He prayed: “O God, when honor is dumb, and misjudgment speaks, give me back misjudgment! When happiness is dumb, but sorrow speaks, give me back sorrow!”
But the crown was taken from him. He sat there, more miserable than the most miserable, for he had been cast down from the heights of life. He was a fallen king.
A CHRISTMAS GUEST
0ne of those who had lived the life of a pensioner at Ekeby was little Ruster, who could transpose music and play the flute. He was of low origin and poor, without home and without relations. Hard times came to him when the company of pensioners were dispersed.
He then had no horse nor carriole, no fur coat nor red-painted luncheon-basket. He had to go on foot from house to house and carry his belongings tied in a blue striped cotton handkerchief. He buttoned his coat all the way up to his chin, so that no one should need to know in what condition his shirt and waistcoat were, and in its deep pockets he kept his most precious possessions: his flute taken to pieces, his flat brandy bottle and his music-pen.
His profession was to copy music, and if it bad been as in the old days, there would have been no lack of work for him. But with every passing year music was less practised in Vaermland. The guitar, with its mouldy, silken ribbon and its worn screws, and the dented horn, with faded tassels and cord were put away in the lumber-room in the attic, and the dust settled inches deep on the long, iron-bound violin boxes. Yet the less little Ruster had to do with flute and music-pen, so much the more must he turn to the brandy flask, and at last he became quite a drunkard. It was a great pity.
He was still received at the manor-houses as an old friend, but there were complaints when he came and joy when he went. There was an odor of dirt and brandy about him, and if he had only a couple of glasses of wine or one toddy, he grew confused and told unpleasant stories. He was the torment of the hospitable houses.
One Christmas he came to Loefdala, where Liljekrona, the great violinist, had his home. Liljekrona had also been one of the pensioners of Ekeby, but after the death of the major’s wife, he returned to his quiet farm and remained there. Ruster came to him a few days before Christmas, in the midst of all the preparations, and asked for work. Liljekrona gave him a little copying to keep him busy.
“You ought to have let him go immediately,” said his wife; “now he will certainly take so long with that that we will be obliged to keep him over Christmas.”
“He must be somewhere,” answered Liljekrona.
And he offered Ruster toddy and brandy, sat with him, and lived over again with him the whole Ekeby time. But he was out of spirits and disgusted by him, like every one else, although he would not let it be seen, for old friendship and hospitality were sacred to him.