Lucy Fitch Perkins

The~Day~They Got~Their~Skates

Part 3 of 3

Father and Mother Vedder sat up late that night. Mother Vedder said it was to prepare the goose for dinner the next day.

When the Twins woke the next morning, the fire was already roaring up the chimney, and the kitchen was warm as toast. They hopped out of bed and ran for their wooden shoes. Mother Vedder reached up to the mantel shelf for them. Truly, the hay was gone—and there in each shoe was a package done up in paper!

"Oh, he did  come! He did  come!" cried Kat. "O Mother, you're sure you didn't build the fire before he had got out of the chimney?"

"I'm sure," said Vrouw Vedder. "I've made the fire on many a St. Nicholas morning, and I've never burned him yet!"

The Twins climbed up the steps to their cupboard bed and sat on the edge of it to [169] open their packages. In Kit's was a big St. Nicholas cake, like the one in the shop window! And in Kat's were three cakes like birds, and two like fish!


[Illustration]

"Just what we wanted!" said Kit and Kat. "Do you suppose he heard us say so?"

"St. Nicholas can hear what people think,"  said Vrouw Vedder. "He is coming [170] to see you to-night at six o'clock, and you must be ready to sing him a little song and answer any questions he asks you."

"How glad I am that we are so good!" said Kat.

"We'll see what the Saint thinks about that," said the mother. "Now get dressed; for Grandfather and Grandmother will be here for dinner, and we're going to have roast goose, and there's a great deal to do."

Kit and Kat set their beautiful cakes up where they could see them while they dressed.

"I do wish every day were St. Nicholas Day," said Kit.

"Or the day before," said Kat. "That was such a nice day!"

"All  the days are nice days, I think," said Kit.

"I don't think the dog-cart day was so very nice," said Kat. "We tore our best clothes, and they'll never, never be so nice again. That was because you  didn't mind!"

"Well," said Kit, "I minded as much as [171] I could. How can I mind two things at one time? You know how well I can think! You know how I thought about Vrouw Van der Kloot's cakes. But I can't  think how I can mind twice at one time."

"I don't suppose you can," said Kat. "But anyway, I'm sorry about my dress."

Just then Vrouw Vedder called them to come and eat their breakfast.


[Illustration]

Father and Mother Vedder sat down at the little round table and bowed their heads. Kit and Kat stood up. Father Vedder said grace; and then they ate their salt herring and [172] drank their coffee; and Kit and Kat had coffee too, because it was St. Nicholas morning.

It was snowing when, after breakfast, Kit went out with his father to feed the chickens and the pigs, and to see that the cow had something very good that she liked to eat. When they had done that, they called Kat; and she helped throw out some grain on the white snow, so the birds could have a feast, too.


[Illustration]

It snowed all day. Kit and Kat both [173] helped their mother get the dinner. They got the cabbage and the onions and the potatoes ready; and when the goose was hung upon the fire to roast, they watched it and kept it spinning around on the spit, so it would brown evenly.

By and by the kitchen was all in order, and you can't think how clean and homelike it looked! The brasses all around the room had little flames dancing in them, because they were so bright and shiny. Everything was ready for the St. Nicholas feast. The goose was nearly roasted, and there was such a good smell of it in the air!

After a while there was a great stamping of feet at the door; and Vrouw Vedder ran with the broom to brush the snow off Grandfather and Grandmother, who had skated all the way from town, on the canal. When they were warmed and dried, and all their wraps put away, Grandfather and Grandmother Winkle looked around the pleasant kitchen; and Grandmother said to Grandfather,

[174] "Our Neltje is certainly a good house-wife." Neltje was Vrouw Vedder. And Grandfather said,

"There's only one better one, my dear." He meant Grandmother Winkle.

By and by they all sat down to dinner, and I can't begin to tell you how good it was! It makes one hungry just to think of it. They had roast goose and onions and turnips and cabbage. They had bread and butter, and cheese, and sweet cakes.

"Everything except the flour in the bread, we raised ourselves," said Vrouw Vedder. "The hens gave us the eggs; and the cow, the butter. The Twins helped Father and me to take care of the chickens, and to milk the cow, and to make the butter; so it is our very own St. Nicholas feast that we are eating."

"A farmer's life is the best life there is," said Father Vedder.

They sat a long time at the table; and Grandfather told stories about when he was a boy; and Father Vedder told how Kit and [175] Kat learned to skate; and Kit and Kat told how they saw St. Nicholas riding on a white horse, and how he sent them the very things they wanted; and they all enjoyed themselves very much.

After dinner, Grandmother Winkle sat down in the chimney corner and called Kit and Kat.

"Come here," she said, "and I'll tell you some stories about St. Nicholas."


[Illustration]

[176] The Twins brought two little stools and sat beside her, one on each side. She took out her knitting; and as the needles clicked in her fingers, she told this story:

"Once upon a time, many years ago, three little brothers went out one day to the woods to gather fagots. They were just about as big as you are, Kit and Kat."

"Were they all three, twins?" asked Kat.

"The story doesn't tell about that," said Grandmother Winkle; "but maybe they were. At any rate, they all got lost in the woods and wandered ever so far, trying to find their way home. But instead of finding their way home, they just got more and more lost all the time. They were very tired and hungry; but, as they were brave boys, not one of them cried."

"It's lucky that none of those twins were girls," said Kit.

"I've even heard of boy twins that cried, when dog carts ran away, or something of that kind happened," said Grandmother [177] Winkle. "But you shouldn't interrupt; it's not polite."

"Oh!" said Kit very meekly.

"Well, as I was saying, they were very lost indeed. Night was coming on; and they were just thinking that they must lie down on the ground to sleep, when one of them saw a light shining through the leaves. He pointed it out to the others; and they walked along toward it, stumbling over roots and stones as they went, for it was now quite dark.

"As they came nearer, they saw that the light came from the window of a poor little hut on the edge of a clearing.

"They went to the door and knocked. The door was opened by a dirty old woman, who lived in the hut with her husband, who was a farmer.

"The boys told the old woman that they had lost their way, and asked her if she could give them a place to sleep. She spoke to her husband, who sat crouched over a little fire in the corner; and he told her to give them a bed in the loft.

[178] "The three boys climbed the little ladder into the loft and lay down on the hay. They were so tired that they fell asleep at once. The old man and his wife whispered about them over their bit of fire.

" 'They are fine-looking boys; and well dressed,' said the old woman.

" 'Yes,' said the old man, 'and I have no doubt they have plenty of money about them.'

" 'Do you really think so?' said the wife.

" 'I think I'll find out,' said the wicked farmer. So he climbed up to the loft and killed the three boys. Then he looked in their pockets for money; but there was no money there.

"He was very angry. And he was very much afraid—wicked people are always afraid."

"Are all afraid people wicked?" asked Kat. She wished very much that she were brave.

"M-m-m, well—not always,"  said Grandmother Winkle.

[179] "The wicked farmer was so afraid that he wanted to put the bodies of the three boys where no one would find them. So he carried them down cellar and put them into the pickle tub with his pork."

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" screamed Kat, and she put her hands over her ears. Even Kit's eyes were very round and big. But Grandmother said,

"Now, don't you be scared until I get to the end of the story. Didn't I tell you it was all about St. Nicholas? You wait and see what happened!

"That very same day the wicked farmer went to market with some vegetables to sell. As he was sitting in the market, St. Nicholas appeared, before him. He had on his mitre and his long robes, just as you see him in Kit's cake.

"Have you any pork to sell?" St. Nicholas asked the man.

"No," said the farmer.

"What of the three young pigs in your brine tub in the cellar?" said St. Nicholas.

[180] "The farmer saw that his wicked deed was found out—as all wicked deeds are, sooner or later. He fell on his knees and begged the good Saint to forgive him.

"St. Nicholas said, 'Show me the way to your house.'

"The farmer left his vegetables unsold in the market and went home at once, the Saint following all the way.

"When they reached the hut, St. Nicholas went to the pickled-pork tub in the cellar. He waved his staff over the tub, and out jumped the three boys, hearty and well! Then the good Saint took them through the woods and left them in sight of their own home."

"Oh, what a good St. Nicholas!" said Kit and Kat. "Tell us another."

"Well," said Grandmother Winkle, "once upon another time there was a very mean man, who had a great deal of money—that often happens. He had, also, three beautiful daughters—that sometimes happens too.

[181] "One day he lost all his money. Now, he cared more for money than for anything else in the world—more, even, than for his three beautiful daughters. So he made up his mind to sell them!

"St. Nicholas knew of this wicked plan; so that very night he went to the man's house and dropped some money through a broken window."

"Why did he do that?" asked Kat.

"Because the man was selling his daughters to get money. If he had money enough, he wouldn't sell them.

"The first night St. Nicholas dropped enough money to pay for the eldest daughter. The next night he took a purse of gold for the second daughter, and dropped it down the chimney. It fell down right in front of the man, as he was getting a coal to light his pipe. The third night the man watched; and when St. Nicholas came, the door flew open, and the man ran out. He caught St. Nicholas by his long robe and held him.

" 'O St. Nicholas, Servant of the Lord,' [182] he said, 'why dost thou hide thy good deeds?'

"And from that time on, every one has known it is St. Nicholas who brings gifts in the night and drops them down the chimney."

"Did the man sell his daughter?" asked Kat.

"No," said Grandmother. "He was so ashamed of himself that he wasn't wicked any more."

"Does St. Nicholas give everybody presents so they will be good?" asked Kat.

"Yes," said Grandmother; "that's why bad children get only a rod in their shoes."

"He gave the bad man nice presents to make him good," said Kit. "Why doesn't he give bad children nice things to make them  good too?"

Grandmother Winkle knitted for a minute without speaking. Then she said,

"I guess he thinks that the rod is the present that will make them good in the shortest time."

[183] The clock had been ticking steadily along while Grandmother had been telling stories, and it was now late in the afternoon. The sky was all red in the west; there were long, long shadows across the snowy fields, and the corners of the kitchen were quite dark.

"It's almost time to expect him, now," said Vrouw Vedder; and she brought out a sheet and spread it in the middle of the kitchen floor. She stirred up the fire, and the room was filled with the pleasant glow from the flames.

Kit and Kat sat on their little stools. Their eyes were very big. At five minutes of six, Vrouw Vedder said,

"He will be here in just a few minutes, now. Get up, Kit and Kat, and sing your song!"

The Twins stood up on the edge of the sheet and began to sing:

"St. Nicholas, good, holy man,

Put on your best gown;

Ride with it to Amsterdam,

From Amsterdam to Spain."


[Illustration]

[184] While they were singing, there was a sound at the door, of some one feeling for the latch. Then the door flew open, and a great shower of sweet cakes and candies fell [185] onto the sheet, all around Kit and Kat! There in the doorway stood St. Nicholas himself, smiling and shaking off the snow! His horse was stamping outside. Kit and Kat could hear it.

They stopped singing and hardly breathed,—they stood so still. They looked at St. Nicholas with big, big eyes. In one hand St. Nicholas carried two large packages; in the other, a birch rod.

"Are there any good children here?" said St. Nicholas.

"Pretty good, if you please, dear St. Nicholas," said Kit in a very small voice.

"Children who always mind their mothers and fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers?" said St. Nicholas, "and who do not quarrel?"

Kat couldn't say anything at all, though the Saint looked right at her! Vrouw Vedder spoke.

"I think, dear St. Nicholas, they are very good children," she said.

[186] "Then I will leave these for them and carry the rod along to some bad little boy and girl, if I find one," said St. Nicholas. "There seem to be very few about here. I haven't left a single rod yet." And he handed one big package to Kit, and another to Kat.

"Thank you," said Kit and Kat.

St. Nicholas smiled at them and waved his hand. Then the door shut, and he was gone!

Kit and Kat dropped on their knees to pick up the cakes and candies. They passed the cakes and candies around to each one. Vrouw Vedder lighted the candles, and then they all gathered around to see Kit and Kat open their bundles.

"You open yours first," said Vrouw Vedder to Kat.


[Illustration]

Kat was so excited that she could hardly untie the string. When she got the bundle open, there was a beautiful new Sunday dress—much prettier than the torn one had ever been! Oh, how pleased Kat was! She [187] hugged her mother and her grandmother and her father and her grandfather.

"I just wish I could hug dear St. Nicholas, too," she said.

Then Kit opened his bundle; and there was a beautiful new velveteen suit, with his very own silver buttons on it! It had pockets in it! He put his hand in one pocket. [188] It had a penny in it! Then he put his hand in the other pocket. There was another penny!

"I'm going to see if there's a pocket in mine," said Kat.

She hunted and hunted and hunted. By and by she found a pocket. And sure enough, there was a penny in that too!

Then some presents came from somewhere for Father and Mother Vedder and for Grandfather and Grandmother Winkle; and such a time as they all had, opening the bundles and showing their presents!

Then Mother Vedder tried on Kit's suit and Kat's dress, to see if they were the right size. They were just right exactly.

"St. Nicholas even knows how big we are," said Kat.

"Oh, I wish St. Nicholas Day would last a week," said Kit.

"That reminds me," said Vrouw Vedder, and she looked at the clock. "Half-past ten, and these children still up! Bless my heart, this will never do! Come here, Kit and Kat, and let me undo your buttons!"

[189] "May we take our new clothes to bed with us?" Kat asked.


[Illustration]

"Yes, just this once," said Mother Vedder, "because this is St. Nicholas night."

[190] They kissed their Grandfather and Grandmother good-night, and their Mother and Father, and said their prayers like good children; and then they climbed up into their little cupboard bed, and Vrouw Vedder drew the curtains, so they would go to sleep sooner.

"Good-night, dear little Twins," she said.

And so say we.


[Illustration]