The inference, I am afraid, from all this, is that Dannevig was a hypocrite; but if I have conveyed that impression to any one, I certainly have done my friend injustice. I am not aware that he ever consciously suspended his convictions for the sake of pleasing; but convictions require a comparative depth of soil in order to thrive, and Dannevig’s mind was remarkable for territorial expanse rather than for depth. Of course, he did with astonishing ease assume the color of the person he was talking with; but this involved, with him, no conscious mental process, no deliberate insincerity. It was rather owing to a kind of constitutional adaptability, an unconquerable distaste for quarrelling, and the absence of any decided opinions of his own.
It was in the year 186—, just as peace had been concluded between Prussia and Denmark, that I made Dannevig’s acquaintance. He was then the hero of the day; all Copenhagen, as it seemed, had gone mad over him. He had just returned from the war, in which he had performed some extraordinary feat of fool-hardiness and saved seven companies by the sacrifice of his mustache. The story was then circulating in a dozen different versions, but, as nearly as I could learn, he had, in the disguise of a peasant, visited the Prussian camp on the evening preceding a battle and had acted the fool with such a perfection of art as to convince the enemy of his harmlessness. Before morning, however, he had furnished the Danish commander with important intelligence, thereby preventing the success of a surprise movement which the Prussians were about to execute. In return for this service he had been knighted on the battle-field, the order of Dannebrog having been bestowed upon him.
One circumstance that probably intensified the charm which Dannevig exerted upon the social circles of the Danish capital was the mystery which shrouded his origin. There were vague whisperings of lofty parentage, and even royal names were hinted at, always, of course, in the strictest privacy. The fact that he hailed from France (though no one could say it for a certainty) and still had a Danish name and spoke Danish like a native, was in itself looked upon as an interesting anomaly. Then again, his easy, aristocratic bearing and his finely carved face suggested all manner of romantic possibilities; his long, delicate hands, the unobtrusive perfection of his toilet and the very texture of his handkerchiefs told plainly enough that he had been familiar with high life from the cradle. His way of living, too, was the subject of much curious comment. Without being really extravagant, he still spent money in a free-and-easy fashion, and always gave one the impression of having unbounded resources, though no one could tell exactly what they were. The only solution of the riddle was that he might have access to the treasury of some mighty man who, for reasons which perhaps would not bear publicity, felt called upon to support him.