FROM THE SWEDISH OF SELMA LAGERLÖF
TRANSLATED BY PAULINE BANCROFT FLACH
THE SPIRIT OF FASTING AND PETTER NORD
THE LEGEND OF THE BIRD'S NEST
THE KING'S GRAVE
THE LEGEND OF REOR
THE ROMANCE OF A FISHERMAN'S WIFE
A FALLEN KING
A CHRISTMAS GUEST
AMONG THE CLIMBING ROSES
THE SPIRIT OF FASTING AND PETTER NORD
I can see before me the little town, friendly as a home. It is so
small that I know its every hole and corner, am friends with all
the children and know the name of every one of its dogs. Who ever
walked up the street knew to which window he must raise his eyes to
see a lovely face behind the panes, and who ever strolled through
the town park knew well whither he should turn his steps to meet
the one he wished to meet.
One was as proud of the beautiful roses in the garden of a
neighbor, as if they had grown in one's own. If anything mean or
vulgar was done, it was as great a shame as if it had happened in
one's own family; but at the smallest adventure, at a fire or a
fight in the market-place, one swelled with pride and said: "Only
see what a community! Do such things ever happen anywhere else?
What a wonderful town!"
In my beloved town nothing ever changes. If I ever come there
again, I shall find the same houses and shops that I knew of old;
the same holes in the pavements will cause my downfall; the same
stiff hedges of lindens, the same clipped lilac bushes will
captivate my fascinated gaze. Again shall I see the old Mayor who
rules the whole town walking down the street with elephantine
tread. What a feeling of security there is in knowing that you are
walking there! And deaf old Halfvorson will still be digging in his
garden, while his eyes, clear as water, stare and wander as if they
would say: "We have investigated everything, everything; now,
earth, we will bore down to your very centre."
But one who will not still be there is little, round Petter Nord:
the little fellow from Värmland, you know, who was in Halfvorson's
shop; he who amused the customers with his small mechanical
inventions and his white mice. There is a long story about him.
There are stories to be told about everything and everybody in the
town. Nowhere else do such wonderful things happen.
He was a peasant boy, little Petter Nord. He was short and round;
he was brown-eyed and smiling. His hair was paler than birch leaves
in the autumn; his cheeks were red and downy. And he was from
Värmland. No one, seeing him, could imagine that he was from any
other place. His native land had equipped him with its excellent
qualities. He was quick at his work, nimble with his fingers, ready
with his tongue, clear in his thoughts. And, moreover, full of fun,
good-natured and brave, kind and quarrelsome, inquisitive and a
chatterbox. A madcap, he never could show more respect to a
burgomaster than to a beggar! But he had a heart; he fell in love
every other day, and confided in the whole town.
This child of rich gifts attended to the work in the shop in rather
an extraordinary manner. The customers were waited on while he fed
the white mice. Money was changed and counted while he put wheels
on his little automatic wagons. And while he told the customers of
his very last love-affair, he kept his eye on the quart measure,
into which the brown molasses was slowly curling. It delighted his
admiring listeners to see him suddenly leap over the counter and
rush out into the street to have a brush with a passing street-boy;
also to see him calmly return to tie the string on a package or to
finish measuring a piece of cloth.
Was it not quite natural that he should be the favorite of the
whole town? We all felt obliged to trade with Halfvorson, after
Petter Nord came there. Even the old Mayor himself was proud when
Petter Nord took him apart into a dark corner and showed him the
cages of the white mice. It was nervous work to show the mice, for
Halfvorson had forbidden him to have them in the shop.
But then in the brightening February there came a few days of warm,
misty weather. Petter Nord became suddenly serious and silent. He
let the white mice nibble the steel bars of their cages without
feeding them. He attended to his duties in the most irreproachable
way. He fought with no more street boys. Could Petter Nord not bear
the change in the weather?
Oh no, the matter was that he had found a fifty-crown note on one
of the shelves. He believed that it had got caught in a piece of
cloth, and without any one's seeing him he had pushed it under a
roll of striped cotton which was out of fashion and was never taken
down from the shelf.
The boy was cherishing great anger in his heart against Halfvorson.
The latter had destroyed a, whole family of mice for him, and now
he meant to be revenged. Before his eyes he still saw the white
mother with her helpless offspring. She had not made the slightest
attempt to escape; she had remained in her place with steadfast
heroism, staring with red, burning eyes on the heartless murderer.
Did he not deserve a short time of anxiety? Petter Nord wished to
see him come out pale as death from his office and begin to look
for the fifty crowns. He wished to see the same despair in his
watery eyes as he had seen in the ruby red ones of the white mouse.
The shopkeeper should search, he should turn the whole shop upside
down before Petter Nord would let him find the bank-note.
But the fifty crowns lay in its hiding-place all day without any
one's asking about it. It was a new note, many-colored and bright,
and had big numbers in all the corners. When Petter Nord was alone
in the shop, he put a step-ladder against the shelves and climbed
up to the roll of cotton. Then he took out the fifty crowns,
unfolded it and admired its beauties.
In the midst of the most eager trade he would grow anxious lest
something should have happened to the fifty crowns. Then he
pretended to look for something on the shelf, and groped about
under the roll of cotton till he felt the smooth bank-note rustle
under his fingers.
The note had suddenly acquired a supernatural power over him. Might
there not be something living in it? The figures surrounded by wide
rings were like magnetic eyes. The boy kissed them all and
whispered: "I should like to have many, very many like you."
He began to have all sorts of thoughts about the note, and why
Halfvorson did not inquire for it. Perhaps it was not Halfvorson's?
Perhaps it had lain in the shop for a long time? Perhaps it no
longer had any owner?
Thoughts are contagious.—At supper Halfvorson had begun to speak
of money and moneyed-men. He told Petter Nord about all the poor
boys who had amassed riches. He began with Whittington and ended
with Astor and Jay Gould. Halfvorson knew all their histories; he
knew how they had striven and denied themselves; what they had
discovered and ventured. He grew eloquent when he began on such
tales. He lived through the sufferings of those young people; he
followed them in their successes; he rejoiced in their victories.
Petter Nord listened quite fascinated.
Halfvorson was stone deaf, but that was no obstacle to conversation,
for he read by the lips everything that was said. On the other
hand, he could not hear his own voice. It rolled out as strangely
monotonous as the roar of a distant waterfall. But his peculiar way
of speaking made everything he said sink in, so that one could not
escape from it for many days. Poor Petter Nord!
"What is most needed to become rich," said Halfvorson, "is the
foundation. But it cannot be earned. Take note that they all have
found it in the street or discovered it between the lining and
cloth of a coat which they had bought at a pawnbroker's sale; or
that it had been won at cards, or had been given to them in alms by
a beautiful and charitable lady. After they had once found that
blessed coin, everything had gone well with them. The stream of
gold welled from it as from a fountain. The first thing that is
necessary, Petter Nord, is the foundation."
Halfvorson's voice sounded ever fainter and fainter. Young Petter
Nord sat in a kind of trance and saw endless vistas of gold before
him. On the dining table rose great piles of ducats; the floor
heaved white with silver, and the indistinct patterns on the dirty
wall-paper changed into banknotes, big as handkerchiefs. But
directly before his eyes fluttered the fifty-crown note, surrounded
by wide rings, luring him like the most beautiful eyes. "Who can
know," smiled the eyes, "perhaps the fifty crowns up on the shelf
is just such a foundation?"
"Mark my words," said Halfvorson, "that, after the foundation, two
things are necessary for those who wish to reach the heights. Work,
untiring work, Petter Nord, is one; and the other is renunciation.
Renunciation of play and love, of talk and laughter, of morning
sleep and evening strolls. In truth, in truth, two things are
necessary for him who would win fortune. One is called work, and
the other renunciation."
Petter Nord looked as if he would like to weep. Of course he wished
to be rich, naturally he wished to be fortunate, but fortune should
not be so anxiously and sadly won. Fortune ought to come of
herself. Just as Petter Nord was fighting with the street boys, the
noble lady should stop her coach at the shop-door, and invite the
Värmland boy to the place at her side. But now Halfvorson's voice
still rolled in his ears. His brain was full of it. He thought of
nothing else, knew nothing else. Work and renunciation, work and
renunciation, that was life and the object of life. He asked
nothing else, dared not think that he had ever wished anything
The next day he did not dare to kiss the fifty-crown note, did not
dare even to look at it. He was silent and low-spirited, orderly
and industrious. He attended to all his duties so irreproachably
that any one could see that there was something wrong with him. The
old Mayor was troubled about the boy and did what he could to cheer
"Did you think of going to the Mid-Lent ball this evening?" asked
the old man. "So, you did not. Well, then I invite you. And be sure
that you come, or I will tell Halfvorson where you keep your
Petter Nord sighed and promised to go to the ball.
The Mid-Lent ball, fancy Petter Nord at the Mid-Lent ball! Petter
Nord would see all the beautiful ladies of the town, delicate,
dressed in white, adorned with flowers. But of course Petter Nord
would not be allowed to dance with a single one of them. Well, it
did not matter. He was not in the mood to dance.
At the ball he stood in a doorway and made no attempt to dance.
Several people had asked him to take part, but he had been firm and
said no. He could not dance any of those dances. Neither would any
of those fine ladies be willing to dance with him. He was much too
humble for them.
But as he stood there, his eyes began to kindle and shine, and he
felt joy creeping through his I hubs. It came from the dance music;
it came from the fragrance of the flowers; it came from all the
beautiful faces about him. After a little while he was so
sparklingly happy that, if joy had been fire, he would have been
surrounded by bursting flames. And if love were it, as many say it
is, it would have been the same. He was always in love with some
pretty girl, but hitherto with only one at a time. But when he now
saw all those beautiful ladies together, it was no longer a single
fire, which laid waste his sixteen-year-old heart; it was a whole
Sometimes he looked down at his boots, which were by no means
dancing shoes. But how he could have marked the time with the broad
heels and spun round on the thick soles! Something was dragging and
pulling him and trying to hurl him out on the floor like a whipped
ball. He could still resist it, although his excitement grew
stronger as the hours advanced. He grew delirious and hot. Heigh
ho, he was no longer poor Petter Nord! He was the young whirlwind,
that raises the seas and overthrows the forests.
Just then a hambo-polska [Note: A Swedish national dance of a very
lively character] struck up. The peasant boy was quite beside himself.
He thought it sounded like the polska, like the Värmland polska.
Suddenly Petter Nord was out on the floor. All his fine manners
dropped off him. He was no longer at the town-hall ball; he was at
home in the barn at the midsummer dance. He came forward, his knees
bent, his head drawn down between his shoulders. Without stopping
to ask, he threw his arms round a lady's waist and drew her with
him. And then he began to dance the polska.
The girl followed him, half unwillingly, almost dragged. She was
not in time; she did not know what kind of a dance it was, but
suddenly it went quite of itself. The mystery of the dance was
revealed to her. The polska bore her, lifted her; her feet had
wings; she felt as light as air. She thought that she was flying.
For the Värmland polska is the most wonderful dance. It transforms
the heavy-footed sons of earth. Without a sound soles an inch thick
float over the unplaned barn floor. They whirl about, light as
leaves in an autumn wind. It is supple, quick, silent, gliding. Its
noble, measured movements set the body free and let it feel itself
light, elastic, floating.
While Petter Nord danced the dance of his native land, there was
silence in the ball-room. At first people laughed, but then they
all recognized that this was dancing. It floated away in even,
rapid whirls; it was dancing indeed, if anything.
In the midst of his delirium Petter Nord perceived that round about
him reigned a strange silence. He stopped short and passed his hand
over his forehead. There was no black barn floor, no leafy walls,
no light blue summer night, no merry peasant maiden in the reality
he gazed upon. He was ashamed and wished to steal away.
But he was already surrounded, besieged. The young ladies crowded
about the shop-boy and cried: "Dance with us; dance with us!"
They wished to learn the polska. They all wished to learn to dance
the polska. The ball was turned from its course and became a
dancing-school. All said that they had never known before what it
was to dance. And Petter Nord was a great man for that evening. He
had to dance with all the fine ladies, and they were exceedingly
kind to him. He was only a boy, and such a madcap besides. No one
could help making a pet of him.
Petter Nord felt that this was happiness. To be the favorite of the
ladies, to dare to talk to them, to be in the midst of lights, of
movement, to be made much of, to be petted, surely this was happiness.
When the ball was over, he was too happy to think about it. He
needed to come home to be able to think over quietly what had
happened to him that evening.
Halfvorson was not married, but he had in his house a niece who
worked in the office. She was poor and dependent on Halfvorson, but
she was quite haughty towards both him and Petter Nord. She had
many friends among the more important people of the town and was
invited to families where Halfvorson could never come. She and
Petter Nord went home from the ball together.
"Do you know, Nord," asked Edith Halfvorson, "that a suit is soon
to be brought against Halfvorson for illicit trading in brandy? You
might tell me how it really is."
"There is nothing worth making a fuss about," said Petter Nord.
Edith sighed. "Of course there is nothing. But there will be a
lawsuit and fines and shame without end. I wish that I really knew
how it is."
"Perhaps it is best not to know anything," said Petter Nord.
"I wish to rise in the world, do you see," continued Edith, "and I
wish to drag Halfvorson up with me, but he always drops back again.
And then he does something so that I become impossible too. He is
scheming something now. Do you not know what it is? It would be
good to know."
"No," said Petter Nord, and not another word would he say. It was
inhuman to talk to him of such things on the way home from his
Beyond the shop there was a little dark room for the shop-boy.
There sat Petter Nord of to-day and came to an understanding with
Petter Nord of yesterday. How pale and cowardly the churl looked.
Now he heard what he really was. A thief and a miser. Did he know
the seventh commandment? By rights he ought to have forty stripes.
That was what he deserved.
God be blessed and praised for having let him go to the ball and
get a new view of it all. Usch! what ugly thoughts he had had; but
now it was quite changed. As if riches were worth sacrificing
conscience and the soul's freedom for their sake! As if they were
worth as much as a white mouse, if the heart could not be glad at
the same time! He clapped his hands and cried out in joy—that he
was free, free, free! There was not even a longing to possess the
fifty crowns in his heart. How good it was to be happy!
When he had gone to bed, he thought that he would show Halfvorson
the fifty crowns early the next morning. Then he became uneasy that
the tradesman might come into the shop before him the next morning,
search for the note and find it. He might easily think that Petter
Nord had hidden it to keep it. The thought gave him no peace. He
tried to shake it off, but he could not succeed. He could not
sleep. So he rose, crept into the shop and felt about till he found
the fifty crowns. Then he fell asleep with the note under his pillow.
An hour later he awoke. A light shone sharply in his eyes; a hand
was fumbling under his pillow and a rumbling voice was scolding and
Before the boy was really awake, Halfvorson had the note in his
hand and showed it to the two women, who stood in the doorway to
his room. "You see that I was right," said Halfvorson. "You see
that it was well worth while for me to drag you up to bear witness
against him! You see that he is a thief!"
"No, no, no," screamed poor Petter Nord. "I did not wish to steal.
I only hid the note."
Halfvorson heard nothing. Both the women stood with their backs
turned to the room, as if determined to neither hear nor see.
Petter Nord sat up in bed. He looked all of a sudden pitifully weak
and small. His tears were streaming. He wailed aloud.
"Uncle," said Edith, "he is weeping."
"Let him weep," said Halfvorson, "let him weep!" And he walked
forward and looked at the boy. "You can weep all you like," he
said, "but that does not take me in."
"Oh, oh," cried Petter Nord, "I am no thief. I hid the note as a
joke—to make you angry. I wanted to pay you back for the mice.
I am not a thief. Will no one listen to me. I am not a thief."
"Uncle," said Edith, "if you have tortured him enough now, perhaps
we may go back to bed?"
"I know, of course, that it sounds terrible," said Halfvorson, "but
it cannot be helped." He was gay, in very high spirits. "I have had
my eye on you for a long time," he said to the boy. "You have
always something you are tucking away when I come into the shop.
But now I have caught you. Now I leave witnesses, and now I am
going for the police."
The boy gave a piercing scream. "Will no one help me, will no one
help me?" he cried. Halfvorson was gone, and the old woman who
managed his house came up to him.
"Get up and dress yourself, Petter Nord! Halforson has gone for the
police, and while he is away you can escape. The young lady can go
out into the kitchen and get you a little food. I will pack your
The terrible weeping instantly ceased. After a short tine of hurry
the boy was ready. He kissed both the women on the hand, humbly,
like a whipped dog. And then off he ran.
They stood in the door and looked after him. When he was gone, they
drew a sigh of relief.
"What will Halfvorson say?" said Edith.
"He will be glad," answered the housekeeper.
"He put the money there for the boy, I think. I guess that he
wanted to be rid of him."
"But why? The boy was the best one we have had in the shop for many
"He probably did not want him to give testimony in the affair with
Edith stood silent and breathed quickly. "It is so base, so base,"
she murmured. She clenched her fist towards the office and towards
the little pane in the door, through which Halfvorson could see
into the shop. She would have liked, she too, to have fled out into
the world, away from all this meanness. She heard a sound far in,
in the shop. She listened, went nearer, followed the noise, and at
last found behind a keg of herring the cage of Petter Nord's white
She took it up, put it on the counter, and opened the cage door.
Mouse after mouse scampered out and disappeared behind boxes and
"May you flourish and increase," said Edith. "May you do injury and
revenge your master!"
The little town lay friendly and contented under its red hill. It
was so embedded in green that the church tower only just stuck up
out of it. Garden after garden crowded one another on narrow
terraces up the slope, and when they could go no further in that
direction, they leaped with their bushes and trees across the
street and spread themselves out between the scattered farmhouses
and on the narrow strips of earth about them, until they were
stopped by the broad river.
Complete silence and quiet reigned in the town. Not a soul was to
be seen; only trees and bushes, and now and again a house. The only
sound to be heard was the rolling of balls in the bowling-alley,
like distant thunder on a summer day. It belonged to the silence.
But now the uneven stones of the market-place were ground under
iron-shod heels. The noise of coarse voices thundered against the
walls of the town-hall and the church was thrown back from the
mountain, and hastened unchecked down the long street. Four
wayfarers disturbed the noonday peace.
Alas, for the sweet silence, the holiday peace of years! How
terrified they were! One could almost see them betaking themselves
in flight up the mountain slopes.
One of the noisy crew who broke into the village was Petter Nord,
the Värmland boy, who six years before had run away, accused of
theft. Those who were with him were three longshoremen from the big
commercial town that lies only a few miles away.
How had little Petter Nord been getting on? He had been getting on
well. He had found one of the most sensible of friends and
As he ran away from the village in the dark, rainy February
morning, the polska tunes seethed and roared in his ears. And one
of them was more persistent than all the others. It was the one
they all had sung during the ring dance.
Christmas time has come,
Christmas time has come,
And after Christmas time comes Easter.
That is not true at all,
That is not true at all,
For Lent comes after Christmas feasting.
The fugitive heard it so distinctly, so distinctly. And then the
wisdom that is hidden in the old ring dance forced itself upon the
little pleasure-loving Värmland boy, forced itself into his very
fibre, blended with every drop of blood, soaked into his brain and
marrow. It is so; that is the meaning. Between Christmas and
Easter, between the festivals of birth and death, comes life's
fasting. One shall ask nothing of life; it is a poor, miserable
fast. One shall never trust it, however it may appear. The next
moment it is gray and ugly again. It is not its fault, poor thing,
it cannot help it!
Petter Nord felt almost proud at having cheated life out of its
most profound secret.
He thought he saw the pallid Spirit of Fasting creeping about over
the earth in the shape of a beggar with Lenten twigs [Translator's
Note: In Sweden, just before Easter, bunches of birch twigs with
small feathers tied on the ends, are sold everywhere on the
streets. The origin of this custom is unknown.] in her hand. And he
heard how she hissed at him: "You have wished to celebrate the
festival of joy and merry moods in the midst of the time of
fasting, which is called life. Therefore shame and dishonor shall
befall you, until you change your ways."
He had changed his ways, and the Spirit of Fasting had protected
him. He had never needed to go farther than to the big town, for he
was never followed. And in its working quarter the Spirit of
Fasting had her dwelling. Petter Nord found work in a machine shop.
He grew strong and energetic. He became serious and thrifty. He had
fine Sunday clothes; he acquired new knowledge, borrowed books and
went to lectures. There was nothing really left of little Petter
Nord but his white hair and his brown eyes.
That night had broken something in him, and the heavy work at the
machine-shop made the break ever bigger, so that the wild Värmland
boy had crept quite out through it. He no longer talked nonsense,
for no one was allowed to speak in the shop, and he soon learned
silent ways. He no longer invented anything new, for since he had
to look after springs and wheels in earnest, he no longer found
them amusing. He never fell in love, for he could not be interested
in the women of the working quarter, after he had learned to know
the beauties of his native town. He had no mice, no squirrels,
nothing to play with. He had no time; he understood that such
things were useless, and he thought with horror of the time when he
used to fight with street boys.
Petter Nord did not believe that life could be anything but gray,
gray, gray. Petter Nord always had a dull time, but he was so used
to it that he did not notice it. Petter Nord was proud of himself
because he had become so virtuous. He dated his good behavior from
that night when Joy failed him and Fasting became his companion and
But how could the virtuous Petter Nord be coming to the village on
a work-day, accompanied by three boon companions, who were loafers
He had always been a good boy, poor Petter Nord. And he had always
tried to help those three good-for-nothings as well as he could,
although he despised them. He had come with wood to their miserable
hovel, when the winter was most severe, and he had patched and
mended their clothes. The men held together like brothers,
principally because they were all three named Petter. That name
united them much more than if they bad been born brothers. And now
they allowed the boy on account of that name to do them friendly
services, and when they had got their grog ready and settled
themselves comfortably on their wooden chairs, they entertained
him, sitting and darning the gaping holes in their stockings, with
gallows humor and adventurous lies. Petter Nord liked it, although
he would not acknowledge it. They were now for him almost what the
mice had been formerly.
Now it happened that these wharf-rats had heard some gossip from
the village. And after the space of six years they brought Petter
Nord information that Halfvorson had put the fifty crowns out for
him to disqualify him as a witness. And in their opinion Petter
Nord ought to go back to the town and punish Halfvorson.
But Petter Nord was sensible and deliberate, and equipped with the
wisdom of this world. He would not have anything to do with such a
The Petters spread the story about through the whole quarter. Every
one said to Petter Nord: "Go back and punish Halfvorson, then you
will be arrested, and there will be a trial, and the thing will get
into the papers, and the fellow's shame will be known throughout
all the land."
But Petter Nord would not. It might be amusing, but revenge is a
costly pleasure, and Petter Nord knew that Life is poor. Life
cannot afford such amusements.
One morning the three men had come to him and said that they were
going in his place to beat Halfvorson, "that justice should be done
on earth," as they said.
Petter Nord threatened to kill all three of them if they went one
step on the way to the village.
Then one of them who was little and short, and whose name was
Long-Petter, made a speech to Petter Nord.
"This earth," he said, is an apple hanging by a string over a fire
to roast. By the fire I mean the kingdom of the evil one; Petter
Nord, and the apple must hang near the fire to be sweet and tender;
but if the string breaks and the apple falls into the fire, it is
destroyed. Therefore the string is very important, Petter Nord. Do
you understand what is meant by the string?"
"I guess it must be a steel wire," said Petter Nord.
"By the string I mean justice," said Long-Petter with deep
seriousness. "If there is no justice on earth, everything falls
into the fire. Therefore the avenger may not refuse to punish, or
if he will not do it, others must."
"This is the last time I will offer any of you any grog," said
Petter Nord, quite unmoved by the speech.
"Yes, it can't be helped," said Long-Petter, "justice must be
"We do not do it to be thanked by you, but in order that the
honorable name of Petter shall not be brought to disrepute," said
one, whose name was Rulle-Petter, and who was tall and morose.
"Really, is the name so highly esteemed!" said Petter Nord,
"Yes, and the worst of it is that they are beginning to say
everywhere in all the saloons that you must have meant to steal the
fifty crowns, since you will not have the shopkeeper punished."
Those words bit in deep. Petter Nord started up and said that he
would go and beat the shopkeeper.
"Yes, and we will go with you and help you," said the loafers.
And so they started off, four men strong, to the village. At first
Petter Nord was gloomy and surly, and much more angry with his
friends than with his enemy. But when he came to the bridge over
the river, he became quite changed. He felt as if he had met there
a little, weeping fugitive, and had crept into him. And as he
became more at home in the old Petter Nord he felt what a grievous
wrong the shopkeeper had done him. Not only because he had tried to
tempt him and ruin him, but, worst of all, because he had driven
him away from that town, where Petter Nord could have remained
Petter Nord all the days of his life. Oh, what fun he had had in
those days, how happy and glad he had been, how open his heart, how
beautiful the world! Lord God, if he had only been allowed always
to live here! And he thought of what he was now—silent and stupid,
serious and industrious—quite like a prodigal.
He grew passionately angry with Halfvorson, and instead of, as
before, following his companions, he dashed past them.
But the tramps, who had not come merely to punish Halfvorson, but
also to let their wrath break loose, hardly knew how to begin.
There was nothing for an angry man to do here. There was not a dog
to chase, not a street-sweeper to pick a quarrel with, nor a fine
gentleman at whom to throw an insult.
It was early in the year; the spring was just turning into summer.
It was the white time of cherry and hawthorn blossoms, when bunches
of lilacs cover the high, round bushes, and the air is full of the
fragrance of the apple-blossoms. These men who had come direct from
paved streets and wharves to this realm of flowers were strangely
affected by it. Three pairs of fists that till now had been
fiercely clenched, relaxed, and three pairs of heels thundered a
little less violently against the pavement.
From the market-place they saw a pathway that wound up the hill.
Along it grew young cherry-trees which formed vaulted arches with
their white tops. The arch was light and floating, and the branches
absurdly slender, altogether weak, delicate and youthful.
The cherry-tree path attracted the eyes of the men against their
will. What an unpractical hole it was, where people planted cherry
trees, where any one could take the cherries. The three Petters had
considered it before as a nest of iniquity, full of cruelty and
tyranny. Now they began to laugh at it, and even to despise it a
But the fourth one of the company did not laugh. His longing for
revenge was seething ever more fiercely, for he felt that this was
the town where he ought to have lived and labored. It was his lost
paradise. And without paying any attention to the others he walked
quickly up the street.
They followed him; and when they saw that there was only one
street, and when they saw only flowers, and more flowers the whole
length of it, their scorn and their good humor increased. It was
perhaps the first time in their lives that they had ever noticed
flowers, but here they could not help it, for the clusters of lilac
blossoms brushed off their caps and the petals of cherry-blossoms
rained down over them.
"What kind of people do you suppose live in this town?" said
"Bees," answered Cobbler-Petter, who had received his name because
he had once lived in the same house as a shoemaker.
Of course, little by little, they perceived a few people. In the
windows, behind shining panes and white curtains, appeared young,
pretty faces, and they saw children playing on the terraces. But no
noise disturbed the silence. It seemed to them as if the trump of
the Day of Doom itself would not be able to wake this town. What
could they do with themselves in such a town!
They went into a shop and bought some beer. There they asked
several questions of the shopman in a terrible voice. They asked if
the fire-brigade had their engines in order, and wondered if there
were clappers in the church bells, if there should happen to be an
They drank their beer in the street and threw the bottles away.
One, two, three, all the bottles at the same corner, thunder and
crash, and the splinters flew about their ears.
They heard steps behind them, real steps; voices, loud, distinct
voices; laughter, much laughter, and, moreover, a rattling as if of
metal. They were appalled, and drew back into a doorway. It sounded
like a whole company.
It was one, too, but of young girls. All the maids of the town were
going out in a body to the pastures to milk.
It made the deepest impression on these city men, these citizens of
the world. The maids of the town with milk-pails! It was almost
They suddenly jumped out of their doorway and cried "Boo!"
The whole troop of girls scattered instantly. They screamed and
ran. Their skirts fluttered; their head cloths loosened; their
milk-pails rolled about the street.
And at the same time, along the whole street, was heard a deafening
sound of gates and doors slammed to, of hooks and bolts and locks.
Farther down the street stood a big linden tree, and under it sat
an old woman by a table with candies and cakes. She did not move;
she did not look round; 9111' only sat still. She was not asleep
"She is made of wood," said Cobbler-Petter,
"No, of clay," said Rulle-Petter.
They walked abreast, all three. Just in front of the old woman they
began to reel. They staggered against her table. And the old woman
began to scold.
"Neither of wood nor of clay," they said,—"venom, only venom."
During all this time Petter Nord had not spoken to them, but now,
at last, they were directly in front of Halfvorson's shop, and
there he was waiting for them.
"This is undeniably, my affair," he said proudly, and pointed at
the shop. "I wish to go in alone and attend to it. If I do not
succeed, then you may try."
They nodded. "Go ahead, Petter Nord! We will wait outside."
Petter Nord went in, found a young man alone in the shop, and asked
about Halfvorson. He heard that the latter had gone away. He had
quite a talk with the clerk, and obtained a good deal of
information about his master.
Halfvorson had never been accused of illicit trade. How he had
behaved towards Petter Nord every one knew, but no one spoke of
that affair any more. Halfvorson had risen in the world, and now he
was not at all dangerous. He was not inhuman to his debtors, and
had ceased to spy on his shop-boys. The last few years he had
devoted himself to gardening. He had laid out a garden around his
house in the town, and a kitchen garden near the customhouse. He
worked so eagerly in his gardens that he scarcely thought of
Petter Nord felt a stab in his heart. Of course the man was good.
He had remained in paradise. Of course any one was good who lived
Edith Halfvorson was still with her uncle, but she had been ill for
a while. Her lungs were weak, ever since an attack of pneumonia in
While Petter Nord was listening to all this, and more too, the
three men stood outside and waited.
In Halfvorson's shadeless garden a bower of birch had been arranged
so that Edith might lie there in the beautiful, warm spring days.
She regained her strength slowly, but her life was no longer in
Some people make one feel that they are not able to live. At their
first illness they lie down and die. Halfvorson's niece was long
since weary of everything, of the office, of the dim little shop,
of money-getting. When she was seventeen years old, she had the
incentive of winning friends and acquaintances. Then she undertook
to try to keep Halfvorson in the path of virtue, but now everything
was accomplished. She saw no prospect of escaping from the monotony
of her life. She might as well die.
She was of an elastic nature, like a steel spring: a bundle of
nerves and vivacity, when anything troubled or tormented her. How
she had worked with strategy and artifice, with womanly goodness
and womanly daring, before she had reached the point with her uncle
when she was sure that there was no longer danger of any Petter
Nord affairs! But now that he was tamed and subdued, she had
nothing to interest her. Yes, and yet she would not die! She lay
and thought of what she would do when she was well again.
Suddenly she started up, hearing some one say in a very loud voice
that he alone wished to settle with Halvorson. And then another
voice answered: "Go ahead, Petter Nord!"
Petter Nord was the most terrible, the most fatal name in the
world. It meant a revival of all the old troubles. Edith rose with
trembling limbs, and just then three dreadful creatures came around
the corner and stopped to stare at her. There was only a low rail
and a thin hedge between her and the street.
Edith was alone. The maids had gone to milk, and Halfvorson was
working in his garden by the custom-house, although he had told the
shop-boy to nay that he had gone away, for he was ashamed of his
passion for gardening. Edith was terribly frightened at the three
men as well as at the one who had gone into the shop. She was sure
that they wished to do her harm. So she turned and ran up the
mountain by the steep, slippery path and the narrow, rotten wooden
steps which led from terrace to terrace.
The strange men thought it too delightfully funny that she ran from
them. They could not resist pretending that they wished to catch
her. One of them climbed up on the railing, and all three shouted
with a terrible voice.
Edith ran as one runs in dreams, panting, falling, terrified to
death, with a horrible feeling of not getting away from one spot.
All sorts of emotions stormed through her, and shook her so that
she thought she was going to die. Yes, if one of those men laid his
hand on her, she knew that she should die. When she had reached the
highest terrace, and dared to look back, she found that the men
were still in the street, and were no longer looking at her. Then
she threw herself down on the ground, quite powerless. The exertion
had been greater than she could bear. She felt something burst in
her. Then blood streamed from her lips.
She was found by the maids as they went home from the milking. She
was then half dead. For the moment she was brought back to life,
but no one dared to hope that she could live long.
She could not talk that day enough to tell in what way she had been
frightened. Had she done so, it is uncertain if the strange men had
come alive from the town. They fared badly enough as it was. For
after Petter Nord had come out to them again, and had told them
that Halfvorson was not at home, all four of them in good accord
went out through the gates, and found a sunny slope where they
could sleep away the time until the shopman returned.
But in the afternoon, when all the men of the town, who had been
working in the fields, came home again, the women told them about
the tramps' visit, about their threatening questions in the shop
where they had bought the beer, and about all their boisterous
behavior. The women exaggerated and magnified everything, for they
had sat at home and frightened one another the whole afternoon.
Their husbands believed that their houses and homes were in danger.
They determined to capture the disturbers of the peace, found a
stout-hearted man to lead them, took thick cudgels with them and
The whole town was alive. The women came out on their doorsteps and
frightened one another. It was both terrible and exciting.
Before long the captors returned with their game. They had them all
four. They had made a ring round them while they slept and captured
them. No heroism had been required for the deed.
Now they came back to the town with them, driving them as if they
had been animals. A mad thirst for revenge had seized upon the
conquerors. They struck for the pleasure of striking. When one of
the prisoners clenched his fist at them, he received a blow on the
head which knocked him down, and thereupon blows hailed upon him,
until he got up and went on. The four men were almost dead.
The old poems are so beautiful. The captured hero sometimes must
walk in chains in the triumphal procession of his victorious enemy.
But he is proud and beautiful still in adversity. And looks follow
him as well as the fortunate one who has conquered him. Beauty's
tears and wreaths belong to him still, even in misfortune.
But who could be enraptured of poor Petter Nord? His coat was torn
and his tow-colored hair sticky with blood. He received the most
blows, for he offered the most resistance. He looked terrible, as
he walked. He roared without knowing it. Boys caught hold of him,
and he dragged them long distances. Once he stopped and flung off
the crowd in the street. Just as he was about to escape, a blow
from a cudgel fell on his head and knocked him down. He rose up
again, half stunned, and staggered on, blows raining upon him, and
the boys hanging like leeches to his arms and legs.
They met the old Mayor, who was on his way home from his game of
whist in the garden of the inn. "Yes," he said to the advance
guard,—"yes, take them to the prison."
He placed himself at the head of the procession, shouted and
ordered. In a second everything was in line. Prisoners and guards
marched in peace and order. The villagers' cheeks flushed; some of
them threw down their cudgels; others put them on their shoulders
like muskets. And so the prisoners were transferred into the
keeping of the police, and were taken to the prison in the
Those who had saved the town stood a long time in the market-place
and told of their courage and of their great exploit. And in the
little room of the inn, where the smoke is as thick as a cloud, and
the great men of the town mix their midnight toddy, more is heard
of the deed, magnified. They grow bigger in their rocking-chairs;
they swell in their sofa corners; they are all heroes. What force
is slumbering in that little town of mighty memories! Thou
formidable inheritance, thou old Viking blood!
The old Mayor did not like the whole affair. He could not quite
reconcile himself to the stirring of the old Viking blood. He could
not sleep for thinking of it, and went out again into the street
and strolled slowly towards the square.
It was a mild spring night. The church clock's only hand pointed to
eleven. The balls had ceased to roll on the bowling alley. The
curtains were drawn down. The houses seemed to sleep with closed
eyelids. The steep hill behind was black, as if in mourning. But in
the midst of all the sleep there was one thing awake—the fragrance
of the flowers did not sleep. It stole over the linden hedges;
poured out from the gardens; rushed up and down the street; climbed
up to every window standing open, to every skylight that sucked in
Every one whom the fragrance reached instantly saw before him his
little town, although the darkness had gently settled down over it.
He saw it as a village of flowers, where it was not house by house,
but garden by garden. He saw the cherry trees that raised their
white arches over the steep wood-path, the lilac clusters, the
swelling buds of glorious roses, the proud peonies, and the drifts
of flower-petals on the ground beneath the hawthorns.
The old Mayor was deep in thought. He was so wise and so old.
Seventy years had he reached, and for fifty he had managed the
affairs of the town. But that night be asked himself if he had done
right. "I had the town in my hand," he thought, "but I have not
made it anything great." And he thought of its great past, and was
the more uncertain if he had done right.
He stood in the market-place, looking out over the river. A boat
came with oars. A few villagers were coming home from a picnic.
Girls in light dresses held the oars. They steered in under the
arch of the bridge, but there the current was strong and they were
drawn back. There was a violent struggle. Their slender bodies were
bent backwards, until they lay even with the edge of the boat.
Their soft arm-muscles tightened. The oars bent like bows. The
noise of laughter and cries filled the air. Again and again the
current conquered. The boat was driven back. And when at last the
girls had to land at the market quay, and leave the boat for men to
take home, how red and vexed they were, and how they laughed! How
their laughter echoed down the street! How their broad, shady hats,
their light, fluttering summer dresses enlivened the quiet night.
The old Mayor saw in his mind's eye, for in the darkness he could
not see them distinctly, their sweet, young faces, their beautiful
clear eyes and red lips. Then he straightened himself proudly up.
The little town was not without all glory. Other communities could
boast of other things, but he knew no place richer in flowers and
in the enchanting fairness of its women.
Then the old man thought with new-born courage of his efforts. He
need not fear for the future of the town. Such a town did not need
to protect itself with strict laws.
He felt compassion on the unfortunate prisoners. He went and waked
the justice of the peace, and talked with him. And the two were of
one mind. They went together to the prison and set Petter Nord and
his companions free.
And they did right. For the little town is like the Milo Aphrodite.
It has alluring beauty, and it lacks arms to hold fast.
I shall almost be compelled to leave reality, and turn to the world
of saga and extravagance to be able to relate what now happened. If
young Petter Nord had been Per, the Swineherd, with a gold crown
under his hat, it would all have seemed simple and natural. But no
one, of course, will believe me if I say that Petter Nord also wore
a royal crown on his tow hair. No one can ever know how many
wonderful things happen in that little town. No one can guess how
many enchanted princesses are waiting there for the shepherd boy of
At first it looked as if there were to be no more adventures. For
when Petter Nord had been set free by the old Mayor, and for the
second time had to flee in shame and disgrace from the town, the
same thoughts came over him as when he fled the first time. The
polska tunes rang again suddenly in his ears, and loudest among
them all sounded the old ring-dance.
Christmas time has come,
Christmas time has come,
And after Christmas time comes Easter.
That is not true at all,
That is not true at all,
For Lent comes after Christmas feasting.
And he saw distinctly the pallid Spirit of Fasting stealing about
over the earth with her bundle of twigs on her arm. And she called
to him: "Spendthrift, spendthrift! You have wished to celebrate the
festival of revenge and reparation during the time of fasting, that
is called life. Can you afford such extravagances, foolish one?"
Thereupon he had again sworn obedience and become the quiet and
thrifty workman. He again stood peaceful and sensible at his work.
No one could believe that it was he who had roared with rage and
flung about the people in the street, as an elk at bay shakes off
A few weeks later Halfvorson came to him at the machine-shop. He
looked him up, at his niece's desire. She wished, if possible, to
speak to him that same day.
Petter Nord began to shake and tremble when he saw Halfvorson. It
was as if he had seen a slippery snake. He did not know which he
wished most—to strike him or to run away from him; but he soon
perceived that Halfvorson looked much troubled.
The tradesman looked as one does after having been out in a strong
wind. The muscles of his face were drawn; his mouth was compressed;
his eyes red and full of tears. He struggled visibly with some
sorrow. The only thing in him that was the same was his voice. It
was as inhumanly expressionless as ever.
"You need not be afraid of the old story nor of the new one
either," said Halfvorson. "It is known that you were with those men
who made all the trouble with us the other day. And as we supposed
that they came from here, I could learn where you were. Edith is
going to die soon," he continued, and his whole face twitched as if
it would fall to pieces. "She wishes to speak to you before she
dies. But we wish you no harm."
"Of course I shall come," said Petter Nord.
Soon they were both on board the steamer. Petter Nord was decked
out in his fine Sunday clothes. Under his hat played and smiled all
the dreams of his boyhood in a veritable kingly crown; they
encircled his light hair. Edith's message made him quite dizzy. Had
he not always thought that fine ladies would love him? And now here
was one who wished to see him before she died. Most wonderful of
all things wonderful!—He sat and thought of her as she had been
formerly. How proud, how alive! And now she was going to die. He
was in such sorrow for her sake. But that she had been thinking of
him all these years! A warm, sweet melancholy came over him.
He was really there again, the old, mad Petter Nord. As soon as he
approached the village the Spirit of Fasting went away from him
with disgust and contempt.
Halfvorson could not keep still for a moment. The heavy gale, which
he alone perceived, swept him forward and back on the deck. As he
passed Petter, he murmured a few words, so that the latter could
know by what paths his despairing thoughts wandered.
"They found her on the ground, half dead—blood everywhere about
her," he said once. And another time: "Was she not good? Was she
not beautiful? How could such things come to her?" And again: "She
has made me good too. Could not see her sitting in sorrow all day
long and ruining the account-book with her tears." Then this came:
"A clever child, besides. Won her way with me. Made my home
pleasant. Got me acquaintances among fine people. Understood what
she was after, but could not resist her." He wandered away to the
bow of the boat. When he came back he said: "I cannot bear to have
He said it all with that helpless voice, which he could not subdue
or control. Petter Nord had a proud feeling that such a man as he
who wore a royal crown on his brow had no right to be angry with
Halfvorson. The latter was separated from men by his infirmity, and
could not win their love. Therefore he had to treat them all as
enemies. He was not to be measured by the same standard as other
Petter Nord sank again into his dreams. She had remembered him
all these years, and now she could not die before she had seen him.
Oh, fancy that a young girl for all these years had been thinking
of him, loving him, missing him!
As soon as they landed and reached the tradesman's house, he was
taken to Edith, who was waiting for him in the arbor.
The happy Petter Nord woke from his dreams when he saw her. She was
a fair vision, this girl, withering away in emulation with the
rootless birches around her. Her big eyes had darkened and grown
clearer. Her hands were so thin and transparent that one feared to
touch them for their fragility.
And it was she who loved him. Of course he had to love her
instantly in return, deeply, dearly, ardently! It was bliss, after
so many years, to feel his heart glow at the sight of a fellow-being.
He had stopped motionless at the entrance of the arbor, while eyes,
heart and brain worked most eagerly. When she saw how he stood and
stared at her, she began to smile with that most despairing smile
in the world, the smile of the very ill, that says: "See, this is
what I have become, but do not count on me! I cannot be beautiful
and charming any longer. I must die soon."
It brought him back to reality. He saw that he had to do not with a
vision, but with a spirit which was about to spread its wings, and
therefore had made the walls of its prison so delicate and
transparent. It now showed so plainly in his face and in the way he
took Edith's hand, that he all at once suffered with her suffering,—
that he had forgotten everything but grief, that she was going to
die. The sick girl felt the same pity for herself, and her eyes
filled with tears.
Oh, what sympathy he felt for her from the first moment. He
understood instantly that she would not wish to show her emotion.
Of course it was agitating for her to see him, whom she had longed
for so long, but it was her weakness that had made her betray
herself. She naturally would not like him to pay any attention to
it. And so he began on an innocent subject of conversation.
"Do you know what happened to my white mice?" he said.
She looked at him with admiration. He seemed to wish to make the
way easier for her. "I let them loose in the shop," she said. "They
have thriven well."
"No, really! Are there any of them left?"
"Halfvorson says that he will never be rid of Petter Nord's mice.
They have revenged you, you understand," she said with meaning.
"It was a very good race," answered Petter Nord, proudly.
The conversation lagged for a while. Edith closed her eyes, as if
to rest, and he kept a respectful silence. His last answer she had
not understood. He had not responded to what she had said about
revenge. When he began to talk of the mice, she believed that he
understood what she wished to say to him. She knew that he had come
to the town a few weeks before to be revenged. Poor Petter Nord!
Many a time she had wondered what had become of him. Many a night
had the cries of the frightened boy come to her in dreams. It was
partly for his sake that she should never again have to live
through such a night, that she had begun to reform her uncle, had
made his house a home for him, had let the lonely man feel the
value of having a sympathetic friend near him. Her lot was now
again bound together with that of Petter Nord. His attempt at
revenge had frightened her to death. As soon as she had regained
her strength after that severe attack, she had begged Halfvorson to
look him up.
And Petter Nord sat there and believed that it was for love she had
called him. He could not know that she believed him vindictive,
coarse, degraded, a drunkard and a bully. He who was an example to
all his comrades in the working quarter, he could not guess that
she had summoned him, in order to preach virtue and good habits to
him, in order to say to him, if nothing else helped: "Look at me,
Petter Nord! It is your want of judgment, your vindictiveness, that
is the cause of my death. Think of it, and begin another life!"
He had come filled with love of life and dreams to celebrate love's
festival, and she lay there and thought of plunging him into the
black depths of remorse.
There must have been something of the glory of the kingly crown
shining on her, which made her hesitate so that she decided to
question him first.
"But, Petter Nord, was it really you who were here with those three
He flushed and looked on the ground. Then he had to tell her the
whole story of the day with all its shame. In the first place, what
unmanliness he had shown in not sooner demanding justice, and how
he had only gone because he was forced to it, and then how he had
been beaten and whipped instead of beating some one himself. He did
not dare to look up while he was speaking; he did expect that even
those gentle eyes would judge him with forbearance. He felt that he
was robbing himself of all the glory with which she must have
surrounded him in her dreams.
"But Petter Nord, what would have happened if you had met
Halfvorson?" asked Edith, when he had finished.
He hung his head even lower. "I saw him well enough," he said. "He
had not gone away. He was working in his garden outside the gates.
The boy in the shop told me everything."
"Well, why did you not avenge yourself?" said Edith.
He was spared nothing.—But he felt the inquiring glance of her
eyes on him and he began obediently: "When the men lay down to
sleep on a slope, I went alone to find Halfvorson, for I wished to
have him to myself. He was working there, staking his peas. It must
have rained in torrents the day before, for the peas had been
broken down to the ground; some of the leaves were whipped to
ribbons, others covered with earth. It was like a hospital, and
Halfvorson was the doctor. He raised them up so gently, brushed
away the earth and helped the poor little things to cling to the
twigs. I stood and looked on. He did not hear me, and he had no
time to look up. I tried to retain my anger by force. But what
could I do? I could not fly at him while he was busy with the peas.
My time will come afterwards, I thought.
"But then he started up, struck himself on the forehead and rushed
away to the hotbed. He lifted the glass and looked in, and I looked
too, for he seemed to be in the depths of despair. Yes, it was
dreadful, of course. He had forgotten to shade it from the sun, and
it must have been terribly hot under the glass. The cucumbers lay
there half-dead and gasped for breath; some of the leaves were
burnt, and others were drooping. I was so overcome, I too, that I
never thought what I was doing, and Halfvorson caught sight of my
shadow. 'Look here, take the watering-pot that is standing in the
asparagus bed and run down to the river for water,' he said,
without looking up. I suppose he thought it was the gardener's boy.
And I ran."
"Did you, Petter Nord?"
"Yes; you see, the cucumbers ought not to suffer on account of our
enmity. I thought myself that it showed lack of character and so
on, but I could not help it. I wanted to see if they would come to
life. When I came back, he had lifted the glass off and still stood
and stared despairingly. I thrust the watering-pot into his hand,
and he began to pour over them. Yes, it was almost visible what
good it did in the hotbed. I thought almost that they raised
themselves, and he must have thought so too, for he began to laugh.
Then I ran away."
"You ran away, Petter Nord, you ran away?"
Edith had raised herself in the arm-chair.
"I could not strike him," said Petter Nord.
Edith felt an ever stronger impression of the glory round poor
Petter Nord's head. So it was not necessary to plunge him into the
depths of remorse with the heavy burden of sin around his neck. Was
he such a man? Such a tender-hearted, sensitive man! She sank back,
closed her eyes and thought. She did not need to say it to him. She
was astonished that she felt such a relief not to have to cause him
"I am so glad that you have given up your plans for revenge, Petter
Nord," she began in friendly tones. "It was about that that I
wished to talk to you. Now I can die in peace."
He drew along breath. She was not unfriendly.
She did not look as if she had been mistaken in him. She must love
him very much when she could excuse such cowardice.—For when she
said that she had sent for him to ask him to give up his thoughts
of revenge, it must have been from bashfulness not to have to
acknowledge the real reason of the summons. She was so right in it.
He who was the man ought to say the first word.
"How can they let you die?" he burst out.
"Halfvorson and all the others, how can they? If I were here, I
would refuse to let you die. I would give you all my strength. I
would take all your suffering."
"I have no pain," she said, smiling at such bold promises.
"I am thinking that I would like to carry you away like a frozen
bird, lay you under my vest like a young squirrel. Fancy what it
would be to work if something so warm and soft was waiting for one
at home! But if you were well, there would be so many—"
She looked at him with weary surprise, prepared to put him back in
his proper place. But she must have seen again something of the
magic crown about the boy's head, for she had patience with him. He
meant nothing. He had to talk as he did. He was not like others.
"Ah," she said, indifferently, "there are not so many, Petter Nord.
There has hardly been any one in earnest."
But now there came another turn to his advantage. In her suddenly
awoke the eager hunger of a sick person for compassion. She longed
for the tenderness, the pity that the poor workman could give her.
She felt the need of being near that deep, disinterested sympathy.
The sick cannot have enough of it. She wished to read it in his
glance and his whole being. Words meant nothing to her.
"I like to see you here," she said. "Sit here for a while, and tell
me what you have been doing these six years!"
While he talked, she lay and drew in the indescribable something
which passed between them. She heard and yet she did not hear. But
by some strange sympathy she felt herself strengthened and
Nevertheless she did get one impression from his story. It took her
into the workman's quarter, into a new world, full of tumultuous
hopes and strength. How they longed and trusted! How they hated and
"How happy the oppressed are," she said.
It occurred to her, with a longing for life, that there might be
something for her there, she who always needed oppression and
compulsion to make life worth living.
"If I were well," she said, "perhaps I would have gone there with
you. I should enjoy working my way up with some one I liked."
Petter Nord started. Here was the confession that he had been
waiting for the whole time. "Oh, can you not live!" he prayed.
And he beamed with happiness.
She became observant. "That is love," she said to herself. "And now
he believes that I am also in love. What madness, that Värmland boy!"
She wished to bring him back to reason, but there was something in
Petter Nord on that day of victory that restrained her. She had not
the heart to spoil his happy mood. She felt compassion for his
foolishness and let him live in it. "It does not matter, as I am to
die so soon," she said to herself.
But she sent him away soon after, and when he asked if he might not
come again, she forbade him absolutely. "But," she said, "do you
remember our graveyard up on the hill, Petter Nord. You can come
there in a few weeks and thank death for that day."
As Petter Nord came out of the garden, he met Halfvorson. He was
walking forward and back in despair, and his only consolation was
the thought that Edith was laying the burden of remorse on the
wrong-doer. To see him overpowered by pangs of conscience, for that
alone had he sought him out. But when he met the young workman, he
saw that Edith had not told him everything. He was serious, but at
the same time he certainly was madly happy.
"Has Edith told you why she is dying?" said Halfvorson.
"No," answered Petter Nord.
Halfvorson laid his hand on his shoulder as if to keep him from
"She is dying because of you, because of your damned pranks. She
was slightly ill before, but it was nothing. No one thought that
she would die; but then you came with those three wretched tramps,
and they frightened her while you were in my shop. They chased her,
and she ran away from them, ran till she got a hemorrhage. But that
is what you wanted; you wished to be revenged on me by killing her,
wished to leave me lonely and unhappy without a soul near me who
cares for me. All my joy you wished to take from me, all my joy."
He would have gone on forever, overwhelmed Petter Nord with
reproaches, killed him with curses; but the latter tore himself
away and ran, as if an earthquake had shaken the town and all the
houses were tumbling down.
Behind the town the mountain walls rise perpendicularly, but after
one has climbed up them by steep stone steps and slippery pine
paths, one finds that the mountain spreads out into a wide,
undulating plateau. And there lies an enchanted wood.
Over the whole stretch of the mountain stands a pine wood without
pine-needles; a wood which dies in the spring and grows green in
the autumn; a lifeless wood, which blossoms with the joy of life
when other trees are laying aside their green garments; a wood that
grows without any one knowing how, that stands green in winter
frosts and brown in summer dews.
It is a newly-planted wood. Young firs have been forced to take
root in the clefts between the granite blocks. Their tough roots
have bored down like sharp wedges into the fissures and crevices.
It was very well for a while; the young trees shot up like spires,
and the roots bored down into the granite. But at last they could
go no further, and then the wood was filled with an ill-concealed
peevishness. It wished to go high, but also deep. After the way
down had been closed to it, it felt that life was not worth living.
Every spring it was ready to throw off the burden of life in its
discouragement. During the summer when Edith was dying, the young
wood was quite brown. High above the town of flowers stood a gloomy
row of dying trees.
But up on the mountain it is not all gloom and the agony of death.
As one walks between the brown trees, in such distress that one is
ready to die, one catches glimpses of green trees. The perfume of
flowers fills the air; the song of birds exults and calls. Then
thoughts rise of the sleeping forest and of the paradise of the
fairy-tale, encircled by thorny thickets. And when one comes at
last to the green, to the flower fragrance, to the song of the
birds, one sees that it is the hidden graveyard of the little town.
The home of the dead lies in an earth-filled hollow in the mountain
plateau. And there, within the grey stone walls, the knowledge and
weariness of life end. Lilacs stand at the entrance, bending under
heavy clusters. Lindens and beeches spread a lofty arch of
luxuriant growth over the whole place. Jasmines and roses blossom
freely in that consecrated earth. Over the big old tombstones creep
vines of ivy and periwinkle.
There is a corner where the pine-trees grow mast-high. Does it not
seem as if the young wood outside ought to be ashamed at the sight
of them? And there are hedges there, quite grown beyond their
keeper's hands, blooming and sending forth shoots without thought
of shears or knife.
The town now has a new burial-place, to which the dead can come
without special trouble. It was a weary way for them to be carried
up in winter, when the steep wood-paths are covered with ice, and
the steps slippery and covered with snow. The coffin creaked; the
bearers panted; the old clergyman leaned heavily on the sexton and
the grave-digger. Now no one has to be buried up there who does not
The graves are not beautiful. There are few who know how to make
the resting-place of the dead attractive. But the fresh green sheds
its peace and beauty over them all. It is strangely solemn to know
that those who are buried are glad to lie there. The living who go
up after a day hot with work, go there as among friends. Those who
sleep have also loved the lofty trees and the stillness.
If a stranger comes up there, they do not tell him of death and
loss; they sit down on the big slabs of stone, on the broad
burgomaster tombs, and tell him about Petter Nord, the Värmland
boy, and of his love. The story seems fitting to be told up here,
where death has lost its terrors. The consecrated earth seems to
rejoice at having also been the scene of awakened happiness and
For it happened that after Petter Nord ran away from Halfvorson, he
sought refuge in the graveyard.
At first he ran towards the bridge over the river and turned his
steps towards the big town. But on the bridge the unfortunate
fugitive stopped. The kingly crown on his brow was quite gone. It
had disappeared as if it had been spun of sunbeams. He was deeply
bent with sorrow; his whole body shook; his heart throbbed; his
brain burned like fire.
Then he thought he saw the Spirit of Fasting coming towards him for
the third time. She was much more friendly, much more compassionate
than before; but she seemed to him only so much the more terrible.
"Alas, unhappy one," she said, "surely this must be the last of
your pranks! You have wished to celebrate the festival of love
during that time of fasting which is called life; but you see what
happens to you. Come now and be faithful to me; you have tried
everything and have only me to whom to turn."
He waved his arm to keep her off. "I know what you wish of me. You
wish to lead me back to work and renunciation, but I cannot. Not
now, not now!"
The pallid Spirit of Fasting smiled ever more mildly. "You are
innocent, Petter Nord. Do not grieve so over what you have not
caused! Was not Edith kind to you? Did you not see that she had
forgiven you? Come with me to your work! Live, as you have lived!"
The boy cried more vehemently. "Is it any better for me, do you
think, that I have killed just her who has been kind to me, her,
who cares for me? Had it not been better if I had murdered some one
whom I wished to murder. I must make amends. I must save her life.
I cannot think of work now."
"Oh, you madman," said the Spirit of Fasting, "the festival of
reparation which you wish to celebrate is the greatest audacity
Then Petter Nord rebelled absolutely against his friend of many
years. He scoffed at her. "What have you made me believe?" he said.
"That you were a tiresome and peevish old woman with arms full of
small, harmless twigs. You are a sorceress of life. You are a
monster. You are beautiful, and you are terrible. You yourself know
no bounds nor limits; why should I know them? How can you preach
fasting, you, who wish to deluge me with such an overmeasure of
sorrow? What are the festivals I have celebrated compared to those
you are continually preparing for me! Begone with your pallid
moderation! Now I wish to be as mad as yourself."
Not one step could he take towards the big town. Neither could he
turn directly round and again go the length of the one street in
the village; he took the path up the mountain, climbed to the
enchanted pine-wood, and wandered about among the stiff, prickly
young trees, until a friendly path led him to the graveyard. There
he found a hiding-place in a corner where the pines grew high as
masts, and there he threw himself weary unto death on the ground.
He almost lost consciousness. He did not know if time passed or if
everything stood still. But after a while steps were heard, and he
woke to a feeble consciousness. He seemed to have been far, far
away. He saw a funeral procession draw near, and instantly a
confused thought rose in him. How long had he lain there? Was Edith
dead already? Was she looking for him here? Was the corpse in the
coffin hunting for its murderer? He shook and sweated. He lay well
hidden in the dark pine thicket; but he trembled for what might
happen if the corpse found him. He bent aside the branches and
looked out. A hunted deserter could not have spied more wildly
after his pursuers.
The funeral was that of a poor man. The attendance was small. The
coffin was lowered without wreaths into the grave. There was no
sign of tears on any of the faces. Petter Nord had still enough
sense to see that this could not be Edith Halfvorson's funeral
But if this was not she, who knows if it was not a greeting from
her. Petter Nord felt that he had no right to escape. She had said
that he was to go up to the graveyard. She must have meant that he
was to wait for her there, so that she could find him to give him
his punishment. The funeral was a greeting, a token. She wished him
to wait for her there.
To his sick brain the low churchyard wall rose as high as a
rampart. He stared despairingly at the frail trellis-gate; it was
like the most solid door of oak. He was imprisoned. He could never
get away, until she herself came up and brought him his punishment.
What she was going to do with him he did not know. Only one thing
was distinct and clear; that he must wait here until she came for
him. Perhaps she would take him with her into the grave; perhaps
she would command him to throw himself from the mountain. He could
not know—he must wait for a while yet.
Reason fought a despairing struggle: "You are innocent, Petter
Nord. Do not grieve over what you have not caused! She has not sent
you any messages. Go down to your work! Lift your foot and you are
over the wall; push with one finger and the gate is open."
No, he could not. Most of the time he was in a stupor, a trance.
His thoughts were indistinct, as when on the point of falling
asleep. He only knew one thing, that he must stay where he was.
The news came to her lying and fading in emulation with the
rootless birches. "Petter Nord, with whom you played one summer
day, is in the graveyard waiting for you. Petter Nord, whom your
uncle has frightened out of his senses, cannot leave the graveyard
until your flower-decked coffin comes to fetch him."
The girl opened her eyes as if to look at the world once more. She
sent a message to Petter Nord. She was angry at his mad pranks. Why
could she not die in peace? She had never wished that he should
have any pangs of conscience for her sake.
The bearer of the message came back without Petter Nord. He could
not come. The wall was too high and the gate too strong. There was
only one who could free him.
During those days they thought of nothing else in the little town.
"He is there; he is there still," they told one another every day.
"Is he mad?" they asked most often, and some who had talked with
him answered that he certainly would be when "she" came. But they
were exceedingly proud of that martyr to love who gave a glory to
the town. The poor took him food. The rich stole up on the mountain
to catch a glimpse of him.
But Edith, who could not move, who lay helpless and dying, she who
had so much time to think, with what was she occupying herself?
What thoughts revolved in her brain day and night? Oh, Petter Nord,
Petter Nord! Must she always see before her the man who loved her,
who was losing his mind for her sake, who really, actually was in
the graveyard waiting for her coffin.
See, that was something for the steel-spring in her nature. That
was something for her imagination, something for her benumbed
senses. To think what he meant to do when she should come! To
imagine what he would do if she should not come there as a corpse!
They talked of it in the whole town, talked of it and nothing else.
As the cities of ancient times had loved their martyrs, the little
village loved the unhappy Petter Nord; but no one liked to go into
the graveyard and talk to him. He looked wilder each day. The
obscurity of madness sank ever closer about him. "Why does she not
try to get well?" they said of Edith. "It is unjust of her to die."
Edith was almost angry. She who was so tired of life, must she be
compelled to take up the heavy burden again? But nevertheless she
began an honest effort. She felt what a work of repairing and
mending was going on in her body with seething force during these
weeks. And no material was spared. She consumed incredible
quantities of those things which give strength and life, whatever
they may be: malt extract or codliver oil, fresh air or sunshine,
dreams or love.
And what glorious days they were, long, warm, and sunny!
At last she got the doctor's permission to be carried up there. The
whole town was in alarm when she undertook the journey. Would she
come down with a madman? Could the misery of those weeks be blotted
out of his brain? Would the exertions she had made to begin life
again be profitless? And if it were so, how would it go with her?
As she passed by, pale with excitement, but still full of hope,
there was cause enough for anxiety. No one concealed from
themselves that Petter Nord had taken quite too large a place in
her imagination. She was the most eager of all in the worship of
that strange saint. All restraints had fallen from her when she had
heard what he suffered for her sake. But how would the sight of him
affect her enthusiasm? There is nothing romantic in a madman.
When she had been carried up to the gate of the graveyard, she left
her bearers and walked alone up the broad middle path. Her gaze
wandered round the flowering spot, but she saw no one.
Suddenly she heard a faint rustle in a clump of fir-trees, and she
saw a wild, distorted face staring from it. Never had she seen
terror so plainly stamped on a face. She was frightened herself at
the sight of it, mortally frightened. She could hardly restrain
herself from running away.
Then a great, holy feeling welled up in her. There was no longer
any thought of love or enthusiasm, but only grief that a fellow-being,
one of the unhappy ones who passed through the vale of tears with
her, should be destroyed.
The girl remained. She did not give way a single step; she let him
slowly accustom himself to the sight of her. But she put all the
strength she possessed in her gaze. She drew the man to her with
the whole force of the will that had conquered the illness in
He came forward out of his corner, pale, wild and unkempt. He
advanced towards her, but the terror never left his face. He looked
as if he were fascinated by a wild beast, which came to tear him to
pieces. When he was quite close to her, she put both her hands on
his shoulders and looked smiling into his face.
"Come, Petter Nord, what is the matter with you? You must go from
here! What do you mean by staying so long up here in the graveyard,
He trembled and sank down. But she felt that she subdued him with
her eyes. Her words, on the other hand, seemed to have absolutely
no meaning to him.
She changed her tone a little. "Listen to what I say, Petter Nord.
I am not dead. I am not going to die. I have got well in order to
come up here and save you."
He still stood in the same dull terror. Again there came a change
in her voice. "You have not caused my death," she said more
tenderly, "you have given me life."
She repeated it again and again. And her voice at last was
trembling with emotion, thick with weeping. But he did not
understand anything of what she said.
"Petter Nord, I love you so much, so much!" she burst out.
He was just as unmoved.
She knew nothing more to try with him. She would have to take him
down with her to the town and let time and care help.
It is not easy to say what the dreams she had taken up there with
her were and what she had expected from this meeting with the man
who loved her. Now, when she was to give it all up and treat him as
a madman only, she felt such pain, as if she was about to lose the
dearest thing life had given her. And in that bitterness of loss
she drew him to her and kissed him on the forehead.
It was meant as a farewell to both happiness and life. She felt her
strength fail her. A mortal weakness came over her.
But then she thought she saw a feeble sign of life in him. He was
not quite so limp and dull. His features were twitching. He
trembled more and more violently. She watched with ever-growing
alarm. He was waking, but to what? At last he began to weep.
She led him away to a tomb. She sat down on it, pulled him down in
front of her and laid his bead on her lap. She sat and caressed
him, while he wept.
He was like some one waking from a nightmare.
"Why am I weeping?" he asked himself. "Oh, I know; I had such a
terrible dream. But it is not true. She is alive. I have not killed
her. So foolish to weep for a dream."
Gradually everything grew clear to him; but his tears continued to
flow. She sat and caressed him, but he wept still for a long time.
"I feel such a need of weeping," he said.
Then he looked up and smiled. "Is it Easter now?" he asked.
"What do you mean by now?"
"It can be called Easter, when the dead rise again," he continued.
Thereupon, as if they had been intimate many years, he began to
tell her about the Spirit of Fasting and of his revolt against her
"It is Easter now, and the end of her reign," she said.
But when he realized that Edith was sitting there and caressing
him, he had to weep again. He needed so much to weep. All the
distrust of life which misfortunes had brought to the little
Värmland boy needed tears to wash it away. Distrust that love and
joy, beauty and strength blossomed on the earth, distrust in
himself, all must go, all did go, for if was Easter; the dead lived
and the Spirit of Fasting would never again come into power.
THE LEGEND OF THE BIRD'S NEST
Hatto the hermit stood in the wilderness and prayed to God. A storm
was raging, and his long beard and matted hair waved about him like
weather-beaten tufts of grass on the summit of an old ruin. But he
did not push his hair out of his eyes, nor did he tuck his beard
into his belt, for his arms were uplifted in prayer. Ever since
sunrise he had raised his gnarled, hairy arms towards heaven, as
untiringly as a tree stretches up its branches, and he meant to
remain standing so till night. He had a great boon to pray for.
He was a man who had suffered much of the world's anger. He had
himself persecuted and tortured, and persecutions and torture from
others had fallen to his share, more than his heart could bear. So
he went out on the great heath, dug himself a hole in the river
bank and became a holy man, whose prayers were heard at God's throne.
Hatto the hermit stood there on the river bank by his hole and
prayed the great prayer of his life. He prayed God that He should
appoint the day of doom for this wicked world. He called on the
trumpet-blowing angels, who were to proclaim the end of the reign
of sin. He cried out to the waves of the sea of blood, which were
to drown the unrighteous. He called on the pestilence, which should
fill the churchyards with heaps of dead.
Round about stretched a desert plain. But a little higher up on the
river bank stood an old willow with a short trunk, which swelled
out at the top in a great knob like a head, from which new,
light-green shoots grew out. Every autumn it was robbed of these
strong, young branches by the inhabitants of that fuel-less heath.
Every spring the tree put forth new, soft shoots, and in stormy
weather these waved and fluttered about it, just as hair and beard
fluttered about Hatto the hermit.
A pair of wagtails, which used to make their nest in the top of the
willow's trunk among the sprouting branches, had intended to begin
their building that very day. But among the whipping shoots the
birds found no quiet. They came flying with straws and root fibres
and dried sedges, but they had to turn back with their errand
unaccomplished. Just then they noticed old Hatto, who called upon
God to make the storm seven times more violent, so that the nests
of the little birds might be swept away and the eagle's eyrie
Of course no one now living can conceive how mossy and dried-up and
gnarled and black and unlike a human being such an old plain-dweller
could be. The skin was so drawn over brow and cheeks, that he
looked almost like a death's-head, and one saw only by a faint
gleam in the hollows of the eye sockets that he was alive. And the
dried-up muscles of the body gave it no roundness, and the
upstretched, naked arms consisted only of shapeless bones, covered
with shrivelled, hardened, bark-like skin. He wore an old,
close-fitting, black robe. He was tanned by the sun and black with
dirt. His hair and beard alone were light, bleached by the rain and
sun, until they had become the same green-gray color as the under
side of the willow leaves.
The birds, flying about, looking for a place to build, took Hatto
the hermit for another old willow-tree, checked in its struggle
towards the sky by axe and saw like the first one. They circled
about him many times, flew away and came again, took their
landmarks, considered his position in regard to birds of prey and
winds, found him rather unsatisfactory, but nevertheless decided in
his favor, because he stood so near to the river and to the tufts
of sedge, their larder and storehouse. One of them shot swift as an
arrow down into his upstretched hand and laid his root fibre there.
There was a lull in the storm, so that the root-fibre was not torn
instantly away from the hand; but in the hermit's prayers there was
no pause: "May the Lord come soon to destroy this world of
corruption, so that man may not have time to heap more sin upon
himself! May he save the unborn from life! For the living there is
Then the storm began again, and the little root-fibre fluttered
away out of the hermit's big gnarled hand. But the birds came again
and tried to wedge the foundation of the new home in between the
fingers. Suddenly a shapeless and dirty thumb laid itself on the
straws and held them fast, and four fingers arched themselves so
that there was a quiet niche to build in. The hermit continued his
"Oh Lord, where are the clouds of fire which laid Sodom waste? When
wilt Thou let loose the floods which lifted the ark to Ararat's
top? Are not the cups of Thy patience emptied and the vials of Thy
grace exhausted? Oh Lord, when wilt Thou rend the heavens and come?"
And feverish visions of the Day of Doom appeared to Hatto the
hermit. The ground trembled, the heavens glowed. Across the flaming
sky he saw black clouds of flying birds, a horde of panic-stricken
beasts rushed, roaring and bellowing, past him. But while his soul
was occupied with these fiery visions, his eyes began to follow the
flight of the little birds, as they flashed to and fro and with a
cheery peep of satisfaction wove a new straw into the nest.
The old man had no thought of moving. He had made a vow to pray
without moving with uplifted hands all day in order to force the
Lord to grant his request. The more exhausted his body became, the
more vivid visions filled his brain. He heard the walls of cities
fall and the houses crack. Shrieking, terrified crowds rushed by
him, pursued by the angels of vengeance and destruction, mighty
forms with stern, beautiful faces, wearing silver coats of mail,
riding black horses and swinging scourges, woven of white
The little wagtails built and shaped busily all day, and the work
progressed rapidly. On the tufted heath with its stiff sedges and
by the river with its reeds and rushes, there was no lack of
building material. They had no time for noon siesta nor for evening
rest. Glowing with eagerness and delight, they flew to and fro, and
before night came they had almost reached the roof.
But before night came, the hermit had begun to watch them more and
more. He followed them on their journeys; he scolded them when they
built foolishly; he was furious when the wind disturbed their work;
and least of all could he endure that they should take any rest.
Then the sun set, and the birds went to their old sleeping place in
among the rushes.
Let him who crosses the heath at night bend clown until his face
comes on a level with the tufts of grass, and he will see a strange
spectacle outline itself against the western sky. Owls with great,
round wings skim over the ground, invisible to any one standing
upright. Snakes glide about there, lithe, quick, with narrow heads
uplifted on swanlike necks. Great turtles crawl slowly forward,
hares and water-rats flee before preying beasts, and a fox bounds
after a bat, which is chasing mosquitos by the river. It seems as
if every tuft has come to life. But through it all the little birds
sleep on the waving rushes, secure from all harm in that
resting-place which no enemy can approach, without the water
splashing or the reeds shaking and waking them.
When the morning came, the wagtails believed at first that the
events of the day before had been a beautiful dream.
They had taken their landmarks and flew straight to their nest,
but it was gone. They flew searching over the heath and rose up
into the air to spy about. There was not a trace of nest or tree.
At last they lighted on a couple of stones by the river bank and
considered. They wagged their long tails and cocked their heads on
one side. Where had the tree and nest gone?
But hardly had the sun risen a handsbreadth over the belt of trees
on the other bank, before their tree came walking and placed itself
on the same spot where it had been the day before. It was just as
black and gnarled as ever and bore their nest on the top of
something, which must be a dry, upright branch.
Then the wagtails began to build again, without troubling
themselves any more about nature's many wonders.
Hatto the hermit, who drove the little children away from his hole
telling them that it had been best for them if they had never been
born, he who rushed out into the mud to hurl curses after the
joyous young people who rowed up the stream in pleasure-boats, he
from whose angry eyes the shepherds on the heath guarded their
flocks, did not return to his place by the river for the sake of
the little birds. He knew that not only has every letter in the
holy books its hidden, mysterious meaning, but so also has
everything which God allows to take place in nature. He had thought
out the meaning of the wagtails building in his hand. God wished
him to remain standing with uplifted arms until the birds had
raised their brood; and if he should have the power to do that, he
would be heard.
But during that day he did not see so many visions of the Day of
Doom. Instead, he watched the birds more and more eagerly. He saw
the nest soon finished. The little builders fluttered about it and
inspected it. They went after a few bits of lichen from the real
willow-tree and fastened them on the outside, to fill the place of
plaster and paint. They brought the finest cotton-grass, and the
female wagtail took feathers from her own breast and lined the nest.
The peasants, who feared the baleful power that the hermit's
prayers might have at the throne of God, used to bring him bread
and milk to mitigate his wrath. They came now too and found him
standing motionless, with the bird's nest in his hand. "See how the
holy man loves the little creatures," they said, and were no longer
afraid of him, but lifted the bowl of milk to his mouth and put the
bread between his lips. When he had eaten and drunk, he drove away
the people with angry words, but they only smiled at his curses.
His body had long since become the slave of his will. By hunger and
blows, by praying all day, by waking a week at a time, he had
taught it obedience. Now the steel-like muscles held his arms
uplifted for days and weeks, and when the female wagtail began to
sit on her eggs and never left the nest, he did not return to his
hole even at night. He learned to sleep sitting, with upstretched
arms. Among the dwellers in the wilderness there are many who have
done greater things.
He grew accustomed to the two little, motionless bird-eyes which
stared down at him over the edge of the nest. He watched for hail
and rain, and sheltered the nest as well as he could.
At last one day the female is freed from her duties. Both the birds
sit on the edge of the nest, wag their tails and consult and look
delighted, although the whole nest seems to be full of an anxious
peeping. After a while they set out on the wildest hunt for midges.
Midge after midge is caught and brought to whatever it is that is
peeping up there in his hand. And when the food comes, the peeping
is at its very loudest. The holy man is disturbed in his prayers by
And gently, gently he bends his arm, which has almost lost the
power of moving, and his little fiery eyes stare down into the
Never had he seen anything so helplessly ugly and miserable: small,
naked bodies, with a little thin down, no eyes, no power of flight,
nothing really but six big, gaping mouths.
It seemed very strange to him, but he liked them just as they were.
Their father and mother he had never spared in the general
destruction, but when hereafter he called to God to ask of Him the
salvation of the world through its annihilation, he made a silent
exception of those six helpless ones.
When the peasant women now brought him food, he no longer thanked
them by wishing their destruction. Since he was necessary to the
little creatures up there, he was glad that they did not let him
starve to death.
Soon six round heads were to be seen the whole day long stretching
over the edge of the nest. Old Hatto's arm sank more and more often
to the level of his eyes. He saw the feathers push out through the
red skin, the eyes open, the bodies round out. Happy inheritors of
the beauty nature has given to flying creatures, they developed
quickly in their loveliness.
And during all this time prayers for the great destruction rose
more and more hesitatingly to old Hatto's lips. He thought that he
had God's promise, that it should come when the little birds were
fledged. Now he seemed to be searching for a loop-hole for God the
Father. For these six little creatures, whom he had sheltered and
cherished, he could not sacrifice.
It was another matter before, when he had not had anything that was
his own. The love for the small and weak, which it has been every
little child's mission to teach big, dangerous people, came over
him and made him doubtful.
He sometimes wanted to hurl the whole nest into the river, for he
thought that they who die without sorrow or sin are the happy ones.
Should he not save them from beasts of prey and cold, from hunger,
and from life's manifold visitations? But just as he thought this,
a sparrow-hawk came swooping down on the nest. Then Hatto seized
the marauder with his left hand, swung him about his head and
hurled him with the strength of wrath out into the stream.
The day came at last when the little birds were ready to fly. One
of the wagtails was working inside the nest to push the young ones
out to the edge, while the other flew about, showing them how easy
it was, if they only dared to try. And when the young ones were
obstinate and afraid, both the parents flew about, showing them all
their most beautiful feats of flight. Beating with their wings,
they flew in swooping curves, or rose right up like larks or hung
motionless in the air with vibrating wings.
But as the young ones still persist in their obstinacy, Hatto the
hermit cannot keep from mixing himself up in the matter. He gives
them a cautious shove with his finger and then it is done. Out they
go, fluttering and uncertain, beating the air like bats, sink, but
rise again, grasp what the art is and make use of it to reach the
nest again as quickly as possible. Proud and rejoicing, the parents
come to them again and old Hatto smiles.
It was he who gave the final touch after all.
He now considered seriously if there could not be any way out of it
for our Lord.
Perhaps, when all was said, God the Father held this earth in His
right hand like a big bird's nest, and perhaps He had come to
cherish love for all those who build and dwell there, for all
earth's defenceless children. Perhaps He felt pity for those whom
He had promised to destroy, just as the hermit felt pity for the
Of course the hermit's birds were much better than our Lord's
people, but he could quite understand that God the Father
nevertheless had love for them.
The next day the bird's nest stood empty, and the bitterness of
loneliness filled the heart of the hermit. Slowly his arm sank down
to his side, and it seemed to him as if all nature held its breath
to listen for the thunder of the trumpet of Doom. But just then all
the wagtails came again and lighted on his head and shoulders, for
they were not at all afraid of him. Then a ray of light shot
through old Hatto's confused brain. He had lowered his arm, lowered
it every day to look at the birds.
And standing there with all the six young ones fluttering and
playing about him, he nodded contentedly to some one whom he did
not see. "I let you off," he said, "I let you off. I have not kept
my word, so you need not keep yours."
And it seemed to him as if the mountains ceased to tremble and as
if the river laid itself down in easy calm in its bed.
THE KING'S GRAVE
It was at the time of year when the heather is red. It grew over
the sand-hills in thick clumps. From low tree-like stems
close-growing green branches raised their hardy ever-green leaves
and unfading flowers. They seemed not to be made of ordinary, juicy
flower substance, but of dry, hard scales. They were very
insignificant in size and shape; nor was their fragrance of much
account. Children of the open moors, they had not unfolded in the
still air where lilies open their alabaster petals; nor did they
grow in the rich soil from which roses draw nourishment for their
swelling crowns. What made them flowers was really their color, for
they were glowing red. They had received the color-giving sunshine
in plenty. They were no pallid cellar growth; the blessed gaiety
and strength of health lay over all the blossoming heath.
The heather covered the bare fields with its red mantle up to the
edge of the wood. There, on a gently sloping ridge, stood some
ancient, half ruined stone cairns; and however closely the heather
tried to creep to these, there were always rents in its web,
through which were visible great, flat rocks, folds in the
mountain's own rough skin. Under the biggest of these piles rested
an old king, Atle by name. Under the others slumbered those of his
warriors who had fallen when the great battle raged on the moor.
They had lain there now so long that the fear and respect of death
had departed from their graves. The path ran between their
resting-places. The wanderer by night never thought to look whether
forms wrapped in mist sat at midnight on the tops of the cairns
staring in silent longing at the stars.
It was a glittering morning, dewy and warm. The hunter who had been
out since daybreak had thrown himself down in the heather behind
King Atle's pile. He lay on his back and slept. He had dragged his
hat down over his eyes; and under his head lay his leather
game-bag, out of which protruded a hare's long ears and the bent
tail-feathers of a black-cock. His bow and arrows lay beside him.
From out of the wood came a girl with a bundle in her hand. When
she reached the flat rock between the piles of stones, she thought
what a good place it would be to dance. She was seized with an
ardent desire to try. She laid her bundle on the heather and began
to dance quite alone. She had no idea that a man lay asleep behind
the king's cairn.
The hunter still slept. The heather showed burning red against the
deep blue of the sky. An anthill stood close beside the sleeper. On
it lay a piece of quartz, which sparkled as if it had wished to set
fire to all the old stubble of the heath. Above the hunter's head
the black-cock feathers spread out like a plume, and their
iridescence shifted from deep purple to steely blue. On the
unshaded part of his face the burning sunshine glowed. But he did
not open his eyes to look at the glory of the morning.
In the meanwhile the girl continued to dance, and whirled about so
eagerly that the blackened moss which had collected in the
unevennesses of the rocks flew about her. An old, dry fir root,
smooth and gray with age, lay upturned among the heather. She took
it and whirled about with it. Chips flew out from the mouldering
wood. Centipedes and earwigs that had lived in the crevices
scurried out head over heels into the luminous air and bored down
among the roots of the heather.
When the swinging skirts grazed the heather, clouds of small grey
butterflies fluttered up from it. The under side of their wings was
white and silvery and they whirled like dry leaves in a squall.
They then seemed quite white, and it was as if a red sea threw up
white foam. The butterflies remained for a short time in the air.
Their fragile wings fluttered so violently that the down loosened
and fell like thin silver white feathers. The air seemed to be
filled with a glorified mist.
On the heath grasshoppers sat and scraped their back legs against
their wings, so that they sounded like harp strings. They kept good
time and played so well together, that to any one passing over the
moor it sounded like the same grasshopper during the whole walk,
although it seemed to be first on the right, then on the left; now
in front, now behind. But the dancer was not content with their
playing and began after a little while to hum the measure of a
dance tune. Her voice was shrill and harsh. The hunter was waked by
the song. He turned on his side, raised himself to his elbow, and
looked over the pile of stones at the dancing girl.
He had dreamt that the hare which he had just killed had leaped out
of the bag and had taken his own arrows to shoot at him. He now
stared at the girl half awake, dizzy with his dream, his head
burning from sleeping in the sun.
She was tall and coarsely built, not fair of face, nor light in the
dance, nor tuneful in her song. She had broad cheeks, thick lips
and a flat nose. She had very red cheeks, very dark hair. She was
exuberant in figure, moving with vigor and life. Her clothes were
shabby but bright in color. Red bands edged the striped skirt and
bright colored worsted fringes outlined the seams of her bodice.
Other young maidens resemble roses and lilies, but she was like the
heather, strong, gay and glowing.
The hunter watched with pleasure as the big, splendid woman danced
on the red heath among the playing grasshoppers and the fluttering
butterflies. While he looked at her he laughed so that his mouth
was drawn up towards his ears. But then she suddenly caught sight
of him and stood motionless.
"I suppose you think I am mad," was the first thing that occurred
to her to say. At the same time she wondered how she would get him
to hold his tongue about what he had seen. She did not care to hear
it told down in the village that she had danced with a fir root.
He was a man poor in words. Not a syllable could he utter. He was
so shy that he could think of nothing better than to run away,
although he longed to stay. Hastily he got his hat on his head and
his leather bag on his back. Then he ran away through the clumps of
She snatched up her bundle and ran after him. He was small, stiff
in his movements and evidently had very little strength. She soon
caught up with him and knocked his hat off to induce him to stop.
He really wished to do so, but he was confused with shyness and
fled with still greater speed. She ran after him and began to pull
at his game-bag. Then he had to stop to defend it. She fell upon
him with all her strength. They fought, and she threw him to the
ground. "Now he will not speak of it to any one," she thought, and
At the same moment, however, she grew sick with fright, for the man
who lay on the ground turned livid and his eyes rolled inwards in
his head. He was not hurt in any way, however. He could not bear
emotion. Never before had so strong and conflicting feelings
stirred within that lonely forest dweller. He rejoiced over the
girl and was angry and ashamed and yet proud that she was so
strong. He was quite out of his head with it all.
The big, strong girl put her arm under his back and lifted him up.
She broke the heather and whipped his face with the stiff twigs
until the blood came back to it. When his little eyes again turned
towards the light of day, they shone with pleasure at the sight of
her. He was still silent; but he drew forward the hand which she
had placed about his waist and caressed it gently.
He was a child of starvation and early toil. He was dry and pallid,
thin and anaemic. She was touched by his faintheartedness; he who
nevertheless seemed to be about thirty years old. She thought that
he must live quite alone in the forest since he was so pitiful and
so meanly dressed. He could have no one to look after him, neither
mother nor sister nor sweetheart.
The great compassionate forest spread over the wilderness.
Concealing and protecting, it took to its heart everything which
sought its help. With its lofty trunks it kept watch by the lair of
the fox and the bear, and in the twilight of the thick bushes it
hid the egg-filled nests of little birds.
At the time when people still had slaves, many of them escaped to
the woods and found shelter behind its green walls. It became a
great prison for them which they did not dare to leave. The forest
held its prisoners in strict discipline. It forced the dull ones to
use their wits and educated those ruined by slavery to order and
honor. Only to the industrious did it give the right to live.
The two who met on the heath were descendants of such prisoners of
the forest. They sometimes went down to the inhabited, cultivated
valleys, for they no longer feared to be reduced to the slavery
from which their forefathers had fled, but they were happiest in
the dimness of the forest. The hunter's name was Tönne. His real
work was to cultivate the earth, but he also could do other things.
He collected herbs, boiled tar, dried punk, and often went hunting.
The dancer was called Jofrid. Her father was a charcoal burner. She
tied brooms, picked juniper berries and brewed ale of the
white-flowering myrtle. They were both very poor.
They had never met before in the big wood, but now they thought
that all its paths wound into a net, in which they ran forward and
back and could not possibly escape one another. They never knew how
to choose a way where they did not meet.
Tönne had once had a great sorrow. He had lived with his mother for
a long while in a miserable, wattled but, but as soon as he was
grown up he was seized with the idea to build her a warm cabin.
During all his leisure moments he went into the clearing, cut down
trees and hewed them into squared pieces. Then he hid the timber in
dark crannies under moss and branches. It was his intention that
his mother should not know anything of all this work before he was
ready to build the house. But his mother died before he could show
her what he had collected; before he had time to tell her what he
had wished to do. He, who had worked with the same zeal as David,
King of Israel, when he gathered treasures for the temple of God,
grieved most bitterly over it. He lost all interest in the
building. For him the brushwood shelter was good enough. Yet he was
hardly better off in his home than an animal in its hole.
When he, who had always heretofore crept about alone, was now
seized with the desire to seek Jofrid's company, it certainly meant
that he would like to have her for his sweetheart and his bride.
Jofrid also waited daily for him to speak to her father or to
herself about the matter. But Tönne could not. This showed that he
was of a race of slaves. The thoughts that came into his head moved
as slowly as the sun when he travels across the sky. And it was
more difficult for him to shape those thoughts to connected speech
than for a smith to forge a bracelet out of rolling grains of sand.
One day Tönne took Jofrid to one of the clefts, where he had hidden
his timber. He pulled aside the branches and moss and showed her
the squared beams. "That was to have been mother's house," he said.
The young girl was strangely slow in understanding a young man's
thoughts. When he showed her his mother's logs she ought to have
understood, but she did not understand.
Then he decided to make his meaning even plainer. A few days later
he began to drag the logs up to the place between the cairns, where
he had seen Jofrid for the first time. She came as usual along the
path and saw him at work. Nevertheless she went on without saying
anything. Since they had become friends she had often given him a
good handshake, but she did not seem to want to help him with the
heavy work. Tönne still thought that she ought to have understood
that it was now her house which he meant to build.
She understood it very well, but she had no desire to give herself
to such a man as Tönne. She wished to have a strong and healthy
husband. She thought it would be a poor livelihood to marry any one
who was weak and dull. Still, there was much which drew her to that
silent, shy man. She thought how hard he had worked to gladden his
mother and had not enjoyed the happiness of being ready in time.
She could weep for his sake. And now he was building the house just
where he had seen her dance. He had a good heart. And that
interested her and fixed her thoughts on him, but she did not at
all wish to marry him.
Every day she went over the heather field and saw the log cabin
grow, miserable and without windows, with the sunlight filtering in
through the leaky walls.
Tönne's work progressed very quickly, but not with care. His
timbers were not bent square, the lark was scarcely taken off. He
laid the floor with split young trees. It was uneven and shaky. The
heather, which grew and blossomed under it,—for at year had passed
since the day when Tönne had lain aleep behind King Atle's pile,—
pushed up bold red clusters through the cracks, and ants without
number wandered out and in, inspecting the fragile work of man.
Wherever Jofrid went during those days, the thought never left her
that a house was being built for her there. A home was being
prepared for her upon the heath. And she knew that if she did not
enter there as mistress, the bear and the fox would make it their
home. For she knew Tönne well enough to understand that if he found
he had worked in vain, he would never move into the new house. He
would weep, poor man, when he heard that she would not live there.
It would be a new sorrow for him, as deep as when his mother died.
But he had himself to blame, because he had not asked her in time.
She thought that she gave him a sufficient hint in not helping him
with the house. She often felt impelled to do so. Every time she
saw any soft, white moss, she wanted to pick it to fill in the
leaky walls. She longed, too, to help Tönne to build the chimney.
As he was making it, all the smoke would gather in the house. But
it did not matter how it was. No food would ever be cooked there,
no ale brewed. Still it was odious that the house would never leave
Tönne worked, glowing with eagerness, certain that Jofrid would
understand his meaning, if only the house were ready. He did not
wonder much about her; he had enough to do to hew and shape. The
days went quickly for him.
One afternoon, when Jofrid came over the moor, she saw that there
was a door in the cottage and a slab of stone for a threshold. Then
she understood that everything must now be ready, and she was much
agitated. Tönne had covered the roof with tufts of flowering
heather, and she was seized by an intense longing to enter under
that red roof. He was not at the new house and she decided to go
in. The house was built for her. It was her home. It was not
possible to resist the desire to see it.
Within it was more attractive than she had expected. Rushes were
strewed over the floor. It was full of the fresh fragrance of pine
and resin. The sunshine that played through the windows and cracks
made bands of light through the air. It looked as if she had been
expected; in the crannies of the wall green branches were stuck,
and in the fireplace stood a newly cut fir-tree. Tönne had not
moved in his old furniture. There was nothing but a new table and a
bench, over which an elk skin was thrown.
As soon as Jofrid had crossed the threshold, she felt the pleasant
cosiness of home surrounding her. She was happy and content while
she stood there, but to leave it seemed to her as hard as to go
away and serve strangers. It happened that Jofrid had expended much
hard work in procuring a kind of dower for herself. With skilful
hands she had woven bright colored fabrics, such as are used to
adorn a room, and she wanted to put them up in her own home, when
she got one. Now she wondered how those cloths would look here. She
wished she could try them in the new house.
She hurried quickly home, fetched her roll of weavings and began to
fasten the bright-colored pieces of cloth up under the roof. She
threw open the door to let the big setting sun shine on her and her
work. She moved eagerly about the cottage, brisk, gay, bumming a
merry tune. She was perfectly happy. It looked so fine. The woven
roses and stars shone as never before.
While she worked she kept a good look-out over the moor and the
graves, for it seemed to her as if Tönne might now too be lying
hidden behind one of the cairns and laughing at her. The king's
grave lay opposite the door and behind it she saw the sun setting.
Time after time she looked out. She felt as if some one was sitting
there and watching her.
Just as the sun was so low that only a few blood-red beams filtered
over the old stone heap, she saw who it was who was watching her.
The whole pile of stones was no longer stones, but a mighty, old
warrior, who was sitting there, scarred and gray, and staring at
her. Round about his head the rays of the sun made a crown, and his
red mantle was so wide that it spread over the whole moor. His head
was big and heavy, his face gray as stone. His clothes and weapons
were also stone-colored, and repeated so exactly the shadings and
mossiness of the rock, that one had to look closely to see that it
was a warrior and not a pile of stones. It was like those insects
which resemble tree-twigs. One can go by them twenty times before
one sees that it is a soft animal body one has taken for hard wood.
But Jofrid could no longer be mistaken. It was the old King Atle
himself sitting there. She stood in the doorway, shaded her eyes
with her hand, and looked right into his stony face. He had very
small, oblique eyes under a dome-like brow, a broad nose and a long
beard. And he was alive, that man of stone. He smiled and winked at
her. She was afraid, and what terrified her most of all were his
thick, muscular arms and hairy hands. The longer she looked at him
the broader grew his smile, and at last he lifted one of his mighty
arms to beckon her to him. Then Jofrid took flight towards home.
But when Tönne came home and saw the housc adorned with starry
weavings, he found courage to send a friend to Jofrid's father. The
latter asked Jofrid what she thought about it and she gave her
consent. She was well pleased with the way it had turned out, even
if she had been half forced to give her hand. She could not say no
to the man, to whose house she had already carried her dower. Still
she looked first to see that old King Atle had again become a pile
Tönne and Jofrid lived happily for many years. They earned a good
reputation. "They are good," people said. "See how they stand by
one another, see how they work together, see how one cannot live
apart from the other!"
Tönne grew stronger, more enduring and less heavy-witted every day.
Jofrid seemed to have made a whole man of him. Almost always he let
her rule, but he also understood how to carry out his own will with
Jests and merriment followed Jofrid wherever she went. Her clothes
became more vivid the older she grew. Her whole face was bright
red. But in Tönne's eyes she was beautiful.
They were not so poor as many others of their class. They ate
butter with their porridge and mixed neither bran nor bark in their
bread. Myrtle ale foamed in their tankards. Their flocks of sheep
and goats increased so quickly that they could allow themselves
Tönne once worked for a peasant in the valley. The latter, who saw
how he and his wife worked together with great gaiety, thought like
many another: "See, these are good people."
The peasant had lately lost his wife, and she had left behind her a
child six months old. He asked Tönne and Jofrid to take his son as
"The child is very dear to me," he said, "therefore I give it to
you, for you are good people."
They had no children of their own, so that it seemed very fitting
for them to take it. They accepted it too without hesitation. They
thought it would be to their advantage to bring up a peasant's
child, besides which they expected to be cheered in their old age
by their foster-son.
But the child did not live to grow up with them. Before the year
was out it was dead. It was said by many that it was the fault of
the foster-parents, for the child had been unusually strong before
it came to them. By that no one meant, however, that they had
killed it intentionally, but rather that they had undertaken
something beyond their powers. They had not had sense or love
enough to give it the care it needed. They were accustomed only to
think of themselves and to look out for themselves. They had no
time to care for a child. They wished to go together to their work
every day and to sleep a quiet sleep at night. They thought that
the child drank too much of their good milk and did not allow him
as much as themselves. They had no idea that they were treating the
boy badly. They thought that they were just as tender to him as
parents generally are. It seemed more to them as if their
foster-son had been a punishment and a torment. They did not mourn
him when he died.
Women usually enjoy nothing better than to take care of a child;
but Jofrid had a husband, whom she often had to care for like a
mother, so that she desired no one else. They also love to see
their children's quick growth; but Jofrid had pleasure enough in
watching Tönne develop sense and manliness, in adorning and taking
care of her house, in the increase of their flocks, and in the
crops which they were raising below on the moor.
Jofrid went to the peasant's farm and told him that the child was
dead. Then the man said: "I am like the man who puts cushions in
his bed so soft that he sinks down to the hard bottom. I wished to
care too well for my son, and look, now he is dead!" And he was
At his words Jofrid began to weep bitterly. "Would to God that you
had not left your son with us!" she said. "We were too poor. He
could not get what he needed with us."
"That is not what I meant," answered the peasant. "I believe that
you have over-indulged the child. But I will not accuse any one,
for over life and death God alone rules. Now I mean to celebrate
the funeral of my only son with the same expense as if he had been
full grown, and to the feast I invite both Tönne and you. By that
you may know that I bear you no grudge."
So Tönne and Jofrid went to the funeral banquet. They were well
treated, and no one said anything unfriendly to them. The women who
had dressed the child's body had related that it had been miserably
thin and had borne marks of great neglect. But that could easily
come from sickness. No one wished to believe anything bad about the
foster-parents, for it was known that they were good people.
Jofrid wept a great deal during those days, especially when she
heard the women tell how they had to wake and toil for their little
children. She noticed, too, that the women at the funeral were
continually talking of their children. Some rejoiced so in them
that they never could stop telling of their questions and games.
Jofrid would have liked to have talked about Tönne, but most of
them never spoke of their husbands.
Late one evening Jofrid and Tönne came home from the festivities.
They went straight to bed. But hardly had they fallen asleep before
they were waked by a feeble crying. "It is the child," they
thought, still half asleep, and were angry at being disturbed. But
suddenly both of them sat right up in the bed. The child was dead.
Where did that crying come from? When they were quite awake, they
heard nothing, but as soon as they began to drop off to sleep they
heard it. Little, tottering feet sounded on the stone threshold
outside the house, a little hand groped for the door, and when it
could not open it, the child crept crying and feeling along the
wall, until it stopped just outside where they were sleeping. As
soon as they spoke or sat up, they perceived nothing; but when they
tried to sleep, they distinctly heard the uncertain steps and the
That which they had not wished to believe, but which seemed a
possibility during these last days, now became a certainty. They
felt that they had killed the child. Why otherwise should it have
the power to haunt them?
From that night all happiness left them. They lived in constant
fear of the ghost. By day they had some peace, but at night they
were so disturbed by the child's weeping and choking sobs, that
they did not dare to sleep alone. Jofrid often went long distances
to get some one to stop over night in their house. If there was any
stranger there, it was quiet, but as soon as they were alone, they
heard the child.
One night, when they had found no one to keep them company and
could not sleep for the child, Jofrid got up from her bed.
"You sleep, Tönne," she said. "If I keep awake, we will not hear
She went out and sat down on the doorstep, thinking of what they
ought to do to get peace, for they could not go on living as things
were. She wondered if confession and penance and mortification and
repentance could relieve them from this heavy punishment.
Then it happened that she raised her eyes and saw the same vision
as once before from this place. The pile of stones had changed to a
warrior. The night was quite dark, but still she could plainly see
that old King Atle sat there and watched her. She saw him so well
that she could distinguish the moss-grown bracelets on his wrists
and could see how his legs were bound with crossed bands, between
which his calf muscles swelled.
This time she was not afraid of the old man. He seemed to be a
friend and consoler in her unhappiness. He looked at her with pity,
as if he wished to give her courage. Then she thought that the
mighty warrior had once had his day, when he had overthrown
hundreds of enemies there on the heath and waded through the
streams of blood that had poured between the clumps. What had he
thought of one dead man more or less? How much would the sight of
children, whose fathers he had killed, have moved his heart of
stone? Light as air would the burden of a child's death have rested
on his conscience.
And she heard his whisper, the same which the old stone-cold
heathenism had whispered through all time. "Why repent? The gods
rule us. The fates spin the threads of life. Why shall the children
of earth mourn because they have done what the immortal gods have
forced them to do?"
Then Jofrid took courage and said to herself: "How am I to blame
because the child died? It is God alone who decides. Nothing takes
place without his will." And she thought that she could lay the
ghost by putting all repentance from her.
But now the door opened and Tönne came out to her. "Jofrid," he
said, "it is in the house now. It came up and knocked on the edge
of the bed and woke me. What shall we do, Jofrid?"
"The child is dead," said Jofrid. "You know that it is lying deep
under ground. All this is only dreams and imagination." She spoke
hardly and coldly, for she feared that Tönne would do something
reckless, and thereby cause them misfortune.
"We must put an end to it," said Tönne.
Jofrid laughed dismally. "What do you wish to do? God has sent this
to us. Could He not have kept the child alive if He had chosen? He
did not wish it, and now He persecutes us for its death. Tell me by
what right He persecutes us?"
She got her words from the old stone warrior, who sat dark and high
on his pile. It seemed as if he suggested to her everything she
"We must acknowledge that we have neglected the child, and do
penance," said Tönne.
"Never will I suffer for what is not my fault," said Jofrid. "Who
wanted the child to die? Not I, not I. What kind of a penance will
you do? You need all your strength for work."
"I have already tried with scourging," said Tönne. "It is of no avail."
"You see," she said, and laughed again.
"We must try something else," Tönne went on with persistent
determination. "We must confess."
"What do you want to tell God, that He does not know?" mocked
Jofrid. "Does He not guide your thoughts, Tönne? What will you tell
Him?" She thought that Tönne was stupid and obstinate. She had
found him so in the beginning of their acquaintance, but since then
she had not thought of it, but had loved him for his good heart.
"We will confess to the father, Jofrid, and offer him compensation."
"What will you offer him?" she asked.
"The house and the goats."
"He will certainly demand an enormous compensation for his only
son. All that we possess would not be enough."
"We will give ourselves as slaves into his power, if he is not
content with less."
At these words Jofrid was seized by cold despair, and she hated
Tönne from the depths of her soul. Everything she would lose
appeared so plainly to her,—freedom, for which her ancestors had
ventured their lives, the house, her comforts, honor and happiness.
"Mark my words, Tönne," she said hoarsely, half choked with pain,
"that the day you do that thing will be the day of my death."
After that no more words were exchanged between them, but they
remained sitting on the doorstep until the day came. Neither found
a word to appease or to conciliate; each felt fear and scorn of the
other. The one measured the other by the standard of his own anger,
and they found each other narrow-minded and bad-tempered.
After that night Jofrid could not refrain from letting Tönne feel
that he was her inferior. She let him understand in the presence of
others that he was stupid, and helped him with his work so that he
had to think how much stronger she was. She evidently wished to
take away from him all rights as master of the house. Sometimes she
pretended to be very lively, to distract him and to prevent him
from brooding. He had not done anything to carry out his plan, but
she did not believe that he had given it up.
During this time Tönne became more and more as he was before his
marriage. He grew thin and pale, silent and slow-witted. Jofrid's
despair increased each day, for it seemed as if everything was to
be taken from her. Her love for Tönne came back, however, when she
saw him unhappy. "What is any of it worth to me if Tönne is
ruined?" she thought. "It is better to go into slavery with him
than to see him die in freedom."
Jofrid, however, could not at once decide to obey Tönne. She fought
a long and severe fight. But one morning she awoke in an unusually
calm and gentle mood. Then she thought that she could now do what
he demanded. And she waked him, saying that it should be as he
wished. Only that one day he should grant her to say farewell to
The whole forenoon she went about strangely gentle. Tears rose
easily to her eyes. The heath was beautiful that day for her sake,
she thought. Frost had passed over it, the flowers were gone, and
the whole moor had turned brown. But when it was lighted by the
slanting rays of the autumn sun, it looked as if the heather glowed
red once more. And she remembered the day when she saw Tönne for
the first time.
She wished that she might see the old king once more, for he had
helped her to find her happiness. She had been seriously afraid of
him of late. She felt as if he were lying in wait to seize her. But
now she thought he could no longer have any power over her. She
would remember to look for him towards night when the moon rose.
It happened that a couple of wandering musicians came by about
noon. Jofrid had the idea to ask them to stop at her house the
whole afternoon, for she wished to have a dance. Tönne had to
hasten to her parents and ask them to come. And her small brothers
and sisters ran down to the village for the other guests. Soon many
people had collected.
There was great gaiety. Tönne kept apart in a corner of the house,
as was his habit when they had guests, but Jofrid was quite wild in
her fun. With shrill voice she led the dance and was eager in
offering her guests the foaming ale. There was not much room in the
cottage, but the fiddlers were untiring, and the dance went on with
life and spirit. It grew suffocatingly warm. The door was thrown
open, and all at once Jofrid saw that night had come and that the
moon had risen. Then she went to the door and looked out into the
white world of the moonlight.
A heavy dew had fallen. The whole heath was white, as the moon was
reflected in all the little drops, which had collected on every
twig. There Tönne and she would go to-morrow hand in hand to meet
the most terrible dishonor. For, however the meeting with the
peasant should turn out, whatever he might take or whatever he
might let them keep, dishonor would certainly be their lot. They,
who that evening possessed a good cottage and many friends,
to-morrow would be despised and detested by all, perhaps they would
also be robbed of everything they had earned, perhaps, too, be
dishonored slaves. She said to herself: "It is the way of death."
And now she could not understand how she would ever have the
strength to walk in it. It seemed to her as if she were of stone, a
heavy stone image like old King Atle. Although she was alive, she
felt as if she would not be able to lift her heavy stone limbs to
walk that way.
She turned her eyes towards the king's grave and distinctly saw the
old warrior sitting there. But now he was adorned as for a feast.
He no longer wore the gray, moss-grown stone attire, but white,
glittering silver. Now again he wore a crown of beams, as when she
first saw him, but this one was white. And white shone his
breastplate and armlets, shining white were sword, hilt, and
shield. He sat and watched her with silent indifference. The
unfathomable mystery which great stone faces wear had now sunk down
over him. There he sat dark and mighty, and Jofrid had a faint,
indistinct idea that he was an image of something which was in
herself and in all men, of something which was buried in far-away
centuries, covered by many stones, and still not dead. She saw him,
the old king, sitting deep in the human heart. Over its barren
field he spread his wide king's mantle. There pleasure danced,
there love of display flaunted. He was the great stone warrior who
saw famine and poverty pass by without his stone heart being moved.
"It is the will of the gods," he said. He was the strong man of
stone, who could bear unatoned-for sin without yielding. He always
said: "Why grieve for what you have done, compelled by the immortal
Jofrid's breast was shaken by a sigh deep as a sob. She had a
feeling which she could not explain, a feeling that she ought to
struggle with the man of stone, if she was to be happy. But at the
same time she felt helplessly weak.
Her impenitence and the struggle out on the heath seemed to her to
be one and the same thing, and if she could not conquer the first
by some means or other, the last would gain power over her.
She looked back towards the cottage, where the weavings glowed
under the roof timbers, where the musicians spread merriment, and
where everything she loved was, then she felt that she could not go
into slavery. Not even for Tönne's sake could she do it. She saw
his pale face within in the house, and she asked herself with a
contraction of the heart if he was worth the sacrifice of
everything for his sake.
In the cottage the people had started a new dance. They arranged
themselves in a long line, took each other by the hand, and with a
wild, strong young man at the head, they rushed forward at dizzy
speed. The leader drew them through the open door out cm to the
moonlit heath. They stormed by Jofrid, panting and wild, stumbling
against stones, falling into the heather, making wide rings round
the house, circling about the heaps of stones. The last of the line
called to Jofrid and stretched out his hand to her. She seized it
and ran too.
It was not a dance, only a mad rush; but there was pleasure in it,
audacity and the joy of living. The rings became bolder, the cries
sounded louder, the laughter more boisterous. From cairn to cairn,
as they lay scattered over the heath, wound the line of dancers. If
any one fell in the wild swinging, he was dragged up, the slow ones
were driven onward; the musicians stood in the doorway and played
the faster. There was no time to rest, to think, nor to look about.
The dance went on at always madder speed over the yielding moss and
During all this Jofrid felt more and more clearly that she wished
to keep her freedom, that she would rather die than lose it. She
saw that she could not follow Tönne. She thought of running away,
of hurrying into the wood and never coming back.
They had circled about all the cairns except that of King Atle.
Jofrid saw that they were now turning towards it and she kept her
eyes fixed on the stone man. Then she saw how his giant arms were
stretched towards the rushing dancers. She screamed aloud, but she
was answered by loud laughter. She wished to stop, but a strong
grasp drew her on. She saw him snatch at those hurrying by, but
they were so quick that the heavy arms could not reach any of them.
It was incomprehensible to her that no one saw him. The agony of
death came over her. She thought that he would reach her. It was
for her that he had lain in wait for many years. With the others it
was only play. It was she whom he would seize at last.
Her turn came to rush by King Atle. She saw how he raised himself
and bent for a spring to be sure of the matter and catch her. In
her extreme need she felt that if she only could decide to give in
the next day, he would not have the power to catch her, but she
could not.—She came last, and she was swung so violently that she
was more dragged and jerked forward than running herself, and it
was hard for her to keep from falling. And although she passed at
lightning speed, the old warrior was too quick for her. The heavy
arms sank down over her, the stone hands seized her, she was drawn
into the silvery harness of that breast. The agony of death took
more and more hold of her, but she knew to the very last that it
was because she had not been able to conquer the stone king in her
own heart that Atle had power over her.
It was the end of the dancing and merriment. Jofrid lay dying. In
the violence of their mad rout, she had been thrown against the
king's cairn and received her death-blow on its stones.
A peasant who had murdered a monk took to the woods and was made an
outlaw. He found there before him in the wilderness another outlaw,
a fisherman from the outermost islands, who had been accused of
stealing a herring net. They joined together, lived in a cave, set
snares, sharpened darts, baked bread on a granite rock and guarded
one another's lives. The peasant never left the woods, but the
fisherman, who had not committed such an abominable crime,
sometimes loaded game on his shoulders and stole down among men.
There he got in exchange for black-cocks, for long-eared hares and
fine-limbed red deer, milk and butter, arrow-heads and clothes.
These helped the outlaws to sustain life.
The cave where they lived was dug in the side of a hill. Broad
stones and thorny sloe-bushes hid the entrance. Above it stood a
thick growing pine-tree. At its roots was the vent-hole of the
cave. The rising smoke filtered through the tree's thick branches
and vanished into space. The men used to go to and from their
dwelling-place, wading in the mountain stream, which ran down the
hill. No-one looked for their tracks under the merry, bubbling
At first they were hunted like wild beasts. The peasants gathered
as if for a chase of bear or wolf. The wood was surrounded by men
with bows and arrows. Men with spears went through it and left no
dark crevice, no bushy thicket unexplored. While the noisy battue
hunted through the wood, the outlaws lay in their dark hole,
listening breathlessly, panting with terror. The fisherman held out
a whole day, but he who had murdered was driven by unbearable fear
out into the open, where he could see his enemy. He was seen and
hunted, but it seemed to him seven times better than to lie still
in helpless inactivity. He fled from his pursuers, slid down
precipices, sprang over streams, climbed up perpendicular mountain
walls. All latent strength and dexterity in him was called forth by
the excitement of danger. His body became elastic like a steel
spring, his foot made no false step, his hand never lost its hold,
eye and ear were twice as sharp as usual. He understood what the
leaves whispered and the rocks warned. When he had climbed up a
precipice, he turned towards his pursuers, sending them gibes in
biting rhyme. When the whistling darts whizzed by him, he caught
them, swift as lightning, and hurled them down on his enemies. As
he forced his way through whipping branches, something within him
sang a song of triumph.
The bald mountain ridge ran through the wood and alone on its
summit stood a lofty fir. The red-brown trunk was bare, but in the
branching top rocked an eagle's nest. The fugitive was now so
audaciously bold that he climbed up there, while his pursuers
looked for him on the wooded slopes. There he sat twisting the
young eaglets' necks, while the hunt passed by far below him. The
male and female eagle, longing for revenge, swooped down on the
ravisher. They fluttered before his face, they struck with their
beaks at his eyes, they beat him with their wings and tore with
their claws bleeding weals in his weather beaten skin. Laughing, he
fought with them. Standing upright in the shaking nest, he cut at
them with his sharp knife and forgot in the pleasure of the play
his danger and his pursuers. When he found time to look for them,
they had gone by to some other part of the forest. No one had
thought to look for their prey on the bald mountain-ridge. No one
had raised his eyes to the clouds to see him practising boyish
tricks and sleep-walking feats while his life was in the greatest
The man trembled when he found that he was paved. With shaking
hands he caught at a support, giddy he measured the height to which
he had climbed. And moaning with the fear of falling, afraid of the
birds, afraid of being seen, afraid of everything, he slid down the
trunk. He laid himself down on the ground, so as not to be seen,
and dragged himself forward over the rocks until the underbrush
covered him. There he hid himself under the young pine-tree's
tangled branches. Weak and powerless, he sank down on the moss. A
single man could have captured him.
Tord was the fisherman's name. He was not more than sixteen years
old, but strong and bold. He had already lived a year in the woods.
The peasant's name was Berg, with the surname Rese. He was the
tallest and the strongest man in the whole district, and moreover
handsome and well-built. He was broad in the shoulders and slender
in the waist. His hands were as well shaped as if he had never done
any hard work. His hair was brown and his skin fair. After he had
been some time in the woods he acquired in all ways a more
formidable appearance. His eyes became piercing, his eyebrows grew
bushy, and the muscles which knitted them lay finger thick above
his nose. It showed now more plainly than before how the upper part
of his athlete's brow projected over the lower. His lips closed
more firmly than of old, his whole face was thinner, the hollows at
the temples grew very deep, and his powerful jaw was much more
prominent. His body was less well filled out but his muscles were
as hard as steel. His hair grew suddenly gray.
Young Tord could never weary of looking at this man. He had never
before seen anything so beautiful and powerful. In his imagination
he stood high as the forest, strong as the sea. He served him as a
master and worshipped him as a god. It was a matter of course that
Tord should carry the hunting spears, drag home the game, fetch the
water and build the fire. Berg Rese accepted all his services, but
almost never gave him a friendly word. He despised him because he
was a thief.
The outlaws did not lead a robber's or brigand's life; they supported
themselves by hunting and fishing. If Berg Rese had not murdered a
holy man, the peasants would soon have ceased to pursue him and
have left him in peace in the mountains. But they feared great
disaster to the district, because he who had raised his hand
against the servant of God was still unpunished. When Tord came
down to the valley with game, they offered him riches and pardon
for his own crime if he would show them the way to Berg Rese's
hole, so that they might take him while he slept. But the boy
always refused; and if any one tried to sneak after him up to the
wood, he led him so cleverly astray that he gave up the pursuit.
Once Berg asked him if the peasants had not tried to tempt him
to betray him, and when he heard what they had offered him as a
reward, he said scornfully that Tord had been foolish not to accept
such a proposal.
Then Tord looked at him with a glance, the like of which Berg Rese
had never before seen. Never had any beautiful woman in his youth,
never had his wife or child looked so at him. "You are my lord, my
elected master," said the glance. "Know that you may strike me and
abuse me as you will, I am faithful notwithstanding."
After that Berg Rese paid more attention to the boy and noticed
that he was bold to act but timid to speak. He had no fear of
death. When the ponds were first frozen, or when the bogs were most
dangerous in the spring, when the quagmires were hidden under
richly flowering grasses and cloudberry, he took his way over them
by choice. He seemed to feel the need of exposing himself to
danger as a compensation for the storms and terrors of the ocean,
which he had no longer to meet. At night he was afraid in the
woods, and even in the middle of the day the darkest thickets or
the wide-stretching roots of a fallen pine could frighten him. But
when Berg Rese asked him about it, he was too shy to even answer.
Tord did not sleep near the fire, far in in the cave, on the bed
which was made soft with moss and warm with skins, but every night,
when Berg had fallen asleep, he crept out to the entrance and lay
there on a rock. Berg discovered this, and although he well
understood the reason, he asked what it meant. Tord would not
explain. To escape any more questions, he did not lie at the door
for two nights, but then he returned to his post.
One night, when the drifting snow whirled about the forest tops and
drove into the thickest underbrush, the driving snowflakes found
their way into the outlaws' cave. Tord, who lay just inside the
entrance, was, when he waked in the morning, covered by a melting
snowdrift. A few days later he fell ill. His lungs wheezed, and
when they were expanded to take in air, he felt excruciating pain.
He kept up as long as his strength held out, but when one evening
he leaned down to blow the fire, he fell over and remained lying.
Berg Rese came to him and told him to go to his bed. Tord moaned
with pain and could not raise himself. Berg then thrust his arms
under him and carried him there. But he felt as if he had got hold
of a slimy snake; he had a taste in the mouth as if he had eaten
the unholy horseflesh, it was so odious to him to touch the
He laid his own big bearskin over him and gave him water, more he
could not do. Nor was it anything dangerous. Tord was soon well
again. But through Berg's being obliged to do his tasks and to be
his servant, they had come nearer to one another. Tord dared to
talk to him when he sat in the cave in the evening and cut arrow
"You are of a good race, Berg," said Tord. "Your kinsmen are the
richest in the valley. Your ancestors have served with kings and
fought in their castles."
"They have oftener fought with bands of rebels and done the kings
great injury," replied Berg Rese.
"Your ancestors gave great feasts at Christmas, and so did you,
when you were at home. Hundreds of men and women could find a place
to sit in your big house, which was already built before Saint Olof
first gave the baptism here in Viken. You owned old silver vessels
and great drinking-horns, which passed from man to man, filled with
Again Berg Rese had to look at the boy. He sat up with his legs
hanging out of the bed and his head resting on his hands, with
which he at the same time held back the wild masses of hair which
would fall over his eyes. His face had become pale and delicate
from the ravages of sickness. In his eyes fever still burned. He
smiled at the pictures he conjured up: at the adorned house, at the
silver vessels, at the guests in gala array and at Berg Rese,
sitting in the seat of honor in the hall of his ancestors. The
peasant thought that no one had ever looked at him with such
shining, admiring eyes, or thought him so magnificent, arrayed in
his festival clothes, as that boy thought him in the torn skin
He was both touched and provoked. That miserable thief had no right
to admire him.
"Were there no feasts in your house?" he asked.
Tord laughed. "Out there on the rocks with father and mother!
Father is a wrecker and mother is a witch. No one will come to us."
"Is your mother a witch?"
"She is," answered Tord, quite untroubled. "In stormy weather she
rides out on a seal to meet the ships over which the waves are
washing, and those who are carried overboard are hers."
"What does she do with them?" asked Berg.
"Oh, a witch always needs corpses. She makes ointments out of them,
or perhaps she eats them. On moonlight nights she sits in the surf,
where it is whitest, and the spray dashes over her. They say that
she sits and searches for shipwrecked children's fingers and eyes."
"That is awful," said Berg.
The boy answered with infinite assurance: "That would be awful in
others, but not in witches. They have to do so."
Berg Rese found that he had here come upon a new way of regarding
the world and things.
"Do thieves have to steal, as witches have to use witchcraft?" he
"Yes, of course," answered the boy; "every one has to do what he is
destined to do." But then he added, with a cautious smile: "There
are thieves also who have never stolen."
"Say out what you mean," said Berg.
The boy continued with his mysterious smile, proud at being an
unsolvable riddle: "It is like speaking of birds who do not fly, to
talk of thieves who do not steal."
Berg Rese pretended to be stupid in order to find out what he
wanted. "No one can be called a thief without having stolen," he
"No; but," said the boy, and pressed his lips together as if to
keep in the words, "but if some one had a father who stole," he
hinted after a while.
"One inherits money and lands," replied Berg Rese, "but no one
bears the name of thief if he has not himself earned it."
Tord laughed quietly. "But if somebody has a mother who begs and
prays him to take his father's crime on him. But if such a one
cheats the hangman and escapes to the woods. But if some one is
made an outlaw for a fish-net which he has never seen."
Berg Rese struck the stone table with his clenched fist. He was
angry. This fair young man had thrown away his whole life. He could
never win love, nor riches, nor esteem after that. The wretched
striving for food and clothes was all which was left him. And the
fool had let him, Berg Rese, go on despising one who was innocent.
He rebuked him with stern words, but Tord was not even as afraid as
a sick child is of its mother, when she chides it because it has
caught cold by wading in the spring brooks.
On one of the broad, wooded mountains lay a dark tarn. It was
square, with as straight shores and as sharp corners as if it had
been cut by the hand of man. On three sides it was surrounded by
steep cliffs, on which pines clung with roots as thick as a man's
arm. Down by the pool, where the earth had been gradually washed
away, their roots stood up out of the water, bare and crooked and
wonderfully twisted about one another. It was like an infinite
number of serpents which had wanted all at the same time to crawl
up out of the pool but had got entangled in one another and been
held fast. Or it was like a mass of blackened skeletons of drowned
giants which the pool wanted to throw up on the land. Arms and legs
writhed about one another, the long fingers dug deep into the very
cliff to get a hold, the mighty ribs formed arches, which held up
primeval trees. It had happened, however, that the iron arms, the
steel-like fingers with which the pines held themselves fast, had
given way, and a pine had been borne by a mighty north wind from
the top of the cliff down into the pool. It had burrowed deep down
into the muddy bottom with its top and now stood there. The smaller
fish had a good place of refuge among its branches, but the roots
stuck up above the water like a many-armed monster and contributed
to make the pool awful and terrifying.
On the tarn's fourth side the cliff sank down. There a little
foaming stream carried away its waters. Before this stream could
find the only possible way, it had tried to get out between stones
and tufts, and had by so doing made a little world of islands, some
no bigger than a little hillock, others covered with trees.
Here where the encircling cliffs did not shut out all the sun,
leafy trees flourished. Here stood thirsty, gray-green alders and
smooth-leaved willows. The birch-tree grew there as it does
everywhere where it is trying to crowd out the pine woods, and the
wild cherry and the mountain ash, those two which edge the forest
pastures, filling them with fragrance and adorning them with
beauty. Here at the outlet there was a forest of reeds as high as a
man, which made the sunlight fall green on the water just as it
falls on the moss in the real forest. Among the reeds there were
open places; small, round pools, and water-lilies were floating
there. The tall stalks looked down with mild seriousness on those
sensitive beauties, who discontentedly shut their white petals and
yellow stamens in a hard, leather-like sheath as soon as the sun
ceased to show itself.
One sunshiny day the outlaws came to this tarn to fish. They waded
out to a couple of big stones in the midst of the reed forest and
sat there and threw out bait for the big, green-striped pickerel
that lay and slept near the surface of the water.
These men, who were always wandering in the woods and the
mountains, had, without their knowing it themselves, come under
nature's rule as much as the plants and the animals. When the sun
shone, they were open-hearted and brave, but in the evening, as
soon as the sun had disappeared, they became silent; and the night,
which seemed to them much greater and more powerful than the day,
made them anxious and helpless. Now the green light, which slanted
in between the rushes and colored the water with brown and
dark-green streaked with gold, affected their mood until they were
ready for any miracle. Every outlook was shut off. Sometimes the
reeds rocked in an imperceptible wind, their stalks rustled, and
the long, ribbon-like leaves fluttered against their faces. They
sat in gray skins on the gray stones. The shadows in the skins
repeated the shadows of the weather-beaten, mossy stone. Each saw
his companion in his silence and immovability change into a stone
image. But in among the rushes swam mighty fishes with rainbow-colored
backs. When the men threw out their hooks and saw the circles
spreading among the reeds, it seemed as if the motion grew stronger
and stronger, until they perceived that it was not caused only by
their cast. A sea-nymph, half human, half a shining fish, lay and
slept on the surface of the water. She lay on her back with her
whole body under water. The waves so nearly covered her that they
had not noticed her before. It was her breathing that caused the
motion of the waves. But there was nothing strange in her lying
there, and when the next instant she was gone, they were not sure
that she had not been only an illusion.
The green light entered through the eyes into the brain like a
gentle intoxication. The men sat and stared with dulled thoughts,
seeing visions among the reeds, of which they did not dare to tell
one another. Their catch was poor. The day was devoted to dreams
The stroke of oars was heard among the rushes, and they started up
as from sleep. The next moment a flat-bottomed boat appeared,
heavy, hollowed out with no skill and with oars as small as sticks.
A young girl, who had been picking water-lilies, rowed it. She had
dark-brown hair, gathered in great braids, and big dark eyes;
otherwise she was strangely pale. But her paleness toned to pink
and not to gray. Her cheeks had no higher color than the rest of
her face, the lips had hardly enough. She wore a white linen shirt
and a leather belt with a gold buckle. Her skirt was blue with a
red hem. She rowed by the outlaws without seeing them. They kept
breathlessly still, but not for fear of being seen, but only to be
able to really see her. As soon as she had gone they were as if
changed from stone images to living beings. Smiling, they looked at
"She was white like the water-lilies," said one. "Her eyes were as
dark as the water there under the pine-roots."
They were so excited that they wanted to laugh, really laugh as no
one had ever laughed by that pool, till the cliffs thundered with
echoes and the roots of the pines loosened with fright.
"Did you think she was pretty?" asked Berg Rese.
"Oh, I do not know, I saw her for such a short time. Perhaps she
"I do not believe you dared to look at her. You thought that it was
And they were again shaken by the same extravagant merriment.
Tord had once as a child seen a drowned man. He had found the body
on the shore on a summer day and had not been at all afraid, but at
night he had dreamed terrible dreams. He saw a sea, where every
wave rolled a dead man to his feet. He saw, too, that all the
islands were covered with drowned men, who were dead and belonged
to the sea, but who still could speak and move and threaten him
with withered white hands.
It was so with him now. The girl whom he had seen among the rushes
came back in his dreams. He met her out in the open pool, where the
sunlight fell even greener than among the rushes, and he had time
to see that she was beautiful. He dreamed that he had crept up on
the big pine root in the middle of the dark tarn, but the pine
swayed and rocked so that sometimes he was quite under water. Then
she came forward on the little islands. She stood under the red
mountain ashes and laughed at him. In the last dream-vision he had
come so far that she kissed him. It was already morning, and he
heard that Berg Rese had got up, but he obstinately shut his eyes
to be able to go on with his dream. When he awoke, he was as though
dizzy and stunned by what had happened to him in the night. He
thought much more now of the girl than he had done the day before.
Towards night he happened to ask Berg Rese if he knew her name.
Berg looked at him inquiringly. "Perhaps it is best for you to hear
it," he said. "She is Unn. We are cousins."
Tord then knew that it was for that pale girl's sake Berg Rese
wandered an outlaw in forest and mountain. Tord tried to remember
what he knew of her. Unn was the daughter of a rich peasant. Her
mother was dead, so that she managed her father's house. This she
liked, for she was fond of her own way and she had no wish to be
Unn and Berg Rese were the children of brothers, and it had long
been said that Berg preferred to sit with Unn and her maids and
jest with them than to work on his own lands. When the great
Christmas feast was celebrated at his house, his wife had invited a
monk from Draksmark, for she wanted him to remonstrate with Berg,
because he was forgetting her for another woman. This monk was
hateful to Berg and to many on account of his appearance. He was
very fat and quite white. The ring of hair about his bald head, the
eyebrows above his watery eyes, his face, his hands and his whole
cloak, everything was white. Many found it hard to endure his looks.
At the banquet table, in the hearing of all the guests, this monk
now said, for he was fearless and thought that his words would have
more effect if they were heard by many, "People are in the habit of
saying that the cuckoo is the worst of birds because he does not
rear his young in his own nest, but here sits a man who does not
provide for his home and his children, but seeks his pleasure with
a strange woman. Him will I call the worst of men."—Unn then rose
up. "That, Berg, is said to you and me," she said. "Never have I
been so insulted, and my father is not here either." She had wished
to go, but Berg sprang after her. "Do not move!" she said. "I will
never see you again." He caught up with her in the hall and asked
her what he should do to make her stay. She had answered with
flashing eyes that he must know that best himself. Then Berg went
in and killed the monk.
Berg and Tord were busy with the same thoughts, for after a while
Berg said: "You should have seen her, Unn, when the white monk
fell. The mistress of the house gathered the small children about
her and cursed her. She turned their faces towards her, that they
might forever remember her who had made their father a murderer.
But Unn stood calm and so beautiful that the men trembled. She
thanked me for the deed and told me to fly to the woods. She bade
me not to be robber, and not to use the knife until I could do it
for an equally just cause."
"Your deed had been to her honor," said Tord.
Berg Rese noticed again what had astonished him before in the boy.
He was like a heathen, worse than a heathen; he never condemned
what was wrong. He felt no responsibility. That which must be, was.
He knew of God and Christ and the saints, but only by name, as one
knows the gods of foreign lands. The ghosts of the rocks were his
gods. His mother, wise in witchcraft, had taught him to believe in
the spirits of the dead.
Then Berg Rese undertook a task which was as foolish as to twist a
rope about his own neck. He set before those ignorant eyes the
great God, the Lord of justice, the Avenger of misdeeds, who casts
the wicked into places of everlasting torment. And he taught him to
love Christ and his mother and the holy men and women, who with
lifted hands kneeled before God's throne to avert the wrath of the
great Avenger from the hosts of sinners. He taught him all that men
do to appease God's wrath. He showed him the crowds of pilgrims
making pilgrimages to holy places, the flight of self-torturing
penitents and monks from a worldly life.
As he spoke, the boy became more eager and more pale, his eyes grew
large as if for terrible visions. Berg Rese wished to stop, but
thoughts streamed to him, and he went on speaking. The night sank
down over them, the black forest night, when the owls hoot. God
came so near to them that they saw his throne darken the stars, and
the chastising angels sank down to the tops of the trees. And under
them the fires of Hell flamed up to the earth's crust, eagerly
licking that shaking place of refuge for the sorrowing races of
The autumn had come with a heavy storm. Tord went alone in the
woods to see after the snares and traps. Berg Rese sat at home to
mend his clothes. Tord's way led in a broad path up a wooded
Every gust carried the dry leaves in a rustling whirl up the path.
Time after time Tord thought that some one went behind him. He
often looked round. Sometimes he stopped to listen, but he
understood that it was the leaves and the wind, and went on. As
soon as he started on again, he heard some one come dancing on
silken foot up the slope. Small feet came tripping. Elves and
fairies played behind him. When he turned round, there was no one,
always no one. He shook his fists at the rustling leaves and went on.
They did not grow silent for that, but they took another tone. They
began to hiss and to pant be hind him. A big viper came gliding.
Its tongue dripping venom hung far out of its mouth, and its bright
body shone against the withered leaves. Beside the snake pattered a
wolf, a big, gaunt monster, who was ready to seize fast in his
throat when the snake had twisted about his feet and bitten him in
the heel. Sometimes they were both silent, as if to approach him
unperceived, but they soon betrayed themselves by hissing and
panting, and sometimes the wolf's claws rung against a stone.
Involuntarily Tord walked quicker and quicker, but the creatures
hastened after him. When he felt that they were only two steps
distant and were preparing to strike, he turned. There was nothing
there, and he had known it the whole time.
He sat down on a stone to rest. Then the dry leaves played about
his feet as if to amuse him. All the leaves of the forest were
there: small, light yellow birch leaves, red speckled mountain ash,
the elm's dry, dark-brown leaves, the aspen's tough light red, and
the willow's yellow green. Transformed and withered, scarred and
torn were they, and much unlike the downy, light green, delicately
shaped leaves, which a few months ago had rolled out of their buds.
"Sinners," said the boy, "sinners, nothing is pure in God's eyes.
The flame of his wrath has already reached you."
When he resumed his wandering, he saw the forest under him bend
before the storm like a heaving sea, but in the path it was calm.
But he heard what he did not feel. The woods were full of voices.
He heard whisperings, wailing songs, coarse threats, thundering
oaths. There was laughter and laments, there was the noise of many
people. That which hounded and pursued, which rustled and hissed,
which seemed to be something and still was nothing, gave him wild
thoughts. He felt again the anguish of death, as when he lay on the
floor in his den and the peasants hunted him through the wood. He
heard again the crashing of branches, the people's heavy tread, the
ring of weapons, the resounding cries, the wild, bloodthirsty
noise, which followed the crowd.
But it was not only that which he heard in the storm. There was
something else, something still more terrible, voices which he
could not interpret, a confusion of voices, which seemed to him to
speak in foreign tongues. He had heard mightier storms than this
whistle through the rigging, but never before had he heard the wind
play on such a many-voiced harp. Each tree had its own voice; the
pine did not murmur like the aspen nor the poplar like the mountain
ash. Every hole had its note, every cliff's sounding echo its own
ring. And the noise of the brooks and the cry of foxes mingled with
the marvellous forest storm. But all that he could interpret; there
were other strange sounds. It was those which made him begin to
scream and scoff and groan in emulation with the storm.
He had always been afraid when he was alone in the darkness of the
forest. He liked the open sea and the bare rocks. Spirits and
phantoms crept about among the trees.
Suddenly he heard who it was who spoke in the storm. It was God,
the great Avenger, the God of justice. He was hunting him for the
sake of his comrade. He demanded that he should deliver up the
murderer to His vengeance.
Then Tord began to speak in the midst of the storm. He told God
what he had wished to do, but had not been able. He had wished to
speak to Berg Rese and to beg him to make his peace with God, but
he had been too shy. Bashfulness had made him dumb. "When I heard
that the earth was ruled by a just God," he cried, "I understood
that he was a lost man. I have lain and wept for my friend many
long nights. I knew that God would find him out, wherever he might
hide. But I could not speak, nor teach him to understand. I
was speechless, because I loved him so much. Ask not that I shall
speak to him, ask not that the sea shall rise up against the
He was silent, and in the storm the deep voice, which had been the
voice of God for him, ceased. It was suddenly calm, with a sharp
sun and a splashing as of oars and a gentle rustle as of stiff
rushes. These sounds brought Unn's image before him.—The outlaw
cannot have anything, not riches, nor women, nor the esteem of men.
—If he should betray Berg, he would be taken under the protection
of the law.—But Unn must love Berg, after what he had done for
her. There was no way out of it all.
When the storm increased, he heard again steps behind him and
sometimes a breathless panting. Now he did not dare to look back,
for he knew that the white monk went behind him. He came from the
feast at Berg Rese's house, drenched with blood, with a gaping
axe-wound in his forehead. And he whispered: "Denounce him, betray
him, save his soul. Leave his body to the pyre, that his soul may
be spared. Leave him to the slow torture of the rack, that his soul
may have time to repent."
Tord ran. All this fright of what was nothing in itself grew, when
it so continually played on the soul, to an unspeakable terror. He
wished to escape from it all. As he began to run, again thundered
that deep, terrible voice, which was God's. God himself hunted him
with alarms, that he should give up the murderer. Berg Rese's crime
seemed more detestable than ever to him.. An unarmed man had been
murdered, a man of God pierced with shining steel. It was like a
defiance of the Lord of the world. And the murderer dared to live!
He rejoiced in the sun's light and in the fruits of the earth as if
the Almighty's arm were too short to reach him.
He stopped, clenched his fists and howled out a threat. Then he ran
like a madman from the wood down to the valley.
Tord hardly needed to tell his errand; instantly ten peasants were
ready to follow him. It was decided that Tord should go alone up to
the cave, so that Berg's suspicions should not be aroused. But
where he went he should scatter peas, so that the peasants could
find the way.
When Tord came to the cave, the outlaw sat on the stone bench and
sewed. The fire gave hardly any light, and the work seemed to go
badly. The boy's heart swelled with pity. The splendid Berg Rese
seemed to him poor and unhappy. And the only thing he possessed,
his life, should be taken from him. Tord began to weep.
"What is it?" asked Berg. "Are you ill? Have you been frightened?"
Then for the first time Tord spoke of his fear. "It was terrible in
the wood. I heard ghosts and raw spectres. I saw white monks."
"They crowded round me all the way up Broad mountain. I ran, but
they followed after and sang. Can I never be rid of the sound? What
have I to do with them? I think that they could go to one who
needed it more."
"Are you mad to-night, Tord?"
Tord talked, hardly knowing what words he used. He was free from
all shyness. The words streamed from his lips.
"They are all white monks, white, pale as death. They all have
blood on their cloaks. They drag their hoods down over their brows,
but still the wound shines from under; the big, red, gaping wound
from the blow of the axe."
"The big, red, gaping wound from the blow of the axe?"
"Is it I who perhaps have struck it? Why shall I see it?"
"The saints only know, Tord," said Berg Rese, pale and with
terrible earnestness, "what it means that you see a wound from an
axe. I killed the monk with a couple of knife-thrusts."
Tord stood trembling before Berg and wrung his hands. "They demand
you of me! They want to force me to betray you!"
"Who? The monks?"
"They, yes, the monks. They show me visions. They show me her, Unn.
They show me the shining, sunny sea. They show me the fishermen's
camping-ground, where there is dancing and merrymaking. I close my
eyes, but still I see. 'Leave me in peace,' I say. 'My friend has
murdered, but he is not bad. Let me be, and I will talk to him, so
that he repents and atones. He shall confess his sin and go to
Christ's grave. We will both go together to the places which are so
holy that all sin is taken away from him who draws near them.'"
"What do the monks answer?" asked Berg. "They want to have me
saved. They want to have me on the rack and wheel."
"Shall I betray my dearest friend, I ask them," continued Tord. "He
is my world. He has saved me from the bear that had his paw on my
throat. We have been cold together and suffered every want
together. He has spread his bear-skin over me when I was sick. I
have carried wood and water for him; I have watched over him while
he slept; I have fooled his enemies. Why do they think that I am
one who will betray a friend? My friend will soon of his own accord
go to the priest and confess, then we will go together to the land
Berg listened earnestly, his eyes sharply searching Tord's face.
"You shall go to the priest and tell him the truth," he said. "You
need to be among people."
"Does that help me if I go alone? For your sin, Death and all his
spectres follow me. Do you not see how I shudder at you? You have
lifted your hand against God himself. No crime is like yours. I
think that I must rejoice when I see you on rack and wheel. It is
well for him who can receive his punishment in this world and
escapes the wrath to come. Why did you tell me of the just God? You
compel me to betray you. Save me from that sin. Go to the priest."
And he fell on his knees before Berg.
The murderer laid his hand on his head and looked at him. He was
measuring his sin against his friend's anguish, and it grew big and
terrible before his soul. He saw himself at variance with the Will
which rules the world. Repentance entered his heart.
"Woe to me that I have done what I have done," he said. "That which
awaits me is too hard to meet voluntarily. If I give myself up to
the priests, they will torture me for hours; they will roast me
with slow fires. And is not this life of misery, which we lead in
fear and want, penance enough? Have I not lost lands and home? Do I
not live parted from friends and everything which makes a man's
happiness? What more is required?"
When he spoke so, Tord sprang up wild with terror. "Can you
repent?" he cried. "Can my words move your heart? Then come
instantly! How could I believe that! Let us escape! There is still
Berg Rese sprang up, he too. "You have done it, then—"
"Yes, yes, yes! I have betrayed you! But come quickly! Come, as you
can repent! They will let us go. We shall escape them!"
The murderer bent down to the floor, where the battle-axe of his
ancestors lay at his feet. "You son of a thief!" he said, hissing
out the words, "I have trusted you and loved you."
But when Tord saw him bend for the axe, he knew that it was now a
question of his own life. He snatched his own axe from his belt and
struck at Berg before he had time to raise himself. The edge cut
through the whistling air and sank in the bent head. Berg Rese fell
head foremost to the floor, his body rolled after. Blood and brains
spouted out, the axe fell from the wound. In the matted hair Tord
saw a big, red, gaping hole from the blow of an axe.
The peasants came rushing in. They rejoiced and praised the deed.
"You will win by this," they said to Tord.
Tord looked down at his hands as if he saw there the fetters with
which he had been dragged forward to kill him he loved. They were
forged from nothing. Of the rushes' green light, of the play of the
shadows, of the song of the storm, of the rustling of the leaves,
of dreams were they created. And he said aloud: "God is great."
But again the old thought came to him. He fell on his knees beside
the body and put his arm under him head.
"Do him no harm," he said. "He repents; he is going to the Holy
Sepulchre. He is not dead, he is but a prisoner. We were just ready
to go when he fell. The white monk did not want him to repent, but
God, the God of justice, loves repentance."
He lay beside the body, talked to it, wept and begged the dead man
to awake. The peasants arranged a bier. They wished to carry the
peasant's body down to his house. They had respect for the dead and
spoke softly in his presence. When they lifted him up on the bier,
Tord rose, shook the hair back from his face, and said with a voice
which shook with sobs,—
"Say to Unn, who made Berg Rese a murderer, that he was killed by
Tord the fisherman, whose father is a wrecker and whose mother is a
witch, because he taught him that the foundation of the world is
THE LEGEND OF REOR
There was a man called Reor. He was from Fuglekarr in the parish of
Svarteborg, and was considered the best shot in the county. He was
baptized when King Olof rooted out the old belief, and was ever
afterwards an eager Christian. He was freeborn, but poor; handsome,
but not tall; strong, but gentle. He tamed young horses with but a
look and a word, and could lure birds to him with a call. He dwelt
mostly in the woods, and nature had great power over him. The
growing of the plants and the budding of the trees, the play of the
hares in the forest's open places and the fish's leap in the calm
lake at evening, the conflict of the seasons and the changes of the
weather, these were the chief events in his life. Sorrow and joy he
found in such things and not in that which happened among men.
One day the skilful hunter met deep in the thickest forest an old
bear and killed him with a single shot. The great arrow's sharp
point pierced the mighty heart, and he fell dead at the hunter's
feet. It was summer, and the bear's pelt was neither close nor
even, still the archer drew it off, rolled it together into a hard
bundle, and went on with the bear-skin on his back.
He had not wandered far before he perceived an extraordinarily
strong smell of honey. It came from the little flowering plants
that covered the ground. They grew on slender stalks, had light-green,
shiny leaves, which were beautifully veined, and at the top a
little spike, thickly set with white flowers. Their petals were of
the tiniest, but from among them pushed up a little brush of
stamens, whose pollen-filled heads trembled on white filaments.
Reor thought, as he went among them, that those flowers, which
stood alone and unnoticed in the darkness of the forest, were
sending out message after message, summons upon summons. The
strong, sweet fragrance of the honey was their cry; it spread the
knowledge of their existence far away among the trees and high up
towards the clouds. But there was something melancholy in the heavy
perfume. The flowers had filled their cups and spread their table
in expectation of their winged guests, but none came. They pined to
death in the deep loneliness of the dark, windless forest thicket.
They seemed to wish to cry and lament that the beautiful butterflies
did not come and visit them. Where the flowers grew thickest, he
thought that they sang together a monotonous song. "Come, fair
guests, come to-day, for to-morrow we are dead, to-morrow we lie
dead on the dried leaves."
Reor was permitted to see the joyous close of the flower adventure.
He felt behind him a flutter as of the lightest wind and saw a
white butterfly flitting about in the dimness between the thick
trunks. He flew hither and thither in an uneasy quest, as if
uncertain of the way. Nor was he alone; butterfly after butterfly
glimmered in the darkness, until at last there was a host of
white-winged honey seekers. But the first was the leader, and he
found the flowers, guided by their fragrance. After him the whole
butterfly host came storming. It threw itself down among the
longing flowers, as the conqueror throws himself on his booty. Like
a snowfall of white wings it sank down over them. And there was
feasting and drinking on every flowercluster. The woods were full
of silent rejoicing.
Reor went on, but now the honey-sweet fragrance seemed to follow
him wherever he went. And he felt that in the wood was hidden a
longing, stronger than that of the flowers, that something there
drew him to itself, just as the flowers lured the butterflies. He
went forward with a quiet joy in his heart, as if he was expecting
a great, unknown happiness. His only fear was lest he should not be
able to find the way to that which longed for him.
In front of him, on the narrow path, crawled a white snake. He bent
down to pick up the luck-bringing animal, but the snake glided out
of his hands and up the path. There it coiled itself and lay still;
but when the huntsman again tried to catch it, glided slippery as
ice between his fingers.
Reor now grew eager to possess the wisest of beasts. He ran after
the snake, but was not able to reach it, and the latter lured him
away from the path into the trackless forest.
It was overgrown with pines, and in such places one seldom finds
grassy ground. But now the dry moss and brown pine-needles suddenly
disappeared, the stiff cranberry bushes vanished, and Reor felt
under foot velvet like turf. Over the green carpet trembled flower
clusters, light as down, on bending stems, and between the long,
narrow leaves could he seen the half-opened blossoms of the red
gillyflower. It was only a little spot, and over it spread the
gnarled, red-brown branches of the lofty pines, with bunches of
close-growing needles. Through these the sun's rays could find many
paths to the ground, and there was suffocating heat.
In the midst of the little meadow a cliff rose perpendicularly out
of the ground. It lay in sharp sunshine, and the mossy stones were
plainly visible, and in the fresh fractures, where the winter's
frost had last loosened some mighty blocks, the long stalks of
ferns clung with their brown roots in the earth-filled cracks, and
on the inch-wide projections a grass-green moss lifted on needle-like
stems the little, grey caps, which concealed its spores.
The cliff seemed in all ways like every other cliff, but Reor
noticed instantly that he had come upon the gable-wall of a giant's
house, and he discovered under moss and lichen the great hinges on
which the mountain's granite door swung.
He now believed that the snake had crept in, in the grass to hide
there, until it could come in among the rocks unnoticed, and he
gave up all hope of catching it. He perceived now again the
honey-sweet fragrance of the longing flowers and noticed that here
under the cliff the heat was suffocating. It was also marvellously
quiet; not a bird moved, not a leaf played in the wind; it was as
if everything held its breath, waiting and listening in unspeakable
tension. It was as if he had come into a room where he was not
alone, although he saw no one. He thought that some one was
watching him, he felt as if he had been expected. He knew no alarm,
but was thrilled by a pleasant shiver, as if he were soon to see
something above-the-common beautiful.
In that moment he again became aware of the snake. It had not
hidden itself, it had instead crawled up on one of the blocks which
the frost had broken from the cliff. And just below the white snake
he saw the bright body of a girl, who lay asleep in the soft grass.
She lay without any other covering than a light, web-like veil,
just as if she had thrown herself down there after having taken
part the whole night in some elfin dance; but the long blades of
grass and the trembling flower-clusters stood high over the
sleeper, so that Reor could scarcely catch a glimpse of the soft
lines of her body. Nor did he go nearer in order to see better. He
drew his good knife from its sheath and threw it between the girl
and the cliff, so that the steel-shy daughter of the giants should
not be able to flee into the mountain when she awoke.
Then he stood still in deep thought. One thing he knew, that he
wished to possess the maiden who lay there; but as yet he had not
quite made up his mind how he would behave towards her.
He, who knew the language of nature better than that of man,
listened to the great, solemn forest and the stern mountain. "See,"
they said, "to you, who love the wilderness, we give our fair
daughter. She will suit you better than the daughters of the plain.
Reor, are you worthy of this most precious of gifts?"
Then he thanked in his heart the great, kind Nature and decided to
make the maiden his wife and not merely a slave. He thought that
since she had come to Christendom and human ways, she would be
confused at the thought that she had lain so uncovered, so he
loosened the bearskin from his back, unfolded the stiff hide, and
threw the old bear's shaggy, grizzled pelt over her.
And as he did so a laugh, which made the ground shake, thundered
behind the cliff. It did not sound like derision, but as if some
one had sat in great fear and could not help laughing, when
suddenly relieved of it. The terrible silence and oppressive heat
were also at an end. Over the grass floated a cooling wind, and the
pine-branches began their murmuring song. The happy huntsman felt
that the whole forest had held its breath, wondering how the
daughter of the wilderness would be treated by the son of man.
The snake now glided down into the high grass; but the sleeper lay
bound in a magic sleep and did not move. Then Reor wrapped her in
the coarse bear-skin, so that only her head showed above the shaggy
fur. Although she certainly was a daughter of the old giant of the
mountain, she was slender and delicately made, and the strong
hunter lifted her on his arm and carried her away through the forest.
After a while he felt that some one lifted his broad-brimmed hat.
He looked up and found that the giant's daughter was awake. She sat
quiet on his arm, but she wished to see what the man looked like
who was carrying her. He let her do as she pleased. He went on with
longer strides, but said nothing.
Then she must have noticed how hot the sun burned on his head,
since she had taken off his hat. She held it out over his head like
a parasol, but she did not put it back, rather held it so, that she
could still look down into his face. Then it seemed to him that he
did not need to ask or to speak. He carried her silently down to
his mother's hut. But his whole being was filled with happiness,
and when he stood on the threshold of his home, he saw the white
snake, which gives good fortune, glide in under its foundation.
The spring that Hellqvist's great picture "Valdemar Atterdag levies
a Contribution on Visby" was exhibited at the Art League, I went in
there one quiet morning not knowing that that work of art was
there. The big, richly colored canvas with its many figures made at
the first glance an extraordinary impression. I could not look at
any other picture, but went straight to that one, took a chair and
sank into silent contemplation. For half an hour I lived in the
Soon I was within the scene that was passing in the Visby market-place.
I saw the beer vats which began to be filled with the golden brew
that King Valdemar had ordered, and the groups which gathered
around them. I saw the rich merchant with his page bending under
his gold and silver dishes; the young burgher who shakes his fist
at the king; the monk with the sharp face who closely watches His
Majesty; the ragged beggar who offers his copper; the woman who has
sunk down beside one of the vats; the king on his throne; the
soldiers who some swarming out of the narrow streets; the high
gables, and the scattered groups of insolent guards and refractory
But suddenly I noticed that the chief figure of the picture is not
the king, nor any of the burghers, but one of the king's steel-clad
shield-bearers, the one with the closed vizor.
Into that figure the artist has put a strange force. There is not a
hair of him to be seen; he is steel and iron, the whole man, and
yet he gives the impression of being the rightful master of the
"I am Violence; I am Rapacity," he says. "It is I who am levying
contribution on Visby. I am not a human being; I am merely steel
and iron. My pleasure is in suffering and evil. Let them go on and
torture one another. To-day it is I who am lord of Visby."
"Look," he says to the beholder, "can you see that it is I who am
master? As far as your eye can reach, there is nothing here but
people who are torturing one another. Groaning the conquered come
and leave their gold. They hate and threaten, but they obey. And
the desires of the victors grow wilder the more gold they can
extort. What are Denmark's king and his soldiers but my servants,
at least for this one day? To-morrow they will go to church, or sit
in peaceful mirth in their inns, or also perhaps be good fathers in
their own homes, but to-day they serve me; to-day they are evil-doers
The longer one listens to him, the better one understands what the
picture is; nothing but an illustration of the old story of how
people can torture one another. There is not one redeeming feature,
only cruel violence and defiant hate and hopeless suffering.
Those three beer vats were to be filled that Visby should not be
plundered and burned. Why do they not come, those Hanseaters, with
glowing enthusiasm? Why do the women not hasten with their jewels;
the revellers with their cups, the priest with his relics, eager,
burning with enthusiasm for the sacrifice? "For thee, for thee, our
beloved town! It is needless to send soldiers for us when it
concerns thee! Oh, Visby, our mother, our honor! Take back what
thou hast given us!"
But the painter has not wished to see them so, and it was not so
either. No enthusiasm, only constraint, only suppressed defiance,
only bewailings. Gold is everything to them, women and men sigh
over that gold which they have to give.
"Look at them!" says the power that stands on the steps of the
throne. "It goes to their very hearts to offer it. May he who will
feel sympathy for them! They are mean, avaricious, arrogant. They
are no better than the covetous brigand whom I have sent against
A woman has sunk down on the ground by the vats. Does it cost her
so much pain to give her gold? Or is she perhaps the guilty one? Is
she the cause of the laments? Is it she who has betrayed the town?
Yes, it is she who has been King Valdemar's mistress. It is
She knows well that she need give no gold. Her father's house will
not be plundered, but she has collected what she possesses and
brings it. In the market-place she has been overcome by all the
misery she has seen and has sunk down in infinite despair.
He had been active and merry, the young goldsmith's apprentice who
served the year before in her father's house. It had been glorious
to stroll at his side through this same market-place, when the moon
rose from behind the gables and illumined the beauties of Visby.
She had been proud of him, proud of her father, proud of her town.
And now she is lying there, broken with grief. Innocent and yet
guilty! He who is sitting cold and cruel on the throne and who has
brought all this devastation on the town, is he the same as the one
who whispered sweet words to her? Was it to meet him that she
crept, when the night before she stole her father's keys and opened
the town-gate? And when she found her goldsmith's apprentice a
knight with sword in hand and a steel clad host behind him, what
did she think? Did she go mad at the sight of that stream of steel
surging in through the gate which she had opened? Too late to
bemoan, maiden! Why did you love the enemy of your town? Visby is
fallen, its glory shall pass away. Why did you not throw yourself
down before the gate and let the steel-shod heels trample you to
death? Did you wish to live in order to see heaven's thunder-bolts
strike the transgressor?
Oh maiden, at his side stands Violence and protects him. He has
violated holier things than a trusting maiden. He does not even
spare God's own temple. He breaks away the shining carbuncles from
the church walls to fill the last vat.
The bearing of all the figures in the picture changes. Blind terror
fills everything living. The wildest soldier grows pale; the
burghers turn their eyes towards heaven; all await God's
punishment; all tremble except Violence on the steps of the throne
and the king who is his servant.
I wish that the artist had lived long enough to take me down to the
harbor of Visby and let me see those same burghers, when they
followed the departing fleet with their eyes. They cry curses out
over the waves. "Destroy them!" they cry. "Destroy them! Oh sea,
our friend, take back our treasures! Open thy choking depths under
the ungodly, under the faithless!"
And the sea murmurs a faint assent, and Violence, who stands on the
royal ship, nods approvingly. "That is right," he says. "To
persecute and to be persecuted, that is my law. May storm and sea
destroy the pirate fleet and take to itself the treasures of my
royal servant! So much the sooner it will be our lot to set out on
new devastating expeditions."
The burghers on the shore turn and look up at their town. Fire has
raged there; plunder has passed through it; behind broken panes
gape pillaged dwellings. They see emptied streets, desecrated
churches; bloody corpses are lying in the narrow courts, and women
crazed by fright flee through the town. Shall they stand impotent
before such things? Is there no one whom their vengeance can reach,
no one whom they in their turn can torture and destroy?
God in Heaven, see! The goldsmith's house is not plundered nor
burned. What does it mean? Was he in league with the enemy? Had he
not the key to one of the town gates in his keeping? Oh, you
daughter of Ung-Hanse, answer, what does it mean?
Far away on the royal ship Violence stands and watches his royal
servant, smiling behind his vizor. "Listen to the storm, Sire,
listen to the storm! The gold that you have ravished will soon lie
on the bottom of the sea, inaccessible to you. And look back at
Visby, my noble lord! The woman whom you deceived is being led
between the clergy and the soldiers to the town-wall. Can you hear
the crowd following her, cursing, insulting? Look, the masons come
with mortar and trowel! Look, the women come with stones! They are
all bringing stones, all, all!
Oh king, if you cannot see what is passing in Visby, may you yet
hear and know what is happening there. You are not of steel and
iron, like Violence at your side. When the gloomy days of old age
come, and you live under the shadow of death, the image of
Ung-Hanse's daughter will rise in your memory.
You shall see her pale as death sink under the contempt and scorn
of her people. You shall see her dragged along between the priests
and the soldiers to the ringing of bells and the singing of hymns.
She is already dead in the eyes of the people. She feels herself
dead in her heart, killed by what she has loved. You shall see her
mount in the tower, see how the stones are inserted, hear the
scraping of the trowels and hear the people who hurry forward with
their stones. "Oh mason, take mine, take mine! Use my stone for the
work of vengeance! Let my stone help to shut Ung-Hanse's daughter
in from light and air! Visby is fallen, the glorious Visby! God
bless your hands, oh masons! Let me help to complete the vengeance!"
Hymns sound and bells ring as for a burial.
Oh Valdemar, King of Denmark, it will be your fate to meet death
also. Then you will lie on your bed, hear and see much and suffer
great pains. You shall hear that scraping of the trowels, those
cries for vengeance. Where are the consecrated bells that drown the
martyrdom of the soul? Where are they, with their wide, bronze
throats, whose tongues cry out to God for grace for you? Where is
that air trembling with harmony, which bears the soul up to God's
Oh help Esrom, help Soró, and you big bells of Lund!
What a .gloomy story that picture told! It seemed curious and
strange to come out into the park, in glowing sunshine, among
living human beings.
It was Christmas night, a real Christmas night.
The goblins raised the mountain roofs on lofty gold pillars and
celebrated the midwinter festival. The brownies danced around the
Christmas porridge in new red caps. Old gods wandered about the
heavens in gray storm cloaks, and in the Österhaninge graveyard
stood the horse of Hel [Note: The goddess of death]. He pawed with
his hoof on the frozen ground; he was marking out the place for a
Not very far away, at the old manor of Årsta, Mamsell Fredrika was
lying asleep. Årsta is, as every one knows, an old haunted castle,
but Mamsell Fredrika slept a calm, quiet sleep. She was old now and
tired out after many weary days of work and many long journeys,—
she had almost traveled round the world,—therefore she had
returned to the home of her childhood to find rest.
Outside the castle sounded in the night a bold fanfare. Death
mounted on a gray charger had ridden up to the castle gate. His
wide scarlet cloak and his hat's proud plumes fluttered in the
night wind. The stern knight sought to win an adoring heart,
therefore he appeared in unusual magnificence. It is of no avail,
Sir Knight, of no avail! The gate is closed, and the lady of your
heart asleep. You must seek a better occasion and a more suitable
hour. Watch for her when she goes to early mass, stern Sir Knight,
watch for her on the church-road!
Old Mamsell Fredrika sleeps quietly in her beloved home. No one
deserves more than she the sweetness of rest. Like a Christmas
angel she sat but now in a circle of children, and told them of
Jesus and the shepherds, told until her eyes shone, and her
withered face became transfigured. Now in her old age no one
noticed what Mamsell Fredrika looked like. Those who saw the
little, slender figure, the tiny, delicate hands and the kind,
clever face, instantly longed to be able to preserve that sight in
remembrance as the most beautiful of memories.
In Mamsell Fredrika's big room, among many relics and souvenirs,
there was a little, dry bush. It was a Jericho rose, brought back
by Mamsell Fredrika from the far East. Now in the Christmas night
it began to blossom quite of itself. The dry twigs were covered
with red buds, which shone like sparks of fire and lighted the
By the light of the sparks one saw that a small and slender but
quite elderly lady sat in the big arm-chair and held her court. It
could not be Mamsell Fredrika herself, for she lay sleeping in
quiet repose, and yet it was she. She sat there and held a
reception for old memories; the room was full of them. People and
homes and subjects and thoughts and discussions came flying.
Memories of childhood and memories of youth, love and tears, homage
and bitter scorn, all came rushing towards the pale form that sat
and looked at everything with a friendly smile. She had words of
jest or of sympathy for them all.
At night everything takes its right size and shape. And just as
then for the first time the stars of heaven are visible, one also
sees much on earth that one never sees by day. Now in the light of
the red buds of the Jericho rose one could see a crowd of strange
figures in Mamsell Fredrika's drawing-room. The hard "ma chère
mère" was there, the goodnatured Beata Hvardagslag, people from the
East and the West, the enthusiastic Nina, the energetic, struggling
Hertha in her white dress.
"Can any one tell me why that person must always be dressed in
white?" jested the little figure in the arm-chair when she caught
sight of her.
All the memories spoke to the old woman and said: "You have seen
and experienced so much; you have worked and earned so much! Are
you not tired? will you not go to rest?"
"Not yet," answered the shadow in the yellow arm-chair. "I have
still a book to write. I cannot go to rest before it is finished."
Thereupon the figures vanished. The Jericho rose went out, and the
yellow arm-chair stood empty.
In the Österhaninge church the dead were celebrating midnight mass.
One of them climbed up to the bell-tower and rang in Christmas;
another went about and lighted the Christmas candles, and a third
began with bony fingers to play the organ. Through the open doors
others came swarming in out of the night and their graves to the
bright, glowing House of the Lord. Just as they had been in life
they came, only a little paler. They opened the pew doors with
rattling keys and chatted and whispered as they walked up the
"They are the candles she has given the poor that are now shining
in God's house."
"We lie warm in our graves as long as she gives clothes and wood
to the poor."
"She has spoken so many noble words that have opened the hearts of
men; those words are the keys of our pews.
"She has thought beautiful thoughts of God's love. Those thoughts
raise us from our graves."
So they whispered and murmured before they sat down in the pews and
bent their pale foreheads in prayer in their shrunken hands.
At Årsta some one came into Mamsell Fredrika's room and laid her
hand gently on the sleeper's arm.
"Up, my Fredrika! It is time to go to the early mass."
Old Mamsell Fredrika opened her eyes and saw Agathe, her beloved
sister who was dead, standing by the bed with a candle in her hand.
She recognized her, for she looked just as she had done on earth.
Mamsell Fredrika was not afraid; she rejoiced only at seeing her
loved one, at whose side she longed to sleep the everlasting sleep.
She rose and dressed herself with all speed. There was no time for
conversation; the carriage stood before the door. The others must
have gone already, for no one but Mamsell Fredrika and her dead
sister were moving in the house.
"Do you remember, Fredrika," said the sister, as they sat in the
carriage and drove quickly to the church, "do you remember how you
always in the old days expected some knight to carry you off on the
road to church?"
"I am still expecting it," said old Mamsell Fredrika, and laughed.
"I never ride in this carriage without looking out for my knight."
Even though they hurried, they came too late. The priest stepped
down from the pulpit as they entered the church, and the closing
hymn began. Never had Mamsell Fredrika heard such a beautiful song.
It was as if both earth and heaven joined in, in the song; as if
every bench and stone and board had sung too.
She had never seen the church so crowded: on the communion table
and on the pulpit steps sat people; they stood in the aisles, they
thronged in the pews, and outside the whole road was packed with
people who could not enter. The sisters, however, found places; for
them the crowd moved aside.
"Fredrika," said her sister, "look at the people!"
And Mamsell Fredrika looked and looked.
Then she perceived that she, like the woman in the saga, had come
to a mass of the dead. She felt a cold shiver pass down her back,
but it happened, as often before, she felt more curious than
She saw now who were in the church. There were none but women
there: grey, bent forms, with circular capes and faded mantillas,
with hats of faded splendor and turned or threadbare dresses. She
saw an unheard-of number of wrinkled faces, sunken mouths, dim eyes
and shrivelled hands, but not a single hand which wore a plain gold
Yes, Mamsell Fredrika understood it now. It was all the old maids
who had passed away in the land of Sweden who were keeping midnight
mass in the Österhaninge church.
Her dead sister leaned towards her.
"Sister, do you repent of what you have done for these your sisters?"
"No," said Mamsell Fredrika. "What have I to be glad for if not
that it has been bestowed upon me to work for them? I once
sacrificed my position as an authoress to them. I am glad that I
knew what I sacrificed and yet did it."
"Then you may stay and hear more," said the sister.
At the same moment some one was heard to speak far away in the
choir, a mild but distinct voice.
"My sisters," said the voice, "our pitiable race, our ignorant and
despised race will soon exist no more. God has willed that we shall
die out from the earth.
"Dear friends, we shall soon be only a legend. The old Mamsells'
measure is full. Death rides about on the road to the church to
meet the last one of us. Before the next midnight mass she will be
dead, the last old Mamsell.
"Sisters, sisters! We are the lonely ones of the earth, the
neglected ones at the feast, the unappreciated workers in the
homes. We are met with scorn and indifference. Our way is weary and
our name is ridicule.
"But God has had mercy upon us.
"To one of us He gave power and genius. To one of us He gave
never-failing goodness. To one of us He gave the glorious gift of
eloquence. She was everything we ought to have been. She threw
light on our dark fate. She was the servant of the homes, as we had
been, but she offered her gifts to a thousand homes. She was the
caretaker of the sick, as we had been, but she struggled with the
terrible epidemic of habits of former days. She told her stories to
thousands of children. She lead her poor friends in every land. She
gave from fuller hands than we and with a warmer spirit. In her
heart dwelt none of our bitterness, for she has loved it away. Her
glory has been that of a queen's. She has been offered the treasures
of gratitude by millions of hearts. Her word has weighed heavily
in the great questions of mankind. Her name has sounded through the
new and the old world. And yet she is only an old Mamsell.
"She has transfigured our dark fate. Blessings on her name!"
The dead joined in, in a thousandfold echo: "Blessings on her name!"
"Sister," whispered Mamsell Fredrika, "can you not forbid them to
make me, poor, sinful being, proud?"
"But, sisters, sisters," continued the voice, "she has turned
against our race with all her great power. At her cry for freedom
and work for all, the old, despised livers on charity have died
out. She has broken down the tyranny that fenced in childhood.
She has stirred young girls towards the wide activity of life. She
has put an end to loneliness, to ignorance, to joylessness. No
unhappy, despised old Mamsells without aim or purpose in life will
ever exist again; none such as we have been."
Again resounded the echo of the shades, merry as a hunting-song in
the wood which is sung by a happy throng of children: "Blessed be
Thereupon the dead swarmed out of the church, and Mamsell Fredrika
wiped away a tear from the corner of her eye.
"I will not go home with you," said her dead sister. "Will you not
stop here now also?"
"I should like to, but I cannot. There is a book which I must make
"Well, good-night then, and beware of the knight of the church
road," said her dead sister, and smiled roguishly in her old way.
Then Mamsell Fredrika drove home. All Årsta still slept, and she
went quietly to her room, lay down and slept again.
A few hours later she drove to the real early mass. She drove in a
closed carriage, but she let down the window to look at the stars;
it is possible too that she, as of old, was looking for her knight.
And there he was; he sprang forward to the window of the carriage.
He sat his prancing charger magnificently. His scarlet cloak
fluttered in the wind. His pale face was stern, but beautiful.
"Will you be mine?" he whispered.
She was transported in her old heart by the lofty figure with the
waving plumes. She forgot that she needed to live a year yet.
"I am ready," she whispered.
"Then I will come and fetch you in a week at your father's house."
He bent down and kissed her, and then he vanished; she began to
shiver and tremble under Death's kiss.
A little later Mamsell Fredrika sat in the church, in the same
place where she had sat as a child. Here she forgot both the knight
and the ghosts, and sat smiling in quiet delight at the thought of
the revelation of the glory of God.
But either she was tired because she had not slept the whole night,
or the warmth and the closeness and the smell of the candles had a
soporific effect on her as on many another.
She fell asleep, only for a second; she absolutely could not help it.
Perhaps, too, God wished to open to her the gates of the land of
In that single second when she slept, she saw her stern father, her
lovely, beautifully-dressed mother, and the ugly, little Petrea
sitting in the church. And the soul of the child was compressed by
an anguish greater than has ever been felt by a grown person. The
priest stood in the pulpit and spoke of the stern, avenging God,
and the child sat pale and trembling, as if the words had been
axe-blows and had gone through its heart.
"Oh, what a God, what a terrible God!"
In the next second she was awake, but she trembled and shuddered,
as after the kiss of death on the church-road. Her heart was once
more caught in the wild grief of her childhood.
She wished to hurry from the church. She must go home and write her
book, her glorious book on the God of peace and love.
Nothing else that can be deemed worth mentioning happened to
Mamsell Fredrika before New Year's night. Life and death, like day
and night, reigned in quiet concord over the earth during the last
week of the year, but when New Year's night came, Death took his
sceptre and announced that now old Mamsell Fredrika should belong
Had they but known it, all the people of Sweden would certainly
have prayed a common prayer to God to be allowed to keep their
purest spirit, their warmest heart. Many homes in many lands where
she had left loving hearts would have watched with despair and
grief. The poor, the sick and the needy would have forgotten their
own wants to remember hers, and all the children who had grown up
blessing her work would have clasped their hands to pray for one
more year for their best friend. One year, that she might make all
fully clear and put the finishing-touch on her life's work.
For Death was too prompt for Mamsell Fredrika.
There was a storm outside on that New Year's night; there was a
storm within her soul. She felt all the agony of life and death
coming to a crisis.
"Anguish!" she sighed, "anguish!"
But the anguish gave way, and peace came, and she whispered softly:
"The love of Christ—the best love-the peace of God—the
Yes, that was what she would have written in her book, and perhaps
much else as beautiful and wonderful. Who knows? Only one thing we
know, that books are forgotten, but such a life as hers never is.
The old prophetess's eyes closed and she sank into visions.
Her body struggled with death, but she did not know it. Her family
sat weeping about her deathbed, but she did not see them. Her
spirit had begun its flight.
Dreams became reality to her and reality dreams. Now she stood, as
she had already seen herself in the visions of her youth, waiting
at the gates of heaven with innumerable hosts of the dead round
about her. And heaven opened. He, the only one, the Saviour, stood
in its open gates. And his infinite love woke in the waiting
spirits and in her a longing to fly to his embrace, and their
longing lifted them and her, and they floated as if on wings
The next day there was mourning in the land; mourning in wide parts
of the earth.
Fredrika Bremer was dead.
THE ROMANCE OF A FISHERMAN'S WIFE
On the outer edge of the fishing-village stood a little cottage on
a low mound of white sea sand. It was not built in line with the
even, neat, conventional houses that enclosed the wide green place
where the brown fish-nets were dried, but seemed as if forced out
of the row and pushed on one side to the sand-hills. The poor widow
who had erected it had been her own builder, and she had made the
walls of her cottage lower than those of all the other cottages and
its steep thatched roof higher than any other roof in the fishing-village.
The floor lay deep down in the ground. The window was neither high
nor wide, but nevertheless it reached from the cornice to the level
of the earth. There had been no space for a chimney-breast in the
one narrow room and she had been obliged to add a small, square
projection. The cottage had not, like the other cottages, its
fenced-in garden with gooseberry bushes and twining morning-glories
and elder-bushes half suffocated by burdocks. Of all the vegetation
of the fishing-village, only the burdocks had followed the cottage
to the sand-hill. They were fine enough in summer with their fresh,
dark-green leaves and prickly baskets filled with bright, red
flowers. But towards the autumn, when the prickles had hardened and
the seeds had ripened, they grew careless about their looks, and
stood hideously ugly and dry with their torn leaves wrapped in a
melancholy shroud of dusty cobwebs.
The cottage never had more than two owners, for it could not hold
up that heavy roof on its walls of reeds and clay for more than two
generations. But as long as it stood, it was owned by poor widows.
The second widow who lived there delighted in watching the burdocks,
especially in the autumn, when they were dried and broken. They
recalled her who had built the cottage. She too had been shrivelled
and dry and had had the power to cling fast and adhere, and all her
strength had been used for her child, whom she had needed to help
on in the world. She, who now sat there alone, wished both to weep
and to laugh at the thought of it. If the old woman had not had a
burr-like nature, how different everything would have been! But who
knows if it would have been better?
The lonely woman often sat musing on the fate which had brought her
to this spot on the coast of Skone, to the narrow inlet and among
these quiet people. For she was born in a Norwegian seaport which
lay on a narrow strip of land between rushing falls and the open
sea, and although her means were small after the death of her
father, a merchant, who left his family in poverty, still she was
used to life and progress. She used to tell her story to herself
over and over again, just as one often reads through an obscure
book in order to try to discover its meaning.
The first thing of note which had happened to her was when, one
evening on the way home from the dressmaker with whom she worked,
she had been attacked by two sailors and rescued by a third. The
latter fought for her at peril of his life and afterwards went home
with her. She took him in to her mother and sisters, and told them
excitedly what he had done. It was as if life had acquired a new
value for her, because another had dared so much to defend it. He
had been immediately well received by her family and asked to come
again as soon and as often as he could.
His name was Börje Nilsson, and he was a sailor on the Swedish lugger
"Albertina." As long as the boat lay in the harbor, he came almost
every day to her home, and they could soon no longer believe that
he was only a common sailor. He shone always in a clean, turned-down
collar and wore a sailor suit of fine cloth. Natural and frank, he
showed himself among them, as if he had been used to move in the
same class as they. Without his ever having said it in so many
words, they got the impression that he was from a respectable home,
the only son of a rich widow, but that his unconquerable love for a
sailor's profession had made him take a place before the mast, so
that his mother should see that he was in earnest. When he had
passed his examination, she would certainly get him his own ship.
The lonely family who had drawn away from all their former friends,
received him without the slightest suspicion. And he described with
a light heart and fluent tongue his home with its high, pointed
roof, the great open fireplace in the dining-room and the little
leaded glass panes. He also painted the silent streets of his
native town and the long rows of even houses, built in the same
style, against which his home, with its irregular buttresses and
terraces, made a pleasant contrast. And his listeners believed that
he had come from one of those old burgher houses with carved gables
and with overhanging second stories, which give such a strong
impression of wealth and venerable age.
Soon enough she saw that he cared for her. And that gave her mother
and sisters great joy. The young, rich Swede came as if to raise
them all up from their poverty. Even if she had not loved him,
which she did, she would never have had a thought of saying no to
his proposal. If she had had a father or a grown-up brother, he
could have found out about the stranger's extraction and position,
but neither she nor her mother thought of making any inquiries.
Afterwards she saw how they had actually forced him to lie. In the
beginning, he had let them imagine great ideas about his wealth
without any evil intention, but when he understood how glad they
were over it, he had not dared to speak the truth for fear of
Before he left they were betrothed, and when the lugger came again,
they were married. It was a disappointment for her that he also on
his return appeared as a sailor, but he had been bound by his
contract. He had no greetings either from his mother. She had
expected him to make another choice, but she would be so glad, he
said, if she would once see Astrid.—In spite of all his lies, it
would have been an easy matter to see that he was a poor man, if
they had only chosen to use their eyes.
The captain offered her his cabin if she would like to make the
journey in his vessel, and the offer was accepted with delight.
Börje was almost exempt from all work, and sat most of the time on
the deck, talking to his wife. And now he gave her the happiness of
fancy, such as he himself had lived on all his life. The more he
thought of that little house which lay half buried in the sand, so
much the higher he raised that palace which he would have liked to
offer her. He let her in thought glide into a harbor which was
adorned with flags and flowers in honor of Börje Nilsson's bride.
He let her hear the mayor's speech of greeting. He let her drive
under a triumphal arch, while the eyes of men followed her and the
women grew pale with envy. And he led her into the stately home,
where bowing, silvery-haired servants stood drawn up along the side
of the broad stairway and where the table laden for the feast
groaned under the old family silver.
When she discovered the truth, she supposed at first that the
captain had been in league with Börje to deceive her, but
afterwards she found that it was not so. They were accustomed on
board the boat to speak of Börje as of a great man. It was their
greatest joke to talk quite seriously of his riches and his fine
family. They thought that Börje had told her the truth, but that
she joked with him, as they all did, when she talked about his big
house. So it happened that when the lugger cast anchor in the
harbor which lay nearest to Börje's home, she still did not know
but that she was the wife of a rich man.
Börje got a day's leave to conduct his wife to her future home and
to start her in her new life. When they were landed on the quay,
where the flags were to have fluttered and the crowds to have
rejoiced in honor of the newly-married couple, only emptiness and
calm reigned there, and Börje noticed that his wife looked about
her with a certain disappointment.
"We have come too soon," he had said. "The journey was such an
unusually quick one in this fine weather. So we have no carriage
here either, and we have far to go, for the house lies outside the
"That makes no difference, Börje," she had answered. "It will do us
good to walk, after having been quiet so long on board."
And so they began their walk, that walk of horror, of which she
could not think even in her old age without moaning in agony and
wringing her hands in pain. They went along the broad, empty
streets, which she instantly recognized from his description. She
felt as if she met with old friends both in the dark church and in
the even houses of timber and brick; but where were the carved
gables and marble steps with the high railing?
Börje had nodded to her as if he had guessed her thoughts. "It is a
long way still," he had said.
If he had only been merciful and at once killed her hope. She loved
him so then. If he of his own accord had told her everything, there
would never have been any sting in her soul against him. But when
he saw her pain at being deceived, and yet went on misleading her,
that had hurt her too bitterly. She had never really forgiven him
that. She could of course say to herself that he had wanted to take
her with him as far as possible so that she would not be able to
run away from him, but his deceit created such a deadly coldness in
her that no love could entirely thaw it.
They went through the town and came out on the adjoining plain.
There stretched several rows of dark moats and high, green
ramparts, remains from the time when the town had been fortified,
and at the point where they all gathered around a fort, she saw
some ancient buildings and big, round towers. She cast a shy look
towards them, but Börje turned off to the mounds which followed the
"This is a shorter way," he said, for she seemed to be surprised
that there was only a narrow path to follow.
He had become very taciturn. She understood afterwards that he had
not found it so merry as he had fancied, to come with a wife to the
miserable little house in the fishing village. It did not seem so
fine now to bring home a better man's child. He was anxious about
what she would do when she should know the truth.
"Börje," she said at last, when they had followed the shelving,
sandy hillocks for a long while, "where are we going?"
He lifted his band and pointed towards the fishing-village, where
his mother lived in the house on the sand-hill. But she believed
that he meant one of the beautiful country-seats which lay on the
edge of the plain, and was again glad.
They climbed down into the empty cow-pastures, and there all her
uneasiness returned. There, where every tuft, if one can only see
it, is clothed with beauty and variety, she saw merely an ugly
field. And the wind, which is ever shifting there, swept whistling
by them and whispered of misfortune and treachery.
Börje walked faster and faster, and at last they reached the end of
the pasture and entered the fishing village. She, who at the last
had not dared to ask herself any questions, took courage again.
Here again was a uniform row of houses, and this one she recognized
Even better than that in the town. Perhaps, perhaps he had not lied.
Her expectations were so reduced that she would have been glad from
the heart if she could have stopped at any of the neat little
houses, where flowers and white curtains showed behind shining
window-panes. She grieved that she had to go by them.
Then she saw suddenly, just at the outer edge of the fishing-village,
one of the most wretched of hovels, and it seemed to her as if she
had already seen it with her mind's eye before she actually had a
glimpse of it.
"Is it here?" he said, and stopped just at the foot of the little
He bent his head imperceptibly and went on towards the little cottage.
"Wait," she called after him, "we must talk this over before I go
into your home. You have lied," she went on, threateningly, when he
turned to her. "You have deceived me worse than if you were my
worst enemy. Why have you done it?"
"I wanted you for my wife," he answered, with a low, trembling voice.
"If you had only deceived me within bounds! Why did you make
everything so fine and rich? What did you have to do with man-servants
and triumphal arches and all the other magnificence? Did you think
that I was so devoted to money? Did you not see that I cared enough
for you to go anywhere with you? That you could believe you needed
to deceive me! That you could have the heart to keep up your lies
to the very last!"
"Will you not come in and speak to my mother?" he said, helplessly.
"I do not intend to go in there."
"Are you going home?"
"How can I go home? How could I cause them there at home such
sorrow as to return, when they believe me happy and rich? But with
you I will not stay either. For one who is willing to work there is
always a livelihood."
"Stop!" he begged. "I did it only to win you."
"If you had told me the truth, I would have stayed."
"If I had been a rich man, who had pretended to be poor, then you
would have stayed."
She shrugged her shoulders and turned to go, when the door of the
cottage opened and Börje's mother came out. She was a little,
dried-up old woman with few teeth and many wrinkles, but not so old
in years or in feelings as in looks.
She had heard a part and guessed a part, for she knew what they
were quarrelling about. "Well," she said, "that is a fine daughter-in-law
you have got me, Börje. And you have been deceiving again, I can
hear." But to Astrid she came and patted her kindly on the cheek.
"Come in with me, you poor child! I know that you are tired and
worn out. This is my house. He is not allowed to come in here. But
you come. Now you are my daughter, and I cannot let you go to
strangers, do you understand?"
She caressed her daughter-in-law and chatted to her and drew and
pushed her quite imperceptibly forward to the door. Step by step
she lured her on, and at last got her inside the house; but Börje
she shut out. And there, within, the old woman began to ask who she
was and how it had all happened. And she wept over her and made her
weep over herself. The old woman was merciless about her son. She,
Astrid, did right; she could not stay with such a man. It was true
that he was in the habit of lying, it was really true.
She told her how it had been with her son. He had been so fair in
face and limbs, even when he was small, that she had always
marvelled that he was a poor man's child. He was like a little
prince gone astray. And ever after it had always seemed as if he
had not been in his right place. He saw everything on such a large
scale. He could not see things as they were, when it concerned
himself. His mother had wept many a time on that account. But never
before had he done any harm with his lies. Here, where he was
known, they only laughed at him.—But now he must have been so
terribly tempted. Did she really not think, she, Astrid, that it
was wonderful how the fisher boy had been able to deceive them? He
had always known so much about wealth, as if he had been born to
it. It must be that he had come into the world in the wrong place.
See, that was another proof,—he had never thought of choosing a
wife in his own station.
"Where will he sleep to-night?" asked Astrid, suddenly.
"I imagine he will lie outside on the sand. He will be too anxious
to go away from here."
"I suppose it is best for him to come in," said Astrid.
"Dearest child, you cannot want to see him. He can get along out
there if I give him a blanket."
She let him actually sleep out on the sand that night, thinking it
best for Astrid not to see him. And with her she talked and talked,
and kept her, not by force, but by cleverness, not by persuasion,
but by real goodness.
But when she had at last succeeded in keeping her daughter-in-law
for her son, and had got the young people reconciled, and had
taught Astrid that her vocation in life was just to be Börje
Nilsson's wife and to make him as happy as she could,—and that
had not been the work of one evening, but of many days,—then the
old woman had laid herself down to die.
And in that life, with its faithful solicitude for her son, there
was some meaning, thought Börje Nilsson's wife.
But in her own life she saw no meaning. Her husband was drowned
after a few years of married life, and her one child died young.
She had not been able to make any change in her husband. She had
not been able to teach him earnestness and truth. It was rather in
her the change showed, after she had been more and more with the
fishing people. She would never see any of her own family, for she
was ashamed that she now resembled in everything a fisherman's
wife. If it had only been of any use! If she, who lived by mending
the fishermen's nets, knew why she clung so to life! If she had
made any one happy or had improved anybody!
It never occurred to her to think that she who considers her life a
failure because she has done no good to others, perhaps by that
thought of humility has saved her own soul.
HIS MOTHER'S PORTRAIT
None of the hundred houses of the fishing-village, where each is
exactly like the other in size and shape, where all have just as
many windows and as high chimneys, lived old Mattsson, the pilot.
In all the rooms of the fishing-village there is the same sort of
furniture, on all the window-sills stand the same kinds of flowers,
in all the corner-cupboards are the same collections of sea-shells
and coral, on all the walls hang the same pictures. And it is a
fixed old custom that all the inhabitants of the fishing-village
live the same life. Since Mattsson, the pilot, had grown old, he
had conformed carefully to the conditions and customs; his house,
his rooms and his mode of living were like everybody else's.
On the wall over the bed old Mattsson had a picture of his mother.
One night he dreamed that the portrait stepped down from its frame,
placed itself in front of him and said with a loud voice: "You must
Old Mattsson then began to make clear to his mother that it was
impossible. He was seventy years old.—But his mother's portrait
merely repeated with even greater emphasis: "You must marry, Mattsson."
Old Mattsson had great respect for his mother's portrait. It had
been his adviser on many debatable occasions, and he had always
done well by obeying it. But this time he did not quite understand
its behavior. It seemed to him as if the picture was acting in
opposition to its already acknowledged opinions. Although he was
lying there and dreaming, he remembered distinctly and clearly what
had happened the first time he wished to be married. Just as he was
dressing as a bridegroom, the nail gave way on which the picture
hung and it fell to the floor. He understood then that the portrait
wished to warn him against the marriage, but he did not obey it. He
soon found that the portrait had been right. His short married life
was very unhappy.
The second time he dressed as a bridegroom the same thing happened.
The portrait fell to the ground as before, and he did not dare
again to disobey it. He ran away from bride and wedding and
travelled round the world several times before he dared come home
again.—And now the picture stepped down from the wall and
commanded him to marry! However good and obedient he was, he
allowed himself to think that it was making a fool of him.
But his mother's portrait, which looked out with the grimmest face
that sharp winds and salt sea-foam could carve, stood solemnly as
before. And with a voice which had been exercised and strengthened
for many years by offering fish in the town marketplace, it
repeated: "You must marry, Mattsson."
Old Mattsson then asked his mother's portrait to consider what kind
of a community it was they lived in.
All the hundred houses of the fishing-village had pointed roofs and
whitewashed walls; all the boats of the fishing-village were of the
same build and rig. No one there ever did anything unusual. His
mother would have been the first to oppose such a marriage if she
had been alive. His mother had held by habits and customs. And it
was not the habit and custom of the fishing-village for old men of
seventy years to marry.
His mother's picture stretched out her beringed hand and positively
commanded him to obey. There had always been something excessively
awe-inspiring in his mother when she came in her black silk dress
with many flounces. The big, shining gold brooch, the heavy,
rattling gold chain had always frightened him. If she had worn her
market-clothes, in a striped head-cloth and with an oil-cloth
apron, covered with fish-scales and fish eyes, he would not have
been quite so overawed by her. The end of it was that he promised
to get married. And then his mother's portrait crept up into the
The next morning old Mattsson woke in great trouble. It never
occurred to him to disobey his mother's portrait; it knew of course
what was best for him. But he shuddered nevertheless at the time
that was now coming.
The same day he made an offer of marriage to the plainest daughter
of the poorest fisherman, a little creature, whose head was drawn
down between her shoulders and who had a projecting under-jaw. The
parents said yes, and the day when he was to go to the town and
publish the bans was appointed.
The road from the fishing-village to the town passes over windy
marshes and swampy cow-pastures. It is two miles long, and there is
a tradition that the inhabitants of the fishing-village are so rich
that they could pave it with shining silver coins. It would give
the road a strange attraction. Glimmering like a fish's belly, it
would wind with its white scales through clumps of sedge and pools
filled with water-bugs and melancholy bullfrogs. The daisies and
almond-blossoms which adorn that forsaken ground would be mirrored
in the shining silver coins; thistles would stretch out protecting
thorns over them, and the wind would find a ringing sounding-board
when it played on the thatched roof of the cow-barns and on
Perhaps old Mattsson would have found some comfort if he could have
set his heavy sea boots on ringing silver, for it is certain that
he for a time had to go that way oftener than he liked.
He had not had "clean papers." The bans could not be published. It
came from his having run away from his bride the last time. Some
time passed before the clergyman could write to the consistory
about him and get permission for him to contract a new marriage.
As long as this time of waiting lasted, old Mattsson came to the
town every week. He sat by the door of the pastor's room and
remained there in silent expectation until all had spoken in turn.
Then he rose and asked if the clergyman had anything for him. No,
he had nothing.
The pastor was amazed at the power that all-conquering love had
acquired over that old man. There he sat in a thick, knitted
jersey, high sea-boots and weather-beaten sou'wester with a sharp,
clever face and long, gray hair, and waited for permission to get
married. The clergyman thought it strange that the old fisherman
should have been seized by so eager a longing.
"You are in a hurry with this marriage, Mattsson," said the
"Oh yes, it is best to get it done soon."
"Could you not just as well give up the whole thing? You are no
longer young, Mattsson."
The clergyman must not be too surprised. He knew well enough that
he was too old, but he was obliged to be married. There was no help
So he came again week after week for a half year, until at last the
During all that time old Mattsson was a persecuted man. Round the
green drying-place, where the brown fish-nets were hung out, along
the cemented walls by the harbor, at the fish-tables in the market,
where cod and crabs were sold, and far out in the sound among the
shoals of herring, raged a storm of wonder and laughter.
"So he is going to be married, he, Mattsson, who ran away from his
Neither bride nor groom were spared.
But the worst thing for him was that no one could laugh more at the
whole thing than he himself. No one could find it more ridiculous.
His mother's portrait was driving him mad.
It was the afternoon of the first time of asking. Old Mattsson,
still pursued by talk and wonderings, went out on the long
breakwater as far as the whitewashed lighthouse, in order to be
alone. He found his betrothed there. She sat and wept.
He asked her whether she would have liked some one else better. She
sat and pried little bits of mortar from the lighthouse wall and
threw them into the water, answering nothing at first.
"Was there nobody you liked?"
"Oh no, of course not."
It is very beautiful out by the lighthouse. The clear water of the
sound laps about it. The low-lying shore, the little uniform houses
of the fishing-village, and the distant town are all shining in
wonderful beauty. Out of the soft mist that hovers on the western
horizon a fishing-boat comes gliding now and again. Tacking boldly,
it steers towards the harbor. The water roars gaily past its bow as
it shoots in through the narrow harbor entrance. The sail drops
silently at the same moment. The fishermen swing their hats in
joyous greeting, and on the bottom of the boat lies the glittering
A boat came into the harbor while old Mattsson stood out by the
lighthouse. A young man sitting at the tiller lifted his hat and
nodded to the girl. The old man saw that her eyes were shining.
"Well," he thought, "have you fallen in love with the handsomest
young fellow in the fishing-village? Yes, you will never get him.
You may just as well marry me as wait for him."
He saw that he could not escape his mother's picture. If the girl
had cared for any one whom there was any possibility of getting, he
would have had a good motive to be rid of the whole business. But
now it was useless to set her free.
A fortnight later was the wedding, and a few days after came the
big November gale. One of the boats of the fishing-village was
swept out into the sound. It had neither rudder nor masts, so that
it was quite unmanageable. Old Mattsson and five others were on
board, and they drifted about without food for two days. When they
were rescued, they were in a state of exhaustion from hunger and
cold. Everything in the boat was covered with ice, and their wet
clothes were stiff. Old Mattsson was so chilled that he never was
well again. He lay ill for two years; then death came.
Many thought that it was strange that his idea of marrying came
just before the unlucky adventure, for the little woman he had got
took good care of him. What would he have done if he had been alone
when lying so helpless? The whole fishing-village acknowledged that
he had never done anything more sensible than marrying, and the
little woman won great consideration for the tenderness with which
she took care of her husband.
"She will have no trouble in marrying again," people said.
Old Mattsson told his wife, every day while he lay ill, the story
of the portrait.
"You must take it when I am dead, just as you must take everything
of mine," he said.
"Do not speak of such things."
"And you must listen to my mother's portrait when the young men
propose to you. Truly there is no one in the whole fishing-village
who understands getting married better than that picture."
A FALLEN KING
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
A CHRISTMAS GUEST
0ne of those who had lived the life of a pensioner at Ekeby was
little Ruster, who could transpose music and play the flute. He was
of low origin and poor, without home and without relations. Hard
times came to him when the company of pensioners were dispersed.
He then had no horse nor carriole, no fur coat nor red-painted
luncheon-basket. He had to go on foot from house to house and carry
his belongings tied in a blue striped cotton handkerchief. He
buttoned his coat all the way up to his chin, so that no one should
need to know in what condition his shirt and waistcoat were, and in
its deep pockets he kept his most precious possessions: his flute
taken to pieces, his flat brandy bottle and his music-pen.
His profession was to copy music, and if it bad been as in the old
days, there would have been no lack of work for him. But with every
passing year music was less practised in Värmland. The guitar, with
its mouldy, silken ribbon and its worn screws, and the dented horn,
with faded tassels and cord were put away in the lumber-room in the
attic, and the dust settled inches deep on the long, iron-bound
violin boxes. Yet the less little Ruster had to do with flute and
music-pen, so much the more must he turn to the brandy flask, and
at last he became quite a drunkard. It was a great pity.
He was still received at the manor-houses as an old friend, but
there were complaints when he came and joy when he went. There was
an odor of dirt and brandy about him, and if he had only a couple
of glasses of wine or one toddy, he grew confused and told unpleasant
stories. He was the torment of the hospitable houses.
One Christmas he came to Löfdala, where Liljekrona, the great
violinist, had his home. Liljekrona had also been one of the
pensioners of Ekeby, but after the death of the major's wife, he
returned to his quiet farm and remained there. Ruster came to him a
few days before Christmas, in the midst of all the preparations,
and asked for work. Liljekrona gave him a little copying to keep
"You ought to have let him go immediately," said his wife; "now he
will certainly take so long with that that we will be obliged to
keep him over Christmas."
"He must be somewhere," answered Liljekrona.
And he offered Ruster toddy and brandy, sat with him, and lived
over again with him the whole Ekeby time. But he was out of spirits
and disgusted by him, like every one else, although he would not
let it be seen, for old friendship and hospitality were sacred to
In Liljekrona's house for three weeks now they had been preparing
to receive Christmas. They had been living in discomfort and
bustle, had sat up with dip-lights and torches till their eyes grew
red, had been frozen in the out-house with the salting of meat and
in the brew-house with the brewing of the beer. But both the
mistress and the servants gave themselves up to it all without
When all the preparations were done and the holy evening come, a
sweet enchantment would sink down over them. Christmas would loosen
all tongues, so that jokes and jests, rhymes and merriment would
flow of themselves without effort. Every one's feet would wish to
twirl in the dance, and from memory's dark corners words and
melodies would rise, although no one could believe that they were
there. And then every one was so good, so good!
Now when Ruster came the whole household at Löfdala thought that
Christmas was spoiled. The mistress and the older children and the
old servants were all of the same opinion. Ruster caused them a
suffocating disgust. They were moreover afraid that when he and
Liljekrona began to rake up the old memories, the artist's blood
would flame up in the great violinist and his home would lose him.
Formerly he had not been able to remain long sit home.
No one can describe how they loved their master on the farm, since
they had had him with them a couple of years. And what he had to
give! How much he was to his home, especially at Christmas! He did
not take his place on any sofa or rocking-stool, but on a high,
narrow wooden bench in the corner of the fireplace. When he was
settled there he started off on adventures. He travelled about the
earth, climbed up to the stars, and even higher. He played and
talked by turns, and the whole household gathered about him and
listened. Life grew proud and beautiful when the richness of that
one soul shone on it.
Therefore they loved him as they loved Christmas time, pleasure,
the spring sun. And when little Ruster came, their Christmas peace
was destroyed. They had worked in vain if he was coming to tempt
away their master. It was unjust that the drunkard should sit at
the Christmas table in a happy house and spoil the Christmas
On the forenoon of Christmas Eve little Ruster had his music
written out, and he said something about going, although of course
he meant to stay.
Liljekrona had been influenced by the general feeling, and
therefore said quite lukewarmly and indifferently that Ruster had
better stay where he was over Christmas.
Little Ruster was inflammable and proud. He twirled his moustache
and shook back the black artist's hair that stood like a dark cloud
over his head. What did Liljekrona mean? Should he stay because he
had nowhere else to go? Oh, only think how they stood and waited
for him in the big ironworks in the parish of Bro! The guest-room
was in order, the glass of welcome filled. He was in great haste.
He only did not know to which he ought to go first.
"Very well," answered Liljekrona, "you may go if you will."
After dinner little Ruster borrowed horse and sleigh, coat and
furs. The stable-boy from Löfdala was to take him to some place in
Bro and drive quickly back, for it threatened snow.
No one believed that he was expected, or that there was a single
place in the neighborhood where he was welcome. But they were so
anxious to be rid of him that they put the thought aside and let
him depart. "He wished it himself," they said; and then they
thought that now they would be glad.
But when they gathered in the dining room at five o'clock to drink
tea and to dance round the Christmas-tree, Liljekrona was silent
and out of spirits. He did not seat himself on the bench; he touched
neither tea nor punch; he could not remember any polka; the violin
was out of order. Those who could play and dance had to do it
Then his wife grew uneasy; the children were discontented,
everything in the house went wrong. It was the most lamentable
The porridge turned sour; the candles sputtered; the wood smoked;
the wind stirred up the snow and blew bitter cold into the rooms.
The stable-boy who had driven Ruster did not come home. The cook
wept; the maids scolded.
Finally Liljekrona remembered that no sheaves had been put out for
the sparrows, and he complained aloud of all the women about him
who abandoned old customs and were new-fangled and heartless. They
understood well enough that what tormented him was remorse that he
had let little Ruster go away from his home on Christmas Eve.
After a while he went to his room, shut the door and began to play
as he had not played since he had ceased roaming. It was full of
hate and scorn, full of longing and revolt. You thought to bind me,
but you must forge new fetters. You thought to make me as small-minded
as yourselves, but I turn to larger things, to the open. Commonplace
people, slaves of the home, hold me prisoner if it is in your
When his wife heard the music, she said: "Tomorrow he is gone, if
God does not work a miracle in the night. Our inhospitableness has
brought on just what we thought we could avoid."
In the meantime little Ruster drove about in the snowstorm. He went
from one house to the other and asked if there was any work for him
to do, but he was not received anywhere. They did not even ask him
to get out of the sledge. Some had their houses full of guests,
others were going away on Christmas Day. "Drive to the next
neighbor," they all said.
He could come and spoil the pleasure of an ordinary day, but not of
Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve came but once a year, and the children
had been rejoicing in the thought of it all the autumn. They could
not put that man at a table where there were children. Formerly
they had been glad to see him, but not since he had become a
drunkard. Where should they put the fellow, moreover? The servants'
room was too plain and the guest-room too fine.
So little Ruster had to drive from house to house in the blinding
snow. His wet moustache hung limply down over his mouth; his eyes
were bloodshot and blurred, but the brandy was blown out of his
brain. He began to wonder and to be amazed. Was it possible, was it
possible that no one wished to receive him?
Then all at once he saw himself. He saw how miserable and degraded
he was, and he understood that he was odious to people. "It is the
end of me," he thought. "No more copying of music, no more
flute-playing. No one on earth needs me; no one has compassion on
The storm whirled and played, tore apart the drifts and piled them
up again, took a pillar of snow in its arms and danced out into the
plain, lifted one flake up to the clouds and chased another down
into a ditch. "It is so, it is so," said little Ruster; "while one
dances and whirls it is play, but when one must be buried in the
drift and forgotten, it is sorrow and grief." But down they all
have to go, and now it was his turn. To think that he had now come
to the end!
He no longer asked where the man was driving him; he thought that
he was driving in the land of death.
Little Ruster made no offerings to the gods that night. He did not
curse flute-playing or the life of a pensioner; he did not think
that it had been better for him if he had ploughed the earth or
sewn shoes. But he mourned that he was now a worn-out instrument,
which pleasure could no longer use. He complained of no one, for he
knew that when the horn is cracked and the guitar will not stay in
tune, they must go. He became all at once a very humble man. He
understood that it was the end of him, on this Christmas Eve.
Hunger and cold would destroy him, for he understood nothing, was
good for nothing and had no friends.
The sledge stops, and suddenly it is light about him, and he hears
friendly voices, and there is some one who is helping him into a
warm room, and some one who is pouring warm tea into him. His coat
is pulled off him, and several people cry that he is welcome, and
warm hands rub life into his benumbed fingers.
He was so confused by it all that he did not come to his senses for
nearly a quarter of an hour. He could not possibly comprehend that
he had come back to Löfdala. He had not been at all conscious that
the stable-boy had grown tired of driving about in the storm and
had turned home.
Nor did he understand why he was now so well received in Liljekrona's
house. He could not know that Liljekrona's wife understood what a
weary journey he had made that Christmas Eve, when he had been
turned away from every door where he had knocked. She felt such
compassion on him that she forgot her own troubles.
Liljekrona went on with the wild playing up in his room; he did not
know that Ruster had come. The latter sat meanwhile in the dining-room
with the wife and the children. The servants, who used also to be
there on Christmas Eve, had moved out into the kitchen away from
their mistress's trouble.
The mistress of the house lost no time in setting Ruster to work.
"You hear, I suppose," she said, "that Liljekrona does nothing but
play all the evening, and I must attend to setting the table and
the food. The children are quite forsaken. You must look after
these two smallest."
Children were the kind of people with whom little Ruster had had
least intercourse. He had met them neither in the bachelor's wing
nor in the campaign tent, neither in wayside inns nor on the
highways. He was almost shy of them, and did not know what he ought
to say that was fine enough for them.
He took out his flute and taught them how to finger the stops and
holes. There was one of four years and one of six. They had a
lesson on the flute and were deeply interested in it. "This is A,"
he said, "and this is C," and then he blew the notes. Then the
young people wished to know what kind of an A and C it was that was
to be played.
Ruster took out his score and made a few notes.
"No," they said, "that is not right." And they ran away for an A B C book.
Little Ruster began to hear their alphabet. They knew it and they
did not know it. What they knew was not very much. Ruster grew
eager; he lifted the little boys up, each on one of his knees, and
began to teach them. Liljekrona's wife went out and in and listened
quite in amazement. It sounded like a game, and the children were
laughing the whole time, but they learned.
Ruster kept on for a while, but he was absent from what he was
doing. He was turning over the old thoughts from out in the storm.
It was good and pleasant, but nevertheless it was the end of him.
He was worn .out. He ought to be thrown away. And all of a sudden
he put his hands before his face and began to weep.
Liljekrona's wife came quickly up to him.
"Ruster," she said, "I can understand that you think that all is
over for you. You cannot make a living with your music, and you are
destroying yourself with brandy. But it is not the end, Ruster."
"Yes," sobbed the little flute-player.
"Do you see that to sit as to-night with the children, that would
be something for you? If you would teach children to read and
write, you would be welcomed everywhere. That is no less important
an instrument on which to play, Ruster, than flute and violin. Look
at them, Ruster!"
She placed the two children in front of him, and he looked up,
blinking as if he had looked at the sun. It seemed as if his
little, blurred eyes could not meet those of the children, which
were big, clear and innocent.
"Look at them, Ruster!" repeated Liljekrona's wife.
"I dare not," said Ruster, for it was like a purgatory to look
through the beautiful child eyes to the unspotted beauty of their
Liljekrona's wife laughed loud and joyously. "Then you must
accustom yourself to them, Ruster. You can stay in my house as
schoolmaster this year."
Liljekrona heard his wife laugh and came out of his room.
"What is it?" he said. "What is it?"
"Nothing," she answered, "but that Ruster has come again, and that
I have engaged him as schoolmaster for our little boys."
Liljekrona was quite amazed. "Do you dare?" he said, "do you dare?
Has he promised to give up-"
"No," said the wife; "Ruster has promised nothing. But there is
much about which he must be careful when he has to look little
children in the eyes every day. If it had not been Christmas,
perhaps I would not have ventured; but when our Lord dared to place
a little child who was his own son among us sinners, so can I also
dare to let my little children try to save a human soul."
Liljekrona could not speak, but every feature and wrinkle in his
face twitched and twisted as always when he heard anything noble.
Then he kissed his wife's hand as gently as a child who asks for
forgiveness and cried aloud: "All the children must come and kiss
their mother's hand."
They did so, and then they had a happy Christmas in Liljekrona's
There was once, nearly eighty years ago, a little boy who went out
into the market-place to spin his top. The little boy's name was
Reuben. He was not more than three years old, but he swung his
little whip as bravely as anybody and made the top spin so that it
was a pleasure to see it.
On that day, eighty years ago, it was beautiful spring weather. It
was in the month of March, and the town was divided into two
worlds; one white and warm, where the sun shone, and one cold and
dark, where it was in shadow. The whole market-place was in the sun
except a narrow edge along one row of houses.
Now it happened that the little boy, brave as he was, grew tired of
spinning his top and looked about for some place to rest. It was
not hard to find. There were no benches or seats, but every house
was supplied with stone steps. Little Reuben could not imagine
He was a conscientious little fellow. He had a vague feeling that
his mother did not like to have him sit on strange people's steps.
His mother was poor, but just on that account it must never look as
if they wanted to take anything of anybody. So he went and sat on
their own stone steps, for they also lived on the market-place.
The steps lay in the shadow, and it was very cold there. The little
fellow leaned his head against the railing, drew up his legs and
made himself comfortable. For a little while he watched the
sunlight dance out in the market-place and the boys running and
spinning tops—then he shut his eyes and went to sleep.
He must have slept an hour. When he awoke he did not feel so well
as when he fell asleep; everything felt so dreadfully uncomfortable.
He went in to his mother crying, and his mother saw that he was ill
and put him to bed. And in a couple of days the boy was dead.
But that is not the end of his story. It happened that his mother
mourned for him from the depths of her heart with a sorrow which
defies years and death. His mother had several other children, many
cares occupied her time and thoughts, but there was always a corner
in her heart where her son Reuben dwelt undisturbed. He was ever
alive to her. When she saw a group of children playing in the
market-place, he too was running there, and when she went about her
house, she believed fully and firmly that the little boy was still
sitting and sleeping out on those dangerous stone steps. Certainly
none of her living children were so constantly in her thoughts as
her dead one.
Some years after his death little Reuben had a sister, and when she
grew to be old enough to run out on the market-place and spin tops,
it happened that she too sat down on the stone steps to rest. But
her mother felt instantly as if some one had pulled her skirt. She
came out and seized the little sister so roughly, when she lifted
her up, that she remembered it as long as she lived.
And as little did she forget how strange her mother's face was and
how her voice trembled, when she said: "Do you know that you once
had a little brother, whose name was Reuben, and he died because he
sat on these stone steps and caught cold? You do not want to die
and leave your mother, Berta?"
Brother Reuben soon became just as living to his brothers and
sisters as to his mother. She was able to make them see with her
eyes and they too soon saw him sitting out on the stone steps. And
it naturally never occurred to them to sit down there. Yes,
whenever they saw any one sitting on stone steps, or on a stone
railing, or on a stone by the roadside, they felt a prick in their
heart and thought of Brother Reuben.
Besides, Brother Reuben was always placed highest of all the
children when they spoke of him among themselves. For they all knew
that they were a troublesome and fatiguing family, who only gave
their mother care and inconvenience. They could not believe that
she would grieve much at losing any of them. But as she really
mourned for Brother Reuben, it was certain that he must have been
much better than they were.
They would often think: "Oh, if we could only give mother as much
joy as Brother Reuben!" And yet no one knew anything more about him
than that he had played top and caught cold on the stone steps. But
he must have been something wonderful, as their mother had such a
love for him.
He was wonderful too; he was more of a joy to his mother than any
of the children. Her husband died and she worked in care and want.
But the children had so strong a faith in their mother's grief for
the little three-year-old boy, that they were convinced that if he
had lived she would not have mourned over her misfortunes. And
every time they saw their mother weep, they thought that it was
because Brother Reuben was dead, or because they were not like
Brother Reuben. Soon enough an ever-growing desire was born in them
to rival their little dead brother in their mother's affection.
There was nothing that they would not have done for her, if she had
only cared as much for them as for him. And it was on account of
that longing, I think, that Brother Reuben did more good than any
of the other children.
Fancy that when the eldest brother had earned his first money by
rowing a stranger over the river, he came and gave it to his mother
without reserving a penny! Then his mother looked so happy that he
swelled with pride, and could not help betraying how ambitious
beyond measure he had been.
"Mother, am I not now as good as Brother Reuben?" His mother looked
at him questioningly. She seemed as if she was comparing his fresh,
glowing face with the little pale boy out on the stone steps. And
she would have liked to have answered yes, if she had been able,
but she could not.
"I am very fond of you, Ivan, but you will never be like Reuben."
It was beyond their powers; all the children realized it, and yet
they could not help trying.
They grew up strong and capable; they worked their way up to wealth
and consideration, while Brother Reuben only sat still on his stone
steps. But he still had a start; he could not be overtaken.
And at every success, every improvement, as they by degrees were
able to offer their mother a good home and comfort, it had to be
reward enough for them for their mother to say: "Ah, if my little
Reuben could have seen that!"
Brother Reuben followed his mother through the whole of her life,
even to her deathbed. It was he who robbed the death pangs of their
sting, since she knew that they bore her to him. In the midst of
her greatest suffering the mother could smile at the thought that
she was going to meet little Reuben.
And so died one whose faithful love had exalted and deified a poor
little three-year-old boy.
But neither was that the end of little Reuben's story. To all the
brothers and sisters he had become a symbol of their life of
endeavor, of their love for their mother, of all the touching
memories from the years of struggle and failure. There was always
something rich and warm in their voices when they spoke of him.
So he also glided into the lives of the children of his brothers
and sisters. His mother's love had raised him to greatness, and the
great influence generation after generation.
Sister Berta had a son, who had much to do with Uncle Reuben.
He was four years old the day he sat on the curbstone and stared
down into the gutter. It was full of rain water. Sticks and straws
were carried past in wild swirlings down to the sea. The little boy
sat and looked on with that pleasant calm that people feel in
following the adventurous existence of others, when they themselves
are in safety.
But his peaceful philosophizing was interrupted by his mother, who,
the moment she saw him, thought of the stone steps at home and of
"Oh, my dear little boy," she said, "do not sit there! Do you know
that your mamma had a little brother whose name was Reuben, and he
was four years old just like you? He died because he sat on just
such a curbstone and caught cold."
The little boy did not like being disturbed in his pleasant
thoughts. He sat still and philosophized, while his yellow, curly
hair fell down into his eyes.
Berta would not have done it for any one else, but for her dear
brother's sake she shook her little boy quite roughly. And so he
learned respect for Uncle Reuben.
Another time this little yellow-haired man had fallen on the ice;
he had been thrown down out of sheer spite by a big, naughty boy,
and there he sat and cried to show how badly he had been treated,
especially as his mother could not be very far off.
But he had forgotten that his mother was first and last Uncle
Reuben's sister. When she caught sight of Axel sitting on the ice,
she did not come with anything soothing or consoling, but only with
"Do not sit so, my little boy! Think of Uncle Reuben, who died when
he was five years old, just as you are now, because he sat down in
The boy stood up instantly when he heard her speak of Uncle Reuben,
but he felt a chill in his very heart. How could mamma talk about
Uncle Reuben when her little boy was in such distress! Axel had no
objection to his sitting and dying wherever he pleased, but now it
seemed as if he wished to take his own mamma away from him, and
that Axel could not bear. So he learned to hate Uncle Reuben.
High up on the stairway in Axel's home was a stone railing, which
was dizzily beautiful to sit on. Far below lay the stone floor of
the hall, and he who sat astride up there could dream that he was
being borne along over abysses. Axel called the balustrade the good
steed Grane. On his back he bounded over burning ramparts into an
enchanted castle. There he sat proud and bold with his long curls
waving, and fought Saint George's fight with the dragon. And as yet
it had not occurred to Uncle Reuben to want to ride there.
But of course he came. Just as the dragon was writhing in the agony
of death and Axel sat in lofty consciousness of victory, he heard
his nurse call: "Little Axel, do not sit there! Think of Uncle
Reuben, who died when he was eight years old, just as you are now,
because he sat and rode on a stone railing. You must never sit
Such a jealous old pudding-head, that Uncle Reuben! He could not
bear it, of course, because Axel was killing dragons and rescuing
princesses. If he did not look out, he, Axel, would show that he
could win glory too. If he should jump down to that stone floor and
dash his brains out, he would feel himself thrown into the shade,
that big liar.
Poor Uncle Reuben! The poor, good little boy who went to play top
out in the sunny market-place! Now he was to learn what it was to
be a great man.
It was in the country at Uncle Ivan's. A number of the cousins had
gathered in the beautiful garden. Axel was there, filled with his
hatred of his Uncle Reuben. He was longing to know if he was
tormenting any other besides himself, but there was something which
made him afraid to ask. It was as if he was going to commit some
At last the children were left to themselves. No big people were
present. Then Axel asked if they had ever heard of Uncle Reuben.
He saw how all the eyes flashed and that many small fists were
clenched, but it seemed as if the little mouths had been taught
respect for Uncle Reuben. "Hush!" said the whole crowd.
"No!" said Axel; "I want to know if there is any one else whom he
tortures, for I think he is the most troublesome of all uncles."
That one brave word broke the dam which had held in the indignation
of those tormented childhearts. There was a great murmuring and
shouting. So must a crowd of nihilists look when they revile an
The poor, great man's register of sins was unrolled. Uncle Reuben
persecuted the children of all his brothers and sisters. Uncle
Reuben died wherever he chose. Uncle Reuben was always the same age
as the child whose peace he wished to disturb.
And they had to show respect to him, although he was quite plainly
a liar. They might hate him in the most silent depths of their
heart, but overlook him or show him disrespect, no, then they were
What an air the old people put on when they spoke of him! Had he
ever really done anything so wonderful? To sit down and die was
nothing so surprising. And whatever great thing he may have done,
it was certain that he was now abusing his power. He opposed the
children in everything that they wanted to do, the old scarecrow.
He drove them from a noonday nap in the grass. He had discovered
their best hiding places in the park and forbidden them to go
there. His last performance was to ride on barebacked horses and to
drive in the hay-rigging.
They were all sure that the poor thing had never been more than
three years old. And now he fell upon the big children of fourteen
and insisted that he was their age. It was the most provoking thing.
It was perfectly incredible what came to light about him. He had
fished from the dam; he had rowed in the little flat-bottomed boat;
he had climbed up in the willow which hangs over the water, and in
which it was so nice to sit; yes, he had even slept on the powder-horn.
But they were all certain that there was no escape from his
tyranny. It was a relief to have spoken out, but not a remedy. They
could not rebel against Uncle Reuben.
You never would have believed it, but when these children grew to
be big and had children of their own, they immediately began to
make use of Uncle Reuben, just as their parents had done before them.
And their children again, the young people who are growing up now,
have learned their lesson so well, that it happened one summer out
in the country that a five-year-old boy came up to his old
grandmother Berta, who had sat down on the steps while waiting for
"Grandmother once had a brother whose name was Reuben."
"You are quite right, my little boy," grandmother said, and stood
That was as much of a sign to the young people as if they had seen
an old Royalist bow before King Charles's portrait. It made them
understand that Uncle Reuben always must remain great, however he
abused his position, only because he had been so deeply loved.
In these days, when all greatness is so carefully examined, he has
to be used with greater moderation than formerly. The limit for his
age is lower; trees, boats and powder-horns 'are safe from him, but
nothing of stone which can be sat upon can escape him.
And the children, the children of the day, treat him quite
otherwise than their parents did. They criticise him openly and
frankly. Their parents no longer understand how to inspire blind,
terrified obedience. Little boarding-school girls discuss Uncle
Reuben and wonder if he is anything but a myth. A six-year-old
child proposes that he should prove by experiment that it is
impossible to catch a mortal cold on stone steps.
But that is only a passing mood. That generation in their heart of
hearts is just as convinced of Uncle Reuben's greatness as the
preceding one and obey him just as they did. The day will come when
those scoffers will go down to the home of their ancestors, try to
find the old stone steps, and raise on it a tablet with a golden
They joke about Uncle Reuben for a few years, but as soon as they
are grown and have children to bring up, they will become convinced
of the use and need of the great man.
"Oh, my little child, do not sit on those stone steps! Your
mother's mother had an uncle whose name was Reuben. He died when he
was your age, because he sat down to rest on just such steps."
So will it be as long as the world lasts.
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.
AMONG THE CLIMBING ROSES
I could wish that the people with whom I have spent my summer would
let their glance fall on these lines. Now when the cold, dark
nights have come, I should like to carry their thoughts back to
that bright, warm season.
Above all, I should like to remind them of the climbing-roses that
enclosed the veranda, of the delicate, somewhat thin foliage of the
clematis, which in the sunlight as well as in the moonlight was
drawn in dark gray shadows on the light gray stone floor and threw
a light lace-like veil over everything, and of its big, bright
blossoms with their ragged edges.
Other summers remind me of fields of clover, or of birch-woods, or
of apple-trees and berry bushes, but that summer took its character
from the climbing-roses. The bright, delicate buds, that could
resist neither wind nor rain, the light, waving, pale-green shoots,
the soft, bending stems, the exuberant richness of blossoms, the
gaily humming hosts of insects, all follow me and rise up before me
in their glory, when I think of that summer, that rosy, delicate,
Now, when the time for work has come, people often ask me how I
passed my summer. Then everything glides from my memory, and it
seems to me as if I had sat day in and day out on the veranda
behind the climbing roses and breathed in fragrance and sunshine.
What did I do? Oh, I watched others work.
There was a little upholsterer bee which worked from morning till
night, from night till morning. From the soft, green leaves it
sawed out a neat little oval with its sharp jaws, rolled it
together as one rolls up a real carpet, and with the precious
burden pressed to it, it fluttered away to the park and lighted on
an old tree stump. There it burrowed down through dark passage-ways
and mysterious galleries, until at last it reached the bottom of a
perpendicular shaft. In its unknown depths, where neither ant nor
centipede ever had ventured, it spread out the green leaf roll and
covered the uneven floor with the most beautiful carpet. And when
the floor was covered, the bee came back for new leaves to cover
the walls of the shaft, and worked so quickly and eagerly, that
there was soon not a leaf in the rose hedge that did not have an
oval hole which bore testimony that it had been forced to assist in
the adorning of the old tree-stump.
One fine day the little bee changed its occupation. It bored deep
in among the ragged petals of the full-blown roses, sucked and
drank all it could in those beautiful larders, and when it had got
its fill, it flew quickly away to the old stump to fill the
freshly-papered chambers with brightest honey.
The little upholsterer bee was not the only one who worked in the
rose-bushes. There was also a spider, a quite unparalleled spider.
It was bigger than any spider I have ever seen; it was bright
orange with a clearly marked cross on its back, and it had eight
long, red-and-white striped legs, all equally well marked. You
ought to have seen it spin! Every thread was drawn out with the
greatest precision from the first ones that were only for supports
to the last fine connecting thread. And you should have seen it
balance its way along the slender threads to seize a fly or to take
its place in the middle of the web, motionless, patient, waiting
That big, orange spider won my heart; he was so patient and so
wise. Every day he had his little encounter with the upholsterer
bee, and he always came out of the affair with the same unfailing
tact. The bee who took his way close by him caught time and time
again in his net. Instantly it began to buzz and tear; it dragged
at the fine web and behaved like a mad thing, which naturally
resulted in its being more and more entangled and getting both legs
and wings wound up in the sticky net.
As soon as the bee was exhausted and weakened, the spider came
creeping out to it. It kept always at a respectful distance, but
with the extreme end of one of the beautiful, red striped legs it
gave the bee a little push, so that it swung round in the web. When
the bee had again buzzed and raged itself tired, it received
another gentle shove, and then another and yet another, until it
spun round like a top and did not know what it was doing in its
fury, and became so confused that it could not defend itself. But
during the whirling the threads that held it fast twisted ever more
tightly, till the tension became so great that they broke, and the
bee fell to the ground. Yes, that was what the spider had wished,
And that performance could they repeat, those two, day after day as
long as the bee had work in the rose-bushes. Never could the little
bee learn to look out for the spider-web, and never did the spider
show anger or impatience. I liked them both; the little, eager,
furry worker, as well as the big, crafty, old hunter.
Very few great events happened in the garden of the climbing roses.
Between the espaliers one could see the little lake lying and
twinkling in the sunlight. And it was a lake which was too little
and too shut in to be able to heave in real waves, but at every
little ripple on the gray surface thousands of small sparkles that
glistened and played on the waves flew up; it seemed as if its
depths had been full of fire that could not get out. And it was the
same with the summer life there; it was usually so quiet, but if
there came the slightest, little ripple—oh, how it could shine
We needed nothing great to make us happy. A flower or a bird could
make us merry for several hours, not to speak of the upholsterer
bee. I shall never forget what pleasure I had once on his account.
The bee had been in the spider-web as usual, and the spider had as
usual helped him out; but it had been fastened so securely that it
had had to buzz a dreadfully long time and had been very tamed and
subdued when it had flown away. I bent forward to see if the
spider-web had suffered much damage. Fortunately it had not; but on
the other hand a little yellow larva was caught in the web, a
little threadlike monster, which consisted of only jaws and claws,
and I was agitated, really agitated, at the sight of it.
I knew them, those May-bug larvae, that in thousands crawl up on
the flowers and hide themselves under their petals. Did I not know
them and yet admire them, those bold, cunning parasites, that sit
hidden and wait, only wait, even if it is for weeks, until a bee
comes, in whose yellow and black down they can hide. And did I not
know their hateful skill just when the little cell-builder has
filled a room with honey and on its surface laid the egg from which
the rightful owner of the cell and the honey will come forth, just
then to creep down on the egg and with careful balancing sit on it
as on a boat; for if they should come down into the honey; they
would drown. And while the bee covers the thimble-like cell with a
green roof and carefully shuts in its young one, the yellow larva
tears open n the egg with its sharp jaws and devours its contents,
while the egg-shell has still to serve as craft on the dangerous
But gradually the little yellow larva grows flat and big and can
swim by itself on the honey acid drink of it, and in the course
of time a fat, black beetle comes out of the bee-cell. It is
certain that this is not what the little bee wished to effect by
its work, and however cunningly and cleverly the beetle may
have behaved, it is nevertheless nothing but a lazy parasite,
who deserves no sympathy.
And my bee, my own little, industrious bee, bad flown about with
such a yellow hanger-on in its down. But while the spider had spun
round with it, the larva had loosened and fallen down on the
spider-web, and now the big, orange spider came and gave it a bite
and transformed it in a second into a skeleton without life or
When the little bee came again, its humming was like a hymn to
"Oh, thou beauteous life," it said. "I thank thee that happy work
among roses and sunshine has fallen to my lot. I thank thee that I
can enjoy thee without anxiety or fear.
"Well I know that spiders lie in wait and beetles steal, but happy
work is mine, and brave freedom from care. Oh, thou beauteous life,
thou glorious existence!"