Part 3 out of 5
appearing on his face. "This is Christmas and I want you to be happy,
but you must learn to eat decently, and I thought this might serve you
as a lesson and a reminder."
Keith said nothing. He sat looking at that piece of wood as if it were a
dragon that had swallowed the whole Christmas in a single gulp. He
wanted to cry, but for the first time he seemed to feel a pride that
forbade him to do so....
"Master Keith Wellander," the father read out again with evident haste
and in a voice which he tried to make very jolly, "When beaten in the
open field, this will be my trusty shield."
It was _the_ package--and the trough was forgotten.
The boy trembled with excitement. His hands tore vainly at the paper
cover, which, in the end, had to be removed by the father.
On the table, fully revealed at last, stood a real fortress of
cardboard, with a drawbridge that could be raised, and a tower in the
centre, and at the top of it a flagstaff flying the Swedish colours.
It was his heart's most cherished desire, the thing that had seemed so
unattainable that he had deemed it useless to whisper it into his
For a long while he did not move at all, but just looked and looked,
seemingly afraid to touch the new toy. Then a warm flood of joy shot
through him, and suddenly he was seized by an irresistible impulse to
kiss his father--which was a most unusual endearment between them. As he
put his hand on the table to get off the chair, it touched the trough,
and once more his mood changed. He seemed to stiffen, and all he could
do was to hold out his hand and whisper:
"Thank you very much, papa!"
On Christmas Day morning everybody rose while it was still pitch dark
outside. After a hasty cup of coffee, the parents and Keith set off for
Great Church to attend _julotta_--yule matins--an early service held
only that one day of the year.
More snow had fallen, and now it was freezing, so that every step they
took produced a peculiar, almost metallic crunching. From every quarter
silent crowds in their holiday best streamed toward the old church. They
seemed very solemn, but Keith sensed the happy spirit underlying their
outward sedateness. It filled him with a wild desire to romp, and it was
merely the awe of his father's presence that kept him in check.
The church was packed, but they found good seats. Keith had eyes for one
thing only: the Star of Bethlehem that blazed above the screen of darkly
green spruces surrounding the altar. All the rest of it was lost on him.
Then the organ music burst forth, and for a moment he cowered as under a
blow. It was too much of a novelty, and the vibrations touched his
supersensitive nerves annoyingly. After a while he grew more accustomed
to it, but he did not like it, and he said so loudly enough to bring him
a stern glance from his father and smiles from some of the people in the
pew ahead. During the brief sermon he slept peacefully.
As soon as they were home again, the fortress was brought out and
preparations made for a great siege. In the midst of it he left his
corner to put a question to the mother, who was dozing over a book in
her easy chair.
"How could papa know that I wanted it," he asked, and she knew what he
was thinking of.
"Don't you remember," she answered smiling slyly, "how you came home one
day last summer and talked about something you had seen in a window on
West Long Street, and papa was listening."
"So long ago," mused Keith, "and I didn't know he heard it."
"Oh, yes, he heard, and he remembered. You don't understand papa. He
doesn't want you to ask for things because he finds it such a pleasure
to figure out what you want and give it to you unexpectedly."
Keith returned to his corner thinking hard, as was his wont at times.
The siege was postponed. He took out the trough and studied it
carefully. It would make a good boat. Then he put it down and sat for a
while looking at the little fortress--so like the one he could see when
he looked out of their front windows. His heart swelled, and with a rush
that nearly upset his little table, he made for his father in the
parlour, crawled up on his lap, put both arms about his neck, and kissed
him. And to his surprise he was not repelled. But a moment later his
father put him down on the floor and said in a voice that sounded a
"Go back and play with your soldiers now."
Then came dinner, always the same on Christmas Day: _smoergasbord_;
roasted fresh ham with mashed potatoes and tiny cubes of Swedish
turnips fried in butter; rice and milk; cake and wine.
And the day ended as it had begun, happily and peacefully. Never had the
boy felt more warmly toward his father. But at dinner the next day,
which was also a holiday so that the father was at home, Keith happened
to spill something on the table cloth.
"Remember your Christmas present," said the father sharply. "You are old
enough to behave properly at table, and if you won't, we shall let you
eat in your own corner and eat out of the trough."
During the rest of that day Keith could not play with his fortress. Once
he took the trough to the window that happened to be open and
contemplated the possibility of dropping it into the lane. But his
courage failed him.
It stayed with him as part of his little stock of toys, and gradually it
came to be viewed with a certain amount of indifference. But on the rare
occasions when he was permitted to have a playmate at home, he always
managed to hide the trough under his mother's bureau. And even the mere
consciousness of its presence there would sometimes set his
It was summer again. The school was closed. Keith's pleas to be allowed
to play with Johan became impassioned. Consequently his parents were
pleased when Aunt Brita asked if Keith could spend a few weeks with
them in a little cottage they had hired on an island halfway between
Stockholm and the open sea.
To Keith this was a tremendous adventure--his first excursion from home,
and almost his first acquaintance with real country life. In fact, the
impressions of the journey itself were so many and so novel that his
mind couldn't retain anything at all. The same thing happened over and
over again during the earlier part of his life, so that out of that
epoch-making summer visit, for instance, only a single slight incident
took up a lasting abode in his memory.
The cottage stood in the middle of the island, which was so small that a
fifteen-minute walk took them down to the nearest shore. Thither they
went one afternoon not long after his arrival to bathe--his aunt, his
cousin Carl who was a year younger than himself, Keith, a couple of
other children of the same age, and Mina, an eighteen-year old girl
living with Keith's uncle and aunt in a position halfway between ward
and servant. Across the fields and along shaded wood paths they ran
joyously to a sheltered bay with a sandy beach from which the open fjord
could be seen in the distance. The children stripped helter-skelter and
went into the shallow water as nature had made them, but Mina, who was
to assist them, had for want of bathing suit put on a starched white
petticoat. The upper part of her body was bare, showing two beautifully
Keith looked and looked at those breasts until Mina noticed him and
actually began to blush. As if embarrassed, she picked up one of the
other children and began to swing it around in a circle. Her movement
turned Keith's attention to the petticoat, and suddenly he could think
of nothing else.
The children were naked. Why should Mina wear a piece of clothing that
even Keith could see was quite unfitted for such a use. There must be
something to hide. What could it be? At last he could contain himself no
longer, but blurted out:
"Why does Mina wear that silly skirt?"
"Because she is afraid of catching cold," replied his aunt from the
shore with a slight jeer in her voice and one of her shrewd smiles.
"Why shouldn't we catch cold, too," was his next question.
There was no direct answer, but he could hear his aunt mutter between
"Drat that boy!"
Then she burst into open laughter, while Mina rushed ashore and hastily
began to dress behind a close screen of undergrowth.
After that Mina did not go in bathing with the children.
Many years later Keith could still visualize the whole scene as if it
had happened only a few days ago, while all his efforts to recall the
cottage where they lived, or anything else seen that summer, were vain.
In the autumn of that year Keith was sent to a "real" school, selected
after much inquiry by his parents as combining a reasonable degree of
efficiency and social standing with an equally reasonable cost of
tuition. It was private like the first one, kept by two middle-aged
spinster sisters, one of whom was tall, angular and firm, while the
other was short, fat and sentimental. It held about two scores of
pupils, most of whom were girls. These girls ranged in years to the
near-marriageable age, while none of the boys was more than eight years
old. Thus the atmosphere was distinctly feminine, which in the eyes of
Keith's mother marked an added advantage.
The only thing that excited Keith about the new school was that it took
him farther from home than he had ever been allowed to wander unattended
before, into a hitherto unexplored region of the city known as the South
End. It was a poor man's neighbourhood on the whole, but of that Keith
knew nothing at the time. The school occupied a few large and sunny
rooms in the rear part of a sprawling old stone structure built like a
palace around an enormous cobble-stoned courtyard, with a tall arched
gateway providing entrance from the street under the front part of the
house. For a while it was quite impressive and a little disturbing, but
like everything else it soon became familiar and commonplace.
To get there from his own part of town, Keith had to cross the Sluice--a
lock enabling vessels to pass safely from Lake Maelaren to the salt
waters of the Bay in spite of the frequently sharp difference of level.
At either end of the lock was a drawbridge in two sections raised from
the centre to let the larger vessels through. The place was full of
interesting sights, and Keith loved in particular to press right up
against the edge of the raised bridge as some steamer or small sailing
vessel glided leisurely in or out of the ever shifting waters of
At first it never occurred to him that he might walk around by the other
bridge when the one right in his way happened to be open, and so he was
late at school several times in quick succession. The first time he was
warned. The second he was placed in a corner of the room with his face
to the wall and kept there for about one quarter of an hour. The third
time the elder Miss Ahlberg applied a ruler to the finger-tips of his
left hand, which she held in a firm grasp within one of her own.
The physical sensation gave the boy a terrible shock. No one had ever
really hurt him before. The spankings administered at home once in a
very great while were like thunderstorms, with a great deal of noise and
small harm done. This was something else, and more intimidating than the
pain was the manifest intention of the teacher to inflict it. Her face
was tense and her eyes flashed fire. Worst of all, however, was the
shame of it, for the punishment was applied in front of the
When Keith retired to his own seat sobbing bitterly, he felt that he
could never look the other children in the face, and that they probably
would shun him as a pariah. The only thing would be to tell his mother
that he could not go back to school again. He was still shaking with
sobs, when he heard a boy on the chair behind him whisper into his ear:
"Oh, that's nothing. You just wait till she pulls your hair. She pulls
it right out by the roots. I'll show you a bare spot on my head during
the next pause."
And so he did when the lesson came to an end and they were permitted to
play for a few minutes. Other children joined them, and no one seemed to
think less of Keith for what had happened to him. It was a revelation to
him and opened vistas of considerable interest. But the memory of the
physical and mental shock received was more powerful, and after that he
took care to reach school in time regardless of what might be the
temptations along his path or the effort it might cost him to get there.
In fact, the incident became to some extent determining for his whole
career in school. He never voluntarily did anything that might expose
him to punishment, and rarely was he able to forget himself to the
extent of incurring reproof. He turned out a docile pupil, and on the
whole, docility did not come hard to him. In spite of the vitality with
which he overflowed, there was a certain timidity attaching to him.
It would be wrong to conclude that the little school of the Misses
Ahlberg was characterized by any reign of terror. As a rule, the
atmosphere was peaceful and kindly, and the teaching was rather good.
Keith was eager to learn, and learning came easy to him. In those early
days, of course, there was no studying to be done at home, but even in
later years he never knew what it was to "plug." In fact, he could not
do it. Either his interest was aroused, and then he absorbed the matter
at hand in the way he breathed, without the least conscious effort; or
his interest remained unstirred, in which case no amount of mechanical
application would help. Learning by rote offered no escape in the latter
case, for his memory operated in the same way as the rest of his mind,
sucking up what fitted it as a blotter sucks the ink, and presenting a
surface of polished marble to any matter not germane according to its
own mysterious standards.
Soon he could read without any effort whatsoever--anything. Reckoning
came easy, too, but writing came hard. It seemed so much easier to take
in than to give out in any form. Grammar gave him no difficulty, because
it dealt with words, and words possessed a magic charm that always held
him. Gradually he began to dip into history and geography--wonderful
realms into which his imagination plunged headlong. He took almost as
eagerly to the old stories out of the Bible--stories of which he had
caught more than a glimpse at home--but the Catechism was like washing
in the morning: it had to be done because higher powers so decreed.
Yes, he learned a good deal for a little boy of his age, but he never
knew how it happened. The school was never quite real to him. His home
was real, and his play at home. So was his daily walk to and from school
with its innumerable opportunities for observation in the raw. There
were people in the streets, and shops along the road, and many different
kinds of vessels in the harbour. There was the guardhouse on the little
square halfway to school, kept by a small detachment of soldiers that
were relieved every noon and that never belonged to the same regiment
two days in succession. Watching them gave him many suggestions for
handling his own tin soldiers in a more business-like fashion.
But at school.... He was never absentminded or unattentive, for that
might have brought the quick clutch of the elder Miss Ahlberg's bony
hand into his own supersensitive crop of hair, and most of what was
going on had enough interest in itself to prevent his mind from straying
far afield. He knew the names of his fellow pupils. He played with those
of his own age, and he had likes and dislikes, as was natural. But
through it all he moved as through a mist, seeing only the thing
immediately at hand, and losing sight of everything the moment he had
passed it. The three years spent in that school seemed to telescope into
each other so that soon afterwards he found himself unable to tell if a
thing had happened during the first or last of those years. Nor did the
things he remembered have any connection with the school as a rule, and
out of all the boys and girls he met there not one remained distinct in
his memory as did the figure of Harald from the first school. When he
left the school to go home for the day, he was done with it, and nothing
followed him but what was stored in his head. And that, too, seemed
forgotten at the time, to be re-discovered later with a sense of
And all that time things were happening to him at home and elsewhere
that, as far as importance went, stood in curious contrast to his
quickly forgotten experiences at school--things that burnt themselves
into his mind as a part of its permanent contents....
There was not a private bathroom to be found in Stockholm in those days.
One washed hands and face and neck whenever compelled to, and some
people, like Keith's father, splashed the upper part of their bodies
with water every morning regardless of weather and temperature. Once a
week every self-respecting person went to a public bath for a thorough
steaming and scrubbing.
Keith's mother did like the rest, and generally she took the boy along
as he was admitted without extra charge. Then mother and son would get
into a tremendous tub full of hot water--so large and so full that
Keith had to sit up in order to keep his head above water. He always
enjoyed it very much, and especially he enjoyed feeling his mother's
soft body close to his own.
On an occasion of this kind he had already finished his bath and was
sitting on a wooden bench beside the tub wrapped in a big sheet. The old
woman attendant stood ready with a similar sheet for his mother, who was
just stepping out of the tub facing the boy.
She was still young, and her skin, always beautiful, was aglow with the
heat of the bath and the friction of the scrubbing.
Keith stared open-eyed at her, unconscious of any particular interest,
and yet filled with a vague, slightly disturbing sense of pleasure.
Then his mother caught his glance. Their eyes met. A slight flush spread
over her face.
Grabbing the sheet from the old woman, she flung it about herself. As
she did so, he heard her say to the attendant:
"That young gentleman will have to bathe with his father hereafter, I
At first he was conscious of a rebuke, and the cause of it left him
quite at sea. He would probably have puzzled over it a great deal more
than he did, had not his mind become preoccupied with the idea that he
would be allowed to accompany his father to the men's part of the
establishment. It was an idea that filled him with a sort of
Among the less intimate friends of his mother was a young widow with a
little girl about a year younger than Keith. For some reason unknown to
the boy, those two came to see his mother several times that Spring. It
was the first time in his life Keith met a girl on familiar terms.
Clara was slender and elfish, with a wealth of yellow tresses falling
down her back. She was tender and gay, too, and Keith liked to hear her
laugh. When they played, she was always ready to fall in with any whim
One afternoon, when the days were growing longer, Clara's mother asked
permission to leave her with the Wellanders while she attended to some
business in the neighbourhood. Keith's mother was occupied in the
kitchen in some manner making her wish to have the door to the
living-room closed. Thus the two children were left to play by
He never could remember how it began, and he could not tell what put the
idea in his head....
It was a new game, and she played it as readily as any other he might
have proposed. They had crawled so far into his own corner by the window
that they were almost hidden behind mamma's bureau.
At first they whispered to each other, eagerly as children do, but only
with the eagerness they might have shown if playing hide-and-seek. Then
he raised her little dress, and she didn't seem to mind. He also undid
his own dress, and they studied each other's bodies, noting the
The end of it was that they laid down together on the floor. He put his
mouth to hers and hugged her just as tightly as he could. When they had
been lying in way for a while, he whispered to her:
"Isn't it nice?"
And she dutifully whispered back: "It is!"
A few minutes later they were playing with his tin soldiers, and soon
after Clara's mother returned to take her away.
During their entire play both doors had remained closed. Keith was quite
sure of that. He had looked before he started the new game, although he
was not aware of trespassing on prohibited territory.
Afterwards he felt rather uneasy. There was a distinct sense of risk
attaching to that game, and he wondered whether Clara might tell her
mother. At the same time the thought of what he had done filled him with
inexplicable satisfaction, as if, in some way, he had put something over
on the grown-ups.
As for his own mother--she seemed to be watching him with unusual
concern during the next few days, and he could not escape a suspicion
that she knew. Closed doors did not seem to prevent grown-up people from
knowing what children did.
At the same time he wondered why he and Clara should not be playing as
they had done. There was really nothing to it. And the comparisons they
had made took no hold of his imagination. The differences revealed he
accepted as he accepted anything that had no direct bearing on his own
As far as he could recall afterwards, he never saw Clara again. Nor did
he seem to miss her.
The incident with Clara was forgotten. Yet Keith had a sense of being
watched a little more closely than usual. He was rarely permitted to go
out alone after his return from school. And he was scolded if he ever
was late in coming home.
There was mystery in the air. The parents talked together a good deal in
a way that made Keith understand they were talking about him and did not
want to be overheard.
As soon as school closed the secret became revealed. He would be sent
into the real country for the summer to board with perfect strangers.
"Any children," was Keith's first question. Yes, a couple of sons in the
house, and probably one or two more boys from the city, boarders
It seemed the thing had been planning for a long time. The mother said
something about the necessity for Keith of going where everything was
clean and wholesome--the air, the food, the people. The boy knew that
she had been worrying about him for some reason he could not guess.
An advertisement in a newspaper had led his mother on the track of what
she wanted. She read it to him--"a religious family with children of
their own would take a few well-behaved boys of good family for the
summer months and give them a real home and as good as parental care."
It turned out to be the sexton of a country parish on the northern shore
of Lake Maelaren who had devised this means of eking out his probably
limited professional income. The ensuing correspondence had proved quite
satisfactory. The mother was evidently pleased. It was almost as good as
staying with the pastor himself, she said.
Keith knew what a pastor was. He had several times heard one preach from
a funny hanging box in Great Church, and he thought of him as a man who
was always dressed in black and who was even more serious than the
father. But it did not bother him, partly because he realized that,
after all, a sexton was not the same as a pastor, and partly because his
mind was full of something else. It was not the country, although his
previous experience of it, when he was staying with his aunt, had given
him a rather favourable impression. No, what occupied him to the
exclusion of everything else was the thought that he would be able to
play with other children all day long, and that there would be no one to
pull him away just as a game was becoming really interesting.
Exciting days of preparation followed. And finally the day of departure
The greater part of the journey was to be made by boat to the little
town of Enkoeping, where Mr. Swensson, the sexton, would be waiting with
a team. The mother could not go along, and so Keith was placed in the
hands of some people going the same way, who promised to look after him
and see that he did not fall into wrong hands when the steamer landed.
Keith had to stand in the stern of the boat and wave his handkerchief as
long as his mother remained visible. Then he was free, at last, to
surrender himself to the novelty of his situation. And as always upon
such occasions, when new impressions came crowding in upon him, the
record became too blurred for clear remembrance. This was true not only
of the trip on the steamer, the arrival at Enkoeping with its little
old-fashioned red houses, the meeting with Mr. Swanson, the drive of
thirty miles or more inland, the arrival at the sexton's house not far
from a white spired church, and the introduction to a seemingly endless
number of new faces, but of the whole long summer. A couple of months
sufficed to wipe out of his memory everything but a few comparatively
trivial incidents and impressions.
Only one name escaped the general oblivion--that of the sexton himself.
Only one view left a lasting image behind--that of a tremendously large
boulder, a memento of the glacial period, that rose like a crude
monument right in the centre of a tilled field almost, but not quite out
of sight of the house. Only one face would come back in recognizable
shape when he tried to recall that rather momentous summer--that of a
boy a few years older than himself, who was the leader of all the games
played around the big rock in the open field.
Quite a gang of boys gathered daily about the big rock, generally on the
farther side of it where they could not be seen from the house. Beyond
the rock in that direction was nothing but an open field, and then the
woods, rarely disturbed by a visitor. Thus they were really more safe
than indoors as no one could approach them without being detected while
still far away.
The two sons of the sexton were there, and a couple of boys from the
city besides Keith, and three or four sons of neighbouring farmers. They
ranged in ages from eight to eleven or twelve. Keith was the baby, but
this was never held up against him. He was commonly treated as an equal,
which raised his self-confidence tremendously, but it had also a
somewhat embarrassing effect when the others seemed to take for granted
that he knew as much as they concerning the matters that most occupied
their minds--to judge by their talk at least.
The oldest of the lot, and their undisputed leader, was a peasant boy of
remarkable ugliness, squint-eyed and snub-nosed, with tufts of yellow
hair always falling over his face and several teeth missing. His clothes
were in rags and he never wore shoes. He boasted of never washing unless
"the old one" stood over him with a stick, and his language was worse
than both his manners and his looks. An unbroken stream of profanity
and obscenity poured from his rarely silent mouth, and he heaped
withering scorn on any attempt at decent speech.
Keith had now and then picked up questionable words while playing in the
lane where he lived. Johan sported some of them in moments of furious
rebellion against his mother's "holiness," as he called it. Once or
twice Keith had repeated such words at home and suffered for it. Soon he
learned to know the type at first hearing, and he disliked this part of
the vocabulary even when he could use it without danger to himself. He
developed a greater daintiness in words than in anything else, but this
summer formed an exception. The force of suggestion brought to bear on
him was too overwhelming, and he strove boldly to vie with the rest in
foulness of tongue and thought. As soon as he was back in the city, this
habit dropped off him as the soap lather is washed off a bather when he
dives into the clear waters of a lake. But the game he had learned to
play back of the big rock could not be unlearned in the same way.
This game was in itself a revelation to Keith. He was not shocked or
startled, because he had no standards in the matter, but at first he
experienced a distinct revulsion. This wore off quickly, however, and
soon he accepted what he saw as a natural thing. The boy whose face
stuck in Keith's mind with such strange persistency set the pace, and
everybody seemed to hold him a hero on that account. Even the other city
boys surrendered after a brief resistance and tried humbly to emulate
the acknowledged leader.
Everything took place openly in the most brazen fashion, as if they had
been playing leap-frog or hide-and-seek. Every one boasted of his own
achievements and tried to outdo the rest in unashamed performance. Yet
it was not so much a question of companionship in indulgence as of
sportsmanlike competition. Pleasure had little to do with it. What they
did, and still more what they pretended to have done, was an assertion
and a proof of manliness, and so was the language they used among
themselves. If they hid from the older people, that was not because they
regarded themselves as engaged in any sinful pursuits, but because the
grown-ups to them appeared jealous of all childish pleasures, and
particularly jealous of the pleasures most treasured by themselves.
Outwardly Keith played the part of an interested but passive observer.
When taunted for his timidity, or as being a mere infant, he parried by
using a number of nasty words, some of which he did not know the meaning
of. When by himself, he soon found that he could play the game as well
as the rest, and it increased his sense of self-importance very much,
but of this he said nothing to any one. Something within his own nature
protested against the flaunting of such an act, though the act itself
carried no offence to his childish mind. The inner protest was not
strong enough to break into words or to make the companionship of the
other boys seem repulsive to him. Nor was it concerned with anything
Keith did by himself.
The summer went very fast. Keith was sorry when told that it was time
for him to go home. He would come back, of course, but his regrets were
only momentary. No sooner was he started than the idea of seeing his
mother, Granny, and his tin soldiers again, put everything else out
of his mind.
His mother was overjoyed to see him and revelled in his healthy looks.
She made him tell her at great length, over and over again, about
everything he had seen and done, about the place and the people, about
the food and the games he had played. Keith talked and talked, eagerly
and freely, but of the game played behind the big rock he never said
He was then not quite seven years old.
That autumn and winter he was permitted to play a good deal with Johan,
and always in Johan's home. His mother had a bad spell of depression,
and while it made her fret and worry more than ever about Keith, as well
as about everything else, she was either too weak to resist his pleas,
or she felt his absence as a relief.
To his intense surprise, Keith found that Johan already knew all about
the new game, and that he was quite willing to play it. And for a couple
of years it became an important part of what they had in common. Chances
were not lacking, for Johan's mother was too wrapt up in her postils and
religious speculations to watch them closely, and there was always the
outhouse to which they could retire for privacy.
Their relationship was a peculiar one. Although the younger by a few
months and the smaller by several inches, Keith was the leader and the
aggressor. Johan remained passive--too passive, Keith often thought.
There was nothing of love in Keith's feelings toward Johan, nothing
emotional. The tenderness that was such a marked feature of his
character did not come into play at all. In fact, he rather looked down
on Johan, who frequently annoyed him by his dullness and his lack of
personal neatness. The truth of it was that he played with Johan merely
because he was the only other boy in sight, and in so far as that
particular game was concerned, Johan was simply an accessory to it in
same way as his tin soldiers and his toy fort.
In playing it, Keith had always a sense of seeking something else, but
he had not the slightest idea of what this something might be. It must
have some relation to girls, he felt vaguely, but beyond that vague
feeling he could not get. Clara remained forgotten.
Gradually Johan became more and more indifferent and reluctant as far as
that game was concerned. Dull as he was, he seemed to have some sort of
scruples that Keith couldn't understand. More and more Keith was thrown
back on himself. Once more a new set of interests began to take the
lion's share of his attention, although the game learned behind the big
rock would reassert its puzzling fascination from time to time.
His eagerness to read and his lack of reading matter had for some time
presented a growing problem. The books of his father--and there were
quite a number of them--were taboo for a double reason: first, because
they were not held safe for him to read, and, secondly, because his
father regarded them as his particularly private property that must not
be touched by any one else.
So he fell back on the old Bible and chance pickings. The stirring and
bloodcurdling stories in the Books of the Maccabees were his favourites.
He read them over and over, and he tried to dramatize that unbroken
record of battles with the help of his tin soldiers. But the reason he
could return to those stories so often was that he began studying them
while reading was still a partly mastered art, and half the time he was
more interested in the game of reading, so to speak, than in what
A year in the new school had made a great change. He read anything with
ease, and while he read rather slowly without ever skipping, his mind
took in what he read quickly and thoroughly so that going back over a
thing once perused became less and less attractive. He wanted new
material for his mind, and he wanted it in steadily increasing
One day he made a great discovery. Books could be borrowed from other
people. One of his schoolmates came to school with a wonderful
illustrated copy of "Don Quixote" arranged for children. Keith went into
ecstasies over it. The mail-clad figure of the Knight of the Rueful
Countenance on the front cover was to him the beckoning guardian of a
world of wonders, the very existence of which he had never before
suspected. Tears came into his eyes at last as he stared hopelessly at
the object of his newly born desire. As a rule he blurted out any wish
he might have, but the thing was clearly too precious to ask as a gift
or acquire by bartering, and he had never heard of any other way of
"Mercy," cried the other boy after having watched him for a while. "You
can take it home and read it, if you only promise to bring it back."
For a moment Keith was too overcome to speak. Then he became hysterical
with joy. The rest of the school day passed in a trance. He ran a good
part of the way home. Arrived there, he almost forgot to give his mother
and Granny the inevitable kiss of greeting. And he might even have
refused to be bothered by such a thing but for his fear of being put
under some discipline that might prevent him from plunging straightway
into the unexplored country of make-believe.
On seeing the book, his mother hesitated for a moment, but soon she was
delighted with the results it produced. Keith had no thought of asking
leave to see Johan that day. He was lost to the world around him. Not a
sound was heard from him. There was no nervous running about in futile
search for "something to do." The home was as quiet as if he had been
away, and yet there he was, safely ensconced in his own corner, where
his mother could watch him all the time.
Everybody was happy until the father returned home and heard of what had
happened. Having looked the book over for a moment, while the boy
watched him with a shrinking heart, he said at last:
"You must return it tomorrow, and I don't want you to borrow any more
books. You may spoil it in some way, and then you will have to pay for
it, and where are you to get the money?"
Keith tried hard not to cry, but the blow was too overwhelming. He was
driven out of his new paradise after a tantalizing glimpse at it. And he
could not understand why. So his tears must needs flow freely and his
throat contracted convulsively with half-choked sobs, and the final
result of it was that he was ordered to bed at once. That ended his last
chance of abstracting a few more thrills from the borrowed treasure.
Of course, the book was returned the next day. Keith had not yet arrived
at the point where the evasion of a parental decree seemed conceivable.
And to the sorrow of missing the promised enjoyment was added the
humiliation of confessing what had happened at home. To lie about it was
another thing that never occurred to him, and to act without explanation
was quite foreign to his nature.
A few sad days followed. Then his life resumed its customary tone, and
it was as if the lank, but to him far from ludicrous, shape of Don
Quixote had never crossed his horizon. And soon after Christmas recurred
Among the many packages falling to his share, there were two of a shape
that suggested the possibility of more tin soldiers. But when he held
them in his hand, they failed to yield to pressure as would a cardboard
box. Curiosity turned into genuine suspense. And when at last two books
lay in front of him as his own, with the implied permission that he
could read them to his heart's content whenever he chose, a pang of
something like real love for his father shot through his heart.
Those two little volumes became at once his most priceless possession
and the foundation of his first library. To others they might appear
quite commonplace books, without much value from any point of view. To
him they were passports to a realm of action and freedom and colour,
where he could roam at will in search of everything he missed in real
life. One was bound in white with the picture of an African lion hunt on
the front cover. The other one had a plain brown binding. Both had
coloured illustrations and contained stories of hunting and travelling
adventures in all sorts of out-of-the-way places. There were tales of
lion hunting with Arabs and tiger hunting in the jungles of India, of
whaling in the Arctic and hair-breadth escapes from giant snakes in
South America, of cruises in southern seas and caravaning across the
high plateaus of Central Asia.
One story in particular stuck in his mind, and more particularly one
little detail out of that story. It was one of comparative repose and
few sensational incidents relating the perfectly peaceful, but
nevertheless strange and interesting experiences of a European traveller
through some desert region back of the Caspian Sea. Arriving at a nomad
camp far away from all civilization, this traveller was met with
touching hospitality. During a formal visit to the chieftain of the
tribe, he was offered tea. With the tea was handed him a bowl containing
a single lump of sugar. In European fashion he picked up this and
dropped it into his cup. Not a word was said, but something told him
that he had committed some dreadful mistake. By and by, as he watched
the others, he understood. Sugar was so rare that to use it in ordinary
fashion was out of question, and so the solitary lump served was meant
to be licked in turn by each, and he, as the guest of honour, had been
given the first chance. To Keith's mind that story seemed as clearly
realized as if he had played a part in it himself. And what occupied him
more than anything else was the pitiful existence of those poor nomads
to whom even such a common thing as sugar was an almost unattainable
luxury. It was his first lesson in human sympathy, and it was typical of
his own existence and bent that it should have come out of a book.
From that day one of his main objects in life was to acquire books. He
had little pride as a rule, in spite of all his sensitiveness, and when
books were concerned he had none at all. Having discovered that a friend
of the family, who until then had been regarded with supreme
indifference, held some sort of clerical position in a publishing house,
his devotion to Uncle Lander suddenly became effusive and he begged so
shamelessly and so successfully that at last his father had to
intercede. Out of a half-hour sermon on things that must not be done,
Keith grasped only that, as usual, he could not do what he wanted. Money
was still a mystery to him, and he never suspected that Uncle Lander
would have to pay his employers for every book taken out of the stock.
The sole check to his passion sprang logically from the very fervor of
that passion: a book being such a precious object to himself, he could
not dream of taking it away from somebody else. As in a flash the true
spirit of his father's objection to borrowed books was revealed to him.
That objection became his own and stuck to him through life: if he liked
a borrowed book, the inescapable duty of returning it was too painful to
be faced, and if he didn't like it, there was no reason for borrowing
it. Books became sacred things to him, to be cherished and protected as
nothing else. The loss of one was a catastrophe.
Soon he had a small library of his own, kept on a shelf in the huge
wardrobe that stood in the vestibule leading to the parlour. Made up at
first of odds and ends bearing no real relation to his desire for
reading matter, it gradually acquired a certain homogeneity reflecting
the boy's state of mind. Books of travel and adventure continued to
prevail for a long while. Equally favoured were stories dealing with
Norse Mythology and the heroic legends of his race. The grim record of
the Niebelungs was familiar to him at the age of eight, and the first
heroes of his worship were young Siegfried of divine aspect and Dietrich
of Bern, who seemed to the boy the final embodiment of worldly wisdom.
To these should be added Garibaldi, of whose South American campaigns,
so touchingly shared by the faithful Anita, he read graphic accounts in
an odd volume of an illustrated weekly. The word liberty first came to
him from the lips of the picturesque Italian, while Anita and the women
of the old Germanic sagas struck him by their contrast to his mother.
In the main, all his reading made for escape and compensation. He read
to get away from his own surroundings, and he revelled in characters of
fiction and legend and history that possessed qualities lacking in
himself. By nature he was a queer mixture of rashness and timidity, but
through his mother's anxiety on his behalf the latter quality was
constantly being nursed at the expense of all tendency to action. And
so, in order to keep the balance, he revelled in the imaginary or real
deeds of men whose very life-breath was danger. The more the books gave
him of what he craved, the less he thought of looking for it in life.
Consequently his new passion seemed a godsend to his mother, who
encouraged him in every possible way. It brought a solution of many
difficulties and worries by keeping him at home and quiet. The only
resistance came, as usual, from the father, who repeatedly counselled
moderation and often made the boy drop his book and turn to something
else--which seemed to Keith the worst of all the tyrannies to which he
found himself exposed. But most of the time the father was powerless
because of his absence from home, and soon Keith learned that his
reading formed the only exception to his mother's general refusal to
permit any circumvention of his father's explicit command.
It also became plain to Keith that the mother favoured his love for the
books not only as a means of relief to herself. Evidently she held it
admirable in itself and a promise bearing in some mysterious manner on
his future. His mother's approval flattered him, but otherwise her
attitude was a riddle which he did not care to solve as long as it
brought him permission to explore at will this newly discovered world of
perfectly safe enjoyment. In the end, however, that strange reverence
shown by his mother combined with his own increasing ability to live the
cherished life of his dreams at second hand into an influence that more
or less warped his entire outlook on life. It robbed to some extent of
his sense of proportion.
His father noticed his timidity and seemed to view it with a sense of
humiliation. Once, in the presence of company, he threatened to put him
into skirts "like any other girl." Keith had played too little with
other children to have acquired the usual male consciousness of
superiority, but his father's words cut him to the quick nevertheless,
because he knew them to be meant for an insult. He resolved then and
there to show his mettle in some striking way, and promptly be began to
dream of such ways, but chance being utterly lacking for even a normal
display of boyish daring, it merely served to plunge him more deeply
into the sham life of his books.
Yet he was not without courage, and it was not physical pain, or the
fear of it, that brought the tears so quickly into flowing. Once, when
returning home with an uncovered bowl full of molasses from the grocery,
he stumbled at the foot of the stairs and fell so his forehead struck
the edge of the lowest step and his scalp was cut open to the width of
nearly an inch. The blood blinded him so that he could barely make his
way upstairs. When he reached the kitchen at last, his mother was scared
almost out of her wits, and her fright was augmented by the manner in
which he sobbed as if his heart were breaking. When at last the flow of
blood was partly stenched and his crying still continued, his mother
tried to tell him that there was no cause to be scared.
"I am not scared," he sputtered to her surprise. "I didn't know I was
hurt, but ... but ... I spilled all the molasses."
That night his father gave him a shining new silver coin without telling
him why, and the boy couldn't guess it at the time, though later he
learned the reason from his mother.
A favourite method employed by the father to test and to develop his
courage was to send him alone after dark on some errand into the cellar
or up into the attic, and the boy went without protest, no matter how
much he might dread the task at heart. Even the servant girls felt
reluctant about visiting the cellar at night, and the occasional
discovery of a drunken man asleep in front of the cellar door made the
danger far from imaginary.
Going down to the cellar, Keith was permitted to bring a candle along,
but the danger of fire made this out of the question when the attic was
his goal. One night on his way up there, he discovered a white,
fluttering shape by the square opening in the outer wall. He stopped on
the spot, and his heart almost stopped, too--but only for a moment.
Driven by some necessity he could not explain to himself, he picked
himself together and pushed on, only to find that the intimidating
spectre consisted of some white clothing hung for drying on the iron rod
of the shutter and kept moving by a high wind. It was a lesson that went
right home and stuck.
During that one moment of hesitation, the idea of a ghost tried to take
form in his more or less paralysed consciousness. He had read of ghosts,
and overheard stories told by the servant girls in apparent good faith,
and that whitish, almost luminous thing in front of him, stirring
restlessly with a faint hissing sound, looked and acted the part of a
ghost to perfection. But the idea was rejected before it had taken clear
shape and without any reasoning, instinctively, automatically. His
father always became scornful at the mere mention of ghosts, and that
When it was all over, and he was safe within the kitchen door once more,
he told no one what had happened. He thought that, in spite of his
initial scare, he had acted decidedly well, and he was eager for
approval, but he was kept from telling by an uneasy feeling that his
father would laugh at him if he did.
The boy's timidity took quite different forms. One day the whole family
was astir. His parents had in some way obtained tickets to that
evening's performance at the Royal Opera. As the custom of the place was
to permit the holders of two adjoining seats to bring in a child with
them, it was decided after much discussion that Keith might go along.
His mother tried to explain the nature and purpose of a theatrical
performance, but what she said made no impression on the boy, who was
more excited by the thought of accompanying his parents than by what he
might hear or see.
Their seats were in a box in the third tier. It was like being suspended
halfway between the top and the bottom of a gigantic well. The depth of
that well affected the boy unpleasantly, while the strong light and the
hum of talk confused him. He clung closely to his mother with averted
face. Suddenly the light went out, and he heard his mother whisper:
Glancing up, he found that a new room full of people had appeared where
before was nothing but a flat wall.
"What became of the wall, mamma," he asked aloud. She hushed him with a
smile, and he heard some one in another box titter.
"Now keep very quiet and try to follow what happens on the stage," his
mother admonished in another whisper.
They were giving Auber's "Crown Diamonds." The rich dresses appealed
somewhat to him, but not strongly. The music made no impression on him
whatsoever. The general effect on his mind was one of bewilderment, that
soon lapsed into bored indifference. Then he discovered that most of the
men on the stage were armed, and that some of them acted as if they
might put their weapons into use at any moment. And he, the ardent
participant in all the bloody deeds of Siegfried and Dietrich and
Kriemhild, he, the passionate hunter of big game on five continents,
became so nervous that nothing but fear of his father kept him from
burying his head in his mother's lap in order not to see any more. When,
at last, a shot rang out on the stage, even that fear could no longer
restrain him, and there was nothing for his mother to do but to escort
him out of the box into the corridor. There, under the care of a
friendly doorkeeper who treated him to candy out of a paper bag, he
stayed in perfect contentment until his parents were ready to go home.
"Oh, we must go again, Carl," he heard his mother cry in a tone of high
"All right, you go," said the father with a yawn, Keith and I don't
care--do we, Keith?"
"No," Keith replied mechanically, but even as he spoke he became
conscious of a desire to share his mother's enthusiasm rather than his
father's indifference. If they would only promise not to shoot! ...
Three years he remained in the school of the Misses Ahlberg. Three times
fall and winter and spring were followed by that painfully delicious
period of almost unbroken daylight, when the very books seemed to lose
some of their magic, when even the air of the old lane became fraught
with some mystic urge, and when life within stone walls turned into an
He rose by degrees from mere spelling to the study of a foreign
language, German. He learned his Catechism by heart--or rather by rote,
for the time-worn phrases dropped from his lips at demand very much as
water runs down a mill sluice, without leaving any trace. In fact,
little of what he learned appeared to touch his real life at all. Nor
could he be made to take it very seriously, although, on the whole, he
was counted a good pupil.
He used schoolbooks, of course, but he was rarely caught reading one of
them. His mind seemed to master the offered knowledge by some mysterious
process of absorption of which he himself was never aware. Study in the
sense of close and painful application was quite foreign to him. Yet he
seemed capable of mastering anything that aroused his interest--or that
stirred his vanity, for he loved to shine. Unfortunately most of his
schoolmates were dull plodders who had not yet reached a stage where
plodding counted, and so his triumphs came easy and there was nothing to
spur him into serious effort.
At the end of the third year he had practically exhausted the
possibilities of the little school in the South End, and it was
understood that he would not return in the fall, when he would be nine
years old. But nothing had been decided about what he was to do instead.
He had not been unhappy with the Misses Ahlberg and his leave-taking
lacked none of the expected emotional colouring. Yet he left without a
pang, without regrets. It was as if he had passed through that school in
his sleep, waking up only when he reached home and his books. He had
made no friends and formed no ties at school, and outside of it he had
never associated with any of his schoolmates. Not one of them left a
mark on his memory as Harald had done. In a place full of girls, his
little heart never was betrayed into a single quickened beat of
anticipation. Nor did he make any new connections outside of the school
during those years. One might almost say that he had ceased to realize
the existence of things or persons except in so far as they administered
to some immediate need within himself.
Summer came early that year, and with it came a marked change. His
restlessness grew almost morbid, so that his mother found it nearly
impossible to keep him indoors. He was every minute pleading for leave
to play with Johan, and on several occasions when permission had been
granted, he and Johan left the quiet lane to play with strange boys on
the Quay. It drove his mother almost to despair, and she tried one thing
after another to keep him at home.
She was doing some embroidery at that particular time and the work
seemed to interest the boy a great deal. Sometimes, when he had given up
all hope of getting out, he could stand for many minutes at a time
watching the needle with its tail of brightly coloured yarn pass in and
out through the wide meshes of the fabric. Finally his mother suggested
that he try his hand at it, and he grabbed eagerly at that chance of
diversion. For about three days he was as devoted to his needle as any
girl. By that time he had filled a small square with a sort of design of
his own, and when his father returned home in the evening of the third
day, Keith displayed his achievement with considerable pride.
"Fine," remarked the father dryly. "Now we know what to do with him if
Uncle Granstedt does not think good him enough for a carpenter. We'll
apprentice him to a tailor. He'll make a good one, I am sure, as it
takes nine tailors to make a man, he need not have as much courage as a
That disposed of the embroidery once for all, but it seemed also to
bring matters to a head. As soon as the father was done with his meal,
the mother made him accompany her into the parlour, and there they
stayed an endless time. When they returned to the living-room, Keith
could see that his mother had been crying, but she was smiling brightly
at that moment, and her voice had a ring of triumph when she said:
"Papa has something to tell you, Keith."
"Yes," the father drawled. "Your mother, as usual, has persuaded me to
do what I doubt is right. Because she has pleaded for you, I'll let you
enter the public school in the fall. That will cost money, and I am not
sure it is good for a poor man's son like you, but we'll see. It means
that you will have to do some studying at last, for if you don't--well,
then you'll have to learn a trade."
As always on such occasions, Keith took his cue from the mother, and her
mien told him that he ought to be pleased. It was a new departure
anyhow, and it implied evidently an advance that would administer to his
rather undernourished sense of self-importance. For anything doing so he
had a passionate craving, and so he was ready to rejoice.
The new school was still far off, however, and in the meantime there was
close at hand a problem that piqued him annoyingly. Had his father
really meant to make a carpenter or a tailor of him if his mother had
not interceded, or was the talk about it merely an expression of the
father's peculiar unwillingness to admit any sort of tender feeling
toward the son?
That was not the way Keith put it, in so far as he attempted any
formulation at all, but it was in substance what his momentary
speculations amounted to, and the solution of the problem lay quite
beyond him. He never could make out just what his father meant or
thought or felt in regard to himself.
Then several developments followed each other in quick succession. First
of all his father bought him a season ticket at the public baths in the
North River and made him join a class of small boys for instruction in
the manly art of swimming. The world was opening up, Keith felt, and his
father was lured to the verge of openly expressed satisfaction at
finding that the boy's timidity did not extend to cold water.
No sooner, however, had he mastered the mechanics of the thing
sufficiently to graduate from the board-walk onto a cork pillow in the
water, than he had to quit because the whole family was "going into the
country" for the summer. To Keith this meant a chance of playing with
other children without having to ask permission every time and rarely
getting it. To his mother it meant a distinct social advance, as no
family staying in town all summer could be held really respectable.
The "country" was located on one of the numerous islands forming the
outskirts of the city and could be reached by the father after he
finished work by a fifteen-minute ride on one of the innumerable little
steamboats running back and forth like so many busy shuttles across
every sheet of water in the vicinity of Stockholm. Even then it was a
suburb, but the houses were called villas, and there were plenty of
trees between the buildings, and the roads meandering whimsically among
miniature lawns and gardens had no pavements, and the lake came right up
to the door.
There the father had rented a single room from some acquaintances who
made their home on the island all the year round. The man was a German
who had recently returned to Sweden after serving as a noncommissioned
officer in the Franco-Prussian war--a stocky Bavarian with a tremendous
black beard, a fondness for top-boots and long-stemmed pipes, and a
startling tendency to shout every communication in the form of a
command. He was a good-natured soul nevertheless, in spite of his
appearance, his occasional bursts of temper, and his exaggerated regard
for discipline, and he was full of stories about real fighting that
differed puzzlingly from what Keith had read about such matters. Uncle
Laube had a pet phrase that stuck in the boy's mind and exercised a
corroding influence on some of his most cherished sentiments:
"A man must be able to fight, but it is black hell when he has to."
There were three children in the family--a boy two or three years older
than Keith, a girl of his own age and a baby sister. The boy was named
Adolph and the elder girl Marie. All three of them, but especially the
boy, were being brought up in strict Teutonic fashion, which made a sort
of super-religion out of obedience. At the mere sound of his father's
voice, Adolph trembled and stiffened up like a recruit under training.
Once the two boys and Marie strayed beyond bounds to a place where some
timber rafts were tied up along the shore. Adolph led the way onto the
rafts and the two others followed. It was great fun jumping from log to
log where two rafts met, until Marie suddenly slipped into the water and
began to sink like a stone. Quick as a flash Adolph dropped on his knees
on a log that was partly under water, grabbed the girl by her hair and
pulled her out. On their return home, Adolph was licked until he could
not stand on his feet for leading the smaller children into mischief.
Then he got a crown for the pluck shown in saving his sister's life.
This even balancing of justice made a deep impression on Keith. He
thought and thought of it, and his reason, which already was very
active, appreciated the logic of such a dispensation, but his heart
rebelled strangely and turned for a while to his own father as a paragon
of mildness, while the black-bearded Uncle Laube became an object of
repulsion bordering on hatred. Fortunately the disciplinarian was away
most of the day and Keith was running wild around the island. This was
not possible without some protests from his mother, who regarded all
water outside of a tub with deep distrust. He nevertheless maintained an
unusual degree of independence until one day, while playing in one of
the rowboats lying outside a small pier near their house, he, too, fell
in and was pulled out by Adolph.
The children were alone at the time. Keith had no consciousness of
having been in danger, but he was in a funk because of his wet clothing.
Instead of going home at once, he ran to an open spot at the other end
of the island and played in the sun to get dry. After a while his mother
appeared, disturbed by his long absence. There was nothing to do but to
respond to her call, although he did so most reluctantly, his clothing
still being damp. His slow movements aroused her suspicion, and in
another moment the awful truth was out.
"You might have drowned," his mother cried, too frightened to scold. "Or
you might have caught cold and died of that. Perhaps ... you had better
come home at once."
"No," protested Keith. "Adolph was there, and it hasn't been cold at
"But think, Keith," his mother remonstrated, her eyes dim with tears,
"you wouldn't care to die and leave me?"
"I don't want to leave you," the boy said, "and I was not going to."
She took his head between her two hands and looked long into his eyes
before she asked at last:
"Are you not scared of death?"
"I don't know," he stammered, wincing slightly under her stare. He could
not grasp what she was driving at. Death carried no clear meaning to
him. It had never touched his real inner life, and he never thought of
it. No matter how frightened he became, it never occurred to him that he
might cease to exist. Even his dreams had no colouring of that kind.
In spite of his mother's anxiety, he learned to swim that summer. He
liked it and did it rather well for his age. But he never ventured very
far out. Rebel as he might against the check on his movements, his
mother's attitude had left a lasting mark on him, and avoiding needless
risks seemed a natural thing to him. As a result of this inhibition, all
his outdoor playing lacked that complete abandon which is the soul of
it. He been made an indoor child beyond retrieve.
Being so much in the open air and moving about as a child should, his
nights during that summer passed mostly without dreams of any kind, and
also without other disturbances worth speaking of. He was too healthily
tired for anything but sleep.
The winter nights, following days spent largely indoors with little
company and less exercise, were quite different. Then the passing from
wakefulness to sleep took him through a dangerous twilight period, when
games of the kind learned behind the big rock seemed not only natural,
but the most enticing thing in the world. And the more he was thrown
back on his own resources, the more tempting those games became. They
represented, besides, something that was entirely his own, with which no
one else could interfere. It was a secret that would have been the
sweeter for being shared with some one else, he felt, but Johan's
peculiar attitude in this matter had filled him with a shyness not his
own by nature.
Then, with the sleep, came also the dreams. At first they were, or
seemed to be, mere plays of fancy--shadowy repetitions of daylight
experiences in clownish distortion. Then they began to change. An
element of unrest, and finally of dread, began to fill them. This did
not happen, however, until the same elements had found a place in his
waking life, and particularly not until the hours of that twilight
period had developed into a source of increasingly acute conflict.
Nothing palpable had happened. Nothing had been said openly to convince
him that his secret was known and that it was evil. Yet the air about
him seemed full of suspicion and suspense and menace. The mere way in
which his mother looked at him at times filled his soul with sinister
misgivings. And she was always talking about temptations and dangers
that walk in the dark. Or else she dropped mysterious warnings about the
duty of keeping one's soul and body clean and pure.
It was all very disturbing, and he should have liked to ask questions,
but always some imperious force within himself kept him back. He felt
that his sweet secret would never bear open discussion, but the more
desperately he clung to it, the more his mind was poisoned with doubts
out of which soon grew fears.
Thus began the new dream life.
He was as a rule the only living being in those dreams. Everything else
consisted of lifeless things, and mostly of spaces and dimensions rather
than of objects. The dominant characteristic was an increase of size
proportional to the increase of distance from himself. He found himself,
for instance, in the midst of a vast space laid out in squares. Where he
stood at the centre, those squares were just large enough to hold him.
Then, as his glance passed outward, the squares became larger and
larger, until at last their dimensions became gigantic. Soon they began
to move toward him, growing smaller as they approached, and yet filling
his soul with a horror based entirely on the monstrous size of those
squares that were still miles away. Or he walked down a corridor built
of stones that, as it opened out in front of him, expanded indefinitely
until it assumed proportions that filled him with a sickening sense of
his own smallness. As he moved forward, the corridor automatically
contracted, but always the horror of those immeasurable vastnesses still
ahead of him continued dominant and inevitable. At other times sums of
figures came moving toward him from every direction, and the farther
away from him they were, the more enormous they grew, until his mind no
longer could take them in, and his heart quaked at the thought that
sooner or later one of them would reach him in its original
He tried once to tell his mother about those dreams, but found it
impossible to express what he wished to describe. Not long afterwards he
was aroused in the middle of the night by his mother calling him by
name. Her voice betrayed worry.
"What's the matter, Keith," she asked when at last he woke up
sufficiently to answer her call. "Were you dreaming?"
"I don't know," replied the boy, and at that moment he didn't know.
"I thought first you were crying," explained the mother, "and then I
heard that you were counting something."
"He was probably repeating his multiplication table," muttered the
father. "I wish he would learn his lessons in the daytime, so that we
could sleep in peace at night."
The next morning Keith had forgotten all about it but his mother
reminded him of what had happened during the night in order to find out
whether he had any bad dreams. Keith shook his head. Then a thought
flashed through his mind.
"Do I often talk in my sleep," he asked.
"Hardly ever," said his mother. "But the other night you read the Lord's
Prayer from beginning to end, and I wish you would read it as nicely
when are saying your prayers before going to sleep."
"He is studying too much," Granny put in from the kitchen. "His nose is
always buried in a book. That's the whole trouble, I tell you."
"No, mamma, I don't think reading does him any harm," said Keith's
mother, and for some reason Keith felt relieved by the diversion.
Even Keith could not escape a feeling about this time of having arrived
at some sort of station or landmark on his road through life.
He was frightfully self-centred. He seemed to be thinking about nothing
but himself. In reality, however, he was not reflecting at all on the
character and probable course of his life. It was all a matter of
feeling and what concerned him was merely the comforts or discomforts,
pleasures or pains, exhilarations or boredoms of the passing moment. The
future was a word that, at the most, implied things that might happen a
few days after tomorrow. The convinced visioning of events a year or
more distant was still utterly beyond him. And the past seemed to vanish
with the setting sun of the day just ended.
Yet he was dimly aware of facing a transition that, somehow, must make a
great change in his entire life. Something that he could not define was
drawing to an end, and something else, equally indefinable, was about to
begin. The "school for small children" which he had left, and the
"school for boys" into which he would soon enter, were the symbols used
by his mind to express the passing out of one phase of life into
another, but as such they suggested the actual change without revealing
it. And there were moments when Keith's vague efforts to look ahead were
accompanied by a sense of crushing dread, while at other times they
might fill him with a never before tasted fervor of existence.
He was near the completion of his ninth year. It seemed quite an age,
but this appearance was contradicted by troublesome facts. He was very
small for his age and hopelessly tied to the apron strings of his mother
in spite of all his father's efforts to pry him loose. The reason for
this failure was that his father lacked the time or the capacity for
winning the boy's whole-hearted attention and affection.
The one thing the father seemed to care for on his return home was to be
left alone with his own preoccupations, and these did not include the
boy. He could not unbend. He could not subordinate his own momentary
desire or disinclination to an interest essentially foreign to his own
self. In other words, he was just as self-centred as Keith, and just as
unreflecting on the whole. Both lived completely in the present, and
both wished to escape from it. The only difference between them was that
while Keith sought his escape in space, so to speak, by means of his
books, the father's only road of escape led him into a past of which the
boy formed no part.
Either through some fault of his own nature, or through the restrictive
policy of his parents, Keith at nine had formed no real attachments
outside of his immediate surroundings, and no life of his own that was
not enclosed by the walls of his childhood home. This state of affairs
tended always to throw him back on the mother as his most satisfactory
source of inspiration and the magnetic pole of his emotional compass.
And she on her part left no effort untried that could help to fasten his
affections more closely to her.
Unconsciously but increasingly she worked to cut the boy off from all
the rest of the world in order that she might have him the more
exclusively to herself. She expressed openly the wish that he might be a
girl, because girls in those days were so much less likely to escape the
The boy was pleased by her attempts at monopolization. There was
something flattering and softly reassuring about her passionate pleas
for the uppermost place in his heart. And yet he rebelled with
increasing violence against the closeness of her clutch on him. He
seemed to choke at times, and a blind hatred rose within him without
ever revealing itself as in any way related to his mother. One of the
dominant emotions of this and the following period of his life was one
of intense impatience that seemed to be directed toward no particular
object. Once in a great while he turned toward his father with an
expectation of relief, but this expectation was always foiled, and so he
was plunged back again and again into an inner life of his own that fed
almost exclusively on books and had little or nothing in common with the
reality to which the new school was supposed to form a gateway.
The new school was located in another part of the South End, separated
only by the churchyard from the old church of St. Mary Magdalene. It was
a state institution demanding an entrance fee, which, although quite
reasonable, yet sufficed to keep out the children of mere wage earners.
It was a school for the offspring of the "better classes" and good
enough for all but the most select who must needs turn to certain
private institutions of still greater exclusiveness for instruction.
Its official title was St. Mary's Elementary School and it had only five
grades or classes, as they were called, being supplemented by a
"gymnasium," from which the pupils passed on to the university. No boy
was admitted under nine, but there seemed to be no limit at the other
end, for at the time of Keith's entrance the upper grades still held a
few youngsters with well developed moustaches who, from the viewpoint of
Keith's own peach-skinned diminutiveness, looked like veritable
patriarchs. Stories were afloat about their actually being addressed as
"mister" by the teachers.
Admission was conditioned by examinations held in the school itself, and
thither Keith was escorted by his mother one late August day. All
novelties stimulated him, and to his inexperience the rather dingy old
school seemed enormously impressive. The mere fact that it occupied a
whole building all by itself was enough. In addition, however, it had
an assembly hall large enough to hold several hundred boys, and there
were numerous rooms capable of holding thirty or forty boys. Every pupil
had a seat and a small desk of his own. Seeing these desks, with
inkstands sunk into their tops, and special grooves for the penholders,
and lids that could be raised, Keith knew that he must pass the
examinations or die from a broken heart.
The officiating teachers were stern but not unkind. Keith was nervous
from eagerness, but neither frightened nor embarrassed. The questions
asked were ridiculously easy, he thought. When his turn came, he
answered triumphantly, as if he had been playing a game in which he was
quite skilled. Finding him willing and well prepared, the examiners felt
themselves challenged and pressed him more and more. Still he held his
own. It ended with a sense of triumph on his part, but nothing was said
about his having passed.
The wait that followed until all the boys had been questioned was the
only difficult part of the ordeal. Waiting patiently was not a strong
point with Keith. Finally his mother appeared to take him home, and the
moment he looked at her he knew. She was in such high spirits that she
had to try a joke.
"Too bad you couldn't pass," she said in a voice she vainly tried to
He knew it was a joke, and yet his heart leaped into his throat and his
eyes filled with tears. Then she had to console him, and to do so, she
let out the whole story. The teachers had told her that he knew enough
to go right into the third grade, but on account of his age they had
advised her not to let him start above the second grade. It was a whole
year saved, but that was not what she was thinking of. Her son had
distinguished himself by giving proof of a brightness that had aroused
unusual attention among the teachers. Her pride in this fact was such
that Keith really began to think that a new life was about to begin
And that night, when his father came home, the whole story had to be
told over again with new details, and Keith had the pleasure of seeing
an expression of undisguised satisfaction on his father's face. It did
not last very long, but it was sweet to watch while it lasted. Then the
father resumed his usual manner of stern indifference as he turned
to the boy:
"That's all very well, Keith, but it means also that they will expect
more of you than of the other boys, and so you have to study harder than
ever in order to make good with them."
Keith didn't care. It had been a wonderful day, he felt. He had had his
first taste of public approval, and he had noticed the effect of it on
his father and mother. As for the need of studying--that was easy. And
he didn't have to begin his studies at once anyhow.
After the opening of the term, it took Keith only a day or two to
realize that, literally, he had entered a new world, quite different, in
spirit as well as in appearance, from anything previously experienced.
The first shock came as soon as he had taken his place in the class and
the first lesson had begun. He was no longer Keith. Christian names were
not at all in use. Everybody was addressed by his family name both by
the teachers and by his fellow pupils. Keith had become Wellander, and
the first time he heard himself called by that name he blushed as deeply
as if his most intimate privacy had suddenly been violated. In a few
hours, however, the unfamiliarity of the name as a standing appellation
had worn off, and then the pride of the thing sent a pleasant glow
through his whole body, making him for a brief, dizzy moment glimpse the
glory of manhood.
His next discovery went far deeper. He had attended school four years in
succession, but only as you drop into a strange room on a visit. He had
never belonged in or to the school, and the school had neither limited
nor extended his individuality. Now he found himself completely taken
possession of and made a part of something larger than himself, a
carefully correlated and guarded system of ranks and rules and
traditions. In retrospect the former school seemed as accidental and
fleeting as a street crowd, while the new one was an institution with a
jealously preserved and deeply revered history to which each new pupil
was expected to add more lustre. But most remarkable of all seemed the
fact that this collective body added something to the stature of every
boy that became a part of it.
Membership was as onerous as it was honourable, not only within the
school precints but anywhere. To belong to "Old Mary" was to carry a
sacred duty along wherever one went. She was like an ambitious parent,
never jealous of the reputation of her children. Mostly it was a
question of refraining from this or that thing which less conspicuously
placed boys might venture at will, but at times it might imply the
performance of fierce deeds of bravery in the face of overwhelming odds.
There was the rival school of St. Catherine and several "popular"
schools that had no social standing whatsoever, but contained pupils
with harder fists and less generous ideas of fighting than any boy
within Old Mary. When certain words of derision were flung upon the air
by members of those inferior institutions, there was nothing left for a
pupil of St. Mary's but to fight.
Little by little these strange facts penetrated Keith's subconsciousness
and set up a never ending conflict between pride and precaution, between
his wish to rise to a new ideal and his instinctive tendency to obey his
mother's almost hysterical injunctions against fighting of any kind.
Fortunately his road to and from school permitted him to follow the
principal streets where the traffic was sufficient to act as a check on
combative youngsters, and an additional protection was derived from his
small size which caused the hostile elements to overlook his existence
unless he appeared in the company of more developed schoolmates. And as
he mostly walked alone, his comings and goings were uneventful as a
rule. But that did not prevent him from imagining dangers and to suffer
from them almost as much as if they had been real. There were times when
he could not help thinking of himself as a coward.
Such estimates of himself were not wholly checked by an incident that
occurred within the school precincts early in the first term. There was
another boy in the same class named Bauer, who seemed the living
counterpart of Keith--just as undersized and lonely and nervous. From
the first there was a hostile tension between those two, and soon it
came to open war. It broke out in a pause between two lessons when
practically all the boys were gathered in the schoolyard. Before Keith
quite knew what had happened, he found himself fighting Bauer. First
they used their fists and then they wrestled. The rest of the boys
formed a ring about them and egged them on.
They were well matched in their common weaknesses and both developed a
certain courage during the stress of conflict. The difference between
them was that Bauer apparently wanted to lick Keith, while the latter
thought of nothing but to defend himself. The idea of inflicting pain on
another human being was so foreign to Keith that it never took tangible
form in his mind. The result was that Bauer's greater aggressiveness
carried the day, and soon Keith found himself prone on his back with a
triumphant Bauer straddling his chest.
At that moment both boys became guilty of serious breaches against
time-honoured school etiquette. Bauer struck the defenceless Keith
square in the face with his clenched fist, and Keith burst into tears.
Quick as a flash one of the older boys grabbed Bauer by the scruff of
his neck and hurled him halfway across the yard, while another one
plucked Keith from the ground and shoved him toward the stairway with a
"The classroom for cry-babies."
The humiliation felt by Keith was so intense that he wondered whether he
could stay in the school. Nothing but the thought of his father kept
him from returning home. But the cloud had a silver lining. Though no
one else knew, he knew that he had started crying from rage, and not
from fear. And this fact in connection with his realization of not
having had any thought of running away during the fight made him
hesitate in his final judgment upon himself. But he felt quite sure that
fighting was not his chosen field. The effect on his nerves was
In the lower three grades, a single teacher with the title of Class
Principal had complete charge of the morals, manners and instruction of
the children in his grade. Keith had the luck of falling into the hands
of one of the kindest and shrewdest men in the school--a man who seemed
to understand that his mission was to guide rather than to drive, and
who, in addition to his broad, human sympathy, possessed a genuine sense
His name was Lector Dahlstroem, but everybody spoke of him as Dally, and
little did he care. He was large of body and large of mind, with a most
impressive girth and a voice that commanded attention without grating on
supersensitive nerves. He had very rarely to assert his authority, but
if ever the need arose, no one remained long in doubt as to who was the
master, and a recurrence of the offense was unheard of. Even on such
occasions he never used corporal punishment, although at that time the
right of such administration still remained with him. He simply appealed
to the self-respect and the sense of fairness in his pupils, asking no
one to render what lay beyond his capacity. The main secret of his hold
on the boys, however, lay in his ability to keep them interested, and to
do so he frequently broke away from the text books and time-worn
pedagogical methods. If there was anything he deposed, it was learning
things by rote.
The boys sat in rows of four and were placed with regard to scholarship
and behaviour, so that the best pupils were farthest away from the
teacher and the least reliable ones right in front of him. Keith found
himself number two in the class, and that position at first tickled his
pride considerably. Later, as the term went by, and boys now and then
were shifted up or down, he began to wonder why he always remained
number two. It was reassuring in a way, as showing that he held his own,
but he failed to see why another boy should always remain _primus_,
although his performances during lessons did not surpass those of Keith.
Once he dared even give utterance to some such speculation in his
father's hearing, but was promptly put down with a stern:
"If the teacher puts another boy above you, he has probably some very
good reason for doing so, and you had better feel thankful for being
where you are in the class."
"Humph," said his mother. "You forget, Carl, that the father of that boy
is one of the richest bankers in the city."
This was a way of looking at it which had never occurred to Keith. He
was pretty contented, on the whole, and like all the rest, he placed the
most implicit trust in the teacher's justice. From the very start, he
had a feeling that Dally kept a special eye on him, and yet he was
rarely spoken to except when questions were passed around. Even then the
teacher was rather apt to leave Keith alone to such an extent that the
boy now and then began to think himself disliked. Always, however, when
he got to this point, some little incident would occur that restored his
faith both in himself and in the teacher.
There could be no doubt that he knew his lessons as well as any one in
the class, if not better, and he shone still more when Dally appealed to
the natural intelligence of the boys by straying far away from the
beaten and dusty path of the text books. Whenever he had stirred them by
some excursion of this kind and began to ask questions in order to find
out how far they had followed him, Keith's right hand was sure to shoot
excitedly upwards in order to get him the coveted chance of answering.
And it seemed as if he could answer almost every question asked except a
few that went so far beyond the bounds laid down for the class that the
teacher deemed it fair to warn them that inability to answer would be no
shame. That was the kind of questions Dally generally reserved for
Keith, and when Keith couldn't answer, it didn't console him very much
that no one else could. Once, when his hand went up as usual and, to his
astonishment, he obtained the permission to answer, Keith, to his still
greater astonishment, suddenly discovered that he had no answer to give.
"I thought so," said Dally with a broad grin on his good-humoured face.
"Do you know what a fuzzy-wuzz is, Wellander?"
Keith shook his head, his face crimson with chagrin and humiliation as
the whole class burst into anticipatory laughter.
"That's a chap who wants to do all of it all the time," explained Dally.
Keith did not quite see the point, but he kept his right arm a little
more in check for a while after that, until one day the lesson was
forgotten and history repeated itself.
"Now Keith is fuzzy-wuzzying again," said Dally, and Keith thought he
would sink through the floor. His mind was quite made up never to ask
permission to answer another question again, but that same afternoon,
during the lesson in Swedish history, Dally dropped all questioning and
asked Keith to explain to the class the main factors leading up to the
Wars of Reformation--which Keith spent twenty minutes in doing while all
the rest of the class had to sit still listening to him.
Keith could not remain isolated to the same extent as in the earlier
schools. Inevitable community sprang from similarity of sex and age
alone. In the same direction worked the system of teaching which called
for the united attention of the entire class during every moment of the
lesson. It was impossible to form a part of the class without being in
contact with all its other members. The boy who read aloud or answered a
question became subjected to the criticism or admiration of all the
rest. Rivalry in any field of study was just as likely to arise between
two boys at different ends of the room as between those sitting side by
side. The spirit of Dally tended to assist this fusion of personalities
in every way, and the boy who kept apart was sure sooner or later to run
foul of his good-humoured but well-aimed sallies. His attitude implied
no tyranny, and he strove for no deadening conformity. On the contrary,
he always spoke of a strongly marked individuality as the object of all
education, but he tried to develop it by fearless contact with others
rather than by jealous withdrawal.
Keith for the first time found himself part of a society, and he liked
it because the teacher's insistence on scholarly achievement as the only
standard of comparison gave him a chance to hold his own among a group
of boys, most of whom counted themselves his superiors in every other
respect. He was small and poor, of humble origin, without influential
connections, without worldly advantages of any kind, but when mind was
pitched against mind, he felt second to none--except in mathematics,
where he could compete neither with Davidson, the Jewish banker's son
who was _primus_, or with that gawky, cumbersome Anderson whose dullness
in every other respect always kept him near the bottom of the class. For
this reason Keith differed from most of the others by liking school
better during the lessons than at any other time.
There were games in the schoolyard during the pauses, and some of these
were played in large groups or by teams. This occurred particularly when
echoes from some war abroad caused the whole school to divide into rival
armies for the staging of regular battles, as during his second year,
when all had to be Turks or Russians. But Keith didn't like battles
except in books, and mostly the pauses broke up the class communities
into small coteries or pairs. And the moment this happened, Keith found
himself outside. He belonged to no special group. His appearance in the
yard raised no delighted hails. He had no chum of his very own with whom
to exchange secrets or lay plans for common adventures. And but for
Dally, he would probably have spent most of his free time in the
It was worse when the big pause came at eleven and every one went home
for lunch, or when three o'clock brought school to a close for the day.
Going to school alone was an experience shared by all, but on leaving
it, the hurrying horde of youngsters, exuberant with freedom as so many
colts, broke into little groups of two or three that had homes in the
same neighbourhood. Now and then Keith would join a couple of other boys
headed for the old City like himself, and they would not refuse his
company, but there always was something between him and them that
precluded real fellowship, and so he trudged his way homeward, alone
most of the time. Then he was also sure of reaching home in the shortest
possible time, so that his mother had no chance to become worried
It happen now and then that a larger group was formed for some unusual
exploit and that Keith became part of it by chance rather than choice.
Once he accompanied such a group to that part of the harbour where
tall-masted fullriggers with foreign flags lay nose by stern in unbroken
line along the quay. Strange odours, fragrant or repulsive, filled the
air. Jolly, loud-voiced men toiled mightily or lounged like monarchs
among piles of casks and bags and boxes. For once Keith lost his usual
timidity under such circumstances and threw himself whole-heartedly into
anything the gang suggested. He even ventured to climb the mast of a
ship as far as the foretop. When at last reluctantly he turned homeward,
he felt like a hero, but when he caught sight of the tear-stained,
fretted face of his mother, he knew at once that even such exaltation
was not worth the price to be paid for it.
Unfortunately he had made himself popular that afternoon, and the next
time a gang formed for a similar purpose, he was asked to join. But he
shook his head, and being foolishly truthful by nature, he blurted out
"My mother won't let me."
The answer was passed along. It was repeated in school the next day.
Keith heard echoes of it for weeks. And it added a good deal to the
invisible wall that seemed to rise about him wherever he went.
Yet he was not unhappy. There was in his nature a wonderful resiliency
that never let his spirits drop beyond a certain point, and that always
brought them back to highwater mark at the slightest encouragement.
He had discovered the school library. It was to him a marvellous
treasure trove. Any book could be taken home, one at a time, after being
registered with the teacher acting as librarian for the day. Nor were
the books handed out to you arbitrarily. You browsed all by yourself,
and picked and picked, and calculated, and went back on your choice a
dozen times, until at last you struck a book so fascinating in its
promises that all hesitation disappeared.
The father started to object, but was silenced by the explanation that
the school authorities wanted the boys to borrow books from the library.
That settled it, for discipline came first and even pleasure must be
allowed if required by discipline. Had Keith been less honest or more
imaginative in what may be called practical matters, his father's regard
for authority might have offered more than one chance at liberties now
denied, but this possibility never occurred to him, and so the library
remained his one avenue of escape.
The books he chose puzzled and almost shocked the rotatory guardians of
his sanctum. Once he picked an enormous volume on Greek mythology, full
of pictures and translated passages from Homer and the dramatists.
"You don't want that, Wellander," the teacher said, eying him
curiously, when Keith presented the book for registration.
"Yes, I do," replied Keith stoutly, but his heart began to quake at the
thought that the cherished volume was going to be denied him.
"Do you mean to say that you intend to read it through?" the teacher
"Yes, I will," said Keith.
There was a long pause during which the teacher seemed to weigh the book
in his hand as if wondering whether its very weight would be too much
for the undersized little chap in front of him.
"All right," he said at last, "but I suppose that means you will have
reading for the rest of this season."
Keith looked at the book more hopefully, and with hope came courage.
"I'll read it in three weeks," he said.
So he did, too, and when he turned in the book, the same teacher
happened to be on duty, recognized him, and began to ask questions. When
Keith had proved that the whole Olympian hierarchy was duly installed in
his acquisitive brain, the teacher said with an amused but
"I think we shall let you have anything you want hereafter. What is it
to be this time--philosophy?"
"No, I want another book of exploration," answered Keith, thawing under
the smile. "And I want a real good one."
That was his favourite subject, and the book he chose was Speke's
"Discovery of the Source of the Nile." Once launched on that memorable
journey, he had no thought left for any explorations of his own.
During the fall and spring terms of that first year Keith had no sense
of time. Days and weeks and months rolled by so smoothly that their
passing was unnoticed. It is a question whether at any other period of
his life--with one possible exception--he was more completely interested
and, for that reason, satisfied.
One day he observed casually that the old trees in the churchyard
sported tiny green leaves under a deliciously blue but still rather cold
sky. A few days more, and he heard that commencement was at hand.
It was a time of great excitement in school. Who would pass and who
would not? Falling through might mean another year in the same class,
but beyond all doubt it meant a summer spent at work instead of playing.
It was worse than a disgrace. It was a menace to liberty at the time of
the year when liberty meant most.
Being second in the class, it never occurred to Keith that he might fail
of promotion to a higher grade, but at that end there were possible
prizes to consider. The class was full of gossip and speculation. Boys
who had hardly spoken to each other before broke into heated discussions
or formed belated friendships. In one way and another the fever infected
Keith and spread from him to his parents, though his father as usual
feigned complete indifference. From his mother he learned long before
the startling fact was meant to reach his ears, that his father had
actually asked a day off at the bank in order to attend the exercises.
This news increased Keith's fear by several degrees. He had no idea what
might happen, and it would be unthinkably dreadful to have the father
present if anything went wrong. But on the other hand, if ... well, what
was there to happen anyhow?
On the morning of the great day, a host of parents and relatives and
other interested spectators crowded into the big assembly hall where
places were reserved for them in the rear and along the walls. In the
meantime the pupils gathered in their respective class-rooms, and from
there they marched by twos to the hall, the lowest grade leading. Every
boy was in his best clothes, and every one showed his nervousness in his
own peculiar way. Keith laughed hysterically a few times before they
started, and then he turned into an automaton that breathed and moved
and heard and saw only as part of a gigantic machine. His own
individuality seemed to melt and become a mere drop in the all-exclusive
individuality of the school.
This mood lasted through the early part of the exercises, the prayer
read by the _primus_ of the senior class, the hymn singing, the Rector's
speech, and so on. Everything came to him as out of a mist, and he was
not even sufficiently conscious of himself to look around for a glimpse
of his parents. When the distribution of exercises began, the whole
atmosphere changed. Until then it had been collective and impersonal.
Now it became intensely personal. Every one wanted to hear. Necks were
craned, whispered questions asked. It was as if a sudden breeze had
stirred waters which until then had been still as the mirroring surface
of a forest pool. Keith's mood changed with the rest, and he grew
painfully conscious of himself and his surroundings.
Starting with the lowest grade, the Rector read out the names of the
prize winners, the character of the prizes, and sometimes the reasons
why they were bestowed. At the mention of each name, a boy rose from his
seat, squirmed past his closely packed comrades, marched up the centre
aisle to the platform, bowed awkwardly to the Rector, grabbed the prize,
bowed still more awkwardly if possible, and marched back to his seat
with a face that burned or blanched, grinned or glowed, according to
The second grade was soon reached. Most of the prizes consisted of
books. Davidson, _primus_, got two gilt-edged volumes of poetry. Keith
caught a glimpse of them and experienced a twinge of envy. His heart was
beating so that he thought he could hear it. His eyes clung to the
Rector's mouth, and when the next name was read, he half rose. Then he
sank back, and around him an ominous stillness seemed to reign.
The name was that of Runge, _tertius_, who got some historical work.
Then _quartus_, Blomberg, who was a passionate botanist, received a
valuable text book on his favourite subject. Still the rector went on,
and Keith felt sure that his name had been passed over by some mistake,
and that now it would come.
"A German lexicon for special attention to the student of that
language," the Rector droned on.
Again Keith started to rise from his seat, but even as he did so, it
flashed through his mind that he was given no more attention to German
than to other studies.
"... to Otto Krass of the Second Grade," the Rector completed his
sentence, holding out a book.
As Keith sank back on the bench, Krass, _quintus_, rose with an
expression on his face as if he had become personally involved in a
particularly incredible miracle.
A whisper ran through the rest of the class. Glances were cast at Keith,
who felt them like so many lashes on bare skin although in every other
respect he had once more become utterly unconscious of what happened
By slow degrees he recovered so far that he could try to think, but the
process was unendurable. There could be no accident. It was a deliberate
slight aimed at him for some specific reason. He tried to think of the
past year and its happenings in and out of school, but this effort
produced no solution to the riddle.
Suddenly he bethought himself of his speculations concerning his place
in the class. It seemed that he had been deeply envious of Davidson all
that year. With a quick turn of the head he surveyed for a moment the
haughty expression and narrowly drawn postures of the boy beside him.
There was a trace of a sneer on that face, and again Keith's heart was
flooded with resentment. But this mood changed abruptly into
contriteness. Perhaps he was being punished by some one, by God--he
hesitated at that thought--for grudging his schoolmate the place and the
honours that he probably had deserved. Keith was the meanest of
Krass was back in his seat showing his book. He showed it to Keith also,
but with a palpable embarrassment that touched the latter as an
additional blow. Keith tried to say that it was nice, but his lips were
too dry and stiff to produce a sound.
The Rector was still reading off names. To save himself from his own
thoughts, Keith tried to listen. Soon he noticed that, without fail, the
prizes went in unbroken sequence to the first four or five pupils in
every grade. And suddenly he wondered whether his father and mother had
noticed. What would they say? What could _he_ say?
Then he remembered his mother's remark on hearing about his place in the
class, and he wondered if it could be possible.... But the parents of
Krass had neither wealth nor position. That much he knew.
The Rector's voice and manner became more and more impressive, and the
prizes more and more valuable, as he passed higher and higher, until at
last the senior class was reached--the boys who were now graduating into
the _gymnasium_. They were his own pupils, and for each of the prize
winners from the two branches of that class he had a word of special
praise and good-will.
A restless stirring passed through the assembly as the boy expected to
be the last recipient of special honours made his way to the platform
and everybody prepared to rise for the singing of a closing hymn.
Still the old Rector, with his smooth-shaven and deeply furrowed Roman
face, remained standing, and once more an expectant hush fell upon
pupils and spectators. Apparently he intended, contrary to custom, to
follow up the main ceremony of the day with some important announcement.
"One more prize remains to be distributed," he resumed with more than
usual deliberation. "We do not have the pleasure of bestowing it
regularly, because its conditions are unusual. It was the will of the
donor that it should be given to that pupil who, regardless of grade and
age, during the previous year had shown the relatively greatest
aptitude, industry, and actual advance in knowledge. This year the
prize, which consists of one hundred crowns in gold and is the largest
at the disposal of our school, is to be distributed, and the pupil found
worthy of this exceptional honour is...."
Every eye was on the Rector as he paused dramatically. Every one in the
hall listened breathlessly to catch the favoured name. Keith listened
like the rest, a little enviously perhaps, but without serious
attention, for it had just occurred to him for the tenth time that the
situation would have been so much less unbearable if only his father had
"... this pupil is Keith Wellander of the Second Grade," the Rector
A murmur swept the hall, and Keith felt himself the centre of many eyes.
The murmur grew as the winner failed to appear, but Keith could not move
a limb. Dumbly and unbelievingly he stared at the Rector and the group
of teachers seated around him on the platform.
"Come forward, Wellander," the Rector said in a friendly voice as if he
could well understand the overwhelming effect of such distinction. At
the same time Keith noticed Lector Dahlstroem rising partly from his seat
on the platform as if to see whether anything might be the matter.
Had the ceiling opened and an angel appeared in a fiery chariot to call
him heavenward, the boy could not have been more startled. It was as if
a terrific blow had paralyzed all his senses. His classmates had to push
him forward. He never knew how he reached the platform, where the Rector
was waiting for him with a small package ready for delivery. Keith felt
the weight of that package in his own hand and the gentle touch of the
Rector's hand on his head. Words were uttered that he did not catch, and
the room became filled with the noise of boisterous applause.
He bowed mechanically and turned to walk back to his seat, and as he did
so, he noticed a white handkerchief waving at him from the rear of the
hall. Behind the handkerchief he caught a glimpse of his mother's face,
and a thought shot through his head:
"Papa is here and has heard all this!"
Then he relapsed into a state of utter oblivion of the surrounding
world. The thing was too tremendous to be felt even. Automatically he