IN 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.