Downie, by Selma Lagerlof
I think I can see them as they drive away. Quite distinctly I can
see his stiff, silk hat with its broad, curving brim, such as they
had in the forties, his light waistcoat and his stock. I also see
his handsome, clean-shaven face with its small, small whiskers, his
high stiff collar, and the graceful dignity of his slightest
movement. He is sitting on the right in the chaise and is just
taking up the reins, and beside him is sitting that little woman.
God bless her! I see her even more distinctly. Like a picture I
have before me that narrow, little face, and the hat that frames
it, tied under the chin, the dark-brown, smoothly combed hair, and
the big shawl with the embroidered silk flowers. The chaise in
which they are driving has a seat with a green, fluted back, and of
course the innkeeper's horse which is to take them the first six
miles is a little fat sorrel.
I lost my heart to her from the very first moment. There is no
sense in it, for she is the most insignificant little person; but I
was won by seeing all the eyes that followed her when she drove
away. In the first place, I see how her father and mother look
after her from where they stand in the doorway of the baker's shop.
Her father even has tears in his eyes, but her mother has no time
to weep yet. She must use her eyes to look at her daughter as long
as the latter can wave and nod to her. And then of course there are
merry greetings from the children in the little street and roguish
glances from all the pretty, little factory girls from behind
windows and doors, and dreamy looks from some of the young salesmen
and apprentices. But all nod good-will and god-speed to her. And
then there are anxious glances from some poor, old women, who come
out and curtsey and take off their spectacles to be able to see her
as she drives by in state. But I cannot see a single unfriendly
look following her; no, not in the whole length of the street.
When she is out of sight, her father wipes the tears from his eyes
with his sleeve.
"Don't be sad now, mother!" he says. "You will see that she will
come out all right. Downie will manage, mother, even if she is so
"Father," says the mother with great emphasis, "you speak in a
strange way. Why should Anne-Marie not be able to manage it? She is
as good as anybody."
"Of course she is, mother; but still, mother, still—I would not
be in her shoes, nor go where she is going. No, that I would not!"
"Well, and what good would that do, you ugly old baker!" says
mother, who sees that he is so uneasy about the girl that he needs
to be cheered with a little joke. And father laughs, for he does
that as easily as he cries. And then the old people go back into
In the meantime Downie, the little silken flower, is in very good
spirits as she drives along the road. A little afraid of her
betrothed, perhaps; but in her heart Downie is a little afraid of
everybody, and that is a great help to her, for on account of it
every one tries to show her that they are not dangerous.
Never has she had such respect for Maurits as to-day. Now that they
have left the back street, and all her friends are behind them, it
seems to her that Maurits really grows to something big. His hat
and collar and whiskers stiffen, and the bow of his necktie swells.
His voice grows thick in his throat, and he speaks with difficulty.
She feels a little depressed by it, but it is splendid to see
Maurits so impressive.
Maurits is so clever; he has so much advice to give!—it is hard to
believe—but Maurits talks only sense the whole way. But that is
just like Maurits. He asks her if she understands clearly what this
journey means to him. Does she think it is only a pleasure trip
along the country road? Thirty miles in a good chaise with her
betrothed by her side did seem quite like a pleasure trip, and a
beautiful place to drive to, a rich uncle to visit—perhaps she
has thought that it was only for amusement?
Fancy if he knew that she had prepared herself for this journey by
a long conference with her mother before they went to bed; and by a
long succession of anxious dreams through the night, and with
prayers, and with tears! But she pretends to be stupid, in order to
get more enjoyment out of Maurits's wisdom. He likes to show it,
and she is glad to let him.
"The real trouble is that you are so sweet," says Maurits; for that
was how he had come to care for her, and it was really very stupid
of him. His father was not at all in favor of it. And his mother!
He hardly dared to think of what a fuss she had made when Maurits
had informed her that he had engaged himself to a poor girl from a
back street—a girl who had no education, no accomplishments, and
who was not even pretty; only sweet.
In Maurits's eyes, of course, the daughter of a baker was just as
good as the son of a burgomaster, but every one did not have such
liberal views as he. If Maurits had not had his rich uncle, it
could never have come to anything; for he was only a student, and
had nothing to marry on. But if they now could win his uncle over
their way was clear.
I see them so plainly as they drive along the road. She looks a
little unhappy as she listens to his wisdom. But she is content in
her thoughts! How sensible Maurits is! And when he speaks of the
sacrifices he is making for her, it is only his way of saying how
much he cares for her.
And if she had expected that alone together on such a beautiful day
he perhaps might be not quite the same as when they sat at home
with her mother—but that would not have been right of Maurits.
She is proud of him.
He is telling her what kind of a man his uncle is. If he will
befriend them their fortune is made. Uncle Theodore is incredibly
rich. He owns eleven smelting-furnaces, and farms and houses
besides, and mines and stocks. To all these Maurits is the proper
heir. But Uncle Theodore is a little uncertain to have to do with
when it concerns any one he does not like. If he is not pleased
with Maurits's wife, he can will away everything.
The little face grows paler and smaller, but Maurits only stiffens
and swells. There is not much chance of Anne-Marie's turning his
uncle's head as she did his. His uncle is quite a different kind of
man. His taste—well, Maurits does not think much of his taste
but he thinks that it would be something loud-voiced, something
flashing and red which would strike Uncle. Besides, he is a
confirmed old bachelor—thinks women are only a bother. The most
important thing is that he shall not dislike her too much. Maurits
will take care of the rest. But she must not be silly. Is she
crying—! Oh, if she does not look better by the time they arrive,
Uncle will send them off inside of a minute. She is glad for their
sakes that Uncle is not as clever as Maurits. She hopes it is no
sin against Maurits to think that it is good that Uncle is quite a
different sort of person. For fancy, if Maurits had been Uncle, and
two poor young people had come driving to him to get aid in life;
then Maurits, who is so sensible, would certainly have begged them
to return whence they came, and wait to get married until they had
something to marry on.
Uncle, however, was decidedly terrifying in his own way. He drank,
and gave great parties, where everybody was very lively, and he did
not at all understand how to manage his affairs. He must know that
every one cheated him, but he was none the less cheerful. And
heedless!—the burgomaster had sent by Maurits some shares in an
undertaking that was not prosperous; but Uncle would buy them of
him, Maurits had said. Uncle did not care where he threw his money
away. He had stood in town in the market-place and tossed silver to
the street boys. Playing away a couple of thousand crowns in a
single night, or lighting his pipe with ten-crown notes, were among
the things Uncle did.
Thus they drove on, and thus they talked while they were driving.
They arrived toward evening. Uncle's "residence," as he called it,
did not stand by the ironworks. It lay far from all smoke and
hammering, on the slope of the mountain, looking over a wide view
of lakes and long hills. It was a stately building, with wooded
lawns and groves of birches round about it, but few cultivated
fields, for the place was a pleasure palace, not a farm.
The young people drove up an avenue lined with birches and elms.
Then they drove between two low, thick rows of hedges and were
about to turn up to the house.
But just where the road turned, a triumphal arch was raised, and
there stood Uncle with his dependents to greet them. Downie never
could have believed that Maurits would have prepared such a
reception for her. Her heart grew light, and she seized his hand
and pressed it in gratitude. More she could not do then, for they
were just under the arch.
And there he stood, the well-known man, the ironmaster, Theodore
Fristeat, big and black-bearded, and beaming with good-will. He
waved his hat and shouted hurrah, and all the people shouted
hurrah, and tears rose in Anne-Marie's eyes, although she was
smiling. And of course they all had to like her from the very first
moment, if only for her way of looking at Maurits. For she thought
that they were all there for his sake, and she had to turn her eyes
away from the whole spectacle to look at him, as he took off his
hat with a sweep and bowed so beautifully and royally. Oh, such a
look as she gave him! Uncle Theodore almost left off hurrahing and
felt like swearing when he saw it.
No, she wished no harm to any one on earth, but if the estate
really had been Maurits's, it would have been very suitable. It
was most impressive to see him, as he stood on the steps of the
porch and turned to the people to thank them. The ironmaster was
stately too, but what was his manner compared to Maurits's. He only
helped her down from the carriage, and took her shawl and hat like
a footman, while Maurits lifted his hat from his white brow and
said: "Thank you, my children!" No, the ironmaster certainly had no
manners; for as he profited by his rights as an uncle and took her
in his arms, he noticed that she managed to look at Maurits while
he was kissing her, and he swore, really swore quite fiercely.
Downie was not accustomed to find any one disagreeable, but it
certainly would be no easy task to please Uncle Theodore.
"To-morrow," says uncle, "there will be a big dinner here, and a
ball, but to-day you young people must rest after your journey. Now
we will eat our supper, and then we will go to bed."
They are escorted into a drawing-room, and there they are left
alone. The ironmaster rushes out like a wind which is afraid of
being shut in. Five minutes later he is rolling down the avenue in
his big carriage, and the coachman is driving so that the horses
seem to be lying along the ground. After another five minutes uncle
is there again, and now an old lady is sitting beside him in the
And in he comes, with a kind, talkative old lady on his arm. And
she takes Anne-Marie and embraces her, but Maurits she greets more
stiffly. No one can take any liberties with Maurits.
However, Anne-Marie is very glad that this pleasant old lady has
come. She and the ironmaster have such a merry way of joking with
But when they have said good-night and Anne-Marie has come into her
little room, something too tiresome and provoking happens.
Uncle and Maurits are walking in the garden, and she knows that
Maurits is unfolding his plans for the future. Uncle does not seem
to be saying anything at all; he is only walking and striking the
blades of grass with his stick. But Maurits will persuade him fast
enough that the best thing for him to do is to give Maurits a
position as manager of one of his steel-works, if he does not care
to give him the works outright. Maurits has grown so practical
since he has been in love. He often says: "Is it not best for me,
who am to be a great landowner, to make myself familiar with it
all? What is the use of taking my bar examinations?"
They are walking directly under the window and nothing prevents
them from seeing that she is sitting there; but as they do not mind
it, no one can ask that she shall not hear what they are saying. It
is really just as much her affair as it is Maurits's.
Then Uncle Theodore suddenly stops and he looks angry. He looks
quite furious, she thinks, and she almost calls to Maurits to take
care. But it is too late, for Uncle Theodore has seized Maurits,
crushed his ruffle, and is shaking him till he twists like an eel.
Then he slings him from him with such force that Maurits staggers
backwards any! would have fallen if he had not found support in a
tree trunk. And there Maurits stands and gasps "What?" Yes, what
else should he say?
Ah, never has she admired Maurits's self-control so much! He does
not throw himself upon Uncle Theodore and fight him. He only looks
calmly superior, merely innocently surprised. She understands that
he controls himself so that the journey may not be for nothing. He
is thinking of her, and is controlling himself.
Poor Maurits! it seems that his uncle is angry with him on her
account. He asks if Maurits does not know that his uncle is a
bachelor when he brings his betrothed here without bringing her
mother with him. Her mother! Downie is offended in Maurits's
behalf. It was her mother who had excused herself and said that she
could not leave the bakery. Maurits answers so too, but his uncle
will accept no excuses.—Well, his mother, then; she could have
done her son that service. Yes, if she had been too haughty they
had better have stayed where they were. What would they have done
if his old lady had not been able to come? And how could a
betrothed couple travel alone through the country?—Really,
Maurits was not dangerous. No, that he had never believed, but
people's tongues are dangerous.—Well, and finally it was that
chaise! Had Maurits ferreted out the most ridiculous vehicle in the
whole town? To let that child shake thirty miles in a chaise, and
to let him raise a triumphal arch for a chaise!—He would like to
shake him again! To let his uncle shout hurrah for a tip-cart! He
was getting too unreasonable. How she admired Maurits for being so
calm! She would like to join in the game and defend Maurits, but
she does not believe that he would like it.
And before she goes to sleep, she lies and thinks out everything
she would have said to defend Maurits. Then she falls asleep and
starts up again, and in her ears rings an old saying:—
"A dog stood on a mountain-top,
He barked aloud and would not stop.
His name was you, His name was I,
His name was all in Earth and Sky.
What was his name?
His name was why."
The saying had irritated her many a time. Oh, how stupid she had
thought the dog was! But now half asleep, she confuses the dog
"What" with Maurits and she thinks that the dog has his white
forehead. Then she laughs. She laughs as easily as she cries. She
has inherited that from her father.
How has "it" come? That which she dares not call by name?
"It" has come like the dew to the grass, like the color to the
rose, like the sweetness to the berry, imperceptibly and gently
without announcing itself beforehand.
It is also no matter how "it" came or what "it" is. Were it good or
evil, fair or foul, still it is forbidden; that which never ought
to exist. "It" makes her anxious, sinful, unhappy.
"It" is that of which she never wishes to think. "It" is what shall
be torn away and thrown out; and yet it is nothing that can be
seized and caught. She shuts her heart to "it," but it comes in
just the same. "It" turns back the blood in her veins and flows
there, drives the thoughts from her brain and reigns there, dances
through her nerves and trembles in her finger-tips. It is
everywhere in her, so that if she had been able to take away
everything else of which her body consisted and to have left "it"
behind, there would remain a complete impression of her. And yet
"it" was nothing.
She wishes never to think of "it," and yet she has to think of "it"
constantly. How has she become so wicked? And then she searches and
wonders how "it" came.
Ah Downie! How tender are our souls, and how easily awakened are
She was sure that "it" had not come at breakfast, surely not at
Then she had only been frightened and shy. She had been so
terrified when she came down to breakfast and found no Maurits,
only Uncle Theodore and the old lady.
It had been a clever idea of Maurits to go hunting; although it was
impossible to discover what he was hunting in midsummer, as the old
lady remarked. But he knew of course that it was wise to keep away
from his uncle for a few hours until the latter became calm again.
He could not know that she was so shy, nor that she had almost
fainted when she had found him gone and herself left alone with
uncle and the old lady. Maurits had never been shy. He did not know
what torture it is.
That breakfast, that breakfast! Uncle had as a beginning asked the
old lady if she had heard the story of Sigrid the beautiful. He did
not ask Downie, neither would she have been able to answer. The old
lady knew the story well, but he told it just the same. Then Anne-Marie
remembered that Maurits had laughed at his uncle because in all his
house he only had two books, and those were Afzelius' "Fairy Tales"
and Nösselt's "Popular Stories for Ladies." "But those he knows,"
Maurits had said.
Anne-Marie had found the story pretty. She liked it when Bengt
Lagman had pearls sewn on the breadth of homespun. She saw Maurits
before her; how royally proud he would have looked when ordering
the pearls! That was just the sort of thing Maurits would have done
But when uncle had come to that part of the story where Bengt
Lagman went into the woods to avoid the meeting with his angry
brother, and instead let his young wife meet the storm, then it
became so plain that uncle understood Maurits had gone hunting to
escape his wrath and that he knew how she thought to win him over.
—Yes, yesterday, then they had been able to make plans, Maurits
and she, how she should coquet with uncle, but to-day she had no
thought of carrying them out. Oh, she had never behaved so
foolishly! Every drop of blood streamed into her face, and her
knife and fork fell with a terrible clatter out of her hands down
on her plate.
But Uncle Theodore had shown no mercy and had gone on with the
story until he came to that princely speech: "Had my brother not
done it, I would have done it myself." He said it with such a
strange emphasis that she was forced to look up and to meet his
laughing brown eyes.
And when he saw the trouble staring from her eyes, he began to
laugh like a boy. "What do you think," he cried, "Bengt Lagman
thought when he came home and heard that 'Had my brother?' I think
he stopped at home the next time."
Tears rose to Downie's eyes, and when Uncle saw that he laughed
louder. "Yes, it is a fine partisan my nephew has chosen," he
seemed to say, "You are not playing your part, my little girl." And
every time she had looked at him the brown eyes had repeated: "Had
my brother not done it, I would have done it myself." Downie was
not quite sure that the eyes did not say "nephew." And fancy how
she behaved. She began to cry, and rushed from the room.
But it was not then that "it" came, nor during the walk of the
Then she was occupied with something quite different. Then she was
overcome with pleasure at the beautiful place and that nature was
so wonderfully near. She felt as if she had found again something
she had lost long, long ago.
People thought she was a city girl. But she had become a country
lass as soon as she put her foot on the sandy path. She felt
instantly that she belonged to the country.
As soon as she had calmed down a little she had ventured out by
herself to inspect the place. She had looked about her on the lawn
in front of the door. Then she suddenly began to whirl about; she
hung her hat on her arm and threw her shawl away. She drew the air
into her lungs so that her nostrils were drawn together and whistled.
Oh, how brave she felt!
She made a few attempts to go quietly and sedately down to the
garden, but that was not what attracted her. Turning off to one
side, she started towards the big groups of barns and out-houses.
She met a farm-girl and said a few words to her. She was surprised
to hear how brisk her own voice sounded; it was like an officer at
the front. And she felt how smart she looked when, with head
proudly raised and a little on one side, moving with a quick, free
motion and with a little switch in her hand, she entered the barn.
It was not, however, what she had expected. No long rows of horned
creatures were there to impress her, for they were all out at
pasture. A single calf stood in its pen and seemed to expect her to
do something for him. She went up to him, raised herself on tiptoe,
held her dress together with one hand and touched the calf's
forehead with the finger-tips of the other.
As the calf still did not seem to think that she had done enough
and stretched out his long tongue, she graciously let him lick her
little finger. She could not resist looking about her, as if to
find some one to admire her bravery. And she discovered that Uncle
Theodore stood at the barn-door and laughed at her.
Then he had gone with her on her walk. But "it" did not come then,
not then at all. It had only wonderfully come to pass that she was
no longer afraid of Uncle Theodore. He was like her mother; he
seemed to know all her faults and weaknesses, and it was so
comfortable. She did not need to show herself better than she was.
Uncle Theodore wished to take her to the garden and to the terraces
by the pond, but that was not to her mind. She wished to know what
there could be in all those big buildings.
So he went patiently with her to the dairy and to the ice-house; to
the wine-cellar and to the potato bins. He took the things in
order, and showed her the larder, and the wood shed, and the
carriage-house, and the laundry. Then he led her through the stable
of the draught-horses, and that of the carriage horses; let her see
the harness-room and the servants' rooms; the laborers' cottages
and the wood-carving room. She became a little confused by all the
different rooms that Uncle Theodore had considered necessary to
establish on his estate; but her heart was glowing with enthusiasm
at the thought of how splendid it must be to have all that to rule
over. So she was not tired, although they walked through the sheep-houses
and the piggeries, and looked in at the hens and the rabbits. She
faithfully examined the weaving-rooms and the dairies, the smoke-house
and the smithy, all with growing enthusiasm. Then they visited the
big lofts; drying-rooms for the clothes and drying-rooms for the
wood; hay-lofts, and lofts for dried leaves for the sheep to eat.
The dormant housewife in her awoke to life and consciousness at all
this perfection. But most of all, she was moved by the great
brewhouse and the two neat bakeries with the wide oven and the big
"Mother ought to see that," she said.
In the bakehouse they had sat down and rested, and she had told of
her home. He was already like a friend, although his brown eyes
laughed at everything she said.
At home everything was so quiet; no life, no variety. She had been
a delicate child, and her parents had watched over her on account
of it, and let her do nothing. It was only as play that she was
allowed to help in the baking and in the shop. Somehow she came to
tell him that her father called her Downie. She had also said:
"Everybody spoils me at home except Maurits, and that is why I like
him so much. He is so sensible with me! He never calls me Downie;
only Anne-Marie. Maurits is so admirable."
Oh, how it had danced and laughed in uncle's eyes! She could have
struck him with her switch. She repeated almost with a sob:
"Maurits is so admirable."
"Yes, I know, I know," Uncle had answered. "He is going to be my
heir." Whereupon she had cried: "Ah; Uncle Theodore, why do you not
marry? Think how happy any one would be to be mistress of such an
"How would it be then with Maurits's inheritance?" uncle had asked
Then she had been silent for a long while, for she could not say to
Uncle that she and Maurits did not ask for the inheritance, for
that was just what they did do. She wondered if it was very ugly
for them to do so. She suddenly had a feeling as if she ought to
beg Uncle for forgiveness for some great wrong that they had done
him. But she could not do that either.
When they came in again, Uncle's dog came to meet them. It was a
tiny, little thing on the thinnest legs, with fluttering ears and
gazelle-like eyes; a nothing with a shrill, little voice.
"You wonder, perhaps, that I have such a little dog," Uncle
Theodore had said.
"I suppose I do," she had answered.
"But, you see, it is not I who have chosen Jenny for my dog, but
Jenny who has taken me as a master. You would like to hear the
story, Downie?" That name he had instantly seized upon.
Yes, she would like it, although she understood that it would be
something irritating he would say.
"Well, you see, when Jenny came here the first time she lay on the
knees of a fine lady from the town, and had a blanket on her back
and a cloth about her head. Hush, Jenny; it is true that you had
it! And I thought what a little rat it was. But do you know when
that little creature was put down on the ground here some memories
of her childhood or something must have wakened in her. She
scratched, and kicked, and tried to rub off her blanket. And then
she behaved like the big dogs here; so we said that Jenny must have
grown up in the country.
"She lay out on the doorstep and never even looked at the parlor
sofa, and she chased the chickens, and stole the cat's milk, and
barked at beggars, and darted about the horses' legs when we had
guests. It was a pleasure and a joy to us to see how she behaved.
You must understand, a little thing that had only lain in a basket
and been carried on the arm! It was wonderful. And so when they
were going to leave, Jenny would not go. She stood on the steps and
whined so pitifully and jumped up on me, and really asked to be
allowed to stay. So there was nothing for us to do but to let her
stay. We were touched by the little creature; it was so small, and
yet wished to be a country dog. But I had never thought that I
should ever keep a lap-dog. Soon, perhaps, I shall get a wife too."
Oh, how hard it is to be shy, to be uneducated! She wondered if
Uncle had been very surprised when she rushed away so hurriedly.
But she had felt as if he had meant her when he spoke of Jenny. And
perhaps he had not at all. But any way—yes she had been so
embarrassed. She could not have stayed.
But it was not then "it" came, not then.
Perhaps it was in the evening at the ball. Never had she had such a
good time at any ball! But if any one had asked her if she had
danced much, she would have needed to reconsider and acknowledge
that she had not. But it was the best proof that she had really
enjoyed herself when she had not even noticed that she had been a
She had so much enjoyed looking at Maurits. Just because she had
been a little bit severe to him at breakfast and laughed at him
yesterday, it was such a pleasure to her to see him at the ball. He
had never seemed to her so handsome and so superior.
He had seemed to feel that she would consider herself injured
because he had not talked and danced only with her. But it had been
pleasure enough for her to see how every one liked Maurits. As if
she had wished to exhibit their love to the general gaze! Oh,
Downie was not so foolish!
Maurits danced many dances with the beautiful Elizabeth Westling.
But that had not troubled her at all, for Maurits had time after
time come up and whispered: "You see, I can't get away from her. We
are old friends. Here in the country they are so unaccustomed to
have a partner who has been in society and can both dance and talk.
You must lend me to the daughters of the county magnates for this
But Uncle, too, gave way to Maurits. "Be host for this evening," he
said to him, and Maurits was. He was everywhere. He led the dance,
he led the drinking, and he made a speech for the county and for
the ladies. He was wonderful. Both Uncle and she had watched
Maurits, and then their eyes had met. Uncle had smiled and nodded
to her. Uncle certainly was proud of Maurits. She had felt badly
that Uncle did not really do justice to his nephew. Towards morning
Uncle had been loud and quarrelsome. He had wanted to join the
dance, but the girls drew back from him when he came up to them and
pretended to be engaged.
"Dance with Anne-Marie," Maurits had said to his uncle, and it had
sounded rather patronising. She was so frightened that she quite
Uncle was offended too, turned on his heel and went into the
Maurits came up to her and said with a hard, hard voice:—
"You are ruining everything, Anne-Marie. Must you look like that
when Uncle wishes to dance with you? If you could know what he
said to me yesterday about you! You must do something too, Anne-Marie.
Do you think it is right to leave everything to me?"
"What do you wish me to do, Maurits?"
"Oh, now there is nothing; now the game is spoiled. Think all I had
won this evening! But it is lost now."
"I will gladly ask Uncle's pardon, if you like, Maurits." And she
really meant it. She was honestly sorry to have hurt Uncle.
"That is of course the only right thing to do; but one can ask
nothing of any one as ridiculously shy as you are."
She had not answered, but had gone straight to the smoking-room,
which was almost empty. Uncle had thrown himself down in an
"Why will you not dance with me?" she had asked.
Uncle Theodore's eyes were closed. He opened them and looked long
at her. It was a look full of pain that she met. It made her
understand how a prisoner must feel when he thinks of his chains.
It made her sorry for Uncle. It seemed as if he had needed her much
more than Maurits, for Maurits needed no one. He was very well as
he was. So she laid her hand on Uncle Theodore's arm quite gently
Instantly new life awoke in his eyes. He began to stroke her hair
with his big hand. "Little mother," he had said.
Then "it" came over her while he stroked her hair. It came
stealing, it came creeping, it came rushing, as when elves pass
through dark woods.
One evening thin, soft clouds are floating in the sky; one evening
all is still and mild; one evening the air is filled with fine
white down from the aspens and poplars.
It is quite late, and no one is up except Uncle Theodore, who is
walking in the garden and is considering how he can separate the
young man and the young woman.
For never, never in the world shall it come to pass that Maurits
leaves his house with her at his side while Uncle Theodore stands
on the steps and wishes them a pleasant journey.
Is it a possibility to let her go at all, since she has filled the
house for three days with merry chirping, since she in her quiet
way has accustomed them to be cared for and petted by her, since
they have all grown used to seeing that soft, supple little
creature roving about everywhere. Uncle Theodore says to himself
that it is not possible. He cannot live without her.
Just then he strikes against a dandelion which has gone to seed,
and, like men's resolutions and men's promises, the white ball of
down is scattered, its white floss flies out and is dispersed.
The night is not cold as the nights generally are in that part of
the country. The warmth is kept in by the grey cloud blanket. The
winds show themselves merciful for once and do not blow.
Uncle Theodore sees her, Downie. She is weeping because Maurits has
forsaken her. But he draws her to him and kisses away her tears.
Soft and fine, the white down falls from the great ripe clusters of
the trees,—so light that the air will scarcely let them fall, so
fine and delicate that they hardly show on the ground.
Uncle Theodore laughs to himself when he thinks of Maurits. In
thought he goes in to him the next morning while he is still lying
in his bed. "Listen, Maurits," he means to say to him. "I do not
wish to inspire you with false hopes. If you marry this girl, you
need not expect a penny from me. I will not help to ruin your
"Do you think so badly of her, uncle?" Maurits will say.
"No, on the contrary; she is a nice girl, but still not the one for
you. You shall have a woman like Elizabeth Westling. Be sensible,
Maurits; what will become of you if you break off your studies and
go into trade for that child's sake. You are not suited to it, my
boy. Something more is needed for such work than to be able to lift
your hat gracefully from your head and to say: 'Thank you, my
children!' You are cut out and made for a civil official. You can
"If you have such a good opinion of me," Maurits will answer, "help
me with my examination and let us afterwards be married!"
"Not at all, not at all. What do you think would become of your
career if you had such a weight as a wife? The horse which drags
the bread wagon does not go fast ahead. Think of the girl from the
bakery as a minister's wife! No, you ought not to engage yourself
for at least ten years, not before you have made your place. What
would the result be if I helped you to be married? Every year you
would come to me and beg for money. You and I would both weary of
"But, uncle, I am a man of honor. I have engaged myself."
"Listen, Maurits! Which is better? For her to go and wait for you
for ten years, and then find that you will not marry her, or for
you to break it off now? No, be decided, get up, take the chaise
and go home before she wakes. It will never do at any rate for a
betrothed couple to wander about the country by themselves. I will
take care of the girl if you only give up this madness. My old
friend will go home with her. You shall be supported by me so that
you do not need to worry about your future. Now be sensible; you
will please your parents by obeying me. Go now, without seeing her!
I will talk to her. She will not stand in the way of your
happiness. Do not try to see her before you leave, then you could
grow soft-hearted, for she is sweet."
And at those words Maurits makes an heroic decision and goes his way.
And when he has gone, what will happen then?
"Scoundrel," sounds in the garden, loud and threateningly, as if to
a thief. Uncle Theodore looks about him. Is it no one else? Is it
only he calling so at himself?
What will happen afterwards? Oh, he will prepare her for Maurits's
departure; show her that Maurits was not worthy of her; make her
despise him. And then when she has cried her heart out on his
breast, he shall so carefully, so skilfully make her understand
what he feels, lure her, win her.
The down still falls. Uncle Theodore stretches out his big hand and
catches a bit of it.
So fine, so light, so delicate! He stands and looks at it.
It falls about him, flake after flake. What will become of them?
They will be driven by the wind, soiled by the earth, trampled upon
by heavy feet.
He begins to feel as if that light down fell upon him with the
heaviest weight. Who will be the wind; who will be the earth; who
will be the shoe when it is a question of such defenceless little
And as a result of his extraordinary knowledge of Nösselt's
"Popular Stories," an episode from one of them occurred to him like
what he had just been thinking.
It was an early morning, not falling night as now. It was a rocky
shore, and down by the sea sat a beautiful youth with a panther
skin over his shoulder, with vine leaves in his hair, with thyrsus
in his hand. Who was he? Oh, the god Bacchus himself.
And the rocky shore was Naxos. It was the seas of Greece the god
saw. The ship with the black sails swiftly sailing towards the
horizon was steered by Theseus and in the grotto, the entrance of
which opened high up in a projection of the steep cliff, slept
During the night the young god had thought: "Is this mortal youth
worthy of that divine girl!" And to test Theseus he had in a dream
frightened him with the loss of his life, if he did not instantly
forsake Ariadne. Then the latter had risen up, hastened to the
ship, and fled away over the waves without even waking the girl to
Now the god Bacchus sat there smiling, rocked by the tenderest
hopes, and waited for Ariadne.
The sun rose, the morning breeze freshened. He abandoned himself to
smiling dreams. He would know well how to console the forsaken one;
he, the god Bacchus himself.
Then she came. She walked out of the grotto with a beaming smile.
Her eyes sought Theseus, they wandered farther away to the
anchoring-place of the ship, to the sea—to the black sails.
And then with a piercing scream, without consideration, without
hesitation, down into the waves, down to death and oblivion.
And there sat the god Bacchus, the consoler.
So it was. Thus had it actually happened. Uncle Theodore remembers
that Nösselt adds in a few words that sympathetic poets affirm that
Ariadne let herself be consoled by Bacchus. But the sympathizers
were certainly wrong. Ariadne would not be consoled.
Good God, because she is good and sweet, so that he must love her,
shall she for that reason be made unhappy!
As a reward for the sweet little smiles she had given him; because
her soft little hand had lain so trustingly in his; because she had
not been angry when he jested, shall she lose her betrothed and be
For which of all her misdemeanors shall she be condemned? Because
she has shown him a room in his innermost soul, which seems to have
stood fine and clean and unoccupied all these years awaiting just
such a tender and motherly little woman; or because she has already
such power over him that he hardly dares to swear lest she hear it;
or for what shall she be condemned?
Oh, poor Bacchus, poor Uncle Theodore! It is not easy to have to do
with such delicate, light bits of down.—They leap into the sea
when they see the black sails.
Uncle Theodore swears softly because Downie has not black hair, red
cheeks, coarse limbs.
Then another flake falls and it begins to speak: "It is I who would
have followed you all your days. I would have whispered a warning
in your ear at the card-table. I would have moved away the
wineglass. You would have borne it from me." "I would," he
whispers, "I would."
Another comes and speaks too: "It is I who would have reigned over
your big house and made it cheery and warm. It is I who would have
followed you through the desert of old age. I would have lighted
your fire, have been your eyes and your staff. Should I have been
fit for that?" "Sweet little Downie," he answers, "you would."
Again a flake comes and says: "I am so to be pitied. To-morrow my
betrothed is leaving me without even saying farewell. To-morrow I
shall weep, weep all day long, for I shall feel the shame of not
being good enough for Maurits. And when I come home—I do not
know how I shall be able to come home; how I can cross my father's
threshold after this. The whole street will be full of whispering
and gossip when I show myself. Every one will wonder what evil
thing I have done, to be so badly treated. Is it my fault that you
love me?" He answers with a sob in his throat: "Do not speak so,
little Downie! It is too soon to speak so."
He wanders there the whole night and towards midnight comes a
little darkness. He is in great trouble; the heavy, sultry air
seems to be still in terror of some crime which is to be committed
in the morning.
He tries to calm the night by saying aloud: "I shall not do it."
Then the most wonderful thing happens. The night is seized with a
trembling dread. It is no longer the little flakes which are
falling, but round about him rustle great and small wings. He hears
something flying but does not know whither.
They rush by him; they graze his cheek; they touch his clothes and
hands; and he understands what it is. The leaves are falling from
the trees; the flowers flee from their stalks; the wings fly away
from the butterflies; the song forsakes the birds.
And he understands that when the sun rises his garden will be a
waste. Empty, cold, and silent winter shall reign there; no play of
butterflies; no song of birds.
He remains until the light comes again, and he is almost astonished
when he sees the thick masses of leaves on the trees. "What is it,
then," he says, "which is laid waste if it was not the garden? Not
even a blade of grass is missing. It is I who must live in winter
and cold hereafter, not the garden. It is as if the mainspring of
life were gone. Ah, you old fool, this will pass like everything
else. It is too much ado about a little girl."
How very improperly "it" behaved the morning they were to leave!
During the two days after the ball "it" had been rather something
inspiring, something exciting; but now when Downie is to leave,
when "it" realizes that the end has come, that "it" will never play
any part in her life, then it changes to a death thrust, to a
She feels as if she were dragging a body of stone down the stairs
to the breakfast-room. She stretches out a heavy, cold hand of
stone when she says good-morning; she speaks with a slow tongue of
stone; smiles with hard stone lips. It is a labor, a labor.
But who can help being glad when everything is arranged according
to old-fashioned faith and honor.
Uncle Theodore turns to Downie at breakfast and explains with a
strangely harsh voice that he has decided to give Maurits the
position of manager at Laxohyttan; but as the aforesaid young man,
continued Uncle, with a strained attempt to return to his usual
manner, is not much at home in practical occupations, he may not
enter upon the position until he has a wife at his side. Has she,
Miss Downie, tended her myrtle so well that she can have a crown
and wreath in September?
She feels how he is looking into her face. She knows that he wishes
to have a glance as thanks, but she does not look up.
Maurits leaps up. He embraces Uncle and makes a great deal of
noise. "But, Anne-Marie, why do you not thank Uncle? You must kiss
Uncle Theodore, Anne-Marie. Laxohyttan is the most beautiful place
in the world. Come now, Anne-Marie!"
She raises her eyes. There are tears in them, and through the tears
a glance full of despair and reproach falls on Maurits. She cannot
understand; he insists upon going with an uncovered light into the
powder magazine. Then she turns to Uncle Theodore; but not with the
shy, childish manner she had before, but with a certain nobleness,
with something of the martyr, of an imprisoned queen.
"You are much too good to us," she says only.
Thus is everything accomplished according to the demands of honor.
There is not another word to be said in the matter. He has not
robbed her of her faith in him whom she loves. She has not betrayed
herself. She is faithful to him who has made her his betrothed,
although she is only a poor girl from a little bakery in a back
And now the chaise can be brought up, the trunks be corded, the
Uncle Theodore leaves the table. He goes and places himself by a
window. Ever since she has turned to him with that tearful glance
he is out of his senses. He is quite mad, ready to throw himself
upon her, press her to his breast and call to Maurits to come and
tear her away if he can.
His hands are in his pockets. Through the clenched fists cramp-like
convulsions are passing.
Can he allow her to put on her hat, to say goodbye to the old lady?
There he stands again on the cliff of Naxos and wishes to steal the
beloved for himself. Nor, not steal! Why not honorably and manfully
step forward and say: "I am your rival, Maurits. Your betrothed
must choose between us. You are not married; there is no sin in
trying to win her from you. Look well after her. I mean to use
Then he would be warned, and she would know what alternative lay
His knuckles cracked when he clenched his fists again. How Maurits
would laugh at his old uncle when he stepped forward and explained
that! And what would be the good of it? Would he frighten her, so
that he would not even be allowed to help them in the future?
But how will it go now when she approaches to say good-bye to him?
He almost screams to her to take care, to keep three paces away
He remains at the window and turns his back on them all, while they
are busy with their wraps and their luncheon-basket. Will they
never be ready to go? He has already lived it through a thousand
times. He has taken her hand, kissed her, helped her into the
chaise. He has done it so many times that he believes she is
He has also wished her happiness. Happiness—Can she be happy with
Maurits? She has not looked happy this morning. Oh yes, certainly
she has. She wept with joy.
While he is standing there Maurits suddenly says to Anne-Marie:
"What a dunce I am! I am quite forgetting to speak to Uncle about
"I think it would be best if you did not," Downie answers. "Perhaps
it is not right."
"Nonsense, Anne-Marie. The shares do not pay anything just now. But
who knows if they will not be better some day? And besides, what
does it matter to Uncle? Such a little thing—"
She interrupts with unusual eagerness, almost anxiously. "I beg of
you, Maurits, do not do it. Give in to me this once."
He looks at her, a little offended. "This once!—as if I were a
tyrant over you. No, do you see. I cannot; just for that word I
think that I ought not to yield."
"Do not cling to a word, Maurits. This means more than polite
phrases. I think it is not well of you to wish to cheat Uncle now
when he has been so good to us."
"Be quiet, Anne-Marie, be quiet! What do you understand of
business?" His whole manner is now irritatingly calm and superior.
He looks at her as a schoolmaster looks at a good pupil who is
making a fool of himself at his examination.
"That you do not at all understand what is at stake!" she cries.
And she strikes out despairingly with her hands.
"I really must talk to Uncle now," says Maurits, "if for nothing
else, to show him that there is no question of any deceit. You
behave so that Uncle can believe that I and my father are veritable
And he comes forward to his uncle and explains to him what these
shares which his father wishes to sell him are. Uncle Theodore
listens to him as well as he can. He understands instantly that
his brother has made a bad speculation and wishes to protect
himself from loss. But what of it, what of it? He is accustomed to
render to the whole family connection such services. But he is not
thinking of that, but of Downie. He wonders what is the meaning of
that look of resentment she casts upon Maurits. It was not exactly
And so in the midst of his despair over the sacrifice he has to
make, a faint glimmer of hope begins to rise up before him. He
stands and stares at it like a man who is sleeping in a haunted
room and sees a light mist rise from the floor and condense and
grow and become a tangible reality.
"Come with me into my room, Maurits," he says; "you shall have the
But while he speaks his eyes rest on Downie to see if the ghost can
be prevailed upon to speak. But as yet he sees only dumb despair in
But he has hardly sat down by the desk in his room when the door
opens and Anne-Marie comes in.
"Uncle Theodore," she says, very firmly and decidedly, "do not buy
Ah, such courage, Downie! Who would have believed it of you who had
seen you three days ago, when you sat at Maurits's side in the
chaise and seemed to shrink and grow smaller for every word he said.
Now she needs all her courage, for Maurits is angry in earnest.
"Hold your tongue!" he hisses at her, and then roars to make
himself heard by Uncle Theodore, who is sitting at his desk and
"What is the matter with you? The shares give no interest now; I
have told Uncle that; but Uncle knows as well as I that they will
pay. Do you think Uncle will let himself be cheated by one like me?
Uncle surely understands those things better than any of us. Has it
ever been my intention to give out these shares as good? Have I
said anything but that for him who can wait it may be a good affair?"
Uncle Theodore says nothing; he only hands a package of notes to
Maurits. He wonders if this will make the ghost speak.
"Uncle," says the little intractable proclaimer of the truth, for
it is a known fact that no one can be more intractable than those
soft, delicate creature when they are in the right, "these shares
are not worth a shilling and will never be. We all know it at home
"Anne-Marie, you make me out a scoundrel!"
She surveys him all over as if her eyes were the moving blades of a
pair of scissors, and she cuts off him bit by bit everything in
which she had clothed him; and when at last she sees him in all the
nakedness of egotism and selfishness, her terrible little tongue
passes sentence upon him:—
"What else are you?"
"Yes, what else are we both," continues the merciless tongue,
which, since it has once started, finds it best to clear up this
matter which has tortured her conscience ever since she has begun
to realize that this rich man who owned this big estate had a heart
too which could suffer and yearn. So while her tongue is so well
started and all shyness seems to have fallen from her, she says:—
"When we placed ourselves in the chaise at home there, what did we
think? What did we talk about on the way? About how we would
deceive him there. 'You must be brave, Anne-Marie,' you said. 'And
you must be crafty, Maurits,' I said. We thought only of
ingratiating ourselves. We wished to have much and we wished to
give nothing except hypocrisy. It was not our intention to say:
'Help us, because we are poor and care for one another,' but we
were to flatter and fawn until Uncle was charmed by me or by you;
that was our intention. But we meant to give nothing in return;
neither love nor respect nor even gratitude. And why did you not
come alone, why must I come too? You wished to show me to him; you
wished me to—to—"
Uncle Theodore rises when he sees Maurits raise his hand against
her. For now he has finished counting, and follows what is passing
with his heart swelling with hope. His heart flies wide open to
receive her as she now screams and runs into his arms, runs there
without hesitation or consideration, quite as if there were no
other place on earth to which to run.
"Uncle, he will strike me!"
And she presses close, close to him.
But Maurits is now calm again. "Forgive my impetuosity, Anne-Marie,"
he says. "It hurt me to hear you speak in such a childish way in
Uncle's presence. But Uncle must also understand that you are only
a child. Still I grant that not even the most just wrath gives a
man the right to strike a woman. Come here now and kiss me. You
need not seek protection from me with anybody."
She does not move, does not turn, only clings more closely.
"Downie, shall I let him take you?" whispers Uncle Theodore.
She answers only with a shudder, which quivers through him also.
Uncle Theodore feels so strong, so inspired. He, too, no longer
sees his perfect nephew as before in the bright light of his
perfection. He dares to jest with him.
"Maurits," he says, "you surprise me. Love makes you weak. Can you
so promptly forgive her having called you a scoundrel? You must
break with her instantly. Your honor, Maurits, think of your honor!
Nothing in the world can permit a woman to insult a man. Place
yourself in the chaise, my boy, and go away without this abandoned
creature! It is only pure and simple justice after such an insult."
As he finishes this speech, he puts his big hands about her head
and bends it back so that he can kiss her forehead.
"Give up this abandoned creature!" he repeats.
But now Maurits begins to understand also. He sees the light in
Uncle Theodore's eyes and how one smile after the other dances over
She starts. Now he calls her as the man to whom she has promised
herself. She feels she must obey. And she lets go of Uncle Theodore
so suddenly that he cannot stop her, but she cannot go to Maurits;
so she slides down to the floor and there she remains sitting and
"Go home alone in your chaise, Maurits," says Uncle Theodore
sharply. "This young lady is guest in my house as yet, and I intend
to protect her from your interference."
He no longer thinks of Maurits, but only to lift her up, dry her
tears and whisper that he loves her.
Maurits, who sees them, the one weeping, the other comforting,
cries: "Oh, this is a conspiracy! I am tricked! This is a comedy!
You have stolen my betrothed from me and you mock me! You let me
call one who never intends to come! I congratulate you on this
As he rushes out and slams the door, he calls back: "Fortune-hunter!"
Uncle Theodore makes a movement as if to go after him and chastise
him, but Downie holds him back.
"Ah, Uncle Theodore, do let Maurits have the last word. Maurits is
always right. Fortune-hunter,—that is just what I am, Uncle Theodore."
She creeps again close to him without hesitation, without question.
And Uncle Theodore is quite confused; just now she was weeping and
now she is laughing; just now she was going to marry one man and
now she is caressing another. Then she lifts up her head and
smiles: "Now I am your little dog. You cannot be rid of me."
"Downie," says Uncle Theodore with his gruffest voice: "You have
known it the whole time!"
She began to whisper: "Had my brother—"
"And yet you wished, Downie—Maurits is lucky to be rid of you.
Such a foolish, deceitful, hypocritical Downie, such an unreliable
little wisp, such a, such a—"
Ah, Downie, ah, silken flower! You were certainly not a fortune-hunter
only; you were also a fortune-giver, otherwise there would be
nothing left of your happy peace in the house where you lived. To
this day the garden is shaded by big beeches and the birch tree
trunks stand there white and spotless from the root upwards. To
this day the snake suns himself in peace on the slope, and in the
pond in the park swims a carp which is so old that no boy has the
heart to catch it. And when I come there, I feel that there is
festival in the air, and it seems as if the birds and flowers still
sang their beautiful songs of you.