EN more years passed, and every
Christmas morning the children found their
stockings filled with toys and candy and
nuts. Poor families found baskets filled
with good things to eat,—wild fowl,
vegetables, flour, and meal. Sometimes
even bundles of clothing for every member
of the family were placed on the
doorsteps. For Nicholas was now a
prosperous old man and shared all he had
with the less fortunate townsfolk.
But as the years went on, and his good deeds increased,
he was growing more and more feeble. The villagers, who
loved and venerated him, grew sad when their children
prattled happily on Christmas morning over their toys, and
the fearful thought in every parent's heart was,—maybe
next Christmas he won't be with us.
 One year, a group of men and women called on Nicholas
at his cottage with a suggestion.
"We thought, Nicholas," said one man a little
hesitantly, "we thought that since it's so cold filling stockings
outside the door, and sometimes there are five or six to each
family, why couldn't the children leave their stockings inside
by the fireplace?"
"Then you could come in and get warm and take your
time about it," added one woman kindly.
Nicholas raised his white head from the work he was
always doing and smiled all over his rosy face. He placed
one gnarled hand, grown old in service for others, on a man's
"The idea of you coming here to tell me how to do my
work," he joked. " Why, I remember filling an
embroidered bag for you when you were tinier than your own children
are now. And then they started putting stockings out
instead of bags, and now you're going to pull the stockings
in. Well, times change, I suppose, and I must keep up with
the times. So indoors I will go, and I thank you all for
your warm fires."
So after that year, Nicholas would creep into houses on
Christmas Eve, and would settle his bulky old form
com-  fortably before the fire and fill the stockings leisurely. The
firelight would leap up merrily as if to help him at his work,
and the peaceful old face with the halo of white hair and
beard would beam warmly at the little toys he stuffed into
the stockings, and the wrinkled hands would caress
lovingly the little boats and dolls that a child's hands would
fondle the next morning.
One Christmas Eve, old Nicholas found it more and
more difficult to leave each fireplace for the next house.
The warm blaze made him drowsy, and his old bones
protested as he heaved himself up wearily to be on with his
work. It was slow progress he made from house to house,
but he finally reached his last stop, his back tired from the
bulky sack, his head drooping with sleepiness, and his heart
heavy as he realized how old he must be when the task
he had done for so many years was now beginning to wear
The last house was reached, and Nicholas dropped in
the settle by the fire with a deep sigh of relief. It was
a long time before he recovered sufficiently to start filling
the stockings; even then he did it slowly, reaching
painfully down to his sack, and each time straightening himself
with growing difficulty. He filled four of the five stockings
 that were hanging over the fireplace; then, with the fifth
one still empty in his hands, the old head drooped drowsily,
and Nicholas was fast asleep.
THE OLD HEAD DROOPED DROWSILY.
He awoke with a start an hour later when a man
anxiously shook him by the shoulder.
"Are you all right, Nicholas? " asked a worried voice.
"I got up to see if the fire had gone out and found you still
here, and look, it's almost dawn!"
Nicholas shook himself, then stood up wearily. "Yes,
lad, it's Christmas morning, and I haven't finished my
work," he said sorrowfully.
"I'll do the last one for you, Nicholas," answered the
man kindly. "You just leave the toys and things here
and go home to bed. I'll finish it. Go along now, before
the children get up and see you."
Nicholas, thinking of his warm comfortable bed, handed
the stocking to the man and went out into the gray
Five minutes later, a little nightgowned boy stood in
the doorway of the living room. "Why, Father," he
exclaimed in a disappointed tone, "I thought it was Nicholas
who gave us the toys, and here you are filling my stocking!"
The child looked ready to cry, but his father, caught
 with the half-filled stocking in his hand, hastened to
"Your Nicholas is getting old, my boy," he said, "and
sometimes he gets so tired we parents have to help him in
his work. But don't you forget, it's always Nicholas who
leaves you the toys."
"That's all right then!" said the little fellow. "It
isn't half so much fun when you think your mother and
father prepare the gifts."
"I should say not," said the father sternly, "and you
must never doubt Nicholas. Why, he might be so hurt at
a little boy thinking he didn't fill the stockings, that he
might never come to his house again. Think how terrible
that would be!"
"Yes," whispered his son in a frightened voice.
"What would Christmas be without Nicholas?"