Friday, October 12, 2007



A deadly feud was raging among the boys of Numedale. The
East-Siders hated the West-Siders, and thrashed them when they
got a chance; and the West-Siders, when fortune favored them,
returned the compliment with interest. It required considerable
courage for a boy to venture, unattended by comrades, into the
territory of the enemy; and no one took the risk unless dire
necessity compelled him.
The hostile parties had played at war so long that they had
forgotten that it was play; and now were actually inspired with
the emotions which they had formerly simulated. Under the
leadership of their chieftains, Halvor Reitan and Viggo Hook,
they held councils of war, sent out scouts, planned midnight
surprises, and fought at times mimic battles. I say mimic
battles, because no one was ever killed; but broken heads and
bruised limbs many a one carried home from these engagements, and
unhappily one boy, named Peer Oestmo, had an eye put out by an
It was a great consolation to him that he became a hero to all
the West-Siders and was promoted for bravery in the field to the
rank of first lieutenant. He had the sympathy of all his
companions in arms and got innumerable bites of apples, cancelled
postage stamps, and colored advertising-labels in token of their
But the principal effect of this first serious wound was to
invest the war with a breathless and all-absorbing interest. It
was now no longer "make believe," but deadly earnest. Blood had
flowed; insults had been exchanged in due order, and offended
honor cried for vengeance.
It was fortunate that the river divided the West-Siders from the
East-Siders, or it would have been difficult to tell what might
have happened. Viggo Hook, the West-Side general, was a
handsome, high-spirited lad of fifteen, who was the last person
to pocket an injury, as long as red blood flowed in his veins, as
he was wont to express it. He was the eldest son of Colonel Hook
of the regular army, and meant some day to be a Von Moltke or a
Napoleon. He felt in his heart that he was destined for something
great; and in conformity with this conviction assumed a superb
behavior, which his comrades found very admirable.
He had the gift of leadership in a marked degree, and established
his authority by a due mixture of kindness and severity. Those
boys whom he honored with his confidence were absolutely attached
to him. Those whom, with magnificent arbitrariness, he punished
and persecuted, felt meekly that they had probably deserved it;
and if they had not, it was somehow in the game.
There never was a more absolute king than Viggo, nor one more
abjectly courted and admired. And the amusing part of it was
that he was at heart a generous and good-natured lad, but
possessed with a lofty ideal of heroism, which required above all
things that whatever he said or did must be striking. He
dramatized, as it were, every phrase he uttered and every act he
performed, and modelled himself alternately after Napoleon and
Wellington, as he had seen them represented in the old engravings
which decorated the walls in his father's study.
He had read much about heroes of war, ancient and modern, and he
lived about half his own life imagining himself by turns all
sorts of grand characters from history or fiction.
His costume was usually in keeping with his own conception of
these characters, in so far as his scanty opportunities
permitted. An old, broken sword of his father's, which had been
polished until it "flashed" properly, was girded to a brassmounted
belt about his waist; an ancient, gold-braided, military
cap, which was much too large, covered his curly head; and four
tarnished brass buttons, displaying the Golden Lion of Norway,
gave a martial air to his blue jacket, although the rest were
plain horn.
But quite independently of his poor trappings Viggo was to his
comrades an august personage. I doubt if the Grand Vizier feels
more flattered and gratified by the favor of the Sultan than
little Marcus Henning did, when Viggo condescended to be civil to
Marcus was small, round-shouldered, spindle-shanked, and
freckle-faced. His hair was coarse, straight, and the color of
maple sirup; his nose was broad and a little flattened at the
point, and his clothes had a knack of never fitting him. They
were made to grow in and somehow he never caught up with them, he
once said, with no intention of being funny. His father, who was
Colonel Hook's nearest neighbor, kept a modest country shop, in
which you could buy anything, from dry goods and groceries to
shoes and medicines. You would have to be very ingenious to ask
for a thing which Henning could not supply. The smell in the
store carried out the same idea; for it was a mixture of all
imaginable smells under the sun.
Now, it was the chief misery of Marcus that, sleeping, as he did,
in the room behind the store, he had become so impregnated with
this curious composite smell that it followed him like an
odoriferous halo, and procured him a number of unpleasant
nicknames. The principal ingredient was salted herring; but
there was also a suspicion of tarred ropes, plug tobacco, prunes,
dried codfish, and oiled tarpaulin.
It was not so much kindness of heart as respect for his own
dignity which made Viggo refrain from calling Marcus a "Muskrat"
or a "Smelling-Bottle." And yet Marcus regarded this gracious
forbearance on his part as the mark of a noble soul. He had been
compelled to accept these offensive nicknames, and, finding
rebellion vain, he had finally acquiesced in them.
He never loved to be called a "Muskrat," though he answered to
the name mechanically. But when Viggo addressed him as "base
minion," in his wrath, or as "Sergeant Henning," in his sunnier
moods, Marcus felt equally complimented by both terms, and vowed
in his grateful soul eternal allegiance and loyalty to his chief.
He bore kicks and cuffs with the same admirable equanimity; never
complained when he was thrown into a dungeon in a deserted pigsty
for breaches of discipline of which he was entirely guiltless,
and trudged uncomplainingly through rain and sleet and snow, as
scout or spy, or what-not, at the behest of his exacting
It was all so very real to him that he never would have thought
of doubting the importance of his mission. He was rather honored
by the trust reposed in him, and was only intent upon earning a
look or word of scant approval from the superb personage whom he
Halvor Reitan, the chief of the East-Siders, was a big, burly
peasant lad, with a pimpled face, fierce blue eyes, and a shock
of towy hair. But he had muscles as hard as twisted ropes, and
sinews like steel.
He had the reputation, of which he was very proud, of being the
strongest boy in the valley, and though he was scarcely sixteen
years old, he boasted that he could whip many a one of twice his
years. He had, in fact, been so praised for his strength that he
never neglected to accept, or even to create, opportunities for
displaying it.
His manner was that of a bully; but it was vanity and not malice
which made him always spoil for a fight. He and Viggo Hook had
attended the parson's "Confirmation Class," together, and it was
there their hostility had commenced.
Halvor, who conceived a dislike of the tall, rather dainty, and
disdainful Viggo, with his aquiline nose and clear, aristocratic
features, determined, as he expressed it, to take him down a peg
or two; and the more his challenges were ignored the more
persistent he grew in his insults.
He dubbed Viggo "Missy." He ran against him with such violence
in the hall that he knocked his head against the wainscoting; he
tripped him up on the stairs by means of canes and sticks; and he
hired his partisans who sat behind Viggo to stick pins into him,
while he recited his lessons. And when all these provocations
proved unavailing he determined to dispense with any pretext, but
simply thrash his enemy within an inch of his life at the first
opportunity which presented itself. He grew to hate Viggo and
was always aching to molest him.
Halvor saw plainly enough that Viggo despised him, and refused to
notice his challenges, not so much because he was afraid of him,
as because he regarded himself as a superior being who could
afford to ignore insults from an inferior, without loss of
During recess the so-called "genteel boys," who had better
clothes and better manners than the peasant lads, separated
themselves from the rest, and conversed or played with each
other. No one will wonder that such behavior was exasperating to
the poorer boys. I am far from defending Viggo's behavior in
this instance. He was here, as everywhere, the acknowledged
leader; and therefore more cordially hated than the rest. It was
the Roundhead hating the Cavalier; and the Cavalier making merry
at the expense of the Roundhead.
There was only one boy in the Confirmation Class who was doubtful
as to what camp should claim him, and that was little Marcus
Henning. He was a kind of amphibious animal who, as he thought,
really belonged nowhere. His father was of peasant origin, but
by his prosperity and his occupation had risen out of the class
to which he was formerly attached, without yet rising into the
ranks of the gentry, who now, as always, looked with scorn upon
interlopers. Thus it came to pass that little Marcus, whose
inclinations drew him toward Viggo's party, was yet forced to
associate with the partisans of Halvor Reitan.
It was not a vulgar ambition "to pretend to be better than he
was" which inspired Marcus with a desire to change his
allegiance, but a deep, unreasoning admiration for Viggo Hook.
He had never seen any one who united so many superb qualities,
nor one who looked every inch as noble as he did.
It did not discourage him in the least that his first approaches
met with no cordial reception. His offer to communicate to Viggo
where there was a hawk's nest was coolly declined, and even the
attractions of fox dens and rabbits' burrows were valiantly
resisted. Better luck he had with a pair of fan-tail pigeons,
his most precious treasure, which Viggo rather loftily consented
to accept, for, like most genteel boys in the valley, he was an
ardent pigeon-fancier, and had long vainly importuned his father
to procure him some of the rarer breeds
He condescended to acknowledge Marcus's greeting after that, and
to respond to his diffident "Good-morning" and "Good-evening,"
and Marcus was duly grateful for such favors. He continued to
woo his idol with raisins and ginger-snaps from the store, and
other delicate attentions, and bore the snubs which often fell to
his lot with humility and patience.
But an event soon occurred which was destined to change the
relations of the two boys. Halvor Reitan called a secret meeting
of his partisans, among whom he made the mistake to include
Marcus, and agreed with them to lie in ambush at the bend of the
road, where it entered the forest, and attack Viggo Hook and his
followers. Then, he observed, he would "make him dance a jig
that would take the starch out of him."
The others declared that this would be capital fun, and
enthusiastically promised their assistance. Each one selected
his particular antipathy to thrash, though all showed a marked
preference for Viggo, whom, however, for reason of politeness,
they were obliged to leave to the chief. Only one boy sat
silent, and made no offer to thrash anybody, and that was Marcus
"Well, Muskrat," cried Halvor Reitan, "whom are you going to take
on your conscience?"
"No one," said Marcus.
"Put the Muskrat in your pocket, Halvor," suggested one of the
boys; "he is so small, and he has got such a hard bullet head,
you might use him as a club."
"Well, one thing is sure," shouted Halvor, as a dark suspicion
shot through his brain, "if you don't keep mum, you will be a
mighty sick coon the day after to-morrow."
Marcus made no reply, but got up quietly, pulled a rubber sling
from his pocket, and began, with the most indifferent manner in
the world, to shoot stones down the river. He managed during
this exercise, which everybody found perfectly natural, to get
out of the crowd, and, without seeming to have any purpose
whatever, he continued to put a couple of hundred yards between
himself and his companion.
"Look a-here, Muskrat," he heard Halvor cry, "you promised to
keep mum."
Marcus, instead of answering, took to his heels and ran.
"Boys, the scoundrel is going to betray us!" screamed the chief.
"Now come, boys! We've got to catch him, dead or alive."
A volley of stones, big and little, was hurled after the
fugitive, who now realizing his position ran for dear life. The
stones hailed down round about him; occasionally one vicious
missile would whiz past his ear, and send a cold shudder through
him. The tramp of his pursuers sounded nearer and nearer, and
his one chance of escape was to throw himself into the only boat,
which he saw on this side of the river, and push out into the
stream before he was overtaken.
He had his doubts as to whether he could accomplish this, for the
blood rushed and roared in his ears, the hill-side billowed under
his feet, and it seemed as if the trees were all running a race
in the opposite direction, in order to betray him to his enemies.
A stone gave him a thump in the back, but though he felt a
gradual heat spreading from the spot which it hit, he was
conscious of no pain.
Presently a larger missile struck him in the neck, and he heard a
breathless snorting close behind him. That was the end; he gave
himself up for lost, for those boys would have no mercy on him if
they captured him.
But in the next moment he heard a fall and an oath, and the voice
was that of Halvor Reitan. He breathed a little more freely as
he saw the river run with its swelling current at his feet.
Quite mechanically, without clearly knowing what he did, he
sprang into the boat, grabbed a boat-hook, and with three strong
strokes pushed himself out into the deep water.
At that instant a dozen of his pursuers reached the river bank,
and he saw dimly their angry faces and threatening gestures, and
heard the stones drop into the stream about him. Fortunately the
river was partly dammed, in order to accumulate water for the
many saw-mills under the falls. It would therefore have been no
very difficult feat to paddle across, if his aching arms had had
an atom of strength left in them. As soon as he was beyond the
reach of flying stones he seated himself in the stern, took an
oar, and after having bathed his throbbing forehead in the cold
water, managed, in fifteen minutes, to make the further bank.
Then he dragged himself wearily up the hill-side to Colonel
Hook's mansion, and when he had given his message to Viggo, fell
into a dead faint.
How could Viggo help being touched by such devotion? He had seen
the race through a fieldglass from his pigeon-cot, but had been
unable to make out its meaning, nor had he remotely dreamed that
he was himself the cause of the cruel chase. He called his
mother, who soon perceived that Marcus's coat was saturated with
blood in the back, and undressing him, she found that a stone,
hurled by a sling, had struck him, slid a few inches along the
rib, and had lodged in the fleshy part of his left side.
A doctor was now sent for; the stone was cut out without
difficulty, and Marcus was invited to remain as Viggo's guest
until he recovered. He felt so honored by this invitation that
he secretly prayed he might remain ill for a month; but the wound
showed an abominable readiness to heal, and before three days
were past Marcus could not feign any ailment which his face and
eye did not belie.
He then, with a heavy heart, betook himself homeward, and
installed himself once more among his accustomed smells behind
the store, and pondered sadly on the caprice of the fate which
had made Viggo a high-nosed, handsome gentleman, and him--Marcus
Henning--an under-grown, homely, and unrefined drudge. But in
spite of his failure to answer this question, there was joy
within him at the thought that he had saved this handsome face of
Viggo's from disfigurement, and--who could know?--perhaps would
earn a claim upon his gratitude.
It was this series of incidents which led to the war between the
East-Siders and the West-Siders. It was a mere accident that the
partisans of Viggo Hook lived on the west side of the river, and
those of Halvor Reitan mostly on the east side.
Viggo, who had a chivalrous sense of fair play, would never have
molested any one without good cause; but now his own safety, and,
as he persuaded himself, even his life, was in danger, and he had
no choice but to take measures in self-defence. He surrounded
himself with a trusty body-guard, which attended him wherever he
went. He sent little Marcus, in whom he recognized his most
devoted follower, as scout into the enemy's territory, and
swelled his importance enormously by lending him his field-glass
to assist him in his perilous observations.
Occasionally an unhappy East-Sider was captured on the west bank
of the river, court-martialed, and, with much solemnity,
sentenced to death as a spy, but paroled for an indefinite
period, until it should suit his judges to execute the sentence.
The East-Siders, when they captured a West-Sider, went to work
with less ceremony; they simply thrashed their captive soundly
and let him run, if run he could.
Thus months passed. The parson's Confirmation Class ceased, and
both the opposing chieftains were confirmed on the same day; but
Viggo stood at the head of the candidates, while Halvor had his
place at the bottom.[1]
[1] In Norway confirmation is always preceded by a public
examination of the candidates in the aisle of the church. The
order in which they are arranged is supposed to indicate their
attainments, but does, as a rule, indicate the rank and social
position of their parents.
During the following winter the war was prosecuted with much
zeal, and the West-Siders, in imitation of Robin Hood and his
Merry Men, armed themselves with cross-bows, and lay in ambush in
the underbrush, aiming their swift arrows against any intruder
who ventured to cross the river.
Nearly all the boys in the valley between twelve and sixteen
became enlisted on the one side or the other, and there were
councils of war, marches, and counter-marches without number,
occasional skirmishes, but no decisive engagements. Peer Oestmo,
to be sure, had his eye put out by an arrow, as has already been
related, for the East-Siders were not slow to imitate the example
of their enemies, in becoming expert archers.
Marcus Henning was captured by a hostile outpost, and was being
conducted to the abode of the chief, when, by a clever stratagem,
he succeeded in making his escape.
The East-Siders despatched, under a flag of truce, a most
insulting caricature of General Viggo, representing him as a
rooster that seemed on the point of bursting with an excess of
These were the chief incidents of the winter, though there were
many others of less consequence that served to keep the boys in a
delightful state of excitement. They enjoyed the war keenly,
though they pretended to themselves that they were being ill-used
and suffered terrible hardships. They grumbled at their duties,
brought complaints against their officers to the general, and
did, in fact, all the things that real soldiers would have been
likely to do under similar circumstances.
When the spring is late in Norway, and the heat comes with a
sudden rush, the mountain streams plunge with a tremendous noise
down into the valleys, and the air is filled far and near with
the boom and roar of rushing waters. The glaciers groan, and
send their milk-white torrents down toward the ocean. The
snow-patches in the forest glens look gray and soiled, and the
pines perspire a delicious resinous odor which cheers the soul
with the conviction that spring has come.
But the peasant looks anxiously at the sun and the river at such
times, for he knows that there is danger of inundation. The
lumber, which the spring floods set afloat in enormous
quantities, is carried by the rivers to the cities by the sea;
there it is sorted according to the mark it bears, showing the
proprietor, and exported to foreign countries.
In order to prevent log-jams, which are often attended with
terrible disasters, men are stationed night and day at the
narrows of the rivers. The boys, to whom all excitement is
welcome, are apt to congregate in large numbers at such places,
assisting or annoying the watchers, riding on the logs, or
teasing the girls who stand up on the hillside, admiring the
daring feats of the lumbermen.
It was on such a spring day, when the air was pungent with the
smell of sprouting birch and pine, that General Viggo and his
trusty army had betaken themselves to the cataract to share in
the sport. They were armed with their bows, as usual, knowing
that they were always liable to be surprised by their vigilant
enemy. Nor were they in this instance disappointed, for Halvor
Reitan, with fifty or sixty followers, was presently visible on
the east side, and it was a foregone conclusion that if they met
there would be a battle.
The river, to be sure, separated them, but the logs were at times
so densely packed that it was possible for a daring lad to run
far out into the river, shoot his arrow and return to shore,
leaping from log to log. The Reitan party was the first to begin
this sport, and an arrow hit General Viggo's hat before he gave
orders to repel the assault.
Cool and dignified as he was, he could not consent to skip and
jump on the slippery logs, particularly as he had no experience
in this difficult exercise, while the enemy apparently had much.
Paying no heed to the jeers of the lumbermen, who supposed he was
afraid, he drew his troops up in line and addressed them as
"Soldiers: You have on many previous occasions given me proof of
your fidelity to duty and your brave and fearless spirit. I know
that I can, now as always, trust you to shed glory upon our arms,
and to maintain our noble fame and honorable traditions.
"The enemy is before us. You have heard and seen his challenge.
It behooves us to respond gallantly. To jump and skip like
rabbits is unmilitary and unsoldierlike. I propose that each of
us shall select two large logs, tie them together, procure, if
possible, a boat-hook or an oar, and, sitting astride the logs,
boldly push out into the river. If we can advance in a tolerably
even line, which I think quite possible, we can send so deadly a
charge into the ranks of our adversaries that they will be
compelled to flee. Then we will land on the east side, occupy
the heights, and rout our foe.
"Now let each man do his duty. Forward, march!"
The lumbermen, whose sympathies were with the East-Siders, found
this performance highly diverting, but Viggo allowed himself in
nowise to be disturbed by their laughter or jeers. He marched
his troops down to the river-front, commanded "Rest arms!" and
repeated once more his instructions; then, flinging off his coat
and waistcoat, he seized a boat-hook and ran some hundred yards
along the bank of the stream.
The river-bed was here expanded to a wide basin, in which the
logs floated lazily down to the cataract below. Trees and
underbrush, which usually stood on dry land, were half-submerged
in the yellow water, and the current gurgled slowly about their
trunks with muddy foam and bubbles. Now and then a heap of
lumber would get wedged in between the jutting rocks above the
waterfall, and then the current slackened, only to be suddenly
accelerated, when the exertions of the men had again removed the
It was an exciting spectacle to see these daring fellows leap
from log to log, with birch-bark shoes on their feet. They would
ride on a heap of lumber down to the very edge of the cataract,
dexterously jump off at the critical moment, and after half a
dozen narrow escapes, reach the shore, only to repeat the
dangerous experiment, as soon as the next opportunity offered
It was the example of these hardy and agile lumbermen, trained
from childhood to sport with danger, which inspired Viggo and his
followers with a desire to show their mettle.
"Sergeant Henning," said the General to his ever-faithful shadow,
"take a squad of five men with you, and cut steering-poles for
those for whom boat-hooks cannot be procured. You will be the
last to leave shore. Report to me if any one fails to obey
"Shall be done, General," Marcus responded, with a deferential
military salute.
"The bows, you understand, will be slung by the straps across the
backs of the men, while they steer and push with their poles."
"Certainly, General," said Marcus, with another salute.
"You may go."
"All right, General," answered Marcus, with a third salute.
And now began the battle. The East-Siders, fearing that a
stratagem was intended, when they saw the enemy moving up the
stream, made haste to follow their example, capturing on their
way every stray log that came along. They sent ineffectual
showers of arrows into the water, while the brave General Viggo,
striding two big logs which he had tied together with a piece of
rope, and with a boat-hook in his hand, pushed proudly at the
head of his army into the middle of the wide basin.
Halvor Reitan was clever enough to see what it meant, and he was
not going to allow the West-Siders to gain the heights above him,
and attack him in the rear. He meant to prevent the enemy from
landing, or, still better, he would meet him half-way, and drive
him back to his own shore.
The latter, though not the wiser course, was the plan which
Halvor Reitan adopted. To have a tussle with the high-nosed
Viggo in the middle of the basin, to dislodge him from his
raft--that seemed to Halvor a delightful project. He knew that
Viggo was a good swimmer, so he feared no dangerous consequences;
and even if he had, it would not have restrained him. He was so
much stronger than Viggo, and here was his much-longed-for
With great despatch he made himself a raft of two logs, and
seating himself astride them, with his legs in the water, put off
from shore. He shouted to his men to follow him, and they needed
no urging. Viggo was now near the middle of the basin, with
twenty or thirty picked archers close behind him. They fired
volley after volley of arrows against the enemy, and twice drove
him back to the shore.
But Halvor Reitan, shielding his face with a piece of bark which
he had picked up, pushed forward in spite of their onslaught,
though one arrow knocked off his red-peaked cap, and another
scratched his ear. Now he was but a dozen feet from his foe. He
cared little for his bow now; the boat-hook was a far more
effectual weapon.
Viggo saw at a glance that he meant to pull his raft toward him,
and, relying upon his greater strength, fling him into the water.
His first plan would therefore be to fence with his own boathook,
so as to keep his antagonist at a distance.
When Halvor made the first lunge at the nose of his raft, he
foiled the attempt with his own weapon, and managed dexterously
to give the hostile raft a downward push, which increased the
distance between them.
"Take care, General!" said a respectful voice close to Viggo's
ear. "There is a small log jam down below, which is getting
bigger every moment. When it is got afloat, it will be dangerous
out here."
"What are you doing here, Sergeant?" asked the General,
severely. "Did I not tell you to be the last to leave the
"You did, General," Marcus replied, meekly, "and I obeyed. But I
have pushed to the front so as to be near you."
"I don't need you, Sergeant," Viggo responded, "you may go to the
The booming of the cataract nearly drowned his voice and Marcus
pretended not to hear it. A huge lumber mass was piling itself
up among the rocks jutting out of the rapids, and a dozen men
hanging like flies on the logs, sprang up and down with axes in
their hands. They cut one log here and another there; shouted
commands; and fell into the river amid the derisive jeers of the
spectators; they scrambled out again and, dripping wet, set to
work once more with a cheerful heart, to the mighty music of the
cataract, whose thundering rhythm trembled and throbbed in the
The boys who were steering their rafts against each other in the
comparatively placid basin were too absorbed in their mimic
battle to heed what was going on below. Halvor and Viggo were
fighting desperately with their boat-hooks, the one attacking and
the other defending himself with great dexterity. They scarcely
perceived, in their excitement, that the current was dragging
them slowly toward the cataract; nor did they note the warning
cries of the men and women on the banks.
Viggo's blood was hot, his temples throbbed, his eyes flashed.
He would show this miserable clown who had dared to insult him,
that the trained skill of a gentleman is worth more than the rude
strength of a bully. With beautiful precision he foiled every
attack; struck Halvor's boat-hook up and down, so that the water
splashed about him, manoeuvring at the same time his own raft
with admirable adroitness.
Cheer upon cheer rent the air, after each of his successful
sallies, and his comrades, selecting their antagonists from among
the enemy, now pressed forward, all eager to bear their part in
the fray.
Splash! splash! splash! one East-Sider was dismounted, got an
involuntary bath, but scrambled up on his raft again. The next
time it was a West-Sider who got a ducking, but seemed none the
worse for it. There was a yelling and a cheering, now from one
side and now from the other, which made everyone forget that
something was going on at that moment of greater importance than
the mimic warfare of boys.
All the interest of the contending parties was concentrated on
the duel of their chieftains. It seemed now really that Halvor
was getting the worst of it. He could not get close enough to
use his brawny muscles; and in precision of aim and adroitness of
movement he was not Viggo's match.
Again and again he thrust his long-handled boat-hook angrily
against the bottom (for the flooded parts of the banks were very
shallow), to push the raft forward, but every time Viggo managed
to turn it sideward, and Halvor had to exert all his presence of
mind to keep his seat. Wild with rage he sprang up on his
slender raft and made a vicious lunge at his opponent, who warded
the blow with such force that the handle of the boat-hook broke,
and Halvor lost his balance and fell into the water.
At this same instant a tremendous crash was heard from below,
followed by a long rumble as of mighty artillery. A scream of
horror went up from the banks, as the great lumber mass rolled
down into the cataract, making a sudden suction which it seemed
impossible that the unhappy boys could resist.
The majority of both sides, seeing their danger, beat, by means
of their boat-hooks, a hasty retreat, and as they were in shallow
water were hauled ashore by the lumbermen, who sprang into the
river to save them.
When the clouds of spray had cleared away, only three figures
were visible. Viggo, still astride of his raft, was fighting,
not for his own life, but for that of his enemy, Halvor, who was
struggling helplessly in the white rapids. Close behind his
commander stood little Marcus on his raft, holding on, with one
hand to the boat-hook which he had hewn, with all his might, into
Viggo's raft, and with the other grasping the branch of a
half-submerged tree.
"Save yourself, General!" he yelled, wildly. "Let go there. I
can't hold on much longer."
But Viggo did not heed. He saw nothing but the pale, frightened
face of his antagonist, who might lose his life. With a
desperate effort he flung his boat-hook toward him and succeeded
this time in laying hold of the leather girdle about his waist.
One hundred feet below yawned the foaming, weltering abyss, from
which the white smoke ascended. If Marcus lost his grip, if the
branch snapped no human power could save them; they were all dead
By this time the people on the shore had discovered that three
lives were hanging on the brink of eternity. Twenty men had
waded waist-deep into the current and had flung a stout rope to
the noble little fellow who was risking his own life for his
"Keep your hold, my brave lad!" they cried; "hold on another
"Grab the rope!" screamed others.
Marcus clinched his teeth, and his numb arms trembled, mist
gathered in his eyes--his heart stood still. But with a clutch
that seemed superhuman he held on. He had but one thought--
Viggo, his chief! Viggo, his idol! Viggo, his general! He must
save him or die with him. One end of the rope was hanging on the
branch and was within easy reach; but he did not venture to seize
it, lest the wrench caused by his motion might detach his hold on
Viggo's raft.
Viggo, who just now was pulling Halvor out of the water, saw in
an instant that he had by adding his weight to the raft,
increased the chance of both being carried to their death. With
quick resolution he plunged the beak of his own boat-hook into
Marcus's raft, and shouted to Halvor to save himself. The
latter, taking in the situation at a glance, laid hold of the
handle of the boat-hook and together they pulled up alongside of
Marcus and leaped aboard his raft, whereupon Viggo's raft drifted
downward and vanished in a flash in the yellow torrent.
At that very instant Marcus's strength gave out; he relaxed his
grip on the branch, which slid out of his hand, and they would
inevitably have darted over the brink of the cataract if Viggo
had not, with great adroitness, snatched the rope from the branch
of the half-submerged tree.
A wild shout, half a cheer, half a cry of relief, went up from
the banks, as the raft with the three lads was slowly hauled
toward the shore by the lumbermen who had thrown the rope.
Halvor Reitan was the first to step ashore. But no joyous
welcome greeted him from those whose sympathies had, a little
while ago, been all on his side. He hung around uneasily for
some minutes, feeling perhaps that he ought to say something to
Viggo who had saved his life, but as he could not think of
anything which did not seem foolish, he skulked away unnoticed
toward the edge of the forest.
But when Viggo stepped ashore, carrying the unconscious Marcus in
his arms, how the crowd rushed forward to gaze at him, to press
his hands, to call down God's blessing upon him! He had never
imagined that he was such a hero. It was Marcus, not he, to whom
their ovation was due. But poor Marcus--it was well for him that
he had fainted from over-exertion; for otherwise he would have
fainted from embarrassment at the honors which would have been
showered upon him.
The West-Siders, marching two abreast, with their bows slung
across their shoulders, escorted their general home, cheering and
shouting as they went. When they were half-way up the hillside,
Marcus opened his eyes, and finding himself so close to his
beloved general, blushed crimson, scarlet, and purple, and all
the other shades that an embarrassed blush is capable of
"Please, General," he stammered, "don't bother about me."
Viggo had thought of making a speech exalting the heroism of his
faithful follower. But he saw at a glance that his praise would
be more grateful to Marcus, if he received it in private.
When, however, the boys gave him a parting cheer, in front of his
father's mansion, he forgot his resolution, leaped up on the
steps, and lifting the blushing Marcus above his head; called
"Three cheers for the bravest boy in Norway!"
The great question which Albert Grimlund was debating was fraught
with unpleasant possibilities. He could not go home for the
Christmas vacation, for his father lived in Drontheim, which is
so far away from Christiania that it was scarcely worth while
making the journey for a mere two-weeks' holiday. Then, on the
other hand, he had an old great-aunt who lived but a few miles
from the city. She had, from conscientious motives, he feared,
sent him an invitation to pass Christmas with her. But Albert
had a poor opinion of Aunt Elsbeth. He thought her a very
tedious person. She had a dozen cats, talked of nothing but
sermons and lessons, and asked him occasionally, with pleasant
humor, whether he got many whippings at school. She failed to
comprehend that a boy could not amuse himself forever by looking
at the pictures in the old family Bible, holding yarn, and
listening to oft-repeated stories, which he knew by heart,
concerning the doings and sayings of his grandfather. Aunt
Elsbeth, after a previous experience with her nephew, had come to
regard boys as rather a reprehensible kind of animal, who
differed in many of their ways from girls, and altogether to the
boys' disadvantage.
Now, the prospect of being "caged" for two weeks with this
estimable lady was, as I said, not at all pleasant to Albert. He
was sixteen years old, loved out-door sports, and had no taste
for cats. His chief pride was his muscle, and no boy ever made
his acquaintance without being invited to feel the size and
hardness of his biceps. This was a standing joke in the Latin
school, and Albert was generally known among his companions as
"Biceps" Grimlund. He was not very tall for his age, but
broad-shouldered and deep-chested, with something in his glance,
his gait, and his manners which showed that he had been born and
bred near the sea. He cultivated a weather-beaten complexion,
and was particularly proud when the skin "peeled" on his nose,
which it usually did in the summer-time, during his visits to his
home in the extreme north. Like most blond people, when
sunburnt, he was red, not brown; and this became a source of
great satisfaction when he learned that Lord Nelson had the same
peculiarity. Albert's favorite books were the sea romances of
Captain Marryat, whose "Peter Simple" and "Midshipman Easy" he
held to be the noblest products of human genius. It was a bitter
disappointment to him that his father forbade his going to sea
and was educating him to be a "landlubber," which he had been
taught by his boy associates to regard as the most contemptible
thing on earth.
Two days before Christmas, Biceps Grimlund was sitting in his
room, looking gloomily out of the window. He wished to postpone
as long as possible his departure for Aunt Elsbeth's
country-place, for he foresaw that both he and she were doomed to
a surfeit of each other's company during the coming fortnight.
At last he heaved a deep sigh and languidly began to pack his
trunk. He had just disposed the dear Marryat books on top of his
starched shirts, when he heard rapid footsteps on the stairs, and
the next moment the door burst open, and his classmate, Ralph
Hoyer, rushed breathlessly into the room.
"Biceps," he cried, "look at this! Here is a letter from my
father, and he tells me to invite one of my classmates to come
home with me for the vacation. Will you come? Oh, we shall have
grand times, I tell you! No end of fun!"
Albert, instead of answering, jumped up and danced a jig on the
floor, upsetting two chairs and breaking the wash-pitcher.
"Hurrah!" he cried, "I'm your man. Shake hands on it, Ralph!
You have saved me from two weeks of cats and yarn and moping!
Give us your paw! I never was so glad to see anybody in all my
And to prove it, he seized Ralph by the shoulders, gave him a
vigorous whirl and forced him to join in the dance.
"Now, stop your nonsense," Ralph protested, laughing; "if you
have so much strength to waste, wait till we are at home in
Solheim, and you'll have a chance to use it profitably."
Albert flung himself down on his old rep-covered sofa. It seemed
to have some internal disorder, for its springs rattled and a
vague musical twang indicated that something or other had
snapped. It had seen much maltreatment, that poor old piece of
furniture, and bore visible marks of it. When, after various
exhibitions of joy, their boisterous delight had quieted down,
both boys began to discuss their plans for the vacation.
"But I fear my groom may freeze, down there in the street," Ralph
ejaculated, cutting short the discussion; "it is bitter cold, and
he can't leave the horses. Hurry up, now, old man, and I'll help
you pack."
It did not take them long to complete the packing. Albert sent a
telegram to his father, asking permission to accept Ralph's
invitation; but, knowing well that the reply would be favorable,
did not think it necessary to wait for it. With the assistance
of his friend he now wrapped himself in two overcoats, pulled a
pair of thick woollen stockings over the outside of his boots and
a pair of fur-lined top-boots outside of these, girded himself
with three long scarfs, and pulled his brown otter-skin cap down
over his ears. He was nearly as broad as he was long, when he
had completed these operations, and descended into the street
where the big double-sleigh (made in the shape of a huge white
swan) was awaiting them. They now called at Ralph's lodgings,
whence he presently emerged in a similar Esquimau costume,
wearing a wolf-skin coat which left nothing visible except the
tip of his nose and the steam of his breath. Then they started
off merrily with jingling bells, and waved a farewell toward many
a window, wherein were friends and acquaintances. They felt in
so jolly a mood, that they could not help shouting their joy in
the face of all the world, and crowing over all poor wretches who
were left to spend the holidays in the city.
Solheim was about twenty miles from the city, and it was nine
o'clock in the evening when the boys arrived there. The moon was
shining brightly, and the Milky Way, with its myriad stars,
looked like a luminous mist across the vault of the sky. The
aurora borealis swept down from the north with white and pink
radiations which flushed the dark blue sky for an instant, and
vanished. The earth was white, as far as the eye could reach
--splendidly, dazzlingly white. And out of the white radiance
rose the great dark pile of masonry called Solheim, with its tall
chimneys and dormer-windows and old-fashioned gables. Round
about stood the tall leafless maples and chestnut-trees,
sparkling with frost and stretching their gaunt arms against the
heavens. The two horses, when they swung up before the great
front-door, were so white with hoar-frost that they looked shaggy
like goats, and no one could tell what was their original color.
Their breath was blown in two vapory columns from their nostrils
and drifted about their heads like steam about a locomotive.
The sleigh-bells had announced the arrival of the guests, and a
great shout of welcome was heard from the hall of the house,
which seemed alive with grownup people and children. Ralph
jumped out of the sleigh, embraced at random half a dozen people,
one of whom was his mother, kissed right and left, protesting
laughingly against being smothered in affection, and finally
managed to introduce his friend, who for the moment was feeling a
trifle lonely.
"Here, father," he cried. "Biceps, this is my father; and,
father, this is my Biceps----"
"What stuff you are talking, boy," his father exclaimed. "How
can this young fellow be your biceps----"
"Well, how can a man keep his senses in such confusion?" said
the son of the house. "This is my friend and classmate, Albert
Grimlund, alias Biceps Grimlund, and the strongest man in the
whole school. Just feel his biceps, mother, and you'll see."
"No, I thank you. I'll take your word for it," replied Mrs.
Hoyer. "As I intend to treat him as a friend of my son should be
treated, I hope he will not feel inclined to give me any proof of
his muscularity."
When, with the aid of the younger children, the travellers had
divested themselves of their various wraps and overcoats, they
were ushered into the old-fashioned sitting-room. In one corner
roared an enormous, many-storied, iron stove. It had a picture
in relief, on one side, of Diana the Huntress, with her nymphs
and baying hounds. In the middle of the room stood a big table,
and in the middle of the table a big lamp, about which the entire
family soon gathered. It was so cosey and homelike that Albert,
before he had been half an hour in the room, felt gratefully the
atmosphere of mutual affection which pervaded the house. It
amused him particularly to watch the little girls, of whom there
were six, and to observe their profound admiration for their big
brother. Every now and then one of them, sidling up to him while
he sat talking, would cautiously touch his ear or a curl of his
hair; and if he deigned to take any notice of her, offering her,
perhaps, a perfunctory kiss, her pride and pleasure were charming
to witness.
Presently the signal was given that supper was ready, and various
savory odors, which escaped, whenever a door was opened, served
to arouse the anticipations of the boys to the highest pitch.
Now, if I did not have so much else to tell you, I should stop
here and describe that supper. There were twenty-two people who
sat down to it; but that was nothing unusual at Solheim, for it
was a hospitable house, where every wayfarer was welcome, either
to the table in the servants' hall or to the master's table in
the dining-room.
At the stroke of ten all the family arose, and each in turn
kissed the father and mother good-night; whereupon Mr. Hoyer took
the great lamp from the table and mounted the stairs, followed by
his pack of noisy boys and girls. Albert and Ralph found
themselves, with four smaller Hoyers, in an enormous low-ceiled
room with many windows. In three corners stood huge canopied
bedsteads, with flowered-chintz curtains and mountainous
eiderdown coverings which swelled up toward the ceiling. In the
middle of the wall, opposite the windows, a big iron stove, like
the one in the sitting-room (only that it was adorned with a
bunch of flowers, peaches, and grapes, and not with Diana and her
nymphs), was roaring merrily, and sending a long red sheen from
its draught-hole across the floor.
Around the big warm stove the boys gathered (for it was
positively Siberian in the region of the windows), and while
undressing played various pranks upon each other, which created
much merriment. But the most laughter was provoked at the expense
of Finn Hoyer, a boy of fourteen, whose bare back his brother
insisted upon exhibiting to his guest; for it was decorated with
a facsimile of the picture on the stove, showing roses and
luscious peaches and grapes in red relief. Three years before,
on Christmas Eve, the boys had stood about the red-hot stove,
undressing for their bath, and Finn, who was naked, had, in the
general scrimmage to get first into the bath-tub, been pushed
against the glowing iron, the ornamentation of which had been
beautifully burned upon his back. He had to be wrapped in oil and
cotton after that adventure, and he recovered in due time, but
never quite relished the distinction he had acquired by his
pictorial skin.
It was long before Albert fell asleep; for the cold kept up a
continual fusillade, as of musketry, during the entire night.
The woodwork of the walls snapped and cracked with loud reports;
and a little after midnight a servant came in and stuffed the
stove full of birch-wood, until it roared like an angry lion.
This roar finally lulled Albert to sleep, in spite of the
startling noises about him.
The next morning the boys were aroused at seven o'clock by a
servant, who brought a tray with the most fragrant coffee and hot
rolls. It was in honor of the guest that, in accordance with
Norse custom, this early meal was served; and all the boys,
carrying pillows and blankets, gathered on Albert's and Ralph's
bed and feasted right royally. So it seemed to them, at least;
for any break in the ordinary routine, be it ever so slight, is
an event to the young. Then they had a pillow-fight, thawed at
the stove the water in the pitchers (for it was frozen hard), and
arrayed themselves to descend and meet the family at the nine
o'clock breakfast. When this repast was at an end, the question
arose how they were to entertain their guest, and various plans
were proposed. But to all Ralph's propositions his mother
interposed the objection that it was too cold.
"Mother is right," said Mr. Hoyer; "it is so cold that 'the chips
jump on the hill-side.' You'll have to be content with indoor
sports to-day."
"But, father, it is not more than twenty degrees below zero," the
boy demurred. "I am sure we can stand that, if we keep in
motion. I have been out at thirty without losing either ears or
He went to the window to observe the thermometer; but the dim
daylight scarcely penetrated the fantastic frost-crystals, which,
like a splendid exotic flora, covered the panes. Only at the
upper corner, where the ice had commenced to thaw, a few timid
sunbeams were peeping in, making the lamp upon the table seem
pale and sickly. Whenever the door to the hall was opened a
white cloud of vapor rolled in; and every one made haste to shut
the door, in order to save the precious heat. The boys, being
doomed to remain indoors, walked about restlessly, felt each
other's muscle, punched each other, and sometimes, for want of
better employment, teased the little girls. Mr. Hoyer, seeing
how miserable they were, finally took pity on them, and, after
having thawed out a window-pane sufficiently to see the
thermometer outside, gave his consent to a little expedition on
skees[2] down to the river.
[2] Norwegian snow-shoes.
And now, boys, you ought to have seen them! Now there was life in
them! You would scarcely have dreamed that they were the same
creatures who, a moment ago, looked so listless and miserable.
What rollicking laughter and fun, while they bundled one another
in scarfs, cardigan-jackets, fur-lined top-boots, and overcoats!
"You had better take your guns along, boys," said the father, as
they stormed out through the front door; "you might strike a
couple of ptarmigan, or a mountain-cock, over on the west side."
"I am going to take your rifle, if you'll let me," Ralph
exclaimed. "I have a fancy we might strike bigger game than
mountain-cock. I shouldn't object to a wolf or two."
"You are welcome to the rifle," said his father; "but I doubt
whether you'll find wolves on the ice so early in the day."
Mr. Hoyer took the rifle from its case, examined it carefully,
and handed it to Ralph. Albert, who was a less experienced
hunter than Ralph, preferred a fowling-piece to the rifle;
especially as he had no expectation of shooting anything but
ptarmigan. Powder-horns, cartridges, and shot were provided; and
quite proudly the two friends started off on their skees, gliding
over the hard crust of the snow, which, as the sun rose higher,
was oversown with thousands of glittering gems. The boys looked
like Esquimaux, with their heads bundled up in scarfs, and
nothing visible except their eyes and a few hoary locks of hair
which the frost had silvered.
"What was that?" cried Albert, startled by a sharp report which
reverberated from the mountains. They had penetrated the forest
on the west side, and ranged over the ice for an hour, in a vain
search for wolves.
"Hush," said Ralph, excitedly; and after a moment of intent
listening he added, "I'll be drawn and quartered if it isn't
"How do you know?"
"These woods belong to father, and no one else has any right to
hunt in them. He doesn't mind if a poor man kills a hare or two,
or a brace of ptarmigan; but these chaps are after elk; and if
the old gentleman gets on the scent of elk-hunters, he has no
more mercy than Beelzebub."
"How can you know that they are after elk?"
"No man is likely to go to the woods for small game on a day like
this. They think the cold protects them from pursuit and
"What are you going to do about it?"
"I am going to play a trick on them. You know that the sheriff,
whose duty it is to be on the lookout for elk-poachers, would
scarcely send out a posse when the cold is so intense. Elk, you
know, are becoming very scarce, and the law protects them. No
man is allowed to shoot more than one elf a year, and that one on
his own property. Now, you and I will play deputy-sheriffs, and
have those poachers securely in the lock-up before night."
"But suppose they fight?"
"Then we'll fight back."
Ralph was so aglow with joyous excitement at the thought of this
adventure, that Albert had not the heart to throw cold water on
his enthusiasm. Moreover, he was afraid of being thought
cowardly by his friend if he offered objections. The
recollection of Midshipman Easy and his daring pranks flashed
through his brain, and he felt an instant desire to rival the
exploits of his favorite hero. If only the enterprise had been on
the sea he would have been twice as happy, for the land always
seemed to him a prosy and inconvenient place for the exhibition
of heroism.
"But, Ralph," he exclaimed, now more than ready to bear his part
in the expedition, "I have only shot in my gun. You can't shoot
men with bird-shot."
"Shoot men! Are you crazy? Why, I don't intend to shoot anybody.
I only wish to capture them. My rifle is a breech-loader and has
six cartridges. Besides, it has twice the range of theirs (for
there isn't another such rifle in all Odalen), and by firing one
shot over their heads I can bring them to terms, don't you see?"
Albert, to be frank, did not see it exactly; but he thought it
best to suppress his doubts. He scented danger in the air, and
his blood bounded through his veins.
"How do you expect to track them?" he asked, breathlessly.
"Skee-tracks in the snow can be seen by a bat, born blind,"
answered Ralph, recklessly.
They were now climbing up the wooded slope on the western side of
the river. The crust of the frozen snow was strong enough to
bear them; and as it was not glazed, but covered with an inch of
hoar-frost, it retained the imprint of their feet with
distinctness. They were obliged to carry their skees, on account
both of the steepness of the slope and the density of the
underbrush. Roads and paths were invisible under the white pall
of the snow, and only the facility with which they could retrace
their steps saved them from the fear of going astray. Through
the vast forest a deathlike silence reigned; and this silence was
not made up of an infinity of tiny sounds, like the silence of a
summer day when the crickets whirr in the treetops and the bees
drone in the clover-blossoms. No; this silence was dead,
chilling, terrible. The huge pine-trees now and then dropped a
load of snow on the heads of the bold intruders, and it fell with
a thud, followed by a noiseless, glittering drizzle. As far as
their eyes could reach, the monotonous colonnade of brown
tree-trunks, rising out of the white waste, extended in all
directions. It reminded them of the enchanted forest in
"Undine," through which a man might ride forever without finding
the end. It was a great relief when, from time to time, they met
a squirrel out foraging for pine-cones or picking up a scanty
living among the husks of last year's hazel-nuts. He was lively
in spite of the weather, and the faint noises of his small
activities fell gratefully upon ears already ap-palled by the
awful silence. Occasionally they scared up a brace of grouse
that seemed half benumbed, and hopped about in a melancholy
manner under the pines, or a magpie, drawing in its head and
ruffling up its feathers against the cold, until it looked frowsy
and disreputable.
"Biceps," whispered Ralph, who had suddenly discovered something
interesting in the snow, "do you see that?"
"Je-rusalem!" ejaculated Albert, with thoughtless delight, "it
is a hoof-track!"
"Hold your tongue, you blockhead," warned his friend, too excited
to be polite, "or you'll spoil the whole business!"
"But you asked me," protested Albert, in a huff.
"But I didn't shout, did I?"
Again the report of a shot tore a great rent in the wintry
stillness and rang out with sharp reverberations.
"We've got them," said Ralph, examining the lock of his rifle.
"That shot settles them."
"If we don't look out, they may get us instead," grumbled Albert,
who was still offended.
Ralph stood peering into the underbrush, his eyes as wild as
those of an Indian, his nostrils dilated, and all his senses
intensely awake. His companion, who was wholly unskilled in
woodcraft, could see no cause for his agitation, and feared that
he was yet angry. He did not detect the evidences of large game
in the immediate neighborhood. He did not see, by the bend of
the broken twigs and the small tufts of hair on the briar-bush,
that an elk had pushed through that very copse within a few
minutes; nor did he sniff the gamy odor with which the large
beast had charged the air. In obedience to his friend's gesture,
he flung himself down on hands and knees and cautiously crept
after him through the thicket. He now saw without difficulty a
place where the elk had broken through the snow crust, and he
could also detect a certain aimless bewilderment in the tracks,
owing, no doubt, to the shot and the animal's perception of
danger on two sides. Scarcely had he crawled twenty feet when he
was startled by a noise of breaking branches, and before he had
time to cock his gun, he saw an enormous bull-elk tearing through
the underbrush, blowing two columns of steam from his nostrils,
and steering straight toward them. At the same instant Ralph's
rifle blazed away, and the splendid beast, rearing on its hind
legs, gave a wild snort, plunged forward and rolled on its side
in the snow. Quick as a flash the young hunter had drawn his
knife, and, in accordance with the laws of the chase, had driven
it into the breast of the animal. But the glance from the dying
eyes--that glance, of which every elk-hunter can tell a moving
tale--pierced the boy to the very heart! It was such a touching,
appealing, imploring glance, so soft and gentle and unresentful.
"Why did you harm me," it seemed to say, "who never harmed any
living thing--who claimed only the right to live my frugal life
in the forest, digging up the frozen mosses under the snow, which
no mortal creature except myself can eat?"
The sanguinary instinct--the fever for killing, which every boy
inherits from savage ancestors--had left Ralph, before he had
pulled the knife from the bleeding wound. A miserable feeling of
guilt stole over him. He never had shot an elk before; and his
father, who was anxious to preserve the noble beasts from
destruction, had not availed himself of his right to kill one for
many years. Ralph had, indeed, many a time hunted rabbits,
hares, mountain-cock, and capercaillie. But they had never
destroyed his pleasure by arousing pity for their deaths; and he
had always regarded himself as being proof against sentimental
"Look here, Biceps," he said, flinging the knife into the snow,
"I wish I hadn't killed that bull."
"I thought we were hunting for poachers," answered Albert,
dubiously; "and now we have been poaching ourselves."
"By Jiminy! So we have; and I never once thought of it," cried
the valiant hunter. "I am afraid we are off my father's
preserves too. It is well the deputy sheriffs are not abroad, or
we might find ourselves decorated with iron bracelets before
"But what did you do it for?"
"Well, I can't tell. It's in the blood, I fancy. The moment I
saw the track and caught the wild smell, I forgot all about the
poachers, and started on the scent like a hound."
The two boys stood for some minutes looking at the dead animal,
not with savage exultation, but with a dim regret. The blood
which was gushing from the wound in the breast froze in a solid
lump the very moment it touched the snow, although the cold had
greatly moderated since the morning.
"I suppose we'll have to skin the fellow," remarked Ralph,
lugubriously; "it won't do to leave that fine carcass for the
wolves to celebrate Christmas with."
"All right," Albert answered, "I am not much of a hand at
skinning, but I'll do the best I can."
They fell to work rather reluctantly at the unwonted task, but
had not proceeded far when they perceived that they had a full
day's job before them.
"I've no talent for the butcher's trade," Ralph exclaimed in
disgust, dropping his knife into the snow. "There's no help for
it, Biceps, we'll have to bury the carcass, pile some logs on the
top of it, and send a horse to drag it home to-morrow. If it
were not Christmas Eve to-night we might take a couple of men
along and shoot a dozen wolves or more. For there is sure to be
pandemonium here before long, and a concert in G-flat that'll
curdle the marrow of your bones with horror."
"Thanks," replied the admirer of Midshipman Easy, striking a
reckless naval attitude. "The marrow of my bones is not so
easily curdled. I've been on a whaling voyage, which is more
than you have."
Ralph was about to vindicate his dignity by referring to his own
valiant exploits, when suddenly his keen eyes detected a slight
motion in the underbrush on the slope below.
"Biceps," he said, with forced composure, "those poachers are
tracking us."
"What do you mean?" asked Albert, in vague alarm.
"Do you see the top of that young birch waving?"
"Well, what of that!"
"Wait and see. It's no good trying to escape. They can easily
overtake us. The snow is the worst tell-tale under the sun."
"But why should we wish to escape? I thought we were going to
catch them."
"So we were; but that was before we turned poachers ourselves.
Now those fellows will turn the tables on us--take us to the
sheriff and collect half the fine, which is fifty dollars, as
"Je-rusalem!" cried Biceps, "isn't it a beautiful scrape we've
gotten into?"
"Rather," responded his friend, coolly.
"But why meekly allow ourselves to be captured? Why not defend
"My dear Biceps, you don't know what you are talking about.
Those fellows don't mind putting a bullet into you, if you run.
Now, I'd rather pay fifty dollars any day, than shoot a man even
in self-defence."
"But they have killed elk too. We heard them shoot twice.
Suppose we play the same game on them that they intend to play on
us. We can play informers too, then we'll at least be quits."
"Biceps, you are a brick! That's a capital idea! Then let us
start for the sheriff's; and if we get there first, we'll inform
both on ourselves and on them. That'll cancel the fine. Quick,
No persuasions were needed to make Albert bestir himself. He
leaped toward his skees, and following his friend, who was a few
rods ahead of him, started down the slope in a zigzag line,
cautiously steering his way among the tree trunks. The boys had
taken their departure none too soon; for they were scarcely five
hundred yards down the declivity, when they heard behind them
loud exclamations and oaths. Evidently the poachers had stopped
to roll some logs (which were lying close by) over the carcass,
probably meaning to appropriate it; and this gave the boys an
advantage, of which they were in great need. After a few moments
they espied an open clearing which sloped steeply down toward the
river. Toward this Ralph had been directing his course; for
although it was a venturesome undertaking to slide down so steep
and rugged a hill, he was determined rather to break his neck
than lower his pride, and become the laughing-stock of the
One more tack through alder copse and juniper jungle--hard
indeed, and terribly vexatious--and he saw with delight the great
open slope, covered with an unbroken surface of glittering snow.
The sun (which at midwinter is but a few hours above the horizon)
had set; and the stars were flashing forth with dazzling
brilliancy. Ralph stopped, as he reached the clearing, to give
Biceps an opportunity to overtake him; for Biceps, like all
marine animals, moved with less dexterity on the dry land.
"Ralph," he whispered breathlessly, as he pushed himself up to
his companion with a vigorous thrust of his skee-staff, "there
are two awful chaps close behind us. I distinctly heard them
"Fiddlesticks," said Ralph; "now let us see what you are made of!
Don't take my track, or you may impale me like a roast pig on a
spit. Now, ready!--one, two, three!"
"Hold on there, or I shoot," yelled a hoarse voice from out of
the underbrush; but it was too late; for at the same instant the
two boys slid out over the steep slope, and, wrapped in a whirl
of loose snow, were scudding at a dizzying speed down the
precipitous hill-side. Thump, thump, thump, they went, where
hidden wood-piles or fences obstructed their path, and out they
shot into space, but each time came down firmly on their feet,
and dashed ahead with undiminished ardor. Their calves ached,
the cold air whistled in their ears, and their eyelids became
stiff and their sight half obscured with the hoar-frost that
fringed their lashes. But onward they sped, keeping their
balance with wonderful skill, until they reached the gentler
slope which formed the banks of the great river. Then for the
first time Ralph had an opportunity to look behind him, and he
saw two moving whirls of snow darting downward, not far from his
own track. His heart beat in his throat; for those fellows had
both endurance and skill, and he feared that he was no match for
them. But suddenly--he could have yelled with delight--the
foremost figure leaped into the air, turned a tremendous
somersault, and, coming down on his head, broke through the crust
of the snow and vanished, while his skees started on an
independent journey down the hill-side. He had struck an exposed
fence-rail, which, abruptly checking his speed, had sent him
flying like a rocket.
The other poacher had barely time to change his course, so as to
avoid the snag; but he was unable to stop and render assistance
to his fallen comrade. The boys, just as they were shooting out
upon the ice, saw by his motions that he was hesitating whether
or not he should give up the chase. He used his staff as a brake
for a few moments, so as to retard his speed; but discovering,
perhaps, by the brightening starlight, that his adversaries were
not full-grown men, he took courage, started forward again, and
tried to make up for the time he had lost. If he could but reach
the sheriff's house before the boys did, he could have them
arrested and collect the informer's fee, instead of being himself
arrested and fined as a poacher. It was a prize worth racing
for! And, moreover, there were two elks, worth twenty-five
dollars apiece, buried in the snow under logs. These also would
belong to the victor! The poacher dashed ahead, straining every
nerve, and reached safely the foot of the steep declivity. The
boys were now but a few hundred yards ahead of him.
"Hold on there," he yelled again, "or I shoot!"
He was not within range, but he thought he could frighten the
youngsters into abandoning the race. The sheriff's house was but
a short distance up the river. Its tall, black chimneys could he
seen looming up against the starlit sky. There was no slope now
to accelerate their speed. They had to peg away for dear life,
pushing themselves forward with their skee-staves, laboring like
plough-horses, panting, snorting, perspiring. Ralph turned his
head once more. The poacher was gaining upon them; there could
be no doubt of it. He was within the range of Ralph's rifle; and
a sturdy fellow he was, who seemed good for a couple of miles
yet. Should Ralph send a bullet over his head to frighten him?
No; that might give the poacher an excuse for sending back a
bullet with a less innocent purpose. Poor Biceps, he was panting
and puffing in his heavy wraps like a steamboat! He did not once
open his mouth to speak; but, exerting his vaunted muscle to the
utmost, kept abreast of his friend, and sometimes pushed a pace
or two ahead of him. But it cost him a mighty effort! And yet
the poacher was gaining upon him! They could see the long
broadside of windows in the sheriff's mansion, ablaze with
Christmas candles. They came nearer and nearer! The church-bells
up on the bend were ringing in the festival. Five minutes more
and they would be at their goal. Five minutes more! Surely they
had strength enough left for that small space of time. So had
the poacher, probably! The question was, which had the most.
Then, with a short, sharp resonance, followed by a long
reverberation, a shot rang out and a bullet whizzed past Ralph's
ear. It was the poacher who had broken the peace. Ralph, his
blood boiling with wrath, came to a sudden stop, flung his rifle
to his cheek and cried, "Drop that gun!"
The poacher, bearing down with all his might on the skee-staff,
checked his speed. In the meanwhile Albert hurried on, seeing
that the issue of the race depended upon him.
"Don't force me to hurt ye!" shouted the poacher, threateningly,
to Ralph, taking aim once more.
"You can't," Ralph shouted back. "You haven't another shot."
At that instant sounds of sleigh-bells and voices were heard, and
half a dozen people, startled by the shot, were seen rushing out
from the sheriff's mansion. Among them was Mr. Bjornerud
himself, with one of his deputies.
"In the name of the law, I command you to cease," he cried, when
he saw down the two figures in menacing attitudes. But before he
could say another word, some one fell prostrate in the road
before him, gasping:
"We have shot an elk; so has that man down on the ice. We give
ourselves up."
Mr. Bjornerud, making no answer, leaped over the prostrate
figure, and, followed by the deputy, dashed down upon the ice.
"In the name of the law!" he shouted again, and both rifles were
reluctantly lowered.
"I have shot an elk," cried Ralph, eagerly, "and this man is a
poacher, we heard him shoot."
"I have killed an elk," screamed the poacher, in the same moment,
"and so has this fellow."
The sheriff was too astonished to speak. Never before, in his
experience, had poachers raced for dear life to give themselves
into custody. He feared that they were making sport of him; in
that case, however, he resolved to make them suffer for their
"You are my prisoners," he said, after a moment's hesitation.
"Take them to the lock-up, Olsen, and handcuff them securely," he
added, turning to his deputy.
There were now a dozen men--most of them guests and attendants of
the sheriff's household--standing in a ring about Ralph and the
poacher. Albert, too, had scrambled to his feet and had joined
his comrade.
"Will you permit me, Mr. Sheriff," said Ralph, making the officer
his politest bow, "to send a message to my father, who is
probably anxious about us?"
"And who is your father, young man?" asked the sheriff, not
unkindly; "I should think you were doing him an ill-turn in
taking to poaching at your early age."
"My father is Mr. Hoyer, of Solheim," said the boy, not without
some pride in the announcement.
"What--you rascal, you! Are you trying to, play pranks on an old
man?" cried the officer of the law, grasping Ralph cordially by
the hand. "You've grown to be quite a man, since I saw you last.
Pardon me for not recognizing the son of an old neighbor."
"Allow me to introduce to you my friend, Mr. Biceps--I mean, Mr.
Albert Grimlund."
"Happy to make your acquaintance, Mr. Biceps Albert; and now you
must both come and eat the Christmas porridge with us. I'll send
a messenger to Mr. Hoyer without delay."
The sheriff, in a jolly mood, and happy to have added to the
number of his Christmas guests, took each of the two young men by
the arm, as if he were going to arrest them, and conducted them
through the spacious front hall into a large cosey room, where,
having divested themselves of their wraps, they told the story of
their adventure.
"But, my dear sir," Mr. Bjornerud exclaimed, "I don't see how you
managed to go beyond your father's preserves. You know he bought
of me the whole forest tract, adjoining his own on the south,
about three months ago. So you were perfectly within your
rights; for your father hasn't killed an elk on his land for
three years."
"If that is the case, Mr. Sheriff," said Ralph, "I must beg of
you to release the poor fellow who chased us. I don't wish any
informer's fee, nor have I any desire to get him into trouble."
"I am sorry to say I can't accommodate you," Bjornerud replied.
"This man is a notorious poacher and trespasser, whom my deputies
have long been tracking in vain. Now that I have him I shall
keep him. There's no elk safe in Odalen so long as that rascal
is at large."
"That may be; but I shall then turn my informer's fee over to
him, which will reduce his fine from fifty dollars to twenty-five
"To encourage him to continue poaching?"
"Well, I confess I have a little more sympathy with poachers,
since we came so near being poachers ourselves. It was only an
accident that saved us!"
Little Nils had an idea that he wanted to be something great in
the world, but he did not quite know how to set about it. He had
always been told that, having been born on a Sunday, he was a
luck-child, and that good fortune would attend him on that
account in whatever he undertook.
He had never, so far, noticed anything peculiar about himself,
though, to be sure, his small enterprises did not usually come to
grief, his snares were seldom empty, and his tiny stamping-mill,
which he and his friend Thorstein had worked at so faithfully,
was now making a merry noise over in the brook in the Westmo
Glen, so that you could hear it a hundred yards away.
The reason of this, his mother told him, according to the
superstition of her people, was that the Nixy and the Hulder[3]
and the gnomes favored him because he was a Sunday child. What
was more, she assured him, that he would see them some day, and
then, if he conducted himself cleverly, so as to win their favor,
he would, by their aid, rise high in the world, and make his
[3] The genius of cattle, represented as a beautiful maiden
disfigured by a heifer's tail, which she is always trying to
hide, though often unsuccessfully.
Now this was exactly what Nils wanted, and therefore he was not a
little anxious to catch a glimpse of the mysterious creatures who
had so whimsical a reason for taking an interest in him. Many and
many a time he sat at the waterfall where the Nixy was said to
play the harp every midsummer night, but although he sometimes
imagined that he heard a vague melody trembling through the rush
and roar of the water, and saw glimpses of white limbs flashing
through the current, yet never did he get a good look at the
Though he roamed through the woods early and late, setting snares
for birds and rabbits, and was ever on the alert for a sight of
the Hulder's golden hair and scarlet bodice, the tricksy sprite
persisted in eluding him.
He thought sometimes that he heard a faint, girlish giggle, full
of teasing provocation and suppressed glee, among the underbrush,
and once he imagined that he saw a gleam of scarlet and gold
vanish in a dense alder copse.
But very little good did that do him, when he could not fix the
vision, talk with it face to face, and extort the fulfilment of
the three regulation wishes.
"I am probably not good enough," thought Nils. "I know I am a
selfish fellow, and cruel, too, some-times, to birds and beasts.
I suppose she won't have anything to do with me, as long as she
isn't satisfied with my behavior."
Then he tried hard to be kind and considerate; smiled at his
little sister when she pulled his hair, patted Sultan, the dog,
instead of kicking him, when he was in his way, and never
complained or sulked when he was sent on errands late at night or
in bad weather.
But, strange to say, though the Nixy's mysterious melody still
sounded vaguely through the water's roar, and the Hulder seemed
to titter behind the tree-trunks and vanish in the underbrush, a
real, unmistakable view was never vouchsafed to Nils, and the
three wishes which were to make his fortune he had no chance of
He had fully made up his mind what his wishes were to be, for he
was determined not to be taken by surprise. He knew well the
fate of those foolish persons in the fairy tales who offend their
benevolent protectors by bouncing against them head foremost, as
it were, with a greedy cry for wealth.
Nils was not going to be caught that way. He would ask first for
wisdom--that was what all right-minded heroes did--then for good
repute among men, and lastly--and here was the rub--lastly he was
inclined to ask for a five-bladed knife, like the one the
parson's Thorwald had got for a Christmas present.
But he had considerable misgiving about the expediency of this
last wish. If he had a fair renown and wisdom, might he not be
able to get along without a five-bladed pocket-knife? But no;
there was no help for it. Without that five-bladed pocket-knife
neither wisdom nor fame would satisfy him. It would be the drop
of gall in his cup of joy.
After many days' pondering, it occurred to him, as a way out of
the difficulty, that it would, perhaps, not offend the Hulder if
he asked, not for wealth, but for a moderate prosperity. If he
were blessed with a moderate prosperity, he could, of course, buy
a five-bladed pocket-knife with corkscrew and all other
appurtenances, and still have something left over.
He had a dreadful struggle with this question, for he was well
aware that the proper things to wish were long life and happiness
for his father and mother, or something in that line. But,
though he wished his father and mother well, he could not make up
his mind to forego his own precious chances on their account.
Moreover, he consoled himself with the reflection that if he
attained the goal of his own desires he could easily bestow upon
them, of his bounty, a reasonable prospect of long life and
You see Nils was by no means so good yet as he ought to be. He
was clever enough to perceive that he had small chance of seeing
the Hulder, as long as his heart was full of selfishness and envy
and greed.
For, strive as he might, he could not help feeling envious of the
parson's Thorwald, with his elaborate combination pocket-knife
and his silver watch-chain, which he unfeelingly flaunted in the
face of an admiring community. It was small consolation for Nils
to know that there was no watch but only a key attached to it;
for a silver watch-chain, even without a watch, was a
sufficiently splendid possession to justify a boy in fording it
over his less fortunate comrades.
Nils's father, who was a poor charcoal-burner, could never afford
to make his son such a present, even if he worked until he was as
black as a chimney-sweep. For what little money he earned was
needed at once for food and clothes for the family; and there
were times when they were obliged to mix ground birch-bark with
their flour in order to make it last longer.
It was easy enough for a rich man's son to be good, Nils thought.
It was small credit to him if he was not envious, having never
known want and never gone to bed on birch-bark porridge. But for
a poor boy not to covet all the nice things which would make life
so pleasant, if he had them, seemed next to impossible.
Still Nils kept on making good resolutions and breaking them, and
then piecing them together again and breaking them anew.
If it had not been for his desire to see the Hulder and the Nixy,
and making them promise the fulfilment of the three wishes, he
would have given up the struggle, and resigned himself to being a
bad boy because he was born so. But those teasing glimpses of
the Hulder's scarlet bodice and golden hair, and the vague
snatches of wondrous melody that rose from the cataract in the
silent summer nights, filled his soul with an intense desire to
see the whole Hulder, with her radiant smile and melancholy eyes,
and to hear the whole melody plainly enough to be written down on
paper and learned by heart.
It was with this longing to repeat the few haunting notes that
hummed in his brain that Nils went to the schoolmaster one day
and asked him for the loan of his fiddle. But the schoolmaster,
hearing that Nils could not play, thought his request a foolish
one and refused.
Nevertheless, that visit became an important event, and a
turning-point in the boy's life. For he was moved to confide in
the schoolmaster, who was a kindly old man, and fond of clever
boys; and he became interested in Nils. Though he regarded
Nils's desire to record the Nixy's strains as absurd, he offered
to teach him to play. There was good stuff in the lad, he
thought, and when he had out-grown his fantastic nonsense, he
might, very likely, make a good fiddler.
Thus it came to pass that the charcoal-burner's son learned to
play the violin. He had not had half a dozen lessons before he
set about imitating the Nixy's notes which he had heard in the
"It was this way," he said to the schoolmaster, pressing his ear
against the violin, while he ran the bow lightly over the
strings; "or rather it was this way," making another ineffectual
effort. "No, no, that wasn't it, either. It's no use,
schoolmaster: I shall never be able to do it!" he cried,
flinging the violin on the table and rushing out of the door.
When he returned the next day he was heartily ashamed of his
impatience. To try to catch the Nixy's notes after half a dozen
lessons was, of course, an absurdity.
The master told him simply to banish such folly from his brain,
to apply himself diligently to his scales, and not to bother
himself about the Nixy.
That seemed to be sound advice and Nils accepted it with
contrition. He determined never to repeat his silly experiment.
But when the next midsummer night came, a wild yearning possessed
him, and he stole out noiselessly into the forest, and sat down
on a stone by the river, listening intently.
For a long while he heard nothing but the monotonous boom of the
water plunging into the deep. But, strangely enough, there was a
vague, hushed rhythm in this thundering roar; and after a while
he seemed to hear a faint strain, ravishingly sweet, which
vibrated on the air for an instant and vanished.
It seemed to steal upon his ear unawares, and the moment he
listened, with a determination to catch it, it was gone. But
sweet it was--inexpressibly sweet.
Let the master talk as much as he liked, catch it he would and
catch it he must. But he must acquire greater skill before he
would be able to render something so delicate and elusive.
Accordingly Nils applied himself with all his might and main to
his music, in the intervals between his work.
He was big enough now to accompany his father to the woods, and
help him pile turf and earth on the heap of logs that were to be
burned to charcoal. He did not see the Hulder face to face,
though he was constantly on the watch for her; but once or twice
he thought he saw a swift flash of scarlet and gold in the
underbrush, and again and again he thought he heard her soft,
teasing laughter in the alder copses. That, too, he imagined he
might express in music; and the next time he got hold of the
schoolmaster's fiddle he quavered away on the fourth string, but
produced nothing that had the remotest resemblance to melody,
much less to that sweet laughter.
He grew so discouraged that he could have wept. He had a wild
impulse to break the fiddle, and never touch another as long as
he lived. But he knew he could not live up to any such
resolution. The fiddle was already too dear to him to be
renounced for a momentary whim. But it was like an unrequited
affection, which brought as much sorrow as joy.
There was so much that Nils burned to express; but the fiddle
refused to obey him, and screeched something utterly discordant,
as it seemed, from sheer perversity.
It occurred to Nils again, that unless the Nixy took pity on him
and taught him that marvellous, airy strain he would never catch
it. Would he then ever be good enough to win the favor of the
For in the fairy tales it is always the bad people who come to
grief, while the good and merciful ones are somehow rewarded.
It was evidently because he was yet far from being good enough
that both Hulder and Nixy eluded him. Sunday child though he
was, there seemed to be small chance that he would ever be able
to propound his three wishes.
Only now, the third wish was no longer a five-bladed
pocket-knife, but a violin of so fine a ring and delicate
modulation that it might render the Nixy's strain.
While these desires and fancies fought in his heart, Nils grew to
be a young man; and he still was, what he had always been--a
charcoal-burner. He went to the parson for half a year to prepare
for confirmation; and by his gentleness and sweetness of
disposition attracted not only the good man himself, but all with
whom he came in contact. His answers were always thoughtful, and
betrayed a good mind.
He was not a prig, by any means, who held aloof from sport and
play; he could laugh with the merriest, run a race with the
swiftest, and try a wrestling match with the strongest.
There was no one among the candidates for confirmation, that
year, who was so well liked as Nils. Gentle as he was and
soft-spoken, there was a manly spirit in him, and that always
commands respect among boys.
He received much praise from the pastor, and no one envied him
the kind words that were addressed to him; for every one felt
that they were deserved. But the thought in Nils's mind during
all the ceremony in the church and in the parsonage was this:
"Now, perhaps, I shall be good enough to win the Nixy's favor.
Now I shall catch the wondrous strain."
It did not occur to him, in his eagerness, that such a reflection
was out of place in church; nor was it, perhaps, for the Nixy's
strain was constantly associated in his mind with all that was
best in him; with his highest aspirations, and his constant
strivings for goodness and nobleness in thought and deed.
It happened about this time that the old schoolmaster died, and
in his will it was found that he had bequeathed his fiddle to
Nils. He had very little else to leave, poor fellow; but if he
had been a Croesus he could not have given his favorite pupil
anything that would have delighted him more.
Nils played now early and late, except when he was in the woods
with his father. His fame went abroad through all the valley as
the best fiddler in seven parishes round, and people often came
from afar to hear him. There was a peculiar quality in his
playing--something strangely appealing, that brought the tears to
one's eyes--yet so elusive that it was impossible to repeat or
describe it.
It was rumored among the villagers that he had caught the Nixy's
strain, and that it was that which touched the heart so deeply in
his improvisations. But Nils knew well that he had not caught
the Nixy's strain; though a faint echo--a haunting undertone--of
that vaguely remembered snatch of melody, heard now and then in
the water's roar, would steal at times into his music, when he
was, perhaps, himself least aware of it.
Invitations now came to him from far and wide to play at wedding
and dancing parties and funerals. There was no feast complete
without Nils; and soon this strange thing was noticed, that
quarrels and brawls, which in those days were common enough in
Norway, were rare wherever Nils played.
It seemed as if his calm and gentle presence called forth all
that was good in the feasters and banished whatever was evil.
Such was his popularity that he earned more money by his fiddling
in a week than his father had ever done by charcoal-burning in a
A half-superstitious regard for him became general among the
people; first, because it seemed impossible that any man could
play as he did without the aid of some supernatural power; and
secondly, because his gentle demeanor and quaint, terse sayings
inspired them with admiration. It was difficult to tell by whom
the name, Wise Nils, was first started, but it was felt by all to
be appropriate, and it therefore clung to the modest fiddler, in
spite of all his protests.
Before he was twenty-five years old it became the fashion to go
to him and consult him in difficult situations; and though he
long shrank from giving advice, his reluctance wore away, when it
became evident to him that he could actually benefit the people.
There was nothing mysterious in his counsel. All he said was as
clear and rational as the day-light. But the good folk were
nevertheless inclined to attribute a higher authority to him; and
would desist from vice or folly for his sake, when they would not
for their own sake. It was odd, indeed: this Wise Nils, the
fiddler, became a great man in the valley, and his renown went
abroad and brought him visitors, seeking his counsel, from
distant parishes. Rarely did anyone leave him disappointed, or
at least without being benefited by his sympathetic advice.
One summer, during the tourist season, a famous foreign musician
came to Norway, accompanied by a rich American gentleman. While
in his neighborhood, they heard the story of the rustic fiddler,
and became naturally curious to see him.
They accordingly went to his cottage, in order to have some sport
with him, for they expected to find a vain and ignorant
charlatan, inflated by the flattery of his more ignorant
neighbors. But Nils received them with a simple dignity which
quite disarmed them. They had come to mock; they stayed to
admire. This peasant's artless speech, made up of ancient
proverbs and shrewd common-sense, and instinct with a certain
sunny beneficence, impressed them wonderfully.
And when, at their request, he played some of his improvisations,
the renowned musician exclaimed that here was, indeed, a great
artist lost to the world. In spite of the poor violin, there was
a marvellously touching quality in the music; something new and
alluring which had never been heard before.
But Nils himself was not aware of it. Occasionally, while he
played, the Nixy's haunting strain would flit through his brain,
or hover about it, where he could feel it, as it were, but yet be
unable to catch it. This was his regret--his constant chase for
those elusive notes that refused to be captured.
But he consoled himself many a time with the reflection that it
was the fiddle's fault, not his own. With a finer instrument,
capable of rendering more delicate shades of sound, he might yet
surprise the Nixy's strain, and record it unmistakably in black
and white.
The foreign musician and his American friend departed, but
returned at the end of two weeks. They then offered to accompany
Nils on a concert tour through all the capitals of Europe and the
large cities of America, and to insure him a sum of money which
fairly made him dizzy.
Nils begged for time to consider, and the next day surprised them
by declining the startling offer.
He was a peasant, he said, and must remain a peasant. He
belonged here in his native valley, where he could do good, and
was happy in the belief that he was useful.
Out in the great world, of which he knew nothing, he might indeed
gather wealth, but he might lose his peace of mind, which was
more precious than wealth. He was content with a moderate
prosperity, and that he had already attained. He had enough, and
more than enough, to satisfy his modest wants, and to provide
those who were dear to him with reasonable comfort in their
present condition of life.
The strangers were amazed at a man's thus calmly refusing a
fortune that was within his easy grasp, for they did not doubt
that Nils, with his entirely unconventional manner of playing,
and yet with that extraordinary moving quality in his play, would
become the rage both in Europe and America, as a kind of
heaven-born, untutored genius, and fill both his own pockets and
theirs with shekels.
They made repeated efforts to persuade him, but it was all in
vain. With smiling serenity, he told them that he had uttered
his final decision. They then took leave of him, and a month
after their departure there arrived from Germany a box addressed
to Nils. He opened it with some trepidation, and it was found to
contain a Cremona violin --a genuine Stradivarius.
The moment Nils touched the strings with the bow, a thrill of
rapture went through him, the like of which he had never
experienced. The divine sweetness and purity of the tone that
vibrated through those magic chambers resounded through all his
being, and made him feel happy and exalted.
It occurred to him, while he was coaxing the intoxicating music
from his instrument, that tonight would be midsummer night. Now
was his chance to catch the Nixy's strain, for this exquisite
violin would be capable of rendering the very chant of the
archangels in the morning of time.
To-night he would surprise the Nixy, and the divine strain should
no more drift like a melodious mist through his brain; for at
midsummer night the Nixy always plays the loudest, and then, if
ever, is the time to learn what he felt must be the highest
secret of the musical art.
Hugging his Stradivarius close to his breast, to protect it from
the damp night-air, Nils hurried through the birch woods down to
the river. The moon was sailing calmly through a fleecy film of
cloud, and a light mist hovered over the tops of the forest.
The fiery afterglow of the sunset still lingered in the air,
though the sun had long been hidden, but the shadows of the trees
were gaunt and dark, as in the light of the moon.
The sound of the cataract stole with a whispering rush through
the underbrush, for the water was low at midsummer, and a good
deal of it was diverted to the mill, which was working busily
away, with its big water-wheel going round and round.
Nils paused close to the mill, and peered intently into the
rushing current; but nothing appeared. Then he stole down to the
river-bank, where he seated himself on a big stone, barely out of
reach of the spray, which blew in gusts from the cataract. He sat
for a long while motionless, gazing with rapt intentness at the
struggling, foaming rapids, but he saw or heard nothing.
Then all of a sudden it seemed to him that the air began to
vibrate faintly with a vague, captivating rhythm. Nils could
hear his heart beat in his throat. With trembling eagerness he
unwrapped the violin and raised it to his chin.
Now, surely, there was a note. It belonged on the A string. No,
not there. On the E string, perhaps. But no, not there, either.
Look! What is that?
A flash, surely, through the water of a beautiful naked arm.
And there--no, not there--but somewhere from out of the gentle
rush of the middle current there seemed to come to him a
marvellous mist of drifting sound--ineffably, rapturously sweet!
With a light movement Nils runs his bow over the strings, but not
a ghost, not a semblance, can he reproduce of the swift,
scurrying flight of that wondrous melody. Again and again he
listens breathlessly, and again and again despair overwhelms him.
Should he, then, never see the Nixy, and ask the fulfilment of
his three wishes?
Curiously enough, those three wishes which once were so great a
part of his life had now almost escaped him. It was the Nixy's
strain he had been intent upon, and the wishes had lapsed into
And what were they, really, those three wishes, for the sake of
which he desired to confront the Nixy?
Well, the first--the first was--what was it, now? Yes, now at
length he remembered. The first was wisdom.
Well, the people called him Wise Nils now, so, perhaps, that wish
was superfluous. Very likely he had as much wisdom as was good
for him. At all events, he had refused to acquire more by going
abroad to acquaint himself with the affairs of the great world.
Then the second wish; yes, he could recall that. It was fame. It
was odd indeed; that, too, he had refused, and what he possessed
of it was as much, or even far more, than he desired. But when
he called to mind the third and last of his boyish wishes, a
moderate prosperity or a good violin--for that was the
alternative--he had to laugh outright, for both the violin and
the prosperity were already his.
Nils lapsed into deep thought, as he sat there in the summer
night, with the crowns of the trees above him and the brawling
rapids swirling about him.
Had not the Nixy bestowed upon him her best gift already in
permitting him to hear that exquisite ghost of a melody, that
shadowy, impalpable strain, which had haunted him these many
years? In pursuing that he had gained the goal of his desires,
till other things he had wished for had come to him unawares, as
it were, and almost without his knowing it. And now what had he
to ask of the Nixy, who had blessed him so abundantly?
The last secret, the wondrous strain, forsooth, that he might
imprison it in notes, and din it in the ears of an unappreciative
multitude! Perhaps it were better, after all, to persevere
forever in the quest, for what would life have left to offer him
if the Nixy's strain was finally caught, when all were finally
attained, and no divine melody haunted the brain, beyond the
powers even of a Stradivarius to lure from its shadowy realm?
Nils walked home that night plunged in deep meditation. He vowed
to himself that he would never more try to catch the Nixy's
strain. But the next day, when he seized the violin, there it
was again, and, strive as he might, he could not forbear trying
to catch it.
Wise Nils is many years older now; has a good wife and several
children, and is a happy man; but to this day, resolve as he
will, he has never been able to abandon the effort to catch the
Nixy's strain. Sometimes he thinks he has half caught it, but
when he tries to play it, it is always gone.
A very common belief in Norway, as in many other lands, is that
the seventh child of the seventh child can heal the sick by the
laying on of hands. Such a child is therefore called a wonder
child. Little Carina Holt was the seventh in a family of eight
brothers and sisters, but she grew to be six years old before it
became generally known that she was a wonder child. Then people
came from afar to see her, bringing their sick with them; and
morning after morning, as Mrs. Holt rolled up the shades, she
found invalids, seated or standing in the snow, gazing with
devout faith and anxious longing toward Carina's window.
It seemed a pity to send them away uncomforted, when the look and
the touch cost Carina so little. But there was another fear that
arose in the mother's breast, and that was lest her child should
be harmed by the veneration with which she was regarded, and
perhaps come to believe that she was something more than a common
mortal. What was more natural than that a child who was told by
grown-up people that there was healing in her touch, should at
last come to believe that she was something apart and
It would have been a marvel, indeed, if the constant attention
she attracted, and the pilgrimages that were made to her, had
failed to make any impression upon her sensitive mind. Vain she
was not, and it would have been unjust to say that she was
spoiled. She had a tender nature, full of sympathy for sorrow
and suffering. She was constantly giving away her shoes, her
stockings, nay, even her hood and cloak, to poor little invalids,
whose misery appealed to her merciful heart. It was of no use to
scold her; you could no more prevent a stream from flowing than
Carina from giving. It was a spontaneous yielding to an impulse
that was too strong to be resisted.
But to her father there was something unnatural in it; he would
have preferred to have her frankly selfish, as most children are,
not because he thought it lovely, but because it was childish and
natural. Her unusual goodness gave him a pang more painful than
ever the bad behavior of her brothers had occasioned. On the
other hand, it delighted him to see her do anything that ordinary
children did. He was charmed if she could be induced to take
part in a noisy romp, play tag, or dress her dolls. But there
followed usually after each outbreak of natural mirth a shy
withdrawal into herself, a resolute and quiet retirement, as if
she, were a trifle ashamed of her gayety. There was nothing
morbid in these moods, no brooding sadness or repentance, but a
touching solemnity, a serene, almost cheerful seriousness, which
in one of her years seemed strange.
Mr. Holt had many a struggle with himself as to how he should
treat Carina's delusion; and he made up his mind, at last, that
it was his duty to do everything in his power to dispel and
counteract it. When he happened to overhear her talking to her
dolls one day, laying her hands upon them, and curing them of
imaginary diseases, he concluded it was high time for him to act.
He called Carina to him, remonstrated kindly with her, and
forbade her henceforth to see the people who came to her for the
purpose of being cured. But it distressed him greatly to see how
reluctantly she consented to obey him.
When Carina awoke the morning after this promise had been
extorted from her, she heard the dogs barking furiously in the
yard below. Her elder sister, Agnes, was standing half dressed
before the mirror, holding the end of one blond braid between her
teeth, while tying the other with a pink ribbon. Seeing that
Carina was awake, she gave her a nod in the glass, and, removing
her braid, observed that there evidently were sick pilgrims under
the window. She could sympathize with Sultan and Hector, she
averred, in their dislike of pilgrims.
"Oh, I wish they would not come!" sighed Carina. "It will be so
hard for me to send them away."
"I thought you liked curing people," exclaimed Agnes.
"I do, sister, but papa has made me promise never to do it
She arose and began to dress, her sister assisting her, chatting
all the while like a gay little chirruping bird that neither gets
nor expects an answer. She was too accustomed to Carina's moods
to be either annoyed or astonished; but she loved her all the
same, and knew that her little ears were wide open, even though
she gave no sign of listening.
Carina had just completed her simple toilet when Guro, the
chamber-maid, entered, and announced that there were some sick
folk below who wished to see the wonder child.
"Tell them I cannot see them," answered Carina, with a tremulous
voice; "papa does not permit me."
"But this man, Atle Pilot, has come from so far away in this
dreadful cold," pleaded Guro, "and his son is so very bad, poor
thing; he's lying down in the boat, and he sighs and groans fit
to move a stone."
"Don't! Don't tell her that," interposed Agnes, motioning to the
girl to begone. "Don't you see it is hard enough for her
There was something in the air, as the two sisters descended the
stairs hand in hand, which foreboded calamity. The pastor had
given out from the pulpit last Sunday that he would positively
receive no invalids at his house; and he had solemnly charged
every one to refrain from bringing their sick to his daughter.
He had repeated this announcement again and again, and he was now
very much annoyed at his apparent powerlessness to protect his
child from further imposition. Loud and angry speech was heard
in his office, and a noise as if the furniture were being knocked
about. The two little girls remained standing on the stairs,
each gazing at the other's frightened face. Then there was a
great bang, and a stalwart, elderly sailor came tumbling head
foremost out into the hall. His cap was flung after him through
the crack of the door. Agnes saw for an instant her father's
face, red and excited; and in his bearing there was something
wild and strange, which was so different from his usual gentle
and dignified appearance. The sailor stood for a while
bewildered, leaning against the wall; then he stooped slowly and
picked up his cap. But the moment he caught sight of Carina his
embarrassment vanished, and his rough features were illuminated
with an intense emotion.
"Come, little miss, and help me," he cried, in a hoarse,
imploring whisper. "Halvor, my son--he is the only one God gave
me--he is sick; he is going to die, miss, unless you take pity on
"Where is he?" asked Carina.
"He's down in the boat, miss, at the pier. But I'll carry him up
to you, if you like. We have been rowing half the night in the
cold, and he is very low."
"No, no; you mustn't bring him here," said Agnes, seeing by
Carina's face that she was on the point of yielding. "Father
would be so angry."
"He may kill me if he likes," exclaimed the sailor, wildly. "It
doesn't matter to me. But Halvor he's the only one I have, miss,
and his mother died when he was born, and he is young, miss, and
he will have many years to live, if you'll only have mercy on
"But, you know, I shouldn't dare, on papa's account, to have you
bring him here," began Carina, struggling with her tears.
"Ah, yes! Then you will go to him. God bless you for that!"
cried the poor man, with agonized eagerness. And interpreting
the assent he read in Carina's eye, he caught her up in his arms,
snatched a coat from a peg in the wall, and wrapping her in it,
tore open the door. Carina made no outcry, and was not in the
least afraid. She felt herself resting in two strong arms,
warmly wrapped and borne away at a great speed over the snow.
But Agnes, seeing her sister vanish in that sudden fashion, gave
a scream which called her father to the door.
"What has happened?" he asked. "Where is Carina?"
"That dreadful Atle Pilot took her and ran away with her."
"Ran away with her?" cried the pastor in alarm. "How? Where?"
"Down to the pier."
It was a few moments' work for the terrified father to burst open
the door, and with his velvet skull-cap on his head, and the
skirts of his dressing-gown flying wildly about him, rush down
toward the beach. He saw Atle Pilot scarcely fifty feet in
advance of him, and shouted to him at the top of his voice. But
the sailor only redoubled his speed, and darted out upon the
pier, hugging tightly to his breast the precious burden he
carried. So blindly did he rush ahead that the pastor expected
to see him plunge headlong into the icy waves. But, as by a
miracle, he suddenly checked himself, and grasping with one hand
the flag-pole, swung around it, a foot or two above the black
water, and regained his foothold upon the planks. He stood for
an instant irresolute, staring down into a boat which lay moored
to the end of the pier. What he saw resembled a big bundle,
consisting of a sheepskin coat and a couple of horse blankets.
"Halvor," he cried, with a voice that shook with emotion, "I have
brought her."
There was presently a vague movement under the horse-blankets,
and after a minute's struggle a pale yellowish face became
visible. It was a young face--the face of a boy of fifteen or
sixteen. But, oh, what suffering was depicted in those sunken
eyes, those bloodless, cracked lips, and the shrunken yellow skin
which clung in premature wrinkles about the emaciated features!
An old and worn fur cap was pulled down over his ears, but from
under its rim a few strands of blond hair were hanging upon his
Atle had just disentangled Carina from her wrappings, and was
about to descend the stairs to the water when a heavy hand seized
him by the shoulder, and a panting voice shouted in his ear:
"Give me back my child."
He paused, and turned his pathetically bewildered face toward the
pastor. "You wouldn't take him from me, parson," he stammered,
helplessly; "no, you wouldn't. He's the only one I've got."
"I don't take him from you," the parson thundered, wrathfully.
"But what right have you to come and steal my child, because
yours is ill?"
"When life is at stake, parson," said the pilot, imploringly,
"one gets muddled about right and wrong. I'll do your little
girl no harm. Only let her lay her blessed hands upon my poor
boy's head, and he will be well."
"I have told you no, man, and I must put a stop to this stupid
idolatry, which will ruin my child, and do you no good. Give her
back to me, I say, at once."
The pastor held out his hand to receive Carina, who stared at him
with large pleading eyes out of the grizzly wolf-skin coat.
"Be good to him, papa," she begged. "Only this once."
"No, child; no parleying now; come instantly."
And he seized her by main force, and tore her out of the pilot's
arms. But to his dying day he remembered the figure of the
heart-broken man, as he stood outlined against the dark horizon,
shaking his clinched fists against the sky, and crying out, in a
voice of despair:
"May God show you the same mercy on the Judgment Day as you have
shown to me!"
Six miserable days passed. The weather was stormy, and tidings
of shipwreck and calamity filled the air. Scarcely a visitor
came to the parsonage who had not some tale of woe to relate.
The pastor, who was usually so gentle and cheerful, wore a dismal
face, and it was easy to see that something was weighing on his
"May God show you the same mercy on the Judgment Day as you have
shown to me!"
These words rang constantly in his ears by night and by day. Had
he not been right, according to the laws of God and man, in
defending his household against the assaults of ignorance and
superstition? Would he have been justified in sacrificing his
own child, even if he could thereby save another's? And,
moreover, was it not all a wild, heathenish delusion, which it
was his duty as a servant of God to stamp out and root out at all
hazards? Yes, there could be no doubt of it; he had but
exercised his legal right. He had done what was demanded of him
by laws human and divine. He had nothing to reproach himself
for. And yet, with a haunting persistency, the image of the
despairing pilot praying God for vengeance stared at him from
every dark corner, and in the very church bells, as they rang out
their solemn invitation to the house of God, he seemed to hear
the rhythm and cadence of the heart-broken father's imprecation.
In the depth of his heart there was a still small voice which
told him that, say what he might, he had acted cruelly. If he
put himself in Atle Pilot's place, bound as he was in the iron
bonds of superstition, how different the case would look? He saw
himself, in spirit, rowing in a lonely boat through the stormy
winter night to his pastor, bringing his only son, who was at the
point of death, and praying that the pastor's daughter might lay
her hands upon him, as Christ had done to the blind, the halt,
and the maimed. And his pastor received him with wrath, nay,
with blows, and sent him away uncomforted. It was a hideous
picture indeed, and Mr. Holt would have given years of his life
to be rid of it.
It was on the sixth day after Atle's visit that the pastor,
sitting alone in his study, called Carina to him. He had
scarcely seen her during the last six days, or at least talked
with her. Her sweet innocent spirit would banish the shadows
that darkened his soul.
"Carina," he said, in his old affectionate way, "papa wants to
see you. Come here and let me talk a little with you."
But could he trust his eyes? Carina, who formerly had run so
eagerly into his arms, stood hesitating, as if she hoped to be
"Well, my little girl," he asked, in a tone of apprehension,
"don't you want to talk with papa?"
"I would rather wait till some other time, papa," she managed to
stammer, while her little face flushed with embarrassment.
Mr. Holt closed the door silently, flung himself into a chair,
and groaned. That was a blow from where he had least expected
it. The child had judged him and found him wanting. His Carina,
his darling, who had always been closest to his heart, no longer
responded to his affection! Was the pilot's prayer being
fulfilled? Was he losing his own child in return for the one he
had refused to save? With a pang in his breast, which was like
an aching wound, he walked up and down on the floor and marvelled
at his own blindness. He had erred indeed; and there was no hope
that any chance would come to him to remedy the wrong.
The twilight had deepened into darkness while he revolved this
trouble in his mind. The night was stormy, and the limbs of the
trees without were continually knocking and bumping against the
walls of the house. The rusty weather-vane on the roof whined
and screamed, and every now and then the sleet dashed against the
window-panes like a handful of shot. The wind hurled itself
against the walls, so that the timbers creaked and pulled at the
shutters, banged stray doors in out-of-the-way garrets, and then,
having accomplished its work, whirled away over the fields with a
wild and dismal howl. The pastor sat listening mournfully to
this tempestuous commotion. Once he thought he heard a noise as
of a door opening near by him, and softly closing; but as he saw
no one, he concluded it was his overwrought fancy that had played
him a trick. He seated himself again in his easy-chair before
the stove, which spread a dim light from its draught-hole into
the surrounding gloom.
While he sat thus absorbed in his meditations, he was startled at
the sound of something resembling a sob. He arose to strike a
light, but found that his match-safe was empty. But what was
that? A step without, surely, and the groping of hands for the
"Who is there?" cried the pastor, with a shivering uneasiness.
He sprang forward and opened the door. A broad figure,
surmounted by a sou'wester, loomed up in the dark.
"What do you want?" asked Mr. Holt, with forced calmness.
"I want to know," answered a gruff, hoarse voice, "if you'll come
to my son now, and help him into eternity?"
The pastor recognized Atle Pilot's voice, though it seemed
harsher and hoarser than usual.
"Sail across the fjord on a night like this?" he exclaimed.
"That's what I ask you."
"And the boy is dying, you say?"
"Can't last till morning."
"And has he asked for the sacrament?"
The pilot stepped across the threshold and entered the room. He
proceeded slowly to pull off his mittens; then looking up at the
pastor's face, upon which a vague sheen fell from the stove, he
broke out:
"Will you come or will you not? You wouldn't help him to live;
now will you help him to die?"
The words, thrust forth with a slow, panting emphasis, hit the
pastor like so many blows.
"I will come," he said, with solemn resolution. "Sit down till I
get ready."
He had expected some expression of gratification or thanks, for
Atle well knew what he had asked. It was his life the pastor
risked, but this time in his calling as a physician, not of
bodies, but of souls. It struck him, while he took leave of his
wife, that there was something resentful and desperate in the
pilot's manner, so different from his humble pleading at their
last meeting.
As he embraced the children one by one, and kissed them, he
missed Carina, but was told that she had probably gone to the
cow-stable with the dairy-maid, who was her particular friend.
So he left tender messages for her, and, summoning Atle, plunged
out into the storm. A servant walked before him with a lantern,
and lighted the way down to the pier, where the boat lay tossing
upon the waves.
"But, man," cried the pastor, seeing that the boat was empty,
"where are your boatmen?"
"I am my own boatman," answered Atle, gloomily. "You can hold
the sheet, I the tiller."
Mr. Holt was ashamed of retiring now, when he had given his word.
But it was with a sinking heart that he stepped into the frail
skiff, which seemed scarcely more than a nutshell upon the
tempestuous deep. He was on the point of asking his servant,
unacquainted though he was with seamanship, to be the third man
in the boat; but the latter, anticipating his intention, had made
haste to betake himself away. To venture out into this roaring
darkness, with no beacon to guide them, and scarcely a landmark
discernible, was indeed to tempt Providence.
But by the time he had finished this reflection, the pastor felt
himself rushing along at a tremendous speed, and short, sharp
commands rang in his ears, which instantly engrossed all his
attention. To his eyes the sky looked black as ink, except for a
dark-blue unearthly shimmer that now and then flared up from the
north, trembled, and vanished. By this unsteady illumination it
was possible to catch a momentary glimpse of a head, and a peak,
and the outline of a mountain. The small sail was double-reefed,
yet the boat careened so heavily that the water broke over the
gunwale. The squalls beat down upon them with tumultuous roar
and smoke, as of snow-drifts, in their wake; but the little boat,
climbing the top of the waves and sinking into the dizzy black
pits between them, sped fearlessly along and the pastor began to
take heart. Then, with a fierce cutting distinctness, came the
command out of the dark.
"Pull out the reefs!"
"Are you crazy, man?" shouted the pastor. "Do you want to sail
straight into eternity?"
"Pull out the reefs!" The command was repeated with wrathful
"Then we are dead men, both you and I."
"So we are, parson--dead men. My son lies dead at home, though
you might have saved him. So, now, parson, we are quits."
With a fierce laugh he rose up, and still holding the tiller,
stretched his hand to tear out the reefs. But at that instant,
just as a quivering shimmer broke across the sky, something rose
up from under the thwart and stood between them. Atle started
back with a hoarse scream.
"In Heaven's name, child!" he cried. "Oh, God, have mercy upon
And the pastor, not knowing whether he saw a child or a vision,
cried out in the same moment: "Carina, my darling! Carina, how
came you here?"
It was Carina, indeed; but the storm whirled her tiny voice away
over the waves, and her father, folding her with one arm to his
breast, while holding the sheet with the other, did not hear what
she answered to his fervent exclamation. He only knew that her
dear little head rested close to his heart, and that her yellow
hair blew across his face.
"I wanted to save that poor boy, papa," were the only words that
met his ears. But he needed no more to explain the mystery. It
was Carina, who, repenting of her unkindness to him, had stolen
into his study, while he sat in the dark, and there she had heard
Atle Pilot's message. Even if this boy was sick unto death, she
might perhaps cure him, and make up for her father's harshness.
Thus reasoned the sage Carina; and she had gone secretly and
prepared for the voyage, and battled with the storm, which again
and again threw her down on her road to the pier. It was a
miracle that she got safely into the boat, and stowed herself
away snugly under the stern thwart.
The clearing in the north gradually spread over the sky, and the
storm abated. Soon they had the shore in view, and the lights of
the fishermen's cottages gleamed along the beach of the headland.
Presently they ran into smoother water; a star or two flashed
forth, and wide blue expanses appeared here and there on the
vault of the sky. They spied the red lanterns marking the wharf,
about which a multitude of boats lay, moored to stakes, and with
three skilful tacks Atle made the harbor. It was here, standing
on the pier, amid the swash and swirl of surging waters, that the
pilot seized Carina's tiny hand in his big and rough one.
"Parson," he said, with a breaking voice, "I was going to run
afoul of you, and wreck myself with you; but this child, God
bless her! she ran us both into port, safe and sound."
But Carina did not hear what he said, for she lay sweetly
sleeping in her father's arms.
When Hakon Vang said his prayers at night, he usually finished
with these words: "And I thank thee, God, most of all, because
thou madest me a Norseman, and not a German or an Englishman or a
To be a Norseman appears to the Norse boy a claim to distinction.
God has made so many millions of Englishmen and Russians and
Germans, that there can be no particular honor in being one of so
vast a herd; while of Norsemen He has made only a small and
select number, whom He looks after with special care; upon whom
He showers such favors as poverty and cold (with a view to
keeping them good and hardy), and remoteness from all the
glittering temptations that beset the nations in whom He takes a
less paternal interest. Thus at least reasons, in a dim way, the
small boy in Norway; thus he is taught to reason by his parents
and instructors.
As for Hakon Vang, he strutted along the beach like a
turkey-cock, whenever he thought of his glorious descent from the
Vikings--those daring pirates that stole thrones and kingdoms,
and mixed their red Norse blood in the veins of all the royal
families of Europe. The teacher of history (who was what is
called a Norse-Norseman) had on one occasion, with more patriotic
zeal than discretion, undertaken to pick out those boys in his
class who were of pure Norse descent; whose blood was untainted
by any foreign admixture. The delighted pride of this small band
made them an object of envy to all the rest of the school.
Hakon, when his name was mentioned, felt as if he had added a
yard to his height. Tears of joy started to his eyes; and to
give vent to his overcharged feelings, he broke into a war-whoop;
for which he received five black marks and was kept in at recess.
But he minded that very little; all great men, he reflected, have
had to suffer for their country.
What Hakon loved above all things to study--nay, the only thing
he loved to study--was the old Sagas, which are tales, poems, and
histories of the deeds of the Norsemen in ancient times. With
eleven of his classmates, who were about his own age and as Norse
as himself, he formed a brotherhood which was called "The Sons of
the Vikings." They gave each other tremendously bloody surnames,
in the style of the Sagas--names that reeked with gore and
heroism. Hakon himself assumed the pleasing appellation
"Skull-splitter," and his classmate Frithjof Ronning was dubbed
Vargr-i-Veum, which means Wolf-in-the-Temple. One Son of the
Vikings was known as Ironbeard, another as Erling the Lop-Sided,
a third as Thore the Hound, a fourth as Aslak Stone-Skull. But a
serious difficulty, which came near disrupting the brotherhood,
arose over these very names. It was felt that Hakon had taken an
unfair advantage of the rest in selecting the bloodiest name at
the outset (before anyone else had had an opportunity to choose),
and there was a general demand that he should give it up and
allow all to draw lots for it. But this Hakon stoutly refused to
do; and declared that if anyone wanted his name he would have to
fight for it, in good old Norse fashion.
A holm-gang or duel was then arranged; that is, a ring was marked
out with stones; the combatants stepped within it, and he who
could drive his antagonist outside of the stone ring was declared
to be the victor. Frithjof, who felt that he had a better claim
to be named Skull-Splitter than Hakon, was the first to accept
the challenge; but after a terrible combat was forced to bite the
dust. His conqueror was, however, filled with such a glowing
admiration of his valor (as combatants in the Sagas frequently
are), that he proposed that they should swear eternal friendship
and foster-brotherhood, and seal their compact, according to
Norse custom, by the ceremony called "Mingling of Blood." It is
needless to say that this seemed to all the boys a most
delightful proposition; and they entered upon the august rite
with a deep sense of its solemnity.
First a piece of sod, about twelve feet square, was carefully
raised upon wooden stakes representing spears, so as to form a
green roof over the foster-brothers. Then, sitting upon the
black earth, where the turf had been removed, they bared their
arms to the shoulder, and in the presence of his ten brethren, as
witnesses, each swore that he would regard the other as his true
brother and love him and treat him as such, and avenge his death
if he survived him; in solemn testimony of which each drew a
knife and opened a vein in his arm, letting their blood mingle
and flow together. Hakon, however, in his heroic zeal, drove the
knife into his flesh rather recklessly, and when the blood had
flowed profusely for five minutes, he grew a trifle uneasy.
Frithjof, after having bathed his arm in a neighboring brook, had
no difficulty in stanching the blood, but the poor
Skull-Splitter's wound, in spite of cold water and bandages, kept
pouring forth its warm current without sign of abatement. Hakon
grew paler and paler, and would have burst into tears, if he had
not been a "Son of the Vikings." It would have been a relief to
him, for the moment, not to have been a "Son of the Vikings."
For he was terribly frightened, and thought surely he was going
to bleed to death. The other Vikings, too, began to feel rather
alarmed at such a prospect; and when Erling the Lop-Sided (the
pastor's son) proposed that they should carry Hakon to the
doctor, no one made any objection. But the doctor unhappily
lived so far away that Hakon might die before he got there.
"Well, then," said Wolf-in-the Temple, "let us take him to old
Witch-Martha. She can stanch blood and do lots of other queer
"Yes, and that is much more Norse, too," suggested Thore the
Hound; "wise women learned physic and bandaged wounds in the
olden time. Men were never doctors."
"Yes, Witch-Martha is just the right style," said Erling the
Lop-Sided down in his boots; for he had naturally a shrill voice
and gave himself great pains to produce a manly bass.
"We must make a litter to carry the Skull-Splitter on," exclaimed
Einar Bowstring-Twanger (the sheriff's son); "he'll never get to
Witch-Martha alive if he is to walk."
This suggestion was favorably received, the boys set to work with
a will, and in a few minutes had put together a litter of green
twigs and branches. Hakon, who was feeling curiously
light-headed and exhausted, allowed himself to be placed upon it
in a reclining position; and its swinging motion, as his friends
carried it along, nearly rocked him to sleep. The fear of death
was but vaguely present to his mind; but his self-importance grew
with every moment, as he saw his blood trickle through the leaves
and drop at the roadside. He appeared to himself a brave Norse
warrior who was being carried by his comrades from the
battle-field, where he had greatly distinguished himself. And
now to be going, to the witch who, by magic rhymes and
incantations, was to stanch the ebbing stream of his life--what
could be more delightful?
Witch Martha lived in a small lonely cottage down by the river.
Very few people ever went to see her in the day-time; but at
night she often had visitors. Mothers who suspected that their
children were changelings, whom the Trolds had put in the cradle,
taking the human infants away; girls who wanted to "turn the
hearts" of their lovers, and lovers who wanted to turn the hearts
of the girls; peasants who had lost money or valuables and wanted
help to trace the thief--these and many others sought secret
counsel with Witch-Martha, and rarely went away uncomforted. She
was an old weather-beaten woman with a deeply wrinkled,
smoky-brown face, and small shrewd black eyes. The floor in her
cottage was strewn with sand and fresh juniper twigs; from the
rafters under the ceiling hung bunches of strange herbs; and in
the windows were flower-pots with blooming plants in them.
Martha was stooping at the hearth, blowing and puffing at the
fire under her coffee-pot, when the Sons of the Vikings knocked
at the door. Wolf-in-the-Temple was the man who took the lead;
and when Witch-Martha opened the upper half of the door (she
never opened both at the same time) she was not a little
astonished to see the Captain's son, Frithjof Ronning, staring up
at her with an anxious face.
"What cost thou want, lad?" she asked, gruffly; "thou hast gone
astray surely, and I'll show thee the way home."
"I am Wolf-in-the-Temple," began Frithjof, thrusting out his
chest, and raising his head proudly.
"Dear me, you don't say so!" exclaimed Martha.
"My comrade and foster-brother Skull-Splitter has been wounded;
and I want thee, old crone, to stanch his blood before he bleeds
to death."
"Dear, dear me, how very strange!" ejaculated the Witch, and
shook her aged head.
She had been accustomed to extraordinary requests; but the
language of this boy struck her as being something of the
queerest she had yet heard.
"Where is thy Skull-Splitter, lad?" she asked, looking at him
"Right here in the underbrush," Wolf-in-the-Temple retorted,
gallantly; "stir thy aged stumps now, and thou shalt be right
royally rewarded."
He had learned from Walter Scott's romances that this was the
proper way to address inferiors, and he prided himself not a
little on his jaunty condescension. Imagine then his surprise
when the "old crone" suddenly turned on him with an angry scowl
and said:
"If thou canst not keep a civil tongue in thy head, I'll bring a
thousand plagues upon thee, thou umnannerly boy."
By this threat Wolf-in-the-Temple's courage was sadly shaken. He
knew Martha's reputation as a witch, and had no desire to test in
his own person whether rumor belied her.
"Please, mum, I beg of you," he said, with a sudden change of
tone; "my friend Hakon Vang is bleeding to death; won't you
please help him?"
"Thy friend Hakon Vang!" cried Martha, to whom that name was
very familiar; "bring him in, as quick as thou canst, and I'll do
what I can for him."
Wolf-in- the-Temple put two fingers into his mouth and gave a
loud shrill whistle, which was answered from the woods, and
presently the small procession moved up to the door, carrying
their wounded comrade between them. The poor Skull-Splitter was
now as white as a sheet, and the drowsiness of his eyes and the
laxness of his features showed that help came none too early.
Martha, in hot haste, grabbed a bag of herbs, thrust it into a
pot of warm water, and clapped it on the wound. Then she began
to wag her head slowly to and fro, and crooned, to a soft and
plaintive tune, words which sounded to the ears of the boys
shudderingly strange:
"I conjure in water, I conjure in lead,
I conjure with herbs that grew o'er the dead;
I conjure with flowers that I plucked, without shoon,
When the ghosts were abroad, in the wane of the moon.
I conjure with spirits of earth and air
That make the wind sigh and cry in despair;
I conjure by him within sevenfold rings
That sits and broods at the roots of things.
I conjure by him who healeth strife,
Who plants and waters the germs of life.
I conjure, I conjure, I bid thee be still,
Thou ruddy stream, thou hast flowed thy fill!
Return to thy channel and nurture his life
Till his destined measure of years be rife."
She sang the last two lines with sudden energy; and when she
removed her hand from the wound, the blood had ceased to flow.
The poor Skull-Splitter was sleeping soundly; and his friends,
shivering a little with mysterious fears, marched up and down
whispering to one another. They set a guard of honor at the
leafy couch of their wounded comrade; intercepted the green worms
and other insects that kept dropping down upon him from the alder
branches overhead, and brushed away the flies that would fain
disturb his slumbers. They were all steeped to the core in old
Norse heroism; and they enjoyed the situation hugely. All the
life about them was half blotted out; they saw it but dimly.
That light of youthful romance, which never was on sea or land,
transformed all the common things that met their vision into
something strange and wonderful. They strained their ears to
catch the meaning of the song of the birds, so that they might
learn from them the secrets of the future, as Sigurd the Volsung
did, after he had slain the dragon, Fafnir. The woods round
about them were filled with dragons and fabulous beasts, whose
tracks they detected with the eyes of faith; and they started out
every morning, during the all too brief vacation, on imaginary
expeditions against imaginary monsters.
When at the end of an hour the Skull-Splitter woke from his
slumber, much refreshed, Witch-Martha bandaged his arm carefully,
and Wolf-in-the Temple (having no golden arm-rings) tossed her,
with magnificent superciliousness, his purse, which contained six
cents. But she flung it back at him with such force that he had
to dodge with more adroitness than dignity.
"I'll get my claws into thee some day, thou foolish lad," she
said, lifting her lean vulture-like hand with a threatening
"No, please don't, Martha, I didn't mean anything," cried the
boy, in great alarm; "you'll forgive me, won't you, Martha?"
"I'll bid thee begone, and take thy foolish tongue along with
thee," she answered, in a mollified tone.
And the Sons of the Vikings, taking the hint, shouldered the
litter once more, and reached Skull-Splitter's home in time for
The Sons of the Vikings were much troubled. Every heroic deed
which they plotted had this little disadvantage, that they were
in danger of going to jail for it. They could not steal cattle
and horses, because they did not know what to do with them when
they had got them; they could not sail away over the briny deep
in search of fortune or glory, because they had no ships; and
sail-boats were scarcely big enough for daring voyages to the
blooming South which their ancestors had ravaged. The precious
vacation was slipping away, and as yet they had accomplished
nothing that could at all be called heroic. It was while the
brotherhood was lamenting this fact that Wolf-in-the-Temple had a
brilliant idea. He procured his father's permission to invite
his eleven companions to spend a day and a night at the Ronning
saeter, or mountain dairy, far up in the highlands. The only
condition Mr. Ronning made was that they were to be accompanied
by his man, Brumle-Knute, who was to be responsible for their
safety. But the boys determined privately to make Brumle-Knute
their prisoner, in case he showed any disposition to spoil their
sport. To spend a day and a night in the woods, to imagine
themselves Vikings, and behave as they imagined Vikings would
behave, was a prospect which no one could contemplate without the
most delightful excitement. There, far away from sheriffs and
pastors and maternal supervision, they might perhaps find the
long-desired chance of performing their heroic deed.
It was a beautiful morning early in August that the boys started
from Strandholm, Mr. Ronning's estate, accompanied by
Brumle-Knute. The latter was a middle-aged, round-shouldered
peasant, who had the habit of always talking to himself. To look
at him you would have supposed that he was a rough and stupid
fellow who would have quite enough to do in looking after
himself. But the fact was, that Brumle-Knute was the best shot,
the best climber--and altogether the most keen-eyed hunter in the
whole valley. It was a saying that he could scent game so well
that he never needed a dog; and that he could imitate to
perfection the call of every game bird that inhabited the
mountain glens. Sweet-tempered he was not; but so reliable,
skilful, and vigilant, and moreover so thorough a woodsman, that
the boys could well afford to put up with his gruff temper.
The Sons of the Vikings were all mounted on ponies; and
Wolf-in-the-Temple, who had been elected chieftain, led the
troop. At his side rode Skull-Splitter, who was yet a trifle
pale after his blood-letting, but brimming over with ambition to
distinguish himself. They had all tied their trousers to their
legs with leather thongs, in order to be perfectly "Old Norse;"
and some of them had turned their plaids and summer overcoats
inside out, displaying the gorgeous colors of the lining.
Loosely attached about their necks and flying in the wind, these
could easily serve for scarlet or purple cloaks wrought on Syrian
looms. Most of the boys carried also wooden swords and shields,
and the chief had a long loor or Alpine horn. Only the valiant
Ironbeard, whose father was a military man, had a real sword and
a real scabbard into the bargain. Wolf-in-the-Temple, and Erling
the Lop-Sided, had each an old fowling-piece; and Brumle-Knute
carried a double-barrelled rifle. This, to be sure, was not;
quite historically correct; but firearms are so useful in the
woods, even if they are not correct, that it was resolved not to
notice the irregularity; for there were boars in the mountains,
besides wolves and foxes and no end of smaller game.
For an hour or more the procession rode, single file, up the
steep and rugged mountain-paths; but the boys were all in high
spirits and enjoyed themselves hugely. The mere fact that they
were Vikings, on a daring foraging expedition into a neighboring
kingdom, imparted a wonderful zest to everything they did and
said. It might be foolish, but it was on that account none the
less delightful. They sent out scouts to watch for the approach
of an imaginary enemy; they had secret pass-words and signs; they
swore (Viking style) by Thor's hammer and by Odin's eye. They
talked appalling nonsense to each other with a delicious
sentiment of its awful blood-curdling character. It was about
noon when they reached the Strandholm saeter, which consisted of
three turf-thatched log-cabins or chalets, surrounded by a green
inclosure of half a dozen acres. The wide highland plain, eight
or ten miles long, was bounded on the north and west by throngs
of snow-hooded mountain peaks, which rose, one behind another, in
glittering grandeur; and in the middle of the plain there were
two lakes or tarns, connected by a river which was milky white
where it entered the lakes and clear as crystal where it escaped.
"Now, Vikings," cried Wolf-in-the-Temple, when the boys had done
justice to their dinner, "it behooves us to do valiant deeds, and
to prove ourselves worthy of our fathers."
"Hear, hear," shouted Ironbeard, who was fourteen years old and
had a shadow of a moustache, "I am in for great deeds, hip, hip,
"Hold your tongue when you hear me speak," commanded the
chieftain, loftily; "we will lie in wait at the ford, between the
two tarns, and capture the travellers who pass that way. If
perchance a princess from the neighboring kingdom pass, on the
way to her dominions, we will hold her captive until her father,
the king, comes to ransom her with heaps of gold in rings and
fine garments and precious weapons."
"But what are we to do with her when we have caught her?" asked
the Skull-Splitter, innocently.
"We will keep her imprisoned in the empty saeter hut,"
Wolf-in-the-Temple responded. "Now, are you ready? We'll leave
the horses here on the croft, until our return."
The question now was to elude Brumle-Knute's vigilance; for the
Sons of the Vikings had good reasons for fearing that he might
interfere with their enterprise. They therefore waited until
Brumle-knute was invited by the dairymaid to sit down to dinner.
No sooner had the door closed upon his stooping figure, than they
stole out through a hole in the fence, crept on all-fours among
the tangled dwarf-birches and the big gray boulders, and
following close in the track of their leader, reached the ford
between the lakes. There they observed two enormous heaps of
stones known as the Parson and the Deacon; for it had been the
custom from immemorial times for every traveller to fling a big
stone as a "sacrifice" for good luck upon the Parson's heap and a
small stone upon the Deacon's. Behind these piles of stone the
boys hid themselves, keeping a watchful eye on the road and
waiting for their chief's signal to pounce upon unwary
travellers. They lay for about fifteen minutes in expectant
silence, and were on the point of losing their patience.
"Look here, Wolf-in-the-Temple," cried Erling the Lop-Sided, "you
may think this is fun, but I don't. Let us take the raft there
and go fishing. The tarn is simply crowded with perch and bass."
"Hold your disrespectful tongue," whispered the chief, warningly,
"or I'll discipline you so you'll remember it till your dying
"Ho, ho!" laughed the rebel, jeeringly; "big words and fat pork
don't stick in the throat. Wait till I get you alone and we
shall see who'll be disciplined."
Erling had risen and was about to emerge from his hiding-place,
when suddenly hoof-beats were heard, and a horse was seen
approaching, carrying on its back a stalwart peasant lass, in
whose lap a pretty little girl of twelve or thirteen was sitting.
The former was clad in scarlet bodice, a black embroidered skirt,
and a snowy-white kerchief was tied about her head. Her blonde
hair hung in golden profusion down over her back and shoulders.
The little girl was city-clad, and had a sweet and appealing
face. She was chattering guilelessly with her companion, asking
more questions than she could possibly expect to have answered.
Nearer and nearer they came to the great stone heaps, dreaming of
no harm.
"And, Gunbjor," the Skull-Splitter heard the little girl say,
"you don't really believe that there are trolds and fairies in
the mountains, do you?"
"Them as are wiser than I am have believed that," was Gunbjor's
answer; "but we don't hear so much about the trolds nowadays as
they did when my granny was young. Then they took young girls
into the mountain and----"
Here came a wild, piercing yell, as the Sons of the Vikings
rushed forward from behind the rocks, and with a terrible
war-whoop swooped down upon the road. Wolf-in-the-Temple, who
led the band, seized the horse by the bridle, and flourishing his
sword threateningly, addressed the frightened peasant lass.
"Is this, perchance, the Princess Kunigunde, the heir to the
throne of my good friend, King Bjorn the Victorious?" he asked,
with a magnificent air, seizing the trembling little girl by the
"Nay," Gunbjor answered, as soon as she could find her voice,
"this is the Deacon's Maggie, as is going to the saeter with me
to spend Sunday."
"She cannot proceed on her way," said the chieftain, decisively,
"she is my prisoner."
Gunbjor, who had been frightened out of her wits by the small
red- and blue-cloaked men, swarming among the stones, taking them
to be trolds or fairies, now gradually recovered her senses. She
recognized in Erling the Lop-Sided the well-known features of the
parson's son; and as soon as she had made this discovery she had
no great difficulty in identifying the rest. "Never you fear,
pet," she said to the child in her lap, "these be bad boys as
want to frighten us. I'll give them a switching if they don't
look out."
"The Princess Kunigunde is my prisoner until it please her noble
father to ransom her for ten pounds of silver," repeated
Wolf-in-the-Temple, putting his arm about little Maggie's waist
and trying to lift her from the saddle.
"You keep yer hands off the child, or I'll give you ten pounds of
thrashing," cried Gunbjor, angrily.
"She shall be treated with the respect due to her rank,"
Wolf-in-the-Temple proceeded, loftily. "I give King Bjorn the
Victorious three moons in which to bring me the ransom."
"And I'll give you three boxes on the ear, and a cut with my
whip, into the bargain, if you don't let the horse alone, and
take yer hands off the child."
"Vikings!" cried the chief, "lay hands on her! Tear her from the
saddle! She has defied us! She deserves no mercy."
With a tremendous yell the boys rushed forward, brandishing their
swords above their heads, and pulled Gunbjor from the saddle.
But she held on to her charge with a vigorous clutch, and as soon
as her feet touched the ground she began with her disengaged hand
to lay about her, with her whip, in a way that proved extremely
unpleasant. Wolf-in-the-Temple, against whom her assault was
especially directed, received some bad cuts across his face, and
Ironbeard was driven backward into the ford, where he fell, full
length, and rose dripping wet and mortified. Thore the Hound got
a thump in his head from Gunbjor's stalwart elbows, and
Skull-Splitter, who had more courage than discretion, was pitched
into the water with no more ceremony than if he had been a
superfluous kitten. The fact was--I cannot disguise it--within
five minutes the whole valiant band of the Sons of the Vikings
were routed by that terrible switch, wielded by the intrepid
Gunbjor. When the last of her foes had bitten the dust, she
calmly remounted her pony, and with the Deacon's Maggie in her
lap rode, at a leisurely pace, across the ford.
"Good-by, lads," she said, nodding her head at them over her
shoulder; "ye needn't be afraid. I won't tell on you."
To have been routed by a woman was a terrible humiliation to the
valiant Sons of the Vikings. They were silent and moody during
the evening, and sat staring into the big bonfire on the saeter
green with stern and melancholy features. They had suffered
defeat in battle, and it behooved them to avenge it. About nine
o'clock they retired into their bunks in the log cabin, but no
sooner was Brumle-Knute's rhythmic snoring perceived than
Wolf-in-the-Temple put his head out and called to his comrades to
meet him in front of the house for a council of war. Instantly
they scrambled out of their alcoves, pulled on their coats and
trousers; and noiselessly stole out into the night. The sun was
yet visible, but a red veil of fiery mist was drawn across his
face; and a magic air of fairy-tales and strange unreality was
diffused over mountains, plains and lakes. The river wound like
a huge, blood-red serpent through the mountain pastures, and the
snow-hooded peaks blazed with fiery splendor.
The boys were quite stunned at the sight of such magnificence,
and stood for some minutes gazing at the landscape, before giving
heed to the summons of the chief.
"Comrades," said Wolf-in-the-Temple, solemnly, "what is life
without honor?"
There was not a soul present who could answer that conundrum, and
after a fitting pause the chief was forced to answer it himself.
"Life without honor, comrades," he said, severely, "life--without
honor is--nothing."
"Hear, hear!" cried Ironbeard; "good for you, old man!"
"Silence!" thundered Wolf-in-the-Temple, "I must beg the
gentlemen to observe the proprieties."
This tremendous phrase rarely failed to restore order, and the
flippant Ironbeard was duly rebuked by the glances of displeasure
which met him on all sides. But in the meanwhile the chief had
lost the thread of his speech and could not recover it.
"Vikings," he resumed, clearing his throat vehemently, "we have
been--that is to say--we have sustained----"
"A thrashing," supplied the innocent Skull-Splitter.
But the awful stare which was fixed upon him convinced him that
he had made a mistake; and he shrunk into an abashed silence.
"We must do something to retrieve our honor," continued the
chief, earnestly; "we must--take steps--to to get upon our legs
again," he finished, blushing with embarrassment.
"I would suggest that we get upon our legs first, and take the
steps afterward," remarked the flippant Ironbeard, with a sly
wink at Thore the Hound.
The chief held it to be beneath his dignity to notice this
interruption, and after having gazed for a while in silence at
the blood-red mountain peaks, he continued, more at his ease:
"I propose, comrades, that we go on a bear hunt. Then, when we
return with a bear-skin or two, our honor will be all right; no
one will dare laugh at us. The brave boy-hunters will be the
admiration and pride of the whole valley."
"But Brummle-Knute," observed the Skull-Splitter; "do you think
he will allow us to go bear-hunting?"
"What do we care whether he allows us or not?" cried
Wolf-in-the-Temple, scornfully; "he sleeps like a log; and I
propose that we tie his hands and feet before we start."
This suggestion met with enthusiastic approval, and all the boys
laughed heartily at the idea of Brumle-Knute waking up and
finding himself tied with ropes, like a calf that is carried to
"Now, comrades," commanded the chief, with a flourish of his
sword, "get to bed quickly. I'll call you at four o'clock; we'll
then start to chase the monarch of the mountains."
The Sons of the Vikings scrambled into their bunks with great
despatch; and though their beds consisted of pine twigs, covered
with a coarse sheet, and a bat, of straw for a pillow, they fell
asleep without rocking, and slept more soundly than if they had
rested on silken bolsters filled with eiderdown.
Wolf-in-the-Temple was as good as his word, and waked them
promptly at four o'clock; and their first task, after having
filled their knapsacks with provisions, was to tie Brumle-Knute's
hands and feet with the most cunning slip-knots, which would
tighten more, the more he struggled to unloose them. Ironbeard,
who had served a year before the mast, was the contriver of this
daring enterprise; and he did it so cleverly that Brumle-Knute
never suspected that his liberty was being interfered with. He
snorted a little and rubbed imaginary cobwebs from his face; but
soon lapsed again into a deep, snoring unconsciousness.
The faces of the Sons of the Vikings grew very serious as they
started out on this dangerous expedition. There was more than
one of them who would not have objected to remaining at home, but
who feared to incur the charge of cowardice if he opposed the
wishes of the rest. Wolf-in-the-Temple walked at the head of the
column, as they hastened with stealthy tread out of the saeter
inclosure, and steered their course toward the dense pine forest,
the tops of which were visible toward the east, where the
mountain sloped toward the valley. He carried his fowling-piece,
loaded with shot, in his right hand, and a powder-horn and other
equipments for the chase were flung across his shoulder. Erling
the Lop-Sided was similarly armed, and Ironbeard, glorying in a
real sword, unsheathed it every minute and let it flash in the
sun. It was a great consolation to the rest of the Vikings to
see these formidable weapons; for they were not wise enough to
know that grown-up bears are not killed with shot, and that a
fowling-piece is a good deal more dangerous than no weapon at
all, in the hands of an inexperienced hunter.
The sun, who had exchanged his flaming robe de nuit for the rosy
colors of morning, was now shooting his bright shafts of light
across the mountain plain, and cheering the hearts of the Sons of
the Vikings. The air was fresh and cool; and it seemed a luxury
to breathe it. It entered the lungs in a pure, vivifying stream
like an elixir of life, and sent the blood dancing through the
veins. It was impossible to mope in such air; and Ironbeard
interpreted the general mood when he struck up the tune:
"We wander with joy on the far mountain path,
We follow the star that will guide us;"
but before he had finished the third verse, it occurred to the
chief that they were bear-hunters, and that it was very
unsportsmanlike behavior to sing on the chase. For all that they
were all very jolly, throbbing with excitement at the thought of
the adventures which they were about to encounter; and concealing
a latent spark of fear under an excess of bravado. At the end of
an hour's march they had reached the pine forest; and as they
were all ravenously hungry they sat down upon the stones, where a
clear mountain brook ran down the slope, and unpacked their
provisions. Wolf-in-the-Temple had just helped himself, in old
Norse fashion, to a slice of smoked ham, having slashed a piece
off at random with his knife, when Erling the Lop-Sided observed
that that ham had a very curious odor. Everyone had to test its
smell; and they all agreed that it did have a singular flavor,
though its taste was irreproachable.
"It smells like a menagerie," said the Skull-Splitter, as he
handed it to Thore the Hound.
"But the bread and the biscuit smell just the same," said Thore
the Hound; "in fact, it is the air that smells like a menagerie."
"Boys," cried Wolf-in-the-Temple, "do you see that track in the
"Yes; it is the track of a barefooted man," suggested the
innocent Skull-Splitter.
Ironbeard and Erling the Lop-Sided flung themselves down among
the stones and investigated the tracks; and they were no longer
in doubt as to where the pungent wild odor came from, which they
had attributed to the ham.
"Boys," said Erling, looking up with an excited face, "a she-bear
with one or two cubs has been here within a few minutes."
"This is her drinking-place," said Ironbeard: "the tracks are
many and well-worn; if she hasn't been here this morning, she is
sure to come before long."
"We are in luck indeed," Wolf-in-the-Temple observed, coolly; "we
needn't go far for our bear. He will be coming for us."
At that moment the note of an Alpine horn was heard; but it was
impossible to determine how far it was away; for the echo took up
the note and flung it back and forth with clear and strong
reverberations from mountain to mountain.
"It is Brumle-Knute who is calling us," said Thore the Hound.
"The dairymaid must have released him. Shall we answer?"
"Never," cried the chief, proudly; "I forbid you to answer. Here
we have our heroic deed in sight, and I want no one to spoil it.
If there is a coward among us, let him take to his heels; no one
shall detain him."
There were perhaps several who would have liked to accept the
invitation; but no one did. Skull-Splitter, by way of diversion,
plumped backward into the brook, and sat down in the cool pool up
to his waist. But nobody laughed at his mishap; because they had
their minds full of more serious thoughts. Wolf-in-the-Temple,
who had climbed up on a big moss-grown boulder, stood, gun in
hand, and peered in among the bushes.
"Boys," he whispered, "drop down on your bellies--quick."
All, crowding behind a rock, obeyed, pushing themselves into
position with hands and feet. With wildly beating hearts the
Vikings gazed up among the gray wilderness of stone and
underbrush, and first one, then another, caught sight of
something brown and hairy that came toddling down toward them,
now rolling like a ball of yarn, now turning a somersault, and
now again pegging industriously along on four clumsy paws. It
was the prettiest little bear cub that ever woke on its mossy
lair in the woods. Now it came shuffling down in a boozy way to
take its morning bath. It seemed but half awake; and
Skull-Splitter imagined that it was a trifle cross, because its
mother had waked it too early. Evidently it had made no toilet
as yet, for bits of moss were sticking in its hair; and it yawned
once or twice, and shook its head disgustedly. Skull-Splitter
knew so well that feeling and could sympathize with the poor
young cub. But Wolf-in-the-Temple, who watched it no less
intently, was filled with quite different emotions. Here was his
heroic deed, for which he had hungered so long. To shoot a
bear--that was a deed worthy of a Norseman. One step more--then
two--and then--up rose the bear cub on its hind legs and rubbed
its eyes with its paws. Now he had a clean shot--now or never;
and pulling the trigger Wolf-in-the-Temple blazed away and sent a
handful of shot into the carcass of the poor little bear. Up
jumped all the Sons of the Vikings from behind their stones, and,
with a shout of triumph, ran up the path to where the cub was
lying. It had rolled itself up into a brown ball, and whimpered
like a child in pain. But at that very moment there came an
ominous growl out of the underbrush, and a crackling and creaking
of branches was heard which made the hearts of the boys stand
"Erling," cried Wolf-in-the-Temple, "hand me your gun, and load
mine for me as quick as you can."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the head of a big
brown she-bear became visible among the bushes. She paused in
the path, where her cub was lying, turned him over with her paw,
licked his face, grumbled with a low soothing tone, snuffed him
all over and rubbed her nose against his snout. But unwarily she
must have touched some sore spot; for the cub gave a sharp yelp
of pain and writhed and whimpered as he looked up into his
mother's eyes, clumsily returning her caresses. The boys, half
emerged from their hiding-places, stood watching this
demonstration of affection not without sympathy; and
Skull-Splitter, for one, heartily wished that the chief had not
wounded the little bear. Quite ignorant as he was of the nature
of bears, he allowed his compassion to get the better of his
judgment. It seemed such a pity that the poor little beast
should lie there and suffer with one eye put out and forty or
fifty bits of lead distributed through its body. It would be
much more merciful to put it out of its misery altogether. And
accordingly when Erling the Lop-Sided handed him his gun to pass
on to the chief, Skull-Splitter started forward, flung the gun to
his cheek, and blazed away at the little bear once more, entirely
heedless of consequences. It was a random, unskilful shot, which
was about equally shared by the cub and its mother. And the
latter was not in a mood to be trifled with. With an angry roar
she rose on her hind legs and advanced against the unhappy
Skull-Splitter with two uplifted paws. In another moment she
would give him one of her vigorous "left-handers," which would
probably pacify him forever. Ironbeard gave a scream of terror
and Thore the Hound broke down an alder-sapling in his
excitement. But Wolf-in-the-Temple, remembering that he had
sworn foster-brotherhood with this brave and foolish little lad,
thought that now was the time to show his heroism. Here it was
no longer play, but dead earnest. Down he leaped from his rock,
and just as the she-bear was within a foot of the Skull-Splitter,
he dealt her a blow in the head with the butt end of his gun
which made the sparks dance before her eyes. She turned suddenly
toward her new assailant, growling savagely, and scratched her
ear with her paw. And Skull-Splitter, who had slipped on the
pine needles and fallen, scrambled to his feet again, leaving his
gun on the ground, and with a few aimless steps tumbled once more
into the brook. Ironbeard, seeing that he was being outdone by
his chief, was quick to seize the gun, and rushing forward dealt
the she-bear another blow, which, instead of disabling her, only
exasperated her further. She glared with her small bloodshot
eyes now at the one, now at the other boy, as if in doubt which
she would tackle first. It was an awful moment; one or the other
might have saved himself by flight, but each was determined to
stand his ground. Vikings could die, but never flee. With a
furious growl the she-bear started toward her last assailant,
lifting her terrible paw. Ironbeard backed a few steps, pointing
his gun before him; and with benumbing force the paw descended
upon the gun-barrel, striking it out of his hands.
It seemed all of a sudden to the boy as if his arms were asleep
up to the shoulders; he had a stinging sensation in his flesh and
a humming in his ears, which made him fear that his last hour had
come. If the bear renewed the attack now, he was utterly
defenceless. He was not exactly afraid, but he was numb all
over. It seemed to matter little what became of him.
But now a strange thing happened. To his unutterable
astonishment he saw the she-bear drop down on all fours and vent
her rage on the gun, which, in a trice, was bent and broken into
a dozen fragments. But in this diversion she was interrupted by
Wolf-in-the-Temple, who hammered away again at her head with the
heavy end of his weapon. Again she rose, and presented two rows
of white teeth which looked as if they meant business. It was
the chief's turn now to meet his fate; and it was the more
serious because his helper was disarmed and could give him no
assistance. With a wildly thumping heart he raised the butt end
of his gun and dashed forward, when as by a miracle a shot was
heard--a sharp, loud shot that rumbled away with manifold
reverberations among the mountains. In the same instant the huge
brown bear tumbled forward, rolled over, with a gasping growl,
and was dead.
"O Brumle-Knute! Brumle-Knute!" yelled the boys in joyous
chorus, as they saw their resuer coming forward from behind the
rocks, "how did you find us?"
"I heard yer shots and I saw yer tracks," said Brumle-Knute,
dryly; "but when ye go bear-hunting another time ye had better
load with bullets instead of bird-shot."
"But Brumle-Knute, we only wanted to shoot the little bear,"
protested Wolf-in-the-Temple.
"That may be," Brumle-Knute replied; "but the big bears, they are
a curiously unreasonable lot--they are apt to get mad when you
fire at their little ones. Next time you must recollect to take
the big bear into account."
I need not tell you that the Sons of the Vikings became great
heroes when the rumor of their bear hunt was noised abroad
through the valley. But, for all that, they determined to
disband their brotherhood. Wolf-in-the-Temple expressed the
sentiment of all when, at their last meeting, he made a speech,
in which these words occurred:
"Brothers, the world isn't quite the same now as it was in the
days when our Viking forefathers spread the terror of their name
through the South. We are not so strong as they were, nor so
hardy. When we mingle blood, we have to send for a surgeon. If
we steal princesses we may go to jail for it--or--or--well--never
mind--what else may happen. Heroism isn't appreciated as once it
was in this country; and I, for one, won't try to be a hero any
more. I resign my chieftainship now, when I can do it with
credit. Let us all make our bows of adieu as bear hunters; and
if we don't do anything more in the heroic line it is not because
we can't, but because we won't."
There was great excitement in the little Norse town, Bumlebro,
because there was going to be a masquerade. Everybody was busy
inventing the character which he was to represent, and the
costume in which he was to represent it.
Miss Amelia Norbeck, the apothecary's daughter, had intended to
be Marie Antoinette, but had to give it up because the silk
stockings were too dear, although she had already procured the
beauty-patches and the powdered wig.
Miss Arctander, the judge's daughter, was to be Night, in black
tulle, spangled with silver stars, and Miss Hanna Broby was to be
Morning, in white tulle and pink roses.
There had never BEEN a masquerade in Bumlebro, and there would
not have been one now, if it had not been for the enterprise of
young Arctander and young Norbeck, who had just returned from the
military academy in the capital, and were anxious to exhibit
themselves to the young girls in their glory.
Of course, they could not afford to be exclusive, for there were
but twenty or thirty families in the town that laid any claims to
gentility, and they had all to be invited in order to fill the
hall and pay the bills. Thus it came to pass that Paul
Jespersen, the book-keeper in the fish-exporting firm of Broby &
Larsen, received a card, although, to be sure, there had been a
long debate in the committee as to where the line should be
Paul Jespersen was uncommonly elated when he read the invitation,
which was written on a gilt-edged card, requesting the pleasure
of Mr. Jespersen's company at a bal masque Tuesday, January 3d,
in the Association Hall.
"The pleasure of his company!"
Think of it! He felt so flattered that he blushed to the tips of
his ears. It must have been Miss Clara Broby who had induced
them to be so polite to him, for those insolent cadets, who only
nodded patronizingly to him in response to his deferential
greeting, would never have asked for "the pleasure of his
Having satisfied himself on this point, Paul went to call upon
Miss Clara in the evening, in order to pay her some compliment
and consult her in regard to his costume; but Miss Clara, as it
happened, was much more interested in her own costume than in
that of Mr. Jespersen, and offered no useful suggestions.
"What character would you advise me to select, Mr. Jespersen?"
she inquired, sweetly. "My sister Hanna, you know, is going to
be Morning, so I can't be that, and it seems to me Morning would
have suited me just lovely."
"Go as Beauty," suggested Mr. Jespersen, blushing at the thought
of his audacity.
"So I will, Mr. Jespersen," she answered, laughing, "if you will
go as the Beast."
Paul, being a simple-hearted fellow, failed to see any sarcasm in
this, but interpreted it rather as a hint that Miss Clara desired
his escort, as Beauty, of course, only would be recognizable in
her proper character by the presence of the Beast.
"I shall be delighted, Miss Clara," he said, beaming with
pleasure. "If you will be my Beauty, I'll be your Beast."
Miss Clara did not know exactly how to take this, and was rather
absent-minded during the rest of the interview. She had been
chaffing Mr. Jespersen, of course, but she did not wish to be
absolutely rude to him, because he was her father's employee,
and, as she often heard her father say, a very valuable and
trustworthy young man.
When Paul got home he began at once to ponder upon his character
as Beast, and particularly as Miss Clara's Beast. It occurred to
him that his uncle, the furrier, had an enormous bear-skin, with
head, eyes, claws, and all that was necessary, and without delay
he went to try it on.
His uncle, feeling that this event was somehow to redound to the
credit of the family, agreed to make the necessary alterations at
a trifling cost, and when the night of the masquerade arrived,
Paul was so startled at his appearance that he would have run
away from himself if such a thing had been possible. He had
never imagined that he would make such a successful Beast.
By an ingenious contrivance with a string, which he pulled with
his hand, he was able to move his lower jaw, which, with its red
tongue and terrible teeth, presented an awful appearance. By
patching the skin a little behind, his head was made to fit
comfortably into the bear's head, and his mild blue eyes looked
out of the holes from which the bear's eyes had been removed.
The skin was laced with thin leather thongs from the neck down,
but the long, shaggy fur made the lacing invisible.
Paul Jespersen practiced ursine behavior before the looking-glass
for about half an hour. Then, being uncomfortably warm, he
started down-stairs, and determined to walk to the Association
Hall. He chuckled to himself at the thought of the sensation he
would make, if he should happen to meet anybody on the road.
Having never attended a masquerade before, he did not know that
dressing-rooms were provided for the maskers, and, being averse
to needless expenditure, he would as soon have thought of flying
as of taking a carriage. There was, in fact, but one carriage on
runners in the town, and that was already engaged by half a dozen
The moon was shining faintly upon the snow, and there was a sharp
frost in the air when Paul Jespersen put his hairy head out of
the street-door and reconnoitred the territory.
There was not a soul to be seen, except an old beggar woman who
was hobbling along, supporting herself with two sticks. Paul
darted, as quickly as his unwieldly bulk would allow, into the
middle of the street. He enjoyed intensely the fun of walking
abroad in such a monstrous guise. He contemplated with boyish
satisfaction his shadow which stretched, long and black and
horrible, across the snow.
It was a bit slippery, and he had to manoeuvre carefully in order
to keep right side up. Presently he caught up with the beggar
"Good-evening!" he said.
The old woman turned about, stared at him horror-stricken; then,
as soon as she had collected her senses, took to her heels,
yelling at the top of her voice. A big mastiff, who had just
been let loose for the night, began to bark angrily in a back
yard, and a dozen comrades responded from other yards, and came
bounding into the street.
"Hello!" thought Paul Jespersen. "Now look out for trouble."
He felt anything but hilarious when he saw the pack of angry dogs
dancing and leaping about him, barking in a wildly discordant
"Why, Hector, you fool, don't you know me?" he said, coaxingly,
to the judge's mastiff. "And you, Sultan, old man! You ought to
be ashamed of yourself! Here, Caro, that's a good fellow! Come,
now, don't excite yourself!"
But Hector, Sultan, and Caro were all proof against such
blandishments, and as for Bismarck, the apothecary's collie, he
grew every moment more furious, and showed his teeth in a very
uncomfortable fashion.
To defend one's self was not to be thought of, for what defence
is possible to a sham bear against a dozen genuine dogs? Paul
could use neither his teeth nor his claws to any purpose, while
the dogs could use theirs, as he presently discovered, with
excellent effect.
He had just concluded to seek safety in flight, when suddenly he
felt a bite in his left calf, and saw the brute Bismarck tug away
at his leg as if it had been a mutton-chop. He had scarcely
recovered from this surprise when he heard a sharp report, and a
bullet whizzed away over his head, after having neatly put a hole
through the right ear. Paul concluded, with reason, that things
were getting serious.
If he could only get hold of that blockhead, the judge's groom,
who was violating the law about fire-arms, he would give him an
exhibition in athletics which he would not soon forget; but,
being for the moment deprived of this pleasure, he knew of
nothing better to do than to dodge through the nearest
street-door, and implore the protection of the very first
individual he might meet.
It so happened that Paul selected the house of two middle-aged
milliners for this experiment.
Jemina and Malla Hansen were just seated at the table drinking
tea with their one constant visitor, the post-office clerk,
Mathias, when, all of a sudden, they heard a tremendous racket in
the hall, and the furious barking of dogs.
With a scream of fright, the two old maids jumyed up, dropping
their precious tea-cups, and old Mathias, who had tipped his
chair a little backward, lost his balance, and pointed his heels
toward the ceiling. Before he had time to pick himself up the
door was burst open and a great hairy monster sprang into the
"Mercy upon us!" cried Jemina. "It is the devil!"
But now came the worst of it all. The bear put his paw on his
heart, and with the politest bow in the world, remarked:
"Pardon me, ladies, if I intrude."
He had meant to say more, but his audience had vanished; only the
flying tails of Mathias's coat were seen, as he slammed the door
on them, in his precipitate flight.
"Police! police!" someone shouted out of the window of the
adjoining room.
Police! Now, with all due respect for the officers of the law,
Paul Jespersen had no desire to meet them at the present moment.
To be hauled up at the station-house and fined for street
disorder--nay, perhaps be locked up for the night, if, as was
more than likely, the captain of police was at the masquerade,
was not at all to Paul's taste. Anything rather than that! He
would be the laughing stock of the whole town if, after his
elaborate efforts, he were to pass the night in a cell, instead
of dancing with Miss Clara Broby.
Hearing the cry for police repeated, Paul looked about him for
some means of escape. It occurred to him that he had seen a
ladder in the hall leading up to the loft. There he could easily
hide himself until the crowd had dispersed.
Without further reflection, he rushed out through the door by
which he had entered, climbed the ladder, thrust open a
trap-door, and, to his astonishment, found himself under the
wintry sky.
The roof sloped steeply, and he had to balance carefully in order
to avoid sliding down into the midst of the noisy mob of dogs and
street-boys who were laying siege to the door.
With the utmost caution he crawled along the roof-tree, trembling
lest he should be discovered by some lynx-eyed villain in the
throng of his pursuers. Happily, the broad brick chimney
afforded him some shelter, of which he was quick to take
advantage. Rolling himself up into the smallest possible
compass, he sat for a long time crouching behind the chimney;
while the police were rummaging under the beds and in the closets
of the house, in the hope of finding him.
He had, of course, carefully closed the trap-door by which he had
reached the comparative safety of his present position; and he
could not help chuckling to himself at the thought of having
outwitted the officers of the law.
The crowd outside, after having made night hideous by their
whoops and yells, began, at the end of an hour, to grow weary;
and the dogs being denied entrance to the house, concluded that
they had no further business there, and slunk off to their
respective kennels.
The people, too, scattered, and only a few patient loiterers hung
about the street door, hoping for fresh developments. It seemed
useless to Paul to wait until these provoking fellows should take
themselves away. They were obviously prepared to make a night of
it, and time was no object to them.
It was then that Paul, in his despair, resolved upon a daring
stratagem. Mr. Broby's house was in the same block as that of
the Misses Hansen, only it was at the other end of the block. By
creeping along the roof-trees of the houses, which, happily,
differed but slightly in height, he could reach the Broby house,
where, no doubt, Miss Clara was now waiting for him, full of
He did not deliberate long before testing the practicability of
this plan. The tanner Thoresen's house was reached without
accident, although he barely escaped being detected by a small
boy who was amusing himself throwing snow-balls at the chimney.
It was a slow and wearisome mode of locomotion--pushing himself
forward on his belly; but, as long as the streets were deserted,
it was a pretty safe one.
He gave a start whenever he heard a dog bark; for the echoes of
the ear-splitting concert they had given him were yet ringing in
his brain.
It was no joke being a bear, he thought, and if he had suspected
that it was such a serious business, he would not so rashly have
undertaken it. But now there was no way of getting out of it;
for he had nothing on but his underclothes under the bear-skin.
At last he reached the Broby house, and drew a sigh of relief at
the thought that he was now at the end of his journey.
He looked about him for a trap-door by which he could descend
into the interior, but could find none. There was an inch of
snow on the roof, glazed with frost: and if there was a
trap-door, it was securely hidden.
To jump or slide down was out of the question, for he would, in
that case, risk breaking his neck. If he cried for help, the
groom, who was always ready with his gun, might take a fancy to
shoot at him; and that would be still more unpleasant. It was a
most embarrassing situation.
Paul's eyes fell upon a chimney; and the thought flashed through
his head that there was the solution of the difficulty. He
observed that no smoke was coming out of it, so that he would run
no risk of being converted into smoked ham during the descent.
He looked down through the long, black tunnel. It was a great,
spacious, old-fashioned chimney, and abundantly wide enough for
his purpose.
A pleasant sound of laughter and merry voices came to him from
the kitchen below. It was evident the girls were having a
frolic. So, without further ado, Paul Jespersen stuffed his
great hairy bulk into the chimney and proceeded to let himself
There were notches and iron rings in the brick wall, evidently
put there for the convenience of the chimney-sweeps; and he found
his task easier than he had anticipated. The soot, to be sure,
blinded his eyes, but where there was nothing to be seen, that
was no serious disadvantage.
In fact, everything was going as smoothly as possible, when
suddenly he heard a girl's voice cry out:
"Gracious goodness! what is that in the chimney?"
"Probably the chimney-sweep," a man's voice answered.
"Chimney-sweep at this time of night!"
Paul, bracing himself against the walls, looked down and saw a
cluster of anxious faces all gazing up toward him. A candle
which one of the girls held in her hand showed him that the
distance down to the hearth was but short; so, to make an end of
their uncertainty, he dropped himself down--quietly, as he
thought, but by the force of his fall blowing the ashes about in
all directions.
A chorus of terrified screams greeted him. One girl fainted, one
leaped up on a table, and the rest made for the door.
And there sat poor Paul, in the ashes on the hearth, utterly
bewildered by the consternation he had occasioned. He picked
himself up by and by, rubbed the soot out of his eyes with the
backs of his paws, and crawled out upon the floor.
He had just managed to raise himself upon his hind-legs, when an
awful apparition became visible in the door, holding a candle.
It was now Paul's turn to be frightened. The person who stood
before him bore a close resemblance to the devil.
"What is all this racket about?" he cried, in a tone of
Paul felt instantly relieved, for the voice was that of his
revered chief, Mr. Broby, who, he now recollected, was to figure
at the masquerade as Mephistopheles. Behind him peeped forth the
faces of his two daughters, one as Morning and the other as
"May I ask what is the cause of this unseemly noise?" repeated
Mr. Broby, advancing to the middle of the room. The light of his
candle now fell upon the huge bear whom, after a slight start, he
recognized as a masker.
"Excuse me, Mr. Broby," said Paul, "but Miss Clara did me the
"Oh yes, papa," Miss Clara interrupted him, stepping forth in all
her glory of tulle and flowers; "it is Paul Jespersen, who was
going to be my Beast."
"And it is you who have frightened my servants half out of their
wits, Jespersen?" said Mr. Broby, laughing.
"He tumbled down through the chimney, sir," declared the cook,
who had half-recovered from her fright.
"Well," said Mr. Broby, with another laugh, "I admit that was a
trifle unconventional. Next time you call, Jespersen, you must
come through the door."
He thought Jespersen had chosen to play a practical joke on the
servants, and, though he did not exactly like it, he was in no
mood for scolding. After having been carefully brushed and
rolled in the snow, Paul offered his escort to Miss Clara; and
she had not the heart to tell him that she was not at all Beauty,
but Spring. And Paul was not enough of an expert to know the
The king was dead, and among the many things he left behind him
which his successor had no use for were a lot of fancy horses.
There were long-barrelled English hunters, all legs and neck;
there were Kentucky racers, graceful, swift, and strong; and two
Arabian steeds, which had been presented to his late majesty by
the Sultan of Turkey. To see the beautiful beasts prancing and
plunging, as they were being led through the streets by grooms in
the royal livery, was enough to make the blood dance in the veins
of any lover of horse-flesh. And to think that they were being
led ignominiously to the auction mart to be sold under the
hammer--knocked down to the highest bidder! It was a sin and a
shame surely! And they seemed to feel it themselves; and that
was the reason they acted so obstreperously, sometimes lifting
the grooms off their feet as they reared and snorted and struck
sparks with their steel-shod hoofs from the stone pavement.
Among the crowd of schoolboys who followed the equine procession,
shrieking and yelling with glee and exciting the horses by their
wanton screams, was a handsome lad of fourteen, named Erik
Carstens. He had fixed his eyes admiringly on a coal-black,
four-year-old mare, a mere colt, which brought up the rear of the
procession. How exquisitely she was fashioned! How she danced
over the ground with a light mazurka step, as if she were shod
with gutta-percha and not with iron! And then she had a head so
daintily shaped, small and spirited, that it was a joy to look at
her. Erik, who, in spite of his youth, was not a bad judge of a
horse, felt his heart beat like a trip-hammer, and a mighty
yearning took possession of him to become the owner of that mare.
Though he knew it was time for dinner he could not tear himself
away, but followed the procession up one street and down another,
until it stopped at the horse market. There a lot of jockeys and
coarse-looking dealers were on hand; and an opportunity was
afforded them to try the horses before the auction began. They
forced open the mouths of the beautiful animals, examined their
teeth, prodded them with whips to see if they were gentle, and
poked them with their fingers or canes. But when a loutish
fellow, in a brown corduroy suit, indulged in that kind of
behavior toward the black mare she gave a resentful whinny and
without further ado grabbed him with her teeth by the coat
collar, lifted him up and shook him as if he had been a bag of
straw. Then she dropped him in the mud, and raised her dainty
head with an air as if to say that she held him to be beneath
contempt. The fellow, however, was not inclined to put up with
that kind of treatment. With a volley of oaths he sprang up and
would have struck the mare in the mouth with his clinched fist,
if Erik had not darted forward and warded off the blow.
"How dare you strike that beautiful creature?" he cried,
"Hold your jaw, you gosling, or I'll hit you instead," retorted
the man.
But by that time one of the royal grooms had made his appearance
and the brute did not dare carry out his threat. While the groom
strove to quiet the mare, a great tumult arose in some other part
of the market-place. There was a whinnying, plunging, rearing,
and screaming, as if the whole field had gone mad. The black
mare joined in the concert, and stood with her ears pricked up
and her head raised in an attitude of panicky expectation. Quite
fearlessly Erik walked up to her, patted her on the neck and
spoke soothingly to her.
"Look out," yelled the groom, "or she'll trample you to jelly!"
But instead of that, the mare rubbed her soft nose against the
boy's cheek, with a low, friendly neighing, as if she wished to
thank him for his gallant conduct. And at that moment Erik's
heart went out to that dumb creature with an affection which he
had never felt toward any living thing before. He determined,
whatever might happen, to bid on her and to buy her, whatever she
might prove to be worth. He knew he had a few thousand dollars
in the bank--his inheritance from his mother, who had died when
he was a baby--and he might, perhaps, be able to persuade his
father to sanction the purchase. At any rate, he would have some
time to invent ways and means; for his father, Captain Carstens,
was now away on the great annual drill, and would not return for
some weeks.
As a mere matter of form, he resolved to try the mare before
bidding on her; and slipping a coin into the groom's hand he
asked for a saddle. It turned out, however, that all the saddles
were in use, and Erik had no choice but to mount bareback.
"Ride her on the snaffle. She won't stand the curb," shouted the
groom, as the mare, after plunging to the right and to the left,
darted through the gate to the track, and, after kicking up a
vast deal of tan-bark, sped like a bullet down the race-course.
"Good gracious, how recklessly that boy rides!" one jockey
observed to another; "but he has got a good grip with his knees
all the same."
"Yes, he sits like a daisy," the second replied, critically; "but
mind my word, Lady Clare will throw him yet. She never could
stand anybody but the princess on her back: and that was the
reason her Royal Highness was so fond of her. Mother of Moses,
won't there be a grand rumpus when she comes back again and finds
Lady Clare gone! I should not like to be in the shoes of the man
who has ordered Lady Clare under the hammer."
"But look at the lad! I told you Lady Clare wouldn't stand no
manner of nonsense from boys."
"She is kicking like a Trojan! She'll make hash of him if he
loses his seat."
"Yes, but he sticks like a burr. That's a jewel of a lad, I tell
ye. He ought to have been a jockey."
Up the track came Lady Clare, black as the ace of spades, acting
like the Old Harry. Something had displeased her, obviously, and
she held Erik responsible for it. Possibly she had just waked up
to the fact that she, who had been the pet of a princess, was now
being ridden by an ordinary commoner. At all events, she had
made up her mind to get rid of the commoner without further
ceremony. Putting her fine ears back and dilating her nostrils,
she suddenly gave a snort and a whisk with her tail, and up went
her heels toward the eternal stars--that is, if there had been
any stars visible just then. Everybody's heart stuck in his
throat; for fleet-footed racers were speeding round and round,
and the fellow who got thrown in the midst of all these trampling
hoofs would have small chance of looking upon the sun again.
People instinctively tossed their heads up to see how high he
would go before coming down again; but, for a wonder, they saw
nothing, except a cloud of dust mixed with tan-bark, and when
that had cleared away they discovered the black mare and her
rider, apparently on the best of terms, dashing up the track at a
breakneck pace.
Erik was dripping with perspiration when he dismounted, and Lady
Clare's glossy coat was flecked with foam. She was not aware,
apparently, that if she had any reputation to ruin she had
damaged it most effectually. Her behavior on the track and her
treatment of the horse-dealer were by this time common property,
and every dealer and fancier made a mental note that Lady Clare
was the number in the catalogue which he would not bid on. All
her beauty and her distinguished ancestry counted for nothing, as
long as she had so uncertain a temper. Her sire, Potiphar, it
appeared, had also been subject to the same infirmities of
temper, and there was a strain of savagery in her blood which
might crop out when you least expected it.
Accordingly, when a dozen fine horses had been knocked down at
good prices, and Lady Clare's turn came, no one came forward to
inspect her, and no one could be found to make a bid.
"Well, well, gentlemen," cried the auctioneer, "here we have a
beautiful thoroughbred mare, the favorite mount of Her Royal
Highness the Princess, and not a bid do I hear. She's a beauty,
gentlemen, sired by the famous Potiphar who won the Epsom
Handicap and no end of minor stakes. Take a look at her,
gentlemen! Did you ever see a horse before that was raven black
from nose to tail? I reckon you never did. But such a horse is
Lady Clare. The man who can find a single white hair on her can
have her for a gift. Come forward, gentlemen, come forward. Who
will start her--say at five hundred?"
A derisive laugh ran through the crowd, and a voice was heard to
cry, "Fifty."
"Fifty!" repeated the auctioneer, in a deeply grieved and
injured tone; "fifty did you say, sir? Fifty? Did I hear
rightly? I hope, for the sake of the honor of this fair city,
that my ears deceived me."
Here came a long and impressive pause, during which the
auctioneer, suddenly abandoning his dramatic manner, chatted
familiarly with a gentleman who stood near him. The only one in
the crowd whom he had impressed with the fact that the honor of
the city was at stake in this sale was Erik Carstens. He had
happily discovered a young and rich lieutenant of his father's
company, and was trying to persuade him to bid in the mare for
"But, my dear boy," Lieutenant Thicker exclaimed, "what do you
suppose the captain will say to me if I aid and abet his son in
defying the paternal authority?"
"Oh, you needn't bother about that," Erik rejoined eagerly. "If
father was at home, I believe he would allow me to buy this mare.
But I am a minor yet, and the auctioneer would not accept my bid.
Therefore I thought you might be kind enough to bid for me."
The lieutenant made no answer, but looked at the earnest face of
the boy with unmistakable sympathy. The auctioneer assumed again
an insulted, affronted, pathetically entreating or scornfully
repelling tone, according as it suited his purpose; and the price
of Lady Clare crawled slowly and reluctantly up from fifty to
seventy dollars. There it stopped, and neither the auctioneer's
tears nor his prayers could apparently coax it higher.
"Seventy dollars!" he cried, as if he were really too shocked to
speak at all; "seven-ty dollars! Make it eighty! Oh, it is a sin
and a shame, gentlemen, and the fair fame of this beautiful city
is eternally ruined. It will become a wagging of the head and a
byword among the nations. Sev-en-ty dollars!"--then hotly and
indignantly--"seventy dollars!--fifth and last time, seventy
dollars!"--here he raised his hammer threateningly--"seventy
"One hundred!" cried a high boyish voice, and in an instant
every neck was craned and every eye was turned toward the corner
where Erik Carstens was standing, half hidden behind the broad
figure of Lieutenant Thicker.
"Did I hear a hundred?" repeated the auctioneer, wonderingly.
"May I ask who was the gentleman who said a hundred?"
An embarrassing silence followed. Erik knew that if he
acknowledged the bid he would suffer the shame of having it
refused. But his excitement and his solicitude for the fair fame
of his native city had carried him away so completely that the
words had escaped from his lips before he was fully aware of
their import.
"May I ask," repeated the wielder of the hammer, slowly and
emphatically, "may I ask the gentleman who offered one hundred
dollars for Lady Clare to come forward and give his name?"
He now looked straight at Erik, who blushed to the edge of his
hair, but did not stir from the spot. From sheer embarrassment
he clutched the lieutenant's arm, and almost pinched it.
"Oh, I beg your pardon," the officer exclaimed, addressing the
auctioneer, as if he had suddenly been aroused from a fit of
abstraction; "I made the bid of one hundred dollars, or--or--at
any rate, I make it now."
The same performance, intended to force up the price, was
repeated once more, but with no avail, and at the end of two
minutes Lady Clare was knocked down to Lieutenant Thicker.
"Now I have gone and done it like the blooming idiot that I am,"
observed the lieutenant, when Lady Clare was led into his stable
by a liveried groom. "What an overhauling the captain will give
me when he gets home."
"You need have no fear," Erik replied. "I'll sound father as
soon as he gets home; and if he makes any trouble I'll pay you
that one hundred dollars, with interest, the day I come of age."
Well, the captain came home, and having long had the intention to
present his son with a saddle-horse, he allowed himself to be
cajoled into approving of the bargain. The mare was an exquisite
creature, if ever there was one, and he could well understand how
Erik had been carried away; Lieutenant Thicker, instead of being
hauled over the coals, as he had expected, received thanks for
his kind and generous conduct toward the son of his superior
officer. As for Erik himself, he had never had any idea that a
boy's life could be so glorious as his was now. Mounted on that
splendid, coal-black mare, he rode through the city and far out
into the country at his father's side; and never did it seem to
him that he had loved his father so well as he did during these
afternoon rides. The captain was far from suspecting that in
that episode of the purchase of Lady Clare his own relation to
his son had been at stake. Not that Erik would not have obeyed
his father, even if he had turned out his rough side and taken
the lieutenant to task for his kindness; but their relation would
in that case have lacked the warm intimacy (which in nowise
excludes obedience and respect) and that last touch of devoted
admiration which now bound them together.
That fine touch of sympathy in the captain's disposition which
had enabled him to smile indulgently at his son's enthusiasm for
the horse made the son doubly anxious not to abuse such kindness,
and to do everything in his power to deserve the confidence which
made his life so rich and happy. Though, as I have said, Captain
Carstens lacked the acuteness to discover how much he owed to
Lady Clare, he acknowledged himself in quite a different way her
debtor. He had never really been aware what a splendid specimen
of a boy his son was until he saw him on the back of that
spirited mare, which cut up with him like the Old Harry, and yet
never succeeded in flurrying, far less in unseating him. The
captain felt a glow of affection warming his breast at the sight
of this, and his pride in Erik's horsemanship proved a
consolation to him when the boy's less distinguished performances
at school caused him fret and worry.
"A boy so full of pluck must amount to something, even if he does
not take kindly to Latin," he reflected many a time. "I am
afraid I have made a mistake in having him prepared for college.
In the army now, and particularly in the cavalry, he would make a
reputation in twenty minutes."
And a cavalryman Erik might, perhaps, have become if his father
had not been transferred to another post, and compelled to take
up his residence in the country. It was nominally a promotion,
but Captain Carstens was ill pleased with it, and even had some
thought of resigning rather than give up his delightful city
life, and move far northward into the region of cod and herring.
However, he was too young a man to retire on a pension, as yet,
and so he gradually reconciled himself to the thought, and sailed
northward in the month of April with his son and his entire
household. It had long been a question whether Lady Clare should
make the journey with them; for Captain Carstens maintained that
so high-bred an animal would be very sensitive to climatic
changes and might even die on the way. Again, he argued that it
was an absurdity to bring so fine a horse into a rough country,
where the roads are poor and where nature, in mercy, provides all
beasts with rough, shaggy coats to protect them from the cold.
How would Lady Clare, with her glossy satin coat, her slender
legs that pirouetted so daintily over the ground, and her
exquisite head, which she carried so proudly--how would she look
and what kind of figure would she cut among the shaggy, stunted,
sedate-looking nags of the Sognefiord district? But the captain,
though what he said was irrefutable, had to suspend all argument
when he saw how utterly wretched Erik became at the mere thought
of losing Lady Clare. So he took his chances; and, after having
ordered blankets of three different thicknesses for three
different kinds of weather, shipped the mare with the rest of his
family for his new northern home.
As the weather proved unusually mild during the northward voyage
Lady Clare arrived in Sogn without accident or adventure. And
never in all her life had she looked more beautiful than she did
when she came off the steamer, and half the population of the
valley turned out to see her. It is no use denying that she was
as vain as any other professional beauty, and the way she danced
and pirouetted on the gangplank, when Erik led her on to the
pier, filled the rustics with amazement. They had come to look
at the new captain and his family; but when Lady Clare appeared
she eclipsed the rest of the company so completely that no one
had eyes for anybody but her. As the sun was shining and the
wind was mild, Erik had taken off her striped overcoat (which
covered her from nose to tail), for he felt in every fibre of his
body the sensation she was making, and blushed with pleasure as
if the admiring exclamations had been intended for himself.
"Look at that horse," cried young and old, with eyes as big as
saucers, pointing with their fingers at Lady Clare.
"Handsome carcass that mare has," remarked a stoutish man, who
knew what he was talking about; "and head and legs to match."
"She beats your Valders-Roan all hollow, John Garvestad," said a
young tease who stood next to him in the crowd.
"My Valders-Roan has never seen his match yet, and never will,
according to my reckoning," answered John Garvestad.
"Ho! ho!" shouted the young fellow, with a mocking laugh; "that
black mare is a hand taller at the very least, and I bet you
she's a high-flyer. She has got the prettiest legs I ever
clapped eyes on."
"They'd snap like clay pipes in the mountains," replied
Garvestad, contemptuously.
Erik, as he blushingly ascended the slope to his new home,
leading Lady Clare by a halter, had no suspicion of the
sentiments which she had aroused in John Garvestad's breast. He
was only blissfully conscious of the admiration she had excited;
and he promised himself a good deal of fun in future in showing
off his horsemanship. He took Lady Clare to the stable, where a
new box-stall had been made for her, examined the premises
carefully and nailed a board over a crevice in the wall where he
suspected a draught. He instructed Anders, the groom, with
emphatic and anxious repetitions regarding her care, showed him
how to make Lady Clare's bed, how to comb her mane, how to brush
her (for she refused to endure currying), how to blanket her, and
how to read the thermometer which he nailed to one of the posts
of the stall. The latter proved to be a more difficult task than
he had anticipated; and the worst of it was that he was not sure
that Anders knew any more on the subject of his instruction at
the end of the lesson than he had at the beginning. To make sure
that he had understood him he asked him to enter the stall and
begin the process of grooming. But no sooner had the unhappy
fellow put his nose inside the door than Lady Clare laid back her
ears in a very ugly fashion, and with a vicious whisk of her tail
waltzed around and planted two hoof-marks in the door, just where
the groom's nose had that very instant vanished. A second and a
third trial had similar results; and as the box-stall was new and
of hard wood, Erik had no wish to see it further damaged.
"I won't have nothin' to do with that hoss, that's as certain as
my name is Anders," the groom declared; and Erik, knowing that
persuasion would be useless, had henceforth to be his own groom.
The fact was he could not help sympathizing with that
fastidiousness of Lady Clare which made her object to be handled
by coarse fingers and roughly curried, combed, and washed like a
common plebeian nag. One does not commence life associating with
a princess for nothing. Lady Clare, feeling in every nerve her
high descent and breeding, had perhaps a sense of having come
down in the world, and, like many another irrational creature of
her sex, she kicked madly against fate and exhibited the
unloveliest side of her character. But with all her skittishness
and caprice she was steadfast in one thing, and that was her love
for Erik. As the days went by in country monotony, he began to
feel it as a privilege rather than a burden to have the exclusive
care of her. The low, friendly neighing with which she always
greeted him, as soon as he opened the stable-door, was as
intelligible and dear to him as the warm welcome of a friend.
And when with dainty alertness she lifted her small, beautiful
head, over which the fine net-work of veins meandered, above the
top of the stall, and rubbed her nose caressingly against his
cheek, before beginning to snuff at his various pockets for the
accustomed lump of sugar, he felt a glow of affection spread from
his heart and pervade his whole being. Yes, he loved this
beautiful animal with a devotion which, a year ago, he would
scarcely have thought it possible to bestow upon a horse. No one
could have persuaded him that Lady Clare had not a soul which
(whether it was immortal or not) was, at all events, as distinct
and clearly defined as that of any person with whom he was
acquainted. She was to him a personality--a dear, charming
friend, with certain defects of character (as who has not?) which
were, however, more than compensated for by her devotion to him.
She was fastidious, quick-tempered, utterly unreasonable where
her feelings were involved; full of aristocratic prejudice, which
only her sex could excuse; and whimsical, proud, and capricious.
It was absurd, of course, to contend that these qualities were in
themselves admirable; but, on the other hand, few of us would not
consent to overlook them in a friend who loved us as well as Lady
Clare loved Erik.
The fame of Lady Clare spread through the parish like fire in
withered grass. People came from afar to look at her, and
departed full of wonder at her beauty. When the captain and his
son rode together to church on Sunday morning, men, women, and
children stood in rows at the roadside staring at the wonderful
mare as if she had been a dromedary or a rhinoceros. And when
she was tied in the clergyman's stable a large number of the men
ignored the admonition of the church bells and missed the sermon,
being unable to tear themselves away from Lady Clare's charms.
But woe to him who attempted to take liberties with her; there
were two or three horsy young men who had narrow escapes from
bearing the imprint of her iron shoes for the rest of their days.
That taught the others a lesson, and now Lady Clare suffered from
no annoying familiarities, but was admired at a respectful
distance, until the pastor, vexed at her rivalry with his sermon,
issued orders to have the stable-door locked during service.
There was one person besides the pastor who was ill pleased at
the reputation Lady Clare was making. That was John Garvestad,
the owner of Valders-Roan. John was the richest man in the
parish, and always made a point of keeping fine horses.
Valders-Roan, a heavily built, powerful horse, with a tremendous
neck and chest and long tassels on his fetlocks, but rather squat
in the legs, had hitherto held undisputed rank as the finest
horse in all Sogn. By the side of Lady Clare he looked as a
stout, good-looking peasant lad with coltish manners might have
looked by the side of the daughter of a hundred earls.
But John Garvestad, who was naturally prejudiced in favor of his
own horse, could scarcely be blamed for failing to recognize her
superiority. He knew that formerly, on Sundays, the men were
wont to gather with admiring comment about Valders-Roan; while
now they stood craning their necks, peering through the windows
of the parson's stable, in order to catch a glimpse of Lady
Clare, and all the time Valders-Roan was standing tied to the
fence, in full view of all, utterly neglected. This spectacle
filled him with such ire that he hardly could control himself.
His first impulse was to pick a quarrel with Erik; but a second
and far brighter idea presently struck him. He would buy Lady
Clare. Accordingly, when the captain and his son had mounted
their horses and were about to start on their homeward way,
Garvestad, putting Valders-Roan to his trumps, dug his heels into
his sides and rode up with a great flourish in front of the
churchyard gate.
"How much will you take for that mare of yours, captain?" he
asked, as he checked his charger with unnecessary vigor close to
Lady Clare.
"She is not mine to sell," the captain replied. "Lady Clare
belongs to my son."
"Well, what will you take for her, then?" Garvestad repeated,
swaggeringly, turning to Erik.
"Not all the gold in the world could buy her," retorted Erik,
Valders-Roan, unable to resist the charms of Lady Clare, had in
the meanwhile been making some cautious overtures toward an
acquaintance. He arched his mighty neck, rose on his hind legs,
while his tremendous forehoofs were beating the air, and cut up
generally--all for Lady Clare's benefit.
She, however, having regarded his performances for awhile with a
mild and somewhat condescending interest, grew a little tired of
them and looked out over the fiord, as a belle might do, with a
suppressed yawn, when her cavalier fails to entertain her.
Valders-Roan, perceiving the slight, now concluded to make more
decided advances. So he put forward his nose until it nearly
touched Lady Clare's, as if he meant to kiss her. But that was
more than her ladyship was prepared to put up with. Quick as a
flash she flung herself back on her haunches, down went her ears,
and hers was the angriest horse's head that ever had been seen in
that parish. With an indignant snort she wheeled around, kicking
up a cloud of dust by the suddenness of the manoeuvre. A less
skilled rider than Erik would inevitably have been thrown by two
such unforeseen jerks; and the fact was he had all he could do to
keep his seat.
"Oho!" shouted Garvestad, "your mare shies; she'll break your
neck some day, as likely as not. You had better sell her before
she gets you into trouble."
"But I shouldn't like to have your broken neck on my conscience,"
Erik replied; "if necks are to be broken by Lady Clare I should
prefer to have it be my own."
The peasant was not clever enough to make out whether this was
jest or earnest. With a puzzled frown he stared at the youth and
finally broke out:
"Then you won't sell her at no price? Anyway, the day you change
your mind don't forget to notify John Garvestad. If it's
spondulix you are after, then here's where there's plenty of
He slapped his left breast-pocket with a great swagger, looking
around to observe the impression he was making on his audience;
then, jerking the bridle violently, so as to make his horse rear,
he rode off like Alexander on Bucephalus, and swung down upon the
It was but a few weeks after this occurrence that Captain
Carstens and his son were invited to honor John Garvestad by
their presence at his wedding. They were in doubt, at first, as
to whether they ought to accept the invitation; for some
unpleasant rumors had reached them, showing that Garvestad
entertained unfriendly feelings toward them. He was an intensely
vain man; and the thought that Erik Carstens had a finer horse
than Valders-Roan left him no peace. He had been heard to say
repeatedly that, if that high-nosed youth persisted in his
refusal to sell the mare, he would discover his mistake when,
perhaps, it would be too late to have it remedied. Whatever that
meant, it sufficed to make both Erik and his father uneasy. But,
on the other hand, it would be the worst policy possible, under
such circumstances, to refuse the invitation. For that would be
interpreted either as fear or as aristocratic exclusiveness; and
the captain, while he was new in the district, was as anxious to
avoid the appearance of the one as of the other. Accordingly he
accepted the invitation and on the appointed day rode with his
son into the wide yard of John Garvestad's farm, stopping at the
pump, where they watered their horses. It was early in the
afternoon, and both the house and the barn were thronged with
wedding-guests. From the sitting-room the strains of two fiddles
were heard, mingled with the scraping and stamping of heavy feet.
Another musical performance was in progress in the barn; and all
over the yard elderly men and youths were standing in smaller and
larger groups, smoking their pipes and tasting the beer-jugs,
which were passed from hand to hand. But the moment Lady Clare
was seen all interest in minor concerns ceased, and with one
accord the crowd moved toward her, completely encircling her, and
viewing her with admiring glances that appreciated all her
"Did you ever see cleaner-shaped legs on a horse?" someone was
heard to say, and instantly his neighbor in the crowd joined the
chorus of praise, and added: "What a snap and spring there is in
every bend of her knee and turn of her neck and flash of her
It was while this chorus of admiration was being sung in all keys
and tones of the whole gamut, that the bridegroom came out of the
house, a little bit tipsy, perhaps, from the many toasts he had
been obliged to drink, and bristling with pugnacity to the ends
of his fingers and the tips of his hair. Every word of praise
that he heard sounded in his ears like a jeer and an insult to
himself. With ruthless thrusts he elbowed his way through the
throng of guests and soon stood in front of the two horses, from
which the captain and Erik had not yet had a chance to dismount.
He returned their greeting with scant courtesy and plunged
instantly into the matter which he had on his mind.
"I reckon you have thought better of my offer by this time," he
said, with a surly swagger, to Erik. "What do you hold your mare
at to-day?"
"I thought we had settled that matter once for all," the boy
replied, quietly. "I have no more intention of selling Lady
Clare now than I ever had."
"Then will ye trade her off for Valders-Roan?" ejaculated
Garvestad, eagerly.
"No, I won't trade her for Valders-Roan or any other horse in
"Don't be cantankerous, now, young fellow, or you might repent of
"I am not cantankerous. But I beg of you kindly to drop this
matter. I came here, at your invitation, as a guest at your
wedding, not for the purpose of trading horses."
It was an incautious speech, and was interpreted by everyone
present as a rebuke to the bridegroom for his violation of the
rules of hospitality. The captain, anxious to avoid a row,
therefore broke in, in a voice of friendly remonstrance: "My dear
Mr. Garvestad, do let us drop this matter. If you will permit
us, we should like to dismount and drink a toast to your health,
wishing you a long life and much happiness."
"Ah, yes, I understand your smooth palaver," the bridegroom
growled between his teeth. "I have stood your insolence long
enough, and, by jingo, I won't stand it much longer. What will
ye take for your mare, I say, or how much do you want to boot, if
you trade her for Valders-Roan?"
He shouted the last words with furious emphasis, holding his
clinched fist up toward Erik, and glaring at him savagely.
But now Lady Clare, who became frightened perhaps by the loud
talk and violent gestures, began to rear and plunge, and by an
unforeseen motion knocked against the bridegroom, so that he fell
backward into the horse-trough under the pump, which was full of
water. The wedding-guests had hardly time to realize what was
happening when a great splash sent the water flying into their
faces, and the burly form of John Garvestad was seen sprawling
helplessly in the horse-trough. But then--then they realized it
with a vengeance. And a laugh went up--a veritable storm of
laughter--which swept through the entire crowd and re-echoed with
a ghostly hilarity from the mountains. John Garvestad in the
meanwhile had managed to pick himself out of the horse-trough,
and while he stood snorting, spitting, and dripping, Captain
Carstens and his son politely lifted their hats to him and rode
away. But as they trotted out of the gate they saw their host
stretch a big clinched fist toward them, and heard him scream
with hoarse fury: "I'll make ye smart for that some day, so help
me God!"
Lady Clare was not sent to the mountains in the summer, as are
nearly all horses in the Norwegian country districts. She was
left untethered in an enclosed home pasture about half a mile
from the mansion. Here she grazed, rolled, kicked up her heels,
and gambolled to her heart's content. During the long, bright
summer nights, when the sun scarcely dips beneath the horizon and
reappears in an hour, clothed in the breezy garments of morning,
she was permitted to frolic, race, and play all sorts of
improvised games with a shaggy, little, plebeian three-year-old
colt whom she had condescended to honor with her acquaintance.
This colt must have had some fine feeling under his rough coat,
for he never presumed in the least upon the acquaintance, being
perhaps aware of the honor it conferred upon him. He allowed
himself to be abused, ignored, or petted, as it might suit the
pleasure of her royal highness, with a patient, even-tempered
good-nature which was admirable. When Lady Clare (perhaps for
fear of making him conceited) took no notice of him, he showed
neither resentment nor surprise, but walked off with a sheepish
shake of his head. Thus he slowly learned the lesson to make no
exhibition of feeling at the sight of his superior; not to run up
and greet her with a disrespectfully joyous whinny; but calmly
wait for her to recognize him before appearing to be aware of her
presence. It took Lady Clare several months to accustom Shag
(for that was the colt's name) to her ways. She taught him
unconsciously the rudiments of good manners; but he proved
himself docile, and when he once had been reduced to his proper
place he proved a fairly acceptable companion.
During the first and second week after John Garvestad's wedding
Erik had kept Lady Clare stabled, having a vague fear that the
angry peasant might intend to do her harm. But she whinnied so
pitifully through the long light nights that finally he allowed
his compassion to get the better of his anxiety, and once more
she was seen racing madly about the field with Shag, whom she
always beat so ignominiously that she felt half sorry for him,
and as a consolation allowed him gently to claw her mane with his
teeth. This was a privilege which Shag could not fail to
appreciate, though she never offered to return the favor by
clawing him. At any rate, as soon as Lady Clare reappeared in
the meadow Shag's cup of bliss seemed to be full.
A week passed in this way, nothing happened, and Erik's vigilance
was relaxed. He went to bed on the evening of July 10th with an
easy mind, without the remotest apprehension of danger. The sun
set about ten o'clock, and Lady Clare and Shag greeted its last
departing rays with a whinny, accompanied by a wanton kickup from
the rear--for whatever Lady Clare did Shag felt in honor bound to
do, and was conscious of no disgrace in his abject and ape-like
imitation. They had spent an hour, perhaps, in such delightful
performances, when all of a sudden they were startled by a deep
bass whinny, which rumbled and shook like distant thunder. Then
came the tramp, tramp, tramp of heavy hoof-beats, which made the
ground tremble. Lady Clare lifted her beautiful head and looked
with fearless curiosity in the direction whence the sound came.
Shag, of course, did as nearly as he could exactly the same.
What they saw was a big roan horse with an enormous arched neck,
squat feet, and long-tasselled fetlocks.
Lady Clare had no difficulty in recognizing Valders-Roan. But
how big and heavy and ominous he looked in the blood-red
after-glow of the blood-red sunset. For the first time in her
life Lady Clare felt a cold shiver of fear run through her.
There was, happily, a fence between them, and she devoutly hoped
that Valders-Roan was not a jumper. At that moment, however, two
men appeared next to the huge horse, and Lady Clare heard the
sound of breaking fence-rails. The deep hoarse whinny once more
made the air shake, and it made poor Lady Clare shake too, for
now she saw Valders-Roan come like a whirlwind over the field,
and so powerful were his hoof-beats that a clod of earth which
had stuck to one of his shoes shot like a bullet through the air.
He looked so gigantic, so brimming with restrained strength, and
somehow Lady Clare, as she stood quaking at the sight of him, had
never seemed to herself so dainty, frail, and delicate as she
seemed in this moment. She felt herself so entirely at his
mercy; she was no match for him surely. Shag, anxious as ever to
take his cue from her, had stationed himself at her side, and
shook his head and whisked his tail in a non-committal manner.
Now Valders-Roan had cleared the fence where the men had broken
it down; then on he came again, tramp, tramp, tramp, until he was
within half a dozen paces from Lady Clare. There he stopped, for
back went Lady Clare's pretty ears, while she threw herself upon
her haunches in an attitude of defence. She was dimly aware that
this was a foolish thing to do, but her inbred disdain and horror
of everything rough made her act on instinct instead of reason.
Valders-Roan, irritated by this uncalled-for action, now threw
ceremony to the winds, and without further ado trotted up and
rubbed his nose against hers. That was more than Lady Clare
could stand. With an hysterical snort she flung herself about,
and up flew her heels straight into the offending nose,
inflicting considerable damage. Shag, being now quite clear that
the programme was fight, whisked about in exactly the same
manner, with as close an imitation of Lady Clare's snort as he
could produce, and a second pair of steel-shod heels came within
a hair of reducing the enemy's left nostril to the same condition
as the right. But alas for the generous folly of youth! Shag
had to pay dearly for that exhibition of devotion. Valders-Roan,
enraged by this wanton insult, made a dash at Shag, and by the
mere impetus of his huge bulk nearly knocked him senseless. The
colt rolled over, flung all his four legs into the air, and as
soon as he could recover his footing reeled sideways like a
drunken man and made haste to retire to a safe distance.
Valders-Roan had now a clear field and could turn his undivided
attention to Lady Clare. I am not sure that he had not made an
example of Shag merely to frighten her. Bounding forward with
his mighty chest expanded and the blood dripping from his
nostrils, he struck out with a tremendous hind leg and would have
returned Lady Clare's blow with interest if she had not leaped
high into the air. She had just managed by her superior
alertness to dodge that deadly hoof, and was perhaps not prepared
for an instant renewal of the attack. But she had barely gotten
her four feet in contact with the sod when two rows of terrific
teeth plunged into her withers. The pain was frightful, and with
a long, pitiful scream Lady Clare sank down upon the ground, and,
writhing with agony, beat the air with her hoofs. Shag, who had
by this time recovered his senses, heard the noise of the battle,
and, plucking up his courage, trotted bravely forward against the
victorious Valders-Roan. He was so frightened that his heart
shot up into his throat. But there lay Lady Clare mangled and
bleeding. He could not leave her in the lurch, so forward he
came, trembling, just as Lady Clare was trying to scramble to her
feet. Led away by his sympathy Shag bent his head down toward
her and thereby prevented her from rising. And in the same
instant a stunning blow hit him straight in the forehead, a
shower of sparks danced before his eyes, and then Shag saw and
heard no more. A convulsive quiver ran through his body, then he
stretched out his neck on the bloody grass, heaved a sigh, and
Lady Clare, seeing Shag killed by the blow which had been
intended for herself, felt her blood run cold. She was strongly
inclined to run, for she could easily beat the heavy Valders-Roan
at a race, and her fleet legs might yet save her. I cannot say
whether it was a generous wrath at the killing of her humble
champion or a mere blind fury which overcame this inclination.
But she knew now neither pain nor fear. With a shrill scream she
rushed at Valders-Roan, and for five minutes a whirling cloud of
earth and grass and lumps of sod moved irregularly over the
field, and tails, heads, and legs were seen flung and tossed
madly about, while an occasional shriek of rage or of pain
startled the night, and re-echoed with a weird resonance between
the mountains.
It was about five o'clock in the morning of July 11th, that Erik
awoke, with a vague sense that something terrible had happened.
His groom was standing at his bedside with a terrified face,
doubtful whether to arouse his young master or allow him to
"What has happened, Anders?" cried Erik, tumbling out of bed.
"Lady Clare, sir----"
"Lady Clare!" shouted the boy. "What about her? Has she been
"No, I reckon not," drawled Anders.
"Then she's dead! Quick, tell me what you know or I shall go
"No; I can't say for sure she's dead either," the groom
stammered, helplessly.
Erik, being too stunned with grief and pain, tumbled in a dazed
fashion about the room, and scarcely knew how he managed to
dress. He felt cold, shivery, and benumbed; and the daylight had
a cruel glare in it which hurt his eyes. Accompanied by his
groom, he hastened to the home pasture, and saw there the
evidence of the fierce battle which had raged during the night.
A long, black, serpentine track, where the sod had been torn up
by furious hoof-beats, started from the dead carcass of the
faithful Shag and moved with irregular breaks and curves up
toward the gate that connected the pasture with the underbrush of
birch and alder. Here the fence had been broken down, and the
track of the fight suddenly ceased. A pool of blood had soaked
into the ground, showing that one of the horses, and probably the
victor, must have stood still for a while, allowing the
vanquished to escape.
Erik had no need of being told that the horse which had attacked
Lady Clare was Valders-Roan; and though he would scarcely have
been able to prove it, he felt positive that John Garvestad had
arranged and probably watched the fight. Having a wholesome
dread of jail, he had not dared to steal Lady Clare; but he had
chosen this contemptible method to satisfy his senseless
jealousy. It was all so cunningly devised as to baffle legal
inquiry. Valders-Roan had gotten astray, and being a heavy
beast, had broken into a neighbor's field and fought with his
filly, chasing her away into the mountains. That was the story
he would tell, of course, and as there had been no witnesses
present, there was no way of disproving it.
Abandoning, however, for the time being all thought of revenge,
Erik determined to bend all his energies to the recovery of Lady
Clare. He felt confident that she had run away from her
assailant, and was now roaming about in the mountains. He
therefore organized a search party of all the male servants on
the estate, besides a couple of volunteers, making in all nine.
On the evening of the first day's search they put up at a saeter
or mountain chalet. Here they met a young man named Tollef
Morud, who had once been a groom at John Garvestad's. This man
had a bad reputation; and as the idea occurred to some of them
that he might know something about Lady Clare's disappearance,
they questioned him at great length, without, however, eliciting
a single crumb of information.
For a week the search was continued, but had finally to be given
up. Weary, footsore, and heavy hearted, Erik returned home. His
grief at the loss of Lady Clare began to tell on his health; and
his perpetual plans for getting even with John Garvestad amounted
almost to a mania, and caused his father both trouble and
anxiety. It was therefore determined to send him to the military
academy in the capital.
Four or five years passed and Erik became a lieutenant. It was
during the first year after his graduation from the military
academy that he was invited to spend the Christmas holidays with
a friend, whose parents lived on a fine estate about twenty miles
from the city. Seated in their narrow sleighs, which were drawn
by brisk horses, they drove merrily along, shouting to each other
to make their voices heard above the jingling of the bells.
About eight o'clock in the evening, when the moon was shining
brightly and the snow sparkling, they turned in at a wayside
tavern to order their supper. Here a great crowd of lumbermen
had congregated, and all along the fences their overworked, halfbroken-
down horses stood, shaking their nose-bags. The air in
the public room was so filled with the fumes of damp clothes and
bad tobacco that Erik and his friend, while waiting for their
meal, preferred to spend the time under the radiant sky. They
were sauntering about, talking in a desultory fashion, when all
of a sudden a wild, joyous whinny rang out upon the startled air.
It came from a rusty, black, decrepit-looking mare hitched to a
lumber sleigh which they had just passed. Erik, growing very
serious, paused abruptly.
A second whinny, lower than the first, but almost alluring and
cajoling, was so directly addressed to Erik that he could not
help stepping up to the mare and patting her on the nose.
"You once had a horse you cared a great deal for, didn't you?"
his friend remarked, casually.
"Oh, don't speak about it," answered Erik, in a voice that shook
with emotion; "I loved Lady Clare as I never loved any creature
in this world--except my father, of course," he added,
But what was the matter with the old lumber nag? At the sound of
the name Lady Clare she pricked up her ears, and lifted her head
with a pathetic attempt at alertness. With a low, insinuating
neighing she rubbed her nose against the lieutenant's cheek. He
had let his hand glide over her long, thin neck, when quite
suddenly his fingers slid into a deep scar in the withers.
"My God!" he cried, while the tears started to his eyes, "am I
awake, or am I dreaming?"
"What in the world is the matter?" inquired his comrade,
"It is Lady Clare! By the heavens, it is Lady Clare!"
"That old ramshackle of a lumber nag whose every rib you can
count through her skin is your beautiful thoroughbred?"
ejaculated his friend, incredulously. "Come now, don't be a
"I'll tell you of it some other time," said Erik, quietly; "but
there's not a shadow of a doubt that this is Lady Clare."
Yes, strange as it may seem, it was indeed Lady Clare. But oh,
who would have recognized in this skeleton, covered with a
rusty-black skin and tousled mane and forelock in which chaff and
dirt were entangled--who would have recognized in this drooping
and rickety creature the proud, the dainty, the exquisite Lady
Clare? Her beautiful tail, which had once been her pride, was
now a mere scanty wisp; and a sharp, gnarled ridge running along
the entire length of her back showed every vertebra of her spine
through the notched and scarred skin. Poor Lady Clare, she had
seen hard usage. But now the days of her tribulations are at an
end. It did not take Erik long to find the half-tipsy lumberman
who was Lady Clare's owner; nor to agree with him on the price
for which he was willing to part with her.
There is but little more to relate. By interviews and
correspondence with the different parties through whose hands the
mare had passed, Erik succeeded in tracing her to Tollef Morud,
the ex-groom of John Garvestad. On being promised immunity from
prosecution, he was induced to confess that he had been hired by
his former master to arrange the nocturnal fight between Lady
Clare and Valders-Roan, and had been paid ten dollars for
stealing the mare when she had been sufficiently damaged. John
Garvestad had himself watched the fight from behind the fence,
and had laughed fit to split his sides, until Valders-Roan seemed
on the point of being worsted. Then he had interfered to
separate them, and Tollef had led Lady Clare away, bleeding from
a dozen wounds, and had hidden her in a deserted lumberman's shed
near the saeter where the searchers had overtaken him.
Having obtained these facts, Erik took pains to let John
Garvestad know that the chain of evidence against him was
complete, and if he had had his own way he would not have rested
until his enemy had suffered the full penalty of the law. But
John Garvestad, suspecting what was in the young man's mind,
suddenly divested himself of his pride, and cringing dike a
whipped dog, came and asked Erik's pardon, entreating him not to
As for Lady Clare, she never recovered her lost beauty. A pretty
fair-looking mare she became, to be sure, when good feeding and
careful grooming had made her fat and glossy once more. A long
and contented old age is, no doubt, in store for her. Having
known evil days, she appreciates the blessings which the change
in her fate has brought her. The captain declares she is the
best-tempered and steadiest horse in his stable.
"Oh, you never will amount to anything, Bonnyboy!" said
Bonnyboy's father, when he had vainly tried to show him how to
use a gouge; for Bonnyboy had just succeeded in gouging a piece
out of his hand, and was standing helplessly, letting his blood
drop on an engraving of Napoleon at Austerlitz, which had been
sent to his father for framing. The trouble with Bonnyboy was
that he was not only awkward--left-handed in everything he
undertook, as his father put it--but he was so very good-natured
that it was impossible to get angry with him. His large blue
innocent eyes had a childlike wonder in them, when he had done
anything particularly stupid, and he was so willing and anxious
to learn, that his ill-success seemed a reason for pity rather
than for wrath. Grim Norvold, Bonnyboy's father, was by trade a
carpenter, and handy as he was at all kinds of tinkering, he
found it particularly exasperating to have a son who was so
left-handed. There was scarcely anything Grim could not do. He
could take a watch apart and put it together again; he could mend
a harness if necessary; he could make a wagon; nay, he could even
doctor a horse when it got spavin or glanders. He was a sort of
jack-of-all-trades, and a very useful man in a valley where
mechanics were few and transportation difficult. He loved work
for its own sake, and was ill at ease when he had not a tool in
his hand. The exercise of his skill gave him a pleasure akin to
that which the fish feels in swimming, the eagle in soaring, and
the lark in singing. A finless fish, a wingless eagle, or a dumb
lark could not have been more miserable than Grim was when a
succession of holidays, like Easter or Christmas, compelled him
to be idle.
When his son was born his chief delight was to think of the time
when he should be old enough to handle a tool, and learn the
secrets of his father's trade. Therefore, from the time the boy
was old enough to sit or to crawl in the shavings without getting
his mouth and eyes full of sawdust, he gave him a place under the
turning bench, and talked or sang to him while he worked. And
Bonnyboy, in the meanwhile amused himself by getting into all
sorts of mischief. If it had not been for the belief that a good
workman must grow up in the atmosphere of the shop, Grim would
have lost patience with his son and sent him back to his mother,
who had better facilities for taking care of him. But the fact
was he was too fond of the boy to be able to dispense with him,
and he would rather bear the loss resulting from his mischief
than miss his prattle and his pretty dimpled face.
It was when the child was eighteen or nineteen months old that he
acquired the name Bonnyboy. A woman of the neighborhood, who had
called at the shop with some article of furniture which she
wanted to have mended, discovered the infant in the act of
investigating a pot of blue paint, with a part of which he had
accidentally decorated his face.
"Good gracious! what is that ugly thing you have got under your
turning bench?" she cried, staring at the child in amazement.
"No, he is not an ugly thing," replied the father, with
resentment; "he is a bonny boy, that's what he is."
The woman, in order to mollify Grim, turned to the boy, and
asked, with her sweetest manner, "What is your name, child?"
"Bonny boy," murmured the child, with a vaguely offended
air--"bonny boy."
And from that day the name Bonnyboy clung to him.
To teach Bonnyboy the trade of a carpenter was a task which would
have exhausted the patience of all the saints in the calendar.
If there was any possible way of doing a thing wrong, Bonnyboy
would be sure to hit upon that way. When he was eleven years old
he chopped off the third joint of the ring-finger on his right
hand with a cutting tool while working the turning-lathe; and by
the time he was fourteen it seemed a marvel to his father that he
had any fingers left at all. But Bonnyboy persevered in spite of
all difficulties, was always cheerful and of good courage, and
when his father, in despair, exclaimed: "Well, you will never
amount to anything, Bonnyboy," he would look up with his slow,
winning smile and say:
"Don't worry, father. Better luck next time."
"But, my dear boy, how can I help worrying, when you don't learn
anything by which you can make your living?"
"Oh, well, father," said Bonnyboy, soothingly (for he was
beginning to feel sorry on his father's account rather than on
his own), "I wouldn't bother about that if I were you. I don't
worry a bit. Something will turn up for me to do, sooner or
"But you'll do it badly, Bonnyboy, and then you won't get a
second chance. And then, who knows but you may starve to death.
You'll chop off the fingers you have left; and when I am dead and
can no longer look after you, I am very much afraid you'll manage
to chop off your head too."
"Well," observed Bonnyboy, cheerfully, "in that case I shall not
starve to death."
Grim had to laugh in spite of himself at the paternal way in
which his son comforted him, as if he were the party to be
pitied. Bonnyboy's unfailing cheerfulness, which had its great
charm, began to cause him uneasiness, because he feared it was
but another form of stupidity. A cleverer boy would have been
sorry for his mistakes and anxious about his own future. But
Bonnyboy looked into the future with the serene confidence of a
child, and nothing under the sun ever troubled him, except his
father's tendency to worry. For he was very fond of his father,
and praised him as a paragon of skill and excellence. He
lavished an abject admiration on everything he did and said. His
dexterity in the use of tools, and his varied accomplishments as
a watch-maker and a horse-doctor, filled Bonnyboy with ungrudging
amazement. He knew it was a hopeless thing for him to aspire to
rival such genius, and he took the thing philosophically, and did
not aspire.
It occurred to Grim one day, when Bonnyboy had made a most
discouraging exhibition of his awkwardness, that it might be a
good thing to ask the pastor's advice in regard to him. The
pastor had had a long experience in educating children, and his
own, though they were not all clever, promised to turn out well.
Accordingly Grim called at the parsonage, was well received, and
returned home charged to the muzzle with good advice. The pastor
lent him a book full of stories, and recommended him to read them
to his son, and afterward question him about every single fact
which each story contained. This the pastor had found to be a
good way to develop the intellect of a backward boy.
When Bonnyboy had been confirmed, the question again rose what
was to become of him. He was now a tall young fellow,
red-checked, broad-shouldered, and strong, and rather
nice-looking. A slow, good-natured smile spread over his face
when anyone spoke to him, and he had a way of flinging his head
back, when the tuft of yellow hair which usually hung down over
his forehead obscured his sight. Most people liked him, even
though they laughed at him behind his back; but to his face
nobody laughed, because his strength inspired respect. Nor did
he know what fear was when he was roused; but that was probably,
as people thought, because he did not know much of anything. At
any rate, on a certain occasion he showed that there was a limit
to his good-nature, and when that limit was reached, he was not
as harmless a fellow as he looked.
On the neighboring farm of Gimlehaug there was a wedding to which
Grim and his son were invited. On the afternoon of the second
wedding day--for peasant weddings in Norway are often celebrated
for three days--a notorious bully named Ola Klemmerud took it
into his head to have some sport with the big good-natured
simpleton. So, by way of pleasantry, he pulled the tuft of hair
which hung down upon Bonnyboy's forehead.
"Don't do that," said Bonnyboy.
Ola Klemmerud chuckled, and the next time he passed Bonnyboy,
pinched his ear.
"If you do that again I sha'n't like you," cried Bonnyboy.
The innocence of that remark made the people laugh, and the
bully, seeing that their sympathy was on his side, was encouraged
to continue his teasing. Taking a few dancing steps across the
floor, he managed to touch Bonnyboy's nose with the toe of his
boot, which feat again was rewarded with a burst of laughter.
The poor lad quietly blew his nose, wiped the perspiration off
his brow with a red handkerchief, and said, "Don't make me mad,
Ola, or I might hurt you."
This speech struck the company as being immensely funny, and they
laughed till the tears ran down their cheeks. At this moment
Grim entered, and perceived at once that Ola Klemmerud was
amusing the company at his son's expense. He grew hot about his
ears, clinched his teeth, and stared challengingly at the bully.
The latter began to feel uncomfortable, but he could not stop at
this point without turning the laugh against himself, and that he
had not the courage to do. So in order to avoid rousing the
father's wrath, and yet preserving his own dignity, he went over
to Bonnyboy, rumpled his hair with both his hands, and tweaked
his nose. This appeared such innocent sport, according to his
notion, that no rational creature could take offence at it. But
Grim, whose sense of humor was probably defective, failed to see
it in that light.
"Let the boy alone," he thundered.
"Well, don't bite my head off, old man," replied Ola. "I haven't
hurt your fool of a boy. I have only been joking with him."
"I don't think you are troubled with overmuch wit yourself,
judging by the style of your jokes," was Grim's cool retort.
The company, who plainly saw that Ola was trying to wriggle out
of his difficulty, but were anxious not to lose an exciting
scene, screamed with laughter again; but this time at the bully's
expense. The blood mounted to his head, and his anger got the
better of his natural cowardice. Instead of sneaking off, as he
had intended, he wheeled about on his heel and stood for a moment
irresolute, clinching his fist in his pocket.
"Why don't you take your lunkhead of a son home to his mother, if
he isn't bright enough to understand fun!" he shouted.
"Now let me see if you are bright enough to understand the same
kind of fun," cried Grim. Whereupon he knocked off Ola's cap,
rumpled his hair, and gave his nose such a pull that it was a
wonder it did not come off.
The bully, taken by surprise, tumbled a step backward, but
recovering himself, struck Grim in the face with his clinched
fist. At this moment. Bonnyboy, who had scarcely taken in the
situation; jumped up and screamed, "Sit down, Ola Klemmerud, sit
The effect of this abrupt exclamation was so comical, that people
nearly fell from their benches as they writhed and roared with
Bonnyboy, who had risen to go to his father's assistance, paused
in astonishment in the middle of the floor. He could not
comprehend, poor boy, why everything he said provoked such
uncontrollable mirth. He surely had no intention of being funny.
So, taken aback a little, he repeated to himself, half
wonderingly, with an abrupt pause after each word,
But Ola Klemmerud, instead of sitting down, hit Grim repeatedly
about the face and head, and it was evident that the elder man,
in spite of his strength, was not a match for him in alertness.
This dawned presently upon Bonnyboy's slow comprehension, and his
good-natured smile gave way to a flush of excitement. He took
two long strides across the floor, pushed his father gently
aside, and stood facing his antagonist. He repeated once more
his invitation to sit down; to which the latter responded with a
slap which made the sparks dance before Bonnyboy's eyes. Now
Bonnyboy became really angry. Instead of returning the slap, he
seized his enemy with a sudden and mighty grab by both his
shoulders, lifted him up as if he were a bag of hay, and put him
down on a chair with such force that it broke into splinters
under him.
"Will you now sit down?" said Bonnyboy.
Nobody laughed this time, and the bully, not daring to rise,
remained seated on the floor among the ruins of the chair.
Thereupon, with imperturbable composure, Bonnyboy turned to his
father, brushed off his coat with his hands and smoothed his
disordered hair. "Now let us go home, father," he said, and
taking the old man's arm he walked out of the room. But hardly
had he crossed the threshold before the astonished company broke
into cheering.
"Good for you, Bonnyboy!" "Well done, Bonnyboy!" "You are a
bully boy, Bonnyboy!" they cried after him.
But Bonnyboy strode calmly along, quite unconscious of his
triumph, and only happy to have gotten his father out of the room
safe and sound. For a good while they walked on in silence.
Then, when the effect of the excitement had begun to wear away,
Grim stopped in the path, gazed admiringly at his son, and said,
"Well, Bonnyboy, you are a queer fellow."
"Oh, yes," answered Bonnyboy, blushing with embarrassment (for
though he did not comprehend the remark, he felt the approving
gaze); "but then, you know, I asked him to sit down, and he
"Bless your innocent heart!" murmured his father, as he gazed at
Bonnyboy's honest face with a mingling of affection and pity.
When Bonnyboy was twenty years old his father gave up, once for
all, his attempt to make a carpenter of him. A number of
saw-mills had been built during the last years along the river
down in the valley, and the old rapids had been broken up into a
succession of mill-dams, one above the other. At one of these
saw-mills Bonnyboy sought work, and was engaged with many others
as a mill hand. His business was to roll the logs on to the
little trucks that ran on rails, and to push them up to the saws,
where they were taken in charge by another set of men, who
fastened and watched them while they were cut up into planks.
Very little art was, indeed, required for this simple task; but
strength was required, and of this Bonnyboy had enough and to
spare. He worked with a will from early morn till dewy eve, and
was happy in the thought that he had at last found something that
he could do. It made the simple-hearted fellow proud to observe
that he was actually gaining his father's regard; or, at all
events, softening the disappointment which, in a vague way, he
knew that his dulness must have caused him. If, occasionally, he
was hurt by a rolling log, he never let any one know it; but even
though his foot was a mass of agony every time he stepped on it,
he would march along as stiffly as a soldier. It was as if he
felt his father's eye upon him long before he saw him.
There was a curious kind of sympathy between them which expressed
itself, on the father's part, in a need to be near his son. But
he feared to avow any such weakness, knowing that Bonnyboy would
interpret it as distrust of his ability to take care of himself,
and a desire to help him if he got into trouble. Grim,
therefore, invented all kinds of transparent pretexts for paying
visits to the saw-mills. And when he saw Bonnyboy, conscious
that his eye was resting upon him, swinging his axe so that the
chips flew about his ears, and the perspiration rained from his
brow, a dim anxiety often took possession of him, though he could
give no reason for it. That big brawny fellow, with the frame of
a man and the brain of a child, with his guileless face and his
guileless heart, strangely moved his compassion. There was
something almost beautiful about him, his father thought; but he
could not have told what it was; nor would he probably have found
any one else that shared his opinion. That frank and genial gaze
of Bonnyboy's, which expressed goodness of heart but nothing
else, seemed to Grim an "open sesame" to all hearts; and that
unawakened something which goes so well with childhood, but not
with adult age, filled him with tenderness and a vague anxiety.
"My poor lad," he would murmur to himself, as he caught sight of
Bonnyboy's big perspiring face, with the yellow tuft of hair
hanging down over his forehead, "clever you are not; but you have
that which the cleverest of us often lack."
There were sixteen saw-mills in all, and the one at which
Bonnyboy was employed was the last of the series. They were
built on little terraces on both banks of the river, and every
four of them were supplied with power from an artificial dam, in
which the water was stored in time of drought, and from which it
escaped in a mill-race when required for use. These four dams
were built of big stones, earthwork, and lumber, faced with
smooth planks, over which a small quantity of water usually
drizzled into the shallow river-bed. Formerly, before the power
was utilized, this slope had been covered with seething and
swirling rapids--a favorite resort of the salmon, which leaped
high in the spring, and were caught in the box-traps that hung on
long beams over the water. Now the salmon had small chance of
shedding their spawn in the cool, bright mountain pools, for they
could not leap the dams, and if by chance one got into the millrace,
it had a hopeless struggle against a current that would
have carried an elephant off his feet. Bonnyboy, who more than
once had seen the beautiful silvery fish spring right on to the
millwheel, and be flung upon the rocks, had wished that he had
understood the language of the fishes, so that he might tell them
how foolish such proceedings were. But merciful though he was,
he had been much discouraged when, after having put them back
into the river, they had promptly repeated the experiment.
There were about twenty-five or thirty men employed at the mill
where Bonnyboy earned his bread in the sweat of his brow, and he
was, on the whole, on good terms with all of them. They did, to
be sure, make fun of him occasionally; but sometimes he failed to
understand it, and at other times he made clumsy but good-humored
attempts to repay their gibes in kind. They took good care,
however, not to rouse his wrath, for the reputation he had
acquired by his treatment of Ola Klemmerud made them afraid to
risk a collision.
This was the situation when the great floods of 188- came, and
introduced a spice of danger into Bonnyboy's monotonous life.
The mill-races were now kept open night and day, and yet the
water burst like a roaring cascade over the tops of dams, and the
river-bed was filled to overflowing with a swiftly-hurrying tawny
torrent, which filled the air with its rush and swash, and sent
hissing showers of spray flying through the tree-tops. Bonnyboy
and a gang of twenty men were working as they had never worked
before in their lives, under the direction of an engineer, who
had been summoned by the mill-owner to strengthen the dams; for
if but one of them burst, the whole tremendous volume of water
would be precipitated upon the valley, and the village by the
lower falls and every farm within half a mile of the river-banks
would be swept out of existence. Guards were stationed all the
way up the river to intercept any stray lumber that might be
afloat. For if a log jam were added to the terrific strain of
the flood, there would surely be no salvation possible. Yet in
spite of all precautions, big logs now and then came bumping
against the dams, and shot with wild gyrations and somersaults
down into the brown eddies below.
The engineer, who was standing on the top of a log pile, had
shouted until he was hoarse, and gesticulated with his cane until
his arms were lame, but yet there was a great deal to do before
he could go to bed with an easy conscience. Bonnyboy and his
comrades, who had had by far the harder part of the task, were
ready to drop with fatigue. It was now eight o'clock in the
evening, and they had worked since six in the morning, and had
scarcely had time to swallow their scant rations. Some of them
began to grumble, and the engineer had to coax and threaten them
to induce them to persevere for another hour. The moon was just
rising behind the mountain ridges, and the beautiful valley lay,
with its green fields, sprouting forests, and red-painted
farm-houses, at Bonnyboy's feet. It was terrible to think that
perhaps destruction was to overtake those happy and peaceful
homes, where men had lived and died for many hundred years.
Bonnyboy could scarcely keep back the tears when this fear
suddenly came over him. Was it not strange that, though they
knew that danger was threatening, they made not the slightest
effort to save themselves? In the village below men were still
working in their forges, whose chimneys belched forth fiery
smoke, and the sound of their hammer-blows could be heard above
the roar of the river. Women were busy with their household
tasks; some boys were playing in the streets, damming up the
gutters and shrieking with joy when their dams broke. A few
provident souls had driven their cattle to the neighboring hills;
but neither themselves nor their children had they thought it
necessary to remove. The fact was, nobody believed that the dams
would break, as they had not imagination enough to foresee what
would happen if the dams did break.
Bonnyboy was wet to the skin, and his knees were a trifle shaky
from exhaustion. He had been cutting down an enormous mast-tree,
which was needed for a prop to the dam, and had hauled it down
with two horses, one of which was a half-broken gray colt, unused
to pulling in a team. To restrain this frisky animal had
required all Bonnyboy's strength, and he stood wiping his brow
with the sleeve of his shirt. Just at that moment a terrified
yell sounded from above: "Run for your lives! The upper dam is
The engineer from the top of the log-pile cast a swift glance up
the valley, and saw at once from the increasing volume of water
that the report was true.
"Save yourselves, lads!" he screamed. "Run to the woods!"
And suiting his action to his words, he tumbled down from the log
pile, and darted up the hill-side toward the forest. The other
men, hearing the wild rush and roar above them, lost no time in
following his example. Only Bonnyboy, slow of comprehension as
always, did not obey. Suddenly there flared up a wild resolution
in his face. He pulled out his knife, cut the traces, and leaped
upon the colt's back. Lashing the beast, and shouting at the top
of his voice, he dashed down the hill-side at a break-neck pace.
"The dam is breaking!" he roared. "Run for the woods!"
He glanced anxiously behind him to see if the flood was
overtaking him. A great cloud of spray was rising against the
sky, and he heard the yells of men and the frenzied neighing of
horses through the thunderous roar. But happily there was time.
The dam was giving way gradually, and had not yet let loose the
tremendous volume of death and desolation which it held enclosed
within its frail timbers. The colt, catching the spirit of
excitement in the air, flew like the wind, leaving farm after
farm behind it, until it reached the village.
"The dam is breaking! Run for your lives!" cried Bonnyboy, with
a rousing clarion yell which rose above all other poises; and up
and down the valley the dread tidings spread like wildfire. In
an instant all was in wildest commotion. Terrified mothers, with
babes in their arms, came bursting out of the houses, and little
girls, hugging kittens or cages with canary-birds, clung weeping
to their skirts; shouting men, shrieking women, crying children,
barking dogs, gusty showers sweeping from nowhere down upon the
distracted fugitives, and above all the ominous, throbbing,
pulsating roar as of a mighty chorus of cataracts. It came
nearer and nearer. It filled the great vault of the sky with a
rush as of colossal wing-beats. Then there came a deafening
creaking and crashing; then a huge brownish-white rolling wall,
upon which the moonlight gleamed for an instant, and then the
very trump of doom--a writhing, brawling, weltering chaos of
cattle, dogs, men, lumber, houses, barns, whirling and struggling
upon the destroying flood.
It was the morning after the disaster. The sun rose red and
threatening, circled with a ring of fiery mist. People encamped
upon the hill-side greeted each other as on the morn of
resurrection. For many were found among the living who were
being mourned as dead. Mothers hugged their children with
tearful joy, thanking God that they had been spared; and husbands
who had heard through the night the agonized cries of their
drowning wives, finding them at dawn safe and sound, felt as if
they had recovered them from the very gates of death. When all
were counted, it was ascertained that but very few of the
villagers had been overtaken by the flood. The timely warning
had enabled all to save themselves, except some who in their
eagerness to rescue their goods had lingered too long.
Impoverished most of them were by the loss of their houses and
cattle. The calamity was indeed overwhelming. But when they
considered how much greater the disaster would have been if the
flood had come upon them unheralded, they felt that they had
cause for gratitude in the midst of their sorrow. And who was it
that brought the tidings that snatched them from the jaws of
death? Well, nobody knew. He rode too fast. And each was too
much startled by the message to take note of the messenger. But
who could he possibly have been? An angel from Heaven, perhaps
sent by God in His mercy. That was indeed more than likely. The
belief was at once accepted that the rescuer was an angel from
heaven. But just then a lumberman stepped forward who had worked
at the mill and said: "It was Bonnyboy, Grim Carpenter's son. I
saw him jump on his gray colt."
Bonnyboy, Grim Carpenter's son. It couldn't be possible. But
the lumberman insisted that it was, and they had to believe him,
though, of course, it was a disappointment. But where was
Bonnyboy? He deserved thanks, surely. And, moreover, that gray
colt was a valuable animal. It was to be hoped that it was not
The water had now subsided, though it yet overflowed the banks;
so that trees, bent and splintered by the terrific force of the
flood, grew far out in the river. The foul dams had all been
swept away, and the tawny torrent ran again with tumultuous
rapids in its old channel. Of the mills scarcely a vestige was
left except slight cavities in the banks, and a few twisted beams
clinging to the rocks where they had stood. The ruins of the
village, with jagged chimneys and broken walls, loomed out of a
half-inundated meadow, through which erratic currents were
sweeping. Here and there lay a dead cow or dog, and in the
branches of a maple-tree the carcasses of two sheep were
entangled. In this marshy field a stooping figure was seen
wading about, as if in search of something. The water broke
about his knees, and sometimes reached up to his waist. He stood
like one dazed, and stared into the brown swirling torrent. Now
he poked something with his boat-hook, now bent down and purled
some dead thing out of a copse of shrubbery in which it had been
caught. The sun rose higher in the sky, and the red vapors were
scattered. But still the old man trudged wearily about, with the
stony stare in his eyes, searching for him whom he had lost. One
company after another now descended from the hill-sides, and from
the high-lying farms which had not been reached by the flood came
wagons with provisions and clothes, and men and women eager and
anxious to help. They shouted to the old man in the submerged
field, and asked what he was looking for. But he only shook his
head, as if he did not understand.
"Why, that is old Grim the carpenter," said someone. "Has
anybody seen Bonnyboy?"
But no one had seen Bonnyboy.
"Do you want help?" they shouted to Grim; but they got no
Hour after hour old Grim trudged about in the chilly water
searching for his son. Then, about noon, when he had worked his
way far down the river, he caught sight of something which made
his heart stand still. In a brown pool, in which a
half-submerged willow-tree grew, he saw a large grayish shape
which resembled a horse. He stretched out the boat-hook and
rolled it over. Dumbly, fearlessly, he stood staring into the
pool. There lay his son--there lay Bonnyboy stark and dead.
The cold perspiration broke out upon Grim's brow, and his great
breast labored. Slowly he stooped down, drew the dead body out
of the water, and tenderly laid it across his knees. He stared
into the sightless eyes, and murmuring a blessing, closed them.
There was a large discolored spot on the forehead, as of a
bruise. Grim laid his hand softly upon it, and stroked away the
yellow tuft of hair.
"My poor lad," he said, while the tears coursed down his wrinkled
cheeks, "you had a weak head, but your heart, Bonnyboy--your
heart was good."
A sunny-tempered little fellow was Hans, and his father declared
that he had brought luck with him when he came into the world.
"He was such a handsome baby when he was born," said Inga, his
mother; "but you would scarcely believe it now, running about as
he does in forest and field, tearing his clothes and scratching
his face."
Now, it was true, as Hans's mother said, that he did often tear
his clothes; and as he had an indomitable curiosity, and had to
investigate everything that came in his way, it was also no
uncommon thing for him to come home with his face stung or
"Why must you drag that child with you wherever you go, Nils?"
the mother complained to Hans's father, when the little boy was
brought to her in such a disreputable condition. "Why can't you
leave him at home? What other man do you know who carries a
six-year-old little fellow about with him in rain and shine,
storm and quiet?
"Well," Nils invariably answered, "I like him and he likes me.
He brings me luck."
This was a standing dispute between Nils and Inga, his wife, and
they never came to an agreement. She knew as well as her husband
that before little Hans was born there was want and misery in
their cottage. But from the hour the child lifted up its tiny
voice, announcing its arrival, there had been prosperity and
contentment. Their luck had turned, Nils said, and it was the
child that had turned it. They had been married for four years,
and though they had no one to provide for but themselves, they
scarcely managed to keep body and soul together. All sorts of
untoward things happened. Now a tree which he was cutting down
fell upon Nils and laid him up for a month; now he got water on
his knee from a blow he received while rolling logs into the
chute; now the pig died which was to have provided them with salt
pork for the winter, and the hens took to the bush, and laid
their eggs where nobody except the rats and the weasels could
find them. But since little Hans had come and put an end to all
these disasters, his father had a superstitious feeling that he
could not bear to have him away from him. Therefore every
morning when he started out for the forest or the river he
carried Hans on his shoulder. And the little boy sat there,
smiling proudly and waving his hand to his mother, who stood in
the door looking longingly after him.
"Hello, little chap!" cried the lumbermen, when they saw him.
"Good-morning to you and good luck!"
They always cheered up, however bad the weather was, when they
saw little Hans, for nobody could look at his sunny little face
without feeling something like a ray of sunlight stealing into
his heart. Hans had a smile and a wave of his hand for
everybody. He knew all the lumbermen by name, and they knew him.
They sang as they swung the axe or the boat-hook, and the work
went merrily when little Hans sat on the top of the log pile and
shouted to them. But if by chance he was absent for a day or two
they missed him. No songs were heard, but harsh words, and not
infrequently quarrels. Now, nobody believed, of course, that
little Hans was such a wizard that he could make people feel and
behave any better than it was in their nature to do; but sure it
was--at least the lumbermen insisted that it was so--there was
joy and good-tempered mirth wherever that child went, and life
seemed a little sadder and poorer to those who knew him when he
was away.
No one will wonder that Nils sometimes boasted of his little son.
He told not once, but a hundred times, as they sat about the
camp-fire eating their dinner, that little Hans was a child of
luck, and that no misfortune could happen while he was near.
Lumbermen are naturally superstitious, and though perhaps at
first they may have had their doubts, they gradually came to
accept the statement without question. They came to regard it as
a kind of right to have little Hans sit on the top of the log
pile when they worked, or running along the chute, while the
wild-cat strings of logs shot down the steep slide with lightning
speed. They were not in the least afraid lest the logs should
jump the chute, as they had often done before, killing or maiming
the unhappy man that came too near. For was not little Hans's
life charmed, so that no harm could befall him?
Now, it happened that Inga, little Hans's mother, came one day to
the river to see how he was getting on. Nils was then standing
on a raft hooking the floating logs with his boat-hook, while the
boy was watching him from the shore, shouting to him, throwing
chips into the water, and amusing himself as best he could. It
was early in May, and the river was swollen from recent thaws.
Below the cataract where the lumbermen worked, the broad, brown
current moved slowly along with sluggish whirls and eddies; but
the raft was moored by chains to the shore, so that it was in no
danger of getting adrift. It was capital fun to see the logs
come rushing down the slide, plunging with a tremendous splash
into the river, and then bob up like live things after having
bumped against the bottom. Little Hans clapped his hands and
yelled with delight when a string of three or four came tearing
along in that way, and dived, one after the other, headlong into
the water.
"Catch that one, papa!" he cried; "that is a good big fellow.
He dived like a man, he did. He has washed the dirt off his
snout now; that was the reason he took such a big plunge."
Nils never failed to reach his boat-hook after the log little
Hans indicated, for he liked to humor him, and little Hans liked
to be humored. He had an idea that he was directing his father's
work, and Nils invented all sorts of innocent devices to flatter
little Hans's dignity, and make him think himself indispensable.
It was of no use, therefore, for poor Inga to beg little Hans to
go home with her. He had so much to do, he said, that he
couldn't. He even tried to tear himself away from his mother
when she took him by the arm and remonstrated with him. And then
and there the conviction stole upon Inga that her child did not
love her. She was nothing to him compared to what his father
was. And was it right for Nils thus to rob her of the boy's
affection? Little Hans could scarcely be blamed for loving his
father better; for love is largely dependent upon habit, and Nils
had been his constant companion since he was a year old. A
bitter sense of loneliness and loss overcame the poor wife as she
stood on the river-bank pleading with her child, and finding that
she annoyed instead of moving him.
"Won't you come home with mamma, little Hans?" she asked,
tearfully. "The kitten misses you very much; it has been mewing
for you all the morning."
"No," said little Hans, thrusting his hands into his pockets, and
turning about with a manly stride; "we are going to have the
lumber inspector here to-day? and then papa's big raft is going
down the river."
"But this dreadful noise, dear; how can you stand it? And the
logs shooting down that slide and making such a racket. And
these great piles of lumber, Hans--think, if they should tumble
down and kill you!"
"Oh, I'm not afraid, mamma," cried Hans, proudly; and, to show
his fearlessness, he climbed up the log pile, and soon stood on
the top of it, waving his cap and shouting.
"Oh, do come down, child--do come down!" begged Inga, anxiously.
She had scarcely uttered the words when she heard a warning shout
from the slope above, and had just time to lift her eyes, when
she saw a big black object dart past her, strike the log pile,
and break with a deafening crash. A long confused rumble of
rolling logs followed, terrified voices rent the air, and, above
it all, the deep and steady roar of the cataract. She saw, as
through a fog, little Hans, serene and smiling as ever, borne
down on the top of the rolling lumber, now rising up and skipping
from log to log, now clapping his hands and screaming with
pleasure, and then suddenly vanishing in the brown writhing
river. His laughter was still ringing in her ears; the poor
child, he did not realize his danger. The rumbling of falling
logs continued with terrifying persistence. Splash! splash!
splash! they went, diving by twos, by fours, and by dozens at
the very spot where her child had vanished. But where was little
Hans? Oh, where was he? It was all so misty, so unreal and
confused. She could not tell whether little Hans was among the
living or among the dead. But there, all of a sudden, his head
popped up in the middle of the river; and there was another head
close to his--it was that of his father! And round about them
other heads bobbed up; for all the lumbermen who were on the raft
had plunged into the water with Nils when they saw that little
Hans was in danger. A dozen more were running down the slope as
fast as their legs could carry them; and they gave a tremendous
cheer when they saw little Hans's face above the water. He
looked a trifle pale and shivery, and he gave a funny little
snort, so that the water spurted from his nose. He had lost his
hat, but he did not seem to be hurt. His little arms clung
tightly about his father's neck, while Nils, dodging the bobbing
logs, struck out with all his might for the shore. And when he
felt firm bottom under his feet, and came stumbling up through
the shallow water, looking like a drowned rat, what a welcome he
received from the lumbermen! They all wanted to touch little
Hans and pat his cheek, just to make sure that it was really he.
"It was wonderful indeed," they said, "that he ever came up out
of that horrible jumble of pitching and diving logs. He is a
child of luck, if ever there was one."
Not one of them thought of the boy's mother, and little Hans
himself scarcely thought of her, elated as he was at the welcome
he received from the lumbermen. Poor Inga stood dazed,
struggling with a horrible feeling, seeing her child passed from
one to the other, while she herself claimed no share in him.
Somehow the thought stung her. A sudden clearness burst upon
her; she rushed forward, with a piercing scream, snatched little
Hans from his father's arms, and hugging his wet little shivering
form to her breast, fled like a deer through the underbrush.
From that day little Hans was not permitted to go to the river.
It was in vain that Nils pleaded and threatened. His wife acted
so unreasonably when that question was broached that he saw it
was useless to discuss it. She seized little Hans as a tigress
might seize her young, and held him tightly clasped, as if daring
anybody to take him away from her. Nils knew it would require
force to get his son back again, and that he was not ready to
employ. But all joy seemed to have gone out of his life since he
had lost the daily companionship of little Hans. His work became
drudgery; and all the little annoyances of life, which formerly
he had brushed away as one brushes a fly from his nose, became
burdens and calamities. The raft upon which he had expended so
much labor went to pieces during a sudden rise of the river the
night after little Hans's adventure, and three days later Thorkel
Fossen was killed outright by a string of logs that jumped the
"It isn't the same sort of place since you took little Hans
away," the lumbermen would often say to Nils. "There's no sort
of luck in anything."
Sometimes they taunted him with want of courage, and called him a
"night-cap" and a "hen-pecked coon," all of which made Nils
uncomfortable. He made two or three attempts to persuade his
wife to change her mind in regard to little Hans, but the last
time she got so frightened that she ran out of the house and hid
in the cow stable with the boy, crouching in an empty stall, and
crying as if her heart would break, when little Hans escaped and
betrayed her hiding-place. The boy, in fact, sympathized with
his father, and found his confinement at home irksome. The
companionship of the cat had no more charm for him; and even the
brindled calf, which had caused such an excitement when he first
arrived, had become an old story. Little Halls fretted, was
mischievous for want of better employment, and gave his mother no
end of trouble. He longed for the gay and animated life at the
river, and he would have run away if he had not been watched. He
could not imagine how the lumbermen could be getting on without
him. It seemed to him that all work must come to a stop when he
was no longer sitting on the top of the log piles, or standing on
the bank throwing chips into the water.
Now, as a matter of fact, they were not getting on very well at
the river without little Hans. The luck had deserted them, the
lumbermen said; and whatever mishaps they had, they attributed to
the absence of little Hans. They came to look with
ill-suppressed hostility at Nils, whom they regarded as
responsible for their misfortunes. For they could scarcely
believe that he was quite in earnest in his desire for the boy's
return, otherwise they could not comprehend how his wife could
dare to oppose him. The weather was stormy, and the mountain
brook which ran along the slide concluded to waste no more labor
in carving out a bed for itself in the rock, when it might as
well be using the slide which it found ready made. And one fine
day it broke into the slide and half filled it, so that the logs,
when they were started down the steep incline, sent the water
flying, turned somersaults, stood on end, and played no end of
dangerous tricks which no one could foresee. Several men were
badly hurt by beams shooting like rockets through the air, and
old Mads Furubakken was knocked senseless and carried home for
dead. Then the lumbermen held a council, and made up their minds
to get little Hans by fair means or foul. They thought first of
sending a delegation of four or five men that very morning, but
finally determined to march up to Nils's cottage in a body and
demand the boy. There were twenty of them at the very least, and
the tops of their long boat-hooks, which they carried on their
shoulders, were seen against the green forest before they were
themselves visible.
Nils, who was just out of bed, was sitting on the threshold
smoking his pipe and pitching a ball to little Hans, who laughed
with delight whenever he caught it. Inga was bustling about
inside the house, preparing breakfast, which was to consist of
porridge, salt herring, and baked potatoes. It had rained during
the night, and the sky was yet overcast, but the sun was
struggling to break through the cloud-banks. A couple of
thrushes in the alder-bushes about the cottage were rejoicing at
the change in the weather, and Nils was listening to their song
and to his son's merry prattle, when he caught sight of the
twenty lumbermen marching up the hillside. He rose, with some
astonishment, and went to meet them. Inga, hearing their voices,
came to the door, and seeing the many men, snatched up little
Hans, and with a wildly palpitating heart ran into the cottage,
bolting the door behind her. She had a vague foreboding that
this unusual visit meant something hostile to herself, and she
guessed that Nils had been only the spokesman of his comrades in
demanding so eagerly the return of the boy to the river. She
believed all their talk about his luck to be idle nonsense; but
she knew that Nils had unwittingly spread this belief, and that
the lumbermen were convinced that little Hans was their good
genius, whose presence averted disaster. Distracted with fear
and anxiety, she stood pressing her ear against the crack in the
door, and sometimes peeping out to see what measures she must
take for the child's safety. Would Nils stand by her, or would
he desert her? But surely--what was Nils thinking about? He was
extending his hand to each of the men, and receiving them kindly.
Next he would be inviting them to come in and take little Hans.
She saw one of the men--Stubby Mons by name--step forward, and
she plainly heard him say:
"We miss the little chap down at the river, Nils. The luck has
been against us since he left."
"Well, Mons," Nils answered, "I miss the little chap as much as
any of you; perhaps more. But my wife--she's got a sort of
crooked notion that the boy won't come home alive if she lets him
go to the river. She got a bad scare last time, and it isn't any
use arguing with her."
"But won't you let us talk to her, Nils?" one of the lumbermen
proposed. "It is a tangled skein, and I don't pretend to say
that I can straighten it out. But two men have been killed and
one crippled since the little chap was taken away. And in the
three years he was with us no untoward thing happened. Now that
speaks for itself, Nils, doesn't it?"
"It does, indeed," said Nils, with an air of conviction.
"And you'll let us talk to your wife, and see if we can't make
her listen to reason," the man urged.
"You are welcome to talk to her as much as you like," Nils
replied, knocking out his pipe on the heel of his boot; "but I
warn you that she's mighty cantankerous."
He rose slowly, and tried to open the door. It was locked.
"Open, Inga," he said, a trifle impatiently; "there are some men
here who want to see you."
Inga sat crouching on the hearth, hugging little Hans to her
bosom. She shook and trembled with fear, let her eyes wander
around the walls, and now and then moaned at the thought that now
they would take little Hans away from her.
"Why don't you open the door for papa?" asked little Hans,
Ah, he too was against her! All the world was against her! And
her husband was in league with her enemies!
"Open, I say!" cried Nils, vehemently. "What do you mean by
locking the door when decent people come to call upon us?"
Should she open the door or should she not? Holding little Hans
in her arms, she rose hesitatingly, and stretched out her hand
toward the bolt. But all of a sudden, in a paroxysm of fear, she
withdrew her hand, turned about, and fled with the child through
the back door. The alder bushes grew close up to the walls of
the cottage, and by stooping a little she managed to remain
unobserved. Her greatest difficulty was to keep little Hans from
shouting to his father, and she had to put her hand over his
mouth to keep him quiet; for the boy, who had heard the voices
without, could not understand why he should not be permitted to
go out and converse with his friends the lumbermen. The wild
eyes and agitated face of his mother distressed him, and the
little showers of last night's rain which the trees shook down
upon him made him shiver.
"Why do you run so, mamma?" he asked, when she removed her hand
from his mouth.
"Because the bad men want to take you away from me, Hans," she
answered, panting.
"Those were not bad men, mamma," the boy ejaculated. "That was
Stubby Mons and Stuttering Peter and Lars Skin-breeches. They
don't, want to hurt me."
He expected that his mamma would be much relieved at receiving
this valuable information, and return home without delay. But
she still pressed on, flushed and panting, and cast the same
anxious glances behind her.
In the meanwhile Nils and his guests had entirely lost their
patience. Finding his persuasions of no avail, the former began
to thump at the door with the handle of his axe, and receiving no
response, he climbed up to the window and looked in. To his
amazement there was no one in the room. Thinking that Inga might
have gone to the cow-stable, he ran to the rear of the cottage,
and called her name. Still no answer.
"Hans," he cried, "where are you?"
But Hans, too, was as if spirited away. It scarcely occurred to
Nils, until he had searched the cow- stable and the house in
vain, that his wife had fled from the harmless lumbermen. Then
the thought shot through his brain that possibly she was not
quite right in her head; that this fixed idea that everybody
wanted to take her child away from her had unsettled her reason.
Nils grew hot and cold in the same moment as this dreadful
apprehension took lodgement in his mind. Might she not, in her
confused effort to save little Hans, do him harm? In the blind
and feverish terror which possessed her might she not rush into
the water, or leap over a precipice? Visions of little Hans
drowning, or whirled into the abyss in his mother's arms, crowded
his fancy as he walked back to the lumbermen, and told them that
neither his wife nor child was anywhere to be found.
"I would ask ye this, lads," he said, finally: "if you would help
me search for them. For Inga--I reckon she is a little touched
in the upper story--she has gone off with the boy, and I can't
get on without little Hans any more than you can."
The men understood the situation at a glance, and promised their
aid. They had all looked upon Inga as "high-strung" and "queer,"
and it did not surprise them to hear that she had been frightened
out of her wits at their request for the loan of little Hans.
Forming a line, with a space of twenty feet between each man,
they began to beat the bush, climbing the steep slope toward the
mountains. Inga, pausing for an instant, and peering out between
the tree trunks, saw the alder bushes wave as they broke through
the underbrush. She knew now that she was pursued. Tired she
was, too, and the boy grew heavier for every step that she
advanced. And yet if she made him walk, he might run away from
her. If he heard his father's voice, he would be certain to
answer. Much perplexed, she looked about her for a hiding-place.
For, as the men would be sure to overtake her, her only safety
was in hiding. With tottering knees she stumbled along, carrying
the heavy child, grabbing hold of the saplings for support, and
yet scarcely keeping from falling. The cold perspiration broke
from her brow and a strange faintness overcame her.
"You will have to walk, little Hans," she said, at last. "But if
you run away from me, dear, I shall lie down here and die."
Little Hans promised that he would not run away, and for five
minutes they walked up a stony path which looked like the
abandoned bed of a brook.
"You hurt my hand, mamma," whimpered the boy, "you squeeze so
She would have answered, but just then she heard the voices of
the lumbermen scarcely fifty paces away. With a choking
sensation and a stitch in her side she pressed on, crying out in
spirit for the hills to hide her and the mountains to open their
gates and receive her. Suddenly she stood before a rocky wall
some eighty or a hundred feet high. She could go no farther.
Her strength was utterly exhausted. There was a big boulder
lying at the base of the rock, and a spreading juniper half
covered it. Knowing that in another minute she would be
discovered, she flung herself down behind the boulder, though the
juniper needles scratched her face, and pulled little Hans down
at her side. But, strange to say, little Hans fell farther than
she had calculated, and utterly-vanished from sight. She heard a
muffled cry, and reaching her hand in the direction where he had
fallen, caught hold of his arm. A strong, wild smell beat
against her, and little Hans, as he was pulled out, was enveloped
in a most unpleasant odor. But odor or no odor, here was the
very hiding-place she had been seeking. A deserted wolf's den,
it was, probably--at least she hoped it was deserted; for if it
was not, she might be confronted with even uglier customers than
the lumbermen. But she had no time for debating the question,
for she saw the head of Stubby Mons emerging from the leaves, and
immediately behind him came Stuttering Peter, with his long boathook.
Quick as a flash she slipped into the hole, and dragged
Hans after her. The juniper-bush entirely covered the entrance.
She could see everyone who approached, without being seen.
Unhappily, the boy too caught sight of Stubby Mons, and called
him by name. The lumberman stopped and pricked up his ears.
"Did you hear anybody call?" he asked his companion.
"N-n-n-n-aw, I d-d-d-d-didn't," answered Stuttering Peter.
"There b-be lots of qu-qu-qu-qu-eer n-noises in the w-w-w-woods."
Little Hans heard every word that they spoke, and he would have
cried out again, if it hadn't appeared such great fun to be
playing hide-and-go-seek with the lumbermen. He had a delicious
sense of being well hidden, and had forgotten everything except
the zest of the game. Most exciting it became when Stubby Mons
drew the juniper-bush aside and peered eagerly behind the
boulder. Inga's heart stuck in her throat; she felt sure that in
the next instant they would be discovered. And as ill-luck would
have it, there was something alive scrambling about her feet and
tugging at her skirts. Suddenly she felt a sharp bite, but
clinched her teeth, and uttered no sound. When her vision again
cleared, the juniper branch had rebounded into its place, and the
face of Stubby Mons was gone. She drew a deep breath of relief,
but yet did not dare to emerge from the den. For one, two, three
tremulous minutes she remained motionless, feeling all the while
that uncomfortable sensation of living things about her.
At last she could endure it no longer. Thrusting little Hans
before her, she crawled out of the hole, and looked back into the
small cavern. As soon as her eyes grew accustomed to the
twilight she uttered a cry of amazement, for out from her skirts
jumped a little gray furry object, and two frisky little
customers of the same sort were darting about among the stones
and tree-roots. The truth dawned upon her, and it chilled her to
the marrow of her bones. The wolf's den was not deserted. The
old folks were only out hunting, and the shouting and commotion
of the searching party had probably prevented them from returning
in time to look after their family. She seized little Hans by
the hand, and once more dragged him away over the rough path. He
soon became tired and fretful, and in spite of all her entreaties
began to shout lustily for his father. But the men were now so
far away that they could not hear him. He complained of hunger;
and when presently they came to a blueberry patch, she flung
herself down on the heather and allowed him to pick berries. She
heard cow-bells and sheep-bells tinkling round about her, and
concluded that she could not be far from the saeters, or mountain
dairies. That was fortunate, indeed, for she would not have
liked to sleep in the woods with wolves and bears prowling about
She was just making an effort to rise from the stone upon which
she was sitting, when the big, good-natured face of a cow broke
through the leaves and stared at her. There was again help in
need. She approached the cow, patted it, and calling little
Hans, bade him sit down in the heather and open his mouth. He
obeyed rather wonderingly, but perceived his mother's intent when
she knelt at his side and began to milk into his mouth. It
seemed to him that he had never tasted anything so delicious as
this fresh rich milk, fragrant with the odor of the woods and the
succulent mountain grass. When his hunger was satisfied, he fell
again to picking berries, while Inga refreshed herself with milk
in the same simple fashion. After having rested a full hour, she
felt strong enough to continue her journey; and hearing the loor,
or Alpine horn, re-echoing among the mountains, she determined to
follow the sound. It was singular what luck attended her in the
midst of her misfortune. Perhaps it was, after all, no idle tale
that little Hans was a child of luck; and she had done the
lumbermen injustice in deriding their faith in him. Perhaps
there was some guiding Providence in all that had happened,
destined in the end to lead little Hans to fortune and glory.
Much encouraged by this thought, she stooped over him and kissed
him; then took his hand and trudged along over logs and stones,
through juniper and bramble bushes.
"Mamma," said little Hans, "where are you going?"
"I am going to the saeter," she answered; "where you have wanted
so often to go."
"Then why don't you follow the cows? They are going there too."
Surely that child had a marvellous mind! She smiled down upon
him and nodded. By following the cows they arrived in twenty
minutes at a neat little log cabin, from which the smoke curled
up gayly into the clear air.
The dairy-maids who spent the summer there tending the cattle
both fell victims to the charms of little Hans, and offered him
and his mother their simple hospitality. They told of the
lumbermen who had passed the saeter huts, and inquired for her;
but otherwise they respected her silence, and made no attempt to
pry into her secrets. The next morning she started, after a
refreshing sleep, westward toward the coast, where she hoped in
some way to find a passage to America. For if little Hans was
really born under a lucky star--which fact she now could scarcely
doubt--then America was the place for him. There he might rise
to become President, or a judge, or a parson, or something or
other; while in Norway he would never be anything but a lumberman
like his father. Inga had a well-to-do sister, who was a widow,
in the nearest town, and she would borrow enough money from her
to pay their passage to New York.
It was early in July when little Hans and his mother arrived in
New York. The latter had repented bitterly of her rashness in
stealing her child from his father, and under a blind impulse
traversing half the globe in a wild-goose chase after fortune.
The world was so much bigger than she in her quiet valley had
imagined; and, what was worse, it wore such a cold and repellent
look, and was so bewildering and noisy. Inga had been very
sea-sick during the voyage; and after she stepped ashore from the
tug that brought her to Castle Garden, the ground kept heaving
and swelling under her feet, and made her dizzy and miserable.
She had been very wicked, she was beginning to think, and
deserved punishment; and if it had not been for a vague and
adventurous faith in the great future that was in store for her
son, she would have been content to return home, do penance for
her folly, and beg her husband's forgiveness. But, in the first
place, she had no money to pay for a return ticket; and,
secondly, it would be a great pity to deprive little Hans of the
Presidency and all the grandeur that his lucky star might here
bring him.
Inga was just contemplating this bright vision of Hans's future,
when she found herself passing through a gate, at which a clerk
was seated.
"What is your name?" he asked, through an interpreter.
"Inga Olsdatter Pladsen."
"Twenty-eight a week after Michaelmas."
"Single or married?"
"Where is your husband?"
"In Norway."
"Are you divorced from him?"
"Divorced--I! Why, no! Who ever heard of such a thing?"
Inga grew quite indignant at the thought of her being divorced.
A dozen other questions were asked, at each of which her
embarrassment increased. When, finally, she declared that she
had no money, no definite destination, and no relatives or
friends in the country, the examination was cut short, and after
an hour's delay and a wearisome cross-questioning by different
officials, she was put on board the tug, and returned to the
steamer in which she had crossed the ocean. Four dreary days
passed; then there was a tremendous commotion on deck: blowing of
whistles, roaring of steam, playing of bands, bumping of trunks
and boxes, and finally the steady pulsation of the engines as the
big ship stood out to sea. After nine days of discomfort in the
stuffy steerage and thirty-six hours of downright misery while
crossing the stormy North Sea, Inga found herself once more in
the land of her birth. Full of humiliation and shame she met her
husband at the railroad station, and prepared herself for a
deluge of harsh words and reproaches. But instead of that he
patted her gently on the head, and clasped little Hans in his
arms and kissed him. They said very little to each other as they
rode homeward in the cars; but little Hans had a thousand things
to tell, and his father was delighted to hear them. In the
evening, when they had reached their native valley, and the boy
was asleep, Inga plucked up courage and said, "Nils, it is all a
mistake about little Hans's luck."
"Mistake! Why, no," cried Nils. "What greater luck could he
have than to be brought safely home to his father?"
Inga had indeed hoped for more; but she said nothing.
Nevertheless, fate still had strange things in store for little
Hans. The story of his mother's flight to and return from
America was picked up by some enterprising journalist, who made a
most touching romance of it. Hundreds of inquiries regarding
little Hans poured in upon the pastor and the postmaster; and
offers to adopt him, educate him, and I know not what else, were
made to his parents. But Nils would hear of no adoption; nor
would he consent to any plan that separated him from the boy.
When, however, he was given a position as superintendent of a
lumber yard in the town, and prosperity began to smile upon him,
he sent little Hans to school, and as Hans was a clever boy, he
made the most of his opportunities.
And now little Hans is indeed a very big Hans, but a child of
luck he is yet; for I saw him referred to the other day in the
newspapers as one of the greatest lumber dealers, and one of the
noblest, most generous, and public-spirited men in Norway.
You may not believe it, but the bear I am going to tell you about
really had a bank account! He lived in the woods, as most bears
do; but he had a reputation which extended over all Norway and
more than half of England. Earls and baronets came every summer,
with repeating-rifles of the latest patent, and plaids and
field-glasses and portable cooking-stoves, intent upon killing
him. But Mr. Bruin, whose only weapons were a pair of paws and a
pair of jaws, both uncommonly good of their kind, though not
patented, always managed to get away unscathed; and that was
sometimes more than the earls and the baronets did.
One summer the Crown Prince of Germany came to Norway. He also
heard of the famous bear that no one could kill, and made up his
mind that he was the man to kill it. He trudged for two days
through bogs, and climbed through glens and ravines, before he
came on the scent of a bear, and a bear's scent, you may know, is
strong, and quite unmistakable. Finally he discovered some
tracks in the moss, like those of a barefooted man, or, I should
rather say, perhaps, a man-footed bear. The Prince was just
turning the corner of a projecting rock, when he saw a huge,
shaggy beast standing on its hind legs, examining in a leisurely
manner the inside of a hollow tree, while a swarm of bees were
buzzing about its ears. It was just hauling out a handful of
honey, and was smiling with a grewsome mirth, when His Royal
Highness sent it a bullet right in the breast, where its heart
must have been, if it had one. But, instead of falling down
flat, as it ought to have done, out of deference to the Prince,
it coolly turned its back, and gave its assailant a disgusted nod
over its shoulder as it trudged away through the underbrush. The
attendants ranged through the woods and beat the bushes in all
directions, but Mr. Bruin was no more to be seen that afternoon.
It was as if he had sunk into the earth; not a trace of him was
to be found by either dogs or men.
From that time forth the rumor spread abroad that this Gausdale
Bruin (for that was the name by which he became known) was
enchanted. It was said that he shook off bullets as a duck does
water; that he had the evil eye, and could bring misfortune to
whomsoever he looked upon. The peasants dreaded to meet him, and
ceased to hunt him. His size was described as something
enormous, his teeth, his claws, and his eyes as being diabolical
beyond human conception. In the meanwhile Mr. Bruin had it all
his own way in the mountains, killed a young bull or a fat heifer
for his dinner every day or two, chased in pure sport a herd of
sheep over a precipice; and as for Lars Moe's bay mare Stella, he
nearly finished her, leaving his claw-marks on her flank in a way
that spoiled her beauty forever.
Now Lars Moe himself was too old to hunt; and his nephew
was--well, he was not old enough. There was, in fact, no one in
the valley who was of the right age to hunt this Gausdale Bruin.
It was of no use that Lars Moe egged on the young lads to try
their luck, shaming them, or offering them rewards, according as
his mood might happen to be. He was the wealthiest man in the
valley, and his mare Stella had been the apple of his eye. He
felt it as a personal insult that the bear should have dared to
molest what belonged to him, especially the most precious of all
his possessions. It cut him to the heart to see the poor wounded
beauty, with those cruel scratches on her thigh, and one stiff,
aching leg done up in oil and cotton. When he opened the
stable-door, and was greeted by Stella's low, friendly neighing,
or when she limped forward in her box-stall and put her small,
clean-shaped head on his shoulder, then Lars Moe's heart swelled
until it seemed on the point of breaking. And so it came to pass
that he added a codicil to his will, setting aside five hundred
dollars of his estate as a reward to the man who, within six
years, should kill the Gausdale Bruin.
Soon after that, Lars Moe died, as some said, from grief and
chagrin; though the physician affirmed that it was of rheumatism
of the heart. At any rate, the codicil relating to the enchanted
bear was duly read before the church door, and pasted, among
other legal notices, in the vestibules of the judge's and the
sheriff's offices. When the executors had settled up the estate,
the question arose in whose name or to whose credit should be
deposited the money which was to be set aside for the benefit of
the bear-slayer. No one knew who would kill the bear, or if any
one would kill it. It was a puzzling question.
"Why, deposit it to the credit of the bear," said a jocose
executor; "then, in the absence of other heirs, his slayer will
inherit it. That is good old Norwegian practice, though I don't
know whether it has ever been the law."
"All right," said the other executors, "so long as it is
understood who is to have the money, it does not matter."
And so an amount equal to $500 was deposited in the county bank
to the credit of the Gausdale Bruin. Sir Barry Worthington,
Bart., who came abroad the following summer for the shooting,
heard the story, and thought it a good one. So, after having
vainly tried to earn the prize himself, he added another $500 to
the deposit, with the stipulation that he was to have the skin.
But his rival for parliamentary honors, Robert Stapleton, Esq.,
the great iron-master, who had come to Norway chiefly to outshine
Sir Barry, determined that he was to have the skin of that famous
bear, if any one was to have it, and that, at all events, Sir
Barry should not have it. So Mr. Stapleton added $750 to the
bear's bank account, with the stipulation that the skin should
come to him.
Mr. Bruin, in the meanwhile, as if to resent this unseemly
contention about his pelt, made worse havoc among the herds than
ever, and compelled several peasants to move their dairies to
other parts of the mountains, where the pastures were poorer, but
where they would be free from his depredations. If the $1,750 in
the bank had been meant as a bribe or a stipend for good
behavior, such as was formerly paid to Italian brigands, it
certainly could not have been more demoralizing in its effect;
for all agreed that, since Lars Moe's death, Bruin misbehaved
worse than ever.
There was an odd clause in Lars Moe's will besides the codicil
relating to the bear. It read:
"I hereby give and bequeath to my daughter Unna, or, in case of
her decease, to her oldest living issue, my bay mare Stella, as a
token that I have forgiven her the sorrow she caused me by her
It seemed incredible that Lars Moe should wish to play a
practical joke (and a bad one at that) on his only child, his
daughter Unna, because she had displeased him by her marriage.
Yet that was the common opinion in the valley when this singular
clause became known. Unna had married Thorkel Tomlevold, a poor
tenant's son, and had refused her cousin, the great
lumber-dealer, Morten Janson, whom her father had selected for a
She dwelt now in a tenant's cottage, northward in the parish; and
her husband, who was a sturdy and fine-looking fellow, eked out a
living by hunting and fishing. But they surely had no
accommodations for a broken-down, wounded, trotting mare, which
could not even draw a plough. It is true Unna, in the days of
her girlhood, had been very fond of the mare, and it is only
charitable to suppose that the clause, which was in the body of
the will, was written while Stella was in her prime, and before
she had suffered at the paws of the Gausdale Bruin. But even
granting that, one could scarcely help suspecting malice
aforethought in the curious provision. To Unna the gift was
meant to say, as plainly as possible, "There, you see what you
have lost by disobeying your father! If you had married according
to his wishes, you would have been able to accept the gift, while
now you are obliged to decline it like a beggar."
But if it was Lars Moe's intention to convey such a message to
his daughter, he failed to take into account his daughter's
spirit. She appeared plainly but decently dressed at the reading
of the will, and carried her head not a whit less haughtily than
was her wont in her maiden days. She exhibited no chagrin when
she found that Janson was her father's heir and that she was
disinherited. She even listened with perfect composure to the
reading of the clause which bequeathed to her the broken-down
It at once became a matter of pride with her to accept her
girlhood's favorite, and accept it she did! And having borrowed
a side-saddle, she rode home, apparently quite contented. A
little shed, or lean-to, was built in the rear of the house, and
Stella became a member of Thorkel Tomlevold's family. Odd as it
may seem, the fortunes of the family took a turn for the better
from the day she arrived; Thorkel rarely came home without big
game, and in his traps he caught more than any three other men in
all the parish.
"The mare has brought us luck," he said to his wife. "If she
can't plough, she can at all events pull the sleigh to church;
and you have as good a right as any one to put on airs, if you
"Yes, she has brought us blessing," replied Unna, quietly; "and
we are going to keep her till she dies of old age."
To the children Stella became a pet, as much as if she had been a
dog or a cat. The little boy Lars climbed all over her, and
kissed her regularly good-morning when she put her handsome head
in through the kitchen-door to get her lump of sugar. She was as
gentle as a lamb and as intelligent as a dog. Her great brown
eyes, with their soft, liquid look, spoke as plainly as words
could speak, expressing pleasure when she was patted; and the low
neighing with which she greeted the little boy, when she heard
his footsteps in the door, was to him like the voice of a friend.
He grew to love this handsome and noble animal as he had loved
nothing on earth except his father and mother.
As a matter of course he heard a hundred times the story of
Stella's adventure with the terrible Gausdale bear. It was a
story that never lost its interest, that seemed to grow more
exciting the oftener it was told. The deep scars of the bear's
claws in Stella's thigh were curiously examined, and each time
gave rise to new questions. The mare became quite a heroic
character, and the suggestion was frequently discussed between
Lars and his little sister Marit, whether Stella might not be an
enchanted princess who was waiting for some one to cut off her
head, so that she might show herself in her glory. Marit thought
the experiment well worth trying, but Lars had his doubts, and
was unwilling to take the risk; yet if she brought luck, as his
mother said, then she certainly must be something more than an
ordinary horse.
Stella had dragged little Lars out of the river when he fell
overboard from the pier; and that, too, showed more sense than he
had ever known a horse to have.
There could be no doubt in his mind that Stella was an enchanted
princess. And instantly the thought occurred to him that the
dreadful enchanted bear with the evil eye was the sorcerer, and
that, when he was killed, Stella would resume her human guise.
It soon became clear to him that he was the boy to accomplish
this heroic deed; and it was equally plain to him that he must
keep his purpose secret from all except Marit, as his mother
would surely discourage him from engaging in so perilous an
enterprise. First of all, he had to learn how to shoot; and his
father, who was the best shot in the valley, was very willing to
teach him. It seemed quite natural to Thorkel that a hunter's
son should take readily to the rifle; and it gave him great
satisfaction to see how true his boy's aim was, and how steady
his hand.
"Father," said Lars one day, "you shoot so well, why haven't you
ever tried to kill the Gausdale Bruin that hurt Stella so badly?"
"Hush, child! you don't know what you are talking about,"
answered his father; "no leaden bullet will harm that wicked
"Why not?"
"I don't like to talk about it--but it is well known that he is
"But will he then live for ever? Is there no sort of bullet that
will kill him?" asked the boy.
"I don't know. I don't want to have anything to do with
witchcraft," said Thorkel.
The word "witchcraft" set the boy to thinking, and he suddenly
remembered that he had been warned not to speak to an old woman
named Martha Pladsen, because she was a witch. Now, she was
probably the very one who could tell him what he wanted to know.
Her cottage lay close up under the mountain-side, about two miles
from his home. He did not deliberate long before going to seek
this mysterious person, about whom the most remarkable stories
were told in the valley. To his astonishment, she received him
kindly, gave him a cup of coffee with rock candy, and declared
that she had long expected him. The bullet which was to slay the
enchanted bear had long been in her possession; and she would
give it to him if he would promise to give her the beast's heart.
He did not have to be asked twice for that; and off he started
gayly with his prize in his pocket. It was rather an odd-looking
bullet, made of silver, marked with a cross on one side and with
a lot of queer illegible figures on the other. It seemed to burn
in his pocket, so anxious was he to start out at once to release
the beloved Stella from the cruel enchantment. But Martha had
said that the bear could only be killed when the moon was full;
and until the moon was full he accordingly had to bridle his
It was a bright morning in January, and, as it happened, Lars's
fourteenth birthday. To his great delight, his mother had gone
down to the judge's to sell some ptarmigans, and his father had
gone to fell some timber up in the glen. Accordingly he could
secure the rifle without being observed. He took an affectionate
good-by of Stella, who rubbed her soft nose against his own,
playfully pulled at his coat-collar, and blew her sweet, warm
breath into his face. Lars was a simple-hearted boy, in spite of
his age, and quite a child at heart. He had lived so secluded
from all society, and breathed so long the atmosphere of fairy
tales, that he could see nothing at all absurd in what he was
about to undertake. The youngest son in the story-book always
did just that sort of thing, and everybody praised and admired
him for it. Lars meant, for once, to put the story-book hero
into the shade. He engaged little Marit to watch over Stella
while he was gone, and under no circumstances to betray him--all
of which Marit solemnly promised.
With his rifle on his shoulder and his skees on his feet, Lars
glided slowly along over the glittering surface of the snow, for
the mountain was steep, and he had to zigzag in long lines before
he reached the upper heights, where the bear was said to have his
haunts. The place where Bruin had his winter den had once been
pointed out to him, and he remembered yet how pale his father
was, when he found that he had strayed by chance into so
dangerous a neighborhood. Lars's heart, too, beat rather
uneasily as he saw the two heaps of stones, called "The Parson"
and "The Deacon," and the two huge fir-trees which marked the
dreaded spot. It had been customary from immemorial time for
each person who passed along the road to throw a large stone on
the Parson's heap, and a small one on the Deacon's; but since the
Gausdale Bruin had gone into winter quarters there, the stone
heaps had ceased to grow.
Under the great knotted roots of the fir-trees there was a hole,
which was more than half-covered with snow; and it was noticeable
that there was not a track of bird or beast to be seen anywhere
around it. Lars, who on the way had been buoyed up by the sense
of his heroism, began now to feel strangely uncomfortable. It
was so awfully hushed and still round about him; not the scream
of a bird --not even the falling of a broken bough was to be
heard. The pines stood in lines and in clumps, solemn, like a
funeral procession, shrouded in sepulchral white. Even if a crow
had cawed it would have been a relief to the frightened boy--for
it must be confessed that he was a trifle frightened--if only a
little shower of snow had fallen upon his head from the heavily
laden branches, he would have been grateful for it, for it would
have broken the spell of this oppressive silence.
There could be no doubt of it; inside, under those tree-roots
slept Stella's foe--the dreaded enchanted beast who had put the
boldest of hunters to flight, and set lords and baronets by the
ears for the privilege of possessing his skin. Lars became
suddenly aware that it was a foolhardy thing he had undertaken,
and that he had better betake himself home. But then, again, had
not Witch-Martha said that she had been waiting for him; that he
was destined by fate to accomplish this deed, just as the
youngest son had been in the story-book. Yes, to be sure, she
had said that; and it was a comforting thought.
Accordingly, having again examined his rifle, which he had
carefully loaded with the silver bullet before leaving home, he
started boldly forward, climbed up on the little hillock between
the two trees, and began to pound it lustily with the butt-end of
his gun. He listened for a moment tremulously, and heard
distinctly long, heavy sighs from within.
His heart stood still. The bear was awake! Soon he would have to
face it! A minute more elapsed; Lars's heart shot up into his
throat. He leaped down, placed himself in front of the entrance
to the den, and cocked his rifle. Three long minutes passed.
Bruin had evidently gone to sleep again. Wild with excitement,
the boy rushed forward and drove his skee-staff straight into the
den with all his might. A sullen growl was heard, like a deep
and menacing thunder. There could be no doubt that now the
monster would take him to task for his impertinence.
Again the boy seized his rifle; and his nerves, though tense as
stretched bow-strings, seemed suddenly calm and steady. He
lifted the rifle to his cheek, and resolved not to shoot until he
had a clear aim at heart or brain. Bruin, though Lars could hear
him rummaging within, was in no hurry to come out, But he sighed
and growled uproariously, and presently showed a terrible,
long-clawed paw, which he thrust out through his door and then
again withdrew. But apparently it took him a long while to get
his mind clear as to the cause of the disturbance; for fully five
minutes had elapsed when suddenly a big tuft of moss was tossed
out upon the snow, followed by a cloud of dust and an angry
creaking of the tree-roots.
Great masses of snow were shaken from the swaying tops of the
firs, and fell with light thuds upon the ground. In the face of
this unexpected shower, which entirely hid the entrance to the
den, Lars was obliged to fall back a dozen paces; but, as the
glittering drizzle cleared away, he saw an enormous brown beast
standing upon its hind legs, with widely distended jaws. He was
conscious of no fear, but of a curious numbness in his limbs, and
strange noises, as of warning shouts and cries, filling his ears.
Fortunately, the great glare of the sun-smitten snow dazzled
Bruin; he advanced slowly, roaring savagely, but staring rather
blindly before him out of his small, evil-looking eyes.
Suddenly, when he was but a few yards distant, he raised his
great paw, as if to rub away the cobwebs that obscured his sight.
It was the moment for which the boy had waited. Now he had a
clear aim! Quickly he pulled the trigger; the shot reverberated
from mountain to mountain, and in the same instant the huge brown
bulk rolled in the snow, gave a gasp, and was dead! The spell
was broken! The silver bullet had pierced his heart. There was
a curious unreality about the whole thing to Lars. He scarcely
knew whether he was really himself or the hero of the fairy-tale.
All that was left for him to do now was to go home and marry
Stella, the delivered princess.
The noises about him seemed to come nearer and nearer; and now
they sounded like human voices. He looked about him, and to his
amazement saw his father and Marit, followed by two wood-cutters,
who, with raised axes, were running toward him. Then he did not
know exactly what happened; but he felt himself lifted up by two
strong arms, and tears fell hot and fast upon his face.
"My boy! my boy!" said the voice in his ears, "I expected to
find you dead."
"No, but the bear is dead," said Lars, innocently.
"I didn't mean to tell on you, Lars," cried Marit, "but I was so
afraid, and then I had to."
The rumor soon filled the whole valley that the great Gausdale
Bruin was dead, and that the boy Lars Tomlevold had killed him.
It is needless to say that Lars Tomlevold became the parish hero
from that day. He did not dare to confess in the presence of all
this praise and wonder that at heart he was bitterly
disappointed; for when he came home, throbbing with wild
expectancy, there stood Stella before the kitchen door, munching
a piece of bread; and when she hailed him with a low whinny, he
burst into tears. But he dared not tell any one why he was
This story might have ended here, but it has a little sequel.
The $1,750 which Bruin had to his credit in the bank had
increased to $2,290; and it was all paid to Lars. A few years
later, Martin Janson, who had inherited the estate of Moe from
old Lars, failed in consequence of his daring forest
speculations, and young Lars was enabled to buy the farm at
auction at less than half its value. Thus he had the happiness
to bring his mother back to the place of her birth, of which she
had been wrongfully deprived; and Stella, who was now twenty-one
years old, occupied once more her handsome box-stall, as in the
days of her glory. And although she never proved to be a
princess, she was treated as if she were one, during the few
years that remained to her.

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