The story revolves around a poor vagabond who made rattraps from the begged materials. He was a wanderer. He struggled for living but later resort to begging and stealing for some extra income for his survival.
One day, when the peddler was lonely, he became engrossed in his own thoughts. He was quite amused to think that the whole world was a big rattrap. It lured people with riches and joys and all the materialistic happiness. But these were the baits to entrap people. The vagabond felt that succumbing to temptation spells end of everything. The misery and discontentment in the life of vagabond made him think ill for the world.
One day, he stopped at a little gray cottage by the roadside. The owner of the house was a man without wife or children. He agreed to give shelter to the vagabond. Delighted to have company, the generous host gave him dinner and then played cards with him. The old man trusted the vagabond so he shared his personal details with him. He told that he was a crofter at Ramjo Ironworks, had a milch cow and earned thirty kronors in payment the previous month. He also showed the nail where he hung the pouch containing thirty kronors.
The vagabond thanked the host for his generosity the next morning and went his own way. When the crofter locked his house to milk the cow, the rattrap peddler returned, went up to the window, broke the pane, took the thirty kronors from the pouch and walked away.
The peddler ran towards the forest in order to discard public highway and to avoid getting caught. He went round and round in the forest for a long time but landed nowhere as it was a big and confusing forest. He realised that he was trapped and the escape was impossible.
The vagabond felt dejected and tired. As he laid his head on the ground in order to rest, he heard the thumping of a hammer. This made him realise that there may be an iron mill somewhere close by. He gathered all his will power and headed towards the direction of the sound. He reached Ramjo Ironworks where the master blacksmith sat near the furnace with his helper. The vagabond crept into the mill unnoticed. He entered the forge and asked for the permission from the master blacksmith to lie down. It was a cold December night and the peddler wanted shelter. The permission was given to him coldly. The vagabond made himself comfortable near the furnace to keep himself warm. Since the owner of the mill was very particular about the quality of the product, he visited the iron mill every night. When he saw the vagabond lying near the furnace, he mistook him as captain Nils Olof, his old friend. The vagabond did not disclose his true identity as he thought of making some money from the ironmaster. Ironmaster invited him to his manor house.
The peddler vehemently refused to go to his house as he was afraid that the thirty kronors he stole may put him in a tight spot. The ironmaster interpreted his denial as embarrassment because of his dirty worn out clothes so, he argued that it was not such a magnificent home that the peddler could not show himself there. He told that his sons were abroad and wife Elizabeth being dead, he stayed only with his oldest daughter so, it would not be embarrassing at all. He insisted the vagabond to join them for Christmas celebrations. Yet, the vagabond refused the ironmaster’s invitation.
The ironmaster then sent his daughter to persuade the vagabond. Though the daughter was not pretty, she was modest and shy. As she approached him, the peddler got alarmed and scared. She introduced herself, as Edla Willmansson. She invited him and said he may leave after Christmas anytime. The vagabond finally gave into Edla’s insistence and accompanied her. He covered himself with the fur coat carried by the lady’s valet. He also felt guilty of stealing the money meanwhile. He found himself completely entrapped. He thought he may not come out of this trap now.
The next day, the ironmaster came for his breakfast. He told his daughter that his friend should get a good meal and decent livelihood. However, his daughter said that she did not find anything in the guest which could assure her that he was an educated man. The ironmaster put her apprehensions to rest saying that once he would bath and change into better clothes he would look groomed. But when the peddler came out the ironmaster realised that he did not resemble his friend from his old regiment. He was angry and demanded an explanation. He also said that he will take the matter to the sheriff. The rattrap pretence about being a captain. He also reminded that he was pleading to be allowed to stay in the forge. Then he offered to change into his old rags and leave immediately. He became agitated, saying that the whole world was nothing but a rattrap. All the offers were a bait to put into trouble. He insisted that the ironmaster was not impeccable himself. He too may get tempted and entrapped by the world someday.
Ironmaster got convinced by the argument. He asked the peddler to leave immediately and promised he will not take the matter to the sheriff. But Edla insisted on the vagabond to stay back. She felt it would be unfair to turn him out after promising Christmas cheer. Her father finally gave in. The peddler wondered about Edla’s motive behind this kind act. She took his hand and took him to the table and fed him well.
After that, on Christmas Eve, the peddler did nothing but sleep. He slept through the morning, got up to have his share of the good Christmas fare, and after that he slept again. He slept as if he had never slept before, quietly and safely. He later participated in lightening the Christmas tree and helped himself to some Christmas fish and porridge served to him. He thanked everyone present and wished them good night. Edla asked him to keep her father’s suit as Christmas gift. He may also return next year to celebrate Christmas with them. The peddler was amazed with her words. Leaving behind the sleeping peddler, the father and daughter went to the church. After the service they returned home having heard from the church about the peddler’s theft. The girl feels very dejected. The ironmaster was unhappy that they let the vagabond stay in their house. He was confident that the peddler would have disappeared by then with their silverware. But, when they reached, the valet informed them that the guest had left empty-handed and had left a Christmas present for Edla. When Edla opened the package she found three wrinkled ten kronor notes along with a rattrap. There was a letter of gratitude for Edla’s behaviour towards him. The peddler had requested her to return the thirty kronor notes to the old crofter. He also wrote that he was thankful for elevating him to the status of the captain. This was the reason behind changing his old ways. He signed the letter with his name as Captain von Stahle because this name gave him the power to clear his conscience.