THE WAIF WOMAN
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
chatto & windus
Edition, October, 1916.
Second Edition, October, 1916.
This unpublished story, preserved among Mrs.
Stevenson’s papers, is mentioned by Mr. Balfour in his life
of Stevenson. Writing of the fables which Stevenson began
before he had left England and “attacked again, and from
time to time added to their number” in 1893, Mr. Balfour
says: “The reference to Odin [Fable XVII] perhaps is due to
his reading of the Sagas, which led him to attempt a tale in the
same style, called ‘The Waif Woman.’”
THE WAIF WOMAN
A CUE—FROM A SAGA
This is a tale of Iceland, the isle of stories, and of a thing
that befell in the year of the coming there of Christianity.
In the spring of that year a ship sailed from the South Isles
to traffic, and fell becalmed inside Snowfellness. The
winds had speeded her; she was the first comer of the year; and
the fishers drew alongside to hear the news of the south, and
eager folk put out in boats to see the merchandise and make
prices. From the doors of the hall on Frodis Water, the
house folk saw the ship becalmed and the boats about her, coming
and going; and the merchants from the ship could see the
smoke go up and the men and women trooping to their meals in the
The goodman of that house was called Finnward Keelfarer, and
his wife Aud the Light-Minded; and they had a son Eyolf, a likely
boy, and a daughter Asdis, a slip of a maid. Finnward was
well-to-do in his affairs, he kept open house and had good
friends. But Aud his wife was not so much considered: her
mind was set on trifles, on bright clothing, and the admiration
of men, and the envy of women; and it was thought she was not
always so circumspect in her bearing as she might have been, but
nothing to hurt.
On the evening of the second day men came to the house from
sea. They told of the merchandise in the ship, which was
well enough and to be had at easy rates, and of a waif woman that
sailed in her, no one could tell why, and had chests of clothes
beyond comparison, fine coloured stuffs, finely woven, the
best that ever came into that island, and gewgaws for a
queen. At the hearing of that Aud’s eyes began to
glisten. She went early to bed; and the day was not yet red
before she was on the beach, had a boat launched, and was pulling
to the ship. By the way she looked closely at all boats,
but there was no woman in any; and at that she was better
pleased, for she had no fear of the men.
When they came to the ship, boats were there already, and the
merchants and the shore folk sat and jested and chaffered in the
stern. But in the fore part of the ship, the woman sat
alone, and looked before her sourly at the sea. They called
her Thorgunna. She was as tall as a man and high in flesh,
a buxom wife to look at. Her hair was of the dark red, time
had not changed it. Her face was dark, the cheeks full, and
the brow smooth. Some of the merchants told that she was
sixty years of age and others laughed and said she was
but forty; but they spoke of her in whispers, for they seemed to
think that she was ill to deal with and not more than ordinary
Aud went to where she sat and made her welcome to
Iceland. Thorgunna did the honours of the ship. So
for a while they carried it on, praising and watching each other,
in the way of women. But Aud was a little vessel to contain
a great longing, and presently the cry of her heart came out of
“The folk say,” says she, “you have the
finest women’s things that ever came to Iceland?” and
as she spoke her eyes grew big.
“It would be strange if I had not,” quoth
Thorgunna. “Queens have no finer.”
So Aud begged that she might see them.
Thorgunna looked on her askance. “Truly,”
said she, “the things are for no use but to be
shown.” So she fetched a chest and opened it.
Here was a cloak of the rare scarlet laid upon with
silver, beautiful beyond belief; hard by was a silver brooch of
basket work that was wrought as fine as any shell and was as
broad as the face of the full moon; and Aud saw the clothes lying
folded in the chest, of all the colours of the day, and fire, and
precious gems; and her heart burned with envy. So, because
she had so huge a mind to buy, she began to make light of the
“They are good enough things,” says she,
“though I have better in my chest at home. It is a
good enough cloak, and I am in need of a new cloak.”
At that she fingered the scarlet, and the touch of the fine stuff
went to her mind like singing. “Come,” says
she, “if it were only for your civility in showing it, what
will you have for your cloak?”
“Woman,” said Thorgunna, “I am no
merchant.” And she closed the chest and locked it,
like one angry.
Then Aud fell to protesting and caressing her. That was
Aud’s practice; for she thought if she hugged and
kissed a person none could say her nay. Next she went to
flattery, said she knew the things were too noble for the like of
her—they were made for a stately, beautiful woman like
Thorgunna; and at that she kissed her again, and Thorgunna seemed
a little pleased. And now Aud pled poverty and begged for
the cloak in a gift; and now she vaunted the wealth of her
goodman and offered ounces and ounces of fine silver, the price
of three men’s lives. Thorgunna smiled, but it was a
grim smile, and still she shook her head. At last Aud
wrought herself into extremity and wept.
“I would give my soul for it,” she cried.
“Fool!” said Thorgunna. “But there
have been fools before you!” And a little after, she
said this: “Let us be done with beseeching. The
things are mine. I was a fool to show you them; but where
is their use, unless we show them? Mine they are and mine
they shall be till I die. I have paid
for them dear enough,” said she.
Aud saw it was of no avail; so she dried her tears, and asked
Thorgunna about her voyage, and made believe to listen while she
plotted in her little mind. “Thorgunna,” she
asked presently, “do you count kin with any folk in
“I count kin with none,” replied Thorgunna.
“My kin is of the greatest, but I have not been always
lucky, so I say the less.”
“So that you have no house to pass the time in till the
ship return?” cries Aud. “Dear Thorgunna, you
must come and live with us. My goodman is rich, his hand
and his house are open, and I will cherish you like a
At that Thorgunna smiled on the one side; but her soul laughed
within her at the woman’s shallowness. “I will
pay her for that word daughter,” she thought, and
she smiled again.
“I will live with you gladly,” says she,
“for your house has a good name, and I
have seen the smoke of your kitchen from the ship. But one
thing you shall understand. I make no presents, I give
nothing where I go—not a rag and not an ounce. Where
I stay, I work for my upkeep; and as I am strong as a man and
hardy as an ox, they that have had the keeping of me were the
It was a hard job for Aud to keep her countenance, for she was
like to have wept. And yet she felt it would be unseemly to
eat her invitation; and like a shallow woman and one that had
always led her husband by the nose, she told herself she would
find some means to cajole Thorgunna and come by her purpose after
all. So she put a good face on the thing, had Thorgunna
into the boat, her and her two great chests, and brought her home
with her to the hall by the beach.
All the way in she made much of the wife; and when they were
arrived gave her a locked bed-place in the hall, where
was a bed, a table, and a stool, and space for the two
“This shall be yours while you stay here,” said
Aud. And she attended on her guest.
Now Thorgunna opened the second chest and took out her
bedding—sheets of English linen, the like of it never seen,
a cover of quilted silk, and curtains of purple wrought with
silver. At the sight of these Aud was like one distracted,
greed blinded her mind; the cry rose strong in her throat, it
“What will you sell your bedding for?” she cried,
and her cheeks were hot.
Thorgunna looked upon her with a dusky countenance.
“Truly you are a courteous hostess,” said she,
“but I will not sleep on straw for your
At that Aud’s two ears grew hot as her cheeks; and she
took Thorgunna at her word; and left her from that time in
The woman was as good as her spoken
word. Inside the house and out she wrought like three, and
all that she put her hand to was well done. When she
milked, the cows yielded beyond custom; when she made hay, it was
always dry weather; when she took her turn at the cooking, the
folk licked their spoons. Her manners when she pleased were
outside imitation, like one that had sat with kings in their high
buildings. It seemed she was pious too, and the day never
passed but she was in the church there praying. The rest
was not so well. She was of few words, and never one about
her kin and fortunes. Gloom sat on her brow, and she was
ill to cross. Behind her back they gave her the name of the
Waif Woman or the Wind Wife; to her face it must always be
Thorgunna. And if any of the young men called her
mother, she would speak no more that day, but sit apart in
the hall and mutter with her lips.
“This is a queer piece of goods that we have
gotten,” says Finnward Keelfarer,
“I wish we get no harm by her! But the good
wife’s pleasure must be done,” said he, which was his
When she was at work, Thorgunna wore the rudest of plain
clothes, though ever clean as a cat; but at night in the hall she
was more dainty, for she loved to be admired. No doubt she
made herself look well, and many thought she was a comely woman
still, and to those she was always favourable and full of
pleasant speech. But the more that some pleased her, it was
thought by good judges that they pleased Aud the less.
When midsummer was past, a company of young men upon a journey
came to the house by Frodis Water. That was always a great
day for Aud, when there were gallants at table; and what made
this day the greater, Alf of the Fells was in the company, and
she thought Alf fancied her. So be sure Aud wore her
best. But when Thorgunna came from the bed-place, she was
arrayed like any queen and the broad brooch was in her
bosom. All night in the hall these women strove with each
other; and the little maid, Asdis, looked on, and was ashamed and
knew not why. But Thorgunna pleased beyond all; she told of
strange things that had befallen in the world; when she pleased
she had the cue to laughter; she sang, and her voice was full and
her songs new in that island; and whenever she turned, the eyes
shone in her face and the brooch glittered at her bosom. So
that the young men forgot the word of the merchants as to the
woman’s age, and their looks followed her all night.
Aud was sick with envy. Sleep fled her; her husband
slept, but she sat upright beside him in the bed, and gnawed her
fingers. Now she began to hate Thorgunna, and the
glittering of the great brooch stood before her in the
dark. “Sure,” she thought, “it must be
the glamour of that brooch! She is not so fair as I; she is as old as the dead in the hillside; and as for
her wit and her songs, it is little I think of them!”
Up she got at that, took a light from the embers, and came to her
guest’s bed-place. The door was locked, but Aud had a
master-key and could go in. Inside, the chests were open,
and in the top of one the light of her taper shone upon the
glittering of the brooch. As a dog snatches food she
snatched it, and turned to the bed. Thorgunna lay on her
side; it was to be thought she slept, but she talked the while to
herself, and her lips moved. It seemed her years returned
to her in slumber, for her face was grey and her brow knotted;
and the open eyes of her stared in the eyes of Aud. The
heart of the foolish woman died in her bosom; but her greed was
the stronger, and she fled with that which she had stolen.
When she was back in bed, the word of Thorgunna came to her
mind, that these things were for no use but to be shown.
Here she had the brooch and the shame of it, and might
not wear it. So all night she quaked with the fear of
discovery, and wept tears of rage that she should have sinned in
vain. Day came, and Aud must rise; but she went about the
house like a crazy woman. She saw the eyes of Asdis rest on
her strangely, and at that she beat the maid. She scolded
the house folk, and, by her way of it, nothing was done
aright. First she was loving to her husband and made much
of him, thinking to be on his good side when trouble came.
Then she took a better way, picked a feud with him, and railed on
the poor man till his ears rang, so that he might be in the wrong
beforehand. The brooch she hid without, in the side of a
hayrick. All this while Thorgunna lay in the bed-place,
which was not her way, for by custom she was early astir.
At last she came forth, and there was that in her face that made
all the house look one at the other and the heart of Aud to be
straitened. Never a word the guest spoke, not a bite
she swallowed, and they saw the strong shudderings take and shake
her in her place. Yet a little, and still without speech,
back she went into her bad-place, and the door was shut.
“That is a sick wife,” said Finnward, “Her
weird has come on her.”
And at that the heart of Aud was lifted up with hope.
All day Thorgunna lay on her bed, and the next day sent for
“Finnward Keelfarer,” said she, “my trouble
is come upon me, and I am at the end of my days.”
He made the customary talk.
“I have had my good things; now my hour is come; and let
suffice,” quoth she. “I did not send for you to
hear your prating.”
Finnward knew not what to answer, for he saw her soul was
“I sent for you on needful matters,” she began
again. “I die here—I!—in this black
house, in a bleak island, far from all decency and proper ways of
man; and now my treasure must be left. Small
pleasure have I had of it, and leave it with the less!”
“Good woman, as the saying is, needs must,” says
Finnward, for he was nettled with that speech.
“For that I called you,” quoth Thorgunna.
“In these two chests are much wealth and things greatly to
be desired. I wish my body to be laid in Skalaholt in the
new church, where I trust to hear the mass-priests singing over
my head so long as time endures. To that church I will you
to give what is sufficient, leaving your conscience judge of
it. My scarlet cloak with the silver, I will to that poor
fool your wife. She longed for it so bitterly, I may not
even now deny her. Give her the brooch as well. I
warn you of her; I was such as she, only wiser; I warn you, the
ground she stands upon is water, and whoso trusts her leans on
rottenness. I hate her and I pity her. When she comes
to lie where I lie—” There she broke off. “The rest of my goods I leave to your
black-eyed maid, young Asdis, for her slim body and clean
mind. Only the things of my bed, you shall see
“It is well,” said Finnward.
“It may be well,” quoth she, “if you
obey. My life has been a wonder to all and a fear to
many. While I lived none thwarted me and prospered.
See to it that none thwart me after I am dead. It stands
upon your safety.”
“It stands upon my honour,” quoth Finnward,
“and I have the name of an honourable man.”
“You have the name of a weak one,” says
Thorgunna. “Look to it, look to it, Finnward.
Your house shall rue it else.”
“The rooftree of my house is my word,” said
“And that is a true saying,” says the woman.
“See to it, then. The speech of Thorgunna is
With that she turned her face against the wall and Finnward
The same night, in the small hours of the clock,
Thorgunna passed. It was a wild night for summer, and the
wind sang about the eaves and clouds covered the moon, when the
dark woman wended. From that day to this no man has learned
her story or her people’s name; but be sure the one was
stormy and the other great. She had come to that isle, a
waif woman, on a ship; thence she flitted, and no more remained
of her but her heavy chests and her big body.
In the morning the house women streaked and dressed the
corpse. Then came Finnward, and carried the sheets and
curtains from the house, and caused build a fire upon the
sands. But Aud had an eye on her man’s doings.
“And what is this that you are at?” said she.
So he told her.
“Burn the good sheets!” she cried.
“And where would I be with my two hands? No,
troth,” said Aud, “not so long as your wife is above
“Good wife,” said Finnward, “this is
beyond your province. Here is my word pledged and the woman
dead I pledged it to. So much the more am I bound.
Let me be doing as I must, goodwife.”
“Tilly-valley!” says she, “and a
fiddlestick’s end, goodman! You may know well about
fishing and be good at shearing sheep for what I know; but you
are little of a judge of damask sheets. And the best word I
can say is just this,” she says, laying hold of one end of
the goods, “that if ye are made up to burn the plenishing,
you must burn your wife along with it.”
“I trust it will not go so hard,” says Finnward,
“and I beg you not to speak so loud and let the house folk
“Let them speak low that are ashamed!” cries
Aud. “I speak only in reason.”
“You are to consider that the woman died in my
house,” says Finnward, “and this was her last behest. In truth, goodwife, if I were to fail, it
is a thing that would stick long in my throat, and would give us
an ill name with the neighbours.”
“And you are to consider,” says she, “that I
am your true wife and worth all the witches ever burnt, and
loving her old husband”—here she put her arms about
his neck. “And you are to consider that what you wish
to do is to destroy fine stuff, such as we have no means of
replacing; and that she bade you do it singly to spite me, for I
sought to buy this bedding from her while she was alive at her
own price; and that she hated me because I was young and
“That is a true word that she hated you, for she said so
herself before she wended,” says Finnward.
“So that here is an old faggot that hated me, and she
dead as a bucket,” says Aud; “and here is a young
wife that loves you dear, and is alive forby”—and at
that she kissed him—“and
the point is, which are you to do the will of?”
The man’s weakness caught him hard, and he
faltered. “I fear some hurt will come of it,”
There she cut in, and bade the lads tread out the fire, and
the lasses roll the bed-stuff up and carry it within.
“My dear,” says he, “my honour—this is
against my honour.”
But she took his arm under hers, and caressed his hand, and
kissed his knuckles, and led him down the bay.
“Bubble-bubble-bubble!” says she, imitating him like
a baby, though she was none so young. “Bubble-bubble,
and a silly old man! We must bury the troll wife, and here
is trouble enough, and a vengeance! Horses will sweat for
it before she comes to Skalaholt; ’tis my belief she was a
man in a woman’s habit. And so now, have done, good
man, and let us get her waked and buried, which is more than she
deserves, or her old duds are like to pay for. And when that is ended, we can consult upon the
So Finnward was but too well pleased to put it off.
The next day they set forth early for Skalaholt across the
heaths. It was heavy weather, and grey overhead; the horses
sweated and neighed, and the men went silent, for it was nowhere
in their minds that the dead wife was canny. Only Aud
talked by the way, like a silly sea-gull piping on a cliff, and
the rest held their peace. The sun went down before they
were across Whitewater; and the black night fell on them this
side of Netherness. At Netherness they beat upon the
door. The goodman was not abed nor any of his folk, but sat
in the hall talking; and to them Finnward made clear his
“I will never deny you a roof,” said the goodman
of Netherness. “But I have no food ready, and if you
cannot be doing without meat, you must e’en fare
They laid the body in a shed, made fast their horses,
and came into the house, and the door was closed again. So
there they sat about the lights, and there was little said, for
they were none so well pleased with their reception.
Presently, in the place where the food was kept, began a
clattering of dishes; and it fell to a bondman of the house to go
and see what made the clatter. He was no sooner gone than
he was back again; and told it was a big, buxom woman, high in
flesh and naked as she was born, setting meats upon a
dresser. Finnward grew pale as the dawn; he got to his
feet, and the rest rose with him, and all the party of the
funeral came to the buttery-door. And the dead Thorgunna
took no heed of their coming, but went on setting forth meats,
and seemed to talk with herself as she did so; and she was naked
to the buff.
Great fear fell upon them; the marrow of their back grew
cold. Not one word they spoke, neither good nor bad;
but back into the hall, and down upon their bended knees, and to
“Now, in the name of God, what ails you?” cried
the goodman of Netherness.
And when they had told him, shame fell upon him for his
“The dead wife reproves me,” said the honest
And he blessed himself and his house, and caused spread the
tables, and they all ate of the meats that the dead wife laid
This was the first walking of Thorgunna, and it is thought by
good judges it would have been the last as well, if men had been
The next day they came to Skalaholt, and there was the body
buried, and the next after they set out for home.
Finnward’s heart was heavy, and his mind divided. He
feared the dead wife and the living; he feared dishonour and he
feared dispeace; and his will was like a sea-gull in
the wind. Now he cleared his throat and made as if to
speak; and at that Aud cocked her eye and looked at the goodman
mocking, and his voice died unborn. At the last, shame gave
“Aud,” said he, “yon was a most uncanny
thing at Netherness.”
“No doubt,” said Aud.
“I have never had it in my mind,” said he,
“that yon woman was the thing she should be.”
“I dare say not,” said Aud. “I never
thought so either.”
“It stands beyond question she was more than
canny,” says Finnward, shaking his head. “No
manner of doubt but what she was ancient of mind.”
“She was getting pretty old in body, too,” says
“Wife,” says he, “it comes in upon me
strongly this is no kind of woman to disobey; above all, being
dead and her walking. I think, wife, we must even do as she
“Now what is ever your word?” says she,
riding up close and setting her hand upon his shoulder.
“‘The goodwife’s pleasure must be done’;
is not that my Finnward?”
“The good God knows I grudge you nothing,” cried
Finnward. “But my blood runs cold upon this
business. Worse will come of it!” he cried,
“worse will flow from it!”
“What is this todo?” cries Aud. “Here
is an old brimstone hag that should have been stoned with stones,
and hated me besides. Vainly she tried to frighten me when
she was living; shall she frighten me now when she is dead and
rotten? I trow not. Think shame to your beard,
goodman! Are these a man’s shoes I see you shaking
in, when your wife rides by your bridle-hand, as bold as
“Ay, ay,” quoth Finnward. “But there
goes a byword in the country: Little wit, little fear.”
At this Aud began to be concerned, for he was usually easier
to lead. So now she tried the other method on
“Is that your word?” cried she. “I
kiss the hands of ye! If I have not wit enough, I can rid
you of my company. Wit is it he seeks?” she
cried. “The old broomstick that we buried yesterday
had wit for you.”
So she rode on ahead and looked not the road that he was
Poor Finnward followed on his horse, but the light of the day
was gone out, for his wife was like his life to him. He
went six miles and was true to his heart; but the seventh was not
half through when he rode up to her.
“Is it to be the goodwife’s pleasure?” she
“Aud, you shall have your way,” says he;
“God grant there come no ill of it!”
So she made much of him, and his heart was comforted.
When they came to the house, Aud had the two chests to her own
bed-place, and gloated all night on what she
found. Finnward looked on, and trouble darkened his
“Wife,” says he at last, “you will not
forget these things belong to Asdis?”
At that she barked upon him like a dog.
“Am I a thief?” she cried. “The brat
shall have them in her turn when she grows up. Would you
have me give her them now to turn her minx’s head
So the weak man went his way out of the house in sorrow and
fell to his affairs. Those that wrought with him that day
observed that now he would labour and toil like a man furious,
and now would sit and stare like one stupid; for in truth he
judged the business would end ill.
For a while there was no more done and no more said. Aud
cherished her treasures by herself, and none was the wiser except
Finnward. Only the cloak she sometimes wore, for that was
hers by the will of the dead wife; but the others she let lie,
because she knew she had them foully, and she feared
Finnward somewhat and Thorgunna much.
At last husband and wife were bound to bed one night, and he
was the first stripped and got in. “What sheets are
these?” he screamed, as his legs touched them, for these
were smooth as water, but the sheets of Iceland were like
“Clean sheets, I suppose,” says Aud, but her hand
quavered as she wound her hair.
“Woman!” cried Finnward, “these are the
bed-sheets of Thorgunna—these are the sheets she died in!
do not lie to me!”
At that Aud turned and looked at him.
“Well?” says she, “they have been
Finnward lay down again in the bed between Thorgunna’s
sheets, and groaned; never a word more he said, for now he knew
he was a coward and a man dishonoured. Presently his wife
came beside him, and they lay still, but neither slept.
It might be twelve in the night when Aud felt Finnward
shudder so strong that the bed shook.
“What ails you?” said she.
“I know not,” he said. “It is a chill
like the chill of death. My soul is sick with
it.” His voice fell low. “It was so
Thorgunna sickened,” said he. And he arose and walked
in the hall in the dark till it came morning.
Early in the morning he went forth to the sea-fishing with
four lads. Aud was troubled at heart and watched him from
the door, and even as he went down the beach she saw him shaken
with Thorgunna’s shudder. It was a rough day, the sea
was wild, the boat laboured exceedingly, and it may be that
Finnward’s mind was troubled with his sickness.
Certain it is that they struck, and their boat was burst, upon a
skerry under Snowfellness. The four lads were spilled into
the sea, and the sea broke and buried them, but Finnward was cast
upon the skerry, and clambered up, and sat there all day
long: God knows his thoughts. The sun was half-way down,
when a shepherd went by on the cliffs about his business, and
spied a man in the midst of the breach of the loud seas, upon a
pinnacle of reef. He hailed him, and the man turned and
hailed again. There was in that cove so great a clashing of
the seas and so shrill a cry of sea-fowl that the herd might hear
the voice and nor the words. But the name Thorgunna came to
him, and he saw the face of Finnward Keelfarer like the face of
an old man. Lively ran the herd to Finnward’s house;
and when his tale was told there, Eyolf the boy was lively to out
a boat and hasten to his father’s aid. By the
strength of hands they drove the keel against the seas, and with
skill and courage Eyolf won upon the skerry and climbed up, There
sat his father dead; and this was the first vengeance of
Thorgunna against broken faith.
It was a sore job to get the corpse on board, and a sorer yet
to bring it home before the rolling seas.
But the lad Eyolf was a lad of promise, and the lads that pulled
for him were sturdy men. So the break-faith’s body
was got home, and waked, and buried on the hill. Aud was a
good widow and wept much, for she liked Finnward well
enough. Yet a bird sang in her ears that now she might
marry a young man. Little fear that she might have her
choice of them, she thought, with all Thorgunna’s fine
things; and her heart was cheered.
Now, when the corpse was laid in the hill, Asdis came where
Aud sat solitary in hall, and stood by her awhile without
“Well, child?” says Aud; and again
“Well?” and then “Keep us holy, if you have
anything to say, out with it!”
So the maid came so much nearer, “Mother,” says
she, “I wish you would not wear these things that were
“Aha,” cries Aud. “This is what it
is? You begin early, brat! And who has been
poisoning your mind? Your fool of a father, I
suppose.” And then she stopped and went all
scarlet. “Who told you they were yours?” she
asked again, taking it all the higher for her stumble.
“When you are grown, then you shall have your share and not
a day before. These things are not for babies.”
The child looked at her and was amazed. “I do not
wish them,” she said. “I wish they might be
“Upon my word, what next?” cried Aud.
“And why should they be burned?”
“I know my father tried to burn these things,”
said Asdis, “and he named Thorgunna’s name upon the
skerry ere he died. And, O mother, I doubt they have
brought ill luck.”
But the more Aud was terrified, the more she would make light
Then the girl put her hand upon her mother’s.
“I fear they are ill come by,” said she.
The blood sprang in Aud’s face. “And
who made you a judge upon your mother that bore you?” cried
“Kinswoman,” said Asdis, looking down, “I
saw you with the brooch.”
“What do you mean? When? Where did you see
me?” cried the mother.
“Here in the hall,” said Asdis, looking on the
floor, “the night you stole it.”
At that Aud let out a cry. Then she heaved up her hand
to strike the child. “You little spy!” she
cried. Then she covered her face, and wept, and rocked
herself. “What can you know?” she cried.
“How can you understand, that are a baby, not so long
weaned? He could—your father could, the dear good
man, dead and gone! He could understand and pity, he was
good to me. Now he has left me alone with heartless
children! Asdis,” she cried, “have you no
nature in your blood? You do not know what I have done and
suffered for them. I have done—oh, and I
could have done anything! And there is your father
dead. And after all, you ask me not to use them? No
woman in Iceland has the like. And you wish me to destroy
them? Not if the dead should rise!” she cried.
“No, no,” and she stopped her ears, “not if the
dead should rise, and let that end it!”
So she ran into her bed-place, and clapped at the door, and
left the child amazed.
But for all Aud spoke with so much passion, it was noticed
that for long she left the things unused. Only she would be
locked somewhile daily in her bed-place, where she pored on them
and secretly wore them for her pleasure.
Now winter was at hand; the days grew short and the nights
long; and under the golden face of morning the isle would stand
silver with frost. Word came from Holyfell to Frodis Water
of a company of young men upon a journey; that night they supped
at Holyfell, the next it would be at Frodis Water;
and Alf of the Fells was there, and Thongbrand Ketilson, and Hall
the Fair. Aud went early to her bed-place, and there she
pored upon these fineries till her heart was melted with
self-love. There was a kirtle of a mingled colour, and the
blue shot into the green, and the green lightened from the blue,
as the colours play in the ocean between deeps and shallows: she
thought she could endure to live no longer and not wear it.
There was a bracelet of an ell long, wrought like a serpent and
with fiery jewels for the eyes; she saw it shine on her white arm
and her head grew dizzy with desire. “Ah!” she
thought, “never were fine lendings better met with a fair
wearer.” And she closed her eyelids, and she thought
she saw herself among the company and the men’s eyes go
after her admiring. With that she considered that she must
soon marry one of them and wondered which; and she thought Alf
was perhaps the best, or Hall the Fair, but was not certain, and
then she remembered Finnward Keelfarer in his cairn upon the
hill, and was concerned. “Well, he was a good husband
to me,” she thought, “and I was a good wife to
him. But that is an old song now.” So she
turned again to handling the stuffs and jewels. At last she
got to bed in the smooth sheets, and lay, and fancied how she
would look, and admired herself, and saw others admire her, and
told herself stories, till her heart grew warm and she chuckled
to herself between the sheets. So she shook awhile with
laughter; and then the mirth abated but not the shaking; and a
grue took hold upon her flesh, and the cold of the grave upon her
belly, and the terror of death upon her soul. With that a
voice was in her ear: “It was so Thorgunna
sickened.” Thrice in the night the chill and the
terror took her, and thrice it passed away; and when she rose on
the morrow, death had breathed upon her countenance.
She saw the house folk and her children gaze
upon her; well she knew why! She knew her day was come, and
the last of her days, and her last hour was at her back; and it
was so in her soul that she scarce minded. All was lost,
all was past mending, she would carry on until she fell. So
she went as usual, and hurried the feast for the young men, and
railed upon her house folk, but her feet stumbled, and her voice
was strange in her own ears, and the eyes of the folk fled before
her. At times, too, the chill took her and the fear along
with it; and she must sit down, and the teeth beat together in
her head, and the stool tottered on the floor. At these
times, she thought she was passing, and the voice of Thorgunna
sounded in her ear: “The things are for no use but to be
shown,” it said. “Aud, Aud, have you shown them
once? No, not once!”
And at the sting of the thought her courage and strength would
revive, and she would rise again and move about her business.
Now the hour drew near, and Aud went to her bed-place,
and did on the bravest of her finery, and came forth to greet her
guests. Was never woman in Iceland robed as she was.
The words of greeting were yet between her lips, when the
shuddering fell upon her strong as labour, and a horror as deep
as hell. Her face was changed amidst her finery, and the
faces of her guests were changed as they beheld her: fear
puckered their brows, fear drew back their feet; and she took her
doom from the looks of them, and fled to her bed-place.
There she flung herself on the wife’s coverlet, and turned
her face against the wall.
That was the end of all the words of Aud; and in the small
hours on the clock her spirit wended. Asdis had come to and
fro, seeing if she might help, where was no help possible of man
or woman. It was light in the bed-place when the maid
returned, for a taper stood upon a chest. There lay Aud in
her fine clothes, and there by her side on the bed the big
dead wife Thorgunna squatted on her hams. No sound was
heard, but it seemed by the movement of her mouth as if Thorgunna
sang, and she waved her arms as if to singing.
“God be good to us!” cried Asdis, “she is
“Dead,” said the dead wife.
“Is the weird passed?” cried Asdis.
“When the sin is done the weird is dreed,” said
Thorgunna, and with that she was not.
But the next day Eyolf and Asdis caused build a fire on the
shore betwixt tide-marks. There they burned the
bed-clothes, and the clothes, and the jewels, and the very boards
of the waif woman’s chests; and when the tide returned it
washed away their ashes. So the weird of Thorgunna was
lifted from the house on Frodis Water.
billing and sons, limited