The Great Hunger
Part 1 out of 5
This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE GREAT HUNGER
by JOHAN BOJER
Translated from the Norwegian by
W. J. ALEXANDER WORSTER and C. ARCHER
THE GREAT HUNGER
For sheer havoc, there is no gale like a good northwester, when it
roars in, through the long winter evenings, driving the spindrift
before it between the rocky walls of the fjord. It churns the
water to a froth of rushing wave crests, while the boats along the
beach are flung in somersaults up to the doors of the grey fisher
huts, and solid old barn gangways are lifted and sent flying like
unwieldy birds over the fields. "Mercy on us!" cry the maids, for
it is milking-time, and they have to fight their way on hands and
knees across the yard to the cowshed, dragging a lantern that WILL
go out and a milk-pail that WON'T be held. And "Lord preserve us!"
mutter the old wives seated round the stove within doors--and their
thoughts are far away in the north with the Lofoten fishermen, out
at sea, maybe, this very night.
But on a calm spring day, the fjord just steals in smooth and
shining by ness and bay. And at low water there is a whole
wonderland of strange little islands, sand-banks, and weed-fringed
rocks left high and dry, with clear pools between, where bare-
legged urchins splash about, and tiny flat-fish as big as a
halfpenny dart away to every side. The air is filled with a smell
of salt sea-water and warm, wet beach-waste, and the sea-pie, see-
sawing about on a big stone in the water, lifts his red beak
cheerily sunwards and pipes: "Kluip, kluip! the spring has come!"
On just such a day, two boys of fourteen or thereabouts came
hurrying out from one of the fishermen's huts down towards the
beach. Boys are never so busy as when they are up to some piece of
mischief, and evidently the pair had business of this sort in hand.
Peer Troen, fair-haired and sallow-faced, was pushing a wheelbarrow;
his companion, Martin Bruvold, a dark youth with freckles, carried
a tub. And both talked mysteriously in whispers, casting anxious
glances out over the water.
Peer Troen was, of course, the ringleader. That he always was: the
forest fire of last year was laid at his door. And now he had made
it clear to some of his friends that boys had just as much right to
lay out deep-sea lines as men. All through the winter they had
been kept at grown-up work, cutting peat and carrying wood; why
should they be left now to fool about with the inshore fishing, and
bring home nothing better than flounders and coal-fish and silly
codlings? The big deep-sea line they were forbidden to touch--that
was so--but the Lofoten fishery was at its height, and none of the
men would be back till it was over. So the boys had baited up the
line on the sly down at the boathouse the day before, and laid it
out across the deepest part of the fjord.
Now the thing about a deep-sea line is that it may bring to the
surface fish so big and so fearsome that the like has never been
seen before. Yesterday, however, there had been trouble of a
different sort. To their dismay, the boys had found that they had
not sinkers enough to weight the shore end of the line; and it
looked as if they might have to give up the whole thing. But Peer,
ever ready, had hit on the novel idea of making one end fast to the
trunk of a small fir growing at the outermost point of the ness,
and carrying the line from there out over the open fjord. Then a
stone at the farther end, and with the magic words, "Fie, fish!" it
was paid out overboard, vanishing into the green depths. The deed
was done. True, there were a couple of hooks dangling in mid-air
at the shore end, between the tree and the water, and, while they
might serve to catch an eider duck, or a guillemot, if any one
should chance to come rowing past in the dark and get hung up--why,
the boys might find they had made a human catch. No wonder, then,
that they whispered eagerly and hurried down to the boat.
"Here comes Peter Ronningen," cried Martin suddenly.
This was the third member of the crew, a lanky youth with whitish
eyebrows and a foolish face. He stammered, and made a queer noise
when he laughed: "Chee-hee-hee." Twice he had been turned down in
the confirmation classes; after all, what was the use of learning
lessons out of a book when nobody ever had patience to wait while
he said them?
Together they ran the boat down to the water's edge, got it afloat,
and scrambled in, with much waving of patched trouser legs. "Hi!"
cried a voice up on the beach, "let me come too!"
"There's Klaus," said Martin. "Shall we take him along?"
"No," said Peter Ronningen.
"Oh yes, let's," said Peer.
Klaus Brock, the son of the district doctor, was a blue-eyed
youngster in knickerbockers and a sailor blouse. He was playing
truant, no doubt--Klaus had his lessons at home with a private
tutor--and would certainly get a thrashing from his father when he
"Hurry up," called Peer, getting out an oar. Klaus clambered in,
and the white-straked four-oar surged across the bay, rocking a
little as the boys pulled out of stroke. Martin was rowing at the
bow, his eyes fixed on Peer, who sat in the stern in command with
his eyes dancing, full of great things to be done. Martin, poor
fellow, was half afraid already; he never could understand why
Peer, who was to be a parson when he grew up, was always hitting
upon things to do that were evidently sinful in the sight of the
Peer was a town boy, who had been put out to board with a fisherman
in the village. His mother had been no better than she should be,
so people said, but she was dead now, and the father at any rate
must be a rich gentleman, for he sent the boy a present of ten
whole crowns every Christmas, so that Peer always had money in his
pocket. Naturally, then, he was looked up to by the other boys,
and took the lead in all things as a chieftain by right.
The boat moved on past the grey rocks, the beach and the huts above
it growing blue and faint in the distance. Up among the distant
hills a red wooden farm-house on its white foundation wall stood
Here was the ness at last, and there stood the fir. Peer climbed
up and loosed the end of the line, while the others leaned over the
side, watching the cord where it vanished in the depths. What
would it bring to light when it came up?
"Row!" ordered Peer, and began hauling in.
The boat was headed straight out across the fjord, and the long
line with its trailing hooks hauled in and coiled up neatly in the
bottom of a shallow tub. Peer's heart was beating. There came a
tug--the first--and the faint shimmer of a fish deep down in the
water. Pooh! only a big cod. Peer heaved it in with a careless
swing over the gunwale. Next came a ling--a deep water fish at any
rate this time. Then a tusk, and another, and another; these would
please the women, being good eating, and perhaps make them hold
their tongues when the men came home. Now the line jerks heavily;
what is coming? A grey shadow comes in sight. "Here with the
gaff!" cries Peer, and Peter throws it across to him. "What is it,
what is it?" shriek the other three. "Steady! don't upset the
boat; a catfish." A stroke of the gaff over the side, and a clumsy
grey body is heaved into the boat, where it rolls about, hissing
and biting at the bottom-boards and baler, the splinters crackling
under its teeth. "Mind, mind!" cries Klaus--he was always nervous
in a boat.
But Peer was hauling in again. They were nearly half-way across
the fjord by now, and the line came up from mysterious depths,
which no fisherman had ever sounded. The strain on Peer began to
show in his looks; the others sat watching his face. "Is the line
heavy?" asked Klaus. "Keep still, can't you?" put in Martin,
glancing along the slanting line to where it vanished far below.
Peer was still hauling. A sense of something uncanny seemed to be
thrilling up into his hands from the deep sea. The feel of the
line was strange. There was no great weight, not even the clean
tug-tug of an ordinary fish; it was as if a giant hand were pulling
gently, very gently, to draw him overboard and down into the
depths. Then suddenly a violent jerk almost dragged him over the
"Look out! What is it?" cried the three together.
"Sit down in the boat," shouted Peer. And with the true fisherman's
sense of discipline they obeyed.
Peer was gripping the line firmly with one hand, the other
clutching one of the thwarts. "Have we another gaff?" he jerked
"Here's one." Peter Ronningen pulled out a second iron-hooked
"You take it, Martin, and stand by."
"But what--what is it?"
"Don't know what it is. But it's something big."
"Cut the line, and row for your lives!" wailed the doctor's son.
Strange he should be such a coward at sea, a fellow who'd tackle a
man twice his size on dry land.
Once more Peer was jerked almost overboard. He thought of the
forest fire the year before--it would never do to have another such
mishap on his shoulders. Suppose the great monster did come up and
capsize them--they were ever so far from land. What a to do there
would be if they were all drowned, and it came out that it was his
fault. Involuntarily he felt for his knife to cut the line--then
thrust it back again, and went on hauling.
Here it comes--a great shadow heaving up through the water. The
huge beast flings itself round, sending a flurry of bubbles to the
surface. And there!--a gleam of white; a row of great white teeth
on the underside. Aha! now he knows what it is! The Greenland
shark is the fiercest monster of the northern seas, quite able to
make short work of a few boys or so.
"Steady now, Martin--ready with the gaff."
The brute was wallowing on the surface now, the water boiling
around him. His tail lashed the sea to foam, a big, pointed head
showed up, squirming under the hook. "Now!" cried Peer, and two
gaffs struck at the same moment, the boat heeled over, letting in a
rush of water, and Klaus, dropping his oars, sprang into the bow,
with a cry of "Jesus, save us!"
Next second a heavy body, big as a grown man, was heaved in over
the gunwale, and two boys were all but shot out the other way. And
now the fun began. The boys loosed their hold of the gaffs, and
sprang apart to give the creature room. There it lay raging, the
great black beast of prey, with its sharp threatening snout and
wicked red eyes ablaze. The strong tail lashed out, hurling oars
and balers overboard, the long teeth snapped at the bottom-boards
and thwarts. Now and again it would leap high up in the air, only
to fall back again, writhing furiously, hissing and spitting and
frothing at the mouth, its red eyes glaring from one to another of
the terrified captors, as if saying: "Come on--just a little
Meanwhile, Martin Bruvold was in terror that the shark would smash
the boat to pieces. He drew his knife and took a step forward--a
flash in the air, and the steel went in deep between the back fins,
sending up a spurt of blood. "Look out!" cried the others, but
Martin had already sprung back out of reach of the black tail. And
now the dance of death began anew. The knife was fixed to the grip
in the creature's back; one gaff had buried its hook between the
eyes, and another hung on the flank--the wooden shafts were flung
this way and that at every bound, and the boat's frame shook and
groaned under the blows.
"She'll smash the boat and we'll go to the bottom," cried Peer.
And now HIS knife flashed out and sent a stream of blood spouting
from between the shoulders, but the blow cost him his foothold--and
in a moment the two bodies were rolling over and over together in
the bottom of the boat.
"Oh, Lord Jesus!" shrieked Klaus, clinging to the stempost.
"She'll kill him! She'll kill him!"
Peer was half up now, on his knees, but as he reached out a hand to
grasp the side, the brute's jaws seized on his arm. The boy's face
was contorted with pain--another moment and the sharp teeth would
have bitten through, when, swift as thought, Peter Ronningen
dropped his oars and sent his knife straight in between the beast's
eyes. The blade pierced through to the brain, and the grip of the
"C-c-cursed d-d-devil!" stammered Peter, as he scrambled back to
his oars. Another moment, and Peer had dragged himself clear and
was kneeling by the forward thwart, holding the ragged sleeve of
his wounded arm, while the blood trickled through his fingers.
When at last they were pulling homeward, the little boat overloaded
with the weight of the great carcase, all at once they stopped
"Where is Klaus?" asked Peer--for the doctor's son was gone from
where he had sat, clinging to the stem.
"Why--there he is--in the bottom!"
There lay the big lout of fifteen, who already boasted of his love-
affairs, learned German, and was to be a gentleman like his father--
there he lay on the bottom-boards in the bow in a dead faint.
The others were frightened at first, but Peer, who was sitting
washing his wounded arm, took a dipper full of water and flung it
in the unconscious one's face. The next instant Klaus had started
up sitting, caught wildly at the gunwale, and shrieked out:
"Cut the line, and row for your lives!"
A roar of laughter went up from the rest; they dropped their oars
and sat doubled up and gasping. But on the beach, before going
home, they agreed to say nothing about Klaus's fainting fit. And
for weeks afterwards the four scamps' exploit was the talk of the
village, so that they felt there was not much fear of their getting
the thrashing they deserved when the men came home.
When Peer, as quite a little fellow, had been sent to live with the
old couple at Troen, he had already passed several times from one
adopted home to another, though this he did not remember. He was
one of the madcaps of the village now, but it was not long since he
had been a solitary child, moping apart from the rest. Why did
people always say "Poor child!" whenever they were speaking about
his real mother? Why did they do it? Why, even Peter Ronningen,
when he was angry, would stammer out: "You ba-ba-bastard!" But
Peer called the pock-marked good-wife at Troen "mother" and her
bandy-legged husband "father," and lent the old man a hand wherever
he was wanted--in the smithy or in the boats at the fishing.
His childhood was passed among folk who counted it sinful to smile,
and whose minds were gloomy as the grey sea-fog with poverty,
psalm-singing, and the fear of hell.
One day, coming home from his work at the peat bog, he found the
elders snuffling and sighing over their afternoon meal. Peer wiped
the sweat from his forehead, and asked what was the matter.
The eldest son shoved a spoonful of porridge into his mouth, wiped his
eyes, swallowed, and said: "Poor Peer!"
"Aye, poor little chap," sighed the old man, thrusting his horn
spoon into a crack in the wall that served as a rack.
"Neither father nor mother now," whimpered the eldest daughter,
looking over to the window.
"Mother? Is she--"
"Ay, dearie, yes," sighed the old woman. "She's gone for sure--
gone to meet her Judge."
Later, as the day went on, Peer tried to cry too. The worst thing
of all was that every one in the house seemed so perfectly certain
where his mother had gone to. And to heaven it certainly was not.
But how could they be so sure about it?
Peer had seen her only once, one summer's day when she had come out
to see the place. She wore a light dress and a big straw hat, and
he thought he had never seen anything so beautiful before. She
made no secret of it among the neighbours that Peer was not her
only child; there was a little girl, too, named Louise, who was
with some folks away up in the inland parishes. She was in high
spirits, and told risky stories and sang songs by no means sacred.
The old people shook their heads over her--the younger ones watched
her with sidelong glances. And when she left, she kissed Peer, and
turned round more than once to look back at him, flushed under her
big hat, and smiling; and it seemed to Peer that she must surely be
the loveliest creature in all the world.
But now--now she had gone to a place where the ungodly dwell in
such frightful torment, and no hope of salvation for her through
all eternity--and Peer all the while could only think of her in a
light dress and a big straw hat, all song and happy laughter.
Then came the question: Who was to pay for the boy now? True, his
baptismal certificate said that he had a father--his name was Holm,
and he lived in Christiania--but, from what the mother had said, it
was understood that he had disappeared long ago. What was to be
done with the boy?
Never till now had Peer rightly understood that he was a stranger
here, for all that he called the old couple father and mother.
He lay awake night after night up in the loft, listening to the
talk about him going on in the room below--the good-wife crying and
saying: "No, no!", the others saying how hard the times were, and
that Peer was quite old enough now to be put to service as a goat-
herd on some up-country farm.
Then Peer would draw the skin-rug up over his head. But often,
when one of the elders chanced to be awake at night, he could hear
some one in the loft sobbing in his sleep. In the daytime he took
up as little room as he could at the table, and ate as little as
humanly possible; but every morning he woke up in fear that to-day--
to-day he would have to bid the old foster-mother farewell and go
out among strangers.
Then something new and unheard of plumped down into the little
cottage by the fjord.
There came a registered letter with great dabs of sealing-wax all
over it, and a handwriting so gentlemanly as to be almost
unreadable. Every one crowded round the eldest son to see it
opened--and out fell five ten-crown notes. "Mercy on us!" they
cried in amazement, and "Can it be for us?" The next thing was to
puzzle out what was written in the letter. And who should that
turn out to be from but--no other than Peer's father, though he did
not say it in so many words. "Be good to the boy," the letter
said. "You will receive fifty crowns from me every half-year. See
that he gets plenty to eat and goes dry and well shod. Faithfully
your, P. Holm, Captain."
"Why, Peer--he's--he's-- Your father's a captain, an officer,"
stammered the eldest girl, and fell back a step to stare at the
"And we're to get twice as much for him as before," said the son,
holding the notes fast and gazing up at the ceiling, as if he were
informing Heaven of the fact.
But the old wife was thinking of something else as she folded her
hands in thankfulness--now she needn't lose the boy.
"Properly fed!" No need to fear for that. Peer had treacle with
his porridge that very day, though it was only a week-day. And the
eldest son gave him a pair of stockings, and made him sit down and
put them on then and there; and the same night, when he went to
bed, the eldest girl came and tucked him up in a new skin-rug, not
quite so hairless as the old one. His father a captain! It seemed
too wonderful to be true.
From that day times were changed for Peer. People looked at him
with very different eyes. No one said "Poor boy" of him now. The
other boys left off calling him bad names; the grown-ups said he
had a future before him. "You'll see," they would say, "that
father of yours will get you on; you'll be a parson yet, ay, maybe
a bishop, too." At Christmas, there came a ten-crown note all for
himself, to do just as he liked with. Peer changed it into silver,
so that his purse was near bursting with prosperity. No wonder he
began to go about with his nose in the air, and play the little
prince and chieftain among the boys. Even Klaus Brock, the
doctor's son, made up to him, and taught him to play cards. But--
"You surely don't mean to go and be a parson," he would say.
For all this, no one could say that Peer was too proud to help with
the fishing, or make himself useful in the smithy. But when the
sparks flew showering from the glowing iron, he could not help
seeing visions of his own--visions that flew out into the future.
Aye, he WOULD be a priest. He might be a sinner now, and a wild
young scamp; he certainly did curse and swear like a trooper at
times, if only to show the other boys that it was all nonsense
about the earth opening and swallowing you up. But a priest he
would be, all the same. None of your parsons with spectacles and a
pot belly: no, but a sort of heavenly messenger with snowy white
robes and a face of glory. Perhaps some day he might even come so
far that he could go down into that place of torment where his
mother lay, and bring her up again, up to salvation. And when, in
autumn evenings, he stood outside his palace, a white-haired
bishop, he would lift up his finger, and all the stars should break
Clang, clang, sang the anvil under the hammer's beat.
In the still summer evenings a troop of boys go climbing up the
naked slopes towards the high wooded ranges to fetch home the cows
for the milking. The higher they climb, the farther and farther
their sight can travel out over the sea. And an hour or two later,
as the sun goes down, here comes a long string of red-flanked
cattle trailing down, with a faint jangle of bells, over the far-
off ridges. The boys halloo them on--"Ohoo-oo-oo!"--and swing
their ringed rowan staves, and spit red juice of the alder bark
that they are chewing as men chew tobacco. Far below them they see
the farm lands, grey in shadow, and, beyond, the waters of the
fjord, yellow in the evening light, a mirror where red clouds and
white sails and hills of liquid blue are shining. And away out on
the farthest headland, the lonely star of the coast light over the
On such an evening Peer came down from the hills just in time to
see a gentleman in a carriole turn off from the highway and take
the by-road down towards Troen. The horse balked suddenly at a
small bridge, and when the driver reined him in and gave him a cut
with his whip, the beast reared, swung about, and sent the cart
fairly dancing round on its high wheels. "Oh, well, then, I'll
have to walk," cried the gentleman angrily, and, flinging the reins
to the lad behind him, he jumped down. Just at this moment Peer
"Here, boy," began the traveller, "just take this bag, will you?
And--" He broke off suddenly, took a step backward, and looked
hard at the boy. "What--surely it can't be-- Is it you, Peer?"
"Ye-es," said Peer, gaping a little, and took off his cap.
"Well, now, that's funny. My name is Holm. Well, well--well,
The lad in the cart had driven off, and the gentleman from the city
and the pale country boy with the patched trousers stood looking at
The newcomer was a man of fifty or so, but still straight and
active, though his hair and close-trimmed beard were sprinkled with
grey. His eyes twinkled gaily under the brim of his black felt
hat; his long overcoat was open, showing a gold chain across his
waistcoat. With a pair of gloves and an umbrella in one hand, a
light travelling bag in the other, and his beautifully polished
shoes--a grand gentleman, thought Peer, if ever there was one. And
this was his father!
"So that's how you look, my boy? Not very big for your age--nearly
sixteen now, aren't you? Do they give you enough to eat?"
"Yes," said Peer, with conviction.
The pair walked down together, towards the grey cottage by the
fjord. Suddenly the man stopped, and looked at it through half-
"Is that where you've been living all these years?"
"In that little hut there?"
"Yes. That's the place--Troen they call it."
"Why, that wall there bulges so, I should think the whole affair
would collapse soon."
Peer tried to laugh at this, but felt something like a lump in his
throat. It hurt to hear fine folks talk like that of father and
mother's little house.
There was a great flurry when the strange gentleman appeared in the
doorway. The old wife was kneading away at the dough for a cake,
the front of her all white with flour; the old man sat with his
spectacles on, patching a shoe, and the two girls sprang up from
their spinning wheels. "Well, here I am. My name's Holm," said
the traveller, looking round and smiling. "Mercy on us! the
Captain his own self," murmured the old woman, wiping her hands on
He was an affable gentleman, and soon set them all at their ease.
He sat down in the seat of honour, drumming with his fingers on the
table, and talking easily as if quite at home. One of the girls
had been in service for a while in a Consul's family in the town,
and knew the ways of gentlefolk, and she fetched a bowl of milk and
offered it with a curtsy and a: "Will the Captain please to take
some milk?" "Thanks, thanks," said the visitor. "And what is your
name, my dear? Come, there's nothing to blush about. Nicoline?
First-rate! And you? Lusiana? That's right." He looked at the
red-rimmed basin, and, taking it up, all but emptied it at a
draught, then, wiping his beard, took breath. "Phu!--that was
good. Well, so here I am." And he looked around the room and at
each of them in turn, and smiled, and drummed with his fingers, and
said, "Well, well--well, well," and seemed much amused with
everything in general. "By the way, Nicoline," he said suddenly,
"since you're so well up in titles, I'm not 'Captain' any more now;
they've sent me up this way as Lieutenant-Colonel, and my wife has
just had a house left her in your town here, so we may be coming to
settle down in these parts. And perhaps you'd better send letters
to me through a friend in future. But we can talk about all that
by and by. Well, well--well, well." And all the time he was
drumming with his fingers on the table and smiling. Peer noticed
that he wore gold sleeve-links and a fine gold stud in his broad
And then a little packet was produced. "Hi, Peer, come and look;
here's something for you." And the "something" was nothing less
than a real silver watch--and Peer was quite unhappy for the moment
because he couldn't dash off at once and show it to all the other
boys. "There's a father for you," said the old wife, clapping her
hands, and almost in tears. But the visitor patted her on the
shoulder. "Father? father? H'm--that's not a thing any one can be
so sure about. Hahaha!" And "hahaha" echoed the old man, still
sitting with the awl in his hand. This was the sort of joke he
Then the visitor went out and strolled about the place, with his
hands under his coat tails, and looked at the sky, and the fjord,
and murmured, "Well, well--well, well," and Peer followed him about
all the while, and gazed at him as he might have gazed at a star.
He was to sleep in a neighbour's house, where there was a room that
had a bed with sheets on it, and Peer went across with him and
carried his bag. It was Martin Bruvold's parents who were to house
the traveller, and people stood round staring at the place. Martin
himself was waiting outside. "This a friend of yours, Peer? Here,
then, my boy, here's something to buy a big farm with." This time
it was a five-crown note, and Martin stood fingering it, hardly
able to believe his eyes. Peer's father was something like a
It was a fine thing, too, to see a grand gentleman undress. "I'll
have things like that some day," thought Peer, watching each new
wonder that came out of the bag. There was a silver-backed brush,
that he brushed his hair and beard with, walking up and down in his
underclothes and humming to himself. And then there was another
shirt, with red stripes round the collar, just to wear in bed.
Peer nodded to himself, taking it all in. And when the stranger
was in bed he took out a flask with a silver cork, that screwed off
and turned into a cup, and had a dram for a nightcap; and then he
reached for a long pipe with a beaded cord, and when it was drawing
well he stretched himself out comfortably and smiled at Peer.
"Well, now, my boy--are you getting on well at school?"
Peer put his hands behind him and set one foot forward. "Yes--he
says so--teacher does."
"How much is twelve times twelve?"
That was a stumper! Peer hadn't got beyond ten times ten.
"Do they teach you gymnastics at the school?"
"Gym--? What's that?"
"Jumping and vaulting and climbing ropes and drilling in squads--
"But isn't it--isn't that wicked?"
"Wicked! Hahaha! Wicked, did you say? So that's the way they
look at things here, is it? Well, well--well, well! Hahaha! Hand
me that matchbox, my boy. H'm!" He puffed away for a while in
silence. Then, suddenly:
"See here, boy. Did you know you'd a little sister?"
"Yes, I know."
"Half-sister, that is to say. I didn't quite know how it was
myself. But I may as well tell you, my boy, that I paid the same
for you all along, the same as now. Only I sent the money by your
mother, and she--well, she, poor girl, had another one to look
after, and no father to pay for it. So she made my money do for
both. Hahaha! Well, poor girl, we can't blame her for that.
Anyhow, we'll have to look after that little half-sister of yours
now, I suppose, till she grows up. Don't you think so yourself?"
Peer felt the tears coming. Think so!--indeed he did.
Next day Peer's father went away. He stood there, ready to start,
in the living-room at Troen, stiff felt hat and overcoat and all,
and said, in a tone like the sheriff's when he gives out a public
notice at the church door:
"And, by the way, you're to have the boy confirmed this year."
"Yes, to be sure we will," the old mother hastened to say.
"Then I wish him to be properly dressed, like the best of the other
youngsters. And there's fifty crowns for him to give the school-
teacher and the parson as a parting gift." He handed over some
"Afterwards," he went on, "I mean, of course, to look after him
until he can make his own way in a respectable position. But first
we must see what he has a turn for, and what he'd like to be
himself. He'd better come to town and talk it over with me--but
I'll write and arrange all that after he's confirmed. Then in case
anything unexpected should happen to me, there's some money laid by
for him in a savings bank account; he can apply to a friend of
mine, who knows all about it. Well, good-bye, and very many
And the great man smiled to right and left, and shook them all by
the hand, and waved his hat and was gone.
For the next few days Peer walked on air, and found it hard to keep
his footing at all on the common earth. People were for ever
filling his head with talk about that savings bank account--it
might be only a few thousands of crowns--but then again, it might
run up to a million. A million! and here he was, eating herrings
for dinner, and talking to Tom, Dick, and Harry just like any one
else. A million crowns!
Late in the autumn came the confirmation, and the old wooden
church, with its tarred walls, nestled among its mighty tree-tops,
sent its chimes ringing and ringing out into the blue autumn air.
It seemed to Peer like some kindly old grandmother, calling so
lovingly: "Come, come--old and young--old and young--from fjord
and valley--northways and southways; come, come--this day of all
days--this day of all days--come, come, come!" So it had stood,
ringing out the chimes for one generation after another through
hundreds of years, and now it is calling to us. And the young
folks are there, looking at one another in their new clothes, and
blowing their noses on clean white handkerchiefs, so carefully
folded. There comes Peter Ronningen, passed by good luck this
year, but forced to turn out in a jacket borrowed from Peer, as the
tailor wasn't ready with his own new things. The boys say "how-do-
you-do" and try to smile like grown-up folks. One or two of them
may have some little account dating from old school-fights waiting
to be settled--but, never mind--just as well to forget old scores
now. Peer caught sight of Johan Koja, who stole a pencil from him
last summer, but, after all, even that didn't seem worth making a
fuss about. "Well, how've you been getting on since last summer?"
they ask each other, as they move together up the stone steps to
the big church door, through which the peal of the organ comes
rolling out to meet them.
How good it seems, and how kind, the little church, where all you
see bids you welcome! Through the stained-glass windows with their
tiny leaded panes falls a light so soft that even poor ugly faces
seem beautiful. The organ tones are the very light itself turned
into sweet sound. On one side of the nave you can see all the
boys' heads, sleek with water; on the other the little mothers to
be, in grown-up dress to-day for the first time, kerchief on head
and hymn-book in hand, and with careful faces. And now they all
sing. The elder folks have taken their places farther back to-day,
but they join in, looking up now and again from the book to those
young heads in front, and wondering how they will fare in life.
And the young folk themselves are thinking as they sing, "To-day is
the beginning of new things. Play and frolic are over and done
with; from today we're grown-up." But the church and all in it
seemed to say: "If ever you are in heavy trouble, come hither to
me." Just look at that altar-piece there--the wood-carvings are a
whole Bible in themselves--but Moses with the Tables of the Law is
gentle of face to-day; you can see he means no harm after all. St.
Peter, with the keys, pointing upwards, looks like a kind old
uncle, bringing something good home from market. And then the
angels on the walls, pictured or carved in wood, have borrowed the
voice of the organ and the tones of the hymn, and they widen out
the vaulted roof into the dome of heaven; while light and song and
worshippers melt together and soar upwards toward the infinite
Peer was thinking all the time: I don't care if I'm rich as rich, I
WILL be a priest. And then perhaps with all my money I can build a
church that no one ever saw the like of. And the first couple I'll
marry there shall be Martin Bruvold and little sister Louise--if
only he'll have her. Just wait and see!
A few days later he wrote to his father, asking if he might come
into town now and go to school. A long time passed, and then at
last a letter came in a strange hand-writing, and all the grown
folks at Troen came together again to read it. But what was their
amazement when they read:
"You will possibly have learned by now from the newspapers that
your benefactor, Colonel Holm, has met his death by a fall from a
horse. I must therefore request you to call on me personally at
your earliest convenience, as I have several matters to settle with
you. Yours faithfully, J. Grundt, Senior Master."
They stood and looked at one another.
Peer was crying--chiefly, it must be admitted, at the thought of
having to bid good-bye to all the Troen folks and the two cows, and
the calf, and the grey cat. He might have to go right on to
Christiania, no later than to-morrow--to go to school there; and
when he came back--why, very likely the old mother might not be
there any more.
So all three of them were heavy-hearted, when the pock-marked good-
wife, and the bow-legged old man, came down with him to the pier.
And soon he was standing on the deck of the fjord steamer, gazing
at the two figures growing smaller and smaller on the shore. And
then one hut after another in the little hamlet disappeared behind
the ness--Troen itself was gone now--and the hills and the woods
where he had cut ring staves and searched for stray cattle--swiftly
all known things drew away and vanished, until at last the whole
parish was gone, and his childhood over.
As evening fell, he saw a multitude of lights spread out on every
side far ahead in the darkness. And next, with his little wooden
chest on his shoulder, he was finding his way up through the
streets by the quay to a lodging-house for country folk, which he
knew from former visits, when he had come to the town with the
Next morning, clad in his country homespun, he marched up along
River Street, over the bridge, and up the hill to the villa
quarter, where he had to ask the way. At last he arrived outside a
white-painted wooden house standing back in a garden. Here was the
place--the place where his fate was to be decided. After the
country fashion he walked in at the kitchen door.
A stout servant maid in a big white apron was rattling the rings of
the kitchen range into place; there was a pleasing smell of coffee
and good things to eat. Suddenly a door opened, and a figure in a
dressing-gown appeared--a tall red-haired man with gold spectacles
astride on a long red nose, his thick hair and scrubby little
moustaches touched with grey. He gasped once or twice and then
started sneezing--hoc-hoc-put-putsch!--wiped his nose with a large
pocket-handkerchief, and grumbled out: "Ugh!--this wretched cold--
can't get rid of it. How about my socks, Bertha, my good girl; do
you think they are quite dry now?"
"I've had them hung up ever since I lit the fire this morning,"
said the girl, tossing her head.
"But who is this young gentleman, may I ask?" The gold spectacles
were turned full on Peer, who rose and bowed.
"Said he wanted to speak to you, sir," put in the maid.
"Ah. From the country, I see. Have you anything to sell, my lad?"
"No," said Peer. He had had a letter. . . .
The red head seemed positively frightened at this--and the
dressing-gown faltered backwards, as if to find support. He cast a
hurried glance at the girl, and then beckoned with a long fore-
finger to Peer. "Yes, yes, perfectly so. Be so good as to come
this way, my lad."
Peer found himself in a room with rows of books all round the
walls, and a big writing-table in the centre. "Sit down, my boy."
The schoolmaster went and picked out a long pipe, and filled it,
clearing his throat nervously, with an occasional glance at the
boy. "H'm--so this is you. This is Peer--h'm." He lit his pipe
and puffed a little, found himself again obliged to sneeze--but at
last settled down in a chair at the writing-table, stretched out
his long legs, and puffed away again.
"So that's what you look like?" With a quick movement he reached
for a photograph in a frame. Peer caught a glimpse of his father
in uniform. The schoolmaster lifted his spectacles, stared at the
picture, then let down his spectacles again and fell to
scrutinising Peer's face. There was a silence for a while, and
then he said: "Ah, indeed--I see--h'm." Then turning to Peer:
"Well, my lad, it was very sudden--your benefactor's end--most
unexpected. He is to be buried to-day."
"Benefactor?" thought Peer. "Why doesn't he say 'your father'?"
The schoolmaster was gazing at the window. "He informed me some
time ago of--h'm--of all the--all the benefits he had conferred on
you--h'm! And he begged me to keep an eye on you myself in case
anything happened to him. And now"--the spectacles swung round
towards Peer--"now you are starting out in life by yourself, hey?"
"Yes," said Peer, shifting a little in his seat.
"You will have to decide now what walk in life you are to--er--
devote yourself to."
"Yes," said Peer again, sitting up straighter.
"You would perhaps like to be a fisherman--like the good people
you've been brought up among?"
"No." Peer shook his head disdainfully. Was this man trying to
make a fool of him?
"Some trade, then, perhaps?"
"Oh, then I suppose it's to be America. Well, you will easily find
company to go with. Such numbers are going nowadays--I am sorry to
say. . . ."
Peer pulled himself together. "Oh, no, not that at all." Better
get it out at once. "I wish to be a priest," he said, speaking
with a careful town accent.
The schoolmaster rose from his seat, holding his long pipe up in
the air in one hand, and pressing his ear forward with the other,
as though to hear better. "What?--what did you say?"
"A priest," repeated Peer, but he moved behind his chair as he
spoke, for it looked as if the schoolmaster might fling the pipe at
But suddenly the red face broke into a smile, exposing such an
array of greenish teeth as Peer had never seen before. Then he
said in a sort of singsong, nodding: "A priest? Oh, indeed!
Quite a small matter!" He rose and wandered once or twice up and
down the room, then stopped, nodded, and said in a fatherly tone--
to one of the bookshelves: "H'm--really--really--we're a little
ambitious, are we not?"
He turned on Peer suddenly. "Look here, my young friend--don't you
think your benefactor has been quite generous enough to you
"Yes, indeed he has," said Peer, his voice beginning to tremble a
"There are thousands of boys in your position who are thrown out in
the world after confirmation and left to shift for themselves,
without a soul to lend them a helping hand."
"Yes," gasped Peer, looking round involuntarily towards the door.
"I can't understand--who can have put these wild ideas into your
With an effort Peer managed to get out: "It's always been what I
wanted. And he--father--"
"Who? Father--? Do you mean your benefactor?"
"Well, he was my father, wasn't he?" burst out Peer.
The schoolmaster tottered back and sank into a chair, staring at
Peer as if he thought him a quite hopeless subject. At last he
recovered so far as to say: "Look here, my lad, don't you think
you might be content to call him--now and for the future--just your
benefactor? Don't you think he deserves it?"
"Oh, yes," whispered Peer, almost in tears.
"You are thinking, of course--you and those who have put all this
nonsense into your head--of the money which he--h'm--"
"Yes--isn't there a savings bank account--?"
"Aha! There we are! Yes, indeed. There is a savings bank
account--in my care." He rose, and hunted out from a drawer a
small green-covered book. Peer could not take his eyes from it.
"Here it is. The sum entered here to your account amounts to
eighteen hundred crowns."
Crash! Peer felt as if he had fallen through the floor into the
cellarage. All his dreams vanished into thin air--the million
crowns--priest and bishop--Christiania--and all the rest.
"On the day when you are in a fair way to set up independently as
an artisan, a farmer, or a fisherman--and when you seem to me, to
the best of my judgment, to deserve such help--then and not till
then I place this book at your disposal. Do you understand what I
"I am perfectly sure that I am in full agreement with the wishes of
the donor in deciding that the money must remain untouched in my
safe keeping until then."
"Yes," whispered Peer.
"What?--are you crying?"
"No, pray don't go yet. Sit down. There are one or two things we
must get settled at once. First of all--you must trust me, my good
boy. Do you believe that I wish you well, or do you not?"
"Then it is agreed that all these fancies about going to college
and so forth must be driven out of your head once for all?"
"You can see yourself that, even supposing you had the mental
qualifications, such a sum, generous as it is in itself, would not
suffice to carry you far."
"On the other hand, if you wish it, I will gladly arrange to get
you an apprentice's place with a good handicraftsman here. You
would have free board there, and--well, if you should want clothes
the first year or so, I dare say we could manage that. You will be
better without pocket-money to fling about until you can earn it
Peer sighed, and drooped as he stood. When he saw the green-backed
book locked into its drawer again, and heard the keys rattle as
they went back into a pocket under the dressing-gown, he felt as if
some one were pointing a jeering finger at him, and saying, "Yah!"
"Then there's another thing. About your name. What name have you
thought of taking, my lad--surname, I mean?"
"My name is Peer Holm!" said the boy, instinctively drawing himself
up as he had done when the bishop had patted his head at the
confirmation and asked his name.
The schoolmaster pursed up his lips, took off his spectacles and
wiped them, put them on again, and turned to the bookshelves with a
sigh. "Ah, indeed!--yes--yes--I almost thought as much."
Then he came forward and laid a hand kindly on Peer's shoulder.
"My dear boy--that is out of the question."
A shiver went through Peer. Had he done something wrong again?
"See here, my boy--have you considered that there may be others of
that name in this same place?"
"Wait a minute--and that you would occasion these--others--the
deepest pain and distress if it should become known that--well, how
matters stand. You see, I am treating you as a grown-up man--a
gentleman. And I feel sure you would not wish to inflict a great
sorrow--a crushing blow--upon a widow and her innocent children.
There, there, my boy, there's nothing to cry about. Life, my young
friend, life has troubles that must be faced. What is the name of
the farm, or house, where you have lived up to now?"
"Troen--a very good name indeed. Then from to-day on you will call
yourself Peer Troen."
"And if any one should ask about your father, remember that you are
bound in honour and conscience not to mention your benefactor's
"Well, then, as soon as you have made up your mind, come at once
and let me know. We shall be great friends yet, you will see.
You're sure you wouldn't like to try America? Well, well, come
along out to the kitchen and see if we can find you some
Peer found himself a moment after sitting on a chair in the
kitchen, where there was such a good smell of coffee. "Bertha,"
said the schoolmaster coaxingly, "you'll find something good for
breakfast for my young friend here, won't you?" He waved a
farewell with his hand, took down his socks from a string above the
stove, and disappeared through the door again.
When a country boy in blue homespun, with a peaked cap on his blond
head, goes wandering at random through the streets of a town, it is
no particular concern of any one else. He moves along, gazing in
at shop windows, hands deep in his pockets, whistling, looking at
everything around him--or at nothing at all. And yet--perhaps in
the head under that peaked cap it seems as if a whole little world
had suddenly collapsed, and he may be whistling hard to keep from
crying in the streets for people to see. He steps aside to avoid
a cart, and runs into a man, who drops his cigar in the gutter.
"Confounded country lout!" says the man angrily, but passes on and
has forgotten boy and all the next moment. But a little farther on
a big dog comes dashing out of a yard and unluckily upsets a fat
old woman on the pavement, and the boy with the peaked cap, for all
his troubles, cannot help doubling up and roaring with laughter.
That afternoon, Peer sat on one of the ramparts below the fortress,
biting at a stalk of grass, and twirling the end in his fingers.
Below him lay town and fjord in the mild October sunlight; the
rumble of traffic, the noises from workshops and harbour, came up
to him through the rust-brown luminous haze. There he sat, while
the sentry on the wall above marched back and forth, with his rifle
on his shoulder, left--right--left.
You may climb very high up indeed, and fall down very deep, and no
such terrible harm done after all, as long as you don't absolutely
break your neck. And gradually Peer began to realise that he was
still alive, after all. It is a bad business when the world goes
against you, even though you may have some one to turn to for
advice and sympathy. But when all the people round you are utter
strangers, there is nothing to be done but sit down and twirl a
straw, and think things out a bit for yourself. Peer's thoughts
were of a thing in a long dressing-gown that had taken his bank
book and locked it up and rattled the keys at him and said "Yah!"
and deposed him from his bishopric and tried to sneeze and squeeze
him into a trade, where he'd have to carry a pressing-iron all his
life and be Peer Troen, Tailor. But he wouldn't have that. He sat
there bracing himself up, and trying to gather together from
somewhere a thing he had never had much need of before--to wit, a
will of his own, something to set up against the whole wide world.
What was he to do now? He felt he would like to go back to Troen
first of all, and talk things over with the old father and mother;
they would be sorry for him there, and say "Poor boy," and pray for
him--but after a day or two, he knew, they would begin to glance at
him at meals, and remember that there was no one to pay for him
now, and that times were hard. No, that was no refuge for him now.
But what could he do, then? Clearly it was not such a simple
matter to be all alone in the world.
A little later he found himself on a hillside by the Cathedral
churchyard, sitting under the yellowing trees, and wondering
dreamily where his father was to be buried. What a difference
between him and that schoolmaster man! No preaching with him; no
whining about what his boy might call himself or might not. Why
must he go and die?
It was strange to think of that fine strong man, who had brushed
his hair and beard so carefully with his silver-backed brush--to
think that he was lying still in a coffin now, and would soon be
covered up with earth.
People were coming up the hill now, and passing in to the
churchyard. The men wore black clothes and tall shiny hats--but
there were some officers too, with plumes and sashes. And then a
regimental band--with its brass instruments. Peer slipped into the
churchyard with the crowd, but kept apart from the rest, and took
up his stand a little way off, beside a big monument. "It must be
father's funeral," he thought to himself, and was broad awake at
This, he guessed, must be the Cadet School, that came marching in,
and formed up in two lines from the mortuary chapel to the open
grave. The place was nearly full of people now; there were women
holding handkerchiefs to their eyes, and an elderly lady in black
went into the chapel, on the arm of a tall man in uniform. "That
must be father's wife," thought Peer, "and the young ladies there
in black are--my half-sisters, and that young lieutenant--my half-
brother." How strange it all was! A sound of singing came from
the chapel. And a little later six sergeants came out, carrying a
coffin all heaped with flowers. "Present arms!" And the soldiers
presented, and the band played a slow march and moved off in front
of the coffin, between the two lines of soldiers. And then came a
great following of mourners. The lady in black came out again,
sobbing behind her handkerchief, and hardly able to follow, though
she clung to the tall officer's arm. But in front of the pair,
just behind the coffin itself, walked a tall man in splendid
uniform, with gold epaulettes, plumed hat, and sword, bearing a
cushion with two jewelled stars. And the long, long train of
mourners moved slowly, gently on, and there--there by the grave,
stood the priest, holding a spade.
Peer was anxious to hear what the priest would have to say about
his father. Involuntarily he stole a little nearer, though he felt
somehow that it would not do to come too close.
A hymn was sung at the graveside, the band accompanying. Peer
took off his cap. He was too taken up to notice that one of the
mourners was watching him intently, and presently left the group
and came towards him. The man wore spectacles, and a shiny tall
hat, and it was not until he began to sneeze that Peer recognised
him. It was the schoolmaster, glaring at him now with a face so
full of horror and fury that the spectacles almost seemed to be
"You--you-- Are you mad?" he whispered in Peer's face, clenching
his black gloved hands. "What are you doing here? Do you want to
cause a catastrophe to-day of all days? Go--get away at once, do
you hear me? Go! For heaven's sake, get away from here before any
one sees." Peer turned and fled, hearing behind him as he went a
threatening "If ever you dare--again--," while the voices and the
band, swelling higher in the hymn, seemed to strike him in the back
and drive him on.
He was far down in the town before he could stop and pull himself
together. One thing was clear--after this he could never face that
schoolmaster again. All was lost. Could he even be sure that what
he had done wasn't so frightfully wrong that he would have to go to
prison for it?
Next day the Troen folk were sitting at their dinner when the
eldest son looked out of the window and said: "There's Peer
"Mercy on us!" cried the good-wife, as he came in. "What is the
matter, Peer? Are you ill?"
Ah, it was good that night to creep in under the old familiar skin-
rug once more. And the old mother sat on the bedside and talked to
him of the Lord, by way of comfort. Peer clenched his hands under
the clothes--somehow he thought now of the Lord as a sort of
schoolmaster in a dressing-gown. Yet it was some comfort all the
same to have the old soul sit there and talk to him.
Peer had much to put up with in the days that followed--much
tittering and whispers of "Look! there goes the priest," as he went
by. At table, he felt ashamed of every mouthful he took; he hunted
for jobs as day-labourer on distant farms so as to earn a little to
help pay for his keep. And when the winter came he would have to
do as the others did--hire himself out, young and small as he was,
for the Lofoten fishing.
But one day after church Klaus Brock drew him aside and got him to
talk things over at length. First, Klaus told him that he himself
was going away--he was to begin in one of the mechanical workshops
in town, and go from there to the Technical College, to qualify for
an engineer. And next he wanted to hear the whole truth about what
had happened to Peer that day in town. For when people went
slapping their thighs and sniggering about the young would-be
priest that had turned out a beggar, Klaus felt he would like to
give the lot of them a darned good hammering.
So the two sixteen-year-old boys wandered up and down talking, and
in the days to come Peer never forgot how his old accomplice in the
shark-fishing had stood by him now. "Do like me," urged Klaus.
"You're a bit of a smith already, man; go to the workshops, and
read up in your spare time for the entrance exam to the Technical.
Then three years at the College--the eighteen hundred crowns will
cover that--and there you are, an engineer--and needn't even owe
any one a halfpenny."
Peer shook his head; he was sure he would never dare to show his
face before that schoolmaster again, much less ask for the money in
the bank. No; the whole thing was over and done with for him.
"But devil take it, man, surely you can see that this ape of a
schoolmaster dare not keep you out of your money. Let me come with
you; we'll go up and tackle him together, and then--then you'll
see." And Klaus clenched his fists and thrust out one shoulder
But when January came, there was Peer in oil-skins, in the foc's'le
of a Lofoten fishing-smack, ploughing the long sea-road north to
the fishing-grounds, in frost and snow-storms. All through that
winter he lived the fisherman's life: on land, in one of the tiny
fisher-booths where a five-man crew is packed like sardines in an
air so thick you can cut it with a knife; at sea, where in a fair
wind you stand half the day doing nothing and freezing stiff the
while--and a foul wind means out oars, and row, row, row, over an
endless plain of rolling icy combers; row, row, till one's hands
are lumps of bleeding flesh. Peer lived through it all, thinking
now and then, when he could think at all, how the grand gentlefolk
had driven him out to this life because he was impertinent enough
to exist. And when the fourteen weeks were past, and the Lofoten
boats stood into the fjord again on a mild spring day, it was easy
for Peer to reckon out his earnings, which were just nothing at
all. He had had to borrow money for his outfit and food, and he
would be lucky if his boy's share was enough to cover what he owed.
A few weeks later a boy stood by the yard gate of an engineering
works in the town just as the bell was ringing and the men came
streaming out, and asked for Klaus Brock.
"Hullo, Peer--that you? Been to Lofoten and made your fortune?"
The two boys stood a moment taking stock of one another: Klaus
grimy-faced and in working-clothes--Peer weather-beaten and tanned
by storm and spray.
The manager of the factory was Klaus's uncle, and the same
afternoon his nephew came into the office with a new hand wanting
to be taken on as apprentice. He had done some smithy work before,
he said; and he was taken on forthwith, at a wage of twopence an
"And what's your name?"
"Peer--er"--the rest stuck in his throat.
"Holm," put in Klaus.
"Peer Holm? Very well, that'll do."
The two boys went out with a feeling of having done something
rather daring. And anyway, if trouble should come along, there
would be two of them now to tackle it.
In a narrow alley off Sea Street lived Gorseth the job-master, with
a household consisting of a lean and skinny wife, two half-starved
horses, and a few ramshackle flies and sledges. The job-master
himself was a hulking toper with red nose and beery-yellow eyes,
who spent his nights in drinking and got home in the small hours of
the morning when his wife was just about getting up. All through
the morning she went about the place scolding and storming at him
for a drunken ne'er-do-well, while Gorseth himself lay comfortably
When Peer arrived on the scene with his box on his shoulder,
Gorseth was on his knees in the yard, greasing a pair of leather
carriage-aprons, while his wife, sunken-lipped and fierce-eyed,
stood in the kitchen doorway, abusing him for a profligate, a
swine, and the scum of the earth. Gorseth lay there on all-fours,
with the sun shining on his bald head, smearing on the grease; but
every now and then he would lift his head and snarl out, "Hold your
jaw, you damned old jade!"
"Haven't you a room to let?" Peer asked.
A beery nose was turned towards him, and the man dragged himself up
and wiped his hands on his trousers. "Right you are," said he, and
led the way across the yard, up some stairs, and into a little room
with two panes of glass looking on to the street and a half-window
on the yard. The room had a bed with sheets, a couple of chairs,
and a table in front of the half-window. Six and six a month.
Agreed. Peer took it on the spot, paid down the first month's
rent, and having got rid of the man sat down on his chest and
looked about him. Many people have never a roof to their heads,
but here was he, Peer, with a home of his own. Outside in the yard
the woman had begun yelping her abuse again, the horses in the
stable beneath were stamping and whinnying, but Peer had lodged in
fisher-booths and peasants' quarters and was not too particular.
Here he was for the first time in a place of his own, and within
its walls was master of the house and his own master.
Food was the next thing. He went out and bought in supplies,
stocking his chest with plain country fare. At dinner time he sat
on the lid, as fishermen do, and made a good solid meal of flat
bannocks and cold bacon.
And now he fell-to at his new work. There was no question of
whether it was what he wanted or not; here was a chance of getting
up in the world, and that without having to beg any one's leave.
He meant to get on. And it was not long before his dreams began to
take a new shape from his new life. He stood at the bottom of a
ladder, a blacksmith's boy--but up at the top sat a mighty Chief
Engineer, with gold spectacles and white waistcoat. That was where
he would be one day. And if any schoolmaster came along and tried
to keep him back this time--well, just let him try it. They had
turned him out of a churchyard once--he would have his revenge for
that some day. It might take him years and years to do it, but one
fine day he would be as good as the best of them, and would pay
them back in full.
In the misty mornings, as he tramped in to his work, dinner-pail in
hand, his footsteps on the plank bridge seemed hammering out with
concentrated will: "To-day I shall learn something new--new--new!"
The great works down at the harbour--shipyard, foundry, and machine
shops--were a whole city in themselves. And into this world of
fire and smoke and glowing iron, steam-hammers, racing wheels, and
bustle and noise, he was thrusting his way, intent upon one thing,
to learn and learn and ever learn. There were plenty of those by
him who were content to know their way about the little corner
where they stood--but they would never get any farther. They would
end their days broken-down workmen--HE would carve his way through
till he stood among the masters. He had first to put in some
months' work in the smithy, then he would be passed on to the
machine shops, then to work with the carpenters and painters, and
finally in the shipyard. The whole thing would take a couple of
years. But the works and all therein were already a kind of new
Bible to him; a book of books, which he must learn by heart. Only
And what a place it was for new adventures! Many times a day he
would find himself gazing at some new wonder; sheer miracle and
revelation--yet withal no creation of God's grace, but an invention
of men. Press a button, and behold, a miracle springs to life. He
would stare at the things, and the strain of understanding them
would sometimes keep him awake at night. There was something
behind this, something that must be--spirit, even though it did not
come from God. These engineers were priests of a sort, albeit they
did not preach nor pray. It was a new world.
One day he was put to riveting work on an enormous boiler, and for
the first time found himself working with a power that was not the
power of his own hands. It was a tube, full of compressed air,
that drove home the rivets in quick succession with a clashing wail
from the boiler that sounded all over the town. Peer's head and
ears ached with the noise, but he smiled all the same. He was used
to toil himself, in weariness of body; now he stood here master,
was mind and soul and directing will. He felt it now for the first
time, and it sent a thrill of triumph through every nerve of his
But all through the long evenings he sat alone, reading, reading,
and heard the horses stamping in the stable below. And when he
crept into bed, well after midnight, there was only one thing that
troubled him--his utter loneliness. Klaus Brock lived with his
uncle, in a fine house, and went to parties. And he lay here all
by himself. If he were to die that very night, there would be
hardly a soul to care. So utterly alone he was--in a strange and
Sometimes it helped him a little to think of the old mother at
Troen, or of the church at home, where the vaulted roof had soared
so high over the swelling organ-notes, and all the faces had looked
so beautiful. But the evening prayer was no longer what it had
been for him. There was no grey-haired bishop any more sitting at
the top of the ladder he was to climb. The Chief Engineer that was
there now had nothing to do with Our Lord, or with life in the
world to come. He would never come so far now that he could go
down into the place of torment where his mother lay, and bring her
up with him, up to salvation. And whatever power and might he
gained, he could never stand in autumn evenings and lift up his
finger and make all the stars break into song.
Something was past and gone for Peer. It was as if he were rowing
away from a coast where red clouds hung in the sky and dream-
visions filled the air--rowing farther and farther away, towards
something quite new. A power stronger than himself had willed it
One Sunday, as he sat reading, the door opened, and Klaus Brock
entered whistling, with his cap on the back of his head.
"Hullo, old boy! So this is where you live?"
"Yes, it is--and that's a chair over there."
But Klaus remained standing, with his hands in his pockets and his
cap on, staring about the room. "Well, I'm blest!" he said at
last. "If he hasn't stuck up a photograph of himself on his
"Well, did you never see one before? Don't you know everybody has
"Not their own photos, you ass! If anybody sees that, you'll never
hear the last of it."
Peer took up the photograph and flung it under the bed. "Well, it
was a rubbishy thing," he muttered. Evidently he had made a
mistake. "But what about this?"--pointing to a coloured picture he
had nailed up on the wall.
Klaus put on his most manly air and bit off a piece of tobacco
plug. "Ah! that!" he said, trying not to laugh too soon.
"Yes; it's a fine painting, isn't it? I got it for fourpence."
"Painting! Ha-ha! that's good! Why, you silly cow, can't you see
it's only an oleograph?"
"Oh, of course you know all about it. You always do."
"I'll take you along one day to the Art Gallery," said Klaus.
"Then you can see what a real painting looks like. What's that
you've got there--English reader?"
"Yes," put in Peer eagerly; "hear me say a poem." And before Klaus
could protest, he had begun to recite.
When he had finished, Klaus sat for a while in silence, chewing his
quid. "H'm!" he said at last, "if our last teacher, Froken
Zebbelin, could have heard that English of yours, we'd have had to
send for a nurse for her, hanged if we wouldn't!"
This was too much. Peer flung the book against the wall and told
the other to clear out to the devil. When Klaus at last managed to
get a word in, he said:
"If you are to pass your entrance at the Technical you'll have to
have lessons--surely you can see that. You must get hold of a
"Easy for you to talk about teachers! Let me tell you my pay is
twopence an hour."
"I'll find you one who can take you twice a week or so in languages
and history and mathematics. I daresay some broken-down sot of a
student would take you on for sevenpence a lesson. You could run
to that, surely?"
Peer was quiet now and a little pensive. "Well, if I give up
butter, and drink water instead of coffee--"
Klaus laughed, but his eyes were moist. Hard luck that he couldn't
offer to lend his comrade a few shillings--but it wouldn't do.
So the summer passed. On Sundays Peer would watch the young folks
setting out in the morning for the country, to spend the whole day
wandering in the fields and woods, while he sat indoors over his
books. And in the evening he would stick his head out of his two-
paned window that looked on to the street, and would see the lads
and girls coming back, flushed and noisy, with flowers and green
boughs in their hats, crazy with sunshine and fresh air. And still
he must sit and read on. But in the autumn, when the long nights
set in, he would go for a walk through the streets before going to
bed, as often as not up to the white wooden house where the manager
lived. This was Klaus's home. Lights in the windows, and often
music; the happy people that lived here knew and could do all sorts
of things that could never be learned from books. No mistake: he
had a goodish way to go--a long, long way. But get there he would.
One day Klaus happened to mention, quite casually, where Colonel
Holm's widow lived, and late one evening Peer made his way out
there, and cautiously approached the house. It was in River
Street, almost hidden in a cluster of great trees, and Peer stood
there, leaning against the garden fence, trembling with some
obscure emotion. The long rows of windows on both floors were
lighted up; he could hear youthful laughter within, and then a
young girl's voice singing--doubtless they were having a party.
Peer turned up his collar against the wind, and tramped back
through the town to his lodging above the carter's stable.
For the lonely working boy Saturday evening is a sort of festival.
He treats himself to an extra wash, gets out his clean underclothes
from his chest, and changes. And the smell of the newly-washed
underclothing calls up keenly the thought of a pock-marked old
woman who sewed and patched it all, and laid it away so neatly
folded. He puts it on carefully, feeling almost as if it were
Now and again, when a Sunday seemed too long, Peer would drift into
the nearest church. What the parson said was all very good, no
doubt, but Peer did not listen; for him there were only the hymns,
the organ, the lofty vaulted roof, the coloured windows. Here,
too, the faces of the people looked otherwise than in the street
without; touched, as it were, by some reflection from all that
their thoughts aspired to reach. And it was so homelike here.
Peer even felt a sort of kinship with them all, though every soul
there was a total stranger.
But at last one day, to his surprise, in the middle of a hymn, a
voice within him whispered suddenly: "You should write to your
sister. She's as much alone in the world as you are."
And one evening Peer sat down and wrote. He took quite a lordly
tone, saying that if she wanted help in any way, she need only let
him know. And if she would care to move in to town, she could come
and live with him. After which he remained, her affectionate
brother, Peer Holm, engineer apprentice.
A few days later there came a letter addressed in a fine slanting
hand. Louise had just been confirmed. The farmer she was with
wished to keep her on as dairymaid through the winter, but she was
afraid the work would be too heavy for her. So she was coming in
to town by the boat arriving on Sunday evening. With kind regards,
his sister, Louise Hagen.
Peer was rather startled. He seemed to have taken a good deal on
On Sunday evening he put on his blue suit and stiff felt hat, and
walked down to the quay. For the first time in his life he had
some one else to look after--he was to be a father and benefactor
from now on to some one worse off than himself. This was something
new. The thought came back to him of the jolly gentleman who had
come driving down one day to Troen to look after his little son.
Yes, that was the way to do things; that was the sort of man he
would be. And involuntarily he fell into something of his father's
look and step, his smile, his lavish, careless air. "Well, well--
well, well--well, well," he seemed saying to himself. He might
almost, in his fancy, have had a neat iron-grey beard on his chin.
The little green steamboat rounded the point and lay in to the
quay, the gangways were run out, porters jumped aboard, and all the
passengers came bundling ashore. Peer wondered how he was to know
her, this sister whom he had never seen.
The crowd on deck soon thinned, and people began moving off from
the quay into the town.
Then Peer was aware of a young peasant-girl, with a box in one hand
and a violin-case in the other. She wore a grey dress, with a
black kerchief over her fair hair; her face was pale, and finely
cut. It was his mother's face; his mother as a girl of sixteen.
Now she was looking about her, and now her eyes rested on him, half
afraid, half inquiring.
"Is it you, Louise?"
"Is that you, Peer?"
They stood for a moment, smiling and measuring each other with
their eyes, and then shook hands.
Together they carried the box up through the town, and Peer was so
much of a townsman already that he felt a little ashamed to find
himself walking through the streets, holding one end of a trunk,
with a peasant-girl at the other. And what a clatter her thick
shoes made on the pavement! But all the time he was ashamed to
feel ashamed. Those blue arch eyes of hers, constantly glancing up
at him, what were they saying? "Yes, I have come," they said--"and
I've no one but you in all the world--and here I am," they kept on
"Can you play that?" he asked, with a glance at her violin-case.
"Oh well; my playing's only nonsense," she laughed. And she told
how the old sexton she had been living with last had not been able
to afford a new dress for her confirmation, and had given her the
"Then didn't you have a new dress to be confirmed in?"
"But wasn't it--didn't you feel horrible, with the other girls
standing by you all dressed up fine?"
She shut her eyes for a moment. "Oh, yes--it WAS horrid," she
A little farther on she asked: "Were you boarded out at a lot of
"Five, I think."
"Pooh--why, that's nothing. I was at nine, I was." The girl was
When they came up to his room she stood for a moment looking round
the place. It was hardly what she had expected to find. And she
had not been in town lodgings before, and her nose wrinkled up a
little as she smelt the close air. It seemed so stuffy, and so
"We'll light the lamp," he said.
Presently she laughed a little shyly, and asked where she was to
"Lord bless us, you may well ask!" Peer scratched his head.
"There's only one bed, you see." At that they both burst out
"The one of us'll have to sleep on the floor," suggested the girl.
"Right. The very thing," said he, delighted. "I've two pillows;
you can have one. And two rugs--anyway, you won't be cold."
"And then I can put on my other dress over," she said. "And maybe
you'll have an old overcoat--"
"Splendid! So we needn't bother any more about that."
"But where do you get your food from?" She evidently meant to have
everything cleared up at once.
Peer felt rather ashamed that he hadn't money enough to invite her
to a meal at an eating-house then and there. But he had to pay his
teacher's fees the next day; and his store-box wanted refilling
"I boil the coffee on the stove there overnight," he said, "so that
it's all ready in the morning. And the dry food I keep in that box
there. We'll see about some supper now." He opened the box,
fished out a loaf and some butter, and put the kettle on the stove.
She helped him to clear the papers off the table, and spread the
feast on it. There was only one knife, but it was really much
better fun that way than if he had had two. And soon they were
seated on their chairs--they had a chair each--having their first
meal in their own home, he and she together.
It was settled that Louise should sleep on the floor, and they both
laughed a great deal as he tucked her in carefully so that she
shouldn't feel cold. It was not till afterwards, when the lamp was
out, that they noticed that the autumn gales had set in, and there
was a loud north-wester howling over the housetops. And there they
lay, chatting to each other in the dark, before falling asleep.
It seemed a strange and new thing to Peer, this really having a
relation of his own--and a girl, too--a young woman. There she lay
on the floor near by him, and from now on he was responsible for
what was to become of her in the world. How should he put that job
He could hear her turning over. The floor was hard, very likely.
"Did you ever see mother?"
"Or your father?"
"My father?" She gave a little laugh.
"Yes, haven't you ever seen him either?"
"Why, how should I, silly? Who says that mother knew herself who
There was a pause. Then Peer brought out, rather awkwardly:
"We're all alone, then--you and I."
"Yes--we are that."
"Louise! What are you thinking of taking to now?"
"What are you?"
So Peer told her all his plans. She said nothing for a little
while--no doubt she was lying thinking of the grand things he had
At last she spoke. "Do you think--does it cost very much to learn
to be a midwife?"
"A midwife--is that what you want to be, girl?" Peer couldn't help
laughing. So this was what she had been planning in these days--
since he had offered to help her on in the world.
"Do you think my hands are too big?" she ventured presently--he
could just hear the whisper.
Peer felt a pang of pity. He had noticed already how ill the red
swollen hands matched her pale clear-cut face, and he knew that in
the country, when any one has small, fine hands, people call them
"We'll manage it somehow, I daresay," said Peer, turning round to
the wall. He had heard that it cost several hundred crowns to go
through the course at the midwifery school. It would be years
before he could get together anything like that sum. Poor girl,
it looked as if she would have a long time to wait.
After that they fell silent. The north-wester roared over the
housetops, and presently brother and sister were asleep.
When Peer awoke the next morning, Louise was about already, making
coffee over the little stove. Then she opened her box, took out a
yellow petticoat and hung it on a nail, placed a pair of new shoes
against the wall, lifted out some under-linen and woollen
stockings, looked at them, and put them back again. The little
box held all her worldly goods.
As Peer was getting up: "Gracious mercy!" she cried suddenly,
"what is that awful noise down in the yard?"
"Oh, that's nothing to worry about," said Peer. "It's only the
job-master and his wife. They carry on like that every blessed
morning; you'll soon get used to it."
Soon they were seated once more at the little table, drinking
coffee and laughing and looking at each other. Louise had found
time to do her hair--the two fair plaits hung down over her
It was time for Peer to be off, and, warning the girl not to go too
far from home and get lost, he ran down the stairs.
At the works he met Klaus Brock, and told him that his sister had
come to town.
"But what are you going to do with her?" asked Klaus.
"Oh, she'll stay with me for the present."
"Stay with you? But you've only got one room and one bed, man!"
"Well--she can sleep on the floor."
"She? Your sister? She's to sleep on the floor--and you in the
bed!" gasped Klaus.
Peer saw he had made a mistake again. "Of course I was only
fooling," he hastened to say. "Of course it's Louise that's to
have the bed."
When he came home he found she had borrowed a frying-pan from the
carter's wife, and had fried some bacon and boiled potatoes; so
that they sat down to a dinner fit for a prince.
But when the girl's eyes fell on the coloured print on the wall,
and she asked if it was a painting, Peer became very grand at once.
"That--a painting? Why, that's only an oleograph, silly! No, I'll
take you along to the Art Gallery one day, and show you what real
paintings are like." And he sat drumming with his fingers on the
table, and saying: "Well, well--well, well, well!"
They agreed that Louise had better look out at once for some work
to help things along. And at the first eating-house they tried,
she was taken on at once in the kitchen to wash the floor and peel
When bedtime came he insisted on Louise taking the bed. "Of course
all that was only a joke last night," he explained. "Here in town
women always have the best of everything--that's what's called
manners." As he stretched himself on the hard floor, he had a
strange new feeling. The narrow little garret seemed to have
widened out now that he had to find room in it for a guest. There
was something not unpleasant even in lying on the hard floor, since
he had chosen to do it for some one else's sake.
After the lamp was out he lay for a while, listening to her
breathing. Then at last:
"Is your father--was his name Hagen?"
"Yes. It says so on the certificate."
"Then you're Froken Hagen. Sounds quite fine, doesn't it?"
"Uf! Now you're making fun of me."
"And when you're a midwife, Froken Hagen might quite well marry a
doctor, you know."
"Silly! There's no chance--with hands like mine."
"Do you think your hands are too big for you to marry a doctor?"
"Uf! you ARE a crazy thing. Ha-ha-ha!"
They both snuggled down under the clothes, with the sense of ease
and peace that comes from sharing a room with a good friend in a
"Well, good-night, Louise."
So things went on till winter was far spent. Now that Louise, too,
was a wage-earner, and could help with the expenses, they could
dine luxuriously at an eating-house every day, if they pleased, on
meat-cakes at fourpence a portion. They managed to get a bed for
Peer that could be folded up during the day, and soon learned, too,
that good manners required they should hang up Louise's big woollen
shawl between them as a modest screen while they were dressing and
undressing. And Louise began to drop her country speech and talk
city-fashion like her brother.
One thought often came to Peer as he lay awake. "The girl is the
very image of mother, that's certain--what if she were to go the
same way? Well, no, that she shall not. You're surely man enough
to see to that. Nothing of that sort shall happen, my dear Froken
They saw but little of each other during the day, though, for they
were apart from early in the morning till he came home in the
evening. And when he lectured her, and warned her to be careful
and take no notice of men who tried to speak to her, Louise only
laughed. When Klaus Brock came up one day to visit them, and made
great play with his eyes while he talked to her, Peer felt much
inclined to take him by the scruff of the neck and throw him
When Christmas-time was near they would wander in the long evenings
through the streets and look in at the dazzlingly lit shop-windows,
with their tempting, glittering show of gold and finery. Louise
kept asking continually how much he thought this thing or that
cost--that lace, or the cloak, or the stockings, or those gold
brooches. "Wait till you marry that doctor," Peer would say, "then
you can buy all those things." So far neither of them had an
overcoat, but Peer turned up his coat-collar when he felt cold, and
Louise made the most of her thick woollen dress and a pair of good
country gloves that kept her quite warm. And she had adventured on
a hat now, in place of her kerchief, and couldn't help glancing
round, thinking people must notice how fine she was.
On Christmas Eve he carried up buckets of water from the yard, and
she had a great scrubbing-out of the whole room. And then they in
their turn had a good wash, helping each other in country fashion
to scrub shoulders and back.
Peer was enough of a townsman now to have laid in a few little
presents to give his sister; but the girl, who had not been used to
such doings, had nothing for him, and wept a good deal when she
realised it. They ate cakes from the confectioner's with syrup
over them, and drank chocolate, and then Louise played a hymn-tune,
in her best style, on her violin, and Peer read the Christmas
lessons from the prayer-book--it was all just like what they used
to do at Troen on Christmas Eve. And that night, after the lamp
was put out, they lay awake talking over plans for the future.
They promised each other that when they had got well on in the
world, he in his line and she in hers, they would manage to live
near each other, so that their children could play together and
grow up good friends. Didn't she think that was a good idea? Yes,
indeed she did. And did he really mean it? Yes, of course he
meant it, really.
But later on in the winter, when she sat at home in the evenings
waiting for him--he often worked overtime--she was sometimes almost
afraid. There was his step on the stairs! If it was hurried and
eager she would tremble a little. For the moment he was inside the
door he would burst out: "Hurrah, my girl! I've learnt something
new to-day, I tell you!" "Have you, Peer?" And then out would
pour a torrent of talk about motors and power and pressures and
cylinders and cranes and screws, and such-like. She would sit and
listen and smile, but of course understood not a word of it all,
and as soon as Peer discovered this he would get perfectly furious,
and call her a little blockhead.
Then there were the long evenings when he sat at home reading, by
himself or with his teacher and she had to sit so desperately still
that she hardly dared take a stitch with her needle. But one day
he took it into his head that his sister ought to be studying too;
so he set her a piece of history to learn by the next evening. But
time to learn it--where was that to come from? And then he started
her writing to his dictation, to improve her spelling--and all the
time she kept dropping off to sleep. She had washed so many floors
and peeled so many potatoes in the daytime that now her body felt
"Look here, my fine girl!" he would storm at her, raging up and
down the room, "if you think you can get on in the world without
education, you're most infernally mistaken." He succeeded in
reducing her to tears--but it wasn't long before her head had
fallen forward on the table again and she was fast asleep. So he
realised there was nothing for it but to help her to bed--as
quietly as possible, so as not to wake her up.
Some way on in the spring Peer fell sick. When the doctor came, he
looked round the room, sniffed, and frowned. "Do you call this a
place for human beings to live in?" he asked Louise, who had taken
the day off. "How can you expect to keep well?"
He examined Peer, who lay coughing, his face a burning red. "Yes,
yes--just as I expected. Inflammation of the lungs." He glanced
round the room once more. "Better get him off to the hospital at
once," he said.
Louise sat there in terror at the idea that Peer was to be taken
away. And then, as the doctor was going, he looked at her more
closely, and said: "You'd do well to be a bit careful yourself, my
good girl. You look as if you wanted a change to a decent room,
with a little more light and air, pretty badly. Good-morning."
Soon after he was gone the hospital ambulance arrived. Peer was
carried down the stairs on a stretcher, and the green-painted box
on wheels opened its door and swallowed him up; and they would not
even let her go with him. All through the evening she sat in their
room alone, sobbing.
The hospital was one of the good old-fashioned kind that people
don't come near if they can help it, because the walls seem to reek
of the discomfort and wretchedness that reign inside. The general
wards--where the poor folks went--were always so overcrowded that
patients with all sorts of different diseases had to be packed into
the same rooms, and often infected each other. When an operation
was to be performed, things were managed in the most cheerfully
casual way: the patient was laid on a stretcher and carried across
the open yard, often in the depth of winter, and as he was always
covered up with a rug, the others usually thought he was being
taken off to the dead-house.
When Peer opened his eyes, he was aware of a man in a white blouse
standing by the foot of his bed. "Why, I believe he's coming-to,"
said the man, who seemed to be a doctor. Peer found out afterwards
from a nurse that he had been unconscious for more than twenty-four
He lay there, day after day, conscious of nothing but the stabbing
of a red-hot iron boring through his chest and cutting off his
breathing. Some one would come every now and then and pour port
wine and naphtha into his mouth; and morning and evening he was
washed carefully with warm water by gentle hands. But little by
little the room grew lighter, and his gruel began to have some
taste. And at last he began to distinguish the people in the beds
near by, and to chat with them.
On his right lay a black-haired, yellow-faced dock labourer with a
broken nose. His disease, whatever it might be, was clearly
different from Peer's. He plagued the nurse with foul-mouthed
complaints of the food, swearing he would report about it. On the
other side lay an emaciated cobbler with a soft brown beard like
the Christ pictures, and cheeks glowing with fever. He was dying
of cancer. At right angles with him lay a man with the face and
figure of a prophet--a Moses--all bushy white hair and beard; he
was in the last stage of consumption, and his cough was like a
riveting machine. "Huh!" he would groan, "if only I could get
across to Germany there'd be a chance for me yet." Beside him was
a fellow with short beard and piercing eyes, who was a little off
his head, and imagined himself a corporal of the Guards. Often at
night the others would be wakened by his springing upright in bed
and calling out: "Attention!"
One man lay moaning and groaning all the time, turning from side to
side of a body covered with sores. But one day he managed to
swallow some of the alcohol they used as lotion, and after that lay
singing and weeping alternately. And there was a red-bearded man
with glasses, a commercial traveller; he had put a bullet into his
head, but the doctors had managed to get it out again, and now he
lay and praised the Lord for his miraculous deliverance.
It was strange to Peer to lie awake at night in this great room in
the dim light of the night-lamp; it seemed as if beings from the
land of the dead were stirring in those beds round about him. But
in the daytime, when friends and relations of the patients came a-
visiting, Peer could hardly keep from crying. The cobbler had a
wife and a little girl who came and sat beside him, gazing at him
as if they could never let him go. The prophet, too, had a wife,
who wept inconsolably--and all the rest seemed to have some one or
other to care for them. But where was Louise--why did Louise never
The man on the right had a sister, who came sweeping in, gorgeous
in her trailing soiled silk dress. Her shoes were down at heel,
but her hat was a wonder, with enormous plumes. "Hallo, Ugly! how
goes it?" she said; and sat down and crossed her legs. Then the
pair would talk mysteriously of people with strange names: "The
Flea," "Cockroach," "The Galliot," "King Ring," and the like,
evidently friends of theirs. One day she managed to bring in a
small bottle of brandy, a present from "The Hedgehog," and smuggle
it under the bedclothes. As soon as she had gone, and the coast
was clear, Peer's neighbour drew out the bottle, managed to work
the cork out, and offered him a drink. "Here's luck, sonny; do you
good." No--Peer would rather not. Then followed a gurgling sound
from the docker's bed, and soon he too was lying singing at the top
of his voice.
At last one day Louise came. She was wearing her neat hat, and had
a little bundle in her hand, and as she came in, looking round the
room, the close air of the sick-ward seemed to turn her a little
faint. But then she caught sight of Peer, and smiled, and came
cautiously to him, holding out her hand. She was astonished to
find him so changed. But as she sat down by his pillow she was
still smiling, though her eyes were full of tears.
"So you've come at last, then?" said Peer.
"They wouldn't let me in before," she said with a sob. And then
Peer learned that she had come there every single day, but only to
be told that he was too ill to see visitors.
The man with the broken nose craned his head forward to get a
better view of the modest young girl. And meanwhile she was
pulling out of the bundle the offering she had brought--a bottle of
lemonade and some oranges.
But it was a day or two later that something happened which Peer
was often to remember in the days to come.
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