Part 1 out of 4
BOYHOOD IN NORWAY
STORIES OF BOY-LIFE IN THE LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN
HJALMAR HJORTH BOYESEN
THE BATTLE OF THE RAFTS
THE CLASH OF ARMS
BICEPS GRIMLUND'S CHRISTMAS VACATION
THE NIXY'S STRAIN
THE WONDER CHILD
"THE SONS OF THE VIKINGS"
PAUL JESPERSEN'S MASQUERADE
LADY CLARE THE STORY OF A HORSE
THE CHILD OF LUCK
THE BEAR THAT HAD A BANK ACCOUNT
THE BATTLE OF THE RAFTS
I. THE ORIGIN OF THE WAR
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 brass-
mounted 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
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
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
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.
 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.
THE CLASH OF ARMS
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
"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
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 boat-
hook, 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
"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
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
"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, 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!"
BICEPS GRIMLUND'S CHRISTMAS VACATION
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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 down to the river.
 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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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!"
THE NIXY'S STRAIN
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
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
 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
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
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
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