Unwelcome by August Strindberg
The baptism service was over, and the family party had got into the
boats and hoisted sail. The little fleet now glided out of the green
bay below the island chapel. In the first boat sat the god-parents with
the newly baptised infant.
"It was a strange idea to call the boy 'Christian,'" said the mother's
sister to the father's sister, as she put the child's feeding-bottle to
"Oh, it doesn't matter what one is called, and if he has the same name
as the Danish King it is good enough," said the other.
"Yes, but the poor boy will have no name-day if he has no patron saint."
"That is all right, for then no one will have the trouble of
celebrating it. He was not wished for and he was hardly welcome," said
the father's sister.
In the second boat sat the father and mother and the two elder
children, a boy and a girl aged seven and eight respectively.
"We could have done very well without another one," said the father as
he ported the helm.
"It is all very well talking now," said his wife as she counter-braced
"Yes, I know," he replied.
"But you will be kind to him?" she said.
"I must be, I suppose," was his answer. He pushed his boy down from the
boat-side on which he had clambered, saying, "Keep still in the boat,
children, or the devil will have you."
In the third boat sat the pastor and the grand-parents.
"How is the fishing?" asked the former.
"So-so," answered the grandfather. "The Lord knows where the fish go
now. When I was young, one caught enough herrings in two nights to last
the winter, and now it is doubtful whether one catches any at all."
"Yes, it is strange; I had three standing nets out there on Wednesday
night and did not catch a fin," said the pastor. "Winter will bring
hard times, and one ought to look forward before producing more mouths
than one can fill."
"I told him so," said the grandfather assentingly. "The house is
big enough for one brood, not for two. Better one farmer than two
cottagers. I don't think, however, he will divide the farm, but this
last child must go out into service like others."
"That is certainly as good as starving at home," said the pastor.
The July sun blazed hotly upon the fjord, the sky was perfectly blue,
and the newly baptised child screamed, whether from joy or grief it
was difficult to say. Soon the thatched roofs of the farm were visible
among the alders, and the boats halted at the bridge. The occupants
disembarked and were regaled with a good meal spread under the oak
trees. Afterwards the pastor thanked God for the happiness with which
he had blessed the house, and bade the guests raise their glasses to
welcome the new citizen of the world into the congregation.
Christian grew up among the calves and pigs, for his brother and sister
were too old to play with him. He seemed born with two characteristics
which never left him: one was to be always in the way, the other was to
be never welcome. Wherever he appeared, behind a bush, on a haystack,
under a boat, in a loft, or in the cottage, the cry always was, "Is
it you, young scoundrel?" Wherever he happened to be, and anyone
approached, they said, "You always have to be in the way."
His parents, who for eight years had been unaccustomed to the crying
of a baby, and were now a good deal older so that they enjoyed a
good sleep, found it somewhat difficult to reconcile themselves to
his crying at night, and they soon came to regard it as a failing
which was peculiar to their youngest born. It was in vain that the
grandmother asserted that all children cried, and that Hans the eldest
had really cried much more when he was little. His father said he could
not remember that at all; all he remembered was that Hans had been
an uncommonly good child, who had always been a source of joy to his
parents. There was such a great difference, he added, between children.
Meanwhile Christian, who was intelligent enough to see that he was in
the way, acquired the habit of keeping out of the way; when he saw
anyone he hid himself, ran out to the woods and fields, and was up to
all kinds of mischief.
As he became older and was strong enough to do some useful work,
attempts were made to tame him, but in vain. When put in charge of
cattle, he ran away from them and let them go into the fields; he laid
the fishing-nets so deep that they could not be got up again, and when
sought for, he was not to be found. In short he seemed half a savage.
Once, at his elder brother's suggestion, he was beaten, but then he
remained away eight whole days, and when he reappeared he was as stout
and strong as before; no one knew what he had eaten or where he had
But Christian himself knew well enough. The scanty diet of his home
consisted chiefly of salt fish, turnips and bread. Christian, who often
had to satisfy himself with what fell from the table, or was left
over, often felt a longing for more nourishing food, especially as he
grew older and approached manhood. He was hungry the whole day, and
went to the wood and the seashore to get food. Fish did not attract
him, for he had chewed them till he was tired and they gave him no
strength; he looked for warm-blooded creatures, and when he caught
some young birds he ate them raw. Then he felt stronger as the blood
diffused an intoxicating warmth throughout his body. Eggs had the same
effect; these he took ruthlessly from the nests of the sea-birds on the
shore. In this way he procured for himself a diet which was much more
nourishing than his parents and brother and sister could contrive to
So he grew, and became strong, but could not make up his mind to work.
In a rude boat which he had managed to construct himself, he cruised
about the islands and hunted for eggs. His parents, who did not exactly
miss his presence, soon began to regard him as having flown from the
One fine spring day, when the eider-geese were flying over the
outermost islands, Christian sailed out with his bow and his nooses,
more for the sake of amusement and passing the time than for
practical purposes, for he never killed anything except for immediate
consumption. He landed with his boat on one of those skerries which
form the last breakwater against the open sea, and which only sea-birds
and fishermen frequent during the summer. The skerry was uninhabited,
but a rude shed had been built on it to serve as a sleeping-place for
fishermen in the fishing season, and as a shelter for travellers and
those who might be driven ashore. It consisted of a single room with
the bare earth for its floor; along the wall were arranged berths like
shelves furnished with sheep-skins for sleeping under. Two stones on
the ground marked where a fire might be lit, and flint and steel were
kept in a place well known to all between the beams above the door.
The door was always closed but could be opened with a bent wooden
peg. Everyone had a right to enter if they only closed the door after
them and put back the flint and steel in its place. If any-body wished
to show benevolence or gratitude, they placed an armful of grass or
juniper twigs near the fire-place, for there was not a tree on the
skerry. It was in these shelters that Christian generally slept, and
there he took his simple meals; he knew each one of them for miles
around, and where the best sheep-skins were to be found. The fleas
which infested them generally left him alone.
Meanwhile the spring evening was beautiful, and the sea lay there
serene in blue tranquillity. Christian, who had learnt not to trust it,
drew his boat up and hid it behind some great stones. He had rowed far
and clambered about on the rocks, so that he went into the rest-house
and got into the topmost berth to sleep. He lay there for a time and
thought about various things—about the day which had just passed,
about his life and its purposes, and the life which should follow this.
He had opened the sky-light and saw the steel-grey heaven above him,
and a star or two which palely glimmered in the lingering sunlight. Has
religious instincts had not been educated either by parents, pastors
or teachers, nor had he been confirmed, but he knew that behind
nature and the events of life were guiding powers of which one had no
nearer knowledge. He had arrived at no certainty regarding the object
of his existence. Together with the gift of life, he had received the
instinct to preserve it, and obeyed this instinct. What more was there
to do? He ate in order to be able to work, and worked in order to get
something to eat. Yes, but in the intervals, he thought, or, rather,
he wondered. He wondered whether perhaps these very thoughts of his
constituted the higher aim of life of which he dreamt; he remembered
that his mother had said that the earth was a vale of tears through
which we must wander in order to become better and thereby worthier
of the Kingdom of Heaven. He found, on closer reflection, that he
neither grew better nor worse from one day to another, and he did
not understand how he was to improve. Perhaps he was an exception?
Possibly. All others took the oath of loyalty to the King; all others
paid taxes, went to church, paid tithes to the clergy, paid rent, swept
the snow away for one another, bought and sold, summoned each other
before the law-courts, but could do nothing without asking permission
and payment. They asked permission to be able to marry, to be received
into the community where they were born, to be buried in the earth; and
on each occasion there were fees to pay. They paid the King for ruling
them, they paid the judge for judging them, the pastor for saving them,
and the executioner for hanging them; they paid in the town for the
right to sell their fish, and they paid for the bridges on which the
town's existence depended. Christian, who did nothing of all this, was
therefore an exception, and the reason he escaped all these payments
was, that he possessed nothing. That was the difference between him and
them: he possessed nothing. In earlier times he had heard those who had
nothing sailed out on the sea and took from those who had. This was
now not permitted, and rightly so, for Christian could not think it
permissible that anyone should come and take his boat or his axe from
While these half-developed thoughts came and went in the
half-consciousness of a tired brain, sleep overcame him. After some
hours he awoke with a choking feeling in his chest and a terrible
smarting in his eyes. He sat up in his berth and saw that a fire
had been made on the ground below. By it sat two men—one in the
half-barbaric costume of the inhabitants of Dägo, the other in the
everyday garb of a Swedish fisherman. They were roasting some herrings
before the fire. Christian, who did not feel inclined to move, as he
did not know how the strangers might be disposed, protected himself
from the smoke as well as he could by creeping as far as possible
under the coverlet; he did not blame himself for listening to their
conversation, but, as we shall see afterwards, turned it to profit.
"They are a stupid lot, these Swedes!" said the man from Dägo, who
believed that his superior bodily strength gave him the right to say
what he liked.
"Oh, you mustn't talk ill of the Swedes," said the other, who in such a
nocturnal tęte-ā-tęte did not venture to use a more impolite form of
"Well, can one imagine less enterprising people than these fishermen?
If they knew what the eider-birds' down was worth in Russia, they would
be able to make a pile of money."
"Yes, but you see the Swedes think it wrong to deprive the birds of the
down which they need for hatching their eggs."
"That is just their stupidity; for if they don't take it, foreigners
will, like they take everything else."
"No, it is not stupidity, it is consideration to think of our
successors, who also should derive profit from the birds which would
disappear, if disturbed."
"That is not true; but if foreigners came, they would take both eggs
and down together."
"They can do that if they have no conscience; Swedes would rather be
poor than behave so badly."
"That is why I call them stupid. But now, to speak of another matter.
Why don't you hunt ermines and squirrels here as they do inland?"
"Because we have enough to do with the fish and prefer the certain to
"That is right; but I should prefer a sure income from skins and down
to an insecure one from the sea. If I had nothing else to do, it
wouldn't be long before I had enough money to buy a piece of ground to
build upon and fish too."
The Swede dropped the subject and shared his food with the stranger,
who had anchored before the skerry because the wind had fallen. When it
rose again at sunrise they both left the rest-house, little guessing
what seeds they had sown in Christian's uncultured brain.
No sooner had the sound of their footsteps died away than he sprang up
and went out. The rifling sun illumined the open sea which was ruffled
by the morning breeze, and over whose surface sea-birds were circling.
To Christian this scene was not new, but to-day the sun seemed to shine
more brightly and his horizon was enlarged. His eye, which had often
swept the surface of the water without finding an object behind the
blue line which bound the horizon, fancied it perceived, hidden by the
clouds in the east, a distant land where the deliverer dwelt who would
come and make him like other men; he would cease to be in the way; he
would be welcome somewhere, would rest upon his own roof, and perhaps
possess a small spot on this earth where he hitherto was hunted about
like a trespassing dog. Hope awoke in his soul, and when he saw the
strange boat hoist sail and enter the golden path traced on the waves
by the sun, he fancied himself standing by the helm and steering to the
distant land behind the blue horizon with his precious cargo, and now
he determined to begin a new life.
Far out in the Fjallang Fjord, almost in the open sea, lies a skerry
which is called Trollhattorna or the "Goblin's Cap." It consists of a
round crag with four flat sides which have a certain resemblance to
the cape which the goblins of fairy-tales are supposed to wear. Between
these faces of the crag are deep clefts where guillemots build their
nests, and where they are completely protected from rain and wind.
After sundry combats with the fearless owners Christian had succeeded
in obtaining undisturbed possession of that cleft which faced the land,
into which the wind from the sea never blew. Here he had contrived
a storehouse for his collected treasures by stretching a rain-proof
sealskin, which he occasionally smeared with train-oil, between the
walls of the cleft. He spent two years in amassing these treasures,
and employed in doing so all his long-trained capacities. He could
imitate all creatures' voices; he could whistle like the weasel, make
a smacking noise like the squirrel, and grumble like the eider-duck.
He knew how to approach one of the latter when sitting on her nest of
seaweed on the open beach, and he could look at her so that she quietly
let him stroke her back while he plucked the down. He never took more
than one of the six eggs, and if the nestlings were already hatched
he left them in peace; the ermine he sometimes caught with traps and
sometimes shot them with blunted arrows so that the fur should not be
injured. Squirrels he watched for from behind an oak, and could entice
them to come so near that he could seize them with his hands; in the
winter he dragged them by the help of a willow branch from their nests,
and obtained their entire store of hazel-nuts besides.
His senses had grown so fine by practice that he could hear a mile
off what sort of bird was approaching, and even in the twilight he
could distinguish at an incredible distance between a black water-hen
and a merganser. Among his worst rivals, the crows, who hunted the
eider-ducks in order to devour their eggs, he did great execution. By
exposing the bodies of weasels and squirrels which he had skinned, he
allured whole swarms of these uninvited plunderers, which he then shot
down. Such was his skill and so completely undisturbed was he, that
within two years he had accumulated in his grotto a store which seemed
to him sufficient to bring him to the foreign land where the sun rose,
and where people would know how to appreciate his treasures. Now again
the spring was approaching, and the thought how he should construct a
vessel sufficiently large and sea-worthy began to disquiet him.
He knew that he could get out to the open sea very easily with a large
fishing-boat such as was used for catching herrings, and that it was
not more than two days' journey to the land on the other side, but he
saw small prospect of being able to build such a boat and of procuring
the expensive sails. His natural instinct, which revolted against the
idea of anyone coming and taking from him what he had earned by his own
work, forbade his procuring such a boat in any unlawful way.
The spring came nearer and nearer, and his disquietude increased.
One afternoon he was sitting on the highest point of Trollhattorna,
looking out over the sea where sails appeared and disappeared. A
red-brown eider-duck came swimming with its young ones after it; the
sea-gulls flew past his ears screaming, and the mergansers answered
them. Christian felt like a mountain king as he sat there above his
treasure-chamber, but at the same time he seemed to himself to have
been bewitched by the mountain spirits, for he saw no prospect of
getting away. Just then he heard the measured stroke of oars behind
him, and saw a boat with four men in it being rowed towards the place
where he sat. As it came nearer, he recognised his father and brother,
but did not know the two others, one of whom shouted to him: "Come
down, you pirate!"
Christian remained where he was.
"Obey, when the King's sheriff orders you," said his father.
High up on the skerry stood a pile of stones which the fishermen had
set there as a mark. Christian was prepared to defend himself. "I am
not a pirate," he said.
"Ah, do you contradict the King's sheriff," said his father. "Beware!
and do not make us all miserable."
"I make no one miserable," answered Christian, "but I defend myself
when I see that people wish me ill. What do you want from me?"
"You have here a hiding-place for goods which you have stolen from
peaceful traders," said the sheriff. "We have seen all."
"I have stolen nothing from anyone," said Christian. "All that is here
I have earned by hard work."
"Nonsense! Do you think we shall believe that one can collect so many
skins and all this down here in these bare skerries. Come down, for the
last time, or we will take you."
They began to climb the cliff, but then Christian began to hurl down
blocks of stone, which bounded over the heads of his assailants,
knocked splinters out of the rocks, and plumped into the water,
without however striking anyone.
"Wretched boy!" cried his father. "You were born for my ruin!"
"Who begot me?" answered Christian, and threw the last stone.
Now the besiegers had a prospect of success, and soon Christian felt
his legs caught in a noose; and he was soon wound up like a ball,
rolled down the hill, and laid in the bottom of the boat.
"Do not hurt him unnecessarily," said his father. "I will be security
Then he began in a comparatively friendly tone to tell Christian how
badly he had treated his parents, who had produced him, clothed him,
and been kind to him; with what sorrow and shame he had requited them
since their name would now become notorious and dishonoured in the
neighbourhood. He adjured him by the Cross of Christ and all the saints
that he should confess his sin, since by his doing so the offence would
be half pardoned and might be atoned for by a fine. He pointed to his
grey hairs and begged Christian not to bring dishonour on them; he bade
him to think of his brother who would soon take his father's place
and uphold the good name and prosperity of the family; he concluded
by declaring that one must not live for oneself but for others also,
because society was built up of families, and if families did not hold
together, society would fall. Christian should therefore acknowledge
But Christian had committed no crime, and therefore could not save
society. His father's unwonted mildness moved him and he wished for a
moment that he had done what he was accused of.
Their talk continued till they reached home. Christian was taken to the
barn and locked up there. The others went to the cottage, where they
ate their supper and talked over the matter. Presently, as Christian
lay reflecting on the floor of the barn, the door opened, and his
mother stepped in.
"Son," she said, "think of your old mother, and tell the truth."
"Then mother would rather have a thief for her son than an honourable
"I want you to confess; then your father will pay a fine for your
offence, and our good name will be saved."
"That is strange," said Christian, whose brain could not follow this
line of thought. "If I make myself a criminal, then the crime can be
pardoned, but if I continue to be honourable, it cannot. What crime?
One which has never been committed? For I have not stolen; I have only
gone where anyone can go, and for a long time have collected skins and
eggs as I have leave to do."
But his mother replied that that had nothing to do with it; the one
thing necessary was that he should confess, since; the King's sheriff
His mother departed sadly. Then came his sister, and said that
Christian should not plunge her too into misery; for if the family were
disgraced, her fiancé, Peter, could not marry her. Christian had only
to confess, then he would be free and his father would pay the fine.
Christian replied that he could not say "yes" when he ought to say "no."
But why, she rejoined, could he not when he would make so many people
Oh, did his sister then wish him to lie?
Why should he not under the circumstances?
He would despise himself and not wish to live any longer.
Yes, but if he made his father and mother and brother and sister happy?
Did not Christian want them to be happy?
Yes he did, but lying was another matter.
All men did that a little, and Christian should not make himself better
All men liars! Christian had never believed that, and he himself had
That was because he had never needed to lie.
Why, that was dreadful! How could men live together if they did not
speak the truth?
His sister said she could not explain that, but now she would go her
way, and never wished to see again a brother who made her so unhappy.
Christian felt quite nervous by having so much attention concentrated
on his person; he was not accustomed to people busying themselves about
him, and this close dealing with his soul had disturbed his wonted
equanimity. These people begged and implored him to do them a service;
he could make them happy or miserable with a word—he was therefore a
person of importance. This made him self-conscious, and he was seized
with a desire to see the result of his intervention on their behalf.
It was merely a matter of saying "yes" instead of "no," and after all
what did it signify when all men were accustomed to change little words
in case of need. Perhaps he would have fared better if he had done so
before. His resolve was taken.
His father then entered and asked him if it was possible for a boy to
collect such a stock of things?
Yes it was, if one did nothing else and was diligent.
His father could not believe it; he had never seen it and therefore
found it incredible.
Christian repeated his affirmation. His father asked him to confess
that he had stolen. Christian said "yes." His father, with the knife
in his hand, asked whether he would confess to the bailiff. Christian
promised solemnly to do so. His father cut the rope and they went
together to the cottage. There sat the bailiff eating his porridge
"Has he confessed?" he asked, letting his spoon rest.
"He has," said the father, to the great joy of those of the family who
But the bailiff seemed to have made some miscalculation, for he was not
"Well," he resumed, turning to Christian, "how did you manage it? I
should like to know."
Christian, who would also have been pleased to hear how a single man
sets about plundering a trader's boat, stood at first speechless,
but as he began to think how he would act under the specified
circumstances, his imagination came to his help. He went to the stand
near the door, where the axes were kept, and took the largest gimlet
he could see. Then he took down his father's great sheep-skin, threw it
on the bed, and after he had taken his stand in the middle of the room,
began thus. "There lies the boat at anchor" (be pointed to the bed)
"and there lies the skipper asleep" (he indicated the sheep-skin).
"Wait! Let me think!" interrupted the bailiff, whose brain worked
But Christian continued. "Here I stand on the shore, watching the boat.
Then I consider. There lies a boat and here am I. Probably there is
something at the bottom of the boat."
Christian, who was not accustomed to lie, came to a stop, for his
awakening conscience urged him to flight and freedom. Fortunately the
bailiff utilised this pause to get his ideas into order.
"Let me see," he said. "There lies the skipper, and there lies the
gimlet. What had you to do with the gimlet?"
Christian knew well, but that was, for the present, his secret. "I
throw myself into the sea, my legs are entangled in the weeds, I wrench
myself loose, swim to the anchor-rope, take the gimlet and sink the
"That is too fast, too fast! Wait! Where were we?" said the bailiff.
"We sank the boat."
He dipped the wooden spoon into the jug of milk, and continued.
"Well, and the cargo sank too?"
"That is remarkable. How did you get hold of it then?"
"I raised it," said Christian.
"He raised it. Quite right. Now I begin to see," said the bailiff,
turning to Christian's father. "But," he resumed, after rubbing his
nose with the spoon handle, "I do not understand why he sank the boat
when he took the cargo."
"The skipper! The skipper!" broke in Christian's father, who was quite
absorbed in the adventure.
"The skipper! Yes, that is quite right! He is a sharp youngster! It is
a serious case, but finely managed."
Christian had had time to make his plan. He drew back to the door and
asked, "Can I go now?"
The bailiff asked himself, "Can he go now?" Then he said, "Wait a
moment! Did you not take up the skipper too?"
"No, I did not," said Christian, "but if the bailiff wishes it I will."
Then he disappeared through the door, with the sheep-skin on his
shoulder and the gimlet in his hand, indicating his intention to
save the skipper, and leaving those present to their reflections and
When Christian went out he went straight to the shore, reflecting how
quickly he had become a liar and how comfortably lying helped one
through the difficulties of life. Then he bored holes in all the boats
except the largest fishing-boat, on which he hoisted sail and steered
towards Trollhättor. There he put his stores on board till the sun
rose, then hoisted sail again and held on in the sun's track.
Two years had passed. The old fisherman and his wife were dead. Their
son Hans had taken over the farm and married a poor girl. Nothing had
been heard of Christian, and at the division of the property he had
been declared disinherited because he had left the country on account
of a crime and nothing more had been heard of him. Hans' cottage stood
on the shore of the fjord, just where it narrowed to a sound through
which boats had to pass to reach the large fishing skerries. Exactly
opposite the sound lay a little island about one acre in extent. It
consisted mostly of hillocks, but in a hollow between them some earth
had collected, covered with very good grass, and a score of birches
had sprung up. Through his cottage windows Hans could see the island
which was part of a neighbour's property.
One day during the spring thaw he sat and watched how the crows sailed
on the pieces of ice in the sound; snow lay in patches on the banks,
but there were glimpses of green in the clefts of the rocks. By chance
he glanced over to the other shore and there perceived some movements
going on which aroused his curiosity. Some workmen were bringing stones
and timber already hewn and cut as if for building a cottage, but he
could see no vessel which had conveyed the materials or the workmen. He
could not rest till he had sent a servant over to his neighbour to ask
what was going on. The messenger returned with the news that a stranger
from Esthland had bought the island and was intending to build on it.
This was all that Hans could discover at present. But not long after
he discovered that the new-comer was his own brother, Christian, who
had returned, accompanied by his wife whom he had married abroad. On
mature consideration the risks for his freedom had not seemed great to
him since no witnesses to hid adventurous plundering could be produced,
and as regards the disappearance of the fishing-boat and the boring of
holes in the others, there would only be a fine to pay, if his brother
lodged a complaint against him.
Meanwhile the house grew higher and became such a stately building,
with its outhouses, as to attract the attention of all who passed by,
and to arouse the envy of Hans. One day he said to his wife, "I begin
to think that this old house must be rebuilt."
"It is not long since that was done," she answered.
But Hans was wilful and had his own way. He was obliged to hire workmen
who ate up his seed-corn and finished his winter stock of herrings.
"Pride comes before a fall," said people.
During the winter Hans sat in his large house and was half starved. In
spring he had to sell a cow in order to buy seed.
Christian, on the other hand, lived comfortably in his roomy dwelling,
though he possessed neither land, meadows, woods, fishing-grounds,
cattle, nor yacht. Hans and he never met.
One evening the pastor, on his way from visiting a sick person, called
in at Hans' house, and sat by the fire to warm himself. "I cannot
understand how he has his train-oil factory far away in Esthland, and
can sit here at home and manage it," said the pastor.
"Who?" asked Hans.
"He over there; Christian, your brother."
"Train-oil factory? He told my neighbour he was a rope-maker."
"Rope-maker? That is strange! Then one of us has heard wrong."
While they were discussing the matter, there was a knock at the door
and the bailiff entered. He had been engaged in his business out of
"It is quite incomprehensible," he said, "how one can sit here among
the skerries and manage mines far away in Russia."
General commotion! Christian was a scoundrel! The pastor must go over
and speak with him and the bailiff must find out how he supported
The next day the pastor and the bailiff paid Christian a visit. They
were received on the bridge and conducted into the house, which was
handsomely furnished like that of a rich man, so that all questions
as to Christian's means of subsistence were prevented. The floor was
covered with smooth hewn planks, the fire-place was made of stone,
and the walls were covered with hangings. Christian's wife was lively
and pretty; her hair was black and hung over her eyes. She went round
and poured Greek wine into their glasses while Christian related the
moat extraordinary adventures of his travels which the pastor and the
bailiff, under the influence of wine, found quite credible. This went
on till late at night, and the pastor was carried down to the boat on
a pair of oars, bestowing his blessing on tools and buildings and not
least on Christian who had presented the church with a goblet of gilt
silver. The bailiff, who had received a hunting-dog as a gift from
Christian, was guided by it down to the boat where, placing his fingers
on a tub of herrings, he took an oath that Christian was the most
honourable man in the skerries.
Some time afterwards Christian came home, after an excursion among the
skerries, in a great sailing boat rigged with two lateen sails which
could hold straight against the wind and needed not to be taken down
when he turned.
Hans now had no more peace. He must have lateen sails. His wife had
been weaving linen during the whole winter for new shirts; Hans soon
convinced her that the sails were more important. But he was also
convinced, after bearing of the great reception which his brother had
given to his guests, that a house-holder could not offer beer to his
guests when a small-tenant offered wine. Still, wine was very dear,
and he had a sharp struggle with himself as well as with his wife. He
said they could economise with milk, to which he attached no special
importance, and that he was quite willing to give up his own share of
it. The second cow was sold.
Meanwhile wonderful reports began to go about and were repeated.
Trollhättor was said to be haunted, and no one ventured to go there.
Flames had been seen dancing over the sea. About that time there was a
shipwreck, accompanied by the unusual circumstance that not one of the
crew was saved. It seemed still more peculiar that Christian, shortly
before the ship was driven on shore, had rented an inferior fishing
ground among the outermost skerries, which had shallow banks and where
no one wished to fish. He had been seen there carrying fishing-forks
and lighting fires, but no one could understand why he went so far out
The reports increased and became threatening. But the pastor and the
bailiff, who were regular guests at Christian's, took him vigorously
under their protection, refuted the scandal, and thus the whole affair
When the spring came Hans had no seed-corn. He took no trouble about
his patches of ground but let anything grow on them. He killed his own
oxen for a baptism-feast which he held in March. No resource was now
left to him but fishing. It was an insecure means of earning a living,
almost like gambling. When he got nothing, he went hungry; when he had
a good haul, he made a feast. His brother-in-law, who had a claim on
his farm on account of his wife, caused him uneasiness also.
When the week of prayer before Easter arrived and the pastor came with
the Holy Cross and the boys sang the litany round the fields in order
to bless the seed sown, Hans was ashamed to acknowledge that his field
had no seed sown in it. Then when only thistles appeared on it, people
said he had betrayed the Cross of Christ.
The next year Hans had another son. Then he burnt up his last wood and
sowed turnips in the ashes. But Christian sat on the shore exactly
opposite, and saw how the beautiful island was changed to a bare
skerry. He felt neither grief nor joy, but only found it instructive to
watch the development of the affair.
In autumn Hans' turnip-crop failed, for the wood which had been a
protection from the north wind was gone. One day, when their need was
great and Hans had gone out fishing, his wife took a punt and rowed
over the sound. Christian received her in a friendly way and bade her
come into the guest-house where private conversations were generally
held. She told him her great need and asked for help. Christian made
no objection but gave help generously, including a cow, seed-corn, and
so on. Hans' wife was moved, and confessed that her husband had not
behaved well. Christian said he knew nothing about that and did not mix
in other people's affairs. So they parted.
When she had gone, Christian said to his wife, "Olga, I have nothing
more to do here. I have seen the punishment come without lifting my
hand against my own flesh and blood. Hans is a beggar; in winter he
will become a thief, since he must steal wood, after having burnt his
trees. His children will become servants, if nothing worse. And that
is right! They taught me to lie, and the representative of the law
made me a thief. I was honest, but they would not let me be so. Now I
could be so if I wished, for they have told me I can be an honorary
magistrate, if I like to buy ground. But I will possess nothing of this
earth for which men fight; I will not be respected by this society,
who suspect that I am a scoundrel, and yet pardon me because I have a
stone fire-place and drink wine. All my toils put together could not
make me rich, you know, for one cannot become so by collecting skins
and down. If I had lived three hundred years ago I would have been a
pirate and my name would have been celebrated and cursed in the world.
Then I would have staked my life and won my bread in honourable battle;
now I am a wreck-plunderer and a corpse-robber, who enjoy the respect
of everyone except my own—and thine, Olga. Let us leave this country
which had no place for us when we were honest, but opened its doors
when we were dishonest. Let us go where the earth has yet no owner,
where the freeborn man can pasture his flocks, where the sky itself
waters the grass, and the sun entices it to grow. Your eyes, Olga, ask
me whether I shall not miss the old home where my childhood passed? I
had no childhood; no one bade me welcome when I came, and no one says
farewell when I go. When I saw you, Olga, my childhood began, and where
you are, there is my home."
In the evening the Trollhättor was again haunted, and an incendiary set
fire to Christian's house. By the light of the fire his largest boat
was seen sailing out in an easterly direction. Christian sat at the
helm, but his young wife sat in front by the main-sheet, keeping the