This evening all the family were gathered round the fire-place, where a huge kettle was boiling, containing “sillsallat,” or smoked herring, salmon and potatoes.
Mr. Hersebom, seated in a high wooden chair, was making a net, which was his usual occupation when he was not on the sea, or drying his fish. He was a hardy fisherman, whose skin had been bronzed by exposure to the arctic breezes, and his hair was gray, although he was still in the prime of life. His son Otto, a great boy, fourteen years old, who bore a strong resemblance to him, and who was destined to also become famous as a fisherman, sat near him. At present he was occupied in solving the mysteries of the rule of three, covering a little slate with figures, although his large hands looked as if they would be much more at home handling the oars.
Erik, seated before the dining-table, was absorbed in a Volume of history that Mr. Malarius had lent him. Katrina, Hersebom, the goodwife, was occupied peacefully with her spinning-wheel, while little Vanda, a blonde of ten years, was seated on a stool, knitting a large stocking with red wool.
At their feet a large dog of a yellowish-white color, with wool as thick as that of a sheep, lay curled up sound asleep.
For more than one hour the silence had been unbroken, and the copper lamp suspended over their heads, and filled with fish oil, lighted softly this tranquil interior.
To tell the truth, the silence became oppressive to Dame Katrina, who for some moments had betrayed the desire of unloosing her tongue.
At last she could keep quiet no longer.
“You have worked long enough for to-night,” she said, “it is time to lay the cloth for supper.”
Without a word of expostulation. Erik lifted his large book, and seated himself nearer the fire-place, whilst Vanda laid aside her knitting, and going to the buffet brought out the plates and spoons.
“Did you say, Otto,” asked the little girl, “that our Erik answered the doctor very well?”
“Very well, indeed,” said Otto enthusiastically, “he talked like a book in fact. I do not know where he learned it all. The more questions the doctor asked the more he had to answer. The words came and came. Mr. Malarius was well satisfied with him.”
“I am also,” said Vanda, gravely.
“Oh, we were all well pleased. If you could have seen, mother, how the children all listened, with their mouths open. We were only afraid that our turn would come. But Erik was not afraid, and answered the doctor as he would have answered the master.”
“Stop. Mr. Malarius is as good as the doctor, and quite as learned,” cried Erik, whom their praises seemed to annoy.
The old fisherman gave him an approving smile.
“You are right, little boy,” he said; “Mr. Malarius, if he chose, could be the superior of all the doctors in the town, and besides he does not make use of his scientific knowledge to ruin poor people.”