But where was this mother? Was she still living, or had she perished? Was she weeping for her lost son, or must the son, on the contrary, think of her as forever lost to him?
He remained for some minutes absorbed in these reflections, with his head bent, but a word from Dame Katrina recalled him to himself.
“Erik, you are always our child,” she cried, disturbed by his silence.
The eyes of the young man as he looked around him fell on all their loving countenances—the maternal look of the loving wife, the honest face of Mr. Hersebom, that of Otto even more affectionate than usual, and that of Vanda, serious and troubled. As he read the tenderness and disquietude displayed on all their faces, Erik felt as if his heart was melting within him. In a moment he realized his situation, and saw vividly the scene which his father had described. The cradle abandoned to the mercy of the waves, rescued by the hardy fisherman, and carried to his wife; and these people, humble and poor as they were, had not hesitated to take care of the little stranger, to adopt and cherish him as their own son. They had not spoken of the matter for fourteen years, and now they were hanging on his words as if they were a matter of life and death to them.
All this touched him so deeply that suddenly his tears came. An irresistible feeling of love and gratitude overwhelmed him. He felt eager on his part to repay by some devotion the tenderness which they had shown to him. He resolved to stay with them at Noroe forever, and content himself with their humble lot, while he endeavored to do everything in his power to repay them.
“Mother,” said he, throwing himself into Katrina’s arms, “do you think that I can hesitate, now that I know all? We will write to the doctor, and thank him for his kind offer, and tell him that I have chosen to remain with you. I will be a fisherman, like you, father, and like Otto. Since you have given me a place at your fireside, I would prefer to retain it. Since you have nourished me by the labor of your hands, I ask to be allowed to repay you in your old age for your generosity toward me when I was a helpless infant.”
“God be praised!” cried Dame Katrina, pressing Erik to her heart in a transport of joy and tenderness.
“I knew that the child would prefer the sea to all their books,” said Mr. Hersebom, not understanding the sacrifice that Erik’s decision would be to him.
“Come, the matter is settled. We will not talk about it any more, but only try to enjoy this good festival of Christmas!”
They all embraced each other, with eyes humid with happiness, and vowed they would never be separated.
When Erik was alone he could not help a stifled sigh, as he thought about all his former dreams of work, and of the career which he had renounced. But still he experienced at the same time a joy which he believed would repay him for the sacrifice.