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.
It seemed as if his calm and gentle presence called forth all that was good in the feasters and banished whatever was evil. Such was his popularity that he earned more money by his fiddling in a week than his father had ever done by charcoal-burning in a month.
A half-superstitious regard for him became general among the people; first, because it seemed impossible that any man could play as he did without the aid of some supernatural power; and secondly, because his gentle demeanor and quaint, terse sayings inspired them with admiration. It was difficult to tell by whom the name, Wise Nils, was first started, but it was felt by all to be appropriate, and it therefore clung to the modest fiddler, in spite of all his protests.
Before he was twenty-five years old it became the fashion to go to him and consult him in difficult situations; and though he long shrank from giving advice, his reluctance wore away, when it became evident to him that he could actually benefit the people.