Paul and Peter by August
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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 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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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?"
"Formerly we made the laws ourselves. When did we give up the right to
"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.