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Tales From Two Hemispheres by Hjalmar Hjorth Boysen

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ON the second day of June, 186--, a
young Norseman, Halfdan Bjerk by
name, landed on the pier at Castle
Garden. He passed through the straight
and narrow gate where he was asked his name,
birthplace, and how much money he had,--at
which he grew very much frightened.

"And your destination?"--demanded the
gruff-looking functionary at the desk.

"America," said the youth, and touched his
hat politely.

"Do you think I have time for joking?"
roared the official, with an oath.

The Norseman ran his hand through his hair,
smiled his timidly conciliatory smile, and tried
his best to look brave; but his hand trembled
and his heart thumped away at an alarmingly
quickened tempo.

"Put him down for Nebraska!" cried a stout
red-cheeked individual (inwrapped in the mingled
fumes of tobacco and whisky) whose function
it was to open and shut the gate.

"There aint many as go to Nebraska."

"All right, Nebraska."

The gate swung open and the pressure from
behind urged the timid traveler on, while an
extra push from the gate-keeper sent him flying
in the direction of a board fence, where he sat
down and tried to realize that he was now in
the land of liberty.

Halfdan Bjerk was a tall, slender-limbed youth
of very delicate frame; he had a pair of
wonderfully candid, unreflecting blue eyes, a smooth,
clear, beardless face, and soft, wavy light hair,
which was pushed back from his forehead without
parting. His mouth and chin were well
cut, but their lines were, perhaps, rather weak
for a man. When in repose, the ensemble of
his features was exceedingly pleasing and somehow
reminded one of Correggio's St. John. He
had left his native land because he was an
ardent republican and was abstractly convinced
that man, generically and individually, lives
more happily in a republic than in a monarchy.
He had anticipated with keen pleasure the large,
freely breathing life he was to lead in a land
where every man was his neighbor's brother,
where no senseless traditions kept a jealous
watch over obsolete systems and shrines, and
no chilling prejudice blighted the spontaneous
blossoming of the soul.

Halfdan was an only child. His father, a
poor government official, had died during his
infancy, and his mother had given music lessons,
and kept boarders, in order to gain the means
to give her son what is called a learned education.
In the Latin school Halfdan had enjoyed
the reputation of being a bright youth, and at
the age of eighteen, he had entered the
university under the most promising auspices. He
could make very fair verses, and play all
imaginable instruments with equal ease, which
made him a favorite in society. Moreover, he
possessed that very old-fashioned accomplishment
of cutting silhouettes; and what was more,
he could draw the most charmingly fantastic
arabesques for embroidery patterns, and he even
dabbled in portrait and landscape painting.
Whatever he turned his hand to, he did well,
in fact, astonishingly well for a dilettante, and
yet not well enough to claim the title of an
artist. Nor did it ever occur to him to make
such a claim. As one of his fellow-students
remarked in a fit of jealousy, "Once when Nature
had made three geniuses, a poet, a musician,
and a painter, she took all the remaining odds
and ends and shook them together at random
and the result was Halfdan Bjerk." This agreeable
melange of accomplishments, however,
proved very attractive to the ladies, who invited
the possessor to innumerable afternoon
tea-parties, where they drew heavy drafts on
his unflagging patience, and kept him steadily
engaged with patterns and designs for embroidery,
leather flowers, and other dainty knickknacks.
And in return for all his exertions
they called him "sweet" and "beautiful," and
applied to him many other enthusiastic adjectives
seldom heard in connection with masculine
names. In the university, talents of this order
gained but slight recognition, and when Halfdan
had for three years been preparing himself
in vain for the examen philosophicum, he found
himself slowly and imperceptibly drifting into
the ranks of the so-called studiosi perpetui, who
preserve a solemn silence at the examination
tables, fraternize with every new generation of
freshmen, and at last become part of the fixed
furniture of their Alma Mater. In the larger
American colleges, such men are mercilessly
dropped or sent to a Divinity School; but the
European universities, whose tempers the centuries
have mellowed, harbor in their spacious
Gothic bosoms a tenderer heart for their
unfortunate sons. There the professors greet them
at the green tables with a good-humored smile
of recognition; they are treated with gentle
forbearance, and are allowed to linger on, until
they die or become tutors in the families of
remote clergymen, where they invariably fall
in love with the handsomest daughter, and thus
lounge into a modest prosperity.

If this had been the fate of our friend Bjerk,
we should have dismissed him here with a confident
"vale" on his life's pilgrimage. But,
unfortunately, Bjerk was inclined to hold the
government in some way responsible for his own
poor success as a student, and this, in connection
with an aesthetic enthusiasm for ancient Greece,
gradually convinced him that the republic was
the only form of government under which men
of his tastes and temperament were apt to flourish.
It was, like everything that pertained to
him, a cheerful, genial conviction, without the
slightest tinge of bitterness. The old institutions
were obsolete, rotten to the core, he said,
and needed a radical renovation. He could sit
for hours of an evening in the Students' Union,
and discourse over a glass of mild toddy, on the
benefits of universal suffrage and trial by jury,
while the picturesqueness of his language, his
genial sarcasms, or occasional witty allusions
would call forth uproarious applause from
throngs of admiring freshmen. These were the
sunny days in Halfdan's career, days long to be
remembered. They came to an abrupt end
when old Mrs. Bjerk died, leaving nothing
behind her but her furniture and some trifling
debts. The son, who was not an eminently
practical man, underwent long hours of misery
in trying to settle up her affairs, and finally in
a moment of extreme dejection sold his entire
inheritance in a lump to a pawnbroker (reserving
for himself a few rings and trinkets) for the
modest sum of 250 dollars specie. He then
took formal leave of the Students' Union in a
brilliant speech, in which he traced the parallelisms
between the lives of Pericles and Washington,--
in his opinion the two greatest men
the world had ever seen,--expounded his theory
of democratic government, and explained the
causes of the rapid rise of the American Republic.
The next morning he exchanged half of
his worldly possessions for a ticket to New
York, and within a few days set sail for the
land of promise, in the far West.


From Castle Garden, Halfdan made his way
up through Greenwich street, pursued by a
clamorous troop of confidence men and hotel

"Kommen Sie mit mir. Ich bin auch
Deutsch," cried one. "Voila, voila, je parle
Francais," shouted another, seizing hold of his
valise. "Jeg er Dansk. Tale Dansk,"[1] roared
a third, with an accent which seriously impeached
his truthfulness. In order to escape
from these importunate rascals, who were every
moment getting bolder, he threw himself into
the first street-car which happened to pass; he
sat down, gazed out of the windows and soon
became so thoroughly absorbed in the animated
scenes which moved as in a panorama before his
eyes, that he quite forgot where he was going.
The conductor called for fares, and received an
English shilling, which, after some ineffectual
expostulation, he pocketed, but gave no change.
At last after about an hour's journey, the car
stopped, the conductor called out "Central
Park," and Halfdan woke up with a start. He
dismounted with a timid, deliberate step, stared
in dim bewilderment at the long rows of palatial
residences, and a chill sense of loneliness
crept over him. The hopeless strangeness of
everything he saw, instead of filling him with
rapture as he had once anticipated, Sent a cold
shiver to his heart. It is a very large affair,
this world of ours--a good deal larger than it
appeared to him gazing out upon it from his
snug little corner up under the Pole; and it was
as unsympathetic as it was large; he suddenly
felt what he had never been aware of before--
that he was a very small part of it and of very
little account after all. He staggered over to a
bench at the entrance to the park, and sat long
watching the fine carriages as they dashed past
him; he saw the handsome women in brilliant
costumes laughing and chatting gayly; the
apathetic policemen promenading in stoic dignity
up and down upon the smooth pavements; the
jauntily attired nurses, whom in his Norse
innocence he took for mothers or aunts of the chil-
dren, wheeling baby-carriages which to Norse
eyes seemed miracles of dainty ingenuity, under
the shady crowns of the elm-trees. He did not
know how long he had been sitting there, when
a little bright-eyed girl with light kid gloves, a
small blue parasol and a blue polonaise, quite a
lady of fashion en miniature, stopped in front
of him and stared at him in shy wonder. He
had always been fond of children, and often rejoiced
in their affectionate ways and confidential
prattle, and now it suddenly touched him
with a warm sense of human fellowship to have
this little daintily befrilled and crisply starched
beauty single him out for notice among the
hundreds who reclined in the arbors, or sauntered
to and fro under the great trees.

[1] "I am a Dane. I speak Danish."

"What is your name, my little girl?" he
asked, in a tone of friendly interest.

"Clara," answered the child, hesitatingly;
then, having by another look assured herself of
his harmlessness, she added: "How very funny
you speak!"

"Yes," he said, stooping down to take he
tiny begloved hand. "I do not speak as well
as you do, yet; but I shall soon learn."

Clara looked puzzled.

"How old are you?" she asked, raising her
parasol, and throwing back her head with an
air of superiority.

"I am twenty-four years old."

She began to count half aloud on her fingers:
"One, two, three, four," but, before she reached
twenty, she lost her patience.

"Twenty-four," she exclaimed, "that is a
great deal. I am only seven, and papa gave me
a pony on my birthday. Have you got a pony?"

"No; I have nothing but what is in this valise,
and you know I could not very well get a pony into it."

Clara glanced curiously at the valise and
laughed; then suddenly she grew serious again,
put her hand into her pocket and seemed to be
searching eagerly for something. Presently
she hauled out a small porcelain doll's head,
then a red-painted block with letters on it,
and at last a penny.

"Do you want them?" she said, reaching him
her treasures in both hands. "You may have
them all."

Before he had time to answer, a shrill,
penetrating voice cried out:

"Why, gracious! child, what are you doing ? "

And the nurse, who had been deeply absorbed
in "The New York Ledger," came rushing up,
snatched the child away, and retreated as hastily
as she had come.

Halfdan rose and wandered for hours aimlessly
along the intertwining roads and footpaths.
He visited the menageries, admired the
statues, took a very light dinner, consisting of
coffee, sandwiches, and ice, at the Chinese
Pavilion, and, toward evening, discovered an inviting
leafy arbor, where he could withdraw into the
privacy of his own thoughts, and ponder upon
the still unsolved problem of his destiny. The
little incident with the child had taken the edge
off his unhappiness and turned him into a more
conciliatory mood toward himself and the great
pitiless world, which seemed to take so little
notice of him. And he, who had come here with
so warm a heart and so ardent a will to join in
the great work of human advancement--to find
himself thus harshly ignored and buffeted about,
as if he were a hostile intruder! Before him
lay the huge unknown city where human life
pulsated with large, full heart-throbs, where a
breathless, weird intensity, a cold, fierce
passion seemed to be hurrying everything onward
in a maddening whirl, where a gentle, warm-
blooded enthusiast like himself had no place and
could expect naught but a speedy destruction.
A strange, unconquerable dread took possession
of him, as if he had been caught in a swift,
strong whirlpool, from which he vainly struggled
to escape. He crouched down among the
foliage and shuddered. He could not return to
the city. No, no: he never would return. He
would remain here hidden and unseen until
morning, and then he would seek a vessel bound
for his dear native land, where the great
mountains loomed up in serene majesty toward the
blue sky, where the pine-forests whispered their
dreamily sympathetic legends, in the long summer
twilights, where human existence flowed
on in calm beauty with the modest aims, small
virtues, and small vices which were the
happiness of modest, idyllic souls. He even saw
himself in spirit recounting to his astonished
countrymen the wonderful things he had heard
and seen during his foreign pilgrimage, and
smiled to himself as he imagined their wonder
when he should tell them about the beautiful
little girl who had been the first and only one
to offer him a friendly greeting in the strange
land. During these reflections he fell asleep,
and slept soundly for two or three hours. Once,
he seemed to hear footsteps and whispers among
the trees, and made an effort to rouse himself,
but weariness again overmastered him and he
slept on. At last, he felt himself seized
violently by the shoulders, and a gruff voice
shouted in his ear:

"Get up, you sleepy dog."

He rubbed his eyes, and, by the dim light of
the moon, saw a Herculean policeman lifting a
stout stick over his head. His former terror
came upon him with increased violence, and his
heart stood for a moment still, then, again,
hammered away as if it would burst his sides.

"Come along!" roared the policeman, shaking
him vehemently by the collar of his coat.

In his bewilderment he quite forgot where he
was, and, in hurried Norse sentences, assured
his persecutor that he was a harmless, honest
traveler, and implored him to release him. But
the official Hercules was inexorable.

"My valise, my valise;" cried Halfdan.
"Pray let me get my valise."

They returned to the place where he had
slept, but the valise was nowhere to be found.
Then, with dumb despair he resigned himself to
his fate, and after a brief ride on a street-car,
found himself standing in a large, low-ceiled
room; he covered his face with his hands and
burst into tears.

"The grand-the happy republic," he
murmured, "spontaneous blossoming of the soul.
Alas! I have rooted up my life; I fear it will
never blossom."

All the high-flown adjectives he had employed
in his parting speech in the Students' Union,
when he paid his enthusiastic tribute to the
Grand Republic, now kept recurring to him, and
in this moment the paradox seemed cruel. The
Grand Republic, what did it care for such as
he? A pair of brawny arms fit to wield the
pick-axe and to steer the plow it received with
an eager welcome; for a child-like, loving heart
and a generously fantastic brain, it had but the
stern greeting of the law.


The next morning, Halfdan was released
from the Police Station, having first been fined
five dollars for vagrancy. All his money, with
the exception of a few pounds which he had
exchanged in Liverpool, he had lost with his
valise, and he had to his knowledge not a single
acquaintance in the city or on the whole
continent. In order to increase his capital he
bought some fifty "Tribunes," but, as it was
already late in the day, he hardly succeeded in
selling a single copy. The next morning, he
once more stationed himself on the corner of
Murray street and Broadway, hoping in his
innocence to dispose of the papers he had still
on hand from the previous day, and actually
did find a few customers among the people who
were jumping in and out of the omnibuses that
passed up and down the great thoroughfare.
To his surprise, however, one of these gentlemen
returned to him with a very wrathful
countenance, shook his fist at him, and vociferated
with excited gestures something which to
Halfdan's ears had a very unintelligible sound.
He made a vain effort to defend himself; the
situation appeared so utterly incomprehensible
to him, and in his dumb helplessness he looked
pitiful enough to move the heart of a stone.
No English phrase suggested itself to him, only
a few Norse interjections rose to his lips. The
man's anger suddenly abated; he picked up the
paper which he had thrown on the sidewalk,
and stood for a while regarding Halfdan curiously.

"Are you a Norwegian?" he asked.

"Yes, I came from Norway yesterday."

"What's your name?"

"Halfdan Bjerk."

"Halfdan Bjerk! My stars! Who would
have thought of meeting you here! You do not
recognize me, I suppose."

Halfdan declared with a timid tremor in his
voice that he could not at the moment recall
his features.

"No, I imagine I must have changed a good
deal since you saw me," said the man, suddenly
dropping into Norwegian. "I am Gustav Olson,
I used to live in the same house with you once,
but that is long ago now."

Gustav Olson--to be sure, he was the porter's
son in the house, where his mother had once
during his childhood, taken a flat. He well
remembered having clandestinely traded jack-
knives and buttons with him, in spite of the
frequent warnings he had received to have nothing
to do with him; for Gustav, with his broad
freckled face and red hair, was looked upon by
the genteel inhabitants of the upper flats as
rather a disreputable character. He had once
whipped the son of a colonel who had been
impudent to him, and thrown a snow-ball at the
head of a new-fledged lieutenant, which offenses
he had duly expiated at a house of correction.
Since that time he had vanished from Halfdan's
horizon. He had still the same broad freckled
face, now covered with a lusty growth of coarse
red beard, the same rebellious head of hair,
which refused to yield to the subduing influences
of the comb, the same plebeian hands and feet,
and uncouth clumsiness of form. But his linen
was irreproachable, and a certain dash in his
manner, and the loud fashionableness of his
attire, gave unmistakable evidences of prosperity.

"Come, Bjerk," said he in a tone of good-
fellowship, which was not without its sting to the
idealistic republican, "you must take up a better
business than selling yesterday's `Tribune.'
That won't pay here, you know. Come along
to our office and I will see if something can't be
done for you."

"But I should be sorry to give you trouble,"
stammered Halfdan, whose native pride, even
in his present wretchedness, protested against
accepting a favor from one whom he had been
wont to regard as his inferior.

"Nonsense, my boy. Hurry up, I haven't
much time to spare. The office is only two
blocks from here. You don't look as if you
could afford to throw away a friendly offer."

The last words suddenly roused Halfdan from
his apathy; for he felt that they were true. A
drowning man cannot afford to make nice
distinctions--cannot afford to ask whether the
helping hand that is extended to him be that of
an equal or an inferior. So he swallowed his
humiliation and threaded his way through the
bewildering turmoil of Broadway, by the side
of his officious friend.

They entered a large, elegantly furnished
office, where clerks with sleek and severely
apathetic countenances stood scribbling at their desks.

"You will have to amuse yourself as best you
can," said Olson. "Mr. Van Kirk will be here
in twenty minutes. I haven't time to entertain you."

A dreary half hour passed. Then the door
opened and a tall, handsome man, with a full
grayish beard, and a commanding presence,
entered and took his seat at a desk in a smaller
adjoining office. He opened, with great dispatch,
a pile of letters which lay on the desk
before him, called out in a sharp, ringing tone
for a clerk, who promptly appeared, handed
him half-a-dozen letters, accompanying each
with a brief direction, took some clean paper
from a drawer and fell to writing. There was
something brisk, determined, and business-like
in his manner, which made it seem very hopeless
to Halfdan to appear before him as a petitioner.
Presently Olson entered the private office, closing
the door behind him, and a few minutes
later re-appeared and summoned Halfdan into
the chief's presence.

"You are a Norwegian, I hear," said the
merchant, looking around over his shoulder at
the supplicant, with a preoccupied air. "You
want work. What can you do?"

What can you do? A fatal question. But
here was clearly no opportunity for mental
debate. So, summoning all his courage, but
feeling nevertheless very faint, he answered:

"I have passed both examen artium and
philosophicum,[2] and got my laud clear in the former,
but in the latter haud on the first point."

[2] Examen artium is the entrance examination to the Norwegian
University, and philosophicum the first degree. The ranks given at
these are Laudabilis prae ceteris (in student's parlance, prae),
laudabilis or laud, haud illaudabilis, or haud, etc.

Mr. Van Kirk wheeled round on his chair and
faced the speaker:

"That is all Greek to me," he said, in a severe
tone. "Can you keep accounts?"

"No. I am afraid not."

Keeping accounts was not deemed a classical
accomplishment in Norway. It was only "trade-
rats" who troubled themselves about such gross
things, and if our Norseman had not been too
absorbed with the problem of his destiny, he
would have been justly indignant at having
such a question put to him.

"Then you don't know book-keeping?"

"I think not. I never tried it."

"Then you may be sure you don't know it.
But you must certainly have tried your hand at
something. Is there nothing you can think of
which might help you to get a living?"

"I can play the piano--and--and the violin."

"Very well, then. You may come this afternoon
to my house. Mr. Olson will tell you the
address. I will give you a note to Mrs. Van
Kirk. Perhaps she will engage you as a music
teacher for the children. Good morning."


At half-past four o'clock in the afternoon,
Halfdan found himself standing in a large, dimly
lighted drawing-room, whose brilliant
upholstery, luxurious carpets, and fantastically
twisted furniture dazzled and bewildered his
senses. All was so strange, so strange; nowhere
a familiar object to give rest to the
wearied eye. Wherever he looked he saw his
shabbily attired figure repeated in the long
crystal mirrors, and he became uncomfortably
conscious of his threadbare coat, his uncouth
boots, and the general incongruity of his
appearance. With every moment his uneasiness
grew; and he was vaguely considering the
propriety of a precipitate flight, when the rustle of
a dress at the farther end of the room startled
him, and a small, plump lady, of a daintily
exquisite form, swept up toward him, gave a
slight inclination of her head, and sank down
into an easy-chair:

"You are Mr. ----, the Norwegian, who
wishes to give music lessons?" she said, holding
a pair of gold-framed eyeglasses up to her eyes,
and running over the note which she held in her
hand. It read as follows:

DEAR MARTHA,--The bearer of this note is a young
Norwegian, I forgot to ascertain his name, a friend of
Olson's. He wishes to teach music. If you can help the
poor devil and give him something to do, you will oblige,
Yours, H. V. K.

Mrs. Van Kirk was evidently, by at least
twelve years, her husband's junior, and apparently
not very far advanced in the forties. Her
blonde hair, which was freshly crimped, fell
lightly over her smooth, narrow forehead; her
nose, mouth and chin had a neat distinctness of
outline; her complexion was either naturally or
artificially perfect, and her eyes, which were of
the purest blue, had, owing to their near-sightedness,
a certain pinched and scrutinizing look.
This look, which was without the slightest touch
of severity, indicating merely a lively degree of
interest, was further emphasized by three small
perpendicular wrinkles, which deepened and
again relaxed according to the varying intensity
of observation she bestowed upon the object
which for the time engaged her attention.

"Your name, if you please?" said Mrs. Van
Kirk, having for awhile measured her visitor
with a glance of mild scrutiny.

"Halfdan Bjerk."

"Half-dan B----, how do you spell that?"


"B-jerk. Well, but I mean, what is your
name in English?"

Halfdan looked blank, and blushed to his

"I wish to know," continued the lady
energetically, evidently anxious to help him out,
"what your name would mean in plain English.
Bjerk, it certainly must mean something."

"Bjerk is a tree--a birch-tree."

"Very well, Birch,--that is a very respectable
name. And your first name? What did
you say that was?


"Half Dan. Why not a whole Dan and be
done with it? Dan Birch, or rather Daniel
Birch. Indeed, that sounds quite Christian."

"As you please, madam," faltered the victim,;
looking very unhappy.

"You will pardon my straightforwardness,
won't you? B-jerk. I could never pronounce
that, you know."

"Whatever may be agreeable to you, madam,
will be sure to please me."

"That is very well said. And you will find
that it always pays to try to please me. And
you wish to teach music? If you have no
objection I will call my oldest daughter. She is
an excellent judge of music, and if your playing
meets with her approval, I will engage you,
as my husband suggests, not to teach Edith,
you understand, but my youngest child, Clara."

Halfdan bowed assent, and Mrs. Van Kirk
rustled out into the hall where she rang a bell,
and re-entered. A servant in dress-coat
appeared, and again vanished as noiselessly as he
had come. To our Norseman there was some
thing weird and uncanny about these silent
entrances and exits; he could hardly suppress a
shudder. He had been accustomed to hear the
clatter of people's heels upon the bare floors, as
they approached, and the audible crescendo of
their footsteps gave one warning, and prevented
one from being taken by surprise. While
absorbed in these reflections, his senses must
have been dormant; for just then Miss Edith
Van Kirk entered, unheralded by anything but
a hovering perfume, the effect of which was to
lull him still deeper into his wondering abstraction.

"Mr. Birch," said Mrs. Van Kirk, "this is
my daughter Miss Edith," and as Halfdan
sprang to his feet and bowed with visible
embarrassment, she continued:

"Edith, this is Mr. Daniel Birch, whom your
father has sent here to know if he would be
serviceable as a music teacher for Clara. And
now, dear, you will have to decide about the
merits of Mr. Birch. I don't know enough
about music to be anything of a judge."

"If Mr. Birch will be kind enough to play,"
said Miss Edith with a languidly musical
intonation," I shall be happy to listen to him."

Halfdan silently signified his willingness and
followed the ladies to a smaller apartment which
was separated from the drawing-room by folding
doors. The apparition of the beautiful
young girl who was walking at his side had
suddenly filled him with a strange burning and
shuddering happiness; he could not tear his
eyes away from her; she held him as by a powerful
spell. And still, all the while he had a
painful sub-consciousness of his own unfortunate
appearance, which was thrown into cruel relief
by her splendor. The tall, lithe magnificence of
her form, the airy elegance of her toilet, which
seemed the perfection of self-concealing art, the
elastic deliberateness of her step--all wrought
like a gentle, deliciously soothing opiate upon
the Norseman's fancy and lifted him into hitherto
unknown regions of mingled misery and
bliss. She seemed a combination of the most
divine contradictions, one moment supremely
conscious, and in the next adorably child-like
and simple, now full of arts and coquettish
innuendoes, then again nave, unthinking and
almost boyishly blunt and direct; in a word,
one of those miraculous New York girls whom
abstractly one may disapprove of, but in the
concrete must abjectly adore. This easy
predominance of the masculine heart over the mas-
culine reason in the presence of an impressive
woman, has been the motif of a thousand tragedies
in times past, and will inspire a thousand
more in times to come.

Halfdan sat down at the grand piano and
played Chopin's Nocturne in G major, flinging
out that elaborate filigree of sound with an
impetuosity and superb ABANDON which caused the
ladies to exchange astonished glances behind his
back. The transitions from the light and ethereal
texture of melody to the simple, more concrete
theme, which he rendered with delicate
shadings of articulation, were sufficiently
startling to impress even a less cultivated ear than
that of Edith Van Kirk, who had, indeed,
exhausted whatever musical resources New York
has to offer. And she was most profoundly
impressed. As he glided over the last pianissimo
notes toward the two concluding chords (an ending
so characteristic of Chopin) she rose and hurried
to his side with a heedless eagerness, which was
more eloquent than emphatic words of praise.

"Won't you please repeat this passage?" she
said, humming the air with soft modulations;
"I have always regarded the monotonous repetition
of this strain" (and she indicated it lightly
by a few touches of the keys) "as rather a
blemish of an otherwise perfect composition.
But as you play it, it is anything but monotonous.
You put into this single phrase a more intense
meaning and a greater variety of thought than
I ever suspected it was capable of expressing."

"It is my favorite composition," answered he,
modestly. "I have bestowed more thought
upon it than upon anything I have ever played,
unless perhaps it be the one in G minor, which,
with all its difference of mood and phraseology,
expresses an essentially kindred thought."

"My dear Mr. Birch," exclaimed Mrs. Van
Kirk, whom his skillful employment of technical
terms (in spite of his indifferent accent) had
impressed even more than his rendering of the
music,--"you are a comsummate{sic} artist, and
we shall deem it a great privilege if you will
undertake to instruct our child. I have listened
to you with profound satisfaction."

Halfdan acknowledged the compliment by a
bow and a blush, and repeated the latter part of
the nocturne according to Edith's request.

"And now," resumed Edith, "may I trouble
you to play the G minor, which has even puzzled
me more than the one you have just played."

"It ought really to have been played first,"
replied Halfdan. "It is far intenser in its coloring
and has a more passionate ring, but its conclusion
does not seem to be final. There is no
rest in it, and it seems oddly enough to be a
mere transition into the major, which is its
proper supplement and completes the fragmentary

Mother and daughter once more telegraphed
wondering looks at each other, while Halfdan
plunged into the impetuous movements of the
minor nocturne, which he played to the end with
ever-increasing fervor and animation.

"Mr. Birch," said Edith, as he arose from the
piano with a flushed face, and the agitation of
the music still tingling through his nerves.
"You are a far greater musician than you seem
to be aware of. I have not been taking lessons
for some time, but you have aroused all my musical
ambition, and if you will accept me too, as
a pupil, I shall deem it a favor."

"I hardly know if I can teach you anything,"
answered he, while his eyes dwelt with keen
delight on her beautiful form. "But in my present
position I can hardly afford to decline so
flattering an offer."

"You mean to say that you would decline it if you
were in a position to do so," said she, smiling.

"No, only that I should question my convenience
more closely."

"Ah, never mind. I take all the responsibility.
I shall cheerfully consent to being imposed upon by you."

Mrs. Van Kirk in the mean while had been
examining the contents of a fragrant Russia-leather
pocket-book, and she now drew out two crisp
ten-dollar notes, and held them out toward him.

"I prefer to make sure of you by paying you
in advance," said she, with a cheerfully familiar
nod, and a critical glance at his attire, the meaning
of which he did not fail to detect. "Somebody
else might make the same discovery that
we have made to-day, and outbid us. And we
do not want to be cheated out of our good fortune
in having been the first to secure so valuable a prize."

"You need have no fear on that score,
madam," retorted Halfdan, with a vivid blush,
and purposely misinterpreting the polite subterfuge.
"You may rely upon my promise. I shall be here again,
as soon as you wish me to return."

"Then, if you please, we shall look for you
to-morrow morning at ten o'clock."

And Mrs. Van Kirk hesitatingly folded up
her notes and replaced them in her pocket-book.

To our idealist there was something extremely
odious in this sudden offer of money. It was
the first time any one had offered to pay him,
and it seemed to put him on a level with a common
day-laborer. His first impulse was to resent
it as a gratuitous humiliation, but a glance
at Mrs. Van Kirk's countenance, which was all
aglow with officious benevolence, re-assured him,
and his indignation died away.

That same afternoon Olson, having been
informed of his friend's good fortune, volunteered
a loan of a hundred dollars, and accompanied
him to a fashionable tailor, where he underwent
a pleasing metamorphosis.


In Norway the ladies dress with the innocent
purpose of protecting themselves against the
weather; if this purpose is still remotely present
in the toilets of American women of to-day,
it is, at all events, sufficiently disguised to
challenge detection, very much like a primitive
Sanscrit root in its French and English derivatives.
This was the reflection which was uppermost in
Halfdan's mind as Edith, ravishing to behold
in the airy grace of her fragrant morning toilet,
at the appointed time took her seat at his side
before the piano. Her presence seemed so
intense, so all-absorbing, that it left no thought
for the music. A woman, with all the spiritual
mysteries which that name implies, had always
appeared to him rather a composite phenomenon,
even apart from those varied accessories of
dress, in which as by an inevitable analogy, she
sees fit to express the inner multiformity of her
being. Nevertheless, this former conception
of his, when compared to that wonderful
complexity of ethereal lines, colors, tints and half-
tints which go to make up the modern New
York girl, seemed inexpressibly simple, almost
what plain arithmetic must appear to a man who
has mastered calculus.

Edith had opened one of those small red-
covered volumes of Chopin where the rich,
wondrous melodies lie peacefully folded up like
strange exotic flowers in an herbarium. She began
to play the fantasia impromtu, which ought
to be dashed off at a single "heat," whose
passionate impulse hurries it on breathlessly toward
its abrupt finale. But Edith toiled considerably
with her fingering, and blurred the keen
edges of each swift phrase by her indistinct ar-
ticulation. And still there was a sufficiently
ardent intention in her play to save it from being
a failure. She made a gesture of disgust
when she had finished, shut the book, and let
her hands drop crosswise in her lap.

"I only wanted to give you a proof of my incapacity,"
she said, turning her large luminous gaze
upon her instructor, "in order to make
you duly appreciate what you have undertaken.
Now, tell me truly and honestly,
are you not discouraged?"

"Not by any means," replied he, while the
rapture of her presence rippled through his
nerves, "you have fire enough in you to make
an admirable musician. But your fingers, as
yet, refuse to carry out your fine intentions.
They only need discipline."

"And do you suppose you can discipline
them? They are a fearfully obstinate set, and
cause me infinite mortification."

"Would you allow me to look at your hand?"

She raised her right hand, and with a sort of
impulsive heedlessness let it drop into his. An
exclamation of surprise escaped him.

`{`}If you will pardon me," he said, "it is a
superb hand--a hand capable of performing mira-
cles--musical miracles I mean. Only look here"
--(and he drew the fore and second fingers apart)
--"so firmly set in the joint and still so flexible.
I doubt if Liszt himself can boast a finer row
of fingers. Your hands will surely not prevent
you from becoming a second Von Bulow, which to
my mind means a good deal more than a second Liszt."

"Thank you, that is quite enough," she
exclaimed, with an incredulous laugh; "you have
done bravely. That at all events throws the
whole burden of responsibility upon myself, if
I do not become a second somebody. I shall be
perfectly satisfied, however, if you can only
make me as good a musician as you are yourself,
so that I can render a not too difficult piece
without feeling all the while that I am committing
sacrilege in mutilating the fine thoughts
of some great composer."

"You are too modest; you do not--"

"No, no, I am not modest," she interrupted
him with an impetuosity which startled him.
"I beg of you not to persist in paying me
compliments. I get too much of that cheap article
elsewhere. I hate to be told that I am better
than I know I am. If you are to do me any
good by your instruction, you must be perfectly
sincere toward me, and tell me plainly of my
short-comings. I promise you beforehand that
I shall never be offended. There is my hand.
Now, is it a bargain?"

His fingers closed involuntarily over the soft
beautiful hand, and once more the luxury of her
touch sent a thrill of delight through him.

"I have not been insincere," he murmured,
"but I shall be on my guard in future, even
against the appearance of insincerity."

"And when I play detestably, you will say so,
and not smooth it over with unmeaning flatteries?"

"I will try."

"Very well, then we shall get on well
together. Do not imagine that this is a mere
feminine whim of mine. I never was more in
earnest. Men, and I believe foreigners, to a
greater degree than Americans, have the idea
that women must be treated with gentle forbearance;
that their follies, if they are foolish,
must be glossed over with some polite name.
They exert themselves to the utmost to make
us mere playthings, and, as such, contemptible
both in our own eyes and in theirs. No sincere
respect can exist where the truth has to be
avoided. But the majority of American women
are made of too stern a stuff to be dealt with in
that way. They feel the lurking insincerity
even where politeness forbids them to show it,
and it makes them disgusted both with themselves,
and with the flatterer. And now you
must pardon me for having spoken so plainly
to you on so short an acquaintance; but you
are a foreigner, and it may be an act of friendship
to initiate you as soon as possible into our
ways and customs."

He hardly knew what to answer. Her
vehemence was so sudden, and the sentiments she
had uttered so different from those which he
had habitually ascribed to women, that he could
only sit and gaze at her in mute astonishment.
He could not but admit that in the main she
had judged him rightly, and that his own attitude
and that of other men toward her sex,
were based upon an implied assumption of superiority.

"I am afraid I have shocked you," she
resumed, noticing the startled expression of his
countenance. "But really it was quite inevitable,
if we were at all to understand each other.
You will forgive me, won't you?"

"Forgive!" stammered he, "I have nothing
to forgive. It was only your merciless truth-
fulness which startled me. I rather owe you
thanks, if you will allow me to be grateful to
you. It seems an enviable privilege."

"Now," interrupted Edith, raising her
forefinger in playful threat, "remember your

The lesson was now continued without further
interruption. When it was finished, a little girl,
with her hair done up in curl-papers, and a very
stiffly starched dress, which stood out on all sides
almost horizontally, entered, accompanied by
Mrs. Van Kirk. Halfdan immediately recognized
his acquaintance from the park, and it appeared
to him a good omen that this child, whose friendly
interest in him had warmed his heart in a moment
when his fortunes seemed so desperate,
should continue to be associated with his life
on this new continent. Clara was evidently
greatly impressed by the change in his appearance,
and could with difficulty be restrained
from commenting upon it.

She proved a very apt scholar in music, and
enjoyed the lessons the more for her cordial
liking of her teacher.

It will be necessary henceforth to omit the
less significant details in the career of our friend
"Mr. Birch." Before a month was past, he had
firmly established himself in the favor of the
different members of the Van Kirk family.
Mrs. Van Kirk spoke of him to her lady visitors
as "a perfect jewel," frequently leaving them
in doubt as to whether he was a cook or a
coachman. Edith apostrophized him to her
fashionable friends as "a real genius," leaving
a dim impression upon their minds of flowing
locks, a shiny velvet jacket, slouched hat,
defiant neck-tie and a general air of disreputable
pretentiousness. Geniuses of the foreign type
were never, in the estimation of fashionable
New York society, what you would call "exactly
nice," and against prejudices of this order
no amount of argument will ever prevail. Clara,
who had by this time discovered that her teacher
possessed an inexhaustible fund of fairy stories,
assured her playmates across the street that he
was "just splendid," and frequently invited
them over to listen to his wonderful tales. Mr.
Van Kirk himself, of course, was non-committal,
but paid the bills unmurmuringly.

Halfdan in the meanwhile was vainly struggling
against his growing passion for Edith;
but the more he rebelled the more hopelessly
he found himself entangled in its inextricable
net. The fly, as long as it keeps quiet in the
spider's web, may for a moment forget its
situation; but the least effort to escape is apt to
frustrate itself and again reveal the imminent
peril. Thus he too "kicked against the pricks,"
hoped, feared, rebelled against his destiny, and
again, from sheer weariness, relapsed into a
dull, benumbed apathy. In spite of her friendly
sympathy, he never felt so keenly his alienism
as in her presence. She accepted the spontaneous
homage he paid her, sometimes with impatience,
as something that was really beneath
her notice; at other times she frankly
recognized it, bantered him with his "Old World
chivalry," which would soon evaporate in the
practical American atmosphere, and called him
her Viking, her knight and her faithful squire.
But it never occurred to her to regard his
devotion in a serious light, and to look upon him
as a possible lover had evidently never entered
her head. As their intercourse grew more
intimate, he had volunteered to read his favorite
poets with her, and had gradually succeeded in
imparting to her something of his own passionate
liking for Heine and Bjrnson. She had in
return called his attention to the works of
American authors who had hitherto been little
more than names to him, and they had thus
managed to be of mutual benefit to each other,
and to spend many a pleasant hour during the
long winter afternoons in each other's company.
But Edith had a very keen sense of humor, and
could hardly restrain her secret amusement when
she heard him reading Longfellow's "Psalm of
Life" and Poe's "Raven" (which had been
familiar to her from her babyhood), often with
false accent, but always with intense enthusiasm.
The reflection that he had had no part of his
life in common with her,--that he did not love
the things which she loved,--could not share
her prejudices (and women have a feeling akin
to contempt for a man who does not respond to
their prejudices)--removed him at times almost
beyond the reach of her sympathy. It was
interesting enough as long as the experience
was novel, to be thus unconsciously exploring
another person's mind and finding so many
strange objects there; but after a while the
thing began to assume an uncomfortably serious
aspect, and then there seemed to be something
almost terrible about it. At such times a call
from a gentleman of her own nation, even
though he were one of the placidly stupid type,
would be a positive relief; she could abandon
herself to the secure sense of being at home;
she need fear no surprises, and in the smooth
shallows of their talk there were no unsuspected
depths to excite and to baffle her ingenuity.
And, again, reverting in her thought to Halfdan,
his conversational brilliancy would almost
repel her, as something odious and un-American,
the cheap result of outlandish birth and
unrepublican education. Not that she had ever
valued republicanism very highly; she was one
of those who associated politics with noisy
vulgarity in speech and dress, and therefore
thanked fortune that women were permitted to
keep aloof from it. But in the presence of this
alien she found herself growing patriotic; that
much-discussed abstraction, which we call our
country (and which is nothing but the aggregate
of all the slow and invisible influences
which go toward making up our own being),
became by degrees a very palpable and
intelligible fact to her.

Frequently while her American self was thus
loudly asserting itself, Edith inflicted many a
cruel wound upon her foreign adorer. Once,--
it was the Fourth of July, more than a year after
Halfdan's arrival, a number of young ladies and
gentlemen, after having listened to a patriotic
oration, were invited in to an informal luncheon.
While waiting, they naturally enough spent their
time in singing national songs, and Halfdan's
clear tenor did good service in keeping the
straggling voices together. When they had
finished, Edith went up to him and was quite
effusive in her expressions of gratitude.

"I am sure we ought all to be very grateful
to you, Mr. Birch," she said, "and I, for my
part, can assure you that I am."

"Grateful? Why?" demanded Halfdan,
looking quite unhappy.

"For singing OUR national songs, of course.
Now, won't you sing one of your own, please?
We should all be so delighted to hear how a
Swedish--or Norwegian, is it?--national song

"Yes, Mr. Birch, DO sing a Swedish song,"
echoed several voices.

They, of course, did not even remotely suspect
their own cruelty. He had, in his enthusiasm
for the day allowed himself to forget that
he was not made of the same clay as they were,
that he was an exile and a stranger, and must
ever remain so, that he had no right to share
their joy in the blessing of liberty. Edith had
taken pains to dispel the happy illusion, and had
sent him once more whirling toward his cold
native Pole. His passion came near choking
him, and, to conceal his impetuous emotion, he
flung himself down on the piano-stool, and struck
some introductory chords with perhaps a little
superfluous emphasis. Suddenly his voice burst
out into the Swedish national anthem, "Our
Land, our Land, our Fatherland," and the air
shook and palpitated with strong martial melody.
His indignation, his love and his misery,
imparted strength to his voice, and its occasional
tremble in the PIANO passages was something
more than an artistic intention. He was loudly
applauded as he arose, and the young ladies
thronged about him to ask if he "wouldn't
please write out the music for them."

Thus month after month passed by, and every
day brought its own misery. Mrs. Van Kirk's
patronizing manners, and ostentatious kindness,
often tested his patience to the utmost. If he
was guilty of an innocent witticism or a little
quaintness of expression, she always assumed it
to be a mistake of terms and corrected him
with an air of benign superiority. At times, of
course, her corrections were legitimate, as for
instance, when he spoke of WEARING a cane,
instead of CARRYING one, but in nine cases out of
ten the fault lay in her own lack of imagination
and not in his ignorance of English. On such
occasions Edith often took pity on him,
defended him against her mother's criticism, and
insisted that if this or that expression was not
in common vogue, that was no reason why it
should not be used, as it was perfectly
grammatical, and, moreover, in keeping with the
spirit of the language. And he, listening
passively in admiring silence to her argument,
thanked her even for the momentary pain
because it was followed by so great a happiness.
For it was so sweet to be defended by Edith, to
feel that he and she were standing together side
by side against the outer world. Could he only
show her in the old heroic manner how much he
loved her! Would only some one that was
dear to her die, so that he, in that breaking
down of social barriers which follows a great
calamity, might comfort her in her sorrow.
Would she then, perhaps, weeping, lean her
wonderful head upon his breast, feeling but that
he was a fellow-mortal, who had a heart that
was loyal and true, and forgetting, for one brief
instant, that he was a foreigner. Then, to
touch that delicate Elizabethan frill which
wound itself so daintily about Edith's neck--
what inconceivable rapture! But it was quite
impossible. It could never be. These were
selfish thoughts, no doubt, but they were a lover's
selfishness, and, as such, bore a close kinship to
all that is purest and best in human nature.

It is one of the tragic facts of this life, that a
relation so unequal as that which existed between
Halfdan and Edith, is at all possible. As
for Edith, I must admit that she was well aware
that her teacher was in love with her. Women
have wonderfully keen senses for phenomena of
that kind, and it is an illusion if any one
imagines, as our Norseman did, that he has locked
his secret securely in the hidden chamber of his
heart. In fleeting intonations, unconscious
glances and attitudes, and through a hundred
other channels it will make its way out, and the
bereaved jailer may still clasp his key in fierce
triumph, never knowing that he has been
robbed. It was of course no fault of Edith's
that she had become possessed of Halfdan's
heart-secret. She regarded it as on the whole
rather an absurd affair, and prized it very
lightly. That a love so strong and yet so humble,
so destitute of hope and still so unchanging,
reverent and faithful, had something grand and
touching in it, had never occurred to her. It is
a truism to say that in our social code the value
of a man's character is determined by his position;
and fine traits in a foreigner (unless he
should happen to be something very great)
strike us rather as part of a supposed mental
alienism, and as such, naturally suspicious. It
is rather disgraceful than otherwise to have your
music teacher in love with you, and critical
friends will never quite banish the suspicion
that you have encouraged him.

Edith had, in her first delight at the discovery
of Halfdan's talent, frankly admitted him
to a relation of apparent equality. He was a
man of culture, had the manners and bearing of
a gentleman, and had none of those theatrical
airs which so often raise a sort of invisible wall
between foreigners and Americans. Her mother,
who loved to play the patron, especially to young
men, had invited him to dinner-parties and introduced
him to their friends, until almost every one
looked upon him as a protege of the family. He
appeared so well in a parlor, and had really such
a distinguished presence, that it was a pleasure
to look at him. He was remarkably free from
those obnoxious traits which generalizing American
travelers have led us to believe were inseparable
from foreign birth; his finger-nails were
in no way conspicuous; he did not, as a French
count, a former adorer of Edith's, had done,
indulge an unmasculine taste for diamond rings
(possibly because he had none); his politeness
was unobtrusive and subdued, and of his accent
there was just enough left to give an agreeable
color of individuality to his speech. But, for
all that, Edith could never quite rid herself of
the impression that he was intensely un-American.
There was a certain idyllic quiescence
about him, a child-like directness and simplicity,
and a total absence of "push," which were
startlingly at variance with the spirit of American
life. An American could never have been
content to remain in an inferior position without
trying, in some way, to better his fortunes.
But Halfdan could stand still and see, without
the faintest stirring of envy, his plebeian friend
Olson, whose education and talents could bear
no comparison with his own, rise rapidly above
him, and apparently have no desire to emulate
him. He could sit on a cricket in a corner,
with Clara on his lap, and two or three little
girls nestling about him, and tell them fairy
stories by the hour, while his kindly face
beamed with innocent happiness. And if Clara,
to coax him into continuing the entertainment,
offered to kiss him, his measure of joy was full.
This fair child, with her affectionate ways, and
her confiding prattle, wound herself ever more
closely about his homeless heart, and he clung
to her with a touching devotion. For she was
the only one who seemed to be unconscious of
the difference of blood, who had not yet learned
that she was an American and he--a foreigner.


Three years had passed by and still the situation
was unchanged. Halfdan still taught music
and told fairy stories to the children. He had
a good many more pupils now than three years
ago, although he had made no effort to solicit
patronage, and had never tried to advertise his
talent by what he regarded as vulgar and
inartistic display. But Mrs. Van Kirk, who had by
this time discovered his disinclination to assert
himself, had been only the more active; had
"talked him up" among her aristocratic friends;
had given musical soirees, at which she had
coaxed him to play the principal role, and had
in various other ways exerted herself in his
behalf. It was getting to be quite fashionable to
admire his quiet, unostentatious style of playing,
which was so far removed from the noisy
bravado and clap-trap then commonly in vogue.
Even professional musicians began to indorse
him, and some, who had discovered that "there
was money in him," made him tempting offers
for a public engagement. But, with characteristic
modesty, he distrusted their verdict; his
sensitive nature shrank from anything which had
the appearance of self-assertion or display.

But Edith--ah, if it had not been for Edith
he might have found courage to enter at the
door of fortune, which was now opened ajar.
That fame, if he should gain it, would bring
him any nearer to her, was a thought that was
alien to so unworldly a temperament as his.
And any action that had no bearing upon his
relation to her, left him cold--seemed unworthy
of the effort. If she had asked him to play in
public; if she had required of him to go to the
North Pole, or to cut his own throat, I verily
believe he would have done it. And at last
Edith did ask him to play. She and Olson had
plotted together, and from the very friendliest
motives agreed to play into each other's hands.

"If you only WOULD consent to play," said she,
in her own persuasive way, one day as they had
finished their lesson, "we should all be so happy.
Only think how proud we should be of your
success, for you know there is nothing you
can't do in the way of music if you really want

"Do you really think so?" exclaimed he,
while his eyes suddenly grew large and luminous.

"Indeed I do," said Edith, emphatically.

"And if--if I played well," faltered he,
"would it really please you?"

"Of course it would," cried Edith, laughing;
"how can you ask such a foolish question?"

"Because I hardly dared to believe it."

"Now listen to me," continued the girl,
leaning forward in her chair, and beaming all over
with kindly officiousness; "now for once you
must be rational and do just what I tell you. I
shall never like you again if you oppose me in
this, for I have set my heart upon it; you must
promise beforehand that you will be good and
not make any objection. Do you hear?"

When Edith assumed this tone toward him,
she might well have made him promise to perform
miracles. She was too intent upon her
benevolent scheme to heed the possible
inferences which he might draw from her sudden
display of interest.

"Then you promise?" repeated she, eagerly,
as he hesitated to answer.

"Yes, I promise."

"Now, you must not be surprised; but mamma
and I have made arrangements with Mr.
S---- that you are to appear under his auspices
at a concert which is to be given a week from
to-night. All our friends are going, and we
shall take up all the front seats, and I have
already told my gentlemen friends to scatter
through the audience, and if they care anything
for my favor, they will have to applaud vigorously."

Halfdan reddened up to his temples, and
began to twist his watch-chain nervously.

"You must have small confidence in my
ability," he murmured, "since you resort to
precautions like these."

"But my dear Mr. Birch," cried Edith, who
was quick to discover that she had made a
mistake, "it is not kind in you to mistrust me in
that way. If a New York audience were as
highly cultivated in music as you are, I admit
that my precautions would be superfluous. But
the papers, you know, will take their tone from
the audience, and therefore we must make use
of a little innocent artifice to make sure of it.
Everything depends upon the success of your
first public appearance, and if your friends can
in this way help you to establish the reputation
which is nothing but your right, I am sure you
ought not to bind their hands by your foolish
sensitiveness. You don't know the American
way of doing things as well as I do, therefore
you must stand by your promise, and leave
everything to me."

It was impossible not to believe that anything
Edith chose to do was above reproach. She
looked so bewitching in her excited eagerness
for his welfare that it would have been inhuman
to oppose her. So he meekly succumbed, and
began to discuss with her the programme for
the concert.

During the next week there was hardly a day
that he did not read some startling paragraph
in the newspapers about "the celebrated Scandinavian
pianist," whose appearance at S----
Hall was looked forward to as the principal
event of the coming season. He inwardly
rebelled against the well-meant exaggerations;
but as he suspected that it was Edith's influence
which was in this way asserting itself in his behalf,
he set his conscience at rest and remained silent.

The evening of the concert came at last, and,
as the papers stated the next morning, "the
large hall was crowded to its utmost capacity
with a select and highly appreciative audience."
Edith must have played her part of the performance
skillfully, for as he walked out upon
the stage, he was welcomed with an enthusiastic
burst of applause, as if he had been a world-
renowned artist. At Edith's suggestion, her
two favorite nocturnes had been placed first
upon the programme; then followed one of
those ballads of Chopin, whose rhythmic din and
rush sweep onward, beleaguering the ear like
eager, melodious hosts, charging in thickening
ranks and columns, beating impetuous retreats,
and again uniting with one grand emotion the
wide-spreading army of sound for the final
victory. Besides these, there was one of Liszt's
"Rhapsodies Hongroises," an impromptu by
Schubert, and several orchestral pieces; but the
greater part of the programme was devoted
to Chopin, because Halfdan, with his great,
hopeless passion laboring in his breast, felt that
he could interpret Chopin better than he could
any other composer. He carried his audience
by storm. As he retired to the dressing-room,
after having finished the last piece, his friends,
among whom Edith and Mrs. Van Kirk were
the most conspicuous, thronged about him,
showering their praises and congratulations
upon him. They insisted with much friendly
urging upon taking him home in their carriage;
Clara kissed him, Mrs. Van Kirk introduced
him to her lady acquaintances as "our friend,
Mr. Birch," and Edith held his hand so long in
hers that he came near losing his presence of
mind and telling her then and there that he
loved her. As his eyes rested on her, they
became suddenly suffused with tears, and a vast
bewildering happiness vibrated through his
frame. At last he tore himself away and wandered
aimlessly through the long, lonely streets.
Why could he not tell Edith that he loved her?
Was there any disgrace in loving? This heavenly
passion which so suddenly had transfused
his being, and year by year deadened the
substance of his old self, creating in its stead
something new and wild and strange which he
never could know, but still held infinitely dear
--had it been sent to him merely as a scourge to
test his capacity for suffering?

Once, while he was a child, his mother had
told him that somewhere in this wide world
there lived a maiden whom God had created
for him, and for him alone, and when he should
see her, he should love her, and his life should
thenceforth be all for her. It had hardly
occurred to him, then, to question whether she
would love him in return, it had appeared so
very natural that she should. Now he had
found this maiden, and she had been very kind
to him; but her kindness had been little better
than cruelty, because he had demanded something
more than kindness. And still he had
never told her of his love. He must tell her even
this very night while the moon rode high in the
heavens and all the small differences between
human beings seemed lost in the vast starlit
stillness. He knew well that by the relentless
glare of the daylight his own insignificance
would be cruelly conspicuous in the presence of
her splendor; his scruples would revive, and his
courage fade.

The night was clear and still. A clock struck
eleven in some church tower near by. The Van
Kirk mansion rose tall and stately in the moonlight,
flinging a dense mass of shadow across
the street. Up in the third story he saw two
windows lighted; the curtains were drawn, but
the blinds were not closed. All the rest of the
house was dark. He raised his voice and sang
a Swedish serenade which seemed in perfect
concord with his own mood. His clear tenor
rose through the silence of the night, and a
feeble echo flung it back from the mansion

[3] "Star, sweet star, that brightly beamest,
Glittering on the skies nocturnal,
Hide thine eye no more from me,
Hide thine eye no more from me!"

[3] Free translation of a Swedish serenade, the name of whose author I
have forgotten. H. H. B.

The curtain was drawn aside, the window
cautiously raised, and the outline of Edith's
beautiful head appeared dark and distinct
against the light within. She instantly recognized him.

"You must go away, Mr. Birch," came her
voice in an anxious whisper out of the shadow.
"Pray go away. You will wake up the people."

Her words were audible enough, but they
failed to convey any meaning to his excited
mind. Once more his voice floated upward to
her opened window:

"And I yearn to reach thy dwelling,
Yearn to rise from earth's fierce turmoil;
Sweetest star upward to thee,
Yearn to rise, bright star to thee."

"Dear Mr. Birch," she whispered once more
in tones of distress. "Pray DO go away. Or
perhaps," she interrupted herself "--wait one
moment and I will come down."

Presently the front door was noiselessly
opened, and Edith's tall, lithe form, dressed in a
white flowing dress, and with her blonde hair
rolling loosely over her shoulders, appeared for
an instant, and then again vanished. With one
leap Halfdan sprang up the stairs and pushed
through the half-opened door. Edith closed
the door behind him, then with rapid steps led
the way to the back parlor where the moon broke
feebly through the bars of the closed shutters.

"Now Mr. Birch," she said, seating herself
upon a lounge, "you may explain to me what
this unaccountable behavior of yours means.
I should hardly think I had deserved to be
treated in this way by you."

Halfdan was utterly bewildered; a nervous
fit of trembling ran through him, and he
endeavored in vain to speak. He had been
prepared for passionate reproaches, but this calm
severity chilled him through, and he could only
gasp and tremble, but could utter no word in
his defense.

"I suppose you are aware," continued Edith,
in the same imperturbable manner, "that if I
had not interrupted you, the policeman would
have h*eard you, and you would have been
arrested for street disturbance. Then to-morrow
we should have seen it in all the newspapers,
and I should have been the laughing-stock of
the whole town."

No, surely he had never thought of it in
that light; the idea struck him as entirely new.
There was a long pause. A cock crowed with
a drowsy remoteness in some neighboring yard,
and the little clock on the mantel-piece ticked
on patiently in the moonlit dusk.

"If you have nothing to say," resumed Edith,
while the stern indifference in her voice
perceptibly relaxed, "then I will bid you good-

She arose, and with a grand sweep of her
drapery, moved toward the door.

"Miss Edith," cried he, stretching his hands
despairingly after her, "you must not leave me."

She paused, tossed her hair back with her
hands, and gazed at him over her shoulder. He
threw himself on his knees, seized the hem of
her dress, and pressed it to his lips. It was a
gesture of such inexpressible humility that even
a stone would have relented.

"Do not be foolish, Mr. Birch," she said, try-
ing to pull her dress away from him. "Get up,
and if you have anything rational to say to me,
I will stay and listen."

"Yes, yes," he whispered, hoarsely, "I shall
be rational. Only do not leave me."

She again sank down wearily upon the
lounge, and looked at him in expectant silence.

"Miss Edith," pleaded he in the same hoarse,
passionate undertone, "have pity on me, and
do not despise me. I love you--oh--if you
would but allow me to die for you, I should be
the happiest of men."

Again he shuddered, and stood long gazing
at her with a mute, pitiful appeal. A tear stole
into Edith's eye and trickled down over her

"Ah, Mr. Birch," she murmured, while a
sigh shook her bosom, "I am sorry--very sorry
that this misfortune has happened to you. You
have deserved a better fate than to love me--to
love a woman who can never give you anything
in return for what you give her."

"Never?" he repeated mournfully, "never?"

"No, never! You have been a good friend
to me, and as such I value you highly, and I had
hoped that you would always remain so. But
I see that it cannot be. It will perhaps be best
for you henceforth not to see me, at least not
until--pardon the expression--you have out-
lived this generous folly. And now, you know,
you will need me no more. You have made a
splendid reputation, and if you choose to avail
yourself of it, your fortune is already made. I
shall always rejoice to hear of your success, and
--and if you should ever need a FRIEND, you
must come to no one but me. I know that these
are feeble words, Mr. Birch, and if they seem
cold to you, you must pardon me. I can say
nothing more."

They were indeed feeble words, although
most cordially spoken. He tried to weigh them,
to measure their meaning, but his mind was as
if benumbed, and utterly incapable of thought.
He walked across the floor, perhaps only to do
something, not feeling where he trod, but still
with an absurd sensation that he was taking
immoderately long steps. Then he stopped
abruptly, wrung his hands, and gazed at Edith.
And suddenly, like a flash in a vacuum, the
thought shot through his brain that he had seen
this very scene somewhere--in a dream, in a
remote childhood, in a previous existence, he did
not know when or where. It seemed strangely
familiar, and in the next instant strangely mean-
ingless and unreal. The walls, the floor--
everything began to move, to whirl about him; he
struck his hands against his forehead, and sank
down into a damask-covered easy-chair. With
a faint cry of alarm, Edith sprang up, seized a
bottle of cologne which happened to be within
reach, and knelt down at his side. She put her
arm around his neck, and raised his head.

"Mr. Birch, dear Mr. Birch," she cried, in a
frightened whisper, "for God's sake come to
yourself! O God, what have I done?"

She blew the eau-de-cologne into his face,
and, as he languidly opened his eyes, he felt the
touch of her warm hand upon his cheeks and his

"Thank heaven! he is better," she murmured,
still continuing to bathe his temples. "How do
you feel now, Mr. Birch?" she added, in a tone
of anxious inquiry.

"Thank you, it was an unpardonable weakness,"
he muttered, without changing his attitude.
"Do not trouble yourself about me. I
shall soon be well."

It was so sweet to be conscious of her gentle
ministry, that it required a great effort, an effort
of conscience, to rouse him once more, as his
strength returned.

"Had you not better stay?" she asked, as he
rose to put on his overcoat. "I will call one of
the servants and have him show you a room.
We will say to-morrow morning that you were
taken ill, and nobody will wonder."

"No, no," he responded, energetically. "I
am perfectly strong now." But he still had to
lean on a chair, and his face was deathly pale.

"Farewell, Miss Edith," he said; and a tender
sadness trembled in his voice. "Farewell. We
shall--probably--never meet again."

"Do not speak so," she answered, seizing his
hand. "You will try to forget this, and you
will still be great and happy. And when fortune
shall again smile upon you, and--and--
you will be content to be my friend, then we
shall see each other as before."

"No, no," he broke forth, with a sudden
hoarseness. "It will never be."

He walked toward the door with the motions
of one who feels death in his limbs; then
stopped once more and his eyes lingered with
inexpressible sadness on the wonderful, beloved
form which stood dimly outlined before him in
the twilight. Then Edith's measure of misery,
too, seemed full. With the divine heedlessness
which belongs to her sex, she rushed up toward
him, and remembering only that he was weak
and unhappy, and that he suffered for her sake,
she took his face between her hands and kissed
him. He was too generous a man to misinterpret
the act; so he whispered but once more:
"Farewell," and hastened away.


After that eventful December night, America
was no more what it had been to Halfdan
Bjerk. A strange torpidity had come over him;
every rising day gazed into his eyes with a fierce
unmeaning glare. The noise of the street
annoyed him and made him childishly fretful, and
the solitude of his own room seemed still more
dreary and depressing. He went mechanically
through the daily routine of his duties as if the
soul had been taken out of his work, and left
his life all barrenness and desolation. He
moved restlessly from place to place, roamed at
all times of the day and night through the city
and its suburbs, trying vainly to exhaust his
physical strength; gradually, as his lethargy
deepened into a numb, helpless despair, it seemed
somehow to impart a certain toughness to his
otherwise delicate frame. Olson, who was now
a junior partner in the firm of Remsen, Van
Kirk and Co., stood by him faithfully in these
days of sorrow. He was never effusive in his
sympathy, but was patiently forbearing with
his friend's whims and moods, and humored him
as if he had been a sick child intrusted to his
custody. That Edith might be the moving
cause of Olson's kindness was a thought which,
strangely enough, had never occurred to Halfdan.

At last, when spring came, the vacancy of his
mind was suddenly invaded with a strong desire
to revisit his native land. He disclosed his plan
to Olson, who, after due deliberation and
several visits to the Van Kirk mansion, decided
that the pleasure of seeing his old friends and
the scenes of his childhood might push the
painful memories out of sight, and renew his
interest in life. So, one morning, while the
May sun shone with a soft radiance upon the
beautiful harbor, our Norseman found himself
standing on the deck of a huge black-hulled
Cunarder, shivering in spite of the warmth, and
feeling a chill loneliness creeping over him at
the sight of the kissing and affectionate leave-
takings which were going on all around him.
Olson was running back and forth, attending to
his baggage; but he himself took no thought,
and felt no more responsibility than if he had
been a helpless child. He half regretted that
his own wish had prevailed, and was inclined to
hold his friend responsible for it; and still he
had not energy enough to protest now when the
journey seemed inevitable. His heart still clung
to the place which held the corpse of his ruined
life, as a man may cling to the spot which hides
his beloved dead.

About two weeks later Halfdan landed in
Norway. He was half reluctant to leave the
steamer, and the land of his birth excited no
emotion in his breast. He was but conscious of
a dim regret that he was so far away from
Edith. At last, however, he betook himself to
a hotel, where he spent the afternoon sitting
with half-closed eyes at a window, watching
listlessly the drowsy slow-pulsed life which
dribbled languidly through the narrow
thoroughfare. The noisy uproar of Broadway
chimed remotely in his ears, like the distant
roar of a tempest-tossed sea, and what had once
been a perpetual annoyance was now a sweet
memory. How often with Edith at his side had
he threaded his way through the surging crowds
that pour, on a fine afternoon, in an unceasing
current up and down the street between Union
and Madison Squares. How friendly, and sweet,
and gracious, Edith had been at such times;
how fresh her voice, how witty and animated
her chance remarks when they stopped to greet
a passing acquaintance; and, above all, how
inspiring the sight of her heavenly beauty.
Now that was all past. Perhaps he should
never see Edith again.

The next day he sauntered through the city,
meeting some old friends, who all seemed
changed and singularly uninteresting. They
were all engaged or married, and could talk of
nothing but matrimony, and their prospects of
advancement in the Government service. One
had an influential uncle who had been a chum
of the present minister of finance; another based
his hopes of future prosperity upon the family
connections of his betrothed, and a third was
waiting with a patient perseverance, worthy of
a better cause, for the death or resignation of
an antiquated chef-de-bureau, which, according
to the promise of some mighty man, would open
a position for him in the Department of Justice.
All had the most absurd theories about American
democracy, and indulged freely in prophecies
of coming disasters; but about their own
government they had no opinion whatever. If
Halfdan attempted to set them right, they at
once grew excited and declamatory; their

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