When morning came, it was all over. He was happier and lighter of mood than she had seen him for a long, long time, and he remained at home.
On that Christmas Eve there was such a hauling and a-carrying upstairs from both shop and cellar, and the candles shone till all the window-panes sparkled again. It was the first real festival he had ever spent in his own house, he said, and he meant to make a regular banquet of it.
But when, as the custom was, the people of the house came in one by one, and drank the healths of their master and mistress, he grew paler and paler and whiter and whiter, as if his blood were being sucked out of him and drained away.
“The earth draws!” he shrieked, and there was a look of horror in his eyes.
Immediately afterwards he sat there—dead!
* * * * *
 Lille Jule-aften, i.e., the day before Christmas Eve (Jule-aften).
* * * * *
THE CORMORANTS OF ANDVAER
[Illustration: THE TWELVE CORMORANTS.]
Outside Andvaer lies an island, the haunt of wild birds, which no man can land upon, be the sea never so quiet; the sea-swell girds it round about with sucking whirlpools and dashing breakers.
On fine summer days something sparkles there through the sea-foam like a large gold ring; and, time out of mind, folks have fancied there was a treasure there left by some pirates of old.
At sunset, sometimes, there looms forth from thence a vessel with a castle astern, and a glimpse is caught now and then of an old-fashioned galley. There it lies as if in a tempest, and carves its way along through heavy white rollers.
Along the rocks sit the cormorants in a long black row, lying in wait for dog-fish.
But there was a time when one knew the exact number of these birds. There was never more nor less of them than twelve, while upon a stone, out in the sea-mist, sat the thirteenth, but it was only visible when it rose and flew right over the island.
The only persons who lived near the Vaer at winter time, long after the fishing season was over, was a woman and a slip of a girl. Their business was to guard the scaffolding poles for drying fish against the birds of prey, who had such a villainous trick of hacking at the drying-ropes.
The young girl had thick coal-black hair, and a pair of eyes that peeped at folk so oddly. One might almost have said that she was like the cormorants outside there, and she had never seen much else all her life. Nobody knew who her father was.
Thus they lived till the girl had grown up.
It was found that, in the summer time, when the fishermen went out to the Vaer to fetch away the dried fish, that the young fellows began underbidding each other, so as to be selected for that special errand.