Once a week there was quartette music. Ears, soul, and thought were filled with the grand musical poems of Beethoven and Mozart. For a long time Peer had heard no good and well-given music. It was as if a kiss of fire darted down his spine and shot through all his nerves. His eyes filled with tears. Every music-evening here at home was a feast to him that made a deeper impression upon him than any opera at the theatre, where there is always something that destroys pleasure or brings faults too strongly forward. The first thing one knows the words do not come out right; they are so smoothed down in the singing that they are as intelligible to a Chinaman as to a Greenlander; then the effect is weakened by faults in the dramatic expression, and by a full voice sinking down in single places to the power of a music-box, or is drawled out in false tones. Lack of truthfulness also in decoration and costume is to be observed. All this was absent from the quartette. The music poems rose in all their grandeur, costly hangings decorated the walls in the concert-room, and he was in the world of music, listening to the masters in their fascination.
In the great public music-hall was given one evening, by a well-trained orchestra, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony; especially the andante movement, “the scene by the brook,” stirred and excited our young friend with strange power. It carried him into the living, fresh woods; the lark and the nightingale warbled; there the cuckoo sang. What beauty of Nature, what a well-spring of refreshment was there! From this hour he knew within himself that it was the picturesque music, in which Nature was reflected, and the emotions of men’s hearts were set forth, that struck deepest into his soul: Beethoven and Haydn became his favorite composers.
With the singing-master he talked frequently of this, and at every conversation they two came nearer each other. Flow rich in knowledge this man was, as inexhaustible as Mimer’s well. Peer listened to him, and just as when he was a little boy he heard eagerly grandmother’s wonder stories and tales, now he heard those of the world of music, and knew what the forest and the sea told, what sounds in the old giant mound, what every bird sings with its bill, and what the voiceless flowers breathe forth in fragrance.
The hour for singing every morning was a real hour of delight for master and pupil every little song was sung with a freshness, an expression, and a simplicity: most charmingly did they give Schubert’s “Travel Song.” The melody was true, and the words also; they blended together, they exalted and illumined one another, as is fitting. Peer was undeniably a dramatic singer. Each month showed progress in ability; every week, yes, each day by day.
Our young friend grew in a wholesome, happy way, knowing no want or sorrow. His trust in mankind was never deceived; he had a child’s soul and a man’s endurance, and everywhere he was received with gentle eyes and a kind welcome. Day by day the relations between him and the singing-master grew more intimate and more confidential; the two were like elder and younger brothers, and the younger had all the fervor and warmth of a young heart; that the elder understood, and gave in turn in his own wise.
The singing-master’s character was marked by a southern ardor, and one saw at once that this man could hate vehemently or love passionately, and fortunately this last governed in him. He was, moreover, so placed by a fortune left him by his father, that he did not need to take any office which did not content him. He did secretly a great deal of good in a sensible way, but would not suffer people to thank him, or, indeed, to talk about it.
“Have I done anything,” said he, “it is because I could and ought to do it. it was my duty.”
His old serving-man, “our warden,” as he called him in jest, talked only with half a voice when he gave expression to his opinion about the master of the house. “I know what he gives away ‘between a year and a day,’ and I don’t know the half! The King ought to give him a star to wear on his breast. But he would not wear it; he would get mad as lightning, if I know him, should one notice him for his honesty. He is happy beyond the rest of us, in the faith which he has. He is just like a man out of the Bible.” And at that the old fellow gave an additional emphasis, as if Peer could have some doubt.
He felt and understood well that the singing-master was a true Christian in good earnest, an example for every one. Yet the man never went to church, and when Peer one day mentioned that next Sunday he was going with his mother and grandmother to our Lord’s table, and asked if the singing-master never did the same, the answer came, No. It seemed as if he would say something more, as if, indeed, he had some confidence to impart to Peer, but it was not said.
One evening he read aloud from the papers of the beneficence of two or three persons, who were mentioned, and that led him to speak of good deeds and their reward.
“When one does not think of it, it is sure to come. The reward for good deeds is like dates that are spoken of in the Talmud, they ripen late and then are sweet.”
“Talmud,” asked Peer, “what sort of a book is that?”
“A book,” was the answer, “from which more than one seed of thought has been implanted in Christianity.”
“Who wrote the book?”
“Wise men in the earliest time; wise in various nations and religions. Here is wisdom enclosed in such words as one finds in Solomon’s Proverbs. What kernels of truth I One reads here that men round about the whole earth, in all the centuries, have always been the same. ‘Thy friend has a friend, and thy friend’s friend has a friend; be discreet in what you say,’ is found here. It is a piece of wisdom for all times. ‘No one can jump over his own shadow!’ is here too, and, ‘Wear shoes when you walk over thorns!’ You ought to read this book. You will find in it the proof of culture more clearly than you will discover cultivation of the soil in layers of earth. For me, as a Jew, it is besides an inheritance from my fathers.”
“Jew,” said Peer, “are you a Jew?”
“Did you not know that? How strange that we two should not have spoken of it before today.”
Mother and grandmother knew nothing about it either; they had never thought anything about it, but always had known that the singing-master was an honorable, unexceptionable man. It was in the providence of God that Peer had come in his way; next to our Lord he owed him all his fortune. And now the mother let out a secret, which she had carried faithfully a few days only, and which, under the pledge of secrecy, had been told her by the merchants lady. The singing-master was never to know that it was out; it was he who had paid for Peer’s support and education at Herr Gabriel’s. From the evening when, at the merchant’s house, he heard Peer sing the ballet “Samson,” he alone had been his real friend and benefactor but in secret.
Madam Court expected Peer to visit her at her house, and he went there.
“Now you shall know my Court,” said she, “and you shall make the acquaintance of my chimney-corner. I never dreamed of this when I danced in ‘Circe’ and ‘The Rose Elf in Provence.’ Indeed, there are not many now who think of that ballet and of little Frandsen. ‘Sic transit gloria in the moon,’ as they say in Latin. My Court is a witty fellow, and uses that phrase wheB I talk about my time of honor. He likes to poke fun at me, but he does it with a good heart.”
The “chimney-corner” was an inviting low-studded room, with a carpet on the floor, and an endless lot of portraits for a book-binder to have. There was a picture of Gutenberg, and one of Franklin, of Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, and the two blind poets, Homer and Ossian. Lowest down, hung, glazed and in a broad frame, one cut out in paper of a danseuse, with great spangles on a dress of gauze, the right leg lifted toward heaven, and written beneath a verse:—
“Who wins our hearts by her dancing?
Who of her wreath-trophies can sing,1
Mademoiselle Emilie Frandsen!”
It was written by Court, who wrote excellent verse, especially comic verse. He had himself clipped the picture out and pasted and sewed it before he got his first wife. It had lain many years in a drawer, now it flourished here in the poetic picture gallery; “my chimney-corner,” as Madam Court called her little room. Here were Peer and Court introduced to each other.
“Is he not a charming man?” said she to Peer. “To me he is just the most charming.”
“Ay, on a Sunday, when I am well bound in State clothes,” said Herr Court.
“You are charming without any binding,” said she, and then she tipped her head down as it came over her that she had spoken a little too childishly for one of her age.
“Old love does not rust,” said Herr Court. “An old house a-fire burns down to the ground.”
“It is as with the Phœnix,” said Madam Court; “one rises up young again. Here is my Paradise. I do not care at all to seek any other place, except an hour at your mother and grandmother’s.”
“And at your sister’s,” said Herr Court.
“No, angel Court; it is no longer any Paradise there. I must tell you, Peer, they live in narrow circumstances, but there is a great mingle-mangle about them for all that. No one knows what he dare say there in that house. One dare not mention the word ‘darkey,’ for the eldest daughter is beloved by one who has negro blood in him. One dare not say ‘hunchback,’ for that one of the children is. One dare not talk about ‘defalcation,’—my brother-in-law has been in that unfortunate way. One dare not even say that he has been driving in the wood: wood is an ugly sound, for it is just the same as Woods, who fought with the youngest son. I don’t like to go out and sit and hold my tongue. I don’t dare talk, so I just come back to my own house and sit in my chimney-corner. Were it not too emphatic, as they say, I would gladly ask our Lord to let us live as long as my chimney-corner holds out, for there one grows better. Here is my Paradise, and this my Court has given me.”
“She has a gold mill in her mouth,” said he.
“And thou hast gold grain in thy heart,” said she.
“Grind, grind all the bag will hold,
Milly’s the grain, Milly’s pure gold,”
said he, as he chucked her under the chin.
“That verse was written right on the spot! It ought to be printed!”
“Yes, and handsomely bound!” said he.
So these two old folks rallied each other.
A year passed before Peer began to study a rôle at the theatre. He chose “Joseph,” but he changed it for “George Brown,” in the opera of “The White Lady.” The words and music he quickly made his own, and from Walter Scott’s romance, which had furnished the material for the opera, he obtained a clear, full picture of the young, spirited officer who visits his native hills and comes to his ancestral castle without knowing it; an old song wakens recollections of his childhood; fortune attends him, and he wins a castle and his wife.
What he read became as if something which he himself had lived—a chapter of his own life’s story. The music, rich in melodies, was entirely in keeping. There was meanwhile a long, very long time before the first rehearsals began. The singing-master did not mean that there should be any hurry about his appearance, and at length he too understood this. He was not merely a singer, he was an actor; and his whole being was thrown into his character. The chorus and the orchestra at the very first applauded him loudly, and the evening of the representation was looked forward to with the greatest expectation.
“One can be a great actor in a night-gown at home,” said a good-natured companion; “can be very great by daylight, but only so-so before the lights in a full house. That you will see for yourself.”
Peer had no anxiety, but a strong desire for the eventful evening. The singing-master, on the contrary, was quite feverish. Peer’s mother had not the courage to go to the theatre; she would be ill with anxiety for her dear boy. Grandmother was sick, and must stay at home, the doctor had said; but the trusty friend Madam Court promised to bring the news the very same evening how it all went off. She should and would be at the theatre, even if she were to be in the last extremity.
How long the evening was! How the three or four hours stretched into eternity! Grandmother sang a psalm, and prayed with mother to the good God for their little Peer, that he might this evening also be Lucky Peer. The hands of the clock moved slowly.
“Now Peer is beginning,” they said; “now he is in the middle; now he has passed it.”
The mother and grandmother looked at one another, but they said never a word. In the streets there was the rumbling of carriages; people were driving home from the theatre. The two women looked down from the window; the people who were passing talked in loud voices; they were from the theatre, they knew, bringing good news or sorrow up into the garret of the merchant’s house.
At last some one came up the stairs. Madam Court burst in, followed by her husband. She flung herself on the necks of the mother and grandmother, but said never a word. She cried and sobbed.
“Lord God!” said mother and grandmother. “How has it gone with Peer?”
“Let me weep!” said Madam Court, so overcome was she. “I cannot bear it. Ah! you dear good people, you cannot bear it either!” and her tears streamed down.
“Have they hissed him off?” cried the mother.
“No, no! not that!” said Madam Court. “They have—oh, that I should live to see it!”
Then both mother and grandmother fell to weeping.
“Be calm, Emilie,” said Herr Court. “Peer has been victorious! He has triumphed! The house came near tumbling down, they clapped him so. I can feel it still in my hands. It was one storm of applause from pit to gallery. The entire royal family clapped too. Really, it was what one may call a white day in the annals of the theatre. It was more than talent—it was genius!”
“Ay, genius,” said Madam Court, “that is my word. God bless you, Court, that you spoke that word out. You dear good people, never would I have believed that one could so sing and act in comedy, and yet I have lived through a theatre’s whole history.” She cried again; the mother and grandmother laughed, whilst tears still chased down their cheeks.
“Now sleep well on that,” said Herr Court; “and now come, Emilie. Good-night! good-night!”
They left the garret-chamber and two happy people there; but these were not long alone. The door opened, and Peer, who had not promised to come before the next forenoon, stood in the room. He knew well with what thoughts the old people had followed him; how ignorant, too, they still must be of his success, and so, as he was driving past with the singing-master, he stopped outside; there were still lights up in the chamber, and so he must needs go up to them.
“Splendid! glorious! superb! all went off well!” he exclaimed jubilantly, and kissed his mother and grandmother. The singing-master nodded with a bright face and pressed their hands.
“And now he must go home to rest,” said he, and the visit was over.
“Our Father in Heaven, how gracious and good Thou art,” said these two poor women. They talked long into the night about Peer. Round about in the great town people talked of him,—the young, handsome, wonderful singer. So far had Peer’s fame gone.
The morning papers mentioned the début with a great flourish of trumpets as something more than common, and the dramatic reviewer reserved till another number his privilege of expressing his opinion. The merchant invited Peer and the singing-master to a grand dinner. It was an attention intended as a testimony of the interest which he and his wife felt in the young man, who was born in the house, and in the same year and on the very same day as their own son.
The merchant proposed the health of the singing-master, the man who had found and polished this “precious stone,” a name by which one of the prominent papers had called Peer. Felix sat by his side and was the soul of gayety and affection. After dinner he brought out his own cigars; they were better than the merchant’s; “he can afford to get them,” said that gentleman; “he has a rich father.” Peer did not smoke,—a great fault, but one that could easily be mended.
“We must be friends,” said Felix. “You have become the lion of the town! all the young ladies, and the old ones too, for that matter, you have taken by storm. You are a lucky fellow all over. I envy you; especially that you can go in and out over there at the theatre, among all the little girls.”
That did not now seem to Peer anything so very worthy of envy.
He had a letter from Madam Gabriel. She was in transports over the extravagant accounts in the papers of his début, and all that he was to become as an artist. She had drunk his health with her maids in a bowl of punch. Herr Gabriel also had a share in his honor, and was quite sure that he, beyond most others, spoke foreign words correctly.
The apothecary ran about town and reminded everybody that it was at their little theatre they had first seen and been amazed at his talent, which was now for the first time recognized at the capital.
“The apothecary’s daughter would be quite out of conceit with herself,” added Madam, “now that he could be courting Baronesses and Countesses.”
The apothecary’s daughter had been in too much of a hurry and given in too soon; she had been betrothed, a month since, to the fat counsellor. The bans had been published, and they were to be married on the twentieth of the month.
It was just the twentieth of the month when Peer received this letter. He seemed to himself to have been pierced through the heart. At that moment it was clear to him that, during all the vacillation of his soul, she had been his steadfast thought. He thought more of her than of all others in the world. Tears came into his eyes; he crumpled the letter in his hand. It was the first great grief of heart he had known since he heard, with mother and grandmother, that his father had fallen in the war. It seemed to him that all happiness had fled, and his future was dull and sorrowful. The sunlight no longer beamed from his youthful face; the sunshine was put out in his heart.
“He does not seem well,” said mother and grandmother. “It is the wear and tear of that theatre life.”
He was not the same as formerly, they both perceived, and the singing-master also saw it.
“What is the matter?” said he. “May I not know what troubles thee?”
At that his cheeks turned red, his tears flowed afresh, and he burst out with his sorrow, his loss.
“I loved her so earnestly!” said he. “Now, for the first time, when it is too late, I see it clearly.”
“Poor, troubled friend! I understand thee so well. Weep freely before me, and hold fast by the thought, as soon as thou canst, that what happens in the world happens best for us. I too have known and felt what you now are feeling. I too once, like you, loved a girl; she was discreet, she was pretty and fascinating; she was to be my wife. I could offer her good circumstances, but one condition before the marriage her parents required, and she required: I must become a Christian—!”
“And that you would not?”
“I could not. One cannot, with an honest conscience, jump from one religion to another without sinning either against the one he takes leave of or the one he steps into.”
“Have you no faith?” said Peer.
“I have the God of my fathers. He is a light for my feet and my understanding.”
They sat for an hour silent, both of them, Then their hands glanced over the keys, and the singing-master played an old folk song. Neither of them sang the words; each made his own thoughts underlie the music. Madam Gabriel’s letter was not again read. She little dreamed what sorrow it had carried.
A few days after there came a letter from Herr Gabriel; he also wished to offer his congratulations and “a commission.” It was this especially which had given occasion to the letter. He asked Peer to buy a little porcelain thing, namely, Amor and Hymen, Love and Marriage. “It is all sold out here in the town,” he wrote, “but easily to be got in the capital. The money goes with this. Send the thing along as quickly as possible: it is a wedding present for the counsellor, at whose marriage I was with my wife.” Finally Peer came to—“Young Madsen never will become a student: he has left the house, and has daubed the walls over with stale witticisms against the family. A hard subject that young Madsen. ‘Sunt pueri pueri, pueri puerilia tractant !’ i.e., ‘Boys are boys, and boys do boyish things.’ I translate it since you are not a Latinist,” and with that Herr Gabriel’s letter closed.
Note: The story continues The Lucky Peer Parts XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, and XVII