A Fallen King, by Selma Lagerlof

Invisible Links

Mine was the kingdom of fancy, now I am a fallen king.

The wooden shoes clattered in uneasy measure on the pavements. The street boys hurried by. They shouted, they whistled. The houses shook, and from the courts the echo rushed out like a chained dog from his kennel.

Faces appeared behind the window-panes. Had anything happened? Was anything going on? The noise passed on towards the suburbs. The servant girls hastened after, following the street boys. They clasped their hands and screamed: "Preserve us, preserve us! Is it murder, is it fire?" No one answered. The clattering was heard far away.

After the maids came hurrying wise matrons of the town. They asked:
"What is it? What is disturbing the morning calm? Is it a wedding?
Is it a funeral? Is it a conflagration? What is the watchman doing?
Shall the town burn up before he begins to sound the alarm?"

The whole crowd stopped before the shoemaker's little house in the suburbs, the little house that had vines climbing about the doors and windows, and in front, between street and house, a yard-wide garden. Summer-houses of straw, arbors fit for a mouse, paths for a kitten. Everything in the best of order! Peas and beans, roses and lavender, a mouthful of grass, three gooseberry bushes and an apple-tree.

The street boys who stood nearest stared and consulted. Through the shining, black window-panes their glances penetrated no further than to the white lace curtains. One of the boys climbed up on the vines and pressed his face against the pane. "What do you see?" whispered the others. "What do you see?" The shoemaker's shop and the shoemaker's bench, grease-pots and bundles of leather, lasts and pegs, rings and straps. "Don't you see anybody?" He sees the apprentice, who is repairing a shoe. Nobody else, nobody else? Big, black flies crawl over the pane and make his sight uncertain. "Do you see nobody except the apprentice?" Nobody. The master's chair is empty. He looked once, twice, three times; the master's chair was empty.

The crowd stood still, guessing and wondering. So it was true; the old shoemaker had absconded. Nobody would believe it. They stood and waited for a sign. The cat came out on the steep roof. He stretched out his claws and slid down to the gutter. Yes, the master was away, the cat could hunt as he pleased. The sparrows fluttered and chirped, quite helpless.

A white chicken looked round the corner of the house. He was almost full-grown. His comb shone red as wine. He peered and spied, crowed and called. The hens came, a row of white hens at full speed, bodies rocking, wings fluttering, yellow legs like drumsticks. The hens hopped among the stacked peas. Battles began. Envy broke out. A hen fled with a full pea-pod. Two cocks pecked her in the neck. The cat left the sparrow nests to look on. Plump, there he fell down in the midst of the flock. The hens fled in a long, scurrying line. The crowd thought: "It must be true that the shoemaker has run away. One can see by the cat and the hens that the master is away."

The uneven street, muddy from the autumn rains, resounded with talk. Doors stood open, windows swung. Heads were put together in wondering whisperings. "He has run off." The people whispered, the sparrows chirped, the wooden shoes clattered: "He has run away. The old shoemaker has run away. The owner of the little house, the young wife's husband, the father of the beautiful child, he has run away. Who can understand it? who can explain it?"

There is an old song: "Old husband in the cottage; young lover in the wood; wife, who runs away, child who cries; home without a mistress." The song is old. It is often sung. Everybody understands it.

This was a new song. The old man was gone. On the workshop table lay his explanation, that he never meant to come back. Beside it a letter had also lain. The wife had read it, but no one else.

The young wife was in the kitchen. She was doing nothing. The neighbors went backwards and forwards, arranging busily, set out the cups, made up the fire, boiled the coffee, wept a little and wiped away the tears with the dish-towel.

The good women of the quarter sat stiffly about the walls. They knew what was suitable in a house of mourning. They kept silent by force, mourned by force. They celebrated their holiday by supporting the forsaken wife in her grief. Coarse hands lay quiet in their laps, weather-beaten skin lay in deep wrinkles, thin lips were pressed together over toothless jaws.

The wife sat among the bronze-hued women, gently blonde, with a sweet face like a dove. She did not weep, but she trembled. She was so afraid, that the fear was almost killing her. She bit her teeth together, so that no one should hear how they chattered. When steps were heard, when the clattering sounded, when some one spoke to her, she started up.

She sat with her husband's letter in her pocket. She thought of now one line in it and now another. There stood: "I can bear no longer to see you both." And in another place: "I know now that you and Erikson mean to elope." And again: "You shall not do that, for people's evil talk would make you unhappy. I shall disappear, so that you can get a divorce and be properly married. Erikson is a good workman and can support you well." Then farther down: "Let people say what they will about me. I am content if only they do not think any evil of you, for you could not bear it."

She did not understand it. She had not meant to deceive him. Even if she had liked to chat with the young apprentice, what had her husband to do with that? Love is an illness, but it is not mortal. She had meant to bear it through life with patience. How had her husband discovered her most secret thoughts?

She was tortured at the thought of him! He must have grieved and brooded. He had wept over his years. He had raged over the young man's strength and spirits. He had trembled at the whisperings, at the smiles, at the hand pressures. In burning madness, in glowing jealousy, he had made it into a whole elopement history, of which there was as yet nothing.

She thought how old he must have been that night when he went. His back was bent, his hands shook. The agony of many long nights had made him so. He had gone to escape that existence of passionate doubting.

She remembered other lines in the letter: "It is not my intention to destroy your character. I have always been too old for you." And then another: "You shall always be respected and honored. Only be silent, and all the shame will fall on me!"

The wife felt deeper and deeper remorse. Was it possible that people would be deceived? Would it do to lie so too before God? Why did she sit in the cottage, pitied like a mourning mother, honored like a bride on her wedding day? Why was it not she who was homeless, friendless, despised? How can such things be? How can God let himself be so deceived?

Over the great dresser hung a little bookcase. On the top shelf stood a big book with brass clasps. Behind those clasps was hidden the story of a man and a woman who lied before God and men. "Who has suggested to you, woman, to do such things? Look, young men stand outside to lead you away."

The woman stared at the book, listened for the young men's footsteps. She trembled at every knock, shuddered at every step. She was ready to stand up and confess, ready to fall down and die.

The coffee was ready. The women glided sedately forward to the table. They filled their cups, took a lump of sugar in their mouths and began to sip their boiling coffee, silently and decently, the wives of mechanics first, the scrub-women last. But the wife did not see what was going on. Remorse made her quite beside herself. She had a vision. She sat at night out in a freshly ploughed field. Round about her sat great birds with mighty wings and pointed beaks. They were gray, scarcely perceptible against the gray ground, but they held watch over her. They were passing sentence upon her. Suddenly they flew up and sank down over her head. She saw their sharp claws, their pointed beaks, their beating wings coming nearer and nearer. It was like a deadly rain of steel. She bent her head and knew that she must die. But when they came near, quite near to her, she had to look up. Then she saw that the gray birds were all these old women.

One of them began to speak. She knew what was proper, what was fitting in a house of mourning. They had now been silent long enough. But the wife started up as from a blow. What did the woman mean to say? "You, Matts Wik's wife, Anna Wik, confess! You have lied long enough before God and before us. We are your judges. We will judge you and rend you to pieces."

No, the woman began to speak of husbands. And the others chimed in, as the occasion demanded. What was said was not in the husbands' praise. All the evil husbands had done was dragged forward. It was as consolation for a deserted wife.

Injury was heaped upon injury. Strange beings these husbands! They beat us, they drink up our money, they pawn our furniture. Why on earth had Our Lord created them?

The tongues became like dragons' fangs; they spat venom, they spouted fire. Each one added her word. Anecdotes were piled upon anecdotes. A wife fled from her home before a drunken husband. Wives slaved for idle husbands. Wives were deserted for other women. The tongues whistled like whip lashes. The misery of homes was laid bare. Long litanies were read. From the tyranny of the husband deliver us, good Lord!

Illness and poverty, the children's death, the winter's cold, trouble with the old people, everything was the husband's fault. The slaves hissed at their masters. They turned their stings against them, before whose feet they crept.

The deserted wife felt how it cut and stabbed in her ears. She dared to defend the incorrigible ones. "My husband," she said, "is good." The women started up, hissed and snorted. "He has run away. He is no better than anybody else. He, who is an old man, ought to know better than to run away from wife and child. Can you believe that he is better than the others?"

The wife trembled; she felt as if she was being dragged through prickly bramble-bushes. Her husband considered a sinner! She flushed with shame, wished to speak, but was silent. She was afraid; she had not the power. But why did God keep silent? Why did God let such things be?

If she should take the letter and read it aloud, then the stream of poison would be turned. The venom would sprinkle upon her. The horror of death came over her. She did not dare. She half wished that an insolent hand had been thrust into her pocket and had drawn out the letter. She could not give herself as a prize. Within the workshop was heard a shoemaker's hammer. Did no one hear how it hammered in triumph? She had heard that hammering and had been vexed by it the whole day. But none of the women understood it. Omniscient God, hast Thou no servant who could read hearts? She would gladly accept her sentence, if only she did not need to confess. She wished to hear some one say: "Who has given you the idea to lie before God?" She listened for the sound of the young men's footsteps in order to fall down and die.


Several years after this a divorced woman was married to a shoemaker, who had been apprentice to her husband. She had not wished it, but had been drawn to it, as a pickerel is drawn to the side of a boat when it has been caught on the line. The fisherman lets it play. He lets it rush here and there. He lets it believe it is free. But when it is tired out, when it can do no more, then he drags with a light pull, then he lifts it up and jerks it down into the bottom of the boat before it knows what it is all about.

The wife of the absconded shoemaker had dismissed her apprentice and wished to live alone. She had wished to show her husband that she was innocent. But where was her husband? Did he not care for her faithfulness. She suffered want. Her child went in rags. How long did her husband think that she could wait? She was unhappy when she had no one upon whom she could depend.

Erikson succeeded. He had a shop in the town. His shoes stood on glass shelves behind broad plate-glass windows. His workshop grew. He hired an apartment and put plush furniture in the parlor. Everything waited only for her. When she was too wearied of poverty, she came.

She was very much afraid in the beginning. But no misfortunes befell her. She became more confident as time went on and more happy. She had people's regard, and knew within herself that she had not deserved it. That kept her conscience awake, so that she became a good woman.

Her first husband, after some years, came back to the house in the suburbs. It was still his, and he settled down again there and wished to begin work. But he got no work, nor would anybody have anything to do with him. He was despised, while his wife enjoyed great honor. It was nevertheless he who had done right, and she who had done wrong.

The husband kept his secret, but it almost suffocated him. He felt how he sank, because everybody considered him bad. No one had any confidence in him, no one would trust any work to him. He took what company he could get, and learned to drink.

While he was going down hill, the Salvation Army came to the town. It hired a big hall and began its work. From the very first evening all the loafers gathered at the meetings to make a disturbance. When it had gone on for about a week, Matts Wik came too to take part in the fun.

There was a crowd in the street, a crowd in the door-way. Sharp elbows and angry tongues were there; street boys and soldiers, maids and scrub-women; peaceable police and stormy rabble. The army was new and the fashion. The well-to-do and the wharf-rats, everybody went to the Salvation Army. Within, the hall was low-studded. At the farthest end was an empty platform; unpainted benches, borrowed chairs, an uneven floor, blotches on the ceiling, lamps that smoked. The iron stove in the middle of the floor gave out warmth and coal gas. All the places were filled in a moment. Nearest the platform sat the women, demure as if in church, and back of them workmen and sewing-women. Farthest away sat the boys on one another's knees, and in the door-way there was a fight among those who could not get in.

The platform was empty. The clock had not struck, the entertainment had not begun. One whistled, one laughed. The benches were kicked to pieces. "The War-cry" flew like a kite between the groups. The public were enjoying themselves.

A side-door opened. Cold air streamed into the room. The fire flamed up. There was silence. Attentive expectation filled the hall. At last they came, three young women, carrying guitars and with faces almost hidden by broad-brimmed hats. They fell on their knees as soon as they had ascended the steps of the platform.

One of them prayed aloud. She lifted her head, but closed her eyes.
Her voice cut like a knife. During the prayer there was silence.
The street-boys and loafers had not yet begun. They were waiting
for the confessions and the inspiring music.

The women settled down to their work. They sang and prayed, sang and preached. They smiled and spoke of their happiness. In front of them they had an audience of ruffians. They began to rise, they climbed upon the benches. A threatening noise passed through the throng. The women on the platform caught glimpses of dreadful faces through the smoky air. The men had wet, dirty clothes, which smelt badly. They spat tobacco every other second, swore with every word. Those women, who were to struggle with them, spoke of their happiness.

How brave that little army was! Ah, is it not beautiful to be brave? Is it not something to be proud of to have God on one's side? It was not worth while to laugh at them in their big hats. It was most probable that they would conquer the hard hands, the cruel faces, the blaspheming lips.

"Sing with us!" cried the Salvation Army soldiers; "sing with us! It is good to sing." They started a well-known melody. They struck their guitars and repeated the same verse over and over. They got one or two of those sitting nearest to join in, but now sounded down by the door a light street song. Notes struggled against notes, words against words, guitar against whistle. The women's strong, trained voices contested with the boys' hoarse falsetto, with the men's growling bass. When the street song was almost conquered, they began to stamp and whistle down by the door. The Salvation Army song sank like a wounded warrior. The noise was terrifying. The women fell on their knees.

They knelt as if powerless. Their eyes were closed. Their bodies rocked in silent pain. The noise died down. The Salvation Army captain began instantly: "Lord, all these Thou wilt make Thine own. We thank Thee, Lord, that Thou wilt lead them all into Thy host! We thank Thee, Lord, that it is granted to us to lead them to Thee!"

The crowd hissed, howled, screamed. It was as if all those throats had been tickled by a sharp knife. It was as if the people had been afraid to be won over, as if they had forgotten that they had come there of their own will.

But the woman continued, and it was her sharp, piercing voice which conquered. They had to hear.

"You shout and scream; the old serpent within you is twisting and raging. But that is just the sign. Blessings on the old serpent's roarings! It shows that he is tortured, that he is afraid. Laugh at us! Break our windows! Drive us away from the platform! To-morrow you will belong to us. We shall possess the earth. How can you withstand us? How can you withstand God?"

Then the captain commanded one of her comrades to come forward and make her confession. She came smiling. She stood brave and undaunted and told the story of her sin and her conversion to the mockers. Where had that kitchen-girl learned to stand smiling under all that scorn? Some of those who had come to scoff grew pale. Where had these women found their courage and their strength? Some one stood behind them.

The third woman stepped forward. She was a beautiful child, daughter of rich parents, with a sweet, clear voice. She did not tell of herself. Her testimony was one of the usual songs.

It was like the shadow of a victory. The audience forgot itself and listened. The child was lovely to look at, sweet to hear. But when she ceased, the noise became even more dreadful. Down by the door they built a platform of benches, climbed up and confessed.

It became worse and worse in the hall. The stove became red hot, devoured air and belched heat. The respectable women on the front benches looked about for a way to escape, but there was no possibility of getting out. The soldiers on the platform perspired and wilted. They cried and prayed for strength. Suddenly a breath came through the air, a whisper reached their ear. They knew not from where, but they felt a change. God was with them. He fought for them.

To the struggle again! The captain stepped forward and lifted the Bible over her head. Stop, stop! We feel that God is working among us. A conversion is near. Help us to pray! God will give us a soul.

They fell on their knees in silent prayer. Some in the hall joined in the prayer. All felt an intense expectation. Was it true? Was something great taking place in a fellow-creature's soul, here, in their midst? Should it be granted to them to see it? Could it be influenced by these women?

For the moment the crowd was won. They were now just as eager for a miracle as lately for blasphemy. No one dared to move. All panted from excitement, but nothing happened. "O God, Thou forsakest us! Thou forsakest us, O God!"

The beautiful salvation soldier began to sing. She chose the mildest of melodies: "Oh, my beloved, wilt Thou not come soon?"

Touching as a praying child, the song entered their souls?like a caress, like a blessing.

The crowd was silent, wrapped in those notes. "Mountains and forests long, heaven and earth languish. Man, everything in the world, thirsts that you shall open your soul to the light. Then glory will spread over the earth, then the beasts will rise up from their degradation.

"Oh, my beloved, wilt thou not come soon?"

"It is not true that thou dost linger in lofty halls. In the dark wood, in miserable hovels thou dwellest. And thou wilt not come. My bright heaven does not tempt thee.

"Oh, my beloved, wilt thou not come soon?"

In the hall more and more began to sing the burden. Voice after voice joined in. They did not rightly know what words they used. The tune was enough. All their longing could sing itself free in those tones. They sang, too, down by the door. Hearts were bursting. Wills were subdued. It no longer sounded like a pitiful lament, but strong, imperative, commanding.

"Oh, my beloved, wilt thou not come soon?"

Down by the door, in the worst of the crowd, stood Matts Wik. He looked much intoxicated, but that evening he had not drunk. He stood and thought. "If I might speak, if I might speak!"

It was the strangest room he had ever seen, the most wonderful chance. A voice seemed to say to him: "These are the rushes to which you can whisper, the waves which will bear your voice."

The singers started. It was as if they had heard a lion roar in their ears. A mighty, terrible voice spoke dreadful words.

It scoffed at God. Why did men serve God? He forsook all those who served him. He had failed his own son. God helped no one.

The voice grew louder, more like a roar every minute. No one could have believed that human lungs could have such strength. No one had ever heard such ravings burst from bruised heart. All bent their heads like wanderers in the desert, when the storm beats on them.

Terrible, terrible words! They were like thundering hammer strokes against God's throne. Against Him who had tortured Job, who had let the martyrs suffer, who let those who professed his faith burn at the stake.

A few had at first tried to laugh. Some of them had thought that it was a joke. But now they heard, quaking, that it was in earnest. Already some rose up to flee to the platform. They asked the protection of the Salvation Army from him who drew down upon them the wrath of God.

The voice asked them in hissing tones what rewards they expected for their trouble in serving God. They need not count on heaven. God was not freehanded with His heaven. A man, he said, had done more good than was needed to be blessed. He had brought greater offerings than God demanded. But then he had been tempted to sin. Life is long. He paid out his hard-earned grace already in this world. He would go the way of the damned.

The speech was the terrifying north-wind, which drives the ship into the harbor. While the scoffer spoke, women rushed up to the platform. The Salvation Army soldiers' hands were embraced and kissed; they were scarcely able to receive them all. The boys and the old men praised God.

He who spoke continued. The words intoxicated him. He said to himself: "I speak, I speak, at last I speak. I tell them my secret, and yet I do not tell them." For the first time since he made the great sacrifice he was free from care.


It was a Sunday afternoon in the height of the summer. The town looked like a desert of stones, like a moon landscape. There was not a cat to be seen, nor a sparrow, hardly a fly on the sunny wall. Not a chimney smoked. There was not a breath of air in the sultry streets. The whole was only a stony field, out of which grew stone walls.

Where were the dogs and the people? Where were the young ladies in narrow skirts and wide sleeves, long gloves and red sunshades? Where were the soldiers and the fine people, the Salvation Army and the street boys?

Whither had all those gay picnickers gone in the dewy cool of the morning, all the baskets and accordions and bottles, which the steamer landed? And what had happened to the procession of Good Templars? Banners fluttered, drums thundered, boys swarmed, stamped, and hurrahed. Or what had happened to the blue awnings under which the little ones slept while father and mother pushed them solemnly up the street.

All were on their way out to the wood. They complained of the long streets. It seemed as if the stone houses followed them. At last, at last they caught a glimpse of green. And just outside of the town, where the road wound over flat, moist fields, where the song of the lark sounded loudest, where the clover steamed with honey, there lay the first of those left behind; heads in the moss, noses in the grass. Bodies bathed in sunshine and fragrance, souls refreshed with idleness and rest.

On the way to the wood toiled bicyclists and bearers of luncheon baskets. Boys came with trowels and shiny knapsacks. Girls danced in clouds of dust. Sky and banners and children and trumpets. Mechanics and their families and crowds of laborers. The rearing horses of an omnibus waved their forelegs over the crowd. A young man, half drunk, jumped up on the wheel. He was pulled down, and lay kicking on his back in the dust of the road.

In the wood a nightingale trilled and sang, piped and gurgled. The birches were not thriving, their trunks were black. The beeches built high temples, layer upon layer of streaky green. A toad sat and took aim with its tongue. It caught a fly at every shot. A hedgehog trotted about in the dried, rustling beech leaves. Dragonflies darted about with glittering wings. The people sat down around the luncheon-baskets. The piping, chirping crickets tried to make their Sunday a glad one.

Suddenly the hedgehog disappeared, terrified he rolled himself up in his prickles. The crickets crept into the grass, quite silenced. The nightingale sang as if its throat would burst. It was guitars, guitars. The Salvation Army marched forward under the beeches. The people started up from their rest under the trees. The dancing-green and croquet-ground were deserted. The swings and merry-go-rounds had an hour's rest. Everybody followed to the Salvation Army's camp. The benches filled, and listeners sat on every hillock. The army had waxed strong and powerful. About many a fair cheek was tied the Salvation Army hat. Many a strong man wore the red shirt. There was peace and order in the crowd. Bad words did not venture to pass the lips. Oaths rumbled harmlessly behind teeth. And Matts Wik, the shoemaker, the terrible blasphemer, stood now as standard-bearer by the platform. He, too, was one of the believers. The red flag caressed his gray head.

The Salvation Army soldiers had not forgotten the old man. They had him to thank for their first victory. They had come to him in his loneliness. They washed his floor and mended his clothes. They did not refuse to associate with him. And at their meetings he was allowed to speak.

Ever since he had broken his silence he was happy. He stood no longer as an enemy of God. There was a raging power in him. He was happy when he could let it out. When souls were shaken by his lion voice, he was happy.

He spoke always of himself. He always told his own story. He described the fate of the misjudged. He spoke of sacrifices of life itself, made without a hope of reward, without acknowledgment. He disguised what he related. He told his secret and yet did not tell it.

He became a poet. He had the power of winning hearts. For his sake crowds gathered in front of the Salvation Army platform. He drew them by the fantastic images which filled his diseased brain. He captivated them with the words of affecting lament, which the oppression of his heart had taught him.

Perhaps his spirit in days of old had visited this world of death and change. Perhaps he had then been a mighty skald, skilful in playing on heartstrings. But for some evil deed he had been condemned to begin again his earthly life, to live by the work of his hands, without the knowledge of the strength of his spirit. But now his grief had broken his spirit's chains. His soul was a newly released bird. Timid and confused, but still rejoicing in its freedom, it flew onward over the old battlefields.

The wild, ignorant singer, the black thrush, which had grown among starlings, listened diffidently to the words which came to his lips. Where did he get the power to compel the crowd to listen in ecstasy to his speech? Where did he get the power to force proud men down upon their knees, wringing their hands? He trembled before he began to speak. Then a quiet confidence came over him. From the inexhaustible depths of his suffering rose ever torrents of agonized words.

Those speeches were never printed. They were hunting-cries, ringing trumpet-notes, rousing, animating, terrifying, urgent; not to capture, not to give again. They were lightning flashes and rolling thunder. They shook hearts with terrible alarms. But they were transient, never could they be caught. The cataract can be measured to its last drop, the dizzy play of foam can be painted, but not the elusive, delirious, swift, growing, mighty stream of those speeches.

That day in the wood he asked the gathering if they knew how they should serve God??as Uria served his king.

Then he, the man in the pulpit, became Uria. He rode through the desert with the letter of his king. He was alone. The solitude terrified him. His thoughts were gloomy. But he smiled when he thought of his wife. The desert became a flowering meadow when he remembered his wife. Springs gushed up from the ground at the thought of her.

His camel fell. His soul was filled with forebodings of evil. Misfortune, he thought, is a vulture, which loves the desert. He did not turn, but went onward with the king's letter. He trod upon thorns. He walked among serpents and scorpions. He thirsted and hungered. He saw caravans drag their dark length through the sands. He did not join them. He dared not seek strangers. He, who bears a royal letter, must go alone. He saw at eventide the white tents of shepherds. He was tempted, as if by his wife's smiling dwelling. He thought he saw white veils waving to him. He turned away from the tents out into solitude. Woe to him if they had stolen the letter of his king!

He hesitates when he sees searching brigands pursuing him. He thinks of the king's letter. He reads it in order to then destroy it. He reads it, and finds new courage. Stand up, warrior of Judah! He does not destroy the letter. He does not give himself up to the robbers. He fights and conquers. And so onward, onward! He bears his sentence of death through a thousand dangers. ?

It is so God's will shall be obeyed through tortures unto death. ?

While Wik spoke, his divorced wife stood and listened to him. She had gone out to the wood that morning, beaming and contented on her husband's arm, most matron-like, respectable in every fold. Her daughter and the apprentice carried the luncheon basket. The maid followed with the youngest child. There had been nothing but content, happiness, calm.

There they had lain in a thicket. They had eaten and drunk, played and laughed. Never a thought of the past! Conscience was as silent as a satisfied child. In the beginning, when her first husband had slunk half drunk by her window, she had felt a prick in her soul.

Then she had heard that he had become the idol of the Salvation Army. She was, therefore, quite calm. Now she had come to hear him. And she understood him. He was not speaking of Uria; he was telling about himself. He was writhing at the thought of his own sacrifice. He tore bits from his own heart and threw them out among the people. She knew that rider in the desert, that conqueror of brigands. And that unappeased agony stared at her like an open grave. ?

Night came. The wood was deserted. Farewell, grass and flowers! Wide heaven, a long farewell! Snakes began to crawl about the tufts of grass. Turtles crept along the paths. The wood was ugly. Everybody longed to be back in the stone desert, the moon landscape. That is the place for men.


Dame Anna Erikson invited all her old friends. The mechanics' wives from the suburbs and the poorer scrub-women came to her for a cup of coffee. The same were there who had been with her on the day of her desertion. One was new, Maria Anderson, the captain of the Salvation Army.

Anna Erikson had now been many times to the Salvation Army. She had heard her husband. He always told about himself. He disguised his story. She recognized it always. He was Abraham. He was Job. He was Jeremiah, whom the people threw into a well. He was Elisha, whom the children at the wayside reviled.

That pain seemed bottomless to her. His sorrow seemed to her to borrow all voices, to make itself masks of everything it met. She did not understand that her husband talked himself well, that pleasure in his power of fancy played and smiled in him.

She had dragged her daughter with her. The daughter had not wished to go. She was serious, modest, and conscientious. Nothing of youth played in her veins. She was born old.

She had grown up in shame of her father. She walked upright, austere, as if saying: "Look, the daughter of a man who is despised! Look if my dress is soiled! Is there anything to blame in my conduct?" Her mother was proud of her. Yet sometimes she sighed. "Alas! if my daughter's hands were less white, perhaps her caresses would be warmer!"

The girl sat scornfully smiling. She despised theatricals. When her father rose up to speak, she wished to go. Her mother's hand seized hers, fast as a vice. The girl sat still. The torrent of words began to roar over her. But that which spoke to her was not so much the words as her mother's hand.

That hand writhed, convulsions passed through it. It lay in hers limp, as if dead; it caught wildly about, hot with fever. Her mother's face betrayed nothing; only her hand suffered and struggled.

The old speaker described the martyrdom of silence. The friend of Jesus lay ill. His sisters sent a message to him; but his time had not come. For the sake of God's kingdom Lazarus must die.

He now let all doubting, all slander be heaped upon Christ. He described his suffering. His own compassion tortured him. He passed through the agony of death, he as well as Lazarus. Still he had to keep silence.

Only one word had he needed to say to win back the respect of his friends. He was silent. He had to hear the lamentations of the sisters. He told them the truth in words which they did not understand. Enemies mocked at him.

And so on always more and more affecting.

Anna Erikson's hand still lay in that of her daughter. It confessed and acknowledged: "The man there bears the martyr's crown of silence. He is wrongly accused. With a word he could set himself free."

The girl followed her mother home. They went in silence. The girl's face was like stone. She was pondering, searching for everything which memory could tell her. Her mother looked anxiously at her. What did she know?

The next day Anna Erikson had her coffee party. The talk turned on the day's market, on the price of wooden shoes, on pilfering maids. The women chatted and laughed. They poured their coffee into the saucer. They were mild and unconcerned. Anna Erikson could not understand why she had been afraid of them, why she had always believed that they would judge her.

When they were provided with their second cup, when they sat delighted with the coffee trembling on the edge of their cups, and their saucers were filled with bread, she began to speak. Her words were a little solemn, but her voice was calm.

"Young people are imprudent. A girl who marries without thinking seriously of what she is doing can come to great grief. Who has met with worse than I?"

They all knew it. They had been with her and had mourned with her.

"Young people are imprudent. One holds one's tongue when one ought to speak, for shame's sake. One dares not to speak for fear of what people will say. He who has not spoken at the right time may have to repent it a whole lifetime."

They all believed that this was true.

She had heard Wik yesterday as well as many times before. Now she must tell them all something about him. An aching pain came over her when she thought of what he had suffered for her sake. Still she thought that he, who had been old, ought to have had more sense than to take her, a young girl, for his wife.

"I did not dare to say it in my youth. But he went away from me out of pity, for he thought that I wanted to have Erikson. I have his letter about it."

She read the letter aloud for them. A tear glided demurely down her cheek.

"He had seen falsely in his jealousy. Between Erikson and me there was nothing then. It was four years before we were married; but I will say it now, for Wik is too good to be misjudged. He did not run away from wife and child from light motives, but with good intention. I want this to be known everywhere. Captain Anderson will perhaps read the letter aloud at the meeting. I wish Wik to be redressed. I know, too, that I have been silent too long, but one does not like to give up everything for a drunkard. Now it is another matter."

The women sat as if turned to stone. Anna Erikson, her voice trembling a little, said with a faint smile,?

"Now perhaps you will never care to come to see me again?"

"Oh, yes indeed! You were so young! It was nothing which you could help.?It was his fault for having such ideas."

She smiled. These were the hard beaks which would have torn her to pieces. The truth was not dangerous nor lying either. The young men were not waiting outside her door.

Did she know or did she not know that her eldest daughter had that very morning left her home and had gone to her father?


The sacrifice which Matts Wik had made to save his wife's honor became known. He was admired; he was derided. His letter was read aloud at the meeting. Some of those present wept with emotion. People came and pressed his hands on the street. His daughter moved to his house.

For several evenings after he was silent at the meetings. He felt no inspiration. At last they asked him to speak. He mounted the platform, folded his hands together and began.

When he had said a couple of words he stopped, confused. He did not recognize his own voice. Where was the lion's roar? Where the raging north wind? And where the torrent of words? He did not understand, could not understand.

He staggered back. "I cannot," he muttered. "God gives me no strength to speak yet." He sat down on a bench and buried his head in his hands. He gathered all his powers of thought to discover first what he wanted to talk about. Did he have to consider so in the old days? Could he consider now? His head whirled.

Perhaps it would go if he should stand up again, place himself where he was accustomed to stand, and begin with his usual prayer. He tried. His face turned ashy-gray. All glances were turned towards him. A cold sweat trickled down his forehead. He found not a word on his lips.

He sat down in his place and wept, moaning heavily. The gift was taken from him. He tried to speak, tried silently to himself. What should he talk about. His sorrow was taken from him. He had nothing to say to people which he was not allowed to tell them. He had no secret to disguise. He did not need to romance. Romance left him.

It was the agony of death; it was a struggle for life. He wished to hold fast that which was already gone. He wished to have his grief again in order to be able again to speak. His grief was gone; he could not get it back.

He staggered forward like a drunken man to the platform again and again: He stammered out a few meaningless words. He repeated like a lesson learned by heart what he had heard others say. He tried to imitate himself. He looked for devotion in the glances, for trembling silence, quickening breaths. He perceived nothing. That which had been his joy was taken from him.

He sank back into the darkness. He cursed, that he by his discourse had converted his wife and daughter. He had possessed the most precious of gifts and lost it. His pain was extreme.?But it is not by such grief that genius lives.

He was a painter without hands, a singer who had lost his voice. He had only spoken of his sorrow. What should he speak of now?

He prayed: "O God, when honor is dumb, and misjudgment speaks, give me back misjudgment! When happiness is dumb, but sorrow speaks, give me back sorrow!"

But the crown was taken from him. He sat there, more miserable than the most miserable, for he had been cast down from the heights of life. He was a fallen king.