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Lucky Peer - Part 5

VIII.

TWO 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.”
IX.

THE 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 naïveté, 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.”
X.

ONCE 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.



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