On the principal street there stood a fine old-fashioned house; the wall about the court-yard had bits of glass worked into it, so that when the sun or moon shone, it was as if covered with diamonds. That was a sign of wealth, and there was wealth inside there; folks said that the merchant was a man who could just put away two barrels of gold in his best parlor; yes, could put a heap of gold-pieces, as a savings bank against the future, outside the door of the room where his little son was born.
This little fellow had arrived in the rich house. There was great joy from cellar up to the garret; and up there, there was still greater joy an hour or two afterward. The warehouseman and his wife lived up there, and here too there entered just then a little son, given by our Lord, brought by the stork, and exhibited by the mother. And here too there was a heap outside the door, quite accidentally; but it was not a gold-heap—it was a heap of sweepings.
The rich merchant was a very considerate, good man; his wife, delicate and gentle-born, dressed well, was pious, and, besides, was kind and good to the poor. Everybody congratulated these two people on now having a little son, who would grow up, and, like his father, be rich and happy. At the font the little boy was called “FELIX,” which means in Latin “lucky,” and that he was, and his parents still more.
The warehouseman, a right sound fellow, and good to the bottom of his heart, and his wife, an honest and industrious woman, were blessed by all who knew them; how lucky they were at getting their little boy, and he was called “PEER !”1
The boy on the first floor and the boy in the garret each got just as many kisses from his parents, and just as much sunshine from our Lord; but still they were placed a little differently,—one down-stairs, and one up. Peer sat the highest, away up in the garret, and he had his own mother for a nurse; little Felix had a stranger for his nurse, but she was a good and honest girl—you could see that in her character-book. The rich child had a pretty little wagon, and was drawn about by his spruce nurse; the child from the garret was carried in the arms of his own mother, both when he was in his Sunday clothes, and when he had his every-day things on; and he was just as much pleased.
They were both pretty children, they both kept growing, and soon could show with their hands how tall they were, and say single words in their mother tongue. Equally sweet, equally dainty and petted were they both. As they grew up they had a like pleasure out of the merchant’s horses and carriages. Felix got permission from his nurse to sit by the coachman and look at the horses; he fancied himself driving. Peer got permission to sit at the garret window and look down into the yard when the master and mistress went out to drive, and when they were fairly gone, he placed two chairs, one in front, the other behind, up there in the room, and so he drove himself; he was the real coachman— that was a little more than fancying himself to be the coachman.
They had noticed each other, these two, but it was not until they were two years old that they spoke to each other. Felix went 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 had as much of a draught, and was just as much undressed as the merchant’s little delicate boy. Felix came with his mother and wanted to go out; Peer came with his, and wanted to go in.
“Give little Peer your hand,” said the merchant’s lady. “You two can talk to each other.”
And one said “Peer!” and the other said “Felix!” Yes, that was all they said that time.
The rich lady petted her boy, but there was one who petted 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 anybody at all could discover.
“The dear child,” said she, “is going to get on in the world. He is born with a gold apple in his hand. There is the shining apple!” And she kissed the child’s little hand. His parents could see nothing, nor Peer either, but as he grew to know more, no doubt he would find that out too.
“That is such a story, such a real wonder-story, that grandmother tells!” said the parents.
Indeed grandmother could tell stories, and Peer was never tired of hearing always the same ones. She taught him a psalm and to repeat the Lord’s Prayer, and he knew it not as a gabble but as words which meant some-thing; every single petition in it she explained to him. Especially he thought about what grandmother said on 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 a great deal of company; 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 had regularly his good daily bread, and very delightful days, too, but they were not to last always. Stern years of war began; the young were to go away, the old to stay at home. Peer’s father was among those who were enrolled, and soon it was heard that he was one of the first who fell in battle against the victorious enemy.
There was terrible 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 “father,” and then they cried all together. The widow, meanwhile, received permission, the first year, to lodge rent free, and afterward she was to pay only a small rent. The grandmother stayed with the mother, who supported herself by washing for several “single fine gentlemen,” as she called them. Peer had neither sorrow nor want. He had his fill of meat and drink, and grandmother told him stories so extraordinary and wonderful about the wide world, that he asked her, one day, if they two might not go on Sunday to foreign lands, and come home again as prince and princess, with gold crowns on.
“I am too old for that,” said grandmother; “and you must first learn a terrible lot of things, become great and strong; but you must always be a good and affectionate child—just as you are now.”
Peer rode around the room on hobbyhorses; he had two such; but the merchant’s son had a real live horse; it was so little that it might as well have been called a baby-horse, as Peer called it, and it never could become any bigger. Felix rode it about in the yard; he even rode outside the gate with his father and a riding-master from the king’s stable. For the first half-hour Peer did not like his horses, and would not ride them—they were not real. He asked his mother why he could not have a real horse like little Felix; and his mother 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; do you ride on them.”
And so Peer rode: first to the chest of drawers, the great mountain full of treasures; both Peer’s Sunday clothes and his mother’s were there, and there were the shining silver dollars which she laid aside for rent He rode to the stove, which he called the black bear; it slept all summer long, but when winter came it must do something: warm the room and cook the meals.
Peer had a godfather who usually came every Sunday in winter and got a good warm dinner. It was rather a coming down for him, said the mother and the grandmother. He had begun as a coachman; he took to drink and slept at his post, and that neither a soldier nor a coachman may do. Then he became a carter and drove a cart, and sometimes a drosky for gentlefolk; but now he drove a dirt-cart and went from door to door, swinging his rattle, “snurre-rurre-ud!” and out from all the houses came the girls and housewives with their buckets full, and turned these into the cart: rags and tags, ashes and rubbish were all turned in. One day Peer had come down from the garret, his mother had gone to town, and he stood at the open gate, and there outside was godfather with his cart.
“Will you take a drive?” he asked. Right willingly would Peer, but only as far as the corner. His eyes shone as he sat on the seat alone with godfather and was allowed to hold the whip. Peer drove with real live horses, drove quite to the corner. His mother came along just then; she looked rather dubious. It was not so grand to her to see her own little son riding on a dirt-cart. He must get down at once. Still she thanked godfather; but when they reached home she forbade Peer to take that excursion again.
One day he went again down to the gate. There was no godfather there to entice him off for a drive, but there were other allurements 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. They had often found a button or a copper coin; but they had quite as often scratched themselves with a broken bottle, or pricked themselves with a pin, which was just now the case. Peer must join them, and when he got down among the gutter-stones he found a silver coin.
Another day he was down on his knees again, digging with the other boys. They only got dirty fingers; he found a gold ring, and showed, with sparkling eyes, his lucky find, and then the others threw dirt at him, and called him Lucky Peer; they would not let him be with them then when they poked in the gutter.
Back of the merchant’s yard there was some low ground which was to be filled up for building lots; gravel and ashes were carted and tipped out there. Great heaps lay about. Godfather drove his cart, but Peer was not to drive with him. The street boys dug in the heaps; they dug with a stick and with their bare hands. They were always finding one thing or another which seemed worth picking up. Hither came little Peer. They saw him and cried out:—
“Clear out, Lucky Peer!” And when he came nearer, they flung lumps of dirt at him. One of these struck against his wooden shoe and fell to pieces. Something shining dropped out; Peer took it up; it was a little heart made of amber. He ran home with it. The rest did not notice that even when they threw dirt at him he was a child of luck.
The silver skilling which he had found was laid away in his little savings bank; the ring and the amber heart were shown down stairs to the merchants wife, because the mother wanted to know if they were among the “things found” that ought to be given notice of to the police.
How the eyes of the merchant’s wife shone on seeing the ring! It was no other than her own engagement ring, which she had lost three years before; so long had it 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.
“Eh! what is it that burns so!” said she. “It looks as if some candle were lighted there.” She got up to see, and it was the little heart of amber. Ah, the grandmother with her weak eyes often saw more than all others could see. Now she had her private thoughts about this. The next morning she took a small strong ribbon, drew it through the opening at the top of the heart, and put it round 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 either to other boys. If they should take it from you, you would have the stomach-ache!” That was the only dreadful sickness little Peer had thus far known. There was a strange power too in the heart. Grandmother showed him that when she rubbed it with her hand, and a little straw was laid by it, the straw seemed to be alive and sprang to the heart of amber, and would not let it go.
HE merchant’s son had a tutor who heard him say his lessons alone, and walked out with him alone. Peer was also to have an education, so he went to school with a great quantity of other boys. They studied together, and that was more delightful than going alone with a tutor. Peer would not change.
He was a lucky Peer, but godfather was also a lucky Peer, for all he was not called Peer. He won a prize in the lottery, of two hundred rix-dollars, on a ticket which he shared with eleven others. He went at once and bought some better clothes, and he looked very well in them. Luck never comes alone, it always has company, and it did this time. Godfather gave up his dirt-cart and joined the theatre.
“For what in the world,” said grandmother. “is he going to the theatre? What does he go as?”
As a machinist. That was a real getting on, and he was now quite another man, and took a wonderful deal of enjoyment in the comedy, which he always saw from the top or from the side. The most charming thing was the ballet, but that indeed gave him the hardest work, and there was always some danger from 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 they were all dressed and adorned as in the evening when people pay to see all the fine show, he had permission to bring Peer with him, and put him in a place where he could see the whole.
It was a Scripture ballet—Samson. The Philistines danced about him, and he tumbled the whole house down over them and himself; but there were fire-engines and firemen on hand in case of any accident.
Peer had never seen a comedy, still less a ballet. He put on his Sunday clothes and went with godfather to the theatre. It was just like a great drying-loft, with ever so many curtains and screens, great openings in the floor, lamps and lights. There was a host of nooks and crannies up and down, and people came out from these just as in a great church with its balcony pews.3 The floor went down quite steeply, and there Peer was placed, and told to stay there till 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: there came up in front, just as if straight out of the earth, a number of musicians with both flutes and violins. At the side where Peer sat people came dressed as if they were in the street; but there came also knights with gold helmets, beautiful maidens in gauze and flowers, even angels all in white with wings on their hacks. They were placed up and down, on the floor and up in the “balcony pews,” to be looked at. They were the whole force of the ballet dancers; but Peer did not know that. He believed they belonged in the fairy tales his grandmother had told him about. Then there came a woman, who was the most beautiful of all, with a gold helmet and spear; she looked out over all the others and sat between an angel and an imp. Ah! how much there was to see, and yet the ballet was not even begun.
There was a moment of quiet. A man dressed in black moved a little fairy wand over all the musicians, and then they began to play, so that there was a whistling of music, and the wall itself began to rise. One looked out on to a flower-garden, where the sun shone, and all the people danced and leaped. Such a wonderful sight had Peer never imagined. There the soldiers marched, and there was fighting, and there where the guilds and the mighty Samson with his love. But she was as wicked as she was beautiful: she betrayed him. The Philistines plucked his eyes out; he had to grind in the mill and be set up for mockery in the dancing hall; but then he laid hold of the strong pillars which held the roof up, 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. He was not to be got off to bed. He stood on one leg and laid the other upon the table—that was what Samson’s love and all the other ladies did. He made a treadmill out of grandmother’s chair, and upset two chairs and a bolster over himself to show how the dancing-hall came down. He showed this, and he gave it with all the music that belonged to it; there was no talking in the ballet. He sang high and low, with words and without; there was no connection in it; it was just like a whole opera. The most noticeable thing, meanwhile, of all was his beautiful voice, clear as a bell, but no one spoke of that.
Peer was before to have been a grocer’s boy, to mind prunes and lump sugar; now he found there was something very much finer, and that was to get into the Samson story and dance in the ballet. There were a great many poor children that went that way, said the grandmother, and became fine and honored people; still no little girl of her family should ever get permission to go that way; a boy—well, he stood more firmly.
Peer had not seen a single one of the little girls fall before the whole house fell, and then they all fell together, he said.
Peer certainly must be a ballet-dancer.
“He gives me no rest!” said his mother. At last, his grandmother promised to take him one day to the ballet-master, who was a fine gentleman, and had his own house, like the merchant. Would Peer ever get to that? Nothing is impossible for our Lord. Peer had a gold apple in his hand when he was a child. Such had lain 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 a part of the play, he was told. And Samson looked kindly and pleasantly on 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.
It was easily brought about at the ballet-master’s house; but first his mother and grandmother must needs make other preparations, and talk with people who knew about these things; first with the merchant’s wife, who thought it a good career for a pretty, well-formed boy without any prospect, like Peer. Then they talked with Miss Frandsen; she understood all about the ballet. At one time, in the younger days of grandmother, she had been the most favorite danseuse at the theatre; she had danced goddesses and princesses, had been cheered and applauded whenever she came out; but then she grew older,—we all do—and then she no longer had principal parts; she had to dance behind the younger ones; and finally she went behind all the dancers quite into the dressing-room, where The dressed the others to be goddesses and princesses.
“So it goes!” said Miss Frandsen. “The theatre road is a delightful one to travel, but it is full of thorns. Chicane grows there,—chicane!”
That was a word Peer did not understand; but he came to understand it quite well.
“He is determined to go into the ballet,” said his mother.
“He is a pious Christian child, that he is,” said grandmother.
“And well brought up,” said Miss Frandsen. “ Well bred and moral! that was I in my heyday.”
And so Peer went to dancing-school, and got some summer clothes and thin-soled dancing-shoes to make it easier. All the old dancers kissed him, and said that he was a boy good enough to eat.
He was told to stand up, stick his legs out, and hold on by a post so as not to fall, while he learned to kick first with his right leg, then with his left. It was not so hard for him as for most of the others. The ballet-master clapped him on the back and said he would soon be in the ballet; he should be a king’s child, who was carried on shields and wore a gold crown. That was practised at the dancing school, and rehearsed at the theatre itself.
The mother and grandmother must go to see little Peer in all his glory, and they looked, and they both cried, for all it was so splendid. Peer in all his glory and show had not seen them at all; but the merchant’s family he had seen; they sat in the loge nearest the stage. Little Felix was with them in his test clothes. He wore buttoned gloves, just like grown-up gentlemen, and sat with an opera-glass at his eyes the whole evening, although he could see perfectly well—again just like grown-up gentlemen. He looked at Peer. Peer looked at him; and Peer was a king’s child with a gold crown on. This evening brought the two children in closer relation to one another.
Some days after, as they met each other 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 had a gold crown on.
“I shall wear them again on Sunday,” said Peer.
Felix did not see him then, but he thought about it the whole evening. He would have liked very well to be in Peer’s shoes; he had not Miss Frandsen’s warning that the theatre way was a thorny one, and that chicane grew on it; neither did Peer know this yet, but he would very soon learn it.
His young companions the dancing children were not all as good as they ought to be for all that they sometimes were angels with wings to them. There was a little girl, Malle Knallemp, who always, when she was dressed as page, and Peer was a page, stepped maliciously on the side of his foot, so as to see his stockings; there was a bad 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 some meat-pie with his sandwich, and the other boy had only bread and butter. He could not have made a mistake.
It would be in vain to recite all the vexations that Peer endured in the two years, and the worst was not yet,—that was to come. There was a ballet to be brought out called The Vampire. In it the smallest dancing children were dressed as bats; wore gray tights that fitted snugly to their bodies; black gauze wings were stretched from their shoulders, and so they were to run on tiptoe, as if they were just flying, and then they were to whirl round on the floor. Peer could do this especially well; but his trousers and jacket, all of one piece, were old and worn; the threads did not hold together; so that, just as he whirled round 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 his short, little white shirt was to be seen.
All the people laughed. Peer saw it, and knew that he was ripped all down the back; he whirled and whirled, but it grew worse and worse. Folks 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 so they always called him “Ripperip.”
Peer cried; Miss Frandsen comforted him. “’Tis only chicane,” said she; and now Peer knew what chicane was.
Besides the dancing-school, they had another one attached to the theatre, where the children were taught to cipher and write, to learn history and geography; ay, they had a teacher in religion, for it is not enough to know how to dance there is something more in the world than wearing out dancing-shoes. Here, too, Peer was quick,—the very luckiest of all,—and got plenty of good marks; but his companions still called him “Ripperip.” It was only a joke; but at last he would not stand it any longer, and he struck out and boxed one of the boys, so that he was black and blue under the left eye, and had to have it whitened in the evening when he was to go in the ballet. Peer was talked to sharply by the dancing-master, and more harshly by the sweeping-woman, for it was her son he had punished.
A GOOD many thoughts went through little Peer’s head, and one Sunday, when he had his best clothes on, he started out without saying a word about it to his mother or grandmother, not even to Miss Frandsen, who always gave him good advice, straight to the chapel-master; he thought this man was the most important one there was outside the ballet. He stepped boldly in and said:—
“I am at the dancing-school, but there is so much chicane, and I would much rather be a player or a singer, if you please.”
“Have you a voice?” asked the chapel-master, and looked quite pleasantly at him. “Seems to me I know you. Where have I seen you before? Was it not 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 himself away.
“Sing me a song!” said the chapel-master. “Nay, cheer up, my lad” and he tapped him under the chin, and Peer looked up into his kind eyes and sang a song which he had heard at the theatre in the opera “Robert le Diable”—“Grace a moi.”
“That is a difficult song, hot you make it go,” said the chapel-master. “You have an excellent voice—when it is not ripped in the back!” and he laughed and called his wife. She also must hear Peer sing, and she nodded her head and said something in a foreign tongue. Just at that moment the singing-master of the theatre came in; it was he to whom Peer should have gone if he wanted to get among the singers; now he came of himself, (quite accidentally, as it were; he heard him also sing “Grace a moi,” but he did not laugh, and he did not look so kindly on him as the chapel-master and his wife; still it was decided that Peer should have singing-lessons.
“Now he has got on the right track,” said Miss Frandsen. “One gets along a great deal farther with a voice than with legs. If I had had a voice, I should have been a great songstress, and perhaps a baroness now.”
“Or a bookbinder’s lady,” said mother. “Had you become rich, you would have had the bookbinder any way.”
We do not understand that hint; but Miss Frandsen did.
Peer must 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 down-stairs, and he sang several songs—for one. “Grace a moi.” All the company clapped their hands, and Felix with them; 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 could,” said Felix, and so he was bidden do it. He sang and he talked, he drummed and hummed: it was child’s play, but there came snatches of well-known melodies, which did not give an ill idea of what the ballet meant. All the company found it very entertaining; they laughed and praised it, one louder than another. The merchant’s lady gave Peer a great piece of cake and a silver dollar.
How lucky the boy felt, till his eyes rested on a gentleman who stood somewhat back, and 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, and this gentleman was the theatre’s singing-master.
Next morning, Peer was to go to him, and he stood there quite as severe-looking as before.
“What possessed you yesterday!” said he. “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, outside or in. Now you can go. I’ll not have any singing with you today.”
Peer was dreadfully cast down; he had fallen out of the master’s good grace. Nevertheless the master was really better satisfied with him than ever before. In all the absurdity which he had scraped together, there was some meaning, something not at all common. The lad had an ear for music, and a voice clear as a bell and of great compass; if it continued like that, then the little man’s fortune was made.
Now began the singing-lessons; Peer was industrious arid quick. How much there was to learn! how much to know! The mother toiled and slaved that her son might go well dressed and neat, and not look too mean among the people to whose houses he now went. He was always singing and trolling; they had no need at all of a canary-bird, the mother said. Every Sunday must he sing a psalm with his grandmother, It was charming to hear his fresh voice lift itself up with hers. “It is much more beautiful than to hear him sing wildly;” that was what she called his singing, when, like a little bird, he trolled with his voice, and gave forth tones which seemed to come of themselves, and make such music as they pleased. What tunes there were in his little throat, what sounding music in his little breast! Indeed he could imitate a whole orchestra. There were both flute and bassoon in his voice, violin and bugle. He sang as the birds sing; but mans voice is most charming, even a little mans, when he can sing like Peer.
But in the winter, just as he was to go to the priest to be prepared for confirmation, he caught cold; the little bird in his breast said pip the voice was ripped like the vampire’s back-piece.
“It is no great misfortune,” thought mother and grandmother; “now he doesn’t go singing tra la, and thus he can think more seriously about his Christianity.”
His voice was changing, the singing-master said. Peer must now not sing at all. How long would it be? A year, perhaps two; perhaps the voice would never come again. That was a great grief.
“Think now only of the confirmation,” said mother and grandmother. “Apply yourself to music,” said the singing-master, “but hold your mouth!”
He thought of his “Christianity,” and he studied music. There was singing and playing going on inside him; he wrote entire melodies down in notes, songs without words. Finally he wrote the words, too.
“Really, thou art a poet, 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 also got one, and so did Miss Frandsen, and that went into her album, in which were verses and music by two who were once young lieutenants, but now were old majors on half-pay. The book was given by “a friend,” who had himself bound it.
And Peer “stood” at Easter, as they say. Felix presented him with a silver watch. It was the first watch Peer had owned; it seemed to him that he was a man already when he did not need to ask others what o’clock it was. Felix came up to the garret, congratulated him, and handed him the watch; he himself was not to “stand” until the autumn. They took each other by the hand, these two children of the house, both just the same age, born the same day and in the same house; and Felix ate of the cake which had been baked in the garret on occasion of the confirmation.
“It is a glad day with solemn thoughts,” said grandmother.
“Yes, very solemn!” said mother. “Had father only lived to see Peer stand!”
The next Sunday they all three sat at Our Lord’s table. As they came from church there came a message from the singing-master, asking Peer to come to him, and Peer went. Some good news awaited him, and yet pretty serious, too. He was to give up singing for a year altogether; his voice was to lie fallow like a field, as a peasant might say; but during that time he was to go to school, not in the capital, where every evening he would be running to the theatre, from which he could not keep away; he was to go thirty miles away from home, to board with a schoolmaster, who kept a lad or two en pension. There he was to learn language and science, which would one day be of service to him. The charge for a year’s course was three hundred rix-dollars, and that was paid by a “benevolent man who did not wish his name given.”
“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 thirty miles1 on the railway out into the wide world. it was Whitsuntide. The sun shone, the woods were flesh and green; the train went rushing through them. Fields and villages flitted past; gentlemen’s country-seats peeped out; the cattle stood on the after-crop pastures. Soon there came a station, then another, market town after market town. At each stopping-place there was a hubbub of people, welcoming or saying good-bye; there was noisy talking outside and in the carriages. Where Peer sat there was a deal 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 was a great relief for her and the little lamb when it fell asleep.
“I spared no expense in the flowers!” said she; “and you must remember that it died at a very expensive time, when you have to cut the flowers in pots! 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 small girls, and used for dancing bows, they were so attractive. One Sunday when I went there, I knew that my grave was on the left of the principal path, but when I got there, there was my grave on the right. ‘How is this?’ says I to the grave-digger; ‘isn’t my grave on the left?’
“‘No, it isn’t any longer!’ said he. ‘Madam’s grave lies there, to be sure, but the mound has been moved over to the right; that place belongs to another man’s grave.’
“‘But I will have my corpse in my grave,’ says I; ‘and I have a perfect right to say so. Shall I go and dress a false mound, when my corpse lies without any sign on the other side? Indeed I won’t!’
“‘Oh, 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 rix-dollars. I gave that with a kiss of my hand, and stood myself by 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 piece of money for the moving. But now, since it had cost so much, I thought I ought to send 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 carving of a butterfly 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 except Frivolity? I held my peace. I have no liking for talk, and I put the monument away in my pantry. There it stood till my lodger came home. He is a student, and has ever so many books. He assured me that it stood for Immortality, and so the monument was placed on the grave.”
In the midst of this chatter Peer came to the station where he was to stop, that he, too, might become student, and have ever so many books.
ERR GABRIEL, the worthy man of learning, with whom Peer was to live as a boarding scholar, was himself at the railway station, waiting to meet him. Herr Gabriel was a lank, bony man, with great staring eyes that stuck out so very far, one was almost afraid that when he sneezed they would start 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 trod on Peer’s toes in their eagerness to see him close to. Two lamger boys besides were with them,—the older about fourteen years, fair-skinned, freckled, and very pimply.
“Young Madsen, Student in about three years, if he studies! Primus, the dean’s son.” That was the younger, who looked like a head of wheat. “Both are boarders, studying with me,” said Herr Gabriel. “Our little playthings,” he called his own boys.
“Trine, take the new-comer’s trunk on your wheelbarrow. The table is set for you at home.”
“Stuffed turkey!” said the two young gentlemen who were boarders.
“Stuffed turkey!” said the little playthings, and the first again fell over his own legs.
“C?sar, look after your feet!” exclaimed Herr Gabriel; and they went into the town and out of it. There stood a great half-tumbled-down timber-work house, with a jasmine covered summer-house. Here stood Madame Gabriel, with more small “playthings,” two little girls.
“The new pupil,” said Herr Gabriel.
“Most heartily welcome!” said Madame Gabriel, a youthful, thrifty dame, red and white, with kiss-me-if-you-dare curls, and a good deal of pomade on her hair.
“Good heavens, what a well-grown lad you are!” said she to Peer. “You are quite a gentleman already. I supposed that you were like Primus or young Madsen. Angel Gabriel, it was well that the inner door is nailed. You know what I think.”
“Fudge!” said Herr Gabriel; and they stepped into the room. There was a novel on the table, lying open, and a sandwich on it. One could see that it was used for a book mark—it lay across the open page.
“Now I must be the housewife!” and with all five of the children, and the two boarders, she carried Peer through the kitchen, out by the passage-way, and into a little room, the windows of which looked out on the garden; that was to be his study and sleeping apartment; it was next to Madame Gabriel’s room, where she slept with all the five children, and where the connecting-door, for decency’s sake, and to prevent gossip which spares nobody, had been that very day nailed up by Herr Gabriel, at Madame’s express request.
“Here you are, to live just as if you were at your parents’. We have a theatre, too, in the town. The apothecary is the director of a private company, and we have traveling players. But now you shall have your turkey;” and so she carried Peer into the dining-room, where the week’s wash was drying on a line.
“That doesn’t do any harm,” said she. “It is only cleanliness, and you are accustomed, of course, to that.”
So Peer sat down to the roast turkey, in the midst of the children, but not with the two boarders, who had squeezed themselves in behind, and were now giving a dramatic representation for the entertainment of themselves and the stranger. There had lately been strolling players in town, who had acted Schiller’s “Robbers;” the two oldest boys had been immensely taken with it, and at once performed the whole piece at home—all the parts, notwithstanding they only remembered these words “Dreams come from the stomach.” But they were made use of by all the characters in different tones of voice. There stood Amelia, with heavenly eyes and dreamy looki: “Dreams come from the stomach!” said she, and covered her face with both her hands. Carl Moor came forward with heroic stride and manly voice: “Dreams come from the stomach,” and at that the whole flock of children, boys and girls, tumbled in; they were all robbers, and murdered one another, crying out, “Dreams come from the stomach.”
That was Schiller’s “Robbers.” Peer had this representation and stuffed turkey for his first introduction into Herr Gabriel’s house. Then he betook himself to his little chamber, whose window, into which the sun shone warmly, gave upon the garden. He sat there and looked out. Herr Gabriel was walking there, absorbed in reading a book. He came nearer, and looked in; his eyes seemed fixed upon Peer, who bowed respectfully. Herr Gabriel opened his mouth as wide as he could, thrust his tongue out, and let it wag from one side to the other right in the face of the astonished Peer, who could not understand what in the world he meant by this performance. Then off went Herr Gabriel, but turned back again before the window, and thrust his tongue out of his mouth.
What did he do that for? He was not thinking of Peer, or that the panes of glass were transparent ; he only saw that one on the outside was reflected in them, and he wanted to see his tongue, as he had a stomach-ache; but Peer did not know all this.
Later in the evening Herr Gabriel went into his room, and Peer sat in his. It was quite late. He heard scolding—a woman’s voice scolding in Madame Gabriel’s sleeping chamber.
“I shall go up to Gabriel, and tell him what rascals you are!”
“We should also go to Gabriel and tell him what Madame is.”
“I shall go into fits!” she cried out.
“Who’ll see a woman in a fit! four skillings!”
Then Madame’s voice sank deeper, but distinctly said: “What must the young gentleman in there think of our house at hearing all this plain talk.” At that the scolding grew less, but then again rose louder and louder.
“Finis,” cried Madame. “Go and make the punch; better peace than strife.”
And then it was still. They went out of the door; the girls and Madame knocked on the door to Peer:—
“Young man! now you have some notion what it is to be a housewife. Thank Heaven, you don’t keep girls. I want peace, and 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 entry after ten o’clock; my Gabriel will not allow it. But you shall have your punch, nevertheless. There is a great hole stopped up in the door; I will push the stopper out, put the nose of the pitcher in, and do you hold your tumbler under, and so I’ll give you the punch. It is 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 Madame Gabriel’s room, peace and quiet in the whole house. Peer lay down, 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 dreamt that he took the amber heart, which he still constantly wore, laid it in a flower-pot, and it grew into a great tree, up through the loft and the roof; it bore thousands of hearts of silver and gold; the flower-pot broke in two, and it was no longer an amber heart—it had become mould, earth to earth—gone, gone forever! Then Peer awoke; he still had the amber heart, and it was warm, warm on his own warm heart.
ARLY in the morning the first study hours began at Herr Gabriel’s. They studied French. At breakfast the only ones present were the boarders, the children, and Madame. She drank here her second cup of coffee her first she always took in bed. “It is so wholesome, when one is liable to spasms.” She asked Peer what he had studied thus far.
“French,” he replied.
“It is a high cost language!” said she; “it is the diplomatic speech, and the one that is used by people of good blood. I did not study it in my childhood, but when one lives with a learned man one gets of his wisdom, quite as one gets his mother-milk. Thus I have all the necessary words. I am quite confident I should know how to compromise myself in whatever company I happened to be.”2
Madame had won a foreign word, a title, by her marriage with a learned man. She was baptized Mette after a rich aunt, whose heir she was to he. She got the name, but not the inheritance. Herr Gabriel rebaptized Mette into Meta, the Latin for measure. When she was named, all her clothes, woolen and linen, were marked with the letters M. G., Meta Gabriel ; but young Madsen had a boy’s wit, and read in the letters M. G. the character “very good” (Danish Meget godt3), and therefore he added in ink a great interrogation point, and put it on the tablecloth, the towels, and sheets.
“Don’t you like Madame?” asked Peer, when young Madsen made him privately acquainted with this piece of wit. “She is so kind, and Herr Gabriel is so learned.”
“She is a bundle of lies!” said young Madsen; “and Herr Gabriel is a scoundrel. If I were only a corporal, and he a recruit, ugh! how I would give him the flat of my sword!” And there was a blood-thirsty look about young Madsen; his lips grew smaller than their wont, and his whole face seemed one great freckle.
These were dreadful words to hear spoken, and they gave Peer a shock; yet young Madsen had the clearest right to them in his mind. It was a cruel thing on the part of parents and tutor that a fellow should waste his best, most delightful youth in learning grammar, names, and dates which nobody cares anything for, instead of enjoying his liberty and spending his time going about with a gun over his shoulder, like a good shot. “No, one has no business to be shut up and sit on a bench till he falls asleep over a book; Herr Gabriel wants that, and so one gets called lazy and has the character ‘passable,’4 yes, one’s parents get letters about it; so I say Herr Gabriel is a scoundrel.”
“He grips your hand too,” added little Primus, who seemed to agree with young Madsen. It was not at all pleasant for Peer to hear them. But Peer got no “hand grips;” he was too grown up, as Madsen had said. He was not called lazy either, for that he was not; he was to have his hours 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 Madame.
“We must have him in our dramatic society,” said the apothecary, who lived more for the town’s private theatre than for his apothecary shop. Malicious people applied the old stale witticism, that he had certainly been bitten by a mad player, for he was clean gone mad for the theatre.
“The young scholar is born for a lover,” said the apothecary. “In a couple of years he could be Romeo; and I believe that if he were well painted, and had a little moustache, he could go on the stage very well this winter.”
The Apothecary’s daughter—“great dramatic talent,” said the father; “true beauty,” said the mother—was to be Juliet; Madame Gabriel must be the nurse, and the Apothecary, who was both director and stage-manager, would take the role of the apothecary—a slight one, but one of great importance. The whole depended on Herr Gabriel’s permission for Peer to act Romeo. It was plain that it was best to work through Madame Gabriel, and the Apothecary understood that he must first win her over.
“You are born to be nurse,” said he, and thought that he was flattering her exceedingly. “That is assuredly the most complete role in the piece,” he continued. “it is the humorous role; without it the piece could not be tolerated for its melancholy. No one but you, Madame Gabriel, has the quickness and life that should bubble tip here.”
All very true, she agreed, but her husband would surely never permit his young pupil to contribute those crumbs of time which would have to be given in learning the part of Romeo. She promised, however, to “pump” him, as she called it. The Apothecary began at once to study his part, and especially to think about his make-up. He wished to be a squint-eyed, poor, miserable fellow, and yet a clever man—rather a difficult problem; but Madame Gabriel had a much harder one in “pumping” her husband to the required point. 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 most intense longing to act. “But it will not do,” said he.
“It’s coming,” said Madame; “only let me keep on pumping.” She would have given punch, but Herr Gabriel did not drink it with any pleasure. Married people are sometimes different. We say this without any offence to Madame.
“One glass and no more,” she said to herself. “It elevates the soul and makes one happy, and thus it behooves us to be—it is our Lord’s will with us.”
Peer was to be Romeo. That was pumped through by Madame. The rehearsals were held at the Apothecary’s. They had chocolate and “ geniuses,” that is to say, small biscuits. They were sold at the bake-shop, twelve for a skilling,5 and they were so exceedingly small, and so many, that it was thought a witticism to call them geniuses.
“It is an easy thing to make fun of one,” said Herr Gabriel, and so he himself gave nicknames to one thing and another. The Apothecary’s house he called “Noah’s Ark with its clean and unclean beasts,” and that was only because of the affection which was shown by the family toward the two and four-footed pets in the house. The young lady had her own cat, Graciosa—a pretty, soft-skinned creature, that lay in the window, in her lap, on her work, or ran over the table spread for dinner. The mistress 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 the chamber; they were not perfumery bottles by any means, and they lay on the sofa and on the matrimonial bed.
The rehearsal began, and was only interrupted a moment by the dogs slobbering over Madame 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 would insist on giving its paw to Juliet, sit on her head and beat its tail. Juliet’s tender speeches were divided between the cat and Romeo. Every word that Peer had to say was exactly what he wished to say to the Apothecary’s daughter. How lovely and charming she was, a child of Nature, who, as Madame Gabriel expressed it, went right by the side of her part. Peer grew quite warm about it.
There surely was instinct or something even higher with the cat. It perched on Peer’s shoulders and symbolized the sympathy between Romeo and Juliet; with each successive rehearsal Peer’s ardor grew more manifest and stronger, the cat more confidential, the parrot and the canary-birds more noisy; Flick and Flock ran in and out. The evening of the representation came, and Peer was Romeo himself—he kissed Juliet right on her mouth.
“Quite like nature!” said Madame Gabriel.
“Disgraceful!” said the Councillor, Herr Svendsen, the richest citizen and fattest man in the town. The perspiration ran down him, the house was so warm and he himself was so heated. Peer found no favor in his eyes. “Such a puppy!” said he ; “a puppy so long too that one could crack him in halves and make two puppies of him.”
Great applause—and one enemy! He got off well. Indeed 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 chamber. it was past midnight; Madame Gabriel knocked on the wall.
“Romeo! here’s punch!”
And the spout was put through the door. and Peer Romeo held his glass under.
“Good-night, Madame Gabriel.”
But Peer could not sleep. All that he had said. and especially what Juliet had said, buzzed in his head, and when at length he fell asleep, he dreamt of a wedding—a wedding with Miss Frandsen! What singular things one can dream!
NOW get that comedy out of your head!” said Herr Gabriel the next morning, “and let us squeeze in some science.”
Peer had come near to thinking like young Madsen: “that one was giving up his fresh youth when he was shut up and set down with a book in his hand;” but when he sat at his book there shone from it so many noble and good thoughts that Peer found himself quite absorbed in it. He heard 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 when a young man held horses at the door of the theatre, where afterward he was the mightiest man in poetic art of all countries and all time. He heard of the singing contest at Wartburg, where the poets vied 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 had in his old age written one of his best tragedies and won the prize of victory over all the others. In this honor and fortune his heart broke with joy. Ah! how blessed to die in the midst of his joy of victory! What Could be more fortunate! Thoughts and dreamings filled the soul of our little friend, but he had no one to whom he could tell them. They would not be intelligible to young Madsen or to Primus, nor to Madame Gabriel either: she was either all good humor, or the sorrowing mother, sitting dissolved in tears. Her two small girls looked with astonishment at her, nor could Peer either discover why she was so overwhelmed with sorrow and grief.
“The poor children” said she then, “a mother is ever thinking of their future. The boys can take care of themselves. C?sar falls, but he gets up again; the two older ones splash in the water-bowl; they want to be in the navy and make good matches. But my two little girls! what will their future be? They will reach the age when the heart feels, and then know I w’ell that the one they each get attached to will not be at all after Gabriel’s mind; he will give them one they cannot endure, and then will they be so unhappy. That is what I think of as a mother, and that is my sorrow and my grief. You poor children! you to become so unhappy!” She wept.
The little girls looked at her; Peer looked at her with a sympathetic look. He could not think of anything to answer, and so he took himself back to his little room, sat down at the old piano, and forth came tones and fantasies which streamed through his heart.
In the early morning he went with a clear brain to his studies and performed the part assigned to him. He was a conscientious, right-minded fellew; in his diary he recorded what each day he had read and studied, how late he had sat up playing at the piano—always mutely, so as not to waken Madame Gabriel. It never read in his diary, except on Sunday, the day of rest: “Thought of Juliet,” “Was at the Apothecary’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. You will be reject.”
“Scoundrel!” said young Madsen to himself; Primus, the dean’s son, suffered from lethargy. “It is a disease,” said the dean’s wife, and he was not to be treated with severity. The deanery was only two miles distant; wealth and fine society were there.
“He will die a bishop!” said Madame Gabriel. “ He has good conjugations at the court, and the deaness is a lady of noble birth. She knows all about Haaltry—that means coats-of-arms.”
It was Whitsuntide. A year had gone by since Peer came to Herr Gabriel’s house. He had acquired an education, but his voice had not returned; would it ever come?
The Gabriel household was invited to the Dean’s to a great dinner and a ball in the evening. A good many guests came from the town and from the manor-houses about. The apothecary’s family were invited; Romeo would see Juliet, perhaps dance the first dance with her.
It was a substantial place, the deanery,—whitewashed and without any manure-heaps in the yard; with a dove-cote painted green, about which twined an ivy vine. The Deaness was a corpulent woman—glaukopis athene. Herr Gabriel called her the blue-eyed, not the ox-eyed, as Juno was called, thought Peer. There was a certain remarkable mildness about her, an endeavor to have an invalid took ; she certainly had Primus’s sickness. She was dressed in a corn-colored silk, wore great curls, caught up on the right by a large medallion portrait of her great-grandmother, a general’s wife, and on the left by an equally large bunch of grapes of white porcelain.
The Dean had a ruddy, well-conditioned countenance, with shining white teeth, well suited to biting into a roast fillet. His conversation was always garnished with anecdotes. He could discourse with everybody, but no one had ever succeeded in carrying on a conversation with him.
The councillor, too, was here, and among the strangers from the manors was Felix, the merchant’s son; he had been confirmed, and was now a young gentleman very elegant in clothes and manners; he was a millionaire, they said. Madame Gabriel had not courage to speak to him.
Peer was overjoyed at seeing Felix, who came forward most cordially to meet him, and said that he brought greetings from his parents, who read all the letters which Peer wrote home to his mother and grandmother.
The dancing began. The Apothecary’s daughter was to dance the first dance with the councillor; that was the promise she had made at home to her mother and the councillor himself. The second dance was promised to Peer; but Felix came and took her out, only vouchsafing a good-natured nod.
“You promised that I should have one dance; the young lady will only give permission when you promise.”
Peer kept a civil face and said nothing, and Felix danced with the Apothecary’s daughter, the most beautiful girl at the ball. He danced the next dance also with her.
“Will you 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. “It is not friendly. We two old friends from the town! You say that you are so very glad to see me. Then you must allow me the pleasure of taking the lady to supper!” and he put his arm round Peer and laid his forehead jestingly against his. “Granted! isn’t it? granted!”
“No!” said Peer, his eyes sparkling with anger.
Felix gayly raised his arms and set his elbows akimbo, looking like a frog ready to spring:—
“You have perfect right, young gentleman! 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 not long after, when Peer stood in a corner and arranged his neck-tie, Felix came, put his arm round his neck, and with the most coaxing look, said:—
“Be splendid! my mother and your mother and old grandmother—they will all say that it is just like you. I am off to-morrow, and I shall be horribly bored if I do not take the young lady to supper. My own friend! my only friend!”
At that Peer, as his only friend, could not hold out; he himself carried Felix to the young beauty.
It was bright morning when the guests the next day drove away from the Dean’s. The Gabriel household was in one carriage, and the whole family went to sleep except Peer and Madame.
She talked about the young merchant, the rich man’s son, who was really Peer’s friend she had heard him say: “Your health, my friend.” “Mother and grandmother.” There was something so “negligent” and gallant in him, she said; “one saw at once that he was the son of rich people, or else a count’s child. That the rest of us can’t claim. One must be able to bow!”
Peer said nothing. He was depressed all day. In the evening, at bed-time, when lying in bed sleep was chased away, and he said to himself: “How they bow and smirk!” That had he done, the rich young fellow; “because one is born poor, he is placed under the favor and condescension of these richly-horn people. Are you then better than we? And why were you created better than we?”
There was something vicious rearing up in him ; something wrong; something which his grandmother would be grieved at. “Poor grandmother! Thou also hast been appointed to poverty. God has known how to do that!” and he felt anger in his heart, and yet at the same time an apprehension that he was sinning in thought and word against the good God. He grieved to think he had lost his child’s mind, and yet he possessed it just by this grief, whole and rich in nature. Happy Peer!
A week after there came a letter from grandmother. She wrote, as she could, great letters and small letters mixed up, all her heart’s love in things small and great that concerned Peer:—
“MY OWN SWEET, BLESSED BOY:—I think of thee, I long for thee, and that too does thy mother. She gets along very well with her washing. And the merchant’s Felix was in to see us yesterday, with a greeting from thee. You had been at the Dean’s ball, and thou wert so honorable; that wilt thou always be, and rejoice the heart of thy old grandmother and thy hard-working mother. She has something to tell you about Miss Frandsen.”
And then followed a postscript from Peer’s mother.
“Miss Frandsen is married, the old thing. The bookbinder Court is become court bookbinder, in accordance with his petition, with a great sign, ‘Court Bookbinder Court!’ And she has become Madame Court. it is an old love that does not rust, my sweet boy.
“Second Postscript. Grandmother has knit you six pair of woollen socks, which you will get by the first opportunity. I have laid with them a pork-pie, your favorite dish. I know that you never get it at Herr Gabriel’s, since the lady is so afraid of what—I don’t know exactly how to spell ‘trichines.’ You must not believe that, but only eat.
“THY OWN MOTHER.”
Peer read the letter and read himself happy. Felix was so good; what wrong had he done him! They had separated at the Dean’s without saying good-bye to each other.
“Felix is better than I,” said Peer.
N a quite life one day glides 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—Madame called it obstinacy— insisted that he should not again go on the stage.
Peer himself received from the singing-master, who monthly paid the stipend for his instruction and support, a serious admonition not to think of comedy-playing so long as he was placed there; and he obeyed, but his thoughts traveled often to the theatre at the capital. They had but a fancied life there, on the stage where he was to have stood as a great singer; now his voice was gone, nor did it come back, and often was he sorely oppressed thereat. Who could comfort him? neither Herr Gabriel nor Madame; 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 charming green forest, where the sun shone in through the boughs, and where all the ground beneath the trees was covered with anemones and cow-slips. Then the cuckoo began—“Cuckoo!” How many years shall I live? asked Peer, for that people always ask the cuckoo the first time in the year that they hear its note, and the cuckoo answered: “Cuckoo!” but uttered no more and was silent.
“Shall I only live a single year?” asked Peer; “truly that is too little, Be so good as to cuckoo if it is so!” Then began the bird—“Cuckoo! cuckoo!” Aye! it went on without end, and as it went Peer cuckooed with it, and that as lively as if he too were a cuckoo; but his note was stronger and clearer; all the little birds warbled, and Peer sang after them, but far more beautifully; he had all the clear voice of his childhood, and carolled in song. He was so glad at heart, anti then he awoke, but with the assurance that the sounding-board still was 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 days and weeks and months passed; he perceived not that his voice came again.
Every bit of intelligence which he could get of the theatre at the capital was a true feast for his soul; it was meat and drink to him. Crumbs are really bread, and he received crumbs thankfully—the poorest little story. There was a flax-dealer’s family living near the Gabriels. The mother, an estimable mistress of her household, brisk and laughing, but without any acquaintance or knowledge of the theatre, had been at the capital for the first time, and was enraptured with everything there, even with the people; they had laughed at everything she had said, she assured them—and that was very likely.
“Were you at the theatre also?” asked Peer.
“That I was,” replied the flax-dealer’s wife. “How I steamed! You ought to have seen me sit and steam in that hot place!”
“But what did they do? What piece did they play?”
“That will I tell you,” said she. “I shall give you the whole comedy. I was there twice. The first evening it was a talking piece. Out came she, the princess: ‘Ahbe, dahbe! abe, dabe!’ how she could talk. Next came the people: ‘Abbe, dahbe! abe, dabe!’ and then down came Madame. Now they began again. The prince, he: ‘Ahbe, dahbe! abe, dabe!’ then down came Madame. She fell down five times that evening. The second time I was there, it was all singing ‘Ahbe, dahbe! abe, dabe!‘ and then down came Madame. There was a country-woman sitting by my side; she bad never been in the theatre, and supposed that it was all over; but I, who now knew all about it, said that when I was there last, Madame was down five times. The singing evening she only did it three times. There I there you have both the comedies, as true to life as I saw them.”
If it was tragedy she saw, Madame always came down. Then it flashed over Peer’s mind what she meant. At the great theatre there was painted upon the curtain which fell between the acts a great female figure, a Muse with the comic and the tragic mask. This was Madame who “came” down. That had been the real comedy; what they said and sang had been to the flax-dealer’s wife only “Ahbe, dahbe! abe, dabe!” but it bad been a great pleasure, and so had it been also to Peer, and not less to Madame Gabriel, who heard this recital of the pieces. She sat with an expression of astonishment and a consciousness of mental superiority, for had she not, as Nurse, been Shakspeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” as the Apothecary said?
“Then down comes Madame,” explained by Peer, became afterward a witty by-word in the house every time a child, a cup, or one or another piece of furniture fell upon the floor in the house.
“That is the way proverbs and familiar sayings arise!” said Herr Gabriel, who appropriated everything to scientific use.
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 makes one’s stomach ache. They drank a health to the new year, and counted the strokes of the clock, “one, two,” till the twelfth stroke. “Down comes Madame!” said they.
The new year rolled up and on. At Whitsuntide Peer had been two years in the house.
WO years were gone, but the voice had not come back. How would the future be for our little friend?
He could always be a tutor in a school—that was in Herr Gabriel’s mind—there was a livelihood in that, though nothing to be married on; nor was Peer’s mind quite made up as to how large a share of his heart the apothecary’s daughter had.
“Be a tutor!” said Madame Gabriel; “a schoolmaster! then be the veriest humdrum on earth, just like my Gabriel. No, you are born for the theatre. Be the greatest actor in the world that is something else than being a tutor.”
An actor! ay, that was the goal.
He gave vent to his feelings in a letter to the singing-master; he told of his longing and his hope. Most earnestly did he long for the great city where his mother and grandmother lived, whom he had not seen for two years. The distance was only thirty miles;1 in six hours, by the quick train, that could be passed. Why had they not seen one another? That is easily explained. Peer had, on leaving, been made to give his promise to stay where he should he placed, and not to think of a visit. His mother was busy enough with her washing and ironing. Yet, for all that, she thought a good many times of making the great journey, though it would cost a deal of money, but she never did. Grandmother had a horror of railways; she thought to go by them was to fly in the face of Providence. Nothing could induce her to travel by steam; she was, too, an old woman, and she would take no journey until she took her last one up to our Lord.
That she said in May, but in June the old thing did travel, and quite alone, too, the thirty long miles, to the strange town, to strange people, and all to go to Peer. It was a great occasion, the most sorrowful one that could occur to mother and grandmother.
The cuckoo had said “cuckoo!” without end when Peer the second time asked it, “How many years shall I live?” His health and spirits were good: the future shone brightly. 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 pursue if his voice was really gone.
“Appear as Romeo!” said Madame Gabriel; “you are old enough now for the lover’s part, and have got some color in your cheeks; you don’t need to paint.”
“Be Romeo!” said the Apothecary and the Apothecary’s daughter.
Many thoughts went sounding through his head and heart. But
“Nobody knows what to-morrow shall be.”
He sat down below in the garden that stretched out to the meadow. It was evening and moonlight. His cheeks burned, his blood was on fire, the air brought a grateful coolness. There over the moor a mist hung that rose and sank and made him think of the dance of the Elfin maidens. There came into his mind the old saving of the Knight Olaf, who rode out to ask the guests to nis wedding, but was stopped by the Elfin maidens, who drew him into their dance and sport, and thereby came his death. It was a piece of folk lore, an old poem. The moonlight and the mist over the moor painted pictures for it this evening.
Peer sat and soon was in a half dreaming state, looking out upon it all. The bushes seemed to have shapes of human sort and half of beastly form. They stood motionless, while the mist rose like a great waving veil. Something like this had Peer seen in a ballet at the theatre, when Elfin maidens were represented, whirling and waving with veils of gauze; but here it was far more charming and more wonderful. So great a scene as this no theatre could show; none had so clear an air, so shining a moonlight.
Just in front, in the mist, appeared most distinctly a female shape, and it became three, and the three many; they danced hand in hand, floating girls. The air bore them along to the hedge where Peer stood. They nodded to him; they spake; it was like the cling! clang! of silver bells. They danced into the garden and about him; they enclosed him in their circle. Without thought he danced with them, but not their dance. He whirled about, as in the memorable vampire dance, but he thought not of that, he thought not at all of aught more, but was enveloped in the wondrous beauty he saw around 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 bore him upon their veil to the opposite shore, where the giant mound has thrown aside its grassy sward and rose into a castle of clouds, but the clouds were of marble; flowering vines of gold and costly stones twined about the mighty blocks of marble; each flower was a radiant bud that sang with human voice. It was like a choir of thousands and thousands of happy children. Was it heaven, or was it the Elfin hill?
The castle walls stirred—they moved toward each other—they closed about him. He was within them and the world of men was without. Then felt he a pain, a strange yearning, as never before. No outlet could he find, but from the floor away up to the roof there smiled upon him sweet young girls; they were so loving as he looked upon them, and yet the thought came—are ye but paintings? He would speak with them, but his tongue found no words; his speech was gone; not a sound came from his lips. Then he threw himself upon the earth, with a misery he never before had known.
One of the Elfin maidens came to him; surely she meant well to him in her manner; she had taken the shape he would most like to see; it was the likeness of the Apothecary’s daughter; he was almost ready to believe that it was she; but soon he saw that she was hollow in the back—a charming front view, but open behind and nothing at all inside.
“One hour here is a hundred years outside,” said she; “thou hast already been here a whole hour. All whom you know and love without these walls are dead. Stay with us! Yes, stay thou must, or the walls will hold thee in a vice till the blood spirts from thy fore head.”
And the walls trembled, and the air became like that of a glowing furnace. He found his voice.
“Lord, Lord, hast Thou 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!” said she, “our Lord doth not let thee go; He lets none of us go, not the greatest sinner. To God be praise and honor for evermore!”
And she took out her psalmbook, the same one from which she and Peer many a Sunday had sung. How her voice rang! how full her tones! all the Elfin maidens laid their heads down to the rest they longed for. Peer sang with Grandmother, as before he had sung each Sunday; how strong and mighty all at once was his voice! the walls of the castle trembled; they became clouds and mist; Grandmother went with him out of the hill into the high grass, where the glow-worms made light and the moon shone. But his feet were so weary he could not move them; he sank down on the sward; it was the softest bed; there he rested 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; life and reason had returned. But he had been at the door of death. Down in the garden, that evening they had found him in a swoon; a violent fever followed. The doctor thought that he would not get up from it again, but must die, and so they had written thus to his mother. She and Grandmother felt that they must go to him; both could not leave, and so the old grandmother went, and went by the railway.
“It was for Peer only that I did it,” said she. “I did it in God’s name, or I must believe that I flew with the Evil One on a broomstick on Midsummer Eve.”
HE journey home was made with glad and light heart. Devoutly did grandmother thank our Lord that Peer was yet to outlive her. She had delightful neighbors in the railway carriage—the apothecary and his daughter. They talked about Peer: they loved him as if they belonged to his family. He was to become a great actor, said the apothecary; 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 so they came to the station at 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 excellent people;” and she pressed the hands of the apothecary and his daughter. “The railway is a blessed discovery when one is through with it. One is in God’s hands.”
Then she talked of her sweet boy, who was out of all danger and housed with people who were very well off and kept two girls and a man. Peer was like a son in the house, and on the same footing with two children of distinguished families: one of them was a Dean’s son. The grandmother had lodged at the post-inn; it was dreadfully dear! but then she had been invited to Madam Gabriel’s; there she had stayed five days; they were angelic people, especially the mistress; she had urged her to drink punch, excellently made, but rather strong.
In about a month would Peer, by God’s help, be strong enough to come home to the capital.
“He has been flattered and has become very fine,” said the mother. “He will not feel at home here in the garret. I am very glad that the singing-master has invited him to stay with him. And yet,” so mourned she, “it is horribly sad that one should be so poor that one’s own bairn should not find it good enough for him in his own home.”
“Don’t say those words to Peer,” said grandmother; “you don’t see into him as I do.”
“But he must have meat and drink, any way, no matter how fine he has grown; and he shall not want those so long as my hands can joggle in the wash-tub. Madam Court has told me that he can dine twice a week with her, now that she is well off. She knows what prosperity is, and what rough times are, too. Has she not herself told me that one evening, in the box at the theatre where the old danseuses have a place, she felt sick? The whole day long she had only had water and a caraway seed cake, and she was sick from hunger, and very faint. ‘Water! water!’ cried the other. ‘No! some tarts!’ she begged; ‘tarts!’ She needed something nourishing, and had not the least need of water. Now she has her own pantries and a well-spread table.”
Thirty miles away Peer still sat, but happy in the thought that he would soon be in the city, at the theatre, with all his old, dear friends, whom now he rightly knew how to value. Within him there was music: without there was music too. All was sunshine—the glad time of youth, the time of hope and anticipation. Every day he grew stronger, got good spirits and color. But Madam Gabriel was much depressed as his time for departure drew near.
“You are going into great society, and into the midst of many temptations, for you are handsome—that you have become in our house. You have naivete, just as I have, and that will get you into temptation. One must not be fastidious, and he must not be mangy; fastidious like the Queen Dagmar, who on Sunday tied her silk sleeves and then had her mind made up about such little things. More than that, I would never have taken on so as I Lucretia did. What did she stick herself for? She was pure and honest; everybody in the town knew that. What could she do about the misfortune which I won’t talk about, but that you at your time of life understand perfectly well? So she gives a shriek and takes the dagger There was no use in that. I would not have done it nor you either; for we are both people of nature, and that people will be to the end of time, and that will you continue to be in your art career. How happy I shall be to read about you in the papers! Some time you will come to our little town and appear perhaps as Romeo, but I shall not be the nurse then. If shall sit in the parquet and enjoy myself.”
Madam had a great washing and ironing done the week he went away, that Peer might go home with a whole, clean wardrobe, as when he came. She drew a new, strong ribbon through his amber heart; that was the only thing she wanted for a “remembrance souvenir,” but she did not get it.
From Herr Gabriel he received a French lexicon, enriched with marginal notes by Herr Gabriel’s own hand. Madam Gabriel gave him roses and ribbon-grass. The roses would wither, but the grass would keep all winter if it did not get into the water but was kept in a dry place, and she wrote a quotation from Goethe as a kind of album-leaf: “Umgang mit Frauen ist das Element guter Sitten.” She gave it in translation : “Intercourse with women is the foundation of good manners. Goethe.”
“He was a great man!” said she, “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 which he had made of Herr Gabriel hanging from the gallows, with a ferule 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 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:—“Remember a sorrowing friend. Primus.”
All of Herr Gabriel’s household accompanied Peer to the train.
“They shall not say that you went off sans adieu!” said Madam, and she kissed him in the railway station.
“I am not concerned,” said she; “when one does not do a thing secretly, one can do anything!”
The signal-whistle let off steam; young Madsen and Primus shouted hurra! the “small playthings” joined in with them; Madam dried her eyes and wiped them 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 which 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 within for gladness; it was a great restraint for him to keep from singing aloud in the cars.
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 one other along with them, Madam Court, well bound, Court bookbinder Court’s lady, born Frandsen. Neither in want nor in prosperity did she forget her friends. She must needs kiss him as his mother and grandmother had done.
“Court could not come with me,” said she; “he is hard at work binding a lot of books for the King’s private library. You had your good luck, and I have mine. I have my Court and my own chimney corner, with a rocking-chair. Twice a week you are to dine with us. You shall see my life at home; it is a complete ballet!”
Mother and grandmother hardly got a chance to talk to Peer, but they looked on him with eves that shone with delight. Then he had to take a cab to drive to his new home at the singing-master’s. They laughed and they cried.
“He is still so charming!” said grandmother.
“He has his own good face just as when he went away!” said mother; “and he will keep that when he is in the theatre.”
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 chamber, where all about on the walls were portraits of composers, and on the stove a white plaster bust stood gleaming. The old man, a little dull, but trustworthiness itself, showed him the drawers in the bureau, and hooks for him to hang his clothes from, and said he was very willing to clean his boots when the singing-master came in and gave Peer a hearty shake of the hand in welcome.
“Here is every convenience!” said he; “make yourself quite at home you can use my piano in the room. To-morrow we will hear how your voice gets on. This is our warden of the castle, our director of household affairs,” 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 dreadfully grimy. But it is not Weber at all that is put up there, it is Mozart. How comes he there?”
“It is the old Weber,” said the servant; “I took him myself to the plaster-man, and he has sent him home this morning.”
“But this is a bust of Mozart, and not a bust of Weber.”
“Pardon, sir,” said the servant; “it is the old Weber, who has become clean. The master does not recognize him again now that he has been whitened.”
He could learn how it was of the plaster-man, and then he got the answer that Weber had been broken in pieces, and so he had sent him Mozart instead, it was all the same thing on the stove.
The first day Peer was not to sing nor play, but when our young friend came into the parlor, where the piano stood, and the opera of Joseph lay open upon it, he sang “My Fourteenth Spring,” and sang with a voice that was clear as a bell. There was something so charming about it, so innocent, and yet so strong and full. The singing-master’s eyes were wet with tears.
“So shall it be, and better still!” exclaimed he. “Now we will shut the piano for the day; you will want to rest.”
“But I must go this evening to my mother and grandmother, for I have promised it;” 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 sat up there in the garret, a good many steps up, but he flew up three stairs at a time, and was at their door and received with kisses and embraces.
It was clean and tidy there in the little chamber. There stood the stove, the old bear, and the chest of drawers with the hidden treasure which he knew when he rode his hobbyhorse; on the walls hung the three familiar pictures the King’s portrait, a picture of Our Lord, and father’s silhouette, cut out in black paper. It was a good side view, said mother, but it would have been more like him if the paper had been white and red, for that he was an excellent man! and Peer was the very picture of him.
There was much to talk about, much to tell. They were to have a head-cheese, and Madam Court had promised to look in upon them in the evening.
“But how is it that those two old people, Court and Miss Frandsen, ever should have got married?” asked Peer.
“It has been in their thoughts these many years,” said mother. “You know he was married. Well, he did it, they say, to pique Miss Frandsen, who looked down on him when she was in her high and mighty state. He got a comfortable property with his wife, but she was dreadfully old; lively, and on crutches! She could not die; he waited for it. It would not have surprised me, if, like the man in the story, he had every Sunday put the old thing out in the open air, so that our Lord might see her and remember to send for her.”
“Miss Frandsen sat still and waited,” said grandmother. “I never believed she would get it. But last year Madam Court died, and so Frandsen came to be mistress in the house.”
At that moment in came Madam Court.
“We were talking about you,” said grandmother; “we were talking about your patience and reward.”
“Yes,” said Madam Court. “It did not come in my youth, but one is always young so long as one hasn’t a broken body, says my Court. He is a witty fellow. We are old, good works, he says, both in one volume, and that with gilt top. I am so happy with my Court and my chimney-corner. A porcelain stove! there the fire is made in the evening, and it keeps warm all the next day. It is such a luxury. It is as in the ballet of Circe’s Island. Do you remember me as Circe?”
“Yes, you were charming!” said grandmother. “But how people do change!” That was not at all said impolitely, and was not so taken. Then came the head-cheese and the tea.
The next morning Peer paid his visit at the merchant’s. The lady met him, pressed his hand, and bade him take a seat by her. In conversation with her 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,” said she. “It is not worth talking about.”
The merchant was nearly angry when Peer touched on this. “You are on the wrong track altogether,” said he, and abruptly closed the conversation. Felix was a student and was to go into diplomatic life.
“My husband calls it all folly,” said the lady. “I have no opinion. Providence disposes 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 his thanks.
“Who told you that he was what you call him, your benefactor?” asked the singing-master.
“Mother and grandmother,” answered Peer.
“Oh, then it must be so.”
“You know about it?” said Peer.
“I know; but you will get nothing out of me. Now come, let us sing an hour here at home, this morning.”
NCE a week there was quartette music. Ears, soul, and thought were filled with the grand musical poems of Beethoven and Mozart. For a long time Peer had heard no good and well-given music. It was as if a kiss of fire darted down his spine and shot through all his nerves. His eyes filled with tears. Every music-evening here at home was a feast to him that made a deeper impression upon him than any opera at the theatre, where there is always something that destroys pleasure or brings faults too strongly forward. The first thing one knows the words do not come out right; they are so smoothed down in the singing that they are as intelligible to a Chinaman as to a Greenlander; then the effect is weakened by faults in the dramatic expression, and by a full voice sinking down in single places to the power of a music-box, or is drawled out in false tones. Lack of truthfulness also in decoration and costume is to be observed. All this was absent from the quartette. The music poems rose in all their grandeur, costly hangings decorated the walls in the concert-room, and he was in the world of music, listening to the masters in their fascination.
In the great public music-hall was given one evening, by a well-trained orchestra, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony; especially the andante movement, “the scene by the brook,” stirred and excited our young friend with strange power. It carried him into the living, fresh woods; the lark and the nightingale warbled; there the cuckoo sang. What beauty of Nature, what a well-spring of refreshment was there! From this hour he knew within himself that it was the picturesque music, in which Nature was reflected, and the emotions of men’s hearts were set forth, that struck deepest into his soul: Beethoven and Haydn became his favorite composers.
With the singing-master he talked frequently of this, and at every conversation they two came nearer each other. flow rich in knowledge this man was, as inexhaustible as Mimer’s2 well. Peer listened to him, and just as when he was a little boy he heard eagerly grandmother’s wonder stories and tales, now he heard those of the world of music, and knew what the forest and the sea told, what sounds in the old giant mound, what every bird sings with its bill, and what the voiceless flowers breathe forth in fragrance.
The hour for singing every morning was a real hour of delight for master and pupil every little song was sung with a freshness, an expression, and a simplicity: most charmingly did they give Schubert’s “Travel Song.” The melody was true, and the words also; they blended together, they exalted and illumined one another, as is fitting. Peer was undeniably a dramatic singer. Each month showed progress in ability; every week, yes, each day by day.
Our young friend grew in a wholesome, happy way, knowing no want or sorrow. His trust in mankind was never deceived; he had a child’s soul and a man’s endurance, and everywhere he was received with gentle eyes and a kind welcome. Day by day the relations between him and the singing-master grew more intimate and more confidential; the two were like elder and younger brothers, and the younger had all the fervor and warmth of a young heart; that the elder understood, and gave in turn in his own wise.
The singing-master’s character was marked by a southern ardor, and one saw at once that this man could hate vehemently or love passionately, and fortunately this last governed in him. He was, moreover, so placed by a fortune left him by his father, that he did not need to take any office which did not content him. He did secretly a great deal of good in a sensible way, but would not suffer people to thank him, or, indeed, to talk about it.
“Have I done anything,” said he, “it is because I could and ought to do it. it was my duty.”
His old serving-man, “our warden,” as he called him in jest, talked only with half a voice when he gave expression to his opinion about the master of the house. “I know what he gives away ‘between a year and a day,’ and I don’t know the half! The King ought to give him a star to wear on his breast. But he would not wear it; he would get mad as lightning, if I know him, should one notice him for his honesty. He is happy beyond the rest of us, in the faith which he has. He is just like a man out of the Bible.” And at that the old fellow gave an additional emphasis, as if Peer could have some doubt.
He felt and understood well that the singing-master was a true Christian in good earnest, an example for every one. Yet the man never went to church, and when Peer one day mentioned that next Sunday he was going with his mother and grandmother to our Lord’s table, and asked if the singing-master never did the same, the answer came, No. It seemed as if he would say something more, as if, indeed, he had some confidence to impart to Peer, but it was not said.
One evening he read aloud from the papers of the beneficence of two or three persons, who were mentioned, and that led him to speak of good deeds and their reward.
“When one does not think of it, it is sure to come. The reward for good deeds is like dates that are spoken of in the Talmud, they ripen late and then are sweet.”
“Talmud,” asked Peer, “what sort of a book is that?”
“A book,” was the answer, “from which more than one seed of thought has been implanted in Christianity.”
“Who wrote the book?”
“Wise men in the earliest time; wise in various nations and religions. Here is wisdom enclosed in such words as one finds in Solomon’s Proverbs. What kernels of truth I One reads here that men round about the whole earth, in all the centuries, have always been the same. ‘Thy friend has a friend, and thy friend’s friend has a friend; be discreet in what you say,’ is found here. It is a piece of wisdom for all times. ‘No one can jump over his own shadow!’ is here too, and, ‘Wear shoes when you walk over thorns!’ You ought to read this book. You will find in it the proof of culture more clearly than you will discover cultivation of the soil in layers of earth. For me, as a Jew, it is besides an inheritance from my fathers.”
“Jew,” said Peer, “are you a Jew?”
“Did you not know that? How strange that we two should not have spoken of it before to-day.”
Mother and grandmother knew nothing about it either; they had never thought anything about it, but always had known that the singing-master was an honorable, unexceptionable man. It was in the providence of God that Peer had come in his way; next to our Lord he owed him all his fortune. And now the mother let out a secret, which she had carried faithfully a few days only, and which, under the pledge of secrecy, had been told her by the merchants lady. The singing-master was never to know that it was out; it was he who had paid for Peer’s support and education at Herr Gabriel’s. From the evening when, at the merchant’s house, he heard Peer sing the ballet “Samson,” he alone had been his real friend and benefactor but in secret.
MADAM COURT expected Peer to visit her at her house, and he went there.
“Now you shall know my Court,” said she, “and you shall make the acquaintance of my chimney-corner. I never dreamed of this when I danced in ‘Circe’ and ‘The Rose Elf in Provence.’ Indeed, there are not many now who think of that ballet and of little Frandsen. ‘Sic transit gloria in the moon,’ as they say in Latin. My Court is a witty fellow, and uses that phrase wheB I talk about my time of honor. He likes to poke fun at me, but he does it with a good heart.”
The “chimney-corner” was an inviting low-studded room, with a carpet on the floor, and an endless lot of portraits for a book-binder to have. There was a picture of Gutenberg, and one of Franklin, of Shakspeare, Cervantes, Moliere, and the two blind poets, Homer and Ossian. Lowest down, hung, glazed and in a broad frame, one cut out in paper of a danseuse, with great spangles on a dress of gauze, the right leg lifted toward heaven, and written beneath a verse:—
“Who wins our hearts by her dancing?
Who of her wreath-trophies can sing,1
Mademoiselle Emilie Frandsen!”
It was written by Court, who wrote excellent verse, especially comic verse. He had himself clipped the picture out and pasted and sewed it before he got his first wife. It had lain many years in a drawer, now it flourished here in the poetic picture gallery; “my chimney-corner,” as Madam Court called her little room. Here were Peer and Court introduced to each other.
“Is he not a charming man?” said she to Peer. “To me he is just the most charming.”
“Ay, on a Sunday, when I am well bound in State clothes,” said Herr Court.
“You are charming without any binding,” said she, and then she tipped her head down as it came over her that she had spoken a little too childishly for one of her age.
“Old love does not rust,” said Herr Court. “An old house a-fire burns down to the ground.”
“It is as with the Ph?nix,” said Madam Court; “one rises up young again. Here is my Paradise. I do not care at all to seek any other place, except an hour at your mother and grandmother’s.”
“And at your sister’s,” said Herr Court.
“No, angel Court; it is no longer any Paradise there. I must tell you, Peer, they live in narrow circumstances, but there is a great mingle-mangle about them for all that. No one knows what he dare say there in that house. One dare not mention the word ‘darkey,’ for the eldest daughter is beloved by one who has negro blood in him. One dare not say ‘hunchback,’ for that one of the children is. One dare not talk about ‘defalcation,’—my brother-in-law has been in that unfortunate way. One dare not even say that he has been driving in the wood: wood is an ugly sound, for it is just the same as Woods, who fought with the youngest son. I don’t like to go out and sit and hold my tongue. I don’t dare talk, so I just come back to my own house and sit in my chimney-corner. Were it not too emphatic, as they say, I would gladly ask our Lord to let us live as long as my chimney-corner holds out, for there one grows better. Here is my Paradise, and this my Court has given me.”
“She has a gold mill in her mouth,” said he.
“And thou hast gold grain in thy heart,” said she.
“Grind, grind all the bag will hold,
Milly’s the grain, Milly’s pure gold,”
said he, as he chucked her under the chin.
“That verse was written right on the spot! It ought to be printed!”
“Yes, and handsomely bound!” said he.
So these two old folks rallied each other.
YEAR passed before Peer began to study a role at the theatre. He chose “Joseph,” but he changed it for “George Brown,” in the opera of “The White Lady.” The words and music he quickly made his own, and from Walter Scott’s romance, which had furnished the material for the opera, he obtained a clear, full picture of the young, spirited officer who visits his native hills and comes to his ancestral castle without knowing it; an old song wakens recollections of his childhood; fortune attends him, and he wins a castle and his wife.
What he read became as if something which he himself had lived—a chapter of his own life’s story. The music, rich in melodies, was entirely in keeping. There was meanwhile a long, very long time before the first rehearsals began. The singing-master did not mean that there should be any hurry about his appearance, and at length he too understood this. He was not merely a singer, he was an actor; and his whole being was thrown into his character. The chorus and the orchestra at the very first applauded him loudly, and the evening of the representation was looked forward to with the greatest expectation.
“One can be a great actor in a night-gown at home,” said a good-natured companion; “can be very great by daylight, but only so-so before the lights in a full house. That you will see for yourself.”
Peer had no anxiety, but a strong desire for the eventful evening. The singing-master, on the contrary, was quite feverish. Peer’s mother had not the courage to go to the theatre; she would be ill with anxiety for her dear boy. Grandmother was sick, and must stay at home, the doctor had said; but the trusty friend Madam Court promised to bring the news the very same evening how it all went off. She should and would be at the theatre, even if she were to be in the last extremity.
How long the evening was! How the three or four hours stretched into eternity! Grandmother sang a psalm, and prayed with mother to the good God for their little Peer, that he might this evening also be Lucky Peer. The hands of the clock moved slowly.
“Now Peer is beginning,” they said; “now he is in the middle; now he has passed it.”
The mother and grandmother looked at one another, but they said never a word. In the streets there was the rumbling of carriages; people were driving home from the theatre. The two women looked down from the window; the people who were passing talked in loud voices; they were from the theatre, they knew, bringing good news or sorrow up into the garret of the merchant’s house.
At last some one came up the stairs. Madam Court burst in, followed by her husband. She flung herself on the necks of the mother and grandmother, but said never a word. She cried and sobbed.
“Lord God!” said mother and grandmother. “How has it gone with Peer?”
“Let me weep!” said Madam Court, so overcome was she. “I cannot bear it. Ah! you dear good people, you cannot bear it either!” and her tears streamed down.
“Have they hissed him off?” cried the mother.
“No, no! not that!” said Madam Court. “They have—oh, that I should live to see it!”
Then both mother and grandmother fell to weeping.
“Be calm, Emilie,” said Herr Court. “Peer has been victorious! He has triumphed! The house came near tumbling down, they clapped him so. I can feel it still in my hands. It was one storm of applause from pit to gallery. The entire royal family clapped too. Really, it was what one may call a white day in the annals of the theatre. It was more than talent—it was genius!”
“Ay, genius,” said Madam Court, “that is my word. God bless you, Court, that you spoke that word out. You dear good people, never would I have believed that one could so sing and act in comedy, and yet I have lived through a theatre’s whole history.” She cried again; the mother and grandmother laughed, whilst tears still chased down their cheeks.
“Now sleep well on that,” said Herr Court; “and now come, Emilie. Good-night! good-night!”
They left the garret-chamber and two happy people there; but these were not long alone. The door opened, and Peer, who had not promised to come before the next forenoon, stood in the room. He knew well with what thoughts the old people had followed him; how ignorant, too, they still must be of his success, and so, as he was driving past with the singing-master, he stopped outside; there were still lights up in the chamber, and so he must needs go up to them.
“Splendid! glorious! superb! all went off well!” he exclaimed jubilantly, and kissed his mother and grandmother. The singing-master nodded with a bright face and pressed their hands.
“And now he must go home to rest,” said he, and the visit was over.
“Our Father in Heaven, how gracious and good Thou art,” said these two poor women. They talked long into the night about Peer. Round about in the great town people talked of him,—the young, handsome, wonderful singer. So far had Peer’s fame gone.
HE morning papers mentioned the debut with a great flourish of trumpets as something more than common, and the dramatic reviewer reserved till another number his privilege of expressing his opinion. The merchant invited Peer and the singing-master to a grand dinner. It was an attention intended as a testimony of the interest which he and his wife felt in the young man, who was born in the house, and in the same year and on the very same day as their own son.
The merchant proposed the health of the singing-master, the man who had found and polished this “precious stone,” a name by which one of the prominent papers had called Peer. Felix sat by his side and was the soul of gayety and affection. After dinner he brought out his own cigars; they were better than the merchant’s; “he can afford to get them,” said that gentleman; “he has a rich father.” Peer did not smoke,—a great fault, but one that could easily be mended.
“We must be friends,” said Felix. “You have become the lion of the town! all the young ladies, and the old ones too, for that matter, you have taken by storm. You are a lucky fellow all over. I envy you; especially that you can go in and out over there at the theatre, among all the little girls.”
That did not now seem to Peer anything so very worthy of envy.
He had a letter from Madam Gabriel. She was in transports over the extravagant accounts in the papers of his debut, and all that he was to become as an artist. She had drunk his health with her maids in a bowl of punch. Herr Gabriel also had a share in his honor, and was quite sure that he, beyond most others, spoke foreign words correctly. The apothecary ran about town and reminded everybody that it was at their little theatre they had first seen and been amazed at his talent, which was now for the first time recognized at the capital. “The apothecary’s daughter would be quite out of conceit with herself,” added Madam, “now that he could be courting Baronesses and Countesses.” The apothecary’s daughter had been in too much of a hurry and given in too soon; she had been betrothed, a month since, to the fat counsellor. The bans had been published, and they were to be married on the twentieth of the month.
It was just the twentieth of the month when Peer received this letter. He seemed to himself to have been pierced through the heart. At that moment it was clear to him that, during all the vacillation of his soul, she had been his steadfast thought. He thought more of her than of all others in the world. Tears came into his eyes; he crumpled the letter in his hand. It was the first great grief of heart he had known since he heard, with mother and grandmother, that his father had fallen in the war. It seemed to him that all happiness had fled, and his future was dull and sorrowful. The sunlight no longer beamee from his youthful face; the sunshine was put out in his heart.
“He does not seem well,” said mother and grandmother. “It is the wear and tear of that theatre life.”
He was not the same as formerly, they both perceived, and the singing-master also saw it.
“What is the matter?” said he. “May I not know what troubles thee?”
At that his cheeks turned red, his tears flowed afresh, and he burst out with his sorrow, his loss.
“I loved her so earnestly!” said he. “Now, for the first time, when it is too late, I see it clearly.”
“Poor, troubled friend! I understand thee so well. Weep freely before me, and hold fast by the thought, as soon as thou canst, that what happens in the world happens best for us. I too have known and felt what you now are feeling. I too once, like you, loved a girl; she was discreet, she was pretty and fascinating; she was to be my wife. I could offer her good circumstances, but one condition before the marriage her parents required, and she required: I must become a Christian—!”
“And that you would not?”
“I could not. One cannot, with an honest conscience, jump from one religion to another without sinning either against the one he takes leave of or the one he steps into.”
“Have you no faith?” said Peer.
“I have the God of my fathers. He is a light for my feet and my understanding.”
They sat for an hour silent, both of them, Then their hands glanced over the keys, and the singing-master played an old folk song. Neither of them sang the words; each made his own thoughts underlie the music. Madam Gabriel’s letter was not again read. She little dreamed what sorrow it had carried.
A few days after there came a letter from Herr Gabriel; he also wished to offer his congratulations and “a commission.” It was this especially which had given occasion to the letter. He asked Peer to buy a little porcelain thing, namely, Amor and Hymen, Love and Marriage. “It is all sold out here in the town,” he wrote, “but easily to be got in the capital. The money goes with this. Send the thing along as quickly as possible: it is a wedding present for the counsellor, at whose marriage I was with my wife.” Finally Peer came to—“Young Madsen never will become a student: he has left the house, and has daubed the walls over with stale witticisms against the family. A hard subject that young Madsen. ‘Sunt pueri pueri, pueri puerilia tractant !’ i.e., ‘Boys are boys, and boys do boyish things.’ I translate it since you are not a Latinist,” and with that Herr Gabriel’s letter closed.
OMETIMES, when Peer sat at the piano, there sounded tones in it which stirred thoughts in his breast and head. The tones rose into melodies that now and then carried words along with them; they could not be separated from song. Thus arose several little poems that were rhythmic and full of feeling. They were sung in a subdued voice. It was as if they were shy and timid in feeling, and moved in loneliness.
Like the wind our days are blown,
No tarrying place is here;
From cheeks the roses have flown:
Perished the smile and the tear.
Wherefore, then, smitten with grief?
Sorrow, too, taketh its flight,
Everything fades like the leaf,
Men and women, and daytime and night.
Vanishing, vanishing all!
Thy youth, thy hope, and thy friend.
Like the wind, they heed not thy call,
They vanish, nor turn hack again.
“Where did you get that song and melody?” asked the singing-master, who accidentally found the words and music written down.
“It came of itself, that and all this. They do not fly farther into the world.”
“A downcast spirit sets out flowers too,” said the singing-master, “but it dare not give counsel. Now we must set sail and steer for your next debut. What do you say to Hamlet, the melancholy young Prince of Denmark?”
“I know Shakspeare’s tragedy,” said Peer, “but not yet Thomas’s opera.”
“The opera should be called Ophelia,” said the singing-master. “Shakspeare has, in the tragedy, made the Queen tell us of Ophelia’s death, and this is made to be the chief point in the musical rendering. One sees before his eyes, and feels in the tones, what before we could only learn from the narrative of the Queen.”
“There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them;
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element; but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.”
The opera brings all this before our eyes. We see Ophelia: she comes out playing, dancing, singing the old ballad about the mermaid that entices men down beneath the river, and while she sings and plucks the flowers the same tones are heard from the depths of the stream; they sound in the voices that allure from the deep water; she listens, she laughs, she draws near the brink, she holds fast by the overhanging willow and stoops to pluck the white water-lily; gently she glides on to it, and singing, reclines on its broad leaves; she swings with it, and is carried by the stream out into the deep, where, like the broken flower, she sinks in the moonlight with the mermaid’s melody welling forth about her.
In the entire scene it is as if Hamlet, his mother, his uncle, and the dead, avenging king alone were necessary to make the frame for the picture. We do not get Shakspeare’s Hamlet, just as in the opera Faust we do not get Goethe’s creation. The speculative is no material for music; it is the passionate element in both these tragedies which permits them to be rendered in a musical production.
The opera of Hamlet was brought on the stage. The actress who had Ophelia’s part was admirable; the death scene was most effectively rendered; but Hamlet himself received on this evening a commensurate greatness, a fulness of character which grew with each scene in which he appeared. People were astonished at the compass of the singer’s voice, at the freshness shown in the high as well as in the deep tones, and that he could with a like brilliancy of power sing Hamlet and George Brown.
The singing parts in most Italian operas are a patchwork in which the gifted singers, men and women, work in their soul and genius, and then, out of the variegated colors given them, construct shapes as the progress of the poem requires; how much more glorious, then, must they reveal themselves when the music is carried out through thoughts and characters; and this Gounod and Thomas have understood.
This evening at the theatre Hamlet’s form was flesh and blood, and he raised himself into the position of the chief personage in the. opera. Most memorable was the night scene on the ramparts where Hamlet, for the first time, sees his father’s ghost; the scene in the castle, before the stage which has been erected, where he flings out the words that are drops of poison; the terrible meeting with his mother, where the father’s ghost stands in avengeful attitude before the son; and finally, what might in the singing, what music at Ophelia’s death! She became as a lotus flower upon the deep, dark sea, whose waves rolled with a mighty force into the soul of the spectators. Hamlet this evening became the chief personage. The triumph was complete.
“How came he by it!” said the merchant’s rich wife, as she thought on Peer’s parents and his grandmother up in the garret. The father had been a warehouse-man, clever and honorable; he had fallen as a soldier on the field of honor; the mother, a washer-woman,—but that does not give the son culture, and he grew up in a charity school,—and how much, in a period of two years, could a provincial schoolmaster instil into him of higher science.
“It is genius!” said the merchant. “Genius!—that is born of God’s grace.”
“Most certainly!” said his wife, and folded her hands reverently when she talked to Peer. “Do you feel humble in your heart at what you have received?” she asked. “Heaven has been unspeakably gracious to you. Everything has been given. You do not know how overpowering your Hamlet is. You have yourself created the representation. I have heard that many great poets do not themselves know the glory of what they have given; the philosophers must reveal it for them. Where did you get your conception of Hamlet?”
“I have thought over the character, have read a portion of what has been written about Shakspeare’s work, and since, on the stage, I have entered into the person and his surroundings. I give my part and our Lord gives the rest.”
“Our Lord,” said she, with a half-reproving look. “Do not use that name. He gave you power, but you do not believe that he has anything to do with the theatre and opera!”
“Most assuredly I do!” said Peer, courageously. “There also does he have a pulpit for men, and most people hear better there than in church.”
She shook her head. “God is with us in all good and beautiful things, but let us be careful how we take his name in vain. It is a gift of grace for one to be a great artist, but it is still better to be a good Christian.” Felix, she felt, would never have named the theatre and the church together before her, and she was glad of that.
“Now you have laid yourself out against mamma!” said Felix, laughing.
“That was very far from my thoughts!”
“Don’t trouble yourself about that. You will get into her good graces again next Sunday when you go to church. Stand outside her pew, and look up to the right, for there, in the balcony-pew, is a little face which is worth looking at—the widow-baroness’s charming daughter. Here is a well-meant piece of advice, and I give it to you:—You cannot live where you are now. Move into larger lodgings, with the stairs in good order; or, if you won’t leave the singing-master, then let him live in better style. He has means enough, and you have a pretty good income. You must give a party too, an evening supper. I could give it myself, and will give it, but you can invite a few of the little dancing girls. You’re a lucky fellow! but I believe, heaven help me, that you don’t yet understand how to be a young man.”
Peer did understand it exactly in his own way. With his full, ardent young heart, he was in love with art; she was his bride, she returned his love, and lifted his soul into gladness and sunshine. The depression which had crushed him soon evaporated, gentle eyes looked upon him, and every one met him in a friendly and cordial manner. The amber-heart, which he still wore constantly on his breast, where grandmother once had hung it, was certainly a talisman, as he thought, for he was not quite free from superstition,—a child-like faith one may call it. Every nature that has genius in it has something of this, and looks to and believes in its star. Grandmother had shown him the power that lay in the heart, of drawing things to itself. His dream had shown him how, out from the amber-heart, there grew a tree which burst through garret and roof, and bore a thousand-fold of hearts and silver and gold; that surely betokened that in the heart, in his own warm heart, lay the might of his art, whereby he had won and still should win thousands upon thousands of hearts.
Between him and Felix there was undoubtedly a kind of sympathy, different as they were from each other. Peer assumed that the difference between them lay in this: that Felix, as the rich man’s son, had grown up in temptations, and could afford to taste them and take his pleasure thus. He had, on the contrary, been more fortunately placed as a poor man’s son.
Both of these two children of the house were meanwhile growing up into eminence. Felix would soon be a Kammerjunker,2 and that is the first step to being a Kammerherr,2 as long as one has a gold key behind. Peer, always lucky, had already in his hand, though it was invisible, the gold key of genius, which opens all the treasures of the earth, and all hearts too.
T was still winter-time. The sleigh-bells jingled, and the clouds carried snow-flakes in them, but when sunbeams burst through them there was a heralding of spring. There was a fragrance and a music in the young heart that flowed out in picturesque music and found expression in words.
A SPRING SONG.
In swath of snow the earth is lying,
Over the sea merry skaters are flying,
The frost-rimmed trees are specked with crow’~
But to-morrow, to-morrow the winter-time goes /
The sun bursts through the heavy skies,
Spring comes riding in summer guise,3
And the willow pulls off its woollen glove.
Strike up, musicians, in leafy grove;
Little birds, little birds, sing in the sky,
Winter’s gone by ! winter’s gone by
0, warm is the kiss of the sun on our cheek,
As violets and stonewort in the woodland we seek:
‘Tis as if the old forest were holding its breath,
For now in a night each leaf wakes from death.
The cuckoo sings! (you know its tell-tale song),
So many years your days will be long.4
The world is young! be thou, too, young;
Let happy heart and merry tongue
With spring-time lift the song on high,
Youth’s never gone by ! never gone by!
Youth’s never gone by! never gone by!
The earth lives a charmed life for aye,
With its sun and its storm, its joy and its pain.
So in our hearts a world has lain,
That will not be gone, like a shooting star,
For man is made like God afar,
And God and Nature keep ever young.
So teach us, Spring, the song tbou’st sung,
And pipe in, little birds in the sky,—
“Youth’s never gone by! never gone by !”
“That is a complete musical painting,” said the singing-master, “and well adapted for chorus and orchestra. It is the best yet of your pieces which have sprung out of words. You certainly must learn thorough bass, although it is not your vocation to be a composer.”
Some young music friends meanwhile quickly brought out the song at a great concert, where it excited remark but led to nothing. Our young friend’s career was open before him. His greatness and importance lay not in the sympathetic tones of his voice, but in his remarkable dramatic power. This he had shown as George Brown and as Hamlet. He vcry much preferred the regular opera to the singing of pieces. It was contrary to his sound and natural sense, this stepping over from song to talking, and back to singing again.
“It is,” said he, “as if one came from marble steps on to wooden ones, sometimes even on to mere hen-roosts, and then again to marble. The whole poem should live and breathe in its passage through tones.”
The music of the future, which the new movement in opera is called, and of which Wagner is specially standard-bearer, received a response and strong admiration from our young friend. He found here characters so clearly marked, passages so full of thought, the entire handling characterized by forward movement, without any stand-still or recurrence of melodies. “It is surely a most unnatural thing, the introduction of arias.”
“Yes, introduction,” said the singing-master. “But how they, in the works of most of the great masters, stand prominently forth, a large part of the whole! So must and should it be. If the lyric has a home in any place, it is in the opera;” and he mentioned in Don Juan, Don Octavio’s aria, “Tears, cease your flowing.” “How like is it to a charming lake in the woods, by whose bank one rests and is filled to the brim with the music that streams through the leafy woods! I pay my respects to the profundity that lies in the new musical movement, but I do not dance with you before that golden calf. Nor is it your heart’s real meaning which you express, or else you are not yourself quite clear about it.”
“I will appear in one of Wagner’s operas,” said our young friend. “If I cannot show my meaning by the words, yet I will by my singing and acting.”
The choice fell on Lohengrin, the young mysterious knight who, in the boat drawn by swans, glides over the Scheldt to do battle for Elsa of Brabant. Who so well as he ever acted and sang the first song of the meeting, the conversation of two hearts in the bridal chamber, and the song of farewell when the holy Grail’s white dove hovers about the young knight, who came, won—and vanished? This evening was, if possible, another step forward in the artistic greatness and celebrity of our young friend, and to the singing-master it was a step forward in the recognition of the music of the future—
“Under certain conditions,” he said.
T the great yearly exhibition of paintings, Peer and Felix one day met before the portrait of a young and pretty lady, daughter of the widow-baroness, as the mother was generally called, whose salon was the rendezvous for the world of distinction and for every one of eminence in art and science. The young bars oness was in her sixteenth year, an innocent, charming child. The picture was a good likeness and given with artistic skill.
“Step into the saloon here close by,” said Felix. “There stands the young beauty with her mother.”
They stood engaged in looking at a characteristic picture. It represented a field where two young married people came riding on the same horse, holding fast to one another. The chief figure meanwhile was a young monk who was looking at the two happy travelers. There was a sorrowful dreamy look in the young man’s countenance; one could read in it his thought, the story of his life; an aim missed, great happiness lost! human happiness in human love he had not won.
The elder baroness saw Felix, who respect- fully greeted her and the beautiful daughter. Peer showed the same customary politeness. The widow-baroness knew him immediately from having seen him on the stage, and after speaking to Felix she said some friendly, obliging words to Peer as she pressed his hand.
“I and my daughter belong to your admirers.”
What perfect beauty seemed to possess the young girl at this moment! She looked with her gentle, clear eyes almost gratefully upon him.
“I see in my house,” continued the widow-baroness, “very many of the most distinguished artists. We common people stand in need of a spiritual airing. You will be heartily welcome. Our young diplomat,” she pointed to Felix, “will show you the way the first time, and afterward I hope that you will find the way yourself.”
She smiled on him. The young girl reached out her hand naturally and cordially, as if they had long known each other.
Later in the autumn, one cold, sleety evening, the two young men went as they had been invited. It was weather for driving and not walking in for the rich man’s son, and for the first singer on the stage. Nevertheless they walked, well wrapped up, with galoshes on their feet and rough caps on their heads.
It was like a complete fairy scene to come out from the raw air into the apartment displaying such luxury and good taste. In the vestibule, before the carpeted stairs, there was a great display of flowers among bushes and fan-palms. A little fountain plashed in the basin, which was surrounded by tall callas.
The great salon was beautifully lighted, and a great part of the company had already gathered. Soon there was almost a crowd. People trod on silk trains and laces; there was a hum round about of conversation’s sonorous mosaic, which, on the whole, was the least worth while of all the splendor there.
Had Peer been a vain fellow, which he was not, he could have imagined that it was a feast made for him, so cordial was the reception which he met from the mistress of the house and the beaming daughter. Young ladies and old, yes, and gentlemen with them, said most agreeable things to him.
There was music. A young author read a well-written poem. There was singing, and true delicacy was shown in that no one urged our young and honored singer to make the whole affair most complete. The lady of the house was the observing hostess, full of spirits and full of hospitality in that elegant salon.
It was his introduction into the great world, and our young friend was soon here also one of the select ones in the choice family circle. The singing-master shook his head and smiled.
“How young thou art, dear friend,” said he, “that thou canst enjoy going among these people. They can be good enough in and for themselves; but they look down on us plain citizens. For some of them it is only a piece of vanity, an amusement, and for others a sort of mark of exclusive culture when they receive into their circle artists and the lions of the day. These belong in the salon much as the flowers in a vase, they wither and then they are thrown away.”
“How harsh and unjust,” said Peer. “You do not know these people, and will not know them.”
“No,” answered the singing-master. “I am not at home with them, nor are you either, and this they all remember and know. They caress you and look at you just as they pat and look at a race-horse that is to win a wager. You belong to another race than they. They will let you go when you are no longer in the fashion. Do you not understand that? You are not proud enough. You are vain, and you show that by seeking these people.”
“How very differently you would talk and judge,” said Peer, “if you knew the widow-baroness and a few of my friends there.”
“I shall not get to knowing them,” said the singing-master.
“When is the engagement to come out?” asked Felix one day. “Is it the mother or the daughter?” and he laughed. “Don’t take the daughter, for then you’ll have all the young nobility against you, and I too shall be your enemy, and the fiercest one.”
“What do you mean?” asked Peer.
“You are the most favored one. You can go out and in at all hours. You’ll get the cash along with the mother, and belong to a good family.”
“Stop your joking,” said Peer. “There is nothing amusing to me in what you say.”
“No indeed, there is no fun at all in it,” said Felix. “It is a most serious matter, for you’ll not let her grace sit and weep and be a double widow.”
“Leave the baroness out of your talk,” said Peer. “Make yourself merry over me if you want to, but over me alone, and I will answer you.”
“No one will believe that it is a love match on your side,” continued Felix. “She is a little outside of the line of beauty—one does not live on spirit alone!”
“I gave you credit for more refinement and good sense,” said Peer, “than would let you talk thus of a lady you ought to esteem, and whose house you visit, and I won’t talk of this longer.”
“What are you going to do about it?” asked Felix. “Will you fight?”
“I know that you have learned that, and I have not, but I can learn,” and he left Felix.
A day or two afterward the two children of the house met again, the son from the first floor and the son from the garret. Felix talked to Peer as if no quarrel had risen between them. He answered courteously, but curtly too.
“What is the matter now!” said Felix. “We two were a little irritable lately, but one may have his joke without being flayed for it; so let us forget and forgive.”
“Can you forgive yourself the manner in which you spoke of a lady to whom we both owe great respect?”
“I spoke very frankly!” said Felix. “In fine society one may talk with a razor-edge, but that is not thought an ill thing. It is the salt for the tasteless every-day fish dinner, as tne poet calls it. We are all just a little wicked. You can also let a drop fall, my friend; a little drop of innocence which makes one smart.”
So they were soon seen arm in arm. Felix well knew that more than one pretty young lady who would otherwise have passed him by without seeing him, now noticed him since he was walking with the “Ideal of the Stage.” Lamp-light always casts a glamour over the theatre’s hero and lover. It still shines about him when he shows himself on the street, in day-light, but is generally rather extinguished then. Most of the artists of the stage are like swans; one should see them in their element, not on the paving stones or the public promenade. There are exceptions, however, and to these belonged our young friend. His appearance apart from the stage never disturbed the conception one had of him as George Brown, or Hamlet, or Lohengrin. It was the form associated thus with poetry or music that many a young heart made to be the same with the man himself and exalted into the ideal. He knew that it was thus, and found a kind of pleasure in it. He was happy in his art, and in the means he possessed of exercising it, yet there would come a shadow over the joyous young face, and from the piano sounded the melody with the words:—
Thy youth, thy hope, and thy friend.
Like the wind, they heed not thy call,
They vanish, nor turn back again.
“How mournful!” said the widow-baroness. “You have happiness in full measure. I know no one who is so happy as you.”
“Call no one happy before he is in his grave, the wise Solon said,” replied he, and smiled through his seriousness; “it were a wrong, a sin, if I were not thankful and glad of heart. I am thus. I am thankful for what is intrusted to me, but I myself set a different value on this from what others do. It is a beautiful piece of fireworks which shoots off and then is all out. The actor’s work thus vanishes out of knowledge. The everlasting shining stars may be forgotten for the meteors of a moment, but when these are extinguished, there is no living trace of them except by the old signs. A new generation does not know and cannot picture to itself those who delighted their fathers from the stage youth, perhaps, applauds splendor and brass as delightedly and as loudly as the old folks once did splendor and true gold. Far more fortunately placed than the scenic artist are the poet, the sculptor, the painter and the composer. They may in the struggle of life experience hard fortune and miss the merited appreciation, while those who exhibit their works, as the actor and the musician, live in luxury and proud state. Let the many stand and gaze at the bright-colored cloud and forget the sun, yet the cloud vanishes, the sun shines and beams for new generations.”
He sat at the piano and improvised with a richness of thought and a power such as he never before had shown.
“Wondeffully beautiful!” broke in the widow-baroness. “’Twas as if I heard the story of a whole life-time. You gave your heart’s canticle in the music.”
“I thought of the Thousand and one Nights,” said the young girl, “of the lamp of fortune, of Aladdin,” and she looked with pure, dewy eyes upon him.
“Aladdin!” he repeated.
This evening was the turning-point in his life. A new section surely began.
What was befalling him this flitting year? His fresh color forsook his cheeks; his eyes shone far more clearly than before. He passed sleepless nights, but not in wild orgies, in revels and rioting, as so many great artists. He became less talkative, but more cheerful.
“What is it that fills you so?” said his friend the singing master. “You do not confide all to me!”
“I think how fortunate I am!” he replied —“I think of the poor boy! I think of—Aladdin.”
EASURED by the expectations of a poorborn child, Peer now led a prosperous, agreeable life. He was so well to do that, as Felix once said, he could give a good party to his friends. He thought of it, and thought of his two earliest friends, his mother and grandmother. For them and himself he provided a festival.
It was charming spring weather; the two old people must drive with him out of town and see a little country place which the singing-master had lately bought. As he was about seating himself in the carriage, there came a woman, humbly clad, about thirty years old; she had a begging paper recommending her signed by Madam Court.
“Don’t you know me?” said she. “Little Curly-head, they used to call me. The curls are gone, there is so much that is gone, but there are still good people left. We two have appeared together in the ballet. You have become better off than I. You have become a great man. I am now separated from two husbands and no longer at the theatre.”
Her “paper” begged that she might come to own a sewing-machine.
“In what ballet have we two performed together?” asked Peer.
“In the ‘Tyrant of Padua,’” she replied. “We were two pages, in blue velvet and feathered cap. Do you not remember little Malle Knallerup? I walked just behind you in the procession.”
“And stepped on the side of my foot!” said Peer, laughing.
“Did I?” said she. “Then I took too long a step. But you have gone far ahead of me. You have understood how to use your legs in your head,” and she looked with her melancholy face coquettishly and with a simper at him, quite sure she had passed quite a witty compliment. Peer was a generous fellow. She should have the sewing-machine, he promised. Little Malle had indeed been one of those who especially drove him out of the ballet into a more fortunate career.
He stopped soon outside the merchant’s house, and stepped up-stairs to his mother and grandmother. They were in their best clothes, and had accidentally a visit from Madam Court, who was at once invited to join them, whereupon she had a sore struggle with herself, which ended in her sending a messenger to Herr Court to infrm him that she had accepted the invitation.
“Peer gets all the fine salutations,” said she.
“How stylishly we are driving!” said mother; “And in such a roomy, great carriage,” said grandmother. Near the town, close by the royal park, stood a little cozy house, surrounded by vines and roses, hazels and fruit-trees. Here the carriage stopped. This was the country-seat. They were received by an old woman, well known to mother and grandmother; she had often helped them in their washing and ironing.
The garden was visited, and they went over the house. There was one specially charming thing—a little glass house, with beautiful flowers in it. It was connected with the sitting-room. There was a sliding door in the wall.
“That is just like a coulisse,” said Madam Court. “It moves by hand; and one can sit here just as in a bird-cage, with chickweed all about. It is called a winter-garden.”
The sleeping-chamber was also very delightful after its kind. Long, close curtains at the windows, soft carpets, and two armchairs, so commodious that mother and grandmother must needs try them.
“One would get very lazy sitting in them,” said mother.
“One loses his weight,” said Madam Court. “Ah! here you two music people can swim easily enough through the seas of theatrical labor. I have known what they are. Ay, believe me, I can still dream of making battements, and Court makes battement’s at my side. Is it not charming—‘two souls and one thought.’”
“There is fresher air here, and more room, than in the two small rooms up in the garret,” said Peer with beaming eyes.
“That there is,” said mother. “Still home is so good. There did I bear thee, my sweet boy, and lived with thy father.”
“It is better here,” said grandmother. “Here there are all the conveniences of a rich man’s place. I do not grudge you and that noble man the singing-master this home of peace.”
“Then I do not grudge it to you, grandmother, and you, dear blessed mother. You two shall always live here, and not, as in town, go up so many steps, and be in such narrow and close quarters. You shall have a servant to help you, and see me as often as in town. Are you glad at this? Are you content with it?”
“What is all this the boy stands here and says!” said mother.
“The house, the garden, all are thine, mother, and thine, grandmother. It is for this I have labored to lay up money. My friend the singing-master has faithfully helped me by getting it ready.”
“What is all this you are saying, child?” burst forth the mother. “Will you give us a gentleman’s seat? My dearest boy, thou wouldst do it if thou couldst.”
“It is all true,” said he. “The house is thine and grandmother’s.” He kissed them both; they burst into tears, and Madam Court shed quite as many.
“It is the happiest moment of my life!” exclaimed Peer, as he embraced them all.
And now they had to see everything all over again, since it was their own. In place of their roxv of five or six plants in pots out on their roof, they now had this beautiful little conservatory. Instead of a little closet they had here a great roomy pantry, and the kitchen itself was a complete little warm chamber. The chimney had an oven and cooking-stove; it looked like a great shining box iron, said mother.
“Now you two have at last a chimney corner just like me!” said Madam Court. “It is royal here. You have got all that man can get on this earth, and you too, my own courted friend.”
“Not all!” said Peer.
“To be sure the little wife comes!” said Madam Court. “I have her already for you. I have her in my feeling! but I shall keep my mouth shut. Thou noble man! Is it not like a ballet, all this?” She laughed with tears in her eyes, and so did mother and grandmother.
O write the text and music for an opera, and be himself the interpreter of his own work on the stage, this was his great aim. Our young friend had a talent in common with Wagner, in that he could himself construct the dramatic poem; but had he, like him, the fulness of musical power so that he could fashion a musical work of any significance?
Courage and doubt alternated in him. He could not dismiss this constant thought from his mind. A year and a day since had it shone forth as a picture of fancy; now it was a possibility, an end in his life. Many free fancies were welcomed at the piano as birds of passage from that country of Perhaps. The little romances, the characteristic spring song gave promise of the still undiscovered land of tone. The widow-baroness saw in them the sign of promise, as Columbus saw it in the fresh green weed which the currents of the sea bore toward him before he saw the land itself on the horizon.
Land was there! The child of fortune should reach it. A word thrown out was the seed of thought. She, the young, pretty, innocent girl spoke the word—Aladdin.
A fortune-child like Aladdin was our young friend. This was the light that broke into him. With this light he read and re-read the beautiful oriental story; soon it took dramatic form: scene after scene grew into words and music, and the more it grew the richer came the music thoughts; at the close of the work it was as if the well of tone were now for the first time pierced, and all the abundant fresh water gushed forth. He composed his work anew, and in stronger form, months afterward, arose the opera Aladdin.
No one knew of this work; no one had heard any measures at all of it, not even the most sympathetic of all his friends, the singing-master. No one at the theatre, when of an evening the young singer with his voice and his remarkable playing entranced the public, had a thought that the young man who seemed so to live and breathe in his role, lived far more intensely, ay, for hours afterward, lost himself in a mighty work of music that flowed forth from his own soul.
The singing-master had not heard a bar of the opera Aladdin before it was laid upon his table for examination, complete in notes and text. What judgment would be passed? Assuredly a strong and just one. The young composer passed from highest hope to the thought that the whole thing was only a self-delusion.
Two days passed by, and not a word was interchanged about this important matter. At length the singing-master stood before him with the score in his hands, that now he knew. There was a peculiar seriousness spread over his face that would not let his mind be guessed.
“I had not expected this,” said he. “I had not believed it of you. Indeed, I am not yet sure of my judgment: I dare not express it. Here and there there are faults in the instrumentation, faults that can easily be corrected. There are single things, bold and novel, that one must hear under fair conditions. As there is with Wagner a working over of Carl Maria Weber, so there is noticeable in you a breath of Haydn. That which is new in what you have given is still somewhat far off from me, and you yourself are too near for me to give an exact judgment. I would rather not judge. I would embrace you!” he burst out with a rush of gladness. “How came you to do this!” and he pressed him in his arms. “Happy man!”
There was soon a rumor through the town, in the newspapers and in society gossip, of the new opera by the young singer, whom all the town was flattering.
“He’s a poor tailor who could not put together a child’s trousers out of the scraps left over on his board,” said one and another.
“Write the text, compose it, and sing it himself!” was also said. “That is a three-storied genius. But he really was born still higher—in a garret.”
“There are two at it, he and the singing-master,” they said. “Now they’ll begin to beat the signal-trumpet of the mutual admiration society.”
The opera was given out for study. Those who took part would not give any opinion. “It shall not be said that it is judged from the theatre,” said they; and almost all put on a serious face that did not let any expectation of good show itself.
“There are a good many horns in the piece,” said a young man who played that instrument, and also composed. “Well if he doesn’t run a horn into himself!”5
“It has genius, it is sparkling, full of me. lody and character”—that also was said.
“To-morrow at this time,” said Peer, “the scaffold will be raised. The judgment is, perhaps, already passed.”
“Some say that it is a masterpiece,” said the singing-master; “others, that it is a mere patchwork.”
“And wherein lies truth?”
“Truth!” said the singing-master. “Pray show me. Look at that star yonder. Tell me exactly where its place is. Shut one eye. Do you see it? Now look at it with the other only. The star has shifted its place. When each eye in the same person sees so differently, how variously must the great multitude see!”
“Happen what may,” said our young friend, “I must know my place in the world, understand what I can and must put forth, or give up.”
The evening came,—the evening of the representation. A popular artist was to be exalted to a higher place, or plunged down in his gigantic, proud effort. A shot or a drop! The matter concerned the whole city. People stood all night in the street before the ticket-office to secure places. The house was crammed frill; the ladies came with great bouquets. Would they carry them home again, or cast them at the victor’s feet?
The widow-baroness and the young, beautiful daughter sat in a box above the orchestra. There was a stir in the audience, a murmuring, a movement that stopped at once as the leader of the orchestra took his place and the overture began.
Who does not remember Henselt’s piece—“Si l’oiseau j’etais,” that is like a twittering of birds? This was something akin; merry playing children, happy child-voices; the cuckoo gave its note with them, the thrush struck in. It was the l)lay and carol of innocent childhood, the mind of Aladdin. Then there rolled in upon it a thunderstorm; Noureddin displayed his power; a flash of lightning rent the rocks; gentle beckoning tones followed, a sound from the enchanted grotto where the lamp shone in the petrified cavern, while the wings of mighty spirits brooded over it.
Now there sounded forth, in the notes of a bugle, a psalm so gentle and soft as if it came from the mouth of a child; a single horn was heard and then another, more and more were blended in the same tones, and rose in fullness and power as if they were the trumpets of the judgment day. The lamp was in Aladdin’s hand, and there swelled forth a sea of melody and majesty as if the ruler of spirits and master of music held sway.
The curtain rolled up in a storm of applause which sounded like a fanfare under the conductor’s baton. A grown-up boy played there, so big and yet so simple,—it was Aladdin who frolicked among the other boys. Grandmother would at once have said:—
“That is Peer, as he played and jumped about between the stove and the chest of drawers at home in the garret. He is not a year older in his soul!”
With what faith and earnest prayer he sang the prayer Noureddin bade him offer before he stepped down into the crevice to obtain the lamp. Was it the pure religious melody, or the innocence with which he sung, that drew all hearts after him? The applause was unbounded.
It would have been a profane thing to have repeated the song. It was called for, but it was not given. The curtain fell,—the first act was ended.
Every critic was speechless; people were overcome with gladness—they could only speak out their gratitude.
A few chords from the orchestra, and the curtain rose. The strains of music, as in Gluck’s “Armida,” and Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” arrested the attention of each; as the scene was disclosed where Aladdin stood in the wonderful garden, a soft subdued music sounded from flowers and stones, from springs and deep caverns, different melodies blending in one great harmony. A susurrus of spirits was heard in the chorus; it was now far off, now near, swelling in might and then dying away. Borne upon this unison was the monologue of Aladdin; what one indeed calls a great aria, but so entirely in keeping with character and situation that it was a necessary dramatic part of the whole. The resonant, sympathetic voice, the intense music of the heart subdued all listeners, and seized them with a rapture that could not rise higher, when he reached forth for the lamp that was fanned by the song of the spirits.
Bouquets rained down from all sides, a carpet of living flowers was spread out before his feet.
What a moment of life for the young artist,—the highest, the greatest! A mightier one could never again be granted him, he felt. A wreath of laurel glanced upon his breast and fell down before him. He had seen from whose hand it came. He saw the young girl in the box nearest the stage, the young baroness, rising like a Genius of Beauty, singing a pan over his triumph.
A fire rushed through him, his heart swelled as never before, he bowed, took the wreath, pressed it against his heart, and at the same moment fell backward.—Fainted? dead?—What was it?——The curtain fell.
. . . . . . .
“Dead!” ran the word through the house. Dead in the moment of triumph, like Sophocles at the Olympian Games, like Thorwaldsen in the theatre during Beethoven’s symphony. An artery in his heart had burst, and as by a flash of lightning his day here was ended, ended without pain, ended in an earthly jubilee, in the fulfilment of his mission on earth. Lucky Peer! More fortunate than millions!