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Lucky Peer - Part 6


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, Molière, 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 Phœnix,” 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.

A YEAR passed before Peer began to study a rôle 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.

THE morning papers mentioned the début 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 début, 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.

SOMETIMES, 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 début. 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.

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