Part 2 out of 5
going down, was of iron too, and nearly twice as long as Keith's hand.
The lock was in keeping with the key, enormous in size and so stiff that
Lena had to use both hands to turn the key.
Having laid a firm hold of Lena's skirt, Keith followed her several
steps down until they reached a place in the opposite wall where a
single very tall step led up to another iron door, square-cut and
narrow, back of which lay the cellar used by the Wellanders. Lena
lighted a candle that burned with difficulty in the clammy air.
Inside nothing could be seen at first but a number of boxes and barrels
full of supplies, and back of them walls built out of enormous stone
blocks and dripping with moisture. As his eyes became accustomed to the
dim light, however, Keith perceived that the end toward the lane was
closed by a wall which even his inexperienced glance recognized as brick
and comparatively new. Squeezing between two large barrels of potatoes
he saw two stone steps at the foot of that wall and managed actually to
put his foot on one of them.
"I wish I knew what's back of that wall," he remarked at last.
"Oh, nothing," said Lena indifferently.
"There might be skeletons," he ventured after a pause.
"Jesus Christ, child," Lena almost screamed, looking as if she had
caught sight of a ghost. "Where in the world does he get such notions
from? Come out of here now. I think the master will have to go down for
potatoes himself hereafter."
"There was a skeleton in the story you told me the other night," Keith
protested with dignity, but not unaffected by the girl's
"This is no place for stories of that kind," she declared pulling him
away from the barrels and almost forgetting to close the cellar door
That evening Keith kept thinking of the story and the steps in the
cellar. He was sorry not to be able to walk up those stairs. And there
must be some old things left lying about on them. Then he imagined
himself a conspirator, hearing the police beating at the doors and
making his way through the stairway and the tunnel to some quiet,
unobserved doorway in another lane, much narrower and darker than their
own. It was exciting, the passage through the tunnel, which he could see
with his mind's eye--but the part of conspirator did not appeal to him.
He had seen policemen on the street several times. They were very tall
and carried sabres. Some time when he was conspiring they might be too
quick for him and get him before he could reach the secret stairway. It
would be much better, he decided finally, to be able to look them in the
face and say truthfully:
"I have done nothing at all!"
The regular meals of the day were four, not counting "afternoon coffee"
which was regarded as a special treat and always subject to
negotiations, though forthcoming as unfailingly as dinner or supper. It
was the natural and nominal counterpart of the "morning coffee," which
served to initiate the day's feeding. This first meal was consumed
separately, as each person was ready for work, and on the whole its name
was appropriate, although plenty of bread went with the coffee. Keith's
turn came generally a little after seven, when he sat down to a large
cup or bowl of half coffee and half milk into which had been broken a
good sized piece of hard Swedish rye-bread. A little sugar was allowed,
but no butter. This regimen began when Keith was less than three years
old, and he enjoyed it immensely, provided the bread had steeped long
enough to become soft, When, at last, he turned to rolls and butter
dipped into the coffee, it did not mean that his taste had changed, but
merely that his increasing sense of manhood found the earlier dish
Breakfast was due about ll:30 and consisted generally of sundry
left-overs from the preceding day, bread and butter forming one of the
principal ingredients. Then came the main meal of the day, dinner,
between 3:30 and 4 in the afternoon. As a rule it had only two courses:
some meat dish or fish with potatoes, and a soup served last. Now and
then there was a vegetable. Desserts were reserved for special
occasions. To Keith each such meal was inseparably connected with the
parental admonition: "Eat plenty of bread with your meat, child." The
bread was of the hard kind already referred to--thin round cakes that
one broke to pieces and that gave the teeth plenty of work. Various
superstitions were invoked to promote the consumption of it. Thus the
failure to finish a piece already broken off was alleged to result in
the transfer of all one's strength to the actual consumer of the piece
left behind. Keith was a docile child in spite of his impulsiveness and
he did he was told and believed what he heard, but he often wondered why
the rules so strictly enforced himself did not apply to his parents.
"Afternoon coffee," generally accompanied by some form of sweet bread or
cake, "happened" about 5:30, and at 8 supper was served. The final meal
was commonly made up of sandwiches with porridge and milk, or perhaps,
when fate was remarkably propitious, thin pancakes with cranberry jam.
There might be an extra snack of food at a still later hour in case of
unexpected callers, but such visits were not frequent and Keith would be
asleep by that time anyhow.
It was different when parties were given to formally invited company.
Then Keith had to stay up--or pretend to do so--as long as the guests
remained, and he must have a share of whatever the house had to offer.
To such occasions he looked forward with feverish joy, not so much on
account of the good things dispensed as for the sake of feeling the
ordinary strict rules relaxed. Apart from Christmas, the principal
celebrations took place on his parents' birthdays and "namedays." Every
day in the Swedish calendar carries a name, and all those bearing it
have a right to expect felicitations and presents from their relations
and more intimate friends. In return they are expected to celebrate the
occasion with a party that gives an excuse for showing what the house
can do in the way of hospitality. The same thing applies to the birthday
anniversaries, only in a higher degree. Not to celebrate one's birthday
can only be a sign of poverty, miserliness or misanthropy, and to
overlook the birthday anniversary of a close relative is to risk an
immediate breach of connections.
Nothing was more familiar to Keith than his mother's open worries about
money and his father's occasional stern reference to the need of saving.
To the boy those complaints and warnings meant merely that the parents
were in a depressed and unfaourable mood, tending to draw the usual
constraint a little tighter about him. He was intensely sensitive to
atmosphere, and too often that of his home had the same effect on his
young soul as the low-hanging, leaden skies of a Swedish December day
before the first snow has fallen. It made him long for sunlight, and the
parties brought it to some extent. Then care and caution were forgotten,
although his father might grumble before and after. Then the daily
routine was broken, and Granny became cynically but actively interested,
bent above all on seeing that "the house would not be shamed."
When the great day came, the home, always scrupulously neat, shone with
cleanliness. Every one worked up to the last minute. Cupboards and
pantries were full of unfamiliar and enticing supplies. The dining
table, opened to its utmost length, groaned under the burden of
innumerable cold dishes of tempting appearance, while from the kitchen
came the odours of more substantial courses still in the making. A one
end of Granny's bureau stood a battery of multicoloured bottles. The
other end was jammed with desserts and goodies meant to be served while
the guests were waiting for supper or during the card game that
generally followed it. Better than anything else, however, was the
father's loud laugh and eager talk, so rarely heard in the course of
their regular daily existence. Even then he might be displeased by some
slight slip of the boy's, and a sharp rebuke might follow, but it seemed
forgotten as soon as uttered, and of other consequences there were none
to be feared. Therefore, Keith wished that there might be a party every
day, and while there was one going on he sometimes caught himself
wondering whether, after all, he did not like his father as much as his
mother, or more.
From his own experiences with food as well as from his parents' attitude
toward it, both on special and on ordinary occasions, Keith distilled a
sort of philosophy that it took him several decades to outlive. To him
eating became a good thing in itself, rather than a means to an end. His
parents were neither gluttons nor gourmets, but they liked good food,
and, what was of still greater importance, good eating represented the
principal source of enjoyment open to them. The same seemed true of
their friends, and when company arrived no topic was more in favour than
a comparison of past culinary enjoyments. Keith's father, for instance,
never grew tired of telling about the time when he was still the chief
clerk in a fashionable grocery and the owner gave him permission to
dispose freely of a keg of Holland oysters that threatened to "go bad"
before they could be sold. Four or five friends were drummed together.
The feast took place at night in the store itself. Bread, butter, salt,
pepper, liquor, beer and cards were the only things added to
"And when morning came, and I had to open the store, there was nothing
left but a keg full of empty shells," the father used to shout, laughing
at the same time so that it was hard to catch what he said. Then he
would smack his lips and add with earnest conviction: "I have never
tasted anything better unless it be the Russian caviar we used to import
for the Court."
Always it was a matter of quantity as well as quality. A feast was not a
feast without more than plenty. Eating was always in order. An offer of
a dish was as good as a command to partake. A refusal bordered on the
offensive. Pressing a reluctant guest was the highest form of
hospitality. Dietary precautions were apparently unheard of except in
the case of certain chronic ailments, and then they were accepted as one
of life's worst evils. To eat well was to be well, and the natural
conclusion was that the best cure in case of trouble was to eat. Lack of
appetite was a misfortune as well as a dangerous symptom, and to eat
when not hungry was not only a necessity but a virtue.
Yet Keith longed for other things and he learned early that even eating
has its drawbacks.
Except on Sundays, the father rarely ate with the rest of the family. He
left in the morning before Keith was up and never came home for
breakfast. His dinner often had to wait until five or six or even later,
so he seldom cared to eat again when the others had their supper.
One afternoon, however, he appeared just as Keith and his mother were to
sit for dinner. It put her in a flutter and she couldn't get an
additional cover laid quick enough.
"I heard that mother was coming," he remarked as he seated himself at
Instantly Keith's mother shot an apprehensive glance at the boy and
"Please try to be a real nice boy now, so that your grandmother does not
get a bad impression of you." Then she added, turning to her husband:
"She never says anything, but she always looks as if I spoiled Keith
"Well," the father rejoined thoughtfully, "she brought up four children
of her own without anybody else to help her, and there was not one among
us who dared to disregard her slightest word."
"How about Henrik," the mother suggested a little tartly.
"Yes, the one spared is the one spoiled," admitted the father with a
sigh. "He was the youngest, and while he was licked like all of us, her
hand never seemed quite as firm with him as with the rest. The worst
thing parents can do to children is to let them have their own will."
Keith was listening with one ear only. His thoughts were on Uncle
Henrik, who would put in an unheralded appearance now and then, always
when the father was away and always to the consternation of the whole
household. Although hustled out of the kitchen as soon as the unbidden
visitor arrived, Keith had had a good look at him several times and had
also overheard the parents discussing him. He was still comparatively
young. Yet he looked like animated waste matter. His face seemed to hang
on him. His mouth was loose and void of expression. His eyes were
bleared and ever on the move. He spoke mostly in a toneless drawl, that
sometimes turned into a shrill whine, but also at rare intervals could
change into a soft, heart-winning purr. His clothing was poorer and
coarser than that of any other person seen by Keith. Once or twice it
seemed to the boy like a repulsive uniform, and he heard his parents
speak with mingled disgust and relief of some house or institution that
was never fully named.
"No one has a better heart than Henrik," Keith heard his father say
once, "but he has no more spine than a cucumber, and he can't keep away
Then the food was brought in, and Uncle Henrik was forgotten. As usual,
there was a meat course to begin with, and Keith ate what for him was a
big portion. Nor did he get into any trouble beyond having an extra
large piece of hard bread put beside his plate by the father and finding
the disposal of it rather difficult.
The meat was followed by a large bowl of soup, and the very sight of it
made Keith look unhappy--a fact that did not escape his father.
Keith cared little for soups, while both parents liked them, and he had
a particular dislike of soups made on a meat stock, like the one just
brought in. For some reason that Keith might have thought funny under
other circumstances, it was called Carpenter Soup, and it contained a
lot of rather coarse vegetables. Among these were green celery and
parsnips, both of which filled the boy with an almost morbid disgust.
While the mother was serving and Keith was waiting in dumb agony, it
flashed through his mind that Uncle Granstedt might be eating that kind
of soup. If so, the boy thought, he would rather let himself be killed
than made a carpenter.
As the turn came to his own plate, Keith tried to catch his mother's eye
with a signalled appeal to put in as little as possible, but she was
talking to her husband and not noticing the boy at all. And so, at last,
he found himself confronted with a plate filled to the brim.
The first few spoonfuls went down without much resistance, chiefly
because he confined himself to the fluid part of the soup. Then it
seemed of a sudden as if one more mouthful would choke him, and his
eating became a mere dallying with his spoon.
"Go on and finish your soup," the father urged sternly.
"I have eaten all I can."
"That does not matter," rejoined his father. "One must always finish
what is on one's plate."
"But I don't like it," Keith blurted out in a moment of
desperation--which was unfortunate.
"Children have no likings of their own," said the father, putting down
his spoon. "They must like what their parents give them. And you will
finish that soup--if I have to feed you myself to make you do it."
Two more spoonfuls went down by an heroic effort. Then Keith burst into
tears, and his father's face grew still darker as he asked scornfully:
"Are you a boy or a girl?"
Keith did not care at that moment. In fact, he thought that if girls had
a right to cry, he would rather be one.
His mother was trying to coax him with kind words, and he actually
raised the filled spoon to his lips once more, but the sensation within
him was such that he let it drop again with a splash. That was the
crowning offence, and the feeding process began at once. His father took
him by the neck with one hand and administered the spoon with the other.
It was done firmly and perhaps harshly, but in such a manner that the
boy was not hurt.
Keith cried and coughed and swallowed--and in the midst of that ordeal
he noticed the wonderful softness of his father's hands. But his heart
was full of bitter resentment, and he wished that he could grow up
on the spot.
What the end might have been is hard to tell, had not a slight
commotion been heard from the kitchen at that juncture.
"There is mother now," said the father, letting go his hold on Keith's
neck. "Wipe your eyes and try to act like a boy. Some day we'll put you
Keith did not care. He knew now that he would not have to eat the rest
of the soup. That was the one thing in the world that seemed to matter
to him. His tears ceased. But now his body was shaken by a convulsive
sob. On the whole his mood was one of hopeless resignation.
"I am glad to see you, mother," said Keith's father, rising quickly as a
little old woman appeared in the kitchen doorway. His tone surprised the
boy. There was warmth in it, but still more of reverence bordering on
awe, and also something of pride. Thus might a queen be greeted, but
only by those nearest and dearest to her. What struck the boy most of
all, however, was the world of difference lying between that tone and
the one in which the father addressed his wife even in moments of
closest understanding. It gave Keith his first clear glimpse of the
distinction between love and respect, between sympathy and trust.
"So you are home, Carl," the grandmother remarked in her usual quiet,
matter-of-fact manner. Then she turned to her daughter-in-law, who had
also risen to her feet: "Is your head as bad as usual, Anna?"
"Thank you," answered Keith's mother, and the boy could sense that she
was not at her ease although she smiled pleasantly. "Those new powders I
got from Dr. Skoeld helped a great deal."
"Hm," grunted the older woman as she walked across the room and sat down
on a chair not far from Keith. "I had no time or money to bother with
powders at your age, but times have changed."
She was taking in every detail of the room as she spoke, without looking
pointedly at anything in particular. Suddenly Keith, who followed her
every movement as if hypnotized, was startled by meeting the hard gaze
of her calm, pale-blue eyes. Those eyes illuminated her small, wrinkled
face so completely that the boy saw nothing else. Gone were her trimmed
wig, her black shawl, her wide skirt of a checkered grey. Gone were even
her thin, tight lips that used to close with the firm grip of a vice.
Nothing was left but the eyes that looked him through and through until
it was impossible for him to stand still any longer.
"What is the matter with Keith," she asked. "Sick, too?"
"No, thank heaven," the mother blurted out. "We have nothing to complain
of his health--"
"No," the father broke in with a suggestion of grim humour, "not about
his health, but--"
"Of course," the old lady said with a nod of comprehension. "I don't
wish to criticize anybody or anything, but I don't think Keith is very
obedient. He wants to pick and choose, I suppose, as if the food were
not good enough for him."
"Well, he can't," the father rejoined.
"Children should eat anything and be glad to get it at that. Mine never
thought of refusing what I gave them. If they ever had...."
She didn't finish the sentence, but it made Keith feel that he would
never have dared one word of protest about the soup if the grandmother
had been there a little earlier. Yet she spoke without marked feeling,
without hardness, almost kindly. It was plain as she went on, that she
believed intensely in what she said, and that it touched the very
foundations of existence as she saw it:
"Children owe everything to their parents, and the least they can do in
return is to accept thankfully what they get. That is what I did in my
childhood, and I never dreamt of anything else. I had no will but that
of my parents, and I knew that I could not and should not have any will
of my own."
Everybody but the grandmother was still standing. The mother's face bore
clear evidence of conflicting tendencies to accept and reject. Looking
at her, Keith felt, as he often did, that there was something within her
that gave his view of matters a fighting chance. The father, on the
other hand, seemed of a sudden to have become a child himself, listening
obediently and with absorbed approval. It looked almost as if he were
still afraid of that white-haired, fragile, tight-lipped little woman,
and the sight of him filled Keith with a vague uneasiness.
"Please sit down," said the grandmother at last. "I did not mean to
disturb you, and Keith looks as if he might fall in a heap any moment."
"Why don't you stand up straight, Keith," asked his mother. "You will
never grow up unless you do, and your grandmother will think worse of
you than she already does."
"I am not blaming the child," the old lady began in the same passive,
quietly assured tone. But before she got further, the father broke in:
"I think Keith had better go and play in his own corner--and please keep
quiet, for grandmother and I have important things to talk of."
Keith retired as directed, and at that moment growing up seemed to him a
more unreal and impossible thing than ever.
Not long afterwards the grandmother left, both parents escorting her to
the outside door. When they returned to the living-room, Keith heard his
"I don't see why she should always find fault with Keith. He's not a bit
worse than Brita's Carl, whom she is helping to spoil just as fast
as she can."
"Well, that's her way," replied the father, paying no attention to the
latter part of the remark. "She was brought up that way herself, and
that's the way she brought up the four of us."
He was evidently in high good-humour and did what Keith had never seen
him do before when no company was present. He got out a cigar from one
of the little drawers in the upper part of mamma's bureau and sat down
at the still covered dining table to smoke it. This made Keith feel
almost as if they were having a party, and soon he sneaked out of his
corner and joined the parents at the table. First he stood hesitatingly
beside his mother, but little by little he edged over to the father
until he actually was leaning against the latter's knee without being
rebuffed. The father even put his hand on Keith's head, and the soup
episode became very distant and dim.
"She used to lick us mercilessly," the father said as if speaking
chiefly to himself, and as he spoke there was a reminiscent smile on his
face and not a trace of resentment in his voice. "But she was absolutely
just about it--so just that she used to lick all four of us whenever one
had earned it. That was to keep the rest from thinking themselves any
better, she said, and also because she felt sure that all of us had
deserved it, although she had not happened to find it out."
"I think it hard and unjust," Keith's mother protested. "And I don't
believe in beating children all the time."
"Those were hard days," the father mused on, "and everybody did it, and
children seemed to know their place better then. I don't think we
suffered very much from the beatings we got, they certainly did not make
us think less of mother. She had her hands full, too, and not much time
to think of nice distinctions. We were all small when father died, and
Henrik was just a baby. There was no one but her to look after us, and
how she did it, God only knows. But I have never heard her speak one
word of complaint, and she always managed. Sometimes there was little
enough, and we were mighty glad to get what there was, as she told you
herself, but she always had something for us. Then we had to go to work
just as soon as we could. I was thirteen when I began to add my share to
the common heap."
"Did you go to school," Keith ventured, having recently overheard some
talk of his parents that seemed to bear on his own immediate future.
"I did," the father replied, "but not long. I wanted to study, and my
teacher was so anxious that I should go on that he promised to get me
free admission to the higher school. But mother wouldn't listen. And I
suppose it was not to be."
"Did you like school," asked Keith, not having the slightest idea of
what a school might be like.
"Yes, I liked all about it but one thing. There was a big boy who
bullied all the rest, and no one cared to fight him. He went for me the
very first day of the term, and when I fought back, he gave me such a
licking that I could hardly walk into the schoolroom afterwards. The
next day he asked if I had had enough, and I told him I meant to go on
till he had enough. So we started right in again, and he licked me worse
than the day before. But I just couldn't give in. For three whole months
we fought every day, and each day I made it harder for him. And one day
I got the upper hand of him at last, and gave it to him until he began
to cry and begged for mercy. Then I let him go, but no sooner had I
turned my back on him, than he picked up a small sapling that was lying
around and struck me over the head with it. There was a piece of root
standing straight out, and it hit me right on top of my head so that the
blood squirted out and I fainted on the spot. Then he had to leave
school, and the last thing I heard of him was that the police had got
him for something still worse."
"Oh, Carl," the mother cried with a shudder, "you should have complained
to the teacher!"
"The teacher was watching us all the time, although I didn't know it.
He told me afterwards that he would have helped me any time I asked, but
that he would have thought less of me for asking."
Keith stared hard at his father and tried to imagine himself doing the
same thing, but his fancy did not seem to work well in that direction.
Later, when he was in bed, the father's story came back to him. Somehow
it made him feel very proud, but also uneasy. He felt that there nothing
more wonderful than to fight some one stronger than oneself and win, and
soon he was busy slaying giants and dragons and bears and other monsters
that he had heard Granny tell about. But he tried to think of himself as
fighting a real boy in the way as his father, his dreams seemed to peter
Then his mother came to in to tuck him in and make him say his prayers
and kiss him good-night. Suddenly he flung his arms about her neck in a
passion of craving for tenderness and protection. Putting his mouth
close to her ear, he whispered a question that had nothing to do with
the father's story or his fancies of a few moments ago.
"Why must I eat things I don't want?"
The next Sunday morning found Keith more than usually restless. Half a
dozen times in quick succession he appealed to the mother for
suggestions as to what to do. Finally she turned to the father, who was
preparing to go out:
"Can't you take him along, Carl? He has never seen the bank, and he
really should get out a little."
For a little while the father said nothing. Then he spoke directly to
"Put on your coat and cap."
The boy who had been looking and listening with open mouth and a heart
that hardly dared to beat, became wildly excited.
"Now, Keith," the father admonished, "you can't go unless you behave."
"Where's my coat, mother," asked Keith eagerly and unheedingly.
"Don't you know that yourself," growled the father. "You are a big boy
already, and you should keep your own things in order."
"I have hung it up where he cannot reach it," the mother interceded.
"I'll get it for him."
The coat and the cap were on at last, but then began the struggle about
the muffler and the mittens. The mother had crocheted them herself for
Keith and insisted that they should be worn whenever he went outdoors
during autumn and winter. The muffler was long and white, with blue
rings two inches apart, and in shape more like a boa.
Keith wanted the mittens, because his hands got cold easily, but not the
muffler, which, he thought, made him look like a girl.
The father objected to everything of that kind, which he said, tended to
make the boy soft and susceptible to colds. He himself did not put on an
overcoat until the weather grew very severe, and he never buttoned it,
no matter how cold it grew. His throat was always bare, and he never
wore gloves of any kind. Nor did he ever put his hands in his pockets
while walking. He had a favourite trick of picking up a handful of snow,
which he rolled into a ball and carried in his hand until it became hard
as ice. His hands were milk-white, beautifully shaped and well cared
for. It was impossible to believe that for many years they had done the
hardest kind of work, often outdoors and generally in a poorly heated
drafty shop. He was proud of them, although he pretended not to care
when anybody spoke of them, and they filled Keith with admiration and
envy. He tried to follow the father's example, but with the result that
his hands grew red as boiled crawfish and began to ache under the nails
until he had to cry.
"You bring him up a woman," the father muttered, when Keith was ready at
Then they left, having been kissed several times each by the mother, who
warned Keith not to let go of his father's hand under any circumstances
while they were on the streets.
Down in the passageway on the ground floor, Keith started to take off
"No," said the father. "Now you keep it on. Your mother has told you to
wear it, and you must not take it off behind her back."
"But you didn't want me to have it on," Keith protested in genuine
"No, I didn't, because I want you to be hardened and grow up like a man.
But there is something I want still more, and that is for you to obey
your mother, first because children should always obey their parents,
and secondly because it makes your mother very unhappy if you don't do
as she tells you."
His tone changed slightly during the last part of his remark. Something
of an appeal came into it and went straight to Keith's heart, filling it
with a glow of righteous determination. It was always that way with him.
A word spoken kindly made him eager to comply, and that was particularly
the case if it came from some person not given to sentimentality.
In the lane they turned and saw the mother lying in the window to watch
them. As usual, kisses were thrown back and forth as they passed up the
lane, but Keith felt rather impatient about it, and it was with a marked
sense of relief he turned the corner into East Long Street. He was eager
to push ahead into unknown regions and did not care to look back.
Although he spoke little enough, the father proved a more genial
companion than Keith had dared to expect. In fact, he had been a little
oppressed at the thought of being entirely alone with the father, which
was quite a new experience to him. But now he found it a pleasure, and
their communion seemed more easy than when the mother was with them. He
walked sedately enough, clinging to one of his father's soft, white
hands, but every so often he ventured a skip and a jump without being
rebuked, and on the whole he felt the kind of happiness that used to
come on Christmas Eve, after the father had started to distribute
Keith had frequently accompanied his mother as far as the little square
at the end of the street, and he pointed proudly to the grocery store
where he had helped to buy things.
"Yes," responded the father, and again his tone seemed strangely
unfamiliar to the boy. "I might have had such a store myself, if luck
had been with me."
The idea was more than Keith could digest at once. It was too
overwhelming, and once more he looked at his father with the feeling of
wonder and awe that sometimes took hold of him almost against his
will--a feeling that clashed hopelessly with the nervous shyness
commonly inspired by the father's stern manners.
"Why didn't you get it," the boy ventured at last.
"Because I was born under the Monkey Star," replied the father grimly.
The boy wondered what kind of star that was, but still more he wondered
at the father's mood which appeared to indicate a displeasure not
directed at the questioner. Before Keith could ask anything more, they
had started across one of the open market places that line the
fresh-water side of the old City.
The place was empty except for a few closed and abandoned booths. But at
the foot of it lay rows of one-masted sailing vessels loaded halfway up
their masts with piles of fire-wood. In the background, beyond a small
sheet of water crossed by a low iron bridge, rose abruptly the rocky
walls of the South End, with funny old houses perched precariously along
their edges. Keith stared so hard at all the new things that not a
single question had a chance to escape him before they entered another
street and stopped in front of a stone house that to him looked like
It had a real portal instead of an ordinary doorway, and the inside was
still more impressive. Keith had been to church once or twice, and for a
moment he thought himself in one. But he saw no seats, and his father
did not look solemn at all. The walls were of stone curiously streaked
and coloured. The ceiling was so far up that Keith had to bend far
backwards to see it. It was full of ornaments and supported by two rows
of tall round stone pillars so thick that Keith could not get his arms
halfway around one of them. In the background rose a very broad and
seemingly endless stairway of white stone. While they climbed it step by
step, Keith wondered if the king in his palace had anything like it.
Arrived at the top at last, they turned into a sort of lobby--a rather
bare room with several plain desks by the windows and many hooks along
the inner wall. There the father took off both his coats and armed
himself with a huge feather duster and a rag.
"Remember, Keith," he said in his ordinary tone, "that you may look as
much as you please, but that you must not touch anything. If you do, you
can never come here again."
Having passed through several smaller rooms, they emerged finally into a
hall so bright and spacious that Keith stopped with a gasp and for a
moment thought himself in the open air again. It was as wide as the
building itself and three sides were full of large windows A counter of
mahogany that looked miles long ran from one end to the other. The place
behind it contained many desks so tall that Keith could not have reached
the tops of them with his raised hand. But from a distance he could see
that they were full of tempting things--paper and pens and pencils, red
bars of sealing wax, glue-pots and rulers and glistening shears.
Two men, also in their shirt-sleeves, were busy at the desks, dusting
them and arranging the things on top of them. And the father quickly
went to work in the same way.
It seemed interesting to Keith, who would have liked to try his hand at
it. But it also disconcerting for some reason he could not explain and
for a while he watched the father as if unwilling to believe his own
eyes. Somehow it did not tally with certain notions formed in Keith's
head on the night when the church was burning. At last he up to his
father and asked:
"Is this where you always work?"
"No," was the answer given with a peculiar grimness. "This is for the
"What are they?"
"Oh, tellers and cashiers and bookkeepers."
Keith noted the words for future inquiries. For the moment they meant
nothing to him.
"Why are you not here too," he persisted.
"Because I am only an attendant--a mere _vaktmaestare_. That is a fact
you had better fix in your mind once for all, my boy."
"Is that your little boy, Wellander," one of the other men called out at
that moment. "Let us have a look at him."
Hand-shakings and head-pattings followed as Keith was presented to
"Uncle" This and "Uncle" That. He didn't object and he didn't care. They
looked nice enough, and their talk was friendly, but somehow he felt
that his parents did not care for them. Some of the glamour had left the
place. In spite of its magnificence, he did not like it, although he was
glad to have seen it.
Discovering a wastepaper basket full of envelopes with brightly coloured
marks on them, he regained his interest a little. He knew those marks
for stamps and they had pictures on them which attracted him very much.
So he made a bee-line for the basket and proceeded to pick out what he
"Have you forgotten what I told you," he heard his father shout to him.
"They have been thrown away," he said going toward the father.
"That is neither here nor there," was the sharp answer he got. "You know
they are not yours, and so you must not touch them. Put them back
Keith did as he was told, wondering if he really had done anything wrong
or if his father merely objected for some reason of his own.
Then he walked around uninterested and forlorn until they were ready to
go home again. The stairway seemed shorter as they descended, but the
pillars were tall and thick as before. And on the way home his father
found a little shop open and bought him a few _oere's_ worth of
It was the only time Keith could ever remember his having done such a
The lodger happened to be away when they got home, and the mother had
opened the door to the parlour in order to get a little more air and
light into the living-room. After dinner the father went into the
parlour to take a nap on the big sofa, while the mother settled down
comfortably in her easy chair, a piece of handiwork on her lap as usual.
Keith took up his customary position on the footstool to tell her what
he had seen and done during his morning excursion.
She was eager to hear everything and helped him along with questions,
and yet there ran through her very eagerness a subtle inner resistance
which the boy felt vaguely. It as if she never really cared for anything
concerning him in which she herself had not taken part.
The original glamour had returned to every aspect of his new experience,
and he tried excitedly to describe the wonders of the vestibule, the
stairway and the big hall. In the midst of it he paused suddenly and
fell to staring into vacancy.
"Was that all," she asked, puzzled by his silence.
"Lena dusts our rooms, doesn't she," was his rather startling
"Mostly," the mother replied with a searching glance at his puckered
brows. "Although I sometimes ..."
"You don't have to," the boy broke in.
"No" she admitted, "but then I am sure it is properly done."
"Is that why papa dusts the tables in the bank?"
A pause followed during which it was the mother's turn to stand the
boy's intense scrutiny.
"No," she said at last. "He does it because it is a part of his work,
and a shame it is that he has to. Scrub-women come in and do the rest of
the cleaning, but they are not trusted with the desks, and so the
attendants have to take turns doing that part of it. That's why your
father has to leave so very early in the morning."
Mother and son lapsed into silence once more. It was broken by another
question from the boy.
"Why couldn't I take some stamps that had been thrown away?"
"Had your father said anything about it before you took them?"
"He told me not to touch anything."
"Then you couldn't because he had told you to leave things alone. He is
so careful in all such matters. Sometimes he goes a little too far,
perhaps, but you can be sure that he means right. Other people want the
stamps, and there is a lot of gossip and envy about everything, and he
is too proud to be dragged into that sort of thing. It is always better,
Keith, to leave alone what you know is not your own. Honesty endures
beyond all else."
Keith made no direct response, but sprang one more irrelevant question:
"Why didn't papa get the grocery store?"
"How do you know," the mother demanded with a quick glance at him.
"Papa told me."
"Well," she drawled as if thinking. Then she settled back in the chair,
her mind made up. "Listen, and I will tell you a story. Once upon a time
there was a rich old man who owned a grocery store."
"That's where they sell prunes and raisins and sugar," the boy put in.
"And the store was so fine," she went on unheedingly, "that the old man
was permitted to sell all those things to the king's own kitchen. The
old man had many assistants, but at the head of them all was a young man
who knew just what to do, because he had worked in such stores ever
since he was a little boy. And he was so honest and able and polite that
the people liked him very much and came to the store for his sake, but
the old man liked him more anybody else."
"Was the old man nice," Keith asked.
"Yes, indeed, but he was also very peculiar, and the most peculiar thing
about him was that he hated all women and thought that a man who married
was lost for ever."
"Did he have any children?"
"No, men who want no wives get no children. That is a part of their
punishment. And so when the owner of the store got older and older, and
began to feel tired, he didn't know to whom he should leave the store.
You may be sure that he thought it over many times, because he was
exceedingly proud of the store and wanted it to go on. The result of his
thinking was that he decided to give it to the young man whom he trusted
and liked so much."
"How did the young man look," Keith broke in.
"Something like your father, I should say. But while all this was going
on, the young man had met a princess and fallen in love with her...."
"A real princess," asked the boy with wide-open eyes.
"All princesses are real in their own opinion. And she and the young man
had promised to marry each other, and this the old man learned at last.
Then he was very, very angry and told the young man that he was a fool.
And when the young man answered that there were many of his kind, and
that he had pledged his word, the old man told him that he would not get
the store unless he promised to have nothing more to do with the
princess. But the young man loved her and would not give her up, and so,
you see--he didn't get the store. Don't you think that was nobly
"Ye-es," the boy assented without particular enthusiasm, "but if he had
got the store, we should have been rich now?"
"We," repeated the mother in a funny tone. "Why, then there would have
been no _we_."
"Why not," he demanded.
"Or it might have been worse still," she whispered as if momentarily
forgetful of the boy's presence.
"There is your father now," she said a moment later, when a slight stir
was heard in the adjoining room. "Don't say anything more about the
store.... Do you know what your father wanted to be most of all?"
Keith looked up speculatively as his father appeared at the doorway to
the parlour--a man of medium height, who stooped because he was
nearsighted, and so looked shorter than he was, but also stronger
because of the great width of his shoulders.
"I can tell you," the father put in. "When I couldn't study, I wanted to
be a sailor, and I tried to take hire on a ship whose master knew me and
wished to help me. Then they found out that I was too nearsighted to
steer by the compass, and that was the end of it. Didn't I tell that I
was born under the Monkey Star?"
"Don't talk like that, Carl," the mother protested, rising to give him a
kiss. "You have done very well, and there is no man in the bank more
respected than you."
"Yes," he admitted with something like a grin. "They know I wouldn't
steal even if I had a chance, and they let me collect four million
crowns, as I did the other day, but I shall never get beyond where I am
today. So there you are--what's struck for a farthing will never be
Keith's head was still full of what he had heard when he went to bed
that night, and he didn't know whether to feel happy or unhappy about
it. His father had grown bigger and more interesting in some ways, and
yet the boy's chief impression was of a failure and a fall. It was this
impression that stuck most deeply in his mind.
Keith's home was not one of those hospitable places with the doors
always wide open, to which people are drawn almost against their will
and from which they come away with difficulty. Perhaps it was, above
all, the spirit of the father that settled this matter. To him, more
than to any Englishman, his home was his castle, and he liked to keep
the drawbridge raised against unwelcome company. And most company seemed
unwelcome, although at times, when the right persons appeared at the
right moment, he could be happy as a child and unbend in a manner that
made Keith gape with wonder. When her good mood prevailed, the mother,
too, was touchingly eager for the diversion provided by a chance visit,
but when the dark moments came, she shunned everybody, while at the same
time she watched any prolonged failure to call with morbid
suspiciousness, ascribing it promptly to a sense of superiority toward
herself and her family. Granny was glad enough to talk to anybody, but
she would never ask any one to call, and if no one came, she was apt to
dig out some particularly bitter proverb, like "money alone has
Both parents could be hospitable enough when occasion so demanded, but
it was a formal thing with them, exercised only after due preparation.
In many ways, they were large-heartedly generous, but only in a serious
manner, when actual need required it. They might give freely beyond what
they could well afford, but the father could be out of humour for days
if some little thing regarded as particularly his own had been touched
or used by another member of the family.
As it was, people came and went a good deal, but they came formally or
because some specific errand brought them, and most of the errands,
Keith soon realized, were connected with a desire for help. The old
women living like nightbirds in the garret, would drop in frequently,
and almost invariably with some tale of woe that sooner or later drew
from the mother relief in one form or another. And one of Keith's
earliest tasks, half coveted and half feared, was to walk up to one of
the attics with a plate of soup or a saucer full of jam or some other
tidbit. Others would come from the outside, and they, too, were mostly
old women. They always wanted to pat Keith, and he objected passionately
to all of them. His especial aversion was a gaunt old woman with a big
hooked nose and a pair of startlingly large, sad-looking eyes. She
always smiled, and her smile was hopelessly out of keeping with the rest
of her face. The very sight of her made Keith forget all his manners.
Time and again his mother rebuked him and tried to bring him around by
telling the old woman's story--a story of wonderful self-sacrifice and
heroic struggle--but it made no difference to him. There was something
about the sight of poverty and unhappiness and failure that provoked him
beyond endurance, and sometimes he would turn to his mother with a
reckless cry of:
"Why do you let them come here at all?"
For the friends of the family, who came there on an equal footing, he
showed more respect, and for a few of them he felt a real liking. As a
rule, however, they inspired him with nothing but indifference, and his
one reason for greeting them with some approach at cordiality was that
they brought a change into the general monotony of the home, and that
their coming might lead to the distribution of some dainties out of the
ordinary. Some of his parents' friends were poor and growing poorer.
Others had the appearance of doing well and hoping for more. It made no
difference to Keith. They were all middle-aged, sedate and preoccupied
with their own little affairs. They tried to be nice to him, but they
did not interest him, and his main grievance against them--not clearly
understood by any means--was that they brought nothing into his life of
what he wanted.
Had he been asked what he wanted, he would have answered unhesitatingly:
"Some one to play with."
Having whined and nagged until his mother no longer could bear it, Keith
at last obtained the cherished permission to go and play in the lane.
"But look out for horses," warned his mother as he stood in the doorway
ready to run. "And don't run out of sight, and you must come when I
call, and--you had better keep away from other boys, or you may come
home quite naked this time."
"What do you mean," asked Keith, turning to see whether the mother was
joking or talking seriously.
"Don't you recall when those boys took your coat from you, and you came
up here crying?"
There could be no mistake about her meaning just what she said. Keith
stood still thinking very hard. Here was another memory that he could
not remember at all. There was not a trace of it left in his mind, and
yet it must have happened. It sounded exciting, too, and he wished to
know all about it.
"You had better close the door," his mother suggested.
"All right," said Keith, hastening to close the door from the outside
and make a dive for the stairway. There would be plenty of time to ask
about the loss of his coat later. He was halfway down the first flight
when he heard the kitchen door open behind him, and his heart leapt into
"You must go down the stairs quietly," his mother called out from above,
whereupon Keith's heart resumed its normal position.
He descended the rest of that flight on tip-toe. The second one was
taken more rapidly, and down the last one he went two steps at a time,
the little iron plates under his heels hitting the stones with a ring
that echoed through the old house.
In the lane he found them loading a dray in front of the distillery, and
he started across to watch the men straining at the next barrel. He had
hardly taken a step in that direction, however, when a loud pop was
heard from the black cave forming the entrance to the distillery. It
was followed first by a single cry, and then by a hubbub of voices. A
second later a young man came running out and threw himself prone into
the gutter, where a trickle of water was to be seen.
Keith was too astonished to be frightened at once. He could not
understand what made the man act in this way. Then another man came out
in a rush and began to beat the legs of the man in the gutter with his
hands, and Keith suddenly noticed that little blue flames were dancing
up and down the grimy leathern trousers of the first man.
The memory of the night when the church burned leaped into his mind,
making him turn instinctively toward the passageway and his
At that moment a third man appeared carrying a big tank full of water
which he poured over the man in the gutter. The latter got on his feet
and limped back into the distillery, supported by his two comrades.
Keith was left behind, trembling a little and gazing curiously at the
hanging head of the dray-horse which had not made the slightest movement
during the previous excitement.
"He'll have to go to bed," said a sleepy voice at his shoulder just
Keith swung around as if touched by an electric shock. Before him he saw
another small boy, apparently of his own age, but a little taller, and
light-haired like himself.
"What's your name," asked Keith as soon as he caught his breath.
"Johan," answered the other stolidly, but not unfriendly.
"Have you got another name like me?"
"My name is Johan Peter Gustafsson," was the reply given in the tone of
a lesson painfully learned.
"Where do you live?"
"Not in our house," Keith protested.
"No, down there," Johan explained, pointing to the little side door
leading into the courtyard of one of the corner houses at the Quay.
"What's your father?" Keith continued his cross-examination.
"_Vaktmaestare_" said Johan indifferently.
"So is mine," Keith cried eagerly. "Have you got a bank, too?"
Johan shook his head as if unable to grasp what Keith meant.
"My popsey works in the office down there," he said, "and we live beside
it, and at night I go with popsey when he carries all the mail to the
"Why do you call him popsey," inquired Keith, fascinated by the new word
and wondering if he would dare use it to his own father.
"Because that's what he is," Johan declared.
A few minutes later they were playing together as if they had known each
other for ever. They had just discovered an unusually large and tempting
pin in a crack at the bottom of the gutter, when Keith heard his mother
calling from the window above:
"What are you doing, Keith?"
"Oh, just playing," he replied without looking up, forgetful of
everything but the pin that would not come out of the crack.
"Who is that with you?"
"That is Johan," Keith shouted back triumphantly, "and his papa is a
"Come right up and let me speak to you," was the insistant rejoinder
"Oh, please, mamma," the boy pleaded, his voice breaking a little,
"can't I stay just a little longer?"
"You must come at once," his mother commanded.
"Is that your mumsey," Johan asked.
"It is my mamma," Keith retorted, his attention momentarily diverted by
Johan's most peculiar way of referring to his parents.
"Then you had better go," advised the new friend sagely, "or she will
tell your popsey, and then you know what happens to you."
"I think I can come down again, if you wait for me," cried Keith as he
ran into the long dark passageway.
At that moment a cry of "Johan" rose from the lower part of the lane,
and Keith had to come back once more to look.
"There's my mumsey now," said Johan philosophically, pointing to an open
window on the ground floor of the corner house. With that he slouched
off in a manner that Keith half envied and half resented.
The sudden emergence of Johan had filled Keith's heart with a new hope.
Here was a possible playmate at last. The fact that his father was a
_vaktmaestare_ like Keith's ought to settle all paternal opposition, the
boy thought. But to his great surprise, he found this not to be
A severe cross-examination followed his return home. In the midst of it,
Keith made a grievous strategic mistake, lured on by his insatiable
curiosity about strange words.
"Why does Johan call his mamma 'mumsey' and his papa 'popsey,'" he asked
unexpectedly. "It sounds funny."
"Because he does not know any better," his mother rejoined with
unmistakable disapproval. "It doesn't sound nice, and it isn't nice."
"But his papa and mamma don't care," Keith objected.
"That's the worst of it," said the mother. "It shows they are not very
nice people, and I wish to talk to your father before you can play with
Johan any more."
"I have heard of them," the grandmother piped up, making them both turn
towards her, one hopefully and the other doubtfully.
The grandmother never left the kitchen. She walked from the sofa to the
big foot-stool, from the foot-stool to the table by the window, and from
the table back to the sofa. Sometimes she would not be seen talking to
another person for days. And yet she had a miraculous way of surprising
the rest of the family with pieces of gossip picked out of the air, one
might think. There was apparently not a person in the neighbourhood of
whom she had not heard, and about whom she could not give some more or
less intimate piece of information. They were all perfect strangers to
her, but she followed their lives with as much keenness for minute
details as if they had been her nearest kin or dear friends.
"She was a cook in the house of the man whose office Gustafsson works
in," the grandmother went on. "He used to do odd jobs for the family,
cutting wood and such things, and in that way he met her in the kitchen,
and one fine day they decided to get married. She is older than him, and
I guess it was her last chance. But the family was crazy about her, and
when they heard of it, they gave him the place of attendant in the
office downstairs and the two rooms back of the office to live in. He
was just a peasant boy, and she reads the Bible all day and goes to
prayer-meeting at night."
"How do you know all that," wondered Keith's mother, having learned by
this time that the old woman's gossip was generally well founded
"Oh," the grandmother said with a queer smile particular to such
occasions, "a little bird sang it to me."
"I think they must be rather low people," Keith's mother concluded.
"Perhaps," the grandmother said, "but they have plenty of religion at
least, and I don't think the boy can do much harm to Keith."
Keith ran up to the grandmother and kissed her impulsively.
That night there was a great family council. Keith's father was told
about Johan and the Gustafssons.
"I think they are about as good as ourselves," was his verdict, given in
a tone suggesting contempt for his own position rather than respect for
that of Johan's father. "But Keith has his toys, and that ought to be
enough for him."
"It _is_ rather lonely for him," the mother rejoined, "and he should get
out a little, I suppose, but I hate to have him playing about the
streets, and I fear Johan's manners are not very good."
"The best thing is to send him to school," said the father.
"What are you talking of, Carl," the mother cried. "The idea--when he is
"He knows more about the letters than I did when I began school at
seven," the father came back unperturbed.
"I don't think it would be very bad for him to play a little with Johan
now and then," said the mother evasively, bending down to kiss Keith,
who had snuggled up to her during the preceding talk. Then she put her
hand through his waves of almost flaxen hair, bent his head slightly
backward, looked straight into his eyes, and asked:
"You don't want to leave me, do you?"
"No," said Keith, hugging her passionately, "but I think I should like
to go to school."
The idea carried no distinct image to his mind, and he felt a little
timid toward all those unknown possibilities implied by the word school,
but this slight feeling of hesitation was swamped by a longing so
restless and so irresistible that it sent tears to his eyes, although he
could not tell himself what it was he longed for.
It was true that Keith knew a good deal for his age. In fact, he had
mastered the whole alphabet and was making good progress in spelling
under his mother's guidance. He was eager and quick to learn. Generally
his interest was rather fitful, but along this one line it showed no
wavering. It was as if the boy had known that the art of reading would
offer him an escape of some sort.
He might have advanced still more rapidly if his mother had been more
steady in her teaching. She was very proud of him, and she spoke of
reading and studying as if there were nothing finer in the world.
"No better burden bears any man than much wisdom," she quoted one day
from the old Eddas--probably without knowing the source. "I know, if any
one does, what lack of money means, but I want you rather to have
learning than wealth. Then, when the whole world is listening to you
with bated breath, I shall walk across North Bridge resting on your arm,
and I shall be repaid for all that my own life has not brought me. We
shall walk arm in arm, you and I, at four o'clock, when the King goes
for a walk, too, and all Stockholm is there to see.... Will you do
"Of course," he cried, his eyes shining.
But sometimes she was helpless in the grip of one of her depressed
moods, and then days might go by without a lesson. Far from being made
happy by that respite, he would plead with her to be taught "one more
little letter," and finally she would bring down the book from the
hanging book shelf on the wall back of her easy chair. There stood the
a-b-c book she had bought for him, and her favourite hymn-book, and the
New Testament given to the father when he left school to begin earning
his own living, and the miniature copy of Luther's catechism presented
to him at the time of his confirmation. There, too, rested the big Bible
which Keith's mother treasured as much as her wedding ring and the
bureau that was her chief wedding present. It was a gift from her father
when she was confirmed, and on its fly-leaf he had written:
"Belongs to Anna Margareta Carlsson."
It was this Bible rather than the a-b-c book that became the principal
means of instruction. Keith loved it, and he could not have been much
more than three years old when he first began to pore over its quaint
old illustrations. The first of these showed an old man with a long
beard and a trailing white garment floating over a sheet of water out of
which rose two ragged pieces of rock. At one corner a pallid sun emerged
out of the fleeing mists, while, at the opposite corner, a tiny moon
crescent seemed about to disappear beneath the stilled waters.
"Who is that," asked Keith not once, but many times.
"That is God creating the world," explained his mother.
"But I don't see the world."
"It is just coming out," she said, pointing to the rocks.
"Who's God," was Keith's next question as a rule.
"He is the father of the whole universe," the mother said reverently.
"Papa's too," asked the boy once, and seeing his mother nod assent, he
"Then he must be my grandfather, whose portrait you haven't got!"
More frequently he stopped short as soon as he heard about the universal
fatherhood. That was grown-up talk to him, and like much else, it
carried no meaning to his mind. Nor did he waste much thought on it
after having asked once if he could see God and been told that no man
could do that and live. His mind was occupied with food and clothes and
toys and people and things. What could never be seen was easily
dismissed--much more easily than the spook that one of the servant girls
insisted on having seen, thus making Keith's father so angry that he
nearly discharged her on the spot. And from that first picture in the
Bible the boy turned impatiently to another further on, where a small
boy with a sword almost as big as himself was cutting the head off a man
much taller than Keith's father. And at the top of each page appeared
big black letters which he could recognize almost as easily as those in
the a-b-c book, although they were differently shaped and much more
pretty to look at.
To Keith this opening up of a new world was exclusively pleasant at
first, and so it was to his mother, but other people seemed to be
troubled by it at times. One day his free-spoken aunt was visiting with
them, and, as usual, disagreeing with Keith's mother, who evidently felt
one of her dark spells approaching. Wishing to express her disagreement
at some particular point quite forcibly, but wishing also to keep the
listening boy from enriching his vocabulary with a term of doubtful
desirability, she took the precaution to spell out the too
"R-o-t!" Just then she caught a gleam of aroused interest in Keith's
eyes, and to make assurance doubly sure, she hastened to add:
"No," Keith objected promptly. "It says rot, and I want to know what it
"I knew that small pigs also have ears, but I didn't know they could
spell," was her amused comment, uttered in a tone that touched something
in Keith's inside most pleasantly. Then, however, she went on in a
manner grown quite serious:
"You had better send him to school, Anna."
"Yes," replied the mother to Keith's intense surprise, "Carl and I have
been talking it over and practically decided to do so. He certainly
needs some better guidance than he gets from his poor, good-for-nothing
"Good-for-nothing fiddlesticks!" sputtered the aunt. "You'll make me say
something much worse than rot. Anna, if you keep talking like that when
the boy hears it."
Keith had heard, but his mind was absorbed by the new idea.
"Well," said his mother, "I cannot take care of him properly. He is
running down to that Gustafsson boy all time and most of the time I
can't get him home again except by going for him."
"Johan's mother said yesterday that I hadn't been there half an hour
when you called for me," Keith broke in. "And then she said that I had
better not come back if you don't think Johan good enough for to
"I don't say we are better than anybody else," said the mother,
addressing herself to the aunt rather than to Keith. "But I don't know
what he is doing when he is down there, and Johan seems such a clod that
I can't see why Keith wants to play with him."
"Why can't Johan come up here," asked Keith.
"Because ...," said his mother, and got no further.
"Yes," the aunt declared in a tone of absolute finality, "you must send
him to school."
No sooner had the aunt taken her leave than Keith assailed his mother
with excited demands for further information. She took his head between
her both hands and looked at him as if she would never see him again.
"Only five," she said at last, "and already he wants to get away. A few
years more--a few short years--and you will be gone for good,
"Oh, mamma," he protested, "you know that I shall never leave you!"
"No, never entirely," she cried, kissing him fervently. "Promise me you
He promised, and then he wanted to know what they did in school. But she
began to talk about difficulties and dangers and temptations and all
sorts of things he couldn't grasp. She spoke with intense feeling, and
as always when she was deeply moved, his whole being was set vibrating
in tune with her mood. His cheeks flushed, his throat choked, his eyes
brimmed over with tears, and at last he began to wonder whether he had
not better stay right where he was. Her eyes were dim with tears, too,
and once more she took his head between her hands and looked an endless
time before she said:
"Now you are beginning life in earnest, Keith!"
One day in the early autumn Keith's mother dressed him with unusual care
and kissed him several times before they left the house. Granny had to
be kissed, too, and even Lena came forward to shake hands and say
good-bye. It was a very solemn affair.
Hand in hand Keith and his mother walked clear across the old City, past
Great Church, until they came to a very broad lane at the foot of which
was a square with a statue in it. At the other end of the square lay a
very large, red building.
"That's the House of Knights where all the nobility hang up their
coats-of-arms," said the mother.
But Keith was too excited to ask any questions at that moment.
They entered a house much finer and neater than their own and stopped in
front of a door on the second floor. A hubbub of shrill voices could be
heard from within. Keith gripped his mother's hand more firmly.
Then the door was opened by a white-haired lady with spectacles and they
were admitted to a large room, containing a score of little boys and
girls. A dead silence fell on the room as they appeared, and every eye
turned toward Keith, who blushed furiously as was his wont whenever he
found himself observed.
After a brief talk with the teacher, Keith's mother to him:
"This is Aunt Westergren, whom you must obey as you obey me. And now be
a good boy and don't cry."
As the mother tarried by the door for a moment to exchange a last word
with the teacher, and perhaps also to cast one more lingering glance at
the boy, a little girl ran up to Keith, put her right fore-finger on top
of his head and cried out:
All the other children giggled. Keith blushed more deeply than ever, but
did not say a word or stir a limb. A moment later the teacher began to
cross-question him about his knowledge of letters and spelling, and he
found it much easier to answer her than to face the children. But, of
course, after a while he was quite at home among them without knowing
how it had happened.
That afternoon his mother came for him. The next morning he had to start
out alone under direct orders from the father, and alone he made his way
home again, his bosom swelling with a sense of wonderful independence.
Years passed before he learned that his mother had watched over him for
days before she was fully convinced of his ability to find the way
The autumn passed. Winter and spring came and went. It was summer again.
The little school closed. Keith could read the head-lines at the tops of
the pages in the big Bible without help. But of the school where he had
learned it hardly a memory remained. It was as if the place had made no
impression whatsoever on his mind. And the children with whom he studied
and played nearly a whole year might as well have been dreams, forgotten
at the moment of waking--all but one of them.
Harald alone seemed a real, living thing, a part of Keith's own life,
but not a part of the school where the two met daily. He was a year
older than Keith, a little slow mentally, but rather unusually advanced
in other ways. His father was a merchant of some sort, with an office of
his own and half a dozen clerks at his command, and Harald had been
taught to regard himself as a young gentleman. They lived a few houses
from the school, in the same street, and their home was a revelation
Houses less fortunate than his own were familiar to him, but he had
never seen a better one until he was asked to visit Harald for the first
time, and the comparisons made on that occasion stuck deeply in
They entered through a hallway where caps and coats were left behind,
and from there they went into a room where every piece of furniture was
of mahogany. Between the windows hung a mirror in a gilded frame that
was as tall as the room itself, so that Keith could see himself from
head to foot. The object that caught the boy's attention most of all,
however, was a chandelier suspended from the middle of the ceiling and
made up of hundreds of little rods of glass. As Harald slammed the door
on entering, some of the rods were set in motion and struck against each
other with a tiny twinkle that seemed to Keith the most beautiful sound
he had ever heard.
That room, Harald said, was used only to receive visitors, and he gave
Keith to understand that there were any number of other rooms on both
sides of it. One of these was Harald's own and used by nobody else. He
could even lock the door of it on the inside, if he wanted. There they
played with tin soldiers several inches high, and Harald had a little
cannon out of which they could shoot dry peas, so that it was possible
to fight a real battle by dividing the soldiers and taking turns of
using the cannon. Finally Harald's mother appeared with a bowl of fruit
and greeted the visitor with a certain searching kindness that made him
a little uneasy in the midst of all his enjoyment.
Keith returned home that day much later than unusual to find his mother
in a state of frantic worry. At first she declared that he must not go
anywhere without her knowing about it in advance, but after a while she
became quite interested and palpably elated by Keith's tale of all the
glories he had seen. She explained that the glass rods on the
chandeliers were prisms that showed the whole rainbow when you held them
in front of a light, and she asked him eagerly if he had been invited to
come again. But when the father heard of it that night, he said:
"I don't think Keith should go there at all. He can't ask such a boy
over here, and the next thing we know, Keith's own home will no longer
be good enough for him."
Keith could hardly believe his ears. He had never felt such resentment
against his father, and just before going to bed, while his father was
out of the room for a moment, he whispered to his mother:
"I think papa does not want me to have any fun!"
"You don't understand," she retorted. "He means well. Remember what
Granny says: Equals make the best playmates."
Three or four times Keith went home with Harald. Then the gates of
paradise were suddenly slammed in his face. One day, as they were
leaving school together, Harald remarked quite calmly:
"You can't come home with me any more."
"Why," gasped Keith, his throat choking.
"Because mamma says I must find some one else to play with," Harald
explained. Then he softened a little: "I can't help it, and I like you."
"But why," insisted Keith on the verge of tears.
"You look like a nice boy, mamma says, but your father is nothing but a
_vaktmaestare_, and mine is a _grosshandlare_ (wholesale dealer)."
Keith walked home in a stupor and began to cry the moment he saw his
mother. Her lips tightened and her face grew white as she listened to
the story he sobbed forth.
"Now you can see that your father was right," she said at last. "Of
course, we are just as good as anybody else, but others don't think
so--because we are poor. But we have our pride, and you had better stay
and play with your own soldiers hereafter. Then I don't have to worry
about you either."
But Keith had very little pride. He continued to seek Harald's company
as before, and twice, as they about to part in front of the latter's
house, Keith asked if he couldn't come up and play for a little while.
"Don't you understand," Harald asked the second time, "that my mamma
does not think you good enough for me to play with?"
Keith had not thought of it in that way. He had learned that there were
people who looked down on his parents, just as they, in their turn,
looked down on the parents of Johan, but the idea that he himself might
be regarded equally inferior was entirely new to him. It was so strange
to him that it took him years to grasp it. And when it came into his
mind, he felt as if some one had raised a heavy stick to strike him, and
he cowered under the impending blow.
Christmas was approaching.
The days grew shorter and shorter, until at last a scant four hours of
daylight remained around noon. Even then a lamp was often needed
The lead-coloured sky nearly touched the roofs. The drizzle that filled
the air most of the time seemed to enter men's minds, too, sapping their
vigour until life became a burden. Meeting on the streets, they would
cry in irritable tones:
"When will the snow come?"
It was always a tedious time for Keith. The incident with Harald made it
worse this year. Except for the daily attendance at school, he was
virtually a prisoner. Johan was to be seen only from the window, whence
Keith enviously watched him prowling about the lane, his hands buried in
the side-pockets of an old coat much too long--apparently inherited from
someone else--and his shoulders hunched as if fore-destined to support
loads of wood like those his father used to carry. If no one was in the
living-room, Keith might shout a greeting to his playmate below, but it
was not much fun, and Johan had a contemptuous way of asking why he did
not come out and play.
Yet the season was not without its compensations. Stores of every kind
were laid in to last through the winter. One might have thought that a
severance of communications with the outside world was feared. Keith
marvelled at the magnificence of it, and once in a while he asked why it
had to be done. The answers were unsatisfactory. The main reason was
that it had always been done, but he gathered also that, while it was
perfectly respectable to live from day to day during the summer, to do
so during the winter would be a distinct proof of social and economic
The fire wood came first--a mighty load of birch logs piled along the
house front in the lane. Two men were busy all day with saw and ax,
reducing those logs into pieces matching the fire-places in the kitchen
stove and the two glazed brick ovens in the living-room and the parlour.
Two more men piled the pieces into huge sacks and staggered with those
on their backs up the five flights of stairs to the top garret under the
peak of the house, which belonged to the Wellanders.
Keith would stand in the kitchen door watching them. First he heard the
slow clamp-clamp of ascending foot-steps. Then the man's heavy breathing
became audible, and Keith felt as if the load was resting on his own
shoulders. Finally the open top of the bag, with its bright stuffing of
newly cut birch wood, showed at the corner of the landing quite a long
time before the head beneath it came into sight. As the man crossed the
landing in front of Keith, bent almost double under his burden, a dew of
pungent perspiration would drop on the slate-coloured stones, leaving
behind a curious path of round spots. Not a word was said at that time,
but coming down the men would sometimes throw a crude jest to the
bright-eyed watcher or stop to refill their mouths with snuff out of a
little thin brass box with a mirror fitted to the inside of its cover.
The sight of the snuff filled Keith with a sense of loathing, although
his father used to put a pinch of it into his nostrils now and then, and
more than anything else it seemed to mark a distinction between himself
and those people from a world far beneath his own. Theirs was a racking
job, heavier than any other known to the boy, and one day he asked
"Why do they care to carry all that wood for us?"
"Because we pay them, and because they are mighty glad to get the money.
Otherwise they couldn't live."
"And where does the wood come from?"
"The bank sends it as part of papa's pay."
Once more Keith was so impressed with the miraculous power of that
mysterious being which his father served and cursed and worshipped that
his mother's previous answer was lost for the time being. But it
recurred to his mind later and connected with his father's talk of
making him a carpenter. A strong prejudice against manual labour was
shaping itself in his mind.
After the wood came the victuals: a tub of butter reaching Keith to the
chin; bags of flour; barrels of potatoes and apples; hams and haunches
of dried mutton and smoked reindeer meat; and lastly packages of smaller
size and sundry contents that the mother promptly carried to the pantry
inside the parlour without letting Keith touch them.
This year--it was the winter following the Franco-Prussian war--the
preparations were rendered uncommonly impressive by the addition of a
cheese large as the moon at full. There was always plenty of cheese of
various kinds in the house: whole milk cheese carefully aged until its
flavour was like that of English Stilton or Italian Gorgonzola; skim
milk cheese stuffed with cloves and cardamom seeds; and dark brown goat
milk cheese of a cloying sweetness that Keith detested.
Cheese was more than a taste with Keith's father. It was a hobby, and
one of his few pastimes was to skirmish in strange little shops for some
particularly old and strong-smelling piece at a reasonable price. When
he brought home a bargain of that kind, he acted like a bibliophile
having just captured a rare first edition for a song, and the mother
tried hard to share his enthusiasm. But, she said once, she had to draw
the line at cheese that walked by itself. Half in jest and half in
earnest, the father maintained that the maggots were the very essence of
the cheese, and that to remove them was to lose the finest flavour. This
year the father had bought a whole fresh cheese in order to age it at
home and thus save money in two ways, the price being proportionate
to the age.
The same large-handed system prevailed in other things, though the
parents often spoke of their poverty, and though their resources
undoubtedly were very limited. Shirts, table-ware, bed-linen, china,
etc., must needs be acquired in round numbers. To have less than a dozen
of anything was to have nothing at all. The breaking of a cup was a
family disaster if it could not be replaced. Everything had to be in
sets, and to preserve these intact, the utmost care was preached and
exercised. It bred thrift and orderliness, but also an undue regard
Finally came the time for baking and other direct preparations for a
holiday season that in the good old days used to last from Christmas Eve
to January 13th known as the Twentieth Christmas Day, when everybody
"danced the Yule out." What interested Keith most in this part of the
proceedings was the making of gingersnaps according to a recipe
transmitted to his mother from bygone generations and cherished by her
as a precious family secret. A whole day was set aside for the purpose
and at the end of it they had a big, bulging earthen jar filled to the
brim. Keith used to boast to other children of those dainties that, in
addition to their taste, had the fascination of many different
shapes--hearts, crowns, lilies, clubs, diamonds, baskets, and so on.
They really deserved all the praise they got, and he had so little to
boast of on the whole. The jar stood on the floor in the pantry back of
the parlour, and once in a while Keith found his way to it without
maternal permission, although, as a rule, he was little given to
One morning three or four days before Christmas Lena was heard calling
from the kitchen:
"Keith, Keith, come and look!"
Eager as always when the slightest excitement was promised, the boy
started so suddenly that his little table was upset with its whole
population of tin soldiers and his mother was moved to remark that "it
was no use behaving as if the house were on fire."
"Look at the snow," said Lena, pointing to the window when Keith reached
the kitchen, relieved at not having had to pick up the spilled toys
before he could go.
Huge, wet, feathery flakes were dropping lazily from the sky. Little by
little they increased in numbers and fell more quickly. At last they
formed a moving veil through which the building at the other end of the
courtyard could barely be seen.
Later in the day Keith was permitted to look out through one of the
front windows. The whole world had changed and looked much brighter in
spite of the failing light. The Quay was covered by a carpet of white
that made the waters beyond look doubly dark and cold. The trees on the
opposite shore looked as if they had been painted from the topmost twig
to the root. Down in the lane, two of the workers in the distillery were
pelting each other with snowballs while a third one was shouting at the
top of his voice:
"We'll have a white Christmas this year, thank heaven."
That same evening Keith's long cherished dream of visiting the open-air
Christmas Fair at Great Square was to come true at last. Like other
affairs of its kind, it had been reduced by the modern shop to a mere
shadow of its former glorious self, and it was kept up only out of
regard for ancient tradition. Keith had been told that it was nothing
but a lot of open booths displaying cheap toys and cheaper candy. To
Keith toys were toys and candy candy, no matter what the price and
quality, and so he kept on begging leave to go, until the night in
question his parents, who were going out with friends, deemed it better
to let him see for himself. And so Lena was ordered to take charge of
Lena and Keith were dressed and ready to start when the mother came
into the kitchen to give the boy a farewell kiss as usual. He was in
high spirits, but fidgety with some unexpressed wish.
"What is it, Keith," asked the mother, recognizing the symptoms.
"I want some money," he whispered into her ear.
"Go and ask papa."
"No, you ask him."
That was what always happened, and in the end the mother voiced the
boy's plea to the father, who just then appeared in the door to the
living-room. He was in a good humour and promptly reached into his
pocket. Unfortunately Keith discovered at that crucial moment that one
of his shoe laces had become untied.
"Please, mamma, help me," he said, putting his foot on a chair to enable
her to reach it more easily.
"That settles it," exclaimed the father with a darkening face as he
handed Keith a few small copper coins. "That is all you will get now. A
boy of five who makes his mother tie his shoe strings ought not to have
anything at all."
Keith took the coins silently and went with Lena to the fair, but he saw
nothing worth seeing, and he never wanted to go again. Uneasily he
prowled among the booths trying as a matter of duty to find something so
cheap that his scant hoard would buy it. At last he succeeded in getting
a little box of tin soldiers of poorest quality for one-third less than
the price put on it It was one of the few times in his life when he
found himself able to haggle over the cost of a thing.
From the first he found fault with the new addition to his army, and one
day not long afterwards he charged the whole regiment with cowardice in
the face of the enemy. A drumhead court martial was held on the spot,
and the verdict was a foregone conclusion. The culprits were found
guilty in a body and sentenced to immediate execution. Then Keith
possessed himself surreptitiously of the family hammer, and when his
mother came to investigate the noise he was making the whole offensive
regiment had been reduced to scraps. Never before or after did Keith as
a general go to such extremes on behalf of military morale.
But many, many years later, when he stopped for the first time at a
typical English hotel, he found himself horribly embarrassed by the
assistance forced on him by the obligatory valet.
In Sweden the principal celebration with its distribution of gifts takes
place late on Christmas Eve.
Long before that day Keith began to watch every package brought into the
house. Soon he noticed several that disappeared quickly without having
been opened. Nor did it take his shrewd little mind long to figure out
that they must have been stowed away on the upper shelf of the pantry
back of the parlour. This was an excellent hiding-place because the
shelf in question was fully six feet above the floor and on a level with
the lintel of the doorway, so that its contents seemed as much out of
reach as they were out sight from below.
One day, however, Keith succeeded in getting into the parlour when both
parents were out. The night before his father had come home with an
unusually large and queerly shaped package under his arm and had taken
it straight into the parlour. The boy's curiosity was at fever heat and
got the better of his customary inertia in the face of explicit
prohibitions. Having dragged a heavy wooden chair into the pantry, he
placed its tall back directly against the shelves. The crosspieces in
the back of the chair formed rungs on which he climbed up to the top
shelf. It was quite a feat for a very small boy, but the slight timidity
that characterized him as a rule was totally forgotten for the time.
There was the mystifying package together with many others. He could
even touch it with his hand. In spite of its size, it was very light. It
was wider at the bottom than at the top, and it sounded hollow when he
knocked at it. His little brain worked at high pressure, but not a guess
came out of it that was at all plausible. Finally Keith had to climb
down no wiser than he was before. His failure had one advantage. It
freed him from all of guilt. It served also to keep his expectations at
an unusually high pitch, so that when the morning of the great day
arrived at last, it seemed as if he were facing twelve long hours of
Every one was very busy preparing not only for the feast of the evening,
but for the two coming holidays. Christmas Day in Sweden being followed
by a Second Christmas Day, equal to the first one in leisure if not in
sanctity. No one had any time to spare for the boy, who found himself in
the way wherever he turned. In the end he was ordered pointblank out of
the kitchen, where his mother, Granny and the servant girl needed all
the space at their disposal. The door to the parlour was closed although
the lodger had left town for the holidays, and so nothing but the
living-room remained. There Keith whiled away the long hours in vain
speculation on the contents of the mysterious package.
He tried to recall what things he had wished for during the year. He
felt sure that nothing of the kind could be in the package. Any desire
openly expressed was disregarded by his father, Keith thought, if not
actually resented. The reason given was that a Christmas present should
be a complete surprise, and if the recipient had openly asked for it,
there could be no talk of surprising him. Of course, Keith could whisper
what he wanted into his mother's ear now and then but always with the
provision that she must convey the proper information to the father as
coming from herself.
Even this process of elimination failed, however, and so the day dragged
on interminably, with no help from without for a mind weary of waiting.
The customary dinner was passed up. Everybody snatched a bite off the
kitchen table without breaking away from the work. Three or four times
people arrived with packages from relatives or friends. Each visitor had
to be treated, even though he be a stranger of the humblest character.
Then dull monotony reigned once more, and Keith resumed his fidgeting
back and forth between the kitchen door and his own corner. The old toys
were simply unendurable....
It had long been dark when the father returned home at last, laden with
parcels and tired out by personal delivery of Christmas gifts to the
various members of the family. His face was slightly flushed and he
talked with unusual eagerness. An atmosphere of reckless good-will
surrounded him, and when he made a remark about there being no presents,
even Keith knew it to be facetious.
The last hour was the longest. The father and the mother had withdrawn
to the parlour and closed the door behind them. The girl was setting the
table and couldn't be disturbed. Granny was nervous and irritable
because she knew that she would be forced to join the rest at the table
that night. Keith felt like a disembodied soul let loose in infinite
space without goal or purpose.
Toward eight o'clock the parlour door opened and Keith was called in. A
tiny Christmas tree stood on a table in a corner, glistening with lights
and multicoloured paper festoons. It represented a great concession,
because neither one of the parents cared much for the trouble involved.
If there had been a number of children in the family, they said, then it
would have been another matter. The truth was that Keith didn't care
very much either. He clapped hands and shouted excitedly, of course, but
his glances went sideways to the big sofa, where stood a huge hamper
piled to twice its own height with parcels, all wrapped in snow-white
paper and sealed with red sealing wax. The air of the room was charged
with the rich smell of newly melted wax, and to Keith that smell was
always the essence of Christmas, its chief symbol and harbinger.
During those few minutes in the parlour a dozen tall candles had been
lighted in the living-room, transforming the place that a moment before
seemed so dreary. The dining table was opened to its full length and
placed across the middle of the room, at right angles to the
chaiselongue where Keith slept nights. Cut glass dishes and silver-ware
shone in the light reflected from the spotlessly white table cloth. In
the centre stood the Christmas layer cake, its body four inches thick
and its top glistening with red and yellow and green pieces of
Then began the little comedy regularly enacted every Christmas.
"Isn't Granny coming," the father asked. Then he turned to Lena. "Tell
her we are ready."
"She says she doesn't want to come in," Lena reported after a hasty
visit to the kitchen.
"You go and ask her for me, Keith," was the father's next suggestion.
"Thank you, dear," Granny said when Keith came to her with his message.
"But you tell your father that I think the kitchen is a much better
place for a useless old hag like myself."
"Suppose you go," the father said to his wife on hearing Keith's
modified version of Granny's reply.
"She says she really won't come in," the mother explained a minute
later. "You had better go out and ask her yourself, Carl. It is the one
thing she cannot resist."
The father went with a broad grin on his face. Keith laughed loudly and
nervously, his eyes on the huge cake. But the mother said
apologetically to Lena:
"Mamma is so funny about coming in here, although she knows how much we
"Here she is now," said Lena.
And the father appeared with Granny on his arm, and Granny was all
dressed up in her best skirt of black silk thick as cloth, with a cap of
black lace on her head.
"Really, I can't see what you want with an old thing like me in here,"
she continued protesting as she was being led to her seat beside Keith.
The girl sat opposite Granny, and the mother beside the girl, facing
Keith. The father, on that one occasion, always occupied the
chaiselongue at the short end of the table, with the mother on his right
and Keith on his left. Beside him stood the hamper with its mountainous
pile of parcels.
Keith said grace with folded hands and bent head, and, of course, he had
to say it twice because the first time he swallowed half the words in
his eagerness to get through quickly. Then the meal began.
It opened with a light _smoergasbord_, hors d'oeuvres, literally rendered
sandwich-table: caviar, anchovy, sardines, shavings of smoked salmon,
slices of bologna, and so on. With it the father took a _snaps_ of
Swedish gin or _braennvin_, and after much pressing Granny consented to
take one, too. The main course consisted of _lutfisk_: dried and salted
codfish that had been soaked in water for twenty-four hours to take out
the salt and then boiled until it was tender as cranberry jelly. It was
served with boiled potatoes and a gravy made of cream and chopped
hard-boiled eggs. It was followed by _risgrynsgroet_: rice cooked in milk
and served with a cover of sugar and cinnamon. Wherever Swedes go, they
must have those two dishes on Christmas Eve. They have had them since
the days when Christmas was a pagan celebration of the winter solstice,
when dried codfish was the staple winter food, and when rice was the
rarest of imported delicacies.
Keith did not become interested until the rice appeared and the father
declared that no one could taste it until he or she had "rhymed over the
rice." Lena had to begin, and blushingly she read:
"To cook rice is a great feat, especially to get it sweet."
Whereupon everybody applauded, and the mother followed:
"Those who don't like rice are worse than little mice."
The father made them all laugh by saying:
"The rice is sweet and looks very neat, but now I want to eat."
The cutting of the cake, with its coating of sugar and its many layers
of custard ... the wine, port and sherry, poured from tall glass
decanters with silver labels hung about their necks to show which was
which ... the blushing native apples and the figs from distant sunlit
shores ... the almonds and raisins that tested best when eaten together
... the candy and the caramels ... the absence of restraint and reproof
... the freedom to indulge one's utmost appetite ... the smiles and the
pleasant words and the jokes sprung by the father ... and in the midst
of it all a pause laden with rose-coloured melancholy....
"Why can it not be Christmas every day," asked Keith suddenly.
"Because Christmas then would be like any other day," the father
replied, reaching for the first parcel which was always for Keith.
One by one they were handed out. Each one was elaborately addressed and
furnished with a rhymed or unrhymed tag that often hid a sting beneath
its clownish exterior. The father read the inscription aloud before he
handed each parcel to its recipient, who had to open it and let its
contents be admired by all before another gift was distributed.
The table became crowded. The floor was a litter of paper. Lena giggled.
Granny's cap was down on one ear. Keith could not sit still on
"To Master Keith Wellander," the father read out. "A friendly warning,
to be remembered in the morning and all through the day. He who slops at
meals is a pig that squeals and hurts his parents alway."
Keith took the parcel with less than usual zest. It was rectangular and
very heavy. For a moment he hesitated to open it. There was something
about its inscription that puzzled and bothered him.
At last the wrapper came off, and he gazed uncomprehendingly at a large
piece of wood hollowed out like a canoe.
"A boat ..." he stammered.
"A trough," rejoined his father, a strange, almost embarrassed look