OLVIG was one of those timid little girls who hated to go to bed, not just because it was bedtime, but because it was so dark in her little room after the cheery living room of her parents' cottage. She would shriek with fear when a tiny mouse ran across her path, and she would walk miles to avoid going by the village pasture, where terrifyingly big yet gentle cows were grazing. She was a somewhat lonely little girl, too, because certain of the big boys in the village, after discovering how timid she was, used to tease her by making sudden noises behind her back or by jumping at her from dark corners. So most of the time she played by herself or with the smaller children of the neighborhood.
Her father used to grow impatient with his daughter.
"What is to become of her?" he would ask his wife. "Why, she's afraid of almost every living thing and makes up a few extra ghosts and hobgoblins from the other world as well. I'm really worried. Sometimes I think the child must be daft."
"That she's not," returned his wife warmly. "Holly has a good sound little head on her shoulders, and it's only this streak of timidity that makes her seem different from other children. Some day something will happen that will make her forget her fears; I feel sure of it. She's such a good, affectionate child, she'd do anything for someone she loved, even if it took the last ounce of her courage."
"Well, perhaps you're right," answered her husband, "but I hate to see her going on like this. It isn't natural for a child her age to go about alone all the time."
"As long as Holly has her flowers, she'll never be alone," said the mother. "She has such a way with them, our garden is the loveliest in the village, even for the short summer we have."
"Flowers!" exclaimed the big man in disgust. "We have them in the yard in the summer, and then she putters over those flower pots all winter in the house. Silliness, I call it!"
He stamped impatiently out of the cottage and left his wife smiling half-sadly at a little window-box of the "silly" blossoms.
Holly's love for flowers and the luck she had in raising them in the harsh northern climate were really remarkable. As her mother had said, the little yard around the cottage was lovely all through the summer with flowers of every hue. Then, when the first sharp frost of the autumn was felt in the air, Holvig tenderly transplanted into boxes and jars those of the flowers and plants which would keep in the house, and carefully gathered seeds from the others for the spring planting.
Of course, like all the other children of the village, Holvig hung her stocking on the door every Christmas Eve and every Christmas morning discovered the same lovely gifts and sweets. Being an affectionate child, she became passionately devoted to good old Nicholas, an affection second only to her love for her flowers. But, unlike the other children in the village, she couldn't take for granted the open-handed generosity of the wood-carver. She wanted to express in some way her gratitude and appreciation that someone did not think her queer and odd because she didn't run about with the other children.
But what could she do? She thought and thought, and finally hit upon something which might please Nicholas. She would give him something that gave her more pleasure than anything else in the world: she would share her flowers with him. She always had enough; in the summer the garden was a riot of color, and in the winter she usually had such a careful way of handling her plants, that there were always some in blossom.
So, thoroughly pleased with her idea, the little girl selected a small bouquet of bright blossoms from her window-boxes, for it was now winter, and bundled herself up in her cloak and cap and started for Nicholas' cottage.
"I'm glad he lives at the edge of the wood," Holvig thought to herself, as she trudged along the road through the deep snow. "I don't think I'd ever get to see him if he lived way in the wood. I never could bear to go that far from the village."
As she approached the wood-carver's cottage, she was wondering what would be the best way of presenting her offering.
"I'd like so much to see him and talk to him," she said to herself. "I'm sure he doesn't know me, for they say he's getting so old now he doesn't remember all the children in the village, but just fills a stocking wherever he sees one. But I think it would be more fun just to leave the flowers outside the door, the way he leaves his gifts. That's what I'll do," she decided, and skipped along until she reached the gateway to the cottage. She stole silently across the yard, and was just about to leave her posies on the doorstep when she was startled by a loud crash from the near-by stable. Her heart almost stopped beating, then raced and pounded with fear as she saw a big animal rushing right towards her. She was too terrified to move; her feet remained rooted in the snow; her icy hands held desperately to the little bouquet of flowers. The awful thing made his way straight to her; she shut her eyes and thought wildly, "I'm going to die. He'll surely kill me." A moment which seemed like a year passed, while she waited silently for death, and then finding herself still alive and not hearing a sound from the wild beast, she slowly opened her eyes and stared straight into a pair of beautiful soft brown ones, which were gazing at her with mild curiosity.
"Oh, it's a reindeer," she said to herself, losing a little of her fear. "It must belong to Nicholas, only it might be dangerous, just the same."
She was still too frightened to move, and finally the reindeer, growing tired of standing still, came nearer and nearer, until his nose touched the little bouquet. He opened his mouth and nibbled a posy. He seemed to like the taste of it, for he started to nibble another. Holvig, too astonished to save the first flower, awoke from her frightened trance when she saw her whole bouquet in danger of being devoured. She flew into a rage. She snatched her flowers away from the deer's mouth and held them behind her back with one hand, while with the other she pushed the surprised head away from her and started to deal sharp rapid blows on his shoulders and back. The reindeer stood his ground for a moment, then turned and fled, followed closely by Holvig, who was still so angry she supposed she could catch the fleet-footed animal.
Suddenly she heard a voice behind her. "Here, here; what are you doing to my Vixen? You're frightening him!"
Holvig turned and saw Nicholas standing in the doorway, fat and rosy, his white hair standing like a halo around his head.
"I frightened him!" gasped Holly. "I frightened something?"
"Yes, of course you did," said Nicholas. "Don't you know deer are timid creatures and you shouldn't chase them?"
"But he was eating your bouquet, and I became angry, and—do you really mean to say he was frightened of me?"
Nicholas laughed a little impatiently. "Yes. My goodness, child, why do you keep saying that? Didn't you think you could frighten an animal like that?"
"No," stated Holvig in a wondering tone. "I never scared anybody in my life. Somebody's always frightening me, you know."
Nicholas looked gravely down into the solemn little face. "Come into my work-room and talk awhile," he said quietly. "I think we shall have to get acquainted."
Then, after they were comfortably installed in the cheery little room and Holvig had been given a bowl of warm milk, Nicholas continued, "What is your name, my dear?"
"Holvig is my real name, but everyone calls me Holly," the little girl answered. "Oh, I almost forgot!" she exclaimed, and she dashed out in the yard again and returned in a few seconds bearing a somewhat bedraggled bunch of flowers.
"They look terrible now," she said sadly. "You see, that Vixen ate some of them, and then I dropped them in the snow when I started to chase him; but I guess there's enough left, if you'd like them. I brought them for you," she finished shyly.
Nicholas was so pleased by this offering, that he wanted to know all about Holly's garden, and her winter plants, and her house, and her parents, and everything. So gradually the story came out, and the kind-hearted old wood-carver soon had a good picture of the kind of life the little girl had led,—timid, always shrinking away from something, never quite happy unless she was alone among her flowers.
"Why, I'd never think you were a timid little girl," he said encouragingly. "I think you did a very brave thing to save my bouquet."
"Oh, do you?" asked Holly eagerly. "I was really afraid at first," she confessed truthfully.
"Yes, perhaps you were, Holly. But to do something you think is dangerous when you're really afraid is more courageous than if you didn't feel any fear at all. Always remember that, my dear," he said kindly, laying a hand on the yellow curls.
"Yes, Nicholas, I will," promised the child solemnly, "and I'll bring you some more flowers next week."
Then Holly said good-by and left the cottage. As she crossed the yard, she noticed Vixen poking his head at her from behind a tree. Her heart skipped a little, but she shut her lips together firmly, and walked over to the reindeer.
"Boo!" said Holly to Vixen.
And Vixen turned and ran for deer life.