Hans Christian Andersen
In the most fashionable street in the city stood a fine old house; the wall around it had bits of glass worked into it, so that when the sun or the moon shone it looked as if it were covered with diamonds. That was a sign of wealth, and there was great wealth inside. It was said that the merchant was a man rich enough to put two barrels of gold into his best parlor and could even put a barrel of gold pieces, as a savings bank against the future, outside the door of the room where his little son was born.
When the baby arrived in the rich house, there was great joy from the cellar up to the garret; and up there, there was still greater joy an hour or two later. The warehouseman and his wife lived in the garret, and there, too, at the same time, a little son arrived, given by our Lord, brought by the stork, and exhibited by the mother. And there, too, was a barrel outside the door, quite accidentally; but it was not a barrel of gold - it was a barrel of sweepings.
The rich merchant was a very kind, fine man. His wife, delicate and always dressed in clothes of high quality, was pious and, besides, was kind and good to the poor. Everybody rejoiced with these two people on now having a little son who would grow up and be rich and happy, like his father. When the little boy was baptized he was called Felix, which in Latin means "lucky," and this he was, and his parents were even more so.
The warehouseman, a fellow who was really good to the core, and his wife, and honest and industrious woman, were well liked by all who knew them. How lucky they were to have their little boy; he was called Peer.
The boy on the first floor and the boy in the garret each received the same amount of kisses from his parents and just as much sunshine from our Lord; but still they were placed a little differently - one downstairs, and one up. Peer sat the highest, way up in the garret, and he had his own mother for a nurse; little Felix had a stranger for his nurse, but she was good and honest - that was written in her service book. The rich child had a pretty baby carriage, which was pushed about by his elegantly dressed nurse; the child from the garret was carried in the arms of his own mother, both when she was in her Sunday clothes and when she had her everyday things on, and he was just as happy.
Both children soon began to observe things; they were growing, and both could show with their hands how tall they were, and say single words in their mother tongue. The were equally handsome, petted, and equally fond of sweets. As they grew up, they both got an equal amount of pleasure out of the merchant's horses and carriages. Felix was allowed to sit by the coachman, along with his nurse, and look at the horses; he would fancy himself driving. Peer was allowed to sit at the garret window and look down into the yard when the master and mistress went out to drive; and when they had left, he would place two chairs, one in front of the other, up there in the room, and so he would drive himself; he was the real coachman - that was a little more than fancying himself to be the coachman.
They got along splendidly, these two; yet it was not until they were two years old that they spoke to each other. Felix was always elegantly dressed in silk and velvet, with bare knees, after the English style. "The poor child will freeze!" said the family in the garret. Peer had trousers that came down to his ankles, but one day his clothes were torn right across his knees, so that he got as much of a draft and was just as much undressed as the merchant's delicate little boy. Felix came along with his mother and was about to go out through the gate when Peer came along with his and wanted to go in.
"Give little Peer your hand," said the merchant's wife. "You two should talk to each other."
And one said, "Peer!" and the other said, "Felix!" Yes, and that was all they said at that time.
The rich lady coddled her boy, but there was one who coddled Peer just as much, and that was his grandmother. She was weak-sighted, and yet she saw much, more in little Peer than his father or mother could see; yes, more than any person could.
"The sweet child," she said, "is surely going to get on in the world. He was born with a gold apple in his hand; I can see it even with my poor sight. Why, there is the shining apple!" And she kissed the child's little hand. His parents could see nothing, and neither could Peer; but as he grew to have more understanding, he liked to believe it.
"That is such a story, such a fairy tale, that Grandmother tells!" said the parents.
Yes, Grandmother could tell stories, and Peer was never tired of hearing always the same ones. She taught him a psalm and the Lord's Prayer as well, and he could say it, not as gabble but as words that meant something; she explained every single sentence in it to him. He gave particular thought to what Grandmother said about the words, "Give us this day our daily bread" ; he was to understand that it was necessary for one to get wheat bread, for another to get black bread; one must have a great house when he had many people in his employ; another, in small circumstances, could live quite as happily in a little room in the garret. "So each person has what he calls 'daily bread.' "
Peer, of course, had his good daily bread - and the most delightful days, too, but they were not to last forever. The sad years of war began; the young men were to go away, and the older men as well. Peer's father was among those who were called in; and soon afterward it was heard that he had been one of the first to fall in battle against the superior enemy.
There was bitter grief in the little room in the garret. The mother cried; the grandmother and little Peer cried; and every time one of the neighbors came up to see them, they talked about "Pappa," and then they cried all together. The window, meanwhile, was given permission to stay in her garret flat, rentfree, during the first year, and afterward she was to pay only a small rent. The grandmother stayed with the mother, who supported herself by washing for several "single, elegant gentlemen," as she called them. Peer had neither sorrow nor want. He had plenty of food and drink, and Grandmother told him stories, such strange and wonderful ones about the wide world, that he asked her, one day, if the two of them might not go to foreign lands some Sunday and return home as prince and princess, wearing gold crowns.
"I am too old for that," said Grandmother, "and you must first learn a good many things and become big and strong; but you must always be a good and affectionate child - as you are now."
Peer rode around the room on hobbyhorses; he had two such horses. But the merchant's son had a real live horse; it was so small that it might well have been called a baby horse, which, in fact, Peer called it, and it never could become any bigger. Felix rode it in the yard; yes, and he even rode it outside the gate, when his father and a riding master from the king's stable were with him. For the first half-hour, Peer had not liked his horses and hadn't ridden them, for they were not real; and then he had asked his mother why he could not have a real horse like little Felix had, and his mother had said, "Felix lives down on the first floor, close by the stables, but you live high up under the roof. One cannot have horses up in the garret except like those you have. You should ride on them."
And so now Peer rode - first to the chest of drawers, the great mountain with its many treasures; both Peter's Sunday clothes and his mother's were there, and there were the shining silver dollars that she laid aside for rent; then he rode to the stove, which he called the black bear; it slept all summer long, but when winter came it had to be useful, to warm the room and cook the meals.
Peer had a godfather who usually came there every Sunday during the winter and got a good warm meal. Things had gone wrong for him, said the mother and the grandmother. He had begun as a coachman. He had been drinking and had fallen asleep at his post, and that neither a soldier nor a coachman should do. He then had become a cabman and driven a cab, or sometimes a carriage, and often for very elegant people. But now he drove a garbage wagon and went from door to door, swinging his rattle, "snurre-rurre-ud!" and from all the houses came the servantgirls and housewives with their buckets full, and turned these into the wagon; rubbish and junk, ashes and sweepings, were all thrown in.
One day Peer came down from the garret after his mother had gone to town. He stood at the open gate, and there outside was Godfather with his wagon. "Would you like to take a drive?" he asked. Yes, Peer was willing to indeed, but only as far as the corner. His eyes shone as he sat on the seat with Godfather and was allowed to hold the whip. Peer drove with real live horses, drove right to the corner. Then his mother came along; she looked rather dubious, for it was not very nice to see her own little son riding on a garbage wagon. She told him to get down at once. Still, she thanked Godfather; but at home she forbade Peer to drive with him again.
One day he again went down to the gate. There was no Godfather there to tempt him with a drive, but there were other temptations. Three or four small street urchins were down in the gutter, poking about to see what they could find that had been lost or had hidden itself there. Frequently they had found a button or a copper coin, but frequently, too, they had cut themselves on a broken bottle, or pricked themselves with a pin, which just now was the case. Peer simply had to join them, and when he got down among the gutter stones he found a silver coin.
Another day he was again down digging with the other boys; they only got dirty fingers; he found a gold ring, and then, with sparkling eyes, showed off his lucky find; whereupon the others threw dirt at him and called him Lucky Peer. They wouldn't permit him to be with them any more when they poked in the gutter.
Back of the merchant's yard there was some low ground that was to be filled up for building lots; gravel and ashes were carted and dumped out there, great heaps of it. Godfather helped deliver it in his wagon, but Peer was not allowed to drive with him. The street urchins dug in the heaps, dug with a stick and with their bare hands; they always found one thing or another that seemed worth picking up.
Then little Peer came along. They saw him and cried, "Get away from here, Lucky Peer! And when, despite this, he came closer, they threw lumps of dirt at him. One of these struck against his wooden shoe and crumbled to pieces. Something shining rolled out, and Peer picked it up; it was a little heart made of amber. He ran home with it. The other boys did not notice that even when they threw dirt at him he was a child of luck.
The silver coin he had found was put away in his savings bank. The ring and the amber heart were shown to the merchant's wife downstairs, because the mother wanted to know if they were lost articles that should be returned to the police.
How the eyes of the merchant's wife shone on seeing the ring! It was her own engagement ring, one that she had lost three years before! That's how long it had lain in the gutter. Peer was well rewarded, and the money rattled in his little box. The amber heart was a cheap thing, the lady said; Peer might just as well keep that. At night the amber heart lay on the bureau, and the grandmother lay in bed.
"My, what is it that burns so!" she said. "It looks as if a small candle is lighted there." She got up to see, and it was the little heart of amber - yes, Grandmother, with her weak sight, frequently saw more than anyone else could see. She had her own thoughts about it. The next morning she took a narrow, strong ribbon, drew it through the opening at the top of the heart, and put it around her little grandson's neck.
"You must never take it off, except to put a new ribbon into it, and you must not show it to the other boys, either, for then they would take it from you, and you would get a stomach-ache!" That was the only painful sickness little Peer had known so far. There was a strange power, too, in that heart. Grandmother showed him that when she rubbed it with her hand, and a little straw was put next to it, the straw seemed to be alive and was drawn to the heart of amber and would not a let go.
The merchant's son had a private tutor who taught him his lessons and who took walks with him, too. Peer was also to have an education, so he went to public school with a great number of other boys. They played together, and that was much more fun than going along with a tutor. Peer would not have changed places with him.
He was a lucky Peer, but Godfather was also a lucky peer, although his name was not Peer. He won a prize in the lottery, of two hundred dollars, on a ticket he shared with eleven others. He immediately bought some better clothes, and he looked very well in them. Luck never comes alone; it always has company, and so it did this time. Godfather gave up the garbage wagon and joined the theater.
"What's that!" said Grandmother. "Is he going into the theater? As what?"
As a machinist. That was an advancement. He became quite another person; and he enjoyed the plays very much, although he always saw them from the top or from the side. Most wonderful was the ballet, but that gave him the hardest work, and there was always danger of fire. They danced both in heaven and on earth. That was something for little Peer to see; and one evening when there was to be a dress rehearsal of a new ballet, in which everyone was dressed and made up as on the opening night when people pay to see all the magnificence, he had permission to bring Peer with him and put him in a place where he could see the whole show.
It was a Biblical ballet - Samson. The Philistines danced about him, and he tumbled the whole house down over them and himself; but there were both fire engines and firemen on hand in case of any accident.
Peer had never seen a stage play, not to mention a ballet. He put on his Sunday clothes and went with Godfather to the theater. It was just like a great drying loft, with many curtains and screens, big openings in the floor, lamps, and lights. There were so many tricky nooks and corners everywhere, from which people appeared, just as in a great church with its gallery pews. Peer was seated down where the floor slanted steeply and was told to stay there until it was all finished and he was sent for. He had three sandwiches in his pocket, so that he need not starve.
Soon it grew lighter and lighter; then up in front, just as if straight out of the earth, there came a number of musicians with both flutes and violins. In the seats next to Peer sat people dressed in street clothes; but there also appeared knights with gold helmets, beautiful maidens in gauze and flowers, even angels all in white, with wings on their backs. They seated themselves upstairs and downstairs, on the floor and in the balcony seats, to watch what was going on. They were all members of the ballet, but Peer did not know that. He thought they belonged in the fairy tales his grandmother had told him about. There then appeared a woman, and she was the most beautiful of all, with a gold helmet and spear; she seemed to be above all the others, and sat between an angel and a troll. Ah, how much there was to see! And yet the ballet had not even begun.
Suddenly everything became quiet. A man dressed in black moved a little fairy wand over all the musicians, and then they began to play; the music made a whistling sound through the theater, and the whole wall in front began to rise. One looked into a flower garden, where the sun shone and all the people danced and leaped. Such a wonderful sight Peer had never imagined. There were soldiers marching, and there was war, and there was a banquet, and there were the mighty Samson and his lover. But she was as wicked as she was beautiful; she betrayed him. The Philistines plucked his eyes out; he was forced to grind in the mill and to be mocked and insulted in the great banquet hall; but then he took hold of the heavy stone pillars that held up the roof and shook them and the whole house; it fell, and there burst forth wonderful flames of red and green fire.
Peer could have sat there his whole life long and looked on, even if the sandwiches were all eaten - and they were all eaten.
Now here was something to tell about, when he got home. It was impossible to get him to go to bed. He stood on one leg and laid the other on the table - that was what Samson's lover and all the other ladies had done. He made a treadmill out of Grandmother's chair and upset two chairs and a pillow over himself to show how the banquet hall had come down. He showed this - yes, and he even presented it with the music that belonged to it; there was no talking in the ballet. He sang high and low, with words and without words, and it was quite incoherent. It was like a whole opera. The most noticeable thing of all, meanwhile, was his beautiful, bell-clear voice, but no one spoke of that.
Peer previously had wanted to be a grocer's boy, to be in charge of prunes and powdered sugar. Now he found there was something much more wonderful, and that was to get into the Samson story and dance in the ballet. A great many poor children had taken that road, said the grandmother, and had become had taken that road, said the grandmother, and had become fine and honored people; yet no little girl of her family would ever be permitted to do so; but a boy - well, he stood more firmly. Peer had not seen a single one of the little girls fall down before the whole house fell, and then they all fell together, he said.
Peer wanted to, and felt he must, be a ballet dancer.
"He gives me no rest!" said his mother. At last, his grandmother promised to take him to the ballet master, who was a fine gentleman and had his own house, like the merchant. Would Peer ever be that rich? Nothing is impossible for our Lord. Peer had been born with a gold apple; luck had been laid in his hands - perhaps it was also in his legs.
Peer went to the ballet master and knew him at once; it was Samson himself. His eyes had not suffered at all at the hands of the Philistines. That was only acting in the play, he was told. And Samson looked kindly and pleasantly at him, and told him to stand up straight, look right at him, and show him his ankle. Peer showed his whole foot and leg, too.
"So he got a place in the ballet," said Grandmother.
This was easily arranged with the ballet master; but before that, his mother and grandmother had spoken with several understanding people - first with the merchant's wife, who thought it a good career for a handsome, honest boy like Peer, but without any future. Then they had spoken with Miss Frandsen; she knew all about the ballet, and at one time, in Grandmother's younger days, she had been the most beautiful danseuse at the theater; she had danced goddesses and princesses, had been cheered and applauded wherever she had gone; but then she had grown older - we all do - and so no longer had she been given principal parts; she'd had to dance behind the younger ones; and when finally her dancing days had come to and end, she had become a wardrobe woman and dressed the others as goddesses and princesses.
"So it goes!" said Miss Frandsen. "The theater road is a delightful one to travel, but it is full of thorns. Jealousy grows there! Jealousy!"
That was a word Peer did not understand at all; but he came to understand it in time.
"No force or power can keep him from the ballet," said his mother.
"A pious Christian child, that he is," said Grandmother.
"And well brought up," said Miss Frandsen. "Well formed and moral! That I was in my heyday."
And so Peer went to the dancing school and got some summer clothes and thin-soled dancing shoes to make himself lighter. All the older girl dancers kissed him and said that he was a boy good enough to eat.
He had to stand up, stick his legs out, and hold on to a post so as not to fall, while he leaned to kick, first with his right leg, then with his left. It was not nearly so difficult for him as it was for most of the others. The ballet master patted him and said that he would soon be in the ballet; he was to play the child of a king who was carried on shields and wore a gold crown. This was practiced at the dancing school and rehearsed at the theater itself.
The mother and grandmother had to see little Peer in all his glory, and when they saw this, they both cried, although it was such a happy occasion. Peer, in all his pomp and glory, did not see them at all; but he did see the merchant's family, who sat in the loge nearest the stage. Little Felix was with them, in his best clothes. He wore buttoned gloves, just like a grown-up gentleman, and although he could see perfectly well, he looked through an opera glass the whole evening, just like a grown-up gentleman. He looked at Peer, and Peer looked at him; Peer was a king's child with a crown of gold. This evening brought the two children into closer relationship with one another.
A few days later, when they met each other at home in the yard, Felix went up to Peer and told him he had seen him when he was a prince. He knew very well that he was not a prince any longer, but then he had worn a prince's clothes and a gold crown. "I shall wear them again on Sunday," said Peer.
Felix did not see him Sunday, but he thought about it the whole evening. He would have liked very much to have been in Peer's place; he had not heard Miss Frandsen's warning that the road of the theater was a thorny one and that jealousy grew along it; nor did Peer know this yet, but he would very soon learn it.
His young companions, the dancing children, were not at all so good as they ought to be, although they often played angels and had wings on them. There was a little girl, Malle Knallerup, who always - when she was dressed as a page, and Peer was a page - stepped maliciously on the side of his foot, so as to dirty his stockings. There was a wicked boy who always was sticking pins in his back; and one day he ate Peer's sandwiches - by mistake; but that was impossible, for Peer had meat balls on his sandwiches, and the other boy had only bread without butter; he could not have made a mistake.
It would be impossible to recite all the annoyances that Peer endured in two years, and the worst was yet to come.
There was a ballet performed called The Vampire. In it the smallest dancing children were dressed as bats, wore gray, knitted tights that fitted snugly to their bodies; black gauze wings were stretched from their shoulders. They were to run on tiptoe, as if they were light enough to fly, and then they were to whirl around on the floor. Peer could do this especially well; but his trousers and jacket, all of one piece, were old and worn and could not stand the strain. So just as he whirled around before the eyes of all the people, there was a rip right down his back, straight from his neck down to where the legs are fastened in, and all of his short, white shirt could be seen. All the people laughed. Peer felt it and knew what had happened; he whirled and whirled, but it grew worse and worse. People laughed louder and louder; the other vampires laughed with them, and whirled into him, and all the more dreadfully when the people clapped and shouted, "Bravo!"
"That is for the ripped vampire!" said the dancing children. And from then on they always called him Rippy.
Peer cried. Miss Frandsen comforted him. "It is only jealously," she said; and now Peer knew what jealousy was.
Besides the dancing school, they had a regular school at the theater where the children were taught arithmetic and writing, history and geography - yes, and they even had a teacher in religion, for it is not enough to know how to dance; there is something more important in the world than wearing out dancing shoes. Here, too, Peer was quick, the very quickest of all, and got plenty of good marks; but his fellow students still called him Rippy. They were only teasing him; but at last he could not stand it any longer, and he swung and hit one of the boys, so that he was black and blue under the left eye and had to have grease paint on it in the evening when he appeared in the ballet. Peer got a scolding from the dancing master, and a worse one from the sweeping woman, for it was her son he had "given a sweeping."
A good many thoughts went through little Peer's head. And one Sunday, when he was dressed in his best clothes, he went out without saying a word about it to his mother or his grandmother, not even to Miss Frandsen, who always gave him good advice; he went straight to the orchestra conductor; he thought this man was the most important one there was outside the ballet. Cheerfully he stepped in and said, "I am at the dancing school, but there is so much jealousy there, and so I would rather be a player or a singer, if you would help me, please."
"Have you a voice?" asked the conductor, and looked quite pleasantly at him. "Seems to me I know you. Where have I seen you before? Wasn't it you who was ripped down the back?" And now he laughed. But Peer grew red; he was surely no longer Lucky Peer, as his grandmother had called him. He looked down at his feet and wished he were far away.
"Sing me a song!" said the conductor. "Come now, cheer up, my boy!" and he tapped him under the chin, and Peer looked up into his kind eyes and sang a song, "Mercy for Me," which he had heard at the theater, in the opera Robert le Diable.
"That is a difficult song, but you did it pretty well," said the conductor. "You have an excellent voice - as long as it doesn't rip in the back!" and he laughed and called his wife. She also had to hear Peer sing, and she nodded her head and said something in a foreign tongue. Just at that moment the singing master of the theater came in; it was really to him Peer should have gone if he wanted to be a singer; now the singing master came to him, quite accidentally, as it were; he also heard him sing "Mercy for Me," but he id not laugh, and he did not look so kindly at him as the conductor and his wife; still it was decided that Peer should have singing lessons.
"Now he is on the right track," said Miss Frandsen. "One gets much farther with a voice than with legs. If I had had a voice, I would have been a great songstress and would perhaps have been a baroness by now."
"Or a bookbinder's wife," said Mother. "Had you become rich, you surely would have taken the bookbinder."
We do not understand that hint, but Miss Frandsen did.
Peer had to sing for her and sing for the merchant's family, when they heard of his new career. He was called in one evening when they had company downstairs, and he sang several songs, among them "Mercy for Me." All the company clapped their hands, and Felix did, too; he had heard him sing before; in the stable Peer had sung the entire ballet of Samson, and that was the most delightful of all.
"One cannot sing a ballet," said the lady.
"Yes, Peer can," said Felix, and so they asked him to do it. He sang, and he talked; he drummed and he hummed; it was child's play, but fragments of well-known melodies came forth which really illustrated what the ballet was about. All the company found it very entertaining; they laughed and praised it, one louder than another. The merchant's wife gave Peer a huge piece of cake and a silver dollar.
How lucky the boy felt, until he discovered a gentleman who stood somewhat in the background, and who looked sternly at him. There was something harsh and severe in the man's black eyes; he did not laugh; he did not speak a single friendly word; this gentleman was the singing master from the theater.
Next forenoon, Peer went to him, and he stood there quite as severe-looking as before.
"What was the matter with you yesterday!" he said. "Could you not understand that they were making a fool of you? Never do that again, and don't you go running about and singing at doors, either inside or outside. Now you can go. I won't give you any singing lesson today."
When Peer left, he was dreadfully downcast; he had fallen out of the master's good graces. On the contrary, the master was really more satisfied with him than ever before. In all the absurdity which he had seen him perform, there was really some meaning, something quite unusual. The boy had an ear for music, and a voice as clear as a bell and of great compass; if it continued like that, then the little fellow's fortune was made.
Now began the singing lessons. Peer was industrious and Peer was clever. How much there was to learn, how much to know! The mother toiled and slaved to make an honest living, so that her son might be well dressed and neat and not look too shabby among the people to whom he now was invited. He was always singing and jubilant; they had no need at all of a canary bird, the mother said. Every Sunday he had to sing a psalm with his grandmother. It was delightful to hear his fresh voice lift itself up with hers. "It is much more beautiful than to hear him sing wildly!" That's what she called his singing when, like a little bird, his voice jubilantly gave forth with tones that seemed to come of themselves and make such music as they pleased. What tones there were in his little throat, what wonderful sounds in his little breast! Indeed, he could imitate a whole orchestra. There were both flute and bassoon in his
voice, and there were violin and bugle. He sang as the birds sing; but man's voice is much more charming, even a little man's, when he can sing like Peer.
But in the winter, just as he was to go to the pastor to be prepared for confirmation, he caught cold; the little bird in his breast said, pip! The voice was ripped like the vampire's backpiece.
"It is no great misfortune, after all, " thought Mother and Grandmother. "Now he doesn't go singing, tra-la, so he can think more seriously about his religion."
His voice was changing, the singing master said. Peer must not sing at all now. How long would it be? A year, perhaps two; perhaps the voice would never come again. that was a great grief.
"Think only of your confirmation now," said Mother and Grandmother. "Practice your music," said the singing master, "but keep your mouth shut."
He thought of his religion, and he studied his music; it sang and
resounded within him. He wrote entire melodies down in notes, songs without words. Finally he wrote the words, too.
"You are a poet, too, little Peer," said the merchant's wife, to whom he carried his text and music. The merchant received a piece of music dedicated to him, a piece without words. Felix got one, too; and, yes, Miss Frandsen also did, and that went into her scrapbook, in which were verses and music by two who were once young lieutenants but now were old majors on half pay; the book had been given by "a friend," who had bound it himself.
And Peer was confirmed at Easter. Felix presented him with a silver watch. It was the first watch Peer had owned; he felt that this made him a man, for now he did not have to ask others what time it was. Felix came up to the garret, congratulated him, and handed him the watch; he himself was not to be confirmed until the autumn. They took each other by the hand, these two children of the house, both the same age, born the same day and in the same house. And Felix ate a piece of the cake that had been baked in the garret for the occasion of the confirmation.
"It is a happy day with solemn thoughts," said Grandmother.
"Yes, very solemn!" said Mother. "If only Father had lived to see Peer today!"
The following Sunday all three of them went to Communion. When they came home from church they found a message from the singing master, asking Peer to come to see him; and Peer went. Some good news awaited him, and yet it was serious, too. While he must give up singing for a year, and his voice must lie fallow like a field, as a peasant might say, during that time he was to further his education, not in the capital, where every evening he would be running to the theater, from which he could not keep away, but he was to go one hundred and twenty miles from home, to board with a schoolmaster who boarded a couple of other young men. There he was to learn language and science, which someday would be useful to him. The charge for a year's course was three hundred dollars, and that was paid by a "benefactor who does not wish his name to be known."
"It is the merchant," said Mother and Grandmother.
The day of departure came. A good many tears were shed, and kisses and blessings given; and then Peer rode the hundred and twenty miles on the railway, out into the wide world. It was Whitsuntide. The sun shone, and the woods were fresh and green; the train went rushing through them; new fields and villages were continually coming into view; country
manors peeped out; the cattle stood in the pastures. Now they passed a station, then another, and market town after market town. At each stopping place there was a crowd of people, welcoming or saying good-by; there was noisy talking, outside and in the carriages. Where Peer sat there was a lot of entertainment and chattering by a widow dressed in black. She talked about his grave, his coffin, and his corpse - meaning her child's. It had been such a poor little thing that there could have been no happiness for it had it lived. It had been a great relief for her and the little lamb when it had fallen asleep.
"I spared no expense on flowers on that occasion!" she said; "and you must remember that it died at a very expensive time, when the flowers had to be cut from potted plants! Every Sunday I went to my grave and laid a wreath on it with great white silk bows; the silk bows were immediately stolen by some little girls and used for dancing bows; they were so tempting! One Sunday I went there, and I knew that my grave was on the left of the main path, but when I got there, there was my grave on the right. 'How is this?' says I to the gravedigger. 'Isn't my grave on the left?'
" 'No, it isn't any longer!' the gravedigger answered. 'Madam's grave lies there all right, but the mound has been moved over to the right; that place belongs to another man's grave.'
" 'But I want my corpse in my grave,' says I, 'and I have a perfect right to say so. Shall I go and decorate a false mound, when my corpse lies without any sign on the other side? Indeed I won't!'
" 'Then Madam must talk to the dean.'
"He is such a good man, that dean! He gave me permission to have my corpse on the right. It would cost five dollars. I gave that with a kiss of my hand and walked back to my old grave. 'Can I now be very sure that it is my own coffin and my corpse that is moved?'
" 'That Madam can!' And so I gave each of the men a coin for the moving. But now, since it had cost so much, I thought I should spend something to make it beautiful, and so I ordered a monument with an inscription. But - will you believe it - when I got it, there was a gilded butterfly painted at the top. 'Why, that means Frivolity,' said I. 'I won't have that on my grave.'
" 'It is not Frivolity, Madam; it is Immortality.'
" 'I never heard that,' said I. Now, have any of you here in the carriage ever heard of a butterfly as a sign for anything but Frivolity? I kept quiet. I don't like long conversations. I composed myself, and put the monument away in my pantry. There it stood till my lodger came home. He
is a student and has so many, many books. He assured me that it really stood for Immortality, and so the monument was placed on the grave."
And during all the chatter, Peer arrived at the station of the town where he was to live, and become just as wise as the student, and have just as many books.
Herr Gabriel, the honorable man of learning with whom Peer was to live as a boarding scholar, was at the railway station, to call for him. Herr Gabriel was a man as thin as s skeleton, with great, shiny eyes that stuck out so very far that one was almost afraid that when he sneezed they would pop out of his head entirely. He was accompanied by three of his own little boys; one of them stumbled over his own legs, and the other two stepped all over Peer's feet in their eagerness to get a close view of him. Two larger boys were with them, the older about fourteen years, fair-skinned, freckled, and full of pimples.
"Young Madsen, who will be a student in about three years, if he studies! Primus, son of a dean." That was the younger, who looked like a head of wheat. "Both are boarders, studying with me," said Herr Gabriel. "Our small stuff," he called his own boys.
"Trine, bring the newcomer's trunk on your wheelbarrow. The table is set for you at home."
"Stuffed turkey!" said the other two young gentlemen boarders.
"Stuffed turkey!" said the "small stuff"; and again one of them fell over his own legs.
"Caesar, look after your feet!" exclaimed Herr Gabriel.
And they walked into town and then out of it. There stood a great half-tumbled-down timber house, with a jasmine-covered summerhouse, facing the road. Here Madam Gabriel waited with more "small stuff," two little girls.
"The new pupil," said Herr Gabriel.
"A most hearty welcome!" said Madam Gabriel, a youthful, well-fed woman, red and white, with spit curls and a lot of pomade on her hair.
"Good heavens, how grown-up you are!" she said to Peer. "Why, you are a fully developed gentleman already. I thought that you were like Primus or young Madsen. Angel Gabriel, it's a good thing the inner door is nailed. You know what I think." "Nonsense!" said Herr Gabriel. And they stepped into the room. There
was a novel on the table, lying open, and a sandwich on it. One might have thought that it had been placed there as a bookmark - it lay across the open page.
"Now I must be the housewife!" And with all five of her children, and the two boarders, she showed Peer through the kitchen, and the hallway, and into a little room, the windows of which looked out on the garden; that was to be his study and bedroom; it was next to Madam Gabriel's room, where she slept with all the five children; the connecting door, for decency's sake, and to prevent gossip "which spares nobody," had been nailed up by Herr Gabriel that very day, at Madam's express request.
"Here you can live just as if you were at your parents'. We have a theater, too, in the town. The pharmacist is the director of a private company, and we have traveling players. But now you are going to have your turkey." And so she showed Peer into the dining room, where the wash was drying on a line.
"That doesn't do any harm," she said. "It is only cleanliness, and that you are surely accustomed to."
So Peer sat down to eat the roast turkey while the children of the house, but not the two boarders, who had withdrawn, gave a dramatic show for the entertainment of themselves and the stranger. There had lately been a traveling company of actors in town, which had played Schiller's The Robbers. The two oldest boys had been immensely taken with it. And they now performed the whole play at home - all the parts, notwithstanding that they remembered only these words: "Dreams come from the stomach." But they were spoken by all the characters in different tones of voice. There stood Amelia, with heavenly eyes and a dreamy look. "Dreams come from the stomach!" she said, and covered her face with both her hands. Carl Moor came forward with a heroic stride and manly voice, "Dreams come from the stomach," and at that the whole flock of children, boys and girls, rushed in; they were all robbers, and murdered one another, crying out, "Dreams come from the stomach."
That was Schiller's The Robbers. This performance and stuffed turkey were Peer's first introduction into Herr Gabriel's house. He then went to his little chamber, where through the window, into which the sun shone warmly, he could see the garden. He sat down and looked out. Herr Gabriel was walking there, absorbed in reading a book. He came closer and looked in; his eyes seemed fixed upon Peer, who bowed respectfully. Herr Gabriel opened his mouth as wide as he would, stuck out his tongue, and let it wag from one side to the other right in the face of the astonished Peer, who could not understand why he was treated in
such a manner. Whereupon Herr Gabriel left, but then turned back to the window and again stuck his tongue out of his mouth.
Why did he do that? He was not thinking of Peer, or that the panes of glass were transparent from the outside; he saw only the reflection of himself in them, and he wanted to look at his tongue, as he had a stomach-ache, but Peer did not know all this.
Early in the evening Herr Gabriel went into his room, and Peer sat in his. Much later in the evening he heard quarreling - female quarreling - in Madam Gabriel's bedroom.
"I am going up to Gabriel and tell him what rascals you are!"
"We will also go to Gabriel and tell him what Madam is!"
"I shall have a fit!" she cried.
"Who wants to see a woman in a fit! Four skillings!"
Then Madam's voice sank deeper, but was distinctly heard. "What will the young man in there think of our house when he hears all this vulgarity!" At that the quarrel subsided, but then again rose louder and louder.
"Period! Finis," cried Madam. "Go and make the punch; it's better to agree than to quarrel!"
And then it was still. The door opened, and the girls left, and then Madam knocked on the door to Peer's room.
"Young man, now you have some idea of what it is to be a housewife. You should thank heaven that you don't have to bother with girls. I want to have peace, so I give them punch. I would gladly give you a glass - one sleeps so well after it - but no one dares go through the hallway door after ten o'clock; my Gabriel will not permit it. But you shall have some punch, nevertheless. There is a big hole in the door, stopped up with putty; I will push the putty out and put a funnel through the hole; you hold your waterglass under it, and I shall pour you some punch. Keep it a secret, even from my Gabriel. You must not worry him with household affairs."
And so Peer got his punch, and there was peace in Madam Gabriel's room, peace and quiet in the whole house. Peer went to bed, thought of his mother and grandmother, said his evening prayer, and fell asleep. What one dreams the first night one sleeps in a strange house has special significance, Grandmother had said. Peer dreamed that he took the amber heart, which he still constantly wore, laid it in a flowerpot, and it grew into a great tree, up through the ceiling and the roof; it bore thousands of hearts of silver and gold, so heavy that the flowerpot broke, and it was no longer an amber heart - it had become mold, earth to earth - gone, gone forever! Then Peer awoke; he still had the amber heart, and it was warm, warm against his own warm heart.
Early in the morning the first study hours began at Herr Gabriel's. They studied French. At lunch the only ones present were the boarders, the children, and Madam. She drank her second cup of coffee here; her first she always took in bed. "It is so healthy when one is liable to spasms." She asked Peer what he had studied that day.
"French," he answered.
"It is an expensive language!" she said. "It is the language of diplomats and one used by distinguished people. I did not study it in my childhood, but when one is married to a learned man one gains from his knowledge, as one gains from his mother's milk. Thus, I have all the necessary words. I am quite sure I would know how to express myself in whatever company I happened to be."
Madam had acquired a foreign name by her marriage with a learned man. She had been baptized Mette after a rich aunt, whose heir she was to have been. She had got the name, but not the inheritance. Herr Gabriel rebaptized Mette as Meta, the Latin word for measure. At the time of her wedding, all her clothes, woolen and linen, were marked with the letters M. G., Meta Gabriel; but young Madsen, who was a witty boy, interpreted the letters M. G. to be a mark meaning "most good," and he added a big question mark in ink, on the tablecloths, the towels, and the sheets.
"Don't you like Madam?" asked Peer, when young Madsen made him privately acquainted with this joke. "She is so kind, and Herr Gabriel is so learned."
"She is a bag of lies!" said young Madsen; "and Herr Gabriel is a scoundrel. If I were only a corporal, and he a recruit, oh, how I would discipline him!" And a bloodthirsty expression came to young Madsen's face; his lips grew narrower than usual, and his whole face seemed one great freckle.
There were terrible words to hear, and they gave Peer a shock; yet young Madsen had the clearest right to think that way. It was a cruel thing on the part of parents and teachers that a fellow had to waste his best time, delightful youth, on learning grammar, names, and dates, which nobody cares anything about, instead of enjoying his liberty relaxing, and wandering about with a gun over his shoulder like a good hunter. "No, one has to be shut in and sit on a bench and look sleepily at a book; Herr Gabriel wants that. And then one is called lazy and gets the mark 'passable'; yes, one's parents get letters about it; that's why Herr Gabriel is a scoundrel."
"He gives lickings, too," added little Primus, who agreed with young Madsen. This was not very pleasant for Peer to hear. But Peer got no lickings; he was too grown-up, as Madam had said. He was not called lazy, either, for that he was not. He had his lessons alone. He was soon well ahead of Madsen and Primus.
"He has ability!" said Herr Gabriel.
"And one can see that he has been to dancing school!" said Madam.
"We must have him in our dramatic club," said the pharmacist, who lived more for the town's private theater than for his pharmacy. Malicious people applied to him the old stale joke that he must have been bitten by a mad actor, for he was completely insane about the theater.
"The young student was born for a lover," said the pharmacist. "In a couple of years he could be Romeo; and I believe that if he were well made up, and we put a little mustache on him, he could very well appear this winter."
The pharmacist's daughter - "great dramatic talent," said the father; "true beauty," said the mother - was to be Juliet; Madam Gabriel had to be the nurse, and the pharmacist, who was both director and stage manager, would take the role of the apothecary, which was small but of great importance. Everything depended on Herr Gabriel's permission for Peer to play Romeo. This had to be worked through Madam Gabriel; one had to know how to win her over - and this the pharmacist knew.
"You were born to be the nurse," he said, and thought that he was flattering her exceedingly. "That is actually the most important part in the play," he continued. "It is the comedy role; without it, the play would be too sad to sit through. No one but you, Madam Gabriel, has the quickness and life that should sparkle here."
All very true, she agreed, but her husband would surely never permit the young student to contribute whatever time would be required to play the part of Romeo. She promised, however, to "pump" him, as she called it. The pharmacist immediately began to study his part, and especially to think about his make-up. He wanted to look almost like a skeleton , a poor, miserable fellow, and yet a clever man - a rather difficult problem. But Madam Gabriel had a much harder one in "pumping" her husband to give his permission. He could not, he said, answer for it to Peer's guardians, who paid for his schooling and board, if he permitted the young man to play in tragedy. We cannot conceal the fact, however, that Peer had the greatest desire to do it. "But it won't work," he said.
"It's working," said Madam; "only let me keep on pumping." She would have given him punch, but Herr Gabriel did not like to drink it. Married people are often different; this is said without any offense to Madam.
"One glass and no more," she thought. "It elevates the mind and makes one happy, and that's what we ought to be - it is our Lord's will with us."
Peer was to be Romeo; that was pumped through by Madam. The rehearsals were held at the pharmacist's. They had chocolate and "genii" - that is to say, small biscuits. These were sold at the bakery, twelve for a penny, and they were so exceedingly small, and there were so many, that it was considered witty to call them genii.
"It is an easy matter to make fun," said Herr Gabriel, although he himself often gave nicknames to one thing and another. He called the pharmacist's house "Noah's ark, with its clean and unclean beasts," and that was only because of the affection which was shown by that family toward their pet animals. The young lady had her own cat, Graciosa, which was pretty and soft-skinned; it would lie in the window, in her lap, on her sewing work, or run over the table spread for dinner. The wife had a poultry yard, a duck yard, a parrot, and canary birds - and Polly could outcry them all together. Two dogs, Flick and Flock, walked about in the living room; they were by no means perfume bottles, and they lay on the sofa and on the family bed.
The rehearsal began, and it was only interrupted a moment by the dogs slobbering over Madam Gabriel's new gown, but that was out of pure friendship and it did not spot it. The cat also caused a slight disturbance; it insisted on giving its paw to Juliet and sitting on her head and wagging its tail. Juliet's tender speeches were divided equally between cat and Romeo. Every word that Peer had to say was exactly what he wished to say to the pharmacist's daughter. How lovely and charming she was, a child of nature, who, as Madam Gabriel expressed it, was perfect for the role. Peer began to fall in love with her.
There surely was instinct or something even higher in the cat. It perched on Peer's shoulders as if to symbolize the sympathy between Romeo and Juliet. With each successive rehearsal Peer's fervor became stronger, more apparent; the cat became more confidential, the parrot and the canary birds noisier; Flick and Flock ran in and out. The evening of the performance came, and Peer was a perfect Romeo; he kissed Juliet right on her mouth.
"Perfectly natural!" said Madam Gabriel.
"Disgraceful!" said the Councilor, Herr Svendsen, the richest citizen and fattest man in the town. The perspiration poured from him; it was warm in the house, and warm within him as well. Peer found no favor in his eyes. "Such a puppy!" he said; "a puppy so long that one could break him in half and make two puppies of him."
Great applause - and one enemy! That was having good luck. Yes, Peer was a Lucky Peer. Tired and overcome by the exertions of the evening and the flattery shown him, he went home to his little room. It was past midnight; Madam Gabriel knocked on the wall.
"Romeo! I have some punch for you!"
And the funnel was put through the hole in the door, and Peer Romeo held his glass under.
"Good night, Madam Gabriel."
But Peer could not sleep. Everything he had said, and particularly what Juliet had said, buzzed through his head, and when he finally fell asleep he dreamed of a wedding - a wedding with Miss Frandsen! What strange things one can dream!
"Now get that play-acting out of your head," said Herr Gabriel the next morning, "and let's get busy with some science."
Peer had come near to thinking like young Madsen, that a fellow was wasting his delightful youth being shut in and sitting with a book in his hand. But when he sat with his book, there shone from it so many noble and good thoughts that Peer found himself quite absorbed in it. He learned of the world's great men and their achievements; so many had been the children of poor people: Themistocles, the hero, son of a potter; Shakespeare, a poor weaver's boy, who as a young man held horses outside the door of the theater, where later he was the mightiest man in poetic art of all countries and all time. He learned of the singing contest at Wartburg, where the poets competed to see who would produce the most beautiful poem - a contest like the old trial of the Grecian poets at the great public feasts. Herr Gabriel talked of these with especial delight. Sophocles in his old age had written one of his best tragedies and won the award over all the others. In this honor and fortune his heart broke with joy. Oh, how blessed to die in the midst of one's joy of victory! What could be more fortunate! Thoughts and dreams filled our little friend, but he had no one to whom he could tell them. They would not be understood by young Madsen or by Primus - nor by Madam Gabriel, either she was either in a very god humor, or was the sorrowing mother, in which case she was dissolved in tears.
Her two little girls looked with astonishment at her. Neither they nor Peer could discover why she was so overwhelmed with sorrow and grief.
"The poor children!" she said. "A mother is always thinking of their future. The boys can take care of themselves. Caesar falls, but he gets up again; the two older ones splash in the water tub; they ought to be in the navy, and would surely marry well. But my two little girls! What will their future be? They will reach the age when the heart feels, and then I am sure that whoever each of them falls in love with will not be at all after Gabriel's liking; he will choose someone they'll despise, and that will make them so unhappy. As a mother, I have to think about these things, and that is my sorrow and grief. You poor children! You will be so unhappy!" She wept.
The little girls looked at her. Peer looked at her and felt rather sad; he could think of nothing to say, so he returned to his little room, sat down at the old piano, and tones and fantasies came forth as they streamed through his heart.
In the early morning he went to his studies with a clear mind and performed his duties, for someone was paying for his schooling. He was a conscientious, right-minded fellow. In his diary he recorded each day what he had read and studied, and how late he had sat up playing the piano - always mutely, so that he wouldn't awaken Madam Gabriel. It never said in his diary, except on Sunday, the day of rest, "Thought of Juliet," "Was at the pharmacist's," "Wrote a letter to Mother and Grandmother." Peer was still Romeo and a good son.
"Very industrious!" said Herr Gabriel. "Follow that example, young Madsen! Or you'll fail!"
"Scoundrel!" said young Madsen to himself.
Primus, the Dean's son, suffered from sleeping sickness. "It is a disease," said the Dean's wife; he was not to be treated with severity.
The deanery was only eight miles away; wealth and comfort were there.
"That man will die a bishop" said Madam Gabriel. "He has good connections at the court, and the Deaness is a lady of noble birth. She knows all about heraldry - that means coats of arms."
It was Whitsuntide. A year had passed since Peer came to Herr Gabriel's house. He had gained much knowledge, but his voice had not come back; would it ever come?
The Gabriel household was invited to the Dean's to a great dinner and a ball later in the evening. A good many guests came from the town and from the manor houses about. the pharmacist's family was invited; Romeo would see his Juliet, perhaps dance the first dance with her.
The deanery was a well-kept place, whitewashed, and without any manure heaps in the yard, and it had a dovecot painted green, around which twined an ivy vine. The Deaness was a tall, corpulent woman; "Athene, Glaucopis," Herr Gabriel called her; "the blue-eyed," not "the ox-eyed," as Juno was called, thought Peer. There was a certain distinguished kindness about her, and an effort to have an invalid look; she probably had sleeping sickness just like Primus. She was in a light-blue silk dress and wore great curls; the one on the right side was fastened with a large medallion portrait of her great-grandmother, a general's wife, and the one on the left with an equally large bunch of grapes made of white porcelain.
The Dean had a ruddy, plump face, with shining white teeth, well suited to biting into a roast fillet. His conversation always consisted of anecdotes. He could converse with everybody, but no ever succeeded in carrying on a conversation with him.
The Councilor, too, was there, and among the strangers from the manors was Felix, the merchant's son; he had been confirmed and was now a most elegant young gentleman, both in clothes and manners; he was a millionaire, they said. Madam Gabriel did not have courage enough to speak to him.
Peer was overjoyed at seeing Felix, who came to him in a very genial manner and said that he had brought greetings from his parents, who read all the letters Peer wrote home to his mother and grandmother.
The dancing began. The pharmacist's daughter was to dance the first dance with the Councilor; that was a promise she had made at home to her mother and to the Councilor. The second dance had been promised to Peer; but Felix came and took her with a good-natured nod.
"Permit me to have this one dance; the young lady will give her permission only if you say so."
Peer kept a polite face; he said nothing, and Felix danced with the pharmacist's daughter, the most beautiful girl at the ball. He also danced the next dance with her.
"You will grant me the supper dance?" asked Peer, with a pale face.
"Yes, the supper dance," she answered with her most charming smile.
"You surely will not take my partner from me?" said Felix, who stood close by. "That's not being very friendly. We two old friends from town! You say that you are so glad to see me. Then you must allow me the pleasure of taking the lady to supper!" And he put his arm around Peer and laid his forehead jestingly against him. "Granted, isn't it? Granted!"
"No!" said Peer, his eyes sparkling with anger.
Felix gaily raised his arms and set his elbows akimbo, as if he were trying to look like a frog ready to leap. "You are perfectly right, young man! I would say the same if the supper dance were promised me, sir!" He drew back with a graceful bow to the young lady.
But shortly after, when Peer stood in a corner and adjusted his necktie, Felix returned, put his arms around his neck, and, with the most coaxing look, said, "Be bighearted! My mother and your mother and old grandmother will all say that is is just like you. I am leaving tomorrow, and I will be terribly bored if I do not take the young lady to supper. My own friend, my only friend!"
Peer, as his only friend, could not resist that; he personally led Felix to the young beauty.
It was bright morning of the next day when the guests drove away from the Dean's. The Gabriel household was in one carriage, and the whole family went to sleep, except Peer and Madam.
She talked about the young merchant, the rich man's son, who was really Peer's friend; she had heard him say, Skaal, my friend! To Mother and Grandmother!" There was something so "uninhibited, gallant in him," she said; "one saw at once that he is the son of rich people, or a count's child. That, the rest of us can't acquire. One must bow to that!"
Peer said nothing. He was depressed all day. At night, when bedtime had come and he lay in bed, sleep was chased away, and he said to himself, "One has to bow; one has to please!" That's what he had done; he had obeyed the rich young fellow; "because one is born poor, he is placed under obligation and subjection to these richly born people. Are they then better than we? And why were they created better than we?"
There was something vicious rearing up in him, something that his grandmother would be grieved at. He thought of her. "Poor Grandmother! You have also known what poverty is. Why has God permitted that?" And he felt anger in his heart, and yet at the same time he was conscious of having sinned in thoughts and words against the good God. He was grieved to think he had lost his child's mind; and his faith returned, as wholesome and rich as before. Happy Peer!
A week later a letter came from Grandmother. She wrote in the only way she could, mixing up big letters and small letters, but all her heart's love was in everything, big and small, that concerned Peer:
My own sweet, blessed boy:
I am thinking of you; I am longing for you, and so is your mother. She is getting along well; she takes washing. And the merchant's Felix came up to see us yesterday, with a greeting from you. You had both been at the Dean's ball, and you had been such a gentleman; but that you will always be, and make your old grandmother and your hardworking mother happy. She has something to tell you about Miss Frandsen.
And then followed a postscript from Peer's mother:
Miss Frandsen is going to be married, the old thing. The bookbinder, Herr Hof, has been appointed court bookbinder, in accordance with his petition. He has a great new sign, "Court Bookbinder Hof." And she will become Madam Hof. It is an old love that does not rust, my sweet boy.
Second Postscript: Grandmother has knitted you six pairs of woolen socks; you will get them at the first opportunity. I am also sending you a pork pie, your favorite dish. I know that you never get pork at Herr Gabriel's, since his wife is so afraid of what I have difficulty in spelling - "trichines." You must not believe in these, but just go ahead and eat.
YOUR OWN MOTHER
Peer read the letter, and it made him happy. Felix was so good; what a great injustice he had done him! They had separated at the Dean's without saying good-by to each other.
"Felix is better than I," said Peer.
In a quiet life, one day slips into the next, and month quickly follows month. Peer was already in the second year of his stay at Herr Gabriel's, who with great earnestness and determination, though Madam called it obstinacy, insisted that he should not again on the stage.
Peer received from the singing master, who monthly paid the stipend for his instruction and support, a serious reminder not to think of the stage as long as he was placed there. And he obeyed; but his thoughts frequently traveled to the theater at the capital - they carried him, as if by magic, onto the stage there, where he was to have appeared as a great singer. Now his voice was gone, and it did not return, which often deeply grieved him. Who could comfort him? Neither Herr Gabriel nor Madam, but our Lord surely could. Consolation comes to us in many ways. Peer found it in sleep; he was indeed a Lucky Peer.
One night he dreamed that it was Whitsunday, and he was out in the beautiful green forest, where the sun shone through the branches and where all the ground was covered with anemones and primrose. Then the cuckoo began, "Cuckoo!" "How many years shall I live?" asked Peer, for one always asks the cuckoo that, the first time in the year one hears it cuckoo; and the cuckoo answered, "Cuckoo!" but no more; it was silent.
"Shall I live only one more year?" asked Peer. "That is really too little. Be so good as to cuckoo again!" Then the bird began again, "Cuckoo! Cuckoo!" Yes, and it went on without stopping, and Peer cuckooed with it, as realistically as if he, too, were a cuckoo; but his notes were stronger and clearer. All the songbirds joined in the warbling. Peer sang their songs, but far more beautifully. He had all the clear voice of his childhood, and rejoiced in song; he was so happy at heart. And then he awoke, but with the assurance that the "soundboard" was still in him, that his voice still lived and, some bright Whitsun morning, would burst forth in all its freshness; and so he slept, happy in this assurance.
But in none of the following days, weeks, or months did he have any feeling of his voice returning.
Every bit of news he could get of the theater at the capital was a true feast for his soul; it was spiritual bread to him. Crumbs are also bread, and he received crumbs thankfully - the smallest bits of news.
There was a flax dealer's family living near the Gabriels'. The mother, a highly respectable housewife, lively and laughing, but without any acquaintance or knowledge of the theater, had been at the capital for the first time and was delighted with everything there, even with the people, who had laughed at all she had said, she assured - and that was very likely.
"Were you at the theater also?" asked Peer.
"That I was," replied the flax dealer's wife. "How I steamed! You should have seen me sit and steam in that heat!"
"But what did you see? What play?"
"I will tell you that," she said. "I shall give you the whole play. I was there twice. The first evening it was a talking play. Out came the princess - 'Ahbe, dahbe! Abe, dabe!' - how she could talk! Next came a man - 'Ahbe, dahbe! Abe, dabe!' And then down fell Madam. Now they began again. The prince - 'Ahbe, dahbe! Abe, dabe!' Then down fell Madam. She fell down five times that evening. The second time I was there, it was all singing - 'Ahbe, dahbe! Abe, dabe!' And then down fell Madam again. It so happened that a countrywoman was sitting next to me; she had never been in the theater, and thought the show was all over; but I, who now knew all about it, said that when I was there last, Madam fell down five times. The singing evening she only did it three times. Yes, there you have both the plays, as true to life as I saw them."
Was it tragedy she had seen, since she said that Madam always fell down? Then it dawned on Peer what she meant. The great theater curtain that fell between the acts had a large female figure painted on it, a Muse with the comic and the tragic masks. This was the Madam who fell down. That had been the real comedy; what they had said and sung had been only "Ahbe, dahbe! Abe, dabe!" to the flax dealer's wife; but it had been a great pleasure, and so it had been to Peer, too, and not less to Madam Gabriel, who had heard this recital of the plays. She had sat with an expression of astonishment and a consciousness of mental superiority, for the pharmacist had said that she, as the nurse, had "carried" Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. "Down fell the Madam," as explained by Peer, afterward became a witty byword in the house every time a child, a cup, or one or another piece of furniture fell on the floor in the house.
"That is the way proverbs and familiar sayings are created," said Herr Gabriel, who carried everything into the sphere of learning.
New Year's Eve, at the stroke of twelve, the Gabriels and their boarders stood, each with a glass of punch, the only one Herr Gabriel drank the whole year, because punch is bad for a weak stomach. They drank a toast, "Skaal," to the new year, and counted the strokes of the clock, "One, two - " to the twelfth stroke. "Down fell the Madam!" they said.
The new year rolled up and rolled along. By Whitsuntide, Peer had been two years in the house.
Two years were gone, but the voice had not returned. How would the future be for our young friend?
He could always be a teacher in a school, opined Herr Gabriel; there was a livelihood in that, though nothing to be married on; however, that hadn't entered Peer's mind, no matter how large a place in his heart the pharmacist's daughter had.
"Be a teacher!" said Madam Gabriel; "a schoolmaster! Then you'll be the most boring individual on earth, just like my Gabriel. No, you were born for the theater. Be the greatest actor in the world; that is something more than being a teacher."
An actor! Yes, that was the goal.
He mentioned this in a letter to the singing master; he told of his longing and his hope. He longed most eagerly for the great city, where his mother and grandmother lived; he had not seen them for two long years. The distance was only one hundred and twenty miles; by fast train, he could be there in six hours. Why had they not seen one another? That is easily explained. On his departure, Peer had given his promise to stay where he was being sent and not to think of a visit. His mother was busy enough with her washing and ironing; yet she had often thought of making the great journey, even if it would cost a good deal of money, but this never materialized. Grandmother had a horror of railways; to travel by rail was to tempt the Lord. Nothing could induce her to travel by steam; she was an old woman, and she was not going to travel until she traveled up to our Lord.
That she said in May, but in June the old woman would travel, and all alone, the one hundred and twenty long miles, to the strange town, to strange people, and all to get to Peer. It would be a big occasion, yet the most dismal one that could occur to Mother and Grandmother.
The cuckoo had said "Cuckoo!" without end when Peer had asked it the second time, "How many years shall I live?" His health and spirits were good, and the future looked bright. He had received a delightful letter from his fatherly friend, the singing master. Peer was to go home, and they would see what could be done for him - what course he should take now that his voice was still gone.
"Appear as Romeo!" said Madam Gabriel. "Now you are old enough for the lover's part and have some flesh on your bones. You don't need to use make-up."
"Be Romeo!" said the pharmacist and the pharmacist's daughter.
Many thoughts went through his head and heart. But "Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring."
He sat down in the garden that stretched out to the meadow. It was evening, and there was moonlight. His cheeks burned; his blood was on
fire; the air brought a delightful coolness. Over the moor hung a mist that rose and sank and made him think of the dance of the elfin maidens. Then into his mind came the old ballad about Knight Olaf, who rode out to ask the guests to his wedding, but was stopped by the elfin maidens, who drew him into their dance and play and thereby caused his death. It was a piece of folklore, an old poem. The moonlight and the mist over the moor formed pictures of it this evening.
Peer was soon in a state of half dreaming, looking out upon it all. The bushes seemed to have shapes of both humans and beasts; they stood motionless, while the mist rose like a great waving veil. Peer had seen something like this in a ballet at the theater, when elfin maidens were represented whirling and waying with veils of gauze; but here it was far more charming and more wonderful. A stage as large as this, no theater could have; none had so clear an air, so shining a moonlight.
Right in front in the mist, there distinctly appeared a female shape; the one became three, and the three became many; hand in hand they danced; they were floating girls. The air bore them along to the hedge where Peer stood. They nodded to him; they spoke; it was like the sound of silver bells. They danced into the garden about him; they enclosed him in their circle. Without thought, he danced with them, but not their dance. He whirled about, as in the unforgettable vampire dance, but he didn't think of that; he really didn't think at all; he was completely overwhelmed by all the magnificent beauty he saw about him.
The moor was a sea, so deep and dark blue, with water lilies that were bright with all conceivable colors. Dancing over the waves, they carried him upon their veil to the opposite shore, where the old viking burial mound had thrown aside its grassy turf and risen into a castle of clouds, but the clouds were of marble. Flowering trees of gold and costly stones twined about the mighty blocks of marble; each flower was a brilliantly colored bird that sang with a human voice. It was like a choir of thousands and thousands of happy children. Was it heaven, or was it Elfin Hill?
The castle walls moved; they glided toward each other. They closed about him. He was inside, and the world of man was outside. He then felt anguish, a strange fear, as never before. There was no exit to be found, but from the floor way up to the roof, and from all the walls, there smiled at him lovely young girls; they were so lifelike to look at, and yet he thought: Are they but paintings? He wanted to speak to them, but his tongue found no words; his speech was completely gone; not a sound came from his lips. Then he threw himself upon the earth, more miserable than he had ever been.
One of the elfin maidens approached him; surely she meant well, for she had taken the shape he would most like to see; she looked like the
pharmacist's daughter; he was almost ready to believe that it was she, but soon he saw that she was hollow in back and had only a beautiful front - open in the back, with nothing at all inside.
"One hour here is a hundred years outside," she said. "You have already been here a whole hour. Everyone you know and love outside these walls is dead. Stay with us! Yes, stay you must, or the walls will squeeze you until the blood flows from your brow!
And the walls trembled, and the air became like that of a glowing bake oven. He found his voice.
"O Lord, O Lord, have You forsaken me?" he cried from the depths of his soul.
Then Grandmother stood beside him. She took him in her arms; she kissed his brow; she kissed his mouth.
"My own sweet little one!" she said. "Our Lord will not forsake you; He forsakes none of us, not even the greatest sinner. God be praised and honored for all eternity!"
And she brought forth her psalmbook, the same one from which she and Peer had sung on many a Sunday. How her voice rang! How full were her tones! All the elfin maidens laid their heads down for a well-needed rest. Peer sang with Grandmother, as before he had sung every Sunday; how strange and powerful, yet how soft, his voice was all at once! The walls of the castle moved; they became clouds and mist. Grandmother walked with him out of the hill into the tall grass, where the glowworms gleamed and the moon shone. But his feet were so tired now he could not move them; he sank down on the turf; it was the softest bed; there he rested well and awoke to the sound of a psalm.
Grandmother sat beside him, sat by his bed in the little chamber in Herr Gabriel's house. The fever was over; health and life had returned. He had been deathly ill. They had found him in a faint on that evening down in the garden; a violent fever had followed. The doctor had thought that he would not get up from it, but would die, and they had written to his mother about it. She and Grandmother had wanted to, and felt they must, go to him; both had not been able to leave, and so the old grandmother had gone, and gone by the railway. "That I would only do for Peer," she said. "I did it in God's name; otherwise I would have had to believe that I flew with the evil ones on a broomstick on Midsummer Eve!"
The journey home was made with a glad and light heart. Grandmother deeply thanked our Lord that Peer was to outlive her. She had delightful traveling companions in the railway carriage - the pharmacist and his daughter; they talked about Peer, and loved Peer as if they were of the same family. He was to become a great actor, said the pharmacist. His voice had now returned, too, and there was a fortune in such a throat as his.
What a pleasure it was to the grandmother to hear such words! She lived on them; she believed them thoroughly. And then they arrived at the station in the capital, where the mother met her.
"God be praised for the railway!" said Grandmother, "and be praised, too, that I quite forgot I was on it! I owe that to these splendid people." And she pressed the hands of the pharmacist and his daughter. "The railway is a blessed discovery when one is through with it! One is in God's hands!"
And then she talked of her sweet boy, who was out of all danger, and who lived with well-to-do people, who kept two servant girls and a manservant. Peer was like a son in the house, and on the same footing with two children of distinguished families, one of whom was a dean's son. The grandmother had lodged at the post inn; it was terribly expensive, but then she had been invited to Madam Gabriel's; there she had stayed five days, and they were simply wonderful people, particularly the wife; she had urged her to drink punch, splendidly made but strong.
With God's help, Peer would be strong enough to come home to the capital in a month.
"He must have become very elegant and spoiled," said the mother.
"He will not feel at home here in the garret. I am very happy that the singing master has invited him to stay with him. and yet," cried the mother, "it is awfully sad that one should be so poor that one's child cannot live in his own home!"
"Don't say those words to Peer!" said Grandmother. "You don't understand him as I do." "But he must have food and drink, no matter how fine he has grown, and he shall not go hungry so long as I can move my hands. Madam Hof has told me that he can eat his dinner twice a week with her, now that she is well off. She has known both prosperity and hard times. She has told me herself that one evening, in the box at the theater where the old danseuses have a place, she felt sick. The whole day long she had only had water and a caraway-seed bun, and she was ill from hunger, and very faint. 'Water! water!' cried the others. 'No! Some food!' she begged. 'Food!' She needed something nourishing, and had not the least need of water. Now she has her own larder and a wellspread table."
Peer was still one hundred and twenty miles away, but happy in the thought that he would soon be in the city, and at the theater, with all his dear old friends, whom now he would know how to value. Happiness sang and resounded within him and all about him; there was sunshine everywhere, in this happy time of youth, the time of hope and expectation. Every day he grew stronger; his good spirits and his color returned. But Madam Gabriel became very moved as the time for departure drew near.
"You are on your way to greatness; and there will be many temptations, for you are handsome - that you have become in our house. You are natural, just as I, and that will help when temptations come. One must not be too sensitive or unruly - sensitive like Queen Dagmar, who on Sunday laced her silk sleeves and then had pangs of conscience over such a minor thing; it should take more than that to affect one. I would never have grieved as Lucretia did. What did she stab herself for? She was pure and honest; she knew that, and everybody in the town knew that. What could she do about the misfortune which I won't talk about but which you at your age understand perfectly well? So she gave out a shriek and the dagger! That wasn't necessary at all. I would not have done it, and neither would you; we are both natural people; one should be natural at all times, and that you will continue to be in your artistic career. How happy I shall be to read about you in the papers! Perhaps sometime you will come to our little town and appear as Romeo, but I shall not be the nurse then. I shall sit in the parquet and enjoy myself."
Madam had a lot of washing and ironing done the week he went away, so Peer could go home with a clean wardrobe, as he had had on his arrival there. She drew a new, strong ribbon through his amber heart; that was the only thing she wanted as a "remembrance souvenir," but she did not get it.
From Herr Gabriel he received a French lexicon, the one he had used during his school hours, and it had marginal notes in Herr Gabriel's own hand. Madam Gabriel gave him roses and quaking grass. The roses would wither, but the grass would keep all winter if it wasn't put into the water but was kept in a dry place. And she wrote a quotation from Goethe on a kind of album leaf: Umgang mit Frauen ist das Element guter Sitten. She gave a translation of it: "Companionship with women is the foundation of good manners. Goethe."
"He was a great man!" she said. "If he had only not written Faust, for I don't understand it. Gabriel says so, too."
Young Madsen presented Peer with a not badly done drawing he had made of Herr Gabriel hanging from the gallows, with a birch rod in his hand, and the inscription, "A great actor's first conductor on the road of science." Primus, the Dean's son, gave him a new pair of slippers, which the Deaness herself had made, but so large that Primus could not fill them for a year or two yet. Upon the soles was written in ink, " A reminder of a sorrowing friend. Primus."
Herr Gabriel's entire household accompanied Peer to the train.
"It shall not be said that you left us sans adieu!" said Madam, and she kissed him at the railway station.
"I am not bashful!" she said. "When one does not do a thing secretly, one can do anything!"
The signal whistle blew - young Madsen and Primus shouted hurrahs; the "small stuff" joined in with them; Madam dried her eyes and waved with her pocket handkerchief; Herr Gabriel said only the word, "Vale!"
The villages and stations flew by. Were the people in them as happy as Peer? He thought of that, praised his good fortune, and thought of the invisible golden apple that Grandmother had seen lying in his hand When he was a child. He thought of his lucky find in the gutter and, above all, of his new-found voice and of the knowledge he had now acquired. He had become altogether another person. He sang inwardly with happiness; it took great self-control for him to keep from singing aloud in the car.
Now the towers of the city appeared, and the buildings began to show themselves. The train reached the station. There stood Mother and Grandmother, and someone with them, Madam Hof, well bound, Court Bookbinder Hof's wife, born Frandsen. Neither in want nor in prosperity did she forget her friends. She had to kiss him as his mother and his grandmother did.
"Hof could not come with me," she said; "he is home at work, binding a set of collected works for the King's private library. You have your good luck, and I have mine. I have my Hof and my own fireside corner with a rocking chair. Twice a week you are to eat with us. You will see my life at home; it is a complete ballet!"
Mother and Grandmother hardly had an opportunity to talk to Peer, but they looked at him, and their eyes shone with delight. Then he had to take a cab to get to his new home at the singing master's. They laughed and they cried.
"What a wonderful man he is!" said Grandmother.
"He still has such a kind face, just as when he went away," said Mother; "and that he will keep in the theater."
The cab stopped at the singing master's door, but the master was out; his old servant opened the door and showed Peer up to his room, where there were portraits of composers on the walls and a white plaster bust stood gleaming on the stove. The old man, a little dull, but trustworthiness itself, showed him the drawers in the bureau and hooks for him to hang his clothes on, and said he was very willing to shine his boots. Then the singing master arrived and welcomed Peer with a hearty handshake.
"This is the apartment!" he said. "Make yourself at home. You may use my piano in the living room. Tomorrow we will hear how your voice is. This is our castle warden, our housekeeper." And he nodded to the old servant. "All is in order. Carl Maria von Weber, on the stove there, has been whitened in honor of your coming; he was terribly dirty. But it isn't Weber that's up there, after all; it is Mozart. Where did he come from?"
"It is the old Weber," said the servant; "I carried him myself to the plasterer, and I brought him home again this morning."
"But this is a bust of Mozart, and not a bust of Weber."
"Pardon me, sir," said the servant; "it is the old Weber, who has been cleaned. The master does not recognize him now that he has been whitened." The plasterer could verify that.
But at the plasterer's he got the answer that Weber had been broken to pieces, and so he had given him Mozart instead; it was all the same on a stove.
The first day Peer was not to sing or play, but when our young friend came into the parlor, where the piano stood, and the opera Joseph lay open upon it, he sang "My Fourteenth Spring," and sang with a voice that was as clear as a bell. There was something so sincere about it, so innocent, and yet so strong and full. The singing master's eyes were wet with tears. "That's the way it should be," he said, "and it will be even better. Now we shall close the piano. You need to rest."
"But I have promised my mother and grandmother to visit them tonight." And he hurried away. The setting sun shone over the home of his childhood; the bits of glass in the wall sparkled; it was like a diamond castle. Mother and Grandmother were waiting for him in the garret, a good many steps up, but he flew up, three stairs at a time, reached the door, and was received with kisses and embraces.
It was clean and tidy there in the little room. There stood the stove, the old bear, and the chest of drawers with the hidden treasure from his hobby-horse days; on the walls hung the three familiar pictures, the King's portrait, a picture of our Lord, and Father's silhouette, cut out of black paper. It was an excellent side view of him, said Mother, but it would have been more like him if the paper had been white and red, for that he was. A wonderful man! And Peer was the very picture of him.
There was much to talk about, much to tell. They were to have a headcheese, and Madam Hof had promised to visit them later in the evening.
"But how is it that those two old people, Hof and Miss Frandsen, ever thought of getting married?" asked Peer.
"It has been in their thoughts these many years," said Mother. "You know, of course, that he was married. Well, he did it, they say, to irritate Miss Frandsen, who looked down on him when she was in her high and mighty state. His wife was wealthy, but she was very old, but lively, and on crutches! She could not die; he was waiting for it. It would not have surprised me if, like the man in the story, he had every Sunday put the old lady out in the open air, so our Lord could see her and remember to send for her."
"Miss Frandsen sat quietly by and waited," said Grandmother. "I never believed she would attain this. But last year Madam Hof died, and so Frandsen came to be the wife in the house."
At that moment in came Madam Hof.
"We were talking about you," said Grandmother; "we were talking about your patience and reward."
"Yes," said Madam Hof. "It did not come in my youth, but one is always young enough, when one's health is good, says my Hof. He has the most charming flashes of wit. We were old, fine works, he says, both in one volume, and with a gilt top. I am so happy with my Hof and my corner by the fireside. A porcelain stove! There a fire is started in the evening, and it keeps warm all the next day. It is such a joy. It is as in the ballet of Circe's island. Do you remember me as Circe?"
"Yes, you were charming!" said Grandmother. "But how a person can change!" That was not at all said impolitely, and was not so taken. Then
came the headcheese and the tea.
The next morning Peer paid a visit to the merchant's. The lady met him, pressed his hand, and asked him to take a seat by her. During their conversation he expressed his great gratitude; he knew that the merchant was his secret benefactor. The lady did not know it. "But it is like my husband," she said. "It is not worth talking about."
The merchant was almost angry when Peer mentioned this. "You are on the wrong track altogether," he said, as he closed the conversation and walked away.
Felix was a student and was to have a diplomatic career.
"My husband calls it madness," said the lady. "I have no opinion. Providence takes care of such things."
Felix did not show himself, for he was taking a lesson at his fencing master's.
At home Peer told how he had thanked the merchant, but that he would not receive this thanks.
"Who told you that he was, what you call him, your benefactor?" asked the singing master.
"My mother and my grandmother did," answered Peer.
"Well, then it must be he."
"You know about it?" said Peer.
"I know, but you will not find out from me. And from now on, we shall sing an hour here at home every morning."