The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins
VI. The Day They Got Their Skates
One morning, when Kit and Kat ran out early to feed their ducklings, the frost nipped their noses and ears.
"It's getting colder every day. Very soon winter will come," Kat said.
They ran down to the canal. The old goose and the gander and the goslings--now half grown--were standing on the bank, looking unhappy: there was a thin sheet of ice all over the canal, and they could not go swimming.
Kit took a stick and broke the ice. Thin sheets of it, like pieces of broken glass, were soon floating about; and the old goose, the gander, and all the goslings went down the bank in a procession into the water.
They swam about among the pieces of ice for a while, but it was so cold that they soon came up on the bank into the sun again and wiggled their tails to shake out the water. Then they all sat down in the sun to get their feet warm.
Kit and Kat ran up and down the road and played tag until their cheeks were red and they were warm as toast. Then they ran into Vrouw Vedder's warm kitchen.
The kettle was singing on the fire, and there was a smell of coffee in the air. Vrouw Vedder gave the Twins some in a large cup. She put in a good deal of milk and gave them each a piece of sugar to sweeten it with.
"Is it Sunday?" asked Kat. On Sundays they sometimes had coffee. On other days they had milk.
"No," said Vrouw Vedder; "but it is cold, and I thought a cup of coffee would warm us all up."
While they were drinking their coffee, Kit and Kat talked about the ice, and what fun they would have with their sleds on the canals when winter came.
"I tell you what it is, Kat," said Kit; "I think we're big enough to have skates. Hans Hite isn't much bigger than I am, and he had skates last winter. I mean to ask Father this very day."
"Yah," said Kat--that is the way Dutch Twins always say yes-- "Yah, and let us be very good and help mother all we can. I think maybe they will give skates to good Twins quite soon, even if we aren't very big yet--not big enough to be called Christopher and Katrina."
Vrouw Vedder was heating water and getting out her scrubbing brushes, so Kit and Kat knew that she was going to clean something.
"What are you going to scrub to-day, Mother?" asked Kit.
"I'm going to scrub the stable," said Vrouw Vedder. "It is getting too cold for the cows to stay all night in the pastures. Father means to bring Mevrouw Holstein in to-night, and I want her stable to be nice and clean for her."
"We'll help you," said Kit and Kat very politely.
"Good children!" their mother said. "You may carry the brushes." So they opened a door beside the fireplace, and walked right into the stable.
The stable was really a part of the house. There were two stalls in the stable. Vrouw Vedder took her pails of water and her brushes and began to scrub. She scrubbed the walls, and the sides of the stalls, and the floor. The Twins scrubbed, too, until they were tired; and the stable was so clean, you would have liked to live there yourself.
"Let's play out here," said Kat. "Let's play house."
"All right," said Kit. "I'll be the father, and you be the mother."
"But who will be Twins?" said Kat.
"Let's get the ducklings," said Kit.
"They can be Twins, of course," said Kat. "They are, anyway."
So Kit ran out and brought in the ducklings. They were so tame they always ran to Kit and Kat, when they saw them coming. They were almost ducks now, they had grown so big.
"Let's give the Twins their dinner," said Kat. So she got some grain, and they both sat down on a little box and held the ducks in their laps and fed them from their hands. The ducks ate greedily.
"You have very bad manners," said Kat. "You will get your clothes all dirty." She took two rags and tied them around the ducks' necks for bibs. The ducks did not like bibs. They quacked.
"Now don't say anything like that," said Kat. "You must do just as you are told and not spill your food."
Then Kit got some water and a spoon and gave the Twins a drink, but they did not like the drink either.
"Now we must put them to sleep," said Kat. They rocked the ducks in their arms, but the ducks squawked dreadfully.
"What bad children to cry so!" said Kit. "You can have both the Twins"; and he gave his duck to Kat.
"You fix a bed for them," said Kat. So Kit turned up the box they had been sitting on, and put some hay in it; and they put the ducks in on the hay.
Pretty soon the ducks went to sleep. Kit and Kat ran away to play out of doors and forgot all about them.
They didn't think about them again until Father Vedder came home at night with Mevrouw Holstein. When he put the cow into the stall, he stumbled over the box. It was rather dark in the stable.
"Quack, quack!" said the ducks.
Kit and Kat were helping Father put the cow into the stall and get some hay for her. When the ducks quacked, Father Vedder said,
"What in the world is this?"
"Oh, our Twins! our Twins!" cried Kit and Kat. "Don't let Mevrouw Holstein step on the Twins!"
Father Vedder pulled out the box. Kit and Kat each took a duck and carried it out to the poultry house.
"Twins are a great care," said Kit and Kat.
"Now is the time to ask," whispered Kat to Kit, that night, when Father Vedder had finished his supper and was lighting his pipe. "You must ask very politely, just the very politest way you can."
They went and stood before their father. They put their feet together. Kit made a bow, and Kat bobbed a curtsy.
"Dear parent," said Kit.
"That's a good start," whispered Kat. "Go on."
"Well, well, what now?" said Father Vedder.
"Dear parent, Kat and I are quite big now. I think we must be nearly four feet and a half high. Don't you think we are big enough to have skates this winter?"
"So that's it!" said Father Vedder. Then he smoked his pipe again.
"There was ice on the canal this morning," said Kat.
"So you think you are big enough to skate, do you?" said Father Vedder, at last. Mother Vedder was clearing away the supper. "What do you think about it, Mother?" said Father Vedder.
"They have been very good children," said the Vrouw. "There are the skates you and I had when we were children. We might try them on and see if they are big enough to wear them. They are in the bag hanging back of the press."
Kit and Kat almost screamed with joy.
"Our feet are quite large. I'm sure we can wear them," they said.
Father Vedder got the bag down and took out two pairs of skates. They had long curling ends on the runners. The Twins sat down on the floor. Father Vedder tried on the skates.
"They are still pretty large; but you will grow," he told the Twins. "You may have them if you will be very careful and not let them get rusty. By and by we will teach you to skate."
The Twins practiced standing in the skates on the kitchen floor; and, when bedtime came, they took the skates to bed with them.
"O Kit," said Kat, "I never supposed we'd get them so soon. Did you?"
"Well," said Kit, "you see, we're pretty big and very good. That makes a difference."
"It's very nice to be good when people notice it, isn't it?" said Kat.
"Yah," said Kit. "I'm going to be good now right along, all the time; for very soon St. Nicholas will come, and he leaves only a rod in the shoes of bad children. And if you've been bad, you have to tell him about it."
"Oh! Oh!" said Kat. "I'm going to be good all the time too. I'm going to be good until after the feast of St. Nicholas, anyway."
Not many days after Kit and Kat got their skates, there came a cold, cold wind. It blew over the fields and over the canals all day and all night long; and in the morning, when the Twins looked out, the canal was one shining roadway of ice.
Father Vedder came in from the stable with a great pail full of milk.
"Winter is here now, for good and all," he said, as he set the pail down. "The canals are frozen over, and soon it will be the day for the feast of St. Nicholas."
Kit and Kat ran to him and said, both together,
"Dear Father Vedder, will you please teach us to skate before St. Nicholas Day?"
"I'll see if the ice is strong enough to bear," said Father Vedder; and he went right down to the canal to see, that very minute. When he came in, he said,
"Yes, the ice is strong; and we will go out as soon as you are ready, and try your skates."
Vrouw Vedder said, "I should like to go too"; and Father Vedder said to Kit and Kat,
"Your mother used to be the finest skater in the whole village when she was a young girl. You must not let her beat you."
They hurried through with their work, Kit and Kat helped. Then they all put on their heavy shoes and wraps, took their skates over their shoulders, and started for the canal.
"If you learn to skate well enough, we will take you to town before the feast of St. Nicholas," said Father Vedder. "But it comes very soon."
He put on his own skates and Kit's, and the mother put on her own and Kat's.
"I'm sure we can do it almost right away," said Kat.
"Now we'll show you how to skate," said Father Vedder. He stood the Twins up on the ice. They held each other's hands. They were afraid to move. Father Vedder took Mother Vedder's hand.
"See," he said, "like this!" And away they went like two swallows, skimming over the ice. In a minute they were ever so far away.
Kit and Kat felt lonesome, and very queer, when they saw their father and mother flying along in that way. They weren't used to see them do anything but work, and move about slowly.
"It looks easy," said Kit. "Let's try it. We must not be afraid."
He started with his right leg, pushing it out a little in front of him. But it was very strange how his legs acted. They didn't seem to belong to him at all! His left leg tried to follow his right, just as it ought to; but, instead, it slid out sidewise and knocked against Kat's skates. Then both Kat's feet flew up; and she sat down very hard, on the ice. And Kit came down on top of her.
They tried to get up; but, each time they tried, their feet slid away from them.
"Oh dear," said Kat, "we are all mixed up! Are those your feet or mine? I can't tell which is which!"
"They don't any of them mind," said Kit. "I can't stand up on any of them. I've tried them all! We'll just have to wait until Father and Mother come back and pick us out."
"Ice is quite cold to sit on, isn't it?" said Kat.
Soon Father and Mother Vedder came skimming back again. When they saw Kit and Kat, they laughed and skated to them, picked them up, and set them on their feet.
"Now I'll take Kit, and you take Kat," said Vrouw Vedder to her husband, "and they'll be skating in no time." So Kat's father took her hands, and Kit took hold of his mother's, and they started off.
At first the Twins' feet didn't behave well at all. They seemed to want to do everything they could to bother them. They would sprawl way apart; then they would toe in and run into each other.
Many times Kit and Kat would have fallen if Father and Mother Vedder had not held them up; but before the lesson was over, both Kit and Kat could skate a little bit alone.
"See, this is the way," said Vrouw Vedder; and she skated around in a circle. Then she cut a figure like this 8 in the ice. Then Father Vedder did a figure like this S all on one foot.
"My!" said Kit and Kat.
"I think our parents must skate the best of all the people in the world," said Kat.
"I'm going to some day," said Kit.
"So'm I," said Kat.
After a while Vrouw Vedder said,
"It's time to go home. Not too much the first time." So they all went back home with their cheeks as red as roses, and their noses too, and such an appetite for dinner!
But the Twins were a little lame next day.
Every day after that, Kit and Kat went out with their skates to the ditches and tried and tried to skate as Father and Mother did they did so want to skate to town and see the sights before the feast of St. Nicholas! They worked so hard that in a week they could skate very well; and then they planned a surprise for their mother.
"If you will watch at the window, you'll see a great sight on the canal very soon," said Kit to his mother one day.
Of course Vrouw Vedder hadn't the least idea what it would be!
Kit and Kat slipped out through the stable and ran down to the ditch. They put on their skates and skated from the ditch out to the big canal.
Vrouw Vedder was watching at the window. Soon she saw Kit and Kat go flying by, hand in hand, on the canal! They waved their hands to her. Vrouw Vedder was so pleased that she went to call Father Vedder, who was in the hay-loft over the stable.
"Come and see Kit and Kat," she cried.
Father Vedder came down from the loft and looked too. Then Kit cut a figure like this, S, and Kat cut one like this, 6. The round spot is where she sat down hard, just as she was almost around.
When they came into the kitchen Father said,
"I think we could take such a fine pair of skaters as that to the Vink with us on our way to town! The ice is very hard and thick for so early in the season, and we will go to-morrow."
"We can see the shops too. St. Nicholas is coming, and the shops are full of fine things," said Vrouw Vedder.
Kit and Kat could hardly wait for tomorrow to come. They polished their skates and made everything ready.
"What do you suppose the Vink is?" said Kat to Kit.
"I think it is something like a church," said Kit.
"You don't know what a Vink is, so there," said Kat. "I think it's something to eat."
Then Kit changed the subject.
"I'll race you to-morrow," he said.
"I'll beat," said Kat.
"We'll see," said Kit.
The next day they started, all four, quite early in the morning: Vrouw Vedder took her basket on her arm.
"I shall want to buy some things," she said.
Father Vedder lighted his pipe "To keep my nose warm," he said.
Then they all went down to the canal and put on their skates.
"Kat and I are going to race to the first windmill," said Kit.
"I'll tell you when to start," said Father Vedder.
"And I'll get a cake for the one who wins," said the mother.
"One, two, three!" Away they flew like the wind! Father and Mother Vedder came close behind.
Kit was so sure he would beat that he thought he would show off a little. He went zigzag across the canal; once or twice he stopped to skate in curves.
Kat didn't stop for anything. She kept her eyes on the windmill, and she skated as hard as she could.
They were getting quite near the mill now. Kit stopped playing and began to skate as fast as he could. But Kat had got the start of him.
"I'll soon get ahead of her," he thought. "She 's a girl, and I'm a boy." He struck out with great long sweeps, as long as such short legs could make, but Kat kept ahead; and in another minute there she was at the windmill, quite out of breath, and pointing her finger at Kit!
"I beat, I beat," she said.
"Well, I could have beaten if I wanted to," said Kit.
"I'll get the cake," said Kat.
"I don't care," said Kit. But Kat knew that he did.
"I'll give you a piece," she said.
Father and Mother Vedder came along then; and when Kit and Kat were rested, they all skated for along time without saying anything. Then Father Vedder said proudly to his wife,
"They keep up as well as anybody! Were there ever such Twins!" And Mother Vedder said,
By and by other people appeared on the canal men and women and children, all skating. They were going to the town to see the sights too.
One woman skated by with her baby in her arms. One man was smoking a long pipe, and his wife was carrying a basket of eggs. But the man and woman were good skaters. They flew along, laughing; and no one could get near enough to upset them.
As they came nearer to the town, Kit and Kat saw a tent near the place where one canal opened into another. A man stood near the tent. He put his hands together and shouted through them to the skaters,
"Come in, come in, and get a drink Of warm sweet milk on your way to the Vink:"
"We must be getting quite near the Vink," Kat said. "I do wonder what it looks like Do you think it's alive?"
They passed another tent. There a man was shouting,
"Come buy a sweet cake; it costs but a cent, Come buy, come buy, from the man in the tent."
Vrouw Vedder said,
"I promised a cake to the one who beat in the race. We'll go in here and get it."
So they went to the tent.
They bought two cakes, and each ate half of one. Kat broke the cakes and gave them to the others, because she won the race.
When they had eaten the cakes, they skated on. The canals grew more and more crowded. There were a good many tents; flags were flying, and the whole place was very gay.
At last they saw a big building, with crowds of merry skaters about it. Many people were going in and out.
"There's the Vink," said Father Vedder.
"Where?" said Kit and Kat.
He pointed to the building.
"Oh!" said Kit. He never said another word about what they had thought it was like.
Soon they were inside the Vink. It was a large restaurant. There were many little tables about, crowded with people, eating and drinking. Father Vedder found a table, and they all sat down.
"Bring us some pea soup," he said to the waiter. Soon they were eating the hot soup.
"This is the best thing I ever had," said Kit.
When they had eaten their soup; they went out of the building and walked through the streets of the town. All the shops were filled with pretty things. The bake shops had wonderful cakes with little candies on top, and there were great cakes made like St. Nicholas himself in his long robes.
Kit and Kat flattened their noses against all the shop windows, and looked at the toys and cakes.
"I wish St. Nicholas would bring me that," said kit, pointing to a very large St. Nicholas cake.
"And I want some of those," Kat said, pointing to some cakes made in the shapes of birds and fish.
Vrouw Vedder had gone with her basket on an errand. Father Vedder and Kit and Kat walked slowly along, waiting for her. Soon there was a great noise up the street. There were shouts, and the clatter of wooden shoes.
"Look! Look!" cried Kit.
There, in the midst of the crowd, was a great white horse; and riding on it was the good St. Nicholas himself! He had a long white beard and red cheeks, and long robes, with a mitre on his head; and he smiled at the children, who crowded around him and followed him in a noisy procession down the street.
Behind St. Nicholas came a cart, filled with packages of all sizes. The children were all shouting at once, "Give me a cake, good St. Nicholas!" or, "Give me a new pair of shoes!" or whatever each one wanted most.
"Where is he going?" asked Kit and Kat.
"He's carrying presents to houses where there are good girls and boys," Father Vedder said. "For bad children, there is only a rod in the shoe."
"I'm glad we're so good," said Kit.
"When will he come to our house?" asked Kat.
"Not until to-morrow," said Father Vedder. "But you must fill your wooden shoes with beans or hay for his good horse, tonight; and then perhaps he will come down the chimney and leave something in them. It's worth trying."
Kit and hat were in a hurry to get home, for fear the Saint would get there first.
It was growing late, so they all went to a waffle shop for their supper.
In the shop a woman sat before an open fire. On the fire was a big waffle iron. She made the waffles, put sugar and butter on them, and passed a plate of them to each one. Oh, how good they were!
When they had eaten their waffles, Father and Mother Vedder and the Twins went back to the canal and put on their skates. It was late in the afternoon: They took hold of hands and began to skate toward home, four in a row. Father and Mother Vedder were on the outside, and the Twins in the middle.
It was dark when they reached home. Vrouw Vedder lighted the fire, while Father Vedder went to feed the cow and see that the chickens and ducks and geese were all safe for the night.
Kit and Kat ran for their wooden shoes. They each took one and put some hay in it. This was for St. Nicholas to give to his horse. Father Vedder put the shoes on the mantel. Then they hurried to bed to make morning come quicker.
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 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!
"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 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 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.
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 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.
It snowed all day. Kit and Kat both 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,
"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 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."
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 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 but 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.
"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.
"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.
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.
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," 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."
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."
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 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.
"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.
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 hugged her motherand 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. 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!"
"May we take our new clothes to bed with us?" Kat asked.
"Yes, just this once," said Mother Vedder, "because this is St. Nicholas night."
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.