It was the heart of winter. Amsterdam’s IJ harbour was completely frozen over. As far as the eye could see it was a mirror-smooth plain, shrouded in cold: water frozen in all shades of white and grey and black. With evening a light fog, the harbinger of snow, came over the ice and dimmed the light of the first stars. The seagulls had already left for the city days ago and were now gliding past the windows of tall canal houses, screeching with hunger. On the IJ there were only a few skaters left, hidden in the fog.
Panzer did not notice them. He was standing by the hole he had cut in the ice with his axe, busy knocking for smelt. His knocking with a stick on the ice floor would alert the smelt underneath, making them curious to come up for fresh air. An easy prey then for a skilled fisherman with a hook. For almost an hour now he had been standing there, thumping the ice, ignoring the cold in his limbs, intent, lost in the work.
Suddenly Panzer heard a noise and looked up. He saw a man standing next to him. A man on skates whose blades were gilded with silver and ended in graceful curls in front of the man’s shoes that were made of the finest leather. The man’s coat was long and made out of black cloth with a velvety shine, the sides trimmed with expensive fur. Beneath an old-fashioned merchant’s hat Panzer could see a thin, pale face. Sharp. Sharper even than the pointy beard beneath it.
Panzer himself was dirt poor. Otherwise he would not have been here, knocking for fish on this dreadfully cold night. But what was this gentleman doing here on the ice?
”A bundle of smelts, my lord?” (for Panzer knew his place) “Only four pennies.” The man’s eyes narrowed to a smile that made the corners of his red mouth above the pointy beard turn upwards. “You obviously know me, fisherman.” he said. “This is for you.” Suddenly he had a coin in his hand, large and shiny. He tossed it to Panzer and at the same time he pushed off against the ice. A long, thin crack tore across the ice and lost itself in the fog. Panzer caught the coin and squeezed it in his hand. It was hotter than a coal fire! He opened his hand and the gold coin fell on the ice but it was so hot it immediately melted through and sank away. Straight through seven nights of thick ice. Somewhere in the mist the strange gentleman was still skating around: Panzer could hear the sound of metal blades scraping across the ice. Then it slowly died away.
Ever since that day Panzer was convinced that he had met the Devil on the ice and that the Satan had paid him with Hell’s money.