MoboReader> Literature > Invisible Links

   Chapter 1 No.1

Invisible Links By Selma Lagerlof Characters: 20519

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

I can see before me the little town, friendly as a home. It is so small that I know its every hole and corner, am friends with all the children and know the name of every one of its dogs. Who ever walked up the street knew to which window he must raise his eyes to see a lovely face behind the panes, and who ever strolled through the town park knew well whither he should turn his steps to meet the one he wished to meet.

One was as proud of the beautiful roses in the garden of a neighbor, as if they had grown in one's own. If anything mean or vulgar was done, it was as great a shame as if it had happened in one's own family; but at the smallest adventure, at a fire or a fight in the market-place, one swelled with pride and said: "Only see what a community! Do such things ever happen anywhere else? What a wonderful town!"

In my beloved town nothing ever changes. If I ever come there again, I shall find the same houses and shops that I knew of old; the same holes in the pavements will cause my downfall; the same stiff hedges of lindens, the same clipped lilac bushes will captivate my fascinated gaze. Again shall I see the old Mayor who rules the whole town walking down the street with elephantine tread. What a feeling of security there is in knowing that you are walking there! And deaf old Halfvorson will still be digging in his garden, while his eyes, clear as water, stare and wander as if they would say: "We have investigated everything, everything; now, earth, we will bore down to your very centre."

But one who will not still be there is little, round Petter Nord: the little fellow from V?rmland, you know, who was in Halfvorson's shop; he who amused the customers with his small mechanical inventions and his white mice. There is a long story about him. There are stories to be told about everything and everybody in the town. Nowhere else do such wonderful things happen.

He was a peasant boy, little Petter Nord. He was short and round; he was brown-eyed and smiling. His hair was paler than birch leaves in the autumn; his cheeks were red and downy. And he was from V?rmland. No one, seeing him, could imagine that he was from any other place. His native land had equipped him with its excellent qualities. He was quick at his work, nimble with his fingers, ready with his tongue, clear in his thoughts. And, moreover, full of fun, good-natured and brave, kind and quarrelsome, inquisitive and a chatterbox. A madcap, he never could show more respect to a burgomaster than to a beggar! But he had a heart; he fell in love every other day, and confided in the whole town.

This child of rich gifts attended to the work in the shop in rather an extraordinary manner. The customers were waited on while he fed the white mice. Money was changed and counted while he put wheels on his little automatic wagons. And while he told the customers of his very last love-affair, he kept his eye on the quart measure, into which the brown molasses was slowly curling. It delighted his admiring listeners to see him suddenly leap over the counter and rush out into the street to have a brush with a passing street-boy; also to see him calmly return to tie the string on a package or to finish measuring a piece of cloth.

Was it not quite natural that he should be the favorite of the whole town? We all felt obliged to trade with Halfvorson, after Petter Nord came there. Even the old Mayor himself was proud when Petter Nord took him apart into a dark corner and showed him the cages of the white mice. It was nervous work to show the mice, for Halfvorson had forbidden him to have them in the shop.

But then in the brightening February there came a few days of warm, misty weather. Petter Nord became suddenly serious and silent. He let the white mice nibble the steel bars of their cages without feeding them. He attended to his duties in the most irreproachable way. He fought with no more street boys. Could Petter Nord not bear the change in the weather?

Oh no, the matter was that he had found a fifty-crown note on one of the shelves. He believed that it had got caught in a piece of cloth, and without any one's seeing him he had pushed it under a roll of striped cotton which was out of fashion and was never taken down from the shelf.

The boy was cherishing great anger in his heart against Halfvorson. The latter had destroyed a, whole family of mice for him, and now he meant to be revenged. Before his eyes he still saw the white mother with her helpless offspring. She had not made the slightest attempt to escape; she had remained in her place with steadfast heroism, staring with red, burning eyes on the heartless murderer. Did he not deserve a short time of anxiety? Petter Nord wished to see him come out pale as death from his office and begin to look for the fifty crowns. He wished to see the same despair in his watery eyes as he had seen in the ruby red ones of the white mouse. The shopkeeper should search, he should turn the whole shop upside down before Petter Nord would let him find the bank-note.

But the fifty crowns lay in its hiding-place all day without any one's asking about it. It was a new note, many-colored and bright, and had big numbers in all the corners. When Petter Nord was alone in the shop, he put a step-ladder against the shelves and climbed up to the roll of cotton. Then he took out the fifty crowns, unfolded it and admired its beauties.

In the midst of the most eager trade he would grow anxious lest something should have happened to the fifty crowns. Then he pretended to look for something on the shelf, and groped about under the roll of cotton till he felt the smooth bank-note rustle under his fingers.

The note had suddenly acquired a supernatural power over him. Might there not be something living in it? The figures surrounded by wide rings were like magnetic eyes. The boy kissed them all and whispered: "I should like to have many, very many like you."

He began to have all sorts of thoughts about the note, and why

Halfvorson did not inquire for it. Perhaps it was not Halfvorson's?

Perhaps it had lain in the shop for a long time? Perhaps it no

longer had any owner?

Thoughts are contagious.-At supper Halfvorson had begun to speak of money and moneyed-men. He told Petter Nord about all the poor boys who had amassed riches. He began with Whittington and ended with Astor and Jay Gould. Halfvorson knew all their histories; he knew how they had striven and denied themselves; what they had discovered and ventured. He grew eloquent when he began on such tales. He lived through the sufferings of those young people; he followed them in their successes; he rejoiced in their victories. Petter Nord listened quite fascinated.

Halfvorson was stone deaf, but that was no obstacle to conversation, for he read by the lips everything that was said. On the other hand, he could not hear his own voice. It rolled out as strangely monotonous as the roar of a distant waterfall. But his peculiar way of speaking made everything he said sink in, so that one could not escape from it for many days. Poor Petter Nord!

"What is most needed to become rich," said Halfvorson, "is the foundation. But it cannot be earned. Take note that they all have found it in the street or discovered it between the lining and cloth of a coat which they had bought at a pawnbroker's sale; or that it had been won at cards, or had been given to them in alms by a beautiful and charitable lady. After they had once found that blessed coin, everything had gone well with them. The stream of gold welled from it as from a fountain. The first thing that is necessary, Petter Nord, is the foundation."

Halfvorson's voice sounded ever fainter and fainter. Young Petter Nord sat in a kind of trance and saw endless vistas of gold before him. On the dining table rose great piles of ducats; the floor heaved white with silver, and the indistinct patterns on the dirty wall-paper changed into banknotes, big as handkerchiefs. But directly before his eyes fluttered the fifty-crown note, surrounded by wide rings, luring him like the most beautiful eyes. "Who can know," smiled the eyes, "perhaps the fifty crowns up on the shelf is just such a foundation?"

"Mark my words," said Halfvorson, "that, after the foundation, two things are necessary for those who wish to reach the heights. Work, untiring work, Petter Nord, is one; and the other is renunciation. Renunciation of play and love, of talk and laughter, of morning sleep and evening strolls. In truth, in truth, two things are necessary for him who would win fortune. One is called work, and the other renunciation."

Petter Nord looked as if he would like to weep. Of course he wished to be rich, naturally he wished to be fortunate, but fortune should not be so anxiously and sadly won. Fortune ought to come of herself. Just as Petter Nord was fighting with the street boys, the noble lady should stop her coach at the shop-door, and invite the V?rmland boy to the place at her side. But now Halfvorson's voice still rolled in his ears. His brain was full of it. He thought of nothing else, knew nothing else. Work and renunciation, work and renunciation, that was life and the object of life. He asked nothing else, dared not think that he had ever wished anything else.

The next day he did not dare to kiss the fifty-crown note, did not dare even to look at it. He was silent and low-spirited, orderly and industrious. He attended to all his duties so irreproachably that any one could see that there was something wrong with him. The old Mayor was troubled about the boy and did what he could to cheer him.

"Did you think of going to the Mid-Lent ball this evening?" asked the old man. "So, you did not. Well, then I invite you. And be sure that you come, or I will tell Halfvorson where you keep your mouse-cages."

Petter Nord sighed and promised to go to the ball.

The Mid-Lent ball, fancy Petter Nord at the Mid-Lent ball! Petter Nord would see all the beautiful ladies of the town, delicate, dressed in white, adorned with flowers. But of course Petter Nord would not be allowed to dance with a single one of them. Well, it did not matter. He was not in the mood to dan


At the ball he stood in a doorway and made no attempt to dance. Several people had asked him to take part, but he had been firm and said no. He could not dance any of those dances. Neither would any of those fine ladies be willing to dance with him. He was much too humble for them.

But as he stood there, his eyes began to kindle and shine, and he felt joy creeping through his I hubs. It came from the dance music; it came from the fragrance of the flowers; it came from all the beautiful faces about him. After a little while he was so sparklingly happy that, if joy had been fire, he would have been surrounded by bursting flames. And if love were it, as many say it is, it would have been the same. He was always in love with some pretty girl, but hitherto with only one at a time. But when he now saw all those beautiful ladies together, it was no longer a single fire, which laid waste his sixteen-year-old heart; it was a whole conflagration.

Sometimes he looked down at his boots, which were by no means dancing shoes. But how he could have marked the time with the broad heels and spun round on the thick soles! Something was dragging and pulling him and trying to hurl him out on the floor like a whipped ball. He could still resist it, although his excitement grew stronger as the hours advanced. He grew delirious and hot. Heigh ho, he was no longer poor Petter Nord! He was the young whirlwind, that raises the seas and overthrows the forests.

Just then a hambo-polska [Note: A Swedish national dance of a very lively character] struck up. The peasant boy was quite beside himself. He thought it sounded like the polska, like the V?rmland polska.

Suddenly Petter Nord was out on the floor. All his fine manners dropped off him. He was no longer at the town-hall ball; he was at home in the barn at the midsummer dance. He came forward, his knees bent, his head drawn down between his shoulders. Without stopping to ask, he threw his arms round a lady's waist and drew her with him. And then he began to dance the polska.

The girl followed him, half unwillingly, almost dragged. She was not in time; she did not know what kind of a dance it was, but suddenly it went quite of itself. The mystery of the dance was revealed to her. The polska bore her, lifted her; her feet had wings; she felt as light as air. She thought that she was flying.

For the V?rmland polska is the most wonderful dance. It transforms the heavy-footed sons of earth. Without a sound soles an inch thick float over the unplaned barn floor. They whirl about, light as leaves in an autumn wind. It is supple, quick, silent, gliding. Its noble, measured movements set the body free and let it feel itself light, elastic, floating.

While Petter Nord danced the dance of his native land, there was silence in the ball-room. At first people laughed, but then they all recognized that this was dancing. It floated away in even, rapid whirls; it was dancing indeed, if anything.

In the midst of his delirium Petter Nord perceived that round about him reigned a strange silence. He stopped short and passed his hand over his forehead. There was no black barn floor, no leafy walls, no light blue summer night, no merry peasant maiden in the reality he gazed upon. He was ashamed and wished to steal away.

But he was already surrounded, besieged. The young ladies crowded about the shop-boy and cried: "Dance with us; dance with us!"

They wished to learn the polska. They all wished to learn to dance the polska. The ball was turned from its course and became a dancing-school. All said that they had never known before what it was to dance. And Petter Nord was a great man for that evening. He had to dance with all the fine ladies, and they were exceedingly kind to him. He was only a boy, and such a madcap besides. No one could help making a pet of him.

Petter Nord felt that this was happiness. To be the favorite of the ladies, to dare to talk to them, to be in the midst of lights, of movement, to be made much of, to be petted, surely this was happiness.

When the ball was over, he was too happy to think about it. He needed to come home to be able to think over quietly what had happened to him that evening.

Halfvorson was not married, but he had in his house a niece who worked in the office. She was poor and dependent on Halfvorson, but she was quite haughty towards both him and Petter Nord. She had many friends among the more important people of the town and was invited to families where Halfvorson could never come. She and Petter Nord went home from the ball together.

"Do you know, Nord," asked Edith Halfvorson, "that a suit is soon to be brought against Halfvorson for illicit trading in brandy? You might tell me how it really is."

"There is nothing worth making a fuss about," said Petter Nord.

Edith sighed. "Of course there is nothing. But there will be a lawsuit and fines and shame without end. I wish that I really knew how it is."

"Perhaps it is best not to know anything," said Petter Nord.

"I wish to rise in the world, do you see," continued Edith, "and I wish to drag Halfvorson up with me, but he always drops back again. And then he does something so that I become impossible too. He is scheming something now. Do you not know what it is? It would be good to know."

"No," said Petter Nord, and not another word would he say. It was inhuman to talk to him of such things on the way home from his first ball.

Beyond the shop there was a little dark room for the shop-boy.

There sat Petter Nord of to-day and came to an understanding with

Petter Nord of yesterday. How pale and cowardly the churl looked.

Now he heard what he really was. A thief and a miser. Did he know

the seventh commandment? By rights he ought to have forty stripes.

That was what he deserved.

God be blessed and praised for having let him go to the ball and get a new view of it all. Usch! what ugly thoughts he had had; but now it was quite changed. As if riches were worth sacrificing conscience and the soul's freedom for their sake! As if they were worth as much as a white mouse, if the heart could not be glad at the same time! He clapped his hands and cried out in joy-that he was free, free, free! There was not even a longing to possess the fifty crowns in his heart. How good it was to be happy!

When he had gone to bed, he thought that he would show Halfvorson the fifty crowns early the next morning. Then he became uneasy that the tradesman might come into the shop before him the next morning, search for the note and find it. He might easily think that Petter Nord had hidden it to keep it. The thought gave him no peace. He tried to shake it off, but he could not succeed. He could not sleep. So he rose, crept into the shop and felt about till he found the fifty crowns. Then he fell asleep with the note under his pillow.

An hour later he awoke. A light shone sharply in his eyes; a hand was fumbling under his pillow and a rumbling voice was scolding and swearing.

Before the boy was really awake, Halfvorson had the note in his hand and showed it to the two women, who stood in the doorway to his room. "You see that I was right," said Halfvorson. "You see that it was well worth while for me to drag you up to bear witness against him! You see that he is a thief!"

"No, no, no," screamed poor Petter Nord. "I did not wish to steal.

I only hid the note."

Halfvorson heard nothing. Both the women stood with their backs turned to the room, as if determined to neither hear nor see.

Petter Nord sat up in bed. He looked all of a sudden pitifully weak and small. His tears were streaming. He wailed aloud.

"Uncle," said Edith, "he is weeping."

"Let him weep," said Halfvorson, "let him weep!" And he walked forward and looked at the boy. "You can weep all you like," he said, "but that does not take me in."

"Oh, oh," cried Petter Nord, "I am no thief. I hid the note as a joke-to make you angry. I wanted to pay you back for the mice. I am not a thief. Will no one listen to me. I am not a thief."

"Uncle," said Edith, "if you have tortured him enough now, perhaps we may go back to bed?"

"I know, of course, that it sounds terrible," said Halfvorson, "but it cannot be helped." He was gay, in very high spirits. "I have had my eye on you for a long time," he said to the boy. "You have always something you are tucking away when I come into the shop. But now I have caught you. Now I leave witnesses, and now I am going for the police."

The boy gave a piercing scream. "Will no one help me, will no one help me?" he cried. Halfvorson was gone, and the old woman who managed his house came up to him.

"Get up and dress yourself, Petter Nord! Halforson has gone for the police, and while he is away you can escape. The young lady can go out into the kitchen and get you a little food. I will pack your things."

The terrible weeping instantly ceased. After a short tine of hurry the boy was ready. He kissed both the women on the hand, humbly, like a whipped dog. And then off he ran.

They stood in the door and looked after him. When he was gone, they drew a sigh of relief.

"What will Halfvorson say?" said Edith.

"He will be glad," answered the housekeeper.

"He put the money there for the boy, I think. I guess that he wanted to be rid of him."

"But why? The boy was the best one we have had in the shop for many years."

"He probably did not want him to give testimony in the affair with the brandy."

Edith stood silent and breathed quickly. "It is so base, so base," she murmured. She clenched her fist towards the office and towards the little pane in the door, through which Halfvorson could see into the shop. She would have liked, she too, to have fled out into the world, away from all this meanness. She heard a sound far in, in the shop. She listened, went nearer, followed the noise, and at last found behind a keg of herring the cage of Petter Nord's white mice.

She took it up, put it on the counter, and opened the cage door. Mouse after mouse scampered out and disappeared behind boxes and barrels.

"May you flourish and increase," said Edith. "May you do injury and revenge your master!"

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