The International (magazine)/Volume 3/Number 6/St. Nicholas
own through the murky air came the first snow flake. As white and delicate as a feather from the breast of some stately swan was this herald of the new winter following fast in its wake—the silent Queen of the North, sailing in, enveloped in a gray veil that trailed far behind her, her icy breath foreboding death to every living thing in nature; her cruel face as calm and beautiful as if her purpose were to scatter blessings rather than death upon the earth.
In simple dignity the snow flake lighted upon a branch of an old linden, in whose crown there still rustled a single yellow leaf, trembling like a child in the arms of its wretched mother.
But no sooner had it settled down than a huge sheepskin cap came flying up into the tree, touched the twig on which the snow flake sat, shaking it down into its woolly embrace, and then returned headlong from its airy pilgrimage into a pair of small, dirty hands.
“Stop, you!” came from the three year old owner of the cap, as the dirty hands pushed it down upon the tangled locks until there was nothing visible of the pretty baby face but the tip of his nose and the dimpled chin. The little fellow was barefooted; around his neck he wore a flowered rag, torn most likely from the corner of his mother’s apron.
“Snow, snow!” shouted the boy whose rough hand had before seized the cap from the little fellow’s head. The cry was caused by the sight of the snow flake which, badly frightened, was crouching in its woolly resting place.
A crowd of boisterous urchins gathered around the cap, inspecting, with eyes of experts, the pale messenger that foretold abundant material for balls, snow men and coasting. The snow flake, finding so many curious eyes fixed upon it, melted with shame, at the very moment a vast army of its brethren came hastening down from the heavens, enveloping all in their feathery whiteness.
“Snow, snow!” The boys jumped and shouted, opening their mouths appallingly wide and stretching out their hands to receive the flakes. They rolled on the ground in their joy, examining with delight the tiny, frozen stars wherever they lighted. The child with the woolly cap followed his comrades’ example, and jumped and shouted and rolled about with the best of them. He even stretched out his little forefinger to touch an icy star that had set- tled on another boy’s nose.
“Get out!” thundered the offended owner of the bestarred nose. The child obeyed, knowing something more effective than words would follow.
Thicker and faster the snow came down, until all nature was hidden beneath the beautiful white blanket. It was winter at last and bitterly cold.
The snow that year had not come, as it usually did, with St. Martin, but waited for a more distinguished companion, which was none less than the good bishop, St. Nicholas. But since that saint was making his journey in a very slow and dignified manner the snow got in a day ahead of him, making the highways over the Christian lands soft and white against his highness’s approach.
The big boys were still shouting and playing, but the little one was getting blue with cold; in vain he tried to keep back the tears, and his voice was hoarse. His feet were purple, the poor little toes twisted one over the other. He stood first on one foot and then on the other, and the big tears rolled slowly down his pale cheeks, hiding somewhere within the folds of the flowered kerchief tied across his breast. Forgetting his delight over the beautiful snow, he thought only of its cruel coldness.
“What are you howling about?” asked one of the larger boys, who with considerable self denial for a moment stopped his play.
“I’m cold!” sobbed the child, thrusting his hands into the woolly cap as if trying to raise himself up by it from the cold ground.
At that moment there appeared upon the scene a man, tall and stalwart as a giant. He looked at the boys and then his eyes, that shone brightly from beneath his shaggy eyebrows, became fixed upon the poor child’s bare feet.
“Go home and let your mother put something on your feet!” he said. The other boys burst out laughing.
“She would have to put his father’s boot tops on his feet, Uncle Svejnoha,” replied one of the boys.
The old man frowned.
“Then go home quickly or they will freeze,” he said sharply.
In a trice the crowd of red cheeked boys were around the little sufferer, pushing him this way and that, evidently anxious to show “Uncle” Svejnoha their determination to convince the child that he would better be at home.
“Move on, you mole!” cried one. “Bawling won’t make you warm,” cried another, as he pinched the child’s nose to see if it were frozen. Another punched him between the shoulder blades with his hard fist, until finally the small caravan succeeded in moving its charge toward his home, a tumble down hut, the poorest in the whole village, that seemed to crouch beneath the trees whose slender branches were spread out over it as if in protection.
Svejnoha stood looking after the children. Beneath his shaggy eyebrows something was glistening When, finally, the good Samaritans had succeeded in getting the boy into the house, and shut the door behind him, Svejnoha turned and started home, deep in thought. He was sorry for the little fellow, yes more than sorry, for he was . . . his daughter’s boy.
Vincenc Svejnoha was sixty years old, but as straight and tall as Hercules, with a back so broad that it took almost a minute to look across it. Just now he carried a pitchfork in his hand, with which he played as lightly as if it were a toy. He was born in Loukov, and had lived there all his life. In fact, Loukov without Svejnoha would no more have been Loukov than a saint without his nimbus could be a saint.
In his native village Svejnoha was in some respects even of more importance than the squire. Indeed that worthy himself was wont to acknowledge that he would have to live at least another century to have the wisdom of this householder of the third degree.
Svejnoha supplied all possible needs of his native village; wherever anything was lacking Svejnoha was sure to be called for, and he was always equal to the emergency. If a musician were needed in a procession, a mourner at a funeral, a manager at a wedding, a leader of the opposition in political matters, an attorney in case of a row, or a fighter in times of too dull peace, a preacher or exhorter, a justice, a historian, or a poet, any one of these offices was at once and without fear assumed by Svejnoha, whom nothing could daunt.
On one occasion he had even posed as bridegroom for the good of his community. Marka Rudlov, for some unknown cause, but most probably for lack of wooers, was on the point of becoming an old maid, which would have been a disgrace to the town, a vexation to herself, a loss to the parson, and a stumbling block to her younger sisters. Marka was not so bad looking, but she was lame, and that unlucky lameness had the power of acting negatively upon the young men, so that she had almost reached her twenty-fifth year without landing one of them, and yet she had a good, honest heart and a dowry of several hundred florins.
It has already been said what Svejnoha was to Loukov; it now remains to be told what Loukov was to Svejnoha. It was an oasis in a desert, a clear sky in harvest time, a terrestrial paradise, a sure ladder to heaven. He knew Loukov by heart; he saw its needs, its possible improvements, and any rent in its social fabric at once arrested his attention. Such an ugly, never to be healed, rent Marka was about to become; for spinisterhood is displeasing to God, and his wrath will fall with equal might upon all who have neglected the sacred duty of establishing families and raising a proportionate number of sons.
At that time Svejnoha was not quite forty. One day he heard a mighty voice within his heart saying: “Vincenc, go be a husband, a father, a father-in-law, a grandfather. It is time; duty calls!” Svejnoha went. That he did not go shooting hares with a hoe was proved the following shrovetide, which ended for him with a sprig of rosemary in his coat, a flower in his hat, and plighted troth at the altar.
So Marka became his wife, and a devoted wife she was, with no other desire in the world than how she might fulfil his every wish. Svejnoha had won a prize, and that he knew it and appreciated it was proved by the floods of honest tears he shed when, after ten years of happy married life, he followed his wife’s coffin to the grave.
Marka left her husband but a single living remembrance, and that remembrance wore calico frocks, had two long braids dangling down her back, bright eyes, a pretty dimple in her chin, and was named Nanka. Svejnoha loved Loukov, and the thing in Loukov that he loved best was his only child.
He had not married again—most likely there was no need of any bridegroom at that time—and he had brought Nanka up himself, according to his own very original ideas.
He tried to teach her all he himself knew, and planned to make of her one of the wonders of the world. But alas, there are some minds that are as unyielding and unresponsive as a stone, and Nanka’s was one of these. If, after years of earnest effort, he had taken her pretty head and wrung it out like a washed sack, of all the facts he had tried to pound into it he would not have got back a particle as large as a poppy seed. Nanka’s head was empty.
It was with a very heavy heart that he at last gave up. It was bitter for him to have all his magnificent plans brought to nought by a mixing spoon that seemed to be Nanka’s favorite sceptre, by needle and thread that were her daily necessity, and by her love for gaudy ribbons and gowns and kerchiefs with the most beautiful borders.
Svejnoha buried his hopes, mournfully signing them with a large cross: but he forgave his daughter, coming to the sage conclusion that it was only God who could make something out of nothing.
Some time after this he began to make other discoveries, not so weighty or unusual, but very important to him as a father.
“God bless us, I shall be a father-in-law, the first thing I know,” said Svejnoha one day as he took down his best coat, in whose button hole was still the sprig of rosemary that had adorned it at his wedding. I shall be a father-in-law; I am old enough for it, am I not? But let young Hukac look out!”
Young Hukac was the man who so warmly admired the dimple in Nanka’s chin, and who had come to the conclusion that if old Svejnoha would add at least six hundred florins to that dimple, it would not be against his convictions to lead her to the altar.
Antonin Hukac owned a small farm, which, however, was so heavily mortgaged that it belonged more to his creditors than it did to himself. The cause of this state of affairs could easily be divined by observing a well trodden path leading from his gate directly to the door of the cosey saloon of Frankel the Jew, where at all hours of the day young Hukac could be seen, seated at the table next to the door, his cap on one ear, his elbows out of his sleeves, and his lips moist with the golden beer. But he was handsome and eloquent, and it did not take him long to make Nanka understand him.
It was different with her father, although the young man came dressed in his Sunday best, and pressed his suit with the most fervid eloquence. But as Nanka persisted in her choice, Svejnoha was finally subdued.
“We may blow into the wind till our lungs ache, but it will still sing the old song. Hukac was certainly made for some woman. Was it for my Nanka? If so, God help her.”
All ended well, and Hukac was soon drinking to his bride’s health and considering what debts he could pay with her six hundred. Everything was beautiful, the wedding day, the wedding, Nanka’s outfit; but the most beautiful thing of all was the wedding gift that Svejnoha with a trembling hand gave his daughter just as they were ready to start for church. It was a set of jewelry: a brooch, twisted like a serpent; ear-rings with tassels that jingled as one moved them and a garnet cross on a chain so delicate that it seemed to be woven of gold thread. Nanka covered her eyes with her hand; the glitter of the jewels dazzled her.
If she had looked charming before, she was simply bewitching with the jewels on; no wonder that as Hukac gazed on her his lips grew moist, his mouth filled with a delectable sweetness. The old man must have a snug sum hidden away somewhere, or he never would have indulged in this extravagance.
So the front wheels of the family coach of the young married couple started quietly and smoothly; they ran without a single creak. “They are oiled with love,” the father said, “and pushed forward with several years of the father’s savings, they can’t help running smoothly.”
Svejnoha continued diligently and conscientiously to perform his own duties and those he owed the town. He did not thrust his presence upon the Hukac household. Why should he? Nanka often ran over to cheer him up. She did not praise her husband, but neither did she find fault with him, and her father was satisfied.
A year passed. The stork had not knocked at Hukac’s window, and the crows carried their precious burdens elsewhere.
Then the time came for the hind wheels to move. In small housekeeping, where reckoning is made only by hundreds, the front wheels do not go alone, and to start the hind ones proved no easy matter. Nanka grew pale, but never a word did she say to her father. One day Svejnoha himself began: “See here, my girl,” he said, as if he were talking to his porcelain pipe, “are you all well at home? Tell me something about yourself.”
Nanka played nervously with her apron, but not a word escaped her as to the thought that brought the crimson blood to her cheeks.
“We are all right, father,” she replied.
“That’s good!” rejoined her father, as he emptied the ashes from his pipe. In his heart he was hurt that she would not confide in him; she had belonged to him long before she ever belonged to Hukac, and as her father he had the right to advise and help her as far as it lay in his power. But he said no more, and waited.
* * *
It was time for St. Nicholas’s visit. For us old people the white haired, white bearded patriarch with the gilded switch, bishop’s mitre, stole, rosary and capacious pouch at the side, has little interest, unless we happen to have one or more golden heads that seek refuge in our laps before his venerable presence. But then, we were once just such little elves, droll in our wisdom, and insatiable in our demands, so we fully understand the significance of St. Nicholas and of that mysterious, holy, never to be forgotten evening of which we talked and dreamed and thought, for three hundred and sixty-four days of the year.
Holy St. Nicholas! Happy children! gilded nuts, shining apples, sugar lambs, doll babies tied up in a pillow, molasses cake horses, hearts with your names in the centre, sugar whistles, plates with pretty borders, filled with candies and almonds—all these you will get from him; all these he has prepared for you, although the very evening before you made mother’s hair stand on end with your noise, and grandmother declared you were the worst children under the sun and that she would not blame St. Nicholas in the least if he did not even give you the crumbs from his pouch.
In Loudov, Svejnoha was that happy saint, whose head was surrounded by the golden nimbus that the children had woven for him from the brightest sunbeams of their love. In preparation for his holy office every year Svejnoha ascended to the garret, where he opened a mysterious chest, out of which he brought forth St. Nicholas’s toilet. The chief of these was a golden cap, high and magnificent, such as could only be conceived and executed by some bold inventive genius. The front of it was decorated with a silver cross, and the back had long streamers that hung gracefully over gray locks and beard that would easily reach to a man’s knees. Thus attired, Svejnoha was a saint, a saint who scattered smiles, happiness and joy.
From early dawn his home was sought by a procession of young mothers, their aprons concealing surprises that they had prepared for the little ones gathered around the stove at home, wondering what St. Nicholas would bring them. There were young, girlish looking mothers, flushed with excitement; mothers so poor that they could afford to bring nothing but a few apples and nuts; rich mothers, who brought beautiful gilded sugar toys, and candies. But whether rich or poor, all were equally happy, and all with equal reverence sought out Svejnoha, in whose hands, sanctified by their holy office, they placed their children’s gifts.
For many years Svejnoha had been Loukov’s St. Nicholas, his gilded switch having reared several generations of children. The sixth of December was to him the most important of all holidays. “Let us not spoil the children’s dreams,” he would sagely remark. “They help bring them up.”
Carefully sorting his gifts, he pinned a card to each, preparing for his journey from house to house. He was just stowing away the last gift in his immense leathern bag, when who should come in but Nanka’s Hukac. He was somewhat pale, and his smile was forced. Svejnoha laid aside his work, and welcomed his son-in-law in a friendly tone. He was not disturbed, but prepared to tell the young man some hard facts, which would do him no harm.
Hukac sat down, turning his big fur cap about like a wheel.
“Getting ready, are you?” he asked pleasantly.
“Yes, but I’ll not come your way since you are not on friendly terms with the stork,” replied Svejnoha quietly.
“Ha, ha! Still, there is a favor I have to ask of you, father, though I shouldn’t trouble you if there was anybody else in the village I could turn to.”
Svejnoha was silent. Then Hukac began fumbling in his pocket, and finally drew out a casket which he opened and pushed toward Svejnoha. There were ear-rings with tassels, a brooch like a twisted serpent, and a cross on a fine woven chain.
“What’s this?” stammered Svejnoha, his eyes flashing.
“Well, we’re pretty hard up, father; our house is about to be sold over our heads. Where can we get the money? I must have fifty florins. I offered them to Durda and he refused me, saying he had no use for jewels. Where else can I go? You know best what they are worth, father. Lend me fifty florins, and as soon as I can, I’ll repay it with interest.”
Svejnoha was as white as the field that stretched out behind his cottage. So the village was in need of a usurer. In Loukov there were none, although their need was felt. And his son-in-law thought him capable of that! That was the only way they needed their father! That was the “favor,” beginning with pawning and ending with usury. Svejnoha turned to the window, as if he longed for fresh air. He felt hurt, crushed, dishonored.
Hukac rubbed his elbow against the table. “Well, what do you say?” he finally asked.
“That you’d better get out of here, as soon as ever you can! You miserable wretch, you evil tongue!” cried Svejnoha dashing the casket at the son-in-law’s feet, as if it were not worth a groat. Hukac smiled scornfully.
“It costs nothing to call names; all model fathers-in-law know how to do that! Day after to-morrow our house will be sold at auction, but what does our father care? His home will be safe. Good-day, sir; Nanka will hardly believe her ears!” and Hukac picked the casket up from the floor, and disappeared.
Half an hour passed. Out of doors darkness had fallen, although nature’s white cloak still gleamed through the gloom like a path into a more propitious future. Svejnoha looked listlessly out of the window. The sky was clear; just the night for St. Nicholas’s visit. Over the beautiful white plain silence reigned like an eternal, unbroken dream.
Svejnoha waited. Surely Nanka would come to him, she must come; she certainly knew nothing of her husband’s shameful act, and even if she did she would seek refuge from her troubles upon her father’s breast, where she well knew a welcome awaited her. She must come to excuse herself, to explain things, to tell him all that she had foolishly concealed from him so long. Was he not her father, who had raised her? She must come! The stalwart man trembled with expectation like a child.
“Upon the horizon appeared the first star, bright, dignified and proud, as if she knew she was standing guard by the tent of the Almighty.
Nanka did not come. The dark path in the snow, leading from her cottage to that of Svejnoha, remained empty; empty and sad, so strangely sad that Svejnoha’s eyes gradually filled with tears. Still she did not come. Was it possible? Did she not know that it was her duty to come?
His hot breath covered the pane of the narrow window with a gray mist. He wiped it off with his hand and looked again. All was still, desolate, and mysterious. Nanka did not come.
A feeble light shone from one window in Hukac’s cottage. The heavens were full of stars; the air was hushed into a solemn silence; the night watch, passing through the village like a shadow, blew the hour of eight. And still Svejnoha waited. His mind was a blank now, and his breath came in gasps. Still Nanka did not come.
Ten o’clock came. It was night; holy, tender, motherly night; a night that seems to beckon us to throw ourselves into her arms and listen to the beating of her heart; a beautiful, sublime, godly night, full of gifts and dreams; the night of St. Nicholas.
But the children of Loukov waited in vain for St. Nicholas that night; he never came. Svejnoha sat up till dawn; then he lay down and slept heavily. He knew then that Nanka would not come.
From that time St. Nicholas had not made his rounds in Loukov, and only here and there filled a stocking that was hung at the window.
Hukac’s farm was sold, and he and Nanka earned a bare living by doing odd jobs of work about the village. In course of time the crows came to their window, bringing a lusty boy, who did nothing all day but eat, and soon he was as big and fat as any mother could wish. Svejnoha seemed utterly ignorant of this. Since he first realized that he had lost his daughter with her marriage the Hukac family had ceased to exist for him. He seemed to have forgotten that he ever had had a daughter.
* * *
The wind blew from the north, frosty and keen, and merciless. The winter seemed to be trying to make up for lost time.
Svejnoha hurried home. His heart was very, very heavy; it seemed to him that he himself had stood upon those little bare feet distorted with cold—those dirty, blue, suffering little feet. Try as he would he could not rid himself of the thought that those little feet belonged to him. It followed him home and remained even after the flames burst forth merrily in his large tile stove. Those blue feet seemed graven on his mind.
Up and down, up and down the room he paced. One moment he smiled, then frowned, rearranged the earthen pots on the stove, blew on his hands, although they were not cold, and muttered to himself.
Finally a smile settled in the corners of his mouth, shone in his eyes and played queer antics in the wrinkles of his face. He rubbed his hands, hummed snatches of an old song, and having eaten with great relish a large bow! of soup, in which his culinary skill was wont to celebrate its highest triumphs, he started for town. History relates that he whistled all the way going there, and likewise when coming back, as if he were carrying a treasure in the broad pockets of his fur lined cloak, which, by the way, stuck out very queerly.
That day the village matrons whispered to their husbands to hand out what loose change they had, as St. Nicholas was to make his rounds again that year. Peace sat on their brows and joy filled their souls.
But one mother in the village grew pale as she heard the good news, so joyfully proclaimed in hut and mansion. Her heart shrunk within her, and she dared not turn her eyes to her boy, lest her looks betray the secret, and rouse in him vain expectations of some joyful surprise the next day. She trembled as she pressed her child’s head to her bosom, not daring to whisper to him: “To-morrow is St. Nicholas’s day, and he will bring you something nice.”
At times, when Nanka—poor, careworn, dragged out with toil and drudgery, but still a mother—could take Tonik upon her lap, and caress and talk to him, it seemed as if the great burden of want and sorrow rolled from her shoulders. It was then that she realized, if ever so dimly, that there was something else in life besides poverty and woe, something beautiful, like a star of hope over a fearful abyss; and this blessed something was what she saw in the eyes of her child, in the dimples of his cheeks, behind his half parted lips, where were crowded a chaos of words, no, not words, but syllables that were waiting to be selected and arranged into words.
To be sure, she had little time to spend caressing him; still, now and then, when her heart would not be silenced, she played with him and listened to his childish prattle, while her bosom swelled with motherly pride.
Nanka was not an unusual character—not at all. Such girls and women can be found in every village. With pretty faces and good figures they think of nothing but cows and chickens, butter and eggs; they talk of nothing but their housekeeping, cook gallon pots of soup—in short, live entirely in the physical.
The one event in Nanka’s life had been Hukac’s visit to her father, whom she honored and loved, and whose actions and thoughts she regarded as infallible. She was not in the habit of reflecting deeply upon any subject, and as her husband related the failure of his errand, it had seemed to her simple mind that her father was angry with them because they had managed so poorly; that he looked down on them, cast them aside, leaving them to poverty and misery as they deserved. Of higher motives that might influence one’s actions, Nanka knew nothing. It never occurred to her that her husband’s attempt to pawn her jewels to her father was an insult to the latter.
She had wept long, that night, when the knowledge came to her that she had lost the love and support of her father; she was alarmed, crushed, but she lacked the strength of will to go to him, and beg for pardon and help. To thrust herself into her father’s presence was impossible to her; she was ashamed. She knew how to be genuinely ashamed, because she was a genuine woman, and she was ashamed of their poverty, of her husband; and with that crimson blush of shame she would not appear before her father.
Her father was her ideal of all that was beautiful and noble; to have him turn from her in contempt would have killed her. So she shunned him, and ran away whenever she caught sight of that honest blouse into which as a child she had delighted to nestle. And so, gradually she grew used to never seeing him. Her shallow mind was incapable of cherishing the memories of brighter days. At last she hardly remembered what it was like to have a father.
For four long years Svejnoha had not seen his daughter; not even when he assumed the dignity of a grandfather.
* * *
It was not a very cosey room into which—through a single pane decorated by Jack Frost—the light struggled to enter. It was a dark little room, bare and cold, and in it sat Nanka, the tears running down her pale, thin cheeks.
This sixth of December was not a happy one for Nanka. Its cold breath seemed to chill her soul and paralyze her heart. The sixth of December! How white, and fresh, and beautiful it was! and yet it brought her only pain. Ever since morning Tonik had been prattling about the glorious St. Nicholas, who was to come down from heaven that day. He had heard the story from other children, who spoke of the saint in hushed voices, looking about furtively, lest his priestly robe be near, or the bell announcing his arrival be heard.
With his chubby hands holding fast to her petticoat Tonik had told the wonderful news to his mother. And she listened with an aching heart. For well she knew that St. Nicholas would not visit her child!
Suddenly a bright thought occurred to her: on the table lay her husband’s leather wallet, thin enough, but not quite empty: suppose she should spend only a few pennies on things for Tonik, and take them to her father, begging him to visit her child, too. But no; she could not go! How could she look her father in the face?
Hukac came in and sat down to his supper—a slice of black bread. He did not ask why she wept, why the room was dark, nor why Tonik crouched in the farthest corner of the room with wide open eyes watching the door. Having finished his supper, he lighted the little, smoking lamp. Tonik, busy with his thoughts, still crouched in the corner, his head thrust deep into his shoulders, and his eyes glowing with a clearer light than that made by the poor little lamp upon the table.
The room was very still. Nanka lay on the bed with her eyes hidden; she could not bear to look at Tonik; he seemed to be the voice of her conscience, reproaching her for the past.
But Tonik still dreamed his wonderful dreams, while he waited with perfect faith for their fulfilment. Not for a moment did he doubt.
It was growing late; the sky was full of stars, and wintry peace rested upon the earth. In the silence of the room there was something mysterious, as if some sorcerer were about to perform there his magic rites. From time to time Nanka sighed; Hukac sat by the table with his head resting on his arms. Tonik waited.
Suddenly, from his corner there came an exclamation, half uttered, but heard both by Nanka on the bed and by Hukac at the table.
“The bell!” whispered Tonik, but he did not stir. Hukac looked at him in surprise, while Nanka buried her head still deeper in the pillow.
There was a noise outside the door, then three knocks and the sound of a bell Nanka, pale, with parted lips and eyes red from weeping, sat up and stared at the door, amazed. Tonik clasped his little hands and slid down upon his knees. Even Hukac seemed to be impressed; his big fur cap was jerked from his head and placed upon his knees.
The latch clicked, and the door slowly and quietly opened wide. From the darkness outside there emerged a white form, which seemed to shine, and whose above silvery gray beard and hair was a mighty cap with a silver cross in front, and St. Nicholas crossed Hukac’s gloomy threshold.
There was a long pause before any words came from the saint. After a hasty glance at the wretchedness of the room his eyes had fixed upon the young mother, and their look was very loving.
It must have been a rich St. Nicholas that visited Loukov that year, judging from the number of gifts that Tonik got. There were candies, nuts and apples: sugar toys and whistles and trumpets. But the crowning gift of all was a pair of boots with brass tips. When St. Nicholas handed them to the boy, the little fellow saw something glistening under the old man’s eyebrows, something which afterward fell into his own tangled locks.
- Englished by Frances Gregor. Published by Libuse, Prague, 1888.
- The expression “Christmas comes but once a year” is not strictly true in Bohemia. There the 6th of December is kept as the festival of St. Nicholas, the original Santa Claus. Children believe that the Bishop St. Nicholas comes around, bringing presents to good children, but switches to bad ones. In Prague, before the 6th of December, thousands of these switches are sold. They are common switches, gilded, with a bunch of paper flowers at the end. The bishop is also sold; he is made of paper, but is very imposing.Christmas Day is also kept, as Christ’s birthday, and the children believe that the presents they receive are brought by Jesisek (Infant Jesus).—Translator.