The Lucky Peer - Part V

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Early in the morning the first study hours began at Herr Gabriel’s. They studied French. At breakfast the only ones present were the boarders, the children, and Madame. She drank here her second cup of coffee her first she always took in bed. “It is so wholesome, when one is liable to spasms.” She asked Peer what he had studied thus far.

“French,” he replied.

“It is a high cost language!” said she; “it is the diplomatic speech, and the one that is used by people of good blood. I did not study it in my childhood, but when one lives with a learned man one gets of his wisdom, quite as one gets his mother-milk. Thus I have all the necessary words. I am quite confident I should know how to compromise myself in whatever company I happened to be.”2

Madame had won a foreign word, a title, by her marriage with a learned man. She was baptized Mette after a rich aunt, whose heir she was to he. She got the name, but not the inheritance. Herr Gabriel rebaptized Mette into Meta, the Latin for measure. When she was named, all her clothes, woolen and linen, were marked with the letters M. G., Meta Gabriel ; but young Madsen had a boy’s wit, and read in the letters M. G. the character “very good” (Danish Meget godt3), and therefore he added in ink a great interrogation point, and put it on the tablecloth, the towels, and sheets.

“Don’t you like Madame?” asked Peer, when young Madsen made him privately acquainted with this piece of wit. “She is so kind, and Herr Gabriel is so learned.”

“She is a bundle of lies!” said young Madsen; “and Herr Gabriel is a scoundrel. If I were only a corporal, and he a recruit, ugh! how I would give him the flat of my sword!” And there was a blood-thirsty look about young Madsen; his lips grew smaller than their wont, and his whole face seemed one great freckle.

These were dreadful words to hear spoken, and they gave Peer a shock; yet young Madsen had the clearest right to them in his mind. It was a cruel thing on the part of parents and tutor that a fellow should waste his best, most delightful youth in learning grammar, names, and dates which nobody cares anything for, instead of enjoying his liberty and spending his time going about with a gun over his shoulder, like a good shot. “No, one has no business to be shut up and sit on a bench till he falls asleep over a book; Herr Gabriel wants that, and so one gets called lazy and has the character ‘passable,’4 yes, one’s parents get letters about it; so I say Herr Gabriel is a scoundrel.”

“He grips your hand too,” added little Primus, who seemed to agree with young Madsen. It was not at all pleasant for Peer to hear them. But Peer got no “hand grips;” he was too grown up, as Madsen had said. He was not called lazy either, for that he was not; he was to have his hours alone. He was soon well ahead of Madsen and Primus.

“He has ability!” said Herr Gabriel.

“And one can see that he has been to dancing-school!” said Madame.

“We must have him in our dramatic society,” said the apothecary, who lived more for the town’s private theatre than for his apothecary shop. Malicious people applied the old stale witticism, that he had certainly been bitten by a mad player, for he was clean gone mad for the theatre.

“The young scholar is born for a lover,” said the apothecary. “In a couple of years he could be Romeo; and I believe that if he were well painted, and had a little moustache, he could go on the stage very well this winter.”

The Apothecary’s daughter—“great dramatic talent,” said the father; “true beauty,” said the mother—was to be Juliet; Madame Gabriel must be the nurse, and the Apothecary, who was both director and stage-manager, would take the rôle of the apothecary—a slight one, but one of great importance. The whole depended on Herr Gabriel’s permission for Peer to act Romeo. It was plain that it was best to work through Madame Gabriel, and the Apothecary understood that he must first win her over.

“You are born to be nurse,” said he, and thought that he was flattering her exceedingly. “That is assuredly the most complete rôle in the piece,” he continued. “it is the humorous rôle; without it the piece could not be tolerated for its melancholy. No one but you, Madame Gabriel, has the quickness and life that should bubble tip here.”

All very true, she agreed, but her husband would surely never permit his young pupil to contribute those crumbs of time which would have to be given in learning the part of Romeo. She promised, however, to “pump” him, as she called it. The Apothecary began at once to study his part, and especially to think about his make-up. He wished to be a squint-eyed, poor, miserable fellow, and yet a clever man—rather a difficult problem; but Madame Gabriel had a much harder one in “pumping” her husband to the required point. He could not, he said, answer for it to Peer’s guardians, who paid for his schooling and board, if he permitted the young man to play in tragedy. We cannot conceal the fact, however, that Peer had the most intense longing to act. “But it will not do,” said he.

“It’s coming,” said Madame; “only let me keep on pumping.” She would have given punch, but Herr Gabriel did not drink it with any pleasure. Married people are sometimes different. We say this without any offence to Madame.

“One glass and no more,” she said to herself. “It elevates the soul and makes one happy, and thus it behooves us to be—it is our Lord’s will with us.”

Peer was to be Romeo. That was pumped through by Madame. The rehearsals were held at the Apothecary’s. They had chocolate and “ geniuses,” that is to say, small biscuits. They were sold at the bake-shop, twelve for a skilling,5 and they were so exceedingly small, and so many, that it was thought a witticism to call them geniuses.

“It is an easy thing to make fun of one,” said Herr Gabriel, and so he himself gave nicknames to one thing and another. The Apothecary’s house he called “Noah’s Ark with its clean and unclean beasts,” and that was only because of the affection which was shown by the family toward the two and four-footed pets in the house. The young lady had her own cat, Graciosa—a pretty, soft-skinned creature, that lay in the window, in her lap, on her work, or ran over the table spread for dinner. The mistress had a poultry-yard, a duck-yard, a parrot, and canary-birds; and Polly could outcry them all together. Two dogs, Flick and Flock, walked about the chamber; they were not perfumery bottles by any means, and they lay on the sofa and on the matrimonial bed.

The rehearsal began, and was only interrupted a moment by the dogs slobbering over Madame Gabriel’s new gown; but that was out of pure friendship and it did not spot it. The cat also caused a slight disturbance: it would insist on giving its paw to Juliet, sit on her head and beat its tail. Juliet’s tender speeches were divided between the cat and Romeo. Every word that Peer had to say was exactly what he wished to say to the Apothecary’s daughter. How lovely and charming she was, a child of Nature, who, as Madame Gabriel expressed it, went right by the side of her part. Peer grew quite warm about it.

There surely was instinct or something even higher with the cat. It perched on Peer’s shoulders and symbolized the sympathy between Romeo and Juliet; with each successive rehearsal Peer’s ardor grew more manifest and stronger, the cat more confidential, the parrot and the canary-birds more noisy; Flick and Flock ran in and out. The evening of the representation came, and Peer was Romeo himself—he kissed Juliet right on her mouth.

“Quite like nature!” said Madame Gabriel.

“Disgraceful!” said the Councillor, Herr Svendsen, the richest citizen and fattest man in the town. The perspiration ran down him, the house was so warm and he himself was so heated. Peer found no favor in his eyes. “Such a puppy!” said he ; “a puppy so long too that one could crack him in halves and make two puppies of him.”

Great applause—and one enemy! He got off well. Indeed Peer was a Lucky Peer. Tired and overcome by the exertions of the evening and the flattery shown him, he went home to his little chamber. it was past midnight; Madame Gabriel knocked on the wall.

“Romeo! here’s punch!”

And the spout was put through the door. and Peer Romeo held his glass under.

“Good-night, Madame Gabriel.”

But Peer could not sleep. All that he had said. and especially what Juliet had said, buzzed in his head, and when at length he fell asleep, he dreamt of a wedding—a wedding with Miss Frandsen! What singular things one can dream!

Note: The story continues in The Lucky Peer, Parts VI and IX

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