And Other Stories
Translated by Claud Field
T. Werner Laurie Limited
8 Essex Street, Strand
August Strindberg. Born at Stockholm, January 22, 1849;
died there, May 14, 1912. A Swedish dramatist and novelist,
a leader of modern Swedish literature. Among his plays
are "Master Olof" (1872), "Gilletshemlighet" (1880),
"Fadren" (1887), "Froken Julie" (1888), "Glaubiger"
(1889), "Till Damaskus" (1808), and a series of historical
dramas including "Gustavas Wasa," "Erik XIV.," "Gustavas
Adolphus," and "Carol XII." He wrote also "Roda rummet"
(1879), "Det nya riket" (1882), which provoked so much
criticism that the author left Sweden for a number of
years; "Svenska folket HELG OCH SOKEN" (1882), "GIFTAS"
(1884), "DIE BEICHTE EINES THOREN" (1893), "INFERNO"
(1897), written after one of his periodical attacks of
insanity; "EINSAM" (1903), an autobiographical novel; "DIE
GOTISCHEN ZIMMER" (1904), and many other volumes. He has
been called "the Shakspere of Sweden."
—The Century Cyclopædia of Names.
THE GERMAN LIEUTENANT
PAUL AND PETER
THE LAST SHOT
It was fourteen days after Sedan, in the middle of September, 1870. A
former clerk in the Prussian Geological Survey, later a lieutenant in
the reserve, named Von Bleichroden, sat in his shirt-sleeves before a
writing-table in the Café du Cercle, the best inn of the little town
Marlotte. He had thrown his military coat with its stiff collar over
the back of a chair, and there it hung limp, and collapsed like a
corpse, with its empty arms seeming to clutch at the legs of the chair
to keep itself from falling headlong. Round the body of the coat one
saw the mark of the sword-belt, and the left coat-tail was rubbed quite
smooth by the sheath. The back of the coat was as dusty as a high-road,
and the lieutenant-geologist might have studied the tertiary deposits
of the district on the edges of his much-worn trousers. When the
orderlies came into the room with their dirty boots, he could till by
the traces they left on the floor whether they had been walking over
Eocene or Pleiocene formations. He was really more a geologist than a
soldier, but for the present he was a letter-writer. He had pushed his
spectacles up to his forehead, sat with his pen at rest, and looked out
of the window.
The garden lay in all its autumn glory before him, and the branches of
the apple and pear trees bent with a load of the most splendid fruit to
the ground. Orange-red pumpkins sunned themselves close beside prickly
grey-green artichokes; fiery-red tomatoes clambered up sticks near
wool-white cauliflowers; sun-flowers as large as a plate were turning
their yellow disks towards the west, where the sun was beginning to
sink; whole companies of dahlias, white as fresh-starched linen,
purple-red like congealed blood, dirty-red like fresh-slaughtered
flesh, salmon-red, sulphur-yellow, flax-coloured, mottled and speckled,
sang one great flower-concert. Then there was the sand-strewn path
lined by two rows of giant gilly-flowers; faintly lilac-coloured,
dazzlingly ice-blue, and straw-yellow, they continued the perspective
to where the vineyards stood in their brownish-green array, a small
wood of thyrsus-staves with the reddened grape-clusters half hidden
under the leaves. Behind them were the whitening, unharvested stalks
of the cornfields, with the over-ripe ears of corn hanging sorrowfully
towards the ground, with wide-open husks and bractlets at every gust of
wind paying their tribute to the earth and bursting with their juices.
And far in the background were the oak-tree tops and the beechen arches
of the Forest of Fontainebleau, whose outlines melted away into the
finest denticulations, like old Brussels lace, into the extreme meshes
of which the horizontal rays of the evening sun wove gold threads. Some
bees were still visiting the splendid honey-flowers in the garden; a
robin-redbreast twittered in an apple tree; strong gusts of scent came
now and then from the gilly-flowers, as when one walks along a pavement
and the door of a scent-shop is opened.
The lieutenant sat with his pen at rest, visibly entranced by the
beautiful scene. "What a lovely land!" he thought, and his recollection
went back to the sandy plain of his home, diversified by some wretched
stunted firs which stretched their gnarled arms towards the sky as
though they implored the favour of not having to drown in the sand.
But the beautiful landscape which was framed in the window was shadowed
as regularly as clockwork by the musket of the sentry, whose bright,
shining bayonet bisected the picture, and who turned on his rounds
exactly under a pear tree heavily laden with the finest yellow-green
The lieutenant thought for a moment of asking him to choose another
beat, but did not venture to do so; so in order to escape the flash of
the bayonet, he let his gaze wander to the left over the courtyard.
There stood the cook-house with its yellow-plastered wall, and an old
knotty vine spread out against it like the skeleton of some animal in a
museum; the vine was without leaves or clusters, and it stood there as
though crucified, nailed fast to the decaying espalier, stretching out
its long tough arms and fingers as though it wished to draw the sentry
into its ghostly embrace as he turned.
The lieutenant turned away and looked at his writing-table. There lay
the unfinished letter to his young wife whom he had married four months
previously, two months before the war broke out. Beside his field-glass
and the list of the French General Staff lay Hartmann's "Philosophy
of the Unconscious" and Schopenhauer's "Parerga and Paralipomena."
Suddenly he rose from the table and walked up and down the room. It
had been the meeting and dining-room of the artists' colony which had
now vanished. The wainscoting of the walls was adorned with little
oil-paintings recording happy hours in the beautiful hospitable country
which so generously opened its art-schools and its exhibitions to
foreigners. Here were depicted Spanish dancing-women, Roman monks,
scenes from the coasts of Normandy and Brittany, Dutch wind-mills,
Scandinavian fishing-villages and Swiss Alps. Into one corner had crept
an easel of walnut-wood, and seemed to be hiding itself in the shadow
from some threatening bayonets. A palette smeared with half-dried
colours hung there and looked like a liver hanging in a pork-shop. Some
red Spanish militia caps belonging to the painters, with the colour
half faded by exposure to the sun and rain, hung on the clothes-horse.
The lieutenant felt embarrassed, like one who has intruded into a
stranger's house, and expects the owner to come and surprise him. He
therefore abruptly ceased walking up and down and took his seat at the
table in order to continue his letter. He had finished the first pages,
which were full of expressions of his sorrow, home-sickness and anxiety
since he had lately heard news which confirmed his joyful hopes of
becoming a father. He dipped his pen in the ink rather in order to have
someone to talk with than to give or ask for news. He wrote as follows:
"So, for example, when I with my hundred men after a march of
fourteen hours without food or water, came to a wood where we found
an abandoned provision-wagon, what do you think happened? So famished
that their eyes protruded from their heads like mountain crystals in
granite, the body of men broke up and threw themselves like wolves upon
the food, and since there was scarcely enough for twenty-five, they
came to blows. No one listened to my word of command, and when the
sergeant struck them with the flat of his sabre, they knocked him down
with the butt-ends of their muskets. Sixteen men remained wounded and
half dead on the place. Those who got hold of the food ate so greedily
that they became sick and had to lie down on the ground, where they
at once fell asleep. They fought with their own countrymen like wild
beasts who fight for food.
"One day we received orders to throw up defences. In the unwooded tract
of country we were in there was nothing to use but the vines and their
stakes. It was a strange sight to see how the vineyards were rifled in
an hour—how the vine-stems were torn up, together with the leaves and
grapes, to form faggot-bundles, which were quite wet with the juice of
the crushed, half-ripe grapes. It was said that the vines were forty
years old. Thus we destroyed the work of forty years in an hour. And
that too in order to shoot down those who had provided the material for
the faggot-bundles which protected us!
"Another day we had to skirmish in an unreaped field of corn where
the ears of corn dropped round our feet like hail and the stalks were
trodden down to rot at the next shower of rain. Do you think, my dear
wife, that one can sleep quietly at night after such doings? And yet,
what have I done but my duty? And people venture to assert that the
consciousness of duty performed is the best pillow for one's head.
"But there are still worse things behind. You have perhaps heard
that the French population in order to strengthen their army have
risen in a mass and formed bodies of volunteers, who, under the
name of 'franc-tireurs,' try to protect their farms and fields. The
Prussian Government has refused to recognise them as soldiers, but
has threatened to have them shot down as spies and traitors whenever
they are found; because, they say, it is states who wage war and not
individuals. But are soldiers not individuals? And are not these
franc-tireurs soldiers? They have a grey uniform like the chasseur
regiments, and uniforms make soldiers. But it is objected that they are
not registered. No, they are not registered, because the Government has
neither had time to have it done nor are means of communication with
the country districts so easy as to make it possible. I have just got
three of these franc-tireurs prisoners in the billiard-room, and am
every moment expecting orders from headquarters to decide their fate."
Here he stopped writing, and rang for his orderly.
The latter, who was in waiting in the tap-room, at once appeared in the
dining-room before the lieutenant.
"How are the prisoners going on?" asked Von Bleichroden.
"Very well, sir; they are just now playing billiards, and are quite
"Give them some bottles of wine, but of the weakest kind. Has nothing
Von Bleichroden continued his letter.
"What strange people these Frenchmen are! The three franc-tireurs
whom I have just mentioned, and who possibly (I say possibly for I
still hope for the best) may be condemned to death in a few days, are
just now playing billiards in the room next to mine and I hear their
cues striking the balls. What happy contempt of the world! It is really
splendid to go hence in such a mood; or rather, it shows that life is
worth very little if one can part from it so easily—I mean when one
has not such dear ties binding one to existence as I possess. Of course
you won't misunderstand me and believe that I think I am tied—— Ah! I
don't know what I am writing, for I have not slept for several nights
and my head is so——"
Just then there was a knock at the door.
At the lieutenant's "Come in!" the door opened and the curé of the
village entered. He was a man of about fifty, with a friendly and
melancholy yet firm expression of face.
"I come, sir," he began, "to ask you for permission to speak with the
The lieutenant rose and put on his coat, while he offered the curé a
seat on the sofa. But when he had buttoned up the coat tightly and
felt the stiff collar close round his neck, it seemed as though his
nobler organs were compressed, and as though his blood stood still
in coursing through secret channels to his heart. Placing his hand
on the copy of Schopenhauer, and leaning against the writing-table,
he said: "I am at your service, Monsieur le Curé, but I do not think
the prisoners will pay you much attention, for they are busy playing
"I think, sir," answered the curé, "that I know my people better than
you do. One question. Do you intend to have these young fellows shot?"
"Naturally," answered Von Bleichroden, quite prepared to assume
his rôle. "It is the states which wage war, Monsieur le Curé, not
"Pardon me, sir, are you and your soldiers not individuals?"
"Pardon me, Monsieur, not for the present."
He slipped the letter to his wife under the blotting-paper and
continued, "I am just now only a representative of the German
Confederation of States."
"But, sir, your amiable Empress, whom may God ever protect, was also
a representative of the German Confederation when she issued her
proclamation to German women to help the wounded, and I know of
hundreds of individual Frenchmen who bless her, although the French
nation curses your nation. Sir, in the name of Jesus the Redeemer"
(here the curé stood up, seized his enemy's hands and continued in a
tear-choked voice), "could you not appeal to her?"
The lieutenant was nearly losing his self-control, but he recovered
himself and said: "With us women have not yet begun to interfere in
"That is a pity," answered the priest, and stood up.
The lieutenant seemed to have heard a noise through the window, so that
he did not pay attention to the priest's answer. He became restless,
and his face was quite white, for the stiff collar could no longer
prevent the blood quitting it.
"Pray sit down, Monsieur," he said. "If you wish to speak with the
prisoners, you can do so, but remain sitting for a minute." (He
listened out of the window again, and now there were heard distinctly
doubled hoof-beats, as of a horse galloping.) "No, don't go, Monsieur,"
he said with a gasp. The sound of galloping came nearer till it became
a walk, slackened and ceased. There was the clinking of a sword and
spurs, footsteps, and Von Bleichroden held a letter in his hand. He
tore it open and read it.
"What is the time?" he asked himself. "Six! In two hours, Monsieur, the
prisoners will be shot without trial."
"Impossible, sir! One does not so hurry men into eternity."
"Eternity or not, the order says that it must be done before vespers,
if I do not wish to regard myself as making common cause with the
franc-tireurs. And here there follows a sharp reprimand because I have
not carried out the order of August 31st. Monsieur, go in and talk with
them and spare me the unpleasantness."
"You think it unpleasant to report a righteous sentence?"
"But I am still a man, Monsieur! Don't you think I am a man?"
He tore open his coat to get air, and began to walk up and down the
"Why cannot we be always men? Why must we have two faces? Oh, Monsieur,
go in and talk with them! Are they married men? Have they wives and
"They are all three unmarried," answered the priest. "But at any rate
you might let them have this one night."
"Impossible! The order says, 'before vespers,' and we have to march at
daybreak. Go to them, Monsieur, go to them!"
"I will go; but remember, Mr Lieutenant, not to go out in your
shirt-sleeves, when you go, or you might meet with the same fate as
they. For it is the coat, you know, which makes the soldier."
And the priest went.
Von Bleichroden wrote the last lines of his letter in a state of great
agitation. Then he sealed it and rang for the orderly.
"Post this letter," he said to him, "and send in the sergeant."
The sergeant came.
"Three times three is twenty-nine—no, three times seven is. Sergeant,
take three times—take seven-and-twenty men and shoot the prisoners
within an hour. Here is the order!"
"Shoot them?" asked the sergeant hesitatingly.
"Yes, shoot them! Choose the worst soldiers, those who have been under
fire before. You understand? For instance, number 86, Besel, number
19, Gewehr, and so on. Order also for me a fatigue-party of sixteen
men at once, and choose the best. We will make a reconnaissance
towards Fontainebleau, and when we come back it will be over. Do you
"Sixteen men for you, air, and seven-and-twenty for the prisoners. God
protect you, sir!"
And he went.
The lieutenant buttoned his coat again carefully, put on his
sword-belt, and placed a revolver in his pocket. Then he lit a
cigar, but found it impossible to smoke for he had not enough air
in his lungs. He dusted his writing-table; he took his handkerchief
and wiped the large pair of scissors, the stick of sealing-wax, and
the match-box; he laid the ruler and the pen-holder parallel at an
exact right angle with the blotting-paper; then he began to put the
furniture straight. When that was finished, he took out his brush
and comb and did his hair before the looking-glass; he took down the
palette and examined the dabs of paint on it; he inspected all the red
caps and tried to make the easel stand on two legs. By the time that
the clanking of the weapons of his fatigue-party was audible in the
courtyard, there was not a single object in the room which he had not
Then he went out, gave the command "Left wheel! March!" and quitted the
He felt as though he were running away from a foe of superior power,
and the soldiers found it difficult to follow him. When they came to
a field he made them go in single file so as not to trample down the
grass. He did not turn round, but the soldier next behind him could see
how the cloth of the back of his coat twitched from time to time, as
when one shudders, or expects a blow from behind.
At the edge of the wood he ordered a halt; he told the men to keep
quiet and to rest while he went into the wood. When he found himself
alone and was quite sure that no one could see him, he took a deep
breath and turned towards the dark thickets through which narrow
foot-paths lead to the Gorge-aux-loups. The under-wood and bushes
lay in shadow, but above the sun still shone brightly on the tops of
the oaks and beeches. He felt as though he lay on the dark bottom of
the sea, and through the green water saw above him the light of day
which he never more would reach. The great, wonderfully beautiful wood
which formerly had soothed his troubled spirit seemed this evening so
disharmonious, so repellent, so cold. Life appeared so heartless, so
contradictory, and Nature herself seemed unhappy in her unconscious
sleep. Here also the terrible struggle for existence was being carried
on, bloodlessly it is true, but just as cruelly as by conscious
creatures. He saw how the baby oaks spread themselves out to bushes
in order to kill the tender beech-seedlings which would never be more
than seedlings; of a thousand beeches only one could get to the light
and thereby become a giant, which should in its turn rob the rest of
life. And the ruthless oak, which stretched out its gnarled, rough arms
as though it wished to keep the whole sun for itself, had discovered
how to wage an underground strife. It sent out its long roots in all
directions, undermining the ground; it ate away from the others the
smallest particles of nourishment; and when it could not overshadow a
rival till it was dead, it starved it out. The oak had already murdered
the pine-wood, but the beech came as an avenger slow but sure, for its
acrid juices kill everything where it predominates. It had discovered
the method of poisoning which was irresistible, for not a single plant
could grow in-its shadow; the earth around it was dark as a grave, and
therefore the future belonged to it.
The lieutenant wandered on and on. He struck about with his sword
without thinking how many hopeful young oaklings he destroyed, how
many headless cripples he produced. In fact he hardly thought any more,
for all the activities of his soul seemed crushed in a mortar to pulp.
His thoughts tried to crystallise themselves but dissolved and floated
away; memories, hopes, wrath, gentler feelings, and one great hatred of
all the perversity which by the operation of an inexplicable natural
force had come to rule the world, melted together in his brain, as
though an inner fire had suddenly raised the temperature and obliged
all its solid constituents to assume a fluid form.
Suddenly he started and stood still as if arrested, for from Marlotte
came a sound rolling over the fields and redoubling its echoes in the
hollow passage of the "Wolves' gorge." It was the drum! First a long
roll—trrrrrrrrrrrrrom!—and then blow on blow, one and two, dull and
muffled, as when one nails up a coffin and fears to disturb the house
He took out his watch; it was a quarter to seven. In a quarter of an
hour it would happen! He wished to return and see it. No, he had just
run away to avoid it; he would not see it for anything. Then he climbed
up a tree.
Now he saw the village, which looked so bright and homelike with its
little gardens and church-tower rising above the house roofs. He saw
no more, but held his watch in his hand and followed the second hand.
Tick, tick, tick, tick—it ran round the little dial-plate so swiftly;
but when the second hand had made one round, the long one made a jerk
and the steady hour hand stood still, as it seemed to him, though it
was moving also.
Now the watch showed five minutes to seven. He gripped the smooth black
beech stem he was standing by very tightly. The watch trembled in his
hand, there was a humming in his ears, and he felt a burning sensation
at the roots of his hair. Crash! There was a sound just as when a plank
breaks, and above a dark slate roof and a white apple tree rose a blue
cloud of smoke over the village, bluish white like a spring cloud; but
above the cloud one, two, and several smoke-rings shot up in the air,
as though they had been shooting at pigeons and not towards a wall.
"They were not all so bad as I thought," he said to himself as he got
down from the tree, feeling quieter now that it was over. And now the
little village church bell began to ring, speaking of peace and quiet
for the dead who had done their duty, but not for all the living who
had done theirs.
The sun had gone down, and the moon, whose pale yellow disk had hung
in the sky all the afternoon, began to redden and gather light as the
lieutenant with his men marched by Montcourt, still followed by the
ringing of the little bell. They came out on the great high-road to
Nemours, which, with its two rows of poplars, seemed peculiarly suited
for marching on. So they went on till it was quite night and the moon
shone clearly. In the last row the men had already begun to whisper
and consult secretly whether they should not ask the corporal to give
the lieutenant some sort of hint that the district was unsafe and that
they should return to their quarters in order to be able to march at
daybreak, when Von Bleichroden quite unexpectedly commanded "Halt!"
They stood on a rising ground from which Marlotte could be seen.
The lieutenant stood quite still, like a pointer who startles a
covey of partridges. Now the drum was beating again. Then the clock
in Montcourt struck nine, followed by those in Grez, in Bourron, in
Nemours; and then all the little church bells began to ring for
vespers, vying with each other in shrillness, and through them all
pierced the tones of the bell in Marlotte, which called "Help! help!"
and Von Bleichroden could not help. Now came a booming along the
ground, as though from the depths of the earth; it was the firing of
the evening gun at the headquarters in Chalons. The moon shone through
the light evening mists which were lying like great flocks of wool
above the little River Loin, and lit it up so that it resembled a lava
stream running in the distance from the dark wood of Fontainebleau
which rose like a volcano. The evening was oppressively warm, but the
men had all white faces, so that the bats which swarmed around them
flew close by their ears, as they do when they see anything white. All
knew what the lieutenant was thinking about, but they had never seen
him behave so strangely and feared that it was not all right with this
aimless reconnaissance on the high-road. At last the corporal summoned
up boldness to approach him, and under the form of making a report drew
his attention to the fact that the tattoo had sounded.
Von Bleichroden received the information with a humble air, as when one
receives a command, and gave the order to return home.
When, one hour later, they entered the first street of Marlotte the
corporal noticed that the lieutenant's right leg was contracted as
though by a spavin, and that he moved in a diagonal course like a
horse-fly. In the market-place the troops were dismissed without
evening prayers, and the lieutenant disappeared.
He did not wish to return to his rooms at once. Something was drawing
him he knew not whither. He ran about with widely opened eyes and
inflated nostrils, like a hound on the scent. He examined the walls and
sniffed for a familiar smell. He saw nothing and met no one. He wished
to see where "it" had happened, but he also feared to see it. At last
he became tired and went home. In the courtyard he stopped and then
went round the cook-house. Suddenly he came upon the sergeant and was
so startled that he had to support himself by holding on to the wall.
The sergeant was also startled, but recovered himself and began, "I was
looking for you, sir, in order to make my report."
"Very good! Very good indeed! Go home and lie down," answered Von
Bleichroden, as though he feared to hear details.
"Yes, sir, but it was——"
"Very good! Go! Go!"
He spoke so quickly and uninterruptedly that it was impossible for
the sergeant to put in a word. Every time he opened his mouth he was
overwhelmed with a torrent of words, so that at last he became tired of
it and went away. Then the lieutenant breathed again and felt like a
boy who has escaped a thrashing.
He was now in the garden. The moon shone brightly on the yellow wall
of the cook-house, and the vine stretched its skeleton arms as though
in a very long yawn. But what was that? Two or three hours before it
had been dead and leafless, simply a grey skeleton which writhed, and
now were there not hanging on it the finest red clusters, and had not
the stem grown green? He went nearer in order to see whether it was the
As he came close to the wall he stepped in something slippery and was
aware of the same nauseous smell which one perceives in butchers'
shops. And now he saw that it was the same vine, certainly the same,
but the plaster of the wall was broken by bullets and sprinkled with
He went away quickly. When he came into the front hall he stumbled over
something which lay under his feet. He drew off his boots in the hall
and threw them out in the garden. Then he went into his room, where his
tea was laid. He felt terribly hungry but could not eat. He remained
standing and staring at the covered table which was so neatly spread:
the white pat of butter with a little radish laid on the top of it;
the tablecloth was white and he saw that it was embroidered with his
or his wife's initials, which had not been there at first; the little
goat's milk cheese lay so neatly on its vine leaf, as though something
more than the fear of a forced contribution had operated here; the
beautiful little white loaf so unlike the brown rye-bread to which he
was accustomed; the red wine in the polished decanter; the thin reddish
slices of mutton—all seemed to have been arranged by friendly hands.
But he felt afraid to touch the food, and suddenly rang the bell.
Immediately the landlady stood in the doorway without saying a word.
She looked down at his feet and waited for an order. The lieutenant did
not know what he wanted, nor did he remember for what he had rung, but
he had to say something.
"Are you angry with me?" he stammered.
"No, sir," answered the woman mildly. "Does the gentleman want
anything?" And she looked down again at his feet.
He also looked down to see what had attracted her attention, and
discovered that he was standing in his stockings, and that the floor
was covered with red footprints—red footprints with the mark of the
toes where his stockings had been torn, for he had walked far that day.
"Give me your hand, my good woman," he said, stretching out his own.
"No," answered the woman, and looked straight into his eyes. Then she
left the room.
Herr von Bleichroden tried to pluck up courage after this snub, and
took a chair and sat down to his meal. He lifted the plate of meat
in order to help himself, but the smell of the meat made him feel
ill. He stood up, opened the window, and threw the whole plate with
its contents into the garden. His whole body trembled and he felt
sick; his eyes were so sensitive that the light tried them, and all
bright colours irritated them. He threw out the red bottle of wine, he
took away the red radish from the butter, the red painters' caps and
palettes—everything that was red had to go. Then he lay down on the
bed. His eyes were tired, but he could not close them, so he lay for an
hour, till he heard voices in the tap-room. He did not wish to listen,
but he could not shut his ears, and recognised that they were two
corporals who were drinking beer and talking.
"Those were two sturdy fellows—the two short ones, but the long one
"Yes, he fell like a bundle of rags by the wall. He had asked that they
should fasten him to the espalier, for he wished to stand, he said."
"But the others—devil take me!—stood with their arms folded over
their breasts, as though they were going to be photographed."
"Yes, but when the priest came into the billiard-room and told them
there was no chance, all three fell crash on the ground, so at least
the sergeant said, but there was no scream nor prayer for mercy."
"Yes, they were deuced plucky chaps. Your health!"
Herr von Bleichroden pressed his head into his pillow and stopped his
ears with the sheets. But presently he got up. It was as if something
drew him forcibly to the door behind which they were talking, he wanted
to hear more; but the corporals now conversed in low tones. Accordingly
he stole forward, leant his back against a corner, laid his ear to the
keyhole and listened.
"But did you see our people? Their faces were as grey as pipe ashes,
and many of them shot in the air. Don't let us talk more about it! But
they got what they deserved, and they weighed much more when they went
than when they came. It was like shooting little birds with grapeshot."
"Did you see the priest's boys in red cassocks who stood and sang with
the coffee-roasters? It was like snuffing out a light when the rifles
cracked. They rolled in the bean-beds like sparrows, fluttering their
wings and turning their eyes. And how the old women came and picked up
the pieces! Oh! oh! but so it goes in war. Your health!"
Herr von Bleichroden had heard enough; the blood had so gone to his
brain that he could not sleep. He went into the tap-room and told the
corporals-to go home. Then he undressed himself, dipped his head in the
hand-basin, took up Schopenhauer and began to read with pulses beating
"Birth and death both belong to life; they constitute two opposites
which condition each other; they are the two extreme poles in
each manifestation of life. This is just what the deepest of all
mythologies, the Hindu, has expressed by investing Siva the goddess
of destruction with a necklace of skulls and the Lingam, the organ of
reproduction. Death is the painful dissolution of a knot which was tied
in pleasure, it is the forcible doing away with the fundamental mistake
of our existence, it is deliverance from a delusion."
He let the book drop, for he heard someone crying and tossing about in
his bed. Who was in the bed? He saw a body, the under part of which was
painfully contorted by cramp, while the muscles of the chest stood out
strained like the staves of a cask, and he heard a low, hollow sound
like a shriek smothered under the bed-clothes. It was his own body! Had
he then been divided into two, that he heard and saw himself as though
he were another person? The screaming continued. The door opened and
the mild-mannered landlady came in, probably alter knocking.
"What does the gentleman want?" she asked with shining eyes and a
peculiar smile upon her lips.
"I!" answered the sick man. "Nothing! But I am very ill and would like
to see a doctor."
"There is no doctor here, but the priest is accustomed to help us,"
answered the woman, smiling no longer.
"Send for the priest then," said the lieutenant, "though I don't
generally like them."
"But when one is ill, one likes them," said the woman, and disappeared.
When the priest entered he went to the bed and took the sick man's
"What do you think it is?" asked the latter. "What do you think it is?"
"A bad conscience," was the priest's brief reply.
Herr von Bleichroden answered excitedly, "A bad conscience after doing
"Yes," answered the priest, tying a wet handkerchief round the sick
man's head. "Listen to me while you still can. It is now you who are
condemned—to a worse lot than the —three! Listen to me carefully.
I know the symptoms. You are on the edge of madness. You must try to
think the matter out. Think hard, and you will find your brain get
right again. Look at me, and follow my words if you can. You have
become two persons. You regard one part of yourself as though it were
a second or a third person. How did that happen? It is the social
falsehood, which makes us all double. When you wrote to your wife
to-day you were a man—a true, simple, good man; but when you spoke
with me you were another character altogether. Just as an actor loses
his personality and becomes a mere conglomeration of the parts he
performs, so an official becomes two persons at least. Now when there
comes a spiritual shock, upheaval or earthquake, the soul splits, as it
were, in two, and the two natures lie side by side, and contemplate
"I see a book lying on the ground which I also know. The author was a
deep thinker, perhaps the deepest of all. He saw through the misery and
nothingness of earthly life as though he had learnt from our Lord and
Saviour, but for all that he could not help being a double character,
for life, birth, habit and human weakness compelled him to relapses.
You see, sir, that I have read other books beside the breviary. And I
talk as a doctor, not as a priest, for we both—follow me carefully—we
both understand one another. Do you think I do not know the curse of
the double life which I lead? Not that I feel any doubt of the holy
things, which have passed into my blood and bones, so to speak, but I
know, sir, that I do not speak in God's name when I speak. Falsehood
passes into us from our mother's womb and breast, and he who would tell
the whole truth out under present circumstances—yes, yes! Can you
The sick man listened eagerly, and his eyelids had not dropped once all
the time the priest was speaking.
"Now there is a little traitor," continued the priest, "with a torch in
his hand, an angel who goes about with a basket of roses with which
he bestrews the refuse-heaps of life. He is an angel of deceit, and
he is called 'The Beautiful.' The heathen worshipped him in Greece;
princes have done him homage, for he has bewitched the eyes of people
so that they could not see things as they are. He goes through the
whole of life, falsifying and falsifying. Why do you warriors dress in
splendid clothes with gold and brilliant colours? Why do you always
work with music and flying flags? Is it not to conceal what is really
at the bottom of your profession? If you loved the truth, you ought
to go about in white smocks, like butchers, so that the bloodstains
might show distinctly, with knives and marrow-borers as they do in
slaughter-houses, with axes dripping blood and greasy with tallow.
Instead of a band of music, you ought to drive before you a herd of
howling maniacs whom the sights of the battlefield have driven crazy;
instead of flags, you should carry shrouds and draw coffins on your
wagon-trains." The sick man, who now writhed in convulsions, clasped
his hands in prayer and bit his finger-nails. The priest's face had
assumed a terrible expression—hard, implacable, hostile. He continued:
"You are naturally a good man, you, and I will not punish that side
of you, but I punish you as a representative, as you called yourself,
and your punishment will be a warning to others. Will you see the three
corpses? Will you see them?"
"No! For Jesus' sake!" shrieked the sick man, whose nightshirt was wet
with sweat and clung to his shoulder-blades.
"Your cowardice shows that you are a man, and, as such, cowardly."
As though struck by the blow of a whip, the sick man started up; his
face seemed composed, his chest was no more convulsed, and with a calm
voice, as though he were quite well, he said: "Go, devil of a priest,
or you will make me do something desperate."
"But I shall not come again if you call me," said the other. "Remember
that! Remember, that if you cannot sleep it is not my fault, but the
fault of those who lie in the billiard-room! In the billiard-room, you
know!" He flung open the door of the billiard-room, and a terrible
smell of carbolic acid streamed into the sick-chamber. "Do you smell
it? Do you smell it? That is not like smelling powder, nor is it an
exploit to telegraph home about. Great victory! Three dead and one
mad! God be praised! It is not an occasion for writing odes, strewing
flowers in the streets, and singing Te Deums in the churches? It is not
a victory! It is murder, murder, you murderer!"
Herr von Bleichroden had sprung out of bed and jumped out of the
window. In the courtyard he was seized by some of his men, whom he
tried to bite. Then he was bound and placed in a headquarter ambulance
in order to be taken to the asylum as a complete maniac.
It was a sunny morning at the end of February, 1871. Up the steep
Martheray Hill in Lausanne a young woman walked slowly, leaning on
the arm of a middle-aged man. She was far gone in pregnancy, and hung
heavily on her companion's arm. Her face was that of a girl, but it was
pale with care, and she was dressed in mourning. The man was not, from
which the passers-by concluded that he was not her husband. He seemed
in deep trouble, stooped down now and then to the little woman and
said a word or two to her, then seemed to be absorbed again in his own
thoughts. When they came to the old custom-house in front of the inn "A
l'Ours," they stood still.
"Is there another hill?" she asked.
"Yes, dear," he answered. "Let us sit down for a moment."
They sat down on a seat before the inn. Her heart beat slowly and her
breast heaved painfully, as though for want of air.
"I am sorry for you, poor brother," she said. "I see that you are
longing to be with your own family."
"Don't mention it, sister! Don't let us talk about it. Certainly my
heart is sometimes far away, and they need me at the sowing time, but
you are my sister, and one cannot disown one's flesh and blood."
"We shall see now," resumed Frau von Bleichroden, "whether this air and
this new treatment will help towards his cure. What do you think?"
"Certainly it will," her brother answered, but turned his head aside so
that she should not see the doubt in his face.
"What a winter I have passed through in Frankfort! To think that
Destiny can invent such tragedies! I think I could have borne his death
more easily than this living burial."
"But one must always hope," said her brother in a hopeless tone.
And his thoughts travelled far—to his children and his fields. But
immediately afterwards he felt ashamed of his selfishness, that he
could not sympathise fully with this grief, which was really not his
own but which he had to share, and he felt angry with himself.
Suddenly there sounded from the hill above a shrill, prolonged scream,
like the whistle of a locomotive, and then another.
"Does the train go so high up the mountain?" asked Frau von Bleichroden.
"Yes, it must be that," said her brother, and listened with wide-open
The scream was repeated. But now it sounded as if someone were drowning.
"Let us go home again," said Herr Schantz, who had become quite pale;
"you cannot climb this hill to-day, and to-morrow we will be wiser and
take a carriage."
But his sister insisted on proceeding in spite of all. And so they
ascended the long hill to the hospital, though it was like a climb up
Calvary. Through the green hawthorn hedges on both sides of the way,
darted black thrushes with yellow beaks; grey lizards raced over the
ivy-grown walls and disappeared in the crevices. It was full spring,
for there had been no winter, and by the edges of the path bloomed
primroses and hellebores; but they did not arrest the attention of
the pilgrims. When they had got half-way up the hill, the mysterious
screaming was repeated. As though overcome by a sudden foreboding, Frau
von Bleichroden turned to her brother, looked in his eyes with her own,
which were clouding over, only to see her fears confirmed, then she
sank down on the path without being able to utter a cry, while a yellow
cloud of dust whirled over her. And there she remained lying.
Before her brother could collect himself a casual passer-by had run for
a carriage, and as the young woman was carried into it her work for the
coming generation had already begun, and now two cries were heard—the
cries of two human creatures from the depths of sorrow.
Her brother stood on the pathway looking up to the blue sky of spring,
and thought to himself, "If the cries could only be heard up there, but
it is certainly too high."
In the hospital which stood above them, Von Bleichroden had been lodged
in a room which had an open view towards the south. The walls were
padded and painted with flowing contours of landscapes in faint blue.
On the ceiling was painted an espalier with vine leaves. The floor was
carpeted, and under the carpet was a layer of straw. The furniture was
completely covered with horsehair and cushions, so that no corners or
edges of the wood were visible.
The situation of the door could not be discovered from within the room,
thereby diverting all the patient's thoughts of getting out and the
consciousness of being confined, the most dangerous of all to a mind
in a state of excitement. The windows, it is true, were grated, but the
gratings were elaborately wrought in the shape of lilies and leaves,
and so painted that their purpose was quite disguised.
Von Bleichroden's madness had taken the form of torments of conscience.
He imagined that he had murdered the keeper of a vineyard under
mysterious circumstances, which he could never bring himself to confess
for the simple reason that he could not remember them. Now he thought
himself condemned to death and sitting in prison awaiting the execution
of the sentence. But he had lucid intervals. Then he fastened large
sheets of paper on the walls of the room and wrote syllogisms on them
till they were covered. Then he remembered that he had caused some
franc-tireurs to be shot, but did not remember that he was married.
When his wife came to see him he received her visit like that of a
pupil to whom he was giving lessons in logic. He had written up as the
premise of his syllogisms, "All franc-tireurs are traitors and the
order is to shoot them." One day his wife, who was obliged to agree
with everything, had the rashness to shake his belief in the premise
that "all franc-tireurs are traitors," thereupon he tore down all the
syllogisms from the wall and said that he would spend twenty years in
proving the premise, for premises must first be proved.
Besides this, he cherished great projects for the good of mankind. What
is the object of all our striving here upon earth? he asked. Why does
the king reign, the priest preach, the poet write, the artist paint?
In order to procure nitrogen for the body. Nitrogen is the dearest
of all kinds of food, and that is why meat is so expensive. Nitrogen
is intelligence, for the rich who eat meat are more intelligent than
the others who only eat vegetable hydrates. Now (so ran his argument)
nitrogen was beginning to be scarce on the earth and this was why
there came wars, workmen's strikes, newspapers, pietists and coups
d'état. Therefore it was necessary to discover a new nitrogen mine.
Von Bleichroden had done so, and now all men would be equal; liberty,
equality and fraternity would arrive and be realised on earth. This
inexhaustible mine was—the air. It contained seventy-nine per cent
of nitrogen, and a means must be devised of inhaling it directly and
of using it for the nourishment of the body without the necessity of
it being first condensed into grass, corn and vegetables, and then
converted by an animal into flesh. That was the problem of the future
with which Von Bleichroden was busying himself; its solution would
render agriculture and cattle-breeding superfluous, and the golden age
would return on earth. But at intervals he again sank into dreams about
the murder he supposed himself to have committed, and was profoundly
The same February morning on which his wife had been on her way to the
asylum and had been obliged to return, Von Bleichroden sat in his new
room and looked out of the window. At first he had contemplated the
vine painted on the ceiling and the landscape on the walls; then he
set himself in a comfortable chair opposite the window so that he had
a clear view in front of him. He felt quiet to-day, for he had taken a
cold bath the evening before and had slept well. He knew that the month
was February, but he did not know where he was. The first thing that
struck him was the absence of snow out of doors, and that surprised him
for he had never been in southern lands. Outside in front of the window
stood green bushes—the "laurier teint" quite covered with flowers,
the "laurier cerise" with its shining bright green leaves, green
through the whole winter. There was also a box tree and an elm quite
overgrown with ivy which concealed all the branches and gave the tree
the appearance of being in full leaf. Over the lawn, which was starred
with primroses, as though a shower of sulphur had fallen on it, a man
passed mowing the grass with a scythe, while a little girl was raking
Von Bleichroden took an almanac and read "February." "Raking in
February! Where am I?" he asked himself. Then his eyes travelled beyond
the garden and he saw a deep valley which sank gradually but was as
green as a summer meadow. Little villages and churches stood here and
there, and he could see bright green weeping-willows. "In February!" he
said to himself again. And where the meadows ceased there lay a lake,
quite calm and clear blue as air. On the other side of the lake was a
landscape fading in azure tints, topped by a chain of hills. But above
the chain of hills were some other objects which resembled clouds. They
were of as delicate a white as fresh-washed wool, but they were pointed
and over them lay small thin clouds. He did not know where he was, but
it was so beautiful that it could not be on the earth. Was he dead, and
had he entered another world? He was certainly not in Europe. Perhaps
he was dead! He sank into quiet musing and sought to realise his new
But when he looked up again he saw that the whole sunny picture was
framed and crossed by the window-grating; the hammered iron lilies and
the leaf-work stood out in sharp relief as though they were floating
in the air. He was at first startled, but then he composed himself; he
contemplated the picture once more, especially the pointed rosy clouds
(as he thought them). Then he felt a wonderful joy and sensation of
relief in his head: it was as though the convolutions of his brain,
after having been hopelessly entangled, began to arrange and order
themselves. He was so glad that he began to sing, as he thought, but he
had never sung in his life and therefore he only uttered cries of joy.
It was these which had issued from the window and filled his wife with
grief and despair. After sitting thus for an hour, he had remembered an
old painting in a bowling alley near Berlin which represented a Swiss
landscape, and now he knew that he was in Switzerland and that the
pointed clouds were Alps.
When the doctor made his second round he found Von Bleichroden sitting
quietly in a chair before the window and humming to himself, and it was
not possible to divert his gaze from the beautiful scene. But he was
quite clear in his mind and fully realised his situation.
"Doctor," he said, pointing to the grated window, "why do you want to
spoil and fleur-de-lisify such a beautiful picture? Won't you let me
go into the open air? I think it would do me good, and I promise not to
The doctor took his hand in order to feel his pulse secretly with his
"My pulse is only seventy, doctor," said the patient, smiling, "and I
slept well last night. You have nothing to fear."
"I am glad," said the doctor, "that the treatment has really had some
effect on you. You can go out."
"Do you know, doctor," said the patient with an energetic gesture, "do
you know that I feel as though I had been dead and come to life in
another planet—so beautiful does it all seem. Never did I dream that
the earth could be so wonderful."
"Yes, sir, the earth is still beautiful where civilisation has not
spoilt it, and here nature is so strong that it resists the efforts of
men. Do you think that your own country was always so ugly as it now
is? No; where now there are waste sandy plains, which could not nourish
a goat, there formerly rustled noble woods of oak, beech and fir,
under whose shadow beasts of the chase fed, and where fat herds of the
Norse-men's best kine fattened themselves on acorns."
"You are a disciple of Rousseau, doctor," broke in the patient.
"Rousseau was a Genevese, sir. There on the margin of the lake, deep
in the bay which you see above the top of the elms, he was born and
suffered, and there his 'Emile' and 'Contrat Sociale,' the gospels of
nature, were burnt. There on the left, at the foot of the Valais Alps,
in little Clarens, he wrote the book of love, 'La Nouvelle Heloise,'
for it is the Lake of Geneva which you see."
"The Lake of Geneva!" repeated Von Bleichroden.
"In this quiet valley," continued the doctor, "where peaceful men
live, many wounded spirits have sought healing. See there to the
right, immediately above the little promontory with the tower and the
poplars, lies Ferney. Thither fled Voltaire when he had finished his
rôle of 'persifleur' in Paris, and there he cultivated the ground and
erected a temple to the Supreme Being. Farther on lies Coppet, where
lived Madame de Staël, the worst enemy of Napoleon, the betrayer of
the people, who dared to teach the French, her countrymen, that the
German nation was not France's barbarian enemy, for nations do not hate
each other. Look now to the left; hither to this quiet lake fled the
shattered Byron who, like a bound Titan, had torn himself loose from
the trammels by which a period of reaction had endeavoured to imprison
his strong soul, and here below he wrote the 'Prisoner of Chillon,'
to express his intense hatred of tyrants. There under the lofty Mount
Grammont he was nearly drowned one day before the little fishing
village St Gingolphe, but his life was not yet finished. Hither fled
all who could not tolerate the infected air which spread like a cholera
over Europe after the conspiracy of the Holy Alliance against the newly
won rights of the Revolution, that is, of mankind. Here, a thousand
feet below you, Mendelssohn composed his melancholy songs, and Gounod
wrote his 'Faust.' Can you not see whence he derived his inspiration
for the 'Witches' Night,'—there, in the precipices of the Savoy Alps?
Here Victor Hugo composed his fierce satires against the treachery of
Napoleon III.; and here (strange irony of fate!) below in little quiet
retired Vevey, where the north wind can never come, your own Kaiser
sought to forget the terrible scenes of Sadowa and Königgratz. There
the Russian Gortschakoff hid himself when he felt the ground shaking
beneath his feet; here Lord Russell washed off the dust of politics and
breathed pure unpolluted air; here Thiers sought to reduce to order
his inconsistent, but, as I believe, honest schemes, often confused by
political storms, and may he now, when he is to support the destinies
of his people, remember the innocent hours in which his spirit communed
with itself before the mild but solemn majesty of nature! And look over
to Geneva, sir! There dwells no king with his court, but there was born
a thought which is as great as Christianity, and whose apostles also
carry a cross, a red cross on their white flags. When the Mauser rifles
shot at the French eagle and the Chassepot at the German eagle, the red
cross was held sacred by those who did not bow before the black cross,
and in this sign, I believe, the future will conquer."
The patient, who had listened quietly to this strange speech which was
as emotional, not to say sentimental, as if it had come from a preacher
instead of a doctor, felt bored. "You are an enthusiast, doctor," he
"So will you be when you have lived here three months," answered the
"You believe then in the treatment?" asked the patient somewhat less
sceptically than before.
"I believe in the inexhaustible power of nature to heal the sickness of
civilisation," he answered. "Do you feel strong enough to hear a good
piece of news?" he continued, watching his patient closely.
"Well then, peace has been made!"
"God! What a happiness!" the patient burst out.
"Yes certainly," said the doctor; "but don't ask more, for you cannot
hear more to-day. Come out now, but be prepared for one thing. Your
recovery will not be so rapid as you think. You may have relapses.
Memory, you see, is our worst enemy,—but come with me now."
The doctor took his patient's arm and led him into the garden. There
were no railings and no walls to bar one's passage, but only green
hedges, which conducted the wanderer back by labyrinthine paths to his
starting-point; but behind the hedges were deep trenches which were
impossible to cross.
The lieutenant sought for familiar phrases with which to express his
delight, but he felt that they were so inadequate that he resolved to
be silent, listening to a wonderful soundless nerve music. He felt
as though all the strings of his soul were being tuned again, and he
experienced a calm such as he had not felt for a very long time.
"Do you doubt whether I am recovered?" he asked the doctor with a
"You are on the way to recovery, as I told you before, but you are not
They found themselves now before a little arched stone door through
which patients, accompanied by keepers, were passing.
"Where are all these men going?" asked the lieutenant.
"Follow them and you will see," said the doctor. "You have my
Von Bleichroden entered, but the doctor beckoned to a keeper. "Go down
to the Hôtel Faucon to Frau von Bleichroden," he said. "Give her my
respects, and say that her husband is on the way to recovery but has
not yet asked after his wife. When he does that he is saved."
The keeper went, and the doctor followed his patient through the little
Von Bleichroden had entered a large hall which resembled no room that
he had even seen before. It was neither a church, nor a theatre, nor a
school, nor a town hall, but a little of all together. At the end of it
was an apse which opened in three windows filled with painted glass.
The colours harmonised with each other as though composed by a great
artist's hand, and the light which entered was resolved, as it were,
into one great harmonic major chord. It made the same impression on the
patient as the C Major chord with which Haydn disperses the darkness of
chaos, when at the creation the Lord, after the choir have been long
painfully toiling at disentangling the disordered forces of nature,
suddenly calls out "Let there be light!" and cherubim and seraphim join
Under the window was a rock of stalactite formation, shaped like
an arch, from which trickled a little stream falling into a basin
overhung by two arum lilies whose cups were as white as angels' wings.
The pillars which enclosed the apse were constructed in no familiar
architectural style, and their shafts were covered up to the roof with
soft brown liver-wort. The lower panelling of the wall was covered
with fir twigs, and the walls themselves were decorated by leaves of
ever-green plants—laurel, holm-oak and mistletoe—arranged in designs
of no particular style. Sometimes they seemed about to form letters,
but lost themselves in faint fantastic flourishes, like Raphael's
arabesques. Under the window apertures hung large wreaths as if for a
May festival, and along the frieze of the ceiling there ran a design
which had nothing in common with the lotus borders of Egypt, the
meandering curves of Greece, the Acanthus decorations of Rome, or the
trefoil and crucifers of the Gothic style.
Von Bleichroden looked about him and found the place provided with
benches where the patients of the institute sat absorbed in silent
wonder. He took a seat on one of them and heard someone sighing near
him. Then he perceived a man about forty years old who had covered his
face with his hands and wept. He had an aquiline nose, moustache and
pointed beard, and his profile resembled those which Von Bleichroden
had seen on French coins. He was certainly a Frenchman. Here then they
were to meet, enemy with enemy, both somewhat tearful! Why? Because
they had fulfilled their duties towards their respective fatherlands!
Herr von Bleichroden felt excited and uneasy when he suddenly heard a
strain of faint music. The organ was playing a chorale, but a chorale
in the major key; it was neither Lutheran, nor Catholic, nor Calvinist,
nor Greek, yet it spoke a language, and the patient thought he heard
hopeful and comforting words. Then a man got up by the apsis and stood
there half hidden by the stalactite rock. Was he a priest? No, he was
dressed in a light grey coat, wore a bright blue cravat, and displayed
an open shirt-front. He had no book with him, but spoke gently and
simply as one speaks among friends. He spoke of the simple teaching
of Christianity—to love one's neighbour as oneself; to be patient,
tolerant, and forgiving towards enemies. He recalled how Christ had
conceived of humanity as one, but how the evil nature of man had
counteracted this great idea—how men had grouped themselves into
nations, sects and schools; but he also expressed his firm hope that
the principles of Christianity would soon be realised. He came down
after speaking for a quarter of an hour, and offering a short prayer to
God the Omnipotent without introducing any names which might remind his
hearers of a formal creed or rouse their passions.
Herr von Bleichroden awoke as though from a dream. He had, then, been
in church—he who, weary of all petty religious strifes, had not
been to a service for fifteen years! And here, in a lunatic asylum,
it was his fortune to find a Free Church fully realised. Here sat
Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Zwinglians,
Anglicans side by side and worshipped the same God in common. What a
crushing criticism this church hall suggested for all those sects, born
of the selfishness of men, which massacred, burnt and despised each
other! What a handle did it supply for the attack of the "heretical"
church on this political and dynastic Christianity!
Herr von Bleichroden let his gaze wander over the beautiful hall in
order to drive away the terrible pictures which his imagination had
conjured up. His eye roamed about till it fastened on the wall opposite
the apse. There hung a colossal wreath, in the centre of which stood
a word whose letters were formed of fir twigs. It was the French word
"Noel," followed by the German "Weihnacht." What poet had arranged
this hall? What knower of men, what deep mind had so understood how
to awaken the most beautiful and purest of all recollections? Would
not an overclouded mind feel an eager longing for light and clearness
when it recollected the festival of light commemorating the end or,
at any rate, the beginning of the end of the dark days at the turn of
the year? Would not the recollection of childhood, when no religious
strifes, no political hatred, no ambitious empty dreams had obscured
the sense of right in a pure conscience—would it not stir a music in
the soul louder than all those wild-beast bowlings which one had heard
in life in the struggle for bread, or more often for honour?
He continued to meditate, and asked himself, how is it that man, so
innocent as a child, afterwards becomes so evil as he grows older? Is
it education and school, these lauded products of civilisation, which
teach us to be bad? What do our first school-books teach us? They teach
us that God is an Avenger Who punishes the sins of the fathers in the
children unto the third and fourth generation; they teach us that those
men are heroes who have roused nation against nation, and pillaged
lands and kingdoms; that those are great men who have succeeded in
obtaining honour the emptiness of which all see, but after which all
strive; and that true statesmen are those who accomplish great and not
high aims in a crafty manner, whose whole merit consists in want of
conscience, and who will always conquer in the struggle against those
who possess one. And in order that our children may learn all this,
parents make sacrifices and renunciation and suffer the great pain
of separation from their offspring. Surely the whole world must be a
lunatic asylum, if this place was the most reasonable one he had ever
Now he looked again at the only written word in the whole church, and
spelt it over again; then there began to rise in the secret recesses
of his memory a picture, as when a photographer washes a grey negative
plate with ferrous sulphate as soon as he has taken it out of the
camera. He thought he saw his last Christmas Eve represented before
him. The last? No! Then he was in Frankfort. Then it was the last but
one. It was the first evening he had spent in his fiancée's house,
for they had been betrothed the day before. Now he saw the home of
the old pastor, his father-in-law; he saw the low room with the white
sideboard, the piano, the chaffinch in the cage, the balsam plants
in the window, the cupboard with the silver jug on it, the tobacco
pipes—some of meerschaum, some of red clay—and the daughter of the
house going about hanging nuts and apples on the Christmas tree.
The daughter of the house! It was like a flash of lightning in the
darkness, but of beautiful, harmless summer lightning which one watches
from a veranda without any fear of being struck. He was betrothed, he
was married, he had a wife—his own wife who reunited him to life which
he had previously despised and hated. But where was she? He must see
and meet her now, at once! He must fly to her, otherwise he would die
He hastened out of the church, and immediately met the doctor who had
been waiting for him to see the effect of his visit to it. Herr von
Bleichroden seized him by the shoulders, looked him straight in the
eyes, and said with a kind of gasp, "Where is my wife? Take me to her
at once. At once! Where is she?"
"She and your daughter," said the doctor quietly, "are waiting for you
below in the Rue de Bourg."
"My daughter! I have a daughter!" interrupted the patient, and began
"You are very emotional, Herr von Bleichroden," said the doctor,
"Yes, doctor, one must be so here."
"Well, come and dress for going out," answered the doctor, and took his
arm. "In half an hour you will be with your family and then you will be
with yourself again." And they disappeared into the front hall of the
Herr von Bleichroden was a completely modern type. Great grandson
of the French Revolution, grandson of the Holy Alliance, son of the
year 1830, like an ill-starred sailor he had made shipwreck between
the cliffs of revolution and reaction. When between twenty and thirty
years of age his intellect awoke and he realised in what a tissue of
lies, both religious and political, he was involved, he felt as though
he were really awake for the first time, or as though he were the
only sane man shut up in a mad-house. And when he could not discover
a single aperture in the enclosing wall by which he might escape
without being confronted by a bayonet or the muzzle of a gun, he fell
into a state of despair. He ceased to believe in anything, even in the
possibility of deliverance, and betook himself to the opium dens of
pessimism, in order at any rate to benumb his pain since there was no
cure. Schopenhauer became his friend and later on he found in Hartmann
the most brutal teller of truth which the world has seen.
But society summoned him and demanded that he should enrol himself
somewhere in its ranks. Von Bleichroden plunged into scientific study
and chose one of the sciences which has the least to do with the
present—geology, or rather that branch of it, palaeontology, which had
to do with the animal and plant life of a past world. When he asked
himself, "Is this of any use to mankind?" he could only answer, "It
is useful solely to myself, as a kind of opiate." He could never read
a newspaper without feeling fanaticism rising up in him like incipient
madness, and therefore he held everything which could remind him of his
contemporaries and the present at arm's length. He began to hope that
he would be able to spend his days in a dearly earned state of mental
torpor, quietly and with his sanity preserved.
Then he married. He could not escape nature's inexorable law regarding
the preservation of the species. In his wife he had sought to regain
all those inner elements which he had succeeded in eliminating from
himself, and she became his old emotional "ego," over which he rejoiced
quietly without quitting his entrenchments. In her he found his
complement, and he began to collect himself; but he felt also that his
whole future life was based upon two corner-stones. One was his wife;
if she gave way, he and his whole edifice would collapse. When only two
months after their marriage he was torn from her side, he was no longer
himself. He felt as though he had lost one eye, one lung and one arm,
and therefore also he fell so quickly asunder when the blow struck him.
At the sight of his daughter, a new element seemed to be introduced
into what Von Bleichroden called his "natural soul" as distinguished
from his "society soul," which was the product of education. He felt
now that he was incorporated in the family, and that when he died he
would not really die, but that his soul would continue to live in his
child; he realised, in a word, that his soul was really immortal, even
though his body perished in the strife between chemical elements. He
felt himself all at once bound to live and to hope, though sometimes
he was seized with despair when he heard his fellow-countrymen, in
the natural intoxication of victory, ascribe the successful issue
of the war to certain individuals, who, seated in their carriages,
had contemplated the battle-field through their field-glasses. But
then his pessimism seemed to him culpable, because he was hindering
the development of the new epoch by a bad example, and he became
an optimist from a sense of duty. He did not, however, venture to
return home from fear of falling into despondency, but asked for his
discharge, realised his small property, and settled down in Switzerland.
It was a fine warm autumn evening in Vevey in the year 1872. The clock
in the little pension Le Cedre had given the signal for dinner by
striking seven. Round the large dinner-table were assembled the inmates
of the pension, who were all mutually acquainted and lived on terms of
intimacy, as those do who meet in a neutral country.
Herr von Bleichroden and his wife had as their companions at the table
the melancholy Frenchman whom we have already seen in the hospital
church, an English, two Russians, a German and his wife, a Spanish
family, and two Tyrolese ladies.
Conversation proceeded as usual, quietly and peacefully—sometimes
falling into an almost emotional tone, at others touching on the most
burning questions of the day, without however kindling a conflagration.
"Never did I believe that the earth could be so supernaturally
beautiful as here," said Herr von Bleichroden, entranced with the view
through the open veranda doors.
"Nature is beautiful elsewhere also," said the German, "but I believe
our eyes were not healthy."
"That is true," answered the Englishman; "but it really is more
beautiful here than anywhere else. Have you never heard, gentlemen, how
the barbarians felt (they were Alemanni or Hungarians, I think) when
they emerged on the Dent Jaman and looked down on the Lake of Geneva?
They thought that the sky had fallen down on the earth, and were so
alarmed that they turned back again. The guide-book says so positively."
"I believe," said one of the Russians, "that it is the pure air,
free from falsehood, which one breathes here which causes us to find
everything so beautiful, although I will not deny that the beauties
of nature have a reflex action upon our minds and prevent them being
entangled in all our old prejudices. But only wait; when the heirs of
the Holy Alliance are dead, when the highest trees have been truncated,
our little plants also will flourish in clear sunshine."
"You are right," said Herr von Bleichroden; "but we shall not need to
truncate the trees. There are other, more humane ways of proceeding.
There was once an author who had written a mediocre play the success of
which depended on the way in which the principal female part was acted.
He went to a prima donna and asked if she would undertake the rôle.
She gave an evasive reply. Then he forgot himself so far as to remind
her that, according to the rules of the theatre, she could be compelled
to play the part. 'That is true,' she answered, 'but I can make
difficulties.' We can also circumvent our chief opposing falsities. In
England it is simply an affair of the budget. Parliament cuts down the
grant to royal personages, and they go their way. That is the method of
legal reform. Is it not, Mr Englishman?"
"Certainly!" answered the Englishman. "Our Queen has the right to
play croquet and tennis, but she cannot meddle in politics."
"But the wars—the wars—will they never stop?" objected the Spaniard.
"When women get the vote, armies will be reduced," said Herr von
Bleichroden. "Isn't it so, wife?"
His wife nodded assentingly.
"For," continued he, "what mother will permit her son, what wife her
husband, what sister her brother to go into these battles? And when
there is no one to excite men against one another, then the so-called
race-hatred will disappear. 'Man is good but men are bad' said our
friend Jean Jacques, and he was right. Why are men more peaceful
here in this beautiful country? Why do they look more contented than
elsewhere? Because they have not daily and hourly these schoolmasters
over them; they know that they themselves have settled who is to rule
them; above all things they have so little to envy and so little
to annoy them. No royal retinues, no military parades, no pompous
spectacles which tempt a weak man to admire what is ostentatious but
false. Switzerland is the little miniature model after which the Europe
of the future will be built up."
"You are an optimist, sir," said the Spaniard.
"Yes," answered Von Bleichroden; "formerly a pessimist."
"You believe then," continued the Spaniard, "that what is possible in
a little country like Switzerland, with three million inhabitants and
only three languages, is possible also for the whole of Europe?"
Von Bleichroden seemed to hesitate, when one of the Tyrolese spoke.
"Pardon me," she said to the Spaniard, "you doubt whether this is
possible for Europe with its six or seven languages. It is too bold
an experiment, you think, to answer with so many nationalities. But
suppose I were to show you a land with twenty nationalities, Chinese,
Japanese, Negroes, and representatives of all the nations of Europe
mingled—that would be the international kingdom of the future. Well! I
have seen it for I have been in—America."
"Bravo!" said the Englishman. "Our Spanish friend is defeated."
"And you, sir," continued the Tyrolese, turning to the Frenchman, "you
mourn over Alsace-Lorraine, I see! You regard a war of revanche as
unavoidable, for you do not believe that Alsace-Lorraine can continue
to remain German—you think the problem is insoluble."
The Frenchman sighed by way of assent.
"Well, when Europe is one confederation of states, as Herr von
Bleichroden calls Switzerland, then Alsace-Lorraine will be neither
French nor German but just simply Alsace-Lorraine. Is the problem
The Frenchman lifted his glass politely and thanked her, bowing his
head with a melancholy smile.
"You smile," the courageous maiden resumed. "We have smiled all too
long, the smile of despair and scepticism; let us cease doing so! You
see most of the countries of Europe represented among us here. Among
ourselves, where no cynic hears us, we can utter the thoughts of our
hearts, but in parliament, in newspapers, and in books—there we are
cowardly, there we dare not expose ourselves to ridicule, and so we
swim with the stream. What, after all, is the use of being cynical?
Cynicism is the weapon of cowardice. One is anxious about one's heart.
Yes, it is disgusting to see one's entrails exposed at a shop door,
but to see those of others lying on the battle-field, while music and
a rain of flowers await the returning conquerors—that is splendid!
Voltaire was cynical, because he was still anxious about his heart,
while Rousseau vivisected himself, tore his heart out of his breast,
and held it against the sun, as the old Aztec priests did when they
sacrificed—yes, there was method in their madness. And who has changed
human kind—who told us that we were all wrong? Rousseau! Geneva yonder
burnt his books, but modern Geneva has raised a memorial to him. What
each of us here thinks privately, all think privately. Give us only
freedom to say it aloud!"
The Russians raised their black tea-glasses and vociferated words in
their language which only they understood. The Englishman filled his
glass and was about to propose a toast, when the servant-maid came in
and handed him a telegram. The conversation stopped for a moment; the
Englishman read the telegram with visible emotion, folded it up, placed
it in his pocket, and sank in thought. Herr von Bleichroden sat silent,
absorbed in contemplation of the beautiful landscape outside. The
Mont Grammont and the Dent d'Oche were lit up by the afterglow of the
descended sun, which also dyed red the vineyards and chestnut-groves
on the Savoy shore; the Alps glimmered in the damp evening air, and
seemed as unsubstantial as the lights and shades; they stood there like
disembodied powers of nature, dark and terrible on their reverse side,
threatening and gloomy in their hollows, but on their sun-fronting
sides, bright, smiling and joyful. Von Bleichroden thought of the
concluding words of the Tyrolese, and fancied he saw in Mont Grammont
a colossal heart with its apex looking towards the sky—the wounded,
scarred, bleeding heart of humanity which turned itself towards the
sun in a concentrated ardour of sacrifice, prepared to give all,
its best and its dearest, in order to receive all. Then the dark,
steel-blue evening sky was cut through by a streak of light, and above
the low-lying Savoy shore there rose a rocket of enormous size. It
rose high, apparently as high as the Dent d'Oche; it hung suspended as
though it were looking round on the beautiful earth outspread beneath
it before it burst. Thus it hesitated for a few seconds and then began
the descent; but it had not gone many yards before it exploded with a
report which took two minutes to reach Vevey. Then there spread out
something like a white cloud which assumed a four-cornered rectangular
shape, a flag of white fire; a moment after there was another report,
and on the white flag appeared a red cross.
All the party sprang up and hastened into the veranda.
"What does that mean?" exclaimed Herr von Bleichroden, startled.
No one could or would answer, for now there rose a whole volley of
rockets as if discharged from a crater over the peaks of the Voirons,
and scattered a shower of fire which was reflected in the gigantic
mirror of the lake.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" said the Englishman, raising his voice, while
a waiter placed a tray with filled champagne glasses on the table.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" he repeated, "this means, according to the
telegram which I have just received, that the first International
Tribunal at Geneva has finished its work; this means that a war between
two nations, or what would have been worse—a war against the future,
has been prevented; that a hundred thousand Americans and as many
Englishmen have to thank this day that they are alive. The Alabama
Question has been settled not to the advantage of America, but of
justice, not to the injury of England, but for the good of future
generations. Does our Spanish friend still believe that wars are
unavoidable? When our French friend smiles again, let him smile with
the heart and not with the lips only. And you, my German pessimist
friend, do you believe now that the franc-tireur question can be
settled without franc-tireurs and fusillades, but also only in this
way? And you, Russian gentlemen, whom I do not know personally, do
you think your modern method of forestry by truncating trees is the
only correct one? Do you not think it is better to go to the roots?
It is certainly a safer and quieter way. To-day, as an Englishman, I
ought to feel depressed, but I feel proud on account of my country, as
an Englishman always does, you know; but to-day I have a right to be
so, for England is the first European Power which has appealed to the
verdict of honourable men, instead of to blood and iron. And I wish you
all many such defeats as we have had to-day, for that will teach us to
be victorious. Raise your glasses, ladies and gentlemen, for the Red
Cross, for in this sign we will certainly conquer."
Herr von Bleichroden remained in Switzerland. He could not tear himself
away from this wonderful scenery which had led him into another world
more beautiful than that which he had left behind.
Occasionally he had attacks of conscience, but this his doctor ascribed
to a nervousness which is only too common among cultivated people at
the present time. He resolved to elucidate the problem of conscience
in a little pamphlet which he proposed to publish. He had read it to
his friends and it contained some remarkable passages. With his German
gift of penetration, he had reached the heart of the matter, and
discovered that there are two kinds of conscience; first the natural,
and second the artificial. The first conscience, he maintained, was the
natural feeling of right. That was the conscience which had weighed on
him so heavily when he had the franc-tireurs shot. He could only free
himself from this by regarding himself persistently as a victim of the
upper classes. The artificial conscience again originated in the power
of habit and the authority of the upper classes. The power of habit
rested so heavily on Herr von Bleichroden that sometimes when he went
for a walk before noon he felt as though he had neglected his work in
the Geological Bureau, and became uneasy and restless, like a boy who
has played truant from school. He took incredible pains to exculpate
himself by the consideration that he had obtained lawful leave of
absence. But then he remembered vividly his room in the geological
department, his colleagues who kept a keen watch on each other in order
to discover a slip on another's part which might lead to their own
advancement; and the heads of the department anxiously on the look-out
for orders and distinction. He felt then as though he had absconded
from it all.
Sometimes too he was attacked by the official conscience which the
authority of the upper classes imposes on a man. He found it hard to
obey the first commandment—to love one's King and fatherland. The King
had plunged his fatherland into the misery of war in order to obtain
a new fatherland for a relative, i.e. to make a Spaniard out of a
Had the King shown love to his fatherland in this? Had kings, generally
speaking, loved their fatherland? England was ruled by a Hanoverian,
Russia was governed by a German Czar and would soon receive a Danish
empress, Germany had an English Crown-princess, France a Spanish
empress, Sweden a French king and a German queen.
If, following such high examples, people changed their nationality
like a coat, Herr von Bleichroden believed that cosmopolitanism would
have a brilliant future. But the commands of the authorities, which
did not accord with their practice, worried him. He loved his country
as a cat loves her warm place by the fire; but he did not love it as
an institution. Sovereigns find nations necessary to provide them with
conscript armies, as tax-payers and as supporters of the throne, for
without nations there would not be any royal houses.
After Herr von Bleichroden had resided two and a half years in
Switzerland, he received one day a summons from Berlin, for there
were rumours of war in circulation. This time it was Prussia against
Russia—the same Russia which three years previously had lent Prussia
its "moral support" against France. He did not think it conscientious
to march against his friends, and since he was quite sure that the two
nations wished each other no ill, he asked his wife's advice what he
should do in such a new dilemma, for he knew by experience that woman's
conscience is nearer the natural law of right than man's.
After a moment's reflection, she answered "To be a German is more than
to be a Prussian—that is why the German Confederation was formed; to
be a European is more than to be a German; to be a man is more than to
be a European. You cannot change your nation, for all 'nations' are
enemies, and one does not go over to the enemy unless one is a monarch
like Bernadotte or a field-marshal like Von Moltke. The only thing left
is to neutralise yourself. Let us become Swiss. Switzerland is not a
Herr von Bleichroden considered this such a happy and simple solution
of the difficulty that he at once set about making inquiries how he
could be neutralised. His surprise and delight can be imagined when
he found that he had already fulfilled all the conditions required to
become a Swiss citizen (for there are no underlings in that land!) as
he had resided two years there.
Herr von Bleichroden is now neutralised, and although he is very happy
he occasionally, though more seldom than before, has conflicts with his
Sten Ulffot, a youth of twenty years, the last scion of the ancient
family of Ulffot, who possessed property in Wäringe, Hofsta and
Löfsala, awoke one sunny May morning towards the end of the year 1460
in his bedroom at Hofsta in Upland. After some hours of dreamless sleep
his rested brain began to review the events of the previous day, which
had been of such decisive importance for him that, still benumbed by
the blow, be stood as it were outside the whole affair and regarded
it with wonder. The bailiff and sheriff's officer had been there,
had shown mortgage-deeds of the house and estate, had read various
parchment documents, and the upshot of it all was that Sten, because
of his father's and his own debts, was reduced to abject poverty. And
since his father in his lifetime had not been a merciful man, the young
man must leave the old house, which was no longer his, the very next
Sten, who had never taken life seriously, for the simple reason that
life had always been an easy matter for him, took this also very
easily. Poverty for him was simply an uttered word which as yet lacked
any corresponding reality. With a light heart he sprang out of bed,
and put on his only but handsome velvet jacket and his only pair of
breeches of Brabant cloth. He counted his few gold coins, and hid
them carefully in his bosom, for he had now caught some idea of their
importance. Then he went into the castle-room, which was quite empty.
The only impression this spacious room made on him was that he could
breathe more easily in it. Upon a table fastened to the wall were to be
seen damp rings—the traces left by the tankards of beer which the two
functionaries had used the day before; it occurred to him that there
would have been more rings if he had been with them himself—it looked
The sun threw the reflections of the painted windows on the floor, so
that they resembled beautiful mosaic work. His coat of arms, the wolf's
foot on a red ground, was repeated six times; he amused himself by
treading on the black foot, expecting to hear the wolf howl, but every
time he did so the reflection of the wolf's foot merely lay on his
yellow leather boots. When he took a step forward the reflection of
the foot flew up to his breast and on his white jacket the red shield
lay like a bleeding heart torn by the black paw with its outspread
claws. He felt his heart beat violently and left the room.
He climbed the narrow stone stairs to the upper story, which his
parents had occupied in their lifetime. There every possible movable
which makes a house into a home for living beings had been swept off
and carried away. The rooms looked like a series of burial chambers,
hewn out of one rock, intended for souls without bodies and without
corporeal needs. But signs of the life which had been there were still
remaining. Two grey spots on the floor showed where a bed had stood;
there were two dark lines where the table had been', and between them
were marks and scratches left by boots; a dark, irregular stain on the
white-washed wall showed where his father had been accustomed to rest
his head when he raised it from his work which lay on the table. Some
coals from the fire-place had fallen into the room and left dark spots
on the floor like those on a panther-skin.
In his mother's room was a stone image of the Virgin and Child fixed
to the wall; she regarded her Son with a look full of hope and without
any foreboding that she held a future condemned prisoner upon her
knees. Young Sten felt a vague depression and went on. Through a
secret door he mounted up into the attic and went out upon the roof.
Underneath him he saw the whole wide-stretching expanse of land which
till lately he had called his own: these green fields which once formed
the bottom of the sea, surrounded by small green hills once islands,
but lately wore their verdure on his account—to support the poor who
clothed him, brushed him, prepared his food, and tended his horses, his
hounds, his falcons and his cattle. In the previous autumn he had stood
here and watched them sow his corn; now others would come and cut and
gather it in. A little while ago it was his to decide when the fishes
in the streams should die, when the firs in the wood should be felled,
and when the game should be shot. Even the birds in this huge space of
air belonged to him, although they had flown hither from the realm of
the Emperor of Austria.
He could not yet grasp the fact that he possessed nothing more of all
this, for he had never missed anything and therefore did not know what
possession was; he only felt a huge emptiness and thought that the
landscape had a melancholy look. The swallows which had come that very
day flew screaming about him and sought their old nests in the eaves;
some found them, and others did not—the rains of autumn and snows
of winter had destroyed their little clay dwellings so that they had
fallen into the castle-moat.
But there was clay in the fields, water in the brooks and straw on
every hillock; as long as they were homeless they could find shelter in
every grove and under the thatch of every cottage. They hunted without
hindrance in their airy hunting grounds; they paired and wedded in the
blue spring weather which was full of the sweet scents of the newly
sprung birches, the honey-perfumed catkins of the osiers, and all the
invisible burgeonings of the spring. He went farther up on the roof
and stood by the pole that supported the dog-vane. As he looked up to
the white clouds of spring sailing by, it seemed to him as though he
stood on the aerial ship of a fairy-tale and were sailing among the
clouds, and when he looked down on the earth again it appeared like a
collection of mole-hills, a mere rubbish-heap cast out of heaven. But
he had a foreboding that he must go down and dig in the mole-hills in
order to find a living; he felt that his feet stood firm upon the
earth, although his glances wandered at will among the silver-gleaming
As he descended the narrow attic stairs it seemed to him as though an
enormous gimlet were screwing him deeper and deeper into the earth.
He entered the garden and looked at the apple trees in blossom. Who
would pluck the fruits of these trees which he had cultivated and
tended for years? He looked at the empty stable; all his horses were
gone except a sorry nag, which he had never thought worth riding. He
went into the dog-house and saw only ten empty leash-straps. Then
his heart grew heavy, for he felt that he had been parted from the
only living creatures who loved him. All others—friends, servants,
farm-hands, tenants—had, as his poverty increased, gradually changed
their demeanour, but these ten had always remained the same. He was
astonished that he did not feel the blank so bitterly up there in the
ancestral castle with its memories, for he forgot that that sense of
loss had long been obliterated by his tears.
He went into the courtyard of the castle. There a sight met his eyes
which made him realise his true situation. On a four-wheeled wagon,
to which three pairs of oxen were yoked, lay a heap of furniture
and household utensils; beneath all lay the great oak bedstead
splendidly carved, mighty clothes and linen chests constructed like
fortresses against thieves, his father's work-table, the family
dining-table, the chairs from the sitting-room with fragments of
torn-down, gaudy-coloured curtains, his mother's embroidery-frame,
his grandfather's chair with the cushioned arms and the high back,
and on the top of all his own cradle and the praying stool at which
his mother had so often prayed for her little one. Beside them were
bundles of lances, swords, and shields with which his forefathers had
once acquired and defended these goods which he must now leave behind
in order to go out into the world and earn his bread in the sweat of
his brow. All these dead things which, when in their places, had formed
parts of his own self lay there like corpses and up-torn trees showing
their roots; it was an enormous funeral pile of memories, which he
would have liked to set fire to.
Just then the gates grated on their hinges, the drawbridge was lowered,
the driver cracked his whip over the first pair of oxen, the ropes and
shafts of the cart creaked, and the heavily laden vehicle rattled away
on the stone-paved courtyard. As it rolled over the planks of the
wooden, bridge, there was a rumbling like the echo from a grave-vault.
"The last load?" called the driver to the gate-keeper.
"The last," came the answer from the vaulted gateway.
The word "last" made a deep impression on Sten, who felt himself to be
the last of his race, but he could not indulge in further reflections,
for a man whom he did not know stepped towards him holding the nag.
"The castle is to be shut up," he said.
"Why shut up?" asked Sten, merely to hear his own voice again.
"Because it is to be pulled down. The King does not wish to have so
many castles in the land."
Sten laid hold of the reins and mounted the nag; he pressed it with
his knees, and holding his head high, rode through the arched gateway.
There he took out his purse and threw a piece of gold behind him, which
the gate-keeper and the stable-man raced for.
When he had ridden over the drawbridge, he reined in his horse till
the cart with its load had disappeared from sight. Then he turned up a
narrow path and vanished among the birch trees.
"I wonder what he will do?" said the gate-keeper.
"Enlist," answered the stable-man.
"No, he is no good at that; he has learnt nothing but reading and
"Then he will become one of the King's secretaries."
"Not this King's; his father was in disfavour for refusing to bear
arms against his fellow-countrymen."
"Then let him become what the devil he likes."
"One cannot become what one likes, one must become what one can; and if
one can do nothing, one becomes nothing."
"Just so it is! Just so! But I don't know what one has to learn in
order to become a gate-keeper."
"Well, one must be strong enough for it, and keep awake at night; and
that the young gentleman cannot do."
"Yes, he can keep awake at night, for we have seen him do it; but
perhaps he is not strong enough to draw the heavy chain."
"Well, stable-man, he must look after himself. Meanwhile I will draw up
the bridge, and then we can go the backway to the tavern, and change
our piece of gold, and he can do what he likes!"
"What he can, gate-keeper; one cannot do what one likes."
"Quite true! Quite true!"
The chain rattled, the bridge was drawn up, and the gate fell to with a
Sten meantime had ridden for several hours without exactly knowing
whither. He only knew that the way led him out into the world, far
from the protection of home. He saw by the sun's position that it was
nearly afternoon, and by the nag's drooping head that it was tired; he
therefore dismounted, tied the reins loosely round one of the horse's
forelegs and led him up from the path to a fine upland meadow where he
left him loose to graze. Then he lay down under a wild apple tree to
rest, but since he felt that the ground was damp, he broke down some
young birches and made a bed out of their soft leaves; he also tore
off some long strips of bark and placed them under his head, knees and
elbows; then he went to sleep. But when he awoke he felt terrible pangs
of hunger, for he had eaten nothing during the last twenty-four hours;
he felt his tongue cleaving to his palate and a burning and tickling
feeling in his throat. The horse had disappeared. He did not know
where he was, could not see a human habitation, and had small hope of
finding an inn before nightfall. Then he fell on his knees and prayed
his patron-saint to help him. As he mentioned the name "St Blasius" it
occurred to him how the saint under similar circumstances had sustained
himself on roots and berries in the desert. Strengthened by prayer, he
looked round to see what there was to eat and drink. His eye first fell
on a birch. It was just the time of year when the sap flows. With his
knife he split off a piece of bark and fastened the corners together
with wood splinters so that it formed a water-tight basket; then he
bored a hole in the tree and from the hard wood trickled out the clear
sap resembling Rhine wine in colour. While it was trickling, he climbed
into the apple tree, where he had seen a large number of apples, which
had hung there all the winter and were certainly rotten but could at
any rate fill his stomach. When he had eaten some of them he began to
shake the tree, so that the apples fell on the ground. He was just on
the point of rejoicing at his discovery and looking forward to drink
the good birch wine when he heard a harsh voice calling from below;
"Hullo, Sir thief! what are you doing there?"
"I am no thief," answered Sten.
"He who steals is a thief," answered the voice. "Come down at once, or
you will spend the night in gaol."
Sten thought it belter to descend and try to explain himself. He found
himself before a man of authoritative appearance, who was accompanied
by a large dog.
"In the first place," said the man, "you have committed an outrage on
a fruit-bearing tree; punishment—three marks and forfeiture of the
axe—chapter seventeen of the forest laws."
"I thought one had a right to plunder wild trees," said Sten in a
shamefaced way, for he had never been addressed in this manner.
"There are no wild trees now, though it was certainly so in Adam and
Eve's time. Besides, I was purposely keeping the apples to flavour
cabbages with. Secondly, you have cut and extracted the sap from my
"Yes, I intended to make a carriage-pole of the birch tree. Then you
have peeled off birch bark in a wood that did not belong to you; fine
—three shillings, according to the same chapter in King Christopher's
"I thought I was in God's free world and had a right to support my
life," answered Sten mildly.
"God's free world? Where is that? I only know tax-free land, land that
is assessed, and crown lands. Thirdly, probably—I have no testimony
to that effect, but probably it is your horse which is feeding in my
"It is my horse, and I suppose it could not die of hunger while the
grass was growing round it."
"No one need die of hunger. Any animal can graze by the way-side,
everyone can pluck a handful of nuts, and every traveller can cut an
axle for his wheel when necessary. You are therefore convicted of
fourfold robbery, and I keep the horse."
"And leave me alone in the wood, where perhaps I cannot even kindle a
fire for the night."
"Whoever cuts dry wood on other people's land is liable to a fine of
three shillings each time. If it were not so, one could never be sure
of possessing anything."
"It never was so on my property. There we knew nothing of such laws and
paragraphs, and my manorial rights were never so niggardly as yours."
Here a great alteration took place in the bearing of the man of
authority. He took the horse by the rein, led it to Sten, held the
stirrup for him, bent one of his knees, and said:
"Sir, pardon me, I see you have ridden out for recreation and jest with
an old law-student. A few mouldy apples, I hope, will not make any
trouble between us."
Sten, who was a lover of sincerity, hesitated a moment before putting
his foot into the proffered stirrup, but as he was glad to be safely
out of the difficulty, he swung himself up on his saddle.
"Listen," he said in an authoritative tone, "where is the nearest inn?"
"Half a mile southwards, if your lordship is going to Stockholm."
"Good! Now I thank you for the amusement, and put a small question to
you. Tell me: if one steals out of necessity, then it is theft; and if
one steals to amuse oneself, what is that?"
"Good. But how is the judge to know whether it is a joke or earnest?"
"Oh, he can tell!"
Sten pressed his nag's sides with his legs, bent forward, and said:
"No, friend, he cannot."
The nag shot away like an arrow from the astonished law-student and his
The prospect of soon obtaining a meal, and the fortunate conclusion
of his adventure, had set Sten in a mood which banished gloomy
reflections. After a half-hour's trot he rode through the gate of the
inn, and was received like a gentleman of high rank. He sat down at a
table under a great hawthorn tree outside the house, and ordered a fowl
with sage stuffing and a jug of Travener beer. These the host promised
to get even if he had to run round the whole village for them.
The May evening was fine, and Sten ate and drank at his ease, though
he could not completely banish the alarm which the threatening attack
of hunger had just caused him. He could not get the scene with the
law-student out of his thoughts, and he felt that soon, when his fine
velvet jacket no more protected him, he would come under the hard laws
of necessity like any other ordinary man. He perceived that he must
certainly become a working member of human society, and join one of its
numerous classes if he wished to continue to live. The earth, with all
the products that she bore, was already fully occupied, so that one
of the lords of creation might lie on the ground and die of hunger
under a fruit-bearing tree if he did not wish to be hung, while the
birds of the air might eat their fill with impunity off the same tree.
He wondered that men let squirrels and jays plunder hazel bushes, and
preserve their freedom, while only in case of absolute need was a man
allowed to save his life with a handful of nuts. It seemed to him a
cruel contradiction; he might save his life, but not support it, and
every meal was as it were a recurrent saving of life. But on the other
hand his forefathers had founded these laws and he had himself employed
them. Who then was the proper object of his reproach? Was not the fault
partly his own, and were not the consequences quite natural?
While he was thus meditating, his eyes were fixed upon a figure which
was approaching the garden of the inn from the highway. As it came
nearer, Sten saw a man of about thirty with a dark complexion, long
arms, and knees and feet curving inwards as though he were afflicted
with spavin. Over his shoulder he carried a sack, and in his hand
a knotted stick. With a jerk he flung the sack on the table close
to Sten, sat down and struck on the table with the stick so sharply
that it sounded like a pistol-shot. At the same time he called into
the house, "Come out, Mr Innkeeper, and give a worthy member of the
worshipful company of blacksmiths in Stockholm a jug of beer."
The innkeeper, who thought that some important person had come,
hastened out, but when he saw the fellow he turned round and said to
Sten in a disdainful tone: "These fellows never have money. I will give
him nothing." "By St Michael, the archangel and St Loyus, innkeeper, if
you don't give me beer I will set my mark upon you," broke in the man,
and lifted his stick.
"If you threaten, you will be hung for compelling hospitality," said
the innkeeper; "you did not pay the last time you were here, so pick
up your sack and take yourself off, for the clerk of assize is sitting
"I will pay for his beer, innkeeper," interrupted Sten, who felt a
certain sympathy with the unmasked braggart.
"The gentleman is kind and understands a traveller's needs. As regards
payment, I think it is all the same who pays. To-day it is my turn,
to-morrow yours. In good company I never say 'no.' And a member of
the worshipful company of blacksmiths at Stockholm can be as good a
gentleman as any other, or any traveller, with your permission."
"You are right, sir; all things considered, we are all travellers, and
when we travel we are all alike."
The blacksmith, who had received his jug of beer, lifted it, took his
cap off, and said in a solemn voice, "Saint Michael and Saint Loyus!"
Then he threw back his head and took some tremendously deep draughts
of the beer, so that the muscles of his neck moved like the backs of
snakes. Then he collected his breath, raised the jug once more and
said, "Pledge me a toast, sir, with your permission." Then he drank for
some minutes so that his neck sinews were strained like harness-straps.
When he had finished, he emptied out the last drops, struck the table
with his stick, and called into the house, "Two full jugs! Now I am the
"And the young gentleman pays?" asked the host.
Sten nodded assent, and the blacksmith continued, "It is all the same
who pays. 'Commune bonum,' as we say in the shop. To-day it is my
turn, to-morrow yours."
"Sit down, sir, and let us talk," said Sten. "You are a blacksmith, I
"Banner-bearer to the worshipful company of blacksmiths in Stockholm,
thanks to St Michael and St Loyus, with your permission!"
"Tell me, is your trade hard?"
"Hard! Well, it is not for anyone. It is the hardest work there is.
It is a trade which the world cannot dispense with. No one can get on
without a blacksmith. Believe me when I say it. The Emperor of Rome
had a councillor whose name was Vulcant and it was he who invented the
blacksmith's art. And you ask if it is difficult!"
"Yes, but one could learn it," said Sten, who felt more amused than
"Learn it? No, sir, one cannot."
"But you have learnt it," insisted Sten.
"I! With me it is another matter," answered the blacksmith,
contemplating the bottom of his mug.
"Well, why cannot it be another matter with me also?" objected Sten.
"Show me your fists, if you please, sir."
Sten laid two small white hands on the table.
The smith grinned. "They are no use. Look at mine." He took the pewter
pot in a giant's grasp and squeezed it till it became as slender as an
Sten was still not convinced. "But you were not born with such fists,"
"Yes, sir, I was. I was born to be a blacksmith, just as you were
born—to do nothing, if you will allow me to say so. What do you expect
to do in the world with such mere pegs? You had better not depend on
them or you will be disappointed."
"And yet I am thinking of becoming a blacksmith," said Sten innocently.
"You must not make a jest of that worshipful fraternity, sir. Besides,
I should like to say that the times are different to what they were
formerly; a blacksmith may become mayor or councillor, and Sir Vulcan,
whom I mentioned just now, was one of the Emperor of Austria's
councillors. One should not be proud, even if one is of high birth.
King Karl Knutsson was King one day and the next day he was nothing. If
he had learnt something, he would have been something."
"That is just what I wanted to say, dear smith. And I may as well say
that I am not a gentleman though I have a velvet jacket."
"Is it a disguise? Aren't you a real gentleman?"
"I have been one, but now I am nothing."
The blacksmith drew up the corners of his mouth, came nearer, surveyed
Sten and continued: "Come down in the world? What! Downhill? Eh! Hard
times! When thieves fall out, honest folk come by their own. Yes, yes.
No relations. No fine friends. Alone in the world. Obliged to work. And
now you want to become a blacksmith, when you can't be anything else."
"If I can become one."
"No, you can become nothing. That is less than you are, Claus. (My
name is Claus.) Now you can be proud, Claus. But I am not proud, and
therefore I invite you again to the jug of beer to which I invited you
just now. Was the fowl there good; it looks to me lean." Claus made a
movement as though he were chewing something tough.
Sten answered: "The fowl was fat enough; will you have some?"
"If I can be quite sure that it is good; otherwise I don't care about
it, for if I spend money I want to have something really good for it."
Sten ordered a fowl and fresh jugs of beer, and recommenced the
conversation. "I hope you will recommend me to your guild or company."
"I will see what I can do, but one has to proceed warily with those
gentlemen. Congratulate yourself that you have made acquaintance with
the banner-bearer of the guild, for he is a powerful gentleman,
although he goes round with a sack when he is on his journeys."
Sten, who was not accustomed to so much beer, at any rate of the sort
which was served here, began to feel sleepy and rose up in order to go
to his bedroom. But Claus could by no means He induced to agree to this.
"No, stay sitting, my dear," he said, "and drink a glass of wine with
me. It is such a fine evening and you have not far to go to tied. If
you get sleepy, I will carry you up the stairs."
But Sten could not possibly drink any more. Claus was annoyed and asked
if he refused to drink with the guild's banner-bearer. Sten asked to
be excused, but Claus would not consent. He said that Sten was proud,
and should take care, for pride was always punished. Sten was so sleepy
that he could hardly understand what was said, and clambered up the
stairs to the attic where in the darkness he sought for a cushion, on
which he fell asleep at once.
He had, as he thought, slept for quite twenty-four hours when he felt a
burning sensation as though sparks of fire had fallen on his face. He
sat up and found that the whole room was full of the hateful humming
of a swarm of gnats which had gained admission. When he had somewhat
shaken off his sleep, he could distinguish men's voices, and loudest
among them the deep voice of his friend Claus.
"Oh, he is a devilish fine fellow. His father and I are very old
friends. He has been a little spoilt by wearing fine clothes and so
on, but we will soon drive it out of him. Innkeeper, more claret! Yes,
you see his father was in my debt, and I waited. Take what you like,
Sten sprang up and saw through a chink in the wall how Claus sat at the
end of the table and carried on a conversation with the innkeeper and a
stranger, who was probably the parish-clerk. The table was covered with
jugs and pots, and the party did not seem to have suffered from thirst.
The parish-clerk, who thought that the smith had talked long enough,
now led the conversation. "Listen, Claus; you say that he is nothing,
that he has no occupation and no money. Do you know what one calls such
"Well, one calls him a tramp. And do you know what the law says about
"It says that whoever chooses may take such a tramp by the collar
and put him in gaol. And that is right, thoroughly right. God, you
see, from the beginning, has created men to work, do service, and make
"Or to be rich," interrupted the innkeeper.
"Hush! Don't interrupt me—to make themselves useful in one way or
another. Suppose," continued he, "that there are men who will not work;
suppose that there are people who prefer to live at the expense of
Claus gave him a sharp look and seized his stick. But after taking a
drink, the parish-clerk continued: "Then I ask—what is one to do with
such people? Can anyone answer me?"
The innkeeper was about to answer, but the parish-clerk motioned him
away with his left hand.
"Can anyone answer this? No, I say, for we know in part and prophesy
in part. Cur tuus benevolentium." He finished his mug and got up in
order not to spoil the effect of his speech by a bad translation of the
Sten lay down again and put his head under his pillow. It seemed to him
that he had slept another four-and-twenty hours when he was aroused
by a foot pushing his bed very emphatically. He sat up and saw by the
light of the dawn, which fell through a crevice in the wall, that
his friend Claus, who apparently did not venture to stoop, stood on
one foot, and laying hold of a beam was feeling in the bed with his
foot for his sleeping friend. He accompanied this search with short
exclamations—"You! you!" When he caught sight of Sten's face in the
dim light he drew his foot back and said: "Do you know what you are,
you? Do you know that you are a tramp? Do you know that you will be put
into gaol if you do not eat someone else's bread, seeing you have none
of your own. I tell you the sheriff is after you, and if you are not
off by sunrise you will be imprisoned. Do you understand?"
Sten understood that there was a very good chance of it, as he had
already overheard their talk; but he did not understand that one could
not go one's own way to seek work, and Claus exerted himself in vain
in order to explain to him that one must have work or be the possessor
of such and such a sum. Sten, who feared imprisonment most of all, let
himself be easily persuaded to take his horse out of the stable and
to hand over some of his gold coins to Claus, who promised to settle
with the innkeeper. The latter was quite willing, for he himself was
liable to no less a punishment for having given lodging to a tramp.
Sten shook the good blacksmith's hand, and promised to look him up in
Now he rode again on his horse, shaken out of his sleep, chased out of
a casual lodging, flying from the danger of imprisonment, and firmly
resolved to seek no other shelter till he reached the capital.
Two days later, on a Saturday afternoon, Sten reined in his horse on
the top of the Brunkebergsasen ridge, on the side where it descends
towards the Norrstrom River. Beneath him he saw for the first time
the capital, the battle-field whereon struggles for power were waged.
On these little rocky islands between the two water-courses, closely
encircled by towers and walls, lived the population among whom he
wished to enrol himself. The battle between King Karl Knutsson and
Archbishop Jöns Bengtsson was at its height, but to Sten it was
a matter of indifference who won, for his father had fallen into
disfavour with the King, and his family had an old feud with the
Archbishop. As the evening sun cast its horizontal rays on the flag
which waved from the chief tower of the castle, he saw the arms of the
Bondes—the boat against a white background—and knew how the land lay.
Although peace seemed to have been concluded for the time, the
difficulty of entering the city gate was not less than before. He
would in any case be obliged to give his name and to be registered,
and perhaps have to say why he came and where he came from. In his
tired mood he fancied he saw a thousand difficulties rise and the walls
growing in height till they appeared insurmountable. He felt like a
besieger who was thinking of a stratagem by means of which to enter the
city. It was there he hoped to find the only place where he could earn
his bread by means of the book-learning which he had acquired.
As he was sitting on the hill, lost in these serious meditations, he
heard from the foot of it a sound of merry voices mingled with the
music of trumpets and flutes. At the angle of the walls before the
Klara Convent issued forth a gay stream of folk, disappearing and
reappearing from behind the kitchen-gardens on the slope of the Bill.
The procession drew nearer. At its head rode a youth, with a garland
on his brow and a long spear-shaft wreathed with green in his hand. He
was followed by pipers and trumpeters with gooseberry leaves in their
caps; after him came a whole crowd of people with black cloth masks and
red wooden masks, dressed in the most fantastic garb after Greek and
Roman patterns; last of all, riding backwards on a sorry jade, a youth
dressed in fur, with loosely streaming hair and beard, to represent
winter. It was the procession of the "May-lord," greeting the advent of
spring in the Klara district.
Sten seized the opportunity by the forelock, rode down the hill, and
joined the procession. He passed through the gateway without being
interfered with, although he thought he saw a pair of sharp eyes
fastened on him under the archway itself. Meanwhile he could not help
thinking how the guard's over-hasty inference "Cheerful people are not
dangerous"—had been of use to him, who felt anything but cheerful. He
felt easier in mind when he had passed through the gates of both the
The procession halted in the great market-place, where it broke up
in order to reassemble in the restaurant of the town hall. This had
received special permission to remain open all night, since the
postponed May festival was being celebrated now because of the late
spring and the King's victory.
Sten took up his quarters at an inn in the Dominicans' street, which
bore an image of St Laurence painted on its signboard. When his horse
had been placed in the stable he was shown up to the sleeping chamber.
There he found a great number of beds without any chairs, and as the
evening seemed too beautiful to remain indoors, he went out into the
city in order to take a bath.
When he came out into the street again, he became somewhat depressed
at seeing the narrow passages, called "streets," in which pale-faced
people walked, breathing unwholesome air and treading in the dirt and
kitchen offal thrown out of the doorways. The crowd kept streaming to
and fro, and he wondered that they never came to an end nor seemed
weary. The street itself, which was paved with rough cobbles, was
difficult to walk on, and he did not understand why men should have
gathered together these instruments of torture to make the way more
stony than it naturally was. Of the sky there was only a grey strip to
be seen between the rows of houses, and the high corbel-step gables
rose like Jacob's-ladders, on which souls sought in vain to rise to the
heights from their dark, evil-smelling dungeons.
He felt confused and astray. At one moment he was jostled by a porter,
at another trod on by a horse; then he knocked his head against a
window-board. All these people had crowded together on a little island
and built on each other like bees in a honeycomb. Why? For mutual aid?
He did not believe it.
After inquiring his way to the public baths in the Allmännings Gata,
he felt a keen desire to free himself by a bath from the sensation of
uncleanness which even the air he breathed oppressed him with. In the
undressing-room which was shared by all, he found a great number of
people of all classes, for it was Saturday evening. In the uncertain
light he could not see them distinctly, but the pungent odour of
perspiration exhaling from their bodies after severe physical labour,
made him shudder. He undressed, put on bathing-drawers, and entered the
In the midst of it stood an enormous walled fire-place in which a great
fire was burning; round it, up to the roof, ran wooden galleries where
men sat—some beating each other with rods, others drinking beer.
Great stalwart women with tucked-up skirts poured jugs of water on the
fire-place, which at once sent out clouds of steam. These the bathers
allowed to envelop them, amid loud shrieks and laughter. One caught
glimpses of naked bodies, matted beards and shining eyes. And what
bodies! They seemed to Sten like a number of wild beasts with hairy
breasts and limbs who did not need clothing, and those who, while
they waited for their bath, danced before the fire reminded him of
fairy-tales of distant lands where men walked with their heads under
their arms and with one eye in their foreheads. He could not make up
his mind to address any of them, though they were human beings like
himself, but with a difference. They did not talk like him; they did
not laugh like him; they were not shaped like him. The bones of their
backs looked like the letter X, and their feet were turned inwards
so that the toes met; nightwork and heat had rendered their faces
emaciated. Was it through willing sacrifice for their fellow-men that
they made themselves cripples, or were they compelled by necessity to
do so? These smiths with shoulder-blades like knapsacks, with arms as
long as the helve of a sledge-hammer, with the soles of their feet
flattened and distorted; these tailors with thin chests, crooked legs
as slender as sticks, and bent backs—were they conscious that their
deformity set off the handsome appearance of others?
For a moment his aesthetic Sense was offended and he wished to go,
but he was restrained by the thought that he must also soon perhaps
undergo some similar deformity in order to perform his duty in this
society into which he was now forced to enter as a retribution for his
ancestors' mistake in withdrawing him from the lot which all were born
to share. But the peasants, fishermen, and huntsmen he had formerly
known, did not look like these! The former were like the trees of
the wood, straight though knotted. Here in the working life of the
town some mistake had been made, but he could not say what. He shyly
approached one of the giantesses and asked if he could have a water
The old woman looked at his white skin and his small hands and pushed
him into a smaller room, where some empty bath-tubs stood on the ground.
"He is certainly a fine gentleman's son," she said, regarding him
critically. "He has evidently come to the wrong place, but that does
not matter." She laid the youth in the bath as though he were a child,
and began to rub his skin with a horsehair brush.
"No! that will make holes in his skin, one can see. Yes, men are so
different from each other. A foot like a girl's; one can see how the
blood runs in the veins. I am sure that these fine folk have not the
same blood as we. And such hands! Pure as those of St John which they
have made of wax in Our Lady's chapel. They are not made to lay hold of
When the bath was ended, the old woman set Sten on a stool and dried
him carefully, as though she were afraid of breaking one of his limbs.
Then she took a comb and began to do his fair hair, talking to herself
the while. "Pure silk and gold! One might weave a mass-robe for the
Bishop from this hair!"
Then a gnat flew in through the window-opening and settled on Sten's
bare shoulder; it had not long to look in order to find a place into
which to sink its sting, for his skin was milk-white and soft after the
The old woman stopped in her task, and observed almost with alarm how
the uninvited parasite bled the fine gentleman; she saw how the gnat's
transparent body filled itself with clear red blood, and how it lifted
its front leg as if to seize its prey firmly. Then the giantess seized
with the tips of her nails the little blood-letter by its wings and
held it against the light.
"What is that?" asked Sten, and made a movement.
The old woman was too deep in her contemplation to answer at once. At
last she said, "Ob, it was a gnat!"
"Which has got noble blood in its vein," broke in Sten. "Now do you
think, old woman, that it is better than the other gnats?"
"That one cannot exactly know," said the giantess, still examining her
captive. "Blood is thicker than water. I have seen many gnats in my
time, but this one is something unusual. I should like to let it live."
"And to see how it would give itself airs over the other gnats. You
would like to see it propagate young lord and lady gnats who would sit
on silk and let themselves be fed by others. No, you shall see that it
is just as plebeian as all the others, and that it has the same blood
as you and can die as easily as its companion gnats outside."
He struck the old woman's finger with his hand, and there appeared only
a bright red spot of blood upon it.
"Now was it not as I said?" she exclaimed. "It is as bright as red
"That is because it is thinner," said Sten, "therefore it will soon
be like pure water; and therefore you see the nobles will die and the
serfs will live."
The conversation was over and Sten rose up, thanked his attendant, and
went into the great bathroom where the noise was deafening owing to
the beer and the heat combined. He hastened by the bathers into the
undressing-room, where he found his clothes with difficulty under piles
of leather trousers, smocks, and vests.
When he came out into the street he directed his steps through the
Merchants' Gate to the Great Market. There he saw the town hall lit up;
the great door which led to the underground restaurant was decorated
with fir branches, weapons and flags. He descended the broad staircase,
attracted by the music of violins, flutes, and trumpets. Although he
did not think it reasonable that men should collect to enjoy themselves
underground, when the earth itself was so spacious and beautiful, yet
he felt bound to confess that the restaurant of the town hall presented
an imposing appearance with its huge pillars which this evening were
decked with garlands of fir twigs and bunches of liver-wort, anemones
and cowslips. Enormous beer and wine barrels, arranged in rows, formed
three great alleys running from the tap-room, which was adorned by a
huge figure of Bacchus riding on a cask. In tubs filled with sand stood
young firs and junipers, and the ground was strewn with cut fir twigs.
The musicians sat on a gigantic barrel, and from the vaulted roof
hung barrel-hoops with oil-lamps and wax-lights. An enormous number
of people, half in disguise, half in their holiday clothes, stood in
groups round the tables or walked down the tub-lined alleys. The joy
seemed universal and genuine, for it had a natural cause—the arrival
of spring, and a less natural one—the return of the King for the third
Sten wandered lonely among the festive groups, without the hope of
meeting a friend. He felt thirsty after his bath but was ashamed to ask
for anything, for he did want to drink alone. But as he walked he grew
suddenly conscious that someone was looking at him. He turned round
and saw a little yellow, dried-up, narrow-chested man who for want of
a table had sat down by an upturned barrel and taken a smaller one for
a seat. He had before him a stone jug filled with Rhenish wine and two
small green wine-glasses. He was alone and only drank out of one glass.
"Will the young gentleman sit down?" he asked in a weak, sibilant
voice, beginning at once to cough. "I see the young gentleman is alone,
and so am I."
Sten looked interrogatively at the empty glass, but the coughing man
answered his question by bringing an unoccupied barrel which he offered
him to sit on.
"I have a terrible cough," said the yellow man, "but don't let that
disturb you. The spring-time is always trying for those with weak
chests. It is now spring again," he added in the melancholy voice with
which one might say "It is now autumn again."
Sten felt obliged to say something. "You should drink sweet wine
instead of sour."
"My chest complaint is not of that kind," he answered, and began to
cough again by way of demonstrating the fact. "I am a clerk in the
cloth factory of the town, and there one gets this kind of cough. The
dust of the wool affects the lungs and the workers do not live beyond
thirty-six. I am now thirty-five," he added with caustic humour, and
emptied his glass.
"Why don't you choose another occupation?" asked Sten in a friendly
and child-like way.
"Choose? One doesn't choose, young sir. Society in the city is a
building in which each man is a stone fitted into its place; if he
moves, he disturbs the whole edifice. But society has committed an
oversight by not forbidding men in my position to marry. For if the
fathers cannot marry till they are thirty and die at thirty-six, the
children must go under." He pointed to the ground and continued: "You
see, it is a human instinct to climb up; by 'up' one means freedom
from work. That is what we climb and struggle for. There are two
methods of getting up—an honourable and a dishonourable. The latter is
the easier but may end with a crash. I have always been honest."
The drummer standing on the great barrel beat a roll-call on his drum,
which signified that someone was about to make a speech.
A heavily built man now mounted a decorated cask. He wore a tunic edged
with fur, with a red cloth lining and a round fur cap—a garb which was
more adapted for outward appearance than for warmth. It was the mayor.
"Now the King's health will be proposed," explained the factory clerk.
"This is the third time that he proposes it, and three times already
he has cursed the King and drunk to the health of the Archbishop and
the Danish King. A true citizen, you see, drinks to whichever power
is in the ascendant, for that power always protects trade, and a city
consists of tradesmen; the others do not count."
Sten caught isolated words of the mayor's speech while the clerk
continued to whisper in his ear:
"A middleman sits in a comfortable room. He has a letter written to
the seller and asks the price. Then he has a letter written to the
buyer and asks what he will give. And so the bargain is concluded
through him. If the buyer and seller could meet and do their business
directly, no middlemen would be necessary, but that they cannot,
for then there would be no so-called privileges. And privileges are
bestowed by the ruling power."
Outbursts of applause interrupted both the speech of the mayor and the
whisperings of the clerk. When the speech was ended all raised their
glasses and cried "Long live the King!"—all except the clerk, who
stood up and flung his glass against the barrel on which the speaker
An outcry, like a sudden outbreak of fire, rose from the whole company,
and in a few seconds the rebellious clerk was carried backwards
by strong arms towards the restaurant stairs. There Sten saw him
disappear, coughing violently the while. The shrill sound of his cough
pierced through the uproar and the roll of the drums which had struck
The mayor again desired permission to speak, this time through the city
trumpeter, and announced that on this joyous occasion of the King's
return, the town and the council would give wine freely. A barrel of
wine was rolled along, and placed on a seat amid universal approval.
But now there came a new diversion. From one of the many side-rooms
which were generally hired for marriages and other private festivities,
came a marriage procession with violin-players and torch-bearers at its
head, intending to pass through the great hall and accompany the newly
wedded pair home. But that was not possible. The excitement was too
great to allow such an opportunity to pass unchallenged.
"Dance the bride's crown off!" was the cry, and the next moment all the
young men had formed a circle round the bride, separating her from the
bridegroom. The bride was a blooming girl of twenty and the bridegroom
was a withered-looking man of thirty with the same sickly pallor as the
factory clerk, whom he otherwise somewhat resembled.
Sten's curiosity was directed towards the deserted bridegroom, and he
did not understand why he felt a certain sympathy with him, though it
was his happiest day. Meanwhile the bride had been blindfolded. Sten
was drawn into the ring of dancers, which at one moment circled with
dizzying rapidity and at another stood still. The bride stretched
out her arms and caught Sten round the neck; he fell on one knee,
blushing, kissed her hand, and entered the ring with a garland on his
head to dance with the bride, who seemed flattered by such unusual
attention. Then he stepped up to the bridegroom, paid him some
compliments about his bride, and asked permission to drink to his
prosperity. Although it was annoying to the latter to be stopped in
this way, he could not refuse, and briefly informed Sten that he also
was a clerk in the cloth factory. Sten could not resist giving a start
of sympathetic surprise, but had no time to observe the bridegroom more
closely, for the latter was now drawn into the ring and had to dance
with the bride. Sten underwent a strange sensation and thought of the
death-dance depicted on the walls of the chapel of his father's castle.
"Poor bridegroom!" he thought, "and poor girl!"
But the joy this evening was quite beyond all bounds, and now tables
and seats were cleared away, for the bride's-maids were about to dance
the torch-dance, which had been specially called for and which was
customary at weddings. The girls received the torches from the bride's
escort and invited their cavaliers to dance by handing the torches to
Sten had drawn back in order to rest after his exertions, and stood
with his back against the cold wall regarding the bridegroom in a
melancholy way, as the latter with wine-flushed cheeks fluttered
uneasily about the bride, who was surrounded by a number of young men.
He felt himself again so lonely among the excited crowd; the various
impressions he had undergone during the last twenty-four hours rose up
like shadows, and his tired senses began to give way. He closed his
eyes and it became dark; the ground seemed to sink under his feet,
and he felt a singing in his ears as though he were drowning. He made
a supreme effort to hold himself up, and opened his eyes, but saw at
first only a dark moving mass in front of him; gradually this was
reduced to order and a point of light was kindled against the dark
background. It broadened, came nearer, assumed a shape, and then, as
when a curtain is quickly drawn back from a picture, a radiant woman's
form appeared before him. She was pure light; her eyes were like the
Virgin Mary's, her hair resembled silver or gold—it was difficult
to say which, her small face was warm and white like newly washed wool.
In one hand she held a torch, which she reached to Sten, who took it
mechanically, while at the same time he took her free hand which she
extended to him. It was all like a vision. As he looked at her small
while hand, which lay so confidingly in his, the latter seemed to him,
in comparison, like that of the giantess in the bathroom.
Sten had to open the dance. Room was made for them, and he and his
partner began to thread the swaying crowd. At one moment they parted
from one another, then they met again; one instant he put his arm round
her and pressed her to his heart, then another cavalier came and took
her from him; but whatever happened, they always met again, and he
lighted her way with his uplifted torch. Every time they met again he
wished to say something complimentary, but he was dumb and could not
utter a word when he looked into her eyes. He was lost in wonder at the
whiteness of her hand and the smallness of her foot; the latter peeped
forth from under her looped-up dress, and with the well-arched instep
was so clearly visible throughout the thin silk shoe that her toes
might have been counted. A princess accustomed to walk on roses might
have envied the middle-class maiden her foot.
When the dance ceased and Sten had laid down his torch, his partner
hesitated for a moment, as though she wished to say something or to ask
Sten to speak. Sten, however, felt as though his tongue were paralysed;
but quick as lightning and without considering what he was doing, he
embraced her neck and kissed her on both cheeks as one kisses a sister.
There at once arose an uproar among the wedding-guests, and Sten found
himself surrounded by threatening hands and angry looks. But the other
guests thought the pair so handsome, and Sten looked so innocent as he
stood there blushing at his boldness, that they intervened and made
peace. The others insisted on a punishment. Then an elderly man, a
town-councillor of a cheerful disposition, stepped forward and declared
that the offender should be punished on the spot, but that, because of
the freedom allowed on this particular day, the law was willing to wink
at his offence. On the other hand the insulted maiden, the daughter of
a respectable clerk in the public weighing-house, should, if, he added
jestingly, she had really been so much insulted, herself adjudicate
in the matter. His proposal was accepted with unanimous applause; but
Sten felt discomposed to see his princess metamorphosed into a clerk's
The young girl was embarrassed to the verge of tears, and could not
utter a word. At last one of her young friends pressed forward and
whispered something in her ear. This advice, whispered at the moment
of need, seemed to revive the spirits of the despairing umpire, and
with almost inaudible voice she pronounced her verdict "The young
gentleman must sing!"
"A song! A song!" shouted the emotional throng, and Sten was condemned
to do so. He was lifted by strong arms on to the table and was handed
a tortoise-shell lute, which one of the Italian painters, who at that
time resided in the city, had brought with him. No one inquired whether
the victim could sing, for all assumed that a young man of good family
could do so.
Sten first played a prelude on the strings while he recovered himself
from his embarrassment and the crowd at his feet heaved like a troubled
sea. What should he sing? The smells of beer, wine and fir twigs,
mingled with fumes from the oil-lamps and wax-lights, filled the air
and made him half unconscious. Before his eyes loomed a chaos of red
faces, lamps, casks, instruments and flowers. His fingers wandered over
the chords but his ear could not find the tune he wanted. There was
silence at last, but the many-headed beast which was now looking up to
him so expectantly might, the next moment stir, lose patience, and tear
him in pieces. Then he saw the blue eyes and white cheeks which still
bore the red marks of his kisses; the strings of the lute sounded, and
he felt chorda in his breast which responded. After striking some loud
notes, he began, in a weak voice which grew stronger as he went on, a
song in the style of the old Minnesingers, and when he had concluded
it he was fully acquitted by the audience. Then the good-natured
councillor stepped up to him, thanked him, put his arm round his neck,
and walked with him into one of the side-rooms. Here he placed him on a
seat, and standing before him with folded arms, he assumed a judicial
tone and said: "That was the song, young gentleman; now let us have the
words! You have some trouble on your mind, you are not on the right
road, and you steal into the town without a pass—you see, we watch our
people and they are not too many to be counted."
Sten was beside himself with alarm, but the councillor quieted him,
asked him to relate his story, and promised to be his friend. When
Sten perceived that the facts must come out in any case, he chose the
present favourable opportunity to narrate them privately to a friendly
person, knowing that perhaps to-morrow, when the effects of wine had
ceased to work, his friendliness might have evaporated. Accordingly he
frankly told the councillor everything.
When he had ended, the latter said, "Well, you are looking for an
occupation which is suited to your strength and capacity. You can
write, and, as it happens, the city just needs a clerk, for a place
will be vacant this evening."
"In the cloth factory?" asked Sten, with a gloomy foreboding that the
answer would be in the affirmative.
"The unfortunate man has then been dismissed for his imprudence?"
"Naturally! The city is the key of the kingdom; those who guard the
key-cupboard must not be surrounded by traitors."
"I cannot accept the post," declared Sten, remembering the kindness
which the unfortunate man had shown him. "'One man dead gives another
"You are ashamed of walking over corpses? But what is our pilgrimage
here but a fight for life or death, or a lyke-wake where one sits and
waits till the body is carried out. How did I become a councillor? By
waiting for the deaths of six others. How shall I become mayor? By
waiting for the present mayor's death. And that may be a long time,"
he added with a sigh. "As regards the dismissed man, I am very sorry
for him, but am glad at the same time that you will be saved from going
"But he has wife and children."
"Very sad for them! But when a man has renounced his place, as he
has done, it is vacant; if you refuse to take it, you will be doing
neither him nor yourself a service. Between ourselves, we all thought
somewhat as he did, but, look you! one must not say so. I am an old
man, sir, and have seen life. It is a perverse and mad business, and
Satan himself cannot help one. At present your velvet jacket is white,
but to-morrow it will be dirty; the day after, it will be torn, and
then, do you know what you are? No longer a young gentleman, but an
adventurer and a tramp. Hear my advice, young man. Get bread for your
mouth so long as your velvet jacket lasts, and hold your tongue. Sleep
over the matter and come on Monday morning to the town hall. I wish you
good night and common sense."
Sten rose and returned to the great hall. But it seemed to him empty
and desolate now that the bridal procession had vanished. Tired and
exhausted by the various emotions he had undergone during the evening
and the past twenty-four hours, he resolved to go home.
When he came to the inn and entered his room, he took off his velvet
jacket and inspected it. Stained with wine, dirty with the dust of
the high road, browned with sweat under the arm-pits, it looked
wretched enough. He lay down and went to sleep wondering where the
weighing-house might be; he dreamt of death-dances and factory clerks,
fought with corpses, and awoke. Then he went to sleep again thinking of
the weighing-house and of a tender farewell to the velvet jacket, with
a firm resolve to earn bread, first for one month, and then for two.
The beautiful month of May did not keep its promises; snow fell while
the apple trees were in blossom, and the sun did not appear for
fourteen days. For fourteen dreadful days had Sten, the last scion of
the family of Ulffot at Wäringe, Hofsta and Löfsala, stood at his post
in the draughty, unwarmed factory by the harbour. From morning till
late in the evening he had stood there, with a pen in his half-frozen
fingers, registering the names of the kinds of cloth which had been
brought by the incoming vessels. He did not really understand why they
should be registered any more than if they had been so many stones of
the street, flakes of snow, or drops of water; but he obeyed the old
councillor's advice, and held his tongue whenever he felt tempted to
The room where he worked was continually being entered by porters and
merchants who left snow and dirt on the floor, and let the cold air
blow in freely. One bale of cloth after another was thrown upon an
enormous table and filled the air with a choking dust. He had not yet
begun to cough, but he felt that he breathed with more difficulty; and
to add to his troubles, the intense cold had burnt holes in his white
hands and made them quite red.
One day he went to a barber's and looked at himself in a mirror. He
thought it was another person he was looking at when he saw a lean
yellow face full of spots and fringed with an untidy beard. His feet
had become so swollen that he could not wear his ordinary boots, but
had to use Lapland shoes. He had changed his white jacket for a brown
frock-coat and his cap for a slouched hat. His scanty pay obliged him
to take his meals in third-rate restaurants where he only got salted
food, and the unaccustomed diet had brought on an attack of scurvy.
When he once ventured to complain to one of his senior fellow-workers,
the latter took him to task and said there were many who worked more
than Sten and got no food at all; he himself had had no fresh food
since Christmas. This man was the bridegroom whom Sten had met in the
restaurant of the town hall; he was envious of Sten because the latter,
while still so young, had obtained a post for which he had been waiting
for ten years.
"Many get everything given them in this life, and yet are not
satisfied," he often remarked when consoling Sten. The latter envied
hint because of his comparatively good health, his uninjured hands and
feet, and the indifference with which he took things. He on his part
declared that Sten suffered because he had been spoilt and had not
learned to work, and from this opinion he would not budge.
Sten felt that his bodily health was giving way under the struggle;
his friend said that it was a fall in an honourable battle of which no
knight need be ashamed. Sten thought that his soul was being injured by
the murderous work of perpetually writing figures; however, his friend
asserted it was not the fault of the work but because he had been badly
Badly educated! He who had had two nurses and a governess, he who
had had tutors in Greek and Latin, could play the lute, and make
fine verses! That he would not acknowledge. But he knew that he was
unhappy. He also knew now where the weighing-house was. But what was
the use of that? He had seen the young girl at a Mass in the city
church, but she had been shocked at his appearance; and his friend in
the cloth factory told him that she thought Sten looked degenerated.
His friend also told him that her father had some money, gave his
daughter an education, and hoped to get her well married, so that it
was not worth while for Sten to wear out his boots by going there, he
One day Sten, weary of copying figures, felt he had had enough of the
dark room. Better, he thought, any physical exertion than this eternal
writing in which there was no progress and no end. He resigned his
post. It was in the middle of a hot summer. He wandered up and down
the streets without object and without hope. Lost in thoughts, he
contemplated the houses and their signboards as though he expected to
find there the answer to the riddle of his life. His gaze was arrested
by a large horseshoe which hung on a pole; memories of a nag and a
highway began to stir in his brain. Then he heard the blows of a
hammer in the courtyard. He entered in and saw a giant who was forging
horseshoes. The work proceeded slowly and the giant panted and sweated
at each blow.
It brightened Sten up to see the sparks dancing round the anvil, and
the forge also diffused a cheerful glow. But the smith did not seem in
a cheerful mood, for he broke off his work, sat down on a log of wood,
and watched with gloomy looks the iron growing cold. Then as though
stung by an evil conscience he went into the smithy and came out again
with a piece of red-hot iron, but seemed to be still more depressed,
for he laid the iron on the anvil, and then sat down and watched it
as though he expected it to turn into horseshoes. Presently he turned
round, and Sten, seeing his face, recognised Claus. He went up to him
and greeted him as an old acquaintance. Claus at first regarded him
with astonishment, and after he had been obliged to recognise him,
maintained an air of severe coldness. Suddenly his face brightened, as
though a thought had struck him.
"Listen!" he said. "Are you free at present?"
Sten replied that he certainly was.
"By Saint Anschar, you shall become a smith! Now I see that you were
really born to be one. Strange what mistakes one may make sometimes!
You have developed a pair of fists since we last met, and one soon
learns how to grasp a hammer!"
"It is certainly too hard for me, since I did not begin it when I was
young," objected Sten.
"Hard? What the dickens! It is not harder than anything else—I mean
for one who has the capacity. Listen! We will be good friends and have
a fine time. The master sits the whole day in the beer-shop, and only
you and I will be here."
Sten thought the proposal as good as any he was likely to meet with,
and believed he would find a support in Claus. Accordingly he consented.
"Then we will go at once to the master of the guild of smiths at the
journeymen's inn," said Claus.
Sten reminded him that he had said he occupied this office of master,
but Claus replied he had given it up owing to having too much to do.
They went therefore to the master, whose reception of Claus was so
obviously disdainful that Sten on the spot lost a considerable amount
of the respect he had felt for him. Meanwhile he was enrolled as an
apprentice of the guild, and this new dignity of his was sealed by
their drinking a number of mugs of beer in a public-house, and in the
evening was ratified by Claus's master, who was the worse for drink.
Sten slept that night at the smithy.
The next morning, while the matin-bell was ringing in the Ave Maria
Convent, Sten was aroused by being violently shaken by Claus, who said:
"Light the fire in the forge and tell me when it burns. I am going to
doze a little longer."
Sten blew the fire and worked the bellows for half an hour. When at
last it burnt up brightly, he woke Claus.
"Now put the iron in, and tell me when it gets red, I want still to
have a wink or two," said Claus, turning to the wall.
When the iron was glowing as red as blood, Sten woke him again.
"Now hammer out the iron till it is as slender as a finger, while I
shake off my sleepiness," said Claus, yawning.
Sten went back to the smithy, but now the iron had become black. He
worked the bellows and made it red again. Then he took it up with the
tongs and carried it out to the anvil, but before he had seized the
sledge-hammer, it was once more black. This process was repeated till
Sten became tired. Then he returned to Claus, who was snoring loud, and
had drawn his leather apron over his head in order not to be disturbed
by the daylight.
Claus became impatient. "Well, you stupid, can't you take the hammer in
one hand and the tongs in the other?"
Sten replied he could not.
"Then you can go for a jug of beer."
Sten felt ashamed of going into the street with a tin can, but as Claus
began to search in a tool-chest for a hammer, he hurried out.
The morning was fine; the sun shone on the gable-roofs of the houses,
and women and girls were proceeding to market. When Sten came out of
the public-house with the beer, and was about to cross the street, he
suddenly stopped, as though riveted, before someone who gazed at him
in astonishment and sorrow. He wished to turn round, but the crowd
prevented him; he wanted to raise his cap, but the beer-jug required
both his black hands to hold it.
The girl went on her way, and Sten hastened, weeping, back to the
"What are you whimpering for?" said Claus, who had shaken off his sleep
and come out into the sunshine, where he drank his morning draught.
Sten did not answer. Claus took out a plank which he laid on the wooden
log against the wall of the house so that he had a support for his
"Now we will work," he said, crossing his arms and making himself as
comfortable as possible. "You will begin with the cold iron first, so
that you learn how to handle the hammer."
Sten lifted the hammer, which was very heavy for him. He struck on the
anvil while Claus counted "One and two! and one and two! and one and
"Yes, yes; now you see what a workman has to do. One and two! and one
and two! and—— That is something different from lying on eider-down
and eating roast-veal! And two and—— You think one gets accustomed
to have the sun on one's neck, the forge in one's face, and the smoke
in one's nose? No, look you, one never does. And what do you think a
pretty girl says when a smith comes with his black hands and wants to
put his arm round her waist? 'Let me alone, lout!' she says. A smith
can certainly marry when he has saved some money, but he must take
an ugly girl whom no one else will have. And two! and one!—— Are
you listening? Do you remember when you sat in the inn and ate fowl
with sage stuffing, and, I had a salted herring in my bag? And he had
a horse, the young devil, and a velvet jacket. Where is the horse
now? Perhaps he is standing in the stable in the Knacker's House, or
whatever your father's castle was called. Do you remember that I made
you believe that Sir Vulcan was councillor to the Emperor of Rome. Ha!
ha! No, a smith is a smith, that is all."
Sten was growing tired.
"Are you lazy, you devil?" said Claus.
"Stop calling me devil," said Sten, "I am not accustomed to it."
"Perhaps his Grace is used to being called 'angel'?" said Claus
Sten had been once used to it, but he refrained from saying so. He
went on with his hammer strokes.
"One and two! and one and two! and one—— No," said Claus, "you can
do that now. Beat out the iron rod now; it is harder to do when it is
cold, but still it can be done. I must go now to some business in the
town, and when the old man comes, tell him that I met my brother-in-law
from the country. But if you have not beaten out the iron rod by the
time I come back, I will weld your hind legs together, so that you will
be like a herring."
Sten felt quite exhausted and declared that he could not finish the
work alone. He also said openly that he had not come here to do
Claus's work while the latter sat in the ale-house.
Claus became furious. "Yes, you have, my young man," he shouted. "That
is just what you have come for. Look you! I have worked for thirty-five
years, and you have done nothing; now I am the nobleman and let you
work for me! Is it not so with the aristocracy?" Claus leant himself
against the plank with his arms folded and continued: "Yes, I am a
devilish fine nobleman, you can believe me! And you will see how I
shall flourish. I shall not be rich, but I shall be fat. You look
disapproving. You don't agree with my plan, nor understand it. The
upper class have invented it themselves, and a very excellent one it
Sten replied that in his opinion Claus was a bumpkin.
"Go and fetch the big hammer. You will do some extra work by way of
punishment," Claus replied haughtily.
Sten's blood boiled over and he raised the iron rod against Claus.
At the same moment he felt something give way in his body, and fell
senseless to the ground.
When Sten awoke to consciousness he was lying in a bed at the hospital,
and was condemned to inaction for several months, for he had broken a
blood-vessel, and his recovery was doubtful. In the large ward one bed
stood close to another, and as soon as it was empty there was always
someone waiting to occupy it. Here he saw every day instances how
those who did physical labour were exposed to accidents which other
classes escaped. At one time it was a carpenter who had cut his foot;
at another a mason who had fallen from a scaffolding. One day came
a breweress who had scalded herself when boiling wort; on another a
pewterer who had burnt his knee at the smelting oven.
Hitherto he had had no idea how widely spread human sufferings were,
and when he contrasted his past with his present, he began to guess how
the legend of the rich man, who could not enter heaven, had arisen.
Thus he lay the whole summer, without fresh air or seeing anything
green. He felt bitterly how the best time of the year was passing,
and imagined how it looked in the country, and what people were doing
every day. Numbers of monks came to the ward, and almost every day the
crucifix was lifted by some bed-side to comfort a sufferer.
Sten often talked with the monks and he could not help sharing their
view that the earth was a vale of tears. When his pains became severe
he felt relief in contemplating the Crucified Who writhed on the cross,
and he understood now why the Christian creed had been able to gain so
many disciples. One day, when he was especially suffering, he had a
visit from Claus, who had heard a report that Sten was dying. He felt
now compelled to see and speak with the sick man, and, if possible, to
comfort him; but in order to strengthen himself he went first into an
ale-shop, with the result that he reached the hospital in a somewhat
When he again met Sten, whose face had recovered its fair complexion
and his hands their delicacy, his former respect for him awoke, and
he confessed to himself that there were a finer and a coarser kind of
men. He called Sten "sir," and advised him to think about his soul
and to repent of his sins; he should not, he said, be sorry that he
had to die, for the smiths' company would carry him to the grave, and
afterwards hold such a funeral feast as had never been seen in the
city. Then he threw out some delicate hints that it was a pity for the
hospital to get Sten's clothes when he was dead, and at the same time
expressed his admiration of the excellent wool of which Sten's coat was
made; for the rest, he believed that old trousers could be altered,
and told Sten above all things to take care that nothing was left in
the pockets. Life, he said, was very troublesome, and parents who did
not teach their children to work with their hands were worse than
murderers, and to give children an education was to spoil them. Sten
would have made a good smith, if he had learnt to wield the hammer from
his childhood, and he might by this time have married the maiden from
the weighing-house. As it was, she had engaged herself to one of the
yeomen of the guard. Sten, however, should not be sad about that, for
he had not much longer to live, but Claus would carry the flag at his
funeral procession as a token that he had forgiven the young gentleman
all the wrong he had done him. As he uttered these last words, Claus
was so overcome by his noble sentiments that he wept as only a drunken
But Claus never carried the flag, because he was not the guild's
flag-bearer, and because Sten recovered. One fine autumn day he was
dismissed from the hospital and told that he was no longer ill, but
that he would never be strong enough to work. Now he realised the whole
terrible truth of what Claus had said: his education had robbed him of
the means of earning a livelihood. It was in vain that he went about
and sought a place in an already organised society; there was no place
for drones in this hive. The only thing remaining was to flee from this
hive and seek another where the working-bees supported the drones.
He thought of the convents where men did not work but lived very
comfortably and could devote their leisure to such refined enjoyments
as arts and sciences, and he wondered that he had not before this
enlisted in the armies of the Church.
With a light step he walked down to the convent of the Dominican monks
in the Osterlang-gata, and rang the bell. The little window in the gate
was opened and a monk asked Sten his name and address. He gave his name
and asked to speak to the prior with a view to entering the convent.
The gate was opened and Sten was admitted into the garden, where he was
told to wait.
Meanwhile the prior sat in the hall of the chapter going through the
estate and rent books with the steward. Various deficits in these
showed a serious diminution in the income of the convent. They were
just consulting how this might be increased to its highest possible
point again, as the General Chapter of the Dominican Order was
constantly demanding support for the war against the heretics, when
the gate-keeper's assistant announced Sten Ulffot's arrival, name, and
"Ulffot of Wäringe, Hofsta and Löfsala," the prior said to himself, and
made the sign of the cross. "He comes as opportunely as though he were
sent by St Dominic himself. I know Löfsala thoroughly; it is a splendid
estate—twelve hundred acres of open ground, besides saleable meadows
and woods, water-mills, saw-mills and a splendid eel-fishery. Let him
in! Let him in by all means! Bid the gentleman welcome in the name of
"Your Reverence," interposed the steward, "wait a minute. Löfsala is a
fine estate certainly, but sad to say the present owner has no taste
for the spiritual life."
"The present owner?"
"Yes, the Ulffot family," continued the steward, "has been obliged
to give up everything, and the last member of it is said to be an
adventurer who has tried a little of everything but carried nothing
out, and is quite come down in the world."
"What do you say? What do you say? H'm! Well, what shall we do with
"From him we shall get neither profit nor honour," said the steward.
"We have monks enough who eat our provisions, and this is not a
"Quite right!" said the prior. "Quite right! But who is to tell him
that? One of St Dominic's wisest and best rules is, never to send
anyone unsatisfied away. Will Brother Francis go into the garden and
speak a little with the young man? Speak a little with him, explain it
to him, you understand! Let us go on with our work, steward."
Brother Francis was a tall man, of alarming appearance, with a bearish
temper, who was employed to scare away such applicants as were not
"edible," in the phraseology of the industrious brotherhood; for the
Dominican Order was a powerful political corporation, which lived in
perpetual strife with princes, for power and property, and was by no
means an institution for exercising benevolence.
When Brother Francis saw Sten's insignificant appearance he thought he
could make short work with him. "What do you want in the convent?" he
asked without any preliminary remarks.
"I seek for the peace which the world cannot give," answered Sten.
"Then you have come to the wrong place," said Francis. "This is the
armoury of the Church Militant, and there is never peace here."
"Peace follows fighting," Sten ventured to object; but this irritated
the monk, who wished to get done with a thankless task.
"Say what you want and speak the truth—something like this: 'I cannot
dig and to beg I am ashamed; therefore I will come here and eat.' If
you say that, you will not be lying."
Sten felt that the monk had to a certain extent hit the mark, and
answered simply, "Alas, you are right!"
Surprised at this unexpected admission, and touched by Sten's
childlikeness, the monk took him farther into the garden and continued
his talk. "I know your history and understand the riddle of your
life. When Nature is left to herself, she produces masterpieces; but
when man interferes with her work, he makes a bungle of it. Look at
this pear tree; it is a descendant from a pear tree at Santa Lucia in
Spain, where it was cultivated for five hundred years. You think it
is an excellent thing that it can bring forth fine fruits to please
our palates? Nature does not think so, for she has produced the fruit
for the sake of the pipe which continue the species. Look at this pear
when I cat it in two! Do you see any pips? No! Over-cultivation has
done away with them. Look at this apple which glows so magnificently
with red and gold! It is an English pearmain. It has pips, but if I sow
them they produce crab-apples. When, however, a severe winter comes,
the pearmain trees are killed by frost, but the crab-apple trees are
not. Therefore one ought to give up over-cultivating people, especially
when it is done at the expense of others. Such cultivation is unsuited
to our country and our severe climate. Have I expressed myself
clearly? I am sorry for you, young man, but I cannot help you. Beati
possidentes—blessed are those who have succeeded. Your ancestors won
success, but they had not the skill to maintain it!"
He went on to talk of indifferent matters while he conducted Sten to
the gate. "There will be an early winter this year, if we may judge
by the ash-berries." Then he opened the gate, bowed politely and said
When the gate closed, Sten felt that he was shut out from society
once for all, and he rallied the small remainder of bodily and mental
strength which he possessed, to form a resolution. But his will and
thinking power bed collapsed. The twilight had fallen. He followed the
descent of the steep street which led to the sea, as though he were
obeying the law of gravitation. His feet led him into a narrow alley
which was quite dark and filled with an overpowering stench from the
offal which had been thrown away there; but he went on and on, guided
by a faint light which appeared at the bottom of the alley. Presently
he stood before a water-gate which had been left ajar and through which
a moonbeam pierced the darkness. He opened the gate and before him lay
the surface of the water lit by the moon which was rising over the
island of Sikla. The little waves danced and played in the path of the
moonlight and the sea breeze blew freshly shore-wards.
Sten stepped over the narrow threshold and let the gate close behind
him, without exactly thinking what he was doing. At the same moment
all the bells in the city began to ring for vespers, and the drummers
on the city walls beat the tattoo as a signal for the citizens to go
to bed. Sten took off his cap, fell on his knees, and said a prayer.
Then he stood up, turned his back towards the sea, folded his arms over
his breast, looked up at the stars and let himself fall backwards, as
though he were going to rest. The silvery water mirror opened like
a dark grave, which closed again at once, and a great ring, like a
halo, appeared on the surface; it widened into many more circles, which
dispersed and died away. Soon the little waves reappeared and danced
and played in the moonlight as though they had never been frightened.
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 tête-à-tête 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
It was so cold in the little country church that the breath came like
smoke from the mouths of the priest and the boys who sang in the
choir. The congregation, who listened to the Mass standing, had been
allowed to spread straw on the ground so that whenever they knelt
at the ringing of the little bell, they should not be too chilled.
To-day there were many people at Mass, because they were expecting
an unaccustomed spectacle at the end of the service. The priest was
going to admonish an ill-assorted couple, who would not keep the peace
and could not divorce each other because no crime had been committed.
Neither of them wished to leave their children and incur the disgrace
of running away. The Mass was concluded and the litany, a "Miserere,"
sounded pathetically from the voices which trembled with cold. The
sun shone redly through the frosted window-panes, and the burning wax
candles gave no light at all, but looked merely like yellow blots over
which the warmed air quivered.
"Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi," sang the priest; the boys
answered "Miserere!" and the congregation joined in—deep clear men's
voices and high soft women's voices—"Miserere—have mercy upon us!"
The last "Miserere" sounded like a cry of despair, for at the same
moment the married pair stepped from the hidden place by the door,
which had been appointed for them, and went up the central aisle to
the altar. The man was tall, powerfully built, with a brown beard, and
limped somewhat; the woman had a small, slender figure with pliant
outlines and graceful movements. Her face was half hidden by a hood, so
that one only saw a pair of pale blue eyes with a suffering expression,
and the upper part of her white cheeks.
The priest said a low prayer and turned to the congregation. He was
a young man, not yet thirty, whose fresh, good-natured face seemed
to be out of keeping with his long robe and the solemn, severe words
which he uttered. He had long ago received the confessions of each of
the married pair, and only delivered his admonition at the bishop's
command. The discordant couple had been to the bishop and had asked
him to dissolve their marriage, but the latter had found no reason to
grant their request since the canonical law and the Decretals only
permitted divorce on account of sin, barrenness in certain cases, and
the running away of husband or wife from hearth and home.
The priest began his admonishment in a dry, expressionless voice, as
though he did not believe what he said. He declared that marriage had
been established by God Himself, Who had created woman from the man's
rib to be a help to him; but since the man was created first and the
woman subsequently, the wife should be subject to the husband, and he
should be her lord.
(Here the little hood made a movement as though the wearer wished to
The man on his side should treat his wife with respect because she was
his honour, and by doing so he honoured himself in his wife. This was
the teaching of St Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter
seven, verse four, on which passage the decree of Gratian was founded,
declaring that the wife had not power over herself, but the husband.
(The little hooded figure shook from head to foot, and the man nodded
approvingly at the priest's words. The priest, who now fastened his
eyes on the woman, changed his tone.)
When the disciples came to Jesus and asked whether divorce was
permissible for married people, be answered and said: "What God hath
joined, let not man put asunder," and for this reason the Church did
not allow the dissolution of marriage. The concessions made by earthly
laws were only due to the wickedness of men and could not be approved
by the Church.
Life was not a rose-garden, and we must not demand too much from it.
The preacher himself was married (as at that time Catholic priests were
allowed to be), he knew therefore how to judge in the matter; he knew
that there must be give and take, if there was not to be quarrelling
and strife. He had married this young couple and witnessed their first
happiness; he had baptised their child and seen their love sanctified
by parental joy. He reminded them of those unforgettable hours when
life had given them its best and the future shone before them like a
bright summer day. He adjured them by that recollection to reach each
other their hands, and to forget all that had happened since the spirit
of unrest had entered their hearts; he prayed them in the presence
of that Christian congregation, to renew the tie which in their
selfishness they had sought to dissolve.
There followed a moment of deep silence and expectation, while the
congregation showed their impatience by pushing forward as far as the
way they were packed together allowed. But the married pair remained
Then the priest seemed to become impatient, and in a voice trembling
with annoyance and anger he again resumed. He spoke of the duties of
parents towards their child, of God's wrath against an unforgiving
temper, and said plainly that marriage was not meant to be merely
a means of carnal indulgence or of increasing the population, but
also—and he laid emphasis on this—of family education. He gave them
till the following Sunday to think it over, and bade them depart in
No sooner had he spoken the last word and made a gesture of dismissal
with his hand, than the young wife turned and departed. Coldly and
calmly she passed between the rows of the congregation, and disappeared
through the great entrance. The man hesitated a moment, then he sought
the smaller door at the end of the transept.
As the priest walked home with his wife, who had been present at Mass,
she said to him in a gentle but reproachful tone: "Did you believe what
"You are my conscience, dear woman, and you know my thoughts; spare me
therefore a little, for the spoken word smites like a scourge."
"Then let the scourge smite! You know by their confessions that the
union of this married pair is no true marriage, you know that this
woman is a martyr whose life can only be saved by her keeping away
from this man; you know this, and yet you exhort her to go towards her
"The Church, you see, my friend, has higher aims than the well-being of
"I thought that the well-being of men, what you call their salvation,
was the highest aim of the Church. What then is the Church's highest
"The increase of God's kingdom on earth," answered the priest after
"Let us consider!" said his wife. "It is said that only the saved shall
dwell in God's Kingdom. Then the Church is to save men."
"In the higher sense, yes!"
"In the higher sense; are there then two?"
"A little foolish woman can ask more questions than seven wise men can
answer," said the priest, and pressed his wife's hand.
"Then it is a bad look-out for the wisdom of the wise, for what will
they answer when an intelligent person asks—when all the intelligent
people in the world come and ask?" continued the foolish little woman.
"They will answer that they do not know," whispered the priest.
"You ought to say that aloud, and should have said it to-day in the
church. Your conscience is not pleased with you to-day."
"Then I will silence my dear conscience," said the priest, and kissed
his wife, who was standing in the porch of their house.
"That you cannot," she answered, "as long as you love me; and certainly
not in that way."
They stamped the snow from their feet and entered the little parsonage,
where they were met by two small, healthy children, who wanted to kiss
their father and mother. Not the least cause of the heartiness of their
welcome was the good Sunday dinner which was cooking in the oven.
The priest took off his long clerical coat and put on one more like a
layman's. In this, however, he never showed himself to any member of
his congregation but only to his family and the old cook. The table
was laid, the floor was clean and white, and the cut fir twigs smelt
sweetly. The father said grace and they took their seats at the table
as glad and as much at peace with the world and with each other as
though a heart had never been broken for the sake of "higher aims."
The snow had melted and the earth reeked and fermented with creative
power. The parsonage was situated on the unsightly plain in Uppland
which is included in the ecclesiastical district of Rasbo. Wherever the
eye looked there was only to be seen the stony ground, the clay soil,
and some elder bushes which cowered like frightened hares before the
never-ceasing wind. In the distance, on the horizon, were visible the
tree-tops of the edge of a wood like the masts of a ship disappearing
at sea. On the south side of the house the priest had planted some
trees and hoed a little patch of ground where he cultivated flowers and
vegetables, which in winter had to be covered with straw since they
were not accustomed to this severe climate. A small stream which came
from the woods in the north ran by the parsonage, and was large enough
to row a punt on, if one kept exactly in the middle.
Dominus Peder in Rasbo had awakened at sunrise, kissed his wife and
children, and gone to the church which lay a few stone's-throws from
the parsonage. He had read the morning Mass, blessed the work of the
day, and come home again beaming with joy and cheerfulness. The larks,
which certainly did not understand the difference between beauty and
ugliness, had sung over the stony fields as though they blessed the
meagre crop. Water flowed murmuring in the ditches on whose edges
gleamed yellow colt's-foot. The priest had come home, drunk his morning
milk in the porch, and now he stood in his jerkin in the garden and
released his flowers from their winter covering. He took a hoe and
began to turn up the sleeping ground. The sun glowed; the work to which
he was unaccustomed stirred his blood. He inhaled deep draughts of the
strong spring air and felt as robust as though he had awakened to new
life. His wife had opened the window-shutters on the sunny side of the
house, and stood there dressing, while she watched her husband at work.
"That is better than sitting over books," he said.
"You ought to have been a peasant," she replied.
"I could not, my dear! Ah, how it does one's breast and back good! Why
do people think God has given us two long arms if they are not to be
"Yes, one does not need them to read with."
"No! but to shovel snow, to hew wood, to dig the ground, to carry
one's children, and to defend oneself—that's what they are for, and
one is punished if one does not use them. We 'spiritual' men, we must
not touch this sinful earth."
"Hush!" said his wife, and laid her finger on her mouth, "the children
Her husband took off his cap and wiped the perspiration from his brow.
"'In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread,' so it is written.
Oh, how finely I sweat! That is something better than when anxiety at
not being able to discover the sense of an obscure text makes one feel
a cold sweat at the roots of one's hair, or when the spirits of doubt
burn the goodness out of one's blood so that it creeps through the body
like hot sand. Do you see how the flesh on my arm quivers for joy at
being able to move? See how the blue veins swell like streamlets in
spring when the ice melts, my chest feels so broad that the seams of
the jerkin crack; that is really better——"
"Hush!" said his wife, warning him again, and added, in order to divert
the dangerous current of his talk, "You have released your flowers from
their strait-waistcoats, but you have forgotten the poor animals who
have stood all through the winter in their dark stable."
"That is true," said the priest, and put the hoe aside; "but then the
children must come out and see."
He went at once to the cattle-house which stood at the back of the row
of buildings of which the farm consisted; there he set free the two
cows, opened the sheep and the calf sheds, then went up the little
acclivity behind and opened the door of the pigsty. First came out one
cow and stood in the door of the cow-house. The light seemed to dazzle
her as she stretched out her neck and became aware of the sun; then
she stepped carefully on the bridge and drew some deep breaths so that
her stomach swelled; then she smelt the ground and as though seized by
joyful recollections of the previous year, she erected her tail and
danced up the little hill, leapt over stones and bushes and went off
at full gallop. Then followed the other cow, the calves and sheep, and
lastly the pigs. But behind them came the priest with a stick, for
he had forgotten to shut the garden gate, and now there was a race,
in which the boys eagerly joined, to drive the animals out of the
enclosure. But when the old cook saw her master run up the hill in his
jerkin she was anxious what people would say and rushed out from the
kitchen door, while his wife stood on the steps and laughed merrily.
But the young priest was so boisterous and joyful and delighted as a
child at witnessing the delight of the creatures at the end of their
winter imprisonment, that he forgot both congregation and bishop and
ran out on to the high-road in order to drive the animals on to the
Then he heard his wife call his name, and when he turned round he saw
a woman standing by her in the porch. Feeling ashamed and annoyed, he
pulled his clothes straight, put his hair under his cap, and turned
homewards assuming a solemn expression of face.
As he came nearer he recognised the little woman whom he had exhorted
in the charge regarding discord in marriage. He perceived that she
wished for a conversation, and asked her to come in, saying he would
follow as soon as he had changed his coat.
In another coat and another mind he entered, after a time, the room
where the unruly wife awaited him, and asked her business. She
declared that she had come to an understanding with her husband that
she should leave his house deliberately, since the Church would not
grant a divorce in any other way. The priest was impatient and wished
straightway to quote the Decretals and the Epistle to the Corinthians,
when through the open window he heard the sound of a foot on the sanded
garden-walk. He knew so well the light, soft step, and the crunching of
the sand made an impression on his conscience.
"The act you contemplate, woman," he said, "is courageous, but it is
nevertheless a crime."
"It is no crime; you only call it so," answered the woman decidedly,
as though she had spent days and nights of despair in considering her
The priest was irritated, and sought in his mind for some cutting words
when he heard again the sound of sharp crunching on the sand outside.
"You set a bad example to the congregation," he said.
"A worse one, if I remain," said the woman.
"You will be disinherited."
"You will lose your reputation."
"I know that too, but I will bear it for I am innocent."
"But your child?"
"I will take it with me."
"What does your husband say to that? You have no claim on your child
if you leave your home."
"Haven't I? Not on my own child? Then Solomon's wisdom itself is not
sufficient to solve this tangled knot. But I will tear it in two, if
I can make an end by doing so. I came to you to ask for light and
you lead me into a dark passage, where you put out the light and go
your way. One thing I know: where love ceases, there only shame and
humiliation remain; I will not live in sin, therefore I break off."
Outside deep breaths, as of suppressed feelings, were heard. The priest
struggled with himself, then he said: "As the servant of the Church, I
have only to hold to the word of the Lord, and that is hard as a rock.
As a man, I can only say what my heart suggests but what is perhaps
sin, for the human heart is a frail thing. Go in peace, and put not
asunder what God has joined."
"No, not what God has joined, but what our parents arranged. Have you
not a word of comfort to say to me on the difficult path I have to
The priest shook his head negatively.
"May you not receive stones some day when you want bread," said the
woman with an almost threatening look, and went out.
The priest threw off his coat again, sighed, and tried to drive away
the uncomfortable feelings which the interview had caused. When he came
out, he approached his wife with the remark that he was sincerely sorry
for the poor woman.
"Why didn't you tell her so?" broke in his wife, who seemed to be well
posted in the matter.
"There are things which one cannot say," answered her husband.
"To whom cannot one say them?"
"To whom? The Church, like the State, my friend, are Divine ideas, but
being reduced to reality by weak men, are only imperfectly realised.
Therefore one cannot confess before ordinary mortals that these
arrangements are imperfect, for then they would begin to doubt their
"But if one, seeing their imperfection, should doubt of their Divine
origin, and it should be shown, on examination, that they have no
"I believe, by all the saints, that the devil of doubt reigns in the
air of this time. Do you not know that the first questioner plunged
mankind into damnation? Certainly it was not without reason that the
Papal Legate in the recent Church Assembly called our land corrupted."
His wife looked at him as if she wanted to see how far he was in
earnest, whereon her husband answered with a smile, which showed that
he was jesting.
"You must not joke like that," said his wife. "I can so easily believe
what you say. Besides, I never know when you are serious or making fun.
You believe partly what you say, but partly not. You are so wavering,
as though you yourself had been possessed by those spirits in the air
of which you spoke."
In order not to proceed further in discussing a question which he
preferred to leave untouched, the priest proposed to make a boat
excursion to a pleasant spot which had the advantage of some leafy
trees, and eat their midday meal there.
Presently he was plying his oars and the green punt shot over the
smooth surface of the water, while the children tried to pull up the
old reeds of the previous year, through whose dry leaves the spring
wind whispered of resurrection from the winter's sleep. The priest had
taken off his long coat and put on his jerkin, which he called his
"old man." He pulled the oars strongly, like a practised rower, the
whole half-mile to the birch-planted height, which lay like an island
in the stony waste around. While his wife prepared the meal, he ran
about with the children and plucked anemones and primroses. He taught
them to shoot with bow and arrow, and cut willow-whistles for them.
He climbed the trees, rolled on the grass like a boy, and let himself
be driven like a horse with a bit in his mouth by the loudly laughing
children. He grew ever more boisterous, and when the boys took the long
coat which he had hung on a birch tree as a mark to shoot at, he began
to laugh till he was purple in the face. But his wife looked carefully
round on all sides to see whether anyone was watching them. "Ah! let me
be at any rate a man in God's free world of nature," he said. And she
had no objection to make.
The meal was laid on the grass, and the priest was so hungry that he
forgot to say grace, which drew a remark from the children.
"Father does not say grace at table," they said.
"I see no table," he answered, and stuck his thumb in the butter. This
delighted the children immensely.
"Keep your feet still under the table, Peter! Don't lay your legs on
the table, Nils," he said, and the little ones laughed till they nearly
choked. Never had they been so jolly; never had they seen their father
so cheerful, and he had constantly to repeat his jests, which they
heard at each repetition with the same delight.
But evening was coming on and they had to think of their return home.
They packed up the things and got into the boat. They were still
cheerful for a while, but soon the laughter grew silent and the
children went to sleep on their mother's lap. The father sat quiet and
serious, as one is after laughing much, and the nearer they approached
the house the more silent he became. He tried at intervals to say
something cheerful, but it sounded quite melancholy. The sun threw
slanting rays over the huge fields; the wind had fallen; there reigned
a depressing silence and deep stillness in all nature, only broken now
and then by the lowing of cattle or the passionate crying of the cuckoo.
"Cuckoo in the north brings sorrow forth," said the priest, as though
he would thereby give a long-sought expression to his melancholy.
"That is only true of the first time one hears it," said his wife,
The roof of the cattle-shed was now visible, and behind it stood
the church tower. They moored the punt by the bridge and the father
took the two sleeping children and carried them into the house. Then he
kissed his wife and thanked her for the pleasant day; he would now go
to church, he said, and read vespers.
He took his book and went. When
he came on the road the Angelus was ringing. He hastened his steps.
From a good distance he saw people moving in the churchyard. Something
unusual must be going on, as no one besides the sacristan generally
attended vespers. He thought that someone had perhaps seen him on the
island, and heard his conversation with his wife. He felt seriously
anxious when he approached the church door, for there he perceived two
horses with gorgeous trappings and an archdeacon with his retinue from
Upsala, where the Archbishop lived. The archdeacon seemed to have been
waiting, for he went immediately towards the priest and said that he
wished to make a communication to him when vespers were over. Never had
the priest read the evening service so fervently, and with deep anxiety
he invoked the protection of all the saints against unknown dangers.
He cast a glance now and then at the door, where he saw the archdeacon
standing like an executioner waiting for his victim, and when he had
said "Amen" he went with heavy steps to receive the blow, for now he
was certain that a misfortune was impending.
"I did not wish to visit you in your house," began the Archbishop's
messenger, "because my business is of such a nature that it demands a
quiet place and the proximity of the holy things which strengthen our
hearts. I have a message from the Church council to deliver which will
deeply affect the intimacies of your private life."
Here he broke off, for he saw his victim's anxiety, and handed over a
parchment which the young priest unrolled and read:
"Dilectis in Christo fratribus (dear brothers in Christ), Episcopus,
Sabinensis, apostolicae sedis legatis (the Bishop of Sabina, Legate of
the Roman Chair)——"
His eyes flew over the crowded letters, till they stopped all at once
at a line which seemed to be written in fire, for the young man's
features became as pale as ashes.
The archdeacon seemed to feel sympathy with him and said: "It appears
that the demands of the Church are severe: before the close of the year
the marriages of all priests are to be dissolved, for a true servant of
the Lord cannot live united to a wife without defiling the holy things
which he handles, and his heart cannot be divided between Christ and a
sinful descendant of the first woman."
"'What God hath joined, that shall not man put asunder,'" answered the
priest as soon as he came to himself.
"That is only true for ordinary people; but when the higher aims of the
Church of Christ demand it, then what would otherwise be wrong becomes
lawful. And mark well the distinction—'Man shall not put asunder.'
The saying, therefore, simply refers to man acting as the divider; but
here God acts through His servant, and sunders what God has united,
therefore it does not apply here."
"But God has ordained marriage Himself," objected the broken man.
"Just what I say, and therefore He has a right to dissolve it."
"But the Lord does not desire this sacrifice from his weak servant."
"The Lord commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son."
"But our hearts will break."
"Just so; hearts ought to break—that makes them more ardent in piety."
"I That can never be the wish of a loving God."
"The 'loving' God caused His own Son to be slain on the Cross. The
world is no pleasure-garden, but merely vain and transient, and you may
comfort yourself with the thought that the Decretals——"
"No, for God's sake, don't talk to me of Decretals! Archdeacon, in
heaven's name give me a spark of hope; dip the tip of your finger in
water and quench this fire of despair which you have kindled. Say that
it is not possible; try to believe that it was only a proposal which
was not adopted."
The archdeacon pointed to his seal and said, "Presentibus consulentibus
et consentientibus (it is already decided and confirmed). And as
regards the Decretals, my young friend, there are in them such
treasures of wisdom that they may well serve to clear up a clouded
mind, and if I want to give a good friend a piece of good advice, I
say, 'Read the Decretals; read them early and late, and you will find
that they make you feel calm and happy.'"
The unhappy priest thought of the stones which he had given on the
morning of the same day to the despairing woman, and bowed his head to
"Therefore," concluded the archdeacon, "enjoy the short time left; the
summer wind has blown, the flowers have sprung up in the field, and
the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. On St Sylvester's Day
ultimo mensis Decembris I come here again, and then must your house
be swept and garnished, as though Christ the Lord was about to enter,
under penalty of excommunication. Till then you can study the decree
more closely. Farewell, and forget not to read the Decretals."
He mounted his white horse and rode away in order to reach the next
parish before night and to spread grief and misery there, like the
rider in the Apocalypse.
Dominus Peder in Rasbo was crushed. He did not venture to go home at
once but rushed into the church, where he fell down by the altar.
The doors of the gilded altar-triptych stood open, and the Saviour's
progress to Calvary was illumined by the red rays of the evening sun.
The priest was at this moment not the justiciary of a minatory and
threatening Lord, but he lay like one of the chastised flock and prayed
for mercy. He looked up to the image of Christ but found no sympathy
there. The Saviour took His cup from the hand that offered it and
emptied it to the dregs; He carried His cross on His mangled back up
the steep hill where He was to be crucified, but over the Crucified
heaven opened. There was then something over and beyond all these
sorrows. The priest began to examine into the reasons of these great
human sacrifices which were about to take place all over the country.
The Church had seen how men began to doubt in the priest's right to be
judge and executioner, for they had found their judges full of human
weaknesses. Now the priests must show that for Christ's sake they could
tear their hearts out of their breasts and lay them on the altar.
"But," continued his rebellious reason, "Christianity has done away
with human sacrifices." He went on thinking, and the idea occurred
to him that perhaps there was something underlying the old heathen
sacrifices. Abraham was a heathen, for he did not know Christ, and he
was ready to offer his son at God's command. Christ was sacrificed;
all holy martyrs are sacrificed—why should he be spared? There was no
reason why he should, and he had to acknowledge that if people were to
continue to believe in his preaching they could also demand that, he
should sacrifice his dearest himself, for he and his wife were one.
He had to acknowledge this, and he felt a peculiar new enjoyment in
the thought of the terrible sufferings which awaited him. Pride also
came to his support and pointed to the martyr's crown which would
elevate him above this congregation, on whom he was accustomed to look
down from the high altar, but who had begun to raise their heads and
defiantly threatened to storm this lofty position.
Strengthened and elevated by this thought, he rose and passed within
the altar-rails. He was, in his own eyes, no more the crushed sinner,
but the righteous man who deserved to stand by Christ's side for he had
suffered as much as He. He looked proudly down on the praying-stools
which in the twilight resembled penitents kneeling, and he hurled
the denunciations of a prophet on their heads because they would not
believe in his preaching. He tore his coat open and showed them his
bleeding breast in which an empty gap showed that he had given God his
heart. He bade those of little faith to put their hands in his side and
let themselves be carried over by him. He felt himself grow during his
suffering, and his over-excited imagination transported him into an
ecstasy, so that the operations of thought seemed momentarily suspended
and he believed that he was one with Christ. Further than that he could
not go, and he collapsed like a sail which has been split by the wind,
when the sexton came in to close the church.
On the way home be felt unhappy because his ecstasy was over, and
he would have gladly returned to the church had not an indefinite
something, which expressed itself as a faint sense of duty, summoned
him home. The nearer he approached the more his religious emotions
cooled, and the smaller therefore he felt himself. But when he entered
the door, his wife received him with open arms, asking him uneasily
why he had remained out so long; and when he felt the friendly glow of
his hearth, and saw the children peacefully asleep with rosy cheeks,
he realised the preciousness of what he had now to surrender. He felt
all his young blood well up in his opened heart, and was conscious
of the reawakening of the omnipotent force of first love which can
bear everything. He swore never to leave the beloved of his heart,
and the married pair felt themselves young again. They sat together
till midnight talking of the future and how to escape the danger which
The summer passed for the happy pair like a beautiful dream, during
which they forgot the wakening which awaited them. Meanwhile the papal
decree had become known to the congregation, who heard of it with a
sort of malicious satisfaction—partly because they did not grudge
their spiritual superiors a little purgatorial fire, and partly because
they hoped to get their priests more cheaply when they had to live as
celibates. Moreover, there were in the congregation a number of pious
people who received whatever came from Bishop and Pope as though it
came from heaven. They discussed the question thoroughly and adhered
to the view that a priest's marriage was sinful. These pious people,
who had expected to see the parsonage purified immediately after the
promulgation of the decree, began to murmur when they saw that their
pastor gave no signs whatever of intending to obey it. The murmuring
grew in strength when the church-tower happened to be struck by
lightning. This was followed by a failure in the harvest. The voices of
complaint became louder and the pious party sent a deputation to the
parsonage to declare that they did not intend to receive the sacrament
at the hands of a priest who lived in sin. They demanded that he should
separate from his wife, because any more children which might be born
would be illegitimate, and they threatened to purify the parsonage with
fire if it were not pure by the end of the year.
For a long time after that the pair were left in peace, but a marked
change began to be observable in the priest. He went oftener into the
church than he needed to, and remained there till late in the evening.
He was reserved and cold towards his wife, and seemed as though he were
nervous to meet her. He would take his children for hours on his lap
and caress them without saying a word.
At Martinmas, in November, the archdeacon from the cathedral city came
on a visit and had a long talk with the priest. That night the latter
slept in the attic and continued to sleep there. His wife said nothing,
but saw the course of events without the prospect of being able to
alter anything. Her pride forbade her to make any advance, and as her
husband began to take his meals alone, they met seldom. He was as pale
as ashes, and his eyes were sunken in his head; he never ate in the
evening, and slept on the bare ground under a sealskin rug.
Then came Christmas-time. Two days before Christmas the priest came
into the house and sat by the oven. His wife was mending the children's
clothes. For some time there was a dreadful silence; at last the man
said: "The children must have something for Christmas; who will go to
"I will," answered his wife, "but I take the children with me. Do you
"I have prayed the Lord that this cup might pass from me, but He has
not willed it, and I have answered, 'Let not my will but Thine be
"Are you sure that you know the Lord's will?" said his wife
"As sure as my soul lives!"
"I will go to-morrow to my father and mother, who are expecting me,"
said his wife in a sad but firm voice.
The priest stood up and went out hastily, as though he had heard his
death-sentence. The evening sky was sparkling and cold, the stars
glimmered in the blue-grey depths, and the boundless expanse of the
snow-covered plain lay before the despairing wanderer, whose way seemed
to point towards the lowest stars of the sky, which seemed as though
they had risen out of the white earth. He wandered and wandered on and
on; he felt like a tethered horse which runs but is pulled back by
the rope whenever it thinks itself free. He passed by houses brightly
lit up, and saw how people scoured and swept and baked and cooked
in preparation for the approaching Christmas. Thoughts of his own
approaching Christmas awoke in him. He imagined his house unheated,
unlighted, without her, without the children. His feet were burning
but his body felt freezing. He went on and on without knowing whither.
At last he stood before a house. The shutters were fastened, but a ray
of light shone out and threw a yellow gleam upon the snow. He went
nearer and put his eye to the chink. He saw into a room in which the
seats and tables were covered with clothes—little children's shirts,
stockings and coats. A large box stood open; on the cover of it hung a
white dress whose graceful shape attracted his attention; it evidently
belonged to a young woman, and on one shoulder was fastened a green
garland. Was it a shroud or a bridal dress? He wondered with himself
why corpses and brides were dressed in the same way. He saw a shadow
thrown upon the wall—sometimes it was so large that it was broken by
the ceiling and vanished in it; sometimes it crept down to the floor.
At last it remained stationary on the upper part of the white dress.
A small head wearing a cap was thrown into sharp relief against the
bright background. This forehead, this nose, this mouth was familiar
to him. Where was he? The shadow sank into the box, and into the light
there came a face which could belong to no living person, so pale and
unspeakably suffering did it appear. It looked him in the eyes so that
they smarted, and he felt the tears roll down his cheeks and melt
the snow on the window-ledge. The eyes of the face were so soft and
pleading that he thought he saw St Katherine on the wheel, praying the
Emperor Decius for mercy. Yes, that was she, and he was the Emperor.
Should he grant her mercy? No; "give that which is Cæsar's unto Cæsar,"
says the Scripture. No mercy! But he could not endure these looks, if
he was to continue to be strong; therefore he must go.
He now went into the garden, where the snow lay deep on his
straw-covered flower-beds so that they looked like little children's
graves. Who lay in them? His children. His happy, rosy-cheeked
children, whom God had commanded him to sacrifice, as Abraham
sacrificed Isaac. But Abraham escaped with only a fright. That must
be a God of hell, Who could be so inhuman. It must be a bad God Who
preached love to men but Himself behaved like an executioner. He would
go at once and seek Him; seek Him in His own house, speak with Him, and
demand an explanation.
He left the garden and waded through the snow-drifts till he reached
a little fir tree by the wood-shed, and laid hold of it. That was a
Christmas-tree like one the children would have danced round had
they lived. Now he remembered that he wanted to seek the God Who had
taken his children in order to bring him to account. The church was
not far, but when he came to it it was closed. Then he became frantic.
He scraped away the snow till he got hold of a large stone, and with
that he began to hammer the door till the echoes from the church
sounded like thunder, while he shouted loudly: "Come out, Moloch,
child-devourer! I will split up your stomach! Come out, St Katharine
and all saints and devils! You must fight with the Emperor Decius in
Rasbo! Oho! You come from behind, legions of the abyss!" He turned
round to the churchyard, and with the strength of a madman he broke
down a young lime tree, and using it as a weapon he attacked the crowd
of little grave-crosses which with out-stretched arms seemed to be
marching against him. They did not flinch, and he mowed them down like
Death with his scythe, not stopping till he had laid every one flat and
the ground was covered with splinters of wood.
But his strength was not yet exhausted. Now he would plunder the
corpses of his enemies and collect the dead and wounded. Load after
load he carried to the wall of the church and piled them under a
window. When he had finished he climbed on the pile, broke a pane
of glass, and got into the church. The inside was quite lit up by
the northern lights which had hitherto been hidden from him by the
high roof of the church. He made a new raid on the threatening
prayer-stools, which he battered into a heap of fragments. His eyes
now rested on the high altar, where throned above the pictures of the
Passion a figure sat on a cloud with the lightnings of the law in his
hand. The priest crossed his arms and regarded defiantly the severe
figure on the cloud. "Come down!" he shrieked. "Come down! We will
wrestle together!" When he saw that his challenge was not accepted,
he seized a block of wood and hurled it at his enemy. It crashed on a
plaster ornament, which fell down and raised a cloud of dust.
He took another piece of wood and then another and hurled them with the
mounting rage of disappointment. The clouds fell piece by piece, while
he laughed loudly, the lightnings were torn out of the hand of the
figure; at last the heavy piece of carving fell with a terrible crash
on the altar and smashed the candlesticks in its fall.
But then the blasphemer was seized with a panic and sprang out of the
On the morning of the day before Christmas a parishioner had seen a
strange sight by the hedge of the parsonage garden. A sledge came out
of the enclosure containing a woman, two children, and a servant, and
was driven westwards. At about a quarter of a mile distant it was
followed by the priest running and calling out for the sledge to stop.
But it had continued to proceed till it vanished round a bend of the
high-road. Then the priest had fallen into a snow-drift, shaking his
clenched fist against the sky. Later information came to the effect
that the priest lay very ill with fever, and that the devil, in anger
that he had not overcome the servant of the Lord in the battle waged
for the dissolution of his marriage, had raged in the most terrible
way in the church. But in order to enter it, and to exercise his power
there, he had first broken down all the crosses in the churchyard. All
this restored the priest's reputation and even gave him an appearance
of sanctity, which especially pleased the pious party who had been the
instigators of the purification of the parsonage.
The priest lay ill for three months and could not go out till April. He
had become old. His face was full of angles, his eyes had lost their
brightness, his mouth was half open, his back was bent. On the south
side of the house he had a seat where he could sit in the warmth of the
sun, buried in dreams of the past which hardly possessed any reality
for him, especially as he had received no news from those whom he had
once called his own.
Then the month of May returned with flowers and the song of birds. The
priest went into his garden and saw how it was overgrown with weeds;
his precious flowers were killed by the frost because no one had seen
to their being covered, and they now lay mouldering like rags upon the
earth. It never occurred to him for a moment to break up the soil round
the flower-beds or to do anything else of the kind, since he had no
one for whom to work and there would be no tending hand to protect the
young growths. He stood by the fence and looked out over the landscape.
The plain stretched away in the sunlight and the little brook rippled
merrily and invited his eyes to follow the little wavelets, which
danced by and aroused his longing to follow them southwards, where they
met the river. He unmoored his boat, sat in it without touching the
rudder, and let it drift with the stream, gliding on thus for about two
Suddenly he was aware of the fresh scent of budding birches and spring
flowers. He looked round; the plain had ceased, and he found himself at
the beginning of the little birch wood. Memories of the previous year
rose in him; bright, phantom-like images hovered above the primroses
and anemones. He stepped on shore and went up the hill. Here they had
eaten their lunch; here on this branch hung the coat at which the boys
had shot with their bows. He saw the hole which he had bored in the
birch tree to draw off the sap, which the little ones had drunk. The
willow still bore scars from the knife with which he had cut arrows.
He found an arrow in the grass; how they had hunted for it—the best
he had ever cut, which flew above the top of the highest birch tree!
He hunted in the grass and bushes like a pointer; he upturned the
stones, bent back the branches, raised up the previous year's grass,
scratched away the leaves. What he sought for exactly he did not
know, but he wished to find something which might remind him of her.
Finally he stood by a hawthorn bush; there hung a small fragment of
a piece of red woollen cloth on a thorn. It was set in motion by the
wind and fluttered like a pretty butterfly between the white hawthorn
blossoms—a butterfly pierced by a needle. Then there came a second
gust of wind and turned it round, so that it looked like a bleeding
heart—a heart that was torn from a victim's breast and hung on a tree.
He took it down from the bush, held it to his mouth, breathed on it,
kissed it, and hid it in his hand. Here she had played "soldiers" with
the children, and they had trodden on her dress.
He lay down on the grass and wept; he called her name and the
children's. So long did he weep that he fell asleep from exhaustion.
When he awoke he remained lying as he was for a time and looked with
half-closed eyes over the grass meadow. His eyes fell on a large
willow bush whose yellow tassels hung like golden ears of corn in the
sunshine. His tears had calmed him and produced a certain peace in his
mind; sorrow and joy had ceased, and his soul felt in equipoise. The
reason that his eye rested on the willow bush was that it was directly
in his line of sight. A gentle wind swayed the branches lightly, and
their movement seemed to soothe his tear-reddened eyes. Suddenly the
branches of the bush stopped swaying with a jerk; there was a rustling,
and a hand bent the boughs to one side; a sunlit female figure appeared
framed in the gold of the willow tassels and the green of the tender
He still lay a while watching the beautiful sight, as when one looks
at a picture. Then his eyes met hers, which looked out of the bush like
two stars; they kindled, as it were, flame in his expiring spirit. His
body rose from the earth and his feet carried him forward; he stretched
out his arms, and the next moment he felt a small warm creature nestle
on his stony bosom, which was again filled with the breath of life, and
a long kiss melted the ice which had so long held his spirit imprisoned.
Eight days later the archdeacon came on a visit to the parsonage at
Rasbo. He found the priest happy and contented. The archdeacon had a
commission which made him somewhat embarrassed, and he found he had
to express himself suitably. Rumours, he said, had been heard in the
congregation which had reached to the Archbishop's chair. One should
not certainly believe all reports, but the mere fact of a report
arising was itself half a proof. The priest, to speak plainly, was
said to be having assignations with a woman. The Archbishop was fully
aware of the storm which the Papal Bull regarding priests' marriages
had occasioned. The Holy Father himself had recognised the cruelty
involved in the new law, and had therefore thought it advisable through
a special "licentia occulta" (a secret permission) to make the lives
of the clergy less difficult. Woman, it must be admitted, was the
presiding genius of home life.
Here the current of his eloquence stopped, and in a low, scarcely
audible voice the messenger of Christ whispered the secret sanction.
The priest answered, "Then the Church does not allow a priest to have a
wife, but only a mistress?"
"Don't use such strong words! We call it a 'housekeeper.'"
"Well then," said the priest, "if I take my wife as a housekeeper, the
Church has nothing against it?"
"No! No! Take any other, but not her. The aims of the Church! Remember!"
"The higher aims of the Church," you said. "So it was to annul the
right of inheritance and to get possession of land that the Church
insisted on divorce, not in order to check sin! You consider therefore
the unlawful seizure of other people's property as 'higher aims.' Very
well then! I will have nothing to do with the Church. Excommunicate me,
and I will consider it an honour to be excluded from the fellowship of
the noble Church. Depose me from my office, and I will be so far away
before you have been able to write your proclamation that you will
never be able to find a trace of me. Greet the Holy Father from me,
archdeacon, and tell him that I do not accept his dirty offer. Greet
him and say that the gods whom our forefathers worshipped above the
clouds and in the sun were greater and much purer than these Roman and
Semitic cattle-drivers whom you have foisted upon us. Greet him and
say that you have met a man who will devote his whole future life to
converting Christians to heathenism, and that a day will come when the
new heathen will undertake crusades against the vicegerent of Christ
and His followers who wish to introduce the custom of sacrificing men
alive, whereas the heathen contented themselves with killing them. And
now, archdeacon, take your Decretals and go away before I flog you
soundly. You have nearly killed two people here with your invisible
'higher aims,' and the whole land calls down a curse on you. Go with
my curse; break your legs on the high-road; die in a ditch; may the
lightning strike you and robbers plunder you; may the ghosts of your
dead relations haunt you; may incendiaries set your house on fire—for
I excommunicate you from the society of all honourable men, as I
excommunicate myself from the Holy Church! Get out!" The archdeacon
did not remain long in the parsonage; nor did the priest, for his wife
and children were waiting for him by the hill planted with birch trees
on the way to the wood on the border of Vestmanland, where he was going
to plant a settlement.
Christmas Eve lay bitterly cold and silent as death over Stockholm;
everything living seemed to be frozen; there was not a breath of wind
and the stars seemed to be flickering like little flames in order to
keep themselves alive. A lonely watchman ran up and down the street to
keep his feet from freezing, and the beams cracked in the old wooden
In the dwelling of the tradesman Paul Hörning in the Drachenturm Street
his wife had already risen. She did not venture to light a candle or to
kindle a fire, for the early-morning bell in the city church had not
sounded, but she expected it every moment for she knew it was about
four o'clock. The whole household was going to early Christmas Mass at
Spånga, and must have something warm first. She searched for her Sunday
clothes which she had laid on a chair, and dressed herself in the
dark as well as she could; but as she found waiting in the darkness
wearisome, she lit a horn-lantern, trusting that the watchman would
respect the peace of Christmas and not raise an alarm, and then she
stole around the low little rooms.
Her husband was still half asleep and little Sven was far away in
the land of dreams, although he lay with his head on a wooden horse
and a feather ball in his hand. Karin, who had been confirmed in the
autumn, was still asleep behind the curtain, and had hung her new
velvet jacket and her necklace of Bohemian crystal on the bedpost.
The Christmas-tree, with its red apples and Spanish nuts, threw long,
jagged shadows over everything and made it look ghostly in the faint
The mother went out into the kitchen and awoke Lisa in the box-room,
who started up with tempestuous hurry and lit the candle in the iron
candlestick; she was not anxious about the light being seen, for she
was good friends with the night-watchman Truls, and besides, the
kitchen lay at the back of the house. Then the mother knocked on the
ceiling with the broom handle for Olle the shop-boy, who slept in the
attic, and he knocked three times with his shoes in reply.
After that she went again into the bedroom and sewed a hook and eye
firmly on her husband's starched and smoothly ironed shirt with its
stiff collar. Then she took little Sven's red stockings out of the
great oak chest, and held them against the light, and busied herself
with one or two other small matters. Finally she awoke Karin, who put
two small freshly bathed feet in straw shoes and began to dress behind
the curtain, for there was very little room.
Sven awoke of his own accord; his cheek had a red mark where it had
rested on the wooden horse, and he began at once to throw his feather
ball, which flew over the curtain and hit his father on the nose,
awaking him, so that he grunted a greeting of "Happy Christmas!" from
his huge bed which was built like a small house. Sven wanted to run
behind the curtain and see his sister's Christmas presents, but she
screamed and said he mustn't for she was just washing herself.
Then the city church bell began to ring for early Mass; all murmured a
blessing. Mother set the chandelier in the large room; Sven came there
with nothing but his shirt on and sat under the Christmas-tree trying
to make himself and others believe that he was in a wood. Then be
gnawed the back side of an apple so that it should not be seen, but the
apple revolved on the thread by which it was suspended; mother came and
said she would slap him if he did not go at once and dress himself.
Lisa lit the fire on the hearth so that the flame roared up the
chimney, and placed the milk kettle on it; mother spread a cloth over
the great table in the sitting-room and set out the plates, putting the
brightly polished silver jug in father's place, then she cut slices of
bread and butter and ham, for one must have something before going out
Olle had already been a good time on his legs and gone into the stable;
he had awakened Jöns the stable-man and curry-combed the chestnut
horses. The sledge was drawn out of the coach-house and the rugs were
dusted; soon the sledge stood in the street and Olle kindled the
torches, which lit up the walls of the house like a conflagration.
Jöns cracked the whip as a signal that the horses had been harnessed,
and the latter snorted and scraped the ground with their hoofs to show
In the house they were searching for their upper garments—furs and
hoods, cloth-shoes and muffs; Karin, who was ready first, went down and
offered Olle and Jöns a drink of hot ale. When Paul Hörning was dressed
he took a glass of French mulled wine. His wife locked everything up
and came after him with Sven and Lisa, and so they were all safe and
sound outside in the street.
The sledge was a strong one, as roomy as a barge, and had three seats;
on the first sat Paul and his wife and little Sven, on the second,
Karin and Olle, and on the last Lisa and Jöns with the torches. Paul
got in last for he had to see whether the horses were properly shod,
and whether the harness was straight; then he got in, and his weight
made the body of the sledge creak. He took the reins, asked once more
if anything had been forgotten, cracked the whip, nodded to the windows
of his old wooden house, and then they were off! First to the Great
Market, where they met other good friends among the horse-possessing
citizens of Stockholm. There they sat already in their sledges—stout
brewers and thin bakers, and the whole market-place was lighted up by
their smoking torches. The horses' bells tinkled, and now the whole
procession began to move down the slope and out of the northern city
"I am wondering how Brother Peter will receive us this year," said Paul
to his wife when they had settled down for the drive.
"Why so?" she asked, somewhat uneasily.
"Oh, of course, he has no reason, but I think I annoyed him too much
last year about the salt, and since then, according to my observation,
he has been rather reserved."
"Well, if it were so he would not show it, I think; you two do not
meet so often, and although you are not real brothers, you have always
considered yourselves such."
"But Mats is very resentful, and if there were the slightest
difficulty, it would stop all prospect of a match between him and
Karin. We will see! We will see!"
Little Sven sat below in the straw and held the ends of the reins in
the belief that he was driving. Olle, the shop-boy, tried to talk
sentimentally to Karin, but her thoughts were somewhere else and she
did not answer; Lisa, however, let Jöns hide her hand in his great
glove, and sometimes she helped him to hold the torch when his hand
Outside the city they passed under the ridge of the Brunkeberg, over
the moor, and on the high-road towards Upsala. Soon between the fir
trees the lights of the church of Solna were visible, glimmering in
the dark winter morning. Here Paul parted from his fellow-townsmen,
who remained there because they wished to go by the Westeras road to
Spånga. Soon little Sven was wondering at the great Christmas-trees on
both sides of the road, which were lit up at intervals by the torches
and immediately hidden in darkness again. He thought he saw kobolds
standing behind the tree-trunks with their red caps and beckoning, but
his father told him they were only the red reflections of the torches
flying and running, for his father was an intelligent townsman who no
longer believed in kobolds.
Sven thought that the great Christmas-trees were running along by the
side of the sledge, and that the stars were dancing over their tops,
but his mother told him that God dwelt in the stars and that they were
dancing to-day for joy that the Christ-Child was born, and Sven quite
Now they passed over a bridge which rumbled under the horses' hoofs,
the wood became clearer, the plain expanded before them, and little
hills planted with birch copses appeared here and there. Presently a
light shone from a cottage window and they saw someone carrying a torch
towards it. In the distance above the plain appeared the morning-star,
shining very large and bright. Olle the shop-boy told Karin that it was
the star which had led the shepherds to Bethlehem, but Karin knew that
herself, for in a large town one knows everything, and Olle was from
The road took one more turn, and through the long boughs of the
leafless lime trees the church could be seen with all its windows
brightly lit up. By the church wall the torches had been thrown into a
great blazing pile by which the coachmen warmed themselves after they
had taken the horses to the stable. Paul cracked his whip, swept past
the bonfire in a stately curve, and made his chestnut horses curvet
before the admiring peasants.
At the church door they met Peter and his wife and his tall son Mats.
They embraced each other, wished each other a happy Christmas, and
asked after one another's health. After they had talked for a while,
the bells rang a second time, and then they entered the church. There
it was as cold as though one were sitting in the sea, but they did not
feel it for they froze in good company, and for the rest they had the
preaching and the singing to keep them warm. The young ones had so much
to look at; they went about and greeted each other, and were never
tired of staring at the great chandeliers.
When at last the early service was at an end and they came out again
on the hill, the stars shone no longer, but in the east the sky was
reddish yellow like a ripe apple. Then they trotted quickly to Peter's
house. It was a large one with back premises, guest-rooms, and
bed-rooms on the attic floor. By one of the railing posts was tied an
unthreshed sheaf of corn on which the sparrows had already settled and
were keeping Christmas; at the house door stood two fir trees which
sparkled in the frost.
Peter placed himself there and bid his foster-brother and his
belongings welcome; then they entered the house and took off their
furs. Peter's wife, who had gone before them, stood by the fire and
heated ale, his son Mats helped Karin to take off her fur, and Sven
was already rolling in the Christmas straw which covered the ground to
the depth of half a yard. Paul and his wife were led to the sofa and
took their place under the blue and red hangings on which were depicted
Christ's entry into Jerusalem, and the Three Wise Men, while Peter sat
down in a high armchair.
The long table presented a stately appearance, for there was not a
handbreadth which was not covered with a dish or a bowl. The table was
laid for the whole of Christmas, and all the eatables in the house were
set out on it: a whole boar's head grinned on a red painted wooden
plate, surrounded by brawns, tongues, joints and briskets; there were
butter-dishes and loaves, cakes and wafers; jugs of sweet-scented
juniper-wood filled with foaming Christmas beer. The red light of
early morning shone on the little green, hoar-frosted windows, and it
looked as though it were summer outside; but within, the great fire
on the hearth spread a splendid warmth. Peter took his pocket-knife
and cut slices of bread, spreading butter thickly upon them with his
thumb, and invited his guests to do the same. When the hot ale had been
drunk, the taciturn host opened the conversation, for Paul was a little
embarrassed how to begin.
"Did you have a good journey from the town or not?"
"Splendid!" answered Paul. "The chestnuts ran along like lightning!"
But Peter did not like the town horses and always ignored them when
Paul made an ostentatious allusion to them.
"Is corn selling well this Christmas?" he continued.
"The price is low, for those confounded Livlanders had a fine harvest."
"And you grudge it them! Don't curse the harvest, brother! You don't
know what you may come to. The more one curses the she-goat, the more
"But I must live too!"
"Plough, rake and sow, and you will reap."
"Ah, the old story!"
"Yes, the old story! The priest reads in the church and prays God for
a good harvest, and the tradesman in the town grumbles when God gives
it. To the deuce with such people who wish to thrive on the needs of
Paul was about to answer but now the two wives intervened and begged
them for heaven's sake to keep the Christmas peace.
The two opponents were silent, and threw angry glances at each other;
but Mats and Karin drank at the same corner of the table out of the
same jug, and the two old women looked at each other with a meaning
"Pass me the salt," said Peter, and stretched out his arm.
Mats passed his father the salt, but spilt some on the table-cloth.
"Be careful with God's gift," said Peter. "Salt is very dear."
Paul felt the thrust, but kept silence. The women gave a new turn to
the conversation, and a storm was averted. When Paul and Peter had
finished eating they went out in order to get fresh air and to inspect
the fields and animals. They began by visiting the cattle-stall.
"What will you give me for this?" asked Peter, pulling the calf's tail.
"When he is an ox, and you bring him to the town in the spring, I will
"There is nothing to prevent me, but I won't bring my ox to town."
"We shall see," said Paul.
"What shall we see?" asked Peter, and looked at him with his head on
one side. "I understand your dodges well enough, but though a sow may
get her snout through a paling it does not follow that she will get her
body through too."
"We shall see! We shall see!"
Peter would not ask any more.
They went on and came to the stable. "What will you give me for this?"
asked Peter, lifting the black stallion's hind leg. "It is ten and a
quarter to its backbone."
"My left chestnut is eleven, and the right is ten and a half," said
Peter did not apparently hear this, but opened the stallion's mouth in
order to show its fine teeth.
"That horse is like a sheep," said Paul. "You try that with the
chestnut, and you will never hear a cuckoo again."
"Everyone speaks to his like," said the muller, and talked to the sow.
The conversation would not flow. They looked at the sheep and the
pigs, but either Paul's interest seemed forced, or the proximity of
the chestnut horses, who were in the stable close by, had a disturbing
effect; at any rate, they were out in the fresh air again and took
a walk in the fields. The snow prevented Peter going into effusive
details, but he pointed out where he had done his autumn sowing, where
the spring sowing would take place, and where the fallow ground lay.
Then they had to inspect the stacks of wood and straw to see whether
they were dry or damp, to find out whether the bees were frozen in
their hives, and whether it was too hot for the geese in their house.
By this time it was nearly noon and the bell rang for High Mass. Then
they went again into the church and had a midday nap and went home to
eat. They ate for three hours and then enjoyed the twilight. The elder
men sat in their chairs and nodded; their wives sat by the fire which
blazed so brightly that it dispelled the darkness, and chatted about
weaving and baking. Mats and Karin had seated themselves on a box and
whispered about their affairs. Olle the shop-boy had his arm round
Lisa and Jöns his round the maid-servant; they sat on the ground and
guessed riddles whose solution caused little Sven great difficulty.
But the glow on the hearth became more subdued, the talk became more
intermittent; the elders snored, the women nodded, and Mats and Karin
nestled closer together; the lads and maid-servants became still, and
soon an afternoon sleep prevailed throughout the house.
Peter's wife awoke first, and it was quite dark; she blew up the fire
on the hearth and made a blaze. The men woke up gradually and there
was a stir in the room. The youths, girls, and women sat down in the
Christmas straw round the fire to crack nuts and tell stories. Paul
fetched a bottle of Spanish wine, with which to make himself and Peter
jolly while they talked and played cards to while away the long winter
evening. When they had filled their glasses and drunk to each other,
Peter remarking that the wine was too sweet, Paul boldly seized the
threads of the conversation in order to bring them into order and
began: "Now, Brother Peter, if you want us to talk about a matter you
know of, draw out the cork and let it flow."
"That's all right," said Peter, "but I have always thought when the
right Abraham comes, Sarah dances. Good! What will you give your boy?"
"Just as much as you give your girl."
Peter scratched his head. "It depend! what sort of year this is.
The dowry runs into money, and if I have a bad year, there will be
no money, and one does not know how it will go, for the snow came in
autumn on the seed when the fields were wet."
"Just the same with me," said Paid. "We will let it stand over till
the autumn, and if we can both produce the same amount we will let the
organ blow, as the verger says, and if fortune is kind the ox will
calve as well as the cow."
"Very well! And so the matter remains: the boy and the girl must wait
till the corn is in the ear."
Then they began to drink; but the younger ones had pushed away the
straw and sat in a circle to "hunt the slipper." Paul and Peter sat
for a while looking on at the game; at last Paul felt exhilarated
by drinking, and felt strongly tempted to start a more lively
conversation. He knew very well how to do so.
"Well, Peter," he resumed, "are you coming to the city this winter?"
Peter showed his teeth like an ill-tempered dog, looked at Paul to see
if he meant it seriously, and said:
"N-no! I don't think I shall!"
"Still as prejudiced against the town as ten years ago? What! Can you
not bear to look at it through seven palings?"
"I wouldn't have it as a gift, if you threw it at me! I don't need it
at all, but it can't live without me."
"So you say!"
"So I say! I have meat and hay, beer and bread, fuel and timber, house
and clothing; what do I want with you then? I build my house, I plough
my field, I cut my wood; my old woman spins my yarn, weaves my coat,
bakes my bread, and brews my beer. What do you do? You tax my crop; you
impose tolls on my wood; you empty my granary. You settle down on a
stone as bald as the palm of my hand; you neither sow nor plough, but
you reap and gather into barns; you eat my bread and drink my beer; you
burn my wood and spin my wool; you sit there like a lazy monk and take
tithe, and what do you give me for it?"
"Listen! Listen!" stammered Paul. "Don't you get my salt?"
"Your salt! You make no salt; and if you had not grabbed at it, so that
we needed you as a middleman, you could not grind us down. And your
sugar? I do not need your sugar, I have my bees!"
"Don't you get my iron?"
"Your iron! Where do you dig that up? In the gutters? What!"
"Don't you get my wine?"
"Where do you plant it? On the roofs?"
"Don't you get my silver and my gold?"
"What should I do with them, even if you had any? Can I make a knife, a
plough, a spade, a brush, or a winnowing-fan out of them? No, I won't
have any of it. All your business is useless, and if there were not so
many fools to buy your stuff, you would starve. Remember, if all the
'louts of peasants,' as you call them, recovered their reason, so that
they did not take the trouble to change their crops for your rubbish,
what would you eat then? What?"
"Eat? One does not live in order to eat."
"No, but one lives by eating. And those who live by cheating others can
also keep race-courses and dancing-houses where one learns such fine
things; they can print books where one can read that all which the idle
do is well done, and that it is honourable to steal if one only takes
a sword in one's hand, sticks a rag on a pole, marches into a foreign
land and says 'Now there is war!'"
"You always bring up the old race-course again. We paid the King
ourselves for it, so that we might keep it in peace."
"Paid it yourselves! Yes, how did the matter go? When it was made, it
was said that the town should pay for it; then you complained, and said
they were such bad times, for the peasants would not buy your goods.
And what did you do then? You put up the price of salt. Yes, I remember
it well, and you shall be paid back for it. And so the peasant had to
pay for the race-course and all your other tomfoolery, for that you
must have, for you have jammed yourselves together like bees in a hive
and see neither the sun nor the moon."
Peter's intoxication began to gain the upper hand, and he had an inner
vision of the hated chestnut horses as embodying the showiness of the
"And though you have not so much grass as can grow on my chin, yet you
can support two chestnuts. What do they eat? Sugar and salt? What!
Raisins and almonds perhaps? And what do your chestnuts do? Do they
plough; do they draw logs of wood or a load? No, they keep clear of all
that. I know well what they draw, but that I don't say; but I know well
that the streets there are not longer than my turnipfield. Yes, that
is what they can do, the lazy beggars. Deuce take me if I don't have a
turn at being idle. Listen, mother, do you want to be idle, then we
will get a pair of red chestnuts with Cordova-leather trappings and
silver knobs on the harness. Come, mother, we will be idle, then we can
drive in a blue painted sledge with the servants behind, put our feet
in foot-warmers of otter-skin, and then we can sleep out the morning
with a velvet cap on our head, and drink Spanish wine sugared. Eh,
mother, come! We will be lazy too!"
Paul began to get angry. "I believe the Spanish wine has got into your
head, although you neither planted it nor pressed the grapes," he said.
Peter felt that he had been insulted, but he was too befogged to
understand it at once. "The wine, you say, and I think you shrug your
shoulders. Remember he who has got a loose tongue must cover his back.
One fellow may sneeze into a silk handkerchief and another may throw it
on the ground, but both can eat out of the same trough. What are you
talking about wine for? Have I looked into your mouth? Do you think I
have nothing of my own to drink? May the devil take your wine! Come out
in the courtyard and I'll make you feel something!"
Peter threw away the rest of his wine and got up in order to go out.
Paul was held back by the women who begged him for Christ's sake not
to go. Peter would cool down, they said, and the Christmas peace should
not be disturbed. Peter was envious and did not like anyone to "boss"
him. Paul at first wished to return to the town at once, but gradually
he let himself be smoothed down and took part in the game, while Peter
worked off his rage outside. It was not long before there was a knock
at the window and a little while after at the door. When they opened
it, Peter entered it, wearing a sheep-skin, and hobbled about like a
goat, so that the straw on the floor was all sent flying and the others
jumped up on seats and tables. Their merriment soon became uproarious;
they ate and drank without any more quarrelling till night-time, and
then they went to sleep.
When the Christmas festivities were over, Paul returned home with his
family, and Karin and Mats were an engaged couple. It was arranged that
the wedding should take place in the following autumn, if the harvest
and trade were good. So the new year began with hope for the younger
ones and renewed effort on the part of their elders.
When the first snow fell on the following November, Peter harnessed his
black stallion to the sledge and took Mats with him, in order to drive
to the town and talk about the wedding. The harvest had been better
than they had dared to expect, and Peter could give a fair sum as a
dowry. There was a splendid surface on the high-road for the sledge,
and Peter was in a good humour, although he could not dispel a certain
uneasiness at again coming to the town, where he had not been for ten
years, and where he had met with a number of misadventures which made
him dislike the town-dwellers. For the same reason Mats had never been
able to make a journey to the town till now, when he found himself on
the way to a place full of wonderful things, the description of which,
with embellishments which he had heard from returning peasants, had
sounded to him like fairy-tales.
They went along briskly, for the stallion was a good sledge-trotter,
and it was not long before the North Bridge rumbled under the horse's
hoofs. Mats was quite stupefied at the wonders which he saw—houses as
large as mountains and standing so closely together!
"See!" he said, "what good neighbours they can be to each other, and
we in the country can hardly keep the peace at a quarter of a mile's
distance. And so many churches! How religious they are! And the town
hall right in the middle where one can get justice the whole day long!"
Peter made a grimace, and answered nothing.
They came to the tollgate, which was politely opened and closed again
without their having to get down from the sledge. Mats thought that
that was a good custom for he knew what a trouble it was to open a
heavy gate, but Peter cracked his whip so that the horse began to run,
for he wanted to enter the town as a person of importance. But they
heard a cry behind them, and two of the city guards ran at them with
lowered halberds, while a third seized the horse by the bridle and
brought the sledge to a standstill, "Are you trying to bolt, you d——d
lout of a peasant!" shouted the gate-keeper, coming up.
"Bolt?" asked Peter humbly, beginning to remember his former
misadventure in the city.
"Hold your mouth and come!"
The black stallion was led back to the toll-house, where the travellers
had to wait for half an hour, while the sledge was searched and their
names were written down. They were at last liberated with an order to
proceed at a walking pace.
When they reached the Smiths' Street, the sledge-runners began to
knock against the stones, for the snow had been cleared away. The
horse exerted himself and pulled with all his strength, but they
only advanced step by step and could not understand why it was so
difficult. Peter struck the horse, but it was already doing its best
with its loins strained, and its hoofs struck sparks from the stones
of the street. Mats simply sat there staring up at the high houses and
marvelling at the wonderful things which hung outside them: here were
horseshoes and carriage-wheels; there were fiddles, lutes, trumpets;
there clothes, sets of harness, and guns. The baker had hung up a large
B-shaped biscuit, the carpenter a table, the butcher a sheep! "They
must have very little room inside," he remarked to his father, when at
the same moment a snow-ball flung from behind struck off his cap. Peter
and Mats turned round and saw that the whole back part of the sledge
was packed with boys. "Be off with you!" said Peter.
The boys put out their tongues at him. Then Peter raised his whip and
struck at the mass of them, but was so unfortunate in his stroke that
the whiplash caught the eye of a baker's boy, who uttered a frightful
yell and dropped a basket of loaves which he was carrying. At the same
time people came running together and an angry blacksmith mounted on
the sledge and gave Peter such a blow on his mouth and nose that he
saw sparks. "Are you striking the boy, you stupid ox of a peasant?" he
Mats was about to intervene and to throw himself on the smith, when the
crowd of people joined in. The fighting waxed furious, and Peter and
Mats had been soundly thrashed when the guards came up and finished the
matter by taking down the names of the two disturbers of the peace and
summoning them to the town hall.
"This is worse than being in an enemy's country," said Peter, "for here
one cannot defend oneself."
"What have you got to do here then, ox-driver?" said the smith.
"I have to bring you food, or you would be hungry," said Peter.
"Listen to the clodhopper," said the smith. "They have no manners,
these mud-larks, when they come among people, but they will learn some,
The black stallion was set free and had to draw the sledge with the
back part full of boys, who had settled upon it like crows upon a piece
of carrion, up the street.
"That is very strange," said Mats, "that these devils of boys have a
right to ride free."
"That is municipal law, you see," answered Peter.
"Yes, but the civil law doesn't allow it."
"The civil law is not in force here," said his father.
Now they had reached the great market-place. Here Peter stopped and got
down. The boys were discontented because they could not go farther, but
Peter asked humbly for consideration.
He looked for something he could tie his horse to till he had found
his brother, whose address he had forgotten. He saw a stake with rings
attached to it standing in the middle of the market-place, which seemed
suitable, and to this he tied his horse, while the onlookers grinned
and made jests at his expense which he did not understand. Then he
turned to the one who looked most sensible and asked for the house of
his brother Paul. There were fifty Pauls all tradesmen and just as many
Peters, so that he could get no exact information. Peter and Mats now
felt hungry and proceeded to look for a tavern. Paul, they thought, was
such an important tradesman that they would be sure to be able to find
him some time.
As they walked away they came to the ironmarket. Horses were being
sold there, and there was much to look at.
"See!" said Mats, "there are the chestnuts, I declare!"
Peter stared with wide-open eyes. There were really Brother Paul's
chestnuts which had turned up again. A sinful longing to possess them
awoke in him, and he inquired the price. It was very high, but would
not his heart exult if he could drive with them to his brother's door
and call to the coachman, "Unharness the chestnuts! Take the chestnuts
to the stable! Give the chestnuts their oats"? And how the peasants
would stare when he came home with them, and had the black stallion
tied behind as an extra horse!
So he gave the seller earnest-money, and said he would fetch the horses
later in the day. The bargain was sealed with some food and beer in
the iron-market tavern, and Peter found out from the merchants where
his foster-brother lived—in the seventh cross-street on the left
hand. Peter and Mats began to count the streets, but did not get more
than half-way to the seventh, for they had to stand and stare at the
quantities of strange things exposed in the shops for sale. Besides,
the street was very narrow so that they collided with foot-passengers
and carriages, and received thumps before and behind. They got quite
out of their reckoning and had to return to the iron-market and begin
After they had repeated this process more than once, they were tired
and thirsty and went into a tavern. But when they came out again, they
did not know their right from their left; the afternoon had come on
and it was twilight. Then Peter remembered the black stallion which
had nothing to eat or drink, and after asking their way several times
they reached the Great Market. But instead of the black stallion and
the sledge, which had disappeared, they found two of the city police
waiting for them. These, after writing down their names, took them
by the collar and marched them to the lock-up for the night. Peter
tried to defend his freedom from what he called violence, but was
immediately knocked down and had his hands tied behind him. He demanded
an explanation, but that, he was told, would be given him next day, and
in such a manner that he would remember it.
The two prisoners were taken to a long vaulted room under the town
hall, which was filled with men of every age and class. A horn lantern
threw a feeble light over the prisoners, who sat or lay on benches
placed along the wall. Never had Peter and Mats seen men of such
an appearance or in such a condition. Their clothes were in rags,
their faces savage and their gestures wild, but however wretched and
humiliated they might be, they had one common feeling—contempt and
dislike for the new-comers. They accosted them in an insulting way and
made fools of them as soon as they opened their mouths.
"Take a chair and sit down, peasants!" cried a half-drunken porter as
Mats, suspecting no evil, thanked him and looked about for the chair
which was not there. All those present burst into laughter.
The porter, who because of his physical strength and active tongue had
chosen himself as chief speaker, proceeded to examine the new arrivals
in a magisterial tone.
"What have you done, peasants, that you have the honour of entering
this high-born society?"
"We have done nothing at all," answered Mats, in spite of his father's
beckoning him to be silent.
"Just like ourselves," answered the porter; "but if we do nothing that
is our right, but you, peasants, are born to work. But you don't work.
In spring you scratch the crust of the earth a little, and throw some
handfuls of com on it, and then you go about and watch it growing. Do
you call that working? Then comes summer and you dance the hay in, and
drink over it. Then it is autumn and you go to bed and sleep through
the winter. Is that work? You ought to sit in the fortress Elfsborg and
hew stones, then you would know what work is."
"If you envy us, then go and be a peasant," answered Peter.
"I a peasant? Oh fie! I would rather be an executioner or a
night-watchman! Envious, do you say? Am I envious? Will anyone assert
that? Do you know why I sit here? You should know, for you will think
twice afterwards before calling me envious."
"Well, tell us!" answered Peter. "Tell us!"
"Shall I tell you, peasant—you with your corn-sacks? It is your fault,
I tell you, that I sit here. Do you know Paul Hörning? No, you don't.
Well, he was a corn-merchant, and since he let himself be persuaded in
the spring by a scoundrelly peasant that there would be a bad harvest,
he bought all the corn he could get hold of and had his granaries full.
But it turned out that the peasant had lied; there was a good harvest
and corn fell in price. Paul Hörning got into a mess; he had to sell
his chestnut horses and dismiss all his servants. So I lost my place
and loafed about, and now I sit here. Such are the tricks of these
rogues of peasants!"
Mats stared, and Peter was very sad.
"I am sorry to hear what you say," answered Peter, "but it is not my
fault that God gives the harvest."
"Don't talk about it, for I won't listen. Isn't it your fault that you
won't be content with what you have but sow such a hellish lot of corn
that the corn-merchant is ruined. You should be content with what you
have, then others too might be able to live. I really feel inclined to
thrash you a little when I think well over it. Shall I thrash him a
little? What do you others say?"
The onlookers were of different opinions. A shoemaker's apprentice
opposed the idea, for he had discovered that bread was cheaper when
the peasants had much corn. A German shop-boy, who served in a
general store shop, had no objection to a good harvest for then the
peasants were more willing to buy stores. An organ-grinder, with
a monkey perched on his shoulder, had no objection to the peasant
being thrashed, for the peasants never had money with them, but he
had nothing to say against a good harvest for then the market was
full. A butcher said that Peter should be beaten black and blue, for
when the farmers had a good crop it sent up the price of oxen. A wood
dealer said he didn't want anyone to be beaten, but remarked that if
the peasants had a good harvest they became proud and would not chop
wood; but when there was a bad harvest, wood could be had for nothing,
and one could eat flesh every day. This last remark made the shoemaker
change his mind, for he had noticed that the price of leather fell when
the farmer had to kill his cattle.
The porter, whom all these contradictory opinions could bring to
no conclusion, was himself of opinion that Peter must be thrashed
on principle, and that thrashings never did any harm. But when he
approached Peter with unsteady steps, in order to carry out his
purpose, he was immediately knocked down by Mats, who intervened.
Since the porter was only too glad to rest his heavy head, he used the
opportunity and remained lying there; and as no one else wished to do
the same there followed a silence in the room.
Peter and Mats drew off their furs, and made a bed of them as well as
they could for the night's sleep.
"It is just as if we had fallen among the Danes," said Peter when they
had crept under the furs to sleep; "and yet they call themselves our
countrymen! But to-morrow, I hope, we shall get justice."
Mats, for his part, had lost all hope that they would obtain justice
from the city law, and was very depressed. He said, as usual, his
evening prayer aloud. He prayed for his father, mother and fiancée;
he asked God to shield them from fire and danger; he asked for a good
harvest and good government; and finally prayed God to protect all men
good and bad alike.
This unusual sight again evoked various opinions among the spectators.
The butcher thought it was hypocrisy to pray for one's enemies, since
it was one's duty to defend oneself against them. The shoemaker
scented mischief in the prayer for harvest and said it was equivalent
to praying for the downfall of one's fellowmen, as had just appeared
in the case of Paul Hörning. The organ-grinder thought one ought not
to pray for the Government, for the Government built prisons, and
prisons were expensive and unnecessary; he could not understand what
people wanted with them, since freedom was a man's inalienable right
and highest, good. He and his monkey had never had a fixed abode, and
they were quite happy if they could only be free. The wood-dealer did
not like people praying God to interfere with fires and such-like,
the fire-brigade were well paid for that; he said the peasants had
only mentioned the subject because he was a wood-dealer and liked
to have his wood burning on people's hearths. He also thought that
the Government was quite unnecessary; if people would not look after
themselves and their families, let them be left alone—the Government
should only mix in foreign affairs.
Peter and Mats, who were tired by their exertions and troubles, fell
asleep during the talk, and presently all the others followed their
example. Soon only the sighing and snoring of the sleepers were
audible. But the monkey could not sleep; he jumped up and ransacked all
the pockets he could reach in order to find a crust of bread, but did
not succeed; he rustled through the straw and pulled the hair of one
of the sleepers, who cried out and went to sleep again; he climbed up
to the lantern and extinguished it; then he became frightened at the
darkness, felt for the organ and began to turn the handle, but received
a cuff from the organ-grinder. Them a new idea seemed to come into
his head; he looked for the drunken porter and found him, bit all the
buttons off his coat, and threw them high in the air, so that they
fell down again on the sleeping man. When the uneasiness which this
produced in the sleeper had subsided, he began to tear the porter's
coat into small strips, which he then twisted up into a ball. When this
was done, he fell on his knees, and folded his hands, as he had seen
his master do after a bad day. Then he placed the ball under his head
and fell asleep.
When Peter and Mats awoke next morning the warder stood ready to take
them into court. When they came before the magistrate he appeared to be
in a great hurry and contented himself with reading the verdict on the
"peasant Peter from Spånga" who was accused (1) of trying to elude the
observation of the guard at the city gate; (2) of having beaten a boy;
(3) of having tied his horse to the pillory in the Great Market. The
sentence was that he should be fined. Peter asked permission to speak;
the judge bade him be silent, for one was not allowed to speak in one's
own cause. On Peter's inquiring who was to speak then, he was conducted
out of court and had to pay the fine.
"That is the city law, you see," he said to Mats when they had come
outside and obtained possession of their horse and sledge again. "Now
we will sit up and drive home. We can send for the chestnuts another
time, and Brother Paul can wait, and you too, Mats. A year passes
quickly when one is young."
Mats did not like this, and asked leave at any rate to go and greet
Karin, but Peter was inexorable, and they started for home. When they
had got outside the city gate, Peter turned round and put out his
tongue. "Well," he said, "if I ever set foot inside there again, the
deuce take me! If you townspeople want anything from me, you can come
and look for it!"
As they approached Solna, Peter suddenly started and looked away
over his horse's ears. "Deuce take me," he said, "do I see ghosts in
broad daylight? Look, Mats, can you see anything red over there?"
Mats did see something red, and Peter whipped up the black stallion.
They soon came up to the horse-dealer with the two chestnuts, who had
long waited for his customer in vain.
Now the bargain was concluded, and proud as the merchant Paul himself,
Peter yoked the chestnuts to the sledge, tied the black stallion
behind, and drove fast home. When they reached the farm Peter's wife
stood in the vestibule, and thought her brother-in-law bad come from
the town. When she saw how the matter stood she became sad and said,
"Didn't I say that people get proud simply by going to town."
But Peter was so glad to be home again that he did not listen to his
wife, and the chestnuts added to his cheerfulness. The thought that
Paul had received a lesson put him in quite a good humour, so that he
hummed to himself as he led the chestnuts to the stable.
But Mats was not cheerful, for a year was a long time to look forward
to, and he knew already that when milk begins to curdle it soon becomes
This Christmas Paul did not come to Spånga, although Peter had promised
to fetch him in the sledge with the chestnuts; he said he had too much
to look after.
Spring came and the young corn looked hopeful; but in autumn it rained
at the critical time and continued to rain day and night, so that the
corn fermented in the ear, and the straw rotted, and there was a bad
harvest. Peter was obliged to send the chestnuts to the town and sell
them. But that did not help much, for as he had no straw he had to
try to sell some of his cattle also. His servant, however, brought
the oxen back, for the price offered in the town was so low, because
all the farmers' harvests had failed and they had also sent in their
oxen to be sold. Peter became uneasy, for he expected Paul to come at
Michaelmas. He therefore had the oxen taken over to Dannemora, where
they would, as he knew, fetch a higher price.
Michaelmas Day had come. Peter's wife was standing by the fire cooking
sausages; Mats was in the room above putting on his best clothes. Peter
ran about restlessly, and went sometimes out on the road to see whether
his servant were not returning with the money, for to-day Paul would
come, and he must lay the sum for his daughter's dowry on the table.
Peter, who had experienced many mishaps during the past year, had a dim
foreboding that this day would not be a cheerful one.
It was a sunny autumn morning, but the north wind was blowing so that
it was partly cold and partly warm, and Peter felt the same in his own
person. It was quite certain that his servant had sold the oxen, but
he was uneasy at his not arriving. He longed for Paul to come so that
the business might be finished, but at the same time feared his coming.
So he walked up and down the road—looked northwards for his servant
and southwards for Paul; at one time he had the north wind at his
back, then in his face, and so with the sun. At last he heard in the
distance a sound like carriage wheels rumbling over a bridge, and then
there was silence; he stood quite still and stared in the direction of
the town; he shaded his eyes and looked. What he feared came. It was
inevitable. He saw two reddish horse heads appear, and behind them what
looked like a wobbling house-roof. It was Paul who came in a covered
carriage drawn by two chestnuts. He had a carriage, thanks to the bad
harvest, and the scarcity of corn had helped him to recover the horses.
Peter wanted to go into the house and hide his head behind the chimney
corner, but Paul and his womenfolk had caught sight of him and waved
their pocket-handkerchiefs. Peter lifted his cap and pretended that the
sun dazzled him; Mats came running out and opened the carriage door.
Peter's wife stood as usual in the doorway and began to curtsy when
she saw the carriage. Then they entered the house, where the meal was
ready for the guests. Paul talked about the state of the roads and the
last war; Peter discussed the question of the church-tithe. Peter's
wife was busy with the sausages and the mutton, Mats was absorbed in
conversation with Karin, and no one mentioned the bad harvests, the
chestnuts, or any topic that might disturb the peace.
When they had eaten, Peter and Paul went out. But Peter had no desire
to show the cattle-stalls and the granary, and Paul took care not to
mention the chestnuts. But at last the other subject, which Peter had
most feared, turned up. Paul began, "Now, Peter, are you ready to
settle the matter? The children are pining for each other, and time is
Peter looked northwards, as though he wished to fetch the answer from
thence. "You will stay over dinner," he said, "and we can talk about
the matter then."
"Perhaps you are not ready with the money?" said Paul. "That would be a
pity, for I have just now several offers."
"I not ready with the money? Ha! ha! My money does not melt so quickly
as other folks', and although I do not get rich by bad harvests, yet I
am not poor."
"Perhaps, brother, then you will be so good as to lay the money on the
table; then I will go home to dinner."
Peter felt uneasy. "No! after dinner," he answered quietly. "After
waiting so long you can wait a little longer, and I don't think it will
At that moment they heard the sound of horses' hoofs. Peter started and
looked down the road. There came his servant riding, without the oxen;
therefore he must have the money. He assumed a more confident tone and
continued, "But, brother, if you happen to be in embarrassment, I will
produce the money at once!"
The servant came nearer, but he was not alone. Beside him rode an
armed man who held the end of a cord, the other end of which bound
the servant's hands. The horses splashed on through the mud and stood
still. Peter was dumb.
"Halt," cried the bailiff's man. "You, Farmer Peter, have sent your
servant to carry on illegal traffic. What have you to say?"
"Where are my oxen?" asked Peter.
"Forfeited," answered the bailiff's man.
"Next time, four hundred marks' fine; the third time, death."
"Who has made that law?"
"Formerly we made the laws ourselves. When did we give up the right to
"When the council and the nobles did."
"They never proposed to give the King permission to steal our oxen."
"Weigh your words, Peter, for God's sake!" said Paul warningly.
"Hold your tongue!" answered Peter. "It is you and fellows like you
who sit in the town and pass laws for their own profit. So it goes on!
The King needs money for races and triumphal arches; he takes it out of
the merchant's purse, and the merchant takes it out of the farmer's.
Who prevents me selling where I choose?"
"The law," answered the bailiff's man. "But don't stand scolding there,
farmer. Untie your servant's hands and give my horses something to eat."
Peter was beside himself. He ran like a madman into the house. Then
he took a poker and swept the bowls and dishes from the table on to
the ground; he broke the windows, drove all those present out of the
room, smashed the seats and tables, and roared all the time till he
foamed at the mouth; he chewed pieces of glass, broke tin plates in
two, and trampled on butter-dishes and jugs. Then he stood in the
doorway and shouted, "Out, you hellish thieves! Once right was law in
the world, now wrong is law. Thieves make laws for honest folk, and
now they steal legally. You, petty merchant, don't work a bit, but eat
my bread; don't you know that you ought to pay for it? I have a right
to flog you, for you are one of my dependents! And you, underling of
your thievish masters—you, King's official! What do you do for your
bread? You make entries in a book—you all do that; you note everything
down. If I drive on the road, if I lie down, if I tie my horse, if I
defend my property, if I flog a scoundrel, you make a note of it, and
I must pay for everything. Holy Virgin and all the saints, preserve my
understanding! And now take your chestnuts and your women away, Paul;
and if you appear on my land again, remember what you have brought me
to. Buy a son-in-law in the town for yourself; there you will make a
good bargain if you can pass her off on one of your friends. You may
have got me down on my knees, but I am not rotting, as the old woman
said, when she fell into the churchyard. To that I say Amen! and
praise and thank God for good and evil!" But Paul and his womenfolk
had already gone to the stable and harnessed the horses. As they drove
through the gate Paul said, "Poor Peter has gone mad!"
But Paul and Peter never met again. Mats never got Karin, and there was
no help for it; it was so fated and no one could alter it.
The cooper sat with the barber in the inn at Engsund and played a
harmless game of lansquenet for a barrel of beer. It was one o'clock
in the afternoon of a snowy November day. Hie tavern was quite empty,
for most people were still at work. The flames burned brightly in
the clay fire-place which stood on four wooden feet in a corner, and
looked like a coffin; the fir twigs on the ground smelt pleasantly;
the well-panelled walls kept out all draughts and looked warm; the
bull-finch in his cage twittered now and then, and looked out of the
window, but he had to put his head on one side to see if it was fine.
But it was snowing outside. The innkeeper sat behind his counter and
reckoned up chalk-strokes on a black slate; now and then he interjected
a humorous remark or a bright idea which seemed to please the other two.
Then the great bell in the church began to toll with a dull and heavy
sound, in keeping with the November day.
"What the devil is that cursed ringing for?" said the cooper, who felt
too comfortable in life to enjoy being reminded of death.
"Another funeral," answered the innkeeper. "There is never anything
"Why the deuce do people want to have such a fuss made about them after
they are dead," said the barber. "Trump that, Master Cooper!"
"So I did," said the cooper, and pocketed the trick in his leather
Down the sloping road which led to the Nicholai Gate, a funeral
procession wended its way. There was a simple, roughly planed coffin,
thinly coated with black paint so that the knots in the wood showed
through. A single wreath of whortleberries lay on the coffin lid. The
undertaker's men who carried the bier looked indifferent and almost
humiliated because they were carrying a bier without a cover and
Behind the coffin walked three women—the dead man's mother and her two
daughters; they looked crushed with grief. When the funeral reached
the gate of the churchyard, the priest met it and shook hands with the
mourners; then the service began in the presence of some old women and
apprentices who had joined the procession.
"I see now—it is the clerk, Hans Schönschreiber," said the innkeeper,
who had gone to the window, from which he could overlook the churchyard.
"And none of his fellow-clerks follow him to the grave," said the
cooper. "A bad lot, these clerks!"
"I know the poor fellow," said the barber. "He lived like a church
mouse and died of hunger."
"And a little of pride," added the innkeeper.
"Not so little though," the cooper corrected him. "I knew his father;
he was a clerk too. See now! these fellows who go in for reading and
writing die before their time. They go without dinner and beg if
necessary in order to look fine gentlemen; and yet a clerk is only a
servant and can never be his own master, for only the King is his own
master in this life."
"And why should it be more gentleman-like to write?" asked the barber.
"Isn't it perhaps just as difficult to cut a courtier's and to make him
look smart, or to let someone's blood when he is in danger of his life?"
"I would like to see the clerk who would take less than ten years to
make a big beer barrel," said the cooper. "Why, one knows the fellows
require two years to draw up their petitions and such-like."
"And what is the good of it all?" asked the innkeeper. "Can I scribble
such letters as they do, but don't I keep my accounts all right? See
here I draw a crucifix on the slate—that means the sexton; here I
scribble the figure of a barrel—that stands for the cooper; then in a
twinkling, however many strokes I have to make, I know exactly how much
each has drunk."
"Yes, but no one else except yourself can read it, Mr Innkeeper,"
objected a young man who had hitherto sat silent in a corner.
"That is the best of it," answered the innkeeper, "that no one can poke
his nose into my accounts, and therefore I am just as good a clerk as
The cooper and the barber grinned approval.
"I knew the dead man's father," resumed the innkeeper. "He was a clerk
too! And when he died I had to rub out many chalk-strokes which made
up his account, for he wanted to be a fine gentleman, you see. All the
inheritance he left to the son, who now lies with his nose pointing
upwards, was a mother and two sisters. The young fellow wanted to be a
tradesman in order to get food for four months, but his mother would
not consent; she said it was a shame to step downward when one was
above. And heavens, how the poor young fellow had to write! I know
exactly what went on. The three women lived in one room and he in a
rat-hole. All he could scrape together he had to give them; and when he
came from work to eat his dinner, they deafened him with complaints.
There was no butter on the bread, no sugar on the cakes; the elder
sister wanted to have a new dress, and the younger a new mantle. Then
he had to write through the whole night, and how he wrote! At last
when his breast-bone stuck out like a hook and his face was as yellow
as a leather strap, one day he felt tired; he came to me and borrowed
a bottle of brandy. He was melancholy but also angry, for the elder
sister had said she wanted a velvet jacket such as she had seen in the
German shop, and his mother said ladies of their class could not do
with less. The young fellow worked and slaved, but not with the same
zest as formerly. And fancy! when he came here and took a glass to
ease his chest, his conscience reproached him so much that he really
believed he was stealing. And he had other troubles, the poor young
fellow. A wooer came after the younger sister—a young pewterer from
Peter Apollo Street. But the sister said 'No!' and so did the mother,
for he was only a pewterer. Had he been a clerk, she would have said
'Yes' and persuaded him that she loved him, and it is likely that she
would really have done so, for such is love!"
All laughed except the young man, who struck in, "Well, innkeeper,
but he loved her, although she was so poor, and he was well off; that
proves that love can be sincere, doesn't it?"
"Pooh!" said the innkeeper, who did not wish to be interrupted. "But
something else happened, and that finished him. He went and fell in
love. His mother and sister had not counted on that, but it was the law
of nature. And when he came and said that he thought of marrying, do
you know what they said?—'Have you the means to?' And the youth, who
was a little simple, considered and discovered that he had not means
to establish a new family since he had one already, and so he did not
marry; but he got engaged. And then there was a lot of trouble! His
mother would not receive his fiancée, because her father could not
write, and especially because she herself had been a dress-maker. It
was still worse when the young man went in the evenings to her, and
would not stay at home. A fine to-do there was! But still he went on
working for his mother and sisters, and I know that in the evening
he sat and wrote by his fiancée's side, while she sewed, only to
save time and to be able to be near her. But his mother and sisters
believed evil of the pair, and showed it too. It was one Sunday about
dinner-time; he told me himself the young fellow, when he came here to
get something for his chest, for now he coughed terribly. He had gone
out with his fiancée to Brunkeberg, and as they were coming home over
the North Bridge, whom did they meet but his mother and sisters? His
fiancée wanted to turn back, but he held her arm firmly and drew her
forward. But his mother remained standing by the bridge railings and
looked into the water; the elder sister spat before her, and did the
same, but the younger—she was a beauty! She stood still and stared
at the young woman's woollen mantle and laughed, for she had one of
English cloth—and just because of that, her brother's fiancée had to
wear wool. Fancy the impudent hussy!"
"That was simply want of sense in the child," said the young man.
"Want of sense!" exclaimed the cooper indignantly. "Want of sense!" But
he could not say any more.
The innkeeper took no notice of the interruption and continued: "It was
a Christmas Eve, the last Christmas Eve on which he was alive. He came
to me as usual to get something for his chest, which was very bad.
'A Merry Christmas, Hans!' I said. I sat where I am sitting now, and
he sat just where you are sitting, young sir. 'Are you bad?' I asked.
'Yes,' he answered, 'and your slate is full.' 'It doesn't matter,' I
answered, 'we can write down the rest in the great book up there. A
glass of hot Schnapps does one good on Christmas Eve.' He was coughing
terribly, and so he took a drink. Then his tongue was loosened. He said
how miserable and forlorn he felt this evening. He had just left his
home. The Christmas table was laid. His mother and sisters were soft
and mild, as one usually is on such an evening. They said nothing, they
did not reproach him, but when he took his coat and was about to go
out, his mother wept and said it was the first Christmas Eve that her
son was absent. But do you think that she had so much heart as to say
'Go to her, bring her here, and let us be at peace like friends.' No!
she only thought of herself, and so he went with an aching heart. Poor
fellow! But hear what followed. Then he came to his fiancée. She was
glad and happy to have him, and now she saw that he loved her better
than anything else on earth. But the young man, whose heart was torn
in two, was not so cheerful as she wished him to be, and then she
was vexed with him, a little only of course. Then they talked about
marriage, but he could not agree with her. No, he had duties towards
his father's widow. But she quoted the priest who had said a man should
leave father and mother and remain with his wife. He asked whether he
had not left his mother and home this evening with a bleeding heart in
order to be with her. She replied that she had already noticed, when he
came, that he was depressed because he was going to spend the evening
with her. He answered it was not that which depressed him, but his
having to leave his old mother on Christmas Eve. Then she objected that
he could not deny he had been depressed when he came to her—and so
they went on arguing, you can imagine how!"
The cooper nodded intelligently.
"Well, it was a pleasant Christmas for him. Enough! The young fellow
was torn in two, piece by piece; he never married. But now he lies
at rest, if the coffin nails hold; but it was a sad business for
him, poor devil, even if he was a fool. And God bless his soul! Hans
Schönschreiber, if you have no greater list of debts than you had with
me, they are easily settled!"
So saying, the innkeeper took his black slate from the counter, and
with his elbow rubbed out a whole row of chalk-strokes which had been
made under a hieroglyph which looked like a pen in an inkpot.
"See," said the barber, who had been looking through the window to hide
his red eyes, "see, there she is!"
Outside in the churchyard the funeral service was at an end; the priest
had pressed the hands of the mourners and was about to go; the sexton
plied his spade in order to fill up the grave again, as a woman dressed
in black pressed through the crowd, fell on her knees by the edge of
the grave, and offered a silent prayer. Then she let fall a wreath of
white roses into the grave, and a faint sobbing and whispering was
audible as the rose leaves fell apart on the black coffin lid. Then
she stood up to go, erect and proud, but did not at first notice in
the crowd that her dead lover's mother was regarding her with wild
and angry looks as though she saw her worst enemy, who had robbed her
of her dearest. Then they stood for a moment opposite one another,
revengeful and ready for battle; but suddenly their features assumed
a milder expression, their pale faces twitched, and they fell in each
other's arms and wept. They held each other in a long, convulsive
embrace, and then departed side by side.
The innkeeper wept like a child without attempting to hide his emotion,
the barber pressed his face against the window, and the cooper took the
cards out of his pocket as though to arrange them; but the young man,
his head propped in his hands, had placed himself against the wall in
order to have a support, for he wept so that his whole body shook and
his legs trembled.
The innkeeper first broke the silence. "Who will now help the poor
family? The pewterer would be accepted now, were he to make another
"How do you know that, innkeeper?" asked the young man, much moved, as
he stepped into the centre of the room.
"Well, I heard it yesterday when I was up there helping at the
preparations for the funeral. But the pewterer will not have her now,
as she would not have him then."
"Yes he will, innkeeper!" said the young man. "He will have her though
she were ever so selfish and bad-tempered, poor, and wretched, for such
So saying, he left the astonished innkeeper and his friends.
"Deuce take me—that was he himself!" said the barber.
"Things do not always end so happily," remarked the cooper.
"How about the clerk?" objected the barber. "No, they did not end well
with him, but with the others, you know. They had, as it were, more
right to live than he, the young one; for they were alive first, and he
who first comes to the mill, grinds his corn first."
"The young fellow was stupid, that was the whole trouble," said the
"Yes, yes," concluded the innkeeper. "He certainly was stupid, but it
was fine of him anyhow."
In that they were all agreed.
On one of the last days of October in the year 1648 there prevailed
much bustle and activity in the streets of the little town Lindau on
the Lake of Constance. This Swabian Venice, which lies on Three Island
close to the Bavarian coast, had long been besieged by the Swedish
Field-marshal Wrangel, who during the last years of the war had been
operating in conjunction with the French and had pitched his fortified
camp on the hill in the village of Eschach.
The negotiations for peace, which had already lasted four years,
had not yet resulted in any cessation of hostilities, only lately
Königsmarck had stormed Prague. But this event had accelerated the
negotiations in Osnabrück and Münster, and rumours of a coming peace
had reached Swabia. Lindau had for many months been suffering all the
terrors of a siege. During the last days the bombardment from Eschach
had ceased, and the burgomaster, who had returned from a secret visit
to Bregenz, had on the afternoon of the above-mentioned day betaken
himself to the inn "Zur Krone," for the town hall had been demolished.
He hoped to meet there some acquaintance who was not on duty on the
fortifications. In the rooms of the inn he had met no one, and feeling
rather depressed, he went out on the terrace to cast a look over
the town and to see what the Swedes were doing in their camp on the
The Lake of Constance lay there in unruffled calm, and the snowy summit
of the lofty Santis was reflected in it; the edge of the Black Forest
loomed like an evening cloud, misty-blue in the west, and in the south
the Rhine rushed between the Vorarlberg and the Rhetic Alps till its
yellow waters flowed into the blue-green depths of the lake. However,
the burgomaster had no eye for this kind of beauty, for during the
last eight days he had been half starved, and for more than a month
he had been suffering and fighting. He only looked down on the road
along the shore where good-natured Bavarians mingled with quarrelsome
Würtembergers and lively Badenese; he could also see people flocking
to the Franciscan church to take the sacrament. Down by the shore he
noticed a group of men, who stared out on the lake where some barrels
drifted, borne along by the light current; they were busily occupied in
drawing these to land with boat-hooks and ropes.
"What have you there, men?" called the burgomaster down from the
"That is a present from the honest Swiss in St Gall," answered a voice.
"Probably wine or must which has lain in the lake and waited for the
west wind in order to float down here from Romanshorn," said another
The burgomaster drew back from the terrace and went down to the
dining-room of the inn to sit there and wait for the result of this
haul of flotsam and jetsam. The apparently immovable face of the tall
Bavarian wore deep lines of trouble, care and vexation. His great
fist, which lay on the oaken table, opened and closed as though it
were deliberating whether to give up or hold fast something; and his
foot, the toes of which seemed to wish to burst the buckskin of his
top-boots, stamped the unswept floor so that a cloud of dust rose
up like smoke from a tobacco pipe. He struck the ground with his
broadsword, and then immediately afterwards drew out of a bag of
Cordovan leather, which bore the city arms embroidered in silver, a
pair of heavy keys, which he seemed to try in an invisible keyhole, as
though he wished to lock a door so that it could never again be opened.
Then he put the key-pipe to his mouth and blew a bugle-call which he
had had plenty of opportunity of learning during the long siege with
its repulsed attacks and unsuccessful sorties.
Suddenly he heard a loud tread and the clanking of armour on the
stairs. The burgomaster at once replaced the keys in the bag, fastened
it, and swung the strap from which it was suspended round, so that it
hung behind him. Then he placed himself in what looked like a defensive
attitude, as though he knew who was about to enter through the door.
"Good morning, commandant!" he said to the officer who entered and
threw his torn hat with its smoke-soiled plume on a seat.
"Good morning, burgomaster," returned the officer, sitting down at the
other side of the table.
There followed a long pause of silence, as though two duellists were
loading their pistols in order to shoot each other down. At last
the commandant broke the silence by asking abruptly, "What did the
"Not a sack of meal, not a glass of wine, till the town has given up
the keys! That was what they said."
"Well?" repeated the burgomaster with a threatening glance.
"You won't give up the keys?"
"No! a thousand times no! a million times no!" He sprang from his
chair, crimson in the face.
"Do you know," asked the commandant, "that the corpses are poisoning
the city, since the Swedes took the churchyard of Eschach?"
"I know it!"
"Do you know that all the horses and dogs in the town have been killed?"
"I know it. And I know too, that my own watch-dog, my companion for
twenty years, since I lost my wife and child, was the first to be
"Do you know that the waters of the lake have risen, that the cellars
are full of water, and that no one can take refuge there any more if
the bombardment is continued?"
"I know it," answered the burgomaster.
"Do you know that our vines, which are growing outside on the hills on
Hourberg, in Schachten and Eichbuhl, are ripe for vintage, and that the
Swedes and French are pillaging the vineyards like starlings?"
"I know it. But do you know that peace may be concluded to-day, that
it is perhaps already concluded, and that we may save our honour if we
wait one more day before capitulating?"
"One day more!" repeated the commandant. "One day more! So we have said
for three months, and meantime our children are dying. Perhaps you do
not know that the cows give no more milk, since they have been obliged
to eat the moss from the roofs, the leaves from the trees—yes, even
the dung from the horse-stables, and to lick the empty meal-sacks. It
has come to that; and now the children are crying for milk."
"The children! Don't talk to me of children—to me who have seen my
only daughter put to shame. Then it was I who begged for help, but in
vain! To hell with the children! Why didn't you take them over the
water before the Swedes had their punts on the lake?"
"You are a wild animal, burgomaster, and not a man. You would perhaps
have liked to have seen them drowned in sacks or eaten, as they did in
"Yes, we have become wild beasts among wild beasts during the thirty
years full of slaughter and fire, robbery and whoremongering. It could
be called war as long as the Swedish King lived and led 'soldiers,' but
now they have become incendiaries and highway robbers, who destroy for
the mere sake of destruction. Huns, Goths and Vandals, who destroy out
of sheer rage, because they can produce nothing."
A cry from the street prevented the commandant's answer and drew the
two out on the terrace. Crowding closely round the barrels which had
been just drawn to land, some coopers were knocking their bottoms out
so that the contents ran into the street.
"What are you doing down there?" called the commandant.
"Ah, it is only milk which the greedy Swiss have sent us instead of
wine," came the answer from below.
A woman with a child on her arm came up, and when she saw the white
stream flowing down the street, she uttered a terrible cry and placed
her child on the ground to let it drink. Drawn by her cry, many other
mothers came, and the babies seized the cobble-stones with their hands
as though they were the softest mother's breast, and licked up the
sweet milk like thirsty sucking pigs, while their mothers cursed the
coarse men who thought of nothing but themselves.
"Burgomaster!" resumed the commandant, still more excited by the
repulsive sight, "let us go on the roof and see what the Swedes are
doing; afterwards we will talk of the other matter. As you see, all
bonds are broken: one takes what another has not the power to hold;
family life threatens to dissolve, and young people live anyhow; every
moment one may fear an uprising."
The burgomaster did not listen to him, but ascended the attic stairs
till he crept out through a garret window between the beams on to
the stair-like offsets of the wall. Up these he clambered to the
gable crowned by a flagstaff to which a telescope had been fastened.
Underneath him lay the town in its desolation. Not a single whole roof
was to be seen; not a tree was left in the old garden—they had all
been used for food or fuel. Along the lake shore all the houses had
been pulled down and all the gardens destroyed in order to furnish
material for the ramparts. Through the streets streamed ragged, hungry,
dirty men with wild gestures, all evidently on their way to the inn,
"Zur Krone," round which a crowd was beginning to gather.
The burgomaster now looked through the telescope which was directed
to the opposite shore. There were ranged row on row of hills, dotted
over with white steep-roofed farms, surrounded by pillaged orchards
and vineyards. Enclosed in the midst of them lay Eschach, where the
Swedish headquarters were. An unwonted bustle was perceptible round
the blue and yellow standards, and soldiers seemed to be making some
preparations with the cannon which the burgomaster during the long
siege had learnt to know well. He had even given the worst beasts in
the first siege-battery nicknames. A great scoundrel of red copper,
which had smashed the painted windows of the town church, he had named
"the red dog." On the left a great mortar, known as "the blunderbuss,"
was a regular scupper-hole when it began to discharge its contents.
"The devil's grand-mother" was the name he gave to a third, made of
Swedish iron and said to be the King's own invention. And so on with
But behind the besiegers' rampart, on a garden terrace, he saw the
Swedish Field-mar-shall sitting with his officers and drinking
"lake-wine"—their wine which they had cultivated and vintaged and
then, stupidly enough, left in the cellars on the opposite shore. As
they smoked and drank the officers were studying a drawing, which,
however, did not seem to be a map. It reminded the burgomaster of
a rumour that Wrangel had wished to transport the Bavarian castle
Aschaffenburg to his estates by a lake in Sweden; but as that was
impracticable it was said that he had caused designs of the building
to be drawn up by an architect, after he had first stripped it of its
furniture and other contents.
The sight of the wine and the tobacco aroused for a moment the
burgomaster's lower desires, which had been so long suppressed, but
his hatred and his grief, which he had cherished for a generation,
soon reasserted themselves. For those who had no more food nor drink,
who had been deprived of everything dear to them and of peace, nothing
remained but honour. By the side of his daughter whom he had himself
killed (though he could not adduce this secret as a reason for his
obstinacy), he had sworn that he would not give up the keys of the town
as long as he was alive.
Suddenly he saw a cloud of smoke rise from "the red dog," heard a
cannon ball whir over his head and then land on the road below, where
it was greeted with a loud outcry.
"The keys, burgomaster, or we are lost!" cried the commandant, who had
mounted the gable stairs.
"To your place, commandant, on the rampart, or you will be hung!"
answered the burgomaster.
"Give up the keys, or we will come and fetch them!" roared the major.
"Come then and fetch them!" was the reply.
A number of heads looked out of the garret window, and there was a
repeated outcry for the keys.
"Go down from the roof, they are aiming at us!" cried the burgomaster
to the people, who began to clamber up the gable steps in order to put
their threat into execution.
The next moment the flagstaff was shivered into splinters, struck by a
bullet. The burgomaster turned half round and would have fallen, if he
had not supported himself on his great sword. He now drew himself up
and remained standing on the topmost ridge of the roof, like a stone
statue on a cathedral. The people below, however, who had greeted the
courageous bearing of their burgomaster with a cheer, were impelled
anew by their fears to make an attempt against him, as the keys of the
town were in his possession and until they were given up the formal
surrender of the town could not take place.
With the help of the malcontents, the commandant ventured on a last
attack against the immovable burgomaster. Accordingly he mounted to
the top of the dangerous stairs, drew his sword, and demanded that
the burgomaster should descend or defend himself where he stood.
But it soon was evident that the latter's position was impregnable;
and convinced of the impossibility of compelling him to give up the
keys, the commandant turned to the people and asked them three times
successively whether they accorded him the right to open the town gate
and to hoist the white flag.
His question being greeted with an enthusiastic affirmative, he
returned the same way as he had come to the ramparts, accompanied by
The burgomaster, who had remained behind alone, and perceived that
there was no more hope of saving the town, seemed at first to collapse,
but he immediately rose up again as though he had formed a resolve.
With trembling hand he opened his bag, took the great keys out, and
after he had made the sign of the cross, he threw them as far out into
the lake as he could. When they had disappeared in the deep waters, he
fell again on his knees and with folded hands commenced a long, low
prayer. He would like to have made himself deaf just now, but while he
called on God and the Holy Virgin he seemed to hear the blows of axes
against the city gate, through which the enemy would enter to pillage
and rape, to hang and to burn.
But after he had prayed a while he became aware that silence lay over
the whole town, and that the cannonade had ceased. Only from the
ramparts came a low hum of voices which seemed to be speaking all
together; the sound swelled louder and louder till it grew to an uproar
and a shout of joy.
He rose from his kneeling attitude and saw a white flag waving from
the Swedish headquarters. Then there sounded a peal of trumpets and a
roll of drums which were answered in a similar way from the ramparts
of Lindau. This was followed by the sound of axe strokes against the
city gate. A boat pushed off from the Swedish camp and military music
sounded from the opposite shore. And now a cry went through the streets
of the town—at first a mere meaningless noise like the sound of waves
breaking on the beach; but it came nearer, and presently he could
distinguish the final word "concluded," without knowing whether it
referred to the capitulation of the town or something else.
But the cry became clearer and clearer as the crowd stormed along the
shore of the lake, and waving their hats and caps called up to their
valiant burgomaster, "Peace is concluded!"
"Te Deum Laudamus!" was sung in the evening in the Franciscan church,
while the inhabitants of the town intoxicated themselves with
the contents of the wine barrels which had been brought from the
When the service was over the burgomaster and the commandant sat
with a jug of wine between them in the "Zur Krone'" inn. In one of
the roof-beams was embedded the black bullet which had shot down the
flagstaff. The burgomaster contemplated it and smiled—smiled for the
first time after ten years. But he suddenly started as though he had
done something wrong. "The last shot!" he said. "It is long since the
first was fired in Prague—a whole generation. Since then Bohemia has
lost two million men out of its three, and in the Rheinpfalz only a
fiftieth part of the inhabitants remain; Saxony lost one million out
of two; Augsburg does not now count more than eighteen of its eighty
thousand. In our poor Bavaria two years ago a hundred villages went up
in smoke and flame. Hessen laments seventeen towns, seven and forty
castles, and four hundred villages. All because of the Augsburg
Confession! For the sake of the Augsburg Confession Germany has been
laid waste, torn to pieces, cut off from all the seas, left without
air, choked, and has miserably perished. Finis Germaniae."
"I don't think it was the Augsburg Confession which did it," objected
the commandant. "See the Frenchmen celebrating their Masses like good
Catholics in the Swedish camp. No, it was something else."
"Well, it may perhaps have been something else," answered the
burgomaster. He emptied his glass and went home to sleep quietly—for
the first time after thirty years—thirty terrible years.