The great question which Albert Grimlund was debating was fraught with unpleasant possibilities. He could not go home for the Christmas vacation, for his father lived in Drontheim, which is so far away from Christiania that it was scarcely worth while making the journey for a mere two-weeks' holiday. Then, on the other hand, he had an old great-aunt who lived but a few miles from the city. She had, from conscientious motives, he feared, sent him an invitation to pass Christmas with her. But Albert had a poor opinion of Aunt Elsbeth. He thought her a very tedious person. She had a dozen cats, talked of nothing but sermons and lessons, and asked him occasionally, with pleasant humor, whether he got many whippings at school. She failed to comprehend that a boy could not amuse himself forever by looking at the pictures in the old family Bible, holding yarn, and listening to oft-repeated stories, which he knew by heart, concerning the doings and sayings of his grandfather. Aunt Elsbeth, after a previous experience with her nephew, had come to regard boys as rather a reprehensible kind of animal, who differed in many of their ways from girls, and altogether to the boys' disadvantage.
Now, the prospect of being "caged" for two weeks with this estimable lady was, as I said, not at all pleasant to Albert. He was sixteen years old, loved out-door sports, and had no taste for cats. His chief pride was his muscle, and no boy ever made his acquaintance without being invited to feel the size and hardness of his biceps. This was a standing joke in the Latin school, and Albert was generally known among his companions as "Biceps" Grimlund. He was not very tall for his age, but broad-shouldered and deep-chested, with something in his glance, his gait, and his manners which showed that he had been born and bred near the sea. He cultivated a weather-beaten complexion, and was particularly proud when the skin "peeled" on his nose, which it usually did in the summer-time, during his visits to his home in the extreme north. Like most blond people, when sunburnt, he was red, not brown; and this became a source of great satisfaction when he learned that Lord Nelson had the same peculiarity. Albert's favorite books were the sea romances of Captain Marryat, whose "Peter Simple" and "Midshipman Easy" he held to be the noblest products of human genius. It was a bitter disappointment to him that his father forbade his going to sea and was educating him to be a "landlubber," which he had been taught by his boy associates to regard as the most contemptible thing on earth.
Two days before Christmas, Biceps Grimlund was sitting in his room, looking gloomily out of the window. He wished to postpone as long as possible his departure for Aunt Elsbeth's country-place, for he foresaw that both he and she were doomed to a surfeit of each other's company during the coming fortnight. At last he heaved a deep sigh and languidly began to pack his trunk. He had just disposed the dear Marryat books on top of his starched shirts, when he heard rapid footsteps on the stairs, and the next moment the door burst open, and his classmate, Ralph Hoyer, rushed breathlessly into the room.
"Biceps," he cried, "look at this! Here is a letter from my father, and he tells me to invite one of my classmates to come home with me for the vacation. Will you come? Oh, we shall have grand times, I tell you! No end of fun!"
Albert, instead of answering, jumped up and danced a jig on the floor, upsetting two chairs and breaking the wash-pitcher.
"Hurrah!" he cried, "I'm your man. Shake hands on it, Ralph! You have saved me from two weeks of cats and yarn and moping! Give us your paw! I never was so glad to see anybody in all my life."
And to prove it, he seized Ralph by the shoulders, gave him a vigorous whirl and forced him to join in the dance.
"Now, stop your nonsense," Ralph protested, laughing; "if you have so much strength to waste, wait till we are at home in Solheim, and you'll have a chance to use it profitably."