“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. Cæsar 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.
IN 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.