched their
heads for a long time over the problem;
their good wives gathered together and
clacked their tongues as busily as their
knitting needles; and the main topic of
every conversation was—"What is to
become of that boy Nicholas?"
"Of course," said fat Kristin, wife
of Hans, the rope-maker, "no one wants
to see the child go hungry or leave him out in the cold;
but with five little ones of our own, I don't see how
we can take him in."
"Yes," chimed in Mistress Elena Grozik, "and with
the long winter well set in, and the men barely able to go
out in the boats, no fisherman's family knows for certain
where the next piece of bread is coming from. And with
the scarcity of fuel . . . "
 All the ladies shivered and drew closer to Greta Bavran's
comfortable log fire, and sighed heavily over their knitting.
Mistress Greta arose and poked the fire thoughtfully.
"We could take him for awhile," she meditated aloud.
"Jan had many a good catch last season, and we have
somewhat laid by for the winter. We have only the three
children, and there's that cot in the storehouse where he
could sleep . . . Mind you," she interrupted herself sharply
as she noticed the look of relief spreading over the others'
faces, "mind you, we might not have a crust to eat ourselves
next winter, and besides, I think everybody in the
village should have a share in this."
"Quite right, Mistress Bavran," spoke up another.
Then, turning to the group, "Why can't we all agree that
each one of us here will take Nicholas into her home for,
say a year, then let him change to another family, and so on
until he reaches an age when he can fend for himself?"
"I suppose Olaf and I can manage for one winter,"
said one woman thoughtfully.
"You may count on me," added another. "Not for
a few years, though; we have too many babies in the
house now. I'll wait until Nicholas gets a bit older."
 Greta Bavran gave the last speaker a sharp look. "Yes,
when he's able to do more work," she muttered under her
breath. Then aloud—"There are ten of us here now.
If we each agree to take Nicholas for a year, that will
take care of him until he's fifteen, and without a doubt,
he'll run away to sea long before that."
The ladies laughed approvingly, then feeling very
virtuous at having provided for Nicholas until he reached the
age of fifteen, they arose, wrapped up their knitting, and
proceeded to wrap themselves up in shawls and woolens
before going out into the sharp winter air.
"Will you find my Jan at the shop, and tell him to
fetch Nicholas from the Widow Lufvitch where he's been
staying? " called Greta after the last woman.
"That I will, Greta; then I must hurry to my baking.
I almost forgot the Christmas feast tomorrow, with
all this talk about the orphan."
So it was that Nicholas came to his first home-for-a-year
on Christmas Eve, to kindly people who tried their
best to make a lonely little five-year-old boy forget the
tragic events of the past week. In spite of the festivities
of the day, he curled himself up in a corner of the storeroom,
and with heartbroken sobs for his lost mother and
 father and beloved Katje, tried to drown out the sounds
of merrymaking in the cottage. But the door opened, and
a little form was seen in the ray of light.
"What do you want? " asked Nicholas almost roughly.
"Go away; I want to be alone."
"WHAT DO YOU WANT?" ASKED NICHOLAS.
The other little boy's mouth quivered. "My boat's
broken," he cried, "my new boat I got for the Christmas
feast, and Father's gone out, and Mother can't fix it."
He held up a toy fishing boat.
Nicholas dried his eyes on his sleeves and took the
broken toy in his hands. "I'll fix it for you," and he
turned back to his corner.
"Oh, come in here where there's more light," said the
So Nicholas went in where there was more light, and
more children, and more laughter.
As the year passed, the little boy gradually forgot his
grief in the busy, happy life of the Bavran household.
The other three children played with him, quarreled with
him, and came to accept him as one of themselves. Nicholas,
in his turn, was not too young to appreciate the happy
year he spent with his new brother and sisters, and when
he heard talk in the household that Christmas Day would
 soon bring to a close his stay with the Bavrans, his mind
was confused with many different thoughts. There was
sorrow in his heart at leaving, a fear of what unknown
life was awaiting him in the next house, and a growing
desire to do something, no matter how small, to show his
benefactors how much he loved them and their children.
The only things he owned in the world were the clothes
he wore, an extra coat and trousers, a sea-chest and a
jack-knife which had belonged to his father. He couldn't
part with any of these, and yet he wanted to leave some
little gift. A happy thought struck him—Katje had
always loved the little dolls and animals he had made for
her out of bits of wood; maybe now, with the help of the
jack-knife, he could fashion something even better. So, for
the last two weeks of his stay, he worked secretly in the
dark storeroom, hiding his knife and wood when he heard anybody
approaching, and struggling furiously the last few days
so that all would be finished by Christmas morning; because,
since it was Christmas when the Bavrans had taken him
last winter, he must be passed along in exactly a year's time.
The toys finally were finished. Nicholas gave them a
last loving polish, and looked at them admiringly—a
handsome doll, dressed in a bright red skirt, for Margret,
 the eldest; a little doll-chair, with three straight legs and
one not so straight, for the next little girl, Gretchen; and
a beautiful sleigh for his playmate, Otto.
So the next day, when the three children were weeping
loudly as they watched the little sea-chest being packed,
and their father was waiting at the door to take Nicholas
to Hans the rope-maker's house, the departing orphan slowly
drew from behind his back the rough little toys he had
made, and forgot to cry himself as he watched the glee
with which the children welcomed their gifts. And a lovely
glow seemed to spread itself over his heart when he heard
their thanks and saw their happy faces.
"Well, I'll be going now. Good-by, Margret; good-by,
Gretchen; good-by, Otto. Next year I can make the
toys better. I'll make you some next Christmas, too."
And with this promise, Nicholas bravely turned his back
on the happy scene, to face another year some place else.
His small form looked smaller still as he trudged along in
the snow beside the tall figure of Jan Bavran. His thin
brown face, surrounded by a shock of yellow hair, seemed
older than his six years, saddened as it was by this parting,
but the blue eyes were still gay and warm at the
thought of the happiness he had left behind him.
 "Well," he thought to himself as they approached the
rope-maker's house, " maybe the five children here will be
just as nice to me as the Bavrans, and I can make toys for
them, too. Christmas can be a happy day for me, too, even
if it is my moving day."