He was a peasant, he said, and must remain a peasant. He belonged here in his native valley, where he could do good, and was happy in the belief that he was useful.
Out in the great world, of which he knew nothing, he might indeed gather wealth, but he might lose his peace of mind, which was more precious than wealth. He was content with a moderate prosperity, and that he had already attained. He had enough, and more than enough, to satisfy his modest wants, and to provide those who were dear to him with reasonable comfort in their present condition of life.
The strangers were amazed at a man's thus calmly refusing a fortune that was within his easy grasp, for they did not doubt that Nils, with his entirely unconventional manner of playing, and yet with that extraordinary moving quality in his play, would become the rage both in Europe and America, as a kind of heaven-born, untutored genius, and fill both his own pockets and theirs with shekels.
They made repeated efforts to persuade him, but it was all in vain. With smiling serenity, he told them that he had uttered his final decision. They then took leave of him, and a month after their departure there arrived from Germany a box addressed to Nils. He opened it with some trepidation, and it was found to contain a Cremona violin --a genuine Stradivarius.
The moment Nils touched the strings with the bow, a thrill of rapture went through him, the like of which he had never experienced. The divine sweetness and purity of the tone that vibrated through those magic chambers resounded through all his being, and made him feel happy and exalted.
It occurred to him, while he was coaxing the intoxicating music from his instrument, that tonight would be midsummer night. Now was his chance to catch the Nixy's strain, for this exquisite violin would be capable of rendering the very chant of the archangels in the morning of time.
To-night he would surprise the Nixy, and the divine strain should no more drift like a melodious mist through his brain; for at midsummer night the Nixy always plays the loudest, and then, if ever, is the time to learn what he felt must be the highest secret of the musical art.
Hugging his Stradivarius close to his breast, to protect it from the damp night-air, Nils hurried through the birch woods down to the river. The moon was sailing calmly through a fleecy film of cloud, and a light mist hovered over the tops of the forest.