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mind the existence on the coast of Great Britain of a people of the
Celtic race, on her sister island, Ireland. I did not think of it at
first myself, and it prevented me from solving the problem. But when it
occurred to me, I said to myself: the child is Irish. Is this your
opinion, Hochstedt?"

If there was anything in the world the professor disliked, it was to
give a positive opinion upon any subject. It must also be confessed that
to give such an opinion in this case would have been premature. He
therefore contented himself with nodding his head, and saying:

"It is an incontestable fact that the Irish belong to the Celtic branch
of the Arian race."

This was a sufficiently safe aphorism, but Doctor Schwaryencrona asked
nothing more, and only saw in it the entire confirmation of his theory.

"You think so, yourself," he said eagerly. "The Irish were Celts, and
the child has all the characteristics of the race. The 'Cynthia' having
been an English vessel, it appears to me that we are in possession of
the necessary links, in order to find the family of the poor child. It
is in Great Britain that we must look for them. Some advertisements in
the 'Times' will probably be sufficient to put us on their tracks."

The doctor continued to enlarge upon his plan of proceeding, when he
remarked the obstinate silence of the lawyer and the slightly ironical
expression with which he listened to his conclusions.

"If you are not of my opinion, Bredejord, I wish you would say so. You
know that I do not fear to discuss the matter," he said, stopping short.

"I have nothing to say," answered Mr. Bredejord. "Hochstedt can bear
witness that I have said nothing."

"No. But I see very well that you do not share my opinion; and I am
curious to know why," said the doctor.

"Is Cynthia an English name?" he asked, with vehemence. "Yes! it was
written in Roman characters - it could not have been German. You have
heard our eminent friend, Hochstedt, affirm that the Irish are Celts.
Has the child all the characteristics of the Celtic race? You can judge
for yourself. You were struck by his appearance before I opened my mouth
about the subject. I conclude, therefore, that it is a want of
friendship for you to refuse to agree with me, and recognize the fact
that the boy belongs to an Irish family."

"Want of friendship is a strong charge," answered Mr. Bredejord, "if you
apply it to me. I can only say that I have not, as yet, expressed the
slightest opinion."

"No; but I see that you do not spare mine."

"Have I not a right?"

"But give some facts to support your theory."

"I have not said that I have formed any."

"Then it is a systematic opposition, just for the sake of contradicting
me, as you do in whist."

"Nothing is further from my thoughts, I assure you. Your reasoning
appeared to me to be too peremptory, that is all."

"In what way, if you please, I am curious to know?"

"It would take too long to tell you. Eleven o'clock is striking. I will
content myself with offering you a bet. Your copy of Pliny against my
Quintilian, that you have not judged rightly, and that the child is not
Irish."

"You know that I do not like to bet," said the doctor, softened by his
unconquerable good humor. "But I shall take so much pleasure in your
discomfiture that I accept your offer."

"Well, then it is a settled affair. How much time do you expect to take
for your researches?"

"A few months will suffice, I hope, but I have said two years to
Hersebom, in order to be sure that no efforts were wanting."

"Ah! well - I give you two years. Hochstedt shall be our witness; and
there is no ill-feeling, I hope?"

"Assuredly not, but I see your Quintilian in great danger of coming to
keep company with my Pliny," answered the doctor.

Then, after shaking hands with his two friends, he accompanied them to
the door.




CHAPTER V.

THE THIRTEEN DAYS OF CHRISTMAS.


The next day Erik began his new life at school.

Dr. Schwaryencrona first took him to his tailors, and fitted him out
with some new suits of clothes; then he introduced him to the principal
of one of the best schools in town. It was called in Swedish "Hogre
elementar larovek."

In this school were taught the ancient and modern languages, the
elementary sciences, and all that it was necessary to learn before
entering college. As in Germany and Italy, the students did not board in
the college. They lived with their families in the town, with the
professors, or wherever they could obtain comfortable accommodations.
The charges are very moderate; in fact, they have been reduced almost to
nothing. Large gymnasiums are attached to each of the higher classes,
and physical culture is as carefully attended to as the intellectual.

Erik at once gained the head of his division. He learned everything with
such extreme facility that he had a great deal of time to himself. The
doctor therefore thought that it would be better for him to utilize his
evenings by taking a course at the "Slodjskolan," the great industrial
school of Stockholm. It was an establishment especially devoted to the
practice of the sciences, particularly to making experiments in physics
and chemistry, and to geometrical constructions which are only taught
theoretically in the schools.

Doctor Schwaryencrona judged rightly that the teachings of this school,
which was one of the wonders of Stockholm, would give a new impetus to
the rapid progress which Erik was making, and he hoped for great results
from this double training.

His young _protégé_, proved worthy of the advantages which he procured
for him. He penetrated the depths of the fundamental sciences, and
instead of vague and superficial ideas, the ordinary lot of so many
pupils, he stored up a provision of just, precise, and definite facts.
The future development of these excellent principles could only be a
question of time.

Hereafter he would be able to learn without difficulty the more elevated
branches of these studies which would be required in college; in fact it
would be only play to him.

The same service which Mr. Malarius had rendered him, in teaching him
languages, history, and botany, the "Slodjskolan" now did for him by
inculcating the A, B, C, of the industrial arts; without which the best
teaching so often remains a dead letter.

Far from fatiguing Erik's brain, the multiplicity and variety of his
studies strengthened it much more than a special course of instruction
could have done.

Besides, the gymnasium was always open to him to recruit his body when
his studies were over; and here as well as in the school Erik stood
first. On holidays he never failed to pay a visit to the sea which he
loved with filial tenderness. He talked with the sailors and fishermen,
and often brought home a fine fish, which was well received by Dame
Greta.

This good woman had conceived a great affection for this new member of
the household. Erik was so gentle, and naturally so courteous and
obliging, so studious and so brave, that it was impossible to know him
and not to like him. In eight days he had become a favorite with Mr.
Bredejord and Mr. Hochstedt, as he was already with Doctor
Schwaryencrona.

The only person who treated him with coldness was Kajsa. Whether the
little fairy thought that her hitherto undisputed sovereignty in the
house was in danger, or whether she bore Erik a grudge, because of the
sarcasms which her aristocratic air toward him inspired in the doctor,
nobody knew. However, she persisted in treating him with a disdainful
coldness, which no courtesy or politeness on his part could overcome.
Her opportunities of displaying her disdain were fortunately rare, for
Erik was always either out-of-doors, or else busy in his own little
room.

Time passed in the most peaceful manner, and without any notable
incidents.

We will pass with our reader without further comment over the two years
which Erik spent at school and return to Noroe.

Christmas had returned for the second time since Erik's departure. It is
in all Central and Northern Europe the great annual festival; because it
is coincident with the dull season in nearly all industries. In Norway
especially, they prolong the festival for thirteen days. - "Tretten yule
dage" (the thirteen days of Christmas), and they make it a season of
great rejoicings. It is a time for family reunions, for dinners, and
even for weddings.

Provisions are abundant, even in the poorest dwellings. Everywhere the
greatest hospitality is the order of the day.

The "Yule ol," or Christmas beer, is drunk freely. Every visitor is
offered a bumper in a wooden cup, mounted in gold, silver, or copper,
which the poorest families possess, and which cups have been transmitted
to them from time immemorial. The visitor must empty this cup, and
exchange with his hosts the joyful wishes of the season, and for a happy
New Year.

It is also at Christmas that the servants receive their new clothes;
which are often the best part of their wages - that the cows, and sheep,
and even the birds of the air, receive a double ration, which is
exceptionally large. They say in Norway of a "poor man," that he is so
poor that he can not even give the sparrows their dinner at Christmas.

Of these thirteen traditional days, Christmas-eve is the gayest. It is
the custom for the young girls and boys to go around in bands on their
"schnee-schuhe," or snow-shoes, and stop before the houses, and sing in
chorus the old national melodies. The clear voices suddenly sounding
through the fresh night air, in the lonely valleys, with their wintery
surroundings, have an odd and charming effect. The doors are immediately
opened, the singers are invited to enter, and they offer them cake,
dried apples, and ale; and often make them dance. After this frugal
supper the joyous band depart, like a flock of gulls, to perform the
same ceremony further away. Distances are regarded as nothing, for on
their "schnee-schuhe," which are attached to their feet by leather
straps, they glide over several miles with marvelous rapidity. The
peasants of Norway also use, with these show-shoes, a strong stick, to
balance themselves, and help them along. This year the festival would be
a joyous one for the Herseboms. They were expecting Erik.

A letter from Stockholm had announced that he would arrive that evening.
Therefore Otto and Vanda could not sit still. Every moment they ran to
the door, to see if he was coming. Dame Katrina, although she reproved
them for their impatience, felt in the same way herself. Mr. Hersebom
smoked his pipe silently, and was divided in his mind between a longing
to see his adopted son, and the fear that he would not be able to keep
him with them very long.

For the fiftieth time, perhaps, Otto had gone to the door, when he gave
a shout and cried out:

"Mother! Vanda! I believe it is he!"

They all rushed to the door. In the distance, on the road which led from
Bergen, they saw a black object. It grew larger rapidly, and soon took
the shape of a young man, clothed in gray cloth, wearing a fur cap, and
carrying merrily over his shoulders a knapsack of green leather. He had
on snow-shoes, and would soon be near enough to recognize.

The traveler perceived those who were watching before the door, and
taking off his cap, he waved it around his head.

Two minutes later Erick was in the arms of Katrina, Otto, Vanda, and
even Mr. Hersebom, who had left his arm-chair and advanced to the door.

They hugged him, and almost stifled him with caresses. They went into
ecstasies over his improved appearance. Dame Katrina among them all
could not get accustomed to it.

"What - is this the dear babe that I nursed on my knees?" she cried.
"This great boy, with such a frank and resolute air, with these strong
shoulders, this elegant form, and on whose lip I can already see signs
of a mustache. Is it possible?"

The brave woman was conscious of feeling a sort of respect for her
former nursling. She was proud of him, above all for the tears of joy
which she saw in his eyes. For he also was deeply affected.

"Mother, is it really you," he exclaimed. "I can hardly believe that I
am with you all again. The two years have seemed so long to me. I have
missed you all, as I know you have missed me."

"Yes," said Mr. Hersebom, gravely. "Not a day has passed without our
having spoken of you. Morning and evening, and at meal times, it was
your name that was constantly on our lips. But you, my boy, you have not
forgotten us in the grand city? You are contented to return and see the
old country and the old house?"

"I am sure that you do not doubt it," said Erik, as he embraced them
all. "You were always in my thoughts. But above all when the wind blew a
gale. I thought of you, father. I said to myself, Where is he? Has he
returned home in safety? And in the evening I used to read the
meteorological bulletin in the doctor's newspaper, to see what kind of
weather you had had on the coast of Norway; if it was the same as on the
coast of Sweden? - and I found that you have severe storms more often
than we have in Stockholm, which come from America, and beat on our
mountains. Ah! how often I have wished that I could be with you in your
little boat to help you with the sail, and overcome all difficulties.
And on the other hand when the weather was fine it seemed to me as if I
was in prison in that great city, between the tall three-story houses.
Yes! I would have given all the world to be on the sea for one hour, and
to feel as formerly free, and joyfully exhilarated by the fresh air!"

A smile brightened the weather-beaten face of the fisherman.

"His books have not spoiled him," he said. "A joyful season and a happy
New-Year to you, my child!" he added. "Come, let us go to the table.
Dinner is only waiting for you."

When he was once more seated in his old place on the right hand of
Katrina, Erik was able to look around him, and mark the changes that two
years had made in the family. Otto was now a large, robust boy of
sixteen years of age, and who looked twenty. As for Vanda, two years had
added wonderfully to her size and beauty. Her countenance had become
more refined. Her magnificent blonde hair, which lay in heavy braids
upon her shoulders, formed around her forehead a light silvery cloud.
Modest and sweet as usual, she busied herself, almost unconsciously,
with seeing that no one wanted for anything.

"Vanda has grown to be a great girl!" said her mother, proudly. "And if
you knew, Erik, how learned she has become, how hard she has worked and
studied since you left us! She is the best scholar in the school now,
and Mr. Malarius says she is his only consolation for no longer having
you among his pupils."

"Dear Mr. Malarius! how glad I shall be to see him again," said Erik.
"So our Vanda has become so learned, has she?" he replied with interest,
while the young girl blushed up to the roots of her hair at these
maternal praises.

"She has learned to play the organ also, and Mr. Malarius says that she
has the sweetest voice of all the choir?"

"Oh, decidedly, it is a very accomplished young person whom I find on my
return," Erik said, laughing, to relieve the embarrassment of his
sister. "We must make her display all her talents to-morrow."

And without affectation he began to talk about all the good people of
Noroe, asking questions about each one; inquiring for his old
school-mates, and about all that had happened since he went away. He
asked about their fishing adventures, and all the details of their daily
life. Then on his part, he satisfied the curiosity of his family, by
giving an account of his mode of life in Stockholm; he told them about
Dame Greta, about Kajsa, and the doctor.

"That reminds me that I have a letter for you, father," he said, drawing
it out of the inside pocket of his vest. "I do not know what it
contains, but the doctor told me to take good care of it, for it was
about me."

Mr. Hersebom took the letter, and laid it on the table by his side.

"Well!" said Erik, "are you not going to read it?"

"No," answered the fisherman, laconically.

"But, since it concerns me?" persisted the young man.

"It is addressed to me," said Mr. Hersebom, holding the letter before
his eyes. "Yes, I will read it at my leisure." Filial obedience is the
basis of family government in Norway.

Erik bowed his head in acquiescence.

When they rose from the table, the three children seated themselves on
their little bench in the chimney-corner, as they had so often done
before, and began one of those confidential conversations, where each
one relates what the other is curious to know, and where they tell the
same things a hundred times.

Katrina busied herself about the room, putting everything in order;
insisting that Vanda should for once "play the lady," as she said, and
not trouble herself about household matters.

As for Mr. Hersebom, he had seated himself in his favorite arm-chair,
and was smoking his pipe in silence. It was only after he had finished
this important operation that he decided to open the doctor's letter.

He read it through without saying a single word; then he folded it up,
put it in his pocket, and smoked a second pipe, like the first, without
uttering a sound. He seemed to be absorbed in his own reflections.

Although he was never a talkative man, his silence appeared singular to
Dame Katrina. After she had finished her work, she went and seated
herself beside him, and made two or three attempts to draw him into
conversation, but she only received the most brief replies. Being thus
repulsed, she became melancholy, and the children themselves, after
talking breathlessly for some time, began to be affected by the evident
sadness of their parents.

Twenty youthful voices singing in chorus before the door suddenly
greeted their ears, and made a happy diversion. It was a merry band of
Erik's old classmates, who had conceived the pleasant idea of coming to
give him a cordial welcome home.

They hastened to invite them into the house, and offered them the
customary feast, whilst they eagerly pressed around their old friend to
express the great pleasure which they felt in seeing him again. Erik was
touched by the unexpected visit of the friends of his childhood, and was
anxious to go with them on their Christmas journey, and Vanda and Otto
also were, naturally, eager to be of the party. Dame Katrina charged
them not to go too far, but to bring their brother back early, as he
needed rest after his journey.

The door was hardly closed upon them, when she resumed her seat beside
her husband.

"Well, has the doctor discovered anything?" she asked, anxiously.

Instead of answering, Mr. Hersebom took the letter from his pocket, and
read it aloud, but not without hesitating over some words which were
strange to him:

"MY DEAR HERSEBOM," wrote the doctor, "it is now two years since
you intrusted your dear child to my care, and every day I have had
renewed pleasure in watching his progress in all the studies that
he has undertaken. His intelligence is as remarkable as his heart
is generous. Erik is truly one of nature's nobleman, and the
parents who have lost such a son, if they knew the extent of their
misfortune, would be objects of pity. But it is very doubtful
whether his parents are still living. As we agreed, I have spared
no efforts to discover them. I have written to several persons in
England who have an agency for making special researches. I have
had advertisements inserted in twenty different newspapers,
English, Irish, and Scotch. Not the least ray of light has been
thrown upon this mystery, and I have to confess that all the
information which I have succeeded in procuring has rather tended
to deepen the mystery.

"The name 'Cynthia,' I find in very common use in the English navy.
From Lloyd's office, they inform me, that there are seventeen
ships, of different tonnage, bearing this name. Some of these ships
belong to English ports, and some to Scotland and Ireland. My
supposition concerning the nationality of the child is therefore
confirmed, and it becomes more and more evident to me that Erik is
of Irish parentage. I do not know whether you agree with me on this
point, but I have already mentioned it to two of my most intimate
friends in Stockholm, and everything seems to confirm it.

"Whether this Irish family are all dead, or whether they have some
interest in remaining unknown, I have not been able to discover any
trace of them.

"Another singular circumstance, and which I also think looks still
more suspicious, is the fact that no shipwreck registered at
Lloyd's, or at any of the marine insurance companies, corresponds
with the date of the infant's arrival on your coast. Two vessels
named 'Cynthia' have been lost, it is true, during this century;
but one was in the Indian Ocean, thirty-two years ago, and the
other was in sight of Portsmouth eighteen years ago.

"We are therefore obliged to conclude that the infant was not the
victim of a shipwreck.

"Doubtless he was intentionally exposed to the mercy of the waves.
This would explain why all my inquiries have been fruitless.

"Be this as it may, after having questioned successively all the
proprietors of the vessels bearing the name of 'Cynthia,' without
obtaining any information, and after exhausting all known means of
pursuing my investigations, I have been compelled to conclude that
there is no hope of discovering Erik's family.

"The question that arises for us to decide, my dear Hersebom, and
particularly for you, is what we ought to say to the boy, and what
we ought to do for him.

"If I were in your place, I should now tell him all the facts about
himself which affect him so nearly, and leave him free to choose
his own path in life. You know we agreed to adopt this course if my
efforts should prove unsuccessful. The time has come for you to
keep your word. I have wished to leave it to you to relate all this
to Erik. He is returning to Noroe still ignorant that he is not
your son, and he does not know whether he is to return to Stockholm
or remain with you. It is for you to tell him.

"Remember, if you refuse to fulfill this duty, Erik would have the
right some day, perhaps, to be astonished at you. Recall to mind
also that he is a boy of too remarkable abilities to be condemned
to an obscure and illiterate life. Such a sentence would have been
unmerited two years ago, and now, after his brilliant career at
Stockholm, it would be positively unjustifiable.

"I therefore renew my offer: let him return to me and finish his
studies, and take at Upsal the degree of Doctor of Medicine. I will
continue to provide for him as if he were my own son, and he has
only to go on and win honors and a fortune.

"I know that, in addressing you and the excellent adopted mother of
Erik, I leave his future in good hands. No personal consideration,
I am sure, will prevent you from accepting my offer. Take Mr.
Malarius' advice in this matter.

"While awaiting your reply, Mr. Hersebom, I greet you
affectionately, and I beg you to remember me most kindly to your
worthy wife and children.

"R.W. SCHWARYENCRONA, M.D."

When the fisherman had finished reading this letter, Dame Katrina, who
had been silently weeping while she listened to it, asked him what he
intended to do.

"My duty is very clear," he said. "I shall tell the boy everything."

"That is my opinion also; it must be done, or we should never have
another peaceful moment," she murmured, as she dried her eyes.

Then they both relapsed into silence.

It was past midnight when the three children returned from their
expedition. Their cheeks were rosy, and their eyes shone with pleasure
from their walk in the fresh air. They seated themselves around the fire
to finish gayly their Christmas-eve by eating a last cake before the
enormous log which looked like a burning cavern.




CHAPTER VI.

ERIK'S DECISION.


The next day the fisherman called Erik to him, and in the presence of
Katrina, Otto, and Vanda, spoke to him as follows:

"Erik, the letter of Doctor Schwaryencrona was about you. He writes that
you have given entire satisfaction to your teachers, and the doctor


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Online LibraryAndré LaurieThe Waif of the Cynthia → online text (page 4 of 17)