THERE was an old country－house which belonged toyoung,wealthy people.They had riches and blessings,they liked to enjoy themselves,but they did good as well, they wished to make everybody as happy as they werethemselves.
On Christmas Eve a beautifully decorated Christmas－tree stood in the old hall,where the fire burned in thechimney,and fir branches were hung round the old pic－tures.Here were assembled the family and their guests,and there was dancing and singing.
Earlier in the evening there had been Christmas gaietyin the servants'hall.Here also was a great fir－tree withred and white candles,small Danish flags,swans and fish－ing－nets,cut out of coloured paper,and fined with"good-ies".The poor children from the neighbourhood were invit- ed,every one had his mother with him.The mothers didnot look much at the Christmas－tree,but at the Christmastable,where there lay linen and woollen cloth－stuff forgowns and stuff for trousers.They and the bigger childrenlooked there,only the very little ones stretched out theirhands to the candles,and the tinsel and flags.
The whole party came early in the afternoon and gotChristmas porridge and roast goose with red cabbage.Thenwhen the Christmas－tree was seen and the gifts distributed, each got a little glass of punch with apple fritters.Thenthey went back to their own poor homes and talked of thegood living,that is to say good things to eat;and the giftswere once more inspected.There were now Garden Kirstenand Garden Ole.They were married,and had their houseand daily bread for weeding and digging in the garden ofthe big house.Every Christmas festival they got a goodshare of the gifts;they had five children,and all of themwere clothed by the family.
"They are generous people,our master and mistress!" said they,"but they have the means to be so,and theyhave pleasure in doing it."
"Here are good clothes for the four children towear,"said Ole;"but why is there nothing for the'crip－ple'?They used to think about him too,although he wasnot at the festival."
It was the eldest of the children they called"TheCripple",he was called Hans otherwise.
As a little boy,he was the smartest and liveliestchild,but he became all at once"loose in the legs",asthey call it,he could neither walk nor stand,and now hehad been lying in bed for five years.
"Yes,I got something for him too,"said the moth－er,"but it is nothing much,it is only a book to read."
"He won't get fat on that,"said the father.
But Hans was glad of it.He was a very clever boywho liked to read,but used his time also for working,sofar as one who must always lie in bed could be useful.Hewas very handy,and knitted woollen stockings,and evenbedcovers.The lady at the big house had praised andbought them.It was a story－book Hans had got;in itthere was much to read and much to think about.
"It is not of any kind of use here in the house,"said his parents,"but let him read,it passes the time,he cannot always be knitting stockings!"