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"May I come in, Master Hersebom?" said a deep-toned voice. And without
waiting for permission the person who had spoken entered, bringing with
him a great blast of icy air.

"Doctor Schwaryencrona!" cried the three children, while the father and
mother rose quickly.

"My dear Hersebom," said the doctor, taking the fisherman's hand, "we
have not seen each other for many years, but I have not forgotten your
excellent father, and thought I might call and see a friend of my
childhood!"

The worthy man felt a little ashamed of the accusations which he had so
recently made against his visitor, and he did not know what to say. He
contented himself, therefore, with returning the doctor's shake of the
hand cordially, and smiling a welcome, whilst his good wife was more
demonstrative.

"Quick, Otto, Erik, help the doctor to take off his overcoat, and you,
Vanda, prepare another place at the table," she said, for, like all
Norwegian housekeepers, she was very hospitable.

"Will you do us the honor, doctor, of eating a morsel with us?"

"Indeed I would not refuse, you may be sure, if I had the least
appetite; for I see you have a very tempting dish before you. But it is
not an hour since I took supper with Mr. Malarius, and I certainly would
not have called so early if I had thought you would be at the table. It
would give me great pleasure if you would resume your seats and eat your
supper."

"Oh, doctor!" implored the good wife, "at least you will not refuse some
'snorgas' and a cup of tea?"

"I will gladly take a cup of tea, but on condition that, you eat your
supper first," answered the doctor, seating himself in the large
arm-chair.

Vanda immediately placed the tea-kettle on the fire, and disappeared in
the neighboring room. The rest of the family understanding with native
courtesy that it would annoy their guest if they did not do as he
wished, began to eat their supper.

In two minutes the doctor was quite at his ease. He stirred the fire,
and warmed his legs in the blaze of the dry wood that Katrina had thrown
on before going to supper. He talked about old times, and old friends;
those who had disappeared, and those who remained, about the changes
that had taken place even in Bergen.

He made himself quite at home, and, what was more remarkable, he
succeeded in making Mr. Hersebom eat his supper.

Vanda now entered carrying a large wooden dish, upon which was a saucer,
which she offered so graciously to the doctor that he could not refuse
it. It was the famous "snorgas" of Norway, slices of smoked reindeer,
and shreds of herring, and red pepper, minced up and laid between slices
of black bread, spiced cheese, and other condiments; which they eat at
any hour to produce an appetite.

It succeeded so well in the doctor's case, that although he only took it
out of politeness, he was soon able to do honor to some preserved
mulberries which were Dame Katrina's special pride, and so thirsty that
he drank seven or eight cups of tea.

Mr. Hersebom brought out a bottle of "schiedam," which he had bought of
a Hollander.

Then supper being ended, the doctor accepted an enormous pipe which his
host offered him, and smoked away to their general satisfaction.

By this time all feeling of constraint had passed away, and it seemed as
if the doctor had always been a member of the family. They joked and
laughed, and were the best of friends in the world, until the old clock
of varnished wood struck ten.

"My good friends, it is growing late," said the doctor.

"If you will send the children to bed, we will talk about more serious
matters."

Upon a sign from Dame Katrina, Otto, Erik, and Vanda bade them
good-night and left the room.

"You wonder why I have come," said the doctor, after a moments' silence,
fixing his penetrating glance upon the fisherman.

"My guests are always welcome," answered the fisherman, sententiously.

"Yes! I know that Noroe is famous for hospitality. But you must
certainly have asked yourself what motive could have induced me to leave
the society of my old friend Malarius and come to you. I am sure that
Dame Hersebom has some suspicion of my motive."

"We shall know when you tell us," replied the good woman,
diplomatically.

"Well," said the doctor, with a sigh, "since you will not help me, I
must face it alone. Your son, Erik, Master Hersebom, is a most
remarkable child."

"I do not complain of him," answered the fisherman.

"He is singularly intelligent, and well informed for his age," continued
the doctor. "I questioned him to-day, in school, and I was very much
surprised by the extraordinary ability which his answers displayed. I
was also astonished, when I learned his name, to see that he bore no
resemblance to you, nor indeed to any of the natives of this country."

The fisherman and his wife remained silent and motionless.

"To be brief," continued the doctor, with visible impatience, "this
child not only interests me - he puzzles me. I have talked with Malarius,
who told me that he was not your son, but that he had been cast on your
shore by a shipwreck, and that you took him in and adopted him, bringing
him up as your own, and bestowing your name upon him. This is true, is
it not?"

"Yes, doctor," answered Hersebom, gravely.

"If he is not our son by birth, he is in love and affection," said
Katrina, with moist eyes and trembling hands. "Between him, and Otto,
and Vanda, we have made no difference - we have never thought of him only
as our own child."

"These sentiments do you both honor," said the doctor, moved by the
emotion of the brave woman. "But I beg of you, my friends, relate to me
the history of this child. I have come to hear it, and I assure you that
I wish him well."

The fisherman appeared to hesitate a moment. Then seeing that the doctor
was waiting impatiently for him to speak, he concluded to gratify him.

"You have been told the truth," he said, regretfully; "the child is not
our son. Twelve years ago I was fishing near the island at the entrance
of the fiord, near the open sea. You know it is surrounded by a sand
bank, and that cod-fish are plentiful there. After a good day's work, I
drew in my lines, and was going to hoist my sail, when something white
moving upon the water, about a mile off, attracted my attention. The sea
was calm, and there was nothing pressing to hurry me home, so I had the
curiosity to go and see what this white object was. In ten minutes I had
reached it. It was a little wicker cradle, enveloped in a woolen cloth,
and strongly tied to a buoy. I drew it toward me; an emotion which I
could not understand seized me; I beheld a sleeping infant, about seven
or eight months old, whose little fists were tightly clinched. He looked
a little pale and cold, but did not appear to have suffered much from
his adventurous voyage, if one might judge by his lusty screams when he
awoke, as he did immediately, when he no longer felt himself rocked by
the waves. Our little Otto was over two years old, and I knew how to
manage such little rogues. I rolled up a bit of rag, dipped it in some
_eau de vie_ and water that I had with me, and gave it to him to suck.
This quieted him at once, and he seemed to enjoy the cordial. But I knew
that he would not be quiet long, therefore I made all haste to return to
Noroe. I had untied the cradle and placed it in the boat at my feet; and
while I attended to my sail, I watched the poor little one, and asked
myself where it could possibly have come from. Doubtless from some
shipwrecked vessel. A fierce tempest had been raging during the night,
and there had been many disasters. But by what means had this infant
escaped the fate of those who had had the charge of him? How had they
thought of tying him to the buoy? How many hours had he been floating on
the waves? Where were his father and mother, those who loved him? But
all these questions had to remain unanswered, the poor baby was unable
to give us any information. In half an hour I was at home, and gave my
new possession to Katrina. We had a cow then, and she was immediately
pressed into service as a nurse for the infant. He was so pretty, so
smiling, so rosy, when he had been fed and warmed before the fire, that
we fell in love with him at once; just the same as if he had been our
own. And then, you see, we took care of him; we brought him up, and we
have never made any difference between him and our own two children. Is
it not true, wife?" added Mr. Hersebom, turning toward Katrina.

"Very true, the poor little one," answered the good dame, drying her
eyes, which this recital had filled with tears. "And he is our child
now, for we have adopted him. I do not know why Mr. Malarius should say
anything to the contrary."

"It is true," said Hersebom, and I do not see that it concerns any one
but ourselves."

"That is so," said the doctor, in a conciliatory tone, "but you must
not accuse Mr. Malarius of being indiscreet. I was struck with the
physiognomy of the child, and I begged my friend confidentially to
relate his history. He told me that Erik believed himself to be your
son, and that every one in Noroe had forgotten how he had become
yours. Therefore, you see, I took care not to speak until the children
had been sent to bed. You say that he was about seven or eight months
old when you found him?"

"About that; he had already four teeth, the little brigand, and I assure
you that it was not long before he began to use them," said Hersebom,
laughing.

"Oh, he was a superb child," said Katrinn, eagerly. "He was so white,
and strong, and plump; and such arms and legs. You should have seen
them!"

"How was he dressed?" asked Dr. Schwaryencrona.

Hersebom did not answer, but his wife was less discreet.

"Like a little prince," she answered. "Imagine a robe of piquè, trimmed
all over with lace, a pelisse of quilted satin, a cloak of white velvet,
and a little cap; the son of a king could not have more. Everything he
had was beautiful. But you can see for yourself, for I have kept them
all just as they were. You may be sure that we did not dress the baby in
them. Oh, no; I put Otto's little garments on him, which I had laid
away, and which also served, later on, for Vanda. But his outfit is
here, and I will show it to you."

While she was speaking, the worthy woman knelt down before a large oaken
chest, with an antique lock, and after lifting the lid, began searching
the compartments.

She drew out, one by one, all the garments of which she had spoken, and
displayed them with pride before the eyes of the doctor. She also showed
the linen, which was exquisitely fine, a little quilt of silk, and a
pair of white merino boots. All the articles were marked with the
initials "E.D.," elegantly embroidered, as the doctor saw at a glance.

"'E.D.;' is that why you named the child Erik?" he asked.

"Precisely," answered Katrina, who it was evident enjoyed this
exhibition, while her husband's face grew more gloomy. "See," she said,
"this is the most beautiful of all. He wore it around his neck."

And she drew from its box a rattle of coral and gold, suspended from a
little chain.

The initials "E.D." were here surrounded by a Latin motto, "Semper
idem."

"We thought at first it was the baby's name, but Mr. Malarius told us it
meant 'always the same,'" she continued, seeing that the doctor was
trying to decipher the motto.

"Mr. Malarius told you the truth," said the doctor. "It is evident the
child belonged to a rich and distinguished family," he added, while
Katrina replaced the babe's outfit in the oaken chest.

"Have you any idea what country he came from?"

"How could we know anything about it, since I found him on the sea?"
replied Hersebom.

"Yes, but the cradle was attached to a buoy, you said, and it is
customary on all vessels to write on the buoy the name of the ship to
which it belongs," answered the doctor, fixing his penetrating eyes upon
those of the fisherman.

"Doubtless," said the latter, hanging his head.

"Well, this buoy, what name did it bear?"

"Doctor, I am not a _savant_. I can read my own language a little, but
as for foreign tongues - and then it was so long ago."

"However, you ought to be able to remember something about it - and
doubtless you showed it to Mr. Malarius, with the rest of the
articles - make a little effort, Mr. Hersebom. Was not this name
inscribed on the buoy, 'Cynthia'?"

"I believe it was something like that," answered the fisherman vaguely.

"It is a strange name. To what country does it belong in your judgment,
Mr. Hersebom?"

"How should I know? Have I ever been beyond the shores of Noroe and
Bergen, except once or twice to fish off the coast of Greenland and
Iceland?" answered the good man, in a tone which grew more and more
morose.

"I think it is either an English or a German name," said the doctor,
taking no notice of his crossness. "It would be easy to decide on
account of the shape of the letters, if I could see the buoy. Have you
preserved it?"

"By my faith no. It was burnt up ages ago," answered Hersebom,
triumphantly.

"As near as Mr. Malarius could remember, the letters were Roman," said
the doctor, as if he were talking to himself - "and the letters on the
linen certainly are. It is therefore probable that the 'Cynthia' was not
a German vessel. I think it was an English one. Is not this your
opinion, Mr. Hersebom?"

"Well, I have thought little about it," replied the fisherman. "Whether
it was English, German, or Russian, makes no difference to me. For many
years according to all appearances, they have lain beneath the sea,
which alone could tell the secret."

"But you have doubtless made some effort to discover the family to whom
the child belonged?" said the doctor, whose glasses seemed to shine with
irony. "You doubtless wrote to the Governor of Bergen, and had him
insert an advertisement in the journals?"

"I!" cried the fisherman, "I did nothing of the kind. God knows where
the baby came from; why should I trouble myself about it? Can I afford
to spend money to find his people, who perhaps care little for him? Put
yourself in my place, doctor. I am not a millionaire, and you may be
sure if we had spent all we had, we should have discovered nothing. I
have done the best I could; we have raised the little one as our own
son, we have loved him and taken care of him."

"Even more than the two others, if it were possible," interrupted
Katrina, drying her eyes on the corner of her apron. "If we have
anything to reproach ourselves for, it is for bestowing upon him too
large a share of our tenderness."

"Dame Hersebom, you must not do me the injustice to suppose that your
kindness to the little shipwrecked child inspires me with any other
feeling than the greatest admiration," said the doctor.

"No, you must not think such a thing. But if you wish me to speak
frankly - I must say that this tenderness has blinded you to your duty.
You should have endeavored to discover the family of the infant, as far
as your means permitted."

There was perfect silence for a few minutes.

"It is possible that we have done wrong," said Mr. Hersebom, who had
hung his head under this reproach. "But what is done can not be altered.
Erik belongs to us now, and I do not wish any one to speak to him about
these old reminiscences."

"You need have no fear, I will not betray your confidence," answered the
doctor, rising.

"I must leave you, my good friends, and I wish you good-night - a night
free from remorse," he added, gravely.

Then he put on his fur cloak, and shook hands cordially with his hosts,
and being conducted to the door by Hersebom, he took the road toward his
factory.

The fisherman stood for a moment on the threshold, watching his
retreating figure in the moonlight.

"What a devil of a man!" he murmured, as at last he closed his door.




CHAPTER III.

MR. HERSEBOM'S REFLECTIONS.


The next morning Dr. Schwaryencrona had just finished breakfast with his
overseer, after having made a thorough inspection of his factory when he
saw a person enter whom he did not at first recognize as Mr. Hersebom.

He was clothed in his holiday suit: his embroidered waistcoat, his
furred riding coat, and his high hat, and the fisherman looked very
different to what he did in his working clothes. But what made the
change more apparent, was the deep sadness and humility portrayed in his
countenance. His eyes were red, and looked as if he had had no sleep all
the night.

This was in fact the case. Mr. Hersebom who up to this time had never
felt his conscience trouble him, had passed hours of sad remorse, on his
mattress of skins.

Toward morning he had exchanged confidences with Dame Katrina, who had
also been unable to close her eyes.

"Wife, I have been thinking of what the doctor said to us," he said,
after several hours of wakefulness.

"I have been thinking of it also, ever since he left us," answered his
worthy helpmate.

"It is my opinion that there is some truth in what he said, and that we
have perhaps acted more egotistically than we should have done. Who
knows but that the child may have a right to some great fortune, of
which he is deprived by our negligence? Who knows if his family have not
mourned for him these twelve years, and they could justly accuse us of
having made no attempt to restore him to them?"

"This is precisely what I have been saying to myself," answered Katrina,
sighing. "If his mother is living what frightful anguish the poor woman
must have endured, in believing that her infant was drowned. I put
myself in her place, and imagine that we had lost Otto in this manner.
We would never have been consoled."

"It is not thoughts of his mother that trouble me, for according to all
appearances, she is dead," said Hersebom, after a silence broken only by
their sighs.

"How can we suppose that an infant of that age would travel without her,
or that it would have been tied to a buoy and left to take its chances
on the ocean, if she had been living?"

"That is true; but what do we know about it, after all. Perhaps she also
has had a miraculous escape."

"Perhaps some one has taken her infant from her - this idea has often
occurred to me," answered Hersebom. "Some one might be interested in his
disappearance. To expose so young a child to such a hazardous proceeding
is so extraordinary that such conjectures are possible, and in this case
we have become accomplices of a crime - we have contributed to its
success. Is it not horrible to think of?"

"And we thought we were doing such a good and charitable work in
adopting the poor little one."

"Oh, it is evident that we had no malicious intentions. We nourished it,
and brought it up as well as we were able, but that does not prevent me
from seeing that we have acted rashly, and the little one will have a
right to reproach us some of these days."

"We need not be afraid of that, I am sure. But it is too bad that we
should feel at this late day that we have done anything for which we
must reproach ourselves."

"How strange it is that the same action regarded from a different point
of view, can be judged so differently. I never would have thought of
such a thing. And yet a few words from the doctor seems to have turned
my brain."

Thus these good people talked during the night.

The result of their nocturnal conversation was that Mr. Hersebom
resolved to call upon the doctor, and ask him what they could do to make
amends for the error of which they had been guilty.

Dr. Schwaryencrona did not revert to the conversation which had taken
place the previous evening. He appeared to regard the visit of the
fisherman as simply an act of politeness, and received him cordially,
and began talking about the weather and the price of fish.

Mr. Hersebom tried to lead the conversation toward the subject which
occupied his mind. He spoke of Mr. Malarius' school, and at last said
plainly: "Doctor, my wife and I have been thinking all night about what
you said to us last evening about the boy. We never thought that we were
doing him a wrong in educating him as our son. But you have changed our
opinion, and we want to know what you would advise us to do, in order to
repair our fault. Do you think that we still ought to seek to find
Erik's family?"

"It is never too late to do our duty," said the doctor, "although the
task is certainly much more difficult now than it would have been at
first."

"Will you interest yourself in the matter?"

"I will, with pleasure," answered the doctor; "and I promise you to use
every exertion to fulfill it, upon one condition: that is, that you let
me take the boy to Stockholm."

If Mr. Hersebom had been struck on the head with a club, he would not
have been more astonished than he was by this proposal.

"Intrust Erik to you! Send him to Stockholm! Why should I do this,
doctor?" he asked, in an altered voice.

"I will tell you. My attention was drawn to the child, not only on
account of his physical appearance, which was so different to that of
his companions, but by his great intelligence and his evident taste
for study. Before knowing the circumstances which had brought him to
Noroe, I said to myself that it was a shame to leave a boy so gifted
in a village school - even under such a master as Malarius; for here
there is nothing to assist in the development of his exceptionally
great faculties. There are no museums, nor scientific collections, nor
libraries, nor competitors who are worthy of him. I felt a strong
desire to give him the advantages of a complete education. You can
understand that, after the confidence which you have bestowed upon me,
I am more anxious to do so than before. You can see, Mr. Hersebom,
that your adopted son belongs to some rich and distinguished family.
If I succeed in finding them, would you wish to restore to them a
child educated in a village, and deprived of this education, without
which he will feel out of place among his kindred? It is not
reasonable; and you are too sensible not to understand it."

Mr. Hersebom hung his head: without his being aware of it, two large
tears rolled down his cheeks.

"But then," he said, "this would be an entire separation. Before we
ever know whether the child will find his relations, he must be taken
from his home. It is asking too much, doctor - asking too much of my
wife. The child is happy with us. Why can he not be left alone, at
least until he is sure of a better one?"

"Happy. How do you know that he will be so when he grows older? How
can you tell whether he may not regret having been saved? Intelligent
and superior as he will be, perhaps he would be stifled with the life
which you would offer him in Noroe."

"But, doctor, this life which you disdain, is good enough for us. Why is
it not good enough for him?"

"I do not disdain it," said the doctor. "Nobody admires and honors those
who work more than I do. Do you believe, Mr. Hersebom, that I forget my
birth? My father and grandfather were fishermen like yourself, and it is
just because they were so far-seeing as to educate me, that I appreciate
the value of it, and I would assure it to a child who merits it. It is
his interest alone which guides me, I beg of you to believe."

"Ah - what do I know about it? Erik will be almost grown up when you have
made a gentleman of him, and he will not know how to use his arms. Then
if you do not find his family, which is more than possible, since twelve
years have passed since I found him, what a beautiful future we are
preparing for him! Do you not see, doctor, that a fisherman's life is a
brave one - better than any other: with a good boat under his feet and
four or five dozen of cod-fish at the end of his lines, a Norwegian
fisherman need have no fear, nor be indebted to any one. You say that
Erik would not be happy leading such a life. Permit me to believe the
contrary. I know the child well, he loves his books, but, above all, he
loves the sea. It also almost seems as if he felt that he had been
rocked upon it, and all the museums in the world would not console him
for the loss of it."

"But we have the sea around us also at Stockholm," said the doctor,
smiling - touched in spite of himself by this affectionate resistance.

"Well," said the fisherman, crossing his arms, "what do you wish to do?
what do you propose, doctor?"

"There, you see, after all, the necessity of doing something. Well this
is my proposition - Erik is twelve years old, nearly thirteen, and he
appears to be highly gifted. We will say nothing about his origin - he is
worthy of being supplied with the means of developing and utilizing his


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Online LibraryAndré LaurieThe Waif of the Cynthia → online text (page 2 of 17)