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offers to pay all the expenses of your education, if you wish to
continue your studies. But this letter also requires you to decide for
yourself, whether you will accept this offer, or remain with us at
Noroe, which we would like so much to have you do, as you no doubt know.
But before you make up your mind, I must tell you a great secret, a
secret that my wife and I would have preferred to keep to ourselves."

At this moment Dame Katrina could not restrain her tears, and, sobbing,
she took the hand of Erik and pressed it to her heart, as if protesting
against the information which the young man was now to hear.

"This secret," continued Mr. Hersebom, in a strangely altered voice, "is
that you are our son only by adoption. I found you on the sea, my child,
and brought you home when you were only eight or nine months old. God is
my witness that we never intended to tell you this, and neither my wife
nor myself have ever made the least difference between you, and Otto,
and Vanda. But Doctor Schwaryencrona requires us to do so. Therefore, I
wish you to read what he has written to me."

Erik had suddenly become deadly pale. Otto and Vanda, surprised at what
they had heard, both uttered a cry of astonishment. Then they put their
arms around Erik, and clung closely to him, one on the right, and the
other on the left.

Then Erik took the doctor's letter, and without trying to conceal his
emotion, he read what he had written to Mr. Hersebom.

The fisherman then told him all the facts about himself. He explained
how Dr. Schwaryencrona had undertaken to try and discover the family to
which he belonged; and, also, that he had been unsuccessful. How, that
but for his advice and suggestions, they would never have thought of
doing so. Then Dame Katrina arose, and going to the oaken chest, brought
out the garments that the baby had worn, and showed him also the coral
which had been fastened around his neck. The story was naturally so full
of dramatic interest to the children, that they forgot for a time, at
least, how sad it was. They looked with wonder at the lace, and velvet,
the golden setting of the coral, and the inscription. It almost seemed
to them as if they were taking part in some fairy tale. The
impossibility of obtaining any information, as reported by the doctor,
only made them regard these articles as almost sacred.

Erik looked at them as if he were in a dream, and his thoughts flew to
the unknown mother, who, without doubt, had herself dressed him in these
little garments, and more than once shook the coral before the eyes of
the baby to make him smile. It seemed to him when he touched them as if
he held direct communion with her through time and space.

But where was this mother? Was she still living, or had she perished?
Was she weeping for her lost son, or must the son, on the contrary,
think of her as forever lost to him?

He remained for some minutes absorbed in these reflections, with his
head bent, but a word from Dame Katrina recalled him to himself.

"Erik, you are always our child," she cried, disturbed by his silence.

The eyes of the young man as he looked around him fell on all their
loving countenances - the maternal look of the loving wife, the honest
face of Mr. Hersebom, that of Otto even more affectionate than usual,
and that of Vanda, serious and troubled. As he read the tenderness and
disquietude displayed on all their faces, Erik felt as if his heart was
melting within him. In a moment he realized his situation, and saw
vividly the scene which his father had described. The cradle abandoned
to the mercy of the waves, rescued by the hardy fisherman, and carried
to his wife; and these people, humble and poor as they were, had not
hesitated to take care of the little stranger, to adopt and cherish him
as their own son. They had not spoken of the matter for fourteen years,
and now they were hanging on his words as if they were a matter of life
and death to them.

All this touched him so deeply that suddenly his tears came. An
irresistible feeling of love and gratitude overwhelmed him. He felt
eager on his part to repay by some devotion the tenderness which they
had shown to him. He resolved to stay with them at Noroe forever, and
content himself with their humble lot, while he endeavored to do
everything in his power to repay them.

"Mother," said he, throwing himself into Katrina's arms, "do you think
that I can hesitate, now that I know all? We will write to the doctor,
and thank him for his kind offer, and tell him that I have chosen to
remain with you. I will be a fisherman, like you, father, and like Otto.
Since you have given me a place at your fireside, I would prefer to
retain it. Since you have nourished me by the labor of your hands, I ask
to be allowed to repay you in your old age for your generosity toward me
when I was a helpless infant."

"God be praised!" cried Dame Katrina, pressing Erik to her heart in a
transport of joy and tenderness.

"I knew that the child would prefer the sea to all their books," said
Mr. Hersebom, not understanding the sacrifice that Erik's decision would
be to him.

"Come, the matter is settled. We will not talk about it any more, but
only try to enjoy this good festival of Christmas!"

They all embraced each other, with eyes humid with happiness, and vowed
they would never be separated.

When Erik was alone he could not help a stifled sigh, as he thought
about all his former dreams of work, and of the career which he had
renounced. But still he experienced at the same time a joy which he
believed would repay him for the sacrifice.

"Since it is the wish of my adopted parents," he said to himself, "the
rest does not signify. I ought to be willing to work for them in the
sphere and condition where their devotion has placed me. If I have
sometimes felt ambitious to take a higher position in the world, was it
not that I might be able to assist them? Since it makes them happy to
have me with them, and as they desire nothing better than their present
life, I must try to be contented, and endeavor by good conduct and hard
work to give them satisfaction. Adieu, then, to my books."

Thus he mused, and soon his thoughts returned to the time when the
fisherman had found him floating in his little cradle on the waves. What
country did he belong to? Who were his parents? Were they still alive?
Had he in some foreign country brothers and sisters whom he would never
know?

Christmas had also been in Dr. Schwaryencrona's house in Stockholm a
season of great festivity. It was at this time, as the reader doubtless
remembers, that they had agreed to decide the bet between him and Mr.
Bredejord, and that Professor Hochstedt was to be the umpire.

For two years not a word had been said by either of them about this bet.
The doctor had been patiently pursuing his researches in England,
writing to the maritime agencies, and multiplying his advertisements in
the newspapers; but he had taken care not to confess that his efforts
had been fruitless.

As for Mr. Bredejord, he had had the good taste to avoid all allusion to
the subject, and contented himself with occasionally admiring the
beautiful binding of the Pliny which was displayed in the doctor's
book-case.

But when he struck his snuff-box sharply with the ends
of his fingers, while he looked at the book, the doctor correctly
interpreted the pantomime, which was a shock to his nerves, and said to
himself:

"Oh, yes; he is thinking how well the Pliny will look beside his elegant
editions of Quintilian and Horace."

On these evenings he was more merciless than ever, if his unfortunate
partner made any mistakes at whist.

But time had taken its flight, and he was now obliged to submit the
question to the impartial arbitration of Professor Hochstedt.

Dr. Schwaryencrona approached the subject frankly. Kajsa had hardly left
him alone with his two friends when he confessed to them, as he had
confessed in his letter to Mr. Hersebom, that his investigations had
been without result. Nothing had occurred to throw any light on the
mystery which surrounded Erik's origin, and the doctor in all sincerity
declared that the problem was thought by him to be insolvable.

"But," he continued, "I should be doing myself an injustice if I did not
declare with equal sincerity that I do not believe that I have lost my
bet. I have not discovered Erik's family, it is true, but all the
information that I have been able to obtain corroborates the conclusion
which I had arrived at. The 'Cynthia' was, no doubt, an English vessel,
for there are at least seventeen ships bearing this name registered at
Lloyd's. As for ethnographical characteristics, they are clearly Celtic.
My hypothesis, therefore, as to the nationality of Erik is victoriously
confirmed. I am more than ever certain that he is of Irish extraction as
I at first surmised. But I can not compel his family to come forward and
acknowledge him, if they have any reasons of their own for wishing him
to continue lost to them. This is all I have to say, my dear Hochstedt;
and now you must be the judge as to whether the Quintilian of our friend
Bredejord should not legitimately be transferred to my book-case!"

At these words, which seemed to occasion a strong inclination to laugh,
the lawyer fell back in his arm-chair, raised his hands as if in
protestation, then he fixed his brilliant eyes upon Professor Hochstedt
to see how he would regard the matter. The professor did not betray the
embarrassment which might have been expected. He would have certainly
felt miserable if the doctor had urged any incontrovertible argument,
which would have compelled him to decide in favor of one or the other.
His prudent character led him to speak in indefinite terms. He excelled
in presenting, one after the other, both sides of a question, and he
reveled in his vagaries, like a fish in water. Therefore, this evening
he felt quite equal to the situation.

"The fact is incontestable," he said, shaking his head, "that there are
seventeen English vessels bearing the name of 'Cynthia,' and this seems
to favor the conclusion arrived at by our eminent friend. The
characteristic traits also have assuredly great weight, and I do not
hesitate to say that they appear to me to be quite conclusive. I do not
hesitate to confess that if I were called upon to give an opinion as to
Erik's nationality, I should say that he was Irish. But to decide the
bet in question we require something more than probabilities; we must
have facts to guide us. The chances so far greatly favor the opinion of
Dr. Schwaryencrona, but Bredejord can allege that nothing has actually
been proved. I see, therefore, no sufficient reason for declaring that
the Quintilian has been won by the doctor; neither can I say that the
professor has lost his Pliny. In my opinion, as the question remains
undecided, it ought to be annulled, which is the best thing to do in
such a case."

The doctor's face clearly betrayed his dissatisfaction. As for Mr.
Bredejord he leaped to his feet, saying:

"Your argument is a beautiful one, my dear Hochstedt, but I think you
are hasty in your conclusions. Schwaryencrona, you say, has not verified
his opinions sufficiently for you to say positively that he has won the
bet, although you think that all the probabilities are in his favor.
What will you say then, if I prove to you immediately that the 'Cynthia'
was not an English vessel at all?"

"What would I say?" said the professor, somewhat troubled by this sudden
attack. "Upon my word I do not know. I would have to consider the
question in a different aspect."

"Examine it then at your leisure," answered the advocate, thrusting his
hand into the inner pocket of his coat, and taking out a case from which
he selected a letter inclosed in one of those yellow envelopes, which
betray at the first glance their American origin.

"This is a document which you can not controvert," he added, placing the
letter before the doctor's eyes, who read aloud:

"_To Mr. Bredejord, Stockholm._

"NEW YORK, October 27th.

"SIR, - In reply to your letter of the 5th instant, I hasten to
write you the following facts: -

"1st. - A vessel named 'Cynthia,' commanded by Captain Barton, and
the property of the Canadian General Transportation Company, was
lost, with her cargo and all on board, just fourteen years ago, in
the neighborhood of the Faroe Islands.

"2d. - This vessel was insured in the General Steam Navigation
Company of New York for the sum of eight hundred thousand dollars.

"3d. - The disappearance of the 'Cynthia' having remained
unexplained, and the causes of the sad accident never having been
clearly proved to the satisfaction of the insurance company, a
lawsuit ensued, which was lost by the proprietors of the said
vessel.

"4th. - The loss of this lawsuit occasioned the dissolution of the
Canadian General Transportation Company, which has ceased to exist
for the last eleven years, having gone into liquidation. While
waiting to hear from you again, I beg of you, sir, to accept our
sincere salutations.

"JEREMIAH SMITH, WALKER & CO.,
"Maritime Agents."

"Well, what do you say to that?" asked Mr. Bredejord, when the doctor
had finished reading the letter. "It is a document of some value, I
think. Do you agree with me?"

"I quite agree with you," answered the doctor. "How did you procure it?"

"In the simplest way in the world. That evening when you spoke to me
about the 'Cynthia' being necessarily an English vessel, I thought that
you were taking too limited a field for your researches, and that the
vessel might be an American one. When time passed, and you received no
intelligence, for you would have told us if you had, the idea occurred
to me of writing to New York. The third letter brought the result which
you have before you. The affair is no longer a complicated one. Do you
not think that it assures to me beyond contest the possession of your
Pliny?"

"It appears to me to be rather a forced conclusion," replied the doctor,
taking the letter and reading it over again, to see if he could find any
new arguments to support his theory.

"How forced?" cried the advocate.

"I have proved to you that the vessel was an American one, and that she
was lost off the Faroe Islands, that is to say, near the coast of
Norway, precisely at the time which corresponds to the arrival of the
infant, and still you are not convinced of your error."

"Not in the least, my dear friend. I do not dispute the value or your
document. You have discovered what I have found it impossible to do - the
true 'Cynthia,' which was lost at a little distance from our coast, and
at a specified epoch; but permit me to say, that this only confirms
precisely my theory, for the vessel was a Canadian one, or in other
words, English, and the Irish element is very strong in some parts of
Canada, and I have therefore more reason than ever for being sure that
the child is of Irish origin."

"Ah, is that what you find in my letter?" said Mr. Bredejord, more vexed
than he was willing to appear to be. "Then without doubt you persist in
believing that you have not lost your Pliny?"

"Assuredly!"

"Perhaps you think you have a right to my Quintilian?"

"I hope in any case to be able to prove my right, thanks to your
discovery, if you will only give me time by renewing the bet."

"I am willing. I ask nothing better. How much time do you want?"

"Let us take two more years, and wait until the second Christmas after
this one."

"It is agreed," answered Mr. Bredejord. "But be assured, doctor, that
you will finally see me in possession of your Pliny!"

"By my faith no. It will make a fine appearance in my book-case beside
your Quintilian."




CHAPTER VII.

VANDA'S OPINION.


In the beginning, Erik burning with zeal at the sacrifice which he had
made, devoted all his energies to a fisherman's life, and tried to
forget that he had ever known any other. He was always the first to rise
and prepare the boat for his adopted father, who found every morning all
the arrangements completed, and he had only to step on board. If the
wind failed, then Erik took the heavy oars, and rowed with all his
strength, seeming to choose the hardest and most fatiguing duties.
Nothing discouraged him, neither the long waiting for the fish to seize
the bait, nor the various preparations to which the captive was
subjected - first, the removal of the tongue, which is a most delicate
morsel; then the head, then the bones, before placing them in the
reservoir, where they receive their first salting. Whatever their work
was, Erik did his part not only conscientiously, but eagerly. He
astonished the placid Otto by his extreme application to the smallest
details of their business.

"How you must have suffered, when you were shut up in the town," said
the lad to him, naively. "You only seem to be in your element when you
are on the borders of the fiord or on the open sea."

When their conversation took this turn, Erik always remained silent.
Sometimes, however, he would revert to the subject himself, and try to
prove to Otto, or rather to himself, that there was no better state of
existence than their own.

"It is what I have always heard," the other would answer with his calm
smile.

And poor Erik would turn away and stifle a sigh.

The truth is that he suffered cruelly after renouncing his studies and
seeing himself condemned to a life of manual labor. When these thoughts
came to him he fought against them with all his might. He did not wish
any one to suspect that he felt in this way, and in hiding them within
his own breast he suffered all the more.

A catastrophe which occurred at the beginning of the spring, only served
to increase his discouragement.

One day, as there was a great deal of work to do at home in piling
together the salted fish, Mr. Hersebom had intrusted it to Erik and to
Otto, and had gone out to fish alone. The weather was stormy, and the
sky very cloudy for the time of the year. The two young men, although
they worked actively, could not help noticing that it was exceptionally
dull, and they felt the atmosphere very heavy.

"It is singular!" said Erik, "but I feel a roaring in my ears as if I
were some distance above the earth in a balloon."

Almost immediately his nose began to bleed. Otto had a similar
sensation, although not quite so severe.

"I think the barometer must be very low," said Erik. "If I had time I
would run to Mr. Malarius' and see."

"You have plenty of time," said Otto. "Our work is nearly done, and even
if you were delayed I could easily finish it alone."

"Then I will go," replied Erik. "I do not know why the state of the
atmosphere should trouble me so much. I wish father was home."

As he walked toward the school, he met Mr. Malarius on the road.

"Is it you, Erik?" said the teacher. "I am glad to see you, and make
sure that you are not on the sea. I was just going to inquire. The
barometer has fallen with such rapidity during the last half hour. I
have never seen anything like it. We are surely going to have a change
of weather."

Mr. Malarius had hardly finished speaking, when a distant grumbling,
followed by a lugubrious roaring, fell upon their ears. The sky became
covered with a cloud as black as ink, which spread rapidly in all
directions, and obscured every object with great swiftness. Then
suddenly, after an interval of complete silence, the leaves of the
trees, the bits of straw, the sand, and even the stones, were swept away
by a sudden gust of wind.

The hurricane had begun.

It raged with unheard-of violence. The chimneys, the window shutters,
and in some places even the roofs of the houses were blown down; and the
boat-houses without exception were carried away and destroyed by the
wind. In the fiord, which was usually as calm as a well in a court-yard,
the most terrible tempest raged; the waves were enormous and came and
went, breaking against the shore with a deafening noise.

The cyclone raged for an hour, then arrested in its course by the
heights of Norway, it moved toward the south, and swept over continental
Europe. It is noted in meteorological annals as one of the most
extraordinary and disastrous that ever was known upon the Atlantic
coast. These great changes of the atmosphere are now generally announced
beforehand by the telegraph. Most of the European sea-ports forewarned
of the danger have time to warn vessels and seamen of the threatened
tempest, and they seek a safe anchorage. By this means many disasters
are averted.

But on the distant and less frequented coasts, in the fishing-hamlets,
the number of shipwrecks was beyond computation.

In one office, that of "Veritas" in France, there were registered not
less than 730.

The first thought of all the members of the Hersebom family, as well as
of all the other families of fishermen, was naturally for those who were
on the sea on this disastrous day. Mr. Hersebom went most often to the
western coast of a large island which was about two miles distant,
beyond the entrance to the fiord. It was the spot where he had first
seen Erik. They hoped that during the tempest he had been able to find
shelter by running his boat upon the low and sandy shore. But Erik and
Otto felt so anxious that they could not wait until evening to see if
this hope was well founded.

The fiord had hardly resumed its ordinary placidity, after the passage
of the hurricane, when they borrowed a boat of one of their neighbors,
in order to go in search of him. Mr. Malarius insisted upon accompanying
the young men upon their expedition, and they all three set out,
anxiously watched by Katrina and her daughter.

On the fiord the wind had nearly gone down, but it blew from the west,
and to reach the entrance to the harbor they were obliged to use their
oars. This took them more than an hour.

When they reached the entrance an unexpected obstacle presented itself.
The tempest was still raging on the ocean, and the waves dashed against
the island which, formed the entrance to the fiord of Noroe, forming two
currents, which came and went with such violence in the narrow pass that
it was impossible to gain the open sea. A steamboat could not have
ventured through it, and a weak boat could not have resisted it for a
moment.

The only thing they could do, therefore, was to return to Noroe, and
wait as patiently as they could.

The hour when he habitually came home passed without bringing Mr.
Hersebom, but none of the other fishermen returned; so they hoped that
they were all detained by the impassable state of the entrance to the
fiord, and would not believe that he had personally met with any
disaster. That evening was a very sad one at all the firesides where a
member was missing. As the night passed without any of the absent men
making their appearance, the anxieties of their families increased. In
Mr. Hersebom's house nobody went to bed. They passed the long hours of
waiting seated in a circle around the fire, silent and anxious.

Dawn is late in these high latitudes in March, but when at last it grew
light it was bright and clear. The wind was calm, and they hoped they
would be able to get through the pass. A regular fleet of boats,
composed of every one who could get away from Noroe, was ready to go in
search of the absent men. Just at this moment several vessels hove in
sight, and soon reached the village. They were the fishermen who had
gone out the day before, not expecting such a cyclone; but Mr. Hersebom
was not among them.

Nobody could give any account of him, and the fact of his not returning
with the others increased their anxiety as all the men had been in great
peril. Some had been surprised by the cyclone and dashed upon the shore,
others had time to shelter themselves in a secure place of anchorage. A
few had reached the land just in time to save themselves.

It was decided that the flotilla should go in search of those who were
missing. Mr. Malarius who still wished to take part in the expedition
accompanied Erik and Otto. A large yellow dog begged so earnestly to go
with them, that at length they yielded. It was Kaas, the Greenland dog
that Mr. Hersebom had brought back with him, after a voyage to Cape
Farewell.

After issuing from the pass the boats separated, some going to the
right, and others to the left, to explore the shores of the innumerable
islands which lie scattered near the entrance to the fiord of Noroe, as


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Online LibraryAndré LaurieThe Waif of the Cynthia → online text (page 5 of 17)