TOO OLD.

FROM THE DANISH OF CARIT ETLAR.


CHAPTER I.

Between Fredericia and Snogh÷i the sandy and stony shore forms a tolerably broad tongue of land, which is called Lyngspoint. The coast stretches out long and flat, without any defence against the sea except a stone wall, and the fishermen who dwell here seem to have thought of nothing but the safe little bays that, on either side of the promontory, afford shelter to their small skiffs and protect them from the wild waves, and the blocks of ice which during winter the north-west winds drive in from the Kattegat.

Farther up on the land, the bare, desolate-looking plain of sand disappears by degrees under high banks which are overgrown by a thick, low copse of brushwood, with some stunted oak and beech-trees showing themselves as sad mementoes of an extensive wood, that formerly joined the forest of Eriz÷, and in the midst of which the village of Hannerup was situated. The village and the wood have both disappeared long since.

Far in among the bushes people sometimes stumble upon pieces of broken stones with their mouldering cement of lime, the last fragments of the work and walls of ages gone by: in a few years the copse itself will have vanished, and the blackbird and the thrush, whose blithe carols on the summer evenings were heard even by those sailing near in the Belt, will seek other leafy homes.

At a little distance from the sea-shore at Lyngspoint stand ten or twelve small cottages, built in the irregular style which is always observable in the houses of the peasantry of ancient days, and composed of hard clay framework and thatched roofs. To each cottage there belongs a small garden enclosed by a low earthen dyke, or a hedge of elderberries and the blackthorn. Behind several of them are to be seen boats turned upside down, lying in the sand with their keels exposed, and each furnished with a little gate in the stern. These boats serve as a shelter for sheep, or geese, after having become too frail any longer to carry their owners out to sea. The inhabitants of Lyngspoint are fishermen, a reserved and silent race, rough and stern like the element on which they pass so much of their time. Among them the struggles of life have no cessation--labour has no reward--time affords no day of rest, except when storms forbid them to launch their boats, or the sea is covered with ice; but such dreaded and unwelcome repose is always associated with distress and want. The women employ themselves in their household affairs, and not unfrequently share the labour of the men, as they always share their privations. Even the ocean's tempests are felt in common here, since every squall in which the boats are exposed to danger on the water, causes gloom and anxiety to those in the huts, who dread to lose their relatives and their means of support.

In one of these fishermen's cottages one evening there were two persons--an old man, tall and athletic, his grey hair thin and sunburnt, his countenance decided and daring, and a woman, very youthful-looking, pale, and apparently unhappy, but nevertheless of rare beauty. He sat at a table, which was lighted by a lamp suspended by a chain from a beam in the roof, and the glare from which fell upon two long Spanish cavalry pistols which he was busy loading. She was standing at the window gazing through the dark window-panes.

It was a gloomy November evening. The storm from the seaward swept wildly along, howling dismally, while the rain beat heavily against the windows, and the flame in the lamp fluttered and flickered in the gusts of wind that rushed into the room through the open chimney. There had been a long and unbroken silence between the two occupants of the apartment; the man, while continuing his work, cast several glances towards the young woman, but always looked quickly away when she turned towards him.

At length he asked, 'At what are you looking?'

'At the weather,' she replied. 'It will be a bad night to go to sea in.'

'The weather is good enough,' he muttered, gruffly. 'It is all the better for being dark; the darkness will be of use to us.'

So saying, he started up, buckled on a cutlass, and stuck the pistols in his belt.

'Give me something to eat.'

The woman spread the table for supper, and taking a pot off the fire, poured its contents into a dish, which she placed before the man.

There was again complete silence; he ate his supper without saying a word, while the young woman sat leaning back in her chair near the table, and fixed her eye on him with a sad, yet scrutinizing look.

'I am done,' he exclaimed, after a little while, 'and now, good-by.'

'Are you going already?' she asked, sorrowfully.

'To be sure I am--it is the time agreed on, and they will be waiting for me on the shore down yonder.'

He drew on a thick sailor's jacket over his other clothes, and went towards the door.

'Farewell, Christine!' he said, without even turning to look at her.

Christine stretched both her hands towards him, and her trembling lips moved, but the words she would have spoken died away in a deep sigh. The man turned round and walked back a step or two. For a few moments he stood in silent surprise, and then exclaimed, 'What are you weeping for?'

'Oh, Jan Steffens!' she whispered, half aloud, as she again stretched her hands towards him, 'I am so afraid lest any evil should happen to you.'

The man did not take her proffered hand, and his thick eyebrows were knitted together, as he said, 'How childish you are, Christine! What is there for you to be afraid of? I am going on a lawful errand, and things must take their course. Take care to put the fire out, and don't forget to feed the watch-dog in the morning. I have locked him up in the wash-house, that he might not make a noise to-night.'

So saying he turned to go, but when he had reached the door he came back once again, and exclaimed, with solemnity, 'May the Lord's protecting hand be over you, Christine!' In another moment he was gone.

The young woman laid her head on the table, covered her face with her hands, and wept bitterly. She had sat there for some time absorbed in grief, when suddenly she raised her head, for she had heard steps on the outside of the cottage. She got up and went to the window. Presently she saw a figure in the doorway. It was that of a young man in a sailor's dress, and armed in the same manner as Jan was.

'Good evening, dear Christine!' he exclaimed. 'Has Jan gone?'

'Yes,' she answered; 'you will find him down yonder with the other boatmen.'

The fisherman seemed to be reflecting on something, while he fixed his eyes intently upon the young woman's face. He observed that there were tears in her eyes, and approaching her, he seized her hand.

'Christine!' he exclaimed, in a soft and sympathizing voice, 'you have been weeping? Has there been any quarrel between you and your husband?'

'No,' she replied, 'there never has been any.' And as she spoke she tried to draw her hand away, but he grasped it more firmly.

'Would to Heaven you had never seen that old Jan Steffens,' he whispered; 'you would have been much happier--oh, what misery we would both have escaped!'

'Would to Heaven I had never seen you, Kjeld,' she answered; 'then, perhaps, Jan and I might have been comfortable together.'

The young fisherman's eyes sparkled at this imprudent confession, which admitted so much more than Christine had any intention of doing.

'But what harm have I done?' he asked, gently. 'We loved each other from our childish days, when we used to go to school together. Ah! then we looked forward to living together, to working together, to trying our luck together--and--being so happy! Then came Jan Steffens--and now--'

'And now I am Jan Steffens's wife,' cried Christine, interrupting him impetuously. 'Never speak to me more of the past, therefore, Kjeld--it is gone! It is forgotten,' she added, in a lower and sadder tone.

At that moment the light from the lamp fell upon a face, which, on the outside of the house, was intently looking in through the window. Those in the room did not observe it, and had no suspicion that prying eyes were upon them. Kjeld asked, with warmth, 'Why should we not speak of the past? We have always been only like brother and sister to each other.'

'Brother and sister!' said Christine, trying to smile, 'what else could we have been? But I am a married woman, Kjeld, and you, like every one else, are only a stranger to me. Therefore you must not come here so often--people remark the frequency of your visits, and talk of them.'

'But Jan himself has allowed them,' said the fisherman. 'Only yesterday, when we were coming from church, he asked me where I had been all last week, and why I had never once entered his house. He said that you had been speaking of me.' Christine raised her head, and cast a surprised and inquiring look at Kjeld. He went on: 'Jan said that you were longing to see me again.'

'I cannot understand his conduct,' murmured Christine, musingly.

'When your husband spoke thus,' said Kjeld, tenderly, 'why will you be harsher than he? Answer me, Christine--why may I not come here as hitherto? I ask for nothing more.'

The young woman's lips quivered, and her whole frame trembled with emotion, which she seemed struggling to overcome, as she replied, in a broken voice, 'Oh, Kjeld, leave off such questions. It is a sin on your part to speak in this manner to me. Go--go, I beseech you. Jan will expect to meet you down yonder with the other boatmen.'

Kjeld seemed lost in thought for a few moments; he then came close to Christine, laid his hand on her head, and tried to speak--but words failed him, and turning suddenly away, he rushed from the cottage. At the same moment the face vanished, which, from the outside of the window, had been watching the scene within.

The storm appeared to be increasing. The lamp swung, and its light fluttered in the draughts of air from the ill-secured window-frames. When Christine found that she was alone, she crouched down close to the door, as if she wished to catch the last expiring echo of the footsteps of him who had just gone. She listened, but nothing was to be heard save the roaring of the tempest, and the sound of the rain pattering against the windows.

This is a tale of the year 1808, at the commencement of that unfortunate period when Denmark, without a fleet, without an army, and almost without finances, entered into war both with Sweden and England.

Down at the shore, in one of the little bays before mentioned, the water from which was conveyed a good way inland by a broad channel that had been dug for the purpose, there lay that evening two gunboats, which a number of men were getting out into the open sea. They worked hurriedly and silently, and the little noise that they unavoidably made was drowned in the roaring of the waves, which were dashing furiously on the beach of the narrow tongue of land. The men were all armed in the same way as Jan Steffens, and seemed to obey his orders.

Jan was the principal pilot of the place, and well known as an excellent seaman. The two gunboats had been built and rigged at Fredericia, and afterwards placed under his command. They were the masters of the whole Belt, so to speak, and the previous summer they had taken several valuable prizes from the English.

At the moment in question the pilot was standing on a rock on the beach, and dividing his attention between the men's work and the black clouds above, from which the rain was pouring down in torrents. All the preparations, so energetically carried on that evening, were made for the purpose of taking by surprise an English corvette, which, for want of a pilot, had anchored in a bay near Fyen shortly before the darkness and the storm had commenced.

Just about the time that the gunboats had been hauled out to the extremity of the point, two persons approached the shore, both coming from the direction of the cottages. One was a half-grown lad, the other was Kjeld. The boy looked about for the pilot, and when he perceived him standing on the rock he hastened towards him.

Jan stooped and whispered in the boy's ear,

'Was he in yonder?'

'Yes.'

'You are sure you saw him--you have not made any mistake?'

'I saw him as plainly as I now see you, Jan Steffens.'

'Very well, Jens; you can go home. Let the sails alone!' he cried, shortly after, turning towards the group of men near; 'the storm is increasing, the wind is right against us, and we must row the boats out. How late may it be, I wonder?'

'It is not yet midnight,' replied Kjeld, who had just approached the pilot. 'As I was coming along I heard the clock at Eriz÷ church strike eleven.'

'Mongens Dal, at Fyensland, promised to place a light in his window at twelve o'clock,' observed another. 'His farm lies close by the bay where the English ship has anchored; we have only, then, to look out for that light, and there will be no mistake.'

'Ay, ay--all right,' replied Jan, gruffly. 'Mind your own business, Vextel, and leave me to determine how we shall steer.'

A few minutes afterwards he announced that it was time for them to put to sea.

'Take your places,' cried Jan, 'and see that you make as little noise with the oars as possible. Ebbe, take the helm of the other boat, and follow close to the one I steer. We shall be a tolerable number this time, I think.'

'You promised to take the porpoise-hunters from Middlefart with us.'

'To be sure I did, and we shall find room for them; they are fine brave fellows, these porpoise-hunters. Has Kjeld come on board?'

'Yes, pilot,' answered the young man from the first gunboat.

'A word with you, Kjeld. Come a little way on shore.'

Kjeld sprang out of the boat, the pilot went up to him, and they walked together from the beach towards the sandhills.

'You will see that Kjeld will be half-mad this evening,' said one of the seamen in the first boat. 'Jan Steffens looks as sulky and savage as can be; very likely he has found out the love affair at home in his house up yonder.'

'Poor man!' said another, 'why did he take so young a wife. He is much too old for her.'

In the meantime, after Jan and Kjeld had walked to some distance in silence side by side, Jan asked suddenly,--

'Where were you this evening, Kjeld? It was very late before you joined us.'

Kjeld stammered some almost unintelligible words, while he seemed to be framing an answer.

'You are thinking what you can say,' exclaimed the old pilot, in a voice unsteady with suppressed anger, 'for you dare not speak it out. You were with Christine. You ought not to conceal this from me. You were there also yesterday, and on Sunday, and last Friday; and, in short, whenever I am absent, at sea in my boat, or elsewhere, you find some pretext to visit her.'

'I admit it is true,' replied Kjeld, who was startled by the stern coldness of Jan's looks and words.

'But did it never occur to you that you were wrong in visiting her so often? Christine is a married woman, and you will bring discredit upon her with your frequent visits.'

'I am a man of honour, Jan Steffens,' replied Kjeld, in a voice that trembled somewhat with anxiety at what might be the result of this conversation, 'and I have never behaved in your house in any way that you or the whole world might not have witnessed.'

'That is, perhaps, a misfortune, sir.'

'A misfortune!' exclaimed Kjeld, in amazement; 'what can you mean?'

'If it had been otherwise,' replied Jan, quietly, 'I should have put a pistol to your head, and shot you--that's all. It would have been better both for you and her, maybe.'

'But you yourself gave me permission to visit at your house; you said that Christine longed to have some news of me.'

'Well, if I said that, of course you knew on whose account I asked you to come. You need not take the matter so much to heart, my lad; let us speak reasonably now. I know that you are a well-principled young man, Kjeld; I have watched you narrowly ever since Christine and I were married. I am aware how things stand between you two; I know all, Kjeld!'

'You?'

'Ah, yes! I know that she loves you, and that she has never in her life cared for anyone else.'

'Then you know, also, that I am the most unfortunate man on earth,' replied Kjeld.

'You!' exclaimed Jan, shrugging up his shoulders mockingly--'you! No, my lad, there is one who beats you in misfortune.'

'Who?'

'I. If you had acted towards me as you ought to have done, you would have come to me when I was courting Christine, and have told me how things were between you and her.'

'We thought of doing that, Jan Steffens, but we did not dare to risk it.'

'Nonsense--nonsense! one should dare everything to fulfil one's duty. But you kept silence at that time, so did she, and matters were allowed to take their course.'

'Oh, Jan Steffens!' replied the young fisherman, in a voice trembling with emotion, 'what could I have said to you? I was a poor fellow, working hard to obtain food enough for my own support. You were well off, and had been kind to Christine's father, therefore they were glad to let you have the girl.'

'A very good reason, truly. What! because I had been kind to the old people, had I a claim to make their daughter unhappy? No; the blame was your own. You both kept silence, and yourselves are answerable for the evil that followed. Hearken, Kjeld! from this evening forward we must understand each other. I loved Christine from the first moment I beheld her; she was so amiable, so dutiful, and so full of affectionate feeling for the old people, her parents, and so attentive to them, that I thought she would make an excellent wife. I knew that she would have many more comforts in my house than she had at home. I reflected on everything, except upon the difference between our ages. She was silent--she wept; but she married me. Since that time, Kjeld, I have done all that a man could do to make myself liked. I was kind and indulgent to her. I allowed her to rule in all things, and to do whatever she pleased. I brought her home the most beautiful dresses and presents when I went on voyages. But all was of no avail. I was too old.

'I bought a new boat for her father, I took her mother into our house, I clothed her little sisters and sent them to school, I prayed to the Lord every morning and evening of my life in mercy to inspire her with kindly feelings towards me--but in vain, in vain! She went through her duties, and was civil and good-tempered; but love me she never could. When I was young, like you, Kjeld, I dared not attach myself to any woman, because I was too poor; now that I have become rich, none will attach herself to me, because I am too old. You look sad. Ah, so goes the world, my boy! It was not long before I found out that you loved Christine; and, alas! still worse--I too soon perceived how much she cared for you. While you both thought the secret was buried in your own hearts, I read it as if in an open book. Then I was seized with the most furious jealousy. I resolved to murder you, and more than once, at that period, there was but a hair-breadth between you and death. I watched you closely--my eyes were often on you, and never were you out of my thoughts.'

Jan stopped; he seemed to be nerving himself to go on with his narration. Kjeld observed that he was shaking, as if in an ague fit.

'You were an honourable man, Kjeld, as you declared a little while ago,' continued Jan, 'yet that which ought to have made my unhappiness less, absolutely added to it. I have nothing to complain of--nothing to reproach you with--all falls back upon myself--upon that disastrous, that wretched union of hands, in which the soul took no part; and when one has come to the full knowledge that such was the case, the painful truth fastens itself upon the mind, and impels one to seek some remedy to the misfortune.'

'You are right, Jan Steffens,' replied Kjeld, earnestly. 'I, too, have been reflecting upon a remedy since I left Christine a little while ago, when she wished to Heaven she had never known me--never even beheld me.'

'Did Christine really say that?' exclaimed the pilot with surprise, but, it must be owned, not without feeling somewhat pleased and flattered. 'Well, that was rather a cruel wish to bestow on you this evening, when she thought that you were going on an expedition from whence many of us will, perhaps, never return.'

'Christine is a better wife than you fancy; she discards every thought that is not in accordance with her duty; I shall not be wanting in mine either, and I have hit upon a plan to set all to rights.'

'So have I,' said the pilot.

'I shall go away and engage myself on board some ship trading with a foreign country, and neither she nor you shall see me often again, if it shall please God to spare my life in our enterprise to-night.'

'That he certainly will do, my lad, for a good reason--that you shall not go with us.'

'Not go with you! What do you mean by that?' asked Kjeld, in the utmost amazement.

'Listen!' replied Jan, with cold, quiet decision of manner. 'I have not much time to spare, and my resolution is taken. Because you have behaved honourably, and because you have both felt so kindly disposed towards an old man who, without knowing or intending it, brought upon you the greatest disappointment that can befall anyone, I will ensure you both a reward. Go back to Christine, and tell her, that from this evening henceforth I will bestow on her all the liberty she can desire; she shall no longer have cause to grieve and to weep, as she has so often done when she supposed no one saw her, or at night, when she thought I was asleep: you can say that since it was impossible for me to win her affection, and be happy myself, I will not hinder her from being so. On this account, it is not you, young man, but I, who must go away to a distant land, never more to return.'

It would be difficult to describe the young seaman's amazement as he listened to these words.

'I do not at all understand you, Jan Steffens,' he said. 'What do you mean by speaking in this manner?'

'They are calling to me from the boats!' cried Jan. 'Do you not hear their shouts? I must away. What do I mean?' he added, in a lower tone. 'It is easily understood; if I die to-night, I cannot stand in your way to-morrow.'

'Die!' cried Kjeld. 'Are you going to kill yourself?'

'No,' replied the pilot, calmly. 'But I feel pretty sure that the Englishmen will take the trouble of despatching me upon themselves.'

'No, no! that shall not be! You must let me go with you, Jan Steffens, and share your danger; you promised that you would. Besides, according to the lots that we drew in the dark, I have a right to accompany you. And if you were to die--if you were to put yourself forward to be killed--I should be still more miserable than I am now. Christine would never be mine, if that happiness were purchased by your death to-night.'

'Oh, as to that, you will change your tune when the time comes,' replied the pilot, turning to go; but Kjeld stopped him, and placing himself before him, while he seized his arms, exclaimed,

'Oh, Jan Steffens! take me with you; I entreat you, as the greatest favour, to do so. You shall not forsake Christine; you are a far better husband to her than I should be. Let me go with the boats!'

Jan shook himself free from the young man's grasp, and in answer to his earnest appeal, he said,

'It shall be as I have determined, Kjeld, so there is no use for another word on the subject. But you must not go to Christine till to-morrow, for you may well believe that I must have ceased to live before I cease to love her. Farewell, Kjeld--be kind to her, and make her as happy as you can. She is very mild, and is easily intimidated. When she is yours, and you speak of me in future years, remember that I wished to do good to you both--that I atoned for my fault as well as I could--and that my greatest misfortune was--that she was so young, or rather, that I was too old.'

The pilot wrung Kjeld's hand as he said these words, and before the young fisherman had time to conquer his emotion so as to be able to make any reply, the old man had left him, and was crossing the sand with rapid strides towards the shore where the boats' crews were assembled. Kjeld followed him, crying, 'Jan Steffens, let me go with you only this once; do not thus turn a deaf ear to me. You will rob me of my honour, my share in your glory, if I alone am to be left behind.'

'Push off!' shouted the pilot, as he jumped into the leading gunboat, and took his place at the helm.

The oars sank, and both the boats began to move towards the sea. Kjeld uttered a despairing cry, and sprang after them, but he could not reach them, and the waves cast him back on the shore.

'Things shall be as I have said,' he heard in the pilot's deep voice from the foremost boat. 'But do not go up yonder before to-morrow, and may the Lord be with you both!'

The men in the boats had been astonished witnesses of this scene. Those who sat nearest to him cast looks of inquiry towards the pilot; but his eye gave no responsive glance, his sunburnt face only expressed inflexible resolution, and his countenance was, perhaps, a little sterner even than usual.

From the beach Kjeld saw the boats rising and sinking amidst the foaming waves, while his passionate entreaties and his wild shouts were lost in the roaring of the wind and the thunder of the sea. The rain was pouring in torrents, and the skies were obscured by heavy black clouds. Soon after the two boats appeared only as dark specks upon the water, and presently even these vanished amidst the thick fog which rested over the sea at a little distance.

Fortunately the current was running northwards that night--that is to say, in a direction which favoured the progress of the gunboats, so that their crews were not obliged to fatigue themselves with rowing hard. The raging sea broke repeatedly over the boats, but no one seemed to mind this; they placed complete confidence in the pilot, whose tall figure, apparently immovable, stood upright at the helm: and perhaps the thoughts of all were directed to the object of their expedition, which they were rapidly approaching. The rain had somewhat abated in that particular place, and when a gust of wind partially dispelled the fog for a moment, they saw on the opposite high coast of Fyen the signal-light, which, though it was but faint and flickering, pointed out to them where they should seek the enemy. Amidst the profound silence that reigned in the boats, the pilot addressed the men in low but distinct tones.

'Row more quietly still, Gutter! Make no noise with your oars; you may be certain that they have their eyes and ears open yonder. They know right well where they are. Have the guns clear in front there, Nikolai; you must show us to-night that you understand your work like an old artilleryman. The wind will fall off the nearer we come under the shelter of the hilly land. If I see aright, we have our man there in the lee of the boats.'

All eyes were instantly turned in the direction he had named; a dark object became soon after perceptible amidst the thick gloom around, it gradually grew in size and developed its outline, until the hull of a ship was to be discerned, sharp and black, reposing on the waters like a swan.


CHAPTER II.

In pursuance of the plan which Jan Steffens had arranged, the boats shaped their course so as to come between the land and the corvette. They could hear the wind whistling amidst the cordage, could see the light in the captain's cabin, and the heads of the officers of the watch as they paced up and down the quarter-deck. The silence which had reigned on board was broken the moment the pilot's boat was perceived from the ship. Immediately afterwards Jan's sonorous voice was heard commanding his men to fire. Both the gunboats fired at the same moment, and with terrible effect.

It would be in vain to try to describe the commotion which now took place on board the enemy's ship. The attack had been made as suddenly as it had been planned; it was also favoured in the highest degree by the darkness and the tempest, which embarrassed many of the movements of the ship at anchor, whilst the gunboats, on the contrary, were able to move easily towards the places where their fire would operate most effectively, and be most destructive. Under these fortunate circumstances the fishermen continued to load and to discharge their guns. Splinters and pieces of broken planks evinced the accuracy of their gunners. On board the corvette they were not able to point their cannon so low that they could sweep the boats, whose flat hulls, besides, were only visible during the flashes of fire from the guns, and in an instant after seemed to have been swallowed up by the lofty billows.

Meanwhile the drums beat on board the ship; the boatswain's whistle mingled with the officer's words of command--disorder was at an end. Everything was done that circumstances permitted to oppose the enemy, and their fire was returned whenever their position could be ascertained. Soon after the rain ceased, and faint rays of pale moonlight struggled through the dark masses of clouds that were driving across the skies. The gunboats came close under the man-of-war, and after another discharge of their guns, the crews boarded the ship, climbing in by every possible opening, amidst cries of joyous triumph; and then commenced a scene in which were mingled the sounds of oaths, shouts, and pistol-shots, while everything was shrouded in the thick veil of mist and dark clouds of smoke.

At Lyngspoint every shot was heard, and caused the deepest anxiety for the absent. As usual upon similar occasions, lights appeared in all the fishermen's huts. None of the females thought of sleep while their husbands and their brothers were fighting upon the stormy sea. The tempest roared around the cottages, the watch-dogs howled as if lamenting their masters' danger, and the crowing of the cocks announced the approach of morning. Pale countenances, expressive of fear and anxiety, appeared one after the other at the half-open doors; presently the women began to go over to each other's houses to communicate their forebodings, or to seek for the comfort so much needed. In the little porch of one of the houses nearest to the shore stood a group of three females muffled up in woollen shawls and gazing upon the sea. Every shot was noticed by them with a sigh or a speaking glance.

'There is warm work going on over yonder,' groaned one woman.

'Ah, yes!' replied another; 'I was just thinking that every one of these shots may cost a man's life--the lives of our men, perhaps.'

'Nonsense! there is nothing to make such a fuss about,' exclaimed a rough voice. 'Our people's lives are in God's hands, even though they may stand before the barrel of a gun, or ride on a plank over the ocean. I have put up a prayer to the Lord for my boy. "Do your duty," I said to him when he went away, "and our Almighty Father will order the rest as seems good to Him!"'

She who spoke thus was an extraordinary-looking woman. Her face was entirely covered with wrinkles and marks of the small-pox, which made her harsh features look still coarser than they really were. Some years before the date of the night in question, her husband had been lost at sea, and she and her little son had been left in the utmost poverty. From that time Ellen went out with the men to fish: she worked as hard as the best of them, managed her boat like an experienced seaman, and never seemed to feel fatigue. Equipped in a short dress, a pair of large fisherman's boots, and a dark, low hat, which in nautical language is called 'a sou'-wester,' she was to be seen in the worst weather carrying her fish about to the neighbouring farms for sale; in the autumn months she hired the old right of ferryman at Snogh÷i, and carried fruit over from Ăro to Zealand--she took travellers across to Strib--mended her own boat when it needed repairs; in short, she worked hard, for she worked to maintain her son.

Doubtless some local readers of this slight sketch will recognize in Ellen an old acquaintance, who was always welcome wherever she showed herself; an honest, upright, self-sacrificing character, whose whole life was one scene of unflinching devotion to her duties, until she suddenly disappeared from her home, and was never seen again.

Ellen was standing with a short clay-pipe in her mouth, her rough grey locks confined by a handkerchief tied under her chin.

'I'll tell you what, Ellen,' said one of the other women, 'let us run over to Stine Steffens, as none of us have any mind to go to sleep to-night. She has a warm, comfortable room, and can give us a good cup of coffee.'

Her proposition was readily agreed to by the group of women who had now assembled, and, tying handkerchiefs over their heads like hoods, they all repaired to Jan Steffens's house, with the exception of 'Skipper Ellen,' as she was generally called, who remained behind.

Christine was still sitting in the same corner of the room where she had placed herself after Kjeld had left her. Her beautiful, expressive eyes were swimming in tears.

'Good evening, little Stine!' cried one of the fisherwomen. 'How goes it with you?'

'Oh, as with the rest of you,' she replied. 'I am full of anxiety and terror. It was kind of you to come here. Pray sit down.'

'You had better come to one of our houses, and we shall make some good strong coffee; that will help to kill the time.'

'We can make the coffee as well here,' said Christine.

'Oh, certainly,' said the other, joyfully, 'and I will help to blow up the fire.'

The fire was rekindled, the coffee made, and the conversation was then resumed.

'Would to Heaven our people were safe at home again!' exclaimed Christine. 'I am so terrified at the risk they are running to-night.'

'And with good reason too,' said one of the women. 'There is sure to be sorrow among some of us to-morrow, for the firing has been going on at least half-an-hour. But we must comfort ourselves by remembering that storm and sunshine come from the same hand; and if some are sufferers others will be gainers, for no doubt there will be a good deal of prize-money from so large a ship. You, at any rate, can take things easily, my good Stine, for if anything should happen to your old man, your fate won't be very hard--you will soon have another and a younger husband. Besides, Jan Steffens always gets a double portion of any prize-money, or any treasure that is found, though all the other men risk their lives as much as he does his.'

'Oh, come now,' cried another, 'Christine has twice as much cause of anxiety as we have. We have only one to think of--she has two.'

'Two!' exclaimed Christine. 'What do you mean?'

'Why, have you not first your old husband, and then a young sweetheart in the background? I mean Kjeld Olsen.'

While Christine was reflecting what answer to make to this sudden attack, another woman said,

'There is no fear of anything happening to Kjeld Olsen to-night; he was wiser than to put himself into jeopardy, so he remained at home, and let them go without him. Of course he had good reasons for determining to spare his own life--old Jan Steffens may lose his.'

Up to this moment Christine had not made any reply to their rude jests, hut her patience was now exhausted, her pale cheeks turned crimson, and rising up she said firmly,

'You have not been speaking the truth. Kjeld is to-night where he always delights to be, in the midst of danger, the boldest among the bold.'

'Who is speaking of Kjeld?' asked Skipper Ellen, who had entered the room at that moment. 'He is standing down yonder on the shore, and trying hard to persuade Poul Mikkelsen, at any price, to take him over in his boat to the English ship.'

'There now, you hear he is at home,' cried the woman, who had first mentioned the fact. 'It is well you came, Ellen, for Christine would not believe our word.'

'Will you come down to the shore?' asked Ellen; 'the rain is over, the wind has lulled, and the moon is shining clearly.'

'Yes, let us go,' said Christine, laying aside the empty coffee-cups.

'Ah! now we shall see what is the matter with poor Kjeld.'

'Of course old Jan Steffens did not care to have his company,' said the most ill-natured woman. 'No doubt he knew pretty well where Kjeld's thoughts would be wandering to.'

'And I say you are quite mistaken,' replied Ellen, casting a look of angry scorn on the woman. 'It would be a happy thing for you, Birthe, if you had a son, or anyone belonging to you, that resembled Kjeld.'

So saying, she took Christine by the arm and went towards the shore, followed by the rest of the women. It had ceased raining, and the wind had abated, but the sea was still much agitated, and the noise of firing was yet to be heard. Kjeld was standing in earnest conversation with an old man, who was leaning on a staff, and who shook his head occasionally as if refusing something.

'What is the matter, Kjeld?' asked Skipper Ellen. 'And why have you not gone with the rest of them?'

'Jan Steffens said there were too many in the boats,' he answered evasively.

'Ay--and now he insists upon following them,' said the old man, 'and offers me everything he has to help him to row over yonder. But the weather is too bad. I won't trust my boat out in such a wild sea.'

'What nonsense!' cried Ellen, jeeringly. 'Are you afraid of risking your life, Poul?'

'You know better, Ellen,' replied the old man. 'I have no fear for my life, but if I lose my boat my children will starve.'

'That is a serious consideration, to be sure,' said Ellen, 'but the young man shall go, notwithstanding, and if you won't accompany him, I will. Come here, Kjeld--when you and I put our strength together I think we shall manage to reach the other side.'

Kjeld uttered a cry of joy, shook Ellen's hand warmly, and exclaimed, 'May God bless and reward you, dear good Ellen; I shall never forget your kindness.'

'As to your boat, Poul, you must not be alarmed if we borrow it,' said Ellen. 'If we are unlucky, and the sea takes us, my boat lies drawn up on the land, newly painted and just put to rights; and in the village yonder I have a small house--you can take both as payment if your boat be lost. But Kjeld shall go as he wishes.'

'Don't attempt to go, Ellen,' cried one of the women, 'you will only get into trouble.'

'With God's help I have no fear of that. The lad shall go, if we should cross in one of my fishing-boats.'

She forced herself through the circle of women who had gathered around her, and hastened to the shore, where Kjeld had already placed himself in the frail boat. Ellen got into it, and, standing up, seized an oar. Soon after the boat glided out to sea, and the somewhat hazardous voyage was begun.

'She is a wonderful woman, that Ellen!' exclaimed one of those who were looking on. 'A lucky fellow he was who got her for a wife; there's nothing she can't turn her hand to; and she can work as well as the best man among them.'

As long as it was possible to perceive the boat, it was observed to be making straight for its destination; rowed by vigorous arms, and managed by experienced persons, it seemed sometimes to be swallowed up by the waves, and then it would be seen as if riding over them, and defying them, while it never swerved from its appointed course.

'Come now, Kjeld,' cried Ellen, after they had got some distance from the land, 'let us two have a little rational conversation. It was partly to find an opportunity for this that I was so willing to go to sea with you to-night. What really is the matter with you, my lad? Why have you been going about latterly with your head drooping in such a melancholy way, and loitering about in idleness, instead of following your occupations cheerfully and diligently?'

'The matter with me!' exclaimed Kjeld, in well-feigned astonishment; 'why, nothing, Ellen--you are quite mistaken in supposing that anything is the matter with me.'

'Oh, there is no use in your denying that something ails you; I am too old to be easily humbugged. You must speak the honest truth to me, Kjeld; you must be as frank with me as I am with you. You need not fear to speak freely, for no one can overhear you out thus far on the sea--no one, my boy--except myself and He who rules the ocean. You are still silent, Kjeld--then I will speak out. You are sighing and grieving because you love Christine Steffens, and because you think that she loves you; that's the short and the long of the matter. But have you forgotten that Christine is a married woman? and are you aware that your conduct is bringing her name into people's mouths--that every creature in the village is talking of you and her, and that the walls of her own house cannot protect her against jeering and insult? I have myself been a witness of this to-night.'

'What was said to her, Ellen?' asked Kjeld, in consternation. 'Who could speak a syllable in disparagement of Christine?'

'Say, rather, who can prevent it, Kjeld, since you yourself afford such ample room for tittle-tattle.'

'Ah, Ellen! if you only knew how much I love Christine! She has been my thought by day, and my dream by night; and when I have been away on long voyages, I denied myself everything to save all I got for her. I always expected that she would certainly one day be mine--but when I came home this autumn, she was married!'

'It was a pity. There is nothing left for you, therefore, now, but to forget her.'

'Forget her! I shall never, never forget her.'

'Oh, I have heard such vows before; young folks have always these ideas, but they smile at them when they become older. An honourable man loves a girl when he marries her, or when he intends to marry her.'

'And when he cannot marry her?'

'Then he lets her alone, my good lad, and turns his attention to some one else.'

'More easily said than done, Ellen.'

'You think I do not know what I am speaking about because I am old, and grey, and wrinkled. Is it not so, Kjeld? But remember that old people have been young themselves once, and let me tell you that the misery which you find it so impossible to bear, I have borne, though I am only a woman. Long ago, when I was a little better-looking than I am now, there was one who was always uppermost in my thoughts--one whom I cherished in my secret soul; in short, to whom I was as much attached as you are to Christine. He wooed me, too; he begged me to be his wife, and swore by Him who made yon heavens above that he loved only me.'

'And what answer did you give him?'

'I told him that we could not be so imprudent as to marry, for he had little, and I had still less; that I would marry the man who was the landlord of the house in which we resided, to provide a comfortable home for my mother as long as she lived. And I did marry that man. He whom I had refused never knew how much I cared for him; he did not think that I had been really attached to him. But I grieved when he went away. There never was a squall at sea that I did not think with anxiety about him; and many a night have I soaked my pillow with my tears, when I could not go to sleep because the tempest raged so without.'

'Do I know the person of whom you are speaking, Ellen?'

'Yes, you do, Kjeld: he is your own father.'

'My father!'

'Can you now comprehend why I have always taken such an interest in you, and why I have some right to advise you to let Christine alone? I do not say that you must forget her.'

'No, because you are convinced it is impossible for me to do so.'

'Not at all--because I know forgetfulness will come of itself. I only desire to impress on you the necessity of leaving this place, and no longer loitering about the sea-shore here. To-morrow I am going to sail to Ăro, or Ăbler, and if you will come with me, Kjeld, we will go on to Copenhagen. You had better engage yourself on board some ship going to the south, and stay away a few years. When you come back again, if our Lord has spared my life till then, you will thank me for the advice I have given you this night. But see! here are our boats. For God's sake, Kjeld, do your duty! I will fasten our little skiff to one of the gunboats.'

Christine in the meantime remained standing on the beach at a little distance from the other women. She had been a silent but much interested spectator of all that had occurred previous to Kjeld's and Ellen's departure, and she stood watching the frail little boat as long as it was visible. At length the fisherwomen rejoined her, and were loud in the expression of their fears and forebodings. Christine said scarcely anything.

'Of course you have no reason to be afraid, Christine,' said the same woman who had before commenced jeering at her in Jan Steffens's house.

'Kjeld cannot arrive yonder until all the dangerous work is over, but he can always boast of being one of the party, and perhaps he may get a share of the prize-money. And if any accident should happen to old Jan Steffens, you will have a new protector ready at hand.'

'What do you mean by all the insinuations you have been throwing out to-night?' asked Christine.

'Well, this is too good!' cried the woman, laughing, and turning towards the other females. 'She pretends to be so ignorant, the little lamb!'

'But speak out--explain yourself! I do not understand a word you have been saying, and cannot imagine what you have been all driving at to-night.'

'I mean that you and Kjeld will marry as soon as Jan's eyes are closed for ever, and that it is no fault of yours or Kjeld's that this has been so long of taking place.'

'And will you listen to my answer?' said Christine, in a peremptory tone, and speaking with such pointed distinctness that her words were perfectly heard by every one near. 'If such a misfortune should befall me that any accident shall occur to Jan Steffens to-night, I swear that I will never marry either Kjeld Olsen, or any other man upon this earth.'

'Oh, you would think better of it--you would change your mind,' cried the other, laughing scornfully.

'No!' said Christine. 'By my hopes of salvation and eternal happiness in the world to come, I speak the truth. And I beseech you to believe me, and leave me in peace.'

Shortly after the firing ceased, and many eyes were turned anxiously towards the place where it was known the ship lay.

'It is over now,' said a solemn voice. 'They will be coming back presently. God have mercy on us all, but especially on those who have lost any near and dear to them!'

There was a deep and unbroken silence among the crowd. Terror and anxiety had closed all their lips, and every eye was strained looking out for the boats. Old Poul Mikkelsen, who had clambered up to the top of a pile of rocks, was sitting without his hat, and singing the first verses of a psalm in a weak and tremulous voice. Suddenly there burst forth a bright light in the direction of the ship; it increased in width until by degrees it became a broad sheet of dark flame, the glowing reflection of which streamed over the waves and tinged the hills that skirted the adjacent coast. Such was the glare of light that the shore at Fyensland could be seen crowded with people, and several boats were discerned apparently rowing in great haste to and from the corvette.

'The ship is on fire!' cried Poul. 'Our people have been victorious.'

The fire seemed to increase until at length it appeared to become concentrated, when it shot up in one high pillar of flame, from which jets of sparks were thrown up into the air around. While the group on the shore at Lyngspoint were standing in breathless silence, the church clock at Eriz÷ was heard to strike three, and the grey dawn of morning began to give place to the clear light of day. In the glare from the fire the corvette--with its slender masts, its yards, and cordage--became distinctly and fearfully visible, and people could be perceived hurrying up and down the deck. Shortly after, the guns went off, the fire having then reached them, and one cannon-ball struck the bank at no great distance from where the wives and families of the fishermen were assembled. No one seemed to notice it, for the thoughts of all were earnestly bent upon the terrible drama which was being enacted out upon the sea; each person present had a deep interest in it, and not one of them but waited for its dÚnoűment with dread and apprehension.

'Here come our boats!' cried Poul, pointing with his staff towards two dark specks which were to be seen tossing on the waves at a little distance from the corvette. Soon after a third boat was observed, towed by one of the gun-boats. Christine had been the first to perceive it; she folded her hands, and cast a grateful look of thanksgiving up towards heaven.

At length the gunboats reached the shore. In the deeply-affecting scene that followed were mingled joyous exclamations and groans of despair--smiles and tears--as those so dear and so anxiously looked for were found to be safe, or, alas! to be among the wounded and the dead. Christine's eyes sought Jan everywhere--but in vain--she did not see him. She covered her face, and burst into tears.

In a few minutes Kjeld approached her, and laid his hand gently on her arm.

'Where is my husband?' she asked, impatiently.

'He is dead,' replied Kjeld.

'Dead! dead!' exclaimed Christine, in a voice faint and trembling from agitation.

'Yes! He fell at the very moment that he ordered us to return to our boats, when the Englishmen had set fire to the corvette. I did all I could to save him, dear Christine; I posted myself at his side, and defended him to the last. But it was all in vain; it was impossible to rescue him from death.'

'Why did you not go with him at first?' asked Christine abruptly.

'Because he insisted that I should not. He knew all that we, too, have felt and thought; he desired me to remain behind, and carry a message to you, but I was not to deliver it until to-morrow.'

'It will be needless,' said Christine. 'To-morrow I shall be gone to my aunt at KjŠrup.'

She stretched out both her hands to him, and struggling with her tears, she added, in a tone of deep emotion.

'God be with you, Kjeld! my dear, my only friend!'

'You are not going away, Christine?' exclaimed Kjeld.

'Yes,' she replied. 'I made a vow to the Almighty that I would do so when I offered up my prayers to Him to bring you back unhurt.'

'But still why must you go away?' he asked, in a voice of alarm and anxiety.

'Because we two must forget our hopes and our dreams; because we must separate from each other, never more to meet again!'