In God's Garden  by Amy Steedman

Saint Nicholas

Part 2 of 2

There are many other stories told about the good bishop. Like his Master, he ever went about doing good; and when he died, there were a great many legends told about him, for the people loved to believe that their bishop still cared for them and would come to their aid. We do not know if all these legends are true, but they show how much Saint Nicholas was loved and honoured even after his death, and how every one believed in his power to help them.

Here is one of the stories which all children who love Saint Nicholas will like to hear.

There was once a nobleman who had no children and who longed for a son above everything else in the world. Night and day he prayed to Saint Nicholas that he would grant him his request, and at last a son was born. He was a beautiful child, and the father was so delighted and so grateful to the saint who had listened to his prayers that, every year on the child's birthday, he made a great feast in honour of Saint Nicholas and a grand service was held in the church.

Now the Evil One grew very angry each year when this happened, for it made many people go to church and honour the good saint, neither of which things pleased the Evil One at all. So each year he tried to think of some plan that would put an end to these rejoicings, and he decided at last that if only he could do some evil to the child, the parents would blame Saint Nicholas and all would be well.

It happened just then to be the boy's sixth birthday, and a greater feast than ever was being held. It was late in the afternoon, and the gardener and porter and all the servants were away keeping holiday too. So no one noticed a curious-looking pilgrim who came and sat close to the great iron gates which led into the courtyard. He had on the ordinary robe of a poor pilgrim, but the hood was drawn so far over his face that nothing but a dark shadow could be seen inside. And indeed that was as well, for this pilgrim was a demon in disguise, and his wicked, black face would have frightened any one who saw it. He could not enter the courtyard for the great gates were always kept locked, and, as you know, the porter was away that day, feasting with all the other servants.

But, before very long, the little boy grew weary of his birthday feast, and having had all he wanted, he begged to be allowed to go to play in the garden. His parents knew that the gardener always looked after him there, so they told him he might go. They forgot that the gardener was not there just then.

The child played happily alone for some time and then wandered into the courtyard, and looking out of the gate saw a poor pilgrim resting there.

"What are you doing here?" asked the child, "and why do you sit so still?"

"I am a poor pilgrim," answered the demon, "trying to make his harsh voice sound as gentle as possible, "and I have come all the way from Rome. I am resting here because I am so weary and footsore and have had nothing to eat all day."

"I will let you in, and take you to my father," said the child; "this is my birthday, and no one must go hungry to-day."

But the demon pretended he was too weak to walk, and begged the boy to bring some food out to him.

Then the child ran back to the banquet hall in a great hurry and said to his father:

"O father, there is a poor pilgrim from Rome sitting outside our gate, and he is so hungry, may I take him some of my birthday feast?"

The father was very pleased to think that his little son should care for the poor and wish to be kind, so he willingly gave his permission and told one of the servants to give the child all that he wanted.

Then as the demon sat eating the good things, he began to question the boy and tried to find out all that he could about him.

"Do you often play in the garden?" he asked.

"Oh yes," said the child, "I play there whenever I may, for in the midst of the lawn there is a beautiful fountain, and the gardener makes me boats to sail on the water."

"Will he make you one to-day?" asked the demon quickly.

"He is not here to-day," answered the child, "for this is a holiday for every one and I am quite alone."

Then the demon rose to his feet slowly and said he felt so much better after the good food, that he thought he could walk a little, and would like very much to come in and see the beautiful garden and the fountain he had heard about.

So the child climbed up and with great difficulty drew back the bolts. The great gates swung open and the demon walked in.

As they went along together towards the fountain, the child held out his little hand to lead the pilgrim, but even the demon shrunk from touching anything so pure and innocent, and folded his arms under his robe, so that the child could only hold by a fold of his cloak.

"What strange kind of feet you have," said the child as they walked along; "they look as if they belonged to an animal."

"Yes, they are curious," said the demon, "but it is just the way they are made."

Then the child began to notice the demon's hands, which were even more curious than his feet, and just like the paws of a bear. But he was too courteous to say anything about them, when he had already mentioned the feet.

Just then they came to the fountain, and with a sudden movement the demon threw back his hood and showed his dreadful face. And before the child could scream he was seized by those hairy hands and thrown into the water.

But just at that moment the gardener was returning to his work and saw from a distance what had happened. He ran as fast as he could, but he only got to the fountain in time to see the demon vanish, while the child's body was floating on the water. Very quickly he drew him out, and carried him, all dripping wet, up to the castle, where they tried to bring him back to life. But alas! it all seemed of no use, he neither moved nor breathed; and the day that had begun with such rejoicing, ended in the bitterest woe. The poor parents were heartbroken, but they did not quite lose hope and prayed earnestly to Saint Nicholas who had given them the child, that he would restore their boy to them again.

As they prayed by the side of the little bed where the body of the child lay, they thought something moved, and to their joy and surprise the boy opened his eyes and sat up, and in a short time was as well as ever.

They asked him eagerly what had happened, and he told them all about the pilgrim with the queer feet and hands, who had gone with him to the fountain and had then thrown back his hood and shown his terrible face. After that he could remember nothing until he found himself in a beautiful garden, where the loveliest flowers grew. There were lilies like white stars, and roses far more beautiful than any he had ever seen in his own garden, and the leaves of the trees shone like silver and gold. It was all so beautiful that for a while he forgot about his home, and when he did remember and tried to find his way back, he grew bewildered and did not know in what direction to turn. As he was looking about, an old man came down the garden path and smiled so kindly upon him that he trusted him at once. This old man was dressed in the robes of a bishop, and had a long white beard and the sweetest old face the child had ever seen.

"Art thou searching for the way home?" the old man asked. "Dost thou wish to leave this beautiful garden and go back to thy father and mother?"

"I want to go home," said the child, with a sob in his voice, "but I cannot find the way, and I am, oh, so tired of searching for it!"

Then the old man stooped down and lifted him in his arms, and the child laid his head on the old man's shoulder, and, weary with his wandering, fell fast asleep and remembered nothing more till he woke up in his own little bed.

Then the parents knew that Saint Nicholas had heard their prayers and had gone to fetch the child from the Heavenly Garden and brought him back to them.

So they were more grateful to the good saint than ever, and they loved and honoured him even more than they had done before; which was all the reward the demon got for his wicked doings.

That is one of the many stories told after the death of Saint Nicholas, and it ever helped and comforted his people to think that, though they could no longer see him, he would love and protect them still.

Young maidens in need of help remembered the story of the golden bars and felt sure the good saint would not let them want. Sailors tossing on the stormy waves thought of that storm which had sunk to rest at the prayer of Saint Nicholas. Poor prisoners with no one to take their part were comforted by the thought of those other prisoners whom he had saved. And little children perhaps have remembered him most of all, for when the happy Christmas time draws near, who is so much in their thoughts as Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, as they call him? Perhaps they are a little inclined to think of him as some good magician who comes to fill their stockings with gifts, but they should never forget that he was the kind bishop who, in olden days, loved to make the little ones happy. There are some who think that even now he watches over and protects little children, and for that reason he is called their patron saint.