The Rector of Veilbye by Steen Steensen Blicher
These extracts from the diary of Erik Sorensen, District Judge,
followed by two written statements by the rector of Aalso, give a
complete picture of the terrible events that took place in the
parish of Veilbye during Judge Sorensen's first year of office.
Should anyone be inclined to doubt the authenticity of these
documents let him at least have no doubt about the story, which is,
alas! only too sadly true. The memory of these events is still
fresh in the district, and the events themselves have been the
direct cause of a change in the method of criminal trials. A
suspected murderer is now tried through all the courts before his
conviction can be determined. Readers versed in the history of law
will doubtless know by this during what epoch the story is laid.
[From the Diary of District Judge Erik Sorensen.]
Now am I, unworthy one, by the grace of God made judge over this
district. May the Great Judge above give me wisdom and uprightness
that I may fulfill my difficult task in all humility! From the
Lord alone cometh judgment.
It is not good that man should live alone. Now that I am able to
support a wife I will look about me for a helpmeet. I hear much
good said about the daughter of the Rector of Veilbye. Since her
mother's death she has been a wise and economical keeper of her
father's house. And as she and her brother the student are the
only children, she will inherit a tidy sum when the old man dies.
Morten Bruus of Ingvorstrup was here to-day and wanted to make me a
present of a fat calf. But I answered him in the words of Moses,
"Cursed be he who taketh gifts." He is of a very quarrelsome
nature, a sharp bargainer, and a boastful talker. I do not want to
have any dealings with him, except through my office as judge.
I have prayed to God for wisdom and I have consulted with my own
heart, and I believe that Mistress Mette Quist is the only woman
with whom I could live and die. But I will watch her for a time in
secret. Beauty is deceptive and charm is a dangerous thing. But I
must say that she is the most beautiful woman I have yet seen.
I think that Morten Bruus a very disagreeable person—I scarcely
know why myself. But whenever I see him something comes over me,
something that is like the memory of an evil dream. And yet it is
so vague and so faint, that I could not say whether I had really
ever seen the man in my dreams or not. It may be a sort of
presentiment of evil; who knows?
He was here again and offered me a pair of horses—beautiful
animals—at a ridiculously low price. It looked queer to me. I
know that he paid seventy thalers for them, and he wanted to let me
have them for the same price. They are at the least worth one
hundred thalers, if not more. Was it intended for a bribe? He may
have another lawsuit pending. I do not want his horses.
I paid a visit to the Rector of Veilbye to-day. He is a fine, God-
fearing man, but somewhat quick-tempered and dictatorial. And he
is close with his money, too, as I could see. Just as I arrived a
peasant was with him trying to be let off the payment of part of
his tithe. The man is surely a rogue, for the sum is not large.
But the rector talked to him as I wouldn't have talked to a dog,
and the more, he talked the more violent he became.
Well, we all have our faults. The rector meant well in spite of
his violence, for later on he told his daughter to give the man a
sandwich and a good glass of beer. She is certainly a charming and
sensible girl. She greeted me in a modest and friendly manner, and
my heart beat so that I could scarcely say a word in reply. My
head farm hand served in the rectory three years. I will question
him,—one often hears a straight and true statement from servants.
A surprise! My farm hand Rasmus tells me that Morten Bruus came a-
wooing to the rectory at Veilbye some years back, but was sent away
with a refusal. The rector seemed to be pleased with him, for the
man is rich. But his daughter would not hear to it at all. Pastor
Soren may have tried hard to persuade her to consent at first. But
when he saw how much she disliked the man he let her do as she
would. It was not pride on her part, Rasmus said, for she is as
simple and modest as she is good and beautiful. And she knows that
her own father is peasant-born as well as Bruus.
Now I know what the Ingvorstrup horses were intended for. They
were to blind the judge and to lead him aside from the narrow path
of righteousness. The rich Morten Bruns covets poor Ole Anderson's
peat moor and pasture land. It would have been a good bargain for
Morten even at seventy thalers. But no indeed, my good fellow, you
don't know Erik Sorensen!
Rector Soren Quist of Veilbye came to see me this morning. He has
a new coachman, Niels Bruus, brother to the owner of Ingvorstrup.
Neils is lazy and impertinent. The rector wanted him arrested, but
he had no witnesses to back up his complaint. I advised him to get
rid of the man somehow, or else to get along with him the best he
could until the latter's time was up. The rector was somewhat
hasty at first, but later on he listened calmly and thanked me for
my good advice. He is inclined to be violent at times, but can
always be brought to listen to reason. We parted good friends.
I spent a charming day in Veilbye yesterday. The rector was not at
home, but Mistress Mette received me with great friendliness. She
sat by the door spinning when I arrived, and it seemed to me that
she blushed. It was hardly polite for me to wait so long before
speaking. When I sit in judgment I never lack for words, but in
the presence of this innocent maiden I am as stupid as the veriest
simpleton of a chicken thief. But I finally found my voice and the
time passed quickly until the rector's return. Then Mistress Mette
left us and did not return until she brought in our supper.
Just as she stepped through the doorway the rector was saying to
me, "Isn't it about time that you should think of entering into the
holy estate of matrimony?" (We had just been speaking of a recent
very fine wedding in the neighborhood.) Mistress Mette heard the
words and flushed a deep red. Her father laughed and said to her,
"I can see, my dear daughter, that you have been standing before
I shall take the good man's advice and will very soon try my fate
with her. For I think I may take the rector's words to be a secret
hint that he would not object to me as a son-in-law. And the
daughter? Was her blush a favorable sign?
Poor Ole Anderson keeps his peat moor and his pasture land, but
rich Morten Bruus is angry at me because of it. When he heard the
decision he closed his eyes and set his lips tight, and his face
was as pale as a whitewashed wall. But he controlled himself and
as he went out he called back to his adversary, "Wish you joy of
the bargain, Ole Anderson. The peat bog won't beggar me, and the
cattle at Ingvorstrup have all the hay they can eat." I could hear
his loud laughter outside and the cracking of his whip. It is not
easy to have to sit in judgment. Every decision makes but one
enemy the more.
Yesterday was the happiest day of my life. We celebrated our
betrothal in the Rectory of Veilbye. My future father-in-law spoke
to the text, "I gave my handmaid into thy bosom" (Genesis xvi, 5).
His words touched my heart. I had not believed that this serious
and sometimes brusque man could talk so sweetly. When the
solemnity was over, I received the first kiss from my sweet
betrothed, and the assurance of her great love for me.
At supper and later on we were very merry. Many of the dead
mother's kin were present. The rector's family were too far away.
After supper we danced until daybreak and there was no expense
spared in the food and wine. My future father-in-law was the
strongest man present, and could easily drink all the others under
the table. The wedding is to take place in six weeks. God grant
us rich blessings.
It is not good that my future father-in-law should have this Niels
Bruus in his service. He is a defiant fellow, a worthy brother of
him of Ingvorstrup. If it were I, he should have his wages and be
turned off, the sooner the better. But the good rector is stubborn
and insists that Niels shall serve out his time. The other day he
gave the fellow a box on the ear, at which Niels cried out that he
would make him pay for it. The rector told me of this himself, for
no one else had been present. I talked to Niels, but he would
scarcely answer me. I fear he has a stubborn and evil nature. My
sweet betrothed also en-treats her father to send the fellow away,
but the rector will not listen to reason. I do not know what the
old man will do when his daughter leaves his home for mine. She
saves him much worry and knows how to make all things smooth and
easy. She will be a sweet wife for me.
As I thought, it turned out badly. But there is one good thing
about it, Niels has now run off of himself. The rector is greatly
angered, but I rejoice in secret that he is rid of that dangerous
man. Bruus will probably seek retaliation, but we have law and
justice in the land to order such matters.
This was the way of it: The rector had ordered Niels to dig up a
bit of soil in the garden. After a time when he went out himself
to look at the work, he found Niels leaning on his spade eating
nuts. He had not even begun to dig. The rector scolded him, but
the fellow answered that he had not taken service as a gardener.
He received a good box on the ear for that. At this he threw away
his spade and swore valiantly at his master. The old rector lost
his temper entirely, seized the spade and struck at the man several
times. He should not have done this, for a spade is a dangerous
weapon, especially in the hands of a man as strong as is the pastor
in spite of his years. Niels fell to the ground as if dead. But
when the pastor bent over him in alarm, he sprang up suddenly,
jumped the hedge and ran away to the woods.
This is the story of the unfortunate affair as my father-in-law
tells it to me. My beloved Mette is much worried about it. She
fears the man may do harm to the cattle, or set fire to the house,
or in some such way take his revenge. But I tell her there is
little fear of that.
Three weeks more and my beloved leaves her father's house for mine.
She has been here and has gone over the house and the farm. She is
much pleased with everything and praises our orderliness. She is
an angel, and all who know her say that I am indeed a fortunate
man. To God be the praise!
Strange, where that fellow Niels went to! Could he have left the
country altogether? It is an unpleasant affair in any case, and
there are murmurings and secret gossip among the peasants. The
talk has doubtless started in Ingvorstrup. It would not be well to
have the rector hear it. He had better have taken my advice, but
it is not my province to school a servant of God, and a man so much
older than I. The idle gossip may blow over ere long. I will go
to Veilbye to-morrow and find out if he has heard anything.
The bracelet the goldsmith has made for me is very beautiful. I am
sure it will please my sweet Mette.
My honored father-in-law is much distressed and downhearted.
Malicious tongues have repeated to him the stupid gossip that is
going about in the district. Morten Bruus is reported to have said
that "he would force the rector to bring back his brother, if he
had to dig him out of the earth." The fellow may be in hiding
somewhere, possibly at Ingvorstrup. He has certainly disappeared
completely, and no one seems to know where he is. My poor
betrothed is much grieved and worried. She is alarmed by bad
dreams and by presentiments of evil to come.
God have mercy on us all! I am so overcome by shock and horror
that I can scarcely hold the pen. It has all come in one terrible
moment, like a clap of thunder. I take no account of time, night
and morning are the same to me and the day is but a sudden flash of
lightning destroying the proud castle of my hopes and desires. A
venerable man of God—the father of my betrothed—is in prison!
And as a suspected murderer! There is still hope that he may be
innocent. But this hope is but as a straw to a drowning man. A
terrible suspicion rests upon him—And I, unhappy man that I am,
must be his judge. And his daughter is my betrothed bride! May
the Saviour have pity on us!
It was yesterday that this horrible thing came. About half an hour
before sunrise Morten Bruus came to my house and had with him the
cotter Jens Larsen of Veilbye, and the widow and daughter of the
shepherd of that parish. Morten Bruus said to me that he had the
Rector of Veilbye under suspicion of having killed his brother
Niels. I answered that I had heard some such talk but had regarded
it as idle and malicious gossip, for the rector himself had assured
me that the fellow had run away. "If that was so," said Morten,
"if Niels had really intended to run away, he would surely at first
come to me to tell me of it. But it is not so, as these good
people can prove to you, and I demand that you shall hear them as
an officer of the law."
"Think well of what you are doing," I said. "Think it over well,
Morten Bruus, and you, my good people. You are bringing a terrible
accusation against a respected and unspotted priest and man of God.
If you can prove nothing, as I strongly suspect, your accusations
may cost you dear."
"Priest or no priest," cried Bruus, "it is written, 'thou shalt not
kill!' And also is it written, that the authorities bear the sword
of justice for all men. We have law and order in the land, and the
murderer shall not escape his punishment, even if he have the
district judge for a son-in-law."
I pretended not to notice his thrust and began, "It shall be as you
say. Kirsten Mads' daughter, what is it that you know of this
matter in which Morten Bruus accuses your rector? Tell the truth,
and the truth only, as you would tell it before the judgment seat
of the Almighty. The law will demand from you that you shall later
repeat your testimony under oath."
The woman told the following story: The day on which Niels Bruus
was said to have run away from the rectory, she and her daughter
were passing along the road near the rectory garden a little after
the noon hour. She heard some one calling and saw that it was
Niels Bruus looking out through the garden hedge. He asked the
daughter if she did not want some nuts and told the women that the
rector had ordered him to dig in the garden, but that he did not
take the command very seriously and would much rather eat nuts. At
that moment they heard a door open in the house and Niels said,
"Now I'm in for a scolding." He dropped back behind the hedge and
the women heard a quarrel in the garden. They could hear the words
distinctly but they could see nothing, as the hedge was too high.
They heard the rector cry, "I'll punish you, you dog. I'll strike
you dead at my feet!" Then they heard several sounding slaps, and
they heard Niels curse back at the rector and call him evil names.
The rector did not answer this, but the women heard two dull blows
and saw the head of a spade and part of the handle rise and fall
twice over the hedge. Then it was very quiet in the garden, and
the widow and her daughter were frightened and hurried on to their
cattle in the field. The daughter gave the same testimony, word
for word. I asked them if they had not seen Niels Bruus coming out
of the garden. But they said they had not, although they had
turned back several times to look.
This accorded perfectly with what the rector had told me. It was
not strange that the women had not seen the man run out of the
garden, for he had gone toward the wood which is on the opposite
side of the garden from the highroad. I told Marten Bruus that
this testimony was no proof of the supposed murder, especially as
the rector himself had narrated the entire occurrence to me exactly
as the women had described it. But he smiled bitterly and asked me
to examine the third witness, which I proceeded to do.
Jens Larsen testified that he was returning late one evening from
Tolstrup (as he remembered, it was not the evening of Niels Bruus's
disappearance, but the evening of the following day), and was
passing the rectory garden on the easterly side by the usual
footpath. From the garden he heard a noise as of some one digging
in the earth. He was frightened at first for it was very late, but
the moon shone brightly and he thought he would see who it was that
was at work in the garden at that hour. He put off his wooden
shoes and pushed aside the twigs of the hedge until he had made a
peep hole. In the garden he saw the rector in his usual house
coat, a white woolen nightcap on his head. He was busily smoothing
down the earth with the flat of his spade. There was nothing else
to be seen. Just then the rector had started and partly turned
toward the hedge, and the witness, fearing he might be discovered,
slipped down and ran home hastily.
Although I was rather surprised that the rector should be working
in his garden at so late an hour, I still saw nothing in this
statement that could arouse suspicion of murder. I gave the
complainant a solemn warning and advised him not only to let fall
his accusation, but to put an end to the talk in the parish. He
replied, "Not until I see what it is that the rector buried in his
"That will be too late," I said. "You are playing a dangerous
game. Dangerous to your own honor and welfare."
"I owe it to my brother," he replied, "and I demand that the
authorities shall not refuse me assistance."
My office compelled me to accede to his demands. Accompanied by
the accuser and his witnesses I took my way to Veilbye. My heart
was very heavy, not so much because of any fear that we might find
the missing man buried in the garden, but because of the surprise
and distress I must cause the rector and my beloved. As we went on
our way I thought over how severely the law would allow me to
punish the calumniators. But alas, Merciful Heavens! What a
terrible discovery was in store for me!
I had wished to have a moment alone with the rector to prepare him
for what was coming. But as I drove through the gate Morten Bruus
spurred his horse past me and galloped up to the very door of the
house just as the rector opened it. Bruus cried out in his very
face, "People say that you have killed my brother and buried him in
your garden. I am come with the district judge to seek for him."
The poor rector was so shocked and astounded that he could not find
a word to answer. I sprang from my wagon and addressed him: "You
have now heard the accusation. I am forced by my office to fulfill
this man's demands. But your own honor demands that the truth
shall be known and the mouth of slander silenced."
"It is hard enough," began the rector finally, "for a man in my
position to have to clear himself from such a suspicion. But come
with me. My garden and my entire house are open to you."
We went through the house to the garden. On the way we met my
betrothed, who was startled at seeing Bruus. I managed to whisper
hastily to her, "Do not be alarmed, dear heart. Your enemies are
going to their own destruction." Marten Bruus led the way to the
eastern side of the garden near the hedge. We others followed with
the rector's farm hands, whom he himself had ordered to join us
The accuser stood and looked about him until we approached. Then
he pointed to one spot. "This looks as if the earth had been
disturbed lately. Let us begin here."
"Go to work at once," commanded the rector angrily.
The men set to work, but they were not eager enough to suit Bruus,
who seized a spade himself to fire them on. A few strokes only
sufficed to show that the firm earth of this particular spot had
not been touched for many years. We all rejoiced—except Bruus—
and the rector was very happy. He triumphed openly over his
accuser, and laughed at him, "Can't you find anything, you
Bruus did not answer. He pondered for a few moments, then called
out, "Jens Larsen, where was it you saw the rector digging?"
Jens Larsen had been standing to one side with his hands folded,
watching the work. At Bruus's words he aroused himself as if from
a dream, looked about him and pointed to a corner of the garden
several yards from where we stood. "I think it was over there."
"What's that, Jens!" cried the rector angrily. "When did I dig
Paying no heed to this, Morten Bruus called the men to the corner
in question. The earth here was covered by some withered cabbage
stalks, broken twigs, and other brush which he pushed aside
hurriedly. The work began anew.
I stood by the rector talking calmly with him about the punishment
we could mete out to the dastardly accuser, when one of the men
suddenly cried out with an oath. We looked toward them; there lay
a hat half buried in the loose earth. "We have found him," cried
Bruus. "That is Niels's hat; I would know it anywhere."
My blood seemed turned to ice. All my hopes dashed to the ground.
"Dig! Dig!" cried the bloodthirsty accuser, working himself with
all his might. I looked at the rector. He was ghastly pale,
staring with wide-open eyes at the horrible spot.
Another shout! A hand was stretched up through the earth as if to
greet the workers. "See there!" screamed Bruus. "He is holding
out his hand to me. Wait a little, Brother Niels! You will soon
The entire corpse was soon uncovered. It was the missing man. His
face was not recognizable, as decomposition had begun, and the nose
was broken and laid flat by a blow. But all the garments, even to
the shirt with his name woven into it, were known to those who
stood there. In one ear was a leaden ring, which, as we all knew,
Niels Bruus had worn for many years.
"Now, priest," cried Marten Bruus, "come and lay your hand on this
dead man if you dare to!"
"Almighty God!" sighed the rector, looking up to heaven, "Thou art
my witness that I am innocent. I struck him, that I confess, and I
am bitterly sorry for it. But he ran away. God Almighty alone
knows who buried him here."
"Jens Larsen knows also," cried Bruus, "and I may find more
witnesses. Judge! You will come with me to examine his servants.
But first of all I demand that you shall arrest this wolf in
Merciful God, how could I doubt any longer? The truth was clear to
all of us. But I was ready to sink into the earth in my shock and
horror. I was about to say to the rector that he must prepare to
follow me, when he himself spoke to me, pale and trembling like an
aspen leaf. "Appearances are against me," he said, but this is the
work of the devil and his angels. There is One above who will
bring my innocence to light. Come, judge, I will await my fate in
fetters. Comfort my daughter. Remember that she is your betrothed
He had scarcely uttered the words when I heard a scream and a fall
behind us. It was my beloved who lay unconscious on the ground. I
thought at first that she was dead, and God knows I wished that I
could lie there dead beside her. I raised her in my arms, but her
father took her from me and carried her into the house. I was
called to examine the wound on the dead man's head. The cut was
not deep, but it had evidently fractured the skull, and had plainly
been made by a blow from a spade or some similar blunt instrument.
Then we all entered the house. My beloved had revived again. She
fell on my neck and implored me, in the name of God, to help her
father in his terrible need. She begged me by the memory of our
mutual love to let her follow him to prison, to which I consented.
I myself accompanied him to Grenaa, but with a mournful heart.
None of us spoke a word on the sad journey. I parted from them in
deep distress. The corpse was laid in a coffin and will be buried
decently to-morrow in Veilbye churchyard.
To-morrow I must give a formal hearing to the witnesses. God be
merciful to me, unfortunate man!
Would that I had never obtained this position for which I—fool
that I am—strove so hard.
As the venerable man of God was brought before me, fettered hand
and foot, I felt as Pilate must have felt as they brought Christ
before him. It was to me as if my beloved—God grant her comfort,
she lies ill in Grenaa—had whispered to me, "Do nothing against
that good man!"
Oh, if he only were innocent, but I see no hope!
The three first witnesses repeated their testimony under oath, word
for word. Then came statements by the rector's two farm hands and
the dairy maid. The men had been in the kitchen on the fatal day,
and as the windows were open they had heard the quarrel between the
rector and Niels. As the widow had stated, these men had also
heard the rector say, "I will strike you dead at my feet!" They
further testified that the rector was very quick-tempered, and that
when angered he did not hesitate to strike out with whatever came
into his hand. He had struck a former hand once with a heavy maul.
The girl testified that on the night Jens Larsen claimed to have
seen the rector in the garden, she had lain awake and heard the
creaking of the garden door. When she looked out of the window she
had seen the rector in his dressing gown and nightcap go into the
garden. She could not see what he was doing there. But she heard
the door creak again about an hour later.
When the witnesses had been heard, I asked the unfortunate man
whether he would make a confession, or else, if he had anything to
say in his own defense. He crossed his hands over his breast and
said, "So help me God, I will tell the truth. I have nothing more
to say than what I have said already. I struck the dead man with
my spade. He fell down, but jumped up in a moment and ran away
from the garden out into the woods. What may have happened to him
there, or how he came to be buried in my garden, this I do not
know. When Jens Larsen and my servant testify that they saw me at
night in the garden, either they are lying, or Satan has blinded
them. I can see this—unhappy man that I am—that I have no one to
turn to for help here on earth. Will He who is in heaven be silent
also, then must I bow to His inscrutable will." He bowed his head
with a deep sigh.
Some of those present began to weep, and a murmur arose that he
might possibly be innocent. But this was only the effect of the
momentary sympathy called out by his attitude. My own heart indeed
spoke for him. But the judge's heart may not dare to dictate to
his brain or to his conscience. My conviction forced me to declare
that the rector had killed Niels Bruus, but certainly without any
premeditation or intention to do so. It is true that Niels Bruus
had often been heard to declare that he would "get even with the
rector when the latter least expected it." But it is not known
that he had fulfilled his threat in any way. Every man clings to
life and honor as long as he can. Therefore the rector persists in
his denial. My poor, dear Mette! She is lost to me for this life
at least, just as I had learned to love her so dearly.
I have had a hard fight to fight to-day. As I sat alone, pondering
over this terrible affair in which it is my sad lot to have to give
judgment, the door opened and the rector's daughter—I may no
longer call her my betrothed—rushed in and threw herself at my
feet. I raised her up, clasped her in my arms and we wept together
in silence. I was first to control myself. "I know what you would
say, dear heart. You want me to save your father. Alas, God help
us poor mortals, I cannot do it! Tell me, dearest one, tell me
truly, do you yourself believe your father to be innocent?"
She crossed her hands on her heart and sobbed, "I do not know!"
Then she burst into tears again. "But he did not bury him in the
garden," she continued after a few moments. "The man may have died
in the wood from the blow. That may have happened—"
"But, dearest heart," I said, "Jens Larsen and the girl saw your
father in the garden that night."
She shook her head slowly and answered, "The evil one blinded their
eyes." She wept bitterly again.
"Tell me, beloved," she began again, after a while, "tell me
frankly this much. If God sends us no further enlightenment in
this unfortunate affair, what sentence must you give?"
She gazed anxiously at me, her lips trembling.
"If I did not believe," I began slowly, "that anyone else in my
place would be more severe than I, then I would gladly give up my
position at once and refuse to speak the verdict. But I dare not
conceal from you that the mildest sentence that God, our king, and
our laws demand is, a life for a life."
She sank to her knees, then sprang up again, fell back several
steps as if afraid of me, and cried out: "Would you murder my
father? Would you murder your betrothed bride? See here! See
this!" She came nearer and held up her hand with my ring on it
before my eyes. "Do you see this betrothal ring? What was it my
father said when you put this ring upon my finger? 'I have given
my maid unto thy bosom!' But you, you thrust the steel deep into
Alas, every one of her words cut deep into my own heart. "Dearest
love," I cried, "do not speak so. You thrust burning irons into my
heart. What would you have me do? Acquit him, when the laws of
God and man condemn?"
She was silent, sobbing desperately.
"One thing I can do," I continued. "If it be wrong may God forgive
me. If the trial goes on to an end his life is forfeited, there is
no hope except in flight. If you can arrange an escape I will
close my eyes. I will not see or hear anything. As soon as your
father was imprisoned, I wrote to your brother in Copenhagen. He
can arrive any moment now. Talk to him, make friends with the
jailer. If you lack money, all I have is yours."
When I had finished her face flushed with joy, and she threw her
arms about my neck. "God bless you for these words. Were my
brother but here, he will know what to do. But where shall we go?"
her tone changed suddenly and her arms dropped. "Even should we
find a refuge in a foreign country I could never see you again!"
Her tone was so sad that my heart was near to breaking.
"Beloved," I exclaimed, "I will find you wherever you may hide
yourself! Should our money not be sufficient to support us I can
work for us all. I have learned to use the ax and the hoe."
She rejoiced again and kissed me many times. We prayed to God to
bless our undertaking and parted with glad hearts. I also hoped
for the best. Doubts assail me, but God will find for us some
light in this darkness.
Two more new witnesses. They bring nothing good, I fear, for Bruus
announced them with an expression I did not like. He has a heart
of stone, which can feel nothing but malice and bitterness. I give
them a hearing to-morrow. I feel as if they had come to bear
witness against me myself. May God strengthen my heart.
All is over. He has confessed.
The court was in session and the prisoner had been brought in to
hear the testimony of the new witnesses. These men stated as
follows: On the night in question they were walking along the path
that led between the woods and the rectory garden. A man with a
large sack on his back came out of the woods and walked ahead of
them toward the garden. They could not see his face, but in the
bright moonlight his figure was clearly visible, and they could see
that he wore a loose green garment, like a dressing gown, and a
white nightcap. The man disappeared through an opening in the
rectory garden fence.
Scarcely had the first witness ended his statement when the rector
turned ghastly pale, and gasped, in a voice that could scarcely be
heard, "I am ill." They gave him a chair.
Bruus turned to his neighbor and exclaimed audibly, "That helped
the rector's memory."
The prisoner did not hear the words, but motioned to me and said,
"Lead me back to my prison. I will talk to you there." They did
as he demanded.
We set out at once for Grenaa. The rector was in the wagon with
the jailer and the gendarme, and I rode beside them.
When the door of the cell was opened my beloved was making up her
father's bed, and over a chair by the bedside hung the fatal green
dressing gown. My dear betrothed greeted me with a cry of joy, as
she believed that I was come to set her father free. She hung
about the old man's neck, kissing away the tears that rolled
unhindered down his cheeks. I had not the heart to undeceive her,
and I sent her out into the town to buy some things for us.
"Sit down, dear friend," said the rector, when we were alone. He
seated himself on the bed, staring at the ground with eyes that did
not see. Finally he turned toward me where I sat trembling, as if
it were my own sentence I was to hear, as in a manner it was. "I
am a great sinner," he sighed, "God only knows how great. His
punishment crushes me here that I may enter into His mercy
He grew gradually calmer and began:
"Since my childhood I have been hot-tempered and violent. I could
never endure contradiction, and was always ready to give a blow.
But I have seldom let the sun go down upon my wrath, and I have
never borne hatred toward any man. As a half-grown boy I killed
our good, kind watchdog in one of my fits of rage for some trifling
offense, and I have never ceased to regret it. Later, as a student
in Leipzig, I let myself be carried away sufficiently to wound
seriously my adversary in one of our fencing bouts. A merciful
fate alone saved me from becoming a murderer then. It is for these
earlier sins that I am now being punished, but the punishment falls
doubly hard, now that I am an old man, a priest, a servant of the
Lord of Peace, and a father! Ah, that is the deepest wound!" He
sprang up and wrung his hands in deep despair. I would have said
something to comfort him, but I could find no words for such
When he had controlled himself somewhat he sat down again and
continued: "To you, once my friend and now my judge, I will confess
this crime, which it seems beyond a doubt that I have committed,
although I am not conscious of having done so." (I was startled at
this, as I had expected a remorseful confession.) "Listen well to
what I shall now tell you. That I struck the unfortunate man with
the spade, that he fell down and then ran away, this is all that I
know with full consciousness. . . . What followed then? Four
witnesses have seen that I fetched the body and buried it in my
garden—and now at last I am forced to believe that it must be
true. These are my reasons for the belief. "Three or four times
in my life I have walked in my sleep. The last time—it may have
been nine or ten years ago—I was to have held a funeral service on
the following day, over the body of a man who had died a sudden and
terrible death. I could not find a suitable text, until suddenly
there came to me the words of an old Greek philosopher, 'Call no
man fortunate until his death.' It was in my mind that the same
idea was expressed in different words in the Holy Scriptures. I
sought and sought, but could not find it. At last I went to bed
much fatigued, and slept soundly. Next morning, when I sat down at
my desk, to my great astonishment I saw there a piece of paper, on
which was written, 'Call no man happy until his end hath come'
(Sirach xi. 34), and following it was a funeral sermon, short, but
as good in construction as any I have ever written. And all this
was in my own handwriting. It was quite out of the question that
anyone could have entered the room during the night, as I had
locked it myself, and it had not been opened until I entered next
day. I knew what had happened, as I could remember one or two such
occurrences in my life before.
"Therefore, dear friend, when the last witnesses gave their
testimony to-day, I suddenly remembered my sleepwalking exploits,
and I also remembered, what had slipped my mind before, that on the
morning after the night the body was buried I had found my dressing
gown in the hall outside of my bedroom. This had surprised me, as
I always hung it over a chair near my bed. The unfortunate victim
of my violence must have died in the woods from his wound, and in
my dream consciousness I must have seen this and gone to fetch the
body. It must be so. I know no other explanation. God have mercy
on my sinful soul." He was silent again, covering his face with
his hands and weeping bitterly.
I was struck dumb with astonishment and uncertainty. I had always
suspected that the victim had died on the spot where he was buried,
although I could not quite understand how the rector had managed to
bury the body by day without being seen. But I thought that he
might have covered it lightly with earth and twigs and finished his
work at night. He was a man of sufficient strength of mind to have
done this. When the latest witnesses were telling their story, I
noted the possible contradiction, and hoped it might prove a
loophole of escape. But, alas, it was all only too true, and the
guilt of the rector proven beyond a doubt. It was not at all
impossible for a man to do such things in his sleep. Just as it
was quite possible that a man with a fractured skull could run some
distance before he fell to die. The rector's story bore the stamp
of truth, although the doubt WILL come that he desired thus to save
a shred of honor for his name.
The prisoner walked up and down the room several times, then
stopping before me he said gravely: "You have now heard my
confession, here in my prison walls. It is your mouth that must
speak my sentence. But what says your heart?"
I could scarcely utter the words, "My heart suffers beyond
expression. I would willingly see it break if I could but save you
from a shameful death." (I dared not mention to him my last hope
of escape in flight.)
"That is impossible," he answered. "My life is forfeited. My
death is just, and shall serve as a warning to others. But promise
me that you will not desert my poor daughter. I had thought to lay
her in your arms"—tears choked his voice—"but, alas, that fond
hope is vanished. You cannot marry the daughter of a sentenced
murderer. But promise me that you will watch over her as her
second father." In deep sorrow and in tears I held his hand in
mine. "Have you any news from my son?" he began again. "I hope it
will be possible to keep him in ignorance of this terrible affair
until—until it is all over. I could not bear to see him now. And
now, dear friend, let us part, not to meet again except in the hall
of justice. Grant me of your friendship one last service, let it
end soon. I long for death. Go now, my kind, sympathetic judge.
Send for me to-morrow to speak my sentence, and send to-day for my
brother in God, the pastor in Aalso. He shall prepare me for
death. God be with you."
He gave me his hand with his eyes averted. I staggered from the
prison, hardly conscious of what I was doing. I would have ridden
home without seeing his daughter had she not met me by the prison
door. She must have seen the truth in my face, for she paled and
caught at my arm. She gazed at me with her soul in her eyes, but
could not speak. "Flee! Save your father in flight!" was all I
I set spurs to my horse and rode home somehow.
The sentence is spoken.
The accused was calmer than the judge. All those present, except
his bitter enemy, were affected almost to tears. Some whispered
that the punishment was too severe.
May God be a milder judge to me than I, poor sinner, am forced to
be to my fellow men.
She has been here. She found me ill in bed. There is no escape
possible. He will not flee. Everything was arranged and the
jailer was ready to help. But he refuses, he longs for death. God
be merciful to the poor girl. How will she survive the terrible
day? I am ill in body and soul, I can neither aid nor comfort her.
There is no word from the brother.
I feel that I am near death myself, as near perhaps as he is, whom
I sent to his doom. Farewell, my own beloved bride. . . . What
will she do? she is so strangely calm—the calm of wordless
despair. Her brother has not yet come, and to-morrow—on the
Here the diary of Erik Sorensen stopped suddenly. What followed
can be learned from the written and witnessed statements of the
pastor of Aalso, the neighboring parish to Veilbye.
It was during the seventeenth year of my term of office that the
terrible event happened in the neighborhood which filled all who
heard of it with shock and horror, and brought shame and disgrace
upon our holy calling. The venerable Soren Quist, Rector of
Veilbye, killed his servant in a fit of rage and buried the body in
He was found guilty at the official trial, through the testimony of
many witnesses, as well as through his own confession. He was
condemned to death, and the sentence was carried out in the
presence of several thousand people on the little hill known as
Ravenshill, here in the field of Aalso.
The condemned man had asked that I might visit him in his prison.
I must state that I have never given the holy sacrament to a better
prepared or more truly repentant Christian. He was calm to the
last, full of remorse for his great sin. On the field of death he
spoke to the people in words of great wisdom and power, preaching
to the text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, chap. ii., verse 6:
"He hath despised the priest in the indignation of his anger." He
spoke of his violence and of its terrible results, and of his deep
remorse. He exhorted his hearers to let his sin and his fate be an
example to them, and a warning not to give way to anger. Then he
commended his soul to the Lord, removed his upper garments, bound
up his eyes with his own hand, then folded his hands in prayer.
When I had spoken the words, "Brother, be of good cheer. This day
shalt thou be with thy Saviour in Paradise," his head fell by the
The one thing that made death bitter for him was the thought of his
children. The son had been sent for from Copenhagen, but as we
afterwards learned, he had been absent from the city, and therefore
did not arrive until shortly after his father had paid the penalty
for his crime.
I took the daughter into my home, where she was brought, half
fainting, after they had led her father from the prison. She had
been tending him lovingly all the days of his trial. What made
even greater sorrow for the poor girl, and for the district judge
who spoke the sentence, was that these two young people had
solemnly plighted their troth but a few short weeks before, in the
rectory of Veilbye. The son arrived just as the body of the
executed criminal was brought into my house. It had been permitted
to us to bury the body with Christian rites, if we could do it in
secret. The young man threw himself over the lifeless body. Then,
clasping his sister in his arms, the two wept together in silence
for some while. At midnight we held a quiet service over the
remains of the Rector of Veilbye, and the body was buried near the
door of Aalso church. A simple stone, upon which I have carved a
cross, still stands to remind the passer-by of the sin of a most
The next morning his two children had disappeared. They have never
been heard of since. God knows to what far-away corner of the
world they have fled, to hide their shame and their sorrow. The
district judge is very ill, and it is not believed that he will
May God deal with us all after His wisdom and His mercy!
O Lord, inscrutable are thy ways!
In the thirty-eighth year of my service, and twenty-one years after
my unfortunate brother in office, the Rector of Veilbye had been
beheaded for the murder of his servant, it happened one day that a
beggar came to my door. He was an elderly man, with gray hair, and
walked with a crutch. He looked sad and needy. None of the
servants were about, so I myself went into the kitchen and gave him
a piece of bread. I asked him where he came from. He sighed and
"From nowhere in particular."
Then I asked him his name. He sighed still deeper, looked about
him as if in fear, and said, "They once called me Niels Bruus."
I was startled, and said, "God have mercy on us! That is a bad
name. That is the name of a man who was killed many years back."
Whereat the man sighed still deeper and replied: "It would have
been better for me had I died then. It has gone ill with me since
I left the country."
At this the hair rose on my head, and I trembled in every limb.
For it seemed to me that I could recognize him, and also it seemed
to me that I saw Morten Bruus before me in the flesh, and yet I had
laid the earth over him three years before. I stepped back and
made the sign of the cross, for verily I thought it was a ghost I
saw before me.
But the man sat down in the chimney corner and continued to speak.
"Reverend father, they tell me my brother Morten is dead. I have
been to Ingvorstrup, but the new owner chased me away. Is my old
master, the Rector of Veilbye, still alive?" Then it was that the
scales fell from my eyes and I saw into the very truth of this
whole terrible affair. But the shock stunned me so that I could
not speak. The man bit into his bread greedily and went on. "Yes,
that was all Brother Morten's fault. Did the old rector have much
trouble about it?"
"Niels! Niels!" I cried from out the horror of my soul, "you have
a monstrous black sin upon your conscience! For your sake that
unfortunate man fell by the ax of the executioner!"
The bread and the crutch fell from his hand, and he himself was
near to falling into the fire. "May God forgive you, Morten!" he
groaned. "God knows I didn't mean anything like that. May my sin
be forgiven me! But surely you only mean to frighten me! I come
from far away, and have heard nothing. No one but you, reverend
father, has recognized me. I have told my name to no one. When I
asked them in Veilbye if the rector was still there, they said that
"That is the new rector," I replied. "Not he whom you and your
sinful brother have slain."
He wrung his hands and cried aloud, and then I knew that he had
been but a tool in the hands of that devil, Morten. Therefore I
set to work to comfort him, and took him into my study that he
might calm himself sufficiently to tell me the detail of this
This was the story as he tells it: His brother Morten—truly a son
of Belial—cherished a deadly hatred toward pastor Soren Quist
since the day the latter had refused him the hand of his daughter.
As soon as he heard that the pastor's coachman had left him, he
persuaded Niels to take the place.
"Watch your chance well," he had said, "we'll play the black coat a
trick some day, and you will he no loser by it."
Niels, who was rough and defiant by nature, soon came to a quarrel
with his master, and when he had received his first chastisement,
he ran at once to Ingvorstrup to report it. "Let him strike you
just once again," said Marten. "Then come to me, and we will pay
him for it."
Then came the quarrel in the garden, and Niels ran off to
Ingvorstrup. He met his brother in the woods and told him what had
"Did anyone see you on the way here?" asked Morten
Niels thought not. "Good," said Morten; "now we'll give him a
fright that he will not forget for a week or so."
He led Niels carefully to the house, and kept him hidden there the
rest of the day. When all the household else had gone to sleep the
two brothers crept out, and went to a field where several days
before they had buried the body of a man of about Niel's age, size,
and general appearance. (He had hanged himself, some said because
of ill-treatment from Morten, in whose service he was. Others said
it was because of unhappy love.) They dug up the corpse, although
Niels did not like the work, and protested. But Morten was the
stronger, and Niels had to do as he was ordered. They carried the
body back with them into the house.
Then Niels was ordered to take off all his clothes, piece by piece,
even to his shirt, and dress the dead man in them. Even his leaden
earring, which he had worn for many years, was put in the ear of
the corpse. After this was done, Morten took a spade and gave the
head of the corpse two crashing blows, one over the nose, the other
on the temple. The body was hidden in a sack and kept in the house
during the next day. At night the day following, they carried it
out to the wood near Veilbye.
Several times Niels had asked of his brother what all this
preparation boded. But Morten answered only, "That is my affair.
Do as I tell you, and don't ask questions."
When they neared the edge of the wood by Veilbye, Morten said, "Now
fetch me one of the coats the pastor wears most. If you can, get
the green dressing gown I have often seen him wear mornings."
"I don't dare," said Niels, "he keeps it in his bed chamber."
"Well, then, I'll dare it myself," said Morten. "And now, go your
way, and never show yourself here again. Here is a bag with one
hundred thalers. They will last you until you can take service
somewhere in another country. Go where no one has ever seen you,
and take another name. Never come back to Denmark again. Travel
by night, and hide in the woods by day until you are well away from
here. Here are provisions enough to last you for several days.
And remember, never show yourself here again, as you value your
Niels obeyed, and has never seen his brother since that day. He
had had much trouble, had been a soldier and lost his health in the
war, and finally, after great trials and sufferings, had managed to
get back to the land of his birth. This was the story as told me
by the miserable man, and I could not doubt its truth.
It was now only too clear to me that my unfortunate brother in the
Lord had fallen a victim to the hatred of his fiendish enemy, to
the delusion of his judge and the witnesses, and to his own
Oh, what is man that he shall dare to sit in judgment over his
fellows! God alone is the Judge. He who gives life may alone give
I did not feel it my duty to give official information against this
crushed and broken sinner, particularly as the district judge is
still alive, and it would have been cruelty to let him know of his
Instead, I gave what comfort my office permitted to the poor man,
and recommended him not to reveal his name or tell his story to
anyone in the district. On these conditions I would give him a
home until I could arrange for a permanent refuge for him in my
brother's house, a good distance from these parts.
The day following was a Sunday. When I returned from evening
service at my branch parish, the beggar had disappeared. But by
the evening of the next day the story was known throughout the
Goaded by the pangs of conscience, Niels had gone to Rosmer and
made himself known to the judge as the true Niels Bruus. Upon the
hearing of the terrible truth, the judge was taken with a stroke
and died before the week was out. But on Tuesday morning they
found Niels Bruus dead on the grave of the late rector Soren Quist
of Veilbye, by the door of Aalso church.