T was a sad year that followed the
Christmas morning of Nicholas' death.
All through the long cold winter and brief
summer the villagers were reminded
of the old friend who had left them
every time they saw his closed cottage,
with a holly wreath still in the window.
They had tenderly put him to rest in the
pine grove close to the friendly little
evergreens and near the spot where the
village children came to play. The eight reindeer were no
longer in the stalls behind the cottage; they had been taken
back to the big stables on the top of the hill by Katje
Dinsler. Many a time in the months that passed, a mother
would pick up a little carved doll from the floor and
gently wipe the dirt from its face, with a suddenly
tear-dimmed eye for the generous heart who had given the
 It gradually entered even the most babyish mind that
Nicholas was dead and would come to fill their stockings no
more. They cried a little, then the image of the fat, cheer
ful old man faded from their forgetful childish memories,
and so the year passed until it was again Christmas Eve.
"Mother, are we going to hang up our stockings?"
"No, no, child. Have you forgotten that Nicholas is
dead and can't come to fill your stockings any more?"
This question was asked and answered sadly in almost
every house in the village that Christmas Eve, so different
from the other years, when every fire in every hearth
glowed warmly on happy, expectant little children who were
busy choosing their best and longest stocking to hang over
the fireplace. This year, the little boys and girls went
despondently to bed, and the night before Christmas was just
like any ordinary night, with the parents silently banking
the fires and bolting the doors that once had been left open
to receive a merry, fat figure in a red suit.
And Nicholas might have been forgotten if it hadn't
been for one boy, little lame Stephen, who had a still-warm
memory of the kind old man and a childish faith that
somehow a big heart like his could never die. So Stephen's
parents were astonished when he calmly went about hanging up
 his stocking, just as he had done every Christmas Eve since
he could remember.
"But Stephen," his mother reminded him sadly, "you
know Nicholas is dead. You saw him carried from the
cottage to the little pine grove; you saw his sleigh and
reindeer being taken up to Mistress Katje's house. There's no
Nicholas any more, child; don't you understand?"
"But I've got to hang up my stocking, Mother; I've
got to. I don't believe God would keep him away from the
children on Christmas Eve. I believe that he will come
back . . ."
"Hush! You mustn't say things like that," exclaimed
the mother in a frightened tone. "The dead must rest,
my son, and it's not for you to say what God is to do
with them. But you may hang up your stocking if you want
to," she ended, feeling that even though her son suffered
a cruel disappointment, the only way to convince him was
to have him find his stocking empty on Christmas morning;
then he wouldn't spend the rest of his life thinking that his
mother might have been wrong.
So that was how, while all the other houses had fireplaces
that were growing darker and colder, and the doors were
bolted and windows tightly locked, there was one cottage in
 the village where the latch-string was left out, where the fire
still burned warmly on the hearth, and where a lone little
stocking was hanging bravely, an emblem of faith in a
During the night an old, old woman awoke and moved
restlessly in her bed, muttering still half-asleep, "I thought
I heard the jingling of silver bells and the tramping of
reindeer's hoofs on the snow. No, it must have been a dream,"
she sighed, and went back to sleep.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear. It might
have been the first Christmas morning of the world, the sun
was so warm, the air was so pure and fresh, the snow so
virgin-white and glistening as it lay piled up along the
fences and doorways. The little village street lay peaceful
in the early morning quiet.
Suddenly the tranquillity of the place was broken by a
wild shout, the door of one cottage burst open, and the figure
of a boy dashed out into the snow, one thin bare leg dragging
a little as he limped through the gateway, and one arm
waving wildly in the air,—a long, fat, bulging woolen
"He isn't dead!" shrieked Stephen, his thin face
transfigured by a beautiful joy. "Look at my stocking! It's
 filled, just the same as last Christmas! And there's a big
new sled by our fireplace. I knew it! Look, everybody!
Wake up, wake up! Nicholas isn't dead!"
Men, women, and children leaped from their beds to
see what all the noise was about, and the children leaped
right into the largest piles of toys they had ever seen,—all
around the fireplaces, on the tables and chairs, and even
beside their beds. The entire village opened its doors and
poured out into the street, the children dragging handsome
new sleds loaded with the most beautiful toys the village
had ever seen.
"Did you see this? Look at my boat!"
"He must have come down the chimney when he
found the door locked. There was some soot on the
"Isn't it wonderful? It's the happiest Christmas we've
"Little Stephen found a fir-tree on his table, decorated
with more gifts and fruit and candles, just the way the gypsy
children had their gifts, many years ago."
"Yes, and Stephen says there is a big shining star way
up on the topmost bough."
"That's because Stephen believed in him," they said,
 ashamed of themselves. "But now, we believe too. He
So the bells pealed out on Christmas morning,—a
joyful, happy sound, so different from the mournful tolling of
a year ago; and the happy villagers almost sang the universal
refrain, "He isn't dead!"
The children danced and ran around with their toys;
the men looked at each other with solemn, awe-filled eyes;
the mothers held their babies close and murmured, "He
isn't dead, my pet; you'll grow up and Nicholas will
still come to us."
One old woman, she who thought she had heard silvery
bells in the midnight air, with her eyes half on another world,
said in her cracked old voice, "He's a saint, that's what
"Yes, he's Saint Nicholas now!" They all took up the
shout, and the whole town joined the glad cry, "Saint
Nicholas! Saint Nicholas!"
A baby's voice tried to add his stumbling speech to
the general shout. "Sant' Clos! Sant' Clos!" he lisped.
"We believe now," the children and the fathers and the
mothers all said to each other with the light of faith that
little lame Stephen had inspired on their faces. "We
be-  lieve that Saint Nicholas will always come to us as long as
there is one child alive in the village."
"In the village!" echoed little Stephen. "In the whole
world!" he shouted triumphantly.