There was no one among the candidates for confirmation, that year, who was so well liked as Nils. Gentle as he was and soft-spoken, there was a manly spirit in him, and that always commands respect among boys.
He received much praise from the pastor, and no one envied him the kind words that were addressed to him; for every one felt that they were deserved. But the thought in Nils's mind during all the ceremony in the church and in the parsonage was this:
"Now, perhaps, I shall be good enough to win the Nixy's favor. Now I shall catch the wondrous strain."
It did not occur to him, in his eagerness, that such a reflection was out of place in church; nor was it, perhaps, for the Nixy's strain was constantly associated in his mind with all that was best in him; with his highest aspirations, and his constant strivings for goodness and nobleness in thought and deed.
It happened about this time that the old schoolmaster died, and in his will it was found that he had bequeathed his fiddle to Nils. He had very little else to leave, poor fellow; but if he had been a Croesus he could not have given his favorite pupil anything that would have delighted him more.
Nils played now early and late, except when he was in the woods with his father. His fame went abroad through all the valley as the best fiddler in seven parishes round, and people often came from afar to hear him. There was a peculiar quality in his playing--something strangely appealing, that brought the tears to one's eyes--yet so elusive that it was impossible to repeat or describe it.
It was rumored among the villagers that he had caught the Nixy's strain, and that it was that which touched the heart so deeply in his improvisations. But Nils knew well that he had not caught the Nixy's strain; though a faint echo--a haunting undertone--of that vaguely remembered snatch of melody, heard now and then in the water's roar, would steal at times into his music, when he was, perhaps, himself least aware of it.
Invitations now came to him from far and wide to play at wedding and dancing parties and funerals. There was no feast complete without Nils; and soon this strange thing was noticed, that quarrels and brawls, which in those days were common enough in Norway, were rare wherever Nils played.