THE merchant’s son had a tutor who heard him say his lessons alone, and walked out with him alone. Peer was also to have an education, so he went to school with a great quantity of other boys. They studied together, and that was more delightful than going alone with a tutor. Peer would not change.
He was a lucky Peer, but godfather was also a lucky Peer,2 for all he was not called Peer. He won a prize in the lottery, of two hundred rix-dollars, on a ticket which he shared with eleven others. He went at once and bought some better clothes, and he looked very well in them. Luck never comes alone, it always has company, and it did this time. Godfather gave up his dirt-cart and joined the theatre.
“For what in the world,” said grandmother. “is he going to the theatre? What does he go as?”
As a machinist. That was a real getting on, and he was now quite another man, and took a wonderful deal of enjoyment in the comedy, which he always saw from the top or from the side. The most charming thing was the ballet, but that indeed gave him the hardest work, and there was always some danger from fire. They danced both in heaven and on earth. That was something for little Peer to see, and one evening when there was to be a dress rehearsal of a new ballet, in which they were all dressed and adorned as in the evening when people pay to see all the fine show, he had permission to bring Peer with him, and put him in a place where he could see the whole.
It was a Scripture ballet—Samson. The Philistines danced about him, and he tumbled the whole house down over them and himself; but there were fire-engines and firemen on hand in case of any accident.
Peer had never seen a comedy, still less a ballet. He put on his Sunday clothes and went with godfather to the theatre. It was just like a great drying-loft, with ever so many curtains and screens, great openings in the floor, lamps and lights. There was a host of nooks and crannies up and down, and people came out from these just as in a great church with its balcony pews.3 The floor went down quite steeply, and there Peer was placed, and told to stay there till it was all finished and he was sent for. He had three sandwiches in his pocket, so that he need not starve.
Soon it grew lighter and lighter: there came up in front, just as if straight out of the earth, a number of musicians with both flutes and violins. At the side where Peer sat people came dressed as if they were in the street; but there came also knights with gold helmets, beautiful maidens in gauze and flowers, even angels all in white with wings on their hacks. They were placed up and down, on the floor and up in the “balcony pews,” to be looked at. They were the whole force of the ballet dancers; but Peer did not know that. He believed they belonged in the fairy tales his grandmother had told him about. Then there came a woman, who was the most beautiful of all, with a gold helmet and spear; she looked out over all the others and sat between an angel and an imp. Ah! how much there was to see, and yet the ballet was not even begun.
There was a moment of quiet. A man dressed in black moved a little fairy wand over all the musicians, and then they began to play, so that there was a whistling of music, and the wall itself began to rise. One looked out on to a flower-garden, where the sun shone, and all the people danced and leaped. Such a wonderful sight had Peer never imagined. There the soldiers marched, and there was fighting, and there where the guilds and the mighty Samson with his love. But she was as wicked as she was beautiful: she betrayed him. The Philistines plucked his eyes out; he had to grind in the mill and be set up for mockery in the dancing hall; but then he laid hold of the strong pillars which held the roof up, and shook them and the whole house; it fell, and there burst forth wonderful flames of red and green fire.
Peer could have sat there his whole life long and looked on, even if the sandwiches were all eaten—and they were all eaten.
Now here was something to tell about when he got home. He was not to be got off to bed. He stood on one leg and laid the other upon the table—that was what Samson’s love and all the other ladies did. He made a treadmill out of grandmother’s chair, and upset two chairs and a bolster over himself to show how the dancing-hall came down. He showed this, and he gave it with all the music that belonged to it; there was no talking in the ballet. He sang high and low, with words and without; there was no connection in it; it was just like a whole opera. The most noticeable thing, meanwhile, of all was his beautiful voice, clear as a bell, but no one spoke of that.
Peer was before to have been a grocer’s boy, to mind prunes and lump sugar; now he found there was something very much finer, and that was to get into the Samson story and dance in the ballet. There were a great many poor children that went that way, said the grandmother, and became fine and honored people; still no little girl of her family should ever get permission to go that way; a boy—well, he stood more firmly.
Peer had not seen a single one of the little girls fall before the whole house fell, and then they all fell together, he said.
Peer certainly must be a ballet-dancer.
“He gives me no rest!” said his mother. At last, his grandmother promised to take him one day to the ballet-master, who was a fine gentleman, and had his own house, like the merchant. Would Peer ever get to that? Nothing is impossible for our Lord. Peer had a gold apple in his hand when he was a child. Such had lain in his hands; perhaps it was also in his legs.
Peer went to the ballet-master, and knew him at once; it was Samson himself. His eyes had not suffered at all at the hands of the Philistines. That was only a part of the play, he was told. And Samson looked kindly and pleasantly on him, and told him to stand up straight, look right at him, and show him his ankle. Peer showed his whole foot, and leg too.
“So he got a place in the ballet,” said grandmother.
It was easily brought about at the ballet-master’s house; but first his mother and grandmother must needs make other preparations, and talk with people who knew about these things; first with the merchant’s wife, who thought it a good career for a pretty, well-formed boy without any prospect, like Peer. Then they talked with Miss Frandsen; she understood all about the ballet. At one time, in the younger days of grandmother, she had been the most favorite danseuse at the theatre; she had danced goddesses and princesses, had been cheered and applauded whenever she came out; but then she grew older,—we all do—and then she no longer had principal parts; she had to dance behind the younger ones; and finally she went behind all the dancers quite into the dressing-room, where The dressed the others to be goddesses and princesses.
“So it goes!” said Miss Frandsen. “The theatre road is a delightful one to travel, but it is full of thorns. Chicane grows there,—chicane!”
That was a word Peer did not understand; but he came to understand it quite well.
“He is determined to go into the ballet,” said his mother.
“He is a pious Christian child, that he is,” said grandmother.
“And well brought up,” said Miss Frandsen. “ Well bred and moral! that was I in my heyday.”
And so Peer went to dancing-school, and got some summer clothes and thin-soled dancing-shoes to make it easier. All the old dancers kissed him, and said that he was a boy good enough to eat.
He was told to stand up, stick his legs out, and hold on by a post so as not to fall, while he learned to kick first with his right leg, then with his left. It was not so hard for him as for most of the others. The ballet-master clapped him on the back and said he would soon be in the ballet; he should be a king’s child, who was carried on shields and wore a gold crown. That was practised at the dancing school, and rehearsed at the theatre itself.
The mother and grandmother must go to see little Peer in all his glory, and they looked, and they both cried, for all it was so splendid. Peer in all his glory and show had not seen them at all; but the merchant’s family he had seen; they sat in the loge nearest the stage. Little Felix was with them in his test clothes. He wore buttoned gloves, just like grown-up gentlemen, and sat with an opera-glass at his eyes the whole evening, although he could see perfectly well—again just like grown-up gentlemen. He looked at Peer. Peer looked at him; and Peer was a king’s child with a gold crown on. This evening brought the two children in closer relation to one another.
Some days after, as they met each other in the yard, Felix went up to Peer and told him he had seen him when he was a prince. He knew very well that he was not a prince any longer, but then he had worn a prince’s clothes and had a gold crown on.
“I shall wear them again on Sunday,” said Peer.
Felix did not see him then, but he thought about it the whole evening. He would have liked very well to be in Peer’s shoes; he had not Miss Frandsen’s warning that the theatre way was a thorny one, and that chicane grew on it; neither did Peer know this yet, but he would very soon learn it.
His young companions the dancing children were not all as good as they ought to be for all that they sometimes were angels with wings to them. There was a little girl, Malle Knallemp, who always, when she was dressed as page, and Peer was a page, stepped maliciously on the side of his foot, so as to see his stockings; there was a bad boy who always was sticking pins in his back, and one day he ate Peer’s sandwiches by mistake; but that was impossible, for Peer had some meat-pie with his sandwich, and the other boy had only bread and butter. He could not have made a mistake.
It would be in vain to recite all the vexations that Peer endured in the two years, and the worst was not yet,—that was to come. There was a ballet to be brought out called The Vampire. In it the smallest dancing children were dressed as bats; wore gray tights that fitted snugly to their bodies; black gauze wings were stretched from their shoulders, and so they were to run on tiptoe, as if they were just flying, and then they were to whirl round on the floor. Peer could do this especially well; but his trousers and jacket, all of one piece, were old and worn; the threads did not hold together; so that, just as he whirled round before the eyes of all the people, there was a rip right down his back, straight from his neck down to where the legs are fastened in, and all his short, little white shirt was to be seen.
All the people laughed. Peer saw it, and knew that he was ripped all down the back; he whirled and whirled, but it grew worse and worse. Folks laughed louder and louder; the other vampires laughed with them, and whirled into him, and all the more dreadfully when the people clapped and shouted bravo!
“That is for the ripped vampire!” said the dancing children; and so they always called him “Ripperip.”
Peer cried; Miss Frandsen comforted him. “’Tis only chicane,” said she; and now Peer knew what chicane was.
Besides the dancing-school, they had another one attached to the theatre, where the children were taught to cipher and write, to learn history and geography; ay, they had a teacher in religion, for it is not enough to know how to dance there is something more in the world than wearing out dancing-shoes. Here, too, Peer was quick,—the very luckiest of all,—and got plenty of good marks; but his companions still called him “Ripperip.” It was only a joke; but at last he would not stand it any longer, and he struck out and boxed one of the boys, so that he was black and blue under the left eye, and had to have it whitened in the evening when he was to go in the ballet. Peer was talked to sharply by the dancing-master, and more harshly by the sweeping-woman, for it was her son he had punished.