Erik was dripping with perspiration when he dismounted, and Lady Clare's glossy coat was flecked with foam. She was not aware, apparently, that if she had any reputation to ruin she had damaged it most effectually. Her behavior on the track and her treatment of the horse-dealer were by this time common property, and every dealer and fancier made a mental note that Lady Clare was the number in the catalogue which he would not bid on. All her beauty and her distinguished ancestry counted for nothing, as long as she had so uncertain a temper. Her sire, Potiphar, it appeared, had also been subject to the same infirmities of temper, and there was a strain of savagery in her blood which might crop out when you least expected it.
Accordingly, when a dozen fine horses had been knocked down at good prices, and Lady Clare's turn came, no one came forward to inspect her, and no one could be found to make a bid.
"Well, well, gentlemen," cried the auctioneer, "here we have a beautiful thoroughbred mare, the favorite mount of Her Royal Highness the Princess, and not a bid do I hear. She's a beauty, gentlemen, sired by the famous Potiphar who won the Epsom Handicap and no end of minor stakes. Take a look at her, gentlemen! Did you ever see a horse before that was raven black from nose to tail? I reckon you never did. But such a horse is Lady Clare. The man who can find a single white hair on her can have her for a gift. Come forward, gentlemen, come forward. Who will start her—say at five hundred?"
A derisive laugh ran through the crowd, and a voice was heard to cry, "Fifty."
"Fifty!" repeated the auctioneer, in a deeply grieved and injured tone; "fifty did you say, sir? Fifty? Did I hear rightly? I hope, for the sake of the honor of this fair city, that my ears deceived me."
Here came a long and impressive pause, during which the auctioneer, suddenly abandoning his dramatic manner, chatted familiarly with a gentleman who stood near him. The only one in the crowd whom he had impressed with the fact that the honor of the city was at stake in this sale was Erik Carstens. He had happily discovered a young and rich lieutenant of his father's company, and was trying to persuade him to bid in the mare for him.
"But, my dear boy," Lieutenant Thicker exclaimed, "what do you suppose the captain will say to me if I aid and abet his son in defying the paternal authority?"
"Oh, you needn't bother about that," Erik rejoined eagerly. "If father was at home, I believe he would allow me to buy this mare. But I am a minor yet, and the auctioneer would not accept my bid. Therefore I thought you might be kind enough to bid for me."
The lieutenant made no answer, but looked at the earnest face of the boy with unmistakable sympathy. The auctioneer assumed again an insulted, affronted, pathetically entreating or scornfully repelling tone, according as it suited his purpose; and the price of Lady Clare crawled slowly and reluctantly up from fifty to seventy dollars. There it stopped, and neither the auctioneer's tears nor his prayers could apparently coax it higher.
"Seventy dollars!" he cried, as if he were really too shocked to speak at all; "seven-ty dollars! Make it eighty! Oh, it is a sin and a shame, gentlemen, and the fair fame of this beautiful city is eternally ruined. It will become a wagging of the head and a byword among the nations. Sev-en-ty dollars!"—then hotly and indignantly—"seventy dollars!—fifth and last time, seventy dollars!"—here he raised his hammer threateningly—"seventy dollars!"
"One hundred!" cried a high boyish voice, and in an instant every neck was craned and every eye was turned toward the corner where Erik Carstens was standing, half hidden behind the broad figure of Lieutenant Thicker.
"Did I hear a hundred?" repeated the auctioneer, wonderingly. "May I ask who was the gentleman who said a hundred?"
An embarrassing silence followed. Erik knew that if he acknowledged the bid he would suffer the shame of having it refused. But his excitement and his solicitude for the fair fame of his native city had carried him away so completely that the words had escaped from his lips before he was fully aware of their import.
"May I ask," repeated the wielder of the hammer, slowly and emphatically, "may I ask the gentleman who offered one hundred dollars for Lady Clare to come forward and give his name?"
He now looked straight at Erik, who blushed to the edge of his hair, but did not stir from the spot. From sheer embarrassment he clutched the lieutenant's arm, and almost pinched it.
"Oh, I beg your pardon," the officer exclaimed, addressing the auctioneer, as if he had suddenly been aroused from a fit of abstraction; "I made the bid of one hundred dollars, or—or—at any rate, I make it now."
The same performance, intended to force up the price, was repeated once more, but with no avail, and at the end of two minutes Lady Clare was knocked down to Lieutenant Thicker.
"Now I have gone and done it like the blooming idiot that I am," observed the lieutenant, when Lady Clare was led into his stable by a liveried groom. "What an overhauling the captain will give me when he gets home."
"You need have no fear," Erik replied. "I'll sound father as soon as he gets home; and if he makes any trouble I'll pay you that one hundred dollars, with interest, the day I come of age."
Well, the captain came home, and having long had the intention to present his son with a saddle-horse, he allowed himself to be cajoled into approving of the bargain. The mare was an exquisite creature, if ever there was one, and he could well understand how Erik had been carried away; Lieutenant Thicker, instead of being hauled over the coals, as he had expected, received thanks for his kind and generous conduct toward the son of his superior officer. As for Erik himself, he had never had any idea that a boy's life could be so glorious as his was now. Mounted on that splendid, coal-black mare, he rode through the city and far out into the country at his father's side; and never did it seem to him that he had loved his father so well as he did during these afternoon rides. The captain was far from suspecting that in that episode of the purchase of Lady Clare his own relation to his son had been at stake. Not that Erik would not have obeyed his father, even if he had turned out his rough side and taken the lieutenant to task for his kindness; but their relation would in that case have lacked the warm intimacy (which in nowise excludes obedience and respect) and that last touch of devoted admiration which now bound them together.
That fine touch of sympathy in the captain's disposition which had enabled him to smile indulgently at his son's enthusiasm for the horse made the son doubly anxious not to abuse such kindness, and to do everything in his power to deserve the confidence which made his life so rich and happy. Though, as I have said, Captain Carstens lacked the acuteness to discover how much he owed to Lady Clare, he acknowledged himself in quite a different way her debtor. He had never really been aware what a splendid specimen of a boy his son was until he saw him on the back of that spirited mare, which cut up with him like the Old Harry, and yet never succeeded in flurrying, far less in unseating him. The captain felt a glow of affection warming his breast at the sight of this, and his pride in Erik's horsemanship proved a consolation to him when the boy's less distinguished performances at school caused him fret and worry.
"A boy so full of pluck must amount to something, even if he does not take kindly to Latin," he reflected many a time. "I am afraid I have made a mistake in having him prepared for college. In the army now, and particularly in the cavalry, he would make a reputation in twenty minutes."
And a cavalryman Erik might, perhaps, have become if his father had not been transferred to another post, and compelled to take up his residence in the country. It was nominally a promotion, but Captain Carstens was ill pleased with it, and even had some thought of resigning rather than give up his delightful city life, and move far northward into the region of cod and herring. However, he was too young a man to retire on a pension, as yet, and so he gradually reconciled himself to the thought, and sailed northward in the month of April with his son and his entire household. It had long been a question whether Lady Clare should make the journey with them; for Captain Carstens maintained that so high-bred an animal would be very sensitive to climatic changes and might even die on the way. Again, he argued that it was an absurdity to bring so fine a horse into a rough country, where the roads are poor and where nature, in mercy, provides all beasts with rough, shaggy coats to protect them from the cold. How would Lady Clare, with her glossy satin coat, her slender legs that pirouetted so daintily over the ground, and her exquisite head, which she carried so proudly—how would she look and what kind of figure would she cut among the shaggy, stunted, sedate-looking nags of the Sognefiord district? But the captain, though what he said was irrefutable, had to suspend all argument when he saw how utterly wretched Erik became at the mere thought of losing Lady Clare. So he took his chances; and, after having ordered blankets of three different thicknesses for three different kinds of weather, shipped the mare with the rest of his family for his new northern home.
As the weather proved unusually mild during the northward voyage Lady Clare arrived in Sogn without accident or adventure. And never in all her life had she looked more beautiful than she did when she came off the steamer, and half the population of the valley turned out to see her. It is no use denying that she was as vain as any other professional beauty, and the way she danced and pirouetted on the gangplank, when Erik led her on to the pier, filled the rustics with amazement. They had come to look at the new captain and his family; but when Lady Clare appeared she eclipsed the rest of the company so completely that no one had eyes for anybody but her. As the sun was shining and the wind was mild, Erik had taken off her striped overcoat (which covered her from nose to tail), for he felt in every fibre of his body the sensation she was making, and blushed with pleasure as if the admiring exclamations had been intended for himself.
"Look at that horse," cried young and old, with eyes as big as saucers, pointing with their fingers at Lady Clare.
"Handsome carcass that mare has," remarked a stoutish man, who knew what he was talking about; "and head and legs to match."
"She beats your Valders-Roan all hollow, John Garvestad," said a young tease who stood next to him in the crowd.
"My Valders-Roan has never seen his match yet, and never will, according to my reckoning," answered John Garvestad.
"Ho! ho!" shouted the young fellow, with a mocking laugh; "that black mare is a hand taller at the very least, and I bet you she's a high-flyer. She has got the prettiest legs I ever clapped eyes on."
"They'd snap like clay pipes in the mountains," replied Garvestad, contemptuously.
Erik, as he blushingly ascended the slope to his new home, leading Lady Clare by a halter, had no suspicion of the sentiments which she had aroused in John Garvestad's breast. He was only blissfully conscious of the admiration she had excited; and he promised himself a good deal of fun in future in showing off his horsemanship. He took Lady Clare to the stable, where a new box-stall had been made for her, examined the premises carefully and nailed a board over a crevice in the wall where he suspected a draught. He instructed Anders, the groom, with emphatic and anxious repetitions regarding her care, showed him how to make Lady Clare's bed, how to comb her mane, how to brush her (for she refused to endure currying), how to blanket her, and how to read the thermometer which he nailed to one of the posts of the stall. The latter proved to be a more difficult task than he had anticipated; and the worst of it was that he was not sure that Anders knew any more on the subject of his instruction at the end of the lesson than he had at the beginning. To make sure that he had understood him he asked him to enter the stall and begin the process of grooming. But no sooner had the unhappy fellow put his nose inside the door than Lady Clare laid back her ears in a very ugly fashion, and with a vicious whisk of her tail waltzed around and planted two hoof-marks in the door, just where the groom's nose had that very instant vanished. A second and a third trial had similar results; and as the box-stall was new and of hard wood, Erik had no wish to see it further damaged.
"I won't have nothin' to do with that hoss, that's as certain as my name is Anders," the groom declared; and Erik, knowing that persuasion would be useless, had henceforth to be his own groom. The fact was he could not help sympathizing with that fastidiousness of Lady Clare which made her object to be handled by coarse fingers and roughly curried, combed, and washed like a common plebeian nag. One does not commence life associating with a princess for nothing. Lady Clare, feeling in every nerve her high descent and breeding, had perhaps a sense of having come down in the world, and, like many another irrational creature of her sex, she kicked madly against fate and exhibited the unloveliest side of her character. But with all her skittishness and caprice she was steadfast in one thing, and that was her love for Erik. As the days went by in country monotony, he began to feel it as a privilege rather than a burden to have the exclusive care of her. The low, friendly neighing with which she always greeted him, as soon as he opened the stable-door, was as intelligible and dear to him as the warm welcome of a friend. And when with dainty alertness she lifted her small, beautiful head, over which the fine net-work of veins meandered, above the top of the stall, and rubbed her nose caressingly against his cheek, before beginning to snuff at his various pockets for the accustomed lump of sugar, he felt a glow of affection spread from his heart and pervade his whole being. Yes, he loved this beautiful animal with a devotion which, a year ago, he would scarcely have thought it possible to bestow upon a horse. No one could have persuaded him that Lady Clare had not a soul which (whether it was immortal or not) was, at all events, as distinct and clearly defined as that of any person with whom he was acquainted. She was to him a personality—a dear, charming friend, with certain defects of character (as who has not?) which were, however, more than compensated for by her devotion to him. She was fastidious, quick-tempered, utterly unreasonable where her feelings were involved; full of aristocratic prejudice, which only her sex could excuse; and whimsical, proud, and capricious. It was absurd, of course, to contend that these qualities were in themselves admirable; but, on the other hand, few of us would not consent to overlook them in a friend who loved us as well as Lady Clare loved Erik.
The fame of Lady Clare spread through the parish like fire in withered grass. People came from afar to look at her, and departed full of wonder at her beauty. When the captain and his son rode together to church on Sunday morning, men, women, and children stood in rows at the roadside staring at the wonderful mare as if she had been a dromedary or a rhinoceros. And when she was tied in the clergyman's stable a large number of the men ignored the admonition of the church bells and missed the sermon, being unable to tear themselves away from Lady Clare's charms. But woe to him who attempted to take liberties with her; there were two or three horsy young men who had narrow escapes from bearing the imprint of her iron shoes for the rest of their days.
That taught the others a lesson, and now Lady Clare suffered from no annoying familiarities, but was admired at a respectful distance, until the pastor, vexed at her rivalry with his sermon, issued orders to have the stable-door locked during service.
There was one person besides the pastor who was ill pleased at the reputation Lady Clare was making. That was John Garvestad, the owner of Valders-Roan. John was the richest man in the parish, and always made a point of keeping fine horses. Valders-Roan, a heavily built, powerful horse, with a tremendous neck and chest and long tassels on his fetlocks, but rather squat in the legs, had hitherto held undisputed rank as the finest horse in all Sogn. By the side of Lady Clare he looked as a stout, good-looking peasant lad with coltish manners might have looked by the side of the daughter of a hundred earls.
But John Garvestad, who was naturally prejudiced in favor of his own horse, could scarcely be blamed for failing to recognize her superiority. He knew that formerly, on Sundays, the men were wont to gather with admiring comment about Valders-Roan; while now they stood craning their necks, peering through the windows of the parson's stable, in order to catch a glimpse of Lady Clare, and all the time Valders-Roan was standing tied to the fence, in full view of all, utterly neglected. This spectacle filled him with such ire that he hardly could control himself. His first impulse was to pick a quarrel with Erik; but a second and far brighter idea presently struck him. He would buy Lady Clare. Accordingly, when the captain and his son had mounted their horses and were about to start on their homeward way, Garvestad, putting Valders-Roan to his trumps, dug his heels into his sides and rode up with a great flourish in front of the churchyard gate.
"How much will you take for that mare of yours, captain?" he asked, as he checked his charger with unnecessary vigor close to Lady Clare.
"She is not mine to sell," the captain replied. "Lady Clare belongs to my son."
"Well, what will you take for her, then?" Garvestad repeated, swaggeringly, turning to Erik.
"Not all the gold in the world could buy her," retorted Erik, warmly.
Valders-Roan, unable to resist the charms of Lady Clare, had in the meanwhile been making some cautious overtures toward an acquaintance. He arched his mighty neck, rose on his hind legs, while his tremendous forehoofs were beating the air, and cut up generally—all for Lady Clare's benefit.
She, however, having regarded his performances for awhile with a mild and somewhat condescending interest, grew a little tired of them and looked out over the fiord, as a belle might do, with a suppressed yawn, when her cavalier fails to entertain her. Valders-Roan, perceiving the slight, now concluded to make more decided advances. So he put forward his nose until it nearly touched Lady Clare's, as if he meant to kiss her. But that was more than her ladyship was prepared to put up with. Quick as a flash she flung herself back on her haunches, down went her ears, and hers was the angriest horse's head that ever had been seen in that parish. With an indignant snort she wheeled around, kicking up a cloud of dust by the suddenness of the manoeuvre. A less skilled rider than Erik would inevitably have been thrown by two such unforeseen jerks; and the fact was he had all he could do to keep his seat.
"Oho!" shouted Garvestad, "your mare shies; she'll break your neck some day, as likely as not. You had better sell her before she gets you into trouble."
"But I shouldn't like to have your broken neck on my conscience," Erik replied; "if necks are to be broken by Lady Clare I should prefer to have it be my own."
The peasant was not clever enough to make out whether this was jest or earnest. With a puzzled frown he stared at the youth and finally broke out:
"Then you won't sell her at no price? Anyway, the day you change your mind don't forget to notify John Garvestad. If it's spondulix you are after, then here's where there's plenty of 'em."
He slapped his left breast-pocket with a great swagger, looking around to observe the impression he was making on his audience; then, jerking the bridle violently, so as to make his horse rear, he rode off like Alexander on Bucephalus, and swung down upon the highway.
It was but a few weeks after this occurrence that Captain Carstens and his son were invited to honor John Garvestad by their presence at his wedding. They were in doubt, at first, as to whether they ought to accept the invitation; for some unpleasant rumors had reached them, showing that Garvestad entertained unfriendly feelings toward them. He was an intensely vain man; and the thought that Erik Carstens had a finer horse than Valders-Roan left him no peace. He had been heard to say repeatedly that, if that high-nosed youth persisted in his refusal to sell the mare, he would discover his mistake when, perhaps, it would be too late to have it remedied. Whatever that meant, it sufficed to make both Erik and his father uneasy. But, on the other hand, it would be the worst policy possible, under such circumstances, to refuse the invitation. For that would be interpreted either as fear or as aristocratic exclusiveness; and the captain, while he was new in the district, was as anxious to avoid the appearance of the one as of the other. Accordingly he accepted the invitation and on the appointed day rode with his son into the wide yard of John Garvestad's farm, stopping at the pump, where they watered their horses. It was early in the afternoon, and both the house and the barn were thronged with wedding-guests. From the sitting-room the strains of two fiddles were heard, mingled with the scraping and stamping of heavy feet.
Another musical performance was in progress in the barn; and all over the yard elderly men and youths were standing in smaller and larger groups, smoking their pipes and tasting the beer-jugs, which were passed from hand to hand. But the moment Lady Clare was seen all interest in minor concerns ceased, and with one accord the crowd moved toward her, completely encircling her, and viewing her with admiring glances that appreciated all her perfections.
"Did you ever see cleaner-shaped legs on a horse?" someone was heard to say, and instantly his neighbor in the crowd joined the chorus of praise, and added: "What a snap and spring there is in every bend of her knee and turn of her neck and flash of her eye!"
It was while this chorus of admiration was being sung in all keys and tones of the whole gamut, that the bridegroom came out of the house, a little bit tipsy, perhaps, from the many toasts he had been obliged to drink, and bristling with pugnacity to the ends of his fingers and the tips of his hair. Every word of praise that he heard sounded in his ears like a jeer and an insult to himself. With ruthless thrusts he elbowed his way through the throng of guests and soon stood in front of the two horses, from which the captain and Erik had not yet had a chance to dismount. He returned their greeting with scant courtesy and plunged instantly into the matter which he had on his mind.
"I reckon you have thought better of my offer by this time," he said, with a surly swagger, to Erik. "What do you hold your mare at to-day?"
"I thought we had settled that matter once for all," the boy replied, quietly. "I have no more intention of selling Lady Clare now than I ever had."
"Then will ye trade her off for Valders-Roan?" ejaculated Garvestad, eagerly.
"No, I won't trade her for Valders-Roan or any other horse in creation."
"Don't be cantankerous, now, young fellow, or you might repent of it."
"I am not cantankerous. But I beg of you kindly to drop this matter. I came here, at your invitation, as a guest at your wedding, not for the purpose of trading horses."
It was an incautious speech, and was interpreted by everyone present as a rebuke to the bridegroom for his violation of the rules of hospitality. The captain, anxious to avoid a row, therefore broke in, in a voice of friendly remonstrance: "My dear Mr. Garvestad, do let us drop this matter. If you will permit us, we should like to dismount and drink a toast to your health, wishing you a long life and much happiness."
"Ah, yes, I understand your smooth palaver," the bridegroom growled between his teeth. "I have stood your insolence long enough, and, by jingo, I won't stand it much longer. What will ye take for your mare, I say, or how much do you want to boot, if you trade her for Valders-Roan?"
He shouted the last words with furious emphasis, holding his clinched fist up toward Erik, and glaring at him savagely.
But now Lady Clare, who became frightened perhaps by the loud talk and violent gestures, began to rear and plunge, and by an unforeseen motion knocked against the bridegroom, so that he fell backward into the horse-trough under the pump, which was full of water. The wedding-guests had hardly time to realize what was happening when a great splash sent the water flying into their faces, and the burly form of John Garvestad was seen sprawling helplessly in the horse-trough. But then—then they realized it with a vengeance. And a laugh went up—a veritable storm of laughter—which swept through the entire crowd and re-echoed with a ghostly hilarity from the mountains. John Garvestad in the meanwhile had managed to pick himself out of the horse-trough, and while he stood snorting, spitting, and dripping, Captain Carstens and his son politely lifted their hats to him and rode away. But as they trotted out of the gate they saw their host stretch a big clinched fist toward them, and heard him scream with hoarse fury: "I'll make ye smart for that some day, so help me God!"
Lady Clare was not sent to the mountains in the summer, as are nearly all horses in the Norwegian country districts. She was left untethered in an enclosed home pasture about half a mile from the mansion. Here she grazed, rolled, kicked up her heels, and gambolled to her heart's content. During the long, bright summer nights, when the sun scarcely dips beneath the horizon and reappears in an hour, clothed in the breezy garments of morning, she was permitted to frolic, race, and play all sorts of improvised games with a shaggy, little, plebeian three-year-old colt whom she had condescended to honor with her acquaintance. This colt must have had some fine feeling under his rough coat, for he never presumed in the least upon the acquaintance, being perhaps aware of the honor it conferred upon him. He allowed himself to be abused, ignored, or petted, as it might suit the pleasure of her royal highness, with a patient, even-tempered good-nature which was admirable. When Lady Clare (perhaps for fear of making him conceited) took no notice of him, he showed neither resentment nor surprise, but walked off with a sheepish shake of his head. Thus he slowly learned the lesson to make no exhibition of feeling at the sight of his superior; not to run up and greet her with a disrespectfully joyous whinny; but calmly wait for her to recognize him before appearing to be aware of her presence. It took Lady Clare several months to accustom Shag (for that was the colt's name) to her ways. She taught him unconsciously the rudiments of good manners; but he proved himself docile, and when he once had been reduced to his proper place he proved a fairly acceptable companion.
During the first and second week after John Garvestad's wedding Erik had kept Lady Clare stabled, having a vague fear that the angry peasant might intend to do her harm. But she whinnied so pitifully through the long light nights that finally he allowed his compassion to get the better of his anxiety, and once more she was seen racing madly about the field with Shag, whom she always beat so ignominiously that she felt half sorry for him, and as a consolation allowed him gently to claw her mane with his teeth. This was a privilege which Shag could not fail to appreciate, though she never offered to return the favor by clawing him. At any rate, as soon as Lady Clare reappeared in the meadow Shag's cup of bliss seemed to be full.
A week passed in this way, nothing happened, and Erik's vigilance was relaxed. He went to bed on the evening of July 10th with an easy mind, without the remotest apprehension of danger. The sun set about ten o'clock, and Lady Clare and Shag greeted its last departing rays with a whinny, accompanied by a wanton kickup from the rear—for whatever Lady Clare did Shag felt in honor bound to do, and was conscious of no disgrace in his abject and ape-like imitation. They had spent an hour, perhaps, in such delightful performances, when all of a sudden they were startled by a deep bass whinny, which rumbled and shook like distant thunder. Then came the tramp, tramp, tramp of heavy hoof-beats, which made the ground tremble. Lady Clare lifted her beautiful head and looked with fearless curiosity in the direction whence the sound came. Shag, of course, did as nearly as he could exactly the same. What they saw was a big roan horse with an enormous arched neck, squat feet, and long-tasselled fetlocks.
Lady Clare had no difficulty in recognizing Valders-Roan. But how big and heavy and ominous he looked in the blood-red after-glow of the blood-red sunset. For the first time in her life Lady Clare felt a cold shiver of fear run through her. There was, happily, a fence between them, and she devoutly hoped that Valders-Roan was not a jumper. At that moment, however, two men appeared next to the huge horse, and Lady Clare heard the sound of breaking fence-rails. The deep hoarse whinny once more made the air shake, and it made poor Lady Clare shake too, for now she saw Valders-Roan come like a whirlwind over the field, and so powerful were his hoof-beats that a clod of earth which had stuck to one of his shoes shot like a bullet through the air.
He looked so gigantic, so brimming with restrained strength, and somehow Lady Clare, as she stood quaking at the sight of him, had never seemed to herself so dainty, frail, and delicate as she seemed in this moment. She felt herself so entirely at his mercy; she was no match for him surely. Shag, anxious as ever to take his cue from her, had stationed himself at her side, and shook his head and whisked his tail in a non-committal manner. Now Valders-Roan had cleared the fence where the men had broken it down; then on he came again, tramp, tramp, tramp, until he was within half a dozen paces from Lady Clare. There he stopped, for back went Lady Clare's pretty ears, while she threw herself upon her haunches in an attitude of defence. She was dimly aware that this was a foolish thing to do, but her inbred disdain and horror of everything rough made her act on instinct instead of reason. Valders-Roan, irritated by this uncalled-for action, now threw ceremony to the winds, and without further ado trotted up and rubbed his nose against hers. That was more than Lady Clare could stand. With an hysterical snort she flung herself about, and up flew her heels straight into the offending nose, inflicting considerable damage. Shag, being now quite clear that the programme was fight, whisked about in exactly the same manner, with as close an imitation of Lady Clare's snort as he could produce, and a second pair of steel-shod heels came within a hair of reducing the enemy's left nostril to the same condition as the right. But alas for the generous folly of youth! Shag had to pay dearly for that exhibition of devotion. Valders-Roan, enraged by this wanton insult, made a dash at Shag, and by the mere impetus of his huge bulk nearly knocked him senseless. The colt rolled over, flung all his four legs into the air, and as soon as he could recover his footing reeled sideways like a drunken man and made haste to retire to a safe distance.
Valders-Roan had now a clear field and could turn his undivided attention to Lady Clare. I am not sure that he had not made an example of Shag merely to frighten her. Bounding forward with his mighty chest expanded and the blood dripping from his nostrils, he struck out with a tremendous hind leg and would have returned Lady Clare's blow with interest if she had not leaped high into the air. She had just managed by her superior alertness to dodge that deadly hoof, and was perhaps not prepared for an instant renewal of the attack. But she had barely gotten her four feet in contact with the sod when two rows of terrific teeth plunged into her withers. The pain was frightful, and with a long, pitiful scream Lady Clare sank down upon the ground, and, writhing with agony, beat the air with her hoofs. Shag, who had by this time recovered his senses, heard the noise of the battle, and, plucking up his courage, trotted bravely forward against the victorious Valders-Roan. He was so frightened that his heart shot up into his throat. But there lay Lady Clare mangled and bleeding. He could not leave her in the lurch, so forward he came, trembling, just as Lady Clare was trying to scramble to her feet. Led away by his sympathy Shag bent his head down toward her and thereby prevented her from rising. And in the same instant a stunning blow hit him straight in the forehead, a shower of sparks danced before his eyes, and then Shag saw and heard no more. A convulsive quiver ran through his body, then he stretched out his neck on the bloody grass, heaved a sigh, and died.
Lady Clare, seeing Shag killed by the blow which had been intended for herself, felt her blood run cold. She was strongly inclined to run, for she could easily beat the heavy Valders-Roan at a race, and her fleet legs might yet save her. I cannot say whether it was a generous wrath at the killing of her humble champion or a mere blind fury which overcame this inclination. But she knew now neither pain nor fear. With a shrill scream she rushed at Valders-Roan, and for five minutes a whirling cloud of earth and grass and lumps of sod moved irregularly over the field, and tails, heads, and legs were seen flung and tossed madly about, while an occasional shriek of rage or of pain startled the night, and re-echoed with a weird resonance between the mountains.
It was about five o'clock in the morning of July 11th, that Erik awoke, with a vague sense that something terrible had happened. His groom was standing at his bedside with a terrified face, doubtful whether to arouse his young master or allow him to sleep.
"What has happened, Anders?" cried Erik, tumbling out of bed.
"Lady Clare, sir——"
"Lady Clare!" shouted the boy. "What about her? Has she been stolen?"
"No, I reckon not," drawled Anders.
"Then she's dead! Quick, tell me what you know or I shall go crazy!"
"No; I can't say for sure she's dead either," the groom stammered, helplessly.
Erik, being too stunned with grief and pain, tumbled in a dazed fashion about the room, and scarcely knew how he managed to dress. He felt cold, shivery, and benumbed; and the daylight had a cruel glare in it which hurt his eyes. Accompanied by his groom, he hastened to the home pasture, and saw there the evidence of the fierce battle which had raged during the night. A long, black, serpentine track, where the sod had been torn up by furious hoof-beats, started from the dead carcass of the faithful Shag and moved with irregular breaks and curves up toward the gate that connected the pasture with the underbrush of birch and alder. Here the fence had been broken down, and the track of the fight suddenly ceased. A pool of blood had soaked into the ground, showing that one of the horses, and probably the victor, must have stood still for a while, allowing the vanquished to escape.
Erik had no need of being told that the horse which had attacked Lady Clare was Valders-Roan; and though he would scarcely have been able to prove it, he felt positive that John Garvestad had arranged and probably watched the fight. Having a wholesome dread of jail, he had not dared to steal Lady Clare; but he had chosen this contemptible method to satisfy his senseless jealousy. It was all so cunningly devised as to baffle legal inquiry. Valders-Roan had gotten astray, and being a heavy beast, had broken into a neighbor's field and fought with his filly, chasing her away into the mountains. That was the story he would tell, of course, and as there had been no witnesses present, there was no way of disproving it.
Abandoning, however, for the time being all thought of revenge, Erik determined to bend all his energies to the recovery of Lady Clare. He felt confident that she had run away from her assailant, and was now roaming about in the mountains. He therefore organized a search party of all the male servants on the estate, besides a couple of volunteers, making in all nine. On the evening of the first day's search they put up at a saeter or mountain chalet. Here they met a young man named Tollef Morud, who had once been a groom at John Garvestad's. This man had a bad reputation; and as the idea occurred to some of them that he might know something about Lady Clare's disappearance, they questioned him at great length, without, however, eliciting a single crumb of information.
For a week the search was continued, but had finally to be given up. Weary, footsore, and heavy hearted, Erik returned home. His grief at the loss of Lady Clare began to tell on his health; and his perpetual plans for getting even with John Garvestad amounted almost to a mania, and caused his father both trouble and anxiety. It was therefore determined to send him to the military academy in the capital.
Four or five years passed and Erik became a lieutenant. It was during the first year after his graduation from the military academy that he was invited to spend the Christmas holidays with a friend, whose parents lived on a fine estate about twenty miles from the city. Seated in their narrow sleighs, which were drawn by brisk horses, they drove merrily along, shouting to each other to make their voices heard above the jingling of the bells. About eight o'clock in the evening, when the moon was shining brightly and the snow sparkling, they turned in at a wayside tavern to order their supper. Here a great crowd of lumbermen had congregated, and all along the fences their overworked, half-broken-down horses stood, shaking their nose-bags. The air in the public room was so filled with the fumes of damp clothes and bad tobacco that Erik and his friend, while waiting for their meal, preferred to spend the time under the radiant sky. They were sauntering about, talking in a desultory fashion, when all of a sudden a wild, joyous whinny rang out upon the startled air.
It came from a rusty, black, decrepit-looking mare hitched to a lumber sleigh which they had just passed. Erik, growing very serious, paused abruptly.
A second whinny, lower than the first, but almost alluring and cajoling, was so directly addressed to Erik that he could not help stepping up to the mare and patting her on the nose.
"You once had a horse you cared a great deal for, didn't you?" his friend remarked, casually.
"Oh, don't speak about it," answered Erik, in a voice that shook with emotion; "I loved Lady Clare as I never loved any creature in this world—except my father, of course," he added, reflectively.
But what was the matter with the old lumber nag? At the sound of the name Lady Clare she pricked up her ears, and lifted her head with a pathetic attempt at alertness. With a low, insinuating neighing she rubbed her nose against the lieutenant's cheek. He had let his hand glide over her long, thin neck, when quite suddenly his fingers slid into a deep scar in the withers.
"My God!" he cried, while the tears started to his eyes, "am I awake, or am I dreaming?"
"What in the world is the matter?" inquired his comrade, anxiously.
"It is Lady Clare! By the heavens, it is Lady Clare!"
"That old ramshackle of a lumber nag whose every rib you can count through her skin is your beautiful thoroughbred?" ejaculated his friend, incredulously. "Come now, don't be a goose."
"I'll tell you of it some other time," said Erik, quietly; "but there's not a shadow of a doubt that this is Lady Clare."
Yes, strange as it may seem, it was indeed Lady Clare. But oh, who would have recognized in this skeleton, covered with a rusty-black skin and tousled mane and forelock in which chaff and dirt were entangled—who would have recognized in this drooping and rickety creature the proud, the dainty, the exquisite Lady Clare? Her beautiful tail, which had once been her pride, was now a mere scanty wisp; and a sharp, gnarled ridge running along the entire length of her back showed every vertebra of her spine through the notched and scarred skin. Poor Lady Clare, she had seen hard usage. But now the days of her tribulations are at an end. It did not take Erik long to find the half-tipsy lumberman who was Lady Clare's owner; nor to agree with him on the price for which he was willing to part with her.
There is but little more to relate. By interviews and correspondence with the different parties through whose hands the mare had passed, Erik succeeded in tracing her to Tollef Morud, the ex-groom of John Garvestad. On being promised immunity from prosecution, he was induced to confess that he had been hired by his former master to arrange the nocturnal fight between Lady Clare and Valders-Roan, and had been paid ten dollars for stealing the mare when she had been sufficiently damaged. John Garvestad had himself watched the fight from behind the fence, and had laughed fit to split his sides, until Valders-Roan seemed on the point of being worsted. Then he had interfered to separate them, and Tollef had led Lady Clare away, bleeding from a dozen wounds, and had hidden her in a deserted lumberman's shed near the saeter where the searchers had overtaken him.
Having obtained these facts, Erik took pains to let John Garvestad know that the chain of evidence against him was complete, and if he had had his own way he would not have rested until his enemy had suffered the full penalty of the law. But John Garvestad, suspecting what was in the young man's mind, suddenly divested himself of his pride, and cringing dike a whipped dog, came and asked Erik's pardon, entreating him not to prosecute.
As for Lady Clare, she never recovered her lost beauty. A pretty fair-looking mare she became, to be sure, when good feeding and careful grooming had made her fat and glossy once more. A long and contented old age is, no doubt, in store for her. Having known evil days, she appreciates the blessings which the change in her fate has brought her. The captain declares she is the best-tempered and steadiest horse in his stable.
"Oh, you never will amount to anything, Bonnyboy!" said Bonnyboy's father, when he had vainly tried to show him how to use a gouge; for Bonnyboy had just succeeded in gouging a piece out of his hand, and was standing helplessly, letting his blood drop on an engraving of Napoleon at Austerlitz, which had been sent to his father for framing. The trouble with Bonnyboy was that he was not only awkward—left-handed in everything he undertook, as his father put it—but he was so very good-natured that it was impossible to get angry with him. His large blue innocent eyes had a childlike wonder in them, when he had done anything particularly stupid, and he was so willing and anxious to learn, that his ill-success seemed a reason for pity rather than for wrath. Grim Norvold, Bonnyboy's father, was by trade a carpenter, and handy as he was at all kinds of tinkering, he found it particularly exasperating to have a son who was so left-handed. There was scarcely anything Grim could not do. He could take a watch apart and put it together again; he could mend a harness if necessary; he could make a wagon; nay, he could even doctor a horse when it got spavin or glanders. He was a sort of jack-of-all-trades, and a very useful man in a valley where mechanics were few and transportation difficult. He loved work for its own sake, and was ill at ease when he had not a tool in his hand. The exercise of his skill gave him a pleasure akin to that which the fish feels in swimming, the eagle in soaring, and the lark in singing. A finless fish, a wingless eagle, or a dumb lark could not have been more miserable than Grim was when a succession of holidays, like Easter or Christmas, compelled him to be idle.
When his son was born his chief delight was to think of the time when he should be old enough to handle a tool, and learn the secrets of his father's trade. Therefore, from the time the boy was old enough to sit or to crawl in the shavings without getting his mouth and eyes full of sawdust, he gave him a place under the turning bench, and talked or sang to him while he worked. And Bonnyboy, in the meanwhile amused himself by getting into all sorts of mischief. If it had not been for the belief that a good workman must grow up in the atmosphere of the shop, Grim would have lost patience with his son and sent him back to his mother, who had better facilities for taking care of him. But the fact was he was too fond of the boy to be able to dispense with him, and he would rather bear the loss resulting from his mischief than miss his prattle and his pretty dimpled face.
It was when the child was eighteen or nineteen months old that he acquired the name Bonnyboy. A woman of the neighborhood, who had called at the shop with some article of furniture which she wanted to have mended, discovered the infant in the act of investigating a pot of blue paint, with a part of which he had accidentally decorated his face.
"Good gracious! what is that ugly thing you have got under your turning bench?" she cried, staring at the child in amazement.
"No, he is not an ugly thing," replied the father, with resentment; "he is a bonny boy, that's what he is."
The woman, in order to mollify Grim, turned to the boy, and asked, with her sweetest manner, "What is your name, child?"
"Bonny boy," murmured the child, with a vaguely offended air—"bonny boy."
And from that day the name Bonnyboy clung to him.
To teach Bonnyboy the trade of a carpenter was a task which would have exhausted the patience of all the saints in the calendar. If there was any possible way of doing a thing wrong, Bonnyboy would be sure to hit upon that way. When he was eleven years old he chopped off the third joint of the ring-finger on his right hand with a cutting tool while working the turning-lathe; and by the time he was fourteen it seemed a marvel to his father that he had any fingers left at all. But Bonnyboy persevered in spite of all difficulties, was always cheerful and of good courage, and when his father, in despair, exclaimed: "Well, you will never amount to anything, Bonnyboy," he would look up with his slow, winning smile and say:
"Don't worry, father. Better luck next time."
"But, my dear boy, how can I help worrying, when you don't learn anything by which you can make your living?"
"Oh, well, father," said Bonnyboy, soothingly (for he was beginning to feel sorry on his father's account rather than on his own), "I wouldn't bother about that if I were you. I don't worry a bit. Something will turn up for me to do, sooner or later."
"But you'll do it badly, Bonnyboy, and then you won't get a second chance. And then, who knows but you may starve to death. You'll chop off the fingers you have left; and when I am dead and can no longer look after you, I am very much afraid you'll manage to chop off your head too."
"Well," observed Bonnyboy, cheerfully, "in that case I shall not starve to death."
Grim had to laugh in spite of himself at the paternal way in which his son comforted him, as if he were the party to be pitied. Bonnyboy's unfailing cheerfulness, which had its great charm, began to cause him uneasiness, because he feared it was but another form of stupidity. A cleverer boy would have been sorry for his mistakes and anxious about his own future. But Bonnyboy looked into the future with the serene confidence of a child, and nothing under the sun ever troubled him, except his father's tendency to worry. For he was very fond of his father, and praised him as a paragon of skill and excellence. He lavished an abject admiration on everything he did and said. His dexterity in the use of tools, and his varied accomplishments as a watch-maker and a horse-doctor, filled Bonnyboy with ungrudging amazement. He knew it was a hopeless thing for him to aspire to rival such genius, and he took the thing philosophically, and did not aspire.
It occurred to Grim one day, when Bonnyboy had made a most discouraging exhibition of his awkwardness, that it might be a good thing to ask the pastor's advice in regard to him. The pastor had had a long experience in educating children, and his own, though they were not all clever, promised to turn out well. Accordingly Grim called at the parsonage, was well received, and returned home charged to the muzzle with good advice. The pastor lent him a book full of stories, and recommended him to read them to his son, and afterward question him about every single fact which each story contained. This the pastor had found to be a good way to develop the intellect of a backward boy.
When Bonnyboy had been confirmed, the question again rose what was to become of him. He was now a tall young fellow, red-checked, broad-shouldered, and strong, and rather nice-looking. A slow, good-natured smile spread over his face when anyone spoke to him, and he had a way of flinging his head back, when the tuft of yellow hair which usually hung down over his forehead obscured his sight. Most people liked him, even though they laughed at him behind his back; but to his face nobody laughed, because his strength inspired respect. Nor did he know what fear was when he was roused; but that was probably, as people thought, because he did not know much of anything. At any rate, on a certain occasion he showed that there was a limit to his good-nature, and when that limit was reached, he was not as harmless a fellow as he looked.
On the neighboring farm of Gimlehaug there was a wedding to which Grim and his son were invited. On the afternoon of the second wedding day—for peasant weddings in Norway are often celebrated for three days—a notorious bully named Ola Klemmerud took it into his head to have some sport with the big good-natured simpleton. So, by way of pleasantry, he pulled the tuft of hair which hung down upon Bonnyboy's forehead.
"Don't do that," said Bonnyboy.
Ola Klemmerud chuckled, and the next time he passed Bonnyboy, pinched his ear.
"If you do that again I sha'n't like you," cried Bonnyboy.
The innocence of that remark made the people laugh, and the bully, seeing that their sympathy was on his side, was encouraged to continue his teasing. Taking a few dancing steps across the floor, he managed to touch Bonnyboy's nose with the toe of his boot, which feat again was rewarded with a burst of laughter. The poor lad quietly blew his nose, wiped the perspiration off his brow with a red handkerchief, and said, "Don't make me mad, Ola, or I might hurt you."
This speech struck the company as being immensely funny, and they laughed till the tears ran down their cheeks. At this moment Grim entered, and perceived at once that Ola Klemmerud was amusing the company at his son's expense. He grew hot about his ears, clinched his teeth, and stared challengingly at the bully. The latter began to feel uncomfortable, but he could not stop at this point without turning the laugh against himself, and that he had not the courage to do. So in order to avoid rousing the father's wrath, and yet preserving his own dignity, he went over to Bonnyboy, rumpled his hair with both his hands, and tweaked his nose. This appeared such innocent sport, according to his notion, that no rational creature could take offence at it. But Grim, whose sense of humor was probably defective, failed to see it in that light.
"Let the boy alone," he thundered.
"Well, don't bite my head off, old man," replied Ola. "I haven't hurt your fool of a boy. I have only been joking with him."
"I don't think you are troubled with overmuch wit yourself, judging by the style of your jokes," was Grim's cool retort.
The company, who plainly saw that Ola was trying to wriggle out of his difficulty, but were anxious not to lose an exciting scene, screamed with laughter again; but this time at the bully's expense. The blood mounted to his head, and his anger got the better of his natural cowardice. Instead of sneaking off, as he had intended, he wheeled about on his heel and stood for a moment irresolute, clinching his fist in his pocket.
"Why don't you take your lunkhead of a son home to his mother, if he isn't bright enough to understand fun!" he shouted.
"Now let me see if you are bright enough to understand the same kind of fun," cried Grim. Whereupon he knocked off Ola's cap, rumpled his hair, and gave his nose such a pull that it was a wonder it did not come off.
The bully, taken by surprise, tumbled a step backward, but recovering himself, struck Grim in the face with his clinched fist. At this moment. Bonnyboy, who had scarcely taken in the situation; jumped up and screamed, "Sit down, Ola Klemmerud, sit down!"
The effect of this abrupt exclamation was so comical, that people nearly fell from their benches as they writhed and roared with laughter.
Bonnyboy, who had risen to go to his father's assistance, paused in astonishment in the middle of the floor. He could not comprehend, poor boy, why everything he said provoked such uncontrollable mirth. He surely had no intention of being funny.
So, taken aback a little, he repeated to himself, half wonderingly, with an abrupt pause after each word, "Sit—down—Ola—Klemmerud—sit—down!"
But Ola Klemmerud, instead of sitting down, hit Grim repeatedly about the face and head, and it was evident that the elder man, in spite of his strength, was not a match for him in alertness. This dawned presently upon Bonnyboy's slow comprehension, and his good-natured smile gave way to a flush of excitement. He took two long strides across the floor, pushed his father gently aside, and stood facing his antagonist. He repeated once more his invitation to sit down; to which the latter responded with a slap which made the sparks dance before Bonnyboy's eyes. Now Bonnyboy became really angry. Instead of returning the slap, he seized his enemy with a sudden and mighty grab by both his shoulders, lifted him up as if he were a bag of hay, and put him down on a chair with such force that it broke into splinters under him.
"Will you now sit down?" said Bonnyboy.
Nobody laughed this time, and the bully, not daring to rise, remained seated on the floor among the ruins of the chair. Thereupon, with imperturbable composure, Bonnyboy turned to his father, brushed off his coat with his hands and smoothed his disordered hair. "Now let us go home, father," he said, and taking the old man's arm he walked out of the room. But hardly had he crossed the threshold before the astonished company broke into cheering.
"Good for you, Bonnyboy!" "Well done, Bonnyboy!" "You are a bully boy, Bonnyboy!" they cried after him.
But Bonnyboy strode calmly along, quite unconscious of his triumph, and only happy to have gotten his father out of the room safe and sound. For a good while they walked on in silence. Then, when the effect of the excitement had begun to wear away, Grim stopped in the path, gazed admiringly at his son, and said, "Well, Bonnyboy, you are a queer fellow."
"Oh, yes," answered Bonnyboy, blushing with embarrassment (for though he did not comprehend the remark, he felt the approving gaze); "but then, you know, I asked him to sit down, and he wouldn't."
"Bless your innocent heart!" murmured his father, as he gazed at Bonnyboy's honest face with a mingling of affection and pity.
When Bonnyboy was twenty years old his father gave up, once for all, his attempt to make a carpenter of him. A number of saw-mills had been built during the last years along the river down in the valley, and the old rapids had been broken up into a succession of mill-dams, one above the other. At one of these saw-mills Bonnyboy sought work, and was engaged with many others as a mill hand. His business was to roll the logs on to the little trucks that ran on rails, and to push them up to the saws, where they were taken in charge by another set of men, who fastened and watched them while they were cut up into planks. Very little art was, indeed, required for this simple task; but strength was required, and of this Bonnyboy had enough and to spare. He worked with a will from early morn till dewy eve, and was happy in the thought that he had at last found something that he could do. It made the simple-hearted fellow proud to observe that he was actually gaining his father's regard; or, at all events, softening the disappointment which, in a vague way, he knew that his dulness must have caused him. If, occasionally, he was hurt by a rolling log, he never let any one know it; but even though his foot was a mass of agony every time he stepped on it, he would march along as stiffly as a soldier. It was as if he felt his father's eye upon him long before he saw him.
There was a curious kind of sympathy between them which expressed itself, on the father's part, in a need to be near his son. But he feared to avow any such weakness, knowing that Bonnyboy would interpret it as distrust of his ability to take care of himself, and a desire to help him if he got into trouble. Grim, therefore, invented all kinds of transparent pretexts for paying visits to the saw-mills. And when he saw Bonnyboy, conscious that his eye was resting upon him, swinging his axe so that the chips flew about his ears, and the perspiration rained from his brow, a dim anxiety often took possession of him, though he could give no reason for it. That big brawny fellow, with the frame of a man and the brain of a child, with his guileless face and his guileless heart, strangely moved his compassion. There was something almost beautiful about him, his father thought; but he could not have told what it was; nor would he probably have found any one else that shared his opinion. That frank and genial gaze of Bonnyboy's, which expressed goodness of heart but nothing else, seemed to Grim an "open sesame" to all hearts; and that unawakened something which goes so well with childhood, but not with adult age, filled him with tenderness and a vague anxiety. "My poor lad," he would murmur to himself, as he caught sight of Bonnyboy's big perspiring face, with the yellow tuft of hair hanging down over his forehead, "clever you are not; but you have that which the cleverest of us often lack."
There were sixteen saw-mills in all, and the one at which Bonnyboy was employed was the last of the series. They were built on little terraces on both banks of the river, and every four of them were supplied with power from an artificial dam, in which the water was stored in time of drought, and from which it escaped in a mill-race when required for use. These four dams were built of big stones, earthwork, and lumber, faced with smooth planks, over which a small quantity of water usually drizzled into the shallow river-bed. Formerly, before the power was utilized, this slope had been covered with seething and swirling rapids—a favorite resort of the salmon, which leaped high in the spring, and were caught in the box-traps that hung on long beams over the water. Now the salmon had small chance of shedding their spawn in the cool, bright mountain pools, for they could not leap the dams, and if by chance one got into the mill-race, it had a hopeless struggle against a current that would have carried an elephant off his feet. Bonnyboy, who more than once had seen the beautiful silvery fish spring right on to the millwheel, and be flung upon the rocks, had wished that he had understood the language of the fishes, so that he might tell them how foolish such proceedings were. But merciful though he was, he had been much discouraged when, after having put them back into the river, they had promptly repeated the experiment.
There were about twenty-five or thirty men employed at the mill where Bonnyboy earned his bread in the sweat of his brow, and he was, on the whole, on good terms with all of them. They did, to be sure, make fun of him occasionally; but sometimes he failed to understand it, and at other times he made clumsy but good-humored attempts to repay their gibes in kind. They took good care, however, not to rouse his wrath, for the reputation he had acquired by his treatment of Ola Klemmerud made them afraid to risk a collision.
This was the situation when the great floods of 188- came, and introduced a spice of danger into Bonnyboy's monotonous life. The mill-races were now kept open night and day, and yet the water burst like a roaring cascade over the tops of dams, and the river-bed was filled to overflowing with a swiftly-hurrying tawny torrent, which filled the air with its rush and swash, and sent hissing showers of spray flying through the tree-tops. Bonnyboy and a gang of twenty men were working as they had never worked before in their lives, under the direction of an engineer, who had been summoned by the mill-owner to strengthen the dams; for if but one of them burst, the whole tremendous volume of water would be precipitated upon the valley, and the village by the lower falls and every farm within half a mile of the river-banks would be swept out of existence. Guards were stationed all the way up the river to intercept any stray lumber that might be afloat. For if a log jam were added to the terrific strain of the flood, there would surely be no salvation possible. Yet in spite of all precautions, big logs now and then came bumping against the dams, and shot with wild gyrations and somersaults down into the brown eddies below.
The engineer, who was standing on the top of a log pile, had shouted until he was hoarse, and gesticulated with his cane until his arms were lame, but yet there was a great deal to do before he could go to bed with an easy conscience. Bonnyboy and his comrades, who had had by far the harder part of the task, were ready to drop with fatigue. It was now eight o'clock in the evening, and they had worked since six in the morning, and had scarcely had time to swallow their scant rations. Some of them began to grumble, and the engineer had to coax and threaten them to induce them to persevere for another hour. The moon was just rising behind the mountain ridges, and the beautiful valley lay, with its green fields, sprouting forests, and red-painted farm-houses, at Bonnyboy's feet. It was terrible to think that perhaps destruction was to overtake those happy and peaceful homes, where men had lived and died for many hundred years. Bonnyboy could scarcely keep back the tears when this fear suddenly came over him. Was it not strange that, though they knew that danger was threatening, they made not the slightest effort to save themselves? In the village below men were still working in their forges, whose chimneys belched forth fiery smoke, and the sound of their hammer-blows could be heard above the roar of the river. Women were busy with their household tasks; some boys were playing in the streets, damming up the gutters and shrieking with joy when their dams broke. A few provident souls had driven their cattle to the neighboring hills; but neither themselves nor their children had they thought it necessary to remove. The fact was, nobody believed that the dams would break, as they had not imagination enough to foresee what would happen if the dams did break.
Bonnyboy was wet to the skin, and his knees were a trifle shaky from exhaustion. He had been cutting down an enormous mast-tree, which was needed for a prop to the dam, and had hauled it down with two horses, one of which was a half-broken gray colt, unused to pulling in a team. To restrain this frisky animal had required all Bonnyboy's strength, and he stood wiping his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. Just at that moment a terrified yell sounded from above: "Run for your lives! The upper dam is breaking!"
The engineer from the top of the log-pile cast a swift glance up the valley, and saw at once from the increasing volume of water that the report was true.
"Save yourselves, lads!" he screamed. "Run to the woods!"
And suiting his action to his words, he tumbled down from the log pile, and darted up the hill-side toward the forest. The other men, hearing the wild rush and roar above them, lost no time in following his example. Only Bonnyboy, slow of comprehension as always, did not obey. Suddenly there flared up a wild resolution in his face. He pulled out his knife, cut the traces, and leaped upon the colt's back. Lashing the beast, and shouting at the top of his voice, he dashed down the hill-side at a break-neck pace.
"The dam is breaking!" he roared. "Run for the woods!"
He glanced anxiously behind him to see if the flood was overtaking him. A great cloud of spray was rising against the sky, and he heard the yells of men and the frenzied neighing of horses through the thunderous roar. But happily there was time. The dam was giving way gradually, and had not yet let loose the tremendous volume of death and desolation which it held enclosed within its frail timbers. The colt, catching the spirit of excitement in the air, flew like the wind, leaving farm after farm behind it, until it reached the village.
"The dam is breaking! Run for your lives!" cried Bonnyboy, with a rousing clarion yell which rose above all other poises; and up and down the valley the dread tidings spread like wildfire. In an instant all was in wildest commotion. Terrified mothers, with babes in their arms, came bursting out of the houses, and little girls, hugging kittens or cages with canary-birds, clung weeping to their skirts; shouting men, shrieking women, crying children, barking dogs, gusty showers sweeping from nowhere down upon the distracted fugitives, and above all the ominous, throbbing, pulsating roar as of a mighty chorus of cataracts. It came nearer and nearer. It filled the great vault of the sky with a rush as of colossal wing-beats. Then there came a deafening creaking and crashing; then a huge brownish-white rolling wall, upon which the moonlight gleamed for an instant, and then the very trump of doom—a writhing, brawling, weltering chaos of cattle, dogs, men, lumber, houses, barns, whirling and struggling upon the destroying flood.
It was the morning after the disaster. The sun rose red and threatening, circled with a ring of fiery mist. People encamped upon the hill-side greeted each other as on the morn of resurrection. For many were found among the living who were being mourned as dead. Mothers hugged their children with tearful joy, thanking God that they had been spared; and husbands who had heard through the night the agonized cries of their drowning wives, finding them at dawn safe and sound, felt as if they had recovered them from the very gates of death. When all were counted, it was ascertained that but very few of the villagers had been overtaken by the flood. The timely warning had enabled all to save themselves, except some who in their eagerness to rescue their goods had lingered too long. Impoverished most of them were by the loss of their houses and cattle. The calamity was indeed overwhelming. But when they considered how much greater the disaster would have been if the flood had come upon them unheralded, they felt that they had cause for gratitude in the midst of their sorrow. And who was it that brought the tidings that snatched them from the jaws of death? Well, nobody knew. He rode too fast. And each was too much startled by the message to take note of the messenger. But who could he possibly have been? An angel from Heaven, perhaps sent by God in His mercy. That was indeed more than likely. The belief was at once accepted that the rescuer was an angel from heaven. But just then a lumberman stepped forward who had worked at the mill and said: "It was Bonnyboy, Grim Carpenter's son. I saw him jump on his gray colt."
Bonnyboy, Grim Carpenter's son. It couldn't be possible. But the lumberman insisted that it was, and they had to believe him, though, of course, it was a disappointment. But where was Bonnyboy? He deserved thanks, surely. And, moreover, that gray colt was a valuable animal. It was to be hoped that it was not drowned.
The water had now subsided, though it yet overflowed the banks; so that trees, bent and splintered by the terrific force of the flood, grew far out in the river. The foul dams had all been swept away, and the tawny torrent ran again with tumultuous rapids in its old channel. Of the mills scarcely a vestige was left except slight cavities in the banks, and a few twisted beams clinging to the rocks where they had stood. The ruins of the village, with jagged chimneys and broken walls, loomed out of a half-inundated meadow, through which erratic currents were sweeping. Here and there lay a dead cow or dog, and in the branches of a maple-tree the carcasses of two sheep were entangled. In this marshy field a stooping figure was seen wading about, as if in search of something. The water broke about his knees, and sometimes reached up to his waist. He stood like one dazed, and stared into the brown swirling torrent. Now he poked something with his boat-hook, now bent down and purled some dead thing out of a copse of shrubbery in which it had been caught. The sun rose higher in the sky, and the red vapors were scattered. But still the old man trudged wearily about, with the stony stare in his eyes, searching for him whom he had lost. One company after another now descended from the hill-sides, and from the high-lying farms which had not been reached by the flood came wagons with provisions and clothes, and men and women eager and anxious to help. They shouted to the old man in the submerged field, and asked what he was looking for. But he only shook his head, as if he did not understand.
"Why, that is old Grim the carpenter," said someone. "Has anybody seen Bonnyboy?"
But no one had seen Bonnyboy.
"Do you want help?" they shouted to Grim; but they got no answer.
Hour after hour old Grim trudged about in the chilly water searching for his son. Then, about noon, when he had worked his way far down the river, he caught sight of something which made his heart stand still. In a brown pool, in which a half-submerged willow-tree grew, he saw a large grayish shape which resembled a horse. He stretched out the boat-hook and rolled it over. Dumbly, fearlessly, he stood staring into the pool. There lay his son—there lay Bonnyboy stark and dead.
The cold perspiration broke out upon Grim's brow, and his great breast labored. Slowly he stooped down, drew the dead body out of the water, and tenderly laid it across his knees. He stared into the sightless eyes, and murmuring a blessing, closed them. There was a large discolored spot on the forehead, as of a bruise. Grim laid his hand softly upon it, and stroked away the yellow tuft of hair.
"My poor lad," he said, while the tears coursed down his wrinkled cheeks, "you had a weak head, but your heart, Bonnyboy—your heart was good."
THE CHILD OF LUCK
A sunny-tempered little fellow was Hans, and his father declared that he had brought luck with him when he came into the world.
"He was such a handsome baby when he was born," said Inga, his mother; "but you would scarcely believe it now, running about as he does in forest and field, tearing his clothes and scratching his face."
Now, it was true, as Hans's mother said, that he did often tear his clothes; and as he had an indomitable curiosity, and had to investigate everything that came in his way, it was also no uncommon thing for him to come home with his face stung or scratched.
"Why must you drag that child with you wherever you go, Nils?" the mother complained to Hans's father, when the little boy was brought to her in such a disreputable condition. "Why can't you leave him at home? What other man do you know who carries a six-year-old little fellow about with him in rain and shine, storm and quiet?
"Well," Nils invariably answered, "I like him and he likes me. He brings me luck."
This was a standing dispute between Nils and Inga, his wife, and they never came to an agreement. She knew as well as her husband that before little Hans was born there was want and misery in their cottage. But from the hour the child lifted up its tiny voice, announcing its arrival, there had been prosperity and contentment. Their luck had turned, Nils said, and it was the child that had turned it. They had been married for four years, and though they had no one to provide for but themselves, they scarcely managed to keep body and soul together. All sorts of untoward things happened. Now a tree which he was cutting down fell upon Nils and laid him up for a month; now he got water on his knee from a blow he received while rolling logs into the chute; now the pig died which was to have provided them with salt pork for the winter, and the hens took to the bush, and laid their eggs where nobody except the rats and the weasels could find them. But since little Hans had come and put an end to all these disasters, his father had a superstitious feeling that he could not bear to have him away from him. Therefore every morning when he started out for the forest or the river he carried Hans on his shoulder. And the little boy sat there, smiling proudly and waving his hand to his mother, who stood in the door looking longingly after him.
"Hello, little chap!" cried the lumbermen, when they saw him. "Good-morning to you and good luck!"
They always cheered up, however bad the weather was, when they saw little Hans, for nobody could look at his sunny little face without feeling something like a ray of sunlight stealing into his heart. Hans had a smile and a wave of his hand for everybody. He knew all the lumbermen by name, and they knew him.
They sang as they swung the axe or the boat-hook, and the work went merrily when little Hans sat on the top of the log pile and shouted to them. But if by chance he was absent for a day or two they missed him. No songs were heard, but harsh words, and not infrequently quarrels. Now, nobody believed, of course, that little Hans was such a wizard that he could make people feel and behave any better than it was in their nature to do; but sure it was—at least the lumbermen insisted that it was so—there was joy and good-tempered mirth wherever that child went, and life seemed a little sadder and poorer to those who knew him when he was away.
No one will wonder that Nils sometimes boasted of his little son.
He told not once, but a hundred times, as they sat about the camp-fire eating their dinner, that little Hans was a child of luck, and that no misfortune could happen while he was near. Lumbermen are naturally superstitious, and though perhaps at first they may have had their doubts, they gradually came to accept the statement without question. They came to regard it as a kind of right to have little Hans sit on the top of the log pile when they worked, or running along the chute, while the wild-cat strings of logs shot down the steep slide with lightning speed. They were not in the least afraid lest the logs should jump the chute, as they had often done before, killing or maiming the unhappy man that came too near. For was not little Hans's life charmed, so that no harm could befall him?
Now, it happened that Inga, little Hans's mother, came one day to the river to see how he was getting on. Nils was then standing on a raft hooking the floating logs with his boat-hook, while the boy was watching him from the shore, shouting to him, throwing chips into the water, and amusing himself as best he could. It was early in May, and the river was swollen from recent thaws. Below the cataract where the lumbermen worked, the broad, brown current moved slowly along with sluggish whirls and eddies; but the raft was moored by chains to the shore, so that it was in no danger of getting adrift. It was capital fun to see the logs come rushing down the slide, plunging with a tremendous splash into the river, and then bob up like live things after having bumped against the bottom. Little Hans clapped his hands and yelled with delight when a string of three or four came tearing along in that way, and dived, one after the other, headlong into the water.
"Catch that one, papa!" he cried; "that is a good big fellow. He dived like a man, he did. He has washed the dirt off his snout now; that was the reason he took such a big plunge."
Nils never failed to reach his boat-hook after the log little Hans indicated, for he liked to humor him, and little Hans liked to be humored. He had an idea that he was directing his father's work, and Nils invented all sorts of innocent devices to flatter little Hans's dignity, and make him think himself indispensable. It was of no use, therefore, for poor Inga to beg little Hans to go home with her. He had so much to do, he said, that he couldn't. He even tried to tear himself away from his mother when she took him by the arm and remonstrated with him. And then and there the conviction stole upon Inga that her child did not love her. She was nothing to him compared to what his father was. And was it right for Nils thus to rob her of the boy's affection? Little Hans could scarcely be blamed for loving his father better; for love is largely dependent upon habit, and Nils had been his constant companion since he was a year old. A bitter sense of loneliness and loss overcame the poor wife as she stood on the river-bank pleading with her child, and finding that she annoyed instead of moving him.
"Won't you come home with mamma, little Hans?" she asked, tearfully. "The kitten misses you very much; it has been mewing for you all the morning."
"No," said little Hans, thrusting his hands into his pockets, and turning about with a manly stride; "we are going to have the lumber inspector here to-day? and then papa's big raft is going down the river."
"But this dreadful noise, dear; how can you stand it? And the logs shooting down that slide and making such a racket. And these great piles of lumber, Hans—think, if they should tumble down and kill you!"
"Oh, I'm not afraid, mamma," cried Hans, proudly; and, to show his fearlessness, he climbed up the log pile, and soon stood on the top of it, waving his cap and shouting.
"Oh, do come down, child—do come down!" begged Inga, anxiously.
She had scarcely uttered the words when she heard a warning shout from the slope above, and had just time to lift her eyes, when she saw a big black object dart past her, strike the log pile, and break with a deafening crash. A long confused rumble of rolling logs followed, terrified voices rent the air, and, above it all, the deep and steady roar of the cataract. She saw, as through a fog, little Hans, serene and smiling as ever, borne down on the top of the rolling lumber, now rising up and skipping from log to log, now clapping his hands and screaming with pleasure, and then suddenly vanishing in the brown writhing river. His laughter was still ringing in her ears; the poor child, he did not realize his danger. The rumbling of falling logs continued with terrifying persistence. Splash! splash! splash! they went, diving by twos, by fours, and by dozens at the very spot where her child had vanished. But where was little Hans? Oh, where was he? It was all so misty, so unreal and confused. She could not tell whether little Hans was among the living or among the dead. But there, all of a sudden, his head popped up in the middle of the river; and there was another head close to his—it was that of his father! And round about them other heads bobbed up; for all the lumbermen who were on the raft had plunged into the water with Nils when they saw that little Hans was in danger. A dozen more were running down the slope as fast as their legs could carry them; and they gave a tremendous cheer when they saw little Hans's face above the water. He looked a trifle pale and shivery, and he gave a funny little snort, so that the water spurted from his nose. He had lost his hat, but he did not seem to be hurt. His little arms clung tightly about his father's neck, while Nils, dodging the bobbing logs, struck out with all his might for the shore. And when he felt firm bottom under his feet, and came stumbling up through the shallow water, looking like a drowned rat, what a welcome he received from the lumbermen! They all wanted to touch little Hans and pat his cheek, just to make sure that it was really he.
"It was wonderful indeed," they said, "that he ever came up out of that horrible jumble of pitching and diving logs. He is a child of luck, if ever there was one."
Not one of them thought of the boy's mother, and little Hans himself scarcely thought of her, elated as he was at the welcome he received from the lumbermen. Poor Inga stood dazed, struggling with a horrible feeling, seeing her child passed from one to the other, while she herself claimed no share in him. Somehow the thought stung her. A sudden clearness burst upon her; she rushed forward, with a piercing scream, snatched little Hans from his father's arms, and hugging his wet little shivering form to her breast, fled like a deer through the underbrush.
From that day little Hans was not permitted to go to the river. It was in vain that Nils pleaded and threatened. His wife acted so unreasonably when that question was broached that he saw it was useless to discuss it. She seized little Hans as a tigress might seize her young, and held him tightly clasped, as if daring anybody to take him away from her. Nils knew it would require force to get his son back again, and that he was not ready to employ. But all joy seemed to have gone out of his life since he had lost the daily companionship of little Hans. His work became drudgery; and all the little annoyances of life, which formerly he had brushed away as one brushes a fly from his nose, became burdens and calamities. The raft upon which he had expended so much labor went to pieces during a sudden rise of the river the night after little Hans's adventure, and three days later Thorkel Fossen was killed outright by a string of logs that jumped the chute.
"It isn't the same sort of place since you took little Hans away," the lumbermen would often say to Nils. "There's no sort of luck in anything."
Sometimes they taunted him with want of courage, and called him a "night-cap" and a "hen-pecked coon," all of which made Nils uncomfortable. He made two or three attempts to persuade his wife to change her mind in regard to little Hans, but the last time she got so frightened that she ran out of the house and hid in the cow stable with the boy, crouching in an empty stall, and crying as if her heart would break, when little Hans escaped and betrayed her hiding-place. The boy, in fact, sympathized with his father, and found his confinement at home irksome. The companionship of the cat had no more charm for him; and even the brindled calf, which had caused such an excitement when he first arrived, had become an old story. Little Halls fretted, was mischievous for want of better employment, and gave his mother no end of trouble. He longed for the gay and animated life at the river, and he would have run away if he had not been watched. He could not imagine how the lumbermen could be getting on without him. It seemed to him that all work must come to a stop when he was no longer sitting on the top of the log piles, or standing on the bank throwing chips into the water.
Now, as a matter of fact, they were not getting on very well at the river without little Hans. The luck had deserted them, the lumbermen said; and whatever mishaps they had, they attributed to the absence of little Hans. They came to look with ill-suppressed hostility at Nils, whom they regarded as responsible for their misfortunes. For they could scarcely believe that he was quite in earnest in his desire for the boy's return, otherwise they could not comprehend how his wife could dare to oppose him. The weather was stormy, and the mountain brook which ran along the slide concluded to waste no more labor in carving out a bed for itself in the rock, when it might as well be using the slide which it found ready made. And one fine day it broke into the slide and half filled it, so that the logs, when they were started down the steep incline, sent the water flying, turned somersaults, stood on end, and played no end of dangerous tricks which no one could foresee. Several men were badly hurt by beams shooting like rockets through the air, and old Mads Furubakken was knocked senseless and carried home for dead. Then the lumbermen held a council, and made up their minds to get little Hans by fair means or foul. They thought first of sending a delegation of four or five men that very morning, but finally determined to march up to Nils's cottage in a body and demand the boy. There were twenty of them at the very least, and the tops of their long boat-hooks, which they carried on their shoulders, were seen against the green forest before they were themselves visible.
Nils, who was just out of bed, was sitting on the threshold smoking his pipe and pitching a ball to little Hans, who laughed with delight whenever he caught it. Inga was bustling about inside the house, preparing breakfast, which was to consist of porridge, salt herring, and baked potatoes. It had rained during the night, and the sky was yet overcast, but the sun was struggling to break through the cloud-banks. A couple of thrushes in the alder-bushes about the cottage were rejoicing at the change in the weather, and Nils was listening to their song and to his son's merry prattle, when he caught sight of the twenty lumbermen marching up the hillside. He rose, with some astonishment, and went to meet them. Inga, hearing their voices, came to the door, and seeing the many men, snatched up little Hans, and with a wildly palpitating heart ran into the cottage, bolting the door behind her. She had a vague foreboding that this unusual visit meant something hostile to herself, and she guessed that Nils had been only the spokesman of his comrades in demanding so eagerly the return of the boy to the river. She believed all their talk about his luck to be idle nonsense; but she knew that Nils had unwittingly spread this belief, and that the lumbermen were convinced that little Hans was their good genius, whose presence averted disaster. Distracted with fear and anxiety, she stood pressing her ear against the crack in the door, and sometimes peeping out to see what measures she must take for the child's safety. Would Nils stand by her, or would he desert her? But surely—what was Nils thinking about? He was extending his hand to each of the men, and receiving them kindly.