Paul and Peter by August Strindberg

Christmas Eve lay bitterly cold and silent as death over Stockholm; everything living seemed to be frozen; there was not a breath of wind and the stars seemed to be flickering like little flames in order to keep themselves alive. A lonely watchman ran up and down the street to keep his feet from freezing, and the beams cracked in the old wooden houses.

In the dwelling of the tradesman Paul Hörning in the Drachenturm Street his wife had already risen. She did not venture to light a candle or to kindle a fire, for the early-morning bell in the city church had not sounded, but she expected it every moment for she knew it was about four o'clock. The whole household was going to early Christmas Mass at Spånga, and must have something warm first. She searched for her Sunday clothes which she had laid on a chair, and dressed herself in the dark as well as she could; but as she found waiting in the darkness wearisome, she lit a horn-lantern, trusting that the watchman would respect the peace of Christmas and not raise an alarm, and then she stole around the low little rooms.

Her husband was still half asleep and little Sven was far away in the land of dreams, although he lay with his head on a wooden horse and a feather ball in his hand. Karin, who had been confirmed in the autumn, was still asleep behind the curtain, and had hung her new velvet jacket and her necklace of Bohemian crystal on the bedpost. The Christmas-tree, with its red apples and Spanish nuts, threw long, jagged shadows over everything and made it look ghostly in the faint light.

The mother went out into the kitchen and awoke Lisa in the box-room, who started up with tempestuous hurry and lit the candle in the iron candlestick; she was not anxious about the light being seen, for she was good friends with the night-watchman Truls, and besides, the kitchen lay at the back of the house. Then the mother knocked on the ceiling with the broom handle for Olle the shop-boy, who slept in the attic, and he knocked three times with his shoes in reply.

After that she went again into the bedroom and sewed a hook and eye firmly on her husband's starched and smoothly ironed shirt with its stiff collar. Then she took little Sven's red stockings out of the great oak chest, and held them against the light, and busied herself with one or two other small matters. Finally she awoke Karin, who put two small freshly bathed feet in straw shoes and began to dress behind the curtain, for there was very little room.

Sven awoke of his own accord; his cheek had a red mark where it had rested on the wooden horse, and he began at once to throw his feather ball, which flew over the curtain and hit his father on the nose, awaking him, so that he grunted a greeting of "Happy Christmas!" from his huge bed which was built like a small house. Sven wanted to run behind the curtain and see his sister's Christmas presents, but she screamed and said he mustn't for she was just washing herself.

Then the city church bell began to ring for early Mass; all murmured a blessing. Mother set the chandelier in the large room; Sven came there with nothing but his shirt on and sat under the Christmas-tree trying to make himself and others believe that he was in a wood. Then be gnawed the back side of an apple so that it should not be seen, but the apple revolved on the thread by which it was suspended; mother came and said she would slap him if he did not go at once and dress himself. Lisa lit the fire on the hearth so that the flame roared up the chimney, and placed the milk kettle on it; mother spread a cloth over the great table in the sitting-room and set out the plates, putting the brightly polished silver jug in father's place, then she cut slices of bread and butter and ham, for one must have something before going out so early.

Olle had already been a good time on his legs and gone into the stable; he had awakened Jöns the stable-man and curry-combed the chestnut horses. The sledge was drawn out of the coach-house and the rugs were dusted; soon the sledge stood in the street and Olle kindled the torches, which lit up the walls of the house like a conflagration. Jöns cracked the whip as a signal that the horses had been harnessed, and the latter snorted and scraped the ground with their hoofs to show their impatience.

In the house they were searching for their upper garments—furs and hoods, cloth-shoes and muffs; Karin, who was ready first, went down and offered Olle and Jöns a drink of hot ale. When Paul Hörning was dressed he took a glass of French mulled wine. His wife locked everything up and came after him with Sven and Lisa, and so they were all safe and sound outside in the street.

The sledge was a strong one, as roomy as a barge, and had three seats; on the first sat Paul and his wife and little Sven, on the second, Karin and Olle, and on the last Lisa and Jöns with the torches. Paul got in last for he had to see whether the horses were properly shod, and whether the harness was straight; then he got in, and his weight made the body of the sledge creak. He took the reins, asked once more if anything had been forgotten, cracked the whip, nodded to the windows of his old wooden house, and then they were off! First to the Great Market, where they met other good friends among the horse-possessing citizens of Stockholm. There they sat already in their sledges—stout brewers and thin bakers, and the whole market-place was lighted up by their smoking torches. The horses' bells tinkled, and now the whole procession began to move down the slope and out of the northern city gate.

"I am wondering how Brother Peter will receive us this year," said Paul to his wife when they had settled down for the drive.

"Why so?" she asked, somewhat uneasily.

"Oh, of course, he has no reason, but I think I annoyed him too much last year about the salt, and since then, according to my observation, he has been rather reserved."

"Well, if it were so he would not show it, I think; you two do not meet so often, and although you are not real brothers, you have always considered yourselves such."

"But Mats is very resentful, and if there were the slightest difficulty, it would stop all prospect of a match between him and Karin. We will see! We will see!"

Little Sven sat below in the straw and held the ends of the reins in the belief that he was driving. Olle, the shop-boy, tried to talk sentimentally to Karin, but her thoughts were somewhere else and she did not answer; Lisa, however, let Jöns hide her hand in his great glove, and sometimes she helped him to hold the torch when his hand froze.

Outside the city they passed under the ridge of the Brunkeberg, over the moor, and on the high-road towards Upsala. Soon between the fir trees the lights of the church of Solna were visible, glimmering in the dark winter morning. Here Paul parted from his fellow-townsmen, who remained there because they wished to go by the Westeras road to Spånga. Soon little Sven was wondering at the great Christmas-trees on both sides of the road, which were lit up at intervals by the torches and immediately hidden in darkness again. He thought he saw kobolds standing behind the tree-trunks with their red caps and beckoning, but his father told him they were only the red reflections of the torches flying and running, for his father was an intelligent townsman who no longer believed in kobolds.

Sven thought that the great Christmas-trees were running along by the side of the sledge, and that the stars were dancing over their tops, but his mother told him that God dwelt in the stars and that they were dancing to-day for joy that the Christ-Child was born, and Sven quite understood that.

Now they passed over a bridge which rumbled under the horses' hoofs, the wood became clearer, the plain expanded before them, and little hills planted with birch copses appeared here and there. Presently a light shone from a cottage window and they saw someone carrying a torch towards it. In the distance above the plain appeared the morning-star, shining very large and bright. Olle the shop-boy told Karin that it was the star which had led the shepherds to Bethlehem, but Karin knew that herself, for in a large town one knows everything, and Olle was from the country.

The road took one more turn, and through the long boughs of the leafless lime trees the church could be seen with all its windows brightly lit up. By the church wall the torches had been thrown into a great blazing pile by which the coachmen warmed themselves after they had taken the horses to the stable. Paul cracked his whip, swept past the bonfire in a stately curve, and made his chestnut horses curvet before the admiring peasants.

At the church door they met Peter and his wife and his tall son Mats. They embraced each other, wished each other a happy Christmas, and asked after one another's health. After they had talked for a while, the bells rang a second time, and then they entered the church. There it was as cold as though one were sitting in the sea, but they did not feel it for they froze in good company, and for the rest they had the preaching and the singing to keep them warm. The young ones had so much to look at; they went about and greeted each other, and were never tired of staring at the great chandeliers.

When at last the early service was at an end and they came out again on the hill, the stars shone no longer, but in the east the sky was reddish yellow like a ripe apple. Then they trotted quickly to Peter's house. It was a large one with back premises, guest-rooms, and bed-rooms on the attic floor. By one of the railing posts was tied an unthreshed sheaf of corn on which the sparrows had already settled and were keeping Christmas; at the house door stood two fir trees which sparkled in the frost.

Peter placed himself there and bid his foster-brother and his belongings welcome; then they entered the house and took off their furs. Peter's wife, who had gone before them, stood by the fire and heated ale, his son Mats helped Karin to take off her fur, and Sven was already rolling in the Christmas straw which covered the ground to the depth of half a yard. Paul and his wife were led to the sofa and took their place under the blue and red hangings on which were depicted Christ's entry into Jerusalem, and the Three Wise Men, while Peter sat down in a high armchair.

The long table presented a stately appearance, for there was not a handbreadth which was not covered with a dish or a bowl. The table was laid for the whole of Christmas, and all the eatables in the house were set out on it: a whole boar's head grinned on a red painted wooden plate, surrounded by brawns, tongues, joints and briskets; there were butter-dishes and loaves, cakes and wafers; jugs of sweet-scented juniper-wood filled with foaming Christmas beer. The red light of early morning shone on the little green, hoar-frosted windows, and it looked as though it were summer outside; but within, the great fire on the hearth spread a splendid warmth. Peter took his pocket-knife and cut slices of bread, spreading butter thickly upon them with his thumb, and invited his guests to do the same. When the hot ale had been drunk, the taciturn host opened the conversation, for Paul was a little embarrassed how to begin.

"Did you have a good journey from the town or not?"

"Splendid!" answered Paul. "The chestnuts ran along like lightning!"

But Peter did not like the town horses and always ignored them when Paul made an ostentatious allusion to them.

"Is corn selling well this Christmas?" he continued.

"The price is low, for those confounded Livlanders had a fine harvest."

"And you grudge it them! Don't curse the harvest, brother! You don't know what you may come to. The more one curses the she-goat, the more it prospers!"

"But I must live too!"

"Plough, rake and sow, and you will reap."

"Ah, the old story!"

"Yes, the old story! The priest reads in the church and prays God for a good harvest, and the tradesman in the town grumbles when God gives it. To the deuce with such people who wish to thrive on the needs of others!"

Paul was about to answer but now the two wives intervened and begged them for heaven's sake to keep the Christmas peace.

The two opponents were silent, and threw angry glances at each other; but Mats and Karin drank at the same corner of the table out of the same jug, and the two old women looked at each other with a meaning smile.

"Pass me the salt," said Peter, and stretched out his arm.

Mats passed his father the salt, but spilt some on the table-cloth.

"Be careful with God's gift," said Peter. "Salt is very dear."

Paul felt the thrust, but kept silence. The women gave a new turn to the conversation, and a storm was averted. When Paul and Peter had finished eating they went out in order to get fresh air and to inspect the fields and animals. They began by visiting the cattle-stall.

"What will you give me for this?" asked Peter, pulling the calf's tail.

"When he is an ox, and you bring him to the town in the spring, I will tell you."

"There is nothing to prevent me, but I won't bring my ox to town."

"We shall see," said Paul.

"What shall we see?" asked Peter, and looked at him with his head on one side. "I understand your dodges well enough, but though a sow may get her snout through a paling it does not follow that she will get her body through too."

"We shall see! We shall see!"

Peter would not ask any more.

They went on and came to the stable. "What will you give me for this?" asked Peter, lifting the black stallion's hind leg. "It is ten and a quarter to its backbone."

"My left chestnut is eleven, and the right is ten and a half," said Paul.

Peter did not apparently hear this, but opened the stallion's mouth in order to show its fine teeth.

"That horse is like a sheep," said Paul. "You try that with the chestnut, and you will never hear a cuckoo again."

"Everyone speaks to his like," said the muller, and talked to the sow.

The conversation would not flow. They looked at the sheep and the pigs, but either Paul's interest seemed forced, or the proximity of the chestnut horses, who were in the stable close by, had a disturbing effect; at any rate, they were out in the fresh air again and took a walk in the fields. The snow prevented Peter going into effusive details, but he pointed out where he had done his autumn sowing, where the spring sowing would take place, and where the fallow ground lay. Then they had to inspect the stacks of wood and straw to see whether they were dry or damp, to find out whether the bees were frozen in their hives, and whether it was too hot for the geese in their house.

By this time it was nearly noon and the bell rang for High Mass. Then they went again into the church and had a midday nap and went home to eat. They ate for three hours and then enjoyed the twilight. The elder men sat in their chairs and nodded; their wives sat by the fire which blazed so brightly that it dispelled the darkness, and chatted about weaving and baking. Mats and Karin had seated themselves on a box and whispered about their affairs. Olle the shop-boy had his arm round Lisa and Jöns his round the maid-servant; they sat on the ground and guessed riddles whose solution caused little Sven great difficulty. But the glow on the hearth became more subdued, the talk became more intermittent; the elders snored, the women nodded, and Mats and Karin nestled closer together; the lads and maid-servants became still, and soon an afternoon sleep prevailed throughout the house.

Peter's wife awoke first, and it was quite dark; she blew up the fire on the hearth and made a blaze. The men woke up gradually and there was a stir in the room. The youths, girls, and women sat down in the Christmas straw round the fire to crack nuts and tell stories. Paul fetched a bottle of Spanish wine, with which to make himself and Peter jolly while they talked and played cards to while away the long winter evening. When they had filled their glasses and drunk to each other, Peter remarking that the wine was too sweet, Paul boldly seized the threads of the conversation in order to bring them into order and began: "Now, Brother Peter, if you want us to talk about a matter you know of, draw out the cork and let it flow."

"That's all right," said Peter, "but I have always thought when the right Abraham comes, Sarah dances. Good! What will you give your boy?"

"Just as much as you give your girl."

Peter scratched his head. "It depend! what sort of year this is. The dowry runs into money, and if I have a bad year, there will be no money, and one does not know how it will go, for the snow came in autumn on the seed when the fields were wet."

"Just the same with me," said Paid. "We will let it stand over till the autumn, and if we can both produce the same amount we will let the organ blow, as the verger says, and if fortune is kind the ox will calve as well as the cow."

"Very well! And so the matter remains: the boy and the girl must wait till the corn is in the ear."

Then they began to drink; but the younger ones had pushed away the straw and sat in a circle to "hunt the slipper." Paul and Peter sat for a while looking on at the game; at last Paul felt exhilarated by drinking, and felt strongly tempted to start a more lively conversation. He knew very well how to do so.

"Well, Peter," he resumed, "are you coming to the city this winter?"

Peter showed his teeth like an ill-tempered dog, looked at Paul to see if he meant it seriously, and said:

"N-no! I don't think I shall!"

"Still as prejudiced against the town as ten years ago? What! Can you not bear to look at it through seven palings?"

"I wouldn't have it as a gift, if you threw it at me! I don't need it at all, but it can't live without me."

"So you say!"

"So I say! I have meat and hay, beer and bread, fuel and timber, house and clothing; what do I want with you then? I build my house, I plough my field, I cut my wood; my old woman spins my yarn, weaves my coat, bakes my bread, and brews my beer. What do you do? You tax my crop; you impose tolls on my wood; you empty my granary. You settle down on a stone as bald as the palm of my hand; you neither sow nor plough, but you reap and gather into barns; you eat my bread and drink my beer; you burn my wood and spin my wool; you sit there like a lazy monk and take tithe, and what do you give me for it?"

"Listen! Listen!" stammered Paul. "Don't you get my salt?"

"Your salt! You make no salt; and if you had not grabbed at it, so that we needed you as a middleman, you could not grind us down. And your sugar? I do not need your sugar, I have my bees!"

"Don't you get my iron?"

"Your iron! Where do you dig that up? In the gutters? What!"

"Don't you get my wine?"

"Where do you plant it? On the roofs?"

"Don't you get my silver and my gold?"

"What should I do with them, even if you had any? Can I make a knife, a plough, a spade, a brush, or a winnowing-fan out of them? No, I won't have any of it. All your business is useless, and if there were not so many fools to buy your stuff, you would starve. Remember, if all the 'louts of peasants,' as you call them, recovered their reason, so that they did not take the trouble to change their crops for your rubbish, what would you eat then? What?"

"Eat? One does not live in order to eat."

"No, but one lives by eating. And those who live by cheating others can also keep race-courses and dancing-houses where one learns such fine things; they can print books where one can read that all which the idle do is well done, and that it is honourable to steal if one only takes a sword in one's hand, sticks a rag on a pole, marches into a foreign land and says 'Now there is war!'"

"You always bring up the old race-course again. We paid the King ourselves for it, so that we might keep it in peace."

"Paid it yourselves! Yes, how did the matter go? When it was made, it was said that the town should pay for it; then you complained, and said they were such bad times, for the peasants would not buy your goods. And what did you do then? You put up the price of salt. Yes, I remember it well, and you shall be paid back for it. And so the peasant had to pay for the race-course and all your other tomfoolery, for that you must have, for you have jammed yourselves together like bees in a hive and see neither the sun nor the moon."

Peter's intoxication began to gain the upper hand, and he had an inner vision of the hated chestnut horses as embodying the showiness of the town.

"And though you have not so much grass as can grow on my chin, yet you can support two chestnuts. What do they eat? Sugar and salt? What! Raisins and almonds perhaps? And what do your chestnuts do? Do they plough; do they draw logs of wood or a load? No, they keep clear of all that. I know well what they draw, but that I don't say; but I know well that the streets there are not longer than my turnipfield. Yes, that is what they can do, the lazy beggars. Deuce take me if I don't have a turn at being idle. Listen, mother, do you want to be idle, then we will get a pair of red chestnuts with Cordova-leather trappings and silver knobs on the harness. Come, mother, we will be idle, then we can drive in a blue painted sledge with the servants behind, put our feet in foot-warmers of otter-skin, and then we can sleep out the morning with a velvet cap on our head, and drink Spanish wine sugared. Eh, mother, come! We will be lazy too!"

Paul began to get angry. "I believe the Spanish wine has got into your head, although you neither planted it nor pressed the grapes," he said.

Peter felt that he had been insulted, but he was too befogged to understand it at once. "The wine, you say, and I think you shrug your shoulders. Remember he who has got a loose tongue must cover his back. One fellow may sneeze into a silk handkerchief and another may throw it on the ground, but both can eat out of the same trough. What are you talking about wine for? Have I looked into your mouth? Do you think I have nothing of my own to drink? May the devil take your wine! Come out in the courtyard and I'll make you feel something!"

Peter threw away the rest of his wine and got up in order to go out. Paul was held back by the women who begged him for Christ's sake not to go. Peter would cool down, they said, and the Christmas peace should not be disturbed. Peter was envious and did not like anyone to "boss" him. Paul at first wished to return to the town at once, but gradually he let himself be smoothed down and took part in the game, while Peter worked off his rage outside. It was not long before there was a knock at the window and a little while after at the door. When they opened it, Peter entered it, wearing a sheep-skin, and hobbled about like a goat, so that the straw on the floor was all sent flying and the others jumped up on seats and tables. Their merriment soon became uproarious; they ate and drank without any more quarrelling till night-time, and then they went to sleep.

When the Christmas festivities were over, Paul returned home with his family, and Karin and Mats were an engaged couple. It was arranged that the wedding should take place in the following autumn, if the harvest and trade were good. So the new year began with hope for the younger ones and renewed effort on the part of their elders.


When the first snow fell on the following November, Peter harnessed his black stallion to the sledge and took Mats with him, in order to drive to the town and talk about the wedding. The harvest had been better than they had dared to expect, and Peter could give a fair sum as a dowry. There was a splendid surface on the high-road for the sledge, and Peter was in a good humour, although he could not dispel a certain uneasiness at again coming to the town, where he had not been for ten years, and where he had met with a number of misadventures which made him dislike the town-dwellers. For the same reason Mats had never been able to make a journey to the town till now, when he found himself on the way to a place full of wonderful things, the description of which, with embellishments which he had heard from returning peasants, had sounded to him like fairy-tales.

They went along briskly, for the stallion was a good sledge-trotter, and it was not long before the North Bridge rumbled under the horse's hoofs. Mats was quite stupefied at the wonders which he saw—houses as large as mountains and standing so closely together!

"See!" he said, "what good neighbours they can be to each other, and we in the country can hardly keep the peace at a quarter of a mile's distance. And so many churches! How religious they are! And the town hall right in the middle where one can get justice the whole day long!"

Peter made a grimace, and answered nothing.

They came to the tollgate, which was politely opened and closed again without their having to get down from the sledge. Mats thought that that was a good custom for he knew what a trouble it was to open a heavy gate, but Peter cracked his whip so that the horse began to run, for he wanted to enter the town as a person of importance. But they heard a cry behind them, and two of the city guards ran at them with lowered halberds, while a third seized the horse by the bridle and brought the sledge to a standstill, "Are you trying to bolt, you d——d lout of a peasant!" shouted the gate-keeper, coming up.

"Bolt?" asked Peter humbly, beginning to remember his former misadventure in the city.

"Hold your mouth and come!"

The black stallion was led back to the toll-house, where the travellers had to wait for half an hour, while the sledge was searched and their names were written down. They were at last liberated with an order to proceed at a walking pace.

When they reached the Smiths' Street, the sledge-runners began to knock against the stones, for the snow had been cleared away. The horse exerted himself and pulled with all his strength, but they only advanced step by step and could not understand why it was so difficult. Peter struck the horse, but it was already doing its best with its loins strained, and its hoofs struck sparks from the stones of the street. Mats simply sat there staring up at the high houses and marvelling at the wonderful things which hung outside them: here were horseshoes and carriage-wheels; there were fiddles, lutes, trumpets; there clothes, sets of harness, and guns. The baker had hung up a large B-shaped biscuit, the carpenter a table, the butcher a sheep! "They must have very little room inside," he remarked to his father, when at the same moment a snow-ball flung from behind struck off his cap. Peter and Mats turned round and saw that the whole back part of the sledge was packed with boys. "Be off with you!" said Peter.

The boys put out their tongues at him. Then Peter raised his whip and struck at the mass of them, but was so unfortunate in his stroke that the whiplash caught the eye of a baker's boy, who uttered a frightful yell and dropped a basket of loaves which he was carrying. At the same time people came running together and an angry blacksmith mounted on the sledge and gave Peter such a blow on his mouth and nose that he saw sparks. "Are you striking the boy, you stupid ox of a peasant?" he cried.

Mats was about to intervene and to throw himself on the smith, when the crowd of people joined in. The fighting waxed furious, and Peter and Mats had been soundly thrashed when the guards came up and finished the matter by taking down the names of the two disturbers of the peace and summoning them to the town hall.

"This is worse than being in an enemy's country," said Peter, "for here one cannot defend oneself."

"What have you got to do here then, ox-driver?" said the smith.

"I have to bring you food, or you would be hungry," said Peter.

"Listen to the clodhopper," said the smith. "They have no manners, these mud-larks, when they come among people, but they will learn some, you bet!"

The black stallion was set free and had to draw the sledge with the back part full of boys, who had settled upon it like crows upon a piece of carrion, up the street.

"That is very strange," said Mats, "that these devils of boys have a right to ride free."

"That is municipal law, you see," answered Peter.

"Yes, but the civil law doesn't allow it."

"The civil law is not in force here," said his father.

Now they had reached the great market-place. Here Peter stopped and got down. The boys were discontented because they could not go farther, but Peter asked humbly for consideration.

He looked for something he could tie his horse to till he had found his brother, whose address he had forgotten. He saw a stake with rings attached to it standing in the middle of the market-place, which seemed suitable, and to this he tied his horse, while the onlookers grinned and made jests at his expense which he did not understand. Then he turned to the one who looked most sensible and asked for the house of his brother Paul. There were fifty Pauls all tradesmen and just as many Peters, so that he could get no exact information. Peter and Mats now felt hungry and proceeded to look for a tavern. Paul, they thought, was such an important tradesman that they would be sure to be able to find him some time.

As they walked away they came to the ironmarket. Horses were being sold there, and there was much to look at.

"See!" said Mats, "there are the chestnuts, I declare!"

Peter stared with wide-open eyes. There were really Brother Paul's chestnuts which had turned up again. A sinful longing to possess them awoke in him, and he inquired the price. It was very high, but would not his heart exult if he could drive with them to his brother's door and call to the coachman, "Unharness the chestnuts! Take the chestnuts to the stable! Give the chestnuts their oats"? And how the peasants would stare when he came home with them, and had the black stallion tied behind as an extra horse!

So he gave the seller earnest-money, and said he would fetch the horses later in the day. The bargain was sealed with some food and beer in the iron-market tavern, and Peter found out from the merchants where his foster-brother lived—in the seventh cross-street on the left hand. Peter and Mats began to count the streets, but did not get more than half-way to the seventh, for they had to stand and stare at the quantities of strange things exposed in the shops for sale. Besides, the street was very narrow so that they collided with foot-passengers and carriages, and received thumps before and behind. They got quite out of their reckoning and had to return to the iron-market and begin counting again.

After they had repeated this process more than once, they were tired and thirsty and went into a tavern. But when they came out again, they did not know their right from their left; the afternoon had come on and it was twilight. Then Peter remembered the black stallion which had nothing to eat or drink, and after asking their way several times they reached the Great Market. But instead of the black stallion and the sledge, which had disappeared, they found two of the city police waiting for them. These, after writing down their names, took them by the collar and marched them to the lock-up for the night. Peter tried to defend his freedom from what he called violence, but was immediately knocked down and had his hands tied behind him. He demanded an explanation, but that, he was told, would be given him next day, and in such a manner that he would remember it.

The two prisoners were taken to a long vaulted room under the town hall, which was filled with men of every age and class. A horn lantern threw a feeble light over the prisoners, who sat or lay on benches placed along the wall. Never had Peter and Mats seen men of such an appearance or in such a condition. Their clothes were in rags, their faces savage and their gestures wild, but however wretched and humiliated they might be, they had one common feeling—contempt and dislike for the new-comers. They accosted them in an insulting way and made fools of them as soon as they opened their mouths.

"Take a chair and sit down, peasants!" cried a half-drunken porter as they entered.

Mats, suspecting no evil, thanked him and looked about for the chair which was not there. All those present burst into laughter.

The porter, who because of his physical strength and active tongue had chosen himself as chief speaker, proceeded to examine the new arrivals in a magisterial tone.

"What have you done, peasants, that you have the honour of entering this high-born society?"

"We have done nothing at all," answered Mats, in spite of his father's beckoning him to be silent.

"Just like ourselves," answered the porter; "but if we do nothing that is our right, but you, peasants, are born to work. But you don't work. In spring you scratch the crust of the earth a little, and throw some handfuls of com on it, and then you go about and watch it growing. Do you call that working? Then comes summer and you dance the hay in, and drink over it. Then it is autumn and you go to bed and sleep through the winter. Is that work? You ought to sit in the fortress Elfsborg and hew stones, then you would know what work is."

"If you envy us, then go and be a peasant," answered Peter.

"I a peasant? Oh fie! I would rather be an executioner or a night-watchman! Envious, do you say? Am I envious? Will anyone assert that? Do you know why I sit here? You should know, for you will think twice afterwards before calling me envious."

"Well, tell us!" answered Peter. "Tell us!"

"Shall I tell you, peasant—you with your corn-sacks? It is your fault, I tell you, that I sit here. Do you know Paul Hörning? No, you don't. Well, he was a corn-merchant, and since he let himself be persuaded in the spring by a scoundrelly peasant that there would be a bad harvest, he bought all the corn he could get hold of and had his granaries full. But it turned out that the peasant had lied; there was a good harvest and corn fell in price. Paul Hörning got into a mess; he had to sell his chestnut horses and dismiss all his servants. So I lost my place and loafed about, and now I sit here. Such are the tricks of these rogues of peasants!"

Mats stared, and Peter was very sad.

"I am sorry to hear what you say," answered Peter, "but it is not my fault that God gives the harvest."

"Don't talk about it, for I won't listen. Isn't it your fault that you won't be content with what you have but sow such a hellish lot of corn that the corn-merchant is ruined. You should be content with what you have, then others too might be able to live. I really feel inclined to thrash you a little when I think well over it. Shall I thrash him a little? What do you others say?"

The onlookers were of different opinions. A shoemaker's apprentice opposed the idea, for he had discovered that bread was cheaper when the peasants had much corn. A German shop-boy, who served in a general store shop, had no objection to a good harvest for then the peasants were more willing to buy stores. An organ-grinder, with a monkey perched on his shoulder, had no objection to the peasant being thrashed, for the peasants never had money with them, but he had nothing to say against a good harvest for then the market was full. A butcher said that Peter should be beaten black and blue, for when the farmers had a good crop it sent up the price of oxen. A wood dealer said he didn't want anyone to be beaten, but remarked that if the peasants had a good harvest they became proud and would not chop wood; but when there was a bad harvest, wood could be had for nothing, and one could eat flesh every day. This last remark made the shoemaker change his mind, for he had noticed that the price of leather fell when the farmer had to kill his cattle.

The porter, whom all these contradictory opinions could bring to no conclusion, was himself of opinion that Peter must be thrashed on principle, and that thrashings never did any harm. But when he approached Peter with unsteady steps, in order to carry out his purpose, he was immediately knocked down by Mats, who intervened. Since the porter was only too glad to rest his heavy head, he used the opportunity and remained lying there; and as no one else wished to do the same there followed a silence in the room.

Peter and Mats drew off their furs, and made a bed of them as well as they could for the night's sleep.

"It is just as if we had fallen among the Danes," said Peter when they had crept under the furs to sleep; "and yet they call themselves our countrymen! But to-morrow, I hope, we shall get justice."

Mats, for his part, had lost all hope that they would obtain justice from the city law, and was very depressed. He said, as usual, his evening prayer aloud. He prayed for his father, mother and fiancée; he asked God to shield them from fire and danger; he asked for a good harvest and good government; and finally prayed God to protect all men good and bad alike.

This unusual sight again evoked various opinions among the spectators. The butcher thought it was hypocrisy to pray for one's enemies, since it was one's duty to defend oneself against them. The shoemaker scented mischief in the prayer for harvest and said it was equivalent to praying for the downfall of one's fellowmen, as had just appeared in the case of Paul Hörning. The organ-grinder thought one ought not to pray for the Government, for the Government built prisons, and prisons were expensive and unnecessary; he could not understand what people wanted with them, since freedom was a man's inalienable right and highest, good. He and his monkey had never had a fixed abode, and they were quite happy if they could only be free. The wood-dealer did not like people praying God to interfere with fires and such-like, the fire-brigade were well paid for that; he said the peasants had only mentioned the subject because he was a wood-dealer and liked to have his wood burning on people's hearths. He also thought that the Government was quite unnecessary; if people would not look after themselves and their families, let them be left alone—the Government should only mix in foreign affairs.

Peter and Mats, who were tired by their exertions and troubles, fell asleep during the talk, and presently all the others followed their example. Soon only the sighing and snoring of the sleepers were audible. But the monkey could not sleep; he jumped up and ransacked all the pockets he could reach in order to find a crust of bread, but did not succeed; he rustled through the straw and pulled the hair of one of the sleepers, who cried out and went to sleep again; he climbed up to the lantern and extinguished it; then he became frightened at the darkness, felt for the organ and began to turn the handle, but received a cuff from the organ-grinder. Them a new idea seemed to come into his head; he looked for the drunken porter and found him, bit all the buttons off his coat, and threw them high in the air, so that they fell down again on the sleeping man. When the uneasiness which this produced in the sleeper had subsided, he began to tear the porter's coat into small strips, which he then twisted up into a ball. When this was done, he fell on his knees, and folded his hands, as he had seen his master do after a bad day. Then he placed the ball under his head and fell asleep.

When Peter and Mats awoke next morning the warder stood ready to take them into court. When they came before the magistrate he appeared to be in a great hurry and contented himself with reading the verdict on the "peasant Peter from Spånga" who was accused (1) of trying to elude the observation of the guard at the city gate; (2) of having beaten a boy; (3) of having tied his horse to the pillory in the Great Market. The sentence was that he should be fined. Peter asked permission to speak; the judge bade him be silent, for one was not allowed to speak in one's own cause. On Peter's inquiring who was to speak then, he was conducted out of court and had to pay the fine.

"That is the city law, you see," he said to Mats when they had come outside and obtained possession of their horse and sledge again. "Now we will sit up and drive home. We can send for the chestnuts another time, and Brother Paul can wait, and you too, Mats. A year passes quickly when one is young."

Mats did not like this, and asked leave at any rate to go and greet Karin, but Peter was inexorable, and they started for home. When they had got outside the city gate, Peter turned round and put out his tongue. "Well," he said, "if I ever set foot inside there again, the deuce take me! If you townspeople want anything from me, you can come and look for it!"

As they approached Solna, Peter suddenly started and looked away over his horse's ears. "Deuce take me," he said, "do I see ghosts in broad daylight? Look, Mats, can you see anything red over there?"

Mats did see something red, and Peter whipped up the black stallion. They soon came up to the horse-dealer with the two chestnuts, who had long waited for his customer in vain.

Now the bargain was concluded, and proud as the merchant Paul himself, Peter yoked the chestnuts to the sledge, tied the black stallion behind, and drove fast home. When they reached the farm Peter's wife stood in the vestibule, and thought her brother-in-law bad come from the town. When she saw how the matter stood she became sad and said, "Didn't I say that people get proud simply by going to town."

But Peter was so glad to be home again that he did not listen to his wife, and the chestnuts added to his cheerfulness. The thought that Paul had received a lesson put him in quite a good humour, so that he hummed to himself as he led the chestnuts to the stable.

But Mats was not cheerful, for a year was a long time to look forward to, and he knew already that when milk begins to curdle it soon becomes sour.


This Christmas Paul did not come to Spånga, although Peter had promised to fetch him in the sledge with the chestnuts; he said he had too much to look after.

Spring came and the young corn looked hopeful; but in autumn it rained at the critical time and continued to rain day and night, so that the corn fermented in the ear, and the straw rotted, and there was a bad harvest. Peter was obliged to send the chestnuts to the town and sell them. But that did not help much, for as he had no straw he had to try to sell some of his cattle also. His servant, however, brought the oxen back, for the price offered in the town was so low, because all the farmers' harvests had failed and they had also sent in their oxen to be sold. Peter became uneasy, for he expected Paul to come at Michaelmas. He therefore had the oxen taken over to Dannemora, where they would, as he knew, fetch a higher price.

Michaelmas Day had come. Peter's wife was standing by the fire cooking sausages; Mats was in the room above putting on his best clothes. Peter ran about restlessly, and went sometimes out on the road to see whether his servant were not returning with the money, for to-day Paul would come, and he must lay the sum for his daughter's dowry on the table. Peter, who had experienced many mishaps during the past year, had a dim foreboding that this day would not be a cheerful one.

It was a sunny autumn morning, but the north wind was blowing so that it was partly cold and partly warm, and Peter felt the same in his own person. It was quite certain that his servant had sold the oxen, but he was uneasy at his not arriving. He longed for Paul to come so that the business might be finished, but at the same time feared his coming. So he walked up and down the road—looked northwards for his servant and southwards for Paul; at one time he had the north wind at his back, then in his face, and so with the sun. At last he heard in the distance a sound like carriage wheels rumbling over a bridge, and then there was silence; he stood quite still and stared in the direction of the town; he shaded his eyes and looked. What he feared came. It was inevitable. He saw two reddish horse heads appear, and behind them what looked like a wobbling house-roof. It was Paul who came in a covered carriage drawn by two chestnuts. He had a carriage, thanks to the bad harvest, and the scarcity of corn had helped him to recover the horses.

Peter wanted to go into the house and hide his head behind the chimney corner, but Paul and his womenfolk had caught sight of him and waved their pocket-handkerchiefs. Peter lifted his cap and pretended that the sun dazzled him; Mats came running out and opened the carriage door. Peter's wife stood as usual in the doorway and began to curtsy when she saw the carriage. Then they entered the house, where the meal was ready for the guests. Paul talked about the state of the roads and the last war; Peter discussed the question of the church-tithe. Peter's wife was busy with the sausages and the mutton, Mats was absorbed in conversation with Karin, and no one mentioned the bad harvests, the chestnuts, or any topic that might disturb the peace.

When they had eaten, Peter and Paul went out. But Peter had no desire to show the cattle-stalls and the granary, and Paul took care not to mention the chestnuts. But at last the other subject, which Peter had most feared, turned up. Paul began, "Now, Peter, are you ready to settle the matter? The children are pining for each other, and time is passing."

Peter looked northwards, as though he wished to fetch the answer from thence. "You will stay over dinner," he said, "and we can talk about the matter then."

"Perhaps you are not ready with the money?" said Paul. "That would be a pity, for I have just now several offers."

"I not ready with the money? Ha! ha! My money does not melt so quickly as other folks', and although I do not get rich by bad harvests, yet I am not poor."

"Perhaps, brother, then you will be so good as to lay the money on the table; then I will go home to dinner."

Peter felt uneasy. "No! after dinner," he answered quietly. "After waiting so long you can wait a little longer, and I don't think it will hurt you."

At that moment they heard the sound of horses' hoofs. Peter started and looked down the road. There came his servant riding, without the oxen; therefore he must have the money. He assumed a more confident tone and continued, "But, brother, if you happen to be in embarrassment, I will produce the money at once!"

The servant came nearer, but he was not alone. Beside him rode an armed man who held the end of a cord, the other end of which bound the servant's hands. The horses splashed on through the mud and stood still. Peter was dumb.

"Halt," cried the bailiff's man. "You, Farmer Peter, have sent your servant to carry on illegal traffic. What have you to say?"

"Where are my oxen?" asked Peter.

"Forfeited," answered the bailiff's man.

"Next time, four hundred marks' fine; the third time, death."

"Who has made that law?"

"The King."

"Formerly we made the laws ourselves. When did we give up the right to do so?"

"When the council and the nobles did."

"They never proposed to give the King permission to steal our oxen."

"Weigh your words, Peter, for God's sake!" said Paul warningly.

"Hold your tongue!" answered Peter. "It is you and fellows like you who sit in the town and pass laws for their own profit. So it goes on! The King needs money for races and triumphal arches; he takes it out of the merchant's purse, and the merchant takes it out of the farmer's. Who prevents me selling where I choose?"

"The law," answered the bailiff's man. "But don't stand scolding there, farmer. Untie your servant's hands and give my horses something to eat."

Peter was beside himself. He ran like a madman into the house. Then he took a poker and swept the bowls and dishes from the table on to the ground; he broke the windows, drove all those present out of the room, smashed the seats and tables, and roared all the time till he foamed at the mouth; he chewed pieces of glass, broke tin plates in two, and trampled on butter-dishes and jugs. Then he stood in the doorway and shouted, "Out, you hellish thieves! Once right was law in the world, now wrong is law. Thieves make laws for honest folk, and now they steal legally. You, petty merchant, don't work a bit, but eat my bread; don't you know that you ought to pay for it? I have a right to flog you, for you are one of my dependents! And you, underling of your thievish masters—you, King's official! What do you do for your bread? You make entries in a book—you all do that; you note everything down. If I drive on the road, if I lie down, if I tie my horse, if I defend my property, if I flog a scoundrel, you make a note of it, and I must pay for everything. Holy Virgin and all the saints, preserve my understanding! And now take your chestnuts and your women away, Paul; and if you appear on my land again, remember what you have brought me to. Buy a son-in-law in the town for yourself; there you will make a good bargain if you can pass her off on one of your friends. You may have got me down on my knees, but I am not rotting, as the old woman said, when she fell into the churchyard. To that I say Amen! and praise and thank God for good and evil!" But Paul and his womenfolk had already gone to the stable and harnessed the horses. As they drove through the gate Paul said, "Poor Peter has gone mad!"

But Paul and Peter never met again. Mats never got Karin, and there was no help for it; it was so fated and no one could alter it.