Part 2 out of 4
deal of it was diverted to the mill, which was working busily
away, with its big water-wheel going round and round.
Nils paused close to the mill, and peered intently into the
rushing current; but nothing appeared. Then he stole down to the
river-bank, where he seated himself on a big stone, barely out of
reach of the spray, which blew in gusts from the cataract. He sat
for a long while motionless, gazing with rapt intentness at the
struggling, foaming rapids, but he saw or heard nothing.
Then all of a sudden it seemed to him that the air began to
vibrate faintly with a vague, captivating rhythm. Nils could
hear his heart beat in his throat. With trembling eagerness he
unwrapped the violin and raised it to his chin.
Now, surely, there was a note. It belonged on the A string. No,
not there. On the E string, perhaps. But no, not there, either.
Look! What is that?
A flash, surely, through the water of a beautiful naked arm.
And there--no, not there--but somewhere from out of the gentle
rush of the middle current there seemed to come to him a
marvellous mist of drifting sound--ineffably, rapturously sweet!
With a light movement Nils runs his bow over the strings, but not
a ghost, not a semblance, can he reproduce of the swift,
scurrying flight of that wondrous melody. Again and again he
listens breathlessly, and again and again despair overwhelms him.
Should he, then, never see the Nixy, and ask the fulfilment of
his three wishes?
Curiously enough, those three wishes which once were so great a
part of his life had now almost escaped him. It was the Nixy's
strain he had been intent upon, and the wishes had lapsed into
And what were they, really, those three wishes, for the sake of
which he desired to confront the Nixy?
Well, the first--the first was--what was it, now? Yes, now at
length he remembered. The first was wisdom.
Well, the people called him Wise Nils now, so, perhaps, that wish
was superfluous. Very likely he had as much wisdom as was good
for him. At all events, he had refused to acquire more by going
abroad to acquaint himself with the affairs of the great world.
Then the second wish; yes, he could recall that. It was fame. It
was odd indeed; that, too, he had refused, and what he possessed
of it was as much, or even far more, than he desired. But when
he called to mind the third and last of his boyish wishes, a
moderate prosperity or a good violin--for that was the
alternative--he had to laugh outright, for both the violin and
the prosperity were already his.
Nils lapsed into deep thought, as he sat there in the summer
night, with the crowns of the trees above him and the brawling
rapids swirling about him.
Had not the Nixy bestowed upon him her best gift already in
permitting him to hear that exquisite ghost of a melody, that
shadowy, impalpable strain, which had haunted him these many
years? In pursuing that he had gained the goal of his desires,
till other things he had wished for had come to him unawares, as
it were, and almost without his knowing it. And now what had he
to ask of the Nixy, who had blessed him so abundantly?
The last secret, the wondrous strain, forsooth, that he might
imprison it in notes, and din it in the ears of an unappreciative
multitude! Perhaps it were better, after all, to persevere
forever in the quest, for what would life have left to offer him
if the Nixy's strain was finally caught, when all were finally
attained, and no divine melody haunted the brain, beyond the
powers even of a Stradivarius to lure from its shadowy realm?
Nils walked home that night plunged in deep meditation. He vowed
to himself that he would never more try to catch the Nixy's
strain. But the next day, when he seized the violin, there it
was again, and, strive as he might, he could not forbear trying
to catch it.
Wise Nils is many years older now; has a good wife and several
children, and is a happy man; but to this day, resolve as he
will, he has never been able to abandon the effort to catch the
Nixy's strain. Sometimes he thinks he has half caught it, but
when he tries to play it, it is always gone.
THE WONDER CHILD
A very common belief in Norway, as in many other lands, is that
the seventh child of the seventh child can heal the sick by the
laying on of hands. Such a child is therefore called a wonder
child. Little Carina Holt was the seventh in a family of eight
brothers and sisters, but she grew to be six years old before it
became generally known that she was a wonder child. Then people
came from afar to see her, bringing their sick with them; and
morning after morning, as Mrs. Holt rolled up the shades, she
found invalids, seated or standing in the snow, gazing with
devout faith and anxious longing toward Carina's window.
It seemed a pity to send them away uncomforted, when the look and
the touch cost Carina so little. But there was another fear that
arose in the mother's breast, and that was lest her child should
be harmed by the veneration with which she was regarded, and
perhaps come to believe that she was something more than a common
mortal. What was more natural than that a child who was told by
grown-up people that there was healing in her touch, should at
last come to believe that she was something apart and
It would have been a marvel, indeed, if the constant attention
she attracted, and the pilgrimages that were made to her, had
failed to make any impression upon her sensitive mind. Vain she
was not, and it would have been unjust to say that she was
spoiled. She had a tender nature, full of sympathy for sorrow
and suffering. She was constantly giving away her shoes, her
stockings, nay, even her hood and cloak, to poor little invalids,
whose misery appealed to her merciful heart. It was of no use to
scold her; you could no more prevent a stream from flowing than
Carina from giving. It was a spontaneous yielding to an impulse
that was too strong to be resisted.
But to her father there was something unnatural in it; he would
have preferred to have her frankly selfish, as most children are,
not because he thought it lovely, but because it was childish and
natural. Her unusual goodness gave him a pang more painful than
ever the bad behavior of her brothers had occasioned. On the
other hand, it delighted him to see her do anything that ordinary
children did. He was charmed if she could be induced to take
part in a noisy romp, play tag, or dress her dolls. But there
followed usually after each outbreak of natural mirth a shy
withdrawal into herself, a resolute and quiet retirement, as if
she, were a trifle ashamed of her gayety. There was nothing
morbid in these moods, no brooding sadness or repentance, but a
touching solemnity, a serene, almost cheerful seriousness, which
in one of her years seemed strange.
Mr. Holt had many a struggle with himself as to how he should
treat Carina's delusion; and he made up his mind, at last, that
it was his duty to do everything in his power to dispel and
counteract it. When he happened to overhear her talking to her
dolls one day, laying her hands upon them, and curing them of
imaginary diseases, he concluded it was high time for him to act.
He called Carina to him, remonstrated kindly with her, and
forbade her henceforth to see the people who came to her for the
purpose of being cured. But it distressed him greatly to see how
reluctantly she consented to obey him.
When Carina awoke the morning after this promise had been
extorted from her, she heard the dogs barking furiously in the
yard below. Her elder sister, Agnes, was standing half dressed
before the mirror, holding the end of one blond braid between her
teeth, while tying the other with a pink ribbon. Seeing that
Carina was awake, she gave her a nod in the glass, and, removing
her braid, observed that there evidently were sick pilgrims under
the window. She could sympathize with Sultan and Hector, she
averred, in their dislike of pilgrims.
"Oh, I wish they would not come!" sighed Carina. "It will be so
hard for me to send them away."
"I thought you liked curing people," exclaimed Agnes.
"I do, sister, but papa has made me promise never to do it
She arose and began to dress, her sister assisting her, chatting
all the while like a gay little chirruping bird that neither gets
nor expects an answer. She was too accustomed to Carina's moods
to be either annoyed or astonished; but she loved her all the
same, and knew that her little ears were wide open, even though
she gave no sign of listening.
Carina had just completed her simple toilet when Guro, the
chamber-maid, entered, and announced that there were some sick
folk below who wished to see the wonder child.
"Tell them I cannot see them," answered Carina, with a tremulous
voice; "papa does not permit me."
"But this man, Atle Pilot, has come from so far away in this
dreadful cold," pleaded Guro, "and his son is so very bad, poor
thing; he's lying down in the boat, and he sighs and groans fit
to move a stone."
"Don't! Don't tell her that," interposed Agnes, motioning to the
girl to begone. "Don't you see it is hard enough for her
There was something in the air, as the two sisters descended the
stairs hand in hand, which foreboded calamity. The pastor had
given out from the pulpit last Sunday that he would positively
receive no invalids at his house; and he had solemnly charged
every one to refrain from bringing their sick to his daughter.
He had repeated this announcement again and again, and he was now
very much annoyed at his apparent powerlessness to protect his
child from further imposition. Loud and angry speech was heard
in his office, and a noise as if the furniture were being knocked
about. The two little girls remained standing on the stairs,
each gazing at the other's frightened face. Then there was a
great bang, and a stalwart, elderly sailor came tumbling head
foremost out into the hall. His cap was flung after him through
the crack of the door. Agnes saw for an instant her father's
face, red and excited; and in his bearing there was something
wild and strange, which was so different from his usual gentle
and dignified appearance. The sailor stood for a while
bewildered, leaning against the wall; then he stooped slowly and
picked up his cap. But the moment he caught sight of Carina his
embarrassment vanished, and his rough features were illuminated
with an intense emotion.
"Come, little miss, and help me," he cried, in a hoarse,
imploring whisper. "Halvor, my son--he is the only one God gave
me--he is sick; he is going to die, miss, unless you take pity on
"Where is he?" asked Carina.
"He's down in the boat, miss, at the pier. But I'll carry him up
to you, if you like. We have been rowing half the night in the
cold, and he is very low."
"No, no; you mustn't bring him here," said Agnes, seeing by
Carina's face that she was on the point of yielding. "Father
would be so angry."
"He may kill me if he likes," exclaimed the sailor, wildly. "It
doesn't matter to me. But Halvor he's the only one I have, miss,
and his mother died when he was born, and he is young, miss, and
he will have many years to live, if you'll only have mercy on
"But, you know, I shouldn't dare, on papa's account, to have you
bring him here," began Carina, struggling with her tears.
"Ah, yes! Then you will go to him. God bless you for that!"
cried the poor man, with agonized eagerness. And interpreting
the assent he read in Carina's eye, he caught her up in his arms,
snatched a coat from a peg in the wall, and wrapping her in it,
tore open the door. Carina made no outcry, and was not in the
least afraid. She felt herself resting in two strong arms,
warmly wrapped and borne away at a great speed over the snow.
But Agnes, seeing her sister vanish in that sudden fashion, gave
a scream which called her father to the door.
"What has happened?" he asked. "Where is Carina?"
"That dreadful Atle Pilot took her and ran away with her."
"Ran away with her?" cried the pastor in alarm. "How? Where?"
"Down to the pier."
It was a few moments' work for the terrified father to burst open
the door, and with his velvet skull-cap on his head, and the
skirts of his dressing-gown flying wildly about him, rush down
toward the beach. He saw Atle Pilot scarcely fifty feet in
advance of him, and shouted to him at the top of his voice. But
the sailor only redoubled his speed, and darted out upon the
pier, hugging tightly to his breast the precious burden he
carried. So blindly did he rush ahead that the pastor expected
to see him plunge headlong into the icy waves. But, as by a
miracle, he suddenly checked himself, and grasping with one hand
the flag-pole, swung around it, a foot or two above the black
water, and regained his foothold upon the planks. He stood for
an instant irresolute, staring down into a boat which lay moored
to the end of the pier. What he saw resembled a big bundle,
consisting of a sheepskin coat and a couple of horse blankets.
"Halvor," he cried, with a voice that shook with emotion, "I have
There was presently a vague movement under the horse-blankets,
and after a minute's struggle a pale yellowish face became
visible. It was a young face--the face of a boy of fifteen or
sixteen. But, oh, what suffering was depicted in those sunken
eyes, those bloodless, cracked lips, and the shrunken yellow skin
which clung in premature wrinkles about the emaciated features!
An old and worn fur cap was pulled down over his ears, but from
under its rim a few strands of blond hair were hanging upon his
Atle had just disentangled Carina from her wrappings, and was
about to descend the stairs to the water when a heavy hand seized
him by the shoulder, and a panting voice shouted in his ear:
"Give me back my child."
He paused, and turned his pathetically bewildered face toward the
pastor. "You wouldn't take him from me, parson," he stammered,
helplessly; "no, you wouldn't. He's the only one I've got."
"I don't take him from you," the parson thundered, wrathfully.
"But what right have you to come and steal my child, because
yours is ill?"
"When life is at stake, parson," said the pilot, imploringly,
"one gets muddled about right and wrong. I'll do your little
girl no harm. Only let her lay her blessed hands upon my poor
boy's head, and he will be well."
"I have told you no, man, and I must put a stop to this stupid
idolatry, which will ruin my child, and do you no good. Give her
back to me, I say, at once."
The pastor held out his hand to receive Carina, who stared at him
with large pleading eyes out of the grizzly wolf-skin coat.
"Be good to him, papa," she begged. "Only this once."
"No, child; no parleying now; come instantly."
And he seized her by main force, and tore her out of the pilot's
arms. But to his dying day he remembered the figure of the
heart-broken man, as he stood outlined against the dark horizon,
shaking his clinched fists against the sky, and crying out, in a
voice of despair:
"May God show you the same mercy on the Judgment Day as you have
shown to me!"
Six miserable days passed. The weather was stormy, and tidings
of shipwreck and calamity filled the air. Scarcely a visitor
came to the parsonage who had not some tale of woe to relate.
The pastor, who was usually so gentle and cheerful, wore a dismal
face, and it was easy to see that something was weighing on his
"May God show you the same mercy on the Judgment Day as you have
shown to me!"
These words rang constantly in his ears by night and by day. Had
he not been right, according to the laws of God and man, in
defending his household against the assaults of ignorance and
superstition? Would he have been justified in sacrificing his
own child, even if he could thereby save another's? And,
moreover, was it not all a wild, heathenish delusion, which it
was his duty as a servant of God to stamp out and root out at all
hazards? Yes, there could be no doubt of it; he had but
exercised his legal right. He had done what was demanded of him
by laws human and divine. He had nothing to reproach himself
for. And yet, with a haunting persistency, the image of the
despairing pilot praying God for vengeance stared at him from
every dark corner, and in the very church bells, as they rang out
their solemn invitation to the house of God, he seemed to hear
the rhythm and cadence of the heart-broken father's imprecation.
In the depth of his heart there was a still small voice which
told him that, say what he might, he had acted cruelly. If he
put himself in Atle Pilot's place, bound as he was in the iron
bonds of superstition, how different the case would look? He saw
himself, in spirit, rowing in a lonely boat through the stormy
winter night to his pastor, bringing his only son, who was at the
point of death, and praying that the pastor's daughter might lay
her hands upon him, as Christ had done to the blind, the halt,
and the maimed. And his pastor received him with wrath, nay,
with blows, and sent him away uncomforted. It was a hideous
picture indeed, and Mr. Holt would have given years of his life
to be rid of it.
It was on the sixth day after Atle's visit that the pastor,
sitting alone in his study, called Carina to him. He had
scarcely seen her during the last six days, or at least talked
with her. Her sweet innocent spirit would banish the shadows
that darkened his soul.
"Carina," he said, in his old affectionate way, "papa wants to
see you. Come here and let me talk a little with you."
But could he trust his eyes? Carina, who formerly had run so
eagerly into his arms, stood hesitating, as if she hoped to be
"Well, my little girl," he asked, in a tone of apprehension,
"don't you want to talk with papa?"
"I would rather wait till some other time, papa," she managed to
stammer, while her little face flushed with embarrassment.
Mr. Holt closed the door silently, flung himself into a chair,
and groaned. That was a blow from where he had least expected
it. The child had judged him and found him wanting. His Carina,
his darling, who had always been closest to his heart, no longer
responded to his affection! Was the pilot's prayer being
fulfilled? Was he losing his own child in return for the one he
had refused to save? With a pang in his breast, which was like
an aching wound, he walked up and down on the floor and marvelled
at his own blindness. He had erred indeed; and there was no hope
that any chance would come to him to remedy the wrong.
The twilight had deepened into darkness while he revolved this
trouble in his mind. The night was stormy, and the limbs of the
trees without were continually knocking and bumping against the
walls of the house. The rusty weather-vane on the roof whined
and screamed, and every now and then the sleet dashed against the
window-panes like a handful of shot. The wind hurled itself
against the walls, so that the timbers creaked and pulled at the
shutters, banged stray doors in out-of-the-way garrets, and then,
having accomplished its work, whirled away over the fields with a
wild and dismal howl. The pastor sat listening mournfully to
this tempestuous commotion. Once he thought he heard a noise as
of a door opening near by him, and softly closing; but as he saw
no one, he concluded it was his overwrought fancy that had played
him a trick. He seated himself again in his easy-chair before
the stove, which spread a dim light from its draught-hole into
the surrounding gloom.
While he sat thus absorbed in his meditations, he was startled at
the sound of something resembling a sob. He arose to strike a
light, but found that his match-safe was empty. But what was
that? A step without, surely, and the groping of hands for the
"Who is there?" cried the pastor, with a shivering uneasiness.
He sprang forward and opened the door. A broad figure,
surmounted by a sou'wester, loomed up in the dark.
"What do you want?" asked Mr. Holt, with forced calmness.
"I want to know," answered a gruff, hoarse voice, "if you'll come
to my son now, and help him into eternity?"
The pastor recognized Atle Pilot's voice, though it seemed
harsher and hoarser than usual.
"Sail across the fjord on a night like this?" he exclaimed.
"That's what I ask you."
"And the boy is dying, you say?"
"Can't last till morning."
"And has he asked for the sacrament?"
The pilot stepped across the threshold and entered the room. He
proceeded slowly to pull off his mittens; then looking up at the
pastor's face, upon which a vague sheen fell from the stove, he
"Will you come or will you not? You wouldn't help him to live;
now will you help him to die?"
The words, thrust forth with a slow, panting emphasis, hit the
pastor like so many blows.
"I will come," he said, with solemn resolution. "Sit down till I
He had expected some expression of gratification or thanks, for
Atle well knew what he had asked. It was his life the pastor
risked, but this time in his calling as a physician, not of
bodies, but of souls. It struck him, while he took leave of his
wife, that there was something resentful and desperate in the
pilot's manner, so different from his humble pleading at their
As he embraced the children one by one, and kissed them, he
missed Carina, but was told that she had probably gone to the
cow-stable with the dairy-maid, who was her particular friend.
So he left tender messages for her, and, summoning Atle, plunged
out into the storm. A servant walked before him with a lantern,
and lighted the way down to the pier, where the boat lay tossing
upon the waves.
"But, man," cried the pastor, seeing that the boat was empty,
"where are your boatmen?"
"I am my own boatman," answered Atle, gloomily. "You can hold
the sheet, I the tiller."
Mr. Holt was ashamed of retiring now, when he had given his word.
But it was with a sinking heart that he stepped into the frail
skiff, which seemed scarcely more than a nutshell upon the
tempestuous deep. He was on the point of asking his servant,
unacquainted though he was with seamanship, to be the third man
in the boat; but the latter, anticipating his intention, had made
haste to betake himself away. To venture out into this roaring
darkness, with no beacon to guide them, and scarcely a landmark
discernible, was indeed to tempt Providence.
But by the time he had finished this reflection, the pastor felt
himself rushing along at a tremendous speed, and short, sharp
commands rang in his ears, which instantly engrossed all his
attention. To his eyes the sky looked black as ink, except for a
dark-blue unearthly shimmer that now and then flared up from the
north, trembled, and vanished. By this unsteady illumination it
was possible to catch a momentary glimpse of a head, and a peak,
and the outline of a mountain. The small sail was double-reefed,
yet the boat careened so heavily that the water broke over the
gunwale. The squalls beat down upon them with tumultuous roar
and smoke, as of snow-drifts, in their wake; but the little boat,
climbing the top of the waves and sinking into the dizzy black
pits between them, sped fearlessly along and the pastor began to
take heart. Then, with a fierce cutting distinctness, came the
command out of the dark.
"Pull out the reefs!"
"Are you crazy, man?" shouted the pastor. "Do you want to sail
straight into eternity?"
"Pull out the reefs!" The command was repeated with wrathful
"Then we are dead men, both you and I."
"So we are, parson--dead men. My son lies dead at home, though
you might have saved him. So, now, parson, we are quits."
With a fierce laugh he rose up, and still holding the tiller,
stretched his hand to tear out the reefs. But at that instant,
just as a quivering shimmer broke across the sky, something rose
up from under the thwart and stood between them. Atle started
back with a hoarse scream.
"In Heaven's name, child!" he cried. "Oh, God, have mercy upon
And the pastor, not knowing whether he saw a child or a vision,
cried out in the same moment: "Carina, my darling! Carina, how
came you here?"
It was Carina, indeed; but the storm whirled her tiny voice away
over the waves, and her father, folding her with one arm to his
breast, while holding the sheet with the other, did not hear what
she answered to his fervent exclamation. He only knew that her
dear little head rested close to his heart, and that her yellow
hair blew across his face.
"I wanted to save that poor boy, papa," were the only words that
met his ears. But he needed no more to explain the mystery. It
was Carina, who, repenting of her unkindness to him, had stolen
into his study, while he sat in the dark, and there she had heard
Atle Pilot's message. Even if this boy was sick unto death, she
might perhaps cure him, and make up for her father's harshness.
Thus reasoned the sage Carina; and she had gone secretly and
prepared for the voyage, and battled with the storm, which again
and again threw her down on her road to the pier. It was a
miracle that she got safely into the boat, and stowed herself
away snugly under the stern thwart.
The clearing in the north gradually spread over the sky, and the
storm abated. Soon they had the shore in view, and the lights of
the fishermen's cottages gleamed along the beach of the headland.
Presently they ran into smoother water; a star or two flashed
forth, and wide blue expanses appeared here and there on the
vault of the sky. They spied the red lanterns marking the wharf,
about which a multitude of boats lay, moored to stakes, and with
three skilful tacks Atle made the harbor. It was here, standing
on the pier, amid the swash and swirl of surging waters, that the
pilot seized Carina's tiny hand in his big and rough one.
"Parson," he said, with a breaking voice, "I was going to run
afoul of you, and wreck myself with you; but this child, God
bless her! she ran us both into port, safe and sound."
But Carina did not hear what he said, for she lay sweetly
sleeping in her father's arms.
"THE SONS OF THE VIKINGS"
When Hakon Vang said his prayers at night, he usually finished
with these words: "And I thank thee, God, most of all, because
thou madest me a Norseman, and not a German or an Englishman or a
To be a Norseman appears to the Norse boy a claim to distinction.
God has made so many millions of Englishmen and Russians and
Germans, that there can be no particular honor in being one of so
vast a herd; while of Norsemen He has made only a small and
select number, whom He looks after with special care; upon whom
He showers such favors as poverty and cold (with a view to
keeping them good and hardy), and remoteness from all the
glittering temptations that beset the nations in whom He takes a
less paternal interest. Thus at least reasons, in a dim way, the
small boy in Norway; thus he is taught to reason by his parents
As for Hakon Vang, he strutted along the beach like a
turkey-cock, whenever he thought of his glorious descent from the
Vikings--those daring pirates that stole thrones and kingdoms,
and mixed their red Norse blood in the veins of all the royal
families of Europe. The teacher of history (who was what is
called a Norse-Norseman) had on one occasion, with more patriotic
zeal than discretion, undertaken to pick out those boys in his
class who were of pure Norse descent; whose blood was untainted
by any foreign admixture. The delighted pride of this small band
made them an object of envy to all the rest of the school.
Hakon, when his name was mentioned, felt as if he had added a
yard to his height. Tears of joy started to his eyes; and to
give vent to his overcharged feelings, he broke into a war-whoop;
for which he received five black marks and was kept in at recess.
But he minded that very little; all great men, he reflected, have
had to suffer for their country.
What Hakon loved above all things to study--nay, the only thing
he loved to study--was the old Sagas, which are tales, poems, and
histories of the deeds of the Norsemen in ancient times. With
eleven of his classmates, who were about his own age and as Norse
as himself, he formed a brotherhood which was called "The Sons of
the Vikings." They gave each other tremendously bloody surnames,
in the style of the Sagas--names that reeked with gore and
heroism. Hakon himself assumed the pleasing appellation
"Skull-splitter," and his classmate Frithjof Ronning was dubbed
Vargr-i-Veum, which means Wolf-in-the-Temple. One Son of the
Vikings was known as Ironbeard, another as Erling the Lop-Sided,
a third as Thore the Hound, a fourth as Aslak Stone-Skull. But a
serious difficulty, which came near disrupting the brotherhood,
arose over these very names. It was felt that Hakon had taken an
unfair advantage of the rest in selecting the bloodiest name at
the outset (before anyone else had had an opportunity to choose),
and there was a general demand that he should give it up and
allow all to draw lots for it. But this Hakon stoutly refused to
do; and declared that if anyone wanted his name he would have to
fight for it, in good old Norse fashion.
A holm-gang or duel was then arranged; that is, a ring was marked
out with stones; the combatants stepped within it, and he who
could drive his antagonist outside of the stone ring was declared
to be the victor. Frithjof, who felt that he had a better claim
to be named Skull-Splitter than Hakon, was the first to accept
the challenge; but after a terrible combat was forced to bite the
dust. His conqueror was, however, filled with such a glowing
admiration of his valor (as combatants in the Sagas frequently
are), that he proposed that they should swear eternal friendship
and foster-brotherhood, and seal their compact, according to
Norse custom, by the ceremony called "Mingling of Blood." It is
needless to say that this seemed to all the boys a most
delightful proposition; and they entered upon the august rite
with a deep sense of its solemnity.
First a piece of sod, about twelve feet square, was carefully
raised upon wooden stakes representing spears, so as to form a
green roof over the foster-brothers. Then, sitting upon the
black earth, where the turf had been removed, they bared their
arms to the shoulder, and in the presence of his ten brethren, as
witnesses, each swore that he would regard the other as his true
brother and love him and treat him as such, and avenge his death
if he survived him; in solemn testimony of which each drew a
knife and opened a vein in his arm, letting their blood mingle
and flow together. Hakon, however, in his heroic zeal, drove the
knife into his flesh rather recklessly, and when the blood had
flowed profusely for five minutes, he grew a trifle uneasy.
Frithjof, after having bathed his arm in a neighboring brook, had
no difficulty in stanching the blood, but the poor
Skull-Splitter's wound, in spite of cold water and bandages, kept
pouring forth its warm current without sign of abatement. Hakon
grew paler and paler, and would have burst into tears, if he had
not been a "Son of the Vikings." It would have been a relief to
him, for the moment, not to have been a "Son of the Vikings."
For he was terribly frightened, and thought surely he was going
to bleed to death. The other Vikings, too, began to feel rather
alarmed at such a prospect; and when Erling the Lop-Sided (the
pastor's son) proposed that they should carry Hakon to the
doctor, no one made any objection. But the doctor unhappily
lived so far away that Hakon might die before he got there.
"Well, then," said Wolf-in-the Temple, "let us take him to old
Witch-Martha. She can stanch blood and do lots of other queer
"Yes, and that is much more Norse, too," suggested Thore the
Hound; "wise women learned physic and bandaged wounds in the
olden time. Men were never doctors."
"Yes, Witch-Martha is just the right style," said Erling the
Lop-Sided down in his boots; for he had naturally a shrill voice
and gave himself great pains to produce a manly bass.
"We must make a litter to carry the Skull-Splitter on," exclaimed
Einar Bowstring-Twanger (the sheriff's son); "he'll never get to
Witch-Martha alive if he is to walk."
This suggestion was favorably received, the boys set to work with
a will, and in a few minutes had put together a litter of green
twigs and branches. Hakon, who was feeling curiously
light-headed and exhausted, allowed himself to be placed upon it
in a reclining position; and its swinging motion, as his friends
carried it along, nearly rocked him to sleep. The fear of death
was but vaguely present to his mind; but his self-importance grew
with every moment, as he saw his blood trickle through the leaves
and drop at the roadside. He appeared to himself a brave Norse
warrior who was being carried by his comrades from the
battle-field, where he had greatly distinguished himself. And
now to be going, to the witch who, by magic rhymes and
incantations, was to stanch the ebbing stream of his life--what
could be more delightful?
Witch Martha lived in a small lonely cottage down by the river.
Very few people ever went to see her in the day-time; but at
night she often had visitors. Mothers who suspected that their
children were changelings, whom the Trolds had put in the cradle,
taking the human infants away; girls who wanted to "turn the
hearts" of their lovers, and lovers who wanted to turn the hearts
of the girls; peasants who had lost money or valuables and wanted
help to trace the thief--these and many others sought secret
counsel with Witch-Martha, and rarely went away uncomforted. She
was an old weather-beaten woman with a deeply wrinkled,
smoky-brown face, and small shrewd black eyes. The floor in her
cottage was strewn with sand and fresh juniper twigs; from the
rafters under the ceiling hung bunches of strange herbs; and in
the windows were flower-pots with blooming plants in them.
Martha was stooping at the hearth, blowing and puffing at the
fire under her coffee-pot, when the Sons of the Vikings knocked
at the door. Wolf-in-the-Temple was the man who took the lead;
and when Witch-Martha opened the upper half of the door (she
never opened both at the same time) she was not a little
astonished to see the Captain's son, Frithjof Ronning, staring up
at her with an anxious face.
"What cost thou want, lad?" she asked, gruffly; "thou hast gone
astray surely, and I'll show thee the way home."
"I am Wolf-in-the-Temple," began Frithjof, thrusting out his
chest, and raising his head proudly.
"Dear me, you don't say so!" exclaimed Martha.
"My comrade and foster-brother Skull-Splitter has been wounded;
and I want thee, old crone, to stanch his blood before he bleeds
"Dear, dear me, how very strange!" ejaculated the Witch, and
shook her aged head.
She had been accustomed to extraordinary requests; but the
language of this boy struck her as being something of the
queerest she had yet heard.
"Where is thy Skull-Splitter, lad?" she asked, looking at him
"Right here in the underbrush," Wolf-in-the-Temple retorted,
gallantly; "stir thy aged stumps now, and thou shalt be right
He had learned from Walter Scott's romances that this was the
proper way to address inferiors, and he prided himself not a
little on his jaunty condescension. Imagine then his surprise
when the "old crone" suddenly turned on him with an angry scowl
"If thou canst not keep a civil tongue in thy head, I'll bring a
thousand plagues upon thee, thou umnannerly boy."
By this threat Wolf-in-the-Temple's courage was sadly shaken. He
knew Martha's reputation as a witch, and had no desire to test in
his own person whether rumor belied her.
"Please, mum, I beg of you," he said, with a sudden change of
tone; "my friend Hakon Vang is bleeding to death; won't you
please help him?"
"Thy friend Hakon Vang!" cried Martha, to whom that name was
very familiar; "bring him in, as quick as thou canst, and I'll do
what I can for him."
Wolf-in- the-Temple put two fingers into his mouth and gave a
loud shrill whistle, which was answered from the woods, and
presently the small procession moved up to the door, carrying
their wounded comrade between them. The poor Skull-Splitter was
now as white as a sheet, and the drowsiness of his eyes and the
laxness of his features showed that help came none too early.
Martha, in hot haste, grabbed a bag of herbs, thrust it into a
pot of warm water, and clapped it on the wound. Then she began
to wag her head slowly to and fro, and crooned, to a soft and
plaintive tune, words which sounded to the ears of the boys
"I conjure in water, I conjure in lead,
I conjure with herbs that grew o'er the dead;
I conjure with flowers that I plucked, without shoon,
When the ghosts were abroad, in the wane of the moon.
I conjure with spirits of earth and air
That make the wind sigh and cry in despair;
I conjure by him within sevenfold rings
That sits and broods at the roots of things.
I conjure by him who healeth strife,
Who plants and waters the germs of life.
I conjure, I conjure, I bid thee be still,
Thou ruddy stream, thou hast flowed thy fill!
Return to thy channel and nurture his life
Till his destined measure of years be rife."
She sang the last two lines with sudden energy; and when she
removed her hand from the wound, the blood had ceased to flow.
The poor Skull-Splitter was sleeping soundly; and his friends,
shivering a little with mysterious fears, marched up and down
whispering to one another. They set a guard of honor at the
leafy couch of their wounded comrade; intercepted the green worms
and other insects that kept dropping down upon him from the alder
branches overhead, and brushed away the flies that would fain
disturb his slumbers. They were all steeped to the core in old
Norse heroism; and they enjoyed the situation hugely. All the
life about them was half blotted out; they saw it but dimly.
That light of youthful romance, which never was on sea or land,
transformed all the common things that met their vision into
something strange and wonderful. They strained their ears to
catch the meaning of the song of the birds, so that they might
learn from them the secrets of the future, as Sigurd the Volsung
did, after he had slain the dragon, Fafnir. The woods round
about them were filled with dragons and fabulous beasts, whose
tracks they detected with the eyes of faith; and they started out
every morning, during the all too brief vacation, on imaginary
expeditions against imaginary monsters.
When at the end of an hour the Skull-Splitter woke from his
slumber, much refreshed, Witch-Martha bandaged his arm carefully,
and Wolf-in-the Temple (having no golden arm-rings) tossed her,
with magnificent superciliousness, his purse, which contained six
cents. But she flung it back at him with such force that he had
to dodge with more adroitness than dignity.
"I'll get my claws into thee some day, thou foolish lad," she
said, lifting her lean vulture-like hand with a threatening
"No, please don't, Martha, I didn't mean anything," cried the
boy, in great alarm; "you'll forgive me, won't you, Martha?"
"I'll bid thee begone, and take thy foolish tongue along with
thee," she answered, in a mollified tone.
And the Sons of the Vikings, taking the hint, shouldered the
litter once more, and reached Skull-Splitter's home in time for
The Sons of the Vikings were much troubled. Every heroic deed
which they plotted had this little disadvantage, that they were
in danger of going to jail for it. They could not steal cattle
and horses, because they did not know what to do with them when
they had got them; they could not sail away over the briny deep
in search of fortune or glory, because they had no ships; and
sail-boats were scarcely big enough for daring voyages to the
blooming South which their ancestors had ravaged. The precious
vacation was slipping away, and as yet they had accomplished
nothing that could at all be called heroic. It was while the
brotherhood was lamenting this fact that Wolf-in-the-Temple had a
brilliant idea. He procured his father's permission to invite
his eleven companions to spend a day and a night at the Ronning
saeter, or mountain dairy, far up in the highlands. The only
condition Mr. Ronning made was that they were to be accompanied
by his man, Brumle-Knute, who was to be responsible for their
safety. But the boys determined privately to make Brumle-Knute
their prisoner, in case he showed any disposition to spoil their
sport. To spend a day and a night in the woods, to imagine
themselves Vikings, and behave as they imagined Vikings would
behave, was a prospect which no one could contemplate without the
most delightful excitement. There, far away from sheriffs and
pastors and maternal supervision, they might perhaps find the
long-desired chance of performing their heroic deed.
It was a beautiful morning early in August that the boys started
from Strandholm, Mr. Ronning's estate, accompanied by
Brumle-Knute. The latter was a middle-aged, round-shouldered
peasant, who had the habit of always talking to himself. To look
at him you would have supposed that he was a rough and stupid
fellow who would have quite enough to do in looking after
himself. But the fact was, that Brumle-Knute was the best shot,
the best climber--and altogether the most keen-eyed hunter in the
whole valley. It was a saying that he could scent game so well
that he never needed a dog; and that he could imitate to
perfection the call of every game bird that inhabited the
mountain glens. Sweet-tempered he was not; but so reliable,
skilful, and vigilant, and moreover so thorough a woodsman, that
the boys could well afford to put up with his gruff temper.
The Sons of the Vikings were all mounted on ponies; and
Wolf-in-the-Temple, who had been elected chieftain, led the
troop. At his side rode Skull-Splitter, who was yet a trifle
pale after his blood-letting, but brimming over with ambition to
distinguish himself. They had all tied their trousers to their
legs with leather thongs, in order to be perfectly "Old Norse;"
and some of them had turned their plaids and summer overcoats
inside out, displaying the gorgeous colors of the lining.
Loosely attached about their necks and flying in the wind, these
could easily serve for scarlet or purple cloaks wrought on Syrian
looms. Most of the boys carried also wooden swords and shields,
and the chief had a long loor or Alpine horn. Only the valiant
Ironbeard, whose father was a military man, had a real sword and
a real scabbard into the bargain. Wolf-in-the-Temple, and Erling
the Lop-Sided, had each an old fowling-piece; and Brumle-Knute
carried a double-barrelled rifle. This, to be sure, was not;
quite historically correct; but firearms are so useful in the
woods, even if they are not correct, that it was resolved not to
notice the irregularity; for there were boars in the mountains,
besides wolves and foxes and no end of smaller game.
For an hour or more the procession rode, single file, up the
steep and rugged mountain-paths; but the boys were all in high
spirits and enjoyed themselves hugely. The mere fact that they
were Vikings, on a daring foraging expedition into a neighboring
kingdom, imparted a wonderful zest to everything they did and
said. It might be foolish, but it was on that account none the
less delightful. They sent out scouts to watch for the approach
of an imaginary enemy; they had secret pass-words and signs; they
swore (Viking style) by Thor's hammer and by Odin's eye. They
talked appalling nonsense to each other with a delicious
sentiment of its awful blood-curdling character. It was about
noon when they reached the Strandholm saeter, which consisted of
three turf-thatched log-cabins or chalets, surrounded by a green
inclosure of half a dozen acres. The wide highland plain, eight
or ten miles long, was bounded on the north and west by throngs
of snow-hooded mountain peaks, which rose, one behind another, in
glittering grandeur; and in the middle of the plain there were
two lakes or tarns, connected by a river which was milky white
where it entered the lakes and clear as crystal where it escaped.
"Now, Vikings," cried Wolf-in-the-Temple, when the boys had done
justice to their dinner, "it behooves us to do valiant deeds, and
to prove ourselves worthy of our fathers."
"Hear, hear," shouted Ironbeard, who was fourteen years old and
had a shadow of a moustache, "I am in for great deeds, hip, hip,
"Hold your tongue when you hear me speak," commanded the
chieftain, loftily; "we will lie in wait at the ford, between the
two tarns, and capture the travellers who pass that way. If
perchance a princess from the neighboring kingdom pass, on the
way to her dominions, we will hold her captive until her father,
the king, comes to ransom her with heaps of gold in rings and
fine garments and precious weapons."
"But what are we to do with her when we have caught her?" asked
the Skull-Splitter, innocently.
"We will keep her imprisoned in the empty saeter hut,"
Wolf-in-the-Temple responded. "Now, are you ready? We'll leave
the horses here on the croft, until our return."
The question now was to elude Brumle-Knute's vigilance; for the
Sons of the Vikings had good reasons for fearing that he might
interfere with their enterprise. They therefore waited until
Brumle-knute was invited by the dairymaid to sit down to dinner.
No sooner had the door closed upon his stooping figure, than they
stole out through a hole in the fence, crept on all-fours among
the tangled dwarf-birches and the big gray boulders, and
following close in the track of their leader, reached the ford
between the lakes. There they observed two enormous heaps of
stones known as the Parson and the Deacon; for it had been the
custom from immemorial times for every traveller to fling a big
stone as a "sacrifice" for good luck upon the Parson's heap and a
small stone upon the Deacon's. Behind these piles of stone the
boys hid themselves, keeping a watchful eye on the road and
waiting for their chief's signal to pounce upon unwary
travellers. They lay for about fifteen minutes in expectant
silence, and were on the point of losing their patience.
"Look here, Wolf-in-the-Temple," cried Erling the Lop-Sided, "you
may think this is fun, but I don't. Let us take the raft there
and go fishing. The tarn is simply crowded with perch and bass."
"Hold your disrespectful tongue," whispered the chief, warningly,
"or I'll discipline you so you'll remember it till your dying
"Ho, ho!" laughed the rebel, jeeringly; "big words and fat pork
don't stick in the throat. Wait till I get you alone and we
shall see who'll be disciplined."
Erling had risen and was about to emerge from his hiding-place,
when suddenly hoof-beats were heard, and a horse was seen
approaching, carrying on its back a stalwart peasant lass, in
whose lap a pretty little girl of twelve or thirteen was sitting.
The former was clad in scarlet bodice, a black embroidered skirt,
and a snowy-white kerchief was tied about her head. Her blonde
hair hung in golden profusion down over her back and shoulders.
The little girl was city-clad, and had a sweet and appealing
face. She was chattering guilelessly with her companion, asking
more questions than she could possibly expect to have answered.
Nearer and nearer they came to the great stone heaps, dreaming of
"And, Gunbjor," the Skull-Splitter heard the little girl say,
"you don't really believe that there are trolds and fairies in
the mountains, do you?"
"Them as are wiser than I am have believed that," was Gunbjor's
answer; "but we don't hear so much about the trolds nowadays as
they did when my granny was young. Then they took young girls
into the mountain and----"
Here came a wild, piercing yell, as the Sons of the Vikings
rushed forward from behind the rocks, and with a terrible
war-whoop swooped down upon the road. Wolf-in-the-Temple, who
led the band, seized the horse by the bridle, and flourishing his
sword threateningly, addressed the frightened peasant lass.
"Is this, perchance, the Princess Kunigunde, the heir to the
throne of my good friend, King Bjorn the Victorious?" he asked,
with a magnificent air, seizing the trembling little girl by the
"Nay," Gunbjor answered, as soon as she could find her voice,
"this is the Deacon's Maggie, as is going to the saeter with me
to spend Sunday."
"She cannot proceed on her way," said the chieftain, decisively,
"she is my prisoner."
Gunbjor, who had been frightened out of her wits by the small
red- and blue-cloaked men, swarming among the stones, taking them
to be trolds or fairies, now gradually recovered her senses. She
recognized in Erling the Lop-Sided the well-known features of the
parson's son; and as soon as she had made this discovery she had
no great difficulty in identifying the rest. "Never you fear,
pet," she said to the child in her lap, "these be bad boys as
want to frighten us. I'll give them a switching if they don't
"The Princess Kunigunde is my prisoner until it please her noble
father to ransom her for ten pounds of silver," repeated
Wolf-in-the-Temple, putting his arm about little Maggie's waist
and trying to lift her from the saddle.
"You keep yer hands off the child, or I'll give you ten pounds of
thrashing," cried Gunbjor, angrily.
"She shall be treated with the respect due to her rank,"
Wolf-in-the-Temple proceeded, loftily. "I give King Bjorn the
Victorious three moons in which to bring me the ransom."
"And I'll give you three boxes on the ear, and a cut with my
whip, into the bargain, if you don't let the horse alone, and
take yer hands off the child."
"Vikings!" cried the chief, "lay hands on her! Tear her from the
saddle! She has defied us! She deserves no mercy."
With a tremendous yell the boys rushed forward, brandishing their
swords above their heads, and pulled Gunbjor from the saddle.
But she held on to her charge with a vigorous clutch, and as soon
as her feet touched the ground she began with her disengaged hand
to lay about her, with her whip, in a way that proved extremely
unpleasant. Wolf-in-the-Temple, against whom her assault was
especially directed, received some bad cuts across his face, and
Ironbeard was driven backward into the ford, where he fell, full
length, and rose dripping wet and mortified. Thore the Hound got
a thump in his head from Gunbjor's stalwart elbows, and
Skull-Splitter, who had more courage than discretion, was pitched
into the water with no more ceremony than if he had been a
superfluous kitten. The fact was--I cannot disguise it--within
five minutes the whole valiant band of the Sons of the Vikings
were routed by that terrible switch, wielded by the intrepid
Gunbjor. When the last of her foes had bitten the dust, she
calmly remounted her pony, and with the Deacon's Maggie in her
lap rode, at a leisurely pace, across the ford.
"Good-by, lads," she said, nodding her head at them over her
shoulder; "ye needn't be afraid. I won't tell on you."
To have been routed by a woman was a terrible humiliation to the
valiant Sons of the Vikings. They were silent and moody during
the evening, and sat staring into the big bonfire on the saeter
green with stern and melancholy features. They had suffered
defeat in battle, and it behooved them to avenge it. About nine
o'clock they retired into their bunks in the log cabin, but no
sooner was Brumle-Knute's rhythmic snoring perceived than
Wolf-in-the-Temple put his head out and called to his comrades to
meet him in front of the house for a council of war. Instantly
they scrambled out of their alcoves, pulled on their coats and
trousers; and noiselessly stole out into the night. The sun was
yet visible, but a red veil of fiery mist was drawn across his
face; and a magic air of fairy-tales and strange unreality was
diffused over mountains, plains and lakes. The river wound like
a huge, blood-red serpent through the mountain pastures, and the
snow-hooded peaks blazed with fiery splendor.
The boys were quite stunned at the sight of such magnificence,
and stood for some minutes gazing at the landscape, before giving
heed to the summons of the chief.
"Comrades," said Wolf-in-the-Temple, solemnly, "what is life
There was not a soul present who could answer that conundrum, and
after a fitting pause the chief was forced to answer it himself.
"Life without honor, comrades," he said, severely, "life--without
"Hear, hear!" cried Ironbeard; "good for you, old man!"
"Silence!" thundered Wolf-in-the-Temple, "I must beg the
gentlemen to observe the proprieties."
This tremendous phrase rarely failed to restore order, and the
flippant Ironbeard was duly rebuked by the glances of displeasure
which met him on all sides. But in the meanwhile the chief had
lost the thread of his speech and could not recover it.
"Vikings," he resumed, clearing his throat vehemently, "we have
been--that is to say--we have sustained----"
"A thrashing," supplied the innocent Skull-Splitter.
But the awful stare which was fixed upon him convinced him that
he had made a mistake; and he shrunk into an abashed silence.
"We must do something to retrieve our honor," continued the
chief, earnestly; "we must--take steps--to to get upon our legs
again," he finished, blushing with embarrassment.
"I would suggest that we get upon our legs first, and take the
steps afterward," remarked the flippant Ironbeard, with a sly
wink at Thore the Hound.
The chief held it to be beneath his dignity to notice this
interruption, and after having gazed for a while in silence at
the blood-red mountain peaks, he continued, more at his ease:
"I propose, comrades, that we go on a bear hunt. Then, when we
return with a bear-skin or two, our honor will be all right; no
one will dare laugh at us. The brave boy-hunters will be the
admiration and pride of the whole valley."
"But Brummle-Knute," observed the Skull-Splitter; "do you think
he will allow us to go bear-hunting?"
"What do we care whether he allows us or not?" cried
Wolf-in-the-Temple, scornfully; "he sleeps like a log; and I
propose that we tie his hands and feet before we start."
This suggestion met with enthusiastic approval, and all the boys
laughed heartily at the idea of Brumle-Knute waking up and
finding himself tied with ropes, like a calf that is carried to
"Now, comrades," commanded the chief, with a flourish of his
sword, "get to bed quickly. I'll call you at four o'clock; we'll
then start to chase the monarch of the mountains."
The Sons of the Vikings scrambled into their bunks with great
despatch; and though their beds consisted of pine twigs, covered
with a coarse sheet, and a bat, of straw for a pillow, they fell
asleep without rocking, and slept more soundly than if they had
rested on silken bolsters filled with eiderdown.
Wolf-in-the-Temple was as good as his word, and waked them
promptly at four o'clock; and their first task, after having
filled their knapsacks with provisions, was to tie Brumle-Knute's
hands and feet with the most cunning slip-knots, which would
tighten more, the more he struggled to unloose them. Ironbeard,
who had served a year before the mast, was the contriver of this
daring enterprise; and he did it so cleverly that Brumle-Knute
never suspected that his liberty was being interfered with. He
snorted a little and rubbed imaginary cobwebs from his face; but
soon lapsed again into a deep, snoring unconsciousness.
The faces of the Sons of the Vikings grew very serious as they
started out on this dangerous expedition. There was more than
one of them who would not have objected to remaining at home, but
who feared to incur the charge of cowardice if he opposed the
wishes of the rest. Wolf-in-the-Temple walked at the head of the
column, as they hastened with stealthy tread out of the saeter
inclosure, and steered their course toward the dense pine forest,
the tops of which were visible toward the east, where the
mountain sloped toward the valley. He carried his fowling-piece,
loaded with shot, in his right hand, and a powder-horn and other
equipments for the chase were flung across his shoulder. Erling
the Lop-Sided was similarly armed, and Ironbeard, glorying in a
real sword, unsheathed it every minute and let it flash in the
sun. It was a great consolation to the rest of the Vikings to
see these formidable weapons; for they were not wise enough to
know that grown-up bears are not killed with shot, and that a
fowling-piece is a good deal more dangerous than no weapon at
all, in the hands of an inexperienced hunter.
The sun, who had exchanged his flaming robe de nuit for the rosy
colors of morning, was now shooting his bright shafts of light
across the mountain plain, and cheering the hearts of the Sons of
the Vikings. The air was fresh and cool; and it seemed a luxury
to breathe it. It entered the lungs in a pure, vivifying stream
like an elixir of life, and sent the blood dancing through the
veins. It was impossible to mope in such air; and Ironbeard
interpreted the general mood when he struck up the tune:
"We wander with joy on the far mountain path,
We follow the star that will guide us;"
but before he had finished the third verse, it occurred to the
chief that they were bear-hunters, and that it was very
unsportsmanlike behavior to sing on the chase. For all that they
were all very jolly, throbbing with excitement at the thought of
the adventures which they were about to encounter; and concealing
a latent spark of fear under an excess of bravado. At the end of
an hour's march they had reached the pine forest; and as they
were all ravenously hungry they sat down upon the stones, where a
clear mountain brook ran down the slope, and unpacked their
provisions. Wolf-in-the-Temple had just helped himself, in old
Norse fashion, to a slice of smoked ham, having slashed a piece
off at random with his knife, when Erling the Lop-Sided observed
that that ham had a very curious odor. Everyone had to test its
smell; and they all agreed that it did have a singular flavor,
though its taste was irreproachable.
"It smells like a menagerie," said the Skull-Splitter, as he
handed it to Thore the Hound.
"But the bread and the biscuit smell just the same," said Thore
the Hound; "in fact, it is the air that smells like a menagerie."
"Boys," cried Wolf-in-the-Temple, "do you see that track in the
"Yes; it is the track of a barefooted man," suggested the
Ironbeard and Erling the Lop-Sided flung themselves down among
the stones and investigated the tracks; and they were no longer
in doubt as to where the pungent wild odor came from, which they
had attributed to the ham.
"Boys," said Erling, looking up with an excited face, "a she-bear
with one or two cubs has been here within a few minutes."
"This is her drinking-place," said Ironbeard: "the tracks are
many and well-worn; if she hasn't been here this morning, she is
sure to come before long."
"We are in luck indeed," Wolf-in-the-Temple observed, coolly; "we
needn't go far for our bear. He will be coming for us."
At that moment the note of an Alpine horn was heard; but it was
impossible to determine how far it was away; for the echo took up
the note and flung it back and forth with clear and strong
reverberations from mountain to mountain.
"It is Brumle-Knute who is calling us," said Thore the Hound.
"The dairymaid must have released him. Shall we answer?"
"Never," cried the chief, proudly; "I forbid you to answer. Here
we have our heroic deed in sight, and I want no one to spoil it.
If there is a coward among us, let him take to his heels; no one
shall detain him."
There were perhaps several who would have liked to accept the
invitation; but no one did. Skull-Splitter, by way of diversion,
plumped backward into the brook, and sat down in the cool pool up
to his waist. But nobody laughed at his mishap; because they had
their minds full of more serious thoughts. Wolf-in-the-Temple,
who had climbed up on a big moss-grown boulder, stood, gun in
hand, and peered in among the bushes.
"Boys," he whispered, "drop down on your bellies--quick."
All, crowding behind a rock, obeyed, pushing themselves into
position with hands and feet. With wildly beating hearts the
Vikings gazed up among the gray wilderness of stone and
underbrush, and first one, then another, caught sight of
something brown and hairy that came toddling down toward them,
now rolling like a ball of yarn, now turning a somersault, and
now again pegging industriously along on four clumsy paws. It
was the prettiest little bear cub that ever woke on its mossy
lair in the woods. Now it came shuffling down in a boozy way to
take its morning bath. It seemed but half awake; and
Skull-Splitter imagined that it was a trifle cross, because its
mother had waked it too early. Evidently it had made no toilet
as yet, for bits of moss were sticking in its hair; and it yawned
once or twice, and shook its head disgustedly. Skull-Splitter
knew so well that feeling and could sympathize with the poor
young cub. But Wolf-in-the-Temple, who watched it no less
intently, was filled with quite different emotions. Here was his
heroic deed, for which he had hungered so long. To shoot a
bear--that was a deed worthy of a Norseman. One step more--then
two--and then--up rose the bear cub on its hind legs and rubbed
its eyes with its paws. Now he had a clean shot--now or never;
and pulling the trigger Wolf-in-the-Temple blazed away and sent a
handful of shot into the carcass of the poor little bear. Up
jumped all the Sons of the Vikings from behind their stones, and,
with a shout of triumph, ran up the path to where the cub was
lying. It had rolled itself up into a brown ball, and whimpered
like a child in pain. But at that very moment there came an
ominous growl out of the underbrush, and a crackling and creaking
of branches was heard which made the hearts of the boys stand
"Erling," cried Wolf-in-the-Temple, "hand me your gun, and load
mine for me as quick as you can."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the head of a big
brown she-bear became visible among the bushes. She paused in
the path, where her cub was lying, turned him over with her paw,
licked his face, grumbled with a low soothing tone, snuffed him
all over and rubbed her nose against his snout. But unwarily she
must have touched some sore spot; for the cub gave a sharp yelp
of pain and writhed and whimpered as he looked up into his
mother's eyes, clumsily returning her caresses. The boys, half
emerged from their hiding-places, stood watching this
demonstration of affection not without sympathy; and
Skull-Splitter, for one, heartily wished that the chief had not
wounded the little bear. Quite ignorant as he was of the nature
of bears, he allowed his compassion to get the better of his
judgment. It seemed such a pity that the poor little beast
should lie there and suffer with one eye put out and forty or
fifty bits of lead distributed through its body. It would be
much more merciful to put it out of its misery altogether. And
accordingly when Erling the Lop-Sided handed him his gun to pass
on to the chief, Skull-Splitter started forward, flung the gun to
his cheek, and blazed away at the little bear once more, entirely
heedless of consequences. It was a random, unskilful shot, which
was about equally shared by the cub and its mother. And the
latter was not in a mood to be trifled with. With an angry roar
she rose on her hind legs and advanced against the unhappy
Skull-Splitter with two uplifted paws. In another moment she
would give him one of her vigorous "left-handers," which would
probably pacify him forever. Ironbeard gave a scream of terror
and Thore the Hound broke down an alder-sapling in his
excitement. But Wolf-in-the-Temple, remembering that he had
sworn foster-brotherhood with this brave and foolish little lad,
thought that now was the time to show his heroism. Here it was
no longer play, but dead earnest. Down he leaped from his rock,
and just as the she-bear was within a foot of the Skull-Splitter,
he dealt her a blow in the head with the butt end of his gun
which made the sparks dance before her eyes. She turned suddenly
toward her new assailant, growling savagely, and scratched her
ear with her paw. And Skull-Splitter, who had slipped on the
pine needles and fallen, scrambled to his feet again, leaving his
gun on the ground, and with a few aimless steps tumbled once more
into the brook. Ironbeard, seeing that he was being outdone by
his chief, was quick to seize the gun, and rushing forward dealt
the she-bear another blow, which, instead of disabling her, only
exasperated her further. She glared with her small bloodshot
eyes now at the one, now at the other boy, as if in doubt which
she would tackle first. It was an awful moment; one or the other
might have saved himself by flight, but each was determined to
stand his ground. Vikings could die, but never flee. With a
furious growl the she-bear started toward her last assailant,
lifting her terrible paw. Ironbeard backed a few steps, pointing
his gun before him; and with benumbing force the paw descended
upon the gun-barrel, striking it out of his hands.
It seemed all of a sudden to the boy as if his arms were asleep
up to the shoulders; he had a stinging sensation in his flesh and
a humming in his ears, which made him fear that his last hour had
come. If the bear renewed the attack now, he was utterly
defenceless. He was not exactly afraid, but he was numb all
over. It seemed to matter little what became of him.
But now a strange thing happened. To his unutterable
astonishment he saw the she-bear drop down on all fours and vent
her rage on the gun, which, in a trice, was bent and broken into
a dozen fragments. But in this diversion she was interrupted by
Wolf-in-the-Temple, who hammered away again at her head with the
heavy end of his weapon. Again she rose, and presented two rows
of white teeth which looked as if they meant business. It was
the chief's turn now to meet his fate; and it was the more
serious because his helper was disarmed and could give him no
assistance. With a wildly thumping heart he raised the butt end
of his gun and dashed forward, when as by a miracle a shot was
heard--a sharp, loud shot that rumbled away with manifold
reverberations among the mountains. In the same instant the huge
brown bear tumbled forward, rolled over, with a gasping growl,
and was dead.
"O Brumle-Knute! Brumle-Knute!" yelled the boys in joyous
chorus, as they saw their resuer coming forward from behind the
rocks, "how did you find us?"
"I heard yer shots and I saw yer tracks," said Brumle-Knute,
dryly; "but when ye go bear-hunting another time ye had better
load with bullets instead of bird-shot."
"But Brumle-Knute, we only wanted to shoot the little bear,"
"That may be," Brumle-Knute replied; "but the big bears, they are
a curiously unreasonable lot--they are apt to get mad when you
fire at their little ones. Next time you must recollect to take
the big bear into account."
I need not tell you that the Sons of the Vikings became great
heroes when the rumor of their bear hunt was noised abroad
through the valley. But, for all that, they determined to
disband their brotherhood. Wolf-in-the-Temple expressed the
sentiment of all when, at their last meeting, he made a speech,
in which these words occurred:
"Brothers, the world isn't quite the same now as it was in the
days when our Viking forefathers spread the terror of their name
through the South. We are not so strong as they were, nor so
hardy. When we mingle blood, we have to send for a surgeon. If
we steal princesses we may go to jail for it--or--or--well--never
mind--what else may happen. Heroism isn't appreciated as once it
was in this country; and I, for one, won't try to be a hero any
more. I resign my chieftainship now, when I can do it with
credit. Let us all make our bows of adieu as bear hunters; and
if we don't do anything more in the heroic line it is not because
we can't, but because we won't."
PAUL JESPERSEN'S MASQUERADE
There was great excitement in the little Norse town, Bumlebro,
because there was going to be a masquerade. Everybody was busy
inventing the character which he was to represent, and the
costume in which he was to represent it.
Miss Amelia Norbeck, the apothecary's daughter, had intended to
be Marie Antoinette, but had to give it up because the silk
stockings were too dear, although she had already procured the
beauty-patches and the powdered wig.
Miss Arctander, the judge's daughter, was to be Night, in black
tulle, spangled with silver stars, and Miss Hanna Broby was to be
Morning, in white tulle and pink roses.
There had never BEEN a masquerade in Bumlebro, and there would
not have been one now, if it had not been for the enterprise of
young Arctander and young Norbeck, who had just returned from the
military academy in the capital, and were anxious to exhibit
themselves to the young girls in their glory.
Of course, they could not afford to be exclusive, for there were
but twenty or thirty families in the town that laid any claims to
gentility, and they had all to be invited in order to fill the
hall and pay the bills. Thus it came to pass that Paul
Jespersen, the book-keeper in the fish-exporting firm of Broby &
Larsen, received a card, although, to be sure, there had been a
long debate in the committee as to where the line should be
Paul Jespersen was uncommonly elated when he read the invitation,
which was written on a gilt-edged card, requesting the pleasure
of Mr. Jespersen's company at a bal masque Tuesday, January 3d,
in the Association Hall.
"The pleasure of his company!"
Think of it! He felt so flattered that he blushed to the tips of
his ears. It must have been Miss Clara Broby who had induced
them to be so polite to him, for those insolent cadets, who only
nodded patronizingly to him in response to his deferential
greeting, would never have asked for "the pleasure of his
Having satisfied himself on this point, Paul went to call upon
Miss Clara in the evening, in order to pay her some compliment
and consult her in regard to his costume; but Miss Clara, as it
happened, was much more interested in her own costume than in
that of Mr. Jespersen, and offered no useful suggestions.
"What character would you advise me to select, Mr. Jespersen?"
she inquired, sweetly. "My sister Hanna, you know, is going to
be Morning, so I can't be that, and it seems to me Morning would
have suited me just lovely."
"Go as Beauty," suggested Mr. Jespersen, blushing at the thought
of his audacity.
"So I will, Mr. Jespersen," she answered, laughing, "if you will
go as the Beast."
Paul, being a simple-hearted fellow, failed to see any sarcasm in
this, but interpreted it rather as a hint that Miss Clara desired
his escort, as Beauty, of course, only would be recognizable in
her proper character by the presence of the Beast.
"I shall be delighted, Miss Clara," he said, beaming with
pleasure. "If you will be my Beauty, I'll be your Beast."
Miss Clara did not know exactly how to take this, and was rather
absent-minded during the rest of the interview. She had been
chaffing Mr. Jespersen, of course, but she did not wish to be
absolutely rude to him, because he was her father's employee,
and, as she often heard her father say, a very valuable and
trustworthy young man.
When Paul got home he began at once to ponder upon his character
as Beast, and particularly as Miss Clara's Beast. It occurred to
him that his uncle, the furrier, had an enormous bear-skin, with
head, eyes, claws, and all that was necessary, and without delay
he went to try it on.
His uncle, feeling that this event was somehow to redound to the
credit of the family, agreed to make the necessary alterations at
a trifling cost, and when the night of the masquerade arrived,
Paul was so startled at his appearance that he would have run
away from himself if such a thing had been possible. He had
never imagined that he would make such a successful Beast.
By an ingenious contrivance with a string, which he pulled with
his hand, he was able to move his lower jaw, which, with its red
tongue and terrible teeth, presented an awful appearance. By
patching the skin a little behind, his head was made to fit
comfortably into the bear's head, and his mild blue eyes looked
out of the holes from which the bear's eyes had been removed.
The skin was laced with thin leather thongs from the neck down,
but the long, shaggy fur made the lacing invisible.
Paul Jespersen practiced ursine behavior before the looking-glass
for about half an hour. Then, being uncomfortably warm, he
started down-stairs, and determined to walk to the Association
Hall. He chuckled to himself at the thought of the sensation he
would make, if he should happen to meet anybody on the road.
Having never attended a masquerade before, he did not know that
dressing-rooms were provided for the maskers, and, being averse
to needless expenditure, he would as soon have thought of flying
as of taking a carriage. There was, in fact, but one carriage on
runners in the town, and that was already engaged by half a dozen
The moon was shining faintly upon the snow, and there was a sharp
frost in the air when Paul Jespersen put his hairy head out of
the street-door and reconnoitred the territory.
There was not a soul to be seen, except an old beggar woman who
was hobbling along, supporting herself with two sticks. Paul
darted, as quickly as his unwieldly bulk would allow, into the
middle of the street. He enjoyed intensely the fun of walking
abroad in such a monstrous guise. He contemplated with boyish
satisfaction his shadow which stretched, long and black and
horrible, across the snow.
It was a bit slippery, and he had to manoeuvre carefully in order
to keep right side up. Presently he caught up with the beggar
"Good-evening!" he said.
The old woman turned about, stared at him horror-stricken; then,
as soon as she had collected her senses, took to her heels,
yelling at the top of her voice. A big mastiff, who had just
been let loose for the night, began to bark angrily in a back
yard, and a dozen comrades responded from other yards, and came
bounding into the street.
"Hello!" thought Paul Jespersen. "Now look out for trouble."
He felt anything but hilarious when he saw the pack of angry dogs
dancing and leaping about him, barking in a wildly discordant
"Why, Hector, you fool, don't you know me?" he said, coaxingly,
to the judge's mastiff. "And you, Sultan, old man! You ought to
be ashamed of yourself! Here, Caro, that's a good fellow! Come,
now, don't excite yourself!"
But Hector, Sultan, and Caro were all proof against such
blandishments, and as for Bismarck, the apothecary's collie, he
grew every moment more furious, and showed his teeth in a very
To defend one's self was not to be thought of, for what defence
is possible to a sham bear against a dozen genuine dogs? Paul
could use neither his teeth nor his claws to any purpose, while
the dogs could use theirs, as he presently discovered, with
He had just concluded to seek safety in flight, when suddenly he
felt a bite in his left calf, and saw the brute Bismarck tug away
at his leg as if it had been a mutton-chop. He had scarcely
recovered from this surprise when he heard a sharp report, and a
bullet whizzed away over his head, after having neatly put a hole
through the right ear. Paul concluded, with reason, that things
were getting serious.
If he could only get hold of that blockhead, the judge's groom,
who was violating the law about fire-arms, he would give him an
exhibition in athletics which he would not soon forget; but,
being for the moment deprived of this pleasure, he knew of
nothing better to do than to dodge through the nearest
street-door, and implore the protection of the very first
individual he might meet.
It so happened that Paul selected the house of two middle-aged
milliners for this experiment.
Jemina and Malla Hansen were just seated at the table drinking
tea with their one constant visitor, the post-office clerk,
Mathias, when, all of a sudden, they heard a tremendous racket in
the hall, and the furious barking of dogs.
With a scream of fright, the two old maids jumyed up, dropping
their precious tea-cups, and old Mathias, who had tipped his
chair a little backward, lost his balance, and pointed his heels
toward the ceiling. Before he had time to pick himself up the
door was burst open and a great hairy monster sprang into the
"Mercy upon us!" cried Jemina. "It is the devil!"
But now came the worst of it all. The bear put his paw on his
heart, and with the politest bow in the world, remarked:
"Pardon me, ladies, if I intrude."
He had meant to say more, but his audience had vanished; only the
flying tails of Mathias's coat were seen, as he slammed the door
on them, in his precipitate flight.
"Police! police!" someone shouted out of the window of the
Police! Now, with all due respect for the officers of the law,
Paul Jespersen had no desire to meet them at the present moment.
To be hauled up at the station-house and fined for street
disorder--nay, perhaps be locked up for the night, if, as was
more than likely, the captain of police was at the masquerade,
was not at all to Paul's taste. Anything rather than that! He
would be the laughing stock of the whole town if, after his
elaborate efforts, he were to pass the night in a cell, instead
of dancing with Miss Clara Broby.
Hearing the cry for police repeated, Paul looked about him for
some means of escape. It occurred to him that he had seen a
ladder in the hall leading up to the loft. There he could easily
hide himself until the crowd had dispersed.
Without further reflection, he rushed out through the door by
which he had entered, climbed the ladder, thrust open a
trap-door, and, to his astonishment, found himself under the
The roof sloped steeply, and he had to balance carefully in order
to avoid sliding down into the midst of the noisy mob of dogs and
street-boys who were laying siege to the door.
With the utmost caution he crawled along the roof-tree, trembling
lest he should be discovered by some lynx-eyed villain in the
throng of his pursuers. Happily, the broad brick chimney
afforded him some shelter, of which he was quick to take
advantage. Rolling himself up into the smallest possible
compass, he sat for a long time crouching behind the chimney;
while the police were rummaging under the beds and in the closets
of the house, in the hope of finding him.
He had, of course, carefully closed the trap-door by which he had
reached the comparative safety of his present position; and he
could not help chuckling to himself at the thought of having
outwitted the officers of the law.
The crowd outside, after having made night hideous by their
whoops and yells, began, at the end of an hour, to grow weary;
and the dogs being denied entrance to the house, concluded that
they had no further business there, and slunk off to their
The people, too, scattered, and only a few patient loiterers hung
about the street door, hoping for fresh developments. It seemed
useless to Paul to wait until these provoking fellows should take
themselves away. They were obviously prepared to make a night of
it, and time was no object to them.
It was then that Paul, in his despair, resolved upon a daring
stratagem. Mr. Broby's house was in the same block as that of
the Misses Hansen, only it was at the other end of the block. By
creeping along the roof-trees of the houses, which, happily,
differed but slightly in height, he could reach the Broby house,
where, no doubt, Miss Clara was now waiting for him, full of
He did not deliberate long before testing the practicability of
this plan. The tanner Thoresen's house was reached without
accident, although he barely escaped being detected by a small
boy who was amusing himself throwing snow-balls at the chimney.
It was a slow and wearisome mode of locomotion--pushing himself
forward on his belly; but, as long as the streets were deserted,
it was a pretty safe one.
He gave a start whenever he heard a dog bark; for the echoes of
the ear-splitting concert they had given him were yet ringing in
It was no joke being a bear, he thought, and if he had suspected
that it was such a serious business, he would not so rashly have
undertaken it. But now there was no way of getting out of it;
for he had nothing on but his underclothes under the bear-skin.
At last he reached the Broby house, and drew a sigh of relief at
the thought that he was now at the end of his journey.
He looked about him for a trap-door by which he could descend
into the interior, but could find none. There was an inch of
snow on the roof, glazed with frost: and if there was a
trap-door, it was securely hidden.
To jump or slide down was out of the question, for he would, in
that case, risk breaking his neck. If he cried for help, the
groom, who was always ready with his gun, might take a fancy to
shoot at him; and that would be still more unpleasant. It was a
most embarrassing situation.
Paul's eyes fell upon a chimney; and the thought flashed through
his head that there was the solution of the difficulty. He
observed that no smoke was coming out of it, so that he would run
no risk of being converted into smoked ham during the descent.
He looked down through the long, black tunnel. It was a great,
spacious, old-fashioned chimney, and abundantly wide enough for
A pleasant sound of laughter and merry voices came to him from
the kitchen below. It was evident the girls were having a
frolic. So, without further ado, Paul Jespersen stuffed his
great hairy bulk into the chimney and proceeded to let himself
There were notches and iron rings in the brick wall, evidently
put there for the convenience of the chimney-sweeps; and he found
his task easier than he had anticipated. The soot, to be sure,
blinded his eyes, but where there was nothing to be seen, that
was no serious disadvantage.
In fact, everything was going as smoothly as possible, when
suddenly he heard a girl's voice cry out:
"Gracious goodness! what is that in the chimney?"
"Probably the chimney-sweep," a man's voice answered.
"Chimney-sweep at this time of night!"
Paul, bracing himself against the walls, looked down and saw a
cluster of anxious faces all gazing up toward him. A candle
which one of the girls held in her hand showed him that the
distance down to the hearth was but short; so, to make an end of
their uncertainty, he dropped himself down--quietly, as he
thought, but by the force of his fall blowing the ashes about in
A chorus of terrified screams greeted him. One girl fainted, one
leaped up on a table, and the rest made for the door.
And there sat poor Paul, in the ashes on the hearth, utterly
bewildered by the consternation he had occasioned. He picked
himself up by and by, rubbed the soot out of his eyes with the
backs of his paws, and crawled out upon the floor.
He had just managed to raise himself upon his hind-legs, when an
awful apparition became visible in the door, holding a candle.
It was now Paul's turn to be frightened. The person who stood
before him bore a close resemblance to the devil.
"What is all this racket about?" he cried, in a tone of
Paul felt instantly relieved, for the voice was that of his
revered chief, Mr. Broby, who, he now recollected, was to figure
at the masquerade as Mephistopheles. Behind him peeped forth the
faces of his two daughters, one as Morning and the other as
"May I ask what is the cause of this unseemly noise?" repeated
Mr. Broby, advancing to the middle of the room. The light of his
candle now fell upon the huge bear whom, after a slight start, he
recognized as a masker.
"Excuse me, Mr. Broby," said Paul, "but Miss Clara did me the
"Oh yes, papa," Miss Clara interrupted him, stepping forth in all
her glory of tulle and flowers; "it is Paul Jespersen, who was
going to be my Beast."
"And it is you who have frightened my servants half out of their
wits, Jespersen?" said Mr. Broby, laughing.
"He tumbled down through the chimney, sir," declared the cook,
who had half-recovered from her fright.
"Well," said Mr. Broby, with another laugh, "I admit that was a
trifle unconventional. Next time you call, Jespersen, you must
come through the door."
He thought Jespersen had chosen to play a practical joke on the
servants, and, though he did not exactly like it, he was in no
mood for scolding. After having been carefully brushed and
rolled in the snow, Paul offered his escort to Miss Clara; and
she had not the heart to tell him that she was not at all Beauty,
but Spring. And Paul was not enough of an expert to know the
THE STORY OF A HORSE
The king was dead, and among the many things he left behind him
which his successor had no use for were a lot of fancy horses.
There were long-barrelled English hunters, all legs and neck;
there were Kentucky racers, graceful, swift, and strong; and two
Arabian steeds, which had been presented to his late majesty by
the Sultan of Turkey. To see the beautiful beasts prancing and
plunging, as they were being led through the streets by grooms in
the royal livery, was enough to make the blood dance in the veins
of any lover of horse-flesh. And to think that they were being
led ignominiously to the auction mart to be sold under the
hammer--knocked down to the highest bidder! It was a sin and a
shame surely! And they seemed to feel it themselves; and that
was the reason they acted so obstreperously, sometimes lifting
the grooms off their feet as they reared and snorted and struck
sparks with their steel-shod hoofs from the stone pavement.
Among the crowd of schoolboys who followed the equine procession,
shrieking and yelling with glee and exciting the horses by their
wanton screams, was a handsome lad of fourteen, named Erik
Carstens. He had fixed his eyes admiringly on a coal-black,
four-year-old mare, a mere colt, which brought up the rear of the
procession. How exquisitely she was fashioned! How she danced
over the ground with a light mazurka step, as if she were shod
with gutta-percha and not with iron! And then she had a head so
daintily shaped, small and spirited, that it was a joy to look at
her. Erik, who, in spite of his youth, was not a bad judge of a
horse, felt his heart beat like a trip-hammer, and a mighty
yearning took possession of him to become the owner of that mare.
Though he knew it was time for dinner he could not tear himself
away, but followed the procession up one street and down another,
until it stopped at the horse market. There a lot of jockeys and
coarse-looking dealers were on hand; and an opportunity was
afforded them to try the horses before the auction began. They
forced open the mouths of the beautiful animals, examined their
teeth, prodded them with whips to see if they were gentle, and
poked them with their fingers or canes. But when a loutish
fellow, in a brown corduroy suit, indulged in that kind of
behavior toward the black mare she gave a resentful whinny and
without further ado grabbed him with her teeth by the coat
collar, lifted him up and shook him as if he had been a bag of
straw. Then she dropped him in the mud, and raised her dainty
head with an air as if to say that she held him to be beneath
contempt. The fellow, however, was not inclined to put up with
that kind of treatment. With a volley of oaths he sprang up and
would have struck the mare in the mouth with his clinched fist,
if Erik had not darted forward and warded off the blow.
"How dare you strike that beautiful creature?" he cried,
"Hold your jaw, you gosling, or I'll hit you instead," retorted
But by that time one of the royal grooms had made his appearance
and the brute did not dare carry out his threat. While the groom
strove to quiet the mare, a great tumult arose in some other part
of the market-place. There was a whinnying, plunging, rearing,
and screaming, as if the whole field had gone mad. The black
mare joined in the concert, and stood with her ears pricked up
and her head raised in an attitude of panicky expectation. Quite
fearlessly Erik walked up to her, patted her on the neck and
spoke soothingly to her.
"Look out," yelled the groom, "or she'll trample you to jelly!"
But instead of that, the mare rubbed her soft nose against the
boy's cheek, with a low, friendly neighing, as if she wished to
thank him for his gallant conduct. And at that moment Erik's
heart went out to that dumb creature with an affection which he
had never felt toward any living thing before. He determined,
whatever might happen, to bid on her and to buy her, whatever she
might prove to be worth. He knew he had a few thousand dollars
in the bank--his inheritance from his mother, who had died when
he was a baby--and he might, perhaps, be able to persuade his
father to sanction the purchase. At any rate, he would have some
time to invent ways and means; for his father, Captain Carstens,
was now away on the great annual drill, and would not return for
As a mere matter of form, he resolved to try the mare before
bidding on her; and slipping a coin into the groom's hand he
asked for a saddle. It turned out, however, that all the saddles
were in use, and Erik had no choice but to mount bareback.
"Ride her on the snaffle. She won't stand the curb," shouted the
groom, as the mare, after plunging to the right and to the left,
darted through the gate to the track, and, after kicking up a
vast deal of tan-bark, sped like a bullet down the race-course.
"Good gracious, how recklessly that boy rides!" one jockey
observed to another; "but he has got a good grip with his knees
all the same."
"Yes, he sits like a daisy," the second replied, critically; "but
mind my word, Lady Clare will throw him yet. She never could
stand anybody but the princess on her back: and that was the
reason her Royal Highness was so fond of her. Mother of Moses,
won't there be a grand rumpus when she comes back again and finds
Lady Clare gone! I should not like to be in the shoes of the man
who has ordered Lady Clare under the hammer."
"But look at the lad! I told you Lady Clare wouldn't stand no
manner of nonsense from boys."
"She is kicking like a Trojan! She'll make hash of him if he
loses his seat."
"Yes, but he sticks like a burr. That's a jewel of a lad, I tell
ye. He ought to have been a jockey."
Up the track came Lady Clare, black as the ace of spades, acting
like the Old Harry. Something had displeased her, obviously, and
she held Erik responsible for it. Possibly she had just waked up
to the fact that she, who had been the pet of a princess, was now
being ridden by an ordinary commoner. At all events, she had
made up her mind to get rid of the commoner without further
ceremony. Putting her fine ears back and dilating her nostrils,
she suddenly gave a snort and a whisk with her tail, and up went
her heels toward the eternal stars--that is, if there had been
any stars visible just then. Everybody's heart stuck in his
throat; for fleet-footed racers were speeding round and round,
and the fellow who got thrown in the midst of all these trampling
hoofs would have small chance of looking upon the sun again.
People instinctively tossed their heads up to see how high he
would go before coming down again; but, for a wonder, they saw
nothing, except a cloud of dust mixed with tan-bark, and when
that had cleared away they discovered the black mare and her
rider, apparently on the best of terms, dashing up the track at a
Erik was dripping with perspiration when he dismounted, and Lady
Clare's glossy coat was flecked with foam. She was not aware,
apparently, that if she had any reputation to ruin she had
damaged it most effectually. Her behavior on the track and her
treatment of the horse-dealer were by this time common property,
and every dealer and fancier made a mental note that Lady Clare
was the number in the catalogue which he would not bid on. All
her beauty and her distinguished ancestry counted for nothing, as
long as she had so uncertain a temper. Her sire, Potiphar, it
appeared, had also been subject to the same infirmities of
temper, and there was a strain of savagery in her blood which
might crop out when you least expected it.
Accordingly, when a dozen fine horses had been knocked down at
good prices, and Lady Clare's turn came, no one came forward to
inspect her, and no one could be found to make a bid.
"Well, well, gentlemen," cried the auctioneer, "here we have a
beautiful thoroughbred mare, the favorite mount of Her Royal
Highness the Princess, and not a bid do I hear. She's a beauty,
gentlemen, sired by the famous Potiphar who won the Epsom
Handicap and no end of minor stakes. Take a look at her,
gentlemen! Did you ever see a horse before that was raven black
from nose to tail? I reckon you never did. But such a horse is
Lady Clare. The man who can find a single white hair on her can
have her for a gift. Come forward, gentlemen, come forward. Who
will start her--say at five hundred?"
A derisive laugh ran through the crowd, and a voice was heard to
"Fifty!" repeated the auctioneer, in a deeply grieved and
injured tone; "fifty did you say, sir? Fifty? Did I hear
rightly? I hope, for the sake of the honor of this fair city,
that my ears deceived me."
Here came a long and impressive pause, during which the
auctioneer, suddenly abandoning his dramatic manner, chatted
familiarly with a gentleman who stood near him. The only one in
the crowd whom he had impressed with the fact that the honor of
the city was at stake in this sale was Erik Carstens. He had
happily discovered a young and rich lieutenant of his father's
company, and was trying to persuade him to bid in the mare for
"But, my dear boy," Lieutenant Thicker exclaimed, "what do you
suppose the captain will say to me if I aid and abet his son in
defying the paternal authority?"
"Oh, you needn't bother about that," Erik rejoined eagerly. "If
father was at home, I believe he would allow me to buy this mare.
But I am a minor yet, and the auctioneer would not accept my bid.
Therefore I thought you might be kind enough to bid for me."
The lieutenant made no answer, but looked at the earnest face of
the boy with unmistakable sympathy. The auctioneer assumed again
an insulted, affronted, pathetically entreating or scornfully
repelling tone, according as it suited his purpose; and the price
of Lady Clare crawled slowly and reluctantly up from fifty to