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faculties; that is all we need trouble ourselves about at present. I am
rich, and I have no children. I will undertake to furnish the means, and
give him the best masters, and all possible facilities for profiting by
their instructions. I will do this for two years. During this time I
will make inquiries, insert advertisements in the newspapers; make every
possible exertion, move heaven and earth to discover his parents. If I
do not find them in two years, we shall never do it. If his relatives
are found, they will naturally decide his future career in life. If we
do not find them, I will send Erik back to you. He will then be fifteen
years old - he will have seen something of the world. The hour will have
arrived to tell him the truth about his birth. Then aided by our advice,
and the opinions of his teachers, he can choose what path he would
prefer to follow. If he wishes to become a fisherman, I will not oppose
it. If he wishes to continue his studies, I engage to furnish the means
for him to follow any profession that he may choose. Does this seem a
reasonable proposition to you?"

"More than reasonable. It is wisdom itself issuing from your lips,
doctor," said Mr. Hersebom, overcome in spite of himself. "See what it
is to have an education!" he continued, shaking his head. "The
difficulty will be to repeat all you have said to my wife. When will you
take the child away?"

"To-morrow. I can not delay my return to Stockholm any longer."

Mr. Hersebom heaved a deep sigh, which was almost a sob.

"To-morrow! So soon!" he said. "Well, what must be, must be. I will go
and talk to my wife about it."

"Yes, do so, and consult Mr. Malarius also; you will find that he is of
my opinion."

"I do not doubt it," answered the fisherman, with a sad smile.

He shook the hand which Dr. Schwaryencrona held out to him, and went
away looking very thoughtful.

That evening before dinner the doctor again directed his steps toward
the dwelling of Mr. Hersebom. He found the family assembled round the
hearth, as they were the evening before, but not wearing the same
appearance of peaceful happiness. The father was seated the furthest
from the fire, silent, and with idle hands. Katrina, with tears in her
eyes, held Erik's hands between her own, whose cheeks were reddened by
the hope of the new destiny which seemed opening before him, but who
looked sad at leaving all whom he loved, and who did not know what
feeling he ought to yield to.

Little Vanda's face was hidden in her father's knees, and nothing could
be seen except her long braids of golden hair. Otto, also greatly
troubled at this proposed separation, sat motionless beside his brother.

"How sad and disconsolate you look!" said the doctor, stopping on the
threshold. "If Erik were about to set out on a distant and most perilous
expedition you could not show more grief. He is not going to do anything
of the kind, I assure you, my good friends. Stockholm is not at the
antipodes, and the child is not going away forever. He can write to you,
and I do not doubt that he will do so often. He is only going away to
school, like so many other boys. In two years he will return tall, and
well-informed, and accomplished, I hope. Is this anything to feel sad
about? Seriously, it is not reasonable."

Katrina arose with the natural dignity of the peasant of the North.

"Doctor," she said, "God is my witness that I am profoundly grateful to
you for what you propose to do for Erik - but we can not help feeling sad
because of his departure. Mr. Hersebom has explained to me that it is
necessary, and I submit. Do not think that I shall feel no regret."

"Mother," said Erik, "I will not go, if it causes you such pain."

"No, child," answered the worthy woman, taking him in her arms.
"Education is a benefit which we have no right to refuse you. Go, my
son, and thank the doctor who has provided it for you, and prove to him
by constant application to your studies that you appreciate his
kindness."

"There, there," said the doctor, whose glasses were dimmed by a singular
cloudiness, "let us rather speak of practical matters, that will be
better. You know, do you not, that we must set out to-morrow very early,
and that you must have everything ready. We will go by sleigh to Bergen,
and thence by railroad. Erik only needs a change of linen, I will
procure everything else that is necessary at Stockholm."

"Everything shall be ready," answered Dame Hersebom.

"Vanda," she added, with Norwegian hospitality, "the doctor is still
standing."

The little girl hurriedly pushed a large arm-chair toward him.

"I can not stay," said the doctor. "I promised my friend Malarius to
dine with him, and he is waiting for me. Little girl," he said, laying
his hand gently upon Vanda's blonde head, "I hope you do not wish me any
harm because I am taking your brother away from you?"

"No, doctor," she answered gravely. "Erik will be happier with you - he
was not intended to live in a village."

"And you, little one, will you be very unhappy without him?"

"The shore will seem deserted," she answered; "the seagulls will look
for him without finding him, the little waves will be astonished because
they no longer see him, and the house will seem empty, but Erik will be
contented, because he will have plenty of books, and he will become a
learned man."

"And his little sister will rejoice in his happiness - is it not so, my
child?" said the doctor, kissing the forehead of the little girl. "And
she will be proud of him when he returns - see we have arranged the whole
matter - but I must hurry away. Good-bye until to-morrow."

"Doctor," murmured Vanda, timidly, "I wish to ask a favor of you!"

"Speak, child."

"You are going in a sleigh, you said. I wish with my papa's and mamma's
permission to drive you to the first relay."

"Ah, ah! but I have already arranged that. Reguild, the daughter of my
overseer, should do this."

"Yes, I know it, but she is willing that I should take her place, if you
will authorize me to do so."

"Well, in that case you have only to obtain the permission of your
father and mother."

"I have done so."

"Then you have mine also, dear child," said the doctor, and he took his
departure.

The next morning when the sleigh stopped before the door of Mr. Hersebom
little Vanda held the reins according to her desire, seated upon the
front seat.

She was going to drive them to the next village, where the doctor would
procure another horse and sleigh, and thus procure relays until he
reached Bergen. This new kind of coachman always astonishes a stranger,
but it is the custom in Norway and Sweden. The men would think it a loss
of time to pursue such a calling, and it is not rare to see children of
ten or twelve years of age managing heavy equipages with perfect ease.

The doctor was already installed in the back of the sleigh, nearly
hidden by his furs. Erik took his seat beside Vanda, after having
tenderly embraced his father and brother, who contented themselves by
showing by their mute sadness the sorrow which his departure caused
them; but the good Katrina was more open in the expression of her
feelings.

"Adieu, my son!" she said, in the midst of her tears. "Never forget what
you have learned from your poor parents - be honest, and brave, and never
tell a lie. Work as hard as you can - always protect those who are weaker
than yourself - and if you do not find the happiness you merit come back
and seek it with us."

Vanda touched the horse which set out at a trot, and made the bells
ring. The air was cold, and the road as hard as glass. Just above the
horizon a pale sun began to throw his golden beams upon the snowy
landscape. In a few minutes Noroe was out of sight behind them.




CHAPTER IV.

AT STOCKHOLM.


Doctor Schwaryencrona lived in a magnificent house in Stockholm. It was
in the oldest and most aristocratic quarter of the charming capital,
which is one of the most pleasant and agreeable in Europe. Strangers
would visit it much more frequently if it were better known and more
fashionable. But tourists, unfortunately for themselves, plan their
journeys much upon the same principle as they purchase their hats.
Situated between Lake Melar and the Baltic, it is built upon eight small
islands, connected by innumerable bridges, and bordered by splendid
quays, enlivened by numerous steam-boats, which fulfill the duties of
omnibuses. The population are hardworking, gay, and contented. They are
the most hospitable, the most polite, and the best educated of any
nation in Europe. Stockholm, with its libraries, its museums, its
scientific establishments, is in fact the Athens of the North, as well
as a very important commercial center.

Erik, however, had not recovered from the sadness incident upon parting
from Vanda, who had left them at the first relay. Their parting had been
more sorrowful than would have been expected at their age, but they had
not been able to conceal their emotion.

When the carriage stopped before a large brick house, whose double
windows shone resplendently with gaslight, Erik was fairly dazzled. The
copper knocker of the door appeared to him to be of fine gold. The
vestibule, paved with marble and ornamented with statues, bronze
torches, and large Chinese-vases, completed his amazement.

A footman in livery removed his master's furs, and inquired after his
health with the affectionate cordiality which is habitual with Swedish
servants. Erik looked around him with amazement.

The sound of voices attracted his attention toward the broad oaken
staircase, covered with heavy carpet. He turned, and saw two persons
whose costumes appeared to him the height of elegance.

One was a lady with gray hair, and of medium height, who wore a dress of
black cloth, short enough to show her red stockings with yellow
clock-work, and her buckled shoes. An enormous bunch of keys attached to
a steel chain hung at her side. She carried her head high, and looked
about her with piercing eyes. This was "Fru," or Madame Greta - Maria,
the lady in charge of the doctor's house, and who was the undisputed
autocrat of the mansion in everything that pertained to the culinary or
domestic affairs. Behind her came a little girl, eleven or twelve years
old, who appeared to Erik like a fairy princess. Instead of the national
costume, the only one which he had ever seen worn by a child of that
age, she had on a dress of deep blue velvet, over which her yellow hair
was allowed to fall loosely. She wore black stockings and satin shoes; a
knot of cherry-colored ribbon was poised in her hair like a butterfly,
and gave a little color to her pale cheeks, while her large eyes shone
with a phosphorescent light.

"How delightful, uncle, to have you back again! Have you had a pleasant
journey?" she cried, clasping the doctor around the neck. She hardly
deigned to cast a glance at Erik, who stood modestly aside.

The doctor returned her caresses, and shook hands with his housekeeper,
then he made a sign for Erik to advance.

"Kajsa, and Dame Greta, I ask your friendship for Erik Hersebom, whom I
have brought from Norway with me!" he said, "and you, my boy, do not be
afraid," he said kindly. "Dame Greta is not as severe as she looks, and
you and my niece Kajsa, will soon be the best of friends, is it not so,
little girl?" he added, pinching gently the cheek of the little fairy.

Kajsa only responded by making a disdainful face.

As for the housekeeper, she did not appear very enthusiastic over the
new recruit thus presented to her notice.

"If you please, doctor," she said, with a severe air, as they ascended
the staircase, "may I ask who this child is?"

"Certainly, Dame Greta; I will tell you all about it before long. Do not
be afraid; but now, if you please, give us something to eat."

In the "matsal," or dining-room, the table was beautifully laid with
damask and crystal, and the "snorgas" was ready.

Poor Erik had never seen a table covered with a white cloth, for they
are unknown to the peasants of Norway, who hardly use plates, as they
have only recently been introduced, and many of them still eat their
fish on rounds of black bread, and find it very good. Therefore the
doctor had to repeat his invitation several times before the boy took
his seat at the table, and the awkwardness of his movements caused
"Froken," or Miss Kajsa, to cast upon him more than one ironical glance
during the repast. However, his journey had sharpened his appetite, and
this was of great assistance to him.

The "snorgas" was followed by a dinner that would have frightened a
Frenchman by its massive solidity, and would have sufficed to appease
the appetites of a battalion of infantry after a long march. Soup, fish,
home-made bread, goose stuffed with chestnuts, boiled beef, flanked with
a mountain of vegetables, a pyramid of potatoes, hard-boiled eggs by the
dozen, and a raisin pudding; all these were gallantly attacked and
dismantled.

This plentiful repast being ended, almost without a word having been
spoken, they passed into the parlor, a large wainscoted room, with six
windows draped with heavy curtains, large enough to have sufficed a
Parisian artist with hangings for the whole apartment. The doctor seated
himself in a corner by the fire, in a large leather arm-chair, Kajsa
took her place at his feet upon a footstool, whilst Erik, intimidated
and ill at ease, approached one of the windows, and would have gladly
hidden himself in its deep embrasure.

But the doctor did not leave him alone long.

"Come and warm yourself, my boy!" he said, in his sonorous voice; "and
tell us what you think of Stockholm."

"The streets are very black and very narrow, and the houses are very
high," said Erik.

"Yes, a little higher than they are in Norway," answered the doctor,
laughing.

"They prevent one from seeing the stars!" said the young boy.

"Because we are in the quarter where the nobility live," said Kajsa,
piqued by his criticisms. "When you pass the bridges the streets are
broader."

"I saw that as we rode along; but the best of them are not as wide as
that which borders the fiord of Noroe," answered Erik.

"Ah, ah!" said the doctor, "are you home-sick already?"

"No," answered Erik, resolutely. "I am too much obliged to you, dear
doctor, for having brought me. But you asked me what I thought of
Stockholm, and I had to answer."

"Noroe must be a frightful little hole," said Kajsa.

"A frightful little hole!" repeated Erik, indignantly. "Those who say
that must be without eyes. If you could only see our rocks of granite,
our mountains, our glaciers, and our forests of pine, looking so black
against the pale sky! And besides all this, the great sea; sometimes
tumultuous and terrible, and sometimes so calm as scarcely to rock one;
and then the flight of the sea-gulls, which are lost in infinitude, and
then return, to fan you with their wings. Oh, it is beautiful! Yes, far
more beautiful than a town."

"I was not speaking of the country but of the houses," said Kajsa, "they
are only peasants' cabins - are they not, uncle?"

"In these peasants' cabins, your father and grandfather as well as
myself were born, my child," answered the doctor, gravely.

Kajsa blushed and remained silent.

"They are only wooden houses, but they answer as well as any," said
Erik.

"Often in the evening while my father mends his nets, and my mother is
busy with her spinning-wheel, we three sit on a little bench, Otto,
Vanda, and I, and we repeat together the old sagas, while we watch the
shadows that play upon the ceiling; and when the wind blows outside, and
all the fishermen are safe at home, it does one good to gather around
the blazing fire. We are just as happy as if we were in a beautiful room
like this."

"This is not the best room," said Kajsa proudly. "I must show you the
grand drawing-room, it is worth seeing!"

"But there are so many books in this one," said Erik, "are there as many
in the drawing-room?"

"Books - who cares for them? There are velvet armchairs, and sofas, lace
curtains, a splendid French clock, and carpets from Turkey!"

Erik did not appear to be fascinated by this description, but cast
envious glances toward the large oaken bookcase, which filled one side
of the parlor!

"You can go and examine the books, and take any you like," said the
doctor. Erik did not wait for him to repeat this permission. He chose a
volume at once, and seating himself in a corner where there was a good
light, he was soon completely absorbed in his reading. He hardly noticed
the successive entrance of two old gentlemen, who were intimate friends
of Dr. Schwaryencrona, and who came almost every evening to play a game
of whist with him.

The first who arrived was Professor Hochstedt, a large man with cold and
stately manners, who expressed in polished terms the pleasure which he
felt at the doctor's safe return. He was scarcely seated in the
arm-chair which had long borne the name of the "professor's seat," when
a sharp ring was heard.

"It is Bredejord," exclaimed the two friends simultaneously.

The door soon opened to admit a thin sprightly little man, who entered
like a gust of wind, seized both the doctor's hands, kissed Kajsa on the
forehead affectionately, greeted the professor, and cast a glance as
keen as that of a mouse around the room.

It was the Advocate Bredejord, one of the most illustrious lawyers of
Stockholm.

"Ha! Who is this?" said he, suddenly, as he beheld Erik.

The doctor tried to explain in as few words as possible.

"What - a young fisherman, or rather a boy from Bergen - and who reads
Gibbon in English?" he asked. For he saw at a glance what the book was
which so absorbed the little peasant.

"Does that interest you, my boy?" he asked.

"Yes, sir, it is a work that I have wanted to read for a long time, the
first volume of the 'Fall of the Roman Empire,'" answered Erik, simply.

"Upon my word," exclaimed the lawyer, "it appears that the peasants of
Bergen are fond of serious reading. But are you from Bergen?" he asked.

"I am from Noroe, which is not far from there," answered Erik.

"Ah, have they usually eyes and hair as brown as yours at Noroe?"

"No, sir; my brother and sister, and all the others, are blondes like
Miss Kajsa. But they are not dressed like her," he added, laughing;
"therefore they do not look much like her."

"No; I have no doubt of it," said Mr. Bredejord. "Miss Kajsa is a
product of civilization. And what are you going to do at Stockholm, my
boy, if I am not too curious?"

"The doctor has been kind enough to offer to send me to school," said
Erik.

"Ah, ah!" said Mr. Bredejord, tapping his snuff-box with the ends of his
fingers.

His glance seemed to question the doctor about this living problem; but
the latter made a sign to him, which was almost imperceptible, not to
pursue his investigations, and he changed the conversation. They then
talked about court affairs, the city news, and all that had taken place
since the departure of the doctor. Then Dame Greta came, and opened the
card-table, and laid out the cards. Soon silence reigned, while the
three friends were absorbed in the mysteries of whist.

The doctor made pretension to being a great player, and had no mercy for
the mistakes of his partners. He exulted loudly when their errors caused
him to win, and scolded when they made him lose. After every rubber he
took pleasure in showing the delinquent where he had erred; what card he
should have led, and which he should have held back. It is generally the
habit of whist-players, but it is not always conducive to amiability,
particularly when the victims are the same every evening.

Happily for him, the doctor's two friends never lost their temper. The
professor was habitually cool, and the lawyer severely skeptical.

"You are right," the first would say gravely, in answer to the most
severe reproaches.

"My dear Schwaryencrona, you know very well you are only losing your
time lecturing me," Mr. Bredejord would say, laughing. "All my life I
have made the greatest blunders whenever I play whist, and the worst of
it is, I do not improve." What could any one do with two such hardened
sinners?

The doctor was compelled to discontinue his criticisms, but it was only
to renew them a quarter of an hour later, for he was incorrigible.

It happened, however, that this evening he lost every game, and his
consequent ill-humor made his criticisms very severe upon his two
companions, and even upon the "dummy."

But the professor coolly acknowledged his faults, and the lawyer
answered his most bitter reproaches by jokes.

"Why should I alter my play, when I win by playing badly, and you lose
by following your correct rules?" he said to the doctor.

They played until ten o'clock. Then Kajsa made the tea in a magnificent
"samovar," and served it with pretty gracefulness; then she discreetly
disappeared. Soon Dame Greta appeared, and, calling Erik, she conducted
him to the apartment which had been prepared for him. It was a pretty
little room, clean and well furnished, on the second floor.

The three friends were now left alone.

"Now, at last, you can tell us who this young fisherman from Noroe is,
who reads Gibbon in the original text?" said Mr. Bredejord, as he put
some sugar into his second cup of tea. "Or is it a forbidden subject,
which it is indiscreet for me to mention?"

"There is nothing mysterious about the matter, and I will willingly tell
you Erik's history, for I know that I can rely upon your discretion,"
answered Dr. Schwaryencrona.

"Ah! I knew that he had a history," said the lawyer, seating himself
comfortably in his arm-chair. "We will listen, dear doctor. I assure you
that your confidence will not be misplaced. I confess this youth arouses
my curiosity like a problem."

"He is, indeed, a living problem," answered the doctor, flattered by the
curiosity of his friend. "A problem which I hope to be able to solve.
But I must tell you all about it, and see if you think as I do."

The doctor settled himself comfortably, and began by telling them that
he had been struck by Erik's appearance in the school at Noroe, and by
his unusual intelligence. He had made inquiries about him, and he
related all that Mr. Malarius and Mr. Hersebom had told. He omitted none
of the details. He spoke of the buoy, of the name of "Cynthia," of the
little garments which Dame Katrina had shown him, of the coral ornament,
of the device upon it, and of the character of the letters.

"You are now in possession of all the facts as far as I have been able
to learn them," he said. "And you must bear in mind that the
extraordinary ability of the child is only a secondary phenomenon, and
largely due to the interest with which Mr. Malarius has always regarded
him, and of which he has made the best use. It was his unusual
acquirements which first drew my attention to him and led me to make
inquiries about him. But in reality this has little connection with the
questions which now occupy me, which are: where did this child come
from, and what course would it be best for me to take in order to
discover his family? We have only two facts to guide us in this search.
First: The physical indications of the race to which the child belongs.
Second: The name 'Cynthia,' which was engraved on the buoy.

"As to the first fact, there can be no doubt; the child belongs to the
Celtic race. He presents the type of a Celt in all its beauty and
purity.

"Let us pass to the second fact:

"'Cynthia' is certainly the name of the vessel to which the buoy
belonged. This name might have belonged to a German vessel, as well as
to an English one; but it was written in the Roman characters.
Therefore, the vessel was an English one - or we will say Anglo-Saxon to
be more precise. Besides, everything confirms the hypothesis, for more
than one English vessel going and coming from Inverness, or the Orkneys,
have been driven on the coast of Norway by a tempest; and you must not
forget that the little living waif could not have been floating for a
long while, since he had resisted hunger, and all the dangers of his
perilous journey. Well, now you know all, and what is your conclusion my
dear friends?"

Neither the professor nor the lawyer thought it prudent to utter a word.

"You have not been able to arrive at any conclusion," said the doctor,
in a tone which betrayed a secret triumph. "Perhaps you even think there
is a contradiction between the two facts - a child of the Celtic race - an
English Vessel. But this is simply because you have failed to bear in


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Online LibraryAndré LaurieThe Waif of the Cynthia → online text (page 3 of 17)